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.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ndubueze Leonard Mbah

Dr. Ndubueze Leonard Mbah is Assistant Professor of History at the University at Buffalo. In 2011, while a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Emergent Masculinities: The Gendered Struggle for Power in Southeastern Nigeria, 1850-1920,’ supervised by Dr. Nwando Achebe. In 2015, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to produce a gendered narrative reconciliation film ethnography, juxtaposing male narratives and practices that seek to efface women and depict the Ohafia-Igbo as a militant Igbo society dominated by male warriors who subjugated women and preyed on non-Igbo neighbors for slaves; with female narratives and practices that posit Ohafia as a distinct matrilineal Igbo society dominated by female breadwinners and political rulers who forged filial links among multiple ethnicities in a borderland geography. 

I successfully carried out my community engagement ethnography with the Ohafia-Igbo, from June 1 to July 15, 2015, during the society’s annual homecoming festivals. I fulfilled the project’s primary goal, which was to share through accessible media, the findings of my historical ethnography with my community research partners. Moreover, I video recorded their reactions and feedback to the findings. The local custodians’ constructive criticisms, commentaries, validations and further clarification of my historical narrative and ethnographic interpretations, which I was able to obtain through this process, were most rewarding. The entire research journey, accessible in video media, affords students of history and anthropology a rare perspective into the methodology of historical ethnography.

In phase I, I developed and screened for Ohafia-Igbo participatory audiences, a 2h:40m documentary video of local gendered rituals and material culture politics, which memorialize the impact of the Atlantic world on transformations in gender identities and regimes over the past 300 years. Through tree cutting and plantain hunting rituals, war dances and new yam festivals, male-centered narratives memorialize the successive histories of settlement, slave production, and wealth masculinity. On the other hand, women’s contemporary rituals such as uzo-iyi (virginity testing) and ije akpaka (ritual declaration of war), political resistance strategies such as ibo ezi (strike and boycott) and ikpo mgbogho (social ostracism), and material culture practices such as the raising of matrilineal ancestress pot monuments (ududu), constitute female-centered narratives that celebrate women’s historic position as breadwinners and reproducers of matrilineages. The documentary presented these male and female narratives as complementary. Ohafia-Igbo villagers, including children, adult men and women, and members of specialist guilds such as spirit mediums, constituted the primary audience for the video documentary. The screening took place in village community halls, with the collaboration of community leaders, who assisted with conducive scheduling and public announcements (through town-criers). With the aid of a professional videographer, I filmed the audiences’ reactions to the documentary, as well as the extensive questions and debates that followed. In two particular cases, where the subject of debate was too politically sensitive to be discussed openly, I followed up with the concerned parties in private video-recorded interviews. I gifted copies of the documentary video to the village communities at the conclusion of the engagement.

In phase II, I assembled the male kings of the twenty-five Ohafia-Igbo villages, representatives of the female kings of three villages, several compound chiefs, university professors, and Nde Ikpirikpe Ogu (war dancers) at Elu, the society’s ancestral capital, on June 24, 2015. With the aid of a computer, projector screen and loudspeakers, I presented my book manuscript in the local language – Ohafia-Igbo. The event, which was also video-recorded, began with a public performance of the society’s history of migration and settlement through dance and songs by renowned Ohafia War Dancers. At the end of my 1-hour presentation, I received glowing affirmations of my thesis, namely, that the society’s concerted engagements with the Atlantic world through slave production, legitimate commerce, colonialism and Christianity between 1750 and 1920, shaped the demography of the African forced Diaspora, transformed local gender ideologies, and ushered a shift from a pre-colonial period characterized by female breadwinners and more powerful female political institutions, to a colonial period of male political domination. The audience was most impressed by the broader implications of their community’s history for the Atlantic world. Following my presentation, the Udumeze (king of kings) of Ohafia, in consort with the kings-in-council, honored me with royal Ima Nzu – the ritual adoption of an individual as a son-of-the-soil, as well as the War Dance – which signified that I had ‘gone to battle and cut a head’ for the community, in this case, by capturing what the Udumeze called “the very essence of our history, beyond the capacity of what we could have done ourselves.”

This Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Fellowship experience has been one of my most intellectually rewarding undertakings in the past seven years. It afforded me a wonderful opportunity to give back to my research community – by acknowledging their indispensability to the knowledge production process, and their co-ownership of the research product. It provided a platform for Ohafia men to publically acknowledge the central role of women in complex social transformations in their society, as well as the post-colonial marginalization of women from dominant spheres of political and economic power. Hence, while the engagement achieved the goal of mirroring before Ohafia participatory audiences the historical threads that have produced social inequalities, the process also engendered communitas. The community engagement has cemented the multi-disciplinary strength of my research methodology and provided me with a solid footing for the revision of my book manuscript.

NYAS @ WGF: Eben Kirksey and “Hope in Emergent Ecological Assemblages” [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

This upcoming Monday, March 28th, at 7PM, the Wenner-Gren Foundation will host another great New York Academy of Sciences lecture, with Princeton University’s Eben Kirksey sharing his work. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED.

New generations are learning how to care for emergent ecological assemblages by seeding them, nurturing them, protecting them, and ultimately letting go. This lecture will explore a series of interrelated questions: How do certain weedy plants, prolific animals, and adaptable fungi move among worlds, navigate shifting circumstances, and find emergent opportunities? When do new species add value to ecological associations, and when do they become irredeemably destructive? When should we let unruly forms of life run wild, and when should we intervene?

Rather than remain anxiously focused on possible losses, the talk will explore the imaginative horizons of organic intellectuals who are sifting through the wreckage of catastrophic disasters, searching for hope within landscapes that have been blasted by capitalism and militarism. Focusing on a reforestation project in the highlands of Costa Rica, the talk will consider one mans’ efforts to recreate a forest in collaboration with a multitude of plants, animals, and students on eleven hectares of derelict pasture near the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Rather than focus efforts on preserving rare species, this initiative involves cultivating alliances with weedy trees that are helping generate convivial assemblages. Using found objects and organisms—gleanings from the detritus of industrial food production and the litter of leaves in the forest—this project involves fostering an ecosystem that will endure many possible futures.

There will be a dinner at 6PM (free for students, $20 for others) with the lecture to follow at 7PM. Once again, YOU MUST REGISTER PRIOR TO THE EVENT in order to be admitted to the building.