Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Felicia Madimenos and “Engaging Shuar Communities Through Collaborative Health Education: Enhancing Participant Agency in Indigenous Health Research”

Madimenos schedules a family health day with one Shuar family in a remote village in southeastern Ecuador.

Felicia Madimenos is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Queens College, City University of New York. In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Oregon, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Lifestyle and Reproductive Effects on Bone Mineral Density in an Ecuadorian Forager-Horticulturalist Population,’ supervised by Dr. James Snodgrass. This year, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to follow up her work with Shuar communities and conduct a series of workshops, presentations and family days to disseminate information regarding health issues in the community. 

In a remote rural Shuar village located along Rio Morona, an elderly Shuar man, sits in a wheelchair as his wife pushes him along the rocky, unpaved road. As he makes his way closer to the now-defunct clinic space, my colleagues and I can see that his right leg is missing just below the hip. Along with his wife, he is accompanied by his eldest daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Because of a community-wide meeting we held days earlier, the family was aware that Shuar nurses, accompanied by American anthropologists, were staying in the village and were providing information about basic health issues.

Clearly, there was nothing any of us could do for his leg although initially, he refrained from mentioning his leg at all; he merely wanted information about his general health and well-being. He explained that two years earlier he was diagnosed with diabetes by a doctor from a clinic located three-hours up the road, and the doctor stated that they needed to amputate his leg due to his condition. While plausible, something seemed amiss with the story. As we continued to talk, his son-in-law, feeling increasingly comfortable to talk openly, narrated in detail the events leading to the amputation of his father-in law’s leg. In short, his father in-law had stepped on a rusty nail while working in his garden and it became seriously infected, which eventually resulted in a trip to the doctor. “Can stepping on a nail give you diabetes?,” the son-in-law asked. “No,” we responded firmly, although we wondered whether diabetes exacerbated the infection, or whether there was miscommunication of some kind. As it turned out, the man’s fasting glucose levels were optimal, and based on data we had for him from years earlier, there was no indication that insulin-resistance was ever an issue. Further, the man claimed to have never taken medication for diabetes but accepted the fact that his leg was removed because of it. This type of miscommunication, that stepping on a nail could cause diabetes which warranted an amputation, while one of the more extreme examples, reflects a common theme in my line of research.

A Shuar colleague and local health care provider assisted by community members presents on health and family planning in a rural Shuar community.

This interaction highlighted the critical importance of providing both contextual information and clarifying misinformation about the causes and prevention of illness and disease, and stressed the need to bridge communication barriers. Explanations by medical doctors who diagnose/treat disease and anthropologists who study health are simply not enough because this information gets filtered, forgotten, and lost after people leave the clinic to continue on with their daily lives. Health interviews with Shuar reveal that most people are unclear about what information is relevant to a given condition, and so when given a chance they may often provide an overwhelming amount of information about multiple conditions they have experienced at different times, on the reasonable assumption that it is all pertinent. However, health care workers are busy, and discussions with Shuar reveal that most think many clinicians do not listen to them, making them more inclined to present their most immediate symptoms with no additional information. It goes without saying that for our participants to retain a sense of agency in matters regarding their own health, and for health information to be useful and remain effective over the long-term, this knowledge must be individualized and translated into a tangible, transparent, and accessible form, with ample time for active ongoing individual dialog between participant and information provider.

The funds provided by the Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to reconsider how my colleagues and I conduct health research in a non-clinical, non-Western setting and reinforced the importance of the process of disseminating health information. Within the first few days of arriving in this remote village where we had worked during an earlier field season, we organized a community-wide meeting where we re-introduced ourselves and our research. This opportunity provided an ideal platform to field questions and address community concerns and, moreover, it stressed the need for a more personalized interaction with community members. In order to maximize our engagement with participants both old and new, we scheduled family health days where entire families would meet with the team of nurses and anthropologists to ask health-related questions, receive follow-up assessments and updated individualized information on health and prevention. When necessary, we would provide first aid or pass information to local health care providers for diagnosis and/or to dispense necessary medicines.

Shuar male peruses health pamphlets during the health and family planning presentation in a rural Shuar village.

Prior to our arrival, I designed educational packets, adapting content from public health resources, and synthesized and condensed health information. Whenever possible, I emphasized images rather than written text. Each packet addressed health issues that we commonly encountered in past research and that Shuar participants most frequently report experiencing including anemia, dehydration, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal issues, and chronic health problems that are increasing in prevalence (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension). Family health days provided an opportunity to personalize explanations regarding health issues and allowed us to distribute these materials to Shuar participants and discuss them individually and extensively. Some families hovered over the educational materials while children giggled at the images, and others asked for additional copies to bring to extended family and friends. Many were visibly excited to take a tangible reminder of this meeting home. “This is good,” says Carlos, a middle-aged Shuar man who came with his wife and eight children. “After you leave, we have this to remind us of the things you told us.” In addition to educational materials, based on consultation with community leaders, a Ministry of Health nurse, and local health promoter, our team donated basic over-the-counter medicines readily available in any Ecuadorian pharmacy, including antibiotics and parasite treatment kits, to be distributed as necessary after we departed.

Over the next few weeks, we participated in a community-wide workshop on family planning, initiated by the area’s Ministry of Health and led by our colleague, a local Shuar community health promoter and nurse. It is not uncommon for Shuar families, particularly in the more remote regions, to have upwards of 10-11 children. In a region where new government education centralization plans will position the nearest primary school two-hours away, where children need money for travel and school supplies, and where a childhood visit to the doctor requires a six-hour walk or two-hour canoe trip, information on family planning is increasingly of critical importance. However, it remains a very sensitive subject. Many participants in the past have shared with us the tribulations of having such large families and while the Ecuadorian government provides gratis family planning services, few Shuar, especially in these remote regions, have immediate and regular access to, or even information on contraception. This educational workshop was essential to establish a comfortable discourse on family planning and to discuss what options are available to Shuar in order to be active agents in matters concerning their own health and bodies. The presentation evoked the notion that larger, overarching factors trickle down and interact to shape individual health and well-being. Feeling like one has control over his/her surroundings, whether by being armed with knowledge that one has choices regarding the size of the family unit, or recognizing that modifiable aspects of lifestyle can shape how one feels from day to day are significant, and often overlooked forces that intimately influence personal health. Whether Shuar who attended this workshop felt this information was useful or not is unclear but we did not observe evidence of tension; participants seemed to be engaged in the discussion, and generally had a positive response. As health researchers, we knew that many participants had privately requested information on birth control, but this meeting appeared to go far towards normalizing an open discussion of these delicate issues and in creating awareness that people’s own health and bodies are in their command.

Madimenos discusses health measures with a Shuar father and his child

Lack of information, misinformation, and miscommunication regarding the causes, treatments, and preventative strategies for common and increasingly prevalent health issues warrants action on the part of the health researcher to stave off potential graver health problems in the future. For example, in another community closer to town where we presented health information with a local nurse, it was commonly believed that there was medication that could “cure” diabetes, despite the fact that three elderly people in the town had diabetes and were taking medication to control it. In discussing diet and prevention, it became apparent that one young woman was very knowledgeable about these issues, and yet it was only in the context of this presentation that this came to light, and we could reinforce to others that she was an excellent available resource for information on the topic.  In short then, one remedy is for researchers to develop opportunities that empower communities by making accessible the knowledge and information necessary for community members to participate in, and affect informed decisions about their health, but moreover to approach this within the context of resources reasonably available to the participants. It is clear from my experience that for this approach to be successful, collaborations with local colleagues are essential, and individual as well as community-level dialogue is integral.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Isabel Scarborough and “Raising Awareness on the Importance of the Informal Market in Cochabamba, Bolivia”

Gaby Vallejo, the Bolivian author who wrote "Tomasa Quispe en los ojos de Felipe", and Dr. Scarborough.

Isabel Scarborough is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Parkland College and Research Affiliate at the Anthropology Department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2007, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to aid research on ‘Market Women Mothers and Daughters: Politics and Mobility in the New Bolivia,’ supervised by Dr. Andrew Orta. In 2012, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Cochabamba, Bolivia to conduct a three-day workshop and produce a children’s book based on her research on the country’s informal markets. 

This summer I traveled to my fieldsite in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where I had studied how indigenous informal market women in this city incorporate themselves into the global market. In my research, I was particularly interested in the contrast between the older generation of merchants who were barely literate and still marked their indigeneity through their dress and language, and their daughters who—now in their late twenties—had acquired a college degree before returning to informal vending. Why were these young women willing to go back to informal vending when they now had the credentials to get jobs in formal businesses? Many fellow anthropologists have discovered in the course of their ethnographic work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that the informal market is turning into the largest form of employment in the developing world. Cochabamba is no exception to this trend and, indeed, shows the informal market taking over regional and international trade in addition to moving the economy of this city of over 700,000 people. The young market women of my study chose to continue working in their mother’s trade, despite their education, precisely because of this growth and the economic benefits brought by this line of work. However, notwithstanding these financial incentives, informal market women also perceived a continued marginalization of their actions given their historically-subordinate identities as both female and indigenous. Over eighteen months of fieldwork I held many conversations with market women of both generations who keenly felt that Bolivians misunderstood how their trading activities contributed to the region’s economy. Because of this, I wanted to raise awareness in Cochabamba on the significance of the informal market; the purpose of my Engaged Anthropology Grant.

My approach to this project targeted two distinct populations; the local academic and professional community that studies the informal market in Cochabamba, and the urban lower and working classes of which the market women are a part.  I worked with colleagues at the graduate school of the local state university, CESU – Universidad Mayor de San Simón, to put together a workshop for the first group. The Wenner-Gren Foundation sponsored a two-day seminar in which participants who included undergraduates and professionals—some of whose families worked in the informal sector—read and discussed ethnographic work on the informal market and the importance of market women. These readings included my own published work on the Cochabamba market, which I translated into Spanish for the workshop participants. A copy of this translated article that is based on one my dissertation chapters will be published in the next issue of the social sciences academic journal of this university, Decursos. In addition, some of the participants in the workshop and I will collaborate on two future articles for this journal that will combine our data on the informal market in this city. This continued exchange of ideas and information contributes to the second aim of this workshop which was to strengthen the links between US and Bolivian academia.

A second activity in my efforts to raise awareness on the work of informal market vendors involved the design, writing, and publishing of a children’s storybook. This idea was inspired by my conversations with the market women who show unstinting dedication to their children’s education, many of whom I often observed supervising their little one’s as they did homework among their mother’s market stalls, or working longer hours in order to send their sons and daughters to private schools at great sacrifice. The market women had often pointed out the dearth of good reading materials for their children, and mused on how few if any of the storybooks they saw had any stories about families in trade. Teaming up with renowned Bolivian author Gaby Vallejo, we put together a book that tells the story of a young boy, son of a market woman, and his perceptions of his mother on the day on which he will leave her to immigrate to Spain where his father and other family members work and reside. The book, titled, Tomasa Quispe en los ojos de Felipe, (“Tomasa Quispe through the eyes of Felipe”) shows Felipe’s journey through the marketplace where he notes many of the commercial activities that take place, the hard work of the women at the vending stalls, the family life in the passageways between stalls, and his sorrow and that of his mother at their imminent separation.

The book’s edition, financed by Wenner-Gren, was published in Cochabamba and is illustrated with pictures from the marketplace juxtaposed with drawings of Felipe and his mother, Tomasa. After its distribution in the markets, the publication was presented to the non-profit children’s library Thuruchapitas for its dissemination and distribution. The book will be donated to public schools in Cochabamba and given out as prizes at reading contests and workshops throughout the city. During my stay in Cochabamba, I also organized a reading of the text with school children, many of whose mothers were market vendors, with some of Thuruchapitas’ volunteer teachers.  The children who attended the reading all received a copy of the storybook, as will any other children who participate in the library’s weekly readings over the next few months.

I hope that, in some small way, these two activities meant to raise awareness of the importance of the informal market return the generosity of the market women who made me welcome and collaborated on my doctoral dissertation work. I am excited to return to my fieldsite in future and continue engaging with these women whose experiences have much to teach us about Bolivia’s changing socioeconomic structures.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kristina Lyons

March in Valle de Sibundoy, Putumayo on August 30, 2013 in support of the National Agrarian and Popular Strike.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation awards the Engaged Anthropology Grant to former grantees in order to allow them to return to the field and share their work with the community that hosted them. In keeping with the grant’s purpose of breaking contemporary anthropological research outside of the confines of one’s home institution and the English-speaking academy at large, we require those awarded to write a guest blog post describing their experience, as an accessible way to learn about the ways anthropologists and the Wenner-Gren Foundation are supporting engaged, equitable scholarship. In today’s entry, we welcome Kristina Lyons, UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California-Santa Cruz in Anthropology and the Center for Science & Justice, who originally received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2007 while a doctoral candidate at the University of California-Davis to aid research on ‘Science, Storytelling, and the Politics of Collaboration: Advocacy against Aerial Fumigation in Colombia,’ supervised by Dr. Marisol de la Cadena. 

 

“Make sure the right anthem is going to sound off,” jokes Profe Miguel, provoking a loud round of laughter among us. “Not the national anthem, but el himno del pueblo [the anthem of the people]!”

The crackle of the loudspeakers brings three thousand small farmers to their feet. Some lightly tap the beat, others mouth the lyrics meditating behind closed eyes or sing aloud in low voices. The commission of government representatives attending the meeting this morning also stands tall. I search their eyes wondering what kinds of emotions are veiled behind a row of stoic faces.

“And now the pueblo that rises up in the struggle

with the voice of a giant shouting: forward, forward!

The pueblo united will never be defeated…”

Protestors camped at a strike concentration point in Villagarzón, Putumayo. September 2013.

Originally composed and taken up as the international anthem of the Chilean resistance movement after the September 11, 1973 military coup, this song can be heard celebrating the spirit of hope, unity and struggle in mass rallies, marches and demonstrations around the world. Today, on the 17th day of the National Agrarian and Popular Strike in Colombia, we are at the negotiation table between regional small farming leaders and state officials in Villagarzón, Putumayo. The national government has arrived to request that protestors unblock Putumayo’s highways in exchange for the negotiation of regional-level reforms to agrarian policy, infrastructure and social investment. Small farming leaders, however, argue that they will only lift the strike if and when President Santos recognizes and agrees to negotiate with the National Working Group of Dialogue and Accord (MIA) that gathers together the demands of all the sectors participating in the strike: the country small and medium farmers, small miners, and health and transportation sectors. The MIA is calling for the suspension of the free trade agreement with the United States in order to address crisis in the nation’s agricultural sectors; the participation of small miners in mining policy and an end to a national development model fueled by extractive industry; the recognition of the political and territorial rights of rural communities; alternative legislation to combat the increasing privatization of health and education; and a reduction in the exuberant cost of transportation and fuel.  An evident tension exists between the State’s desire to contain the strike by promising regional-level reforms, and the MIA’s intention to achieve deep structural transformations in the nation’s political and economic model. No agreement can be reached this morning. The strike continues compañeros.

Conversing about a dissertation chapter with small farming families while preparing sirindango leaves in Mocoa, Putumayo. August 2013.

Agricultural practices in southwestern Colombia have been a site of contention since the 1980s when illicit coca production soared and provoked military-led state and foreign policy responses (i.e. the U.S.-Colombia “War on Narcoterror”) aimed at its eradication. My dissertation fieldwork between 2005-2011 was set in a region where the “securitization of development” not only attempts to eradicate illicit crops, but to discipline the productive capacities and contested governance of tropical forest ecologies in ways that forcibly equip them to become “modern” and “moral” landscapes of licit capitalist worlds. Though USAID export-oriented strategies to substitute coca prove attractive to many rural families, my research explored the way a growing network of farmers and soil scientists have begun to counter these official “solutions”, arguing they foment extractive practices that subordinate Amazonian ecologies to profits; exacerbate the scarcity of local food and markets; and ultimately, fail to eradicate coca and its deriving violence. Thus, my dissertation fieldwork not only followed the material practices of farmers and scientists, but also tracked how in both their projects, albeit differentially, rather than an entity from which production can be extracted, soils take on new meanings and capacities as what I conceptualize as “partners in/for life”. This provision leads to struggles between farmers, technocrats, politicians, aid workers and scientists over the meaning of “peace”, “productivity”, “rural development”, “sustainability”, and what constitutes a “good and healthy life”.

Participating in a community radio program with Jorge and Edgar socializing locally produced Amazonian-based life projects and alternative agricultural philosophies. Mocoa, Putumayo. August 2013.

Upon returning to Bogotá and Putumayo with the support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant between June and September 2013, I was able to contribute to national and regional debates about local alternatives to “illicit” coca cultivation, the historical social abandonment of rural frontier zones, and resistance to ago-industrial development during a time when “agrarian issues” have emerged at the core of the national peace process between the Colombian State and FARC guerrillas to end the country’s fifty-year armed conflict.  While in Bogotá, I circulated my dissertation among soil scientists with whom I conducted fieldwork, and forged new collaborative initiatives with other academics working in the Amazon, as well as contributing to a research project at the Center for Historical Memory that was established through the Law of Victims and Land Restitution. In Putumayo, due to the particular conjuncture of the national strike, my dissertation was able to contribute to community training workshops on the Plan for Integral Amazonian Development proposed by and for small farmers in the region, as well as joining the technical team accompanying strike leaders in their negotiations with state officials. I returned dissertation materials to the farming families that are the protagonists of my research, and received their feedback and selection of photographs, stories and designs to be included in a future book manuscript.   Furthermore, the socialization of my dissertation material this summer served to propose and fund a documentary film project that will transmit Amazonian-based farmer-to-farmer agricultural knowledge and practices among an extensive network of small-farming associations in the department of Putumayo. This continued engagement project will draw out the potential collaborations that can emerge between two kinds of local knowledge – science and non-science – in order to highlight the cultural stakes of the rural life-worlds struggling to emerge in a geopolitically contentious agricultural frontier.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joshua Samuels and “‘Patrimonio S. Pietro’: The Heritage of Agricultural Reform in Western Sicily”

Joshua Samuels earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University and received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2010 to aid research on ‘Reclamation: The Archaeology of Agricultural Reform in Fascist Sicily,’ supervised by Dr. Lynn Meskell. This year, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to enable him to return to his field site in Western Sicily, where he explored how Sicilian farmers negotiated Fascist land reforms and building programs of the 1930s and early 1940s, to share his research results with the community that hosted him.

I first visited Borgo Bonsignore in 2006 when I began my dissertation research investigating land reform in Sicily under Fascism. In Italian “borgo” literally means village, but under Fascism the term was used to describe service centers, built from scratch, that were designed to serve the civic and social needs of farmers being resettled in newly built farmhouses in the countryside. In the 1930s and early 1940s, borghi and farmhouses were constructed all over Italy as part of a Fascist ruralization campaign that aimed to increase agricultural production and, in the process, encourage fecundity and allegiance to the Fascist regime.

My dissertation research had two goals: to reconstruct the agricultural landscapes of borghi and farmhouses that developed under Fascism, and to understand the process through which these buildings and landscapes have today been re-used and re-contextualized as heritage resources. I pursued the first goal in a 20 square kilometer area around Borgo Fazio, an abandoned village in middle of Sicily’s northwestern corner. For my second goal I turned to Borgo Bonsignore, located on Sicily’s southwestern coast, where I spent the summer of 2010 conducting ethnographic research. After several waves of abandonment and re-use, the borgo is now a popular seasonal destination for families from the nearby city of Ribera, who have either built second homes there or occupied the empty municipal buildings. Families generally arrive in June and spend several months enjoying the beach and nature preserve located just down the road. They also avail themselves of a series of outdoor events that take place in the main piazza, organized since 1997 by Ribera’s tourism board and the Associazione Pro-Borgo.

With the support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I returned to Borgo Bonsignore in August of 2013 to organize a public heritage event in the main piazza. My goal was to appropriately contextualize the borgo’s existence within the Fascist agricultural, demographic and colonial policies which engendered its construction, but without denying its subsequent development and the affectionate feelings its seasonal residents have for it today.

I had originally intended to stage the event at the end of July, but the president of the Associazione Pro-Borgo thought it would be most appropriate to include it as part of the local Saint’s Day celebrations held during the third weekend of August. In collaboration with a local historian from Ribera and a university student whose family summers at the borgo, I prepared a series of poster exhibits providing basic contextual information relating to pre-20th century Sicilian agriculture, Fascist colonial-agricultural policy, and Borgo Bonsignore’s specific development. In every poster I attempted to balance an appreciation for what was achieved in the area with a recognition of its underlying totalitarian logic. The posters were affixed to light poles around the central piazza, allowing participants to browse them casually without interrupting the weekend’s religious events.

I designed the event to be interactive and collaborative. Many of the posters encouraged readers to add notes of their own, and two weeks prior to the event I posted fliers asking residents if they would be willing to share photographs, personal objects, stories, or ideas. We also strung a clothes line near the center of the piazza and asked participants to reflect on what the Borgo meant to them; they wrote their responses on notecards that were then affixed to the line. About half of the cards were contributed by children, allowing them to engage the material in a creative and meaningful manner. The following are translation from among the dozens of responses posted:

  • “The borgo means love and happiness”
  • “Borgo means getting to know new friends”
  • “Borgo Bonsignore is the place where I spent my happy and lighthearted adolescence. It preserves my soul!”
  • “Borgo means history, life, and knowledge”
  • “Borgo means a return to roots, to families, to UNITY”
  • “The borgo means…past and future”
  • “The borgo means…a point of reference with history and the past”
  • “For me it means a desire to eat gelatos and pizzas”
  • “Borgo means peace, serenity, love and serenity. I love you Borgo”

The event began on Saturday, August 24th and continued until the following Monday. The piazza was full during the evenings because of the Saints’ Day celebrations, allowing me to easily mingle with people viewing the exhibits. We discussed the research I had carried out, and asked each other questions about the materials presented. Most of the participants were seasonal residents, but a handful of the people with whom I spoke were passing tourists with no prior knowledge of the borgo’s unusual history.

I had hoped to display the event’s posters and other materials in a permanent exhibit housed in one of several spaces that were empty or underused when I originally conducted my fieldwork. Two obstacles conspired against this plan. First, all of the available spaces had become occupied in the intervening years; second, a sudden rainstorm on the evening of August 27th destroyed all the posters. However, the event generated a great deal of enthusiasm, and plans are already underway to stage another version next year. Since leaving Sicily I have been receiving a steady stream of old photographs and stories, and look forward to incorporating them into next summer’s event.

And what does the borgo mean to me? I will always find Borgo Bonsignore somehwhat unsettling, but it nonetheless serves as an example of how a difficult heritage can be re-qualified and used productively in the present.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Maria Cruz-Torres and “The Shrimp Ladies”

Another Engaged Anthropology Grant report is in, this time from Dr. Maria Cruz-Torres of Arizona State University! Cruz-Torres was originally awarded funding in 2008 to aid research on her project ‘The Shrimp Ladies: A Political Ecology of Gender, Fisheries and Grassroots Movements in Northwestern Mexico.’ Last year, she received the EAG to return to Sinaloa to make her research results available to the general public, and to ensure that women’s voices are central in this process.

Cruz-Torres (center) with Yaneri and Rosario in Mazatlán, May 2013.

Throughout the duration of my fieldwork in Southern Sinaloa, from 2004-2013, women shrimp traders always asked me about what will I do with the information they have given me. Was I going to write a book? Will it be published in English or Spanish? Will it be published in Mexico or in the USA? Will they be able to read and understand it? An Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to solve this dilemma by facilitating a closer interaction and collaboration with the women shrimp traders in order to come up with ideas on how to better reciprocate their help and support to my long-term ethnographic research. After several meetings and consultations, both individually, and in groups, with the women, we agreed that the publication in Mexico of a non-academic book in Spanish, will fulfill their wishes and rights to read about their contributions to my research.  They also wanted the book to highlight their legacies as working women, and their contribution to their households and to the local economy.

Luisa, from the community of Palmillas, reviewing her testimony, May 2013.

On December of 2012 I met with many of the women shrimp traders in Southern Sinaloa to discuss the details of the book. I visited all of the eight communities (Mazatlán, Villa Unión, Walamo, Escuinapa, Palmillas, Isla del Bosque, Cristo Rey, and Agua Verde) in which I had conducted fieldwork to contact the women who participated in the research and to seek their individual opinions and suggestions. I had brought an outline that I developed based on their previous input. Most women voiced their concerns, and many felt that the proposed book still seemed very academic, which would be difficult for them to read. There was a consensus among the women that the book should be about who they are and the challenges they face as shrimp traders, and narrated from their individual perspectives. We agreed that the book should be a compilation of women testimonies told with their own voices.  A photograph of each woman will be included in the testimony. The life histories I collected during my fieldwork in Southern Sinaloa in 2008, also funded by a Wenner-Gren Postdoctoral Grant, form the basis of these testimonies.

Rosario and Griselda choosing their photographs, May 2013.

On May of 2013 I met with the shrimp traders again to discuss their individual testimonies and photographs. During this time the women had the opportunity to review their testimonies in order to add new or delete old information. They edited what information they wanted people to learn about them. Given the violence that has been taking place in Southern Sinaloa during the last three years, some women were reluctant to reveal too much personal information and this was deleted from their testimonies. Others updated their demographic information such as age, education, and marital status; major family events, new challenges at work, and new economic opportunities. Some women became very emotional while reading their testimonies, remembering, both happy, and sad events in their lives.  Women also had the opportunity to choose their photographs to accompany their testimonies. In many cases it was necessary to shoot new portraits because women did not like the one I chose or because they needed to be updated. We also discussed and created a new title for the book.

Matilde, her daughter, and a neighbor at her home in the town of Agua Verde.

The testimonies shed light on the many struggles women overcame so they could pursue their livelihoods and these also offered a rare glimpse at their individual lived experiences. They addressed four  important questions: Who are the women shrimp traders of Southern Sinaloa?  What is like to be a woman shrimp trader? What were the complex processes by which women became shrimp traders? How do women reconcile their various roles as workers, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters? But the most common themes that emerge from these testimonies are: women’s struggles to overcome poverty; issues of health, sickness and death; Other themes such as motherhood, social and economic change, resistance and empowerment, violence, children’s education, and their hopes for the future, also stood out.

The book, now entitled, Voces en el Tiempo: La Vida y el Trabajo de Las Camaroneras del Sur de Sinaloa (Voices inTimes: The Life and Work of Women Shrimp Traders in Southern Sinaloa) compiles forty of these poignant testimonies, and it will be published by the University of Sinaloa Press. Once published, the book will be freely distributed among the women who collaborated in the study and their families, libraries, colleagues, and anthropology students in Sinaloa.

Thanks for the report, Maria!

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jessica Robbins and “Beyond ‘Active’ Aging and Abandonment”

Another grantee returns from their Engaged Anthropology Grant, with a report from Jessica Robbins of the University of Michigan!

“Beyond ‘Active’ Aging and Abandonment: Relations of Suffering, Care, and Hope in Postsocialist Poland”

On May 15-16, 2013, the University of Lower Silesia in Wrocław hosted two workshops funded by the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant awarded to Jessica Robbins. The workshops were based on Robbins’s doctoral research on aging in Poland, which found that experiences and ideals of aging in Poland are characterized by discursive and institutional contrasts between modern, progressive, and “active” older adults, and supposedly “backwards,” suffering, and abandoned elders in institutional care. Based on ethnographic findings that processes of relatedness provide other possibilities for moral personhood in old age, the workshops tried to avoid common practical and scholarly binary distinctions of in/dependence, East/West, and socialism/capitalism, and instead to forge connections among practitioners and scholars.

In the first workshop, entitled “Beyond Old Age: Development, Change, and Support,” a diverse and energetic group of scholars, professionals, and older Poles themselves discussed experiential and structural dimensions of growing old in Poland. Among the seventy-two participants were scholars of pedagogy, gerontology, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology; professionals in medical, educational, social work, caregiving, policy, and artistic fields; and older people who participate in Universities of the Third Age and other organizations specifically for older adults. Co-organized by Professor Elżbieta Siarkiewicz and Dr. Joanna Minta, the workshop began with opening talks given by the President of the University of Lower Silesia, Professor Robert Kwaśnica, Professors Mirosława Nowak-Dziemianowicz and Adam Zych, and Jessica Robbins. The remainder of the day was divided into three panel presentations followed by open discussion. Panelists on each of the three panels – Development, Change, and Support – approached the topic from their own particular experiential and professional position, thereby creating a broader understanding of these topics than suggested by any one discipline or experience alone.

During the energetic discussions that followed each panel, common themes emerged: the importance of education in late life; the need for physical, mental, social, and spiritual development in old age; the need for better social, medical, and educational resources for older people in Poland; the value of intergenerational relations; and the marginalization of certain populations of older people from programs focusing on activity in old age. During the coffee breaks and lunch, panelists and workshop participants had the opportunity to meet people with shared professional and personal interests in aging. During follow-up conversations, Robbins found that people who met at the workshop are already planning future collaborations. Along with a confirmation of the desire for more such interdisciplinary and creatively-structured events, a major finding of this workshop is that continued efforts must be made to include the most marginalized groups of older people in such discussions. As one workshop participant noted, the many organizations and institutions that help older people to become more integrated into society are very good at hoping those who want to be helped; however, discussions of programs like intergenerational theater do not provide much help to people such as former prisoners or the homeless elderly, who continue to face social exclusion and discrimination.

In the second workshop, entitled “Beyond Socialism and Postsocialism: Contemporary Ethnographic Perspectives on Central/Eastern Europe,” eight scholars came together for a discussion of current topical and theoretical trends and debates in anthropological studies of central Europe. Co-organized by Hana Červinková, Director of the International Institute for the Study of Culture and Education, and Associate Dean for International Education and Research at the University of Lower Silesia, and faculty at the Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and Michał Buchowski, Director of the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at Adam Mickiewicz University, the workshop brought together doctoral students and faculty from Polish and Czech universities—the University of Lower Silesia (Wrocław), the University of Wrocław, Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznań), the University of Łódź, Charles University (Prague), and the Institute of Ethnology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic—who had lively discussions on the state of anthropological studies in the region based on their own ethnographic, anthropological, and historical research.

The interdisciplinary group included scholars of anthropology, education, and history who gave short presentations on a wide range of topics: gender, disability, kinship, medical anthropology, aging, nationalism, identity, ethnicity, education, and engaged anthropology. Despite these varying topics, the scholars found common ground in their discussions of personhood, memory, activism, inequality, orientalism, essentialism, phenomenology, methodology, and the anthropology of Eastern/Central Europe. Even though not all scholars found the categories of socialism and postsocialism useful, all felt the need to respond to these categories in some way, pointing to the ongoing role of these categories as disciplining structures for the region. As a result of this workshop, scholars will develop their presentations into articles to be published in a forthcoming issue of Cargo, the journal of the Czech Association for Social Anthropology.

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dr. Catherine Hobaiter & “Without Words”

Dr. Hobaiter with Makerere University students

Primatologist Catherine Hobaiter received her Ph.D. at the University of St. Andrews and is now a Lecturer in the School of Psychology & Neuroscience. In 2007 she was awarded a dissertation fieldwork grant to aid research on ‘Gestural Communication in Wild Chimpanzees of Budongo, Uganda,’ supervised by Dr. Richard William Byrne. In 2012, she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to travel back to her field site in Uganda to share the findings of her study of chimpanzee gestural communication, and how ‘without words’ we can understand chimpanzee communication and behavior. Below is the blog post she prepared to fill us in on this exciting step in her research.

Eight-years ago, as a young volunteer, I made my first trip to the Budongo rainforest in Uganda. On the way I traveled through a landscape that was as rich and diverse in linguistic culture as it was in geography and wildlife. Having grown up in many different countries I have a strong appreciation for the usefulness of non-verbal communication. As humans we speak with much more than just our voices; gestures and body language are a universal part of human communication and an ability to explain my intentions ‘without words’ has often come in very useful. In fact the evolutionary origins of gestural communication stretch much further back than our human lineage: they are shared with the other great apes, which use gestures to communicate their intentions. Captive studies of great ape gesturing have found features shared with human language, suggesting a possible common origin.

In my Ph.D. I returned to Uganda to carry out the first systematic study of gesture in wild chimpanzees. Chimpanzees in Uganda are coming under pressure both through increasing human pressure on their forest habitat and increasing international tourism. In applying to the Engaged Anthropology program I hoped that I could use the common window of communication to provide a perspective on the close connection humans and chimpanzees share, and, in doing so, provide knowledge, skills, and a desire to help in their long-term conservation.

Hobaiter at the Nyakafunjo primary school.

One of my first visits was to the Nyakafunjo primary school which sits only a few hundred meters from the edge of the Budongo forest; on a quiet morning the chimps can be heard pant-hooting in the distance, and occasionally seen sneaking into the local fields to raid crops. The increasing chimpanzee-human contact in Uganda is largely unavoidable and children, who are often sent into the forests to fetch firewood or water, are vulnerable to attack. But, critically, with a little basic knowledge of chimpanzee behaviour contact does not have to escalate into conflict and may even generate a lasting scientific interest in great apes. Joined by an experienced field-assistant and one of our wildlife vets, we were armed with a series of slides and videos with ‘fun chimp facts’, and had included time for plenty of questions. Although attentive and interested the children were rather shy and quiet and it was hard getting them to share their experiences or ask questions, I felt like I’d come up against a communication barrier I didn’t know how to get through. Then, only halfway through, we suffered a ‘technical malfunction’ with the projector; after a quick huddle we decided to carry on with a ‘live’ demonstration. As it turns out it is immensely, hysterically, entertaining to see a visiting ‘professor’ stand up and pant-hoot like a chimpanzee, even more so when she pant-grunts and gestures respectfully to the dominant alpha-male – ably portrayed by their head-teacher. Questions and discussion started flowing: what does it mean when they show their teeth? did you know they raise their hands to get attention, or reach out their hand out to beg for food? do they dream? what makes them sick, or angry, or happy? We answered as best we could and only after the planned 1-hour talk took the whole 4-hour afternoon did we say a final good-bye, chimpanzee style: with a pant-hoot and drumming chorus.

A class at Makerere University.

We visited several more schools over the next few weeks, bringing talks, books, and posters; but we realized that there was only so much we could explain in the classroom. We decided to invite 10 of the keenest pupils from each school to join us on a ‘primatologist training-day’ inside the forest. We met early in the morning at the gate to the forest reserve, and over the next few hours, in small groups accompanied by researchers and field assistants, we walked slowly up the trail collecting data on the monkey groups in the canopy above, and answering questions on anything and everything to do with forest life. When we reached camp the group toured our new wildlife health-monitoring laboratory staffed by interns from the Makerere veterinary school, and we sat down together for a slap-up lunch and a screening of the movie ‘Chimpanzee’. A huge success, that will become a regular event at the research-station, we hope that these children will become our ambassadors, taking their new knowledge back to their communities.

A guide demonstrates chimpanzee behavior at a training day.

Another significant part of the program was to offer training days for guides at chimpanzee tourism sites. Often these guides have worked with chimpanzees for years and are extraordinarily accurate observers of chimpanzee behavior, but don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to explain this to their visitors. Non-vocal cues such as ‘bare-teeth displays’, or ‘nose-wiping’ provide an early, easily observable indication of increasing stress; understanding these not only allows the guides to modify the behavior of their group reducing any negative impact on chimpanzee welfare, but it also allows them to improve the visitors’ experience (a more relaxed chimp is less likely to disappear into a swamp). Initially we had planned to have workshops at our research-station but the level of interest was so great that we decided it would be easier to take our small mobile team to them, and in doing so reach a much greater audience. The sites were extremely accommodating – often closing for a day in order that all of their guides could participate. It was a privilege to be able to share knowledge with people who were as genuinely curious and passionate about chimpanzee behaviour as I am, and who had decades of accumulated observations. One indication of how rapidly chimpanzee tourism is developing in Uganda is that every site we visited was habituating a new community of chimpanzees, and a regular comment from the guides was that they felt that the site-managers were pushing them to follow too intensely (it is tempting to try and follow chimps when they run away thinking it increases your contact time, but the increased stress this causes can actually delay habituation). Having recently completed research on the early stages of habituation, with a particular focus on success through stress-reduction, I was able to leave behind materials and guidelines that our vet team will continue to monitor and develop in their visits to these new sites.

Over the course of the trip we offered more advanced practical sessions at the field-station on behavioral observation and statistical analysis for university students, and a class at the campus on research opportunities in chimpanzee behavior, but it is hard to top standing with 80-children pant-hooting and drumming our feet on the concrete floor until the noise bounced off the tin-roof. Hopefully the positive energy that spilled out of the classroom that day will continue to motivate and encourage the generation who will inherit responsibility for the forests to remember their chimpanzee cousins with whom, without words, they share so much.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dr. Frederick Kyalo Manthi

Some of the young Turkana men involved in the Engaged Anthropology Program with Dr. Manthi in the middle.

Dr. Frederick Kyalo Manthi is is a senior research scientist and head of the paleontology section at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. He has been involved with the Wenner-Gren Foundation since 2006, completing several post-Ph.D. research grants aiding investigation of Pleistocene-era Kenya and running workshops intended to spread human-evolution education in Kenya. He is also one of the very first recipients of WGF’s new Engaged Anthropology grant, which allowed him to bring his research back to the people of his fieldsite, northern Kenya’s Turkana Basin. As per the requirements of the EAG, Manthi has submitted his final report to the Wenner-Gren Blog, so that we can all gain some insight into his experience with this exciting new program. 

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Engaged Anthropology Grant – Dr. Liubov Golovanova

Dr. Golovanova gives a lecture at Adigeayn State University.

As many of you are aware, our newest grant program is the Engaged Anthropology Grant, a special initiative we began to help anthropologists bring their research “home” to the communities that hosted them during their time in the field. Scholars who have previously been awarded either the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant or the Post-PhD Grant are eligible, with awardees receiving up to $5,000 to return to their fieldsite and share the results of their Wenner-Gren funded project in a productive way with the local community.

The first completed Engaged Anthropology Grant belongs to Post-PhD grantee Dr. Liubov Golovanova of St. Petersburg’s Labratory of Prehistory, who received funding in 2009 to aid research on ““The Study of Settlement Dynamics in the Middle/Upper Paleolithic in Northwestern Caucasus”. Below is the report prepared by Dr. Golovanova, as per the requirements of the Engaged Anthropology Grant.

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