Engaged Anthropology Grant: Serious Play: Anthropology and Game Design for Farmworker Health and Justice

Playing “Farm-o-Poly,” an agricultural themed version of the classic board game “Monopoly” and wondering, “Where are the farmworkers?”

Eight students from California’s Pájaro Valley and two interns joined anthropologist Dvera Saxton in summer 2015 in a creative workshop that led to the conceptualization and design of two farmworker-themed video games. By winter 2016, the games will be digitized and ready for their public debut on the Internet. The students, who all come from farmworker families, learned ideas and methods of anthropology, game design, and graphic design and combined those new insights with their own life experiences to create the games. It is our hope that our video games will foster greater empathy for farmworkers and a deeper sense of appreciation for the skilled but socially and economically undervalued work that they do in the strawberry fields.

 

Workshop participants from top left, intern Juan Morales Rocha, Kat Torres, Samuel Hernandez, Xavier Rodriguez, Fabian Rocha, Marco Baltazar, and intern Kevin Cameron. Bottom from left: Juan Pablo Chavez, Mar Uribe, Victoria Moran, and anthropologist Dvera Saxton.

When you play classic board games like The Game of Life or Monopoly, the stories and narratives, and even the outcomes of game play, do not necessarily reflect our lived realities. And the values that the contemporary versions of these games instill are also problematic, and deviate from those intended by their originators (and, according to historian Jill Lepore, author of The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, certainly from those of the Old World inventors of the some of the first spiral board games in India, East Asia, and the ancient Middle East).

Immigrant workers, are largely invisible in contemporary popular board and video games (as they are in real life), despite their critical roles in producing and maintaining wealth: the construction workers who build dream homes, the housekeepers and nannies who maintain the gleaming interiors and care for the children of more privileged full time workers, the gardeners who preen and prune the landscaping, and the farmworkers who harvest the strawberries plunked into the champagne or sliced atop a Starbucks parfait.

Director of the Digital Nest, Jacob Martinez, takes a break to play. Photo by author.

Even amidst great struggles—from dangerous border crossings and family separations to devastating and permanently disabling injuries—farmworkers and their families still found time for humor and playfulness in everyday life. It is from my observations of farmworker families at work and at play that I drew much of the inspiration for the Game Over: Game Design for Farmworker Health workshop. With the collaboration of two interns–Kevin Cameron, a UC Santa Cruz Game Design program graduate, and Juan Morales Rocha a UC Santa Cruz Cognitive Science major and son of farmworker parents–eight students (recruited from Watsonville High School and Pájaro Valley High School), and our host, the Digital Nest (a non-profit that provides space for youth and adults to learn about emerging technologies and collaborate on projects), we developed two farmworker themed video games that we hope will foster more empathy for the people who harvest the fresh foods we eat.

The anthropologist hoists the piñata at a Christmas-time guerilla toy distribution for farm worker children at an apartment complex in Watsonville. Photo by Gabe.

I went back to my field notes to think about the instances of playfulness I observed in farmworkers’ everyday lives, and how this contrasted with the unbearable struggles and suffering they endured behind the scenes. Play is a method of coping with seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is a survival strategy, a way of blowing off steam or decompressing from a long day at work, and also a means to instill values and morals in children and to reinforce them amongst adults. As political scientist anthropologist James C. Scott observed, there is a playfulness to rural workers’ resistance in the fields.

Farmworker play is diverse, and takes place both at work and off the clock. El Teatro Campesino toured across California’s farm fields, entertaining workers and inciting them to respond to injustices through comedy and theatrical plays. At work, farmworkers may sing along with the radio, sneak a ripe berry into their mouths, or take part in lunchtime soccer matches or gambling card games. At one field site site near a flower nursery, I saw that farmworkers had ingeniously made their own impromptu glove drying rack. At farmworker households, families played rounds of loteria (a classic Mexican version that is similar to bingo), especially at Christmas time. I reminisced about the guerilla piñata parties an area activist group would throw for farmworker neighborhoods around Watsonville at Christmas time. At a community garden run by farmworkers, children played by running up and down the rows and occasionally helped their parents. All the while, they were learning the differences between edible and inedible weeds and how to grow food for their families the same ways they do back home in Mexico. I thought about the participation of farmworkers and their children at rallies, and the clever and colorful posters they made. How could we mobilize this playfulness to challenge popular misconceptions about farm work and farmworkers? What games could we create that might help farmworkers preserve their health, or know their rights?

Children of farmworkers play “farmer” atop a tractor at a farmworker-led community garden.

California’s Pájaro and Salinas Valleys are major strawberry-growing regions, producing 80 percent of the strawberries consumed throughout the United States. In this region, from May through October, thousands immigrant laborers, mostly of Mexican and Central American descent, rise before dawn to harvest strawberries, red and black raspberries, and blueberries. Many people enjoy these and other fruits at breakfast time, several hours after the sun comes up.

These strawberry fields (not the ones idealized by the Beatles) are where I conducted my dissertation research on farmworker health and wellbeing. I observed that many factors—from pesticides to the piece rate of pay—contribute to devastating farmworker health problems that layer and evolve over time in bodies and communities. My research and activism in response to farmworker health issues involved networks up and down the agricultural hierarchy. It has and continues to contribute ethnographic labor and critical analysis and reflection to social and environmental justice movements.

Retired farmworker grandparents and their grandkids with hand-colored posters with serious life-or-death messages at a demonstration against the toxic pesticide methyl idodie.

During our workshop, we merged the methods and concepts of ethnography, game design, and graphic design to make a series of serious games. This kind of game play aims to achieve more than entertainment. There is a great range of serious games, and the ideas and ethics they promote: from social justice causes to ethically problematic military and police training games. In addition to fostering empathy for farmworkers, we want our games to serve as educational and political resources in response to the a-political curriculum games featured on the websites of agribusiness companies and advocacy organizations, such as the American Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission.

We conducted participant observation by playing and discussing many different board and video games with farming, food, immigration, and political themes. Some featured explicit and serious social justice themes, like The Migrant Trail. In this game, players can take on the role of an immigrant crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or the role of a border patrol agent. We thought critically about the problematic storylines of games like Harvest Moon, which features a young farmer who can till, tend, and harvest the land without ever running out of stamina. This is a stark contrast to the experiences of farmworkers, who are often permanently disabled by the repetitive motions and intense pace of the labor.

Drawing ourselves as video game characters as we contemplate the absence of Latino/a characters in games that aren’t racist or based on pernicious stereotypes.

Each of these games are fun to play, but for these teens, playing The Migrant Trail proved to be a more powerful experience than Oregon Trail, because their families’ stories are brought to the center of the gaming experience. So too, are the tensions between first generation immigrants and their descendants, some of whom, the youth observed, ironically, get jobs as border patrol agents. Playing a border patrol checkpoint agent in the game Papers, Please! gave students temporary access to indiscriminate amounts of power over the lives of other migrants trying to get into the fictional country of Arstotzka. The longer they played, the less sympathetic they became to immigrants’ pleas and stories, and the more obedient they became at enforcing the bureaucracy.

There are opportunities for anthropology, with the creative assistance of communities and other disciplines, to flip the script on games and other modes of learning and play in ways that aim to validate and politicize everyday life. The games that we came up with this summer provide a constructive means of engaging some of the complex and serious issues that farmworker families face every day.  We will be throwing our game launch party in Winter of 2016, and we look forward to sharing our work with Pájaro Valley farmworker families, teachers, health care providers, non-profit directors and staffers, and elected officials, and from there, the rest of the internet accessible world. We hope that the games inspire other kinds of pragmatic, or practical, solidarity with farmworkers, in addition to furthering the trend of disseminating anthropological research by unconventional and innovative means.

Kat Torres tests out the prototype. The objective is to pick and grade the strawberries as fast as possible with few to no inconsistencies or errors. It is a lot harder than it looks and sounds! The physical prototype is like a rough draft of what will eventually become a final digitized video game.

After analyzing and playing these and other games, and brainstorming different ideas and variables for our own farmworker-themed game, we developed, constructed, play-tested, and refined two video game prototypes. Our game suite, Guardians of the Field: The Strawberry Jam (or Guardianes/as del Campo: El Jale de la Fresa in Spanish) will be launched online with free access in Winter 2016. One of the games simulates the experience of working at a piece rate of pay and the work of picking and grading berries for different global markets at a fast pace. The second is puzzle in which the player must pick and arrange the berries into a series of baskets under a time limit. In the end, the berries in each basket must weigh approximately one pound and must not overflow. Both of these are highly skilled parts of strawberry farm work. Our teen coconspirators know, sometimes from second hand knowledge from their parents and grandparents, and sometimes from first hand knowledge having spent summers alongside their kin in the berry fields, that farm work is not merely mindless physical labor. In reality, a lot of skill, focus, knowledge, and care, as well as physical energy, goes into picking and packing the strawberries that end up on supermarket shelves and in our refrigerators.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Caitlin E. Fouratt

 

Workshop participant discusses his family’s migration story

Caitlin E. Fouratt is Assistant Professor in the International Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach.

In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, she received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Presences and Absences: Nicaraguan Migration to Costa Rica and Transnational Families.” In June 2015, she returned for one month to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to teach a seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies at the University of Costa Rica and to facilitate two community workshops. The seminar included presentations on her own research as well as current research from local colleagues and students’ research projects. The first workshop, with Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica, focused on the challenges of family separation, gender and migration, and strengthening family ties. The second, with relatives of migrants back in Nicaragua, examined shifts in Costa Rican immigration law that migrants face and the complexity of transnational family relationships.

 

Seminar participants at the University of Costa Rica

My dissertation research focused on the experiences of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica and their families back in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans represent the largest immigrant group in Costa Rica and make up almost 8% of the population. In my research, I looked at the ways in which members of transnational families navigate the shifting meanings of family when faced with the challenges of migration. Two of the biggest challenges Nicaraguan transnational families face are the result of state policies on either side of the border. In Nicaragua, where decades of conflict, natural disasters, and economic crisis have deepened poverty, the government has been unable or unwilling to provide basic social services for much of the population. Most poor Nicaraguans seek to provide care for themselves and each other through family networks. But with high unemployment and low wages, families are forced to make difficult decisions, including deciding to migrate internationally to provide for food, housing, education, and healthcare for loved ones. Unlike in the rest of Central America, most Nicaraguans travel not north to the U.S., but south to neighboring Costa Rica, where wages are relatively higher, the journey takes less than one day, and immigration enforcement has not been as repressive as in the United States. However, this situation has been changing over the past ten years. Indeed, my research showed that, like other receiving countries around the world, Costa Rica is moving toward immigration policies focused on increasing restrictions for entry and residency and ramping up enforcement efforts and the costs of fees and fines. All of this affects families’ abilities to maintain relationships across borders.

Some seminar participants after our last class at the University of Costa Rica

I applied for a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant because I wanted to facilitate dialogue with Costa Rican colleagues working on migration and to share my results with the families who participated in the project. As a bonus, I was able to return with my now 3 year old daughter who was born in Costa Rica during dissertation research. During my dissertation fieldwork, my husband, Chris, and our daughter were my constant fieldwork companions for the 18 months we spent in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Like many scholars of transnational migration, at various moments throughout my fieldwork, I found myself tracing and retracing the paths and journeys migrants themselves traveled. Becoming a mother while in the field, became integral not only to building rapport with my Nicaraguan interlocutors but also to my expectations of how I would undertake fieldwork and my understandings of kinship and family. Returning as a family allowed us to reconnect with the families with whom we spent so much time during her infancy.

Koen Voorend, researcher and professor at the University of Costa Rica, presenting on Nicaraguans’ access to and use of public services in Costa Rica

With the help of very supportive colleagues at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales at the University of Costa Rica, especially Koen Voorend and the Institute’s director, Dr. Carmen Caamano, I organized a 4 session seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies.  We invited students, faculty, and community members to come together to talk about pressing migration issues in Costa Rica as well as global trends in migration and recent migration studies research. Because we wanted the seminar to create a space of dialogue rather than just a class about my research, we invited participants to share their own research, experience, and projects on the key themes of the seminar. As the first day of the seminar approached, I felt increasingly nervous. Other than in an article, I had never articulated my research in Spanish before, especially before a live audience. Plus, it was the end of the academic term and students and professors were preparing for exams. Would anyone even attend? I needn’t have worried. Our first meeting included 26 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and researchers, NGO members, and even some Nicaraguan migrants who had participated in my research.

Olinda Bravo, coordinator and founder of the Network of Women Migrants presenting to students about the history of immigrant organizing in Costa Rica

It was exciting to present my work to Costa Rican colleagues and receive their feedback. But even more rewarding was to hear colleagues and students present on their recent work. Koen Voorend presented on the relationship between Nicaraguans’ legal status and use of social services in Costa Rica. Dr. Carmen Caamaño, the director of the IIS presented on her work with migrant organizations, and Olinda Bravo, the coordinator of the Network of Women Migrants, on the network’s experiences standing up for labor rights and advocating for immigrants in Costa Rica. Students also presented their thesis projects, which ranged from work in psychology on the mental health of Central American refugees in Costa Rica, from Social Work in gendered aspects of border crossings, and to a Fulbright scholar home on vacation about unaccompanied child migrants in the U.S. What impressed me most was the level of interest that these issues sparked among students and faculty. As one colleague noted, years ago when she completed her masters at the University of Costa Rica, she was almost the only student working on migration. Now, there are students across disciplines and levels interested in issues of migration and gender, mobility, family, and law. The dialogue sparked by planning and facilitating the seminar has already prompted plans for joint publication with Costa Rican colleagues and I hope will set the stage for future collaborations.

Participants in Costa Rica drawing their families

In between seminar sessions, I also organized two workshops, one in Costa Rica and one in Nicaragua with former research participants and members of transnational families. These workshops would have been impossible to organize without the help of the very dedicated staff of ASTRADOMES, the Association of Domestic Workers, and the Network of Women Relatives of Nicaraguan Migrants. These women supported and encouraged me during fieldwork years ago, and were key to handling all the logistics and organizing needed to pull off the workshops successfully. The first workshop, in Costa Rica, was hosted by ASTRADOMES, and included 15 migrant women, who trekked through a torrential downpour to attend. We started the day introducing ourselves by drawing our families, then I presented some key insights from my research, particularly on the gendered work of maintaining family ties, and received lots of audience input and commentary. We closed by brainstorming some strategies that migrants could use to strengthen transnational family relationships.

Carmen Cruz, labor rights promoter for Astradomes, preparing typical a typical Nicaraguan meal for workshop participants

In Nicaragua, our workshop was cut short by the celebration of the Repliegue de Masaya, a reenactment of a battle leading up to the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. But again, the coordinators of the Network of Women Family Members of Migrants and Astradomes ensured that we would have a great turn out. Although I had hoped to give a more formal academic talk before the workshop, the schedule changes meant few faculty could make it and workshop participants needed to arrive early to avoid public transit delays. In the end, I presented on Costa Rican immigration law and the lived experiences of “illegal” migrants to the workshop participants themselves. Afterwards, many participants noted that this was a topic they rarely discussed with their family members in Costa Rica, though many of them were undocumented. The presentation offered a new perspective on the challenges their loved ones faced abroad. But what made this part a highlight was that several professors from the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) attended and expressed interest in collaborating with the Network and Astradomes.  These faculty members were key contacts that the network had been trying to connect with and build relationships with for a long time. I hope that the conversations started here will lead to more fruitful collaborations not only for myself, but for Astradomes and the network.

The conversations sparked in these activities have not only helped me think through my research in light of participants’ comments, suggestions, and critiques, and to brainstorm future avenues of research, but have prompted conversations among academic and community-based colleagues about continuing to develop spaces for collaboration and feedback.

Upcoming July Conferences & Workshops

A look at what we’re sponsoring this summer.

 

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) 2016 Annual Conference: “Footprints and Futures: the time of anthropology”

 

July 4-7, 2016

University of Durham

The 2016 ASA conference will focus on contemporary knowledge making in anthropology with one eye on the footprints that we have left [narratives, traditions, scholarship, disciplinary identities, methodologies and the nature of evidence], and the other on the futures glimpsed in the richness and diversity of our anthropological practice. The conference is seeking to provide a lens for the re-examination of the conditions under which anthropological knowledge is shaping and is shaped by critical times.

Crucially, the purpose of Footprints and Futures is not inward facing reflection. In the societies in which we live and work as anthropologists there are profound concerns about sustainability, security of livelidhood, diversity, equality  and access to hope for the future.  The questions posed about the ways in which we produce anthropological knowledge are being brought into sharp focus at a time when inequality, conflict and the mal-distribution of resources leave a deepening footprint on large swathes of humanity.

The aim of the conference is to bring together an international and interdisciplinary community of scholars from all stages of the researcher life-cycle who will debate the discipline’s critical relevance and a reflect upon the different temporalities within which our knowledge making unfolds.


European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) 14th Biennial Conference: Anthropological legacies and human futures

 

July 20-23, 2016

University of Milano-Bicocca

The recent years have seen EASA engaged in inspiring and fruitful discussions on margins, subjectivity and intimacy. It is time to pause and put the fundamental concerns of anthropology once again at the centre of attention. The idea of legacies implies taking stocks, and taking stock is a way to prepare for the future. Anthropology has lived a time of change, innovation, and interdisciplinary dialogue, but has also struggled to define and establish its own research priorities against the tendency of other intellectual traditions to co-opt its contributions. Political agendas external to the discipline have often bent the broader significance of our findings, and other fields of knowledge have partly appropriated, partly trivialized as anecdotal information, the strengths of the anthropological approach to the study of humans: the ethnographic method. Six sub-themes (power, economy, work, kinship, religion, knowledge and forms of expressions) stimulate the engaging task of anchoring future paths of investigation and collaboration in the legacies of anthropology.

The conference brings together scholars and students from all the countries of Europe and beyond thus creating new formal and informal relationships and collaborations. The anthropologists of the University of Milano-Bicocca run a masters and doctoral program in socio-cultural anthropology, which are a reference point for the development of the discipline through the constant implementation of research and teaching. The 14th EASA conference enhances the national and international visibility of the Italian team, and encourages scholars, especially young ones and students, to broaden the scope of their collaborative networks.

Fieldwork Update: Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa

We welcome a guest post from Wenner-Gren grantees Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames.

Geologist and Uranium-Thorium dating specialist Dr. Robyn Pickering (left) and Dr. Christopher Ames (right) examining the geological sample containing a flowstone which separates Grassridge's Holocene and Pleistocene occupations. Photograph taken by Dr. Benjamin Collins.

Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames are currently conducting Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene occupations at Grassridge rockshelter. The site is located at the base of the Stormberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and is approximately 200 km inland from the Indian Ocean. These excavations are part of the Grassridge Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Project (GAPP), which explores the dynamic between hunter-gather behavioral diversity, social network formation, and regional-scale climatic variability during the Late Pleistocene.

The Late Pleistocene in southern Africa was subject to periods of severe aridity and rapid climatic change. Some researchers have used this evidence to suggest the interior regions of southern Africa were sparsely populated at these times, with hunter-gatherer groups forming very small, localized social networks. However, the paucity of well-described archaeological sites from the interior during this time frame has made it difficult to explicitly test this hypothesis.

Dr. Christopher Ames (left) and Dr. Benjamin Collins (right) examining the northern profile wall from Dr. Hermanus Opperman's 1979 excavations at Grassridge. Photograph taken by Cherene De Bruyn.

Grassridge’s ~90 – 100 cm thick Late Pleistocene archive is capped by a radiocarbon date of ~35,000 years ago, placing the sequence during an enigmatic period of technological and behavioral diversity in southern Africa. The bottom of the sequence is currently of unknown age. GAPP’s Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations at Grassridge will provide crucial information from the understudied interior region of southern Africa, and make an important contribution towards understanding a period relative uncertainty in the southern African record.

This field season focuses on growing our sample of Late Pleistocene artifacts, and refining the chronology of Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene sequence. Preliminary results demonstrate a rich sample of stone tools, including blades (large and small) and points, faunal remains, several hearths and burning features, and large pieces of ochre. These data provide detailed information about hunter-gatherers lifeways in this area 35,000 years ago, and allow us to compare their strategies with those from across southern Africa.

2016 field crew on site at Grassridge (l-r): Dr. Benjamin Collins, Cherene De Bruyn, Dr. Christopher Ames, and Lisa Rogers.

Our excavations have also recovered substantial charcoal fragments, which are large enough to identify the types of plants being used for fuel, and critical for refining Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene occupational chronology. Moreover, we have identified a thin flowstone at the contact between Grassridge’s Pleistocene and Holocene occupations, which is to be dated by Uranium-Thorium dating specialist, Dr. Robyn Pickering (University of Cape Town). Dr. Pickering’s meticulous analysis will not only provide an important chronological marker, it will also produce detailed information of the paleoenvironmental conditions before, during, and after the formation of the flowstone, and help us better understand the gap in Grassridge’s occupational sequence between the Pleistocene and Holocene.

As our field season comes to a close, we are looking forward to getting back to the lab and analyzing the artifacts and faunal remains recovered from the Late Pleistocene occupation layers, as well as the geological and geochronological samples. These analyses will provide a comprehensive understanding of what life was like for the Grassridge’s hunter-gatherer residents, and more broadly contribute to understanding the relationships between behavioral diversity, social networks, and climatic variability at a regional scale.

Wenner-Gren Foundation Appoints Respected Anthropologist Danilyn Rutherford as New President

NEW YORK—With a commitment toward sustained leadership in defining the practice of anthropology, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research has named respected anthropologist Danilyn Rutherford as its next president.

Rutherford is the chair of the Department of Anthropology and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz whose research and fieldwork has focused on questions of culture and power. She is well known for her work in the West Papua province of Indonesia and for promoting research at the intersections of the range of disciplines that make up the field of anthropology.

Wenner-Gren’s Board of Trustees approved Rutherford’s appointment at its spring meeting last month.

“Danilyn Rutherford has a vision of the broad field of anthropology, an exceptional record of accomplishment, and the creativity and drive to lead Wenner-Gren,” said Lorraine Sciarra, chair of the board and the head of the presidential search committee.

“Professor Rutherford’s incredible intellect and capacity for connecting people and ideas made her an exceptional choice for leading Wenner-Gren as the foundation continues to expand its role as a steward of anthropology across the subdisciplines,” Sciarra added. “Her innovative spirit will help the foundation make a powerful case for the ongoing importance and relevance of anthropology. The foundation is extraordinarily fortunate to have Professor Rutherford as its next president.”

As Wenner-Gren marks its 75th anniversary, Rutherford will create a new strategic plan for the foundation while continuing its functions associated with being one of the major funding sources for international anthropological research. These include directing programs for the foundation’s research grants and fellowships as well as conferences and symposia that are incubators of the newest ideas in anthropology.

Rutherford will work closely with the Board of Trustees, an Advisory Council of leading scholars in anthropology the foundation’s staff and external stakeholders.

“These are exciting times for anthropology, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to take part in shaping the discipline’s future,” Rutherford said. “There’s so much good work being done. Wenner-Gren is in a perfect position to create a space for conversation among anthropologists trained in different epistemological traditions. The best research in all the subfields combines rigor and curiosity. I’m looking forward to exploring ways we can find common ground by building on these key features of our scholarship.”

 

A commitment to core values and innovation

Rutherford said she has long respected Wenner-Gren’s commitment to funding a wide array of research across the four subfields of anthropology. “I’ve always admired Wenner-Gren’s commitment to supporting an intellectual ecology where different varieties of knowledge production can flourish. The discipline has always had blurry boundaries. We draw inspiration from fields ranging from biology to history to the arts.”

With an endowment valued at $165 million, the foundation provides more than $5 million in grants each year to support the field of anthropology around the world. This includes supporting anthropological research, academic training and education, collaboration between scholars, development of doctoral programs in countries where the field is underrepresented, innovative projects to raise awareness of anthropology, and conferences, workshops and symposia that bring scholars together to advance knowledge and address some of anthropology’s most pressing issues.

Rutherford said she is eager “to build on Wenner-Gren’s efforts to further deepen the impact of the foundation and demonstrate the significance of anthropology to a broad public audience beyond the field.” Since 1959, the foundation has published Current Anthropology, ranked as one of the top journals in the field in terms of impact, citations of its content and influence.

Recent innovations include providing open access to select Current Anthropology articles online and the launch in January of the SAPIENS news and commentary website, which is aimed at transforming how the public understands anthropology.

“I am impressed by Wenner-Gren’s efforts to cultivate new modes of scholarly engagement,” Rutherford said. “It’s a question of access. I believe that anthropologists have an ethical duty to speak in clear, compelling ways not only to their students and the broader public, but also to fellow academics in the U.S. and abroad. I’m honored to serve as the next leader of the foundation.”

Rutherford will succeed Leslie C. Aiello, who will retire after serving as the foundation’s president since April 2005. Aiello will become president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 2017.

Under Aiello’s leadership, Wenner-Gren solidified its preeminent position in anthropology, expanded its commitment to research needs not met by other funding sources, and strengthened its strategic focus on programs to invigorate the field domestically and internationally.

 

About Danilyn Rutherford, Ph.D.

Rutherford received her Ph.D. in anthropology with a minor in Southeast Asian studies from Cornell University in 1997 after receiving her master’s from Cornell in 1991. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Science in history and biology, with distinction, from Stanford University in 1983.

Rutherford arrived at UC Santa Cruz as an associate professor in 2009 before becoming professor and chair of anthropology in 2011. She previously was an associate professor in anthropology at the University of Chicago, a principal researcher in the West Papua Study group sponsored by the East-West Center Washington and the Carnegie Corp. of New York, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

Rutherford has published extensively on a broad range of topics that include nationalism, Christianity, kinship, money, language ideology, affect, disability, and technology. She published Raiding the Land of Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier in 2003 and Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua in 2012. She has contributed to numerous books and authored dozens of journal articles, critical reviews and other publications.

Rutherford will serve as president-elect of Wenner-Gren until assuming the position of president in July 2017.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amelia R. Hubbard

Amelia Hubbard is Assistant Professor in the department of Sociology & Anthropology at Wright State University. In 2009, while a doctoral student at Ohio State University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘A Re-examination of Biodistance Analysis Using Dental and Genetic Data,’ supervised by Dr. Debra J. Guatelli-Steinberg. She was subsequently awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Engaging Prehistory Through Genetic and Dental Variation Among Kenya’s Coastal Communities.’

5 schools, 4 communities, 1 month        

Around a week was spent in each of four communities within Kenya’s coastal province: Mombasa, Lamu, Dawida, and Kasigau. The intended goals of the trip were to: 1) reconnect with participant communities from my 2010 dissertation project, 2) connect with the (potential) next generation of Kenyan anthropologists, and 3) share results with academic communities.

In total, 700 individuals were formally contacted during school visits and open houses. Approximately 100 additional individuals were contacted during informal conversations with community members interested in the project.

 

Goal 1: Connecting with the community     

Research poster on display at the Makwasinyi Village Dispensary

Often, participants are not afforded the opportunity to learn much about the final results of a study, particularly when publications are printed in journals and languages that are inaccessible to local communities.

Non-technical posters (in Swahili and English) were displayed in six easily accessed locations. Paper copies of the text were also handed out to any interested parties so that individuals who could not attend presentations (due to age, illness, cultural restrictions, or busy home lives) still had access to the results.

In the Taita Hils (Kasigau and Dawida), display locations included dispensaries and libraries.

On the coast (Mombasa and Lamu), posters were displayed in cultural centers and open access museums.

A baraza

In each location, I also arranged a series of barazas (open meetings) where community members could ask questions about the research results. To facilitate higher attendance, local elders coordinating community projects helped identify times when these projects would be taking place and arranged time to talk with community participants. In some villages, elders and project leaders also imparted the importance of understanding Taita (pre)history and supporting future projects in the area.

In a few areas, barazas were not possible and the results were disseminated via more informal conversations among community members and by distributing handouts. Individual home visits were not conducted, to protect the identities of past participants and to avoid giving the appearance that I had “favorites.”

 

Goal 2: Inspiring the next generation                                                

Initially, this component of the project was touch and go. Upon landing in Kenya, I was informed that all high school teachers were on strike and schools had been closed indefinitely. Fortunately, some public boarding schools still had students. Additionally, with the national exams quickly approaching, many of the Form 4 students (HS Seniors) were studying on their own rather than returning home where family and work obligations would hinder their ability to prepare.

Talking with students at secondary schools

In total, I was able to visit five schools: Moi Secondary (Kasigau), Lamu Girls School (Lamu), Dr. Aggrey Boys School (Dawida), Mwangeka Girls School (Dawida), and Kenyatta Secondary (Taita). The reception was warm and students were very inquisitive. Questions ranged from, “what are the major benefits of studying anthropology in college?” to “what were the challenges of conducting research?”

Through additional funding from Wright State University, I was also able to create informational posters (with help from my research students) about the subfields of and careers in anthropology to give to schools and educational institutions.

As part of the funding, two of my undergraduate research students (who have been working on the study collection from the 2010 project) traveled to Kenya to assist with the trip. They proved vital in documenting the project and facilitated additional engagement with communities by allowing local students to interact with “real” American students. Through this experience they also gained their own rewards: both are now certain that public health, medical anthropology, and international development are areas they will pursue in graduate school.

Though I anticipated my students’ popularity among local high schoolers, I could not have guessed at the impact of their speeches, especially among female students.

Kaitlin talks with students at Dr. Aggrey

Chris, a mother of two and full time student, told students about her choice to return to school after having a family, despite the financial and emotional struggles of balancing both responsibilities. Though most female students found it unusual for a woman to return to school after having had children, they also vocalized how her story was inspiring and gave hope that they could be both mothers and scientists someday.

Kaitlin, a 20-year old considering medical school, impressed students (many of whom themselves are the same age) with her commitment and focus to both anthropology and medicine. She articulated why her training in anthropology would make her a good doctor and explained why studying language, culture, and history are relevant to students interested in science.

The added bonus of their interactions with students furthered my intended goal of inspiring the next generation of Kenyan anthropologists and was an important contribution to the overall EA project.

 

Goal 3: Academic presentations             

As anyone who does research abroad can attest, there are many challenges in coordinating a research program from the other side of the world. In the US we’d say “the best laid plans…” and in Kenya we’d say “haraka, haraka haina baraka” (hurry, hurry has no blessings) or “hamna shida, tutashinda kesho” (no worries, there’s always tomorrow).

In preparation for my EA project, I diligently contacted colleagues to arrange workshops and talks at various institutions around Kenya. Unfortunately, due to illness, scheduling conflicts, and other roadblocks I was ultimately not able to fully complete this component of the project.

I was still able to meet a few anthropology undergraduates from Pwani University and University of Nairobi to talk about research on the coast. One student I spoke with is currently a Kiswahili and History instructor at Kenyatta Secondary School in the Taita Hills and initiated a meeting with students to talk about my research and careers in anthropology.

 

Poster accepted by Charles Adika on behalf of Kenyatta Secondary

Final thoughts and lessons learned        

Despite a few setbacks, my EA project was a success and I see that the impacts are varied and ongoing.

First, there is the impact on the community. Many people articulated how pleased they were to see a researcher return with study results. A common phrase was, “Everyone says they’ll come back, but they don’t.” Through e-mail, Facebook, and calls to my research assistants it appears that people are still talking about the project (i.e., spreading the word) and visiting the posters.

Second, there is the impact on youth. It has only been a week and a half since we left but I have followed up with teachers via e-mail and post to reiterate my commitment to providing informational resources about studying anthropology at the collegiate level. Informal discussions with principals and administrators about internships and job shadowing also have the potential to create networks between future research projects and students interested in anthropology.

Third, this opportunity to reconnect with participants, friends, and colleagues has strengthened relationships between myself and these communities, allowing for greater success in future research endeavors.

Thank you Wenner-Gren for this wonderful opportunity. And thank you to the people of coastal Kenya for your continued hospitality.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Roger Canals

Wenner-Gren’s newest grant program, the Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film, is named in honor of Paul Fejos, the first director of the Wenner-Gren foundation and a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker. The grant allows an early-career academic to pursue the completion of a work of ethnographic film based on anthropological research already accomplished by the applicant.

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Fejos Fellow Dr. Roger Canals, who received the grant aid to filmmaking on ‘Afro-Venezuelan Rituals in Barcelona: A Comparative Study of Religious Nomadism through Film’.

Trailer A GODDESS IN MOTION – Sub English from Jordi Orobitg Produccions on Vimeo.

 

Afro-Venezuelan Rituals in Barcelona: A Comparative Study of Religious Nomadism through Film

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Afro-Venezuelan Rituals in Barcelona: A Comparative Study of Religious Nomadism through Film is an innovative project about the cult of María Lionza which includes an ethnographic film and a website. The cult of María Lionza is a religious practice originating in Venezuela in which spirit possession is frequent. The film A goddess in motion (María Lionza in Barcelona) focuses on the increasing presence of this religious practice in Barcelona, my native city. Through the montage, I explore the transformations that this religion undergoes when it moves to another cultural context. Moreover, the film is conceived as a reflection upon the role of the ethnographer during the fieldwork and it seeks to discuss the difference between “here” and “there”, “sameness” and “otherness”. The objective of the website is two-fold: on the one hand it aims to make available the research that I have conducted on the cult of María Lionza to date and, on the other hand, it is presented as a participatory medium for the exchange of material and knowledge about María Lionza. Thus, it provides believers and artists with the possibility of sending new images of María Lionza and the cult rituals. As such, the website has been designed as a space for ethnographic experimentation.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Diana Szanto

Diana Szanto, then a student at the University of Pecs, Pecs, Hungary, was awarded the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in May 2010, to aid research on ‘Engaging with Disability: NGOs between Global and Local Forces in the Post-Conflict Reconsolidation of Sierra Leone,’ supervised by Dr. Gabor Vargyas. This research project investigates the interplay between local and international NGOs in the context of the Sierra Leonean post-war reconstruction focusing specifically on the field of disability. In 2015, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up her research and share her results with the community that hosted her.

 

Dr. Diana Szanto, University of Pécs, Hungary and president of Artemisszio Foundation, Budapest (Hungary) received an Engaged Anthropology grant to share the results of her PhD research with disabled people living in Sierra Leone, members of the disability elite as well as NGO staff working in the field of disability. To meet these different publics she organised four types of actions. She had a short intervention in front of state officials and leaders of the disability movement, she organised a 2 day workshop on disability activism for active members of disabled organisations and she facilitated a discussion with the joint participation of NGO workers and disability activists. Finally, she visited the different collective homes managed by polio-disabled people which had been the sites of her research.  The objective of these activities was to construct a learning environment for people with disabilities and for NGO workers working with disabled people allowing them to reflect on their own practices and to discover together alternatives.  Rather than a presentation chapter from chapter the grantee used the topics of the dissertation to generate ideas and debates.  The long and tedious preparation of the different actions as well as the actual realisation of the program can be considered as an extension of the field work, allowing testing the conclusions of the dissertation. The mission took place at a moment when the disability movement was undergoing transformation and the opportunity for self-reflection was welcomed and well used by the participants.

When I decided to apply for the Engaged Anthropology Program it certainly seemed to be the right thing to do. After all I had spent years in Sierra Leone observing organisations of people with disability. It was obvious that the people who nourished my thesis with their infinite patience, tolerating my presence and answering my naïve questions had the right to know what I wrote about them. Besides, immodestly, I secretly hoped that my objectifying gaze would contribute to the revitalisation of the Sierra Leonean disability movement in particular, and that of the Sierra Leonean civil society, in general.

My dissertation demonstrated that paradoxically, more the empowerment and capacity building of civil society was emphasized as a central element of the post-conflict democratisation process, more grassroots organisations became disempowered.  Incorporated progressively by the power structure, they were losing their capacity to defend the basic interests of their constituency. The heavy top- down civil society building and the formatting of the Sierra Leonean civil society according to the mould of what I called “project society” ultimately led to the depoliticisation of potentially subversive popular movements.  My aim was to show that re-politicisation was not only necessary but also possible.

My proposed methodology was composed of four types of interventions, each of them reaching a different public.  My plan was blatantly over-ambitious but I did not want to miss any relevant audience.  First, I had to reach the senior leadership of the disability movement. Second, I had to create space for discussion with the most active members of grassroots organisations. Third, I owed some sort of recapitulation to international NGOs as well.  Fourth, I wanted to visit one by one the self-managed collective polio-homes which used to be the main sites of my observations.  That was the easiest thing to do, as I had friends to see in most of them.  The other three points on my agenda proved to be much more complicated to realize.

I counted on using my old connections but I quickly understood that since my last visit the power relations had changed again and I was obliged to re-learn to navigate in the dangerously moving field of disability politics. I spent almost two months preparing the actions I had proposed, meeting with decision makers, visiting state institutions, civil society organisations and NGOs.  I was already losing hope to ever come to terms with my mission, when miraculously all of a sudden all the obstacles were swept away. It was not because I was particularly convincing. I was just lucky. I arrived at the right moment. People were longing for change.

All the processes I had observed before had been only exacerbated since the end of my field work.  The gap between the senior leadership and the lay members of disabled organisations had widened.  While the former were offered lucrative government positions, the latter saw literally no change in their lives. Poverty and vulnerability remained unchallenged. Not a single point of the Disability Act was implemented since its enactment in 2011, except for the creation of a costly but highly inefficient National Commission, which drew virtually all disabled organisations under the control of the state. Evictions stopped, but probably more because of Ebola than because of a conscious political decision to put an end to the chronic housing insecurity. The lack of access to public services worsened.  The disability movement was more fractured than ever, visibly losing momentum as it was gradually institutionalised. Disabled people, disability activists and NGO workers alike were getting weary.

If I was critical, what I had to say could not surprise anybody any more.  Still, I was looking forward a little bit nervously to speaking about these issues publicly. The cross-disability Symposium organised by the National Disability Commission was the occasion I was waiting for. Despite the long negotiations I had conducted beforehand, I was not sure if I would really get a chance to talk. When the chairman invited me to the high table I grabbed happily the opportunity to speak about the wonderful things I learned during my fieldwork: disabled people organising themselves in self-sustaining,  self-managing communities, providing shelter, economic opportunity, sociability, social security to their members, including a great number of non-disabled people whom they integrate!  That was an extraordinary integration model the world should know about – I said.

An outsider would not have found my speech particularly controversial. I knew however that I was challenging a powerfully dominant model of self-representation.  For too long time the self-identity of disabled people was constructed on the basis of self-pity, victimisation and on the sharp opposition between the disabled and the non-disabled world, the latter usually depicted as necessarily hostile.  My speech stuck out from the long litany of complaints and accusations.  By attacking the invisible wall built between people with disability and their environment living in the same poverty I was putting in question the taken for granted supposition that disabled people only can claim rights on the account of their disability.  That was to shake the fundaments of disability politics.

I used the occasion of the symposium to invite a few people to a workshop on disability activism that I was to deliver the next  days.  The workshop was originally planned for 3 days but I had to shorten it to 2 because of the celebrations of the International Disability Day that the Commission organised the same week – probably as a political gesture – in the hometown of the President. I took it as a good sign that despite the busy week around 20 people turned up the next morning.  That was the second and most important phase of my program and I was extremely grateful to a friend who helped me with the organisation and agreed to co-facilitate the training with me.

We started the discussion with the participants by mapping the most burning global challenges, discussing each time how these problems concerned them and what solutions they could propose. We then analysed a film on the beginning of disability activism in the USA (Lives worth living), trying to define the conditions of a successful popular mobilisation. We used the tool of the Tree of Life (http://dulwichcentre.com.au/the-tree-of-life/) – to make collective strengths, resources, dreams and needs emerge in a symbolic language, and discussed possible strategies to transform basic needs into rights. We also familiarised ourselves with Forum Theatre.

Instead of directly speaking of my dissertation I was rather leading my public to formulate their own learning points, testing at the same time my own conclusions.  Luckily the two overlapped!  Here are some lines of my notes:

1, Any collective mobilisation should start with an analysis of the actual nature and source of oppression. Embracing an agenda developed in different circumstances in other parts of the world does not necessarily give the right answers.

2, The overemphasising of discrimination leaves little place to the recognition of the support disabled people remember having received from family, community and teachers.  Recognising this support is not in contradiction with condemning discrimination wherever it happens, but it helps realise possible resources existing in Sierra Leonean society.

3, Most of the imminent needs of people with disability do not differ from those of their non-disabled peers living in the same poverty.  What disabled people want are housing security, access to education, health and availability of jobs. On the long run transforming these needs into universal rights might be a more efficient strategy to obtain satisfaction than claiming for special rights on account of disability.

4, Special rights should be claimed wherever special needs exist and are denied.   Access to rehabilitation services and to assistive devices is a case in point.

5, In the context of extreme scarcity and of many unsatisfied needs the goals should be prioritized.  In setting up the order of priorities the leaders of the movement should make sure they represent the interests of the most vulnerable amongst them.

After the workshop I still had time to travel to Makeni for the International Disability Day in the company of my participants, come back to Freetown and finish the week with a last intervention in Handicap International, the NGO that had hosted me in the early stage of my field work. Originally this was to be a special presentation of my dissertation for NGO workers but in the last moment I had the good idea to invite some local leaders of the disability movement. What I had foreseen more or less as a monologue finally turned out to be a lively discussion where international NGO workers, Sierra Leonean disability activists and the anthropologist  mutually learned a lot from each other.

When this extraordinary week ended I had one single thought: I made it! Incredible as it seems, everything happened according to plans. Even better.  I can even suppose that I have sown some seeds that will later germinate. But did I really make it? Will my dissertation make any difference –in understanding disability, civil society or Sierra Leone as a country? Will its presentation have a lasting effect on the Sierra Leonean disability movement?  Only with time shall I know, or never.  But at least I have a feeling of completion now. I did what I could.  And I learned again. I thought I had a big esteem for the subjects of my research but I am afraid I have underestimated them. I should not have been worried to “bring them back the results”. They were more than ready for it. I am sincerely grateful to Wenner-Gren for this lesson.

Symposium #153: “Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene”

The 153rd Wenner-Gren Symposium, “Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene” has just recently concluded in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

Front: Adam Powell, Chris Bae, Martin Sikora, Michael Petraglia, Patrick Roberts, Katerina Harvati, Fabrice Demeter / Middle: Sue O’Connor, Kelly Graf, María Martinón-Torres, Knut Bretzke, Yuichi Nakazawa, Leslie Aiello / Back: Robin Dennell, Max Aubert, Alexandra Buzhilova, Tom Higham, Jimbob Blinkhorn, Youping Wang

 

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene”

Christopher J. Bae, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Michael D. Petraglia, University of Oxford

Katerina Douka, University of Oxford

The identification of Neanderthals and Denisovans, along with growing fossil and archaeological evidence for the presence of modern humans in Asia earlier than originally thought, places the spotlight on the last 125,000 years. Exciting and new evidence in Asia is just beginning to rival in importance the better known paleoanthropological records of Europe and Africa. Hence, there is a need to critically examine, synthesize, and debate the Asian record from a multidisciplinary perspective, thereby contributing to human evolutionary studies in general.

The purpose of this symposium is to bring together a group of scholars who are investigating the evolutionary history of Asia from different disciplinary perspectives. The symposium will thus be multidisciplinary, assembling hominin paleontologists, archaeologists, geneticists, and geochronologists with active Asia-based research projects. In addition, leading specialists who are intimately familiar with the records of different parts of Asia are invited, thus ensuring the group is aware of the latest findings and allowing for a richer inter-regional comparison of human occupation history. The overall objective is to develop a deeper appreciation about the timing and nature of the spread of humans across Asia during the Late Pleistocene, placing particular emphasis on single or multiple waves of expansion. This is especially important in terms of understanding the potential interactions of various coeval hominin taxa who inhabited various sub-regions of Asia.

There are at least five broad ranging questions that we will focus on, discuss, and debate:

  • What are the implications for an earlier dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and into Asia, and what role, if any, did behavioral innovations play in facilitating these dispersals?
  • What happened when modern humans colonized new territories, e.g., did it lead to interbreeding among populations? Competitive exclusion followed by extinction?
  • What do modern and ancient DNA studies suggest regarding the timing and route modern humans took out of Africa and into Asia?  Do the hominin paleontological and archaeological studies support these models?
  • What is the importance/implication of a more eastward expansion of Neanderthals into Central Asia, and what shall we make of the recent Denisovan findings?
  • How do recent multidisciplinary findings force researchers to rethink the human evolutionary record of Asia and beyond?

It is time to re-examine the Late Pleistocene human evolutionary record of Asia. We anticipate that bringing together a diverse group of researchers will move the field forward and lead to new insights and set the tone for future research.

 

NYAS @ WGF 4/25: Mummified Baboons and the Biology of Apotheosis [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

This coming Monday evening at 7 PM, join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the next installment of the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section Lecture Series. Nathaniel J. Dominy, Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College, will be presenting “Mummified Baboons and the Biology of Apotheosis”.

Please note that, while the event is free to attend, pre-registration is required for entry into the building. 

The Holocene fossil record of Egypt is devoid of baboons, and yet baboons of a distinctive species (Papio hamadryas) were elevated into the pantheon of Ancient Egyptian gods. The deification of baboons is practically unique in Africa, and this talk will focus on the underlying ecology of baboons to explain why, and from where, baboons were imported, revered, and mummified in Ancient Egypt.

There will be a dinner at 6PM: free for students; $20 for others.
The lecture will begin at 7PM.

Pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.