Joseph Wiltberger received his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a cultural anthropologist with research interests in migration, borders, violence, human rights, development, space and place, social mobilization, and identity. His research broadly concerns the social practices, collective organizing, and politics linked to international migration, and their relationships to economic and social marginalization, various forms of violence, and cultural transformations in places of migrant origin, destination, and in-between.
Over the course of two decades, he has conducted extensive ethnographic field research in El Salvador and among transnational Central American migrants in the U.S and in border areas. With particular attention to the experiences of marginalized youth and families, his research has explored the forces driving the large-scale emigration of Salvadorans, and how local, national, and transnational organizations respond to their migration. His book project in progress draws on his long-range and multi-sited fieldwork to examine how Salvadorans navigate the recurring experiences of displacement and violence that have affected their lives within and outside of El Salvador and the collective strategies they employ to resist displacement.
His current research focuses on the conjuncture of forced migration driven by gang-related violence and insecurity in the northern triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) and the turn toward more restrictive immigration enforcement strategies in the U.S. Interested in the unexpected directions that Central Americans’ life paths are taking amid these shifting conditions, he is conducting fieldwork in Costa Rica that examines the reception of the surge in asylum-seeking Central Americans arriving there.
His recent work also utilizes methodologies and modes of dissemination, such as storytelling, oral histories, and accessible digital and visual media, that allow marginalized groups, including migrants and refugees, to participate in the research process and access the research product. He is collaborating with youth in El Salvador and CSUN students to create an online digital archive that documents oral histories of a mass repatriation of Salvadoran refugees during El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war, the largest refugee repatriation in Latin American history. The forthcoming project was named a semi-finalist in the 2018 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize competition of the Center for Documentary Studies.
Among other awards, he was the 2012 recipient of the Roseberry-Nash Award from the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, the 2015 recipient of the College of Humanities Faculty Research Fellowship from California State University, Northridge, and a 2013-2014 recipient of a Visiting Fellowship at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. Professionally, he is actively involved in the Committee on Refugees and Immigrants of the American Anthropological Association and in the Central America Section of the Latin American Studies Association.
His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Inter-American Foundation, and other sources. He has presented his research in more than 35 academic conferences and symposia in the U.S. and abroad. He has also shared his research with international and government agencies and non-governmental organizations in Central America, Mexico, and the U.S., and he has testified as an expert witness in the cases of Salvadoran and other Central American asylum-seekers.