NYAS Lecture May 16th: Silence and Sacrifice: Narrative, Emergent Care, and Community in Context

On May 16th, 6:30 PM EST, the New York Academy of Sciences will host, “Silence and Sacrifice: Narrative, Emergent Care, and Community in Context”, presented by Dr. Merav Shohet.

To register for this event click here. This event will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

What are the contours and meanings of sacrifice and care in troubled times? In this talk, I explore both the affordances and violence involved in acts of care and sacrifice among multi-generational families who survived war, illness, and massive political and economic upheavals in Vietnam. Highlighting the role of silence in experiences of suffering in everyday and troubled lives, I examine how family members narratively navigate conflicting commitments to those whom they are expected to love while affirming or contesting local versions of justice. Through a close analysis of stories and video-recorded interactions of care for the dying, I challenge the prevailing anthropological idea that sacrifice is solely a blood-filled religious ritual or patriotic act. Women’s and children’s routine sacrifices, I show, precariously knit kin together by silencing their suffering and reifying cross-cutting gender, age, class, and political hierarchies. These invite us to reflect on how the ordinary ethic of sacrifice help family members forge a sense of continuity in the face of trauma and decades of turbulence and change.

Featured Speaker

Merav Shohet is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Boston University. Her work integrates psychological-medical and linguistic anthropology to examine care, affect, ethics, and gender in relation to kinship, narrative, eating disorders, and the end of life in Vietnam and North America. She is the author of Silence and Sacrifice: Family Stories of Care and the Limits of Love in Vietnam (University of California Press 2021), and she has published articles on related topics in American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Ethos, Transcultural Psychiatry, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, among others. Two of her current projects include an SSRC-funded study of stigma syndemics and end-stage kidney disease in disenfranchised Boston area communities fighting Covid-19 and a longitudinal study of practices of elder-care and inequality in Israel’s transforming kibbutzim.


In his ethnographic and historical work, João Biehl explores how people’s plasticity and environmental attunements disrupt and exceed dominant ways of knowing and acting, thus opening new vistas for storytelling and critical theory. As he dissects past and current regimes of power/knowledge, Biehl considers the array of human-nonhuman alignments, affects, ideas, technologies, and forces that shape survival in contexts of stark inequality and living together in frontier zones. In attending to insurgent archivings and advancing an anthropology of becomings, Biehl’s work seeks to restore a sense of wonder and movement to ethical and political debates and to creative expression.

NYAS Lecture 4/25: Building Ice Age Community In Stone

On April 25th, 6:30 PM EST, the New York Academy of Sciences will host, “Building Ice Age Community In Stone”, presented by Dr. Kathleen Sterling.

To register for this event please click here. This event will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

Right or wrong, Westerners use the hunting and gathering peoples of the Ice Age as models of what is natural for human behavior. These “common-sense” reconstructions often have a very narrow survival focus that emphasizes neoliberal ideas of competition, rationality, and efficiency as seen through a modern lens. This only serves to recreate present ideologies in the past, and in so doing, justify them. The limits of archaeological preservation, especially the further back we look in the past, compound the impression of “lack” in their lives. The two popular names for the late Pleistocene, the “Ice Age” and the “Stone Age” further contribute to the feeling of lack: a lack of warmth, and a lack of materials. The result is a grim image of the lives of human ancestors: nasty, brutish, and short. These notions are in contrast to some of the best-known material production from this very long time period: the painted and engraved caves and rockshelters; the figurines, flutes, and bas-relief objects; as well as the fact that this lifeway persisted for tens of thousands of years.

Stone, the most abundant material we can recover archaeologically, can create a different picture. Rather than see stone as a lack of better options, we can look at the ways in which they used stone to fulfill their wants and needs, express their worldviews, and mediate their relationships with the world and other people. We see an example of this at the site of Peyre Blanque, located in what is now the French central Pyrenees and occupied nearly 20,000 years ago. In a landscape filled with caves and rockshelters, people carried blocks of stone uphill to create a structure that was likely used as shelter. They created tools out of other blocks of stone they carried from 300 meters away, from 200 km away, and points in between. They were likely connected to people who painted caves and rockshelters, or did that themselves, and carried pieces of important places with them in the form of stone. If we insist on looking to the Ice Age for lessons about humanity, it is not difficult to find examples of community and connection through stone, and community was how people not just survived, but thrived in the deep past.

Featured Speaker

Kathleen Sterling’s research is centered in the French Pyrenees, where she is currently co-director of Peyre Blanque, an open-air late Paleolithic site. This project grew out of a long-term pedestrian survey project that has collected thousands of lithic objects spanning the Paleolithic. Her interests include lithic technology, learning and identity, communities of practice, Paleolithic visual imagery, hunting and gathering groups, gender and feminist science, Black feminist theory, landscape archaeology, and the sociopolitics of archaeology. The themes of her work are concerned with dispelling myths about human ancestors as violent, primitive, and limited. She is also concerned with equal opportunity in anthropology and science in general, particularly in the ways in which this has an impact on knowledge production.


April Nowell is a Paleolithic archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Victoria, Canada. She directs an international team of scientists in the study of Lower and Middle Paleolithic sites in Jordan and collaborates with colleagues on the study of Paleolithic rock art in Australia and France and on ostrich eggshell beads in South Africa.  She is known for her publications on cognitive archaeology, Paleolithic art, the archaeology of children and the relationship between science, pop culture and the media. She is the author of the new book Growing Up in the Ice Age: Fossil and Archaeological Evidence of the Lived lives of Plio-Pleistocene Children.

NYAS Lecture 3/28: Racial Capitalism, Chemical Kin

On March 28th 6:30 PM EST, the New York Academy of Sciences will host, “Racial Capitalism, Chemical Kin”, presented by Dr. Vanessa Agard-Jones.

To register for this event please click here. This event will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

Chlordécone/kepone (C10Cl10O) was an organocholorine pesticide produced in the United States from 1951-1975. Called an “insecticide of the poor,” the synthetic chemical was used primarily in tropical agriculture in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In the French Antilles, the compound saw widespread use on banana plantations only after its interdiction in France, the United States, and in other countries of the global North. The United Nations Environment Programme considers kepone to be a persistent organic pollutant (POP), and it has been posited that it would take between 150 and 600 years for the chemical to break down naturally in the environment. Thus it is in the land—and in people’s bodies—to stay. Further, kepone is both a carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor—a compound that produces estrogen-mimicking and anti-androgenic effects in both human and non-human animal bodies. Claims about the sexual and reproductive consequences of exposure are thus at the heart of concerns about its afterlives in human bodies, bodies of land and bodies of water, and these in turn rely upon ideas about a “natural” body, its optimum health, and its “natural” genders, sexes, and sexualities. Kepone moves many to ask: what does toxicity (have to) do with reproductive futurity? What might detox have to do with a radical politics of care?

Inspired by M. Jacqui Alexander’s insistence that transnational feminist scholarship plumb how ideologies traffic across multiple sites, I track racialized and gendered discourses about kepone exposure across a trans-imperial Atlantic terrain, offering this commodity story as one way to understand the enduring entanglements of toxicity and care, reproduction and generation-making in the worlds wrought by racial capitalism.

Featured Speaker

Vanessa Agard-Jones is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. At its most expansive, Agard-Jones’ work asks how coloniality is made material: in social forms, in human and nonhuman bodies, and in the landscapes in which we live. With a focus on Black life in the Atlantic world, she conducts historical and ethnographic research on racialization, environmental crisis and the politics of gender and sexuality.

In Body Burdens: Toxic Endurance and Decolonial Desire in the French Atlantic (in preparation), Agard-Jones reframes the toxicological concept of “body burden” to account for the accretion of toxicities in Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean. Focused on material exposures to an endocrine-disrupting pesticide called kepone/chlordécone and on immaterial exposures to racism, sexism, and homophobia, Body Burdens asks how contemporary debates about sovereignty on the island are articulated through the prism of ideas about porosity and chemical contamination.


Jafari Sinclaire Allen is currently the Director of Africana Studies and Inaugural Co-Director of the University of Miami Center for Global Black Studies, at the University of Miami. His second monograph, There’s a disco ball between us: a theory of Black gay life, was released by Duke University Press this year.

Dr. Allen’s scholarship and teaching has opened new lines of inquiry and offered re‐invigorated methods of Black feminist narrative theorizing in anthropology, Black studies, and queer studies. This work has been funded and recognized by, for example, the National Science Foundation, Yale Center for the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, Morehouse College SafeSpace, and mostly recently by the Andrew A. Mellon Foundation, for his ‘Miami Initiative on Global Black Studies,’ which catalyzed the founding of the Center for Global Black Studies.  An Associate Professor in University of Miami’s Department of Anthropology, he is a former Associate Professor of African American Studies and Anthropology, and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program Director of Graduate Studies, at Yale University.

Professor Allen is the author of ¡Venceremos?: The Erotics of Black Self-Making in Cuba; editor of Black/Queer/Diaspora; and a number of other publications in, for example: American Ethnologist; Cultural Anthropology; GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies; Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society; Current Anthropology; Small Axe: A Caribbean Platform of Criticism; Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power; and Anthurium. Engaged in ethnographic research in Cuba and the Caribbean for more than twenty years, recent research has also taken him to East Africa, Brazil and Western Europe.

Professor Allen is currently at work on two monographs: Marooned in Miami: Ecologies of Black Life on an Edge; and Structural Adjustments: Global Black Survival in the 1980s.

NYAS Lecture 2/28: Imagining Care at the End of the World

The New York Academy of Sciences Distinguished Lecture Series continues on February 28th, 6:30 PM EST, when Dr. Robin G. Nelson presents, “Imagining Care at the End of the World”.

To register for this event click here. This event will also be livestreamed on YouTube.

Anthropology’s fascination with kinship and sociality developed at the very origins of the discipline, and has resulted in studies of all manner of topics ranging from the evolution of modern human interbirth intervals to food sharing. Taken together, this research reveals that familial configurations are fluid, and responsive to individual desires and needs, cultural practices, and socio-economic pressures. In my research, I explore core concepts in evolutionary studies of the family, including parental investment and extended kin care in the contemporary contexts of urban and migrating populations living in industrialized spaces. In March of 2020, one submicroscopic intracellular obligate parasite – a virus – began unraveling the social fabric upon which we all so heavily rely. In this talk, I will discuss the evolutionary mandate for deeply engaged human social interactions and the ways that these relationships both structure our everyday lives and render us vulnerable when isolated or neglected. The on-going syndemics of COVID19, structural inequality, and the climate crisis compel us to identify ways to recreate community for our survival, and be willing and able to imagine and implement care models at all levels of relations from our neighbors and kin to our states and federal governments. Evolutionary theory provides insight into the necessity of engaged and supportive network building even at the end of the world.


Robin G. Nelson is an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. With a focus on critical periods of growth and development, she investigates the relationship between familial dynamics, culturally salient forms of social and financial capital, and the health of Black Caribbean families. Her work engages with research in cultural anthropology, public health, gender studies, and Black feminist studies. She also investigates equity in science and the legacy of racism on theory building in biological anthropology. She received her doctorate from the University of Michigan in 2008, and then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Northwestern University in the Laboratory for Human Biology Research. Dr. Nelson was most recently a faculty member at Santa Clara University before arriving at ASU this Fall.


Dr. Luseadra McKerracher is currently a Junior Research Fellow at the Aarhus Institute for Advanced Studies and an incoming Assistant Professor at the Department of Public Health, both at Aarhus University in Denmark. In Denmark, she is leading a community-based health promotion project called Supporting Pregnancy fOOd and Nutrition Security (SPOONS) in Denmark’s most Marginalized Neighbourhoods. SPOONS focuses on identifying and measuring household food insecurity (real or perceived lack of affordable, healthy, socially-appropriate food) in social housing blocks with primarily new-immigrant populations. SPOONS also aims to work with local organizations to mitigate food insecurity for households with pregnant people or with parents likely to start a pregnancy in the near future. In addition to SPOONS, she is involved in a number of other health equity-related studies in Canada and Denmark, all focused on investing ­– through care — in pre-conceptional, pregnancy, and infant health to support equity in health and wellbeing in the next generations.

Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health, Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC-Chapel Hill. She earned a doctoral degree in Medical Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Dr. Palmquist is affiliate faculty of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI) and is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Dr. Palmquist’s breastfeeding research focuses on the intersectionality of perinatal health equity, cooperative lactation, human milk sharing and banking, breastfeeding in emergencies, bioethics, human rights, and the ethical, legal, and social implications of human milk science. She is co-editor (with C. Tomori and EA Quinn) of Breastfeeding: New Anthropological Approaches (Routledge, 2018). Dr. Palmquist is a CGBI representative to the WHO/UNICEF Global Breastfeeding Collective and the ENN Infant Feeding in Emergencies Core Group. Since 2020, Dr. Palmquist has served the United States Breastfeeding Committee as a Co-Steward of the COVID-19 Infant and Young Child Feeding Constellation. Dr. Palmquist is the 2021 recipient of the Gillings Faculty Award for Excellence in Health Equity Research.

NYAS Lecture 1/31: Choreographies of Care in Family and Community

On January 31st, 6:30 PM, Eastern Time, the New York Academy of Sciences will host, “Choreographies of Care in Family and Community”.

To register for this event click here.

Caring involves acting with affection and regard for another to enhance the well being of the party cared for. The ethics of care is based on receptivity, relatedness, and responsiveness. Within an American context, as a linguistic anthropologist, by making use of audio and video- recorded interaction, I examine the moment-to-moment practices through which care is instantiated in interactions within families, between doctor and patient, and between a dying patient and his students and colleagues. Routinely parents participate in forms of embodied care work using touch amidst a range of interactions including grooming, comforting, play, apology and salutations. Practices of greetings and farewells, overlaid with bodily inter-twinings, punctuate various parts of the family’s daily round — displaying forms of rich attunement.

We (Raia, Goodwin, and Deng) next consider how a doctor who practices Relational Medicine (Raia and Deng 2014) cares for and socializes his advanced heart care patient (later diagnosed with terminal cancer) in the process of “living towards death.” Through narrative exchange the doctor guides his patient in how to approach death with equanimity. Through email exchanges and informal speeches, the patient (a professor) becomes a “mentor on dying” for his students. A Mexican colleague’s story about how her comadre’s process of dying became a practical guide for choreographing the patient’s own death. The presence and vision of the now-deceased teacher continues in weekly Co-operative Action zoom labs where students and colleagues from five continents present their work for commentary.


Marjorie Goodwin

Dr. Goodwin is a linguistic anthropologist concerned with the embodied language practices human beings use to construct in concert with each other the social, cultural and cognitive worlds they inhabit. Much of her work has focused on the organization of language and interaction in children’s peer groups, families, and workplace settings.

She investigates how children in boys’ and girls’ peer groups elaborate and dispute their notions about moral behavior, including inequality, as they play or work together. Her most recent work deals with how forms of human sociality, intimacy and familial integration, are achieved through a range of coordinated, mutually elaborating modalities, including language, touch, prosody, and structure in the environment.


Asta Cekaite 

Asta Cekaite is a Professor in Child Studies, Thematic Research Unit, Linköping University, Sweden. Her research involves an interdisciplinary approach to language, culture, and social interaction. Specific foci include social perspectives on embodiment, touch, emotion, and moral socialization. Empirical fields cover adult-child and children’s peer group interactions in educational settings, and family in various cultural contexts (Sweden, USA, Japan, Finland).

She has published in Language in Society, Annual Review of Anthropology, Linguistics and Education, Text & Talk, etc. With M. H. Goodwin she has co-authored Embodied family choreography: Practices of control, care and mundane creativity (Routledge, 2018). She has co-edited (with L. Mondada) Touch in social interaction: Touch, language and body (Routledge, 2021); with Blum-Kulka, S., Gröver, V. & Teubal, E.  Children’s peer talk: Learning from each other (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She has also co-edited special issues in journals: Cekaite, A. & Evaldsson, A-C. (2020). The moral character of emotion work in adult-child interactions. Text & Talk; Cekaite, A. & Burdelski, M. (Eds.) (2021). Pragmatics of crying in adult-child interactions. Journal of Pragmatics.

NYAS Lecture 12/6: Urban Infrastructure and Resiliency in Precolonial Mesoamerica

Mark your calendar for December 6th, 6:30 PM, EST, for the next installment of the New York Academy of Sciences Distinguished Lecture Series. Dr. David M. Carballo will be presenting, “Urban Infrastructure and Resiliency in Precolonial Mesoamerica”.  Dr. Timothy Pugh will act as discussant.

To register for this Zoom event click here.  This event will also be livestreamed on YoutTube.

As debates continue, in the contemporary US and elsewhere, about what constitutes infrastructure and the amount of resources to invest in it, what lessons might we glean from a deep historical approach to the archaeology of cities? In this talk I combine recent investigations at the pre-Aztec capital of Teotihuacan, Mexico—the largest city in the Americas of its day—with a comparative perspective to contextualize variability in urban organization, Indigenous social institutions, and the role of infrastructure in the resilience of cities in precolonial Mesoamerica. I argue that, although these premodern, non-Western cities were different in significant ways from our own, they provide meaningful points of comparison for considering the broad contours of how infrastructure at level of urban epicenters, neighborhoods, and households contributes to the variability in social relations, size, and longevity of cities we observe in the archaeological record.


David M. Carballo is Professor of Anthropology, Archaeology, and Latin American Studies at Boston University, where he is also Associate Provost for General Education.  He specializes in the archaeology of Latin America, especially the Native peoples of central Mexico and with topical interests in households, urbanism, religion, collective action, and working with contemporary communities in understanding ancient ones.  Current investigations focus on Teotihuacan’s Tlajinga district, a cluster of non-elite neighborhoods on the periphery of what was then the largest city in the Americas.

He received his BA in Political Science from Colgate University (1995) and his MA (2001) and PhD (2005) in Anthropology from UCLA.  Recent books include Cooperation and Collective Action: Archaeological Perspectives (ed., 2013), Urbanization and Religion in Ancient Central Mexico (2016), Teotihuacan: The World Beyond the City (ed., 2020), and Collision of Worlds: A Deep History of the Fall of Aztec Mexico and the Forging of New Spain (2020).


Timothy Pugh is Professor of Anthropology at Queens College and The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His archaeological research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses upon the Maya of Petén, Guatemala. His work revealed that the ancient Maya planned and built a gridded city at Nixtun-Ch’ich’ during the Middle Preclassic period (800-300 BCE). Based upon intensive investment in public works, the occupants appear to have had a much more cooperative system of governance.

NYAS Lecture 11/8: Building Strong Bonds: Lessons from Baboons

On November 8th, 6:30 PM, EDT, the New York Academy of Sciences will host, “Building Strong Bonds: Lessons from Baboons.”

To register for this event click here. This event will also be streamed live on YouTube.

Sociality has evolved in many animal taxa, and reflects a balance between the benefits of living in groups (such as lower risk of predation and greater success in contests with other groups) and costs (greater competition over resources and exposure to infectious disease). Evolution has favored traits that enable individuals to increase the benefit/cost ratio. In some species, close social bonds may have evolved because they provide a means for individuals to increase the benefits and reduce the costs of social life. Baboon females form strong, equitable, supportive, tolerant, and stable social relationships with selected partners, particularly close kin, peers, and the sires of their offspring. These social ties help females cope with various sources of short-term stress, and females with close social bonds also reproduce more successfully and live longer than other females. I will discuss these findings and their implications for understanding the importance of social connections in humans.


Joan Silk moved to ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in 2012, from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is interested in how natural selection shapes the evolution of social behavior in primates.

Most of Silk’s empirical work has focused on the behavioral and reproductive strategies of female baboon. She recently initiated a comparative study of the structure and function of close social bonds in four baboon species (anubis, hamadryas, gelada, and chacma).

In particular, Silk is interested in questions that explicitly link studies of nonhuman primates to humans. Experimental work she conducts with chimpanzees and children focuses on the phylogenetic origins and ontogenetic development of prosocial preferences.

Silk received her doctorate from University of California at Davis in 1981, and spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Altmann’s lab at the University of Chicago. She then joined the Department of Anthropology at Emory University.

Silk moved to UCLA in 1986, where she remained until 2012. At UCLA, she was a founding member of the Center of Behavior, Evolution, and Culture and served as department chair for six years.


Jacinta C. Beenher is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She is broadly interested in hormones and behavior, specifically as they relate to reproductive success. She founded and currently directs two field sites focused on wild primates: the Simien Mountains Gelada Research Project in Ethiopia (studying geladas) and the Capuchins at Taboga Research Project in Costa Rica (studying white-faced capuchins). She also directs two hormone laboratories – one at the University of Michigan (Beehner Endocrine Laboratory) and one at the Capuchins at Taboga field site (TREX Endocrine Laboratory).


NYAS Lecture 10/4: Criminalizing Care and Neglect in Sexual Assault Sentencing: Race and Punishment in Milwaukee, WI

On Monday, October 4th, 6:30 PM EDT, the New Academy of Sciences will host, “Criminalizing Care and Neglect in Sexual Assault Sentencing: Race and Punishment in Milwaukee, WI.”

To register for this event click here.

This event will also be streamed on Youtube.

This talk examines the role of care in the U.S. courts, particularly as it is scrutinized during the sentencing of people who have been convicted of sexual assault. In the course of a trial or a hearing, judges, attorneys, and witnesses often appeal to particular notions of community and public good. These forms of community are predicated on the recognition of particular forms of care, while they fail to see or even condemn others, often along lines of race. As testimony emerges, courts cultivate a worldview that casts suspicion on what the court perceives as Black kinship, community, and household. Sentencing decisions are embedded in whether the court imagines the community as a place where care and rehabilitation can take place. In the absence of the court’s ability to imagine community-based care, sentences relegate prisoners to in-custody imprisonment in the name of punishment, rehabilitation, and deterrence. Drawing on fieldwork from Milwaukee County felony courts, this talk works through the entangling of race, power, and sexuality driving the ways in which community emerges and is reconfigured in the courts. These processes are driven by the court’s politics of race, the narrowing of pathways for sexual assault survivors to attain justice, the production of courtroom spectacle, and the crisis of mass incarceration.


Dr. Sameena Mulla is Acting Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. Her work examines the intersections of legal and medical approaches in U.S. interventions into sexual violence, and the ways in which they are invested in regimes of gender, race, and power. In particular, her research maintains a focus on the ways in which healthcare, law, and policing configure sexual violence as a social and political wound.

She was recognized with the American Anthropological Association and Society for Applied Anthropology’s Margaret Mead Award in 2017 for her first book, The Violence of Care: Rape Victims, Forensic Nurses, and Sexual Assault Intervention (New York University Press, 2014). The book was also awarded an honorable mention in the Eileen Basker Prize competition recognizing works making significant contributions to scholarship on gender and health. Her second book, a collaborative ethnography with Heather Hlavka, Bodies in Evidence: Race, Gender, Science and Sexual Assault Adjudication will be published in November 2021.

The Violence of Care examines emergency-room based sexual assault intervention in Baltimore, Maryland, showing how therapeutic projects and investigative goals are conflated and complicated in forensic nursing examinations. Bodies in Evidence follows the evidence collected during forensic examinations to stages of adjudication, this time in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin felony court. In the courts, it becomes clear that while questions of justice are often left unresolved, the science of the courts contributes to collective investments in and material production of gender, sexuality, and racial hierarchy.

She has also written articles that were published in journals such as Medical Anthropology, Law and Society Review, and Gender and Society.


Dr. April Petillo
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Northern Arizona University