Plant Semiotics Workshop

On Feb. 24th, I’ll be participating in a workshop at Rutgers University that centers on “the semotics of plant-human sociality.” Becky Schulthies from the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers organized the event and other participants will include Natasha Myers, Paul Kockelman, Ruth Goldstein, and Charles Briggs. The paper I’ll be presenting is tentatively titled “Plants that Keep the Bad Vibes Away (& Other Stories of Ecosemiotic Interplay in the Urban Amazon)” and it should be up be here soon. If you happen to be in the area and want to check it out, the event is free and open to the public. You can register here.

The Social Network of US Academic Anthropology


This morning I presented a paper at the AAA meeting in Minneapolis as part of a panel I co-organized with Joe Feldman, titled “Challenging Anthropology in the 21st Century.” My paper focused specifically on the social network of US academic anthropology and how hiring networks can contribute to – or at the very least reflect – embedded hierarchies within the discipline. You can download a copy of the paper here. The abstract is below:

“Anthropologists often strive to point out social inequality while using their research to promote meaningful social change. However, academic anthropology can sometimes reproduce the very problems of social inequality that its scholars tend to rail against. Past research on U.S. academic hiring networks has shown evidence of systematic inequality and hierarchy, attributed at least in part to the influence of academic prestige, which is not necessarily a reflection of merit or academic productivity. Using anthropology departments’ websites, we gathered information on all tenured and tenure-track faculty in PhD-granting anthropology programs in the U.S., totaling 1,918 individuals in all. For each faculty member, we noted their current institution and PhD-granting institution, which we treated as a “tie” between those academic programs. With these data, we applied methods from social network analysis (SNA) to examine U.S. academic anthropology’s social network, and we identified multiple factors that help to explain its structure. In this paper, we report on our preliminary findings and we discuss how they can be used to help rethink social reproduction in academic anthropology.”

Waste, Residuals, and Ruins: A Political Ecology of Excess

This weekend I’ll be presenting at the Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) Conference in Lexington, KY. Shreyas Sreenath (Emory U.) and I put together a double panel titled “Waste, Residuals, and Ruins: A Political Ecology of Excess.” Here’s the abstract:

“This panel takes a political ecological approach to the study of excess in late capitalism. Specifically, it investigates how excesses are created, manipulated, and reincorporated into productive systems, giving special attention to the ways that people creatively manage and repurpose waste. It also considers how capital accumulation in contemporary societies is hinged on particular discursive and material practices of wasting, and how technology is leveraged to address an accelerating accumulation of wastes. Lastly, this panel explores how the production and management of excesses can generate new international divisions in labor and reconstitute existing social hierarchies. Focusing our inquiries on the materials of everyday life—including human excrement, garbage, and demolished buildings—we argue that attention to capitalism’s excesses and wastes not only help us to understand the socio-ecological problems of the present, but also help to conceive of more productive common futures.”

If you’ll be at the conference, please stop by. Our first session will run from 10:30 to 12:10 in Room 231 of the ’90’ on UK’s campus. Session 2, in which I’ll present, will run from 1:30 to 3:10 in the same room.

Forests and Favelas

In a few weeks, I’ll be attending the meeting of the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology in Oaxaca, Mexico. The paper I’ll be presenting is titled “Forests and Favelas: Situating Urban Amazonia in the Anthropology of Brazil.” Here’s a brief synopsis:

For much of its recent history, anthropology has been concerned with two Brazils. The first has revolved around indigenous peoples of Amazonia and increasingly, the tensions between conservation and development of Amazonian forests. The second has centered on urban poor, especially those living in the favelas (shantytowns) of Rio de Janeiro and other large metropolitan areas. In many ways, these two centers of focus – forests and favelas – have come to represent “gatekeeping concepts” in the anthropology of Brazil, largely to the exclusion of other socio-cultural concerns and contexts. This paper explores an under-examined Brazil that lies in the overlapping spaces of forests and favelas: the urban Amazon. Drawing for a decade of research in the region, this paper highlights how broader processes and problems associated with urbanization in Brazil emerge in distinctive ways within Manaus, the largest city of the Amazon basin.


Race, Religion, and Magico-Medicinal Plant Use in Rural Amazonia

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the American Anthropological Association meeting in a session titled Humans, Plants, and Race: Investigations into Cultivation, Discrimination, and Identity. My paper will focus on the relationships between race, religion, and magico-medicinal plants in rural Amazonia. Here’s the abstract:

In home gardens across rural Amazonia, it is common to find plants that are cultivated for their magical and healing properties. Some plants have long histories linked to indigenous traditions while others are derived from Afro-Brazilian religions, especially Candomblé. Despite widespread occurrence of such plants, many rural Amazonians are reluctant to acknowledge them and some, especially in Evangelical communities, openly criticize their use as incongruent with Christian belief and practice. In examining the use of such plants, this paper highlights the growing tensions in rural Amazonian communities between the competing belief systems of Evangelical Christianity and Amazonian Folk Catholicism, which borrows from Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. In doing so, it explores how the movement away from Folk Catholicism and Candomblé by some Amazonians can be seen as part of a broader attempt to establish distance from “blackness” and “Indianness” and their histories of marginalization in Brazil.

The Anthropocene: A View from the Humanities

This year, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at University of California-Santa Barbara is hosting a seminar series on the Anthropocene. Among the many speakers included will be Andrew Revkin from the New York Times. I will also be giving two talks. The first talk, which is titled Into the Bowels of the Anthropocene: Excrement and the Current Ecological Crisis, will be held on Thursday, November 20th. The second talk, The Problems with the Anthropocene: A View from Amazonia, will be held the following day.