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Professor of Anthropology, Macalester College

Arjun Guneratne is Professor of Anthropology at Macalester College. He was born in Sri Lanka and studied law for a year at the University of Colombo, before enrolling at Dartmouth College to study anthropology. He developed a keen interest in development problems while a student at Dartmouth, and spent his senior year in Dartmouth’s Senior Fellows program where, excused from completing his anthropology major, he could devote his time and energy to studying development problems in Sri Lanka’s peasant resettlement projects. This work resulted in a thesis, Water, Rice and People: Problems and Constraints of Peasant Colonization in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka.

After Dartmouth, he entered the PhD program in anthropology at the University of Chicago, intending to continue his interest in development. However, ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka between the Sinhala-dominated state and Tamil separatist rebels kindled an interest in how ethnic identities emerge. He pursued this interest in Nepal, a country where the literature about ethnicity suggested it was a fluid process rather than a fixed identity derived from the past. He focused on the Tarai, the narrow strip of once malarial land abutting the mountains; not many foreign scholars had worked there and the main ethnic group inhabiting the region, the Tharu, had been little described. His dissertation was a study of the development of ethnic consciousness among the Tharu of Nepal and its relation to class stratification, processes of state building and the cultural and socio-economic transformation of the Tarai that followed on the success of the Malaria Eradication Program in Nepal. The dissertation became the basis of his first book, Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu identity in Nepal (Cornell 2002).


  • –present
    Professor of Anthropology , Macalester College