Caroline Melly

Associate Professor of Anthropology

Caroline Melly

Contact & Office Hours

Spring 2022

Tuesday, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.;
or by appointment using
office hours calendar

Tyler Annex 203



Ph.D., M.A., University of California, Irvine

B.A., University of Pittsburgh


Caroline Melly is a sociocultural anthropologist with interest and expertise in urban studies and science and technology studies. She is particularly interested in contributing to a public-facing anthropology that sees scholarship as a tool for a feminist, decolonial, and anti-ableist politics.

Melly has conducted research in Dakar, Senegal, with the support of the National Science Foundation and the Fulbright-Hays program. Her first book, Bottleneck: Moving, Building, and Belonging in an African City, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2017. It received the Anthony Leeds Prize in Urban Anthropology in 2018. The book introduces the embouteillage—the traffic bottleneck—as an ethnographic point of departure and as a theoretical lens for making sense of everyday life and policy-making in Dakar. Her ethnographic itinerary involved an internship at the national investment promotion agency, which was looking to create a program for migrants to invest; mobile interviews with cab drivers navigating the city; and extensive work with return migrants, investors, and residents who considered themselves excluded from transnational networks. Her work has also been published in academic journals such as American Ethnologist, Comparative Studies in Society and History, City & Society, and Africa, and in media outlets such as

Melly’s newer research focuses on the making of modern cannabis medicine. Tentatively titled Unsettling Science: Cannabis Medicine at the Ends of Prohibition, this research considers the profoundly embodied and painstaking work of tinkering that cannabis science demands. In contrast to many stories of scientific knowledge production, which tend to privilege certain actors and spaces as properly "scientific," this study reorients attention to the ways cannabis science is generated "from below," by an array of ordinary actors in ordinary spaces, and then diffuses into more traditional sites and networks of scientific inquiry. In doing so, it contributes to interdisciplinary conversations about expertise and discovery; disability, race, and gender; human-plant relations; care and kinship; and neuroscientific inquiry. 

At Smith College, Melly teaches courses on topics such as disability and difference, citizenship and belonging, visual anthropology, anthropological methods, urban space and cities, digital life, science and technology, and Africa and its diaspora. She was a 2014 recipient of the Sherrerd Prize for Distinguished Teaching. She currently serves as a Teaching Mentor for Learning Differences and Disabilities through the Sherrerd Center.