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Brenda M Farnell

Profile picture for Brenda M Farnell

Contact Information

Department of Anthropology
607 S Mathews Ave.
M/C 148
Urbana, IL 61801



Brenda Farnell is an anthropologist with a professional background in modern dance and dance education in England, U.K.  Her broad research interests coalesce around an enduring interest in the rich complexity and diversity of body movement practices in human lives and their relative absence in Western modes of academic thought.

Research Interests

Anthropology of dance:

  • human movement & performance
  • arts/expressive culture
  • body/embodied personhood
  • socio-cultural theory and philosophy
  • semiotic anthropology
  • movement literacy (Labanotation)
  • visual anthropology, multimedia ethnography
  • Indigenous theater and postcolonialism
  • American contemporary concert dance/choreographic process

Linguistic anthropology:

  • discourse
  • gesture and signed languages
  • integration of speech and action
  • ethnopoetics
  • problems of embodiment in linguistics and social theory
  • endangered languages and language revitalization

Ethnographic Areas:

  • Indigenous North America
  • Plains Indians
  • field research among the Nakota (Assiniboine), Crow (Montana & Canada) and Kiowa, Comanche (Oklahoma). Plains storytelling performance with sign language
  • Embodiment and Native Epistemologies in Contemporary Indigenous Theatre


Ph.D. Social Cultural & Linguistic Anthropology, Indiana University (Bloomington), 1990
M.A. Anthropology of Human Movement, New York University, 1984
Advanced Diploma in Dance and Human Movement Studies, Laban Dance Center, Goldsmiths College, London University, England, 1977
B. Ed. (Teaching Diploma) I. M. Marsh College, Liverpool University, England. (Major: Dance Studies & Physical Education. Minor: Biology), 1969


  • 2011 Co–Investigator, "Indigenous Knowledge, Contemporary Performance." Research Creation Grant, SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council), Canada
  • 2010 Scoring the Body through Indigenous Aesthetic Principles in Native American Dramatic Art. UIUC Campus Research Board
  • 2009 UIUC Research Board, Humanities Research Leave
  • 2005 & 6 UIUC Research Board Award: “Talking from the Body in Post-modern Dance”

Awards and Honors

  • 2017 UIUC Department of Anthropology Distinguished Service Award
  • 2009 UIUC Department of Anthropology, Distinguished Service Award.
  • 2002 Appointment to Research Associate, UIUC Center for Advanced Study.
  • 2000 Helen Corley Petit Scholar. UIUC Award for Outstanding Promotion to Tenure
  • 1998 Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. Faculty Research Fellowship 1998-99
  • 1997 CD ROM selected for special public presentation at Native American Film Festival, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, New York
  • 1996 Winner of ‘Haozous Award’ for Best CD ROM, New Technologies section, Native Americas International Film Festival, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Courses Taught

American Indians of Illinois (ANTH 288)
Body Personhood and Culture (ANTH 362)
Languages and Cultures of Native North America (ANTH 165)
Linguistic Anthropology (ANTH 270)
Talking Culture (ANTH 104)
Anthropology of Dance and Human Movement (ANTH 363)
Ethnography Through Language (ANTH 471)
Language in Culture I (ANTH 512)
Body Movement Literacy (ANTH 499)
Body, Personhood and Cultural Theory (ANTH 515)
Language in Culture II (ANTH 518)
Dynamic Embodiment (ANTH 523)

Additional Campus Affiliations

Head, Anthropology
Professor, Anthropology

Recent Publications

Mojica, M., & Farnell, B. (2023). Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way: Mapping Embodied Indigenous Performance. University of Michigan Press.

Farnell, B. M., & Davies Brenier, L. (Accepted/In press). Sign Language. In J. L. Jackson, Jr (Ed.), Oxford Bibliographies in Anthropology (Oxford Bibliographies). Oxford University Press.

Farnell, B. (2018). Mindful Body. In H. Callan (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology (pp. 1-3). Wiley.

Farnell, B. (2018). Techniques of the Body. In H. Callan (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology (pp. 1-3). Wiley.

Farnell, B., & Wood, R. N. (2017). Kinaesthetic intimacy in a choreographic practice. In Collaborative Intimacies in Music and Dance: Anthropologies of Sound and Movement (pp. 65-95). Berghahn Books.

View all publications on Illinois Experts