SOAN Major Elena Becker Wins 1st Place at the SfAA Student Poster Competition

We are very pleased to share the news that SOAN major Elena Becker (’17) has won first place at the 2017 Society for Applied Anthropology’s Student Poster Competition in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her winning poster, titled Impacts of Development Discourse on Appropriate Technology “Solutions,” drew on fieldwork conducted in Madagascar, which was subsequently developed into her SOAN and Honors Program thesis. In addition to the stiff competition from her SOAN peers, the SfAA’s Student Poster Competition draws entrants from colleges and universities across the country and beyond, including many graduate students, so winning first place is an extremely impressive accomplishment. We asked Elena to describe her research and experience attending the SfAA conference:

Elena Becker with her poster at the Society for Applied Anthropology conference.

When I went to Madagascar to study abroad in 2015 I had a vague idea that my required, month-long research would somehow involve rural to urban migrations and the preservation of cultural practices in cities. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. When I actually got to Antananarivo I started noticing small, metal cookstoves littering the streets. These stoves (called fatapera) were sold on every corner, used in street food stalls, and fired up in middle-class homes three times a day. Their omnipresence piqued my interest, and I ultimately focused my research on how researchers can apply characteristics of traditional stoves to alternative models in order to increase the latter’s popularity.

I re-appropriated this fieldwork when it came time to write my senior thesis in the fall of 2016. Although I kept my focus on the cookstove case study, I created a new framework for it, this time focusing on the way that development organizations (inaccurately) imagine and engage with the Global South as they develop and distribute technologies that they imagine to be “appropriate” for those spaces. A few weeks ago I was fortunate to present this research in poster form at the 2017 Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Santa Fe, NM. As I’ve found in previous years, this was a great opportunity to meet other students, engage with professional anthropologists, and to get feedback on my work and I left the conference with lots of exciting ideas and new directions to explore!

Congratulations on receiving this well-deserved recognition for your insightful work, Elena!


Puget Sound SOAN Students at the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting in Santa Fe

Hi all,

Over the past decade, SOAN students have been a regular feature at the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA). The SfAA uniquely convenes academic anthropologists with a constellation of ‘practitioners’ — anthropologists who use their degree(s) to work in international development, public health, international development, the non-profit sector, and a variety of other areas. This year, the annual meeting was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Seven students participated in the poster session, which provided them the opportunity to present their research and receive feedback from numerous conference attendees. And as usual, our students’ research widely impressed the anthropologists at the conference. Here’s a quick list of the Puget Sound students’ poster titles.

Elena Augustine’s project, Pro-Life Direct Activists’ Affect on Planned Parenthood Patients and Employees, explored how pro-life activism shapes clinic dynamics and defense tactics in the greater Tacoma area.

Elena Becker’s project, Impacts of Development Discourse on Appropriate Technology “Solutions,” distilled her fieldwork in Madagascar and her subsequent senior thesis work into a critique of the contemporary development paradigm.

Maria Birrell presented her senior thesis project, entitled Applying Feminist Theory to Indigenous Archaeology, which explores how feminist archaeological theory has reshaped the practice of archaeological fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest.

Sam Carp’s summer research exploring agricultural practices in Ghana, further extrapolated for his senior thesis, was distilled in his project poster, entitled, Understanding the Role of Subsistence Farming in a Developing Nation. In that project, Sam emphasizes the food security role of local markets and subsistence farming.

Emma Erler’s project, A Forged Dichotomy between Biomedicine and Traditional Healing Practices: An Ethnographic Study of Sikkim Dichotomy, builds on her ethnographic research during her semester abroad in India, exploring the dialectic between the biomedical paradigm and traditional, historic healing practices in India.

Kathryn Stutz’s project, Transnational Museum Networks Passing Through Qatar: The Balance of Communication, Curation, and Culture, distilled her AHSS summer research project in Qatar amidst the astonishing bloom of new museums there. This project examines some o the complex processes and relations discernible in the the process of establishing these museums, their exhibit, and their content.

Ariel Ziegler’s senior project, entitled National Parks for All?: Exploration of African American Accessibility of US National Parks, uses an ethnographic methodology to explore differential access to America’s archipelago of national parks.

As noted, Puget Sound has established a perennial footprint at the Society for Applied Anthropology, and these students’ work set the pace for the annual poster session. Congrats to all involved for another successful conference.


Anthropology Takes Center Stage at This Year’s Southeast Asia Symposium

Our third annual Southeast Asia Symposium, which takes place this Friday and Saturday, will incorporate programming of interest to folks from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, but particularly those interested in anthropology, ethnomusicology, and art. The events are free and open to the public.



The symposium is the centerpiece of our Southeast Asia Program, and provides a forum for undergraduates who have participated in our LIASE fieldschool courses to share their research with the broader campus community, while also serving as a forum for Northwest scholars whose research or pedagogy addresses Southeast Asian environmental and cultural topics to come together and collaborate. This year marks our first faculty panel on Southeast Asia’s role in the liberal arts, which includes three anthropologists discussing topics ranging from gender to music to mediation of distance.

Peter Brosius. Photo by Paul Efland.

Peter Brosius. Photo by Paul Efland.

The symposium takes place this October 28-29, with keynote talks on both evenings: on Friday the 28th, renowned environmental anthropologist Peter Brosius will speak on his pioneering work on cultural approaches to conservation and environmental activism.

On Saturday the 29th, Arahmaiani, an internationally known Indonesian performance artist, women’s rights activist, and political dissident, will discuss her work and career.

We will be having batik workshops on both days as well (sign up in advance), using sustainable, naturally derived dyes.

The symposium concludes Saturday evening with a free performance of Indonesian music by the Northwest’s premiere Javanese music ensemble, Gamelan Pacifica, in Rasmussen Rotunda.

Gamelan Pacifica

Gamelan Pacifica

The full schedule is available online here, with links to more information on each event. We hope to see you there!

Salam hangat,

SOAN Fall Mixer, this Thursday!

Hi all,

The SOAN department, in conjunction with the SOAN student club, will host its Fall mixer this Thursday. Learn more about the SOAN major and minor, hear about research opportunities, meet other students, ask about the courses offered in the Spring, and grab some free food. Here are the details:

What: SOAN Fall Mixer
Where: Tahoma Room
When: 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM, Thursday October 27

We hope to see you there!


SOAN Club Brownbag this Wednesday at 1:00 PM

forestWhat:   Senior Allison Nasson will talk about her AHSS Summer Research Project
When:  Wednesday September 28 from 1:00 to 1:50
Where: MacIntyre Room 303

The SOAN Student Club is happy to announce they’ll be hosting the first in a series of brownbag discussions this Wednesday. Senior Allison Nasson was one of several SOAN students awarded the AHSS Summer Research Awards. Allison’s project explored how nonprofits go about the process of constructing and purveying narratives of victimhood. Here’s her description:

Storytelling has become an invaluable tool for nonprofits as they attempt to garner attention and funding for their causes. Countless choices go into the construction of a narrative, and this begs the question: to whom are nonprofits catering these choices? When building and telling a victim’s story takes place with the goal of maximizing donations, NGOs are accountable to potential donors rather than to the people whose stories are being told. This shift in accountability requires an analysis of how victims’ narratives are constructed, whose stories go unheard, and the ramifications of manipulated portrayals of marginalized identities.

Only in recent years has such analysis begun to be called for in communities of activism. In this vein, my research studies the three processes I found nonprofits most consistently applied to victims’ narratives: simplification, sanitization, and solving. This examination allows insight into how storytelling practices contribute to perceptions of legitimate victimhood, and the attribution or denial of this status. Such analysis is critical to understanding whether nonprofits are serving victims effectively, or if well-intended organizational practices are in fact creating further exploitation and harm.

After a brief presentation about her project and its findings, the brownbag session will turn to an open discussion about her conclusions, her project design, and the AHSS summer research experience. Please join us!


Summer Research Update: Sam Carp and his project in Ghana

Untitled2Hi all,

I asked the SOAN students conducting AHSS summer research projects to drop us a line and update us about their exciting projects. While most of Sam’s time in Ghana is spent off the grid, he was able to communicate this to me, and he sent along a few pictures as well! Here’s what he had to say:

It was all a dream: Volunteering and researching in southwest Ghana…

Oh man, I swear if I hear one more rooster crow I am going to lose it! It’s not so bad usually, but when you’re trying to sleep in past 5:00 a.m., it’s not conducive to live in a village where everybody owns at least ten chickens. It’s 1:00 p.m. now in Frankadua, a small farming community in the Volta Region of Ghana located about two hours northwest of the country’s capital city, Accra. I’ve just sat down to drink a second cup of instant coffee after having a lunch of peanut soup, chicken, Untitled6and rice, a dish I know I am going to make when I get back home. Now that the rainy season has come, the temperature has decreased to about 25 degrees Celsius (or 80 degrees Fahrenheit) with only moderate humidity, and people have begun to walk around in brightly colored shirts and long pants. Kids are running around in their school uniforms and playing on the porch of the volunteer house, and the people of the village are out and about selling goods like pepper and corn, or laundry detergents, or out working hard on their farms.

It has been a long four and half weeks so far, but overall my experience here in Ghana has exceeded my initial expectations. Before I left, the piece of advice I was given the most from friends, family members, and professors was to go into this trip with few expectations and to expect my daily experiences to help govern the direction my volunteer work and research would progress. Now that over a month has passed, and with only two weeks left in my journey, I am so glad this was also the piece of advice that I took to Untitled5heart the most. Since I was going to be a volunteer, student, and tourist all at the same time, I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me when dealing with how to balance all of the things that I wanted, or at least thought I should be doing.

So far, so good though. Each day I wake up at 5:30 to go work on the farm that my volunteer program helps to manage. There we help to harvest corn and cassava (a type of root), plant beans, cabbage, and eggplant, and help to weed with machetes and turn the soil. Work on the farm ends around 8-8:30 because it begins to get too hot to do much more physical labor, and at this point we begin the 25 minute walk through the mud (because it’s the rainy season) back to the house to have a breakfast of either pancakes, toast, or egg sandwiches. After this, I usually work on my research or help with various projects around the village. By four, I am usually done with whatever research I have done for the day, which usually entails doing interviews, having short conversations, or conducting simple observations. By this time most volunteers are also back at the house playing with the children, who are done with school by then.

Untitled4My experience so far, though amazing and mind blowing, hasn’t been as balanced and smooth as the description above would appear to depict. Every day has been filled with conflicting emotions and decisions, both with the volunteer work and the research that I have been doing. Frankadua is a town stuck in a cycle of poverty, mainly because it is inhabited by 90 percent subsistence farmers. Because of this, it takes a lot of thought and discussion to coordinate volunteer projects that are beneficial to both the volunteers and the locals. IVHQ is a program that generally hosts volunteers for 2-10 weeks, and because of this, there are a lot of projects that go unfinished. Many volunteers also come in with differing opinions, and while we all get along, we have to constantly be discussing how we want to be interacting with the kids that come by the house, or how we teach in the schools, or how we appropriately give money for varying purposes around the village. The conflicting feelings also accompany the work I have been doing for school. I have made a lot of Untitled8friends and met many engaging and hard working people so far through my interviews, and while they understand that my ability to help them is severely limited, they still consistently ask me for things that I am not able to give them — like heavy machinery, or contact info for non-profits.

While I am not able to help the people that I meet as much as I want to, they have drawn me towards countless realizations and understandings of the realities of the world we live in and how varying systems interacting on a global scale affect the lives of people all over the world. I’m excited to get back to America, but when I leave I know I’m going to miss the experiences I’ve had here so far. Hopefully my volunteer work and research leaves me in a position where I will be able to continue to think about the work I have done in Ghana and what I want to be doing in the future.

So glad to hear from you, Sam, and good luck wrapping up your research. We’ll see you on campus in a few weeks!



Summer Research Update: Kathryn Stutz wanders through the forest of Qatari museums

Kathryn in Qatar

Kathryn in Qatar

Hi all,

I asked our students with AHSS summer research grants for an update about their progress and experiences. Kathryn’s project, focused on museums outside the Euro-American west, carried her to Qatar and London. Here’s her update from the summer swelter of the hot Qatari peninsula …

I winced as my Uber driver rolled the car slowly into another unavoidable pothole and the Camry’s entire frame jolted. We were out in the outskirts of Doha, the capital of Qatar, a small nation which sticks out like a cupped hand from top edge of the Arabian peninsula, extending into the gulf. Here, outside Doha, the city center’s smooth highways and improbably landscaped desert gardens faded out into bumpy cobblestone roads and migrant labor camps.

From top to bottom: The Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art), and Msheirib.

From top to bottom: The Museum of Islamic Art, Mathaf (the Arab Museum of Modern Art), and Msheirib.

All of the other museums I’d visited thus far had been set somewhere in Doha’s main downtown sprawl: the Museum of Islamic Art, placed in a white wedding cake of a building (which I.M. Pei had been brought out of retirement to design), standing on its own private island along the city’s park-lined shore; the Msheirib Museums, white-washed houses nestled into a quiet pocket of downtown between markets and skyscrapers; even Mathaf, the edgy Arab Art Museum, settled into the fabric of Education City’s foreign universities. None of these museums are further than 20 minutes from the compound where I was staying.

The Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani museum, on the other hand, lies far out into the desert. My iPhone’s maps were useless; my driver Jareesh and I were navigating using the tried and true method of asking random passers-by for the rough direction of the museum every couple hundred meters.

Sheikh Faisal Museum

Sheikh Faisal Museum

After a quarter of an hour meandering down thin roads between the walls of labor camps, I spotted the first sign for the museum, and Jareesh took me through the security and up to the front door of the museum, which was housed in an enormous castle of a building, standing amidst thin desert trees and the skeletons of boats.

Inside, the museum is packed with over 18,000 artifacts, ranging from art and calligraphy and religious objects to the Sheikh’s prized collection of hundreds of old cars. Thankfully,

Mahmoud, a museum tour guide, intercepted me at the front door and showed me around, allowing me to grasp the scale of the museum without becoming overwhelmed. It quickly became clear that this museum stood apart from the other collections I’d visited previously – this museum felt alive. Even during the slow summer days, other tourists and residents meandered around pointing at dramatic sailing ship displays and the deep oil wells around which the museum had been built at the end of the 20th century – if you lean over carefully, you can see the glimmer of oil far below at the bottom.

Inside the Sheikh Faisal museum

Inside the Sheikh Faisal museum

The arrangement of prominent – if somewhat austere – prestige museums in city centers, juxtaposed against beloved – if a bit well-worn – community museums, is a familiar one.

Over the past academic year, I’ve been researching museums in the Pacific Northwest, following the work of historian of anthropology James Clifford, who discussed the different types of museums in British Columbia in the chapter “Four Northwest Coast Museums,” of his book Routes.

Back at the end of May, I had begun the summer with a trip through the same four museums Clifford examined: the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) in Victoria, the Kwagiulth Museum (now called the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre) in Cape Mudge Village, the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, and the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver.

The RBCM and the MOA fit happily within the same museum model followed at Doha’s MIA, Mathaf, and the Msheirib Museums. These are all ‘Western’ in style, with tastefully minimalistic exhibits and careful, historical signage. They appear in tourist campaigns and are the subject of thousands of artful photos of their cities’ downtowns.

Museums like the Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre and the U’mista Cultural Centre – and the Sheikh Faisal Museum – are different. One of my contacts with the Qatari Museum Authority singled out Sheikh Faisal as one of the few truly ‘Qatari’ museums, founded by a member of the Al Thani royal family, on his own personal land, for the benefit of his friends and neighbors. The objects at Sheikh Faisal feel like personal belongings arranged on a shelf, precisely because they are; despite its size and grandeur, the Shiekh’s museum feels intimate. Museums like this one are further off the beaten path, but offer a look at how the people of a country truly see themselves.

At Al Jazeera

At Al Jazeera

And understanding what makes a museum ‘Qatari’ is vital at the moment, because the new National Museum of Qatar is scheduled to open in December, and it has big shoes to fill: according to nearly every source on the topic, the old National Museum, built in 1975, shortly after Qatar gained independence, was definitely beloved. That museum has been gone for decades, its artifacts in shortage, its signage literally scattered to the desert winds.

Now, it is the task of Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums, and her staff of both Qataris and foreign consultants, to construct a museum that brings together the best of both worlds – the new NMoQ will stand near the center of town, but it cannot feel like just another forbidding Western institution. It must be able, like a national flag or the Sheikh Faisal collection, to “represent the [nation] to its people, and its people to the world at large” (Roman Mars, TED2015 Vancouver).

I was reminded of the high stakes the new National Museum faces when Mahmoud pointed to a curiously shaped stone in a glass cabinet.

“You know the National Museum?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Do you know what this is, then?” he prompted me.

I thought back to my first glimpse of the new museum as I’d driven past it on the way from the airport. The jagged white curves and edges were shrouded in construction equipment, but lit up in the night. My housemate had laughed when I told her about this. “You mean the UFO?” she said. I came to understand that many residents of Doha saw something alien in the new construction of the National Museum – a worrying thing for its designer, who had been envisioning something entirely different. The museum’s architecture had been inspired by a natural geological form, found out in the sands beyond the city.

Desert Rose

Desert Roses

Back at the Sheikh’s museum, I nodded once more. “It’s a desert rose.”

Thanks so much for this wonderful update, Kathryn! We hope the rest of your stay there is productive. Safe travels, and we’ll see you back in Tacoma later in the summer.