Shalini Shankar Professor | Graduate Advisor

Research and teaching interests

Sociocultural and Linguistic Anthropology, race & ethnicity, diaspora and migration, youth, media, social media, advertising, political economy, class, semiotics, materiality, South Asian diaspora, Asian diasporas, United States. Joint appointment with Asian American Studies.


Shalini Shankar is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist has conducted qualitative research with South Asian American youth and communities in Silicon Valley, with advertising agencies in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and with spelling bee participants and producers in various US locations.

Shankar’s current research, funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1323769) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, examines the world of competitive spelling in the context of brain sports, generation, and immigration. She investigates how spelling bees have grown into a mass-mediated, sport-like spectacles, what accounts for the South Asian American winning streak, and how this model of competition is proliferating worldwide. She has conducted ethnographic and sociolinguistic fieldwork with spellers and their families, spelling bee officials, lexicographers, and media producers.

Shankar’s book in preparation, Spellebrity: Inside the Selfie Generation’s World of Competitive Spelling (Basic Books, under contract), foregrounds generation Z, the “selfie generation.” She analyzes the convergence of immigration, mental competitions, and the shifting media landscape to illustrate the increasingly competitive nature of childhood and how it plays out on broadcast and social media.

Shankar's prior book, Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Advertising (Duke University Press, 2015) is based on ethnographic fieldwork funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS 0924472) in Asian American and general market agencies in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The book considers how, in a "post-racial" era, race has taken center stage in advertising, especially in response to the diversity reported in the 2010 census. It considers the process of advertising development and production from political economic as well as semiotic perspectives to investigate how ethnoracial difference is negotiated in corporate America, among ad executives, and represented in ads. 

Shankar’s first book, Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke University Press, 2008), focuses on Desi (South Asian American) youth in socieconomically and racially diverse high schools and analyzes how their everyday cultural and linguistic practices intersect with their immigration history and class status to impact their educational and career paths. One of the key questions she examines is what “success” means for Desis of different class and immigration backgrounds, and how such meanings articulate with this group’s broader characterization as a “model minority.”


Under Contract

Spellebrity: Inside the Selfie Generation’s World of   Competitive Spelling. Basic   Books.

In Production

Language and Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations (co-edited w/ Jillian Cavanaugh). Cambridge University Press. 


Advertising Diversity: Producing Language and Ethnicity in   American Advertising. Durham,   NC: Duke University Press.


Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Referee Journal Articles

2016 “Coming in First: Sound and Embodiment in Spelling Bees” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 26(2): 1-22.

2014 “Producing Authenticity in Global Capitalism: Language, Materiality, and Value.” Co-author Jillian Cavanaugh. American Anthropologist 116(1): 1-14.

2013 “Affect and Sport in Asian American Advertising.” South Asian Popular Culture11 (3): 231- 242.

2013 “Racial Naturalization, Advertising, and Model Consumers for a New Millennium.” Journal of Asian American Studies 16(2): 159-188.

2012 “Creating Model Consumers: Producing Ethnicity, Race, and Class in Asian American Advertising. American Ethnologist 39(3): 578-591.

2012 “Language and Materiality in Global Capitalism.” Co-Author Jillian Cavanaugh. Annual Review of Anthropology 41:355–369.

2011 “Style and Language Use among Youth of the New Immigration: Formations of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Everyday Practice.” Identities 18:646-671.

2011 “Asian American Youth Language Use: Perspectives Across Schools and Communities.” Review of Research in Education, Special Issue: “Youth Cultures, Language, and Literacy” 35: 1-28.

2008 “Speaking like a Model Minority: ‘FOB’ Styles, Gender, and Racial Meanings among Desi Teens in Silicon Valley.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 18(2): 268-289.

2006 “Metaconsumptive Practices and the Circulation of Objectifications.” Journal of Material Culture 11(3): 293-317.

2004 “Reel to Real: Desi Teens' Linguistic Engagements with Bollywood.” Pragmatics14 (2-3): 317-335. Reprinted in Beyond Yellow English: Toward a Linguistic Anthropology of Asian Pacific America, Angela Reyes and Adrienne Lo, eds. Pp. 309-324. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Select Book Chapters and Other Publications

In Production. “Spelling Materially: Words, Brand, and Circulation.” In Language Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations, J. Cavanaugh and S. Shankar, eds. Cambridge University Press.

In Production. “Toward a Theory of Language Materiality: An Introduction.” Co-authored with Jillian Cavanaugh. In Language Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations, J. Cavanaugh and S. Shankar, eds. Under review at Cambridge University Press.

2016 “Reflections on Professional Sports and Immigrant Life.” In Asian American Sporting Cultures, Stanley Thangaraj, Constancio Arnoldo, and Christina Chin, eds. NYU Press.

2014 “Heritage Language Use, Asian and Pacific Islander American.”  Sage Encyclopedia of Asian Americans. Mary Yu Danico, Ed.

2013 “Youth Culture." Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology. Ed. John Jackson. New York: Oxford University Press.     9780199766567-0081.xml.

2013 “Chinese and Japanese Americans.” Smithsonian Exhibit: Race and Ethnicity in Advertising, 1890s-Present.

2013 “South Asian Americans.” Smithsonian Exhibit: Race and Ethnicity in Advertising,  1890s- Present. 

Fellowships, Grants and Awards 

2014    Public Voices/OpEd Project Fellow, Northwestern University.

2013    The Business of Spelling: Branded Bees, Neoliberal Socialization, and Racialized Stereotypes. National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Research Grant (BCS-1323769).

2013    The Business of Spelling: Branded Bees, Neoliberal Socialization, and Racialized Stereotypes. The Wenner-Gren Foundation, Post-Ph.D. Research Grant.

2009    Advertising Agency: Producing Racial Imagery of Asian Americans. National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Research Grant (BCS 0924472).

Professional Affiliations

American Anthropological Association

American Ethnological Society board member; Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology member; Society for Linguistic Anthropology Board Member; Working Group on Police Brutality and Extrajudicial Violence member; Society for Cultural Anthropology, Society for the Anthropology of North America)

Association for American Studies

Association for Asian American Studies