Sabra Thorner, Anthropology

Photo of Sabra Turner

Name: Sabra Thorner, Anthropology

Title:  Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Department: Anthropology

Areas of study: Indigenous Australia, media anthropology, anthropology in and of museums, digital cultures, social lives of photographs and archives  

Research focus: I am a cultural anthropologist and documentary filmmaker interested in contemporary productions and expressions of Indigeneity in Australia and other settler-colonial contexts; anthropologies of media and artworlds; the social lives of photographs; digital cultures; archives as sites of knowledge production; decolonizing the museum; and intellectual property and cultural heritage regimes. I currently have three ongoing research projects that focus on how archiving can be mobilized as a form of cultural production, preservation, and revitalization in different Indigenous contexts, and how this intercultural work might in fact expand our notions of what an archive is and how it might work. My scholarly work is embedded in Australia, yet also seeks to highlight Indigenous cosmopolitanism and global interconnections.   

What drew you to this field: Cultural anthropology is a field that focuses on how people make sense of their everyday lives, and endows us with the tools to simultaneously contemplate — and grapple with — our vast human diversity and shared humanity. I was drawn to it originally because it seemed both infinitely interesting — I would never run out of things to learn! — and deeply relevant and urgent. I could see that committing myself to studying and teaching in this field would allow me to contribute meaningfully to greater understanding and social justice. I also had really amazing mentors who have been and continue to be indispensable to every step forward. These few amazing people have become models for the person and the anthropologist I’d like to be.    

Why Mount Holyoke: Becoming a professor at Mount Holyoke was a dream come true for me. I can’t wait to be part of this community teaching, mentoring and learning from the next generations of women committed to both critical thinking and to political activism. The small liberal arts college environment, combined with the larger academic community in the valley, seems like an ideal combination in which lasting relationships can be formed, and the breadth of interests and expertise represented will long be enriching.    

About teaching: Two things. First, teaching turns learning into a lifelong pursuit, and I can’t think of anything more stimulating and fulfilling. Secondly, and equally, teaching is a profound way of making a difference in the world, imparting both subject-specific content and new ways of thinking to young adults. Together, these keep my own mind active, and also allow me to (I hope) inspire the same in the generations to come.   

Proudest accomplishments, academic or other: Personally: the ongoing work of raising my daughter to be a kind, good person, with a curious mind and a secure sense of self. Professionally: 1) the ongoing mentoring of women students at every institution where I’ve had the privilege to serve as a faculty member, and 2) the establishment and maintenance of ethical, responsive, decolonizing relationships with Indigenous collaborators in Australia.     

Favorite research experience: Fieldwork is always the best part of being a cultural anthropologist, and what a great privilege it is: to immerse oneself in a new context and try to learn from others how that world works.  

The campus and region: I’m looking forward to a glorious autumn season, with fall colors, blue skies, fresh local produce — and ample maple syrup. I also have a sense of tremendous tradition at Mount Holyoke and I’m excited to become part of this as well.  

Favorite class as an undergraduate: Anthropological Perspectives on Gender and Anthropology of Australia

When not working: Spend time with my family; marvel at the miraculousness of raising a tiny human. I love to run, and in general find physical exercise outdoors really nourishing — hiking, walking, swimming. Love to read good fiction, watch beautiful films, attend gallery and museum exhibits. Love to travel, explore new places, try new things. Speak (and work to improve) Italian.      

Favorite books: So hard to choose. “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough, “Les Justes” by Albert Camus, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith.

Join the conversation. Learn more.