Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Na’amah Razon

Photo from the symposium "Trauma, Health and History: Perspectives on the Bedouin Community" held at Ben Gurion University. Photo courtesy of Sharon Benheim

While a doctoral student at the University of California, San Francisco, Na’amah Razon received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on “Mediating Citizenship: The Role of Health Professionals in Israel’s National Health Reform,” supervised by Dr. Sharon Kaufman. In 2015 Dr. Razon received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “The Impact of Military Rule and Language on Healthcare Provision in Southern Israel”.

Engagement 1: Military Rule Workshop

In collaboration with Prof. Nadav Davidovich, chair of the Department of Health Systems Management, I helped develop a workshop for healthcare practitioners and local academics to address the southern military rule and its legacy. Early in the planning stages of the workshop we decided that a discussion of the military rule needed to be framed within the larger context of history, memory, and trauma. We were able to collaborate with the Center for Conflict Resolution and the Health, Humanism, and Society Center to develop an interdisciplinary workshop to address these topics and potential directions forward. While we initially proposed a two-day workshop, because the Israeli University’s semester schedule, we were only able to hold a one-day workshop.

The workshop was very well attended with approximately 35 participants, including a number of local experts whose work focuses on the Bedouin community and health inequality in southern Israel. One of the strengths of the workshop was its interdisciplinary engagement as we brought together participants from the medical school, departments of anthropology, public health, political science, law, and politics and government.

Workshop Flyer

The workshop was organized into two parts. The morning had three lectures (Prof. Michal Alberstein on transitional justice, Dr. Nihaya Daoud on the historical and continued health inequalities among the Palestinian Arab population Israel, and my own work on the military rule in the Negev/Naqab). The discussant, Dr. Mansour Nasasra, from the Department of Politics and Government, is an expert on the military rule and provided critical comments on the long term reverberations of the military rule on the Bedouin community.

The discussion that ensued was rich and difficult. One participant drew the comparison to South Africa, Rwanda, and other sites of trauma and reconciliation and asked the key question: “How do we move forward when there is still not acknowledgement of past wrongs?” This question organized much of the discussion that followed—around anger by the Bedouin community and continued challenges of trust and access specifically in the realm of health. Prof. Alberstein suggested that in situations when a full recognition of past wrongs is not possible, as in this case, creating acts of justice may still be possible. It is this notion of acts of justice that participants began to address and hopefully we spur continued dialogue and work. Dr. Nasasra and I hope to put together an article specifically addressing the military rule and the healthcare system as there is minimal published work on this ear. The second component of the workshop was a lecture on trauma by Prof. Sandro Galea of Boston University. He provided critical evidence of the long term consequences of trauma and how trauma follows landscape of inequality and across generations. He provided important comparative framework for thinking through how experiences such as the military rule impact the health of Bedouins who lived through this period and how this trauma moves and impacts the health and health of multiple generations.

Engagement 2: Arabic Language Services

I was able to meet with the pediatric team members I worked with at Southern Hospital to disseminate information on the results of my research on communication, translation, and language in the hospital setting. I prepared for them a summary of my research findings as well as a summary document regarding the importance and challenges of language services. Importantly, they noted that the make-up of staff in the hospital has changed over the past five years. Due to a number of programs encouraging Bedouins to enter health professions there is a growing number of Arabic speaking staff (especially nurses and social workers) which has helped this problem. Nonetheless, there continues to be no translation services available in the hospital, and staff members were not aware of the Ministry of Health programs that provide phone translation services. It will be important for future work to document the make-up of Arabic speaking healthcare professionals and brainstorm methods of continued documentation of the challenges of language in the hospital.

My discussions with policy makers were more optimistic. Officials in the Ministry of Health’s division on health inequality have been very active about improving cultural and linguistic access. They opened an Arabic phone translation services to Ministry of Health hospitals and a number of clinics. Unfortunately, because Southern Hospital is owned by one of the Health Funds (Clalit) they have not provided this service there. They appreciated the findings regarding the problem of language services in southern Israel and have held cultural competence training at the hospital.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Christopher Hewlett

A group of Amahuaca people building the Casa de Cultura Indígena in the community of Nuevo San Martin on the Inuya River. Preparations for the opening took several months and required long hours of collective work. Here a group shares manioc beer with those working on the roof.

While a doctoral student at the University of St. Andrews Christopher Hewlett received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on “Mobility, Sociality, and Perceptions of Time among the Amahuaca of Lowland Peru,” supervised by Dr. Peter Gow. In 2014 Dr. Hewlett received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Amahuaca Cultural Heritage Centre: Anthropological Engagement with Amahuaca People in the Past, Present and Future”.

The original engagement grant project entailed working with Amahuaca people in the Peruvian Amazon to establish a cultural center in the Native Community of Nuevo San Martin on the Inuya River. The idea for the cultural center stemmed from a conversation with Professor Carlos Melendez Piño, an Amahuaca bilingual teacher, during the late stages of my doctoral research (2009-2011). In the course of this conversation Professor Melendez pointed to an empty lot next to his house, saying that this was where he wanted a cultural center for the community to be constructed. As I left the Inuya River to write my doctoral thesis I told Professor Melendez and other members of the community that I would seek funding to build the cultural center.

During the course of my research on Amahuaca history during the 20th century I was fortunate to have the cooperation of Robert Russell, the founder of the first mission for Amahuaca people in the 1950s, and anthropologists Robert Carneiro and Joseph Woodside who carried out research in the 1960s and 1970s respectively. I was able to gain access to extensive archival materials based on their research including video and audio recordings, photos and descriptions of collective life, as well as details pertaining to the lives of individuals during the period from the 1940s to 1980s.

Young Amahuaca/Yaminahua girl making necklaces and armbands in order to participate in the opening ceremony of the Casa de Cultura Indígena.

In July of 2015 I returned to the Inuya River with this material to begin work on the project. We set out with four primary aims. Firstly, to create a space where Professor Melendez and other Amahuaca people could store and display artefacts of their cultural heritage such as pottery, bows & arrows, photos and other audio-visual materials. As part of the preparation for the center, Professor Melendez and I looked for further material, and we located a collection of historical photos held in a Dominican archive in Lima, which we hope will be included in the cultural center at some time in the future.

Preparations also included Amahuaca people themselves engaging in practices that were no longer part of everyday life such as making pottery, headdresses, necklaces, armbands and painting themselves. These activities relate to the second aim, which was for Amahuaca people to use the making of material culture as a way to engage in conversations about culture more broadly, and to reflect on the ways in which their relationship to their past relates to contemporary life. Thus, we hoped that the processes of making materials for the cultural center would facilitate wider discussions regarding both material and immaterial cultural heritage. This proved to be an important part of the process, and led to some important additions to the original project, which I return to below.

A collection of participants and visitors inside the Casa de Cultura Indígena. Visitors included members of the public who traveled 8 hours by boat from the town of Atalaya to participate in the event.

The third aim of the project was to make the cultural center an educational space where young people could learn about their past through photos and videos, as well as participate in the making of their own adornments. This was highly successful as young people made their own adornments, and enthusiastically participated in all aspects of the project.

Finally, it was hoped that the center would become a space where tourists could visit to learn about Amahuaca people’s culture, past and present, as well as create a market for Amahuaca goods. Although there are not many tourists in this area, occasionally groups do visit the community and there is a movement in the region to expand tourism thus opening up new opportunities for indigenous people.

As the project progressed over the course of several months new ideas were expressed and a series of opportunities emerged that would transform the original idea into something more comprehensive. Firstly, it was decided that the cultural center should be made more inclusive and, thus, the name was changed from Amahuaca Cultural Center to the Casa de Cultura Indígena. This would allow the inclusion of Yaminahua and Ashaninka people, who are neighbors and friends of Amahuaca people.

Professor Melendez explaining the history of the photos to a group during the day of the inauguration. These photos were taken by Robert Carneiro and Gertrude Dole during their fieldwork with Amahuaca people in 1960-61.

Secondly, this discussion regarding inclusion resulted in the idea of forming an indigenous federation that would incorporate all the Native Communities in this area. In the end, the organizing idea created a platform for celebrating the history and culture of this particular area, which was used to bring together these groups of people to form a new political organization that would represent them both socially and politically.

Thirdly, through contacts with a network of indigenous leaders and NGOs we began coordinating with ProPurus, an organization initiating a new project on the Inuya and Mapuya Rivers that entails helping with land-titling processes, establishing committees to monitor logging, and strengthening protection of areas where people live in isolation. The idea of this new project is to include indigenous people living near the adjacent protected areas to play a role in their protection, thus building the capacities of those who participate, raising awareness about those living in isolation, and increase the potential for getting greater support for community projects.

A group of people watching film-footage recorded by the Anthropologist Gertrude Dole during her fieldwork with Amahuaca people in 1960-61. The woman in front, Margarita, appears in the film along with many members of her family.

Finally, as momentum built around the Casa de Cultura Indígena it was decided that a film should be made about this process. As a result, we raised additional funds and invited Fernando Valdivia, an award-winning Peruvian film-maker, to document the inauguration of the Casa de Cultura Indígena, the formation of the new federation and interview those working to monitor logging in protected areas.

The three-day event took place from the 25th-27th of November 2015, and included three major components: formation of a new indigenous federation, the inauguration of the cultural center, and a celebration that included food, manioc beer, and a soccer tournament. Fernando Valdivia filmed the proceedings and we aim to have the documentary completed by the beginning of 2017.

Leaders from the Native Communities of Raya (Yaminahua), Alto Esperanza (Amahuaca), San Juan (Amahuaca), Nuevo San Martin (Amahuaca), and Paujilero (Ashaninka) during proceedings to establish the new indigenous federation for the upper Inuya and Mapuya Rivers.

The meeting to form the federation was organized for the first day of the event and included leaders from the five native communities: Nuevo San Martin (Amahuaca), San Juan (Amahuaca), Alto Esperanza (Amahuaca), Raya (Yaminahua), and Paujilero (Ashaninka). Importantly, leaders of the two largest regional indigenous organizations OIRA and CORPIAA based in the provincial capital of Atalaya participated to assist with the proceedings, and officially recognize the newly formed Indigenous Federation of the Upper Inuya and Mapuya Rivers. It is the first of its kind in this specific area, as it is comprised exclusively of leaders from the five participating Native Communities.

On the second day of the event, the Casa de Cultura Indígena was officially inaugurated. Amahuaca, Yaminahua, Ashaninka and others gathered together to sing the Peruvian national anthem, speak about the importance of indigenous identity and history, and thank those who had worked to make the Casa de Cultura Indígena possible. In addition, representatives from government ministries, the local university, and members of the public attended to show support for the communities. The Casa de Cultura Indígena is the first cultural center to be established in the province, and promotes opportunities for those living on the Inuya and Mapuya Rivers to claim greater ownership of the ways in which they are represented. Furthermore, it is a project that is not yet completed, and will continue to develop over time. This includes the completion of the documentary film and its incorporation as part of the exhibition, as well as the inclusion of Ashaninka and Yaminahua materials.

The inauguration ceremony for the Casa de Cultura Indígena on the morning of November 26th, 2015 being led by Professor Melendez. Yaminahua, Ashaninka and Amahuaca people from five Native Communities on the Inuya and Mapuya Rivers, as well as representatives from indigenous organizations, NGOs, and the regional university all participated.

Overall, the combination of engaging in the practices of making pottery, body adornments, and other material artifacts, as well as working together to build the Casa de Cultura Indígena itself, became part of a wider experience that inspired people across communities to reflect on their past and come together to forge a path for the future. Thus, the idea of the cultural center, first expressed in 2011, became the impetus for a much more expansive and inclusive series of projects that are based on collective work towards the documentation, defense and strengthening of indigenous identities in the area, which we hope will continue to develop in the coming years.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Sarah Osterhoudt

 

Dr. Osterhoudt in vanilla field

Sarah Osterhoudt is a Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. In 2009 while a doctoral student at Yale University she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Vanilla for the Ancestors: Landscapes, Trade, and the Cultivation of Place in Madagascar,” supervised by Dr. Michael R. Dove. In 2015 Dr. Osterhoudt received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Engaging Landscapes: Cultural Meanings, Community Management, and Agro-Biodiversity in Madagascar Vanilla Gardens”.

For my Engaged Anthropology project, I returned to my dissertation fieldwork site: the agrarian community of Imorona, on the northeast coast of Madagascar. In this region, families have been cultivating a diversity of subsistence and market crops within hillside swidden and agroforestry systems for generations. Currently, the main market crops that growers cultivate include vanilla, cloves, and coffee. My dissertation research examined these agroforestry systems from overlapping cultural, historical, and material perspectives. It explored connections between the cultivation of land and the cultivation of self, and asked how the work of farming simultaneously emerges as the work of history.

In addition to my ethnographic research methodologies, including working alongside vanilla farmers and recording oral histories of landuse and trade in the region, my work also incorporated methodologies in economic botany. With the assistance of seven local farmers and two local research assistants, I inventoried a sample of Imorona vanilla gardens. Working in measured plots, we recorded the local names, the various uses, and the DBH measurements of the trees found in Imorona vanilla gardens. We collected and dried specimens of each of the tree species found in our study, which I identified with the assistance of botanists at the herbarium at the University of Antananarivo.

Imorona region and fields

The results from this economic botany work were quite striking: in a small sample of seven vanilla fields, we recorded nearly 100 species of trees, nearly a third of which were native to the humid forest ecosystems of Madagascar. Additionally, ecological measurements of the agroforestry fields, including diversity index values and rank abundance curves, showed that these managed forests closely matched the dynamics of “natural” and protected forests in Madagascar. From a cultural perspective, farmers identified a use for 100% of the trees recorded in their fields. Interestingly, while about 75% of these uses related directly to people (for example, for use for food, income, ceremonies or building materials) the other 25% of the trees were primarily noted for their purpose in fostering healthy ecosystem relationships (for example, providing habitat or food for bird and animal species).

Such notable results, I believe, are powerful tools for Imorona farmers as they continue to advocate for their land rights and autonomy. Within Madagascar, as within much of the tropics, dominant conservation narratives often portray smallholder farmers –especially swidden farmers — as destructive environmental actors who fundamentally threaten the health and diversity of rainforest ecosystems. As a result of such conceptions, agricultural land has been taken from Malagasy communities in order to be placed within protected areas. In contrast to such environmental narratives, however, the results of my collaborative research tell a much different story about smallholder Malagasy farmers: one of careful land stewardship based upon extensive environmental knowledge, whereby agricultural practices promote the ecological diversity and integrity of tropical landscapes.

Workshop Participants

With these points in mind, I traveled back to my field site for my Engaged Anthropology project. The first objective of my project was to share with the community – especially my research assistants –the economic botany research results, translated into Malagasy. In a small ceremony held at the Imorona community library, I presented participating farmers with printed copy and a digital copy of this booklet and thanked them for their work on the project. A copy of the booklet will be housed at the library and will be available for all interested people to read. After the ceremony, I discussed the results of the botanical and ethnographic studies in detail with interested farmers. We went over together what exactly the results indicated and how the community could meaningfully use the data when speaking with government agencies and environmental groups.

Walking workshop, vanilla flowers

I also conducted a “walking workshop” with several vanilla farmers, visiting their fields and discussing the challenges and questions that they were currently encountering. In the course of such field visits, farmers raised some concerns, including the increase in a root disease spreading across vanilla vines, the changing patterns of flowering times for key economic crops, and the increasing incidence of immature vanilla flowers dropping to the ground before they opened. Together, we discussed ways that further collaborative research in anthropology and economic botany could help address these challenges.

Finally, I spoke with other organizations that I felt had a potential interest in the results of the research. Within the Imorona region, I met with local farmer organizations, Peace Corps volunteers, vanilla exporters, and government extension officials. In Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar, I spoke with representatives from organizations including the University of Antananarivo, the World Bank, Peace Corps, the World Wildlife Fund, Fair Trade organizations, and the United Nations.

Overall, the experience of my Engaged Anthropology grant provided me the resources to have the incredibly valuable opportunity to do what we all aspire to do as anthropologists: say an in-person thank you to the people who inspired and empowered our work, and to give back in some way. Reconfirming such personal connections, in turn, speaks to another level of anthropological engagement: the continuation of the personal engagements we develop in the places where we work, as we move forward in our lives as scholars, and as friends.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Maurice Rafael Magana

 

Image courtesy Maurice Rafael Magana

Maurice Rafael Magana is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The University of Arizona. In 2010 while a doctoral student at the University of Oregon he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Contentious Walls: The Cultural Politics of Social Movement Street Art in Southern Mexico,” supervised by Dr. Lynn Stephen. In 2014 Dr. Magana received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Youth Activism, Anthropology, and Community Building in Oaxaca, Mexico”.

After receiving the great news that I was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, I began the challenging process of organizing a collaborative community engagement event in Southern Mexico from my home in Los Angeles. I carried out my dissertation research in Oaxaca City with a network of youth organizers who had participated in a broad-based social movement in 2006. Although crucial to the social movement, the contributions of youth were largely trivialized or ignored by most media and scholarly accounts, which often perpetuate narratives about the political apathy and criminality of Mexican youth. The idea behind the event was to create a space that foregrounded the experiences of youth in the movement, while also bringing together older community members to create an intergenerational space for collective reflection on the movement’s impacts. In addition to the community event, I also presented my research findings to scholars in two separate forums.

After several rounds of emails and social media communication with my collaborators, I decided that the only way the project was going to move forward and maintain its collaborative spirit was by sitting down with my collaborators face-to-face. I flew to Oaxaca in the spring of 2015 in order to concretize our plans for the event. I met with a group of activists representing four different youth collectives that I worked with in my previous research. We decided that given the current state of movement networks (which looked very different than they had during my fieldwork in 2010-2011), the best plan was to hold several smaller events instead of one large event. After meeting two more times we agreed to schedule the events for September of 2015 and continue planning them through regular email and Facebook messaging. While in Oaxaca on this planning trip, I also presented my research to a group of about forty Mexican and international scholars and students at the Institute of Oaxacan Culture. I focused on the ethical and methodological dilemmas of conducting engaged research with decentralized networks of leaderless (or leaderful) movements.

Image courtesy Maurice Rafael Magana

When I returned to Oaxaca in September, the first event was a forum with a punk collective held in a community gallery located in a working class neighborhood in the outskirts of Oaxaca. During the social movement, this collective helped create spaces of refuge for community members fleeing police repression. This introduced the punks to their neighbors- many of whom had previously harbored prejudice against the youth because of their appearance and cultural practices. The forum was an opportunity for the punks to reconnect with some of their neighbors and let them know about the work they were doing, specifically as it related to the social movement of 2006. For example, one of the projects had to do with teaching low-income communities in the city and in rural areas to create their own pedal-powered machines like water pumps, blenders, knife sharpeners and washing machines.

We began the event by introducing ourselves to the audience of about thirty people. Two of my interlocutors shared a little about the collective, focusing on the role that anarchist and liberationist principles played in their organizing. I spoke briefly about my research project, highlighting the role of young people in the movement more broadly, and the role that youth associated with the punk collective played specifically. We then opened up the forum so that community members could offer their own reflections and analysis of the movement, as well as ask us questions. We had a rich discussion, with some healthy debate about what exactly had been gained by the movement- with members of the punk collective reflecting very positively about the experiences and memories of building community and reclaiming space during 2006, but feeling less positive about the current state of affairs in Oaxaca and Mexico more generally.

Image courtesy Maurice Rafael Magana

Four members of the collective then led a two-hour workshop for interested community members (about twenty people stayed ranging in age from teenagers to elderly but most were youth) about how to build a pedal-powered machine. This ended up being a great opportunity to strengthen and rekindle bonds made in 2006. We also exhibited photos of the collective from 2006 taken by a local photographer. The photographs sparked many conversations and memories about the extraordinary events that occurred in the context of the movement.

I also co-organized a forum and workshop with young women who had participated in a now-defunct social center that featured prominently in my research. The young women have gone on to found and participate in feminist, ecological and sustainable development initiatives. The forum highlighted the participation of women in the social movement and in social, cultural and political projects that have developed in the years since. My interlocutors also invited women from a more established women’s organization to join the conversation. This created a great collective and intergenerational space for reflection on the triumphs from 2006, as well as an honest and robust critique of the movement, especially around unequal gender politics and male domination within the movement. My interlocutors offered a nuanced analysis of the movement as creating social and political cleavages, which women expanded into spaces of belonging and participation. At the same time, they recognized the reproduction within the movement of many of the same social ills that they were fighting against, such as sexism, ageism and political opportunism. They understood the work that has followed around these issues as part of the legacy of 2006.

The young women offered two workshops after the forum. Two of the organizers led a workshop on how to repurpose glass bottles by cutting them using string and nail polish remover. Simultaneously, the other two interlocutors led a workshop on how to turn old t-shirts into shopping bags. The idea was to show people how to recycle old products, reduce consumption and waste and to save money. Importantly, in addition to being ecological initiatives, the collectives these young women belong to promote these kinds of workshops as practices of building autonomy from the dominant economic and political systems- much like the work of the punk collective described above. These workshops also attracted about twenty participants, but most were women and young children.

Finally, while in Oaxaca in September I also visited the local public university where I presented my research to a graduate seminar in anthropology. At the request of the students’ professor, this presentation focused on research design and fieldwork.

Taken together, the two forums and workshops created spaces for youth to engage their peers and older community members in ways that strengthened relationships that were forged in the context of the 2006 social movement. Moreover, I was able to present my research in these spaces in dialogue with my interlocutors, while highlighting their often-overlooked role in the movement. In addition to this, I was able to present my work to local academics and students in ways that were highly rewarding. As we approach the ten-year anniversary of the Oaxacan social movement of 2006, I feel that helping create spaces of reflection, collective knowledge production and analysis is an important way that I can honor the struggle and sacrifice of the communities that animate my research.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Elsa Fan

Image courtesy Elsa Fan

Elsa Fan is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights at Webster University. In 2010 while a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Opportunistic Infections: The Governance of HIV/AIDS in China,” supervised by Dr. Tom Boellstorff. In 2015 she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “People, Profit and Prevention: Scaling-up HIV Testing in China”.

How has the scaling-up of HIV testing among men who have sex with men (MSM) in China impacted, if at all, the work of community-based organizations (CBOs) engaged in HIV prevention? What progress has been made towards reducing new infections through this intervention? These are some of the questions I sought to explore when I returned to Beijing, China in the summer of 2015 to hold a workshop on July 11 to discuss the impacts of expanding HIV testing as an intervention. With the support of the Engaged Anthropology Grant, I planned to bring together multiple stakeholders involved with such programs to assess the effects of these interventions, potential challenges, and long-term strategies for the future.

This grant builds on my fieldwork from 2010–2011 where I traced the emergence the HIV testing as a model par excellence for reducing new infections, and the targeting of the MSM population in which to scale-up this intervention. The turn to this approach stemmed in part from the increasing rates of HIV infection among MSM. Since 2007, sexual contact had become the leading route of HIV transmission in China; in particular, there has been a significant rise through homosexual contact. For instance, homosexual contact accounted 25.8 percent of new infections in 2014 (compared to 3.4 percent in 2007), and HIV prevalence rates among MSM increased to 7.7 percent in 2014 from (National Health and Family Planning Commission 2015). In response, public health institutions and international donors turned to promoting HIV testing in this population in order to ensure more men are aware of their serostatus, thus enabling them to start antiretroviral treatment as needed and engage in safer sexual practices to reduce transmission. To scale-up this intervention, there were two main strategies adopted: (1) to support CBOs to extend testing services, either for free or for a nominal fee; and (2) to contract CBOs to conduct testing among MSM by the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CDC), a practice called goumai fuwu.

Image courtesy Elsa Fan

This topic of testing became the fodder for an intense debate during dinner the night before the workshop. I sat with a number of participants from CBOs who had been and continue to be involved with offering testing services to MSM: most for a nominal fee, and almost all for the CDC. One participant complained, “Testing, all I hear these days is testing,” commenting that as a gay man, he was sick of hearing about HIV/AIDS all the time. The others at the table agreed, noting that the main message being conveyed to their community was jiance jiushi ganyu, or testing is intervention; but what about counseling, one person posited. This critique carried over into the workshop the following day, as participants discussed the benefits and challenges to this intervention. The day started out with a demonstration of testing services offered by CBOs; audience members volunteered to get tested, and the organizations carried out pre-test consultations and post-test counseling, and administered a rapid HIV test.

This demonstration set the stage for a provocative workshop. Many participants extolled the positive effects of this initiative, noting that for many men, it has become a good habit, or hao xiguan, a practice that has become a part of their everyday lives. Others, however, critiqued the way in which testing had dominated their lives; “as a gay man,” one participant noted, “I’m sick of being told I need to get tested.” On the other hand, discussions turned to the need for testing, and questioned whether it was something men wanted, or the CDC wanted, as a result of the outsourcing of these services to CBOs. One critical issue that came up was how the focus on testing had excluded other needs in the community, such as addressing the emergence of crystal meth. One of the speakers outlined the increasing use of this drug in the community, and the risk for HIV transmission as a result. Especially provocative was listening to one man who shared his personal story of engaging in unsafe sex while on crystal meth, which led to his HIV infection. It was such stories that led one participant to ask, as he recounted the number of clients that had been repeatedly tested only to still become infected, that “perhaps it is that in the context of testing, we never considered the problem of how men became infected?” This theme was reiterated by other participants from CBOs, who questioned whether testing had become a means or an end; that is, were we testing men for the purposes of HIV prevention, or simply as an outcome to count tests? In other words, as some participants noted, had testing become an intervention in and of itself, to the exclusion of other possibilities? Ultimately, the workshop ended on one critical question: Do we still do HIV testing?

Image courtesy Elsa Fan

The responses varied; for some CBOs, there was still a demand for it from men in their community. For others, it has become a part of their institutional sustainability, as articulated by one speaker who shared their success in charging for their testing services; men choose to pay for their testing, rather than go to the CDC for free. While no conclusion was reached, the workshop helped to articulate some of the unintended consequences emerging from this intervention, and highlighted important issues that risk being marginalized. It allowed stakeholders to question the purpose of testing, and whether it was being scaled-up for the good of the community, or for the government. In creating a space for such discussions, the workshop brought issues to the fore that enabled those involved with shaping the HIV/AIDS landscape to be aware of the limitations of such interventions.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Cheryl Knott

Participants in the post-conference field trip to the Cabang Panti Research Station pose with the conference banner on the front steps of the main camp building.

Cheryl Knott is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Boston University. In 2012 she received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Sexual Coercion and Reproductive Strategies in Wild Bornean Orangutans”. In 2014 Dr. Knott received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Gunung Palung Orangutan Project: 20 Years of Research and Conservation”.

On August 6-7 of 2015, the Gunung Palung Orangutan Project (GPOP), with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, hosted the GP30+ Conference to highlight and celebrate over 30 years of research and conservation work at Cabang Panti Research Station in Gunung Palung National Park. Over the past three decades, over 150 foreign and Indonesian researchers have done field work at Cabang Panti, and we have been supported by countless Indonesian academic and government counterparts. GP30+ was the perfect way to bring all of these people together to share research results, make new connections and emphasize the importance of continuing research and education in and around Gunung Palung National Park. The main event was a two- day Symposium, held at the Mahkota Kayong Hotel in Sukadana, appropriately held in the “Gunung Palung” ballroom, and featured presentations from 15 invited speakers. The Symposium, which was open to current and former researchers and field assistants, local government officials, National Park representatives, and area conservation organizations, was attended by over 100 people. Many of the government officials were hearing about the research station and results for the first time. Invited guests included government officials and Indonesian scientists, who came from as far away as Jakarta.

Dr. Mark Leighton, founder of the Cabang Panti Research Station, speaks on the early days of the research station.

The Symposium opened with welcome speeches from both the Bupati (district head) of Kayong Utara regency and the head of the Gunung Palung National Park Bureau. These opening remarks were followed by a plenary presentation by Dr. Mark Leighton, the founder of Cabang Panti Research Site. He shared the history of the station, from the very first research trip before Gunung Palung National Park even existed to what it has become today. Although Dr. Leighton spoke in English, everyone, even our Indonesian guests who aren’t fluent in English, had a great time looking at his old photos and listening to the stories about the early days of research at

Cabang Panti. The morning session on August 6th continued with a series of presentations about orangutan research in GPNP, with talks by primatologist Dr. Cheryl Knott (founder of GPOP and the Gunung  Palung  Orangutan  Conservation  Program,  GPOCP),  Wahyu  Susanto  (Research Director, GPOP), Andrea DiGiorgio (Ph.D. student, Boston University), and Taufiq Purnama (Indonesian Institute of Sciences).

Edward Tang presents a talk on his vegetation study along the Kubang River.

The second session of the day focused on ecology research. Presenters included Dr. Andrew Marshall (founder of the Gunung Palung Gibbon and Read Leaf Monkey Project), Dr. Campbell Webb (Yayasan ASRI), Mr. Riyandi (Tanjungpura University), Kobayashi (Indonesia/Japan- REDD+ Project), and Edward Tang (former research assistant and GPOCP Environmental Education Coordinator). The presentations were highly varied, touching on topics including the ecology of mangrove forests, the phenology and productivity of the Gunung Palung rainforest, and the avian diversity of the National Park. Together these presentations highlighted the importance of the entire suite of research that has been done in Gunung Palung over the past 30 years.

To share the GP30+ celebration with the entire local community, on the evening of August 6th we hosted a public gathering at Datok Beach in Sukadana. We opened the evening with performances by two traditional musical groups from Tanjung Gunung, which is the village that anyone hiking into Cabang Panti passes through. This was their first public performance, and the crowd very much enjoyed the music. The audience was then treated to a slideshow presentation by National Geographic photographer, Dr. Tim Laman. For nearly an hour, Tim shared photos and stories about the biodiversity of Gunung Palung with the crowd. His photos highlighted the beauty of this rainforest ecosystem, allowing people to see the National Park through fresh eyes, and – hopefully – inspiring them to protect and conserve the area.

GPOCP Staff Jainudin, Mariamah Achmad, and Rudy lead conference participants on a tour of the Education Trail at Bentangor Environmental Education Center.

The second day of the Symposium, August 7th, focused on the conservation work being done in and around Gunung Palung National Park. Presentations were given by Cassie Freund (Program Director, GPOCP), Etty Rahmawati (Yayasan ASRI), Budi Sempurna (Gunung Palung National Park Bureau), Yoshikura (Indonesia/Japan-REDD+ Project), and Juanisa Andiani (International Animal Rescue). These talks showcased the range of conservation work being done in the GP landscape, including environmental education, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and mitigating human-orangutan conflict. After a break for lunch, all of the Symposium participants were invited to GPOCP’s Bentangor Environmental Education Center in Pampang Harapan village for a tour of our educational facilities and to watch a demonstration by our Non-Timber Forest Product artisans. Many of the conference guests had never been to Bentangor before and it was great to have the chance to showcase our conservation center. GPOCP staff led field trips, the artisans taught participants how to make baskets and jewelry, and our guests even had a chance to support rainforest conservation by purchasing traditional handicrafts!

During afternoon trip to the Bentangor Environmental Education Center, Jessica Laman (age 11) receives instruction on how to make a basket out of nipah palm reeds from master crasftsman Darwani, as Monalisa Pasaribu looks on.

Following the two day Symposium we were thrilled to have many of the conference participants come visit Cabang Panti Research Station – some for the first time and some after more than 20 years away. Among our special guests were GPOP board members, Dr. Barita Manullang and Pak Darmawan Liswanto (Flora & Fauna International). We also were very honored to have Dr. Dadan Kusnandar, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences at West Kalimantan’s University of Tanjungpura (UNTAN), and UNTAN Docent (Lecturer), Pak Riyandi, join us, along with Dr. Wendy Erb from Rutgers University. It was a homecoming for many former researchers, including study site founder, Dr. Mark Leighton (Harvard University), Dr. Lisa Curran (Stanford University) and her Indonesian counterpart, Dessy Rasel Ratnasari (Simpur Hutan), Dr. Dan Gavin (University of Oregon) and Andrea Johnson (Environmental Investigation Agency). Current researchers and graduate students, as well as additional Gunung Palung National Park Bureau staff members, a team from the forest patrol unit, field assistants, and Cabang Panti staff were also in attendance. On the first night we set a record for the number of people at dinner: 57!

Participants in the post-conference field trip to the Cabang Panti Research Station accompany Dr. Mark Leighton (center back) on a walk to learn about the unique habitat diversity at the Cabang Panti Reseach Station.

One of the highlights of the week was a “Habitat Walk” by Dr. Mark Leighton. As Mark explained during his plenary address at the symposium, he chose to establish the research site in Gunung  Palung  National  Park,  and  specifically the Cabang Panti location,  because  of  its incredible habitat diversity. In just a few hours one can traverse peat swamp, freshwater swamp, alluvial bench, lowland sandstone, lowland granite, upland granite and montane habitats. This gives researchers the opportunity to study the unique animal and plant diversity found within each forest type and to do comparative studies between habitats. During his demonstration, Mark explained how each habitat was formed, what made it unique, how to identify it and which animals and plants were found there. Many of these habitats, such as the alluvial bench forest, are increasingly rare in Southeast Asia, because they are suitable for human settlement.

A rare binturong (Arctictis binturong) seen on a night walk at the Cabang Panti Research Site during the post-conference field trip. Photo by Robert Rodriguez-Suro.

The week was filled with incredibly lucky animal sightings by our visitors. On her first day in Cabang Panti, Dr. Wendy Erb, a primatologist at Tuanan Research station in Central Kalimantan, found and followed an orangutan to its night nest on her own. On her way home in the dark she saw a sun bear! Dr. Dan Gavin caught a great view of our dominant male orangutan, Codet, the only sighting of him by anyone all month. Finally, on the last night of the week-long visit, many of us went on a short night walk close to camp, and were lucky enough to spot a rarely-seen binturong in the forest. Other special events included an evening bonfire on the beach with stories from Cabang Panti lore told all around, long hikes through the forest, and catching up with old friends. Some of the attendees also hiked up to the 948-meter top of Gunung Palung, called “GP 90” which indicates the 4.5 km trail marker. It was a week full of many happy smiles, sweaty hugs and the creation of new memories.

Overall GP30+ was a huge success. We’re thankful to all of the participants who traveled to West Kalimantan to attend the Symposium. We are especially grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation, who made the conference possible through their Engaged Anthropology Grant. Hopefully we can do it again in five years!

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Samantha Blatt

Samantha Blatt is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Boise State University. In 2011 while a doctoral student at The Ohio State University she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant  to aid research on “Assessing Growth and Development of Prehistoric Amerindians from Incremental Microstructures of Dental Enamel,” supervised by Dr. Paul W. Sciulli. In 2013 she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Toward a Collaborative Indigenous Bioarchaeology: Engaging Communities in the Relevance, Shared Knowledge, and Interpretation of Prehistoric North America,” 2014, Ohio & W. VA.

During December of 2014 and January of 2015, I traveled back to Ohio to disseminate the results and methods outlined in my dissertation in order to narrow the gap of relevance and accessibility of anthropology research between academe, the public, and the indigenous population under study. This was a three-part undertaking in which my goal was to present anthropology and the trials of research in as transparent (and of course as fun) a light as possible.

One of the most eye-opening experiences of undertaking this proposal was in providing a forum for indigenous communities to learn more about and discuss the results of the 2011 project. Dialogue about the prehistory of Native Americans is all too often a one-sided affair and bound by misunderstanding, mistrust, or impatience. Furthermore, indigenous communities are not often offered very much information about the final results of the studies they advocate. I undertook approval of the American Indian Advisory Council of Dayton to complete my dissertation research and wanted to extent my interaction with this group and other indigenous councils, not only to present the results of my research, but to allow them an advocate ear from the very same researcher. Topics discussed include archaeological ethics, importance of indigenous knowledge to archaeology, and the challenges of communication between indigenous groups and scientists during different phases of research. The purpose was to begin a local dialogue between anthropologists and Indigenous communities in order that these relationships might be strengthened and to foster future understanding and partnership both in Ohio and in my current location of Idaho. This forum was informally carried over to discussions I then had with Paiute members in Idaho who had similar, but more current concerns. I believe that this dialogue has opened up opportunities for collaboration of bioarchaeology and indigenous epistemology in the future.

During my previous work organizing workshops for archaeology and forensic anthropology with underrepresented low-income children from the Ohio and Idaho region, local educators consistently told me that their female students lose interest in science before high school and were excited to meet a practicing female scientist. I have since kept in touch as a mentor to several of the girls I have met in these outreach programs, one of which will be starting college in the fall; the first in her family. This project allowed me to revisit Ohio middle schools and invite Idaho school children to a general presentation about anthropology as science. In addition to this, I presented my findings to The Ohio State University Undergraduate Anthropology Club, a small group of graduate students, and at an informal and non-technical setting at the local Science Café. The Science Café is a public lecture in a café setting which is open to the general public, giving them a chance to learn about new research and engage with the researcher in a relaxed and fun environment. It was a chance to toss the technical jargon for a cup of joe. That experience has since led me to supervise undergraduates in planning and administering hands-on activities for the public at Boise State University’s STEM day festival.

Thirdly, I was able to provide hands-on training in sample processing and analytical methods for local researchers and graduate and undergraduate students in Idaho. These workshop built skills in the identification of dental remains, methods for collecting non-destructive dental impressions, basic microscopy procedures, and analyzing dental enamel microstructures. The workshop will specifically focused on how these methods are of value to bioarchaeology with examples from my 2011 study. I was able to use the same materials I used for my own research in addition to demonstrating microscopic analysis by using a digital, portable microscope. This workshop was particularly helpful to several graduate students who were in the planning stages of similar projects. This also resulted in the compilation of an instruction manual of sorts for recommended materials and supplies and sample preparation. The manual sits next to the histology equipment at Ohio State to this day and I was very proud to make the initial research stages for graduate students a bit easier than they were when I began my dissertation. I plan on making this manual readily available for free download to all researchers via website.

Overall, I believe that completing this engagement project has allowed me to maintain local contacts and make new ones, as well as bring the importance of making anthropology relevant to the public a more devoted aspect of my career. I hope in the future to be able establish more regular dialogues and interactions with bioarchaeologists, the public, and indigenous groups.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Nicholas Limerick

 

Image courtesy Nicholas Limerick

Nicholas Limerick is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 2011 while a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Contested Language Ideologies and the Mediation of Indigenous Schooling in Ecuador,’ supervised by Dr. Asif Agha. In 2015 he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Workshops on Multicultural Recognition and Quechua Language Use in Intercultural Bilingual Education in Ecuador,’ 2015, Ecuador.

Ecuador is frequently lauded for its successful Indigenous political movements. In 1988, Indigenous activists institutionalized a national-level intercultural bilingual school system that would be run by Native individuals for Native students. My dissertation research, which occurred from 2011 to 2013, showed how these advances have also led to challenges for Quichua individuals who have now become upper-level state agents in the school system. Through years of ethnographic research, including in coordinating offices of Ecuador’s Ministry of Education, my research has considered the shifting roles that Indigenous individuals have had to exhibit, and the emerging publics whom they engage, as they invoke the discourses of the state as Native individuals. I show how their work in the office frequently places them in a double-bind, where speaking in the framings of liberal multicultural recognition, including how they speak in the language Quichua, sounds quite different from notions of linguistic diversity that their Indigenous constituents hold. Such differences contribute to pervasive divides across the organization.

With the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, I planned to conduct workshops in the offices in the Ministry of Education, and in one school where I conducted research, using the findings of my dissertation to help improve public speaking in Quichua and in Spanish. Though I had returned to my fieldsites since the conclusion of my dissertation research, when I returned to the Ministry of Education in June of 2015, I found that the staff had been greatly reduced. Many of my friends had recently been forced into retirement, or they had transferred to work in other offices in the Ministry of Education or in other provinces of Ecuador. This change is the latest step of educational reform in Ecuador, part of which I have studied in my research.

Image courtesy Nicholas Limerick

Given these circumstances, as well as an unusually tense political climate for Indigenous individuals coordinating EIB, I decided to carry out workshops only with directors and teachers of one of the schools where I have long collaborated and conducted research. In June, administrators of the school and I piloted a Quichua education program that would promote speaking by the students in distinct registers of Quichua in the same classroom. Through the creation of their own books, students attempted to valorize non-standardized registers of communication, culminating in storytelling events with prizes for the students. The directors of the school and I then planned a series of workshops with teachers of the school, to be conducted in August, that would incorporate the results of my dissertation into helping the teachers address linguistic diversity among parents and students.

In August, we conducted fifteen hours of workshops. The workshops had several components. We first discussed the importance of teaching Quichua in general, and supporting vastly different registers of Quichua use in particular, at the school. We then discussed how to interact with parents, most of whom are Quichua individuals from disparate regions of Ecuador. Using recordings and transcripts from my research, we evaluated the speeches of directors of intercultural bilingual education, and also of the teachers’ own parent-teacher meetings. In turn, we collectively elaborated how to speak in a register of Quichua that unites disparate Quichua publics, many of whom have negative opinions about standardized Quichua. We then created materials to teach registers of Quichua that are less common to multicultural and multilingual teaching initiatives in Ecuador. The workshops not only allowed me to test some of my arguments and ideas for my book manuscript, but they created an avenue for reflexivity at the school about how to unite a larger Quichua community through speaking in Quichua. The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant was indispensable not only for applying my research to the daily needs of my friends in Ecuador, but it also jumpstarted my second project on building community in urban schools.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Rosa Ficek Torres

Recording an oral history

While a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Rosa Ficek Torres received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2011 to aid research on ‘Migration and Integration Along the Pan American Highway in Panama’s Darien Gap,’ supervised by Dr. Anna Tsing. In 2014 she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Collaborations for a Digital Exhibit: Perspectives on Integration from the Margins of Panama,’ 2015, Panama.

Roads let us access new landscapes, meet people, reach resources. But they do more than that. Roads make landscapes, refashioning social relations and geographies as people, things, and ideas come into contact. Tracing the encounters that take place because of, and along, lines of transport and communication can help us understand what happens when people and places are connected by technologies in new or different ways. My dissertation research considers the social effects of roads, asking how social collectivities emerge, how power and difference shape spaces of belonging and exclusion through and with these material routes.

Workers hired from roadside communities

With support from a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, I traveled to Panama to research a road built to integrate a peripheral area into the national culture, political system, and economy. This road was built in the 1970s to connect Panama to its easternmost province. Migrant peasants from central and western Panama settled along its edges, attracted by tales of abundant land free for the taking. Meanwhile, government planners saw the settlers as agents of modernization. They replaced forests with fields and pastures, establishing relations of property and production that would—planners hoped—drive development while also extending state power into a marginal region. The road was the central figure in these transformations, bringing settlers and state institutions in, taking products out.

Through oral histories of migration and community formation I found that settlers, who soon found themselves stuck on a deteriorated road that signaled isolation and government abandonment, integrated themselves anyway. They used forest materials and communal labor to build schools and rural aqueducts, fundraised for journeys to the city to petition the government for teachers, engineers, and plastic pipes, and maintained the road with stones and gravel dug up from the rivers. However, these oral histories also complicated ideas of integration as the expansion of state power, national culture, and capitalist relations by showing how the indigenous and afrodescendent people who were already living in the area contributed to the making and remaking of the highway, at the same time that these contributions were obscured in settler narratives. Moreover, settlers themselves adapted to the new landscape at the same time that they transformed it. The road, rather than being a force of assimilation, is heterogeneous, brought to life by diverse histories and mobilities that transform its materiality and meaning.

Presidential speech authorizing road work

I returned to Panama in July and August 2015 to share my findings with the communities where I had done research. The road, which during fieldwork in 2008 and 2009 had been repaired and paved with asphalt, had again deteriorated. And yet again machines rumbled, earth was moved, and orange-vested crews worked on repairs to its surface. Among local residents, dissatisfaction with the previous constrution company’s performance had turned into bitter disappointment once the new pavement fell to pieces. This time around, people were determined that things would be different. During the ceremony authorizing the initiation of roadwork the president of the republic gave a speech that echoed promises made repeatedly since the 1960s: the road would facilitate the transport and comercialization of agricultural products, he said, bring economic and social development, and integrate a province that had been isolated from national development. In the audience, members of the vigilance committees that were forming in roadside communities greeted each other with handshakes and slaps on the back. They were organizing to ensure that the road was properly remade. For them, that meant learning which materials were going to be used to rehabilitate the road, and from which local source, and taking samples to a laboratory for independent analysis using their own funds. The transitability of the road depended on the right materials.

Residents of surrounding communities attending ceremony

It was within this context that I carried out the activities related to my Engaged Anthropology Grant—amidst roadwork, amidst a collective feeling of guarded hope, a sense of progress-in-the-making that seemed at odds with the insistent, cyclical deteriorations of the road and the repeated disappointments and setbacks local residents had experienced. I held a series of meetings in communities in which I presented my dissertation findings, reviewed and revised written portions of the manuscript with informants, and conducted oral history workshops where community members were able to narrate their accounts of development on their own terms, identifying the themes and stories that most mattered to them. These oral histories were recorded and assembled into DVDs that were distributed to community members, civil society leaders, and teachers for use in the classroom.

The goal in documenting these histories was to provide alternative representations of a region that is often stereotyped in the media and popular imaginations as a backward province. People think that there is nothing here in Darien, that there is no development, that we’re living in the wilderness, residents often noted. The oral histories worked against these representations by offering counter narratives of a kind of development different from that promoted by the government—of people organizing and using their own time and resources, drawing on forms of communal labor, to build rural aqueducts, schools and churches, petitioning the government for technical assistance and supplies to complete the works. These narratives help us situate the current rehabilitation of the road, people’s keen interest in the work, and the vigilance committees within a history of development where people had to make do and find ways to survive in the absence of the development that had been promised, and that had enchanted them. If things were going to be different this time—if the new pavement lasted and the road indeed reduced inequality in the region—it would be an achievement of local communities, not something that was formulated outside and handed to them.

Director of school with copies of the oral histories

And yet, the accounts people told about their experiences migrating to an unfamiliar place, the loneliness, the malaria, the hard work of building homes with handsaws and axes, of raising families without adequate water supplies, reveal other kinds of histories that destabilize narratives of development, of progress marching forward because it has to. These oral histories hold the shadow of a suggestion that some places should never have been settled at all. At least not in the way that settlers had gone about doing things, clearing forest to the extent that deforestation and loss of biodiversity are the current enviornmental buzzwords, boosting productivity with pesticides that poisoned the already meager water supplies, locating homes and communities in sites that were terribly inaccessible, far from rivers and coasts that offered alternative means of transport—practices that led to the growth of villages and towns with electricity, paved roads, schools, health centers, gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants, but that also created a situation where you never know if water will run when you open the tap, where pastures extend for hectares but you can’t buy a decent cut of meat, where former landowners who farmed for their families as well as the market now work for uncertain wages after selling to ranchers or teak companies. Things had changed a lot, people reflected in their oral histories. One woman, like many others, recalled feeling despair when she reached the land that would be her new home, breaking down and crying with the realization that it had all been a big misunderstanding, that the stories about good free land were partially true at best. Todo parece un sueño, she sighed. It all seems like a dream.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Kevin O’Neill

 

Image courtesy Kevin O'Neill

Kevin O’Neill is a Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. In 2006 while a doctoral student at Stanford University, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant  to aid research on ‘Producing Christian Citizenship: Evangelical Mega-Churches in Postwar Guatemala City,’ supervised by Dr. James Ferguson. In 2010 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Two Ways Outs: Christianity, Security, and Mara Salvatrucha’. In 2014 he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Secure the Soul: A Public Conversation,’ 2015, Guatemala.

July 2015 proved to be a whirlwind. The Engaged Anthropology Grant supported a wide range of events, big and small as well as private and public. These were conversations, meals, moments of outreach, and student mentorship programs that connected colleagues and collaborators. The fieldwork itself shuttled between several sites in Guatemala City and the United States. Each opened a window into a tightening relationship between new forms of Christianity and gang prevention. One field site was Guatemala’s prison system, in which prison chaplains provide prisoners with psycho-theological support. Another field site was a reinsertion program for ex-gang members. The program connected former gang members with jobs in the formal economy. And yet another field site was a growing number of Christian drug rehabilitation centers that often house active gang members in the hopes of converting them out of gang life. There are other field sites, but this selection gives a quick sense of the different actors that my fieldwork engaged. And the aim of the Engaged Anthropology Grant was to bring some of these actors together, to have them engage my work but also each other. In this regard the month proved a tremendous success. There were meetings with prison chaplains and prisoners, hours spent with students at my host university, and long conversations with gang ministers as well as prison and drug reform commissions. All of it culminated in what I think was a poignant and powerful TV interview between me and my main informant. But more on that in a moment.

The Post-Ph.D. Research Grant supported research for the 2015 publication of Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala. The book makes the argument that underlying Central American efforts at security is a sense of Christian piety—that is, an aspiration to be a better person. It is this Christian piety that provides Central American security with its moral coordinates. At the center of this argument sits the story of a key informant, a man that I call Mateo. His life connects the book’s various chapters. A deported gang member from Los Angeles, Mateo has been the subject and the object of Christian piety most of his life. He gained tremendously from prison chaplains while serving time in Los Angeles and yet he also served as a prison chaplain in Guatemala City; Mateo has worked for reinsertion programs while also having engaged these very programs as a former gang member; he has also been held inside a Christian rehabilitation center and yet months later found himself working for one. Yet more than just connecting the research’s ethnography with a single story, his life also embodies a sense of Christian piety—this idea/aspiration/affect that one should always strive to be a better person.

Image courtesy Kevin O'Neill

Secure the Soul ends with Mateo adrift. Aging out of not just gang life but also Central American security programs, the book ends at a moment of indecision. It is not clear what Mateo will do with the rest of his life. And yet while my research ended, Mateo’s life obviously kept on going. And there was a rough patch. He lost his house. A member of Barrio 18 stabbed him with a screwdriver during a street fight. And he ended up in prison for three months on trumped up drug charges. But then, true to Mateo, he turned his life around, connecting with a missionary project outside of Guatemala City. He now supports the ministry’s activities while also preaching to youth. This includes a weekly television program.

For those familiar with the book, Mateo’s life history provides Secure the Soul with its narrative spine. And for those familiar with ethnography, a project like that entails a tremendous amount of not just trust but also time. Mateo and I spent hours thinking through and recording his life story. Sometimes this took place while walking the streets of Guatemala City and other times this took place on his couch, with Mateo stretched out as if in the middle of a therapy session. And so it came with great excitement to learn that Mateo not only had air time but that we would also be able to spend that time talking about Secure the Soul—with the roles reversed. He would interview me.

It was an amazing experience. As we sat waiting for the camera to turn on, for us to go live, I turned to Mateo. Filled with pride for his life but also for what we had done together (in regards to the book) it suddenly hit me how far this project had gone. I can still remember the first time I met Mateo in a Guatemala City church. I can also remember the first interview we ever did together. And as the producer counted us down from ten to one, to signal the start of the show, I turned to Mateo with no small amount of astonishment—about his life and this book. I asked him how he felt about it all. Feeling rushed by the counting and slightly distracted by the glare of the lights, Mateo just smiled and said, “Look, bro, it’s my turn to ask the questions.” And so he did.