Anthropology and anthropological teaching in Kerala

Guest post by Dr. S. Gregory

The year 2012-13 marked a milestone in the History of Anthropology in Kerala for multiple reasons. Among many things, it marked the 25 years of PG teaching in Anthropology in Kerala and the Department of Anthropology had the unique privilege of organizing the Indian Anthropological Congress, the 10th Congress of the Indian National Confederation and Academy of Anthropologists (INCAA). The INCAA Congress, which was held as a full Congress once in three years and inter-Congresses in between, would henceforth be holding its full Congress every year under the name ‘Indian Anthropological Congress’, for which Kannur sets its beginning. The 2013 Congress held between 14 and 16 February 2013 aimed at taking a fresh look at the anthropological identities and approaches in the context of the emerging challenges and examines its potentiality for the future of the humankind. Hence, the focal Theme of the IAC 2013 was ‘Anthropology and the Future of Humankind. The theme of the Congress was chosen in the context of the dilemma Anthropology confronts between its professional commitment and the tendency to compromise its autonomy in order to erase out its anti-establishment stance, and hence of the urgency to examine the role of Anthropology vis-à-vis the future of humankind. The Congress attracted senior and young Anthropologists, from all over India, from the North, North East, East, West and South, with a total of about 250 participants, more than two third of them being from outside Kerala.

The inaugural function was presided over by the National President of INCAA, Prof. R.K. Mutatkar. Prof. A.P. Kuttikrishnan, the then Pro-Vice Chancellor of Kannur University inaugurated the Congress. Prof Gregory welcomed the gathering and provided a glimpse of the decade evolution of the Congress. Prof. PRG Mathur, the senior-most Anthropologist in Kerala, and Prof. B. Ananda Bhanu, the former Head of the Department of Anthropology were felicitated on the occasion by the President of INCAA, Prof. Mutatkar. This was followed by Prof. B.M. Das Memorial Oration by Prof D.K. Bhattacharya, from Delhi University, and was presided by Prof I.J.S. Bansal. The INCAA publications were released on the occasion. The academic exercise of the Congress started with the Round Table, which was moderated by Prof A.K. Danda, the Member-Secretary of INCAA. Fourteen eminent Anthropologists from all over India made deliberations on the conference theme: Anthropology and the Future of Humankind. It brought out a few significant concerns related to the academic and social situation which demands some methodological and analytical changes within anthropology as a discipline.

The second day of the Congress started with the Plenary Session. There were two speakers in the plenary session. Prof B.V. Sharma from Hyderabad Central University deliberated on ‘Culture and Development’ while Dr. Kannan P. Nambiar from George Washington University, Washington DC talked on the ‘Feminization of Migration and Human Rights’. This was followed by the S.C. Dube memorial lecture by Prof. Parasuram, Director of TISS, Mumbai and was presided by Prof Yogesh Atal. Prof Parasuram also released the Silver Jubilee Souvenir of the Department on the occasion, which provides a comprehensive picture about the Department and its overall profile.

The Scientific Sessions, which followed the SC Dube Memorial Lecture, involved six symposiums on varied themes, ranging from Ethnic Identity to sustainable Development, Health and Disease, Human Genetics, Growth and Developoment, Multiculturalism and Anthropological Identities and Approaches, and were held parallel in six different venues, each with three Technical Sessions. More than 80 papers had been deliberated in these sessions, followed by academic discussions. The Poster Session of the Congress had papers across all the themes of the Symposium. The cultural banquet offered by professional artists and by our own students, giving a few glimpses of Kerala Culture, enthralled the participants to its peak.

The third day started with a Special Interactive Session on Tribal Development, with the participation of the tribal activist, from Kerala Ms. C.K. Janu and moderated by Dr J.J. Pallath. The interaction was made lively and truly enriching and enlightening with the participation of Dr Jakka Parthasarathy, the former Director of the Tribal Research Center, Dr Francis Kulirani, the former Deputy Director of the Anthropological Survey of India and Shri Mohankumar, the former Director of KIRTADS. This was followed by the valedictory function which was presided over by the senior anthropologist, Dr. PRG Mathur. The Valedictory address was delivered by Prof Hussain Khan of Karnataka University. The winners of the Quiz program, conducted for the higher Secondary Anthropology students, which was one of the pre-Congress exercise, were honored with cash awards and memento.

The participants expressed a deep sense of appreciation for an excellent organization and arrangement as well as academic deliberations during the Congress. The Congress, organized under the aegis of INCAA, was made possible with the financial support from IGRMS, ICSSR, KIRTADS, Praxis India and from the University. The INCAA Kerala Chapter and the Faculty and students from the department had been the backbone in making the Congress a grand success. The extensive coverage given by the Press was unprecedented and provided the necessary boost to take Anthropology in Kerala to new heights. It had also provided an opportunity for the young anthropologists to get exposed to the wider canvas of Indian Anthropology.


Though the roots of anthropology in India could be traced back to the early phase of the colonial era, Anthropology as an Academic discipline had its beginning in India, only in 1920, with the starting of the Department of Anthropology at Calcutta University, with L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer from Kerala as one of the founding fathers of the Department. The 22nd Indian Science Congress held at Calcutta in 1935, under the Presidency of Dr J.H. Hutton, with the theme Anthropology and India, and the establishment of Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) in 1945, carving it out from the Zoological Survey of India are worth mentioning here.

In Kerala, the ethnological tradition of L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer was continued by his son L.A. Krishna Iyer, and carried forward further by his grandson L.K Balaratnam, the living continuity of this trio. Yet another doyen of Anthropology was Prof. A. Aiyappan, former Vice-Chancellor of Kerala University. The line of Anthropological stalwarts in Kerala would be incomplete without the name of Prof. PRG Mathur. The Tribal Research and Training Institute (TR&TI) established in 1970 with Professor A. Aiyappan as its Founding Special Officer, later became a separate Department of the Government of Kerala and renamed as Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (KIRTADS) in 1979, under the Directorship of Professor PRG Mathur, to conduct research on socioeconomic status of tribes, and impart training to officials posted in tribal areas about the tribal culture. KIRTADS became a center for Anthropological doctoral Research as well at a time when there was no Anthropology Department in any of the Universities in Kerala. Prof. Mathur had also been instrumental in the establishment of the Ananthakrishna Iyer International Centre for Anthropological Studies (AICAS) in 1979, at Palakkad, with the main objective of promoting anthropological research in South India.

Continue reading “Anthropology and anthropological teaching in Kerala”

Washington, D.C. event: The Unexpected Rewards of a Career in Museum Anthropology

Speaker: Jake Homiak, Smithsonian Institution

When: Tuesday, November 5th, 2013,  7:00 pm

Where: Sumner School, Rotating Gallery G-4

Pre-meeting get-together, 5:30 pm Beacon Bar and Grill. Registration is helpful, but not required.

In the late 19th century anthropology was largely a museum-focused discipline shaped by scholars concerned with collecting the artifacts and documenting the rituals, languages, and the expressive forms of Native cultures expected to soon disappear. A century later — with the decolonization of anthropology and pressure to collaborate with ‘traditional’ communities — concepts such as cultural equity, cultural property, and indigenous knowledge have shifted understandings about curatorial authority and repositioned debates about the meanings of ethnographic and archival collections.

Today, the manner in which museums curators document, care for, provide access to, broker and exhibit ethnographic artifacts and materials are projects profoundly shaped by ongoing relations with source communities whose materials they hold. Jake Homiak, the Director of the Anthropology Collections & Archives Program at the Smithsonian, will discuss these issues in relation to his own career variously as a collection manager, an ‘accidental archivist’, and anthropologist whose museum work frequently brings him into contact with the members of Native communities. He also reflects on how these same concerns have shaped his own long-term ethnographic work in the Caribbean with Rastafari communities.

Presenter bio:

Jake Homiak is the Director of the Anthropology Collections & Archives Program in the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History. He is now currently responsible for all anthropology collections and archival holdings at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center including the care, preservation, and researcher access to collections.

More information: The Unexpected Rewards of a Career in Museum Anthropology

Sponsored by the Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists

Washington, D.C. event: Book launch of Fault Lines – Views across Haiti's Divide

Author Beverly Bell will conduct a reading, Q&A session, and book signing.

When: Sunday, October 20, 5:30 pm,

Where: The Coupe
3415 11th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20010

Fault Lines is a searing account of life in Haiti since the earthquake of 2010. The book combines street journals, interviews, and investigative journalism to impart perspectives rarely seen outside the country. It studies the strong communities, age-old gift culture, and work of grassroots movements for a more just nation.

Beverly Bell is an award-winning author who has worked and lived in and out of Haiti for 35 years. She runs the economic and social justice group, Other Worlds, and is associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Books will be for sale. (To order a copy from afar, or for more info on the book, visit

Hosted by Beyond Borders and Just Haiti

Practicing anthropology discussion group

The National Association of Practicing Anthropologists is excited to announce the launch of the new NAPA discussion listserv, PraxAnth, designed to promote the practice of anthropology and the interests of practicing anthropologists.

The PraxAnth listserv will be a valuable tool for networking year round, keeping up with activities and issues within NAPA as well as out in the field, and provides a discussion forum for professional topics and a means for exchanging information (job listings, call for papers, conference updates, etc.).

NAPA hopes that this listserv will become an active clearinghouse for ideas, opportunities, and exchanges that benefit list members and advance the discipline. The listserv will facilitate communication between NAPA members and will also serve as a means to connect with our colleagues and practitioners abroad.

The list is open to all individuals with an interest in practicing anthropology and all disciplines are welcome to join.

To subscribe to the list please visit the NAPA website:

For questions regarding PraxAnth, please email the listserv moderators at

PraxAnth Moderators: Chad Morris, Roanoke College, Karen Greenough, Challenge Program for Water and Food – Volta Basin, Volta Basin Authority, Jo Aiken, University of North Texas


Book note: Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico

Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico by Vania Smith-Oka. Vanderbilt University Press, 2013.

Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico book cover
Vanderbilt University Press
Mainstream Mexican views of indigenous women define them as problematic mothers. Development programs have included the goal of helping these women become “good mothers.” Economic incentives and conditional cash transfers are the vehicles for achieving this goal.

This book examines the dynamics among the various players – indigenous mothers, clinicians, and representatives of development programs. The women’s voices lead the reader to understand the structures of dependency that paradoxically bind indigenous women within a program that calls for their empowerment. The cash transfer program is Oportunidades, which enrolls more than a fifth of Mexico’s population. It expects mothers to become involved in their children’s lives at three nodes–health, nutrition, and education. If women do not comply with the standards of modern motherhood, they are dropped from the program and lose the bi-monthly cash payments.

Smith-Oka explores the everyday implementation of the program and its unintended consequences. The mothers are often berated by clinicians for having too many children (Smith-Oka provides background on the history of eugenics and population control in Mexico) and for other examples of their “backward” ways. One chapter focuses on the humor indigenous women use to cope with disrespectful comments. Ironically, this form of resistance allows the women to accept the situation that controls their behavior.

Anthro in the news 5/27/13

A monument to those who have died attempting to cross the US-Mexico border./© Tomas Castelazo, / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

• Heavy toll at the border

The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in southern Arizona holds the largest collection of missing-person reports for immigrants who have disappeared while crossing the United States-Mexico border. Many hundreds of remains await identification. An article in The New York Times quotes Bruce Anderson, the chief forensic anthropologist at the medical examiner’s office and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona: “Less people are coming across…but a greater fraction of them are dying.” There were 463 deaths in the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30 — the equivalent of about five migrants dying every four days, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group. As security at the border has tightened, migrants are pushed to seek more remote and dangerous routes.

Conservation vs. people in Chagos

Chagos Islands

Sean Carey provided an update on the situation in the Chagos Islands in an article in The Independent (UK). He notes the pleasure of marine biologists and conservationists working in Chagos who take pleasure in the absence of any people living there. Meanwhile exiled Chagossians are still fighting for the right to return.

Take that anthro degree and…

….become the Director of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and the first East African to direct a UN body. Mukhisa Kituyi will take on the UNCTAD leadership role this September. He is a graduate of political science and international relations from Makerere University in Kampala and also holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology.

study the fashion industry at the new Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design. A few months ago, Zuzanna Ciszewska was working at a public relations agency in Warsaw. The 24-year-old with a master’s degree in anthropology and a lifelong passion for fashion saw an ad in British Vogue. Now she is one of the first 45 students at enrolled in a 10-week course meant to introduce them to topics like the fashion calendar, the history of fashion, important designers, fashion journalism, retail, business, marketing and public relations. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/27/13”

Call for papers: 2013 RAI Postgraduate Conference on Tensions in Anthropology

Photo courtesy of RAI Postgraduate Conference

Ideas in Movement: Addressing Tensions in Anthropology, a conference for postgraduates in anthropology, will be held at the University of Aberdeen, October 28-29, 2013. The new deadline for proposals is May 31.

The Scottish Training in Anthropological Research (STAR) is proud to announce the 2013 RAI Postgraduate conference at the University of  Aberdeen. Established in 2006, STAR fosters collaborations between social anthropology staff and research students from the Universities of Aberdeen,  Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. Plenary speakers are Tim Ingold and Rane Willerslev.

Today, confronted with a world that appears more dynamic and rapidly changing, anthropologists are questioning some fundamental conceptions, arguing from different and often contradictory perspectives. As a guiding concept for this conference we have chosen the role of tensions within the contemporary anthropological debate. Such tensions, flourishing all around the discipline, mark not only its conceptual history, but also its constant engagement with the constitutional concerns of our world. Among many, we might highlight tensions between the real and the imaginary, the fluid and the static, discourse and perception, nature and culture, purity and hybridity, the visible and invisible, ethnography and anthropology, discovery and construction, and so on. Continue reading “Call for papers: 2013 RAI Postgraduate Conference on Tensions in Anthropology”

WAPA event tomorrow: Anthropology career panel

Washington Association of Professional Anthropologists will hold an anthropology career panel tomorrow.

Speakers: Kirsti Uunila, Frances Norwood, and John Primo

Date: Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Meeting: 7:00 pm, Sumner School, Rotating Gallery G-4

Pre-meeting get-together: 5:30 pm Beacon Bar and Grill


Kirsti Uunila is a Registered Professional Archaeologist and has served Calvert County since 1993 as Historic Preservation Planner. She reviews development projects for potential effects on cultural resources, creates projects to capture, preserve and share the history of Calvert County.

Frances Norwood is a medical anthropologist who specializes in end-of-life and long term care research in the U.S. and in The Netherlands. She won the 2011 Margaret Mead award for her book, The Maintenance of Life (2009). She is currently working on health care reform related to the Affordable Care Act as social science research analyst at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and holds an appointment as assistant research professor at George Washington University in the Department of Anthropology and the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.

John Primo is an ecological anthropologist in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). He oversees a broad body of research focused on understanding the social impacts resulting from the development of energy resources on the outer continental shelf. Some of the issues and topics studied by the bureau, include, subsistence practices in Alaska, ocean space-use, the history of the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico, and the infrastructural needs of energy development. John’s responsibilities and duties involve research design, coordination, and oversight at the programmatic and project level, as well as a number of associated procurement activities.

Meeting: Charles Sumner School, corner of 17th St and M St NW, Washington, DC.

How to get there: The Sumner School is located at 1201 17th St NW (corner of 17th St and M St NW). The entrance to the meeting area is on 17th St under the black metal stairway. Directions from Metro Red Line: From Farragut North station, take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 2 blocks north. Enter the building through the double doors under the black metal staircase. MEETING ROOM: Rotating Gallery G-4 (ground floor)

Pre-meeting: Beacon Bar & Grill (one block north of Sumner School)

How to get there: The Beacon Bar & Grill is in the Beacon Hotel located at 1615 Rhode Island Ave NW (corner of Rhode Island and 17th St). Directions from Metro Red Line Farragut North station: take either L St exit, walk one block east to 17th St, turn left and walk 3 blocks north (one block past Sumner School). All are welcome.