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Brunel Anthropology Research Seminar series, Term 1 2020

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Brunel Anthropology Research Seminar series, Term 1 2020

We’re proud to announce our most international ever lineup for Brunel Anthropology’s weekly research seminar series! Our seminars take place every Tuesday in term-time, from 13:00 to 14:30 on Zoom. Please email Liana Chua ( if you would like to attend one or more of these seminars.

 6 October 2020

 Pigs in Beta: Towards a Protoecology of Barcelona   

Aníbal Arregui (University of Barcelona)

 When wild boars became the unexpected neighbours of suburban Barcelona, nobody thought they would soon begin to explore central districts as well. While today conservationists try to control the relations between the city and its adjacent ‘nature’, the unsettling porcine movements challenge the ecological boundaries between rural and urban landscapes, as well as the status of wild boars as a ‘wild’ species. Tracing some links between the fields of ‘multiespecies ethnography’ and the anthropology of urban ‘prototyping’, in this talk I present a ‘protoecological’ outlook. With this analytical tool I aim at capturing the orchestration of environmental, infrastructural and affective aspects that foster emerging—and experimental— forms of interspecies coexistence in contemporary Barcelona.

 Biography: I am an anthropologist interested in the intersections between environmental anthropology, the anthropology of the body, and multispecies ethnography. Since 2006 I conduct fieldwork in Brazilian Amazonia in quilombola and ribeirinho communities. In 2017 I started new fieldwork around emerging forms of human-wild boar interaction in Barcelona. Currently, I am part of the Bewildering Boar project ( and postdoc researcher at the University of Barcelona (


13 October 2020

On territory: experiments in participatory mapping in north-eastern Namibia

Megan Laws (London School of Economics)

What does land use and tenure mapping mean for people whose access to land has historically been determined not by hereditary titles but by shifting relationships, not only with the land itself but with the people one shares it with? Can the participatory design of mobile mapping tools contribute to more appropriate ways of recording these relationships, and if so to what end? Leading up to Namibia's independence from South Africa, participatory mapping served as a crucial means through which historically marginalised populations were able to claim ancestral rights to land and resources that had fallen under the purview and control of the apartheid regime. These efforts had the effect of devolving power and securing forms of political and economic self-determination, but also of fixing, in time and in space, what were once more flexible forms of territory. Approaches to participatory mapping have developed significantly, from specialists working with local people to produce paper maps and lay GPS waypoints, to local people engaging with very high-resolution aerial and satellite imagery using accessible mobile mapping tools. These technologies make land use and tenure mapping possible not only for professionals but for lay people with low levels of literacy. They are not responsive, however, to what ethnography reveals about the way territories expand, shrink, and move in relation to social relationships and ecological shifts. This paper explores indigenous conceptions of territory, examines the problems these pose for standard mapping initiatives, and reports on some experimental efforts to think through these.

Biography: Megan Laws is a fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a specialist in the anthropology of southern Africa, with research interests in the way that doubt and trust shape egalitarian values and redistributive practices. She is also a research associate in the Department of Geography at University College London, working with a team of interdisciplinary researchers who work with marginalised communities to develop digital tools for collecting geo-referenced data on a range of social and ecological issues. She is concerned with how new geo-spatial technologies (with a special focus on remote sensing and mobile data collection) are being used and with the consequences these have for people living at southern Africa’s rural margins. 


20 October 2020

Stronger Together? An Ethnographic Perspective on Intersectional Alliances among Ethnic and Religious Minorities in the UK

Lea Taragin-Zeller (Technion [Israel] and Woolf Institute, Cambridge [UK])

 This lecture offers an ethnographic account of how Jewish and Muslim women forge alliances to fight xenophobia in Britain, especially as it intersects with gender. Given the tensions in recent years between Jewish and Muslim communities, much public media represents Jews and Muslims at odds, especially vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestine conflict. Yet, during my ethnographic fieldwork in the UK, I found that Jewish and Muslim women came together to share their challenges, revealing a realignment of forces among religious minorities. This talk highlights relationships and unexpected co-operations between religious minorities as they realign forces in light of growing Islamophobic and antisemitic UK, while shedding light on the possibilities and limitations of intersectional activism.


27 October 2020

The stateless (ad)vantage? Resistance and rootedness in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights

Maria Kastrinou (Brunel University London)

Can statelessness embolden political resistance? Exploring the political geography of resistance amongst stateless farmers in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, this paper positions itself within the context of a more refined understanding of the politics of statelessness and citizenship, whilst recognizing the continued role and power of the state. We argue that despite Israel’s material power over the control of resources and bodies in the Golan Heights, it has been far less successful in exercising ideological control. This stems from the occupied Syrians’ combined condition as territorially and culturally rooted to the land alongside their stateless condition, which affords them an important vantage from which they negotiate their inclusion and exclusion from the states of both Syria and Israel. The empirical material draws from extended participant observation among Golani Syrians (in Syria and the Golan) and interviews with Golani farmers. We explain how and why the Druze, specifically, remained with their land after the occupation. We demonstrate their significant resistance efforts, and their conflicts with Israel, over and through their claims to a legitimate presence in the material and ideational landscape. In doing so, we challenge common assumptions that stateless, Druze and rural communities are particularly susceptible to state agendas.

Biography: I'm a social anthropologist interested in the intersections of politics, religion, and society in Syria and the Middle East. 


3 November 2020

Living with Toxic Development: Shipbreaking in the industrialising zone of Sitakunda, Bangladesh​

Camelia Dewan (University of Oslo)

Based on ethnographic fieldwork among local communities and shipbreaking workers, I  focus on the lived experiences of toxicity in the rapidly industrialising zone of Sitakunda. A ship is filled with hazardous materials, ranging from asbestos and glass wool, to heavy-metal laden paints, gases, oils, and other toxicants. The shipbreaking industry in Bangladesh has faced criticism in mainstream media for labour conditions and environmental pollution, yet exporting ships and blaming Bangladesh for not properly managing hazardous materials can be seen as a form of waste colonialism. Despite a plethora of problems, there are unreported improvements such as the eradication of child labour, Bangladesh’s first internationally-certified Hong Kong Convention-compliant yard, and the government regularly inspecting (and fining) yards while pledging to create a facility for the safe disposal of hazardous materials by 2023. Yet, the current situation remains highly toxic. Workers complain over inhaling fumes as the steel they cut is covered with layers of paint containing toxic substances such as heavy metals. Working for 2-3 days, they end up bed-ridden and sick with high fevers, respiratory difficulties and aching muscle pains for days without pay. At home, living next to a heavily-trafficked highway, they are also subject to the visibly extensive air, soil and water pollution caused by Sitakunda’s many industrial factories. As one of my interlocutors remarked: “There are much longer queues to the pharmacies – there are so many now – than there are to food stores. What does this tell you?” The article discusses the difficulty of separating people’s livelihoods from the very practices that pollute both their work and home environments. It reflects on the reluctance to acknowledge the severity of toxic development and its everyday impact on health, and contributes to debates on toxic colonialism, slow violence and lived toxicity in South Asia. ​

Biography: Camelia Dewan is an environmental anthropologist focusing on the anthropology of development. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow on the Norwegian Research Council-funded project (Dis)Assembling the Life Cycle of Containerships at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo where she examines the lived experiences of environmental pollution and labour precarity among workers and communities connected to Bangladesh's shipbreaking industry. 

Dr Dewan holds a PhD in Social Anthropology and Environment from the University of London (Birkbeck and SOAS) funded by the Bloomsbury Colleges and the research ethnographically examined development and climate change adaptation projects in southwest coastal Bangladesh. Her PhD thesis Crisis Beyond Climate Change was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute's Sutasoma Award and is the basis of her forthcoming book Misreading Climate Change: How development simplifications have failed rural ecology and society in southwest coastal Bangladesh (University of Washington Press​). She also holds an MSc in Development Studies from LSE and an MA International Relations at the University of Edinburgh and worked as a research consultant for the International Water Management Institute on a water governance project in southwest coastal Bangladesh.​ Her latest article, based on her doctoral research is entitled  ‘Climate Change as a Spice: Brokering Environmental Knowledge in Bangladesh’s Development Industry’. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. 


17 November 2020

Romantic boundaries: Participation-lurking during the pandemic

Alicia Izharuddin (Harvard Divinity School)

 Prohibitions on travel and fieldwork during the present global pandemic have revived the value of remote and digital ethnography. My interactive webinar will engage with a cornerstone of ethnography: participant observation and how its meaning might have changed during the global Covid-19 crisis. I will share the opportunities and challenges of remote and digital participation observation based on my research on the sociality of authors and readers of Islamic love stories on Wattpad. Islamic love stories are part of the repertoire of the Malay romance industry in Malaysia and gained more significance after physical bookshops and bookfairs were closed during the lockdown period early in 2020. Ethical and religious boundaries are important to the narratives and participant in the Wattpad Islamic romance sociality. We will discuss ways of navigating and constructing the digital ‘field’ and the renewed significance of boundaries while conducting participation observation during our pandemic times. 

Biography: Alicia Izharuddin is affiliated with the Harvard Divinity School where she was the 2019-2020 Women’s Studies in Religion Program Research Associate and currently a visiting professor at Airlangga University in Surabaya, Indonesia. Her research interests span across gender, intimacy, and media practices in Muslim communities in Malaysia and Indonesia and has published in several leading peer-reviewed journals. She is currently writing a book on negative emotions.


24 November 2020

“Never Go Change”: On artistic activism in contemporary Ghana

Girish Daswani (University of Toronto)

 In this paper, I reflect on artistic perceptions of political change in Ghana and how the future is imagined differently through the activism of certain contemporary Ghanaian artists. I argue that while these artists embrace a cynicism that things will change, they continue to respond to politics and to political corruption for reasons of pleasure and self-therapy. If their artistic activism ultimately rejects the idea that the future will be better (or different), they simultaneously seek to point out the duplicity of post-colonial politics and to inspire us to think of alternative ways of living and being together. This artivist dreamscape is created out of different resources than the middle-class activism of social justice movements in Ghana; it is anti-elitist and keenly critical of capitalism and liberal democratic politics. It also frames political change around anti-colonial/Pan-African expectations of revolution rather than social reform. If we see revolution and reform as sitting in tension with each other, rather than in contradiction, we can start to focus on the nuance of an artistic activism that accepts the limits of political change but that works toward imagining alternative ways of living through the language of revolution. We can also pay attention to the ongoing presence of colonialism through an intersection of social class and kinship in Ghana and through the activism of artists like Wanlov the Kubolor who respond with songs like “Never Go Change”.

Biography: Girish Daswani is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto Scarborough. His work centers on the socio-political dynamics between individual lives and collective forms of transformation in Ghana. His most recent scholarly work has been exploring different activist and religious responses to corruption in Ghana. In addition to several journal articles, he has published a monograph entitled Looking Back, Moving Forward: Transformation and Ethical Practice in the Ghanaian Church of Pentecost (2015, University of Toronto Press) and co-edited A Companion to Diaspora and Transnationalism Studies with Prof. Ato Quayson (2013, Wiley-Blackwell). He is the recipient of a SSHRC Insight Grant and is currently working on a documentary, a comic book as well as a book manuscript entitled Act Now: Responses to Corruption in Contemporary Ghana. His most recent public-facing work has been exploring the ways in which imperialism, colonialism, and Orientalism have impacted (and are still impacting) popular politics and the field of Anthropology.


1 December 2020

Mis/recognizing Trauma at Home

Dada Docot (Purdue University)

 For anthropological fieldwork, I returned to my hometown located in the Southeast of Luzon Island, Philippines, called by its residents the “Town of Dollars.” This moniker is linked to the historical events of 1901, when the United States recruited Filipinos into its Navy. My family is among the many impacted by contemporary mobilities entangled with the Philippines’ multiple encounters with colonization (Spain, United States, and Japan), the repercussions of which are at least partially behind the Philippine government’s push for the overseas migration of its citizens. Researching in the hometown, I was frequently haunted by the personal experience of transnational family separation. In my presentation, I show how studying the hometown opens space for decolonizing anthropology as the process of data-gathering includes approaching the messy, intimate, and melancholic effects of postcolonial life that unsettle conceptions about anthropological scientific objectivity. In doing anthropology in the hometown, the anthropologist as a member of the diaspora, confronts the enduring absence of kin and friends, and their frequent/expected departures. Researching in such a context requires an unlearning of “disciplined” methods, towards building an ethnographic practice that could also become tools for introspection and healing from the trauma of multiple colonization and its repercussions that include transnational family separation.

Biography: Dada Docot is an assistant professor of Anthropology at Purdue University whose research focuses on the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora. Her current book project presents an ethnographic account of everyday life in the so-called “Town of Dollars,” her hometown located in the Southeast part of Luzon Island, Philippines, that has been radically changed by overseas mobilities. She is committed to expanding conversations on the postcolonial condition that is fatigued by multiple histories of colonization, enduring precarity, and growing global inequality. She can be seen on Twitter @dadadocot


8 Dec 2020

Ebola Business: Surfeit and suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Lys Alcayna-Stevens

This paper is about epidemic economies and epidemic temporalities. The clear ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’ of the epidemic containment narrative which serve to make epidemics both real and meaningful to external observers, are often at odds with how they are experienced by affected communities on the ground. This paper attends to the altered landscapes left behind after an epidemic is declared over, and is based on ethnographic research in post-Ebola contexts in the western equatorial region of DRC, in the wake of DRC’s seventh (2014) and ninth (2018) epidemics. It also draws on a growing consensus within the international response community that resistance to response teams in DRC’s recent and ongoing epidemics have been motivated by frustration over what has come to be known as ‘Ebola Business’ - a concept summarized by an employee of the WHO in a recent newspaper exposé when he exclaimed: ‘La Riposte au Congo? It’s big business. Everyone is profiting… except for the patients.’ Rather than tracing the circuits and flows of capital which might answer the question of who is ultimately benefiting from Ebola epidemics, this paper traces the hermeneutics of suspicion shaped by epidemic temporalities which exceed the containment narrative, and examines the histories of extraction and violence which contribute to Ebola Business narratives. It traces epidemic economies along the ground, examining the ways in which local power brokers capitalize on newly flowing circuits of wealth, and examines the rich local logics concerning obligation, suffering, and inequality which rural Congolese deploy in order to animate claims and grievances.

Biography: Lys Alcayna-Stevens is a visiting postdoctoral research fellow in the Anthropology Department at Harvard University and a post-doctoral researcher working on the 'Anthropological exploration of vaccine deployment during disease outbreaks' (AViD) project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge in 2017 and was a Fondation Fyssen post-doctoral researcher at the Institut Pasteur and Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (Collège de France) in Paris from 2016-2018. She has worked extensively in rural Democratic Republic of Congo since 2012, conducting ethnographic research on environmental politics and the social and economic repercussions of Ebola epidemics. She also worked for UNICEF in the immediate aftermath of the Ebola epidemic in Equateur Province (DRC) in 2018.

Dr Liana Chua