Category: Uncategorized

Feng Ye @ USL

“Making a Free Speech Crisis and Legitimating White Supremacy: A Case Study of the University of Chicago”

Feng Ye | PhD Student, Anthropology

Discussant: Molly Cunningham | Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021 4:30-6pm CT

Haskell Hall 101

*Hybrid Event: for zoom info and paper email

Paper Abstract: In recent years, “free speech” has re-emerged as a battleground for the new “culture wars” at public as well as private American colleges. In response to “offenses” to “free speech” such as disruptions or disinvitations of conservative speakers, “speech codes” that prohibit “hate speech,” and “safe spaces” that protect historically marginalized groups (American Association of University Professors 2018), numerous colleges have declared a commitment to an ideal of “campus free speech” analogized from 20th century interpretations of the First Amendment. Focusing on the case of the University of Chicago, whose “Chicago Principles” declare that the University will not restrict or prohibit any debate simply because the ideas presented therein are thought to be offensive or wrong-headed, this essay examines the University of Chicago’s official discourse and policies as a case study, and follows some of the broader connections around First Amendment “free speech” that the case of the University of Chicago is embedded in. In other words, I want to think about “campus free speech” as a node in the larger conceptual and material network formed around “free speech.” I try to show that “free speech” has become a justification for the tolerance and promotion of white supremacist rhetoric and a vehicle for political inaction that preserves existing institutions against structural change. I also propose that there is a particular obsession over “free speech” in the US that speaks to broader understandings of what constitutes political participation, who is capable of such participation, and how ideals of transparent political participation share a (perhaps counter-intuitive) intimacy with forms of secrecy such that these polar opposites perpetuate each other.

* This convening is open to all invitees regardless of vaccination status and, because of ongoing health risks to the unvaccinated, those who are unvaccinated are expected to adopt the risk mitigation measures advised by public health officials (masking and social distancing, etc.). Public convening may not be safe for all and carries a risk for contracting COVID-19, particularly for those unvaccinated. Participants will not know the vaccination status of others, including venue staff, and should follow appropriate risk mitigation measures.

Jade Wong @USL *Special Time*

“Risk. And the Moral Necessity of Maintaining Standards”

Jade Wong | Phd Candidate, Crown  Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Discussant: Megan MacGregor | PhD Student, Anthropology and CHSS

*Friday, May 14th, 2:00-3:20pm*

 for zoom information and paper email

Paper Abstract: In this chapter, I elaborate on one task that standards are lauded to accomplish in America’s health care system — the minimization of risk in the name of patient safety. I will argue that standards do not simply mitigate risk in American health care organizations; they also create risk. Professionals are trained to look for, see, and orient themselves to risk as the ever-present, existential condition in a complex health care system that holds the potential to lead to patient harm, morally binding them to anticipatory action before those risks come to be. In many cases, risk emerges the moment the professional spots deviations from standards, often mediated by documents such as checklists and logs, which then gets carried by a safety discourse and system that gives even the smallest of difference the meaning of risk which can subsequently escalate to disaster. Meanwhile, the same standard employed to minimize risk ends up serving other ends. It can protect professional projects and power while transforming itself into a key tool through which the safe, as well as the efficient, accountable, and even moral organization is pursued. To develop these arguments, we will enter a presentation to appreciate a stylized way of viewing the relationship between risk and standards, then go on a walk to explicate a specific professional vision that identifies and searches for risk.

Solidarity & Betrayal: An Ethnographic Writing Workshop


Solidarity & Betrayal: A practice-based workshop on ethnographic writing 

Hosted by Hannah Burnett | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Friday, April 30th, 12:00-1:20pm
Pre-registration by April 23 required. See details below.

Workshop description: How do we navigate fieldwork relationships throughout the writing process? What choices do we make about representing these relationships, critiquing them, or reproducing harm? What effect do these choices have on our interlocutors and our audiences? This session grapples with the difficulties that come up when writing about people, places, and institutions with whom we feel in solidarity or in political contradiction. Examples might include: publishing an analysis of environmental racism carried out through projects in which the researcher was embedded; reproducing an interaction among relatives that could reveal a family secret to someone never meant to know; reporting racist/sexist/xenophobic/transphobic dialogue spoken by someone you developed a close field relationship with; analyzing the racist structures reproduced by staff at a seemingly progressive public school that supported your research (Shange 2019); repeating particular and/or violent language used to describe historical events and places; confronting the ways your work has been mobilized towards ends you dis/agree with.

In order to join, participants must register in advance by emailing organizers with a ~500 word piece of writing they would like to workshop. This can be a piece of framing writing, an ethnographic vignette, or even reported speech. During the meeting, we will do some formal experimentation, editing, reflecting, and writing in real time together. Please include a cover page on your writing that includes your name/pronouns, department, and one sentence identifying the difficulty at the root of the piece (your conundrum, ethical question, insecurity, etc).

Drafts should be sent to by 9am on Friday, April 23. Participants will be contacted by Monday, April 26 with zoom information and readings

Savannah Shange @US Locations & the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture

“Antiracists Gone Wild: Allyship, Antiblackness & the Afterlives of Ethnography” 

Savannah Shange | Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of California Santa Cruz, principal faculty in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

– no pre-circulated paper –

Friday, April 23th, 12:00-1:20pm

register here

 Even when our ethnographic work is explicitly aligned with projects of justice and liberation, our texts can develop lives of their own—appropriated for ends we cannot predict. Taking up Fassin’s (2015) call to attend to the “public afterlife of ethnography,” this talk engages the various ways Professor Shange’s recent book Progressive Dystopiahas has been taken up by research participants before and after its publication. Given both the disappointing and edifying ways the research has been used, Professor Shange underscores the limits of ethnography as a form and speak to the possibility of abolition as a practical stance of engaging in quotidian worlds

Molly Cunningham @ US Locations

“Character Witnesses for the New Detroit: The Confident Restructurer and the Re-Education of the White Market”

Molly Cunningham | Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences

Discussant: Kaya Williams | Post-Doctoral College Fellow, Harvard University

Friday, April 9th, 12:00-1:20pm

 for zoom information and paper email

Paper Abstract: This paper illustrates logics of financial crisis through ethnographic engagement with one of the architects of the takeover of the City of Detroit by a state-appointed emergency manager and subsequent execution of a municipal bankruptcy that stripped retired city workers of healthcare benefits and reduced their pensions while settling predatory loans made to the City during the subprime bubble. In other words, it examines the process that both rewrote and rebranded the city’s story to credit markets to which it must turn to fund vital infrastructures when neither state nor federal government would suffer the political fallout of a bailout of the majority-Black city’s financial crisis. This crisis reflects not only structural disinvestment that has been politically contested in the region over decades (and highly sensationalized in the last) but also the precipitous fallout of the subprime crash (that would go quiet on the record without activist intervention). This particular episode in the court hearings (or, trial, as translated to the public by the media) stars a “world class” expert in the restructuring of distressed entities such as the city. Spoiler alert: confidence is key!

Damien Bright @ US Locations

“Reef Inc. :  Dying Ecology and the Lure of Scientific Environments”

Damien Bright | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Discussant: Kat Myers | PhD Student, Divinity School

Friday, March 12th, 12:00-1:20pm

 for zoom password and paper email

Paper Abstract: This chapter queries the proliferation of “environmental interventions” across Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, to alter manifold aspects of, as the expression goes, “the world’s largest living ecosystem.” In this text, the first half of the chapter, I examine how one intervention came to be: a robot designed to seek out, identify, and eliminate crown-of-thorns starfish. I show that intervention has an explanatory function in making new dimensions of global heating sensible if not alterable. This process bestows a research function on practices conventionally subordinate to the sciences of marine life and, at the same time, unsettles the idea of an environment in need of intervention in the first place. The second half of the chapter tracks the uptake of intervention by coral reef managers, who seek to make a general theory of intervention in order to direct and organize what coral reefs are to science and society in a world of radical unknowability..

Hannah Eisler Burnett @ US Locations

“Biomineralization & Maintaining the Oyster Reefs of Southeast Louisiana ”

Hannah Eisler Burnett | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Discussant: J.T. Roane | Assistant Professor, Arizona State University

Friday, February 26th, 12:00-1:20pm

 for zoom password and paper email

Paper Abstract: This chapter draft introduces the oyster reef as an analytic through which to understand how material changes in the landscape of coastal Louisiana manifest in relation to racialized systems of power and value. I provisionally call this process “biomineralization,” after the technical term for the formation of a bivalve’s shell. The physical contours of an oyster reef are co-created by fishermen, whose practices of maintenance and intervention are shaped by social hierarchies and exclusionary attitudes and regulations. At the same time, oyster reefs afford grounds for solidarity and the endurance of social worlds. The excerpt I will share at US Locations considers two particular practices/forms: spreading cultch (the material on which young oysters attach) and dredging oysters (a method of harvest that is often mechanized).

LaShaya Howie @ US Locations

“The Body Is The Bride ”

LaShaya Howie | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Discussant: Angel Boulware | PhD Student, Comparative Human Development

Friday, February 12th, 12:00-1:20pm

 for zoom password and paper email

Paper Abstract: This dissertation chapter explores the dead body in contemporary American funeral service. I argue that the body is a defining feature of Black funeral practices with particular emphasis on its visual presentation. With ethnographic attention to the processes and discourses surrounding the preparation and presentation of the body for services and disposition, I theorize the corpse as an object-subject and a medium onto which aesthetics and ethics of authenticity, propriety, and restoration are projected. The chapter ends with the proliferation of cremation in the US, which has unsettled the body’s status. Funeral professionals understand this shift to be representative of a more widespread abandoning of long-standing funeral traditions, with arguably, deeper social and spiritual ramifications.

Eric Triantafillou @ US Locations

“Col/labor/ation: The Politics of Working Together”

Eric Triantafillou | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Discussant: Damien Bright | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Friday, January 29th, 12:00-1:20pm

 for zoom password and paper email

Paper Abstract: In the past few decades collaborative ideals and practices have become the norm across a variety of domains—from data sharing, crowd-sourcing and scientific laboratories to universities, community spaces, and social movements. Collaboration is simultaneously hailed as capitalism’s savior and its grim reaper. As part of ongoing efforts to decolonize the discipline, anthropologists are increasingly scrutinizing the ethico-political nature of the collaborative relationship at the heart of the ethnographic encounter. Whose collaboration? By and for whom, or what? As a way of undermining the discipline’s historical complicity with power-knowledge, ethnographic collaboration—co-designing, co-researching, co-interpreting, and co-authoring—attempts to shift the purposes of ethnography from description and analysis to collaborators’ modes of knowing, allowing their ingenuity and insights to recast the imperatives of anthropology’s methodological practices. Through an account of the co-laboring practices at my primary field site, a horizontally structured all-volunteer activist archive and social movement culture space in Brooklyn, NY, this paper will consider how the labor at the center of collaboration functions as an historically specific socially mediating activity that cannot be understood with reference to anthropological conceptions of “working together” as such. At the same time ethnographic collaboration, as both a method and a problem, sheds light on the discipline’s ongoing epistemological crisis, how might it reproduce the very capitalist structures/logics it seeks to overcome?

Ashley Drake @ US Locations

“Emotions Run Up and Down the Leash”: Cultivated Affection and Dog-Handler Teams in the United States Military 

Ashley Drake | Teaching Fellow, Comparative Human Development

Discussant: JM Henderson | PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Friday, January 15th, 12:00-1:20pm

 for zoom password and paper email

Paper Abstract: In this article, I explore how one of the most valued forms of explosives detection technology, the military working dog team, is founded upon the cultivation of a strong affective bond between dog and handler. Based on twelve months of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, I examine the range of practices that go into fostering an ideal dog-handler relationship, from building rapport and enacting general care to controlling emotions and deciphering cues. In order to better understand the motivation for these practices, I suggest that we analyze the dog-handler bond through the framework of transduction (Helmreich 2007, 2015). In doing so, I show that handlers learn to relate to their dogs by attending to, converting, and comprehending the transmission of information across the team rather than by interpreting the dog’s perspective through the lens of human models of perception, relation, or emotion.