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McNair scholar drawn to semiotics


In a research study unheard of for most undergraduates, Jessica Torres is engaged in linguistic anthropology, hoping to understand the “art of fortune- telling.”

Four years ago, this academic field was of little interest to Torres. Now, as a senior, the Bronx native is conducting research for the Anthropology Department and working on a senior honors thesis about the semiotics of fortune-telling.

“I knew I wanted to pursue a major in anthropology but I was averse to linguistics before Professor Douglas Glick introduced me to it,” Torres said.

Glick, program director of linguistics, has served as Torres’ faculty adviser. She worked with him through an eight-week summer internship open to students in the McNair Scholars Program. Torres and Glick studied Binghamton supermarkets and examined their customer service policies and ideologies.

“She has been busy developing the skills and gaining the experiences she will need to succeed in an academic career,” Glick said.

Now, Torres is studying how language affects money and the economy. She is focusing on the way fortune-tellers dispense information without professional training and convince the public about their cosmology.

“Judith Irvine’s paper on language and the political economy was my inspiration for the fortune-telling research,” Torres explained. “From there, I began studying how semiotics and ideology are both used in fortune-telling.”

When Torres is not researching, she is volunteering at animal shelters or knitting.

After graduation, Torres plans to pursue a doctorate in anthropology. She hopes to become a professor or hold a research position.

“I look forward to reading her work and expect her to have a very successful career in academics someday,” Glick said.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08