Departmental Seminars

Anthropology Department Seminars at the University of Sydney

Seminars: Thursdays 3:00–5:00 p.m.
Seminar Room 148, R. C. Mills Building, Level 1, A26

About the seminars

The anthropology department at the University of Sydney holds regular seminars for the general public, staff, students, visiting anthropologists and colleagues from related fields to exchange ideas and discuss new research. Most Thursdays during the teaching term, an invited speaker presents her work in a seminar, starting at 3:00 and followed by discussion and a light reception.

The calendar of seminars for next semester (2-2016) can be found in the table below, including the names of presenters. Titles and abstracts for each seminar are listed underneath.

For futher information, please contact Luis Fernando Angosto-Ferrandez, convenor of the symposium.

Semester 2, 2017

Thursday 27 July 2017, 3-5pm Chaired by Jadran Mimica
Speaker: Frederick H. Damon
University of Virginia
Title: Kula Ring Astronomy, Sky/Earth Relations: Traces of an East Asian Heritage?
Abstract: The final chapter of my book, TREES, KNOTS AND OUTRIGGERS: Environmental Knowledge in the Northeast Kula Ring (Berghahn Books), “Geometries of Motion,” shows how the largest craft on the eastern side of the Kula Ring synthesize, materially and symbolically, the crucial geo-social dimensions of the region. One of those central dimensions is the relationship between the earth, literally the grounds out from which the boats’ trees grow, and the stars in the sky. Although the facts I used to construct that synthesis come from my ethnographic research in the area, the synthetic model I employed derives from what I have begun to learn about China’s central cosmological practices. Since my last visit to the Kula Ring, 2014, data from which is incorporated in that last chapter, I have learned a great deal more about Chinese astronomy. And that learning has reflected back on my understanding of Kula Ring cosmological information. Among the central facts are these: First, Muyuw people, who live in the northeast corner of the Kula Ring, understand the southeast corner of the region, roughly Rossel Island, to be physically the highest while they portray the northwest region, the Trobriand islands, to be physically the lowest. They know this roughly inverts the ascribed social statuses of the people on these respective places. Second, as they do with many physical and social qualities, Muyuw people liken the movement of a “star”/“constellation” to the shape of a tree. Where it rises in the east is the tree’s base; where it sets in the west is its tip or top. Altogether there are at least 13 named asterisms. If these are understood to define two points each, the base and tip, they approximate the number of “mansions” in the Chinese understanding of the cosmos. Third, and as in China, where every place is associated with a “mansion,” so in the Kula Ring Muyuw people understand every island to be under a “star.” This presentation will report on new research (June in Muyuw, July in China) into these coincidences. Are they just that, unsurprising family resemblances between only distantly related social orders—legacies of the Austronesian Expansion? Or are there deep correspondences among these two systems which argue for a common heritage refracted across significantly different environments?
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 10 August 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Robbie Peters
University of Sydney
Title: Cash transfers and the unseen poor in Indonesia
Abstract: This paper explores the popular poverty alleviation instrument of conditional cash transfers to the poor in the global south. Through a focus on one such program in Indonesia and those I term its user, non-user and provider poor people, I highlight how cash transfers create a hierarchy of poor due to what Georg Simmel termed synoptic views ofpoverty capable only of capturing its objectively visible and quantifiable aspects. I focus on those who are anterior to the visible: those who in this study make up half of all poor people in the large Indonesian city of Surabaya, and who are now surplus to the needs of its economy and struggling to reclaim their old right to its streets and neighbourhoods.
Bio: Robbie Peters is a senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Sydney and director of its Development Studies Program. His book, Surabaya, 1945-2010 was shortlisted for the EuroSEAS humanities book prize and he has written journal articles on urban renewal and the political economy of violence in the Indonesian city and on gender and work in Saigon, Jakarta and Surabaya. His current research focuses on a number of issues including those of death, commemoration and the politics of place in the Indonesian city, and the citizen forming and deforming effect on poor urban slum dwellers of the shift from fuel subsidies to conditional cash transfers. He is most interested in the post-colonial city in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, with a particular emphasis on revolutionary violence.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 17 August 2017, 3-5pm
Speakers: David Giles
Deakin University
Title: Towards an anthropology of abject economies
Abstract: Where do things go when they are lost, discarded, or forgotten? What social afterlives do they lead? Whose lives are constituted among the detritus? Through an exploration of such questions, I sketch out new directions for an anthropology of value, one that looks beyond the horizons of capital towards the futures that lie in its ruins. To that end, I ask what might constitute an abject economy—an economy built precisely on the abjection and abandonment of people, places, and things. What pathways of devalorisation and desuetude might be its conditions of possibility? What emergent forms of life endure, for example, in the interstices of capital? I develop both a theoretical framework for future research, and an ethnographic description from my own work with dumpster-divers, squatters, and other scavengers in several “global” cities in North America. These scavengers cultivate, in a very real sense, minor economies, putting into circulation those surpluses—people, places, and things alike—discarded by the prevailing markets and publics of these cities. These economies are paradoxes, neither separable from, nor commensurable with the logic of market exchange. Such economies hold profound lessons for the anthropology of the twenty-first century. In a moment when there seems to be no “outside” to capitalism, we may yet discover its margins, and there may we not only learn a great deal about the ontological grounds of capital itself, but also discover existing and emergent modes of valuing otherwise.
Bio: David Boarder Giles is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. He writes about cultural economies of waste and homelessness, and the politics of urban food security and public space, particularly in "global" cities. He has done extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Seattle and other cities in the United States and Australasia with dumpster divers, urban agriculturalists, grassroots activists, homeless residents, and chapters of Food Not Bombs—a globalized movement of grassroots soup kitchens.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 24 August 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Anna Cristina Pertierra
Western Sydney University
Title: Patronage and kinship in popular culture: television families in the Philippines and Mexico
Abstract: In both Mexico and the Philippines, powerful commercial television networks are operated by prominent elite family companies, whose multimedia empires wield political and economic influence nationwide. Such is the power of these companies and the families who run them, that they could be said to shape public culture in Mexico and the Philippines more deeply than state institutions or political parties. Drawing from anthropological and political research on compadrazgo (co-parenthood) and caciquismo (local leadership), this paper seeks to explain the particular role that metaphors of family and of patronage play in representing and justifying the public role of elite families and media empires in Mexico and the Philippines. Television business-owners, television stars and television viewers, all invoke the language of family and patronage to explain the connections made between families watching television in their homes, and the personalities and companies that produce and control media content.
Bio: Anna Cristina Pertierra's research uses ethnography to examine everyday social practice, with a particular interest in media, consumption and material culture, and urban modernities. Regionally, her work focuses on Cuba, Mexico and the Philippines. Prior to joining Western Sydney University, Anna was a Lecturer in Anthropology and an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies, both at the University of Queensland. Anna has a PhD in Anthropology from University College London and a BA Hons in Social Anthropology from the University of Sydney.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 31 August 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Non Arkaraprasertkul
University of Sydney
Title: When the Past Meets the Uncertain Future: An Anthropological Reflection on Gentrification and Historic Preservation in Urban Shanghai
Abstract: In Shanghai, one can not only see but live in the remnants of the city’s semi-colonial legacy through a large number of structures built during that period scattered throughout the city where the “glorious” foreign settlements once resided. The usage of these buildings had changed to accommodate the demand of the high-socialist era that immediately followed. While some had become public buildings, most of them had been altered to accommodate the influx of residents and workers, which had been the case for decades until the opening up and reform era whereby these residents were allowed to own and therefore trade their houses at will. Today, private entrepreneurs and public sectors alike are investing heavily on the rarity of these old structures as the city’s cultural capital. While some residents voluntarily move elsewhere having received adequate compensation for giving up their home for redevelopment, many stay put; among them, there are both those who would move when the price is right and those who savor the sense of community. As many have argued, and this case will exemplify, the local neighborhood committee of a prime real estate area has a limited role in both providing the services and governing the movement and sentiment of these residents; hence, the residents are resorting to their own methods and techniques to maintain their status and livelihood. This paper looks primarily at how the remaining residents interact with the potential buyers, renters, and investors, as well as their old neighbors who have already moved out but regularly return to such community to reconvene with their old acquaintances in dealing and navigating with the abrupt social change brought about by both the economic and new state-sanctioned policies governing urban China. What this paper hopes to reveal is the changing dynamics of a historically protected community located in a prime business area where residents of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds driven by different incentives reside.
Bio: Dr. Non Arkaraprasertkul is an architect, urban designer, historian, and anthropologist. His research interests lie at the crossroads of transdisciplinary research between design and the social sciences. He has conducted research, written, and published widely on urban studies and urban design, architectural history and philosophy, and cultural studies and anthropology. As Senior Lecturer in Urbanism at the University of Sydney, he is developing a new pedagogical and research approach utilizing the synergy between anthropological inquiry and design thinking.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 14 September 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Terry Woronov
University of Sydney
Bio: Since completing an undergraduate degree in Chinese Studies at Georgetown University, I have studied social and political change during China's long 20th century. I have lived, worked, and studied in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for many years, including spending 18 months in Beijing (1999-2001) for my PhD fieldwork research, and a year in Nanjing (2007-2008) for a subsequent fieldwork project in a vocational secondary school.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 21 September 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Darryl Stellmach
University of Sydney
Title: Emergency by the Numbers: Math, Intuition and Values in Medical Humanitarian Action
Abstract: This presentation is an ethnographic exploration of knowledge production in and of humanitarian crisis. It follows emergency in action, as humanitarian workers use numbers and qualitative reports to understand the probability and severity of mass starvation among war-affected populations. Based on fieldwork with the medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières in South Sudan in 2014, the ethnography demonstrates knowledge and decision-making is crisis as a collaborative, provisional and iterative process that brings a vast array of facts and values into coordination. The ultimate aim of this process is to generate pathways to action that participants consider both ethical and patterned on rational scientific reasoning. The presentation argues that this combination of scientific rationality, managerialism and medico-humanitarian values result in a contradictory and hybrid logic: one that alternates between person-to-person care and impersonal, biopolitical technocracy.
Bio: Darryl Stellmach was a field coordinator with emergency medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for ten years before undertaking graduate studies, earning a masters and doctorate in anthropology from the University of Oxford. He is currently a post-doctoral associate in medical and nutritional anthropology at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, Marie Bashir Institute, and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 12 October 2017, 3-5pm Joint with the Department of Political Economy
Speaker: Chris Gregory
Australian National University
Title: What is patrimonial capitalism? Some lessons from central India
Abstract: Piketty’s study of income inequality in Europe heralds the return of ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ a socio-economic category that he strives to understand by reading the novels of Jane Austin because political economy, infatuated as is by mathematics rather than anthropology, has little to say about the workings of the family firm. Ethnographic research on kinship, the economy and religion in India reveals that patrimonial capitalism, in both its elite and subaltern forms, has flourished in India in the 21st century too. As in Europe, wealth in the form of residential urban property has emerged as the most important form of wealth as rural dwellers flock to the city and as the city boundaries expand into the neighbouring countryside. Here the newly emerging inequalities are on show for all to see in the form of the new multi-story mansions of the elite families that sit check by jowl with the mud-brick dwellings of the ex-peasant farming family whose farmlands are now being encroached upon. But the rapidly rising urban price of land has seen the paradoxical development of a new class, the ex-peasant farmer whose previously relatively worthless household land is now worth millions. They are land rich but dirt poor and have many relatives who are simply dirt poor.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 19 October 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Erin Fitz-Henry
University of Melbourne
Title: Becoming-Woman: CSR and the “Return of the Repressed” in Neo-Extractivist Ecuador
Abstract: In a 2011 essay, Arturo Escobar observed that there has recently been an intensification of interest on the part of both activists and academics in reclaiming the "subordinated" sides of a range of familiar dualisms, including "emotions, feelings, matter, non-scientific knowledges, body and places, [and] non-humans" (Escobar 2011). Using this observation as my point of departure, this paper analyses the ways that two extractive companies in Ecuador participate discursively in this "return of the repressed” (MacFarlane 2016). Drawing on six months of ethnographic fieldwork between 2012 and 2015 with a gold mining company and an oil refinery, I describe how these corporations institutionalize programs of corporate social responsibility that explicitly prioritize the “needs” of women and non-humans. Specifically, I argue that these highly masculinist industries no longer rely primarily on technocratic languages to distance themselves from the high political stakes of their projects. Instead, they are more and more actively involved in cultivating themselves as allies of women and as uniquely, locally attentive to the ecosystems within which they operate. At a time of dramatically intensifying extractivism throughout the Andes, better understanding these discursive strategies allows us to begin to better theorize some of the surprising ways that “women’s rights” and the "rights of nature" are being mobilized by corporations to encourage seductive re-imaginings of both oil and gold. Such theorizations raise urgent questions about what happens when critical theory is embraced by corporate social responsibility managers.
Bio: Dr. Erin Fitz-Henry joined the School of Social and Political Sciences in 2011, after completing a PhD in anthropology at Princeton University and an M.Div. at Harvard University. Her primary interests are transnational social movements, particularly those related to radical environmental politics, U.S. led-militarization and its legacies, and post-neoliberal futures. She is the author of U.S. Military Bases and Anti-Military Organizing: An Ethnography of an Air Force Base (2015), and her articles have appeared in American Ethnologist, Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Oceania, Liminalities, and InterGraph Journal of Dialogical Anthropology.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 26 October 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Luis Angosto-Ferrández
University of Sydney
Title: On colour blindness and Latin American politics: perceptions of race and ethnicity among visually impaired people in Chile y Venezuela
Abstract: The exponential increase of research revolving around race and ethnicity is far from translating into a consensus on the way these concepts can be defined – or even on the appropriateness of their use as analytical tools. Yet ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ continue to be used as analytical categories to discuss and intervene in a variety of social issues ranging from discrimination to differentiated rights. The ideological premises that orient these discussions most often reproduce the assumption that social identity markers are visible and primarily related to phenotypical characteristics. The discursive appeal of the ‘colour blind’ metaphor that so impetuously influenced normative debates theorising non-discriminatory societies and institutions precisely rests on the widespread conception that race categorisation (and racism by extension) ultimately stem from people’s visible characteristics. This premise constrains the analysis of racism by overlooking its constitutive social processes, yet it continues to hold sway among researchers, policy makers and wider public. Against that background, in this paper I discuss findings of my field research on perceptions of race and ethnicity among visually impaired people in Chile and Venezuela, two countries with quite distinct class and ethnic formations.
Bio: Luis Fernando Angosto-Ferrández is a lecturer in the departments of Anthropology and Latin American Studies. He has extensive fieldwork experience in Latin America and Spain and has lived, worked and researched in Venezuela for nearly a decade. In addition to his scholarly work, he is a contributor to various public media outlets.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Semester 1, 2017

Thursday 16 March 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Zevic Mishor
University of Sydney
Title: Digging the Well Deep: The Jewish “Ultra-Orthodox” Relationship with the Divine Explored through the Lifeworld of the Breslov Chasidic Community in Safed

A defining principle of the Jewish Charedi (“ultra-orthodox”) lifeworld is its conception of an ideal relationship with the Almighty, a relationship that adherents subsequently strive to realise through living in accordance with the Halakhah (the Jewish Law). The relationship of those devotees, consequently, with God and with their “God object” constitutes the ground from which many of the structures of their lifeworld appear to emerge, on levels including the physical (dress, food practices), emotional (faith, contentment, guilt), cognitive (cosmology, philosophy), social (familial organisation, communal and hierarchical structures) and spiritual.

I have termed the remarkable way of life of these religious adherents – remarkable relative to secular norms – the “Charedi phenomenon”. This way of life is characterised especially by an intention to a strict adherence to the minutiae of the Law, a system that constitutes “… a sweepingly comprehensive regula of daily life—covering not only prayer and divine service but food, drink, dress, sexual relations between man and wife, the rhythms of work and patterns of rest—it constitutes a way of life” (Soloveitchik 1999, p. 321). The Charedi phenomenon is also characterised by its apparent formulation of its own identity through contrasting itself to a maligned other – non-Jews, for example, or for Charedi communities within the largely Jewish State of Israel, non-religious Jews.

In this presentation I introduce four approaches that I used, in conjunction with ethnographic material obtained from over a year of doctoral fieldwork with the Breslov Chasidic group in a town called Safed, in the northern Galilee of Israel, in order to better understand the Charedi lifeworld. The four approaches are functional, comparative, phenomenological and psychoanalytic.

In my work I have taken the religious dimension that I was studying as a valid model of the world; another sociocultural entity’s science, that has its own distinct understanding regarding the parameters and workings of reality. Accordingly, I compare and contrast, and at times seek to synthesise between, on the one hand a Western academic paradigm (philosophy and anthropology), and on the other hand the Jewish tradition and its perspectives based on sources including Torah, Talmud, Midrash (homilies and mythologies), and Kabbalah (the esoteric dimension).

Soloveitchik, H. (1999). Rupture and reconstruction: The transformation of contemporary Orthodoxy. In R. R. Farber & C. I. Waxman (Eds.), Jews in America: A Contemporary Reader (pp. 320-376). Hanover, New Hampshire, United States: Brandeis University Press

Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 23 March 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Dr Neil Maclean
University of Sydney
Title: Meeting Melanesian Others: Sites of abstraction as a social process.
Abstract: I focus on case-studies of a Melanesian capacity for relationship-making on the one hand and risk on the other, in liminal and proto-civic contexts. I consider the social implications of the capacity to get by with assumptions about the personhood of unknown others and the analytic implications of treating that as a process of concrete abstraction. Issues include:

- The foundational problem of Melanesianness posed by colonial agents such as poloice and evangelists mirroring the problem of humanity posed by whites.

- The mobilisation of Melanesianness as a governmental capability.

- The assumption of the moral significance of space and the imperative of the orientation towards the other.

- The assumption that others met in new or momentary encounters are emplaced beings and of the associated capacities for the gift and for harm.

- The problems of handling such personhood in the scale, complexity, and evanescence of civic spaces that are also moral spaces.

- The gift that has no concrete other.

Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 30 March 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Beth Hill
University of Sydney
Title: Between bushfire and climate change: suburban cosmologies in the making
Abstract: Residents of the Blue Mountains dwell in a mutable space where city pushes up against bush. This location renders them uniquely ‘in between’ city and bush, a view that both requires and subverts the duality between nature and culture. Here at this interface they carve out a life, an identity, a safe space to live, seeking ‘a balance’ that is premised on separation – between their human lives and that of the ‘natural life’ they perceive all around them. With Descola’s (2013) Naturalist typology as a starting point, this paper looks at community enactments of boundaries between town and bush to manage the risk of bushfire, empirically investigating how the ontological conventions of naturalism affects modern suburban people’s cosmologies about the place of humans in nature. In doing so, I hope to uncover the ways that the unstable claims of duality between nature and culture that were fundamental to the project of modernity, still operate in the world and affect interpretations of climate change connected disasters like the October bushfires of 2013.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 27 April 2017, 3-5pm
Speakers: Gil Hizi
University of Sydney
Title: Dreams of self-improvement in contemporary China
Abstract: How are “dreams” becoming a mode of governance and self-fashioning in contemporary China? I examine this question through my study of regimes of self-improvement, and more specifically - workshops in “soft skills”. In recent years, the discourse of dreams in China is promoted and induced by state-run projects (the “China Dream” campaign) and the diffusion of person-centered therapeutic values. I compare the state's institutionalized definition of “dreams” to that of individuals who are engaged in privatised projects of self-improvement. For self-improving informants, the rhetoric of dreams is becoming both an affective manner of self-appreciation and a future-oriented anticipation. It hooks individuals’ commitments to their local sociopolitical settings by allowing them to envision new potential modes of being, that may involve socioeconomic mobilisation and out-of-the-ordinary experiences.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 11 May 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Associate Professor Simone Dennis
Title: A sensory examination of tobacco violence
Abstract: In my most recent work on tobacco smoking, I’ve attended closely to how an analysis rendered through touch, particularly, might reveal the multiply of violence operational in smoking contexts and relations (i.e., between the state and smokers, between tobacco companies and smokers, between smokers and the non-smoking public, and vice versa, and even between smoking, public health and anthropology). In this paper, I expand on my exploration of violence along other sensory routes to explore some of these relations. I’m especially interested in the violent relations that unfurl between institutions and the smoking person (including the family, the state, and medical and academic institutions) and in how a multisensory analysis can get us at what it might mean to make a ‘smokefree’ public. I’m going to talk about auditory renderings of public participation made in smoky respirations, make a touching analysis of smoking in the family, consider miasmatic violence, and the nexus between taste and vision key to the violence made by Big Tobacco against the smoking person.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 18 May 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Associate Professor Cristina Rocha
Western Sydney University
Title: Becoming Cosmopolitan: Millennial Brazilians and the Australian Mega-Church Hillsong
Abstract: This presentation investigates the global forces that have been attracting an ever-growing number of middle-class millennial Brazilians and pastors to the Australian mega-church Hillsong. Drawing on three years of fieldwork in Australia and Brazil, I argue that the intense globalization of the last two decades and a desire to be part of the Global North and become cosmopolitan play key roles in the ways in which young Brazilians imagine Hillsong. With its focus on youth and celebrity cultures, its high profile in the music world, its pervasive use of information communication technologies, particularly social network sites, and a Bible College that attracts youth from all over the world, Hillsong offers millennial Brazilians the opportunity to live a kind of Pentecostalism which is global, fun, and exciting, and more attuned to youth culture than what they have in their home country.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 25 May 2017, 3-5pm
Speaker: Dr Gaynor Macdonald
University of Sydney
Title: Empowering or shaping? NGOs, neoliberal agendas and the politics of Aboriginality
Abstract: Australia does not use development rhetoric in addressing the often extreme disadvantage, violence and social stress being experienced by Aboriginal peoples. To do so might suggest it was not looking after its own citizens. However, in recent years there has been a shift from the largely failed approach of direct government intervention to using a variety of non-government organisations, (seemingly) removed from government. These NGOs operate at the intersections where material, social and cultural histories have converged to produce unliveable lives. They take on various roles, addressing material, legal and cultural needs and aspirations, and may work at local, regional or national levels. They include long-standing mainstream NGOS, such as World Vision and Save the Children; philanthropists developing pet projects in education or health; and Indigenous-controlled organisations. I also include in my analysis the public and private sector organisations who have Indigenous-identified positions or an Indigenous branch. I focus on two effects of this movement. One is the way in which they elide government responsibility and accountability, while taking over the authority and decision making power of people at the local level. The second is the way in which they are shaping, through conditions of support as well as non-locally controlled criteria of recognition, what constitutes ‘Aboriginality’. Are they really ‘empowering’ as they claim, or are they the latest Trojan horse in Australia’s ongoing efforts to deny the legitimacy of difference?
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]