Engaged Anthropology Grant: Julie Velasquez Runk

National Wounaan Chief Diogracio Puchicama Peña at the Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Regular National Congress of Wounaan People), March 21, 2019.
Cacique Nacional Wounaan Diogracio Puchicama Peña al Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Congreso Nacional Ordinario del Pueblo Wounaan), 21 de marzo de 2019.

In 2015 Dr. Julie Velasquez Runk received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Entangled Landscapes of Loss: Emotion, Identity, and Territoriality Post Rosewood Logging in Panama”. In 2018 Dr. Velasquez Runk returned to Panama when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Harnessing Technological Innovations to Further Community Engagement for Collaborative Archiving, Use, and Publication of Research”.

We sat, once again, around a table in a spare white room in Panama City, the air conditioning providing a respite from the intensely hot and humid rainy season. I was meeting with the indigenous Wounaan authorities of the traditional organization Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (Wounaan National Congress) and the newly elected authorities of their non-governmental organization the Foundation for the Development of Wounaan People. This time, the internet was down, forcing us to gather around a laptop to gaze at screenshots rather than the websites we could no longer access. After reviewing the work, we brainstormed about how to move forward with a smaller team, a Comite Técnico (Technical Committee), to develop, review, edit, and publish ethnographic multimedia content.

To me this vignette is something of a typical moment in community-based collaborative research. I have been doing collaborative work, a short-hand term that is readily intelligible and easy to translate, with local communities and non-governmental organizations for just over three decades. Such community-based collaborations are a decolonial and multi-vocal method, one in which communities guide the research from planning to write-up. The above vignette is indicative of collaborative research as a recursive process, characterized by flexibility, trust, and communication. And it also reminds that it is very time intensive and costly: this was from our fifth meeting during my fourth trip to Panama in a year, which was two more than I had originally planned. As Wounaan authorities have gotten increasingly active in development, land rights, and other critical efforts, scheduling has gotten increasingly complex.

For a Wenner-Gren Foundation Engaged Anthropology Grant I proposed to work with Wounaan to use technological advances to further collaborative archiving, use, and publication of research. In Panama, over 7,000 Wounaan live in 17 rural villages and urban areas where they elect village and national authorities in the Congress system. Using the results from a Post-Ph.D. Grant on the cultural, political, and ethical entanglements around rosewood logging, Wounaan authorities and I would work on a protocol for collaborative publication. The same globalization that facilitated intensive rosewood exploitation also has brought governmental and non-governmental activities, and with it growing Wounaan concern about the use and control of their cultural material. Recently, Wounaan have asked that I present research results in more multi-media ways, rather than simply written texts. Smart phones, and less so internet, are much more widely available than in the past, offering Wounaan new opportunities to access multi-media research. However, publishing via multi-media requires more detailed attention to collaborative development of materials, particularly because of the use of personally identifiable information, such as audio and video.

Over the course of the year, Wounaan authorities and I discussed how to create normas, norms, for collaborative publication development. We began in late July, in the main rosewood research village, where a two national authorities and I held a community workshop to discuss how to use research images and texts. The end result of that meeting was to keep the communication going, especially between village authorities and national ones, as how to best use research results (including images). For a second meeting in October, I prepared a report on rosewood ecology, ethnobotany, and its commodity chain. I met in Panama City with national Wounaan authorities and also language and cultural experts who had previously worked on a language documentation project. There, we reviewed the rosewood report and I used it as a jumping off point to discuss and show, via a digital projector, several nascent multi-media projects: the rosewood multi-modal (website and book) project, a short video to be distributed by cell-phone on how to access the 60-years of stories from the language documentation work, and a digital archive of Wounaan photographs and material culture being initiated by Liz Lapovsky Kennedy and me in the Mukurtu platform.  We discussed the many decisions that require the co-development—not just co-review—of the materials.

National authorities and I met again in March, just before their national meeting. We determined that the best way to develop such works was via a Technical Committee, which we could discuss with the plenary of the forthcoming congress.

Wounaan came together March 20 – 23 at the Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Regular National Congress of Wounaan People). There, authorities and villagers publicly discuss their issues and make decisions, codified in resolutions, on how to advance their interests. Authorities from each village and any villager who could make it, and invited officials and guests met over three days, presided over by the national authorities. I updated the plenary about ongoing work (which included an ethno-ornithology project with national authorities and a village) and asked whether the development of publications from such projects could be done with a Technical Committee. The plenary agreed. At my urging, they also resolved to make a formal resolution requesting all the photos and videos I had taken, which I, in turn, could submit to the human subjects committees that had approved the research.

A short three months later, in June, we held our most recent meeting that I address in the opening vignette. There, even sans internet, we again discussed the multiple multimedia projects. Those had grown to include initial website portions of the rosewood entanglements work: a media and geographical analysis on the Panama’s logging boom presented as a timeline (developed with student Ella Vardeman) and a multi-media and map-laden website on the social and political history of Emberá and Wounaan land rights struggles. We decided to hold the first Technical Committee meeting over the next year, when Liz Lapovsky Kennedy was available so that we could delve into the digital archive. And I committed to fund the Technical Committee for at least the first year, covering the travel and per diem costs of 6-8 participants.

The support of a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant was fundamental for improving rosewood research publication and strengthening Wounaan sovereignty by taking advantage of technological innovations to further consent and collaboration in the oft-overlooked publication stages.

Nos sentamos, una vez más, alrededor de una mesa en una habitación blanca en la ciudad de Panamá, el aire acondicionado proporciona un respiro de la temporada de lluvias intensamente cálida y húmeda. Me estaba reuniendo con las autoridades indígenas wounaan de la organización tradicional, el Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (Congreso Nacional del Pueblo Wounaan), y las autoridades recientemente elegidas de su organización no gubernamental, la Fundación para el Desarrollo del Pueblo Wounaan. Esta vez, el internet se había caido, lo que nos obligó a reunirnos alrededor de una computadora portátil para mirar capturas de pantalla en lugar de los sitios web que ya no podíamos acceder. Después de revisar el trabajo, hicimos una lluvia de ideas sobre cómo avanzar con un equipo más pequeño, un Comité Técnico (Technical Committee), para desarrollar, revisar, editar y publicar contenido multimedia etnográfico.

Para mí, esta viñeta es un momento típico en la investigación colaborativa basada en la comunidad. He estado haciendo trabajo colaborativo, un término breve que es fácilmente inteligible y fácil de traducir, con comunidades locales y organizaciones no gubernamentales durante poco más de tres décadas. Tales colaboraciones basadas en la comunidad son un método descolonial y multi-vocal, uno en el que las comunidades guían la investigación desde la planificación hasta la redacción. La viñeta anterior es indicativa de la investigación colaborativa como un proceso recursivo, caracterizado por flexibilidad, confianza y comunicación. Y también recuerda que es muy costoso y requiere mucho tiempo: esto fue de nuestra quinta reunión durante mi cuarto viaje a Panamá en un año, que fue dos más de lo que había planeado originalmente. A medida que las autoridades wounaan se han vuelto cada vez más activas en el desarrollo, los derechos a la tierra y otros esfuerzos críticos, la programación se ha vuelto cada vez más compleja.

Para una subvención de antropología comprometida de la Fundación Wenner-Gren, propuse trabajar con los wounaan para utilizar los avances tecnológicos para un mayor archivo, uso y publicación colaborativos de la investigación. En Panamá, más de 7,000 wounaan viven en 17 comunidades rurales y áreas urbanas donde eligen autoridades locales y nacionales en el sistema del congreso. Usando los resultados de una subvención post-doctoral sobre las conexiones culturales, políticos y éticos en torno a la tala del palo rosa cocobolo, las autoridades wounaan y yo trabajaríamos en un protocolo para la publicación colaborativa. La misma globalización que facilitó la explotación intensiva del cocobolo también ha traído actividades gubernamentales y no gubernamentales, y con ello la creciente preocupación de los wounaan por el uso y control de su material cultural. Recientemente, los wounaan ha pedido que presente los resultados de la investigación en formas más multimedia, en lugar de simplemente textos escritos. Los teléfonos inteligentes, y menos internet, están mucho más disponibles que en el pasado, ofreciendo a los wounaan nuevas oportunidades para acceder a la investigación multimedia. Sin embargo, la publicación a través de multimedia requiere una atención más detallada al desarrollo colaborativo de materiales, particularmente debido al uso de información de identificación personal, como audio y video.

A lo largo del año, las autoridades wounaan y yo conversamos cómo crear normas para el desarrollo de publicaciones colaborativas. Comenzamos a fines de julio, en la comunidad principal de investigación del cocobolo, donde dos autoridades nacionales y yo realizamos un taller comunitario para conversar cómo usar imágenes y textos de investigación. El resultado final de esa reunión fue mantener la comunicación, especialmente entre las autoridades de la comunidad y las nacionales, como la mejor manera de utilizar los resultados de la investigación (incluidas las imágenes). Para una segunda reunión en octubre, preparé un informe sobre la ecología y la etnobotánica del cocobolo y su cadena de valor. Me reuní en la ciudad de Panamá con las autoridades nacionales wounaan y también con expertos en idiomas y cultura que habían trabajado previamente en un proyecto de documentación lingüística. Allí, revisamos el informe de cocobolo y lo utilicé como punto de partida para conversar y mostrar, a través de un proyector digital, varios proyectos multimedia emergentes: el proyecto multimodal (sitio web y libro) de cocobolo, un video corto para ser distribuido por teléfono celular sobre cómo acceder los 60 años de cuentos del trabajo de documentación del idioma, y un archivo digital de fotografías y cultura material wounaan iniciada por Liz Lapovsky Kennedy y yo en la plataforma Mukurtu. Conversamos sobre las muchas decisiones que requieren el desarrollo conjunto, no solo la revisión conjunta, de los materiales. Las autoridades nacionales y yo nos reunimos nuevamente en marzo, justo antes de la reunión nacional. Determinamos que la mejor manera de desarrollar tales trabajos era a través de un Comité Técnico, que podríamos conversar con el plenario del próximo congreso nacional.

Wounaan se reunieron marzo 20 – 23 al Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Congreso Nacional Ordinario del Pueblo Wounaan). Allí, las autoridades y las comunidades hablan públicamente sobre sus problemas y toman decisiones, codificadas en resoluciones, sobre cómo promover sus intereses. Las autoridades de cada comunidad y cualquier woun que pudieran participar, e oficiales e huéspedes invitados se reunieron durante tres días, presididos por las autoridades nacionales. Actualicé la sesión plenaria sobre el trabajo en curso (que incluía un proyecto de etnoornitología con las autoridades nacionales y una comunidad) y pregunté si el desarrollo de publicaciones de tales proyectos podría hacerse con un Comité Técnico. El plenario estuvo de acuerdo. A instancias mías, también resolvieron tomar una resolución formal para solicitar todas las fotos y videos que había tomado, que, a su vez, podía presentar a los comités de sujetos humanos que habían aprobado la investigación.

Unos tres meses después, en junio, celebramos nuestra reunión más reciente que abordo en la viñeta de apertura. Allí, incluso sin internet, nuevamente conversamos sobre los múltiples proyectos multimedia. Esos habían crecido para incluir porciones iniciales en borrador del sitio web del trabajo sobre las conexiones con el cocobolo: un análisis de prensa y geografía sobre el auge de la tala de Panamá presentado como una línea de tiempo (desarrollada con la estudiante Ella Vardeman) y un sitio web multimedia y cargado de mapas sobre la historia social y político de las luchas wounaan y emberá por los derechos a la tierra. Decidimos celebrar la primera reunión del Comité Técnico durante el próximo año, cuando Liz Lapovsky Kennedy estuviera disponible para poder profundizar en el archivo digital. Y me comprometí a financiar el Comité Técnico durante al menos el primer año, cubriendo los gastos de viaje y viáticos de 6-8 participantes.

El apoyo de una Subvención de Antropología Comprometida de la Fundación Wenner-Gren fue fundamental para mejorar la publicación de la investigación del cocobolo y fortalecer la soberanía wounaan al aprovechar las innovaciones tecnológicas para obtener un mayor consentimiento y colaboración en las etapas de publicación a menudo ignoradas.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chelsie Yount-Andre

During the children’s theater workshop in Dakar, youth playing Senegal-based family members explain to their “French cousins” how to eat together around the communal platter.

Chelsie Yount-Andre received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2013 to aid research on “Giving, Taking, and Sharing: Reproducing Economic Moralities and Social Hierarchies in Transnational Senegal,” supervised by Dr. Caroline Bledsoe. Dr. Yount-Andre was then able to build upon her research when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Sharing Food, Money, and Morals: Celebrating Children’s Kinwork in Transnational Senegal.”

My Wenner-Gren funded dissertation research investigated how increasing global inequalities reshape the ways families negotiate what I call, “economic moralities,” that is, normative expectations of material obligation and entitlement. I analyzed household discussions that mediate practices of food sharing and gift giving, to shed light on the ways children in Senegalese families in Paris learn to manage the diverse moral expectations they encounter in French society and their transnational families. Focusing on economic moralities that emerged in everyday interaction, my research revealed children’s key role in the reproduction of socioeconomic relations with relatives abroad, shaping the transnational flow of resources.

A scene in which a girl playing a “French cousin” visiting Dakar on vacation (right) gets reprimanded by her “cousin” in Dakar for refusing to distribute money and gifts.

As part of my continued efforts to incorporate the voices of children into discussions about migration, I first organized a children’s theater workshop in Dakar and then presented a film of the youth’s performance at a community meal in Paris. These two events were funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant and the Chaire UNESCO World Food Systems. The projects’ aims were twofold: 1) to promote mutual understanding among kin in Senegal and France by shedding light on the moral and material pressures transnational relatives face, and 2) to publicly highlight the value of immigrants’ eating and economic practices in France.

A boy plays a “French cousin” by wearing glasses and a button-down shirt and sitting immersed in his phone, at a distance from the rest of the family.

The children’s theater workshop, organized in collaboration with the Kàddu Yaraax theater troupe, was held April 26-27, 2019 at the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor in Dakar. Twelve children (aged 8-16) spent the weekend acting out scenes that depicted the confusion and frustration that Senegalese children growing up in Paris experience when they visit their families in Dakar, where they encounter new expectations regarding how they “ought” to give and share. Transcriptions of three stories that Senegalese children in Paris had recounted during my dissertation research provided the starting point for the workshop. Youth in Dakar embodied the positions of children growing up in France in stories of perplexing interactions surrounding material exchanges, such as a boy’s trip to Dakar when his father invited his Senegal-based cousins to choose whatever they wanted from his son’s suitcase while the boy was away at the beach.

Flyer for the community meal held at the 4C Association’s “Quartier Libre,” cultural center in Paris, as part of the Magic Barbes neighborhood festival.

The youth collaborated to co-construct a short performance, combining the three stories and adding details of their own, based on anecdotes they shared of their own interactions with cousins who visited from Europe. Working through these scenes, the youth in Dakar struggled to understand what children growing up in France may and may not know about life in Senegal. For example, as they enacted a scene in which a girl from Paris did not understand that a griot singing her praises expected her to give money, the youth in Senegal were shocked to realize that the girl had never encountered griots in France. Through these discussions, youth came to realize that many actions they had previously associated with selfishness and greed could simply be the result of youth from France’s ignorance of everyday practices in Senegal.

Chelsie Yount-André presenting her research on economic moralities in transnational Senegalese families at the 4C cultural association.

The performance culminated with a mealtime scene in which the children explained how giving and sharing take place in Senegal, using the metaphor of eating around a communal dish. The workshop ended with in a performance for the children’s families and community in Dakar. Through children’s voices, the event presented messages also important to Senegalese adults, countering stereotypes of selfish migrants who raise spoiled children. The entire workshop was filmed and edited into a 15-minute video that presents the tensions with which transnational families struggle and the cultural values that organize food sharing and material support in Senegal.

I then brought the film back to Paris to present at a community meal on September 28, 2019 at the “Quartier Libre,” cultural center in the African neighborhood, Goutte d’or. This event was part of the association’s contribution to the Magic Barbes Festival, a celebration of the diverse immigrant cultures in the neighborhood. Working with the 4C association, we organized a full-day celebration of Senegalese and African culture in France, beginning with a cooking workshop where participants learned to make Senegal’s national dish, ceebujenn. This was followed by a performance of kora music and the day ended with a presentation and discussion of my research and the film of the theater workshop in Dakar.

Event participants in Paris eating ceebujenn together around a communal dish.

Before showing the video of the children’s performance in Dakar, we first presented the original transcriptions of the three scenes that had provided the basis for the workshop. These scenes were graciously read aloud by Mengué Lett and Dr. Souleymane Gassama, members of the Senegalese community in Paris who played integral roles in my research. We then projected the film from the workshop in Dakar to an audience which included the Paris-based family members of workshop participants, members of the families who participated in my dissertation research, and members of the public who were present for the Magic Barbes Festival. The screening was followed by discussion and debate, facilitated by Christine Tichit, a sociologist at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) whose work focuses on youth, food, and migration in France.

As they sat and ate ceebujenn around a communal dish, event participants in Paris were able to embody the perspective of those in Senegal, gaining insights into the ways that food sharing and material support take place in West Africa. Celebrating the value of these practices, this project worked to destigmatize immigrants’ economic choices and eating habits, which my research participants often complained were treated as irrational or uncivilized in France. By publicly celebrating West African eating practices and the economic links they symbolize and create, this project demonstrated to immigrant families in Paris the community interest and respect for their practices in France.

Wenner-Gren at AAA 2019: Schedule of Events

Vancouver Conference Centre
Photo: Derek K. Miller

Greetings from Wenner-Gren! If you are planning to attend the 2019 AAA Meetings in Vancouver, we’d love to see you at the following events:

Thursday, November 21st

How to Write a Grant Proposal for the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the NSF Workshop 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, All are welcome! Location: Vancouver CC EAST, Room 13

SAPIENS — Story Time: How to Write for the Public 10:30 AM – 12:30PM (same time as Workshop above) Pre-registration required through AAA Website. Location: Vancouver CC, EAST, Room 17

Friday, November 22nd

A Tribute to the Life and Work of Sydel Silverman
Hosted by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Anthropology Program at CUNY Graduate Center, 8 -10PM, Location: Vancouver Convention Centre, Room 220

Exhibit Hall Hours – Vancouver CC

Thursday, November 21, 9-5pm
Friday November 22, 9-5pm
Saturday, November 23, 9-4pm

Meet the Editors of Current Anthropology at U. Chicago Press Booth 208
Laurence Ralph and Lisa McKamy, Thursday and Friday from 10am-noon

Meet the Editors of SAPIENS at Wenner-Gren Booth 112
Daniel Salas, Thursday 12:30-2:30pm
Chip Colwell and Amanda Mascarelli, Saturday 12:30 – 2:30pm

Meet the Wenner-Gren Staff at Booth 112, during Exhibit Hall Hours, except Saturday, 12:30-2:30pm (There’s no reception this year, but we’d still love to see you!)

We hope to see you soon!

Symposium #160 Cultures of Fermentation

From October 11 – 17, 2019 Wenner-Gren returned to Palácio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal for the 160th Symposium, “Cultures of Fermentation”, organized by Mark Aldenderfer (University of California, Merced), Christina Warinner (Harvard University and Max Planck Institute for Human History), Jessica Hendy (York University), and Matthäus Rest (Max Planck Institute for Human History). Be on the lookout for a future issue of Current Anthropology for this meeting’s papers, available to all 100% Open-Access.

Seated: Megan Tracy, Salla Sariola, Katie Amato, Jamie Lorimer, Heather Paxson.
Standing: Eben Kirksey, Shinya Shoda, Eva Rosenstock, Matthäus Rest, Dolly Kikon, Mark Aldenderfer, Roberta Raffaetà, Rob Dunn, Danilyn Rutherford, Björn Reichhardt, Christina Warinner, Oliver Craig, Daniel Münster, Jessica Hendy. Not pictured, Amy Zhang.

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“Cultures of Fermentation”

Mark Aldenderfer (University of California, Merced)

Christina Warinner (Harvard University; MPI for the Science of Human History)

Jessica Hendy (University of York)

Matthäus Rest (MPI for the Science of Human History)

Fermentation is a practice in which complex communities of humans, animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria meet and thrive. It provides us with a unique vantage point to engage and connect with recent debates in anthropology, biology, and beyond. Today, many of these multi-species communities that have been fermenting together, often in an unbroken chain for hundreds of human generations (and millions of microbial generations), are under severe threat of loss. Many factors have contributed to this fermentation crisis, most importantly the increasing industrialization and standardization of farming and food processing. The global decline of small-scale agriculture results in the replacement of a multiplicity of local strains with a much less diverse set of industrially bred organisms. But while there is a broad and diverse movement to save heirloom seeds and heritage livestock breeds, the impending loss of the microbial strains integral to small-scale fermentation is only starting to gain attention in academia and civil society. Popular interest in fermentation is growing dramatically, particularly in the context of microbreweries and artisanal cheese. Homemade fermented foods are increasingly considered healthy and hip, and they simultaneously serve to ground the fermenter in history and enable an expression of individuality. Fermentation is at the core of food traditions around the world, and the study of fermentation crosscuts the social and natural sciences. This symposium will foster interdisciplinary conversations integral to understanding human-microbial cultures. By bridging the fields of archaeology, cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, microbiology, and ecology, this symposium will cultivate an anthropology of fermentation.

The symposium will be organized around five strains of inquiry:

Cultures within cultures: Recent revelations on the importance of microbes for human biology, health, and culture on the one hand, and the rise of antimicrobial resistance on the other, necessitate a reassessment of the modernist attempt to pasteurize the world. Focusing on fermentation allows new ways of thinking through questions of agency, the body, and ultimately what it means to be ‘human.’ What will be the outlines of an anthropology of microbes that replaces visions of bacterial sterility with one of cohabitation? What would a political theory look like that considers the role of microbial life forms not only in the context of human suffering but also in human thriving?

Fundamental fermenters: Fermentation is an ancient and fundamental biological process. Long predating ourselves, it traces its origins to the early earth. Today, we use fermentation to transform our foods, fuel our microbiome, and compost our waste. There are however, many overlooked partners in this process. Insects such as wasps disperse wild yeasts and prime our agricultural products for fermentation. Dairy livestock seed their milk with lactic acid bacteria that outcompete pathogens and assist in raw milk yogurt and cheese production. Even human breast milk is not sterile – it is inoculated with native bacteria that assist the growing infant’s digestion. Who are the major partners in both human and non-human fermentation systems, and how do they interact? What are the routes that microbial species travel through in biological and cultural systems?

The prehistory of fermented foods: Arguably, fermentation has been the most important technology for preserving food throughout human history. Recent advances in biomolecular archaeology have expanded our ability to detect ancient culinary practices and have already generated surprising findings on the antiquity of dairy in Asia, the origins of wine production in Europe, and the early use of pottery for fish fermentation. How does a food transition from being simply edible to a product of a sophisticated, multi-species manufacturing process? How did the evolution of fermentation technologies intersect with processes of animal and plant domestication?

Microbes as the secret ingredient of cuisine: Underappreciated and often overlooked, fermented foods lie at the very heart of global cuisine. From wine and beer to bread, coffee, and chocolate, fermentation drives our appetites and dazzles our senses. On the one hand, industrial food production involves microbial regulation across the supply chain, but on the other, local traditions of fermented foods are vast, and homespun “wild ferments” have seen a rise in popularity, from kitchen-table sourdough starters to bathtub kombucha. How do microbes contribute to food identities? What are the culinary implications of food sterilization? What are the consequences of commercial microbial control? How well characterized is the diversity of food microbes and should there be scientific efforts to document, sequence, and preserve them?

Politics of fermentation: With the rise of industrialized agriculture, we face a dramatic decrease in the diversity of livestock breeds and microbial fermenters. The global decrease in small-scale fermentation endangers the survival of many of the microbial strains that have been fermenting with us for thousands of years, and with them the social and biological legacy of millennia of human culture. How should we respond to the disappearance of these microbes? How can local communities of microbes be protected?

NYAS Lecture 12/2: Ethnoprimatology: Toward the Sustainable Coexistence of Human and Nonhuman Primates in the 21st Century

Mark your calendar for December 2nd as the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series continues with Dr. Erin P. Riley, Professor, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University, Treasurer on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Primatologists, who will be presenting, “Ethnoprimatology: Toward the Sustainable Coexistence of Human and Nonhuman Primates in the 21st Century.” Dr. Larissa Swedell, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Queens College & CUNY Graduate Center Honorary Research Associate, University of Cape Town, will act as discussent. The event will be held at 5:45 PM at the Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required.

In the U.S, primatology – the study of our closest living relatives – secured a home within the subfield of biological anthropology as a way to provide insight into human origins and the evolution of human behavior. In recent years, a new research approach – ethnoprimatology – has given primatology an expanded purpose in anthropology. Ethnoprimatology examines the multifaceted ways the histories, ecologies, lives, and livelihoods of humans and primates intersect. Most remaining populations of primates live in environments that have been influenced in some way by humans (e.g., protected forests bisected by major roads, forest-farm edges, and urban centers). Ethnoprimatology considers these environments where humans and other primates interface its primary concern, recognizing the value of studying how humans and other primates behave together, co-shaping each other’s ecology, sociality, and evolutionary trajectories. In this talk, I will explore the field of ethnoprimatology with some examples from my field research on the human-macaque interface in Indonesia to demonstrate the promise the ethnoprimatological approach shows in fostering an integrative anthropology, more pluralistic approaches to scientific inquiry, and the sustainable coexistence of humans and otheprimates in the 21st century and beyond.

About the Speaker:

Erin P. Riley is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at San Diego State University, and is currently serving as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Primatologists. Drawing from primatology, conservation ecology, and sociocultural and environmental anthropology, her research focuses on primate behavioral and ecological flexibility in the face of anthropogenic change and the conservation implications of the ecological and cultural interconnections between human and nonhuman primates. With notable publications in American Anthropologist, Evolutionary Anthropology, American Journal of Primatology, and Oryx, her work spearheaded the field of “ethnoprimatology.”

All talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).  Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Hone Mandefro Belaye

With the support of the Wadsworth International Fellowship Hone Mandefro Belaye will continue his training in sociocultural anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, supervised by Dr. Julie S. Archambault.

I have an interdisciplinary educational background with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (Jimma University), a Master’s in Social Work (Addis Ababa University), and a Master of Arts in Development Studies with a Social Policy major (Erasmus University Rotterdam). Before moving to Montreal, Canada in 2017 as a Jeanne Sauvé Fellow at McGill University, I was a lecturer at the School of Sociology and Social Work and the Director of Community Services at the University of Gondar.

My research interests include urbanization in the Global South, politics of knowledge production, and community engagement in higher education. My research has been published in journals such as International Review of Sociology, Journal of Modern African Studies, Nokoko, and the Journal of Indigenous Social Development.

My PhD research examines the impact of changes in the built environment on social relationships among residents in Addis Ababa, a city experiencing rapid transformation in its physical landscape. Using a vernacular terminology of Gurbetena, roughly translated as neighbouring, my research looks at the impact of this transformation – which is moving people from single-story houses to flats in high-story condominiums – on the nature of relationships among neighbours. This research builds upon earlier projects including a European Union Erasmus and program-funded research on social capital in Ethiopian cities and CityInclusive, a social impact start-up I co-founded in 2017 to investigate smart city conversations through the lens of inclusion, engagement and social justice in Canadian cities.

I am passionate about bridging the divide between academia and practice. In 2016, I founded the Policy Issues in Ethiopia’s Development Trajectories (PROSPECT) seminar series at the University of Gondar. This series provided an opportunity for well-known Ethiopian academics to present their policy proposals to policy makers and others in the University of Gondar academic community. I have also leveraged my academic background over the past ten years to provide consulting support to several non-governmental organizations and write socio-political commentaries to, among others, Addis Standard and Ethiopia Insight.

I chose the interdisciplinary Social and Cultural Analysis program at Concordia University as it exposes me to a range of theories and methods while also grounding me within a broad ethnographic tradition. My supervisor’s (Dr. Julie Soleil Archambault) expertise on urban life and urbanization in Africa and ethnographic research is a perfect fit with my PhD research and played a role in my decision to join the program.

 

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Cal Biruk

Workshop attendees at the Centre for Social Research, Zomba, Malawi.

In 2007 Dr. Crystal (Cal) Biruk received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Politics of Knowledge Production in Collaborative AIDS Research in Malawi,” supervised by Dr. Sandra T. Barnes. In 2015 Dr. Biruk then received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “The Politics of Vulnerability in the LGBT-Rghts/global Health Nexus in Malawi”. Most recently Dr. Biruk received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Workshops on Research with Key Populations.”

On 20-21 June 2019, in collaboration with Dr. Alister Munthali and Gift Trapence, I convened “Workshops on Research with Key Populations,” which drew 20 Malawian scholars drawn from fields such as anthropology, sociology, history, political science, and psychology. I formulated the concept for these workshops on the premise of facilitating open conversations and knowledge sharing on LGBTQI+ issues in Malawi amid state-sanctioned homophobic discourse. I hoped to provide a space for interested participants to network and gain deeper exposure to scholarly perspectives on these issues, and to share opportunities for future research and collaboration. Further, I anticipated that the workshops could build links between a local LGBTQI+ organization I work with and scholars of gender and sexuality, so as to enhance future potential collaborations and consultancies.

The workshops were held at the university to capitalize on nascent interest, observed by myself and colleagues, in LGBT issues. Given that the Global Fund in recent years awarded its largest ever grant to Malawi—contingent on inclusion of sexual minorities in HIV and AIDS programming and policy—it is a pivotal moment to generate interest among Malawian scholars and students in research questions that might enable local expertise and participation in the collection and analysis of empirical data pertaining to the health and other concerns facing men who have sex with men and other LGBT persons in Malawi. Nurturing the interest of a small community of Malawian scholars and students in LGBT issues, I think, can help dispel the general sentiment that ‘gay issues’ are the purview of white westerners and imperialism.

The workshops opened with three presentations on research and programming with key populations in Malawi, followed by a lively question and answer session. The presentations were given by Malawian experts with experience working with key populations in the sectors of academia (political science and medicine) and civil society, respectively (a programmes coordinator for a Malawian LGBTQI+ rights organization based in Malawi’s capital). Taken together, the three presenters covered in great detail existing research on sexual minorities in Malawi, ethical issues involved in working with vulnerable populations and within a homophobic environment, overview of national policies as they intersect sexual minority issues, and community-level responses and programming directed at the many needs of sexual minorities.

The workshops were a very fruitful space in which interested academics found opportunity for frank discussions on a sensitive issue. The general consensus of the group—following vibrant discussions and debates—was that it is the role of researchers to contribute to building a high quality and robust body of evidence that can shed light on issues facing key populations, and that can enhance existing programming and interventions and policies. Participants particularly enjoyed small group discussions centered on pre-circulated readings authored by African scholars of queer theory and gender and sexuality in Africa. Many of the concepts and themes drawn from these texts enabled participants to draw links between manifestations of “queer” across time and space, and to put forth examples and anecdotes that helped localize LGBTQI+ issues.

The most excitement in the workshops was around mobilizing the expertise in the room (qualitative and social science research) to fill important gaps in the research that has been undertaken up to now with key populations in Malawi (which has primarily been focused on HIV/AIDS transmission, biomedical issues, and health). In this regard, those present were interested in issues such as, for example, the history of homosexuality in Malawi, inclusion of ‘other’ LGBTI persons in research programs (lesbians, gender non conforming women, transgender persons) overly focused on MSM, issues around mental health and counseling or provision of safe spaces, access to justice, development and agriculture, indigenous forms of ‘homosexuality,’ issues around language/translation and naming (for example, as they pertain to the questions and tools used by Afrobarometer to measure homophobic attitudes in the country).

The workshops culminated in the formation of a “think tank” that has committed to using their expertise to bring important qualitative and social scientific perspectives to issues faced by key populations in Malawi, and, also, to mobilize evidence and data to erode stigma and homophobia in the general populace (through, for example, holding research conferences on the topic, or sharing findings in public venues like radio or media publications). This think tank has called itself “Key Populations Research Programme” and is based at Centre for Social Research in Zomba, Malawi. I will head up the Programme, in collaboration with my colleagues Dr. Alister Munthali (CSR, Malawi), and Gift Trapence (CEDEP). The think tank has put forth an ambitious plan to secure funds from foreign and local sources that can invest in research programs that draw on the expertise of the group.

Importantly, this workshop was a monumental moment in which CEDEP has built an important bridge with University of Malawi, facilitating dialogue, collaboration, and exchange of ideas and opportunities. One major problem faced by CEDEP—an LGBTQI+ NGO I work with in Lilongwe, Malawi—is the shortage of consultants they can draw on to undertake consultancies who are well versed in and familiar with terminologies, issues, and general contours of the key populations space. It is my hope that the bridges built at these workshops will help solve this problem, and also present opportunities to expand its existing research foci to include, as well, important social scientific inquiries that will inevitably lead to better informed and evidenced advocacy, better tools and instruments, better policy, and better interventions.

The Programme has, up to now, created a listserv and a Whatsapp group to facilitate staying in touch, and, in order to preserve momentum, is aiming to source funds to support future meetings for the group. The purpose of the meetings will be to strengthen the network, include speakers and presentations and training modules to enhance the knowledge and familiarity of researchers with key populations issues, terminology, etc., and enable gathering space to collaborate in person on relevant calls for proposals, sourcing funds, and developing research questions. The intimacy and interest in collaboration among participants was high, and enabled by informal socializing during tea breaks, lunches, and a dinner for participants held at a local restaurant.

We hope that the Programme will become a model for other countries, and that research and inquiries undertaken by the Programme will help build a robust evidence base to contribute to a multisectoral approach to the diverse and complex issues faced by key populations in Malawi. The event and ensuing excitement around these issues have been first hand evidence of the value of engaged anthropology that builds on momentum around research agendas and issues emergent in local contexts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Tuya Shagdar

Tuya Shagdar received her undergraduate degree from the University of the Humanities – Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, as well as a Master of Arts in Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Master of Philosophy in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship she will continue her training with a PhD in social cultural anthropology at the University of Cambridge, supervised by Dr. David Sneath. Don’t miss out on the other entries in the series here.

I encountered anthropology in my thirties after I had done my MA in comparative literature. I was born in the former Soviet Union and my memories of childhood are entangled with both the relative stability of late state-socialism and the sudden fall of it. In the years that followed, wealth and fortune replaced old socialist tokens of success that were built around the notions of “yos surtahuuntai baih” (possessing high morals), “hudulmurch” (hard-working) and “soyoltoi seheeten” (cultured and being educated). Money had become an important pursuit in the age of the market as Soviet subsidies were cut off and new sources of income from development and foreign direct investment dictated a new set of pragmatist logic; privatization, liberalization of prices and cuts in state subsidies.

I recall my parents struggling to make ends meet as my mother’s research income was reduced and she was forced to take up a domestic caregiver job. I too worked three years as a live-in caregiver, thus delaying my graduation from university. The cuts in state subsidies had a devastating effect in Mongolia, which continues today. The 1993 privatization engineered by international banks left many women employed in state service and teaching positions vulnerable to the perils of the market economy. The privatization of large state enterprises benefited few and created the current state of wealth inequality. The experiences that I’ve lived have shaped my research interest in post-socialist wealth and how it is constituted by Mongolia’s transitioning from a traditional agrarian feudal society to modern state-socialism, and finally into a democracy with a neoliberal economy.

I am pursuing a PhD at Cambridge where my dissertation will focus on the notion of elite. In countries with advanced bureaucratic democracies with large-scale corporate economies elites are often classified in abstract terms like the “ruling class.” From the point of western democratic thought “elites” pose challenges to the egalitarian ideological framework. Being elite or showing elitist tendencies often have negative connotations in the west. However, in post-socialist countries like Mongolia, I observe how people look up to being elite as a positive character trait. This may have to do with the principle of meritocracy that the Stalinist regime advocated throughout socialist bloc countries following purges of the aristocracy and intelligentsia as a means to create a new “class” and promote them to positions of leadership. I seek to investigate how such positive views emerged and evolved, and assess whether the notion of elite carries the same connotation as in western liberal societies.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: William Lempert

Dr. William Lempert received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Broadcasting Indigeneity: The Social Life of Aboriginal Media,” supervised by Dr. Jennifer Shannon. In 2019, Dr. Lempert returned to the field when he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Palya Collaboration: After-Images and Visual Sharing in the Social Life of Kimberley Aboriginal Media.”

With the Engaged Anthropology Grant, I was able to return to the Kimberley region of Northwestern Australia in July-August to share the results of my primary dissertation fieldwork that took place during 2014-2016. This fieldwork includes a total of 30 months since 2006 with two Indigenous media organizations in the coastal pearling town of Broome, as well as in regional communities. Throughout this period, I followed the lifecycles of dozens of film projects through daily collaboration within production teams in order to understand the stakes of Aboriginal self-representation embedded within the process of filmmaking itself.

The projects I collaborated on included a wide variety of genres and topics, from documentaries following Dreaming stories and Songlines, to clay animation and music videos. These projects were broadcast locally, as well as broadly on National Indigenous Television and Community Indigenous Television. I was particularly focused on the relationship between the production of films that vividly imagine hopeful and diverse Indigenous futures, and the widespread defunding of Aboriginal communities and organizations.

Completing this trip was central to my primary goal of ethnographic practice: to engage at the deepest level of collaboration possible. This approach led me—after multiple consultation trips in 2012 and 2013—to follow the social lives of media projects at Goolarri Media Enterprises (Goolarri) and the Pilbara and Kimberley Aboriginal Media Association (PAKAM). I followed the biographical social lives of interconnected film projects from their initial idea through their circulation and beyond. In my dissertation, I discuss the Kukatja concept of “palya,” which translates to something done “the good and right way,” with an emphasis on process. Thus, my return in 2019 represented the completion of this process and the commitment I made with my collaborators.

In Broome, I hand delivered copies of my dissertation to key individuals at Goolarri and PAKAM, and discussed the next stage of turning it into a book. Their feedback was invaluable, and these dialogues will continue over the coming years. I was also interviewed twice by local radio legend Sandy Dann on Goolarri Radio; our discussion on the broader themes of my research was broadcast widely over the National Indigenous Radio Service.

I have worked with the Nulungu Research Institute through the University of Notre Dame Broome Campus since 2012. During this recent trip, I presented an hour-long lecture through their “Talking Heads” public seminar series, located just across the street from Goolarri and PAKAM. This series emphasizes plain spoken discussions of long-term regional research and provided a forum to articulate my ethnographic results to the broader Broome community.

As a PAKAM volunteer, I drove their Toyota Land Cruiser from Broome to Balgo—my second primary fieldsite—located in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. I gave copies of my dissertation to key collaborators, including Kukatja elder Mark Moora, women elders at the Kapululangu Women’s Law and Culture Centre, and community members at the art center. We discussed the process of developing this into a book over the coming years.

Young Kukatja men filming a music video on a mobile 4WD vehicle stage just outside of Balgo.

As part of my volunteer work in Balgo, I collaborated on a community men’s health and music project. This centered around a trip out of Balgo with a large 4WD truck—built and operated by Broome musician Staf Smith—that ran on solar power and vegetable oil, and which transformed into a powered mobile music stage. Local musicians played above a waterhole to their brothers and cousins, who were cooking dozens of kangaroo tails in an earthen oven nearby. The musicians played on this stage around the community—including locations like the basketball court and the art center—and recorded their songs in the local music studio. I worked with Staf and the local PAKAM media crew to integrate this audio and footage into an extended music video, which aired nationally on Indigenous Community Television.

The mobile music stage from across the waterhole outside of Balgo.

Since last visiting Balgo, I completed final video editing for multiple films featuring local hand signs, which I had facilitated with community members through PAKAM and National Indigenous Television (NITV). I held multiple screenings in Balgo that included the official community premiere of these programs. Following proper cultural protocols, I first held a private screening at the women’s center, which included the elders most closely involved with the projects. After that, I organized a community film festival featuring these and several of our other collaborative media projects from the last several years. This provided an interactive forum to watch and reflect on our past videos, as well as to consider ideas for future projects.

Visual sharing was an essential part of this return trip, as it provided key opportunities for engagement that were inclusive and aligned with the “palya” process. As I describe in my dissertation, the social lives of films do not simply end when they have been screened and circulated. Rather, they often give birth to “after-images,” which are new projects and ideas that have other multiple and rippling lives. Thus, my dissertation and this follow up trip represent such after-images, which are themselves embedded within the social lives of these media.

NYAS Lecture 10/21: Urban Centers: Surprisingly Sustainable?

On October 21st the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series returns when Dr. Monica L. Smith, Dept. of Anthropology, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, will present, “Urban Centers: Surprisingly Sustainable?” Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, Executive Director of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania will act as discussant. The event will be held at 5:45 PM at the Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required.

Cities are paradoxically resilient: even the ones that eventually failed in ancient times were occupied for hundreds of years, and even the most fragile modern ones continue to be inhabited. Using an archaeological perspective, this lecture will examine the many ways in which ancient cities constituted resilient social and economic networks that provide a blueprint for our own sustainable futures. Such futures are not unproblematic, of course, because cities necessarily draw in food, water, and raw materials from the countryside. Urbanites’ comfortable assurance of resiliency can mask a neglect of rural needs and realities, resulting in significant and sometimes deleterious social, economic, and political consequences.

About the Speaker:

Monica L. Smith is a professor in the Department of Anthropology and in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, where she also holds the Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair in Indian Studies. She is an archaeologist with research experience in India and Bangladesh, as well as Egypt, Italy, and Tunisia. She is the author of A Prehistory of Ordinary People (2010) and Cities: The First 6,000 Years (2019).

All talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).  Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required