Cultural, Linguistic, and Visual Anthropology


Dr. Hoffman and Massai




Articles Available as PDFs




Associate Professor
CB 145 (Office)
CB 217-221 (Visual Anthropology Center)
2121 Euclid Avenue.
Cleveland State University
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
Phone: (216) 687-3549 / 2404; Fax:(216) 687-9384


Research Interests:
As an undergraduate French major, I went to France during my junior year for a semester abroad. Among the first people I met were young Africans studying at the University of Paris. My interest in African languages and lifeways began at that time; the following year I spent part of the summer in Côte d'Ivoire studying an endangered language, Tagbana, and have been returning to Africa almost yearly ever since. Most interesting to me are the myriad cultural expressions of social identity: gender, ethnicity, caste, class, and kinship, among others. Here are some of the culture areas I've worked in:

Mande Cultures (Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso)
My doctoral research at Indiana University focused on how language communicates social status among Mande groups in West Africa where society is organized in castes as well as patrilineages, clans, and matrifocal family groups. My book, Griots at War: Conflict, Conciliation, and Caste in Mande (Indiana University Press, 2000) discusses the intricacies of the Mande caste system where the language of griots -- their speech -- differentiates them from members of the noble or freeborn caste.

Currently, I'm studying the ways that globalization, privatization, and habitat are changing Malian ideas about kinship, marriage, and family structure in urban areas.

Maasai Culture (Kenya)
I've developed an interest in visual anthropology as well, and during a Fulbright year in Kenya ('97-'98) as well as a return field period in January, 2004, filmed footage for a series of ethnographic films on gender and culture change among the Maasai. The first two films in the series,Womanhood and Circumcision: Three Maasai Women Have Their Say, and Making Maasai Men: Growing Courage Toward Circumcision, are being distributed by Berkeley Media. Two more films are in post-production in the Department of Anthropology's Visual Anthropology Center. Students who enroll in my course on visual anthropology (ANT 323) have worked on these films with me, and receive credits in the film as well as in the class!

Endangered Languages (Togo, Ghana)
In 2000-2002, my fieldwork in Togo and Ghana focused on the sociocultural dimensions of language shift in two of the Togo Remnant Languages (Igo and Anyimere). My comparative study is set to appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book, Ethnographic Contributions to the Study of Endangered Languages, from Arizona University Press.


Engaged Learning Initiatives: Bringing Africa to Cleveland

Nearly ever year, I work in collaboration with various programs, departments, and offices around campus to bring Africans to the CSU campus for public programs on cultural topics.

Nakunte Diarra: Bogolanfini Artist from Mali
NanaAn interest I've shared with CSU and the greater Cleveland community is the textile art of bogolanfini (mudcloth) from Mali. In 1994, CSU sponsored a public program and exhibit of the work of Nakunte Diarra, master bogolanfini artist, whom I've know since 1986. Nakunte came to Cleveland and stayed in my home for 5 weeks, during which time she gave demonstrations of her art here at CSU as well as at the African-American Museum, Tri-C, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Since 1999, her work has been on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's African Voices exhibit and is also in the collections of the Indiana University Art Museum, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Newark Museum, and others. The government of Mali sent her to represent the art form at the 2003 Smithsonian Folklife Festival - a venue attended by millions of people from around the worldl. Carole Lade, our current departmental secretary who was at that time one of our majors, edited a film about Nakunte and her art for her ANT 323 class project; I built on her project to edit a limited-edition DVD, Through the Eyes of a Master: Nakunte Diarra's Bogolanfini, which was offered for sale at the festival with all profits going directly to Nakunte Diarra.

Mande Griot Papa Susso
I n 2002, 2006 and again in 2008, we brought El Haji Papa Susso, a famous Gambian griot, to CSU with his musical troupe where he gave a series of lecture/performances about griots and their music. Two of our majors interviewed Susso and his colleagues for a video documentary while several others organized a performance in the dormitory and sessions with students.

Maasai Cultural Exchanges: SIMOO and Alice Lasoi from Kenya
In the fall of 2002, 2003, and 2004, a group of Maasai educators from the Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO) visited CSU at our request and gave a series of lectures about their culture that included performances of song and dance.

In Spring of 2006, one of the members of SIMOO, Alice Lasoi, came to Cleveland and lectured not only here at CSU, but also at Case, John Carroll, Lorain County Community College, and Lakeland Community College. Many of our students have the opportunity to interact directly with our African guests both in and out of class. Alice has returned to Cleveland each year since then, offering thousands of Cleveland high school, college, and university students as well as community members the opportunity to learn about her country and culture.