Laura McTighe

Postdoctoral Fellow, Dartmouth Society of Fellows

Laura McTighe is an interdisciplinary scholar of race, religion, and social movements in America. Her research excavates the often-hidden histories, practices, and geographies of struggle in our nation’s zones of abandonment, and asks how these worlds ‘otherwise’ are emerging, taking root, and transforming our present. With her interlocutors and research partners, she has undertaken fieldwork to understand and intervene at the intersections of colonialism, criminalization, health, and the state in New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, and beyond, through an engaged abolitionist ethics. The public focus of her scholarship is informed by her twenty years of work in movements to end AIDS and prisons, as well as her sustained commitment to building bridges among scholars, activists, artists, and visionary practitioners concerned about otherwise worlds.

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Her current book project, “Fire Dreams,” began in assault. For ten years, she has been a partner to Women With A Vision (WWAV) in New Orleans, supporting their generations-honed Black feminist organizing for health, justice, and liberation. On the evening of May 24, 2012––two months after WWAV won a huge victory against mass criminalization in the Gulf South––their headquarters were firebombed and destroyed by still-unknown arsonists. Amid the precarity of WWAV’s survival, she worked with the organization’s foremothers to formulate a series life-and-death research questions to track the enduring threat of Black women’s leadership in the American past and present, and to explore the strategies through which organizers are crafting more livable futures. The result is a polyvocal, enchanted ethnography that asks of its readers to not only document-what-is but to actively build-together-what-could-be. As such, “Fire Dreams” presents a challenge to the usual fieldwork mandate and serves as a model for how scholars of religion can ‘study’ the world-building work of organizations that have unapologetically transformative demands.

At Dartmouth, she is also continuing to develop her next major projects. “A Wall is just a Wall” is a collaborative ethnography of religious practice, forced migration, and social transformation, which moves with Chicago’s Rev. Doris Green throughout her more than three decades of work to reassemble the communities decimated by mass criminalization in Chicago, USA. “Moral Medicine” is a historical ethnography of the women's carceral sphere, which demonstrates the continuities between nineteenth-century carceral imaginaries and our own––as well as the lifeworlds and visions that have persisted amid constant and lethal surveillance. Both of these research projects find home and interlocutors through her academic work to gather scholars and activist in sustained dialogue. The most expansive of these incitements has been building the “Otherwise Anthropology” multimodal laboratory with Megan Raschig at Sacramento State. For the 2018-2019 academic year, she is also organizing a new Dartmouth teaching-research collaborative with Yana Stainova entitled “Method-Making in Concert.”

McTighe’s research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Institute for Religion, Culture, & Public Life, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and the Dartmouth College Venture Fund. She is the co-founder and associate director of Front Porch Research Strategy in New Orleans, and currently serves on the boards of Men & Women In Prison Ministries in Chicago and Reconstruction Inc. in Philadelphia. 

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Curriculum Vitae Personal Website
B.A. Haverford College
M.T.S. Harvard University
M.A. Columbia University
Ph.D. Columbia University

Selected publications


“‘To Instill Love for My People’: Reassembling the Social in a Time of Mass Criminalization.” CrossCurrents, Special Issue on “Religion, Political Democracy, and the Specters of Race,” ed. James Logan (forthcoming).

Front Porch Revolution: Resilience Space, Demonic Grounds, and the Horizons of a Black Feminist Otherwise.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 44, no. 1 (2018): 25-52.

“‘And Still We Rise’: Moral Panics, Dark Sousveillance, and Politics Otherwise in the new New Orleans.” In Panic, Transnational Cultural Studies, and the Affective Contours of Power, ed. Micol Seigel. Routledge, 2018.

‘There is NO Justice in Louisiana’: Crimes Against Nature and the Spirit of Black Feminist Resistance.” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Culture, Politics and Society 19, no. 3 (2017): 261- 285.

“On Moments, Movements, and Women’s Work.” Syndicate, Symposium on Gary Dorrien’s The New Abolition (2017).

“The War on Drugs is a War on Relationships: Crossing the Borders of Fear, Silence and HIV Vulnerability in the Prison-Created Diaspora.” Beyond Walls and Cages: Bridging Prison Abolition and Immigrant Justice Movements, eds. Jenna Loyd, et al. University of Georgia Press, 2012.

“HIV, Addiction, and Justice: Toward a Qur’anic Theology of Liberation.” In Islam and AIDS: Between Scorn, Pity, and Justice, eds. Farid Esack and Sarah Chiddy. Oneworld, 2009.