2013 Autumn

2013 Autumn Visiting Speakers


25th September 2013 - Prof. Patricia McCormack
(14.00 in 'the North' seminar room, 24 High Street)

Prof. McCormack presented her work on the history of sled dog use with her paper The Canadian Fur Trade, John Rae, and Evolving Dog Teams.

Abstract Dogs have co-existed with people of the boreal forest as long as humans have been able to live in these northern lands, and even today the image of dog teams and their drivers is a strong icon of the Canadian north. Yet such dog teams were not a common practice by Subarctic peoples until the advent of the European fur trade created a new fur trade mode of production. Small teams of dogs then began to be used to haul sleds in winter. 

This paper considers this transition and the subsequent growth in the size of the teams and changes in sled technology. It includes a focus on John Rae’s use of dogs and sleds in the western Subarctic in the mid 19th century. Finally, it discusses how this new role for dogs was related to a series of other changes for both Aboriginal trappers and European traders in technology, economy, residence pattern, gender roles, and even ideology.

10th October 2013 - Dr. Craig Mishler

Craig Mishler

Dr. Craig Mishler is a folklorist and cultural anthropologist from Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska - Fairbanks. The title of his talk is Vasaagihdzak’s Hat: Gwich’in Caribou Anatomy and Cultural Ecology.


Like the bowhead whale is to the Iñupiat, or the buffalo is to the Plains Indians, vadzaih (Rangifer Tarandus) is a staple of Gwich’in subsistence and spirituality. Over the millennia, the Gwich’in people of northeast Alaska and northwest Canada have developed a detailed knowledge of caribou body parts to the extent that virtually every bone, muscle, and internal organ is an exciting point of entry into the culture. Dr. Mishler’s talk offers insights into an indigenous ontology, one which weds science and the humanities, osteology and verbal art.

30th October 2013 - Prof. Rane Willerslev
(16.00-18.00 at New King’s 14)

Prof Willerslev presented a paper entitled Why Human Sacrifice? An Exercise in Radical Cultural Comparison

Abstract Why is it that some cultures across time and place engage in the ritual killing of a close family member? For we may ask: What is the logic behind such human sacrifices and what kinds of religious values are at stake?  In this talk, two apparently different sacrificial traditions are compared: the well-known story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrificial practice of the Siberian Chukchi, who kill their elderly on the latter’s own request. At first glance, it appears as though these two traditions differ quite sharply in what they posit as the value of sacrifice. The binding of Isaac is often interpreted as a story about the ultimate act of faith. 

The Chukchi, by contrast, emphasize utility as the major goal of sacrifice and even use trickery to this end. Drawing on the Dumontian idea that a dominant value contains its contrary within, Willerslev shows that what counts as the dominant value in each of the two sacrificial traditions is so deeply co-implicated that trickery (Chukchi) becomes the shadow of faith (Abraham), and vice versa. At certain moments, one dominant value or the other is captured by its own shadow and flips into its contrary. This reversibility takes place against a “paramount value” shared by both traditions: the necessary hierarchical distance between humanity and divinity. All of this allows us to reinterpret Abraham’s trial in a manner that is precisely contrary to most prevailing interpretations—namely, as an act in which God is put on trial by Abraham. The radical comparative exercise also allows us to explain the basic logic behind human sacrifice.

7th November 2013 - David G. Anderson


Prof. Anderson presented some of his recent fieldwork and speak to the topic of Agency and the Ethnographic Imagination.


Abstract The 'ontological turn' has reinvigorated the discussion of animism, personhood, among other classic topics in anthropology. These debates, however, never exactly return to the same origin point.  The portrait of human-animal relations in many perspectivist or ANT-styled works display a radically narrow view of agency inter-preted as recalcitrance ('resistance') or as one of many homologous natures. This paper uses ethnographic examples primarily from an Evenki reindeer-herding commune in Eastern Siberia  and from work with laboratory geneticists to examine how agency and intention flow in the management of reindeer  estates. The paper will examine how both human intentionality and reindeer intentionality flow together into the creation of stocks, and how in turn ethnographic and laboratory techniques reduce these stocks into schemes.  Given the length of the ethnographic tradition of documenting animism/agency, the paper argues for a richer ethnography of human-animal relations.

12th December 2013 - Fabiola Jara

Dr. Fabiola Jara is Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

The title of her paper is The forests' articulations along the nomadic hunting paths. Akuriyo practices in mimicry and sociality.



The paper will talk about the specific notions and practices of the nomadic groups known as Akuriyo concerning their (animal) co-inhabitants in the forest of South Surinam. Using her own fieldwork data, and in the light of new insights on the ecology of Amazonian peoples concerning the transformation of the forest, Jara will discuss some concepts that could help us to understand better the nature of their social-ecology.