Archive | Notes from the Field

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. The places I have worked – Port Vila, Malakula, Ambrym – via the networks set in place by the Vanuatu Cultural Centre have all been either badly damaged or destroyed.…

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Digital Politics in Mongolia

Lauren Bonilla, Rebekah Plueckhahn, Rebecca Empson, Department of Anthropology, University College London

This post is written by researchers on an ERC-funded project entitled ‘Emerging Subjects of the New Economy: Tracing Economic Growth in Mongolia’ based at the Department of Anthropology, University College London.

Our project focuses on the mineral-rich country of Mongolia, once heralded as the world’s fastest growing economy but now experiencing sharp economic slowdown. We trace the kinds of subjects and activities that are emerging out of this economy of flux – when promises of economic growth are continually referenced but never seem to materialize; when people are forced to live with the rhetoric of hope and potential which everyday reality never approximates – leading to alternative experiences and imaginaries.…

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Mimesis as Infection: Charlie Hebdo seen from the Indian Archive

Christopher Pinney, UCL Anthropology

 

The recent events in Paris have focused attention on the complex relationship between different varieties of Islam and the image. Historians will rightly point to a French tradition of anti-clerical satire that reaches back to Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage of 1771, and which provides a frame through which Charlie Hebdo’s provocations make sense. I’ve taught Diderot’s brilliant critique of Christian missionary hypocrisy in an imaginary Tahiti over several years and remain fascinated how one needs to continually remind oneself that this is fiction, a mere “supplement”. Diderot’s central Tahitian character, Orou, is a powerful vindication of Diderot’s “foisting” technique in which he “takes over Bougainville’s Voyage shamelessly rewriting and falsifying it” inserting “speeches and arguments that for the ‘enlightened’ reader, seem to cry out so urgently to be spoken”.…

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Sonically Transforming Washi Paper

Jessica Knights, Material and Visual Culture MA, UCL Anthropology

 

While undertaking my Master’s in Material and Visual Culture in UCL’s anthropology department last year, I received a Heinz Wolff Materials Bursary to carry out a project at the University’s Institute of Making. My proposal was to explore the properties of Washi paper, a type of handmade paper made in Japan. Washi is made predominantly from the paper mulberry (kozo) tree by traditional methods, and has been used for diverse purposes; from raincoats to kimonos, aerial bombs to toilet paper (Barrett 1983). I first became interested in this material through bookbinding, and was struck by its strength and durability as much as its tactility, delicacy, and softness.

My approach was largely influenced by our course literature, in particular the work of Tim Ingold.…

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The Material Culture of the Boxer – a post-fieldwork reflection

[By Pete Lockwood, a former MSc Social Anthropology student (2013-14) from UCL]

peter.lockwood.13@ucl.ac.uk

 CNV00021

 

When I conducted fieldwork in an Essex boxing gym for my MSc dissertation in Social Anthropology over the summer months of 2014, like a lot of other fieldworkers might do, I was reading bits of theory that seemed to speak to my emerging ethnographic data. Because my fieldwork was still going on, I ended up thinking about a few ideas that ultimately never made it into my dissertation. In the end, my argument turned out to be about the self, and the forms of practical “poiesis” through which the self is transformed in boxing (cf. Herzfeld 1985). But in building an argument about the relationship between the “sensori-motor conduct” of sport – practical activity that is inherently perceptual and has effects on human beings as subjects (Warnier 2009: 465) – and notions of personhood in a Western social context, I perhaps didn’t do enough justice to the “material culture” that “props up” sensori-motoricity as a principle of being-in-the-world (Warnier 2007: 1-3).…

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Trees and Fairy Lights

Timothy Carroll, UCL Anthropology

Source: http://www.london-attractions.info/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.htm Source: www.london-attractions.info/trafalgar-square-christmas-tree.htm

London’s Trafalgar Square holds a rather central spot in the festival seasons of the city. Early in December, as it has since 1947, it again played host to a towering conifer gifted to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo, Norway, in appreciation for their help during World War II. With some press announcement about the tree fresh in my head, I left London to attend the Anthropological Association in America, held this year in Washington D.C. There, by matter of course, I happened upon an other Norwegian Christmas Tree, this one tucked in corner near the Metro entrance (the West Carriage Porch, to be exact) of Union Station. This one is given by the people of Norway to the United States as a gift of appreciation for the assistance given to Norway during and after World War II, a long established tradition going back, the Union Station says, to 1996.…

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Exploring Digital-Visual Anthropological Research Methods: www.photoblogsiran.com

[This is an invited post from a PhD student working at Oxford University, accompanied by a series of comments about visual methods from PhD students working at UCL]

Shireen Walton, PhD candidate in Anthropology, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford

shireen.walton@sant.ox.ac.uk

Oxford Digital Ethnography Group (OxDEG)/www.facebook.com/groups/OXDEG/

 

In June 2013, after nine months of ethnographic fieldwork researching Iranian popular photographic practices in Iran, the UK and online, my principal participants (Iranian photobloggers, based inside and outside of Iran) and I discussed the idea of co-curating a digital photography exhibition of their work. The idea of developing an innovative, site-specific methodology emerged during the research process, but seemed appropriate given that a) it reflected what photobloggers do – they create digital exhibition spaces in the form of photoblogs to share their photographs with viewers across the world – and b) it would establish a relevant digital environment in which to participate and observe their practices.…

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Disobedient Objects

Hannah Knox, Lecturer in Digital Anthropology and Material Culture, UCL Anthropology

Zapatistas. Attribution: Nathan Gibbs https://flic.kr/p/3eMx1h Licensed under Creative Commons.

Zapatistas. Attribution: Nathan Gibbs
flic.kr/p/3eMx1h
Licensed under Creative Commons.

 

In 1996 I worked in Mexico for eight months and during my time there visited the famous village of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. One of my abiding memories of San Cristobal was of the women from the village who were selling artisanal products to tourists on cloths laid out on the floor in the square in front of the church. Whilst the sale of artisanal objects was commonplace in Mexican villages, in amongst the traditional traditionally dressed dolls I had been surprised to see dolls sporting cloth balaclavas and guns. The dolls were a homage to Subcomandante Marcos and the 1994 uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) against the Mexican government and its signing of the NAFTA free trade agreement with the United States.…

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