Archive for Conferences & Symposia

Workshop Grantees Launch “An Anthropocene Primer”

In 2016 Drs. Fiona McDonald and Jason Kelly received a Conference and Workshop Grant to aid their workshop on “Anthropology of the Anthropocene: Structures, Theories, Practices”. A direct outgrowth of the workshop is An Anthropocene Primeran innovative open access, open peer review publication that guides learners through the complex concepts and debates related to the Anthropocene, including climate change, pollution, and environmental justice.

This born-digital publication is a critical and timely resource for learners across multiple fields from academia, to industry, to philanthropy to learn about issues and topics relating to the Anthropocene, a framework for understanding environmental change that highlights human impact on earth systems.

An Anthropocene Primer was created to provide learners in museums, schools, non-profits, and formal research institutions with an entry point into some of the big concepts and debates that dominate discussions about the Anthropocene. The primer is not intended to be comprehensive (this is, after all, An Anthropocene Primer, not The Anthropocene Primer), nor is it intended to be didactic. The primer is a framework to guide individual and collaborative learning from the beginner to advanced levels.

Version 1.0 of An Anthropocene Primer is available for open peer review from October 23, 2017 through February 1, 2018. Open peer review allows users to contribute to and engage with fellow readers and the authors as the editors develop it for a final print and open access ebook version. A video tutorial on how to participate in open peer review is available at  www.anthropoceneprimer.org/index.php/videotutorials/.

Edited by Jason M. Kelly and Fiona P. McDonald, An Anthropocene Primer emerged from the “Anthropology of the Anthropocene” workshop hosted by the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute in May 2017. The participants from this workshop make up list of authors: Jason M. Kelly (IUPUI, USA), Fiona P. McDonald (IUPUI, USA), Alejandro Camargo (University of Montreal, Canada), Amelia Moore (University of Rhode Island, USA), Mark Kesling (The daVinci Pursuit, USA), Ananya Ghoshal (Forum on Contemporary Theory, India), George Marcus (University of California, Irvine, USA), Paul Stoller (West Chester University, USA), Dominic Boyer (Rice University, USA), Serenella Iovino (University of Turin, Italy), Rebecca Ballestra (Artist, Monaco/Italy), Eduardo S. Brondizio (IU, Bloomington), Jim Enote (A:shiwiw A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni, USA), Ignatius Gutsa (University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe), Cymene Howe (Rice University, USA), Sue Jackson (Griffith University, Australia), Phil Scarpino (IUPUI, USA). This workshop was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the IU New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant program.


Symposium #156: “Patchy Anthropocene: Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications”

This past September Wenner-Gren found itself back at Tivoli Pálacio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal for the 156th Symposium, “Patchy Anthropocene: Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications”. Be on the lookout for the upcoming special issue of Current Anthropology for the meeting’s papers, available to all 100% Open-Access.

Laurie Obbink, Jacob Doherty, Rosa Ficek, Donna Haraway, Heather Swanson, Ivette Perfecto, Anna Tsing, Zahirah Suhaimi, Kate Brown, Vanessa Agard-Jones, Naveeda Khan, Danilyn Rutherford, Andrew Mathews, Nils Bubandt, Natasha Myers, Frédéric Keck, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Atsuro Morita, Mike Hadfield

 

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

Patchy Anthropocene: Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications 

Anna Tsing (University of California, Santa Cruz / Aarhus University, Denmark)

Nils Bubandt (Aarhus University, Denmark)

Andrew Mathews (University of California, Santa Cruz)

When geologists first argued that modern humans were a geological force and should have an epoch named after them—Anthropocene—cultural anthropologists were skeptical.  After all, the term encapsulated many of the problems anthropologists have pointed to in science policy, including willingness to view the planet as a homogeneous space and the human race as a homogenous group.  In the past few years, however, anthropologists have begun to join multidisciplinary conversations in hopes that anthropological insights might reshape Anthropocene discussions, and, conversely, that the urgencies of the Anthropocene might spark a new anthropology.  This Wenner-Gren Symposium pushes forward this agenda through an exploration of a “patchy Anthropocene,” that is, the fragmented landscapes of livability and unlivability created by colonialism and industrial development.  On the one hand, we are concerned with “violent simplifications,” that is, ecological estrangements and displacements that threaten more-than-human livability.  On the other hand, we do not look for these threats merely in elite plans; instead, our focus is on the unintentional design of landscapes, that is, the social and ecological arrangements that have developed beyond the planning of any authority.

To invoke the unintentional is not to argue for pure souls who should not be blamed for destroying the earth.  Indeed, blaming is often useful in sparking remedial action. However, our point is to move beyond the dreams of engineers to attend to the consequences of their actions, whether or not they imagined them.  Predicting the fate of the earth through the strange dreams of planners is a powerful bad habit that has developed over the last several centuries and continues to reign in the shape of a vision of a “good Anthropocene”; we refuse that vision.  This allows us, too, to offer full regard to the historically shifting actions of nonhumans, both living and nonliving.  Some nonhumans become allies of industrial and imperial landscape engineering; others interrupt their simplifications and coercions.  Landscapes are the sediments of both kinds of actions, along with those of both elite and subaltern humans.

Three kinds of unintentional design inform our discussion.  First, we examine the logics and limits of ecological simplifications, as these have been key to the making of “resources” for capital, on the one hand, and the invasion of indigenous space, on the other.  Second, we track forms of violence that exceed the logics of planners.  Finally, we turn to hope amidst apocalypse—of the kind that emerges out of unintentional design.  Together, these kinds of unintentionality help us describe a patchy Anthropocene in which threats to livability are far from randomly distributed.  By investigating more-than-human landscapes that emerge from, yet also exceed, industrial and imperial plans, we hope to identify “Anthropocene-in-the-making.”  This also means sketching the contours of an anthropology pushed onto new terrain in its efforts to explore a world where the violence of modern simplification and the poisons of the Great Acceleration are creating new worlds of livability and unlivability. Anthropology, we suggest, is currently in a moment of experiment and retooling that would allow it to align the potential of a more-than-human anthropology with insights from critical political history; to cultivate new forms of collaboration that are open to learning from indigenous cosmologies as well as from the natural sciences and environmental activism; and to study both the secular rationalities of a world in ecological crisis and the nonsecular fissures of hope and wonder amidst disaster.

The Symposium begins the arduous process, then, of intervening in debates about dramatic environmental change by describing the Anthropocene with the tools that anthropology can make available—through trans-disciplinary collaboration, ethnographic insight into indigenous worlds, as well as critical reflection about the otherwise—in full recognition of heterogeneity and power differences across life on earth.  Anthropology, arguably, has always been the study of unintended consequences; our conference brings this anthropological perspective to more-than-human landscapes.

The three themes of the Symposium are addressed in three sessions, each organized into dialogues.

I. More-than-human estrangements: what worlds do simplification and acceleration make?

A puzzle to consider: The proliferation of modern engineering has also been the proliferation of pests and plagues.

Projects of state-making and empire building, of weaving world-spanning commodity networks and intrusive bureaucracies, have helped produce the environmental and cultural transformations that we now call Anthropocene. Such projects have focused on controlling plants, animals, and material processes, and on related efforts to define and control the people who work in plantations, factories, farms, or broader landscapes.  At every stage, efforts to control humans and nonhumans have been undermined or reworked by transformations and escapes from control, sometimes visibly, sometimes almost unnoticed. From the Columbian exchange, which moved people, plants, animals and diseases between the Old and New World, to plantation economies which helped bring into being smallholder cultivation systems and forms of anti- and decolonial political resistance, to more recent efforts to build factory-farm systems that have produced new diseases, the ordering projects of modernity have continually undermined themselves, producing unexpected escapes, transformations, and estrangements. The first set of dialogues in this symposium asks participants to consider how world-making projects have produced unexpected consequences, how new and strange forms of human and non-human have come into being. How do the more-than-human relations of non-humans produce new diseases, new plants and animals, new kinds of human subjects, and new landscapes? How might the details of particular cases and landscapes help us understand the Anthropocene more widely, perhaps as “Plantationocene,” perhaps as “Capitalocene,” perhaps as something else? How might thinking of the spaces of modernist control as inhabited by excess and escape enrich anthropological engagements with the Anthropocene? What new concepts, methods or collaborations might we need in order to engage with these experimental spaces?

II. Patchy violence: what kinds of unlivability shape the Anthropocene?

A puzzle to consider: Why, despite continual assertions of its homogeneity, is the Anthropocene so uneven?

The Anthropocene is a time of heightened violence against all living things on earth; the big question today is whether enough can survive to allow the kinds of life on earth we inherited from the Holocene, and earlier epochs, to continue.  Species extinctions have rocketed; ecosystems disappear; industrial and military waste spreads around the planet.  Vulnerable humans and other forms of life bear the brunt of such violence—and sometimes stand in its way.  There is a lot for anthropologists to tackle in such challenges to livability.  In this conference, we’ll take up three themes.  First, beings other than humans make landscapes, and we turn to those “creatures of empire” (to use Virginia Anderson’s term) that wreck indigenous life-worlds along with humans.  These include animals and plants—but also nonliving things, including the waste products of urban life.  What kinds of landscapes are made by such ambivalent allies and enemies of human well-being?  Second, what species and ecosystems are destroyed in industrial and imperial conquest—and what possibilities are there for resistance, resilience, and survival?  This is a set of questions, too, in which biologists and anthropologists might look for common ground; the challenges of transdisciplinarity share center stage in discussing more-than-human vulnerabilities.   We hope to tackle these creatively.  Third, unintentional landscapes of the Anthropocene exist inside bodies as well as around them.  To track the poisons of our times, attention to the links between inner and outer landscapes is essential.  Poison is a key characteristic of the Anthropocene, and we need to understand its dynamics and its distribution.

III: Illegitimate hope: what more-than-human worlds are made amidst destruction?

A puzzle to consider: What do anthropological collaborations with natural scientists, with activists, and with indigenous spokespeople have in common?

The Anthropocene ties new terrors to novel kinds of hope.  Environmental change, global warming and the imminent prospect of mass extinction are pushing new modernist dreams of control, and the contemporary moment is replete with designs for carbon trading, climate engineering, re-wilding, DNA banking, and escapes to Mars.  Anthropology needs to pay attention to the ways in which the modernist project of human mastery and economic growth seeks to reinvent itself in the face of ecological apocalypse.  But other formations of hope, different kinds of conviviality, exist beyond this “good Anthropocene.”  The more-than-human worlds of indigenous communities around the world offer one kind of alternative. Critical environmental activism may hold the promise of another.  And Western science itself, long the backbone of the imagined modern conquest of Nature, is currently being transfigured, as new insights within the natural sciences into the fundamentally symbiotic and an interdependent make-up of life question cherished oppositions and concepts of modernity. All of these alternatives, disparate as they may be, point to another Anthropocene: patchy spaces in which human worlds critically depend on the world of spirits, animals, ghosts, plants and other non-humans. In an Anthropocene that is fundamentally unknown, uninvited, and unexpected, hope may also dwell.  The third session of the symposium explores this more-than-human Anthropocene as an occasion to reinvent anthropology, as an invitation to transdisciplinary collaboration, and as a space for illegitimate hopes for co-species survival. How might anthropology reinvent itself to explore the magic of the more-than-human comparatively across the worlds of indigenous communities, activist groups, and science? What possibilities of transdisciplinary collaboration exist when neither “the human” nor “Nature” is what we thought? What forms of radical hope for co-species survival exist in the critical zones of the Anthropocene?

Symposium #155: “Cultures of Militarism”

This past March Wenner-Gren once again returned to the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal for the 155th Symposium“Cultures of Militarism”. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

Front: Laurie Obbink, Diane Nelson, Danny Hoffman, Leslie Aiello, Daniel Goldstein, Erica Weiss, Maria Clemencia Ramirez. Middle: Alex Fattal, Scott Ross, Brian Rappert, Faisal Devji, Francisco Ferrándiz, Rema Hammami. Back: Andy Bickford, Tony Robben, Danilyn Rutherford, Hugh Gusterson, Catherine Besteman, Ayse Gul Altinay.

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT 

Cultures of Militarism

Catherine Besteman, Colby College

Hugh Gusterson, George Washington University

 Anthropological interest in militarism has grown dramatically in recent decades.  These years have seen the collapse of some Cold War client states, the proliferation of militia-led insurgencies, the increasing articulation of counterinsurgency abroad with domestic policing at home in many Western countries, the reformulation of the UN into an institution of militarized peacekeeping and occupation, and a growing awareness of the ways in which militarism as a set of cultural practices and ideologies pervades all domains of social life. The symposium aims to develop anthropological analyses of militarism as it is currently evolving both in the global north and south.  We are particularly interested in the ways the new militarism inflects law, gender, subjectivity, social memory, knowledge production, popular culture, labor, and cultural constructions of security.

Militarism is a cultural system; it is shaped through ideology and rhetoric, effected through bodies and technologies, made visible and invisible through campaigns of imagery and knowledge production, and it colonizes aspects of social life such as reproduction, self-awareness, and notions of community.  We seek to provoke conversations about militarism in its established and emergent forms, probing its genealogies, its facility at colonizing daily life, and its ability to present itself as a response to insecurities it has itself provoked.

The new militarism operates through a variety of legal and territorial regimes.  Arrangements of occupation, as in Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, coexist with the U.S. archipelago of hundreds of foreign military bases.  Meanwhile the replacement of state militaries throughout the world with militarized non-state entities that may operate outside of national and international law, such as militias, private security contractors, pirates, and even NGOs is shifting militarism in some contexts from a set of state-sanctioned and controlled structures to a contested, often opaque, set of negotiations and confrontations between actors responding to the demands and desires of leaders who may or may not have any legal or official political recognition.  How can we make sense of an emerging world order where powerful military entities are ascendant that may not represent the interests of states and who may not be responsive to international agreements concerning warfare? What is the role of law in this emergent world order?

We will also discuss the implications of new military technologies.  These include drones and surveillance technologies that enable targeted killings and renditions outside of formally declared warzones, as well as technologies to shield and re-engineer the human body.  Military practice is also inflected by new media technologies and the projects of memorialization they enable. How are militarized acts and atrocities recorded, analyzed, remembered, archived?  What are the implications of the new relationships being forged in the US between military and popular culture creators, such as Hollywood films, video game companies, and toy companies?  How does cultural production through military-entertainment professionals shape the militarization of knowledge, subjectivity, and cultural memory?

We would also like to explore the expansion of militarism into other social domains through the broad militarization of security, such as in policing, border security and migration, humanitarian interventions, and responses to natural disasters. Police forces in the US adopt heavy military materiel produced for war; US military forces train police forces in African and Middle Eastern countries; humanitarian interventions in the Balkans, Haiti, and African countries are now routinely conducted in collaboration with or through institutions run by military organizations; immigration control across southern Europe, the US-Mexican border, and in Israel makes increasing use of military technology, tactics, and practices to police the movement of people.

We aim for a symposium and, beyond that, an outstanding special issue of Current Anthropology that, while anchored in the perspective of anthropology, brings together in conversation analyses from different disciplines (including geography and political science), perspectives from the global south as well as the north, and analytic frames grounded in a range of epistemologies.

Upcoming March – April Conferences

The 13th SIEF (Societe Internationale D’ethnologie Et De Folklore) Congress on “Ways of Dwelling: Crisis Craft Creativity”

March 26-30 2017

Gottingen, Germany

Image courtesy SIEF

With members from across Europe and a growing of attendees from other continents, the intent of this conference is to foster international exchange and increase the visibility and contributions of ethnological anthropological research across national boundaries. Rather than displacement and mobility this congress focuses on the challenges posed by masses of people seeking to make temporary or permanent homes in new places. Themes to be explored include urgent topics in the ethnographic disciplines: free and forced migration, social integration, urban transformation, heritage and heritage loss. Bringing these research programs into conversation with old and new work on craft and creativity, the goal is to energize crisis-driven thinking by demonstrating how anthropological and ethnological research can contribute to intractable problems.

 

13th Meeting of Historians in Latin American Mining (MHLM) “Interdisciplinary Dialogues and Challenges Around Past and Present Latin American Mining”

April 4-7, 2017 

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Image courtesy MHLM

This April for it’s thirteenth conference the Meeting of Historians in Latin American Mining (MHLM) will be held at the Institute of Anthropology, University of Buenos Aires. This will mark the first time MHLM has held its conference at an anthropological institution. Traditionally the MHLM conference is organized by institutions more related to historical discipline. It’s within this setting that MHLM aims for a more interdisciplinary conference than in years past.

While Argentina doesn’t have a tradition in mining studies as compared to Mexico and Chile local researchers have recently shown a growing interest in this issue, especially archaeologists and historical anthropologists. As is the case this years conference will allow to expand and improve the investigations developed here by learning from experiences, theories and methodologies already applied in other regions of Latin America.

MHLM intends to open a discussion on the ethical, political and social problems regarding mining strip projects developed currently in different regions of the continent, which have caused serious social and environmental conflicts. These conflicts have questioned the benefits of mining, highlighting the negative impacts to the environment and the cultural and archaeological heritage and also to the development of social and economic life of the workers and other inhabitants of the mining area. Therefore, social application plans are expected from these discussions.

Keynote speakers will be addressing the current status of research in pre-Columbian, Colonial and present mining as well as the development of the investigations on this subject and the history of the meetings.

 

European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association Annual Conference

April 6-8, 2017

Paris, France

Image courtesy EHBEA

The European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association (EHBEA) was established to meet the growing demand for a European platform for human evolutionary research. This April EHBEA will be holding their sixth annual conference in Paris, France at the Ecole Normale Superieure where in which researchers from the fields of human behavioral ecology, evolutionary anthropology, cultural evolution and evolutionary psychology will gather together for an exchange of ideas and to develop new research networks. The goal of this years conference is to highlight research on social cognition in evolutionary anthropology.

Dan Sperber (Central University of Budapest) and Rebeca Bliege-Bird (Stanford University) will deliver the keynote.

The conference will also feature two panels presenting work that link social cognition and evolutionary anthropology. In addition there will be to two poster sessions, the second of which will include awards for “Best Poster on Social Cognition in Evolutionary Anthropology”.

Symposium #154: “The Anthropology of Corruption”

The 154th Wenner-Gren Symposium, “The Anthropology of Corruption” recently wrapped up in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

Front: Smoki Musaraj, Sarah Muir, Anu Sharma, Diana Bocarejo, Laurie Obbink, Fátima Pinto. Middle: Soo-Young Kim, Jane Schneider, Akhil Gupta, Leslie Aiello, Ilana Feldman, Aaron Ansell, Julia Hornberger, Italo Pardo. Back: Cris Shore, Sylvia Tidey, Dan Smith, Alan Smart, Kregg Hetherington, David Nugent, John Osburg.

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“The Anthropology of Corruption”

Sarah Muir (Barnard College, Columbia University)

Akhil Gupta (University of California, Los Angeles)

 Over the past several decades, corruption has become an object of intense popular concern in otherwise disparate locations around the world. Over the same period, corruption has elicited a robust body of scholarship in disciplines such as political science, economics, and sociology. Meanwhile, anthropologists—wary of reproducing clichéd images of political dysfunction—have often approached the topic with reserve. Recently, however, a corpus of anthropological literature on corruption has begun to coalesce. Examining a variety of illegitimate, illegal, or otherwise irregular political and economic practices, as well as critical discourses about those practices, this literature has developed a properly anthropological approach to corruption. That approach challenges commonplace stereotypes regarding political cultures outside the global North, even as it also takes seriously the vehement complaints about corruption that have energized so many citizens in the global South.

It is an opportune time to take stock of the emergent anthropology of corruption because this literature has now reached critical mass. This symposium will gather together pioneering scholars working on corruption from a wide range of perspectives. The meeting will be aimed both at a stock-taking of where the anthropology of corruption has reached and, more importantly, as a place from which to generate new ideas for future research. The challenges are substantive, methodological, and normative. Participants will offer analyses grounded in research in varying places such as Europe, China, South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Our aim is to move across an array of theoretical and regional concerns to chart a set of problematics that will animate anthropological studies of corruption in the coming years.

Toward that end, the symposium is organized around five central themes.

1) Historicizing Corruption: How has the understanding of corruption changed over time in different locations? Why has corruption become such a potent site of social critique in recent years? What are the local and translocal dynamics that have made corruption in the present moment such an important public concern in many different national contexts?

2) The Politics of Corruption: Why does corruption serve as a rallying point for otherwise diverse political parties and social movements? Popular mobilization against corruption is often difficult to locate in terms of left-right politics. How should we assess the possibilities and limits of anti-corruption politics?

3) Social Inequality: How can anthropological approaches shed light on the intersection between corruption and inequalities of race, class, caste, gender, region, language, and ethnicity? While social class often correlates strongly with concerns about corruption, we know very little about the relationship between corruption and other regimes of inequality.

4) Logics of Law and Governance: How is corruption situated with respect to distinctions between legality and illegality? How can we approach the often intimate relationship  between corruption and practices of policing and governance?

5) Normative Evaluation: How is “corruption” as a category produced, deployed, and transformed? How do people extend that category beyond the public areas of everyday life and with what effects?

All five themes are crosscut by a concern with how corruption is represented in academic writing. Self-reflexivity about academic uses of the category of “corruption” distinguishes anthropological work from other disciplines. Throughout the symposium, we will consider how to produce anthropological knowledge about corruption that does not take the category for granted, but constructs a critical perspective on its social life.

 

 

Upcoming August-September Conferences

22nd Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA Vilnius 2016)

August 31 – September 4, 2016

Vilnius, Lithuania

As the only event in European archaeology which includes significant and active academic, theoretically driven research sessions alongsider sessions devoted to the policy and practice of heritage management, EAA Annual Meetings attract a high proportion of early-career scholars and colleagues from around the globe. There is a deep and well-established commitment to enabling the inclusive participation of archaeologists from all parts of Europe. The EAA Annual Meeting in Vilnius will host the most topical scholarly and professional debate together with significant networking opportunities for its members, especially those from the former socialist bloc. At the same time, it will provide and excellent insight into Lithuania’s rich, diverse and unique cultural heritage to a broad international audience.

 

Eight World Archaeological Congress (WAC-8)

August 28 – September 2, 2016

Kyoto, Japan

WAC conferences are international forums for discussion for anyone who os concerned with the study of the past. The Eighth World Archaeological Congress (WAC-8) aims to promote discussion of new archaeological research as well as archaeological policy, theory, and practice; professional training for emerging scholars, especially those from disadvantaged nations, groups and communities; the empowerment and support of Indigenous groups and First Nations peoples; and the conservation of archaeological sites.

 

“Balkan Life Courses: Family, CHildhood, Youth and Old Age in Southeast Europe”

September 15-18, 2016

Sofia, Bulgaria

This conference seeks to understand how historical events in Southeast Europe, which produced deep structural changes, have influenced the construction of individual life courses; how age-based social identities are experienced along the life course; what new life course identities and representations of life periods are produced; and also how the experience of aging changes in order to outline the complexities and varieties of life courses in the context of the radical social transformations which this European region has experienced in the eras of socialism and globalization.

 

2nd AIBR International Conference of Anthropology

September 6 – 9, 2016

Barcelona, Spain

Building on the success of its first edition, the 2nd AIBR International Conference of Anthropology brings anthropologists from many different parts of the world under the theme “Identity: Bridges, Thresholds and Barriers”. Since the beginnings of our discipline, we have reflected upon the categories, the continuities and discontinuities of being human. Therefore, to what extent are we “inventing” identity? If we have traditionally drawn a line between identity and alterity, have these essential concepts not served to be the discipline’s very barriers?

 

100+25 Years of Homo erectus: Dmanisi and Beyond

September 20 – 24, 2016

Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

In 1991, 100 years after the discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus in Java, an international Senckenberg Conference was held in Frankfurt to review 100 years of Homo erectus research. In 2016, 25 years later, the “Homo erectus enigma” is still one of the most fascinating debates in hominin evolutionary research. This conference is organized jointly by the Georgian National Museum and the Senckenberg Research institute in cooperation with ROCEEH (Heidelberg Academy of Science). It will highlight regional aspects of early hominin evolution in Africa and Eurasia an discuss aspects of Homo erectus evolution and behavior in a broad perspective.

 

Decolonising Anthropology in Southern Africa (Anthropology Southern Africa Annual Conference, 2016)

September 30 – October 2, 2016

Thohoyandou, South Africa 

This year’s Anthropology Southern Africa annual conference invites papers and panels that engage with the theme of decolonising the humanities from ethnographic, theoretical, and pedagogical angles.

Upcoming July Conferences & Workshops

A look at what we’re sponsoring this summer.

 

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) 2016 Annual Conference: “Footprints and Futures: the time of anthropology”

 

July 4-7, 2016

University of Durham

The 2016 ASA conference will focus on contemporary knowledge making in anthropology with one eye on the footprints that we have left [narratives, traditions, scholarship, disciplinary identities, methodologies and the nature of evidence], and the other on the futures glimpsed in the richness and diversity of our anthropological practice. The conference is seeking to provide a lens for the re-examination of the conditions under which anthropological knowledge is shaping and is shaped by critical times.

Crucially, the purpose of Footprints and Futures is not inward facing reflection. In the societies in which we live and work as anthropologists there are profound concerns about sustainability, security of livelidhood, diversity, equality  and access to hope for the future.  The questions posed about the ways in which we produce anthropological knowledge are being brought into sharp focus at a time when inequality, conflict and the mal-distribution of resources leave a deepening footprint on large swathes of humanity.

The aim of the conference is to bring together an international and interdisciplinary community of scholars from all stages of the researcher life-cycle who will debate the discipline’s critical relevance and a reflect upon the different temporalities within which our knowledge making unfolds.


European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) 14th Biennial Conference: Anthropological legacies and human futures

 

July 20-23, 2016

University of Milano-Bicocca

The recent years have seen EASA engaged in inspiring and fruitful discussions on margins, subjectivity and intimacy. It is time to pause and put the fundamental concerns of anthropology once again at the centre of attention. The idea of legacies implies taking stocks, and taking stock is a way to prepare for the future. Anthropology has lived a time of change, innovation, and interdisciplinary dialogue, but has also struggled to define and establish its own research priorities against the tendency of other intellectual traditions to co-opt its contributions. Political agendas external to the discipline have often bent the broader significance of our findings, and other fields of knowledge have partly appropriated, partly trivialized as anecdotal information, the strengths of the anthropological approach to the study of humans: the ethnographic method. Six sub-themes (power, economy, work, kinship, religion, knowledge and forms of expressions) stimulate the engaging task of anchoring future paths of investigation and collaboration in the legacies of anthropology.

The conference brings together scholars and students from all the countries of Europe and beyond thus creating new formal and informal relationships and collaborations. The anthropologists of the University of Milano-Bicocca run a masters and doctoral program in socio-cultural anthropology, which are a reference point for the development of the discipline through the constant implementation of research and teaching. The 14th EASA conference enhances the national and international visibility of the Italian team, and encourages scholars, especially young ones and students, to broaden the scope of their collaborative networks.

Symposium #153: “Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene”

The 153rd Wenner-Gren Symposium, “Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene” has just recently concluded in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

Front: Adam Powell, Chris Bae, Martin Sikora, Michael Petraglia, Patrick Roberts, Katerina Harvati, Fabrice Demeter / Middle: Sue O’Connor, Kelly Graf, María Martinón-Torres, Knut Bretzke, Yuichi Nakazawa, Leslie Aiello / Back: Robin Dennell, Max Aubert, Alexandra Buzhilova, Tom Higham, Jimbob Blinkhorn, Youping Wang

 

ORGANIZERS’ STATEMENT

“Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene”

Christopher J. Bae, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Michael D. Petraglia, University of Oxford

Katerina Douka, University of Oxford

The identification of Neanderthals and Denisovans, along with growing fossil and archaeological evidence for the presence of modern humans in Asia earlier than originally thought, places the spotlight on the last 125,000 years. Exciting and new evidence in Asia is just beginning to rival in importance the better known paleoanthropological records of Europe and Africa. Hence, there is a need to critically examine, synthesize, and debate the Asian record from a multidisciplinary perspective, thereby contributing to human evolutionary studies in general.

The purpose of this symposium is to bring together a group of scholars who are investigating the evolutionary history of Asia from different disciplinary perspectives. The symposium will thus be multidisciplinary, assembling hominin paleontologists, archaeologists, geneticists, and geochronologists with active Asia-based research projects. In addition, leading specialists who are intimately familiar with the records of different parts of Asia are invited, thus ensuring the group is aware of the latest findings and allowing for a richer inter-regional comparison of human occupation history. The overall objective is to develop a deeper appreciation about the timing and nature of the spread of humans across Asia during the Late Pleistocene, placing particular emphasis on single or multiple waves of expansion. This is especially important in terms of understanding the potential interactions of various coeval hominin taxa who inhabited various sub-regions of Asia.

There are at least five broad ranging questions that we will focus on, discuss, and debate:

  • What are the implications for an earlier dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and into Asia, and what role, if any, did behavioral innovations play in facilitating these dispersals?
  • What happened when modern humans colonized new territories, e.g., did it lead to interbreeding among populations? Competitive exclusion followed by extinction?
  • What do modern and ancient DNA studies suggest regarding the timing and route modern humans took out of Africa and into Asia?  Do the hominin paleontological and archaeological studies support these models?
  • What is the importance/implication of a more eastward expansion of Neanderthals into Central Asia, and what shall we make of the recent Denisovan findings?
  • How do recent multidisciplinary findings force researchers to rethink the human evolutionary record of Asia and beyond?

It is time to re-examine the Late Pleistocene human evolutionary record of Asia. We anticipate that bringing together a diverse group of researchers will move the field forward and lead to new insights and set the tone for future research.

 

Interview: Dr. Denise Blum

Dr. Denise Blum is Associate Professor in the Department of Education at Oklahoma State University. An educational anthropologist who has been conducting research in the Republic of Cuba since 1995, Dr. Blum received a Wenner-Gren Conference & Workshop Grant to organize ‘Rethinking Public Anthropology through Epistemic Politics and Practice’ at the Hotel Habana Riviera in Havana, Cuba, in collaboration with Rodrigo Espina Prieto and Rosalin Bayona Mojena of the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research. We spoke to Dr. Blum to learn more about this unprecedented collaborative project.

 

Could you talk a little about how this project first got underway? What goals were you hoping to accomplish?

In November 2014 I was on sabbatical in Cuba, doing follow up research about my initial research with 9th graders in 1999 now as 30 year olds to see how their lives had played out. Did they fulfill their aspirations of their high school years? What correspondence did their schooling have with their current employment and quality of life?

I was invited by the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute of Cultural Research in Havana to collaborate and receive mentorship on my current project during my sabbatical.

During this time I initiated a conversation with my mentor, the Associate Director of the Institute, about the possibility of applying for a Wenner-Gren grant to bring an anthropology workshop to Havana.

It must be understood that, first of all, no one in Cuba has a Ph.D. in Anthropology, unless they were able to leave the country to obtain it. The discipline of anthropology was eliminated from The University of Havana at the beginning of the Revolution and did not rear its head again until the mid 2000s.  A course in anthropology may serve those in the natural sciences now, who pursue a career in archeology, forensics or health care.  A master’s degree in anthropology was recently created in 2008 and so far two selected cohorts have been able to pursue it——again for the same types of careers aforementioned. Therefore, the career as an anthropologist still does not exist in Cuba.

With this problematic and the desire to collaborate with the United States on this grant, we thought it to be most practical to focus the workshop on applied and activist anthropology. Regardless of recent changes, the Cuban government and society feel strongly about goals of social justice. Anthropological fieldwork, in general, does not always serve this purpose. Therefore, this way we could assure to serve Cuban interests the most, considering differing ideologies and politics, and bring focus to the workshop.

To be efficient with our time together, I advocated for the invited participants to be all Spanish-speaking.

 

How many of the non-Cuban participants had prior experience with the country? 

Surprisingly, out of the 13 participants, only 5 participants had visited the country previously.

 

What were some of the challenges of hosting a workshop in Havana? 

I assumed that all of the Latin American participants would not have any challenges while in Cuba. One really difficult situation is money.  A participant from Brazil called me at 11pm at the hotel and told me that the airport “Cadeca,” or money exchange, would not change her reales and asked me that if she got a taxi to the hotel ($20 USD equivalent) would I be able to pay for it. I agreed and fortunately all of us had enough extra money to pool our funds during the entire time to cover her expenses because nowhere in Havana (banks included) would they change her reales nor could she withdraw money on her bank or credit card.

For others, they brought some cash, thinking they could put many of their expenses on credit card. Very few places take a credit card: typically only hotels and very expensive stores. So people did ask to borrow money from me, and I was glad that I had extra cash. In addition, everything is much more expensive than you can imagine; oftentimes you would pay more than in the United States for the same item.  For example, at a restaurant, it might be difficult to pay less than $10 USD for a sandwich and drink. You have to really know Cuba to find the restaurants in Cuban pesos; then your meal might cost the equivalent of $5 USD.

For clarification, there are two currencies in use in Cuba: CUCs and the Cuban peso. The CUC, or convertible peso, has been in use since 1994, when it was treated as equivalent to the U.S. dollar. Officially exchangeable only within the country, its value is $1USD and is the more dominant of the two, especially for tourists.  The Cuban peso is valued at 22 Cuban pesos to the US dollar and is typically used by Cubans to obtain the limited goods that the Cuban government offers at the bodega, where the ration booklet is in effect, but staples are limited. Most Cubans earn salaries in Cuban pesos (average Cuban salary varies between $20-$30 a month), as they work for the state. They must convert these pesos to CUCs to buy almost everything they need, which are at prices equivalent to stores in the US, take for example, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.

Definitely the most difficult situation for me was the money. I have been traveling to and doing research in Cuba for 20 years and am very resourceful and well networked, but I had never done a workshop before and this brought a couple of major challenges.

First, I was dealing with the logistics with a Cuban scholar who did not have a phone, not to mention internet for Skype. She typically used a pay phone on the street when making phone calls to anyone in Havana or she called from the phone at the research institute. However, neither place is equipped (because others need to use the phone too) to deal with lengthy phone calls (more than 5-10 minutes). This entire workshop was planned via email without ever talking to my contacts in Cuba—-hundreds (if not thousands) of emails Cuba-US. So many details and frequently there were misunderstandings. In addition, I had to communicate with the other 12 participants (3 from the US and 9 from Latin America), organize passport information and information for a Cuban visas, write letters of invitation in Spanish and English, translate wiring forms that were written in English to Spanish so that the Spanish-speaking folks could fill them out and my university could disburse traveling funds to them (there were also mixups with the money not arriving at the proper bank). None of the aforementioned went smoothly. In fact, the scanned passport pages would not pass through email. The Cuba side did not have access to Dropbox, so I had to find someone traveling to Cuba to take all of this paperwork on a flashdrive to the Institute.  There were glitches at every turn, costing more time and energy on my part.  Creating the program was a collaboration that went through many renditions until the day before the workshop. Some of the initial participants dropped out at the last minute. I invited new ones and the process of getting them into the workshop was repeated with these new participants.

In addition, a Dropbox was created so US and Latin American scholars could deposit select research articles, which could be uploaded to flashdrives to share with the Cubans in the workshops. Folders (with paper, program, and pen) were created at my university for the workshop. We had, with 6 Cuban panelists, a total of 22 presenters for the workshop and 38 Cuban scholars attending in the audience.  Everything for the workshop was created with 60 people, presenters and audience, in mind.

The major challenge for me was that I had reservations at the Hotel Riviera via email based on prices I saw on their website at $35 USD per night. When I arrived in Havana 4 days before the workshop began, the hotel told  me that that website operated under a different entity than the hotel and that they could not offer me that price. I contacted the website and they did not have those rooms available any longer.  The hotel was quoting me $144 per night for a double and $125 for a single. The rooms were not paid for —–only reserved—-and I had 12 people arriving in 48 hours to Havana.  Needless to say, I did not have the cash to pay for this. The Latin Americans would not be able to afford the rooms at this price, and all of the other hotels, which were only slightly lower in price, were booked.  We looked for peoples’ homes to place the participants—–nothing available. Finally, I decided to pay for the rooms through the agency. They accepted my credit card because it went through a bank in Amsterdam. I asked all of the Latin American participants to pay me $35 per night (for 3 nights) and the 3 US participants to pay me the full amount.  I never revealed this story to the Latin American participants; I absorbed the cost and was a nervous wreck in the process and broke out in hives that didn’t disappear until the workshop was over.

Other than the various situations with the money, it was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, partly because it brought so much meaning to all involved, an eye opener every day. My mentor, renowned cultural anthropologist, Doug Foley, had always wanted to conduct research in Cuba and for various factors in his life, stayed in Texas and accomplished his well-known ethnography on the raza in South Texas instead. He has spent years living vicariously through my research and this was a thrilling experience for him.  When I was able to finally take him to a school compound on our own, where I had connections to the teachers there, we were able to visit several classrooms and hear from students. This was an unplanned visit. What he witnessed and his reaction was so moving to me; it was additional confirmation to me that I had had the best mentor possible in my career as an anthropologist. He said, “This is very emotional. It has touched my heart.”  We all strive to be understood. I’m sometimes seen as fanatical about Cuba’s education system, and finally, the person who had been reading my work all of these years understood me and knew why Cuba’s education system is truly revolutionary. This marked an important moment for me.

 

It was very important for your workshop that you publish on a Cuban press. Could you talk a little about the Cuban publishing process?

Oh my gosh.  Well, since I did the bulk of the legwork on the workshop, the Cubans at the research institute will review the manuscripts. The Juan Marinello Research Institute has its own publication press.  In Cuba, typically you have to pay to fund your book and most Cubans find funding from external sources. We were quoted that $3000 will fund 1000 copies of the book (approximately 250 pages) containing chapters from those participants who presented research and ideas on activist and applied anthropology at the workshop. This will be published in Spanish and be able to have a further reach to Cubans, rather than being published outside of the island. Our manuscripts are due by March 4th and the hope is that the book will be published by September 2016.

 

What was it like working with Cuban anthropologists? Was there anything particular that caught you by surprise? 

That there are no Cuban anthropologists, except Jesus Guanche, who was able to obtain his Ph.D. outside of Cuba.

 

Finally, what did you take from this remarkable (indeed, groundbreaking) experience? Does the group have any plans on working together again in the future?

The Cubans commented on how rich in information the group was and how cohesive we were as a group—-that there a strong, warm personal connection and solidarity—- where few people knew more than one other person besides myself.  Everyone was very very appreciative of this opportunity. Everyone learned something new and has maintained contact.

Charlie Hale, UT Austin senior anthropologist, has talked about having a follow up conference in Austin that might focus on the role of emotion in activist work.

I am bringing 3 Cubans to a conference in Austin in about a month.

 

Symposium #152: “Fire and the Genus Homo”

The 152nd Wenner-Gren Symposium, “Fire and the Genus Homo” has just recently wrapped in Sintra, Portugal. As always, you can expect a Current Anthropology special issue forthcoming, containing the meeting’s papers and available to all 100% Open-Access.

FRONT ROW: Laurie Obbink, Sarah Hlubik, Meg Thibodeau, Vera Aldeias, Carolina Mallol, Ran Barkai, Xing Gao MIDDLE ROW: Nira Alperson-Afil, Leslie Aiello, Simon Holdaway, Amanda Henry, Michael Chazan, Jill Pruetz, Paul Goldberg TOP ROW: John Gowlett, Richard Wrangham, Harold Dibble, Randall White, Dennis Sandgathe, Francesco Berna, Fatima Pinto

 

Organizers’ Statement

 

“Fire and the Genus Homo

Francesco Berna (Simon Fraser University)

Dennis Sandgathe (Simon Fraser University)

We have come to recognize that the nature of human adaptations must be viewed in the context of bio-cultural evolution. For the last 2.5 million years, at least, hominins have evolved both biologically and culturally with these two facets irretrievably entangled. Fire use must be seen as one of the most important of the technological components of this interplay: it has very likely had major effects on our biological evolution, which in turn likely led to other major technological changes, such as the development of clothing and artificial shelter and changes in hominin diet. In fact, the biology, micro-environment, and behavior of modern humans are deeply entangled with fire-use to the point that the survival of our species has come to essentially depend on it.

 

While there has always been general interest among anthropologists and archaeologists in the role fire played in human evolution, in the last 10 years new hypotheses and archaeological finds in Africa and Eurasia have sparked a renewed interest in trying to further our understanding. In the 1980s and 1990s the focus of this kind of research was more on trying to recognize the oldest evidence for hominin use of fire.  Recent interest has shifted to the questions about how and when fire use became an established and integral part of all hominin cultures. The first evidence for hominin use of fire does not necessarily mark the point at which hominins learned how to make it and it became inextricably part of hominin technological repertoires. Recent discoveries suggest that the history of hominin use of fire is more complex than previously hypothesized and that anthropologists and archaeologists should be more critical of potential evidence of hominin use of fire.

 

Based on current bio-anthropological, phylogenetic, and/or archaeological data we believe we could identify four general models for the role played by the use of fire in the evolution of the Genus Homo. These are alternative views on the timing and nature of the adoption of fire use:

  1. Homo erectus was fully adapted to a cooked food diet and had controlled use of fire by or shortly after two million years ago (the “cooking hypothesis”).
  2. Gradual or intermittent use of fire began during the Early Stone Age (i.e., by groups of Homo erectus and early H. heidelbergensis).
  3. Hominins (H. heidelbergensis?) used it first and used it in the process of colonizing higher latitude regions of Europe and Asia at the end of the Lower Pleistocene or during the early Middle Pleistocene.
  4. Humans had complete control of fire only with the appearance of H. sapiens at the onset of the Late Stone Age/Upper Palaeolithic.

 

Thus, work on the evidence of early fire use is clearly necessary to help answer the fundamental anthropological question: “How did humans become human?” This symposium is designed to bring together scholars who are conducting leading research on the origin of the controlled use of fire and its cultural and biological significance to the genus Homo.

 

Researchers have begun to collect, review and employ new types of archaeological and biological data and have started to pose new questions about the role of fire in human evolution. There is also a notable increase in the number of researchers who are focused specifically on questions of prehistoric fire use. In past decades most analysis of Palaeolithic fire residues was simply one of many issues individual archaeologists might address in the course of interpreting a site. This was typically done in isolation from data from other sites and from other researchers who may have an interest in the topic, and it was not often directed towards bigger questions of prehistoric fire use.

 

While access to new data is an important part of the process of assessing the relative merits of these different models, the goal of the symposium is not just to discuss data collection techniques or the interpretation of individual archaeological sites. Rather, the aim is to collectively review the old and the newer data, revise methodological approaches, discuss integrated, up-to-date scenarios for hominin development of fire technology, and develop a theoretical and methodological framework for future research. The objectives of the symposium include:

 

  • Discussing best possible approaches to select and integrate data collection: what types of data are particularly important for understanding prehistoric fire use and what is the importance of disseminating these data? Should (and can) certain standards of data collection be established? Are there other types of data that we should be collecting?

 

  • Developing a common understanding of what is meant by the terms ‘occasional,’ ‘habitual,’ and ‘controlled’ use of fire. These terms have become rather entrenched in the literature, but their actual meaning remains ambiguous: different researchers may have slightly different intentions with their use and different understandings of their implications.

 

  • Developing anthropological and archaeological methodological criteria by which researchers could identify when humans started to use fire occasionally or habitually, and when they developed the technology to create it. These issues have implications for the development of hominin migration/distributions, diet, bio-cultural evolution, and the onset of ‘modern behavior.’

 

  • Examining the role that cooking may have played in the bio-cultural evolution of the Genus Homo.

 

  • Addressing questions about the function of fire in pre-modern human adaptations (e.g., specific fire applications, degree of reliance); the role of fire in Late Pleistocene adaptations (Neanderthals and early Anatomically Modern Humans); and the role of fire in the emergence of modern behavior.