The programme for the 115th annual meeeting of the American Anthropological Association (16-20 November) in Minneapolis is now available. I have compiled a list of sessions, papers and meetings that will be of interest to people working in Oceania. Unfortunately I don’t have access to the abstracts or list of venues (this content is restricted to those paying to attend the AAAs), but this is a good general guide to some of the interesting work being presented this year.
If I have missed anything please let me know so I can add it!
SOMAA will be launched in February 2017 at a one-day symposium at Victoria University of Wellington. Professor Marcia Inhorn (Yale University) will be the keynote speaker. The symposium will showcase current work in medical anthropology, with a particular focus on how work from/on the New Zealand context innovates, challenges and contributes to core theoretical debates in medical anthropology internationally. Questions addressed could include:
How does the political, legal, cultural and historical context of New Zealand society sharpen or refashion the issues medical anthropology can address and the critiques it can offer wider academic debates?
How does research from or on Aotearoa advance debates about ethics, medicine and illness, particularly in areas where medical anthropology has often critically intervened, such as in relation to practices of care, autonomy, responsibility, medicalization, inequality and the body?
How do New Zealand’s current neoliberal politics, its state model of healthcare, and its national pharmaceutical regime intersect…
I am pleased to welcome guest blogger Jess Thompson to anthropod. In this post Jess shares her experiences of being a parent and university student, adding to our conversation about carework at university.
I wouldn’t say I’m a typical young woman at the mere age of 22; I threw myself into the world of academia at 18 years old like most my age, but I’d already moved to and worked in London for five months after leaving high school. After 2 ½ years at Victoria University I got on a plane and didn’t look back, ventured to Samoa, and volunteered on a development assignment before returning to finish my final papers for my degree this year. En-route, things took a sharp turn with the arrival of my son (Moo) 8 ½ months ago. Three papers short on my Bachelors in Development and International Relations, suddenly I was faced with a situation I had not anticipated; do I work my life around my son, work my son around my life, or just throw it all away and become a full time mum?
Today, the result of finding a middle ground between the former two options exists. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than I could have hoped for. Moo and I are not a nuclear family; I am a co-parent with his dad, a system in place since he was born, and as circumstances arise and Moo gets older, our situation changes as needed. I study part-time, three generations of my family occupy the house I live in, and I’ve not only returned to my volunteer role at GirlGuiding New Zealand as a Ranger Leader (girls aged between 12 ½ and 17), but also taken on an additional role of being a Training Assistant, on the pathway to becoming a Trainer for other Leaders. I live my life as I choose, and integrate Moo into it as required if he is in my care.
From an academic point of view, things have been generally speaking, relatively straight forward. I make the most of the time Moo is with his dad as study time and work care arrangements around lectures and tutorials. But if there was ever a piece of advice read here: you have to be a little crazy and whole lot of adaptable to take an intense 5 week summer paper with a two month old. I would sit at my desk and be working on assignments or catching up on readings with Moo lying next to me playing, or almost begging him to go down for a sleep so I could get an hour’s peace to get part of an essay knocked off.
A lot of the time I find myself switching between my ‘mum’ headspace and my ‘student’ headspace so things can get done. To my classmates I am a regular student just like them, and it’s only when I talk to people that they realise and sit in slight astonishment that I am juggling study with raising an infant. As an undergrad and Moo being his age it is impractical to bring him to lectures meaning I am in constant reliance of my support networks to look after him. Over time, things have certainly become more manageable; I sit and write this on the couch while he eats crackers, stares at the cat, and pulls half the contents of the bottom of the DVD rack out and throws them on the floor. Needless to say he has now started working out how to move, and I spent much of my exam prep this trimester hoping he wasn’t going to learn how to crawl BEFORE my exam.
GirlGuiding has been a part of my life for over 15 years now, and the concept of leader’s daughters in units with me has been quite normal. A lot of leaders are typically mums, however being so young means many of the young leaders I work with are usually students or full time employed, maybe with a serious partner but no kids. Suddenly I’m an anomaly; 22 years old, well experienced, young leader, facilitating/attending/presenting trainings WITH an under 5! I emphasise with here, as in the course of his life, Moo has already come to weekend trainings, is down for two school holiday sessions coming up, and I’m sure a few more in the next few years.
Being a new trainer, plus learning the ropes with a very dependent young child makes anyone’s stress levels skyrocket. Attending a weekend training, let alone facilitating one, is another kettle of fish when it comes to having Moo coming along; sometimes I wonder who has more stuff packed in the car, him or everyone else. By the time all his clothes, port-a-cot, food, some toys, and pushchair are packed, then somehow it’s my personal bits, plus resources needed to bring along and so on to pack; there’s an entire house in a small car minus the kitchen sink and a fridge almost. (Although I’m getting really good at car tetris.) A conference I attended led me to be ‘that crazy woman pushing a pushchair up and down outside to get the baby to sleep’. Part of one weekend training involved sitting at the back of the room listening to presentations quietly, so to avoid the awkwardness of the occasional squeal or baby noise we sat at the back of the room listening while I bribed Moo with gingernuts on a blanket on the floor. That same weekend I was presenting two morning sessions; Moo was happily sitting watching me present when all of a sudden he fell down from sitting up and absolutely lost the plot while I was mid-sentence. Bringing such young children has become a rarity over time but now there are a couple of us who for one reason or another need to bring children along always/on occasion and that these other little people are a major part of our lives beyond GirlGuiding and they do need to come along and be involved in the training sphere sometimes. Bringing Moo along certainly has its challenges, but he has never hindered the ability to get things done.
Looking to the future is a hard and difficult one. My passions for a very long time have laid with the Pacific and Development, and really making a difference in the world. Once upon a time I saw myself ten years from now potentially returning to the academic sphere having ventured overseas once again and gained some real-world experience. Now as I save what I can from my benefit each week so that in the long run I can afford to buy my first home (big dreams I know, but you can’t give up on your dreams entirely) I’m faced with a future either working within the NGO sector locally for a salary less than ideal doing something I love, or adapt my skills into something else and start a career path down a different track, while committing my spare time into my passions. One day I’d love to return to the academic sphere to add to my study in a postgraduate form, but only when things are a little more stable.
Regardless of where the future is headed, there is one thing I know for sure. We cannot let children hold us back from chasing what we want to do, sometimes the better option is to let our children come along in the chase. From my perspective there’s a lot of occasions where we forget that other people have lives beyond the portion of their lives we know them from, and sometimes these intersect, and other times they are reason things do not happen immediately. Adaptability and flexibility is key, not only from a mother’s point of view but from an everybody point of view. I praise people like Lorena who have the ability to combine their interests with their children and also their professional life. As the concept of professional work changes and how it is represented, from flexi-hours to working from home, surely it is time to bring the sphere of children and where they fit in the bigger picture into it as well. What if we looked at others like real complex humans, with histories and stories untold, friendships and relationships we may not know about, and a vast array of experiences and needs; would our methods of recognising care, how we treat people, and how we go about and participate in our careers and lives differently? I certainly hope so.
Anthropology, a discipline dedicated to understanding the full range of human experience from as many perspectives as possible, has always been comparative. This comparative aspect was one of the things that initially captured my imagination as a student. I became interested in understanding how issues that affect humans everywhere – such as poverty, inequality and development – appear in different contexts. I believe that to better debate such issues, we need to understand people’s practices as well as context-specific structures of history, environment, society, and culture. Careful comparative analysis can add to knowledge about development and social change by informing debates and contributing to more effective policies and strategies.
UPDATE: Since I posted this, the AAA has released a mobile app for Android and iPhone/iPad users. The AAA Annual Meeting Mobile App replaces the hard copy version of the programme in an effort to help make the event ‘greener’. I will probably give this a go before heading to Chicago later this month.
The session organisers, Barbara Andersen (New York University) and Tate Lefevre (Franklin & Marshall College) of the Melanesia Interest Group, have done a great job in putting together an interesting panel (not just because my paper is in it!) and lining up discussants. Here are my paper details:
Title: Negotiating Space: Hope, development, and a politics of possibility in Kolkata (India) and Lae (Papua New Guinea)
Abstract: Hope is a prominent theme in discourses of development. Through its focus on social change, development provides a way of engaging with a hoped-for future of social justice and equality that is embedded in, but moves beyond, present social, political, and spatial enclosures. In this paper I explore how women living in bastis and settlements in Kolkata (West Bengal, India) and Lae (Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea) negotiate space for themselves, their families, and the wider communities in which they live by participating in grassroots-level development initiatives. I discuss how the various social and spatial arrangements in particular, physical and societal enclosures facilitated by structural inequalities that shape women’s lives in each of these cities simultaneously constrain and provide a basis for their actions. I argue that whether or not they achieve their objectives, such initiatives foster a sense of possibility and movement within and beyond the social and physical spaces these women inhabit.
How to make the most of the meeting?
AAA Meetings are always well-attended with multiple streams of panels running from 8am-9.45pm most days. Based on past experience I know that good planning is essential in order to make the most of my time at the conference. There are a range of new tools available now to help plan everything, including the AAA’s personal meeting scheduler and of course Google Calendar. Kerim has written a useful blog post on Savage Minds combining these two process into one #AAA2013 Google Calendar.
A quick look at the preliminary schedule suggests it’s going to take me a couple of hours to work through everything. The search function of the preliminary schedule seems a bit clunky – for example, looking at the Melanesia Interest Group in the ‘search by section’ function only shows the group’s annual meeting and does not list the session above as we have been sponsored by the American Ethnological Society. Also, because the schedule is only ‘preliminary’ I can’t read many of the abstracts to get an idea of what the papers will be about.
Special Event: Genres of public writing in political and legal anthropology: Addressing Multiple Audiences Participants: Thomas Hylland Eriksen (,University of Oslo); Ghassan Hage (University of Melbourne); Susan Hirsch (George Mason University); Linda Layne (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) Date: Thursday 21 November 2013 Time: 12.15pm Venue: Chicago Hilton, conference room 4E
I haven’t started planning my time yet and might end up doing so the old-fashioned way with pen and paper on the longhaul flight from NZ to the USA (although this might not be practical with a 20-month in tow). I am keen to hear from others about conference planning – what tools or apps work well, and which should I avoid? If you are going to the AAA 2013 Meeting, how are you planning your time?
I’m going to the AAA in Chicago this year and am keen to meet other blogging and tweeting anthropologists. There are a few of us here in New Zealand and it will be great to meet others from all over the place! I’m not presenting on digital anthropology but will blog and tweet from the conference as I can.
I am just putting the finishing touches on the following paper, which I plan to develop into a journal article:
Bastis as “forgotten places” in Howrah, West Bengal, India
Kolkata’s poverty is world-famous. Howrah, located on the opposite side of the Hoogly river and Kolkata’s twin city, fares worse. Howrah’s bastis (slums) have been described as “deplorable”, “dirty”, “filthy” and “overcrowded” since the late 1800s. India’s recent rapid economic growth has not improved the lives of those living in poverty – many of whom are Muslim – in Howrah’s bastis. This paper argues that Howrah’s bastis are “forgotten places”, historically and politically constructed habitats that are neglected, but nevertheless deeply inhabited, by the state (Lee & Yeoh, 2006: Fernandes, 2010). In these bastis, services that are the responsibility of the state – such as access to civic amenities – are not adequately provided for. It discusses how such “forgotten places” leave a gap that NGOs and grassroots organisations try to fill, and draws on ethnographic fieldwork to describe the efforts of Howrah Pilot Project, an organisation that runs grassroots-level development initiatives in one of Howrah’s bastis. Such organisations can be viewed as a response to processes of ‘active forgetting’ but need to be augmented by a responsive state in order to achieve meaningful, long-term, beneficial change.
In other courses the students make hour-long presentations (often in pairs) to one another on various aspects of their work. Since they will become quite proficient in making long presentations by the end of the year, I decided to see if they wanted to do something a little different and run a conference instead.
I love going to conferences and have also spoken about my research at less formal events (such as Rotary and Save the Children meetings). I believe that it is important for anthropologists to be able to speak about their work in a range of public settings and thought it would be fun for the students to get involved in organising their own conference.
My teaching goals for this conference are:
to complement the oral presentation skills they are developing in other courses
to provide them with further career training
to provide them with an opportunity to try out their ideas and gain feedback on their work in a constructive forum
to showcase what our Cultural Anthropology Honours students are doing to other students and staff.
How we organised it
I pitched my conference idea to them after the mid-year break. Everyone seemed keen so in July we decided on a date, time, and conference theme. Although no two research projects are the same, we had noticed in earlier class discussions that a number of people were addressing the concept of agency in some form, so this seemed like a good theme to loosely link the papers.
Students will present 15-minute papers in panels of three followed by a 15 minute panel discussion where the audience will ask questions of the presenters. This format seemed less scary for first-time presenters, and panel discussions can be a good way to draw out connections and links between the papers.
The students all sent me abstracts which I collated into a booklet to distribute at the conference: Anthropology and Agency Honours Student Conference Abstract Booklet. Some also volunteered to take on the role of session chair, which involves making sure everyone keeps within their allotted time and facilitating the discussion. Through this conference students will gain experience in:
writing and presenting short papers
answering questions ‘on their feet’
asking thoughtful, constructive, critical questions of their fellow presenters
tweeting updates with the #AAHSC hashtag (for those so inclined)
The VUW Anthropology Society has organised a post-conference gathering at Hunter Lounge. (The VUW Anthropology Society is also on Facebook.)