Tag Archives: environment

Soldiers, Kings, and the Ethics of Ethnography

On October 24 the Faculty Fellows seminar was led by Jason De León, Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the prizewinning book, The Land of Open Graves. Previous to the seminar, Dr. de Leon gave a Distinguished Visiting Lecture on his work titled “Soldiers and Kings: A Photoethnography of Human Smuggling Across Mexico,” covering research for an upcoming book and a range of topics including masculinity, representation, radical reflexivity and anxiety, and the ethics of ethnography. 

Dr. De León began the seminar with an introduction to his evolving research methodology, beginning with his early career as a Mesoamerican archeologist studying volcanic glass tools. While working in archeological excavations, De León became interested in the narratives and stories of the workmen digging alongside archeologists, including stories of the border and migration. De León’s work evolved into documenting material culture around the border, particularly in the Arizona desert, taking stock of material goods people take to cross the border, and noting what is left behind in the journey or in makeshift “rest stops.”  Having archived 8,000 different objects at UCLA, De León’s work developed into the Undocumented Migrant Project, a multidisciplinary research project that includes his most recent artistic collaboration, Hostile Terrain 94. This latest project is a participatory installation composed of roughly 3,200 handwritten toe tags representing migrants who have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert between the mid-1990s and 2019. De León noted that his most recent book project will further explore issues at the border, focusing on smuggling and smugglers. 

Fellows questioned De León’s stated uneasiness with both ethnography and exhibition, which he had expanded on during his introduction. He admitted that though he currently views the exhibition and museum space as a place of potential experimentation, he initially worried that museum spaces presented too neat of a narrative, a problem he similarly faced in anthropology. Additionally, he wanted to avoid fetishizing the objects he archived, or setting migrants at a remove from the curator or audience. Yet he noted that the art space provides an opportunity for people to be made uncomfortable, or to be moved, allowing De León more freedom to craft a specific message or statement than in a written narrative. 

Fellows additionally interrogated De León’s depiction of smugglers, namely, how he would avoid either slipping into stereotyping or valorizing his subjects. De León stated that his aim is to undermine the typical narratives of smugglers made by the U.S. federal government and border patrol, presenting smugglers  as people who have done bad–even terrible–things, but also as people responding to a complex set of circumstances, from economic hardship to labor pull to interventionist policies on the part of the U.S. itself. He discussed the issues attendant on choosing to craft this book as one for a more general audience, noting that he wanted to write a book that would have the impact of fiction with the theoretical heft of academic ethnography. Fellows remarked on the clarity and compelling quality of his work, and the seminar closed with anticipation for his book and exhibition (which may be mounted in Austin–stay tuned!). 

A Story of Resistance and the Evolving Questions of the Keystone XL Pipeline Fight

By John Fiege

I shot most of Above All Else in 2012 during President Obama’s second campaign for president. Over the past five years I have continually asked myself what the film reveals about the world and the process of social change. My answers to those questions change over time, reminding me of why it is important that a film pose significant questions rather than merely search for answers.

The story of David Daniel and the fight to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in East Texas continues to frame significant questions and illuminate key issues undergirding environmental destruction, climate change, social justice, and the process of change in general.

Continue reading A Story of Resistance and the Evolving Questions of the Keystone XL Pipeline Fight

How to Change the World by Promoting Diversity in “Big Green Groups”

By Virginia Palacios

The 2015 documentary film How to Change the World, directed by Jerry Rothwell, asserts itself as a chronicle of the origins of the “modern” environmental movement through its telling the story of the founding of Greenpeace in 1971. But a story that is nearly 50 years old about an environmental movement that has gone through significant changes since then is hardly “modern.”  The environmental movement continues to change, and “big green groups” like Greenpeace and Environmental Defense Fund, where I work, need to change with it or they will become relics. Continue reading How to Change the World by Promoting Diversity in “Big Green Groups”

On Sonic Sovereignty

Dr. Dustin Tahmahkera discusses indigenous sound in HI’s Faculty Fellows Seminar on Health, Well-Being, Healing
By Saralyn McKinnon-Crowley

At last week’s Faculty Fellows Seminar, Dr. Dustin Tahmahkera (Mexican American and Latina/o Studies) discussed his work-in-progress, “Sounds Indigenous” or “Becoming Sound.” Dr. Tahmahkera employs “sound” in its dual meaning, as both auditory stimulus and as wellness or health. His project asks three questions:

  • What are the roles of sounds in indigenous and American cultural histories and identity formations, historically and today?
  • How do we listen to ways of sounding indigenous?
  • How can sound heal and impact the well-being of individuals, communities, and the land?

Continue reading On Sonic Sovereignty