Interview: Uddhav Rai of Tribhuvan University

The Wenner-Gren Institutional Development Grant supports universities across the world as they develop their doctoral programs in anthropology and related sub-fields. Currently, there are five active grants, one of which is for the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tribhuvan University in Nepal. The department at Tribhuvan is working in close partnership with the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. There have been faculty meetings in Nepal where Cornell Anthropologists have contributed towards developing and expanding the Curriculum at Tribhuvan. Another important component of the award is that faculty and students in Nepal have had the opportunity to spend a semester at Cornell. The Visiting Fellowship in fall 2011 went to Mr Uddhav Rai whose PhD dissertation topic is “Food Security and Exclusions among the Chepangs in Nepal.” On his return to Nepal, Wenner-Gren wanted to find out more of his impressions of his stay at Cornell.


How did you get interested in Anthropology in Nepal and what led you to the graduate program?

When I got my bachelors degree from college, I came to pursue higher degree in the only university of Nepal and knew Anthropology was a new subject to study. I also learned that this subject was the study of indigenous people like me. Because of these two reasons – a new subject and study of my own culture attracted me to be an anthropologist.


Upcoming June-July Conferences

Through our programs, the Wenner-Gren Foundation provides funding for a wide variety of conferences and workshops that advance innovative research and address contentious debates within the field of anthropology. Below are information on three upcoming Wenner-Gren sponsored conferences, taking place in the months of June and July.




2012 Meeting of The Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA)

June 20-23, 2012

The Archaeology Centre

Victoria College, The University of Toronto

The biennial conference of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) is the primary international venue for Africanist archaeology and meets alternately in Europe and North America. The conference covers the full range of topics in African archaeology from research on human origins through to the archaeology of colonial contact.  The 2012 meeting, to be held from June 20-23 on the campus of Victorica College at the University of Toronto, will be the first time the University of Toronto will host the SAfA meetings. The conference is supported by the Archaeology Centre at the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum and will be held on the campus of Victoria College. The theme of the 2012 biennial meeting of SAfA is “Exploring Diversity, Discovering Connections”. The archaeological record of the African continent is characterized by diversity. It is the goal of the meetings to bring scholars together who work across this vast continent to delineate the scale of this diversity as well as to explore underlying connections. To highlight this theme we are organizing a plenary session with participants in the Harvard Kalahari Project in which we they will be looking back at this project and how it succeeded in integrating disciplinary approaches.



Anthropology in the World

June 8-10, 2012

The Royal Anthropological Institute

British Museum, Clore Centre

Anthropology is taught and practiced mainly within universities, and there are many excellent disciplinary histories which document the way that this has come about. However, its great importance outside academia in a whole host of areas of public life is less well charted. The aim of this conference is to redress this balance by examining systematically the various spheres where anthropology may be influential, including (but not confined to); medicine, human rights, gender, development, law, media (especially the visual media), tourism and heritage. This conference is international in scope, but has particular resonance in the UK, and indeed in Europe more widely, where there is a significant move toward channelling government funding away from arts and social sciences exclusively toward the hard sciences. We would argue that this is short-sighted and simplistic, but that the best way we can demonstrate the importance of the subject is to create the most public forum in which to demonstrate and discuss anthropology’s significance outside academia.



EASA (European Association of Social Anthropologists) 2012: Uncertainty and Disquiet

July 10-13, 2012

University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense

Anxiety is a fundamental characteristic of human nature. All living entities have biological devices that enable them to face danger (escape, aggression, concealment). This is often studied by the social sciences under the heading of ‘stress’. Human beings, however, differentiate themselves from other species through their reflexivity, which introduces an uncertainty that cannot be reduced to the consequences of their perception. The aim of such an EASA biennial conference is to gather various perspectives and understandings which are developed within the anthropological project. The conference will allow for both an intra-disciplinary appraisal of what anthropology lends to other disciplines (hypothesis, methods, perspectives), and for a critique of the constant reshaping of a profession caught between philosophical ambitions and technical expertise. The call for an anthropology of uncertainty and disquiet seems to meet this requirement to bring together anthropologists working on cognition and the biological foundations of the human, anthropologists developing phenomenological approaches to what living a life means and how it is performed, and anthropologists devoted to the endless task of making sense of the contemporary and the complexities of the social world.

Current Anthropology Preview: Awakening to a Nightmare

Photo by Miguel Gutierrez, Jr.

In advance of the upcoming printing of the June issue of Current Anthropology, we welcome guest-bloggers Roberto G. Gonzales and Leo R. Chavez with a summary previewing their article “Awakening to a Nightmare”: Abjectivity and Illegality in the Lives of Undocumented 1.5 Generation Latino Immigrants in the United States.” (Current Anthropology 53(3). 2012)


The political rhetoric over the fate of the children of undocumented immigrants is deeply divided.  Are they simply “illegal aliens” who broke the law and thus do not deserve what is called a “path to citizenship”? Or, are undocumented young people filled with great potential and we should provide a way for them to live and work legally in the United States?

“Awakening to a Nightmare” attempts to go beyond the political rhetoric. Using data collected from a random-sample survey and in-depth ethnographic interviews, it provides insight into lived experiences of undocumented young Latinos in Orange County, California, who came to the United States as children. They daily confront the importance of citizenship.  They are constantly aware of the potential for detection and deportation during the current period of heightened police surveillance and rising deportation numbers.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress almost eleven years ago in effort to reconcile the untenable circumstances confronting these young people. While legislators continue to debate their futures, these young people must carry out their everyday lives.  Through the narratives of the study’s respondents, “Awakening to a Nightmare” reveals daily life to be rife with legal obstacles and risks. While much of contemporary immigration research focuses on outcomes, this study shows that increased enforcement efforts narrow their worlds and sows fears—so much that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation.

The consequences of two related processes—the shrinking of rights for non-citizens and the intensification of enforcement efforts—are profoundly felt as young Latinos confront their undocumented status.  As they get older and want to experience the rites of passage common to American youth – getting a driver’s license, traveling, and applying to college – they come to realize they are different from their friends. As one young person told us, “It was like awaking to a nightmare.” The constraints on their lives become real and unavoidable, as one interviewee said:

I know I can do so much more, but I can’t because…I can’t choose where I live.  I can’t choose where I work.  And the worst thing is that I can’t choose my friends.  In high school I was able to do that.  I can’t anymore. I can’t even hang out with my high school friends anymore and that hurts a lot.  Yeah, they want to do grown up stuff.  I can’t do anything that is eighteen and over.  I can’t do anything.  I can only hang out where little kids hang out.  I can’t hang out with them. I can’t travel with them.  I can’t go out to dinner with them.  I can’t go to Vegas with them.  If I want to go to a bar, I don’t even have a drink.  If they want to go to San Diego, if they want to go visits museums down there, if they want to go to Sea World, I can‘t go with them.  I can’t go to Los Angeles.  I can’t go to any clubs in L.A.

“Awakening to a Nightmare” explores what an abject life means.  Undocumented Latino youth realize society sees them as discardable, as easily castaway. The idea that undocumented young people should simply “self-deport,” as if they did not have emotional or social attachments to the United States, captures this sense of being discardable and unwanted.  Rather than merely give up, many of the young people profiled here became involved in campaigns to change the law.  They are called DREAMers because they hope for the day the U.S. Congress passes the DREAM Act, thus giving them a chance to become legal residents and even citizens.  For these young people, this would be a sign that society recognizes them as contributing members of society. Until then, they must wait.

“Awakening to a Nightmare” is thus both timely and revealing, providing important insights into the fundamental questions facing the nation and the future of undocumented young people living among us.


Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.


NYAS @ Wenner-Gren: Ben Zimmer and “The New Language Detectives” [AUDIO]

Discussant Melissa Checker (Queens College), Speaker Ben Zimmer (Thinkmap, Inc./Boston Globe), Discussant and section co-chair Rudolf Gaudio (SUNY Purchase), and co-chair Jeff Maskovsky (CUNY Graduate Center)

This past Monday evening brought to a close the 2011/2012 season of New York Academy of Sciences lectures at the Wenner-Gren Foundation. We’ve had a great line-up of speakers all year long, and closing out the order we welcomed Ben Zimmer, former scribe of the “On Language” column in the New York Times, to share his thoughts on investigating linguistic phenomenon in a data-driven age.

Download a MP3 of the talk now!

Listen to Discussants Melissa Checker and Rudolf Guadio.

Introducing the Engaged Anthropology Grant

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is pleased to announce a new grant program: the Engaged Anthropology Grant.

This program is designed to enable past Wenner-Gren grantees to return to their research locale to share their research results with the community in which the research was conducted, and/or the academic/anthropological community in the region or country of research.  There will be two application deadlines per year, February 1 and August 1, and the grant will provide up to $5,000 for expenses directly related to these activities.

To be eligible to apply for the Engaged Anthropology Grant, you must have already received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork or Post-Ph.D. Research Grant, and the proposed engagement activities must be a direct outgrowth of this research.   Applications for each deadline are only accepted within five years of the approval date of the original Wenner-Gren Grant.  Applicants also must have completed their Dissertation Fieldwork or Post-Ph.D. Research Grant and fulfilled all final reporting requirements before being eligible to apply.  Former Dissertation Fieldwork grantees must also have received their Ph.D. before the grant is awarded.

Everyone at Wenner-Gren is excited about this new program and its potential to facilitate continued engagement of our grantees in their research area and to ensure that the results of the research are shared locally in the most appropriate manner.

We hope that you will be equally excited about the Engaged Anthropology Grant and take advantage of the unique opportunity it offers. For more information about this program and how to apply, visit our programs page. You may also contact our Program Administrator, Mark Ropelewski, with additional questions at: