AAS Member Spotlight: Susan Darlington

Return to Member Spotlight page

Dr. Susan (Sue) Darlington, Professor of Anthropology & Asian Studies, Hampshire College

Anthropology; Mainland Southeast Asia (Thailand, Burma); Tibet

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Since the mid-1980s

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

In graduate school, Southeast Asian Studies provided my primary intellectual community. This has continued over the past 30 years. AAS gives me the opportunity to learn from and share with colleagues in a diverse disciplinary environment, resulting in new forms of knowledge and collaborations.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

As a high school student, I went to Bangkok, Thailand through the AFS exchange program. The experience of living with a Thai family and attending a Thai school for ten weeks made me realize the value of the rich diversity of world views and experiences. In particular, as an American in mainland Southeast Asia in 1975, as the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in shame, I gained a different perspective on the impact of the war on the region. I wanted to learn more about the rich histories and current perspectives and experiences of the various peoples in the region and determined at that point to go into Asian Studies in some form.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

Even while there is a wonderful diversity of societies, histories, experiences related to Asia, engaging across those diversities has been rewarding. Within my focus of Southeast Asia, I have enjoyed learning across the various societies to learn about the ways people have interacted and influenced each other. Every trip I have made to Asia in particular has been truly rewarding; as people realize I want to learn from and with them, they are welcoming, challenging (pushing my ideas and understandings in new directions), and engaging.

Tell us about your current or past research.

I recently (2012) completed a book on Buddhism and environmentalism in Thailand, on which I had been working for several years. I am currently expanding that project in two ways: First, I want to develop more of a comparative perspective on how Buddhists in other Asian societies conceive of and engage with the environment and environmental activism. Second, the place of agriculture in how people understand their relationship with both the natural environment and the human-constructed world has become of growing interest to me, especially with many different forms of agriculture mediating these understandings. I want to look more closely at the intersections of agricultural practices, religion, and economics. For the latter project, I would keep my focus on northern Thailand where I have been conducting research throughout my professional career.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Learn a language; get to Asia as often as possible; and get to the AAS meetings to meet a wide range of people in the field.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I am an amateur photographer. Besides using photography as a significant aspect of my work in Asia (both in my book and in my classes), I am a volunteer photographer for the German Shepherd Rescue of New England. I have two German Shepherd Dogs currently (we used to have three), one of which is a rescue.

"Within my focus of Southeast Asia, I have enjoyed learning across the various societies to learn about the ways people have interacted and influenced each other."

— Susan Darlington