Engaging the Kiowa Community: A Collaborative Approach to Sharing Research on Historical Consciousness and Intellectual Property Rights

 

Betty Washburn and her son Kendall Washburn, descendants of Set-tainte (White Bear), renewed their ancestor’s Red Tipi in the 1990s. Since then, the Chief Satanta White Bear Descendants have put up the tipi at a number of events, including the American Indian Exhibition and the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Reenactment. The tipi serves as a mobile monument to Set-tainte.

Michael Jordan is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Texas Tech University. In 2008, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Descendants’ Organizations and Cultural Heritage in Kiowa Society,’ supervised by Dr. Daniel Charles Swan. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his fieldsite and share his research with the community that hosted him. 

In 2013, I received a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to conduct outreach and engagement activities with members of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.  The project built upon research that I conducted with Kiowa descendants’ organizations in 2008 and 2009. As outlined in my dissertation, “Reclaiming the Past: Descendants’ Organizations, Historical Consciousness, and Intellectual Property in Kiowa Society,” these grassroots organizations are primarily concerned with celebrating the memory of their nineteenth century ancestors and preserving and perpetuating Kiowa cultural practices that they deem “endangered.”  The project consisted of two distinct components, each designed to increase awareness and stimulate debate regarding topics that are of concern to Kiowa descendants’ organizations and which have emerged as central to my own research.

The first component focused on the development of a collaborative exhibition at the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Museum in Carnegie, Oklahoma.  Interpretive material was developed in consultation with members of Kiowa descendants’ organizations and members of the Kiowa Cultural Preservation Authority, which operates the museum.  I worked particularly closely with Amie Tah-Bone, Director of the Kiowa Museum, and Phil R. Dupoint, Kiowa Tribal Historian.  The resulting exhibit, Reclaiming the Past, drew heavily upon interviews that I conducted during my dissertation fieldwork.

Kendall Washburn at the 2009 Satanta Days event in Satanta, Kansas. Kendall received the name Set-tainte (White Bear) from his grandfather, Clarence Sankadota, who had also carried the name. Clarence was the great grandson of the original Set-tainte, who died in 1878. Set-tainte’s oldest son, Grey Goose, was Clarence’s grandfather. Kiowa naming practices was one of the themes addressed in the exhibit at the Kiowa Museum.

The exhibit consisted of seven text panels.  An introductory panel discussed my dissertation research and introduced the themes that would be developed in the exhibit.  A second panel addressed the topic of historical memory, focusing on the way in which members of the Kiowa community commemorate and celebrate figures and events from the late nineteenth century.  Descendants’ organizations and their efforts to preserve Kiowa cultural practices and the Kiowa language were highlighted in the third panel.  The next three panels focused on martial exploits, Kiowa naming practices, and painted tipis.  War deeds, names, and tipi designs are all considered forms of intellectual property in Kiowa society.  The panels documented how descendants’ mobilize their ancestors’ intellectual property in contemporary contexts.  The final panel discussed my dissertation research and the current exhibit as the latest chapter in a long history of cooperation between members of the Kiowa tribe and anthropologists.  Admittedly, it would be possible to develop an exhibit on any one of these topics and it is my hope that future exhibits at the Kiowa Museum will explore these themes in even greater detail.

The exhibit opening was held at the Kiowa Museum on Saturday, September 28, 2014 and was attended by over sixty community members.  Kiowa elder Raymond Tongkeamha, a member of the Chief Satanta White Bear Descendants, opened the event with a prayer.  Following this, I presented a talk, discussing the history of my involvement with the Kiowa community, my dissertation research, and my findings.  A reception held to celebrate the opening of the exhibit offered an opportunity to answer community members’ questions about my research and to distribute copies of my dissertation to interested community members.

Dr. Michael Paul Jordan and Bambi Ware Allen (Comanche, Kiowa), Curator of the Southern Plains Indian Museum. In August 2014, the Southern Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko, Oklahoma hosted Dr. Jordan’s presentation “Reclaiming the Past: Art and Historical Memory in Contemporary Kiowa Society.”

In addition to developing the museum exhibit, I presented a series of public lectures exploring aspects of my dissertation research.  Early on, I decided to focus on the nexus of historical memory, materiality, and intellectual property rights.  The talks examined how the descendants of nineteenth century Kiowa warriors honor their memory by creating works of art that incorporate their ancestors’ tipi designs and depictions of their martial achievements.  I argued that through their artistry, descendants sought to assert their ties to prominent historical figures and to foster a vision of the past that highlights their ancestors’ contributions to the physical and cultural survival of the Kiowa people.

While one of the lectures was held in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit at the Kiowa Museum, the three remaining lectures targeted members of the Kiowa community who live outside the immediate vicinity of Carnegie, Oklahoma.  I selected Anadarko, Norman, and Tulsa as venues for these lectures because each boasts a significant Kiowa population.  The lectures were hosted by the Department of the Interior’s Southern Plains Indian Museum, the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.  In addition, the lecture in Norman was co-hosted by the Jacobson House Native Art Center.  The lectures provided me with opportunities to share the results of my research with members of the Kiowa community who might not have an opportunity to view the museum exhibit.

While the focus of the Engaged Anthropology project was on disseminating the results of my dissertation research, it also paved the way for future collaborative endeavors.  During the exhibit planning stages, I worked closely with members of the Kiowa Cultural Preservation Authority and the staff of the Kiowa Museum.  As the project came to a close, we sought to harness the energy and momentum that we had developed.  Ultimately, we decided to apply for a Smithsonian Institution Recovering Voices Community Research Grant.  Furthermore, the museum exhibit and lectures heightened Kiowa community members’ interest in their nineteenth century ancestors and their intellectual property.  The renewed interest in these topics is likely to translate into future research opportunities.

The success of my dissertation research hinged on the support of members of the Kiowa community and I will forever be indebted to the Kiowa people who shared their knowledge and insights with me and who made a place for me in their lives.  I am likewise indebted to the Wenner-Gren Foundation, which along with the National Science Foundation and the Whatcom Museum Society, funded my dissertation fieldwork and then made it possible for me to return to the Kiowa community to share the results of my research.

Upcoming September-October Conferences

A look ahead to what Wenner-Gren is sponsoring in the coming months.

 

Eleventh Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies (CHAGS 11)

September 7-11, 2015

Vienna, Austria

With the landmark conference “Man the Hunter” in 1966, the study of hunter-gatherer societies became a major topic within the social and human sciences. Since then, some of the topics and concerns – egalitarianism, sharing, and mobility – remain central, while others – such as social and technological evolution – have seen better times. Thus, while scholarly trends change over time, the goal of the initial conference, to establish a unified field of hunter-gatherer studies, is still valid. The general question of CHAGS 11 therefore is how the results of the last 50 years and new research agendas can be utilized for the present and future. While many hunter-gatherers are forced to give up their ways of life and subsistence practices, they figure prominently in public discourses on ecological and ideological alternatives to industrial society. Thus, CHAGS 11 will attempt to attract a variety of stakeholders in these debates – indigenous representatives, NGOs, scholars, etc. Based on fieldwork and research from the full spectrum of hunter-gatherer ways of life and from all perspectives our disciplines have to offer, the goal of CHAGS 11 is to bring hunter-gatherer studies back to the center of the human and social sciences.

 

Modern Man in Northern Africa; Chronology, Behavior and Cultural Heritage

Late October, 2015

Rabat, Morocco

This conference will bring together researchers from Canada, France, Italy, Senegal and Morocco to discuss research concerning the history of modern humans in the Maghreb. Two main subjects will be discussed: chronology and behavior of modern humans since their appearance in the region around 130,000 years ago; and characterization of pigments and colorants using different non-invasive and portable methods in the frame of cultural heritage. The goals of the conference are to establish the state of research in Morocco and reinforce the dialogue between teams working in the country and in the wider world.

 

Conservation, Knowledge, and Collaboration in the Maya Biosphere Reserve

Micha Rahder is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Satellites and Senses of Place: Local Perceptions of Remote Sensing in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve,’ supervised by Dr. Andrew Matthews. Three years later, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awarded her the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which allowed her to return to her fieldsite in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) and share the fruits of her research with the community that hosted her.

In Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR), the largest protected area in Central America, the line between success and failure is never entirely clear. My research addressed the intersections of violence and inequality with technoscientific knowledge production, conservation decision-making, and environmental governance in the MBR. I wrote about how knowledge moves unevenly, with unexpected scale jumps and shifts of meaning between contexts. Sometimes it does not move at all. With support from a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned to Guatemala in June 2015 to report the results of my research to the remote sensing technicians, conservation NGO staff, and local community members who supported my fieldwork in 2011-12, and found my own knowledge caught in the same dynamics I had been describing. Successes and failures, shifts and gaps.

Focused primarily on technicians in a state remote sensing/GIS lab and staff of a US-based conservation NGO, my dissertation analyzed how technoscience is embroiled with deeply felt desires for clarity on a landscape characterized by uncertainty and rapid change. A portion of the fieldwork for this project, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, extended my ethnographic focus from state and NGO actors to investigate the perceptions and impacts of remote monitoring and conservation in communities inside the reserve. I found that the violence and political paranoia that characterize post-civil war Guatemala are deeply entangled with the production and interpretation of scientific knowledge about its landscapes and people. Paradoxically, this official knowledge can facilitate collaboration across social and political difference, while also reinforcing those differences and their embedded power dynamics.

The tension between the necessity of working together and structural and epistemological barriers to effectively doing so is one that people living and working in the reserve struggle with on a daily basis, and I designed my Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology project with this tension in mind. I planned a series of small workshops with different groups – conservation NGOs, GIS technicians, and members of two local communities – to present my results and use activities to generate discussion, reflection, and feedback within familiar and trusted groups.

The first workshop, with staff from two conservation NGOs, generated the most discussion and the most tension. Familiar with anthropological critiques of conservation, some entered the room ready to defend themselves, then expressed surprise at the analytical focus on the challenges and questions they confront in their daily work. Many attendees were glad of the opportunity to step outside their often frantic daily rhythms to reflect on broader dynamics affecting their decision making, while others – particularly the Directors of the NGOs – requested more applied, concrete suggestions, even when addressing enormous structural issues. One anonymous comment read: “political interests prevent recuperating the MBR, how do we eliminate that problem?”

Staff of a remote sensing/GIS lab work on a series of discussion prompts in pairs as a warm-up activity after the presentation.

The remote sensing and GIS technicians, in contrast, were less interested in applied suggestions and more interested in discussing ideas about objectivity, the politics of knowledge, trust, and communication. Given that the vast majority of studies in the MBR focus on reserve residents, both NGO staff and monitoring technicians strongly noted – mostly with pleasure and curiosity – the shift in gaze that turned them from those watching and analyzing to those being studied. That this shift was greeted positively itself reflects the differences in social position, power, and access to knowledge that structures relations between conservation actors and local communities.

In contrast, in my presentation to the first village – a small community with a sustainable forest concession in the reserve – discussion focused largely on the dynamics of knowledge extraction that shape villagers’ relations to outside institutions. While community members harvest wood and non-timber forest products from their concession, institutions and independent scholars (including myself) harvest data from the village – data that travels around the world but is rarely reported back to villagers. Those in attendance were strongly aware of this dynamic, and excited that I had simply come back to report results – even before delving into the details. Those at the workshop were most interested in understanding where knowledge about their village travels and what purposes it serves, and how they might gain access to more of these data, studies, and reports. They were curious about what it is like to work in conservation institutions, and spent time discussing in depth how their village and concession fit into the larger landscape and political dynamics of the reserve, a broader perspective that they are rarely invited to engage.

Members of a village with a community-managed forest concession fill out anonymous response cards.

Yet true to the difficulties of working in the MBR, these successful workshops were balanced with failure. The planned fourth workshop, for a Q’eqchi’ Maya migrant village located inside a National Park, fell apart due to a complex set of coincidences, miscommunications, and troubling dynamics. I ultimately learned that some organizations – especially political parties, as it is an election year – have been directly paying community members to attend meetings, making voluntary attendance at events like mine increasingly difficult to maneuver. In the end, I prepared and sent a short document instead, inviting further communication and engagement. However, that this village – the most marginalized, vulnerable, and structurally disadvantaged site from my research – was the one in which I did not hold a workshop, is troubling. While the failure was beyond my control, it ultimately replicated the same dynamics of exclusion that I critique in my research, rather than providing a space to address them as the workshop was intended to do.

The resulting gap in response, feedback, and discussion from members of this community will be further amplified as I take this work forward – at least until I wrangle another opportunity to visit. I am currently brainstorming future engagement possibilities and preparing recommendations and guidelines for distribution to a wider set of local actors, based on the discussions and commentary raised in the workshops I did conduct. It is deeply frustrating to become caught in problematic structures and dynamics even when working to undo them, a frustration familiar to anthropologists and conservationists alike. Yet, as those working and living in the MBR also recognize, it is worth the fight even when you lose. Siempre en la lucha. 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Pnina Werbner

Pnina Werbner is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Keele University. In 2009, she received the Post Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ”’The Mother of All Strikes’: Politics, Law and Vernacular Cosmopolitanism in Botswana’s Public Service Unions’ Activism”. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and share her findings with the public sector unionists who hosted her and academics and policy makers in Botswana. 

Labor Songs Reverberate in the University of Botswana’s Library Auditorium

It was never going to be easy. Botswana may be ranked the No. 1 country in Africa for transparency but, equally, it probably comes first in snail-pace implementation: procedures, committees, consultations and long deliberations precede any action, so my aim of bringing together learned academics from the University of Botswana with manual workers for a public debate on ‘Inequality in Botswana’ was clearly a challenge demanding imagination, tact, patience and perseverance.

In fact, once we got our team together – myself, Elsinah Botsalano from the Manual Workers’ Union, Dr Sethunya Mosime from the Department of Sociology and Prof Patricia Makepe from Economics, we were unstoppable. As I watched workers stand up to sing their labor songs in the hallowed surroundings of the University of Botswana’s magnificent library auditorium, songs filled with gallows humor and deep emotion, I knew that our efforts had been vindicated – that the ivory tower had been breached not only intellectually but bodily and experientially.

Unionists sing a song mocking Ian Khama, invented during the public sector strike.

It was important for the unionists that the proceedings should open with a prayer and a string of labor songs, as all union meetings are, and should close with a giant spread of delicious food, like all events in Botswana are, an essential feature of any gathering, or so I was told in no uncertain terms when I suggested, somewhat hopefully, that tea and cake might be okay. The debate was opened by the National Chairman of the union, who had travelled especially to the capital all the way from Serowe, and closed by the General Secretary. People were introduced and thanked according to protocol by Dr Mosime, who welcomed the audience on behalf of the University, and Professor Makepe, who chaired the event, trying desperately, against the odds, to keep time (12 minutes for each of the six debaters, clearly a futile hope).

The Business Weekly Review, Friday, 6-12 March 2015, Pages 12-13

The challenge of holding a debate organized jointly by the union and the university became apparent soon after I arrived in Botswana when I met the head of Sociology. He claimed to be ‘busy’ and saw no benefit for the department, he said, from such an event, reducing it, despite my denials, to a mere ‘launch’ (of my book, The Making of an African Working Class: Politics, Law, and Cultural Protest in the Manual Workers’ Union of Botswana, Pluto Press, 2014). He did finally agree to participate and to book the hall, only to announce soon after that he was ‘unavailable’ on the very day he himself had chosen.

So began a dance of shadows. It was only after he delegated the organization of the debate to an energetic junior colleague that the university’s participation was assured. The union too wanted a book launch. In the end, we compromised by having the launch right at the end of the event, following the debate.

Mobilising speakers was another challenge and the programme kept changing as speakers accepted, changed their minds or were unavailable after repeated telephone calls. As well as academics, we wanted representatives of the judiciary, Ditshwanelo, the human rights NGO, the trade union movement and the employers’ association. We needed urgently to print a poster and distribute it throughout the University and to the various unions and their workers well before the date chosen. But the poster was held up as speakers changed their minds and university managers demanded the correct logo, which had changed, changed again and then reverted to the original. Each step on the way was another hurdle.

the final poster.

The final letter of invitation to speakers stated that

Inequality has become the central topic of discussion and concern worldwide, even raised at the World Economic Forum at Davos 2015. In Botswana there has been a recognition of the problem of poverty but little public discussion of the widening inequalities between rich and poor, and the implications this has for our society. We hope to kick off this central debate.

…. The panel will include some six distinguished trade unionists, academics and public figures, each of whom will speak for about 10 minutes. This will be followed by refreshments and an open discussion with audience participation, before the book launch. … The event, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is open to everyone and we expect it to attract a wide spectrum of trade unionists, academics, students and other concerned citizens.

The Manual Workers’ Union had bought 75 copies of the book, and was in the process of distributing these to unionists and supporters among the great and the good in Botswana. I was not involved in the distribution, but Elsinah also gave copies to the speakers at the debate. On the actual day, we waited on tenterhooks for the debaters and audience to assemble. At the very last minute, Judge Dingake announced his withdrawal, claiming it would be unseemly for him to launch a book that had praised him (see below). Our anxiety mounted. Where were the other speakers? One by one, they trickled in, Tobokani Rari, Secretary General, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), rushing in last, straight from a union federation meeting about the bargaining council. Gradually, the audience assembled. While we waited, we put up a slide show of the public sector strike on the screen behind the speakers.

Standing for the national anthem.

Academics from the University were last to arrive. As it turned out, however, there was no need to worry – this was just another instance of Botswana’s tradition of time keeping. The 200-seat auditorium filled and speakers spoke solidly for two-and-a-half hours, followed by questions from the audience. There was still time for a sumptuous buffet spread, served by a crew of charming young trade unionists. The book launch was managed by the University Bookshop, which sold out all its copies. This in itself was an achievement, since getting the book posted from the publisher in England turned out to be a challenge in its own right.

The debate got quite wide coverage. The Botswana Daily News, distributed free throughout Botswana at government, municipal and civic offices, carried a picture of me with Elsie Alexander, a speaker at the launch well-known for her gender activism, which (rather unexpectedly) highlighted the ‘activist’, ‘feminist’ message of the book. Perhaps the most flattering remarks, at least for me as an anthropologist, came at the end of the debate when the Secretary General of the MWU, Ms. Maophala Makgosi, speaking in Setswana, thanked me for helping the union to know more about itself.

The Botswana Daily News, Friday, March 6 2015 No. 44, Page 12

By the time the debate was over we were all exhausted and needed time to recuperate. Elsinah, who had been a moving force in helping to organise the debate at the university, was now involved full-time with the public sector bargaining council. It took time to convene another workshop, this time the subject being the ‘Aftermath of the Public Sector Strike’. The workshop was chaired by the Union’s National Chairperson himself and it was an exclusively in-house affair, which gathered together all the elected representatives of the Gaborone region, some thirty in all. The result was an exciting, even unprecedented, brainstorming session which went on for two hours – a serious conversation among union activists, without any set agendas or need to reach any definite plan for future action, who found in the workshop a rare moment to reflect upon themselves and the union. I spoke briefly. This time, tea and cakes sufficed.

I (and Wenner-Gren) owe a special debt to Elsinah Botsalano, below in the red dress. Without her all the events described in this blog would not have been possible.

VIDEO: Alexander Dent on WGF Symposium #151

This past March saw the 151st installment of Wenner-Gren’s legendary symposium series, as we invited scholars from around the world to share their work and discuss the transformation of public life in the context of rapidly-evolving media technologies. Alexander S. Dent, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The George Washington University, sat down with us at the symposium’s conclusion to share his reflections on the experience and what it could mean for future research.

WGF Symposium #151- Alexander Dent-HD from Wenner-Gren Foundation on Vimeo.

Upcoming July-August Conferences

A look ahead at what this summer holds, sponsored by Wenner-Gren. 

 

Biennial Conference Of The Association Of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA)

July 1 – 3, 2015

University of Zimbabwe, Harare 

The biennial Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA) Conference brings together a vibrant community of professional archaeologists and allied specialists from Southern Africa as well as international scholars whose research interests lie in the region. The main aim of the conference is to provide these professionals with an international platform to share new knowledge, network and seek collaboration in the fields of archaeology and archaeological heritage management. This provides a solid platform for the transmission of new techniques, new theories and field approaches to ensure that southern African archaeology is locally and globally relevant. The theme of ASAPA 2015 is promoting inter-disciplinary research. The conference attracts other stakeholders such as members of communities that live around archaeological sites, traditional custodians, policy makers and museum curators. It provides an opportunity for dialogue in theory and practice between different archaeological practitioners.

 

15th International Conference of The European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists

July 6 – 10, 2015

L’université de Paris Ouest

Every two years, the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists aims to bring together scholars working in the field of Southeast Asian archaeology to present and discuss new data. This international initiative aims to foster scholarly cooperation within Europe, as well as worldwide cooperation among Southeast Asian scholars. Panels on a wide range of topics relevant to the field will be present.

 

IUAES 2015 Inter-Congress: Re-imagining Anthropological and Sociological Boundaries

July 15 – 17, 2015

Thammasat University, Bangkok

The title of the conference is ‘Re-imagining Anthropological and Sociological Boundaries’. This theme proposes to debate how already-existing tools for the study of societies may benefit from questioning long-held assumptions and categories, and how looking beyond the conventional boundaries of anthropology may help the discipline renew itself, from a theoretical, methodological, and political perspective. We deem it significant that the need to re-evaluate anthropological approaches to the study of humanity should be raised by scholars from an area as diverse as Southeast Asia, and in particular from Thailand, a country whose unusual engagement with colonialism, paired with recent experiments with neoliberalism, has resulted in complex social phenomena we often feel unprepared to interpret. This conference is also an opportunity to encourage dialogue between Thai anthropologists and social scientists worldwide.

 

Fifty Years After Homo Habilis: East African Association For Paleoanthropology and Paleontology Conference

August 3 – 6, 2015

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania 

EAAPP marks its 10th anniversary in 2015 at the height of commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Homo habilis (OH7), which the holotype specimens are now housed in the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar Es Salaam. The goal of this conference is to bring East Africans, international researchers and cultural heritage managers together in a forum to share current research findings and knowledge on the status of human origins research fifty years after the discovery of H. habilis at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. This forum provides unique opportunity of discussions among scientists, curators etc. about research development, conservation, and curatorial management. At the core of this conference is raising public awareness and interest in science and conservation of fossils and archaeological material.

 

Sixth Paleopathology Association Meeting in South America (PAMinSA VI)

August 12 – 14, 2015

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Sixth Paleopathology Association Meeting in South America (PAMinSA VI) seeks to promote the exchange of results and to establish bonds between professionals from South America and all over the world. This event offers a space to promote advancement in innovative paleopathological research. This meeting represents the tenth anniversary since the first PAMinSA. Thus, it will be an opportunity to discuss the advances produced in South-American paleopathology during the last decade and to debate about specific issues related to the study of ancient health in the region. Its attainment in Argentina will allow keeping the continuity of these meetings as well as encouraging and enriching paleopathology as a scientific discipline in South America.

 

 

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sara Safransky and “Detroit: A People’s Atlas”

Uniting Detroiters land justice and community mapping meeting. (Photograph by Gregg Newsom)

Sara Safransky is an assistant professor of geography in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid in research on “Breaking Ground: Urban Farming, Property, and the Politics of Abandoned Land in Detroit,” supervised by Dorothy Holland. During her dissertation research, she co-developed an engaged research project called Uniting Detroiters with Linda Campbell, co-director of Building Movement Detroit, and Andrew Newman, assistant professor of anthropology at Wayne State University. In 2014, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to Detroit to aid in engaged activities on one of the Uniting Detroiters key projects called Detroit: A People’s Atlas. In this blog, Safransky describes how her dissertation research led her to become involved in Uniting Detroiters and the scope of the Atlas project.[1]

Detroit faces a land crisis that is without parallel in a U.S. city. City officials classify a staggering 100,000 lots – or one-third of Detroit’s landed area – as “vacant” or “abandoned.” In 2010, then Detroit mayor David Bing launched the Detroit Works Project, a contentious planning process that aimed to “right size” the city – or fix the so-called spatial mismatch between surplus land and a reduced population. Arguably the most radical reimagining of a modern city to date, Bing suggested that service delivery go to neighborhoods considered to have market potential. Meanwhile, the areas with less potential for development would be repurposed as urban farms and wilderness zones. The proposal seemed predicated on the incorrect idea that depopulated areas were empty.

One does not have to be in Detroit long to recognize that official and popular media categorizations of land as “vacant” or “abandoned” obscure more than they reveal. First, “vacant” land in Detroit is not vacant in the psychological sense because it is layered with deep feelings of historical loss and racial injustice that haunt the metropolitan region. Second, vacant land is not vacant in practice. Neighborhood residents occupy the land, care for it, and use it. At a community meeting, one woman encapsulated the sentiments of many activists and neighborhood residents when she said: “We don’t call it vacant … we say ‘open space’ … land that is open space is held in the commons, held by the people.”

My research examined these two ways of seeing the city’s so-called abandoned lands – as surplus and commons – and the how urban greening and agrarian projects took different forms in relationship to each. Towards this end, I conducted 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork and collaborative participatory research in Detroit between 2010 and 2012. As a white woman from outside Detroit, I faced questions about what it means to engage in ethical research in a place where many community activists expressed their frustrations with extractive journalism and research.

As I grappled with these questions, I had a fortuitous meeting with Linda Campbell, who directs an organization called Building Movement Detroit. She and her community partners were in the beginning stages of a power analysis of Detroit’s development and social movement landscape. We discussed how my dissertation might be useful for and benefit from such a project. She invited me, and also Andrew Newman, an anthropology professor at Wayne State University to be learning partners, and the three of us worked with other community activists to develop a participatory research project called Uniting Detroiters. Over the past three years, the project has brought together residents, activists, scholars, students, social justice organizations, and neighborhood groups to study and discuss the emerging development agenda in Detroit, its place in broader national and global trends, and local challenges to and opportunities for transformative social change.

In recent years, the global attention directed at Detroit by journalists, filmmakers, artists, and writers has produced an image of the city that is often far removed from the daily lives of residents, and yet is so imposing in its power that all narratives of Detroit must contend with it. This imagined Detroit is marked by several now predictable themes, including the conflation of a very real depopulation process with sensationalized imagery of “post-apocalyptic” emptiness, the erasure of the Motor City’s rich history, and the casting of the city as a blank slate waiting for salvation by heroic entrepreneurs. Now, at precisely the moment the city has reached an important crossroads, these same themes appear to have migrated from the realm of film and journalism into the official maps that plot the city’s course for the future. Indeed, since the inauguration of the controversial Detroit Works Project, mapping has become part of a new, high stakes polemic over the city’s future.

Community flyer about the Detroiter Works Project. Created by Tim Stallmann for the Uniting Detroiters project.

The Uniting Detroiters project has sought to intervene in this development predicament by using research to strengthen the city’s long vibrant grassroots sector and reassert residents’ roles as active citizens in the development process. Toward this end, we are in the process of competing two movement-building tools: a documentary called “A People’s Story of Detroit” and a book called Detroit: A People’s Atlas, the latter of which was supported by the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant.[2]

A community project organized by scholars and activists, but mostly written by and for a public audience, the Atlas starts from the premise that maps are not merely illustrations of reality but better understood as propositions: arguments about the way the world works or should work. We see a clear link between the exclusion of Detroiters’ day-to-day experiences from dominant mappings and narratives of the city and the alienation of residents from the democratic process, and the erosion of their rights. Therefore, the Atlas offers a counter-narrative of Detroit’s redevelopment by remapping the city from below. The maps making up the Atlas do not simply locate things in physical space, but re-situate communities and re-imagine the limits of what a city can be as an urban, ecological, social, and cultural space.

Maps are among the most important conceptual and visual elements of the book, but there is far more to the Atlas than cartography. Detroit: A People’s Atlas includes a wide variety of essays, stories, photography, and poems contributed by over 20 residents from Detroit and Windsor. It also draws on research that we conducted as part of the Uniting Detroiters project, including over 47 interviews and 16 oral histories with individuals involved in social justice organizations and neighborhoods groups and transcripts from a series of workshops on land justice, which approximately 150 residents attended. The aims of these workshops were to share information about the political-economic and territorial reconfigurations underway in the city and discuss progressive land-use alternatives. The Uniting Detroiters project also supported community groups in participatory mapping project, some of which will be published in the Atlas. A ten-member community-based editorial advisory board has helped plan and organize the project.

Map created for Detroit: A People’s Atlas by Tim Stallmann.

The core argument that animates the diverse array of community perspectives in the Atlas is that having the power to map is to be empowered to define one’s own political, cultural, and even spiritual space. The thirty maps that make up the Atlas plot not only points in space, but efforts at self-determination, democratic governance, and creativity. The innovative creativity and dynamism of Detroit’s grassroots organizations are globally known among social activists and academics and yet excluded from many narratives about the city as of late. In this respect, Detroit: A People’s Atlas sheds light on an underappreciated aspect of the city’s present that nonetheless has deep roots in its past.  It seeks to offer vital perspectives on the city that are absent from “official maps.” Even more importantly, these maps offer a fresh perspective on what cartography and mapping can mean at a universal level; in this respect the book offers not only a new perspective on Detroit, but also represents an important contribution to the field of critical urban studies. We expect a release date of Detroit: A People’s Atlas in 2017.

 

Abstract

A Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant supported Sara Safransky’s involvement in community-based activities associated with Detroit: A People’s Atlas. During Safransky’s dissertation research, she became actively involved in the United Detroiters project, a collaborative effort based on the idea that collective research and reflection are important for creating a more just and equitable city. Detroit: A People’s Atlas is a community-centered writing and mapping project that connects life histories and everyday urban experiences with political-economic reconfigurations in the city (e.g., state takeover, bankruptcy, austerity, rightsizing) and broader structural changes taking place in other cities across the country and globe. The Atlas is designed to take stock of social justice work happening across Detroit and build movement networks in the process. In addition to maps, the Atlas includes critical and personal essays, poetry, photographs, interviews, and oral histories. Through these visions and stories the Atlas counters blank slate narratives about the city often portrayed by the corporate media and many of our politicians. The Atlas is being written for the broadest public with an expected release of 2017.



[1] Text describing the Uniting Detroiters project and the People’s Atlas comes from collective writing with Linda Campbell, Andrew Newman, and Tim Stallmann.

[2] A trailer for the documentary can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbyRFEbI32E

Upcoming June Conferences

A look at what we’re funding in the month of June.

Utopias, Realities, Heritages: Ethnographies for the 21st Century – 12th SIEF (Societe Internationale D’Ethnologie Et De Folkore/International Society for Ethnology and Folklore) Congress 

June 21-25, 2015

University of Zagreb

“This Congress’ theme takes the triad of utopias, realities and heritages as a challenge and seeks to relate it to the ethnographic study of expressive culture and everyday in European ethnology, cultural anthropology and folklore studies. The Congress theme thus aims at analyzing the contemporary moment in the production of imaginaries, projections, wishes, frustrations and anxieties that people have with regard to the past and future; and at the same time proposes to take a self-reflexive stance toward our discipline’s own role in defining the future and imagining the past. While the topic of utopias has recently surged as an iconic term in other academic conferences, ours gives it a special twist by linking it to specifically anthropological and ethnological approaches to everyday realities which are the context of both utopian visions of the future and representations of the past as heritage. The biennial SIEF conference, held for the first time in its history in southeastern Europe, aims at more intensely involving colleagues from Europe’s margins and beyond in international scholarly exchange in cultural anthropology, European ethnology, folklore studies and adjoining fields.”

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Brooke Bocast

Public health billboard urging young women to “Say no to sugar daddies.”

Brooke Bocast is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Maryland – College Park, specializing in the areas of gender, youth, and global health. In 2010, while a doctoral candidate at Temple University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “’If Books Fail, Try Beauty’: Gender, Consumption, and Higher Education in Uganda,” supervised by Dr. Jessica Winegar. In 2014, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to publicly share and discuss her research findings on female university students’ strategies for social advancement in relation to higher education reform and rising rates of HIV on Ugandan university campuses.

 

It’s tough to be a university student in Kampala, Uganda. Students contend with crumbling facilities, ineffective administrations, campus closures due to faculty and student strikes, and social lives removed from rural kin networks. At Makerere University (the “Harvard of Africa”), students are saddled with expectations to succeed above and beyond their peers, a proposition made ever more difficult by decreasing opportunities for post-grad employment. While Makerere historically catered to the sons of the East African elite, in the 1990s, President Museveni privatized Uganda’s higher education sector and “democratized” Makerere admissions through quota systems. During my dissertation fieldwork (2010-2012), Makerere administrators and the general public debated the efficacy of these policies, with particular attention to affirmative action for women and the role of female students in general.

My dissertation research examined Makerere University’s sexual economy wherein university women exchange sexual favors for money, luxury commodities, and academic marks. These practices put young women at increased risk for STDs, pregnancy, and moral rebuke. Because of this, global health organizations often assume that women who participate in sexual economic transactions must be indigent, or ignorant, or both. Yet many university women engaged in “transactional” sex are members of Uganda’s nascent middle class and successful students at East Africa’s prestigious Makerere University. Based on data collected in Kampala and at students’ family homes throughout East Africa, I argue that participation in Makerere’s sexual economy is a central means by which female students pursue social advancement in a vastly transformed and contested education system. This strategy has profound consequences for kinship, marriage, and social structures, and gendered labor practices; in addition, campus-based relationships shape emerging HIV transmission patterns.

Dr. Kakuba presents his research on primary school enrollment trends.

UNAIDS identifies transactional, “cross-generational” sex (locally termed “sugar daddy” relationships) as a key driver of Uganda’s rising HIV prevalence rates. In recent years, Uganda’s federal government, educational institutions, and public health NGOs have honed in on female university students’ role in these relationships via behavioral change campaigns that seek to alter students’ choice of sexual partners. [see image 1] Popular discourse assumes that young women pursue sugar daddy relationships because they are either vulnerable and desperate or materialistic and predatory. Throughout my fieldwork, university administrators and global health practitioners approached me with questions about young women’s motivations for engaging in sugar daddy relationships. I was often asked how to get university students to stop dating older men. Of course, there is no single “answer” to the “problem” of sugar daddy relationships. Young women engage in diverse sexual interactions for myriad affective, aspirational, and material reasons. My informants reject campaigns that position them as passive and vulnerable, because they consider themselves to be agentive and knowledgeable. At the same time, the epidemiological ramifications cannot be ignored. By engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners across age brackets, young women put themselves and their partners at risk for STDs, and contribute to intergenerational HIV transmission.

Workshop participants convene at lunch.

I applied for an Engaged Anthropology Grant because I wanted to facilitate discussion between various stakeholders around the dynamics that drive intergenerational sexual relationships on campus. In order to avoid reproducing the dominant framing of transactional sex as a problem of young women lacking life skills and/or sexual restraint, I collaborated with my colleague, Dr. Christian Kakuba at Makerere’s Centre for Population and Applied Statistic (CPAS), to produce an event that framed students practices’ within an analysis of structural inequalities in Uganda’s education sector writ large. We titled our workshop, “Inequalities in Education: A Multi-disciplinary Perspective,” and included presentations based on demographic and ethnographic data that addressed access to, and experiences within, Uganda’s primary, secondary, and tertiary educational institutions. CPAS hosted the workshop, and attendees included Makerere students and alumni, university administrators, policy-makers, civil society actors, education professionals, and public health practitioners. Dr. Kakuba presented his findings on demographic factors that influence primary and secondary school attendance [see image 2], and I presented qualitative data on gendered health disparities among university students, in relation to HIV and cross-generational sex. In addition to paper presentations, we led break-out groups over lunch and facilitated discussions that tacked back and forth between students’ everyday experiences, national trends, and implications for policy and practice. [see image 3]

A Makerere alumna explains the allure of sugar daddies.

Workshop participants raised a number of points for further discussion. For example, a secondary school headmaster noted that current policies fail to account for the needs of students with physical and intellectual disabilities, rendering their educational experiences especially trying. Multiple participants, including Makerere alumni, questioned the value of formal education in general, given the limitations of Uganda’s formal employment sector. Female Makerere students spoke about the factors that compel young women to acquire sugar daddies, pointing out that affective and aspirational motivations often trump health concerns. [see image 4] A representative from the Institute for Social and Economic Rights requested further collaboration with the Centre for Population and Applied Statistics, given their shared institutional interests in population data and social justice. It is heartening to think that my Engaged Anthropology project provided a forum for such conversations to occur, and facilitated connections that may lead to improved services for students at all levels of Uganda’s education system.

Meet Our 2015 Wadsworth International Fellow: Njabulo Chipangura

Every year, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awards the Wadsworth African Fellowship to a young African scholar, enabling them to undertake graduate training in anthropology at a world-class institution. This year’s recipient is Njabulo Chipangura of Zimbabwe, who will be commencing studies at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.

I was born in 1984 in Mutare, Zimbabwe. I did my undergraduate honours degree in Archaeology, Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies at Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe between 2004 and 2008. In September 2009, I joined the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe as a curator in the archaeology department at Mutare Museum. Since then I have been involved in a number of archaeological researches which touches on conservation of all archaeological and historical sites, exhumations, rescue excavations and archaeological impact assessments. In 2011, I was awarded with the National Heritage Council of South Africa Scholarship and the Robben Island Museum Grant to study for a Master’s Degree in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of the Western Cape.

For my PhD in Anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand, I am interested in understanding artisanal and small scale mining practices (ASM), technologies and processes in Eastern Zimbabwe using ethnographic and archaeological methodologies. The research seeks to pursue the significant lack of knowledge of all aspects of ASM in Eastern Zimbabwe, and the little knowledge of its history. Contemporary ASM activities have identifiable historical continuity with the past. This might be, for instance, include contemporary re-exploitation of nineteenth century or even much earlier mine workings and shafts, and there may be oral traditions or indigenous memory in some form.

The University of the Witwatersrand will be an ideal place for my study because of its reputation as one of the best universities in Africa. Moreso, the anthropology department at the university is a place with renowned scholars who will help me in achieving my own career goals. The diversity of anthropological issues that the department is involved in also places me at a vantage position in terms of learning and gaining new knowledge.