Recent/Current Research

Listed here are recent papers I have given.

Central States Anthropological Society, April 2014:

Professional Panel (invited) – No Title: Although I never dreamed of becoming an anthropologist as a child, I did find myself searching for better choices in how to understand the world than those presented to me.  The path I have traveled to this point has been long and varied and anthropology has been essential in helping to shape how I understand myself and my surroundings. Yet, Anthropology has been under attack over the last several years due to some basic misunderstandings about how we think and what we do.  These misunderstandings derive from some of the fundamental issues with which we work, such as the fear of difference.  We are a coterie of people that base our lives and careers on understanding difference. One proven way to combat this fear of difference is through familiarizing people to that which they fear. Teaching and engaging with difference directly through fieldwork have proven their value in combating this issue.  I will share some of the steps of my journey in understanding the importance of teaching and applying anthropology in my life and work.

American Anthropological Association, November 2013:

Prepper or Prepared Citizen: the perception of prepping behavior in media and policy:  Through my fieldwork over the past two years with prepper groups in the midwestern US, I have found that their preparations for dangerous potentialities are informed by two things: current events and their created mythologies.  While current events help to give a visceral reality and rationalization to their prepping behavior, the mythology that they create and share amongst themselves helps to support those ideas.  Further, the stories are instructive in that they help preppers to know how to prepare to engage and/or mitigate possible dangerous events, people and situations. Furthermore, preppers have burst onto the media scene as a new category of potential danger given the recent spate of violent incidents in the US that have been attributed to people that engage in prepping activities.  Those activities that help them to be prepared are now being viewed as suspicious.  Thus, not only are preppers centers for gauging and preparing for potential risks, but they have also become an object of potential danger within society.  My paper will discuss how preppers and some of their behaviors are being (re)constructed as dangerous by media discourse and policy, as well as how preppers have begun to react to this shift in the social landscape.

Central States Anthropological Society, April 2013:

Instructive Mythologies for Survivors in a Post-Zombie Apocalypse Society: what to do and what to have to survive:  Mythology, in the form of stories, can teach valuable lessons that influence behaviors, such as resource choice and use. These behaviors can ultimately lead to patterns of material consumption and caching. While much of this material might not survive drastic societal change, some scenarios would allow for those material remains to be discovered at later times or be used by surviving populations. Contemporary survivalists avidly construct and relate different and complex versions of post- collapse futures based on theories of societal changing and how those changes might ultimately affect the population, built environment and the landscape. The lessons included in these myths instruct on best practices and materials given the version of survival myth. The process is active in that participants react to those choices in real time, based on their experience with similar contexts or stories, thus creating a possibility of a new instructive experience and a recreated discourse. This often has direct consequences in terms of material culture, emphasizing ways to build shelters and design effective weapons or tools to deal with the collapse scenario.To ground these ideas, I have analyzed the mythology of one survivalist group called Zombie Squad. I will show that the survival lessons in their myths can be linked to patterns in their material consumption/culture, as has also been argued for other cultures such as the Klamath. Further, I will show how these patterns are tied to specific reconfigurations of potential taskscapes that feeds back to their construction of post-collapse society. 

American Ethnological Society, April 2013:

“Government on Our Side?”: conceptions of nature, sacredness and power on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand:  In Aotearoa/New Zealand, Maori conceptualizations of nature have become an issue of national importance with the passing of the Resource Management Amendment Act 2003.  How Maori and non-Maori reckon nature is divergent and complicated, with multiple layers of meaning.  In this national context of biculturalism both sides are working to bridge that gap.  In particular, the concept of tapu (sacredness), as it applies to land, has become the focus of a case on the South Island.  The site, called Takapuneke, was the place of a massacre in 1830 and has recently been protected as reserve land.  How the land is perceived as tapu will play into the management plans that are now being created for the future of the site by local bureaucratic authorities, local Maori, and other invested parties.  One particular issue is the difference between the local Maori version of tapu, which is fluid, and the policy-bound version of wahi tapu (sacred place) that is partially static in its application.  My paper will answer the following questions in relation to these issues:  Is the Crown co-opting the concept of tapu as a continuation of its past colonial policy on land in a utilitarian form or is it genuinely attempting to include this important Maori concept into its management policies?  Additionally, how are Maori altering their view of nature as tapu given this opportunity to protect their lands? I will show that power-sharing and the transition of different types of capital play a key role in mediating these issues.

Central States Anthropological Society Conference, March 2012:

Zombie Squad to the Rescue: Recreating Survivalists in America:  Survivalists in American culture have been portrayed as political or religious extremists in both academic and popular literature.  They are usually characterized as extreme, right wing, white supremacist, millennialist, gun carrying ‘wackos’ (Stewart and Harding 1999; Berry 1999; Weeber and Rodeheaver 2003, Mason 2005; Hill et al 2001). However, I will argue that the meaning of preparing for a crisis or disaster has changed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  I posit that this definition of survivalist is no longer working for the majority of survival-based behavior that is present in the US.  While it may still be applicable to some extreme groups, there is another subset of behaviors that fit in a broader definition of survivalist and new groups with these behaviors that claim the label for themselves.  This paper will flesh out this new category of survivalist, using Zombie Squad, a disaster preparedness group that uses a zombie apocalypse as a mythos, as an example.

“Government on Our Side?”: Official Language and Power on Banks Peninsula, New Zealand:  In Aotearoa/New Zealand, Maori heritage has become an issue of national importance with the passing of the Resource Management Amendment Act 2003. However, how Maori and non-Maori reckon this heritage is divergent and complicated, with multiple layers of meaning and insight.  Yet, in this national context of biculturalism both sides are working to bridge that gap.  In particular, the concept of tapu (sacredness) has recently been the focus of a case on the South Island.  The site, called Takapuneke, was the place of a massacre in 1830 and has recently been protected as reserve land.  How the land is perceived as tapu will play into the management plans that are now being created for the future of the sire by local bureaucratic authorities, local Maori, who act as kaitiaki (gaurdians) to the site, and other invested parties.  One particular issue is the difference between the local Maori version of tapu, which is fluid, and the policy-bound version of wahi tapu (sacred place) that is partially static in its application.  The question then become whether the Crown is co-opting the concept as a continuation of its past colonial policy or is it genuinely attempting to include this important Maori concept into its management policies.  This paper will discus the theoretical implications of making tapu part of the Crown’s ‘official langauge’ and the resulting effect in the power relations between Maori and Crown in regard to the site of Takapuneke and Banks Peninsula in general.

Fitting it all in: teaching Anthropology or training Anthropologists:  As a part of a developing three-field (cultural, archaeology, physical) Anthropology program, the issue of what and how to teach our students has been a concern in two corresponding aspects.  First, are we teaching anthropology or are we training anthropologists?  I used to teach every Introductory class like I was training first year anthropologists, introducing them to methods and field techniques, but then I realized that the majority of introductory students do not go into anthropology.  With this realization, I switched my teaching for introductory courses to truly reflect an introduction to anthropology with more examples of world cultures and practice in effort to introduce the ideas of diversity and social understanding.  As a result, my upper division classes switched to a stronger focus on method and theory.  The second concern, following from the first, was: how do you fit it all in? As the sole cultural anthropologist in a very small program, I am finding it difficult to ensure that students are getting ‘all of it’ – theory, methods, field experiences, ethics, and most importantly, a sense of the history of the discipline and classic studies.  There is so much to teach and we all feel the time crunch on turning out well rounded, burgeoning anthropologists by the end of our program. This panel talk will attempt to find a balance between those two concerns.

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