Engaged Anthropology Grant: Doc Billingsley

 

The author describing the research that preceded the report, with friend Jaime García (L) who served as MC and organizer

Doc Billingsley is a member of the faculty in the Department of Modern Languages, Anthropology, and Geography at Southeast Missouri State University.  In 2010, while a doctoral candidate at Washington University in St. Louis, he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Networks of Maya Knowledge Production: An Ethnography of Memory in Practice,” supervised by Dr. Bret Gustafson.  In 2015, he was awarded an Engaged Anthropology Grant, which allowed him to return to several of the key communities who participated in his research in Guatemala, sharing the results of his work in a bilingual Spanish-K’iche’ report.

In the five years since I completed my dissertation research, Guatemalan civil society has experienced a number of watershed events: from the short-lived conviction of former President Ríos Montt for genocide, to the election and eventual imprisonment of President Perez Molina after tens of thousands of citizens took up the call for an end to impunity. As I’ve observed these events unfolding and discussed their significance with my Guatemalan friends, I’ve been continually reminded that the questions I set out to study five years ago remain important for understanding the context of these democratic transformations: What is historical memory?  How are memory activists expanding the Guatemalan national narrative to include more perspectives—including the experiences of Maya communities who have suffered the greatest burdens of state-inflicted violence?  And what are the wider social and political consequences of this democratization of knowledge production?

Copies of the report lay ready for participants before the Cantel presentation

Thanks to the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation and a Fulbright-Hays award, I was able to live in Guatemala during 2010-2011, working alongside the members of several influential Maya intellectual organizations that play a role in linguistic and cultural activism.  I also became familiar with the groups of activists—primarily young, urban, and Ladino—who draw on historical memory as an organizing theme and objective in their diverse public events, from marches and graffiti campaigns to film festivals and teach-ins.  My research gradually shifted to examine the relationship between the projects of these two public spheres—Maya intellectuals and memory activists—and the broader question of how knowledge production can serve to create, shape, and unite publics.  I adopted an interviewing method for collecting historical memories from my participants.  As I coded and compared narratives from participants of different linguistic communities, age groups, and educational and class backgrounds, I was struck by how much of their knowledge about the past shared common features, patterns, and metanarrative characteristics—a common “gist” to the story of their nation’s past.  I also noted that the vision of history presented by my friends and participants differs greatly from the perspectives enshrined in Guatemala’s museums, monuments, and textbooks.  I began to imagine the possibilities for returning my findings to the communities who originally shared their experiences, showing them how much they have in common with each other and how their shared perspective may offer an alternative to the stale, racist, status quo version of Guatemalan history.

With the support of an Engaged Anthropology Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, I returned to Guatemala in June and July of 2016 to begin this new, collaborative phase in my research.  The primary objective I set out in imagining this project was to share some of my ideas about the common features of Maya historical memory, combined with excerpts of the original interviews and some discussion of the theories and methods that informed my work.  My preferred means of communicating this information was to prepare a multi-lingual written report, which could be shared and discussed following the model of a book presentation.  Based on my earlier work with Editorial Cholsamaj, I knew that published materials featuring Mayan languages or incorporating indigenous forms of knowledge are regarded as symbolically charged indicators of the rising epistemic authority of indigenous communities.  That is, regardless of the specific contents of a given book or whether the possessor has even “consumed” the literature, the very existence of the object is recognized as a sign of a revolutionary shift in access to education, citizenship, and human rights.  The public debut of printed materials also provides valuable opportunities for members of the public to participate in lively intellectual discussions about topics of interest. These events typically devote at least half of the allotted time to allow questions from the audience—a stark departure from the paltry few minutes typically reserved after a similar talk in the U.S academy.  The support provided by the Engaged Anthropology Grant, combined with the editorial assistance and goodwill of my friends at Editorial Cholsamaj, led to the just-in-time production of a visually appealing, short report containing a few key ideas from my dissertation, translated into Spanish and K’iche’.  In addition to providing the impetus for gathering in workshops, these printed reports allowed me to leave behind a small yet tangible reminder of each community’s participation in the research and discussion.

Surprises, as Expected

Discussing the research topic with the members of Editorial Cholsamaj, with reports still warm from the printers

In the course of preparing and carrying out this engagement project, I experienced several interruptions, chance encounters, and logistical challenges.  I came to think of these hiccups as “expected surprises”—I knew there would be difficulties as well as serendipitous discoveries, based on past experiences and the wise council of predecessors—Micha Rahder’s post on this very blog a year ago was especially enlightening.  Consequently, I tried whenever possible to allow for flexibility in planning, expecting surprises to come along and change my plans—sometimes for the better.  Indeed, it felt like every scheduled event was tentative, sometimes right up until its conclusion.

Some of the surprises were known to me in advance, but their full impact was only registered once I was in situ and chatting face-to-face with old friends.  Most significant for the project was the news that all of my colleagues in one organization had been dismissed by the newly-elected president of that organization—a move that is fairly typical in state politics, but a new feature in organizations associated with the Maya movements.  The economic hardships caused by their sudden lack of employment was an unwelcome sight; the lingering tension between them and the new representatives of their organization was also a complication for my plans.  Fortunately, I was able to draw on another NGO in the community to serve as the host for the local workshop—a decision which led to a more diverse audience, in the end.

Other surprises crept up at the last moment, including such happy occasions as one of my friends—and the principal organizer of one of the workshops—going into labor on the same morning we were scheduled to meet.  Nonetheless, her fellow teachers showed up in force and participated in the largest and most interactive of the workshops, in the K’iche’ town of Cantel.

Some surprises were the result of technical issues common to our digital age.  One of the four workshops was ultimately postponed until next summer, due to simple miscommunication involving email. The preparation of the report was delayed at several points by missing drafts and spotty data coverage, and the task of coordinating translations from multiple assistants required more face-to-face communication—and cross-country bus travel—than I had anticipated.  In the end, the three workshops were conducted in a three-day blitz near the end of my trip—not the most restful approach, but nonetheless a satisfyingly climactic and productive end to the trip.

Articulating historical memory: “Power,” “patterns,” and “databases”

A view of the cover of the report printed by Editorial Cholsamaj

One of my goals in this project was to extend discussions of anthropological topics—especially collective or historical memory—to broader audiences, and to evaluate and improve my understanding of the local interpretations of his concept.  I was pleasantly reassured that memoria histórica remains a peculiarly salient and widespread topic of interest in Guatemala.  The discussions that followed my presentation at each workshop were enormously valuable for me as a researcher, and many participants told me afterward that they appreciated the opportunity to gather and discuss these topics from a thoughtful perspective.

There were three comments in particular that immediately grabbed my attention, each offering a definition of historical memory and its relevance to current events.  For one participant, the community of Cantel has a unique relationship with history, in that Cantelenses have on multiple occasions fought back against the status quo or dictates from the state; they have the power to respond as a people, and “Historical memory gives us this power.”  Another noted that the contents of Guatemala’s past, as experienced by indigenous communities, are shaped by “patterns of violence and racism” that continue up to today.  Another commented on the utility of my project itself, referring to the printed report and our gathering to discuss the topic as a process of transforming historical memory into a “database,” “when it’s shared like now, and written down.”

The Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to experiment with new methods of research that are more accessible and collaborative, and ultimately more meaningful for everyone involved.  I view this past summer’s project as the pilot for a new, more engaged methodology going forward—I’ve already begun making plans for additional workshops next summer. And with the benefit of first-hand experience, I hope to be better prepared for any more expected surprises that come my way.

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Carina Heckert

 

Preparing for the workshop for civil society organizations

Carina Heckert is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso. In 2013 she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Gender Relations, Illness Experiences, and HIV/AIDS Care in Santa Cruz, Bolivia,” supervised by Dr. Nia Parson. In 2015 she received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Improving Experiences of Care for People Living with HIV/AIDS in Santa Cruz, Bolivia”.

From 2013-2014, while a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Methodist University, I conducted fieldwork supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the project “Gender Relations, Illness Experiences, and HIV Care in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.” In the summer of 2016, a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant gave me the opportunity to return to Bolivia for one month to host a workshop series titled “Improving the Quality of Life for People Living with HIV.” This series included activities with public health officials, people living with HIV, and representatives from civil society organizations. The workshops involved a presentation of my research findings alongside room for debate and discussion about how to improve experiences of care for people with HIV. The series culminated in a roundtable forum that brought together various local stakeholders as a means to foster dialogue among these different groups.

My dissertation fieldwork explored the ways that global health, national, and local policies intersect to shape the context of care for HIV and how individuals experience various forms of care.  As I began my research, an AIDS funding crisis began to emerge as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria froze Bolivia’s active grants.  The Global Fund had been funding nearly 80% of HIV-related activities at the time.  The freezing of funds came after the Ministry of Health announced that they would takeover the management of Global Fund grants, which involved a violation of the terms of their grant agreement.  The Ministry of Health’s actions were in part motivated by the national government’s agenda of moving away from vertical, disease-specific initiatives, which it sees as a vestige of the neoliberal era.  Widespread shifts under the political party in power, MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo/Movement toward Socialism), include efforts to implement a single-payer universal healthcare model, viewing NGOs and international aid efforts as undermining this larger goal.  Subsequently, actions on the part of the national government have resulted in a loss of funds from major donors that were financing HIV programs.  However, the national and local governments are far from achieving a universal healthcare system and have yet to commit sufficient funding to the maintenance of HIV programs that had been financed by international organizations.

Beginning the presentation aspect of the workshop with people living with HIV

At the time of my research, there was substantial anxiety over the state of HIV care in Bolivia, especially among people living with HIV. Upon returning to Bolivia, I discovered that this anxiety, and the effects of it, had become significantly worse. While the Ministry of Health had been able to meet the requirements to have their grants from the Global Fund reinstated, their most recent grant agreement had come to an end. While the Country Coordinating Mechanism, an invention of the Global Fund that involves a group of local stakeholders, was in the process of developing grant proposals for the next funding cycle, there was little optimism and a general sense that Bolivia would receive insufficient funding to continue with the level of support for HIV programs that had existed in the past. Further, as the Country Coordinating Mechanism awaits a decision, there is no money flowing in from the Global Fund.

When I returned to Bolivia during this halt in Global Fund support alongside the loss of funds from other international financers, organizations that I had worked with in the past were in a state of disarray. The most well known HIV-related NGO in Bolivia had gone from a staff of roughly 10 to operating with a staff of two people, who were doing a majority of their work without pay. To continue operating weekly support group sessions, they had resorted to holding weekly raffles where support group participants all purchased raffle tickets upon their arrival. The Ministry of Health HIV clinic continued to have a steady stock of first-line ARVs that are now being purchased by the national government, but several staff positions have been terminated, second and third-line ARVs are no longer available, and the provision of care for opportunistic infections has been dramatically reduced. Within this context, there was substantial interest in my workshop series. Some people saw potential to use my research findings in grant proposals and as a way to support their demands for a more comprehensive response to HIV from the national and regional governments.

A group of women discussing how to improve access to ARVs during the second workshop

I tailored the first workshop toward the concerns of civil society organizations, many of which are struggling to keep their doors open and have had to significantly scale back their programs due to insufficient funding. Within this group of 10 participants, there was significant interest in discussing how my research could be applied to improve services that still exist and how my data could be used for the justification of reinstating programs that had been cut. The second workshop, geared toward people living with HIV, had 25 participants. In this workshop, I only dedicated a short amount of time to presenting my research, since much of what I had to say was intuitive to this group, whose experiences I had learned so much from. Instead, I used a majority of the time during this workshop to conduct a group work activity aimed at generating points for debate for the upcoming roundtable forum. I had initially planned to also hold a third workshop for public health officials, but this turned out to be far more complicated than I had anticipated. A formal invitation is necessary for employees in the public health system to receive authorization to participate in such events during work hours. I had anticipated this and had put together formal invitations to distribute. However, as I began to speak with public health officials about my plans, I realized that many viewed a workshop and a roundtable on the same issue as duplicate events and would only commit to one of the two events. Since I viewed the roundtable as the more important of the two events, I dropped plans for a third workshop to ensure participation from public health officials in the roundtable.  In lieu of the third workshop, I had several small group and one-on-one meetings with the public health officials who were eager to discuss my research with me.

At the end of my month in Santa Cruz, I hosted a roundtable forum where I served as the moderator for a panel consisting of people living with HIV, the director of the regional HIV program, and representatives from civil society organizations. While the event was open to the public, primarily public health officials and representatives from civil society organizations were in the audience. Unfortunately, to accommodate the schedules of these audience members, I had to have the roundtable in the morning when fewer people with HIV could attend due to work conflicts. However, I was able to use the ideas generated in the activity from the second workshop as a way of bringing in the perspectives of people with HIV. The roundtable discussion focused heavily on how different parties could contribute to improving the quality of life of people living with HIV in Bolivia in the midst of cuts to programs.  The aspect of the roundtable that I found most important was the opportunity for panel members with HIV to share their perspectives with public health officials who are very often disconnected from the everyday realities of people with HIV.

Roundtable panelists and a few of the audience members

I found that this workshop series was an effective means for sharing the results from my research in a meaningful way.  Further, the roundtable brought together different groups who have a common interest in improving the lives of people with HIV, but who have different perspectives in how to achieve this. I do have to admit that organizing the workshops turned out to be much more work than I had anticipated. Just the delivery of invitations to the roundtable took days of bus rides across the city. While I could have delegated this task to a research assistant, I decided this was a good way to touch base with people I had established relationships with during fieldwork.  In many cases, the delivery of an invitation turned into a lengthy conversation. In one case, it turned into a several hours long event that involved me accompanying a doctor on rounds to check on patients in the hospital.

While I feel like my efforts had some positive effects, I also cannot help but feel impotent to some extent as the broader structural issues that perpetuate AIDS deaths in Bolivia remain unchanged. However, being an engaged anthropologist requires a best effort to make research accessible and relevant, even if it is an imperfect endeavor.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Joshua Walker

University and high school students follow discussion.

While a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, Joshua Walker received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on “Crisis or Reconstruction? Street Children and Diamond Miners in Mbujimayi, Democratic Republic of Congo,” supervised by Dr. Jean Comaroff. In 2015 Dr. Walker received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Post-Extractive Futures: Living Without and Beyond Diamonds”.

University of Mbujimayi Rector Tumba Ghislain Disashi officially opens the conference. To his left is conference participant Academic General-Secretary Tshula Kabongo.

Between October 21-23, 2015, Dr. Joshua Walker and Professor Emmanuel Kambaja Musampa of the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and the University of Mbujimayi (Democratic Republic of Congo), respectively, co-organized a conference at the University of Mbujimayi. The conference theme was based on Dr. Walker’s Wenner-Gren funded doctoral dissertation research. It was entitled: “Post-Extractive Futures: Living Without and Beyond Diamonds in Mbujimayi.” This constituted an opportunity for local academics from a variety of disciplines (including anthropology, geography, geology, history, linguistics, and sociology) to meditate on the past, present, and future of the city of Mbujimayi in relation to the diamond industry.

The exchanges included both formal conference papers given by academics as well as an intervention by two former diggers, known as creuseurs in French. It was an occasion for academics, as well as university students and others, to reflect on the role and impact of diamond mining on the city and its environs. Mornings included formal academic papers and question and answer sessions; afternoons were largely devoted workshops where conference participants and attendees (most of whom were university students) reflected on different aspects of the morning’s theme.

Professor Adrien Munyoka consults with student Patrick Kambaja on the program.

Following the conference, the organizers produced a report (in French) that includes an introduction co-authored by Dr. Walker and Professor Kambaja; the conference abstract; the conference program; the written texts of the papers presented; and a conclusion written by Professor Kambaja. The latter includes a series of recommendations and reflections concerning the relationship between the diamond industry and the city. It proposes, among other things, the creation of a diamond museum; and the creation of a chair at the university in natural resource studies. It also notes some of the themes of the various papers: the need to diversify the local economy; the need to convert former mining sites into ecologically sustainable lands; and the need to promote other forms of income generation that have arisen since the decline of the artisanal and industrial diamond economies.

The report has been distributed to local academic institutions, government offices, and non-governmental organizations in Mbujimayi. It has also been made available online here. Finally, Professor Kambaja also did an interview in French and Cilubà concerning both Dr. Walker’s dissertation research as well as the theme of the conference and its outcome that was broadcast on multiple local radio stations over a period of several days.

University students follow discussion and debate.

In addition to this principal activity, two others were undertaken: Dr. Walker addressed a group of adult literacy learners and a church group in Cilubà on the questions surrounding the conference theme: namely, what have been the effects of the industrial and artisanal diamond mining industry on the city of Mbujimayi, and how citizens can begin to imagine and create a collective future outside and beyond diamonds.

Chef de travaux Banoka Nsona presents her paper. To her left are conference participants Tshibanza Monji and Joshua Walker.

Finally, Dr. Walker, along with Professor Kambaja and Professor Munyoka (one of the academics who presented at the conference) held two field workshops in mining villages near Mbujimayi: Kabwe and Bakwa Tshimuna. These two localities have both historically depended on artisanal diamond mining in the postcolonial period. Under the auspices of the Catholic church, we gathered small focus groups of 10 people in each place, with a mixture of men and women, young and old. The purpose of these workshops was to both inform members of communities surrounding the city about the ideas that had been presented at the conference, as well as to solicit their own reflections. The most important theme that arose in these conversations was that while a return to agriculture may be a way to mitigate the effects of the decline of the diamond economy, agriculture is no panacea. There is difficulty in finding arable land, for example. There is also the question of the scale at which agriculture can be conducted: a return to subsistence agriculture will not necessarily be useful in promoting a general reduction in poverty. Agriculture at a larger scale will require investment and coordination with the local and provincial authorities.


Engaged Anthropology Grant: Dolly Kikon

Bihu dancers from Gelekey with a Naga Dobashi from Anaki C Village (Photo by Dolly Kikon)

While a doctoral student at Standford University Dolly Kikon received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2009 to aid research on “Blurred Borders: Unsettling the Hill/Valley Divide in Northeast India,” supervised by Dr. James G. Ferguson. In 2015 Dr. Kikon received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “A Foothill Sanrhutav: Sharing Experiences of Women Traders in Northeast India”.

I successfully completed the foothill community gathering and feast on July 13. As I had submitted in the proposal, I was able to complete the key proposed goals: (a) present my research to the host communities; (b) provide a forum for the communities to gather and share their experiences and establish mentoring networks; (c) invite key actors of different indigenous communities such as village headmen, student associations, coal traders, teachers, border peace committees, and householders from Naga and Assamese villages to discuss the plight of women traders, and broadly gender relations among foothill communities. Due to the monsoon and unprecedented floods across Northeast India, several landslides had washed away roads and bridges. This prevented certain Naga villages situated in the uplands to attend the meeting. Given the existing challenges, I chose Gelekey, a small town in the foothill border of Assam and Nagaland as the venue of the community meeting and feast. The border town of Gelekey town (in Sibsagar district of Assam) shares its boundary with the districts of Longleng and Mokokchung (in Nagaland). Thus, Ahom, Assamese, Phom, and Ao villages attended the community gathering and shared their experiences and hardships of living in the militarized landscape.

Women from Gelekey at the gathering (Photo by Dolly Kikon)

The gathering was held at the Adarsha Bidyapith School in Gelekey town. The location of the meeting was both symbolic and strategic. Gelekey is not only an important coal-trading hub and oil exploration site, but also attracts numerous Naga villages from the uplands to the Atkhel haat, a weekly market that takes place in the outskirt of the town. Although the electricity was erratic, I was able to make a power point presentation and shared my experience about doing an ethnographic work among the host communities in the Assam-Nagaland border. Drawing from my field notes and the publications I have brought out (Anthropology News, Economic and Political Weekly, South Asia: Journal of South Asia), I explained my ethnographic journey at the gathering. During the community interaction session, communities underlined the anxieties of living in the foothills. They reiterated my ethnographic notes that I had connected between 2006-2011 about the place that witnessed a heightened presence of armed forces. This was due to the extractive resource activities like oil explorations, tea plantations, and coalmines across the foothill border of Assam and Nagaland. In addition, the foothills, like other parts of Northeast India, were under the jurisdiction on an extra-constitutional regulation known as the Disturbed Area Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958). Movement of goods and people in the militarized foothills, as the community sharing revealed, immensely highlighted the importance of the Engaged Anthropology Grant that helped communities to come together and share their reflections and experiences. A central point of the community gathering and feast was to discuss the experiences of women traders from Nagaland in the foothill markets known as haats. Sharing my field notes and interviews of several women traders I had collected, I explained how these weekly markets represented the dynamic, multifaceted, and tangled lives of the residents of the villages in the foothills of Assam and Nagaland.

Ahom Women at the community feast (Photo by Dolly Kikon)

Women traders from Anaki C village shared their thoughts. Ms. Emer Phom, the president of the Phom women’s collective known as the Bedestha Group said that they had to go down to Assam for their basic needs like medicine, food, and clothing. Speaking at the research interaction, Mr. Shingnyu Phom, member of the Border Peace Committee from Yonglok village appealed to the gathering to maintain peace in the border areas and the importance of engaging in meaningful community dialogue. Adding to the conversations about peace, Mr. Imkong Phom, the village headman from Anaki C village thanked the gathering for the conversations and stressed the importance of understanding and respecting each others history. Mrs Kunti Borah Gogoi, an Ahom educationist from Gelekey reiterated the importance of maintaining the people to people dialogue and connection in the border area. She said that such communities gathering were important events to bring together the Naga people and the Ahom community to reaffirm their friendship and kinship as well. As a gesture of solidarity and love, she presented all the Naga guests with a phulon gamusa (a traditional Assamese scarf). Ms. Rashmi Saikia and Mr. Promud Monuranjan sang Nagamese, Assamese, and Hindi songs for the audience, and a group of mainas (little children) performed a Jhumur dance to conclude the meeting on a musical note. After the interaction, the guests were invited to a community feast.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Ralph Garruto

 

Aneityum island by air

Ralph Garruto is a Research Professor of Biomedical Anthropology at Binghamton University. In 2011 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Longitudinal Studies of Health Transition and Culture Change in Vanuatu”. In 2015 Dr. Garruto received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Using Anthropology to Build Research Capacity and Inform Public Health Policy in the Republic of Vanuatu”.

Three major thematic research areas within the Binghamton University Health Transitions Project are 1) adult health and chronic disease risk, 2) behavior and lifestyle change, and 3) child health and nutritional status. Thus far, field research studies relating to these thematic areas have been conducted on the islands of Ambae, Aneityum, Efate, Futuna, and Nguna inVanuatu. A fourth research area, post-disaster stress, was added in 2015 to assess to impact of Cyclone Pam on the people of Vanuatu. The latter study includes the islands of Tanna and Erromango as well as Efateand Aneityum (Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, P.I. Kelsey Dancause).

Low tide in Umej

The Binghamton University Vanuatu Health Transition project has resulted in a number of publications in scholarly journals, including the American Journal of Human Biology, Obesity, the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and Public Health Nutrition. Results from the project have also been presented at major national and international scientific meetings, including five scientific presentations at the “Asia-Pacific Region Joint Conference on Modernization and Health”,Hilo,Hawaii, August 19-20, 2016. The latter conference was co-sponsored by the Japan Physiological Anthropology Society, the Human Biology Association, and the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The P.I. gave a 30 minute keynote presentation on Health Transition in the Pacific.

The Wenner-Gren Engagement Grant (Gr. EAG-84) allowed the P.I. (Ralph M. Garruto) to produce a signed memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Director General, Vanuatu Ministry of Health, Republic of Vanuatu, and the State University of New York at Binghamton. The MOA is a five-year renewable collaboration effort to foster engagement and advancement in research, education, training and cultural understanding. The MOA specifically calls for:

  • Conducting long-term research projects in the areas of mutual interest to the Vanuatu Ministry of Health and Binghamton University.
  • Providing training for both Vanuatu Ministry of Health personnel, and students in the MS and BS/MS Program in Biomedical Anthropology at Binghamton University.
  • Securing funding for anthropological and public health research in Vanuatu.

Off loading on mystery island

The original signed agreement by the President of Binghamton University was handed to the Director General of the Ministry of Health, George Taleo. The PI also gave him an overview of our research results on the Binghamton University Health Transitions Project in part sponsored by Wenner-Gren (Parent grant Gr. 8301 and Engagement grant Gr. EAG-84). In addition, the P.I. was able to meet with the Honorable Ralph Reganvanu, Minister of Lands and a member of Parliament, and himself an anthropologist, and update him on our findings and explain the details of the MOA and how it would provide not only for continued research on the long-term health behaviors of the people of

Vanuatu as a result of modernization and change, but also on how we would train members of the Ministry of Health to carry out future research, implement surveys, perform anthropometric measurements, and evaluate child growth, development, and nutrition. We also explained that graduate students in Anthropology could intern with the Ministry of Health to assist them specifically with their own ongoing projects that they deemed vital for the health of the nation.

Presentation to the Chiefs and the Community

The last component we were able to implement as a result of the Wenner-Gren Engagement Grant was to return to six villages on three different islands (Efate, Nguna, and Aneityum) and give a bound copy of our research results to the communities and local dispensaries. Additionally, the P.I. gave an oral presentation of our findings to the Council of Chiefs and Community Members of Aneityum Island. The island, further south in the archipelago, has been a part of our research survey on health transitions since 2007 and the oral presentation to the community detailed our results in lay language and the recommendations we thought useful to stem the tide of hypertension, overweight and obesity, and poor nutritional practices that have ensued over the past 10 years.

Overall, the P.I. viewed our engagement with the Ministry of Health, with government officials and with the local communities as highly successful and one that would reflect well on both Wenner-Gren as the engagement funding institution, Binghamton University as the co-signer of the MOA, and on the researchers and students, past and present, from three separate institutions: University of Montreal, Temple University, and Binghamton University.

NYAS @ WGF 12/5: Ancient Genomes, Paleoenvironments, Archaeology and the Peopling of the Americas [REGISTRATION REQUIRED]

Join us Monday evening December 5th at 5:45 PM at the Wenner-Gren Foundation for the next installment of the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Lecture Series. Dennis O’Rourke, Foundation Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas will be presenting “Ancient Genomes, Paleoenvironments, Archaeology and the Peopling of the Americas”. Our president, Leslie C. Aiello, will act as discussant.

Please note: the lecture begins at 6:30 PM and, while the event is free to attend, pre-registration is required for entry into the building.

Traditionally, indigenous American populations have been viewed as descendants of a small subset of the Eurasian population that migrated to the Western Hemisphere less than 15,000 years ago from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge. Recent archaeological discoveries indicate that humans occupied high-latitude regions in Northeast Asia and Western Beringia before 30,000 years ago, prior to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). The early settlement of Beringia now appears part of the broader dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and across Eurasia. Recent metagenomic evidence suggests the earliest migrants south of the glaciers likely followed a coastal route rather than an interior continental path between retreating glacial masses. The merging of the increasingly rich and robust genomic (both ancient and modern), archaeological, and paleoecological records is proving to be challenging in elucidating the origin of a distinctive Native American genome in both time and space.

-PLEASE NOTE EARLIER START TIME FOR DINNER AND LECTURE-

Buffet Dinner at 5:45 pm ($20 contribution for dinner guests / free for students).
Lecture begins at 6:30 pm and are free and open to the public.

Pre-registration is required to attend the lecture.

Missed the lecture? Listen to it here!

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Claire-Marie Hefner

 

June 7th, 2016. Posing for a picture after a presentation and discussion session with administrators and teaching staff at Madrasah Mu’allimaat Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta.

Claire-Marie Hefner is an Assistant Professor in Cultural Anthropology at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. In 2011, while a doctoral student at Emory University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Shaping Muslim Subjectivities: Gender, Piety, and Modernity in Indonesian Islamic Boarding Schools,”supervised by Dr. Michael Gates Peletz. In 2016 Dr. Hefner received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Women, Piety, and Achievement: Dissemination of Research Findings in Indonesian Islamic Boarding Schools for Girls”.

Monday June 13th, 2016. It’s four-thirty in the afternoon and the pre-rain heat hangs heavy in the tropical air. Thirty university students sit in gender-segregated groups on the carpeted floors of the prayer hall at Pesantren Krapyak Ali Maksum, an Islamic boarding school in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The women wear colorful floor-length skirts, long-sleeve tunics, and headscarves while the men don long pants or sarongs, long-sleeve shirts, and prayer caps. The students—all alumni of Krapyak—chat amongst themselves as they wait for the rest of their peers to trickle in. It’s the fasting month of Ramadan and in these final hours before sundown, students look tired. I circulate the room, stopping to catch up with several young women with whom I became friends during my research and now serve as dorm supervisors at their alma mater while they attend university nearby. Soon I begin my presentation in Indonesian, explaining my research findings on women’s achievement, moral education, and piety at Krapyak and a neighboring school. Afterwards, as a rain shower begins to cool the air, students ask questions like, “How did your time at Krapyak influence you view of Islam?” “Since ethnographers spend so much time at the place of their research, how can they maintain objectivity?” “How do the success rates of our school compare to others?” “What can we do to make our students even more successful?” As our lively discussion draws to a close, we pose for pictures together until the call to prayer sounds out from the school mosque signaling that it is time for our shared iftar meal.

May 27th, 2016. Workshop with first-year high school students at Madrasah Mu’allimaat. After a brief discussion of my research at their school, this event centered on activities to help students think about how to use different kinds of research methods. Students participated in short group activities that focused on interviewing and surveys. Here a student shares her findings with their classmates.

Caricatures of Islamic boarding schools as places of rote memorization, curricular inertia, radicalization, and limited human flourishing overlook the diverse and proactive ways in which Muslim schools mediate modern aspirations, gender practices, and citizenship, and play a critical role in molding educated, pious, and thoroughly modern youth. My dissertation, Achieving Islam: Women, Piety, and Moral Education in Indonesian Muslim Boarding Schools, explores the topic of ethical learning, subject formation, and new forms of women’s achievement at two nationally prominent Islamic boarding schools for girls in the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The first school, Madrasah Mu’allimaat Muhammadiyah, is under the direct guidance of the “modernist” Muslim social welfare organization, Muhammadiyah. As a cadre school (sekolah kadre), school faculty and administrators aim to shape the future female leadership of the organization. The second school of my study, Pesantren Krapyak Ali Maksum, is among the most respected traditionalist Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) in Indonesia and it is a prime example of a pesantren that has adapted to meet the demands of modern Indonesian students and their parents, incorporating the national curriculum into its largely Islamic curriculum in the late 1980s. Both schools run six-year programs from middle school to high school. Based on twenty-one months of fieldwork, my research findings provide a snapshot of young prominent women members and potential future leaders in these organizations; a reflection on how these organizations have changed and the directions they have yet to go in.

June 13th, 2016. Presentation and discussion session with alumni from Pesantren Krapyak

The Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant generously supported a one-month visit to Indonesia in the summer of 2016 during which time I was involved in three main activities. First, I presented and discussed my research findings and analysis with educators, administrators, alumni, and students at the schools of my study. Achieving Islam builds off of eight years of collaboration and friendship with members of these communities and, in the interest of open dialogue and possible further collaboration, I was eager for feedback from my interlocutors. Second, I ran workshops with current students on social science research and what it means to be an anthropologist. Thirdly, this visit was an integral opportunity to cultivate and develop new connections with the local academic community and to develop possible future collaboration in the form of research and Indonesian-language publications.

May 30th, 2016. Some audience members from a presentation for Tarbiyah (Islamic Education) Department at Universitas Islam Negeri (State Islamic University)-Sunan Kali Jaga in Yogyakarta

As premiere educational facilities invested in producing achievement-oriented young women, the school administrators and teachers at both Mu’allimaat and Krapyak expressed strong interest in my findings. My engaged anthropology project was an opportunity to have discussions with and presentations for administrators and teachers at each respective school. At these meetings, the findings of greatest interest were the results of my extensive student survey conducted on their campuses in 2011-2013. This survey addressed students’ socio-economic and familial backgrounds, their attitudes towards their experiences at school, their dreams for future careers and family, as well as their reported interest in continuing their involvement in NU and Muhammadiyah as compared to their parents’ generation. This latter point was of particular interest at Madrasah Mu’allimaat where most teachers and administrators are activists in the parent organization, Muhammadiyah, and very much invested in inspiring student involvement in the organization. These events were an opportunity for dialogue and debate with members of the school community during our lengthy discussions following my presentation. This dialogue centered around what my findings illustrate with regard the overall success of the schools’ respective curricula, a concern for how their school compared to others, as well as discussion of new programs administrators had been pursuing since the time of my research.

This engaged anthropology project also involved creating opportunities for discussion about my findings with former and current students at both schools. To do so, I carried out formal presentations and organized semi-formal discussion groups with recent alumni from each respective school like the one described above. I also ran activities and exercises with current students. For example, on May 27, 2016, ninety-five first-year high school students at Madrasah Mu’allimaat participated in a workshop that addressed the uses of qualitative and quantitative research methods, using the example of my own time at their institution (see Figure 2). In most Indonesian schools, the social science high school track is often considered second-tier compared to natural sciences, so my workshops were also an important opportunity to discuss the value and importance of the social sciences and humanities.

Standing with the provost and dean of the State Islamic Institute (Institute Agama Islam Negeri or IAIN) in the city of Surakarta after a public lecture. Our discussions lead to my joining the editorial staff of their burgeoning Islamic studies journal.

During this summer visit, I also had the pleasure of discussing women’s achievement and moral learning with some of the leading scholars of Islamic education and youth studies in Yogyakarta, Jakarta, and Surakarta. I presented my findings at three local universities in academic forums that were open to the public. At the Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kali Jaga (State Islamic University) in Yogyakarta, I presented my work for an audience of ninety Islamic education (tarbiyah) students. These students—almost all alumni from Islamic schools—are planning to go on to teach in Islamic educational institutions; as such, our discussion centered around contemporary developments in the Indonesian Islamic educational field. This presentation was documented in an article in Suara Muhammadiyah (Voice of Muhammadiyah), the national journal of the Muslim social welfare organization of the same name. I also reconnected with colleagues at the Center for Cross-Cultural and Religious Studies (CRCS) at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta—the research center that had been my sponsoring affiliate during my fieldwork.

With the generosity of Wenner-Gren Foundation, my summer engaged anthropology project was a resounding success. I look forward to developing the personal, academic, and professional relationships it helped to foster and maintain.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Anand Pandian

Anand Pandian is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Johns Hopkins University. In 2008 he received a Post-Ph.D. Research Grant to aid research on “Framing Feelings: Landscape and the Production of Affect in South Indian Cinema”. In 2012 Dr. Pandian received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Engaging Vernacular Publics in an Anthropology of Cinema”.

In November of 2015, I published a book called Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation with Duke University Press. The book examines the creative process of filmmaking in India, building on many years of fieldwork with directors, cameramen, actors, editors, composers and other artists and professionals working in the Tamil film industry of south India. This is one of the largest film industries in the world, with tens of millions of avid fans and consumers, highly keen on these films and deeply curious about the invisible process of their creation. In writing this book, it was therefore important to me to try to reach not only other academics such as myself, but also a wider lay audience in India.

One element of this endeavor has been to publish a more accessible trade edition of the same book in India with Penguin Random House Books, which appeared in print in January 2016. A second element of this endeavor has been to reach a vernacular public of Tamil language readers in south India through a Tamil translation of the trade edition. It is here that an Engaged Anthropology Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research has proved essential. The fieldwork itself for this project was supported by a Post-PhD Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation as well as research grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies and the National Foundation. Thanks to this new program for Engaged Anthropology, however, I have been able to work closely with a Tamil translator in preparing a vernacular edition of this book and my research.

V. Kamalalayan

The individual I have worked with most closely on this translation project is a Tamil writer and translator based in the south Indian city of Chennai, V. Kamalalayan. I first met him in 2011, when we began to work together on a previous book project that took my nonagenarian grandfather’s life in India and Burma as a prism through which to examine a century of history in modern India. Kamalalayan and I worked together closely on that project, and he was the most natural person to whom to turn in pursuing a Tamil translation of this next book. He and I have been working together closely on this translation, chapter by chapter, with insights and advice also gleaned from other writer friends and colleagues in south India. The translation is complete now, and in the stage of final editing, with our next task being one of identifying the right Tamil publisher for the book.

Our goal with this project has been to make the stories and ideas that animate the book as engaging and accessible as possible to a broad-based Tamil audience. I have already seen that this is possible with the English-language Penguin edition of Reel World, which has been reviewed very favorably in the last few months in leading popular newspapers such as The Hindu and The Telegraph. We hope and expect that the same will be the case with regard to the Tamil edition. Our plan is to submit the book to an appropriate publisher very soon, and to have the book published in advance of the 2017 Chennai Book Fair, the most important annual event in the world of Tamil letters. By means of this project, I hope to reach, as readers, some of those who have made the very phenomenon I studied, Tamil cinema, possible and appealing as a medium of cultural expression in contemporary India.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Minghao Lin

Visit at Sanxingdui Museum

While a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, Minghao Lin received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “The Origin and Early History of Oxen Plowing in China,” supervised by Dr. Preston Miracle. In 2015 Dr. Lin received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “The Early History of Cattle Traction in North China”.

I started my journey from Jinan, Shandong Province, in early March, by delivering an academic presentation, entitled “Cattle traction and its role in the making of Chinese early civilization”, to my colleagues at the School of Culture and Heritage, at Shandong University. My research questions were first clarified to them: why is the exploitation of cattle labor important to understand human history? What do we know now (prior to my project) regarding this question? A systematic review was elaborated from lines of evidence including historical documents, oracle and bronze scripts, picturing records, and archaeological remains. Then my talk went to the theory and methods my project had been applied. After successfully establishing the comparative models from modern control samples, I then applied these reliable models to interpret Chinese archaeological assemblages, revealing intensive cattle traction had been exploited since the Late Shang period (c. 1300-1046 BC). It was the intensive use of cattle labour that helped build the fantastic civilisation in Chinese Bronze Age, as characterized by the Late Shang. I finally closed my speech and speculated some likely scenarios by weaving my results into the broader trans-Eurasian network in the Old World.

Speech to colleagues at Shandong University, Jinan.

The success of my talk in Shandong University rendered me more confidence and enthusiasm to continue my scheduled trip to spread out my research results with other Chinese colleagues in other institutes. In the following few weeks, I traveled among many cities across nearly the whole China by means of flights or trains, to further address the significance of the exploitation of animal power in human history. Apart from personally discussing this topic with professors, I also contributed with a formal academic speech at these institutes, such as Northwest University (Xi’an), Sichuan University (Chengdu), Peking University (Beijing) etc.

To summarize, there were three levels of knowledge flow from my research trip. First, not only the prestigious professors, those students (both undergraduates and graduates) were also impressed by my research methods and discussion within the broader trans-Eurasian context. Some of these students expressed that the pictures I drew in my talk had, to some extent, enlightened them to well construct their own thesis projects, which makes my efforts over these weeks much worthwhile. Meanwhile, I also benefited from the discussion with those professors and students in terms of how to address my research questions from other interesting perspectives. Second, apart from preparing the talks, I was also interested in seeking potential lines of evidence to broaden my expertise, within which visiting local museums was a useful means. By exploring the Sanxingdui civilization in Sanxingdui Museum, I have been considering the role of cattle traction in building its own civilization as well as its connection with the civilizations in the Central Plains region. The pottery model at Nanjing Museum vividly displayed the use of cattle in dragging a cart in Chinese historic period. Three, non-archaeologists were also impressed by the information revealed from small pieces of cattle lower limb bones. For them, this was not only an academic seminar to understanding the ancient cultures in China, but also helped build the sense of preserving multiple archaeological remains – even pieces as fragmental as cattle feet bones could deliver important messages from the past. As such, this served as a good opportunity to educate the general public.

Pottery ox cart model at Nanjing Museum

This Engaged Anthropology Grant has provided me this valuable chance to engage with the Chinese colleagues, which becomes one of my unforgettable experiences. The support from Wenner-Gren is even more significant for Chinese zooarchaeology, as this field has just been aroused in the most recent decade to contribute to our understanding of the past civilizations.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Harjant Gill – U.S. Film Premiere

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Harjant Gill who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on Sent Away Boys.

Sent Away Boys will be making its U.S. premier this November at the Society for Visual Anthropology’s Film Festival at the AAA meetings in Minneapolis, MN.

Screening to be followed by Q&A with Harjant Gill.

DATE: November 16, 2016, 10:30 AM

LOCATION: Minneapolis Convention Center, Auditorium 2 (SVAA Film Festival at the AAAs)

Trailer: Sent Away Boys from Tilotama Productions.

Sent Away Boys: A Rural Landscape Transformed by Transnational Migration

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

What happens to families in the absence of sons? What happens to land in the absence of farmers? What happens to communities in the absence of men? Sent Away Boys weaves together testaments of individual ambitions and family biographies from Punjab, India to chronicle the gradual transformation of agrarian landscape and patriarchal traditions through ongoing transnational migration. As the promise of a secure future in agriculture grows increasingly uncertain for young men across the region, escaping India to join the low-wage labor in countries like Canada and USA becomes their sole aspiration. In rural Punjab, being a successful man now entails leaving their village, traveling abroad, and sending money home. Through interviews with men preparing to undertake often risky journeys and women awaiting the return of their sons, brothers and husbands, Sent Away Boys shows how the decision to emigrate implicate the entire family and the larger community.