Shalini Shankar is a sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist has conducted ethnographic 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 book in preparation, Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about the New American Childhood (Basic Books), foregrounds generation Z, the “selfie generation.” She analyzes the convergence of immigration, “brain sports,” and the shifting media landscape to illustrate the increasingly competitive nature of childhood and how it plays out on broadcast and social media. The book is based on qualitative research funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1323769) and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The project investigates how spelling bees have grown into a mass-mediated, sport-like spectacles, factors contributing to the South Asian American winning streak, and how this model of competition is proliferating worldwide. It is comprised of interviews and observations with spellers and their families, spelling bee officials, lexicographers, and media producers, as well as archival research on spelling competitions and their media broadcasting.
Shankar's previous 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.”