Professor Parnell received his Ph.D. in anthropology and has conducted ethnographic research on law, crime, and the state; formations of law in intergroup networks; and disputing and social change in rural Mexico and urban areas of the Philippines. In his research, he has examined varying roles of law and crime across different formations of the state and roles of disputes and conflicts in the formation and dissolution of federations and confederations as alternatives to centralized state law and governance. He also studies relationships among official and unofficial legal systems in situations of culture contact. He is interested in development of concepts and methods to facilitate comparative research on law and crime across Western and non-Western societies.
Professor Parnell's is co-editor with Stephanie Kane (also an IU professor of Criminal Justice) of Crime's Power: Anthropologists and the Ethnography of Crime (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), which explores how crime is constructed in situations of intergroup conflict and within a range of processes of political change, such as revolution, democratization, and globalization. He is the author of Escalating Disputes: Law and Social Change in the Oaxacan Highlands (University of Arizona Press, 1988), which deals with the role of disputing in the contemporary birth and growth of indigenous political, legal, and religious movements in Oaxaca, Mexico. His interest in the disintegration and growth of socio-legal systems has taken him to Manila for several periods of ethnographic research, including a year of living in a large squatter settlement. There he studies concepts and roles of law and crime in varying localized versions of the Philippine state, all invented and practiced as the Philippines has moved from dictatorship to democracy. Drawing on that research, he is now preparing a book to be entitled "Stealing Society: Law, Crime, and the State in the Resurgence of Philippine Democracy." His research in Manila was funded by a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar award.