Engaged Anthropology Grant: Mary Elizabeth Schmid

Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

Dr. Mary Elizabeth Schmid received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajio,” supervised by Dr. Ann E. Kingsolver. Building upon her fieldwork Dr. Schmid returned to the field after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Anthropology in Schools: Diversity and Agricultural Change in Southern Appalachia”.

Who counts as a farming family in southern Appalachia? Which family migration stories are highlighted in agricultural histories and rural heritage programming? How do K-12 students learn these histories through narratives? What can anthropology do to enhance parity and equity in K-12 curriculums? These are a few of the questions that inspired this engaged project.

When considering Appalachia, the public imagination tends to erase and/or diminish the contemporary and historic diversity of cultures and perspectives that make Appalachia what it is today. Migration histories of families from Europe dominate the heritage lessons. These narratives can quietly teach people that “others” (deemed nonwhites and outsiders) do not belong. People in and of Appalachia know this and many contest it. For my dissertation, I worked with binational farming families in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío. In the U.S., these families contribute to the food system as farmers, farm managers, packing house workers, brokers, truck drivers, and more. But, due to their racialized status in the U.S., their contributions are undervalued and mischaracterized. These Latinx-Appalachian farming families are making history as binational collective strategies. My dissertation tells their stories, counter- constructing stereotypes of Latinx in U.S. agriculture.

Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

Studies show that there is a need for disseminating anthropological knowledge in K-12 schools, for teaching diversity and inclusion in agricultural education, and for addressing racism within U.S. food system studies. This project addresses these needs. The active learning materials are built around a de-identified ethnographic text that weaves together the migration histories of two farming families in southern Appalachia – one from Mexico and the other from Ireland. I selected quotes that tell imagery-filled stories of what life was like for families in Mexico and southern Appalachia as they shifted from subsistence-focused agriculture to market-focused farming. The stories are woven together to both teach the history of the food system in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío and to offer parity to migration histories of Appalachian farming families from Mexico and Ireland. The activities teach social science terminology (e.g., historical narrative, primary and secondary sources, technology, quality of life, and social transformation) as well as practical social science skills such as making kinship charts, interviewing family members, and reading maps.

The project addressed NC sixth-grade “common core standards” listed under History, Geography, and Economy through an integrated anthropological lens. The following are a few of the NC sixth-grade social studies core standards that guided me as I created the educational materials:

  • “Compare historical and contemporary events and issues to understand continuity and change” (6.H.2.2);
  • “Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods, and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., location near rivers and natural barriers, trading practices and spread of culture)” (6.G.1.2);
  • “Explain how conflict, compromise, and negotiation over the availability of resources (natural, human and capital) impacted the economic development of various civilizations, societies and regions (e.g., competition for scarce resources, unequal distribution of wealth and the emergence of powerful trading networks)” (6.E.1.1).
Students’ drawings of “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia” historical narrative.

These enrichment lessons create an opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote intercultural belonging in public schools in rural southern Appalachia. The diversity in my sixth-grade classroom surprised even the students. Their family migration histories were often unknown to them until they interviewed a family member. Their families have come from countries like Russia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Moldova, Honduras, Ireland, Scotland and England. Students made connections to their lives through “text-to-self” writing assignments:

“Thanks for the help of getting my family to tell more stories.”

“The story of global farming families reminds me that my grandfather and me would go to the field to settle maize.”

“This story reminds me of me living in Moldova because we grow vegetables in a farm or at our house at your garden. And they used to carry vegetables with horse and now they carry by car and some still carry by horse and wagon.”

“Thank you for coming and teaching us about history and how food can tell our family history.”

Public anthropology can promote intercultural belonging through K-12 educational materials, especially those used in social studies classes. Social studies curriculums are bubbling with possibility for anthropological data and values. In the school where I worked, some students suffered from trauma due to their separation from deported parents while others expressed that they wanted their new nickname to be “build the wall”. When xenophobia is being publicly popularized, intellectuals must seek out opportunities to counter-act hate across generations. K- 12 classrooms are places where hate can be challenged, and intercultural belonging can be cultivated. As my collaborator Michelle Then, an ELA/Social Studies teacher, said, “I think its education, but it’s also social and emotional for them. From the heart. Seeing that we all came from someplace else and migrated to this place, this class. And for a lot of them, they are making connections to their families back in Mexico. They can see themselves in their school materials.”

Check out http://teachinglearninganthro.com/in the coming months for an article with a detailed account of the steps I took to transform my de-identified dissertation data into sixth-grade social studies curriculum enrichment materials.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Elena Sesma

Community history report cover.

In 2015 Dr. Elena Sesma received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology,” supervised by Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste. Three years later Dr. Sesma was able to return to the field to share her results when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Memory and Changing Landscapes in Eleuthera, Bahamas: Developing a Community-Based Archive”.

The Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to return to my dissertation field site in Eleuthera, Bahamas for several weeks to continue collaboration with local research partners and participants from my dissertation research. My dissertation, titled “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology” was framed around the principles of community-based, participatory research, and explored the ways in which descendants of a nineteenth century Bahamian plantation constructed and employed a collective memory around the historic and contemporary cultural landscapes of the former plantation acreage.  Through a combination of archaeological and ethnographic methods, the research revealed how descendants materialized memory on a living landscape that many politicians, developers, and foreign corporations prefer to see as vacant and therefore ideal for development.

Poster announcing a public community meeting in Wemyss Bight settlement, May 23, 2019.

This engagement project was intended to build on the community-based nature of the dissertation project by 1) sharing research findings, copies of data, and a written community history report to participants, 2) working with collaborators and local organizations to determine possible future projects and how best to manage heritage sites, and 3) beginning to develop a local archive of island history and collective memory. During the fall of 2018, I expanded a short report of my research that I had originally composed immediately after completing my dissertation fieldwork into a much longer report that included the general history of south Eleuthera, excerpts from oral histories, a discussion of key sites of memory that might benefit from further research or conservation, and copies of historical records regarding the former plantation estate. << https://scholarworks.umass.edu/anthro_digs_reports/1/>> Additionally, I began uploading 360-degree panoramas of several significant south Eleutheran historical and cultural sites to Google Earth at the request of several former participants. << https://goo.gl/maps/MYxDMHFztpEuDWY99>>

Elena Sesma with community partner, Clara Williams, librarian at the Wemyss Bight Community Library.

One of the keys to community-based research, as I have learned over the process of a 5-year long collaborative project, is the need for flexibility and respect for the wishes, needs, and availability of my collaborators. This can, of course, delay the process of research or entirely reshape a well-thought out research plan, but is nonetheless an essential component of doing meaningful and productive community-based research. This engaged anthropology project, conducted in May of 2019, used the same framework, which meant that the first step was to connect with my various collaborators and partners to determine their availability and interest in proceeding with my proposal to run workshops and planning meetings around the development of a community archive. Interest was high but availability in people’s schedules was not. Instead of large-group planning meetings, I met with many of my collaborators and past participants on an individual basis to share research findings and begin discussing the potential for a locally-held and community-controlled archive. In Nassau, I met with the director of the Bahamas Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation to deliver copies of the community history report I produced in the winter of 2018 as well as digital copies of data gathered during the course of my permitted dissertation research. We also discussed what the creation of a local archive might look like in terms of investment and sustainability. I also spoke with members of the descendant community in Nassau whom I had not previously been introduced to. These conversations added important nuance to my understanding of people’s relationships to the land, complicated some of my plans, but ultimately expanded the dialogue over the site’s importance and how best to care for it.

Elena Sesma documents a cemetery wall and grave stone on an eroding beach site, Bannerman Town, Eleuthera, Bahamas.

On Eleuthera, I met with representatives of local organizations and institutions, such as local librarians, non-profit directors, and the leadership of community associations. These research partners each received multiple copies of the community report and we had long discussions about how to translate this report and my dissertation into the basis for a growing community archive. I shared drafts of open access story maps that I had created based on the community report and dissertation, but together we decided to delay the publication of these maps online. Additionally, I met with almost all of my former participants who had been a part of the dissertation research, and in one case, the daughter of a participant who had died the previous year. With each person, I updated them on the status of the dissertation, shared a copy of the community history report, and in many cases, delivered hard copy transcripts of the interviews and oral histories I had done with them. As in the case of all research, it took time (sometimes years) to build rapport with some participants. In the case of southern Eleuthera, many residents have a substantial and well-justified suspicion of outsiders who show up with recording devices and paperwork. Even some of those individuals who had quickly warmed to me in the past were genuinely surprised to see me return and were taken aback when I provided copies of their interviews and a copy of the community report I wrote. It was clear then how unexpected but truly appreciated this kind of commitment and continued engagement is for communities that often feel forgotten by other institutions.

The culmination of these individual meetings and visits was a public meeting held at the Wemyss Bight Community Library. There, I shared a summary of my dissertation, some key findings outlined in the community history report, and presented several potential options for what a community archive might entail in terms of additional research and training, what form it might take, and how it might be accessed. This public meeting was both a chance for me to disseminate my research, as well as an opportunity to open the door to new questions, new participants, and ongoing dialogue between local participants and institutional collaborators.

As this project wrapped up, I reflected deeply on the process and the point of engagement in anthropology, with its many varied meanings and methods. Engagement takes on different forms, and like any good anthropologist – like any good human – we adapt. Engagement is meeting with community partners and collaborators, giving updates and talking about how to build something even bigger and better with the work we’ve already done. Engagement is meeting with officials who manage and oversee heritage resources on all the Bahamas’ 700 islands. Engagement is talking with community members who haven’t previously been involved, absorbing their frustrations at having been left out. Engagement happens amongst large groups at public meetings, where residents and researchers dialogue, fill in holes that were maybe missed in earlier research, imaging a future where this work can continue. Engagement also happens individually, in the living rooms, kitchens, front yards, and shops of those who participated. One of the most profound confirmations of this trip was acknowledging that all of these activities count as engagement, especially if the intention to share and collaborate and dialogue is there.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ivo Syndicus

Seminar presentation at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Anthropology strand.
Photo credits: Alan Robson

While a doctoral student at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ivo Syndicus received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Culture, Development, and Higher Education in Papua New Guinea,” supervised by Dr. Thomas Strong. In 2018 Dr. Syndicus was then awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Experiences and Challenges of University Students in Papua New Guinea: Research Results and Ways Forward.”

In March and April 2019, an Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to spend almost six weeks in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to engage a range of audiences about my dissertation research on higher education in PNG. In my PhD dissertation, I describe and analyze various fields of student experiences related to university education, especially at the University of Goroka, such as:

  • how university students, but also staff, experience processes of social stratification vis-à-vis kin and sponsors;
  • how a cultural politics of difference, drawing on the reification of culture such as sensibilities surrounding exchange and reciprocity, feeds into the construction and consolidation of provincial identities at universities and beyond;
  • how forms and styles of leadership in both university management and student politics become contested at university, especially in prolonged student strikes.
Seminar presentation at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Anthropology strand.
Photo credits: Alan Robson

Activities to share results and engage with different audiences took place in PNG’s capital Port Moresby, Goroka, and other locations in the PNG highlands. Specific activities in Port Moresby included a seminar at the University of Papua New Guinea facilitated by its Anthropology strand that drew attendance from within and beyond the university, a research colloquium presentation at the National Research Institute, and a presentation with a stronger orientation to relevant policy matters to staff of the Division of Quality Assurance at the PNG Department for Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology.

Participants of the postgraduate workshop at the University of Goroka. Photo credit: Jayne Safihao

At the University of Goroka, I gave a talk to the university community facilitated by its Center for Melanesian Studies. This constituted perhaps the most significant event of engagement in terms of presenting my results to many of my previous interlocutors throughout research processes, at the institution where I conducted most of the research and for which its results are most specifically relevant. I also conducted a workshop with postgraduate students at the University of Goroka, organized by the Center for Melanesian Studies and the School of Postgraduate Studies, in which I discussed ethnography as approach to research both in anthropology and beyond, drawing on illustrations from my research.

Discussion following the public lecture at the University of Goroka. Photo credits: Bruce Dorum

I also visited and met several of my interlocutors during research and graduates of the University of Goroka in the highland provinces of Simbu and Jiwaka, learning about their current context and reflecting back on experiences during their studies at the University of Goroka.

The presentations at universities in particular led to subsequent meetings and discussions with members of respective university communities and other institutions. At the University of Goroka, I also held a meeting with the university management to provide a briefing about my research results in general, and to discuss questions around student representation and participation in university governance in particular. The presentation of my research results was perceived as timely and welcomed both in view of developments in the university sector in the last years, and broader social processes in PNG and its pathway as a nation of a uniquely rich cultural and linguistic heritage.

Discussion following the public lecture at the University of Goroka. Photo credits: Bruce Dorum

A noteworthy area of discussion were legislative changes in relation to university governance through the 2014 Higher Education Act, which provides increased possibilities for ministerial intervention in university affairs. These changes resonated with demands in student strikes especially at the University of Goroka, where students lobbied the government to oust the university council and management through recurrent strikes between 2010 and 2015. Policy reform in 2014 enabled the Minister responsible for Higher Education to dismiss the council and management of the University of Goroka in 2015, and the University of Papua New Guinea faced similar ministerial interventions into its academic governance at the time of my engagement activities. Based on my research, I was able to illustrate how student leaders at the University of Goroka prepared the ground for a sympathetic reception of changes in the Higher Education Act that led to the erosion of autonomous university governance with potentially severe implications for the quality of university education in PNG through political interventions.

Presenting a copy of my thesis to University of Goroka’s librarian Raphael Topagur. Photo Credit: Anna Zeming

This connects to issues with student representation, and the observation that student leaders increasingly tend to foreground their own political ambitions instead of actually seeking to address issues at universities or the national political arena, such as corruption, as they claim. In effect, universities seek to limit the powers of student representatives, which increases students’ frustration and in turn facilitates politically ambitious student leaders to mobilize frustrated students for strikes towards their personal goals. This raises the question how meaningful student representation and participation in university governance could look like, especially from a perspective of opening up more meaningful avenues for student participation rather than their systematic exclusion. This seems acutely relevant in current times as student representative councils remain suspended following student unrests at PNG’s state universities in 2016, creating the conditions in which frustrated students may turn to unelected student leaders to advance their issues without the checks and balances of democratic legitimization, and recognition or accountability within the procedural bureaucracy of universities.

An especially controversial aspect in the constitution of student representative councils is the role of provincial student associations. Provincial student associations are an important avenue for student sociality and mobilization at state universities. There is a widespread concern, however, that they foster a competitive politics based on parochial issues and personal political ambitions rather than adequately representing students in relation to issues of student welfare or academic matters. Some state universities seek to reform student representation to be stronger based on academic programs, for example, although many students insist on provincial associations to remain an integral part of student representative councils. This also connects to broader questions for the direction of nation-building in PNG. The consolidation of provincial identities along increasingly quasi-ethnic lines based on the reification of supposedly bounded cultural characteristics is a phenomenon that invites reflection about the vision of PNG as a nation that is united both in diversity and commonalities beyond provincial and regional boundaries.

The Engaged Anthropology Grant provided, in summary, a unique opportunity to contribute to current debates in relation to the higher education sector and broader social phenomena in PNG today.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: R. Elliott Oakley

Figure 1: Young men dance into a kitchen, playing flutes, whooping, and rubbing the openings of turtle shells to make noise and wake up the village.

While a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, Elliott Oakley received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Counting Fingers, Quantifying Forests: Numbers, Translation and Guyanese Eco-Politics,” supervised by Dr. Casey High. Three years later Dr. Oakley received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Supporting Waiwai ‘Cultural Preservation’ in the Context of Conservation.”

The Waiwai Village Museum began as a community initiative to generate income for residents of Masakenyarï, an indigenous community in southern Guyana. Part of a protected area partnership, the Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, the Museum was envisioned as a way to showcase Waiwai culture and sell handicrafts to visitors. My dissertation research (2015-2017) demonstrated how community ideas of the protected area frame conservation as a process of building connections, more to international NGOS, the Guyanese government, or other outsiders than to the plants and animals that make up a lived Amazonian environment. As tourists failed to arrive with any real consistency, over the course of my fieldwork many people in Masakenyarï began to doubt the Museum’s potential to provide greater access to money. But interest in a formal space for local histories, language resources, cultural materials, and Waiwai crafts endured.

Figure 2: Formally handing over my PhD to Toshao Paul Chekema.

While writing my doctoral thesis in Edinburgh, I was fortunate to visit collections in Glasgow and London containing materials from southern Guyana, most obtained in the mid twentieth century during colonial rule of British Guiana. I sent pictures of the exhibitions – ‘Life in the Rainforest’ in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum and the ‘American encounters’ section of the London’s Horniman Museum – to Waiwai friends in Guyana over Facebook. During fieldwork I had promised to adapt my research materials into resources that could be part of the Village Museum in Masakenyarï. But, in part prompted by the images of these UK museums, I learned that the Village Museum stood empty. My discussions with community leaders and elders led to an Engaged Anthropology Grant with three aims: sharing doctoral research findings with participants in Masakenyarï; working with the community on alternative visions to re-establish the Waiwai Village Museum; and filming Waiwai Christmas celebrations, connected to traditional kesemanitopo or Shodewika festivals, to contribute to the establishment of a community-operated digital archive of cultural practices and related research outputs.

Before returning to Guyana, I visited Glasgow Museums to consult their Waiwai collections with curators Patricia Allan and Ed Johnson. The widow of the Scottish colonial official Gordon Lethem, Governor of British Guiana for part of the 1940s, donated assorted objects and photographs from southern Guyana to Glasgow Museums. Many of the objects – and most of the black-and-white images – have not been digitized, and I was lucky to view them and take reference photographs to share with people in Masakenyarï.

Figure 3: Residents gather in the roundhouse to view and discuss Lethem’s photographs, archival newspapers, and research posters.

Arranging the two-month trip to Guyana to start in December 2018 allowed sharing research findings and discussing the Village Museum to coincide with Christmas celebrations, which people often referred to as the most significant cultural event to document to communicate their identity. Though people gather daily between Christmas and New Year’s to eat and dance, enacting this joyous sociality took clear precedence over my rather mundane suggestion to talk about my research. The main conclusion I sought to communicate was how building connections with outside peoples and places is fundamental to enacting the Waiwai ewto, the village or ‘place-where-people-live’. The December festivities were a firm reminder that these desires for exteriority are valuable insofar as they enable states of happiness and contentment, associated with village interiority and embodied most forcefully and deliberately at Christmas.

I felt the full weight of this insight when, while filming hunters returning to the village on December 23rd, the dugout canoe I was traveling in capsized. Gone, it seemed, was any chance of achieving the third project aim, with the camera equipment drying out in a bucket of rice. Immediately aware of my possible grief and frustration, several of the hunters passed arrows and portions of meat from their own hands to mine so I could walk with them into the village. Their generosity turned me from a position of observer to that of participant in a powerful way.

Figure 4: Janet Yaymochi reviews footage from an interview about traditional dancing, kwachi practices, and Christmas celebrations.

Upon checking four days later the camera worked as normal, much to our collective relief, and I was able to collaborate filming parts of the dancing and festivities. The focus shifted to ‘kwachi’, in which young men gather and walk from household to household waking up the women who will prepare food for the day’s communal meals.

Eventually, I was able to present my research at a village meeting on New Year’s Day. I said my formal thanks, discussed the research findings, presented village copies of the PhD and distributed printed summaries for each household. I donated an external hard drive, with photographs and videos from my doctoral research, Waiwai language materials, digital copies of anthropology publications focused on Waiwai people, and artefact images from museum collections in the UK, to start a ‘digital archive’ based in the village and operated by the community.

Then, the event shifted towards collaborative small-group discussions based around the assorted printed materials, which ranged from Lethem’s 1940s photographs to Guyanese newspaper archives from the 1970s to posters summarizing my doctoral research. It was a pleasure for me to move around the roundhouse listening as older generations recognized their kin or described the context of the images to their children and grandchildren.

After celebrations closed down after New Year’s Day, the village shifted from the continual daily gatherings to the much quieter rhythms of household life in an Amazonian community. With time to rest and to visit, I focused on discussing museum plans, translating a chapter summary of my PhD into the Waiwai language, and tying up filming by speaking with senior women about the significance of kwachi.

People in Masakenyarï discussed how museum artefacts and images collected decades before might offer a pathway forward for their heritage goals. Rather than rely on tourists arriving in person, their museum vision – like the conservation processes I documented during doctoral fieldwork – is to build connections through enduring outside interests in Amazonian objects, peoples, and places. We composed a letter to Glasgow Museums to take the next step in that effort.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Andrew Hernann

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, Andrew Hernann received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Ethics on the Margins: Religious Transformation in a Labor Regime in Timbuktu, Mali,” supervised by Dr. Gary Wilder. Then in 2016 Dr. Hernann received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Narrating Crisis: Collaborative Storytelling in Post-Crisis Timbuktu.”

Through my Engaged Anthropology Grant, I was able to intensify and decenter my collaborative research among northern Malians by organizing the production and exchange of local narratives of occupation, displacement and military intervention. In 2012, northern Mali was occupied by ethnic Tuareg nationalists and allied religious extremists. As this cohort of armed militants attempted to occupy more central and southern regions of the country, the French and UN armies intervened, pushing the fighters north into the desert. Officially “liberated” in 2013, northern Mali – especially the city of Timbuktu – has remained dangerous and in crisis. Indeed, there remains the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks, as well as the foreboding nature of a foreign military presence. While many Timbuktians have returned to northern Mali, many have also chosen to remain displaced, particularly in Bamako, the Malian capital. Furthermore, some subtle and not-so-subtle tensions remain among differing ethnic groups and between rural and urban Malians.

Such conditions foster the development of unofficial narratives among those experiencing displacement and occupation, particularly as residents continue to feel misrepresented by foreign organizations that seem reluctant to substantially engage with local communities. However, and as has been my experience working with residents of northern Mali, such conditions also foster a level of secrecy that somewhat limit the exchange of such narratives. Storytelling, nevertheless, retains empowering and reconciliatory effects, especially during times of crisis. Therefore, while in Mali during summer 2018, my interlocutors and I organized two storytelling workshops during which participants developed and shared their experiences of the northern Malian crisis with one another. The participants were of diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, gender and professional backgrounds, including students, teachers, religious experts, humanitarian workers, UN contract employees, tourist guides, journalists and community activists.

I offered my experience facilitating collaborative storytelling during these workshops. However, given the importance of incorporating local and culturally relevant values, I emphasized a more collaborative approach, empowering my interlocutors to organize and facilitate these workshops as they best saw fit. Therefore, while occurring over multiple days, the workshops took on a seemingly more “informal” element relative to those more common in the USA. They were less structured than I had originally anticipated, with more down time spent chatting over tea and meals. Nevertheless, participants were able to successfully share their experiences and analyses of the ongoing Malian crisis and organically develop and re/produce authentic, culturally resonant products. Unfortunately, due to ongoing security concerns and the (then) upcoming presidential elections, a shadow of secrecy clouded the workshops. In order to facilitate the safe production of crisis narratives among participants, the group decided not to permit photography/video/audio recording, the use of full names or a written version of their stories. However, most expressed feeling able and eager to reproduce the storytelling workshop format that we developed in increasingly local settings throughout Bamako and northern Mali as a way of distributing stories and facilitating the catharsis that such storytelling often produces. Furthermore, our hope is to publish both a manual of how to conduct similar workshops and a written version of the stories developed this summer – stories which many of my interlocutors jokingly stated were more authentic and analytically useful than anything that an outsider would be able to produce – when they collectively sense that the need for secrecy has abated.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Preeti Sampat

Display in Kerim.

While a doctoral student at City University of New York Graduate Center, New York Preeti Sampat received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “Right to Land and the Rule of Law: Special Economic Zones in India,” supervised by Dr. David Harvey.  In 2017 Dr. Sampat was able to build upon her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Histories of Land Museum.”

The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum initially anticipated large printed mounts curated with visuals of campaign materials from historical environmental struggles in the state such as press releases; posters; news clippings; photographs, excerpts from speeches; and symbolic installations using sound, visual materials and natural materials. After much effort locating materials from older struggles from the 1970’s to 1990’s however, it was clear that largely news media archives and a few pamphlets were available for the older struggles, although more recent struggles had preserved posters and banners. This posed a challenge since a display of mostly black and white press clippings and pamphlets on mounts seemed visually unappealing and would defeat the purpose of attracting bystanders and local residents to the museum venues as it traveled. There was also an imbalance of materials available from older struggles compared to more recent struggles.

Explaining the campaign materials to students at Ponda.

After much brainstorming with colleagues to create a visually attractive display, I took the decision to create an installation with an online museum hosted in a dedicated website, that would curate multi-lingual press coverage (in English, Marathi and Konkani) of the struggles, available video archives, and other materials related to the environmental struggles that we could locate. This also put a nice spin on the definition of a ‘mobile museum,’ as the museum could now be ‘visited’ on mobile phones, with a long lasting archive available much after the Museum display period. With the help of curatorial and design assistance, the Museum to put up installations on hired tablets and laptops, curated available videos of struggles into a running loop displayed on a projector screen, and created a short dramatic skit to attract footfall to the venues. Posters and pamphlets from older struggles (where available) and more recent struggles were also put on display around the installation.

Film screening in Panjim

The earliest archived struggle dated from the 1970’s agitations against Zuari Agrochemicals that also catalyzed the Fish-workers movement in Goa and across India. This was followed in the 1980’s by the massive and long-standing agitation against the Konkan Railway; the struggles over controversial tourism projects in coastal areas; and the 1990’s agitations against polluting Du Pont (Nylon 6,6) and Metastrips industries. More recent struggles included those from the mid-2000’s, against the Regional Plan 2011 and 2021; Special Economic Zones; and on-going agitations against mining; the Mopa Airport; the Coal Corridor and Mormugao Port Expansion; and the Declaration of Rivers as National Waterways. While there are many more environmental struggles in Goa, the ones archived and displayed in the museum represented some of the better-known ones in the state.

Performing the theatrical skit at Margao.

Each of these struggles coalesced in opposition to capitalist development projects initiated by the state, and their implications for local environments, livelihoods and culture. The modes of protest included collective protests on project sites, villages and cities influenced by the project, and the capital city Panjim; as well as legal action by concerned residents. The Museum’s online archive organized the historical archives of these struggles along five key sub-themes emerging from the nature of development projects: infrastructure; industry; tourism; mining and real estate. As the Museum was curated and the archive emerged, the periodization of the struggles also shed light on the shifting dynamics of capitalist accumulation in the state. Despite continuing overlaps, some of the earliest controversies erupted around projects related to infrastructure and industry; followed by tourism; with mining and real estate projects more recently.

Poster

The Museum traveled to five locations across Goa, Margao, Ponda and Panjim cities, and Kerim and Verna villages from June 21 – 25, 2018. The Museum had initially anticipated displays in three venues, but this was later extended to two more, as the costs of transportation and labor were reduced with the lighter, mobile installation equipment. Margao and Ponda cities in South and North Goa districts respectively (Goa has only two districts) were added to the venues. Margao is the center of many agitations from South Goa; while Ponda is close to the villages in North Goa where a number of environmental agitations have taken place; and both are bustling market towns with a number of people from nearby villages visiting for work, leisure or other activities. Since all the venues were public spaces arranged with due government permissions, the theatrical skit was used to introduce the Museum to bystanders and visitors at the Museum venue. This was followed by an invitation to view the original pamphlets and posters from the struggles; and the archival materials on laptops, tablets and mobile phones arranged at the venue. The film screening of short films from various struggles was held in the evening to allow for clearer viewing at dusk and after sunset.

The interactive installation in Verna.

The audience in each of the venues ranged from curious bystanders; local residents passing through; students; local activists; and journalists. For many, this was a novel archival display, a people’s history of the state. Local residents from different villages also extended invitations for hosting the Museum in their localities in the future. The Living Histories of Land in Goa Mobile Museum hopes to continue adding to the online archive with support from volunteers and to travel to other locations in the future. With the positive feedback and interest the Museum generated, discussions to this effect have been held with interested activists.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Anna Weichselbraun

Banner announcing the annual General Conference above one entrance to the Vienna International Center which houses the IAEA.

In 2013 while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, Anna Weichselbraun received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Regulating the Nuclear: The Textual Production of Technical Independence at the International Atomic Energy Agency,” supervised by Dr. Joseph Maco. Building upon her fieldwork Dr. Weichselbraun then received an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Designing Effective and Credible Nuclear Safeguards.”

My dissertation research explored the practices that make up the production of “nuclear safeguards”—the verification of states’ international legal commitments to not build nuclear weapons. It asked the question: How, against accusations of politicization, does the IAEA demonstrate “technical independence” in order for its judgments to enjoy global legitimacy? During 24 cumulative months of archival and ethnographic research at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria and at the US National Archives, I explored this question at nuclear safeguards workshops and training courses and during a twelve-month internship in the safeguards department’s training section. There I joined newly hired inspectors in the training course for their job over the course of six months. I interviewed inspectors, analysts, and technicians throughout the department about their work and about what the competencies they thought were necessary to do safeguards properly. I attended the IAEA’s annual General Conference and followed debates in the policy-making bodies. I also interviewed editors, writers, and translators about the production of texts across the Agency.

Delegates and staff taking a coffee break.

My research showed that nuclear safeguards are highly constrained by politically normative expectations about appropriately technical knowledge. Safeguards bureaucrats must constantly demonstrate the supreme technicalness of their findings lest they be accused of being influenced by politics. My work demonstrates that the distinction between technical and political domains at the IAEA has been institutionalized through bureaucratic practice that is imagined to produce “objective” knowledge. Bureaucratization acts as a centripetal force, pulling all attempts to produce knowledge into its vortex. The result is a strong institutional preference for the quantifiable, the calculable, and the predictable. This, however, poses problems for recent attempts to strengthen the nuclear control role of the IAEA which seeks to expand the scope of safeguards activities by including analysis of a wide variety of information in order to paint a more complete picture of the state. “Analysts” are viewed with suspicion as their use of judgment is conflated with bias. Further, this perspective also conceals the role of judgment in the “technical” tasks of the inspectors. I argue that the bureaucratic vision of nuclear control derives from the political imperatives of equal treatment at the time of the organization’s founding, which nevertheless conceal the hierarchical nuclear order.

Secretary Perry delivers the US statement at the opening plenary session of the General Conference.

The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to my field site to engage my interlocutors on their continued challenge of designing safeguards that would be technically credible but also politically legitimate. While I had planned to conduct a collaborative workshop with former supervisors and colleagues in the inspector training section, finding a time to schedule such an event proved extremely difficult, and indicates some of the challenges of studying elites with tight schedules who frankly have better things to do than to indulge a visiting anthropologist. In response to an encouraging note from one former supervisor about timing, I planned my visit to the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria to overlap with the organization’s annual General Conference, which was both a busy time but also gave me the opportunity to access the building during the entire week with an observer badge. This gave me the freedom to schedule meetings with former colleagues and interlocutors and it also provided opportunities for chance encounters, not to mention further participant-observation.

.The French booth in the “rotunda” promoting nuclear power as a “climate-friendly” low-carbon energy alternative.

During the week I met individually with eighteen people including ten current IAEA staff members, two former staff members, three diplomats, and three NGO participants. When I was not having breakfast, coffee, lunch, coffee, drinks or dinner with interlocutors, I was following the general debate in the plenary hall (including Secretary Perry’s bizarre speech) and paying attention to the gossip circulating in the hallways concerning the state of that year’s resolution on safeguards which the diplomats were hammering out. I learned upon arriving in Vienna that the Russian delegation had surprised the usual process by introducing a draft of a resolution on safeguards a few days before the European countries who customarily present a working draft were able to do so. NGO observers and staff were curious as to whether the Russian disruption would threaten the outcome of this year’s General Conference as the draft text brought up issues about the objectivity of safeguards that I discussed in my dissertation.
After days of procedural debate, the resolution included wording that expressed concern with the “objectivity” of safeguards evaluation practices and called for returning the inspector’s work to a “technical” basis. In meetings with IAEA staff during the week, I explained that I thought that the insistence on the “technical” and “objective” would constrain the work that safeguards inspectors and analysts were doing. Instead of defending their safeguards expertise as merely technical, safeguards experts should articulate that their unique contribution was a combination of technical know-how and trained judgment (referring to Daston and Galison’s expression in their 2007 book Objectivity), similar to the kind of evaluative diagnostics a physician does. A staff member in the safeguards director’s office was particularly interested in this line of argument so I wrote up a short memo for internal use detailing this alternative argumentative strategy for describing safeguards expertise. I am in touch with my interlocutors to follow up whether this argument resonates, and to secure possibilities for continued engagement.

This experience has led me to reflect on the role that anthropological knowledge (our own particular expertise) can play in my field site and in similar organizations, and how this form of engagement among elite groups must express itself differently than engagement with disadvantaged or even oppressed communities. One of the reviewers of my application flagged that a project such as I proposed in which I would essentially attempt to advise members of the organization on its challenges would not be acceptable in a “non-Western” community. I agree that the particular form of engagement with our interlocutors should be sensitive to the expectations and needs of their communities. Thankfully, we have decades of reflexive anthropological thinking on these matters to support us as we attempt to engage our research communities. I am extremely grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the opportunity to do so and look forward to the future opportunities for engagement this grant has made possible.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Erin Masterson

Typical process of collecting water from the contaminated community well to bring home for consumption

While a doctoral student at the University of Washington, Erin Masterson received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2014 to aid research on “Putting Teeth into the Developmental Origins Hypothesis: Early Childhood Ecology, Enamel Defects and Adolescent Growth,” supervised by Dr. Daniel Eisenberg. In 2017 Dr. Masterson received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Initiation of a Clean Water Campaign to Improve Children’s Health and Development in Bolivia’s Amazon.”

With support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, in 2018 I returned to Bolivia’s Amazonian Basin for a month to visit the 12 Tsimane’ communities that participated in my dissertation research in 2015. This follow-up visit included an aim to initiate a clean water campaign in the Tsimane’ Territory of the Bolivian Amazon. I was motivated to focus on this topic because my dissertation research findings underscored the importance of a healthy, infection-free childhood for long-term health.

Label reading “Clean Water” in Spanish and the native Tsimane’ language attached to all aspects of this project

Specifically, I reconnected with my Bolivian colleagues at the Centro Boliviano de Investigación y Desarrollo Socio (CBIDSI) and we set out to: (1) to develop a logo and slogan in the native Tsimane’ language to motivate clean water stewardship, (2) to develop educational materials focused on the risks of parasitic and bacterial infections and the importance of clean water, and (3) to make structural changes in schools by implementing water filters and hand washing stations. The idea for this project was developed directly from my time in the field in 2015, observing and discussing behaviors and thoughts related to water use with community members and my CBIDSI colleagues. Community leaders requested educational information in the native Tsimane’ language, like the oral health workshop we offered during data collection. A primary health concern that was expressed during these workshops was pediatric diarrhea and other infection- related conditions. Although education was the foundation of this project, we also implemented structural changes to enable the positive behavior changes encouraged through education.

Coloring books developed and distributed to teach kids how to keep water clean in the home and practice good hygiene

First, we developed a label with a parrot “mascot” and the phrase “clean water” in the native Tsimane’ language to attach to all aspects of this project. The idea of this was that repetition will help to reinforce educational messages and recognition of all aspects of the project as parts of one end goal: clean water. We developed a set of posters to guide an educational talk about how water becomes contaminated and causes illness, how to keep water clean, and good hygiene practices to prevent contamination. We wrote the script in Spanish and translated it to the native Tsimane’ language. The talk was then recorded in both Spanish and Tsimane’ is being broadcasted on the local radio, a form of communication accessible in nearly all Tsimane’ communities. To provide a more in-depth understanding of why it is important to keep water clean and to then offer suggestions for how to accomplish this in the home, we developed and distributed coloring books with text in the native Tsimane’ language that instructed how to keep water clean in the home and practice good hygiene.

River travel to visit communities
Delivering water filters

Based on the idea that implementing structural changes fosters positive behavior change, we provided each school with one Sawyer PointONE filter with a bucket adaptor kit. We hand delivered the filter kit to each community, already set-up, labeled, with photo instructions for caring for the filter, and tested for leaks. We put the filter in the hands and care of the school teacher in each community. When we visited the communities, we invited the teacher, students and community members to participate in a demonstration on using the water filter and a brief training workshop on caring for it. Due to weather that complicated our river travel plans to visit the communities, our time was too limited to actually build the “tippy-tap” handwashing stations with the communities, but we discussed the plans and purpose of these stations in detail with the teachers and community members in each community. We also provided them with photo instructions on how to construct this simple structure. The hope is that, because people tend to develop new behaviors more readily at a younger age, students will hopefully bring these new ideas and habits home to their families.

Water filter demonstration and training in one community

Through all these activities, we engaged children, teachers, families, community leaders and the local Tsimane’ government leaders. We encountered profound and widespread support of our focus on clean water stewardship, motivated by desperation to mitigate the ill effects of parasitic and bacterial infection in the Tsimane’ communities. This project contributed to generating an equitable relationship between myself and the Tsimane’ people, because I was able to share my study findings with them in an applied and relevant manner, through offering information around and suggestions for improving children’s health and development in their native language.

Children sampling clean water after the demonstration in one community

Finally, prompted by the overwhelming enthusiasm and demands for a filter for each household while visiting the communities, my CBIDSI colleagues and I embarked on a feasibility study to initiate local production of ceramic water filters during my visit so that, as requested in the communities, all households may one day have a filter and clean water. This entailed hours of meeting and discussing, reviewing potential property layouts, equipment and material sourcing opportunities and pricing, and collecting and lab testing the local clay material for mineral and physical properties.

We composed a report summarizing our investigation which will be used to seek start-up funds for this subsequent project, which will continue to work toward the ultimate goal of reducing childhood morbidity attributed to contaminated water.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Melissa Burch

CEO Roundtable

As a doctoral student at The University of Texas at Austin, Melissa Burch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to facilitate research on “Navigating the Criminal Records Complex: Hiring and Job-Seeking in the Inland Empire,” supervised by Dr. João Costa Vargas. In 2017, Dr. Burch received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to support “Criminal Records and Employment Roundtables.”

Thanks to the support provided by The Wenner Gren Foundation, I was able to return to my field site southern California’s Inland Empire in January 2018, to share the findings of my dissertation research with key collaborators and stakeholders. Framed as roundtable discussions, I presented the major findings and core arguments of my dissertation research with three audiences. The first was hosted by the Inland Empire Fair Chance Coalition, a collaborative of community-based organizations working together to challenge criminal-records based discrimination in employment. The second roundtable was hosted by the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership’s employment committee, a network of nonprofit organizations advocating for formerly incarcerated people. The third roundtable was attended primarily by former prisoners and their families and hosted by the San Bernardino branch of the Center for Employment Opportunities.

Four major findings were elaborated:

1. Criminalization demotes social status through the structures of race, class and gender. This demoted status therefore does not affect everyone equally or similarly.

2. Criminal records stigma encourages criminalized people to construct and perform narratives about their convictions that reinforce dominant assumptions about criminality.

3. A growing criminal records complex increases demand for criminal background checks, facilitates their widespread availability and justifies their use.

4. Many business owners and managers employ a level-headed, non-moralistic approach to criminal records; but this openness is threatened by a political-economy increasingly characterized by regulation, competition and litigation.

IE Fair Chance Roundtable

As a researcher, the opportunity to share these findings with communities and organizations who had helped to generate the research questions was invaluable. Doing so helped me to concretize my findings in clear, concise and non-jargony terms and presenting in-person allowed me to collect direct feedback on my analysis, creating a mechanism for accountability to those most impacted by the research. For participants, the roundtables carved out a welcome opportunity to reflect on current strategy, dilemmas and contradictions in the day-to-day work of fighting criminal records discrimination. Together, we talked through the potential implications of the research findings and discussed various possibilities and approaches to advance social change.

In addition to the formal roundtables, this return to the field also allowed me to meet one-on-one with a number of employers, advocates and job seekers who have been important research informants. These in-depth conversations provided another means for participants to vet, contest and contribute to my findings and arguments, fostering a mutual sense of collaboration.

LARRP Roundtable

To my surprise, while I had imagined that most informants would want to read only an executive summary, or the parts of the dissertation most relevant to them, the vast majority requested complete copies of the dissertation and many of those read and commented on the writing. Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant has helped me to produce a more rigorous, relevant and collaborative dissertation and I hope, a stronger forthcoming book.