African Cultural Studies

College of Letters & Science
HomeKatrina Daly Thompson

Katrina Daly Thompson

Professor of African Cultural Studies

Director of the Program in African Languages
Core Faculty Member, Second Language Acquisition Doctoral Program
With faculty affiliation in African Studies, 
Gender & Women's Studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Religious Studies

Ph.D. (2004), African Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison
M.A. (1999), African Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison
B.A. (1997), English, Grinnell College

Professor Thompson is a language and cultural studies scholar with a primary interest in African discourse, and her research thus intersects with and draws on linguistic anthropology. As a linguistic ethnographer, Dr. Thompson takes a discourse-centered approach to African cultural studies and an interdisciplinary approach to language, culture, and society.  Her research explores the relationships between language, power, and "identity" in Tanzanian, Zimbabwean, and transnational Muslim discourse. She approaches these topics through critical discourse analysis, sociocultural linguistics, feminism, and queer linguistics. Her work fits in with the framework Alistair Pennycook (2004) calls "language studies" (rather than linguistics): "We are engaged in a quite different project that tries to understand language in diverse contexts by drawing on cultural studies, philosophy, literary theory, postcolonial studies, sociology, history, gender studies, and more. The concept of language studies, particularly by analogy with cultural studies, perhaps presents us with a more useful framework for pursuing such goals."

Her first monograph, Zimbabwe's Cinematic Arts: Language, Power, Identity  (Indiana University Press, 2012), uses critical discourse analysis to examine how cultural identity is produced, performed, and negotiated in talk and texts about film and television in Zimbabwe. Her next book, Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean: Islam, Marriage, and Sexuality on the Swahili Coasta co-edited volume with Erin Stiles, recently came out from Ohio University Press. Her second monograph, Popobawa: Tanzanian Talk, Global Misreadings (Indiana University Press, 2017),  concerns the transgression of discursive taboos and cultural boundaries of gender and sexuality in Swahili talk about the supernatural. One of her next projects is called Utani na Mizaha, a research project on Swahili humor. Read more and send her jokes here.

Research Reports




Selected recent publications

Beginnings and Endings: An Autoethnographic Account of Two Zanzibari Marriages.” Anthropology and Humanism 42:1 (2017): 149–55.

Secrets of a Swahili Marriage.” Anthropology and Humanism 42:1 (2017): 118–26.

Review of Sabrina Billings's Language, globalization and the making of a Tanzanian beauty queen. In Language in Society 45 (2016).

“Secrets of a Swahili Marriage.” Contemporary Ethnographic Fiction. Ed. Kristen Ghodsee. Society for Humanistic Anthropology, (2015).

“Discreet Talk about Supernatural Sodomy, Transgressive Gender Performance, and Male Same-sex Desire in Zanzibar Town.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21:4 (2015).

“Introducing Gender, Sexuality, and Marriage into the Study of Islam in the Western Indian Ocean.” (With Erin E. Stiles.) In Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean: Islam, Marriage, and Sexuality on the Swahili Coast, edited by Erin E. Stiles and Katrina Daly Thompson, 1–30. Indian Ocean Studies. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, (2015).

“Learning to Use Profanity and Sacred Speech: The Embodied Socialization of a Muslim Bride in Zanzibar.” In Gendered Lives in the Western Indian Ocean: Islam, Marriage, and Sexuality on the Swahili Coast. Erin Stiles and Katrina Daly Thompson, eds. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, (2015).

Awards and Honors
First Prize in the 2016 Ethnographic Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Writing Competition, sponsored by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, for the ethnographic fiction piece, “Secrets of a Swahili Marriage.”

Selected Courses
AFRICAN 407: Language, Gender, and Sexuality in African Contexts
AFRICAN 500: Language in Society in Africa
AFRICAN 575: Methods of Teaching African Languages: Theory and Practice
AFRICAN 670: Theories and Methods of Learning a LCTL
AFRICAN 697: Monitored Self-Instruction of an African Language
AFRICAN 671: Multilanguage Seminar
AFRICAN 701: Critical Approaches to Multilingualism
AFRICAN 703: Topics in Teaching African Languages: Communicative Lesson Planning; Flipped Classes and Blended Learning
AFRICAN 705: Teaching Portfolio
AFRICAN 925: Field Methods (Literary Ethnography)

Graduate Student Advising
Dr. Thompson works with students in our pedagogy-focused MA; and with students interested in conducting research in the areas of critical applied linguistics, cultural approaches to discourse,  discourse-centered approaches to culture, and in various uses of ethnography, especially linguistic ethnography, literary ethnography, and autoethnography. She has supervised recent theses and dissertations addressing the following topics:

  • use of non-Standard Yoruba in Yoruba-language classrooms in Nigeria
  • tricksters and marginalized language use in a Kenyan television comedy
  • stereotypes in Kenyan stand-up comedy
  • language ideologies and multilingual practices in a Yoruba study abroad program
  • codeswitching in Indonesian popular texts
  • language socialization and discourses of sexuality, desire, and prevention in reproductive health instruction in Tanzania
  • language brokering among Arab immigrants in medical settings
  • utopian Swahili fiction

Learn more about Dr. Thompson: Read Kathryn Mara's interview with her.

Do you need a letter of recommendation from Dr. Thompson? Please see these instructions.

Contact info
Office: Van Hise 1402
Phone: (608) 262-6537