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Stephen Plog

Weatherhead Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Commonwealth Professor of Anthropology
University of Virginia

PROJECT:

Ritual and Society: The Cultural Dynamics of the Pueblo World from AD 1000-1250

Unparalleled episodes of population increase and decline, as well as migration and village construction and growth, marked the era AD 1000–1450 in the Pueblo region of the American Southwest. Stephen Plog observes “in a period of only 400-450 years, these processes and events radically altered the social landscape of the northern Southwest, transforming a countryside dotted with thousands of small farming villages into the Pueblo world as we know it today.” Because this period encompasses a major cultural shift—the transition from small farming villages to large aggregated towns—it holds broad interest to anthropologists and archaeologists.

While recent research has examined migration patterns, trade relationships, ritual, ideology, and social conflict of the era, most studies have been limited to the latter three centuries. “When we consider only the period from AD 1250 to 1450,” says Plog; “we in essence examine only the last half of a transformation that was initiated at least two and a half centuries earlier. I’m interested in the development of pueblo social and religious life during the 1100s and 1200s, and understanding what led to the dramatic developments—the katsina ritual societies and the great house architecture, for instance—that we see happening later on.”

Plog contends that in general the impact of environmental changes has been over-emphasized at the expense of cultural dynamics and the linkages among conflict, ritual, economy, and demography. To obtain a better understanding of this period, Plog is investigating the more diverse elements of Pueblo life—such as rock art and kiva murals—that compared to ceramic data are of limited distribution. “Because these things are rare, they tend not to get much attention,” says Plog. “I’m beginning to come around to the point of view that they may actually tell us a whole lot more than the items that are more abundant—or, at least, by putting them together, we can learn things we wouldn’t have seen in any other way.”

Tracking the introduction of cotton to the region and the influence of the volcanic eruption of Sunset Crater in Arizona are other research trajectories Plog hopes will reveal new insights about the social and religious patterns that emerged in the latter part of this era.

Kathleen Stewart

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas, Austin

PROJECT:

The Private Life of Public Culture

In The Private Life of Public Culture, cultural anthropologist Katie Stewart tracks the way that neoliberalism and advanced consumer capitalism in the United States find multi-faceted articulation, emerging in intimate and individual practices at the same time that they erupt in highly-generative and collectively-experienced events. Stewart is focusing particularly on “the charged border between things public and private” as a dynamic zone rich with indicators of how and through what forms cultural forces and sensibilities circulate.

Based on field work in Las Vegas, Nevada; Orange County, California; Austin, Texas; and New England, Stewart’s work combines ethnographic analysis with cultural poesis, studying new cultural forms and forces at the point of their affective and material emergence. By examining contemporary everyday sensibilities and practices—such as shopping habits, “technophilia,” the proliferation of gated communities, and confessional TV talk shows—Stewart finds linkages to broad cultural flows such as world trade, transnationalism, and millennial capitalism.

“How do these cultural forces and flows impact the self and, ironically, motivate a personal search for the ‘true self,’ the good life, an authenticity held as individual and unsullied by public things?” Stewart asks. “Conversely, how do things erupt from private life or from partially secret circulation into larger public circulation? How do relatively inchoate structures and sensibilities materialize or take form?”

Stewart’s unique poetic and evocative writing style has been compared to the documentary prose of James Agee. “The writing is creative nonfiction, about things I saw or heard but condensed and fashioned through the use of story and voice,” explains Stewart. “Often the writing is about taking a sensibility to its outer limit, trying to track its direction and force, but figuring out where it could go.”

At her October colloquium, Stewart shared the introduction to her book, written just after September 11th. “I wrote this piece specifically as a reaction to the thought that ‘everything has suddenly changed.’ I think, yes, the attack is a generative event but the sensibilities of everyday life had already been steeped in the forces that are now snapping into place in a particular way. And those sensibilities are themselves undergoing an event of their own. They are both thrown into a free fall, and taking on a stronger form, mutating under pressure.”

Eduardo O. Kohn

Weatherhead Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology
University of Wisconsin, Madison

PROJECT:

The Aesthetic of the Immediate: Poetic Engagements and Ecological Knowledge among the Runa of Amazonian Ecuador

In the Runa village vila in Amazonian Ecuador, a man who has had his “hunting soul” stolen by a sorcerer can no longer perceive forest animals as sentient, soul-possessing beings. Stripped of this ability, he is unable to communicate with prey and his success as a hunter is seriously threatened. Eduardo Kohn observes that while this belief reveals much about the specific world view of the Runa, “It’s connected to a fundamental ecological problem faced by all hunters, which is: How do you get inside the head of an animal?”

Kohn’s dissertation aims to capture how the Quichua-speaking Runa make sense of the complex Amazonian environment they inhabit and to show how a careful examination of this process can broaden our understanding of human-nature relationships in general. Using a variety of techniques such as plant collecting and poetic analysis as well as participant observation and examination of historical sources, Kohn explores how Runa ecological models grow out of culturally-specific aesthetic orientations that stem from everyday interactions with nature. “I am particularly interested in the relationships between culture and cognition,” said Kohn. “Tracing these can reveal just how intertwined humanistic and scientific concerns are in dealing with fundamental questions of an existential nature.”

Paying close attention to subtleties of the local Quichua dialect, Kohn noticed the “remarkable poetic dexterity” of the Runa as they talked spontaneously among themselves about experiences in the forest. “The Runa use language not merely as a tool to talk about nature,” observed Kohn, “but as a way to access it.” By employing iconic language in their performance of hunting stories, the Runa cultivate a sensation of intimate engagement with nature that Kohn calls an “aesthetic of the immediate.”

Subsequent chapters of the dissertation will examine how a fascination with perspective serves as an additional aesthetic orientation that influences understandings of nature, how the Runa use metaphor to chart ecological relationships, and how they form ideas of nature within historical and political contexts that extend beyond the confines of the forests they visit.

Dennis Tedlock

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
McNulty Professor of English and Research Professor of Anthropology
State University of New York at Buffalo

PROJECT:

The Human Work, the Human Design: 2000 Years of Mayan Writing

By the time Europeans brought their alphabet to the Americas, Mayans had been writing for at least fourteen centuries, starting far earlier than the emergence of the English language. Recent advances in the reading of Maya hieroglyphics have revealed that the ancients were also recording history long before European contact. Dennis Tedlock, NEH scholar and world-renown expert on the oral and written texts of Native Americans, asserts that literature, too, was being created by the Maya before the arrival of Europeans.

Tedlock draws a sharp distinction between decipherment and translation, and contends that because hieroglyphs have been isolated and studied out of context, much of the existing research on Mayan texts is presented in such a way that “it is very difficult to imagine the voices of the people who wrote it.” A poet as well as a cultural anthropologist, Tedlock proposes to bring together some of the best Maya texts from the last 2000 years in his anthology The Human Work, the Human Design. He will trace for the first time the verbal arts, or literary history, of Mayan peoples, starting with hieroglyphic writers and continuing with those who have used the alphabet, beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing to the present day.

This project will reverberate far beyond the field of literature, however. Tedlock notes that “Eurocentric arrogance” has been to blame for the long delay in telling the story of the New World’s “first writing, first history, and first literature” without qualifications or apologies. “Ultimately, the very concept of what the Americas are or could be is at stake here,” observes Tedlock.

David Nugent

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Colby College

PROJECT:

Alternative Democracies: The Evolution of the Public Sphere in 20th Century Peru

David Nugent’s current project originated when he was finishing the research for his 1997 book, Modernity at the Edge of Empire, in Chachapoyas, Peru. “People were talking about democracy in ways I did not recognize,” Nugent recalls. “I realized later that I was unconsciously immersed in our own model of ‘normative’ democracy. Exposure to a radically different democracy made me wonder why local people’s definition was so different from our own, and what the social conditions were that produced it.” The resulting book, Alternative Democracies: The Evolution of the Public Sphere in 20th Century Peru, traces the emergence of a transnational movement of participatory democracy that arose in Chachapoyas in the 1920s to challenge both the state and the ruling elite.

During this period the central government and local elites collaborated to exclude much of the population from political life, and to systematically violate the rights and protections granted them in Peru’s constitution. In response, a political movement called APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, or the Popular Revolutionary American Alliance) established an intricate, subterranean political structure to offer the justice, order, and protection generally associated with ‘the state’ but sorely lacking in northern Peru. APRA’s interpretation of ‘rule by the people’ paid scant attention to political rituals associated with procedural democracy, such as voting, elections, and representation. Instead, APRA asserted that a society was democratic only to the extent that all members of the community were guaranteed an equal and active voice in day-to-day decisions regarding economic, social, political, and cultural life.

The underground political structure created by APRA sought to provide people with what the state and the elite had long denied them—the ability to have a direct and powerful voice in their everyday affairs. Although many of the organizing techniques used by APRA such as peer surveillance, underground courts, and a rigidly-enforced discipline and moral code seem counter to normative definitions of democracy, they were designed to help realize APRA’s interpretation of popular rule.

“Democracies everywhere refer to ‘rule by the people,’ but how people interpret popular rule varies enormously. Our habit of referring to European democracy as normative is shortsighted and ethnocentric, for it privileges one particular expression of democracy over all others and prevents us from recognizing that the world has produced a broad range of democracies. All are worthy of the attention and analysis of social scientists,” said Nugent.

Brian R. Klopotek

Katrin H. Lamon Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate
Program in American Studies
University of Minnesota

PROJECT:

Federal Recognition, Cultural Persistence, and Social Cohesion among Louisiana Tribes

Although numerous scholars and over a dozen Congressional hearings have examined the competence of the Branch of Acknowledgment, the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in charge of federal recognition, little attention has been paid to the impact of BAR policies and decisions on the tribes themselves. Is federal recognition a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for tribes? Are tribal identity and culture no longer threatened after recognition? How does federal recognition policy influence racial identity formation, not only of American Indians, but non-Indians as well?

“The interrogation of the recognition issue generally ends once a tribe has been recognized by the federal government,” says Brian Klopotek. “The fact that a bureaucratic office made a decision about their Indianness becomes irrelevant, as if nobody ever questioned whether they were an Indian tribe.” In his dissertation, Klopotek examines how the process of recognition—from petitioning to post-recognition or non-recognition adjustment—impacts tribal identity, tribal cohesion, and cultural persistence.

Using ethnographic fieldwork, oral histories, and archival sources as a research foundation, Klopotek compares three central Indian communities within a forty mile radius of Alexandria, Louisiana, and finds that have had very different experiences with federal recognition. The Tunica-Biloxis, recognized in 1981, have strengthened their culture and identity since recognition. The Jena Choctaws, recognized in 1995, are finding new areas of disagreement as they pursue opportunities afforded by their new status, at the same time that they notice a new sense of pride and belonging. For the Clifton Choctaws, currently unrecognized but strongly cohesive, the process is raising questions about their mixed racial background which may pose a challenge to their tribal identity, whether or not their petition for recognition is granted.

“There are positive and negative ramifications for both recognition and non-recognition, though it should be obvious that it is better for a tribe, in most respects, to have federal recognition,” Klopotek observes. “After delineating stories of how recognition has affected these three tribes, I use them as a springboard to reconsider the Branch of Acknowledgment and Research, and the federal government’s role in tribal life.”