Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Joanne Nucho

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Joanne Nucho who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud.

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud from Joanne Nucho on Vimeo.

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud is a 90-minute experimental ethnographic film about a working class suburb of Beirut called Bourj Hammoud that was initially built to permanently settle Armenian refugees who had escaped the 1915 genocide in Ottoman lands. Today, it is a diverse district that is home to Lebanese of various sects as well as migrants and displaced peoples from Syria and all over the world. Filmed over a period of seven years, the film examines the overlapping histories of displacement through interlocutors’ experience of urban space over time. Through an innovative practice of “map-drawing interviews,” my collaborator and I, Lebanese artist Rosy Kuftedjian, asked participants to draw a visual representation of the neighborhood that reflects something that has changed over time, or that is meaningful. The results of the map-drawing interviews shape the narrative of the film, which is anchored in the city’s constantly shifting material urban infrastructures and the ways in which people variously experience rootedness and displacement through the materiality of streets, electricity cables, bridges and buildings. The result is a lyrical ethnographic reflection on space, time and material accretions of the past as narrated by longtime residents as well as recent arrivals to this city. The associated website for the film can be found here.

I am very pleased to report that my 90-minute ethnographic film, The Narrow Streets of Bourj Hammoud, has been completed. This project is the culmination of several years of ethnographic research and filming in Bourj Hammoud, a municipal district just east of Beirut, Lebanon. A working class suburb with a diverse population, the film explores Bourj Hammoud’s rich history as a city built by survivors of the Armenian genocide settled in Lebanon in the 1920s and 30s as well as subsequent histories of displacement, exile, eviction and movement throughout the Lebanese civil war and, today, the conflict in Syria. These histories are explored through a series of “map drawing” interviews with various interlocutors in Armenian, Arabic and English, in which participants narrate the histories of Bourj Hammoud’s shifting urban terrain and conflicted histories through their own experiences in space and time. The film takes as its object the making and remaking of Bourj Hammoud’s urban materialities as well as shifting memories. The film project consists not only of a completed film, but it also incorporates an online “archive” that features the map drawings as well as excerpts from the interviews with the film participants who created them. The website is open for contributions of photographs and drawings of Bourj Hammoud by current residents as well as people in the Armenian and Lebanese diaspora who have, in recent years, taken an interest in this neighborhood which has been at the center of artistic projection about pre-war Lebanon (see, for example, artist Ara Madzounian’s recent photography book about Bourj Hammoud). The website can be found here: http://mappingbourjhammoud.com/

Organizing footage that was filmed in multiple different formats over a number of years was daunting. I first set about re-digitizing tapes and transcoding formats in order to match newer footage shot on digital formats – no small task for hours of footage. I carefully translated and logged the footage, creating rough sequences and identifying the gaps in b-roll footage, since I planned to return to Lebanon in order to conduct the map drawing interviews and further filming. One of the challenges in working with this footage is that the interviews were conducted in three languages – Arabic, Armenian and, occasionally, English. I am a firm believer that a documentary filmmaker and editor needs to log her own footage, but in this instance it would have been quite difficult for me to collaborate with someone else who knows both languages (in their local dialect form) and also knows how to edit and log footage. My primary artistic collaborator and assistant director, Lebanese-Armenian artist and drama therapy activist Rosy Kuftedjian, served as an important interlocutor throughout the logging and editing process. I shared various cuts and subtitled sequences with her digitally, and we actively collaborated across thousands of miles, as she is based in Lebanon. The thrill of digital technology and (slowly) increasing Internet speeds in Lebanon made our collaboration across a wide distance ever more possible.

I returned to Lebanon for one month of filming in 2015 in order to conduct more “map drawing interviews” with participants to enrich and expand my existing footage. We framed each map drawing interview with two questions “What has changed in this place? What do you remember?” Some of our participants answered these questions through detailed illustrations peppered with texts, others drew sparse lines and illuminated their sketches with detailed oral descriptions. We filmed all of these interviews, focusing both on the hands and faces of our interlocutors as they drew and sketched, mixing Bourj Hammoud’s past with its present and speculating upon its future. Through these powerful visual reflections on the violence of the civil war years, to countless evictions and displacements, to meditations on more recent displacements due to the conflict in Syria, the participants’ drawings collectively produce a multivocal portrait of a highly diverse area at the center of numerous tumultuous histories.

One of the most powerful experiences during this additional month of filming was an interview with a Syrian man who was sketching his commute to work each day. He had only recently come to Lebanon, and the small angular drawing of his path to work was crammed into one corner of the large paper we had given each interlocutor to draw on. He explained that his long working hours made it impossible for him to know much else about the neighborhood. This interview made me realize the power of drawing as a mode of ethnographic collaboration to illustrate those aspects of life stories that are often made marginal and the ways in which subjectivities are created in and through everyday life experiences in space.

After the additional month of filming, I logged and translated all of the new footage, which comprised of several hours. The editing process and incorporating the new footage took several months, as there were so many different years of footage, and making them fit into a narrative (though by no means a linear one) was a difficult task. Because the film has so many different interviewees and stories, I decided the best way to approach this process was to put the city at the center of the film’s narrative arc.

Divided into three sections, each part of the film illuminates some aspect of how my interlocutors’ notions of “time,” “space,” and “war,” respectively come through their narratives about Bourj Hammoud as a city, their sense of the passing of time, the changes in space and the impact of war on their own lives and the physical city. Many of the interviewees return at various points in the film, and the interviews are intercut with filmed sequences of life in the city, everything from a group of bystanders trying to rescue a stray cat from underneath a car, to a group of children playing on the street, to a reenacted sequence of one of my interlocutors going downstairs to turn on the power switch on the shared electricity subscription system that powers her apartment. The pace of the edits is meant to reflect a certain pace of time, a particular kind of speed and duration that only a film or time-based art can produce.

I photographed the map drawings themselves and began thinking about the best way to present these materials as the significant works that they are. In collaboration with Rosy Kuftedjian and Simone Rutkowitz, I began putting together the web-based project known as Mapping Bourj Hammoud. The website features an interactive map that allows visitors to click on a point on an illustrated map of Bourj Hammoud which will open up a close-up of the map drawing that corresponds to it in a separate page along with an excerpt from the interview in which the drawing was produced. The digital images of the maps themselves are stored on a Tumblr blog that will serve as an archive open to contributors who want to add photographs and drawings of this rapidly changing neighborhood, as at least one informal space, Sanjak Camp, that is documented in the film is currently being torn down.

The completed film is being prepared for festival screenings by Beirut-based post-production professional Belal Hibri and by Toronto-based sound engineer Matthew Ledermen. They are prepared to output the film into DCP format if it becomes necessary for some festivals. Daniel Fetherston provided additional post-production assistance. I am currently in the process of submitting the film to a number of festivals this spring and throughout the summer. I am also organizing my own screenings at other venues. The first screening and lecture will take place on March 15th at an invitation of sorts, a series curated by Suzy Halajian, Anthony Carfello and Shoghig Halajian in Los Angeles. With the assistance of Rosy Kuftedjian in Lebanon, I am also arranging to screen the film there, though most likely not in an art or festival context, but rather in a context that would be more comfortable for my interlocutors in Bourj Hammoud.

Moving forward I seek to adapt the film into an installation project that incorporates video and the map drawings. Making the film and the associated media available in various forms, both as a traditional ethnographic film as well as a video and drawing installation, would help present the work in a number of different contexts as well as push the work into a potentially more interactive context. The various layers of texts produced in and through this ethnographic project can have a life beyond the context of the film. As singular works, I seek to display the drawings in the context of further screenings or speaking engagements about the visual ethnographic collaborative practice that gave rise to this creative work.

NYAS @ WGF 9/25: The Refugee as a Political Figure for our Time

Dr. Ilana Feldman

Join us at the Wenner-Gren Foundation on September 25th at 5:45 PM as we kick off the first New York Academy of Sciences lecture of the fall series. Ilana Feldman, Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University will be presenting, “The Refugee as a Political Figure for our Time”. Dr. Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor and Chair at the New School for Social Research 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.

Event Registration:  If you will be registering for an event for the first time, the New York Academy of Sciences will ask you first to set up a user account with them. Registration is free and does not require divulging personal or financial information.

You can also register by phone, 212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600.  Early Registration is strongly recommended since seating is limited. 

Recent years have been marked by both tremendous population movement and incredible anxiety in refugee receiving countries and in relatively non-receiving countries. The moment seems apt to reconsider the refugee as a political figure, following a line of discussion first opened by a previous generations of scholars who examined earlier periods of large-scale human displacement and dislocation. In 1943 Hannah Arendt published an essay entitled “We Refugees,” a reflection on the position shared by herself and other Jewish exiles from Europe as they lived with displacement. In 1995 Giorgio Agamben published a short piece with the same title, commenting both on Arendt’s earlier piece and on the configurations of borders, movement, and population control that were defining the post-cold war European landscape. What does the current refugee “crisis” tell us about politics in the twenty-first century. Drawing from the Palestinian refugee experience, this paper explores the refugee as an enduring figure, one central to the existing, and persisting, political order. It also considers refugees as political actors, who struggle within and against this political order to create livable lives.

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!


Meet Our 2017 Wadsworth International Fellows: Alexander Titan Kabelindde

Alexander Kabelindde received his undergraduate degree from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship he will continue his training with a PhD in archaeology at University College London supervised by Dr. Ignacio De La Torre. Read the previous two entries in the series.

In October 2011 I was accepted into the Bachelor of Arts program in Archaeology at the University of Dar es Salaam. During my undergraduate studies, I received training in Palaeolithic Archaeology, Human Evolution and cognate courses. These courses gave me a greater understanding of lithic analysis and early humans’ biological and cultural evolution. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I did a hands-on analysis of Oldowan and Acheulean assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge and wrote a dissertation on the transition from the Oldowan to the Acheulean.

My enthusiasm and commitment to human evolutionary research enabled me to get a studentship to undertake a Postgraduate Diploma in Academic Research and Methods at UCL Qatar in August 2014, and then MA Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World (2015-2017). During my Masters, I have participated in various archaeological projects as a student, collaborator, volunteer and research assistant in Africa (Tanzania), Middle East (Qatar), Central Asia (Kazakhstan) and Europe (UK). My participation enabled me to receive world-class research skills in conducting archaeological research projects. My newly learned skills were applied to conduct an independent research project, written up as a Masters Dissertation in August 2017.

In my PhD study, I intend to focus on the technological behaviour of Homo erectus in Beds III and IV, Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). Throughout my study, I intend to undertake fieldwork (survey and excavation) and labwork (Leakey’s collection) to address the technological capacities of our ancestors during late Early Pleistocene. My research will require the use of integrative methods to analyse lithic assemblages unearthed from Beds III/IV sites and those stored in the field laboratory at Olduvai Gorge. Although the goal is to better understand Homo erectus technological behaviour at Olduvai Gorge, my research will also increase our understanding of the Leakey collections and adds new knowledge in Palaeolithic research in East Africa. More importantly, the results of my study will provide a new understanding of Acheulean assemblages from Olduvai and Homo erectus behaviour.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Erin Moore

The inaugural workshop of the Kampala Critical Development Collective, a collaborative ethnographic writing project, was held at 32 Degrees East/The Uganda Arts Trust

While a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Erin Moore received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on “Women into Girls? Translating & Transforming Development in Ugandan ‘Girls’ Empowerment Programs,” supervised by Dr. Jennifer Cole. In 2016 Dr. Moore went on to receive an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Race, Gender, and Geopolitics in Uganda’s NGO Economy: A Consortium”.

In Uganda, more than 15% of the national budget is controlled by foreign development agencies and multinational NGOs. In the wake of state retrenchment, Ugandans look to NGOs for employment, education, and other social and health services. Moreover, the international development industry drives both curricula and research in universities, as funds for tertiary education have been entirely privatized in recent decades. This national context – what I describe as Uganda’s “NGO economy” – hinges upon partnerships between western development agencies and local institutions.

Professor Godfrey Ddumba stands next to list of common themes that emerged from members' descriptions of their experiences working in the aid industry

These partnerships are asymmetrical: because Ugandans depend on development partnerships for income, they must work assiduously to maintain them. As I found over the course of my dissertation fieldwork in both activist and academic settings, this foreign-local partnership model explicitly shaped particular research objectives and precluded others. For example, at a 2012 meeting hosted by a Makerere University professor and her colleague from DFID, the UK’s state development agency, DFID’s desire to understand “cultural” obstacles to girls’ schooling foreclosed a prominent legal scholar’s proposed investigation into young women’s strategies for resilience.

Ugandan scholars and NGO practitioners often remark upon these experiences as structural inequalities systemic to an industry that they nonetheless rely upon for their livelihoods. Similar private conversations with Ugandan interlocutors over the course of my fieldwork suggested a need for a scholarly space outside the auspices of the development industry to critically assess the structural inequalities of Uganda’s NGO economy. To create such a space, with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research’s Engaged Anthropology Grant, and together with six artists, scholars, and activists the Kampala Critical Development Collective (KCDC) held its inaugural meeting in February 2017.

Hosted by the Kampala arts center, 32 Degrees East, KCDC met for an ethnographic writing workshop. Before the workshop, pariticipants posted relevant articles from academics and journalists in critical development studies to a shared database and circulated short autoethnographic pieces reflecting on the intersections of economic injustice and gender, generation, and geopolitics in the NGO industry.

KCDC members workshopping each other's submissions

The workshop opened with a discussion of the history of anthropology and its relationship to colonialism and the international development industry in Uganda. We then turned to ethnography and autoethnography as methods for relating one’s personal experiences to broader structures of inequality. For many, autoethnography was a new (and fruitful) writing genre, one that the group found useful for drawing connections across individual experiences.

From these methodological convervations, we turned to workshopping each participant’s pre-circulated autoethnographic piece. One KCDC member working for a major multinational children’s rights NGO described the irony of sending NGO beneficiaries, school-aged young people, to donor events in the Unites States and Europe while refusing to distribute monies for school fees to these same nominal beneficiaries. One prominent popular author involved in literacy activism wrote about the contingencies of accepting international donor funds, which demand accountability in the number of physical books distrubted to rural schools but whose metrics cannot capture the cultivationg of a “reading culture” among young people. A feminist activist involved in Uganda’s preeminent women’s movement lamented the impossibilities for the intergenerational transmission of feminist thought between older and younger women given the costs of attending both national and international feminst consortia. Over the course of reviewing each other’s writing, KCDC together discussed shared experiences of socioeconomic injustice across an industry that has become a primary source of employment for middle class young people in Uganda.

In June 2018, KCDC will meet for its second collaborative writing workshop to further develop these initial pieces for publication and to grow the collective’s reach. Additionally, KCDC is developing a collaborative blog as well as capacity for montly networking meetings to gather more Kampala-based scholars, activists, and artists interested in purusing projects related to critical development studies.

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship: Maple Razsa

We are pleased to present a trailer and abstract for Dr. Maple Razsa who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship to aid filmmaking on The Maribor Uprisings: An Interactive Documentary.

Trailer: The Maribor Uprisings: An Interactive Documentary.

The Maribor Uprisings: An Interactive Documentary

Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship

In the once prosperous industrial city of Maribor, Slovenia, anger over political corruption became unruly revolt. In The Maribor Uprisings: A Live Participatory film—part documentary, part conversation, and part interactive experiment—you are invited to participate in the protests. Dramatic frontline footage from a video activist collective places you in Maribor as crowds surround and ransack City Hall under a hailstorm of tear gas canisters. As a viewer, you must decide collectively with your fellow audience members which cameras you will follow and therefore how the screening will unfold. Like those who joined the actual uprisings, you will be faced with the choice of joining non-violent protests or following rowdy crowds towards City Hall and greater conflict. These dilemmas parallel those faced by protesters everywhere as they grapple with what it means to resist. What sparks outrage? How are participants swept up in—and changed by—confrontations with police? Could something like this happen in your city? What would you do? What audiences see, the emotional quality of their experience, perhaps even whether they feel personally implicated in unruly protest, will all depend on the choices they make.

For more on The Maribor Uprisings check out the official website as well as POV Magazine’s in-depth review and IndieWire’s article about the nine independent films that deserve more attention in 2017. 

Meet Our 2017 Wadsworth International Fellows: Ehsan Lor Afshar

Ehsan received his undergraduate degree at Iran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services, Tehran, Iran. He also has a Master’s degree from the University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran and The New School for Social Research, New York, NY. Thanks to the Wadsworth International Fellowship he will continue his training with a PhD in anthropology at the State University of New York in Binghamton, Binghamton, NY, supervised by Dr. Thomas M. Wilson. Read the previous entry in this series.

My journey in anthropology began in 1999 when I was accepted to the graduate program of anthropology in the University of Tehran. Since then, I have always been engaged with the field as student, academic, ethnographer, member of the Board of Directors of Iranian Society of Anthropology, and again student and adjunct in the United States. My Master’s thesis, which was focused on Iranian caravansaries, received the University’s Research Grant for its novel approach and scholarship. After earning my degree, I taught anthropology in Tehran and two other cities in Iran.

Between November 2005 and August 2012, I worked as an academic at the Department of Anthropology of Sistan and Baluchestan University in the southeast of Iran, at the country’s borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. While there, I became interested in the question of continuity and change in Baluchestan: how has the Baluch society in this relatively arid and isolated area come to be what it is today? Besides teaching, I also conducted three long-term ethnographies on rural communities of Baluchestan.

In August 2012, I moved to the U.S. to attend the graduate program of anthropology at the New School for Social Research. I completed the Master’s program in May of 2014 and started teaching at Saint John’s University the following year.

In September of 2016, I entered the PhD program of anthropology at Binghamton University, the State University of New York, where I can work on my research project under the supervision of world-class experts in anthropology of borders, state, and globalization. I have envisioned a multidimensional entry to the question of change in Iran’s Baluchestan with particular attention to the vortex of three interrelated dynamics: international borders, state surveillance, and forces of globalization.  I seek to contextualize the economic transformation of the Baluch society within the broader frameworks of nation-state and globalized world. The Baluch merchants, for instance, have to cope with the challenges posed by their group historical modes of adaptation and emerging forces of modern governmentality and market economies. My study’s goal is to investigate the confluences and socio-political consequences arising from these challenges.

NYAS @ WGF Returns! Fall 2017/Spring 2018 Monday Evening Lecture Series: “Angers, Aggressions, and Aspirations: Anthropologists Speak Out About Repression, Democracy, and Empowerment”

The current political tide around the world including in the US has been one of populist angers. The dispossessed, those whose lives have been made increasingly precarious have been mobilized to voice their anger and distrust of government in ways that are often racist, anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-gay. At the same time, new movements for social justice and equality are arising. What can anthropologists, who speak to the nature and scope of the human experience across time and space, contribute to understanding the current moment?  What do archaeology and physical anthropology tell us about human relationships that foster empowerment and disempowerment? How can we build on anthropological understanding of the human past, human evolution, language and meaning, and social and cultural relationships to forge democratic social systems that combat all forms of oppression? What would democracy mean in this context?

Time of Lectures: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).

Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public.

Place: Wenner-Gren Foundation offices

470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor

New York, NY 10016

Preregistration through the New York Academy of Sciences at customerservice@nyas.org or by phone (212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600) is strongly recommended since seating is limited.




September 25, 2017

Ilana Feldman

Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs  

George Washington University

“The Refugee as a Political Figure for our Time”

Recent years have been marked by both tremendous population movement and incredible anxiety in refugee receiving countries and in relatively non-receiving countries.  The moment seems apt to reconsider the refugee as a political figure, following a line of discussion first opened by a previous generations of scholars who examined earlier periods of large-scale human displacement and dislocation.  In 1943 Hannah Arendt published an essay entitled “We Refugees,” a reflection on the position shared by herself and other Jewish exiles from Europe as they lived with displacement. In 1995 Giorgio Agamben published a short piece with the same title, commenting both on Arendt’s earlier piece and on the configurations of borders, movement, and population control that were defining the post-cold war European landscape.  What does the current refugee “crisis” tell us about politics in the twenty-first century? Drawing from the Palestinian refugee experience, this paper explores the refugee as an enduring figure, one central to the existing, and persisting, political order. It also considers refugees as political actors, who struggle within and against this political order to create livable lives.

Ilana Feldman is a Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University. Her research has focused on the Palestinian experience, both inside and outside of historic Palestine, examining practices of government, humanitarianism, policing, displacement, and citizenship. She has received funding from: the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); the 2017-18 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS); Institute for Advanced Study, Friends of the Institute Member, School of Social Science; National Science Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Her books include Police Encounters: Security and Surveillance in Gaza under Egyptian Rule (Stanford University Press, 2015); In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (Duke University Press, 2010) and Governing Gaza (Duke University Press, 2008).

Discussant: Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, New School for Social Research 


October 23, 2017

Mary Bucholtz

Professor, Department of Linguistics

University of California, Santa Barbara

“Getting Talked into (and out of) Whiteness”

It has long been recognized by social scientists that race is a socially, culturally, and politically constructed system for producing and reproducing inequality (Goodman, Moses, & Jones 2012; Harrison 1995; Omi & Winant 1994). Crucially, the racial system is sustained in large part through language (Bonilla-Silva 2003; Domingúez 1986; Hill 2008; Rosa forthcoming) by creating marked social categories that can then be targeted for material and ideological control. At the center of the process of racialization is whiteness, which constitutes the foundation of the entire racial system precisely because it is the often invisible and unmarked hegemonic norm as well as the apex of the racial hierarchy (Harris 1995; Lipsitz 1998; Twine & Gallagher 2008). In recent decades the growing political power of racialized groups has unsettled the hegemonic position of whiteness, leading to the linguistic repositioning of whiteness—as visible and vulnerable rather than unmarked and dominant—as a strategy for maintaining racial privilege (Bucholtz 2011).

This presentation examines the linguistic strategies that uphold whiteness as the linchpin of the racial system as well as the counterstrategies that work to undo this system of power. The analysis considers two forms of racializing language: talk about race, or racially referential language, and talk that enacts race, or racially indexical language. Focusing on the uneasy racial positioning of white youth in California both in the 1990s and in the present day, I argue that a political critique of the language of whiteness must be at the center of any effort to challenge white supremacy.

Mary Bucholtz is a Professor of sociocultural linguistics, who has worked on whiteness, youth and language. She is integrating high school student, undergrad, and grad students to work together researching languages and linguistic change in California. Her research focuses primarily on how social identities and cultural practices are brought into being through linguistic interaction, investigating this question in relation to race, gender, and youth  Her publications include: White Kids: Language, Race, and Styles of Youth Identity, Cambridge University Press, (2011); Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaries,( original text by Robin Tolmach Lakoff, edited by Mary Bucholtz, revised and expanded edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse, Oxford University Press, (1999 with A. C. Liang and Laurel Sutton);  Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self, Routledge (1995 with Kira Hall) and  “Discourses of Whiteness,” special issue of Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 11(1), 2001 (with Sara Trechter). Her current research seeks to explore the diverse forms of language and culture within California.

Discussant: Angela Reyes, Professor and Deputy Chair, English Department, Hunter College, CUNY and member of doctoral faculty in Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center


Nov 13, 2017

Agustin Fuentes

Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology

University of Notre Dame

“Are racism, violence, and inequality part of “human nature”? Why understanding human evolution matters.”

Many popular accounts of human evolution do a great job of conveying interpretations and perspectives which are entertaining, but often wrong. Such accounts offer incomplete, and at times toxic, portrayals of human biology and evolution that can be used to promulgate and perpetuate racist, misogynistic, and ill-informed views of “human nature.” We are left with perceptions and policies of what is “natural” in contemporary society that damage our capacity to challenge inequity, discrimination, and bias.

Human evolution is ongoing and human populations continue to grow in size and complexity. Getting a handle on “the human” in the Anthropocene is no easy matter and getting the science of human evolution right is important. It turns out that meaning, imagination, and hope are as central to the human story as are bones, genes, and ecologies. Neither selfish aggression nor peaceful altruism dominates human behavior as a whole. We are a species distinguished by our extraordinary capacity for creative cooperation, our simultaneously extreme biological diversity and homogeneity, and our ability to imagine possibilities and to make them material reality.

In the 21st century significant shifts in our understanding of evolutionary biology and theory and of genetics, plus radical expansions in the archaeological and fossil records, have led to increasing collaboration across multiple fields of inquiry. Collaboration and expansion of knowledge are altering our capacities to investigate and to understand our history and our future(s). This lecture offers a glimpse, via specific examples, of our past and present to illustrate why, and how, the science of human evolution—far from being dead or outdated–is relevant today.

Agustín Fuentes is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His current foci include cooperation and bonding in human evolution, ethnoprimatology and multispecies anthropology, evolutionary theory, and public perceptions of, and interdisciplinary approaches to, human nature(s). Fuentes examines human evolution from several perspectives, and his research sheds light on some of the most common misconceptions about human nature, specifically in the areas of race, sex and aggression.  He has authored multiple books, including, The Creative Spark (2017), Race, Monogamy and Other Lies They Told You: Busting myths about human behavior (2012), Evolution of Human Behavior (2008), Health, Risk and Adversity (2008), Core Concepts in Biological Anthropology (2006) and has  co-authored and coedited several others.  His articles have been published in notable journals, including, American Journal of Primatology, American Anthropologist, and Theology and Science.

Discussant: Susan Antón, Professor, Department of Anthropology, New York University




January 29, 2018

Patricia Wright

Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology

SUNY Stony Brook and founder of environmental organization Centre Val Bio

“Will humans survive our assault on the Earth?”  A  Message from Madagascar

Anthropologists are well aware that there are wars in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, areas where humans have existed the longest. But rarely do we suggest that the roots of these conflicts are competition for natural resources, ie, fighting for access to farming and grazing land and access to water. Madagascar has been populated by humans for only a few thousand years, yet a shocking portion of its natural resources has been destroyed. Today it is the 6th poorest country on Earth. This grinding human poverty, where 70% of the population is malnourished, is partially caused by destruction of natural resources by fires since human arrival. I will discuss the current political and economic situation in Madagascar and offer two possible predictions for Madagascar of the future. These predictions could apply globally.

Patricia Wright is a primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist. Wright is best known for her extensive study of social and family interactions of wild lemurs in Madagascar. She established the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments at Stony Brook University. She worked extensively on conservation and contributed to the establishment of the Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar.  She was the first woman to receive the Indianapolis Prize for Animal Conservation in 2014, as well as receiving three medals of honor from the Malagasy Government (Knight, Officer, Commander) for her work in Madagascar. Professor Wright has honorary degrees from the University of Antananarivo and the University of Fianarantsoa.  Her recent books include, For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar (2014) and High Moon Over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night (2013). Her research has been highlighted in the National Geographic Magazine, by the BBC Natural History Unit, the National History Magazine and in several films and TV series, including an IMAX film, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar. She has won numerous award and fellowships including being made a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow in 1989.

Discussant:  Joel Cohen,  Director, Laboratory of Populations, Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences and International & Public Affairs, Rockefeller University & Columbia University


February 26, 2018

Jessica Cattelino

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, associate director of the Center for the Study of Women

University of California, Los Angeles

“Passions for Interests: Water and Rural Political Belonging in America”

The world faces a water crisis, with the United Nations predicting a 40% global water deficit by 2030. Recent water struggles in the United States, from Standing Rock to Flint to California’s droughts, exemplify a broader cultural politics whereby group s come to understand and assess one another through their relations to water. In the Florida Everglades, the world’s largest ecosystem restoration project is underway and has as its policy goal “getting the water right.” There, as across America, political analysis focus on so-called stakeholders and interest groups (such as agriculture and environment). Such passion for interests—as, purportedly, the forces that unite and explain political collectivities—stunts understandings about political belonging in rural America.

This presentation brings together two twenty-first-century examples of everyday politics in a mostly-drained rural region of the Florida Everglades: the headline-grabbing proposed buyout of a major sugar corporation by the State of Florida for purposes of Everglades restoration; and a major Seminole Tribe of Florida water conservation project. The economist A.O. Hirschman, in his influential book The Passions and the Interests (1977), explained how early proponents of capitalism struggled to reconcile the relationship of passions to interests. The political anthropology of interests presented in this lecture highlights their production and (in)commensuration in relation to water and capitalism. The goal is to think through and, hopefully, beyond the passion for “interests” in scholarly and popular understandings of American political life.

Jessica Cattelino’s research focuses on economy, nature, indigeneity, and settler colonialism. Her book, High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty (Duke University Press, 2008) won the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff  Memorial Book Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of North America.  Her current book project addresses Everglades restoration and theorizes the co-production of nature and indigeneity in settler societies like the United States.  She speaks to the current concerns about environmental degradation and indigenous people’s roles in sparking struggles against the pollution of water sources and the destruction of precious resources such as the Everglades. Cattelino’s current research is funded by the National Science Foundation (Law and Social Sciences), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Howard Foundation and a National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Network on the Florida Coastal Everglades

Discussant: Paige West, Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Colombia University


March 26, 2018

Rosemary Joyce

Professor, Department of Anthropology

University of California, Berkeley

“Is Extreme Inequality Inevitable?: What archaeology can tell us about the 99 percent.”

In many people’s minds archaeology is about the search for kings and queens, for treasure and luxuries. It seems as if archaeologists are on the side of rulers, at the expense of the everyday farmer and laborer. And so archaeological theories about social complexity are interpreted to say that human societies are on an implacable universal road toward exaggerated inequality: extreme inequality is inevitable. But is this true? Or can archaeologists illuminate places and times when society did not spiral into ever-widening inequality?

In this talk, I critically examine the need for archaeology to contest the representation of a global rise in inequality as inevitable, arguing that we have let the allure of certain things enchant us, leading to an over-emphasis on the wealthy and powerful. I draw on my decades-long research on prehispanic Honduras, where for centuries people in towns and villages sustained a lower level of inequality than archaeologists see in the city-states of their Classic Maya neighbors.

Using this case study as a beginning point, I address how archaeology can be and is being used to illuminate the long term persistence and social contributions of a far more varied range of actors than the few leaders who have often received the greatest attention in our analyses. I sketch out an alternative place for archaeology in the world today, as an ally of new visions of social life that we can say are viable because they have worked already.

Rosemary Joyce is a major figure in contemporary archaeology, whose fieldwork focuses on Honduras and Mexico. Professor Joyce works on the archaeology of inequality, gender, and materiality. Her research in Honduras explored social histories “in which economic inequality was never as extreme as among neighboring Maya societies, leading me to consider how archaeologists might combat the common assumption that ever-increasing inequality is somehow inevitable.” As a museum anthropologist, Joyce has engaged in collections management and exhibition work at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, the Wellesley College Museum and Cultural Center, the Heritage Plantation at Sandwich, Massachusetts, the Museo de Antropología e Historia in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Her published work includes Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (2008),The Languages of Archaeology: Dialogue, Narrative, and Writing (2002), and Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica (2001).

Discussant:   TBC


April 16, 2018

Mica Pollock

Professor, University of California, San Diego, Director of CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence)

“Flipping Scripts in an Angry Nation: Putting the Anthropological Project to Work for Change Via Everyday Talk (in Schools)”

In this talk, Pollock applies lessons from her new book Schooltalk to the current political climate and discusses talk’s potential for changing us all. Before and since the 2016 election, U.S. residents have seen a spike in explicit hate speech – cruel comments that denigrate and distort types of people. Such speech has spiked in schools as well. It’s a moment when we need civil discourse and dialogue against hate more than ever. But in the United States, we also need to be thinking about whether our most routine talk distorts and denigrates people. Drawing on decades of work about how people talk every day about students and in schools, Pollock offers a vision of schooltalk for equity – that is, talk that accurately describes people as individuals and members of communities (including lives in opportunity contexts), and then actively supports the full human talent development of every person and all groups of people. At root, schooltalk for equity leverages the anthropological learning project for social change via schools. Speakers seek to flip under-informed “scripts” about types of people by learning accurate information about people’s actual lives. While many scholars today frame such learning as unlikely and even cognitively impossible, Pollock argues that such learning can and must happen in the daily activity of schools. Pollock thus frames schooltalk as critical work putting today’s educators and students on the front lines of social change.

Mica Pollock is an anthropologist and author of the new book Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About –and To – Students Every Day (The New Press). Pollock’s work explores educators’ key role in immediate and long-haul efforts against racism and inequality; she pinpoints the key role of language in educators’ everyday work. Pollock’s first book, Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School (winner of the 2005 AERA Outstanding Book Award), helped readers navigate six core U.S. struggles over talking (and not talking) in racial terms in schools. Her other books include Because of Race, Everyday Antiracism, and Companion to the Anthropology of Education. Her newest work at UC San Diego explores how networks of conversation partners can leverage a university to share opportunities to learn in a diverse community.

Discussant:  TBC

Meet Our 2017 Wadsworth African Fellows: Kylie Marais

Kylie Marais received her MA degree in Social  Anthropology from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Funded through a Wadsworth African Fellowship she will continue her PhD training in anthropology at the University of Cape Town, supervised by Dr. Dr. Fiona Ross.

I was born in Somerset West, a small town situated outside of Cape Town, where I also attended primary school and my first two years of high school. Thereafter, I spent three years studying at the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology, before being accepted into the inaugural class of the African Leadership Academy, where I completed my AS and A-levels. In 2011, I began my studies at the University of Cape Town and became the first member of my extended family to obtain a university degree. My education thus forms a crucial part of my identity; not only has it satisfied my love for learning, but it has also provided new opportunities for my single mother and family, none of whom could afford to attend university under the apartheid regime.

For my PhD, I intend to carve my place in the academe as a woman of color and feminist anthropologist, conducting research that will positively impact the lives of other marginalized women in Southern Africa. More broadly, within anthropology, I am most interested in relationships and meaning, gender and sexuality, development, family/kinship, motherhood, and childhood. As a member of the Anthropology of the First 1000 Days of Life project – an initiative that seeks to produce local knowledge on the critical window of the first thousand days of life – I have already developed my interests for early childhood development (ECD) and maternal and child health (MCH).

Over the last six years, the Anthropology department at the University of Cape Town has become my second home, where I have grown to know and love the space and the staff. After having completed my Bachelor of Social Science degree, triple majoring in Anthropology, Sociology, and Public Policy and Administration, my Honor’s degree in Social Anthropology, as well as my Master’s degree in Practical Anthropology, I knew that I also wanted to complete my PhD at UCT as well.  In addition, as UCT and other universities in South Africa begin to decolonize their curricula and campuses, I feel excited to participate in and contribute new and relevant knowledge towards this transformation.

Engaged Anthropology Grant: James Verinis

Lefteris diligently working his tomato fields and orange groves in 2016

James Verinis is an Adjunct Professor at Roger Williams University. In 2009 he received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on “New Immigrant Farmers and the Globalization of the Greek Countryside,” supervised by Dr. Thomas M. Wilson. In 2015 Dr. Verinis received an Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on “Rural Greek Rebound in/of Crisis”.

While I researched a number of rural/agrarian problems between 2008 and 2010 in the Greek prefecture of Laconia, the roles Southeastern European immigrants play in maintaining traditional rural Greek ways of life were the most remarkable aspects of my dissertation fieldwork findings. Faced with global forces that threaten their survival (stigma and depopulation as well as cheap Argentine lemons or high quality olive oil from California, for example), unprecedented relationships have developed between Greeks and some non-Greek residents as they become kin through marriage and baptism, engage in reciprocal relations, and share community life. This has remained the case in more recent years, despite reports that immigrants are exiting Greece as a result of the financial crisis.

In my Engaged Anthropology Grant proposal I suggested that European Union, state, and local political policy can facilitate immigrant incorporation into rural development schemes. Structural integration of farming knowledge and technology across this new diversity of stakeholders is wholly absent. The Young Farmer Program, an EU-wide program to assist new farmers, is not equipped to administer aid to non-nationals despite official rhetoric. Programs in the United States such as New Farmer Development highlight opportunities within a global migratory paradigm to support values inherent to traditional agricultural landscapes, rural entrepreneurship, and diversified farming systems as well as protect biodiversity and ameliorate social conflict between groups. I proposed a pilot program to take advantage of similar opportunities that was endogenous in spirit but based on American interests in such policy initiatives.

Greeks, Roma, and Middle Eastern residents conspire to subsist in central Athens

My proposal ignored the realities of Greek experience. Rural Greek communities have been increasingly ambivalent about the state since the early 1990’s. A general distrust of core EU countries to the north has pervaded Greek life since the onset of austerity measures in 2010. The financial crisis has also undermined prospects for any rural development initiatives. In my failure to discover interest in legislative measures, I discovered solidarity networks amongst disparate groups that offset the absence of and were preferable to such public policy. All Greek farmers, non-Greek farmers, and political representatives I spoke with in 2016- even a highly respected rural sociologist, now secretary general of the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food- deflected, seemed bewildered by, or just plain ignored my queries about the potential for political intervention. The newly appointed Laconian municipal agronomist suggested he had nothing to do with the Young Farmer Program. Article 13A, added to Law 4251/2014 by the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food in 2016, now provides for the legal registration of irregular ‘third country nationals’ yet such basic measures are so relatively late in coming and without practical application or benefit to Greeks or non-Greeks that rural residents continue to rely on informal networks.

This informal ‘resistance’ is hardly a neat opposition, but it is ubiquitous to the point where I identify it as a sodality. Contemporary solidarity movements or kínisi allilegií in Greece provide a vast array of people with such essentials as health care, legal aid, and food. The ‘no middleman movement’ or ‘potato movement’ (‘kínima tis patátes’), which facilitates the direct sales of agricultural produce is one such movement or network. Such novel networks that produce and distribute food and save and exchange seeds have formed as resistant responses to neoliberal campaigns that intensify and commodify agriculture, making small-scale  food  production increasingly impossible.  In looking into new solidarity phenomena and visiting with my most evocative interlocutors in Laconia in 2016, I began to draw a connection between rural solidarity movements in global Greek countrysides and these other novel networks.

Albanian farmer Lefteris now conspires with neighboring Greeks to frighten Roma away from his fields in the village of Asteri, allowing Roma to think, as the police also suggest, that he is a ‘dangerous Albanian’. While this linguistic tool is a byproduct of an exploitive relationship in which Lefteris would historically suffer, non-Greeks such as Lefteris now wield some of these tools in a co-conspiracy with Greeks for their mutual benefit. Vis-à-vis these alliances they can pursue small-scale agriculture and maintain traditional rural Greek ways of life in light of global capitalist agri-business trends.

Mitsos, another Albanian I often worked with between 2008 and 2010, also plays significant roles in these informal rural Greek sodalities. One morning in the summer of 2016 an old Greek man named Pandelis described to Mitsos, whom he has known for nearly a quarter century, problems he had been having passing a kidney stone. Mitsos instructed him, in some detail, how to make a tea from the stomach of a chicken so as to facilitate relief. As Albanians have long had less access to western biomedicine, Greeks now rely on Albanians for alternative therapies in now desperate financial times. Beyond the obvious depth of their relationship, the exchange of this traditional rural remedy is indicative of a larger set of responsibilities that rural Greek residents of various ethno-nationalities now have to each other. They increasingly share kéfi– ‘good humor’ or ‘good life’, outside of social hierarchies, official  politics, and capitalist markets (Papataxiarchis 1994)). Is kéfi a way for scholars to comprehend new globalized rural relationships and solidarity movements in response to conventional political failings? I have been forced to reconsider the problem.

Current Anthropology is looking for a new Editor

Current Anthropology coverThe Wenner-Gren Foundation in partnership with the University of Chicago Press is seeking applications for the position of Editor of Current Anthropology. The new Editor will begin to receive submissions on September 1, 2018 and take full responsibility for the journal on January 1, 2019. The Editor’s term is six years from January 1, 2019, with a possibility of renewal for an addition partial or complete term.

The Foundation and Press are open to the possibility of alternative editorship arrangements such as co-Editors and/or the use of an active editorial board to handle manuscripts. The applicant should clearly outline her/his ideas for the editorship in their letter of intent and if a co-editorship is proposed the application should come jointly from both potential editors.

Applications are welcome from professional academic anthropologists anywhere in the world and specializing in any of the four anthropological sub-disciplines. Applications should include a complete curriculum vitae, names and contact details of three academic references and a letter of interest. The letter of interest should discuss the applicant’s vision for Current Anthropology, her/his qualifications and experience relevant to the position of Editor of anthropology’s highest profile broad-based journal, and proposed editorial arrangements for managing the journal.

Further information can be found here.

Applications, or suggestions for possible candidates, should be sent via e-mail to the Chair of the CA Editor Search Committee (CAeditor_search@wennergren.org), or by regular mail addressed to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10016, USA. Applications must be received by December 31, 2017.