NYAS Lecture 12/3: The Right to Remain Silent: Self-Monitoring and the Experience of Inequality During Traffic Stops in the U.S. South

Finish out the year with one more engaging installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series on December 3rd, 5:45 PM at its new location, Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. Sharon Feliciano-Santos, Assistant Professor in Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, will be presenting, “The Right to Remain Silent: Self-Monitoring and the Experience of Inequality During Traffic Stops in the U.S. South.”

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. If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

What impact do knowledge of police discretion and the potential for the escalation of violence have upon the communication and expression of subjects during police-initiated traffic stops? Drawing on fieldwork in a mid-size Southern city, interviews with subjects of stops, and analysis of dash-cam and body-cam video, we highlight the different fears, concerns, and knowledges that impact how subjects of traffic stops manage their speech and body language in order to avoid being interpreted as threatening or non-compliant. Interviews with differently raced and gendered subjects of police-initiated stops describe the multiple frameworks that influence their expressive decisions, from media-circulated news of shootings between police and subjects, their knowledge of their legal rights, to their past experiences of being stopped by law enforcement officials.

While the knowledge of subject’s rights during a police-initiated stop is not equally distributed, in cases where subjects do know their rights, interviews reveal how subjects experience the responses to expressing their right to remain silent as non-compliance or refusal. Here, pressures toward compliance may implicitly work against subject’s rights. Ultimately, a systemic analysis of these patterns of self-monitoring suggests how racial and gendered inequalities in charges and arrests emerge and become reproduced in the context of routine police stops. The presentation concludes by connecting these findings to global issues related to self-monitoring and the production of silences in reproducing inequality.

About the Speaker:

Dr. Feliciano-Santos‘ research interests include linguistic anthropology, the politics of language use, social activism, language and cultural revitalization, racial and ethnic formations, and religion. Her areas of interests are Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S. Feliciano-Santos’ research has focused on Taíno cultural revitalization and identarian movements in Puerto Rico. She has examined face-to-face interactions, and the culturally situated communicative ideologies that influence and emerge from such movements. She is also interested in how historical revisions affect the task of reconstruction (religious, linguistic, institutional, etc.) and indigenous ethnic identification. Her current project focuses on the language ideologies and practices of Puerto Ricans in St. Croix, including the ways in which they construct their relationships to multiple Caribbean islands linguistically and narratively.

A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk. Buffet dinner begins 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.

Wenner-Gren at AAA 2018: Schedule of Events

It’s that time of the year again! The 117th annual AAA meeting is about kick off in San Jose, California. If you are planning to attend we’d love to see you at the following events:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

(3-0605) How to Write a Grant Proposal for the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the NSF, 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, San Jose Convention Center,  MR 114

(3-1038) Out of the Ashes: International Solidarity and the Challenges for Rebuilding Anthropology at Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, 4:15 PM – 6 PM, San Jose Convention Center, Executive Ballroom 210 B

Friday, November 16, 2018

(4-0135) Journalism and Anthropology: An Encounter, 8 – 9:45 AM, San Jose Convention Center, LL 21 C

(4-1185) The Art Of Reviewing, 4:15 PM – 6 PM, San Jose Convention Center, Executive Ballroom 210F

Exhibit Hall Fun!

Meet the Editors of Current Anthropology, Thursday and Friday, November 15th and 16th, 10 AM – 12 PM,  University of Chicago Press Booth #408, San Jose Convention Center Exhibition Hall  Laurence Ralph and Lisa McKamy will be available, and possibly Mark Aldenderfer as well.

Also feel free to drop by to see us at the Wenner-Gren Booth (#211) in the Exhibition Hall. 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Melissa Burch

CEO Roundtable

As a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin, Melissa Burch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to facilitate research on “Navigating the Criminal Records Complex: Hiring and Job-Seeking in the Inland Empire,” supervised by Dr. João Costa Vargas. In 2017, Dr. Burch received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to support “Criminal Records and Employment Roundtables.”

Thanks to the support provided by The Wenner Gren Foundation, I was able to return to my field site southern California’s Inland Empire in January 2018, to share the findings of my dissertation research with key collaborators and stakeholders. Framed as roundtable discussions, I presented the major findings and core arguments of my dissertation research with three audiences. The first was hosted by the Inland Empire Fair Chance Coalition, a collaborative of community-based organizations working together to challenge criminal-records based discrimination in employment. The second roundtable was hosted by the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership’s employment committee, a network of nonprofit organizations advocating for formerly incarcerated people. The third roundtable was attended primarily by former prisoners and their families and hosted by the San Bernardino branch of the Center for Employment Opportunities.

Four major findings were elaborated:

1. Criminalization demotes social status through the structures of race, class and gender. This demoted status therefore does not affect everyone equally or similarly.

2. Criminal records stigma encourages criminalized people to construct and perform narratives about their convictions that reinforce dominant assumptions about criminality.

3. A growing criminal records complex increases demand for criminal background checks, facilitates their widespread availability and justifies their use.

4. Many business owners and managers employ a level-headed, non-moralistic approach to criminal records; but this openness is threatened by a political-economy increasingly characterized by regulation, competition and litigation.

IE Fair Chance Roundtable

As a researcher, the opportunity to share these findings with communities and organizations who had helped to generate the research questions was invaluable. Doing so helped me to concretize my findings in clear, concise and non-jargony terms and presenting in-person allowed me to collect direct feedback on my analysis, creating a mechanism for accountability to those most impacted by the research. For participants, the roundtables carved out a welcome opportunity to reflect on current strategy, dilemmas and contradictions in the day-to-day work of fighting criminal records discrimination. Together, we talked through the potential implications of the research findings and discussed various possibilities and approaches to advance social change.

In addition to the formal roundtables, this return to the field also allowed me to meet one-on-one with a number of employers, advocates and job seekers who have been important research informants. These in-depth conversations provided another means for participants to vet, contest and contribute to my findings and arguments, fostering a mutual sense of collaboration.

LARRP Roundtable

To my surprise, while I had imagined that most informants would want to read only an executive summary, or the parts of the dissertation most relevant to them, the vast majority requested complete copies of the dissertation and many of those read and commented on the writing. Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant has helped me to produce a more rigorous, relevant and collaborative dissertation and I hope, a stronger forthcoming book.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Flavia Kremer

The Wenner-Gren Foundation couldn’t be happier to share the trailer and blog post from Dr. Flavia Kremer who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015 to aid filmmaking on Is a non-Bororo man a Mr. Wrong?

In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right – Teaser from Flávia Kremer on Vimeo.

In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

For my project  “Is a non-Bororo man a Mr. Wrong?” I produced two film documents: In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right (40 min) and Dumping Mr. Wrong (approx. 60 min), which are in dialogue with each other.

These films will be the first two episodes of a micro series entitled Tales of Love and Bororo Myth, which explores the anthropology of love and kinship among the Bororo people in Central Brazil. Research and fundraising for the third episode is already underway. The film will follow a group of Bororo gay men in order to research the relationship between gay love and Bororo myth.

Tales of Love and Bororo Myth

The production of the micro series Tales of Love and Bororo Myth is a response to the challenges I faced during fieldwork, which transformed my initial research project. Departing from the first version of the visual ethnography In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right, which is an integral part of my PhD thesis entitled Gendered Prohibitions: Using Film to Explore Continuity and Change among the Bororo people in Central Brazil, I proposed to develop a “new genre” of ethnographic film: a kind of ethnographic “romantic comedy”.

The archetypal “romantic comedy” is often viewed as a “woman’s film” and the genre is generally treated with disdain by (often male) film critics (Mortimer 2010). The “rom com” genre explores the topics of love, marriage and women’s issues with the biological clock (i.e When Harry Met Sally). In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right  is an “ethnographic romantic comedy” for it also deals with the search for love and explores the character’s concerns with finding “Mr. Right”, conciliating love and career, as well as the ticking of the biological clock. However, Mr. Right can only be understood as a “rom com” in the context of ethnographic film.

My proposal to produce an “ethnographic rom com” also encountered some resistance from critics, who argued that my project imposed the framework of a “Hollywood genre” to the Bororo context. I disagree with these critics. The traces of a “romantic comedy” genre that we can find in Mr. Right were not imposed on the Bororo. Rather, they emerged ethnographically. In other words, I only realized that the film could be interpreted as an “ethnographic rom com” in the edit suit, when the film was already finished. For this reason, my proposal to the Wenner-Gren Foundation was to develop this idea further. I planned to show how, through Mr. Right, the Bororo challenged the “boy meet girl” narrative structure of the “rom com” (McDonald 2007). Mr. Right is mostly a “a girl meets boy” type of film. As such, it challenges Lévi-Strauss’ theories of “the exchange of women” and shows how, among the Bororo, it is women who exchange men.

Feedback from Bororo viewers is a key element of the research project “Is a non-Bororo man a Mr.Wrong?”. For my Fejos Fellowship, I proposed to return to the Bororo village to screen Mr. Right and assess the impact of the film among Bororo viewers; a stage of the filmmaking processes that has been historically neglected in visual anthropology (Martinez 1992). The film Dumping Mr.Wrong, which I shot specifically for my fellowship, explores the reception of Mr. Right as a film document in the Bororo village. The initial plan was to produce a single film, one that would incorporate Mr. Right as memory, feedback, and develop the concept of an “ethnographic romantic comedy” further. However, by the time I began shooting, the reality of the main characters of Mr. Right, Daniela and Jordana, had changed dramatically. They had babies with non-Bororo men, who left them single. The footage from 2016 is not as lighthearted as the footage from 2011. Both Daniela and Jordana mentioned that their lives have been difficult since having babies and leaving Mr. Wrong behind. Moreover, in the feedback sessions, it became clear that a sort of “Bororo prophecy” had confirmed itself.

Bororo mythology designs specific paths of marriage for each clan. It prescribes the path one should take on the moral village plan in order to find their true husband or wife. Not marrying mythical Mr.Right is a risky business for Bororo women. If one marries out of their path, the “true wife” can claim their husband back. A “true wife” even has the right to claim her husband back and beat up the woman who invaded her path. None of the film characters married Mr. Right according to Bororo law. They had their children with men from different indigenous groups. Daniela had a baby with a man from the Xavante nation, the historical enemy of the Bororo, and Jordana had twins with a man from the Chiquitano nation. However, as the Bororo law would say, their “true wives” have taken them back. The Xavante left Daniela for a Xavante woman and the Chiquitano left Jordana for a Chiquitano woman.

There’s a melancholic mood in the footage of 2016 that problematised the project of refining the ethnographic “rom com” genre. For this reason, I decided to create the micro series Tales of Love and Bororo Myth and divide the footage in two parts. This new approach will give me the liberty to portray the reality of Daniela and Jordana in a lighthearted way, without compromising with the notion of ethnographic “rom com” or the film. The second episode, Dumping Mr.Wrong, follows the main characters of Mr. Right in new adventures in the city of Cuiabá and the Bororo village of Tadarimana, Brazil. We see the upshot of three stories involving mythical Mr. Right. The film cites Mr. Right as memory, but focuses on the cultural and subjective tensions of three Bororo girls, who share past memories and present experiences with mythical Mr. Right: our shy Leandro “DiCaprio”, who remains caught in the middle.

During the research process, I often wondered if making a series would create more problems than it would solve. I concluded that I have created a practical problem in order to solve a theoretical problem. In my application, I sent In Search of a Bororo Mr.Right as a pilot film to the foundation and proposed to refine the ethnographic “rom com” genre, which I developed in my PhD. So I revisited my fieldwork material from 2011 and edited a brand new version of Mr. Right including new footage from 2011, which introduces a new aspect to the film: fierce competition between the two sisters for mythical Mr. Right. I also included aerial images of the Bororo village taken with a drone in 2016 to help us visualize the moral village plan. The new version of Mr. Right does refine the ethnographic “rom com” genre as I had proposed, however, the footage that I shot specifically for the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2016 brings in a melancholic aspect that clashes with the formula of my ethnographic “rom com” approach generated in Mr. Right. When I decided to deliver Tales of Bororo Love and Myth, I created a practical problem and doubled the amount of work I would need to complete the fellowship. On the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to handle the material I shot in 2016 in its own terms. There are fundamental differences between the two filmmaking processes, in 2011 and 2016, which inevitably shaped the footage.

Dumping Mr. Wrong will not fit on “the old romance formula of transformation of young lovers” (White 1984:44), while Mr. Right fits this formula perfectly. In Mr. Right the main characters are filmmaker and subjects looking for their perfect mythical match. The film breathes transformations of love, youth and hope. Dumping Mr. Wrong brings to the table a number of new topics to explore, both theoretically and ethnographically. The footage from 2016 brings in children as central subjects. Observational footage changes the focus of the film from the search for Mr. Right, to the dispute between babies over Mr. Right, or left, boob! In a culture where grandma’s (or auntie’s) breasts can be great pacifiers, the babies’ search for an available breast takes center stage in the footage. Children also become the center of interviews as the main characters’ love is now devoted to them, unconditionally, with little space for Mr. Right and much less Mr. Wrong.

Other aspects of the “romantic comedy genre” can be explored to tackle the footage in Dumping Mr. Wrong. A closer look at Shakespeare’s romantic comedies and an investigation of representations of motherhood in the “rom com” genre more generally, will help us to define whether or not Dumping Mr. Wrong is an ethnographic “rom com”. I won’t give a final word on the development of Mr. Wrong. New characters, and new topics of anthropological interest emerge in the filmmaking process but I won’t spoil the rest!

Stay tuned.

Chip Colwell, SAPIENS Editor-in-Chief, Receives AAA Executive Director’s Award!

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is excited to announce that Chip Colwell, SAPIENS editor-in-chief, has been selected as the 2018 recipient of the American Anthropological Association’s Executive Director’s Award! This award is in recognition of Dr. Colwell’s creative, resourceful, and risk-taking work as founding editor-in-chief of SAPIENS, Wenner-Gren’s digital magazine about the human world.  Launched in 2016, and now a podcast series, SAPIENS has shared insights from anthropology with millions of readers and listeners worldwide.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Rachel Engmann

The workshop team

In 2014 Rachel Engmann received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ”Slavers in the Family: The Archaeology of the Slaver in Eighteenth Century Gold Coast”. In 2018 Dr. Engmann had the opportunity to return to her fieldsite when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Excavating Knowledge”.

The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant funded a fact-finding workshop and interviews in order to develop educational materials as part of a community outreach project based on the Wenner-Gren sponsored research, ‘Slavers in the Family’ at Christiansborg Castle, conducted under the auspices of the Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project (CAHP).  Christiansborg Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is aC17th century former European trading post, Danish and British colonial seat of government and Office of the President of Ghana.  An engaged approach to archaeological heritage directed at primary and secondary students is in keeping with the project’s philosophies since CAHP represents an engaged, participatory-orientated approach to archaeological heritage.

Activities:

  1. Consultations

We first held consultation meetings with the relevant stakeholders in order to inform them about the CAHP research project, plans for educational outreach and extend an invitation to participate in the workshop itself. 

  1. Workshops

We conducted two workshops in May 2018 in a primary school in the Osu district of Accra, and close to Christiansborg Castle.  The attendees comprised teachers and head teachers, mostly from the public school sector but also from a mission school; representatives from the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board; a local Chief and two Queen Mothers.

Dorothy Engmann, Workshop Facilitator

The CAHP Director gave a brief introduction to the archaeological excavation project at the castle.  The CAHP Education Director (facilitator) then explained that the proposed outreach materials had been inspired by the project: the primary materials would serve as an introduction to archaeology; the secondary materials would draw out the connection between archaeology and heritage.  They would be based upon the concept of active learning: the teacher or the community based volunteer would lead the students on a voyage of guided discovery with materials that could be downloaded from the CAHP website.  Any associated tangible materials would be available at minimal cost from students’ homes or the local market.  The focus would be upon real student involvement in the learning process through a variety of activities involving exploration and collaboration, questioning and discussion – skills that would be transferable to other disciplines across the curriculum.  And the results might be expressed in various media: for example creative writing, poetry, art and drama.  The facilitator then gave the participants a ‘taster’ of the proposed materials at primary and secondary levels.  The presentation was very well received and all present were keen to learn and experience more of the proposed materials.

The attendees were then invited to identify the challenges facing the implementation of these materials, and to consider possible solutions to those challenges.

  1. Interviews

The CAHP Project Director and Education Outreach Director also conducted interviews with parents, caregivers and children in the area close to the castle – one of the most impoverished areas in Accra – in order to get a better understanding of the challenges they face regarding the Ghana government education system and to inform the development and implementation of our outreach materials.

 Summary

Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann, Workshop Facilitator

CAHP’s proposed active learning outreach materials will make a positive contribution to the curriculum and to the introduction of a new pedagogy in both primary and secondary schools in Ghana.  The current pedagogy is very much ‘chalk and talk’ because this is how teachers are trained.  There is also an acute lack of textbooks.  There are no other resources (teachers often have to purchase them out of their low salaries).  Together, these factors result in very poor exam results.  Our materials will help to address all these issues.  With these low cost resources, teachers will be motivated to teach more imaginatively and effectively, and students themselves will be motivated to discover and learn more, because they will realize that learning can be fun!  Volunteers in the community can also use these materials to work with and help educate students who do not attend school, or do not attend school regularly for financial reasons.

We will need to provide in-service training for teachers and volunteers in the community around the implementation of active learning, including study skills.  And we will need to provide hard copies of the materials for those teachers and volunteers who do not have access to the CAHP website.

We will need to seek further funding to create and develop the project and its implementation.

NYAS Lecture 10/29: Sick of Race: How Racism Harms Health and Misleads Medicine

Dr. Clarence Gravlee

As October wraps up we’re thrilled to announce another great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series on October 29th at 5:45 PM at its new location, Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. Clarence C. Gravlee, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida will be presenting, “Sick of Race: How Racism Harms Health and Misleads Medicine”. Ida Susser, professor of anthropology at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center will act as discussant.

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. If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

Again please note that the NYAS lecture series is no longer being held at the offices of The Wenner-Gren FoundationAll talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Social scientists commonly assert that race is a cultural construct, not a biological reality. This refrain is correct in spirit, but it has proven to be an ineffective response to the persistence of racial-genetic determinism in medicine, science, and everyday life. What’s more, it creates a blind spot: deflecting attention away from the biological consequences of cultural constructs like race. We will explore how hidden assumptions about race, genes, and biology infect contemporary medicine and how integrating methods from the social and biological sciences clarifies the health effects of systemic racism.

About the Speakers:

Clarence C. Gravlee is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. The central goal of Dr. Gravlee’s research is to identify and address the social and cultural causes of racial inequities in health. His work is grounded in a biocultural approach to health and human development, drawing on methods from the social and biological sciences. His current primary project, funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses on the health effects of racism among African Americans in Tallahassee, FL. Using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, the project integrates conventional ethnographic methods, formal social network analysis, and epidemiologic methods. Gravlee has co-edited The Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology with Russell Bernard, now in its second edition, and has co-authored numerous articles.

Ida Susser is professor of anthropology at Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center and has conducted ethnographic research in the U.S., Southern Africa and Puerto Rico on urban social movements and the urban commons. She has studied gender, the global AIDS epidemic and environmental movements. Her book AIDS, Sex and Culture: Global Politics and Survival in Southern Africa (Wiley-Blackwell 2009), which was awarded the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize for research in women and health by the Society for Medical Anthropology (2012), draws on medical anthropology, science studies, global studies, as well as research on class, gender and race. It discusses the ways in which women mobilized, from small group meetings to major demonstrations, to prevent and treat AIDS in Southern Africa

A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk. Buffet dinner begins 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: Ireri Ceja Cardenas

Ireri Ceja Cardenas received her undergraduate degree at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, ITESO, México, and a Master’s in Visual Anthropology and Anthropological Documentary at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, FLACSO Ecuador. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship she will continue her training with a PhD in anthropology at Federal U. of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, supervised by Dr. Adrianna de Resende Barreto Vianna. Read the previous two entries in the series. 

I am a Mexican researcher in my first year of a PhD program in Social Anthropology at the National Museum (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). In spite of huge budget cuts to education, science and culture, the museum’s anthropology program has maintained its ranking as one of the most prestigious in the region. But on September 2, 2018, the year of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the National Museum and the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Postgraduate Program in Social Anthropology, the museum (housed in San Cristóbal Palace) was consumed by fire. Nearly all of the installations and the historical, artistic, bibliographical and scientific collections perished, and the Social Anthropology Program and its ongoing research activities, teaching and social commitments have been greatly compromised.

By choosing a doctoral program in Brazil my goal is to help create alliances and collaborations between disparate academic traditions in Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil and unite scholars, who despite shared experiences and common histories, rarely have the opportunity to engage in conversation with one another.

After completing my degree in Communication Sciences at the Instituto Tecnológico de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO, Guadalajara, Mexico), I earned my master’s degree in Visual Anthropology and Anthropological Documentary at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO, Quito, Ecuador), an institution I later joined as a researcher and collaborator.

For the past seven years I have been conducting research on migration and forced displacement. I have worked on identity and belonging of Haitian populations on the move following the 2010 earthquake throughout the Andean region, and studied their use of subversion strategies to overcome discrimination and exclusion. I have also studied displaced populations of Colombians residing in Ecuador and access to rights through their Mercosur visas. As an anthropologist I have developed the tools to explore heterogeneities and struggles within disparate categories such as refugee, multilateralism, regional and local integration. I have also applied a critical perspective to issues of violence, borders and smuggling of migrants, along with violations of human rights in the context of security policies and the closing of borders.

My research interests continue to focus on migration and displacement as consequences of “the crisis of civilization” and the Anthropocene and how these trends function in opposition to the control of natural resources and territories in Mexico and Latin America. I believe that anthropology allows us to question dichotomies such as nature / culture, universalism / particularism, agency / structure and to construct theoretical and practical alternatives to problems that emerge from capitalism and development.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chun-Yi Sum

Student volunteers conducting home visits in Sichuan province in China.

While a doctoral student at Boston University Chun-Yi Sum received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “The New Vanguard of Civil Society: Morality and Civic Consciousness among College Students in China”, supervised by Dr. Robert P. Weller. In 2017 Dr. Sum was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant which gave her the opportunity to return to the field the following year to carry out her project, “Exploring Better Practices of Engaged Volunteerism in China”.

What makes effective social interventions? How should civic actors channel their passion into making sustainable contributions? In my dissertation research about student volunteerism and extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, I asked whether and how student organizations might invigorate China’s civil society, and how participatory experience might transform young people’s moral worldviews. In the summer of 2018, Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant funded my month-long revisit back to my dissertation field site. I organized workshops and lectures about culturally-informed interventions, and discussed with participants ways to develop “pretty good practices” of engaged volunteerism. I appreciate this opportunity to give back to civic groups that have generously shared their time and cultural knowledge with me when I was still a doctoral student. These activities also helped to promote the application of anthropological methods and humanistic sensibility among civic actors in China.

Students elicited information from school children and their parents to determine whether they were eligible for scholarships.

The primary audiences of my engagement project are student volunteers and staff members of two civic organizations that serve school children in impoverished rural communities in China. First, I joined a student group in a summer field trip to visit scholarship recipients whom they sponsored. Student volunteers wanted to determine whether to renew these scholarships in the upcoming academic year: how had the scholarships improved their recipients’ academic performances? Had the recipients’ families experienced significant changes in financial circumstances that might qualify them for or disqualify them from further sponsorship? Volunteers asked scholarship recipients a list of questions about household income and academic grades. They filled out a questionnaire after each home visit.

Chun-Yi Sum (left) and three social workers organized two days of activities for children in Guangdong province in China.

Besides teaching student volunteers interviewing techniques to facilitate their tasks, I helped them collect additional information that could be used for program evaluation and for updating the questionnaire. In debriefing meetings that I organized after each day’s home visits, I asked students to reflect upon their observations and impressions about the families they interviewed. I encouraged students to talk also to teachers and neighbors to understand more holistically their service site. More importantly, I challenged student volunteers to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their interventions, and to formulate a protocol about how to document their field experiences for sharing with volunteers in the future.

Student volunteers and their mentees designed a poster together.

The second group I worked with aimed similarly at helping marginalized children to perform better at school, but with a different approach. This group recruited university students to mentor rural children using letter writing as a medium. My second engaged activity was to accompany letter-writing students on a field trip to meet with their pen pals for the first time. We planned two days of activities for twelve pairs of student volunteers and children to learn more about each other. In the evenings, I met with staff members of the group to brainstorm about new ideas to motivate rural children to study. We also talked about ways to improve participants’ volunteering experiences. A week after the field trip, I gave a presentation at the organization’s headquarter to facilitate a conversation about program development and future projects.

Chun-Yi Sum discussed the application of anthropology in social initiatives.

In addition, the Engaged Anthropology Grant supported three public lectures in Guangzhou City before and after the two summer field trips. In these presentations, I introduced my working book manuscript about extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, as well as other publication plans based on my field research in the region since 2010. I also talked about the importance of incorporating cultural awareness and research-based evaluative protocol in responsible volunteering practices. These lectures attracted a total audience of about sixty, many of whom were volunteers, social workers, and past and present participants in student organizations in which I conducted my dissertation research in 2011 and 2012. I am glad to have the opportunity to connect with new and old friends in the field, and to explore with Chinese civic actors the synergy between anthropology and social initiatives.

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Upcoming November Conference

15th Congress of the Latin American Association for Biological Anthropology

November 1 – 4 2018

Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

Since 1990, the Latin American Association for Biological Anthropology (ALAB) meets every two years in different cities across Latin America. This will be its 15th meeting (Congress), and the first to take place in Puerto Rico or any jurisdiction under the United States of America. As expressed in its by-laws, ALAB will organize meetings to contribute to the development of Latin American researchers and professors for the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in the field of Biological Anthropology. Meetings serve has hubs for networking among Latin American researchers, their students, and world-renown investigators undertaking anthropological research on issues related to Latin America. Collaborations for research and dissemination initiatives are developed. The 15th meeting is expected to join approximately 300 participants from across Latin America, including the Caribbean, plus invited speakers from the United States, Europe and elsewhere.