Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Yu Huang

 

satellite view of Leizhou peninsula in southern China. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Yu Huang is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her involvement with the Wenner-Gren Foundation goes back to 2007, when she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant as a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, Seattle to aid research on ‘Cultivating ‘Science-Savvy’ Citizens: Empowerment and Risk in Shrimp Aquaculture Development in China,’ supervised by Dr. Ann Anagnost. The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed her to return to her field site in southern China’s shrimping industry and share her research with her collaborators. 

Since 2006, I have been conducting research on the science extension network of shrimp aquaculture in Leizhou, Guangdong Province, China. Through my own experimental farming experience, as well as interviews and participation observation with shrimp farmers, extension officials, and marine biologists, I have tried to understand the two vicious cycles that shrimp farmers fall into. The drive to overproduction has lured farmers to increase stocking intensity, leading to both ecological and economic crises. Ecologically, high-intensity farming has deteriorated the pond environment and made shrimp more stressful, rendering them more vulnerable to disease attacks. Economically, overproduction depreciates the value of shrimp, making it difficult for farmers to get out of poverty. Moreover, as shrimp prices drop, a lot of farmers have to stock more shrimp juveniles to balance high input costs, incubating new risks of diseases. If few farmers benefit from the treadmill of overproduction, who gains? As farmers are enticed to become “science-savvy” farmers, they have adopted various kinds of “inputs” and equipments to boost yield, changing their mode of production from polyculture with fish and crab to monoculture of shrimp. The plight of farmers has formed stark contrast with the dramatic growth of agribusinesses that monopolizes the upstream sector of credits and inputs for shrimp juveniles, compound feed, aeration machines, and shrimp pharmaceuticals, and the downstream sector of processing, marketing, and sales.

After I received the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant in August 2012, I started to think about the issue on how I could disseminate my findings to the community of shrimp farmers. The problem is not so much that farmers are unaware of their dilemmas, but they do not know how to get out of the treadmill of overproduction. As petty commodity producers, the slogan “work more, gain more” failed to come true. While they see their income squeezed away by agribusinesses, they have to bear the risks of shrimp diseases and market fluctuation. Rather than just telling farmers the cause of their plight, I thought that I needed to do something to help them. The idea of organizing a co-operative came to mind.

The re-cooperatization movement in China sprouted at the turn of the century when family farms collaborated together to shield themselves the full costs of market relations and to capture a higher portion of the added value of the agro-food products in the commodity chain. After the Law on Specialized Farmer Cooperatives was passed in July 2007, farmers’ cooperatives mushroomed. The registered cooperatives totaled about 100,000 in 2008, grew to 689,000 by the end of 2012, and was projected to reach 900,000 by 2015.

However, the cooperative movement has not spread to Leizhou, which is located at the south end of mainland China. I decided to do some mobilization work to make farmers understand how a cooperative might help them. In summer 2013, I organized focus groups and household visits to introduce to farmers the concept of cooperative. Here are the potential benefits:

1)     Uniting together, farmers can regain the pricing power by directly negotiating with hatcheries, feed manufacturers and processing factories. When the cooperatives grow bigger, farmers can even set up their own hatchery to supply quality shrimp juveniles to its members. In the downstream, farmers can develop CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to exchange with consumers directly without the extortion of the middlemen and processers.

2)     The cooperative makes decisions democratically. The mode of operation, profit distribution, and administrations are based on democratic consensus of all cooperative members. “Two heads are better than one” – yet the key is to maintain the cooperative as an organization for all, not serving only a couple of big households.

3)     Cooperative members are encouraged to share farming technologies and consult others for advice in disease control. The co-op also encourages experiments on ecological aquaculture and polyculture that minimize inputs. If there are 100 ponds in the cooperative, ten can be used for fish-shrimp or shrimp-crab polyculture trials.

 

Soon two co-operatives were established in two villages with about ten household members each. The co-operative in one village were composed of young farmers at the age of 30s, while the co-op in the next village had mostly elderly farmers over 50 years old. At my suggestion, both co-ops agreed that their first business would be bulk purchase of shrimp feed.  We did a quick calculation. In summer 2013, farmers usually ordered shrimp feed from an agent who asked for 150 yuan for a bag of 20kg (1 US$=6 RMB). The cooperative could order from the feed mill directly to save RMB20 per bag (or RMB1 per kg). Given that the average size of a pond is 5 mu (1 mu about 667 m3) and yield per mu is 750kg, a pond can produce 3,750kg of shrimps (and save RMB3,750) per crop. If RMB3,750 is saved from each harvest, RMB7,500 can be saved for a year of two crops. RMB7,500 will be split evenly between the household and the cooperative. This means that the cooperative can establish a common fund both for expanding production and cushioning farmers’ loss from shrimp disease attack.

To help farmers better understand the operation of a cooperative, I took some members from each cooperative to Yongji, Shanxi to join a training workshop organized by an NGO that works on rural development. “Puhan Rural Community” was originally formed in 1998 as a cooperative that provided technology extension service to less than ten households. Now the Community has grown to incorporate 6,520 household members in 35 villagers, covering an area of 260 km2. There are 40 specialized cooperatives that offer a whole range of services for the production and marketing of wheat, cotton, peanuts, sweet potatoes, fruit trees, and farmed animals. The Community is reputed as a comprehensive community that integrates economic, cultural, and social functions in a democratic manner. In August 2013, we stayed in the Community for one week to learn how to run the different services of a cooperative, including administrative planning, member mobilization, agricultural science extension, input supply & product sales, financial management, and even social service provision, including elderly care and women empowerment. The Community’s recent plan is to promote organic agriculture by offering members standardized services in soil test, fertilizer use, pest control, seed selection, and sales. We have found that the secret of their success lies in their large team of community coordinators (fudaoyuan) that maintain a close relation with household members. Each month, a coordinator needs to visit a household at least once to learn their needs and assess the service provided. In the spirit of “from the masses, to the masses,” the Community seeks to serve the needs of members rather than profiting from them, a widespread problem that has dampened the potential for cooperatives to bring prosperity to poor farmers.

By now, the shrimp farming cooperatives that I helped establish have been running for over one year and members are delighted not only for the economic benefits, but more importantly, the spirit of solidarity that binds them together. The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant has inspired me to think about how anthropologists can apply our knowledge for social change as I move forward in my next ethnographic study on action research, rural co-operatives, and food sovereignty in China.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Maureen E. Marshall

Marshall shows participants an example of osteoarthritis of the elbow, Tsaghkahovit

Maureen E. Marshall received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Chicago. In 2010 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Political Subjects: Movement, Mobility, and Emplacement in Late Bronze Age (1500-1250 BC) Societies in Armenia,’ supervised by Dr. Adam Thomas Smith. Last year, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which allowed her to make a return trip to Armenia in order to engage with the host community who supported her original research.

When I returned to Armenia this summer for the first time in several years, I was confident that I would meet two out of my three goals.  I had proposed a project titled, “Articulating Ancient Lives,” in which I would engage academic and public communities in Armenia through an academic presentation of the results of my research at the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnography, collaborating on co-authored articles with colleagues who contributed information to the original dissertation research project, and a public workshop in the town Tsaghkahovit. It was this last component of community engagement that worried me.

Despite my trepidation, the public talk turned out to be productive and engaging for both local residents and archaeologists.  Over the past 16 years, local residents from this community have been indispensable participants in archaeological investigations at the nearby site of Tsaghkahovit, a site in central Armenia’s Aragatsotn province that hosted substantial human occupation in the Late Bronze and Late Iron ages (ca. 1500-1150 BC and 640-350 BC).With the organizational assistance of the mayor of Tsaghkahovit and the assistance of an Armenian translator, the public event was held in the community center at the Tsaghkahovit on July 25th, 2014. I was joined by two other members of Project ArAGATS, Dr. Lori Khatchadourian and Dr. Ian Lindsay, who also discussed the findings of their research at Tsaghkahovit. My goals were to share what we have learned about the ancient Late Bronze Age (LBA) community that once occupied their neighborhoods and in doing so to connect the past and present for community members by comparing their own experiences to the diets, diseases, and violence that people lived through in the past.  With this goal in mind, I decided to conduct a “hands on” learning experience by showing examples of arthritis, healed broken bones, cavities etc. on an individual excavated from the Late Bronze Age Tsaghkahovit cemetery.  Given the possible sensitivity to human remains, I was unsure how participants would react.  Yet, as soon as I started unpacking the bones and laying them out in anatomical position people walked up to the table and examined what I was doing.  It wasn’t long before the table was completely surrounded by young students asking questions and taking photos of each skeletal feature that I pointed out and avidly asking questions about everything from pathologies to determining the sex of a skeleton to preservation. In the formal presentation, I briefly discussed the human skeleton, bone chemistry, and what we can learn about societies from ancient human remains. While people related to the topics of dental disease and aging, how the individual was interred and traumatic injuries generated the most interest and prompted a discussion of how we might distinguish injuries sustained in an activity like boxing from those related to warfare or raiding. The workshop not only met, but exceeded my expectations, opening up a dialogue with the students about how they could get involved in our archaeological projects, while giving a teacher the opportunity to relate his own experience discouraging students from digging into the tombs themselves. The public forum thus gave community members a chance to communicate to the archaeologists some of their own feelings and interests in the ancient sites that neighbor their homes. We hope to build on this model with public outreach activities such as a community day and continuing discussions of how our research can contribute to local development and archaeological tourism.

the presentation at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Yerevan

The second part of the project consisted of an academic presentation coordinated by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (IAE) in Yerevan and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC) on July 29th, 2014 at the IAE. I presented the results of my Wenner Gren funded project on the biogeochemical analysis of human remains from Late Bronze Age and Iron I Period tombs excavated in the Tsaghkahovit Plain, Shirak Plain, and Sevan Basin in Armenia. The results of these analyses were used to reconstruct diet, specifically to distinguish types of plants (C3 versus C4 photosynthetic pathway) and animals (terrestrial versus marine) consumed, sources of the energy and protein portions of the diet, and tendencies toward herbivore or carnivore diets. In addition, movement was assessed based on the analysis of δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr. In the presentation I gave examples of how I have combined this information on movement and diet was combined with other osteological analyses such as disease, age, and sex to build rich biographies of individuals living in the LBA. While the issues of diet and mobility are central to LBA archaeology, the majority of comments that I received from the audience had to do with the potential of the bioarchaeological approach and biogeochemical analysis in the archaeology of Armenia.  The director of the Institute pointed out that this type of research on human remains had never been conducted in Armenia before and that he hoped not only that such research would continue but also stressed the need for Armenian students to learn from bioarchaeologists such as myself.

Through this combined engagement with both academic and public communities in Armenia, I was able to share the results of the first biogeochemical archaeological research in Armenia with the people who made the first stages of research possible and foster international collaborative relationships.  By demonstrating what can be learned about how people lived in the past from the bioarchaeological approach, I believe that an important first step was taken in creating an engaged community who is informed about and interested in human remains and their role in anthropological research.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Lisa Trever

Lisa Trever is Assistant Professor of Visual Studies in the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2010, while a doctoral student at Harvard University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Agency of Images: Mural Painting and Architectural Sculpture on the North Coast of Peru,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas Bitting Foster Cummins. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to Peru and organize a series of scholarly events and community-focused projects tied to her dissertation fieldwork.

My dissertation research project was an interdisciplinary study of wall painting, architectural configurations, and archaeological contexts at the Moche (or Mochica) site of Pañamarca (ca. 600–850 CE) on the north-central coast of Peru. This project consisted of archaeological reconnaissance, mapping, and excavation of ancient adobe temple walls painted with scenes of ritual processions, presentations of goblets, and mythological cycles of divine battles. Some of these mural paintings had been documented before, in the 1930s by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejía Xesspe and in the 1950s by American archaeologist Richard Schaedel and Italo-Peruvian archaeologist Duccio Bonavia. Others were discovered by our field project.

Lisa Trever and Peruvian archaeology student Lussiana Medina Apí excavating a mural painting at Pañamarca in 2010.

Once excavated, my project’s work with the murals entailed conservation, extensive documentation through photography, pencil drawing, and watercolor, and my own close art historical study of the form and facture of each painted wall. The data gathered from this project formed the foundation of my dissertation “Moche Mural Painting at Pañamarca: A Study of Image Making and Experience in Ancient Peru,” which I completed in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard University in 2013. This dissertation is a study of the Pañamarca mural paintings within the physical and social contexts of their architectural settings and the evidence for ritual activity documented in the form of material offerings within the painted temples.

I am now working with collaborators Jorge Gamboa Velásquez, Ricardo Toribio Rodríguez, and mural conservation advisor Ricardo Morales Gamarra to complete the book manuscript containing the complete findings of our fieldwork. The Archaeology of Mural Painting at Pañamarca will be published with a specialized press. At the same time, I am completing my own synthetic and analytical volume on wall painting and indexical evidence for ancient reception of and responses to painted images, tentatively titled Image Making and Experience in Ancient Peru.

Although these two publication projects are well under way, academic publishing of course takes time. It was thus very important for me to be able to return to Peru this year with the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation to begin to share the results of this project with academic and regional audiences there. The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to fly from San Francisco to Lima to present color photographs and prints of the watercolor illustrations of the murals that my project created to scholars and officials in the Ministerio de Cultura, the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, the municipal Museo de Arte de Lima, and the Museo Larco. Each of these presentations began a series of conversations that continue to bear fruit as we think collaboratively about how best to exhibit the results of this project in Peru in the near future and how to plan for the future preservation of the site.

Excavation of the painting of a Moche priestess on a temple pillar at Pañamarca.

From Lima I then traveled north six hours to the city of Casma, where the archaeological collections from our project are stored in the Museo Regional “Max Uhle” at the site of Sechín. There I was again able to present photographs and images produced by my project to the museum director. The Engaged Anthropology Grant also permitted me to support the museum and other archaeologists working in the region of Ancash by funding the construction of a new storeroom for collections on the grounds of the museum. Secure storage space is at a premium at this small regional museum, as at many others. The new space will be a real benefit to the museum and to other research projects working in the region.

Also while in Casma I was able to assess the conditions of the packaging and storage of our collections to ensure their long-term preservation. I took the opportunity to perform some conservation work on the feathered shield we discovered at Pañamarca in 2010. This work consisted primarily in rehousing the shield in a sturdy archival box and with acid-free paper that I brought with me from the United States. I also installed a temperature and humidity monitor within the storeroom. During this museum stay I selected carbon samples from our collections and began the process of requesting government permission to export them to the United States for radiocarbon dating. That process was completed in November and the samples are presently on their way to the laboratory for testing.

The feathered shield discovered at Pañamarca...

Traveling further north from Casma to Trujillo, I continued my series of meetings with archaeologists and conservators working in the area, including some members of my own project whom I had not seen in nearly four years. The culminating moment of this two-week visit to Peru was a public, Spanish-language, lecture that I gave to a standing room only audience on a Friday evening at the Museo de Arqueología, Antropología e Historia of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo. It was a tremendous honor to be given this forum to share the results of our intensive research project with colleagues, with anthropology and archaeology students, and with the community of Trujillo.

...and its new acid-free storage.

I am immensely grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for its support of these activities and continued conversations about this research with Peruvian colleagues and stakeholders. These conversations are still ongoing several months later, as we are making new plans for future endeavors, conferences, seminars, and publications. The Engaged Anthropology Grant gave me the opportunity to cultivate these relationships, which are essential to research and to our common mission to discover and make known as much as we can about the ancient American past and the cultural and artistic traditions of its people.

July 2014 lecture announcement in Trujillo, Peru

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dina Makram-Ebeid

Location of the former Helwan Governorate in Egypt. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Dina Makram-Ebeid is Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. She joins us today to relate her experience working with our Engaged Anthropology Grant in her fieldsite south of Cairo.

In December 2013 a large factory occupation took place at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company (EISCO) in Helwan. EISCO is Egypt’s largest fully-integrated public sector steel plant located in the south of Cairo. The December occupation was led by young workers that joined the plant from 2007 to work on temporary and daily-waged basis. The occupation lasted a month with demands raised ranging from receiving the unpaid sixteen months’ worth of bonus pay to the ousting of the CEO and the corrupt union. This was the largest collective action in EISCO since 1989, when workers staged a strike that ended with the state security storming the plant, killing one worker and detaining and torturing many, including members of the public who stood in solidarity. As a post-doctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany, I returned to my doctoral field site in Helwan, Egypt from August 2013 to May 2014 to conduct more fieldwork on labour politics during the revolution.  With the support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant I co-organised two workshops and an exhibition with my previous informants and with young members of the community.

The first workshop enabled the young generation of workers that led the recent occupation to exchange thoughts on their experience with the older workers who led the 1989 strike and to reflect on their demands, strategies and tactics. The exchange highlighted how each generation had different views on doing politics, which opened the space for more deliberation on the differences in opportunities and challenges each group had. Local academics, labour journalists and labour activists were present in various panels.

The platform allowed me to share with workers and others present in the workshop the findings of my PhD research, whose fieldwork I conducted on the shop-floors of EISCO and in the surrounding company town between 2008-2010. My PhD thesis focused on the place of the tenured work contract in public sector factories of Egypt, and how this form of contract comes to be a kind of potential property that crosses the boundaries of common understandings of “private property” and the “public sector.”  I looked at the fragmentation of the labour force along the lines of access to permanent employment and how it was central to the state’s reproduction of dispossession. My work highlighted how EISCO jobs were primarily bequeathed to children of existing workers, thus denying ‘outsiders’ access to stable work and conditioning them to a perpetual proletarian condition. I argued in my research that this ability to bequeath positions to children enabled steel workers to consider themselves part of the middle class, intensified conflicts between tenured and untenured workers in the locality and undermined the solidarities in labour movement. The thesis showed how the immaterial labour of expanding networks and relations is made into a resource that is part of calculations regulating labour regimes that turn what I called ‘the politics of stability’ into norm.

The research findings were thus discussed in the workshop hand in hand with strategies to build solidarity among workers. During the sessions we discussed how the legal modifications made by the state, including the new Labour Law of 2003, which introduced temporary and daily employment in public plants for the first time, created a politics around permanent work contracts and continued to affect collective politics in the plant. We also discussed the challenges in countering the practice of bequeathing permanent jobs to one’s children. The closing sessions located alternatives to the labour regimes that were instated under Mubarak and reflected on organising with more precarious workers outside EISCO. Together we learnt about the mechanisms of labour governance over the longue durée and came up with ideas on how to counter them in practice. During the workshop I also shared with workers documents that I had gathered for my PhD research and which could aid them in their struggle. The documents ranged from bylaws of the plant, to a book collectively edited by workers on the 1989 strike, to various legal and media documents around the 1989 strike. These proved quite helpful to those engaged in organising workers in the plant.

The second workshop included film makers, workers and young members of the community in Helwan. The members of the community were introduced to the basics of film-making, from filming with small devices to film editing and were encouraged to do their own films. Talented members continued to work on a low-budget film project about work politics in Egypt. The experience gave the participants the tools to document the injustices around them and to connect with those who have some access to mainstream media. A final photo exhibition of the plant was placed around the space of the first workshop. It enabled reflections by the group on labour histories, collective memories, and alternative imaginations. Overall the workshops and exhibition were a success, they acted as platforms for knowledge sharing, for reflections on the current predicaments and for imagining alternative futures.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Matthew Walls

A screenshot from Adobe Premiere of a young kayaker learning to throw a harpoon.

Matthew Walls is SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Arctic Archaeology at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology, and a recipient of the Engaged Anthropology Grant. In 2011, while a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Frozen Landscapes, Fluid Technologies: Inuit Kayak Hunting and the Perception of the Environment in Greenland,” supervised by Dr. Max Friesen.

“To me, it makes sense, and the meaning is there” one participant tells me, after reviewing a sequence of footage we have been working on (above). The scene we were watching is from 2010, and it shows him teaching harpoon throwing. This was is a typical moment in my engagement project, this summer, and we were in the final stage of editing a documentary film on Inuit kayaking. Using video clips from my doctoral project, the idea is to adapt my research and co-produce something of value to the community. It has been in production since 2011, and the Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to the towns of Ilulissat and Sisimiut in order to ensure that participants can hear their own voices in the final cut by opening the editing process to them.

The community I worked with, from 2009-2011, build kayaks and practice traditional skills as a way of exploring Inuit heritage. Specifically, they find meaning in the persistence of kayaking because the physicality of the skill involves forms of cultural and environmental knowledge that can exist only through practice. As an archaeologist, I was interested in the theoretical implications this idea has for understanding the relationship between people and materials through time. I conducted three seasons of ethnoarchaeological fieldwork which documented the process through which Inuit become skilled kayakers. In my dissertation, I argued that understanding how sensorimotor knowledge is constructed between generations allows for archaeological narratives that better emphasize the agency of skilled practice through time.

Co-editing the arrangement of a sequence.

As a partnership project, it was important for the community to have a voice in interpretation, and to produce materials they find meaningful and accessible. The film was one of several initiatives[i] to accomplish this, and the idea was originally proposed by an Elder as a way of creating something that would be valuable to future generations. Visual media was a prominent part of the research methodology, and this resulted in many hours of footage from interviews, community events, kayak construction, and training which could be used with informed consent. However, as I discovered, editing a film is a matter of weaving image and sound to create a narrative that smoothly conveys an intelligible message to the viewer. A challenge in assembling the film from excerpts was to ensure this process of selection and arrangement did not change the context of what participants had said or demonstrated. To navigate this, the film has been in a process of community review – as sections of the film were edited and sequenced, I showed them to participants via online streaming, which gave them the opportunity to comment and make suggestions for how it should be adjusted. This was a very slow but tremendously useful process, and over distance, it was possible to create a rough cut of the film.

So the Engaged Anthropology Grant gave me the opportunity to complete this process of co-production in person. Returning to Greenland this summer allowed me to show participants an assembled rough cut, to open the editing process to them by demonstrating how the software works, and to make changes together. This resulted in a number of significant developments in the film, ranging from small matters of arrangement to selecting new scenes of kayaking practices to match narration. In one case, a participant opted to re-record an interview to better capture his meaning. Language is a very important feature of the film – it will be in Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) with English subtitles – and during the visit, I reviewed the translations with participants who speak English, who helped me to refine them.

Opening the editing process to the community was also a chance to help develop their capacity to produce their own films. Through participating in the project, several community members became interested in the process of filmmaking and the possibilities it offers them for exploring and preserving kayaking heritage. For example, two participants are now making a film that documents different construction techniques, and another wants to make his own instructional videos about emergency rolls. During the visit, I spent some time helping them to get started with learning Lightworks – an open source video editing program. Returning to Greenland was also an opportunity to archive project materials in local museums, renew personal ties, and discuss possibilities for future research projects.

There are now some small edits and formatting necessary to complete the film[ii]; when it is finished, the community will be able to stream it in Kalaallisut online, and copies will be given to the kayak clubs and local museums.  I think that the finished film will achieve the goal of co-producing something with the community that will have value for future generations in Greenland. In reflecting on the project, it is interesting to see how important the film became as a way of doing the research. The collaboration and refinement it entailed was an important part of co-constructing an understanding of the knowledge involved in the skill. It was my first experience in creating a film, and I’m very excited to include it as a feature of future collaborations.



[i] Other initiatives included a new media project website in Kalaallisut and English (www.qajaq.utoronto.ca).

[ii] Sample scenes from the film can be viewed on the project website: http://www.qajaq.utoronto.ca/english_site/film_trailer/film_trailer.html

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Douglas London

Douglas London is Assistant Professor of Medical Anthropology at Adelphi University. In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Hunter-Gatherers and Dietary Double-Edged Swords: Food as Medicine among the Waorani Foragers of Amazonian Ecuador,’ supervised by Dr. Takeyuki Tsuda. In 2013, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up on his research with two Ecuadorian indigenous groups and the complex interactions linking their diet, health, and local economic activities. 

 

Engagement Grant Follow-Up to Study:

I.The Problem: The study, started in 2009, compared the diet and the health of the Kawymeno group of Waorani hunter-gatherer population still engaged in full-time foraging outside the modern food system with neighboring subsistence agricultural indigenous rain forest populations. The study focused on the pharmaceutical aspects (plant phytochemical content of their diet) rather than the nutritional aspects of their diet. There were major differences in health outcomes across the board; most of the infectious and chronic diseases present in neighboring indigenous farmers were completely absent among the Waorani hunter-gatherers. When confounding factors are controlled for study evidence demonstrated that particular aspects of the Waorani traditional diet protect against certain chronic and infectious diseases. Waorani that have abandoned their traditional diet now experience these dietary related diseases. Maintaining a traditional high dietary phytochemical intake has been discouraged by policies of oil companies, non-profits, government health and education institutions and Westernizing Waorani institutions themselves. However, many phytochemical-rich foods, such as rain forest fruit varieties, still exist near the Waorani but are just simply ignored in favor of processed and imported food. Unfortunately, westernizing Waorani are encouraged through example by their new Western role models, to discontinue their supposedly “primitive” diet. Informal dietary advice and food given to the Waorani by local Ecuadorians negatively affects health outcomes. This underlines the importance of making those institutions who provide dietary advice and food aid aware of the particular characteristics and striking health benefits of the native Waorani diet that is high in wild varied phytochemical and nutrient content that is lacking in a Western diet. Waorani are losing their foraging lifestyle due to the intrusion of oil companies and oil drilling in their rain forest homeland in previously protected Yasuni National Park.

Implementation: We were given a Wenner-Gren grant to disseminate study results with the overall goal of returning in person to the study site to start an ongoing dialogue with the Waorani, as well as Ecuadorian regional influencers and stakeholders in that region of the Amazon rain forest, regarding preservation of the tradition food system of the Waorani. Maintaining a traditional diet has been discouraged by policies of oil companies, non-profits, government health and education institutions and Westernizing Waorani institutions themselves. The Ecuadorian government has very recently giving the green flag to begin oil drilling in Yasuni national park one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world and our study site, a blow to global conservation efforts. However, armed with a small budget we wanted to make the oil companies, as much as possible, a part of the solution as oil companies officials pay for many Waorani schools, teachers, health clinics and health providers and provide limited food and employment while drilling. We had already participated in negotiations between the oil companies and the Waorani nation as a whole and through this process built up some trust with the overall Waorani population as a whole beyond our small Kawymeno community we focused our research on.

Regional visits and meetings took place in 32 remote Waorani communities, and attendant schools and health centers, as well as with local and national officials who oversee these regions. For almost two months study results were disseminated to remote Waorani communities and people most influential in affecting Waorani dietary decisions: oil companies, non-profits, indigenous representative groups, health and education providers and government officials. The goal was to encourage the preservation and recognize the value of the native Waorani diet. This also meant measures to provide continued access to the rain forest where the native food comes from. The practical emphasis of the meetings was on planting the seeds of potential future collaborations and projects with multiple stakeholder participation. Our regional “workshops” used food demonstrations, role-playing/theater, and a brief PowerPoint show where possible. In general we avoided lecturing as a medium as it is not effective with foraging communities and has less impact than more dynamic approaches for other stakeholders as well. We often had to perform on the spot with no preparation time. Our Waorani assistants and promotors often accompanied us

All these regional meetings disseminating study results and discussing the value of the Waorani native diet culminated in a conference to which both indigenous leaders and Amazonian regional and national influencers and stakeholders were invited. We set a tentative date early on during these regional meetings for a final conference to bring all the people we talked to together to form a blueprint as to how each stakeholder might participate in preserving and promoting the native Waorani diet. The conference took place in the regional capital Coca in the Hotel Auca, a hotel named after an earlier name given to the Waorani and generally sympathetic to Waorani concerns. Many indigenous leaders and regional educators, health providers, oil company and government officials, academics, non-profits and other stakeholders came.

Our goals were first to create awareness of the value of the Waorani food system and culturally appropriate ways to preserve the Waorani food system, second to generate respect for the Waorani culture via the food system and promote Waorani pride in their native diet, third to plant the seeds for future collaborations among the stakeholders to preserve the native Waorani diet. We felt we did create awareness of the value of the Waorani food system where there was previously little understanding or interest in the native diet. We also made some headway with arranging collaborative for future projects through bringing together stakeholders that rarely meet on the issue of food system preservation. Stakeholders we contacted are now more aware of the health value of the Waorani diet where before it was not considered an important issue. In reality we needed more time, money and a longer more permanent presence to make lasting change to avert the destruction of the food system that is occurring. Beyond this grant lifespan we plan to continue research, dissemination and building relationships in this Amazonian region of Ecuador

Conclusion: Wenner-Gren funds anthropological projects that go beyond studying the indigenous group and get to what matters in real life, making use of what is learned in way that really helps the people studied. An academic product discussing the lessons learned from the study returned in a written form to indigenous leaders and stake holders is a culturally inappropriate vehicle to create positive change in the local region. While benefiting the anthropologist this method of research dissemination often has no immediate useful impact on the actual indigenous participants in the study. Wenner-Gren engagement grants go the next step and give back something tangible to the indigenous participants who so generously give time to the researchers. It is hoped that more researchers will dedicate time to giving to as well as receiving from their indigenous partners and Wenner-Gren will continue to be a leader in making anthropology more relevant to the real world problems and issues.

Bottom Line: We personally feel for anthropologists to fare well in what is a changing world and appear relevant to our audiences and supporters at home and abroad we must move with the times and practice more community development along with research. We are grateful Wenner-Gren is taking a leadership role and hope more funding will be available for community development component of research. Anthropologists will move with the times to go beyond being “activists” to becoming implementer of the things we hold dear such as the preservation of global human diversity. Paid to work closely with indigenous groups we have a unique opportunity to make a difference. Our upcoming article funded by Wenner-Gren describes a pilot methodology we hope is useful in helping other anthropologists to become implementers in the preservation of diversity.

 

  • London D. (2014) Melding data collection methodology with community assistance: benefits to both researchers and the indigenous groups they study. Journal of Ecological Anthropology (in print)

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amy Moran-­Thomas

Diabetes is the leading cause of death nationwide in Belize, making its realities part of an emerging global epidemic.

Amy Moran-Thomas is Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Brown University, specializing in the areas of global health, medical technology, and environmental change.  In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at Princeton University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘An Anthropological Study of the Experience of Parasitic Infection and Diabetes in Belize,’ supervised by Dr. Joao Biehl. This year, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in the Central American country of Belize to publically share and discuss her research findings about metabolic disorders, focusing in particular on people’s negotiations of causality and care within the emerging global diabetes epidemic.

Three and a half years is a long time to be gone, and it was somewhat disorienting when I first arrived back in Dangriga in July 2014. Some of the people I had known best in Belize were now missing—absences that loomed large when passing homes where friends formerly resided, or locations where we had once talked. In an epidemiological sense, I realize that these deaths are painfully unsurprising (though each one always surprises and shakes me anyway). Yet at least on statistical scales, these losses remain not only predictable, but numerically probable: diabetes, the primary condition that I focused on investigating during my fieldwork about experiences of chronic disease in Belize, has now become the leading cause of death nationwide.

My research in 2009-2010 examined this fast-growing issue, by charting people’s experiences of metabolic disorders in the southern Stann Creek District of Belize. Over time, I came to see these realities also as an ethnographic lens on the larger diabetes epidemic emerging in much of the world today, providing insight into some of its deep challenges and human costs: the complications of negotiating care amid overlaid chronic and infectious conditions; the global political ecologies now contributing to these rising rates of disease, alongside the social fabrics of care that patients turn to in addressing them; and people’s actual treatment experiences amid systems where medical technologies often moved in and out of reach.

Opening presentation of "Experiences of Diabetes" public workshop in Dangriga, Belize (August 4, 2014).

This Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to Belize in the summer of 2014 for the first time since my dissertation fieldwork concluded in 2010, to share and discuss my research findings with Belizean experts and communities who contributed to the project—including local patient groups, government doctors and policy makers, variously positioned caregivers, national intellectuals, and individual patients and families who had worked with me. I began the return trip by revisiting these actors in Dangriga, and also reaching out to several community leaders and local organizations that I was coming into dialogue with for the first time. I additionally visited government offices in the capital of Belmopan, and found myself engaged in very generative discussions about my findings with officials from the Belize Ministry of Health as well as from the Institute for Social and Cultural Research. These collaborative meetings helped lead up to the key event of my trip: a public workshop that I organized in Dangriga, planned in collaboration with Southern Regional Hospital, the Belize Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Culture and History, and Help Age Dangriga.

The workshop took place in the newly refinished ground-floor conference room of Dangriga’s Ecumenical College on August 4, 2014. By a stroke of luck, it turned out that the Dangriga branch of the Belize Diabetes Association (which was not active during the time of my fieldwork) had rebounded since then, and my stay coincided with one of their Saturday gatherings. Several members kindly invited me to make an in-person announcement about my upcoming workshop during their meeting the previous week, which helped build a great crossover audience. I was surprised and honored to see a more sizable group than I had anticipated the afternoon of our workshop. Among the participants were diabetes caregivers; community leaders and prominent cultural advocates; and people actually living with the chronic conditions under discussion.

To kick off our conversation, I gave a brief presentation about my fieldwork and main research findings. I was concerned that examining chronic disease treatment in Belize as such a complicated picture might be disconcerting for people living with these conditions—but interestingly, unlike some pushback I’ve gotten from U.S. academic crowds when discussing these ambiguities, the audience in Dangriga seemed unsurprised on this front, for example offering lively additions to fill out my list of the expensive market prices of vegetables (after all, they knew these difficulties better than anyone, after living with them for years). The distinguished physician who had mentored my fieldwork offered some generous commentary to help open things up, and we launched into what turned out to be an hour-long group brainstorming session that peeled back many layers of interfacing domains of care: pills, herbs, vegetables, farming, cooking, ritual, policy.

Many insights and questions that the group generated deftly linked granular exchanges (such as sharing notes on diabetes-friendly cassava recipes) with macro-realities (such as the astute comment that our Ministry of Health report wouldn’t be able to go very far in changing these constrained nutritional realities unless their office also dialogues with the Ministry of Agriculture, to explore national policies that might sustain more robust vegetable production).  Another terrific suggestion included the idea of creating a national recipe contest, as a way of sparking interest in the “Belizean Cooking with Diabetes” project we discussed together. We wondered, could this effort snowball into something that might eventually be assembled and disseminated more widely—perhaps an open-source recipe website or even a collaborative publication—so that people with diabetes didn’t feel faced with a choice between the foods that would keep them healthy, and the foods that many felt most connect them to a sense of family and identity?  And more broadly, how might we conceive of tinkering not just with care and education, but also with actual economies of available foods and medicines? Is there some way it might be possible to treat not only patients, but also the political ecologies and unhealthy agricultural systems that make people’s work of survival unnecessarily difficult?

Overall, this collective workshop felt less like the final stage of a completed project, and more like a provocation toward continuing engagements ahead. I am deeply grateful to all of the people who gathered to talk and think with me during this return trip, and for the Engaged Anthropology Grant that made this sustained conversation possible. It is equal parts unsettling and exciting to realize that I am not just observing how new collectives are taking shape around these chronic health issues in Belize, but also becoming a collaborator with perhaps some part still to play in this unfolding story.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ozlem Goner

Ozlem Goner is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at The College of Staten Island – CUNY. In 2010, while a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘History in the Present: Historical Consciousness and the Construction of Otherness in Turkey,’ supervised by Dr. Joy Misra. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Dersim Province, Turkey.

My dissertation research analyzed multiple histories of a series of massacres the state undertook in Dersim, and revealed formation and transformation of outsiderness through direct and indirect, experienced and imagined, past and present forms of historicity. Since I conducted my research, various collective memory projects have introduced new discourses and silences about historical narratives. My engagement project involved sharing my dissertation work with the host community at a time when their history is being narrated in more formulaic and exclusive forms. To this end, I revisited my narrators in various districts and villages of Dersim during which we interpreted the conclusions of my dissertation together. I also organized a workshop among the local researchers who have worked on similar issues to promote a dialogue among different collective memory projects and to make these projects more transparent to the host community. Moreover, in its reinterpretations, history is often mobilized to understand the current relationships between the state and subaltern populations, such as the continuing dam and mining projects, which threaten the livelihood of people in Dersim. This engagement project provided me the chance to participate in various discussions with academics, local researchers, political actors, and local residents, and present how ethnographic research can contribute to more participatory solutions.

This engagement project was based on my dissertation research where I looked into the formations of outsiderness in Turkey, produced simultaneously by the state and by those groups whose identities and memories lay outside of the boundaries of the nation. I focused on the multiple historicities of a series of massacres the state undertook in Dersim, a municipality in Turkish Kurdistan, in the late 1930s, referred in local language as hirusu hest, and the ways this historical event has been silenced, remembered, and mobilized by different actors in formulating outsider identities and movements over time and space.

Because I was interested in the ways history has been lived, conceptualized, and mobilized by different actors and movements, I analyzed both the silences about the hirusu hest, as well as the reconstruction of the event through recent attempts at constructing a more organized collective memory. Different from indirect forms of history, collective memory involves visible processes of selection and representation of narratives over which institutions, political groups and movements have been competing.

My engagement project was most timely at this moment when a more organized and selective form of history about “hirusu hest” is being written in Kurdistan, Turkey and Europe, which has introduced new mechanisms of selection and silencing. This project provided me the chance to share my own research on historical narratives with the host community and researchers.

I started my engagement project by visiting the villages in all the districts of Dersim sharing my work with the narrators of my dissertation research. This was really meaningful because my narrators expressed feelings of being left out of the recent process of collective memory construction. They mentioned that several researchers had visited them over the past three years without “ever getting back in touch”. Moreover, since I conducted my dissertation research, political groups have been involved in mobilizing the memories of witnesses, claiming the authority over interpretation of historical narratives. Especially my narrators in remote villages of Dersim, such as the mountain villages of Ovacik, which were displaced in the 1990s, had no connections with the recent commemorative ceremonies and rallies about hirusu hest. Visiting my narrators in their villages, sharing the end products of my research with them, and hearing their comments and interpretations in this context was a highly fulfilling experience. I would like to thank the Wenner Gren Foundation for providing me with the resources to accomplish this ethical obligation.

Second, I organized a workshop with local researchers, who have been “collecting” memories of hirusu hest. In addition to enabling me to share my research experiences with the local researchers, this workshop was a step for making research projects on hirusu hest more transparent to the host community. Among the participants were Ozgur Findik, a local researcher who directed two documentary projects about the massacres and forced displacements in Dersim in the 1930s, Devrim Tekinoglu, a journalist, publisher, documentary maker who have worked both on hirusu hest and the village displacements in the 1990s, and Cemal Tas, one of the first researchers to conduct interviews on hirusu hest and the director of the Oral History Project organized by European Federation of Dersim Foundations.

The workshop took place both in Turkish and in the local language to make it available to the generation who witnessed the massacres and who hardly understand Turkish. The workshop ended with the showing of different documentary films in respective nights, two on hirusu hest and one on the dam projects in Dersim. This was the most popular component of the workshop since the visual material was more approachable by older and younger generations alike.

As a component of my dissertation research, and based on the questions I was receiving from my narrators, I also got engaged in a project of understating “hirusu hest” in relation to the current problems in Dersim: the continuing effects of the state terror of the 1990s, as well as the dam projects on Munzur River and mining projects in the mountains, undertaken by the state in cooperation with private companies. My dialogues with the researchers, the more political actors and the villagers made me understand research as an ethical and political process especially in subaltern places. Hence as a part of this engagement project I started to work with an activist lawyer who is working with villagers who are threatened by the hydroelectric power plants and mining projects.

The final component of my project is making my research available for the host community for the long term. Dersim does not have any archives or museums to display academic or art work. Since I did not have enough funds to undertake a large-scale project, I contacted the municipal government and the local researchers about founding of a small anthropology and oral history museum in Dersim through a display of my ethnographic research in different forms. My research involves archival material, as well as photographs, videos, and a documentary project prepared with the artists and directors. I received consent from my narrators and made copies of my research material. I also obtained copies of documentaries and art work produced by local researchers and artists. This material that will be presented at a space provided by the Municipal Government starting with late fall.

 

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.