Current Anthropology Preview: Awakening to a Nightmare

Photo by Miguel Gutierrez, Jr.

In advance of the upcoming printing of the June issue of Current Anthropology, we welcome guest-bloggers Roberto G. Gonzales and Leo R. Chavez with a summary previewing their article “Awakening to a Nightmare”: Abjectivity and Illegality in the Lives of Undocumented 1.5 Generation Latino Immigrants in the United States.” (Current Anthropology 53(3). 2012)

 

The political rhetoric over the fate of the children of undocumented immigrants is deeply divided.  Are they simply “illegal aliens” who broke the law and thus do not deserve what is called a “path to citizenship”? Or, are undocumented young people filled with great potential and we should provide a way for them to live and work legally in the United States?

“Awakening to a Nightmare” attempts to go beyond the political rhetoric. Using data collected from a random-sample survey and in-depth ethnographic interviews, it provides insight into lived experiences of undocumented young Latinos in Orange County, California, who came to the United States as children. They daily confront the importance of citizenship.  They are constantly aware of the potential for detection and deportation during the current period of heightened police surveillance and rising deportation numbers.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress almost eleven years ago in effort to reconcile the untenable circumstances confronting these young people. While legislators continue to debate their futures, these young people must carry out their everyday lives.  Through the narratives of the study’s respondents, “Awakening to a Nightmare” reveals daily life to be rife with legal obstacles and risks. While much of contemporary immigration research focuses on outcomes, this study shows that increased enforcement efforts narrow their worlds and sows fears—so much that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation.

The consequences of two related processes—the shrinking of rights for non-citizens and the intensification of enforcement efforts—are profoundly felt as young Latinos confront their undocumented status.  As they get older and want to experience the rites of passage common to American youth – getting a driver’s license, traveling, and applying to college – they come to realize they are different from their friends. As one young person told us, “It was like awaking to a nightmare.” The constraints on their lives become real and unavoidable, as one interviewee said:

I know I can do so much more, but I can’t because…I can’t choose where I live.  I can’t choose where I work.  And the worst thing is that I can’t choose my friends.  In high school I was able to do that.  I can’t anymore. I can’t even hang out with my high school friends anymore and that hurts a lot.  Yeah, they want to do grown up stuff.  I can’t do anything that is eighteen and over.  I can’t do anything.  I can only hang out where little kids hang out.  I can’t hang out with them. I can’t travel with them.  I can’t go out to dinner with them.  I can’t go to Vegas with them.  If I want to go to a bar, I don’t even have a drink.  If they want to go to San Diego, if they want to go visits museums down there, if they want to go to Sea World, I can‘t go with them.  I can’t go to Los Angeles.  I can’t go to any clubs in L.A.

“Awakening to a Nightmare” explores what an abject life means.  Undocumented Latino youth realize society sees them as discardable, as easily castaway. The idea that undocumented young people should simply “self-deport,” as if they did not have emotional or social attachments to the United States, captures this sense of being discardable and unwanted.  Rather than merely give up, many of the young people profiled here became involved in campaigns to change the law.  They are called DREAMers because they hope for the day the U.S. Congress passes the DREAM Act, thus giving them a chance to become legal residents and even citizens.  For these young people, this would be a sign that society recognizes them as contributing members of society. Until then, they must wait.

“Awakening to a Nightmare” is thus both timely and revealing, providing important insights into the fundamental questions facing the nation and the future of undocumented young people living among us.

 

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

 

NYAS @ Wenner-Gren: Ben Zimmer and “The New Language Detectives” [AUDIO]

Discussant Melissa Checker (Queens College), Speaker Ben Zimmer (Thinkmap, Inc./Boston Globe), Discussant and section co-chair Rudolf Gaudio (SUNY Purchase), and co-chair Jeff Maskovsky (CUNY Graduate Center)

This past Monday evening brought to a close the 2011/2012 season of New York Academy of Sciences lectures at the Wenner-Gren Foundation. We’ve had a great line-up of speakers all year long, and closing out the order we welcomed Ben Zimmer, former scribe of the “On Language” column in the New York Times, to share his thoughts on investigating linguistic phenomenon in a data-driven age.

Download a MP3 of the talk now!

Listen to Discussants Melissa Checker and Rudolf Guadio.

Introducing the Engaged Anthropology Grant

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is pleased to announce a new grant program: the Engaged Anthropology Grant.

This program is designed to enable past Wenner-Gren grantees to return to their research locale to share their research results with the community in which the research was conducted, and/or the academic/anthropological community in the region or country of research.  There will be two application deadlines per year, February 1 and August 1, and the grant will provide up to $5,000 for expenses directly related to these activities.

To be eligible to apply for the Engaged Anthropology Grant, you must have already received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork or Post-Ph.D. Research Grant, and the proposed engagement activities must be a direct outgrowth of this research.   Applications for each deadline are only accepted within five years of the approval date of the original Wenner-Gren Grant.  Applicants also must have completed their Dissertation Fieldwork or Post-Ph.D. Research Grant and fulfilled all final reporting requirements before being eligible to apply.  Former Dissertation Fieldwork grantees must also have received their Ph.D. before the grant is awarded.

Everyone at Wenner-Gren is excited about this new program and its potential to facilitate continued engagement of our grantees in their research area and to ensure that the results of the research are shared locally in the most appropriate manner.

We hope that you will be equally excited about the Engaged Anthropology Grant and take advantage of the unique opportunity it offers. For more information about this program and how to apply, visit our programs page. You may also contact our Program Administrator, Mark Ropelewski, with additional questions at: mropelewski@wennergren.org.

Bob Simpson and “Writing Across Boundaries”

Image courtesy dur.ac.uk

Guest-blogger Bob Simpson is Professor and Chair of the Board of Studies in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University and has participated in past Wenner-Gren symposia. Since 2007 he has been conducting a series of intensive two-day workshops aimed at honing the writing skills of social science PhD students, called “Writing Across Boundaries”.

In 2006, a call came out from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council for projects to support researcher development.  The call prompted Robin Humphrey and I to set about thinking about what was missing from current doctoral training in the UK.   It struck us that whilst there was extensive foundational training in methods and field preparation in place, little was being done about the return from the field and more specifically the business of writing ‘up’.  For many, the very idea of writing ‘up’ is a bit passé;  writing should take place at all stages of the research process.  We would not quibble with this basic assertion, but we both recalled those early stages of trying to write once fieldwork was completed and deadlines for completion began to loom.  This exercise in writing brought its own particular challenges.  How do I go about wringing text from that intimidating pile of notes, interviews, photographs, scribbled memoirs and so forth?  In fact, do I have anything to say at all that is worth saying?   Is my writing too simplistic, too prolix, where to start, where to stop?  Our reflections on this very important part of the process of becoming a fully fledged doctoral researcher resulted in a successful application for funds to run an annual, residential workshop for doctoral students who were using qualitative methods. The workshop had a simple aim: to help those attempting to write post-fieldwork by trying to figure out what the sticking points actually are.

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Current Anthropology Special Issue: The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations

The latest issue of the Wenner-Gren Symposium Series has mailed together with the Current Anthropology April Issue. This is our fifth supplementary issue and the series has been a phenomenal success. The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations. Is edited by Susan Lindee and Ricardo Ventura Santos and as with other Symposium Supplements is now available through the CA website as an Open Access Issue. This issue, which is available completely open-access, is the result of the International Symposia held in Teresopolis, Brazil in 2010.

 

The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations: World Histories, National Styles, and International Networks

 Current Anthropology Volume 53, Supplement 5, April 2012

Edited by Susan Lindee and Ricardo Ventura Santos

Karl Ernst von Baer, "Principal types of different human races in the five parts of the world", St. Petersburg 1862

This Current Anthropology Supplementary Issue developed from a Wenner-Gren Symposium held in Teresópolis, Brazil, in 2010, and explored the past, present and future of biological anthropology. The papers in this issue aim to understand from a comparative international perspective the contexts of genesis and development of physical/ biological anthropology around the world. While biological anthropology today can encompass paleoanthropology, primatology, and skeletal biology, the symposium focused on the field’s engagement with living human populations. Bringing together scholars in history of science, science studies, and anthropology, the participants examined the discipline’s past in different contexts, but also reflected on its contemporary and future conditions. Papers in this issue explore national histories, collections, and scientific field practice with the goal of developing a broader understanding of the discipline’s history. The work tracks a global, uneven transition from a typological and essentialist physical anthropology, predominating until the first decades of the twentieth century, to a biological anthropology informed by post-synthesis evolutionism and the rise of molecular biology, a shift which was labeled “new physical anthropology”. The papers thus place biological anthropology in a broad historical context, and suggest how the histories documented can inform its future.

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NYAS @ Wenner-Gren: April 30, 2012

Image courtesy benzimmer.com

The last Monday in April marks the final 2011/2012 meeting of the Anthropology section of the New York Academy of Sciences at the Wenner-Gren Foundation. We’ve had a great range of presenters this season, and for this last session we welcome the first presentation dealing explicitly with linguistic anthropology. Ben Zimmer of ThinkMap, Inc. and the Boston Globe, best known for previously penning the column “On Language” in the New York Times, will discuss the emergent linguistics of digital communication – and the new tools used to study it – with discussants Melissa Checker of Queens College and Rudolf Gaudio of SUNY Purchase.

The New Language Detectives:

Investigating Linguistic Phenomena in a Data-Driven Age

New data-driven techniques of analyzing language have emerged in recent years, opening up lines of inquiry that were previously seen as unapproachable. What linguistic “signatures” do we leave when we open our mouths or type on the keyboard? What subtle cues do we give each other when we change from one style of speaking or writing to another? And how can we plot the large- and small-scale changes in language usage to reveal fresh insights, applicable to fields as diverse as legal investigation, literary analysis, and political marketing? I will tour some of the avenues that researchers are exploring, with powerful new tools at their disposal: both the “microscopes” that can track the smallest shifts in variations in our language and the “telescopes” that can expose the evolution of talk and text over the historical long haul. In their own ways, the “micro” and the “macro” analyses promise to illuminate how we express ourselves and how people come together to build language through social interaction.

As always, the talk will be preceded by a reception and refreshments one hour prior to its commencement at 7:00 PM. Attendance is free, but please contact the New York Academy of Sciences (212-298-8600) in order to register prior to the event.

We will post an audio recording of Mr. Zimmer’s talk in the days after the event. Check out audio from previous NYAS meetings at Wenner-Gren.

Interview with Elise Kramer on “Mutual Minorityhood”

Elise Kramer is a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She received a Wenner-Gren Foundation grant in May 2010 to assist research on ‘Mutual Minorityhood: The Rhetoric of Victimhood in the American Free Speech/Political Correctness Debate,’ supervised by Dr. Susan Gal. Below is a short interview we conducted to dig deeper into Kramer’s interest in the complex dynamics of victimhood in American public life.

 

What first drew you to study the ACLU in an anthropological capacity?

It was definitely a case of my topic driving my field choice rather than the other way around. Starting from my observations of mutual minorityhood (see below), I wanted to study the ways that the concept of freedom of speech is invoked in political debates in the U.S., with an eye toward the ways in which accusations of censorship stand in for more fraught and fundamental disagreements over who truly has power in American society. I had noticed that many political disputes in the U.S. seemed to boil down to competing claims of being silenced—and this raised some interesting questions for me about a) why this was an intelligible and persuasive direction to take a political argument, and b) what this focus on censorship can tell us about the nature of the modern American political field.

The ACLU’s place in the political landscape crystallizes many of the seeming paradoxes at the center of my project. In theory, the organization’s guiding principle is the defense of the Bill of Rights, which is a cause one would expect to gather almost universal support among Americans (especially when it comes to freedom of speech). But in practice the ACLU is a highly contentious organization: for some it is the embodiment of unbiased justice for the underdog; for others, an anti-religious stalwart advancing a hegemonic liberal agenda. Studying the process by which which the ACLU’s choices of which issues to take up get refracted and reframed both within and without the organization seemed like a good place to start in tackling such broad and omnipresent questions.

 

Could you briefly explain what is meant by “mutual minorityhood”? How does it manifest itself in American public life?

By “mutual minorityhood” I mean the phenomenon that so often occurs in American politics where each side of a debate perceives itself as a victimized minority and its opponent as a hegemonic majority. There are examples of this pretty much everywhere you look: the immigration debate, the gay marriage debate, the debate between feminists and men’s rights activists, etc. In each of these instances, you will find people on each side of the debate claiming that theirs is the beleaguered—even iconoclastic—underdog fighting a burgeoning superpower.

The phenomenon is worth studying for at least a couple of reasons. First, that the mantle of “true” victimhood would be so appealing and highly-contested raises important questions about American ideologies of power, agency, and dominance. Second, I think it’s vital to have an anthropology of power that is cognizant of actors’ self-reflexive beliefs about their place in the sociopolitical landscape; whatever “real” power dynamics may exist, the ones that people perceive and act in relation to are just as analytically significant when trying to understand the cultural processes in play.

 

Many Americans would hold that Freedom of Speech is a relatively straightforward concept. You propose that the understanding of that concept is shot through with a number of “folk beliefs”. How does your work in Linguistic Anthropology draw this out?

Though freedom of speech may seem like an ahistorical and objective concept, if one looks at even the short history of first amendment doctrine in the United States, one will find that “freedom of speech” has meant very different things at different moments. The free speech clause of the first amendment was originally interpreted as protecting primarily the press and even then only in a “no prior restraint” capacity (it was considered perfectly constitutional to punish someone for printing something so long as you didn’t actively prevent him or her from printing it in the first place). This now seems unbelievably savage to most Americans, who generally see free speech as an unfettered individual right. (See Stephen Feldman’s Free Expression and Democracy in America for an excellent history of the evolving American understanding of freedom of speech.)

As a linguistic anthropologist, I am interested in what language ideologies (taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions about how language works and how people use it) underlie the many ways of thinking about and talking about “freedom of speech” in the U.S. Different rationales for why free speech is important (e.g. the “marketplace of ideas,” self-governance, the self-actualizing nature of civic participation) highlight different “functions” of language, privileging some categories of language and leaving others unprotected. And because language ideologies often link certain “types” of people to certain “types” of language, it is difficult to talk about freedom of speech without implicitly making judgments about who has the right or privilege to speak. Using a linguistic anthropological approach that is sensitive to the hidden assumptions undergirding debates about censorship specifically and about “voice” and power more generally, I hope to render well-worn political stalemates in a new light and maybe even create new possibilities for understanding in an especially fractious climate.

 

Are you a current or past grantee and want to be featured in a mini-interview on our blog? Contact Daniel (dsalas@wennergren.org) to find out more.

Interview with Jessica Hardin on “Exchange and Health: Negotiating the Meaning of Food and Body among Evangelical Christians in Independent Samoa”

typical to'onai, 'Sunday lunch' including meat-based soups, umu, 'earth-oven,' foods like palusami, taro leaves cooked in coconut cream, ulu, 'breadfruit,' and fa'i, 'banana.'

Jessica Hardin is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at Brandeis University. In 2011 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Exchange and Health: Negotiating the Meaning of Food and Body among Evangelical Christians in Independent Samoa” supervised by Dr. Richard J. Parmentier. We interviewed Jessica to learn more about the complicated business of food, reciprocity and disease in the Polynesian nation.

 

 

 

I’d like to start with a general question to “set the stage”. In Samoa, how do moral concepts come to bear in the consumption of food?

I think the best way to start answering this big question is with the words of my interlocutor and friend. During an interview, a physician I will call Tina responded to my question about risk and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including type II diabetes and hypertension, by saying  “just being Samoan, that’s the biggest risk factor [for developing NCDs].”  She went on to explain that the risk is tied to the pressures of food consumption and reciprocity. There is no better way to say this than to say that eating, cooking, and serving food in Samoa is complicated business.  Learning who to serve, when to serve, and what to serve are lessons first learned by youth as they crowd back kitchens while elders conduct the affairs of funerals, church openings, or title bestowals. Presenting and giving food gifts comes in two forms: trays of food for consumption and pigs and boxes of tinned food for exchange. On these trays are piles of foods cooked from the umu, ‘earth oven,’ including many different kinds of meat, and sometimes Samoan-Chinese foods. These trays and cases of food define hierarchies and provide individuals and families with a sense of food-based well-being. While anthropologists often focus on the hierarchy-making capacity of food gifts, what I have found striking is the degree to which my interlocutors experience the pressure to be sure everyone has the appropriate portions, and that the aesthetics of the tray are correct, as a moral issue.  When successfully achieved, individuals and their families are offered a sense of embodied wellness.

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