Archive for September 30, 2013

Upcoming October-November Conferences & Workshops

The Origins of Recycling: A Paleolithic Perspective

October 7-10, 2013

Tel Aviv University

In recent years a growing body of evidence regarding human recycling, reusing and resharpening activities in Paleolithic times has accumulated, and there is a growing awareness among scholars towards these aspects of research in Paleolithic studies. It is our intention to gather together scholars in the new field of Paleolithic Recycling and establish, for the first time, coherent lines of inquiry, data analyses and interpretation of recycling behavior in prehistory. The workshop will be focused on presenting new data regarding stone recycling and bone reusing from Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites from the Old World, as well as relevant case studies from contemporary pre-industrial societies. The publication resulting from the workshop is intended to demonstrate the scale, intensity and characteristics of Paleolithic recycling; provide a methodology for studying evidence for recycling and reusing activities and discuss the adaptive role of recycling and reusing in Paleolithic times.

 

Proto-Globalization in the Indian Ocean World: Multidisciplinary Perspectives

November 7-10, 2013

Jesus College, University of Oxford

The Indian Ocean has emerged as a major topic of interest amongst scholars across a range of disciplines in recent years.  Researchers in fields as diverse as archaeology, genetics, history, linguistics and palaeoenvironmental studies have all explored evidence for precociously early coastal and transoceanic movements of goods, people, ideas, plants and animals in the region.  The ‘Proto-globalisation in the Indian Ocean world’ conference provides an opportunity for these scholars to gather and to critically evaluate the evidence for and implications of long-distance contacts and exchanges in the pre-1000 CE Indian Ocean.  It will consider the goods, technologies and ideas that moved across the ocean in this period, evaluating the possible existence of early globalized commodities, exploring object biographies, and considering the role of cosmopolitan Indian Ocean contacts in transforming societies on the littoral and beyond.  It will look at how cultural transfers were intertwined with extensive movements of plant and animals species both domestic and wild, considering the ecological, agricultural and disease impacts of species translocations, and their implications for the contemporary world in terms of biodiversity and food security.  Finally, it will explore the axes, processes and agents of early Indian Ocean interactions, critically rethinking in particular traditional notions about the drivers and agents of early exchanges and commerce, and drawing attention to the important role of smaller, less centralized and/or more mobile societies in the early Indian Ocean.  The gathering of scholars from a broad range of regions, disciplines and projects will enable discussion, debate and the exploration of synergies, as well as consideration of larger questions about the degree to which the Indian Ocean represented a globalized space in the pre-1000 CE period, the role of data from earlier periods in transforming Eurocentric notions of globalization and the ways that studies of the past might inform our understanding of contemporary globalization.

NYAS @ WGF: Marshall Sahlins and “The Alterity of Value and Vice Versa”

Monday evening marked the first event in the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section Lecture Series for the 2013-14 academic year, as the Wenner-Gren Foundation and CUNY Graduate Center welcomed Marshall Sahlins, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Sahlins, an eminent scholar in the field and author of such works as Culture and Practical Reason (1976) and Islands of History (1985), presented his paper “The Alterity of Value and Vice Versa”:

On the external origin of riches. Money (“magical property”) as the means rather than the antithesis of extended kinship. Scarcity as a function of value rather than value of scarcity. And other such contradictions of the deceived wisdom.

The Alterity of Value and Vice Versa (MP3)

(apologies for the hum appearing throughout the recording; due to logistical constraints, we were unable to secure a better recording.)

A list of upcoming installments of this lecture series.

Interview: Tom Widger and The Youth Suicide Epidemic in Sri Lanka

Tom Widger is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Sussex. In 2005, while a student at the London School of Economics, he received a dissertation fieldwork grant to aid research on ‘The Youth Suicide Epidemic in Sri Lanka: Causes, Meanings, Prevention Strategies,’ supervised by Dr. Jonathan Parry. Coming off recent publication of his research in South Asian Studies, we asked Dr. Widger about his project and his experience with the Wenner-Gren grant.

 

How did you first become interested in questions surrounding suicide, and what drew you to look at Sri Lanka specifically?

Well actually I was drawn to anthropology first, then to Sri Lanka and finally to the study of suicide. During my undergraduate degree in archaeology I’d taken a course in archaeology and anthropology, and read Jean Briggs’s Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family, which simply fascinated me. Then I read a very different book, Anthropology, Development and the Post-Modern Challenge, by Katy Gardner and David Lewis. Both books together showed how long-term ethnographic fieldwork can produce extremely detailed descriptions of day to day life while still offering a rigorous method for addressing real-world problems – and it’s that approach I’ve tried to use in my own work.

After graduating in 2000 I applied to the MSc course in social anthropology at the London School of Economics. At the same time I joined a youth development programme run by Voluntary Services Overseas, a British charity. They’d partnered up with national youth organisations in Sri Lanka, Thailand and South Africa, and I just happened to be posted to Sri Lanka. I lived with a family in a village 70 kilometers north of the capital, Colombo, and worked alongside social workers. One of the issues they engaged with was youth suicide. What struck me at the time was not just the sheer prevalence of suicide in the local community but the ways in which it was so taken for granted. Having only read a bit of Durkheim by that stage I knew very little about social scientific, much less anthropological, theories of the problem. My acceptance letter for the LSE came through during this time and from that point I pretty much decided what my MSc dissertation would be about, as well as subject for a PhD!

 

» Read more..

WGF Symposium #148 – Politics of the Urban Poor

The 148th Wenner-Gren Foundation International Symposium is about to be underway in Pasiano di Pordenone, Friuli–Venezia Giulia, Italy. Read the organizers statement from Veena Das (Johns Hopkins University) and Shalini Randeria (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva) below.

We propose a symposium on the modalities of politics in the lives of the poor with specific reference to the urban form. The literature on the urban poor has been strongly shaped by and connected to public policy interventions that generated such internal divisions as those between the deserving and the undeserving poor, or between the proletariat seen as the engine of history and the lumpen proletariat, who are seen as those who are unable to engage in politics at all.  Concepts like social capital moved from academic theorizing to the policy world in the context of framing of policies to help the poor move out of what was called the “poverty trap”.  One of the consequences of this way of seeing the poor is that while agency is given to some kinds of poor, others are seen in policy discourses as populations to be managed through both policing and paternalistic interventions by the state. Though theoretical interventions such as subaltern studies did much to reclaim collective agency on behalf of those who are defined as subordinate, there was a concentration on moments of rebellion. As far as everyday life is concerned, there seems an implicit agreement with Hannah Arendt’s position that the poor are so caught in ensuring basic survival that they cannot exercise the freedom necessary for collective action that she calls the domain of politics. Thus following this kind of a conceptualization problems relating to the poor are seen confined to studies of administration. However, we also do not wish to romanticize the poor but rather in recognizing that poverty might corrode the capacity for collective or individual action, we are interested in more realistic accounts of the functioning of politics in the everyday lives of the poor.

We propose a symposium on the politics of the poor in which both categories – that of the poor and that of politics – are put under pressure conceptually and ethnographically. Inviting anthropologists and scholars from related fields who have who used ethnography in their own research on the urban poor in South Asia, Africa, Middle East and Latin America, we pose the following questions in order to generate comparative ethnographies that can foreground the relation between urban transformations, poverty, and modalities of democratic politics.

First, what is the relation between governmentality and politics in relation to basic amenities such as water, sanitation, electricity, and housing? Can we speak of a politics of need contra Arendt and many others who assume that need belongs to the realm of administration and not politics?

Second, what lines of solidarity and antagonism run within the communities of the poor defined by locality, kinship, and work?  Instead of posing a dualism between the poor seen as unitary collective subjects and another subject (state, market), which stands out and is marked as the oppressor, we might ask how differences internal to the poor are implicated in the forging of political action?

Third, are there forms of inaction that might also count as politics, especially if life has been experienced as continually marked by violence? What kind of theory of action do we need to account, for instance, for political subjectivities that have emerged after civil wars, riots or experiences of displacement? How does decay urban decay and the complete corrosion of institutions, lead to either a negation of politics or forms of collective action (protests, gang violence) that become ends in themselves?

Finally, what kinds of traces are left in the languages that circulate in communities engaged in the kinds of politics that are assumed in the first three questions? How do material traces link with linguistic traces? We want to go beyond such issues as politics of representation and instead ask what kind of affective geographies of communication and expression can we discern in the everyday life of the poor. We are interested in asking whether regional histories and geographies as well as the diversity of intellectual traditions, leads to important differences in the very conceptualization of these issues? In what way do conceptual and political commitments as well as the artifacts through which facts are made visible shape the questions we ask, what questions get asked and what issues get eclipsed? Do regional comparisons generate new questions? We are not committed beforehand to establish that the poor exercise agency or that the lines of conflict are clearly drawn between state and community; or that democracy has failed; or that the poor are so caught up in survival that the only forms of politics available to them are forms of clientelism. These are open questions and we hope that the symposium will show many pathways through which such issues can be addressed with innovations in how we collect empirical data and how conceptual innovations might be made in relation to the pressure of the conjoining of facts and values. Since the ethnographic method is now used across disciplines, the symposium would also give us an opportunity to reflect on potential contribution as well as the limitations of this method.

Paper Titles

AL-MOHAMMAD  Poverty beyond Disaster in Postinvasion Iraq:  Ethics and the ‘Rough Ground’ of the Everyday

 

AMARASURIYA   “With That, Discipline Will Also Come to Them”:  The Politics of the Urban Poor in

& SPENCER          Postwar Colombo

 

AUYERO               The Politics of Interpersonal Violence at the Urban Margins

 

BAYAT                   Plebeians of the Arab Spring

 

CALDEIRA            Social Movements, Cultural Production, and Protests:  São Paulo’s Shifting Political            Landscape

                                    

CAMMETT             Sectarianism and the Ambiguities of Welfare in Lebanon

 

DAS & WALTON     Political Leadership and the Urban Poor:  Local Histories

 

DE BOECK            “Poverty” and the Politics of Syncopation.  Urban Examples from Congo-Kinshasa.

ENGLUND             Poetic Justice and the Proletariat that Never Was

FORMENT             Plebeian Neoliberalism and the Political Practices of the Ungoverned: Buenos         Aires’s La Salada and Emergent Forms of Subaltern Democratic Life

LEIBNER               HaTikva Encampment – The Ambiguous Agency of the Marginalized                                   

                       

PERDIGON            On Making Poverty Sensible. Three Sketches from the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Lebanon

PROCUPEZ           The Need for Patience – Or – (The Politics of Overcoming Housing Emergency in Buenos Aires)

ROSS                     Residing/Resisting?:  Raw Life and the Politics of the Urban Poor

SIMONE                 The Urban Poor and Their Ambivalent Exceptionalities:  Some Notes from Jakarta

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joshua Samuels and “‘Patrimonio S. Pietro’: The Heritage of Agricultural Reform in Western Sicily”

Joshua Samuels earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2010 to aid research on ‘Reclamation: The Archaeology of Agricultural Reform in Fascist Sicily,’ supervised by Dr. Lynn Meskell. This year, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to enable him to return to his field site in Western Sicily, where he explored how Sicilian farmers negotiated Fascist land reforms and building programs of the 1930s and early 1940s, to share his research results with the community that hosted him.

I first visited Borgo Bonsignore in 2006 when I began my dissertation research investigating land reform in Sicily under Fascism. In Italian “borgo” literally means village, but under Fascism the term was used to describe service centers, built from scratch, that were designed to serve the civic and social needs of farmers being resettled in newly built farmhouses in the countryside. In the 1930s and early 1940s, borghi and farmhouses were constructed all over Italy as part of a Fascist ruralization campaign that aimed to increase agricultural production and, in the process, encourage fecundity and allegiance to the Fascist regime.

My dissertation research had two goals: to reconstruct the agricultural landscapes of borghi and farmhouses that developed under Fascism, and to understand the process through which these buildings and landscapes have today been re-used and re-contextualized as heritage resources. I pursued the first goal in a 20 square kilometer area around Borgo Fazio, an abandoned village in middle of Sicily’s northwestern corner. For my second goal I turned to Borgo Bonsignore, located on Sicily’s southwestern coast, where I spent the summer of 2010 conducting ethnographic research. After several waves of abandonment and re-use, the borgo is now a popular seasonal destination for families from the nearby city of Ribera, who have either built second homes there or occupied the empty municipal buildings. Families generally arrive in June and spend several months enjoying the beach and nature preserve located just down the road. They also avail themselves of a series of outdoor events that take place in the main piazza, organized since 1997 by Ribera’s tourism board and the Associazione Pro-Borgo.

With the support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned to Borgo Bonsignore in August of 2013 to organize a public heritage event in the main piazza. My goal was to appropriately contextualize the borgo’s existence within the Fascist agricultural, demographic and colonial policies which engendered its construction, but without denying its subsequent development and the affectionate feelings its seasonal residents have for it today.

I had originally intended to stage the event at the end of July, but the president of the Associazione Pro-Borgo thought it would be most appropriate to include it as part of the local Saint’s Day celebrations held during the third weekend of August. In collaboration with a local historian from Ribera and a university student whose family summers at the borgo, I prepared a series of poster exhibits providing basic contextual information relating to pre-20th century Sicilian agriculture, Fascist colonial-agricultural policy, and Borgo Bonsignore’s specific development. In every poster I attempted to balance an appreciation for what was achieved in the area with a recognition of its underlying totalitarian logic. The posters were affixed to light poles around the central piazza, allowing participants to browse them casually without interrupting the weekend’s religious events.

I designed the event to be interactive and collaborative. Many of the posters encouraged readers to add notes of their own, and two weeks prior to the event I posted fliers asking residents if they would be willing to share photographs, personal objects, stories, or ideas. We also strung a clothes line near the center of the piazza and asked participants to reflect on what the Borgo meant to them; they wrote their responses on notecards that were then affixed to the line. About half of the cards were contributed by children, allowing them to engage the material in a creative and meaningful manner. The following are translation from among the dozens of responses posted:

  • “The borgo means love and happiness”
  • “Borgo means getting to know new friends”
  • “Borgo Bonsignore is the place where I spent my happy and lighthearted adolescence. It preserves my soul!”
  • “Borgo means history, life, and knowledge”
  • “Borgo means a return to roots, to families, to UNITY”
  • “The borgo means…past and future”
  • “The borgo means…a point of reference with history and the past”
  • “For me it means a desire to eat gelatos and pizzas”
  • “Borgo means peace, serenity, love and serenity. I love you Borgo”

The event began on Saturday, August 24th and continued until the following Monday. The piazza was full during the evenings because of the Saints’ Day celebrations, allowing me to easily mingle with people viewing the exhibits. We discussed the research I had carried out, and asked each other questions about the materials presented. Most of the participants were seasonal residents, but a handful of the people with whom I spoke were passing tourists with no prior knowledge of the borgo’s unusual history.

I had hoped to display the event’s posters and other materials in a permanent exhibit housed in one of several spaces that were empty or underused when I originally conducted my fieldwork. Two obstacles conspired against this plan. First, all of the available spaces had become occupied in the intervening years; second, a sudden rainstorm on the evening of August 27th destroyed all the posters. However, the event generated a great deal of enthusiasm, and plans are already underway to stage another version next year. Since leaving Sicily I have been receiving a steady stream of old photographs and stories, and look forward to incorporating them into next summer’s event.

And what does the borgo mean to me? I will always find Borgo Bonsignore somehwhat unsettling, but it nonetheless serves as an example of how a difficult heritage can be re-qualified and used productively in the present.

 

NYAS Anthropology Lecture Series: 2013-14 Schedule

The Anthropology Section of the New York Academy of Sciences is the crossroads for four-field anthropology in the greater New York area. As in previous years, the Wenner-Gren Foundation offices will serve as the location for the section’s monthly lecture series. Below is a schedule of the talks that will occur over the coming academic year, subject to adjustment:

September 23: Marshall Sahlins (University of Chicago)“The Alterity of Value and Vice Versa” 5:00-6:30 PM @ CUNY Graduate Center

October 10: Kuru sorcery event with Shirley Lindenbaum (CUNY Graduate Center)

October 21: Barbara Rose Johnston (Center for Political Ecology, Santa Cruz, CA) with Melissa Checker (Queens College) as discussant

November 11: Herman Pontzer (Hunter College) with Susan Antón (New York University) as discussant

December 9: Shannon Dawdy (University of Chicago) with Zoe Crossland (Columbia University) as discussant

February 10: Becky Schulthies (Rutgers), with Sonia Neela Das (New York University) as discussant

March 24: The Brain Panel:  Rayna Rapp (New York University), Nicolas Langlitz (New School for Social Research), Daniel Lende (University of South Florida)

April 21: Audra Simpson (Columbia University)

Check back on our blog closer to the date of each talk to learn more about the speaker and get further information on the event arrangements!