Graham M. Jones is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT.
He is a cultural and linguistic anthropologist who explores how people use language and other media to enact expertise in practice, performance, and interaction. After studying literature at Reed College (BA, 1998) and anthropology at New York University (PhD, 2007), he was a postdoctoral member of the Princeton Society of Fellows (2007-2010). His two monographs constitute a diptych: Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician’s Craft (California, 2011) describes day-to-day life and everyday talk within the insular subculture of contemporary French illusionists; Magic’s Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy (Chicago, 2017) examines the meaning of magic in Western modernity, shuttling between the intellectual history of anthropology and the cultural history of popular entertainment. Alongside these books, he has a third set of projects investigating how language and culture shape, and are in turn shaped by, the way people use technologies of digital communication. At MIT, he teaches classes on a range of subjects, including: the anthropology of education; the language of mediated communication; and ethnographic research methods.
Graham studies how people use language and media to not only share knowledge, but also to imbue it with meaning and value – whether by colluding in shared secrets or staking out contrastive positions in an argument. Through ethnographic engagements with a wide range of communities of speech and practice, he analyzes ways in which signifying practices shape moral and epistemological convictions. From the way sleight-of-hand magicians verbally regulate the circulation of technical secrets to the ways computer hackers communicatively coordinate software design projects and anthropologists construct arguments with analogies, my work spans diverse forms of expertise. It also attends to multiple scales, from the shared intimacies of a conversation between friends to debates in a sprawling and anonymous online discussion forum. Graham uses the tools of linguistic anthropology to demonstrate how verbal strategies of encoding knowledge and producing evidence connect with complex social dynamics of identity and difference. His ethnographic and ethnohistorical research has focused primarily on metropolitan and colonial France, but he has also conduced significant research in the United States and on the English language. Currently, he is working on a new project on the global circulation of acrobatics that includes components in China and Québec. Graham typically works with graduate students who have projects related to digital communications, though is open to projects engaging with language and expressive culture more broadly.