Meet Our 2016 Wadsworth International Fellows: Olubukola Olayiwola

Olubukola Olayiwola received his undergraduate education at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship, he will continue his training with a PhD in social-cultural anthropology at the University of South Florida, supervised by Dr. Kevin Yelvington.

The focus of my scholarship traverses different aspects of application in the field of Cultural Anthropology such as economic anthropology; the anthropology of policy; the anthropology of development; complex organizations; and the anthropology of ethnicity and gender, West Africa.

My current research interest is on grassroots women and the violence of credit mobilization in southwest Nigeria. For my PhD at the University of South Florida (USF), I propose to undertake fieldwork focusing on how violence is implicated in the relationship between local women and microcredit institutions. I am interested in investigating the formal and informal processes that guide the disbursement and repayment of small loans by banks that operate in Nigeria under the Grameen Bank model. My interest is driven by the assumption that local experiences of microcredit loans contrast with the popular tendency to see it as sustainable development intervention especially among the poorest of the poor.

After my first degree, I worked briefly as a Program Assistant with the Development Policy Centre, Ibadan (a Non-Governmental Organization) and was involved with the Monitoring and Evaluation of MDGs projects in Oyo State, Nigeria. As part of this position, I conducted field research in a number of locales in Oyo State. The research included key informant interviews, ethnographic participant observation, and focus group discussions and  provided me with what I can now see as important experience as a fieldworker.

During my MA Program at the University of Ibadan, I investigated the role of ethnic identity and organization of informal trade in urban market clusters in Ibadan’s urban areas. Although the idea of the anthropology of space and place was still implicated in this research, my main interest was the historical and social factors that produced specific trade items as specialized areas in which different major ethnic groups maintained trade dominance. This research led to my 2014 M.A Thesis ‘Ethnic Identity and Organization of Informal sector in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria.’ And the following publication: ‘Culture and Informal Marketing’ In A.J Ademowo and T.D Oladipo, eds., Engaging the Future in the Present: Issues in Culture and Philosophy. Pp. 86-92. Ibadan: Hope Publications (2015)

Finally, and more importantly, with greater conviction that application of anthropological knowledge can solve myriad of socio-cultural problems in any human endeavor, a PhD Applied Anthropology will not only fetch me a career in academics but also avail me a rare opportunity of propagating the ‘gospel’ of Applied Anthropology within the shore of West Africa sub-region and beyond.

Interview: Michael Polson

Michael Polson is a Visiting Professor of Anthropology at American University. In 2010, while a doctoral candidate at the City University of New York Graduate Center, he was awarded the Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to study the elaboration and negotiation of social relations and practices in the emerging medical and underground marijuana markets of northern California. We spoke to Polson to learn more about his fieldwork experience.

 

What’s your background in anthropology? How did you become interested in marijuana as a project? 

Prior to graduate school I had two formative experiences that drew me toward anthropology. One was conducting a project as an undergraduate on underground networks of men who have sex with men in Kathmandu at a time when many people I spoke to believed these men didn’t exist. This showed me the importance of inquiring into people’s lives as they are lived, not as we think they live—particularly for people in illicit realms. The other was being a political organizer and co-educator, which taught me to listen to and value the experience of people as they grapple with the world and the expertise they accumulate on their own condition. While other disciplines might view people as a result of knowledge, anthropology views people’s complex, everyday lives as the source of knowledge. This ethical and political stance was attractive to me. I have been very lucky to become an anthropologist as a graduate student and teacher at City University of New York, a school with a rich political history, and, now, at American University in a fantastic department oriented toward public anthropology.

The project on marijuana started as a project on low wage, informal, and illegal work in a gay resort town. Every time I went back, though, my notes were filled up with people involved with marijuana—growing, trimming, transporting, storing, selling, and so on. And things were changing so rapidly in California. Understanding what happened with marijuana provided an important window onto the conditions of poor and working people but also onto much more—medicine, politics, livelihood, social networks, lifestyle, crime. As a student of social change, what really grabbed me was the rapidity that the social field around marijuana was shifting. Other than gay marriage, it’s hard to think of another realm of US society that has shifted as rapidly and totally as marijuana in the last decade. I wanted to know why. Why do some political and social changes take hold and ostensibly succeed? Why now, marijuana? I am thankful for Wenner-Gren support to answer these questions.

 

What sort of sites did your research take you to? What were some of the day-to-day challenges of negotiating the field, and how did you adapt?

I volunteered at a medical dispensary, lived with the coordinator of a patients rights group, stayed at underground farms, observed at a quality assurance laboratory, took a two month class on entering the marijuana business, and attended trade shows, land use hearings, tribal meetings, business conferences, activist gatherings, among other activities. For any door that opened, I walked through if I could. The strategy of “Yes. When and where?” Researching on both sides of the law, though, was a tough balance. I remember being at a courthouse doing archival research on land use patterns when I ran into an informant who was out on bail after a devastating drug bust. As I tried to explain my presence in a building that adjoined the county jail, I could see in his face that our trust was gone—I was now a cop to him. Another time, on a ride-along with a deputy, I remember keeping mum as we did a parole check next door to a house I knew was chock full of marijuana. Perhaps the deputy did, too—such is the work of policing in marijuana country. The crossing between legal and illegal realms contributed to a constant anxiety about confidentiality. I had done everything to protect my data I could imagine but it seemed as if there was a daily beat of new revelations about government spying during my fieldwork. Even if my data was officially protected (I got a Certificate of Confidentiality from the National Institutes of Health), I didn’t want to create a traceable web to be followed by another branch of government. It did not help that during my fieldwork the federal government initiated a multi-year offensive against the medical marijuana industry that instilled a lot of fear and anxiety—not just over governmental action but action by the media. I knew several people from both illegalized and medical worlds that got ensnared in that offensive. I was lucky to have built trusting ties in the years before because there was a shortage of trust after the government began its crackdown. The showed me firsthand how prohibition—and the fear of punishment—really shuts down informational circuits and stymies open intellectual exploration.

 

Your project is somewhat unusual for anthropological fieldwork in that it brought you consistently to the border of legality and illegality. How did this dynamic affect your work, and the ways in which your collaborators interacted with you?

I’ve mentioned some of the more anxious effects this had on my relations but, on the other hand, the border between the legal and illegal is not as stark as many believe. For instance, while one might imagine finding informants might be difficult, particularly in the illegalized economy, all I had to do was to scratch the surface in most places. This might be particular to marijuana—the stakes are not always as high as other illegal activities and it has become a deeply embedded part of the Northern California region. But to actually grasp the pervasiveness of marijuana I had to let go of some basic presumptions about the nature of law—namely that it is the core element of social order and that it applies universally and evenly across space. Perhaps I had that presumption having grown up inside the DC Beltway, where laws are made and then applied to the nation. But there are so many spaces and dimensions of reality where the law never reaches—realms that are hard to see without paying careful attention. Carolyn Nordstrom does a great job in her work of illustrating how illegality and crime shadows legal society in significant and often unrecognized ways. Once I started to see these dimensions, I started to challenge other basic assumptions, particularly about how we produce knowledge of the world—belief in statistics and figures, descriptions of how systems and institutions work, the reliability of cursory data from informants, what the map reveals, and so on. Hanging over all of these things is a shadow, imposed by the law, of what is able to be revealed and what is hidden, what is punishable and what is licit. Without seeing what lies in the shadow of legality we only get part of the story.

The reason these shadows hold sway, of course, is because there are real stakes involved in living against the law. This constantly affected my work. Anthropologists ask questions. When answers threaten a person’s livelihood and freedom, asking becomes fraught. That is how and why I developed a deep respect for the people who answered me. Many of them were compelled (politically, ethically, morally) and sometimes relieved to answer questions—they each had a stake in providing answers. Especially at that moment in time when what had lain in the shadows was coming to light, in the words of one activist I spoke with. That was an exciting thing to share with people. Prohibition imposes silences and breaking that silence was a powerful moment for many.

 

You connect marijuana legalization/medicalization to a much older anthropological discourse revolving around crime and illness. Could you briefly sketch the literature that influenced your thinking?

Thinking of Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Bohannon, Turner, Douglas, Lindenbaum, anthropologists have developed symmetrical theories about crime and illness—namely that they threaten social pollution and their ritual resolution is critical for the maintenance of social equilibrium. Merrill Singer, Ida Susser, Patty Kelly, Phillippe Bourgois and many others have argued criminalization and medicalization, as two modes of stigmatizing certain bodies and establishing social control, often work in tandem. Even within medicalization itself, work by Vincanne Adams, Jongyoung Kim, Cori Hayden, and Mary Cameron has shown how plant-based and alternative medicines can be a source of pollution for (supposedly) pure, scientific biomedicine. But, within and beyond this literature, anthropologists are careful to note the types of agency that medicalized and criminalized people hold. This is especially the case with marijuana prohibition and medicalization. My work focuses on the kinds of socio-political subjectivities people developed amidst processes of criminalization and medicalization. It’s these subjectivities and the political economies they are acting on and within that are guiding the development of and struggle over marijuana’s future.

 

Finally, what does ethnography potentially bring to an examination of drug policy? What “blind spots” do you think your research has identified? 

Ethnography is indispensable in understanding people and knowledges in illicit realms. You will not get the same information in the historical record, the laboratory, the questionnaire, economic indices, law enforcement statistics, or the map. These knowledge forms are so heavily mediated by the state—particularly in the case of prohibited substances—that it is necessary to go to illegalized people themselves. For instance, with marijuana, one cannot do research on the plant without getting permission and samples from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As the name suggests (and as NIDA officials have said), the agency is not concerned with the medical attributes or social value of the plant but with its negative, harmful effects. This limits what we can ask and know. As anthropologists, we know that psychoactive plants have been associated with social liminality and anxiety but this relationship doesn’t have to be punitive or stigmatizing. Rather than seeing marijuana as a vice or a source of harm and moral corrosion, recent research has been finding pretty stunning medical applications for marijuana and thrown serious doubt on its status as a harmful substance. In fact, the complexity and efficacy of marijuana as a whole-plant medicine poses a challenge to pharmaceutical models of medicine and points to a different paradigm for relations between humans and plants. We can’t explore these things under prohibition. Prohibition is the “blind spot”—the blinding spot, the blinders—of drug policy.

That said, let me point to two other blind spots. First, to craft future policy we need to know what came before. Otherwise we have no idea what kinds of social systems and processes new policy interrupts. Under prohibition, for instance, marijuana commerce became incredibly important to deindustrialized regions. Changing its legal status will have a significant impact. My work is a kind of neo-salvage anthropology of the illegal realms that are now threatened with extinction. Before this history is memorialized for a post-legalization public, it is imperative to raise up the voices of the many criminalized people that existed under prohibition.

Second, I am concerned about what I call marijuana exceptionalism—the belief that marijuana, the good drug, was wrongly prohibited and should be extracted from the War on Drugs, which should otherwise remain untouched. Making marijuana exceptional severs marijuana’s reform from broader discussions about the deep problems with the War on Drugs and our criminal justice system. Regardless of what we think about any particular drug, the political debate should not be over what drug is moral or immoral or has good or bad effects. It should be over what kinds of social policies are least harmful and most beneficial, broadly defined. The War on Drugs, no matter what its target, is a socially destructive policy. Marijuana reform is a very important opportunity for ending the government’s broader war on its own people, not to mention peoples around the world.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Michaela Howells

Pago Pago, the territorial capital of American Samoa.

Michaela Howells is Assistant Professor of Biological Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. While a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Howells received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Impact of Psychosocial Stress on Gestation Length and Pregnancy Outcomes in American Samoa,’ supervised by Dr. Darna Dufour. In 2015, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Promoting Dialog Between Health Care Providers and Pregnant Women on American Samoa’.

American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the United States. Found under the Southern Cross, American Samoa straddles the reality between a globalized community and one embedded in traditional ideals and values. In 2011 I moved to American Samoa’s big island, Tutuila, to study the effects of prenatal psychosocial stress on pregnancy outcomes of Samoan women. Thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation I was able to stay for nearly two years and found a relationship between the stressors experienced by low status women and their infant’s low birth weight. This project informs my ongoing research and was made possible by the committed staff of the American Samoan Department of Health (DOH) and LBJ Tropical Medical Center (LBJ) – the island’s only hospital.

Since leaving the island in 2013, I have been awarded my PhD and became an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Although I have spent the majority of the last three years writing, presenting, and teaching about Samoa, I also suffered the disconnect so frequently experienced by professionals leaving their field site. I missed the women I worked with, and the simultaneously wonderful and infuriating island that I called home. Wenner Gren’s Engaged Anthropologist Grant gave me the opportunity to return to American Samoa in order to share my results and skills with the health care community. Inadvertently it also renewed my excitement for field work and strengthened my relationships with my American Samoan colleagues.

Howells and retired NFL player Troy Polamalu

Originally, I had planned to host prenatal care workshops and training programs across the island. However, a week before my arrival, a medical team funded by retired Pittsburgh Steelers player Troy Polamalu had held extensive medical clinics throughout the community. Troy’s program, entitled Fa’asamoa, held free clinics that extended care to many of the island’s hard to reach residents. At the same time, it overextended many of the health care staff and disrupted normal clinic hours. Upon arrival, it was made clear to me that another mode of outreach would be more useful and appreciated.

When I initially worked with the women’s health community of American Samoa, a frequent point of concern was the lack of bilingual women’s health care educational materials. The available education materials were written in English and frequently featured pa’palagis (white people), a minority on island. Taken together, the health care professionals felt that these posters did not reflect Samoan culture and thus missed an important opportunity to educate women. As a result, I launched a collaborative project between the women’s health professionals at the DOH, LBJ, and Women Infant Child (WIC). We decided to develop five educational posters that focused on women’s reproductive health. These posters were printed and disseminated to women’s health care clinics across the island.

Although the mode at which I chose to achieve my goals changed, the core goal of supporting educational outreach regarding women’s health in American Samoa had not. Reframed, I met the four objectives of my Engaged Anthropologist Grant:

Objective 1: Create an additional tier of education regarding women’s health. The medical professionals at DOH, LBJ, and WIC do an outstanding job of educating women on island. The posters we developed work in conjunction with the one on one education that health care professionals are sharing with women during their appointments. These posters simultaneously act to both introduce and reinforce this important information in the target population. I was also invited on a popular morning radio talk show where I discussed my dissertation work, my current project and answered questions about women’s health issues. Finally, our posters were featured in the widely read Department of Health Newsletter.

Howells, center, with Samoan health care professionals

Objective 2: Create culturally relevant, long lasting health care material in conjunction with the DOH, LBJ, WIC women’s health care staff. This work was done in collaboration with Samoan Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Nursing Assistants and Nurse Educators. Recognizing that funds and time are equally limited for the women’s health community, it was suggested that I brainstorm with women’s health care professionals at a prearranged Hanson’s disease (Leprosy) workshop. This three day workshop allowed me to further integrate into health care community while having a captive audience for a brainstorming meeting over lunch. On the first day of this workshop I sat with some of the more seasoned nurses and outlined the five poster themes and written materials within those posters. These emerging poster themes included prenatal care, high risk pregnancy, nutrition during pregnancy, available birth control options, and breast feeding. I returned the next day with these notes typed up and spent lunch reviewing these themes with a larger portion of the women’s health care community.

By the end of the Hanson’s disease workshop we had developed the necessary text to create our posters. Over the following three weeks, I shaped the posters with near constant feedback from the women’s health care community. Under the direction of the DOH’s Director of Nursing Margaret Sesepasara, I was able to collaborate with a variety of specialists. For example, our birth control poster was finessed by the Director of Family Planning at LBJ. By working together we were able to create Title 9 approved educational materials that helped them reach compliance in health education.

A poster on breast feeding produced as part of the project

With material support (a high quality camera) from the American Samoa Historic Preservation Office (HPO), and the support of the DOH nursing staff I took photos of pregnant Samoan women, Samoan babies, health care professionals, and clinics. Written permission was garnered before I took the photos. I visited the local farmer’s market and photographed healthy Samoan foods (local fish, vegetables), and with a local store I constructed a photograph of less healthy food choices (corn beef, chips, etc). In addition I chose culturally appropriate colors to illustrate these posters.

Objective 3: Print posters and share them with the four women’s health clinics (DOH and LBJ) and WIC. The cost of printing and laminating these large, colorful posters was more than I had originally budgeted. However, I was able to gain sponsorship from a local sign company, All Star Signs, to offset the costs. As a result, I was able to disperse these posters to the appropriate clinics around the island.

An American Samoan mother and baby

Objective 4: Physically disseminate copies of my original Wenner Gren funded dissertation. Although I had shared components of this research before, I sent packages of materials to leaders at the DOH and LBJ prior to arriving on island. These included copies of my dissertation, abstracts from papers I had given (many co-authored with Samoan colleagues), and manuscripts for upcoming articles.

The posters look beautiful, and were met with great support. However, there was an intangible benefit that came from returning on an Engaged Anthropologist Grant. By returning as a fully vested professional anthropologist with time and money to invest directly into the medical community, I was able to strengthen many of the lines of communication I developed during my original tenure on island. It was empowering to go back to my island home with something to give rather than take and am excited to continue working in American Samoa.

NYAS @ WGF Returns! Fall 2016/Spring 2017 Monday Evening Lecture Series: “Framing”

This year our speaker series “Framing” highlights the multiple and contested processes of cultural construction, critique, and analysis that are part of the anthropological project. Framing can apply to the way in which a research problem is addressed, categories are delimited, theory is understood, and boundaries are drawn or transgressed.  Framing can also be a way of exploring the way we come to see our world in a particular place and time.  In all instances to raise the question of framing is to raise the question of the power, stance, and social position of anthropologists in relationship efforts to understand and explain what it means to be human.

September 26, 2016

Faye Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp

Department of Anthropology, New York University

 

“Making Accessible Futures: from ramps to #cripthevote”

Since the late 20th century, American medical, legal and cultural institutions have embraced a recognition of disability as a form of life worth living, in contrast to earlier 20th century eugenic ideologies that often removed people with disabilities from public space and from life itself. In NYC locations as diverse as schools, medical laboratories, film festivals, homes and religious institutions, we have learned how families form new kinship imaginaries around the fact of disability; how disability publics emerge through a variety of media forms and activism; how scientists are rethinking cognitive diversity; how schools engage with and too often fail in launching students with disabilities into the world. The number of disabled citizens, currently estimated at almost 20% of the US population, is predicted to increase significantly over the next decade. In our talk, we consider how these materialities place “accessible futures” in constant negotiation, most recently with the unexpected emergence of disability activism as an incendiary issue in the current presidential campaign.

This event will begin at 6pm and end at 8pm. Dinner will not be provided, but drinks and other refreshments will be served.

 

October 24, 2016

Didier Fassin, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Discussant, Andrea Barrow, Black Lives Matter

 

“Re-Framing Punishment”

Punishment has been studied for centuries by moral philosophers and legal scholars, with a particular emphasis on its definition (notably to distinguish it from vengeance) and justification (with the classic opposition between utilitarianism and retributivism). Based on ethnographic research conducted over the past ten years in France on policing, justice and prison, the lecture will challenge the normative and idealist approach, trying to analyze what punishment is and how it is justified in actual interactions between officers, judges and guards with their respective publics while illuminating what is often the blind spot of the traditional approach: the distribution of sanctions. This inductive method thus makes possible a critique of punishment that resonates with contemporary issues about law enforcement, the penal system and mass incarceration in the United States, and more broadly the punitive turn in most contemporary societies.

 

 

December 5, 2016

Dennis O‘Rourke

University of Kansas

“Ancient Genomes, Paleoenvironments, Archaeology and the Peopling of the Americas”

 

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 archeological 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.

 

SPRING SCHEDULE

 

January 30, 2017

David Price

Saint Martin’s University

“Re-Framing the Impacts of Cold War CIA Fronts: How the CIA Shaped Social Science”

 

Drawing on two decades of archival and extensive Freedom of Information Act requests, David Price analyzes specific impacts on social science research projects from the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of funding fronts to influence social science research during the 1950s and 60s.  While most of the known two dozen CIA funding fronts were identified between 1965 and 1975 by investigative journalists and congressional investigations, relatively little scholarly work since then has focused on tracing the specific ways that these CIA fronts shaped the production and consumption of social science knowledge. The passage of time now allows access to CIA records as well as archival collections showing which projects were selected or rejected for funding, and establishing how these fronts connected witting and unwitting scholars with larger projects of interest to the CIA and defense establishment during the Cold War. These materials shed light on how the production of specific scientific knowledge was linked to the political economic systems in which it was embedded.

 

February 27, 2017

Timothy R. Pauketat

University of Illinois

“Water and the Big History of the Pre-Columbian Mississippi Valley”

 

In rethinking the ontological bases of pre-Columbian North America, water emerges as the primary substance through which people lived their histories. Simplistic climate change and flood-event scenarios aside, the atmospheric water cycle enmeshed peoples in ways that explain Mississippi Valley agriculture, astronomy, religious practice, political development, and historical ties to Mesoamerica. The linchpin of such arguments is the greater Cahokia phenomenon (AD 1000s-1300s). Beginning with new large-scale archaeological excavations and a refined chronology in that region, I trace water-human relationships through local-to-continent-wide genealogies of maize cultivation, mussel shell use, and American Indian sweat lodges and other “water shrines.” There are theoretical implications for how we understand history and humanity.

 

March 27, 2017

Glenn H. Shepard Jr.

Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi

Belém do Pará, Brazil

“Close encounters: The dilemmas of contact for isolated indigenous peoples of the Amazon”

 

The Peru-Brazil border region harbors perhaps the world’s largest remaining refuge for isolated indigenous peoples, sometimes referred to as “uncontacted tribes.” Over the past few years, an increasing intensity of sightings, encounters and conflicts as well as sensational international media coverage has raised international awareness about their status, their unique vulnerabilities and the growing threats to their territories and ways of life. This presentation pieces together what little is known about the cultural history of isolated indigenous peoples in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, separates fact from fiction in popular media representations about them, analyzes their rapidly evolving interactions with outsiders, and weighs the complex opportunities and threats they face over the next decade.

 

April 24, 2017

Laura Nader

Department of Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley

“Unraveling Disciplinary Mind-sets”

 

The study of disciplinary mind-sets was in part stimulated by Thomas Kuhn’s book on paradigm shifts- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) in which he distinguishes “normal science” from non-hegemonic paradigm free science. The study of the paradigm of science is a rich academic subject for contemporary anthropology as well as for philosophers and historians of science.  The specific focus of my discussion will be the “mind-sets” that inform contemporary Energy Sciences and the challenges that these mind-sets present.

 

Location of the lectures:

Wenner-Gren Foundation

470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor

New York, NY 10016

 

Buffet dinner at 6PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/ free for students).

Lectures begin at 7PM and are free and open to the public.

 

 

Giving Them Their Genetic History: Returning the Results of Molecular Anthropological Studies to Southern Africa

A Final Report from Engaged Anthropology Grant recipient Brigitte Pakendorf, Dynamique du Langage, CNRS and Université Lyon 2, awarded in March 2015.

On the road in Botswana.

I had received a Post-PhD grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2012 to cover part of the costs involved in analysing Y-chromosomal sequence variation among populations of southern Africa, particularly among those who speak so-called “Khoisan” languages. Under the label “Khoisan” I subsume the indigenous languages of southern Africa that are characterized by a heavy use of click consonants and that do not belong to the Bantu family of languages. These Y-chromosome analyses were part of a larger project on the genetic history of the Khoisan-speaking peoples. Since this project is nearly completed, I decided to return to Botswana and Namibia to explain the results to the people whose genetic history we had studied. I undertook this return trip together with my close collaborator, Mark Stoneking from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who had accompanied me to Namibia in 2011 to collect samples and who has been deeply involved in the genetic analyses. Our plan was to visit as many of the communities that had participated in the study as possible to explain to them in person what we had found out about their history.

It should be noted that the original field trips to collect saliva samples in Botswana and Namibia had taken six and seven weeks, respectively, whereas we now had only six and a half weeks at our disposal for the entire trip. Therefore, we were not able to visit all the communities in person, but I sent written reports to those that we could not reach for lack of time. For the communities settled in Botswana, these written reports were translated into Tswana, the lingua franca of Botswana, while for the communities settled in Namibia they were translated into Afrikaans, still widely used in that country; we sent both the English original and the translated version of each report. In these reports – both the written and the oral that formed the basis of our community meetings – I tried to provide not only information concerning the prehistory of the Khoisan-speaking peoples and their Bantu-speaking neighbours in general, but also specific results concerning the genetic history of each individual ethnolinguistic group.

Spending a night in a traditional court in a remote village, Botswana.

We travelled from Johannesburg through Botswana and Namibia to Windhoek, starting on July 7th and arriving on August 17th, 2015 and covering approximately 10,000 km in total in a Landrover driven solely by Mark, which we were able to rent thanks to the grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The other expenses incurred during this trip were covered by a separate grant awarded by the Laboratory of Excellence “ASLAN” of Lyon.

In order to be as efficient as possible, we had set up a very tight itinerary and I had sent letters ahead of time to all of the communities for whom I had addresses, informing them of the time and date we proposed to come; we further arranged meetings by phone on the ground where possible. Unfortunately, not all of our letters arrived at their destination, so that there were several communities who were unaware of our plans until we arrived. In several of these it was therefore impossible to organize a community meeting to explain our results. Nevertheless, of the nearly 40 communities that we visited during our trip, we were able to explain our findings in personal meetings to 28.

Community meeting with Shua in Nata, Botswana, with Blesswell Kure translating.

In order to make the rather complex material more accessible to people who often have only a relatively low level of education, we had brought some illustrations, with the help of which I tried to explain how we can study the (genetic) history of an ethnolinguistic group using saliva samples as well as what we found. In Botswana, my explanation was translated into Tswana by our assistant Blesswell Kure, with a further translation into the local language by a member of the community where needed. In Namibia I conducted the meetings mostly in Afrikaans, which is often understood better than English; again, where needed, a community member would translate what I said into the local language. The size of our audiences in the villages ranged from 10 to approximately 70, with on average 30-40 people listening. Where we were unable to explain our results in person, we left written reports in the hopes that in this way the information concerning our results would spread via the literate community members. We furthermore left these written results after each community meeting, and will be sending more of these to communities and individuals who had requested this.

Community meeting with Haiǁom in Mangetti West, Namibia, with traditional leader chief Geelbooi translating.

In addition to explaining our findings to the communities who had participated in our study, we also gave lectures in Johannesburg, Gaborone, and Windhoek. These targeted different audiences: geneticists at the Sydney Brenner Institute in Johannesburg, interested academics from various fields at the University of Botswana in Gaborone and the University of Namibia in Windhoek, and the general public at the Namibia Scientific Society (also in Windhoek). We estimate that in total we shared our results directly with approximately 1,000 people. Furthermore, we gave a television interview in Gaborone and a radio interview in Windhoek.

While the response among the communities was generally very positive, there were also some who made it very clear that knowing about their genetic history – which often entails events that took place thousands of years ago – is entirely irrelevant to their daily struggle for a decent living and basic political rights, and who would have preferred material support over abstract knowledge. Nevertheless, in general the people we met were very appreciative of our efforts to share the findings from our study with them, and most of them were very interested in our results. Thus, in several cases people started avidly reading the written reports that we had prepared as soon as we distributed them after each meeting, and as I said above, many have requested their own personal copy. This underlines the importance of returning the results of scientific studies to the people involved, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation is to be highly commended for taking the initiative with their “Engaged Anthropology” funding programme.

 

Upcoming August-September Conferences

22nd Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA Vilnius 2016)

August 31 – September 4, 2016

Vilnius, Lithuania

As the only event in European archaeology which includes significant and active academic, theoretically driven research sessions alongsider sessions devoted to the policy and practice of heritage management, EAA Annual Meetings attract a high proportion of early-career scholars and colleagues from around the globe. There is a deep and well-established commitment to enabling the inclusive participation of archaeologists from all parts of Europe. The EAA Annual Meeting in Vilnius will host the most topical scholarly and professional debate together with significant networking opportunities for its members, especially those from the former socialist bloc. At the same time, it will provide and excellent insight into Lithuania’s rich, diverse and unique cultural heritage to a broad international audience.

 

Eight World Archaeological Congress (WAC-8)

August 28 – September 2, 2016

Kyoto, Japan

WAC conferences are international forums for discussion for anyone who os concerned with the study of the past. The Eighth World Archaeological Congress (WAC-8) aims to promote discussion of new archaeological research as well as archaeological policy, theory, and practice; professional training for emerging scholars, especially those from disadvantaged nations, groups and communities; the empowerment and support of Indigenous groups and First Nations peoples; and the conservation of archaeological sites.

 

“Balkan Life Courses: Family, CHildhood, Youth and Old Age in Southeast Europe”

September 15-18, 2016

Sofia, Bulgaria

This conference seeks to understand how historical events in Southeast Europe, which produced deep structural changes, have influenced the construction of individual life courses; how age-based social identities are experienced along the life course; what new life course identities and representations of life periods are produced; and also how the experience of aging changes in order to outline the complexities and varieties of life courses in the context of the radical social transformations which this European region has experienced in the eras of socialism and globalization.

 

2nd AIBR International Conference of Anthropology

September 6 – 9, 2016

Barcelona, Spain

Building on the success of its first edition, the 2nd AIBR International Conference of Anthropology brings anthropologists from many different parts of the world under the theme “Identity: Bridges, Thresholds and Barriers”. Since the beginnings of our discipline, we have reflected upon the categories, the continuities and discontinuities of being human. Therefore, to what extent are we “inventing” identity? If we have traditionally drawn a line between identity and alterity, have these essential concepts not served to be the discipline’s very barriers?

 

100+25 Years of Homo erectus: Dmanisi and Beyond

September 20 – 24, 2016

Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

In 1991, 100 years after the discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus in Java, an international Senckenberg Conference was held in Frankfurt to review 100 years of Homo erectus research. In 2016, 25 years later, the “Homo erectus enigma” is still one of the most fascinating debates in hominin evolutionary research. This conference is organized jointly by the Georgian National Museum and the Senckenberg Research institute in cooperation with ROCEEH (Heidelberg Academy of Science). It will highlight regional aspects of early hominin evolution in Africa and Eurasia an discuss aspects of Homo erectus evolution and behavior in a broad perspective.

 

Decolonising Anthropology in Southern Africa (Anthropology Southern Africa Annual Conference, 2016)

September 30 – October 2, 2016

Thohoyandou, South Africa 

This year’s Anthropology Southern Africa annual conference invites papers and panels that engage with the theme of decolonising the humanities from ethnographic, theoretical, and pedagogical angles.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Serious Play: Anthropology and Game Design for Farmworker Health and Justice

Playing “Farm-o-Poly,” an agricultural themed version of the classic board game “Monopoly” and wondering, “Where are the farmworkers?”

Eight students from California’s Pájaro Valley and two interns joined anthropologist Dvera Saxton in summer 2015 in a creative workshop that led to the conceptualization and design of two farmworker-themed video games. By winter 2016, the games will be digitized and ready for their public debut on the Internet. The students, who all come from farmworker families, learned ideas and methods of anthropology, game design, and graphic design and combined those new insights with their own life experiences to create the games. It is our hope that our video games will foster greater empathy for farmworkers and a deeper sense of appreciation for the skilled but socially and economically undervalued work that they do in the strawberry fields.

 

Workshop participants from top left, intern Juan Morales Rocha, Kat Torres, Samuel Hernandez, Xavier Rodriguez, Fabian Rocha, Marco Baltazar, and intern Kevin Cameron. Bottom from left: Juan Pablo Chavez, Mar Uribe, Victoria Moran, and anthropologist Dvera Saxton.

When you play classic board games like The Game of Life or Monopoly, the stories and narratives, and even the outcomes of game play, do not necessarily reflect our lived realities. And the values that the contemporary versions of these games instill are also problematic, and deviate from those intended by their originators (and, according to historian Jill Lepore, author of The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, certainly from those of the Old World inventors of the some of the first spiral board games in India, East Asia, and the ancient Middle East).

Immigrant workers, are largely invisible in contemporary popular board and video games (as they are in real life), despite their critical roles in producing and maintaining wealth: the construction workers who build dream homes, the housekeepers and nannies who maintain the gleaming interiors and care for the children of more privileged full time workers, the gardeners who preen and prune the landscaping, and the farmworkers who harvest the strawberries plunked into the champagne or sliced atop a Starbucks parfait.

Director of the Digital Nest, Jacob Martinez, takes a break to play. Photo by author.

Even amidst great struggles—from dangerous border crossings and family separations to devastating and permanently disabling injuries—farmworkers and their families still found time for humor and playfulness in everyday life. It is from my observations of farmworker families at work and at play that I drew much of the inspiration for the Game Over: Game Design for Farmworker Health workshop. With the collaboration of two interns–Kevin Cameron, a UC Santa Cruz Game Design program graduate, and Juan Morales Rocha a UC Santa Cruz Cognitive Science major and son of farmworker parents–eight students (recruited from Watsonville High School and Pájaro Valley High School), and our host, the Digital Nest (a non-profit that provides space for youth and adults to learn about emerging technologies and collaborate on projects), we developed two farmworker themed video games that we hope will foster more empathy for the people who harvest the fresh foods we eat.

The anthropologist hoists the piñata at a Christmas-time guerilla toy distribution for farm worker children at an apartment complex in Watsonville. Photo by Gabe.

I went back to my field notes to think about the instances of playfulness I observed in farmworkers’ everyday lives, and how this contrasted with the unbearable struggles and suffering they endured behind the scenes. Play is a method of coping with seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is a survival strategy, a way of blowing off steam or decompressing from a long day at work, and also a means to instill values and morals in children and to reinforce them amongst adults. As political scientist anthropologist James C. Scott observed, there is a playfulness to rural workers’ resistance in the fields.

Farmworker play is diverse, and takes place both at work and off the clock. El Teatro Campesino toured across California’s farm fields, entertaining workers and inciting them to respond to injustices through comedy and theatrical plays. At work, farmworkers may sing along with the radio, sneak a ripe berry into their mouths, or take part in lunchtime soccer matches or gambling card games. At one field site site near a flower nursery, I saw that farmworkers had ingeniously made their own impromptu glove drying rack. At farmworker households, families played rounds of loteria (a classic Mexican version that is similar to bingo), especially at Christmas time. I reminisced about the guerilla piñata parties an area activist group would throw for farmworker neighborhoods around Watsonville at Christmas time. At a community garden run by farmworkers, children played by running up and down the rows and occasionally helped their parents. All the while, they were learning the differences between edible and inedible weeds and how to grow food for their families the same ways they do back home in Mexico. I thought about the participation of farmworkers and their children at rallies, and the clever and colorful posters they made. How could we mobilize this playfulness to challenge popular misconceptions about farm work and farmworkers? What games could we create that might help farmworkers preserve their health, or know their rights?

Children of farmworkers play “farmer” atop a tractor at a farmworker-led community garden.

California’s Pájaro and Salinas Valleys are major strawberry-growing regions, producing 80 percent of the strawberries consumed throughout the United States. In this region, from May through October, thousands immigrant laborers, mostly of Mexican and Central American descent, rise before dawn to harvest strawberries, red and black raspberries, and blueberries. Many people enjoy these and other fruits at breakfast time, several hours after the sun comes up.

These strawberry fields (not the ones idealized by the Beatles) are where I conducted my dissertation research on farmworker health and wellbeing. I observed that many factors—from pesticides to the piece rate of pay—contribute to devastating farmworker health problems that layer and evolve over time in bodies and communities. My research and activism in response to farmworker health issues involved networks up and down the agricultural hierarchy. It has and continues to contribute ethnographic labor and critical analysis and reflection to social and environmental justice movements.

Retired farmworker grandparents and their grandkids with hand-colored posters with serious life-or-death messages at a demonstration against the toxic pesticide methyl idodie.

During our workshop, we merged the methods and concepts of ethnography, game design, and graphic design to make a series of serious games. This kind of game play aims to achieve more than entertainment. There is a great range of serious games, and the ideas and ethics they promote: from social justice causes to ethically problematic military and police training games. In addition to fostering empathy for farmworkers, we want our games to serve as educational and political resources in response to the a-political curriculum games featured on the websites of agribusiness companies and advocacy organizations, such as the American Farm Bureau and the California Strawberry Commission.

We conducted participant observation by playing and discussing many different board and video games with farming, food, immigration, and political themes. Some featured explicit and serious social justice themes, like The Migrant Trail. In this game, players can take on the role of an immigrant crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or the role of a border patrol agent. We thought critically about the problematic storylines of games like Harvest Moon, which features a young farmer who can till, tend, and harvest the land without ever running out of stamina. This is a stark contrast to the experiences of farmworkers, who are often permanently disabled by the repetitive motions and intense pace of the labor.

Drawing ourselves as video game characters as we contemplate the absence of Latino/a characters in games that aren’t racist or based on pernicious stereotypes.

Each of these games are fun to play, but for these teens, playing The Migrant Trail proved to be a more powerful experience than Oregon Trail, because their families’ stories are brought to the center of the gaming experience. So too, are the tensions between first generation immigrants and their descendants, some of whom, the youth observed, ironically, get jobs as border patrol agents. Playing a border patrol checkpoint agent in the game Papers, Please! gave students temporary access to indiscriminate amounts of power over the lives of other migrants trying to get into the fictional country of Arstotzka. The longer they played, the less sympathetic they became to immigrants’ pleas and stories, and the more obedient they became at enforcing the bureaucracy.

There are opportunities for anthropology, with the creative assistance of communities and other disciplines, to flip the script on games and other modes of learning and play in ways that aim to validate and politicize everyday life. The games that we came up with this summer provide a constructive means of engaging some of the complex and serious issues that farmworker families face every day.  We will be throwing our game launch party in Winter of 2016, and we look forward to sharing our work with Pájaro Valley farmworker families, teachers, health care providers, non-profit directors and staffers, and elected officials, and from there, the rest of the internet accessible world. We hope that the games inspire other kinds of pragmatic, or practical, solidarity with farmworkers, in addition to furthering the trend of disseminating anthropological research by unconventional and innovative means.

Kat Torres tests out the prototype. The objective is to pick and grade the strawberries as fast as possible with few to no inconsistencies or errors. It is a lot harder than it looks and sounds! The physical prototype is like a rough draft of what will eventually become a final digitized video game.

After analyzing and playing these and other games, and brainstorming different ideas and variables for our own farmworker-themed game, we developed, constructed, play-tested, and refined two video game prototypes. Our game suite, Guardians of the Field: The Strawberry Jam (or Guardianes/as del Campo: El Jale de la Fresa in Spanish) will be launched online with free access in Winter 2016. One of the games simulates the experience of working at a piece rate of pay and the work of picking and grading berries for different global markets at a fast pace. The second is puzzle in which the player must pick and arrange the berries into a series of baskets under a time limit. In the end, the berries in each basket must weigh approximately one pound and must not overflow. Both of these are highly skilled parts of strawberry farm work. Our teen coconspirators know, sometimes from second hand knowledge from their parents and grandparents, and sometimes from first hand knowledge having spent summers alongside their kin in the berry fields, that farm work is not merely mindless physical labor. In reality, a lot of skill, focus, knowledge, and care, as well as physical energy, goes into picking and packing the strawberries that end up on supermarket shelves and in our refrigerators.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Caitlin E. Fouratt

 

Workshop participant discusses his family’s migration story

Caitlin E. Fouratt is Assistant Professor in the International Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach.

In 2011, while a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Irvine, she received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “Presences and Absences: Nicaraguan Migration to Costa Rica and Transnational Families.” In June 2015, she returned for one month to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant to teach a seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies at the University of Costa Rica and to facilitate two community workshops. The seminar included presentations on her own research as well as current research from local colleagues and students’ research projects. The first workshop, with Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica, focused on the challenges of family separation, gender and migration, and strengthening family ties. The second, with relatives of migrants back in Nicaragua, examined shifts in Costa Rican immigration law that migrants face and the complexity of transnational family relationships.

 

Seminar participants at the University of Costa Rica

My dissertation research focused on the experiences of Nicaraguan migrants in Costa Rica and their families back in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans represent the largest immigrant group in Costa Rica and make up almost 8% of the population. In my research, I looked at the ways in which members of transnational families navigate the shifting meanings of family when faced with the challenges of migration. Two of the biggest challenges Nicaraguan transnational families face are the result of state policies on either side of the border. In Nicaragua, where decades of conflict, natural disasters, and economic crisis have deepened poverty, the government has been unable or unwilling to provide basic social services for much of the population. Most poor Nicaraguans seek to provide care for themselves and each other through family networks. But with high unemployment and low wages, families are forced to make difficult decisions, including deciding to migrate internationally to provide for food, housing, education, and healthcare for loved ones. Unlike in the rest of Central America, most Nicaraguans travel not north to the U.S., but south to neighboring Costa Rica, where wages are relatively higher, the journey takes less than one day, and immigration enforcement has not been as repressive as in the United States. However, this situation has been changing over the past ten years. Indeed, my research showed that, like other receiving countries around the world, Costa Rica is moving toward immigration policies focused on increasing restrictions for entry and residency and ramping up enforcement efforts and the costs of fees and fines. All of this affects families’ abilities to maintain relationships across borders.

Some seminar participants after our last class at the University of Costa Rica

I applied for a Wenner-Gren Engaged Anthropology grant because I wanted to facilitate dialogue with Costa Rican colleagues working on migration and to share my results with the families who participated in the project. As a bonus, I was able to return with my now 3 year old daughter who was born in Costa Rica during dissertation research. During my dissertation fieldwork, my husband, Chris, and our daughter were my constant fieldwork companions for the 18 months we spent in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Like many scholars of transnational migration, at various moments throughout my fieldwork, I found myself tracing and retracing the paths and journeys migrants themselves traveled. Becoming a mother while in the field, became integral not only to building rapport with my Nicaraguan interlocutors but also to my expectations of how I would undertake fieldwork and my understandings of kinship and family. Returning as a family allowed us to reconnect with the families with whom we spent so much time during her infancy.

Koen Voorend, researcher and professor at the University of Costa Rica, presenting on Nicaraguans’ access to and use of public services in Costa Rica

With the help of very supportive colleagues at the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales at the University of Costa Rica, especially Koen Voorend and the Institute’s director, Dr. Carmen Caamano, I organized a 4 session seminar on Migration, Family, and Policies.  We invited students, faculty, and community members to come together to talk about pressing migration issues in Costa Rica as well as global trends in migration and recent migration studies research. Because we wanted the seminar to create a space of dialogue rather than just a class about my research, we invited participants to share their own research, experience, and projects on the key themes of the seminar. As the first day of the seminar approached, I felt increasingly nervous. Other than in an article, I had never articulated my research in Spanish before, especially before a live audience. Plus, it was the end of the academic term and students and professors were preparing for exams. Would anyone even attend? I needn’t have worried. Our first meeting included 26 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and researchers, NGO members, and even some Nicaraguan migrants who had participated in my research.

Olinda Bravo, coordinator and founder of the Network of Women Migrants presenting to students about the history of immigrant organizing in Costa Rica

It was exciting to present my work to Costa Rican colleagues and receive their feedback. But even more rewarding was to hear colleagues and students present on their recent work. Koen Voorend presented on the relationship between Nicaraguans’ legal status and use of social services in Costa Rica. Dr. Carmen Caamaño, the director of the IIS presented on her work with migrant organizations, and Olinda Bravo, the coordinator of the Network of Women Migrants, on the network’s experiences standing up for labor rights and advocating for immigrants in Costa Rica. Students also presented their thesis projects, which ranged from work in psychology on the mental health of Central American refugees in Costa Rica, from Social Work in gendered aspects of border crossings, and to a Fulbright scholar home on vacation about unaccompanied child migrants in the U.S. What impressed me most was the level of interest that these issues sparked among students and faculty. As one colleague noted, years ago when she completed her masters at the University of Costa Rica, she was almost the only student working on migration. Now, there are students across disciplines and levels interested in issues of migration and gender, mobility, family, and law. The dialogue sparked by planning and facilitating the seminar has already prompted plans for joint publication with Costa Rican colleagues and I hope will set the stage for future collaborations.

Participants in Costa Rica drawing their families

In between seminar sessions, I also organized two workshops, one in Costa Rica and one in Nicaragua with former research participants and members of transnational families. These workshops would have been impossible to organize without the help of the very dedicated staff of ASTRADOMES, the Association of Domestic Workers, and the Network of Women Relatives of Nicaraguan Migrants. These women supported and encouraged me during fieldwork years ago, and were key to handling all the logistics and organizing needed to pull off the workshops successfully. The first workshop, in Costa Rica, was hosted by ASTRADOMES, and included 15 migrant women, who trekked through a torrential downpour to attend. We started the day introducing ourselves by drawing our families, then I presented some key insights from my research, particularly on the gendered work of maintaining family ties, and received lots of audience input and commentary. We closed by brainstorming some strategies that migrants could use to strengthen transnational family relationships.

Carmen Cruz, labor rights promoter for Astradomes, preparing typical a typical Nicaraguan meal for workshop participants

In Nicaragua, our workshop was cut short by the celebration of the Repliegue de Masaya, a reenactment of a battle leading up to the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution. But again, the coordinators of the Network of Women Family Members of Migrants and Astradomes ensured that we would have a great turn out. Although I had hoped to give a more formal academic talk before the workshop, the schedule changes meant few faculty could make it and workshop participants needed to arrive early to avoid public transit delays. In the end, I presented on Costa Rican immigration law and the lived experiences of “illegal” migrants to the workshop participants themselves. Afterwards, many participants noted that this was a topic they rarely discussed with their family members in Costa Rica, though many of them were undocumented. The presentation offered a new perspective on the challenges their loved ones faced abroad. But what made this part a highlight was that several professors from the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) attended and expressed interest in collaborating with the Network and Astradomes.  These faculty members were key contacts that the network had been trying to connect with and build relationships with for a long time. I hope that the conversations started here will lead to more fruitful collaborations not only for myself, but for Astradomes and the network.

The conversations sparked in these activities have not only helped me think through my research in light of participants’ comments, suggestions, and critiques, and to brainstorm future avenues of research, but have prompted conversations among academic and community-based colleagues about continuing to develop spaces for collaboration and feedback.

Upcoming July Conferences & Workshops

A look at what we’re sponsoring this summer.

 

Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) 2016 Annual Conference: “Footprints and Futures: the time of anthropology”

 

July 4-7, 2016

University of Durham

The 2016 ASA conference will focus on contemporary knowledge making in anthropology with one eye on the footprints that we have left [narratives, traditions, scholarship, disciplinary identities, methodologies and the nature of evidence], and the other on the futures glimpsed in the richness and diversity of our anthropological practice. The conference is seeking to provide a lens for the re-examination of the conditions under which anthropological knowledge is shaping and is shaped by critical times.

Crucially, the purpose of Footprints and Futures is not inward facing reflection. In the societies in which we live and work as anthropologists there are profound concerns about sustainability, security of livelidhood, diversity, equality  and access to hope for the future.  The questions posed about the ways in which we produce anthropological knowledge are being brought into sharp focus at a time when inequality, conflict and the mal-distribution of resources leave a deepening footprint on large swathes of humanity.

The aim of the conference is to bring together an international and interdisciplinary community of scholars from all stages of the researcher life-cycle who will debate the discipline’s critical relevance and a reflect upon the different temporalities within which our knowledge making unfolds.


European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) 14th Biennial Conference: Anthropological legacies and human futures

 

July 20-23, 2016

University of Milano-Bicocca

The recent years have seen EASA engaged in inspiring and fruitful discussions on margins, subjectivity and intimacy. It is time to pause and put the fundamental concerns of anthropology once again at the centre of attention. The idea of legacies implies taking stocks, and taking stock is a way to prepare for the future. Anthropology has lived a time of change, innovation, and interdisciplinary dialogue, but has also struggled to define and establish its own research priorities against the tendency of other intellectual traditions to co-opt its contributions. Political agendas external to the discipline have often bent the broader significance of our findings, and other fields of knowledge have partly appropriated, partly trivialized as anecdotal information, the strengths of the anthropological approach to the study of humans: the ethnographic method. Six sub-themes (power, economy, work, kinship, religion, knowledge and forms of expressions) stimulate the engaging task of anchoring future paths of investigation and collaboration in the legacies of anthropology.

The conference brings together scholars and students from all the countries of Europe and beyond thus creating new formal and informal relationships and collaborations. The anthropologists of the University of Milano-Bicocca run a masters and doctoral program in socio-cultural anthropology, which are a reference point for the development of the discipline through the constant implementation of research and teaching. The 14th EASA conference enhances the national and international visibility of the Italian team, and encourages scholars, especially young ones and students, to broaden the scope of their collaborative networks.

Fieldwork Update: Grassridge Rockshelter, Eastern Cape, South Africa

We welcome a guest post from Wenner-Gren grantees Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames.

Geologist and Uranium-Thorium dating specialist Dr. Robyn Pickering (left) and Dr. Christopher Ames (right) examining the geological sample containing a flowstone which separates Grassridge's Holocene and Pleistocene occupations. Photograph taken by Dr. Benjamin Collins.

Dr. Benjamin Collins and Dr. Christopher Ames are currently conducting Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene occupations at Grassridge rockshelter. The site is located at the base of the Stormberg Mountains in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and is approximately 200 km inland from the Indian Ocean. These excavations are part of the Grassridge Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Project (GAPP), which explores the dynamic between hunter-gather behavioral diversity, social network formation, and regional-scale climatic variability during the Late Pleistocene.

The Late Pleistocene in southern Africa was subject to periods of severe aridity and rapid climatic change. Some researchers have used this evidence to suggest the interior regions of southern Africa were sparsely populated at these times, with hunter-gatherer groups forming very small, localized social networks. However, the paucity of well-described archaeological sites from the interior during this time frame has made it difficult to explicitly test this hypothesis.

Dr. Christopher Ames (left) and Dr. Benjamin Collins (right) examining the northern profile wall from Dr. Hermanus Opperman's 1979 excavations at Grassridge. Photograph taken by Cherene De Bruyn.

Grassridge’s ~90 – 100 cm thick Late Pleistocene archive is capped by a radiocarbon date of ~35,000 years ago, placing the sequence during an enigmatic period of technological and behavioral diversity in southern Africa. The bottom of the sequence is currently of unknown age. GAPP’s Wenner-Gren Foundation-funded excavations at Grassridge will provide crucial information from the understudied interior region of southern Africa, and make an important contribution towards understanding a period relative uncertainty in the southern African record.

This field season focuses on growing our sample of Late Pleistocene artifacts, and refining the chronology of Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene sequence. Preliminary results demonstrate a rich sample of stone tools, including blades (large and small) and points, faunal remains, several hearths and burning features, and large pieces of ochre. These data provide detailed information about hunter-gatherers lifeways in this area 35,000 years ago, and allow us to compare their strategies with those from across southern Africa.

2016 field crew on site at Grassridge (l-r): Dr. Benjamin Collins, Cherene De Bruyn, Dr. Christopher Ames, and Lisa Rogers.

Our excavations have also recovered substantial charcoal fragments, which are large enough to identify the types of plants being used for fuel, and critical for refining Grassridge’s Late Pleistocene occupational chronology. Moreover, we have identified a thin flowstone at the contact between Grassridge’s Pleistocene and Holocene occupations, which is to be dated by Uranium-Thorium dating specialist, Dr. Robyn Pickering (University of Cape Town). Dr. Pickering’s meticulous analysis will not only provide an important chronological marker, it will also produce detailed information of the paleoenvironmental conditions before, during, and after the formation of the flowstone, and help us better understand the gap in Grassridge’s occupational sequence between the Pleistocene and Holocene.

As our field season comes to a close, we are looking forward to getting back to the lab and analyzing the artifacts and faunal remains recovered from the Late Pleistocene occupation layers, as well as the geological and geochronological samples. These analyses will provide a comprehensive understanding of what life was like for the Grassridge’s hunter-gatherer residents, and more broadly contribute to understanding the relationships between behavioral diversity, social networks, and climatic variability at a regional scale.