Engaged Anthropology Grant: Robin Nelson

Dr. Robin Nelson, (left), and research assistant, Bridgett Robinson

In 2011 Dr. Robin Nelson received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Residential Context, Non-Kin Care and Child Health Outcomes in Jamaica”. After being awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2016 Dr. Nelson had the opportunity to return to the field to carry out her project, “Talking Back: Community Dialogues, Residential Care Settings, and Child Thriving in Jamaica”.

In 2010, I began wondering if we could study contemporary manifestations of parental investment and alloparenting when the home, as it is typically constructed in Caribbean communities, is unavailable. With this project, “Residential Context and Non-Kin Care in Jamaica,” I investigated the growth and development of children living in state-regulated institutional care settings, or children’s homes, as compared to their peers living in familial homes. Over the course two field seasons my research assistant, Bridgett Robinson, and I collected ethnographic and biometric data from over 200 children living in a variety of care settings in Manchester Parish, Jamaica.

Infographic shared with directors of the children’s homes in Manchester Parish and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Kingston Jamaica

Families in Jamaica, like their counterparts around the world, are fluid and dynamic entities responding to external stressors and interpersonal dynamics. Due to its colonial history and proximity to the United States, Jamaica’s economy is largely dependent upon the exportation of goods and laborers to other, often larger, countries. Economic shocks, the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, and the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have created systems that have left many Jamaican families economically insecure. Financial precarity and the out-migration of adult women, coupled with long held practices of communal caregiving have resulted in many children being cared for by extended family. When family members are unable to provide appropriate care or when children experience neglect or abuse from either their parents or extended kin, state-regulated children’s homes often become a child’s primary home setting.

In this study, we found that children living in familial homes were experiencing better growth and health, as assessed by measures of height, weight, skinfold thickness, and immunological function, than their peers living in children’s homes. However, the residents of one children’s home had growth outcomes that were comparable to their age and gender matched peers living in familial homes. These growth outcomes were correlated to the receipt of supportive psycho-social care. Additionally, girls were generally healthier than their male peers at both the initial period of data collection, and two years later.

Meeting with an official at a children’s home in Manchester Parish, Jamaica

With this Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned Manchester Parish and Kingston Jamaica in 2018 to disseminate the findings from my 2011-2014 study on the lives of children living in institutional care settings. Over the course of a few weeks, I shared an infographic of my findings, and my published articles with officials at the Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Kingston, Jamaica, and the directors of the children’s homes that were involved in my study. I also spoke to community members about the findings in several informal meetings. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Kingston, Jamaica is the primary government organization responsible for the well-being of children throughout the country. In this capacity, they both monitor reports of neglect and abuse of children living in familial homes, and assess the quality of care provided to children who have been removed from natal homes and placed in institutional or foster care settings. It was vital for me to share my findings with these officials as they provided permissions for the collection of data in children’s homes throughout the country.

While only 320 square miles in size, Manchester Parish in the central mountainous regions of Jamaica, is home to six children’s homes. Qualitative information gathered from the directors and staff of these children’s homes provided key information central to the framing of the findings of this study. These interviews were central to both the completion the study and analyses of these data.  In meetings with these directors during this return trip, I learned of continued challenges facing the directors of the children’s homes including limited funding, and the need for clinical psychological support. I also learned of on-going successes including the creation of new facilities, high achieving student residents, and trips abroad for some of the children.

The development of The Engaged Anthropology Grant, and my receipt of this funding marked a shift in the way that I both conceive of and plan my research projects. By overtly valuing public research, The Wenner-Gren Foundation enables anthropologists who are committed to this kind of work to actively involve the publics in our research. For me, this means being provided the opportunity to both explain my findings to directors of children’s homes who supported my study, and gaining the opportunity to receive their valuable insights about this research. It also enabled me to return to the community and meet with families who granted me entree into their homes. It has informed the development of future projects. An ethically minded Anthropology requires a commitment to working in collaboration with community members rather than simply “in” communities, and engaging with the public about both the development of our research and our findings.

NYAS Lecture 4/20: COVID-19 and Anthropology: Disease, Social Justice, and Well Being

Image “COVID Message in chalk on pavement” from March 31, 2020 by Ballofstring. File licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Full information on wikimedia commons page for the image.

On April 20th The New York Academy of Sciences will be hosting a webinar entitled “COVID-19 and Anthropology: Disease, Social Justice, and Well Being” featuring the following panelists:

Shirley Lindenbaum

Merrill Singer

James H. Jones

Thurka Sangaramoorthy

Amber Wutich

Tonya Taylor, Assistant Professor, PhD/MS, College of Medicine, SUNY Downstate will serve as moderator.

The lecture will begin at 6:30pm (ET). Webinar access via RSVP, live stream on Facebook.

Join us for a webinar focused on our current pandemic (COVID-19), contextualizing the global comparative, disease and treatment, issues of social and economic inequity, immigrant health, questions of stigma, and policy.


Shirley Lindenbaum (Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, The Graduate Center, CUNY), Merrill Singer (Professor Emeritus of Medical Anthropology, The University of Connecticut and in Community Medicine at The University of Connecticut Health Center), James H. Jones (Associate Professor of Earth System Science & Senior Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University), Thurka Sangaramoorthy (Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Maryland), and Amber Wutich (President’s Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Global Health in Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change).

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Laura Coppens

Wenner-Gren is proud to present the following blog post and trailer from Laura Coppens who in 2018 received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filming on Taste of Hope.

Taste of Hope I Official Trailer from Srikandi Productions on Vimeo.

Taste of Hope

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

‘Taste of Hope’ is a feature-length observational film and tells the fascinating and complex story of a workers’ cooperative in the small town of Gémenos. The film aims to convey how precarious workers are making sense of economic uncertainty in the midst of the ongoing crisis of capitalism by cultivating hope and desires for a potentially better future. Where idealism clashes with harsh reality, I observed the factory workers as they faced inevitable challenges. In 2010, Unilever announced the closing of the profitable Fralib tea processing and packaging plant in the South of France. After 1336 days of resistance, the workers celebrated their victory against the giant multinational and became owners of the factory. Now, with the take-over of the company and production under workers’ control, a new struggle has begun. Can this alternative project be viable within an oversaturated, highly competitive market? For two years, I accompanied the workers in their daily struggles. Between general assemblies, cash-flow problems and tea tastings with potential clients, deception, and conflict emerge. Ultimately, the documentary poses the question: How do we need to work today so we might live in a better world tomorrow?

‘Taste of Hope’ premiered at the Visions du Réel film festival in April in 2019 and won two awards: the Jury Price of the SSA/ SUISSIMAGE and the Zonta Award for the most promising female filmmaker to watch out for. After one year of successful festival run, the film continues to be screened in mainstream and ethnographic film festivals all over the world.

The film emerged from my ethnographic research about different manifestations of what can be called ‘economies of hope.’ The Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2018-2019 allowed me to work on the editing and post-production of the film and to explore visual modalities for telling the tale of a hopeful worker’s struggle. ‘Taste of Hope’ builds on recent documentaries that address the resurged phenonemon of autogestion in the South of Europe, such as Next Stop Utopia (2005) in Greece and The Nothing Factory (2017) in Portugal. However, both these films focus on the actual strike and factory occupation and do not show the daily life under worker’s control. I have used the film medium as a research method to explore and capture the processes and social interactions through which political subjects come into being affectively and hope is materialized. Through audio and images, I aim at conveying the hopes and imaginations of the workers and demonstrate how affect opens up new emancipatory possibilities in the domain of workers’ self-management.

As I further show in the film, the hope invested in a workers’ economy is not only an aspiration but also consists of a tangible dimension, implying that the political and economic future possibilities inherent in workers’ control projects are also always realized in the present. This sphere of social and political activity can be described as a workers’ economy of hope in which becoming knowledgeable about the economy and autogestion, in addition to building and maintaining solidarity networks as well as heightening awareness of ecological and democratic modes of production, are important sites in which individual and collective hopes are materialized. Thus, hope is produced and entailed in a wide range of workers’ knowledge practices like work and labor processes or product development, among others. Self-managed factories are sites of political struggle that must continually be enacted. It is precisely this process of enactment on a daily basis, the conceptualization of autogestion as a social practice and political activity that is the focus of my film.

Past and scheduled Screenings (selection):

  • Visions du Réel, Nyon (world premiere) | Winner Prix du Jury SSA/ SUISSIMAGE & Prix ZONTA
  • Kaleidoskop Film Festival, Vienna
  • Open City Documentary Festival, London
  • DokuBaku International Documentary Film Festival, Baku | Winner Audience Award
  • Margaret Mead Film Festival, NYC | Nominated for the Margaret Mead Filmmakers Award
  • DOK Leipzig International Documentary Film Festival, Leipzig |Nominated for the Healthy Workplace Award
  • Duisburger Filmwoche, Duisburg
  • Ethnographic Film Days, Bremen
  • FIPADOC, Biarritz | Nominated for the Impact Award
  • Soluthurner Filmtage, Solothurn
  • DocPoint Helsinki
  • Festival Millenium, Brussels
  • Dokfilmwoche Hamburg
  • ”Between Women Filmmakers” Caravan/ Cairo International Women’s Film Festival, Bilbao
  • International Documentary Film Festival ELBE DOCK | Competition

Reviews (selection):

“Unobtrusive and humane, ‘Taste of Hope’ is reminiscent of American documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s studies of institutional cultures and workplaces. Proper to her training as a social anthropologist, director Laura Coppens is keenly sensitive to place and people. This skill for observation comes through in the film’s treatment of the factory as a unique environment, as well as its attention to daily rhythms and the interpersonal dynamics of people.”

– Stephani Lam, Film and Visual Studies, Harvard University

“Instead of making grand gestures or political statements, the filmmaker works with the camera and with a thoughtful editing in order to understand how to weave together new possibilities of communal existence. The result is a superbly crafted observational exercise. A little manual of self-defense and resistance in the face of a neoliberalism that wishes for workers to keep their heads down. A taste of hope indeed.

– Giona A. Nazarro, programmer and film critic

“The fact that the filmmaker is allowed to be present when delicate topics are discussed is a testament to the relationship of trust that she has built up during the two years of shooting. The example of ScopTI shows how existence in a market economy demands compromises – which is not new, but it is always important to discuss together. After all, the wishful thinking about how workers’ self-managed companies should function cannot be reflected often enough under real circumstances, which are very different depending on the industry, size etc. ‘Taste of Hope’ is quite well suited to contribute to a solidarity exchange in movements and networks of collective economies.”

– Elisabeth Voss, economist and publicist

“Employee-owned business are the future. There have been too many narratives about people losing jobs and security lately, and this is extremely important to acknowledge. But we also need stories that instill hope, that show that there are other options available. ‘Taste of Hope’ is an incredibly smart film, that it doesn’t only concentrate on the force of spirit that led the ScopTI employees to become their own bosses: it also asks ‘what’s next?.’ Coppens arrived to film the factory when the rush of resistance had already worn off, and the more mundane, but crucial challenges started adding layers to the new labor system at place. This way, ‘Taste of Hope’ became a more complex, thought-provoking case study of workers reclaiming their agency, with emphasis on the essential practical side of things. Necessary viewing for those interested in how labor relationships will evolve in the future, with a delightful field trip to a tea-making factory as a bonus.”

– Katya Kazbek, Editor-in-chief supamodu.com

Link to website: https://tasteofhope-film.com