Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Giving Them Their Genetic History: Returning the Results of Molecular Anthropological Studies to Southern Africa

A Final Report from Engaged Anthropology Grant recipient Brigitte Pakendorf, Dynamique du Langage, CNRS and Université Lyon 2, awarded in March 2015.

On the road in Botswana.

I had received a Post-PhD grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2012 to cover part of the costs involved in analysing Y-chromosomal sequence variation among populations of southern Africa, particularly among those who speak so-called “Khoisan” languages. Under the label “Khoisan” I subsume the indigenous languages of southern Africa that are characterized by a heavy use of click consonants and that do not belong to the Bantu family of languages. These Y-chromosome analyses were part of a larger project on the genetic history of the Khoisan-speaking peoples. Since this project is nearly completed, I decided to return to Botswana and Namibia to explain the results to the people whose genetic history we had studied. I undertook this return trip together with my close collaborator, Mark Stoneking from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who had accompanied me to Namibia in 2011 to collect samples and who has been deeply involved in the genetic analyses. Our plan was to visit as many of the communities that had participated in the study as possible to explain to them in person what we had found out about their history.

It should be noted that the original field trips to collect saliva samples in Botswana and Namibia had taken six and seven weeks, respectively, whereas we now had only six and a half weeks at our disposal for the entire trip. Therefore, we were not able to visit all the communities in person, but I sent written reports to those that we could not reach for lack of time. For the communities settled in Botswana, these written reports were translated into Tswana, the lingua franca of Botswana, while for the communities settled in Namibia they were translated into Afrikaans, still widely used in that country; we sent both the English original and the translated version of each report. In these reports – both the written and the oral that formed the basis of our community meetings – I tried to provide not only information concerning the prehistory of the Khoisan-speaking peoples and their Bantu-speaking neighbours in general, but also specific results concerning the genetic history of each individual ethnolinguistic group.

Spending a night in a traditional court in a remote village, Botswana.

We travelled from Johannesburg through Botswana and Namibia to Windhoek, starting on July 7th and arriving on August 17th, 2015 and covering approximately 10,000 km in total in a Landrover driven solely by Mark, which we were able to rent thanks to the grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The other expenses incurred during this trip were covered by a separate grant awarded by the Laboratory of Excellence “ASLAN” of Lyon.

In order to be as efficient as possible, we had set up a very tight itinerary and I had sent letters ahead of time to all of the communities for whom I had addresses, informing them of the time and date we proposed to come; we further arranged meetings by phone on the ground where possible. Unfortunately, not all of our letters arrived at their destination, so that there were several communities who were unaware of our plans until we arrived. In several of these it was therefore impossible to organize a community meeting to explain our results. Nevertheless, of the nearly 40 communities that we visited during our trip, we were able to explain our findings in personal meetings to 28.

Community meeting with Shua in Nata, Botswana, with Blesswell Kure translating.

In order to make the rather complex material more accessible to people who often have only a relatively low level of education, we had brought some illustrations, with the help of which I tried to explain how we can study the (genetic) history of an ethnolinguistic group using saliva samples as well as what we found. In Botswana, my explanation was translated into Tswana by our assistant Blesswell Kure, with a further translation into the local language by a member of the community where needed. In Namibia I conducted the meetings mostly in Afrikaans, which is often understood better than English; again, where needed, a community member would translate what I said into the local language. The size of our audiences in the villages ranged from 10 to approximately 70, with on average 30-40 people listening. Where we were unable to explain our results in person, we left written reports in the hopes that in this way the information concerning our results would spread via the literate community members. We furthermore left these written results after each community meeting, and will be sending more of these to communities and individuals who had requested this.

Community meeting with Haiǁom in Mangetti West, Namibia, with traditional leader chief Geelbooi translating.

In addition to explaining our findings to the communities who had participated in our study, we also gave lectures in Johannesburg, Gaborone, and Windhoek. These targeted different audiences: geneticists at the Sydney Brenner Institute in Johannesburg, interested academics from various fields at the University of Botswana in Gaborone and the University of Namibia in Windhoek, and the general public at the Namibia Scientific Society (also in Windhoek). We estimate that in total we shared our results directly with approximately 1,000 people. Furthermore, we gave a television interview in Gaborone and a radio interview in Windhoek.

While the response among the communities was generally very positive, there were also some who made it very clear that knowing about their genetic history – which often entails events that took place thousands of years ago – is entirely irrelevant to their daily struggle for a decent living and basic political rights, and who would have preferred material support over abstract knowledge. Nevertheless, in general the people we met were very appreciative of our efforts to share the findings from our study with them, and most of them were very interested in our results. Thus, in several cases people started avidly reading the written reports that we had prepared as soon as we distributed them after each meeting, and as I said above, many have requested their own personal copy. This underlines the importance of returning the results of scientific studies to the people involved, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation is to be highly commended for taking the initiative with their “Engaged Anthropology” funding programme.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Serious Play: Anthropology and Game Design for Farmworker Health and Justice

Playing “Farm-o-Poly,” an agricultural themed version of the classic board game “Monopoly” and wondering, “Where are the farmworkers?”

Eight students from California’s Pájaro Valley and two interns joined anthropologist Dvera Saxton in summer 2015 in a creative workshop that led to the conceptualization and design of two farmworker-themed video games. By winter 2016, the games will be digitized and ready for their public debut on the Internet. The students, who all come from farmworker families, learned ideas and methods of anthropology, game design, and graphic design and combined those new insights with their own life experiences to create the games. It is our hope that our video games will foster greater empathy for farmworkers and a deeper sense of appreciation for the skilled but socially and economically undervalued work that they do in the strawberry fields.


Workshop participants from top left, intern Juan Morales Rocha, Kat Torres, Samuel Hernandez, Xavier Rodriguez, Fabian Rocha, Marco Baltazar, and intern Kevin Cameron. Bottom from left: Juan Pablo Chavez, Mar Uribe, Victoria Moran, and anthropologist Dvera Saxton.

When you play classic board games like The Game of Life or Monopoly, the stories and narratives, and even the outcomes of game play, do not necessarily reflect our lived realities. And the values that the contemporary versions of these games instill are also problematic, and deviate from those intended by their originators (and, according to historian Jill Lepore, author of The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, certainly from those of the Old World inventors of the some of the first spiral board games in India, East Asia, and the ancient Middle East).

Immigrant workers, are largely invisible in contemporary popular board and video games (as they are in real life), despite their critical roles in producing and maintaining wealth: the construction workers who build dream homes, the housekeepers and nannies who maintain the gleaming interiors and care for the children of more privileged full time workers, the gardeners who preen and prune the landscaping, and the farmworkers who harvest the strawberries plunked into the champagne or sliced atop a Starbucks parfait.

Director of the Digital Nest, Jacob Martinez, takes a break to play. Photo by author.

Even amidst great struggles—from dangerous border crossings and family separations to devastating and permanently disabling injuries—farmworkers and their families still found time for humor and playfulness in everyday life. It is from my observations of farmworker families at work and at play that I drew much of the inspiration for the Game Over: Game Design for Farmworker Health workshop. With the collaboration of two interns–Kevin Cameron, a UC Santa Cruz Game Design program graduate, and Juan Morales Rocha a UC Santa Cruz Cognitive Science major and son of farmworker parents–eight students (recruited from Watsonville High School and Pájaro Valley High School), and our host, the Digital Nest (a non-profit that provides space for youth and adults to learn about emerging technologies and collaborate on projects), we developed two farmworker themed video games that we hope will foster more empathy for the people who harvest the fresh foods we eat.

The anthropologist hoists the piñata at a Christmas-time guerilla toy distribution for farm worker children at an apartment complex in Watsonville. Photo by Gabe.

I went back to my field notes to think about the instances of playfulness I observed in farmworkers’ everyday lives, and how this contrasted with the unbearable struggles and suffering they endured behind the scenes. Play is a method of coping with seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is a survival strategy, a way of blowing off steam or decompressing from a long day at work, and also a means to instill values and morals in children and to reinforce them amongst adults. As political scientist anthropologist James C. Scott observed, there is a playfulness to rural workers’ resistance in the fields.

Farmworker play is diverse, and takes place both at work and off the clock. El Teatro Campesino toured across California’s farm fields, entertaining workers and inciting them to respond to injustices through comedy and theatrical plays. At work, farmworkers may sing along with the radio, sneak a ripe berry into their mouths, or take part in lunchtime soccer matches or gambling card games. At one field site site near a flower nursery, I saw that farmworkers had ingeniously made their own impromptu glove drying rack. At farmworker households, families played rounds of loteria (a classic Mexican version that is similar to bingo), especially at Christmas time. I reminisced about the guerilla piñata parties an area activist group would throw for farmworker neighborhoods around Watsonville at Christmas time. At a community garden run by farmworkers, children played by running up and down the rows and occasionally helped their parents. All the while, they were learning the differences between edible and inedible weeds and how to grow food for their families the same ways they do back home in Mexico. I thought about the participation of farmworkers and their children at rallies, and the clever and colorful posters they made. How could we mobilize this playfulness to challenge popular misconceptions about farm work and farmworkers? What games could we create that might help farmworkers preserve their health, or know their rights?

Children of farmworkers play “farmer” atop a tractor at a farmworker-led community garden.

California’s Pájaro and Salinas Valleys are major strawberry-growing regions, producing 80 percent of the strawberries consumed throughout the United States. In this region, from May through October, thousands immigrant laborers, mostly of Mexican and Central American descent, rise before dawn to harvest strawberries, red and black raspberries, and blueberries. Many people enjoy these and other fruits at breakfast time, several hours after the sun comes up.

These strawberry fields (not the ones idealized by the Beatles) are where I conducted my dissertation research on farmworker health and wellbeing. I observed that many factors—from pesticides to the piece rate of pay—contribute to devastating farmworker health problems that layer and evolve over time in bodies and communities. My research and activism in response to farmworker health issues involved networks up and down the agricultural hierarchy. It has and continues to contribute ethnographic labor and critical analysis and reflection to social and environmental justice movements.

Retired farmworker grandparents and their grandkids with hand-colored posters with serious life-or-death messages at a demonstration against the toxic pesticide methyl idodie.

During our workshop, we merged the methods and concepts of ethnography, game design, and graphic design to make a series of serious games. This kind of game play aims to achieve more than entertainment. There is a great range of serious games, and the ideas and ethics they promote: from social justice causes to ethically problematic military and police training games. In addition to fostering empathy for farmworkers, we want our games to serve as educational and political resources in response to the a-political curriculum games featured on the websites of agribusiness companies and advocacy organizations, such as the American Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission.

We conducted participant observation by playing and discussing many different board and video games with farming, food, immigration, and political themes. Some featured explicit and serious social justice themes, like The Migrant Trail. In this game, players can take on the role of an immigrant crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or the role of a border patrol agent. We thought critically about the problematic storylines of games like Harvest Moon, which features a young farmer who can till, tend, and harvest the land without ever running out of stamina. This is a stark contrast to the experiences of farmworkers, who are often permanently disabled by the repetitive motions and intense pace of the labor.

Drawing ourselves as video game characters as we contemplate the absence of Latino/a characters in games that aren’t racist or based on pernicious stereotypes.

Each of these games are fun to play, but for these teens, playing The Migrant Trail proved to be a more powerful experience than Oregon Trail, because their families’ stories are brought to the center of the gaming experience. So too, are the tensions between first generation immigrants and their descendants, some of whom, the youth observed, ironically, get jobs as border patrol agents. Playing a border patrol checkpoint agent in the game Papers, Please! gave students temporary access to indiscriminate amounts of power over the lives of other migrants trying to get into the fictional country of Arstotzka. The longer they played, the less sympathetic they became to immigrants’ pleas and stories, and the more obedient they became at enforcing the bureaucracy.

There are opportunities for anthropology, with the creative assistance of communities and other disciplines, to flip the script on games and other modes of learning and play in ways that aim to validate and politicize everyday life. The games that we came up with this summer provide a constructive means of engaging some of the complex and serious issues that farmworker families face every day.  We will be throwing our game launch party in Winter of 2016, and we look forward to sharing our work with Pájaro Valley farmworker families, teachers, health care providers, non-profit directors and staffers, and elected officials, and from there, the rest of the internet accessible world. We hope that the games inspire other kinds of pragmatic, or practical, solidarity with farmworkers, in addition to furthering the trend of disseminating anthropological research by unconventional and innovative means.

Kat Torres tests out the prototype. The objective is to pick and grade the strawberries as fast as possible with few to no inconsistencies or errors. It is a lot harder than it looks and sounds! The physical prototype is like a rough draft of what will eventually become a final digitized video game.

After analyzing and playing these and other games, and brainstorming different ideas and variables for our own farmworker-themed game, we developed, constructed, play-tested, and refined two video game prototypes. Our game suite, Guardians of the Field: The Strawberry Jam (or Guardianes/as del Campo: El Jale de la Fresa in Spanish) will be launched online with free access in Winter 2016. One of the games simulates the experience of working at a piece rate of pay and the work of picking and grading berries for different global markets at a fast pace. The second is puzzle in which the player must pick and arrange the berries into a series of baskets under a time limit. In the end, the berries in each basket must weigh approximately one pound and must not overflow. Both of these are highly skilled parts of strawberry farm work. Our teen coconspirators know, sometimes from second hand knowledge from their parents and grandparents, and sometimes from first hand knowledge having spent summers alongside their kin in the berry fields, that farm work is not merely mindless physical labor. In reality, a lot of skill, focus, knowledge, and care, as well as physical energy, goes into picking and packing the strawberries that end up on supermarket shelves and in our refrigerators.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Caitlin E. Fouratt


Workshop participant discusses his family’s migration story

Caitlin E. Fouratt is Assistant Professor in the International Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach.

In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, she received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Presences and Absences: Nicaraguan Migration to Costa Rica and Transnational Families.” In June 2015, she returned for one month to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to teach a seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies at the University of Costa Rica and to facilitate two community workshops. The seminar included presentations on her own research as well as current research from local colleagues and students’ research projects. The first workshop, with Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica, focused on the challenges of family separation, gender and migration, and strengthening family ties. The second, with relatives of migrants back in Nicaragua, examined shifts in Costa Rican immigration law that migrants face and the complexity of transnational family relationships.


Seminar participants at the University of Costa Rica

My dissertation research focused on the experiences of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica and their families back in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans represent the largest immigrant group in Costa Rica and make up almost 8% of the population. In my research, I looked at the ways in which members of transnational families navigate the shifting meanings of family when faced with the challenges of migration. Two of the biggest challenges Nicaraguan transnational families face are the result of state policies on either side of the border. In Nicaragua, where decades of conflict, natural disasters, and economic crisis have deepened poverty, the government has been unable or unwilling to provide basic social services for much of the population. Most poor Nicaraguans seek to provide care for themselves and each other through family networks. But with high unemployment and low wages, families are forced to make difficult decisions, including deciding to migrate internationally to provide for food, housing, education, and healthcare for loved ones. Unlike in the rest of Central America, most Nicaraguans travel not north to the U.S., but south to neighboring Costa Rica, where wages are relatively higher, the journey takes less than one day, and immigration enforcement has not been as repressive as in the United States. However, this situation has been changing over the past ten years. Indeed, my research showed that, like other receiving countries around the world, Costa Rica is moving toward immigration policies focused on increasing restrictions for entry and residency and ramping up enforcement efforts and the costs of fees and fines. All of this affects families’ abilities to maintain relationships across borders.

Some seminar participants after our last class at the University of Costa Rica

I applied for a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant because I wanted to facilitate dialogue with Costa Rican colleagues working on migration and to share my results with the families who participated in the project. As a bonus, I was able to return with my now 3 year old daughter who was born in Costa Rica during dissertation research. During my dissertation fieldwork, my husband, Chris, and our daughter were my constant fieldwork companions for the 18 months we spent in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Like many scholars of transnational migration, at various moments throughout my fieldwork, I found myself tracing and retracing the paths and journeys migrants themselves traveled. Becoming a mother while in the field, became integral not only to building rapport with my Nicaraguan interlocutors but also to my expectations of how I would undertake fieldwork and my understandings of kinship and family. Returning as a family allowed us to reconnect with the families with whom we spent so much time during her infancy.

Koen Voorend, researcher and professor at the University of Costa Rica, presenting on Nicaraguans’ access to and use of public services in Costa Rica

With the help of very supportive colleagues at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales at the University of Costa Rica, especially Koen Voorend and the Institute’s director, Dr. Carmen Caamano, I organized a 4 session seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies.  We invited students, faculty, and community members to come together to talk about pressing migration issues in Costa Rica as well as global trends in migration and recent migration studies research. Because we wanted the seminar to create a space of dialogue rather than just a class about my research, we invited participants to share their own research, experience, and projects on the key themes of the seminar. As the first day of the seminar approached, I felt increasingly nervous. Other than in an article, I had never articulated my research in Spanish before, especially before a live audience. Plus, it was the end of the academic term and students and professors were preparing for exams. Would anyone even attend? I needn’t have worried. Our first meeting included 26 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and researchers, NGO members, and even some Nicaraguan migrants who had participated in my research.

Olinda Bravo, coordinator and founder of the Network of Women Migrants presenting to students about the history of immigrant organizing in Costa Rica

It was exciting to present my work to Costa Rican colleagues and receive their feedback. But even more rewarding was to hear colleagues and students present on their recent work. Koen Voorend presented on the relationship between Nicaraguans’ legal status and use of social services in Costa Rica. Dr. Carmen Caamaño, the director of the IIS presented on her work with migrant organizations, and Olinda Bravo, the coordinator of the Network of Women Migrants, on the network’s experiences standing up for labor rights and advocating for immigrants in Costa Rica. Students also presented their thesis projects, which ranged from work in psychology on the mental health of Central American refugees in Costa Rica, from Social Work in gendered aspects of border crossings, and to a Fulbright scholar home on vacation about unaccompanied child migrants in the U.S. What impressed me most was the level of interest that these issues sparked among students and faculty. As one colleague noted, years ago when she completed her masters at the University of Costa Rica, she was almost the only student working on migration. Now, there are students across disciplines and levels interested in issues of migration and gender, mobility, family, and law. The dialogue sparked by planning and facilitating the seminar has already prompted plans for joint publication with Costa Rican colleagues and I hope will set the stage for future collaborations.

Participants in Costa Rica drawing their families

In between seminar sessions, I also organized two workshops, one in Costa Rica and one in Nicaragua with former research participants and members of transnational families. These workshops would have been impossible to organize without the help of the very dedicated staff of ASTRADOMES, the Association of Domestic Workers, and the Network of Women Relatives of Nicaraguan Migrants. These women supported and encouraged me during fieldwork years ago, and were key to handling all the logistics and organizing needed to pull off the workshops successfully. The first workshop, in Costa Rica, was hosted by ASTRADOMES, and included 15 migrant women, who trekked through a torrential downpour to attend. We started the day introducing ourselves by drawing our families, then I presented some key insights from my research, particularly on the gendered work of maintaining family ties, and received lots of audience input and commentary. We closed by brainstorming some strategies that migrants could use to strengthen transnational family relationships.

Carmen Cruz, labor rights promoter for Astradomes, preparing typical a typical Nicaraguan meal for workshop participants

In Nicaragua, our workshop was cut short by the celebration of the Repliegue de Masaya, a reenactment of a battle leading up to the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. But again, the coordinators of the Network of Women Family Members of Migrants and Astradomes ensured that we would have a great turn out. Although I had hoped to give a more formal academic talk before the workshop, the schedule changes meant few faculty could make it and workshop participants needed to arrive early to avoid public transit delays. In the end, I presented on Costa Rican immigration law and the lived experiences of “illegal” migrants to the workshop participants themselves. Afterwards, many participants noted that this was a topic they rarely discussed with their family members in Costa Rica, though many of them were undocumented. The presentation offered a new perspective on the challenges their loved ones faced abroad. But what made this part a highlight was that several professors from the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) attended and expressed interest in collaborating with the Network and Astradomes.  These faculty members were key contacts that the network had been trying to connect with and build relationships with for a long time. I hope that the conversations started here will lead to more fruitful collaborations not only for myself, but for Astradomes and the network.

The conversations sparked in these activities have not only helped me think through my research in light of participants’ comments, suggestions, and critiques, and to brainstorm future avenues of research, but have prompted conversations among academic and community-based colleagues about continuing to develop spaces for collaboration and feedback.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amelia R. Hubbard

Amelia Hubbard is Assistant Professor in the department of Sociology & Anthropology at Wright State University. In 2009, while a doctoral student at Ohio State University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘A Re-examination of Biodistance Analysis Using Dental and Genetic Data,’ supervised by Dr. Debra J. Guatelli-Steinberg. She was subsequently awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Engaging Prehistory Through Genetic and Dental Variation Among Kenya’s Coastal Communities.’

5 schools, 4 communities, 1 month        

Around a week was spent in each of four communities within Kenya’s coastal province: Mombasa, Lamu, Dawida, and Kasigau. The intended goals of the trip were to: 1) reconnect with participant communities from my 2010 dissertation project, 2) connect with the (potential) next generation of Kenyan anthropologists, and 3) share results with academic communities.

In total, 700 individuals were formally contacted during school visits and open houses. Approximately 100 additional individuals were contacted during informal conversations with community members interested in the project.


Goal 1: Connecting with the community     

Research poster on display at the Makwasinyi Village Dispensary

Often, participants are not afforded the opportunity to learn much about the final results of a study, particularly when publications are printed in journals and languages that are inaccessible to local communities.

Non-technical posters (in Swahili and English) were displayed in six easily accessed locations. Paper copies of the text were also handed out to any interested parties so that individuals who could not attend presentations (due to age, illness, cultural restrictions, or busy home lives) still had access to the results.

In the Taita Hils (Kasigau and Dawida), display locations included dispensaries and libraries.

On the coast (Mombasa and Lamu), posters were displayed in cultural centers and open access museums.

A baraza

In each location, I also arranged a series of barazas (open meetings) where community members could ask questions about the research results. To facilitate higher attendance, local elders coordinating community projects helped identify times when these projects would be taking place and arranged time to talk with community participants. In some villages, elders and project leaders also imparted the importance of understanding Taita (pre)history and supporting future projects in the area.

In a few areas, barazas were not possible and the results were disseminated via more informal conversations among community members and by distributing handouts. Individual home visits were not conducted, to protect the identities of past participants and to avoid giving the appearance that I had “favorites.”


Goal 2: Inspiring the next generation                                                

Initially, this component of the project was touch and go. Upon landing in Kenya, I was informed that all high school teachers were on strike and schools had been closed indefinitely. Fortunately, some public boarding schools still had students. Additionally, with the national exams quickly approaching, many of the Form 4 students (HS Seniors) were studying on their own rather than returning home where family and work obligations would hinder their ability to prepare.

Talking with students at secondary schools

In total, I was able to visit five schools: Moi Secondary (Kasigau), Lamu Girls School (Lamu), Dr. Aggrey Boys School (Dawida), Mwangeka Girls School (Dawida), and Kenyatta Secondary (Taita). The reception was warm and students were very inquisitive. Questions ranged from, “what are the major benefits of studying anthropology in college?” to “what were the challenges of conducting research?”

Through additional funding from Wright State University, I was also able to create informational posters (with help from my research students) about the subfields of and careers in anthropology to give to schools and educational institutions.

As part of the funding, two of my undergraduate research students (who have been working on the study collection from the 2010 project) traveled to Kenya to assist with the trip. They proved vital in documenting the project and facilitated additional engagement with communities by allowing local students to interact with “real” American students. Through this experience they also gained their own rewards: both are now certain that public health, medical anthropology, and international development are areas they will pursue in graduate school.

Though I anticipated my students’ popularity among local high schoolers, I could not have guessed at the impact of their speeches, especially among female students.

Kaitlin talks with students at Dr. Aggrey

Chris, a mother of two and full time student, told students about her choice to return to school after having a family, despite the financial and emotional struggles of balancing both responsibilities. Though most female students found it unusual for a woman to return to school after having had children, they also vocalized how her story was inspiring and gave hope that they could be both mothers and scientists someday.

Kaitlin, a 20-year old considering medical school, impressed students (many of whom themselves are the same age) with her commitment and focus to both anthropology and medicine. She articulated why her training in anthropology would make her a good doctor and explained why studying language, culture, and history are relevant to students interested in science.

The added bonus of their interactions with students furthered my intended goal of inspiring the next generation of Kenyan anthropologists and was an important contribution to the overall EA project.


Goal 3: Academic presentations             

As anyone who does research abroad can attest, there are many challenges in coordinating a research program from the other side of the world. In the US we’d say “the best laid plans…” and in Kenya we’d say “haraka, haraka haina baraka” (hurry, hurry has no blessings) or “hamna shida, tutashinda kesho” (no worries, there’s always tomorrow).

In preparation for my EA project, I diligently contacted colleagues to arrange workshops and talks at various institutions around Kenya. Unfortunately, due to illness, scheduling conflicts, and other roadblocks I was ultimately not able to fully complete this component of the project.

I was still able to meet a few anthropology undergraduates from Pwani University and University of Nairobi to talk about research on the coast. One student I spoke with is currently a Kiswahili and History instructor at Kenyatta Secondary School in the Taita Hills and initiated a meeting with students to talk about my research and careers in anthropology.


Poster accepted by Charles Adika on behalf of Kenyatta Secondary

Final thoughts and lessons learned        

Despite a few setbacks, my EA project was a success and I see that the impacts are varied and ongoing.

First, there is the impact on the community. Many people articulated how pleased they were to see a researcher return with study results. A common phrase was, “Everyone says they’ll come back, but they don’t.” Through e-mail, Facebook, and calls to my research assistants it appears that people are still talking about the project (i.e., spreading the word) and visiting the posters.

Second, there is the impact on youth. It has only been a week and a half since we left but I have followed up with teachers via e-mail and post to reiterate my commitment to providing informational resources about studying anthropology at the collegiate level. Informal discussions with principals and administrators about internships and job shadowing also have the potential to create networks between future research projects and students interested in anthropology.

Third, this opportunity to reconnect with participants, friends, and colleagues has strengthened relationships between myself and these communities, allowing for greater success in future research endeavors.

Thank you Wenner-Gren for this wonderful opportunity. And thank you to the people of coastal Kenya for your continued hospitality.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Diana Szanto

Diana Szanto, then a student at the University of Pecs, Pecs, Hungary, was awarded the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in May 2010, to aid research on ‘Engaging with Disability: NGOs between Global and Local Forces in the Post-Conflict Reconsolidation of Sierra Leone,’ supervised by Dr. Gabor Vargyas. This research project investigates the interplay between local and international NGOs in the context of the Sierra Leonean post-war reconstruction focusing specifically on the field of disability. In 2015, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow-up her research and share her results with the community that hosted her.


Dr. Diana Szanto, University of Pécs, Hungary and president of Artemisszio Foundation, Budapest (Hungary) received an Engaged Anthropology grant to share the results of her PhD research with disabled people living in Sierra Leone, members of the disability elite as well as NGO staff working in the field of disability. To meet these different publics she organised four types of actions. She had a short intervention in front of state officials and leaders of the disability movement, she organised a 2 day workshop on disability activism for active members of disabled organisations and she facilitated a discussion with the joint participation of NGO workers and disability activists. Finally, she visited the different collective homes managed by polio-disabled people which had been the sites of her research.  The objective of these activities was to construct a learning environment for people with disabilities and for NGO workers working with disabled people allowing them to reflect on their own practices and to discover together alternatives.  Rather than a presentation chapter from chapter the grantee used the topics of the dissertation to generate ideas and debates.  The long and tedious preparation of the different actions as well as the actual realisation of the program can be considered as an extension of the field work, allowing testing the conclusions of the dissertation. The mission took place at a moment when the disability movement was undergoing transformation and the opportunity for self-reflection was welcomed and well used by the participants.

When I decided to apply for the Engaged Anthropology Program it certainly seemed to be the right thing to do. After all I had spent years in Sierra Leone observing organisations of people with disability. It was obvious that the people who nourished my thesis with their infinite patience, tolerating my presence and answering my naïve questions had the right to know what I wrote about them. Besides, immodestly, I secretly hoped that my objectifying gaze would contribute to the revitalisation of the Sierra Leonean disability movement in particular, and that of the Sierra Leonean civil society, in general.

My dissertation demonstrated that paradoxically, more the empowerment and capacity building of civil society was emphasized as a central element of the post-conflict democratisation process, more grassroots organisations became disempowered.  Incorporated progressively by the power structure, they were losing their capacity to defend the basic interests of their constituency. The heavy top- down civil society building and the formatting of the Sierra Leonean civil society according to the mould of what I called “project society” ultimately led to the depoliticisation of potentially subversive popular movements.  My aim was to show that re-politicisation was not only necessary but also possible.

My proposed methodology was composed of four types of interventions, each of them reaching a different public.  My plan was blatantly over-ambitious but I did not want to miss any relevant audience.  First, I had to reach the senior leadership of the disability movement. Second, I had to create space for discussion with the most active members of grassroots organisations. Third, I owed some sort of recapitulation to international NGOs as well.  Fourth, I wanted to visit one by one the self-managed collective polio-homes which used to be the main sites of my observations.  That was the easiest thing to do, as I had friends to see in most of them.  The other three points on my agenda proved to be much more complicated to realize.

I counted on using my old connections but I quickly understood that since my last visit the power relations had changed again and I was obliged to re-learn to navigate in the dangerously moving field of disability politics. I spent almost two months preparing the actions I had proposed, meeting with decision makers, visiting state institutions, civil society organisations and NGOs.  I was already losing hope to ever come to terms with my mission, when miraculously all of a sudden all the obstacles were swept away. It was not because I was particularly convincing. I was just lucky. I arrived at the right moment. People were longing for change.

All the processes I had observed before had been only exacerbated since the end of my field work.  The gap between the senior leadership and the lay members of disabled organisations had widened.  While the former were offered lucrative government positions, the latter saw literally no change in their lives. Poverty and vulnerability remained unchallenged. Not a single point of the Disability Act was implemented since its enactment in 2011, except for the creation of a costly but highly inefficient National Commission, which drew virtually all disabled organisations under the control of the state. Evictions stopped, but probably more because of Ebola than because of a conscious political decision to put an end to the chronic housing insecurity. The lack of access to public services worsened.  The disability movement was more fractured than ever, visibly losing momentum as it was gradually institutionalised. Disabled people, disability activists and NGO workers alike were getting weary.

If I was critical, what I had to say could not surprise anybody any more.  Still, I was looking forward a little bit nervously to speaking about these issues publicly. The cross-disability Symposium organised by the National Disability Commission was the occasion I was waiting for. Despite the long negotiations I had conducted beforehand, I was not sure if I would really get a chance to talk. When the chairman invited me to the high table I grabbed happily the opportunity to speak about the wonderful things I learned during my fieldwork: disabled people organising themselves in self-sustaining,  self-managing communities, providing shelter, economic opportunity, sociability, social security to their members, including a great number of non-disabled people whom they integrate!  That was an extraordinary integration model the world should know about – I said.

An outsider would not have found my speech particularly controversial. I knew however that I was challenging a powerfully dominant model of self-representation.  For too long time the self-identity of disabled people was constructed on the basis of self-pity, victimisation and on the sharp opposition between the disabled and the non-disabled world, the latter usually depicted as necessarily hostile.  My speech stuck out from the long litany of complaints and accusations.  By attacking the invisible wall built between people with disability and their environment living in the same poverty I was putting in question the taken for granted supposition that disabled people only can claim rights on the account of their disability.  That was to shake the fundaments of disability politics.

I used the occasion of the symposium to invite a few people to a workshop on disability activism that I was to deliver the next  days.  The workshop was originally planned for 3 days but I had to shorten it to 2 because of the celebrations of the International Disability Day that the Commission organised the same week – probably as a political gesture – in the hometown of the President. I took it as a good sign that despite the busy week around 20 people turned up the next morning.  That was the second and most important phase of my program and I was extremely grateful to a friend who helped me with the organisation and agreed to co-facilitate the training with me.

We started the discussion with the participants by mapping the most burning global challenges, discussing each time how these problems concerned them and what solutions they could propose. We then analysed a film on the beginning of disability activism in the USA (Lives worth living), trying to define the conditions of a successful popular mobilisation. We used the tool of the Tree of Life ( – to make collective strengths, resources, dreams and needs emerge in a symbolic language, and discussed possible strategies to transform basic needs into rights. We also familiarised ourselves with Forum Theatre.

Instead of directly speaking of my dissertation I was rather leading my public to formulate their own learning points, testing at the same time my own conclusions.  Luckily the two overlapped!  Here are some lines of my notes:

1, Any collective mobilisation should start with an analysis of the actual nature and source of oppression. Embracing an agenda developed in different circumstances in other parts of the world does not necessarily give the right answers.

2, The overemphasising of discrimination leaves little place to the recognition of the support disabled people remember having received from family, community and teachers.  Recognising this support is not in contradiction with condemning discrimination wherever it happens, but it helps realise possible resources existing in Sierra Leonean society.

3, Most of the imminent needs of people with disability do not differ from those of their non-disabled peers living in the same poverty.  What disabled people want are housing security, access to education, health and availability of jobs. On the long run transforming these needs into universal rights might be a more efficient strategy to obtain satisfaction than claiming for special rights on account of disability.

4, Special rights should be claimed wherever special needs exist and are denied.   Access to rehabilitation services and to assistive devices is a case in point.

5, In the context of extreme scarcity and of many unsatisfied needs the goals should be prioritized.  In setting up the order of priorities the leaders of the movement should make sure they represent the interests of the most vulnerable amongst them.

After the workshop I still had time to travel to Makeni for the International Disability Day in the company of my participants, come back to Freetown and finish the week with a last intervention in Handicap International, the NGO that had hosted me in the early stage of my field work. Originally this was to be a special presentation of my dissertation for NGO workers but in the last moment I had the good idea to invite some local leaders of the disability movement. What I had foreseen more or less as a monologue finally turned out to be a lively discussion where international NGO workers, Sierra Leonean disability activists and the anthropologist  mutually learned a lot from each other.

When this extraordinary week ended I had one single thought: I made it! Incredible as it seems, everything happened according to plans. Even better.  I can even suppose that I have sown some seeds that will later germinate. But did I really make it? Will my dissertation make any difference –in understanding disability, civil society or Sierra Leone as a country? Will its presentation have a lasting effect on the Sierra Leonean disability movement?  Only with time shall I know, or never.  But at least I have a feeling of completion now. I did what I could.  And I learned again. I thought I had a big esteem for the subjects of my research but I am afraid I have underestimated them. I should not have been worried to “bring them back the results”. They were more than ready for it. I am sincerely grateful to Wenner-Gren for this lesson.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ndubueze Leonard Mbah

Dr. Ndubueze Leonard Mbah is Assistant Professor of History at the University at Buffalo. In 2011, while a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Emergent Masculinities: The Gendered Struggle for Power in Southeastern Nigeria, 1850-1920,’ supervised by Dr. Nwando Achebe. In 2015, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to produce a gendered narrative reconciliation film ethnography, juxtaposing male narratives and practices that seek to efface women and depict the Ohafia-Igbo as a militant Igbo society dominated by male warriors who subjugated women and preyed on non-Igbo neighbors for slaves; with female narratives and practices that posit Ohafia as a distinct matrilineal Igbo society dominated by female breadwinners and political rulers who forged filial links among multiple ethnicities in a borderland geography. 

I successfully carried out my community engagement ethnography with the Ohafia-Igbo, from June 1 to July 15, 2015, during the society’s annual homecoming festivals. I fulfilled the project’s primary goal, which was to share through accessible media, the findings of my historical ethnography with my community research partners. Moreover, I video recorded their reactions and feedback to the findings. The local custodians’ constructive criticisms, commentaries, validations and further clarification of my historical narrative and ethnographic interpretations, which I was able to obtain through this process, were most rewarding. The entire research journey, accessible in video media, affords students of history and anthropology a rare perspective into the methodology of historical ethnography.

In phase I, I developed and screened for Ohafia-Igbo participatory audiences, a 2h:40m documentary video of local gendered rituals and material culture politics, which memorialize the impact of the Atlantic world on transformations in gender identities and regimes over the past 300 years. Through tree cutting and plantain hunting rituals, war dances and new yam festivals, male-centered narratives memorialize the successive histories of settlement, slave production, and wealth masculinity. On the other hand, women’s contemporary rituals such as uzo-iyi (virginity testing) and ije akpaka (ritual declaration of war), political resistance strategies such as ibo ezi (strike and boycott) and ikpo mgbogho (social ostracism), and material culture practices such as the raising of matrilineal ancestress pot monuments (ududu), constitute female-centered narratives that celebrate women’s historic position as breadwinners and reproducers of matrilineages. The documentary presented these male and female narratives as complementary. Ohafia-Igbo villagers, including children, adult men and women, and members of specialist guilds such as spirit mediums, constituted the primary audience for the video documentary. The screening took place in village community halls, with the collaboration of community leaders, who assisted with conducive scheduling and public announcements (through town-criers). With the aid of a professional videographer, I filmed the audiences’ reactions to the documentary, as well as the extensive questions and debates that followed. In two particular cases, where the subject of debate was too politically sensitive to be discussed openly, I followed up with the concerned parties in private video-recorded interviews. I gifted copies of the documentary video to the village communities at the conclusion of the engagement.

In phase II, I assembled the male kings of the twenty-five Ohafia-Igbo villages, representatives of the female kings of three villages, several compound chiefs, university professors, and Nde Ikpirikpe Ogu (war dancers) at Elu, the society’s ancestral capital, on June 24, 2015. With the aid of a computer, projector screen and loudspeakers, I presented my book manuscript in the local language – Ohafia-Igbo. The event, which was also video-recorded, began with a public performance of the society’s history of migration and settlement through dance and songs by renowned Ohafia War Dancers. At the end of my 1-hour presentation, I received glowing affirmations of my thesis, namely, that the society’s concerted engagements with the Atlantic world through slave production, legitimate commerce, colonialism and Christianity between 1750 and 1920, shaped the demography of the African forced Diaspora, transformed local gender ideologies, and ushered a shift from a pre-colonial period characterized by female breadwinners and more powerful female political institutions, to a colonial period of male political domination. The audience was most impressed by the broader implications of their community’s history for the Atlantic world. Following my presentation, the Udumeze (king of kings) of Ohafia, in consort with the kings-in-council, honored me with royal Ima Nzu – the ritual adoption of an individual as a son-of-the-soil, as well as the War Dance – which signified that I had ‘gone to battle and cut a head’ for the community, in this case, by capturing what the Udumeze called “the very essence of our history, beyond the capacity of what we could have done ourselves.”

This Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Fellowship experience has been one of my most intellectually rewarding undertakings in the past seven years. It afforded me a wonderful opportunity to give back to my research community – by acknowledging their indispensability to the knowledge production process, and their co-ownership of the research product. It provided a platform for Ohafia men to publically acknowledge the central role of women in complex social transformations in their society, as well as the post-colonial marginalization of women from dominant spheres of political and economic power. Hence, while the engagement achieved the goal of mirroring before Ohafia participatory audiences the historical threads that have produced social inequalities, the process also engendered communitas. The community engagement has cemented the multi-disciplinary strength of my research methodology and provided me with a solid footing for the revision of my book manuscript.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ed Wilmsen and ‘Pottery, Clays, and Lands: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Social Dimensions of Pottery in Botswana’


Dr. Wilmsen presenting at the workshop.

Ed Wilmsen is Honorary Fellow of the Centre for African studies in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. In 2013, he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Pottery, Clays, and Lands: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Social Dimensions of Pottery in Botswana’. Last year he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Reciprocal Relations: Expanding the Benefits of Research in the Study Area’ in his former field site of Botswana, working with local potters to increase exposure for their wares, and holding film screenings and seminars to share research with the local populace as well as professional archaeologists.

The initial museum seminar on June 10 included the Director of the Archaeology Unit plus other personnel and was focused mainly on recurrent concerns about the relevance of ethnographic observations for interpreting archaeological data as well as on the potential impact of new legislation regarding access to mineral resources.  Clay is specifically included in this legislation, but the very loose wording of the document makes it unclear if it applies to small scale operators such as the village potters with whom we have been engaged.  Two subsequent UB seminars included Professor Kalabamu, Head of the UB Department of Architecture and Planning, Professor Boipuso, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, both of whom are actively engaged with developments in minerals and more generally proposals concerning access to resources, as well as Professor Fred Morton (UB History) and visiting Professor Coulson (University of Oslo Archaeology) who has many years experience in the country.  The consensus reached at all these meetings was that future free, or affordable low cost, access to raw materials by potters could be in jeopardy and urgent steps must be taken to clarify the matter.  Wilmsen and Griffiths subsequently consulted Dr. Jeffress Ramsay, Director of Communications in the Office of the President and a doctoral student of Wilmsen, who informed us that this matter was recognized and steps were being considered to exempt small scale producers under specified conditions.  Nonetheless, this remains a matter of concern and needs to be monitored.

Another matter of considerable concern was voiced particularly by a curator in the National Museum Ethnography Section.  This is that, although pottery making inBotswanais undergoing a significant revival, there is an increasing tendency for potters to adopt mechanical, mainly foot or electric powered potting wheels, rather than traditional modes of manufacture.  The fear is that a significant facet of Tswana heritage will be lost to future generations, and the question is how to stimulate sufficient interest – not only among producers but also purchasers – to sustain these traditional modes.

Mr. Kebalo Manase (Right)

The workshop took place in the Little Theater of theNationalMuseumand was opened with welcoming remarks by Mr. Louis Moroka, Deputy Director of Archaeology.  Wilmsen then gave a brief overview of the genesis and progression of our work with potters including a history of its funding by Wenner-Gren and others.  This was followed by the screening of the film.  Griffiths then discussed the key social features depicted in the film including traditional and contemporary constraints on resource procurement as aspects of land tenure.  After which Wilmsen explained the technical steps taken by Pilikwe potters in transforming rotted granite into clay and the analytic procedures we use to trace potting materials to their geologic source and how such data aid in identifying prehistoric social interactions.  Thebe summed up the foregoing in relation to common problems in ethnographic and archaeological research.

The workshop was attended by a total of 54 individuals prominent among whom was Mr. Kebalo Manase, Registrar of the National Land Tribunal, UB professors and students as noted above, all museum research staff, representatives of several Botswana CRM organizations, Botswana Society members, as well as media reporters/photographers including Ms. Rosalind Kwenye, Editor of Women-to-Women magazine.  A lively discussion followed the presentations with the principal issues summarized above receiving the greatest attention; personal discussions continued for some time over tea and biscuits in the museum courtyard.

Potters watching film

Village visits

The village visits produced some surprises, with most of these at Pilikwe.  Five of the potters in this village with whom we worked in 2006-2013 were able to meet with us: Gobotsamang Motonto, Fred Motonto, Balemogeng Motswapong, Batlhalefi Gaobatlelwe, and Gathanang Galenamongwe.  The oldest, Dineo Batsalelwang, has died, and Otsetswe Senonki’s son is in Palapye hospital where she is staying with him.  The youngest two, Moipone Oatametse and Omphile Kakwanda, have taken jobs in Palapye.  This reflects substantial changes taking place in the village where major (relative to the area) infrastructural upgrading by District Council is taking place.  The women who met with us continue to make pots and wish to be able to increase their output but are restrained by lack of access to materials and markets.  They pointed to our 2010 article on their potting in the Air Botswana inflight magazine Peolwane which had brought several tourists to Pilikwe who bought many pots; we were given a new pot in gratitude for this.  Their response to our tale of museum fears for the loss of traditional pot-making was amusing – but telling: “we don’t want to stay ‘traditional’, we want production”, and specified a foot-powered potting wheel and a motor-powered clay grinder as most desirable.  Nonetheless, as their rapt attention to our film testifies, they still have a deep interest in their traditional ways.

The situation in Manaledi could hardly be more different.  There traditional potting is thriving, and Mma Lebonetse has a young apprentice, her niece, Galeboeng, and five other potters have their entire cash income from potting.  The reasons for this difference are largely a matter of geographical location.  Pilikwe is being absorbed in the periphery of the Palapye labor catchment area.  Palapye is now called “Botswana’s Powerhouse” because all electricity generating takes place here, all north-south-west highways and railways intersect here, and the Botswana Institute of Science and Technology with 800 students opened two years ago.  This has brought a newly repaved, widened road to Pilikwe with regular bus service between Pilikwe and Palapye just 34km away; consequently, new employment opportunities have appeared as Moipone and Omphile can testify.  Traditional ways, especially if they entail heavy work as does old style potting, tend to seem less desirable.  In contrast, Manaledi is 65km from Palapye; about half this distance is on a narrow road paved to the village turnoff from whence it is a dirt track.  There is no electricity and no public transport.  On the positive side, Manaledi potting clay is a short walk away and donkey carts are readily available to haul the load home.  Under such conditions, traditional ways seem normal.  Manaledi potters do want more market exposure and among our plans for the future are to devise ways to accomplish this.


In addition to the Wenner-Gren funded engagements,Griffithswas able to schedule aa supplementary meeting of her Law and Commerce class in the graduate program in Women and Law at theUniversityofZimbabwein early July at which we screened our film and followed this with a lengthy discussion session.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Karen Rignall and “Transforming Landscapes, Transforming Communities in a Moroccan Oasis Valley”

Karen Rignall is Assistant Professor of Community and Leadership Development in the College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment at the University of Kentucky. In 2009, while a student at the University of Kentucky, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Expanding Cultivation, Land, and Livelihood Transformations in Southern Morocco,’ supervised by Dr. Lisa Cliggett. She used the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to the Mgoun Valley in southern Morocco in early 2014.

I returned to the Mgoun Valley in southern Morocco in early 2014 to initiate a process of collective community-based learning and dialogue about the social and spatial transformations that formed the basis of my dissertation research there in 2010.  My goal was to use a model developed in the refugee camps of Palestine, to support people’s constructive engagement with the social dimensions of landscape transformation rather than to simply present the results of my dissertation. The ensuing year revealed much about how those social dynamics were in even greater flux than during my fieldwork, and how the politics of knowledge production in my research were bound up with these changing social dynamics. The result was an engaged anthropology project that looked very different from my initial plans but that nonetheless produced a sustained dialogue about subsistence claims, land rights, and political representation and engaged a much wider audience than my initial research had. This project produced new and collaborative learning, building my relationships and laying the groundwork for more research in the future.

The initial phase of the project involved working with a local NGO to hold dialogues with different groups to actively reinterpret the spaces in which they live, spaces that had been transformed through expanded agricultural production and housing construction over the past few decades. Rather than work with the local village development association, however, I decided to partner with the Réseau des Associations de Tinghir pour la Démocratie et Développement (RATDED), a province-wide network of NGOs that included the local groups with which I was familiar but engaged in broader collaborative efforts to link community development with substantive economic and political rights. We began the process of community dialogues but found that the project plan — though intended to counter the standard approaches to local development — was still divorced from the social and political dynamics that were already engaging people in my research communities. There were existing sites for people to reimagine their landscapes. People were doing so in the context of existing informal governance institutions, negotiations over land rights in newly opened up frontiers, and social dialogue forums RATDED was already holding. Our meetings began to appear burdensome and in some cases redundant. The Palestinian model remained very compelling to me, but I understood that I would need to be present in Mgoun on a consistent basis, as the Palestinian program is, in order to fully integrate this project into the processes of dialogue already going on. Though I was able to visit for two months in 2014 and one month in early 2015, this was simply not enough to organically link my structured discussions with the often politically charged discussions others were brokering on the same themes.

Rethinking our approach produced interesting insights about the politics of knowledge production. Since the reflexive turn three decades ago, anthropologists have addressed the issue of power and inequality in the research encounter by emphasizing the dialogic nature of our methods and how our politicized understanding of knowledge can mitigate the claims to authority embedded in more strictly positivist approaches. I had thought that framing my research in this critical tradition would resonate with people’s increasingly politicized approach to land tenure and government representation in recent years. But our interlocutors were less invested in the qualitative, interpretive discussions than in the emerging quantitative results from a study I was simultaneously conducting with RATDED. We were doing a household survey in 18 communities to assess poverty dynamics and the impact of out-migration on land ownership, inequality, and wealth over the past fifty years. Whereas our discussions about my dissertation research appeared at times to rehash issues that people were working through in other contexts, a quantitative view of these processes stimulated broad interest. I was surprised at how such a traditional research approach in the end provoked more active engagement. I came to an uncomfortable realization that dialogic, participatory processes may — though do not necessarily — serve more to satisfy foreign researchers’ desire to come to terms with their positionality than address the concerns of people with whom we work. Residents in the valley, whether activists or not, were comfortable with a traditional research product because it offered them a tool using the same authoritative discourses as state agencies (aggregated statistics, charts, etc.) to substantiate claims that government neglect was a form of structural violence perpetuating poverty and inequality.

In the end, we opted for a more orthodox presentation of research results, combining the qualitative insights of my dissertation fieldwork with the preliminary findings of quantitative study were had just concluded. In March 2015, I traveled to the capital city, Rabat, to deliver an academic version of the presentation at the Faculty of Letters. With my Moroccan academic mentor as discussant, I addressed a mixed group of geographer and sociologists, but the main group in attendance was the over 50 undergraduates and graduate students who had organized the gathering. Many of them were from marginalized regions such as the southeastern oases, and they responded to the critical use of quantitative and qualitative data to explain socio-economic transformations they had themselves witnessed. We then held a larger colloquium based in the provincial capital of Tinghir, an hour’s drive from the Mgoun valley. I had initially resisted RATDED’s proposal to hold it there, thinking it needed to be in the valley to facilitate attendance. But when the provincial governor delivered a speech at the opening that outlined his development priorities and a major national human rights figure spoke about economic rights as human rights, I understood the import of bringing some of the region’s most marginalized residents to assert their presence in this government center. Over 150 people attended: research participants from my dissertation period and the current study, activists, NGO representatives, and government officials, and we structured the presentation of results so that the research participants were the true focus of the event. The presenter interpreted the powerpoint charts in Tashelhit, the local dialect of Berber, and used primarily non-technical terms to describe our findings. I had expected the elderly farmers and non-literate attendees to feel detached even from this more accessible language, but everyone was riveted. The hour-long presentation provoked over four hours of sometimes challenging discussions about the causes and consequences of structural poverty and inequality, land conflicts, and the role of the state. Participants told me no researcher had ever returned to the region to present their results or ask them what they thought of the findings. They asked for the research report so that they could use the results themselves; even people who were not civil society activists and had a limited command of Arabic (the report will be in Arabic and French) asked for the report so that they could keep it. I am in the process of producing this non-academic report.

This was one of the most meaningful professional experiences I have had, highlighting the need for us as researchers to remain open to all modes of discourse and to truly listen to our interlocutors to make our research relevant in the ways they find significant. This process of engagement, using what could have felt like a “second-best” strategy when our first one did not work out, did more to further collaborative research in the future that I ever could have imagined. I will be returning next year.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Margaret Crofoot and “Exploring the Jungle in the Backyard”


A juvenile capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus) playing shy.

Margaret Crofoot is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Davis. In 2010, while at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, she received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Do Capuchins Punish Cheaters? Cooperation, Coalitions, and Social Sanctions in Cebus capucinus Intergroup Aggression’. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which allowed her to return to her fieldsite and lead field trips bringing children from surrounding communities to observe researchers about their work.

Keeping one eye on the capuchins while listening to the excited voices coming slowly towards me up the trail, I always have a moment of anticipation: will they notice the monkeys over their heads, or will I get to point them out? One of the best parts of studying primate behavior at an easily accessible field-site like the one the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute runs on Barro Colorado Island in Panama is getting to introduce visitors to my study subjects and share my discoveries with them. Monkeys overcome even the most extreme teenage nonchalance, and capuchins are particularly mischievous and engaging.

I’ve been doing research in Panama for more than ten years, and  time and again, when people find out where I work—at dinner parties, in taxis, once in a hospital emergency room—I hear stories about the school trip they took to Barro Colorado Island (BCI), all the things they saw, and what an impression it left. The experience of exploring a tropical forest with scientists seems to resonate and have a large and lasting impact. This is why, when the Wenner-Gren Foundation announced their new Engaged Anthropology program, I saw an exciting opportunity to be able to sponsor field trips for schools that would otherwise be unable to afford to come to BCI.

Scientist/guide Betzi Perez giving an introductory lecture to a group of students. Betzi first came to BCI as part of an internship program for Panamanian students run by the Smithsonian, and is now a Ph.D. student at McGill University in Canada.

In the last year, Oris Acevedo—BCI’s scientific coordinator—and I have worked together to bring over 200 elementary and high-school aged students to this international hotspot for tropical research to explore the jungle and learn about the science being done in their backyard. To reach the island, classes transit part of the Panama Canal. They are met by one of the Smithsonian’s scientist guides, who gives a short talk about the history of the research station, and about the animals and plants the students will see in the forest.

The group then heads into the forest to see what they can find.  The Smithsonian’s guides are extremely knowledgeable about the plants and animals that live on BCI, and the research that has been done on them, so forest walks end up as part-scavenger hunt, part-impromptu mini lecture on whatever the group happens to encounter.

A group of 7th and 9th grade science students from the Centro Educativo Básico General Residencial Vista Alegre in the forest on Barro Colorado Island.

As part of their continuing education, the Smithsonian guides run a monthly seminar series, and they invited me to give two lectures on the behavior and ecology of Panamanian primates, highlighting my work on cooperation in capuchins which the Wenner-Gren Foundation funded.

For me, one of the highlights of this project was hosting a class of students from the Centro Educativo Básico General Residencial Vista Alegre, taught by my former student-intern Nena Robles. Nena worked with me for a year on my Wenner-Gren funded study of group cooperation during territorial conflicts in capuchin monkeys, before going on to get her Masters at the University of Torino in Italy. Helping Nena to bring her students—the next generation of Panamanian scientists—out to the field station where she got her start with research was really the epitome of what I think this outreach project can achieve.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Philip W. Scher and ‘The Politics of Historic Preservation and the Development of Heritage Tourism in Barbados’

Philip W. Scher is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. In 2011, he received the Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘The Politics of Historic Preservation and the Development of Heritage Tourism in Barbados’. He then received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his Caribbean fieldsite and share his research with local educators.

In 2012 I spent six weeks conducting research in Barbados as part of a much larger project begun in 2008-2009. Much of my fieldwork involved interviews with educators in Barbados as I sought to gain insights from them as to the role of history and historical knowledge in the formation of Barbadian identities and Barbadian economic and social policies. During many of these interviews teachers expressed an interest in developing training that would allow them to understand the latest intellectual developments in the scholarship of heritage and bring that information to their students and fellow teachers. In the wake of the newly designated World Heritage Site of Bridgetown and its Garrison stakeholders wanted to think strategically about how historical sites are engaged by local constituents, about oral histories of local residents in these spaces regarding who worked there, who built them and who maintains them today and about intangible cultural heritage as a key element in safeguarding these important spaces.

With this in mind, then, two of my colleagues in Barbados, Dr. Tara Inniss of the Department of History at the University of the West Indies and Dr. Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society planned a workshop and lecture that would introduce local educators to some of the basic ideas of heritage studies.  Our hope was to focus on the people who participated in or observed past events in the World Heritage Property and whose memories and perceptions of these spaces are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. The variety of perspectives generated by such interviews should prove to be an interesting addition to the written historical record and may offset the general perception that these historical sites are preserved either in the interests of the former colonizers or tourists or both. As the workshop began to take shape it was decided, based on feedback, to focus on one specific intangible cultural practice that many in Barbados feel is in danger of disappearing: the Barbados Landship.

Briefly, the Barbados Landship and its partner the Tuk Band are the most commonly seen Barbadian expressive cultural forms at public ceremonies, days of commemoration, visits by dignitaries etc. The Landship is both a Friendly Society of the type quite common in the Caribbean and its diaspora, as well as a performance tradition. It is known for its unique uniforms, parades, and carefully choreographed dances. During the heyday of the Landship, in the late 19th and early 20th century a large number of Landships existed across Barbados and many younger Barbadians today can point to one or another family member that had been involved in some way, most proudly as captains.

Landships are noteworthy because the organization was founded on a creolized replication of the ranks, discipline and orders of the British Navy. Members are known by ranks, are dressed in naval uniforms and march and perform “maneuvers” to the music of the Tuk Band, a fife and drum ensemble.

The Landship presents a unique challenge in the safeguarding of cultural heritage as it is universally touted as being a fundamental aspect of Barbadian identity, yet it has very few practitioners left. The question we wanted to address in our workshop and in the lecture and discussion was: is Landship capable of being maintained? If so, what are the mechanisms by which the tradition may be carried on, if not, what other ways may the tradition be remembered?

The workshop and lecture took place over a three-day period from February 16th to February 19th of 2015. The workshop was held at the University of West Indies and was open to anyone interested in the subject. The lecture and discussion session took place on the grounds of the Barbados Museum. The workshop lasted several hours and was attended primarily by scholars and those interested in heritage tourism, but also by key figures in the Landship movement itself.   The themes ranged from the historical and political context of Landhsip to the UNESCO conventions on safeguarding intangible heritage. The lecture gave an analytical and theoretical framework for understanding Landship in the broader context of heritage studies and was based on my previous research into these issues. The lecture was free and open to the public and was well attended and followed by a lively discussion.

In general the two activities produced a focus on what we began to define as heritage relevance. That is, many were concerned not only with heritage as a set of cultural practices that could be preserved in some kind of static way, but in creating opportunities around traditions that increasingly kept such activities relevant to younger Barbadians; and not simply as aspects of the expansion of heritage tourism products.

The generous support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant provided us with the opportunity to begin to develop a conversation about heritage in the Caribbean that expands beyond both economic utility or simple preservation tactics and school programs. This conversation, we hope, will continue and will add sophistication and nuance to government policies about the future of Barbadian culture and heritage. The grant has also fundamentally improved my own thinking about the subject of Caribbean heritage and resulted in an article about Landship that includes many of the ideas generated in the workshop.