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Noa Vaisman

PhD , Associate Professor

Research areas

  • Anthropology Argentina emotions history identity Justice kinship play psychoanalysis relatedness Self social reconstruction Southern Cone temporality transitional justice


Ongoing projects:

What is justice and what happens in its aftermath? These questions animate my third and ongoing research project in Buenos Aires, Argentina. For over a decade I have been returning to Argentina to carry out ethnographic fieldwork on the long-aftermath of the last civil-military dictatorship (1976-1983). In my current project I explore, on the one hand, the emotional responses and experiences of judges as they adjudicate in the ongoing trials of crimes against humanity (see paper “On Judgement”). On the other hand, I listen to the struggles and follow the practices of lawyers, prosecutors, victims and family members as they take part in this ongoing search for justice. Through open-ended interviews as well as participant observations, and archival and visual research I explore what justice might feel like, what it means to those who are on the receiving end and what happens once it is meted out by the State’s official judicial system.


How can play be taught? And what happens when clowns enter a humanitarian context? These and similar questions have been at the center of my second ongoing project on the work of clowns in and around the current refugee crisis. Over the past year I have carried out fieldwork with different clown groups in a number of refugee camps on the boarders of Europe. I have also followed the training of volunteers, psychologists and social workers as they learn the art of clowning and use it in their work with refugees across Europe. My concerns in this project are broad and include developing a nuanced understanding of the emergence of play and playfulness, the possible impact of clowns and play more broadly on the well-being of both children and adults who have gone through traumatic experiences and are suffering under difficult conditions in the camps. Through this project I am also experimenting with different methodologies, examining states of anti-play and collaborating with wonderfully creative artists and practitioners.   


Previous (and partially ongoing) projects include:

Two previous research projects in Buenos Aires that have also dealt with the presence of the past in the present: A research project on the ‘Living Disappeared’ – individuals who as infants during the dictatorship were abducted by the regime and raised without knowledge about their biological origins – where I explore a variety of questions about the boundaries of the body, kinship, self, DNA identity tests, and temporality (see various papers and book chapters as well as the Special Issue on Human Rights and New Scientific Technologies). A project on Specters, Dreamwork and Talk in Buenos Aires where I inquire into the patters and interconnections that exist between sociality, friendship, time and historicity.


Fieldwork, my interdisciplinary background (in psychology, sociology and anthropology) and my intellectual development and interests have led me to engage with a broad array of theories and themes including: justice, the social, and feminist legal studies, temporality, history, subjectivity and embodiment as well as play, trauma and psychoanalysis. Some of these I have written about, while others are informing my ongoing writing projects and the courses I teach at the Department of Anthropology at Aarhus University where I am an Assistant Professor. Previously I was a Junior Research Fellow and Marie Curie Fellow at Durham University, UK, as well as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin Madison, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I received my Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2008.

Since 2018 I am also the Book Reviews Editor of Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology.   

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