Listen to last Monday’s New York Academy of Sciences meeting lecture, featuring Nina Glick Schiller of the University of Manchester, the Max Planck Institute, and Oxford University.
In the previous installment of this 4-Part series on research collaboration in rural Haiti, Florida’s Andrew Tarter discussed the benefits to social scientists of collaborating with research counterparts at Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology) at L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti). Here he continues with a list of steps that provide a blueprint toward successful collaboration.
3. Connect with a wide range of potential collaborators.
Connecting with students and having discussions with faculty members from Faculté d’Ethnologie provides several advantages, even if you don’t have expendable funding to employ students (see ‘Why Collaborate?’ in the previous post). Just be certain to be explicit that you’re conducting interviews to acquire data or for purposes of collaboration, and not for a paid position. Connecting with multiple people follows classical sampling logic: you increase variability, and by extension increase potential fields of collaboration.
I conducted my interviews entirely in Kreyòl (Haitian Creole), though many of the students demonstrated strong command of both French and English during the interview process. While some students had clearly read the research synopsis I had circulated, many had not; a substantial portion of the interviewing period was spent explaining the research. Be prepared to give multiple explanations of your proposed research.
The simple fact that the paid research collaborator positions I was recruiting for were to last 9 months was a major deterrent for some students. To top it off, the research was in a remote part of the southern peninsula, far from capital city. The extreme physical challenges of the research—walking many miles into remote woodlots under an unrelenting Haitian sun—was another deterrent for other students. One student declined during the interview, stating that these woodlots were home to any number of wild animals, including dangerous snakes. More than one student mentioned that the daily stipend was well below what they might expect to receive as a per diem from USAID, or any number of NGOs conducting research in the country. I agreed. But I also explained that researchers would have their room-and-board covered, and with very little to spend money on in the countryside they would have an opportunity to reliably save the lion’s share of their stipend. Furthermore, each research collaborator would receive a field laptop, chosen for its 12-hour battery capacity—a major advantage in a country with sporadic and unreliable electricity. The laptop would be theirs to keep at the end of the research period.
By and by the 20 CVs were narrowed down to approximately five candidates, three of which accepted positions. All three students were memoran—the equivalent to undergraduates who have completed their coursework, had their memoir (thesis) topic approved, but have not yet written nor defended their memoir.
4. Establish a research contract
After the three students successfully relocated to the research site, we got to work. One of the first items of order we tackled as a team was the creation of research contracts. I submitted a blueprint contract that reflected my concerns, objectives, priorities and stipulations as the principal investigator; the students in turn added stipulations of their own and some wording corrections to make the contract clearer. In the end we co-created a concise 1-page contract that outlined the perimeters and parameters of the research to be conducted and the expectations of all parties involved. I highly recommend that researchers entering into collaborative endeavors with other scholars conduct this exercise. It ensures a clear understanding of the research to all parties involved, provides a template of expectations, and can serve as a roadmap in the event of future miscommunication or conflict. In hindsight, the exercise of establishing a contract should have been completed prior to the students relocating from Pòtoprens. Luckily it went off with a hitch, but future researchers should consider collaboratively drafting contracts before arriving to their respective field sites.
5. Start slow
Pòtoprens’ notorious traffic isn’t the only thing that moves sluggishly in Haiti; things seem to move even slower andeyo (the Haitian countryside). Intense afternoon heat with no fans to sit in front of and no air-conditioned rooms to escape to in ensures that many tasks come to a grinding halt during the middle hours of the day. No electricity also means that things get pretty quiet after the sun goes down. Meetings must often be rescheduled if rain falls as farmers must tend to gardens. A cautionary si Dye vle (God willing) is frequently added at the end of verbal commitments, indicative of the tentative nature of many temporal arrangements in Haiti. Researchers should recognize and adapt to this reality.
Many people seem to be romantically enamored of andeyo—at least for the first couple of weeks. It’s everything their first experience of Haiti’s capital city isn’t: clean, quiet(er), green, and less densely populated. While perhaps a cliché rural-urban dichotomy, the people of the countryside seem gentler and more engaging than urbanites. The countryside offers a sense of security absent in the capital; everyone knows or recognizes most everyone else they encounter, adding a degree of accountability to everyone’s actions. As one village leader told me: Nou pa gen vòlè isit, nou pa gen dezòd isit (We don’t have thieves here, we don’t have unrest here). For me, this reassurance was a breath of fresh air; the year prior in Pòtoprens I had an attempted break-in at my apartment, I was robbed at gunpoint in front of my house while nearby armed guards silently watched, and in another instance I outran a group of four men on motorcycles that tried to mug me in the street. While Pòtoprens is less dangerous than many major US cities, what anthropologist Mark Schuller has titled “[T]he incredible whiteness of being (an anthropologist)” sometimes results in a degree of unwelcomed negative attention (Schuller 2010). The countryside seems to nullify some aspects of this reality: In five years of visiting my research site I have never once been threatened, stolen from, or felt any risk for my life.
Andeyo can also seem a bit boring, especially if you’re more accustomed to the fast pace of a city. For the most part, the students adapted marvelously well to their new surroundings. While two of the students had been raised in the countryside, one had never been out of Pòtoprens for more than 10 days in his entire life—a reflection of the increasing urbanization of Haiti, a country with a traditional 2/3rds rural majority. The other students gently teased him about his lack of experience andeyo, though he later confided that he now prefers the country to the city.
Some members of the community were particularly open to the students, who were initially strangers in their presence. Other members took time to warm up to the students. Again, patience was the key, and allowing time for students to integrate into the community was important. We allotted ample time to meet and explain our research to community members, attending church, soccer games, the two weekly markets, and going for long walks in the area. I also met and explained the research to the local minister of environment from the nearest city. At the urging of the students, we also made a point of meeting with the area kazèk—the local magistrate. After visiting this community for over five years, I had no idea this position even existed. My students mildly rebuked me for not meeting with the kazèk a long time ago. Unbeknownst to me this is the standard operation of order in rural research in Haiti, and provides a fitting anecdote to advocate for the benefits of research collaboration with in-country scholars.
In addition to allowing time for adequate community integration, starting slowly allowed the necessary time to properly train the students in use of GPS technologies. A major component of the research rested on my insistence on a random sampling strategy that would increase external validity and allow me to extrapolate research findings beyond our sample. This insistence required the research team to physically locate hundreds of randomly selected plots of land using GPS units. This was a difficult task, as many of the plots fell far from established roads and paths. It took us all a while to get the hang of things and become confident in orienting ourselves with the GPS units. Starting slow in the short-term ended up saving time in the long-term by reducing serious errors we might have otherwise made.
Starting slowly also allowed us to develop, test, refine, and finalize the survey instrument and open-ended questions in an iterative fashion, rather than rushing out with a predetermined question list. Starting slowly will present a different set of challenges for researchers working in urban or peri-urban areas—working in partnership with the right collaborators will ensure these challenges can be properly addressed.
The Wadsworth International Fellowship provides the opportunity for students in countries where anthropological education is underrepresented to receive world-class training at a university abroad. In this second post on the 2014 class, we meet Mariel Garcia of Peru.
My scholarly work has been mostly engaged with two fields of interest: (1) the relationship between media and politics through how events and actors are represented by Peruvian media outlets and, (2) extractive industries and the conflicting relationship between different forms of appropriating nature around mining sites.
My current research emerges at the intersection of these two academic interests; it explores the relation between extractive industries and media practices and technologies of representation. I am studying how Peruvian media produces representations of ‘development’ through ‘mining’, which has become a widespread neoliberal ‘truth’ in my country. I want to learn about how and with what tools, human and non-human interactions become ‘information’ that travels to the press rooms (or media laboratories); how ‘information’ is gathered to constitute ‘facts’ of ‘development’; and how they acquire the form through which they are disseminated.
I am convinced that in order to do this I need the close inquiry that ethnographic approaches offer, both conceptually and methodologically. This was my main reason to study Anthropology. I chose the University of California at Davis (UCD) because it offers me the combination I need: a strong emphasis in Latin American Anthropology and in Science and Technology Studies.
Before starting the PhD Program in Anthropology at UC Davis, I obtained my BA in Communication Studies from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) and from 2008 to 2011 I studied the MA in Cultural Studies at the same university. I am a researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, as well as a lecturer at PUCP and at the Universidad de Ciencias Aplicadas.
I am deeply rooted in Peru; after the completion of my degree, I expect to return and work towards the opening of new fields of study for sociocultural anthropology, and also to strengthen interdisciplinary studies. More specifically, I want to connect anthropology with media studies, and with science and technology studies.
Amy Moran-Thomas is Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Brown University, specializing in the areas of global health, medical technology, and environmental change. In 2009, while a doctoral candidate at Princeton University, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘An Anthropological Study of the Experience of Parasitic Infection and Diabetes in Belize,’ supervised by Dr. Joao Biehl. This year, she was awarded the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in the Central American country of Belize to publically share and discuss her research findings about metabolic disorders, focusing in particular on people’s negotiations of causality and care within the emerging global diabetes epidemic.
Three and a half years is a long time to be gone, and it was somewhat disorienting when I first arrived back in Dangriga in July 2014. Some of the people I had known best in Belize were now missing—absences that loomed large when passing homes where friends formerly resided, or locations where we had once talked. In an epidemiological sense, I realize that these deaths are painfully unsurprising (though each one always surprises and shakes me anyway). Yet at least on statistical scales, these losses remain not only predictable, but numerically probable: diabetes, the primary condition that I focused on investigating during my fieldwork about experiences of chronic disease in Belize, has now become the leading cause of death nationwide.
My research in 2009-2010 examined this fast-growing issue, by charting people’s experiences of metabolic disorders in the southern Stann Creek District of Belize. Over time, I came to see these realities also as an ethnographic lens on the larger diabetes epidemic emerging in much of the world today, providing insight into some of its deep challenges and human costs: the complications of negotiating care amid overlaid chronic and infectious conditions; the global political ecologies now contributing to these rising rates of disease, alongside the social fabrics of care that patients turn to in addressing them; and people’s actual treatment experiences amid systems where medical technologies often moved in and out of reach.
This Engaged Anthropology Grant allowed me to return to Belize in the summer of 2014 for the first time since my dissertation fieldwork concluded in 2010, to share and discuss my research findings with Belizean experts and communities who contributed to the project—including local patient groups, government doctors and policy makers, variously positioned caregivers, national intellectuals, and individual patients and families who had worked with me. I began the return trip by revisiting these actors in Dangriga, and also reaching out to several community leaders and local organizations that I was coming into dialogue with for the first time. I additionally visited government offices in the capital of Belmopan, and found myself engaged in very generative discussions about my findings with officials from the Belize Ministry of Health as well as from the Institute for Social and Cultural Research. These collaborative meetings helped lead up to the key event of my trip: a public workshop that I organized in Dangriga, planned in collaboration with Southern Regional Hospital, the Belize Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Culture and History, and Help Age Dangriga.
The workshop took place in the newly refinished ground-floor conference room of Dangriga’s Ecumenical College on August 4, 2014. By a stroke of luck, it turned out that the Dangriga branch of the Belize Diabetes Association (which was not active during the time of my fieldwork) had rebounded since then, and my stay coincided with one of their Saturday gatherings. Several members kindly invited me to make an in-person announcement about my upcoming workshop during their meeting the previous week, which helped build a great crossover audience. I was surprised and honored to see a more sizable group than I had anticipated the afternoon of our workshop. Among the participants were diabetes caregivers; community leaders and prominent cultural advocates; and people actually living with the chronic conditions under discussion.
To kick off our conversation, I gave a brief presentation about my fieldwork and main research findings. I was concerned that examining chronic disease treatment in Belize as such a complicated picture might be disconcerting for people living with these conditions—but interestingly, unlike some pushback I’ve gotten from U.S. academic crowds when discussing these ambiguities, the audience in Dangriga seemed unsurprised on this front, for example offering lively additions to fill out my list of the expensive market prices of vegetables (after all, they knew these difficulties better than anyone, after living with them for years). The distinguished physician who had mentored my fieldwork offered some generous commentary to help open things up, and we launched into what turned out to be an hour-long group brainstorming session that peeled back many layers of interfacing domains of care: pills, herbs, vegetables, farming, cooking, ritual, policy.
Many insights and questions that the group generated deftly linked granular exchanges (such as sharing notes on diabetes-friendly cassava recipes) with macro-realities (such as the astute comment that our Ministry of Health report wouldn’t be able to go very far in changing these constrained nutritional realities unless their office also dialogues with the Ministry of Agriculture, to explore national policies that might sustain more robust vegetable production). Another terrific suggestion included the idea of creating a national recipe contest, as a way of sparking interest in the “Belizean Cooking with Diabetes” project we discussed together. We wondered, could this effort snowball into something that might eventually be assembled and disseminated more widely—perhaps an open-source recipe website or even a collaborative publication—so that people with diabetes didn’t feel faced with a choice between the foods that would keep them healthy, and the foods that many felt most connect them to a sense of family and identity? And more broadly, how might we conceive of tinkering not just with care and education, but also with actual economies of available foods and medicines? Is there some way it might be possible to treat not only patients, but also the political ecologies and unhealthy agricultural systems that make people’s work of survival unnecessarily difficult?
Overall, this collective workshop felt less like the final stage of a completed project, and more like a provocation toward continuing engagements ahead. I am deeply grateful to all of the people who gathered to talk and think with me during this return trip, and for the Engaged Anthropology Grant that made this sustained conversation possible. It is equal parts unsettling and exciting to realize that I am not just observing how new collectives are taking shape around these chronic health issues in Belize, but also becoming a collaborator with perhaps some part still to play in this unfolding story.
NYAS @ WGF: “Perspectives on ‘Nation Unbound’: The Transnational Migration in the Current Conjuncture”
Our popular lecture series with the New York Academy of Sciences Anthropology Section begins a new season Monday, September 22nd, at 7:00 PM, when we and NYAS welcome Nina Glick Schiller of the University of Manchester, the Max Planck Institute, and Oxford University.
In 1994 in Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Dilemmas and the Deterritorialized Nation-State, Linda Basch, Cristina Szanton Blanc and I, three anthropologists, argued for a transnational paradigm for the study of migration. Nations Unbound analyzed the structural contingencies within which and the processes through which increasing numbers of people of migrant background created transnational social fields that connected them to two or more nation-states. In this talk, I will address the ways the transnational migration paradigm was adopted, critiqued or celebrated, the ways in which the initial paradigm spoke to the global historical conjuncture, and the degree to which Nations Unbound speaks to the contemporary global transformations.
A reception will precede the meeting at 6:00 pm. The meeting is free to attend, but registration with NYAS is required. Please do not contact the Wenner-Gren Foundation with inquiries regarding registration.
Andrew Tarter is a Ph.D. candidate in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Florida. He received a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2012 to aid research on ‘The Tree Farmers of Haiti: Understanding Factors that Influence Farmers’ Retention of Forest Land in Southern Haiti,’ supervised by Dr. Gerald F. Murray. Tarter is also a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow and his research has additionally been supported by the Fulbright Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Over the course of his fieldwork in Haiti, Tarter has worked extensively with students from L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti) a recipient of the Wenner-Gren Institutional Development Grant. Andrew joins us today to guest-blog the first of a four-part series reflecting on his collaboration with Haitian students and the myriad benefits and challenges of collaboration within the field setting.
Haiti is a hotbed of social science research. As a subscriber to Google Scholar Alerts on anything related to Haiti, I am continually astounded at the sheer volume of Haiti-based research that continues to be produced. Anecdotally I know of no less than six anthropology doctoral students currently in Haiti, collecting data for their dissertations. I have received numerous emails over the past few years from new or incoming anthropology graduate students who intend to work in Haiti. Several recent PhDs and senior anthropologists continue visit Haiti every year, usually during the summer months. At least two well-known anthropology PhDs have made Pòtoprens (Port-au-Prince) their permanent home—one for the last 40 years. Several universities lead undergraduate study-abroad trips to Haiti every year. I recently hosted a tenured associate professor of anthropology who is interested in shifting his research to Haiti. Suffice to say, Haiti has no shortage of visiting anthropology undergraduates, graduate students, doctoral students, senior researchers, and resident anthropologists. In all cases numerous opportunities exist for collaboration with counterparts at the Faculté d’Ethnologie (Department of Ethnology; FE) at the L’Université d’État d’Haïti (State University of Haiti; UEH).
My own recent experience working alongside three anthropology and sociology undergraduates from UEH was both a dream-come-true and a challenge. I had previous experience leading an interdisciplinary team of students from the University of Florida to Haiti on a 10-day expedition to conduct research on plant diversity and local plant uses. But this was different: I was embarking on new terrain in an effort to recruit three Haitian scholars to leave the capital and go work in a remote part of the country—under physically demanding circumstances—for nine months. When reviewing my initial research proposal, more than one of my academic advisors cautioned against working with educated urbanites. Rather, they suggested, I should hire assistants from the rural research site, as they are locally integrated and know the land better. I wrestled with these two options, but ultimately chose to recruit and collaborate with students from UEH for two primary reasons: (1) they have training in social theory and methods absent in members of the village; and (2) the experience, while just a temporary job to villagers, could serve as a springboard to future academic opportunities for the UEH students.
In this first post of a four-part blog series, I begin a sequential reflection of the entire course of events, from connecting with faculty and students from FE, to some of the challenges faced in the rural countryside by our research team. While I advocate for continued research partnerships—contextualized through the exemplar of my interactions with faculty and students at FE—I also provide a blueprint of collaboration through a series of suggestions that could be applicable to future social science researchers from other disciplines who wish to collaborate with corresponding researchers and departments at UEH.
The Costs of Collaboration
I am painfully aware of the challenges many anthropology doctoral students face in securing funding. My own initial dissertation grant applications were all turned down, but with persistence and guidance during the Summer Institute in Research Design, I was able to craft a compelling research proposal. In the end, I was very fortunate: my dissertation research was supported by both the Wenner Gren Foundation and the National Science Foundation. This public-private funding collaboration allowed for long-term research and partnership with three students—a unique situation that may not be available to all researchers visiting Haiti under a variety of different circumstances. Nevertheless, there are multiple opportunities and advantages to collaborating with members of the Faculté d’Ethnologie, irrespective of funding status, which I touch upon in the paragraphs that follow.
The Benefits of Collaboration
Collaborating with faculty and students from Faculté d’Ethnologie is not a requirement. I know several anthropology doctoral students who have conducted research in Haiti, successfully collecting data and returning to write their dissertations without ever visiting the Faculté d’Ethnologie campus. Likewise, many senior researchers do not collaborate with FE. Not all research designs or research objectives require collaboration; however, collaborating provides numerous advantages for researchers, including:
- New friendships and meaningful relationships;
- Income from research positions that provide a stipend, per diem, or salary;
- Collaborating on short- and long-term research projects or initiatives;
- Collaborating on funding projects;
- Receiving letters of recommendation from researchers that students can use to pad CVs and leverage further opportunities;
- Assistance in translating important documents;
- Assistance applying to foreign universities;
- Assistance applying to foreign funding sources;
- Accessing important or hard-to-find documents;
- Feedback from non-Haitian anthropologists on their research; and
- The opportunity to practice and improve their language skills, depending on the language(s) of the PI.
This is hardly an exhaustive list; benefits to research collaboration don’t end here. Each case of collaboration is unique and will present its own challenges and benefits. Furthermore, none of these benefits are guaranteed: they rely to a large extent on good-faith efforts by all parties involved. Below I highlight some steps to ensure fruitful collaboration, contextualized through anecdotes from my own personal experience. This is not a recipe that needs to be followed step-by-step, nor a guaranteed roadmap to attainment, but rather a tentative schedule for collaborative success.
It is entirely probable and quite likely that another researcher has come before you, and has experience and relationships with faculty members in an affiliated UEH department. My initial introduction to anthropology faculty at UEH was facilitated by another anthropologist—Dr. Mark Schuller. Reaching out to UEH faculty through another researcher is a good strategy depending on that researcher’s relationship with said faculty. Luckily, Mark has great rapport with Faculté d’Ethnologie—he’s been an affiliate since 2003, and has taught multiple courses there.
Mark introduced me via email to Drs. Jhon Picard Byron (Chef Département Anthropologie-Sociologie), Ilionor Louis, (Chef Département des Sciences de Développement), and Jean-Yves Blot (Vice-Recteur à la Recherche). After initial introductions and a series of phone conversations, I passed on a synopsis of my proposed research, which was circulated among students who are finisan (finished with their coursework) or memoran (students who have had their thesis proposal approved). A date and time was arranged to visit campus to meet faculty and conduct interviews with interested students.
2. Visit the campus
My experiences during a Fulbright placement within the Haitian government the prior year wrongly led me to imagine the Faculté d’Ethnologie campus as a perilous place. I distinctly remember the expression of horror on the face of my point-of-contact in the US Embassy at my suggestion of collaborating with Faculté d’Ethnologie for the academic component of my Fulbright placement. She claimed the campus was the starting point of many violent protests, and that a volley of rocks greeted a recent visit by the Haitian President. I was forbidden to collaborate with Faculté d’Ethnologie.
A year later, and a few moments after arriving on the campus, I was reminded how out-of-touch the US Embassy can be. I was not greeted by any rocks, but instead by a courtyard of relaxed students gathering here and there under the shade of a leafy green canopy, engaging in impassioned debates about politics and history, or shuffling off to attend class. No one even seemed noticed me. Eventually Jean-Yves Blot spotted me and we made our introductions. He handed me a large stack of manila envelopes containing CVs of approximately 20 students interested in the three research positions. Blot led me to an empty classroom, and told me that the students would soon meet me there for interviews. As he left he asked me to give an impromptu presentation of my research to his class when the interviews were over.
After the interviews I sought out Blot to honor my agreement to present my research to his class of anthropology students. As an academic, the opportunity to discuss one’s research comes up often enough to have polished sound bites on hand. What I hadn’t expected was the loss of my voice; after about 3 hours of interviewing, during which I often had to give a presentation of the research, my voice had nearly left me. Luckily it held together long enough to give a 30 minute presentation. Researchers interested in presenting or attending presentations at UEH can connect through the department’s Facebook page listing colloquia and other events: Faculté d’Ethnologie Colloque Et autres activités.
I highly recommend taking the time to spread interviews out over a few days. Both you and the students will feel less rushed, and you’ll have more time to thoroughly review CVs and ask important questions. In spite of my rushed experience, I left Faculté d’Ethnologie happy and wondering why I hadn’t connected with faculty and students long ago.
Ozlem Goner is Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work at The College of Staten Island – CUNY. In 2010, while a Ph.D. student at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘History in the Present: Historical Consciousness and the Construction of Otherness in Turkey,’ supervised by Dr. Joy Misra. In 2013, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to return to her fieldsite in Dersim Province, Turkey.
My dissertation research analyzed multiple histories of a series of massacres the state undertook in Dersim, and revealed formation and transformation of outsiderness through direct and indirect, experienced and imagined, past and present forms of historicity. Since I conducted my research, various collective memory projects have introduced new discourses and silences about historical narratives. My engagement project involved sharing my dissertation work with the host community at a time when their history is being narrated in more formulaic and exclusive forms. To this end, I revisited my narrators in various districts and villages of Dersim during which we interpreted the conclusions of my dissertation together. I also organized a workshop among the local researchers who have worked on similar issues to promote a dialogue among different collective memory projects and to make these projects more transparent to the host community. Moreover, in its reinterpretations, history is often mobilized to understand the current relationships between the state and subaltern populations, such as the continuing dam and mining projects, which threaten the livelihood of people in Dersim. This engagement project provided me the chance to participate in various discussions with academics, local researchers, political actors, and local residents, and present how ethnographic research can contribute to more participatory solutions.
This engagement project was based on my dissertation research where I looked into the formations of outsiderness in Turkey, produced simultaneously by the state and by those groups whose identities and memories lay outside of the boundaries of the nation. I focused on the multiple historicities of a series of massacres the state undertook in Dersim, a municipality in Turkish Kurdistan, in the late 1930s, referred in local language as hirusu hest, and the ways this historical event has been silenced, remembered, and mobilized by different actors in formulating outsider identities and movements over time and space.
Because I was interested in the ways history has been lived, conceptualized, and mobilized by different actors and movements, I analyzed both the silences about the hirusu hest, as well as the reconstruction of the event through recent attempts at constructing a more organized collective memory. Different from indirect forms of history, collective memory involves visible processes of selection and representation of narratives over which institutions, political groups and movements have been competing.
My engagement project was most timely at this moment when a more organized and selective form of history about “hirusu hest” is being written in Kurdistan, Turkey and Europe, which has introduced new mechanisms of selection and silencing. This project provided me the chance to share my own research on historical narratives with the host community and researchers.
I started my engagement project by visiting the villages in all the districts of Dersim sharing my work with the narrators of my dissertation research. This was really meaningful because my narrators expressed feelings of being left out of the recent process of collective memory construction. They mentioned that several researchers had visited them over the past three years without “ever getting back in touch”. Moreover, since I conducted my dissertation research, political groups have been involved in mobilizing the memories of witnesses, claiming the authority over interpretation of historical narratives. Especially my narrators in remote villages of Dersim, such as the mountain villages of Ovacik, which were displaced in the 1990s, had no connections with the recent commemorative ceremonies and rallies about hirusu hest. Visiting my narrators in their villages, sharing the end products of my research with them, and hearing their comments and interpretations in this context was a highly fulfilling experience. I would like to thank the Wenner Gren Foundation for providing me with the resources to accomplish this ethical obligation.
Second, I organized a workshop with local researchers, who have been “collecting” memories of hirusu hest. In addition to enabling me to share my research experiences with the local researchers, this workshop was a step for making research projects on hirusu hest more transparent to the host community. Among the participants were Ozgur Findik, a local researcher who directed two documentary projects about the massacres and forced displacements in Dersim in the 1930s, Devrim Tekinoglu, a journalist, publisher, documentary maker who have worked both on hirusu hest and the village displacements in the 1990s, and Cemal Tas, one of the first researchers to conduct interviews on hirusu hest and the director of the Oral History Project organized by European Federation of Dersim Foundations.
The workshop took place both in Turkish and in the local language to make it available to the generation who witnessed the massacres and who hardly understand Turkish. The workshop ended with the showing of different documentary films in respective nights, two on hirusu hest and one on the dam projects in Dersim. This was the most popular component of the workshop since the visual material was more approachable by older and younger generations alike.
As a component of my dissertation research, and based on the questions I was receiving from my narrators, I also got engaged in a project of understating “hirusu hest” in relation to the current problems in Dersim: the continuing effects of the state terror of the 1990s, as well as the dam projects on Munzur River and mining projects in the mountains, undertaken by the state in cooperation with private companies. My dialogues with the researchers, the more political actors and the villagers made me understand research as an ethical and political process especially in subaltern places. Hence as a part of this engagement project I started to work with an activist lawyer who is working with villagers who are threatened by the hydroelectric power plants and mining projects.
The final component of my project is making my research available for the host community for the long term. Dersim does not have any archives or museums to display academic or art work. Since I did not have enough funds to undertake a large-scale project, I contacted the municipal government and the local researchers about founding of a small anthropology and oral history museum in Dersim through a display of my ethnographic research in different forms. My research involves archival material, as well as photographs, videos, and a documentary project prepared with the artists and directors. I received consent from my narrators and made copies of my research material. I also obtained copies of documentaries and art work produced by local researchers and artists. This material that will be presented at a space provided by the Municipal Government starting with late fall.
Christine Schreyer is assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, where she teaches courses in linguistic anthropology. Recently, Schreyer was given the unusual opportunity to contribute to the creation of the Kryptonian language for Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated Superman film, Man of Steel (2013). With such a fascinating story to tell, we interviewed Schreyer to learn more about how she approached creating an alien tongue for the iconic character and her experience working as an anthropologist in the world of big-budget entertainment.
Could we begin by learning a little about your scholarly background and interests, in particular your interest in constructed languages?
My doctoral research examined the relationship between land, language and identity amongst two Canadian indigenous communities, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, located in northern British Columbia, and the Loon River Cree First Nation, located in northern Alberta (Schreyer 2011a). I continue to work with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and we are currently working developing an interactive and participatory mapping tool that can also assist community members in re-learning their Tlingit language, particularly place names and names of resources from the land. I have also worked with Kala speakers in Papua New Guinea, where I assisted the Kala Language Committee to develop an alphabet for their language in order that it could be taught in schools, and generally strengthened within their communities.
My interest in constructed languages, however, developed out of my teaching experiences rather than my past research experiences. The textbook I use in my Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology class, The Anthropology of Language (Ottenheimer 2013), has as one of its assignment suggestions a language creation assignment. I have used a modified version of this assignment with my first year students since the fall of 2008 to great success (see Schreyer et al 2013 for a discussion of my students’ and my own reflections on this assignment). It was during the end of the fall of 2009 semester that I noticed news stories about the numerous individuals learning Na’vi, from the movie Avatar. As I like to incorporate news items that relate to my courses into class discussions, I showed this to my students and wondered at that time how so many people were learning Na’vi and why.
The following summer, I went to Papua New Guinea to conduct my research with Kala speakers for the first time and learned Tok Pisin, the national lingua franca. Learning a pidgin language was fascinating and in the fall of 2010, I taught a course that focused on “new” languages for the first time – Pidgins, Creoles and Created Languages. It was during this class that my students and I further explored who Na’vi speakers were, which led to my article “Media, Information, Technology, and Language Planning: What can endangered language communities learn from created language communities?” (2011b). In this article, I examined how created language communities, such as Klingon and Na’vi, had used media and IT to help develop their communities and raise the prestige of their languages. I discuss how minority language communities could also use some of the same techniques to raise their number of speakers, but also discuss why media and IT are not always relevant or useful to minority communities.
After this article, I developed a survey of Na’vi speakers, which I ran online during the summer of 2011. The survey was designed to determine who the Na’vi speakers were (age, gender, nationality, education levels etc.), but also how they were learning Na’vi, why they were learning Na’vi, and how they thought Na’vi would develop over time. The Na’vi community was truly wonderful and welcoming and I was overwhelmed with the number of responses I received (297 in total), as well as the support I had from Na’vi speakers who helped translate my survey into 7 other languages (Russian, Ukrainian, German, Italian, French, Hungarian, Na’vi) in order to reach the maximum number of people. The results of this survey have further confirmed for me that it might be possible for speakers of endangered languages to model some of the learning strategies of speakers of created languages in order to develop more speakers (see my website for details on the results of this survey).
There have been many famous constructed languages in the history of fantasy and science fiction, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elven to Star Trek’s Klingon and, more recently, Na’vi. As far as you know, how has language theory, anthropology, work by anthropologists, etc., influenced the creation of these past languages?
I should add a comment here on terminology; I switch between using constructed languages and created languages, as a stylistic choice. However, conlang, a new addition to the Oxford English dictionary, is generally the most popular term, especially amongst those who develop languages (the conlangers, themselves).
To my knowledge, I am one of the only conlangers, who is also a professional anthropologist, and I am unsure the extent to which anthropology as a discipline has impacted the work of other conlangers. For instance, Marc Okrand, the inventor of Klingon, and Paul Frommer, the inventor of Na’vi, are both retired linguistics professors. While David Peterson, who has invented numerous popular languages for television and movies, including Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones, has a Master’s degree in Linguistics. While these individuals have worked on more recent media-driven languages, Tolkien was also trained in linguistics rather than anthropology.
However, Peterson, in a recent blog post to celebrate the inclusion of the word conlang into the Oxford dictionary, has written about the “historical method” of language creation that, he states, “Tolkien pioneered” (2014), and which he uses himself. Peterson continues that, “With the historical method, an ancestor language called a proto-language is created, and the desired language is evolved from it, via simulated linguistic evolution”. Discussions of proto-languages, as well as linguistic evolution, are concepts found within the domain of linguistic anthropology. For instance, these are both topics in my Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology class, and the language creation assignment I give my students, includes a section on language change. After first beginning their languages, including the Phonology, Morphology, and Syntax, as well as Non-Verbal communication, the students are then asked to create slang and also borrow a word from another newly created language (i.e. language evolution). In sum, it’s my belief that anthropology does have theories and ideas to offer language construction, such as the way that cultural concepts (such as gender, race, age, kinship etc.) are socially constructed and aided by language choices. I would also love to know if there are other anthropologists out there who have developed languages and what their experiences have been as opposed to those who have backgrounds in linguistics.
What was your familiarity with the Superman character before MAN OF STEEL reached out to you?
I would say that my knowledge of the Superman character prior to my work on Man of Steel was on par with many others who grew up with the Christopher Reeves movies. I knew the basics of the stories, but was by no means a super-fan of Superman.
What were the “aesthetic considerations” you wanted to bring to bear on constructing the Kryptonian language?
To be clear, I worked in association with a graphic designer named Kristen Franson while developing the Kryptonian language for Man of Steel, so the written aesthetics were developed for the most part by her to match the other aspects of design (see Wallace 2013 for more details on Kryptonian design).
My contribution to the writing was to suggest that a syllabic writing system could be used, similar to Cree syllabics, where one symbol represents a consonant/vowel pairing and the rotation of the symbol indicates what the vowel is. As well, since the reboot of the story already had the iconic “S” on Superman’s costume meaning “hope”, a second version of a writing system was also already in place when I was asked to participate. My suggestion was that these symbols for houses could be an older logographic form of writing, where one symbol represents an entire idea or word, while the syllabic system could be a newly evolved form of Kryptonian writing.
In terms of phonological “aesthetics”, I was somewhat limited to the material that was already available in the Superman canon. My initial task was to look at the names of people and places from Krypton that were found in the comics and movies and determine what all of the previously sounds used were since these sounds would need to be found within this new Kryptonian language as well. I also knew that some of the actors might potentially end up speaking the language and, as a result, I added only one sound (the voiced glottal fricative) that does not exist in the English language in order to slightly increase the “alien-like” feel of the language.
What was the input and feedback like from the non-anthropologists in the production?
I was given much leeway to decide how I wanted the language to be developed and the person who gave me the most feedback was Kristen, the graphic designer, as we were the ones who ended up knowing the most about how the language worked since we were using it frequently. However, Alex McDowell, Production Designer, and Helen Jarvis, Art Director, were also extremely supportive of the work that Kristen and I were doing, which was nice since it led to more opportunities for the language to be used throughout the film’s production.
As an anthropologist, what struck you about working in “the field” of a big-budget and highly anticipated film such as this?
I think my experience traveling to new places and meeting new people as a part of my anthropological fieldwork helped immensely in acclimatizing to the set and the “world” of Krypton, which was being designed around me. In particular, when I was on set, as a newbie to the film industry, I had to be guided through the studios. To some extent, this reminded me of my beginning trips to new field sites where individuals take it upon themselves to show you the ropes and how life proceeds. People don’t tell you the explicit rules, but you follow along, participate and observe, and learn for yourself.
As well, my work on Man of Steel, was embedded in secrecy. Early on I signed nondisclosure agreements, which stated that I could not reveal what I saw and heard during my work. I learned about the plot of the movie on my first day on set, but could not tell anyone about it. I also heard a lot of information about how production was unfolding while walking through the sets and around the studios with my guides. But again, it was a case of listening to learn but not to use. I have often had similar experiences in the field, where people talk about things in front of you, which help situate you in the field, but which are so deeply personal that they are not ever written down or shared. The secrets we as anthropologists keep are an interesting part of our discipline, although not something we are explicitly taught in fieldwork courses.
How was your work, and your profession as a linguistic anthropologist, understood by those you worked with? Were there any misconceptions?
Interestingly, I was very rarely labeled as an “anthropologist” when I was on the set or when I was being introduced to someone, but was instead “the linguist” who was developing Kryptonian. However, as many anthropologists who work on issues of language and culture will tell you, I’m often labeled as a “linguist” rather than as an anthropologist. Duranti’s (2009) introduction to his reader on Linguistic Anthropology does an excellent job describing the challenges with labeling the field of linguistic anthropology. Labeling the people who work in this field is equally as challenging! Again, one person, who fully understood my background as an anthropologist, was Alex McDowell. As a uniquely talented world-builder, Alex has explored anthropology himself through his work and I appreciated the conversations we had on anthropological topics.
What did you take from the experience? Did this project influence the way you think about your scholarly work, or your work with “real” languages?
Since my work on this project, I’ve been fascinated with the ideas of world building and the on-line worlds that people build and participate in. This has led me to re-look at my research with Na’vi speakers through the lens of digital ethnography. I’ve also had fans of Superman contact me requesting more information about how to learn the language I developed. As of now, Warner Bros., the official owners of this work, have not yet developed a learning guide for Kryptonian. Despite this, people are interested in learning the language, making me wonder, what can we do to make those interested in learning minority languages “fans” of their languages again? What can “fandoms” teach us about the enthusiasm required to help reverse language shift?
Last, through developing a language myself, I came to re-appreciate the lessons I try to teach my students in their language creation assignment. In that assignment, I want them to realize without my explicitly saying it that they need to think about who the speakers of their languages are, where they live, what they do (or in other words, to think about their culture) before they can get very far in the language creation process. In my work, I wasn’t developing a new world but attempting to make sure a world that exists so vividly in the minds of its fans, as well as in the minds of the movie production team, was fairly and accurately represented. I took their ideas of what Krypton was like, such as the history and values of Kryptonian people, and incorporated these into the language in various ways. As the Man of Steel universe expands, with new movies, I wonder how the world of Krypton might be further developed as well.
Duranti, Alessandro (2009). Linguistic Anthropology: History, Ideas, and Issues. In Linguistic
Anthropology: A Reader, 2nd edition. A. Duranti, ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Ottenheimer, Harriet J. (2013). The Anthropology of Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Toronto: Thomson-Wadsworth. 3rd Edition.
Peterson, David. (2014). How I created the languages of Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones. Oxford University Press Blog. http://blog.oup.com/2014/07/dothraki-valyrianlanguage-game-of-thrones/
Schreyer, Christine (2011a). Re-Building Language Habitats: Connecting Language Planning and Land Planning for Sustainable Futures. Language Documentation and Description, Volume 9: 35-57
Schreyer, Christine (2011b). Media, Information Technology and Language Planning: What can endangered language communities learn from created language communities? Current Issues in Language Planning 12(3): 403-425.
Schreyer, Christine, Clarke Ballantine, Vanessa Bella, Joanne Gabias, Brittany Ganzini, Robyn Giffen, Pamela Higgins, Justin Kroeker, David Lacho, Stacy Madill, Louisa McGlinchey, Sasha McLachlan, Shelley Nguy, Tara Wolkolsky, and Vanessa Zubot (2013). The Culture of Con-langing: What Can We Learn About Culture from Created Languages? Fiat Lingua. FL-000017-00, Fiat Lingua, <http://fiatlingua.org>. Web. 01 August 2013.
Wallace, Daniel (2013). Man of Steel: Inside the Legendary World of Superman. Insight Editions: San Rafael, California.
Asia Minor and South America will be busy for these late summer/early fall WGF-supported conferences!
September 10 – 14, 2014
The European Association of Archaeologists’ Annual Meetings started bridging the gap between East and West in 1994 and have become the main meeting forum for archaeologists in Europe. EAA Meetings stimulate academic debate in a variety of archaeological fields, but also enhance partnership with scholars working in related disciplines, like social anthropology. The Meetings allow especially colleagues from former socialist countries to establish professional and personal contacts that often develop into long-term co-operations. EAA Meetings attract an ever increasing number of attendees (1356 in 2013), many of whom are early-stage researchers (some 160 in 2013) seeking to discuss their results with established colleagues at an international level. This is attested also by the growing number of submissions for the Student Award, conferred on the best conference paper by a student or archaeologist working on a dissertation, and then published in the European Journal of Archaeology. As well as academic sessions and the poster exhibition, EAA Annual Meetings host a range of round tables and working party meetings where current themes in European Archaeology, as well as policies setting standards for professional practice and ethics, are discussed. These are often taken up by European institutions, such as the Council of Europe.
September 18 – 21, 2014
Both the history of the last two centuries and the present of Southeast Europe are marked by deep transformations and upheavals. For entire societies, social groups and individuals all these upheavals and crises meant the experience of fundamental discontinuities, of historical and social ruptures that divided time into periods ‘before’ and periods ‘after’, experiences that structured peoples’ lives and historical memories. In many cases the ongoing crisis became a way of life. The primary goal of the conference will not be to elucidate the natural, political, military or socioeconomic causes of societal, social or individual crises but rather will focus, from an ethnological or anthropological perspective, on the reactions of societies, of social groups, or of individuals to such crises, on their impact on the everyday life of people, on their various strategies of managing and coping with them, on the processes of adaptation and interpretation, and on peoples’ concepts and attitudes, shortly: on the cultures of crisis in Southeast Europe.
October 6-10, 2014
San Felipe, Chile
The TAAS (Teoría Arqueológica en América del Sur) was born from the need to discuss the specific situation of Latin American archaeologies and its positioning regarding global theoretical paradigms. The 7th TAAS will be the first time for this event to take place on the Pacific coast of the continent. The TAAS aims to provide the chance to open a more democratic and critical engagement between professionals, students, and a burgeoning and diverse group of local stakeholders of the past, to achieve a better theoretical, ethical and practical framework for archaeological practice. We expect to have up to 350-400 participants, including students, junior and senior archaeologists and different stakeholders (mainly indigenous representatives) from several Latin American and other countries. Due to its nature, TAAS also welcomes the participation of specialists of related disciplinary fields whose work resonates with the interests of archaeology, promoting an open discussion on a variegated set of topics.
Bilge Firat is Lecturer in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Istanbul Technical University. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the State University of New York, Binghamton, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘The Negotiation of Turkish Europeanization in Brussels,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas M. Wilson, investigating how lobbying as a politico-cultural communicative practice works in facilitating the enlargement dynamic of the E.U. towards the Republic of Turkey. In 2013, now on the faculty of Istanbul Technical University, Dr. Firat received the Engaged Anthropology Grant and used it to organize a unique opportunity for political actors who would normally not be in dialog with each other to discuss political and cultural issues outside of a formal context.
Europeanization alla Turca? A Communicative Engagement Event Towards the Positive Agenda
While conducting my Wenner Gren-supported dissertation fieldwork on Turkish Europeanization and lobbying in Brussels, I observed Turkey’s European Union (EU) membership talks (or accession negotiations, in Eurospeak) to gradually undergo a stalemate from 2008 to 2009. This stalemate, or rather crisis, has since then impelled actor-agents to rethink the fundamentals of the EU-Turkey relationship. In this rethinking, I found, mutual mis/trust, pedagogical power, and other political currencies loom large. At the end of my research in Brussels, I concluded that various dynamics rendered Turkey’s bid for EU membership an anti-case. Communicative setbacks arising from existing power parameters between the EU and this candidate country contributed into the disintegration of actors and agents from one another, which in return contributed into the deepening of mistrust and the losing of political and administrative credibility among members of Turkish and non-Turkish Eurocratic policy communities—otherwise equal partners in this process. I observed mistrust as a strong political currency most commonly in policy actors’ non-communication with one another outside the given communicative channels and tokens provided by an institutional framework. I recently went back to Brussels, thanks to a Wenner Gren Engaged Anthropology Grant, in order to bring together public and private negotiators of Turkey’s EU accession to discuss the nature of this anti-case and to amend their communicative holdups.
In my engagement project, I proposed to nurture a para-ethnographic moment in the form of a roundtable discussion wherein participants, who would otherwise not speak to each other, were to do so by way of my mediation/meditation and to establish a new communicative channel unguided by official policies and formal institutional identities—prerequisite for establishing a sound politico-cultural dialogue and moving on with the process.
Please take off your political hats!
These were the exact words with which the Europeanization alla Turca roundtable that I organized at the European Parliament (hereafter, the Parliament) on 17 September 2013 started. My guests included public (governmental and non-governmental) and private interest representatives from the European Union, its member states, and Turkey who have been entrusted with facilitating Turkish bid for EU membership over many years now, but many of whom have lately been estranged from one another—both personally and institutionally. About 25 policy workers congregated in Room 3H1 of the Parliament’s Altiero Spinelli Building that Tuesday evening, in order to openly debate how past achievements and limitations in the everyday of negotiations could be turned into future opportunities for the EU-Turkey relations.
I have long ago observed that the EP serves as a market place where information, interests, and influence frequently exchange hands. A Greek Member of the EP and Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats political group, Maria Eleni Koppa, kindly hosted us. In her opening remarks, she declared that Europe is a “community of values.” The rest of us, after her, began to debate what this “community of values” entails for doing the daily work on the EU’s enlargement towards Turkey.
With Turkey, everything is political
Four speakers (including myself) reflected at that statement deriving from their European experiences and expertise from working with each other. Historical dept of the variegated relationship between Europe and Turkey was juxtaposed to the current impasse in the EU-Turkey membership process, which has its own landmark developments such as the signing of a customs union agreement between the EU and Turkey in 1996. The current deadlock in membership talks, or rather the “death spiral” as one of the speakers aptly put it in policyspeak, is plainly because “with Turkey, everything is political.” All speakers agreed that, at the individual bureaucratic level, this death spiral deepens the peculiar absence of mutual trust, lack of understanding of one another, as it further obliterates chances for the attainment of a common language between the parties to Turkey’s European tango.
“We need to build trust by living together,” stated Ms Fazilet Cinaralp, a true Turkish European and the long-term Secretary General of the European Tire and Rubber Association, a pan-European sectoral business association that also has Turkish members. “Accession is a process, and the industry is participating in this process daily with its challenges, prospects, opportunities,” she continued adding that more needs to be done.
The venerable representative of Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists Association in Brussels, Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi remarked, “Europe enlarges, but this is not an inclusion. Nobody comes to Europe; Europe goes to those places.” He recommended that we listen to European expats (businessmen, artists and the like) living in China, who as a result of this have a unique perspective on the future of Europe, of China, and of Turkey and are very much in favor of the EU enlargement towards Turkey. In his opinion, the real questions are whether there is any will left in both sides and which interests the EU and Turkish citizens have in common. “A Europe that has successfully enlarged itself in a global order, or a shrinking Europe? Or a Europe of variable geometry where an enlarged EU could keep its core Eurozone, which may be easier to explain to its citizens.”
A better language, a real understanding
An adviser to the EU’s techno-bureaucracy on energy issues, who wished to speak off-the-record, stressed the importance of proper political communication. He suggested that the way actors and agents of Turkey’s Europeanization negotiations address each other is very important, whether it is done formally or informally in a non-structured or structured environment. He confided: “There has to be a real understanding of what the other person is hearing rather than what you are saying. And we lack that deeply on both sides.” From his long-term engagement with Turkey, this adviser summed up some of the turbulence in Turkey’s EU membership talks: “There have been many capable diplomats in both sides who knew how to approach an issue. But it only takes one person to say something stupid, and that throws off the entire relationship.”
The roundtable provided a platform for the participants to share their experiences with each other. Others such as officials from European Commission’s various directorate generals, civil society actors from the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions also made interventions from around the table. It was not an easy task to bring them together, especially as an anthropologist with no institutional or political attachment in Brussels. But in the end, we were able to take off our hats that evening, albeit for a brief moment.
 I would like to acknowledge the help and support I received from two individuals in organizing this event: Aslihan Tekin and Evangelos Tountas, my long-time and more recent friends.
 Ms. Koppa was the only person who was not asked to take her political hat off, anticipating that a politician could never agree to that.