Engaged Anthropology Grant: Devaka Premawardhana

Devaka returning to the district of his fieldwork, this time with Baraka

In 2010 while a doctoral student at Harvard University Devaka Premawardhana received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sacrificial Exchanges: Pentecostal Conversions and Urban Migrations in Northern Mozambique,” supervised by Dr. Michael D. Jackson. In 2015 Dr. Premawardhana received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Displacement: A Seminar Series on Makhuwa Mobility”.

“Papá Baraka!”

I didn’t respond and kept on my walk.

“Oi! Papá Baraka!”

This time I turned around and saw the daughter of a good friend waving. I walked back toward her, apologizing for not knowing it was me she was calling. We exchanged greetings, asked after each other’s family, and then separated with promises for a later, longer visit.

I’m not the same person anymore, I thought to myself as I went back on my way. And I would need to get used to that.

In my year of fieldwork among a Makhuwa-speaking people of Mozambique, I was Devaka. Formally, at least. Those who knew me well called me Namanriya, the Makhuwa word for chameleon. “Vakhani vakhani ntoko namanriya,” say the Makhuwa (“slowly, slowly, like the chameleon”), an expression of admiration for the chameleon’s unique ability—not so much to change color as to walk slowly, deliberately, and at that pace to take in the margins with its laterally positioned eyes.

Baraka getting a taste of the joyous welcome his parents received

That year, I got around the district on a 50cc Lifo. It was my first time riding a motorbike, and I was riding on sandy, unpaved roads. So I never went fast. Hence, the nickname Namanriya: the chameleon who rides slowly, slowly—enough to receive greetings from those on the roadside and to reciprocate with a wave or a beep.

I was also slow in another respect. During that year of fieldwork, four years into our marriage, my wife and I were still without children. Our friends pitied us. Though we had access to more financial resources than all the village households put together, we were the poor ones. Prayers went up in the mosque and the church, and offerings were laid for ancestors—all for us to receive the blessing of fertility we had clearly been denied.

Two years later, back in the US, we received that blessing, and named him as such—Baraka. Less than a year after that, we returned to Mozambique, to bring Baraka to our friends, to present them the fruit of their ritual labor.

In so doing, my identity changed, and with it my name. No longer Devaka, and only rarely now Namanriya, I had become Papá Baraka. In this part of the world, the measure of a person, certainly the measure of one’s worth, is the quantity and quality of one’s relationships. And just as relationships change—due to births and deaths, comings and goings—so too does oneself change.

Devaka discussing research findings with Makhuwa intellectuals and collaborators

This principle of relationality is, in part, why it was so important to return to my field site with my newborn child, but also with a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant and its mandate to share the results of my initial field research with the communities that made it possible.

Over a five-week period in the summer of 2016, I was able to do just that, meeting with leading scholars in the nation’s preeminent university, with research collaborators in the district where I worked, and with interlocutors in the village where I lived.

At each site, the response was immediately of appreciation and respect. Because knowledge, like identity, is grounded in relationships, people were less impressed with my ability to display an understanding of “the Makhuwa” than with my willingness to return and resume the conversations begun many years earlier.

From each of the groups, I learned something new about my research, or something in need of correcting. With each of the groups, I began thinking about how to approach my second planned project. And to each of the groups, I reflected insights I learned into Makhuwa ways of knowing and being.

Specifically, I shared my analysis of Makhuwa mobility—a propensity for movements both physical and imaginative, a predilection for making fresh starts in new places, an ease and comfort with novelty and change. One aim of the Engaged Anthropology grant is to disseminate research results in a way that offers some benefit to those among whom research was conducted. It’s my hope that, by hearing an outsider articulate the tacit, practical knowledge with which the Makhuwa by and large live, those with whom I met will be even more equipped to cope with the significant constraints on physical movement they face in the context of neoliberal land confiscations and NGO-led development efforts.

This tacit, practical knowledge—the subject of my forthcoming book—is best described as a Makhuwa disposition toward mobility and change. It’s what makes those I lived with eager to partake in resettlement schemes—whether of the developmental state or of religious institutions—but reluctant to remain settled in them. For the Makhuwa, changing is a means of enduring, becoming is a mode of being, and converting is a way of life.

By returning to my field site as the parent of a child, I learned that what’s special about the Makhuwa is not only their capacity for regular transformations, but also their readiness to mark transformations in others, even in people like me prone to seeing themselves as consistent over time, as settled rather than shifting.

No longer Namanriya, my new name was Papá Baraka. My name had changed. I had changed. Maybe, after all, it was not just my slowness that warranted the nickname of chameleon. Maybe it was my capacity—a capacity I didn’t think I had until the Makhuwa made me see it—to change and to adapt, and thereby truly to live.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Christopher Hewlett

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Christopher Hewlett who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on ‘Amahuaca: Building the Future’: A Collaborative Film Project in Peruvian Amazonia.

AMAHUACA SIEMPRE english trailer from Fernando Valdivia on Vimeo.

‘Amahuaca: Building the Future’: A Collaborative Film Project in Peruvian Amazonia

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Postdoctoral Fellowship was spent working on a series of inter-connected films about Amahuaca people from communities on the Inuya River in the central Peruvian amazon.  Throughout the course of the fellowship I collaborated with Fernando Valdivia, a Peruvian filmmaker, social commentator and professor of cinema and filmmaking. While we made three separate films during the fellowship, including one documenting a health crisis in an Amahuaca community, the project is oriented around the creation of an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Center and formation of a new indigenous political federation, which took place over a three-day event in 2015. While centering the narrative on this event the film explores the themes of memory, transformation, cultural heritage, and collective resilience. These themes emerge as the film follows three generations of Amahuaca people as they they navigate contemporary life, reflect upon their lives and share their hopes for the future. The title, ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ (Amahuaca Always) comes from the final scene of the documentary when Carlos Melendez, the only Amahuaca bilingual schoolteacher, explains the importance of being Amahuaca for himself and why he continues fighting to make younger Amahuaca people proud of their heritage and identity.

The period of the Postdoctoral Fellowship was spent working on a series of inter-connected films about Amahuaca people from communities on the Inuya River in the central peruvian amazon.

The first was a short video we made about a serious health crisis in the Amahuaca community of Alto Esperanza at the headwaters of the Inuya River. During the filming-stage of the documentary, which took place in January and February of 2017, I visited visited Alto Esperanza with the film crew and found many sick women and children. The primary illness was leshmaniasis, which is a potentially deadly disease spread by a small fly that often results in sores on the skin that spreads across the body. In response to the high number of cases in this one village, we made a short film about the situation that we later posted to youtube with English and Spanish versions. The film was also shared with media outlets around Peru, and was picked up by newspapers, radio programs, television and online news platforms.

As a result of the video and campaign, a group of medical practitioners and representatives of the ministry of health visited the community. From the information that I currently have these medical practitioners identified more tan 15 cases of leshmaniasis in just this one Amahuaca community. The ministry of health reported that the trip had been succesful; however, as of December of 2017 there had been no treatment provided for the illnesses. As a result, the new organization (SHARE-Amazonica.org) which I started during the period of my fellowship, funded the making of another video. This has been completed and posted on youtube. If nothing further is done by April of 2018, then we will begin another public campaign using the video, our website and other material to raise awareness about the issue.

The second is the film ‘Amahuaca’, which was produced as a result of a filmmaking workshop held at the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Center in the Amahuaca community of Nuevo San Martin. During the course of the workshop, a group of Amahuaca people ranging in age from approximately 8-70 years old learned about the process of making a film. The result was a 30 minute film created by Amahuaca people about their traditions and why these are important. The group were responsible for creating the story, filming, recording sound and doing the lighting. the workshop was organized by me and led by Fernando Valdivia whp was also responsible for editing the material. Luisa Wagenschwanz and Alex Giraldo who comprised the film crew assisted with the workshop and trained the group on lighting, sound and managing production.

The third and central film combines these two shorter films with additional footage shot in 2015 and 2017, as well as archival material from the 1960s. It is approximately 65 minutes in length. The title, ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ (Amahuaca, Allways) comes from the final scene of the documentary when Carlos Melendez, the only Amahuaca bilingual schoolteacher explains the importance of being Amahuaca for himself and why he fights to make younger Amahuaca people proud of their heritage and identity. This is particularly appropriate as the project began with the creation of an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Center in the Amahuaca community where Carlos teaches. Focusing on this event allows the film to explore the themes of memory, transformation, cultural heritage, and collective resilience.

The film opens with photos and text to set out the historical context and then introduces the main protagonists who are representative of three generations of Amahuaca people. The viewer is introduced to Margarita who is a great-great grandmother and was a young mother when she lived in the first evangelical mission for Amahuaca people that was established in the headwaters of the Inuya River. She is looking at pictures from this period in the book ‘Farewell to Eden’ and Carlos is asking her questions. Carlos later says that Margarita is now like his mother, as she was very close with his own who had recently died. At the end of the film Margarita says that she wants to return to the area where she was born to eat a kind of fish that no longer exists on the Inuya. She is now too old to return.

The viewer is then introduced to two younger Amahuaca, Gino and Nelly who are in their early 20s. Gino is the only Amahuaca student from the area attending university. Nelly is a young mother and was unable to complete primary school. The film follows them as they navigate life as young Amahuaca adults, talk about their lives and share their hopes for the future. Gino wants to return to his community to help out, become a role model for younger Amahuaca and eventually start a small business. Nelly wants to finish school, but has really always dreamt of being a cosmolotologist. Finally, we are introduced to Roberto Pansitimba who at the age of 10 became a central protagonist in the book ‘Farewell to Eden’ while living with his parents and extended family in the mission. He is now a great-grandfather and leader of Nuevo San Martin. The film aims to offer a balance of ages, experiences and genders with 1 woman and 1 man from the first and third generations, with Carlos as an unmarried professor and founder of the cultural center is positioned as the main protagonist. Throughout the film we travel with Carlos as he is elected to be the first president of the newly established indigenous federation for representing Amahuaca people, visiting communities, and eventually renouncing the position so he can focus on his duties as a teacher.

The idea for the foundation of the cultural center arose during my fieldwork in Amahuaca communities on the Inuya River from 2009-2011, which was funded by a Wenner-Gren dissertation fieldwork grant. In fact, the film project began with the inauguration ceremony of this cultural center, which was also funded through a Wenner-Gren Engagement Grant. The Cultural Heritage Center plays a central role in the documentary to anchor the stories of three generations of Amahuaca people as they remember the past, reflect upon the present and anticipate what challenges and opportunities the future may bring.

The documentary incorporates archival material that was made available through the support of the American Museum of Natural History and International Center for Photography. I have signed contracts with these institutions for non-commercial use of photos and film footage which was collected in the early 1960s. Robert Carneiro and Gertrude Dole lived with Amahuaca people at two sites in 1960-61, which resulted in the creation of a large archive of photos, notes and film footage. Gertrude Dole used a portion of the footage to make a short documentary, which was released in 1974. Matthew Huxley and Cornell Capa visited the mission of Varadero several times during this same period and co-published ‘Farewell to Eden’ in 1964. This book, photos from the museum archive, the original film and new documentaries are displayed in the Cultural Heritage Center along with material artifacts made by Amahuaca people.

We have completed versions of all the films with English and Spanish subtitles, and will be making another version of ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ with subtitles in German this year. We are also currently in the process of building a website using the domain, Amahuaca-Siempre.org.

‘Amahuaca Siempre’ has been shown several times in Peru and once in Cuba during a film workshop that Fernando was invited to attend. The official premiere was for the CINESUYU Film Festival in Cusco in September of 2017 where Fernando was being honored for his contribution to filmmaking in Peru. The U.S. premiere will be held at the Field Museum in Chicago on the 5th of March as part of a short tour we are making to three cities. We will be showing the second ‘Amahuaca’ at the American Museum of Natural History on March 7th and ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ again as part of a film series I run out of the Center for Research and Collaboration in the Indigenous Americas (CRACIA) at the University of Maryland on March 9th. Most recently, the film has been selected as a potential finalist at the prestigious Anaconda film festival in Bolivia. Over the course of 2017-2018 we will be submitting it to multiple film festivals in South America, North America and Europe over the course of 2017-2018. The most meaningful screening of the film was in the Cultural Heritage Center in the Amahuaca community in December of 2017. It was shown for three consecutive nights to meet the demands of the Amahuaca people for whom it was made. They now have their own copies of both their film ‘Amahuaca’ and the full-length ‘Amahuaca Siempre’ on dvd.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Colin Halverson

While a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Colin Halverson received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2014 to aid research on “Asymmetrical Meaning in Patient–Provider Interaction,” supervised by Dr. Michael Silverstein. In 2017 Dr. Halverson received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Clinical Pragmatics: Revisiting Communication Concerns in Medical Genetics”.

In my dissertation, I posed the question: How does one communicate complex information to people without the background to understand it? In order to find an answer, I conducted about 20 months of fieldwork (including 12 consecutive months in the year 2014) at an academic medical center in the American Midwest. Specifically, I worked with experts ‘translating’ information about patients’ genetic diseases to other specialists and to the lay patients themselves. I conducted interviews and participant observation in the clinic and its affiliated laboratories and completed two internships – one in medical ethics and one in patient education during my time in the field.

In this Engaged Anthropology project, I returned to my field site to discuss my findings with geneticists, genetic counselors, oncologists, educators, and laboratory scientists. I held a number of salons and one-on-one meetings with interested individuals from medical genetics, patient education, and medical ethics. These salons examined the topics that emerged from my research as the most ethically pressing in terms of communication in such a clinic: 1) the process of obtaining informed consent, 2) the disclosure of uncertainty in genetic test results, and 3) the unusual ethical position of medical genetics, located as it is between scientific research and clinical practice. I addressed each of these primary issues within its “thick” ethnographic context, providing clear and poignant case studies to illustrate the relatively more theoretical points I was discussing. Salons were held in the Center for Individualized Medicine and in the Office of Patient Education, but each was attended by a variety of people from across the hospital’s many departments that were touched by each day’s themes. This included participants from nursing, medical ethics, and laboratory science as well as people more directly involved in medical genetics and patient education. Between 20 and 30 people attended each session, including a number of people who Skyped in from the hospital’s other campuses.

In the first salon I held in the Center for Individualized Medicine, I brought up the topic of uncertainty (both in the return of results from genetic testing as well as in the process of informed consent). This proved so interesting to the attendees – and resonated so clearly with their personal concerns as professionals – that this more or less dominated both days of discussion with that group. Moreover, when I addressed this topic with the patient educators (toward the end of my time with them), this spurred particular enthusiasm and led to a number of discussions after the official sessions had closed.

With the patient educators, we primarily discussed insights into their work, insights that I derived from Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of “double voicing” and Althusser’s concept of “interpellation.” I provided numerous real-life examples of these theories in action from my own time as an intern with them. They are very used to this sort of presentation, as it is more or less the same genre that their weekly Writers’ Meetings use: Attendees present a number examples of difficulties from their own work ‘simplifying’ “doctor talk” into “real English.” I took this format but also provided these theoretical frameworks in order to demonstrate some unifying issues underlying their professional practice.

These salons truly proved to be collaborative engagements between myself and the professionals at the hospital – many of whom I had worked with during my fieldwork, but some of whom I had not met before. They provoked critical thought and feedback, and both the attendees and I felt that we left the salons better informed and better positioned to make positive interventions into clinical care. While discussing the three primary forms of “non-knowledge” that I hypothesize are at play in medical genetics (risk, uncertainty, and randomness – which I furthermore proposed are conflated by patients), I got remarkably discerning feedback. While everyone agreed that the distinctions I was making were valid and of clinical significance, one laboratory scientist said that within my framework she saw uncertainty as a subset of risk rather than a stand-alone category. This sparked a long debate about whether uncertainty (as I described it, “knowledge about the limits of one’s knowledge”) was medically actionable and therefore could constitute “real risk.” Likewise, a clinician encouraged a reflective (and anthropological!) discussion when he asked the room for a “definition of knowledge” before anyone continue our current discussion on uncertainty.

Attendees of the salons engaged enthusiastically with my work, asked and answered questions that have arisen from it, and related these topics back to the ongoing local and global transformations currently taking place in their professional worlds. Both groups have requested that I return again to continue the conversations we started in our salons. I received a number of grateful and kind emails, describing how our discussions have led them to reflect on their practices, in particular appreciating the links I drew to ethics, which is a critical domain that typically remains outside of non-clinicians’ conceptions of their professional labors. One person even told me she thought one of the salons was “the best professional development presentation we have had in a while!”

This was a wonderful opportunity for me to re-engage with my old colleagues and friends and to see how the clinic has evolved since my last visit in 2015. These discussions have added to the ways I have been thinking about the clinic and its practices of ‘translation’ as well. In fact, the article I have begun on the three forms of “non-knowledge” in medical genetics will greatly benefit from some of my interlocutors’ recent insights. I very much appreciate Wenner Gren’s continued support of my work, as do the attendees of my salons.

NYAS @ WGF 2/26: Passions for Interests: Water and Rural Political Belonging in America

Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on February 26th at 5:45 PM for another great installment of the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series. Jessica Cattelino, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, associate director of the Center for the Study Women, University of California, Los Angeles, will be presenting, “Passions for Interests: Water and Rural Political Belonging in America”. Paige West, Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

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. 

The world faces a water crisis, with the United Nations predicting a 40% global water deficit by 2030. Recent water struggles in the United States, from Standing Rock to Flint to California’s droughts, exemplify a broader cultural politics whereby group s come to understand and assess one another through their relations to water. In the Florida Everglades, the world’s largest ecosystem restoration project is underway and has as its policy goal “getting the water right.” There, as across America, political analysis focus on so-called stakeholders and interest groups (such as agriculture and environment). Such passion for interests—as, purportedly, the forces that unite and explain political collectivities—stunts understandings about political belonging in rural America.

This presentation brings together two twenty-first-century examples of everyday politics in a mostly-drained rural region of the Florida Everglades: the headline-grabbing proposed buyout of a major sugar corporation by the State of Florida for purposes of Everglades restoration; and a major Seminole Tribe of Florida water conservation project. The economist A.O. Hirschman, in his influential book The Passions and the Interests (1977), explained how early proponents of capitalism struggled to reconcile the relationship of passions to interests. The political anthropology of interests presented in this lecture highlights their production and (in)commensuration in relation to water and capitalism. The goal is to think through and, hopefully, beyond the passion for “interests” in scholarly and popular understandings of American political life.

 

About the Speakers:

Jessica Cattelino’s research focuses on economy, nature, indigeneity, and settler colonialism. Her book, High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty (Duke University Press, 2008) won the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff  Memorial Book Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of North America.  Her current book project addresses Everglades restoration and theorizes the co-production of nature and indigeneity in settler societies like the United States.  She speaks to the current concerns about environmental degradation and indigenous people’s roles in sparking struggles against the pollution of water sources and the destruction of precious resources such as the Everglades. Cattelino’s current research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Howard Foundation.

Paige West’s scholarly interest is the relationship between societies and their environments. She has written about the intersections between indigenous epistemic practices and conservation science, the linkages between environmental conservation and international development, the material and symbolic ways in which the natural world is understood and produced, the aesthetics and poetics of human social relations with nature, and the creation of commodities and practices of consumption.  Recent books include Dispossession and The Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea (2016), From Modern Production to Imagined Primitive: The World of Coffee from Papua New Guinea (2012) (2013 runner up for the Julian Steward Award from the American Anthropological Association) and, co-edited with James G. Carrier, Virtualism, Governance, and Practice: Vision and Execution in Environmental Conservation (2009). Dr. West is a past president of the Anthropology and Environment Section of the American Anthropological Association, past chair of the Association of Social Anthropology in Oceania, and past chair of the Department of Anthropology at Barnard College. She is founder and co-editor of the journal Environment and Society: Advances in Research.  In 2017 / 2018 she is a distinguished national speaker for Phi Beta Kappa.  Dr. West is a co-founder of the PNG Institute of Biological Research in Papua New Guineans. She is the volunteer anthropologist for the PNG NGO Ailan Awareness (AA), a marine-focused organization that works with communities in New Ireland and New Hanover to facilitate the conservation of their traditions, languages, and natural resources.

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.

Pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

All talks in this series take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street).

NYAS @ WGF 1/29: Will Humans Survive our Assault on the Earth? A Message from Madagascar

Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on January 29th at 5:45 as we kick off the first New York Academy of Sciences lecture of the year. Patricia Wright, Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University will be presenting, “Will Humans Survive our Assault on the Earth? A Message from Madagascar”. Joel E. Cohen, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Populations and Director of the Laboratory of Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM, and while the event is free to attend pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

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.

Anthropologists are well aware that there are wars in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, areas where humans have existed the longest. But rarely do we suggest that the roots of these conflicts are competition for natural resources, ie, fighting for access to farming and grazing land and access to water. Madagascar has been populated by humans for only a few thousand years, yet a shocking portion of its natural resources has been destroyed. Today it is the 6th poorest country on Earth. This grinding human poverty, where 70% of the population is malnourished, is partially caused by destruction of natural resources by fires since human arrival. I will discuss the current political and economic situation in Madagascar and offer two possible predictions for Madagascar of the future. These predictions could apply globally.

About the Speakers:

Patricia Wright is best known for her extensive study of social and family interactions of wild lemurs in Madagascar. She is Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, where she also established the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments. Wright  contributed to the establishment of the Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Books include For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar (2014) and High Moon Over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night (2013).  She was the first woman to receive the Indianapolis Prize for Animal Conservation (2014), and is the recipient of three medals of honor from the Malagasy Government (Knight, Officer, Commander) for her work in Madagascar. She has won numerous awards and fellowships including being made a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow (1989). Her research is highlighted in the National Geographic Magazine, by the BBC Natural History Unit, in Natural History magazine, in several films and TV series, and in the IMAX film, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (2014).

Joel E. Cohen is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of Populations and Director of the Laboratory of Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University. At Columbia University, Cohen holds appointments as Professor of Populations in the Earth Institute, and as Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, and in the Department of International and Public Affairs. His research deals with the demography, ecology, epidemiology and social organization of human and non-human populations and with mathematical concepts useful in these fields. Books include Casual Groups of Monkeys and Men (1966), Food Webs and Niche Space (1971), Forecasting Product Liability Claims: Epidemiology and Modeling in the Manville Asbestos Case (2005), and International Perspectives on the Goals of Universal Basic and Secondary Education (with Martin Malin, 2010). Cohen received the Golden Goose Award at the Library of Congress (2015), and has been a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1981-82) and of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (1981-86).

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.

Pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

All talks in this series take place at the Wenner-Gren Foundation Building, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York (at 32nd Street).

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kelsey Dancause

Image 1 - Central Market, Port Vila, Efate. In 2015 and 2016, we collected data on psychosocial health among women in both rural and urban areas. The central market in Port Vila, the urban capital, was an important data collection site. Image source: Collaborator Mian Li, Binghamton University.

In 2015 Dr. Kelsey Dancause received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Effects of Prenatal Psychosocial Stress on Birth Outcomes in Developing Countries: Filling the Knowledge Gap Using Validated Surveys in Vanuatu”. In 2017 Dr. Dancause received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Promoting Local Research Capacity Through Psychosocial Health Research Training and Knowledge Translation”.

In 2015, we began the “Healthy Mothers, Healthy Communities” study of maternal psychosocial stress during pregnancy in Vanuatu, a lower-middle income country in the South Pacific. The archipelago had recently been hit by a Category 5 cyclone, which destroyed many villages and affected large numbers of the population. Based on studies showing links between prenatal stress due to natural disasters and infant health outcomes, we adapted questionnaires commonly used to assess post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, in order to assess distress due to the cyclone among pregnant women and women of reproductive age in Vanuatu. In 2016, we followed up on this study to assess daily stress, depression, and anxiety among similar samples. Our diverse sample included women from hospitals, clinics, and markets in both rural and urban areas (Images 1 and 2).

Image 2 - Umej village, Aneityum. In 2015 and 2016, we collected data on psychosocial health among women in both rural and urban areas. Collaborator Dr. Alysa Pomer (Yale University) collected data on Aneityum, an island with around 900 people. Image source: Amanda Roome and Elisabeth Standard, Binghamton University.

This is a unique study that allows us to assess the role of psychosocial stress in risk of adverse birth outcomes such as low birthweight and prematurity that remain elevated in many low- and middle-income countries, and to begin to tease apart differences between acute distress and chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. Our analyses to date have helped us to characterize mental health patterns in Vanuatu. We observed that distress following the cyclone was very high, and that high distress among pregnant women in the sample predicted smaller weight among their infants at birth: controlling for confounding variables, distress explained 8.5% of variance in birthweight (p=0.012), and was an even more important predictor of birthweight than maternal dietary characteristics.

Equally importantly, our experience has highlighted that psychosocial health is an increasing priority, both among health professionals and community members. Thus, in 2017, we worked to adapt our assessment tools for broader use by local health professionals, and by other researchers working in Vanuatu.

Image 3 - Collaborators Amanda Roome, Kathryn Olszowy, and Elisabeth Standard. Our work in 2017 included both local and international collaborators. Dr. Kathryn Olszowy (Cleveland State University) collected data on stress among adult men and women, with assistance from graduate students Amanda Roome and Elisabeth Standard (Binghamton University). Image source: Amanda Roome and Elisabeth Standard.

From June-August 2017, we worked in Port Vila, Vanuatu to re-evaluate and refine our psychosocial health assessment measures. We met with nurses, physicians, and professionals at the Ministry of Health. We presented results of our 2015 and 2016 studies, highlighting the importance of maternal mental health in Vanuatu and the need for more detailed surveillance. We reviewed and revised our assessment tool with these key collaborators. We also updated our database in collaboration with midwives from Vila Central Hospital, and shared the full dataset with key health professionals. This provides a baseline dataset for comparison to future studies that incorporate our assessment tool.

Image 4 - Mele village, Efate. We visited villages to follow up with 100 women who completed the questionnaire in 2015 and 2016. Team members Giavana Buffa (Ross University Medical School) and Jake Rafferty visited villages all around the island of Efate. Image source: Kelsey Dancause.

We also followed up with 100 women who completed the questionnaires in 2016 (Image 3). We re-administered the same questionnaires, which allows us to assess consistency of responses over time. We also discussed women’s perceptions of the questionnaires and their suggestions. We met women in their communities, which allowed us to include chiefs and other community leaders in discussions. Finally, we administered the assessment tool among men and among older women in the same communities, allowing us for the first time to begin to assess its applicability among samples beyond women of reproductive age (Image 4). Together, these evaluations help us to refine the assessment tool, for broader use by local health professionals.

Image 5 - People complete the distress questionnaire on the island of Ambae. In October 2017, the entire population of Ambae was evacuated due to threat of a volcano eruption. In December 2017, Amanda Roome and collaborator Dr. Chim Chan used our questionnaire to assess psychosocial health among people in the evacuated communities. Image source: Amanda Roome, Binghamton University.

Recently, the entire population of one island in Vanuatu – more than 12,000 people – was evacuated because of risk of a volcano eruption. Given the increased focus on mental health in Vanuatu, a mental health team was on hand to help provide services to the displaced communities. We worked with local collaborators to collect data in the displaced communities using our assessment tool (Image 5). These studies will allow us assess the efficacy of the intervention programs, and the short and long-term effects of stress due to displacement in these communities. This could provide important insights to guide the development of similar services in other low- and middle-income countries. We are also currently adapting our assessment tools for use not only by local health professionals, but by community volunteers who could help to increase mental health surveillance resources, and also provide a first contact for people seeking mental health services. Where resources are limited, such community-focused efforts might provide a sustainable means of increasing mental health services and ultimately improving health and well-being.

Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Dmitri Prieto Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto Samsonov received his undergraduate degree from the University of Havana. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship he will continue his training with a PhD in anthropology at University College London, supervised by Dr. Martin Holbraad. Read the previous four entries in the series.

My research interests are focused on the political anthropology of radical social transformations, particularly in Eurasia and the Caribbean. As a person of Cuban-Russian ancestry, I have experienced the long-term, trans-oceanic effects of the Cuban revolution, the Soviet revolution, and Perestroika. I am particularly interested in how emancipatory revolutions produce unintended dynamics of social asymmetry (including class inequality) and structures of hierarchy, authoritarianism and domination. In my MSc dissertation (LSE, 2008) and a subsequent book about the socio-legal aspects of the anti-slavery revolution in Haiti (1791-1826), I coined the term “transdomination” for this sort of social process.  I also auto-ethnographically investigated the (post)-Soviet diaspora in Cuba, a complex group of barely perceptible ethnicities, which emerged as an outcome of revolutionary policies and transatlantic migratory fluxes during the period of geopolitical alliance between Cuba and the USSR.

My current research topic is the ethnography of transdomination in post-insurrectional and post-Soviet Cuba (from1959 to the present). It encompasses the intersection of three areas of anthropological interest, the: (1) anthropology of revolutions, (2) anthropology of freedom, and (3) anthropology of historical consciousness. Additionally, issues related to geopolitics, 20th-century ideological and strategic models of State socialism, and the modern capitalist world-system are relevant for analyzing post-1959 Cuba.

Such a proposal requires carrying out massive fieldwork –which is exactly the sort of inquiry that ethnographic approaches make possible — and conceptualizing an innovative theoretical framework. I will need to collect ethnographic evidence pertinent for interpreting the complex social reality of present-day Cuba, and to put the resulting accounts in dialogue with life histories narrated by the witnesses and protagonists of the post-1959 revolutionary project. Anthropology is the academic discipline that makes such an integrative approach possible. I chose the University College London (UCL) because its Anthropology Department is deeply engaged with the ontological turn in the research of contemporary revolutions, which conceptualizes their social and cultural dynamics as radical cosmological changes. This kind of theoretical and investigative framework will be crucial for formulating an accurate scientific narrative of the process of transdomination in Cuba.UCL also has a tradition of expertise in both Latin-American and Eastern-European studies, which is an interesting combination for problematizing the issues of State socialism in contemporary Cuba.

My previous research has focused on social asymmetries and ethnography of the habitat in Old Havana and the Guanahacabibes peninsula (Cuba), history of the Cuban anthropology, work cultures of the Cuban emergent economic agents, history of the Cuban legal-constitutional identity, and administrative corruption in Cuba. I earned a Masters in Law, Anthropology and Society with Distinction at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and obtained a Graduate Diploma in Biological Anthropology from the University of Havana. My first degrees are a BSc in Biochemistry and an LLB at the same university. I am currently a member of the Research Workgroup “Anti-Capitalismos & Sociabilidades Emergentes” affiliated with the Latin-American Council for Social Sciences (CLACSO) and one of the coordinators of its Cuban chapter. I worked as an ethnographer at the Instituto Cubano de Antropologia, as a Constitutional Law specialist at the Centre for Law Research of the Cuban Ministry of Justice, and as a molecular biologist at the Centro de Ingenieria Genetica y Biotecnologia in Havana. I lectured in Social Theory, Anthropology, Constitutional Law, History of Cuba and History of Philosophy (inter alia) at the Santa Cruz del Norte Community College of the Universidad Agraria de La Habana.I am deeply committed to the future of Cuba and the development of the anthropological sciences in my homeland. After the completion of my degree, I expect to return and work towards opening new fields of study for Socio-Cultural Anthropology, and to strengthen transdisciplinary research.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Marissa Mika

Staying Alive exhibition poster, designed by Rumanzi Canon. Image courtesy of Andrea Stultiens.

While a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania Marissa Mika received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Experimental Infrastructures: Building Cancer Research in Uganda from 1950 to the Present,” supervised by Dr. Steven Feierman.” In 2017 Dr. Mika was able to follow up on her fieldwork research when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Staying Alive in Photographs at the Uganda Cancer Institute”.

In August 2017, the Uganda Cancer Institute celebrated its 50th anniversary in Kampala. Since 2010, I have worked at this site as a historian and ethnographer. My work explores the past and present of the Institute to examine how scientific research shapes biomedical care on the African continent. I focus on how experiments create and shape cultures of care that take on a political and social life of their own, well after the experiments themselves have ended. I argue that there is a fundamental dynamism to experimental sites such as the Uganda Cancer Institute. Collaborations ebb and flow according to scientific interests. Political violence forces physicians and families to flee into exile. Epidemics such as HIV transform dedicated research wards into late stage palliative care triage centers.

The Lymphoma Treatment Center, 2012. Image courtesy of Andrea Stultiens.

I started working at the Institute at a time of profound infrastructural transformation. Since the mid 2000s, political negotiations to fund better cancer services for aging Ugandans and new American interests in studying the relationship between infectious diseases and cancers in east Africa remade the Institute. Through political lobbying, vision, and USAID grants, two new cancer care facilities were built at the UCI.

These latest transformations are both creative and destructive. Drug procurement patterns, records keeping systems that have not been seriously updated since the 1960s, and ward rounds are all components of infrastructures for care that are being radically reformulated by Ugandan oncologists, nurses, laboratory, and social workers. The new UCI-Fred Hutch Cancer Centre, stands on the demolition site of the Institute’s original Lymphoma Treatment Center from the 1960s. It both ushers in a new era of research on the synergy between infectious diseases in cancer, and violently tears down over 45 years of carefully honed cancer care practices.

For the entire year I worked at the UCI, I knew the Lymphoma Treatment Center was going to be torn down to make way for a new cancer treatment center. My Wenner Gren Dissertation Fieldwork grant made it possible to trace how this experimental infrastructure was being remade in real time across multiple geographies and places. The Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant made it possible to share, publicize, and exhibit these profound transformations documented through a long-term collaborative photography project and book made with artist and researcher Andrea Stultiens. Staying Alive showcases photographs which capture continuities be they extraordinary bodily states, the physical dynamism of this experimental field, the everyday lives of patients, or the empathetic care which medical staff and families bring to the wards on a daily basis.

The New Uganda Cancer Institute, 2017. Image courtesy of Andrea Stultiens.

The book and exhibition creates a visual and historical conversation between two sets of photographs from the materials and moments that make up the Institute in the late 1960s and 2012. The first is from the personal archives of John Ziegler, the founding director of the Uganda Cancer Institute in the 1960s. These materials document major and minor events and images from around the Institute in the 1960s and early 1970s. There are snapshots of political visitors touring the wards, wildlife encountered on up country “patient safaris,” laboratory and ward facilities. The contemporary photographs are made by Andrea Stultiens. The intention was to make a series of portraits of patients, as well as a photographic portrait of the Institute as a whole through its spaces—wards, laboratories, hallways, kitchens, parking lots—and the people using them. As Stultiens says, “The images are both responses to the photographs from John Ziegler’s collection and alternative representations. People are photographed as individuals who happen to be patients or caretakers or Institute staff. Spaces are captured without anecdote or event as motivation for the production of the picture. Taken as a whole, these historical and contemporary images complement each other, and make it possible to question each other’s existence and the ethical implications of looking ‘through’ them to people and places in remote or near pasts.”

Professor Charles Olweny, Dr. Jackson Orem, and Marissa Mika at the Staying Alive book launch. Image courtesy of Andrea Stultiens.

We collaborated with the Institute to amplify the history of this hospital in Uganda during its Golden Jubilee celebrations. These events engaged with a diverse range of audiences, including the Ugandan media, government officials, medical community, and wider Ugandan public. Events included the following: the UCI@50 press conference, Radio One’s Saturday morning health awareness, the Staying Alive exhibition opening at AfriArt Gallery, interviews for the UCI’s documentary, organizing and a Health Education Journalists Network Science Café on UCI’s contributions to oncological research and care in east Africa, a series of blogposts on the HIPUganda website, shared by bi-weekly newspaper The Observer, and the keynote lecture at the fiftieth Anniversary Gala Dinner for diplomats, scientific experts, and UCI staff.

The images and words in Staying Alive open up a space for conversation about continuity and change in ways that a scholarly monograph cannot. The exhibition created a space for critical institutional reflexivity about transformations in mortar and concrete, research and care. The publication and distribution of these materials in accessible photo book form also served as a vital component of research results dissementation that was timely and accessible for an audience beyond elite academic seminars or oncology conferences.

You can read more about Staying Alive and the exhibition in the series of blog posts at History in Progress Uganda:

Staying Alive – Blog Post 1

Staying Alive – Blog Post 2 

Staying Alive – Blog Post 3

Staying Alive – Blog Post 4

Staying Alive – Blog Post 5

Staying Alive – Blog Post 6

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Lucas Bessire

As we round out the year Wenner-Gren is pleased to present an abstract and trailer for Dr. Lucas Bessire who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Ayoreo Video Project.

 

ayoreo_trailer_FINAL from Lucas Bessire on Vimeo.

The Ayoreo Video Project

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

“The Ayoreo Video Project” is an experiment in visual anthropology and political advocacy through collaborative video-making with Ayoreo-speaking people, members of a small, recently-contacted Indigenous group of the Bolivian and Paraguayan Gran Chaco facing several immediate threats to their lives, land and dignity. The project created a set of four feature length films, including the first three Ayoreo-made videos and an ethnographic documentary about the process. In doing so, the set of films explores how video technology allows Ayoreo to tell their own stories, catalyzes new ways of relating to themselves and the world, and opens novel spaces for cross-cultural dialogue in a context of extreme violence and marginality. The project takes the process of Indigenous video production as a visual theme and the topic for future writings on visuality, personhood and power.

The project entailed several linked activities that were completed between March 2015 and February 2017.  It began with five months of community consultations, after which my long-term Totobiegosode collaborators and I decided to host a four-week video training workshop in a remote village. For this workshop, we invited a select group of fourteen Ayoreo from five villages (Chaidi, Arocojnadi, Campo Loro, Tunucujnai, Zapocó), three historically hostile sub-groups (Totobiegosode, Guidaigosode, Direquednejnaigosode) and both sides of the Bolivia/Paraguay border to take part. The participants included both men and women, ranging in age from approximately 23 to 70 years old. Such gatherings of Ayoreo people from different communities are very rare, and this workshop was one of the few collaborative projects to unite different Ayoreo factions.

Next, we were able to enlist the pioneering Brazilian media collective Video Nas Aldeias (VNA, which has been training Amazonian Indians to make their own videos since the late 1980s) to serve as an institutional collaborator. As part of this partnership, we invited VNA associate and filmmaker Ernesto de Carvalho and Kamikia, a VNA-trained Indigenous filmmaker from the Kisedje tribe of the Brazilian Xingu, to help coordinate the Ayoreo video workshop. From August – September 2015, my collaborators and I installed basic infrastructure (generators + screens) in Chaidi, donated small HD camera kits to each village team, trained Ayoreo participants in the basics of digital video and assisted village teams as they conceived, directed and began to film videos on the themes of their choice. Kamikia and Ernesto documented most of the workshop process on video, and village teams retained copies of their footage. This was the first Ayoreo video training, the first Indigenous video workshop held in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco, and the first international collaboration for VNA. After the workshop, I advised remotely as the village teams continued to work on their films over the following months.

From April – June 2016, I returned to Paraguay. With the help of Bernard Belisário, a VNA collaborator and editor, we coordinated the editing of the Ayoreo-made videos. This meant installing basic editing infrastructure, gathering village teams and developing a collaborative editing method tailored to Ayoreo cultural norms and decision-making styles. We worked closely with village teams as they identified and constructed editorial elements within their footage, crafted a basic story-board, refined it to reflect key priorities and concerns, assembled rough-cuts, screened them in the villages and incorporated this feedback into final cuts of their films. In July 2016, I continued working with Bernard to cut a reflexive ethnographic film about the project based on workshop footage as well as archival footage I shot in those same communities a decade before. The result is a set of four feature length documentary films. These are imagined as a quartet composed of stand-alone but mutually referential chapters. The conceptual implications of the films are framed by the generative tensions between them. In August 2016, the Ayoreo films began post-production at VNA for basic color correction, audio mixing, translation and subtitling in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The Ayoreo films are scheduled for release on a trilingual DVD in late February 2017. The finished films are:

 

  • Ujirei [Regeneration] (55 minutes; Mateo Sobode Chiqueno): This is a critical poetic meditation on contemporary Ayoreo realities by a 65-year-old Ducodegose man and respected leader who played instrumental roles in his people’s transition from forest to evangelical mission. Filmed over the course of eight months on an evangelical mission, the film offers a critique of political marginality and shares one man’s visionary perspective on the destruction and rebirth of Ayoreo society. It was an official selection of the 2016 Forumdoc film festival in Belo Horizonte Brazil.

 

  • Yiquijmapiedie [Our Ways] (52 minutes; Chagabi Etacore): In this quiet reflection on making and belonging, the leader of a band that made first contact in 2004 and two others that were contacted in 1986 create material objects that were once crucial to survival in the pre-contact forest but that have little use in the present and are thus being forgotten. Working together, the three protagonists show the process of digging up a water root, creating wooden storage containers for water, and making bark ropes for a swing game.  They provide subtle commentaries on their activities and instruct younger generations about these practices.

 

  • Ore Enominone [Visions] (92 minutes; Ajesua Etacoro and Daijnidi Picanerai): This film is a remarkable ethnofictional performance about the creation and inhabitation of a dream world in the forest. Created by the survivors of a deadly 1986 first contact, the Totobiegosode protagonists play a fictional version of themselves and share their unique knowledge of traditional foods, practices and beliefs.  Blurring the lines between staged reenactments and serious engagement with present challenges, the film opens new spaces for its creators to reflect on the ruptures of the past and to envision a more inhabitable future.

 

  • Farewell to Savage (70 minutes).  This film uses footage from the workshop process, archives and a drone to craft a non-linear reflection on the power of visuality to provoke new ways of relating to the world, each other and our own past selves. In sustained dialogue with each of the Ayoreo videos, the film documents how the filmmaking process unleashed new potentials and dilemmas for all involved, in ways that pose important questions for anthropological theory, practice and advocacy.

 

For the first time, these films share Ayoreo representations of themselves, their social worlds and their ideal futures with wider publics. Doing so promises to unsettle the existing terms of politics in the Gran Chaco by offering Ayoreo a technology to tell their own stories and to speak back to impoverished representations of their humanity. As a set, the films valorize the social projects of a group of marginal people whose realities do not fit within the conventional frames of analysis or activism. Rather than measuring Ayoreo life against an ideal-type category of culture from which they are already excluded, the films demonstrate their critical and creative capacities to objectify themselves and their world in new ways. This makes the films more than illustrations of existing debates.  Rather, the films show how collaborative video production can be a form of decolonizing praxis. At the same time, the videos overlap and diverge in unexpected ways. The tensions between them convey novel insights into contemporary Ayoreo realities, the organizational force of video production, and the unfinished, open-ended nature of Ayoreo subjectivity. The videos are also archival records that register highly endangered practices, linguistic forms and traditional knowledges that are unknown even to many present-day Ayoreo. Moreover, the finished films provide an opportunity for Ayoreo advocates to establish otherwise impossible social dialogues across the deep divides of language, culture and power that structure daily life in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco. At the same time, the project takes the process of collaborative video production as an ethnographic site for further conceptual reflections on genre, emergence and advocacy.

The four films are on schedule to be finished in late February 2017.  Currently, I am seeking support to allow Ayoreo partners to organize public screenings of their works in Paraguay, both in their villages and in a neighboring town. The circulation of their films to distinct audiences in Paraguay will open new spaces for dialogue in a context of extreme oppression and segregation where such cross-cultural conversations are exceedingly rare. The videos themselves – due to their technical sophistication and critical contents – will undoubtedly catalyze wider discussions and may provide Ayoreo leverage for protesting common racist tropes of Ayoreo as degraded savages and more effectively claiming rights and resources. Supporting Ayoreo filmmakers as they design, implement and coordinate a plan of public outreach around their films will encourage them to take full ownership over the films and the contexts of their circulation. Formal distribution plans for all films are pending. While I anticipate that the Ayoreo films will screen in festivals (one already has), the Ayoreo filmmakers will decide how they will circulate. Likewise, I expect my film to circulate in academic research and festival contexts, although no formal agreements have been made.

To learn more about Dr. Bessire’s project we invite you to read his article in the November issue of Visual Anthropology Review.

Wenner-Gren at AAA 2017: Schedule of Events

This week the 116th annual AAA meeting will kick off in Washington, DC. If you are planning to attend we’d love to see you at the following events:

How to Write for the Public
Thursday, November 30th, 10:30am – 12:30pm, Marriot Park Tower 8217
The Editors of SAPIENS will provide useful tips on writing a compelling pitch and structuring an essay for a newspaper or magazine.

How to Write a Grant Proposal
Friday December 1st, 10:30am – 12:30pm, Marriot Park Tower 8217 (same room as above!)
Representatives from Wenner-Gren and the National Science Foundation offer useful suggestions and answer questions.  All are welcome.

The Wenner-Gren Reception
Friday, December 1st, 7:45pm – 9pm,  Omni Empire Ballroom
Always a lively party – please come meet our staff and chat with your fellow grantees!  We’ll have light snacks, an open bar, and a special slideshow from our archives.

Meet the Editors of Current Anthropology
Thursday November 30th and Friday December 1st, 9am – 11 am, Booth 214 in the Exhibition Hall, University of Chicago Press
Mark Aldenderfer and Lisa McKamy will be available to answer questions and talk about the journal.

Also feel free to drop by to see us at the Wenner-Gren Booth (#219) in the Exhibition Hall.  The editors of SAPIENS will be available as well. The Hall is open
Thursday and Friday, 9am – 5pm, and Saturday 9am – 4pm.

There’s no need to RSVP or to reply to this message. We hope to see you soon!