Victoria Bernal

Ph.D., Northwestern University

Research Interests: political anthropology; gender and feminist theory; digital media and cyberspace; transnationalism, migration, and diaspora; states, security, surveillance, citizenship, NGOs, civil society, the public sphere, and protest; violence, war, and memorialization; Islam, African Studies

Professional Bio

Victoria Bernal is a cultural anthropologist whose scholarship in political anthropology contributes to media and IT studies, gender studies, and African studies. Her work addresses questions relating to politics, gender, migration and diaspora, war, globalization, transnationalism, civil society and activism, development, digital media, and Islam. Dr. Bernal’s research is particularly concerned with relations of power and inequality and the dynamic struggles of ordinary people as they confront the cruel and absurd contradictions arising from the concentration of wealth and political power locally and globally. She has carried out ethnographic research in Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Silicon Valley and cyberspace. Her articles and chapters have appeared in various collections as well as in anthropological, African Studies, and interdisciplinary journals, including American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Global Networks, Comparative Studies in Society and History, African Studies Review, and Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Selected publications are available below. Bernal teaches courses on Digital Media and Culture, Global Africa, Nations, States and Gender, and the Politics of Protest among others.

Professor Bernal’s current project on “Privacy, Security, and Surveillance: Struggles on the Digital Frontiers of Democracy” was supported by a Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University for the 2015-16 academic year. The project explores shifting American cultural understandings and practices around digital surveillance and cybersecurity with a particular focus on: 1) tech culture and technological responses to surveillance; 2) mainstream media and expert discourses on cybersecurity and threats; and 3) public culture and artistic representations addressing surveillance, threats, and digital technologies.

Bernal’s 2014 book, Nation as Network: Diaspora, Cyberspace and Citizenship argues that a profound political shift is underway as digital media coupled with migration reconfigure relationships between citizens and states. The heart of the book is an ethnography of websites created and used by Eritreans in diaspora to support and to subvert the Eritrean state.  Bernal suggests that ‘infopolitics’—struggles over the management of information—make politics in the twenty-first century distinct. She is currently developing a new project on politics and the internet focused on the shifting cultural understandings and practices related to citizens’ privacy, government secrecy, and state surveillance.

Bernal’s recent publications include two edited anthologies, Theorizing NGOs: States, Feminisms, and Neoliberalism (2014) co-edited with Inderpal Grewal, and Contemporary Cultures, Global Connections: Anthropology for the 21st Century (2012), a collection designed for teaching anthropology.  Theorizing NGOs examines how the rise of nongovernmental organiza­tions (NGOs) has transformed the conditions of women’s lives and of feminist organizing.  Bernal and Grewal argue that “the NGO form” is itself inherently gendered and contributes to the production of women as subjects. The Introduction to Theorizing NGOs is available on the following link:    Bernal’s first book Cultivating Workers: Peasants and Capitalism in a Sudanese Village(1991) is an ethnography that analyzes the complex interplay of development policies, labor migration, and peasant economic strategies.

Bernal has been the recipient of a number of prestigious grants and fellowships from Wenner-Gren, Fulbright, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society among others. Her service on editorial boards includes American Ethnologist, PoLAR, and the International and Area Studies division of University of  California Press. She has served on boards of directors of the African Studies Association,  the Association of Political Legal Anthropology and the Sudan Studies Association .

Bernal counts mentoring among her interests and has created and participated in mentoring initiatives beyond UCI in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association, the Association of Political and Legal Anthropologists, the UC President’s Dissertation Fellowship Program, African Studies across the UCs, and the African Studies Association.