Archive for January 31, 2012

N.Y.A.S. @ Wenner-Gren 1/30/12

Our president, Dr. Leslie C. Aiello, remarks on the successful Monday evening talk by NYU’s Terry Harrison.

Terry Harrison’s Monday night talk on “The Earliest Human Ancestors” was one of the most successful Wenner-Gren/New York Academy of Sciences (Anthropology section) talks in recent years. We had a record number of attendees and if the questions at the end are any guide, the talk captivated even the social anthropologists in the crowd. The spirit of academic enthusiasm and camaraderie was helped along by a Thai buffet and wine reception preceding the 7pm talk, but the questions about (and interest in) seemingly esoteric fossils such as Ardipithecus  ramidus, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, and Orrorin tugenensis coming from our general anthropological audience were a pleasant surprise to the palaeoanthropology specialists among us.

Harrison emphasized the difficultly in recognizing human ancestors the further back in time that we go, and these African fossils, which date between about 4.5 million and 6 million years ago (the oldest currently known) present a big problem. How do you recognize an ape ancestor versus a human answer so close to the divergence date between these two lineages? It is not easy, particularly when you view the evolutionary tree from the bottom up (worm’s-eye view in Harrison’s terms) and realize the great variety of fossil apes that were alive just prior to the divergence of these two lineages. The big question is whether these old fossils, currently recognized is the first members of our lineage, are really on early branches of the human tree, or if they are fossil apes with nothing to do with the human lineage. Harrison tends to believe that at least the most complete of these early fossils, Ardipithecus, was one of these dead-end apes, but he realizes that this is not the current consensus view.

We can look forward to continued, lively debate on these and related issues and to future stimulating NYAS/Wenner-Gren evening meetings that are held monthly at the Wenner-Gren New York offices. Topics of the seminars range across the broad field of Anthropology and are open to all. Click here for upcoming events and we hope to see you soon at Wenner-Gren.

Wenner-Gren Grantees make anthropologyworks’ “Best Dissertations of 2011″

Recently the blog anthropologyworks, managed by George Washington University professor of anthropology Barbara Miller, released a list of their favorite dissertation projects in Cultural Anthropology for 2011. We are pleased to announce that seven Wenner-Gren grantees made the list!

  • Botswana as a Living Experiment, by Betsey Brada. The University of Chicago. Advisors: Jean Comaroff, Judith Farquhar, Susan Gal, Joseph Masco.
  • La Violencia Adentro (Violence in the Interior): Gender Violence, Human Rights, and State-NGO-Community Relations in Coastal Ecuador, by Karin Friederic. The University of Arizona. Advisors: Linda B. Green, Mark Nichter, Laura Briggs, Martha Few, et al.
  • Small City Neighbors: Race, Space, and Class in Mansfield, Ohio, by Alison Goebel. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Advisors: Alejandro Lugo, Brenda Farnell, Ellen Moodie, David R. Roediger.
  • Being Closer: Children and Caregiving in the Time of TB and HIV in Lusaka, Zambia, by Jean Hunleth. Northwestern University. Advisors: Karen Tranberg Hansen, Helen Schwartzman, William Leonard, Rebecca Wurtz.
  • After SARS: The Rebirth of Public Health in China’s “City of Immigrants,” by Katherine Mason. Harvard University. Advisor: Arthur Kleinman.
  • Landscapes of Power: An Ethnography of Energy Development on the Navajo Nation, by Dana Powell. University of North Carolina. Advisors: Dorothy Holland, Arturo Escobar, Orin Starn, Peter Redfield.
  • The Weight of the Body: Changing Ideals of Fatness, Nourishment, and Health in Guatemala, by Emily Yates-Doerr. New York University. Advisors: Emily Martin, Thomas A. Abercrombie, Rayna Rapp, Sally E. Merry.

Congratulations to all of the authors, and thanks to anthropologyworks for running one of the best anthropology blogs on the web.

N.Y. Academy of Sciences @ Wenner-Gren: Monday, Jan. 30

Image courtesy of The Center for the Study of Human Origins

As always, the Anthropology Section of the New York Academy of the Sciences will be holding its monthly meeting at the Wenner-Gren Foundation offices, this coming Monday, January 30 at 7:00 PM. For this session, NYAS and the Foundation welcome Dr. Terry Harrison, Chair of the Department of Anthropology at New York University and Director of NYU’s Center for the Study of Human Origins, as he discusses the problems and caveats involved with identifying the earliest specimens of Homo sapiens‘ evolutionary lineage and making inferences about their relationships.

“The Earliest Human Ancestors: Sorting the Contenders From the Pretenders” will be preceded by a reception at 6:00 PM. The meeting is free to attend, but please register prior to the meeting.

Wenner-Gren Symposium: The Anthropology of Potentiality

A note on Wenner-Gren’s most recent symposium.

A Wenner-Gren Symposium on “The Anthropology of Potentiality,” was held from October 28-November 4, 2011, near Teresópolis, Brazil.  Organizers of the meeting were Karen-Sue Taussig (U. of Minnesota) and Klaus Hoeyer (U. of Copenhagen). Eighteen scholars from Denmark, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States explored how anthropology can develop our understandings of the medical practices where potentiality is articulated and how such articulations interact with moral notions of humanness. For a complete report on the symposium and a list of participants, please follow this link.

Interview with Rayed Khedher

Rayed Khedher is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. A graduate of the University of Tunis, Khedher received the Wadsworth International Fellowship in 2008 to aid training in socio-cultural anthropology at UCLA co-supervised by Dr. Sondra Hale and Dr. Susan Slyomovics. We reached out to Rayed to learn more about his education, his research on undocumented migrants in the Mediterranean, and to get an anthropologist’s perspective on recent happenings in his country. 

If one day People want to live, Destiny must surely respond

Darkness must disappear, Chains must certainly break

 Abu-Al Qacem Al Chabbi

(The Tunisian Poet of All Times)


Protestors in front of the RCD (Ben Ali's former political party) demanding its dismantling

1. What is the most unexpected way that your research interests have been influenced by your experience at UCLA?

During my four years in the UCLA anthropology Ph.D program, co-supervised by Prof. Sondra Hale and Prof. Susan Slyomovics, I gained a substantial knowledge in key theoretical classical and contemporary trends in anthropology which highly broadened my academic and personal perspectives. I critically re-explored the interplay of theory and ethnography in the development of anthropology into its contemporary form in dealing with socio-cultural research. My experience at UCLA in addition to the events taking place in North Africa, the Middle East and the world today are continuously shaping and re-shaping my knowledge and perspective about my doctoral research topic. For my study, I am investigating the impacts on male migrants of the mass irregular migration to Italy following the 2011 Tunisian uprising. My research interests have evolved in parallel with the recent developments in the North African region especially in light of the massive irregular movements of Maghrebi migrants to Italy. It is totally unexpected for me to deal with my topic in such a very timely context in which events in North Africa and the Arab region are unfolding every minute and every second. In light of what is happening, I am now focusing on the scrutinization of the potential of greater human rights abuses perpetrated by the Italian authorities and the resulting irregular Tunisian migrants’ reactions and strategies for resistance. My objective is to explore the human dimension involved in these trans-Mediterranean Sea crossings by examining two levels of human rights abuse: 1) human rights abuses by the Italian authorities at the point of entry within the police stations and detention centers; and 2) violations of human rights by non-state actors (smugglers, employers and the public) to which the Italian government fails to respond. I discuss this topic by ethnographically exploring the construction of the Tunisian Muslim irregular migrant as the “violent other” and the “potential criminal” or the “hidden terrorist.” I ask whether, in the face of this criminalization (in discourse and practice), the Tunisian migrant is able to turn the discursive power relations and oppression characterizing the host society into a collective form of resistance.

My proposed research on the 2011 post-uprising Tunisian irregular migrants in Sicily explores some of these politically racialized cultural identities and subjective vulnerabilities and investigates whether they lead to xenophobic/islamophobic migration sentiments and further human rights violations. The primary goal of this project is to examine the strategies and tactics irregular migrants employ to convert the stigmatized and criminalized self and crippled identities into collective forms of resistance. I hypothesize that those stigmatized representations could translate into valuable social, cultural and political resources that can be used in various alliances that provide opportunities for the migrant to fight the myriad forms of social violence and discrimination he faces from formal and informal institutions. The existing literature on North African irregular migration, violence and human rights abuse has had little to say about how migrants’ resistance strategies, particularly collective ones might alter their situation. Through in-depth ethnographic research in the field, I propose to fill this gap which has major repercussions for the understanding of the subjective experience of the irregular migrant in ways that touch not only on basic theoretical aspects of migration research, but also on policy. If, as I hypothesize, in a context  of socio-political turmoil the vulnerability of the Tunisian migrant is able to develop a sense of agency thanks to changes in the political situation at home, and if he is empowered to act with others to protest or alter intolerable conditions, a whole new way of dealing with the transnsational development of the migrant as a subject emerges.

My training at UCLA consolidated my knowledge of the key theoretical debates in the study of international migration and gave me new tools to examine the interdisciplinary and methodologically pluralist nature of the migratory phenomenon and its connections with the larger conceptions of nationhood, identity, citizenship and the state. In addition to taking classes and TAing, my overall experience at UCLA has been deeply enriched by participating in a number of lectures and various Conferences in anthropology as well as in other disciplines of primary interest to my research. I participated in several meetings of the Migration Study Group and I presented various papers and gave talks on the issues of illegal migration, human rights, social change in North Africa etc focusing on the power of people to stand up against injustice, inequality as well as economic, social and political corruption.

» Read more..