Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kirby Farah

Ceremonial hearth

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

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

Xaltocan Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vitrine containing the objects recovered from the ritual deposit.

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

Kirby Farah speaks to opening ceremony attendees about the exhibit.

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

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Karen Allen

Costa de Pajaros viewed from above

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

Notes from a brainstorming session in Costa de Pajaros

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

Presentation by Bellbird Biological Corridor coordinator in Santa Rosa

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

Presentation on behalf of the Sendero Pacifico in Santa Rosa

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

View of Santa Rosa from above

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

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Evren Dincer

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.[1] 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.

[1] 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

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jacob Doherty

Image 1: Small-Scale garbage collectors use customized equipment to reach hard to reach low-income neighbourhoods at affordable rates. How could these services be integrated into official waste management systems.

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.

Image 2: Using recycled plastics, ECOaction created a mobile art gallery to stage a pop-up exhibit. Background: art installation by Reagan Kandole.

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

Image 3: Photo elicitation image: “Sometimes it smells badly, because there are many things, different things, which they throw there. When you are eating and you feel a bad smell, you can’t get a good appetite. I feel uncomfortable because you can even catch some diseases from there because there are so many things in there.”

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.

Image 4: The model showing an integrated waste management system for Banda, centered on small-scale collectors and waste re-use projects.

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

Image 5: ECOaction team members interviewing a plastic collector.

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.

Image 6: A workshop discussing the possibility of forming a co-operative to facilitate pooling collected materials and a scheme to save collectors’ earnings.

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.

Image 7: ECOaction Plastic Collectors attending the exhibition read their biographies.

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

Image 8: Plastic collectors check the weight on scales as their collections are pooled together to sell.

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.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Rabia Harmansah

Exhibition space

In 2011, while a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, Rabia Harmansah received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Social Forgetting in Post-Conflict Landscapes in Cyprus” supervised by Robert M. Hayden. In 2018, Dr. Harmansah had the opportunity to share the results of her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to organize an exhibition titled “Remembering Forward: An Anthropological Exhibition on Shared Sacred Spaces in Cyprus.”

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.

Exhibition opening night

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.

Rabia Harmansah and Aslı Tanrıkulu in front of the exhibition space

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.

Visitors at the exhibition

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.

Visitors’ comments on the

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.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jane Lynch

Image 1

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.

Image 2

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.

Image 3

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).

Image 4

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.

Image 5

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.

Image 6

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).

Image 7

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.

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Engaged Anthropology Grant: Madhura Lohokare

Siddhivinayak College Workshop III

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:

S.P.College I

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.

Siddhivinayak College Workshop IV

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:

Panels on Mapping Small Businesses

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.

Panels of Recipes and Street Food Places in the Neighborhood

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:

  1. Mapping small businesses in the area
  2. Highlighting the language (slang) used by people in the neighborhood
  3. Documenting caste-specific recipes in this neighborhood
  4. Documenting the ten best street food joints in the area
Exhibition I

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.

Exhibition II

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.

Exhibition III

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.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Eric Hirsch

Papelote describing critiques of the Desco NGO’s 1.5-year sustainability projects at the Lari Workshop

In 2013 while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Eric Hirsch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Investing in Indigeneity: Development, Promise, and Public Life in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley,” supervised by Dr. Justin Richland. Upon receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2017 Dr. Hirsch was able to return to Peru to aid engaged activities on “After Development: Reconsidering Investment’s Promises with Participant Testimony”.

“After Development” was an engagement project I carried out in June and July of 2017, run in collaboration with local partners in the villages of Lari and Yanque in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley. For this project, I asked a small selection of Lari and Yanque residents that had been participants in one of the region’s many small-scale environmental and economic sustainability projects to offer their feedback on those projects in six workshops. Their audience consisted of former contract employees of the Center for the Study and Promotion of Development (or Desco) NGO who had worked on short-term development projects in these two villages. Most of those NGO projects, including one I followed as part of my original Wenner-Gren-supported research, lasted between 1.5 and 2 years and had ended in the region by late 2014. The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to pay people for their labor time attending the workshops and to leave each village workshop group a set of digital voice recorders.

A focus group debates the core elements of their project idea

The six workshops that I organized in collaboration with villager and NGO-staffer partners allowed me to triangulate dissemination of my ethnographic data on the sustainable development investments I followed in those villages with two key activities: (a) critical reflections from people who had received sustainability investments, capacity-building, and supervision for the length of a locally typical 1.5 to 2-year project, about how they felt those projects’ impacts three years later; and (b) the listening and feedback of the development institution staff members that oversaw those investments but were now unaffiliated.

The workshops were broken into three components. First, I described my research. I told my workshop audiences that I had lived in the Colca Valley between 2013 and 2015 to assess the local implications of the rather sudden global idea that indigeneity was a development asset and a key to ecological well-being, after it was long seen within Peru as a liability to be suppressed. I traced the ways that the promise of profitable indigeneity was put to use in NGOs like Desco and other projects that populated the region since the mid-1990s. I also described how my research focus built on older literature on sustainability, participatory development, and NGOs to discern a linkage between the Andes’ small-scale entrepreneurship investments and the region’s new large-scale extractive expansionism rooted in the idea that the Andean region was a space of abundance.

Project ideas from three small villager focus groups

The second component of our engagement workshop consisted of partner interviews and focus groups in which former participants voiced their critiques of the projects they were part of between 2013 and 2014. Their testimonies, recorded in digital files, in my field notes, and in marker on papelotes (see image), revealed important aspects of the impacts of NGO intervention. The NGO’s main investments took the form of seed capital for entrepreneurs. We found that 50% of participants were still building the enterprise the NGO helped them set up in 2013-2014 three years later. In my discussions with Fabiola Dapino, one of the former Desco staff members who took part in the Lari workshop, she was ecstatic that the number of continuing entrepreneurs was so high—atypically high, in her analysis. However, we also found that a limited infusion of seed capital was not on its own enough support for new entrepreneurs. Those who had not continued a venture for which they had received project support reported that “we didn’t have enough money.”

Project ideas from three small villager focus groups

This second component of the workshop revealed the unsurprising correlation between pre-project income and the persistence of project-supported entrepreneurial ventures. But it also elucidated that the highly visible presence of NGO projects in the region during the earlier part of this decade created the false hope that infusions of investment for economically viable indigenous-branded tourism, retail, and agricultural ventures would inevitably lead to market success. This was a critique that former NGO employees at the workshop acknowledged without pushing back. Indeed, based on that critical testimony, Ms. Dapino has begun work on a memo to her NGO-based colleagues with recommendations seeking to improve project design.

More broadly, in our discussions nearly all workshop participants reported feeling abandoned by short-term NGO projects. Not only did participants describe them as too brief to exert fundamental economic or environmental change. They also lamented the exit of Desco’s projects as the organization faced its own scarce funding.

Project ideas from three small villager focus groups

Third, villager groups spent the last days of the workshop constructing their ideal version of a future local project that would in their estimation improve village life. While the former project participants were liberal with their eviscerating critiques of the 1.5- to 2-year projects, their own projects proposed improvements but were far from structurally transformative.

Former Desco NGO employee Fabiola Dapino offers her perspective

They proposed familiar NGO-style projects, intervening with more generous budgets, increased attention from a sponsoring investor organization, and an emphasis on having villagers themselves initiate project design instead of offering “input” at the end of the “participatory” planning process. Unchanged was their emphasis on the development of a tourism industry and of charismatic crops for export such as quinoa; uninspected was a faith in entrepreneurship and markets. This apparent lack of transformative ideas was a surprise especially given the burgeoning scholarly conversations about the rise of adaptation tactics, community-level transitions, and post-development alternatives in places where conventional growth is meeting its environmental limits.

However, a second surprising finding from the villagers’ ideal project design session perhaps explains the first: the workshop was so familiar as an interactional genre whose hierarchies and prescribed participant structures perpetuated a specific template of incremental technocratic change. I had hoped to use the workshop format to subvert, or at least openly question, the hierarchies between urban-based technocratic NGO employees and rural villagers. What resulted, instead, was a critical but still hierarchical listening session.

Yanque workshop participants, with certificates

Ultimately, workshop participants were significantly more critical of the fact that NGO projects were so short and involved only minimal formal follow-up, and were now leaving the region entirely, than they were of the flaws and blind spots of specific projects. As I continue my engagement with Lari, Yanque, and other Colca Valley communities, my new research questions and future collaborations will build on that last finding from the Wenner-Gren workshop as an inquiry into how villagers are working through challenges to their economic and ecological well-being in the wake of a wave of development projects.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Asmeret Mehari

Mzee Matimba giving a speech during opening ceremony for the poster exhibition

While a doctoral student at the University of Florida Asmeret Mehari received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on “Decolonizing the Pedagogy of Archaeology in East Africa,” supervised by Dr. Peter R. Schmidt. In 2016 Dr. Mehari received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Toward Neighborhood Dialogue: Archaeology, Paleoanthropology, Oldupai Museum, and Community Development in Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge, Tanzania”.

I envisioned this engaged anthropology project in collaboration with Dr. Kokeli Ryano from the University of Dodoma to focus on encouraging neighborhood dialogue among researchers, museum professionals, and local communities in Tanzania. We conducted the project in Dar es Salaam and Oldupai Gorge to fulfill three objectives: 1) collaborating with local professionals, 2) engaging the Maasai community of Oldupai Gorge in northern Tanzania, and 3) communicating research results to the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Department of Archaeology and Heritage, and to the Antiquities Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. We fulfilled all objectives; however, this project mostly took place in Oldupai Gorge, home to the Maasai and a place of pilgrimage for numerous international tourists and researchers interested in human origins and development. Thus I share here our experience from Oldupai Gorge.

In 2010-2012, using historical and ethnographic inquiries, one of the four themes I examined in my dissertation fieldwork was: the role of African scholars in decolonizing and transforming archaeological practices and its pedagogies in Tanzania and Uganda, particularly in improving relationships with local people who reside in areas of interest for archaeological research and field school projects.  The research result suggests the need to continuously problematizing and localizing archaeology, critiquing and transforming national heritage institutions, redesigning archaeology curricula, and holding dialogues with local communities[1].

We used Oldupai as a case study since it has been an area of archaeo-paleoanthropological interest for almost a century; thus, the most researched and visited archaeo-paleoanthropological site in Tanzania. Of course, its status as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), and its 50-year old on-site museum – the Oldupai Museum, all validate our choice. Despite such reputations, the relationship between the Maasai community and researchers (archaeologists and paleoanthropologists) as well as the Maasai residents and the Oldupai Museum remained uninvestigated. Furthermore, Oldupai Gorge has neither access to formal education nor medical facilities. Maasai residents have two additional challenges: malaria and, during dry season, shortage of water.

Kokeli Ryano presenting archaeological and paleoanthropological perspectives to community members

In 2011-2012, we witnessed these challenges. Using their native language, Maa, we interviewed members of the Maasai community to understand their perceptions, reactions, and expectations of archaeo-paleoanthropological practices and practitioners. The main understanding of the community is that researchers obtain something precious, take it to their countries far away, sell it, and gain wealth. The research outcome shows continuity of colonial legacies that exclude the Maasai from sharing scientific knowledge and from fully involving them in research projects and the museum. Despite these alienations, Maasai community supports archaeo-paleoanthropological research projects and the museum. The community has strong desire to know the apparent mystery of archaeo-paleoanthropological practices and related disciplines as well as their roles in local socio-economic and educational empowerment. Maasai residents particularly emphasize the role of researchers (including us) in assisting them in obtaining access to education and finding solutions to lack of medical services, malarial problems, and water shortage. They also demand equal rights to scientific knowledge, employment opportunities and payment, full participation in archaeo-paleoanthropological activities, access to higher education in these disciplines, and direct involvement in the Oldupai Museum. As the host community, they expect global archaeo-paleoanthropological research communities, academic institutions, funding organizations, and the government of Tanzania to incorporate their rights and their needs.

In 2011-2012, we promised to partially fulfill the community’s request by presenting and publishing. We presented at three international conferences and published the research findings in an edited volume[2]. We also promised to come back and share our findings at Oldupai Gorge. Thus, we designed this engaged anthropology project and returned to Oldupai in August 2017 mostly to fulfill that promise.

We stayed with the Maasai community in Oldupai for fourteen days and in Arusha for three days to accomplish the second objective. This objective had several sub-objectives (share printed photos with the community, meet museum staff, produce informational posters, bring water for and have dialogue with the community). Mama Leken, our host, advised us to go to the river since most people spend their days at the gorge searching for water. At the Oldupai River we met people we knew and some we never met before. They were digging holes to get unsafe and unreliable water from the basin of the gorge, giving water for their sheep and goats, or washing their clothes. There we introduced the purpose of our visit and the objectives of our project. We managed to distribute most the photos taken in 2011-2012 at the gorge, at the museum, during the market day, and by visiting some families at their homes. Sharing photos helped us to reconnect with the community quickly, to recall the time we shared, and to not feel strangers.

Community members fetching water at Mturi Camp

The second sub-objective was to reconnect with the Oldupai Museum staff and to attract active participants and collaborators from the museum to achieve the third sub-objective: producing informational posters for the community. The museum staff were extremely busy preparing for the opening ceremony for the new museum. Instead, we are grateful for Mr. Emmanuel Saning’o Telele (Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) staff, Mr. Orgoo Mauyai Oloisolo (Oldupai Museum Conservator), and Mr. Emanuel Gabriel Tonge (the Olbalbal Ward counselor) for organizing and attending a meeting at the NCAA headquarters. In the meeting, we discussed the content of our project and the role of NCAA in achieving it. The NCAA and the Oldupai Museum gave us a blessing to proceed the project and provided access to water storage and a truck for transporting 20,000 liter water for the community.

The community also organized several meetings: two meetings with sub-village leaders, one meeting with community members and leaders, one meeting with local representatives who participated in the production of posters, and another meeting with community members, leaders and museum staff. In the two meetings with sub-village leaders, we introduced the project and discussed the content of the book chapter in Maa language. We were thankful for their time and excitement, and the leaders were grateful to know the research result and the project’s objectives. They had a different opinion on the budget we had for water funded by Wenner-Gren. They wanted something sustainable, building a room for kindergarten or clinic. We discussed this concern at the NCAA headquarters meeting; however, we were informed that the community needs to have a permit from NCAA. The sub-village leaders organized a community meeting. They introduced us and our project, and asked community members to vote for bringing water or building a room for kindergarten. The community was also aware of the challenge of obtaining construction permit on time so we opted for water and buying eight tarps for covering the currently open-air community kindergarten.

In the same meeting, the community elected Mama Leken and Mzee Zebedayo as local representatives to collaborate with us in the poster production. After several individual and group meetings with Mzee Zebedayo and Mama Leken, we read and discussed the published chapter with them in Maa. This gave the local representatives an opportunity to understand and review the research result and to know the role of Wenner-Gren, the NCAA and the Oldupai Museum in this engaged anthropology project. We also discussed what we intended to include in the posters and the budget for producing posters, for community get-together, for bringing water, and for buying tarps for the kindergarten. The community members appreciated the whole idea of sharing research results as well as having budget transparency. Considering the local transportation problem, the local representatives advised us we buy the food for the get-together as we go to Arusha to print the posters.

In Arusha we prepared and designed informational posters in three languages; English, Swahili, and Maa in collaboration with two local volunteers, Sandey and Leken Olle Moita, the Children of Mama and Baba Leken. They live in Arusha, and they wanted to participate. They especially helped us in editing the Swahili and Maa versions. Sandey also played key role in buying the food needed for the get-together and in presenting the poster to the community at Oldupai Gorge. The posters provided the community basic information about archaeology and paleoanthropology in order to properly understand disciplinary perspectives and to share the research result from 2011-2012.

The last sub-objective was to have dialogue with the Maasai community and the museum staff through poster exhibition and get-together. The community decided to open the poster exhibition at Mturi camp. It was opened by having a one-day festivity with the community and museum staff, which involved cooking and eating food together. In the meeting, we distributed the eight tarps bought for the kindergarten and two copies of the above mentioned edited volume donated by the Publisher, Routledge: one copy for the Oldupai Museum and another copy for the community. The four-day poster exhibition facilitated discussions with the community and Museum staff to obtain an up-to-date information and to serve as a foundation for future community engagement and development projects. As token of appreciation, the NCAA brought 20,000 liters of clean water and Wenner-Gren funded for 35,000 liters. In 10 days, local leaders distributed 55000 liters of water for about 80 families who reside in the area. At the end of the project, we left the posters in English and Swahili at the Oldupai Museum, and the poster in Maa with the community. We left Oldupai Gorge on August 29.

This project allowed Maasai community to engage in research feedback. It provided museum staff, antiquities staff, and university faculty a venue to express their opinions about our research approaches and results. Some practitioners heavily criticized the research result. They thought we fabricated what we wrote in our book chapter or that our informants are outright liars. What we learned from this journey is the challenges that can be encountered doing an engaged anthropology project. We will discuss these challenges in our upcoming book chapter. We are grateful for all numerous kinds of support we received from different stakeholders.



[1] 2015 Teaching and Practicing Archaeology in East African Universities. Dissertation thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

[2] 2016    Mehari, A. G. and Kokeli Ryano. Maasai People and Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge: Looking for sustainable people-centered approaches and practices. In Community Archaeology and Heritage in Africa: Decolonizing Practice. Peter R. Schmidt and Innocent Pikirayi (eds.), pp. 21-45. London, Routledge.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Cassandra “Beth” Scaffidi

Interviews from "Understanding Archaeological Context from Looted Sites: A North American Perspective on Site Looting in Peru."

In 2013 while a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University Beth Scaffidi received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Networks of Violence: Bioarchaeology of Structural Violence and Imperial Articulation in Middle Horizon Arequipa, Peru,” supervised by Dr. Tiffiny Tung. In 2016 Dr. Scaffidi received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Pathways to Preservation: Understanding Archaeological Looting in Arequipa, Peru Through a Cloud-based Collaborative Database and Public Outreach Film”.

During my dissertation excavation in the Majes Valley, in the Department of Arequipa in Southern Peru, our team encountered evidence of severe tomb robbing at our site—we spent considerable time excavating soil probes, shovels, and cleaning looter refuse, even at the bottom of 2-meter deep excavation trenches. The looting at my site is typical for preservation throughout the valley; practically none of the previously documented archaeological sites in the valley are intact. The extensive looting prompted this project, which sought to discussions with stakeholder communities about the role of artifact provenience in the construction of scientific knowledge.

Many of the conversations about looting among archaeologists and cultural heritage professionals have debated themes like economic motivations for looting, site conservation, and international law enforcement efforts. In contrast, this project explored specific ways that the disruption of archaeological contexts in Peru has impacted the capacity of archaeologists, bioarchaeologists, and archaeological chemists to interpret data from looted sites. The project aimed to engage stakeholder communities throughout Peru in two ways: first, developing a crowd-sourced database for documenting the extent of site damage, and second, by distributing a short film explaining how looting impacts archaeological knowledge.

Wenner-Gren funding supported travel with a professional film crew to Lima and Arequipa, Peru to interview North American researchers. So far, we have recorded over six hours of interview footage and four hours of B-roll. First, we travelled to the World Mummy Congress in Lima, in August of 2016, and interviewed mummy scholars. We learned that many of the mummies in museum collections throughout Peru are from looted sites. With recent advancements in isotopic and molecular analysis methods, our ability to extract useful data from looted human or animal tissues has improved, but in many cases looting leads to contamination that precludes successful laboratory analysis.

We then traveled to Arequipa to meet with researchers excavating a looted settlement in the nearby Siguas Valley. Those interviews illuminated the complex ways that archaeological knowledge is constructed; in this case, through two periods of scientific excavation (in the 1940’s, and then again in 2014-2017), punctuated by looting episodes. This continued pillaging undermined interpretation of architectural features, in both excavations. We also met with a Majes Valley TV station director and arranged for local distribution of the final piece. During my time at my field site, Peruvian members of my team helped me to distribute hard drives full of artifact photographs to two local high schools for use in their curriculum.

Back in the US, we turned to the Curator of Archaeology at the Denver Museum of Art for a museum perspective on looting. She discussed the impact of fakes and looted objects on or understanding of material culture. More interviews are planned during the coming year in the US. We plan on distributing the final 20-minute version, subtitled in Spanish, to Peruvian media organizations and cultural heritage non-profits early next summer.

From our filming efforts, I learned about some of the challenges and benefits of integrating digital media into research. Anthropologists getting started with film in the field can benefit from some of our mistakes. Be aware that, even with a one-person crew using a light-weight kit, luggage can be bulky and expensive. The streets of South American cities and crowded combis pose challenges in transporting bulky film gear to a site. Also, multiple takes are often required—2-3 hours is a minimal requirement to set up, interview, and break down—for only a minute or two of usable footage. The more footage a team acquires, the longer the editing process will take, from backing up and pre-processing data, to laying out complex timelines and compressing files for final distribution. Finally, ethics codes of our professional organizations and IRB processes limit who can be interviewed. Nonetheless, film and digital media are excellent tools for conveying complex information quickly to audiences of various ages, as well as those who cannot access or consume print media.

Wenner-Gren funding also permitted me to field test the crowd-sourced looting database with the ArcMap Collector app for IOS and Android devices. The field tests of the database showed immense promise: anyone with a cell phone or Ipad and an institutional license to ESRI products (commonly used in archaeological fieldwork) can download the database, collect looted site GPS coordinates, collect attribute data on the nature and extent of looting at the site, and upload that data to a constantly-updating cloud-based group map. The need for an expensive license, however, is restrictive, and I am continuing to test free and open-source apps that would allow the public and Peruvian colleagues to contribute to the database. Furthermore, in the coming year, I will be looking for input from archaeologists throughout the country to better understand what additional observation fields should be included in the database. I am eager to invite archaeologists working in Peru to begin collecting these data soon.

The efforts of US researchers and professionals to educate the public and prevent archaeological site looting face significant challenges in the current political climate. While the US Department of State and the Peruvian government recently renewed their 1997 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to restrict importation and repatriate archaeological and historical objects into the US, the plan to withdraw from UNESCO jeopardizes future international cooperation and potentially, the legality of current MOU’s. Because the burden of documenting the extent of looting may soon shift entirely to researchers and stakeholder communities, empowering these communities to understand and document site damage is more important than ever. These pilot projects are just the beginning of comprehensive outreach and research endeavors. The database and film will be the centerpieces of future training workshops in Peru, and they can serve as models for similar cultural preservation efforts in other countries. Researchers interested in participating in the Peruvian Archaeological Site Tampering (PAST) database, or in receiving the final film for outreach or teaching purposes can contact the author at bethkscaffidi@gmail.com.