Shalini Shankar Associate Professor

Research and teaching interests

Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology, race/ ethnicity, media, youth, materiality, semiotics, Asian diasporas, United States. Joint appointment with Asian American Studies.


Shalini Shankar is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist whose central concerns include media, semiotics, race and ethnicity, youth culture, Asian America, and the South Asian diaspora. She has conducted research in Silicon Valley, CA, and in New York, NY.

Shankar’s current research, funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1323769) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, examines the growth and proliferation of spelling competitions, specifically how they have become a mass-mediated, sport-like spectacle, what accounts for the South Asian American winning streak, and how spelling bee franchises are being exported worldwide in ways that further commodification of the English language. She is completing ethnographic and sociolinguistic fieldwork in the New York City area with parties related to spelling bees, including spellers and their families, broadcasters such as ESPN and SONY TV, spelling bee production companies, and the Scripps Foundation. 

Shankar's book Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Advertising (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 (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.”


In preparation. Spellebrity: Inside the Selfie Generation’s World of Competitive Spelling.

Under review. Language and Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations (co-edited w/ Jillian Cavanaugh). 

2015. Advertising Diversity: Producing Language and Ethnicity in American Advertising. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 

2008    Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Referee Journal Articles

Under review.  “Semiotics of Spelling Bees: Soundscapes of Language and Materiality.” Submitted to Journal of Linguistic Anthropology.

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.

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

Under review. “Materiality of Words: The Branded Embodiment of Competitive Spelling.” In

Language and Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations, J. Cavanaugh and S. Shankar, eds.

Under review. “Language and Materiality: Mapping the Field.” Co-authored with Jillian Cavanaugh.

In Language and Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations, J. Cavanaugh and S. Shankar, eds.

In press.     “Reflections on Professional Sports and Immigrant Life.” In Asian American Sporting Cultures, Stanley Thangarajan, Constancio Arnolodo, and Christina Chin, eds. NYU Press, in production.

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.

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.

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

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.

2012    The Business of Spelling. Northwestern University Research Grant.

2012    Travel Grant, Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC.

2011    Advertising Agency: Producing Racial Imagery of Asian Americans.Northwestern University Research Grant  

2010    Visiting Professor Program, Advertising Education Foundation, New York, NY.

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

Professional Affiliations And Service

2015    Working Group, Police Brutality and Extrajurdical Violence, American Anthropological Association (2015-2017).

2015    Site Committee for 2015 conference, Association for Asian American Studies, Evanston, IL.

2014    Councilor/ Elected Board Member, American Ethnological Association, American Anthropological Association (2014-2019).

2013    Book Award Selection Committee, Association for Asian American Studies, Social Science category.

2012-   Chair, Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology, American Anthropological Association

2012-   Board member, Society for Linguistic Anthropology, American Anthropological Association

2012    Conference Program Committee, Association for Asian American Studies.