At the Smithsonian

Quick note that a two-part piece of mine has been published at the Smithsonian Museum’s Collections blog. It’s called “Southwest Archaeology and ‘The Time of Vietnam’” – here’s part two. The post is about an archaeologist studying pueblos in Arizona who got help from the US military to photograph some sites during U2 training flights in the desert. It’s an interesting story, and one that has echoes of both the ties between the military and research of indigenous peoples and the connections between war and photography. The photographs are part of the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Here’s a little excerpt:

[One] thing that each photo shares is the mark of a small accessory attached to the camera: in the bottom-right corner, each image has a clock and a counter marking the time and number of the snapshot. Some visual anthropologists have analyzed not just the photographic image itself, but also the “micro-event of the making of the photograph” (Pinney 2012). The counter and clock here are such a “micro-event,” but they are also more: they are part of a whole apparatus that took and collected photographs of much of the world.

While I spent several hours following the roads and mountain ranges of the Zubrow photos, I was drawn mostly to the clocks and counters. I tried to decipher the numbers jotted alongside the counter and across the face of the clock. I got lost in making a chart and reorganizing images by time and by number (the photos are not dated, only time-stamped, and the collection is arranged alphabetically by pueblo name). I found myself wondering what images filled the gaps, and where the planes traveled when they weren’t photographing the American Southwest.


Check out the whole thing at the links above. The post and the research that went into it were part of Josh Bell’s Visual Anthropology course, which I took last year and which included a couple of visits to the NAA. Big thanks to Josh and to Caitlyn Haynes and Gina Rappaport of the NAA for their help.



The American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting is in DC this year, so thousands of anthropologists are descending on/near my neighborhood. I’ve been dropping the ball this fall insofar as keeping the blog updated with presentations (at PAC in DC and at ASA in Chicago, sorry), but here’s my AAA run-down.

Saturday, Dec. 2, 2:00-3:45p, I’ll be presenting “‘Come Home Messaging’ in a Counterinsurgency: Demobilization and Militarization in and around Northern Uganda,” part of panel (5-0880): “Understanding Violence: Cases and Analyses from Across Africa,” in the Marriott, Roosevelt 4

Abstract: Demobilization of armed groups typically happens en masse after the end of a conflict in an effort to prevent future conflict. In the efforts to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army in and around Uganda, however, demobilization has taken place during the conflict, targeting individuals to convince them to surrender. Sometimes conflated with defection, this process serves to weaken the insurgency and end the war as much as it aims to demobilize and reintegrate fighters. This elision merges what is typically a post-conflict intervention with a counterinsurgency effort, entangling these projects in temporal, relational, and political ways. This paper theorizes this merging by focusing on the ways humanitarian actors speak about demobilization and the ways that different humanitarian and counterinsurgency efforts overlap in terms of the ends they seek. Based on fieldwork, linguistic analysis, and interviews with humanitarians involved, I demonstrate how the demobilizing of armed actors can actually contribute to the militarization of the region.

In addition to my paper, I’ll be running around the AAAs all week, so I hope to see you. I’ll be live-tweeting a panel (2-0430), “Remoteness and Place-making as Social Practice,” Wednesday, 2:15-4:00pm, on behalf of Cultural Anthropology (where I’m a contributing editor now, icymi) and chairing the panel (4-0365) “Sex and War” (Friday, 10:15a-12:00p, Marriott, Jefferson) organized by Holly Porter. I’ve also been relentlessly promoting other events you should check out, and here’s an ongoing list of GW-affiliated presentations. There’s also, of course, a billion other panels, roundtables, meetings, and receptions to attend. Have fun with the whirlwind.

GWU Anthropology Symposium this Friday

For those in the DC area, my department at GWU will be hosting our annual Anthropology Symposium this Friday all day. Please come check out some of the cool stuff going on in my little corner of the world. I am one of the organizers this year, and we’ve brought together a solid slate of presenters.

I’m particularly excited about our keynote speaker, Adrienne Pine of American University, who will be giving a lecture (at 4:30pm) titled “Preparing for an Anthropology of Fascism” and uses ethnographic data from the DC area as well as Honduras to ask what anthropological possibilities and responsibilities are emerging right now.


A full program is available symposium-schedule (pdf). Hope to see you there!

Shameless Self-Promotion: ICC Justice at Warscapes

Hello – brief note that I had a piece go up last week at Warscapes on the Dominic Ongwen trial at the ICC, now underway. It builds off of my first article for them last March, and parts of it are visible in this post I wrote the day the trial began. Here’s the article, and here’s an excerpt:

The courtroom is thought to be a site of justice, but critics have pointed out that justice often lies beyond the confines of law–that transitional justice, social justice, and a just memory can be attained not only in the courtroom but in  everyday public life. As Giorgio Agamben once claimed, “law is not directed towards the establishment of justice. Nor is it directed toward the verification of truth. Law is solely directed toward judgment.” The ICC case is arguably about judging Ongwen, regardless of what that judgment might mean. The LRA conflict is a good example, as Ongwen will likely be the only person to stand trial, and the four attacks for which he is charged are merely the ones with enough evidence to make it into court. This is shocking considering that the war has ravaged northern Uganda for the better part of three decades, resulting in thousands of killings and abductions and the displacement of millions at the hands of both the army and the rebels. The infamous rebel leader Joseph Kony is still in hiding; most other rebel commanders are dead or have been granted amnesty as part of a counterinsurgency demobilization effort. The Ugandan military has never been investigated for its role in the conflict. As such, Ongwen and the four attacks he is being tried for bear the weight of the quest for justice for countless victims of untold violations.

International criminal law has little room to acknowledge Ongwen’s unique position as both a war criminal and as the victim of war crimes. He himself was abducted as a child and forced into the rebel army in the late 1980s. Charged with the very crimes of which he was a victim, Ongwen’s personal history sheds light on the limits of international criminal justice in complicated situations like the war in northern Uganda. Ongwen has had to live his life in the context of everyday violence. His actions, whether he found himself reluctant or enthusiastic about the beatings, rapes, murders, and abductions he carried out or ordered, were shaped by this environment, making him what Erin Baines, professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, calls a “complex political perpetrator.” Growing up in such traumatic times, how does one pursue a moral life? And to what extent is one held responsible for failure in that pursuit? While admitting that “the evidence of many of the child victims in this case could, in other circumstances, be the story of the accused himself,” Chief Prosecutor Bensouda argued that “having suffered victimization in the past is not a justification or an excuse to victimize others.”

The uneasy act of prosecuting a victim-turned-perpetrator, and the continued failure to hold the Ugandan state accountable, are some of the reasons that justice here is seen as a fiction, or as justice only partially realized. For victims of other attacks–for victims of Ugandan state violence, and for victims in South Sudan, Central African Republic, and the Congo–justice still seems out of reach. The pursuit of justice, after all, is the quest to establish a fair and equitable society for all. In northern Uganda, where the president whose ascendancy provoked the LRA into existence is still in power thirty years later and increasingly authoritarian, there is little in the way of justice. The people of the other three countries have fared even worse, both in terms of justice and peace, as each state has seen numerous crises and wars in recent years. If, as anthropologist Kamari Clarke claims, “justice itself is not a thing but a set of relations through which people establish norms of acceptability,” then revealing the truth of what has happened in the war is as important as finding new ways for people to understand and reconcile with one another. This requires much more than a single trial.

Click on through to read the rest. Big props to the Warscapes team and the critical edits that got the piece out rather quickly. Ongwen’s trial will continue into the spring, so I’ll be keeping an eye out as everything moves forwards. I’m sure there will be more.


This year I’m a commuter over at the African Studies Association’s annual meeting, as it’s in Washington today through Saturday. If you’re around. let’s meet up! In particular, I’m promoting two social events in addition to the panel I’ll be speaking on. Check them out!

Friday night the good people of Twitter will be congregating off-sit for our annual #ASA2016 tweet-up. Join us at Perry’s in Adams Morgan, a short hop away from the Marriott, starting at 6:00.

Also Friday night, the newly founded Institute for African Studies at George Washington University will be hosting a reception back at the Marriott at Wardman Park. As the institute is new, there won’t be tons of alumni hogging all the drinks and snacks – come hang out, meet people affiliated with the institute, and celebrate the opening of the new institute! 7:30-8:30, Virginia A.

Lastly, and most academically, I’ll be presenting on a panel alongside several scholars of Uganda on Saturday at 2:00pm, in room Washington 3. The paper I’ll be presenting on is a little bit of a departure for me: it will be less about radio, less about justice, and more about the work that words do in how we talk about the LRA conflict. Here’s a snippet below the cut. Continue reading


I’m about to head to the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Minneapolis. For those who are there, I’ll be doing a thing:

Negotiating the Radio: Sensitization, Militarization, and Media Interventions in the D.R. Congo on Friday at 1:45 in the Marquette VII room. Come say hi!

The talk will be based partly on research conducted in 2013 on FM radio come home messaging and the HF radio early warning network. The abstract is a hell of a mess, so rather than paste that I’ll just say that the talk will cover different ways that these radio interventions have created new publics and new ways of communicating for the local population as well as NGOs. This includes come home messaging on the FM radio as well as the spreading of rumors and creating new public audiences, as well as the HF network’s reliance on the military actors and the ways it allows communities to connect with one another.

I’m hoping to continue this research this coming summer, so hopefully it’ll show up at the blog more often. In the meantime, I’ll be in Minneapolis for the rest of the week – hope to see you fellow anthropologists there!

Lastly: another way to resist Trump’s America is to produce and exchange knowledge. Excited to learn from brilliant people this week, because learning is part of learning to subvert and resist.


Losing the Vote, Claiming the Future

This post is divided into two sections. This first part was initially written after spending five hours on Monday talking about the election and its impacts with my students, my peers, and the faculty of my department. It was an exhausting day, but one which saw people pushing to expand our understanding of how the world works – in part to dismantle it and build something better. It was also a day of learning from one another, building bridges (instead of walls). The second part was written Wednesday morning, after Tuesday’s walkout at George Washington University.

In the aftermath of the election, there are many autopsies of the campaigns and the polling numbers and the voter turnout. Clinton didn’t speak to the working classes enough. Trump tapped into a latent (or, more often, explicit) racism in Middle America. The rust belt felt ignored. Something about voting for change. Something about inching towards oblivion. Somebody said something about “a banana peel at the edge of the apocalypse.”

One thing that is incredibly clear is that the divisions between different parts of American society seem wider than ever (I say seem, because history). Looking at the electoral maps Tuesday night, it was obvious that there is a rural-urban divide, especially as commentators discussed the electoral minutia of specific counties in Wisconsin and Michigan. The urban-rural divide may be the most salient cleavage, but it carries with it class, race, and party implications – there’s no one metric with which to understand the nation disaster we find ourselves in. Divisions were also apparent in our news consumption and our social media use. Something about Facebook algorithms and feedback loops. Something about blocking racist uncles, but also something about my old racquetball friend once telling me I’d figure out conservatism when I got older.

The most apparent conclusion from the election results, however, is that a man who spouted hate the entire campaign garnered enough support to win the Electoral College and the presidency. No matter how much he backpedals his rhetoric of deporting over ten million immigrants and banning millions of Muslims, these are the promises on which he campaigned and won. Millions voted for him because of these statements and actions. Millions more voted for him for other reasons – distrust of Clinton, anxiety about ISIS, desire to repeal Obamacare, whatever – despite the racism and misogyny. Holding their nose or not, tens of millions of Americans voted in a candidate who has targeted almost every demographic from people of color to veterans to the disabled to women and beyond. It largely doesn’t matter how tightly you hold your nose. We all smell it. We see it. And we saw you vote for it.

A common refrain in the commentary has been that white working class rural voters felt disenfranchised. These voters reacted strongly and out of desperation after years of not being heard by Washington elites, most recently the Obama-Clinton Democrats. These same voters are also calling anti-fascist protesters “crybabies.” This disdain for the left’s proclivity to reject the neoliberal and far-right dismantling of everyday life is not new, of course. The last few years have seen continuous belittling tirades from conservatives and liberals alike against millennials for being “coddled.” But what is brattier than lashing out at the most vulnerable populations because elites wouldn’t listen to you? What is more coddled than white people claiming disenfranchisement in the first election after the Voting Rights Act has been eviscerated, by electing a candidate supported by the Klan?

Trump’s campaign stood for hate, and there’s no doubt about it. He made this country unsafe for millions. His rallies saw violence against protesters – violence that he not only enabled but encouraged. Forget the brown shirts and the black shirts; we’ve got the red hats, and they’re now draped in the legitimacy of the president’s office. Regardless of what policies come forth from his administration, the Trump administration will be one that is associated – rightfully – with tearing apart many of our communities. Fundamental to resisting his political project will be maintaining these communities and building solidarity to others – caring for one another in the face of violence, community in the face of division, love in the face of hate.

Amidst all of the election analysis fever, there have been numerous calls for breaking down barriers and reaching across the urban-rural divide. To understand those that voted for the next president. This is an important task that is part of the organizing work that lies ahead. As families gather for Thanksgiving and other winter holidays, conversations will be had. (see this thread on how to organize around the dinner table and these two readings on why not to reconcile with hate in the family) Let these conversations – to the extent possible – be conversations mobilizing those who have not been engaged and building coalitions across our existing social networks. And let them grow. At the same time as we reach outwards, though, we must spend time with our own. Liberal and conservative tut-tutting about safe spaces be damned, self-care and care for one another are a central part of struggling against ideologies that figuratively and literally beat you down. Reach across divides, but also check in with your people.

While many white American liberals are surprised by the election results and by the sheer tenacity of the president-elect’s brazen hate, many others are not. The country’s black, Latin American, indigenous, and immigrant populations have known this hate for decades, for centuries. And they have worked against it this entire time. Just in the last decade new movements have flourished demanding rights for these communities, and those fights are ongoing. The best response to Trump is to engage with these struggles, to help them come together, to welcome others, to build a radical coalition against hate. Here are some good notes on building the movement.

Many have already taken to the streets against the incoming regime. Many of these groups are diverse and show the power of community. A general strike has already been called for the day of the inauguration. At the heart of any general strike is a call for solidarity. Everyone – workers, students, whomever can afford to sacrifice a day of work – should respect and honor the strike and take part in whatever types of actions they can.

The Trump White House and the Republican Congress will try to reshape the country according to their ideals. They must be opposed every step of the way. Fortunately for all of the leftists and liberals, most centers of state and corporate power are in urban settings that went blue. The space between our homes, our workplaces, and their offices will be where the struggle is played out. In Washington, DC, where I work and where 90% of voters cast their ballot for Clinton, the inauguration itself will have to become a site of resistance. I aim to make my voice – and my presence – clear to these leaders. The future of this country is not one of hate or divisiveness. Those of us who participate in electoral politics may feel that we lost the vote. But we can’t lose sight of the future we want, the future we can imagine, the future we can call into being.

* *

Yesterday, I joined hundreds of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and allies a walkout at George Washington University. Earlier in the day, several DC high school students had also walked out in protest of the election. In response to the finger-wagging about respecting electoral democracy, the walk out and march was a reminder – a loud reminder to Trump – that the electoral college is not a mandate to govern with hate. The popular vote went to Clinton, and many others did not vote at all because they disliked both candidates, and still many others did not vote because they could not. Among those in the streets everyday this week are many immigrants and youth who do not have the right to vote, but surely have a right in how they are governed.

Gathered in a crowded Kogan Plaza, I heard passionate pleas and brilliant speeches from GW students who are Muslim, who are immigrants, who are first-generation students, who are lesbians, who are trans*, who are Latina, who are black, who are queer, who have experienced sexual assault, who fear for their loved ones, who fear for themselves, who are undocumented, who are indigenous.

From there, a march hundreds strong took Pennsylvania Avenue, chanting “We! Reject! The President-Elect!” And I knew I was where I needed to be. In the face to white supremacy and misogyny, a diverse group of beautiful people who stand for a more just and equitable future.

After more speeches at the White House, students returned to campus and delivered a list of demands to the George Washington University administration regarding student needs for inclusion and access on campus. The list was as diverse as the crowd – calls for supporting Title IX, calls to ensure GW is a sanctuary for undocumented students regardless of DACA, calls to admit more Palestinian students. The lesson these student organizers are teaching the whole school is to speak against power both small and large, on campus and on Pennsylvania Avenue.

To reiterate, there is so much work to do. This has been apparent for a long time. Trump’s election can galvanize even more action than we’ve seen over the last few years. Actions will continue and continue, everyday. As one student said yesterday: we won’t be done marching for another four years. And, regardless of what these four years look like and how 2020 goes, I’d say we’ve got even more marching to do. And bridges to build. And barricades to erect. And policies to oppose. And people to protect. And futures to ensure.


It’s been a tough week. I’ve had a lot of feelings, and I’ve shared a lot of thoughts on social media and in the arms of dear friends and in safe classrooms. I’m writing here because it’s how I usually process things. Reflections on what this means, what to do, and – for those distant family members and strangers who voted differently than myself – why I’m afraid, despairing, filled with rage.

What does it mean that the glass ceiling at Javits Center became so real that Hillary Clinton was unable to give a victory speech there Tuesday night? Whatever it means, that answer is amplified by the fact that instead a misogynist who has been accused of sexual assault, who has been recorded admitting it, who has targeted women for years, won instead. It also means that a strategic proportion of less than half of voters either agree with his hateful rhetoric and proposals or (even worse) will tolerate it for other means.

It’s hard to think of who the next four years will help. Every single person I know will be worse off, often in extremes. Women, but also Muslims and undocumented immigrants; queer and trans people, but also black people, documented immigrants, refugees, those with disabilities, the poor, those with job precarity and those relying on ACA for health insurance, indigenous communities, intellectuals, Jews, journalists, protesters.

Despair because this election happened, and millions of voters supported that decision. Anger because it shouldn’t have happened, for a host of reasons from the technical (she won the popular vote) to political (his policies will be bad for so many) to moral (multiculturalism and intellectualism are apparently now evils to be excised, and they’re central to my being). Fear because women’s bodily autonomy and right to public life are being threatened, because Muslims and immigrants and refugees are being pushed out rhetorically and through the power of the state. Rage because fuck all of that.

Last night, I joined a group of people – mostly college students – in the streets of DC. When we arrived at the White House, we also ran into a rally of and for undocumented immigrants. Locking arms and marching in the streets was empowering – a welcome euphoria I hadn’t felt since watching Manhattan get shut down in response to police violence – and the intersectionality of the protest was invigorating. Among the chants I heard and screamed:

Donald Trump, can you hear? Immigrants are welcome here!

No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!

(women:) “It’s my body!” (all:) “It’s her body!”

Undocumented? Unafraid!

Trans, queer? Unashamed!

Black Lives Matter!

I’ve been in much of a daze since going to bed late Tuesday night. In my class on Wednesday, we turned it into a safe space where we could reflect on what this means and think about moving forwards. I cried several times; many of us did. This isn’t what losing an election should feel like, but the stakes were so high that many of us feel that we lost more than an election. We lost our future. We lost our rights. We lost our humanity. And he isn’t even in office yet.

Most of my students are young women trying to move up in the world, and facing sexism and rape culture and misogyny every step of the way. Most of my department’s students are women doing the same. Several of my students and half of my PhD program are international students, students whose immigration status is called into question – and for the Latin Americans especially, threatened in everyday life. I have a number of young cousins growing up in a state that by and large – and always has – makes space for white supremacists and not for women, minorities, immigrants. I still remember hearing snide remarks from white men behind me when I went to vote for the first time in the 2008 primary. They weren’t even directed at me, but I’ll never forget them.

What do I tell my students, my friends, my cousins, about their future? I certainly can’t give them guarantees about what’s to come. But I can tell them that I’ll do everything to stand in the way. I’m male. I pass as white. I’m a citizen. I work in a field where the threat of the law is less of a liability (but still frightening: another vivid memory is being roughed up at a protest).

In my classrooms, in gatherings of friends, and online, I’ve been hammering away at the same few points. Trump’s racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, xenophobic rhetoric, platform, and eventually policies will aim to create anomie and fear in this country and the world over. In the face of that, we need to care for one another and build community. Organize and resist. A party that represents and enacts hate and fear mongering will control much of government this January. But there is power in people.

To those who are scared, sad, or angry. I’m here for you, reach out.

To those who are celebrating right now. I see you.

To those who will stand against Trump and all that he represents. Solidarity.

To those who are willing to work with Trump, even on specific issues. You’re useless in this struggle.

To those with privilege. Wield it in service of those who do not.

To those who are with me, we have work to do. There’s a lot that’s already apparent – indigenous rights, anti-police and anti-capitalist movements, reproductive rights, immigrant rights – but there’s also a lot of work that we don’t even know yet. It will become clarified in the years to come. Do what you can, how you can. Let’s get to work.

Public Anthropology Conference @ American University

Just a brief note to my DC-based and DC-adjacent readers that the American University Anthropology Department’s annual Public Anthropology Conference will be taking place this weekend. You can find out more about the conference here, and you can see the full schedule for the weekend here. Registration is free and includes lunch, and the conference’s theme is about connecting social movements and academia, which may be relevant to some of you.

I mention this partially because I’ll be participating in a dialogue on the topic of “Ethnography and Advocacy across Categories,” on Oct. 9 at 9:00am at the Mary Graydon Center, Rm. 203-205. A handful of us, at various stages of academia from MA student to professor, will be talking about how we engage in, conflict with, or study activists and other forms of advocacy. Here’s a full abstract of the dialogue:

How can one reconcile the role of the ethnographer, which traditionally strives for objectivity, and the activist/advocate, which is consciously subjective? This dialogue session will explore how one, in the course of ethnographic labor, could tell the story of multiple groups in friction with one another, while also inhabiting the role of advocate for one or more of those groups. We will also examine the broader question of what forms advocacy can, or perhaps should, take in the context of anthropological work. Each participant will begin by discussing the ways in which their own work a) functions across or among cultural categories or groups and b) either intentionally or unintentionally does the work of advocacy for one or more of those categories or groups.

Because it’s a dialogue, it will be informal and we encourage audience participation in the conversation. The rest of the conference has some interesting panels and presentations as well. I hope to see you there!

#AES2016: Justice and Forgiveness

As a cadre of anthropologists flock to DC this week for the annual meeting of the American Ethnological Society, let me flag a paper I’m presenting at the panel, as well a public event in town.

First, Thursday night at 7:00 – at the Busboys and Poets on 5th and K, three anthropologists will be discussing recently published books in a public event co-hosted by AES titled “Homeland Insecurity: Anthropologists Discuss Terror, Corruption, and Displacement.” Catherine Besteman will be talking about Somali refugees in Maine, Joe Masco will be talking about counterterrorism, and Janine Wedel will be talking about corruption in U.S. politics. You should go – I’ll be there.

For followers of the blog, though:

I’ll be presenting a paper, “Between Justice and Forgiveness: Accountability across Borders in the LRA Conflict,” on panel 5.3: “Postconflict and Military Order.” It’s a diverse array of presentations on conflict, and it promises to be an interesting one. You can find us on Saturday, 8:00-9:45, in the Metro West room at the Capitol Hill Liaison Hotel. If you’re attending AES, hope to see you there!