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 Terry Woronov, convenor of the symposium.

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]

Semester 2, 2016

Thursday 11 August 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Mary Hawkins and Helena Onnudottir
University of Western Sydney
Title: Land, Culture and Identity in post-GFC Iceland
Abstract: Land is central to Icelandic identity. It is birthright, heritage, a site of memory and belonging; mountains, waterfalls, pastures and fjords are the stuff on which Icelandic dreams are made. Land is made culture through story and song, told at family gatherings, and sung at schools and on hiking trips through the Highlands. The individual and cultural identity of Icelanders was built on this imagining, coupled to a vision of Icelanders as an exceptional people, a Viking race, independent, courageous, and ethical, possessed of a glorious history. The events of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), which exposed the corruption of many Icelander bankers and businessmen, as well as some politicians, has caused many Icelanders to doubt, and then to challenge, the Viking image. At the same time, due largely to the rapid depreciation of the Icelandic crown (krónur), Iceland has been invaded, by Hollywood moviemakers as well as by tourists. This paper argues that one significant effect of the post GFC foreign invasion has been a transformation of the cultural and moral order in Iceland, away from the boasting Viking and towards a new set of values within which land and nature hold an even more central place.
Bio: Dr Mary Hawkins is a social anthropologist and currently Associate Professor and Director of Academic Programs (Sociology, Criminology, Peace and Development Studies) for the School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney.

Dr Helena Onnudottir, born in Reykjavik, Iceland, teaches and researches at University of Western Sydney.

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

Thursday 18 August 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Tanya Jakimow
Title: ‘Called by the soul’: Possibilities for self in community driven development in Medan, Indonesia.
Abstract: Community-driven development is dependent upon a cadre of low-class volunteers who have, or develop, the ‘will to improve’ (Li 2007) others. Through an exploration of volunteers’ motivations, satisfactions and everyday experiences in one such program in Medan, Indonesia, I unravel how this will to improve others is intimately entwined with volunteers’ own projects of self-stylization (Moore 2011). Using volunteers’ understandings of personhood, I reveal the program as a site for the enactment and realisation of a possible self. Volunteers are ‘called by the soul/one’s nature’ (terpanggil jiwa) to undertake this work. They respond to the affective and emotive signals of the liver (hati) that aligns the diri (self) with the jiwa (soul/nature). I interrogate the meanings and use of these terms in Medan to reconsider anthropological understandings of personhood in Indonesia. By examining the ways volunteers use them in reference to state-led development practices, I contribute to existing debates about the constitution and disciplining of ‘development subjects’.
Bio: Tanya Jakimow is an ARC research fellow and senior lecturer in development studies in the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UNSW. Her post-doctoral research applied anthropological perspectives to understandings of agrarian livelihoods, contributing to inter-disciplinary projects examining responses to climate variability. Her latest book, Decentring Development: Understanding change in agrarian societies (2015), is publlished by Palgrave MacMillan as part of Anthropology Change and Development series.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 25 August 2016, 3-5pm
Speakers: Robbie Peters
University of Sydney
Title: Capturing the city in whole or in parts
Abstract: In this paper, I consider the more static idea of heterotopia in Foucault and the more dynamic idea of it in Lefebvre and Harvey to argue that popular empowerment occurs when a city overcomes its parts and is captured in whole by those who live there. I demonstrate this through a history of Surabaya from August 1945 when the electricity station was taken over by Indonesians and electricity sent to poor neighbourhoods and cut-off from European neighbourhoods. I view this redistribution of electrified power as the moment when the city was truly under popular control. I draw a contrast to this moment of popular control with that following the anti-communist purge of 1965 when the city’s pre-eminent urban engineer, Johan Silas, implemented his idea of distinct and contained neighbourhoods that put and end to the revolutionary city. I argue that Silas reinstated a vision of the compartmentalized colonial city that relied on what the Dutch once called the great absorptive capacity of the urban slum in housing the many newcomers entering the city after the collapse of the hinterland plantations in the 1930s. I consider how Silas’s ideas are humanist but not revolutionary and, as such, resemble those of biologist and urban planner Patrick Geddes in failing to overcome the stultification of top-down synoptic views of the city. Finally, I show how Silas’ model came to an end after the political and economic crisis of 1998, and how the current method of capturing newcomers through data rather than neighbourhoods reveals an inability to capture the city, either in part or in whole.
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 8 September 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Debra McDougall
University of Western Australia
Title: Expanding education and entrenched inequalities: Formal schooling and its alternatives in Ranongga (Solomon Islands)
Abstract: Education promises social mobility, yet expanding access to education rarely changes relations of relative inequality because new opportunities tend to be monopolized by the most privileged classes in society. Since the end of the so-called “Ethnic Tensions” of 1998-2003 in Solomon Islands, access to basic education has increased, in part through the establishment of many rural community high schools. Drawing on exploratory research on education in Ranongga Island, I discuss rural people’s perceptions of their own disadvantage relative to urban elites and middle classes. I also consider widespread enthusiasm for an alternative form of education in the Kulu Language Institute, which has grown over fifteen years from a series of workshops on vernacular grammar into a fully-fledged language institute that offers regular courses in vernacular grammar (on Ranongga) and English and Biblical languages (in Honiara) to students ranging from primary school dropouts to university graduates. These grammar courses seem to effectively combat a sense of inadequacy and failure that many rural people feel when they contemplate their formal educational achievements and position in the emerging class system of Solomon Islands.
Bio: Debra McDougall Debra McDougall is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia. She is the author of Engaging with Strangers: Love and Violence in the Rural Solomon Islands (Berghahn Books, 2016), which is based long-term ethnographic research on the island of Ranongga in the western Solomon Islands. She also co-edited Christian Politics in Oceania (Berghahn Books, 2013) with Matt Tomlinson. She is planning a new research project focused on rural mobility, socio-economic inequality, and education in Melanesia.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 15 September 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Luis F. Angosto-Ferrández
University of Sydney
Title: The afterlives of Hugo Chávez as political symbol
Abstract: In January 2016, the first publicised decision made by the president of the newly installed Venezuelan Parliament, Henry Ramos Allup, was the removal of pictures from the legislative premises. In what transpired as a calculated performance, this member of the old political guard was video recorded while dismissively instructing removalists to take pictures of Chávez away to Sabaneta (Chávez's birthplace), or to throw them to the garbage. He also commanded the removal of recent representations of Simón Bolívar, disqualifying them as 'an invention of that mister [Chávez], a crazy thing'.

This episode signalled the intensification of an ongoing struggle over political symbols in Venezuela. This article discusses the background and implications of such struggle, particularly focusing on the figure of Chávez as epitome of a contested national symbol. The fate of Chávez's corpse, currently located in a mausoleum, is at stake, but also the configuration of the institutionally-sanctioned symbolic order with which political actors aim to condition political maneuvering in years to come.

Bio: Luis Fernando Angosto-Ferrández teaches anthropology and Latin American studies at the University of Sydney. His recent publications include the book Venezuela Reframed: Bolivarianism, Indigenous Peoples and Socialisms of the 21st Century (Zed, 2015), and the co-edited volume Anthropologies of Value: Cultures of Accumulation across the Global North and South (Pluto, 2016).
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 22 September 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Carolina Quesada
University of Sydney
Title: Exploring intimacy and power relationships through narratives of fights in an ethnically diverse community in the Southern Region of Costa Rica
Abstract: This paper retrieves narratives about intimacy and jealousy from a Ngöbe indigenous community in the southern region of Costa Rica. The narratives are reconstructed from ethnographic field notes on observations and informal conversations. The aim of the paper is to uncover the affective responses and the power relationships embedded on these narratives. These emotional responses and power relationships are made intelligible through other narratives that add historical depth to particular events. Furthermore, I will tentatively use Csordas’ elementary structures of agency to focus on the manifestation of intentionality, practice and discourse. These elements are reflected on the emotional responses, events and power structures present in these narratives. The paper will look at intimacy and jealousy separately, and then will turn the gaze to the points where they intersect. I will also pay attention to an event in its interplay between public and intimate. For example, public fighting during sporting events might seem completely detached from intimacy, but gossip and the emotions that the fight arises in bystanders takes us back to an intimate experience. An intimate encounter might also later be intertwined with jealousy and public display of emotions.
Bio: Carolina Quesada Cordero is a PhD candidate in the anthropology program at The University of Sydney. Her research interests include embodiment, sexuality, medical anthropology and rural communities.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 13 October 2016, 3-5pm JOINT SEMINAR WITH POLITICAL ECONOMY
Speaker: Sujatha Fernandes
University of Sydney
Title: Curated Stories: How Storytelling is Hindering Social Change
Abstract: In the contemporary era we have seen a proliferation of storytelling activities, from the phenomenon of TED talks and Humans of New York to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and consultants. My talk, based on my forthcoming book, seeks to understand the rise of this storytelling culture alongside a broader shift to neoliberal free market economies. Suturing together a Foucaultian account of neoliberal reason with Marxian and Gramscian accounts of class formation, I develop a concept of the political economy of storytelling. I discuss how in the turn to free market orders, stories have been reconfigured to promote entrepreneurial self-making and are restructured as easily digestible soundbites mobilized toward utilitarian ends. In my talk, I examine an online women's creative writing project sponsored by the US State Department in Afghanistan as an example of how stories can be drawn into soft power strategies of imperial statecraft in the context of military intervention. But I also conclude with some reflections on how we can find a way beyond curated storytelling, with a discussion of the Mision Cultura storytelling workshops in Venezuela.
Bio: Sujatha Fernandes is a Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Sydney, which she joined in 2016. Previously she was a Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Before this, she was a Wilson-Cotsen Fellow at Princeton University’s Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts (2003 – 2006). She has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 20 October 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Ryan Schram
University of Sydney
Title: Avoiding marriage, or the performativity of incest
Abstract: Levi-Strauss argues that kinship categories reflect the logic of reciprocity, and marriage alliances are themselves exchanges. Yet, as he also recognized, such a model only works well for certain kinds of kinship system in which people view their social universe in terms of a purely mechanical model of rules. If one considers exchange as action, and as an element in interaction, how might this apply to exchanges of persons between kin groups in alliance? This perspective seems especially appropriate for Levi-Strauss's most challenging problem: alliances in so-called semicomplex kinship systems. Among Auhelawa of Papua New Guinea, marriages are ideally regulated by a variety of mechanical prohibitions yet alliances networks are made and remade with every individual marriage. In this paper, I argue that we can understand the nature of alliance as the outcome of symbolic actions on the part of spouses and their contestation by their affines. While spouses performatively enact a new alliance network, the efficacy of household formation lies in its reception by others, who frame individual couples in a discourse of prohibitions. The process of household formation writ large is best understood as part of a larger politics of sexuality in which people attempt to not only regulate marriage but also read into marriage patterns or their lack larger messages about social and moral change. [Keywords: marriage, exchange, Melanesia, sexuality, gender]
Bio: Ryan Schram is a cultural anthropologist whose research examines the methods by which peoples of Oceania reflexively frame their history and social experiences in terms of narratives of encounter and social change, and the various sites at which these palimpsests of culture are formed, including Christian ritual, formal schooling, oral history, local markets, and development projects.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]