Calendar 2019-2020

During the 2019-2020 academic year, EST will be held in Room 105 in the Yale University Department of Anthropology at 10 Sachem Street, New Haven. EST will take place at 4pm on Mondays unless otherwise noted.



September 23, 2019

Tomo Sugimoto, Postdoctoral Associate in the Environmental Humanities in the Council on East Asian Studies and Lecturer in Anthropology, Yale University


Interstitial Ecologies: Humans, Plants, and Other Feral Proliferations on Taipei’s Terrains Vagues

Terrain vague is used to refer to ambiguous, abandoned, or empty lands and spaces found in many cities. In the fields of landscape design and architecture, such terrains vagues have come to signify a liberating alternative to restrictive, formally-designed spaces, as exemplified by the enormous success of projects like the High Line in New York and the Tempelhof Field in Berlin. Ecologists have also begun to pay attention to urban wastelands as distinct habitats, where endangered bees, birds, and plants surprisingly thrive. However, scholars have rarely looked at human-nonhuman entanglements in these spaces closely.How can interstitial urban spaces—like abandoned lands under freeways and between high-rises or wasted spaces like rooftops—be reconceptualized as sites of vibrant ecological belonging and flourishing? This paper proposes the concept of “interstitial ecologies” to understand how humans—especially those from marginalized groups—utilize these ambiguous urban spaces and their ecologies, as well as multispecies relations that thrive in these gaps of the city. I draw on ongoing ethnographic research with indigenous Pangcah/Amis people in Taipei, Taiwan, and their entanglements with wild plants that grow in the city’s terrains vagues.



October 7, 2019

Adeem Suhail, Singh Postdoctoral Associate at the Whitney and Betty MacMillian Center, Yale University


Into the Gangland: Investigative tools and crime fighting in urban Pakistan

Lyari town’s sudden transformation into a violent gangland caught the forces of order in Pakistan by complete surprise. Once a repository of Karachi’s old city transoceanic cosmopolitan culture where its diverse peoples cultivated ethno-religious inclusivity and worker solidarity, Lyari became a warzone ruled by armed gangs. At its height in 2013, gang violence purportedly caused more casualties than the Taliban insurgency. Karachi being the core of Pakistan’s economic life, it appeared that the very stability of the Pakistani state stood threatened. The police was helpless, the political elite perplexed, the populace on the verge of panic.
Drawing on ethnographic and archival research in and on Lyari, this presentation offers a different version of this story; one put together and retold from the perspectives of Lyari’s residents and the young men who came to be killed, incarcerated and rendered desaparicido as gangsters. In doing so, it engages nearly a century of social scientific probes into the status of ‘gangs’ and ‘ganglands’ and questions their status as analytical categories.



October 14, 2019*

Danila Rygovskiy, Doctoral student at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, Institute of Cultural Research, Tartu University, Estonia


Antichrist in the Vernacular Context: Imagining Technologies in Southern Siberia

Southern Siberia is one of the regions in the world where infrastructural development strongly depends on the efforts of the local communities. From this point of view, the ideologies and notions of the locals are crucial for understanding of what social-technological configurations are produced in the region and why.  Specifically, I focus on Siberian communities of the Russian Old Believers who rely on different technologies and equipment for survival in severe conditions of taiga and mountains. The Russian Old Believers is a group of Eastern Christians that emerged as an opposition to religious reforms within the Russian Orthodox Church in the mid XVII century. While technology is largely exploited, the members of this religious group strongly associate it with a so-called world of Antichrist. Operating with different gadgets is problematic to the Old Believers – though they need to use them in order to make a living, they still think of such objects as dangerous to their souls. My paper discusses usage of certain technological devices by the Old Believers, and their interpretations in the eschatological terms. I suggest that technical specifications of various devices serve as mediators of religious emotions and experiences.


*With support from the Program in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies


October 21, 2019

Vivian Lu, Postdoctoral Associate at the Macmilllan Council on African Studies, Yale University; Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Fordham University beginning in 2020.


Emplacing Capital: Nigerian Diasporic Citizenship in the Global South

Since the 1990s, bustling markets across Asia and the Middle East have seen an uptick of thousands of Nigerian commercial migrants. While transnational and transcontinental mobility has increased, particularly amongst the Global South, so too have intensive migrant and diasporic investments in securing political and economic livelihoods in places of origin. It is in this context that transnational Nigerian merchants have formed and maintained highly decentralized and monopoly-resistant transnational commercial routes and spaces that are defensive against non-black foreign actors. Drawn from ethnographic research in the Nigerian megacity of Lagos, and the contemporary African trade sites of Guangzhou, Dubai, and Istanbul, this talk examines how south-south circular migrations and commercial links are generating new kinds of political critiques and claims to national citizenship.  Through the concept of emplacement, I argue that increased south-south mobilities have heightened the stakes of national citizenship and belonging, bringing forth contested debates around Nigerian claims to economic livelihood as racialized, national, gendered, ethnic, and generational subjects.


Featured: October 28, 2019*

Leo Coleman, Associate Professor, CUNY


“Constitutional Morality”: Toward an Anthropology of Legal Forms  

In the past decade, the term “Constitutional Morality” has enjoyed a revival in Indian jurisprudence, being used describe a respect for difference that is claimed to be both the ancient inheritance of a pluralistic society and inherent to the modern identity of the Indian constitution. The term was first used, in this context, by B.R. Ambedkar in the debates over the draft constitution, although he defined it differently: His constitutional morality was not about tolerance of social difference, but instead about legal restraints on a “communal majority,” and how law might transform it into a merely political one, open to further division and recombination. Now, as long-standing constitutional conventions are regularly attacked, even rescinded, by a majoritarian party in contemporary India, Ambedkar’s specific concern about the legal relations between majorities and minorities, his wider pragmatism about legal forms and constitutional safeguards, and his later doubts about the egalitarian achievements of the Indian constitution, deserve new attention. Tacking between the past and the present meanings of constitutional morality in India, in their distinct historical moments, this talk identifies a deeper question about the political role of legal form in constituting groups and ordering relations between them—beyond current debates about whether constitutions can transform society or simply reflect existing power relations—which may be illuminated by exploring classic anthropological thinking about the relation between law and society.


*with support from the South Asia Studies Council, Yale MacMillan Center


November 11, 2019

Myfanwy James, Visiting Associate Researcher at the Department of Anthropology, Yale University; Doctoral Candidate at the Department of International Development, University of Oxford.


The Donkey Rule: whiteness in humanitarian negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

This talk examines the role of whiteness in everyday negotiations for humanitarian access between Médecins Sans Frontières and armed groups in North Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the region, I explore how historically-situated, localized understandings of race can continue to shape trans-national encounters in post-colonial contexts. By focussing on the perspectives of Congolese MSF staff, I describe how and why whiteness is perceived as a protective and facilitative mechanism for MSF field operations – as a signifier of neutrality and visible detachment; as a marker of ‘precious life,’ arousing local combatants’ concerns for international repercussions/reputation; and through conjuring up colonial narratives of racial superiority, encouraging restraint or deference. By describing the social functions whiteness holds in everyday humanitarian practice, and how whiteness, detachment and security become intertwined, the article highlights another ‘double-bind’ for MSF: its practice is shaped by, and reproduces, the racial hierarchies that its egalitarian mandate seeks to reject.



Featured: November 18, 2019*

Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University


Meritocracy and Democracy: the Social Life of Caste in India

How does the utopian democratic ideal of meritocracy reproduce historical inequality? My larger project pursues this question through a historical anthropology of technical education in India. It looks at the operations of caste, the social institution most emblematic of ascriptive hierarchy, within the modern field of engineering education. At the heart of the study are the Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, a set of highly coveted engineering colleges that are equally representative of Indian meritocracy and, until recently, of caste exclusivity. In this talk, I hope to show that the politics of meritocracy at the IITs illuminates the social life of caste in contemporary India. Rather than the progressive erasure of ascribed identities in favor of putatively universal ones, what we are witnessing is the rearticulation of caste as an explicit basis for merit and the generation of newly consolidated forms of upper casteness.


*with support from the South Asia Studies Council, Yale MacMillan Center


December 2, 2019

Laura Heath-Stout, Postdoctoral Associate, Rice University


Diversity, Situated Knowledges, and Strong Objectivity in Archaeology

Anthropologists and archaeologists study people of all identities, yet we ourselves tend to be straight, white, cisgender, and (in positions of power) men. How do our disciplinary demographics shape the knowledge about human culture that we produce? In this talk, I present results from my in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of 72 academic archaeologists. By viewing the stories of my interlocutors through the lenses of feminist philosophies of science, including situated knowledges and feminist standpoint theory, I show that archaeologists are limited in our understandings of the human past by our limited diversity. I explore how we can build a more strongly objective, inclusive, and justice-oriented discipline.



Featured: December 9, 2019

Amy Starecheski, Director, Oral History Master of Arts Program, Columbia


Amy Starecheski is the director of the Oral History Master of Arts Program at the Columbia Center for Oral History Research (CCOH) at Columbia University. Starecheski works at the intersection of cultural anthropology and oral history to focus closely on social movements and the politics of history, value, and property in cities. Her award-winning 2016 book Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City, published by the University of Chicago Press, carefully unravels the notion of private property by tracing out who exactly gets to make claims to property. Following the lives of a group of illegal squatters who “made” history to constitute themselves as legitimate owners of an inalienable and collective property, Ours to Lose reveals the fragility of property regimes, the processes that attempt to shore them up, and what happens when those processes are turned towards unintended ends. Starecheski’s ongoing work looks closely at space and its’ relation to place in her home neighborhood of Mott Haven. She is the founder of the Mott Haven Oral History Project, which collaboratively documents, activates, and amplifies the stories of this neighborhood, as told by the people who live there.



Featured: February 10, 2020

Andrew Carruthers, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania


Andrew M. Carruthers is a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist specializing in Malay-speaking maritime Southeast Asia. He studies the relation between language, mobilities, and infrastructures as a source of insight into the ways people navigate shifting and potentially hazardous terrains in their everyday lives. His ethnographic fieldwork has centered on the Bugis — a mobile, seafaring people who have long irregularly migrated from Indonesia to nearby Malaysia “in search of moreness.” His current book manuscript evaluates the meaning and materiality of “moreness” for this people in motion, foregrounding “intensity” as a mediating concept and object of analysis for ethnographic inquiry.



February 17, 2020

Elizabeth Derderian, Postdoctoral Associate, MacMillian Center Council on Middle East Studies, Yale University


(watch this space)




Featured: March 2, 2020

Anya Bernstein, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and Assistant Director of Graduate Studies, Harvard University


(watch this space)




Featured: March 23, 2020

Nick R. Smith, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Urban Studies, Yale-NUS College


Spatial Poetics under Authoritarianism: Graffiti and the Contestation of Urban Redevelopment in Contemporary China

This paper investigates the expression of resistance to urban redevelopment in the authoritarian context of contemporary China. Where conventional channels of public expression are closed, the very space of urban transformation becomes an important medium of contestation. Through the practice of “spatial poetics,” residents manipulate the taken-for-granted meanings attached to urban space, challenging the spatial codes that authorize redevelopment. Working across four spatial dimensions—territory, place, scale, and network—these poetic manipulations allow residents to de-naturalize existing power structures, escape their effects, and re-code space with alternative meanings. The paper illustrates the practice of spatial poetics through an analysis of Ciqikou, a historic district of Chongqing undergoing redevelopment. Residents expressed their resistance to redevelopment by writing slogans on buildings slated for demolition. By emphasizing relationships of scale, network, and place, residents’ graffiti challenged the territorial basis of the Chinese party-state’s redevelopment project and revalorized the neighborhood as worthy of preservation.



Featured: April 13, 2020

Ranu Roychoudhuri, Fellow, Institute of Sacred Music, Yale University; Assistant Professor, IIT Guwahati


(watch this space)




Featured: April 20, 2020

Sarah Besky, Charles Evans Hughes 1881 Assistant Professor of Anthropology and International and Public Affairs, Brown University


(watch this space)




Featured: April 27, 2020

Rachel Watkins, Associate Professor of Anthropology, American University


(watch this space)




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