Welcoming Our New MA, EdM, and PhD Students!

The Programs in Anthropology at Teachers College are delighted to welcome 13 new graduate students into our department. Below, you can learn a bit more about some of the members of our first year class, many of whom will be joining the blog as contributors in the coming months.

MA Students 

Laura Hones


Laura Hones is an MA student in the Anthropology and Education program. She earned her BA in Anthropology from Illinois Wesleyan University, where she conducted ethnographic research on urban intentional communities. Following her graduation from Illinois Wesleyan University, Laura spent three years working in Chicago Public Schools in partnership with City Year Chicago and SAGA Innovations, an educational non-profit. She is interested in adolescence, gender studies, and the culture of nonprofit organizations.


Christopher Sanacore


Christopher Sanacore graduated from Bennington College with a degree in Educational Linguistics. During his undergraduate studies, he focused on integrating the fields of critical theory, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and anthropology. He has worked as an English language instructor and elementary school assistant in Boston, Massachusetts and was a part of a special projects course on the U.S/Mexico border that brought him to Tucson, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico alongside students from Bennington College and Williams College. His senior thesis centered around second language acquisition and digital media interactions to help second language learners acquire informal linguistic proficiency. Most recently, Chris served as an Americorps member with City Year in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked as a mathematics instructor for English language learners. He is now working on achieving his Masters in Anthropology and Education with a focus on the intersections between education policy, school violence and pedagogy through a linguistic anthropological lens.


Tizoc Sanchez


Tizoc Sanchez was born with a second name: Fernando. One refers to pre-hispanic Mexican heritage and the other to his Spanish heritage. Being a mixture, or mestizaje, has influenced his approach to life and to research. Tizoc first developed an interest in education while teaching reading and writing skills to adults living in the remote rural zones of Mexico. He later studied literacy pedagogy with a focus on philosophy and educational theory. He has worked as a research assistant, a curriculum developer, and a traveling educator, working primarily with immigrant children. In addition, Tizoc has conducted workshops on nonviolence and has worked as a philosophy teaching assistant. His academic interests concern how people develop in conjunction with their social and natural environments, with a particular emphasis on how moral behavior is shaped by classroom experiences, migration, and family.

Marlee Tavlin


Marlee Tavlin recently graduated from New York University with a double major in Social Work and Classical Civilization-Anthropology. For the past four years, she has been a teaching assistant and co-teacher for The American Museum of Natural History’s Education Department. Her academic interests include urban education, social justice, and using museums as a tool to close the education gap facing NYC’s students.


EdM Students 

Bader Alfarhan


Bader Alfarhan is a first-year Ed.M  student in the Anthropology and Education program within the Department of International and Transcultural Studies. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Kuwait, Bader brings to Teachers College his extensive experience working with international students. Bader earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Washington-Seattle, where he majored in Anthropology and completed a double minor in Education and Diversity. In his final year at the University of Washington-Seattle, Bader completed a yearlong honors thesis exploring the lived experiences of Kuwaiti and Saudi men studying abroad in Seattle. This research inspired him to pursue graduate work focused on advocating for the inclusion of international students on U.S. university campuses. Bader’s primary research interests include international experiences, higher education, temporary migration, and the training of educators overseas.


Wayétu Moore


Wayétu Moore is a writer/essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the founder of One Moore Book (www.onemoorebook.com), a CBC-member boutique publisher of multicultural children’s books aimed at readers in countries with low literacy rates. She is also the founder of Moore Books Inc., a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that builds bookstores, libraries and reading corners that serve underrepresented groups. Her first bookstore opened in Monrovia, Liberia in 2015. She earned her BA in journalism at Howard University, and an MA in creative writing from the University of Southern California. She is an adjunct instructor at The College of New Rochelle. Wayétu has been featured in The Economist Magazine, NPR and BBC News, among others, for her work in advocacy for diversity in children’s literature. Her novel and memoir are forthcoming with Graywolf Press. Her writing can be found in The Atlantic Magazine, Guernica Magazine, The Rumpus, Gawker, Waxwing Literary Magazine and various other literary journals. Wayétu is currently a Margaret Mead Fellow at Teachers College, where she conducts research on the impact of culturally relative curriculum and learning aids in the elementary classrooms of underrepresented groups.


PhD Students 

Miranda Hansen-Hunt


Miranda Hansen-Hunt is originally from a small town in Connecticut, though she has spent the past nine years in Philadelphia. In 2011, Miranda graduated with a BA in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr and a BA in Religion from Haverford College. She then went on to earn an MS in Education with a speciality in Elementary Education from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Miranda is a certified K-6 educator and an ALTA certified language practitioner. After earning her MS, Miranda taught in a variety of school settings throughout Philadelphia and Connecticut. She is currently a PhD student in Anthropology and Education. Her current research interests include discipline and trauma in schools, urban education in the North-East cities, and the “savior complex” in urban education.


Corinne Kentor


Corinne Kentor is a doctoral student in Anthropology and Education. She earned her BA in English from Yale University, where she was a member of the second graduating cohort of Education Studies Scholars. At Yale, Corinne worked as a public relations representative and interviewer for the Undergraduate Admissions Office, positions which brought her into contact with diverse groups of domestic and international applicants. Through fellowships associated with the New Haven Public Schools District, she served as a Spanish-language kindergarten assistant, a playwriting and drama teacher, and a yoga instructor. As an Education Studies Scholar, Corinne conducted research on the politicalization of school administrators serving in southern New Mexico, with a focused lens on the implementation of dual language initiatives. Last year, she also served as a research assistant for the Yale Law School, where she assisted an interdisciplinary committee tasked with reforming graduate grading policies. Corinne’s experiences throughout the New Haven area have heavily influenced her work as a researcher and an educator. Her current research interests include equity and college access, migration and immigration, media and ethics education, and the relationship among schools, politicians, and social justice networks.


Daniel Rudas-Burgos


Daniel Rudas-Burgos is an anthropologist and educator from Bogotá, Colombia.  He is a research associate at Instituto Caro y Cuervo, a government-funded organization dedicated to the study of Colombian literature and linguistics. In addition, he has served as a socio-linguistic lecturer for the Department of Anthropology at Pontifical Xaverian University. Daniel earned his BA in Anthropology at National University of Colombia (2005), and his MA in Education at Pontifical Xaverian University (2011). His past research has focused on out-of-school education among young people in Bogotá, and informal communication practices among civil servants in Cundinamarca, Colombia. Currently, he is completing a doctoral program in Anthropology and Education at Teachers College with the support of a Fulbright scholarship. Daniel’s research interests center around the comprehension of reading and writing as social, cultural, and political practices. He plans to explore how vernacular reading and writing practices can help empower excluded and marginalized social groups and provide key strategies for conflict management.  


Brittany Vaszlavik


Brittany Vaszlavik is a first year doctoral student in Anthropology and Education. She received her BA in Anthropology and English at Bloomsburg University. During that time, she conducted independent research on “College First Year Adjustment,” a project that won first place in Behavior and Social Sciences at the National Collegiate Honors conference. Brittany’s field study methods course was conducted in Rome, Italy where she learned Spelioarcheology. While earning her Master’s degree in Education, Counseling, Student Affairs at Bloomsburg, she continued her research on higher education, focusing on gender, diversity, leadership, and mental health. Brittany has worked with students in higher education through residence life and the Dean of Students office. She is currently working as a Teacher’s Aide in a middle school and teaching a composition course at her local community college. At Teachers College, Brittany hopes to use the lens of Anthropology to continue to study mental health issues related to suicide and violence in the education system.

Resistance and power in rural China – Andrew Wortham

I left my junior year studying abroad in Delhi convinced that economics was the key to understanding all of the world’s problems. I had studied with an Indian micro-economist at Delhi University, and he had taken me to field sites in Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh. During these trips we sat down with families and organizations, often spending the whole weekend collecting data. We normally began each field visit by trying to collect quantitative information about income and daily expenses, costs of school and family population.  However more interesting descriptions emerged from people about the discrepancies of how policies were intended and what was being enacted.  For example, we asked about the amount of money people received from the government employment schemes, but people told us about the performances they had to do to get the money.  Or we tried to get data on school enrollment and attendance, but students told us about the hours of self study while their teachers chewed paan and read the newspaper. When I returned to the University of Texas, economics as a discipline did not seem to value the qualitative aspects of research. Instead, I was supposed to generate  macro data that could be expressed in quantities and analyzed through econometric formulas. I was told that if I wanted to be an economist, I would be better off just taking math courses rather than courses that would help me understand  more about life in rural India. 

In this time of confusion,, I stumbled across a professor in the anthropology department, Heather Hindman, who studies development in Nepal. We began to chat about our various research interests and immediately connected. We talked about qualitative research, traveling to rural towns, and learning about the on-the-ground impacts of development initiatives. I began working with her closely on designing my senior research project to look at the role of education in the Indian state of Sikkim. I began thinking about the relationship between people and the state, power, and the ways in which people might resist normative educational institutions like schools.  

These questions framed the next two years of my life in rural Yunnan, where I worked as  a teaching fellow with the nonprofit Teach for China (TFC). As part of the Teach for All network, TFC optimistically believes that new graduates from China and the United States can solve the complex problems of education inequality between China’s urban and rural schools. I was placed in a village outside of Tengchong, about two hours away from the Burmese-Chinese border. As a teacher my focus became a group of rowdy boys in my sixth grade English class. Both my best friends and my nemeses, they would test the boundaries of school by bringing both dead and living animals to class and turning anything and everything into a weapon.  Why did these boys work so actively to disrupt and resist school?  

In the hope of returning to this village, I enrolled in Columbia’s Teachers College to learn the research skills and theoretical frameworks that might help me better understand students at my school. The coursework in the anthropology department has been extremely useful in helping me frame my questions and work towards getting back to the field. In Professor de Wolfe’s ethnographic methods course this semester, we are actually practicing methodology every single week.  Despite a larger ethnographic project that we have to turn in as a final paper for her class, she regularly gives us interactive mini-assignments. Through these weekly assignments, we are able to practice the skills we need to conduct research, get insightful, detailed feedback from Professor de Wolfe and take time to speak with  our classmates about our ideas and observations. Anthropology at TC of Columbia also has a strong foundation in teaching social theory, which I find to be necessary for re-thinking common sense problems with schooling or development. In Professor Varenne’s course I am pushed to reassess what I meant by the word “education.” He regularly assigns fascinating ethnographies that complicate and redefine what schooling is. I have also gained a great deal from Professor Limerick’s Anthropology of Power course, which has provided an incredible reading list for developing a  framework to study many of the power dynamics that I have seen in my own research.

This summer (2016), I hope to return to Yunnan to do fieldwork for my independent research project. After a year of thinking about, writing, and discussing proposals with peers, my research questions have become more articulate and meaningful. I am looking forward to writing up my findings and getting meaningful feedback on my work through the master’s/doctoral student colloquium so that I can continue and expand this project for when I apply to doctoral programs.  

*Andrew Wortham is a first year M.A. student in Anthropology.

Embodiment and Identity Formation in Boarding Schools – Molly Sardella

I joined the Programs in Anthropology and Education in the fall of 2015 in order to conduct research on the links between identity formation, individual well-being, and environments where “forms of knowledge” are produced. My interest in knowledge production grew out of a project undertaken while working on my MA in Anthropology at Binghamton University(2009-2011). For my MA thesis, I looked at pedagogy and the creation of training policies and procedures among UN peacekeepers. Through this project, I began to think about the importance of different types of educational practices on the lives of people within various environments, and about how institutions can be simultaneously constraining and productive in learning and the shaping of identities.  

My curiosity about boarding schools as institutions and locations of identity formation began when I accepted a full time teaching position within one. I quickly began to notice something that appeared peculiar to me. The school had a very clear “philosophy” about what made someone a good student and a proper citizen, and life at the school, whether it be in the classroom, dormitory, athletic facilities, or elsewhere, appeared to be tailored to create an insular community of values and behaviors tied to that philosophy. Wanting to understand what was happening around me and the impact of such an environment on the people living and operating within it, I drew upon my background in anthropology to begin conducting participant observation. I was particularly interested in boarding schools as institutions and locations of identity production and formation. For one year, I conducted observations, compiled field notes, and became involved in as many parts of campus life as possible.

At Teachers College, I have continued to utilize the ethnographic material collected during the previous year, and I am pursuing further fieldwork and supplemental research on boarding schools. My goal is to complete a thorough project about the ways that the environment of a boarding school constrains and shapes student lives. I will be delving into student behavior, conceptions of self/identity, and embodiment, and how each of these components of lived experience are tied to the structures, rules, and philosophy of a particular school. While the majority of my previous work and research has focused on student experiences while they are physically present in boarding schools, I also plan to conduct future fieldwork among recent graduates. The goals of this seemingly “supplemental” research is to compare the way students operate and experience life within the school and outside of it, as well as to assess the potential long-term impact of attending a boarding school on the lives of students.

Students who attend boarding schools are often viewed as members of the “elite.” While it is true that the majority of these young men and women come from wealthy families, a focus solely on social class and the privilege required to attend a boarding school can mask the very real, often unpleasant ways that boarding schools constrain and shape student lives. I believe it is important to understand the impact of boarding schools on the bodies, identities, and behaviors of students, partially because of the ways people associate boarding schools with privilege and status. Many families aspire to send their son or daughter to private boarding schools, out of a belief that such schools offer their children a “better education,” or more opportunities in life. Some parents will go into considerable debt in order to finance private education. Unfortunately, the impact of this type of school on the current lives of students, including their sense of self and their physical health, is usually not taken into account. Perhaps this is due to a societal assumption that a private or more extensive education will be beneficial to a person in every possible way, lumping together beliefs concerning schooling, future happiness, and well-being.

As previously mentioned, it is my assertion that boarding schools actually exist with the express purpose of “molding” young people – to shape them into a particular type of person. The entire structure of the school – the routines, the rules, the physical layout, the relationships between faculty and students – exists to create a group of young people that embodies and lives out the philosophy of the school itself. This is important for people to realize, before they make the decision of whether or not to send their child to a boarding school. It is also problematic and can lead to trauma and suffering for students who disagree with or are uncomfortable with the type of community the school is attempting to integrate them into. This can take a toll on students emotionally and physically and may have repercussions for their health and happiness beyond their time within the school itself.


*Molly Sardella is currently a student pursuing her EdM within the Anthropology and Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She earned her MA in Anthropology and MAT in Social Studies Education from Binghamton University and obtained her New York State Teaching Certificate in 2012.

Migration and identity: Rachel Ladany

Last semester I worked as a researcher just outside of Paris.  I was interested in  understanding how people who have migrated to France navigate the multiple identities constructed by and for them. I spoke with people from different nationalities, social classes, and backgrounds in order to gain a variety of experiences.

When asked the question “Do you consider yourself an immigrant?” many people told me that no, for a variety of reasons. I noticed several themes in their responses.  If they migrated from Europe, for example, they were definitely not an immigrant. If anything, they were an “ex-pat,” a “migrant,” or an “international.” Or, they were simply  “European.” If they came from a former French colony, they were less of an “immigrant” than people who came from Asia or Latin America because they grew up in French-speaking schools and areas. According to them, they had an easier time relating to French people.

My interviews also made clear that, despite common beliefs, being a  migrant depended on much more than the geographic places from which the individuals had traveled. One woman I spoke with classified herself as an “ex-pat” in the country she was born and raised in because she married a French man, worked around the world, and then came back to her home country.

Through the interviews, it became clear that “immigrant” is a word whose reference depends much upon the historical conditions of the individuals speaking. , In answer to my question, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘immigrant’?” people would describe somewhat different types of people.   For them, an immigrant was a person who has a desire of permanence in their new home country, or a person seeking a better life, escaping war or poverty in the process. They would also describe an immigrant as something negative. The term was often used as a term to “other” another group of people. For example, someone might have said, “No, I’m not an immigrant, not like those Syrians” (referring to the crisis in Syria that has forced many migrants to travel to Europe). One of my participants said, “I’m not like them because I had money in my bank account and a home to go back to.” In this way, participants discussed these differences to distance themselves from an idea or issue, which ultimately leads to an “us” versus “them” situation. Such divisions were inherent to what they viewed as “immigrant,” as well as how group boundaries played out in their daily lives.

It is within these varying degrees and flows of migration that we, as researchers, can begin to understand how people understand themselves and how we can begin to understand the world. I initially chose to study anthropology because it afforded the researcher the  ability to bring a little humanity into the research process. In this small project, I found that the people who participated in my research appreciated  sharing their experiences . Oftentimes, they expressed to me things they had been wanting to say, but they claimed that they  had never had the opportunity to state publically before. But anthropology is not just a way to involve the stories of  individuals in research. Theories and methods from anthropology allow us to understand migration as a social process that is not just about where you are or where you are going, but also about how you construct your identity. The construction of identity does not just provide perspective on the lives of individuals, but rather tells us much about why individuals behave in a particular way, or how they are a part of larger social issues. In other words, such questions are essential to understanding migration as a social and historical process. These are some of the general questions that drive my research in anthropology.

*Rachel Ladany is a second year Master’s Student in the Anthropology and Education M.A. program at Teachers College. She will graduate in Spring 2016.

LD research: Emily Skanes

I became interested in anthropology as an undergraduate student at Eastern Kentucky University where I focused my undergraduate research, entitled Deaf Studies through the Eyes of Anthropology, on deaf children and on the Deaf Culture due to my previous experience learning American Sign Language.  This research experience piqued my interest in public schools and how they provide services for students with disabilities, and it led me to pursue a Master’s degree at Teachers College of Columbia University.

In my Master’s thesis research, I consider how public school systems implement special education policies through a qualitative research project interviewing general education and special education teachers in the public and charter school system in Manhattan. To understand how the school system establishes policies to educate all students equally, I analyze the national education policies like ‘No Child Left Behind’ and take an in-depth look into several scholarly works on disabilities and education. These works examine special education and disabilities from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, such as through the lenses of anthropology, sociology, and disability studies that I have been exposed to through my coursework at TC. I use theoretical approaches from each of these disciplines in order to understand the accommodations provided to each child with a disability.

As I started writing my thesis, I found that existing research states that there are few universals to learning, as each child processes information differently.There is no quick fix, especially for children with disabilities. Each child is affected differently by the disability. For my field research, I am interviewing twenty educators from across the public and charter school system with a fifteen-question interview on their classroom setting. My research pushes work on students with disabilities in mainstream settings to consider the transition from school age to high school. Previous research looks at students with a medical diagnosis and records the academic outcome. These works also record the point of view of the instructors, but they do not ask the students who have a disability their personal education experience. Therefore, I use my personal experience of being diagnosed with Dyslexia to further this point and consider how identity can intersect with having a disability and the stigma surrounding that disability. In addition to the personal experiences that I want to document, I found in my current research that policies are not static and change often over time. In the future, I envision intervening to develop better practices based on my research, and I have been asking the educators about what they think should be changed or needs to be addressed in future reforms.

I have interviewed fifteen educators so far, all of whom have different experiences educating children. Some have educated children for several years while others only have two or three years experience. Additionally, these educators work within different environments, like mainstream general education and self-contained special education classrooms. They all have expressed their positivity towards the current inclusion policy, which has been an enlightening part of my research. Alongside this I am also asking each of them their opinion on what they think should be addressed in the special education program. My goal is to determine what is still needed to provide the best educational opportunities for all students, and I plan to use my masters research to develop a future study on recording the personal experience of students in the special education system, focusing on children in mainstream settings and students with learning disabilities.

*Emily Skanes is a second year Master’s student in the Anthropology and Education M.A. program at Teachers College. She will graduate in Spring 2016.


Qualitative Funding Workshop


Earlier this month, the Society for Anthropological Studies (a student group for those interested in anthropology) organized a workshop on qualitative research funding for graduate students across Teachers College. The workshop featured two professors from the programs in anthropology,  Juliette de Wolfe and Nicholas Limerick. Here, readers can check out some of the funding opportunities available. While most are geared towards students of anthropology, the workshop also covered some general tips and processes in applying for funding for all students and young scholars. Some of those tips include the following:

First, there are often “demographic” characteristics that particular fellowships and organizations look for. Make sure to keep in mind requirements regarding citizenship status, enrollment status, area of research, and length of study. For example, some funding opportunities are looking only for full-time, doctoral students who are U.S. citizens, while others restrict their pool of candidates to those studying in a particular area or discipline, without constraints on citizenship or enrollment status.

Second, it’s important to critically think through your research questions and why other people should care about the outcomes of your research.  During the workshop, there was time to present and discuss research questions in small focus groups. It became evident that some students had never thought about how to position their research question in different ways to different audiences. Such exercises can be helpful when thinking about what sorts of projects the funding organization is looking for and whether/how your own projects fits into such a framework. What do you hope to contribute to your field? Similarly, you should know where your body will be and what it will be doing – what is your setting and who are your participants?

In closing, here is a step-by-step guide on how to apply for funding opportunities in general, followed by tips to keep in mind.

How to apply:

  1. Read EVERY direction listed in the program description
  2. Begin to collect necessary materials
    1. project description (intro/significance/contributions/methods, etc.),
    2. Curriculum Vitae (and maybe one from your advisor if necessary),
    3. proposed budget,
    4. letters of recommendation (ASK FOR THESE EARLY AND CREATE INFORMED WRITERS)
  3. Ask at least two other people (one from your field and one not) to read your proposal and give you feedback
  4. Do not wait until the last minute to submit your materials. Unexpected technological glitches/snafoos can occur.
  5. Plan for IRB approval
  6. Plan for travel needs (visas, immunizations, institutional approval, etc.)


  • Make sure the funding cycle and your research timeline align
  • Start with a WOW statement!
  • Follow with a brief introductory paragraph that ends with a clearly articulated thesis statement, briefly explaining your research topic. You will also have to mention your methods and anticipated outcomes in the intro.
  • You are writing to a group of reviewers who may be only marginally familiar with the technical writing or concepts of your field. Avoid jargon.
  • Write for that specific audience.
  • You will be held accountable for your budget.
  • Make sure that your methods section is detailed. Reviewers should be able to picture exactly what you plan to do (and some want to know your timeframe for doing it)
  • Describe your research question, participants and setting in brief detail. You should use no more than a few sentences.
  • Workshop your research question with your group. Consider:
    • Is the question clear?
    • Can you empirically answer the question with your methods?
    • Do you understand the language/vocab?
    • Are the participants and setting appropriate for the question?

PhD Student Rodrigo Mayorga-Camus Discusses His 2014 Summer Fieldwork in Chile

For my summer fieldwork I went to Santiago, Chile and studied two high schools there. One of them was a public, non-confessional high school serving working and middle class students and theIN 2014-06-18 other was a private, catholic high school serving upper class students. Following a group of students in each of these schools, I intended to understand how Chilean high school students appropriate and resignify (if they do) the school’s attempts to politically socialize them, focusing on how their political actions and political identities are defined, performed and negotiated in these settings.

I conducted participant observations in both schools, following the students in their History, Language, Religion and Class Council classes. I also followed them during their breaks and other instances, such as school’s ceremonies or social work activities. During the time of my fieldwork, the country was experiencing a series of students’ protests and this was the context my participants were part of. At least one of the schools in my study was occupied by its own students for several weeks, allowing me to observe them in a totally re-configured setting. All of this helped me to think about the practices in which they engaged and the particular ways in which they, in dialogue and debate with other actors, were ‘becoming political beings’.

*Rodrigo Mayorga is a second-year doctoral student in Anthropology and Education.

Second Year Master’s Student, Thomas Depree, Discusses Summer Fieldwork on Uranium Mines

Figure-Ground InterplayDuring Summer 2014, Depree traveled to the North American Southwest to study the relationships between mining corporations and people of the Navajo Nation. Thinking back on his fieldwork, as he begins to write a report of his fieldwork activities, Depree considers issues of conceptualization and analysis:

“My general fields of interest are political ecology and science and technology studies (STS). My research focuses on the politics of uranium extraction in the North American Southwest—on the Navajo Nation, as well as Laguna and Acoma Pueblos. Mining figures into my research as a culpable practice in the context of climate change and the precarious state of the world’s water system, particularly its systematic byproduction of mine waste, which has the agentive capacity to change the world around it. I attend to the relationships between mining corporations, state agencies, NGOs, and people who have been affected by and are critical of uranium mining. The term “environmental racism” is emergent in the field, used to describe the uneven distribution of environmental impacts, which raises concerns over basic human rights. Ultimately, I use a concept that I call the technopolitics of biomonitoring to describe a contested space in which the biophysical effects of mine waste, uranium tailings in particular, are demonstrated using technology that measures the occurrence of harmful constituents. The challenge is to analyze competing forms of data that are used strategically on both sides of the controversy. The metaphor of museum practice is helpful: how do collectors archive, curate, and exhibit data?”

*Thomas Depree graduated from Teachers College with an M.A. in Anthropology and Education in Spring 2015.

Jim Igoe Interviews 2013 Rappaport Prize Finalist, Scott Freeman*

*Scott Freeman is a doctoral student at Teachers College


As part of an ongoing series profiling finalists for the 2013 Rappaport Prize, Jim Igoe interviews Scott Freeman about his research and writing on soil conservation, labor, and environmental awareness in Haiti.

Scott Freeman was a finalist for the 2013 Rappaport Student Paper Prize from the Anthropology and the Environment section.  Scott is completing a Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology at Columbia University Teachers’ College and a dissertation entitled, To Conserve and Protect: Soil Conservation and Environmental Awareness in Haiti.  He is currently a visiting scholar in the Institute for Global and International Studies at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.) Scott was selected as one of five participants in the Rappaport Prize panel at the 2013 AAA meetings on the strength of his paper:Conserving the Project: Labor, Development, and Environmental Government in Haiti. The paper engages long-standing concerns with soil conservation in Haiti. His rich ethnographic analysis reveals the ways in which the economy and logic of funded projects shapes and directs labor practices and environmental awareness. His insights have relevance not only for soil conservation in Haiti, but for conservation and development generally, and in many different parts of the world.


JI: Could you begin by talking a bit about your background. How did you become interested in anthropology in general, and soil conservation in Haiti in particular?

SFAfter college, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I lived in an agricultural town in the mountains where I worked with youth, the environment, and sexual health education. There were a number of Haitian migrant workers living in the sprawling barrio where I lived, and we would trade English for Kreyòl lessons. I think that the more time I spent in the DR, the more I was aware of how necessary it was to understand the island as a whole.

I actually never took any anthropology during undergrad (I was pretty interested in comparative literature). During my years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I happened to run into an applied anthropologist. By that time, I was fed up with the absurdities of development that I saw unfolding around me, and he thought I might find some helpful perspectives in anthropology. After I did some reading and spoke more and more to him, I realized that the questions I wanted to ask were already being asked by anthropologists.

My interest in soil conservation is far more recent. It was one of those unforeseeable fieldwork moments. I hadn’t set out to study soil conservation, but I kept seeing these ditches dug along hillsides, and came to realize that they were the work of the organizations I was interested in. They seemed to be everywhere; I really couldn’t get away from them. Farmers I spoke to started telling me they would never build them, because it was the job of the NGOs and projects to do so. It went from an odd side topic of conversation to becoming my primary focus of research. As I learned more about the structures and their history in the country, these canals seemed to be the clearest way to really study how environmental development aid was unfolding.

JI: I remember reading about soil conservation in Haiti back in my Development Anthropology seminar in graduate school back in the late 1980s. What makes this topic such a long-standing topic in environmental anthropology do you think?

SFSupposedly, soil conservation was considered the first ‘global environmental movement’. Right after the Dust Bowl phenomenon in the 1930s, people in the United States were startled. Even Washington DC was getting dust storms. Seeing all of this in the US, other countries (particularly British colonial administrations) wanted to figure out how they can continue to extract resources from the land without having some sort of environmental catastrophe. So soil conservation became this global concern.

Political ecology makes a pretty important intervention into all this. The premise for these interventions was largely that farmers were doing things wrong, and that populations were growing too fast. Piers Blaikie and Harold Brookfield looked at soil degradation and started pointing out that actually degradation has far more to do with broader systems of accumulation and dispossession.

Since then, this back and forth has continued. Is soil degradation the fault of ‘negligent’ farmers? Or is there something more insidious going on in terms of extraction and accumulation? Anthropologists love to get at these questions. They involve global movements of ideas and commodities, and revolve around knowledge production, representation and inequality. I think it was essential that anthropologists played a role in these debates, and I really hope that we continue to do so into the future.

JI: One of my favorite parts of the article is your discussion of collective labor, ritual feasting, and a postive post-colonial identity. Could you talk about that a bit and how it relates to some the arguments you are making about soil conservation?

SFI think one of the most amazing parts of this research has been getting to think about the different ways that people work together in adverse conditions. Cooperative work groups are a prominent part of Haitian life. The strategy is, ‘we’ll work your land one day, my land the next’, and so on. The really fascinating part comes when the groups sell their labor to another person. When they collect payment for their work, they don’t distribute the money. Rather, they hold onto it until the end of December. At that time, they’ll buy a goat or cow to slaughter, and will divide the meat among the members. So rather than individual and immediate cash compensation, there’s delayed, non-cash compensation. On January first then, everyone gets some of the meat to eat. January first is Haitian Independence Day, and this activity comes as an assertion of freedom and humanity, remembering the day that the slaves won their freedom and for the first time could eat what they wanted.  Even if meat is scarce for the rest of the year, on that day everyone can meat- there’s this profound assertion of dignity with independence.

I think this intersects with soil conservation as conservation projects come in with cash-for-work type wages. Many of these projects assemble labor groups to dig ditches. These groups look the same, but there are completely different in terms of the types of relationships that are imposed. Unlike the cooperative work groups, soil conservation group payment is individual, immediate, and in cash. There’s a monetization of the social relationships in group labor. Not that wage labor hasn’t existed before in Haiti, but there’s something really quite different going on here with the way that particular labor forms become coopted for the purpose of cash distribution. Farmers too discuss the wage labor done for soil conservation as something qualitatively different, something they, without a project, would never attempt.


JI: The central focus of your analysis is what you call “the projectification of soil conservation.” What do you mean by this and what do you regard as some of its primary topical and theoretical implications?

SFWhat I’m referring to is the way that projects slip into the everyday parts of people’s lives. For example, space starts to be defined in terms of beneficiaries, time becomes regulated by the entrance and exits of projects. Grassroots organizations continually seek legal recognition in order to obtain projects. However slowly all these processes occur, they start to alter the everyday.

Development aid has become remarkably dominated by ‘the project’. There are graduate school programs in ‘project management’, and aid workers have described to me their lives as hopping from project to project. I realized that this intense prevalence of the project calls for attention to how aid is  terms of the project. It forces us to consider what are the properties of the project itself—how does a project assert certain logics as it becomes more and more a part of life in both development and in the Haitian countryside.

JI: How would you describe this work fitting with your larger dissertation project?

SFFunny enough, I now wince when I think of my dissertation as a project! But I think that this intersection of an examination of the project and of soil conservation is really at the heart of what I’m doing. I try to take a very historical perspective in understanding how problems get defined, and how they oblige particular solutions. Soil conservation as an institutional response then becomes this package of technical expertise and strategies that gets moved throughout the world to solve ‘environmental degradation’. I think the larger dissertation research really starts to show how profoundly projects work, and how they become this very intense and diffuse type of government.

JI: What kinds of questions and concerns still remain for you? What kinds of research would you like to do next?

SFThere’s still some conceptual work to be forged on the project for me. I think this means trying to reach out to other disciplines, scholars who are thinking about this in perhaps slightly different ways. In regards to soil conservation, there’s interesting work being done on infrastructure that I think aligns nicely with what I’m doing.

I’ve got another project in Haiti I’m excited about continuing. I looked at the vetiver industry in Haiti a few years ago. This is an industry that takes the roots of the vetiver plant, digs them up, distills them, and sells the oils to perfume houses. The oil is in a lot of widely distributed (and expensive) perfumes. I’m interested in the way the perfume industry conceptualizes Haitian vetiver as compared to the Haitian farmers’ understanding of the uses and movements of the oil. This has a lot to do with soil degradation (ripping roots out of the ground is a very real threat to the soil), and processes of extraction and accumulation. I think it will build off the current project really nicely, and hopefully add a important perspective to a very sparsely studied industry


Original post can be found here

Faculty Member Lesley Bartlett and Alumna Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher to Receive CIES National Book Award

Original Post can be found here.


Lesley Bartlett, Associate Professor of Education, and Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher (Ed.D. ’08), a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, will receive the 2014 Jackie Kirk Outstanding Book Award from the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) for  Refugees, Immigrants and Education in the Global South (Routledge, 2013). Six of the fifteen chapters in the volume were authored or co-authored by graduates or doctoral students from Teachers College.

The Kirk Award was created in 2010 to honor the professional life of Jackie Kirk, a McGill University faculty member killed in Afghanistan while on a humanitarian aid mission, and her deep commitments to work on gender and education and education in conflict. The award will be formally presented to Bartlett, Ghaffar-Kucher, and affiliated authors next week at the 2010 CIES meeting in Toronto.

The award committee members called Refugees, Immigrants, and Education in the Global South “an important contribution to the debate on education and migration,” calling it “theoretically sophisticated, well developed and intellectually coherent” and praising it for drawing upon “rich ethnographic research approaches”  and contributing
“a wealth of new insights into the cross-cutting issues of gender, education, migration and conflict.”

In the words of nominator Erin Murphy-Graham of the University of California at Berkeley, a key contention of Refugees, Immigrants, and Education in the Global South is that “the definition of who ‘counts’ as a refugee is in need of serious attention.” She praises the book for identifying “a vital new line of inquiry within the fields of education, migration, and development studies: migration and education” and for examining “the role of schooling in incorporating or further marginalizing (im)migrant and displaced populations.”

“In their introduction to the volume, Bartlett and Ghaffar-Kucher argue that the distinction between immigrant and refugee is overstated and that ethnographic attention to the ‘lived experiences of mobile people reveals the permeability of these categories,’” Murphy writes. “In their own words, ‘conventional thought assumes that a refugee is pushed out of his or her country by political concerns, whereas an immigrant or migrant is pulled to another country, largely by economic motivations. Documented refugees may receive support from resettlement agencies in the form of economic support, employment services, education, and psychological services, whereas immigrants and undocumented refugees are largely left to fend for themselves, unless they are fortunate enough to find NGOs offering such assistance.’ Thus, the process of denying or granting refugee status is fraught with complications and shaped by political decisions.”