While living in the Peruvian Amazon, I heard several stories about “el tunchi” — a spirit of the dead that has to pay penance in this world. The Tunchi is said to retrace the steps of its past life, disturbing the living by moving furniture, displacing objects, or producing eerie whistling sounds. For the forthcoming issue of Anthropology and Humanism, I wrote a short piece about a tunchi that harrassed an acquaintance named Sandra. You can read it here.
I just returned from visiting the University of Cincinnati where I gave a talk at the Taft Research Center. Many thanks to the UC Dept. of Anthropology for inviting me to share my work. Here is a copy of the paper I presented, which summarizes some of the ideas put forward in my book Amazonia in the Anthropocene.
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.
Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer invited me on to the Cultures of Energy podcast to discuss my recent book Amazonia in the Anthropocene. Our conversation touched on an number of different topics including Amazonian deforestation, the politics of indigeneity, terra preta do índio (Amazonian Dark Earth), American Confederates in the Amazon, weeds (and weed), flooding in south Florida, Marx and the metabolic rift, and “night soil” (i.e. human shit). The episode just went online today. Give it a listen.
Yesterday I published a new research article titled “How Religion, Race, and the Weedy Agency of Plants Shape Rural Amazonian Home Gardens” in the latest edition of Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment. You can read a pre-press version of it on my academia.edu page. Here is the abstract:
“Across Brazilian Amazonia, it is common to find rural households that keep plants with magico-medicinal properties in their home gardens. Despite widespread occurrence of such plants, some Amazonians—especially in Evangelical communities—openly criticize their use as incongruent with Christian belief and practice. In this article, I offer ethnographic observations that indicate divergent attitudes toward magico-medicinal plants between Evangelical Christians and Amazonian folk Catholics, the latter of whom borrow heavily from Afro-Brazilian and indigenous religions. I contend that Evangelicals’ attempts to establish distance from such plants is due in part to histories of ethnic and racial marginalization that are indexed in their use. Still, many magico-medicinal plants are weedy species that actively colonize areas occupied by humans, thus openly defying Evangelical attempts to evade them. In this manner, magico-medicinal plants are not just subject to human agencies, but are arguably agents in their own right.”
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.”