RAI events

Home RAI Events Event Recordings RAI events

The RAI runs a range of events including the RAI Research Seminars, Book Launches, Film Events and London Anthropology Day.

The following RAI lectures have been recorded and are available online to listen to or download. Videos of other RAI events are available on our YouTube channel here.

RAI Book Launch – David Zeitlyn


Prof David Zeitlyn (University of Oxford) with discussant Glenn Bowman (Emeritus Professor of Socio-Historical Anthropology, University of Kent)

Presenting sixty theoretical ideas, David Zeitlyn asks ‘How to write about anthropological theory without making a specific theoretical argument.’ To answer, he offers a series of mini essays about an eclectic collection of theoretical concepts that he has found helpful over the years. The book celebrates the muddled inconsistencies in the ways that humans live their messy lives. There are, however, still patterns discernible: the actors can understand what is going on, they see an event unfolding in ways that are familiar, as belonging to a certain type and therefore, Zeitlyn suggests, so can researchers. From the introduction: This book promotes an eclectic, multi-faceted anthropology in which multiple approaches are applied in pursuit of the limited insights which each can afford…. I do not endorse any one of these idea as supplying an exclusive path to enlightenment: I absolutely do not advocate any single position. As a devout nonconformist, I hope that the following sections provide material, ammunition and succour to those undertaking nuanced anthropological analysis (and their kin in related disciplines)…. Mixing up or combining different ideas and approaches can produce results that, in their breadth and richness, are productive for anthropology and other social sciences, reflecting the endless complexities of real life. …This is my response to the death of grand theory. I see our task as learning how to deal with that bereavement and how to resist the siren lures of those promising synoptic overviews.

RAI 2022 Awards and Medals

Rivers Memorial Medal for 2022 – Prof Gavin Murray Lucas
Lucy Mair Medal & Marsh Prize for Applied Anthropology for 2022 – Prof Raymond Apthorpe
Marsh Award for 2022 – Dr Juliet Bedford
Public Anthropology Award for 2022 – Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes
President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 2022 – Prof Marilyn Strathern

Awarded by Baroness Sue Black (RAI President)

Dr Isaac Marrero-Guillamón (Goldsmiths, University of London) & Dr E. Gabriel Dattatreyan (Goldsmiths, University of London)

This talk discusses our experiences and experiments in multimodal anthropology – a practice we conceptualise in relation to a politics of invention. We will elaborate on some of the key arguments we have made in our writing together (Dattatreyan & Marrero-Guillamón, 2019) and present examples from more recent work. As pedagogues and practitioners, we are interested in unpacking the modes of encounter and learning generated by different multimodal strategies. More specifically, we will explore how the latter open up opportunities for inventive engagements with anthropological mainstays such as journal articles, monographs and ethnographic films.

Suggested reading: Dattatreyan, Ethiraj Gabriel, and Isaac Marrero‐Guillamón. 2019. ‘Introduction: Multimodal Anthropology and the Politics of Invention’. American Anthropologist 121 (1): 220–28. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13183

with editors Dr Paolo Fortis (Durham University) Prof Susanne Kuechler (University College London) and Dr Pedro de Niemeyer Cesarino (University of São Paulo) Dr Ludovic Coupaye (University College London) Dr Victor Cova (Århus University) Prof Fredrick Damon (University of Virgina) Prof Els Lagrou (Federal University of Rio De Janeiro) Prof Carlo Severi (EHESS) Prof Graeme Were (Bristol University)

This volume examines the way objects and images relate to and shape notions of temporality and history. Bringing together ethnographic studies from the Lowlands of Central and South America and Melanesia, it explores the temporality inhering in images and artefacts from a comparative perspective. The chapters focus on how peoples in both regions ‘live in’ and ‘navigate’ time each through their distinctive systems of images and the processes and actions by which these come to be manifest in objects. With original theoretical and ethnographic contributions, the book is valuable reading for scholars interested in visual and material culture and in anthropological approaches to time.

The book is published by Routledge and can be purchased here

with editors Prof W. John Morgan (Cardiff University) Dr Fiona Bowie (Oxford University) and Dr Elaine Forde (Swansea University) Prof Chris Hann (Max Planck Institute of Social Anthropology) Dr Rhys Dafydd Jones (Aberystwyth University) Prof Huw Pryce (Bangor University)

Asking the perennial question, ‘Who are the Welsh?’, this collection illustrates the history of anthropology in Wales and its distinctive contributions to this debate. Its essays range from the ethnographic insights of Gerald of Wales in the twelfth century, to analyses of the multicultural Wales of today. Contributors discuss the legacy of Iorwerth Peate, co-founder of the Welsh Folk Museum of St Fagans (now the National Museum of History), and the schools of research pioneering community studies of Welsh rural life in the second half of the twentieth century. Writings on the changing nature of family relations in de-industrialized settings such as the 1950s ‘new’ town of Cwmbrân and a contemporary Welsh public-housing estate provide new insights, while research on shifting patterns of religious adherence re-examine what has often been seen as a defining characteristic of Welsh society. Case studies on the challenges faced by European immigrants in Wales post Brexit and the Welsh diaspora in Patagonia add a global dimension. The interdisciplinary nature of anthropology as practised in Wales brings both a richness and openness born of collaboration. Revealing both the startling variety and continuity of Welsh life and identity, certain themes consistently emerge: connections with place and the natural world as a way of being Welsh, the complex meanings of language in identity formation and the role of kinship in giving a sense of belonging to the Welsh nation.

The book is published by Sean Kingston Publishers and available here: https://www.seankingston.co.uk/publishing.html 

A live conversation with filmmaker Nanobah Becker on contemporary indigenous speculative fiction on film. Nanobah Beckers short film ‘The 6th World’ can also be viewed on her Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/256611676?embedded=true&source=vimeo_logo&owner=9231437.

RAI Book Launch – Encounters with Anthropology in Austria –
Part I Contemporary approaches / RAI Country Series ‘Anthropology in Motion’

Anthropology in Motion: Encounters with Current Trajectories of Scholarship from Austria – Edited by Andre Gingrich

Anthropology in Austria has come a long way, in terms of achieving diversity, growth and international visibility, since first emerging in Vienna, the capital of the former Habsburg Empire, and now of one of its main successor countries. This volume combines elements of critical self-reflection about that academic past with confidence in the intellectual currents presently in motion across the discipline. As with the country’s contributions to world literature and music, the trajectory of social-cultural anthropology may be seen as a good example of the global relevance of research in Austria within the humanities and social sciences. This ‘anthropology in motion’ situates itself at the intersections between contemporary and historical research, but also often between the natural and the social sciences. It shows a commitment to conceptual and theoretical pluralism, but, equally importantly, a dedication to the maintenance and improvement of standards of methodological quality. Whether empirical research is focused on studies at home or abroad, the blending of renewed forms of ethnographic fieldwork with solid comparative analyses and archival research characterizes many of these ongoing advances.

RAI Book Launch – Encounters with Anthropology in Austria –
Part II: Anthropology from Vienna during the Nazi period

Socio-cultural anthropology from Vienna under National Socialism (1938-1945): Institutions, Biographies and Practices in Networks (Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften)
Original title: Völkerkunde zur NS-Zeit aus Wien (1938-1945): Institutionen, Biographien und Praktiken in Netzwerken

This publication of 1739 pages in three volumes with 42 contributions is focused on anthropology from Vienna during the Nazi years, inside the „Third Reich“ and in exile. Institutional and biographic networks as well as aspects of intellectual history are at the core of these investigations. They systematically present the history of an academic discipline within the general sociopolitical Central European and wider international contexts of those times. Beyond “Völkerkunde”/socio-cultural anthropology at the centre of investigation here, its wider range also includes important neighboring fields such as physical anthropology, archeological prehistory, folklore studies and African as well as Japanese studies. The present publication’s crucial research questions pursue the varieties of anthropological projects in and from Vienna, and their intersections with corresponding political interests. In these ways the extent of involvement in criminal Nazi activities is highlighted, while participation in the anti-Nazi resistance also is outlined. Special attention is given to the fine nuances between adaptation and resistance. – These contributions by 28 authors required documents’ assessments from more than one hundred archives in ten different countries. These were supplemented by published or initiated interviews with eye witnesses and family members wherever still possible. These three volumes are enriched by a helpful index in several parts and by more than 250 visual source materials, many of them publicly accessible here for the first time.

RAI Book Launch – Music, Dance, Anthropology

This volume celebrates the significant resurgence of interest in the anthropology of music and dance in recent decades. Traversing a range of fascinating topics, from the reassessment of historical figures such as Katherine Dunham and John Blacking, to the contemporary salience of sonic conflict between Islamic Uyghur and the Han Chinese, the essays within Music, Dance, Anthropology make a strong argument for the continued importance of the work of ethnomusicologists and ethnochoreologists, and of their ongoing recourse to anthropological theories and practices. Case studies are offered from areas as diverse as Central Africa, Ireland, Greece, Uganda and Central Asia, and illuminate core anthropological concepts such as the nature of embodied knowledge, the role of citizenship, ritual practices, and the construction of individual and group identities via a range of ethnographic methodologies. These include the consideration of soundscapes, the use of ethnographic filmmaking, and a reflection on the importance of close cultural engagement over many years.

Taken together these contributions show the study of music and dance practices to be essential to any rounded study of social activity, in whatever context it is found. For as this volume consistently demonstrates, the performance of music and dance is always about more than just the performance of music and dance.

RAI Book Launch: Harvey Whitehouse

The Ritual Animal: Imitation and cohesion in the Evolution of Social Complexity

Harvey Whitehouse (Chair of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford and Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion (CSSC)) with discussants: Scott Atran (Research Director Emeritus in Anthropology, Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Institut Jean Nicod − Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris) Robert N. McCauley (William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor Emeritus and Founding Director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, Emory University) and David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute) as chair

Rituals are a way of defining the boundaries of social groups and binding their members together. This book seeks to unravel the psychology behind these processes, to explain how ritual behaviour evolved and how different kinds of ritual performance have shaped global history over many millennia. Although grounded in core ideas from anthropology, testing the theories developed in this book has required extensive collaborative studies across many disciplines, from controlled experiments with children in psychology labs and in Pacific island communities, to surveys with armed insurgents in the Middle East and Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia, from measuring physiological measures of stress among football fans in Brazil, to statistical analysis of data on ten thousand years of world history. The results of all this research point to new ways of addressing cooperation problems: from preventing violent extremism to motivating action on the climate crisis.

RAI Research Seminar: Les Roberts

In this paper I draw on ideas set out in the book Spatial Anthropology: Excursions in Liminal Space (Roberts, 2018) which have, as their departure point, the constitutive interdisciplinarity of the spatial humanities. The paper is loosely organised around three central provocations. The first of these, space is a ball that bounces here and there, which is attributed to Soto Zen founder Eihei Dogen, is playfully put to work to explore the ineffability of space and the merits of approaching ‘it’ as if a koan. The second provocation, spatial anthropology is not the same thing as the anthropology of space, probes the contention that, howsoever defined, spatial anthropology encompasses orientations and practices that need not align with, or be reducible to, anthropology as a disciplinary field. The third provocation, killing space is the dialectical precondition for the project of giving life to space, is not to argue ‘against space’ (Ingold 2011) but rather to explore how its negation can better inform a phenomenology of space that draws out its embodied and performative affects. By extension, tending to the breathability, pliability and spaciousness of space (or lack of), the paper ponders the question of whether, in the sustainable pursuit of its application, spatial anthropology is itself only of value to the extent that it too can be killed off.

Les Roberts is a Reader in Cultural and Media Studies at the University of Liverpool. The core focus of his work is situated within the interdisciplinary fields of spatial anthropology and spatial humanities. He is author/editor of a number of books that engage with these research areas, including Deep Mapping (2016), Film, Mobility and Urban Space (2012), Liminal Landscapes (2012), and Mapping Cultures (2012). His most recent monograph, Spatial Anthropology: Excursions in Liminal Space, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2018 (paperback in 2020). 

RAI Research Seminar and Book Launch: Susan Crate

Once Upon the Permafrost is a longitudinal climate ethnography about “knowing” a specific culture and the ecosystem that culture physically and spiritually depends on in the twenty-first-century context of climate change.

The author, anthropologist Susan Alexandra Crate, has spent three decades working with Sakha, the Turkic-speaking horse and cattle agropastoralists of northeastern Siberia, Russia. Crate reveals Sakha’s essential relationship with alaas, the foundational permafrost ecosystem of both their subsistence and cultural identity. Sakha know alaas via an Indigenous knowledge system imbued with spiritual qualities. This counters the scientific definition of alaas as geophysical phenomena of limited range. Climate change now threatens alaas due to thawing permafrost, which, entangled with the rural changes of economic globalization, youth out-migration, and language loss, make prescient the issues of ethnic sovereignty and cultural survival.

Through careful integration of contemporary narratives, on-site observations, and document analysis, Crate argues that local understandings of change and the vernacular knowledge systems they are founded on provide critical information for interdisciplinary collaboration and effective policy prescriptions. Furthermore, she makes her message relevant to a wider audience by clarifying linkages to the global permafrost system found in her comparative research in Mongolia, Arctic Canada, Kiribati, Peru, and Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. This reveals how permafrost provides one of the main structural foundations for Arctic ecosystems, which, in turn, work with the planet’s other ecosystems to maintain planetary balance.

Metaphorically speaking, we all live on permafrost.

Once Upon the Permafrost: Knowing Culture and Climate Change in Siberia is due to be published by University of Arizona Press (30/11/2021)  https://uapress.arizona.edu/book/once-upon-the-permafrost

Susan Alexandra Crate is an environmental and cognitive anthropologist working in Russia, Canada, Peru, Wales, Kiribati, Mongolia, and Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay. She is professor of anthropology at George Mason University. She served on American Anthropology Association’s Task Force on Climate Change and as lead author on IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere.

Mridu Rai Exhibition: How Do I Bring You Home?

artist presentation followed by a discussion with Prof Christopher Pinney (UCL)

“This project is an expression of my intellectual and emotional vulnerabilities that emerged whilst trying to engage with a colonial photo archive. The L.A Waddell Collection (1890 c.) now housed at the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, has 60 photographs of 30 men and women representing “types of natives” of Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim. The commission was carried out by Johnston and Hoffman studio, Calcutta and the portraits are similar to the photographs prescribed by the anthropological concerns of the time. Engaging with the archive was anything but easy, the process demanding intense personal responses while searching for new ways of looking at colonial visual archives. The series juxtaposes images from the L.A Waddell collection with other photographs, from my personal albums, my photo collective’s family photo archive as well as contemporary images. These are accompanied by textual narratives in the form of letters, emerging almost as a stream of consciousness. In the way the images are laid out and the letters are written, there was no blueprint, but they started emerging on their own as I “saw” each portrait—perhaps, my ancestors’ and my own lived experiences guiding me throughout. At times, the medium of exhibition does feel inappropriate. But the spirits and stories of the people in the portraits asked to come out now and in this way. I hope I have honoured them and continue to do so.”

Mridu Rai graduated with an MA in Material and Visual Culture from UCL in 2021 and is a member of the Confluence Collective, a collaborative space bringing together photographic practices and research from the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas as a way of understanding the Hills and its history beyond the homogenised, colonial discourses and foster a culture of knowledge production and sharing from the margins.

RAI Research Seminar and Book Launch: Recording Kastom: Alfred Haddon’s Journals

Recording Kastom brings readers into the heart of colonial Torres Strait and New Guinea with the personal journals of Cambridge zoologist and anthropologist Alfred Haddon. Haddon’s journals highlight his comprehensive vision of anthropology and preoccupation with documentation and reveal the central role played by named Islanders who worked with him to record their kastom. The work of Haddon and the members of the 1898 Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait was hugely influential on the nascent discipline of anthropology and remains of great interest to Islanders and scholars working in the region.

Join the authors and editors for a discussion of the content and process of publishing the Journals, involving collaboration with Islander communities and descendants of the people with whom Haddon worked. The session will also provide an opportunity to reassess the importance of Haddon’s work and consider the far-reaching value of anthropological archives today.

RAI Research Seminar: James Rose

Forensic Social Anthropology

If forensic physical anthropology is the science of biological processes with causal links to death, then forensic social anthropology is the science of cultural processes with causal links to death. This paper sets out the terms, definitions and practical applications of forensic social anthropology as it is practiced in Australia. The objective of this exercise is to equip both physical and social anthropologists with a consilient model for the joint engagement of their parent discipline in legal proceedings where cultural processes are deemed relevant by a court. As demonstrated in Australia, the potential applications of forensic social anthropology range beyond inquiries into death, to other matters of both civil and criminal investigation. These include systematic land expropriation, child removal, forced population movement, modern-day slavery, unlawful detention and other important social phenomena. The questionable legality of these kinds of phenomena is not isolated to Australia but is rather a matter of international significance.

Book Launch: The Anthroposcene of Weather and Climate

The Anthroposcence of Weather and Climate: Ethnographic contributions to the Climate Change Debate

Chair: Paul Sillitoe

Speakers: Mauro Van Aken, André Bailão, María Inés Carabajal, Geremia Cometti, Camelia Dewan, Francesca Marin, Herta Nöbauer, Dan Rosengren, Pasang Sherpa, Noak Walker-Crawford, Yunita Winarto

While it is widely acknowledged that climate change is among the greatest global challenges of our times, it has local implications too.  This volume forefronts these local issues, giving anthropology a voice in this great debate, which is otherwise dominated by natural scientists and policy makers.  It shows what an ethnographic focus can offer in furthering our understanding of the lived realities of climate debates. Contributors from communities around the world discuss local knowledge of, and responses to, environmental changes that need to feature in scientifically framed policies regarding mitigation and adaptation measures if they are to be effective.

The book is available here: https://www.berghahnbooks.com/title/SillitoeAnthroposcene

RAI 2021 Awards and Medals

Rivers Memorial Medal for 2021 – Prof Fiona Jordan
Lucy Mair Marsh Medal for 2021 – Prof Larry Zimmerman
Marsh Award for 2021 – John Lord
Public Anthropology Award for 2021 – Prof Thomas Hylland Eriksen
President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 2021 – Prof Ruth Tringham

Awarded by Baroness Sue Black (RAI President)

Making Deep History: Zeal, Perseverance, and the Time Revolution of 1859

Prof Clive Gamble (University of Southampton) with Prof Felix Driver (Royal Holloway) as discussant.

One afternoon in late April 1859, two geologically minded businessmen, John Evans and Joseph Prestwich, found and photographed the proof for great human antiquity. Their evidence — small, hand-held stone tools found in the gravel quarries of the Somme among the bones of ancient animals — shattered the timescale of Genesis and kicked open the door for a time revolution in human history. Professor Gamble will speak about this crucial year, and his new, highly readable new book, which charts each step from discovery to presentation, reception, consolidation, and widespread acceptance, and considers the impact of their work on the scientific advances of the next 160 years and on our fascination with the shaping power of time. Clive Gamble is Professor Emeritus at the University of Southampton. A former President of the RAI, he has won many awards and prizes for his work, and is currently President of the Prehistoric Society.

RAI Research Webinar: Anthropology and/of the Future

Anthropology and/of the future presented by the RAI’s Anthropology of Policy and Practice Committee, with speakers: Professor Kathleen Richardson, De Montfort University, author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines. Professor Rebecca Bryant, Utrecht University, co-author of The Anthropology of the Future. Stephen Oram, science fiction writer, author of Eating Robots, Biohacked and Begging and other works. Chaired by Ezri Carlebach, coordinator for Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies, RAI Anthropology of Policy and Practice Committee.

Proponents of future or anticipatory anthropologies on the one hand, and post- and trans-humanist anthropologies on the other, appear to offer contradictory views of the role of anthropological knowledge of, and in, the future. While the former tend to take a human-centric and ethics-based stance, the latter posit the inevitability of a future that is something other than human. Are these in effect mutually exclusive anthropologies? Does anthropology have a future in each of these potentially diverging futures? Should we be asking if ‘the future’ has a future?

Asia Collections outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities in the Museum

Asia Collections outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities in the Museum

With editors Dr Iside Carbone (RAI) and Dr Helen Wang (British Museum), chaired by Prof Elisabetta Colla (University of Lisbon), and special issue contributors: Dr Sofia Campos Lopes (Orient Museum, Lisbon), Prof Donatella Failla (University of Genoa), Dr Annette Loeseke (New York University, Berlin), Prof Florencia Rodríguez Giavarini (Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires), Dr Robin Ruizendaal (Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum, Taipei), Maria Sobotka (Freie Universität Berlin), Dr Maria Szymańska-Ilnata (Asia and Pacific Museum, Warsaw), Dr Karen Tam (artist and independent scholar, Montreal), and Dr Laura Vigo (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts).

Stemming from a lively and inspiring panel that took place during the RAI conference Art, Materiality and Representation (London, 2018), this open-access publication proposes an alternative approach to the conventional debate on the dispersal of Asian artworks and material culture in international collections. Whether in large scale comprehensive museums, or in smaller specialised museums, the challenges faced by these institutions in the display, definition and promotion of their Asia collections are broached over eleven articles. By presenting some thought-provoking case studies about Asia collections in museums around the world, this publication highlights the importance of this shared cultural heritage in unravelling and understanding often complex cultural histories and identities. It also intends to pave the way to further activities aimed at making more visible and accessible these often-underestimated resources through networking and collaboration among museums, cultural institutions and research organisations.

The publication: Iside Carbone and Helen Wang (eds.), “Asia Collections outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities in the Museum”, special issue in the section Transkulturelle Perspektiven of the e-journal Kunsttexte (Humboldt University, Berlin), 2020. http://www.kunsttexte.de/index.php?id=58

London Anthropology Day 2021 – Welcome and Introduction to Anthropology

Find out about how to get the most out of London Anthropology Day. Dr Nick Long (LSE) will then share his insights on why Anthropology is an intriguing and essential discipline for the 21st century, and there will be a discussion of the various areas of anthropology you can study from Dr Simon Underdown and Dr Liana Chua.

Book Launch: The Nuaulu world of plants & Nature Wars (Roy Ellen)

This event, hosted jointly by the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Centre for Biocultural Diversity at the University of Kent (on 28 January 2021), marked the publication of two complementary books by Prof Roy Ellen. The event was chaired by Dr Rajindra Puri (University of Kent) with introductory words by Prof Jeremy MacClancy (Oxford Brookes University).

??? ?????? ????? ?? ??????: ?????????????? ?????????, ????????? ??? ???????? ????? ? ?????? ?? ?????, ??????? ????????? (???? ????????/???) & ?????? ????: ?????? ?????? ? ????????? ??????? (????????)

The first, Nature Wars: Essays around a Contested Concept, published by Berghahn, brings together essays published over several decades. These exemplify the diverse ways in which the concept of nature has been used and contested: in natural science, in relation to indigenous knowledge, through environmentalism, and research into cultural cognition. It provides a distinctive addition to ongoing debates. There is an assumption among some anthropologists, sociologists of science and others, that the critique of the received notion of ‘nature’ has become universally accepted amongst right-thinking people. The weight of evidence – it is implied – has made the ‘post-nature’ position somehow inevitable, and opposition to it untenable. This book argues a compelling case for the defence. While nature is undeniably a socially-embedded construct in all its diverse manifestations, Ellen suggests that there is an underlying cognitive imperative in its favour. This imperative carries a moral and rhetorical force that means we are unlikely to see it disappear from the language of activists, scholars, scientists and ordinary folk any time soon. Nature Wars provides the broad theoretical background to the data analysed in the second volume, The Nuaulu World of Plants: Ethnobotanical Cognition, Knowledge and Practice Among a People of Seram, Eastern Indonesia. This monograph, published in the RAI Book Series by Sean Kingston, builds upon 50 years of anthropological and ethnobotanical fieldwork and enquiry into understanding the bases of human classificatory activity through the study of ethnobiological knowledge. It does so in the light of Nuaulu ethnography and in relation to comparative research. Comprehensive studies of local plant classification based on robust datasets are still rare. This book reviews the current consensus, particularly the relationship between so-called ‘natural’ classifications and utilitarian schemes. While Brent Berlin and Scott Atran have given us a powerful framework for studying ethnobiological knowledge systems, effectively giving rise to a ‘new normal’, this work addresses some of its problems. It emphasizes the difficulties of simple claims for universality versus relativity, cultural models versus individual contextual schemata, and of two-dimensional taxonomies. Recent work on ontologies and epistemologies, specifically that focussing upon ‘convergence metaphysics’, presents new challenges.

RAI Research Webinar: Trevor Marchand

The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work: craftwork in 21st century England
Prof Trevor Marchand (SOAS)
With an introduction by Professor Michael Herzfeld (Harvard), and comments on the development of the cover art by artist, writer and researcher Jenn Law.

Against the backdrop of an alienating, technologizing and ever-accelerating world of mass production, Marchand’s seminar presentation will tell an intimate story: one about a community of fine woodworkers training at an historic London institution during the present “renaissance of craftsmanship.” Animated accounts of learning, achievement and challenges reveal the deep human desire to create with our hands, the persistent longing to find meaningful work, and the struggle to realise dreams. In exploring the nature of embodied skill, Marchand’s studies with woodworkers promote greater appreciation for the dexterity, creativity and intelligence that lie at the heart of craftwork.

Trevor Marchand’s seminar is based on his forthcoming monograph, titled The Pursuit of Pleasurable Work: Craftwork in 21st Century England (2021, New York & Oxford: Berghahn)

RAI Webinar: Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez

Necro/Narco State Dynamics: The Transformation and Mirroring of the U.S and Mexican Nations of the Southwest North American Region.
Prof Carlos G. Vélez-Ibáñez (Arizona State University)

JRAI Special Issue Online Launch: Mind and Spirit: A Comparative Theory

With the special issue editor Professor Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford University) and editorial liaison Dr Nick Long (LSE) and contributors Dr Felicity Aulino, Dr Joshua Brahinsky, Dr John Dulin, Dr Vivian Afi Dzokoto, Dr Emily Ng, Dr Rachel E. Smith, Dr Kara Weisman

This JRAI Special Issue can be found online here.

RAI Film Webinar – Stephen Hughes

What can we learn from children about ethnographic filmmaking? David MacDougall, Indian children and documentary film.
Dr Stephen Hughes (RAI)

In this seminar, I will present material from the video making workshops that David MacDougall conducted with Indian children over a five-year period as part of his research project, “Childhood and Modernity: Indian Children’s Perspective”. For more than 50 years David MacDougall has been one of the leading and most prolific of ethnographic filmmakers and for the last 25 years, he has made an impressive series of films about Indian children in a wide variety of educational settings- notably at the Doon School and Rishi Valley School and street children (Gandhi’s Children).

In this context, the video workshops with Indian children represented an important shift in MacDougall’s filmmaking. He has been writing and experimenting with participatory and collaborative filmmaking styles since the 1970s, but empowering children to make their own films MacDougall provocatively flips the script. One might argue that this shift was, perhaps, in part a logical extension of what he has called an unprivileged camera style that de-emphasised his role as a filmmaker as the all-knowing agent with seamless control over the film’s content in relation to film subjects’ agency in the filmmaking encounter that is always characterized by the unknowable and uncontrollable circumstances of chance and coincidence. In this way, these films ask us to take children seriously as filmmakers and force us to consider what we can learn from the ideas and perspectives of Indian children through research conducted by the children themselves about their social worlds.

‘An Affair with a Village’ Webinar + Q&A – Professor Joy Hendry (Oxford Brookes)

This event was held in May 2020 and focused on the research of anthropologist Joy Hendry in Japan and the resulting documentary ‘Understanding Japanese Culture – 45 years researching a village in rural Japan’ (length 45′), which can be watched for free, here.

Joy Hendry has also in the meantime written a book about the village and her research. A little introduction to it can be found here. The publishers page for the book is here.

19 March 2019 Prof David Parkin’s RAI President’s Lifetime Achievement Award

Reflections on experiencing sixty years of anthropology: 1959-2019

The presentation of the inaugural RAI President’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Prof David Parkin. The RAI President’s Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a person who, in the opinion of the judges, has made a fundamental, sustained and outstanding contribution to the discipline of anthropology over the course of their career. The award may be given to a person of any nationality, and there is no restriction on which sub-branch of anthropology from which the winner may be drawn.

“Happily exposed to anthropology from undergraduate in 1959 at SOAS and the LSE to current Oxford retirement musings, I comment on what I see as developments in and around the subject as witnessed in the course of teaching, research, writing and administration. The aim is not history but rather the tracing of personal perspectives.” – Prof David Parkin

The sildes of Prof Parkin’s talk can be seen here and his text can be found here.

The slides of Prof Elisabeth Hsu’s tribute can be viewed here.

The recording of Dr Alex Pillen’s tribute is available here.

Prof David Parkin’s lecture is available here.

2018 Closing Plenary at the Art, Materiality and Representation Conference

Chair: Paul Basu

Art, Ethnology and Indigeneity
Gerald McMaster (Professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Graduate Studies, OCAD University)

The definition of Indigenous contemporary art has evolved significantly over the past 20 years, with more artists of Indigenous ancestry gaining recognition in both public exhibitions and academic studies. The year 2017, in fact, marked a significant milestone for global Indigenous artists when many were featured at both the Venice Biennale and Documenta 14.
My presentation will take as its focus a new kind of Indigenous contemporary artist: someone whose work and practice are as comfortable in an art gallery or ethnographic museum as they are at home in an Indigenous community. Two of the main concepts I will examine are ritual and display. In this regard, I am intrigued by artists who express their indigeneity and artistic agency through the mindful production and presentation of objects and images that possess inherent ritual value. Similarly, many Indigenous artists are affirming the value of traditional knowledge sources and ways of knowing that have been passed down from generation to generation by calling upon them in their own visual and material expressions. I also intend to address the topics of settlement and migration in the context of how Indigenous artists are addressing the shared experiences of colonization and displacement, as well as relationships to place that may be transient and evolving. In my talk I will also touch on self-decolonization as it is expressed through interculturality (the exchange of ideas and forms between Indigenous peoples and settler cultures) and the healing of Indigenous communities. Related to this topic, I will conclude with thoughts on collaboration as a way for artists (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) to work together in order to reverse the colonial gaze.

This lecture is available here.

2018 Plenary at the Art, Materiality and Representation Conference

Knowing and speaking about objects: reflections for a new research grant programme
Chair: Lissant Bolton (Keeper of Africa Oceania and the Americas, British Museum, and Director, Endangered Material Knowledge Programme)

In June this year a new grant programme will be launched at the British Museum. It has been established to fund the ethnographic documentation of knowledge associated with objects and the built environment, with a regional focus on the global south, the documentation to be made available through an open access digital repository. The programme, the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP), is a parallel programme to the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme hosted at SOAS, and both are supported by the Arcadia Fund. In the light of this programme, this plenary considers the relationship between what people know, and what people say about objects. Three speakers will take different perspectives on this topic, reflecting on issues and opportunities raised by the programme.

Pierre Lemmonier (Directeur de Recherche Émérite CNRS, CREDO – Aix-Marseille Université)
Mandana Seyfeddinipur (Endangered Languages Documentation Programme Director, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, SOAS)
Joshua Bell (Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution)

This lecture is available here.

2018 Keynote at the Art, Materiality and Representation Conference

Art and Anthropology for a Sustainable World
Tim Ingold (Chair in Social Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen)

Chair: Deborah Swallow (Courtauld Institute of Art)

Traditionally, the disciplines of anthropology and art have faced in opposite directions: the former dedicated to understanding forms of life as we find them; the latter to the creation of forms never before encountered. This talk is founded on the premise that the traditional opposition is untenable. Not only would the work of art carry no force unless grounded in a profound understanding of the lived world; but anthropological accounts of the manifold ways along which life is lived would also be of no avail unless brought to bear on speculative inquiries into what the possibilities for human life might be. Thus art and anthropology have in common that they observe, describe and create. Their orientations are as much towards human futures as towards human pasts: these are futures, however, that are not conjured from thin air but forged in the crucible of contemporary social lives. Their aim is to join with these lives in the common task of fashioning a sustainable world – one that is fit for coming generations to inhabit. By sustainability is not meant the maintenance of human environmental relations in a steady state, but rather the possibility for life to carry on. In such a world, the fashioning of things must also be their unfinishing, so as to allow every generation to begin afresh. With examples drawn from studies of landscape, craft, building and the performing arts, the implications of this view for the principles and practice of artistic and anthropological research will be discussed.

This lecture is available here.

2018 Opening Plenary at the Art, Materiality and Representation Conference

Chair: André Singer
Welcome: David Shankland, Director of the RAI
Welcome from the RAI: André Singer, President of the RAI
Welcome from SOAS: Baroness Valerie Amos CH, Director of SOAS
Welcome from the British Museum: Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum

The Point is Moot: Disciplinary Debates in an Age of Decolonization
Ruth Phillips, (Professor of Art History, Carleton University)
Art and materiality have traditionally been the separate provinces of art history and anthropology, two disciplines that share a long history of mutuality and difference. Like sparring spouses they are unable to live either with or without each other, and their differences have proved resistant to reconciliation through interdisciplinarity projects such as visual studies and visual anthropology. Art historians continue to privilege aesthetic quality, and anthropologists their concern with social reproduction. Yet, I argue here, despite the liveliness of such debates the point must be considered moot– “open to argument, debatable; uncertain, doubtful; unable to be firmly resolved,” as the dictionary puts it. From my vantage point in Canada, a settler society currently directing unprecedented energies to institutional projects of decolonization, a third term, Indigenous knowledge, is displacing disciplinary differences. Not definable as a discipline, this emerging formation exerts pressure on Western knowledge formations through a distinctive set of positionalities. Holistic rather than interdisciplinary, collectivist rather than individualist, oriented by place and land and by relational rather than linear time, Indigenous knowledge practitioners counter key liberal strategies of inclusion and the ontological turn, seeking to transform Western institutions under the banner of decolonization. To illustrate contemporary tensions, their difficulties and their productive potentials, I examine Anishinaabe: Art and Power, a recent exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum conceptualized by two Anishinaabe curators. I ask how it both integrated and resisted disciplinary knowledges and whether its indigenized approach to representation moves toward a genuine paradigm shift.

This lecture is available here.

2017 Mary Douglas Lecture by Prof Pat Caplan

Gifts, entitlements, benefits and surplus: interrogating food poverty and food aid in the UK

Prof Pat Caplan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London

What constitutes the good society? Is it one in which the state takes primary responsibility for the welfare of its citizens, or one in which the duty of care is handed over largely to the private and/or third or voluntary sectors? How can anthropologists contribute to the debates surrounding such questions? In this lecture I will examine the case of food poverty in the UK and the solutions presently on offer. As Douglas noted, food is never just feed, and in order to comprehend some aspects of the contemporary situation we must attempt to grasp how a range of institutions such as food banks, the food industry and the state ‘think’ about food poverty, what they do about it and why, and how these actors are inter-related.

This lecture is available here.

2016 Keynote at the Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change Conference

The Cultural Functions of Climate

Mike Hulme (Professor of Climate and Culture, Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy, King’s College London)

The idea of climate should be understood as performing important psychological and cultural functions. Climate offers a way of navigating between the human experience of a constantly changing atmosphere and its attendant insecurities, and the need to live with a sense of stability and regularity. This is what Nico Stehr refers to as ‘trust in climate’. People look to the idea of climate to offer an ordered container-a sensory, imaginative, linguistic or numerical repertoire-through which to tame and interpret the unsettling arbitrariness of the restless weather. This container creates Lorraine Daston’s ‘well-ordered foundations without which the world of causes and promises falls apart’. Climate may be defined according to the aggregated statistics of weather in places or as a scientific description of an interacting physical system. Climate may also be apprehended more intuitively, as a tacit idea held in the human mind or in social memory of what the weather of a place ‘should be’ at a certain time of year. But however defined, formally or tacitly, it is the human sense of climate that establishes certain expectations about the atmosphere’s performance. The idea of climate cultivates the possibility of a stable psychological life and of meaningful human action in the world. Put simply, climate allows humans to live culturally with their weather. In this talk I will offer evidence for this argument, drawing upon anthropological, historical and geographical work from around the world. I will also reflect briefly on what the unsettling phenomenon and discourse of climate-change means for the future cultural value of the idea of climate.

This lecture is available here.

2016 AAA Plenary at the Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change Conference

Next Steps beyond ‘Changing the Atmosphere’: Strategies for Action on the AAA Statement on Humanity and Climate Change

Convenors: Sarah Strauss (University of Wyoming); Edward Liebow (American Anthropological Association)
In this roundtable, members of the AAA Task Force on Global Climate Change, with a range of interlocutors from inside and outside the academy, discuss strategies for using anthropological research to mitigate the impacts of climate change at scales from local to global, through policy and practice.

Anthropologists Take On Climate Change
Shirley Fiske (Research Professor, U. Maryland; Chair, AAA Task Force on Global Climate Change)
This presentation will introduce the work of the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Task Force on Global Climate Change, resulting in a final report and Statement on Humanity and Climate Change. It is clear that the Kyoto Protocol, continuing through COP-21, has led us down a road that focuses increasingly on mitigation of carbon and GHGs, intensifying the role of carbon trading and carbon markets in an apparently futile effort to stem the growth of GHGs. We suggest instead a ‘bottoms up’ approach that allows us to focus on the foundational assumptions of climate change governance (e.g. adaptation and carbon offsets), the complexity of engagement and agency, and the drivers and effects on the most vulnerable pastoralists, indigenous and forest dwelling “producers” of carbon. All of these challenges must be met to advance on avenues forward.

Driving Change: Culture, Consumption, and Equity
Sarah Strauss, Professor, U. Wyoming (with Richard Wilk, Distinguished Professor, Indiana U.)
Human consumption and accumulation of goods and services is a fundamental cause of GHG emissions; historical increases in efficiency and productivity have not kept up with increasing living standards. Inequality has proven to be one of the basic drivers of consumer culture, as well as of energy use for less tangible purposes, ensuring that demand always outstrips supply. Anthropology’s holistic and systems-based approach compares different cultural/economic systems over thousands of years, projecting the trajectories necessary for a transition to a post consumer culture where demand and supply are balanced.

Future Solutions from the Past
Robert L. Kelly, Professor, U. Wyoming (with Lisa Lucero, Professor, U. Illinois; President-Elect, AAA- Archaeology Division, and Carole Crumley Research Director, IHOPE; Visiting Professor, Uppsala U; Professor Emerita, U North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
The intersection between archaeology and climate change provides two roads for action. First, through increased rates of site destruction, climate change will lessen our ability to use archaeological and paleoecological data to contribute to solutions to the effects of climate change on modern human populations. Second, prehistory is a long-term record of human trial-and-error that helps formulate responses to the anticipated effects of climate change. We briefly review efforts needed to meet the first challenge, and lessons learned from the second.

Adaptation for whom and to what?
Heather Lazrus (Research Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research)
(with Anthony Oliver-Smith (Professor Emeritus, U. Florida)
Existing top-down adaptation programs do not treat the social and economic variables that underpin vulnerability to climate change—poverty, marginalization, lack of education and information, and loss of control over resources. Unless these factors are taken into consideration, efforts to build resilience and decrease vulnerability globally are likely to fall short. Anthropologists examine the uneven landscape of adaptation planning, identifying who is affected, in what ways, and towards what outcomes; and also suggest possible solutions based on community-centered approaches.

Community Agency and Climate Justice: Place-Based and Path-Dependent
Susie Crate, Associate Professor, George Mason U (with Shirley Fiske)
Although climate change is a global problem, its effects are place-based and path-dependent and so requires local and regional solutions. The task force called for greater attention to the unequal impacts of climate change distributed across the communities of the world; and recognized the need to re-focus on local and regional agency and solutions in dealing with climate change and environmental degradation. To these ends, this commentary overviews community-centered approaches and the critical role that anthropology can/ does play.

Steve Rayner, James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization and Director of the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, Oxford University.

Frontiers/Next Steps
Ed Liebow, Executive Director, American Anthropological Association
Having commissioned the Task Force, what is the proper role for scholarly and professional groups like AAA in implementing its actionable recommendations? This brief commentary highlights the available tools and resources required of an Association of anthropologists, targeting relevant mitigation, adaptation, and points of attack for reducing the social determinants of vulnerability.

This lecture is available here.

2016 Closing Plenary at the Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change Conference

Pacific Anthropology and Engagements at the Frontline of Climate Change

Convenor: Edvard Hviding (University of Bergen)
Chair: Paul Sillitoe

The small island states of the tropical Pacific are often mentioned as the part of the word that contributes the least to global warming, but that is set to suffer the most from its effects. Throughout the islands of Oceania, rising sea levels caused mainly by anthropogenic climate change threaten not only coastlines, villages and towns, but even the sovereign land of entire nations. Moana Nui, the Great Ocean that has for thousands of years supported human existence and mobility throughout the island world of the Pacific, is now turning its might against the island peoples, becoming a destructive force that in due course will make it impossible to live on coral atolls where the highest terrain is less than a couple of metres above sea level. In the larger and higher islands of the Pacific, coastal zones and agricultural land are engulfed and eroded by rising seas, while coral reefs are threatened by the warming and acidification of the ocean. The future is bleak, and a multitude of human crises seem bound to develop when the foundations for food production, human settlement, social life and even national sovereignty gradually disappear, leaving migration and relocation as possibly the only long-term outcomes. For those Pacific Islanders hardest hit by the already present effects of climate change, the future is today.

The Pacific Islands region is of course also a classic and enduring locality for ethnographic fieldwork and for the long-term growth of anthropology, and the discipline holds a wealth of detailed information about past and present human life across Oceania. Through a series of contributions from the EU-funded project ECOPAS (European Consortium for Pacific Studies), in which European and Pacific institutions of research and higher learning collaborate, this plenary session exemplifies and discusses how long-term research in Pacific anthropology and in the multidisciplinary field of Pacific studies is involved in the politics of climate change on local, regional and global scales. The session also connects anthropology, Pacific studies and art by following up the screening earlier in the day of Moana Rua: the Rising of the Sea, the film version of an ECOPAS-produced live stage drama written, produced and performed by Pacific Islanders, in which the islanders take ownership of the climate change debate, and assume the role of ‘climate change warriors’ whose artistic expressions mediate their own perspectives on what is happening. Some proposals for deepened European-Pacific collaboration in scholarship and art are presented for the challenges posed by our era of accelerating climate change, and some comparison is made with the anthropology of other regions.

Camilla Borrevik (PhD candidate, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen)
Tony Crook (Director of the Centre for Pacific Studies, University of St. Andrews)
Vilsoni Hereniko (Academy for Creative Media, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa)
Edvard Hviding (Director of Pacific Research, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen)
Astrid Bredholt Stensrud (Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo)

To see a clip from Moana Rua: The Rising of the Sea please click here and use the password Tausie.

This lecture is available here.