Engaged Anthropology Grant: Keitlyn Alcantara

Fig. 1: Messages exchanged with Don Zeferino over quarantine.

In 2017 Keitlyn Alcantara received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on, “The Diet of Sovereignty: Bioarchaeology in Tlaxcallan”. In 2019 Dr. Alcantara was able to build upon her Dissertation Fieldwork Grant when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on, “Food and Resistance in Ancient and Contemporary Tlaxcala”.

I began this project with the goal of reclaiming an understanding of ancient foodways and relationship to land in Mexico. Growing up, I would catch glimpses of this world through the crinkled brown hands of old ladies offering wild herbs from their baskets at the weekly tianguis, or the aroma of esquites seasoned with epazote wafting from the street corner. Food was a portal through time.


Fig. 2 – My pandemic garden, transplanted from Nashville,TN to Bloomington, IN.

I started as a bioarchaeologist studying burials from the site of Tepeticpac, Tlaxcala, curious about the role of foodways in building community sovereignty, particularly as a tactic to resist the encroaching Aztec Empire. Around 1280 AD, Nahua migrants settled in the hilltop city of Tepeticpac, which sits above the contemporary urban sprawl of Tlaxcala city. The site was a crossroads for trade routes that connected the Gulf to the Basin of Mexico and the Aztec Empire. For years, the market of Ocotelulco, Tlaxcala was known as one of the largest of ancient Central Mexico – until the Aztec expansion sought to punish Tlaxcalteca defiance by cutting off access to trade routes. Yet the Tlaxcalteca continued resisting.

Combining dietary isotope analysis and ethnographic interviews with local producers and traditional chefs, I was able to show the Tlaxcalteca’s shrewd reliance on the abundance of the local landscape was key to their resistance. Shadowing growers on hillside hunts for maguey worms, I collected plant samples to recreate ancient foodwebs, while experiencing a whole new way of being in the world. I’d never really thought very deeply about the experience of living from, with, and alongside the landscape. Yet, this is exactly what the Tlaxcalteca did. Multigenerational knowledge cultivated the ability to recognize sustenance not only from acres of terraced fields, milpa thick with beans, corn, squash, but also the wild quintoniles that grew along paths. Cacti like nopal and maguey served as both fence and food, edible fleshy leaves housing protein-filled insects within.

Fig. 3: Nopal cactus transplanted into Indiana soil, with the Instagram caption “My poor Indiana nopal” and “You can do it!”.

In the summer of 2020, I had planned to return to Tlaxcala, Mexico to co-host a cultural fair and community colloquium with my community partners as part of the Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology grant. But, as I wrapped up my dissertation in the spring, the world shifted amidst growing panic about the pandemic. Instead of returning to a celebration, I sat isolated in lockdown, while endless hours of worry spread out ahead of me.

During this time, I remember the persistent *ding* of a Whatsapp message from Zeferino, the nopal farmer, who would share images of the latest brilliant magenta cacti blooms, or rainbow array of tunas (cactus fruits) (Fig.1-3). I sent back photos of my extensive pandemic-garden, cultivated from the abundant time I now had to slow down, be at home, and find new rhythms. In addition to photos, Zeferino would invite me to talks he was a part of on Facebook Live – conversations I’d had to miss before distance was made null by a world reshaped online. Later, concineras Dalia and Nicolasa were featured on an Instagram Live series hosted by our mutual friend Chef Irad Santacruz (@irad_santacruz), centering the work of cocineras tradicionales. My homesickness for Mexico was slowly quelled.

Fig. 4: A grocery cart full of ingredients for our cooking episodes, bought from El Guanajuato grocery store – the closest Latinx market an hour away in Indianapolis.

In our original community colloquium, we had planned to have each person share from their unique skillset; inspired by their active presence on social media, I reached out to plan a series on Instagram Live to take place in February 2021, the coldest, loneliest month in my current home of Indiana. The series was divided into four episodes (Atole with Maguey Nectar with Doña Adriana; Mole de Fiesta with Nicolasa and Dalia; Grilled Nopal with Zeferino; Prehispanic Art with Felipe. These episodes can be found here). Cooking and creating together, this series pushed me to re-think how we create community across space and time, with food as catalyst (Fig. 4-10).  People from the Latinx diaspora across the US and Latin America joined each episode, chiming in with comments in the chat, filling my inbox with stories about their own food histories.

Unscripted, sometimes with poor reception, and more than one occasion of technical difficulties, the conversations we had while we cooked together stayed in my mind, echoing especially loudly as I watched the food and social systems around us shift and adapt to COVID-era supply chains and labor shortages.

Fig. 5 Promotional material for the cooking series

From Indiana, I spliced together pieces of the Instagram Live events with follow-up phone interviews. Film-maker and Tlaxcala local, Yolin Corje, filmed footage to accompany the audio.

By summer 2021, we had all been vaccinated and I returned to Mexico to join in the filming of some final scenes and share a draft of the documentary with my collaborators. We met in a coffee shop across the street from the green-tarped stands of the Alternative Agroecological Market of Tlaxcala (Fig. 11 &12). Six bodies hunched around my laptop, straining to thear the full-blast volume that fell just short. As the final credits rolled, they giddily complemented one another – even living in the same city, it was rare to see one another’s work in such an intimate way. The images of the campo sparked memories, and for the next hour I took a backseat to listen as they shared stories about how things used to be, how changing climate was shifting the patterns of the natural world.

Fig. 6: Promotional material for the cooking series

What had originally been planned as a 10 minute documentary linking my isotopic findings to community interests turned into deep reflection about what has been lost in the past 500 years. And yet, we also talked about the possibilities of reclaiming, reviving, and transforming the ways that we live in the present and look towards the future – the past as a reminder of alternative ways to live in the present.  


Our forthcoming projects include a plan to create ethnographic story-maps of ingredients on the landscape, linking their deep histories to their uses in the present. The influence of my collaborators also helped shape my own Healing Garden project at Indiana University – a space dedicated to embodied pedagogy and deep reflection about our relationships to land.

At the time of publication, I plan to screen the completed documentary to my collaborators in December 2021, with a virtual screening in Spanish in January 2022 at the National Institute of History and Anthropology’s Diplomado de Antropologia e Historia de Tlaxcala, followed by a virtual screening in English in February 2022 (Fig. 13).







Engaged Anthropology Grant: Krista Billingsley

In 2015 Dr. Krista Billingsley was the recipient of a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on, “Transitional Justice in Nepal: Endemic Violence and Marginalized Perspectives”. In 2020 Dr. Billingsley was able to build upon her Dissertation Fieldwork Grant when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on, “Memorialization and Victim-Led Truth-Telling after Nepal’s Armed Conflict”.

In this photograph, Ram Kumar Bhandari is filming Anup Thapa. His father, Shyam Bahadur Thapa, was disappeared in 1998 during Nepal’s armed conflict.

During my Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded fieldwork in 2016 on transitional justice (i.e. mechanisms implemented to redress conflict-era human rights violations that occurred 1996-2006) in Nepal, a key desire expressed by conflict victims was the creation of public memorialization projects to commemorate the lives of their lost loved ones and facilitate greater public knowledge about their victimization during the armed conflict. Nepal’s truth commissions, which included a commission solely focused on disappearances, were taking statements during my fieldwork in 2016. Yet, victims, particularly families of the disappeared in Bardiya District, overwhelmingly called for greater inclusion in post-conflict truth-telling processes. Through this virtual engaged project, I discussed my research findings and ideas for a victim-centric film project with the leaders of conflict victims’ organizations in Nepal via Zoom. Those leaders then met in Bardiya to share my research findings with families of the disappeared and co-develop a victim-led memory project. More people were forcibly disappeared from Bardiya than any other district during Nepal’s armed conflict, and victims there were more likely to be excluded from transitional justice processes implemented by the national government. This project engaged the children of people who were forcibly disappeared during Nepal’s armed conflict to develop a public memory project to (1) respond to my findings and facilitate their participation in the co-creation of anthropological theory, (2) tell their stories through film, (3) memorialize their loved ones lost due to armed conflict, and (4) determine how their stories are disseminated.

This photograph shows families of the disappeared meeting in Bardiya District in February 2021. During this meeting, victims discussed my dissertation research findings from 2016, co-designed our 2021 Wenner-Gren-funded engaged truth-telling project, memorialized their loved ones, and organized for justice.

In February 2021, Ram Kumar Bhandari met with and filmed children of the disappeared (now adults) in Bardiya District. Ram Kumar Bhandari, whose father was disappeared two decades ago by the Nepal Army, advocates for victim-centric processes of transitional justice globally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law from the NOVA School of Law in Lisbon; works with conflict victims internationally; and helped organize the International Network of Victims and Survivors of Serious Human Rights Abuses, the National Network of Families of the Disappeared (NEFAD), the Committee for Social Justice, the National Victims’ Alliance, Conflict Victims’ Common Platform, and the Hateymalo Widows’ Groups. Ram was eager to serve as the primary research assistant for this project. Ram and I met via Zoom throughout the project (January-July 2021) to discuss logistics and findings. He stated the project was a connecting experience for him as he was able to engage with the next generation of families of the disappeared, to learn more about their experiences as children and adults living without their loved ones, and to connect them to other victims throughout Nepal.

Although several of the interviewees did not personally remember the armed conflict, they argued that people should know what happened to their family and better understand the lasting effects of having a parent forcibly disappeared. When offered suggestions on how to disseminate their film (e.g. send to local community members via text messages, curate for museum exhibits in Nepal and the U.S., post on YouTube, disseminate to academics and human rights advocates), every interviewee said yes to every form of dissemination mentioned without hesitation. While confidentiality is often a concern of researchers working with conflict victims, many victims in Nepal have continually requested that their stories be shared and the names of their loved ones remembered. They were hopeful this engagement could continue to help them connect with a larger network of conflict victims in Nepal. Their understandings of justice were varied and included truth-seeking mechanisms, public acknowledgement that their family members were unjustly disappeared, judicial procedures, and educational and financial support for families of the disappeared. The effects of armed conflict are long-lasting. Donor interest in and United Nations support of Nepal’s transitional justice processes waned long ago. Yet, the experience of losing a parent to enforced disappearance continues to impact families’ security (e.g. physical, financial, emotional), community relations, emotional experiences of everyday life and festivals (holidays), finances, and access to education and employment for generations. Children of the disappeared, although they are now adults, expressed grief over how their disappeared parents are portrayed as deserving of their fate and made clear their desire for their parents’ remains to be returned to their family.

This project is aligned with previous anthropologists’ call for transformative justice that challenges power relations, so victims can shape structures from which they were previously excluded. Many people from the Tharu community, who were disproportionately affected by state violence and enforced disappearances, primarily speak the Tharu language and are illiterate due to their continued exclusion from formal education. A digital media project is therefore especially useful, because it establishes a public memory project that is more accessible than a written report or workshop conducted in Nepali or English. As requested by participants, their films will be distributed this fall via YouTube and text messages. To continue this project and carry out participants wishes, I will edit the films (to display individually and as one shorter film) and organize photographs from my research in Nepal conducted 2013-2021 for museum exhibitions in Nepal and the United States. This project served to connect children of the disappeared to long-standing networks of conflict victims in Nepal and offered families the opportunity to disseminate their stories to a broad audience. Conflict victims rarely have control over their own representation, the co-creation of theory, or knowledge dissemination. Thus, this project foregrounded the voices of victims and created knowledge on their own terms through a virtual memory project where they represented themselves.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Peter Little

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

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

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

FIGURE 2: Ibrahim interviewing Savelugu businesswomen.

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







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

Figure 6


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Nobody comes here to test you.”


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


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


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


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



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


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


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

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

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


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


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



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


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amelia Fiske

01: Amelia Fiske and Jonas Fischer introduce their graphic article, Herencia Tóxica at the Humboldt Association in Quito on the 27th of February, 2020. Photo credit: Silvia Echevarria

In 2012 Dr. Amelia Fiske received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Making of Harm in the Ecuadorian Amazon,” supervised by Dr. Margaret J. Wiener. When Dr. Fiske was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2019 she was able to return to Ecuador to aid engaged activities on, “Toxic Inheritance: Our Common Chemical Constitutions and dependencies”.

We are living in the “age of toxicity” (Walker 2011, ix). Oil and its derivatives surround us. As one of the principal drivers of anthropogenic change today, oil production has rapidly transformed how life is lived around the globe. Lago Agrio and the surrounding oil producing areas of the Ecuadorian Amazon are a prime example of a pressing predicament of the present: the very petrochemical compounds that sustain our lives today also produce tremendous harm.

02: Audience members debate the role of toxicity in their everyday lives. Photo credit: Silvia Echevarria

Throughout ethnographic fieldwork in the region that grew up around the first wells drilled by the Texaco Company in the 1960s, I observed how the toxicants used and produced in oil production cross boundaries. Toxicants routinely breached the industrial membranes built to retain the contents of wastepits, spills, and the effects of industry more broadly. While official accounts insist that harm from oil is controlled with advanced technology, everyday life in the region contests this.

While writing up my PhD research, I wanted to find a way to capture the experiences of toxicity described to me by residents of the region. Some spoke of “swimming in oil” while washing clothes in the river, or seeing “smoke thick like marmalade” that plumed from the gas flares. As one man noted, they were “naked in the face of contamination.” In search of a creative format to express these experiences, I began to explore graphic storytelling of ethnographic research.

03: Invited presenters, Vanessita Roa, Kati Alvarez, and Santiago del Hierro, commented on Herencia Tóxica and discussed different ways of representing toxicity in relation to extractive industries. Photo credit: Amelia Fiske

In 2018, while living in Germany, my path crossed with Jonas Fischer. A graphic arts and design student, Jonas had already published a graphic book with archaeologists, and had experience working with scientific information in a visual format. We began to work together to create a graphic article, Herencia Tóxica (Toxic Inheritance), to delve into questions of toxicity and contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Based on my ethnographic findings, the graphic article is intended to be an open, accessible invitation to contemplate the ways that all of our lives have been profoundly transformed by the toxins we live with and rely upon.

04: Kati Alvárez offers her reflections on the role of the visual in communicating experiences with toxicity in Herencia Tóxica. Photo credit: Silvia Echevarria

With support from the Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology grant, in February 2020 Jonas and I travelled together to Ecuador to share Herencia Tóxica with the interlocutors I worked with while in the field and with the Ecuadorian public. In Quito, we exhibited the graphic article for a month at the Humboldt Association (see press coverage here). On the inaugural night of the exhibition, we hosted a public conversation on toxicity, with three invited speakers who have extensive experience working and living in the Amazon: Kati Alvarez, Santiago del Hierro, and Vanessita Roa. Speaking from their experiences as a sociologist, architect, and artist, they covered topics such as how graphic arts can be a tool for engaging in difficult questions surrounding our consumption of fossil fuels, or how to best represent the crisis of toxicity amidst a deluge of visual media. With more than 40 people present, members of the audience joined the conversation with questions and comments.

Poignant comparisons were drawn between how toxicity is experienced in oil producing areas of the Amazon and how it is experienced in urban spaces like Quito, and the legacies of US- based companies in Latin America.

05: A selection from the graphic article exhibited at the Humboldt Association. The exhibit was open to the public for one month. Photo credit: Silvia Echevarria

Following the exhibition, Jonas and I traveled to the Lago Agrio. We spent a day at  Amisacho, an environmental education and reforestation center, where we exhibited the graphic article. Interlocutors that I had spent time with during my fieldwork offered their reflections on how the graphic article related to their own experience, such as arriving in the 1970s to claim land during Agrarian Reform, or walking along oil pipelines on the way to school. With invited community groups, activists, and youth, we held a workshop on the use of comics in activism and education. For the culmination of the event, each participant worked on completing a short graphic “zine” on a topic of their choosing. Jonas and I led the group in making an 8-page zine from a single piece of folded paper, a grassroots technique that allows comics be easily scanned and reprinted for sharing with family members, neighbors, or for community organizing events. All materials, including printed copies of the article in poster and book format, as well as didactic tools from the presentation, were given to the Amisacho organizers as a “workshop packet” in order that facilitators can lead similar workshops in future. In the following days, we spent time with former interlocutors and distributed printed copies of Herencia Tóxica while visiting communities living adjacent to the oil camps of Sucumbíos and Orellana.

06: Audience members take a closer look at the exhibit following the presentations. Photo credit: Amelia Fiske

After decades of oil production in the Amazon, it is difficult to distinguish singular moments of hazard. Inviting the public to contemplate the ways that all of our lives have been profoundly transformed by the toxicants we live with and rely upon, Herencia Tóxica proposes that the chemically saturated present demands a reconfiguration of toxicity. Building from the feedback we received in Ecuador, we are now working on a full-length graphic novel on toxic tours in the Amazon which will be published in the ethnoGRAPHIC series of the University of Toronto Press. Our hope is that the graphic format will allow us to explore serious matters with creativity, and thus to engage more people in conversations about the toxic legacies of contamination.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Robin Nelson

Dr. Robin Nelson, (left), and research assistant, Bridgett Robinson

In 2011 Dr. Robin Nelson received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Residential Context, Non-Kin Care and Child Health Outcomes in Jamaica”. After being awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2016 Dr. Nelson had the opportunity to return to the field to carry out her project, “Talking Back: Community Dialogues, Residential Care Settings, and Child Thriving in Jamaica”.

In 2010, I began wondering if we could study contemporary manifestations of parental investment and alloparenting when the home, as it is typically constructed in Caribbean communities, is unavailable. With this project, “Residential Context and Non-Kin Care in Jamaica,” I investigated the growth and development of children living in state-regulated institutional care settings, or children’s homes, as compared to their peers living in familial homes. Over the course two field seasons my research assistant, Bridgett Robinson, and I collected ethnographic and biometric data from over 200 children living in a variety of care settings in Manchester Parish, Jamaica.

Infographic shared with directors of the children’s homes in Manchester Parish and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Kingston Jamaica

Families in Jamaica, like their counterparts around the world, are fluid and dynamic entities responding to external stressors and interpersonal dynamics. Due to its colonial history and proximity to the United States, Jamaica’s economy is largely dependent upon the exportation of goods and laborers to other, often larger, countries. Economic shocks, the devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, and the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have created systems that have left many Jamaican families economically insecure. Financial precarity and the out-migration of adult women, coupled with long held practices of communal caregiving have resulted in many children being cared for by extended family. When family members are unable to provide appropriate care or when children experience neglect or abuse from either their parents or extended kin, state-regulated children’s homes often become a child’s primary home setting.

In this study, we found that children living in familial homes were experiencing better growth and health, as assessed by measures of height, weight, skinfold thickness, and immunological function, than their peers living in children’s homes. However, the residents of one children’s home had growth outcomes that were comparable to their age and gender matched peers living in familial homes. These growth outcomes were correlated to the receipt of supportive psycho-social care. Additionally, girls were generally healthier than their male peers at both the initial period of data collection, and two years later.

Meeting with an official at a children’s home in Manchester Parish, Jamaica

With this Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned Manchester Parish and Kingston Jamaica in 2018 to disseminate the findings from my 2011-2014 study on the lives of children living in institutional care settings. Over the course of a few weeks, I shared an infographic of my findings, and my published articles with officials at the Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Kingston, Jamaica, and the directors of the children’s homes that were involved in my study. I also spoke to community members about the findings in several informal meetings. The Child Protection and Family Services Agency in Kingston, Jamaica is the primary government organization responsible for the well-being of children throughout the country. In this capacity, they both monitor reports of neglect and abuse of children living in familial homes, and assess the quality of care provided to children who have been removed from natal homes and placed in institutional or foster care settings. It was vital for me to share my findings with these officials as they provided permissions for the collection of data in children’s homes throughout the country.

While only 320 square miles in size, Manchester Parish in the central mountainous regions of Jamaica, is home to six children’s homes. Qualitative information gathered from the directors and staff of these children’s homes provided key information central to the framing of the findings of this study. These interviews were central to both the completion the study and analyses of these data.  In meetings with these directors during this return trip, I learned of continued challenges facing the directors of the children’s homes including limited funding, and the need for clinical psychological support. I also learned of on-going successes including the creation of new facilities, high achieving student residents, and trips abroad for some of the children.

The development of The Engaged Anthropology Grant, and my receipt of this funding marked a shift in the way that I both conceive of and plan my research projects. By overtly valuing public research, The Wenner-Gren Foundation enables anthropologists who are committed to this kind of work to actively involve the publics in our research. For me, this means being provided the opportunity to both explain my findings to directors of children’s homes who supported my study, and gaining the opportunity to receive their valuable insights about this research. It also enabled me to return to the community and meet with families who granted me entree into their homes. It has informed the development of future projects. An ethically minded Anthropology requires a commitment to working in collaboration with community members rather than simply “in” communities, and engaging with the public about both the development of our research and our findings.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joseph Jay Sosa

Figure 1 2013 Protest Against Conversion Therapy Being Debated in Congress. Photograph by Author

In 2011 Joseph Jay Sosa received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sao Paulo Has Never Been Pinker: Dilemmas in Representing LGBT People in the Public Sphere,” supervised by Dr. William Mazzarella. After Dr. Sosa received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2017 he was able to return to the field the following year to aid engaged activities on “LGBT Statistical Activists in Brazil: Training New Activists for the LGBT Pride Survey”.

Public debates over state recognition of LGBT rights has been a contentious site for political action in Brazil over the past decade. These ‘sex wars’ have taken place over anti-discrimination legislation, but also through moral panics about sex education and queer artistic censorship. And they have taken place against an increasingly hostile remarks by high profile politicians as well as the highest number of reported anti-trans and anti-gay murders in the world. For activists connected to Brazil’s LGBT social movement, these changes represent a historical reversal of early social movement victories in Brazil’s democratic period.

Figure 2 2018 Workshop activity. Participants are asked to provide examples of the “lack of representativeness of LGBT+ agendas and bodies in politics.” Photograph by author

With support from the Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, I conducted fieldwork from 2011 to 2013 with São Paulo-based LGBT activists who participated in civil society organizations, in social media and protest publics, and in public administrative offices on the municipal, state, and federal level. In hearings, street protests, and in organizational meetings held in union halls, classrooms, and municipal health clinics, activists described what they characterized as increasing anti-sex attitudes in their daily lives and in the media they consumed. Activists had different names to describe a growing erotophobic conservatism that they noted in the political public sphere and sometimes in their daily lives.

Since 2013, Brazil has entered what scholars and observers have characterized as the “long Brazilian Crisis,”[1] fueled by economic instability, corruption scandals, and political controversies and a rapid partisan shift. Mass protests across the ideological spectrum have become part of Brazil’s urban and news media landscapes. The instability led to the highly polarizing removal from office of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president in 2016. In this context, ideological disputes over gender expression and sexuality have given a further cultural shape to this crisis and become a primary battleground in a highly polarized society. Moral panics over LGBT panics over artistic performances and educational policies have led to increasing censorship practices. In October 2018, presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro played upon a moral panic that the government wanted to implement a national public school curriculum teaching homosexuality and pedophilia to children. The successful disinformation campaign was a large factor in Bolsonaro’s electoral success.

With the support of a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I return to São Paulo in 2018 in order to re-engage with activists and community members about how queer life and politics had changed since my original fieldwork. I partnered with a community organization, Vota LGBT, a non-partisan collective of activists, researchers, and media producers who collect and publish information on the political views of the LGBT population. The collective was formed in 2014, and included university student activists with whom I had previously conducted fieldwork. Together, we presented information about the current challenges facing trans and queer communities in Brazil as well as current social movement campaigns to improve the lives of LGBT Brazilians. Vota LGBT also used the opportunity to show community members their data collection techniques and explored ways community members might generate research projects meaningful to them. In our four presentations, open discussion with led to different outcomes. In one meeting, we participated in a brainstorming exercise, where individuals mapped their most pressing needs on local and federal levels (see images 2 and 3). At another workshop, participants developed questions they would like to employ in future community surveys.

Figure 3 Session leaders discuss potential topics raised by participants. Photograph by author.

Although survey data is regularly collected by researchers regarding LGBT domestic status, violence victimization rates, and even consumer habits, less information has been conducted around their views on pressing social and political questions. Vota LGBT conducts crowd surveys at Queer Pride events in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Vota LGBT  hopes to increase its surveys and expand the reach of LGBT perspectives into Brazil’s news media.

[1] See Grigera, Juan, Jeffery R. Webber, Ludmila Abilio, Ricardo Antunes, Marcelo Badaró Mattos, Sabrina Fernandes, Rodrigo Nunes, Leda Paulani, and Sean Purdy. 2019. “The Long Brazilian Crisis: A Forum.” Historical Materialism 27 (2): 59–121.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Catalina Villamil

Participants from Makerere and KIU, and Dr. Villamil, on World Anatomy Day.

We’re delighted to present another great addition to the Engaged Anthropology Grant blog series with a post from Catalina Villamil who had the opportunity last year to return to Uganda to share the results of her Dissertation Fieldwork Grant.

In 2015, I received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to study the evolution of head and neck anatomy in humans and our ancestors. One of the clearest adaptations in our ancestors is the adoption of bipedalism, and a large part of paleoanthropological research is focused on understanding when, how, and why bipedalism evolved. Oftentimes these questions must be answered from a limited number of fossil remains, and so biological anthropologists want to get as much information as possible from as many parts as possible. My research showed that there is little or no influence of bipedalism on the shape of the head or the underlying relationships between the head and the neck, which suggests many assumptions about locomotion from fossils may be incorrect or premature.

Department of Anatomy at Makerere University, where the lecture and workshop took place.

My project entailed the collection of data on hundreds of human skeletons from Europe and Africa, in order to sample human variation. As part of this work, I visited the Department of Anatomy at the Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Kampala, Uganda, where the Galloway Osteological Collection of recent East African human skeletons is housed. This collection is vitally important in biological anthropology, as collections of African skeletal material, and in particular recent material, are rare. Further, although Africa is home to a great deal of human variation, it is not well represented in biological anthropology or anatomical research. The academic community at Makerere was welcoming and deeply interested in promoting the use of this collection, but without access to the resources that make much of osteological research possible. As a result, I wanted to go back and share my results with them, as well as other resources that could be used by faculty and students to expand research using the collection. In 2019, I received the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which enabled me to visit Uganda again and share my results with the academic community there, and to provide a workshop on anatomical and osteological research methods.

I visited Kampala on the week of October 14, 2019 to coincide with World Anatomy Day, which is held worldwide on October 15. While there, I gave a public lecture on my research findings utilizing the Galloway Collection. Students and faculty from Makerere University, as well as from Kampala International University (KIU), attended the lecture, as did representatives of the Anatomical Society of Uganda. The next day, I also provided a methods workshop, Collecting and analyzing human osteological data, to the faculty and students at Makerere and KIU. In the workshop, I discussed osteological methods for aging and sexing, data collection standards and tools, and methods for analyzing morphological data. In addition, I provided the attendees manuals and other resources, as well as short tutorials on freely available software programs and comparative datasets that they can use to carry out data collection and analysis. With Wenner-Gren funding, I was able to bring specialized calipers that can be used for data collection on skeletal materials, to assist with the workshop discussion of standard measurements and tools. These tools were donated to the department at the end of the workshop. Dr. William Buwembo, chair of the department, and Dr. Ian Munabi hope Makerere students will use these tools and information to increase research use of the osteological collections and to improve representation of African variation in published research. As part of this workshop I also met with several graduate students who are doing research both at Makerere and KIU, and we discussed their methods and research questions, leading to some productive discussions on work that has already been done by biological anthropologists and how it relates to the work being done at these two universities.

Grounds of Mulago Hospital at Makerere University, where the Departmetn of Anatomy is located.

In addition to the lecture and workshop, I met with faculty members and others with the hope of strengthening collaborations between Makerere and my own university and creating an ongoing academic relationship. Like many universities in the US, the Makerere College of Health Sciences faces growing class sizes but limited resources, especially for research. We hope that we will be able to identify funding opportunities that will benefit both institutions and that will fund the next generation of anatomy- and osteology-oriented researchers at Makerere. At the end of my weeklong visit, I also met with collections staff in charge of skeletal and paleontological materials at the Uganda National Museum. Museum curators would like to expand knowledge and use of the collections at the National Museum, as well as to facilitate student training and the creation of educational materials for the Ugandan public. We hope to develop an ongoing collaboration as well.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: David Bond

David Bond addresses Environmental Forum on St. Croix (May 31 – June 1, 2019). Hosted by the St. Croix Foundation, the forum brought together local environmental leaders, non-profits, and government officials to confront the environmental legacy of oil refining on the island and envision a more sustainable St. Croix. Photo by Nicole Canegata.

In 2010 David Bond received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on, “Hydrocarbon Frontiers: Experts and the Social Life of Facts at a Caribbean Refinery,” supervised by Dr. Ann Laura Stoler. In 2019 Dr. Bond returned to St. Croix when he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on, “St. Croix After HOVENSA”. 

Saint Croix stands at a climate crucible. For the past 50 years, the HOVENSA refinery on Saint Croix – for a time, the largest in the world – generated enough wages and tax revenue to support the US territory in the Caribbean. Such fiscal wealth came at tremendous environmental cost, and in 2011 the EPA uncovered a litany of egregious lapses that culminated in a record-breaking $700 million dollar fine against the refinery. A few months later, the refinery shutdown abruptly, forcing massive cuts to the territorial government budget and sending the islands economy into steep decline.

David Bond and Environmental Forum attendees. Photo by Nicole Canegata.

Five years later, with Saint Croix still in a tailspin, an unprecedented Category 5 hurricane hit the US Virgin Islands. Two weeks later, a second Category 5 hurricane slammed into Saint Croix damaging 90% of the buildings on the island and wiping out all the public infrastructure. Weighed down by the destruction of fossil fuels in environmental and climate form, Saint Croix now stands at a crossroads: many residents want to break away from fossil fuels and rebuild their island in a radically sustainable way yet state officials seem intent on doubling down on fossil fuels as the only way to generate the funds needed to rebuild and buttress the island against the coming storms. A climate crucible, one with immense stakes for those on the island and of wider significance for the rest of the world struggling with how to face up to the challenge of climate change.

Former HOVENSA refinery (at one time, the largest refinery in the world). After an egregious history of pollution was uncovered in 2011, the refinery shutdown to avoid paying a record breaking $700 million fine. Today, the site is being reopened as the Lime Tree Bay Refinery and Energy Hub (over the protests of the local community as now fines have been paid and the immense environmental contamination is being swept under the rug by federal agencies. Photo by Nicole Canegata

I was asked if I might visit the island in June 2019 to join a community conversation about how to best navigate these issues. Support from Wenner Gren helped make that visit possible, and allowed me to share findings of previous research with community leaders and chart out new lines of collaborative research with the community. An essay I wrote about the history of fossil fuels on the island became a minor actor in the unfolding drama (“Oil in the Caribbean,” Bond 2017). My research for this essay uncovered some of the refineries egregious environmental lapses and the backstory on the $700 million EPA settlement that was sidestepped and then brushed aside after the refinery closed. Although my essay hardly made a splash in the scholarly fields it addressed, about a year after it was published I started getting emails from Saint Croix. Folks on St. Croix told me it provided a new language for their lives, that it explained the history they lived and felt but didn’t know how to explain and confront. I don’t know of any higher praise for work in the social sciences. This past June, I visited the island to participate in an Environmental Forum convening on the island to discuss climate resilience and sustainability on the Saint Croix. Local environmental leaders asked me to give a keynote address that would share the arc of my essay with local leaders and key stakeholders, and then participate in a multi-day discussion of where the island might go next. It was truly an honor to spend a few days brainstorming with such a group of spirited leaders. Support from an Engaged Anthropology Grant from Wenner Gren also enabled me to conduct additional research in conversation with community concerns to publicize this climate crucible to wider audiences and advance more equitable and sustainable change on the island.

More about the St. Croix Foundation Environmental Forum can be found here.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Julie Velasquez Runk

National Wounaan Chief Diogracio Puchicama Peña at the Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Regular National Congress of Wounaan People), March 21, 2019.
Cacique Nacional Wounaan Diogracio Puchicama Peña al Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Congreso Nacional Ordinario del Pueblo Wounaan), 21 de marzo de 2019.

In 2015 Dr. Julie Velasquez Runk received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Entangled Landscapes of Loss: Emotion, Identity, and Territoriality Post Rosewood Logging in Panama”. In 2018 Dr. Velasquez Runk returned to Panama when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Harnessing Technological Innovations to Further Community Engagement for Collaborative Archiving, Use, and Publication of Research”.

We sat, once again, around a table in a spare white room in Panama City, the air conditioning providing a respite from the intensely hot and humid rainy season. I was meeting with the indigenous Wounaan authorities of the traditional organization Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (Wounaan National Congress) and the newly elected authorities of their non-governmental organization the Foundation for the Development of Wounaan People. This time, the internet was down, forcing us to gather around a laptop to gaze at screenshots rather than the websites we could no longer access. After reviewing the work, we brainstormed about how to move forward with a smaller team, a Comite Técnico (Technical Committee), to develop, review, edit, and publish ethnographic multimedia content.

To me this vignette is something of a typical moment in community-based collaborative research. I have been doing collaborative work, a short-hand term that is readily intelligible and easy to translate, with local communities and non-governmental organizations for just over three decades. Such community-based collaborations are a decolonial and multi-vocal method, one in which communities guide the research from planning to write-up. The above vignette is indicative of collaborative research as a recursive process, characterized by flexibility, trust, and communication. And it also reminds that it is very time intensive and costly: this was from our fifth meeting during my fourth trip to Panama in a year, which was two more than I had originally planned. As Wounaan authorities have gotten increasingly active in development, land rights, and other critical efforts, scheduling has gotten increasingly complex.

For a Wenner-Gren Foundation Engaged Anthropology Grant I proposed to work with Wounaan to use technological advances to further collaborative archiving, use, and publication of research. In Panama, over 7,000 Wounaan live in 17 rural villages and urban areas where they elect village and national authorities in the Congress system. Using the results from a Post-Ph.D. Grant on the cultural, political, and ethical entanglements around rosewood logging, Wounaan authorities and I would work on a protocol for collaborative publication. The same globalization that facilitated intensive rosewood exploitation also has brought governmental and non-governmental activities, and with it growing Wounaan concern about the use and control of their cultural material. Recently, Wounaan have asked that I present research results in more multi-media ways, rather than simply written texts. Smart phones, and less so internet, are much more widely available than in the past, offering Wounaan new opportunities to access multi-media research. However, publishing via multi-media requires more detailed attention to collaborative development of materials, particularly because of the use of personally identifiable information, such as audio and video.

Over the course of the year, Wounaan authorities and I discussed how to create normas, norms, for collaborative publication development. We began in late July, in the main rosewood research village, where a two national authorities and I held a community workshop to discuss how to use research images and texts. The end result of that meeting was to keep the communication going, especially between village authorities and national ones, as how to best use research results (including images). For a second meeting in October, I prepared a report on rosewood ecology, ethnobotany, and its commodity chain. I met in Panama City with national Wounaan authorities and also language and cultural experts who had previously worked on a language documentation project. There, we reviewed the rosewood report and I used it as a jumping off point to discuss and show, via a digital projector, several nascent multi-media projects: the rosewood multi-modal (website and book) project, a short video to be distributed by cell-phone on how to access the 60-years of stories from the language documentation work, and a digital archive of Wounaan photographs and material culture being initiated by Liz Lapovsky Kennedy and me in the Mukurtu platform.  We discussed the many decisions that require the co-development—not just co-review—of the materials.

National authorities and I met again in March, just before their national meeting. We determined that the best way to develop such works was via a Technical Committee, which we could discuss with the plenary of the forthcoming congress.

Wounaan came together March 20 – 23 at the Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Regular National Congress of Wounaan People). There, authorities and villagers publicly discuss their issues and make decisions, codified in resolutions, on how to advance their interests. Authorities from each village and any villager who could make it, and invited officials and guests met over three days, presided over by the national authorities. I updated the plenary about ongoing work (which included an ethno-ornithology project with national authorities and a village) and asked whether the development of publications from such projects could be done with a Technical Committee. The plenary agreed. At my urging, they also resolved to make a formal resolution requesting all the photos and videos I had taken, which I, in turn, could submit to the human subjects committees that had approved the research.

A short three months later, in June, we held our most recent meeting that I address in the opening vignette. There, even sans internet, we again discussed the multiple multimedia projects. Those had grown to include initial website portions of the rosewood entanglements work: a media and geographical analysis on the Panama’s logging boom presented as a timeline (developed with student Ella Vardeman) and a multi-media and map-laden website on the social and political history of Emberá and Wounaan land rights struggles. We decided to hold the first Technical Committee meeting over the next year, when Liz Lapovsky Kennedy was available so that we could delve into the digital archive. And I committed to fund the Technical Committee for at least the first year, covering the travel and per diem costs of 6-8 participants.

The support of a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant was fundamental for improving rosewood research publication and strengthening Wounaan sovereignty by taking advantage of technological innovations to further consent and collaboration in the oft-overlooked publication stages.

Nos sentamos, una vez más, alrededor de una mesa en una habitación blanca en la ciudad de Panamá, el aire acondicionado proporciona un respiro de la temporada de lluvias intensamente cálida y húmeda. Me estaba reuniendo con las autoridades indígenas wounaan de la organización tradicional, el Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (Congreso Nacional del Pueblo Wounaan), y las autoridades recientemente elegidas de su organización no gubernamental, la Fundación para el Desarrollo del Pueblo Wounaan. Esta vez, el internet se había caido, lo que nos obligó a reunirnos alrededor de una computadora portátil para mirar capturas de pantalla en lugar de los sitios web que ya no podíamos acceder. Después de revisar el trabajo, hicimos una lluvia de ideas sobre cómo avanzar con un equipo más pequeño, un Comité Técnico (Technical Committee), para desarrollar, revisar, editar y publicar contenido multimedia etnográfico.

Para mí, esta viñeta es un momento típico en la investigación colaborativa basada en la comunidad. He estado haciendo trabajo colaborativo, un término breve que es fácilmente inteligible y fácil de traducir, con comunidades locales y organizaciones no gubernamentales durante poco más de tres décadas. Tales colaboraciones basadas en la comunidad son un método descolonial y multi-vocal, uno en el que las comunidades guían la investigación desde la planificación hasta la redacción. La viñeta anterior es indicativa de la investigación colaborativa como un proceso recursivo, caracterizado por flexibilidad, confianza y comunicación. Y también recuerda que es muy costoso y requiere mucho tiempo: esto fue de nuestra quinta reunión durante mi cuarto viaje a Panamá en un año, que fue dos más de lo que había planeado originalmente. A medida que las autoridades wounaan se han vuelto cada vez más activas en el desarrollo, los derechos a la tierra y otros esfuerzos críticos, la programación se ha vuelto cada vez más compleja.

Para una subvención de antropología comprometida de la Fundación Wenner-Gren, propuse trabajar con los wounaan para utilizar los avances tecnológicos para un mayor archivo, uso y publicación colaborativos de la investigación. En Panamá, más de 7,000 wounaan viven en 17 comunidades rurales y áreas urbanas donde eligen autoridades locales y nacionales en el sistema del congreso. Usando los resultados de una subvención post-doctoral sobre las conexiones culturales, políticos y éticos en torno a la tala del palo rosa cocobolo, las autoridades wounaan y yo trabajaríamos en un protocolo para la publicación colaborativa. La misma globalización que facilitó la explotación intensiva del cocobolo también ha traído actividades gubernamentales y no gubernamentales, y con ello la creciente preocupación de los wounaan por el uso y control de su material cultural. Recientemente, los wounaan ha pedido que presente los resultados de la investigación en formas más multimedia, en lugar de simplemente textos escritos. Los teléfonos inteligentes, y menos internet, están mucho más disponibles que en el pasado, ofreciendo a los wounaan nuevas oportunidades para acceder a la investigación multimedia. Sin embargo, la publicación a través de multimedia requiere una atención más detallada al desarrollo colaborativo de materiales, particularmente debido al uso de información de identificación personal, como audio y video.

A lo largo del año, las autoridades wounaan y yo conversamos cómo crear normas para el desarrollo de publicaciones colaborativas. Comenzamos a fines de julio, en la comunidad principal de investigación del cocobolo, donde dos autoridades nacionales y yo realizamos un taller comunitario para conversar cómo usar imágenes y textos de investigación. El resultado final de esa reunión fue mantener la comunicación, especialmente entre las autoridades de la comunidad y las nacionales, como la mejor manera de utilizar los resultados de la investigación (incluidas las imágenes). Para una segunda reunión en octubre, preparé un informe sobre la ecología y la etnobotánica del cocobolo y su cadena de valor. Me reuní en la ciudad de Panamá con las autoridades nacionales wounaan y también con expertos en idiomas y cultura que habían trabajado previamente en un proyecto de documentación lingüística. Allí, revisamos el informe de cocobolo y lo utilicé como punto de partida para conversar y mostrar, a través de un proyector digital, varios proyectos multimedia emergentes: el proyecto multimodal (sitio web y libro) de cocobolo, un video corto para ser distribuido por teléfono celular sobre cómo acceder los 60 años de cuentos del trabajo de documentación del idioma, y un archivo digital de fotografías y cultura material wounaan iniciada por Liz Lapovsky Kennedy y yo en la plataforma Mukurtu. Conversamos sobre las muchas decisiones que requieren el desarrollo conjunto, no solo la revisión conjunta, de los materiales. Las autoridades nacionales y yo nos reunimos nuevamente en marzo, justo antes de la reunión nacional. Determinamos que la mejor manera de desarrollar tales trabajos era a través de un Comité Técnico, que podríamos conversar con el plenario del próximo congreso nacional.

Wounaan se reunieron marzo 20 – 23 al Jua Numi Hawia Numi Wounaan Podpa NΛm Pömaam (XII Congreso Nacional Ordinario del Pueblo Wounaan). Allí, las autoridades y las comunidades hablan públicamente sobre sus problemas y toman decisiones, codificadas en resoluciones, sobre cómo promover sus intereses. Las autoridades de cada comunidad y cualquier woun que pudieran participar, e oficiales e huéspedes invitados se reunieron durante tres días, presididos por las autoridades nacionales. Actualicé la sesión plenaria sobre el trabajo en curso (que incluía un proyecto de etnoornitología con las autoridades nacionales y una comunidad) y pregunté si el desarrollo de publicaciones de tales proyectos podría hacerse con un Comité Técnico. El plenario estuvo de acuerdo. A instancias mías, también resolvieron tomar una resolución formal para solicitar todas las fotos y videos que había tomado, que, a su vez, podía presentar a los comités de sujetos humanos que habían aprobado la investigación.

Unos tres meses después, en junio, celebramos nuestra reunión más reciente que abordo en la viñeta de apertura. Allí, incluso sin internet, nuevamente conversamos sobre los múltiples proyectos multimedia. Esos habían crecido para incluir porciones iniciales en borrador del sitio web del trabajo sobre las conexiones con el cocobolo: un análisis de prensa y geografía sobre el auge de la tala de Panamá presentado como una línea de tiempo (desarrollada con la estudiante Ella Vardeman) y un sitio web multimedia y cargado de mapas sobre la historia social y político de las luchas wounaan y emberá por los derechos a la tierra. Decidimos celebrar la primera reunión del Comité Técnico durante el próximo año, cuando Liz Lapovsky Kennedy estuviera disponible para poder profundizar en el archivo digital. Y me comprometí a financiar el Comité Técnico durante al menos el primer año, cubriendo los gastos de viaje y viáticos de 6-8 participantes.

El apoyo de una Subvención de Antropología Comprometida de la Fundación Wenner-Gren fue fundamental para mejorar la publicación de la investigación del cocobolo y fortalecer la soberanía wounaan al aprovechar las innovaciones tecnológicas para obtener un mayor consentimiento y colaboración en las etapas de publicación a menudo ignoradas.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chelsie Yount-Andre

During the children’s theater workshop in Dakar, youth playing Senegal-based family members explain to their “French cousins” how to eat together around the communal platter.

Chelsie Yount-Andre received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2013 to aid research on “Giving, Taking, and Sharing: Reproducing Economic Moralities and Social Hierarchies in Transnational Senegal,” supervised by Dr. Caroline Bledsoe. Dr. Yount-Andre was then able to build upon her research when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Sharing Food, Money, and Morals: Celebrating Children’s Kinwork in Transnational Senegal.”

My Wenner-Gren funded dissertation research investigated how increasing global inequalities reshape the ways families negotiate what I call, “economic moralities,” that is, normative expectations of material obligation and entitlement. I analyzed household discussions that mediate practices of food sharing and gift giving, to shed light on the ways children in Senegalese families in Paris learn to manage the diverse moral expectations they encounter in French society and their transnational families. Focusing on economic moralities that emerged in everyday interaction, my research revealed children’s key role in the reproduction of socioeconomic relations with relatives abroad, shaping the transnational flow of resources.

A scene in which a girl playing a “French cousin” visiting Dakar on vacation (right) gets reprimanded by her “cousin” in Dakar for refusing to distribute money and gifts.

As part of my continued efforts to incorporate the voices of children into discussions about migration, I first organized a children’s theater workshop in Dakar and then presented a film of the youth’s performance at a community meal in Paris. These two events were funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant and the Chaire UNESCO World Food Systems. The projects’ aims were twofold: 1) to promote mutual understanding among kin in Senegal and France by shedding light on the moral and material pressures transnational relatives face, and 2) to publicly highlight the value of immigrants’ eating and economic practices in France.

A boy plays a “French cousin” by wearing glasses and a button-down shirt and sitting immersed in his phone, at a distance from the rest of the family.

The children’s theater workshop, organized in collaboration with the Kàddu Yaraax theater troupe, was held April 26-27, 2019 at the Centre Culturel Blaise Senghor in Dakar. Twelve children (aged 8-16) spent the weekend acting out scenes that depicted the confusion and frustration that Senegalese children growing up in Paris experience when they visit their families in Dakar, where they encounter new expectations regarding how they “ought” to give and share. Transcriptions of three stories that Senegalese children in Paris had recounted during my dissertation research provided the starting point for the workshop. Youth in Dakar embodied the positions of children growing up in France in stories of perplexing interactions surrounding material exchanges, such as a boy’s trip to Dakar when his father invited his Senegal-based cousins to choose whatever they wanted from his son’s suitcase while the boy was away at the beach.

Flyer for the community meal held at the 4C Association’s “Quartier Libre,” cultural center in Paris, as part of the Magic Barbes neighborhood festival.

The youth collaborated to co-construct a short performance, combining the three stories and adding details of their own, based on anecdotes they shared of their own interactions with cousins who visited from Europe. Working through these scenes, the youth in Dakar struggled to understand what children growing up in France may and may not know about life in Senegal. For example, as they enacted a scene in which a girl from Paris did not understand that a griot singing her praises expected her to give money, the youth in Senegal were shocked to realize that the girl had never encountered griots in France. Through these discussions, youth came to realize that many actions they had previously associated with selfishness and greed could simply be the result of youth from France’s ignorance of everyday practices in Senegal.

Chelsie Yount-André presenting her research on economic moralities in transnational Senegalese families at the 4C cultural association.

The performance culminated with a mealtime scene in which the children explained how giving and sharing take place in Senegal, using the metaphor of eating around a communal dish. The workshop ended with in a performance for the children’s families and community in Dakar. Through children’s voices, the event presented messages also important to Senegalese adults, countering stereotypes of selfish migrants who raise spoiled children. The entire workshop was filmed and edited into a 15-minute video that presents the tensions with which transnational families struggle and the cultural values that organize food sharing and material support in Senegal.

I then brought the film back to Paris to present at a community meal on September 28, 2019 at the “Quartier Libre,” cultural center in the African neighborhood, Goutte d’or. This event was part of the association’s contribution to the Magic Barbes Festival, a celebration of the diverse immigrant cultures in the neighborhood. Working with the 4C association, we organized a full-day celebration of Senegalese and African culture in France, beginning with a cooking workshop where participants learned to make Senegal’s national dish, ceebujenn. This was followed by a performance of kora music and the day ended with a presentation and discussion of my research and the film of the theater workshop in Dakar.

Event participants in Paris eating ceebujenn together around a communal dish.

Before showing the video of the children’s performance in Dakar, we first presented the original transcriptions of the three scenes that had provided the basis for the workshop. These scenes were graciously read aloud by Mengué Lett and Dr. Souleymane Gassama, members of the Senegalese community in Paris who played integral roles in my research. We then projected the film from the workshop in Dakar to an audience which included the Paris-based family members of workshop participants, members of the families who participated in my dissertation research, and members of the public who were present for the Magic Barbes Festival. The screening was followed by discussion and debate, facilitated by Christine Tichit, a sociologist at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) whose work focuses on youth, food, and migration in France.

As they sat and ate ceebujenn around a communal dish, event participants in Paris were able to embody the perspective of those in Senegal, gaining insights into the ways that food sharing and material support take place in West Africa. Celebrating the value of these practices, this project worked to destigmatize immigrants’ economic choices and eating habits, which my research participants often complained were treated as irrational or uncivilized in France. By publicly celebrating West African eating practices and the economic links they symbolize and create, this project demonstrated to immigrant families in Paris the community interest and respect for their practices in France.