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.

FEATURED SPEAKER

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.

DISCUSSANT

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.

FEATURED SPEAKER

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).

DISCUSSANT

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.

FEATURED SPEAKER

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.

DISCUSSANT

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.

FEATURED SPEAKER

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.

DISCUSSANT

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

NYAS Lecture 4/26: Anthropological Perspectives on Race, Nation and for Whom Is American Great?

On Monday, April 26th, the New York Academy of Sciences hosted, “”Anthropological Perspectives on Race, Nation and for Whom Is American Great?” Watch it now!

The resurgence of racial antipathy and policy surfaces at historical periods in the U.S. when there is a perceived threat to white male elite power structures, and to poor and working class “whiteness.” The contemporary rise of essentialist racial, homophobic and misogynist thinking and actors that want to “make America great again” are not new; witness Reconstruction after the civil war, exclusionist immigration policies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the rise of Jim Crow laws throughout the country in the early twentieth century; including the suppression of voting rights. What is new circa 2021 is that white racist ( white supremacist groups) have moved from the margins to the mainstream: witness the right wing media universe, Donald Trump, and his multitude of enablers. The deep-seated paradox of race and identity at the birth of this nation over 300 years ago is still being played out today. The basic questions then as now, are those of power, control and influence. Who is an American, and who gets to decide? Who decides how that is implemented is the story of structural racism within all our institutions in the U.S.? What does the present xenophobia and overt racism say about the state of marginalized populations of color in the United States? About government sanctioned racialized immigration and migration policies and practices? Do current anthropological theories of race, space, and intersectionality help tell those stories? Can anthropologists document and illuminate the historical story of the embeddedness of structural racism for a wider U.S. audience, and make the intersection of race, power, and hegemony more transparent? This presentation will challenge anthropologists through their research and practice to frame the “Disruption” that must challenge the growing national re-energizing of racial hatred and dehumanization of the “other.” Our survival as a democratic nation depends on it.

FEATURED SPEAKER

Dr. Yolanda T. Moses currently serves as Professor of Anthropology and former Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Excellence at the University of California, Riverside. Dr. Moses’ research focuses on the broad question of the origins of social inequality in complex societies using comparative ethnographic and survey methods.  She has explored gender and class disparities in the Caribbean, East Africa and in the United States.  More recently, her research has focused on issues of diversity and change in universities and colleges in the United States, India, Europe, South Africa, Israel, and Australia.

Moses served as President of the American Anthropological Association (1995-97), Chair of the Board of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (2000), Past President of City University of New York/ The City College (1993-1999), and President of the American Association for Higher Education (2000-2003). She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Ford Foundation from 1996 to 2008.

She has been involved on the steering groups of several U.S. National higher education projects with the National Council for Research on Women, Campus Women Lead and The Women of Color Research Collective. In addition, she was Chair of the National Advisory Board of a multi-year national public education project sponsored by the American Anthropological Association and funded by NSF and the Ford Foundation on Race and Human Variation. See: www.understandingrace.org. The goal of the project was to change the way the nation understood and talked about the meaning and consequences of “race.” She was Co-PI on a Ford Foundation grant that sponsored phase two of that work.

She was the PI on an NSF ADVANCE Grant, (2011 to 2015) to advance the role of women faculty in the STEM Fields; an NEH Grant (2011-12) to create a national educational network for educators to develop a bio-cultural approach to the teaching of race in high school and in undergraduate social science and biology classes.

At the University of California, she was a co-founder and on the Steering Committee of the UC wide research project, UCCNRS (University of California Center for New Racial Studies). The mission of the Center is to support innovation in UC-based race/racism research and teaching and to encourage interdisciplinary and collaborative work focused on advancing social/racial justice in an era of changing racial dynamics and persistent racial/ethnic conflict and inequality.

She is the co-author also with Carol Mukhopadhyay and Rosemary Henze, Professors at CSU San Jose of the book: How Real is Race: A Sourcebook on Race, Culture and Biology. (2007) Rowman and Littlefield; (2014) Altamira Press. She is also co-Author along with Alan Goodman and Joseph Jones, of the book, Race: Are We So Different? published by Wiley-Blackwell (2020).

She is currently a faculty member in the Salzburg Global Seminar‘s ISP Global Citizenship Program in Salzburg, Austria, and a faculty member in their on-going Mellon Fellows Program on Global Citizenship.

In 2009, she was named an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellow. She received the American Anthropology Association Franz Boas Award in 2016 for Distinguished Service to the Field of Anthropology. And Lifetime achievement awards from The Association of Black Anthropologists, and the Society for the Anthropology of North America in 2016. Moses served as a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Cultural Competence at the National Centre for Cultural Competence, at the University of Sydney, Sydney Australia in 2017.

NYAS Lecture: Evolutionary Perspectives on African North American Genetic Diversity: Origins and Prospects for Future Investigations

On Monday, March 29th, the New York Academy of Sciences hosted, “Evolutionary Perspectives on African North American Genetic Diversity: Origins and Prospects for Future Investigations”. Watch it now!

African-descended peoples of the Americas represent an amalgamation of West, Central, and Southeast African regional and ethnic groups with modest gene flow from specific non-African populations. Despite 16+ generations of residence in the Americas, there is a deficit of evolutionary knowledge about these populations. Focusing on Legacy African American, the African North American descendants of survivors of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, we report on emic evolutionary perspectives of their self-identity gleaned from our interviews of 600 individuals collected over two years. Gullah-Geechee peoples of Carolina Coastal regions are a model case study due to their historical antiquity, substantial African retentions, relative geospatial isolation, and proposed progenitor status to other Legacy African American microethnic groups. We identify salient research questions for future studies that will begin to bridge the evolutionary gaps in our knowledge of these diverse peoples and the historical evidence for specific evolutionary processes.

FEATURED SPEAKER

Dr. Fatimah Jackson received her Ph.D., M.A., and B.A. (cum laude with Distinction in all Subjects) from Cornell University. Her doctoral dissertation research was on The Relationship of Certain Genetic Traits to the Incidence and Intensity of Malaria in Liberia, West Africa. She has conducted research on (and is particularly interested in): 1.) Human-plant coevolution, particularly the influence of phytochemicals on human metabolic effects and evolutionary processes and 2.) Population substructure in peoples of African descent, developing Ethnogenetic Layering as a computational tool to identify human microethnic groups and differential expressions of health disparities. Trained as a human biologist, Dr. Jackson has published extensively in such journals as Human Biology, Biochemical Medicine and Metabolic Biology, Journal of the National Medical Association, American Journal of Human Biology, Annals of Human Biology, BMC Biology, American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Human Genetics, and Nature. Dr. Jackson’s research has been funded by: USAID, Ford Foundation, Huber Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, NIH (NIMHD and NHGRI), Wenner-Gren Foundation, EPA, and National Park Service. Dr. Jackson has taught at Cornell University, University of California – Berkeley, University of Florida, University of Maryland – College Park (where she is Distinguished Scholar Teacher and Professor Emerita), University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (where she directed the Institute for African American Research) and now at Howard University. She has been a Visiting Scholar at University of Georgia and University of Khartoum in Sudan and she was a Senior Fulbright Fellow in Egypt. She has been awarded the Nick Norgan Award for 2009 Best Article Published in Annals of Human Biology. In 2012 she was the first recipient of the Ernest E. Just Prize in Medical and Public Health Research, Avery Research Institute, College of Charleston and Medical University of South Carolina (University of South Carolina). In 2012, she was also Coined by Rear Admiral Dr. Helena Mishoe, National Institutes of Health, NHLBI and US Public Health Service. In 2017 Howard University named her STEM Woman Researcher of the Year. In 2020 the American Association of Physical Anthropologists awarded Dr. Jackson the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Jackson is a Senior Scientist at QuadGrid and CEO at the Dumont Institute, a multidisciplinary think tank.

DISCUSSANT

Dr. Robin Nelson is a biological anthropologist who utilizes evolutionary theory in studies of family dynamics and health outcomes for adults and children. Having conducted a decade of research in Jamaica, her more recent work explores the relationship between growth outcomes and residential context for Jamaican children. She examines what happens to the social and physical health of children when the home, as it is articulated in West Indian communities, is not available to them. She is currently developing a project exploring the lives of Caribbean immigrants and their children in Toronto, Canada. With a focus on critical periods of growth and development, she investigates culturally salient forms of social and financial capital and the health of peoples from the Caribbean. In addition to this primary research, Robin and colleagues have worked extensively on issues surrounding sexual harassment and assault in field settings.

Webinar 3/1: Anthropology and the Public: Pressing Questions, Responsibilities and Opportunities

On Monday, March 1st, 4PM – 6PM (EST), Cool Anthropology invites you to attend a virtual workshop, Anthropology and the Public: Pressing Questions, Responsibilities and Opportunities. 

What are the most critical questions for anthropologists right now? And in what spaces should we be answering them? This workshop seeks to ask — and go some distance to answering — these questions. Bringing together a wide network of anthropologists from across disciplines and around the world, this event will be a multi-roomed, interactive virtual event to workshop critical ideas and areas where anthropology and anthropologists can engage and offer a strong contribution to the public good.

Click here to register for this event.

This event is being sponsored by The Wenner-Gren Foundation, The New York Academy of Sciences, NYAS Anth, and Berghahn Books.

While Wenner-Gren is proud to be providing a platform for this event, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

Watch Now! African Diasporic Activist Scholarship: Beyond the Enlightenment, Toward the Democratization of Science

On Monday, February 22nd, the New York Academy of Sciences hosted, “African Diasporic Activist Scholarship: Beyond the Enlightenment, Toward the Democratization of Science.” Watch it now!

The African Burial Ground National Monument is as much an edifice to the democratization of knowledge as it is to sacred space for the sanctity of black lives. New York’s African Burial Ground Project (1992-2009) took seriously the observable fact of intrinsic scientific subjectivity to enable its ethical choice to work on behalf of a descendant community’s research concerns regarding their past (the clientage model of public engagement). That Project did not default to the untestable but common notion of neutral knowledge as its authority and shield. Historically, black scholars have seen such notions as neutrality perform as a manifestation of the construction of Whiteness, arrogating to that group authoritative tools by which to ascertain universal, natural truths; truths which often empower the powerful and denigrate ‘the other.’ Recognizing that all research is socially-positioned (as Frederick Douglass argued it should be), the main branch of African diasporic intellectual traditions has deliberately informed restorative justice, historic vindication, and the human dignity of Blacks against an often dehumanizing and exclusivist White academic mainstream. These intellectuals simultaneously value and adhere to rules of evidence and experience to inform their critical humanism, social, and biological science approaches. The African Burial Ground, profound in its local historic and political setting at the turn of the 21st century, has also been a watershed of a new form of archaeology and historic interpretation, now codified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, embraced by publics, and contested in the academic world. The discussion of this session revolves around the site’s impact on archaeological practice, academe, public education and memorialization.

SPEAKERS

Michael L. Blakey

National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology, Africana Studies, and American Studies, and Founding Director of the Institute for Historical Biology at the
College of William & Mary

Peggy King Jorde

Cultural Projects Consultant, design professional, activist, and a Harvard Loeb Fellow

Rachel Watkins

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Studies at American University

FEATURED SPEAKER

Michael L. Blakey is National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Anthropology,
Africana Studies, and American Studies, and Founding Director of the Institute for Historical
Biology at the College of William & Mary. Dr. Blakey was a Key Advisor of the award-winning
Race: Are We So Different exhibition of the American Anthropological Association, where
he held several offices including president of the Association of Black Anthropologists
(1987-1989) and member of the editorial board of American Anthropologist (2012-2016). Blakey represented the United States on the Council of the 4th World Archaeological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa (1999). He is a member of the Scholarly Advisory Committee of the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution, where he previously held the position of Research Associate in Physical Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History (1985-1994). He was Scientific Director of the New York African Burial Ground Project (1992-2009), the most extensive bioarchaeological project in the United States. The Manhattan site became a U.S. National Monument in 2007.

DISCUSSANTS

Peggy King Jorde is a Cultural Projects Consultant, design professional, activist, and a Harvard Loeb Fellow recognized for her extraordinary efforts to preserve New York City’s African Burial Ground. As Director of Memorialization, King Jorde spearheaded efforts for the national monument & historic district, the Interpretive Center, and the reburial of more than 400 African ancestors. Harvard Magazine’s article “Life By Design” chronicles Peggy’s journey from her native Albany, Georgia, to her academic pursuits at Harvard School of Design. King Jorde brings a wide range of experience in civic development, from providing project oversight for New York’s most iconic museums and cultural institutions to chairing blue-ribbon committees, including the Malcolm X Memorial with the late Dr. Betty Shabazz to being a key influencer on art panels tasked with commissioning art for public spaces. Formerly a special adviser to NYC Mayor David N. Dinkins, King Jorde currently lends considerable focus to campaigns that protect disenfranchised histories. She is working with global stakeholders to preserve an African Burial Ground on St. Helena, UK, in the South Atlantic. She is an impact producer & film participant for a London based documentary about preserving the Liberated African Burial Ground and Depot.

Rachel Watkins is a biocultural anthropologist with an emphasis on African American biohistory and social history, bioanthropological research practices and histories of (US) American biological anthropology. Initially trained in skeletal biology, her work focused on looking at relationships between health, disease, and social location in people whose remains are in the W. Montague Cobb anatomical collection and interred at the New York African Burial Ground. Studies were carried out in the scholar-activist tradition of deconstructing racialized interpretations of human biology, and the centering of Black bodies in constructing racial categories and hierarchies. This research led to a broader interest in how African American skeletal remains and living populations were centered in the development of research practices and racial formation in US biological anthropology. Current projects continue to draw on intellectual and political work tied to Cobb and his laboratory from 1932 to the present as sites for understanding science as a social practice. This includes: 1) traditions of Black scholar-activism contesting scientific racism; 2) our field’s efforts toward critiquing scientific racism without attending to structural racism; and, 3) the positionality of scientific researchers.

NYAS Lecture 11/9: What Is the Utility of Anthropology in This Moment of Emergency?

On November 9th the New York Academy of Sciences hosted the lecture, “What Is the Utility of Anthropology in This Moment of Emergency?” Watch it now.

Emergencies push people to reflect on what is meaningful, to become clearer about who they are (individually and collectively), and to figure out what they need to survive. They are reckonings. They demarcate who is included and who is excluded, who has access – to rights, to the “good life,” to living at all – and who doesn’t. In this conversation, Deborah Thomas and Bianca Williams will draw from their own experiences in and of the discipline to reflect upon the extent to which anthropology offers tools to make sense of, and find our way out of, emergencies. They will discuss what drew them to the field, what their continued investments are, and how they attempt to make the discipline accountable to who they are. If the urgency of this moment demands that anthropologists use our tools not only “out there” (in some faraway place that is the “field”), but also right here in the places we work, sleep, and eat, then anthropologists must be prepared to turn the lens on themselves, their departments, their professional organizations, and their funding agencies. How might contemporary discussions about white supremacy, anti-Black violence, and class disparity allow us to do deep thinking about estrangement, alienation, and engagement “at home?” Are anthropologists ready for this kind of radical honesty?

SPEAKERS

Deborah A. Thomas

Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania

Bianca C. Williams

Associate Professor of Anthropology, Women & Gender Studies, and Critical Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY

About the Speakers:

Deborah A. Thomas is the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, and the Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.  She is also a Research Associate with the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre at the University of Johannesburg.  Thomas is the author of Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation:  Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair, Exceptional Violence:  Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica and Modern Blackness:  Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica; and co-editor of the volume Globalization and Race:  Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness.  Her articles have appeared in a diverse range of journals including Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Radical History Review, Anthropological Theory, small axe, Identities, Interventions, and Feminist Review.  Thomas has also co-directed and co-produced two documentary films:  BAD FRIDAY:  RASTAFARI AFTER CORAL GARDENS, which chronicles violence in Jamaica through the eyes of its most iconic community; and FOUR DAYS IN MAY:  KINGSTON 2010, which explores the effects of the “Tivoli Incursion” in May 2010, when Jamaican security forces entered West Kingston to arrest Christopher Coke, wanted for extradition to the United States, and killed at least 75 civilians.  Thomas is also the co-curator of a multi-media installation titled Bearing Witness:  Four Days in West Kingston, which opened at the Penn Museum in November 2017.  Thomas edited the journal Transforming Anthropology from 2007-2010, and currently sits on the editorial boards of Social and Economic Studies and Anthropological Theory.  From 2016-2020, she was the Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.  She has served on the executive boards of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD), the Caribbean Studies Association, and the Society for Cultural Anthropology.  Prior to Thomas’s life as an academic, she was a professional dancer with the New York-based Urban Bush Women.

Bianca C. Williams (she/her) is an Associate Professor of Anthropology, Women & Gender Studies, and Critical Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She earned a graduate certificate in African & African American Studies and her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from Duke University. Her research interests focus on Black women and emotional wellness; race, gender, and equity in higher education; and Black feminist pedagogical and organizing practices. The investigative thread that binds Williams’ organizing, teaching, and research is the question “How do Black people develop strategies for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempting to maintain emotional wellness?” In her award-winning book The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2018), Williams argues that pursuing happiness is a political project for Black women, while examining how African American women use travel to Jamaica and the Internet as tools for escaping U.S. racism and sexism. She is co-editor of Plantation Politics and Campus Rebellions: Power, Diversity, and the Emancipatory Struggle in Higher Education with Dian Squire and Frank Tuitt (SUNY Press, March 2021). Additionally, Williams has written about “radical honesty” as feminist inclusive pedagogy in the volume Race, Equity, and the Learning Environment, and published in the journals Souls, Cultural Anthropology, Teachers College Record, and on the blogs Anthrodendum and Anthropoliteia. She is a recipient of the American Anthropological Association & Oxford University Press Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching of Anthropology. Finally, Williams is Faculty Lead of the PublicsLab at The Graduate Center, and the Executive Program Chair for the 2021 meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

While Wenner-Gren is proud to be providing a platform for this event, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.