Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Bilge Firat

"No Borders Between Brothers" and bombshell graffiti on "Fortress Europe" set up in front of the European Parliament during 2009 European elections

Bilge Firat is Lecturer in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Istanbul Technical University. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the State University of New York, Binghamton, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Negotiation of Turkish Europeanization in Brussels,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas M. Wilson, investigating how lobbying as a politico-cultural communicative practice works in facilitating the enlargement dynamic of the E.U. towards the Republic of Turkey. In 2013, now on the faculty of Istanbul Technical University, Dr. Firat received the Engaged Anthropology Grant and used it to organize a unique opportunity for political actors who would normally not be in dialog with each other to discuss political and cultural issues outside of a formal context. 

Europeanization alla Turca? A Communicative Engagement Event Towards the Positive Agenda

While conducting my Wenner Gren-supported dissertation fieldwork on Turkish Europeanization and lobbying in Brussels, I observed Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership talks (or accession negotiations, in Eurospeak) to gradually undergo a stalemate from 2008 to 2009. This stalemate, or rather crisis, has since then impelled actor-agents to rethink the fundamentals of the EU-Turkey relationship. In this rethinking, I found, mutual mis/trust, pedagogical power, and other political currencies loom large. At the end of my research in Brussels, I concluded that various dynamics rendered Turkey’s bid for EU membership an anti-case. Communicative setbacks arising from existing power parameters between the EU and this candidate country contributed into the disintegration of actors and agents from one another, which in return contributed into the deepening of mistrust and the losing of political and administrative credibility among members of Turkish and non-Turkish Eurocratic policy communities—otherwise equal partners in this process. I observed mistrust as a strong political currency most commonly in policy actors’ non-communication with one another outside the given communicative channels and tokens provided by an institutional framework. I recently went back to Brussels, thanks to a Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, in order to bring together public and private negotiators of Turkey’s EU accession to discuss the nature of this anti-case and to amend their communicative holdups.[1]

In my engagement project, I proposed to nurture a para-ethnographic moment in the form of a roundtable discussion wherein participants, who would otherwise not speak to each other, were to do so by way of my mediation/meditation and to establish a new communicative channel unguided by official policies and formal institutional identities—prerequisite for establishing a sound politico-cultural dialogue and moving on with the process.

Europeanization alla Turca in session

Please take off your political hats!

These were the exact words with which the Europeanization alla Turca roundtable that I organized at the European Parliament (hereafter, the Parliament) on 17 September 2013 started. My guests included public (governmental and non-governmental) and private interest representatives from the European Union, its member states, and Turkey who have been entrusted with facilitating Turkish bid for EU membership over many years now, but many of whom have lately been estranged from one another—both personally and institutionally. About 25 policy workers congregated in Room 3H1 of the Parliament’s Altiero Spinelli Building that Tuesday evening, in order to openly debate how past achievements and limitations in the everyday of negotiations could be turned into future opportunities for the EU-Turkey relations.

I have long ago observed that the EP serves as a market place where information, interests, and influence frequently exchange hands. A Greek Member of the EP and Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats political group, Maria Eleni Koppa, kindly hosted us. In her opening remarks, she declared that Europe is a “community of values.”[2] The rest of us, after her, began to debate what this “community of values” entails for doing the daily work on the EU’s enlargement towards Turkey.

 

One of the meeting rooms through the labyrinthine corridors of the European Parliament

With Turkey, everything is political

Four speakers (including myself) reflected at that statement deriving from their European experiences and expertise from working with each other. Historical dept of the variegated relationship between Europe and Turkey was juxtaposed to the current impasse in the EU-Turkey membership process, which has its own landmark developments such as the signing of a customs union agreement between the EU and Turkey in 1996. The current deadlock in membership talks, or rather the “death spiral” as one of the speakers aptly put it in policyspeak, is plainly because “with Turkey, everything is political.” All speakers agreed that, at the individual bureaucratic level, this death spiral deepens the peculiar absence of mutual trust, lack of understanding of one another, as it further obliterates chances for the attainment of a common language between the parties to Turkey’s European tango.

“We need to build trust by living together,” stated Ms Fazilet Cinaralp, a true Turkish European and the long-term Secretary General of the European Tire and Rubber Association, a pan-European sectoral business association that also has Turkish members. “Accession is a process, and the industry is participating in this process daily with its challenges, prospects, opportunities,” she continued adding that more needs to be done.


Europe enlarges..

The venerable representative of Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists Association in Brussels, Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi remarked, “Europe enlarges, but this is not an inclusion. Nobody comes to Europe; Europe goes to those places.” He recommended that we listen to European expats (businessmen, artists and the like) living in China, who as a result of this have a unique perspective on the future of Europe, of China, and of Turkey and are very much in favor of the EU enlargement towards Turkey. In his opinion, the real questions are whether there is any will left in both sides and which interests the EU and Turkish citizens have in common. “A Europe that has successfully enlarged itself in a global order, or a shrinking Europe? Or a Europe of variable geometry where an enlarged EU could keep its core Eurozone, which may be easier to explain to its citizens.”

 

Common Interests? A perspective on the European Commission

A better language, a real understanding

An adviser to the EU’s techno-bureaucracy on energy issues, who wished to speak off-the-record, stressed the importance of proper political communication. He suggested that the way actors and agents of Turkey’s Europeanization negotiations address each other is very important, whether it is done formally or informally in a non-structured or structured environment. He confided: “There has to be a real understanding of what the other person is hearing rather than what you are saying. And we lack that deeply on both sides.” From his long-term engagement with Turkey, this adviser summed up some of the turbulence in Turkey’s EU membership talks: “There have been many capable diplomats in both sides who knew how to approach an issue. But it only takes one person to say something stupid, and that throws off the entire relationship.”

The roundtable provided a platform for the participants to share their experiences with each other. Others such as officials from European Commission’s various directorate generals, civil society actors from the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions also made interventions from around the table. It was not an easy task to bring them together, especially as an anthropologist with no institutional or political attachment in Brussels. But in the end, we were able to take off our hats that evening, albeit for a brief moment.



[1] I would like to acknowledge the help and support I received from two individuals in organizing this event: Aslihan Tekin and Evangelos Tountas, my long-time and more recent friends.

[2] Ms. Koppa was the only person who was not asked to take her political hat off, anticipating that a politician could never agree to that.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Simón Uribe

Visit of the veeduría to the road project area, vereda Campucana

Simón Uribe is Lecturer in the Department of History at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. In 2009, while a Ph.D. student in Geology at the London School of Economics, Uribe received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The State at the Frontier: A Historical Ethnography of a Road in the Putumayo Region of Colombia,’ supervised by Dr. Sharad Chari. In 2014, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his fieldsite and share his research with the community that hosted him.

During 2010 I conducted fieldwork in the Colombian Putumayo, a border province in the southwest part of the country traditionally portrayed as a marginal territory marked by conflict, lawlessness and violence. My research focused on the history and ethnography of a road connecting the Andean and Amazon regions, and sought to explore the processes and practices of state-building in this particular province. The history of this road dates back to the mid nineteenth century and goes up to the present, during which time it has undergone various transformations, from an indigenous trail to a colonisation road and, more recently, to a road project part of a large interoceanic scheme aimed at connecting the Atlantic and Pacific through Brazil and Colombia.

Interview exercise, vereda Guaduales

The idea of applying for the Wenner-Gren Engagement Grant originated from a central concern of my research, related to the conflicts around the current road project. The passage of the road through the Amazon-Andes Piedmont, home to indigenous and peasant communities and one of the regions of greatest biodiversity in the world, has been a point of contention on environmental and social grounds. However, the public debate about the road’s actual and potential impacts and conflicts has largely neglected the broader historical and political dynamics in which such conflicts and impacts are grounded. The Engagement project, conceived in conjunction with the veeduría ciudadana (citizen oversight organization) of the road project, sought to address this problem in two related ways: first, by generating awareness among the local community about the importance of understanding such dynamics in order to face the multiple social, economic and environmental challenges associated to the road; and second, to collectively develop strategies aimed at translating this awareness into effective actions.

Editing and blog workshop in Mocoa.

Taking into consideration the veeduría’s current main challenges and problems, the project focused on the development of citizen journalism as a way to strengthen the organization, as well as to encourage wider involvement of the broader community as veedores (overseers) of the road. The first strategy or component of the project was to provide basic training in media skills to both members of the veeduría and other people interested in joining the organization, especially among the veredas (rural communities) directly affected by the road. This training, carried out with basic equipment provided by the project (digital cameras and voice recorders), was developed through a series of workshops over a period of six weeks. These workshops covered different topics such as journalism ethics and local history, as well as a wide range of skills, from photo and video reporting to editing and uploading. As the guiding principle of the workshops was to learn by doing, they consisted largely of field activities and exercises like visits to the road project area; interviews with project’s functionaries, road workers, and the local community; and reportage of conflicts and events associated to the project.

Drone video of the construction of the road elaborated by members of the veeduría

More importantly, and apart from those activities, the workshops provided a space for dialogue and discussion, where participants exchanged ideas ant thoughts about the road project and the subject of participation and involvement in the veeduría. The latter has always been a difficult and sometimes controversial issue, especially since mega-projects of this sort are usually an important source of jobs –though temporal and mostly unqualified- for locals, a situation severing community ties and hindering people’s capacity to organize and act collectively. At the same time, however, the rapid changes brought to the area by the project as daily evidenced by the increasing presence and traffic of heavy machinery and workers, has triggered anxieties and concerns among those living in the vicinity of the future road. In this context, the workshops offered a valuable opportunity to reflect not only about the project’s current impacts and conflicts but the meaning and long-term implications of the road.

Radio program of the veeduría

The main outcome of the workshops was a blog site of the veeduría. This blog was collectively constructed and conceived as a virtual space for the veedores to report, denounce, and inform the broader public about the different problems and issues surrounding the road project. The blog will support the second strategy of the project, which consisted of the development of a radio program for the veeduría. This strategy was regarded by the veedores as crucial for their mission, especially since radio is a widely used source of information and public debate in the region. As some of the members of the veeduría have experience in radio, the project’s contribution was to provide funds to buy radio air time in one of Mocoa’s (Putumayo’s capital) radio stations. The program, of half an hour duration, is currently being broadcasted daily by Radio Waira, Putumayo’s indigenous organization radio station. Both the radio program and the blog will contribute significantly to the veeduría by making visible their role and activities in the road project. Finally, and at a broader level, they will help generate awareness on the importance of civil society engagement in public policy processes, and of the relevance of communication and media technologies as effective tools of social action.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Maria Theresia Starzmann

Maria Theresia Starzmann explains archaeological artifacts to students

Maria Theresia Starzmann is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at McGill University. She originally was awarded the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2008 as a Ph.D. student at the State University of New York – Binghamton, to aid research on ‘Embodied Knowledge and Community Practice: Stone Tool Production at Fıstıklı Höyük,’ supervised by Dr. Reinhard W. Bernbeck. After analyzing the technological organization of stone tool production at this 6th millennium BCE site in southeastern Turkey, Dr. Starzmann applied for and was granted the Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2013 to develop and present a series of workshops for schoolchildren living in proximity to the research site. In this post, Starzmann shares her experiences educating young people about Neolithic lifeways.

Seen from the present, the ancient world often appears foreign to us. Looking at a Late Neolithic site, the contemporary reader may expect to find functionally differentiated stone tools—an archaeological ‘tool kit’ similar to the implements in a North American kitchen drawer. The absence of such artifacts often comes as surprise: as my research at the site of Fıstıklı Höyük in Southeastern Turkey has shown, Late Neolithic villagers lived with a relative paucity of material items. Up until the late 20th century, this scarcity has led archaeologists to describe the Late Neolithic societies of the Middle East as ‘primitive.’

Against such an ‘othering’ of past social groups, my dissertation research set out from the understanding that the past is more than an impoverished mirror image of the present. Seeking to share my alternative reading of the Late Neolithic past, I applied for a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant. The idea was to offer a series of workshops for school children in Turkey, providing local students with an opportunity to explore the ancient world in their own terms. In developing the workshop materials, I believed it particularly important to counter a reading of ancient cultures as ‘primitive.’ The scarcity of artifacts documented at Fıstıklı Höyük, for example, is better understood as the basis for sharing things than as indicative of a primitive lifestyle. Against this background, Late Neolithic communities appear in a different light: while they may have lacked a relatively hierarchical social organization, group cohesion seems to have been established by collective work in the context of ‘communities of practice.’

Mina Eroğlu gives a presentation to 5th-graders at Ilgi Okulları in Şanlıurfa

With these ideas in mind, I returned to Şanlıurfa, where I had carried out my dissertation fieldwork. Two colleagues, both of who had previous experience working in educational projects, accompanied me. Nilgün Çakan, a social anthropologist from Berlin, Germany, and Mina Eroğlu, an archaeologist from Ankara, Turkey, were engaged project partners and precious travel companions throughout our stay in Turkey.

Together, we visited a local elementary and middle school, Özel Şanlıurfa Saraç İlgi Okulları, for the duration of two weeks, where we conducted several workshops with 10-12 year old students. Prof. Evangelia Pişkin of Middle Eastern Technical University (METÜ), who kindly agreed to take on an advisory role in the project as well as establish the contact to the local school, supported the preliminary organization of the workshops. At the school, Mr. Halil Sarac and Mr. Mehmet Tokgöz were attentive and helpful in coordinating the workshops and providing the necessary technical equipment.

In organizing the project, it was crucial that the workshops were interactive. This meant that we provided the space for children to respond to questions and prompts as well as to as ask their own questions. Each workshop was conducted as a conversation with the children. In an instructional session, we first explained some of the basics of archaeological work. Starting from how to acquire an excavation permit to the actual excavation process, we also introduced the students to the documentation, analysis, and curation of artifacts. We had brought with us a small study collection of archaeological artifacts—pottery sherds and stone tools—that the students analyzed.

Based on the archaeological materials, the students were quick to draw comparisons between ancient cultures and contemporary village life in Turkey. Many students told us about traditional cooking and building methods not only to be found in archaeological textbooks but also in rural areas in Turkey: they mentioned the use of the tandır oven for baking bread, or of mud-brick for the construction of the beehive-shaped houses that can be found in the area of Harran, just 20 km south of Şanlıurfa. There was also distinct sense among the children that the past was in many ways different from the present and characterized in particular by the lack of modern technologies. This lack was not perceived in a negative way, however; rather, as one student put it, “People back then were more intelligent, because they didn’t have TV.”

Reconstruction drawing of Fıstıklı Höyük prepared by Bryan DePuy

The workshop also included an in-class exercise: inviting the children to travel back in time, we asked them to imagine a typical day in the Late Neolithic village of Fıstıklı Höyük. What would a day in the life of a 11-year old boy or girl have been like at Fıstıklı Höyük? In which ways was past life different from your life today, and in which ways would it have been similar? In answering these questions, the children relied on reconstruction drawings of Fıstıklı Höyük that Toronto-based artist Bryan DePuy had contributed to the project. The images depict Late Neolithic village life—men, women, and children are busy fishing, cooking, and making pottery or stone tools—and they also give a hint about the nature of past social relations.

In their stories, many children actively engaged the idea of a ‘sharing economy,’ with one student stating that “life back then was better, today people are egoists.” This sentiment corresponded to a general understanding among the children that in Late Neolithic societies there might have been more room to accommodate people who “had different talents.” That these talents needed to be passed on between the generations was also of concern to the students: in the reconstruction drawing of Fıstıklı Höyük we see adults sitting with children, leading several students to suggest that “knowledge was shared between father and son.” But according to the students, the status of parents or village elders was not established by way of coercion. Instead, “older people had more authority, because they were more experienced,” and someone who stood at the top of the social hierarchy of the village, maybe a ‘sheikh,’ was “not someone powerful, but someone smart.”

Nilgün Çakan listens to a student reading her story about Neolithic life

To Mina, Nilgün, and myself, these answers demonstrated that our project was about much more than teaching children about cultural heritage. Initially conceived of as a way of bringing ‘home’ my dissertation work, the workshops soon unfolded into a genuine conversation in which the students shared their ideas about a different world. The children’s stories are beautiful accounts of the possibilities of a world that is inclusive of diversity, communal ways of living, and sharing. The project thus opened up new spaces for talking about history and for learning from each other. Or, as student Doğa put it in her story about living a day in a Late Neolithic village, “I am sure, I could teach [the people from the past] a few things and most likely they would be able to teach me a few things as well.”

 

As per her request, we have included Starzmann’s summary of her project in Turkish.

Türkçe özet:

Şanlıurfa-Türkiye’de bulunan bir ilköğretim okulunda organize ettiğimiz bir seri atölye çalışmasının hedefi, bölgenin Geç Neolitik dönemi ile ilgili bildiklerimizi öğrencilerle etkileşimli bir şekilde paylaşabilmekti. Arkeologların ne iş yaptıkları ile ilgili basit açıklamalar içeren bir sunumdan ve küçük bir etüdlük eser kolleksiyonunun çocuklarla birlikte analiz edilmesinin ardından çocukları, bir Geç Neolitik köyü olan Fıstıklı Höyük’te gündelik hayatı keşfetmeye ve geçmişe dair kendi yorumlarını ortaya koymaya teşvik ettik. Çocuklarla yaptığımız konuşmalar sırasında eski dünya ve kadim hayatlar rengarenk bir şekilde yeniden hayat buldu. Bunun da ötesinde, çocukların “sorunlu” bazı arkeolojik buluntular üzerine yaptıkları yorumlar, halihazırdaki arkeolojik modellere yeni bakış açıları getirdi: örneğin, arkeologların genelde karmaşık toplumsal organizasyonun yokluğuyla tanımlamaya meyilli olduğu Geç Neolitik dönem toplulukları konusunda çocuklar, “paylaşım ekonomisi” ve komünal yaşam ile karakterize olmuş bir kültür olasılığı üzerinde durmayı tercih ettiler.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jessica Barnes

Discussion with farmers in Fayoum

Jessica Barnes is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environment & Sustainability at the University of South Carolina. In 2007, while a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Farming Fayoum: The Flows and Frictions of Irrigation in Egypt,’ supervised by Dr. Paige West. We welcome her to the blog to share her experiences working with our Engaged Anthropology Grant and returning to the field to share her insights with the community.

Over the past years, I have become increasingly comfortable talking about my work in academic contexts. Presentations at the AAA meetings no longer scare me, talks to other colleagues are fun rather than alarming, lectures to undergraduates are not a cause of anxiety. I feel a sense of belonging in the academic world. It is a familiar cultural space in which people “think through” ideas, “work with” certain theorists, say “right?” a lot, and do a funny rotating motion with the thumb and forefinger of one hand as they talk. In my research site within Egypt, I feel a different sense of belonging. I am comfortable walking through the fields with farmers who I have known for years, talking with irrigation engineers, meeting with government officials in the water ministry, and hanging out with international consultants who run water projects. Yet giving a formal presentation about my ethnographic research in these spaces? To be honest, the thought initially terrified me. Would anyone find it interesting? Would it seem abstract and irrelevant? Would it be politically sensitive? Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I had the opportunity and encouragement this summer to step outside of my comfort zone and bring the results of my academic research to my fieldwork site. It ended up being an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience.

During my doctoral fieldwork in Egypt, in 2007-8, I conducted ethnographic research on water with farmers, irrigation engineers, government officials, and international donors in Fayoum Province and Cairo. This work culminated in a book, Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt (Duke University Press, September 2014). In the book, I argue that Egypt’s water is not a given object of management, but rather, is made as a resource by day-to-day practices that take place across multiple scales. Some of the most active political contestation around water, I propose, occurs not in the realm of international treaty negotiations and large dam projects that has received so much attention in the literature, but rather, around these everyday practices of making the resource in quantity and quality, space and time.

In my engagement project, which I conducted in May-June 2014, my goal was to share the results of my work with people in Egypt who have an interest in the Nile, and to open up some spaces for discussion. Arriving in the midst of the presidential election, it was a fascinating time to be in Egypt. The “CC” graffiti all around Cairo and Fayoum by the time I left reflected the optimism of many about the newly elected President Sisi, but also, the marginalization of many others. While people’s political positions seemed to be deeply divided, a constant refrain I heard was concerns about poverty, livelihoods, and governance of the nation’s resources – issues that my work, with its focus on one of Egypt’s most fundamental resources, speaks to.

Audience at event hosted by the Water Institute for the Nile

I gave my first presentation in Fayoum Province to a group of 20 farmers. I started my talk by explaining that what led me to this research topic was an observation that much of the literature on the Nile gives scant consideration to farmers, even though it is farmers who use 90% of the river’s water. In my opinion, to understand more about what is happening to the water of the Nile, we have to look to the sites where water is actually being used on a day-to-day basis. This idea resonated with those present, who are well aware that they are often marginalized when it comes to water management debates. We had a lively discussion about the practices of farm-level water management that I discuss in the book. I also talked about some of water management practices that are taking place at other scales, which most farmers are not so familiar with. For example, I explained how in times of high Nile flows, when the Lake Nasser reservoir gets too full, the Ministry of Water uses a spillway to divert water into the desert. The evaporation of this water from the desert is a powerful illustration of the irony that while many farmers face water scarcity, in some parts of Egypt the problem is actually one of excess.

Live twitter feed by Nahdet el-Mahrousa during my event

I gave my next two talks in Cairo. The first was hosted by the Water Institute for the Nile and Nahdet el-Mahrousa; the second by the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the American University of Cairo. Each event attracted audiences of around 30 people, comprising Egyptian and international researchers, development practitioners, journalists, irrigation engineers, activists, civil society representatives, academics, government officials, and students. Many of these people work on water-related topics and are familiar with Nile issues. Being based in Cairo, however, most of them only have a limited knowledge about the day-to-day practices of water management along canals and in the fields. This was the part of my work that I think they found especially interesting. Many were also unfamiliar with ethnographic research and were struck by my different approach to looking at these issues. My argument that charging farmers for irrigation water and educating farmers are not the best approaches for dealing with water scarcity sparked particularly heated discussion.

Overall, this was a valuable challenge for me to think about the parts of my work that might be relevant to non-anthropologists. I was pleasantly surprised at the interest people expressed and at the vibrancy of the discussions that my work generated – discussions from which I learned a great deal. The engagement project inspired me to continue these sorts of interactions as I move forward in my next ethnographic study of food security, wheat, and bread in Egypt.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Alicia McGill

Alicia McGill is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at North Carolina State University. In 2008, while a doctoral candidate at Indiana University, she was awarded Wenner-Gren’s Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Students, Teachers, and Community Leaders Negotiating National and Local Heritage Ideologies in Belize,’ supervised by Dr. Bradley Levinson. Five years later, she became one of the very first recipients of the WGF Engaged Anthropology Grant, which enabled her to return to her fieldsite in the Central American country to share the results of her original research.

I received a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant (EAG) to present the results of my cultural heritage-based dissertation research in Belize in summer 2013. In my dissertation research, I examined how constructions of heritage are promoted through public venues including archaeological practice, tourism, and education and how these shape the cultural production of young citizens, specifically in two Belizean villages (Crooked Tree and Biscayne). Through my work, I learned about state efforts (especially in education) to emphasize certain forms of archaeological heritage and cultural diversity over others to reinforce national identity. I also observed ways that messages about the past are interpreted and negotiated by community members as they navigate contemporary identity politics. My research connected with many public issues, especially education policy, archaeological practice, and heritage management, which is why I applied for an EAG.

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Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joanne R. Nucho

Joanne R. Nucho with students, Beirut

JOANNE R. NUCHO is a postdoctoral scholar in anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. In 2010, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Producing the Neighborhood without the Nation: ‘Trans-Municipal’ Urban Planning in Lebanon,’ supervised by Dr. William Michael Maurer, aiming to study the relationship between urban infrastructure and cultrual politics and identity in post-Civil War Beirut. She recently received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up her research with a return to the city to conduct a filmmaking workshop.

I conducted my dissertation research between 2010-2011 in a working class neighborhood outside of Beirut, Lebanon called Bourj Hammoud. Bourj Hammoud is an area full of workshops, mostly small-scale shoe and clothing manufacturing as well as jewelers. It is also a bustling commercial center where many Beirut-dwellers come to shop. Bourj Hammoud is known throughout the greater Beirut area as an “Armenian quarter,” it is, in fact highly diverse with members of various Lebanese sects as well as migrant workers living and working there. My dissertation focused on the ramifications of various urban planning initiatives as well as infrastructures and social service institutions on the formation of sectarian identity and a sense of belonging. During the course of my dissertation research, I used photography and videography to document the ways in which people accessed resources and services like education, medical care, electricity and water in various ways, both through sectarian institutions as well as informal networks.

One of Nucho's students

My plan during my fieldwork research was to make an ethnographic video documenting the networks that people navigate in order to access the services so vital to everyday life. However, while filming, I quickly realized the potential for the process of filmmaking to be much more collaborative in nature. At the time, I taught English at a local social service center to a group of young adults. After I arranged some documentary film screenings at the center, the students expressed interest in making their own films, and it was with this group that I realized the potential for ethnographic filmmaking to serve both as a collaborative research methodology, as well as a means for these young people to conceptualize the ways in which urban infrastructures perpetuate sectarian forms of belonging and facilitate discussion within the community through a screening series.

Still from a student film on public and private transportation

I returned in December 2013 to conduct a filmmaking workshop in Bourj Hammoud with 8 students. The workshop was designed to provide technical training in videography and basic editing skills. However, and perhaps more importantly, I envisioned it as a forum to discuss issues raised by the various film projects. Lebanese artist and photographer Rosy Kuftedjian served as a guest lecturer and allowed us to use her studio space, which enabled us to meet outside of the regular hours of the social service center where I had initially planned to conduct the workshop. Many of the workshop participants worked or attended classes, so flexibility in meeting hours was crucial. We spent the first several sessions on a number of individual assignments whereby each student documented a typical day in their lives. This initial exercise proved to be invaluable both in terms of allowing the students to become more accustomed to shooting handheld video, as well as encouraging conversations about the role of urban infrastructures in creating a sense of meaning and belonging in various social worlds. For example, one of the students documented two journeys across town using different modes of transportation. In one journey, she took a private, informal “van” service and in another, she took a semi-private “bus.” Filming her journey across town and back made her reconsider all of the ways that peoples’ daily experience of transportation, whether in a private car, a van, a bus or on foot, changed profoundly their experience of the city. Navigating her way across Beirut by bus, using routes that were not printed on a map through neighborhoods that she was not necessarily familiar with was a very social experience that involved asking bus drivers and other passengers for ways to connect to other locations. Our conversation around this preliminary exercise helped demonstrate how the camera was much more than a recording device or a mode of documentation. Rather, it could enable moments of reexamination where the mundane was interrupted by looking again, or “freezing time” through the camera’s lens.

Still from a student film about the family history of a workshop owner in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon.

Once the students were comfortable using the cameras and were familiar with basic editing techniques, they collaborated to produce 3 films in the remaining weeks. Each group selected a different topic – informal electricity services, the history of a local shoe workshop, and the memories of an eighty-year old resident of Bourj Hammoud. After each group screened some of their rough footage, we discussed how the films could visually communicate the connections between urban space and urban infrastructures and a sense of belonging to a particular community or even a sense of identity. The two films that dealt with various histories helped challenge some assumptions about Bourj Hammoud as a monolithic Armenian neighborhood, even as they highlighted the history of the first generation of Armenian refugees of the genocide in former Ottoman lands who initially urbanized the area. We compiled many of our thoughts from these discussions into a booklet about how the filmmaking process profoundly transformed the students’ experience of their neighborhood.

Lebanese artist and photographer Rosy Kuftedjian, who assisted Nucho with the project.

At the end of the workshop, the students and I organized a screening of the three edited films in Bourj Hammoud. The screening was a great success, and many of the students felt encouraged to continue to make more films and distribute them online. Rosy Kuftedjian has agreed to serve as an ongoing coordinator for the students, allowing them to store and access the equipment in her studio. I also plan to continue my organizing role in the workshop with participants that I maintain long-term correspondence with who would like to continue their filmmaking practice. I hope to return to Lebanon by the end of 2014. The students also expressed interest in training other students in filmmaking techniques. We are collectively planning to show their films in different venues in the greater Beirut area. Thus, the workshop will have an ongoing impact, with the participants continuing to make and share their work with a wider public.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Daisy Deomampo

Women discussing the surrogacy industry in Mumbai, India

Dr. Daisy Deomampo is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Fordham University. In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The New Global ‘Division of Labor’: Reproductive Tourism in Mumbai, India,‘ supervised by Dr. Leith Mullings. Last year, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Mumbai and share findings from her research on kinship and race in the context of transnational surrogacy.

In December 2013 I returned to my fieldsite in Mumbai, India, where I studied the social, cultural, and ethical implications of transnational surrogacy. The practice of transnational surrogacy forms part of a broader phenomenon known as fertility tourism, transnational reproduction, and cross border reproductive care, involving the travel of prospective parents in pursuit of assisted reproductive technology (ART) services such as gestational surrogacy, egg donation, and in vitro fertilization. When I began this research in 2008 I was especially interested in how various actors—including commissioning parents, surrogate mothers, and egg donors—understand and articulate notions of kinship and race as they undergo assisted conception across national, ethnic, and class boundaries. Since then, my interests have expanded to include questions related to power and agency for all actors involved, but especially for the Indian women who become surrogate mothers for foreign clients and wealthy Indians.

Seminar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences

These questions are important to consider, particularly as surrogacy remains unregulated in India and the Draft ART (Regulation) Bill and Rules awaits decision in Parliament. As debates continue around how to legislate the flourishing fertility industry, various groups have argued that major gaps exist in the protection of surrogate mothers and children in the current draft bill (Sama 2010). Yet the voices and perspectives of Indian women who participate in commercial surrogacy remain largely absent in ongoing discussions around ART policy and legislation. Because of this, I wanted to return to India to share my research findings, which illustrate the ways in which Indian women do not conform to simplistic stereotypes and binary oppositions between agent and victim. Indeed, these findings demonstrate how women resist dominant constructions of surrogates as powerless victims and express forms of individual and collective agency, albeit within larger structures of power.

In this engagement project, then, my goals were to disseminate research findings and to provide a forum in which Indian women involved in surrogacy could voice their hopes, desires, and visions for the future of surrogacy in India. The aim was to provide an opportunity for surrogate mothers and egg donors to articulate their concerns around the health, medical, social, and contractual aspects of commercial gestational surrogacy. Thus, this engagement project encompassed several activities, carried out in December 2013 and January 2014 in Mumbai, India, including a participatory workshop with surrogates and egg donors and a research presentation with the local scholarly community.

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Engaged Anthropology Grant: Lisa Overholtzer

 

Packing adobe mix into wooden molds

Dr. Lisa Overholtzer is Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at Wichita State University. In 2009, as a doctoral student at Northwestern University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Household Spaces and Everyday Practices at Postclassic Xaltocan, Mexico,’ supervised by Dr. Elizabeth M. Brumfiel. In 2013, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and share her research findings with the descendent community.

My Wenner-Gren funded dissertation research investigated the Aztec imperial transition from the perspective of commoner households at the site of Xaltocan, capital of the pre-Aztec Otomí city-state. While ethnohistoric documents suggested that all of Xaltocan’s residents fled when their polity was conquered, and that the Aztec king sent taxpayers to repopulate the site some forty years later, my excavations of commoner houses provided clear evidence of continuity. Houses were constructed and burials were interred in the same spaces from 1240 to 1650 C.E., and radiocarbon dates revealed no gap in occupation. This analysis allowed me to reveal the exercise of power by imperial elites, which involved the silencing of ordinary people and the rewriting of their histories. A bottom-up contextual analysis of multiple lines of evidence—household architecture, domestic refuse, human skeletal remains, and ancient mitochondrial DNA—then offered an alternative narrative based on the histories that commoners inscribed in the material record. My dissertation project took a bottom-up approach not only theoretically, but also in practice. In line with the recent paradigm shift within the discipline away from exclusivity and colonialist modes of research and toward inclusivity and socially self-conscious models of investigation, I engaged descendants through community archaeology. This process culminated in a team-wide public symposium at the end of the field season.

Weaving reed mat for replica house (foreground) and building adobe wall (background)

As part of my continued efforts to ensure that archaeological research benefits members of the descendant community, I returned with several students and colleagues in July 2013 to create a more permanent and more accessible mode of dissemination in the form of a new exhibit hall. This extension of the local museum was funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant, Wichita State University, the David and Sally Jackman Foundation, and the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology. This project was designed to fulfill community needs by attracting tourists, educating the public about the town’s history and archaeological record, teaching visitors about the archaeological research process, and serving as a permanent interface between archaeologists and the descendant community in Xaltocan.

Replica house in the finished exhibit hall

This exhibit hall, which opened in September 2013, presents narratives of Xaltocan history that are based not on the elite-authored and manipulated documentary record, but on the practices of the subordinated commoners who formed the backbone of the Aztec empire. The central feature of the exhibit is a Replica house, an authentically reconstructed adobe house featuring stone foundations and a thatched reed roof. The Xaltocan replica house brings ordinary people to life, but perhaps more importantly presents archaeological evidence of the occupational continuity revealed by archaeological research. We chose to reconstruct the house occupied precisely during the supposed vacant period in Xaltocan’s history, thereby highlighting the persistence and resilience of ancient Xaltocan families. Rather than presenting a history in which conquered residents had no other choice than to flee when their town was conquered in 1395 C.E., we narrate how Xaltocan families persevered, strategically adapting their daily practices according to their changing social, political, and economic context. We offer an alternative narrative that does justice to the practices of subordinated and silenced commoners in the past, thereby countering the exercise of imperial power.

Backstrap loom, and reed mat, and gourds inside the finished replica house

Building the replica house was an experimental archaeology project involving collaboration with an adobe consultant and reed farmer and weaver brought in from the broader region. It also involved experimentation with materials used in ancient times, but not today, such as cactus juice employed as a mortar binder, as well as avoiding modern materials, such as animal manure added as a binder in adobe blocks, that would not have been available to pre-Hispanic builders. We also replicated the patio and house mound via a wooden platform and displayed the burials of household members in their place under the patio, visible through plexiglass windows. Finally, we furnished the house and patio with replicas of the kinds of objects residents would have had. A backstrap loom, baskets filled with dried foodstuffs, gourds, and sleeping mats were placed inside the house. The grinding stone and griddle women would have used to make tortillas every day were placed on the patio, on top of the graves of their loved ones, demonstrating how ancient residents lived with their dead. The exhibit hall was painted with colors and decorative motifs found on spindle whorls recovered in my excavations.

Burials placed under plexiglass windows on the replica patio platform

Together with text panels in Spanish and English, photographs, and exhibit cases filled with excavated artifacts, the replica house teaches visitors about the distinct line of evidence that archaeology can provide. The exhibits highlight how archaeologists date deposits, from stylistic seriation to stratigraphy to radiocarbon dating; analyze human bone and identify sex, age, occupational activities, and chronic illness; and reconstruct gender norms and household philosophies using the material record. The new exhibit hall teaches residents to see the archaeological record not as obstacles to construction, trinkets with monetary value, or simple curiosities, but rather as useful testimonies of the cultural practices of their ancestors. Through this museum and educational programs planned in the Xaltocan cultural center adjacent to the museum—such as summer youth classes on archaeology, Xaltocan history, and technical drawing—local residents can begin to see archaeological resources as sources of history, identity, and possibly future professional study.

Replica museum exhibit hall opening

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Emily Yates-Doerr

Emily Yates-Doerr is a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. In 2007, while a doctoral candidate at New York University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Weight of the Body: Changing Ideals of Nutrition, Health and Fat in Guatemala,’ supervised by Dr. Emily Martin. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to Guatemala and perform engaged activities on ‘Translation in Practice: Obesity, Fatness, and Dietary Health in Guatemala.’ Below, Dr. Yates-Doerr shares her experience working with the EAG and the workshops she conducted “discussing the social lives of nutrition programs and policies.”

 

Background to the Engagement Project

As reported deaths from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes in Guatemala have escalated, recent public health interventions have aimed to provide education about healthy eating and exercise patterns. My Wenner-Gren-funded fieldwork, which examined several of these interventions, explored how obesity science circulated within people’s lives.[i] Central to my research was the question of how Guatemalans who traditionally associated fatness with health and prosperity were making sense of education that linked weight to potentially dangerous metabolic conditions.

Many repertoires of health circulate through my fieldsite. Here, a GNC vitamin store connected to a local Walmart advertised “health for all your life.”

Frictions between diverse ideas of well-being were a focal point of the inquiry. During fieldwork I met diabetic patients who added sugar to their coffee because it was fortified with valuable nutrients; women with heart disease who avoided broccoli because they wanted to lose weight and were familiar with information about child health that linked vegetables and vitamins to (in this case desirable) weight gain; mothers, concerned about microbes in water and pesticides on vegetables, who fed their children chips and sodas to keep them from becoming sick; and so on. As different visions of health collided, the outcomes of interventions often differed from those anticipated by policy makers and educators.

I designed my engagement project to create a space within scientific and education centers to discuss the social lives of nutrition programs and policies. I wanted to share the results of my research with the scientists, nutritionists, and public health educators with whom I had worked, and who were themselves largely invested in an emerging genre of research labeled “translational research” which aims to make scientific results applicable to the population studied. Yet rather than simply report on my findings – a method of knowledge dissemination that I critique in my work as one-sided and, as a result, often ineffective – I organized workshops where various participants could collaboratively discuss challenges that arose through the practice of translation.  

 

The Workshops

I drew from my fieldwork to prepare questions – a scaffold for our discussions – but the participants came with questions of their own.[ii] Many come from a tradition of policy research that values anthropological insight[iii] and they wanted to discuss how ethnographic sensitivity to knowledge production can help evaluate, sharpen, and respond to problems of translation they were encountering in their own research.

Do qualitative methods differ from ethnographic methods? How do you know when you’ve done enough research to validate your claims to authority? How can knowledge based in critical reflexivity be replicated, and if it cannot be replicated, how can it confidently be used to shape policies?

This scale, photographed during a meeting with nutritionists, does not just report information but produces new kinds of knowledge.

Like much of anthropology, some of the workshops’ most poignant moments arrived in unexpected asides. One of the meetings was attended by a Dutch nutrition scientist. Though I hold a US passport, I have been working in Amsterdam for the past two years. I mentioned in passing the differing beliefs held by the public health systems of the Netherlands and the US when it came to both childhood illnesses and hand sanitizer. She didn’t disagree with the assessment, but she was aghast that I had framed her country’s science in the language of belief.

“Belief? This sounds so pejorative” she said. But then she also noted, reflexively, that our group had just been speaking about Maya views on diet and health as beliefs—a realization that brought to our conversation an introspective pause as we considered the shortcomings of this term.

At the largest gathering of roughly 20 doctors and scientists in Guatemala City there was an extended discussion on the difficulty of crafting a useful public health indicator for hunger.

While everyone who voiced an opinion recognized the political utility of such an indicator – the millennium development goals, in which hunger’s elimination figures prominently, have garnered far more media and policy attention than their architects imagined – they were skeptical about the deployment of a rhetoric of science for such unabashedly political ends.

This raised debate between policy and laboratory scientists about what, if anything, they might be able to say about health. Yet even those nutrition scientists whose research was technical – focused, for example, on the chemical binding properties of iron – recognized that the questions deemed worthy of funding, and the acceptance and dissemination of their research were interwoven into political agendas, muddling clear delineations between science and culture. (And there, of course, is a key lesson imparted by the critical reflexivity of anthropology).

I shared with the workshop participants something I had learned during my fieldwork in the highlands, where many Guatemalans hold fatness to be healthy. There is a tendency among (so-called) educated Westerners to hear this and dismiss it as provincial, erroneous knowledge—the backwards thinking of someone who does not understand the true consequences of weight gain. But this dismissal overlooks a regional distinction between fatness (a desirable sign of prosperity and abundance) and obesity (a measure of weight, that does, indeed, often correlate with illness). In this sense, those who held that fatness was healthy were not wrong;[iv] they were instead engaged in practices of health that differed from those of the (apparently not so) knowing Westerner.

The participants were intrigued by this finding. After all, a plan to combat fatness might easily come across as nonsensical to those for whom fatness is desirable—for whom health cannot be defined by measurable variables.

Several researchers were running into obstacles in their process of collecting data on eating and health. One group was studying how Indigenous beliefs impacted the consumption behavior of post-partum women and was investigating whether women were eating caliente or frio foods after giving birth.

Ethnographic literature makes clear that Indigenous classification of foods correlates to a situated quality of eating and not to a measurable temperature of food. But when coding their data, which had been translated into Spanish and would eventually become translated into English, the scientists could not easily discern whether the reference to caliente or frio was a reference to a quality or temperature. We discussed the problems of coding across languages—of forcing heterogeneous meanings into someone else’s lingua franca, be it Spanish, English or the language of measured calculations.

By the end of the workshop, the questions we had started with about the reliability of ethnographic methods had reversed upon themselves. Now at stake was the question of how to do good quantitative research given that translations do not hold stable.

 

Photograph of a mural on the researcher’s office wall

Translational Competency

During the workshops we encountered several situations in which information does not move smoothly from site to site, but becomes transformed as it travels. I want to offer a concluding story that offers a tentative idea of where to go from here.

It was the end of the day. I had accompanied a small group of scientists to a meeting of rural Mam women who had gathered to discuss things they found important, or beautiful, or challenging in their lives.

On other days the scientists collected clear plastic vials of spit, later analyzing this for a biomarker (cortisol) of what many health professionals call “stress.” But the scientists knew that these women did not use this concept and they were curious about the local meanings of the biomarker. The day’s meeting was a preliminary attempt to learn about the perspectives of the women.

As we walked back to the office along the busy road from the bus terminal, I asked the lead scientist what they were hoping to find. She said she wasn’t sure, but three small babies had recently died in a community where they were carrying out their study, and they wanted to develop a richer language for communication so as to better understand what might have gone wrong.

In particular, they wanted to know more about why the women, who largely depended upon midwives or received no formalized prenatal care at all, were afraid of the regional hospital. Many saw it as a space of death and the researchers wanted to better understand the women so that eventually they might more effectively encourage them to seek medical care while also helping the hospital to provide them with better services.

It is a testament to the power of anthropological insight well beyond the domain of the field of anthropology that the scientists recognized the relevance of narrative and cultural perspective to their work. Still, attention to translation in meaning, which is the terrain of cultural competency, can come with sometimes profound limitations insofar as culture, like meaning itself, is treated as “a reified, essential, static thing” (Taylor 2003:160)— a treatment that can elide, rather than engage with, the realities of others.

As Helena Hansen and Jonathon Metzl eloquently argue in their work on structural competency, a focus on difference in culture may not only fail to ameliorate stigma but may bolster the institutional forces that give it life. [v] In this case, I cautioned the scientists that concern for belief might divert attention – and resources – away from the material stratifications through which Guatemala’s landscape is organized. It struck me that beginning research out of a concern that women were not going to hospitals was itself a disquieting place to start. Why not instead ask why midwives and home deliveries are not better supported? Or ask what would change by taking seriously the women’s views that hospitals were a place of death and consider that they might know a better way?

My question was greeted with interest. But then we stumbled into another site of rupture. Fortification and nutrition campaigns are a recent occurrence in Guatemala, dating back no further than a generation or two. Many are directed at pregnant and lactating women, who are understood in public health terms as holding the keys to the doors of human capital. Emerging research suggests that when these campaigns are successful babies will be born much bigger in size. From the standpoint of public health nutrition this outcome is wonderful, just what they want— except for a caveat in which the health of nutrition is undermined by the specter of death.

You see, small women can certainly safely deliver large babies without needing to travel to hospitals, but the risks involved might very well increase. And the same researchers who have promoted the use of fortification to treat dietary deprivations in the past are growing suddenly fearful about what happens when women who measure as stunted in height give birth to babies whose size and shape has been buoyed by these nutrients.

“Genocide at an unimaginable scale” is how one scientist referred to the potential consequences of improving health in a way that neglected to consider its distribution across generational time. Even skilled midwives become weakened by these sclerotic translations.

 

I took this picture of a store in one of the rural communities I visted during my engagement project to illustrate how pervasive sodas have become in Guatemala. When on sale (which is often) the large plastic jugs of soda are cheaper than water—which must be bought or boiled.

Continuous Translation

In keeping with the findings of a rich tradition of anthropological scholarship on global, environmental, and health translations,[vi] my workshops emphasized the need not just for cultural competency – the respectful and attentive translation of meanings from site to site – but for translational competency, which entails the ceaseless work of staying with transformations in structures, and resources, and temporality itself.

A few times participants reframed the examples of the translation transformations I had highlighted as misunderstandings. But the idea that knowledge can ever be understood presumes there to be a stable and correct version of information to be known. Meanwhile the exchanges I drew attention to did not so clearly have a singular right or wrong valuation.

Women who give their children Pepsi because boiled water is expensive and tap water might cause diarrhea do not do so out of ignorance. In a region where stomach cancer among children abounds, eating chips instead of vegetables washed in pesticide run-off may not be a decision made from poor communication but a difficult trade-off of one kind of sickness for another. What is at stake is not – or not only – an exchange of correct meanings, but an exchange of resources.

Many of the scientists who participated in my engagement project were invested in “translational research” and cared about the practical results of their studies. Their work intersects in interesting ways with the Wenner-Gren’s commitment to engaged anthropology—a commitment made material through the development of the grant that made my project possible (see also Low and Merry 2010). But if there’s something other disciplines might learn from the longstanding attention to translation within our field, it is that translation is not a determinate process.

As the conversations that unfolded during my return to Guatemala illustrated, the work of engaging in translational research entails staying close not only to the jagged edges of meanings as they shift from site to site, but also to these meanings as they transform into practices, and to these practices as they endure or fall apart with time. The process is not linear (from the proverbial bench to bedside) but entails dialogue, and rupture, and silence, and further dialogue.

 

NOTE: This blog has been developed into an article focused on the process of engaged anthropology. See: Yates-Doerr, Emily. 2014. “Obesity Science and Health Translations in Guatemala: Engagement in Practice.” Anthropology Now. 6 (1) 3-14.

A photograph I took in a market in 2008 was recognized in the AAA photo contest. During my engagement project I brought copies of the issue of Anthropology News in which the image was featured to the people photographed.

 

__________________

 Further Reading:

 

Adams, Richard N.

2010    Social anthropology in INCAP. Food & Nutrition Bulletin 31(1):152-160.

Low, Setha M., and Sally Engle Merry

2010    Engaged Anthropology: Diversity and Dilemmas: An Introduction to Supplement 2. Current Anthropology 51(S2):S203-S226.

Metzl, Jonathan, and Helena Hansen

In Press           Structural Competency: Theorizing a New Medical Engagement with Stigma and Inequality. Social Science & Medicine SSM-D-12-03037R1.

Mol, Annemarie, and John Law

2004    Embodied Action, Enacted Bodies: the Example of Hypoglycaemia. Body & Society 10(2):43-62.

Scott, Joan Wallach, Cora Kaplan, and Debra Keates

1997    Transitions, environments, translations : feminisms in international politics. New York: Routledge.

Taylor, Janelle S.

2003    The Story Catches You and You Fall down: Tragedy, Ethnography, and “Cultural Competence”. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 17(2):159-181.

 



[i] For their support back in 2007 when I was writing the original Wenner-Gren grant, and still today, I thank Emily Martin, Tom Abercrombie, Rayna Rapp, Sally Merry and Renato Rosaldo and the anthropology department at NYU. I also thank my current colleagues at the Health Care and the Body Research Group at the University of Amsterdam.

[ii] Questions included: To what extent can scientists participate in the translation of their research about metabolic health into media reports and public health policy? How might health care workers address negative health consequences of metabolic illness without presuming that only slender bodies are healthy bodies? Can education about eating be developed in such a way that it avoids placing the burden of responsibility for health on individuals? What can educators do to acknowledge the role that women play in feeding their families without suggesting that dietary health is exclusively women’s domain? In what ways might strong and effective national dietary health curricula remain sensitive to nuances in Mayan terminologies? How can educators stay engaged with the effects of their policies and protocols about healthy eating?

[iii] See Adams (2010).

[iv] It should be noted that even from a more traditionally-biomedical repertoire of health they might not be wrong, after all. See http://www.digitalnewsrelease.com/?q=jama_3867.

[v] For more see Metzl and Hansen (In Press).

[vi] In a prescient volume edited by Joan Scott, Cora Kaplan and Debra Keates, Anna Tsing usefully describes translation as a continual negotiation, an “irregular haphazard process in which terms are appropriated from one context to another than then used to do different work” (1997). Annemarie Mol, who directs my postdoc, has also for some time illustrated the contingency of boundaries between meanings and bodies, machines and gestures (see especially Mol and Law 2004).

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Pasang Yangjee Sherpa

 

Returning from Pharak

Pasang Yangjee Sherpa is Lecturer in Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at Washington State University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Sherpa Perceptions of Climate Change: Local Understandings of a Global Problem,’ supervised by Dr. John Bodley. In 2013 she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant and returned to her fieldsite in Nepal’s Everest region to start conversations about institutions and researchers involving communities as equal partners in understanding and responding to climate change effects locally.

My doctoral research showed that despite several institutional responses to the effects of climate change being organized in the Everest region since 2004, the northern part called Khumbu and the southern part called Pharak, climate change is still a foreign concept to many. These institutional responses have narrowly focused on extreme events as climate change effects, which have limited our understanding of the wider climate change effects. In some cases, these responses also had unintended negative consequences putting lives in danger. The research  also revealed that Sherpas are aware of and are experiencing environmental changes although differentially based on their socioeconomic and occupational backgrounds. Therefore, I developed this engagement project (December 2013 to January 2014) to start conversations about institutions and researchers involving communities as equal partners in understanding and responding to climate change effects locally.

Along with Medinee Prajapati and assistance from Prashidha Yonzon and Lhakpa Chamji, I conducted a seminar at the Environmental Graduates Himalaya premises with academic scholars, a seminar with the Sherwi Yondhen Tshokpa members, two workshops in Pharak, and informal discussions with community members. Two sets of low-cost weather monitoring stations were also installed in Pharak as pilot project to assess feasibility and usefulness. In this report, I focus on the two seminars and alter the names of my informants.

At a potato field in Pharak

I started the seminar at EGH asking the attendees (40) to describe climate change, its impacts and what we could do to address them. After the discussion, I presented my research showing the need for community involvement in climate change studies as well as the need for the scientists and researchers to work collaboratively with community members as equal partners and stakeholders. Several times during the seminar, I found myself having to defend ethnographic methods and qualitative studies. The seminar concluded with discussions on the application of qualitative research to the study of climate change, which emerged as a topic during our discussion that requires scientific inquiry involving tools such as numbers, graphs and GIS maps.

A week later, the SYT seminar was organized and attended by 19 members from the Everest region, in their late teens or early to mid 20s, currently living in Kathmandu for higher studies. In this seminar, I presented my research questions, methodology, findings, conclusions and recommendations. After my presentation, I opened the floor for discussion.

Dawa from Pharak was the first to comment. He said, “I don’t believe in climate change. I think global warming is real but climate change seems like a phrase that is for others to use to do something.” Mingma from Khumbu then questioned, “Isn’t climate change a problem of the developed and developing countries?” Lhakpa also from Khumbu added, “Since most of the pollution is made by developed countries, what can someone like us do to mitigate the problem?” Instead of answering these questions, I asked everyone what was something they think they need to do and they could do. To this they replied:

With Women in Chumoa, Pharak

“I think we can seek information and learn. Then share the knowledge with others. This is something we can all do,” said Lhakpa. He continued, “If we want to bring climate change awareness to people, we have to run a long-term campaign. It cannot be short-term programs. That will not work.”

Dawa reminded, “Before bringing programs, we should first be clear about what the problem really is. Then, we need to bring knowledge to the local people in practical ways. Our methods need to be different from past climate change activities.”

Mingma explained, “When any program is made or if someone or an institution goes into the community and continue to remind people about what is wrong or what is terrible and ask them to change their ways, of course people are going to be upset…If we need to bring programs to the locals, you have to first [build rapport]. Then only you need to tell them what the problem is. But you also need to offer them an alternative option instead of just telling them what they shouldn’t do. Even worse, people should not be reminded of the same problem over and over again.”

Dawa added, “It has to be in local language. If someone comes and talks in scientific language, it will mean nothing to the people because it will not be understandable and relatable.”

Seminar at the EGH premises

Looking at past climate change related institutional activities, we know that, said Lhakpa, “Just by bringing one or two speakers and speaking for just an hour or two about climate change is not going to make any difference. Especially if the speakers are using different languages and non-local terms, it will do nothing. Instead of that if we run a campaign [and develop course or curriculum at schools that might be more effective.] Also having brochures with pictures might be a good idea. When we were in village, I used to really like colorful brochures and took good care of them. Some people even stick them on their walls because they are good to look at. This way, the message continues to stay with them through the brochures.”

Observation of these seminars among academic scholars and the SYT members show that while both groups realize the need for [investigative] action, there are different perspectives in which such actions are imagined. Among the academic scholars engaged in anthropological sciences, based in Kathmandu and discussing national level climate change, quantitative research and meteorological data are emphasized whereas among educated Sherpa youths in Kathmandu, practical and locally sensitive programs are emphasized. The SYT seminar moreover also showed that Sherpa youths are concerned and informed about climate change issues. They are also actively engaged in their community and thus capable to contribute to climate change studies and programs as equal partners in ways other than how an international scientist, who had been to the Everest region to study Imja glacial lake described to me, a Pharak native, in 2011, “Of course, we will make sure the Sherpas are participating. They can carry the pipes to Imja Lake…”