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 Luis Angosto Ferrandez, convenor of the symposium.

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]

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]