Training Through Research

Dr. Cairns always says that good research is good teaching.  As such, she is currently leading two research projects that are designed both to  contribute to knowledge spheres in environmental anthropology and to train students in the holistic practice of research design, methods, and analysis.  In both of these studies, students have collaboratively participated with Dr. Cairns in all aspects of the research process—from formulating a feasible research question to creating assessments, completing IRB applications, data collection, analysis, etc. Both studies are ongoing.

Clothing Acquisition and Disposal

Designed as an element of the SMU Department of Anthropology’s graduate level Advanced Methods course and undergraduate level Research Methods course, the CAD study examines practices of clothing acquisition and disposal among male and female undergraduate students at SMU. It serves as both a learning tool and an ongoing, iterative investigation into influences on clothing acquisition and disposal practices, awareness of brands and clothing origins, acquisition and disposal habits, and the inclusion of environmental values in decision-making surrounding clothing. Semi-structured interviews and a survey are used to explore the productive afterlife of waste, the role of kinship in clothing practices, ethics and values, economic status, and fast fashion.

Ecodisposition, Waste, and Environment

Funded by a Hamilton Scholars Grant for Undergraduate Research, the EWE study explores the social and ecological drivers and impacts of environmentally friendly funeral options. Funeral practices with ecological motivations are experiencing renewed attention in the US, in both traditional and alternative funeral industries. This mixed-method study examines how these environmentally-friendly practices intersect with waste streams, infrastructures, and human perceptions of and experiences with death and dying. Using interviews and participant observation, the investigation has thus far engaged with funeral industry professionals in Texas and Oklahoma who are familiar with some variety of “green” or “natural” funeral services. Important emergent themes include material waste, normative social practices, acceptance of mortality, and simplicity and affordability of funeral services. How these themes are embedded in the experiences of both mourners and proactive death planners will continue to be explored as the study continues.


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