Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sandra Brunnegger


Image courtesy Sandra Brunnegger

Dr. Sandra Brunnegger is a Fellow in Law and Anthropology at St. Edmund’s College – University of Cambridge. In 2009 she received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant, to aid research on “Culture and Human Rights in Colombia: Negotiating Indigenous Law”. In 2015 Dr. Brunnegger received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Engaging with Indigenous Legal Systems in Colombia”.

I organized a one-day workshop on indigenous legal systems in Ibagué in Colombia with the support of the indigenous organization CRIT (Consejo Regional Indígena del Tolima or Regional Indigenous Council of Tolima). Leaders from the ACIN (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca or Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca) and CRIT, community members, asesores (advisers), lawyers and NGO workers attended. These workshop participants represent some of the personal contacts I have forged during my long-term multi-sited fieldwork on the tribunal established by CRIT in Tolima and the Escuela de Derecho Propio Cristóbal Secué (Cristóbal Secué School of Own Laws) initiated by ACIN in Cauca. These two institutions, the tribunal and the law school, are two examples of the many social, political and legal transformations that the constitutional recognition of indigenous legal systems in 1991 has brought about in Colombia. The law school is currently not operating. In a concurrent effort, a law program at the Universidad Autónoma Indígena Intercultural (UAIIN, Autonomous Intercultural Indigenous University) in Popayán, Cauca, has been drawn up and it is headed by a former graduate of ACIN’s law school.

Image courtesy Sandra Brunnegger

The day before the workshop officially started I was sitting with some leaders whom I have worked together with over a decade. We sat over dinner and talked over recent political events, local occurrences and difficulties. Our rich conversations and engagements were so lively that we talked well past midnight. On the next day, the workshop itself hosted and facilitated a lively discussion amongst attendees on the cumulative findings of my research on indigenous legal systems in Tolima and Cauca. This morning session prompted further reflection and instigated discussion on indigenous legal systems in Colombia in the broader sense while also explicitly looking forward to the future of the indigenous tribunal in Tolima.

Image courtesy Sandra Brunnegger

The afternoon was designed around group work. At formal and informal levels, the event was also geared towards facilitating a dialogue and the exchange of knowledge between the two different indigenous organizations CRIT and ACIN and their respective leaders. This exchange of knowledge was also relevant because CRIT leaders have been thinking of setting up its own law school. The group work has proven pivotal in this respect since it involved participants critically listening to each others’ presentations on their own legal practices and their characterization of the challenges they faced, their past activities, future plans and their political visions. Putting these organizations, CRIT and ACIN, into further dialogue represents one strand of my attempt to foster forms of collaboration and communication between these particular organizations’ leaders. In the past I have also connected my two fieldsites in other ways as imparted by some leaders as I moved back and forth in my research between the two localities. With the workshop, I closed one chapter, with my presenting my results, and consolidating the fieldwork contacts, while potentially opening another chapter.



Engaged Anthropology Grant: Caroline Schuster


Former microfinance borrowers continue to share many social connections

Caroline Schuster is a Lecturer at the School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University. In 2009 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Making Good Money: Microcredit, Commercial Financing, and Social Regulation in Paraguay’s Tri-Border Area,” supervised by Dr. John Comaroff. In 2014 Dr. Schuster received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Economies of Gender in Paraguay”.

This engagement project is based on my research about women’s microfinance loans in Latin America. As a feminist scholar interested in issues of gender justice, I set the goal of engaging with the microfinance industry by way of outreach and awareness on women’s perspectives and voices in Paraguay. In my research I found that the small-scale loans offered by Fundación Paraguaya, the country’s largest microfinance provider and institutional site of my long-term fieldwork from 2009-2010, had a complex effect for the women who borrowed.

Domestic life and shared indebtedness – cooking and caring for friends, anthropologists, and co-borrowers

As I argue in my book, Social Collateral: Women and Microfinance in Paraguay’s Smuggling Economy, even the seemingly technical financial aspects like credit scores, loan contracts, payment schedules, and debt collection, worked together to create gendered interdependency through “social collateral.” In other words, while normal bank loans usually require some sort of physical asset to underwrite the debt as collateral, microfinance is unique in supposing that women’s mutual support and group pressure will guarantee repayment. I argue that even the humdrum technical aspects of loan underwriting have powerful – and gendered – causes and consequences. At the same time, those financial processes were invisible when women were taken to be naturally hyper-obligated – bound by kinship and caring roles. The powerful appeal of the iconic “woman entrepreneur” justified these specialized development loans while gendered financial labor simultaneously went unnoticed. I hoped to showcase feminist research on the economy to open a conversation.

Credit services, including informal money lending as well as institutionalized microcredit, continue to be ubiquitous in Paraguay

Even though I had been in contact with a robust network of feminist scholars in Paraguay and Argentina, I found an unexpected hurdle. For this group of professional women, their unstable work – often in short term, flexible, and project-based contracts – made the seemingly straightforward task of organizing a symposium extraordinarily complicated. Two researchers had moved abroad with their families. One was on short-term assignment as the ‘gender specialist’ attached to a larger development project. Two more were uncontactable because their professional affiliations had lapsed.

My failed symposium exposed precisely the double-bind that went to the heart of my research. As I argue in my book, Paraguayan labor economists conclude that women work predominantly in low-paying positions in small and microenterprises because of their “flexibility” (flexibilidad). According to this line of reasoning, flexibility allows women to fulfill family obligations as well as work for income but also means that they must settle for jobs with a high degree of precariousness and limited social security and pension access. But the recourse to “flexibility” in labor theories, as feminist economists like Drucilla Barker have pointedly argued, is bundled up with a broader value judgment about women’s work, and the apparent inevitability of women’s social and kinship obligations.

In the end, the very labor dynamics that inspired my engagement project ultimately frustrated my efforts to organize a symposium thematising women’s work. Simply put, it was shaped by the gendered and gendering expectations about women’s economic lives that I am dedicated to challenging in my broader scholarship.

Ciudad del Este, Paraguay

At an impasse, I changed course and built my Wenner-Gren engagement project around the single institutional framework that had remained constant throughout the past 10 years of my ethnographic research: the microfinance non-government organization (NGO) Fundación Paraguaya. The momentum created by 18 branch offices, nearly three hundred employees, long-term capital investments, and a sustainable financial model, put the organization on firm footing since it was founded in 1985. And while many on-the-ground staff changed quite quickly, a dedicated group of core senior managers were key contacts as my research unfolded from 2006-2016. Again, this came as no surprise as I had come to see these financial practices as regulatory forms.

My ongoing collaboration and engagement with Martín Burt, the charismatic CEO and founder of the organization, put me squarely in the uncomfortable ambit of development consulting. The now-classic distinction made by Arturo Escobar between development anthropologists and anthropologists of development, where the former was considered to be complicit with neo-colonial aid interventions and the later were considered theoretically principled scholars, was in reality unsettled conceptual terrain. How to bring my anthropological study of Committees of Women Entrepreneurs who borrowed money from a Paraguayan NGO back to the organization in a way that was meaningful and also critically engaged?

Tellingly, the result of my engagement project was actually yet another reversal. Instead of unilaterally sharing my research results, in our conversations Martín and Fundación Paraguaya instead updated me on how my earlier anthropological engagement with the NGO had reshaped some of their strategic priorities and programs in the years since I had wrapped up my long term fieldwork. I spent three weeks in Asunción learning about how my early participation as an outside consultant and researcher had reframed Fundación Paraguaya’s focus on a holistic approach to poverty alleviation. While I was certainly alarmed by the way my research on social collateral had been captured and converted into new financial products, metrics, and values, I was forced to reckon with a wider meaning of engagement beyond simply sharing what I had written with professional colleagues who shared many of my social science assumptions. The indeterminate zone between development anthropologist/anthropologist of development left no straightforward answer to how my collaborators should read what I write or vice versa.

[“Fundación Paraguaya’s Poverty Stoplight – an early collaboration]

In her edited collection on When They Read What We Write: The Politics of Ethnography, Caroline B. Brettell argued that, “Ethnographic authority survived under the cloak of distance and difference because the ‘natives’ never knew what had been written about them” (Brettell 1993: 10). My initial effort to bring my writing back to the field of development in Paraguay was a failure, and for reasons that had been anticipated in my own research. Meanwhile, my interlocutors at Fundación Paraguaya had been in conversation with my research all the while without my having known.

Working towards a different concept of ‘being there’ in fieldwork, George Marcus wrote that, “We don’t need more conferences or seminars but a different style and process of training anthropologists, also a rethinking of the standard forms and functions of writing in anthropology.” Being challenged by these reversals gave me new ways of thinking about what engagement means. Writing with my counterparts and collaborators in the field forced me to confront the fact that my training in ethics and field work methodology left me unprepared to actually deal meaningfully with engagement, and not just with my feminist allies, but also with industry partners in the field of development and finance. The net effect was to compel me to reckon with my own social collateral in the fieldwork context. In fact, could social collateral – and the webs of obligation that we invest in others – offer a vocabulary to talk and think about anthropological engagement writ large?

NYAS @ WGF 1/30: Re-Framing the Impacts of Cold War CIA Fronts [REGRISTRATION REQUIRED]

Join us Monday evening January 30th at 5:45 PM at The Wenner-Gren Foundation for this year’s first installment of the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Lecture Series. David Price, Professor of anthropology and sociology at St. Martin’s University, in Lacey, Washington will be presenting, “Re-Framing the Impacts of Cold War CIA Fronts”. Dr. R. Brian Ferguson from Rutgers University will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM and, while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building, and limited to the first 50 guests.

Drawing on two decades of archival and extensive Freedom of Information Act requests, David Price analyzes specific impacts on social science research projects from the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of funding fronts to influence social science research during the 1950s and 60s. While most of the known two dozen CIA funding fronts were identified between 1965 and 1975 by investigative journalists and congressional investigations, relatively little scholarly work since then has focused on tracing the specific ways that these CIA fronts shaped the production and consumption of social science knowledge. The passage of time now allows access to CIA records as well as archival collections showing which projects were selected or rejected for funding, and establishing how these fronts connected witting and unwitting scholars with larger projects of interest to the CIA and defense establishment during the Cold War. These materials shed light on how the production of specific scientific knowledge was linked to the political economic systems in which it was embedded


Buffet Dinner at 5:45 pm ($20 contribution for dinner guests / free for students).
Lecture begins at 6:30 pm and are free and open to the public.

Pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kathleen Rice

Screen capture from The Storytelling Film.

While a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, Kathleen Rice received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “Purity, Propriety and Power: Negotiating Lobola and Virginity Testing as Sites of Gendered and Generational Power among Xhosa South Africans,” supervised by Dr. Janice Boddy. In 2015 Dr. Rice received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “In My Youth We Cared About Each Other: An Oral History Film of Xhosa Elders”.

My Engagement Project took the form of a subtitled film composed of a series of oral history interviews with elders from the rural Xhosa community where I carried out fieldwork for my doctoral project. Shortly prior to my doctoral fieldwork, local leaders decided to collect video-recorded oral history interviews with village elders. The impetus for collecting these stories stemmed from an awareness that local elders had lived under Apartheid and through the years of transition, and have watched their children and grand-children grow up in the new South Africa. As elders continued to pass away, community leaders became increasingly concerned that these valuable memory were being lost. Accordingly, video-recorded oral histories were envisioned as a way of preserving the experiences and wisdom of these elders. And according to community leaders, this wisdom is vital for guiding the younger generation, who are widely perceived by their elders as being wayward and in need of guidance.

A few months before I began my doctoral research, community leaders appointed a young local man named Thembela (a pseudonym) with the responsibility of collecting these interviews. With the assistance of a local NGO, the community had secured funding to purchase a video camera, and to bring a documentary filmmaker from Johannesburg to train the young local filmmaker. However, several months into my fieldwork I learned that the project was not moving forward.  Speaking with Thembela, I learned that he felt ill-equipped to pose questions of elders in a manner that would elicit the desired form of open-ended reflection. To overcome this obstacle, the NGO director (a non-Xhosa South African who resides in long-term in the area) spoke with community leaders and then approached me to ask if I would be willing to assist Thembela with the project. From the NGO director’s perspective, my skills as an anthropologist might be useful in successfully carrying out the interviews. Furthermore, my dissertation research broadly focused on the gendered and generational politics of social reproduction, and in particular on how local people navigate domestic and intimate relations in a time of economic precarity and rapid social change.  Therefore, from the perspective of community leaders my expressed interest in elders’ lives reflected the spirit of the envisioned project. I was pleased to be invited to help, and agreed to assist Tembela in collecting the interviews.

Over the following months Thembela and I worked together to collect ten oral history interviews with elders. The interviews range between twenty and ninety minutes in length, and are all in isiXhosa (the local language). The content of these interviews covers descriptions of daily life in youth and young adulthood, experiences and reflections on the years of transition from Apartheid to non-racial democracy, differences and similarities between their life experiences and those of their contemporary young people, as well as wisdom that that interviewees felt motivated to impart to youth. Most interviews feature rich personal anecdotes.

The project remained unfinished when I left the community in 2012, but at that time Thembela was diligently working on editing the interviews. However, Thembela ended up leaving the community for personal reasons, leaving the project unfinished. Accordingly, my Engagement Project entailed completing the film –now referred to in the village as the Storytelling Project, – and also using the film as a reference point for sharing my dissertation research with the local community.  To that end, with Wenner-Gren support I edited the videos to create a short film with English subtitles. For this, I required the assistance of a translator, as elders speak a version of isiXhosa (the Xhosa language) that is rich in metaphor, and is consequently difficult for me to interpret without assistance. Through the South African Translators Institute I was able to connect with two excellent translators: Mr. Jeff Nyoka, and Nombeko at Bohle Language and Translation services. With their assistance, I was able to complete the film.

With the film complete, I returned to the village in March 2016. As the full version of the film is over four hours long, I hosted a showing of segments of the film was in the local library. The showing was open to all interested members of the community, and everyone was informed that the full film would be left in the library. Following the showing, I used content for the film as a reference point for a discussion the findings and implications of my doctoral research.

A copy of the film, as well English and isiXhosa transcripts of the interviews, are accessible in the community library. I intend for them to remain there, and will be available to future researchers, the local community, and members of the South African public.  At the time that I am writing this, four of the ten interviewees already passed away, one within the past few weeks. Independent of my own research interests, I hope that these interviews will be of value to the friends and family that these elders have left behind.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Layoung Shin

Image courtesy DDingDong

While a doctoral student at Binghamton University Layoung Shin received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on ”Performing Like a Star: Pop Culture and Sexuality among Young Women in Neoliberal South Korea,” supervised by Dr. Deborah Elliston. In 2016 Dr. Shin received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Beyond the Rhetoric of Child Protection: Challenging Age Regulations as a Strategy for Queer Youth Movement”.

LGBT Youth Shelter Ddingdong

Ddingdong is the shelter for young queers, which just opened in Winter 2014, supported by nongovernmental organizations. Since this institution is the one that is most closely related with my concern on working class queer youth, I visited Ddingdong in July and met activists, Ryu Eun-chan and two others (Eun-chan was one of my informants during my 2012-3 field research.) From the visiting and the conversations with them, I could learn about the development of the institution that had occurred during the last three years after my visit of South Korea in 2013.

Image courtesy DDingdong

With regards to sharing my research result, we shared the idea that challenging age boundaries for the rights of teenagers to be independent (at least such as opening cell phone, bank account) necessary and required, but it might not be easily achieved sometime soon. Instead, the Ddingdong has been providing alternative resources for helping them, providing counseling, medical care, and temporary places to stay.

My suggestion on queer youth movement also was to build alliances between queer youth and working class (marginalized) youths, so that they can work together for basic concerns on economy, job, and shelter/home, that is fundamental for basic survival of marginalized youth, beyond gender/sexual identity. They have been already constructing connections with one another. I thought, therefore, it is more appropriate for me to support their activities that have already been going on. Therefore, I provide $200 to the Ddingdong, for continuation of their collaboration with other youth organizations for marginalized youth, and find ways to tackle age restrictions at least some areas.

Il-cha and Fan-cos activities

For the second part of my project, I met two groups of il-cha participants who helped me the most during my fieldwork research; Inae and Inyang from the Aplus, and Changong and Heesu from the Exciter. I originally planned to support having a united event of il-cha teams, but I found that their activities have stopped since Spring 2015. As I indicated in my proposal, il-cha activities were in recession due to not only economic difficulties to open their own events, but also due to the increased stereotypes and prejudices on them even among LGBTs in Korea.

Image courtesy Layoung Shin

While il-cha disappeared from the scene, fan-cos continued. There  have been a similar number of participants and events since my fieldwork in 2012-3. But again, the issue for this fan-cos is that it is hard to make it public due to discrimination, stereotypes on their gender nonconformity and non-heterosexuality. They have been promoting and sharing their events only through SNS, like Twitter, which makes it hard for newcomers to find their existence. For instance, even I, who have been following almost all fan-cos events and individuals’ twitter accounts, did not know about some of the events they were preparing during my stay in South Korea. I could know about one of their events, only through Yoohee, my interviewee. Likewise, without personal contacts, exclusive involvement within the community, fan-cos cannot but isolate themselves from potential fan-cos participants, which is the reason the size of fan-cos has been reduced.

Image courtesy Layoung Shin

That was the reason that I proposed opening up a website. Yoohee, one of the oldest fan-cos event organizers, also agreed on that opening the website for fan-cos would be the best way for promoting fan-cos in the long term. It could be the hub of the events, accumulating information, and resources together. Luckily, Yoohee and two other members of her team are professional website developers, and they agreed to take care of the website. As one of the most popular and oldest fan-cos team and participants, they will take responsibility maintaining the website as well as fan-cos subculture in general. So I decided to hire them for the united fan-cos website development and maintenance for at least one year, as the boost of fan-cos event development.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Nidhi Mahajan

Lecture at Fort Jesus Museum

While a doctoral student at Cornell University, Nidhi Mahajan received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Merchants of Mombasa and the Making of a Shadow Economy,” supervised by Dr. Viranjini Munasinghe. In 2016 Dr. Mahajan received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Illegality and Maritime Trade in Coastal Kenya: A Public Dialogue on Economic Transformation”.

Fort Jesus is an imposing structure that lies atop a coral ridge with a sweeping view of Mombasa’s harbor – an ideal point from which to watch ships pass in and out of the Swahili port city. This was indeed, one of the purposes of the fort, designed to look like a person laying down, their head to the sea. Built by the Portuguese sometime between 1593 and 1596, to secure their position in this part of East Africa and their ambitions across the Indian Ocean, the building is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Upon visiting the fort, now a museum, one cannot help but be struck by a mural presumably done by unknown Portuguese mariners from the sixteenth century – hand-drawn images of ships, mythical sea creatures, sailors, and the sea – carefully preserved within the museum’s walls, natural light in the display room playing tricks on one’s imagination, the past casting shadows upon the present. The fort marked the violent entry of the Portuguese into the Indian Ocean. Where once no state claimed authority over the sea, the Portuguese in the fifteenth century (followed by the Dutch and British) wed cannons with trade, and altered the shape of history. Trade that was once carried on freely across the Indian Ocean, came to be regulated by colonial states who ruled with the force of the gun.

My dissertation project examined the contemporary resonances of this long history of tension between Indian Ocean trade networks and the state in East Africa, focusing on the creation of a shadow economy in the Indian Ocean. Examining the entanglements between the sailing vessel or dhow trade and multiple regulatory regimes in the western Indian Ocean, I argue that these trade networks have been pushed into a blurry realm between legal and illegal trade by states as they pose a threat to state sovereignty. When I returned to Kenya in 2016, it was fitting that the Fort Jesus Museum became a space for engagement. While the museum is usually where objects such as ivory, jewelry, and intricately carved furniture from the Swahili coast are carefully displayed in glass cases, the photo exhibition I curated for the museum emphasized a humble object – the mangrove pole.

Mangroves poles from the swamps of the Lamu archipelago in northern Kenya were once harvested and exported out to the Middle East, where they were used for structural timber in homes. Sailors from Oman, Iran, and India would arrive in Lamu with goods like carpets, food stuffs, dates, furniture, and porcelain and carry back cargoes of mangrove poles, animal hides, ivory and even enslaved peoples from these shores. While scholars have written much about these luxury goods, mangrove poles, a key export from the Swahili coast have rarely been examined by scholars. This mangrove pole trade however, structured economic life in Lamu, employing a large number of its residents as cutters, porters, merchants, and transporters. While the mangrove pole export trade came to an end in the 1980s, as the government of Kenya banned the trade citing concerns about environmental conservation, many of those involved in the trade viewed its illegalization as wrapped up in other political economic concerns. Some say that the trade was banned to prevent ivory smuggling, while others believe it was a way for the state government to purposefully impoverish this community that lies at the margins of the Kenyan state. Regardless, the mangrove pole trade is well-remembered in Lamu, even if it remains undocumented.

As part of my engagement project, I curated a photo exhibition for the Fort Jesus Museum titled “From Swamp to Sea: The Mangrove Pole trade on the Swahili Coast.” Using photos in the archives of the Museum as well as private collections, the exhibit pointed to the complexities of the trade and its regulation. It opened on 19th July 2016, in Mombasa and will travel to other museums in Lamu and Malindi, on the Kenyan coast. On the day of the opening, I presented a lecture on the trade and its history in an effort to share my research with the community. Residents of Lamu and Mombasa present at the opening expressed their surprise on seeing an exhibit of a quotidian good in a museum, the curator of Fort Jesus even exclaiming, “We must think of history through these everyday objects!” as we discussed the political and economic ramifications of the trade and its ban.

For the rest of the project, I shared the results of my research with both, my interlocutors and the academic community in Kenya. I presented a public lecture “The Contemporary Dhow Trade in the Western Indian Ocean,” to residents of Mombasa at the Friends of Fort Jesus Seminar program. Against the backdrop of the fort, we discussed shifting regulatory regimes in the Indian Ocean, smuggling, and neoliberal economic transformations that threaten communities of seafarers and merchants across the Indian Ocean littoral.

These discussions then shaped a talk at the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, where I gave a seminar titled “A Sea of Suspicion: The Dhow Trade and Dispossession in the Western Indian Ocean.” Attended by academics based in Nairobi, the talk gave me the opportunity to communicate research findings to specialists of East Africa who don’t work on the Swahili coast, but are nonetheless engaged with broader debates about political economy in the country.

This engaged anthropology grant therefore enabled me to return to Kenya, to build on old connections and forge new ones as I communicated my work in different formats to the academic and non-academic community in Mombasa and Nairobi.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Roseann Liu


Dr. Roseann Liu

Roseann Liu is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College. In 2013 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to to aid research on “Educating for Justice: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and a Charter School’s Pursuit of Racial Equality,” supervised by Dr. Kathleen D. Hall. In 2015 Dr. Liu received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘”Protocol and Professional Development, Reciprocity and Representation”.

Ever since the rise of multicultural education in the U.S., there have been efforts made to include minority students’ histories and cultures. More often than not, these efforts have resulted in token lessons or special celebrations that only scratch the surface.  The school in which I conducted fieldwork was noteworthy for its thoughtful approach toward including marginalized students’ histories and cultures into its curricular programs. However, it still struggled with how to teach, for example, Asian American history and African American history in a way that was not compartmentalized. This resulted in students’ categorization of certain lessons as being “for” certain racial/ethnic groups. During Asian-American week, black students asked questions like “Where were we?” and likewise, Asian-American students wanted to know more about the role that Asian Americans played in the civil rights movement. Part of the goal of this engaged anthropology grant was to provide teachers with the tools to highlight the intersection of different minority groups in American history, and the time to be able to revise their social studies curriculum so that it was clear that these groups’ histories did not exist in a vacuum. This grant allowed teachers to engage in professional development, and dedicated time to think about a social studies unit that would specifically address the student population that was mostly comprised of black and Asian students.

Another goal of the engaged anthropology grant was to create more reciprocal relationships with practitioners at the school around ethnographic representation. A series of meetings took place with board members and administrators at the school so that we could begin a dialogue about the findings from my dissertation research, and the role of ethnographers in schools more generally. The first meeting included a presentation of the major findings from my dissertation and an opportunity for school members to respond in person that provided their own perspectives on my ethnography. The next step included chapter-by-chapter written feedback that school members provided to me. Shortly before I engaged in final revision of the dissertation, my dissertation committee met with school members to discuss issues of ethnographic representation, and more broadly explaining what anthropology and ethnography offers in terms of understanding broader social problems. We also discussed school members’ perspectives on my findings and the final dissertation was revised with their feedback in mind. In the final draft of the dissertation, I wrote a more nuanced explanation of the school’s founding history, it’s mission, and its curricular programs.

The dialogue also prompted me to provide, from my perspective, a realistic understanding of the forms of financial and human resources that can or cannot be expected, the specific research activities ethnographers are likely to engage in, and the timeline of moving from fieldwork to findings. This dialogue helped them consider the level of access they want to provide, to weigh the potential benefits against the costs of participating in external research, and to manage expectations around reciprocity. From these dialogues the board has been engaged in a process for thinking through how to entertain requests from researchers to conduct research in their school.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Melanie Martin


Tsimane mothers and children from Monte Rosa study community

Melanie Martin is a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale University. In 2012 while a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to to aid research on “Maternal Factors Influencing Variation in Infant Feeding Practices in a Natural Fertility Population,” supervised by Dr. Michael Gurven. In 2016 Dr. Martin received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Targeting Early Life Health Risks Among the Tsimane Through Mixed Educational Outreach Modes”.

I had studied infant care and feeding practices among the Tsimane from 2012-2013. The Tsimane are a hunter-forager population residing in the Bolivian Amazon, with a high burden of infectious disease. Tsimane mothers breastfeed intensively for 2 years or more, but introduce complementary foods relatively early (around 4 months on average). My research examined maternal perceptions of infant needs and other motivations influencing their feeding decisions, as well as variation in infant nutritional status associated with variation in the timing and quality of complementary feeding. Though not the primary focus of my investigation, my research documented local inequalities in prenatal care and vaccine coverage, as well as modifiable behaviors related to child nutrition and antibiotic usage that could be targeted through educational initiatives. With the  Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned to Bolivia in July of 2016 to revisit the families that had participated in my study, and present these results to the wider Tsimane community.

Martin in meeting with EBB director Carola Vaca and rangers

I first presented formal reports of my results to three organizations that provide or at times help facilitate health care for the Tsimane: the primary health clinic servicing the Tsimane (Horeb), the Gran Consejo Tsimane (the local governing body of the Tsimane), and the Estacion Biological de Beni (EBB), the bioreserve in which several of my study communities were located. During my field research, the EBB transported physicians to these villages when they otherwise lacked the funds to do so, thus facilitating the only available preventative care for many pregnant women and children—a fact which I highlighted in my report.

Martin and Nate present research findings on Radio Horeb broadcast

Following these meetings, my assistant Bernabe Nate and I gave a 15 minute radio broadcast discussing my results on Radio Horeb—a mission-operated AM station broadcast in most Tsimane homes. In discussing results of our project, we encouraged families to eat eggs, papaya, butternut squash, and legumes– foods that are rich in vitamin A and other nutrients that support healthy growth, development, and immune function. My research showed that although many Tsimane families cultivate these foods, children infrequently consume them. I had also documented fairly extensive misuse of antibiotics, which can be purchased over-the-counter at local pharmacies and market kiosks. Antiobiotic misuse and rising bacterial resistance are global problems, but the Tsimane have received little to no education on safe antibiotic usage. We used horticulture analogies and existing public health campaigns to explain how bacterial resistance develops, to warn families against administering antibiotics for common cold and flu symptoms, and to encourage them to purchase antibiotics only in a pharmacy after consultation with a doctor or pharmacist (to ensure the antibiotics are not expired and will be administered in the proper dosage). I created two educational posters depicting these messages, which were delivered to the Gran Consejo and the health clinic at Horeb, and presented to study villages in community meetings.

Community meeting in Chacal

The community visits allowed me to answer additional questions about my research, and visit the many families who participated in my research or otherwise welcomed us into their communities. These visits were the most gratifying part of my trip (and not just because it was prime fishing season, and I was invited to enjoy many massive meals of delicious, fire-roasted fish!). The infants I had worked with were all now 3-5 years old, and many mothers had had other children since then. They were delighted when I showed them pictures of my own daughter, now 3, who I was pregnant with while in the field. Tellingly, many families also asked, somewhat perplexedly, “so you’re not going to do any interviews?”, when I first showed up in their villages, and then smiled warmly when I replied, “jam, sobaqui momo” (“no, I’m just visiting.”).

Educational poster highlighting ‘Cuidado con los antiobíoticos’ appropriate and inappropriate antibiotic usage

In truth, though the educational messages were well-received, I can’t say how effective they were. But that is really beside the point, as ultimately this research was as much a collaborative effort with participants as a product of my own design and analysis. The Tsimane I spoke with appeared to understand and appreciate the initiative to share that joint knowledge with them, irrespective of what they ultimately do with it. It is difficult for researchers working in remote locations to make trips without a specific research agenda, and circumstances often move early career anthropologists to work with new populations. This was certainly true in my case, for which reason I remain grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with study participants and interpret meaningful aspects of my research, and their participation in it, for the wider Tsimane community.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Laura Bidner

Students in Il Motiok Primary School’s conservation club identifying animal footprints shown on a computer by Laura Bidner (Photo by Nancy Rubenstein)

While a doctoral student at Arizona State University Laura Bidner received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2005 to aid research on “Predator-Prey Interactions Between Leopards and Chacma Baboons in South Africa,” supervised by Dr. Leanne T. Nash. After successfully defending her dissertation and receiving a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant in 2011, Dr. Bidner went on to receive an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2016 to aid engaged activities on “Clever Prey and Wary Predators: Using Monkey – Leopard Dynamics to Communicate Local Ecological Connections”.

It is late on an afternoon in June, and classes are just letting out at Ol Jogi Primary School in Laikipia, Kenya.  Students mill about and laugh.  One group is gathered on benches under a tree listening to a fellow student; it is a meeting of the school’s conservation club. I see familiar faces in the students and the faculty advisors of the club as I approach and sit to listen with the Princeton University student interns, who are working with the clubs this summer as well. I led activities with the club the week before on strategies baboons, vervet monkeys, and leopards use to survive around each other (i.e., to eat and avoid being eaten or attacked!) based on findings from research I conducted not far away in 2014.

Il Motiok students measuring and drawing animal footprints around their school grounds with guidance from Laura Bidner (Photo by Nancy Rubenstein)

Although I am not leading the activities with the club this week, I plan to ask a few follow-up questions to assess the effectiveness of last-week’s lesson at the start of the meeting. However, as soon as we sit down, I realize that the student speaking is discussing what the club did last week and what they learned from those activities! I am thrilled to find out that they had such an impact, and inspired to see the ecological interactions I have studied interpreted through new, young, Kenyan eyes.

I designed my Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology project, “Clever Prey and Wary Predators: Using Monkey – Leopard Dynamics to Communicate Local Ecological Connections,” to convey results from recent research conducted at Mpala Research Centre (MRC) – partially funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation – to the local community around Laikipia, Kenya. I was able to coordinate my activities and visits to Northern Kenya Conservation Clubs set up at local schools with Nancy and Dan Rubenstein of Princeton University, who have worked to establish these clubs over the last eight years, and two Princeton undergraduates interns working with them this summer. In addition to leading interactive lessons on the dynamic relationship between leopards and primates at ten of the twelve schools, and hands-on activities on remote monitoring techniques and footprint identification at six schools, I also assisted with set up of remote camera traps around schools, aided interns in implementing ecologically-based lessons, and helped to prepare club groups for their Community Conservation Day presentations.

Laura Bidner showing the students in Ewaso Primary School’s conservation club a GPS collar used for tracking baboons (Photo by Nancy Rubenstein)

Although the date of the Community Conservation Day was delayed until after my return to the US, one of the conservation clubs played the “sneak attack” game from my leopard-primate interaction lesson as their presentation to the entire community during the event.

When I arrived in Kenya in early June to embark on this project, I did not know exactly what to expect.  I was very familiar with the research centre and the surrounding landscape where I had spent a year tracking groups of baboons and vervet monkeys, and stealthy individual leopards on a daily basis. As I prepared for the project in the US, I discussed how to tailor my activities to the rural Kenyan school settings with the Rubensteins via Skype and with a friend and former field assistant who had worked with the conservation clubs in the past. I also used my own experiences working with elementary through college students and international field assistants to develop engaging activities, and to design materials to distribute to the schools as part of my activities.  I arrived in Kenya with handmade, laminated “gametags” for the students to identify themselves as leopards, baboons, and vervet monkeys during one planned activity, as well as a camera trap to set up during that activity, and footprint guides for a track identification and measuring activity.

A camera trap photograph capturing students in Lekiji Primary School’s conservation club playing the “sneak attack” game

Visiting the schools to meet with the faculty advisors, and discussing my plans for my initial leopard-primate activities with the Princeton interns in the first week helped me get my activities ready to go.  At the research center I even found the perfect easily-transportable camera-trap stand, and an old GPS collar nearly identical to our project’s baboon GPS collars to bring to show the clubs.

My first meeting with the conservation club at Il Motiok Primary School across the river was filled with the enthusiastic sounds of students imitating the alarm calls of vervet monkeys, squealing with delight while fleeing to trees or chasing “leopards” during the game, and laughing uproariously at seeing themselves and their classmates captured in camera trap photos viewed immediately after the game.  When I planned and prepared for the project, I had been so focused on the intended conservation and educational outcomes, and on communicating these effectively to Kenyan elementary and secondary students, that I was completely caught off guard by how much unbridled fun the activities generated!

A camera trap photograph of a “leopard” cornering a “baboon” during the “sneak attack” game at Shiloh Nibor Primary School

I realized that the engagement of the students in ecological activities reflected not only their thirst for knowledge about local ecology, but also their pride of place, and that these together are the keys to the future of conservation in the region in the long term. Through this project I learned so much by working with the clubs, their advisors, Mpala staff, and the crew from Princeton not only about effective communication and educational techniques in ecology and conservation, but also about Kenyan perspectives, priorities, and lifeways.  I saw how sincerely everyone from Mpala staff whose children were in conservation club to the research center director, Dr. Dino Martins, valued conservation education, and I felt part of a very important, rewarding, and vital effort to help forge the path of Kenya’s ecological future.