Tag Archives: Ethnography

  • Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

    Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

    Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

    Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

    There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

    The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

    The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

    Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

    Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

    Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

  • Adventures in Blogging: Bringing Anthropology to the World

    For World Anthropology Day, we asked Paul Stoller to share his thoughts on the urgent need for a more public anthropology, as well as his ideas about blogging as one particular way to reach that public. Paul’s forthcoming book, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, will be available in April. Read an advance excerpt here

    We live in troubled times. In North America there is a wholesale assault on science, which, following longstanding practices, produces “inconvenient truths.” These truths stand in stark contrast to “alternative facts,” a patchwork of “big lies” that create a tapestry of untruth on media and social media. Taken together, these untruths have created an alternative universe of meaning. In this alternative universe, up is down, fiction becomes fact, and the truth, the ultimate objective of science, no longer matters. We are fast entering a seemingly limitless Orwellian space in which conspiracy theories are used in the blunt exercise of power that trumps the quest for truth and wisdom—the foundation of scholarship in the world.

    You can’t fight big lies with small truths.

    In this distressed environment, it is time for scholars, guardians of inconvenient truths, to meet their fundamental obligation: to produce knowledge that makes life a little bit better for us all. Although the pursuit of wisdom has long been the central obligation of scholars, we now live in a different climate than in years past. Most anthropological insights, for example, have been conveyed by way of scholarly essays and/or monographs. These texts have usually adhered to a strict set of rules. In science you are expected to present your findings and analysis in the bloodless prose of plain style. In so doing, we have let the power of our findings and our analyses—the facts, if you will—speak for themselves in an abstract and inaccessible language. For some time now, the persistent presence of deadly academic prose has meant that the public has little, if any, knowledge of our rigorously derived insights—insights that are important in the contemporary battle for truth.

    How many people, for example, know about important anthropological insights regarding climate change, racism, the re-emergence of Social Darwinism, the nature of religion and belief systems, the linguistics and cognitive science of propaganda, or the courage and resilience of peoples from what the American President has referred to as “shithole” countries?

    Not many!

    It’s true that anthropologists are waking up to the political and epistemological realities of a socially mediated world. An ever-increasing number of anthropologists now convey their slowly developed insights in documentary film, in drama, in poetry, in museums, and in media installations—all accessible ways to spread anthropological insights about a wide range of issues of social, economic, and political importance.

    I am one of many anthropologists who have felt the need to go public. In 2010, I realized that very few people had read what I had laboriously written in a narrative style designed for a broad audience. Despite my best efforts I understood that fewer and fewer people had the inclination to read anthropological works, including, of course, my own books and articles. I didn’t think it wise to abandon my professional writing, but felt compelled to blog anthropology by transforming complex ideas into simply stated and crisply written posts of 750 to 850 words.

    Could I do it?

    At first it was difficult to simplify tried and true academic prose, but after some false starts I found my blog rhythm and moved forward.

    I pitched an idea to HuffPost.

    They signed me up.

    I’ve been blogging anthropology ever since. In eight years of HuffPost blogging, some of my posts have spread far and wide in the blogosphere where readers liked, favorited, shared, and re-tweeted them. In some cases, 50,000 to 75,000 people would read my posts, meaning that the blogs had informed them of anthropological insights about US politics, the practice of social science, trends toward corporatization in higher education, critiques of shallow media representations, and narratives about the texture of human wellbeing.

    These days there are increasing numbers of scholars who are blogging anthropology. Most of them write skillfully about more or less anthropological subjects—especially emerging topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. In my blogs, by contrast, I have tried to bring anthropological insights to newsworthy events—the Presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, the dysfunction of the US Congress, the anti-intellectual war on science and social science, climate change, superstorms, and social dislocation. In the blogs, I make sure to highlight examples of apt anthropological concepts and demonstrate the wisdom non-western knowledge.

    I wrote Adventures in Blogging to show—rather than tell—anthropologists how they can use the medium as a powerful tool for mass education, a platform that connects disparate audiences. In this way, the book underscores how blogging anthropology increases cross-cultural understanding in a globally inter-connected world.

    Blogging anthropology is a different way of sharing anthropological knowledge.

    In today’s world, it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He has published 14 books, including ethnographies, biographies, memoirs, and novels, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. In 2013, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented him the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology. In 2015, the American Anthropological Association awarded him the Anthropology in Media Award. He lectures and conducts writing workshops in the United States and Europe.

    This piece is cross-posted on our Teaching Culture blog.

  • A Brief History of UTP Higher Education

    The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation—starting with our Vice-President, Michael Harrison, on how a Canadian university press ventured into textbook publishing in a serious way.

    In May 2008, the University of Toronto Press broadened its well established scholarly book program to include a greater capacity for books intended for course use. As Canada’s most venerable English language university press, UTP has long been a leading presence in Canadian-based English language scholarly publishing. Although the press has often published works that enjoy considerable success in the classroom, this success has largely been tangential to the primary mission to publish the results of research excellence in the humanities and social sciences.

    Those of us involved in UTP’s new “Higher Education” division are aiming for something a little different. Higher Education was founded on the acquisition of various lists from Broadview Press, amounting to over 300 titles—and the bringing over of several experienced Broadview staff members, including Anne Brackenbury and Natalie Fingerhut (Acquiring Editors), Michelle Lobkowicz and Anna Del Col (respectively, Sales and Marketing Managers) —and me. Others, including Beate Schwirtlich who manages our Production, Mat Buntin (Senior Publisher’s Representative), Kris Gies and Mike Byer (both Publisher’s Representatives), have joined us since. All of us continue to work from an office in Guelph originally opened by Broadview.

    Although UTP is quite a different place than Broadview Press, Higher Education carries on an approach long taken by Broadview Press (and in my own case, before that at McClelland and Stewart). Like Broadview, Higher Education finds itself competing against far larger textbook publishers such as Pearson, Nelson, Oxford, Cambridge, Palgrave, McGraw-Hill,  Routledge, Norton, etc., as well as more “scholarly” presses such as UBC Press, McGill-Queen’s—and in some ways, our colleagues in UTP Scholarly Publishing. Lacking the resources of all of these more established presses, it has been necessary to develop a competing “story.” “The Little Engine That Could” comes to mind.

    Measured against older houses our story also sounds like a line from Stuart McLean—“we may not be big, but we’re small!” We publish fewer titles per year which means we can devote greater marketing attention per book—and authors are not overlooked because their market is deemed economically less important. Beyond our core subject areas—History, Politics, Anthropology, and Sociology—the titles we publish serve audiences sometimes pushed to the side by the larger text houses, taking us into communities such as Latin American Studies, North American Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, Women’s Studies, Indigenous Studies, History of Science, Ethnography, Social Work, Environmental Studies, and many more. We believe Higher Education’s list of course books, combined with the rich publishing offerings of UTP’s Scholarly Publishing Division, places the press second to none in Medieval Studies.

    We take care to cover a broader curriculum, enthusiastically taking on upper level course books, as well as those intended to serve often more lucrative introductory levels. However, we prefer the notion that textbooks should make a meaningful scholarly, as well as pedagogical, contribution. A survey “textbook” and a scholarly monograph are two different things, but they should both make an intellectual contribution.

    It’s easy to be jaded (“students today…”) but could it be that students have a better chance of being stimulated when encouraged to consider a challenging thesis, rather than simply a review of the agreed upon “facts” and the lists of “points on the exam”? Is it possible that a really good “textbook” presents material in a way that neither students nor their professors have considered before? Can textbook authors be allowed “authority”? And looked at another way, could it be that the results of something worth researching are also worth presenting to as wide a scholarly audience as possible, including undergraduates? Sometimes, these books actually sell pretty well!

    We’re by no means alone but those of us in UTP Higher Education prefer to be inspired by publishing values like these—and to publish books by authors who are inspired by them. Some great examples that we have published in the past five years include A Short History of the Middle Ages, The Promise of Sociology, A History of Science in Society, Trickster, Wasase, The Labyrinth of North American Identities, The Shock of War, Lament for America, and many more… all available at prices that students can afford!

    -Michael Harrison, Vice-President

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