Ellie Vainker

Areas of Interest: 
NGOs, Ethics, Development, Gender and Sexuality, Public Scholarship


I have a long-standing interest in the impetus toward making positive social change in the world. In the past this has taken me to the Midwest (Kansas in particular) and to St Petersburg, Russia, where in both places I explored matters surrounding queer embodiment, community, and activism. For my doctoral research I am investigating non-governmental organizations, philanthropic funding, and the provision of social and public services in the United States. Fieldwork for this project will be carried out primarily in Seattle, WA. My scholarship is particularly influenced by the anthropology of ethics, gender, and development, and feminist and queer theory.

Before coming to Rice I completed an M.A. in Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths College and worked for several years in London’s television industry. In addition to being a doctoral student, then, I am also a filmmaker particularly concerned with how to communicate academic scholarship to a broader audience. As the president of Rice’s Ethnographic Film Society, I co-organized Q Series: LGBTQ Lives on Film with this aim in mind. We arranged a biweekly film screening and discussion that attracted people from across campus and the broader Houston community, with each screening highlighting a different aspect of the issues faced by LGBTQ people around the world. Currently, I am collaborating with Dr. Carly Thomsen, Assistant Professor at Middlebury College, to co-produce a documentary film on LGBTQ visibility politics and LGBTQ women in the rural Upper Midwest. Our two-year project has been supported by Middlebury College, Rice’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Rice’s Mellon Seminar Sex of the Spirit, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ellie Vainker
Graduate Student