Archive | Notes from the Field

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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The Story of Seething & being a little bit Stupid

David Jeevendrampillai, UCL Anthropology

Image 1: The Story of Seething Exhibition. Jan - May 2015. UCL Anthropology (Photo Credit: Timothy Carroll).

Image 1: The Story of Seething Exhibition. Jan – May 2015. UCL Anthropology (Photo Credit: Timothy Carroll).

UCL promotes itself as a leading global university and frequently ranks amongst the top institutions in the world; it also houses the UK’s largest Anthropology department. The department has an international reputation as a leader in Anthropological research with a particular history and strength in material culture studies. Upon entering the department’s central London campus one is greeted by a reception replete with well-lit display cases which house exhibitions of current UCL research and items from the extensive and rich Ethnographic Collection.

In the final months of writing my PhD I was invited to organise an exhibition using the three main cabinets in the foyer of the department.…

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Landmarks: a review

Christopher Tilley, Department of Anthropology, University College London (c.tilley@ucl.ac.uk)

 

Robert Macfarlane Landmarks (2015) London: Hamish Hamilton, 387pp. £20.00 rrp

This is the fifth book by Macfarlane about British landscapes. The ‘landmarks’ of the title are not what one might expect: they are words. The book is about the power of words in place making. This reminds us that landscapes may be material topographic realities but they are simultaneously constituted in the mind. Traditionally, in academic debates, landscapes have been regarded as either reductively shaping the manner in which people think or blank slates on which people inscribe the way in which they think in more or less any way they like. In this respect their material topographies become mere backdrops to an understanding of the manner in which they are understood.…

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The No-Person

Over the past few weeks I have been working closely with London’s homeless community for my PhD fieldwork. As part of my role at the day centre where I conduct much of my research I have helped a number of people fill out the ubiquitous Job Seeker’s Allowance form – herein referred to as the JSA. The JSA is a standardised government form that applies not just to the homeless, but to anybody who is seeking financial support in the interim between jobs. At first glance then, there is nothing special about the JSA as a bureaucratic document. Filling out the JSA takes about twenty minutes and is generally done online. For the vast majority of people, filling out such a form would be, at the worst, extremely boring.…

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Cyclone Pam – Support Vanuatu

Haidy Geismar, UCL

As I’m sure you are all aware, last week Vanuatu was devastated by Cyclone Pam, battering the country with winds of over 270 mph. The storm knocked out the country’s telecommunications and transport infrastructure and now, just a few days later, it is estimated that more then 70% of the population are left homeless, without adequate drinking water, and without food. The long term prospects for food security are also bad as most of the garden crops that people live off have been destroyed. President Baldwin Lonsdale has announced that the storm had “wiped out” recent development and that “everything” would have to be rebuilt.

Vanuatu is the place that I have worked as an anthropologist since 2000.…

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