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

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Dilmurad Yusupov

Dilmurad Yusupov received his undergraduate degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), Russia and an MA in Economics at the Graduate School of Economics, Waseda University, Japan. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship he will continue his training with a PhD in anthropology at the University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom, supervised by Dr. Magnus Marsden.

My research project deals with disability in Uzbekistan, where it is conflated with physical dysfunction caused by various impairments and state efforts are directed towards returning disabled people to ‘normal’ condition through medical rehabilitation. Current practices have been largely influenced by Soviet disability policies based on institutionalization and segregation. The purpose of my study is to explore the potential that community-based approaches hold for promoting inclusive development as an alternative to placing disabled people into specialized care institutions.

Through an approach based on participatory action research with adults with physical, sensory and learning impairments and critical ethnography, my goal is to understand how Soviet disability policies and practices, Islamic culture in post-Soviet Uzbekistan and related cultural stereotypes about disabled people  shape current understandings of disability. I am also deeply interested in learning how existing formal/ informal community networks in Uzbekistan promote or prevent social inclusion of disabled people.

As an economist by training, I used to practice quantitative research and hold  a positivist worldview. But after working with disabled people at grassroots levels on various projects implemented by Japanese international organizations in Uzbekistan, I gained an understanding of how  economics, with its numerous assumptions about human lives and focus  on numbers, can produce a distorted reality. This prompted me to undertake a PhD at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex where I could receive postgraduate training in anthropology and participatory research methods.

Drawing on social and medical anthropology, my research project adopts a constructivist paradigm. After completing a comprehensive literature review on relevant research approaches and methods, I have embraced critical ethnography and  view disability not as a medical but as a culturally and socially constructed concept. In Uzbekistan, anthropological education and research is heavily underrepresented and its potential is underestimated. Therefore, through this research and world-class training in anthropology, I aim to contribute to national academia and advance applied anthropology as a means to promote social development in Uzbekistan.

Upcoming September Conferences

4th AIBR International Conference of Anthropology

September 4-7, 2018

Granada, Spain

After the success of our three previous editions, in 2018 the 4th AIBR International Conference of Anthropology will take place in Granada (Spain). AIBR’s yearly conference has become a meaningful and necessary gathering for anthropologists from many parts of the world, but specially from Iberoamerica (Spain, Portugal, and Latin America). This year we will meet around the general theme “Dialogues, Encounters, and Stories from the Souths”. This is a special edition of the Conference where we aim to bring together research, narratives and testimonies from non-Western scholars. We want to bring to the spotlight anthropology as it is practiced in countries and by scholars who situate themselves outside mainstream anthropological theory and practice. Focusing on narratives from the Souths brings us an opportunity to recognize diverse genres of research, writing, and scholarship coming from places and universities that are rarely mentioned in the top rated scientific journals of our discipline.

In the 4th AIBR International Conference we continue to build on the experience of our previous editions. In 2015, the II Conference was held in Barcelona, with sponsorship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, where a total of 876 delegates met and 140 panels took place. The high turnout in Madrid (1st edition), Barcelona (2nd edition) and Puerto Vallarta (3rd edition) and the positive feedback received from the Conference participants showed that it was necessary to create further spaces for dialogue within Iberoamerican anthropology. In 2017 we were able to cross the Ocean. The Puerto Vallarta edition (Mexico) brought together scholars from 28 different countries. The 4th edition of this conference will be jointly organized by AIBR (Network of Iberoamerican Anthropologists) and the University of Granada (Department of Social Anthropology and Institute of Migrations). The conference aims to create a space that combines a range of traditional and innovative forms of dissemination of knowledge to inspire discussion and debate.

8th Annual European Society For The Study of Human Evolution Meeting

September 13-15, 2018

Faro, Portugal

ESHE, the European Society for the study of Human Evolution, promotes the broad field of research which investigates how humans evolved both biologically and culturally. Contributing disciplines typically include hominin palaeontology and palaeogenetics; comparative and functional studies of extant primates, using both morphological and molecular evidence; Palaeolithic archaeology; and applied studies of stable isotopes, dating, taphonomy, palaeoecology and palaeogeography.

ESHE aims to stimulate communication and scientific cooperation between scientists, and to improve public understanding of human evolution. Core activities of the society are: the organization of yearly meetings with a scientific programme, as well as a public-outreach event; encouraging and helping the development of international and interdisciplinary research proposals and projects, and initiating and supporting activities which increase the public visibility of human evolution studies.

The ESHE annual conference brings together an average of over 350 experts and graduate students that present the most recent research in human evolution and adaptation in Plio-Pleistocene contexts, including results from biological-physical research, archaeology, geoarchaeology, zooarchaeology, earth sciences, aDNA, isotopes, etc.

21st Congress Of The Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association

September 23-28, 2018

Hue, Vietnam

This 21st IPPA Congress will gather indigenous Indo-Pacific and other, mainly “Western”, scholars to discuss diverse themes in Indo-Pacific prehistory. As per IPPA procedure, convenors will organize sessions around topical themes in Indo-Pacific archaeology, cultural heritage, natural science, comparative linguistics, cultural anthropology and biological anthropology and genetics. The IPPA region extends W-E from Pakistan to Easter Island, and N-S from Siberia to Australasia. Conference topics can concern any part of this area.

IPPA congresses run every 4 years in collaboration with in-country institutions, most recently at Angkor with the Royal Academy of Cambodia and Khmer Archaeological Society in 2014. Past co-sponsors include the Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi (late 2009), the Philippines National Museum and University of the Philippines in Manila (2006), Academia Sinica in Taipei (2002), and the National Museum of Malaysia in Melaka (1998). The 21st Congress in 2018 is co-organised with the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre and the Institute of Archaeology in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jacob Doherty

Image 1: Small-Scale garbage collectors use customized equipment to reach hard to reach low-income neighbourhoods at affordable rates. How could these services be integrated into official waste management systems.

In 2012 Jacob Doherty received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ”Keep Kampala Clean: Disposability, Environmentalism, and Garbage in Urban Uganda,” supervised by Dr. James Ferguson. In 2018 Dr. Doherty was able to return to his fieldsite when he was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant which gave him the opportunity to carry out his project, “Wasted Opportunities: Designs to Recognize Informal Waste Infrastructures in Kampala, Uganda”.

Using a small cart he designed and built himself, Didas collects rubbish from households throughout Banda, a mixed-income neighborhood in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Filling a vital gap in waste management, he collects from houses large and small, rich and poor, from hostels housing dozens of students at the nearby university who benefit from the customized services he provides to mutli-occupancy households who cannot afford regular collection by private firms. For the last year however, he has been working under the cover of darkness, serving his clients at night to avoid the attention of representatives of a large private firm awarded a contract to serve Banda by the city government. Mistaking their contract for sole territorial rights to the neighborhood’s rubbish, they have impounded Didas’s equipment and threatened to take him to court.  This fits with a broader pattern in Kampala, where small-scale garbage collectors who provide critical infrastructural services are being criminalized, paradoxically, in the name of cleaning of the city.

Image 2: Using recycled plastics, ECOaction created a mobile art gallery to stage a pop-up exhibit. Background: art installation by Reagan Kandole.

Didas was one of my key collaborators on “Wasted Opportunities: Designs to Recognize Informal Waste Infrastructures in Kampala, Uganda,” an exhibition I co-organized with ECOaction, a community organization based in Banda that works to tackle Kampala’s environmental and employment challenges by using waste to generate new livelihoods. Lead by eco-artist Reagan Kandole, who I first met while conducting dissertation fieldwork in Kampala, ECOaction has been in Banda for five years, engaging small scale garbage collectors, informal plastic recyclers, and young people in the community. Together, we spent a month organizing a pop-up exhibition highlighting the contributions these small scale waste managers make to keeping Kampala clean, and proposing new designs that offer an alternative to criminalization by integrating these services into the city’s official waste stream.

Waste on the Ground: Scenes from Kampala

Image 3: Photo elicitation image: “Sometimes it smells badly, because there are many things, different things, which they throw there. When you are eating and you feel a bad smell, you can’t get a good appetite. I feel uncomfortable because you can even catch some diseases from there because there are so many things in there.”

The first part of the exhibition featured photos taken as part of a photo-elicitation I conducted as part of my ethnographic work. Twenty residents of Kampala were given disposable cameras and asked to take photographs of their city. Prompted to photograph places that make them happy, relaxed, and proud, and places that make them fearful, ashamed, or uncomfortable, places that are changing quickly for good or for bad, as well as how they dispose of rubbish in the areas where they live, participants captured a side of Kampala that is rarely visually represented. After printing the images, they became the basis for a conversation, where the photographers explained what they had seen and captured. Neither a celebration nor an expose, the images showed the Kampala of everyday life, capturing the problem of waste for urban residents, and the ways that garbage is handled in low-income communities.

Integrating Small Scale Garbage Collectors

The second part of the exhibition included photographs of Didas in action collecting garbage from Banda alongside a model we developed together with Isaac, an ECOaction team member who is a designer and craftsman. The model offered one possible future for an integrated community waste management system in Kampala. It put small-scale collectors at the centre of a system that maximizes the reuse and recycling of waste materials, minimizes the volume of waste needing disposal at a sanitary landfill, and reduces the carbon footprint, fuel usage, and expense of collecting garbage, while creating new resources for use in a variety of community enterprises.

Image 4: The model showing an integrated waste management system for Banda, centered on small-scale collectors and waste re-use projects.

Around the world, cities are experimenting with a new way to simultaneously improve urban waste management and support the livelihoods of the urban poor. From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Pune, India and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, small scale ‘informal’ garbage collectors have organized themselves in innovative new ways to demand inclusion in official solid waste management strategies, in turn, improving urban cleanliness and sanitation, while improving the livelihoods and capacities of marginalized urban populations. While not organized to the same extent, Small scale collectors are a fact of life in most Kampala neighborhoods. Recognizing this fact, this model proposes integrating them into official systems in a way that is mutually beneficial to the citizens who are their clients, government, private companies, small-scale collectors themselves, and to the environment.

The model shows the movement of waste from households, hostels, and local businesses to a community sorting facility where garbage collectors will be able to safely and hygienically sort waste into appropriate categories driven by local markets and community projects: plastic, metal, and paper recycling, urban farming, chicken, goat and other animal rearing, bio-mass briquette production, composting, and plastic bottle architecture projects. These projects bring income into the community, by linking household waste directly to industries and activities that repurpose it. The remaining waste would be taken to a skip situated at a roadside for easy collection, saving the capital-intensive trucks from time spent idling.

ECOaction Plastic Collectors

Image 5: ECOaction team members interviewing a plastic collector.

The third part of the exhibition highlighted ECOaction Plastic Collectors, new initiative that aims to foster co-operation among plastic collectors in Banda community so they can improve the services they deliver, maximize their earnings from collecting, improve their working conditions, overcome discrimination, and save money to invest in new projects and in their families’ health and education. The exhibition featured portraits and biographies of eight plastic collectors, written in collaboration with Arnold, Fiona, and Zahara, three young ECOaction members who learned how to conduct and write up life-history interviews.

Image 6: A workshop discussing the possibility of forming a co-operative to facilitate pooling collected materials and a scheme to save collectors’ earnings.

Plastic Collectors remove tons of recyclable material from the waste stream on a daily basis, providing the basic inputs for recycling factories in Kampala, protecting Uganda’s waterways and soils from plastic contamination, and reducing the global need for new raw resources. Despite their enormous contribution to the urban and the global environment, they face a number of significant challenges in their work. Foremost is the low price they receive for their collections. While at the top of the value chain, prices are set by global markets, within Kampala small-scale collectors are unable to benefit from economies of scale and so sell their materials at half the possible price to brokers. Through co-operation, ECOaction Plastic Collectors seek to overcome this challenge by gathering individuals’ collections together, collectively investing in transportation, and selling directly to factories by the ton instead of individually selling to brokers by the kilo.

Image 7: ECOaction Plastic Collectors attending the exhibition read their biographies.

Along with these displays, staged on a mobile art gallery designed and built by the ECOaction team using recycled plastic, the exhibition also included two stunning art installations by Reagan as well as demonstrations of ECOactions other livelihood projects: an urban farm, an eco-salon, a tailoring workshop, an animal rearing project, and their signature construction projects using plastic bottles.

Trust the Process

Image 8: Plastic collectors check the weight on scales as their collections are pooled together to sell.

While the exhibition itself was successful – attracting an invited audience representing the municipal government, NGOs, artists, architects, educators, academics, and local community leaders – the month-long process of organizing and preparing it was the more fully engaging activity. In the build up to the event, ECOaction and I organized discussion workshops with plastic recyclers and residents of Banda, learned new skills ranging from welding to interviewing, deepened relationships among plastic collectors often distrustful of one another and between collectors and the broader community, and laid the groundwork for two new initiatives that ECOaction will develop over the coming year: a pilot project testing the uses of a co-operative model for plastic collectors and a business plan to engage in plastic construction and education projects with schools throughout the city.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Simone Mestroni

Dr. Simone Mestroni was awarded a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2017 to aid filmmaking on After Prayers. We’re thrilled to announce that After Prayers has been selected to appear at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film and Media Festival in San Jose, California this November. Please enjoy the trailer and blog post below!

trailer after prayer_2017 from Rizoma on Vimeo.

After Prayers

Fejo Postdoctoral Fellowship

During the three months fellowship the post-production of After Prayers, a documentary based on Phd research on Kashmir’s conflict, has been completed. More specifically the final editing has been carried out at Rizoma Film studios in Rome with the collaboration of Donatello Conti. Subtitling, titling and color correction were also realized at Rizoma’s during February 2018. At the end of February, the trailer, meant to be used for festival submissions and promotion, was also realized with Conti’s editing support. Audio mixing and designing were then realized in Trieste at A-Lab studios, by a team composed by Francesco Morosini, Emiliano Gherlanz and their assistants. I have been personally following all these operations as beside the technical aspects of the audiovisual editing, many of the creative aspects of the documentary came as a result of the final stages of the post-production.

Beside some editing adjustments and audiovisual polishing the structure of the film hasn’t radically changed from the rough cut version which was presented for the grant application. The basic idea of conveying ethnographic findings into the visual language was accomplished, and After Prayers seems to be able to give an immediate feeling of what the conflict is in the daily life of Kashmiri people, describing the ways violence perpetuates into the valley’s routine throughout ideological, emotional and embodied layers. More than making theoretical findings explicit, the film aims at representing the sensorial and affective aspects of the conflict, so that the audience will be able to empathize with the characters, feeling the pain of a martyr’s mother, as well the rage of a rioter throwing stones at Indian soldiers, or the moral strength of a maimed mujahideen.

Since March 2018, when the film was almost finished, I have started preparing the festival submissions plan, trying to find a balance between different type of events: marked-oriented, ethnographic and human rights related. At the present time After Prayers has already been selected for Doc/player, the online industry oriented platform of Sheffield Doc Fest. This means the film has been shortlisted among the best 200 among thousands applications, and has been privately screened in front of very specialized audience. Notwithstanding this the premiere status is still intact.

At the moment After Prayers has been submitted at almost forty documentary and film festivals and I’m actually waiting from upcoming notifications. Among the ethnographic festival After Prayers will run for Filmes do Homem (Portugal), Jean Rouch (FR), SVA (USA), RAI (UK), Ethnografilm (FR). Considering the academic background of the film I have decided to give a priority to these festivals even considering the chance to hold a premiere in a very specialist environment: the ethnographic dimension can become the documentary’s strength in a broader panorama, and this specific curricula can become a good kick to achieve access to other networks.

At the same time I have already discussed screenings of After Prayers in academic contexts, as Dublin’s School of Law and Government, University La Bicocca di Milano, University Roma Torvergata,University of Messina, University of Catania, University La Sapienza. These screenings are still to be fixed according to festival’s plan and  premiere  requirements. In Italian Universities the documentary will be presented along with the discussion of my ethnographic book on Kashmir’s conflict, Linee di Controllo (Lines of Control), which is going to be published by Meltemi in September 2018. Regarding the dissemination process, the book and the documentary are meant to work in a synergy, ideally pulling the film’s audience into the book’s reading and anthropology students into the audiovisual language, so to blur the borders between the two fields, hopefully opening a fertile dialogue.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Rabia Harmansah

Exhibition space

In 2011, while a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, Rabia Harmansah received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Social Forgetting in Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cyprus” supervised by Robert M. Hayden. In 2018, Dr. Harmansah had the opportunity to share the results of her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to organize an exhibition titled “Remembering Forward: An Anthropological Exhibition on Shared Sacred Spaces in Cyprus.”

The project develops an exhibition on shared sacred spaces in the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It features brief historical information about six Orthodox Christian and Muslim sites, a variety of personal accounts, and visual material related to the sites, where sharing occurs or used to occur in the past. The exhibition is based on the ethnographic fieldwork project I conducted in Cyprus between 2010-2012, which examines the practices of memory-making and forgetting at sacred sites in Cyprus after the ethnic conflict and 1974 partition of the island. The exhibition is designed to share this research with the people of Cyprus and to stimulate a bi-communal dialogue on shared spaces and ‘alternative’ readings of the past.

Exhibition opening night

The exhibition is a collection of diverse readings of the past, present, and future through the loud silence of sacred spaces. The past is highly fractured and strategically reassembled in Cyprus. The memories of the past have been transforming since the Greek and Turkish communities fell apart in 1974. On the one hand, there is longing for a lost past and for a lost future, and on the other hand, a need for creating a new present and future. The reference to past is omnipresent in all narratives related to now and onward. Temporalities turn into permanence, permanence is absent and only imagined.

By introducing the practices at the shared sites and the transformation of them, the exhibition is designed as an invitation to explore the disregarded communication and exchange at these sacred sites before and after the division of the island in 1974. The exhibition creates a new avenue for the local people to contribute with their own stories, and memories that could both expand the dissertation research on shared sacred sites and also foster dialogue between the two communities on a topic that is relevant to them in their everyday lives.

Rabia Harmansah and Aslı Tanrıkulu in front of the exhibition space

The exhibition covers six religious sites, where both Orthodox Christian and Muslim communities visit and assert claims: Apostolos Andreas Monastery (Karpas Peninsula), Hala Sultan Tekke (Larnaca), Holy Forty (east of Nicosia), Hz. Ömer Tekke (east of Kyrenia), Saint Barnabas Monastery (Famagusta) and Saint Mamas Monastery (Morphou). The physical sharing of sacred sites has been restricted since the de facto division of the island in 1974, but they have started to be visited again by both communities with the opening of the dividing Green Line in 2003. Two of the mentioned sites (Saint Barnabas and Saint Mamas Monasteries) have been functioning as museums since their re-opening after the division.

Each site expresses a different story; manifests a deeper and shared history, bringing to view the complexity of exchanges for Cypriot people. The exhibition takes a fresh look at the Cyprus conflict and highlights both the coexistence and conflict happening at the shared sites. It aims at communicating the themes of sharing and understanding without defaulting to the hollow rhetoric of ‘peaceful coexistence and tolerance.’ The stories and memories harmonize with one another as much as they contrast. In that sense, the project goes beyond the sterile picturing of shared sacred sites in scholarly debates that approach these sites either as sites of tolerance or conflict. In some cases, the multivocality of holy sites provokes discussion over the identity and politics of these places. In other cases, Cypriots, whose cosmologies about these polysemic holy places are embedded in a land of many cultures, have been going beyond the political and ethnic boundaries with their shared cultic practices.

Visitors at the exhibition

This public anthropology work is designed in the form of an exhibition, not only for involving people in the research endeavor but also for questioning and rethinking social science methodology. I seek to reconceive methodology to bridge the conceptual gaps between disciplinary approaches, and between art and science. I collaborated with two artist-curators in this exhibition, Aslı Tanrıkulu, a graphic designer and a painter, and Ersan Ocak, an urbanist, a (visual) cultural researcher, and an independent filmmaker. This has provided an excellent opportunity to widen my perspective for thinking through the data collected in the field as well as the alternative ways to share the research with the public.

Visitors’ comments on the

The exhibition was held between June 19th-26th, 2018 at the Home for Cooperation, a space easily available to Greek and Turkish Cypriots for bi-communal activities in the Buffer Zone in Nicosia. The exhibition is intended to be moved to several other locations in both parts of Cyprus, including the Bedesten in North Nicosia, Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta, and Peace House in South Nicosia. It is also invited to be displayed at the Ruhr Universität Bochum in Germany and TED University in Ankara, Turkey. The stories were displayed in three languages, English, Greek, and Turkish. Visitors were provided cards to express their opinions about the exhibition, contribute their own memories about the sites, or answer the question “what would you like to remember forward about Cyprus?” The exhibition is complemented by an interactive website, which was launched to promote the project, and to provide a platform for exchanging ideas, memories, and photographs.