Meet Our 2016 Wadsworth African Fellow: Kefiloe Sello

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

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

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

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

SAPIENS is Live!


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

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

Monday, January 25, 2016

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

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

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

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


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


Dr. Wilmsen presenting at the workshop.

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

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

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

Mr. Kebalo Manase (Right)

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

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

Potters watching film

Village visits

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A juvenile capuchin monkey (Cebus capucinus) playing shy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roosbelinda Cardenas and ‘Articulations of Blackness: Reconstructing Ethnic Politics in the Midst of Violence’

Roosbelinda Cardenas is Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies at Hampshire College. She received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on  ’Remaking the Black Pacific: Place, Race, and Afro-Colombian Territoriality,’ supervised by Dr. Mark David Anderson, and in 2013 received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite and share her research with the community that hosted her. 

Returning to the field is like jumping on a moving train.  After doing my best to clumsily get up to speed, I quickly tried to find a reliable reference point to orient myself.  With the privileges of hindsight and perspective gone, the pace of events was both confusing and exhilarating.  Nonetheless I managed to resist the allure of fresh ethnographic data.  Instead of scribbling field notes incessantly and searching for my voice recorder at the first sign of an engaging conversation, I focused on being in the moment.  I called old friends and asked them to meet me simply to catch up.  Then, after a week of updating contact information and tracking people down, I began the work of planning my engagement activities in earnest.

I had proposed to hold workshops in the three communities where I conducted dissertation research from 2008 to 2010.  These communities were: 1. the rural inhabitants of a legally recognized “comunidad negra” that holds a collective land title in the Southern Pacific; the black residents of an urban shantytown in Bogotá where a large concentration of internally displaced people (IDPs) reside; and a group of leading black activists from two organizations that work for the defense of Afro-Colombians’ ethnic rights to territory. My purpose was to share with them a handful of insights that I had gathered throughout my dissertation work and which I thought would be most useful in furthering their strategies to remap racial and territorial politics in Colombia.

In the rural black community–the Community Council of the Lower Mira River–the timing was particularly auspicious.  The Colombian government was in the process of implementing a sweeping land restitution law to return millions of hectares that had been unlawfully taken from their rightful owners in the midst of the armed conflict.  Although a number of land restitution cases were already under way, the Bajo Mira’s was the first ethnic-specific case that had been presented to the courts and all eyes were on them.  I met with the team of young government representatives who were busy gathering evidence in the field.  In addition to meeting with them to share my insights and written work, I agreed to produce a short report that would be included with the dossier that they were preparing for the courts.

I also met with members of the Community Council board to hold the workshop that I had originally planned.  Although they humored me by sitting patiently through my presentation and activities, it was clear that their attention was elsewhere.  My presentation was focused on an analysis of what I called “green multiculturalism,” or the coupling of multicultural recognition and green capitalism.  I had intended to lead a conversation that would both identify and push the limits of “environmentalism” as the most viable political strategy to protect their territorial rights.  I still think it is an important conversation, but the timing was not the right one.  After decades of being held hostage in their own lands by the criminal advance of the drug trade and other capitalist ventures of global scale, the land restitution process held promise as a tool to protect their territories.  If the government asked them to embody the 21st Century version of the noble savage before deeming them worthy of territorial protection, they were ready to comply.  This did not mean that they were unaware of the deal they were striking or vigilant of the ways in which it might compromise their political vision, but simply that they were taking advantage of an expedient strategy that held newfound promise to change a situation that was no longer bearable.

In Cazucá, the shantytown of IDPs on the outskirts of Bogotá where I have worked for nearly ten years, spirits were high.  I did not prepare a presentation for the group of grassroots activists that I met with there.  Instead of starting the conversation with my own insights, I facilitated a workshop that was based on their own experiences of being black and displaced.  Ten people with a range of experiences as IDP activists attended.  Some were recent arrivals and others were old timers who had literally paved the neighborhood roads with their own hands; there were young mothers and older men; and they hailed from every corner of “black Colombia’s” geography.  For the people of Cazucá, the timing of the workshop was very different than for the members of the Lower Mira River’s black community.  I had the distinct sense that they finally felt “settled” both literally and figuratively.  They had bought homes and started businesses and were no longer on the move.  This meant that they were much more receptive to a critical analysis of their political strategies.  With the hindsight from their grassroots activism, they were eager to start thinking about how to move forward.


The last workshop–with national-level black activists from two major organizations–was the most difficult one.  Unsurprisingly, it was nearly impossible to get all of them in the same room at the same time.  Added to this, were the political differences between the two organizations and the internal turmoil that they were each experiencing.  After much insistence, I finally managed to schedule two separate sessions with the most experienced members of each organization.  I was particularly nervous preparing for these two sessions.  What new insight could I, a foreign white researcher, contribute to a struggle that they knew all too well?  But despite my anxiety, when I finished delivering my presentation, I felt satisfied.  On the one hand, it felt like the culmination of a very long process to which I had committed much of my adult life.  On the other hand, their reactions, which were incisive and receptive, confirmed that critical analysis is an essential part of politics.  Our debates were heated, our memories were rich, and I believe that in the end, our analysis was fruitful.  It was not often that these activists–my friends–took time out from their busy schedules to reflect upon the work that they did.  They were proud of themselves, and they felt inspired to move forward.  We talked about risks and obstacles, but also silently celebrated the victories both small and large.  On the way home, “Maria Elena” a central character in my dissertation said to me “it’s very nice, to have your life’s work laid out in front of you like that.”