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 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.

For futher information, please contact Terry Woronov, convenor of the symposium.

Semester 1, 2016

Thursday 10 March 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Dr Yasmine Musharbash
University of Sydney
Title: “Warlpiri dog tales: of protectors, companions, and collaborators

Through narrative portraits of individual dogs, combined with two decades’ worth of ethnographic data about relations between canines and Warlpiri people at Yuendumu, central Australia, I revisit, revise and amend key themes of the Australianist dingo/dog debate of the 1960s and 70s. My premise is that then, as today, camp dogs at Yuendumu can be characterized by their 'inbetweenness'; (Kohlig 1978:109); they are ‘of the camp’ but not human, essential collaborators in boundary making and maintenance between not only the domestic realm and the world but also between Indigenous and non-Indigenous spheres. Exploring the neo-colonial permutations of Aboriginal/canine relations, I put forward, can shed new light on contemporary Warlpiri ways of being in the world.

During the great dog/dingo debate, hunting as a motive for the, as Meggitt (1965) called it, quasi-domestication of canines by Aboriginal people was already hotly contested. At Yuendumu today, with guns having replaced spears and spear throwers, and a sedentised rather than a hunting/gathering life-style being the norm, hunting as the primary raison d'être for the bond between humans and canines is even less plausible. Participants in the debate advocated other motives: the warmth dogs provide on cold winter nights, their eating leftovers around the camp fulfilling hygienic functions, their ritual importance and symbolic significance, and their providing an “emotional release for nurturant behaviour” (Hamilton 1972:294). Most importantly to my paper, all authors listed the same reason as secondary, namely the protection dogs/dingos provide by alerting a camp to the arrival of strangers, be they human or spirits. I argue that today, dogs being “the mangy sentinels of the night” (Meehan 1965:100) is the first priority in continuing canine/human entanglements, and that this has taken on specific characteristics molded to sedentised camp life in remote neo-colonial Aboriginal towns. To the task of protection, I add further, contemporary (and perhaps long-term) motives accentuating continued human/canine domestic co-existence: (1) culturally-specific kind of companionship formulated and understood in terms of kinship (different in both practice and meaning from that provided by, say, ‘pets’), (2) canine’s intrinsic entertainment value, and (3) their role as ‘participant-observant witnesses’ in colonial and neocolonial processes.

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

Thursday 17 March 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Paul-David Lutz
University of Sydney
Title: Images of Indolence – Resources, Land and Labour in Rural Laos

Over the past three decades, policy makers in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) have increasingly sought to integrate the country’s supposedly abundant natural resources into the global economy. State campaigns, such as “turning land into capital” or making Laos the “battery of Asia”, have been intertwined with ostensibly neo-liberal policies facilitating resource extraction and land-concessions to (mostly) foreign companies. In the context of an official discourse that continues to emphasize Laos’ status as a “people’s democratic state”, these policies have been justified by two interrelated arguments.

Firstly, and in a mode reminiscent of the “neo-extractivism” of leftist governments in Latin America, Lao policy-makers have argued that the revenue generated through land- and resource-rents is key to enabling the Lao state to deliver prosperity and development to its citizens. Secondly, Lao policy-makers have argued that engaging international companies is vital to making more productive use of land and resources, implying that their “traditional” use by rural Lao people is somehow deficient.

My talk will seek to engage with these justifications. By tracing the historical trajectory of a narrative that construes rural Laos as a plentiful and untouched “El Dorado” (Pholsena, 2006) and, concomitantly, rural Lao people as both profligate and indolent, I will seek to examine one of the ways that state efforts to reconfigure the relationship between resources, land and labour have been rationalized in Laos. This examination is part of my incipient effort to link ethnographic enquiries into aspirations and social change in Laos (e.g. High 2008, 2014) with Marxist-inspired approaches to the political economy of Laos (e.g. Barney, 2011; Baird 2011d). It is also a prelude to my upcoming ethnographic research into the local dynamics of socio-economic and cultural change in one upland community in northern Laos’ Phongsali province.

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

Thursday 24 March 2016, 3-5pm CANCELLED

Thursday 14 April 2016, 3-5pm
Speakers: Dr Rozanna Lilley
Children and Family Research Centre, Macquarie University
Title: Excuse the mess: Maternal narratives about autism, kinship and domestic dis/order
Abstract: Drawing on qualitative interviews with 22 Australian mothers, as well as autoethnographic experience, I analyse how women contextualise their child’s autism diagnosis within a broader landscape of psychiatric disorders. Following Ian Hacking’s influential concept of ‘looping effects’, I investigate how clinical ideas about autism influence lay understandings of kinship, making particular kinds of families. The elasticity of clinical constructs of a) the autism spectrum and b) the Broader Autism Phenotype encourages mothers to reinterpret familial histories, creating tragic narratives focused on the repetitive (genetic) recurrence of oddities and deficits. The challenge of autism to maternal identity is often expressed in tropes of domestic disorder. Sometimes women transform this wreckage into a story they can live with; at other times, they experience chaos as they grapple with developmental disability and difference. These pathologising reinterpretations of kinship point to the dis/order instantiated by diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 21 April 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Jesse Dart
University of Sydney
Title: The Culture of Free Food in the Workplace
Abstract: Far more than just nutrition and sustenance, food has moved far beyond these basic concepts. It has worked itself far into the realm of self and place identity, pop culture and politics – it’s hard to ignore the significance it has in modern life, but yet, it has been often overlooked in the workplace. What, why and where you eat has become a marker – of class, of place, of person. With this in mind, my talk will dive into the culture of free food in the workplace. With specific examples from the Google office in Sydney, I will discuss my unique process of gaining access to field sites through purely digital means, polymorphous engagement in field research as well as speak to the exotic nature of the corporate world. Some of the questions that I raise are: why have academics in social sciences neglected this area of investigation? Is free food helping to build community and commensality units in the office? How do employees relate free food to their role and position in the company?
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 28 April 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Dr Paul Mason
Woolcock Institute
Title: An Offer that cannot be refused: Tuberculosis and the medicalisation of poverty
Abstract: A monocausal bacteriological understanding of infectious disease orients tuberculosis control efforts towards antimicrobial interventions. Multifactorial approaches integrating socio-economic disease prevention strategies are largely neglected. Poverty, overcrowding, malnutrition and co-morbidity intensify disease transmission. Poverty restricts access to the social exchanges incorporating individuals. Tuberculosis magnifies this restricted access. Social stigma is one barrier. The structure of medical treatment is another. Global expansion of free tuberculosis healthcare invites those infected with tuberculosis to assume medicalised identities: an invitation not to be refused . In accepting this invitation, tuberculosis patients, over a lengthy course of treatment, are offered free medication but still need to meet ancillary and not unsubstantial costs. In inculcating and being inculcated by the global medical enterprise, patients are pulled into adopting and reinforcing a reductionist understanding of disease and a consumerist model of treatment. Free treatment loads individuals with the obligations of the patient but denies the rights of the consumer.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 12 May 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Dr Ben Miller
University of Sydney
Title: David Unaipon's Benalla sermon (1914): Aboriginal Writing and Rhetoric
Abstract: In the early 1920s David Unaipon, the Ngarrindjeri public speaker, musician, preacher, inventor and writer, submitted a manuscript of legendary tales to Angus and Robertson. It is generally thought that these stories were collected solely for the manuscript with the aims of raising funds for his scientific work, bringing attention to Aboriginal culture, and preserving traditional Aboriginal cultural material. However, recently re-discovered archival sources suggest that Unaipon, acting in accordance with his grandfather’s and father’s styles of storytelling, collected the stories earlier than thought, adapting them for use in political arguments and to reflect changes in contemporary Ngarrindjeri experience. This paper will enrich the contextual understanding of Unaipon’s collection of legendary tales by (a) examining fragmentary stories about Unaipon’s ancestry from an amateur anthropological account of Ngarrindjeri life (Taplin’s Folklore, Manners, Customs, 1879), (b) analysing summaries of Unaipon’s early 20th-century sermons as detailed in newspaper articles, and (c) interpreting anew samples of Unaipon’s writing. In doing so, it will be argued that Unaipon’s literary works serve an important rhetorical purpose; as an example of indigenous rhetoric his writing transforms both his culture’s narratives about the world and his colonial audience’s understanding of indigenous culture. Theories of rhetoric and communication will be utilised to identify Unaipon’s rhetorical strategies and to reveal the complexity of indigenous rhetorics in Australia at the turn of the twentieth century.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 19 May 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Wendy Ristreka
University of Sydney
Title: TBA
Abstract: TBA
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]

Thursday 26 May 2016, 3-5pm
Speaker: Dr Jadran Mimica
University of Sydney
Title: The Yagwoia Womba Complex: An Introduction
Abstract: Womba is a malignant condition of the soul which could be easily identified as “witchcraft” (sanguma in Melanesian Tok Pisin) that in recent years has received much coverage in international media and anthropological journals. However, among the Yagwoia-Angan people of Papua New Guinea this soul condition has peculiar characteristics with no lethal consequences for a person recognised as a womba. Accordingly, under the label of the “womba complex” I explore its local cultural-existential determinations within a framework of phenomenological psychoanalysis.
Venue: Room 148 RC Mills building, A26 [map]