NYAS Lecture 10/21: Urban Centers: Surprisingly Sustainable?

On October 21st the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series returns when Dr. Monica L. Smith, Dept. of Anthropology, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, will present, “Urban Centers: Surprisingly Sustainable?” Dr. Richard M. Leventhal, Executive Director of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania will act as discussant. The event will be held at 5:45 PM at the Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.

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. Early registration is strongly recommended, since seating is limited. For the buffet supper, registration is also required.

Cities are paradoxically resilient: even the ones that eventually failed in ancient times were occupied for hundreds of years, and even the most fragile modern ones continue to be inhabited. Using an archaeological perspective, this lecture will examine the many ways in which ancient cities constituted resilient social and economic networks that provide a blueprint for our own sustainable futures. Such futures are not unproblematic, of course, because cities necessarily draw in food, water, and raw materials from the countryside. Urbanites’ comfortable assurance of resiliency can mask a neglect of rural needs and realities, resulting in significant and sometimes deleterious social, economic, and political consequences.

About the Speaker:

Monica L. Smith is a professor in the Department of Anthropology and in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, where she also holds the Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair in Indian Studies. She is an archaeologist with research experience in India and Bangladesh, as well as Egypt, Italy, and Tunisia. She is the author of A Prehistory of Ordinary People (2010) and Cities: The First 6,000 Years (2019).

All talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner 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

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Etni Zoe Castell Roldan

With the support of the Wadsworth International Fellowship Etni Zoe Castell Roldan will continue her training in sociocultural anthropology at Dalhousie University, supervised by Dr.Elizabeth Fitting. Be sure to check out the earlier entries in the series.

I obtained my BA (2008-2015) in Social Anthropology from Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (UAEMex) with a thesis that interrogated education, social inequality and class mobility in The Montaña zone of Guerrero, Mexico. Later, I earned a MA in Sociocultural Anthropology (2015-2017) in Benémerita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) with an award winning thesis (Premio San Bernándino de Sahagún INAH 2018) regarding labor and precarity in Mexico’s City meat industry. From 2015 to the present, I have participated in the Power, Class and Culture Research Seminar (Seminario Poder, Clase y Cultura ICSyH-BUAP), where I have developed new interests and advanced my knowledge of themes like political economy in anthropology, commodity production processes and the relationship between class and culture.

My PhD research seeks to engage these critical themes. By analyzing The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) in Canada, I aim to explore the relationship between the migratory routes of Mexican workers to Canada and the suffering of laborers who harvest and package food commodities. I am interested in focusing on processes of domination and dispossession of vulnerable populations and how they can trigger substantial changes in the migration, diets and foodways in the Global South. I chose Dalhousie’s University PhD program in Social Anthropology because I know that I will receive the training I need to undertake this project by combining critical theory and ethically based fieldwork in a fulfilling, effective way.

After the completion of my degree, I expect to return to Mexico and work towards strengthening Anthropology undergraduate programs and continuing to analyze the political conditions of Latin American workers, in Mexico specifically.

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Daniel Rodriguez Osorio

Daniel Rodriguez Osorio received his undergraduate degree at the Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia and thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship he will continue his training with a Ph.D. in archaeology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul. We invite you to check out the earlier entries in this series here and here.

My research examines politics, ecology, and landscapes through an exploration of anthropogenic environments, place-making practices, and the constitution of subjectivities in Northern South America. Over the past eight years, I have conducted archaeological and ethnographic research in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a glaciated mountain located in northern Colombia that was inhabited in pre-Hispanic times by several indigenous communities known as the Tairona (200-1600 CE). My research explores the practices that shape human groups’ perceptions of “nature,” the political objectives that produce landscapes, and the ways that non-human actors and organisms (e.g., forests, cultivated plant species, soils) become objects of concern or value in human politics.

I draw on approaches that conceive of space as a political construct that people perceive in different ways depending on their social position. I also apply historical and political ecology to explore how diverse environmental contexts and non-human actors recursively shape distinct kinds of human experience. My interest in urbanism and intensive agriculture seeks to understand how discrete configurations of places and things constitute the structuration of specific landscapes and subjects and how physical conditions can also shape subjectivities and political life, leading to a variety of overlapping landscapes occupying the same space.

I am pursuing my Ph.D. to gain the theoretical and methodological training I need to understand the relationship between ecological and sociopolitical variables that contribute to the production of landscapes. Given the interdisciplinary structure of UMN, which allows graduate students to create their own program of study, I combine Anthropology, Geography, and Forest Resources. UMN faculty members specializing in ecology and cultural heritage also offer me an exceptional opportunity to consider issues of environmental, political, and archaeological stewardship and management in the SNSM. Moreover, UMN’s strong methodological focus on digital archaeology and environmental mapping provides me with the empirical tools I need to trace, document, and model land modification features in the Tairona area.

After completing my degree, I expect to return to Colombia and pursue an academic position that will allow me to train future generations of archaeologists and sociocultural anthropologists. I hope to use my interdisciplinary background to empower students to think about the materials and built spaces that constitute the present and past and the ways they mutually shape human experience.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Suma Ikeuchi

Dr. Ikeuchi delivering an oral presentation to the members of the church community in Toyota, Japan, where she conducted her dissertation fieldwork.

In 2013 Suma Ikeuchi received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Brazilian Birth, Japanese Blood, and Transnational God: Identity and Resilience among Pentecostal Brazilians in Japan,” supervised by Dr. Chikako Ozawa-de Silva. Dr. Ikeuchi was able to return to the field in 2019 when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Jesus Loves Japan: Workshops on Migration, Religion, and Citizenship in Japan and Brazil”.

With the Engaged Anthropology Grant, I was able to travel to Japan and Brazil to share the results of my dissertation fieldwork conducted from 2013 to 2014. The yearlong fieldwork investigated why the Pentecostal Christian churches have flourished among the Japanese-Brazilian (i.e. Nikkei) migrant communities in Japan by probing the connections between their ethnic, national, and religious identities. State-sanctioned return migration is a growing phenomenon in Asia today, with major nations such as India and South Korea legally facilitating the “return” of foreign citizens descended from their emigrants. As part of this trend, Japan introduced a new type of visa in 1990 for foreigners of Japanese descent, which triggered the mass-migration of Nikkei Brazilians from Brazil. While Nikkeis benefit from the visa policy that confers the right to settlement virtually as a right of blood, they often feel discriminated in Japan for their ethnic ambiguity and working-class profile. In this context of racial tension and contested belonging, many have been converting to Pentecostal Christianity—a religion that has grown exponentially in Latin America since the 1970s and subsequently flourished among many Latino migrant communities across the globe. The fieldwork examined this transregional intersection of Asian return migration and Latin American Christianity.

One of the church members with Dr. Ikeuchi and her book, after he discussed with her how the data from the interview with him appear in the book.

In July 2019, I returned to the main research site in Japan—a Pentecostal church in Toyota City attended by roughly 500 Brazilian migrants—to hold an informal workshop with the people who had participated in my study. The main purpose was to receive their feedback for the two main final products of the research. Since the completion of fieldwork in 2014, I have been able to edit a short ethnographic film In Leila’s Room (2016) and publish a book Jesus Loves Japan: Return Migration and Global Pentecostalism in a Brazilian Diaspora (2019 Stanford University Press). First, I screened In Leila’s Room to a group of core participants, including the main protagonist Leila, followed by Q&A. Some expressed a sense of amusement about the fact that the film incorporated what they considered to be banal interactions, such as family members speaking about barbecue. A vibrant conversation about observational cinema ensued.

Flyer for Dr. Ikeuchi’s lecture in Portuguese at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

Unlike the film, which is mostly in Portuguese, Jesus Loves Japan is in English, a language that the participants in the study cannot read. To make the book content accessible, I prepared a four-page summary in Portuguese and Japanese (many younger migrants prefer Japanese) and distributed it to the community members at the church on Sunday. In addition to the summary, they also received a fifteen-minute oral presentation in Portuguese from me about the significance of the study results and how their cooperation contributed to it. In total, I had roughly 250 people in attendance on this day, many of them previous participants in my study. “What do Americans think about us?” This was one of the most common questions, now that they have seen the book in English and heard about my representations of them in it. Although Toyota City has been a frequent destination for social scientists (both Japanese and Brazilian) who took interest in this migrant community over the years, some Brazilian residents there told me that they had never heard back from these scholars about what was done with the data afterward. As a result, many in the audience were excited to find out how the stories of their lives were recounted in the book, now circulating in an unfamiliar language. We continued our conversations in the church canteen even after the presentation was over. Many interviewees had the chance to see where in the book their remarks appear and listen to me explain how I incorporated them into my overarching argument about the relationship between migration and conversion. In these dialogues, the findings of greatest interest were about how the various church initiatives about “family restoration” seem to address the challenges that many migrant families face as they cope with distance, demanding work, and language barriers in a foreign land.

A screenshot of one scene from Dr. Ikeuchi’s ethnographic film “In Leila’s Room.” Leila, in the red shirt in this photo, watched the film and discussed it with the researcher.

The grant also enabled me to organize workshops and deliver lectures about Jesus Loves Japan at five universities—one in Japan and four in Brazil—so that I could engage the scholars interested in the study results in their respective languages. I participated in a workshop about my book in Japanese at the Nanzan Institute of Religion and Culture in Nagoya in June 2019. The talk was followed by the comments by two Japanese scholars and Q&A. Since one potential shortcoming of the book is that the majority of references cited are in the English language, their sharp feedback informed by the sources in Japanese constituted valuable and much-needed inputs. In August 2019, I traveled to Brazil to speak at The University of São Paulo, The Federal University of São Paulo in Guarulhos, The Federal University of São Carlos, and The University of Brasília. This time I delivered the lectures in Portuguese, followed by Q&A in a mixture of Portuguese and English. The audience consisted of Brazilian scholars and students, many of whom were deeply interested in the global expansion of Brazilian Pentecostalism due to the growing political power associated with the religion with the recent election of President Jair Bolsonaro. The comments and questions I received from the scholars based in Brazil were very different from those from the researchers in Japan, probably because of the diverging social positions of Protestant Christianity in the two respective societies. For example, some interlocutors inquired if the migrant churches I studied sought any political power in the mainstream society. I responded that doing so is more difficult in a non-Christian society such as Japan, especially for a foreign migrant minority such as Nikkei Brazilians. Overall, the feedback I received in Japan and Brazil demonstrate that different scholarly communities can bring to the table different analytical strengths informed by their respective intellectual and political backgrounds. The bilingual lectures in the two countries reaffirmed the importance of intellectual exchange across linguistic and national boundaries, and I am grateful for the Foundation for enabling me to advance such an initiative.

Meet Our New SAPIENS Public Fellow: Eshe Lewis

Wenner-Gren is proud to introduce Eshe Lewis, the Foundation’s first recipient of our newly launched SAPIENS Public Fellowship.

Eshe Lewis holds a BA in Latin American Studies from the University of Toronto, and an MA in Latin American Studies and a Ph.D in Anthropology from the University of Florida.  As a Black Canadian of Trinidadian descent, Eshe took an early interest in the African diaspora in the Americas and has spent the past ten years working in Latin America with Afro-descendant populations.  She has conducted numerous ethnographic research projects in Peru on Afro-Peruvian activism, identity and inequality, and women’s issues.  Eshe’s dissertation research was the first study of Afro-descendant women in Peru who reported cases of Intimate Partner Violence in Women’s Emergency Centers in the Lima.  Her research was carried out over 22 months and is being reviewed by government ministries as interest in social inclusion for minority populations increases.  Eshe is dedicated to conducting feminist, anti-racist and interdisciplinary research that can help improve policy.   She is a founding member of Mujeres Afroperuanas: Presencia y Palabra, an Afro-descendant Black Feminist women’s collective based in Lima.  Since graduating, she has conducted more research in Peru through a private research institute, and has taught courses on Afro-descendants and on women in Latin America.  Eshe is excited to join and learn from the SAPIENS team as the first Public Fellow in 2020.

NYAS Lecture 10/7: 21st Century Plantations and the Sustainability Fix

On October 7th the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series returns when Dr. Tania Murray Li, University of Toronto, will present “21st Century Plantations and the Sustainability Fix”. Dr. Jerome Whitington, New York University, will act as dissusent. This event will be held at 6:30 PM at its new location, Pratt Manhattan, Lecture Hall Room 213, located on 14th St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues on the south side of the block, closest to Seventh Avenue.

It is the 21st century and plantations are back. Colonial-style large scale corporate monoculture of industrial crops is again expanding in the global south. The land dimensions of this renewed expansion were thrust into public debate in 2008-9, when there was a spike in transnational land-acquisitions dubbed a global “land-grab.” Plantation proponents stress the need for efficient production to supply food and fuel for expanding populations, and to bring jobs and development to remote regions. Critics highlight the loss of indigenous lands, flexible rural livelihoods, diverse ecosystems, and carbon-absorbing forests. Implementing product-based sustainability standards seems to be favored as a win-win solution that enables plantations to expand but checks their worst excesses. Drawing on ethnographic research on Indonesia’s massively expanding oil palm plantations, this lecture explores the human dimension of 21st century plantation life and explains why sustainability standards cannot fix it.

About the Speaker:

Tania Murray Li teaches in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, where she holds the Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy and Culture of Asia. Her publications include Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier (Duke University Press, 2014), Powers of Exclusion: Land Dilemmas in Southeast Asia (with Derek Hall and Philip Hirsch, NUS Press, 2011), The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics (Duke University Press, 2007) and many articles on land, labor, development, resource struggles, community, class, and indigeneity with a particular focus on Indonesia.