NYAS @ WGF 10/27: Is Clovis Still First?

Our popular lecture series rolls on! Join us Monday, October 27, at 7:00 PM as we welcome Stuart J. Fiedel, Senior Archaeologist at the Louis Berger Group and author of Prehistory of the Americas to discuss the challenges recent genetic, archaeological, and paleological evidence present to attempts to unambiguously document human occupations in the Americas prior to 13,500 BP and “break the Clovis Barrier”.

Since the antiquity of the Monte Verde site in southern Chile was certified in 1997, most archaeologists have accepted that peopling of the Americas began more than 14,500 years ago. A few sites in North America also contain artifacts that seem to be older than Clovis fluted points (which date from ca. 13,500 to 12,800 cal yr BP). The Paisley Caves in Oregon have yielded 14,300-year-old coprolites from which human DNA of Native American types has been extracted. These ostensibly early sites have been linked to a model positing multiple early migrations down the Pacific coast. It has even been proposed that Clovis developed from the Solutrean culture of France and Spain (despite the intervening ocean and a temporal gap of 6,000 years). However, all of these pre-Clovis claims remain dubious. The most recent genetic, archaeological, and paleontological evidence shows that: 1) Native North, Central, and South Americans are all descended from a single founding population derived from northern Eurasia; 2) a child of that population was buried with Clovis tools at the Anzick Site in Montana 13,000 years ago; 3) interior Clovis-linked sites are older than any coastal sites; 4) a Clovis-derived population rapidly occupied South America 13,000 years ago; and 5) rapid human expansion caused an ecosystem catastrophe that entailed the extinction of some 80 genera of megafauna.

Fiedel’s talk will be followed by comments by discussant Peter Siegel of Montclair State University.

A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm. Please do not contact the Wenner-Gren Foundation with inquiries regarding registration.

Meet Our 2014 Wadsworth International Fellows: Nasrin Khandoker

Part Three of our introductions of 2014′s class of Wadsworth International Fellows – Nasrin Khandoker of Bangladesh, an anthropologist working on questions of gender, colonialism, and inequality. Khandoker will complete her doctoral studies at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.

Being an anthropologist of Bangladesh, my interest area is the interdisciplinary connections between gender and colonialism. I am working as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh and I just completed my MA in Gender Studies from Central European University, Hungary. Before that, I completed my Master’s from the Department of Anthropology in Jahangirnagar University where I am teaching now. Besides that, I am also a founder editorial member of a Bengali journal named ‘Public Nribiggan’ (Public Anthropology) in Bangladesh.

I did my master’s research in Anthropology in a quest to understand marital inequality and the resistance to it. My recently completed Master’s thesis is about the historical construction of the ideal images of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Bengali’ woman. All of my previous research experiences have been related to gender, sexuality and the subversion of identity. Likewise, it is from here that my PhD interest emerges as well.

My PhD research will focus on the codification of marriage in the context of colonial trasformation. In my research I will problematise the colonial narrative of ‘progress’ of woman through the emergence of modern ideas of ‘love’ and will deconstruct the ‘victim’ images of colonised women. For that, I will enalyze the other forms of sexual/passionate relations articulated in some folk songs which have been marginalized by institutionalization of marriage.

I have been working as a teacher for more than ten years in the Dept. of Anthropology and having a PhD will help me for further advancement of my professional goals. During my teaching years I have offered a varied range of courses in undergraduate and postgraduate level in a variety of Anthropological areas like Biological, Linguistic, Economic, Educational, Urban, Philosophical and Gender Anthropology. I have chosen to go to the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, for my doctoral training since it has a vibrant Anthropology Department in another postcolonial country with a strong interdisciplinary tradition in the study of the British Empire. I will be working with Dr. Chandana Mathur, an engaged anthropologist who has directed several other doctoral projects focused on gender and South Asian themes.

Upcoming November Conferences & Workshops

two gorgeous locales for these two WGF-sponsored events in November!

 

4th Southern Deserts Conference – “Quaternary Evolution of Deserts Landscapes and Peoples”

November 10-14, 2014

Uspallata City, Mendoza, Argentina

The central aim of the workshop is to foster and systematize a comparative approach to the archaeology of deserts from the southern hemisphere and provide the opportunity for discussing large-scale patterns of historical stability and change, and how it relates to landscape evolution. We will focus on an exploration of the dynamics and mechanisms implied in socio-demographic processes in time and space: a) Regional archaeological gaps and their meaning (bottlenecks, extinctions, relocalizations); b) Interaction of different societies: migrations, replacements, and assimilations; c) Role of information in desert societies: group boundary formation and territoriality. By pursuing a comparative archaeological perspective across continents, the workshop will provide the basis for developing long-term archaeological projects connecting disciplines and countries.

 

Cosmopolitan Anthropologies

November 10-13, 2014

Queenstown, New Zealand

This combined conference of the New Zealand and the Australian anthropological societies explores and extends the critical study of cosmopolitan anthropologies by debating the theoretical value and practical applicability of an array of grounded Antipodean cosmopolitan anthropologies and by engaging systematically with the literature on cosmopolitan anthropologies from the perspective of medical anthropology. The aim is thus to further internationalize anthropological thinking and practice in New Zealand and Australia and to create a formal contribution to anthropological scholarship through the publication of two peer reviewed, edited collections drawn from the keynote addresses and plenaries and one special issue of the New Zealand-based journal Sites featuring the best quality (peer reviewed) conference papers on the theme of cosmopolitan anthropologies of the Pacific. Two prestigious keynote speakers will address the delegates, Professor Nigel Rapport ( St Andrews University, Scotland) and Prof Sharon Kaufman (University of California).

Schooling, Urgency, and Hope For Movement Ahead of The Ebola Crisis in Liberia: Perspectives from Recent Fieldwork

[Eva Harman is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University and received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2011 to aid research "Desire for Education and 'Ties that Lift': Schooling, Movement, and Social Regeneration in Post-War Liberia," supervised by Dr. Carol Greenhouse. This post originally appeared in "Ebola In Perspective", a Cultural Anthropology Hot Spots series.]

In this essay, I discuss the importance of schooling, in light of the Ebola outbreak. The Liberian President’s order to suspend schooling in August had significant impact even though regular classes were not yet in session. “Vacation schooling,” or summer school, is attended by many young people in Liberia. Parents send children to vacation school for various and often-interconnected reasons: They are invested in their children’s education and an extended break from school could be an interruption to their children’s progress. Violence is a concern that many parents address through the act of sending their children to school, both in the summer and during the regular school year. Parents are concerned that their children could become victims of violence or that they could be drawn into violent practices. They hope to bring up a person who will enable them to die feeling proud of the accomplishments they achieved as a person and a member of society.

Summer classes and sessions make education more flexible. Many students I worked with dropped schooling, or came and went from schooling, in order to make money through entrepreneurial activities, to help family, to have and nurse children, to care for ill or aging relatives, or to respond to other sharp needs. A difference between a colloquial American and a colloquial Liberian expression is suggestive: In the United States, “dropping out of school” carries with it an assumption that the person will not return. When narrating their education histories, young Liberians mentioned “dropping” school while also often expressing their intention to continue.

Summer or vacation schooling can make it possible to advance more quickly. In part due to the war, and in part due to accumulations of periods when schooling is interrupted, ages range fairly widely in Liberian classrooms, from kindergarten to university. It is not uncommon for young adults to attend primary school with children. Some young people who had fought in the war or had travelled along with those fighting emphasized their desire for continuing educational and professional advancement within civilian life.

A journalist spoke with a grandmother who pulled her grandson out of vacation school shortly before the state of emergency was declared in Liberia. The grandmother said, “He cried, but no child will control me. It will be better for him to live and attend many more vacation schools than get sick from Ebola.” In the news report, the grandmother is communicating her response to images on a highly graphic Ebola campaign poster that inspires fear. Agency is also expressed; she will not allow a grandson to control her. She conveys the grandson’s distress at having to interrupt his schooling and her hope that he can return to school later. Schooling allows people to say something beyond “I am complying with global public health orders.” They can also express the interruptions that Ebola and global public health orders are causing in their lives and insist upon a better future. They can also directly, or more subtly, signal disagreement or their will to continue living.

A friend of mine, who gives informal instruction in reading and writing, wrote that she is continuing to meet with a few women students. They still want to learn! They are also discussing “Ebola in town,” she added. Official educational institutions remained closed in Liberia, though some people are continuing schooling in private settings. The children of a Liberian, who works at an NGO, set up a classroom on the family’s front porch. The administrators of the play school asked pupils to pay a tuition fee—a reminder of the tight connection between schooling and money in Liberia. Money is required for attending both public and private school. Public primary schooling is tuition-free, but resources to repair, expand, or improve educational infrastructure are often demanded from students, parents, and teachers. Through schooling, people may be able to put something in between themselves and a crisis.

Schooling is also a location for conversation and engagement on different levels. The National Teachers’ Association in Liberia is calling for schools to be re-opened. An editorial in the Liberian press examines issues impeding the re-opening of schools that extend beyond logistics and health. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is preparing radio broadcasts that will include not only Ebola awareness but also limited academic subject content. The Liberian Minister of Education has objected to the use of schools as Ebola holding centers or facilities on the grounds that this may “create fear among students when classes shall officially resume in the not too long distance future.”

It matters tremendously that medicine and treatment should be made available to those who are sick right now with this deadly disease. An emergency medical-humanitarian intervention is necessary; yet, it is important to keep in mind that perspectives on health care can become vehicles for people to express their discontent with economic or political matters, including global inequality. Although the formal educational infrastructure in Liberia is weak, Liberians I worked with had confidence in the power of schooling to materialize their engagement in building a better life for themselves and the next generation. The United States government and global corporations with direct or indirect ties to Liberia have made commitments to the fight against Ebola, but they should also increase their investment in the existing national educational infrastructure. Scholarships for Liberian students to pursue advanced degrees and specialized training, particularly in the under-resourced fields of medicine and education, are greatly needed. My recent fieldwork convinces me that moving ahead of the Ebola crisis in Liberia will happen with less violence, terror, and mistrust when people feel supported in their aspirations for the future.

NYAS @ WGF 9/22 – Audio Now Available!

Listen to last Monday’s New York Academy of Sciences meeting lecture, featuring Nina Glick Schiller of the University of Manchester, the Max Planck Institute, and Oxford University.

download

A Case Study of Dissertation Research Collaboration in Rural Haiti – Part 2 of 4

In the previous installment of this 4-Part series on research collaboration in rural Haiti, Florida’s Andrew Tarter discussed the benefits to social scientists of collaborating with research counterparts at Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology) at L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti). Here he continues with a list of steps that provide a blueprint toward successful collaboration.

3. Connect with a wide range of potential collaborators.

Connecting with students and having discussions with faculty members from Faculté d’Ethnologie provides several advantages, even if you don’t have expendable funding to employ students (see ‘Why Collaborate?’ in the previous post). Just be certain to be explicit that you’re conducting interviews to acquire data or for purposes of collaboration, and not for a paid position. Connecting with multiple people follows classical sampling logic: you increase variability, and by extension increase potential fields of collaboration.

I conducted my interviews entirely in Kreyòl (Haitian Creole), though many of the students demonstrated strong command of both French and English during the interview process. While some students had clearly read the research synopsis I had circulated, many had not; a substantial portion of the interviewing period was spent explaining the research. Be prepared to give multiple explanations of your proposed research.

The simple fact that the paid research collaborator positions I was recruiting for were to last 9 months was a major deterrent for some students. To top it off, the research was in a remote part of the southern peninsula, far from capital city.  The extreme physical challenges of the research—walking many miles into remote woodlots under an unrelenting Haitian sun—was another deterrent for other students. One student declined during the interview, stating that these woodlots were home to any number of wild animals, including dangerous snakes. More than one student mentioned that the daily stipend was well below what they might expect to receive as a per diem from USAID, or any number of NGOs conducting research in the country. I agreed. But I also explained that researchers would have their room-and-board covered, and with very little to spend money on in the countryside they would have an opportunity to reliably save the lion’s share of their stipend.  Furthermore, each research collaborator would receive a field laptop, chosen for its 12-hour battery capacity—a major advantage in a country with sporadic and unreliable electricity.  The laptop would be theirs to keep at the end of the research period.

By and by the 20 CVs were narrowed down to approximately five candidates, three of which accepted positions. All three students were memoran—the equivalent to undergraduates who have completed their coursework, had their memoir (thesis) topic approved, but have not yet written nor defended their memoir.

 

A research collaborator takes notes in a 'rakbwa' (managed woodlot).

4. Establish a research contract

After the three students successfully relocated to the research site, we got to work. One of the first items of order we tackled as a team was the creation of research contracts. I submitted a blueprint contract that reflected my concerns, objectives, priorities and stipulations as the principal investigator; the students in turn added stipulations of their own and some wording corrections to make the contract clearer.  In the end we co-created a concise 1-page contract that outlined the perimeters and parameters of the research to be conducted and the expectations of all parties involved. I highly recommend that researchers entering into collaborative endeavors with other scholars conduct this exercise. It ensures a clear understanding of the research to all parties involved, provides a template of expectations, and can serve as a roadmap in the event of future miscommunication or conflict. In hindsight, the exercise of establishing a contract should have been completed prior to the students relocating from Pòtoprens.  Luckily it went off with a hitch, but future researchers should consider collaboratively drafting contracts before arriving to their respective field sites.

 

5. Start slow

Pòtoprens’ notorious traffic isn’t the only thing that moves sluggishly in Haiti; things seem to move even slower andeyo (the Haitian countryside). Intense afternoon heat with no fans to sit in front of and no air-conditioned rooms to escape to in ensures that many tasks come to a grinding halt during the middle hours of the day. No electricity also means that things get pretty quiet after the sun goes down. Meetings must often be rescheduled if rain falls as farmers must tend to gardens. A cautionary si Dye vle (God willing) is frequently added at the end of verbal commitments, indicative of the tentative nature of many temporal arrangements in Haiti. Researchers should recognize and adapt to this reality.

Student research collaborators from the Faculté d'Ethnologie at the L'Université d'État d'Haïti consult satellite photos before conducting training exercises with GPS units.

Many people seem to be romantically enamored of andeyo—at least for the first couple of weeks.  It’s everything their first experience of Haiti’s capital city isn’t: clean, quiet(er), green, and less densely populated. While perhaps a cliché rural-urban dichotomy, the people of the countryside seem gentler and more engaging than urbanites.  The countryside offers a sense of security absent in the capital; everyone knows or recognizes most everyone else they encounter, adding a degree of accountability to everyone’s actions. As one village leader told me: Nou pa gen vòlè isit, nou pa gen dezòd isit (We don’t have thieves here, we don’t have unrest here). For me, this reassurance was a breath of fresh air; the year prior in Pòtoprens I had an attempted break-in at my apartment, I was robbed at gunpoint in front of my house while nearby armed guards silently watched, and in another instance I outran a group of four men on motorcycles that tried to mug me in the street. While Pòtoprens is less dangerous than many major US cities, what anthropologist Mark Schuller has titled “[T]he incredible whiteness of being (an anthropologist)” sometimes results in a degree of unwelcomed negative attention (Schuller 2010). The countryside seems to nullify some aspects of this reality: In five years of visiting my research site I have never once been threatened, stolen from, or felt any risk for my life.

Andeyo can also seem a bit boring, especially if you’re more accustomed to the fast pace of a city.  For the most part, the students adapted marvelously well to their new surroundings.  While two of the students had been raised in the countryside, one had never been out of Pòtoprens for more than 10 days in his entire life—a reflection of the increasing urbanization of Haiti, a country with a traditional 2/3rds rural majority. The other students gently teased him about his lack of experience andeyo, though he later confided that he now prefers the country to the city.

Some members of the community were particularly open to the students, who were initially strangers in their presence. Other members took time to warm up to the students.  Again, patience was the key, and allowing time for students to integrate into the community was important. We allotted ample time to meet and explain our research to community members, attending church, soccer games, the two weekly markets, and going for long walks in the area. I also met and explained the research to the local minister of environment from the nearest city. At the urging of the students, we also made a point of meeting with the area kazèk—the local magistrate. After visiting this community for over five years, I had no idea this position even existed. My students mildly rebuked me for not meeting with the kazèk a long time ago. Unbeknownst to me this is the standard operation of order in rural research in Haiti, and provides a fitting anecdote to advocate for the benefits of research collaboration with in-country scholars.

In addition to allowing time for adequate community integration, starting slowly allowed the necessary time to properly train the students in use of GPS technologies.  A major component of the research rested on my insistence on a random sampling strategy that would increase external validity and allow me to extrapolate research findings beyond our sample. This insistence required the research team to physically locate hundreds of randomly selected plots of land using GPS units.  This was a difficult task, as many of the plots fell far from established roads and paths.  It took us all a while to get the hang of things and become confident in orienting ourselves with the GPS units. Starting slow in the short-term ended up saving time in the long-term by reducing serious errors we might have otherwise made.

Starting slowly also allowed us to develop, test, refine, and finalize the survey instrument and open-ended questions in an iterative fashion, rather than rushing out with a predetermined question list.  Starting slowly will present a different set of challenges for researchers working in urban or peri-urban areas—working in partnership with the right collaborators will ensure these challenges can be properly addressed.

Meet Our 2014 Wadsworth International Fellows: Mariel Garcia

The Wadsworth International Fellowship provides the opportunity for students in countries where anthropological education is underrepresented to receive world-class training at a university abroad. In this second post on the 2014 class, we meet Mariel Garcia of Peru.

My scholarly work has been mostly engaged with two fields of interest: (1) the relationship between media and politics through how events and actors are represented by Peruvian media outlets and, (2) extractive industries and the conflicting relationship between different forms of appropriating nature around mining sites.

My current research emerges at the intersection of these two academic interests; it explores the relation between extractive industries and media practices and technologies of representation. I am studying how Peruvian media produces representations of ‘development’ through ‘mining’, which has become a widespread neoliberal ‘truth’ in my country. I want to learn about how and with what tools, human and non-human interactions become ‘information’ that travels to the press rooms (or media laboratories); how ‘information’ is gathered to constitute ‘facts’ of ‘development’; and how they acquire the form through which they are disseminated.

I am convinced that in order to do this I need the close inquiry that ethnographic approaches offer, both conceptually and methodologically. This was my main reason to study Anthropology. I chose the University of California at Davis (UCD) because it offers me the combination I need: a strong emphasis in Latin American Anthropology and in Science and Technology Studies.

Before starting the PhD Program in Anthropology at UC Davis, I obtained my BA in Communication Studies from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and from 2008 to 2011 I studied the MA in Cultural Studies at the same university. I am  a researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, as well as a lecturer at PUCP and at the Universidad de Ciencias Aplicadas.

I am deeply rooted in Peru; after the completion of my degree, I expect to return and work towards the opening of new fields of study for sociocultural anthropology, and also to strengthen interdisciplinary studies. More specifically, I want to connect anthropology with media studies, and with science and technology studies.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amy Moran-­Thomas

Diabetes is the leading cause of death nationwide in Belize, making its realities part of an emerging global epidemic.

Amy Moran-Thomas is Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Brown University, specializing in the areas of global health, medical technology, and environmental change.  In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at Princeton University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘An Anthropological Study of the Experience of Parasitic Infection and Diabetes in Belize,’ supervised by Dr. Joao Biehl. This year, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in the Central American country of Belize to publically share and discuss her research findings about metabolic disorders, focusing in particular on people’s negotiations of causality and care within the emerging global diabetes epidemic.

Three and a half years is a long time to be gone, and it was somewhat disorienting when I first arrived back in Dangriga in July 2014. Some of the people I had known best in Belize were now missing—absences that loomed large when passing homes where friends formerly resided, or locations where we had once talked. In an epidemiological sense, I realize that these deaths are painfully unsurprising (though each one always surprises and shakes me anyway). Yet at least on statistical scales, these losses remain not only predictable, but numerically probable: diabetes, the primary condition that I focused on investigating during my fieldwork about experiences of chronic disease in Belize, has now become the leading cause of death nationwide.

My research in 2009-2010 examined this fast-growing issue, by charting people’s experiences of metabolic disorders in the southern Stann Creek District of Belize. Over time, I came to see these realities also as an ethnographic lens on the larger diabetes epidemic emerging in much of the world today, providing insight into some of its deep challenges and human costs: the complications of negotiating care amid overlaid chronic and infectious conditions; the global political ecologies now contributing to these rising rates of disease, alongside the social fabrics of care that patients turn to in addressing them; and people’s actual treatment experiences amid systems where medical technologies often moved in and out of reach.

Opening presentation of "Experiences of Diabetes" public workshop in Dangriga, Belize (August 4, 2014).

This Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to Belize in the summer of 2014 for the first time since my dissertation fieldwork concluded in 2010, to share and discuss my research findings with Belizean experts and communities who contributed to the project—including local patient groups, government doctors and policy makers, variously positioned caregivers, national intellectuals, and individual patients and families who had worked with me. I began the return trip by revisiting these actors in Dangriga, and also reaching out to several community leaders and local organizations that I was coming into dialogue with for the first time. I additionally visited government offices in the capital of Belmopan, and found myself engaged in very generative discussions about my findings with officials from the Belize Ministry of Health as well as from the Institute for Social and Cultural Research. These collaborative meetings helped lead up to the key event of my trip: a public workshop that I organized in Dangriga, planned in collaboration with Southern Regional Hospital, the Belize Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Culture and History, and Help Age Dangriga.

The workshop took place in the newly refinished ground-floor conference room of Dangriga’s Ecumenical College on August 4, 2014. By a stroke of luck, it turned out that the Dangriga branch of the Belize Diabetes Association (which was not active during the time of my fieldwork) had rebounded since then, and my stay coincided with one of their Saturday gatherings. Several members kindly invited me to make an in-person announcement about my upcoming workshop during their meeting the previous week, which helped build a great crossover audience. I was surprised and honored to see a more sizable group than I had anticipated the afternoon of our workshop. Among the participants were diabetes caregivers; community leaders and prominent cultural advocates; and people actually living with the chronic conditions under discussion.

To kick off our conversation, I gave a brief presentation about my fieldwork and main research findings. I was concerned that examining chronic disease treatment in Belize as such a complicated picture might be disconcerting for people living with these conditions—but interestingly, unlike some pushback I’ve gotten from U.S. academic crowds when discussing these ambiguities, the audience in Dangriga seemed unsurprised on this front, for example offering lively additions to fill out my list of the expensive market prices of vegetables (after all, they knew these difficulties better than anyone, after living with them for years). The distinguished physician who had mentored my fieldwork offered some generous commentary to help open things up, and we launched into what turned out to be an hour-long group brainstorming session that peeled back many layers of interfacing domains of care: pills, herbs, vegetables, farming, cooking, ritual, policy.

Many insights and questions that the group generated deftly linked granular exchanges (such as sharing notes on diabetes-friendly cassava recipes) with macro-realities (such as the astute comment that our Ministry of Health report wouldn’t be able to go very far in changing these constrained nutritional realities unless their office also dialogues with the Ministry of Agriculture, to explore national policies that might sustain more robust vegetable production).  Another terrific suggestion included the idea of creating a national recipe contest, as a way of sparking interest in the “Belizean Cooking with Diabetes” project we discussed together. We wondered, could this effort snowball into something that might eventually be assembled and disseminated more widely—perhaps an open-source recipe website or even a collaborative publication—so that people with diabetes didn’t feel faced with a choice between the foods that would keep them healthy, and the foods that many felt most connect them to a sense of family and identity?  And more broadly, how might we conceive of tinkering not just with care and education, but also with actual economies of available foods and medicines? Is there some way it might be possible to treat not only patients, but also the political ecologies and unhealthy agricultural systems that make people’s work of survival unnecessarily difficult?

Overall, this collective workshop felt less like the final stage of a completed project, and more like a provocation toward continuing engagements ahead. I am deeply grateful to all of the people who gathered to talk and think with me during this return trip, and for the Engaged Anthropology Grant that made this sustained conversation possible. It is equal parts unsettling and exciting to realize that I am not just observing how new collectives are taking shape around these chronic health issues in Belize, but also becoming a collaborator with perhaps some part still to play in this unfolding story.

NYAS @ WGF: “Perspectives on ‘Nation Unbound’: The Transnational Migration in the Current Conjuncture”

Our popular lecture series with the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section begins a new season Monday, September 22nd, at 7:00 PM, when we and NYAS welcome Nina Glick Schiller of the University of Manchester, the Max Planck Institute, and Oxford University.

In 1994 in Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Dilemmas and the Deterritorialized Nation-State, Linda Basch, Cristina Szanton Blanc and I, three anthropologists, argued for a transnational paradigm for the study of migration. Nations Unbound analyzed the structural contingencies within which and the processes through which increasing numbers of people of migrant background created transnational social fields that connected them to two or more nation-states. In this talk, I will address the ways the transnational migration paradigm was adopted, critiqued or celebrated, the ways in which the initial paradigm spoke to the global historical conjuncture, and the degree to which Nations Unbound speaks to the contemporary global transformations.

A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm. The meeting is free to attend, but registration with NYAS is required. Please do not contact the Wenner-Gren Foundation with inquiries regarding registration.

A Case Study of Dissertation Research Collaboration in Rural Haiti – Part 1 of 4

Andrew Tarter is a Ph.D. candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Florida. He received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on ‘The Tree Farmers of Haiti: Understanding Factors that Influence Farmers’ Retention of Forest Land in Southern Haiti,’ supervised by Dr. Gerald F. Murray. Tarter is also a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow and his research has additionally been supported by the Fulbright Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Over the course of his fieldwork in Haiti, Tarter has worked extensively with students from L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti) a recipient of the Wenner-Gren Institutional Development Grant. Andrew joins us today to guest-blog the first of a four-part series reflecting on his collaboration with Haitian students and the myriad benefits and challenges of collaboration within the field setting.

Student research collaborators from the Faculté d'Ethnologie at the L'Université d'État d'Haïti conducting interviews in rural Haiti.

Haiti is a hotbed of social science research. As a subscriber to Google Scholar Alerts on anything related to Haiti, I am continually astounded at the sheer volume of Haiti-based research that continues to be produced.  Anecdotally I know of no less than six anthropology doctoral students currently in Haiti, collecting data for their dissertations. I have received numerous emails over the past few years from new or incoming anthropology graduate students who intend to work in Haiti.  Several recent PhDs and senior anthropologists continue visit Haiti every year, usually during the summer months. At least two well-known anthropology PhDs have made Pòtoprens (Port-au-Prince) their permanent home—one for the last 40 years. Several universities lead undergraduate study-abroad trips to Haiti every year. I recently hosted a tenured associate professor of anthropology who is interested in shifting his research to Haiti. Suffice to say, Haiti has no shortage of visiting anthropology undergraduates, graduate students, doctoral students, senior researchers, and resident anthropologists. In all cases numerous opportunities exist for collaboration with counterparts at the Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology; FE) at the L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti; UEH).

Sorting through CVs at Faculté d'Ethnologie at the L'Université d'État d'Haïti, in preparation for interviewing potential student research collaborators.

My own recent experience working alongside three anthropology and sociology undergraduates from UEH was both a dream-come-true and a challenge. I had previous experience leading an interdisciplinary team of students from the University of Florida to Haiti on a 10-day expedition to conduct research on plant diversity and local plant uses. But this was different: I was embarking on new terrain in an effort to recruit three Haitian scholars to leave the capital and go work in a remote part of the country—under physically demanding circumstances—for nine months. When reviewing my initial research proposal, more than one of my academic advisors cautioned against working with educated urbanites. Rather, they suggested, I should hire assistants from the rural research site, as they are locally integrated and know the land better.  I wrestled with these two options, but ultimately chose to recruit and collaborate with students from UEH for two primary reasons: (1) they have training in social theory and methods absent in members of the village; and (2) the experience, while just a temporary job to villagers, could serve as a springboard to future academic opportunities for the UEH students.

In this first post of a four-part blog series, I begin a sequential reflection of the entire course of events, from connecting with faculty and students from FE, to some of the challenges faced in the rural countryside by our research team. While I advocate for continued research partnerships—contextualized through the exemplar of my interactions with faculty and students at FE—I also provide a blueprint of collaboration through a series of suggestions that could be applicable to future social science researchers from other disciplines who wish to collaborate with corresponding researchers and departments at UEH.

The Costs of Collaboration

I am painfully aware of the challenges many anthropology doctoral students face in securing funding. My own initial dissertation grant applications were all turned down, but with persistence and guidance during the Summer Institute in Research Design, I was able to craft a compelling research proposal. In the end, I was very fortunate: my dissertation research was supported by both the Wenner Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation. This public-private funding collaboration allowed for long-term research and partnership with three students—a unique situation that may not be available to all researchers visiting Haiti under a variety of different circumstances.  Nevertheless, there are multiple opportunities and advantages to collaborating with members of the Faculté d’Ethnologie, irrespective of funding status, which I touch upon in the paragraphs that follow.

The Benefits of Collaboration

Collaborating with faculty and students from Faculté d’Ethnologie is not a requirement.  I know several anthropology doctoral students who have conducted research in Haiti, successfully collecting data and returning to write their dissertations without ever visiting the Faculté d’Ethnologie campus.  Likewise, many senior researchers do not collaborate with FE. Not all research designs or research objectives require collaboration; however, collaborating provides numerous advantages for researchers, including:

  • New friendships and meaningful relationships;
  • Income from research positions that provide a stipend, per diem, or salary;
  • Collaborating on short- and long-term research projects or initiatives;
  • Collaborating on funding projects;
  • Receiving letters of recommendation from researchers that students can use to pad CVs and leverage further opportunities;
  • Assistance in translating important documents;
  • Assistance applying to foreign universities;
  • Assistance applying to foreign funding sources;
  • Accessing important or hard-to-find documents;
  • Feedback from non-Haitian anthropologists on their research; and
  • The opportunity to practice and improve their language skills, depending on the language(s) of the PI.

This is hardly an exhaustive list; benefits to research collaboration don’t end here. Each case of collaboration is unique and will present its own challenges and benefits. Furthermore, none of these benefits are guaranteed: they rely to a large extent on good-faith efforts by all parties involved. Below I highlight some steps to ensure fruitful collaboration, contextualized through anecdotes from my own personal experience. This is not a recipe that needs to be followed step-by-step, nor a guaranteed roadmap to attainment, but rather a tentative schedule for collaborative success.

1. Reach out to faculty

It is entirely probable and quite likely that another researcher has come before you, and has experience and relationships with faculty members in an affiliated UEH department. My initial introduction to anthropology faculty at UEH was facilitated by another anthropologist—Dr. Mark Schuller.  Reaching out to UEH faculty through another researcher is a good strategy depending on that researcher’s relationship with said faculty.  Luckily, Mark has great rapport with Faculté d’Ethnologie—he’s been an affiliate since 2003, and has taught multiple courses there.

Mark introduced me via email to Drs. Jhon Picard Byron (Chef Département Anthropologie-Sociologie), Ilionor Louis, (Chef Département des Sciences de Développement), and Jean-Yves Blot (Vice-Recteur à la Recherche).  After initial introductions and a series of phone conversations, I passed on a synopsis of my proposed research, which was circulated among students who are finisan (finished with their coursework) or memoran (students who have had their thesis proposal approved). A date and time was arranged to visit campus to meet faculty and conduct interviews with interested students.

2.  Visit the campus

My experiences during a Fulbright placement within the Haitian government the prior year wrongly led me to imagine the Faculté d’Ethnologie campus as a perilous place.  I distinctly remember the expression of horror on the face of my point-of-contact in the US Embassy at my suggestion of collaborating with Faculté d’Ethnologie for the academic component of my Fulbright placement. She claimed the campus was the starting point of many violent protests, and that a volley of rocks greeted a recent visit by the Haitian President. I was forbidden to collaborate with Faculté d’Ethnologie.

Main building of the Faculty of Ethnology. At the front stands a bust of Dr. Price-Mars, founder of the institute, who became faculty in 1958.

A year later, and a few moments after arriving on the campus, I was reminded how out-of-touch the US Embassy can be. I was not greeted by any rocks, but instead by a courtyard of relaxed students gathering here and there under the shade of a leafy green canopy, engaging in impassioned debates about politics and history, or shuffling off to attend class.  No one even seemed noticed me.  Eventually Jean-Yves Blot spotted me and we made our introductions.  He handed me a large stack of manila envelopes containing CVs of approximately 20 students interested in the three research positions. Blot led me to an empty classroom, and told me that the students would soon meet me there for interviews.  As he left he asked me to give an impromptu presentation of my research to his class when the interviews were over.

After the interviews I sought out Blot to honor my agreement to present my research to his class of anthropology students. As an academic, the opportunity to discuss one’s research comes up often enough to have polished sound bites on hand. What I hadn’t expected was the loss of my voice; after about 3 hours of interviewing, during which I often had to give a presentation of the research, my voice had nearly left me.  Luckily it held together long enough to give a 30 minute presentation. Researchers interested in presenting or attending presentations at UEH can connect through the department’s Facebook page listing colloquia and other events: Faculté d’Ethnologie Colloque Et autres activités.

I highly recommend taking the time to spread interviews out over a few days.  Both you and the students will feel less rushed, and you’ll have more time to thoroughly review CVs and ask important questions.  In spite of my rushed experience, I left Faculté d’Ethnologie happy and wondering why I hadn’t connected with faculty and students long ago.