Engaged Anthropology Grant: Krista Billingsley

In 2015 Dr. Krista Billingsley was the recipient of a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on, “Transitional Justice in Nepal: Endemic Violence and Marginalized Perspectives”. In 2020 Dr. Billingsley was able to build upon her Dissertation Fieldwork Grant when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on, “Memorialization and Victim-Led Truth-Telling after Nepal’s Armed Conflict”.

In this photograph, Ram Kumar Bhandari is filming Anup Thapa. His father, Shyam Bahadur Thapa, was disappeared in 1998 during Nepal’s armed conflict.

During my Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded fieldwork in 2016 on transitional justice (i.e. mechanisms implemented to redress conflict-era human rights violations that occurred 1996-2006) in Nepal, a key desire expressed by conflict victims was the creation of public memorialization projects to commemorate the lives of their lost loved ones and facilitate greater public knowledge about their victimization during the armed conflict. Nepal’s truth commissions, which included a commission solely focused on disappearances, were taking statements during my fieldwork in 2016. Yet, victims, particularly families of the disappeared in Bardiya District, overwhelmingly called for greater inclusion in post-conflict truth-telling processes. Through this virtual engaged project, I discussed my research findings and ideas for a victim-centric film project with the leaders of conflict victims’ organizations in Nepal via Zoom. Those leaders then met in Bardiya to share my research findings with families of the disappeared and co-develop a victim-led memory project. More people were forcibly disappeared from Bardiya than any other district during Nepal’s armed conflict, and victims there were more likely to be excluded from transitional justice processes implemented by the national government. This project engaged the children of people who were forcibly disappeared during Nepal’s armed conflict to develop a public memory project to (1) respond to my findings and facilitate their participation in the co-creation of anthropological theory, (2) tell their stories through film, (3) memorialize their loved ones lost due to armed conflict, and (4) determine how their stories are disseminated.

This photograph shows families of the disappeared meeting in Bardiya District in February 2021. During this meeting, victims discussed my dissertation research findings from 2016, co-designed our 2021 Wenner-Gren-funded engaged truth-telling project, memorialized their loved ones, and organized for justice.

In February 2021, Ram Kumar Bhandari met with and filmed children of the disappeared (now adults) in Bardiya District. Ram Kumar Bhandari, whose father was disappeared two decades ago by the Nepal Army, advocates for victim-centric processes of transitional justice globally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law from the NOVA School of Law in Lisbon; works with conflict victims internationally; and helped organize the International Network of Victims and Survivors of Serious Human Rights Abuses, the National Network of Families of the Disappeared (NEFAD), the Committee for Social Justice, the National Victims’ Alliance, Conflict Victims’ Common Platform, and the Hateymalo Widows’ Groups. Ram was eager to serve as the primary research assistant for this project. Ram and I met via Zoom throughout the project (January-July 2021) to discuss logistics and findings. He stated the project was a connecting experience for him as he was able to engage with the next generation of families of the disappeared, to learn more about their experiences as children and adults living without their loved ones, and to connect them to other victims throughout Nepal.

Although several of the interviewees did not personally remember the armed conflict, they argued that people should know what happened to their family and better understand the lasting effects of having a parent forcibly disappeared. When offered suggestions on how to disseminate their film (e.g. send to local community members via text messages, curate for museum exhibits in Nepal and the U.S., post on YouTube, disseminate to academics and human rights advocates), every interviewee said yes to every form of dissemination mentioned without hesitation. While confidentiality is often a concern of researchers working with conflict victims, many victims in Nepal have continually requested that their stories be shared and the names of their loved ones remembered. They were hopeful this engagement could continue to help them connect with a larger network of conflict victims in Nepal. Their understandings of justice were varied and included truth-seeking mechanisms, public acknowledgement that their family members were unjustly disappeared, judicial procedures, and educational and financial support for families of the disappeared. The effects of armed conflict are long-lasting. Donor interest in and United Nations support of Nepal’s transitional justice processes waned long ago. Yet, the experience of losing a parent to enforced disappearance continues to impact families’ security (e.g. physical, financial, emotional), community relations, emotional experiences of everyday life and festivals (holidays), finances, and access to education and employment for generations. Children of the disappeared, although they are now adults, expressed grief over how their disappeared parents are portrayed as deserving of their fate and made clear their desire for their parents’ remains to be returned to their family.

This project is aligned with previous anthropologists’ call for transformative justice that challenges power relations, so victims can shape structures from which they were previously excluded. Many people from the Tharu community, who were disproportionately affected by state violence and enforced disappearances, primarily speak the Tharu language and are illiterate due to their continued exclusion from formal education. A digital media project is therefore especially useful, because it establishes a public memory project that is more accessible than a written report or workshop conducted in Nepali or English. As requested by participants, their films will be distributed this fall via YouTube and text messages. To continue this project and carry out participants wishes, I will edit the films (to display individually and as one shorter film) and organize photographs from my research in Nepal conducted 2013-2021 for museum exhibitions in Nepal and the United States. This project served to connect children of the disappeared to long-standing networks of conflict victims in Nepal and offered families the opportunity to disseminate their stories to a broad audience. Conflict victims rarely have control over their own representation, the co-creation of theory, or knowledge dissemination. Thus, this project foregrounded the voices of victims and created knowledge on their own terms through a virtual memory project where they represented themselves.


SAPIENS Workshop: A Masterclass in Writing for the Public


This workshop provides training in transforming anthropological research into op-eds or essays for a broad public. Taught by expert editors at the online magazine SAPIENS, the multi-day workshop will help participants develop skills for the craft of popular writing. At the end of the workshop, the participants will have an understanding of the editorial process for magazines and newspapers, a grasp of the foundational principles of popular writing, a working draft of an essay or op-ed, and connection with a mentor who can provide guidance beyond the workshop. This is a competitive grant program of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in collaboration with the Association of Black Anthropologists, Black in Bio-Anthropology Collective, and Society of Black Archaeologists.

Click here to apply.

Announcing the 2021 Global Initiatives Grants New Approves

Wenner-Gren is excited to announce the 2021 new approves for our Global Initiatives Grant!

The Black Feminist Archive Pandemic Preservation Project of Black Women Practicing Anthropologists

Dr. Irma McClaurin received funding to encourage and guide Black and Indigenous women who are anthropologists working outside the academy as independent consultants and community-based activists to preserve and archive the invaluable knowledge about social justice issues in their communities and beyond. At a time when many states are prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory, preserving these important historical materials and archiving these collections communicates the value and historical relevance of the work of practicing BIPOC anthropologists to broader communities, as well as to practitioners themselves.

Decanonization: The Global Anthropology Syllabus Project

Dr. Heather O’Leary received funding for the initial stage of an ongoing collaborative initiative aimed at promoting global conversations and collaboration.  The initiative will work towards the creation of a curriculum that expands the narrow focus from knowledge production in traditional academic institutions to a more inclusive, diverse representation of anthropological traditions produced outside hegemonic centers.  This preliminary phase supports the recruitment of a globally diverse and inclusive group of 40 scholars who will serve as an advisory council.

Inclusivity and Ethics in Archaeological Training: The ARF Field School

Dr. Christine Hastorf received funding to pilot an 8 week commuter field school designed to make archaeology more accessible. It provides stipends for BIPOC students and boosts the inclusion of low- and middle-income students entering the career. At the same time, the training will promote community-engaged archaeology and more sustainable ethical stewardship practices by using low impact methods to inventory and analyze orphaned collections and their legacy sites.

Southern African Field Archaeology

Dr. Dipuo Kgotleng received funding for the revival of Southern African Field Archaeology as an open access, peer-reviewed, online journal. The proposed platform encourages and subsidizes African-based scholars, students and practitioners of archaeological and cultural heritage studies by providing free editorial services. It aims to boost the participation of African scholars in disseminating their research results, at the same time it increases readership, public awareness and local participation in the research process.

UnderstandingRace.org Website Upgrade

Dr. Edward Liebow received funding to support the upgrade of the American Anthropology Association’s UnderstandingRace.org website.  This educational resource uses current findings from across the subfields of anthropology to challenge the notion that racial identities are biologically based and fixed. Its teaching guides help to rectify misconceptions about human biological variation and contribute to timely public conversations regarding social injustices.

Gustavo Lins Ribeiro to Receive 2021 Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology

Wenner-Gren is proud to share the news that the American Anthropological Association has selected Dr. Gustavo Lins Ribeiro as this year’s recipient of the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to AnthropologyGustavo Lins Ribeiro was the founder in 2004 and first chair of the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA). He currently lives in Mexico where he is a full professor at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and a Level 3 National Researcher of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT). He is professor emeritus of the University of Brasilia, where he worked from 1988 to 2014, and an Honorary Member of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Dr. Lins Ribeiro also received a Wenner-Gren Wadsworth Fellowship in the 1980s and was a member of the Foundation’s Advisory Council in the 1990s.

As stated on the AAA website:

This honor is given to “members whose careers demonstrate extraordinary achievements that have well served the anthropological profession.”

Dr. Lins Ribeiro’s scholarship, research, and service have demonstrated an outstanding application of anthropological knowledge toward improving the human condition throughout his expansive career. His areas of research encompass issues of transnationalism, international migrations, and changing trends in computer-mediated communicative practices. A prolific scholar, he has contributed extensively to AAA publications in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. To date, Dr. Lins Ribeiro has authored or edited more than twenty-seven books. He has published over 130 articles in numerous journals including American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Annual Review of Anthropology, Critique of Anthropology, Current Anthropology, and Journal des Anthropologues.

Dr. Lins Ribeiro previously served as co-chair of the former Commission on World Anthropologies and the Committee on World Anthropologies for the AAA. He served as President of the Associação Brasileira de Antropologia (Brazilian Association of Anthropology) in 2003 and helped to establish the World Council of Anthropological Associations (WCAA) in 2004.