William F. Hanks

Research Expertise and Interest

social and cultural anthropology, linguistics, shamanism, language, Yucatan Mexico, Maya culture

Research Description

The empirical basis of my research has been the history and ethnography of Yucatan Mexico, where I have conducted about 30 months of fieldwork and archival research. My speciality is Yucatec Maya language and culture and all of my fieldwork has been conducted in Maya language. I have become increasingly interested in early modern Spain and Spanish as a necessary step towards understanding the colonial formation of Yucatan and New Spain.

My work is oriented towards three areas, and the theoretical frameworks needed to understand them. The first is the organization and dynamics of routine language use (semantics, pragmatics, interactional sociolinguistics and the social foundations of speech practices). Here I have been particularly concerned with how people make reference to, describe and orient themselves in space. My first book (1990) was a study of lived space in contemporary Maya interaction and the contribution of demonstratives and deictics to communicative practice. The second area in which I have done sustained fieldwork is shamanism. This began with an extended collaboration with a contemporary Maya shaman in Yucatan, and has led me to study ritual practice, comparative shamanisms, and the relations between religion and health care in rural Mexico. The third focus of my work is the colonial history of Yucatan and New Spain, with a special emphasis on missionization and the emergence of colonial discourse genres. The latter include a wide range of evangelical texts in Maya, the grammars, dictionaries and other analytic works by missionaries in Yucatan, as well as a substantial corpus of texts authored by native Maya speakers (notarial documents as well as so called 'indigenous genres'). Among the key concepts engaged in this work are translation, religious conversion, semantic change, discourse genres and social fields.

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