Archive for Engaged Anthropology Grant

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amy Brainer

 

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

Amy Brainer is an Assistant Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Sociology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. In 2011 while a doctoral student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Same-Sexuality and Family Relations in Taiwan,’ supervised by Dr. Barbara J. Risman. In 2014 she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Reimagining LGBT Family Issues,’ 2015, Taiwan.

In October 2015, with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, I conducted two parent workshops and a symposium around the theme ‘Reimagining LGBT Family Issues’ in Kaohsiung and Taipei. These activities build on my previous fieldwork with queer people and their families of origin throughout Taiwan. (In the grant title and in this report, I use ‘LGBT’ and ‘queer’ interchangeably to refer to a range of non-normative sexualities and genders. My informants vary in how they describe these aspects of their lives and the lives of their family members.) The title of the grant is perhaps all the more relevant in light of the US Supreme Court decision on marriage and the tidal wave of ‘marriage equality’ efforts that have come to define LGBT family aspirations, often excluding the more diverse forms of sex, love, desire, and family formation which are endemic to queer communities globally. With regard to LGBT family of origin issues, emphases on sexual disclosure and pathways to familial acceptance almost completely dominate the field, obscuring more complex family dynamics and practices that often do not center around the ‘coming out’ model. Through the grant activities, I looked for ways to facilitate a more comprehensive conversation about sexuality, gender, and family change, in ways that would be relevant to Taiwanese queer activists, practitioners, and families.

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

I opened the parent workshops in Kaohsiung and Taipei with a brief report on my research findings, followed by a more semi-structured conversation about LGBT parent-child relations in Taiwan today. It was apparent right away that although the parents listened politely to the report, their interest and excitement surrounded the opportunity to share their own stories one by one. During this experience, I felt as if the parents were still the ones ‘giving’ and I the recipient, and I briefly struggled to reconcile this with my wish to use the grant to ‘give back’ to the community. I had to step further out of my academic box to recognize what perhaps should have been obvious from the start—that what I have to ‘give’ such parents is not, in fact, a report, or the larger context I sought to provide for their stories, but rather a platform from which to speak about their own lives. The value of the workshop, for them, was in the ritual of testifying, of being heard, and in the creation of a space where their voices could be amplified. Questions I posed to the parents also sparked some animated discussions as they compared life experiences. One particularly interesting stream of our conversation concerned variation in the experiences and needs of mothers of T (butch) versus po (femme) lesbian daughters. As I am currently writing a new analytic chapter about this issue, this was a rare opportunity for me to workshop my ideas with mothers themselves.

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

I culminated my trip with a symposium on queer family issues arranged to coincide with the International Lesbian and Gay Association-Asia conference in Taipei. The event was advertised locally as well as to conference participants from other parts of Asia. I used this opportunity to give a more structured talk about my research results, followed by an open forum for participants to speak on family issues that they perceive to be critical and/or under-examined in the areas where they live and work. I highlighted the dearth of attention to material inequalities as a source of family pressure for queer women and their heterosexual mothers. In particular, I identified housing insecurity and the gendered distribution of family work and resources as key lesbian family issues emerging from my data. These results resonated with many audience members, who shared personal stories relating to the findings and analysis. In addition, many people expressed an interest in reading the book (now a manuscript in preparation), confirming to me the importance of making this work available in Chinese.

Hosting the symposium during ILGA-Asia opened up a regional conversation that was particularly generative. Participants shared about their work in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Singapore. Many of the questions and comments drew comparisons among diverse Asian contexts. Opportunities for collaboration also emerged. For example, a filmmaker connected with an NGO addressing similar family issues; I received an invitation to visit an organization in southern China and to consider conducting comparative fieldwork there. The presence of practitioners added another meaningful dimension to the workshop, as therapists shared about ways in which the topics discussed related to work with clients in their respective countries.

Image courtesy Amy Brainer

Largely through the generous spirit of my hosts and participants alike, the grant activities met my larger goal of nurturing collaborative relationships not only across geographic regions, but also across the borders that often separate research from activism. I am excited about the new networks that emerged from this symposium. I also appreciate this opportunity to pay respect to long time activists whose work paved the way for my own. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing support of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association, which co-sponsored and advertised my event. Hotline’s dedication and passionate activism around diverse queer issues is among my greatest sources of inspiration as a scholar and as a queer woman, and I value every opportunity to share with and learn from this group. I am deeply grateful to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for funding this research and the return trip.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Stacey Vanderhurst

 

Wenner-Gren awardee Stacey Vanderhurst with some of the presenters and participants at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, August 5, 2015.

Stacey Vanderhurst is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at The University of Kansas. In 2010 while a doctoral student at Brown University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Victimizing Migration: Human Trafficking Prevention and Migration Management in Nigeria,’ supervised by Dr. Daniel Jordan Smith. In 2015 she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Wanting to Be Trafficked?: A Workshop on Vulnerability in Nigeria,’ 2015, Nigeria.

On Wednesday August 5, Engaged Anthropology Grant awardee Stacey Vanderhurst hosted a full day workshop on human trafficking at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs in Lagos, Nigeria. The workshop featured academic presentations by several local scholars in addition to a presentation of the grantee’s own research, and it was attended by over 30 participants representing a range of government, academic, and non-profit sectors across the region.

Wenner Gren awardee Stacey Vanderhurst, assistant professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, offers a presentation of her dissertation research.

Wenner Gren awardee Stacey Vanderhurst, assistant professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, offers a presentation of her dissertation research.

Vanderhurst’s original Wenner-Gren sponsored research demonstrates how local and international stakeholders overwhelmingly conflate human trafficking and migrant sex work in Nigeria and how, on the basis of this conflation, the Nigerian government routinely stops young migrant women from leaving the country. This workshop was therefore designed to examine how Nigerian women understand human trafficking, sex work, and high risk migration, and how those ideas can conflict with the local, national, and global intervention programs designed to help them.

Scholars and activists have documented similar contortions of anti-trafficking policy around the world. But while research on human trafficking has boomed in Nigeria, these critiques have been marginalized in the public discourse, in policy writing, and in academic publications. The goals of the workshop were threefold:

(1)  To deepen understanding of human trafficking politics, especially from a migrants’ rights perspective

(2)  To improve policy and programming related to human trafficking interventions

(3)  To develop future collaborative research and publication opportunities

Prof. Ogaba Oche (left), Director of Research for the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and MC for the workshop, introduces Prof. Franca Attoh (right), professor of sociology at the University of Lagos and panel chair.

Prof. Franca Attoh of the University of Lagos chaired the session, drawing upon over ten years of research on these topics, including regular collaboration with the federal anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP. Prof. Clementina Osezua of Osun State University delivered a presentation on the history of trafficking discourses in Nigeria, and Prof. Oluwakemi Adesina of Obafemi Awolowo University discussed the changing gender roles and opportunities for women in the high-trafficking area of Benin City. Prof. Vanderhurst completed the session with a presentation of her research, tracing these social and historical trends into Nigeria’s modern anti-trafficking policies.

The NIIA rotunda space promoted open debate throughout the day, balancing time dedicated to formal presentations with roundtable discussion amongst all participants. They included a delegation from the Lagos Zonal Headquarters of the Nigerian federal anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP, who hosted the grantee’s original dissertation research.

Delegation from the Lagos Zonal Headquarters of Nigeria’s federal anti-trafficking agency NAPTIP (National Agency for the Prohibition in Trafficking in Persons), including Zonal Commander Mr. Joseph Famakin (right).

The Zonal Commander, Mr. Joseph Famakin, was an especially active interlocutor, regularly engaging critiques offered by presenters and audience members alike. Two representatives from the United States Consulate responsible for compiling national data in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report made significant contributions to the discussion as well. Other participants included members of the anti-trafficking NGO network NACTAL and various research fellows from the NIIA.

Conversation was lively, productive, and direct. The presentations and discussant comments steadily challenged assumptions about women’s victimhood that often circulate in this community of experts. As Prof. Attoh provocatively claimed, “there are no victims in Benin.” Reactions to these presentations quickly revealed the wide range of understandings of human trafficking itself, from a sense of moral crisis around women’s prostitution to outrage at the plight of Nigerian migrants worldwide.

Representatives from the US State Department challenging participants’ use of human trafficking to describe voluntary migrant sex work, a growing debate in Nigeria.

Challenges in aligning these different approaches to trafficking affirmed the urgency of the workshop objectives and pressed upon participants to advance these conversations further in both academic and policy forums.The workshop thereby concluded with a separate meeting for those interested in contributing to collaborative publication project, drawing out these differences. It was suggested that such an outlet for critical perspectives on human trafficking interventions is lacking not only in Nigeria but across the continent. Edited volumes based on other world regions have made significant contributions to the anti-trafficking work, but participants expressed a need to explore their implication in African contexts. Plans for a future meeting were discussed, and participants look forward to carrying on the exchange.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jacob Sauer

Poster created for presentation in Santiago

While a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University, Jacob Sauer received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2008 to aid research on ‘The Creation of Araucanian Anti-Colonial Identity During the Contact Period, AD 1552-1602,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas Dalton Dillehay. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Presenting the Archaeological Past to Mapuche Communities and the Public in South-Central Chile,’ 2014, Chile.

It was fortuitous that my presentations in Chile to fulfill the Engaged Anthropology Grant took longer than I expected to carry out (I blame my daughter being born), as it happened to coincide with the month celebrating the country’s cultural patrimony. My Wenner-Gren funded research was carried out in the area of Pucón-Villarrica in southern Chile, along the western flanks of the Andes Mountains. I excavated a site known as Santa Sylvia, which had four different occupations, dating to AD 900, 1100, 1585, and 1850. The 1585 occupation included a Spanish “fortified house” that had been previously excavated by Chilean archaeologist Américo Gordon, who focused on the Spanish occupation of the site. My aim was to examine any previous occupations of the area by the Mapuche culture, to see what sort of changes came about in that culture before, during, and after the Spanish arrival.

The Mapuche are Chile’s largest Native American culture with a population of nearly 2 million living primarily in the capital city of Santiago and in an area traditionally known as the Araucanía between the Bio Bio and Bueno Rivers, as well as on the other side of the Andes in the Argentinian Pampa and Patagonia. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Mapuche lived as sedentary agro-pastoralists, growing maize, potatoes, peppers, and other domestic plants and raising llamas. Later, they adopted the horse and started growing wheat and barley while continuing to live in small communities based on close family relationships that remain to the present. Between 1550 and 1604 the Mapuche fought the Spanish in what is colloquially termed the “War of Arauco,” in which the Mapuche were victorious and maintained control over their traditional territory. Not until the late 19th century were the Mapuche placed on reservations by the Chilean military, a longer span of cultural independence than any other indigenous group in the Americas.

Presenting at the Pontificia Uniersidad Catolica de Chile

I argued in my dissertation and subsequent book The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Araucanian Resilience that how the analysis and presentation of Mapuche-Spanish interactions from 1536 to 1820 and Mapuche-Chilean interactions since 1820 has done a disservice to the archaeological and ethnographic data and has adversely affected the Mapuche today. Primarily, historical research has argued that the modern-day Mapuche exist as a result of Spanish arrival and virtually ignores any pre-1536 information. This has led to the Mapuche losing land rights and standing before the Chilean state, further codified in Chilean law drafted in 1990. My research, and that of other colleagues, demonstrates that the Mapuche have a long and complex history that predates Spanish arrival by centuries, and that despite Spanish efforts the Mapuche were never colonized and managed to maintain strong cultural continuity, limiting the changes to their traditional culture while avoiding the hybridization and syncretism that affected many other Native American societies.

My first presentation on this research was to the Anthropology Department of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, a growing department with several colleagues who research the modern Mapuche. The presentation had been advertised several weeks prior, with some students coming from as far away as Concepción to listen. About 40 people total came, and the presentation was relatively well-received, though some colleagues took issue with my arguments during the question and answer period, but we are continuing to discuss the points I made.

Two students from the Universidad de Concepción traveled to Santiago to hear my presentation, and afterwards I mentioned I would be in Concepción later in the week. They asked if I would be willing to give a presentation to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, which fortunately I was able to do. The turnout was also very good, made particularly welcome by a number of Mapuche students in the audience who were intrigued by my presentation. We had a good discussion afterwards, which will hopefully lead to student collaborations in the very near future.

Poster for the presentations at the Museo Regional de la Araucania in Temuco

I then travelled to the area of my research, Pucón-Villarrica, to present at the satellite campus of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Villarrica. Fortunately the volcano did not erupt while I was there. I had hoped to be able to meet with several of the Mapuche communities in the area, but the timing did not work out due to some political unrest, but plans are already in the works to meet and present later in the year. In Villarrica, my presentation was attended by students from a nearby High School, the majority of whom are Mapuche. They asked numerous thought-provoking questions (“Wait, you can make a living as an archaeologist?”) and made me rethink some of my arguments related to the development of the Mapuche today.

The final presentation came at the Museo Regional de la Araucanía in Temuco, where the materials from Santa Sylvia are currently housed. I started a series of presentations on the topic of “Dialogues about Mapuche Identity and Resistance” as the last in a series of events celebrating Chile’s cultural patrimony. I presented alongside several Chilean luminaries, including National History Award winner Dr. Jorge Pinto Rodriguez, which was somewhat intimidating. It was well-attended, mostly by members of the public. Several audience members liked the archaeological side of things, which they said is rarely presented to the public in this manner, and also that I emphasized the Mapuche perspective over the Spanish which is often how things are presented in their history books and the media.

Presenting in Temuco

In all, it was an excellent trip and a marvelous experience and served to highlight the need for interdisciplinary approaches for investigating Mapuche culture. The histories as written often lack the complementary (and critical) anthropological information that can deepen our understanding of the long-term development of cultures worldwide, and how those cultures continue to develop today. Many of my Chilean colleagues were impressed that the Wenner-Gren foundation offers the Engaged Anthropology Grant program, and more so that Wenner-Gren funds the research of investigators living outside the United States. Hopefully there will soon be an increase in the number of applications from Chile! Many thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for generously supporting this research.

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chelsey Kivland

Image courtesy Chelsey Kivland

 Chelsey Kivland is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Of Bands and Soldiers: Performance, Sovereignty, and Violence in Contemporary Haiti,’ supervised by Dr. Stephan Palmie. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Slam Tambou: Building a Peace Movement through Poetry and Performance,’ 2015, Haiti.

 

The Haitian term angaje issues a stronger meaning than the English engaged. Its referent moves beyond becoming involved or participating to suggest moral judgment and political commitment—in short, taking a stance. To meet the Haitian standard for engaged anthropology, then, is to embrace what Nancy Scheper-­‐Hughes calls “militant anthropology.” This entails a turn away from politically disinterested and socially distanced research. A militant ethnographer would make herself “available not just as friends or as ‘patrons’ in the old colonialist sense but as comrades (with all the demands and responsibilities that this word implies) to the people who are the subjects of our writings, whose lives and miseries provide us with a livelihood.” A first step in this process is to share your findings with your collaborators in the field. A second, more difficult step is to be open to the changes in analysis that this sharing might entail. And a third, even more challenging step is to join in the struggle to usurp the detrimental power dynamics revealed in the analysis.

It was toward this end that I returned this past summer to Port-­‐au-­‐Prince to diskite (discuss)—to share, debate, and revise—the findings of my dissertation research, “We Make the State”: Performance, Politick, and Respect in Urban Haiti. Much of my research has explored the urban youth groups—known locally as baz—that act as de facto political chiefs of their urban blocks. The baz are often dismissed as “gangs” in policy and media literature in Haiti and abroad. Yet, as I argue, they are better understood as an emergent form of democratic politics that seeks to provide political representation and control over public resources for an area that has been both neglected by state institutions and targeted by politicians and aid workers alike as the ticket to political success. Despite their noble aspirations, however, bazes become involved in competitions over state and NGO resources, which incite rivalries between them and often lead to violent conflict. A main contribution of my research has been to reveal how this violence is related to the contradictions of democracy—namely, how democratization promised a more egalitarian society and inclusion in the state but has instead lead to greater inequality and the evisceration of the public sector. While my collaborators in Bel Air might not phrase it in these terms, they often identified the same dynamics in their discussions about disrespect. In Haiti, the notion of “respect” (respè) is the social value used to gauge proper human relations and democratic society. My commitment to articulating my analysis through the idioms and sentiments used by informants is the goal of my research, and it formed the cornerstone of my engaged anthropology grant project.

Image courtesy Chelsey Kivland

I organized a two-­‐part presentation of my research at a newly opened cultural center in Bel Air. The first part of the series was a lecture in which I revealed my novel finding that acts of baz aggression are tied to the multifaceted ways in which disrespect is made manifest in the lives of the urban poor, as well as how peace can be envisioned as a world imbued with respect. In particular, I offered four key forms of disrespect that precipitate baz violence: disparaging authority, injuring another, leveling threats, and accumulating wealth in a dishonest or selfish manner. I then illustrated how all of these precipitants reflect failure to uphold the principle of respect, which encompasses the right to be recognized as a consequential subject, to lead a dignified life, to speak and be heard, and to live in an egalitarian society. The lecture unfolded amid long awaited parliamentary elections, which resulted in clashes between residents, politicians, and poll workers at voting offices throughout the neighborhood. Consequently, much of the conversation revolved around  the interconnections between politics and violence, and the perpetual frustrations baz face when they are treated as pawns in the fight for state power. In fact, a novel point raised during the conversations was that being treated with disrespect over and over again can lead to powerful feelings of frustrations that motivate aggressive actions against those deemed responsible, whether political or personal rivals. Overall, participants reiterated their need and desire for less politicking and more governance, or in other words, a robust and responsible state that provides basic services and a degree of opportunity to the citizenry. This was a response I have grown accustomed to hearing, but it was particularly powerful in the context of chaotic elections, proclaiming enduring aspirations for a truly democratic future.

The second part of the series featured a multimedia presentation of residents’ ideas about how to build a more peaceful society. It centered on showing a film I directed with Haitian filmmaker Moïse Pierre about the annual fête patronale Festival of Our lady of Perpetual Help. The film demonstrated how despite a history of political conflict and interpersonal strife all factions of the neighborhood come together to celebrate the “Mother of Bel Air.” Those who represented these different sectors in the film were in the audience, including religious leaders from different faiths, area leaders of different baz, and notables working in the education, development, and political sectors. Another seventy-­‐five residents joined as well, forming a diverse public of men and women, children and adults, employed and unemployed, politicians and citizens. The film showing was accompanied by a poetry slam that featured four youth poets rhyming about the challenges of building peace and security in a highly unequal world. As well, two local rara groups, the name for Haiti’s politicized street bands, entertained the audience, before, during, and after the slam. The rara groups, one comprising all women and the other all men, provided an electric beat, bringing the audience to its feet and inciting people of different faiths, ages, and political persuasions to commune together in celebration.

The film was well received, with audiences commenting on how it offered another image of the neighborhood from commonplace portrayals of violence and dysfunction. Still, others appreciated how it put the problems that do exist in context so that the actions of residents, and especially baz leaders, are seen as tied to daily struggles of poverty, frustration, and disrespect. The conversations started at the showing continued well after the event. When I finally returned to the hilltop shack where I have made a second home, I found a moving scene. My longtime host had borrowed the baz’s collective television set and was showing the film on it for area children and others who missed the earlier showing. It ran on an endless loop far into the night, with new residents joining at each showing and others watching it over and over again. Amid the celebration, I visited a local “notable” who figured largely in the film. A longtime resident, neighborhood leader, and former teacher, whom residents affectionately address as Mèt, he complimented me on the event, and offered some criticism. The event, he said, would have benefited from more discussion of the historical connection between art and politics in the zone. The point was well taken.

But he then told me that he was very pleased, mainly because I had come to understand something fundamental to Bel Air. As he put it, “Bel Air is place few people understand. But that if you spend time here, with people in the street, you can begin to see that it is not what people think. Li pa yon zòn bandi se yon zòn rabel. (It is not a zone of bandits but a zone of rebels.) That’s a big difference!”

This pithy comment reminded me again of how a truly angaje anthropology is to present your research to your interlocutors in formats that are accessible so as to foster rigorous, opinion-­‐changing debate.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Michaela Howells

Pago Pago, the territorial capital of American Samoa.

Michaela Howells is Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. While a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Howells received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Impact of Psychosocial Stress on Gestation Length and Pregnancy Outcomes in American Samoa,’ supervised by Dr. Darna Dufour. In 2015, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Promoting Dialog Between Health Care Providers and Pregnant Women on American Samoa’.

American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the United States. Found under the Southern Cross, American Samoa straddles the reality between a globalized community and one embedded in traditional ideals and values. In 2011 I moved to American Samoa’s big island, Tutuila, to study the effects of prenatal psychosocial stress on pregnancy outcomes of Samoan women. Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation I was able to stay for nearly two years and found a relationship between the stressors experienced by low status women and their infant’s low birth weight. This project informs my ongoing research and was made possible by the committed staff of the American Samoan Department of Health (DOH) and LBJ Tropical Medical Center (LBJ) – the island’s only hospital.

Since leaving the island in 2013, I have been awarded my PhD and became an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Although I have spent the majority of the last three years writing, presenting, and teaching about Samoa, I also suffered the disconnect so frequently experienced by professionals leaving their field site. I missed the women I worked with, and the simultaneously wonderful and infuriating island that I called home. Wenner Gren’s Engaged Anthropologist Grant gave me the opportunity to return to American Samoa in order to share my results and skills with the health care community. Inadvertently it also renewed my excitement for field work and strengthened my relationships with my American Samoan colleagues.

Howells and retired NFL player Troy Polamalu

Originally, I had planned to host prenatal care workshops and training programs across the island. However, a week before my arrival, a medical team funded by retired Pittsburgh Steelers player Troy Polamalu had held extensive medical clinics throughout the community. Troy’s program, entitled Fa’asamoa, held free clinics that extended care to many of the island’s hard to reach residents. At the same time, it overextended many of the health care staff and disrupted normal clinic hours. Upon arrival, it was made clear to me that another mode of outreach would be more useful and appreciated.

When I initially worked with the women’s health community of American Samoa, a frequent point of concern was the lack of bilingual women’s health care educational materials. The available education materials were written in English and frequently featured pa’palagis (white people), a minority on island. Taken together, the health care professionals felt that these posters did not reflect Samoan culture and thus missed an important opportunity to educate women. As a result, I launched a collaborative project between the women’s health professionals at the DOH, LBJ, and Women Infant Child (WIC). We decided to develop five educational posters that focused on women’s reproductive health. These posters were printed and disseminated to women’s health care clinics across the island.

Although the mode at which I chose to achieve my goals changed, the core goal of supporting educational outreach regarding women’s health in American Samoa had not. Reframed, I met the four objectives of my Engaged Anthropologist Grant:

Objective 1: Create an additional tier of education regarding women’s health. The medical professionals at DOH, LBJ, and WIC do an outstanding job of educating women on island. The posters we developed work in conjunction with the one on one education that health care professionals are sharing with women during their appointments. These posters simultaneously act to both introduce and reinforce this important information in the target population. I was also invited on a popular morning radio talk show where I discussed my dissertation work, my current project and answered questions about women’s health issues. Finally, our posters were featured in the widely read Department of Health Newsletter.

Howells, center, with Samoan health care professionals

Objective 2: Create culturally relevant, long lasting health care material in conjunction with the DOH, LBJ, WIC women’s health care staff. This work was done in collaboration with Samoan Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Nursing Assistants and Nurse Educators. Recognizing that funds and time are equally limited for the women’s health community, it was suggested that I brainstorm with women’s health care professionals at a prearranged Hanson’s disease (Leprosy) workshop. This three day workshop allowed me to further integrate into health care community while having a captive audience for a brainstorming meeting over lunch. On the first day of this workshop I sat with some of the more seasoned nurses and outlined the five poster themes and written materials within those posters. These emerging poster themes included prenatal care, high risk pregnancy, nutrition during pregnancy, available birth control options, and breast feeding. I returned the next day with these notes typed up and spent lunch reviewing these themes with a larger portion of the women’s health care community.

By the end of the Hanson’s disease workshop we had developed the necessary text to create our posters. Over the following three weeks, I shaped the posters with near constant feedback from the women’s health care community. Under the direction of the DOH’s Director of Nursing Margaret Sesepasara, I was able to collaborate with a variety of specialists. For example, our birth control poster was finessed by the Director of Family Planning at LBJ. By working together we were able to create Title 9 approved educational materials that helped them reach compliance in health education.

A poster on breast feeding produced as part of the project

With material support (a high quality camera) from the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (HPO), and the support of the DOH nursing staff I took photos of pregnant Samoan women, Samoan babies, health care professionals, and clinics. Written permission was garnered before I took the photos. I visited the local farmer’s market and photographed healthy Samoan foods (local fish, vegetables), and with a local store I constructed a photograph of less healthy food choices (corn beef, chips, etc). In addition I chose culturally appropriate colors to illustrate these posters.

Objective 3: Print posters and share them with the four women’s health clinics (DOH and LBJ) and WIC. The cost of printing and laminating these large, colorful posters was more than I had originally budgeted. However, I was able to gain sponsorship from a local sign company, All Star Signs, to offset the costs. As a result, I was able to disperse these posters to the appropriate clinics around the island.

An American Samoan mother and baby

Objective 4: Physically disseminate copies of my original Wenner Gren funded dissertation. Although I had shared components of this research before, I sent packages of materials to leaders at the DOH and LBJ prior to arriving on island. These included copies of my dissertation, abstracts from papers I had given (many co-authored with Samoan colleagues), and manuscripts for upcoming articles.

The posters look beautiful, and were met with great support. However, there was an intangible benefit that came from returning on an Engaged Anthropologist Grant. By returning as a fully vested professional anthropologist with time and money to invest directly into the medical community, I was able to strengthen many of the lines of communication I developed during my original tenure on island. It was empowering to go back to my island home with something to give rather than take and am excited to continue working in American Samoa.

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

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

On the road in Botswana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Caitlin E. Fouratt

 

Workshop participant discusses his family’s migration story

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

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

 

Seminar participants at the University of Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Participants in Costa Rica drawing their families

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

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

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

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

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Amelia R. Hubbard

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

5 schools, 4 communities, 1 month        

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

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

 

Goal 1: Connecting with the community     

Research poster on display at the Makwasinyi Village Dispensary

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

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

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

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

A baraza

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

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

 

Goal 2: Inspiring the next generation                                                

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

Talking with students at secondary schools

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

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

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

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

Kaitlin talks with students at Dr. Aggrey

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

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

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

 

Goal 3: Academic presentations             

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

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

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

 

Poster accepted by Charles Adika on behalf of Kenyatta Secondary

Final thoughts and lessons learned        

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

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

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

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

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

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Diana Szanto

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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