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The Wenner-Gren Foundation

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2005 Annual Report

Program Highlights for 2005

Research Grants and the Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship


A number of archaeology projects were funded in 2005 that apply a practice-based approach to explore the impact of state formation and colonial processes on material culture and daily life in local communities.  Three of these projects target culinary activities and foodways to examine the relationship between cuisine and social change as they explore the ways in which state political and economic demands impacted local domestic practices in prehistoric societies.   On the north coast of Peru, Robyn E. Cutright addresses the kinds of change that non-elite households experienced during Chimu state expansion by evaluating if and how patterns of food preparation and consumption differ in domestic contexts prior to and after conquest in A.D. 1200.  Focusing on food remains, culinary assemblages and their spatial organization, she assesses the effects of state expansion on domestic activities by examining the extent to which daily practice related to household economic and political strategies and the gendered organization of labor was reorganized.  In the Jinan region of China, Min Li's analysis of patterned variation in faunal remains recovered from domestic contexts focuses on the role that ethnicity played in the differential access to and use of animals for culinary and ritual purposes during the mid 2nd millennium B.C.  His inquiry into socioeconomic strategies used by distinct ethnic groups with multiple and overlapping identities produces insights into the varied ways multiethnic communities responded to and negotiated  Shang state expansion.   Working at Tiwanaku sites in Bolivia, Carrie Anne Berryman applies an innovative bioarchaeological approach to her investigation of the degree to which state formation processes altered the diet and nutrition of individuals of distinct status and ethnic affiliation residing at core and periphery communities.   By combining isotopic analysis, phytolith analysis from dental calculus and standard dental observations of human skeletal remains, she compares patterns of consumption before and after the rise of the state to assess the nature of Tiwanaku's political authority and its effects on local domestic economy.

Focusing on historic period colonial encounters, two projects adopt a dialectical perspective of social change instead of a more conventional framework based on simple oppositions between domination and resistance.    Working in the Volta region of Ghana, Ray Wazi Apoh draws on oral history, archival sources and archaeology to decipher the ways in which mid 19th century foodways and culinary practices reflect the maintenance and blurring of social distinctions among elite and commoner colonizers and colonized.  His study of long-term patterns of change and continuity in ceramic technology and subsistence practices at socially differentiated households at four sites addresses mutually influential changes in taste and economic and social organization brought about by the importation of European domestic technologies and containers and introduction of New World crops.  Steven Wernke was awarded a Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship to publish a book based on his study of how community organization, land-use patterning and built landscape were mediated by a complex process of two-way negotiation in the Colca Valley of southern highland Peru during successive waves of Inka and Spanish colonization.  By integrating a GIS-based reconstruction of ayllu land tenure patterns from the study of Spanish administrative surveys with archaeological settlement data, the book traces the reproduction and transformation of settlement and landscape organization that both structured and was transformed by interactions between local communities and colonial agents.
Two more historic period, practiced-based projects set in the United States examine theoretical issues of ethnicity, gender, race and class formation.   Working in North Carolina at Welches Town, a traditional enclave formed by a group of Cherokee Indians who avoided forced military removal in 1838,  Lance Greene investigates how state-sponsored forms of legal and social marginalization during a thirty year period impacted daily life and concepts of community.   Drawing on archival and archaeological data, his comparative analysis of artifact assemblages from pre- and post-removal era house sites considers continuities and changes in material culture that reflect how subjugated groups maintained ethnic identity as they modified traditional economic and social practices to cope with the impact of state and capitalist projects designed to subjugate ethnic minorities.  Christina J. Hodge focuses on material culture, agency, and practice as she traces the emergence of an incipient middle class identity in Newport, Rhode Island, and chronicles the effects of capitalism and colonialism on people's daily lives and their notions of taste, value and social distinction during the early 18th century.   Through a detailed examination of printed sources, archival documents and archaeological evidence, she identifies the processes, actions and choices that molded concepts of identity and class formation.  

Biological Anthropology

In 2005 projects were funded from a variety of subdisciplines in biological anthropology including paleoanthropology, primate behavior, skeletal biology, and human biological variation.  Funds were provided for researchers to undertake research at paleontological field sites in Ethiopia, Libya, and Romania.  Both African projects are searching for clues about the earliest human ancestors.  One of these sites, following previous funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, has already produced a spectacular new 4 million year old early human skeleton that was announced in the pages of Nature magazine.  This field project, at the site of Woranso-Mille in the Afar region of Ethiopia, is being run by Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie and it promises to yield more important early human fossil remains.  The Romanian project is under the direction of Dr. Eric Trinkaus and he will use funds to determine whether this site has the first clear association between early modern human fossils and Aurignacian tools.  Marc Shur, a graduate student at Rutgers University, seeks to determine the adaptive significance of baboon ‘friendships' for males and lactating females using behavioral and hormonal data.  He will use these data to explore the potential social and ecological stresses that might have lead to the evolution of pair-bonding and biparental care in large primate social groups, including humans.  Kristen Hartnett, from Arizona State University, intends to refine the techniques used to determine age at death from the morphology of the pubic symphysis and the fourth rib and to create a large comparative database of specimens for anthropologists to use in future research projects.  This project has the potential to contribute to both forensic anthropology and archeology.  Dr. Christopher Kuzawa will examine data from a large and well-documented sample of male Filipinos to test whether fetal and early postnatal nutrition affects future male reproductive function, in particular testosterone production.  This will increase our understanding of male reproductive development.

Cultural/Social Anthropology

Anthropology has expanded in research on childhood beyond conceiving it as a cultural or developmental stage marking progress towards socialization. Young people are now considered to be social agents in their own right, actively remaking the world and capable of transforming family systems and cultural logics. Popular and professional explanations frequently continue to explain youth practices that lie on the margins of normative social practices, such as adolescent gangs and violence within a framework of deviancy and transgression away from the ideals of what a childhood should be. These ideas are a challenged in several projects being supported this year. Thomas Widger focuses on the extremely high rate of suicide among young people in Sri Lanka. Not only is the absence of anthropological research focusing on this form of everyday violence important but high suicide rates are often understood to represent the anomie that befalls youth as their expectations remain unmet. Explanations fall into tautological reasoning where suicide is assumed to be the result of rapid modernization and lack of social cohesion and at the same time is taken as evidence that social cohesion is being disrupted. Widger questions these interpretations, and through closely tuned empirical investigation he plans to explore how young people their suicidal ideation, and the media have created a “culture of suicide,” which is rarely subjected to scrutiny and which may uncover more complicated truths.

On the other side of the spectrum, youth gangs and street children have always captured, and disturbed the public and scientific imagination. Explanatory frameworks for street gangs echo those used for youth suicide: changing forms of social cohesion, marginalization, lack of opportunity and urban anomie lead inexorably to alienated street children and, finally, lawlessness and violence. Emily Margaretten is working the street children in South Africa who have created their own forms of urban shelters. She will be looking at how these individuals transgress the very ideals of Zulu personhood and the value it places on the tightly organized household group. The children have transformed these values and norms to produce and reproduce their own social organization and institutions, and ultimately find a sense of hope within their own social imaginaries.

Medical anthropology continues to be a vibrant field, often on the frontlines of investigation the intersection between technology and society, asking how the incorporation of these new technologies changes our ideas of selfhood and sociality in different culture contexts. Jill Allison starts her work in a clinic in Ireland that offers infertility treatment and looks at how these very possibilities reshape life concepts, such as reproduction and conception, in a society where e right to life of the unborn is enshrined in the constitution. In Italy, Claudia Petruccio follows Filipina women as they are advised about the results of decision making. Alexis Matza compares testosterone therapy among two different groups: transgender and aging males. The varying notions of masculinity and its medicalization are a core part of her research, as is the individual's struggle with his own ideas of how masculinity is or should be embodied. Finally, Eirini Kampriani will conduct research on genetic testing for ovarian and breast cancer in a rural and urban setting in Greece. She will be looking at how the results are handled in a society where ideas of bodily and spiritual health are intertwined. All these projects see a collision of ethical and moral concerns over how to manage new information in particular cultural contexts.

The mind and healing is also at the forefront of medical anthropology. Current innovations in science and medicine continue to impact how we understand mental health and sickness. Examining healing practices in different settings can show how carious epistemologies collide and highlight the cultural adaptations of psychiatry in non-western settings. Two projects funded this year examine how institutioins and cultural practices mediate new and older ideas. In Brazil spiritists vision of madness, in which mental illness is attributed to moral causes and individual responsibility, engages with western explanations that locate mental illness in the body and/or mind. Jennifer Hale-Gallardo works in Mexico, where she focuses less on the patients and more on the traditional healers, who are now being incorporated into some policies and now embody the state. She asks how they manage any tension and contradictions that emerge from their incorporation into the public realm. Anthropology thus continues to be engaged through these studies with the wide array of practice and changes that emerge as individuals, institutions and states keep up with technological advances. At the same time, these studies show a fine-grained ethnographies, situated at the intersection of health, biomedicine and healing can illuminate new cultural politics, and illustrate the ways in which anthropology continues to document the alternative and parallel modernities that are part of everyday life.

Linguistic Anthropology

In 2005 the Foundation supported eight projects in linguistic anthropology. There was a wide arrange of topics and regions, with projects funded in Kazakhstan, Brazil, Cameroon and India among others. The role of language in constructing groups, and the idea of “us and them” has been a vibrant site of research for linguistic anthropology and continues to be important given the diversity of contemporary life. Immaculada Garcia Sandhez is working with immigrant children in Spain to look at language socialization among these children. She will put special emphasis on the child-child social interactions in order to understand these children's social worlds and cultures in their own right. Valentina Pagliai looks at how ideas of self and others are constructed in everyday conversations in Italy. While racism may is often seen as born out of the social structure, and/or individual psychology, through a micro-analysis in three different places she plans to observe how it is perpetuated only if it is interactionally achieved and contextually agreed upon by different individuals in group settings. Conflict of another sort is examined by Simon Keeling who will be researching funeral performances in Bazou, Cameroon, to see how these performances and their music and poetry reproduce and take-up the conflict and ambivalences over kinship and ethnicity that are presented in the community, and compare this to how it expresses ideas of consensus and resolution. Finally, Karen Pennesi demonstrates the usefulness of linguistic analysis for a very practical application: in northeast Brazil, traditional and scientific weather forecasts are communicated in different ways. Pennesi plans to examine the different communicative forms and styles of these forecasts and relate this to how they influence rural agricultural produces to make use of this information.