Alan R. Sandstrom is a sociocultural anthropologist with interests in cultural ecology, cultural materialism, economic anthropology, history and theory of anthropology, Native peoples of Mesoamerica and North America, and religion, ritual, and symbolism. He has conducted ethnographic field research among Tibetans in exile in the Himalaya region of Himachal Pradesh, northern India, and worked for more than 40 years among Nahuatl speakers of northern Veracruz, Mexico.
Sandstrom began fieldwork among the Nahua in Mexico in the summer of 1970, returning for a 16-month stay in 1972-1973 to collect data for a dissertation in anthropology at Indiana University. From 1974 until the present, the research has been a joint venture with his wife, Pamela Effrein Sandstrom, who earned master's and doctoral degrees in library and information science at Indiana University. Together, the Sandstroms have visited a small community of 600 Nahuatl speakers regularly over the intervening years. In 1985, they returned to the field accompanied by their three-year-old son, Michael Anthony Sandstrom. In addition to numerous shorter visits ranging from a few days to a few weeks, the Sandstroms have been in residence in the village for long periods during 1985-1986, 1990, and 1997-1998. The last extended stay was during joint sabbatical research leaves granted by Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in 2006-2007.
Sandstrom's long-term ethnographic fieldwork based on participant observation has been conducted in a single community he calls Amatlán (a pseudonym used to protect the privacy of research consultants and community members). The village is located in the municipio of Ixhuatlán de Madero, Veracruz, Mexico, in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains; the community should not be confused with other locales in Veracruz named Amatlán. Research methodologies have included formal and informal interviewing, observation and photography of daily life and rituals, questionnaire research, elicitation of kinship data, compilation of census data, mapping for GIS analysis, and archival research in state and regional archives in Mexico. The Sandstroms' eight-month stay during 1980 among the Tibetans in exile in northern India provided a valuable cross-cultural perspective that has served to clarify the Mesoamerican data on religious ideology.