Departmental Seminars

Anthropology Department Seminars at the University of Sydney
Semester 2, 2014

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

About the seminars and other department events

The anthropology department at the University of Sydney holds regular seminars for staff, students, visiting anthropologists and colleagues from related fields to exchange ideas and discuss new research. On most Thursdays from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. during the teaching term, an invited speaker presents their work in a seminar, followed by discussion, then usually a light reception and dinner.

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

Thursday 14 August 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Geir Presterudstuen
(University of Western Sydney)
Title: Bati, Boxing, and bodily labour – the re-making of Fijian warriors
Abstract: The presence of violence has been considered a decisive factor throughout much of Fijian history, from pre-modern inter-tribal warfare via participation in the British army in both world wars to the more recent events of political violence and active military intervention in civil matters. Underpinning this history is a more fundamental notion of an ethno-Fijian identity, which is not only profoundly masculine but also stems from a construction of the Fijian male warriors (bati) as the protectors of everything Fijian. This is epitomized through the bati ideology, which continues to hold considerable purchase in discourses about Fijian identity and social organization. Embedded in this social context, contemporary constructions of masculinity are naturally often centered on stylized performances of physical strength. Equating these dynamics with a claim that Fijian masculinities are intrinsically violent is, however, problematic. By looking at boxing and more informal fist fighting as constitutive social practices in the constructions of contemporary Fijian masculinities, I draw upon the concept of bodily labor to discuss how Fijian men negotiate the traditional notion of bati in a modern context. A key argument is that while the bati ideology remains pervasive as a part of hegemonic notions of masculinity in Fiji, it is not used to valorize or glorify uncontrolled violence. On the contrary, contemporary Fijian men articulate bati values in terms which are often explicitly non-violent.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 21 August 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Georgina Ramsay
University of Newcastle
Title: “I am Dead, Now”: experiences of child protection interventions and forced child removal for Central African refugee women settled in Australia
Abstract: After fleeing conflicts in their country of origin and surviving insecurities of daily life in refugee settlements the Central African women from Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda with whom I conducted fieldwork have experienced abject violence. Yet, many of these women express that the most extreme forms of violence they have witnessed (and experienced) have occurred following refugee resettlement in Australia through situations in which bureaucratic interventions from child protection agencies have capacitated the forced removal of African children from their mothers to be placed into the foster care system. In this paper I explore this paradoxical interplay of insecurity across a spectrum of forced migration and refugee resettlement experiences to illustrate how interventionist practices of forced child removal encompass a form of exceptional violence. I show how these practices destroy a fundamental source of ontological security for these women that is their capacity to be located within their intersubjective terrain as a ‘mama’. Such an irrevocable sense of existing as a ‘mama’ that has been consistently drawn on by them as a source of security to negotiate violences of forced migration is destroyed by mechanisms of the child protection apparatus in Australia that enable both the potentiality and reality of forced child removal.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 28 August 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Penny McCall Howard
Maritime Union of Australia
Title: Wrecks: Ecologies, ontologies, mythologies
Abstract: In this paper I examine the continued presence of wrecks of fishing boats in Scottish fishing grounds. Wrecks are produced by the enormous physical challenge of catching creatures you cannot see in places you have never been, combined with the inexorable pressure of market competition experienced through fish prices and the struggle to stay afloat economically. These dual challenges produce conflicting ontologies of how to be a safe mariner and what it means to be a good fisherman. Mythologies are constructed by fishermen, who need to keep fishing despite the wreckage around them, and by government agencies committed to administering the system as it currently exists, and who are not prepared to confront its often-deadly logic. Mythologies obscure conflicts, but they are also exposed by the ongoing presence of wrecks. Finally, fishing wrecks are compared with other anthropological examinations of ruins and wreckage.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 11 September 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Ryan Schram
University of Sydney
Title: Indecorous, Too Hasty, Incorrect: Market and Moral Imagination in Auhelawa, Papua New Guinea
Abstract: Malinowski quotes a typical Kiriwina man on page 96 of Argonauts of the Western Pacific: 'He conducts his Kula as if it were gimwali.' This statement – not Malinowski's analysis but his informant's own – is one reason why Trobriand kula resonates with so many as an illustration of reciprocity. Although subsequent studies of kula have shown the boundaries between ceremonial exchange and barter to be less stable than Malinowski claimed, the statement still provokes. What are people doing when they assert a distinction between kula and gimwali? In Auhelawa (Normanby Island, Papua New Guinea), the term gimwala now signifies buying and selling in contrast to traditional forms of trade. For generations, Auhelawa have operated in an informal cash economy to make ends meet. Yet they also attach stigma to gimwala as selfish. In this paper, I argue that Auhelawa find value in money by modeling selling on food gardening. In the ways they choose to sell, people perform the displacement of their own choice and agency, and reframe money earning as disciplined, patient work as opposed to overtly greedy haggling. By evoking gimwala as a stigma, money is transvalued as a harvest which supports one's capacity to be moral.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 18 September 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Anupom Roy
Macquarie University
Title: Doctors of the Poor: The Role of Self-Taught Medical Practitioners in Rural Bangladesh
Abstract: The presence of untrained informal medical practitioners is ubiquitous in developing countries. Even though they provide a critical service to the poor who would otherwise be left without medical care, these practitioners have received insufficient attention in ethnographic investigations. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in a rural Bangladeshi village, I examine the complex dimensions of the relationship between informal practitioners and their clients, and how these dimensions enabled the poor to obtain medical help. Despite the significant role they perform, their medical practice is shunned by formally trained biomedical practitioner with unrecognition and negative labelling, which also facilitates the profiteering move of big pharmaceutical companies in rural areas. Ethnographic evidence further proves that these local practitioners are structurally in a better position to provide medical care to the poor compared to the services that trained urban physicians provide. A formalised recognition of their contributions – free from the existing epistemological bias towards the expert, the legitimate, and the trained – might be a significant step to extending healthcare in rural Bangladesh.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 25 September 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Luis F. Angosto Ferrández
University of Sydney
Title: Modern accumulation: Nature, culture and rent-capturing commodification in Venezuela
Abstract: In this presentation I discuss the ongoing process of commodification of waterfalls in the Gran Sabana region (Southern Venezuela) and the transformations in property rights and relations that stem from it. In theoretical terms, I will frame this process as an instance of ‘modern accumulation’, a concept with which I will critically engage classic debates on the origin of private property and contemporary ones revolving around the dynamics of late capitalism.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 16 October 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Belinda Burbidge
University of Sydney
Title: Digging up the past to understand the present: an examination of nostalgia
Abstract: ‘We have always been friendly here...’ was the way elderly people, both Wiradjuri and Anglo-Australian, often began recounting a story to me about the past, during my fieldwork in rural New South Wales. Although the content of the stories varied, representing overlapping but distinct black and white local histories, all expressed a bittersweet longing for a golden age, a melancholic desire for the past enhanced by dissatisfaction with the present. Instead of simply approaching these stories as memories viewed through rose-coloured glasses, I offer an examination of the emotion ‘nostalgia’- through observation, tone and language - from both local Koori and white perspectives. First, I address the presence of nostalgia: a complex emotion which, I argue, is both a way to enable one’s ability to deal with the present, as well as, a symbol of a contemporary moral dissonance with the past. Second, I turn to the content of such statements, the varying historical meanings of race relations and the control of space and resources that are often hidden, and sometimes subverted, by the ‘friendly’, everyday social language of people residing in an inter-cultural town.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 23 October 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Grant McCall
University of Sydney
Title: Navigating Rapanui: the Stormy Seas of Easter Island in Hispanonesia
Abstract: The Pacific Islands may not be divided culturally as Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, but they are divided according to metropolitan languages. Rapanui, or Easter Island, is firmly located in Hispanonesia, the Spanish-speaking part of Oceania. There, under the Chilean regime since 1888, an indigenous government was duped and usurped and continues to try to re-assrt itself in the "unitary state" of Chile. I use Henrik Erdman Vigh (2009)'s concept of "social navigation" "as a metaphor for practice" to organise my data on Rapanui interventions such as "cargo cults" and kingship. There is an organisational continuity on Rapanui, I argue, in that whenever a group protest erupts, another always accompanies it. In spite of considerable cultural alterations, this bifurcation has its origins in a common eco ideological moiety of the island.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]




Seminar Series Semester 1, 2014

Thursday 13 March 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Jane Ferguson
University of Sydney
Title: Terminally Haunted: Aviation Ghosts, Hybrid Buddhist Practices, and Disaster Aversion Strategies Amongst Airport Workers in Myanmar and Thailand
Abstract: Much of what is written about airports is from the perspective of a visionary architect, or from the experience of the cosmopolitan traveler. Airport workers, aside from their intimate knowledge of the airport space, know something about terminals that their designers and itinerant occupants do not: how they are haunted. In Yangon, Myanmar and Bangkok, Thailand, airport workers exchange occupational ghost lore regarding sightings, motives, and histories of spirits within aviation. They also make use of hybrid Buddhist practices to ward off danger from airport spaces, and to make their own future travels safe and propitious. In addition to challenging the notion of the airport as the ‘non-place,’ this paper will demonstrate that ecumenical practices and hauntings crucially frame techno-modernity, uniting local and trans-regional culture with the global semantic legibility of the logistic superstructure of passenger aviation.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 20 March 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Marina Gold
University of Sydney
Title: From ‘Olive Green’ to ‘Adidas Blue’: State and Revolution in Cuba
Abstract: The Cuban Revolution continuously perplexes scholars and critics, not least because of the paradox it represents: how can a revolution go on for more than fifty years? Has ‘Revolution’ merely become a denominator for the ideological project of the state – a mask concealing the political practice of a totalitarian regime? I argue against this. Revolution in Cuba takes on a perpetual life because it represents a commitment to national liberation, a project that is historical and exceeds the limits of socialist and communist ideologies. As long as the Cuban people are under threat (from capitalism, the US embargo, natural disasters, etc) the Cuban State is in a state of war. It is by participating in the constant struggle for survival that people best embody the Revolution. This paper analyses the concept of Revolution, and considers the transition of power between Fidel and Raúl Castro, exploring the relationship between people and state.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 27 March 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Ghassan Hage
University of Melbourne
Title: The diasporic life-world
Abstract: In the Lebanese village of Jalleh, people are continuously migrating to various parts of the world as they have been since the 1880s. Likewise people are continuously returning. As theorised by the anthropologists of transnational networks, the one-way migration from the village almost immediately transformed into multi-directional relationality between the different global points where the villagers have historically settled. Despite the rich material produced by the anthropology of transnational networks this paper argues that the dominant analytical attention towards transnationalism, even within anthropology, has been sociological rather than cultural. Cultural analysis has however dominated the analysis of ‘migrant cultures’ or the ‘cultures of migration’ which have been more often than not studies of the cultures of settlement. What I call diasporic culture or life-world and that I explore in this paper is the tansnational culture shared by all those who live in this transnational space regardless of where they are located (inside or outside Lebanon) and regardless of whether they have or have not migrated. I am particularly interested in exploring the question: what is a critical anthropology of diasporic culture? That is, despite it being a culture with which most people are increasingly familiar, is there a dimension of the diasporic life-world which offers us a radically different mode of existence that both speaks to us and yet takes us outside of ourselves?
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 10 April 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Gaynor MacDonald
University of Sydney
Title: An end to ‘hunter-gathering’
Abstract: This paper will address an ambiguity in its title: what is it that has ‘ended’? I examine the economic history of Wiradjuri people of central NSW, whose ‘hunting and gathering’ days are deemed to have ended at least a century ago: in some places much earlier. I do so in order to challenge the idea that their economic system (and that of other Australian Aboriginal peoples) is best described by the terms ‘hunter-gathering’ or ‘foraging’, used interchangeably. I argue for an end to the simplistic, evolutionary and racialising assumptions they embody. These terms have masked the complexity of economic change among Wiradjuri peoples who have been negotiating their material, social and moral lives within different, incompatible and ever-changing economic systems for a long time.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 17 April 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Micol Seigel
American Studies Centre
Title: 'Convict Race': Racialization in the Era of Hyperincarceration.
Abstract: Prison is the most powerful engine of racialization in the U.S. today. While radical imprisoned intellectuals have compelled large activist-scholar audiences, the ones who are not radicalized by their prison experiences are just as important to understand.This essay explores racial identification among people incarcerated at a medium-security facility in Indiana where the author teaches, noting both reactionary anti-racialism and expressions of commonality with African-American history and struggle on the part of white-identified, including white-supremacist prisoners. The author brings Foucault, Gramsci, Stuart Hall, theorists of anti-blackness and abolitionist scholar-activism to the analysis of this complex white supremacist anti-racialism.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 8 May 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Matthew Bunn
University of Newcastle
Title: Echoing Improvisation: balancing risk and intensity in the practice of alpine climbing
Abstract: Alpine climbing presents a particularly productive space for the examination of the lived experience in extreme body-centric practice. Drawing on fifteen months of ethnographic research in North America, this paper will consider ‘regulated improvisation’ following Bourdieu’s approach to the study of practice. The climbing field relies more fully on the active interpretation and practical sense, a ‘feel for the game’ of climbers. The climber thus remains in an improvisational readiness, whereby each ascent is roughly aligned with personal history and competence. This paper considers specific ethnographic examples from alpine climbing, focusing on the management of risk and the continual appraisal of risk in action. In these situations, falling is demoted from its role as the primary risk because of the competition between risks found on mountains, whereby speed becomes an important factor in managing risk. Nevertheless, the illusio of climbing can often shift this balance further, where climbing quickly – speed for speed’s sake – becomes a possibility and climbers often pursue the more body-centric objectives of testing the bodily/individual limits of endurance and fear as a requisite of a climb.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 15 May 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Robbie Peters
University of Sydney
Title: A rite of demodernisation and its defiant others: the anti-communist purge of 1965/6 in Surabaya
Abstract: Anthropologist James Peacock observed of ludruk clown dramas in Surabaya during the early 1960s that the young and wily stranger of the city’s streets always outsmarted the conservative male of its back alley kampungs. Ludruk mocked tradition, making it what Peacock called 'a right of modernisation’ that captured the mood of Surabaya and its people as turbulent, burgeoning and typically ‘modern’. This paper uses the themes expressed in ludruk to demonstrate how its pedagogy of the unfinished modern person of grafted body parts was usurped by the pedagogy of bodily deconstitution as enacted through the purge, torture and killing of suspected communists in 1965/6. I support this argument with demographic and archival details on the city during the 1950s and 1960s, interviews with former political prisoners and eyewitness accounts of the violence.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 22 May 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Ute Eickelkamp
ARC Future Fellow, University of Sydney
Title: “I’m back to the promised land”: Personal stories of truth-finding in the Anangu world
Abstract: Reporting from my recent fieldtrip to Ernabella on the APY Lands and to Alice Springs that marks the beginning of a larger inquiry into an Aboriginal ontology, I explore various figurations of fundamental truths that people have conveyed in focused conversations. Central to my discussion is the political, moral and emotional significance that Christianity has for particular individuals, both as a positive and negative force. While I recognize the larger context of the politics of culture over time in the forging of views about the world, my primary concern here is to bring into focus the specificity of lived experience that calibrates (but not always stabilizes) a person’s sense of belonging, rupture, conversion and identity.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]


Thursday 29 May 2014 - 3 - 5pm
Speakers: Kalpana Ram
Macquarie University
Title: Mood and Method: Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty on Emotion and Understanding.
Abstract: 'This paper, written for a volume on Anthropology and Phenomenology (Ram and Houston eds.), seeks to explore two specific ways in which phenomenology can assist anthropology. The first is in giving us a stronger way to frame objectivity as an aspiration for anthropological knowledge and for the social sciences more generally. The second is in allowing us to give emotions a methodologically central role in enhancing objectivity.'
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills Building, A26 [map]