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.

Webinar June 24th and 25th: Patchwork Ethnography

On Thursday, June 24th, and Friday, June 25th, at 9:30 AM Central Time (U.S. and Canada), be sure to check out the Patchwork Ethnography webinar. For more information about this webinar click here.

To register for this event click here.

Patchwork ethnography seeks to bring blackboxed and delegitimized ethnographic practices out of the closet. Working against the masculinist and ableist assumptions that undergird fieldwork, patchwork ethnography recognizes that researchers — particularly women, BIPOC, queer, trans, and disabed folx — have always constructed their ethnographic work through patchwork, whether due to personal obligations, issues of accessibility, or the neoliberal, precarious academic labor market. In this virtual conference, we seek to understand patchwork ethnography as the product of what feminist anthropologists have described as “intersecting responsibilities” in relation to the structural constraints of racism, sexism, and classism that researchers are entangled in and which shape our choices.

Patchwork ethnography acknowledges the multiple subject positions, positionalities, and complexities of researchers. Rather than imagining the researcher as a sovereign subject, patchwork ethnography allows us to think honestly about the vulnerabilities of researchers, and how we may produce anthropological knowledge that pushes against demands of mastery and control. The goal of this two-day conference is to generate a collective conversation about patchwork ethnography as theory, method, and/or as an advocacy tool for funding agencies.

This webinar is part of the Webinars on the Future of Anthropological Research initiative, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Program Committee: Gökçe Günel, Saiba Varma, Chika Watanabe, Alexia Arani and Katie Ulrich.

While Wenner-Gren is proud to be providing a platform for this event, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

Seeking Participants for a New Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis Initiative

Request for Information

The Creation and Division of Wealth and the Long-term Consequences of
Inequality: Views from Archaeology

Precis: The Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS) seeks applications from researchers in archaeology and allied disciplines who are interested in participating in a collaborative synthetic research project on social inequality. This NSF-funded effort (recommended for funding in May 2021) will advance synthetic understandings of relationships between inequality and other dimensions of human social dynamics as they are revealed by the archaeological record. The project will be pursued by a working group of 10 researchers who have expertise in the study of social inequality and who have and are willing to share data and expertise pertinent to the topic for areas in which we seek coverage (see Research Areas and Data Types Sought, below). The working group, led by Tim Kohler and Amy Bogaard, will expand and develop the approach presented in Kohler et al. (2017) and Kohler and Smith (2018). A more complete summary of the research strategy may be found in the Project Summary from the successful NSF Grant application attached at the end of this RFI.

Deadline for receipt of letters of interest: July 23, 2021

Participants to be selected: 5 (who will join five others already selected: Shadreck Chirikure, Tim Kerig, Scott Ortman, Bogaard, and Kohler)

Contact: Questions concerning this Request for Information should be sent to Scott Ortman,
Director, Center for Collaborative Synthesis in Archaeology (CCSA), at


Established in 2017, the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis advances synthetic research using the working group model pioneered by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Although new to archaeology, the NCEAS model of research has been a powerful driver for advancing interdisciplinary scientific research in other fields (Carpenter et al. 2009; Hackett et al. 2008). The rationale behind and the vision of the Coalition is articulated in two papers (Altschul et al. 2017, 2018) available on the CfAS website ( As the project is intended to put into practice the collaborative research model laid out in those papers, RFI applicants are strongly encouraged to consult them.

Letters of interest submitted in response to this Request for Information will be used by CfAS to identify working group participants for a working group effort extending from the fall 2021 into the fall of 2024, with in-person meetings in Oxford, UK tentatively scheduled for November 2021 and in Boulder Colorado in fall 2022. Travel, lodging, and related meeting costs of the participants selected for the workshop will be paid through an NSF award to CU-Boulder’s CCSA.

A research stipend of $6500 will be provided to each participant to assist in data compilation and cleaning. No additional field or laboratory work will be funded.

Research Areas and Data Types Sought

In selecting researchers, we will prioritize expertise and access to existing data from areas such as Japan, South Asia, South America, and Eastern North America that have been lightly represented in prior work, and from areas able to present a continuous, long and well dated sequence of data. Regions that have been relatively well represented in earlier work on this topic (including the US Southwest and Mesoamerica) will be a lower priority, unless they can offer long and well-dated sequences not previously analyzed from the perspectives we are advancing. Participating researchers must have (or be able to develop) systematic data on house size and, ideally, household storage capacities for their area. It is important for chronology to be well controlled. The existence of high-quality contextual data for the sites, including reliable site and regional population estimates, well excavated assemblages of artifacts, well understood subsistence regimes, and data related to changing levels of violence is advantageous. A longer list of data to be tabulated will be developed at the initial meeting; we do not want to completely prejudge the sorts of data that researchers will advance from their specific areas as relevant to studying relative wealth and degree of prosperity and well being.

Application Submission, Evaluation, and Award

Application Submission:
Applications to participate in this working group must be submitted electronically to, by July 23 at 5PM MST (GMT-7). Letters of Interest shall be submitted in a single PDF or Microsoft Word document using an 11 point or larger font size, with pages having 1” margins.

Who May Submit Applications:
Letters of Interest can be submitted by any researcher with experience and having the rights
to existing data, including house-size data, relevant to social inequality. All researchers regardless of nationality are eligible; we are committed to diversity and professional development and strongly encourage participation by junior and historically underrepresented researchers, heritage management professionals as well as academics, and by individuals from developing countries and indigenous communities. Ability to engage in scholarly discussions in English (orally and in writing) is required. By the end of the project, source and synthesized data products must be made available, open access, through a recognized digital repository. Those submitting applications must commit to make available, open access, those portions of their data that end up being employed by the working group, and to attend an initial meeting of the Working Group in Oxford tentatively scheduled for November 19-21, 2021.

Application Sections
Each application must consist of a 2-page letter of interest and a 2-page curriculum vitae.

Letter of Interest. A 2-page letter of interest demonstrates the applicant’s relevant experience, describes their interest and past engagement in the study of inequality and explains how they would contribute to the working group efforts. The applicant will outline the data set(s) that they would contribute to the working group. Willingness and ability to engage in collaborative, interdisciplinary research and to integrate diverse data sources should be emphasized.

Curriculum Vitae. A 2-page summary curriculum vitae is required. No other information (such as hyperlinks to outside material) will be considered. The US National Science Foundation’s biosketch format is preferred but not required.

Review and Selection Process
Applications meeting the requirements set out above will be evaluated by a CfAS Review Committee that will evaluate applications on the extent to which they convey convincing arguments for making a contribution to this collaborative research effort. In addition to obtaining the desired areal and temporal coverage in archaeological data, the Review
Committee will be charged with ensuring that the working-group membership as a whole has
substantial diversity along as many dimensions as possible, including gender, professional status, nationality, and intellectual orientation. The Review Committee will recommend the five individuals to participate in the working group. Final decisions on working-group membership will rest with PIs Kohler and Bogaard. Participant selections are expected within 4 weeks of the application deadline.

Award Information
The award will pay directly for the lodging, and meals during the working group meetings. In
addition, it will provide each participant with a research stipend of $6500 to aid in data compilation and cleaning. If required, it will also cover visa fees and provide letters of invitation. Participants, including international participants, will be reimbursed for reasonable travel expenses. This would include, for example, transportation to and from the origin airport, advance-purchase coach airfare, transportation from the destination airport to the conference facility, and meal expenses (at a standard US General Services Administration rate) during travel. If reimbursement represents a problem, it may be possible to arrange for an advance or for purchase of plane tickets directly.

Effect of Submitting a Letter of Interest
By submitting an application in response to this RFI, the applicant acknowledges that applications may be submitted by other applicants and that CfAS is under no legal obligation to select an applicant’s letter of interest. Applicants submitting RFI responses further acknowledge that CfAS’ decision as to whom to grant an award is final, binding and non-appealable.

References Cited

Altschul, Jeffrey H., Keith W. Kintigh, Terry H. Klein, William H. Doelle, Kelley A. Hays-Gilpin,
Sarah A. Herr, Timothy A. Kohler, Barbara J. Mills, Lindsay M. Montgomery, Margaret C. Nelson,
Scott G. Ortman, John N. Parker, Matthew A. Peeples, and Jeremy A. Sabloff.

2017. Opinion: Fostering synthesis in archaeology to advance science and benefit society. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
114(42):10999–11002. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1715950114.
2018 Fostering Collaborative Synthetic Research in Archaeology. Advances in Archaeological
Practice 6(1):19–29. DOI:10.1017/aap.2017.31.

Carpenter, Stephen R., E. Virginia Armbrust, Peter W. Arzberger, F. Stuart Chapin, James J. Elser,
Edward J. Hackett, Anthony R. Ives, Peter M. Kareiva, Mathew A. Leibold, Per Lundberg, Marc
Mangel, Nirav Merchant, William W. Murdoch, Margaret A. Palmer, Debra P. C. Peters, Steward T.
A. Pickett, Kathleen K. Smith, Diana H. Wall, and Ann S. Zimmerman
2009. Accelerate Synthesis in Ecology and Environmental Sciences. Bioscience 59(8):699–701.

Hackett, Edward J., John N. Parker, David Conz, Diana Rhoten, and Andrew Parker
2008. Ecology Transformed: The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and
the Changing Patterns of Ecological Research. Scientific Collaboration on the Internet.

Kohler, Timothy A., and Michael E. Smith (editors)
2018. Ten Thousand Years of Inequality: The Archaeology of Wealth Differences. University of
Arizona Press, Tucson.

Kohler, Timothy A., Michael E. Smith, Amy Bogaard, Gary M. Feinman, Christian E. Peterson,
Alleen Betzenhauser, Matthew Pailes, Elizabeth C. Stone, Anna Marie Prentiss, Timothy J.
Dennehy, Laura J. Ellyson, Linda M. Nicholas, Ronald K. Faulseit, Amy Styring, Jade Whitlam,
Mattia Fochesato, Thomas A. Foor, and Samuel Bowles
2017. Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America and
Mesoamerica. Nature 551(7682):619–622. DOI:10.1038/nature24646

Project Summary, “The Creation and Division of Wealth and the Long-term Consequences of
Inequality: Views from Archaeology”

We propose to advance systematic understandings of the long-term causes and consequences of wealth inequality using a working-group approach that is unusual for archaeology. We have three main objectives. First, we will complement existing information on wealth inequality with data from regions not yet synthesized to provide a more complete description of the processes of wealth differentiation. Comparing these will then allow us to sharpen explanatory models for the rise of wealth inequality. Second, we will develop detailed high-temporal-resolution trajectories of wealth inequality in especially well understood regions to describe its dynamic relationships with political organization, violence, population size, and other key contextual variables. Where possible we will also systematize information on wealth creation, since a given degree of wealth differentiation might be experienced quite differently in a context of general prosperity than in situations of widespread poverty. Third, we will examine the degree of correlation of our main measure of wealth differentials in prehistory—house-size distributions—with household wealth and income in contemporary societies where we can control for potentially confounding factors such as local variation in prices and incomes. When archaeological proxies for key social processes can be shown to reflect the same processes in contemporary societies, it increases the value of archaeological data and interpretations for people today. The project is organized by the Coalition for Archaeological Synthesis (CfAS) and 5 administered by the University of Colorado Center for Collaborative Synthesis in Archaeology. The project adapts the collaborative, working-group research model pioneered by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis to the distinctive nature of archaeology. Thus, this proposal has an unusual dual nature: we argue for a particular model of research, as well as for a particular research effort.

Intellectual Merit

The project will test the validity and limitations of house-size distributions as proxies for income or wealth inequality by investigating relationships among these factors in contemporary societies. We will provide a more complete global picture of broad patterns in wealth inequality beginning in the Neolithic that expands on previous syntheses and supports deeper comparative analysis into its evolution. The project will develop finer-grained time series for societies having detailed archaeological evidence, supporting analyses into the dynamics of inequality through time within societies, and its direct and indirect social, economic, and cultural effects.

Broader Impacts

Archaeology’s unique ability to examine social processes over the long term will further public understanding and debate about social inequalities today—a fraught topic regularly occupying the front pages of our daily newspapers. The project will develop and examine a unique approach to synthesis via working groups, developed specifically for our discipline, which we predict will support greater participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and cultural resource management professionals, who are often excluded from research though they command substantial amounts of primary data. The large corpus of well documented data on inequality we produce will be deposited in tDAR, enhancing infrastructure for research and education. A popular volume on the prehistory of wealth inequality—informed by this project, but not funded by it—will complement CfAS webpages and professional publications to reach a wide variety of audiences.


Announcing the Wenner-Gren Fellowship in Anthropology and Black Experiences

Wenner-Gren Fellowship in Anthropology and Black Experiences

In partnership with the School for Advanced Research (SAR), the Wenner-Gren Foundation is sponsoring one nine-month residential fellowship open to PhD-holding anthropologists of all ranks.

This fellowship aims to expand the anthropological conversation and build capacity in anthropology by amplifying perspectives previously under-represented in the discipline.

We are eager to support individuals whose research draws on Black studies, critical race studies, diasporic Africana studies, the vernacular insights of communities of color, and other sources of inspiration growing out of global Black experiences to advance new lines of scholarship in any of anthropology’s subfields.  We hope to attract applicants working in a diverse range of sites, including but not limited to Black communities.

Applicants should show how this support will enable them to succeed at a critical juncture in their career and alter their trajectory in the field. Applicants must be US citizens or permanent residents.

The successful applicant will join a cohort of scholars at SAR in Santa Fe, New Mexico. SAR especially welcomes applicants willing to spend the fellowship term on our residential campus in Santa Fe, but the program is also willing to consider applications from those who can only participate through a combination of remote gatherings and an in-person residency of several weeks.

Fellows receive a stipend of $50,000. Resident scholars also receive low-cost housing and free office space at the SAR campus. Fellows who opt not to relocate receive a travel subsidy covering the cost of short-term in-person residency at the SAR campus.

The deadline for applications is November 1, 2021, for a fellowship starting in September 2022. For more information, please contact

Learn more about the fellowship.

Find out how to apply.

HealthXCross Postdoctoral Position, 3 Years (12 Months, Renewable)

Deadline for application: 28 June 2021.
Starting of the position: 1st October 2021.
Host institution: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy


We are pleased to announce a postdoctoral position available on the project, HealthXCross “Remaking Health in a Microbial Planet by Crossing Space, Time, Species and Epistemic Cultures”, funded by the European Research Council (ERC), 2021-2026 (Starting grant):

HealthXCross is an ethnographic study of transnational and interdisciplinary open-data platforms that compare and aggregate microbial data across time, space, species and disciplines. These platforms aggregate – through advanced AI technology – microbial data with other kinds of data (medical, environmental, social etc…) to intervene in both environmental and human health. HealthXCross main objective is to analyse how health comes to be reconfigured through these platforms.

We look for a postdoctoral researcher who will focus on one selected platform with a One Health approach in partnership with an important technological hub for the aggregation of data, She/he will analyse, within the ‘One/planetary health’ theoretical debate, the interplay between ‘data governance’ of open-data and ‘data epistemology’. ‘Data epistemology’ refers to the biopolitics of knowledge at play in One/planetary health, an approach that aims at blurring the boundaries between disciplines and between humans and non-humans. Themes to be analysed by the researcher: politics and practices of open-data; interdisciplinary and data science; biopolitics of One/planetary health at the interface between human and non-human health.

What a postdoc with the HealthXCross team offers:

  • to be part of a collaborative, ambitious, friendly and caring team
  • opportunity to make research on a timely and relevant topic with an applied potential
  • a gross salary of EUR 26 050/year (approx. EUR 1 900/month after taxes)
  • funding for fieldwork and conference travel

What we expect from the postdoctoral research fellow:

  • a PhD in Socio-cultural Anthropology, or Philosophy, Sociology (or cognate disciplines), and ethnographic and theoretical expertise in social studies of data; medical/environmental anthropology; One/planetary health
  • To be able to work independently – in dialogue with the PI and the team – and demonstrated capacity to produce results (present papers at international conferences, publish articles in high quality journals, and contribute to public communication (website, social media)
  • Ethnographic experience, also in interdisciplinary teams. A collaborative attitude is required because the aim of the project is to produce useful knowledge both for the community under study and for the scholarly community at large
  • Very good command of English, both written and spoken

If you wish to have more information or discuss your ideas on how to contribute to the project, do not hesitate to contact the PI of the project Roberta Raffaetà ( prior to submitting the application.

Survey of Wenner-Gren Applicants and Grantees

Have you applied for a Wenner-Gren grant in the past five years?  If so, we’d love to have your input.  We’ve distributed a survey that asks about you, your history with Wenner-Gren, and your willingness to help us reach a broader community of scholars.  Your input will help us do a better job of advancing anthropological research, addressing the precarity of anthropology and anthropologists, and fostering an inclusive vision of the field.  Thanks in advance for your help!

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Peter Little

FIGURE 1: Ibrahim Interviewing Abrahim in Agbogbloshie, an e-waste worker from Savelugu.

In 2016 Dr. Peter Little received a Post-Ph.D. Research grant to aid research on, “An Ethnographic Political Ecology of Electronic Waste Recycling and Risk Mitigation in Accra, Ghana”. Then in 2020 Dr. Little received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on, “Virtual Ethnographic Interpretations of E-Waste Work in Ghana in Uncertain COVID-19 Times.”

This engaged anthropology project stemmed from work carried out during a previous post-PhD research grant (“An Ethnographic Political Ecology of Electronic Waste Recycling and Risk Mitigation in Accra, Ghana”). During the grant period (January 2021-March 2021) I was able to accomplish most of the goals set out in my original proposal. First, I was able to engage in virtual ethnographic interpretation exercises with selected members of the village of Savelugu in Ghana’s Northern Region to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the lives of Ghana’s e-waste workers. I hired two community researchers to conduct follow-up  interviews with community members to get a sense for how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting their lives, and some of these interviews, as depicted in Figures 1 and 2, were video recorded. The community researchers also photo-documented recent COVID-19 public messaging and handwashing infrastructure at Agbogbloshie (see Figures 3, 4, and 5). Throughout the grant period, I maintained contact with my community research partners via WhatsApp and Facebook.

FIGURE 2: Ibrahim interviewing Savelugu businesswomen.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I had assumed that many e-waste workers from Savelugu would seek alternative work, but according to interviews conducted by the community researchers, that was not the case. As the price of copper climbed (now around $4 USD a pound), the e-waste recycling sector experienced a boom as a result of a rise in demand in the global scrap metal supply chain.







Another goal of the grant was to collaborate remotely with members of Savelugu to translate key research findings from previous ethnographic fieldwork into Dagbani, the local language. I hired a community researcher whose task was to translate e-waste environmental health narratives. This is important because all the literature on e-waste in Ghana is currently in English and so having it translated into Dagbani would surely help village elders better understand the risks and challenges these e-waste workers face. In February 2021, my research collaborators helped translate collected interview data. For the first time, members of the Savelugu community were able to see e-waste narratives translated into Dagbani (see Figure 6).

Figure 6


“Pain in here [points to ribs and heart]. The   stomach hurt. Chop [food], small small.”


“My chest hurts. Hard to sleep. Eyes be hurt, be  burning.”


“Sometimes my body burns. The copper smoke disturbs me. At night I wake up 2 or 3 times because of heat. My son Martin also sick. He got malaria. He is disturbed by the smoke and is stuffed up all the time.”


“My body is no good. Fire work is hard work for here.”


“The fire and smoke disturbs me. The chest hurts. I not go to Korle Bu [Hospital] for check up.”


“No good breathing. Plus my stomach hurt from small chop. Nobody come to help us with health. They test only the senior scrap workers here.”


“The smoke hurts my lungs. It disturb my lungs.”


“The smoke disturbs me. The fire heat hurt. The fire makes the head hot. I went to Korle Bu one month ago to check my health. No blood test.

Nobody comes here to test you.”


“I have trouble sleeping. Chest hurts. The heat bother me. I have medicine for chest pain. The water is hot (water used to cool down hot copper) and hurts the skin. It get in my eyes and burn.”


“My chest burn. I take medicine for cough. I also get cut and burned.”


“Kpɛ ka bɛrim bɛ. Puli maa bɛra. Dim bela bela”


“N nyoɣu n bɛra. N bɛ tooi gbɛhira. N nina n kumda ka zabira”



“saha sheŋa n ningbuna ku dirila boɣum. Kuriti maa Nyohi maa bobrima mi. Yuŋ kam buyi bɛi Buta ka tulim ŋo nɛri ma. N dapal Matinu gba ka alaafɛ. Malaria n gbaa gi o. Nyohi maa bobri o pam ka che ka fɛwufɛwu mali o saha sheli kam.”


“N ningbuna be niŋ ma nyaɣsim. Buɣum tuma mali wahala”.


“ ti bi vuhiri vɛyelinga. Ka bindira maa gba bɛri n puuni. Ashibti tun’tumdiba bi kaari ti. Ti kpambi maa kɔ ka bi yuuna.”

“Nyohi maa bɛrila n nyoɣu ni. Di bobrila n nyoɣu”.

“Nyohi maa bobri ma mi. Tulim maa nyori mi. ka buɣum maa che ka zugu biira. Goli so ŋɔn kpi la ni n daa cheŋ Korle Bu ni n ti lihi n daa alaafɛ zuɣu. n daa bi voogi n ʒɛm.


“Ashibti tun’tumdiba bi kanna  n ti kaari ya”.


“n bi tooi gbehira. Nyo’moɣli. Tulum maa bobri ma mi. n mali nyoɣu ni tim. Kom maa tuli mi (ko’sheli din maari kur’tula)



Finally, a goal of this engaged anthropology grant was to develop a photo exhibit in the primary school in Savelugu to help teach village youth about the life experiences and risks faced by Ghana’s e-waste workers. This is still an ongoing project and the exhibit will hopefully be up in a local school in Savelugu by the end of the summer. Thus far, I have worked with my community collaborators to select a series of photographs from the project to be used for this photo exhibit. These photographs have been re-sized and printed on foam board and were shipped to Savelugu in early May 2021. See some of the selected photographs in Figures 7, 8, and 9.


Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Diana Szanto

We’re excited and proud to share the trailer and blog post from Diana Szanto who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filming Manish.


Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

From 2008 to 2016 I studied development in Sierra Leone, from a particular angle: that of disability. Originally focusing on the role of NGOs, my attention progressively shifted toward local civil society. I got interested in self-organized disabled communities. My encounters in this world led me to a group of disabled musicians to whom I became attached by long lasting ties of friendship. As I was drafting my thesis, I thought it best to keep my personal life out of my ethnography. Retrospectively, it was a bad idea, but nervous doctoral students do not always make judicious decisions. Luckily, I also realized that my time spent in the company of my friends was probably the most precious part of my learning process. Silencing this experience seemed to be too much of a loss and so I came to the idea of transforming it into something more accessible than an anthropology book. I started to use two complementary methodologies: collecting field notes for a book, supposedly for an academic audience and footages destined to become a film for a larger audience. At the end, I abandoned the assumption of artificial boundaries separating imaginary audiences, but the two types of material yielded indeed two different results: a book and a film. The book (Politicising Polio in Sierra Leone) came out at the end of 2019.  The film became a collective project, but for years, it stubbornly refused to materialize.

As I am not trained in visual anthropology, I needed help in filming. I asked a friend, an accomplished French documentarist, to join me in the field.  He recruited a small but heteroclite crew, which came to visit me in Sierra Leone in 2009, 2010 and 2011. We collected more than 30 hours of footages. Shootings took place almost exclusively following the haphazard daily movements of our protagonists. Plans, if they existed at all, had to be frequently changed. For long, it remained a mystery even for us what kind of film this material can make, if only because our protagonists also frequently changed their minds about what they wanted to see represented. Several crises – of hermeneutical and personal nature – discouraged us from getting the job done.

By 2017, we had definitely gave up ever finishing the film. Then suddenly we changed our minds. That year our main protagonist died. His death put an end to a long hesitation and gave us a new impetus to leave a visual trace of his life. In agreement with the rest of the group in Sierra Leone, we decided to dedicate the film to the homage of our lost friend. What was a strong but materially baseless intention, became a realistic possibility thanks to the Wenner-Gren Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship.

We started to work in the beginning of 2019. Based on a first selection accomplished collectively, I wrote the scenario. I wanted to create a multilayered film that speaks at the same time about Manish, our hero, his micro universe with its broader global entanglements, as well as about the emotional vulnerabilities of doing fieldwork in violent terrains. We worked on realizing this plan for a year. Our team is not only diverse, but also geographically dispersed. I am based in Hungary, the first cameraman, director and editor, Denis Ramos, and his assistant, second cameraman, Ferdinando Formisano, live in France and our most important consultants, the film’s surviving main characters are in Sierra Leone. We had to find a way to overcome the distance. I travelled to France three times, the rest of the time we exchanged draft versions, ideas and opinions online.  Final postproduction was done in a studio in Hungary in the summer of 2020.

The film, Manish, is a 75 minute-length documentary. It tells the story of a polio-disabled boy, who escapes the war, finds refuge, friends and hope in Freetown, remakes his life several times but does not live long enough to see his dreams realized. The film does more than rehearsing the events. It excavates and makes visible the social roots of suffering. In a counter-movement, it also attempts to understand the nature of collective happiness and the political potential inherent in hope.

We intended to embed a singular story in its local and global historical context, in order to show its universal implications. We strived for a delicate balance between allowing Manish to inhabit the front of the stage while showing enough of the back stage to produce a nuanced and multilayered contextualization.  The multiplicity of the layers complicated the story telling. We understood that it was impossible to follow the chronology without some additional information.  After some hesitation, I assumed finally the position of the narrator. In this way, my own fieldwork, the process of navigating complicated human relations, has implicitly become part of the film.

When we finished the postproduction, we thought that the biggest part of the work was behind us. We slowly realized that what was in front us was equally huge: we have to make the film live.  Our two most obvious options are festivals for recognition and VOD for wide coverage. We started to work on the first option. For a while we were hoping that festivals would start open offline but in December 2020 we gave up waiting and started to register for online screenings.  For most of them, we are still waiting for the response.  VOD marketing can start only after the festival season. In the meanwhile, we are communicating about the film on its webpage ( With the site, I wanted to pay a tribute to ethnographic filmmaking. Therefore, I imagined a double function for it. On the one hand, it presents the film, on the other, it gives more information on the ethnography that grounded it with the intention to render it “teachable”.  Under the menu item “Teaching tools” the internaute will find four short edited video sequences. They illustrate 4 important themes discussed by the film and developed more in details in the book: 1, Being disabled in the South, 2, Contemporary forms of violence, 3, Expulsions, 4, Resistances. Instead of referring directly to the film’s story, the sequences introduce the viewer into the deeper intricacies of its social, political and historic background. These snapshots, although localized, are meant to nourish an analysis of current global processes, affecting in one way or another, beyond the disabled communities of Freetown, probably all of us.

This section is dedicated to teachers, activists or amateurs of self-education who want to know more about the topic. Each video is accompanied by a short text, explaining the scenes and proposing a theoretical frame for their interpretation. The texts are completed by a list of suggested questions for class discussions, a glossary explaining the concepts, as well as by a short bibliography. The four texts together provide a good enough summary of the book’s arguments and make these available for those who do not necessarily have time to read hundreds of pages.

The webpage is also a place for fundraising. A Donation button invites the visitors to contribute to a Fund established in Freetown to financially help the disabled communities to which Manish belonged. It is managed by a local NGO, One Family People, created by the protagonists of the film. 10% of all income realized by the documentary will go to the people who participated in its realization.

We had to postpone the public premiere in Sierra Leone because the crew refused to travel in the heights of the pandemic. According to a cautious new plan, maybe we can visit “Salone” in June. In Sierra Leone, disability activists will not have to wait until the film is released officially. One Family People has access to it and can screen it on demand.

Save the Date! June 1st: Proposal Writing for the Wenner-Gren Foundation: Introducing the Engaged Research Grant Program

The events of 2020 have forced anthropologists to reckon with their discipline’s history and the nature of the relationships they forge through their research. They are finding themselves asking themselves hard questions about the ethical implications of the work they do.

The best way to advance knowledge in anthropology is to draw on new sources of insight. The best way to ensure anthropological research has an impact is to make sure projects are meaningful for everyone involved. By supporting projects that are collaborative from the get-go, the Wenner-Gren Foundation hopes to demonstrate the value of this new approach to research for the field more generally.

Join the Foundation’s president, Danilyn Rutherford, for a discussion of the Engaged Research Grant program. Danilyn will describe the program’s objectives, go over the criteria of evaluation, and offer tips on writing a winning proposal. There will be lots of time for questions.

This workshop will have CART captioning.

Tuesday, June 1 from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM (Eastern). Click here to register for this event.

Tuesday, June 1 from 9:00-10:30 PM (Eastern). Click here to register for this event.


COVID-19 Emergency Grant Fundraising Effort Meets the Challenges of the Day

Photo credits (l to r): Alessandra Rosa, Dada Docot, Dawn Burns

In 2020 the American Anthropological Association received a Global Initiatives Grant to help support the AAA Emergency Relief Fund for Anthropologists.

At the American Anthropological Association, we are committed to bringing together scholars, practitioners, educators, and the public to advance the field of anthropology and its role in the world. That is why at the onset of the COVID-19 health pandemic, we knew that many members in our community needed emergency support, and that a meaningful way to advance our mission was by ensuring they have the financial resources they need to get through this challenging moment. These are members who make valuable contributions to our field but who, by virtue of being independently employed, working in a small business, or occupying a position at the margins of a university, suddenly find themselves in a position of financial uncertainty and hardship.

The AAA Emergency Relief Fund for Anthropologists offered financially vulnerable members one-time grants and a registration waiver for the fall virtual event series, “Raising Our Voices.” Two of our sections, the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA) and the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) also created relief funds. Over the course of a few months, we witnessed an outpouring of generosity from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, which was matched on a 9-1 basis with donations from our Board, Sections, and members around the world.

In total, we were able to raise sufficient funds to make grants to 190 individuals from 18 countries. In addition, we invited all 190 grantees to join the fall virtual event series, Raising Our Voices, which replaced the Annual Meeting that had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Funds from the COVID-19 Emergency Grant Fund were used to cover the registration fees for these individuals. The funds provided by the Wenner-Gren Foundation were disbursed to 20 individuals, all living outside the United States, in keeping with the spirit of the Foundation’s Global Initiatives Grant program.

We received a good deal of feedback from grant recipients, all of it expressing appreciation for being able to provide assistance in a time of acute need:

I am so, so grateful to have received the AAA COVID-19 Emergency Grant Fund. It really makes such a difference as a freelancer, also balancing a PhD and with lost income from this situation. Thank you for your generosity and this wonderful initiative.

Please extend my gratitude to the AAA and to the donors that made this possible.

Thank you very much for establishing this series of grants; it really means the world to know that the AAA is looking after unemployed anthropologists such as myself during this difficult period.

Thanks so much for informing me about this award, it is so helpful in this time of uncertainty and I am grateful to know that my colleagues are supporting me and others who need a little boost right now. I hope I can pay this forward in the future when I get a chance.

Thank you for the emergency grant, my family and I really need it at this time. I would also, through you, like to thank the AAA. It is my wish that in the future it will be my turn to assist, not to be assisted.

Thank you so much for this grant – it is coming right as the spring semester ends and helps fill the gap while I figure out what my next employment can be.

The global disruptions brought about by the pandemic and associated public health interventions were abrupt and precipitous. Recovery is proving to be much slower and uneven. The Foundation’s willingness to step in and strengthen the fabric of the safety net supporting some of the more vulnerable members of our anthropology community will almost certainly mean that as we make sense of this profoundly influential moment, anthropologists who might otherwise have had to seek their livelihoods elsewhere will be around to contribute to this sense-making.