Elise Berman

Associate Professor
Barnard 249

PROFILE: I am a linguistic, cultural, and psychological anthropologist. I am also engaged with the interdisciplinary fields of education and communication and I have worked with the Chabad-Lubavitch, the K’iche’ Maya in Guatemala, and the Marshallese in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Currently I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. My research focuses on the politics of language and exchange, the social construction of age and childhood, the role of deception in social life, variation in understandings of truth and knowledge across cultures and context, language socialization, and racialization. My current book manuscript, Producing Age: Children, Deception, and Avoiding Giving in the Marshall Islands, is based on sixteen months of fieldwork in the RMI. I analyze immaturity and the production of age differences in the RMI, arguing that avoiding giving (and giving) in the RMI depend on children’s unique communicative power to say things to adults that adults may not. In this manuscript I show how a basic and central issue in anthropological theory and ethnography—exchange in Oceania—cannot be understood without attention to the life-course or children— revealing the relevance of age to anthropological theory. I also challenge standard understandings of socialization and cultural reproduction by demonstrating that, paradoxically, children learn mature modes of giving and speaking by engaging in activity that is inappropriate for adults. I am beginning a new project on language, age, and racialization among the Marshallese community in Springdale, Arkansas. This project will investigate how distinct Marshallese linguistic and cultural practices—such as local understandings of age inequalities that order life in the Marshall Islands—are interpreted and transformed in school and how such interactions and transformations in school contribute to the racialization of the Marshallese. These questions have profound significance not only for Marshallese studies (as the greater Arkansas community is by some estimates the largest Marshallese community outside of the RMI) but also for understanding how the U.S. will deal with increasing numbers of climate change refugees. My work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Society for Psychological Anthropology, the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, the University of Chicago, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  

Berman faculty website

Berman Curriculum Vitae


  • PhD University of Chicago 2012
  • MA University of Chicago 2008
  • BA Dartmouth College 2003


  • Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology
  • Intercultural Communication
  • Language and Culture: Fundamental Issues in Linguistic Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Childhood
  • Introduction to Anthropology


  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Anthropology of Childhood
  • Cross-cultural human development and the life course
  • Age and race
  • Language socialization
  • Immigration and education
  • Deception and truth
  • Violence against children across cultures
  • The politics of language and exchange
  • \Adoption, kinship, and families  


  • Wenner-Gren Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2015-2016
  • Distinguished Guest Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Univ. of Notre Dame, 2013
  • William Henry Award for best dissertation in the Department of Comparative Human Development in 2012, University of Chicago, 2013 
  • Faculty Research Grant, UNC Charlotte, 2013
  • Provost Dissertation-Year Fellowship, University of Chicago, 2011-2012
  • Bernice Neugarten Prize Lectureship, University of Chicago, 2011
  • Bernice Neugarten Prize (Research), University of Chicago, 2011
  • Research Travel Grant (Orin Williams Fund), University of Chicago, 2011
  • Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, 2009-2010
  • NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, 2009-2010
  • Lemelson Fellowship, Society for Psychological Anthropology, 2008
  • Century Doctoral Fellowship, University of Chicago, 2005-2009
  • Title IV FLAS summer language fellowship (Guatemala), University of Chicago, 2006
  • Claire Garber Goodman Grant for Anthropological Research, Dartmouth College, 2002


  • Berman, Elise 2014 Negotiating Age: Direct Speech and the Sociolinguistic Production of Childhood in the Marshall Islands. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology. 24(2).
  • Berman, Elise 2014 Holding on: Adoption, Kinship Tensions, and Pregnancy in the Marshall Islands. American Anthropologist. 116(3).
  • Berman, Elise 2013 Passive First-Person Recordings: A New Way to Study Children. Anthropology of Childhood and Youth Interest Group (ACYIG) Newsletter, February 15.
  • Berman, Elise 2011 The Irony of Immaturity: K’iche’ Children as Mediators and Buffers in Adult Social Interactions. Childhood 18(2):274-288.
  • Berman, Elise 2009 Voices of Outreach: The Construction of Identity and Maintenance of Social Ties among Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48(1):69-85.  


  • Berman, Elise 2016 Aged Culture. Life Course Blog. Life Course Collaborative Research Network, February 8. https://anthropologyandgerontology.com/aged-culture/ http://clas-pages.uncc.edu/elise-berman/