Archive | Notes from the Field

Information and Communication Technology and Wellbeing in the Merchant Marines

Annamaria Dall’Anese, PhD student, UCL Anthropology

If the informal use of the internet through personal devices on board merchant vessels encounters barriers due to patchy infrastructure and weather issues, then the formal provision of ICT-empowered telemedicine has brought to an end the era when the sea made the ship an entirely isolated environment. The ship in the age of ICT appears as Foucault described it: as a “heterotopia”; a place that is both isolated and penetrable. My interest in merchant marines was sparked by joining a cargo ship sailing from Australia to Singapore as a passenger/English teacher in 2009. The passage, though short, gave me the opportunity to discover the social life of these communities, and I became intrigued by the issue of connectivity at sea.…

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Notes from the Forest: Engaging with a hunter’s world of materials

Thorsten Gieser, Lecturer in Anthropology, Department of Kulturwissenschaft, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany

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A winter’s day, in a forest in central Germany. At dusk, more than fifty hunters and beaters stand around the ‘gallow’, a wooden structure with a long beam on which the dead bodies of hunted game are hung after they have been field dressed. A small group of hunters play their horns and the eerie melodies of ‘Sows dead!’ and ‘Halali!’ fill the air, accompanied by the occasional dog who howls along. It is the end of a hunting day. After several hours on the beater’s track, I feel exhausted and tired. My boots and my trousers are smeared with blood and mud. Although I washed my hands briefly in icy water, there is still dried blood under my fingernails and in the lines of my skin.

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#LondonVegans: Deliberating, sensing and practicing vegans in a non-vegan city

Zachary Hecht, UCL Digital Anthropology Msc Student

Why would somebody forgo juicy steaks, delicate smoked salmon, velvety goat cheese, and the many seemingly delicious foods people eat? Why would somebody choose to submit themselves to the inconvenience of not being able to eat outside of their home without some advanced planning? Why would they refuse to wear products widely seen as fashionable and insist on knowing what their hygiene products are made of?

Why would anybody be vegan?

The individuals I conducted fieldwork with—members of what I term the London Vegan Community—are regularly asked this very question by family, friends, and even strangers. In popular media, veganism is often framed as being trendy and undertaken for supposed health benefits. While many—certainly not all—of my participants discuss health as being a vital component of their veganism, and many first learned about veganism due to its increasing popularity, each of my participants assert that veganism is an “ethical choice”; for London Vegans, veganism is a “social justice movement.”

As I write, we find ourselves living in a time widely referred to as the Anthropocene.…

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Night-Time Wanderings and the Out-of-Place

As I walked home late one night last week, I came upon a scene that perhaps many of us are familiar with. In a dark corner of a quiet area there lay a pair of new looking shoes, laced up and stood together, as if worn by a phantom man (they were a man’s shoes). There was something jarring about the scene. The shoes were too clean to really “belong” on the street, but yet there was nobody in sight, and who goes home without their shoes? After a moment I walked on, of course, but the image stayed with me. I couldn’t help thinking about the circumstances in which those new shoes came to be on that dark street corner.…

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Broken Stories

Adam Drazin, UCL Anthropology

How, when and why do people start to see something as”broken”? Do objects around the home just have two states, broken and working, or are there many other kinds of states they can be in? Clearly, the significance of many domestic objects is in relation to the projects of home which surround them and preoccupy the groups of people living together in a household. In some ways, household things are materialisations of projects, and ideas of being broken and fixed express this.

The Broken Stories project involved a group of Masters students on the UCL course Materials/Anthropology/Design at UCL working with Fixperts on issues of what kinds of fixing happen in the home, and what kinds of situations the Fixperts might get involved in.…

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Knowledge as Material Movement in Surfing and Anthropology

David Whyte, UCL Anthropology

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Unpacking at Duggie. Photo: David Whyte

“We’re probably going to surf Banna Strand, but the swell might still be a bit small, I just can’t decide.” Dylan slumps back into the passenger seat of my car and throws his phone momentarily from his hands. He has spent most of the journey with it held to his nose, furrowing his brow as he examines various surf forecasts from across the southwest coast of Ireland. Dylan is one of those people for whom finding good waves has become an obsession, and missing them an unthinkable tragedy. It is a cold October morning, and the swell from Hurricane Joaquin is forecast to make landfall along Ireland’s Atlantic coast around lunchtime.…

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The Lunar New Year Gift Index 2.0

Members of the Emerging Subjects project at UCL and the National University of Mongolia contributed to this post.

 What does focusing on gifts given and received during the Lunar New Year tell us about the general economy in Mongolia? Last year we posted our first Lunar New Year Gift Index (LNYGI) and found that the slowing economy shaped how Mongolians celebrated the holiday, with people confining the celebrations to fewer days and opting for more useful gifts (like socks) that support Mongolian businesses. This year, Mongolia’s economy has been shaken further with pressures of increasing public and private debt and the slowdown of commodity prices globally. We found that people bought less over-all in preparation for the Lunar New Year. While prices have decreased (especially the price of meat), the cost of this year’s celebration was very straining. …

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The Beach – A Frontier of Nostalgia

by Duane Jethro

The beach is a place of waste and ruin. Rotting seaweed, stinking dead seals, cracked and crushed shells, deflated bluebottles, fat blobs of translucent jellyfish melting away in the sun. All the finished, broken things spewed out by the ocean.

In early January, estate agent, Penny Sparrow’s comments about Durban’s beaches surfaced in the muck and foam of social media. In a choppy Facebook post, she complained bitterly about black South Africans who swamped the city’s beaches over the festive season break. Allowing these “monkeys” access to the beach ‘invited huge dirt and trouble and discomfort to others’ she cawed. They only “pick drop and litter”. A mob of animalistic black bodies on the beach soiled Penny Sparrow’s romantic ideas of a pristine public space of white leisure.…

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The Anti-Camera

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

I recently came across M.N. Srinivas’ observation that his enthusiastic engagement with photography, during his fieldwork in Mysore in the late 1940s, earned him the nickname “chamara man”. He notes that in Kannada chamara denotes whisks made of the long hair from a yak’s tails used by servants to keep flies away from Rajas and by priests to preserve the purity of icons.

In the Madhya Pradesh village where I have worked intermittently since 1982 you will hear echoes of the metaphor that informs the South Indian description of Srinivas as “chamara man”. For instance, Jagdish Sharma, the pujari of the Krishna temple once joked that my video camera embodied “yantra, mantra, [and] tantra”, yantra being the design (“made in Japan”), mantra being the information it stored, and tantra being the magic of technology (its “mashinari”).…

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Ain’t no Jaguars in Ghana’s urban jungle: luxury and the postcolonial bizarre

Osu Accra

Sipping my morning coffee in the corrosive speech of Bernard Avle, the radio host of Accra’s Citi FM Breakfast Show – a deliciously satirical commentary on salient socio-economic issues in Ghana –, I find my daily dose of morning chuckling interrupted by the conversational attempts of a friendly French tourist (hereafter Mister F). Having recently arrived in Accra with a defective mobile phone, Mister F paid an obligatory visit to the Vodafone center in Osu – a rich district in central Accra organized around the aptly-named Oxford Street, bordered by air-conditioned shops and expensive restaurants. Complaining of his dislike for Osu, Mister F describes the exotic vision of Jaguars swishing past shaky street shacks; puzzled eyebrows, offended smile, he bitterly whispers: “Two Jaguars driving by, it’s just a bit, a bit, bizarre, isn’t it?”

Isn’t it indeed.…

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