Departmental Seminars

Anthropology Department Seminars at the University of Sydney
Semester 1, 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 Gillian Cowlishaw, convenor of the symposium.

Seminar Series

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: Andrew Lattas
University of Bergen, Norway
Title: Transgression, Trickery and Sovereignty: the 1964 election and the search for an alternative Melanesian government
Abstract: TBA
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]