Anthropology for Liberation assessments

Over the past few years I have been sharing the readings I assign for an undergraduate course I teach at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, Anthropology for Liberation. I modify the course every year in response to the conversations we have in our classroom and wider scholarly conversations.

This course takes its cue from the book Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation edited by Professor Faye Harrison. An anthropology for liberation leans into ideas of transformation and bringing about social change to make life more bearable for all people in all places. Harrison explains that it is “designed to promote equality- and justice-inducing social transformation” (1991, 2). This kind of anthropology is practiced by anthropologists “committed to and engaged in struggles against racist oppression, gender inequality, class disparities, and international patterns of exploitation and “difference” rooted largely in capitalist world development” (Harrison 1991, 2). In my view, an anthropology for liberation seeks to unsettle disciplinary boundaries, decentre Western epistemological imperialism, and foster solidarities with those working towards similar goals of liberation and otherwise worlds.

This year I redesigned the assignments to incorporate elements of labour-based grading (my colleague Grant Jun Otsuki has a nice piece explaining what labour-based grading is for those who are curious). As I was doing so, I saw two threads on Twitter by Dr Sereana Naepi and Associate Professor Sarah Martin that offered me a way to better align my assessment practices with the ethos of this course. In this post I share the assignment information I provide to students along with the grading criteria I developed. Please feel free to adapt or remix these ideas into your own course materials, and if you do I would love to hear from you!

There were three assignment for this course in 2022:

  1. Book review
  2. Research Journal (the first part of the major research project)
  3. Final research project

Book Review (30% of final grade)

This assignment involved an optional revise-review-submit process, where students could submit a draft of their book review for feedback prior to marking, and also to revise and resubmit their work once it had been marked. I was inspired to take this approach after reading Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (And What To Do Instead).

Your first assignment is to write a book review of one of the books on the list below. This assignment encourages deep learning of selected themes covered in this course as well as critical engagement with books dealing with contemporary social justice issues.

In ANTH 302, book reviews are not book reports that summarise a book’s content. Instead, book reviews are essays that critically evaluate how effective a book has been in fulfilling its stated goals, and how it relates to key themes discussed in ANTH 302.

What should the book review look like?

Book reviews are a common type of academic essay. You can find examples in anthropology journals such as American Anthropologist, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Anthropological Quarterly, and The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology. Your review should look like the reviews you can find in these journals.

As you will see from these journals, book reviews vary in structure but are like other types of academic essays in that they have a title, an introduction with a thesis statement expressing your evaluation of the book, body paragraphs that support the thesis statement, and a conclusion. If you refer to other sources you should also include a list of references. Subheadings are not necessary.

Your book review should contain the following features:

  • A concise summary of the book, including the author or author’s goals in writing it as well as the main theories and/or concepts the author(s) use to make their argument(s);
  • A critique of the evidence used by the author(s) to support their argument(s), and how well they used it;
  • An evaluation of how well the author(s) achieved their goals in writing the book, and of the book as a whole;
  • A discussion that shows how this book relates to key course themes.

I strongly recommend reading other published book reviews before you start work on your own. You might even be able to find reviews of the book you have chosen to write about.

Books to choose from

Alonso Bejarano, Carolina, Lucia López Juárez, Mirian A Mijangos García, and Daniel M. Goldstein. 2019. Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social Science. Durham: Duke University Press.

Byler, Darren. 2022. Terror Capitalism: Uyghur Dispossession and Masculinity in a Chinese City. Durham: Duke University Press.

Chao, Sophie. 2022. In the Shadow of the Palms: More-Than-Human Becomings in West Papua. Durham: Duke University Press.

Dave, Naisargi N. 2012. Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Holmes, Seth M. 2013. Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kirsch, Stuart. 2018. Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text. California: University of California Press.

Liboiron, Max. 2021. Pollution is Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mora Bayo, Mariana. 2017. Kuxlejal Politics: Indigenous Autonomy, Race, and Decolonizing Research in Zapatista Communities. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Shange, Savannah. 2019. Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, + Schooling in San Francisco. Durham: Duke University Press.

Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Durham: Duke University Press.

Note: if you would like to review a book that is not on this list, please contact me (Lorena) to discuss it. I need to approve your selection before you can review it for ANTH 302. You cannot review a book that is not on this list without obtaining permission beforehand.

Critically reading your chosen book

The following questions might be useful as note-taking prompts as you read the book:

  • What is the book’s central argument? If you had only one sentence to summarise the book, what would it be?
  • How does the author support their argument (or arguments)? What evidence is provided? Do you find that evidence convincing? Why or why not?
  • How is the argument structured? Does it make sense? Are you persuaded? Why/why not?
  • What theories and/or concepts does the author use in their analysis?
  • Why was this book was on the list of books you could choose from? How has it helped you understand key themes from ANTH 302?
  • Would you recommend this book to your classmates?
  • You could also consider the circumstances under which the knowledge in this book was produced (e.g. who the author is, background and training, relationship to the topic/ participants/fieldsite, theoretical persuasion).

Tips for writing your book review

Marking criteria

The book review is marked out of 100. In this book review you are expected to:

  1. Concisely summarise the book (20 marks)
  2. Critique the evidence used by the author(s) to support their argument(s) (20 marks)
  3. Evaluate the book (20 marks)
  4. Relate this book to key course themes (20 marks)
  5. Structure your review appropriately (e.g. an introduction with a clear thesis statement, a main body supporting the thesis statement in a logical manner, and a conclusion) and reference correctly using the Chicago 17th author-date referencing style (20 marks)

Instructional words

Course themeAn important idea, subject, or topic that is commonly discussed in an anthropology for liberation (e.g. ‘liberation,’ ‘decolonisation’)
CritiqueExpress your judgement about the evidence the author uses throughout the book to support their argument(s). Provide examples and commentary to support your critique
EvaluatePresent a careful judgement of book, stressing both its strengths and limitations. Provide an evidence-based argument for your evaluation
RelateExplain the connection between the book and course theme(s)
SummariseGive the main points in shortened form, without details, examples, comment, or criticism. Your summary should include the author or author’s goals in writing the book as well as the main theories and/or concepts the author(s) use to make their argument(s)

Getting feedback on a draft of your book review

This assignment uses an optional submit-revise-resubmit process. This is designed to give you an early opportunity to see if you are on the right track with your book review. It works as follows:

  • Submit a draft of your book review by 4pm on Monday 1 August. We will provide you with some feedback using the marking criteria above and EMRN rubric below. Our feedback will be returned by Monday 8 August.
  • Revise your book review based on our feedback.
  • Resubmit your final book review by the due date of 4pm on Friday 12 August.

Points to note:

  • You do not have to submit a draft of your book review; this is optional.
  • If you would like feedback on a draft of your book review, you must submit it on or before 4pm on Monday 1 August. This is a hard deadline. No extensions will be given. Any drafts submitted after this date will not be provided with feedback.
  • You are able to request an extension on the final version of your book review.

The EMRN Rubric

We will use this EMRN rubric to provide feedback on your draft book review. It allows us to quickly identify how you are tracking in relation to the marking criteria, and areas you might need to work on for your final book review. This rubric is based on the EMRN rubric developed by Robert Talbert and I have adapted it for ANTH 302. You can read more about this rubric, its origins, and the Creative Commons licence under which Talbert published it on his website:

When we read your draft, we will put it into one of four categories (E, M, R, or N). We will let you know which category we have assigned it to, and we will also note which of the marking criteria might need more work (e.g. 2 Critique, 3 Evaluate). This rubric does not indicate what grade you might receive for your final book review.

Does the book review meet all five expectations outline in the marking criteria? Does it demonstrate a thorough understanding of the book and how it relates to ANTH 302?

Work will be sorted into four categories:

E (Excellent/Exemplary): The book review meets or exceeds the expectations. Communication is clear and complete. There are no nontrivial errors. This could be used as a classroom example.

M (Meets Expectations): Most of the expectations are met and communicated through a well organised book review. Some revision or expansion is required, but no significant gaps or errors are present.

R (Revision Needed): The expectations are partially met but there are significant gaps or the review is unbalanced (e.g. spends too much time summarising and not enough on critique and evaluation). Needs further work.

N (Not Assessable): Not enough information is present to determine whether the expectations are met. Might contain significant omissions or be fragmentary (e.g. an outline rather than a draft). Or, there are too many issues to comment on. Significant work required.

EMRN Rubric remixed from Robert Talbert’s EMRN Rubric, which is based on the “EMRF” rubric created by Rodney Stutzman and Kim Race and described in a 2004 article in Mathematics Teacher magazine. I replaced the text to suit the requirements of the book review assignment.

Book review revise and resubmit process

You are welcome to revise and resubmit your book review once it has been graded. The steps are:

  1. Read your marker’s feedback and reread your book review. Decide which of their comments you are going to address.
  2. Revise your book review.
  3. Write a short summary of how you have responded to your marker’s comments in your revisions (e.g. “I condensed my summary of the book and added a new paragraph critiquing the book, in response to the comment that my summary was too long”). This can be in bullet-point form.
  4. Use the marking criteria to provide an honest self-assessment of your revised book review, and give yourself a mark out of 100.
  5. Submit your revised book review, your summary of the changes you have made, and your self-assessment and mark to the submission link on Blackboard by 11:59pm on Friday 30 September.

I will read your revisions and let you know whether or not I agree with your self-assessed grade.

This revise and resubmit process is available to everyone in the class who would like to improve their grade. You do not have to revise and resubmit your book review if you don’t want to.

Major Research Project

In ANTH 302 you will work on a major research project throughout the course. You will choose one of the options below, conduct research for it, and prepare two pieces of assessment:

  1. Research Journal (2000 words, 30% of your final grade), due 23 September
  2. Final Research Project (3000 words or equivalent, 40% of your final grade), due 14 October

This assignment has been designed to give you the opportunity to:

  • Create and carry out a piece of secondary (not primary) anthropological research that reflects critically on one or more course themes, drawing on ethnographic examples from Asia, Oceania, the United States, or Latin America;
  • Review existing scholarly literature and other material (e.g. archives, pūrākau [myths, legends, stories], whakataukī [proverbs], artwork, exhibitions, pamphlets, ‘zines, government documents, blog posts, podcasts, maps, music, film) to identify and engage with core theoretical concepts, and keep a record of your activities in a research journal;
  • Construct convincing arguments that connect your research findings and your own personal experiences with contemporary issues and social justice debates in an anthropology for liberation.

What will the final research project look like?

Depending on the option you choose, you are welcome to present your final project in the form of a research essay, ‘zine, blog post, poetry, podcast, or another innovative format (approved by Lorena). You are encouraged to discuss your presentation ideas with Lorena as you develop them.

We will talk about what secondary research means, the research journal, and the final research project in class and tutorials, and further information will be provided on Blackboard.

Research Project Options and Instructions

Option 1: Anthropology and activism

What does it mean for an anthropologist to be an activist? Draw on at least two of the ethnographies we discuss in this course to answer this question. You will need to critically discuss the history and goals of activist anthropology (also known as “engaged,” “action,” “advocacy,” and “militant” anthropology), what “activism” means, and the possibilities and limitations associated with scholar-activism. Use examples from the literature you consult to illustrate what such scholar-activism looks like in theory and in practice.

Option 2: Anthropology, decolonisation, liberation

How can anthropology be used in decolonising and emancipatory endeavours? Draw on ethnographic work by at least two different anthropologists to answer this question. You will need to take a position on whether anthropology can, in fact, be used in decolonising and emancipatory endeavours, critically discuss the history and central tenets of an anthropology for liberation, and critique what this kind of anthropology looks like in theory and in practice. Use examples from the literature you consult to illustrate your discussion.

Option 3: Design and enact an intervention related to a contemporary liberation movement

This option invites you to put what you have learned about an anthropology for liberation into practice by posing an intervention. The goal is to draw on anthropological practices discussed in this course, and the research you conduct, to act in solidarity with others working towards emancipatory goals. We will discuss what “intervention” means to anthropologists, as well as the ethics and politics of intervening, during lectures and tutorials.

Option 3 has two parts:

  1. Choose a contemporary liberation movement (broadly conceived – examples could include Free West Papua; Protect Pūtiki; Black Lives Matter; #MeToo; Pacific Climate Warriors; Rhodes Must Fall; LGBTQI+ activism; Fat Liberation; Disability Rights) and design and enact an intervention that will advance their visions of liberation. You are welcome to work individually or in groups on the intervention. The intervention can be on a large scale (e.g. a ‘zine-making session or awareness-raising event), or a small scale (e.g. Instagram or TikTok content, poster or ‘zine drop around the university, syllabus design, activist clothing). You are encouraged to discuss your ideas with Lorena as you design your intervention.
  2. Submit a critical reflection that introduces the liberation movement; outlines the issue you sought to bring attention to and the rationale for your intervention; situates your intervention in relation other examples of scholar-activism; explains how you applied anthropological practices and course themes to your intervention; reflects upon the impact of your intervention; and provides an honest assessment of the work you put into the intervention and what you think your grade should be based on the assessment criteria. This must be an individual submission and can be made in written (2000 words) or oral (10 minutes) form.

Option 3 is a new addition to ANTH 302 for 2022. I am grateful to Dr Sereana Naepi, who teaches Sociology at the University of Auckland, and Avery Smith, who teaches Education here at VUW, for providing the inspiration for this new option (it is based on an intervention assignment Dr Naepi has in one of her classes) and for discussing the logistics of this type of assessment with me.

Research Journal (30% of final grade)

This assignment requires you to maintain and submit a research journal containing critical analyses and reflections of course readings, class discussions, and independently sourced resources useful for your final research project. It has the following specific learning goals:

  1. Enable you to keep track of your activities and ideas as you carry out anthropological research relevant to your final research project;
  2. Develop your skills in critical reading, critical and creative thinking, and the ability to synthesise key course themes and concepts in your own words;
  3. Develop your technical skills in referencing while engaging in citational politics (Ahmed 2013) in a way that practices gratitude and recognition (Liboiron and Li 2022);
  4. Develop the argument you will make in your final research project (for Options 1 and 2), or the intervention you will design and enact for your final research project (for Option 3).

I recommend spending about 32 hours on this assignment, and starting it in Week 4. This includes conducting research, thinking, talking with your classmates, critically engaging with material and synthesising ideas, completing the main tasks listed below, and maintaining your research journal.

This assignment will be assessed using a task-based grading system. This means that your grade will be based on your ability to meet the requirements of three main tasks by their due dates.

Main tasks and due dates:

Task 1Contribute to a Group BibliographyDue: 9 September
Task 2Compose two emails to contemporary authors (one from our course readings, one from your research journal) that includes a quote from the reading, your response to the quote, and how the quote has informed your thinkingDue: 16 September
Task 3Maintain (over a period of at least four weeks) and submit a 2000-word research journal containing critical analyses and reflections of course readings, class discussions, and independently sourced resources useful for your final research projectDue: 23 September

What is a research journal?

A research journal – sometimes known as a research diary – is a place to track your research activities and ideas. Researchers use them to note our thoughts and feelings about a project, references to look up, summaries of articles we’ve read or other material we’ve consulted (including lectures we attend), interesting quotes (and where they come from!), connections we can see between published literature and our research topic, and research questions we might follow. We also use them to critically engage with the material we find, synthesise the main arguments and issues, and develop our arguments and refine our analyses. Your research journal will be an important source of information and inspiration for your final project.

The research journal is a new addition to ANTH 302 for 2022. I am grateful to Associate Professor Sarah Martin, who teaches Political Science at Memorial University in Canada, for generously sharing information about an assignment she teaches in one of her classes. Her work provided the inspiration for the third learning goal of this assignment.

What is “task-based grading?”

This is the latest iteration of the labour-based grading pedagogy I discussed in a recent article co-authored with Grant Jun Otsuki and Jordan Anderson entitled “The most seen I have ever felt”: Labour-based grading as a pedagogical practice of care.

Task-based grading is an alternative assessment method that aims to reward students for the time and effort they spend on an assignment, rather than the range of subjective measures normally found in assessment criteria. Task-based grading uses the number of tasks that students work through in writing their assignment to determine their grades. Your grade will be assessed by whether or not you meet the requirements of the three main tasks listed below.

In short, if you complete the requirements of all three main tasks listed below, you will receive an “A” grade for this assignment regardless of the quality of your work. It will not matter what your lecturer, your marker, or your classmates think of your research skills. It will only matter that you complete the requirements for the tasks on time, in the manner and spirit they are asked (in other words, no bullshit), and work with your classmates and lecturer in a way that contributes to the success of the course as a whole.

It is important to note that the quality of your research journal still matters. We will read your research journal and give feedback designed to help you in your final research project.

If you would like to learn more about alternative assessment methods, check out these resources:

Blum, Susan D. 2017, November 14. “Ungrading.”

Inoue, Asao B. 2019. Labor-based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse.

Robinson, Ken. October 2010. “Changing Education Paradigms.” RSA Animate.

Stommel, Jesse. 2020, February 6. “Ungrading: an FAQ.”

How does task-based grading work for this assignment?

Task-based grading values all of the effort that goes into maintaining a research journal: choosing a topic; finding and critically reading/viewing/listening to relevant resources; talking with classmates and teachers and friends and whānau; practising gratitude and recognition in our citations; as well as thinking, daydreaming, making connections, and developing your argument. This effort is not always visible in a 2000-word written assignment. My goal is to free you from the concerns of “getting it right” so you can focus on doing research, planning your final research project, and developing your citational skills.

Your assignment is graded out of a total of 100. Your grade will be based on whether or not you complete the requirements for the three main tasks listed below. Each task is designed to develop a particular skill, meet the learning goals, and help you create a strong basis for your final research project.

You must complete the requirements for Task 3 in order to pass this assignment. If you only complete Task 3, you are guaranteed a C (57%) for this assignment. If you complete Task 3 and one other task, you will receive a B (72%). If you complete the requirements for all three main tasks by their due dates, you will receive an A (87%).

We will review the tasks you submit to see whether they have been submitted on time and meet the requirements. If they do, we will mark them as “Complete.” If you do not submit a task by the due date or meet the task requirements, then it is “Incomplete.” You can submit Tasks 2 and 3 late (by 4pm on 23 September) and have them marked as “Complete,” but you will not receive feedback on late tasks. You can request an extension for Task 3.

Research journal overall gradeNo. of main tasks completed
A (87/100)3
B (72/100)2 (Task 3 and one other)
C (57/100)1 (Task 3 only)
D (45/100)1 or more tasks but not Task 3
E (0/100)0

Task 1. Contribute to a Group Bibliography

Due: 9 September, 4pm

In ANTH 302, we use the Chicago 17th author-date system to format our references. Task 1 helps us develop our technical skills in using this referencing system. We will do this by creating a Group Bibliography together. This will be a shared resource that everyone in the class can draw on and contribute to as they conduct research.

During the lecture in Week 3, when we discuss the politics of knowledge production, we will collectively decide on the format our Group Bibliography will take. For example, we might decide to create a shared library in Zotero, a free and open-source reference management software ( Alternatively, we might decide to create a shared document on Google Docs or OneDrive. Once we have decided on format, I will set up our Group Bibliography during Week 4 and share it with the class.

What you need to do: contribute a minimum of two peer reviewed resources that you think will be useful for the final research project to our Group Bibliography, formatted using the Chicago 17th author-date referencing style. If you see that someone has already added the resources you chose to the Group Bibliography, you have two options: you can either go and find two new peer reviewed resources; or you can find one new resource and add a short annotation to one of the resources someone else found that briefly summarises what it is about and why you endorse it being in our Group Bibliography.

  • Your resources must be different from the ones in the course reading list on Talis and from the list of books you can choose for your Book Review.
  • Your resources must be peer reviewed; in other words, they need to have been evaluated by a group of experts in the field. Academic books and journal articles are peer reviewed. An official TED talk is peer reviewed. A film that has been screened as part of a film festival or on a streaming service (e.g. Netflix) is considered to have been peer reviewed. Some websites peer review their blog posts before publication (e.g.,, and YouTube channels or Instagram accounts are not peer reviewed (although they can be subject to complaint). I recommend spending up to 30 minutes formatting and/or annotating your peer reviewed resources, and adding them to the Group Bibliography.

Task 1 Requirements:

  1. EITHER submit a minimum of two peer reviewed resources to our Group Bibliography, formatted using the Chicago 17th author-date style; OR submit a minimum of one peer reviewed resource formatted accurately and one annotation and endorsement of a peer reviewed resource to our Group Bibliography (if someone already added resources that you chose).
  2. Go to the Task 1 assignment submission link on Blackboard and briefly describe what you did (e.g. “I submitted Tuck and Yang’s 2012 article “Decolonization is not a metaphor” and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s 2012 book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd edition)”); OR “I submitted Tuck and Yang’s 2012 article “Decolonization is not a metaphor” and added an annotation and endorsement to Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s 2012 book Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd edition)”).
  3. Complete Task 1 by 4pm on Friday 9 September

Task 2. Compose two emails to contemporary authors

Due: 16 September, 4pm

This task is based on Associate Professor Sarah Martin’s assignment, which showed me how I could bring classroom discussions of citational politics into this assignment. I am grateful to Prof Martin for tweeting about assessment practices.

Task 2 encourages us to engage with academic citation in the style of an anthropology of liberation: as a political (Ahmed 2013; Harrison 1997) practice of gratitude, recognition, and connection (Liboiron and Li 2022). We will discuss what this means, why it matters, what it looks like, and how to do it, in class throughout the course.

What you need to do: compose two emails to contemporary authors (one from our course readings, including the people on the list of books to choose for the book review; and one from your research journal) that includes a quote from the reading, your response to the quote, and how the quote has informed your thinking. Please note that you don’t necessarily have to send these emails; it is enough for this task just to compose them. Once we have commented on your emails, you could consider sending them to the authors you chose. If you do, let us know if you get a response!

This task is best completed after you have started keeping your research journal. This is because you will use your journal as a way to engage with the resources you consult and start thinking through (and writing about) the connections you can see between the resource, course themes, ideas discussed in lectures in tutorials, and your research topic. You will be able to refine your thinking in your research journal and draw on that work to compose your emails.

Your emails must:

  • Have an informative subject line
  • Be formal and in appropriate language: e.g. start with Dear/Tēnā koe Dr/Professor [Surname], end with Yours sincerely/Ngā mihi
  • Introduce yourself: e.g. “I am a 3rd year student in Cultural Anthropology at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.”
  • Explain how you found out about their research: e.g. “For one of my courses, I read your article/book/chapter [insert name of resource] …”
  • Explain why you are emailing: e.g. “I wanted to let you know how much of an impact/how useful/etc your work has been for a research project I am working on.”
  • Include a specific quote from the resource by introducing it: e.g. “This quote in particular … [insert quote]”
  • Include a concise response to the quote and how it has informed your thinking. Try to keep this to 2-3 lines.
  • Have a clear end point: e.g. “Thank you for taking the time to read my email.”
  • Sign off with your full name.

I recommend spending up to 1 hour on this task.

Task 2 Requirements:

  1. Submit the text of two emails (containing all of the features listed above) to the Task 2 assignment submission link on Blackboard by 4pm on Friday 16 September.

Task 3. Maintain and submit a 2000-word research journal

Due: 23 September, 4pm

What you need to do: maintain a research journal over a period of at least four weeks, and submit a 2000-word research journal to the submission link on Blackboard by 4pm on Friday 23 September. We will discuss how to start and maintain a research journal during lectures (including how to show evidence of work over time), and set aside time to write in them during tutorials. I recommend spending up to 30 hours on this task.

You can record entries in your research journal using whatever method works best for you. This might include bullet points, mind maps, drawings, freewriting, or a visual representation of how you file pdfs and other relevant material. Your journal could include definitions of key theories and concepts, the search strategy you use to find resources, and quotes (with citations). There is no specific format required for the style of your research journal, but it does need to be legible, converted into an electronic document for submission, and meet the 2000-word requirement.

Your research journal should:

  • Track your ideas and how you are thinking about the final research project.
  • Show evidence that it has been maintained over a period of at least four weeks (e.g. by including your thoughts and reflections on lectures, tutorial discussions, or assigned reading material from different weeks).
  • Contain critical analyses and reflections of course readings, lectures, tutorial discussions, and independently sourced resources.
  • Format citations using the Chicago 17th author-date referencing style.
  • Show that you have engaged with a minimum of eight resources relevant to your topic. This could include peer-reviewed literature and other resources such as archives, pūrākau (myths, legends, stories), whakataukī (proverbs), artwork, exhibitions, pamphlets, ‘zines, government documents, blog posts, podcasts, maps, music, dance, and film.
  • Develop the argument (for Options 1 and 2) or intervention (for Option 3) you will make in your final research project, based on your research.

We will read your research journal and provide written feedback designed to help you with your final research project. The quality of our feedback will depend in part on the quality of your research journal. For example, if you don’t discuss the argument or intervention you plan to make in your final research project, we won’t be able to provide you with any feedback on it.

Task 3 Requirements:

  1. Submit a 2,000 word research journal that has been maintained over a period of at least four weeks, engages with a minimum of eight resources relevant to your topic, and contains critical analyses and reflections of course readings, lectures, tutorial discussions, and independently sourced material.
  2. Your research journal must be no less than 1900 words and no more than 2100 words in length.
  3. You must use the Chicago 17th author-date referencing style in your research journal.
  4. Please include your name, ID number, and the word count for your research journal either in a document header or at the start of your journal.

Submit your research journal in electronic form to the Task 3 assignment submission link on Blackboard by 4pm on Friday 23 September.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I have an extension on the main tasks?

You can submit Tasks 1 and 2 up until 4pm on Friday 23 September without penalty. Please note that while you will not be penalised for lateness, you will not receive feedback on late tasks. In most cases it will be much better to hand in what you can on time rather than try to do a good job later.

You can request an extension for Task 3 (the 2000-word research journal). Please email Lorena before the due date to discuss this. If you submit Task 3 late without an extension, a late penalty of 5% per day will be applied to the assignment. 

I didn’t do Task 3. Can I still pass the assignment?

No. You must complete Task 3 in order to pass the assignment. If you were not able to do so, please contact Lorena to discuss your circumstances and what you might do in order to complete it. We want you to complete the course to the best of your ability so please do get in touch.

Are there any other ways I can improve my grade?
(E.g. I got a B but I want an A)

Yes. If you submit Task 3, you can increase your grade by doing the optional supplementary tasks listed below on or before 4pm on 23 September.

Please note that extensions do not apply to these supplementary tasks. You will not be able to complete them after 4pm on 23 September.

Optional supplementary tasks

These optional supplementary tasks are each worth an additional 5% grade increase. You can complete a maximum of three in order to receive a 15% grade bump on your assignment. You can complete an additional supplementary task designed to give one of your classmates, and not you, the 5% grade bump. Supplementary tasks are assessed by their completion, not on the quality of the task itself.

  1. Book a 15-minute Zoom meeting with Lorena to discuss the argument or intervention you will make in your final research project. The meeting needs to take place before Friday 16 September. (Space is limited. First come, first served.)
  2. Create a short description of the method you are using to keep track of your searches (this could take the form of a table or spreadsheet) and any criteria you developed for assessing the material you find (e.g. must be peer reviewed; must be ethnographic; must contain a specific term such as “liberation”). Upload this description to the ANTH 302 Discord server (or send it to Lorena to upload on your behalf) by 4pm on Friday 23 September. You also need to mark supplementary task 2 as complete in the optional supplementary task submission link folder on Blackboard (otherwise Lorena might not see it).
  3. Present an excerpt from your research journal in a 10-minute presentation to the class during tutorials in Week 6 or Week 8. You can share an interesting research finding or show how you are organising your research journal. You cannot present a description of your search method (the subject of supplementary task 2) as supplementary task 3. Your presentation can be a live oral presentation or a recorded video played to the class. (Space is limited so you will need to book this in advance by emailing Lorena.)
  4. Write a short self-assessment of your research journal (Main Task 3) that answers the following questions:

    a) What were your goals for this assignment? How have you met them, or not met them? Give an example.
    b) What are the specific strengths of your research journal? What makes you most proud? Provide an example.
    c) What are the weaknesses of your research journal? What could you do differently in future?

    Upload your short self-assessment (no more than one page) to the submission link on Blackboard.
  5. Write an email to Lorena nominating one classmate from ANTH 302 who has helped you with your research journal in some way, explaining how they helped and what their help meant to you. You will need to show how they helped you – and give an example –rather than wax lyrical about what an awesome person they are. Note: for this task, the nominee (rather than you as the nominator) will receive the 5% bump. Nominees can only receive one 5% grade bump regardless of how many people nominate them.
  6. You may also propose your own supplementary task that relates to the course in some way and will be helpful to other students. For example, a student in a different course recorded themselves reading one of the required readings and provided this as a resource for other students. If you are interested in proposing your own supplementary task, please get in touch with Lorena before completing the task. Your task must be pre-approved for you to receive credit, and the task must be completed by 4pm on Friday 23 September.

If you complete all three main tasks and three of these optional supplementary tasks, then you will receive an A+ (100%) on this assignment. If you did not submit Task 3, you are not eligible to receive a supplementary grade bump.

Final Research Project (40% of final grade)

The research project is the final phase of your research. You will draw on your research journal to address your central argument or intervention, critically discuss your findings, and critically reflect on them in your final project. I recommend spending up to 40 hours on the final research project.

Final Research Project presentation

Depending on the option you choose, you can present your final project in the form of a research essay, ‘zine, blog post, poetry, podcast, or another innovative format (discussed with Lorena).

For Options 1 and 2, your final project is what will be assessed (meaning if you create a podcast, we mark your podcast). Because of this, you are also required to submit a paragraph of no more than 300 words (not included in the final research project word count) that:

  1. Explains the rationale for your chosen format (e.g. if you present your findings in the form of a research essay, explain why that is the most appropriate format for your topic); and
  2. Provides an honest assessment of the work you put in to the final project and what you think your grade should be based on the assessment criteria.

Option 3 involves designing and enacting an intervention related to a contemporary liberation movement. In addition to the intervention (which is not assessed) you are required to submit a critical reflection about your intervention and how it relates to ANTH 302 (which will be assessed). For your critical reflection, you are required to introduce the liberation movement; outline the issue you sought to bring attention to and the rationale for your intervention; situate your intervention in relation other examples of scholar-activism; explain how you applied anthropological practices and course themes to your intervention; reflect upon the impact of your intervention; and provide an honest assessment of the work you put into the intervention and what you think your grade should be based on the assessment criteria. This must be an individual submission and can be made in written (2000 words) or oral (10 minutes) form.

Final Research Project Assessment Criteria

Your final research project will be assessed out of a possible mark of 100 using these criteria:

  • Your ability to follow the instructions for the topic you chose, as outlined in the ANTH 302 Research Project Overview document (10 marks)
  • Your ability to construct and present a convincing argument that answers the research question (for Options 1 and 2) or that shows how your intervention was designed to advance the visions of liberation of your chosen liberation movement (for Option 3) (20 marks)
  • Your ability to critically engage with and apply core theoretical concepts and course themes (20 marks)
  • Your ability to synthesise and analyse at least eight relevant resources (20 marks)
  • How well your work is presented (e.g. spelling, grammar, layout, subtitles, production quality, use of colour) and the appropriateness of the format to your topic (10 marks)
  • The accuracy of your referencing technique (10 marks)
  • Your ability to critically reflect upon your position within this research (10 marks)

These assessment criteria need to be visible regardless of the format of your final research project. Marks will be deducted if we cannot easily see how your work meets these criteria.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Anthropology for Liberation readings 3.0

2021 marks the fourth year I have taught Anthropology for Liberation, an undergraduate course in the Cultural Anthropology Programme at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington. The course is inspired by three influential books:

Each year I revise the course and change the readings. This year I took a new approach: I moved journal articles, book chapters (including chapters from the books above), and other relevant resources to ‘recommended reading’ status, and set four books as required reading.

Why would I assign four books when we know that “up to 80% of uni students don’t read their assigned readings?” Two reasons:

To slow down

My first reason is a response to feminist calls for “slow scholarship” (Mountz, Bonds, Mansfield, Loyd, Hyndman, Walton-Roberts, Basu, Whitson, Hawkins, and Hamilton 2015; O’Neill 2014). In our first lecture I explain that slow scholarship is a bit like the slow food movement in that it calls for academics (and everyone involved with tertiary institutions) to slow down, resist the fast-paced demands of the neoliberal university, and demonstrate our commitment to good scholarship, teaching, service, and a collective feminist ethics of care. As Alison Mountz et al (2016) write:

“Slow scholarship is a way of making visible all of the work of academia that has been rendered invisible, the work not accounted for in metrics designed to evaluate our worth: the reading, the agonizing over writing, the teaching preparation, the mentoring of fellow faculty and students, the outreach to community partners, as well as the failures (grants not received, papers never published) that are never accounted for.”

The approach to anthropology that we take in this class means that we need to be thoughtful, reflexive, and deliberate in everything we do. I draw attention all of the work that goes into a course – theirs and mine – and how most of it takes place outside of the classroom. (Our university expects students to spend 14-16 hours per week on this course, and it can be an interesting exercise to ask students where the course is, given that we only spend 2-3 hours per week together in lectures and tutorials.)

Reading four books might not feel like slowing down, especially as we work through 3-4 chapters every week (our 12-week term = three weeks per book). However, dwelling on a book allows for a different, slower method of engagement with each text, compared with reading the same number of journal articles or individual book chapters from different sources.

To practice “close reading”

My second reason comes from seeing the success my colleague Grant Otsuki has in his classes, where he does a close reading of texts in class with students. Grant recommended an excellent article by Joe Dumit called “How I read,” where he outlines a mode of reading that is close, constructive, positive, generous, slightly genealogical, methodological in focus, and ethical (Dumit 2012):

Close reading means that I attend to the specifics of the text.  I am interested in how a text as a text makes arguments.  What specific modes of writing, grammars, uses of words, modes of characterizing others, and of characterizing others’ arguments are used.  I bring up the author’s other works as part of a general context of the kinds of problems being addressed but am committed to figuring out how to find these problems within the text, even if this means reading across a number of pages for a small number of passages.  My aim here is to locate the textual basis for making a claim about what the text is doing.  Hence my predilection for comments about the method of the text within the text.  A general reading I would (perhaps unfairly) characterize as one that sees a text as an instance of something that transcends it (the author’s intention, oeuvre, the times, etc., see Foucault’s “What is an author?”).

Joe Dumit, “How I read”, 2012

I start our close reading sessions by introducing the author(s); who they are, where they are from, what their research interests are, and so on. Then we move into a series of questions:

  • What is their positionality in this book?
  • What are their politics/ethics?
  • What is this book’s central argument? What is the author’s aim in writing this book? Are the two the same?
  • How is the book structured? Is there a central organising metaphor, for example?
  • What ethnographic methods does the author use?
  • What is their theoretical argument?
  • What is their style of writing?
  • What scholarly literature are they engaging with? What else counts as knowledge?
  • What kind of knowledge is being produced through this book? What intervention are they seeking to make (e.g., to anthropology, to West Papua)? 

After that I will focus on the book by discussing a paragraph, following an idea as it appears throughout the book, or sometimes going through a section sentence by sentence.

More recently I have been inspired by #collabrary, a project by Max Liboiron and Deondre Smiles, that involves reading with reciprocity, accountability, and generosity, and posting short literature reviews on Twitter. I highly recommend reading Liboiron’s blog post, “#Collabrary: a methodological experiment for reading with reciprocity.” Liboiron’s book Pollution is Colonialism (2021) is on the list of books students can choose to read for one of their assignments – an Anthropology Book Club Kit – which I might write about in another blog post.

Books we read in 2021

Books from left to right:

Kiddle, Rebecca, Bianca Elkington, Moana Jackson, Ocean Ripeka Mercier, Mike Ross, Jennie Smeaton and Amanda Thomas. 2020. Imagining Decolonisation. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.

Walker, Ranginui. 2004. Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle Without End (revised edition). Auckland: Penguin.

Webb-Gannon, Camellia. 2021. Morning Star Rising: The Politics of Decolonization in West Papua. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

Reese, Ashanté. 2019. Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.


Dumit, Joseph. 2012. “How I read.”

Freire, Paulo. 1996. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin.

Harrison, Faye Venetia (ed). 2010. Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation (third edition). Arlington, VA: Association of Black Anthropologists, American Anthropological Association.

Liboiron, Max. 2021. “#Collabrary: a methodological experiment for reading with reciprocity.”

Liboiron, Max. 2021. Pollution is Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Mountz, Alison, Anne Bonds, Becky Mansfield, Jenna Loyd, Jennifer Hyndman, Margaret Walton-Roberts, Ranu Basu, Risa Whitson, Roberta Hawkins, Trina Hamilton, and Winifred Curran. 2015. “For Slow Scholarship: A Feminist Politics of Resistance Through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 14 (4): 1235–59.

Mountz, Alison, Anne Bonds, Becky Mansfield, Jenna Loyd, Jennifer Hyndman, Margaret Walton-Roberts, Ranu Basu, Risa Whitson, Roberta Hawkins, Trina Hamilton, and Winifred Curran. 2016. “All for slow scholarship and slow scholarship for all.”

O’Neill, Maggie. 2014. “The Slow University: Work, Time and Well-Being.” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research 15 (3): Art. 14.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (second edition). London: Zed Books.

Book review: Citizen Designs (2021) by Eli Elinoff

The University of Hawaiʻi Press has been publishing some excellent books lately, including Eli Elinoff’s first monograph, Citizen Designs: City-Making and Democracy in Northeastern Thailand (2021). Having seen this book develop from a draft into its final form – Eli is one of my colleagues in the Cultural Anthropology Programme at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington – I was looking forward to reading it. I was not disappointed (and yes, I would have let him know if I was!).

As the title suggests, Citizen Designs is a book about democracy and citizenship in Thailand, as seen from a railway squatter settlement in Khon Kaen, a city in the northeastern Issan region. The book opens in 2016, with the eviction of nearly two hundred families from homes they had built along the railway tracks. These railway settlements are where some of the city’s poorest residents live and, as Elinoff shows, have become sites of intense debate about the rights of the urban poor, democracy, political participation, and what it means to live a good life in Khon Kaen.

This is one of the most interesting ethnographies I have read about urban development and world-making in the past few years. The intervention he makes with his concept of “citizen designs” was especially interesting, as is the way he has leaned into disagreement throughout this book.

Elinoff employs the concept of “citizen designs” to refer to “future oriented visions of political and social belonging.” These future oriented visions look different for the different social actors in this book, such as the people who live in the railway settlements; the activists working for non-governmental organisations who try to mobilize the urban poor against dispossession; the State Railway of Thailand, which wanted to control the land along the tracks, and the government agency responsible for the Baan Mankong (or Secure Housing) Project. Citizen designs is a useful concept because it captures the future worlds that people envision as well as the various strategies that people use to build the visions they have of themselves, their place in the city, and their role in a democratic society.

Citizen designs are at once expressions of hope, grounds for disagreement, and techniques of governance and discipline. Housing is a good example of this. As Elinoff discusses, the railway residents are squatters who don’t have a secure claim to the land they have built their homes on; it is owned by the State Railway of Thailand, which has decreed a series of zones along the railway tracks where people are and are not permitted to build and live. Residents/squatters can apply to lease the land and fulfil their aspirations to become full citizens. However, they have to do so in ways prescribed by the State Railway of Thailand and other government agencies. For example, they have to form communities and show that they can save money as communities. They have to commit to self-help housing and ideals of sufficiency over aesthetics. They are required to develop housing plans, which then need to be approved by official agencies. Here, regulations concerning housing become techniques of policing and control. NGOs trying to help residents/squatters end up enforcing these regulations and doing the work of the state. Elinoff does a nice job of showing how citizen designs are a source of disagreement and debate among the various social actors.

This brings me to Elinoff’s second intervention, which is how he makes disagreement itself an ethnographic object of analysis. It is clear that this is a complex situation – Elinoff worked with a range of social actors, across social and political boundaries, and he resisted his participants’ efforts to get him to “take a side.” The groups and people he worked with didn’t always like one another and often disagreed on issues such as what should be done regarding those living in railway settlements, what it means to participate in urban planning, and what it means to engage in politics. Elinoff does not try to untangle or explain these disagreements for his readers. Instead, for Elinoff, disagreement is a technique of knowing, of governance and control, of community-making, and of possibility. Attending to disagreements orients us to the lived, material enactments of politics – what it means for urban poor people to do democracy and claim social and political belonging in Khon Kaen. Ultimately, he shows how disagreements are “expressions of residents’ citizen designs” (p 130).

Overall Citizen Designs makes a complicated story legible, without losing any of the complexity of the contested nature of doing democracy in urban Thailand. It’s definitely a book I’m going to return to again in my own research on hope and community development.

Anthropology for Liberation readings 2.0

In 2017 I taught a new course for the first time: Anthropology for Liberation. Here’s the short course description:

How can Anthropology advance human emancipation from racism, gender inequality, class disparities, and other forms of oppression and exploitation? In this course we will consider what it means to approach anthropology from a decolonising perspective, and explore what an anthropology for liberation might look like in theory and practice, drawing on examples from Asia, Oceania, and Latin America.

I’ve written about how that went in an article called Pedagogical Experiments in an Anthropology for Liberation, and shared the list of readings from that first offering in a previous blog post.

In 2019 I taught the course for the second time, significantly revised based on student feedback, and with a new reading list. I expanded the reading list to include a wider range of material, including blog posts, videos, zines, and podcasts alongside academic articles. I’ll revise it again when I teach it later this year. Here’s what we engaged with in 2019:

Week 1

McGranahan, Carole and Uzma Z. Rizvi. 19 April 2016. “Decolonizing Anthropology.” Decolonizing Anthropology series, SavageMinds.

Alonso Bejarano, Carolina, Lucia López Juárez, Mirian A. Mijangos García, and Daniel M Goldstein. 2019. “Chapter 1. Colonial Anthropology and its Alternatives.” In Decolonizing Ethnography: Undocumented Immigrants and New Directions in Social Science. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Pages 17-37.

Tuck, Eve, and K Wayne Yang. 2012. “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1 (1): 1–40.

Week 2

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. “Chapter 3. Colonizing Knowledges.” In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (2nd Edition). London and New York: Zed Books. Pages 117-143.

Singer, Andre (director). 1986. Off the Verandah – Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942). London: Royal Anthropological Institute. 54 mins.

Rooney, Michelle Nayahamui. 2018. “Other.” Hot Spots, Fieldsights, September 26.

Week 3

George, Lily. 2017. “Stirring Up Silence.” Commoning Ethnography 1 (1): 107–12.

Salmond, Amiria J. M. 2019. “Comparing Relations: Whakapapa and Genealogical Method.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 128 (1): 107–29.

Fabish, Rachael. 2014. “Chapter 1. Methodology: ‘Learning to be affected’ by Kaupapa Māori.” In Black Rainbow: Stories of Māori and Pākehā working across difference. PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington. Pages 23-60.

Indigenous Action Media. 2014. Accomplices not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex – an Indigenous perspective & provocation. Pages 1-10.

Week 4

Stewart, Georgina. 2017. “The ‘Hau’ of Research: Mauss Meets Kaupapa Māori.” Journal of World Philosophies 2 (1): 1–11.

Anae, Melani. 2010. “Teu Le Va: Toward a ‘Native’ Anthropology.” Pacific Studies 33 (2/3): 222–40.

Uperesa, Fa’anofo Lisaclaire. 2010. “A Different Weight: Tension and Promise in “Indigenous Anthropology”.” Pacific Studies 33 (2): 280–300.

Radebe, Zowda. 23 May 2016. “On Decolonising Anthropology.” Decolonizing Anthropology series, SavageMinds.

Week 5

Teaiwa, Teresia. 2014. “The Ancestors We Get to Choose: White Influences I Won’t Deny.” In Theorizing Native Studies, edited by Audra Simpson and Andrea Smith, 43–56. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Harrison, Faye V. 2016. “Theorizing in Ex-Centric Sites.” Anthropological Theory 16 (2-3): 160–76.

McGuirk, Siobhan. 2018. “AnthroBites: Feminist Anthropology.” AnthroPod, Fieldsights, March 15.

Week 6

Aikman, Pounamu Jade William Emery. 2017. “Trouble on the Frontier: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sovereignty, and State Violence.” Sites: A journal of social anthropology and cultural studies 14 (1): 56–79. (I also asked them to watch Taika Waititi’s 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople).

Webby, Kim (director). 2015. The Price of Peace. 1hr 33 mins.

Awatere, Donna. 1982. “Maori Sovereignty.” Broadsheet: New Zealand’s Feminist Magazine 100: 38-42.

Rewhiti, Debbie. 1984. “The Impact of Maori Sovereignty: An Interview with Donna Awatere and Merata Mita.” Broadsheet: New Zealand’s Feminist Magazine 124: 12-13.

Week 7

Wilbur, Matika and Adrienne Keene. 19 March 2019. “Ep #5: Decolonizing Sex.” All My Relations Podcast, 43min.!5a0f7

Boellstorff, T., M. Cabral, M. Cardenas, T. Cotten, E. A. Stanley, K. Young, and A. Z. Aizura. 2014. “Decolonizing Transgender: A Roundtable Discussion.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 1 (3): 419–39.

Laing, Marie. 2018. Two-Spirit: Conversations with Young Two-Spirit, Trans and Queer Indigenous People in Toronto.

Week 8

Brown, Dominic (director). 2009. Forgotten Bird of Paradise. Dancing Turtle Films. 26min.

Pouwer, Jan. 1999. “The Colonisation, Decolonisation and Recolonisation of West New Guinea.” The Journal of Pacific History 34 (2): 157–79.

Banivanua-Mar, Tracey. 2008. ““A Thousand Miles of Cannibal Lands”: Imagining Away Genocide in the Re-Colonization of West Papua.” Journal of Genocide Research 10 (4): 583–602.

Kirksey, S. Eben, and J. A. D. Roemajauw. 2002. “The Wild Terrorist Gang: The Semantics of Violence and Self-Determination in West Papua.” Oxford Development Studies 30 (2): 189–203.

Week 9

Harrison, Tere. 2016. Run It Straight (for West Papua). Fires of Kiwa Films. 14mins.

Te Ahi Kaa. 21 December 2014. The West Papua Fight for Sovereignty. RNZ. 11mins.

Webb-Gannon, Camellia. 2017. “Effecting Change Through Peace Research in a Methodological ‘No-Man’s Land’: A Case Study of West Papua.” The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 18 (1): 18–35.

Kirsch, Stuart. 2018. “Chapter 2. When Contributions are Elusive.” Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text. Oakland: University of California Press.

Week 10

Hayden, Tom. 2002. “Introduction.” In The Zapatista Reader, edited by Tom Hayden. New York : Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books.

Hayden, Tom. 2002. “Zapatistas: A brief historical timeline.” In The Zapatista Reader, edited by Tom Hayden. New York : Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books.

Vice. 2014. The Zapatista Uprising (20 Years Later). 12 mins.

González, Roberto J. 2004. “From Indigenismo to Zapatismo: Theory and Practice in Mexican Anthropology.” Human Organization 63 (2): 141.

Gledhill, John. 2008. “Introduction: Anthropological perspectives on Indigenous resurgence in Chiapas.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 15 (5): 483-505.

Week 11

Castillo, Rosalva Aída Hernández. 1997. “Between Hope and Adversity: The Struggle of Organized Women in Chiapas Since the Zapatista Uprising.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology 3 (1): 102–20.

Cappelli, Mary Louisa. 2018. “Toward Enacting a Zapatista Feminist Agenda Somewhere in La Selva Lacondona: We Are All Marias.” Cogent Arts & Humanities 5 (1): 1-13.

Mora, Mariana. 2017. “Chapter 5. Women’s Collectives and the Politicized (Re)Production of Social Life.” In Kuxlejal Politics Indigenous Autonomy, Race, and Decolonizing Research in Zapatista Communities. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Nash, June. 2003. “Indigenous Development Alternatives.” Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 32 (1 Inclusion and Exclusion in the Global Arena): 57–98.

Week 12

Gomberg‐Muñoz, Ruth. 2018. “The Complicit Anthropologist.” Journal for the Anthropology of North America 21 (1): 36-37.

Loperena, Christopher Anthony. 2016. “A Divided Community: The Ethics and Politics of Activist Research.” Current Anthropology 57 (3): 322–46.

Case, Emalani. 2019. “I Ka Piko, to the Summit: Resistance From the Mountain to the Sea.” The Journal of Pacific History 54 (2): 166–81.

Knowing that students might not have time to get through everything assigned each week, I designed a weekly tutorial activity where four students would choose one of the assigned items (a different one each) and give a short written or verbal presentation about it to their tutorial group. The goal was not to summarise the item, but to link it to course themes and pose questions for their group to discuss together. How well that worked is a post for another day!



Christchurch Mosque Attacks: A Public Syllabus

My colleague Catherine Trundle is working with students and staff from our School at Victoria University of Wellington on this important syllabus about the Christchurch Mosque Attacks. The goal is to help challenge Islamophobia, racism and white supremacy in Aotearoa. Check it out, bookmark it, and revisit it to see how it grows. If you have a suggestion for the syllabus, contact details are in the post.

Grappling with Ethnography

A PUBLIC SYLLABUS to help challenge Islamophobia, racism and white supremacy in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond.

This syllabus is curated by students in ANTH 406 and ANTH 312 at Victoria University of Wellington, with input from lecturers and students from across the School of Social and Cultural Studies.

This syllabus is an ongoing project, and will grow over time. It is worth reading now, and also coming back to see how it has developed in the coming weeks and months.

Read about how and why we created this syllabus here.


Centring Muslim Voices

Anjum Rahman: We warned you. We begged. We pleaded. And now we demand accountability: “For more than five years, Muslim representatives knocked on every door we could, we spoke at every possible forum. We pointed to the rise of vitriol and the rise of the alt-right in New Zealand”, writes Anjum Rahman of the…

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Welcome to The New Outrigger!

This is a new website initiative from ANU Pacific Studies PhD students Bianca Hennessy (who I met in 2017 when she visited Va’aomanū Pasifika at Victoria University of Wellington as part of her doctoral research exploring Pacific Studies programmes around the region) and Mitiana Arbon. “The New Outrigger” is a space for “rigorous and academically informed dialogue, debate and conversation that brings together Pacific Islander and non-Islander scholars, activists, and artists. We want to explore the expansive transdisciplinary, Indigenous and Island(er)-centred, creative mode of studies that the Pacific inspires.” Well worth a look!

East Side Orchestras: Music and Social Change

I am currently working on a research project that looks at the social impacts of Arohanui StringsPorirua Soundscapes, and Virtuoso Strings. These groups provide free, Sistema-inspired orchestral music education programmes in low decile schools in Hutt Valley and Porirua. This project is funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Marsden Fund.

Music colour
Photo: Lorena Gibson

El Sistema is a Venezuelan music and social development initiative that began in 1975 and is today one of the world’s largest and most famous orchestral music education programmes. Sistema-inspired programmes operate in over 60 countries worldwide, including Aotearoa New Zealand, providing musical and social opportunities to underprivileged children with the aim of transforming their lives, their families’ lives, and their wider communities (Booth & Turnstall 2014, 2016; Sistema Global: Friends of El Sistema Worldwide 2015).

In the last decade, scholars have paid increasing attention to how Sistema-inspired programmes operate in different cultural contexts, reporting positive outcomes in musical and educational attainment, development of children’s personal and social skills (including discipline, positive attitudes towards school, and raised aspirations) and family engagement (Creech et al 2016; Osborne et al 2015; Trinick & McNaughton 2013). Fewer studies have focused on the wider social development aims of Sistema-inspired programmes, however, such as community wellbeing and socioeconomic impacts (Allan 2010; Burns & Bewick 2015; Uy 2012), and a growing number of researchers are critiquing orchestral music education programmes for promoting middle-class Western ideologies and for unintentionally reproducing rather than challenging structural inequalities (e.g., Baker 2014; Bull 2016). This is where my project comes in. I want to look beyond educational achievement to learn more about the social effects that Arohanui Strings, Virtuoso Strings, and Porirua Soundscapes have on the young people who participate in music classes, as well as their families and their wider communities. My aim is to understand how these groups transform young people’s lives through music.

GuitarGoPro b&w
Photo: Lorena Gibson

I am using a range of ethnographic methods in this project, including interviews, participant-observation (attending rehearsals, concerts, holiday programmes, and other events), photography, and participatory video. This involves inviting some of the young people involved in these organisations to use video cameras to document their experiences, and collaborate with me on making a short ethnographic film – for example, by working with me to decide what should be in the film, shooting footage for it, and advising me during the editing process.

As well as making an ethnographic film showing how young people experience the relationship between music and social change, I will produce reports for Arohanui Strings, Virtuoso Strings, and Porirua Soundscapes. I will write academic journal articles and book chapters, and give a public talk at the end of the project (early 2020), and will upload published material here to this blog.

This research has been approved by the Victoria University of Wellington Human Ethics Committee, application reference 24293. If you have any questions about it, or are interested in becoming involved, please contact me.



Allan, J. 2010. Arts and the inclusive imagination: Socially engaged arts practices and Sistema Scotland. Journal of Social Inclusion, 1(2): 111-122.

Baker, G. 2014. El Sistema: Orchestrating Venezuela’s youth. New York: Oxford University Press.

Booth, E., & Tunstall, T. 2014. Five encounters with “El Sistema” International: A Venezuelan marvel becomes a global movement. Teaching Artist Journal, 12(2): 69-81.

Booth, E., & Tunstall, T. 2016. Playing for Their Lives: The Global El Sistema Movement for Social Change Through Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Bull, A. 2016. El Sistema as a bourgeois social project: Class, gender, and Victorian values. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 15(1), 120-53.

Burns, S., & Bewick, P. 2015. In Harmony Liverpool Year 5 Evaluation: Health and Well- Being Report.

Creech, A., Gonzales-Moreno, P., Lorenzino, L., Waitman, G., Bates, L., Swan, A., de Jesus Carillo Mendez, R., Hernandes, D.N.C., & Gonzales, P. C. 2016. El Sistema and Sistema-inspired programmes: A literature review of research, evaluation, and critical debates (2nd ed.). San Diego, California: Sistema Global.

Osborne, M. S., McPherson, G. E., Faulkner, R., Davidson, J. W., & Barrett, M. S. 2015. Exploring the academic and psychosocial impact of El Sistema-inspired music programs within two low socio-economic schools. Music Education Research, 18(2), 156-175.

Trinick, Robyn and Stuart McNaughton. 2013. Independent evaluation of the music learning outcomes in the Sistema Aotearoa Programme. Report prepared for Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra. Faculty of Education, the University of Auckland.

Uy, M. S. 2012. Venezuela’s national music education program El Sistema: Its interactions with society and its participants’ engagement in praxis. Music and Arts in Action, 4(1): 5-2.



New Zealand-born and internationally raised

I am delighted to welcome writer Cileme Venkateswar to anthropod. This is the third post in my series on doing fieldwork with kids, and in it Cileme (who I introduced in Part II of this series) reflects on what it was like to be the kid of an anthropologist who travelled a lot to do fieldwork. 

You grow up differently as a kid of an academic, that’s just kind of a given. There’s a certain drive you have, a desire to know more about the world, a determination to succeed in the things you find joy in that I’ve only ever seen so fiercely in children whose parents have similar professions.

But being the kid of an anthropologist in particular? Now that’s a whole other ball game.

I can safely say that I wouldn’t be who I am now in any way whatsoever without my mother’s influence as an anthropologist. I’ve learned some of the most important life lessons I carry with me as a now almost 21 year old from the anthropological teachings I witnessed and the research I was privy to as a child. Growing up, it was just me and my mum and so when it came to her doing fieldwork, there weren’t a whole lot of options for what I would do. It was simple. I’d just go with her.

Cileme, age 8, in Singapore

Travelling from a young age is its own lesson. Before the age of 15, I had been to New Zealand (obviously), Australia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, the USA, Nepal, Portugal, Germany, France and quite possibly more that I don’t even remember. It ingrained in me from a very young age the vastness of the world and how much more there was out there. I was surrounded by so many different languages and cultures, heritage and traditions that even if I didn’t understand them, I was immediately curious about how their lives differed from my own and how much diversity existed around the globe.

Kids aren’t inherently patient, not in the slightest, but annual 12 hour plane rides, long taxi commutes to various places in numerous cities, waiting in long queues, having to amuse myself for several hours during book launches, research interviews etc., certainly helped improve what little patience I had as a child! It also produced a remarkably active imagination. I learned to sit in my own corner and make up stories in my head. I carted my imaginary friends around the world with me, having my own adventures in each new location we visited. I began a growing collection of books picked up cheaply in roadside book stalls and airport shops that helped foster a love for storytelling, complex characters and literature, a love that remains today as I study English and Creative Writing at university.

But one of the things I’ve only recently started to appreciate having learned solely from the situation of my mother’s work in academia, is my ability to converse with anyone, especially adults. Adults speak to kids a very particular way, stick to a select few conversational topics and often use that annoying, high pitched, slightly condescending tone of voice, laughing at the interesting and often naive answers they receive to their questions. Children rarely notice, but as a child of an academic, you’re constantly surrounded by adults in scenarios of meetings, pot luck dinners, fieldwork, or random encounters during a normal day. The asking about school, the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ and the interest in what books you’re reading grows old pretty quick when you have several pot lucks a semester and you’re encountering the same adults each time. For a while, it’s easy to be amused by the luxury of getting to watch Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network on Sky TV, or running around playing tag outside with the other kids. But eventually, it reaches around 10 o’clock in the evening and the only shows on the television are reruns of episodes you’ve already seen, half the other kids are either asleep or have gone home, the high schoolers are bored of babysitting you and have taken to answering questions about their own subjects and university applications, and you meanwhile want another slice of the pavlova on the dessert table but unfortunately, there’s a group of lecturers from a department you’ve never heard of standing there and you have no segue into asking them to help you reach the cake tin. It’s around that point that you realise you’ve got to bridge the gap between child and adult and just find a way to talk to them without them looking down at you like a silly little kid.

Somewhere between the ages of 8 and 11, I suddenly gained the ability to proficiently and fluently interact with adults outside of the regular ‘child questions’, whether I knew them or not and whether we had common ground or not. I talked about travel, about what they might be researching and what my mum was researching, about where in the world they’d been and where in the world I’d been, about the things I didn’t understand in the books I read, about the stories I was writing, about whether I wanted to be a journalist or a novelist — anything and everything I could hold an almost adult conversation about. It never occurred to me that this was a ‘skill’ of any sort until I was much older. Only in the last few years of my life have I realised that people my age don’t just hold conversation with adults much older than them (even now with so much more to talk about), that it isn’t normal to be able to go up to a perfect stranger and find common ground, sparking a friendship. I’ve had so many friends pull me aside after a seamless conversation with a tutor or a lecturer and whisper ‘How did you do that? How did you know what to say?’ It’s so much easier now, as I can converse about politics, history, literature, climate change, generational differences, activism … but it all stemmed from the ability I decided to cultivate as a child.

Some of the things that have shaped me the most profoundly are the experiences I’ve had because I accompanied my mother in so many aspects of her job. I’ve played soccer with boys living in slums in India even though they didn’t speak a word of English nor I a word of Bengali. I’ve spent half my childhood wandering around university campuses playing make believe and dragging those same invisible friends to every country I had the privilege of visiting. I’ve been changed and impacted by each and every culture and experience I was enveloped in and would be so much lesser of a person without it all. This was all a part of my life out of necessity — me going with my mother was the only option either of us had for when she had to travel or go to research. But to any and all academics out there with kids: honestly. Even if you have other arrangements you could make, don’t rule out taking your kids with you, especially before they reach high school. Getting to see the world as a kid is unlike anything else, and they learn lessons that are invaluable and unteachable in any other circumstance. Believe me. We become better people for it.

Doing fieldwork with kids: Part II

Thanks to some amazing role models in the School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University, where I studied, I have always known that it is possible (although not easy) to be a parent/grandparent and an academic. What I wasn’t quite so sure about was how, exactly, you went about doing ethnographic fieldwork with kids in tow. As an undergraduate student I read ethnographies written by anthropologists who had their families with them while conducting fieldwork – including Philippe Bourgois’ In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, Annette Weiner’s The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea, and Margaret Trawick’s Notes on Love in a Tamil Family – but I don’t recall many classroom discussions about the relationship between carework and fieldwork. This changed once I started my PhD. A number of my fellow PhD researchers juggled mothering and grandparenting with fieldwork, and have since written about how their experiences influenced their research (e.g., Lesley Reed’s thesis ‘What is this thing called Grandparenting? The social, economic and political influences on the role in New Zealand‘, or see the list Kelly Dombroski has here on her blog). My first glimpse into what it was like to actually do fieldwork with your child present was during a research trip to Kolkata, India, in late 2005.

Continue reading “Doing fieldwork with kids: Part II”

What we’ve been writing: public anthropology from vic

Check out some recent work by my colleagues in the Cultural Anthropology programme


It’s been a while since we’ve posted on vicanthropology, but everyone’s been busy elsewhere.  So I thought I’d give a round-up of some of the public writing and other projects we’ve been doing over the last few months (listed chronologically by date of publication):

Violent politics and the disintegration of democracy in CambodiaCaroline Bennett in The Conversation

‘Cambodian politics has always been a sphere of violence, but that since the 1993 UN-backed elections, it has happened under a veneer of liberal democracy….  Violence in politics is not new. The control of the people in Cambodia is not new. What is new is the increasing confidence of leaders, such as Hun Sen, to flex their political muscles openly and violently with complete confidence in their political impunity.’

Enough with the shame.  Let’s start celebrating fat bodies – Catherine Trundle in The Spinoff

‘Must we always see fat bodies as…

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