Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Robert Samet and “Engaging Journalism”

Robert Samet is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Union College. In 2008 while a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Writing Crime: Journalism, Insecurity, and Narratives of Violence in Caracas, Venezuela,’ supervised by Dr. Sylvia Junko Yanagisako. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant.

One year ago Venezuela was at a crossroads. The death of President Hugo Chávez altered the country’s political landscape and there were questions about what the future held. Today it is in crisis. Soaring inflation, plummeting oil prices, and scarcity of goods have helped fuel frustration and political unrest. No one feels the current predicament more than Venezuelan journalists. My dissertation research (2007-2009) examined the press and the politics of urban violence in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. It used crime reporting as a window onto the dynamics of political engagement among journalists, editors, and media owners. I applied for the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to conduct a series of follow-up workshops during the summer of 2014 about the promises and perils of engaged journalism in these times of political uncertainty.

As I prepared for the workshops, it became apparent that the environment for journalism in Caracas had changed dramatically since my last visit in 2013. Political polarization is nothing new in Venezuela; however, there was a heightened sense of professional precariousness among journalists working in both the public and the private sectors. There were good reasons for this. Over the past two years, government proxies bought out many prominent opposition news outlets. This accompanied a wave of firings and retirements, which have shaken the profession. When I began research on journalism in Caracas in 2006, it was arguably the most robust, open, diverse, and politically dynamic media environment in the world. Although reports that “press freedom” is dead in Venezuela are premature, there is no doubt that the space for journalistic engagement has constricted considerably. This should be cause for concern not just for the opposition but for the government as well. Auto-critique was essential to the success of the Bolivarian Revolution, and its gradual disappearance is foreboding.

What kinds of journalistic engagement are possible under the current conditions? Workshop participants discussed a number of different definitions and strategies for engagement, which I highlight here.


I. Definitions of Engagement

Over the course of the workshops, journalists offered three different definitions of engagement: engagement as confrontation, engagement as collaboration, and engagement as solidarity. By far the most common definition was engagement as confrontation. Journalists saw themselves as advocates for ordinary citizens against the wrongdoings of powerful persons and institutions. In this capacity, it was essential for journalists to engage publicly with the problems facing the country. However, this particular mode of engagement was becoming increasingly fraught. Consequently, journalists had begun thinking about engagement as collaboration with audiences and their peers.  This took the shape of online forums and reciprocal strategies with other journalists. Finally, some workshop participants argued that professional solidarity was a third way to think about engagement. Journalist unions were crucial to the continued protection of the profession and could offer a mode of engagement that sought to preserve the integrity of their work.


II. Outlets for Engagement

1)     Denunciation: In the past, the practice of denunciation was the principal means by which Venezuelan journalists attempted to exercise influence over the political arena. Among crime journalists, denunciations took the form of victims’ testimonies against police corruption, gang violence, and government neglect. It was widely agreed that editors, pressured from above, had begun cracking down on this practice. Although journalists believed that denunciation remained one of their most powerful tools for political engagement, they agreed that it had become necessary to reserve it for only the most extraordinary cases. Whereas before it was common to publish denunciations that were not backed by strong investigation, such testimonies now demanded hard factual evidence. Some even said that this was an improvement over past practices in which the press used victims to launch ad hominem attacks. 

2)     Online engagement: Although Venezuelan journalists have been using social media for as long as their peers in North America (especially Twitter and Facebook), the current situation has amplified the importance of online communities as sites of journalistic engagement. Workshop participants identified three main developments. The first was the rise of peer-to-peer engagements with readers. More than ever, journalists found themselves responding directly to comments and queries from audiences. The second was the incorporation of citizen journalism into the practice of professional reporting. Reporters said that readers and viewers were important sources of information with whom they increasingly collaborated. Third and finally, there was a boom in for-profit online news outlets. Journalists had some hope that these new outlets might at least temporarily make up for some of the license that they had lost in other spheres.

3)     Professional Organization: Within the newsrooms, unions and professional associations were a critical tool of empowerment. In particular, the workers’ unions played a strong role in protecting journalists and fostering professional solidarity. Although reporters were openly divided on the prospects for activism on the part of these unions, it was clear that they were an important locus for journalistic engagement.

4)     Collaboration: Finally, a group of crime reporters argued that collaboration between reporters was also a form of engagement that was too often overlooked or demeaned as “pack journalism.” Among crime reporters, journalists from competing news outlets worked together to cover stories and often shared information. Responding to my own writings on this subject, they pointed out that working in teams allowed them to be more thorough in their investigations, to engage more thoroughly with the victims of crime, and to cover a much larger swath of material than would otherwise be possible.


In addition to debates about journalistic engagement, the workshops also provided an opportunity for the participants to offer comments and critique on the research that I conducted with the help of the Wenner-Gren Foundation (2008-2009). Two of my current chapters were translated and circulated in advance. They provided a platform for a grounded conversation about what has changed and what remains the same in the field. The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant afforded the rare opportunity for research participants to offer feedback on the framing and execution of the book manuscript in progress.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Socializando “Guerrilla Marketing” in Colombia


Alex Fattal is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University. In 2009, while a Ph.D. student at Harvard, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Guerrilla Marketing: Information Warfare and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels,’ supervised by Dr. Kimberly Susan Theidon. Last year, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant, enabling him to return to his fieldsite in Bogota and share his research with the community that hosted him. 

Over the course of late July and early August 2014, I traveled to four cities in Colombia to share the findings from my dissertation research, Guerrilla Marketing: Information War and the Demobilization of FARC Rebels with Colombian scholars and policy-makers. That research was funded in part by the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Dissertation Fieldwork Grant.

I presented my conclusions in a political context in which peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have reached an advanced stage. Provisional agreements have been signed for three of the five agenda items. This made my research into the individual demobilization of FARC combatants all the more germane to my audience. I shared my work at four different universities: La Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín, ICESI Universidad in Cali, la Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, and the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. The audiences were very engaged in my presentations, often asking lively questions about Colombia’s much-anticipated “post-conflict” future.

Much of the discussion that my presentations generated spun around the implications of my research for the current peace process in Colombia, and how representational practices are playing a crucial role in the political struggle to support or undermine the peace process. Although it is an ongoing story, one of the primary conclusions from the discussion was that the Santos Administration needs to do a better job of communicating the progress that is being made in the negotiations, rather than assuming a reactive posture to those who have cast aspersions on the process and doomed it to failure.

I also extended my engagement with Colombian audiences, as planned, with a few regional and national media outlets. In addition to the presentations I gave interviews to campus media groups, and local and national media outlets such as El Universal and Semana. I only hope that I was as articulate as I implored the government to be. I advocated for a radical reorientation of the current model of demobilization in anticipation of the collective demobilization to come. (I have crystallized my policy recommendations in a paper I put together with Colombian colleagues here).

My thesis research also included a documentary film project that is in the middle of production. I shared a very rough cut of that visual ethnography in each of the four cities. The film, Dreams from the Concrete Mountain, enters into the psychological worlds of former combatants who have been both perpetrators and victims of the country’s ongoing civil war. The film project centers on a series of interviews with former insurgents inside of a truck that I have transformed into a camera obscura. That space becomes an intimate place for recounting life trajectories entangled with the social problems that are the root causes of the conflict, and the armed confrontations that are its most visible symptoms. Audiences were intrigued by the filming technique and impressed the direct style of narration, stories they might have heard before but through the words and framings of experts and others who speak as surrogates for ex-combatants. The dialogue that emerged around the film gave me a series of ideas as I continue to shoot and edit this project, and injected me with enthusiasm that the project is fulfilling its main goals: to humanize and complicate the figure of the former guerrilla fighter.

I am extraordinarily grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for enabling me to share (or socializer, one of my favorite Spanish words) with Colombian scholars, students, and policy makers. I would like to acknowledge the help and support of my hosts at the Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad ICESI, Universidad del Norte, and Universidad de los Andes, more specifically the colleagues that helped make it happen: Jonathan Echeverri (Antioquia), Inge Valencia (ICESI), Diana Rico (Norte), and Pablo Jaramillo and Monica Espinosa (Andes).

Engaged Anthropology Grant: ‘Medicine, Morality and the Market: A Workshop’

Denielle Elliott is a member of the Health & Society faculty in the Department of Social Science at York University. In 2008, while at the University of British Columbia, she received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to  aidresearch on ‘Safari Research and Field Science: The Spatial Politics of HIV Vaccine Clinical Trials in Kenya’. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow up her research by returning to her fieldsite and conducting a multidisciplinary two-day workshop in Kisumu, Kenya to discuss the ways in which medicine, morality and market values are entwined.

This collaborative workshop between Maseno University’s Department of Anthropology and myself aimed to offer an opportunity for local Kenyan scholars to discuss the ways in which medical research is conducted in East Africa. The Kisumu region in the province of Nyanza in Kenya was called a “laboratory” by Dutch NGO Wemos, reflecting the amount of medical research being conducted in the area by foreign organizations like Liverpool University, the Wellcome Trust, the CDC, the US Army’s Walter Reed Project, among others. This massive assemblage of research in the area has multiple, sometimes contradictory, effects on local communities and organizations providing care and health services to Kenyans.

Our collaborative workshop offered a space for creative, productive, and engaging conversations about medicine, the global flow of capital, and local unintended effects of medicine and the market on values, culture, and morality. More importantly, participants in the workshop felt comfortable talking openly and critically about both the positive and negative consequences of medical research in western Kenya.

The workshop was held at Maseno University’s City Campus, in Kisumu, Nyanza, Kenya December 9   and 10 2014. We had papers delivered by 12 participants (faculty and graduate students from East Africa), 35 people in attendance, and the keynote was given by Professor Omar Egesah from Moi University in Eldoret.

Dr. Omar Egesah’s keynote discussed the politics of global aid and humanitarianism, and highlighted  local tensions in the ways in which aid and global health research are rolled out in East Africa. They keynote offered many questions for debate and discussion during the questions period. The themes he raised – inequities, ethics, and local governing structures – were revisited throughout the workshop in both discussions and the papers being delivered. In many ways, the workshop worked towards decolonizing medical research in Kenya by shifting the power relations in who gets to define local health and research priorities.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Strengthening female political leadership and orphan interventions through community-based research

Break time with queen mothers of Manya Krobo Traditional Area during the Community Engagement Workshop (June 2013)

Bright Drah is an independent scholar based in Alberta, Canada. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Crisis Fostering in an Age of HIV/AIDS: Experiences of Queen Mothers of Manya Krobo, Ghana,’ supervised by Dr. Daniel W. Sellen. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant

The Community Engagement Project (the Project) is in follow up to my 2008-2010 Dissertation Fieldwork on orphan foster care by queen mothers (traditional female leaders) in the Manya Krobo Traditional Area (MKTA) of Ghana. After disseminating the preliminary findings of the fieldwork in 2009, ‘orphan stakeholders’ (queen mothers, government officials, NGO executives, community leaders, health, education and social workers and journalists) requested that actions be taken to address the challenges identified by the study, especially to empower queen mothers and improve the wellbeing of orphans. They suggested that the empowerment process be facilitated by a “neutral person”, other than queen mothers or chiefs.

Queen mothers’ are responsible for the wellbeing of their citizens, including orphans. Their work is conducted through the 371-member pseudo-formal Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association (MKQMA). Unfortunately, the members do not make the decisions that govern the MKQMA; they cannot independently elect their leaders and the leaders are not directly accountable to the members. Rather, the paramount chief (Konor) and leader of the traditional authority has the final authority in appointing leaders.

Consequently, queen mothers are unable to challenge their leaders on issues such as abuse of power. In essence, they are frustrated by this sense of powerlessness. They assert that the  governance structure is “unfair”, however, any attempt to change the status quo is misconstrued as disobedience to the traditional authority. The situation is exacerbated by mutual distrust and infighting among the members and apathy towards the MKQMA. A strong MKQMA is critical because it enhances the position of queen mothers as leaders and advocates. It is also a channel for soliciting and distributing kin- and non-kin support to queen mothers and orphans.

In May-June 2013, I facilitated four workshops in MKTA to help empower the MKQMA. The objectives of the workshops were to increase dialogue between chiefs and queen mothers, promote queen mothers’ participation in MKQMA and increase the MKQMA engagement with the citizens.

Increased dialogue within the traditional authority, and increased community participation in local politics, could enhance political leadership and create opportunities to improve wellbeing.

Forty representatives from organizations that participated in the fieldwork attended the workshops. Of these representatives, 25 were from MQKMA and 15 represented government and non- government/community-based organizations. Chiefs were informed, but not invited to the workshops because queen mothers felt the chiefs may intimidate them and takeover the process. The Konor gave his approval for the workshop and agreed to implement the workshop recommendations.

I divided the participants into four groups. Using the processes of brainstorming, free-listing, consensus building and priority setting, each group identified and prioritized the leadership challenges facing the MKQMA and recommended remedial actions. The results from each group were presented to the other groups for further discussion and re-prioritization. The fourth workshop focused on helping participants to learn about the use of projective techniques to discuss sensitive topics with children.

The participants identified challenges relating to governance, membership, leader-member relationships and MKQMA-community collaborations. They recommended that the MKQMA must focus on enhancing its leadership and promoting the wellbeing of queen mothers, including re-establishing their welfare scheme. They contended that achieving these goals will enable queen mothers to address the needs of orphans. They recognized the importance of the traditional political authority and recommended that they develop innovative ways to continually engage chiefs and build stronger partnerships. They, however, recommended the separation of the governance of MKQMA (a ‘formal’ organization) from the governance of queen mother (a traditional political institution). Separating the two institutions would mean that the MKQMA will no longer be under the direct control of chiefs. This will allow queen mothers to make their own decisions. Specifically, they will determine the criteria for leadership and membership and establish the responsibilities and benefits of membership.

Participants also recommended that MKQMA be governed by a written constitution and decisions be based on consensus. They also stressed the importance of two-way accountability, where members treat leaders with respect and support them to implement programs, and the leaders are directly accountable to the members. They listed the qualities of a good leader as transparent, respectful, humble and tolerant. They preferred leadership that is committed to improving the wellbeing of queen mothers, values the freedom of expression, sets high moral standards and actively engages queen mothers and stakeholders.

Overall, the Project provided a ‘non-customary’ approach to empowering female leaders and engaging with their citizens to consultatively develop strategies to empower queen mothers. It enabled queen mothers, who belonged to different factions and have not worked together in a long time, to brainstorm and reach consensus on how to provide efficient and effective leadership to their communities.

The participants were very satisfied with the workshop; they will participate again in similar workshops and will apply the workshop approach to their work. The queen mothers said they have been encouraged by the workshop and that encouragement will help to build their self-efficacy, self-image and self-awareness. They stated that the lessons learned from the workshop and the implementation of the recommendations will help them to transform the MKQMA from a male-controlled group to an association owned and managed by queen mothers for the benefits of their citizens.

The inclusion of stakeholders other than queen mothers is significant. It allowed the queen mothers to focus on the issues affecting MKTA instead of their personal interests. It also created opportunities for partnerships between MKQMA and other groups to share expertise and best practices to improve wellbeing in MKTA. This was demonstrated when social workers and community leaders volunteered to help queen mothers write the MKQMA constitution and establish a welfare scheme.

Engaging the Kiowa Community: A Collaborative Approach to Sharing Research on Historical Consciousness and Intellectual Property Rights


Betty Washburn and her son Kendall Washburn, descendants of Set-tainte (White Bear), renewed their ancestor’s Red Tipi in the 1990s. Since then, the Chief Satanta White Bear Descendants have put up the tipi at a number of events, including the American Indian Exhibition and the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Reenactment. The tipi serves as a mobile monument to Set-tainte.

Michael Jordan is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Texas Tech University. In 2008, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Descendants’ Organizations and Cultural Heritage in Kiowa Society,’ supervised by Dr. Daniel Charles Swan. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his fieldsite and share his research with the community that hosted him. 

In 2013, I received a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to conduct outreach and engagement activities with members of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.  The project built upon research that I conducted with Kiowa descendants’ organizations in 2008 and 2009. As outlined in my dissertation, “Reclaiming the Past: Descendants’ Organizations, Historical Consciousness, and Intellectual Property in Kiowa Society,” these grassroots organizations are primarily concerned with celebrating the memory of their nineteenth century ancestors and preserving and perpetuating Kiowa cultural practices that they deem “endangered.”  The project consisted of two distinct components, each designed to increase awareness and stimulate debate regarding topics that are of concern to Kiowa descendants’ organizations and which have emerged as central to my own research.

The first component focused on the development of a collaborative exhibition at the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Museum in Carnegie, Oklahoma.  Interpretive material was developed in consultation with members of Kiowa descendants’ organizations and members of the Kiowa Cultural Preservation Authority, which operates the museum.  I worked particularly closely with Amie Tah-Bone, Director of the Kiowa Museum, and Phil R. Dupoint, Kiowa Tribal Historian.  The resulting exhibit, Reclaiming the Past, drew heavily upon interviews that I conducted during my dissertation fieldwork.

Kendall Washburn at the 2009 Satanta Days event in Satanta, Kansas. Kendall received the name Set-tainte (White Bear) from his grandfather, Clarence Sankadota, who had also carried the name. Clarence was the great grandson of the original Set-tainte, who died in 1878. Set-tainte’s oldest son, Grey Goose, was Clarence’s grandfather. Kiowa naming practices was one of the themes addressed in the exhibit at the Kiowa Museum.

The exhibit consisted of seven text panels.  An introductory panel discussed my dissertation research and introduced the themes that would be developed in the exhibit.  A second panel addressed the topic of historical memory, focusing on the way in which members of the Kiowa community commemorate and celebrate figures and events from the late nineteenth century.  Descendants’ organizations and their efforts to preserve Kiowa cultural practices and the Kiowa language were highlighted in the third panel.  The next three panels focused on martial exploits, Kiowa naming practices, and painted tipis.  War deeds, names, and tipi designs are all considered forms of intellectual property in Kiowa society.  The panels documented how descendants’ mobilize their ancestors’ intellectual property in contemporary contexts.  The final panel discussed my dissertation research and the current exhibit as the latest chapter in a long history of cooperation between members of the Kiowa tribe and anthropologists.  Admittedly, it would be possible to develop an exhibit on any one of these topics and it is my hope that future exhibits at the Kiowa Museum will explore these themes in even greater detail.

The exhibit opening was held at the Kiowa Museum on Saturday, September 28, 2014 and was attended by over sixty community members.  Kiowa elder Raymond Tongkeamha, a member of the Chief Satanta White Bear Descendants, opened the event with a prayer.  Following this, I presented a talk, discussing the history of my involvement with the Kiowa community, my dissertation research, and my findings.  A reception held to celebrate the opening of the exhibit offered an opportunity to answer community members’ questions about my research and to distribute copies of my dissertation to interested community members.

Dr. Michael Paul Jordan and Bambi Ware Allen (Comanche, Kiowa), Curator of the Southern Plains Indian Museum. In August 2014, the Southern Plains Indian Museum in Anadarko, Oklahoma hosted Dr. Jordan’s presentation “Reclaiming the Past: Art and Historical Memory in Contemporary Kiowa Society.”

In addition to developing the museum exhibit, I presented a series of public lectures exploring aspects of my dissertation research.  Early on, I decided to focus on the nexus of historical memory, materiality, and intellectual property rights.  The talks examined how the descendants of nineteenth century Kiowa warriors honor their memory by creating works of art that incorporate their ancestors’ tipi designs and depictions of their martial achievements.  I argued that through their artistry, descendants sought to assert their ties to prominent historical figures and to foster a vision of the past that highlights their ancestors’ contributions to the physical and cultural survival of the Kiowa people.

While one of the lectures was held in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit at the Kiowa Museum, the three remaining lectures targeted members of the Kiowa community who live outside the immediate vicinity of Carnegie, Oklahoma.  I selected Anadarko, Norman, and Tulsa as venues for these lectures because each boasts a significant Kiowa population.  The lectures were hosted by the Department of the Interior’s Southern Plains Indian Museum, the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, and the Philbrook Museum of Art.  In addition, the lecture in Norman was co-hosted by the Jacobson House Native Art Center.  The lectures provided me with opportunities to share the results of my research with members of the Kiowa community who might not have an opportunity to view the museum exhibit.

While the focus of the Engaged Anthropology project was on disseminating the results of my dissertation research, it also paved the way for future collaborative endeavors.  During the exhibit planning stages, I worked closely with members of the Kiowa Cultural Preservation Authority and the staff of the Kiowa Museum.  As the project came to a close, we sought to harness the energy and momentum that we had developed.  Ultimately, we decided to apply for a Smithsonian Institution Recovering Voices Community Research Grant.  Furthermore, the museum exhibit and lectures heightened Kiowa community members’ interest in their nineteenth century ancestors and their intellectual property.  The renewed interest in these topics is likely to translate into future research opportunities.

The success of my dissertation research hinged on the support of members of the Kiowa community and I will forever be indebted to the Kiowa people who shared their knowledge and insights with me and who made a place for me in their lives.  I am likewise indebted to the Wenner-Gren Foundation, which along with the National Science Foundation and the Whatcom Museum Society, funded my dissertation fieldwork and then made it possible for me to return to the Kiowa community to share the results of my research.

Conservation, Knowledge, and Collaboration in the Maya Biosphere Reserve

Micha Rahder is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Satellites and Senses of Place: Local Perceptions of Remote Sensing in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve,’ supervised by Dr. Andrew Matthews. Three years later, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awarded her the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which allowed her to return to her fieldsite in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) and share the fruits of her research with the community that hosted her.

In Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR), the largest protected area in Central America, the line between success and failure is never entirely clear. My research addressed the intersections of violence and inequality with technoscientific knowledge production, conservation decision-making, and environmental governance in the MBR. I wrote about how knowledge moves unevenly, with unexpected scale jumps and shifts of meaning between contexts. Sometimes it does not move at all. With support from a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned to Guatemala in June 2015 to report the results of my research to the remote sensing technicians, conservation NGO staff, and local community members who supported my fieldwork in 2011-12, and found my own knowledge caught in the same dynamics I had been describing. Successes and failures, shifts and gaps.

Focused primarily on technicians in a state remote sensing/GIS lab and staff of a US-based conservation NGO, my dissertation analyzed how technoscience is embroiled with deeply felt desires for clarity on a landscape characterized by uncertainty and rapid change. A portion of the fieldwork for this project, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, extended my ethnographic focus from state and NGO actors to investigate the perceptions and impacts of remote monitoring and conservation in communities inside the reserve. I found that the violence and political paranoia that characterize post-civil war Guatemala are deeply entangled with the production and interpretation of scientific knowledge about its landscapes and people. Paradoxically, this official knowledge can facilitate collaboration across social and political difference, while also reinforcing those differences and their embedded power dynamics.

The tension between the necessity of working together and structural and epistemological barriers to effectively doing so is one that people living and working in the reserve struggle with on a daily basis, and I designed my Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology project with this tension in mind. I planned a series of small workshops with different groups – conservation NGOs, GIS technicians, and members of two local communities – to present my results and use activities to generate discussion, reflection, and feedback within familiar and trusted groups.

The first workshop, with staff from two conservation NGOs, generated the most discussion and the most tension. Familiar with anthropological critiques of conservation, some entered the room ready to defend themselves, then expressed surprise at the analytical focus on the challenges and questions they confront in their daily work. Many attendees were glad of the opportunity to step outside their often frantic daily rhythms to reflect on broader dynamics affecting their decision making, while others – particularly the Directors of the NGOs – requested more applied, concrete suggestions, even when addressing enormous structural issues. One anonymous comment read: “political interests prevent recuperating the MBR, how do we eliminate that problem?”

Staff of a remote sensing/GIS lab work on a series of discussion prompts in pairs as a warm-up activity after the presentation.

The remote sensing and GIS technicians, in contrast, were less interested in applied suggestions and more interested in discussing ideas about objectivity, the politics of knowledge, trust, and communication. Given that the vast majority of studies in the MBR focus on reserve residents, both NGO staff and monitoring technicians strongly noted – mostly with pleasure and curiosity – the shift in gaze that turned them from those watching and analyzing to those being studied. That this shift was greeted positively itself reflects the differences in social position, power, and access to knowledge that structures relations between conservation actors and local communities.

In contrast, in my presentation to the first village – a small community with a sustainable forest concession in the reserve – discussion focused largely on the dynamics of knowledge extraction that shape villagers’ relations to outside institutions. While community members harvest wood and non-timber forest products from their concession, institutions and independent scholars (including myself) harvest data from the village – data that travels around the world but is rarely reported back to villagers. Those in attendance were strongly aware of this dynamic, and excited that I had simply come back to report results – even before delving into the details. Those at the workshop were most interested in understanding where knowledge about their village travels and what purposes it serves, and how they might gain access to more of these data, studies, and reports. They were curious about what it is like to work in conservation institutions, and spent time discussing in depth how their village and concession fit into the larger landscape and political dynamics of the reserve, a broader perspective that they are rarely invited to engage.

Members of a village with a community-managed forest concession fill out anonymous response cards.

Yet true to the difficulties of working in the MBR, these successful workshops were balanced with failure. The planned fourth workshop, for a Q’eqchi’ Maya migrant village located inside a National Park, fell apart due to a complex set of coincidences, miscommunications, and troubling dynamics. I ultimately learned that some organizations – especially political parties, as it is an election year – have been directly paying community members to attend meetings, making voluntary attendance at events like mine increasingly difficult to maneuver. In the end, I prepared and sent a short document instead, inviting further communication and engagement. However, that this village – the most marginalized, vulnerable, and structurally disadvantaged site from my research – was the one in which I did not hold a workshop, is troubling. While the failure was beyond my control, it ultimately replicated the same dynamics of exclusion that I critique in my research, rather than providing a space to address them as the workshop was intended to do.

The resulting gap in response, feedback, and discussion from members of this community will be further amplified as I take this work forward – at least until I wrangle another opportunity to visit. I am currently brainstorming future engagement possibilities and preparing recommendations and guidelines for distribution to a wider set of local actors, based on the discussions and commentary raised in the workshops I did conduct. It is deeply frustrating to become caught in problematic structures and dynamics even when working to undo them, a frustration familiar to anthropologists and conservationists alike. Yet, as those working and living in the MBR also recognize, it is worth the fight even when you lose. Siempre en la lucha. 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Pnina Werbner

Pnina Werbner is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Keele University. In 2009, she received the Post Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ”’The Mother of All Strikes’: Politics, Law and Vernacular Cosmopolitanism in Botswana’s Public Service Unions’ Activism”. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and share her findings with the public sector unionists who hosted her and academics and policy makers in Botswana. 

Labor Songs Reverberate in the University of Botswana’s Library Auditorium

It was never going to be easy. Botswana may be ranked the No. 1 country in Africa for transparency but, equally, it probably comes first in snail-pace implementation: procedures, committees, consultations and long deliberations precede any action, so my aim of bringing together learned academics from the University of Botswana with manual workers for a public debate on ‘Inequality in Botswana’ was clearly a challenge demanding imagination, tact, patience and perseverance.

In fact, once we got our team together – myself, Elsinah Botsalano from the Manual Workers’ Union, Dr Sethunya Mosime from the Department of Sociology and Prof Patricia Makepe from Economics, we were unstoppable. As I watched workers stand up to sing their labor songs in the hallowed surroundings of the University of Botswana’s magnificent library auditorium, songs filled with gallows humor and deep emotion, I knew that our efforts had been vindicated – that the ivory tower had been breached not only intellectually but bodily and experientially.

Unionists sing a song mocking Ian Khama, invented during the public sector strike.

It was important for the unionists that the proceedings should open with a prayer and a string of labor songs, as all union meetings are, and should close with a giant spread of delicious food, like all events in Botswana are, an essential feature of any gathering, or so I was told in no uncertain terms when I suggested, somewhat hopefully, that tea and cake might be okay. The debate was opened by the National Chairman of the union, who had travelled especially to the capital all the way from Serowe, and closed by the General Secretary. People were introduced and thanked according to protocol by Dr Mosime, who welcomed the audience on behalf of the University, and Professor Makepe, who chaired the event, trying desperately, against the odds, to keep time (12 minutes for each of the six debaters, clearly a futile hope).

The Business Weekly Review, Friday, 6-12 March 2015, Pages 12-13

The challenge of holding a debate organized jointly by the union and the university became apparent soon after I arrived in Botswana when I met the head of Sociology. He claimed to be ‘busy’ and saw no benefit for the department, he said, from such an event, reducing it, despite my denials, to a mere ‘launch’ (of my book, The Making of an African Working Class: Politics, Law, and Cultural Protest in the Manual Workers’ Union of Botswana, Pluto Press, 2014). He did finally agree to participate and to book the hall, only to announce soon after that he was ‘unavailable’ on the very day he himself had chosen.

So began a dance of shadows. It was only after he delegated the organization of the debate to an energetic junior colleague that the university’s participation was assured. The union too wanted a book launch. In the end, we compromised by having the launch right at the end of the event, following the debate.

Mobilising speakers was another challenge and the programme kept changing as speakers accepted, changed their minds or were unavailable after repeated telephone calls. As well as academics, we wanted representatives of the judiciary, Ditshwanelo, the human rights NGO, the trade union movement and the employers’ association. We needed urgently to print a poster and distribute it throughout the University and to the various unions and their workers well before the date chosen. But the poster was held up as speakers changed their minds and university managers demanded the correct logo, which had changed, changed again and then reverted to the original. Each step on the way was another hurdle.

the final poster.

The final letter of invitation to speakers stated that

Inequality has become the central topic of discussion and concern worldwide, even raised at the World Economic Forum at Davos 2015. In Botswana there has been a recognition of the problem of poverty but little public discussion of the widening inequalities between rich and poor, and the implications this has for our society. We hope to kick off this central debate.

…. The panel will include some six distinguished trade unionists, academics and public figures, each of whom will speak for about 10 minutes. This will be followed by refreshments and an open discussion with audience participation, before the book launch. … The event, supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is open to everyone and we expect it to attract a wide spectrum of trade unionists, academics, students and other concerned citizens.

The Manual Workers’ Union had bought 75 copies of the book, and was in the process of distributing these to unionists and supporters among the great and the good in Botswana. I was not involved in the distribution, but Elsinah also gave copies to the speakers at the debate. On the actual day, we waited on tenterhooks for the debaters and audience to assemble. At the very last minute, Judge Dingake announced his withdrawal, claiming it would be unseemly for him to launch a book that had praised him (see below). Our anxiety mounted. Where were the other speakers? One by one, they trickled in, Tobokani Rari, Secretary General, Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU), rushing in last, straight from a union federation meeting about the bargaining council. Gradually, the audience assembled. While we waited, we put up a slide show of the public sector strike on the screen behind the speakers.

Standing for the national anthem.

Academics from the University were last to arrive. As it turned out, however, there was no need to worry – this was just another instance of Botswana’s tradition of time keeping. The 200-seat auditorium filled and speakers spoke solidly for two-and-a-half hours, followed by questions from the audience. There was still time for a sumptuous buffet spread, served by a crew of charming young trade unionists. The book launch was managed by the University Bookshop, which sold out all its copies. This in itself was an achievement, since getting the book posted from the publisher in England turned out to be a challenge in its own right.

The debate got quite wide coverage. The Botswana Daily News, distributed free throughout Botswana at government, municipal and civic offices, carried a picture of me with Elsie Alexander, a speaker at the launch well-known for her gender activism, which (rather unexpectedly) highlighted the ‘activist’, ‘feminist’ message of the book. Perhaps the most flattering remarks, at least for me as an anthropologist, came at the end of the debate when the Secretary General of the MWU, Ms. Maophala Makgosi, speaking in Setswana, thanked me for helping the union to know more about itself.

The Botswana Daily News, Friday, March 6 2015 No. 44, Page 12

By the time the debate was over we were all exhausted and needed time to recuperate. Elsinah, who had been a moving force in helping to organise the debate at the university, was now involved full-time with the public sector bargaining council. It took time to convene another workshop, this time the subject being the ‘Aftermath of the Public Sector Strike’. The workshop was chaired by the Union’s National Chairperson himself and it was an exclusively in-house affair, which gathered together all the elected representatives of the Gaborone region, some thirty in all. The result was an exciting, even unprecedented, brainstorming session which went on for two hours – a serious conversation among union activists, without any set agendas or need to reach any definite plan for future action, who found in the workshop a rare moment to reflect upon themselves and the union. I spoke briefly. This time, tea and cakes sufficed.

I (and Wenner-Gren) owe a special debt to Elsinah Botsalano, below in the red dress. Without her all the events described in this blog would not have been possible.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sara Safransky and “Detroit: A People’s Atlas”

Uniting Detroiters land justice and community mapping meeting. (Photograph by Gregg Newsom)

Sara Safransky is an assistant professor of geography in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid in research on “Breaking Ground: Urban Farming, Property, and the Politics of Abandoned Land in Detroit,” supervised by Dorothy Holland. During her dissertation research, she co-developed an engaged research project called Uniting Detroiters with Linda Campbell, co-director of Building Movement Detroit, and Andrew Newman, assistant professor of anthropology at Wayne State University. In 2014, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to Detroit to aid in engaged activities on one of the Uniting Detroiters key projects called Detroit: A People’s Atlas. In this blog, Safransky describes how her dissertation research led her to become involved in Uniting Detroiters and the scope of the Atlas project.[1]

Detroit faces a land crisis that is without parallel in a U.S. city. City officials classify a staggering 100,000 lots – or one-third of Detroit’s landed area – as “vacant” or “abandoned.” In 2010, then Detroit mayor David Bing launched the Detroit Works Project, a contentious planning process that aimed to “right size” the city – or fix the so-called spatial mismatch between surplus land and a reduced population. Arguably the most radical reimagining of a modern city to date, Bing suggested that service delivery go to neighborhoods considered to have market potential. Meanwhile, the areas with less potential for development would be repurposed as urban farms and wilderness zones. The proposal seemed predicated on the incorrect idea that depopulated areas were empty.

One does not have to be in Detroit long to recognize that official and popular media categorizations of land as “vacant” or “abandoned” obscure more than they reveal. First, “vacant” land in Detroit is not vacant in the psychological sense because it is layered with deep feelings of historical loss and racial injustice that haunt the metropolitan region. Second, vacant land is not vacant in practice. Neighborhood residents occupy the land, care for it, and use it. At a community meeting, one woman encapsulated the sentiments of many activists and neighborhood residents when she said: “We don’t call it vacant … we say ‘open space’ … land that is open space is held in the commons, held by the people.”

My research examined these two ways of seeing the city’s so-called abandoned lands – as surplus and commons – and the how urban greening and agrarian projects took different forms in relationship to each. Towards this end, I conducted 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork and collaborative participatory research in Detroit between 2010 and 2012. As a white woman from outside Detroit, I faced questions about what it means to engage in ethical research in a place where many community activists expressed their frustrations with extractive journalism and research.

As I grappled with these questions, I had a fortuitous meeting with Linda Campbell, who directs an organization called Building Movement Detroit. She and her community partners were in the beginning stages of a power analysis of Detroit’s development and social movement landscape. We discussed how my dissertation might be useful for and benefit from such a project. She invited me, and also Andrew Newman, an anthropology professor at Wayne State University to be learning partners, and the three of us worked with other community activists to develop a participatory research project called Uniting Detroiters. Over the past three years, the project has brought together residents, activists, scholars, students, social justice organizations, and neighborhood groups to study and discuss the emerging development agenda in Detroit, its place in broader national and global trends, and local challenges to and opportunities for transformative social change.

In recent years, the global attention directed at Detroit by journalists, filmmakers, artists, and writers has produced an image of the city that is often far removed from the daily lives of residents, and yet is so imposing in its power that all narratives of Detroit must contend with it. This imagined Detroit is marked by several now predictable themes, including the conflation of a very real depopulation process with sensationalized imagery of “post-apocalyptic” emptiness, the erasure of the Motor City’s rich history, and the casting of the city as a blank slate waiting for salvation by heroic entrepreneurs. Now, at precisely the moment the city has reached an important crossroads, these same themes appear to have migrated from the realm of film and journalism into the official maps that plot the city’s course for the future. Indeed, since the inauguration of the controversial Detroit Works Project, mapping has become part of a new, high stakes polemic over the city’s future.

Community flyer about the Detroiter Works Project. Created by Tim Stallmann for the Uniting Detroiters project.

The Uniting Detroiters project has sought to intervene in this development predicament by using research to strengthen the city’s long vibrant grassroots sector and reassert residents’ roles as active citizens in the development process. Toward this end, we are in the process of competing two movement-building tools: a documentary called “A People’s Story of Detroit” and a book called Detroit: A People’s Atlas, the latter of which was supported by the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant.[2]

A community project organized by scholars and activists, but mostly written by and for a public audience, the Atlas starts from the premise that maps are not merely illustrations of reality but better understood as propositions: arguments about the way the world works or should work. We see a clear link between the exclusion of Detroiters’ day-to-day experiences from dominant mappings and narratives of the city and the alienation of residents from the democratic process, and the erosion of their rights. Therefore, the Atlas offers a counter-narrative of Detroit’s redevelopment by remapping the city from below. The maps making up the Atlas do not simply locate things in physical space, but re-situate communities and re-imagine the limits of what a city can be as an urban, ecological, social, and cultural space.

Maps are among the most important conceptual and visual elements of the book, but there is far more to the Atlas than cartography. Detroit: A People’s Atlas includes a wide variety of essays, stories, photography, and poems contributed by over 20 residents from Detroit and Windsor. It also draws on research that we conducted as part of the Uniting Detroiters project, including over 47 interviews and 16 oral histories with individuals involved in social justice organizations and neighborhoods groups and transcripts from a series of workshops on land justice, which approximately 150 residents attended. The aims of these workshops were to share information about the political-economic and territorial reconfigurations underway in the city and discuss progressive land-use alternatives. The Uniting Detroiters project also supported community groups in participatory mapping project, some of which will be published in the Atlas. A ten-member community-based editorial advisory board has helped plan and organize the project.

Map created for Detroit: A People’s Atlas by Tim Stallmann.

The core argument that animates the diverse array of community perspectives in the Atlas is that having the power to map is to be empowered to define one’s own political, cultural, and even spiritual space. The thirty maps that make up the Atlas plot not only points in space, but efforts at self-determination, democratic governance, and creativity. The innovative creativity and dynamism of Detroit’s grassroots organizations are globally known among social activists and academics and yet excluded from many narratives about the city as of late. In this respect, Detroit: A People’s Atlas sheds light on an underappreciated aspect of the city’s present that nonetheless has deep roots in its past.  It seeks to offer vital perspectives on the city that are absent from “official maps.” Even more importantly, these maps offer a fresh perspective on what cartography and mapping can mean at a universal level; in this respect the book offers not only a new perspective on Detroit, but also represents an important contribution to the field of critical urban studies. We expect a release date of Detroit: A People’s Atlas in 2017.



A Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant supported Sara Safransky’s involvement in community-based activities associated with Detroit: A People’s Atlas. During Safransky’s dissertation research, she became actively involved in the United Detroiters project, a collaborative effort based on the idea that collective research and reflection are important for creating a more just and equitable city. Detroit: A People’s Atlas is a community-centered writing and mapping project that connects life histories and everyday urban experiences with political-economic reconfigurations in the city (e.g., state takeover, bankruptcy, austerity, rightsizing) and broader structural changes taking place in other cities across the country and globe. The Atlas is designed to take stock of social justice work happening across Detroit and build movement networks in the process. In addition to maps, the Atlas includes critical and personal essays, poetry, photographs, interviews, and oral histories. Through these visions and stories the Atlas counters blank slate narratives about the city often portrayed by the corporate media and many of our politicians. The Atlas is being written for the broadest public with an expected release of 2017.

[1] Text describing the Uniting Detroiters project and the People’s Atlas comes from collective writing with Linda Campbell, Andrew Newman, and Tim Stallmann.

[2] A trailer for the documentary can be viewed here:

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Brooke Bocast

Public health billboard urging young women to “Say no to sugar daddies.”

Brooke Bocast is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at the University of Maryland – College Park, specializing in the areas of gender, youth, and global health. In 2010, while a doctoral candidate at Temple University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “’If Books Fail, Try Beauty’: Gender, Consumption, and Higher Education in Uganda,” supervised by Dr. Jessica Winegar. In 2014, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to publicly share and discuss her research findings on female university students’ strategies for social advancement in relation to higher education reform and rising rates of HIV on Ugandan university campuses.


It’s tough to be a university student in Kampala, Uganda. Students contend with crumbling facilities, ineffective administrations, campus closures due to faculty and student strikes, and social lives removed from rural kin networks. At Makerere University (the “Harvard of Africa”), students are saddled with expectations to succeed above and beyond their peers, a proposition made ever more difficult by decreasing opportunities for post-grad employment. While Makerere historically catered to the sons of the East African elite, in the 1990s, President Museveni privatized Uganda’s higher education sector and “democratized” Makerere admissions through quota systems. During my dissertation fieldwork (2010-2012), Makerere administrators and the general public debated the efficacy of these policies, with particular attention to affirmative action for women and the role of female students in general.

My dissertation research examined Makerere University’s sexual economy wherein university women exchange sexual favors for money, luxury commodities, and academic marks. These practices put young women at increased risk for STDs, pregnancy, and moral rebuke. Because of this, global health organizations often assume that women who participate in sexual economic transactions must be indigent, or ignorant, or both. Yet many university women engaged in “transactional” sex are members of Uganda’s nascent middle class and successful students at East Africa’s prestigious Makerere University. Based on data collected in Kampala and at students’ family homes throughout East Africa, I argue that participation in Makerere’s sexual economy is a central means by which female students pursue social advancement in a vastly transformed and contested education system. This strategy has profound consequences for kinship, marriage, and social structures, and gendered labor practices; in addition, campus-based relationships shape emerging HIV transmission patterns.

Dr. Kakuba presents his research on primary school enrollment trends.

UNAIDS identifies transactional, “cross-generational” sex (locally termed “sugar daddy” relationships) as a key driver of Uganda’s rising HIV prevalence rates. In recent years, Uganda’s federal government, educational institutions, and public health NGOs have honed in on female university students’ role in these relationships via behavioral change campaigns that seek to alter students’ choice of sexual partners. [see image 1] Popular discourse assumes that young women pursue sugar daddy relationships because they are either vulnerable and desperate or materialistic and predatory. Throughout my fieldwork, university administrators and global health practitioners approached me with questions about young women’s motivations for engaging in sugar daddy relationships. I was often asked how to get university students to stop dating older men. Of course, there is no single “answer” to the “problem” of sugar daddy relationships. Young women engage in diverse sexual interactions for myriad affective, aspirational, and material reasons. My informants reject campaigns that position them as passive and vulnerable, because they consider themselves to be agentive and knowledgeable. At the same time, the epidemiological ramifications cannot be ignored. By engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners across age brackets, young women put themselves and their partners at risk for STDs, and contribute to intergenerational HIV transmission.

Workshop participants convene at lunch.

I applied for an Engaged Anthropology Grant because I wanted to facilitate discussion between various stakeholders around the dynamics that drive intergenerational sexual relationships on campus. In order to avoid reproducing the dominant framing of transactional sex as a problem of young women lacking life skills and/or sexual restraint, I collaborated with my colleague, Dr. Christian Kakuba at Makerere’s Centre for Population and Applied Statistic (CPAS), to produce an event that framed students practices’ within an analysis of structural inequalities in Uganda’s education sector writ large. We titled our workshop, “Inequalities in Education: A Multi-disciplinary Perspective,” and included presentations based on demographic and ethnographic data that addressed access to, and experiences within, Uganda’s primary, secondary, and tertiary educational institutions. CPAS hosted the workshop, and attendees included Makerere students and alumni, university administrators, policy-makers, civil society actors, education professionals, and public health practitioners. Dr. Kakuba presented his findings on demographic factors that influence primary and secondary school attendance [see image 2], and I presented qualitative data on gendered health disparities among university students, in relation to HIV and cross-generational sex. In addition to paper presentations, we led break-out groups over lunch and facilitated discussions that tacked back and forth between students’ everyday experiences, national trends, and implications for policy and practice. [see image 3]

A Makerere alumna explains the allure of sugar daddies.

Workshop participants raised a number of points for further discussion. For example, a secondary school headmaster noted that current policies fail to account for the needs of students with physical and intellectual disabilities, rendering their educational experiences especially trying. Multiple participants, including Makerere alumni, questioned the value of formal education in general, given the limitations of Uganda’s formal employment sector. Female Makerere students spoke about the factors that compel young women to acquire sugar daddies, pointing out that affective and aspirational motivations often trump health concerns. [see image 4] A representative from the Institute for Social and Economic Rights requested further collaboration with the Centre for Population and Applied Statistics, given their shared institutional interests in population data and social justice. It is heartening to think that my Engaged Anthropology project provided a forum for such conversations to occur, and facilitated connections that may lead to improved services for students at all levels of Uganda’s education system.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: M. Kamari Clarke

M. Kamari Clarke is Professor of Anthropology at Yale University. In 2009 she received the Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Negotiating Justice: The International Criminal Court at the Intersection of Contests Over Sovereignty’. Last year, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to travel to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia and home of the African Union Commission, to share her research on the ICC and international law in African contexts.

It is undisputed that African States have played, and continue to play, a crucial role in the development of international criminal justice. Over a decade after the adoption of the Rome treaty, Africa has continued to be a central player in the pursuit of international criminal justice. African countries comprise the largest single group of States Parties to the ICC and, through the African Union (AU), in June 2014 they also adopted a protocol to establish the African Court of Justice and Human and Peoples Rights (African Court). This protocol sets the framework for the establishment of a regional court with both civil and criminal jurisdiction.  With a mandate that spans not only the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and – when in force – the crime of unconstitutional change of government, it also includes a range of transnational crimes including toxic dumping, mercenarism, drug trafficking, illicit exploitation of resources and piracy. Although Africa continues to be a key player in the fight against impunity, the reality is that both the ICC and the African Court are new institutions undergoing resistance, scrutiny, and amendments of its many articles.

A central goal of the African Geographies of Justice project was to highlight both the relevance and the limits of these courts as the basis for justice.  The African Geographies of Justice Engaged Anthropology project allowed me to travel with my collaborator to Addis Ababa where we worked with the African Union Court legal counsel to further develop the technical aspects of the treaty provisions of the new protocol of the African Court. During my time in Addis Ababa, I participated in a workshop that helped to set the foundation for what has been a larger collaborative research endeavor.

My colleague, Charles Jalloh and I were invited to develop, construct, organize and participate in an international criminal workshop entitled, African Geographies of Justice: African Court and Heads of State Immunities. The goal of the workshop was to examine the African Court and Heads of state immunities question in relation to Africa’s emerging African peace and security landscape and its political history. By providing historical, political and legal analyses of the African court heads of state immunities debate participants were able to fully assess the prospects of justice in Africa in its complexities.

The workshop took place over a three-day period from November 19th to 21st 2014 at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the planning for the event leading up to workshop took place over a twelve day period. For the workshop itself we began with a reception on the opening day and the sessions followed on day two and three with plenaries and panels on select themes.   The themes ranged from the historical and political context of heads of state immunities and the historical application of universal jurisdiction and extradition in international customary law to sessions on the relevance of international criminal law in Africa to discussions about the expansion of the African court with criminal jurisdiction, core and transnational crimes, issues of complementarity, and matters related to the obstacles and possibilities for pursuing justice in African regional and sub-regional courts.  The sessions also provided detailed legal and political analysis for understanding the challenges of effective regional justice mechanisms in Africa. Over the course of the three-day period I shared my research findings and solicited input and feedback.  I also offered feedback to others engaged in analytic and policy work with the African Union.

According to our sign-in records, a total of sixty-two people attended the workshop over the three-day period. The majority of participants were from the diplomatic and research/academic communities in Addis Ababa.  There was also a range of civil society representatives and members of the African and European Unions in attendance. Various embassy representatives, from countries in Africa and Europe, attended with great interest in being more fully involved next year.  Experts involved in the training included the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor, the Pan African Lawyer’s Union drafter of the Malabo Protocol, Academics in international law, social and political science academics, lawyers at the UN legal office, a judge from the ECOWAS court in Abuja and former and current defense attorneys at the ICC and various ad hoc tribunals in Africa, and an ISS researchers involved in Peace and Security issues at the African Union.

The Geographies of Justice workshop was a great success. The feedback that we received from the participants suggested that it provided them with rich contexts for understanding the place of social science and legal research in such international and regional sites of decision-making. Many told us that they appreciated the presentation of the various sides of the immunities for heads of state debates, and that they learned a tremendous amount about the challenges and possibilities ahead for the institutionalization of international criminal justice in Africa and beyond.

The generous support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant has provided me with the opportunity to begin to develop a longer-term African Court Project in collaboration with the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the Open Society Initiative—West Africa. As a result of the funding received from Wenner-Gren to conduct a research study and present my findings I have been engaged in the writing of Opinion Editorials for the New York Times. Very recently I published a New York Times op-ed piece entitled, “Justice Can’t Prevail in a Vacuum”, which was included in the Room for Debate on A Global Court’s Effectiveness. I also contributed an article entitled, “Accountability and the Expansion of the Criminal Jurisdiction of the African Court” to the second Arguendo Roundtable, which is an online discussion among experts on the future of the African Union and International Criminal Court.

The Wenner-Gren grant was an important success paved the way for me to share my findings with my interlocutors and to develop longer lasting collaborations with a range of informants in my fieldsite.