Melissa Beresford

Assistant Professor,Melissa Beresford

“I’ve had a bit of a winding story,” Melissa Beresford says by way of explaining the 14-year gap between receiving her B.A. in urban studies and planning from UC San Diego and starting her first faculty position in the Department of Anthropology as an assistant professor. Her first stop was as an academic advisor at UC Berkeley, where a professor listened to her talk about her interest in pursuing a graduate degree in history and corrected her: “You’re not a historian,” she said. “You’re an anthropologist.” “I had never taken an anthropology class, but I was really interested in understanding how people’s cultures and values shape their ideas about the world,” Beresford says. “And I realized I could talk to living people instead of sitting in an archive reading documents left by dead people.” That led to a master’s in social science from the University of Chicago and another detour. Unsure whether she wanted to pursue a doctorate and life “in the ivory tower” or engage in a career with more societal impact, she began work in journalism.
However, upon moving to Arizona in order for her husband to pursue his doctorate in history at Arizona State University, she was impressed with the engaged and impactful anthropological research being conducted at ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and in 2012 she began her Ph.D. in anthropology there. As an economic anthropologist, Beresford investigates how people respond to economic and resource insecurity, focusing largely on water insecurity. “The questions I ask are about how people acquire the things they need to survive outside of traditional market exchange,” Beresford says. Her research has taken her to Cape Town, South Africa, where she looked at how entrepreneurs adapt to scarcity. She is currently working with an international team of scholars to investigate how people in Puerto Rico got water in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.