2018 Fellows

Fiona Gedeon Achi is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. For her doctoral research, Fiona is carrying out an anthropology of global poverty alleviation. Over the last decades global poverty has taken shape as an urgent problem requiring action and imaginations beyond governmental intervention. It is a complex issue, whose exact manifestations, causes, and solutions largely divide the opinions of development experts. Across Kenya, the USA, and India, Fiona has conducted ethnographic research among those who evaluate anti-poverty interventions and work to transform successful interventions into programs at scale around the world. Since the early 2000s, an influential group of economists and development experts have insisted that global anti-poverty efforts should be grounded on scientific evidence about what works to reduce poverty rather than on theories, ideology, or good intentions. What might it mean to alleviate poverty worldwide and yet hold no specific vision of the good life? What happens when the state, an apparatus to manage a well-defined population, is enrolled in a project which seeks to tackle global poverty (a target which far exceeds national delimitation) through repeated, scientific experimentation? In this conjuncture, the ways in which the problem of poverty is delineated on a global scale by the widespread practice of evidence-based development might reconfigure not only modes of managing the poor, with implications for scientific and political action at large. Prior to her doctoral studies at McGill, Fiona received a BA from McGill and a MA at the University of Chicago, where she focused on crisis mapping, an emergent form of online-based, crowdsourced humanitarian action.

Joel Auerbach is an MA candidate in Communication Studies at McGill University. His thesis examines contemporary capitalism’s relationship to abundance and uncertainty, via the political economy of electrical infrastructure. Echoing Bataille’s notion of solar economy, in which the primary problem is not scarcity but managing excess, the project orients around a case of relative wealth and literal solar energy abundance: California’s electricity grid, especially from the 1990s to the present. This history shows how the decentralizing, decarbonizing, and democratizing potentials of solar power can be absorbed by financial speculation, predictive techniques, and social forms that rely on particular patterns of energy production. Developing this case through Marx alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, the project also raises questions about the legacies of communist and anarchist thought, concluding with the implications of Moten and Harney’s recent rearticulation of the concept of “planning” for the relation between economy, ecology, infrastructure, and political movements today. Joel holds a BA in Cognitive Science from Vassar College.

Mauricio Delfin is a Vanier Scholar and a PhD candidate in Communication Studies. He holds a BA in Anthropology and International Development Studies from McGill University and an MA in Media, Culture, and Communication from NYU. His dissertation research investigates the politics of cultural governance in Peru through the study of three controversies. The first one involves the design of the Database of Indigenous Peoples (BDPI), an instrument required to comply with the Law of the Right to Previous Consultation of Indigenous and Originary Peoples. Delfin traces the tumultuous story behind the database, which underlines the problem of State recognition of indigenous identities and reveals the limits of the current idea of “interculturality” as an institutional construct. The second controversy involves Legislative Decree 1198 aimed at modifying the General Law of Cultural Heritage, allowing private enterprises to administrate certain components of archaeological sites. The decree was repealed only a month after it passed and serves as an illustration of the challenges faced by the trend towards archaeological space deregulation in the country. The third controversy studies the Points of Culture program established in 2011 by Ministry of Culture in which the State officially recognizes cultural organizations and tries to organize them as a network. Delfin studies the program’s mixed results, describing the limits of state recognition as a technology of governance. The dissertation uses these controversies to describe some of the sides and vertexes of what Delfin refers to as a “government of culture”, the current phase of cultural governance in Peru in which the promises of the Republic, the modern state and of neoliberal reform inevitably clash with the actual demands of social life in the country, rendering each of these promises unattainable and illegitimate, leaving the door wide open for a new model of cultural governance in the future.

Adam Fleischmann is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. His dissertation research is an anthropology of climate change science and politics. Under the working title “Knowledge and politics in an era of climate change: bridging the gap between science and action,” he investigates how the climate crisis is problematised at the intersections of science, technology and politics. Despite overwhelming scientific consensus for human-made climate change, it is widely acknowledged in literatures across fields that global politics are plagued by climate change “gaps.” These gaps appear, for example, as the spaces between expertise and activism, placards and pledges, abstract scientific knowledge and actionable policy agendas—briefly, gaps between science and politics. This project seeks to understand the networks of people producing knowledge and action that is neither strictly climate science nor climate politics, but extends across them. Precisely because these networks are situated at the climate science-action nexus, they can tell us something uniquely important about anthropogenic climate change and its relations to the political, economic, environmental and ethical issues facing our world. Leveraging anthropology’s strengths as an immersive field science, Adam inquires after the extent to which climate change researchers are already working to reconcile the discrepancies between climate science and politics by producing new ways for people to take action on and relate to global environmental change. Adam holds a MA in anthropology from McGill University and a BA in anthropology and interdisciplinary French studies from The Evergreen State College.

Vineet Rathjee is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. His PhD dissertation studies how the ongoing adoption of technologies and infrastructures in agriculture is both conditioned by and impacts the caste-based labor relations, local credit flows, and ecology of villages in Haryana, India. Based on twenty months of fieldwork (November 2015 to June 2017) in Haryana, Vineet traces the trajectory of techno-infrastructural changes introduced as development initiatives by the modern state in India during the 1970s as part of the Green Revolution. His dissertation argues that Green Revolution technologies have placed agriculture-dependent families in a conundrum whose weight has affected members of all agricultural classes in the region, i.e. hereditary cultivators-cum-landowners, seasonal tenants, and agrarian laborers. On one hand, Green Revolution is credited to have increased agricultural productivity and prosperity of hereditary kisans (farmers), while on the other, it has entrenched them firmly in agrarian debt. Apart from borrowing money from institutional sources like banks, kisans take heavy loans from local moneylenders at exorbitant rates to meet the rising costs of agriculture. Other factors like fluctuating market prices for agricultural produce and rampant land fragmentation are pushing kisans to diversify in other sectors of the regional economy. However, possibilities for occupational diversification in Haryana are limited resulting in thwarted aspirations and retention of kisans and their laborers in agriculture. While tracing the constraints under which agriculture is practiced, Vineet’s dissertation interrogates the ambiguity with which kisans receive and respond to development initiatives in agriculture, almost all of which cite “improvements” in techno-infrastructural apparatuses as their raison d'être. He asks how do promises of development fare in the face of rising skepticism among its subjects i.e. the kisans? His dissertation argues that the ascending skepticism and ambiguity among kisans has produced a unique modality of engagement with development and its apparatuses – an engagement marked by agrarian populism and violence. Before joining McGill University, Vineet finished an MPhil and MA in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics and a BA (Hons) Sociology from Hindu College, University of Delhi. Hitherto, his doctoral research has received funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Institute for Public Life of Arts and Ideas, McGill University.

Molly Sauter a Vanier Scholar and PhD candidate in Communication Studies researching the political economy and cultural valence of innovation economies, holds a MA from MIT in Comparative Media Studies and is the author of The Coming Swarm: DDoS Actions, Hacktivism, and Civil Disobedience on the Internet.  Their work has been published in numerous leading media and in collected volumes published by MIT Press and Peter Lang and they as an expert on technology, culture, and politics on the CBC, NPR, the BBC, PRI, American Public Media, the Boston Globe, and other international outlets. Provisionally titled Chasing Something Beautiful: The Political Economy and Cultural Valences of Innovation Economies, their project examines the financial and social conditions that gave rise to the Silicon Valley tech economy and the challenges faced by cities attempting to replicate the Valley's success. The goal is to describe the intellectual foundations and development of “disruptive innovation” as a model of funding, business development, and culture that has become synonymous with high tech economies on the North American continent, and which many cities outside San Francisco explicitly seek to imitate when attempting to jump-start their own “innovation economies,” through promoting startups and startup incubators, encouraging venture capital-backed funding structures, and working to attract satellite offices of the “Big Five” tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft). This dissertation will cover the history of the “disruptive innovation” concept and its divergences from its origins in the popular business press as articulated by Clayton Christensen in 1996; the economic, cultural, and regulatory history of venture capital as it concentrated in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s; the emergence of exclusive social clubs, networks, and private conferences as centers of influence and power within Silicon Valley; and two examples of attempts to transplant an "innovation economy" into Toronto: the Sidewalk Toronto smart city development project led by Google sister company Sidewalk Labs, and the WeWork co-working space/lifestyle business, which has recently launched a large push into the Canadian market.

Rine (Catherine) Vieth is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at McGill University. By utilizing ethnographic and sociolegal research methods, they study the intersections of religion and law through an investigation of the UK Immigration and Asylum Tribunals (IACs) by undertaking fieldwork in northern England. In light of the lines of questioning by the UK Home Office representatives at the IACs, Rine is interested in the way religion is talked about in the tribunals, with a particular focus on Iranian asylum-seekers who have converted to Christianity. What does in mean to be a “genuine” Christian? What kind of evidence of faith or belief enters a courtroom? How do people of faith respond to asylum-seekers’ needs? Rine seeks to problematize measures of faith and belief, as assessed by the English legal system. Further, they are concerned with information produced and consumed around the tribunals—from online guides for clergy to inflammatory media reports on migration to the use of messaging applications by Iranian asylum-seekers—and the networks that form around asylum-seeker support. Rine holds a B.A. in History with Russian Literature and Language minor from Colby College; a MA in Islamic Studies from SOAS, University of London; and an MSc in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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