Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kirby Farah

Ceremonial hearth

While a doctoral student at the University of California, Riverside, California, Kirby Farah received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Creating and Maintaining an Elite Identity: A Study of Elite Domestic Practices at Postclassic Xaltocan,” supervised by Dr. Wendy Ashmore. Two years later Dr. Farah had the opportunity to return to the field when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to carry out her project, “Middle Postclassic Ritual Spaces and Implements: A Museum Exhibit at Xaltocan, Mexico”.

My Wenner Gren funded dissertation research, conducted between July 2014 and June 2015, focused on the everyday lives and identity practices of the Postclassic (A.D. 900-1521) leaders of Xaltocan, Mexico. From the outset, this project was informed by community engagement. I collaborated with local Xaltocan residents to outline a set of research objectives that prioritized transparency and rapid dissemination of research results. We also worked together to design research questions that would glean locally-relevant knowledge about Xaltocan’s prehispanic past. This might include knowledge that (1) contributes to cultivating local pride, (2) is of general interest to the local community, or (3) adds perspective to issues facing Xaltocan (and other Basin of Mexico communities) today. Too often we as archaeologists dive into our projects with our own research questions in mind, rarely taking into consideration whether or not the topics we focus on are important to local communities. Collaborating early on creates avenues for integrating topics that emphasize our interests as researchers as well as the interests of the communities most impacted by our work.

Xaltocan Museum

Among other things, my conversations with community members revealed a particular interest in the lives and practices of Xaltocan’s Postclassic rulers, an understudied topic at Xaltocan. There was also a strong interest in understanding the cultural practices that distinguished Xaltocan from other Postclassic Basin of Mexico polities. In order to address these topics and to learn more about the nature of leadership and community identity at Postclassic Xaltocan, I conducted excavations at Cerrito Central, a large mound located near the modern town center. These excavations recovered the remains of successive monumental buildings that likely served as the residences of Xaltocan’s Postclassic leaders. Data collected from in and around these buildings, which dated to roughly the Early (AD 900-1240), Middle (AD 1240-1350), and Late Postclassic (1350-1521), provided a better understanding of the ways in which leadership strategies shifted over time and in response to changing local and regional dynamics.

Joel and Isidro mix soil, water, and cactus sap to create cement to build the replicas.

Excavations at Cerrito Central recovered important data concerning the everyday practices of Xaltocan’s leaders throughout the Postclassic. However many of the most interesting findings were associated with the Middle Postclassic, the periods during which Xaltocan reached peak political prominence in the region. In particular, the recovery of two ritual spaces—one private and one public—revealed the various practices and implements used by Xaltocan’s leaders to interact with the gods.

The private ritual space was a small room that contained the remains of five successive altars. The altars and the wall foundations surrounding the room were lined along the surface with ceramic fragments. The public area was an open patio just north of the altar room. The patio contained the remains of a ceremonial hearth—which also incorporated ceramic fragments—and a large ritual deposit. Thus, in both spaces ceramic fragments were used to mark or outline ritual space. Both spaces were also associated with burning practices. The private rituals involved the use of censers and braziers to contain smoking copal resin, whereas the public ritual involved an open fire that burned in the ceremonial hearth. Combined, these findings provide evidence for a complex ritual program at Xaltocan that involved ritual symbols that have not been observed elsewhere in the Basin of Mexico.

Image of the museum exhibit with all three vitrines and information plaques.

I concluded that the ritual features and implements recovered in these Middle Postclassic contexts spoke to the research questions we designed. The ritual practices of Xaltocan’s leaders reflect their political and religious role in the community. Furthermore, the use of ceramic fragments to outline ritual spaces reflects a culturally distinctive practice that may have been unique to Xaltocan. In order to make these findings more accessible to the local community, I returned to Xaltocan in 2017 to install a permanent museum exhibit that would showcase our recent findings and provide detailed information about their significance. This exhibit was funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant. The exhibit was designed to showcase the Middle Postclassic ritual implements of Xaltocan’s rulers and to teach visitors about the nature of ritual practice during the Postclassic. As a permanent installation, the exhibit will serve as a learning tool for generations to come.

Vitrine containing the objects recovered from the ritual deposit.

The exhibit includes artifacts recovered from Middle Postclassic ritual contexts as well as replicas of some of the ritual features. These artifacts and features are contained in three large vitrines. The first vitrine contains a replica of one of the altars recovered in the private room, the second contains a replica of the ceremonial hearth, and the third contains the reconstructed artifacts recovered from a ritual deposit. A plaque with detailed descriptions of the features and objects accompanies each vitrine. A map of the excavation area is also included, which allows visitors to understand the spatial relationships of the objects on display. The exhibit also includes a large informational panel that outlines the nature ritual practice at Xaltocan and in the Basin of Mexico, with special focus on the New Fire ceremony. The second and third vitrines contain the remnants of a public ritual that may have been an early version of the New Fire ceremony, which would become one of the most important state-sponsored rituals of the Aztecs.

Kirby Farah speaks to opening ceremony attendees about the exhibit.

The exhibit was completed in August 2017 and we held an opening ceremony to mark the event. Attendees included government officials and members of local cultural and educational institutions, but most attendees were children and families from Xaltocan. I kicked off the event with an introduction to the exhibit and the directors of the local museum and cultural center also spoke. I was also happy to welcome most members of the original excavation team, who spoke about their experiences and answered questions. As a follow-up to the success of the opening ceremony and the exhibit, a symposium is being planned form summer 2019. The symposium will be future-focused, and address the relationship between local patrimony and archaeological research at Xaltocan.

NYAS Lecture 9/24: The Inner Lives of Passively Suicidal Americans: Why Racism Isn’t Just Bad for Black People

Dr. Carolyn Rouse

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is excited to announce the return of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series which will be kicking off on September 24th at 5:45 PM at its new location, Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. Carolyn Rouse, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University will be presenting, “The Inner Lives of Passively Suicidal Americans: Why Racism Isn’t Just Bad for Black People”. Julie Livingston, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York 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. You may also register by phone, 212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600. Early registration is strongly recommended since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required. 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.

Again please also note that the NYAS lecture series is no longer being held at the offices of The Wenner-Gren FoundationAll talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

Inequalities are increasing locally and globally on a vast scale. At the same time that these disparities, which are experienced by racialized groups, certain nationalities, by women, poor people, immigrants and the elderly, are explained by media and politicians as the natural and unavoidable order of things.  How are we to understand these relationships between untold wealth and growing immiseration?  How do we understand the way the stories about inequality are told? Who has access to information about the production of inequality? Who is able to contest its production?

Often inequality and equality are researched and discussed in isolation. Yet, anthropological research in archeology, linguistics, human biology, and socio-cultural anthropology has the capacity to both document the grim actualities of the current conjuncture and to show how inequality is linked to systems of production, distribution and domination. Both in the past and present the issues of the equality and inequality are inextricably linked and connected to the way the way disparities are explained, legitimated, and turned into the taken-for-granted.

This lecture series takes a global perspective on the entanglements of wealth, poverty, and inequality as well as the popularization of narratives of inevitable disparity and the silencing of struggles for social justice and equality. Speakers will explore these entanglement including the human experience and materiality of equality, their mediation through different channels of communication, their ideological justifications through concepts of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, hereditary, class and status, and the punitive power to enforce these ideas through incarceration, surveillance, criminalization. We ask how knowledge about power and inequality empowers resistance and struggle.

About the Speakers:

Carolyn Rouse is a professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University whose work explores how evidence is used to make particular claims about race and social inequality. She is the author of Engaged Surrender: African American Women and Islam (Univ.of California Press 2004) Uncertain Suffering: Racial Healthcare Disparities and Sickle Cell Disease  (Univ. of California Press 2009) and Televised Redemption: Black Religious Media and Racial Empowerment (NYU Press 2016). In 2016 she created the Ethnographic Data Visualization Lab (VizE Lab): a medium for examining complex ethnographic data.  One current project brings together 60 years of biological data with 60 years of social scientific data to study epigenetic effects on physical development. In addition, Rouse is a filmmaker who has produced, directed, and/or edited a number of documentaries including Chicks in White Satin (1994), Purification to Prozac: Treating Mental Illness in Bali (1998), and Listening as a Radical Act: World Anthropologies and the Decentering of Western Thought (2015).

 

Julie Livingston is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History at New York University, where she is also affiliated with the Anthropology Department. She is interested in the human body as a moral condition and mode of consciousness, in care as a social practice, and in taxonomy and relationships that upend or complicate it. Her work is at the intersection of history, anthropology, and public health. A MacArthur fellow, Julie Livingston is the author of Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic(Duke University Press, 2012), Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana (Indiana University Press 2005), and numerous articles and essays on topics including aging, disability, disgust, suicide, and medical photography. She is currently working on two new projects. The first deals with the problem of growth and consumption as seen from southern Africa. The second is an ethnographic project on co-morbidity and aging in New York.

A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk. Buffet dinner begins at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).

Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Wenner-Gren Launches New Online Applications!

The Wenner-Gren Foundation has a new online system to accept applications for all of its research grants, conference/workshop grants, and fellowships.  We will now accept all materials (e.g., application forms, CVs, project bibliographies) exclusively online; applicants no longer need to mail us printed duplicates.

To get started, please review the Grant Program descriptions on our website and verify that you meet all program and application season pre-requisites.  Then follow the instructions on the Access the Online Application page to initiate a submission.

To access the online application, you must first establish an account with SurveyMonkey Apply by submitting an email address that will serve as your primary means of contact. Once you have established an account and verified that you are eligible for the current season and program, you can begin filling out the Grant Application Form.  You can save and edit application responses multiple times, up until the application deadline.  Be careful not to submit your application before you are ready to; once you have, you will longer be able to edit content.  (Please note: It’s a good idea to begin your application several weeks in advance of the program deadline.  Make every effort to avoid putting off your submission until the last moment, when the website may be less responsive due to applicant traffic).

For more information, visit the Programs section of the Wenner-Gren Foundation website.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Karen Allen

Costa de Pajaros viewed from above

Back in 2014 when Karen Allen was a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sustainable Development in Costa Rica: Understanding Values, Land Use Decisions, and Market-based Mechanisms for Conservation,” supervised by Dr. Ted Gragson. Dr. Allen was then able to return to the field in 2018 after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant to carry out her project, “Fostering Conservation Ethic Through Dialogue in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, Costa Rica”.

Notes from a brainstorming session in Costa de Pajaros

This project entailed coordinating and carrying out two workshops in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, Costa Rica. This is a mixed-use area and is part of Costa Rica’s relatively new biological corridor network (www.cbpc.org). The national network system as a whole aims to foster ecological connectivity and sustainable development across the country (www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/correbiolo). The purpose of these workshops was to strengthen the connections between the conservation organizations that oversee the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and the people who live within the corridor. This project grew directly out of Wenner-Gren funded dissertation research, where I investigated the ways in which conservation policy influences land-use decisions within the corridor. It became clear early on in my research that very few people had actually heard of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and the boundaries and objectives of the corridor where not clear. I devised these workshops with a dual purpose: to provide information about corridor objectives and the conservation imperatives, and to foster dialogue about the broader sustainable development objectives. Further, this process built the foundation, and the social capital needed to continue similar efforts into the near future.

Presentation by Bellbird Biological Corridor coordinator in Santa Rosa

The workshops took place in two different towns within the corridor. I chose the towns in collaboration with corridor organizations based on the strength of their past interactions with these towns, as well as my experiences and connections in each place. Because the towns were quite dissimilar (one was a coastal fishing village, and another a mountain agrarian village), the workshops were a bit different in each locale. In the fishing village, Costa de Pájaros, I organized and hosted a three-hour workshop in conjunction with the Asociación de Mujeres Mariposas del Golfo. We publicized this workshop through the community organizations, as the Asociación de Mujeres (women’s association) decided that it would be best to focus on integrating the various organizations in the region. There were approximately thirty to thirty-five people in attendance. This workshop began with an introduction to the Bellbird Biological Corridor, given by the current corridor director. We then split into groups, where they used maps of the corridor, and maps of the region, to identify social-ecological challenges and potential solutions. Each group presented a summary of their discussion. We then talked about particular initiatives that already exist in the corridor, and forged connections between the people who wanted to pursue those initiatives further and those coordinating the initiatives. We also made a “wish-list” of ideas that might be possible to undertake in the future.

Presentation on behalf of the Sendero Pacifico in Santa Rosa

In the second workshop, in Santa Rosa, we followed a similar format, but included a few more presentations. We publicized this workshop by visiting all houses in the town of Santa Rosa (approximately fifty) and explaining the purpose of the workshop. The local Asociación de Desarrollo (community development organization) decided that it would be good to make the workshop longer (about four hours) and include a few more presentations on different initiatives in the region. In total, we had approximately thirty-five people from Santa Rosa attending the workshop. In addition, three corridor representatives came to speak about the corridor initiative, and four representatives came from the neighboring community of San Luis to share their experiences with the Sendero Pacífico, a trail network (senderopacifico.net). There is a possibility of extending this trail network to Santa Rosa, and several people spoke to that effect. We also examined the social-ecological challenges in the region with this group, and established several follow-up initiatives for future collaboration. As in the first workshop, we spent time reviewing the initiatives that already exist in the region, and brainstorming future possibilities and collaborations. And of course, both workshops concluded with a shared meal – arroz con pollo!

View of Santa Rosa from above

Some of the more exciting things to come out of these workshops were the new ideas and connections that emerged. The organization leaders that I worked with have since commented to me that they have continued to contact people they met at the meetings. Further, we have begun to brainstorm future engaged projects that came out of these experiences. People seemed excited and motivated by the workshops and it is inspiring for me to see these events as the direct output of many years of more theoretical dissertation research. I see many possibilities for future engagement, and I plan to continue this work in the future.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Evren Dincer

While a doctoral student at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, Evren Dincer received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Reindustrialization of the U.S.: An Ethnography of Auto Workers in the American Rust Belt,” supervised by Dr. Shelley Feldman. In 2017 Dr. Dincer received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Situating Auto Work: Engaging with Community in the Rust Belt,” 2017, Buffalo, NY.

Thanks to the grant provided by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, I spent eight weeks in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 2017 between June 20 and August 16. During this stay, I accomplished two goals: revisiting my field site and organizing an international conference.

As for the first goal, I revisited the plant I conducted my original fieldwork, General Motors’ Powertrain Plant in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo. I held a total of eight meetings with workers, union leaders as well as members of management to share my findings. These meetings occurred at the union hall (3), company management suite (1) and at the plant (2). I also organized two meetings outside the plant at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ downtown Buffalo offıce. During these meetings I shared my findings focusing exclusively on three issues:

1. The issue of generational transition that occurred on the shop floor and its current trajectory. The generational transition in the unionized auto industry constituted the backbone of my dissertation. It basically explains the dynamics of workforce change in a protected labor market, which is largely called internal labor market in the literature. In the post-2008 crisis this meant the gradual replacement of the aging workforce with higher wages and extensive benefit packages with a younger workforce with less pay and limited healthcare. I shared the details of my findings in these meetings and we discussed the trajectory since I left the field site in 2015.

2. The second issue was the issue of space surrounding the plant, which is another central element of my dissertation. The trajectory of organized labor and their everyday lives in the Rust Belt is a critical issue to understand the shop floor relations as well as the larger context of organized labor today. During our meetings I shared findings from my work as well as from the literature on the Rust Belt to enable a better understanding of the condition of work today.

3. The third issue was NAFTA, which was a highly contentious issue at the time and continues to be so today. I had addressed competitive pressures in my dissertation, therefore parts of our meetings focusing on NAFTA featured discussions on NAFTA’s effects on the auto industry in the U.S. and its competitive nature. Workers, especially in the context of Trump’s victory, were quite sensitive to the role of Mexico. Given that about 40% of the UAW (United Auto Workers) represented workers who voted for Trump in 2016, it was difficult yet important to address the trade relations between the two countries.

Regarding the second goal, I organized an international conference on economic development in Buffalo.[1] In my dissertation, one of the central points and contributions to the literature on labor was to highlight the key connection between the shop floor and the socio-economic urban environment it is surrounded by. Labor-management relations in the unionized sectors were traditionally defined by internal labor markets which defined job progressions, formal pay and fringe benefit policies. Such policies shielded the internal labor market from outside effects for decades, such isolation was best visible in the auto industry until the 2008 Recession. However, following the recession the generational transition I mentioned above took place, and I showed how it was only possible with a long-term and in depth economic deterioration in the Rust Belt in general and the Buffalo metro area in particular. This conference, therefore, focused on the issues of economic development in Buffalo since the Great Recession in 2008 to help my interlocutors at the plant and outside to better situate their experiences and economic position with respect to the urban environment they reside and live in.

The grant provided by the Wenner-Gren Foundation helped me share my findings, reconnect with my interlocutors, and organize a professional workshop. However, it also helped me observe some of the recent developments (particularly the collective bargaining process in 2015 and the national elections of 2016) and the effects of these developments on labor in the U.S. today.

[1] The conference took place on August 14 and 15. The first day featured three sessions and took place at Cornell University’s downtown Buffalo premises, while the second day featured one session and took place at UAW Local 774’s union hall. The link to the program, titles and the list of participants can be found here: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/buffalo/worker-institute/events