Fellow 2007-08

Lynne Marie Dearborn



Professor Dearborn’s study focuses on members of the Hmong tribe in three locations: in their Laos homeland, as refugees in Thailand, and as immigrants in the United States. The research seeks to understand how immigration and international tourism have transformed relationships between the Hmong and their residential environments.

Anthropologists have established that, historically, the Hmong culture incorporates a unique worldview that influences the location, arrangement, and form of their “traditional” villages as well as the form and organization of individual houses. The traditional household, residing in a single dwelling, has been the basic socioeconomic and religious unit. These households commonly number more than twenty members with extended-family arrangements and/or polygynous extensions.

In Laos and northern Thailand, the Hmong’s increasing contact with international tourists appears to be resulting in a variety of changes to these historical dwelling patterns: (a) the conscious return to some traditional core cultural characteristics, (b) the casting off of some characteristics, and (c) the transformation of other characteristics. In the United States, studies of Hmong immigrant enclaves suggest that the spatial characteristics of available residential environments interact with traditional cultural characteristics to produce distinctive outcomes within each enclave.

Professor Dearborn’s project builds on the premise of this two-way interaction between people and the residential environment, where people influence their physical environments while aspects of the physical environment simultaneously affect people. By documenting the Hmong’s various physical environments and documenting tangible expressions of their culture (e.g., kinship, social networks, family structure, and worldview), she will identify linkages between cultural change and the spatial environment. This investigation adds to Professor Dearborn’s ongoing research on cultural change and the built environment and will form a key piece of her forthcoming book on the theory of cultural change in the context of globalization.