NYAS @ WGF Returns! Fall 2017/Spring 2018 Monday Evening Lecture Series: “Angers, Aggressions, and Aspirations: Anthropologists Speak Out About Repression, Democracy, and Empowerment”

The current political tide around the world including in the US has been one of populist angers. The dispossessed, those whose lives have been made increasingly precarious have been mobilized to voice their anger and distrust of government in ways that are often racist, anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-gay. At the same time, new movements for social justice and equality are arising. What can anthropologists, who speak to the nature and scope of the human experience across time and space, contribute to understanding the current moment?  What do archaeology and physical anthropology tell us about human relationships that foster empowerment and disempowerment? How can we build on anthropological understanding of the human past, human evolution, language and meaning, and social and cultural relationships to forge democratic social systems that combat all forms of oppression? What would democracy mean in this context?

Time of Lectures: Buffet dinner at 5:45 PM. ($20 contribution for dinner guests/free for students).

Lectures begin at 6:30 PM and are free and open to the public.

Place: Wenner-Gren Foundation offices

470 Park Avenue South, 8th Floor

New York, NY 10016

Preregistration through the New York Academy of Sciences at customerservice@nyas.org or by phone (212-298-8640 or 212-298-8600) is strongly recommended since seating is limited.




September 25, 2017

Ilana Feldman

Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs  

George Washington University

“The Refugee as a Political Figure for our Time”

Recent years have been marked by both tremendous population movement and incredible anxiety in refugee receiving countries and in relatively non-receiving countries.  The moment seems apt to reconsider the refugee as a political figure, following a line of discussion first opened by a previous generations of scholars who examined earlier periods of large-scale human displacement and dislocation.  In 1943 Hannah Arendt published an essay entitled “We Refugees,” a reflection on the position shared by herself and other Jewish exiles from Europe as they lived with displacement. In 1995 Giorgio Agamben published a short piece with the same title, commenting both on Arendt’s earlier piece and on the configurations of borders, movement, and population control that were defining the post-cold war European landscape.  What does the current refugee “crisis” tell us about politics in the twenty-first century? Drawing from the Palestinian refugee experience, this paper explores the refugee as an enduring figure, one central to the existing, and persisting, political order. It also considers refugees as political actors, who struggle within and against this political order to create livable lives.

Ilana Feldman is a Professor of Anthropology at George Washington University. Her research has focused on the Palestinian experience, both inside and outside of historic Palestine, examining practices of government, humanitarianism, policing, displacement, and citizenship. She has received funding from: the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); the 2017-18 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS); Institute for Advanced Study, Friends of the Institute Member, School of Social Science; National Science Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Her books include Police Encounters: Security and Surveillance in Gaza under Egyptian Rule (Stanford University Press, 2015); In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care (Duke University Press, 2010) and Governing Gaza (Duke University Press, 2008).

Discussant: Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology, New School for Social Research 


October 23, 2017

Mary Bucholtz

Professor, Department of Linguistics

University of California, Santa Barbara

“Getting Talked into (and out of) Whiteness”

It has long been recognized by social scientists that race is a socially, culturally, and politically constructed system for producing and reproducing inequality (Goodman, Moses, & Jones 2012; Harrison 1995; Omi & Winant 1994). Crucially, the racial system is sustained in large part through language (Bonilla-Silva 2003; Domingúez 1986; Hill 2008; Rosa forthcoming) by creating marked social categories that can then be targeted for material and ideological control. At the center of the process of racialization is whiteness, which constitutes the foundation of the entire racial system precisely because it is the often invisible and unmarked hegemonic norm as well as the apex of the racial hierarchy (Harris 1995; Lipsitz 1998; Twine & Gallagher 2008). In recent decades the growing political power of racialized groups has unsettled the hegemonic position of whiteness, leading to the linguistic repositioning of whiteness—as visible and vulnerable rather than unmarked and dominant—as a strategy for maintaining racial privilege (Bucholtz 2011).

This presentation examines the linguistic strategies that uphold whiteness as the linchpin of the racial system as well as the counterstrategies that work to undo this system of power. The analysis considers two forms of racializing language: talk about race, or racially referential language, and talk that enacts race, or racially indexical language. Focusing on the uneasy racial positioning of white youth in California both in the 1990s and in the present day, I argue that a political critique of the language of whiteness must be at the center of any effort to challenge white supremacy.

Mary Bucholtz is a Professor of sociocultural linguistics, who has worked on whiteness, youth and language. She is integrating high school student, undergrad, and grad students to work together researching languages and linguistic change in California. Her research focuses primarily on how social identities and cultural practices are brought into being through linguistic interaction, investigating this question in relation to race, gender, and youth  Her publications include: White Kids: Language, Race, and Styles of Youth Identity, Cambridge University Press, (2011); Language and Woman’s Place: Text and Commentaries,( original text by Robin Tolmach Lakoff, edited by Mary Bucholtz, revised and expanded edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse, Oxford University Press, (1999 with A. C. Liang and Laurel Sutton);  Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self, Routledge (1995 with Kira Hall) and  “Discourses of Whiteness,” special issue of Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 11(1), 2001 (with Sara Trechter). Her current research seeks to explore the diverse forms of language and culture within California.

Discussant: Angela Reyes, Professor and Deputy Chair, English Department, Hunter College, CUNY and member of doctoral faculty in Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center


Nov 13, 2017

Agustin Fuentes

Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology

University of Notre Dame

“Are racism, violence, and inequality part of “human nature”? Why understanding human evolution matters.”

Many popular accounts of human evolution do a great job of conveying interpretations and perspectives which are entertaining, but often wrong. Such accounts offer incomplete, and at times toxic, portrayals of human biology and evolution that can be used to promulgate and perpetuate racist, misogynistic, and ill-informed views of “human nature.” We are left with perceptions and policies of what is “natural” in contemporary society that damage our capacity to challenge inequity, discrimination, and bias.

Human evolution is ongoing and human populations continue to grow in size and complexity. Getting a handle on “the human” in the Anthropocene is no easy matter and getting the science of human evolution right is important. It turns out that meaning, imagination, and hope are as central to the human story as are bones, genes, and ecologies. Neither selfish aggression nor peaceful altruism dominates human behavior as a whole. We are a species distinguished by our extraordinary capacity for creative cooperation, our simultaneously extreme biological diversity and homogeneity, and our ability to imagine possibilities and to make them material reality.

In the 21st century significant shifts in our understanding of evolutionary biology and theory and of genetics, plus radical expansions in the archaeological and fossil records, have led to increasing collaboration across multiple fields of inquiry. Collaboration and expansion of knowledge are altering our capacities to investigate and to understand our history and our future(s). This lecture offers a glimpse, via specific examples, of our past and present to illustrate why, and how, the science of human evolution—far from being dead or outdated–is relevant today.

Agustín Fuentes is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His current foci include cooperation and bonding in human evolution, ethnoprimatology and multispecies anthropology, evolutionary theory, and public perceptions of, and interdisciplinary approaches to, human nature(s). Fuentes examines human evolution from several perspectives, and his research sheds light on some of the most common misconceptions about human nature, specifically in the areas of race, sex and aggression.  He has authored multiple books, including, The Creative Spark (2017), Race, Monogamy and Other Lies They Told You: Busting myths about human behavior (2012), Evolution of Human Behavior (2008), Health, Risk and Adversity (2008), Core Concepts in Biological Anthropology (2006) and has  co-authored and coedited several others.  His articles have been published in notable journals, including, American Journal of Primatology, American Anthropologist, and Theology and Science.

Discussant: Susan Antón, Professor, Department of Anthropology, New York University




January 29, 2018

Patricia Wright

Distinguished Professor, Department of Anthropology

SUNY Stony Brook and founder of environmental organization Centre Val Bio

“Will humans survive our assault on the Earth?”  A  Message from Madagascar

Anthropologists are well aware that there are wars in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, areas where humans have existed the longest. But rarely do we suggest that the roots of these conflicts are competition for natural resources, ie, fighting for access to farming and grazing land and access to water. Madagascar has been populated by humans for only a few thousand years, yet a shocking portion of its natural resources has been destroyed. Today it is the 6th poorest country on Earth. This grinding human poverty, where 70% of the population is malnourished, is partially caused by destruction of natural resources by fires since human arrival. I will discuss the current political and economic situation in Madagascar and offer two possible predictions for Madagascar of the future. These predictions could apply globally.

Patricia Wright is a primatologist, anthropologist, and conservationist. Wright is best known for her extensive study of social and family interactions of wild lemurs in Madagascar. She established the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments at Stony Brook University. She worked extensively on conservation and contributed to the establishment of the Ranomafana National Park in Madagascar.  She was the first woman to receive the Indianapolis Prize for Animal Conservation in 2014, as well as receiving three medals of honor from the Malagasy Government (Knight, Officer, Commander) for her work in Madagascar. Professor Wright has honorary degrees from the University of Antananarivo and the University of Fianarantsoa.  Her recent books include, For the Love of Lemurs: My Life in the Wilds of Madagascar (2014) and High Moon Over the Amazon: My Quest to Understand the Monkeys of the Night (2013). Her research has been highlighted in the National Geographic Magazine, by the BBC Natural History Unit, the National History Magazine and in several films and TV series, including an IMAX film, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar. She has won numerous award and fellowships including being made a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow in 1989.

Discussant:  Joel Cohen,  Director, Laboratory of Populations, Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences and International & Public Affairs, Rockefeller University & Columbia University


February 26, 2018

Jessica Cattelino

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, associate director of the Center for the Study of Women

University of California, Los Angeles

“Passions for Interests: Water and Rural Political Belonging in America”

The world faces a water crisis, with the United Nations predicting a 40% global water deficit by 2030. Recent water struggles in the United States, from Standing Rock to Flint to California’s droughts, exemplify a broader cultural politics whereby group s come to understand and assess one another through their relations to water. In the Florida Everglades, the world’s largest ecosystem restoration project is underway and has as its policy goal “getting the water right.” There, as across America, political analysis focus on so-called stakeholders and interest groups (such as agriculture and environment). Such passion for interests—as, purportedly, the forces that unite and explain political collectivities—stunts understandings about political belonging in rural America.

This presentation brings together two twenty-first-century examples of everyday politics in a mostly-drained rural region of the Florida Everglades: the headline-grabbing proposed buyout of a major sugar corporation by the State of Florida for purposes of Everglades restoration; and a major Seminole Tribe of Florida water conservation project. The economist A.O. Hirschman, in his influential book The Passions and the Interests (1977), explained how early proponents of capitalism struggled to reconcile the relationship of passions to interests. The political anthropology of interests presented in this lecture highlights their production and (in)commensuration in relation to water and capitalism. The goal is to think through and, hopefully, beyond the passion for “interests” in scholarly and popular understandings of American political life.

Jessica Cattelino’s research focuses on economy, nature, indigeneity, and settler colonialism. Her book, High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty (Duke University Press, 2008) won the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff  Memorial Book Prize from the Society for the Anthropology of North America.  Her current book project addresses Everglades restoration and theorizes the co-production of nature and indigeneity in settler societies like the United States.  She speaks to the current concerns about environmental degradation and indigenous people’s roles in sparking struggles against the pollution of water sources and the destruction of precious resources such as the Everglades. Cattelino’s current research is funded by the National Science Foundation (Law and Social Sciences), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Howard Foundation and a National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Network on the Florida Coastal Everglades

Discussant: Paige West, Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Colombia University


March 26, 2018

Rosemary Joyce

Professor, Department of Anthropology

University of California, Berkeley

“Is Extreme Inequality Inevitable?: What archaeology can tell us about the 99 percent.”

In many people’s minds archaeology is about the search for kings and queens, for treasure and luxuries. It seems as if archaeologists are on the side of rulers, at the expense of the everyday farmer and laborer. And so archaeological theories about social complexity are interpreted to say that human societies are on an implacable universal road toward exaggerated inequality: extreme inequality is inevitable. But is this true? Or can archaeologists illuminate places and times when society did not spiral into ever-widening inequality?

In this talk, I critically examine the need for archaeology to contest the representation of a global rise in inequality as inevitable, arguing that we have let the allure of certain things enchant us, leading to an over-emphasis on the wealthy and powerful. I draw on my decades-long research on prehispanic Honduras, where for centuries people in towns and villages sustained a lower level of inequality than archaeologists see in the city-states of their Classic Maya neighbors.

Using this case study as a beginning point, I address how archaeology can be and is being used to illuminate the long term persistence and social contributions of a far more varied range of actors than the few leaders who have often received the greatest attention in our analyses. I sketch out an alternative place for archaeology in the world today, as an ally of new visions of social life that we can say are viable because they have worked already.

Rosemary Joyce is a major figure in contemporary archaeology, whose fieldwork focuses on Honduras and Mexico. Professor Joyce works on the archaeology of inequality, gender, and materiality. Her research in Honduras explored social histories “in which economic inequality was never as extreme as among neighboring Maya societies, leading me to consider how archaeologists might combat the common assumption that ever-increasing inequality is somehow inevitable.” As a museum anthropologist, Joyce has engaged in collections management and exhibition work at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, the Wellesley College Museum and Cultural Center, the Heritage Plantation at Sandwich, Massachusetts, the Museo de Antropología e Historia in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Her published work includes Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives (2008),The Languages of Archaeology: Dialogue, Narrative, and Writing (2002), and Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica (2001).

Discussant:   TBC


April 16, 2018

Mica Pollock

Professor, University of California, San Diego, Director of CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence)

“Flipping Scripts in an Angry Nation: Putting the Anthropological Project to Work for Change Via Everyday Talk (in Schools)”

In this talk, Pollock applies lessons from her new book Schooltalk to the current political climate and discusses talk’s potential for changing us all. Before and since the 2016 election, U.S. residents have seen a spike in explicit hate speech – cruel comments that denigrate and distort types of people. Such speech has spiked in schools as well. It’s a moment when we need civil discourse and dialogue against hate more than ever. But in the United States, we also need to be thinking about whether our most routine talk distorts and denigrates people. Drawing on decades of work about how people talk every day about students and in schools, Pollock offers a vision of schooltalk for equity – that is, talk that accurately describes people as individuals and members of communities (including lives in opportunity contexts), and then actively supports the full human talent development of every person and all groups of people. At root, schooltalk for equity leverages the anthropological learning project for social change via schools. Speakers seek to flip under-informed “scripts” about types of people by learning accurate information about people’s actual lives. While many scholars today frame such learning as unlikely and even cognitively impossible, Pollock argues that such learning can and must happen in the daily activity of schools. Pollock thus frames schooltalk as critical work putting today’s educators and students on the front lines of social change.

Mica Pollock is an anthropologist and author of the new book Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About –and To – Students Every Day (The New Press). Pollock’s work explores educators’ key role in immediate and long-haul efforts against racism and inequality; she pinpoints the key role of language in educators’ everyday work. Pollock’s first book, Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School (winner of the 2005 AERA Outstanding Book Award), helped readers navigate six core U.S. struggles over talking (and not talking) in racial terms in schools. Her other books include Because of Race, Everyday Antiracism, and Companion to the Anthropology of Education. Her newest work at UC San Diego explores how networks of conversation partners can leverage a university to share opportunities to learn in a diverse community.

Discussant:  TBC