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 (2-2018) 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 Ute Eickelkamp, convenor of the symposium.

Semester 2, 2018

Thursday 9 August 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Rohan Bastin
Deakin University
Title: The significata of sacrifice: ritual and the production of meaning

This paper argues for the centrality of sacrifice to the study of ritual (Kapferer 1997, 2006). Through an examination of the inherent ritualism in the formation of Vedic sovereignty and Hindu caste I discuss the sacrificial cycle evident in a Hindu temple festival that commences with vegetal offerings and culminates with the killing and consumption of goats and chickens. In doing so, I explore recent arguments concerning the polythetic nature of sacrifice as well as the assertion that sacrifice is ‘an act which necessarily compromises its own principles through substitution’ (Smith and Doniger 1989: 217). The concept of the sacrificial substitute, well known to anthropology through the accounts of cucumber offerings in South Sudan (Evans-Pritchard 1956; Lienhardt 1961), and extended in more recent times to the applications of the Roman concept of Homo Sacer to concepts of bare life and the martyr (Agamben 1995, 2005), is explored here in order to theorise the power of ritual as a generative polythetic practice.

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

Semester 1, 2018

Thursday 8 March 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Kenneth Sillander
University of Helsinki
Title: Sociality as Vehicle of Ethics and Politics: Bentian Sociality in and out of Houses

This paper asserts that sociality is fundamentally ethical and political, invested with values and interests, negating any assumptions about its nature as disinterested, self-purposive activity even in restricted and intimate social settings. These qualities are often prominent in loosely organized small-scale societies characterized by open aggregation – ease of initiation and termination of social relations and group affiliation – in which relationships and polity have to be enacted through social activity to become established. In such societies, sociality commonly work as a means of both moral cultivation and strategic utilization of relationships, imbuing it with ambiguity.

This paper exemplifies this predicament by discussing visiting, sharing and other examples of sociality among the Bentian, a group of shifting cultivators of Indonesian Borneo, where, while valued, it often falls short of exhibiting the gaiety and convivial effervescence typically attributed to Indonesian sociality. As in many similar societies, sociality works here to create a condition of immediacy and intimacy among close consociates, and serves as the principal source of an experience-based relatedness and social solidarity. Yet, by the same means, sociality is associated with demands, obligations, and the exercise of authority, encouraging aspirations for self-sufficiency and autonomy, its ineluctable “shadow values.” Out of necessity, sociality takes the form of a “proportional sociality” qualified in scope, direction, and intensity, and by continuous negotiation of relationships, calling for artful apportionment of limited resources, and creative deployment of what Henrietta Moore calls the “ethical imagination.”

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

Thursday 15 March 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: John Boulton
University of Newcastle
Title: The long shadows of the frontier and structural violence
Abstract: The annual prime Minister’s “Closing the Gap Report” at the beginning of each parliamentary year provides a focus for questioning the reasons as to why the gap has not closed. Its failure to narrow is the source of frustration and recrimination and therefore acts a barrier to reconciliation and deters constructive discussion. The alternative explanation for the failure to close the gap is that the chosen metrics, for example difference in life expectancy, burden of illness, and social health and well-being, are a construct of a flawed approach that is based on the Western deficit model of public health. The aim of this presentation is to give a summary of a revisionary perspective based on a critical analysis of the public health premises that underlie the Closing the Gap report and show that the gap is in fact a global phenomenon of differences in health that reflect marked inequality of social advantage, writ small in Australia. The extent of inequality will be illustrated with a focus one example of a causal determinant within a category that has qualitative effects on the life course of health that are excluded from conventional public health analysis: the effects of trans-generational psychic trauma on health and wellbeing.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 22 March 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Caroline E. Schuster
Australian National University
Title: Actuarial States: insurance and the domestication of risk in Paraguay
Abstract: It is well documented that turbulence in the economy and our ever-more unpredictable climate offers elite actors an opportunity to prospect for new sources of profit. In Paraguay, the state has enlisted the insurance industry itself to mediate risk in its effort to make the distribution of protection and harms more equitable. This is accomplished by subsidizing policies for its most vulnerable citizens. This talk explores the effects of insurance: its movement from the Central Bank of Paraguay, to military operations, to the global reinsurance market, to territorial struggles in the Paraguayan countryside, to the debit cards of welfare recipients. As I draw out diverse encounters with risk my focus will be on its persistent “domestication” — in the double sense of specific techniques of actuarial governance, but also a wider feminist attention to the domestic and its distributional politics. As insurance cover in Paraguay spreads, the dynamic tension between public provisioning and private profits that animates these mundane acts of risk management also provides a glimpse of more radical, interdependent, and obligated financial futures.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 29 March 2018, 3-5pm
Speakers: Sascha Fuller
University of Sydney
Title: ‘Hard Work’ versus an ‘Easy Life’: Education, Gender and Progress in Village Nepal

In Amdanda, a small Bahun village in West Nepal, education is perceived as a transformative process; gaining an education is perceived as the pathway to development, to becoming a ‘modern’ being, and to the realisation of an easy life. In this paper I focus on the gender dynamics of the changing relationship of women to education. In Amdanda in only one generation there has been a huge shift to educating young women and including them in modernity. Ideologies of ‘gender equality’ in education that have been promoted in development programs and discourse and in Maoist rhetoric have been powerful drivers behind this. However, in this paper I argue this is not a simple shift and development success story. I demonstrate that the importance placed on educating the younger generation, including women is also very much tied to local Bahun culture, marriage values and status.

Bahun villagers of Amdanda place great importance on education and great importance on marriage, and when combined, I argue, education has in fact become dowry. Young Bahun women are getting an education in order to make a good marriage. The younger generation of Bahun men in Amdanda who have aspirations for upward mobility must marry a wife who is their match in education, not in terms of the ‘traditional’ complements of marriage. While transformations have taken place to include the younger generation of women in education and other modernising processes, and while marriage practices and dowry may have also transformed, in this paper I show that they have come to maintain traditional hierarchies and to support the status making of the educated Bahun man.

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

Thursday 19 April 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Gaynor MacDonald
University of Sydney
Title: ‘Missing persons’ in person-centred dementia care: anthropological insights on relatedness and morality

While this paper is about how we think of ‘persons’ in the context of dementia, it is also an opportunity to ask questions of anthropology. Anthropology observes, critiques and reflects on the past and present, but it has shied away from the future. But those who are experiencing dementia, and those who care for them (of whom I am one), need a new way to conceptualise what it means to be human, and to be in relationship. Can anthropology provide a way forward?

In the 1990s, Tom Kitwood, insisting that those with dementia should be treated as persons rather than the living dead, instituted the practice of ‘person-centered’ care, now embedded across many care contexts. However, Kitwood’s intentions have been skewed by the limited understanding of ‘the person’ in medical/health models. How we think of ourselves as human beings, as selves and persons, as individuals or relational beings; how social value is determined, by whom and for whom, and how this changes over the life course – all such ideas are embedded in cultural values that are deep-seated and usually taken-for-granted. Dementia brings these understandings into sharp focus. Recent anthropological work on ontology, morality and relationality provides us not only with a critique of the ways in which ‘being’ is constituted within medical and health contexts, but also offers a transformative alternative. In drawing on this work to understand how to improve the quality of life of those living with dementia, am I looking at techniques of good care or a vision for a new world?

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

Thursday 10 May 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Kirsty Gillespie
James Cook University
Title: ‘Creativity and performance in the repatriation of King Ng:tja’

In March 2017 the mummified body of King Ng:tja, an Aboriginal Australian from north Queensland, was formally handed over to his relatives at a ceremony in Berlin after more than one hundred years in Germany. Ng:tja was received soon after by the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville, where he is currently resting while his relatives make plans to return him to Country. On both occasions a ceremony was held, drawing upon the creative resources of family members who were faced with the new experience of repatriating an ancestor and escorting him home from another country.

In this paper I explore the various elements created for these ceremonies, focussing on the role of visuality and the senses in performing the ancestor’s return as family members engaged with painting, music, and smoking practices. In doing so I argue that repatriation represents a unique opportunity for cultural creativity and revival. I also reflect upon the role of museums in the repatriation of human remains and the responsibilities of the museum curator in responding to the needs of the people whom they serve.

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

Thursday 24 May 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Mitra Pariyar
Macquarie University
Title: Migrating Caste: Nepalese Gurkha Immigrants in Britain
Abstract: Caste continues to be a fundamental part of Hindu religion, and of South Asian society and culture. Yet there is little knowledge of the dynamics of caste among overseas South Asians. Over the recent years, the UK’s Indian Dalits or ‘untouchables’ have challenged the implicit assumption that caste cannot thrive in a radically different economic, social and cultural environment of the West. They have publicly decried persistent caste discrimination and untouchability in their communities and demanded caste legislation to address their largely hidden issues. My doctoral study of recent Gurkha migration and settlement in England (conducted between 2009 and 2013) adds to the ongoing policy and academic debate surrounding migrant caste in the UK. This paper seeks to demonstrate how and why Nepalese caste has been swiftly resurrected overseas. My analysis first explores the rapid reproduction of certain caste norms, particularly in terms of the persistent segregation and humiliation of Dalits. Second, an active revival of caste associations will be examined. Third, I situate contemporary caste in the context of the men’s experience in the army. My argument here is that the policies and practices of Gurkha recruitment, and of their organization, are key to understanding the rapid reproduction of caste among the military immigrants.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]
Thursday 31 May 2018, 3-5pm
Speaker: Melinda Hinkson
Deakin University
Title: Between us, here and there: refashioning tactical humanism in turbulent times
Abstract: This paper explores the potential of single person-focused ethnography. It distinguishes this form from earlier anthropological experiments with biography, and does so by way of a consideration of transformations in the shifting nature of anthropological production, in the world at large, and within the context of a long-standing research-related friendship. Taking destabilisation and displacement as ubiquitous but under-analysed features of contemporary experience, the paper argues that anthropology anchored at the level of the individual person provides a vital, intimate prism through which to grapple with transforming modes of personhood, social relationships and processes and their multi-layered effects and implications. Examining the case of an Aboriginal woman from Central Australia who has in recent years experienced a radical shift in her life circumstances, the paper models a writerly approach that would make legible the variety of forces and qualitatively distinctive modes of relating that coalesce in her situation, including that of the anthropologist-friend.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]