Engaged Anthropology Grant: R. Elliott Oakley

Figure 1: Young men dance into a kitchen, playing flutes, whooping, and rubbing the openings of turtle shells to make noise and wake up the village.

While a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, Elliott Oakley received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Counting Fingers, Quantifying Forests: Numbers, Translation and Guyanese Eco-Politics,” supervised by Dr. Casey High. Three years later Dr. Oakley received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Supporting Waiwai ‘Cultural Preservation’ in the Context of Conservation.”

The Waiwai Village Museum began as a community initiative to generate income for residents of Masakenyarï, an indigenous community in southern Guyana. Part of a protected area partnership, the Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, the Museum was envisioned as a way to showcase Waiwai culture and sell handicrafts to visitors. My dissertation research (2015-2017) demonstrated how community ideas of the protected area frame conservation as a process of building connections, more to international NGOS, the Guyanese government, or other outsiders than to the plants and animals that make up a lived Amazonian environment. As tourists failed to arrive with any real consistency, over the course of my fieldwork many people in Masakenyarï began to doubt the Museum’s potential to provide greater access to money. But interest in a formal space for local histories, language resources, cultural materials, and Waiwai crafts endured.

Figure 2: Formally handing over my PhD to Toshao Paul Chekema.

While writing my doctoral thesis in Edinburgh, I was fortunate to visit collections in Glasgow and London containing materials from southern Guyana, most obtained in the mid twentieth century during colonial rule of British Guiana. I sent pictures of the exhibitions – ‘Life in the Rainforest’ in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum and the ‘American encounters’ section of the London’s Horniman Museum – to Waiwai friends in Guyana over Facebook. During fieldwork I had promised to adapt my research materials into resources that could be part of the Village Museum in Masakenyarï. But, in part prompted by the images of these UK museums, I learned that the Village Museum stood empty. My discussions with community leaders and elders led to an Engaged Anthropology Grant with three aims: sharing doctoral research findings with participants in Masakenyarï; working with the community on alternative visions to re-establish the Waiwai Village Museum; and filming Waiwai Christmas celebrations, connected to traditional kesemanitopo or Shodewika festivals, to contribute to the establishment of a community-operated digital archive of cultural practices and related research outputs.

Before returning to Guyana, I visited Glasgow Museums to consult their Waiwai collections with curators Patricia Allan and Ed Johnson. The widow of the Scottish colonial official Gordon Lethem, Governor of British Guiana for part of the 1940s, donated assorted objects and photographs from southern Guyana to Glasgow Museums. Many of the objects – and most of the black-and-white images – have not been digitized, and I was lucky to view them and take reference photographs to share with people in Masakenyarï.

Figure 3: Residents gather in the roundhouse to view and discuss Lethem’s photographs, archival newspapers, and research posters.

Arranging the two-month trip to Guyana to start in December 2018 allowed sharing research findings and discussing the Village Museum to coincide with Christmas celebrations, which people often referred to as the most significant cultural event to document to communicate their identity. Though people gather daily between Christmas and New Year’s to eat and dance, enacting this joyous sociality took clear precedence over my rather mundane suggestion to talk about my research. The main conclusion I sought to communicate was how building connections with outside peoples and places is fundamental to enacting the Waiwai ewto, the village or ‘place-where-people-live’. The December festivities were a firm reminder that these desires for exteriority are valuable insofar as they enable states of happiness and contentment, associated with village interiority and embodied most forcefully and deliberately at Christmas.

I felt the full weight of this insight when, while filming hunters returning to the village on December 23rd, the dugout canoe I was traveling in capsized. Gone, it seemed, was any chance of achieving the third project aim, with the camera equipment drying out in a bucket of rice. Immediately aware of my possible grief and frustration, several of the hunters passed arrows and portions of meat from their own hands to mine so I could walk with them into the village. Their generosity turned me from a position of observer to that of participant in a powerful way.

Figure 4: Janet Yaymochi reviews footage from an interview about traditional dancing, kwachi practices, and Christmas celebrations.

Upon checking four days later the camera worked as normal, much to our collective relief, and I was able to collaborate filming parts of the dancing and festivities. The focus shifted to ‘kwachi’, in which young men gather and walk from household to household waking up the women who will prepare food for the day’s communal meals.

Eventually, I was able to present my research at a village meeting on New Year’s Day. I said my formal thanks, discussed the research findings, presented village copies of the PhD and distributed printed summaries for each household. I donated an external hard drive, with photographs and videos from my doctoral research, Waiwai language materials, digital copies of anthropology publications focused on Waiwai people, and artefact images from museum collections in the UK, to start a ‘digital archive’ based in the village and operated by the community.

Then, the event shifted towards collaborative small-group discussions based around the assorted printed materials, which ranged from Lethem’s 1940s photographs to Guyanese newspaper archives from the 1970s to posters summarizing my doctoral research. It was a pleasure for me to move around the roundhouse listening as older generations recognized their kin or described the context of the images to their children and grandchildren.

After celebrations closed down after New Year’s Day, the village shifted from the continual daily gatherings to the much quieter rhythms of household life in an Amazonian community. With time to rest and to visit, I focused on discussing museum plans, translating a chapter summary of my PhD into the Waiwai language, and tying up filming by speaking with senior women about the significance of kwachi.

People in Masakenyarï discussed how museum artefacts and images collected decades before might offer a pathway forward for their heritage goals. Rather than rely on tourists arriving in person, their museum vision – like the conservation processes I documented during doctoral fieldwork – is to build connections through enduring outside interests in Amazonian objects, peoples, and places. We composed a letter to Glasgow Museums to take the next step in that effort.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Andrew Hernann

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, Andrew Hernann received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Ethics on the Margins: Religious Transformation in a Labor Regime in Timbuktu, Mali,” supervised by Dr. Gary Wilder. Then in 2016 Dr. Hernann received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Narrating Crisis: Collaborative Storytelling in Post-Crisis Timbuktu.”

Through my Engaged Anthropology Grant, I was able to intensify and decenter my collaborative research among northern Malians by organizing the production and exchange of local narratives of occupation, displacement and military intervention. In 2012, northern Mali was occupied by ethnic Tuareg nationalists and allied religious extremists. As this cohort of armed militants attempted to occupy more central and southern regions of the country, the French and UN armies intervened, pushing the fighters north into the desert. Officially “liberated” in 2013, northern Mali – especially the city of Timbuktu – has remained dangerous and in crisis. Indeed, there remains the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, as well as the foreboding nature of a foreign military presence. While many Timbuktians have returned to northern Mali, many have also chosen to remain displaced, particularly in Bamako, the Malian capital. Furthermore, some subtle and not-so-subtle tensions remain among differing ethnic groups and between rural and urban Malians.

Such conditions foster the development of unofficial narratives among those experiencing displacement and occupation, particularly as residents continue to feel misrepresented by foreign organizations that seem reluctant to substantially engage with local communities. However, and as has been my experience working with residents of northern Mali, such conditions also foster a level of secrecy that somewhat limit the exchange of such narratives. Storytelling, nevertheless, retains empowering and reconciliatory effects, especially during times of crisis. Therefore, while in Mali during summer 2018, my interlocutors and I organized two storytelling workshops during which participants developed and shared their experiences of the northern Malian crisis with one another. The participants were of diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, gender and professional backgrounds, including students, teachers, religious experts, humanitarian workers, UN contract employees, tourist guides, journalists and community activists.

I offered my experience facilitating collaborative storytelling during these workshops. However, given the importance of incorporating local and culturally relevant values, I emphasized a more collaborative approach, empowering my interlocutors to organize and facilitate these workshops as they best saw fit. Therefore, while occurring over multiple days, the workshops took on a seemingly more “informal” element relative to those more common in the USA. They were less structured than I had originally anticipated, with more down time spent chatting over tea and meals. Nevertheless, participants were able to successfully share their experiences and analyses of the ongoing Malian crisis and organically develop and re/produce authentic, culturally resonant products. Unfortunately, due to ongoing security concerns and the (then) upcoming presidential elections, a shadow of secrecy clouded the workshops. In order to facilitate the safe production of crisis narratives among participants, the group decided not to permit photography/video/audio recording, the use of full names or a written version of their stories. However, most expressed feeling able and eager to reproduce the storytelling workshop format that we developed in increasingly local settings throughout Bamako and northern Mali as a way of distributing stories and facilitating the catharsis that such storytelling often produces. Furthermore, our hope is to publish both a manual of how to conduct similar workshops and a written version of the stories developed this summer – stories which many of my interlocutors jokingly stated were more authentic and analytically useful than anything that an outsider would be able to produce – when they collectively sense that the need for secrecy has abated.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Preeti Sampat

Display in Kerim.

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York Preeti Sampat received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “Right to Land and the Rule of Law: Special Economic Zones in India,” supervised by Dr. David Harvey.  In 2017 Dr. Sampat was able to build upon her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Histories of Land Museum.”

The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum initially anticipated large printed mounts curated with visuals of campaign materials from historical environmental struggles in the state such as press releases; posters; news clippings; photographs, excerpts from speeches; and symbolic installations using sound, visual materials and natural materials. After much effort locating materials from older struggles from the 1970’s to 1990’s however, it was clear that largely news media archives and a few pamphlets were available for the older struggles, although more recent struggles had preserved posters and banners. This posed a challenge since a display of mostly black and white press clippings and pamphlets on mounts seemed visually unappealing and would defeat the purpose of attracting bystanders and local residents to the museum venues as it traveled. There was also an imbalance of materials available from older struggles compared to more recent struggles.

Explaining the campaign materials to students at Ponda.

After much brainstorming with colleagues to create a visually attractive display, I took the decision to create an installation with an online museum hosted in a dedicated website, that would curate multi-lingual press coverage (in English, Marathi and Konkani) of the struggles, available video archives, and other materials related to the environmental struggles that we could locate. This also put a nice spin on the definition of a ‘mobile museum,’ as the museum could now be ‘visited’ on mobile phones, with a long lasting archive available much after the Museum display period. With the help of curatorial and design assistance, the Museum to put up installations on hired tablets and laptops, curated available videos of struggles into a running loop displayed on a projector screen, and created a short dramatic skit to attract footfall to the venues. Posters and pamphlets from older struggles (where available) and more recent struggles were also put on display around the installation.

Film screening in Panjim

The earliest archived struggle dated from the 1970’s agitations against Zuari Agrochemicals that also catalyzed the Fish-workers movement in Goa and across India. This was followed in the 1980’s by the massive and long-standing agitation against the Konkan Railway; the struggles over controversial tourism projects in coastal areas; and the 1990’s agitations against polluting Du Pont (Nylon 6,6) and Metastrips industries. More recent struggles included those from the mid-2000’s, against the Regional Plan 2011 and 2021; Special Economic Zones; and on-going agitations against mining; the Mopa Airport; the Coal Corridor and Mormugao Port Expansion; and the Declaration of Rivers as National Waterways. While there are many more environmental struggles in Goa, the ones archived and displayed in the museum represented some of the better-known ones in the state.

Performing the theatrical skit at Margao.

Each of these struggles coalesced in opposition to capitalist development projects initiated by the state, and their implications for local environments, livelihoods and culture. The modes of protest included collective protests on project sites, villages and cities influenced by the project, and the capital city Panjim; as well as legal action by concerned residents. The Museum’s online archive organized the historical archives of these struggles along five key sub-themes emerging from the nature of development projects: infrastructure; industry; tourism; mining and real estate. As the Museum was curated and the archive emerged, the periodization of the struggles also shed light on the shifting dynamics of capitalist accumulation in the state. Despite continuing overlaps, some of the earliest controversies erupted around projects related to infrastructure and industry; followed by tourism; with mining and real estate projects more recently.

Poster

The Museum traveled to five locations across Goa, Margao, Ponda and Panjim cities, and Kerim and Verna villages from June 21 – 25, 2018. The Museum had initially anticipated displays in three venues, but this was later extended to two more, as the costs of transportation and labor were reduced with the lighter, mobile installation equipment. Margao and Ponda cities in South and North Goa districts respectively (Goa has only two districts) were added to the venues. Margao is the center of many agitations from South Goa; while Ponda is close to the villages in North Goa where a number of environmental agitations have taken place; and both are bustling market towns with a number of people from nearby villages visiting for work, leisure or other activities. Since all the venues were public spaces arranged with due government permissions, the theatrical skit was used to introduce the Museum to bystanders and visitors at the Museum venue. This was followed by an invitation to view the original pamphlets and posters from the struggles; and the archival materials on laptops, tablets and mobile phones arranged at the venue. The film screening of short films from various struggles was held in the evening to allow for clearer viewing at dusk and after sunset.

The interactive installation in Verna.

The audience in each of the venues ranged from curious bystanders; local residents passing through; students; local activists; and journalists. For many, this was a novel archival display, a people’s history of the state. Local residents from different villages also extended invitations for hosting the Museum in their localities in the future. The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum hopes to continue adding to the online archive with support from volunteers and to travel to other locations in the future. With the positive feedback and interest the Museum generated, discussions to this effect have been held with interested activists.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Anna Weichselbraun

Banner announcing the annual General Conference above one entrance to the Vienna International Center which houses the IAEA.

In 2013 while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, Anna Weichselbraun received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Regulating the Nuclear: The Textual Production of Technical Independence at the International Atomic Energy Agency,” supervised by Dr. Joseph Maco. Building upon her fieldwork Dr. Weichselbraun then received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Designing Effective and Credible Nuclear Safeguards.”

My dissertation research explored the practices that make up the production of “nuclear safeguards”—the verification of states’ international legal commitments to not build nuclear weapons. It asked the question: How, against accusations of politicization, does the IAEA demonstrate “technical independence” in order for its judgments to enjoy global legitimacy? During 24 cumulative months of archival and ethnographic research at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria and at the US National Archives, I explored this question at nuclear safeguards workshops and training courses and during a twelve-month internship in the safeguards department’s training section. There I joined newly hired inspectors in the training course for their job over the course of six months. I interviewed inspectors, analysts, and technicians throughout the department about their work and about what the competencies they thought were necessary to do safeguards properly. I attended the IAEA’s annual General Conference and followed debates in the policy-making bodies. I also interviewed editors, writers, and translators about the production of texts across the Agency.

Delegates and staff taking a coffee break.

My research showed that nuclear safeguards are highly constrained by politically normative expectations about appropriately technical knowledge. Safeguards bureaucrats must constantly demonstrate the supreme technicalness of their findings lest they be accused of being influenced by politics. My work demonstrates that the distinction between technical and political domains at the IAEA has been institutionalized through bureaucratic practice that is imagined to produce “objective” knowledge. Bureaucratization acts as a centripetal force, pulling all attempts to produce knowledge into its vortex. The result is a strong institutional preference for the quantifiable, the calculable, and the predictable. This, however, poses problems for recent attempts to strengthen the nuclear control role of the IAEA which seeks to expand the scope of safeguards activities by including analysis of a wide variety of information in order to paint a more complete picture of the state. “Analysts” are viewed with suspicion as their use of judgment is conflated with bias. Further, this perspective also conceals the role of judgment in the “technical” tasks of the inspectors. I argue that the bureaucratic vision of nuclear control derives from the political imperatives of equal treatment at the time of the organization’s founding, which nevertheless conceal the hierarchical nuclear order.

Secretary Perry delivers the US statement at the opening plenary session of the General Conference.

The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to my field site to engage my interlocutors on their continued challenge of designing safeguards that would be technically credible but also politically legitimate. While I had planned to conduct a collaborative workshop with former supervisors and colleagues in the inspector training section, finding a time to schedule such an event proved extremely difficult, and indicates some of the challenges of studying elites with tight schedules who frankly have better things to do than to indulge a visiting anthropologist. In response to an encouraging note from one former supervisor about timing, I planned my visit to the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria to overlap with the organization’s annual General Conference, which was both a busy time but also gave me the opportunity to access the building during the entire week with an observer badge. This gave me the freedom to schedule meetings with former colleagues and interlocutors and it also provided opportunities for chance encounters, not to mention further participant-observation.

.The French booth in the “rotunda” promoting nuclear power as a “climate-friendly” low-carbon energy alternative.

During the week I met individually with eighteen people including ten current IAEA staff members, two former staff members, three diplomats, and three NGO participants. When I was not having breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, drinks or dinner with interlocutors, I was following the general debate in the plenary hall (including Secretary Perry’s bizarre speech) and paying attention to the gossip circulating in the hallways concerning the state of that year’s resolution on safeguards which the diplomats were hammering out. I learned upon arriving in Vienna that the Russian delegation had surprised the usual process by introducing a draft of a resolution on safeguards a few days before the European countries who customarily present a working draft were able to do so. NGO observers and staff were curious as to whether the Russian disruption would threaten the outcome of this year’s General Conference as the draft text brought up issues about the objectivity of safeguards that I discussed in my dissertation.
After days of procedural debate, the resolution included wording that expressed concern with the “objectivity” of safeguards evaluation practices and called for returning the inspector’s work to a “technical” basis. In meetings with IAEA staff during the week, I explained that I thought that the insistence on the “technical” and “objective” would constrain the work that safeguards inspectors and analysts were doing. Instead of defending their safeguards expertise as merely technical, safeguards experts should articulate that their unique contribution was a combination of technical know-how and trained judgment (referring to Daston and Galison’s expression in their 2007 book Objectivity), similar to the kind of evaluative diagnostics a physician does. A staff member in the safeguards director’s office was particularly interested in this line of argument so I wrote up a short memo for internal use detailing this alternative argumentative strategy for describing safeguards expertise. I am in touch with my interlocutors to follow up whether this argument resonates, and to secure possibilities for continued engagement.

This experience has led me to reflect on the role that anthropological knowledge (our own particular expertise) can play in my field site and in similar organizations, and how this form of engagement among elite groups must express itself differently than engagement with disadvantaged or even oppressed communities. One of the reviewers of my application flagged that a project such as I proposed in which I would essentially attempt to advise members of the organization on its challenges would not be acceptable in a “non-Western” community. I agree that the particular form of engagement with our interlocutors should be sensitive to the expectations and needs of their communities. Thankfully, we have decades of reflexive anthropological thinking on these matters to support us as we attempt to engage our research communities. I am extremely grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the opportunity to do so and look forward to the future opportunities for engagement this grant has made possible.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Erin Masterson

Typical process of collecting water from the contaminated community well to bring home for consumption

While a doctoral student at the University of Washington, Erin Masterson received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2014 to aid research on “Putting Teeth into the Developmental Origins Hypothesis: Early Childhood Ecology, Enamel Defects and Adolescent Growth,” supervised by Dr. Daniel Eisenberg. In 2017 Dr. Masterson received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Initiation of a Clean Water Campaign to Improve Children’s Health and Development in Bolivia’s Amazon.”

With support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, in 2018 I returned to Bolivia’s Amazonian Basin for a month to visit the 12 Tsimane’ communities that participated in my dissertation research in 2015. This follow-up visit included an aim to initiate a clean water campaign in the Tsimane’ Territory of the Bolivian Amazon. I was motivated to focus on this topic because my dissertation research findings underscored the importance of a healthy, infection-free childhood for long-term health.

Label reading “Clean Water” in Spanish and the native Tsimane’ language attached to all aspects of this project

Specifically, I reconnected with my Bolivian colleagues at the Centro Boliviano de Investigación y Desarrollo Socio (CBIDSI) and we set out to: (1) to develop a logo and slogan in the native Tsimane’ language to motivate clean water stewardship, (2) to develop educational materials focused on the risks of parasitic and bacterial infections and the importance of clean water, and (3) to make structural changes in schools by implementing water filters and hand washing stations. The idea for this project was developed directly from my time in the field in 2015, observing and discussing behaviors and thoughts related to water use with community members and my CBIDSI colleagues. Community leaders requested educational information in the native Tsimane’ language, like the oral health workshop we offered during data collection. A primary health concern that was expressed during these workshops was pediatric diarrhea and other infection- related conditions. Although education was the foundation of this project, we also implemented structural changes to enable the positive behavior changes encouraged through education.

Coloring books developed and distributed to teach kids how to keep water clean in the home and practice good hygiene

First, we developed a label with a parrot “mascot” and the phrase “clean water” in the native Tsimane’ language to attach to all aspects of this project. The idea of this was that repetition will help to reinforce educational messages and recognition of all aspects of the project as parts of one end goal: clean water. We developed a set of posters to guide an educational talk about how water becomes contaminated and causes illness, how to keep water clean, and good hygiene practices to prevent contamination. We wrote the script in Spanish and translated it to the native Tsimane’ language. The talk was then recorded in both Spanish and Tsimane’ is being broadcasted on the local radio, a form of communication accessible in nearly all Tsimane’ communities. To provide a more in-depth understanding of why it is important to keep water clean and to then offer suggestions for how to accomplish this in the home, we developed and distributed coloring books with text in the native Tsimane’ language that instructed how to keep water clean in the home and practice good hygiene.

River travel to visit communities
Delivering water filters

Based on the idea that implementing structural changes fosters positive behavior change, we provided each school with one Sawyer PointONE filter with a bucket adaptor kit. We hand delivered the filter kit to each community, already set-up, labeled, with photo instructions for caring for the filter, and tested for leaks. We put the filter in the hands and care of the school teacher in each community. When we visited the communities, we invited the teacher, students and community members to participate in a demonstration on using the water filter and a brief training workshop on caring for it. Due to weather that complicated our river travel plans to visit the communities, our time was too limited to actually build the “tippy-tap” handwashing stations with the communities, but we discussed the plans and purpose of these stations in detail with the teachers and community members in each community. We also provided them with photo instructions on how to construct this simple structure. The hope is that, because people tend to develop new behaviors more readily at a younger age, students will hopefully bring these new ideas and habits home to their families.

Water filter demonstration and training in one community

Through all these activities, we engaged children, teachers, families, community leaders and the local Tsimane’ government leaders. We encountered profound and widespread support of our focus on clean water stewardship, motivated by desperation to mitigate the ill effects of parasitic and bacterial infection in the Tsimane’ communities. This project contributed to generating an equitable relationship between myself and the Tsimane’ people, because I was able to share my study findings with them in an applied and relevant manner, through offering information around and suggestions for improving children’s health and development in their native language.

Children sampling clean water after the demonstration in one community

Finally, prompted by the overwhelming enthusiasm and demands for a filter for each household while visiting the communities, my CBIDSI colleagues and I embarked on a feasibility study to initiate local production of ceramic water filters during my visit so that, as requested in the communities, all households may one day have a filter and clean water. This entailed hours of meeting and discussing, reviewing potential property layouts, equipment and material sourcing opportunities and pricing, and collecting and lab testing the local clay material for mineral and physical properties.

We composed a report summarizing our investigation which will be used to seek start-up funds for this subsequent project, which will continue to work toward the ultimate goal of reducing childhood morbidity attributed to contaminated water.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Melissa Burch

CEO Roundtable

As a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin, Melissa Burch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to facilitate research on “Navigating the Criminal Records Complex: Hiring and Job-Seeking in the Inland Empire,” supervised by Dr. João Costa Vargas. In 2017, Dr. Burch received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to support “Criminal Records and Employment Roundtables.”

Thanks to the support provided by The Wenner Gren Foundation, I was able to return to my field site southern California’s Inland Empire in January 2018, to share the findings of my dissertation research with key collaborators and stakeholders. Framed as roundtable discussions, I presented the major findings and core arguments of my dissertation research with three audiences. The first was hosted by the Inland Empire Fair Chance Coalition, a collaborative of community-based organizations working together to challenge criminal-records based discrimination in employment. The second roundtable was hosted by the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership’s employment committee, a network of nonprofit organizations advocating for formerly incarcerated people. The third roundtable was attended primarily by former prisoners and their families and hosted by the San Bernardino branch of the Center for Employment Opportunities.

Four major findings were elaborated:

1. Criminalization demotes social status through the structures of race, class and gender. This demoted status therefore does not affect everyone equally or similarly.

2. Criminal records stigma encourages criminalized people to construct and perform narratives about their convictions that reinforce dominant assumptions about criminality.

3. A growing criminal records complex increases demand for criminal background checks, facilitates their widespread availability and justifies their use.

4. Many business owners and managers employ a level-headed, non-moralistic approach to criminal records; but this openness is threatened by a political-economy increasingly characterized by regulation, competition and litigation.

IE Fair Chance Roundtable

As a researcher, the opportunity to share these findings with communities and organizations who had helped to generate the research questions was invaluable. Doing so helped me to concretize my findings in clear, concise and non-jargony terms and presenting in-person allowed me to collect direct feedback on my analysis, creating a mechanism for accountability to those most impacted by the research. For participants, the roundtables carved out a welcome opportunity to reflect on current strategy, dilemmas and contradictions in the day-to-day work of fighting criminal records discrimination. Together, we talked through the potential implications of the research findings and discussed various possibilities and approaches to advance social change.

In addition to the formal roundtables, this return to the field also allowed me to meet one-on-one with a number of employers, advocates and job seekers who have been important research informants. These in-depth conversations provided another means for participants to vet, contest and contribute to my findings and arguments, fostering a mutual sense of collaboration.

LARRP Roundtable

To my surprise, while I had imagined that most informants would want to read only an executive summary, or the parts of the dissertation most relevant to them, the vast majority requested complete copies of the dissertation and many of those read and commented on the writing. Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant has helped me to produce a more rigorous, relevant and collaborative dissertation and I hope, a stronger forthcoming book.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Rachel Engmann

The workshop team

In 2014 Rachel Engmann received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ”Slavers in the Family: The Archaeology of the Slaver in Eighteenth Century Gold Coast”. In 2018 Dr. Engmann had the opportunity to return to her fieldsite when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Excavating Knowledge”.

The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant funded a fact-finding workshop and interviews in order to develop educational materials as part of a community outreach project based on the Wenner-Gren sponsored research, ‘Slavers in the Family’ at Christiansborg Castle, conducted under the auspices of the Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project (CAHP).  Christiansborg Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is aC17th century former European trading post, Danish and British colonial seat of government and Office of the President of Ghana.  An engaged approach to archaeological heritage directed at primary and secondary students is in keeping with the project’s philosophies since CAHP represents an engaged, participatory-orientated approach to archaeological heritage.

Activities:

  1. Consultations

We first held consultation meetings with the relevant stakeholders in order to inform them about the CAHP research project, plans for educational outreach and extend an invitation to participate in the workshop itself. 

  1. Workshops

We conducted two workshops in May 2018 in a primary school in the Osu district of Accra, and close to Christiansborg Castle.  The attendees comprised teachers and head teachers, mostly from the public school sector but also from a mission school; representatives from the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board; a local Chief and two Queen Mothers.

Dorothy Engmann, Workshop Facilitator

The CAHP Director gave a brief introduction to the archaeological excavation project at the castle.  The CAHP Education Director (facilitator) then explained that the proposed outreach materials had been inspired by the project: the primary materials would serve as an introduction to archaeology; the secondary materials would draw out the connection between archaeology and heritage.  They would be based upon the concept of active learning: the teacher or the community based volunteer would lead the students on a voyage of guided discovery with materials that could be downloaded from the CAHP website.  Any associated tangible materials would be available at minimal cost from students’ homes or the local market.  The focus would be upon real student involvement in the learning process through a variety of activities involving exploration and collaboration, questioning and discussion – skills that would be transferable to other disciplines across the curriculum.  And the results might be expressed in various media: for example creative writing, poetry, art and drama.  The facilitator then gave the participants a ‘taster’ of the proposed materials at primary and secondary levels.  The presentation was very well received and all present were keen to learn and experience more of the proposed materials.

The attendees were then invited to identify the challenges facing the implementation of these materials, and to consider possible solutions to those challenges.

  1. Interviews

The CAHP Project Director and Education Outreach Director also conducted interviews with parents, caregivers and children in the area close to the castle – one of the most impoverished areas in Accra – in order to get a better understanding of the challenges they face regarding the Ghana government education system and to inform the development and implementation of our outreach materials.

 Summary

Rachel Ama Asaa Engmann, Workshop Facilitator

CAHP’s proposed active learning outreach materials will make a positive contribution to the curriculum and to the introduction of a new pedagogy in both primary and secondary schools in Ghana.  The current pedagogy is very much ‘chalk and talk’ because this is how teachers are trained.  There is also an acute lack of textbooks.  There are no other resources (teachers often have to purchase them out of their low salaries).  Together, these factors result in very poor exam results.  Our materials will help to address all these issues.  With these low cost resources, teachers will be motivated to teach more imaginatively and effectively, and students themselves will be motivated to discover and learn more, because they will realize that learning can be fun!  Volunteers in the community can also use these materials to work with and help educate students who do not attend school, or do not attend school regularly for financial reasons.

We will need to provide in-service training for teachers and volunteers in the community around the implementation of active learning, including study skills.  And we will need to provide hard copies of the materials for those teachers and volunteers who do not have access to the CAHP website.

We will need to seek further funding to create and develop the project and its implementation.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chun-Yi Sum

Student volunteers conducting home visits in Sichuan province in China.

While a doctoral student at Boston University Chun-Yi Sum received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “The New Vanguard of Civil Society: Morality and Civic Consciousness among College Students in China”, supervised by Dr. Robert P. Weller. In 2017 Dr. Sum was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant which gave her the opportunity to return to the field the following year to carry out her project, “Exploring Better Practices of Engaged Volunteerism in China”.

What makes effective social interventions? How should civic actors channel their passion into making sustainable contributions? In my dissertation research about student volunteerism and extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, I asked whether and how student organizations might invigorate China’s civil society, and how participatory experience might transform young people’s moral worldviews. In the summer of 2018, Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant funded my month-long revisit back to my dissertation field site. I organized workshops and lectures about culturally-informed interventions, and discussed with participants ways to develop “pretty good practices” of engaged volunteerism. I appreciate this opportunity to give back to civic groups that have generously shared their time and cultural knowledge with me when I was still a doctoral student. These activities also helped to promote the application of anthropological methods and humanistic sensibility among civic actors in China.

Students elicited information from school children and their parents to determine whether they were eligible for scholarships.

The primary audiences of my engagement project are student volunteers and staff members of two civic organizations that serve school children in impoverished rural communities in China. First, I joined a student group in a summer field trip to visit scholarship recipients whom they sponsored. Student volunteers wanted to determine whether to renew these scholarships in the upcoming academic year: how had the scholarships improved their recipients’ academic performances? Had the recipients’ families experienced significant changes in financial circumstances that might qualify them for or disqualify them from further sponsorship? Volunteers asked scholarship recipients a list of questions about household income and academic grades. They filled out a questionnaire after each home visit.

Chun-Yi Sum (left) and three social workers organized two days of activities for children in Guangdong province in China.

Besides teaching student volunteers interviewing techniques to facilitate their tasks, I helped them collect additional information that could be used for program evaluation and for updating the questionnaire. In debriefing meetings that I organized after each day’s home visits, I asked students to reflect upon their observations and impressions about the families they interviewed. I encouraged students to talk also to teachers and neighbors to understand more holistically their service site. More importantly, I challenged student volunteers to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their interventions, and to formulate a protocol about how to document their field experiences for sharing with volunteers in the future.

Student volunteers and their mentees designed a poster together.

The second group I worked with aimed similarly at helping marginalized children to perform better at school, but with a different approach. This group recruited university students to mentor rural children using letter writing as a medium. My second engaged activity was to accompany letter-writing students on a field trip to meet with their pen pals for the first time. We planned two days of activities for twelve pairs of student volunteers and children to learn more about each other. In the evenings, I met with staff members of the group to brainstorm about new ideas to motivate rural children to study. We also talked about ways to improve participants’ volunteering experiences. A week after the field trip, I gave a presentation at the organization’s headquarter to facilitate a conversation about program development and future projects.

Chun-Yi Sum discussed the application of anthropology in social initiatives.

In addition, the Engaged Anthropology Grant supported three public lectures in Guangzhou City before and after the two summer field trips. In these presentations, I introduced my working book manuscript about extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, as well as other publication plans based on my field research in the region since 2010. I also talked about the importance of incorporating cultural awareness and research-based evaluative protocol in responsible volunteering practices. These lectures attracted a total audience of about sixty, many of whom were volunteers, social workers, and past and present participants in student organizations in which I conducted my dissertation research in 2011 and 2012. I am glad to have the opportunity to connect with new and old friends in the field, and to explore with Chinese civic actors the synergy between anthropology and social initiatives.

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Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kirby Farah

Ceremonial hearth

While a doctoral student at the University of California, Riverside, California, Kirby Farah received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Creating and Maintaining an Elite Identity: A Study of Elite Domestic Practices at Postclassic Xaltocan,” supervised by Dr. Wendy Ashmore. Two years later Dr. Farah had the opportunity to return to the field when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to carry out her project, “Middle Postclassic Ritual Spaces and Implements: A Museum Exhibit at Xaltocan, Mexico”.

My Wenner Gren funded dissertation research, conducted between July 2014 and June 2015, focused on the everyday lives and identity practices of the Postclassic (A.D. 900-1521) leaders of Xaltocan, Mexico. From the outset, this project was informed by community engagement. I collaborated with local Xaltocan residents to outline a set of research objectives that prioritized transparency and rapid dissemination of research results. We also worked together to design research questions that would glean locally-relevant knowledge about Xaltocan’s prehispanic past. This might include knowledge that (1) contributes to cultivating local pride, (2) is of general interest to the local community, or (3) adds perspective to issues facing Xaltocan (and other Basin of Mexico communities) today. Too often we as archaeologists dive into our projects with our own research questions in mind, rarely taking into consideration whether or not the topics we focus on are important to local communities. Collaborating early on creates avenues for integrating topics that emphasize our interests as researchers as well as the interests of the communities most impacted by our work.

Xaltocan Museum

Among other things, my conversations with community members revealed a particular interest in the lives and practices of Xaltocan’s Postclassic rulers, an understudied topic at Xaltocan. There was also a strong interest in understanding the cultural practices that distinguished Xaltocan from other Postclassic Basin of Mexico polities. In order to address these topics and to learn more about the nature of leadership and community identity at Postclassic Xaltocan, I conducted excavations at Cerrito Central, a large mound located near the modern town center. These excavations recovered the remains of successive monumental buildings that likely served as the residences of Xaltocan’s Postclassic leaders. Data collected from in and around these buildings, which dated to roughly the Early (AD 900-1240), Middle (AD 1240-1350), and Late Postclassic (1350-1521), provided a better understanding of the ways in which leadership strategies shifted over time and in response to changing local and regional dynamics.

Joel and Isidro mix soil, water, and cactus sap to create cement to build the replicas.

Excavations at Cerrito Central recovered important data concerning the everyday practices of Xaltocan’s leaders throughout the Postclassic. However many of the most interesting findings were associated with the Middle Postclassic, the periods during which Xaltocan reached peak political prominence in the region. In particular, the recovery of two ritual spaces—one private and one public—revealed the various practices and implements used by Xaltocan’s leaders to interact with the gods.

The private ritual space was a small room that contained the remains of five successive altars. The altars and the wall foundations surrounding the room were lined along the surface with ceramic fragments. The public area was an open patio just north of the altar room. The patio contained the remains of a ceremonial hearth—which also incorporated ceramic fragments—and a large ritual deposit. Thus, in both spaces ceramic fragments were used to mark or outline ritual space. Both spaces were also associated with burning practices. The private rituals involved the use of censers and braziers to contain smoking copal resin, whereas the public ritual involved an open fire that burned in the ceremonial hearth. Combined, these findings provide evidence for a complex ritual program at Xaltocan that involved ritual symbols that have not been observed elsewhere in the Basin of Mexico.

Image of the museum exhibit with all three vitrines and information plaques.

I concluded that the ritual features and implements recovered in these Middle Postclassic contexts spoke to the research questions we designed. The ritual practices of Xaltocan’s leaders reflect their political and religious role in the community. Furthermore, the use of ceramic fragments to outline ritual spaces reflects a culturally distinctive practice that may have been unique to Xaltocan. In order to make these findings more accessible to the local community, I returned to Xaltocan in 2017 to install a permanent museum exhibit that would showcase our recent findings and provide detailed information about their significance. This exhibit was funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant. The exhibit was designed to showcase the Middle Postclassic ritual implements of Xaltocan’s rulers and to teach visitors about the nature of ritual practice during the Postclassic. As a permanent installation, the exhibit will serve as a learning tool for generations to come.

Vitrine containing the objects recovered from the ritual deposit.

The exhibit includes artifacts recovered from Middle Postclassic ritual contexts as well as replicas of some of the ritual features. These artifacts and features are contained in three large vitrines. The first vitrine contains a replica of one of the altars recovered in the private room, the second contains a replica of the ceremonial hearth, and the third contains the reconstructed artifacts recovered from a ritual deposit. A plaque with detailed descriptions of the features and objects accompanies each vitrine. A map of the excavation area is also included, which allows visitors to understand the spatial relationships of the objects on display. The exhibit also includes a large informational panel that outlines the nature ritual practice at Xaltocan and in the Basin of Mexico, with special focus on the New Fire ceremony. The second and third vitrines contain the remnants of a public ritual that may have been an early version of the New Fire ceremony, which would become one of the most important state-sponsored rituals of the Aztecs.

Kirby Farah speaks to opening ceremony attendees about the exhibit.

The exhibit was completed in August 2017 and we held an opening ceremony to mark the event. Attendees included government officials and members of local cultural and educational institutions, but most attendees were children and families from Xaltocan. I kicked off the event with an introduction to the exhibit and the directors of the local museum and cultural center also spoke. I was also happy to welcome most members of the original excavation team, who spoke about their experiences and answered questions. As a follow-up to the success of the opening ceremony and the exhibit, a symposium is being planned form summer 2019. The symposium will be future-focused, and address the relationship between local patrimony and archaeological research at Xaltocan.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Karen Allen

Costa de Pajaros viewed from above

Back in 2014 when Karen Allen was a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sustainable Development in Costa Rica: Understanding Values, Land Use Decisions, and Market-based Mechanisms for Conservation,” supervised by Dr. Ted Gragson. Dr. Allen was then able to return to the field in 2018 after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant to carry out her project, “Fostering Conservation Ethic Through Dialogue in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, Costa Rica”.

Notes from a brainstorming session in Costa de Pajaros

This project entailed coordinating and carrying out two workshops in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, Costa Rica. This is a mixed-use area and is part of Costa Rica’s relatively new biological corridor network (www.cbpc.org). The national network system as a whole aims to foster ecological connectivity and sustainable development across the country (www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/correbiolo). The purpose of these workshops was to strengthen the connections between the conservation organizations that oversee the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and the people who live within the corridor. This project grew directly out of Wenner-Gren funded dissertation research, where I investigated the ways in which conservation policy influences land-use decisions within the corridor. It became clear early on in my research that very few people had actually heard of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and the boundaries and objectives of the corridor where not clear. I devised these workshops with a dual purpose: to provide information about corridor objectives and the conservation imperatives, and to foster dialogue about the broader sustainable development objectives. Further, this process built the foundation, and the social capital needed to continue similar efforts into the near future.

Presentation by Bellbird Biological Corridor coordinator in Santa Rosa

The workshops took place in two different towns within the corridor. I chose the towns in collaboration with corridor organizations based on the strength of their past interactions with these towns, as well as my experiences and connections in each place. Because the towns were quite dissimilar (one was a coastal fishing village, and another a mountain agrarian village), the workshops were a bit different in each locale. In the fishing village, Costa de Pájaros, I organized and hosted a three-hour workshop in conjunction with the Asociación de Mujeres Mariposas del Golfo. We publicized this workshop through the community organizations, as the Asociación de Mujeres (women’s association) decided that it would be best to focus on integrating the various organizations in the region. There were approximately thirty to thirty-five people in attendance. This workshop began with an introduction to the Bellbird Biological Corridor, given by the current corridor director. We then split into groups, where they used maps of the corridor, and maps of the region, to identify social-ecological challenges and potential solutions. Each group presented a summary of their discussion. We then talked about particular initiatives that already exist in the corridor, and forged connections between the people who wanted to pursue those initiatives further and those coordinating the initiatives. We also made a “wish-list” of ideas that might be possible to undertake in the future.

Presentation on behalf of the Sendero Pacifico in Santa Rosa

In the second workshop, in Santa Rosa, we followed a similar format, but included a few more presentations. We publicized this workshop by visiting all houses in the town of Santa Rosa (approximately fifty) and explaining the purpose of the workshop. The local Asociación de Desarrollo (community development organization) decided that it would be good to make the workshop longer (about four hours) and include a few more presentations on different initiatives in the region. In total, we had approximately thirty-five people from Santa Rosa attending the workshop. In addition, three corridor representatives came to speak about the corridor initiative, and four representatives came from the neighboring community of San Luis to share their experiences with the Sendero Pacífico, a trail network (senderopacifico.net). There is a possibility of extending this trail network to Santa Rosa, and several people spoke to that effect. We also examined the social-ecological challenges in the region with this group, and established several follow-up initiatives for future collaboration. As in the first workshop, we spent time reviewing the initiatives that already exist in the region, and brainstorming future possibilities and collaborations. And of course, both workshops concluded with a shared meal – arroz con pollo!

View of Santa Rosa from above

Some of the more exciting things to come out of these workshops were the new ideas and connections that emerged. The organization leaders that I worked with have since commented to me that they have continued to contact people they met at the meetings. Further, we have begun to brainstorm future engaged projects that came out of these experiences. People seemed excited and motivated by the workshops and it is inspiring for me to see these events as the direct output of many years of more theoretical dissertation research. I see many possibilities for future engagement, and I plan to continue this work in the future.