Institutional Development Grant: Royal Thimphu College in Bhutan

Anthropology of Development students at Royal Thimphu College, Bhutan

The Wenner-Gren Foundation is pleased to announce the 2016 Institutional Development Grant Recipient, Bhutan’s Royan Thimphu College! We interviewed the grant’s administrator, Dr. Ritu Verma, to learn more about the institution and the challenges facing the discipline in her country.

 

First can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be interested in anthropology?

Anthropology was always been a subject area that fascinated me, even though I didn’t begin my career as an anthropologist. I actually started my career as a civil engineer, but was a fan of popular anthropological works such as the film “Ring of Fire: an Indonesian Odyssey” by anthropologists and filmmakers Lawrence and Lorne Blair. During my tenure as a professional engineer, I worked on international development infrastructure projects around the world, and was deeply concerned about the social, cultural and environmental impacts of such projects on people, their communities and environments, but didn’t have the knowledge or skills to address them. My engineering degree didn’t provide the tools or the conceptual foundation to systematically analyze the impacts, socio-political relations and resistance to such projects.

Dr. Ritu Verma

This interest drew me to pursue a Masters Degree in International Relations/International Development at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Canada, which was supported by a NPSIA scholarship and the Norma Walmsley Award. Making the transition from the biophysical sciences to the social sciences was one of the most challenging, yet academically exciting times of my life. During that first year of transition, I was exposed to new engaging fields of study such as anthropology and flourished intellectually. I was attracted to the idea of ethnography, and spending extended periods of time on the ground with people who are most affected by development and scientific interventions not of their choosing. My Masters degree provided me the opportunity to learn and engage in anthropological debates (including the deepening and problematization of earlier popular anthropological representations of the so-called “third world”), and to carry out my thesis, my first body of ethnographic research on agriculture, soil fertility and natural resource management in Western Kenya, which received distinction and was published by IDRC in 2001.

From this intellectual awakening, I applied and was accepted to doctoral programmes in anthropology in the USA, UK and the Netherlands. I chose to carry out my Ph.D. at the Department of Anthropology at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and was awarded the SOAS Research Student Fellowship, the Overseas Research Scholarship, the ASA/Radcliffe Brown Trust Fund Award and the Canadian Centennial Women’s Scholarship. My doctoral research on the disconnects between the socio-cultural and working worlds of development practitioners and those of Betsileo farmers in the Central Highlands of Madagascar, indicated how development shapes the lives of so many actors. My subsequent research with international development research institutions in East and Southern Africa and the Himalayas, deepened my interest in development alternatives that value culture and spirituality. Thus, from popular representations, to critical academic and applied perspectives, anthropology has been a strong guiding force in my career that eventually led me to Bhutan.

Dr. Ritu Verma with Anthropology of Development students, graduation day 2015

Who have been the anthropologists that have most influential in your own personal formation and why?

During my Masters degree, I was inspired by and received enormous support from anthropologists such as Dr. Villia Jefremovas, Dr. Joachim Voss, and a critical geographer greatly dedicated to ethnography, Dr. Fiona Mackenzie, author of “Selective Silence”. Seminal works in the anthropology of development such as “the Anti-Politics Machine” by Dr. James Ferguson, “False Forest History” by Dr. James Fairhead”, “Negotiating Local Knowledge” by Johan Pottier, “Laboratory Life” by Dr. Bruno Latour, “Cultivating Development” by Dr. David Mosse, and “Battlefields of Knowledge” by Dr. Norman Long, fundamentally influenced my own thinking about development. Having worked in the development industry, as an engineer and anthropologist – I felt they profoundly captured the socio-cultural, political-economic and ecological effects of development projects on people and their environments. Given that much of development is dominated by the bio-physical sciences, these works illustrated the way scientific facts are socially constructed and power-laden, how power and socio-cultural networks shape the deployment of development, and the way local cultural-spiritual understanding and managing natural environments are marginalized within dominant forms of development. These anthropologists would later play important roles in my academic and professional career. For instance, I received tremendous support, encouragement and invaluable intellectual guidance during my Ph.D. from Dr. James Fairhead, Dr. Johan Pottier and Dr. Christopher Davis. The above themes were at the heart of my Ph.D. thesis about the disconnects within development, and social and cultural relations that shape the development machine. With the mentoring of influential anthropologists and first-hand experience about the failures of conventional development approaches, I have recently been exploring conceptual and policy innovations, as well as gaps in ethnography, of Bhutan’s alternative development path of Gross National Happiness. In turn, sharing knowledge and experiences about the complexities of development and culture with budding Bhutanese anthropologists, in the same wonderful anthropological tradition I have been privileged to be part of, provides great motivation and sense of continuity.

 

Final year students with guest lecturer Lama Shenphen Zangpo during a Buddhist Social Theory class

Can you tell us a little about anthropology in Bhutan? What are the pressing questions and concerns for the discipline there?

Bhutan represents both a relatively unstudied anthropological and ethnographic terrain as well as a country where there is a dearth of anthropological analytical expertise required to support a nation that is facing numerous socio-cultural and development challenges as it negotiates globalized world. It is regarded as the least anthropologically studied belt in the Buddhist Himalayas. The opportunities for anthropologists to carry out research on Gross National Happiness – the country’s guiding philosophy for development that holds culture in equal weight with other domains of development (sustainable and equitable development, environmental conservation, good governance) – are significant. Over the past few decades, tertiary education has evolved and developed in promising ways (with formal national education system and universal education coming into force in the 1950s), albeit with acute under-representation of anthropology. At the beginning of this millennium, anthropology was still in its infancy in Bhutan. Today, Bhutan continues to lag behind in developing the academic discipline of anthropology. There are a handful of qualified anthropologists with Ph.D.s in the country, with new promising scholars about to join its ranks – all obtaining their degrees internationally. Although anthropological research on the impacts of rapid socio-cultural and political-economic change requires urgent attention, the knowledge and capacity available to carry out and analyze such research, train doctoral scholars, and to advise on policy-relevant questions remains a critical gap within the country. As anthropologist Dorji Penjore notes, “if the Bhutanese education planners had exercised their foresights, anthropology, not sociology, should have been a more useful course to study Bhutan, a nation of villages and farmers… If anthropology is the study of human culture and the hallmark of Bhutan’s nation is founded on the national goal of preserving and promoting its unique cultural identity, how paradoxical it is that the anthropology is neither taught at the Bhutanese colleges nor is there a formal anthropological study of Bhutan”. Currently, there exists no doctoral program in anthropology in Bhutan. Within such a context, ethnographic research is extremely rare and the discipline is exceptionally under-represented while facing highly limited resources for its development. At the same time, this gap also represents an important and timely opportunity to develop a doctoral program in anthropology in Bhutan. This is especially pertinent at a time when the demand for a doctoral program in anthropology is increasing with a small critical mass of senior anthropologists who can support such a vision.

 

Is anthropology a subject that attracts students in the Bhutan?  

This is very much the case. Given the unique importance that Bhutan places on culture, and especially cultural resilience and promotion, as enshrined in the conceptual framework of Gross National Happiness, the attraction to anthropology is strong. Also, given the incredible influence of Vajrayana Buddhism in the country, where spiritual and cultural beliefs intermingle in profound ways, anthropology holds a special place. Students who are exposed to concepts and methodologies of anthropology are captured by its history, its ability to represent indigenous voices, and the analytical depth of lived experience captured by ethnography. Through anthropology, they are exposed to different cultural practices, norms and beliefs from around the world. In a country that was isolated from the world until 1959, tuned into television and internet in 1999, and became the world’s newest democracy in 2008, this provides an incredible treasure-house of knowledge and engagement with the world. Although Bhutan values an alternative and middle path to development that challenges GDP, materialism and environmental degradation so often associated with conventional understanding of ‘progress’, this recent paradoxical exposure to the outside world, has also resulted in rapid socio-cultural changes. Anthropology provides a valuable field of knowledge and methodology to view, document, attribute meaning to and protect important cultural practices in the face of globalization. While unemployment rates in Bhutan are not high compared to other countries, when combined with rural-urban migration, rapidly changing cultural identities and economic changes, these issues are of growing concern, and finding jobs is something that increasingly concerns students. The few anthropologists who have obtained Ph.D.s, have gone on to hold important leadership, policy-making, research and tertiary educational positions in the country, thereby making important contributions to nation-building and shaping the country in significant ways.

 

RTC campus

Can you tell us about your department, its specialties and how the award will help your department as it moves forward?

Royal Thimphu College is Bhutan’s first private college, and as such, it strives to do things differently and innovatively. It takes a student-centred approach to teaching and learning, which has yielded important results, including RTC graduates taking all the top positions in the highly valued Civil Service examination in 2014 and 2015. RTC’s faculty and student body is diverse, with lecturers and visiting fellows spanning the globe, and representing many disciplines, including anthropology. The student has slightly more women than men, and is composed of a mix of private tuition, those with scholarships from the Royal Government of Bhutan based on academic excellence and needs-basis, and sports scholarships supported jointly by RTC and the Bhutan Olympic committee. The college was officially inaugurated on July 18, 2009 by Her Majesty, Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck, Royal Grandmother of Bhutan. RTC has 4 departments, including the department of Sociology and Political Science. RTC is of one of the only colleges offering anthropology-focused courses in the country. Although presently under the Sociology and Political Science Program, anthropology is envisioned to become part of a new Social Science Program, together with Political Science and Sociology. The department currently has seven faculty, two of whom are senior anthropologists with Ph.D.s, and five who have graduate degrees in anthropology and political science (and two of who are in the process of carrying out their Ph.D.s.). Although RTC does not have a graduate or a doctoral program in anthropology, the need for a doctoral program that supports high quality ethnographic research in Bhutan is urgent. The department regularly receives requests for M.A.s and Ph.D.s in anthropology and has hosted international visiting faculty interested in ethnographic research in Bhutan, including a Fullbright Scholar, albeit on a limited and ad hoc basis. Given the lack of an institutional framework and financial resources to further the field of anthropology, it has not been able to systematically develop this aspect of the college. However, it benefits from the valued support of its Deans and esteemed Board of Governors, and most notably, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who is the Chancellor of Royal University of Bhutan, under which RTC is affiliated. With the important support of the award, RTC can now dedicate the expertise of senior anthropologists and resources for important enabling activities, for the development of such a program, given the critical gap that exists in the discipline in the country. The Grant has also enabled the establishment of a significant partnership with esteemed anthropologists at the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles (Dr. Akhil Gupta, Dr. Nancy Levine and Dr. Sherry Ortner), whose guidance, academic exchange and intellectual resources for the development of the doctoral program are invaluable.

Meet Our 2016 Wadsworth African Fellow: Kefiloe Sello

Meet our Wadsworth African Fellow for 2016 – Lesotho’s Kefiloe Sello, who will be studying at the University of Cape Town.

I am pursuing a PhD in Environmental Humanities under Social Anthropology based on the fact that most times environmental concerns are left to the natural and geographical sciences. With Anthropological background, I am able to merge my understating of environment to human behaviour and offer insight into how moving forward we can implement policies, technologies and behaviours that are ‘environment friendly’. This research is inspired by my own life, my two lives: the life I knew, and the life I was forced to know due to resettlement. The life I was forced to know was professed to give me a better life but instead I experienced precariousness, as my family got battered, scotched and withered. I hope my research will introduce narratives on beliefs and resilience, accounts of  rural souls in urban settings.

I grew up in the highlands of Lesotho. The first time I came across a computer was when I got to university, ultimately I failed the computing course because I did not have enough exposure and experience.  Later on in life I co-founded a foundation (www.herchancetobe.org) which offers scholarships to girls from rural areas of Lesotho an opportunity to go to the best schools in Lesotho, so that they may have a better chance at life and education, and to break the poverty cycle that entraps them.

How I came to know about Anthropology is that while registered for Political Science, beginning of second year at National University of Lesotho, I accompanied a friend to her class. The lecturer was deliberating on women and development. I never went back to my politics. I found Anthropology to be the most practical discipline, addressing social Issues, causations and probable solutions in a manner that can be grasped by all. I have come a long way since then. I was awarded a Margaret McNamara Memorial Grant for commitment to children and Women in 2012 while pursing a Masters degree at the University of Cape Town. I have also co-authored a book on Marginality, Mobility and Reconfiguration of Social Relations in Africa, in which I address issues on women, identity and negotiation of space.

SAPIENS is Live!

 

Today’s the day – SAPIENS is live!

We’ve come a long way, and the Web’s home for everything anthropology is now free and available for you to enjoy. Remember to check back often: You’ll see new content throughout the week.

We hope you like SAPIENS as much as we’ve loved building it. And we’re just getting started!

As with any new website, there are sure to be a few rough spots, so if you come across anything that needs to be fixed, please let us know so that we can continue to improve the site.

Enjoy, and thanks for your support!

The SAPIENS Team

NYAS @ WGF: “The strange case of Homo naledi, our newest extinct relative” [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

**IMPORTANT NOTE**: Beginning with this meeting, interested parties will have to PRE-REGISTER with THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES prior to attending.

Monday, January 25, 2016

NYAS returns for the first lecture of 2016! It’s a big one, folks. The New York Academy of Science and the Wenner-Gren Foundation welcome William Harcourt-Smith (American Museum of Natural History) and Scott Williams (New York University) to discuss one of the biggest anthropology stories of last year, and perhaps even this century. Our president, Leslie C. Aiello, will act as discussant.

The new hominin species, Homo naledi, was discovered in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system in late 2013 and announced to the world just a few months ago. Based on over 1,500 identifiable remains, ranging from infants to the elderly, H. naledi is known from nearly every bone, and represents one of the largest and most complete discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology. The combination of anatomical features demonstrated in this assemblage suggests to us that it is both a member of the genus Homo and that it represents a new species. The geological and depositional context of the remains is also highly unusual. The Dinaledi Chamber, where the remains were discovered, is both virtually devoid of non-hominin fauna and extremely difficult to access, which are probably related. We discuss the skeletal morphology and inferred evolutionary position of H. naledi, as well as the implications of the unusual context of this discovery.

There will be a dinner and reception at 6PM: free for students; $20 for others.
The Lecture will be begin at 7PM.

Once again, pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ed Wilmsen and ‘Pottery, Clays, and Lands: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Social Dimensions of Pottery in Botswana’

 

Dr. Wilmsen presenting at the workshop.

Ed Wilmsen is Honorary Fellow of the Centre for African studies in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. In 2013, he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Pottery, Clays, and Lands: An Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Social Dimensions of Pottery in Botswana’. Last year he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Reciprocal Relations: Expanding the Benefits of Research in the Study Area’ in his former field site of Botswana, working with local potters to increase exposure for their wares, and holding film screenings and seminars to share research with the local populace as well as professional archaeologists.

The initial museum seminar on June 10 included the Director of the Archaeology Unit plus other personnel and was focused mainly on recurrent concerns about the relevance of ethnographic observations for interpreting archaeological data as well as on the potential impact of new legislation regarding access to mineral resources.  Clay is specifically included in this legislation, but the very loose wording of the document makes it unclear if it applies to small scale operators such as the village potters with whom we have been engaged.  Two subsequent UB seminars included Professor Kalabamu, Head of the UB Department of Architecture and Planning, Professor Boipuso, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, both of whom are actively engaged with developments in minerals and more generally proposals concerning access to resources, as well as Professor Fred Morton (UB History) and visiting Professor Coulson (University of Oslo Archaeology) who has many years experience in the country.  The consensus reached at all these meetings was that future free, or affordable low cost, access to raw materials by potters could be in jeopardy and urgent steps must be taken to clarify the matter.  Wilmsen and Griffiths subsequently consulted Dr. Jeffress Ramsay, Director of Communications in the Office of the President and a doctoral student of Wilmsen, who informed us that this matter was recognized and steps were being considered to exempt small scale producers under specified conditions.  Nonetheless, this remains a matter of concern and needs to be monitored.

Another matter of considerable concern was voiced particularly by a curator in the National Museum Ethnography Section.  This is that, although pottery making inBotswanais undergoing a significant revival, there is an increasing tendency for potters to adopt mechanical, mainly foot or electric powered potting wheels, rather than traditional modes of manufacture.  The fear is that a significant facet of Tswana heritage will be lost to future generations, and the question is how to stimulate sufficient interest – not only among producers but also purchasers – to sustain these traditional modes.

Mr. Kebalo Manase (Right)

The workshop took place in the Little Theater of theNationalMuseumand was opened with welcoming remarks by Mr. Louis Moroka, Deputy Director of Archaeology.  Wilmsen then gave a brief overview of the genesis and progression of our work with potters including a history of its funding by Wenner-Gren and others.  This was followed by the screening of the film.  Griffiths then discussed the key social features depicted in the film including traditional and contemporary constraints on resource procurement as aspects of land tenure.  After which Wilmsen explained the technical steps taken by Pilikwe potters in transforming rotted granite into clay and the analytic procedures we use to trace potting materials to their geologic source and how such data aid in identifying prehistoric social interactions.  Thebe summed up the foregoing in relation to common problems in ethnographic and archaeological research.

The workshop was attended by a total of 54 individuals prominent among whom was Mr. Kebalo Manase, Registrar of the National Land Tribunal, UB professors and students as noted above, all museum research staff, representatives of several Botswana CRM organizations, Botswana Society members, as well as media reporters/photographers including Ms. Rosalind Kwenye, Editor of Women-to-Women magazine.  A lively discussion followed the presentations with the principal issues summarized above receiving the greatest attention; personal discussions continued for some time over tea and biscuits in the museum courtyard.

Potters watching film

Village visits

The village visits produced some surprises, with most of these at Pilikwe.  Five of the potters in this village with whom we worked in 2006-2013 were able to meet with us: Gobotsamang Motonto, Fred Motonto, Balemogeng Motswapong, Batlhalefi Gaobatlelwe, and Gathanang Galenamongwe.  The oldest, Dineo Batsalelwang, has died, and Otsetswe Senonki’s son is in Palapye hospital where she is staying with him.  The youngest two, Moipone Oatametse and Omphile Kakwanda, have taken jobs in Palapye.  This reflects substantial changes taking place in the village where major (relative to the area) infrastructural upgrading by District Council is taking place.  The women who met with us continue to make pots and wish to be able to increase their output but are restrained by lack of access to materials and markets.  They pointed to our 2010 article on their potting in the Air Botswana inflight magazine Peolwane which had brought several tourists to Pilikwe who bought many pots; we were given a new pot in gratitude for this.  Their response to our tale of museum fears for the loss of traditional pot-making was amusing – but telling: “we don’t want to stay ‘traditional’, we want production”, and specified a foot-powered potting wheel and a motor-powered clay grinder as most desirable.  Nonetheless, as their rapt attention to our film testifies, they still have a deep interest in their traditional ways.

The situation in Manaledi could hardly be more different.  There traditional potting is thriving, and Mma Lebonetse has a young apprentice, her niece, Galeboeng, and five other potters have their entire cash income from potting.  The reasons for this difference are largely a matter of geographical location.  Pilikwe is being absorbed in the periphery of the Palapye labor catchment area.  Palapye is now called “Botswana’s Powerhouse” because all electricity generating takes place here, all north-south-west highways and railways intersect here, and the Botswana Institute of Science and Technology with 800 students opened two years ago.  This has brought a newly repaved, widened road to Pilikwe with regular bus service between Pilikwe and Palapye just 34km away; consequently, new employment opportunities have appeared as Moipone and Omphile can testify.  Traditional ways, especially if they entail heavy work as does old style potting, tend to seem less desirable.  In contrast, Manaledi is 65km from Palapye; about half this distance is on a narrow road paved to the village turnoff from whence it is a dirt track.  There is no electricity and no public transport.  On the positive side, Manaledi potting clay is a short walk away and donkey carts are readily available to haul the load home.  Under such conditions, traditional ways seem normal.  Manaledi potters do want more market exposure and among our plans for the future are to devise ways to accomplish this.

Addendum

In addition to the Wenner-Gren funded engagements,Griffithswas able to schedule aa supplementary meeting of her Law and Commerce class in the graduate program in Women and Law at theUniversityofZimbabwein early July at which we screened our film and followed this with a lengthy discussion session.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Karen Rignall and “Transforming Landscapes, Transforming Communities in a Moroccan Oasis Valley”

Karen Rignall is Assistant Professor of Community and Leadership Development in the College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment at the University of Kentucky. In 2009, while a student at the University of Kentucky, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Expanding Cultivation, Land, and Livelihood Transformations in Southern Morocco,’ supervised by Dr. Lisa Cliggett. She used the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to the Mgoun Valley in southern Morocco in early 2014.

I returned to the Mgoun Valley in southern Morocco in early 2014 to initiate a process of collective community-based learning and dialogue about the social and spatial transformations that formed the basis of my dissertation research there in 2010.  My goal was to use a model developed in the refugee camps of Palestine, to support people’s constructive engagement with the social dimensions of landscape transformation rather than to simply present the results of my dissertation. The ensuing year revealed much about how those social dynamics were in even greater flux than during my fieldwork, and how the politics of knowledge production in my research were bound up with these changing social dynamics. The result was an engaged anthropology project that looked very different from my initial plans but that nonetheless produced a sustained dialogue about subsistence claims, land rights, and political representation and engaged a much wider audience than my initial research had. This project produced new and collaborative learning, building my relationships and laying the groundwork for more research in the future.

The initial phase of the project involved working with a local NGO to hold dialogues with different groups to actively reinterpret the spaces in which they live, spaces that had been transformed through expanded agricultural production and housing construction over the past few decades. Rather than work with the local village development association, however, I decided to partner with the Réseau des Associations de Tinghir pour la Démocratie et Développement (RATDED), a province-wide network of NGOs that included the local groups with which I was familiar but engaged in broader collaborative efforts to link community development with substantive economic and political rights. We began the process of community dialogues but found that the project plan — though intended to counter the standard approaches to local development — was still divorced from the social and political dynamics that were already engaging people in my research communities. There were existing sites for people to reimagine their landscapes. People were doing so in the context of existing informal governance institutions, negotiations over land rights in newly opened up frontiers, and social dialogue forums RATDED was already holding. Our meetings began to appear burdensome and in some cases redundant. The Palestinian model remained very compelling to me, but I understood that I would need to be present in Mgoun on a consistent basis, as the Palestinian program is, in order to fully integrate this project into the processes of dialogue already going on. Though I was able to visit for two months in 2014 and one month in early 2015, this was simply not enough to organically link my structured discussions with the often politically charged discussions others were brokering on the same themes.

Rethinking our approach produced interesting insights about the politics of knowledge production. Since the reflexive turn three decades ago, anthropologists have addressed the issue of power and inequality in the research encounter by emphasizing the dialogic nature of our methods and how our politicized understanding of knowledge can mitigate the claims to authority embedded in more strictly positivist approaches. I had thought that framing my research in this critical tradition would resonate with people’s increasingly politicized approach to land tenure and government representation in recent years. But our interlocutors were less invested in the qualitative, interpretive discussions than in the emerging quantitative results from a study I was simultaneously conducting with RATDED. We were doing a household survey in 18 communities to assess poverty dynamics and the impact of out-migration on land ownership, inequality, and wealth over the past fifty years. Whereas our discussions about my dissertation research appeared at times to rehash issues that people were working through in other contexts, a quantitative view of these processes stimulated broad interest. I was surprised at how such a traditional research approach in the end provoked more active engagement. I came to an uncomfortable realization that dialogic, participatory processes may — though do not necessarily — serve more to satisfy foreign researchers’ desire to come to terms with their positionality than address the concerns of people with whom we work. Residents in the valley, whether activists or not, were comfortable with a traditional research product because it offered them a tool using the same authoritative discourses as state agencies (aggregated statistics, charts, etc.) to substantiate claims that government neglect was a form of structural violence perpetuating poverty and inequality.

In the end, we opted for a more orthodox presentation of research results, combining the qualitative insights of my dissertation fieldwork with the preliminary findings of quantitative study were had just concluded. In March 2015, I traveled to the capital city, Rabat, to deliver an academic version of the presentation at the Faculty of Letters. With my Moroccan academic mentor as discussant, I addressed a mixed group of geographer and sociologists, but the main group in attendance was the over 50 undergraduates and graduate students who had organized the gathering. Many of them were from marginalized regions such as the southeastern oases, and they responded to the critical use of quantitative and qualitative data to explain socio-economic transformations they had themselves witnessed. We then held a larger colloquium based in the provincial capital of Tinghir, an hour’s drive from the Mgoun valley. I had initially resisted RATDED’s proposal to hold it there, thinking it needed to be in the valley to facilitate attendance. But when the provincial governor delivered a speech at the opening that outlined his development priorities and a major national human rights figure spoke about economic rights as human rights, I understood the import of bringing some of the region’s most marginalized residents to assert their presence in this government center. Over 150 people attended: research participants from my dissertation period and the current study, activists, NGO representatives, and government officials, and we structured the presentation of results so that the research participants were the true focus of the event. The presenter interpreted the powerpoint charts in Tashelhit, the local dialect of Berber, and used primarily non-technical terms to describe our findings. I had expected the elderly farmers and non-literate attendees to feel detached even from this more accessible language, but everyone was riveted. The hour-long presentation provoked over four hours of sometimes challenging discussions about the causes and consequences of structural poverty and inequality, land conflicts, and the role of the state. Participants told me no researcher had ever returned to the region to present their results or ask them what they thought of the findings. They asked for the research report so that they could use the results themselves; even people who were not civil society activists and had a limited command of Arabic (the report will be in Arabic and French) asked for the report so that they could keep it. I am in the process of producing this non-academic report.

This was one of the most meaningful professional experiences I have had, highlighting the need for us as researchers to remain open to all modes of discourse and to truly listen to our interlocutors to make our research relevant in the ways they find significant. This process of engagement, using what could have felt like a “second-best” strategy when our first one did not work out, did more to further collaborative research in the future that I ever could have imagined. I will be returning next year.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Margaret Crofoot and “Exploring the Jungle in the Backyard”

 

A juvenile capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus) playing shy.

Margaret Crofoot is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Davis. In 2010, while at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, she received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘Do Capuchins Punish Cheaters? Cooperation, Coalitions, and Social Sanctions in Cebus capucinus Intergroup Aggression’. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant, which allowed her to return to her fieldsite and lead field trips bringing children from surrounding communities to observe researchers about their work.

Keeping one eye on the capuchins while listening to the excited voices coming slowly towards me up the trail, I always have a moment of anticipation: will they notice the monkeys over their heads, or will I get to point them out? One of the best parts of studying primate behavior at an easily accessible field-site like the one the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute runs on Barro Colorado Island in Panama is getting to introduce visitors to my study subjects and share my discoveries with them. Monkeys overcome even the most extreme teenage nonchalance, and capuchins are particularly mischievous and engaging.

I’ve been doing research in Panama for more than ten years, and  time and again, when people find out where I work—at dinner parties, in taxis, once in a hospital emergency room—I hear stories about the school trip they took to Barro Colorado Island (BCI), all the things they saw, and what an impression it left. The experience of exploring a tropical forest with scientists seems to resonate and have a large and lasting impact. This is why, when the Wenner-Gren Foundation announced their new Engaged Anthropology program, I saw an exciting opportunity to be able to sponsor field trips for schools that would otherwise be unable to afford to come to BCI.

Scientist/guide Betzi Perez giving an introductory lecture to a group of students. Betzi first came to BCI as part of an internship program for Panamanian students run by the Smithsonian, and is now a Ph.D. student at McGill University in Canada.

In the last year, Oris Acevedo—BCI’s scientific coordinator—and I have worked together to bring over 200 elementary and high-school aged students to this international hotspot for tropical research to explore the jungle and learn about the science being done in their backyard. To reach the island, classes transit part of the Panama Canal. They are met by one of the Smithsonian’s scientist guides, who gives a short talk about the history of the research station, and about the animals and plants the students will see in the forest.

The group then heads into the forest to see what they can find.  The Smithsonian’s guides are extremely knowledgeable about the plants and animals that live on BCI, and the research that has been done on them, so forest walks end up as part-scavenger hunt, part-impromptu mini lecture on whatever the group happens to encounter.

A group of 7th and 9th grade science students from the Centro Educativo Básico General Residencial Vista Alegre in the forest on Barro Colorado Island.

As part of their continuing education, the Smithsonian guides run a monthly seminar series, and they invited me to give two lectures on the behavior and ecology of Panamanian primates, highlighting my work on cooperation in capuchins which the Wenner-Gren Foundation funded.

For me, one of the highlights of this project was hosting a class of students from the Centro Educativo Básico General Residencial Vista Alegre, taught by my former student-intern Nena Robles. Nena worked with me for a year on my Wenner-Gren funded study of group cooperation during territorial conflicts in capuchin monkeys, before going on to get her Masters at the University of Torino in Italy. Helping Nena to bring her students—the next generation of Panamanian scientists—out to the field station where she got her start with research was really the epitome of what I think this outreach project can achieve.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Philip W. Scher and ‘The Politics of Historic Preservation and the Development of Heritage Tourism in Barbados’

Philip W. Scher is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. In 2011, he received the Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on ‘The Politics of Historic Preservation and the Development of Heritage Tourism in Barbados’. He then received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his Caribbean fieldsite and share his research with local educators.

In 2012 I spent six weeks conducting research in Barbados as part of a much larger project begun in 2008-2009. Much of my fieldwork involved interviews with educators in Barbados as I sought to gain insights from them as to the role of history and historical knowledge in the formation of Barbadian identities and Barbadian economic and social policies. During many of these interviews teachers expressed an interest in developing training that would allow them to understand the latest intellectual developments in the scholarship of heritage and bring that information to their students and fellow teachers. In the wake of the newly designated World Heritage Site of Bridgetown and its Garrison stakeholders wanted to think strategically about how historical sites are engaged by local constituents, about oral histories of local residents in these spaces regarding who worked there, who built them and who maintains them today and about intangible cultural heritage as a key element in safeguarding these important spaces.

With this in mind, then, two of my colleagues in Barbados, Dr. Tara Inniss of the Department of History at the University of the West Indies and Dr. Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society planned a workshop and lecture that would introduce local educators to some of the basic ideas of heritage studies.  Our hope was to focus on the people who participated in or observed past events in the World Heritage Property and whose memories and perceptions of these spaces are to be preserved as an aural record for future generations. The variety of perspectives generated by such interviews should prove to be an interesting addition to the written historical record and may offset the general perception that these historical sites are preserved either in the interests of the former colonizers or tourists or both. As the workshop began to take shape it was decided, based on feedback, to focus on one specific intangible cultural practice that many in Barbados feel is in danger of disappearing: the Barbados Landship.

Briefly, the Barbados Landship and its partner the Tuk Band are the most commonly seen Barbadian expressive cultural forms at public ceremonies, days of commemoration, visits by dignitaries etc. The Landship is both a Friendly Society of the type quite common in the Caribbean and its diaspora, as well as a performance tradition. It is known for its unique uniforms, parades, and carefully choreographed dances. During the heyday of the Landship, in the late 19th and early 20th century a large number of Landships existed across Barbados and many younger Barbadians today can point to one or another family member that had been involved in some way, most proudly as captains.

Landships are noteworthy because the organization was founded on a creolized replication of the ranks, discipline and orders of the British Navy. Members are known by ranks, are dressed in naval uniforms and march and perform “maneuvers” to the music of the Tuk Band, a fife and drum ensemble.

The Landship presents a unique challenge in the safeguarding of cultural heritage as it is universally touted as being a fundamental aspect of Barbadian identity, yet it has very few practitioners left. The question we wanted to address in our workshop and in the lecture and discussion was: is Landship capable of being maintained? If so, what are the mechanisms by which the tradition may be carried on, if not, what other ways may the tradition be remembered?

The workshop and lecture took place over a three-day period from February 16th to February 19th of 2015. The workshop was held at the University of West Indies and was open to anyone interested in the subject. The lecture and discussion session took place on the grounds of the Barbados Museum. The workshop lasted several hours and was attended primarily by scholars and those interested in heritage tourism, but also by key figures in the Landship movement itself.   The themes ranged from the historical and political context of Landhsip to the UNESCO conventions on safeguarding intangible heritage. The lecture gave an analytical and theoretical framework for understanding Landship in the broader context of heritage studies and was based on my previous research into these issues. The lecture was free and open to the public and was well attended and followed by a lively discussion.

In general the two activities produced a focus on what we began to define as heritage relevance. That is, many were concerned not only with heritage as a set of cultural practices that could be preserved in some kind of static way, but in creating opportunities around traditions that increasingly kept such activities relevant to younger Barbadians; and not simply as aspects of the expansion of heritage tourism products.

The generous support of the Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant provided us with the opportunity to begin to develop a conversation about heritage in the Caribbean that expands beyond both economic utility or simple preservation tactics and school programs. This conversation, we hope, will continue and will add sophistication and nuance to government policies about the future of Barbadian culture and heritage. The grant has also fundamentally improved my own thinking about the subject of Caribbean heritage and resulted in an article about Landship that includes many of the ideas generated in the workshop.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Benjamin Valentine and “Fostering Multi-Vocal and Interdisciplinary Approaches in Indian Archaeology Through Broader Engagements with Indus Civilization Migration”

Benjamin Valentine is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Isotopic Perspectives on Migration and Identity: A View From the Harappan Hinterland,’ supervised by Dr. John Krigbaum. Last year, he was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to his fieldsite and share his research on this ancient Indian civilization with a diverse group of experts and laypeople.

Writing about the enigmatic nature of the Indus (or Harappan) Civilization, John Keay wrote in India: A History (2000), “Here too was a society with a distinct and extensive culture but, barring some not very helpful bones, no people, indeed without a single name.” His puzzlement is in many ways justified, but his characterization of the bones is due for an update. Although the South Asian peoples who authored one of the earliest urban societies left behind very few burials and skeletal remains, the bones that have been discovered are yielding surprising insights on the ways that individuals contributed to patterns of interregional interactions during the third millennium BC. By analyzing archaeological human tooth enamel for isotopes of strontium, lead, and oxygen, I have helped fill in the missing life‑histories of migration and mobility for individuals in the Indus Civilization cemeteries at Harappa (Pakistan), Farmana (India), and Sanauli (India). I have had the privilege of developing new models of early urban interaction using new analytical methods on some very old bones, but the bones cannot speak back to me and offer up their own interpretations. As a Wenner‑Gren Engaged Anthropology grantee, I was able to return to India and find out how my fellow academics and laypersons alike found meaning in the biogeochemical data.

I travelled to visit my colleagues in the Indian cities of Pune, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Delhi and spoke with diverse audiences to share the results of my work. I gave formal talks, participated in more casual fora, and solicited individualized feedback in the hopes of learning new ways to enrich the isotopic narrative. Likewise, I spoke with physical scientists, established archaeologists, students, and laypersons with each group offering a unique perspective and sense of how to proceed with the research. I shared my hypothesis that an ancient institution of fosterage helped to connect disparate peoples and discussed the potential impacts of this practice on broader cultural trajectories of continuity and change. The responses were variable, but several themes emerged. Some people perceived a new kind of legitimacy and command of the past in the application of multi‑disciplinary scientific methods. For others, the scientific narrative deserved no special weight. In considering the individual‑level data generated by isotope analysis, many people dwelled on what the personal experiences may have been like for the ancient migrants, their birth communities, and the receiving societies. Often, the inference of emotions in the distant past (typically revolving around familial separation) appeared to influence perceptions of the fosterage hypothesis as more or less credible. To various degrees, many I spoke with found elements of modern or historical practices in archaeological behaviors and vice versa.

Whether speaking with colleagues in the Archaeological Survey of India and the academy or more general audiences in the Center for Art and Archaeology in Gurgaon and elsewhere, the grant program also gave me an important platform for stimulating new dialogues on topics that to some have seemed obscure or inaccessible. Physical scientists at IIT Gandhinagar in Ahmedabad and laypersons alike seemed to appreciate the new perspectives on an old subject. Of course, many of the most engaged responses came from students at the Institute of Archaeology in Delhi and Deccan College in Pune. The biogeochemical methods that I used for my doctoral research remain uncommon in Indian archaeology, and students were quick to grapple with both the practical and theoretical implications of isotopic techniques for the disciplinary status quo. In this, I am hopeful that my Engaged Anthropology experience has helped to foster a more multi‑vocal archaeology and broadened the ways that people can engage with the past.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Hiba Bou Akar and “Talking Sectarianism: Community Workshops on Urban Planning, the Built Environment, and the Fear of the Religious Other in Beirut’s Suburbs”

Hiba Bou Akar is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and Middle East Studies at Hampshire College. In 2009, as a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berkeley, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Rebuilding the Center, Expanding the Frontier: Reconstructing Post-War(s) Beirut, Lebanon’ supervised by Dr. Teresa P. Caldeira. She received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and host a series of workshops designed to impart her research to local scholars and the community that hosted her.

Between 1975 and 1990, Beirut was synonymous with war, chaos, and violence. The city endured a long civil war where sectarian divisions among Christians, Shiite, Sunnis, and Druze played a major role. While the 1990s were seemingly a peaceful period of reconstruction, sectarian violence returned to the city in 2008, bringing back with it the specters of the civil war. Beirut, often described as divided between a Christian East and Muslim West along the “green line,” has been dissected since by hundreds of “green lines,” transforming many a neighborhood in a new logic of contestation and war. My Wenner Gren-funded dissertation research (2009-2010) examined the spatial production of three of Beirut’s peripheries-turned-frontiers by investigating the spatial practices that have shaped them as frontiers of sectarian violence and feverish urban growth. My dissertation study showed how, since the 1990s, spatial contestation, conflict, and war have occurred less through manifest violence (of rifles, tanks, and canons) and more through the production of a spatial order of political difference within what I call the spatial and temporal logics of the war yet to come. Instead of approaching war as a temporal aberration in the flow of events, with a beginning and an end, the study has focused on how war, violence, and their anticipation have become governing modalities of Beirut’s southern peripheries, regulating their urban growth and poverty, marginality and violence. Key actors in the production of these geographies are the main Lebanese religious-political organizations including the Shiite Hezbollah, the Sunni Future Movement, and the Druze PSP, and Christian Maronite religious-political groups. Examples of these practices include contradictory urban planning policies, discriminatory property laws, uneven provision of infrastructure, and the militarization of everyday life.

Nowadays, as a result, many of these peripheries-turned-frontiers neighborhoods —especially lower income areas— are in dire environmental conditions. They suffer from poor infrastructure, lack of tenure security, congestion, pollution, the destruction of the few remaining green spaces, and a fear of the religious Other living across the street. They are also characterized by political stalemate and the fragmentation of decision-making powers. Several community groups are currently organizing to raise local awareness around the significance of improving the living conditions in these contested peripheries. They are also working to garner the support of public agencies, religious political organizations, and aid organizations to bring about social change.

During the summer and winter of 2014, with the help of an Engaged Anthropology Grant (EAG), I started the process of sharing my work with a number of these community groups and residents by holding several informal meetings in two of my research sites. The participants came from diverse political spectrum. The meetings were vibrant with discussions and debates about the history and politics of the area. We also often discussed the possibilities of thinking of the built environment as common grounds to work across political and sectarian dividing lines to improve the areas’ living conditions.

In addition to sharing my research findings, my aim was to use the knowledge I acquired during my field research, building on my expertise as an urban planner and my experiences a long term resident of the area to help formulate and inform on-ground interventions. The EAG grant gave me the opportunity to become involved with one non-governmental organization (NGO) in particular that is focused on urban planning issues. One of their projects focuses on improving the conditions of The Old Saida road. This road emerged in May 2008 as a bloody battle line between the Druze part of Choueifat and its neighboring Shiite Sahra Choueifat. With years of neglect and conflict, the road has become unsafe for the thousands of people who use it and live alongside it. This NGO, among others, has been successful in initiating small-scale awareness campaigns in Choueifat and surrounding areas around driving safety, building regulations, garbage disposal, etc. As they move to take on larger issues, efforts are underway to build coalitions and collaborations to build a vision for possibilities for intervention.

During the first phase of our work together, we organized several meetings/workshops to brainstorm about how to approach the issue: discussing what is feasible, who are the entities that we need to target, etc. So far my engagement has been in two capacities: First, I shared my work findings and data to explain the multitude of reasons that have transformed Choueifat into a contested frontier of violence and urban growth, and the impact of these practices on the deteriorating living conditions. Second, I shared my knowledge about urban planning interventions in contexts of conflict, informality, etc. We also had discussions on the practice of urban planning in Lebanon and the possibilities for community organizations to participate in shaping planning policies. My task was to also raise awareness about the politics of proposed planning interventions explaining the implications of each proposed project on disadvantaged populations.

What became clear in these workshops is the need to work towards building an institutional support network that could provide expertise, funding, and political support to help them formulate and realize concrete interventions. Since planning institutions practice in Lebanon does not yet have the tools that would allow for community input, we decided to initiate a participatory planning workshop that would include relevant entities (municipalities, residents, political parties, experts, public agencies, private planning practice, etc.) to discuss and agree on feasible projects to implement. The two-day workshop will be held in Choueifat in August 2015. For that purpose, I approached the UN-Habitat’s Beirut office to seek its support. For the past four years, UN-Habitat has been working on reforming urban planning practice in Lebanon and was excited to support such a project. I am also in conversations with the urban planning academic community at the American University of Beirut to ask for their input. If such workshop proved successful, UN-Habitat proposed to use it as a model for other area facing similar problems. With the NGO’s input, I am currently in the process of putting together a detailed proposal for UN-Habitat. Meanwhile, we are preparing the groundwork for the workshop (discussion points, schedule, invitees, strategies, etc.). The workshop will hopefully be the first step towards opening up dialogue for social change in these contested areas.