Ethnographic horizons

Time and the ethnographic horizon in moments of crisis

Ethnographic horizons is a new research venture to explore the time horizons that inform people’s perceptions of crisis.   It is supported by the International Balzan Foundation, as part of the 2018 Balzan Prize in Social Anthropology awarded to Marilyn Strathern. The project will run for three years, administered by the Centre for Pacific Studies, under its Director, Dr Tony Crook.

Professor Dame Marilyn Strathern

2018 Balzan Prize for Social Anthropology

Citation:  For the profoundly innovative character of her contributions to social and cultural anthropology, and especially for her critique of Western understandings of gender and equality, and her associated explorations of how familiar concepts work differently in different contexts.

Marilyn Strathern´s anthropology centres on the representations typical of the societies that she studied (the Melanesian islands of Papua New Guinea), in a comprehensive perspective that aims at explication rather than explanation, leading to the radical abandonment of Western academic categories (in particular their obliteration of contextual dimensions), and to a fundamental critique of the inevitable ethnocentrism of anthropologists. By considering the way in which a researcher is implicated in his or her subject matter, she calls for reflexivity on one´s own conceptual tools.

She turns upside down classical anthropological concepts (´gift´, ´agent´, ´identity´), taking them as metaphors to be used as subject matter rather than as methodological tools. Instead of a Western-centric economy of goods, of objects and of classes (privileging inequality and dominance), she presents a rigorous description of an economy of the gift, of people and of clans (privileging interdependence, relationships and prestige): an economy focusing on the increase in, and the manifestation of, social relationships, in which a gift has an institutive function, in which objects are not ends but means, and in which a relationship has at the same time a joining and a separating function, which makes distancing as important an operation as exchange. She abandons, moreover, the notions of kinship as a determiner of bonds, property, work, dominance, inequality and identity, in favour of the importance accorded to relational action, to inner capacity and to self-control, to hierarchy via englobement, and to the constant activation of transactions.

From the very beginning as an ethnologist, her work has been characterised by her anthropology of Western feminism and by her use of a feminist approach in anthropology. Insofar as the relationship between the sexes is a model for many other relationships, she critiques the inadequacy of certain concepts drawn from feminism (in particular sexual antagonism) in the societies she studied, its generally naive constructivism, as well as the contradiction between the progressivism of its aims and the conservatism of its concepts.

Finally, Marilyn Strathern deserves the Balzan Prize for what she calls, in her own words, the ´methodological scandal which constitutes the invention of an anthropology that breaks away from previous models of ethnography, social history and the sociology of marginal cultures: an intellectual undertaking that is exemplary not only for the countless specialists in her field but for anthropology as a whole and beyond, for the social sciences. 

Emeritus Professor, Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge


Dr Maria Virgínia Ramos Amaral

Time and Crisis in Areruya Religion, Brazil

In 2019, I obtained my Social Anthropology PhD title in the National Museum of the Rio de Janeiro Federal University. My thesis is about Areruya, the religion that the Ingarikó share with other subgroups of the Kapon and Pemon Amazonian people. Areruya consists of a crystallization of the prophetic movements that upheaved the Kapon and Pemon in the past. Many of them were led by shamans that from the ephemeral coexistence with Christian missionaries announced the coming of a cataclysm, associated to the promise of indigenous salvation in the Christian heaven and, in some cases, to the conquest of the colonizers’ goods. I maintained that as these prophetisms concerned aspects of the asymmetrical relationship between indigenous people and settlers, they were like critical anthropologies, which versed about a world in crisis fated to extinction. Presently, the Areruya followers do not recognize missionary influence over their religion, which they affirm to be originally indigenous. It was then made necessary to reflect about this obliteration. Besides, most of the Ingarikó seem to relativize the cataclysm once announced, and this suggests that they have relativized the very idea of a world in crisis. Henceforth,  I’d like to explore these considerations in dialogue with the interests of the Balzan Project “Time and the ethnographic horizon in moments of crisis”. I intend to reflect about the Ingarikó’s time conceptions, investigating if the ways in which they have reworked their colonial past resonate their present aspirations and also the relativization of the cataclysm prophesied.

Dr Bruno Nogueira Guimarães

Temporal Transactions and the Taming of Crisis among the Apanjekra

During my Ph.D. research, I investigated the Apanjekra experience with conditional cash transfer programs, looking at the new relations that these policies entailed since the Brazilian government expanded to indigenous peoples the allowances destined to fight hunger, in 2006. Having access to these programs meant that most families got a monthly income that wasn’t available before. It also implied changes in relations with settlers and with relatives, since traveling to cities to acquire food or industrialized goods became a regular task in a period of continuous degradation of the Porquinhos Indigenous Land, inhabited by the Apanjekra. I analysed these elements in my dissertation and since the conclusion of my doctorate, in 2017, I look for new ways to consider the transformations that the Apanjekra undergo in recent years.

Being a member of the Balzan Project “Time and ethnographic horizons in moments of crisis” offers an opportunity to understand how the Apanjekra conceptualize these changes and perceive the present as a shifting landscape. Time is a central issue when analysing cash transfer programs, for the periodicity of the allowance – a monthly income – became entwined with the time of the village, since traveling to the cities and obtaining commodities is now part of practices related to rituals, crop cultivation and body production. Considering the Apanjekra horizons regarding the managing of change and settler economy is vital to comprehend not only the effects of cash transfer programs in indigenous peoples but also their creativity when dealing with crisis, aims of this project.

Dr Simon Kenema

Temporal Narratives of Crisis, Reconciliation, and Hope in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea

Simon Kenema is a Papua New Guinean anthropologist. He obtained his Master of Research (MRes) qualification in 2009 followed by a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of St Andrews in 2015. His academic and research interests, broadly includes natural resource extraction, political conflict, and politics of landownership in the context of natural resource development. He has over 15 years of practical work and academic research experience in natural resource development in PNG. In addition, Simon has undertaken various consulting roles. Examples of his consulting experience include working as an independent consultant for the United Nations Population Fund (PNG Office) and the University of Queensland’s Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining. His most recent employment involved working as a Research Fellow on a Griffith University led research project on small-scale mining in Bougainville. He has experience in working on collaborative research projects with various academic institutions.

Currently Simon is employed as an Honorary Balzan Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of St Andrews. Under the Balzan fellowship his research seeks to bring a temporal dimension to the understanding of the Bougainville Crisis by investigating the models of temporal order that people use in their everyday political sense-making processes in times of crisis.

Dr Priscila Santos da Costa

Spatio-temporal landscapes and the institutionalisation of the State, Papua New Guinea

Before becoming a Balzan Fellow, Priscila Santos da Costa was a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Technologies in Practice Research Group of the IT-University of Copenhagen. She completed her bachelor’s in Social Sciences at the State University of São Paulo, in Brazil, and her PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of St. Andrews. During her doctorate, Priscila has conducted fieldwork in the Parliament of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby working with politicians and bureaucrats. Her research focuses on the state, citizenship, nationalism, governance, and Christianity, especially in the Global South. She approaches these topics through the lens of materiality and technologies by looking into the role that they play in the construction and maintenance of political practices and imaginaries.

As a Balzan Fellow, Priscila has published “Postcolonial Nationalism and neo-Pentecostalism: A case from Papua New Guinea” (Nations and Nationalism) and co-authored the article, “It is Christ or Corruption in Papua New Guinea: Bring in the Witness!” (Oceania). She will continue to revisit her fieldwork material to investigate the ways in which state actors problematize crisis and respond to it, as well as to look into how critical moments offer themselves as opportunities for rearticulating boundaries between the state and civil society.

Gregory Waula Bablis

Death and the time of the time in between

I have worked for the NMAG’s Modern History Branch since 2013 and curate a collection of some 2,500 items consisting mainly of WWII surplus materials and refuse. Significant projects I have worked on in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are the Oral History Project and the Military Heritage Project. I have had ongoing interests in modern conflicts and how global events, crises like war and political turmoil, have shaped and continue to shape PNG.

In 2017 I attained a Masters of Asian and Pacific Studies (Advanced) Sub-Thesis from the Australian National University. My sub-thesis is entitled “Oral History: The Future of Papua New Guinea’s Past” and included some experiences and perspectives from my involvement in the Oral History Project.

I am privileged now to have been given the opportunity to take up this Balzan Scholarship and ethnographically explore the horizons, scope and effects of the notion of “crisis” in Melanesia. I have proposed to do this through a closer study of death among the Arapesh of East Sepik Province, PNG. Amongst the Arapesh, death is often seen as a kind of transition from one life to the next. The idea of transition affords us a chance to gauge a clearer view and understanding about the nature of the new and the old, the past, the future and the present that is imagined. What kind of cultural understanding of temporality is being imagined or articulated in the idea of death as a transition of one kind of life to the next? If life goes on, then death appears like an ontological device that enables it to move, shift, evolve, progress, or transform into the next. Transition might not be just a theory of death but of life itself and so it stimulates a curiosity about the time of that time.