David Turkon

David Turkon

Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Specialty:Southern Africa, political ecology, communities, HIV/AIDS, refugee resettlement.
Phone:(607) 274-1782
Office:G120 Gannett Center
Ithaca, NY 14850

As a sociocultural anthropologist I focus on ways that anthropological theories and methods can help us better understand social and cultural dynamics and solve contemporary problems. I am especially interested in ways that globalization affects people who live on the margins of the "modern" world. At right is a photo of me visiting a conservation agriculture project in Lesotho, southern Africa.

I have been teaching in anthropology and environmental studies since 1986. Courses that I teach at Ithaca College include Introduction to Anthropology, Environmental Anthropology, Applied Anthropology, Anthropology of Development, and Modern Africa.

My main research interests are in southern Africa. From 1987 and into the 1990s I carried out research in the rural, mountainous Mokhotlong District of Lesotho exploring how centralized government and integration into the global economy affects the lives of Basotho (ethnic Sotho people who live in Lesotho). Later, I collaborated with Catholic Relief Services, Lesotho and the University of South Florida Department of Anthropology to understand and mitigate some of the impacts of HIV and AIDS in rural Lesotho. Our efforts aimed at establishing culturally specific intervention strategies targeting food insecurity through non-intensive agriculture. A primary focus was to empower people to take control over their own lives in ways that reduced incentives for high risk behaviors associated with contracting HIV. Innovative, community based approaches that promote good nutrition and sustainable livelihood security have the potential to combat the spread of HIV, prolong the lives of infected individuals, and to ease the burden on families caring for an afflicted member. More recently I am collaborating with scholars at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, to better understand childhood development using a whole live approach. My involvement with the project focuses on evaluating how the strength or weaknesses of a family's social networks affects developmental outcomes.

During the Spring of 2003 I began volunteer work and research with Sudanese refugees in Phoenix, Arizona. As a result of civil war that continues in Sudan, these "Lost Boys" have been dislocated and lost their family connections. This work led to my becoming involved with the AZ Lost Boys Center (AZLBC), where I served as a cultural adviser, mentor, and eventually an elected member of the board of directors. When I arrived at Ithaca College I reached out to the substantial Lost Boys community in the Syracuse area and have served as a Senior Adviser for the Central New York Lost Boys Foundation. Along with the AZLBC I was entrusted with approximately 17,000 digitized life history files from Pinudo Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, which were generated when Lost Boys first fled their homes in the late 1980s. Each file contains a personal history for the unaccompanied minor refugee, and may contain valuable information for reuniting them with loved ones. I worked closely with AZLBC to make these files available to the individuals that each one represents. During Fall of 2010 we launched Lost Boys Reunited, a web based search facility that enables Lost Boys around the world to determine if their files are in the database, and provides them with means to gain access to their file if it is.

In Ithaca I have served as a member of the steering committees for the Samaritan Resettlement Center for refugees and the Immigrant Rights Coalition. I have also served on the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition through the Tompkins County Workers' Rights Center. I have had motivated students work with me on refugee and workers rights issues. At Ithaca College I regularly advise and guide students through research projects, and am especially proud to have had one result in a co-authored publication. I also serve as the African Curator for the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF).

I also serve my academic discipline as an elected board member and program editor for the Association for Africanist Anthropologists. From 2005 to 2008 I was an elected Steering Committee memberf or the AIDS and Anthropology Research Group (AARG), and from 2008 to 2012 served as their Chair. My earliest research was an outgrowth of my interests in environmental anthropology. In 1985 I explored ways that acid rain affected the lives of people who lived in Big Moose, NY, an area that is highly impacted. Most residents initially denied that there was a problem only to later confide in me fears about potential health threats. Also of great concern to residents was the possibility that acid rain would degrade the environment to the point that the tourism based economy would be in jeopardy. Local folks had developed a body of folklore that attributed changes that they were witnessing in the environment to causes other than acid rain. I continue to have strong interests in environmental anthropology and am proud to be an affiliated faculty member with Ithaca College's Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences.


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