As a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin, Melissa Burch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to facilitate research on “Navigating the Criminal Records Complex: Hiring and Job-Seeking in the Inland Empire,” supervised by Dr. João Costa Vargas. In 2017, Dr. Burch received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to support “Criminal Records and Employment Roundtables.”
Thanks to the support provided by The Wenner Gren Foundation, I was able to return to my field site southern California’s Inland Empire in January 2018, to share the findings of my dissertation research with key collaborators and stakeholders. Framed as roundtable discussions, I presented the major findings and core arguments of my dissertation research with three audiences. The first was hosted by the Inland Empire Fair Chance Coalition, a collaborative of community-based organizations working together to challenge criminal-records based discrimination in employment. The second roundtable was hosted by the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership’s employment committee, a network of nonprofit organizations advocating for formerly incarcerated people. The third roundtable was attended primarily by former prisoners and their families and hosted by the San Bernardino branch of the Center for Employment Opportunities.
Four major findings were elaborated:
1. Criminalization demotes social status through the structures of race, class and gender. This demoted status therefore does not affect everyone equally or similarly.
2. Criminal records stigma encourages criminalized people to construct and perform narratives about their convictions that reinforce dominant assumptions about criminality.
3. A growing criminal records complex increases demand for criminal background checks, facilitates their widespread availability and justifies their use.
4. Many business owners and managers employ a level-headed, non-moralistic approach to criminal records; but this openness is threatened by a political-economy increasingly characterized by regulation, competition and litigation.
As a researcher, the opportunity to share these findings with communities and organizations who had helped to generate the research questions was invaluable. Doing so helped me to concretize my findings in clear, concise and non-jargony terms and presenting in-person allowed me to collect direct feedback on my analysis, creating a mechanism for accountability to those most impacted by the research. For participants, the roundtables carved out a welcome opportunity to reflect on current strategy, dilemmas and contradictions in the day-to-day work of fighting criminal records discrimination. Together, we talked through the potential implications of the research findings and discussed various possibilities and approaches to advance social change.
In addition to the formal roundtables, this return to the field also allowed me to meet one-on-one with a number of employers, advocates and job seekers who have been important research informants. These in-depth conversations provided another means for participants to vet, contest and contribute to my findings and arguments, fostering a mutual sense of collaboration.
To my surprise, while I had imagined that most informants would want to read only an executive summary, or the parts of the dissertation most relevant to them, the vast majority requested complete copies of the dissertation and many of those read and commented on the writing. Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant has helped me to produce a more rigorous, relevant and collaborative dissertation and I hope, a stronger forthcoming book.
In 2014 Rachel Engmann received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ”Slavers in the Family: The Archaeology of the Slaver in Eighteenth Century Gold Coast”. In 2018 Dr. Engmann had the opportunity to return to her fieldsite when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Excavating Knowledge”.
The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant funded a fact-finding workshop and interviews in order to develop educational materials as part of a community outreach project based on the Wenner-Gren sponsored research, ‘Slavers in the Family’ at Christiansborg Castle, conducted under the auspices of the Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project (CAHP). Christiansborg Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is aC17th century former European trading post, Danish and British colonial seat of government and Office of the President of Ghana. An engaged approach to archaeological heritage directed at primary and secondary students is in keeping with the project’s philosophies since CAHP represents an engaged, participatory-orientated approach to archaeological heritage.
We first held consultation meetings with the relevant stakeholders in order to inform them about the CAHP research project, plans for educational outreach and extend an invitation to participate in the workshop itself.
We conducted two workshops in May 2018 in a primary school in the Osu district of Accra, and close to Christiansborg Castle. The attendees comprised teachers and head teachers, mostly from the public school sector but also from a mission school; representatives from the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board; a local Chief and two Queen Mothers.
The CAHP Director gave a brief introduction to the archaeological excavation project at the castle. The CAHP Education Director (facilitator) then explained that the proposed outreach materials had been inspired by the project: the primary materials would serve as an introduction to archaeology; the secondary materials would draw out the connection between archaeology and heritage. They would be based upon the concept of active learning: the teacher or the community based volunteer would lead the students on a voyage of guided discovery with materials that could be downloaded from the CAHP website. Any associated tangible materials would be available at minimal cost from students’ homes or the local market. The focus would be upon real student involvement in the learning process through a variety of activities involving exploration and collaboration, questioning and discussion – skills that would be transferable to other disciplines across the curriculum. And the results might be expressed in various media: for example creative writing, poetry, art and drama. The facilitator then gave the participants a ‘taster’ of the proposed materials at primary and secondary levels. The presentation was very well received and all present were keen to learn and experience more of the proposed materials.
The attendees were then invited to identify the challenges facing the implementation of these materials, and to consider possible solutions to those challenges.
The CAHP Project Director and Education Outreach Director also conducted interviews with parents, caregivers and children in the area close to the castle – one of the most impoverished areas in Accra – in order to get a better understanding of the challenges they face regarding the Ghana government education system and to inform the development and implementation of our outreach materials.
CAHP’s proposed active learning outreach materials will make a positive contribution to the curriculum and to the introduction of a new pedagogy in both primary and secondary schools in Ghana. The current pedagogy is very much ‘chalk and talk’ because this is how teachers are trained. There is also an acute lack of textbooks. There are no other resources (teachers often have to purchase them out of their low salaries). Together, these factors result in very poor exam results. Our materials will help to address all these issues. With these low cost resources, teachers will be motivated to teach more imaginatively and effectively, and students themselves will be motivated to discover and learn more, because they will realize that learning can be fun! Volunteers in the community can also use these materials to work with and help educate students who do not attend school, or do not attend school regularly for financial reasons.
We will need to provide in-service training for teachers and volunteers in the community around the implementation of active learning, including study skills. And we will need to provide hard copies of the materials for those teachers and volunteers who do not have access to the CAHP website.
We will need to seek further funding to create and develop the project and its implementation.
While a doctoral student at Boston University Chun-Yi Sum received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “The New Vanguard of Civil Society: Morality and Civic Consciousness among College Students in China”, supervised by Dr. Robert P. Weller. In 2017 Dr. Sum was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant which gave her the opportunity to return to the field the following year to carry out her project, “Exploring Better Practices of Engaged Volunteerism in China”.
What makes effective social interventions? How should civic actors channel their passion into making sustainable contributions? In my dissertation research about student volunteerism and extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, I asked whether and how student organizations might invigorate China’s civil society, and how participatory experience might transform young people’s moral worldviews. In the summer of 2018, Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant funded my month-long revisit back to my dissertation field site. I organized workshops and lectures about culturally-informed interventions, and discussed with participants ways to develop “pretty good practices” of engaged volunteerism. I appreciate this opportunity to give back to civic groups that have generously shared their time and cultural knowledge with me when I was still a doctoral student. These activities also helped to promote the application of anthropological methods and humanistic sensibility among civic actors in China.
The primary audiences of my engagement project are student volunteers and staff members of two civic organizations that serve school children in impoverished rural communities in China. First, I joined a student group in a summer field trip to visit scholarship recipients whom they sponsored. Student volunteers wanted to determine whether to renew these scholarships in the upcoming academic year: how had the scholarships improved their recipients’ academic performances? Had the recipients’ families experienced significant changes in financial circumstances that might qualify them for or disqualify them from further sponsorship? Volunteers asked scholarship recipients a list of questions about household income and academic grades. They filled out a questionnaire after each home visit.
Besides teaching student volunteers interviewing techniques to facilitate their tasks, I helped them collect additional information that could be used for program evaluation and for updating the questionnaire. In debriefing meetings that I organized after each day’s home visits, I asked students to reflect upon their observations and impressions about the families they interviewed. I encouraged students to talk also to teachers and neighbors to understand more holistically their service site. More importantly, I challenged student volunteers to critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their interventions, and to formulate a protocol about how to document their field experiences for sharing with volunteers in the future.
The second group I worked with aimed similarly at helping marginalized children to perform better at school, but with a different approach. This group recruited university students to mentor rural children using letter writing as a medium. My second engaged activity was to accompany letter-writing students on a field trip to meet with their pen pals for the first time. We planned two days of activities for twelve pairs of student volunteers and children to learn more about each other. In the evenings, I met with staff members of the group to brainstorm about new ideas to motivate rural children to study. We also talked about ways to improve participants’ volunteering experiences. A week after the field trip, I gave a presentation at the organization’s headquarter to facilitate a conversation about program development and future projects.
In addition, the Engaged Anthropology Grant supported three public lectures in Guangzhou City before and after the two summer field trips. In these presentations, I introduced my working book manuscript about extracurricular activities in Chinese universities, as well as other publication plans based on my field research in the region since 2010. I also talked about the importance of incorporating cultural awareness and research-based evaluative protocol in responsible volunteering practices. These lectures attracted a total audience of about sixty, many of whom were volunteers, social workers, and past and present participants in student organizations in which I conducted my dissertation research in 2011 and 2012. I am glad to have the opportunity to connect with new and old friends in the field, and to explore with Chinese civic actors the synergy between anthropology and social initiatives.
While a doctoral student at the University of California, Riverside, California, Kirby Farah received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Creating and Maintaining an Elite Identity: A Study of Elite Domestic Practices at Postclassic Xaltocan,” supervised by Dr. Wendy Ashmore. Two years later Dr. Farah had the opportunity to return to the field when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to carry out her project, “Middle Postclassic Ritual Spaces and Implements: A Museum Exhibit at Xaltocan, Mexico”.
My Wenner Gren funded dissertation research, conducted between July 2014 and June 2015, focused on the everyday lives and identity practices of the Postclassic (A.D. 900-1521) leaders of Xaltocan, Mexico. From the outset, this project was informed by community engagement. I collaborated with local Xaltocan residents to outline a set of research objectives that prioritized transparency and rapid dissemination of research results. We also worked together to design research questions that would glean locally-relevant knowledge about Xaltocan’s prehispanic past. This might include knowledge that (1) contributes to cultivating local pride, (2) is of general interest to the local community, or (3) adds perspective to issues facing Xaltocan (and other Basin of Mexico communities) today. Too often we as archaeologists dive into our projects with our own research questions in mind, rarely taking into consideration whether or not the topics we focus on are important to local communities. Collaborating early on creates avenues for integrating topics that emphasize our interests as researchers as well as the interests of the communities most impacted by our work.
Among other things, my conversations with community members revealed a particular interest in the lives and practices of Xaltocan’s Postclassic rulers, an understudied topic at Xaltocan. There was also a strong interest in understanding the cultural practices that distinguished Xaltocan from other Postclassic Basin of Mexico polities. In order to address these topics and to learn more about the nature of leadership and community identity at Postclassic Xaltocan, I conducted excavations at Cerrito Central, a large mound located near the modern town center. These excavations recovered the remains of successive monumental buildings that likely served as the residences of Xaltocan’s Postclassic leaders. Data collected from in and around these buildings, which dated to roughly the Early (AD 900-1240), Middle (AD 1240-1350), and Late Postclassic (1350-1521), provided a better understanding of the ways in which leadership strategies shifted over time and in response to changing local and regional dynamics.
Excavations at Cerrito Central recovered important data concerning the everyday practices of Xaltocan’s leaders throughout the Postclassic. However many of the most interesting findings were associated with the Middle Postclassic, the periods during which Xaltocan reached peak political prominence in the region. In particular, the recovery of two ritual spaces—one private and one public—revealed the various practices and implements used by Xaltocan’s leaders to interact with the gods.
The private ritual space was a small room that contained the remains of five successive altars. The altars and the wall foundations surrounding the room were lined along the surface with ceramic fragments. The public area was an open patio just north of the altar room. The patio contained the remains of a ceremonial hearth—which also incorporated ceramic fragments—and a large ritual deposit. Thus, in both spaces ceramic fragments were used to mark or outline ritual space. Both spaces were also associated with burning practices. The private rituals involved the use of censers and braziers to contain smoking copal resin, whereas the public ritual involved an open fire that burned in the ceremonial hearth. Combined, these findings provide evidence for a complex ritual program at Xaltocan that involved ritual symbols that have not been observed elsewhere in the Basin of Mexico.
I concluded that the ritual features and implements recovered in these Middle Postclassic contexts spoke to the research questions we designed. The ritual practices of Xaltocan’s leaders reflect their political and religious role in the community. Furthermore, the use of ceramic fragments to outline ritual spaces reflects a culturally distinctive practice that may have been unique to Xaltocan. In order to make these findings more accessible to the local community, I returned to Xaltocan in 2017 to install a permanent museum exhibit that would showcase our recent findings and provide detailed information about their significance. This exhibit was funded by a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant. The exhibit was designed to showcase the Middle Postclassic ritual implements of Xaltocan’s rulers and to teach visitors about the nature of ritual practice during the Postclassic. As a permanent installation, the exhibit will serve as a learning tool for generations to come.
The exhibit includes artifacts recovered from Middle Postclassic ritual contexts as well as replicas of some of the ritual features. These artifacts and features are contained in three large vitrines. The first vitrine contains a replica of one of the altars recovered in the private room, the second contains a replica of the ceremonial hearth, and the third contains the reconstructed artifacts recovered from a ritual deposit. A plaque with detailed descriptions of the features and objects accompanies each vitrine. A map of the excavation area is also included, which allows visitors to understand the spatial relationships of the objects on display. The exhibit also includes a large informational panel that outlines the nature ritual practice at Xaltocan and in the Basin of Mexico, with special focus on the New Fire ceremony. The second and third vitrines contain the remnants of a public ritual that may have been an early version of the New Fire ceremony, which would become one of the most important state-sponsored rituals of the Aztecs.
The exhibit was completed in August 2017 and we held an opening ceremony to mark the event. Attendees included government officials and members of local cultural and educational institutions, but most attendees were children and families from Xaltocan. I kicked off the event with an introduction to the exhibit and the directors of the local museum and cultural center also spoke. I was also happy to welcome most members of the original excavation team, who spoke about their experiences and answered questions. As a follow-up to the success of the opening ceremony and the exhibit, a symposium is being planned form summer 2019. The symposium will be future-focused, and address the relationship between local patrimony and archaeological research at Xaltocan.
Back in 2014 when Karen Allen was a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Sustainable Development in Costa Rica: Understanding Values, Land Use Decisions, and Market-based Mechanisms for Conservation,” supervised by Dr. Ted Gragson. Dr. Allen was then able to return to the field in 2018 after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant to carry out her project, “Fostering Conservation Ethic Through Dialogue in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, Costa Rica”.
This project entailed coordinating and carrying out two workshops in the Bellbird Biological Corridor, Costa Rica. This is a mixed-use area and is part of Costa Rica’s relatively new biological corridor network (www.cbpc.org). The national network system as a whole aims to foster ecological connectivity and sustainable development across the country (www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/correbiolo). The purpose of these workshops was to strengthen the connections between the conservation organizations that oversee the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and the people who live within the corridor. This project grew directly out of Wenner-Gren funded dissertation research, where I investigated the ways in which conservation policy influences land-use decisions within the corridor. It became clear early on in my research that very few people had actually heard of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, and the boundaries and objectives of the corridor where not clear. I devised these workshops with a dual purpose: to provide information about corridor objectives and the conservation imperatives, and to foster dialogue about the broader sustainable development objectives. Further, this process built the foundation, and the social capital needed to continue similar efforts into the near future.
The workshops took place in two different towns within the corridor. I chose the towns in collaboration with corridor organizations based on the strength of their past interactions with these towns, as well as my experiences and connections in each place. Because the towns were quite dissimilar (one was a coastal fishing village, and another a mountain agrarian village), the workshops were a bit different in each locale. In the fishing village, Costa de Pájaros, I organized and hosted a three-hour workshop in conjunction with the Asociación de Mujeres Mariposas del Golfo. We publicized this workshop through the community organizations, as the Asociación de Mujeres (women’s association) decided that it would be best to focus on integrating the various organizations in the region. There were approximately thirty to thirty-five people in attendance. This workshop began with an introduction to the Bellbird Biological Corridor, given by the current corridor director. We then split into groups, where they used maps of the corridor, and maps of the region, to identify social-ecological challenges and potential solutions. Each group presented a summary of their discussion. We then talked about particular initiatives that already exist in the corridor, and forged connections between the people who wanted to pursue those initiatives further and those coordinating the initiatives. We also made a “wish-list” of ideas that might be possible to undertake in the future.
In the second workshop, in Santa Rosa, we followed a similar format, but included a few more presentations. We publicized this workshop by visiting all houses in the town of Santa Rosa (approximately fifty) and explaining the purpose of the workshop. The local Asociación de Desarrollo (community development organization) decided that it would be good to make the workshop longer (about four hours) and include a few more presentations on different initiatives in the region. In total, we had approximately thirty-five people from Santa Rosa attending the workshop. In addition, three corridor representatives came to speak about the corridor initiative, and four representatives came from the neighboring community of San Luis to share their experiences with the Sendero Pacífico, a trail network (senderopacifico.net). There is a possibility of extending this trail network to Santa Rosa, and several people spoke to that effect. We also examined the social-ecological challenges in the region with this group, and established several follow-up initiatives for future collaboration. As in the first workshop, we spent time reviewing the initiatives that already exist in the region, and brainstorming future possibilities and collaborations. And of course, both workshops concluded with a shared meal – arroz con pollo!
Some of the more exciting things to come out of these workshops were the new ideas and connections that emerged. The organization leaders that I worked with have since commented to me that they have continued to contact people they met at the meetings. Further, we have begun to brainstorm future engaged projects that came out of these experiences. People seemed excited and motivated by the workshops and it is inspiring for me to see these events as the direct output of many years of more theoretical dissertation research. I see many possibilities for future engagement, and I plan to continue this work in the future.
While a doctoral student at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, Evren Dincer received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Reindustrialization of the U.S.: An Ethnography of Auto Workers in the American Rust Belt,” supervised by Dr. Shelley Feldman. In 2017 Dr. Dincer received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Situating Auto Work: Engaging with Community in the Rust Belt,” 2017, Buffalo, NY.
Thanks to the grant provided by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, I spent eight weeks in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 2017 between June 20 and August 16. During this stay, I accomplished two goals: revisiting my field site and organizing an international conference.
As for the first goal, I revisited the plant I conducted my original fieldwork, General Motors’ Powertrain Plant in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo. I held a total of eight meetings with workers, union leaders as well as members of management to share my findings. These meetings occurred at the union hall (3), company management suite (1) and at the plant (2). I also organized two meetings outside the plant at Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations’ downtown Buffalo offıce. During these meetings I shared my findings focusing exclusively on three issues:
1. The issue of generational transition that occurred on the shop floor and its current trajectory. The generational transition in the unionized auto industry constituted the backbone of my dissertation. It basically explains the dynamics of workforce change in a protected labor market, which is largely called internal labor market in the literature. In the post-2008 crisis this meant the gradual replacement of the aging workforce with higher wages and extensive benefit packages with a younger workforce with less pay and limited healthcare. I shared the details of my findings in these meetings and we discussed the trajectory since I left the field site in 2015.
2. The second issue was the issue of space surrounding the plant, which is another central element of my dissertation. The trajectory of organized labor and their everyday lives in the Rust Belt is a critical issue to understand the shop floor relations as well as the larger context of organized labor today. During our meetings I shared findings from my work as well as from the literature on the Rust Belt to enable a better understanding of the condition of work today.
3. The third issue was NAFTA, which was a highly contentious issue at the time and continues to be so today. I had addressed competitive pressures in my dissertation, therefore parts of our meetings focusing on NAFTA featured discussions on NAFTA’s effects on the auto industry in the U.S. and its competitive nature. Workers, especially in the context of Trump’s victory, were quite sensitive to the role of Mexico. Given that about 40% of the UAW (United Auto Workers) represented workers who voted for Trump in 2016, it was difficult yet important to address the trade relations between the two countries.
Regarding the second goal, I organized an international conference on economic development in Buffalo. In my dissertation, one of the central points and contributions to the literature on labor was to highlight the key connection between the shop floor and the socio-economic urban environment it is surrounded by. Labor-management relations in the unionized sectors were traditionally defined by internal labor markets which defined job progressions, formal pay and fringe benefit policies. Such policies shielded the internal labor market from outside effects for decades, such isolation was best visible in the auto industry until the 2008 Recession. However, following the recession the generational transition I mentioned above took place, and I showed how it was only possible with a long-term and in depth economic deterioration in the Rust Belt in general and the Buffalo metro area in particular. This conference, therefore, focused on the issues of economic development in Buffalo since the Great Recession in 2008 to help my interlocutors at the plant and outside to better situate their experiences and economic position with respect to the urban environment they reside and live in.
The grant provided by the Wenner-Gren Foundation helped me share my findings, reconnect with my interlocutors, and organize a professional workshop. However, it also helped me observe some of the recent developments (particularly the collective bargaining process in 2015 and the national elections of 2016) and the effects of these developments on labor in the U.S. today.
 The conference took place on August 14 and 15. The first day featured three sessions and took place at Cornell University’s downtown Buffalo premises, while the second day featured one session and took place at UAW Local 774’s union hall. The link to the program, titles and the list of participants can be found here: http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/buffalo/worker-institute/events
In 2012 Jacob Doherty received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ”Keep Kampala Clean: Disposability, Environmentalism, and Garbage in Urban Uganda,” supervised by Dr. James Ferguson. In 2018 Dr. Doherty was able to return to his fieldsite when he was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant which gave him the opportunity to carry out his project, “Wasted Opportunities: Designs to Recognize Informal Waste Infrastructures in Kampala, Uganda”.
Using a small cart he designed and built himself, Didas collects rubbish from households throughout Banda, a mixed-income neighborhood in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Filling a vital gap in waste management, he collects from houses large and small, rich and poor, from hostels housing dozens of students at the nearby university who benefit from the customized services he provides to mutli-occupancy households who cannot afford regular collection by private firms. For the last year however, he has been working under the cover of darkness, serving his clients at night to avoid the attention of representatives of a large private firm awarded a contract to serve Banda by the city government. Mistaking their contract for sole territorial rights to the neighborhood’s rubbish, they have impounded Didas’s equipment and threatened to take him to court. This fits with a broader pattern in Kampala, where small-scale garbage collectors who provide critical infrastructural services are being criminalized, paradoxically, in the name of cleaning of the city.
Didas was one of my key collaborators on “Wasted Opportunities: Designs to Recognize Informal Waste Infrastructures in Kampala, Uganda,” an exhibition I co-organized with ECOaction, a community organization based in Banda that works to tackle Kampala’s environmental and employment challenges by using waste to generate new livelihoods. Lead by eco-artist Reagan Kandole, who I first met while conducting dissertation fieldwork in Kampala, ECOaction has been in Banda for five years, engaging small scale garbage collectors, informal plastic recyclers, and young people in the community. Together, we spent a month organizing a pop-up exhibition highlighting the contributions these small scale waste managers make to keeping Kampala clean, and proposing new designs that offer an alternative to criminalization by integrating these services into the city’s official waste stream.
Waste on the Ground: Scenes from Kampala
The first part of the exhibition featured photos taken as part of a photo-elicitation I conducted as part of my ethnographic work. Twenty residents of Kampala were given disposable cameras and asked to take photographs of their city. Prompted to photograph places that make them happy, relaxed, and proud, and places that make them fearful, ashamed, or uncomfortable, places that are changing quickly for good or for bad, as well as how they dispose of rubbish in the areas where they live, participants captured a side of Kampala that is rarely visually represented. After printing the images, they became the basis for a conversation, where the photographers explained what they had seen and captured. Neither a celebration nor an expose, the images showed the Kampala of everyday life, capturing the problem of waste for urban residents, and the ways that garbage is handled in low-income communities.
Integrating Small Scale Garbage Collectors
The second part of the exhibition included photographs of Didas in action collecting garbage from Banda alongside a model we developed together with Isaac, an ECOaction team member who is a designer and craftsman. The model offered one possible future for an integrated community waste management system in Kampala. It put small-scale collectors at the centre of a system that maximizes the reuse and recycling of waste materials, minimizes the volume of waste needing disposal at a sanitary landfill, and reduces the carbon footprint, fuel usage, and expense of collecting garbage, while creating new resources for use in a variety of community enterprises.
Around the world, cities are experimenting with a new way to simultaneously improve urban waste management and support the livelihoods of the urban poor. From Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Pune, India and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, small scale ‘informal’ garbage collectors have organized themselves in innovative new ways to demand inclusion in official solid waste management strategies, in turn, improving urban cleanliness and sanitation, while improving the livelihoods and capacities of marginalized urban populations. While not organized to the same extent, Small scale collectors are a fact of life in most Kampala neighborhoods. Recognizing this fact, this model proposes integrating them into official systems in a way that is mutually beneficial to the citizens who are their clients, government, private companies, small-scale collectors themselves, and to the environment.
The model shows the movement of waste from households, hostels, and local businesses to a community sorting facility where garbage collectors will be able to safely and hygienically sort waste into appropriate categories driven by local markets and community projects: plastic, metal, and paper recycling, urban farming, chicken, goat and other animal rearing, bio-mass briquette production, composting, and plastic bottle architecture projects. These projects bring income into the community, by linking household waste directly to industries and activities that repurpose it. The remaining waste would be taken to a skip situated at a roadside for easy collection, saving the capital-intensive trucks from time spent idling.
ECOaction Plastic Collectors
The third part of the exhibition highlighted ECOaction Plastic Collectors, new initiative that aims to foster co-operation among plastic collectors in Banda community so they can improve the services they deliver, maximize their earnings from collecting, improve their working conditions, overcome discrimination, and save money to invest in new projects and in their families’ health and education. The exhibition featured portraits and biographies of eight plastic collectors, written in collaboration with Arnold, Fiona, and Zahara, three young ECOaction members who learned how to conduct and write up life-history interviews.
Plastic Collectors remove tons of recyclable material from the waste stream on a daily basis, providing the basic inputs for recycling factories in Kampala, protecting Uganda’s waterways and soils from plastic contamination, and reducing the global need for new raw resources. Despite their enormous contribution to the urban and the global environment, they face a number of significant challenges in their work. Foremost is the low price they receive for their collections. While at the top of the value chain, prices are set by global markets, within Kampala small-scale collectors are unable to benefit from economies of scale and so sell their materials at half the possible price to brokers. Through co-operation, ECOaction Plastic Collectors seek to overcome this challenge by gathering individuals’ collections together, collectively investing in transportation, and selling directly to factories by the ton instead of individually selling to brokers by the kilo.
Along with these displays, staged on a mobile art gallery designed and built by the ECOaction team using recycled plastic, the exhibition also included two stunning art installations by Reagan as well as demonstrations of ECOactions other livelihood projects: an urban farm, an eco-salon, a tailoring workshop, an animal rearing project, and their signature construction projects using plastic bottles.
Trust the Process
While the exhibition itself was successful – attracting an invited audience representing the municipal government, NGOs, artists, architects, educators, academics, and local community leaders – the month-long process of organizing and preparing it was the more fully engaging activity. In the build up to the event, ECOaction and I organized discussion workshops with plastic recyclers and residents of Banda, learned new skills ranging from welding to interviewing, deepened relationships among plastic collectors often distrustful of one another and between collectors and the broader community, and laid the groundwork for two new initiatives that ECOaction will develop over the coming year: a pilot project testing the uses of a co-operative model for plastic collectors and a business plan to engage in plastic construction and education projects with schools throughout the city.
The project develops an exhibition on shared sacred spaces in the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It features brief historical information about six Orthodox Christian and Muslim sites, a variety of personal accounts, and visual material related to the sites, where sharing occurs or used to occur in the past. The exhibition is based on the ethnographic fieldwork project I conducted in Cyprus between 2010-2012, which examines the practices of memory-making and forgetting at sacred sites in Cyprus after the ethnic conflict and 1974 partition of the island. The exhibition is designed to share this research with the people of Cyprus and to stimulate a bi-communal dialogue on shared spaces and ‘alternative’ readings of the past.
The exhibition is a collection of diverse readings of the past, present, and future through the loud silence of sacred spaces. The past is highly fractured and strategically reassembled in Cyprus. The memories of the past have been transforming since the Greek and Turkish communities fell apart in 1974. On the one hand, there is longing for a lost past and for a lost future, and on the other hand, a need for creating a new present and future. The reference to past is omnipresent in all narratives related to now and onward. Temporalities turn into permanence, permanence is absent and only imagined.
By introducing the practices at the shared sites and the transformation of them, the exhibition is designed as an invitation to explore the disregarded communication and exchange at these sacred sites before and after the division of the island in 1974. The exhibition creates a new avenue for the local people to contribute with their own stories, and memories that could both expand the dissertation research on shared sacred sites and also foster dialogue between the two communities on a topic that is relevant to them in their everyday lives.
The exhibition covers six religious sites, where both Orthodox Christian and Muslim communities visit and assert claims: Apostolos Andreas Monastery (Karpas Peninsula), Hala Sultan Tekke (Larnaca), Holy Forty (east of Nicosia), Hz. Ömer Tekke (east of Kyrenia), Saint Barnabas Monastery (Famagusta) and Saint Mamas Monastery (Morphou). The physical sharing of sacred sites has been restricted since the de facto division of the island in 1974, but they have started to be visited again by both communities with the opening of the dividing Green Line in 2003. Two of the mentioned sites (Saint Barnabas and Saint Mamas Monasteries) have been functioning as museums since their re-opening after the division.
Each site expresses a different story; manifests a deeper and shared history, bringing to view the complexity of exchanges for Cypriot people. The exhibition takes a fresh look at the Cyprus conflict and highlights both the coexistence and conflict happening at the shared sites. It aims at communicating the themes of sharing and understanding without defaulting to the hollow rhetoric of ‘peaceful coexistence and tolerance.’ The stories and memories harmonize with one another as much as they contrast. In that sense, the project goes beyond the sterile picturing of shared sacred sites in scholarly debates that approach these sites either as sites of tolerance or conflict. In some cases, the multivocality of holy sites provokes discussion over the identity and politics of these places. In other cases, Cypriots, whose cosmologies about these polysemic holy places are embedded in a land of many cultures, have been going beyond the political and ethnic boundaries with their shared cultic practices.
This public anthropology work is designed in the form of an exhibition, not only for involving people in the research endeavor but also for questioning and rethinking social science methodology. I seek to reconceive methodology to bridge the conceptual gaps between disciplinary approaches, and between art and science. I collaborated with two artist-curators in this exhibition, Aslı Tanrıkulu, a graphic designer and a painter, and Ersan Ocak, an urbanist, a (visual) cultural researcher, and an independent filmmaker. This has provided an excellent opportunity to widen my perspective for thinking through the data collected in the field as well as the alternative ways to share the research with the public.
The exhibition was held between June 19th-26th, 2018 at the Home for Cooperation, a space easily available to Greek and Turkish Cypriots for bi-communal activities in the Buffer Zone in Nicosia. The exhibition is intended to be moved to several other locations in both parts of Cyprus, including the Bedesten in North Nicosia, Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta, and Peace House in South Nicosia. It is also invited to be displayed at the Ruhr Universität Bochum in Germany and TED University in Ankara, Turkey. The stories were displayed in three languages, English, Greek, and Turkish. Visitors were provided cards to express their opinions about the exhibition, contribute their own memories about the sites, or answer the question “what would you like to remember forward about Cyprus?” The exhibition is complemented by an interactive website, which was launched to promote the project, and to provide a platform for exchanging ideas, memories, and photographs.
While a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Jane Lynch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2010 to aid research on “Fashioning Value: Materiality, Cloth, and Political Economy in India,” supervised by Dr. Webb Keane. In 2016 Dr. Lynch received an Engaged Anthropology Grant which allowed her to return to the field and carry out her project, “Beyond Art and Labor: Representing the Everyday Politics of Weaving in India”.
Last summer, I began work on a collaborative project, organized and executed together with textile weavers in a town in Central India. This project emerged as an outgrowth of my dissertation research, substantial parts of which were based in this town, which is famous for the eponymously named “Chanderi” cloth produced there. Many of my collaborators were thus old friends and informants. The focus of our work was to create a temporary “pop-up” exhibition, which aimed to re-envision—and present, as a catalyst for dialogue—the ways in which the practice and process of handloom weaving are represented.
The 34 photographs included in the exhibition were exemplary of phenomena that weavers and traders showed me during my research to explain the work they do, the ways in which business is conducted in Chanderi, and the possibilites for reimagining both. These photographs challenge conventional representations of handloom weaving in Chanderi, which emphasize a predictable, unidirectional technical process. Put differently, they foreground dimensions of the weaving process that at first, appear to be either outside of or deviations from a normal course of production but are in fact integral to the making of cloth. We organized these images into three groups, focusing on: (1) the homes and domestic lives of weavers; (2) the organization of business and profit; and (3) how weavers create value through the reuse of cast-off yarn and cloth. Together, these photographs drew attention to aspects of Chanderi weaving that are often hidden from public view and discourse.
These photographs revealed the work of weaving in Chanderi as part of domestic life. Everyday activities—such as caring for children, bending down in prayer, and counting to see if enough cash has been saved for school fees—are interwoven with the production of cloth. Looms are the foundations of homes in which weaving is the family business. Both the technical skill and business of weaving are learned within families, often while sitting next to a parent (Image 1). Looms also reveal traces of the people who spend long hours sitting in front of them working. The stickers of political parties, cricket players, and gods adhered to their wooden frames offer one example of this (Image 2).
These photographs also documented the organization of business and profit in Chanderi’s weaving industry. These activities are rooted in social values and expectations. One articulation of this is the principal and aspiration of shubh labh, which—in the words of one trader from Chanderi—translates into English as “profit with goodness” (Image 3). These photographs show how account books (i.e., both the ledgers kept by traders and middlemen as well as the small diaries, referred to locally as sargas, kept by weavers) are used to record exchanges of raw materials, finished cloth, and cash (Image 4). We also documented the aspects of the weaving process (e.g., street-warping and the dressing of the loom) that are unaccounted for in these ledgers, but which nevertheless carry a cost, typically borne by weavers.
At the end of each warp, weavers in Chanderi are left with and collect scraps of cloth. They acquire remnants in other ways too. For example, cloth that has been rejected in processes of “quality control.” Such cloth—particularly that which has been put to new use—challenges the representation of weaving as a predictable and uni-directional process with a neatly defined beginning and end. For example, one photograph showed a red salwar suit made from leftover material (Image 5). From the remnants of her own weaving, this weaver stitched the clothing that she wore on her wedding day. Another photograph showed a men’s dress shirt tailored out of “corporate scraps” (Image 6). This cloth had originally been woven as curtains for the retail company, Fabindia, but was rejected during the “quality control” process. Remnants are also used by weavers to give as gifts, to decorate their homes, and save for future needs.
In conceiving of and planning for the pop-up exhibition, I invited weavers and others in Chanderi to participate in the project of re-envisioning and representing the practice and process of weaving. The exhibition was also organized so that it could be viewed freely. Instead of displaying the photographs in a private, interior space, we used a broadly accessible, public space. The openness of the exhibition was, in part, an effort to dispel concerns on the part of some weavers that a more formal event would be dominated by the interests and presence of local traders and middlemen. By using walls in the town’s central market, Sadaar Bazaar, as the site of the pop-up exhibition, we sought to encourage spontaneous experiences of viewing, discussion, and engagement (Image 7). All visitors were invited to ask questions, share their thoughts, and write down their reactions as part of the formal record of the event (Image 8).
By bringing the diverse perspectives of weavers to the foreground, this project aimed to help cultivate more equitable and inclusive conversations about the stakes and significance of handloom weaving. Rather than looking at textiles as they fit with formal representations of their processes of production, the exhibition revealed instances where the purposes and possibilities of cloth were reclaimed, reconceived, and reimagined by weavers. Calling attention not only to what is hidden by conventional representations of the production process, but also to what is imagined in this process, this approach brings to the center of analysis the uncertainty, possibilities, and fantasies bound up in the process of production. As an anthropologist, the “dialogic editing” involved in this project unsettled aspects of my original ethnography, even as it came to ground my new analyses—and imaginings—of it.
In 2010 while a doctoral student at the University of Syracuse Madhura Lohokare received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Articulating Public Space to the Public Sphere: A Study of Neighborhood Associations in Pune, India,” supervised by Dr. Cecilia Van Hollen. In 2016 Dr. Lohokare had the opportunity to share the results of her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Seeking Just Spaces: Conversations on City, Masculinity and Gender”.
My doctoral research was based in a working class, low caste neighborhood in the Western Indian city of Pune in India. In my doctoral research, I located young men’s gendered identity at the crossroads of their location in the inner city area of Moti Peth and a long history of spatial and social marginalization based upon caste and class in Pune. After submitting my dissertation in April 2016, I was awarded the Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropologist Grant in order to conduct public engagement activities in Pune. The public engagement that I undertook within the EAG were constituted primarily by two activities: bi-lingual workshops on gender, masculinity and urban space in city colleges and a short-term neighborhood mapping project in Moti Peth
Workshops on gender, masculinity and urban space:
These workshops were designed to focus on how urban spaces are shaped by and in turn shape gender, caste and class dynamics in the city spaces and on the question of inclusive cities and access to public spaces. The aim was to conduct these workshops primarily in those colleges in the city which do not figure on the itineraries of such workshops. Located in the older part of the city and attended largely by non-English speaking, working class, lower caste students, these colleges seldom get exposure to stimulating workshops beyond their fixed college curriculum, on account of the fact that most of such workshops and their materials tend to be designed for an English speaking audience.
During December 2016, 2017 and January 2018, I conducted four workshops, titled, “Mardon Waali Baat” (roughly translated as “The Man Thing”) in four undergraduate colleges which focused on the broader themes of masculinity, gender and public space. These workshops were mostly conducted in Marathi, the native language of the state of Maharashtra, given the fact that most of the students who attended these workshops were native Marathi-speakers. These workshops were two to three hours long each, focusing on gender, qualities attributed to masculinity in the specific context of Maharashtra, popular culture and the implications of gendered nature of public spaces. The participants comprised of not only students from Pune city, but importantly, also those from neighboring small towns and villages, who come to Pune for higher education. This is also the student population which hardly gets an opportunity to attend such workshops, which provide a non-judgmental space for young adults to discuss issues of gender. Interestingly, I conducted a series of two workshops on the topic of masculinity and urban space in an all-girls college. While I had originally planned only one workshop here, I conducted two workshops in this college, on account of the enthusiasm of the girl students to talk about gender, masculinity and how it impacts their everyday life in the city.
Between December 2016 and December 2017 I also conducted three workshops, with the Department of Sociology and the Women’s Studies Centre at Pune University on the broad themes of ethnographic research methodologies and researching caste, space and gender. All the three workshops were two days long. My objective in working with students and research scholars from Pune University was specifically to discuss ethical issues of working on caste and gender with a group of research scholars who are located in a state university, a space which does not have the privilege of availability of study materials in Marathi.
A short-term neighborhood mapping project in Moti Peth:
An important insight of my dissertation research was the profound sense of internalized inferiority that I encountered in Moti Peth, the neighborhood where I conducted my dissertation research. This internalized inferiority was a product of a long history of caste and class-based marginalization in Pune’s urban trajectory. A short-term project in which neighborhood inhabitants map how their area contributes to the economic workings of the city would be, I thought, a modest beginning to a larger process of reclaiming the history through which they have built and through which they continue to give character to this part of the city. This mapping project, I had hoped would help to reveal this intricate web through which the area of Moti Peth is connected to the city of Pune in inexticable ways.
I initiated this project in Moti Peth, in the first week of December 2017. After initial rounds of discussion and introducing the young people in the neighborhood to the idea of this mapping project, a total of six women (between ages 18 and 30) and four men (between ages 22 and 26) volunteered to be a part of this exercise. The aim was to introduce them to the concept of the “barefoot researcher” and enable them to critically look at their neighborhood, along with equipping them with basic documenting skills, which would encourage them to produce knowledge about their own area. Each participant received a small stipend for participating in this exercise.
The participants worked in pairs on specific topics related to their neighborhood and aspects of their culture. These included:
Mapping small businesses in the area
Highlighting the language (slang) used by people in the neighborhood
Documenting caste-specific recipes in this neighborhood
Documenting the ten best street food joints in the area
These topics were arrived at through our discussions, in which we all agreed that it was important to rewrite the narrative of this neighborhood, which hitherto has only been portrayed as “backward,” “filthy” and as populated by people who themselves are morally corrupt or not worthy of respect. These topics are reflective of an attempt to claim legitimacy by this group of working class, low caste researchers for their location in the city, be it in terms of food, language or economic activities.
In December 2017, I conducted three workshops which aimed to familiarise the participants with aspects of documentation and research including photo-documentation (via mobile phones), participant observation, writing field notes, interviewing and visualizing data. One of the workshops was conducted by Chris M. Kurian, a public health professional, who also specializes in design and communication and Chaitanya Modak, a graphic designer, with experience in public art.
The outcome of these multiple small projects was imagined in the form of an exhibition, through which we planned to showcase the narratives that the “barefoot researchers” had produced, in the form of photo-stories, interviews, maps and audio clips. Chaitanya Modak joined the team as a consultant, and helped us visualize this data and present it in an accessible and attractive format to the audience for this exhibition.
The exhibition was held on April 21st and 22nd 2018, in Sudarshan Kaladaalan, an exhibition space located in a predominantly upper caste neighborhood in the city. The choice of the place was deliberate since the researchers from Moti Peth specifically wished their narratives to be exhibited in these upper caste dominated neighborhoods. The exhibition was well received by the audiences and also got good press coverage in the local Marathi and English dailies. The experience of producing and exhibiting narratives of their own lives and aspects of their culture, in their own language, was a very important step for the young people from Moti Peth, to begin the process of reclaiming their place in the city’s identity. I hope that this exhibition also gets an opportunity to travel to other parts of the city (there were several proposals to enable that in the future). At the same time, the exhibition also benefitted from some critical feedback, which would help its evolution, in case the participants now decide to take this ahead and travel with it. This feedback was largely in terms of the politics of representation, the absence of a sense of history in the exhibition material and the need to demonstrate the process through which this exhibition was produced.