The South America Theoretical Archaeology meeting or TAAS (Teoría Arqueológica de América del Sur) is based on the collective reflection of Latin American archaeologists about the situation and projection of archaeological theory and practice in the Southern Hemisphere. This 9th version will focus on issues of gender, sexuality, race and local ancestral communities, specifically to address and look into challenging the patriarchal, homophobic and racist undertones that have historically permeated archaeological research in Latin America.
The 9th TAAS will bring together around 500 participants from throughout the Americas to discuss how to better critically engage race, sexuality and indigenous issues that are central to the continent’s archaeological heritage. To this effect, particular emphasis has been placed on inviting local Afro-American (continentally-speaking) and ancestral community members, as well as, highlighting feminist and queer archaeological theoretical insights and contributions. Finally, the meeting will also emphasize recruiting undergraduate and graduate archaeology and anthropology students throughout the continent to engage in these discussions on race and sexuality in Latin American archaeology, to hopefully contribute into changing the current hegemonic discourses of the discipline in the region.
TAAS has historically looked to challenge the dominant theoretical paradigms of the discipline and provide nuanced perspectives to understand our intricate relationship with the past. With the support of international institutions such as the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), TAAS was born in Argentina in 1996. The first meeting was held in 1998 and, since then, versions have been organized in Argentina (twice), Brazil (twice), Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Bolivia. This 9th TAAS will, for the first time, take place in Ecuador in the city of Ibarra
This past March Wenner-Gren headed west to Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch in Tucson, AZ for the 157th Symposium, “Disability Worlds”, organized by Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp of New York University. The meeting’s edited papers will appear in a forthcoming supplement to Current Anthropology, 100% free and open access
Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (New York University)
Anthropology is well known for its capacious and ever-expanding framework and its embrace of diversity. Yet, as we argued in our 2013 Annual Review chapter “Disability Worlds”, this universal circumstance – how the realities of embodied, cognitive, and emotional impairments are understood in different socio-cultural contexts as part of the human condition — has too often been neglected in our field. Ethnographic studies of embodiment, personhood, kinship, gender/sexuality/reproduction, cognitive diversity, violence and its disabling aftermath, as well as citizenship and biopolitics remain incomplete and undertheorized without the consideration of disability. This framework provides a powerful lens to refocus and potentially transform thinking about new and enduring concerns shaping contemporary anthropology. At its most basic, the recognition of disability as a social fact helps us to understand the cultural specificities of personhood and to reconsider the unstable boundaries of the category of the human.
This symposium addresses the transformative value of critical anthropological studies of disability for many of our discipline’s key questions. Historically, anthropological studies of disability were relatively rare until the late twentieth century, often intellectually segregated into the realm of medical and applied anthropology. Yet, the international spread and uneven impact of the disability rights movement in the 21st century, as well as cross-cultural work in anthropology show that what counts as a disability in different cultural settings is not obvious. The need for research and theorization cannot be underestimated, given that approximately 80% of the world’s one billion people with disabilities reside in what is glossed as “the global south.” Anthropologists have interrogated the limits of a Western individualizing model when studying disability across the world. This work examines the presence or absence of disability in familial, community, religious and political life as constructed by larger notions of the social, relatedness, personhood, as well as diverse epistemologies regarding “normalcy.” Our conference builds on this work, and is premised on the recognition that disability is not a category of difference unto itself; rather, it is profoundly relational and radically contingent, dependent on specific social and material conditions that too often exclude full social participation in society. Beyond such exclusions, a focus on disability also reveals creative cultural production. Unexpected sites of innovation, inclusion and the reframing of “the normal” are producing new kinds of “disability worlds.”
This is a propitious moment to gather a group of international scholars to consider how a disability perspective can expand and transform the discipline as anthropologists increasingly focus on the social, political, experiential, narrative and phenomenological dimensions of living with particular impairments in different cultural settings across the life span. Our symposium builds on the work of anthropologists who incorporate a critical disability studies perspective, working in diverse settings to consider if and how the promissory note of expanding inclusion (as well as barriers to it) shape the “world-making” of people living with disabilities and their allies. We hope to collectively grasp how the experience of disability — whether named or unnamed – is reshaping understandings of personhood and boundaries of the human, while always accounting for broader social contexts that enable and constrain disability worlds. Concretely, this entails anthropological attention to this essential form of difference whether one studies kinship, sexuality, activism and political movements, technologies, religion, alternative communication/language practices, or the sensorium in light of atypical forms of cognitive and sensory processing and many other topics.
At the conference, we seek to understand how disability can provide a critical anthropological perspective on “everyday life with a difference,” often experienced in the shadow of a selectively globalizing neoliberal economy. Disability is implicated in circumstances of increasing precarity, exacerbated by the erosion and privatization of resources in late capitalism as well as the environmental impact of the anthropocene. Additionally, the survival of fragile infants and those with chronic disease, along with the expansion of people living into “extreme old age” all challenge the scarcity of social labor for caregiving for those with disabilities (and other dependents) across the life cycle. At the same time, social movements for disability rights, spreading unevenly across the globe since the late twentieth century, have made powerful claims for the growing recognition and inclusion of disability. This is in tension with the drive toward perfectibility that fuels culturally seductive neo-eugenic medical interventions, now routinized in everyday biopolitics such as genetic testing for selective abortion of fetuses with potential disabilities; this technology is rapidly diffusing from rich to middle and low-income countries. Such interventions raise utopian hopes of individual perfectibility and control that challenge the reality of disability and the crucial role of kinship, community, religion and other longstanding cultural resources for support and inclusion. These are essential to the interdependence on which disability integration ultimately depends. Moreover, other instances of rapidly transforming technologies – including media, prosthetics, social networks, infrastructure, and assistive communication devices along with attendant therapies – have produced life-changing opportunities for people with disabilities and their supporters, across domains ranging from disability rights activism, to public culture, to intimate realms of kin and friendship where personhood and disability worlds take shape. All require political will as well as a recognition that disability futures are fragile and uncertain at best. Nonetheless, we ask conference participants to consider how our work, individually and collectively, might contribute to building an ethics of possibility in the construction of disability worlds.
Toward that end, the symposium is organized around the following topics.
Decolonizing Disability in Anthropology
Biopolitics and its discontents
Inclusion/exclusion and habitable worlds
Technology, Creativity, media
Precarity, Violence, mobility.
We anticipate that each topic will also incorporate issues of kinship, activism, political transformation and discrimination, collaborative methods/theory, reflexivity, and life course perspectives.
In 2013 while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Eric Hirsch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Investing in Indigeneity: Development, Promise, and Public Life in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley,” supervised by Dr. Justin Richland. Upon receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2017 Dr. Hirsch was able to return to Peru to aid engaged activities on “After Development: Reconsidering Investment’s Promises with Participant Testimony”.
“After Development” was an engagement project I carried out in June and July of 2017, run in collaboration with local partners in the villages of Lari and Yanque in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley. For this project, I asked a small selection of Lari and Yanque residents that had been participants in one of the region’s many small-scale environmental and economic sustainability projects to offer their feedback on those projects in six workshops. Their audience consisted of former contract employees of the Center for the Study and Promotion of Development (or Desco) NGO who had worked on short-term development projects in these two villages. Most of those NGO projects, including one I followed as part of my original Wenner-Gren-supported research, lasted between 1.5 and 2 years and had ended in the region by late 2014. The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to pay people for their labor time attending the workshops and to leave each village workshop group a set of digital voice recorders.
The six workshops that I organized in collaboration with villager and NGO-staffer partners allowed me to triangulate dissemination of my ethnographic data on the sustainable development investments I followed in those villages with two key activities: (a) critical reflections from people who had received sustainability investments, capacity-building, and supervision for the length of a locally typical 1.5 to 2-year project, about how they felt those projects’ impacts three years later; and (b) the listening and feedback of the development institution staff members that oversaw those investments but were now unaffiliated.
The workshops were broken into three components. First, I described my research. I told my workshop audiences that I had lived in the Colca Valley between 2013 and 2015 to assess the local implications of the rather sudden global idea that indigeneity was a development asset and a key to ecological well-being, after it was long seen within Peru as a liability to be suppressed. I traced the ways that the promise of profitable indigeneity was put to use in NGOs like Desco and other projects that populated the region since the mid-1990s. I also described how my research focus built on older literature on sustainability, participatory development, and NGOs to discern a linkage between the Andes’ small-scale entrepreneurship investments and the region’s new large-scale extractive expansionism rooted in the idea that the Andean region was a space of abundance.
The second component of our engagement workshop consisted of partner interviews and focus groups in which former participants voiced their critiques of the projects they were part of between 2013 and 2014. Their testimonies, recorded in digital files, in my field notes, and in marker on papelotes (see image), revealed important aspects of the impacts of NGO intervention. The NGO’s main investments took the form of seed capital for entrepreneurs. We found that 50% of participants were still building the enterprise the NGO helped them set up in 2013-2014 three years later. In my discussions with Fabiola Dapino, one of the former Desco staff members who took part in the Lari workshop, she was ecstatic that the number of continuing entrepreneurs was so high—atypically high, in her analysis. However, we also found that a limited infusion of seed capital was not on its own enough support for new entrepreneurs. Those who had not continued a venture for which they had received project support reported that “we didn’t have enough money.”
This second component of the workshop revealed the unsurprising correlation between pre-project income and the persistence of project-supported entrepreneurial ventures. But it also elucidated that the highly visible presence of NGO projects in the region during the earlier part of this decade created the false hope that infusions of investment for economically viable indigenous-branded tourism, retail, and agricultural ventures would inevitably lead to market success. This was a critique that former NGO employees at the workshop acknowledged without pushing back. Indeed, based on that critical testimony, Ms. Dapino has begun work on a memo to her NGO-based colleagues with recommendations seeking to improve project design.
More broadly, in our discussions nearly all workshop participants reported feeling abandoned by short-term NGO projects. Not only did participants describe them as too brief to exert fundamental economic or environmental change. They also lamented the exit of Desco’s projects as the organization faced its own scarce funding.
Third, villager groups spent the last days of the workshop constructing their ideal version of a future local project that would in their estimation improve village life. While the former project participants were liberal with their eviscerating critiques of the 1.5- to 2-year projects, their own projects proposed improvements but were far from structurally transformative.
They proposed familiar NGO-style projects, intervening with more generous budgets, increased attention from a sponsoring investor organization, and an emphasis on having villagers themselves initiate project design instead of offering “input” at the end of the “participatory” planning process. Unchanged was their emphasis on the development of a tourism industry and of charismatic crops for export such as quinoa; uninspected was a faith in entrepreneurship and markets. This apparent lack of transformative ideas was a surprise especially given the burgeoning scholarly conversations about the rise of adaptation tactics, community-level transitions, and post-development alternatives in places where conventional growth is meeting its environmental limits.
However, a second surprising finding from the villagers’ ideal project design session perhaps explains the first: the workshop was so familiar as an interactional genre whose hierarchies and prescribed participant structures perpetuated a specific template of incremental technocratic change. I had hoped to use the workshop format to subvert, or at least openly question, the hierarchies between urban-based technocratic NGO employees and rural villagers. What resulted, instead, was a critical but still hierarchical listening session.
Ultimately, workshop participants were significantly more critical of the fact that NGO projects were so short and involved only minimal formal follow-up, and were now leaving the region entirely, than they were of the flaws and blind spots of specific projects. As I continue my engagement with Lari, Yanque, and other Colca Valley communities, my new research questions and future collaborations will build on that last finding from the Wenner-Gren workshop as an inquiry into how villagers are working through challenges to their economic and ecological well-being in the wake of a wave of development projects.
Kelita Shadrach received her MSc degree in Archaeology from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Funded through a Wadsworth African Fellowship she will continue her PhD training in archaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand, supervised by Prof. Sarah Wurz, Dr Dominic Stratford and Dr Matthew Caruana.
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have always had a natural curiosity for the past and a drive to continuously learn and challenge social and academic structures. As a woman in academia and particularly one of colour, I find that there are many boundaries to be broken down and redefined within South Africa, as well as between South Africa and the international community.
Acquiring my BA, BSc with Honours, and MSc degrees in archaeology from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) was important to me. Archaeology inspired me and awoke my desire to keep learning, particularly about the importance of the southern African archaeological record in the study of human origins. My interest is in the Earlier Stone Age, a period which spans from 2.18 to 0.3 million years ago in South Africa. During this time significant cognitive, technological and perhaps social thresholds were crossed, and past human species began producing the first (recoverable) cultural material: stone tools.
I have learned many lessons about passion, leadership and communication during my studies. As the current secretary of the Southern African Archaeology Student Council and as a senior postgraduate student, I have the opportunity to lead a dialogue among students, researchers and communities about archaeology and challenge the mind-set of academic exclusion of the public. Furthermore, I think that academia in South Africa needs to be more racially and gender inclusive. I hope to help change the established institutional dynamic.
Pursuing a PhD allows me to continue pushing boundaries. My research project will be an exploratory study of Early to Middle Pleistocene stone tool technology and site formation processes at the Klasies River Mouth, Geelhoutboom and Amanzi Springs sites in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.My PhD research at WITS will focus on leading a multi-disciplinary, fine resolution, stratigraphically sensitive study of the sites. For generations, WITS has distinguished itself as a leader in the field of human physical and cultural evolution. This research will build on this existing legacy and, through the application of new techniques and approaches, help transform archaeological practices.
While a doctoral student at the University of Florida Asmeret Mehari received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on “Decolonizing the Pedagogy of Archaeology in East Africa,” supervised by Dr. Peter R. Schmidt. In 2016 Dr. Mehari received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Toward Neighborhood Dialogue: Archaeology, Paleoanthropology, Oldupai Museum, and Community Development in Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge, Tanzania”.
I envisioned this engaged anthropology project in collaboration with Dr. Kokeli Ryano from the University of Dodoma to focus on encouraging neighborhood dialogue among researchers, museum professionals, and local communities in Tanzania. We conducted the project in Dar es Salaam and Oldupai Gorge to fulfill three objectives: 1) collaborating with local professionals, 2) engaging the Maasai community of Oldupai Gorge in northern Tanzania, and 3) communicating research results to the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Department of Archaeology and Heritage, and to the Antiquities Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. We fulfilled all objectives; however, this project mostly took place in Oldupai Gorge, home to the Maasai and a place of pilgrimage for numerous international tourists and researchers interested in human origins and development. Thus I share here our experience from Oldupai Gorge.
In 2010-2012, using historical and ethnographic inquiries, one of the four themes I examined in my dissertation fieldwork was: the role of African scholars in decolonizing and transforming archaeological practices and its pedagogies in Tanzania and Uganda, particularly in improving relationships with local people who reside in areas of interest for archaeological research and field school projects. The research result suggests the need to continuously problematizing and localizing archaeology, critiquing and transforming national heritage institutions, redesigning archaeology curricula, and holding dialogues with local communities.
We used Oldupai as a case study since it has been an area of archaeo-paleoanthropological interest for almost a century; thus, the most researched and visited archaeo-paleoanthropological site in Tanzania. Of course, its status as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), and its 50-year old on-site museum – the Oldupai Museum, all validate our choice. Despite such reputations, the relationship between the Maasai community and researchers (archaeologists and paleoanthropologists) as well as the Maasai residents and the Oldupai Museum remained uninvestigated. Furthermore, Oldupai Gorge has neither access to formal education nor medical facilities. Maasai residents have two additional challenges: malaria and, during dry season, shortage of water.
In 2011-2012, we witnessed these challenges. Using their native language, Maa, we interviewed members of the Maasai community to understand their perceptions, reactions, and expectations of archaeo-paleoanthropological practices and practitioners. The main understanding of the community is that researchers obtain something precious, take it to their countries far away, sell it, and gain wealth. The research outcome shows continuity of colonial legacies that exclude the Maasai from sharing scientific knowledge and from fully involving them in research projects and the museum. Despite these alienations, Maasai community supports archaeo-paleoanthropological research projects and the museum. The community has strong desire to know the apparent mystery of archaeo-paleoanthropological practices and related disciplines as well as their roles in local socio-economic and educational empowerment. Maasai residents particularly emphasize the role of researchers (including us) in assisting them in obtaining access to education and finding solutions to lack of medical services, malarial problems, and water shortage. They also demand equal rights to scientific knowledge, employment opportunities and payment, full participation in archaeo-paleoanthropological activities, access to higher education in these disciplines, and direct involvement in the Oldupai Museum. As the host community, they expect global archaeo-paleoanthropological research communities, academic institutions, funding organizations, and the government of Tanzania to incorporate their rights and their needs.
In 2011-2012, we promised to partially fulfill the community’s request by presenting and publishing. We presented at three international conferences and published the research findings in an edited volume. We also promised to come back and share our findings at Oldupai Gorge. Thus, we designed this engaged anthropology project and returned to Oldupai in August 2017 mostly to fulfill that promise.
We stayed with the Maasai community in Oldupai for fourteen days and in Arusha for three days to accomplish the second objective. This objective had several sub-objectives (share printed photos with the community, meet museum staff, produce informational posters, bring water for and have dialogue with the community). Mama Leken, our host, advised us to go to the river since most people spend their days at the gorge searching for water. At the Oldupai River we met people we knew and some we never met before. They were digging holes to get unsafe and unreliable water from the basin of the gorge, giving water for their sheep and goats, or washing their clothes. There we introduced the purpose of our visit and the objectives of our project. We managed to distribute most the photos taken in 2011-2012 at the gorge, at the museum, during the market day, and by visiting some families at their homes. Sharing photos helped us to reconnect with the community quickly, to recall the time we shared, and to not feel strangers.
The second sub-objective was to reconnect with the Oldupai Museum staff and to attract active participants and collaborators from the museum to achieve the third sub-objective: producing informational posters for the community. The museum staff were extremely busy preparing for the opening ceremony for the new museum. Instead, we are grateful for Mr. Emmanuel Saning’o Telele (Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) staff, Mr. Orgoo Mauyai Oloisolo (Oldupai Museum Conservator), and Mr. Emanuel Gabriel Tonge (the Olbalbal Ward counselor) for organizing and attending a meeting at the NCAA headquarters. In the meeting, we discussed the content of our project and the role of NCAA in achieving it. The NCAA and the Oldupai Museum gave us a blessing to proceed the project and provided access to water storage and a truck for transporting 20,000 liter water for the community.
The community also organized several meetings: two meetings with sub-village leaders, one meeting with community members and leaders, one meeting with local representatives who participated in the production of posters, and another meeting with community members, leaders and museum staff. In the two meetings with sub-village leaders, we introduced the project and discussed the content of the book chapter in Maa language. We were thankful for their time and excitement, and the leaders were grateful to know the research result and the project’s objectives. They had a different opinion on the budget we had for water funded by Wenner-Gren. They wanted something sustainable, building a room for kindergarten or clinic. We discussed this concern at the NCAA headquarters meeting; however, we were informed that the community needs to have a permit from NCAA. The sub-village leaders organized a community meeting. They introduced us and our project, and asked community members to vote for bringing water or building a room for kindergarten. The community was also aware of the challenge of obtaining construction permit on time so we opted for water and buying eight tarps for covering the currently open-air community kindergarten.
In the same meeting, the community elected Mama Leken and Mzee Zebedayo as local representatives to collaborate with us in the poster production. After several individual and group meetings with Mzee Zebedayo and Mama Leken, we read and discussed the published chapter with them in Maa. This gave the local representatives an opportunity to understand and review the research result and to know the role of Wenner-Gren, the NCAA and the Oldupai Museum in this engaged anthropology project. We also discussed what we intended to include in the posters and the budget for producing posters, for community get-together, for bringing water, and for buying tarps for the kindergarten. The community members appreciated the whole idea of sharing research results as well as having budget transparency. Considering the local transportation problem, the local representatives advised us we buy the food for the get-together as we go to Arusha to print the posters.
In Arusha we prepared and designed informational posters in three languages; English, Swahili, and Maa in collaboration with two local volunteers, Sandey and Leken Olle Moita, the Children of Mama and Baba Leken. They live in Arusha, and they wanted to participate. They especially helped us in editing the Swahili and Maa versions. Sandey also played key role in buying the food needed for the get-together and in presenting the poster to the community at Oldupai Gorge. The posters provided the community basic information about archaeology and paleoanthropology in order to properly understand disciplinary perspectives and to share the research result from 2011-2012.
The last sub-objective was to have dialogue with the Maasai community and the museum staff through poster exhibition and get-together. The community decided to open the poster exhibition at Mturi camp. It was opened by having a one-day festivity with the community and museum staff, which involved cooking and eating food together. In the meeting, we distributed the eight tarps bought for the kindergarten and two copies of the above mentioned edited volume donated by the Publisher, Routledge: one copy for the Oldupai Museum and another copy for the community. The four-day poster exhibition facilitated discussions with the community and Museum staff to obtain an up-to-date information and to serve as a foundation for future community engagement and development projects. As token of appreciation, the NCAA brought 20,000 liters of clean water and Wenner-Gren funded for 35,000 liters. In 10 days, local leaders distributed 55000 liters of water for about 80 families who reside in the area. At the end of the project, we left the posters in English and Swahili at the Oldupai Museum, and the poster in Maa with the community. We left Oldupai Gorge on August 29.
This project allowed Maasai community to engage in research feedback. It provided museum staff, antiquities staff, and university faculty a venue to express their opinions about our research approaches and results. Some practitioners heavily criticized the research result. They thought we fabricated what we wrote in our book chapter or that our informants are outright liars. What we learned from this journey is the challenges that can be encountered doing an engaged anthropology project. We will discuss these challenges in our upcoming book chapter. We are grateful for all numerous kinds of support we received from different stakeholders.
 2015 Teaching and Practicing Archaeology in East African Universities. Dissertation thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
 2016 Mehari, A. G. and Kokeli Ryano. Maasai People and Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge: Looking for sustainable people-centered approaches and practices. In Community Archaeology and Heritage in Africa: Decolonizing Practice. Peter R. Schmidt and Innocent Pikirayi (eds.), pp. 21-45. London, Routledge.
In 2018 Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile received an Institutional Development Grant to support the development of a doctoral program in anthropology. Our Administrator of International Programs, Judy Kreid, recently reached out to Dr. Marjorie Murray at PUC to discuss what personally drew her to the field of anthropology, what the past and present perception of anthropology is in Chile, and what she hopes the IDG grant will help the university achieve.
First can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in anthropology?
I was first trained as a sociologist at Universidad Católica de Chile in the second half of the nineties, a few years after the department reopened its undergraduate degree after the Pinochet regime. In those years I learned about the relevance of social and cultural theory for understanding a range of socio-political and religious processes taking place in my country and in the region, more generally, with an emphasis on long-term historical processes. I also learned about the ethical responsibility Latin American social scientists have towards confronting the stark inequalities that characterize our societies. At the same time, I enjoyed the readings in a somewhat marginal course I took on the sociology of mass media, where I became drawn to the study of micro consumption practices and their implications in people’s lives. By 2000 I became interested in the possibilities that new information technologies could provide our population. I completed an MA in Media Studies at Goldsmiths, London, where I enriched my theoretical training and–most importantly–discovered that I was fascinated by ethnography as a methodological tool that could connect my various interests. I wrote a thesis about the uses of mobile phones and social networks of South American immigrants in the UK, for which I carried out fieldwork. I was very inspired by Danny Miller and Don Slater’s ethnography on the uses of the Internet in Trinidad, and decided to apply for a PhD in Anthropology. It was during my time at UCL that I discovered and fell in love with anthropology. I was fortunate to study in a lively department, where I met people with a variety of backgrounds and research interests; where periodic seminars, reading groups, and talks were as important as our own individual projects.
Who have been the anthropologists that have most influential in your own personal formation and why?
As an undergraduate student in sociology, I experienced what professors Pedro Morandé and Eduardo Valenzuela called “anthropology for sociologists,” in which they picked bits and pieces from the work of anthropologists to build their theoretical endeavours in the cultural sociology of Latin America. It was through them that I first acquainted myself with Mauss’s The Gift, Lévi-Strauss’s study of kinship or van Gennep’s work on rites of passage. And it was in my work as their teaching assistant that I first developed my interest in anthropology. The discovery of Bruno Latour’s work in the early 2000s was also important; it was fresh air for questioning the theoretical armature I had grown up with, while confirming the endless potential of ethnographic fieldwork. Having said this, I should note that my two PhD supervisors at UCL, Danny Miller and Martin Holbraad, were actually the most influential in my training as an anthropologist. And it was not primarily because of their exciting work and theoretical advancements, or because of the authors they introduced me to. What I value most was their openness and encouragement for me to develop my own anthropological imagination rather than imposing their own research or theoretical agendas. I also value deeply the range of opportunities I had to share and learn from fellow PhD students who were developing diverse and inspiring lines of research at UCL, including Sergio González, Diana Espirito Santo, Anna Pertierra, and Dimitris Dalakoglou to mention a few.
Can you tell us a little about anthropology in Chile? What are the pressing questions and concerns for the discipline there?
In the four-field sense, anthropology has a long history in Chile, although this history has been mostly related to the study of the indigenous populations in the country. This emphasis has generated a strong tradition of research on issues such as acculturation, intercultural relations, and indigenous development, consolidating an image of anthropology as a field that could be properly developed only within academia. At the same time, this emphasis has produced an overall perception of anthropology as a niche discipline, undermining its potential in comparison to other social sciences. This situation remained for a long time and was reinforced by a lack of university programs offering graduate training in anthropology until very recently. Nevertheless, this tendency has changed somewhat in recent decades, due to increased access to graduate training abroad, offered through Chilean government grant programs. Through such opportunities, Chilean anthropologists have been able to bring fresh insights in terms of research topics and theoretical approaches. Also, the current context has driven this new generation of anthropologists to question how they can make a difference beyond academia, expanding the professional possibilities for the discipline in Chile. At Anthropology PUC we see ourselves as part of that development, as first with our undergraduate program (that opened in 2013) and now with our graduate programs, we aim to contribute to institutionalizing this new momentum in Chilean anthropology.
Indeed, current pressing questions and concerns for the social sciences and anthropology in Chile remain those of tackling severe injustice and inequalities in a range of forms, manifestations, settings, and populations. Yet, if we want to develop anthropology’s real potential, we need to avoid reducing the discipline to a set of predefined topics and subject areas. With theoretical openness and in-depth ethnographic approaches situated in people’s everyday practices, anthropology is positioned to be the discipline that raises new questions and concerns in contexts that are often overlooked by other fields or obscured by taken-for-granted assumptions.
Is anthropology a subject that attracts students in Chile?
In Chile, anthropology is mainly a subject that attracts students who already have some idea of what the discipline is about. Currently, there are few departments offering undergraduate or master’s degrees, with just one doctoral program in the entire country. So numerically-speaking, there is a growing demand for anthropology. Unfortunately, however, most secondary students in Chile have only a vague idea of what anthropology is. And if they do know something about anthropology, they tend to have a very conventional understanding of the discipline, where anthropologists study so-called “traditional” or “non-modern” societies in a more ethnological way. We want to teach our students that anthropology can be that, but also much more; we want students to understand that in Chile, for instance, anthropologists can (and do!) study scientists and members of the political elite.
We also want to make sure that anthropologists are taken seriously on the job market, as many anthropology graduates are in competition with their peers from other social sciences, such as sociology. Among potential employers, even in NGOs and the nonprofit sector, there can be the perception of anthropologists being less rigorous or too abstract in comparison with other social scientists. We want to tell them that today, anthropologists–as we envision our graduates–can combine a critical vision of society with tangible skills and professionalism, and that they are prepared to work in a variety of different settings.
Can you tell us about your department, its specialties and how the award will help your department as it moves forward?
Our department is fairly young, with many things happening in the last few years. Soon after finishing our PhDs, I, together with Piergiorgio Di Giminiani, started the Anthropology Program in 2010 under the auspices of the Institute of Sociology. Now we have 14 faculty members. In 2013, we admitted our first class of undergraduate majors (licenciatura), which is a five-year degree, following the Chilean system of higher education. Our program emphasizes ethnographic fieldwork and the development of comparative perspectives that allow for reflection on anthropological problems from a variety of regional contexts in Chile, Latin America, and the wider world. We are proud to have graduated our first class last year. Starting this year (2018), we are also offering an archaeology major at the undergraduate level. Our faculty is characterized by a diversity of regional and thematic interests, including political ecology, violence and post-conflict transitions, the anthropology of the state, material culture, visual anthropology, religion, migration, childhood, and education; in Chile and in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, and Peru, and also in Spain and Italy. Traditionally in Chile, anthropologists have mainly studied their own country, with a particular emphasis on certain groups and cultures. By hiring anthropologists with expertise in different areas of the world, we wanted to break away a bit from this more national focus. If we want to have a more symmetric dialogue with peers and departments in the global North, we need to move away from the idea that anthropologists in developing countries can only study phenomena within their national borders. I think our choice to cross national borders is a novel and interesting direction in Chile and, in some sense, it responds to developments in other Latin American countries.
For the last two years we have been working on the creation of our graduate programs. Our master’s is a two-year program that incorporates four thematic clusters reflecting the research interests of our faculty:
(1) Environment and Emerging Worlds, (2) Personhood, Self, and the Body, (3) Politics, Difference, and Governance, and (4) Senses and Materialities. Our doctoral program is scheduled to admit its first students in 2020. The activities carried out during the five-year IDG funding period will be crucial at various levels. Investments in infrastructure will ensure that PUC PhD students have access to resources that allow them to become versed in classic and contemporary themes in the discipline, as well as to develop research projects that are engaged with anthropological issues and debates beyond Chile and Latin America. Also, we plan to develop an internal grant scheme that will help make ethnographic fieldwork a norm in the PhD program. We are particularly enthusiastic about the exchange activities with our partner institutions, which will help familiarize our professors with different traditions and experiences in doctoral training and mentoring while also contributing to students’ training at PUC and at our partner institutions. These include student exchanges and the establishment of an international advisory committee that will help the program develop guidelines, procedures, and strategies to promote its long-term success and sustainability. By the conclusion of the IDG funding period, we expect our PhD program will have advanced in becoming a vibrant and growing center for graduate training in Chile. Our hope is that the program will be a timely and enduring contribution to our discipline’s professionalization and overall development in Chile.
Join the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Anthropology Section of NYAS on April 19th for a New York City viewing party of the plenary session of the 2018 Society for Cultural Anthropology Virtual Conference, Displacements. We’ll gather at 3:30pm for light refreshments. From 4-6pm we’ll watch the David Schneider Memorial Panel, featuring new work by Jason De Leon, Stephanie Spray, Eduardo Kohn and Lisa Stevenson. Following the panel, we’ll refill our glasses and continue the discussion.
The Photoethnographer’s Eye: On Picture-Making, Fieldwork, and the Indecisive Moment
Jason De Leon (University of Michigan)
Digital Ethnography on Time and the Labor of Science at Sea
Stephanie Spray (University of Colorado)
Presenters in conversation, moderated by Anand Pandian (Johns Hopkins University)
The Displacements Program includes 28 hours of engaging and evocative multimedia presentations from anthropologists, film makers, social scientists, artists, and activists from and featuring almost every region in the world. Beginning at 8 a.m. EST on Thursday, April 19, and concluding at 7 p.m. EST on Saturday, April 21, the conference will live stream a continuous sequence of panels and films, webcasting each panel twice within that span. Chat boxes and social media will facilitate conversation.
In 2013 while a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University Beth Scaffidi received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Networks of Violence: Bioarchaeology of Structural Violence and Imperial Articulation in Middle Horizon Arequipa, Peru,” supervised by Dr. Tiffiny Tung. In 2016 Dr. Scaffidi received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Pathways to Preservation: Understanding Archaeological Looting in Arequipa, Peru Through a Cloud-based Collaborative Database and Public Outreach Film”.
During my dissertation excavation in the Majes Valley, in the Department of Arequipa in Southern Peru, our team encountered evidence of severe tomb robbing at our site—we spent considerable time excavating soil probes, shovels, and cleaning looter refuse, even at the bottom of 2-meter deep excavation trenches. The looting at my site is typical for preservation throughout the valley; practically none of the previously documented archaeological sites in the valley are intact. The extensive looting prompted this project, which sought to discussions with stakeholder communities about the role of artifact provenience in the construction of scientific knowledge.
Many of the conversations about looting among archaeologists and cultural heritage professionals have debated themes like economic motivations for looting, site conservation, and international law enforcement efforts. In contrast, this project explored specific ways that the disruption of archaeological contexts in Peru has impacted the capacity of archaeologists, bioarchaeologists, and archaeological chemists to interpret data from looted sites. The project aimed to engage stakeholder communities throughout Peru in two ways: first, developing a crowd-sourced database for documenting the extent of site damage, and second, by distributing a short film explaining how looting impacts archaeological knowledge.
Wenner-Gren funding supported travel with a professional film crew to Lima and Arequipa, Peru to interview North American researchers. So far, we have recorded over six hours of interview footage and four hours of B-roll. First, we travelled to the World Mummy Congress in Lima, in August of 2016, and interviewed mummy scholars. We learned that many of the mummies in museum collections throughout Peru are from looted sites. With recent advancements in isotopic and molecular analysis methods, our ability to extract useful data from looted human or animal tissues has improved, but in many cases looting leads to contamination that precludes successful laboratory analysis.
We then traveled to Arequipa to meet with researchers excavating a looted settlement in the nearby Siguas Valley. Those interviews illuminated the complex ways that archaeological knowledge is constructed; in this case, through two periods of scientific excavation (in the 1940’s, and then again in 2014-2017), punctuated by looting episodes. This continued pillaging undermined interpretation of architectural features, in both excavations. We also met with a Majes Valley TV station director and arranged for local distribution of the final piece. During my time at my field site, Peruvian members of my team helped me to distribute hard drives full of artifact photographs to two local high schools for use in their curriculum.
Back in the US, we turned to the Curator of Archaeology at the Denver Museum of Art for a museum perspective on looting. She discussed the impact of fakes and looted objects on or understanding of material culture. More interviews are planned during the coming year in the US. We plan on distributing the final 20-minute version, subtitled in Spanish, to Peruvian media organizations and cultural heritage non-profits early next summer.
From our filming efforts, I learned about some of the challenges and benefits of integrating digital media into research. Anthropologists getting started with film in the field can benefit from some of our mistakes. Be aware that, even with a one-person crew using a light-weight kit, luggage can be bulky and expensive. The streets of South American cities and crowded combis pose challenges in transporting bulky film gear to a site. Also, multiple takes are often required—2-3 hours is a minimal requirement to set up, interview, and break down—for only a minute or two of usable footage. The more footage a team acquires, the longer the editing process will take, from backing up and pre-processing data, to laying out complex timelines and compressing files for final distribution. Finally, ethics codes of our professional organizations and IRB processes limit who can be interviewed. Nonetheless, film and digital media are excellent tools for conveying complex information quickly to audiences of various ages, as well as those who cannot access or consume print media.
Wenner-Gren funding also permitted me to field test the crowd-sourced looting database with the ArcMap Collector app for IOS and Android devices. The field tests of the database showed immense promise: anyone with a cell phone or Ipad and an institutional license to ESRI products (commonly used in archaeological fieldwork) can download the database, collect looted site GPS coordinates, collect attribute data on the nature and extent of looting at the site, and upload that data to a constantly-updating cloud-based group map. The need for an expensive license, however, is restrictive, and I am continuing to test free and open-source apps that would allow the public and Peruvian colleagues to contribute to the database. Furthermore, in the coming year, I will be looking for input from archaeologists throughout the country to better understand what additional observation fields should be included in the database. I am eager to invite archaeologists working in Peru to begin collecting these data soon.
The efforts of US researchers and professionals to educate the public and prevent archaeological site looting face significant challenges in the current political climate. While the US Department of State and the Peruvian government recently renewed their 1997 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to restrict importation and repatriate archaeological and historical objects into the US, the plan to withdraw from UNESCO jeopardizes future international cooperation and potentially, the legality of current MOU’s. Because the burden of documenting the extent of looting may soon shift entirely to researchers and stakeholder communities, empowering these communities to understand and document site damage is more important than ever. These pilot projects are just the beginning of comprehensive outreach and research endeavors. The database and film will be the centerpieces of future training workshops in Peru, and they can serve as models for similar cultural preservation efforts in other countries. Researchers interested in participating in the Peruvian Archaeological Site Tampering (PAST) database, or in receiving the final film for outreach or teaching purposes can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on March 26th at 5:45 PM for another great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series. Rosemary Joyce, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, will be presenting “Is Extreme Inequality Inevitable?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the 99 Percent”. Robert Preucel, Director, Haffenreffer Museum and James Manning Professor of Anthropology at Brown University, will act as discussant.
Event Registration: 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.
You can also register by phone, 212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600. Early Registration is strongly recommended since seating is limited.
In many people’s minds archaeology is about the search for kings and queens, for treasure and luxuries. It seems as if archaeologists are on the side of rulers, at the expense of the everyday farmer and laborer. And so archaeological theories about social complexity are interpreted to say that human societies are on an implacable universal road toward exaggerated inequality: extreme inequality is inevitable. But is this true? Or can archaeologists illuminate places and times when society did not spiral into ever-widening inequality?
In this talk, I critically examine the need for archaeology to contest the representation of a global rise in inequality as inevitable, arguing that we have let the allure of certain things enchant us, leading to an over-emphasis on the wealthy and powerful. I draw on my decades-long research on prehispanic Honduras, where for centuries people in towns and villages sustained a lower level of inequality than archaeologists see in the city-states of their Classic Maya neighbors.
Using this case study as a beginning point, I address how archaeology can be and is being used to illuminate the long term persistence and social contributions of a far more varied range of actors than the few leaders who have often received the greatest attention in our analyses. I sketch out an alternative place for archaeology in the world today, as an ally of new visions of social life that we can say are viable because they have worked already.
About the Speakers:
Rosemary Joyce is Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley. Professor Joyce is a major figure in contemporary archaeology, whose fieldwork focuses on Honduras and Mexico. Professor Joyce works on the archaeology of inequality, gender, and materiality. Her research in Honduras explored social histories “in which economic inequality was never as extreme as among neighboring Maya societies, leading me to consider how archaeologists might combat the common assumption that ever-increasing inequality is somehow inevitable.” As a museum anthropologist, Joyce has engaged in collections management and exhibition work at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, the Wellesley College Museum and Cultural Center, the Heritage Plantation at Sandwich, Massachusetts, the Museo de Antropología e Historia in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Her published work includes Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (2008),The Languages of Archaeology: Dialogue, Narrative, and Writing (2002), and Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica (2001).
Robert Preucel is Director, Haffenreffer Museum and James Manning Professor of Anthropology at Brown University. Professor Preucel received his doctorate from UCLA in 1988. He was a member of Jim Hill’s Pajarito Archaeological Research Project and wrote his dissertation on seasonal agricultural circulation. He was the 6th Annual CAI Visiting Scholar at SIU Carbondale in 1989 and organized a conference on the Processual/Postprocessual debate. In 1990, he took an Assistant Professor position at Harvard University. In 1995, he left Harvard for an Associate Professor position at the University of Pennsylvania. He was made Sally and Alvin V. Shoemaker Professor of Anthropology in 2009 and served as Chair of the Department (2009-2012) and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten Curator-in-charge of the American Section at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (2010-2012).
Buffet Dinner at 5:45 pm ($20 contribution for dinner guests / free for students).
Lecture begins at 6:30 pm and are free and open to the public.
Once again we are proud to present a trailer and blog post from one of our Fejos Postdoctoral Fellows, Dr. Natasha Fijn. In 2016 Dr. Fijn received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Two Seasons: Multispecies Medicine in Mongolia.
We bumped along a rough dirt track across rolling Mongolian grassland. Ganbaa, the driver, was heading for a spring encampment of an elder, who is often called upon to carry out bloodletting on horses. I was in the field to focus on filming cross-species medicinal practices amongst herders for a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship. Part of my interest was in how medicinal knowledge is still passed on within herding families in the form of practical mentorship.
As we passed a free-roaming horse herd beside the rutted road, I exclaimed ‘Zogsooroi!’ (Please stop!). Tiny hooves were protruding from a mare as she lay heaving on the ground. We tumbled out of the vehicle but our approach on foot caused the mare to painfully rise and walk a few steps away. The rest of the herd surrounded her as a means of protection from the strangers. I began filming while Ganbaa retrieved some milk from his vehicle and began whispering an incantation, sprinkling the milk three times to the heavens (Tengger). Both he and I were concerned for the foal, as although the head had emerged there didn’t seem to be any movement. We drove up the hillside to a nearby encampment and were immediately welcomed by a young herding couple. When the herder looked through his very old monocular he commented nonchalantly that the foal had just been born. We leapt up from small stools and hurried down the hill to where the mare was still standing.
Unlike earlier, the mare allowed the familiar herder to approach and inspect the placenta. He was clearly someone she trusted and, like her newborn foal, was perhaps one of the first humans she saw in the world. The herder picked up a brown, rubbery object near the placenta, in Mongolia called the ‘foal’s bite’ (or in English the ‘foal’s bread’). He gave it as a gift to Ganbaa, even though he could have sold it as medicine. Ganbaa was excited by the experience, as it was a sign of good fortune for our travels, witnessing a foal born during daylight, while the herder added that it was the first born for that year within the herd, another auspicious sign. Later, as we set off down the road again, Ganbaa sang songs featuring foals, still elated from our lucky encounter. As I looked out at the expansive rolling landscape from the back seat, I felt elated too, as I could clearly see that what we had just witnessed would make a poignant scene for the start of the documentary.
Such events are the best aspects of observational filmmaking, as without structuring according to a script, or the re-creation of scenes, spur-of-the-moment happenings become important elements. The birth of the foal and the herder’s family would not have occurred as a result of a list of shots, or a pre-planned script. The scene encompassed many aspects that I wanted to convey within the film in relation to multispecies medicine in Mongolia, such as: the significance of other beings, not just humans; how ritual and psychology are connected with medicinal health; the importance of timing and the seasons; the nurturing and welfare of mothers and their newborns and that multispecies medicine includes products that are derived from both domestic and wild animals and plants.
I lived in Mongolia for a year in 2005 and again in the spring of 2007. During my PhD fieldwork I found that an almost daily task was the treatment of extended family members, including herd animals by knowledgeable practitioners. One chapter of my book, Living with Herds: human-animal coexistence in Mongolia (2011), describes a multispecies form of Mongolian medicine, yet I wanted to return to the countryside to delve into the topic further through filmmaking. In between, my academic research and filmmaking was focused on Aboriginal Australia, until I returned to Ulaanbaatar in the autumn of 2016 for the coordination of a workshop on ‘One Health’. I knew that the most active times of year are spring, with many births and extreme fluctuations in weather conditions. The other key season is autumn, when herders collect medicinal herbs, while preparing hay for the long and hard winter months.
For the purposes of filming this multispecies medicine film, I re-visited two extended families after not having seen them and the beautiful river valleys for ten years. Many of the children were now all grown up and even getting married, yet daily life and routines with the herd animals were still much the same. With their wonderful generosity and cooperation they re-connected me with the local herding community. I discovered the benefits of a longitudinal perspective of researching in the field and noted many subtle changes over time, particularly in the availability of modern medicine.
Ganbaa became not just a driver of the vehicle to carry me into the field from the capital of Ulaanbaatar, he became a collaborator while in the field. He offered to take me to his homeland where he grew up and where his extended family and friends still reside. Through his familial connections in the area, we were warmly welcomed in the homes we visited. He insisted on gifts of a bottle of vodka and his latest book of poetry, spontaneously reciting poetry in every home we visited. Ganbaa is a great orator and managed to loosen even the most reticent herders’ tongues. I gave him background information on what I wanted to learn from the herders we visited. During informal interviews and conversations, I let Ganbaa ask questions, in order to allow the discussion to flow smoothly. I wanted to avoid external interruptions and it meant I could concentrate on responding to the conversation with the video camera. If I needed to change a shooting position, or film some different shots of the surroundings, it was only then that I would interject and ask a question to occasionally redirect the conversation for further insights.
The two other homelands within the film were where I had lived in 2005 and the spring of 2007. Nara, as matriarch of a large extended family encampment, is Buddhist and adheres to ritual and ceremony to keep her family and the herds healthy. The film includes other characters within Nara’s homeland, however, such as her son. I filmed Nara’s son with his own young son observing, while he nurtured a newborn foal in freezing temperatures. Mongolian medicine involves many different forms of treatment, including preventative strategies, moxibustion, bone-setting, antibiotics and vaccinations. I chose to focus primarily on medicinal herbs and bloodletting, which meant that I could draw upon the differing knowledge of herding men and women. It is often the women who collect the medicinal plants, prepare and dry them, and ultimately administer them to the family, or young animals. Bloodletting, on the other hand, is passed down along male patrilines and is usually practiced by men.
The third field location where I filmed was in Bor and Bömbög’s homeland. I had lived in the same valley previously within Bömbög’s mother’s encampment, which meant I had established strong bonds with the extended family. Herders are often reticent to admit that they have any ill animals at all, as a successful practitioner and herder pride themselves in preventing illness in the first place. Some individual casualties, however, are inevitable in such harsh environmental conditions. Bor has been a leader of the local herding community and is well respected for his herding knowledge. Because both he and his wife have confidence in their abilities, they were willing to reveal that they had individual herd animals that were injured and allowed me to film the treatment of them. Bor drove me to the nearest township to visit the local doctor, who also practices traditional medicine, and was comfortable with me filming the doctor diagnosing his ailments.
The concept of a homeland (nutag) and a strong sense of place are important to semi-nomadic herders. I felt the unique environmental conditions should be an important aspect within a film focusing on Mongolian medicine. While editing the footage together, in terms of structure, I chose to focus on the three different areas I filmed in spring and then again in autumn, hence the title ‘Two Seasons’. Layering the two seasons with the three locations meant the film is divided into six separate parts: Ganbaa visiting his homeland in spring; Nara’s homeland in spring; Bor and Bömbög’s homeland in spring, then again all three homelands in autumn. Although the inter-titles focus on just four main protagonists, the different homelands encompass many other knowledgeable individuals from different inter-connected herding families that I filmed within the project.
Filming within a multispecies context in a remote cross-cultural field location requires a form of both observational and participatory filmmaking. Participant observation requires time, embedded in context on location, but it also means that the filmmaker is there and attuned to situations when they happen to occur. Having already spent over a year in the Khangai Mountains ten years previously, it meant I could quickly reintegrate with families and an inherent trust, while new relationships could be formed through collaboration with Mongolians with an ongoing connection to their homeland.