Recorded Lectures


Unpacking the activist-researcher dilemma: Perspectives from Australia in navigating precarity, security, and responsibility among grassroots activists

Élise Imray Papineau. PhD candidate at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.

Abstract: Grassroots activists are individuals who seek to undermine power from the bottomup to achieve social or political change for a given cause or campaign. Since grassroots activists not only operate outside dominant structures of power, but also actively resist them, they navigate different realms of precarity from social stigma to legal persecution. Their experience is not only shaped by a particular spatial and temporal context, but it is also deeply linked with identity politics, class, and hegemonic attitudes in ‘Othering’. For my PhD research on crosscultural grassroots activist cultures and praxes, it is crucial to open dialogue with activists themselves, but this prompts some important methodological and ethical questions. What measures will help mitigate the potential risks to participants? How can I ensure that my project design compromises neither the trust and safety of individuals nor the interests of the activist collective? How will I negotiate my insider status and my personal commitment to activist struggles while carrying out the responsibilities of a researcher? Centre for Society, Technology, and Development This presentation will explore some practical ways in which a researcher working with grassroots activists should mitigate concerns both for themselves and for participants. Drawing on the experience of in-person fieldwork in Australia, I will begin by situating contemporary grassroots activists as actors who navigate everyday precarity in their performances of resistance. Next, I will discuss the practical risks and ethical concerns raised around my project, which signal a need to reassess the ethnographic method. Next, I critically inquire about the effectiveness of the risk management guidelines that I implemented in the recruitment phase to mitigate risks for vulnerable participants. Finally, I consider the implications of ‘insider status’ and my dual role as a researcher and activist.

Speaker: Élise Imray Papineau is a PhD candidate at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. Her doctoral research will situate DIY and gender dynamics amid the cultures and praxes of grassroots activists in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. She completed her M.Sc. in Anthropology at the University of Montreal having researched Muslim Punk in Indonesia. Elise is herself an organizer and participant in the grassroots activist scene in Brisbane, and spends her free time printing political handmade shirts for a side project entitled Punks for the Planet.



Moving Deserts. Resilience among Turkana herders in the northern Kenyan drylands

Dr. Greta Semplici. The Oxford Department of International Development.

Abstract: Ideas of resilience are not new. Etymologically grounded on post-classical Latin resilientia, resilience has travelled across several disciplines to a considerable stretch from its original meanings. It has become a “key political category of our time” (Neocleus 2013), being quickly modelled, operationalised, and implemented despite a general lack of nuanced understanding of what it means. A fear is that it became mainstream in the development sector too quickly, before it could thoroughly be understood and studied (Brown 2015, Korostoleva 2019). This presentation explores meanings of resilience from the perspective of pastoral communities in drylands and in the context of their everyday lives. It draws on long term doctoral fieldwork with the Turkana herders living in Kenyan’s northern drylands, a place of “resilience making” for the international community. Threatened by recurrent droughts, security issues, and precarious living, Turkana County is the perfect laboratory for international organisations interested in “building resilience” to shocks and disasters, and in turn also a compelling case for a study which hopes to bring a more grounded, nuanced, and rooted understanding of resilience in drylands. The empirical analysis reveals the fundamental role of mobility in the lived experiences of Turkana herders. The most significant contribution of this study is the emergence of mobility as an integral part of everyday life, providing a new lens for the understanding of resilience which challenges equilibrium oriented and “bouncing” views of resilience. Instead, I argue that mobility—in its many manifestations, as a quality of space, as something people do, as an aspect of identity—allows for more fluid, dynamic, and kaleidoscopic accounts of peoples’ lives at the interface of an ever changing and highly uncertain world. I thus propose mobility as the site where resilience takes root and where a richer grasp of resilience, drylands, and pastoralism can be found. This presentation is based on my PhD thesis, at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID), which I am currently re-working into a monograph.

Speaker: Dr. Greta Semplici is a Max Weber Fellow at European University Institute, Florence, Italy. She earned her PhD from the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID), Oxford, UK. She holds a master’s degrees from the University of Florence, in Development Economics and International Cooperation. She has extensively worked in the development sector for international organisations (FAO), relevant think tanks (ODI) and research programmes (European funded programme PASTRES). Her research interets lie at the interface between development questions, society, culture, and the enviornment. She has worked on resilience, social protection, livelihoods, pastoralism, and mobility.



Dairy Cultures: Milk Fermentation, Heritage and Microbial Biogeographies in Mongolia

Björn Reichhardt. PhD student, The Central Asian Seminar of the Humboldt University, Berlin.

Abstract: To Mongolian pastoralists, milk is more than just a food. As a white food (tsagaan idee) it is sacred, represents purity, and is deeply integrated in sociocultural practices that connect humans, animals, spirits and environments. In this presentation, I illustrate ethnographic encounters with dairying practices and dairy microbes in various regions of Mongolia. Drawing on multi-sited fieldwork conducted during three consecutive summers, I focus on the sociocultural role of microbial starter cultures. The Mongolian word for starter culture is khöröngö , which also means capital and heritage. In order to produce the best fermented mare’s milk, herders travel hundreds of miles for a reliable starter culture. Yoghurt starter cultures, in turn, are shared across generations and between neighbouring households. Accordingly, khöröngö forms complex biosocial assemblages with biogeographies that are difficult, if not impossible, to trace. In this context, studying dairy microbes from a sociocultural anthropological approach sheds new light on starter cultures as mobile entities of value across space and time. Speaker: Björn Reichhardt is a PhD student at the Central Asian Seminar of the Humboldt University of Berlin where his research comprises relationships of spatial production, border making processes and post-socialist uncertainty in Mongolia. Holding a Bachelor’s (BSc) degree in Human Geography (Free University of Berlin) and a Master’s degree in Central Asian Studies (Humboldt University of Berlin), his research is situated at the intersection of sociocultural anthropology and cultural geography. He is also a research assistant at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History where he works on pastoral dairying in Mongolia from a multispecies ethnography perspective within the project ‘Dairy Cultures: Gene-Culture-Microbiome Evolution and the Ancient Invention of Dairy Foods’.


Losing Land to Gain Conservation? Disciplining Pastoral Livelihoods in the Racial Capitalocene.

Kariuki Kirigia. PhD, McGill University.

Abstract: The precarity of life on the planet occasioned by climate change has coerced humanity to reflect on ways of relating with the other than human world. Constitutive of this reflective adventure is the task to come up with innovative ways of fostering global conservation, among other sustainability pursuits. An approach that has gained favour among many Western conservationists is the financialization of nature through initiatives such as payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes and ecotourism. While this financial turn is seen both as a way of attaching value to nature and promoting eco-rationality, I advance that it is the neoliberal capitalist logic that has greatly sutured these conservation initiatives. Focussing on Eastern and Southern Africa, and Kenya specifically, I set out to examine what forces are really at play in the recent support for and adoption of wildlife conservancies - wildlife conservation areas established on private land. Biodiversity conservation in Kenya has been largely framed as wildlife conservation, resulting in the foregrounding of non-human world and concomitantly the backgrounding of pastoral communities occupying biodiverse-rich areas. Arguably, an anthropocentric view undergirds such foregrounding and backgrounding, which gives currency to the designation of this age as the Anthropocene. I draw on Cedric Robinson’s “racial capitalism” and “Black radical tradition” to reflect on the mechanics shaping the conservation scene in Kenya and the resultant implications for biodiversity conservation and pastoral livelihoods in what I contend is the Capitalocene age.



Plant Calling – The Joy of Bassinglègè Forest, Cameroon

Dr. Julie Laplante.  Full Professor, School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies, University of Ottawa

Abstract: Diverse human-plant relations are maintained amidst the practices of the Cameroonian Association of Research in Anthropology of traditional Medicine (ARAM). An anthropology of becomings in phenomenological and cosmological orientations is designed to address these lively modalities of entering in relation with the vegetal. The body of the text explores these modes through 3 spatio-temporal figurations enabling to comprehend the phenomena of fluctuating intensities in human-plant relations. In the first space-time in the operational site of ARAM in the district of Etoa of the periphery of Yaoundé in Cameroon, useful live and dried plants take part in everyday healing practices. The second and third spatio-temporalities correspond respectively with the replanted forest and the ancestral forest at the proximity of ARAM’s Antenna (base) Lamal-Pouguè situated at some 100km North of the city, in the direction towards Douala. There, plants call the healer, or he calls upon them in search of remedies. Even more reverential relations with the vegetal are established with ancestral trees, from which we can seek potency and joy.

Speaker: My interests revolve around indigenous and humanitarian medicines, knowledge in healing, plant and molecule based remedies, clinical trials and bodily, visual, sound abilities in healing. Recent anthropological film New book



The Care Work of Life Apportionment

Dr. Alex Oehler, Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Regina

Abstract: This paper explores the relationship between herding and hunting practices in the mountainous environment of Indigenous Soyots of Okinskii Raion (Oka), Buryatia. It traces an animistic approach to the concept of balance among sentient entities, including landscapes, identifying it as an underlying ethic governing the relationships of domestic and non-domestic animals with humans. Drawing on this ethic of care, the paper identifies practices directed at achieving balance as a form of resistance to assertions of outright control over living beings. The author begins by problematising the concept of care, pointing to basic ontological differences identified in anthropological literature, before addressing how care and balance are related. Here care is understood as a matter of attentiveness: a skill that links herding and hunting practices. The paper then delves into three concrete areas of care: the care of creating life in living and calving spaces; the care of holding life together through material implements and invocation of intangible protective forces; and, finally, care for species diversity in local yak and hybrid breeding practices.

Speaker: Since 2012, I have been working with hunters and herders of the Eastern Saian Mountains in South Central Siberia. This is where I conducted my doctoral work, and where I continue to research human-animal relations in alpine and forested environments. I am interested in multispecies ethnography and how hunting and herding are negotiated from shamanist and Buddhist perspectives. In scholarship and in person, I spend time with people as they interact with reindeer/caribou, whales, horses, yak, sheep, fish, wolves, bears, trees, and plant life. In this context I also work on questions relating to animal domestication. Previously, I have conducted community-based research with Inuvialuit language teachers of the Mackenzie Delta. In the Western Canadian Arctic I am interested in ancient and contemporary ways of human-animal communication and conceptions of morality. I have taught courses on environmental anthropology, the anthropology of human-animal relations, museums and archival research, the anthropology of religion, and circumpolar ethnography.
For more information, visit me at



Economic diversification among Mongolian reindeer herders: Continuity and change in the Tannu Uriankhai Girdle

Nicolas Rasiulis. PhD Candidate, McGill University.

Abstract: This paper examines Dukha economic diversification in light of the history of the Upper Yenisei–Darkhad Depression region in northern Inner Asia. Before its dislocation into discrete territories of different socialist countries in the early twentieth century, this place, which I call the Tannu Uriankhai Girdle, comprised an integrated economic mosaic that featured both taiga- and steppe-based pastoralism, as well as hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture, inter- and intra-regional trade and remunerated labour. Reindeer pastoralism complemented and was complemented by the other facets of this economic mosaic. Now the Dukha economy itself comprises nearly all facets of this mosaic. This economic configuration affords and is afforded by greater degrees of autonomy and autarky, which reinforce and are reinforced by the ongoing partnership between Dukhas, reindeer and their shared taiga homeland.



Setting and Plot: Constituting and contesting Borders and Borderland Practices in the Tannu Uriankhai Girdle

Nicolas Rasiulis. PhD Candidate, McGill University.

Abstract: This paper is an abridged version of a longer manuscript. The purpose of this piece is manifold. First, I aim to help fill the seeming void insofar as a name for the whole Upper Yenisei Basin – Darkhad Depression region is concerned, and in so doing emphasize the value—and facilitate the practice—of treating the region as a distinct object of analysis. I propose the name: ‘Tannu Uriankhai Girdle.’ My second and most important aim is to trace the constitution and contestation of internal and external borders, as well as of borderland prescriptions and proscriptions, in Dukha territory since the eighteenth century. In doing so, my objective is to situate the Tengis-Shishged National Park, a borderland territory established by the Mongolian state in 2011, both historically as well as in relation to broader contemporary political and economic processes entangled with universalized nature conservation. In order to realize this objective I expose a centuries-long tale of the perdurance of Dukha people and ethea in relation to state territorialization in what is now northernmost Mongolia. I order this tale in four movements: late monarchism; state socialism; post-socialist transition; and (pedal to the metal) neoliberalism. This abridged paper thoroughly examines the first movement before touching upon the others in conclusion. I begin the tale in the eighteenth century because that is when the area under study was fully incorporated into the Qing Empire, and it is arguably the period that spawned the earliest instance of state-governed nature conservation in the study area. I finish with our present moment not only as a logical endpoint for the tale, but also, and more emphatically, to highlight the emergent and unresolved nature of conservation-based conflicts currently playing out in the area.

Nicolas Rasiulis is a Canadian-Lithuanian anthropologist. As both an undergraduate at the University of Ottawa and a canoe expedition guide, Nicolas researched transformative effects of open-air nomadism on relations with oneself, others, and nature. During his master’s at the University of Ottawa, Nicolas researched ways in which Mongolian Dukha reindeer pastoralists realize livelihoods through largely collaborative and playful acrobatic improvisation. Currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University, Nicolas’ work now attends to Dukha adjustments to nature conservation regulations within the Tengis-Shishged National Park, and vice versa, as well as to avenues toward collaborative conflict resolution.



Common (Alpine) Practices on the Use of Public Pastures in Highland Kyrgyzstan and Central Europe

Lisa Francesca Rail. M.A., McGill University

Abstract: The Kyrgyz mountainscape holds an interesting example of communal agrarian land tenure: 49% of the country’s area are officially designated pasture lands and have remained unalienable property of the state ever since the dissolution of the USSR. At the same time, transhumant animal husbandry continues to be an important livelihood strategy across the post-socialist republic. In 2009 the Kyrgyz government passed a reform that granted the right to manage the grassland to local municipalities: common self-organization was officially decreed by law. Since then, the reform has been ideationally applauded but has also been critiqued as neoliberal transfer of public responsibilities to communities underequipped for the managerial task. However, there has been little empirical investigation on how the legal empowerment of municipalities to regulate their own resources is implemented. How does the coordination of collectively held pastures work in practice? How does the reform transform negotiation conditions and use patterns on the ground? Delving into this gap and based on 2,5 months ethnographic fieldwork conducted in the village of Tamga and on several prior visits, I present a case study on the everyday forms of labor that go into the management of one municipality’s public pasture commons in the Kyrgyz Tian Shan. I put forth four bundles of practices that are constitutive for the collective use of Tamga’s alps: the decentralized observation of grass, both formal and informal ways of representing and knowing the land, the distribution of resources other than the pasturage itself but deeply entangled with it, and the reproduction of relationships of mutual obligation within the village.

Combining these observations with experiences of pastoral commons use and management in the Austrian and Swiss alps, I argue that from the specificity of Tamga insights can be drawn for a better understanding of viable agrarian commons situations in general. Namely that commons are made through concrete practices and need to be grasped both in their locally specific historical contingency and within the wider political and economic relations that embed them.

Lisa Francesca Rail studied Social and Cultural Anthropology and Agrarian Sciences in Munich (LMU Munich University), Vienna (BOKU University of Life Sciences), and Montréal (McGill University). Her research focus lies on agrarian land tenure and access, the political ecology of mountain agriculture and mobile pastoralism, the post-socialist transformation of agriculture, and questions of international food policies. Additionally, she has worked as a herder in central Switzerland and is a long-term active member of the Austrian chapter of La Via Campesina, a globally connected social movement for the rights of peasants and people working in rural areas, and the Nyéléni Movement for Food Sovereignty.



Pedagogies for the Anthropocene/Ecozoic: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue.

From the Anthropocene to the Ecozoic

Drs. Peter Brown & Dina Spigelski

Leadership for the Ecozoic (L4E) is a McGill-based initiative dedicated to helping humanity, and the rest of life’s commonwealth escape the [well-known] failures of the Anthropocene to a more promising future. Thomas Berry envisaged the Ecozoic where human societies and the global community of life live in mutually enhancing relationships. We are a partnership of universities aimed at higher education reform with three primary goals: 1) to advance transdisciplinary scholarship to educate and empower new leaders; 2) to co-create a global research-to-action network; and 3) to build a global network of campuses that mobilize higher education resources to mitigate multi-faceted, human-induced, planetary declines in life support capacity. L4E courses, a rigorous PhD program, internships and field trips provide students with the background, tools and leadership skills to design and bring into being a flourishing of life on our planet.


Decolonial Epistemologies for Indigenous Territories of Life

Dr. Colin Scott

Decolonial action in domains of conservation demand a further leap from interdisciplinarity to trans-epistemic dialogue and learning. Relational ontologies underwrite the knowledge, norms and institutional processes of Indigenous ‘territories of life,” as these are coming to be recognized in global discourse. The premise is that Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies are vital decolonial keys for nurturing biocultural diversity and socio-ecological integrity. In such a context, how do we shift pedagogy from visions of ‘universe’ and ‘university’ to ‘pluriverse’ and ‘pluriversity?


Community Conservation and Local Livelihoods: The Institutional Canopy of Conservation (I-CAN) Project and its Findings

Dr. John Galaty

I-CAN is a partnership project involving universities in Canada (McGill, Carleton and Victoria) and East Africa (Nairobi in Kenya and Sokoine in Tanzania), the African Conservation Centre (ACC), and pastoral development and conservation NGO’s working in the eight regional sites where the project has carried out research over the last six years. It has involved faculty researchers, Ph.D students, MA students, and a research associate, Dr. Jacques Pollini. The major focus has been on investigating social and political factors involved in the governance of community-based conservation organizations, or Conservancies, and reconciliation between goals of resource conservation and local livelihoods, primarily of pastoral communities.

The project has addressed issues in Kenya regarding the inclusion of conservation in common or group holdings (Olkiramatian), local ontologies of conservation (Olkiramatian), how conservation goals take account of the aspirations and economic pursuits of youth (Laikipia), economic dimensions of community-investor partnerships (Samburu), the governance role of women in Conservancies (Laikipia), and in Tanzania, tensions between villages, investors and government in conservation (Loliondo), community-government co-management of Wildlife Management Areas (Enduimet), and conflict over land use in a wildlife corridor (Tarangire).

Dr. Pollini’s research complements that conducted by PhD and MA students by being comprehensive in scope, addressing all I-CAN research topics (livelihoods strategies, community conservation initiatives, conservation policies, institutional changes, land tenure changes, land and resources conflicts, governmentality and environmentality) in all I-CAN research sites in Kenya and Tanzania.


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