Toni Shapiro-Phim

Associate Professor, Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Toni Shapiro PhimRead Toni's April 2020 Spotlight on Language, Culture and Justice.

I'm a cultural anthropologist and dance ethnologist whose work has focused on the relationship between the arts and migration, violence (including war and genocide) and other oppressions. I have spent time with artists and ritual specialists in the midst of and in the aftermath of mass violence, documenting and supporting efforts to bring safety, dignity and beauty to their communities, and, at times, to bring some kind of redress.

Most recently I wrote a piece for the International Journal of Transitional Justice, highlighting a reparations project of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The centerpiece of the project was a performance created in a valued mode of expression in Cambodia: classical dance. The dance drama shares stories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge's "forced marriage" practice.

My PhD in cultural anthropology is from Cornell University. I have held teaching and research appointments at the University of California, Berkeley,; Yale University; and Bryn Mawr College, and worked in Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese refugee camps in Indonesia and Thailand. I also conducted years of ethnographic research in Cambodia.

I am currently associate professor of Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation at Brandeis University, where I also serve as assistant director of the university's global Peacebuilding and the Arts initiative. Prior to joining the staff of Brandeis, I was director of programs at the Philadelphia Folklore Project — a nonprofit arts and social justice organization — where I conducted ethnographic research, curated exhibitions and produced performances, humanities forums and publications highlighting aspects of the cultural practices of Philadelphia's diverse communities. My documentary film Because of the War, in which four Liberian women share how they've harnessed the potency of song and dance to address war and exile and their legacies, premiered in 2018.

Select Relevant Publications

  • “A Cambodian Dancer in a Displaced Persons’ Camp.” Music & Minorities Vol 1, 2021.
  • "Khmer Dancers and the Bassac Theatre." In Genealogy of Bassac, edited by Brian McGrath and Pen Sereypagna, New York: Terreform Press, pp. 132-143, 2021.
  • "Imagining Alternatives." In Reflections in the Aftermath of Mass Violence, eds. Laura McGrew and Eve Zucker. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2020

  • "Embodying the Pain and Cruelty of Others," International Journal of Transitional Justice, Volume 14, Issue 1: 209-219, 2020. 

  • "Turning a Bitter Person Sweet," Liberian Studies Journal, Vol. 41:46-54, 2019.

  • "SaltSoul: Loss and Mourning," Part 1 and Part 2, thINKing dance, October 2016:

  • Talking Dance: Contemporary Histories from the South China Sea [with Nicholas Rowe and Ralph Buck]. London: I.B. Tauris, 2016.

  • Review of 'The Dance That Makes You Vanish': Cultural Reconstruction in Post-Genocide Indonesia, by Rachmi Diyah Larasati, Indonesia 98 (October 2014): 163-165.

  • "Finding New Futures: Dancing Home." In The Choreography of Resolution: Conflict, Movement and Neuroscience, ed. Michelle LeBaron, Carrie MacLeod and Andrew Floyer, pp. 197 – 207. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2013.

  • "Cambodia's Seasons of Migration," Dance Research Journal (Winter 2008): 56 – 73.

  • Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice: Dignity in Motion [co-editor with Naomi Jackson]. Latham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008.

  • "Dance, Music and the Nature of Terror in Democratic Kampuchea." In Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide, ed. Alex Hinton, pp. 179-193. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Video and Film

  • Director, Because of the War, 2018, a documentary about four women artists' antiviolence efforts in Liberia and the United States. Winner of the American Folklore Society Elli Köngäs-Maranda Prize for "superior work on women's traditional, vernacular or local culture and/or feminist theory and folklore."

  • Cultural Expert / On-camera Interviewer, The Tenth Dancer, 1992, a documentary about Cambodian dancers following genocide and war. Directed by Sally Ingleton.