Diane Hoffman

Associate Professor of Education, School of Education & Human Development

Research Interests

I am an anthropologist of education whose interests lie in understanding the cultural foundations of education in contemporary societies. My work reflects the enduring influence of my mentor at Stanford, George Spindler (the widely recognized “father of American educational anthropology”), whose research and thinking were centrally concerned with understanding the nature and role of self and identity in the educational process.  After completing my dissertation on immigrant Iranians in California,  I conducted post-doctoral fieldwork in Japan and South Korea, studying constructions of self and other in education and the experiences of Koreans as immigrants in Japan.  My earlier publications focused on comparisons of ideas about the individual self that underlie education in Japan and the United States.  Alongside this comparative work, I have maintained an interest in minority identities in educational contexts. I’ve published numerous critical cultural analyses of dominant discourses of culture, diversity, multiculturalism, U.S. parenting ideologies, social emotional learning, and the culture of teaching and learning in U.S. schools. 

My interests in self and identity also lie at the heart of my more recent work as an anthropologist of childhood. Since 2007, I’ve been engaged in research on out-of-school children and youth in Haiti.  Traveling nearly every year to that country, I’ve been exploring the multifaceted experiences of Haitian children and youth who, while denigrated by society and conceptualized as victims of poverty and inegalitarian social arrangements, display enormous resilience and hope in the face of daunting circumstances. I am trying to understand both the larger contexts that condition youths’ experiences and the immediate strategies that youth engage in to self-educate in the absence of schooling.  My work addresses a critical need in scholarship on children and youth in society that highlights the self-directed nature of the informal and nonformal learning that youth engage in.  In doing so, I hope to advance the discourse beyond the dualistic and individualistic reductionism of “strengths and deficits” approaches to consider how children and youth enact hope as a cultural practice—one that in the end underlies all forms of education in society.

I’ve taught courses in the Anthropology of Education, Comparative Education, Social Foundations of Education, Multicultural Education, Globalization Childhood and Culture, Ethnography of Education, Culture Education and Global Health, among others.  I also travel to Haiti regularly to teach the social foundations of education to Haitian undergraduates and to advise Haitian university students on their graduate theses, as well as to deliver seminars for Haitian educators on adapting Freirean critical pedagogy to the Haitian context.