Calendar 2017-2018

During the 2017-2018 academic year, EST will be held every other Monday from 4:00 – 5:30 pm at Room 105 in the Yale University Department of Anthropology at 10 Sachem Street, New Haven.


Past Events


September 25, 2017

Paul Nadasdy, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian & Indigenous Studies, Cornell University

“I’m not a Citizen; I’m an Indian:” Personhood and Political Subjectivity in the Constitution of Canada’s Self-governing First Nations

Today, sovereign power emanates from “the people,” a clearly delineated subset of humanity with a special relationship to a state’s geographical territory; and states ostensibly exercise their power on behalf of their people (a legitimizing claim made even by dictatorships). Yukon First Nation self-government agreements create state-like social entities not only by drawing geographical boundaries around indigenous territories, but also by erecting and maintaining new social boundaries among Yukon Indian people who are otherwise connected to one another by dense relations of kinship and reciprocity that cross-cut First Nation political boundaries and extend throughout the Yukon and beyond. Significantly, the institutions of First Nation citizenship erect social boundaries not only among the citizens of different Yukon First Nations, but also between humans and non-humans – in stark contrast to many Yukon Indian peoples’ ongoing belief that animals and other non-human persons play an important – and overtly political – role in Yukon society. In this lecture, I focus on the institutions and practices of First Nation citizenship and their implications for indigenous conceptions of personhood and human-animal relations.


October 9, 2017

Naysan Adlparvar, Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer, Council on Middle Eastern Studies, Yale University

From Ethnopolitics to “Everyday Ethnicity”: Ethnic Change in the Bamyan Valley, Afghanistan

By arguing that ethnicity operates through ‘ethnic categories’ not ‘ethnic groups’, Rogers Brubaker challenges the conventional debate in Anthropology of ethnicity being primordialist or constructionist in nature. Drawing from psychological theory, he argues that ethnicity is a way of seeing the world and of behaving in it. This extends the potential for analysis beyond the domain of national-level ethnopolitics to the world of ‘everyday ethnicity’, or of how ethnicity functions in daily settings and interactions. In this talk, Dr. Adlparvar will explore this new framing of ethnicity theory applying it to ethnographic research he conducted in the Bamyan Valley, Afghanistan. In doing so, he will highlight the changing dynamics of ethnic identity and intergroup relations in the Afghan context. In particular, his talk will highlight shifting ethnic relations between Shi’i Hazarahs and Sunni Tajiks framed in terms of Ashura (Shi’i mourning rituals), in addition to the emerging contestation surrounding marriage between Hazarahs and Saadat. 


October 23, 2017

Paige West, Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College, Columbia University

Dispossession and Disappearance in the Post Sovereign Pacific: Climate, Change, and our Anthropocentric Future

On July 19, 2013 the Prime Ministers of Australia and Papua New Guinea agreed to the Regional Resettlement Arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea (colloquially known as “The Papua New Guinea Solution” or the RRA) an international agreement that diverts asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat to Papua New Guinea, for immediate detention and processing, and then eventual resettlement in Papua New Guinea – a country that did not have a national refugee policy until October 2015. In this talk, the author will describe the lives of the people who have been affected by the RRA ethnographically, placing their lives within the larger story of the RRA. The talk will end with some questions for all of us, as anthropologists, about how we are to approach the socio-ecological present today as scholars and as humans, and about the value of ethnographic anthropology, something that has recently been loudly critiqued and roundly discounted by some of the more irritating members of our discipline.


November 13, 2017

David Palmer, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hong Kong

Elijah Siegler, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, College of Charleston

Doing ethnography in a religious field: interventions, tensions and mediations

This talk is based on the newly released book Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality (University of Chicago Press), a multi-sited ethnographic study of transnational encounters between American spiritual tourists and practitioners and the Chinese monks and hermits of the sacred Daoist peak of Huashan. In this talk, the co-authors will reflect on how their ethnography unexpectedly and unavoidably became an intervention in the religious field they were studying, leading them to question the insider/outsider distinction in the study of religion. They will discuss their relationships as friends, translators, and mediators with the three main protagonists whose lives intersected during their study—a Chinese urban hermit, an American spiritual entrepreneur, and a Sinologist scholar-practitioner. 


November 27, 2017

Stephanie Rupp, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Lehman College, City University of New York

Forests of Connections, Forests of Change: Dynamics of HIV Emergence in Southeastern Cameroon

This research seeks to explain the emergence of pandemic HIV/AIDS—its crossing from ape to human, adaptation within humans, and amplification to become a global pandemic—through historical analysis of change in social, economic, ecological, and medical contexts in the Congo River basin during the early twentieth century.  Virologists have established that HIV-1M, the group of human immunodeficiency viruses that generated HIV/AIDS, emerged from a subpopulation of chimpanzees in the forest of southeastern Cameroon (Keele et al., 2006).  This genetic reconstruction of the virus’ evolutionary adaptation provides a time period (1908-1945) and geographical location (southeastern Cameroon) for the viral adaptation to human transmissibility.  But scientists have not been able to answer how or why this ancient simian virus evolved into a human virus in this particular place at this particular time.  Instead of approaching the emergence of HIV as a singular, unidirectional, unique event, this research underscores the importance of nesting the history of this particular virus within the histories of people living in these forests and along these rivers, during the years in question.  I argue that dynamics of social, economic, and political mobility have characterized forest communities for many generations, drawing on centuries-old relations of social fission and fusion, competition and cooperation.  In particular, three layers of interlocking, dynamic patterns of human mobility characterize forest communities in this part of the Congo River basin, and accelerated during the colonial era.  These patterns include economic engagement with the ecological resources of the forest, labor practices, and approaches to health and illness.  This colloquium presentation will discuss the social, economic, ecological, and medical factors that combined to provide a context in which people—as both social agents and biophysical viral hosts—were able to connect with each other in profoundly new ways, permitting the emergence of a new human virus, HIV/AIDS.


December 4, 2017

Julia DiBenigno, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior, Yale School of Management

“Rapid Relationality: How Peripheral Experts Develop Influential Relationships with Line Managers”

Organizations often must hire outside professionals for their expertise and legitimacy to accomplish important organizational goals, including sustainability officers, cyber security professionals, and diversity officers, among others. Yet these experts typically belong to peripheral functions of the organization and lack formal authority over line managers in core functions. Given this power asymmetry, line managers may resist efforts to elicit cooperation from them with relative impunity. How and when can low-power experts in peripheral roles elicit cooperation from higher-power line managers? In this paper, I analyze relational histories of 56 peripheral expert-line manager dyads from a 30-month ethnographic field study of experts—in this case U.S. Army mental health professionals—and the line managers over whom they lacked authority—the direct commanders of the soldiers they treated. Soldiers could not fully benefit from mental health services when their commanders overrode their providers’ recommendations. Despite their low-power and status as outsiders, many providers succeeded at developing influential relationships with commanders by using ethnographic access tactics through a process I call “rapid relationality.” My analysis suggests it is not only what peripheral experts do to elicit cooperation from line managers, but also when and how quickly they do it that matters. These findings contribute to our understanding of expert occupational groups working in organizations, influence tactics, and temporal dynamics in organizations.


January 22, 2018

Riché Barnes, Dean of Pierson College, Yale University,

“No! I did not study myself”: Using native anthropology and Black feminist theory to craft intersectional critical ethnographies of Black Strategic Mothering.

Dr. Barnes will draw from her book Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community (Rutgers 2016), winner of the 2017, Race, Gender, and Class section of the American Sociological Association, to discuss her ethnographic methodology. Dr. Barnes conducted research in Atlanta, GA with 23 Black women over the course of three years who self-identified as married or co-habitating, college-educated with professional careers, and had at least one child under the age of six at the time of the study. Barnes’ primary motivation was to apply intersectionality and Black feminist theory to Black women’s relationships and decision-making about work and family conflict. Barnes’ research questions sought to identify why Black women, who have historically always had to combine work and family, would leave, modify, and/or change their careers. Barnes suggests these women engage in what she calls “black strategic mothering,” which involves navigating and redefining their relationship with work in ways that best fit the needs of their nuclear families and communities. Barnes discusses these women’s decisions, despite their relative privilege, as constrained choices, and moving away from the stay-at-home/working mom dichotomy, identifies three categorical relationships with work employed by her study participants.

Dr. Barnes will discuss how she conducted the research as a native anthropologist with many identity markers in common with her study participants and simultaneously maintained distance. She will show that distance was maintained through careful construction of the research questions and protocol so that there was no room to insert herself into the study once the protocol was initiated.  She will also discuss the ways in which she insured, despite using a snowball sample as one of her methodologies, that the women in the study, even if they knew each other, did not know they were being interviewed. Dr. Barnes will also discuss how she coded her participants responses and the theoretical tools she used for analysis including the “neo-politics of respectability”.

Beyond providing examples for developing and using long-established qualitative research methods, Dr. Barnes’ project established Black Strategic Mothering as a conceptual tool and gives us a better vantage point from which to view and develop several critical areas of qualitative ethnographic study.  The study expands Black feminist anthropology beyond the autoethnographic as expressed in Irma McClaurin’s seminal text by the same name. Drawing on and adding to our understanding of the structures that affect Black women’s lives, it provides greater specificity for the theoretical and methodological uses of intersectionality, long critiqued for its ambiguity. Finally, the pros and cons of native anthropology are considered.


February 5, 2018

Eduardo Kohn, Associate Professor of Anthropology, McGill University

Anthropology as Cosmic Diplomacy: Toward an Ecological Ethics for the Anthropocene

Forests think.  This is neither a metaphor nor a cultural belief.  There exists a kind of thinking, which I call “sylvan,” that is made exquisitely manifest by tropical forests and those that live with them.  This kind of thought extends well beyond us humans and, in fact, holds our human forms of thinking.  Thinking with the sylvan logics that thinking forests amplify can provide an ethical orientation –a mode of thought– that is adequate for these times of planetary human-driven ecological devastation that some call the “Anthropocene.”  I here discuss three projects in and around the tropical forests of Ecuador whose goal is to capacitate sylvan thought. This research, which has brought me into collaboration with indigenous leaders and shamans, lawyers and conceptual artists, and even forest spirits and archaic pre-hispanic ceramic figures, has encouraged me to see my anthropological vocation as a kind of “cosmic diplomacy.”   This form of diplomacy is “psychedelic” in so far as its goal is to make manifest the mind manifesting nature of the sylvan thinking on whose behalf it advocates.   Another word for this kind of emergent mind is “spirit.” I here explore alternative “sylvan” means to give voice to the spirits among us, and I trace the challenge this poses for how we should think about what it means to be human.


February 19, 2018

Nicholas De Genova, Independent scholar

Mobilizing Critique: Anthropology Confronting the “Crises” of Human Mobility

There has been an unrelenting proliferation of official discourses of “crisis” and “emergency” over the last several years, including but not at all restricted to the dominant discursive formation that has arisen from the confrontation between the sovereign powers of Europe and migrant and refugee movements across the borders of “Europe.”  Since 2015, alarmist reactions to an ostensible “migrant” or “refugee crisis” in Europe have lent an unprecedented prominence to the veritable and undeniable autonomy of (transnational, cross-border) migrant and refugee mobilities, replete with their heterogeneity of insistent, disobedient, and incorrigible practices of appropriating mobility and making claims to space.  Interlaced with such hegemonic formations of “crisis,” countless real crises for the preservation and social reproduction of human life abound.  These human disasters themselves have been rendered apprehensible to varying extents within hegemonic discursive formations as irruptions of “humanitarian crisis.”  Such “humanitarian crises” are not uncommonly produced as cynical spectacles of misery for the further authorization of political manipulations and military-securitarian interventions, even as they are derisively deployed to obfuscate other parallel human catastrophes altogether.  Yet, even as we retain a critical perspective on the dominant spectacle of “crisis,” it remains necessary nonetheless to take seriously the dire lived circumstances of millions of people who reap the poisoned harvest of the multiple calamities of our global sociopolitical regime.  How then should anthropology inhabit the actuality of this plurality of crises?  Moreover, how might the primacy, autonomy, and subjectivity of human mobility on a global (transnational, intercontinental, cross-border) scale instructively problematize our very sense of what is at stake intellectually and politically in the work of cultural critique?  One key area of concern is the largely unexamined methodological sedentarism and the civic (if not identitarian) nativism that commonly plague the study of migration and refugee movements.


March 5, 2018

Louisa Lombard, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

The Interpretation of Text Messages: Boundaries and the Interpretive Labor of Fieldwork Relationships  

Ethnography has been described as “the interpretation of cultures.” That work — making interpretive arguments about culture — is built out of interpersonal relationships. In the wake of critiques of anthropological involvement in colonialism and insufficient attention to power, communion with one’s interlocutors has become an implicit ideal for those interpersonal relationships, with depictions of close friendship used to bolster ethnographic credibility. However, much of the labor of fieldwork, perhaps especially for women working among men, consists of interpreting another’s advances, especially those in which there is a latent, nascent, possible, but not necessary sexual element. In this talk I use the interpretation of advances to explore the negative effects of the communion model of fieldwork and the benefits of instead recognizing the essential role that boundaries play in all ethnographic encounters.


April 2, 2018

Michael Cepek, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, UT San Antonio

Valueless Value: The Question of Production in Cofán Shamanism

Value is a key conceptual component of immanent critiques of capitalism and other modern social formations. In this paper, I take value beyond capitalism by examining its questionable production in a non-Western institution: the shamanic complex of the indigenous Cofán people of eastern Ecuador. While acknowledging the ethical nature of human existence and the generative power of human action, I describe the shaman as a paradoxical figure with regard to the labor that produces him and the criteria that orient his actions. The shaman occupies a central social position, but he profits from little Cofán labor and receives mixed Cofán praise. Consequently, it is arguable that he embodies no value at all. I describe the Cofán shaman as an embodiment of “valueless value,” a concept I articulate in relation to Pierre Clastres’ notion of “powerless power.” I suggest that we can understand the social dynamics of Cofán shamanism by joining the concept of valueless value to an unorthodox strand of Marxian anthropology and contemporary anthropological writings on ethics and morality. In dialogue with these bodies of work, I seek to demonstrate the utility of a value-based approach in all ethnographic investigations that take human practice as their primary object.


April 16, 2018

Kalfani Ture, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

The Grand Revolt is Not the Only Way: Multiple Modal Responses to Structural Oppression in Public Housing

This paper explores the variegated forms of resistance to structural oppression in the context of public housing displacement. Specifically, I examine public housing residentsvarious forms of agency against state sanctioned structural violence that operates against their Barry Farm Public Dwellings. The Barry Farm Public Dwellings community, located in southeast Washington, D.C., is a public housing community currently undergoing an urban redevelopment strategy known as New Communities Initiative (NCI). In this paper, I make the claim that NCI represents a current iteration of structural violence that is part of a larger historical and spatial process that extends the “Otherization” poor African Americans and other marginal groups. In the case of urban redevelopment, it has already proven to displace majority of these public housing residents with a small contingent of forty out a former 432 households holding out against forced relocation. In discussing the NCI redevelopment plan in the Barry Farm Public Dwellings community, I offer an original, ethnographically informed, and explanatory framework that utilize a socio-spatial analysis of Western Superior Culture (WSC) group versus Non-Western Inferior Others/Truly “Truly” Disadvantaged Others (NWIO/TTDO) group to highlight the hidden perpetrators of structural violence, their operations of oppression as well as to elucidate the prevalence of this binary social structure of oppression. In addition, I center residents’ lived experiences and less obvious and variable transactions of agency. To be clear, the socio-spatial binary of WSC against NWIO/TTDOs, where the former represents privileged Washingtonian citizens and the latter represents the disadvantaged Barry Farms Public Dwellings residents, is a site of contest, but one that offers the anthropologists hope for creating what Paul Farmer calls “pragmatic solidarity” – a productive space to produce anthropological work that matters in the lives of those oppressed. Finally, this paper draws from ethnographic research conducted between 2007 and 2013, where I utilized windshield tours, participant observation, interviews, archival research, and oral histories.


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