While a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, Athens, Asher Rosinger received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2013 to aid research on “Hydration Strategies, Nutrition, and Health During a Lifestyle Transition in the Bolivian Amazon,” supervised by Dr. Susan Tanner. In 2019 Dr. Rosinger had the opportunity to return to the field when he received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Water and Hydration in the Bolivian Amazon: Reinforcing Traditional Strategies to Reduce Water-Related Morbidities.”
The Wenner-Gren Dissertation Grant supported my doctoral research examining hydration strategies, nutrition, and health during lifestyle transitions in the Bolivian Amazon among Tsimane’ forager-horticulturalists. The search for safe water has been and continues to be a critical problem facing humanity. The majority of this indigenous population, like 884 million people worldwide, currently lacks access to clean water and consequently has high parasite loads and high rates of dehydration.
The overarching aim of this engagement project, building on findings from 12 months of dissertation fieldwork in 2 Tsimane’ communities in Lowland Bolivia, was to return to the research communities to provide hydration and water treatment educational and training workshops which will be reinforced through radio programs disseminated to all Tsimane’ communities. Through these workshops and radio program, I hoped to increase awareness and training to reduce water-related morbidities, specifically diarrheal diseases and dehydration, suffered by Tsimane’ children and adults. This engagement project had 3 main components and took place in May 2019 over 3 weeks.
First, I held a meeting with the Grand Tsimane’ Consejo, the governing Tsimane’ council which holds political power and is based in the town nearest the Tsimane communities (San Borja), to discuss the engagement project. During this meeting, I revisited the results I provided them at the conclusion of my dissertation fieldwork (preliminary findings and water quality analysis results, which indicated that the river and streams were heavily contaminated with pathogenic bacteria) with updates on new results and discussed all facets of the proposed workshop. At this meeting, the Consejo requested that instead of posters, they and the communities would rather have radio programs translated into Tsimane’ about these findings, rather than posters since these radio programs are far-reaching and they re-play them and people simply enjoy them more. Therefore, I felt it was a critical component of the engagement project to make this change.
Next, I visited the two communities where I conducted my dissertation research, including one community that takes two days of river travel to visit. At both communities, I conducted an educational workshop based on my findings that focused on safe hydration practices, how much water is necessary in this environment, and water treatment techniques. This workshop actively engaged in discourse with community members about additional challenges they face in cleaning water in their daily lives. It also reinforced these messages and information built on the 12 months of fieldwork, which included in-depth qualitative interviews on these topics, in a culturally-meaningful and understandable way. We did this in a fun workshop in which I also provided a community feast.
In addition, I provided starter kits and new jerry cans (the preferred means of water transport) with lids that people can not put their hands into since this is a key way that water containers become contaminated for families. I provided these new jerry cans to all households in the two communities with instructions of how to use and maintain the kits to clean water and where to purchase replacement materials in San Borja.
Finally, I worked with a Tsimane’ translator to translate the presentation of the results from the workshop to a radio program. This translation was then reviewed and approved by the Grand Tsimane’ Consejo. It was then recorded at the Horeb Radio station, where they recorded the radio program and are playing it twice a week for the next month. The radio program was divided into three parts: 1) it discusses the importance of water, the symptoms of what happens when an individual does not drink enough water and they are dehydrated and how dehydration affects the body; 2) it discusses the best ways to rehydrate, including traditional, preferred rehydration practices of Tsimane’; and 3) it discusses different options to clean water, focusing on boiling water and using chlorine as well as appropriate dosages.
Overall, the Engaged Anthropology Grant provided me with an important opportunity to revisit the site of my dissertation research and re-engage with those communities. While I had been back once previously since my dissertation, and I had provided the results back to the communities as I was conducting my dissertation research, this trip felt different since it was all dedicated to the workshops. People were really happy to see me and happy for the opportunity to learn more about hydration and water issues and to tell me what they needed. I felt like what I was doing was as important as all the research I conducted. I think it will be critical to continue to build in these types of workshops in all future research I conduct as a way to stay engaged with the people who are most directly tied to the research.
Dr. Mary Elizabeth Schmid received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Global Farming Families of Southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajio,” supervised by Dr. Ann E. Kingsolver. Building upon her fieldwork Dr. Schmid returned to the field after receiving an Engaged Anthropology Grant in 2018 to aid engaged activities on “Anthropology in Schools: Diversity and Agricultural Change in Southern Appalachia”.
Who counts as a farming family in southern Appalachia? Which family migration stories are highlighted in agricultural histories and rural heritage programming? How do K-12 students learn these histories through narratives? What can anthropology do to enhance parity and equity in K-12 curriculums? These are a few of the questions that inspired this engaged project.
When considering Appalachia, the public imagination tends to erase and/or diminish the contemporary and historic diversity of cultures and perspectives that make Appalachia what it is today. Migration histories of families from Europe dominate the heritage lessons. These narratives can quietly teach people that “others” (deemed nonwhites and outsiders) do not belong. People in and of Appalachia know this and many contest it. For my dissertation, I worked with binational farming families in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío. In the U.S., these families contribute to the food system as farmers, farm managers, packing house workers, brokers, truck drivers, and more. But, due to their racialized status in the U.S., their contributions are undervalued and mischaracterized. These Latinx-Appalachian farming families are making history as binational collective strategies. My dissertation tells their stories, counter- constructing stereotypes of Latinx in U.S. agriculture.
Studies show that there is a need for disseminating anthropological knowledge in K-12 schools, for teaching diversity and inclusion in agricultural education, and for addressing racism within U.S. food system studies. This project addresses these needs. The active learning materials are built around a de-identified ethnographic text that weaves together the migration histories of two farming families in southern Appalachia – one from Mexico and the other from Ireland. I selected quotes that tell imagery-filled stories of what life was like for families in Mexico and southern Appalachia as they shifted from subsistence-focused agriculture to market-focused farming. The stories are woven together to both teach the history of the food system in southern Appalachia and the Mexican Bajío and to offer parity to migration histories of Appalachian farming families from Mexico and Ireland. The activities teach social science terminology (e.g., historical narrative, primary and secondary sources, technology, quality of life, and social transformation) as well as practical social science skills such as making kinship charts, interviewing family members, and reading maps.
The project addressed NC sixth-grade “common core standards” listed under History, Geography, and Economy through an integrated anthropological lens. The following are a few of the NC sixth-grade social studies core standards that guided me as I created the educational materials:
“Compare historical and contemporary events and issues to understand continuity and change” (6.H.2.2);
“Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods, and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., location near rivers and natural barriers, trading practices and spread of culture)” (6.G.1.2);
“Explain how conflict, compromise, and negotiation over the availability of resources (natural, human and capital) impacted the economic development of various civilizations, societies and regions (e.g., competition for scarce resources, unequal distribution of wealth and the emergence of powerful trading networks)” (6.E.1.1).
These enrichment lessons create an opportunity to celebrate diversity and promote intercultural belonging in public schools in rural southern Appalachia. The diversity in my sixth-grade classroom surprised even the students. Their family migration histories were often unknown to them until they interviewed a family member. Their families have come from countries like Russia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Moldova, Honduras, Ireland, Scotland and England. Students made connections to their lives through “text-to-self” writing assignments:
“Thanks for the help of getting my family to tell more stories.”
“The story of global farming families reminds me that my grandfather and me would go to the field to settle maize.”
“This story reminds me of me living in Moldova because we grow vegetables in a farm or at our house at your garden. And they used to carry vegetables with horse and now they carry by car and some still carry by horse and wagon.”
“Thank you for coming and teaching us about history and how food can tell our family history.”
Public anthropology can promote intercultural belonging through K-12 educational materials, especially those used in social studies classes. Social studies curriculums are bubbling with possibility for anthropological data and values. In the school where I worked, some students suffered from trauma due to their separation from deported parents while others expressed that they wanted their new nickname to be “build the wall”. When xenophobia is being publicly popularized, intellectuals must seek out opportunities to counter-act hate across generations. K- 12 classrooms are places where hate can be challenged, and intercultural belonging can be cultivated. As my collaborator Michelle Then, an ELA/Social Studies teacher, said, “I think its education, but it’s also social and emotional for them. From the heart. Seeing that we all came from someplace else and migrated to this place, this class. And for a lot of them, they are making connections to their families back in Mexico. They can see themselves in their school materials.”
Check out http://teachinglearninganthro.com/in the coming months for an article with a detailed account of the steps I took to transform my de-identified dissertation data into sixth-grade social studies curriculum enrichment materials.
In 2015 Dr. Elena Sesma received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology,” supervised by Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste. Three years later Dr. Sesma was able to return to the field to share her results when she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Living Memory and Changing Landscapes in Eleuthera, Bahamas: Developing a Community-Based Archive”.
The Wenner-Gren’s Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to return to my dissertation field site in Eleuthera, Bahamas for several weeks to continue collaboration with local research partners and participants from my dissertation research. My dissertation, titled “The Political Work of Memory in Collaborative Caribbean Archaeology” was framed around the principles of community-based, participatory research, and explored the ways in which descendants of a nineteenth century Bahamian plantation constructed and employed a collective memory around the historic and contemporary cultural landscapes of the former plantation acreage. Through a combination of archaeological and ethnographic methods, the research revealed how descendants materialized memory on a living landscape that many politicians, developers, and foreign corporations prefer to see as vacant and therefore ideal for development.
This engagement project was intended to build on the community-based nature of the dissertation project by 1) sharing research findings, copies of data, and a written community history report to participants, 2) working with collaborators and local organizations to determine possible future projects and how best to manage heritage sites, and 3) beginning to develop a local archive of island history and collective memory. During the fall of 2018, I expanded a short report of my research that I had originally composed immediately after completing my dissertation fieldwork into a much longer report that included the general history of south Eleuthera, excerpts from oral histories, a discussion of key sites of memory that might benefit from further research or conservation, and copies of historical records regarding the former plantation estate. << https://scholarworks.umass.edu/anthro_digs_reports/1/>> Additionally, I began uploading 360-degree panoramas of several significant south Eleutheran historical and cultural sites to Google Earth at the request of several former participants. << https://goo.gl/maps/MYxDMHFztpEuDWY99>>
One of the keys to community-based research, as I have learned over the process of a 5-year long collaborative project, is the need for flexibility and respect for the wishes, needs, and availability of my collaborators. This can, of course, delay the process of research or entirely reshape a well-thought out research plan, but is nonetheless an essential component of doing meaningful and productive community-based research. This engaged anthropology project, conducted in May of 2019, used the same framework, which meant that the first step was to connect with my various collaborators and partners to determine their availability and interest in proceeding with my proposal to run workshops and planning meetings around the development of a community archive. Interest was high but availability in people’s schedules was not. Instead of large-group planning meetings, I met with many of my collaborators and past participants on an individual basis to share research findings and begin discussing the potential for a locally-held and community-controlled archive. In Nassau, I met with the director of the Bahamas Antiquities, Monuments and Museum Corporation to deliver copies of the community history report I produced in the winter of 2018 as well as digital copies of data gathered during the course of my permitted dissertation research. We also discussed what the creation of a local archive might look like in terms of investment and sustainability. I also spoke with members of the descendant community in Nassau whom I had not previously been introduced to. These conversations added important nuance to my understanding of people’s relationships to the land, complicated some of my plans, but ultimately expanded the dialogue over the site’s importance and how best to care for it.
On Eleuthera, I met with representatives of local organizations and institutions, such as local librarians, non-profit directors, and the leadership of community associations. These research partners each received multiple copies of the community report and we had long discussions about how to translate this report and my dissertation into the basis for a growing community archive. I shared drafts of open access story maps that I had created based on the community report and dissertation, but together we decided to delay the publication of these maps online. Additionally, I met with almost all of my former participants who had been a part of the dissertation research, and in one case, the daughter of a participant who had died the previous year. With each person, I updated them on the status of the dissertation, shared a copy of the community history report, and in many cases, delivered hard copy transcripts of the interviews and oral histories I had done with them. As in the case of all research, it took time (sometimes years) to build rapport with some participants. In the case of southern Eleuthera, many residents have a substantial and well-justified suspicion of outsiders who show up with recording devices and paperwork. Even some of those individuals who had quickly warmed to me in the past were genuinely surprised to see me return and were taken aback when I provided copies of their interviews and a copy of the community report I wrote. It was clear then how unexpected but truly appreciated this kind of commitment and continued engagement is for communities that often feel forgotten by other institutions.
The culmination of these individual meetings and visits was a public meeting held at the Wemyss Bight Community Library. There, I shared a summary of my dissertation, some key findings outlined in the community history report, and presented several potential options for what a community archive might entail in terms of additional research and training, what form it might take, and how it might be accessed. This public meeting was both a chance for me to disseminate my research, as well as an opportunity to open the door to new questions, new participants, and ongoing dialogue between local participants and institutional collaborators.
As this project wrapped up, I reflected deeply on the process and the point of engagement in anthropology, with its many varied meanings and methods. Engagement takes on different forms, and like any good anthropologist – like any good human – we adapt. Engagement is meeting with community partners and collaborators, giving updates and talking about how to build something even bigger and better with the work we’ve already done. Engagement is meeting with officials who manage and oversee heritage resources on all the Bahamas’ 700 islands. Engagement is talking with community members who haven’t previously been involved, absorbing their frustrations at having been left out. Engagement happens amongst large groups at public meetings, where residents and researchers dialogue, fill in holes that were maybe missed in earlier research, imaging a future where this work can continue. Engagement also happens individually, in the living rooms, kitchens, front yards, and shops of those who participated. One of the most profound confirmations of this trip was acknowledging that all of these activities count as engagement, especially if the intention to share and collaborate and dialogue is there.
In 2017 Dr. Martha-Cecilia Dietrich received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship that gave her the opportunity to make, Horror in the Andes, a documentary film that in her words focused on “a two-year long investigation into the local horror film production in the Peruvian highlands and the films’ rising popularity among local audiences”. We are proud to share the following trailer and blog post.
‘Horror in the Andes’ is an observational documentary based on a two-year long investigation into the local horror film production in the Peruvian highlands and its rising popularity among local audiences. The film follows three film-makers Martin, Lucho and Carlitos whilst shooting a horror movie in the small town of Ayacucho. It is an intimate description of a friendship that is held together by a passion for cinema and the commitment to the arduous process of film-making. Horror in the Andes premiered at the RAI film festival in March 2019 and will be screened in mainstream and ethnographic film festivals as well as conferences in Europe, Latin America and Africa in the coming year.
This research-led documentary aimed at embedding the practice of filmmaking as both, methodological tool and principal subject of analysis with a focus on horror fiction filmmaking as a means to render violent pasts and articulate notions of Andean identity. As applied in this project, ethnographic filmmaking is a method for the systematic exploration of what the documentary film pioneer Dziga Vertov (in Grimshaw 2003, 28) referred to as the “world in movement,” that is, a way of analyzing the processes of social transformation and cultural manifestation, not as abstract systems but as experience or practice. The ethnographic filmmaker’s endeavor is always an exploration of the world inscribed by the researcher’s ways of seeing or looking (MacDougall 2006, 7). What is meaningful to the filmmaker shapes content and form that is given to the story and the people of the film. How stories are told, its spatial, practical and performative aspects, invite to reflect on the epistemological and aesthetic imperatives that guide vision and creation – theirs and mine. This epistemology of vision materialized in composed images and sounds, which turned into a constructed narrative representing and communicating research findings to an audience.
The presence of two cameras filming alongside each other revealed a certain politics of gazing, a way of looking, of looking away and being looked at in the process of observing and being observed. It also had the effect of challenging these boundaries of clearly distinguishing between behind and in front of the camera, performer and spectator, researcher and researched. It is precisely in this threshold between framing and being framed created by the shared endeavor of capturing expressive beauty and power and in moments of triumph and failure, where relationships, experience and critical reflection took place. The ethnographic material used in this film and discussed in accompanying texts is the result of this engagement.
The work carried out during the fellowship period included the editing of the film, the writing of a related article entitled Re-imagining Andean-ness: identity politics in contemporary Ayacuchan horror cinema (submitted to the Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology) and festival submissions.
Past and scheduled Screenings (last updated on 1. June 2019)
The Swiss School of Latin American Studies (SSLAS) – Workshop “Héroes y pueblos” / “Heroes and the people” Universidad de Berna 14-15 December 2018
RAI film festival – official selection (special interest) commendation for Richard Werbner Award, 27-30 March 2019 (Premier)
VdR – Media Library Selection, 5-13 April 2019
IUAES 2019 Inter-Congress “World Solidarities” audiovisual programme in Poznan, Poland, 27-31. August 2019
Grimshaw, Anna. 2001. The Ethnographer’s Eye: Ways of Seeing in Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
MacDougall, David. 2006. The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography, and the Senses. Princeton University Press.
We’re thrilled to announce that Horror in the Andes has been selected to appear at the Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival this November and has been awarded “Best Short Film” for anthropological film. The SVA Film Festival will run concurrent with the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association November 20th- 24th at the Vancouver Convention Center. To keep track of screenings, visit https://filmmakingforfieldwork.co.uk/horror-in-the-andes
While a doctoral student at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Ivo Syndicus received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Culture, Development, and Higher Education in Papua New Guinea,” supervised by Dr. Thomas Strong. In 2018 Dr. Syndicus was then awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Experiences and Challenges of University Students in Papua New Guinea: Research Results and Ways Forward.”
In March and April 2019, an Engaged Anthropology Grant enabled me to spend almost six weeks in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to engage a range of audiences about my dissertation research on higher education in PNG. In my PhD dissertation, I describe and analyze various fields of student experiences related to university education, especially at the University of Goroka, such as:
how university students, but also staff, experience processes of social stratification vis-à-vis kin and sponsors;
how a cultural politics of difference, drawing on the reification of culture such as sensibilities surrounding exchange and reciprocity, feeds into the construction and consolidation of provincial identities at universities and beyond;
how forms and styles of leadership in both university management and student politics become contested at university, especially in prolonged student strikes.
Activities to share results and engage with different audiences took place in PNG’s capital Port Moresby, Goroka, and other locations in the PNG highlands. Specific activities in Port Moresby included a seminar at the University of Papua New Guinea facilitated by its Anthropology strand that drew attendance from within and beyond the university, a research colloquium presentation at the National Research Institute, and a presentation with a stronger orientation to relevant policy matters to staff of the Division of Quality Assurance at the PNG Department for Higher Education, Science, Research and Technology.
At the University of Goroka, I gave a talk to the university community facilitated by its Center for Melanesian Studies. This constituted perhaps the most significant event of engagement in terms of presenting my results to many of my previous interlocutors throughout research processes, at the institution where I conducted most of the research and for which its results are most specifically relevant. I also conducted a workshop with postgraduate students at the University of Goroka, organized by the Center for Melanesian Studies and the School of Postgraduate Studies, in which I discussed ethnography as approach to research both in anthropology and beyond, drawing on illustrations from my research.
I also visited and met several of my interlocutors during research and graduates of the University of Goroka in the highland provinces of Simbu and Jiwaka, learning about their current context and reflecting back on experiences during their studies at the University of Goroka.
The presentations at universities in particular led to subsequent meetings and discussions with members of respective university communities and other institutions. At the University of Goroka, I also held a meeting with the university management to provide a briefing about my research results in general, and to discuss questions around student representation and participation in university governance in particular. The presentation of my research results was perceived as timely and welcomed both in view of developments in the university sector in the last years, and broader social processes in PNG and its pathway as a nation of a uniquely rich cultural and linguistic heritage.
A noteworthy area of discussion were legislative changes in relation to university governance through the 2014 Higher Education Act, which provides increased possibilities for ministerial intervention in university affairs. These changes resonated with demands in student strikes especially at the University of Goroka, where students lobbied the government to oust the university council and management through recurrent strikes between 2010 and 2015. Policy reform in 2014 enabled the Minister responsible for Higher Education to dismiss the council and management of the University of Goroka in 2015, and the University of Papua New Guinea faced similar ministerial interventions into its academic governance at the time of my engagement activities. Based on my research, I was able to illustrate how student leaders at the University of Goroka prepared the ground for a sympathetic reception of changes in the Higher Education Act that led to the erosion of autonomous university governance with potentially severe implications for the quality of university education in PNG through political interventions.
This connects to issues with student representation, and the observation that student leaders increasingly tend to foreground their own political ambitions instead of actually seeking to address issues at universities or the national political arena, such as corruption, as they claim. In effect, universities seek to limit the powers of student representatives, which increases students’ frustration and in turn facilitates politically ambitious student leaders to mobilize frustrated students for strikes towards their personal goals. This raises the question how meaningful student representation and participation in university governance could look like, especially from a perspective of opening up more meaningful avenues for student participation rather than their systematic exclusion. This seems acutely relevant in current times as student representative councils remain suspended following student unrests at PNG’s state universities in 2016, creating the conditions in which frustrated students may turn to unelected student leaders to advance their issues without the checks and balances of democratic legitimization, and recognition or accountability within the procedural bureaucracy of universities.
An especially controversial aspect in the constitution of student representative councils is the role of provincial student associations. Provincial student associations are an important avenue for student sociality and mobilization at state universities. There is a widespread concern, however, that they foster a competitive politics based on parochial issues and personal political ambitions rather than adequately representing students in relation to issues of student welfare or academic matters. Some state universities seek to reform student representation to be stronger based on academic programs, for example, although many students insist on provincial associations to remain an integral part of student representative councils. This also connects to broader questions for the direction of nation-building in PNG. The consolidation of provincial identities along increasingly quasi-ethnic lines based on the reification of supposedly bounded cultural characteristics is a phenomenon that invites reflection about the vision of PNG as a nation that is united both in diversity and commonalities beyond provincial and regional boundaries.
The Engaged Anthropology Grant provided, in summary, a unique opportunity to contribute to current debates in relation to the higher education sector and broader social phenomena in PNG today.
PLEASE NOTE: The deadlines for the Engaged Anthropology Grant program have been pared down from two to one a year. August 1st will be the only deadline for this program going forward. The August 1st deadline will be for projects that start anytime the following year.
“Toward an Anthropological Understanding of Masculinities, Maleness, and Violence”
Matthew Gutmann (Brown University)
Robin Nelson (Santa Clara University)
Agustín Fuentes (University of Notre Dame)
No one is surprised that most murderers are men. What gets ignored too often is that most men are not murderers. However, the entanglement between maleness, masculinity, and violence is neither straightforward nor uniform. For several decades, cultural anthropologists have studied and analyzed masculinities and gender-based violence of all sorts. These range from intimate partner violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, racialized violence, and armed conflict. Simultaneously, biological anthropologists have examined the relationships of evolutionary processes, genomics, and endocrinology between maleness and violence. Yet rarely if ever do these two currents in contemporary anthropological scholarship meet, except perhaps in effortless dismissal of the more intemperate claims of others.
In humans, imagination, perceptions, and ideology matter as much as bone, muscle, and Y chromosomes. Both perceptual and material feedback loops channel violence into physiological changes in bodies and reshape ideologies. Yet outside and inside the academy there is widespread confidence in biological explanations that draw a direct link between maleness and violence. What we seek here is a more nuanced approach that recognizes previous engagements but gives weight to imagination, perceptions, histories, and embodiment in masculinity and violence. A central purpose of this symposium is for scholars from diverse branches of anthropology and allied fields to engage in dialogue, to not talk past each other, to sincerely seek better toolkits to address issues of violence, masculinity, maleness within our academic and public discussions, communications, and debates.
Donald Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, the counter-wave of women’s protests against male predatory entitlement and impunity, and the challenge to men to cease their complicity have become pivotal on every newscast featuring sexual harassment and assaults. Our own field of anthropology has become a central locale for uncovering, engaging and dealing with male privilege, bias and coercive violence. The topic of violence is obviously expansive. For this symposium, we want to focus discussion on physical and psychological violence associated with maleness and masculinities from coercion to warfare. These topics should remain a focus of our attention for years to come, and anthropologists should have more authority to speak to the fundamental questions: Is this just the way men are if they think they can get away with it? Is male violence “natural”? In examining beliefs about men’s aggressive natures rooted in some imagined prehistory, an accurate understanding of biology in integration with a broader anthropology has never been more important. We think that diverse anthropological theory must be brought to bear on this subject if we are to develop more complete, effective and usable (in policy, education, and public debate) analyses of maleness, masculinities, and violence.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the spate of learned reports on aggression might make one think that there is a causal link between maleness and violence. Selfish genes, demonic males, the spread of agriculture, personal vengeance, and politics by other means have all been ideas promoted to explain the innate violent connection between maleness and power. But is any of it true?
The eminent Cambridge neuroscientist Joe Herbert, writing in 2015, tells us, “As well as the imprint of biological inheritance, we see the tendrils of testosterone all over war, gangs, and fanaticism,” and, “There’s a very simple reason why most financial traders are young(ish) men. The nature of trading incorporates all the features for which young males are biologically adapted.” Do the on-average differences between male and female physiologies form the underlying basis for violence? Perhaps not, but if they do indicate something, what can we learn from them?
This conference will gather some of the leading researchers on maleness, masculinities, and violence in anthropology to engage each other in constructive dialogue on these issues. If anthropology is to mean anything as an integrative discipline, it must be able to advance our understanding by bringing the subfields into the direct exchange of ideas on pressing social challenges like gender-based violence.
We are not looking to repeat past assessments of this topic. Nor are we looking to remain segregated by different vantage points, ideologies and methodologies. We seek to disregard traditional boundaries and ask all who participate in this conference to come prepared to absorb a full range of ideas, to attempt to identify and facilitate connectivities across approaches.
On April 29th the New York Academy of Sciences lecture series returns when Dr. Laurence Ralph, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Departments of Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, will present “Torture Trees: Police Violence from Chicago to the War on Terror”. Dr. Aimee Cox, Associate Professor in the departments of African American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University will act as discussant. The event will be held at 5:45 PMat the Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065.
The history of police torture that I will discuss in this talk begins with 125 Black men in Chicago who were suffocated and shocked at Area Two police precinct. The story ends, however, in a much different place—with the torture of terrorism suspects abroad. Many of these torture survivors were eventually exonerated. Some received multi-million dollar payouts as recompense for their torture and confinement. But their exoneration should not reaffirm our faith in the law—quite the contrary. In this talk I will challenge my audience not to think of the innocent person as the quintessential torture victim. Rather, think about a person who committed a heinous crime. Imagine that person being bagged and suffocated and beaten within an inch of his life. Ask yourself: Can I see enough humanity in him to understand why it is just as wrong to torture him, as it is to torture an innocent man?
About the Speakers:
Laurence Ralph is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Departments of Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is the author of Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago which received the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) in 2015. His scholarly work explores how the historical circumstances of police abuse, mass incarceration, and the drug trade naturalize disease, disability, and premature death for urban residents, who are often seen as expendable. Theoretically, his research resides at the nexus of critical medical and political anthropology, African American studies, and the emerging scholarship on disability. He combines these literatures to show how violence and injury play a central role in the daily lives of black urbanites. Laurence Ralph explored these diverse themes through articles published in many journals, including Anthropological Theory, Disability Studies Quarterly,Transition, and Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power.
Aimee Cox is Associate Professor in the departments of African American Studies and Anthropology at Yale University. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of Anthropology, Black Studies, and Performance Studies. Cox’s first monograph, Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship (Duke 2015), won a 2016 Victor Turner Book Prize in Ethnographic Writing and Honorable Mention from the 2016 Gloria E. Anzaldúa Book Prize, given by the National Women’s Studies Association. She is the editor of the forthcoming volume, Gender: Space (MacMillan). Her next ethnographic project, Living Past Slow Death, explores the creative strategies individuals and communities enact to reclaim Black life in the urban United States. Cox is the recipient of the 2017-18 Virginia C. Gildersleeve Professorship awarded by Barnard College. Cox is also a former professional dancer. She danced on scholarship with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and toured extensively with Ailey II.
All talks in this series take place at Roosevelt House, 47-49 E 65th St, New York, NY 10065. A dinner and wine reception will precede the talk: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students). Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public, but registration is required.
While a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, Elliott Oakley received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2015 to aid research on “Counting Fingers, Quantifying Forests: Numbers, Translation and Guyanese Eco-Politics,” supervised by Dr. Casey High. Three years later Dr. Oakley received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Supporting Waiwai ‘Cultural Preservation’ in the Context of Conservation.”
The Waiwai Village Museum began as a community initiative to generate income for residents of Masakenyarï, an indigenous community in southern Guyana. Part of a protected area partnership, the Kanashen Community-Owned Conservation Area, the Museum was envisioned as a way to showcase Waiwai culture and sell handicrafts to visitors. My dissertation research (2015-2017) demonstrated how community ideas of the protected area frame conservation as a process of building connections, more to international NGOS, the Guyanese government, or other outsiders than to the plants and animals that make up a lived Amazonian environment. As tourists failed to arrive with any real consistency, over the course of my fieldwork many people in Masakenyarï began to doubt the Museum’s potential to provide greater access to money. But interest in a formal space for local histories, language resources, cultural materials, and Waiwai crafts endured.
While writing my doctoral thesis in Edinburgh, I was fortunate to visit collections in Glasgow and London containing materials from southern Guyana, most obtained in the mid twentieth century during colonial rule of British Guiana. I sent pictures of the exhibitions – ‘Life in the Rainforest’ in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum and the ‘American encounters’ section of the London’s Horniman Museum – to Waiwai friends in Guyana over Facebook. During fieldwork I had promised to adapt my research materials into resources that could be part of the Village Museum in Masakenyarï. But, in part prompted by the images of these UK museums, I learned that the Village Museum stood empty. My discussions with community leaders and elders led to an Engaged Anthropology Grant with three aims: sharing doctoral research findings with participants in Masakenyarï; working with the community on alternative visions to re-establish the Waiwai Village Museum; and filming Waiwai Christmas celebrations, connected to traditional kesemanitopo or Shodewika festivals, to contribute to the establishment of a community-operated digital archive of cultural practices and related research outputs.
Before returning to Guyana, I visited Glasgow Museums to consult their Waiwai collections with curators Patricia Allan and Ed Johnson. The widow of the Scottish colonial official Gordon Lethem, Governor of British Guiana for part of the 1940s, donated assorted objects and photographs from southern Guyana to Glasgow Museums. Many of the objects – and most of the black-and-white images – have not been digitized, and I was lucky to view them and take reference photographs to share with people in Masakenyarï.
Arranging the two-month trip to Guyana to start in December 2018 allowed sharing research findings and discussing the Village Museum to coincide with Christmas celebrations, which people often referred to as the most significant cultural event to document to communicate their identity. Though people gather daily between Christmas and New Year’s to eat and dance, enacting this joyous sociality took clear precedence over my rather mundane suggestion to talk about my research. The main conclusion I sought to communicate was how building connections with outside peoples and places is fundamental to enacting the Waiwai ewto, the village or ‘place-where-people-live’. The December festivities were a firm reminder that these desires for exteriority are valuable insofar as they enable states of happiness and contentment, associated with village interiority and embodied most forcefully and deliberately at Christmas.
I felt the full weight of this insight when, while filming hunters returning to the village on December 23rd, the dugout canoe I was traveling in capsized. Gone, it seemed, was any chance of achieving the third project aim, with the camera equipment drying out in a bucket of rice. Immediately aware of my possible grief and frustration, several of the hunters passed arrows and portions of meat from their own hands to mine so I could walk with them into the village. Their generosity turned me from a position of observer to that of participant in a powerful way.
Upon checking four days later the camera worked as normal, much to our collective relief, and I was able to collaborate filming parts of the dancing and festivities. The focus shifted to ‘kwachi’, in which young men gather and walk from household to household waking up the women who will prepare food for the day’s communal meals.
Eventually, I was able to present my research at a village meeting on New Year’s Day. I said my formal thanks, discussed the research findings, presented village copies of the PhD and distributed printed summaries for each household. I donated an external hard drive, with photographs and videos from my doctoral research, Waiwai language materials, digital copies of anthropology publications focused on Waiwai people, and artefact images from museum collections in the UK, to start a ‘digital archive’ based in the village and operated by the community.
Then, the event shifted towards collaborative small-group discussions based around the assorted printed materials, which ranged from Lethem’s 1940s photographs to Guyanese newspaper archives from the 1970s to posters summarizing my doctoral research. It was a pleasure for me to move around the roundhouse listening as older generations recognized their kin or described the context of the images to their children and grandchildren.
After celebrations closed down after New Year’s Day, the village shifted from the continual daily gatherings to the much quieter rhythms of household life in an Amazonian community. With time to rest and to visit, I focused on discussing museum plans, translating a chapter summary of my PhD into the Waiwai language, and tying up filming by speaking with senior women about the significance of kwachi.
People in Masakenyarï discussed how museum artefacts and images collected decades before might offer a pathway forward for their heritage goals. Rather than rely on tourists arriving in person, their museum vision – like the conservation processes I documented during doctoral fieldwork – is to build connections through enduring outside interests in Amazonian objects, peoples, and places. We composed a letter to Glasgow Museums to take the next step in that effort.