In Memoriam: Dr. Ira Berlin

It is with heavy heart that we share the news of the passing of Dr. Ira Berlin on June 5, 2018.  Ira was a beloved member of the Wenner-Gren Foundation Board of Trustees (2008-2018) and Distinguished University Professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland.  He was a renowned historian revered for his groundbreaking scholarship on slavery and life during its aftermath.

His compassion and commitment to the Wenner-Gren Foundation was steadfast as was his belief in the potential of anthropology to make a difference in the world.  The Foundation is forever grateful for his many contributions and extraordinary friendship over the years, and extends condolences to his family on their loss.

Ira Berlin, transformative historian of slavery in America, dies at 77 – The Washington Post

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Simon Uribe

The Foundation is proud to share a trailer and blog post from Dr. Simon Uribe who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Frontier Infrastructures.

SUSPENSIÓN_TEASER_Abril2018_Subt_INGLES from PAUSAR on Vimeo.

Frontier Infrastructures

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

In October 2015, I was awarded the Fejos Fellowship in ethnographic film to support the project “Frontier Infrastructures”. This project originated form my PhD research, originally conceived as a history and ethnography of transport infrastructure in the Colombian Amazon (the results of this research were recently published in the book Frontier Road: Power, history, and the everyday state in the Colombian Amazon, Wiley-Blackwell 2017). As stated in the project’s preliminary abstract, “Frontier infrastructures” sought to explore the material, affective and moral relationship between humans and transport infrastructures in the Colombian Amazon. Specifically, the film would follow different persons in their everyday journeys across various man-made and natural infrastructures (roads, rivers, trails) in order to explore and interrogate the different ways in which they make sense of their past, present, and possible futures through the perceived and lived realities that such infrastructures embody or symbolize.

Although the central aim of the project has remained the same, the film’s story and plot have undergone substantial changes for different events and circumstances that we (myself and the film crew that has collaborated in the conception and materialization of the project) encountered during the last two and a half years.

The first turn in the project had to do with an event during an early trip in December 2015 aimed at selecting locations and characters for the film. In the middle of this trip we came across a scene –the building of a large concrete bridge part of a large road project- that would later become a central feature in the story. At that point, we decided that we would follow workers, engineers and contractors for a period of time in order to capture their material and affective relations with infrastructure. During the next eight months we carried out two film trips, basically following the everyday life of the road project.

In January 2017 we traveled to the Putumayo for a final three-month period of filming. At that time, we found that works were indefinitely suspended due to lack of funding, so our daily routine became now to capture all sorts of situations that emerge in a road project that seems to go nowhere (it was also in that moment that the film acquired its current and final title: Suspensión). A few days before leaving the Putumayo, however, a tragic event that affected us in several and unexpected ways took place. In March 31st , a torrential flash flood hit Mocoa (capital of Putumayo) killing around 400 people and leaving several parts of the city totally destroyed, including the house where we were living. We managed to recover the film material recorded during those months but lost equipment and other goods. Sadly, Guillermo, the film’s central character, died in the event.

The March 31st event forced us to reconsider several aspects of the film, yet it also reassured our commitment to bring the project to completion. In September 2017 we were granted a very prestigious grant from Colombia’s Film Development Fund (FDC), which provided the required funds to carry out two more film trips and to cover the post-production costs. This grant also allows us to access different film festivals and distribution markets for the next two years. Last February, for instance, we attended the co-production market at the Berlinale, an important event for documentary film-makers worldwide. We hope to attend similar events in the near future in order to secure the widest audience possible for the film. Also, I will show some parts of the film and discuss the project next June in Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies Summer School of Social Sciences, to which I was selected as fellow together with a small group of scholars from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Catalina Tesar

In 2007 Catalina Tesar received a Wadsworth International Fellowship to aid training in social anthropology at University College London, supervised by Michael Sinclair Stewart. After completing her Wadsworth Fellowship Dr. Tesar received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on “O Taxtaj: The Chalice”. We are proud to present the following trailer and blog post.

TAXTAJ TEASER from Ciprian Cimpoi on Vimeo.

O Taxtaj: The Chalice

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

Romanian Cortorari Gypsies from Transylvania convey a strong commitment to the possession of specific putative objects, namely chalices (sg. taxtaj, pl. taxtaja) which were bequeathed to them by their ancestors and passed on from father to son. Though chalices are permanently tucked away in the granaries and houses of neighboring Romanian peasants, and thus invisible in everyday life, they are in fact an ubiquitous topic, stirring up passionate talks and feelings. Like the hereditary regalia of medieval European nobility, chalices are symbols of the prestige of a family, instigating machinations, theft, fights among brothers and matrimonial strategies to keep them inside the family. Chalices are central to the arrangement of marriages which is the Cortorari’s chief preoccupation at all times: parents of girls seek to marry their daughters off to grooms who own a valuable chalice, while parents of boys demand big cash dowries from the bride’s family to offset the value placed on their chalice. In reality, people are continuously challenging the hierarchy of chalices which, far from being objective, depends on their owners’ ability to boast their value. On the occasion of a marriage arrangement, the groom’s chalice is pledged to the bride’s family and will remain entrusted to them until the young couple beget a son — the ultimate guarantee of the endurance of a marriage. Therefore, there is a yearning among young couples to bring forth a baby boy to weld them together.

My PhD research — which was funded by a Wadsworth International Fellowship — resulted in a thesis titled ‘Women Married off to Chalices’: Gender, Kinship and Wealth among Romanian Cortorari Gypsies that I defended at University College London in 2013. Focusing on the articulation of gender relations with the flow of chalices in the process of marriage, the thesis adopted the stance of the generation who arranges the marriages of their children or grand-children. At the time of my PhD fieldwork, namely between 2008 and 2010, I was in my early 30s, an age at which a Cortorari woman is in the prime of her motherhood, if not already a grandmother. I was thus embraced by women of my age, which pointed my research in the direction of their understandings and representations of gender issues in relation to ceremonial wealth.

The documentary I have made as a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship recipient gives voice to the generation that had been almost entirely left out of my PhD dissertation, namely the newly wed and especially the women in this life stage. Upon marriage, women go to live with their husbands’ families. As young daughters-in-law (bori), most of the chores in the household become their responsibility. Moreover, until they give birth to a son, newly wed women live under the continuous threat of being forsaken by their husbands and their families. They live in a limbo and often seek refuge from the harshness of their marital family into their parental family. Daughters are not desired because they bring for their parents and grandparents the prospects of paying big cash dowries to marry them off. The young couple who have already brought forth a daughter live under the pressure to bring forth a son. It is a pressure which is laid on the couple by the older generations in the extended family and equally internalized as a longing by the young couple. The son is seen as the essence of the family; he ensures both the succession of generations within the household and the passing on of the chalice to future generations. If they have a daughter and a son, parents can arrange a marriage by exchange (of daughters), and this kind of marriage ideally results in the writing off of the dowry. In case a female baby comes after a first-born daughter —and they use ultrasounds to find out the sex of the foetus — the couple resort to pregnancy termination.

The documentary follows the couple Peli and Nina, both in their mid-20s, parents to a five-year old daughter, as they strive to bring forth a son to redeem the chalice belonging to Peli’s family from the trust of Nina’s parental family. The viewer is taken along on the rough journey that the couple and their families must make as they negotiate the twists and turns of  Cortorari marriage making and breaking and engage in passionate arguments over the chalices.

In making this documentary, I took on at least three challenges: 1) I wanted it to reach beyond an anthropological audience; 2) I wanted to avoid the use of authoritative voice-over and allow the characters to speak for themselves instead; and 3) I wanted the film to help clarify and offset preconceived notions or prejudices about the Roma, so I used an inside perspective to convey the broader picture of how they live. The result is a documentary deeply grounded in anthropology yet creative. The film opens and ends with scenes featuring ceremonial events, involving big gatherings of people, a wedding and a discussion about chalices respectively. Both of these scenes stage Cortorari central cultural tropes, namely  marriages, wealth in chalices, and dowries. Between these two big scenes, we get a chance to have a close look at how the couple Peli and Nina live and experience these very cultural tropes in their everyday lives.

‘The Chalice’ is a feature-length observational and participatory documentary. Pure observational scenes entwine with non-conventional interviews in which the characters tell their private stories to the camera and to me while minding their own business. One of the secondary characters, Peli’s sister Băra – who is married to brother of Peli’s spouse (a marriage arranged by exchange of daughters) – confides her own experience as a daughter-in-law expected to bring forth a son to the camera and recounts the story of her brother’s marriage. She does so while reflecting on idioms that are central to the Cortorari universe, such as family, household, arranged marriages, and the lived condition of women. All her appearances in the film consist of indoor footage in the form of confessional interviews – in choosing this, I wanted to convey that this particular character is representative of (almost all) Cortorari women of her age and marital status. The camera never follows Băra outside of her house – as the house, and its nearby surroundings, is anyway the space to which newly wed women are confined.

Peli and Nina live under the same roof as Peli’s parents, Costică and Uca, and a sense of transience and uncertainty looms over their household, both in regard to material possessions and to human relationships. Their main source of income is the money earned by Costică and Uca begging abroad, which is little and unpredictable. Peli trained as a clown selling balloons on the streets in Italy, but the urge to conceive a son to redeem his family’s chalice has kept him coming and going between Italy and his home village. Nina’s parents have supplied livestock to her marital household, and most of the time Nina is busy looking after them. Five years have passed since Peli and Nina were matched, and Costică is impatient to get back his family chalice. He thus periodically lashes out against Nina for not having conceived a son yet, and to her family who hold his chalice. When Nina finally gets pregnant, the foetus is a baby girl and she has to go through pregnancy termination. We learn about the termination of Nina’s pregnancy from her five-year old daughter Rada who is a witness to all of her mother’s pregnancy ultrasounds. Similarly to Băra, yet less articulately than her aunt, Rada is there to make the viewer aware of the condition of women in Cortorari society. She is the symbol of the next generation of Cortorari women who will follow a life-trajectory punctuated by similar events, namely they will have their marriages arranged for them and then give birth to a son and/or resort to pregnancy termination in case they bear a girl. The arguments over chalices relentlessly bursting through the fabric of the Cortorari everyday lives – as shown in the prologue to the film – is the very source of the predictability of scripted individual life courses.

The shooting started in December 2016, when the pressure on Nina and Peli to bring forth a son turned into a genuine battle ground for their respective parental families, and stopped in November 2017, when the couple learned the sex of their baby and resorted to pregnancy termination. Throughout 2017 shooting sessions alternated with editing sessions. At the beginning of 2018 I completed a rough cut with the story line of the film.

In October 2017 I pitched the project at the ‘Romanian Docs in Progress’ Industry Section at ASTRA International Film Festival in Sibiu. My film was awarded entrance to the 2018 Outlook International Market by the head of the Industry program at Visions du Reel International Festival. This will be a great opportunity to find co-producers and distributors for my film. The documentary will be launched in the fall of 2018.

Laurence Ralph Appointed Editor of Current Anthropology

The Wenner-Gren Foundation and the University of Chicago Press are delighted to announce the selection of Laurence Ralph to serve as Current Anthropology’s next editor.  As of January 1, 2019, he will succeed Mark Aldenderfer, the journal’s current editor, who has led the journal with wisdom and vision for the past ten years.

Currently a Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Harvard University, Ralph earned his doctorate in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Institute of Technology where he majored in History, Technology, and Society. Ralph has a diverse set of research interests, which include urban anthropology, medical anthropology; the study of gangs, disability, masculinity, race, and popular culture.

Ralph brings to Current Anthropology a wealth of editorial experience. He has served on the editorial boards of American Anthropologist and Transitions and as a reviewer for many of the major journals and presses in anthropology and related fields.  He is known for his achievements as Associate Editor of Transforming Anthropology, the flagship journal of the Association of Black Anthropologists.  In this role, Ralph acted as a liaison between authors and reviewers and participated in the curation of content for Transforming Anthropology. He was instrumental in putting the journal on firm footing, raising over $300,000 to fund a managing editor and field office and to found an editorial internship program that involves doctoral students in projects designed to enhance the journal’s public presence.

Ralph’s first book, Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago, earned him a long list of accolades, including the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) and honorable mentions from Society for Cultural Anthropology’s Gregory Bateson Prize, the American Ethnological Society’s Sharon Stephens First Book Prize, and the Society for Humanistic Anthropology’s Victor Turner Book Prize Competition.  Ralph’s latest book, Torture Trees: Police Violence from Chicago to the War on Terror, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Madhura Lohokare

Siddhivinayak College Workshop III

In 2010 while a doctoral student at the University of Syracuse Madhura Lohokare received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Articulating Public Space to the Public Sphere: A Study of Neighborhood Associations in Pune, India,” supervised by Dr. Cecilia Van Hollen. In 2016 Dr. Lohokare had the opportunity to share the results of her fieldwork when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Seeking Just Spaces: Conversations on City, Masculinity and Gender”.

My doctoral research was based in a working class, low caste neighborhood in the Western Indian city of Pune in India. In my doctoral research, I located young men’s gendered identity at the crossroads of their location in the inner city area of Moti Peth and a long history of spatial and social marginalization based upon caste and class in Pune. After submitting my dissertation in April 2016, I was awarded the Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropologist Grant in order to conduct public engagement activities in Pune.  The public engagement that I undertook within the EAG were constituted primarily by two activities: bi-lingual workshops on gender, masculinity and urban space in city colleges and a short-term neighborhood mapping project in Moti Peth

Workshops on gender, masculinity and urban space:

S.P.College I

These workshops were designed to focus on how urban spaces are shaped by and in turn shape gender, caste and class dynamics in the city spaces and on the question of inclusive cities and access to public spaces. The aim was to conduct these workshops primarily in those colleges in the city which do not figure on the itineraries of such workshops. Located in the older part of the city and attended largely by non-English speaking, working class, lower caste students, these colleges seldom get exposure to stimulating workshops beyond their fixed college curriculum, on account of the fact that most of such workshops and their materials tend to be designed for an English speaking audience.

Siddhivinayak College Workshop IV

During December 2016, 2017 and January 2018, I conducted four workshops, titled, “Mardon Waali Baat” (roughly translated as “The Man Thing”) in four undergraduate colleges which focused on the broader themes of masculinity, gender and public space. These workshops were mostly conducted in Marathi, the native language of the state of Maharashtra, given the fact that most of the students who attended these workshops were native Marathi-speakers. These workshops were two to three hours long each, focusing on gender, qualities attributed to masculinity in the specific context of Maharashtra, popular culture and the implications of gendered nature of public spaces. The participants comprised of not only students from Pune city, but importantly, also those from neighboring small towns and villages, who come to Pune for higher education. This is also the student population which hardly gets an opportunity to attend such workshops, which provide a non-judgmental space for young adults to discuss issues of gender. Interestingly, I conducted a series of two workshops on the topic of masculinity and urban space in an all-girls college. While I had originally planned only one workshop here, I conducted two workshops in this college, on account of the enthusiasm of the girl students to talk about gender, masculinity and how it impacts their everyday life in the city.

Between December 2016 and December 2017 I also conducted three workshops, with the Department of Sociology and the Women’s Studies Centre at Pune University on the broad themes of ethnographic research methodologies and researching caste, space and gender. All the three workshops were two days long. My objective in working with students and research scholars from Pune University was specifically to discuss ethical issues of working on caste and gender with a group of research scholars who are located in a state university, a space which does not have the privilege of availability of study materials in Marathi.

A short-term neighborhood mapping project in Moti Peth:

Panels on Mapping Small Businesses

An important insight of my dissertation research was the profound sense of internalized inferiority that I encountered in Moti Peth, the neighborhood where I conducted my dissertation research. This internalized inferiority was a product of a long history of caste and class-based marginalization in Pune’s urban trajectory. A short-term project in which neighborhood inhabitants map how their area contributes to the economic workings of the city would be, I thought, a modest beginning to a larger process of reclaiming the history through which they have built and through which they continue to give character to this part of the city. This mapping project, I had hoped would help to reveal this intricate web through which the area of Moti Peth is connected to the city of Pune in inexticable ways.

Panels of Recipes and Street Food Places in the Neighborhood

I initiated this project in Moti Peth, in the first week of December 2017. After initial rounds of discussion and introducing the young people in the neighborhood to the idea of this mapping project, a total of six women (between ages 18 and 30) and four men (between ages 22 and 26) volunteered to be a part of this exercise. The aim was to introduce them to the concept of the “barefoot researcher” and enable them to critically look at their neighborhood, along with equipping them with basic documenting skills, which would encourage them to produce knowledge about their own area. Each participant received a small stipend for participating in this exercise.

The participants worked in pairs on specific topics related to their neighborhood and aspects of their culture. These included:

  1. Mapping small businesses in the area
  2. Highlighting the language (slang) used by people in the neighborhood
  3. Documenting caste-specific recipes in this neighborhood
  4. Documenting the ten best street food joints in the area
Exhibition I

These topics were arrived at through our discussions, in which we all agreed that it was important to rewrite the narrative of this neighborhood, which hitherto has only been portrayed as “backward,” “filthy” and as populated by people who themselves are morally corrupt or not worthy of respect. These topics are reflective of an attempt to claim legitimacy by this group of working class, low caste researchers for their location in the city, be it in terms of food, language or economic activities.

In December 2017, I conducted three workshops which aimed to familiarise the participants with aspects of documentation and research including photo-documentation (via mobile phones), participant observation, writing field notes, interviewing and visualizing data. One of the workshops was conducted by Chris M. Kurian, a public health professional, who also specializes in design and communication and Chaitanya Modak, a graphic designer, with experience in public art.

Exhibition II

The outcome of these multiple small projects was imagined in the form of an exhibition, through which we planned to showcase the narratives that the “barefoot researchers” had produced, in the form of photo-stories, interviews, maps and audio clips. Chaitanya Modak joined the team as a consultant, and helped us visualize this data and present it in an accessible and attractive format to the audience for this exhibition.

Exhibition III

The exhibition was held on April 21st and 22nd 2018, in Sudarshan Kaladaalan, an exhibition space located in a predominantly upper caste neighborhood in the city. The choice of the place was deliberate since the researchers from Moti Peth specifically wished their narratives to be exhibited in these upper caste dominated neighborhoods. The exhibition was well received by the audiences and also got good press coverage in the local Marathi and English dailies. The experience of producing and exhibiting narratives of their own lives and aspects of their culture, in their own language, was a very important step for the young people from Moti Peth, to begin the process of reclaiming their place in the city’s identity. I hope that this exhibition also gets an opportunity to travel to other parts of the city (there were several proposals to enable that in the future). At the same time, the exhibition also benefitted from some critical feedback, which would help its evolution, in case the participants now decide to take this ahead and travel with it. This feedback was largely in terms of the politics of representation, the absence of a sense of history in the exhibition material and the need to demonstrate the process through which this exhibition was produced.

Upcoming June Conference

9th  Meeting of Archaeological Theory in South America (IX Reunión de Teoría Arqueológia de América del Sur, TAAS)

June 4-8, 2018

Ibarra, Ecuador

The South America Theoretical Archaeology meeting or TAAS (Teoría Arqueológica de América del Sur) is based on the collective reflection of Latin American archaeologists about the situation and projection of archaeological theory and practice in the Southern Hemisphere.  This 9th version will focus on issues of gender, sexuality, race and local ancestral communities, specifically to address and look into challenging the patriarchal, homophobic and racist undertones that have historically permeated archaeological research in Latin America.

The 9th TAAS will bring together around 500 participants from throughout the Americas to discuss how to better critically engage race, sexuality and indigenous issues that are central to the continent’s archaeological heritage.  To this effect, particular emphasis has been placed on inviting local Afro-American (continentally-speaking) and ancestral community members, as well as, highlighting feminist and queer archaeological theoretical insights and contributions.  Finally, the meeting will also emphasize recruiting undergraduate and graduate archaeology and anthropology students throughout the continent to engage in these discussions on race and sexuality in Latin American archaeology, to hopefully contribute into changing the current hegemonic discourses of the discipline in the region.

TAAS has historically looked to challenge the dominant theoretical paradigms of the discipline and provide nuanced perspectives to understand our intricate relationship with the past.  With the support of international institutions such as the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), TAAS was born in Argentina in 1996. The first meeting was held in 1998 and, since then, versions have been organized in Argentina (twice), Brazil (twice), Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Bolivia.  This 9th TAAS will, for the first time, take place in Ecuador in the city of Ibarra

Symposium #157: “Disability Worlds”

This past March Wenner-Gren headed west to Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch in Tucson, AZ for the 157th Symposium, “Disability Worlds”, organized by Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp of New York University. The meeting’s edited papers will appear in a forthcoming supplement to Current Anthropology, 100% free and open access

Kneeling: Rayna Rapp, Michele Friedner, Susan Reynolds Whyte, Cassandra Hartblay, Tom Boellstorff, Ayo Wahlberg, Laurie Obbink. Standing: Devva Kasnitz, Beatriz Miranda-Galarza, Faye Ginsburg, Herbert Muyinda, Arseli Dokumaci, Laurence Ralph, Tyler Zoanni, Richard Grinker, Patrick Devlieger, Danilyn Rutherford, Renu Addlakha, Pam Block, Lori Stavropoulos (CART Writer), Tanya Marie Anderson (Revoicer)

 

ORGANIZERS‘ STATEMENT

“Disability Worlds”

Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp (New York University)

Anthropology is well known for its capacious and ever-expanding framework and its embrace of diversity. Yet, as we argued in our 2013 Annual Review chapter “Disability Worlds”, this universal circumstance – how the realities of embodied, cognitive, and emotional impairments are understood in different socio-cultural contexts as part of the human condition — has too often been neglected in our field.  Ethnographic studies of embodiment, personhood, kinship, gender/sexuality/reproduction, cognitive diversity, violence and its disabling aftermath, as well as citizenship and biopolitics remain incomplete and undertheorized without the consideration of disability. This framework provides a powerful lens to refocus and potentially transform thinking about new and enduring concerns shaping contemporary anthropology. At its most basic, the recognition of disability as a social fact helps us to understand the cultural specificities of personhood and to reconsider the unstable boundaries of the category of the human.

This symposium addresses the transformative value of critical anthropological studies of disability for many of our discipline’s key questions.  Historically, anthropological studies of disability were relatively rare until the late twentieth century, often intellectually segregated into the realm of medical and applied anthropology.  Yet, the international spread and uneven impact of the disability rights movement in the 21st century, as well as cross-cultural work in anthropology show that what counts as a disability in different cultural settings is not obvious. The need for research and theorization cannot be underestimated, given that approximately 80% of the world’s one billion people with disabilities reside in what is glossed as “the global south.”   Anthropologists have interrogated the limits of a Western individualizing model when studying disability across the world. This work examines the presence or absence of disability in familial, community, religious and political life as constructed by larger notions of the social, relatedness, personhood, as well as diverse epistemologies regarding “normalcy.”  Our conference builds on this work, and is premised on the recognition that disability is not a category of difference unto itself; rather, it is profoundly relational and radically contingent, dependent on specific social and material conditions that too often exclude full social participation in society. Beyond such exclusions, a focus on disability also reveals creative cultural production. Unexpected sites of innovation, inclusion and the reframing of “the normal” are producing new kinds of “disability worlds.”

This is a propitious moment to gather a group of international scholars to consider how a disability perspective can expand and transform the discipline as anthropologists increasingly focus on the social, political, experiential, narrative and phenomenological dimensions of living with particular impairments in different cultural settings across the life span. Our symposium builds on the work of anthropologists who incorporate a critical disability studies perspective, working in diverse settings to consider if and how the promissory note of expanding inclusion (as well as barriers to it) shape the “world-making” of people living with disabilities and their allies. We hope to collectively grasp how the experience of disability — whether named or unnamed – is reshaping understandings of personhood and boundaries of the human, while always accounting for broader social contexts that enable and constrain disability worlds. Concretely, this entails anthropological attention to this essential form of difference whether one studies kinship, sexuality, activism and political movements, technologies, religion, alternative communication/language practices, or the sensorium in light of atypical forms of cognitive and sensory processing and many other topics.

At the conference, we seek to understand how disability can provide a critical anthropological perspective on “everyday life with a difference,” often experienced in the shadow of a selectively globalizing neoliberal economy.  Disability is implicated in circumstances of increasing precarity, exacerbated by the erosion and privatization of resources in late capitalism as well as the environmental impact of the anthropocene. Additionally, the survival of fragile infants and those with chronic disease, along with the expansion of people living into “extreme old age” all challenge the scarcity of social labor for caregiving for those with disabilities (and other dependents) across the life cycle. At the same time, social movements for disability rights, spreading unevenly across the globe since the late twentieth century, have made powerful claims for the growing recognition and inclusion of disability.  This is in tension with the drive toward perfectibility that fuels culturally seductive neo-eugenic medical interventions, now routinized in everyday biopolitics such as genetic testing for selective abortion of fetuses with potential disabilities; this technology is rapidly diffusing from rich to middle and low-income countries. Such interventions raise utopian hopes of individual perfectibility and control that challenge the reality of disability and the crucial role of kinship, community, religion and other longstanding cultural resources for support and inclusion. These are essential to the interdependence on which disability integration ultimately depends.  Moreover, other instances of rapidly transforming technologies – including media, prosthetics, social networks, infrastructure, and assistive communication devices along with attendant therapies – have produced life-changing opportunities for people with disabilities and their supporters, across domains ranging from disability rights activism, to public culture, to intimate realms of kin and friendship where personhood and disability worlds take shape. All require political will as well as a recognition that disability futures are fragile and uncertain at best. Nonetheless, we ask conference participants to consider how our work, individually and collectively, might contribute to building an ethics of possibility in the construction of disability worlds.

Toward that end, the symposium is organized around the following topics.

  • Decolonizing Disability in Anthropology
  • Sexuality/ Gender/Kinship
  • Biopolitics and its discontents
  • Inclusion/exclusion and habitable worlds
  • Technology, Creativity, media
  • Precarity, Violence, mobility.

We anticipate that each topic will also incorporate issues of kinship, activism, political transformation and discrimination, collaborative methods/theory, reflexivity, and life course perspectives.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Eric Hirsch

Papelote describing critiques of the Desco NGO’s 1.5-year sustainability projects at the Lari Workshop

In 2013 while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Eric Hirsch received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Investing in Indigeneity: Development, Promise, and Public Life in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley,” supervised by Dr. Justin Richland. Upon receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2017 Dr. Hirsch was able to return to Peru to aid engaged activities on “After Development: Reconsidering Investment’s Promises with Participant Testimony”.

“After Development” was an engagement project I carried out in June and July of 2017, run in collaboration with local partners in the villages of Lari and Yanque in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley. For this project, I asked a small selection of Lari and Yanque residents that had been participants in one of the region’s many small-scale environmental and economic sustainability projects to offer their feedback on those projects in six workshops. Their audience consisted of former contract employees of the Center for the Study and Promotion of Development (or Desco) NGO who had worked on short-term development projects in these two villages. Most of those NGO projects, including one I followed as part of my original Wenner-Gren-supported research, lasted between 1.5 and 2 years and had ended in the region by late 2014. The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to pay people for their labor time attending the workshops and to leave each village workshop group a set of digital voice recorders.

A focus group debates the core elements of their project idea

The six workshops that I organized in collaboration with villager and NGO-staffer partners allowed me to triangulate dissemination of my ethnographic data on the sustainable development investments I followed in those villages with two key activities: (a) critical reflections from people who had received sustainability investments, capacity-building, and supervision for the length of a locally typical 1.5 to 2-year project, about how they felt those projects’ impacts three years later; and (b) the listening and feedback of the development institution staff members that oversaw those investments but were now unaffiliated.

The workshops were broken into three components. First, I described my research. I told my workshop audiences that I had lived in the Colca Valley between 2013 and 2015 to assess the local implications of the rather sudden global idea that indigeneity was a development asset and a key to ecological well-being, after it was long seen within Peru as a liability to be suppressed. I traced the ways that the promise of profitable indigeneity was put to use in NGOs like Desco and other projects that populated the region since the mid-1990s. I also described how my research focus built on older literature on sustainability, participatory development, and NGOs to discern a linkage between the Andes’ small-scale entrepreneurship investments and the region’s new large-scale extractive expansionism rooted in the idea that the Andean region was a space of abundance.

Project ideas from three small villager focus groups

The second component of our engagement workshop consisted of partner interviews and focus groups in which former participants voiced their critiques of the projects they were part of between 2013 and 2014. Their testimonies, recorded in digital files, in my field notes, and in marker on papelotes (see image), revealed important aspects of the impacts of NGO intervention. The NGO’s main investments took the form of seed capital for entrepreneurs. We found that 50% of participants were still building the enterprise the NGO helped them set up in 2013-2014 three years later. In my discussions with Fabiola Dapino, one of the former Desco staff members who took part in the Lari workshop, she was ecstatic that the number of continuing entrepreneurs was so high—atypically high, in her analysis. However, we also found that a limited infusion of seed capital was not on its own enough support for new entrepreneurs. Those who had not continued a venture for which they had received project support reported that “we didn’t have enough money.”

Project ideas from three small villager focus groups

This second component of the workshop revealed the unsurprising correlation between pre-project income and the persistence of project-supported entrepreneurial ventures. But it also elucidated that the highly visible presence of NGO projects in the region during the earlier part of this decade created the false hope that infusions of investment for economically viable indigenous-branded tourism, retail, and agricultural ventures would inevitably lead to market success. This was a critique that former NGO employees at the workshop acknowledged without pushing back. Indeed, based on that critical testimony, Ms. Dapino has begun work on a memo to her NGO-based colleagues with recommendations seeking to improve project design.

More broadly, in our discussions nearly all workshop participants reported feeling abandoned by short-term NGO projects. Not only did participants describe them as too brief to exert fundamental economic or environmental change. They also lamented the exit of Desco’s projects as the organization faced its own scarce funding.

Project ideas from three small villager focus groups

Third, villager groups spent the last days of the workshop constructing their ideal version of a future local project that would in their estimation improve village life. While the former project participants were liberal with their eviscerating critiques of the 1.5- to 2-year projects, their own projects proposed improvements but were far from structurally transformative.

Former Desco NGO employee Fabiola Dapino offers her perspective

They proposed familiar NGO-style projects, intervening with more generous budgets, increased attention from a sponsoring investor organization, and an emphasis on having villagers themselves initiate project design instead of offering “input” at the end of the “participatory” planning process. Unchanged was their emphasis on the development of a tourism industry and of charismatic crops for export such as quinoa; uninspected was a faith in entrepreneurship and markets. This apparent lack of transformative ideas was a surprise especially given the burgeoning scholarly conversations about the rise of adaptation tactics, community-level transitions, and post-development alternatives in places where conventional growth is meeting its environmental limits.

However, a second surprising finding from the villagers’ ideal project design session perhaps explains the first: the workshop was so familiar as an interactional genre whose hierarchies and prescribed participant structures perpetuated a specific template of incremental technocratic change. I had hoped to use the workshop format to subvert, or at least openly question, the hierarchies between urban-based technocratic NGO employees and rural villagers. What resulted, instead, was a critical but still hierarchical listening session.

Yanque workshop participants, with certificates

Ultimately, workshop participants were significantly more critical of the fact that NGO projects were so short and involved only minimal formal follow-up, and were now leaving the region entirely, than they were of the flaws and blind spots of specific projects. As I continue my engagement with Lari, Yanque, and other Colca Valley communities, my new research questions and future collaborations will build on that last finding from the Wenner-Gren workshop as an inquiry into how villagers are working through challenges to their economic and ecological well-being in the wake of a wave of development projects.

Meet Our Wadsworth African Fellows: Kelita Shadrach

 

Kelita Shadrach

Kelita Shadrach received her MSc degree in Archaeology from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Funded through Wadsworth African Fellowship she will continue her PhD training in archaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand, supervised by Prof. Sarah Wurz, Dr Dominic Stratford and Dr Matthew Caruana.

I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have always had a natural curiosity for the past and a drive to continuously learn and challenge social and academic structures. As a woman in academia and particularly one of colour, I find that there are many boundaries to be broken down and redefined within South Africa, as well as between South Africa and the international community.

Acquiring my BA, BSc with Honours, and MSc degrees in archaeology from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) was important to me. Archaeology inspired me and awoke my desire to keep learning, particularly about the importance of the southern African archaeological record in the study of human origins. My interest is in the Earlier Stone Age, a period which spans from 2.18 to 0.3 million years ago in South Africa. During this time significant cognitive, technological and perhaps social thresholds were crossed, and past human species began producing the first (recoverable) cultural material: stone tools.

I have learned many lessons about passion, leadership and communication during my studies. As the current secretary of the Southern African Archaeology Student Council and as a senior postgraduate student, I have the opportunity to lead a dialogue among students, researchers and communities about archaeology and challenge the mind-set of academic exclusion of the public. Furthermore, I think that academia in South Africa needs to be more racially and gender inclusive. I hope to help change the established institutional dynamic.

Pursuing a PhD allows me to continue pushing boundaries. My research project will be an exploratory study of Early to Middle Pleistocene stone tool technology and site formation processes at the Klasies River Mouth, Geelhoutboom and Amanzi Springs sites in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.  My PhD research at WITS will focus on leading a multi-disciplinary, fine resolution, stratigraphically sensitive study of the sites. For generations, WITS has distinguished itself as a leader in the field of human physical and cultural evolution. This research will build on this existing legacy and, through the application of new techniques and approaches, help transform archaeological practices.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Asmeret Mehari

Mzee Matimba giving a speech during opening ceremony for the poster exhibition

While a doctoral student at the University of Florida Asmeret Mehari received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on “Decolonizing the Pedagogy of Archaeology in East Africa,” supervised by Dr. Peter R. Schmidt. In 2016 Dr. Mehari received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Toward Neighborhood Dialogue: Archaeology, Paleoanthropology, Oldupai Museum, and Community Development in Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge, Tanzania”.

I envisioned this engaged anthropology project in collaboration with Dr. Kokeli Ryano from the University of Dodoma to focus on encouraging neighborhood dialogue among researchers, museum professionals, and local communities in Tanzania. We conducted the project in Dar es Salaam and Oldupai Gorge to fulfill three objectives: 1) collaborating with local professionals, 2) engaging the Maasai community of Oldupai Gorge in northern Tanzania, and 3) communicating research results to the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Department of Archaeology and Heritage, and to the Antiquities Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism. We fulfilled all objectives; however, this project mostly took place in Oldupai Gorge, home to the Maasai and a place of pilgrimage for numerous international tourists and researchers interested in human origins and development. Thus I share here our experience from Oldupai Gorge.

In 2010-2012, using historical and ethnographic inquiries, one of the four themes I examined in my dissertation fieldwork was: the role of African scholars in decolonizing and transforming archaeological practices and its pedagogies in Tanzania and Uganda, particularly in improving relationships with local people who reside in areas of interest for archaeological research and field school projects.  The research result suggests the need to continuously problematizing and localizing archaeology, critiquing and transforming national heritage institutions, redesigning archaeology curricula, and holding dialogues with local communities[1].

We used Oldupai as a case study since it has been an area of archaeo-paleoanthropological interest for almost a century; thus, the most researched and visited archaeo-paleoanthropological site in Tanzania. Of course, its status as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), and its 50-year old on-site museum – the Oldupai Museum, all validate our choice. Despite such reputations, the relationship between the Maasai community and researchers (archaeologists and paleoanthropologists) as well as the Maasai residents and the Oldupai Museum remained uninvestigated. Furthermore, Oldupai Gorge has neither access to formal education nor medical facilities. Maasai residents have two additional challenges: malaria and, during dry season, shortage of water.

Kokeli Ryano presenting archaeological and paleoanthropological perspectives to community members

In 2011-2012, we witnessed these challenges. Using their native language, Maa, we interviewed members of the Maasai community to understand their perceptions, reactions, and expectations of archaeo-paleoanthropological practices and practitioners. The main understanding of the community is that researchers obtain something precious, take it to their countries far away, sell it, and gain wealth. The research outcome shows continuity of colonial legacies that exclude the Maasai from sharing scientific knowledge and from fully involving them in research projects and the museum. Despite these alienations, Maasai community supports archaeo-paleoanthropological research projects and the museum. The community has strong desire to know the apparent mystery of archaeo-paleoanthropological practices and related disciplines as well as their roles in local socio-economic and educational empowerment. Maasai residents particularly emphasize the role of researchers (including us) in assisting them in obtaining access to education and finding solutions to lack of medical services, malarial problems, and water shortage. They also demand equal rights to scientific knowledge, employment opportunities and payment, full participation in archaeo-paleoanthropological activities, access to higher education in these disciplines, and direct involvement in the Oldupai Museum. As the host community, they expect global archaeo-paleoanthropological research communities, academic institutions, funding organizations, and the government of Tanzania to incorporate their rights and their needs.

In 2011-2012, we promised to partially fulfill the community’s request by presenting and publishing. We presented at three international conferences and published the research findings in an edited volume[2]. We also promised to come back and share our findings at Oldupai Gorge. Thus, we designed this engaged anthropology project and returned to Oldupai in August 2017 mostly to fulfill that promise.

We stayed with the Maasai community in Oldupai for fourteen days and in Arusha for three days to accomplish the second objective. This objective had several sub-objectives (share printed photos with the community, meet museum staff, produce informational posters, bring water for and have dialogue with the community). Mama Leken, our host, advised us to go to the river since most people spend their days at the gorge searching for water. At the Oldupai River we met people we knew and some we never met before. They were digging holes to get unsafe and unreliable water from the basin of the gorge, giving water for their sheep and goats, or washing their clothes. There we introduced the purpose of our visit and the objectives of our project. We managed to distribute most the photos taken in 2011-2012 at the gorge, at the museum, during the market day, and by visiting some families at their homes. Sharing photos helped us to reconnect with the community quickly, to recall the time we shared, and to not feel strangers.

Community members fetching water at Mturi Camp

The second sub-objective was to reconnect with the Oldupai Museum staff and to attract active participants and collaborators from the museum to achieve the third sub-objective: producing informational posters for the community. The museum staff were extremely busy preparing for the opening ceremony for the new museum. Instead, we are grateful for Mr. Emmanuel Saning’o Telele (Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) staff, Mr. Orgoo Mauyai Oloisolo (Oldupai Museum Conservator), and Mr. Emanuel Gabriel Tonge (the Olbalbal Ward counselor) for organizing and attending a meeting at the NCAA headquarters. In the meeting, we discussed the content of our project and the role of NCAA in achieving it. The NCAA and the Oldupai Museum gave us a blessing to proceed the project and provided access to water storage and a truck for transporting 20,000 liter water for the community.

The community also organized several meetings: two meetings with sub-village leaders, one meeting with community members and leaders, one meeting with local representatives who participated in the production of posters, and another meeting with community members, leaders and museum staff. In the two meetings with sub-village leaders, we introduced the project and discussed the content of the book chapter in Maa language. We were thankful for their time and excitement, and the leaders were grateful to know the research result and the project’s objectives. They had a different opinion on the budget we had for water funded by Wenner-Gren. They wanted something sustainable, building a room for kindergarten or clinic. We discussed this concern at the NCAA headquarters meeting; however, we were informed that the community needs to have a permit from NCAA. The sub-village leaders organized a community meeting. They introduced us and our project, and asked community members to vote for bringing water or building a room for kindergarten. The community was also aware of the challenge of obtaining construction permit on time so we opted for water and buying eight tarps for covering the currently open-air community kindergarten.

In the same meeting, the community elected Mama Leken and Mzee Zebedayo as local representatives to collaborate with us in the poster production. After several individual and group meetings with Mzee Zebedayo and Mama Leken, we read and discussed the published chapter with them in Maa. This gave the local representatives an opportunity to understand and review the research result and to know the role of Wenner-Gren, the NCAA and the Oldupai Museum in this engaged anthropology project. We also discussed what we intended to include in the posters and the budget for producing posters, for community get-together, for bringing water, and for buying tarps for the kindergarten. The community members appreciated the whole idea of sharing research results as well as having budget transparency. Considering the local transportation problem, the local representatives advised us we buy the food for the get-together as we go to Arusha to print the posters.

In Arusha we prepared and designed informational posters in three languages; English, Swahili, and Maa in collaboration with two local volunteers, Sandey and Leken Olle Moita, the Children of Mama and Baba Leken. They live in Arusha, and they wanted to participate. They especially helped us in editing the Swahili and Maa versions. Sandey also played key role in buying the food needed for the get-together and in presenting the poster to the community at Oldupai Gorge. The posters provided the community basic information about archaeology and paleoanthropology in order to properly understand disciplinary perspectives and to share the research result from 2011-2012.

The last sub-objective was to have dialogue with the Maasai community and the museum staff through poster exhibition and get-together. The community decided to open the poster exhibition at Mturi camp. It was opened by having a one-day festivity with the community and museum staff, which involved cooking and eating food together. In the meeting, we distributed the eight tarps bought for the kindergarten and two copies of the above mentioned edited volume donated by the Publisher, Routledge: one copy for the Oldupai Museum and another copy for the community. The four-day poster exhibition facilitated discussions with the community and Museum staff to obtain an up-to-date information and to serve as a foundation for future community engagement and development projects. As token of appreciation, the NCAA brought 20,000 liters of clean water and Wenner-Gren funded for 35,000 liters. In 10 days, local leaders distributed 55000 liters of water for about 80 families who reside in the area. At the end of the project, we left the posters in English and Swahili at the Oldupai Museum, and the poster in Maa with the community. We left Oldupai Gorge on August 29.

This project allowed Maasai community to engage in research feedback. It provided museum staff, antiquities staff, and university faculty a venue to express their opinions about our research approaches and results. Some practitioners heavily criticized the research result. They thought we fabricated what we wrote in our book chapter or that our informants are outright liars. What we learned from this journey is the challenges that can be encountered doing an engaged anthropology project. We will discuss these challenges in our upcoming book chapter. We are grateful for all numerous kinds of support we received from different stakeholders.



[1] 2015 Teaching and Practicing Archaeology in East African Universities. Dissertation thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

[2] 2016    Mehari, A. G. and Kokeli Ryano. Maasai People and Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge: Looking for sustainable people-centered approaches and practices. In Community Archaeology and Heritage in Africa: Decolonizing Practice. Peter R. Schmidt and Innocent Pikirayi (eds.), pp. 21-45. London, Routledge.