The 2016 ASA conference will focus on contemporary knowledge making in anthropology with one eye on the footprints that we have left [narratives, traditions, scholarship, disciplinary identities, methodologies and the nature of evidence], and the other on the futures glimpsed in the richness and diversity of our anthropological practice. The conference is seeking to provide a lens for the re-examination of the conditions under which anthropological knowledge is shaping and is shaped by critical times.
Crucially, the purpose of Footprints and Futures is not inward facing reflection. In the societies in which we live and work as anthropologists there are profound concerns about sustainability, security of livelidhood, diversity, equality and access to hope for the future. The questions posed about the ways in which we produce anthropological knowledge are being brought into sharp focus at a time when inequality, conflict and the mal-distribution of resources leave a deepening footprint on large swathes of humanity.
The aim of the conference is to bring together an international and interdisciplinary community of scholars from all stages of the researcher life-cycle who will debate the discipline’s critical relevance and a reflect upon the different temporalities within which our knowledge making unfolds.
The recent years have seen EASA engaged in inspiring and fruitful discussions on margins, subjectivity and intimacy. It is time to pause and put the fundamental concerns of anthropology once again at the centre of attention. The idea of legacies implies taking stocks, and taking stock is a way to prepare for the future. Anthropology has lived a time of change, innovation, and interdisciplinary dialogue, but has also struggled to define and establish its own research priorities against the tendency of other intellectual traditions to co-opt its contributions. Political agendas external to the discipline have often bent the broader significance of our findings, and other fields of knowledge have partly appropriated, partly trivialized as anecdotal information, the strengths of the anthropological approach to the study of humans: the ethnographic method. Six sub-themes (power, economy, work, kinship, religion, knowledge and forms of expressions) stimulate the engaging task of anchoring future paths of investigation and collaboration in the legacies of anthropology.
The conference brings together scholars and students from all the countries of Europe and beyond thus creating new formal and informal relationships and collaborations. The anthropologists of the University of Milano-Bicocca run a masters and doctoral program in socio-cultural anthropology, which are a reference point for the development of the discipline through the constant implementation of research and teaching. The 14th EASA conference enhances the national and international visibility of the Italian team, and encourages scholars, especially young ones and students, to broaden the scope of their collaborative networks.
We welcome a guest post from Wenner-Gren grantees Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames.
Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames are currently conducting Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene occupations at Grassridge rockshelter. The site is located at the base of the Stormberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and is approximately 200 km inland from the Indian Ocean. These excavations are part of the Grassridge Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Project (GAPP), which explores the dynamic between hunter-gather behavioral diversity, social network formation, and regional-scale climatic variability during the Late Pleistocene.
The Late Pleistocene in southern Africa was subject to periods of severe aridity and rapid climatic change. Some researchers have used this evidence to suggest the interior regions of southern Africa were sparsely populated at these times, with hunter-gatherer groups forming very small, localized social networks. However, the paucity of well-described archaeological sites from the interior during this time frame has made it difficult to explicitly test this hypothesis.
Grassridge’s ~90 – 100 cm thick Late Pleistocene archive is capped by a radiocarbon date of ~35,000 years ago, placing the sequence during an enigmatic period of technological and behavioral diversity in southern Africa. The bottom of the sequence is currently of unknown age. GAPP’s Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations at Grassridge will provide crucial information from the understudied interior region of southern Africa, and make an important contribution towards understanding a period relative uncertainty in the southern African record.
This field season focuses on growing our sample of Late Pleistocene artifacts, and refining the chronology of Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene sequence. Preliminary results demonstrate a rich sample of stone tools, including blades (large and small) and points, faunal remains, several hearths and burning features, and large pieces of ochre. These data provide detailed information about hunter-gatherers lifeways in this area 35,000 years ago, and allow us to compare their strategies with those from across southern Africa.
Our excavations have also recovered substantial charcoal fragments, which are large enough to identify the types of plants being used for fuel, and critical for refining Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene occupational chronology. Moreover, we have identified a thin flowstone at the contact between Grassridge’s Pleistocene and Holocene occupations, which is to be dated by Uranium-Thorium dating specialist, Dr. Robyn Pickering (University of Cape Town). Dr. Pickering’s meticulous analysis will not only provide an important chronological marker, it will also produce detailed information of the paleoenvironmental conditions before, during, and after the formation of the flowstone, and help us better understand the gap in Grassridge’s occupational sequence between the Pleistocene and Holocene.
As our field season comes to a close, we are looking forward to getting back to the lab and analyzing the artifacts and faunal remains recovered from the Late Pleistocene occupation layers, as well as the geological and geochronological samples. These analyses will provide a comprehensive understanding of what life was like for the Grassridge’s hunter-gatherer residents, and more broadly contribute to understanding the relationships between behavioral diversity, social networks, and climatic variability at a regional scale.
NEW YORK—With a commitment toward sustained leadership in defining the practice of anthropology, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research has named respected anthropologist Danilyn Rutherford as its next president.
Rutherford is the chair of the Department of Anthropology and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz whose research and fieldwork has focused on questions of culture and power. She is well known for her work in the West Papua province of Indonesia and for promoting research at the intersections of the range of disciplines that make up the field of anthropology.
Wenner-Gren’s Board of Trustees approved Rutherford’s appointment at its spring meeting last month.
“Danilyn Rutherford has a vision of the broad field of anthropology, an exceptional record of accomplishment, and the creativity and drive to lead Wenner-Gren,” said Lorraine Sciarra, chair of the board and the head of the presidential search committee.
“Professor Rutherford’s incredible intellect and capacity for connecting people and ideas made her an exceptional choice for leading Wenner-Gren as the foundation continues to expand its role as a steward of anthropology across the subdisciplines,” Sciarra added. “Her innovative spirit will help the foundation make a powerful case for the ongoing importance and relevance of anthropology. The foundation is extraordinarily fortunate to have Professor Rutherford as its next president.”
As Wenner-Gren marks its 75th anniversary, Rutherford will create a new strategic plan for the foundation while continuing its functions associated with being one of the major funding sources for international anthropological research. These include directing programs for the foundation’s research grants and fellowships as well as conferences and symposia that are incubators of the newest ideas in anthropology.
Rutherford will work closely with the Board of Trustees, an Advisory Council of leading scholars in anthropology the foundation’s staff and external stakeholders.
“These are exciting times for anthropology, and I’m thrilled to have a chance to take part in shaping the discipline’s future,” Rutherford said. “There’s so much good work being done. Wenner-Gren is in a perfect position to create a space for conversation among anthropologists trained in different epistemological traditions. The best research in all the subfields combines rigor and curiosity. I’m looking forward to exploring ways we can find common ground by building on these key features of our scholarship.”
A commitment to core values and innovation
Rutherford said she has long respected Wenner-Gren’s commitment to funding a wide array of research across the four subfields of anthropology. “I’ve always admired Wenner-Gren’s commitment to supporting an intellectual ecology where different varieties of knowledge production can flourish. The discipline has always had blurry boundaries. We draw inspiration from fields ranging from biology to history to the arts.”
With an endowment valued at $165 million, the foundation provides more than $5 million in grants each year to support the field of anthropology around the world. This includes supporting anthropological research, academic training and education, collaboration between scholars, development of doctoral programs in countries where the field is underrepresented, innovative projects to raise awareness of anthropology, and conferences, workshops and symposia that bring scholars together to advance knowledge and address some of anthropology’s most pressing issues.
Rutherford said she is eager “to build on Wenner-Gren’s efforts to further deepen the impact of the foundation and demonstrate the significance of anthropology to a broad public audience beyond the field.” Since 1959, the foundation has published Current Anthropology, ranked as one of the top journals in the field in terms of impact, citations of its content and influence.
Recent innovations include providing open access to select Current Anthropology articles online and the launch in January of the SAPIENS news and commentary website, which is aimed at transforming how the public understands anthropology.
“I am impressed by Wenner-Gren’s efforts to cultivate new modes of scholarly engagement,” Rutherford said. “It’s a question of access. I believe that anthropologists have an ethical duty to speak in clear, compelling ways not only to their students and the broader public, but also to fellow academics in the U.S. and abroad. I’m honored to serve as the next leader of the foundation.”
Rutherford will succeed Leslie C. Aiello, who will retire after serving as the foundation’s president since April 2005. Aiello will become president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 2017.
Under Aiello’s leadership, Wenner-Gren solidified its preeminent position in anthropology, expanded its commitment to research needs not met by other funding sources, and strengthened its strategic focus on programs to invigorate the field domestically and internationally.
About Danilyn Rutherford, Ph.D.
Rutherford received her Ph.D. in anthropology with a minor in Southeast Asian studies from Cornell University in 1997 after receiving her master’s from Cornell in 1991. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Science in history and biology, with distinction, from Stanford University in 1983.
Rutherford arrived at UC Santa Cruz as an associate professor in 2009 before becoming professor and chair of anthropology in 2011. She previously was an associate professor in anthropology at the University of Chicago, a principal researcher in the West Papua Study group sponsored by the East-West Center Washington and the Carnegie Corp. of New York, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.
Rutherford has published extensively on a broad range of topics that include nationalism, Christianity, kinship, money, language ideology, affect, disability, and technology. She published Raiding the Land of Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier in 2003 and Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua in 2012. She has contributed to numerous books and authored dozens of journal articles, critical reviews and other publications.
Rutherford will serve as president-elect of Wenner-Gren until assuming the position of president in July 2017.
Amelia Hubbard is Assistant Professor in the department of Sociology & Anthropology at Wright State University. In 2009, while a doctoral student at Ohio State University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘A Re-examination of Biodistance Analysis Using Dental and Genetic Data,’ supervised by Dr. Debra J. Guatelli-Steinberg. She was subsequently awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Engaging Prehistory Through Genetic and Dental Variation Among Kenya’s Coastal Communities.’
5 schools, 4 communities, 1 month
Around a week was spent in each of four communities within Kenya’s coastal province: Mombasa, Lamu, Dawida, and Kasigau. The intended goals of the trip were to: 1) reconnect with participant communities from my 2010 dissertation project, 2) connect with the (potential) next generation of Kenyan anthropologists, and 3) share results with academic communities.
In total, 700 individuals were formally contacted during school visits and open houses. Approximately 100 additional individuals were contacted during informal conversations with community members interested in the project.
Goal 1: Connecting with the community
Often, participants are not afforded the opportunity to learn much about the final results of a study, particularly when publications are printed in journals and languages that are inaccessible to local communities.
Non-technical posters (in Swahili and English) were displayed in six easily accessed locations. Paper copies of the text were also handed out to any interested parties so that individuals who could not attend presentations (due to age, illness, cultural restrictions, or busy home lives) still had access to the results.
In the Taita Hils (Kasigau and Dawida), display locations included dispensaries and libraries.
On the coast (Mombasa and Lamu), posters were displayed in cultural centers and open access museums.
In each location, I also arranged a series of barazas (open meetings) where community members could ask questions about the research results. To facilitate higher attendance, local elders coordinating community projects helped identify times when these projects would be taking place and arranged time to talk with community participants. In some villages, elders and project leaders also imparted the importance of understanding Taita (pre)history and supporting future projects in the area.
In a few areas, barazas were not possible and the results were disseminated via more informal conversations among community members and by distributing handouts. Individual home visits were not conducted, to protect the identities of past participants and to avoid giving the appearance that I had “favorites.”
Goal 2: Inspiring the next generation
Initially, this component of the project was touch and go. Upon landing in Kenya, I was informed that all high school teachers were on strike and schools had been closed indefinitely. Fortunately, some public boarding schools still had students. Additionally, with the national exams quickly approaching, many of the Form 4 students (HS Seniors) were studying on their own rather than returning home where family and work obligations would hinder their ability to prepare.
In total, I was able to visit five schools: Moi Secondary (Kasigau), Lamu Girls School (Lamu), Dr. Aggrey Boys School (Dawida), Mwangeka Girls School (Dawida), and Kenyatta Secondary (Taita). The reception was warm and students were very inquisitive. Questions ranged from, “what are the major benefits of studying anthropology in college?” to “what were the challenges of conducting research?”
Through additional funding from Wright State University, I was also able to create informational posters (with help from my research students) about the subfields of and careers in anthropology to give to schools and educational institutions.
As part of the funding, two of my undergraduate research students (who have been working on the study collection from the 2010 project) traveled to Kenya to assist with the trip. They proved vital in documenting the project and facilitated additional engagement with communities by allowing local students to interact with “real” American students. Through this experience they also gained their own rewards: both are now certain that public health, medical anthropology, and international development are areas they will pursue in graduate school.
Though I anticipated my students’ popularity among local high schoolers, I could not have guessed at the impact of their speeches, especially among female students.
Chris, a mother of two and full time student, told students about her choice to return to school after having a family, despite the financial and emotional struggles of balancing both responsibilities. Though most female students found it unusual for a woman to return to school after having had children, they also vocalized how her story was inspiring and gave hope that they could be both mothers and scientists someday.
Kaitlin, a 20-year old considering medical school, impressed students (many of whom themselves are the same age) with her commitment and focus to both anthropology and medicine. She articulated why her training in anthropology would make her a good doctor and explained why studying language, culture, and history are relevant to students interested in science.
The added bonus of their interactions with students furthered my intended goal of inspiring the next generation of Kenyan anthropologists and was an important contribution to the overall EA project.
Goal 3: Academic presentations
As anyone who does research abroad can attest, there are many challenges in coordinating a research program from the other side of the world. In the US we’d say “the best laid plans…” and in Kenya we’d say “haraka, haraka haina baraka” (hurry, hurry has no blessings) or “hamna shida, tutashinda kesho” (no worries, there’s always tomorrow).
In preparation for my EA project, I diligently contacted colleagues to arrange workshops and talks at various institutions around Kenya. Unfortunately, due to illness, scheduling conflicts, and other roadblocks I was ultimately not able to fully complete this component of the project.
I was still able to meet a few anthropology undergraduates from Pwani University and University of Nairobi to talk about research on the coast. One student I spoke with is currently a Kiswahili and History instructor at Kenyatta Secondary School in the Taita Hills and initiated a meeting with students to talk about my research and careers in anthropology.
Final thoughts and lessons learned
Despite a few setbacks, my EA project was a success and I see that the impacts are varied and ongoing.
First, there is the impact on the community. Many people articulated how pleased they were to see a researcher return with study results. A common phrase was, “Everyone says they’ll come back, but they don’t.” Through e-mail, Facebook, and calls to my research assistants it appears that people are still talking about the project (i.e., spreading the word) and visiting the posters.
Second, there is the impact on youth. It has only been a week and a half since we left but I have followed up with teachers via e-mail and post to reiterate my commitment to providing informational resources about studying anthropology at the collegiate level. Informal discussions with principals and administrators about internships and job shadowing also have the potential to create networks between future research projects and students interested in anthropology.
Third, this opportunity to reconnect with participants, friends, and colleagues has strengthened relationships between myself and these communities, allowing for greater success in future research endeavors.
Thank you Wenner-Gren for this wonderful opportunity. And thank you to the people of coastal Kenya for your continued hospitality.