Useful and Ornamental Knowledge: nothing is for sale on this site!


Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz

contact  sherring at ucsc.edu

me and the shell crab
in Hong Kong at the Red Lantern Restaurant. Photo by Bill Shaw

I’m a cultural anthropologist. My studies in the last twenty+ years have focused on visible and audible aspects of culture, especially those embedded in contested narrative and institutional frames. In the 20th century, I did year+-long fieldwork in Papua-New Guinea and Indonesia. And in the 21st century I have been returning to Mexico, where I grew up, and have done research and produced a documentary video about artisans.

My current manuscript and recent articles consider what is happening to arts and artists from the Fourth World in the twenty first century, along with the changing narratives in Anthropology, Art History, and museology that seek to understand them. This research can be considered a continuation of the issues laid out in the book I published at the end of the last century, The Death of Authentic Primitive Art and Other Tales of Progress.

I make humorous line drawings and cartoons (lately for Gastronomica: critical food studies), a nearly life-long practice with its origins in doodling in class and during public lectures. My cartoons often make abstractions visible, exploring themes like Theories of Semiotics, Data vs. Facts, On Listening to Historians Speak, etc.

I’ve taken photographs since I was 20 years old and my father gave me a Pentax SLR after he felt I'd proven myself using a Kodak Brownie. My subject matter when I travel is often of people, their faces and their activities and craft processes, and of their contexts of work. More recently, my preferred subject matter seems to be unexpected landscapes, natural abstractions, and the play of light on unstable surfaces.

Of course, I travel a lot, and the advent of digital photography and the Web have allowed me easily to post Visual Diaries of various adventures. Some old ones are on this site, but the site isn't conducive to easy blogging, so I am not updating them for the moment.

Recently I finished producing and directed a full-length documentary video. It invites the viewers (with no voice-over) into the world and struggles of artisans in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico (El Oficio del Arte; English subtitled version is called The Work of Art; 126 min.). I'm calling my nascent production company Tianguis Producciones, named for the Aztec open air markets.

Events for the rest of 2014

Photo Exhibit Open Studios Santa Cruz County, the first three weeks in October. My photo show will be in the newly refurbished Barn Gallery in my back yard, and I'll invite visitors to peek into my writing-drawing-editing studio, also in the back yard. See Open Studios 2014 Intimate Landscapes/ Natural Abstractions on FB.

Photo Exhibit Momentos de Luz,Video Screening El Oficio del Arte, and Public Lecture La Muerte del Arte Prehispanico--y Otros Cuentos del Progreso. These will all take place in the first week of November, kicked off by Dia de los Muertos, in conjunction with the Festival Internacional de Cine Indígena in Puebla, Mexcio.

Professional Lecture "Materializing Ideas Through Lines and Surprise" in the panel Drawing and Painting in the Production of Anthropological Knowledge, at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting, Washington, D.C. Our panel is Saturday December 6 2:30-4:15 pm.

Publication of "Thinking Outside the Frame: Subjects and Objects in Contemporary (neé Triabal) Art," to appear in the Routledge Companion to Contemporary Anthropology.

Teaching This Fall term I'll be teaching Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on the arts and the idea of the "person." Tues-Thurs 8-9:45 am at UCSC.

Line Drawings Intended to Amuse


Logo Tianguis


Books and Articles




close up of fabric

a Balinese artisan paints a story-cloth


Visual Diaries

Tianguis (open air market) shade cover using plastic tarps
Tianguis (open air market) shade cover using plastic tarps

More Projects

Under Construction

colorful plastic containers
Plastic woven containers from Mexico for many uses


Teaching Interests:

Shelly Errington regularly teaches courses at the lower-division, upper-division, and graduate level on visual culture, visual semiotics, and the politics of images. She created a course called Multi-Media Ethnography, taught in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008, and will teach it in Spring 2011.

Research Interests:

Shelly Errington’s current work focuses on documentary film, photography, arts, and multi-media, and non-linear ethnography. She is currently doing the post-production on her documentary film on the effects of globalization and the production and marketing of artisanal objects. partly as a Visitor at the ECCAVAC in Puebla, Mexico (Espacio Cultural de Cine y Artes Visales, A.C.).

Courses Taught:

  • this course
  • the next
  • and the next
  • and so on
  • and so on...