Caribbean Primate Research Center Needs Your Help!

Our colleagues and friends from the Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC) in Puerto Rico need our help. A number of colleagues have experienced devastating losses due to Hurricane Maria and are facing extreme day-to-day challenges including lack of basic supplies, food, and water.  This harrowing message was painted on the streets of Punta Santiago, just meters from the CPRC main office.

This Fundraiser has been organized by Cayo Santiago alumni to directly support the employees and their families of the Caribbean Primate Research Center including Cayo Santiago and Sabana Seca Field Stations and the community of Punta Santiago. Click here to donate.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Michael Cepek


Michael Cepek and Cofán elder Emiliano Queta discuss Cofán research issues while sharing tobacco in the community of Duvuno (photo by Bear Guerra).

Michael Cepek is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas as San Antonio. In 2012 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Dureno Uno: A Cofán Politics of Oil and Loss”. In 2017 Dr. Cepek received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Developing a Cofan Protocol for the Conduct of Ethical Research”.

In May of 2012, I began a three-year period of Wenner-Gren-funded research on the relationship between the indigenous Cofán nation of eastern Ecuador and the transnational petroleum industry. In 1964, the corporation Texaco began searching for oil in Cofán territory. Three years later, the company discovered a petroleum field underneath a Cofán village. By the mid-1970s, Ecuador had become an OPEC nation, and Cofán people’s lives had changed dramatically: roads and pipelines had cut through their homeland, tens of thousands of settlers had expropriated their territory, and oil-related toxins had suffused their air, forests, rivers, and bodies.

The data I gathered through participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and economic diaries supplied the ethnographic material for Life in Oil: Cofán Survival in the Petroleum Fields of Amazonia, a book that will be published by the University of Texas Press in early 2018. For decades, Cofán lives and lands have served the global media as potent symbols of oil’s destructive powers. By conceptualizing oil as a simultaneously material, social, and discursive phenomenon, Life in Oil complicates existing accounts of crude’s devastation of the Cofán nation. The book describes Cofán life in the midst of the petroleum industry as a form of slow, contradictory, and ultimately unknowable violence. By attending to the open-ended quality of Cofán experiences with oil, the book treads the line between affirming the continuity of a meaningful way of life and describing how that way of life has been impacted by the petroleum industry, which, I argue, should compensate Cofán people for the losses they have suffered.

Members of the community of Zábalo discuss the proposed research protocol during a village meeting (photo by Bear Guerra).

While conducting research, it became clear that it was impossible to understand Cofán stances toward oil without investigating their perspectives on the dozens of journalists, anthropologists, filmmakers, lawyers, and activists who have come to their communities and produced representations of their petroleum-damaged lives. My Cofán collaborators expressed deep uncertainty and antagonism toward non-Cofán reporters and scholars. They told me that outsiders often portray them in problematic ways, do not compensate them for their collaboration, do not get informed consent for their work, and offer no real benefits to Cofán individuals or communities. Despite my more than two decades of involvement with the Cofán nation as a scholar and an activist, I learned that much of my fieldwork on oil was interpreted in the same way.

With the support of a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned to Cofán territory in 2017 to share the results of my fieldwork and to gather information on Cofán ideas concerning how they can negotiate just, equitable, and transparent partnerships with non-Cofán researchers. To help guide the project, I enrolled Cofán anthropologist Martin Criollo and Cofán university students Hugo and Sadie Lucitante as full-time collaborators. Together, we interviewed past project participants, held community discussions on the possibility of ethical research collaborations, and formulated a written protocol that Cofán individuals, communities, and organizations can use to negotiate agreements with scholars and journalists. We spent more than a month visiting the communities of Dureno, Duvuno, Sinangoé, and Zábalo. We also presented our ideas at a meeting of the Cofán ethnic federation: the Nacionalidad Originario A’i-Kofán del Ecuador (NOAIKE).

From left to right: linguists Wilson Silva, Scott Anderbois, and Maksimilian Dabkowski discuss the practicalities of a potential research project with the Cofán protocol team (Hugo Lucitante, Martin Criollo, Michael Cepek, and Sadie Lucitante) (photo by Bear Guerra).

Our investigation allowed us to complete a draft research protocol with written versions in English, Spanish, and A’ingae, the Cofán language. The protocol is intended to let non-Cofán researchers know what they must do and how they must do it if they wish to work with Cofán people. It covers many issues: contacting Cofán individuals, communities, and NOAIKE; securing permission to begin research; selecting and paying community members as research subjects and project workers; compensating host communities in material and non-material ways; sharing income from book royalties and other research-related proceeds; establishing credit and authorship in publications and other project products; securing informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality; returning copies of research products to host communities and NOAIKE; and digitally archiving copies of project data so they will be accessible to and controlled by the people and communities from whom they came.

Although our team’s work dealt with a primarily applied topic, it was deeply ethnographic. It depended on developing a subtle understanding of Cofán notions of ownership, fairness, and individual, family, community, and national rights. It also demanded a more nuanced appreciation of the concepts of autonomy and sovereignty that orient Cofán visions of self-determination and political-economic advancement.

The protocol our team composed has yet to be approved by the Cofán nation as a whole, which hopefully will meet collectively in early 2018 to discuss our draft, amend it where necessary, and certify it as an official document. Nonetheless, our draft has already served to structure discussions between Cofán people and prospective researchers, including a Colombian artist interested in producing visual representations of Cofán territorial relations and a linguistic team from Brown University and the University of Arizona who intend to document the grammar of A’ingae and to generate A’ingae school materials for Cofán students. Finally, the protocol has helped me to reanalyze my own oil-related data and to envision the politics and practicalities of my next major project, which will examine the relationship between Cofán history and Cofán shamanism. Given the protocol’s demonstrated utility, we hope to make the final version available to other scholars, journalists, and indigenous populations who seek to develop research partnerships within and beyond Amazonia.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Joanne Nucho

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Joanne Nucho who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud.

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud from Joanne Nucho on Vimeo.

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud is a 90-minute experimental ethnographic film about a working class suburb of Beirut called Bourj Hammoud that was initially built to permanently settle Armenian refugees who had escaped the 1915 genocide in Ottoman lands. Today, it is a diverse district that is home to Lebanese of various sects as well as migrants and displaced peoples from Syria and all over the world. Filmed over a period of seven years, the film examines the overlapping histories of displacement through interlocutors’ experience of urban space over time. Through an innovative practice of “map-drawing interviews,” my collaborator and I, Lebanese artist Rosy Kuftedjian, asked participants to draw a visual representation of the neighborhood that reflects something that has changed over time, or that is meaningful. The results of the map-drawing interviews shape the narrative of the film, which is anchored in the city’s constantly shifting material urban infrastructures and the ways in which people variously experience rootedness and displacement through the materiality of streets, electricity cables, bridges and buildings. The result is a lyrical ethnographic reflection on space, time and material accretions of the past as narrated by longtime residents as well as recent arrivals to this city. The associated website for the film can be found here.

I am very pleased to report that my 90-minute ethnographic film, The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud, has been completed. This project is the culmination of several years of ethnographic research and filming in Bourj Hammoud, a municipal district just east of Beirut, Lebanon. A working class suburb with a diverse population, the film explores Bourj Hammoud’s rich history as a city built by survivors of the Armenian genocide settled in Lebanon in the 1920s and 30s as well as subsequent histories of displacement, exile, eviction and movement throughout the Lebanese civil war and, today, the conflict in Syria. These histories are explored through a series of “map drawing” interviews with various interlocutors in Armenian, Arabic and English, in which participants narrate the histories of Bourj Hammoud’s shifting urban terrain and conflicted histories through their own experiences in space and time. The film takes as its object the making and remaking of Bourj Hammoud’s urban materialities as well as shifting memories. The film project consists not only of a completed film, but it also incorporates an online “archive” that features the map drawings as well as excerpts from the interviews with the film participants who created them. The website is open for contributions of photographs and drawings of Bourj Hammoud by current residents as well as people in the Armenian and Lebanese diaspora who have, in recent years, taken an interest in this neighborhood which has been at the center of artistic projection about pre-war Lebanon (see, for example, artist Ara Madzounian’s recent photography book about Bourj Hammoud). The website can be found here:

Organizing footage that was filmed in multiple different formats over a number of years was daunting. I first set about re-digitizing tapes and transcoding formats in order to match newer footage shot on digital formats – no small task for hours of footage. I carefully translated and logged the footage, creating rough sequences and identifying the gaps in b-roll footage, since I planned to return to Lebanon in order to conduct the map drawing interviews and further filming. One of the challenges in working with this footage is that the interviews were conducted in three languages – Arabic, Armenian and, occasionally, English. I am a firm believer that a documentary filmmaker and editor needs to log her own footage, but in this instance it would have been quite difficult for me to collaborate with someone else who knows both languages (in their local dialect form) and also knows how to edit and log footage. My primary artistic collaborator and assistant director, Lebanese-Armenian artist and drama therapy activist Rosy Kuftedjian, served as an important interlocutor throughout the logging and editing process. I shared various cuts and subtitled sequences with her digitally, and we actively collaborated across thousands of miles, as she is based in Lebanon. The thrill of digital technology and (slowly) increasing Internet speeds in Lebanon made our collaboration across a wide distance ever more possible.

I returned to Lebanon for one month of filming in 2015 in order to conduct more “map drawing interviews” with participants to enrich and expand my existing footage. We framed each map drawing interview with two questions “What has changed in this place? What do you remember?” Some of our participants answered these questions through detailed illustrations peppered with texts, others drew sparse lines and illuminated their sketches with detailed oral descriptions. We filmed all of these interviews, focusing both on the hands and faces of our interlocutors as they drew and sketched, mixing Bourj Hammoud’s past with its present and speculating upon its future. Through these powerful visual reflections on the violence of the civil war years, to countless evictions and displacements, to meditations on more recent displacements due to the conflict in Syria, the participants’ drawings collectively produce a multivocal portrait of a highly diverse area at the center of numerous tumultuous histories.

One of the most powerful experiences during this additional month of filming was an interview with a Syrian man who was sketching his commute to work each day. He had only recently come to Lebanon, and the small angular drawing of his path to work was crammed into one corner of the large paper we had given each interlocutor to draw on. He explained that his long working hours made it impossible for him to know much else about the neighborhood. This interview made me realize the power of drawing as a mode of ethnographic collaboration to illustrate those aspects of life stories that are often made marginal and the ways in which subjectivities are created in and through everyday life experiences in space.

After the additional month of filming, I logged and translated all of the new footage, which comprised of several hours. The editing process and incorporating the new footage took several months, as there were so many different years of footage, and making them fit into a narrative (though by no means a linear one) was a difficult task. Because the film has so many different interviewees and stories, I decided the best way to approach this process was to put the city at the center of the film’s narrative arc.

Divided into three sections, each part of the film illuminates some aspect of how my interlocutors’ notions of “time,” “space,” and “war,” respectively come through their narratives about Bourj Hammoud as a city, their sense of the passing of time, the changes in space and the impact of war on their own lives and the physical city. Many of the interviewees return at various points in the film, and the interviews are intercut with filmed sequences of life in the city, everything from a group of bystanders trying to rescue a stray cat from underneath a car, to a group of children playing on the street, to a reenacted sequence of one of my interlocutors going downstairs to turn on the power switch on the shared electricity subscription system that powers her apartment. The pace of the edits is meant to reflect a certain pace of time, a particular kind of speed and duration that only a film or time-based art can produce.

I photographed the map drawings themselves and began thinking about the best way to present these materials as the significant works that they are. In collaboration with Rosy Kuftedjian and Simone Rutkowitz, I began putting together the web-based project known as Mapping Bourj Hammoud. The website features an interactive map that allows visitors to click on a point on an illustrated map of Bourj Hammoud which will open up a close-up of the map drawing that corresponds to it in a separate page along with an excerpt from the interview in which the drawing was produced. The digital images of the maps themselves are stored on a Tumblr blog that will serve as an archive open to contributors who want to add photographs and drawings of this rapidly changing neighborhood, as at least one informal space, Sanjak Camp, that is documented in the film is currently being torn down.

The completed film is being prepared for festival screenings by Beirut-based post-production professional Belal Hibri and by Toronto-based sound engineer Matthew Ledermen. They are prepared to output the film into DCP format if it becomes necessary for some festivals. Daniel Fetherston provided additional post-production assistance. I am currently in the process of submitting the film to a number of festivals this spring and throughout the summer. I am also organizing my own screenings at other venues. The first screening and lecture will take place on March 15th at an invitation of sorts, a series curated by Suzy Halajian, Anthony Carfello and Shoghig Halajian in Los Angeles. With the assistance of Rosy Kuftedjian in Lebanon, I am also arranging to screen the film there, though most likely not in an art or festival context, but rather in a context that would be more comfortable for my interlocutors in Bourj Hammoud.

Moving forward I seek to adapt the film into an installation project that incorporates video and the map drawings. Making the film and the associated media available in various forms, both as a traditional ethnographic film as well as a video and drawing installation, would help present the work in a number of different contexts as well as push the work into a potentially more interactive context. The various layers of texts produced in and through this ethnographic project can have a life beyond the context of the film. As singular works, I seek to display the drawings in the context of further screenings or speaking engagements about the visual ethnographic collaborative practice that gave rise to this creative work.

NYAS @ WGF 9/25: The Refugee as a Political Figure for our Time

Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on September 25th at 5:45 PM as we kick off the first New York Academy of Sciences lecture of the fall series. Ilana Feldman, Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University will be presenting, “The Refugee as a Political Figure for our Time”. Dr. Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor and Chair at the New School for Social Research 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.

Event Registration:  If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

You can also register by phone, 212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600.  Early Registration is strongly recommended since seating is limited. 

Recent years have been marked by both tremendous population movement and incredible anxiety in refugee receiving countries and in relatively non-receiving countries. The moment seems apt to reconsider the refugee as a political figure, following a line of discussion first opened by a previous generations of scholars who examined earlier periods of large-scale human displacement and dislocation. In 1943 Hannah Arendt published an essay entitled “We Refugees,” a reflection on the position shared by herself and other Jewish exiles from Europe as they lived with displacement. In 1995 Giorgio Agamben published a short piece with the same title, commenting both on Arendt’s earlier piece and on the configurations of borders, movement, and population control that were defining the post-cold war European landscape. What does the current refugee “crisis” tell us about politics in the twenty-first century. Drawing from the Palestinian refugee experience, this paper explores the refugee as an enduring figure, one central to the existing, and persisting, political order. It also considers refugees as political actors, who struggle within and against this political order to create livable lives.

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.

Missed the lecture? Listen to it here!


Meet Our 2017 Wadsworth International Fellows: Alexander Titan Kabelindde

Alexander Kabelindde received his undergraduate degree from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship he will continue his training with a PhD in archaeology at University College London supervised by Dr. Ignacio De La Torre. Read the previous two entries in the series.

In October 2011 I was accepted into the Bachelor of Arts program in Archaeology at the University of Dar es Salaam. During my undergraduate studies, I received training in Palaeolithic Archaeology, Human Evolution and cognate courses. These courses gave me a greater understanding of lithic analysis and early humans’ biological and cultural evolution. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I did a hands-on analysis of Oldowan and Acheulean assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge and wrote a dissertation on the transition from the Oldowan to the Acheulean.

My enthusiasm and commitment to human evolutionary research enabled me to get a studentship to undertake a Postgraduate Diploma in Academic Research and Methods at UCL Qatar in August 2014, and then MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World (2015-2017). During my Masters, I have participated in various archaeological projects as a student, collaborator, volunteer and research assistant in Africa (Tanzania), Middle East (Qatar), Central Asia (Kazakhstan) and Europe (UK). My participation enabled me to receive world-class research skills in conducting archaeological research projects. My newly learned skills were applied to conduct an independent research project, written up as a Masters Dissertation in August 2017.

In my PhD study, I intend to focus on the technological behaviour of Homo erectus in Beds III and IV, Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). Throughout my study, I intend to undertake fieldwork (survey and excavation) and labwork (Leakey’s collection) to address the technological capacities of our ancestors during late Early Pleistocene. My research will require the use of integrative methods to analyse lithic assemblages unearthed from Beds III/IV sites and those stored in the field laboratory at Olduvai Gorge. Although the goal is to better understand Homo erectus technological behaviour at Olduvai Gorge, my research will also increase our understanding of the Leakey collections and adds new knowledge in Palaeolithic research in East Africa. More importantly, the results of my study will provide a new understanding of Acheulean assemblages from Olduvai and Homo erectus behaviour.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Erin Moore

The inaugural workshop of the Kampala Critical Development Collective, a collaborative ethnographic writing project, was held at 32 Degrees East/The Uganda Arts Trust

While a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Erin Moore received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Women into Girls? Translating & Transforming Development in Ugandan ‘Girls’ Empowerment Programs,” supervised by Dr. Jennifer Cole. In 2016 Dr. Moore went on to receive an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Race, Gender, and Geopolitics in Uganda’s NGO Economy: A Consortium”.

In Uganda, more than 15% of the national budget is controlled by foreign development agencies and multinational NGOs. In the wake of state retrenchment, Ugandans look to NGOs for employment, education, and other social and health services. Moreover, the international development industry drives both curricula and research in universities, as funds for tertiary education have been entirely privatized in recent decades. This national context – what I describe as Uganda’s “NGO economy” – hinges upon partnerships between western development agencies and local institutions.

Professor Godfrey Ddumba stands next to list of common themes that emerged from members' descriptions of their experiences working in the aid industry

These partnerships are asymmetrical: because Ugandans depend on development partnerships for income, they must work assiduously to maintain them. As I found over the course of my dissertation fieldwork in both activist and academic settings, this foreign-local partnership model explicitly shaped particular research objectives and precluded others. For example, at a 2012 meeting hosted by a Makerere University professor and her colleague from DFID, the UK’s state development agency, DFID’s desire to understand “cultural” obstacles to girls’ schooling foreclosed a prominent legal scholar’s proposed investigation into young women’s strategies for resilience.

Ugandan scholars and NGO practitioners often remark upon these experiences as structural inequalities systemic to an industry that they nonetheless rely upon for their livelihoods. Similar private conversations with Ugandan interlocutors over the course of my fieldwork suggested a need for a scholarly space outside the auspices of the development industry to critically assess the structural inequalities of Uganda’s NGO economy. To create such a space, with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research’s Engaged Anthropology Grant, and together with six artists, scholars, and activists the Kampala Critical Development Collective (KCDC) held its inaugural meeting in February 2017.

Hosted by the Kampala arts center, 32 Degrees East, KCDC met for an ethnographic writing workshop. Before the workshop, pariticipants posted relevant articles from academics and journalists in critical development studies to a shared database and circulated short autoethnographic pieces reflecting on the intersections of economic injustice and gender, generation, and geopolitics in the NGO industry.

KCDC members workshopping each other's submissions

The workshop opened with a discussion of the history of anthropology and its relationship to colonialism and the international development industry in Uganda. We then turned to ethnography and autoethnography as methods for relating one’s personal experiences to broader structures of inequality. For many, autoethnography was a new (and fruitful) writing genre, one that the group found useful for drawing connections across individual experiences.

From these methodological convervations, we turned to workshopping each participant’s pre-circulated autoethnographic piece. One KCDC member working for a major multinational children’s rights NGO described the irony of sending NGO beneficiaries, school-aged young people, to donor events in the Unites States and Europe while refusing to distribute monies for school fees to these same nominal beneficiaries. One prominent popular author involved in literacy activism wrote about the contingencies of accepting international donor funds, which demand accountability in the number of physical books distrubted to rural schools but whose metrics cannot capture the cultivationg of a “reading culture” among young people. A feminist activist involved in Uganda’s preeminent women’s movement lamented the impossibilities for the intergenerational transmission of feminist thought between older and younger women given the costs of attending both national and international feminst consortia. Over the course of reviewing each other’s writing, KCDC together discussed shared experiences of socioeconomic injustice across an industry that has become a primary source of employment for middle class young people in Uganda.

In June 2018, KCDC will meet for its second collaborative writing workshop to further develop these initial pieces for publication and to grow the collective’s reach. Additionally, KCDC is developing a collaborative blog as well as capacity for montly networking meetings to gather more Kampala-based scholars, activists, and artists interested in purusing projects related to critical development studies.