I joined the faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2009 after spending the first eleven years of my career at the University of Chicago. I’m so happy I did; this department is an excellent fit given the anthropologist I have become. Since graduating from Cornell in 1997, I’ve written on an unruly range of topics: nationalism, colonialism, kinship, state terror, the memoirs of an Indonesian heroine, Kafka’s “The Penal Colony,” money, Christianity, music, dance, and the NPR series “This I Believe.” I’ve published articles, review essays, a book, a blog, and the liner notes to a CD. Mostly I’ve conducted research in the troubled Indonesian half of New Guinea, but I’ve also done fieldwork in the Netherlands and the United States. Although I have focused on questions of culture and power, my work is characterized less by a theme than a method: I look for the very big in the very small. Ten-year old Papuan children named MacArthur after the famous American general. A crossed-out line in a report describing how a colonial officer used local warfare tactics “with much success.” The voice over in a nationalist documentary saying “they” at a moment when one might expect hear “we.”
My first book, Raiding the Land of the Foreigners: The Limits of the Nation on an Indonesian Frontier, focuses on the island regency of Biak, home to one of West Papua’s dominant ethnic groups. Biak has had a long history of engagements with outsiders. I found Biaks pursuing – and producing -- foreignness in a dog’s breakfast of places: from wedding processions to dance steps to interviews with self-styled prophets claiming to know the true sources of foreign wealth and power. Small moments from my fieldwork helped me grapple with a large question: how can people participate in national institutions without adopting a national point of view?
My second book, Laughing at Leviathan: Sovereignty and Audience in West Papua, is equally eclectic. I write about mission language ideology, YouTube videos, failed colonization schemes, church politics, and pacification campaigns. A line from George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” provided me with the thread that weaves through the essays: “I often wondered whether any of them grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool.” Seemingly minor passions of the sort described by Orwell have fueled a major project in West Papua: the quest for sovereignty in an interdependent world.
In my current research, I am taking on something equally large – the stereotype of New Guinea as a Stone Age land – by way of a close examination of expedition reports from the 1930s that document relations among Dutch officials, Papuans, and their technologies. I’m also beginning a project on secular practices of belief that will entail fieldwork in the United States. This project is giving me a chance to look at small things close to home, including the speech therapy offered to non-verbal children, like my daughter, who uses her senses in atypical ways.
I love the way anthropology allows my attention to linger on things that might passed unnoticed by experts in other disciplines. I love the way this department not only permits, but also encourages our faculty and students to roam widely in their search for new ways of looking at the world. Everywhere one finds evidence of this adventurousness: in the classroom and corridors, in the path-breaking projects formulated by our graduate students, in our undergraduates’ ability to bring fresh perspectives on our work.
As chair, I hope to see the department foster even more venues for conversation and collaboration. A hallmark of UCSC anthropology has been our interdisciplinary alliances: with history of consciousness, environment studies, feminist studies, politics, sociology, psychology, and, increasingly, the natural and physical sciences. Our annual emerging worlds workshops have enabled us to extend our networks. This year we are hosting Immanuel Wallerstein, who will be working with graduate students across the social sciences. Next year, the workshop will feature a conversation between Donna Haraway and Marilyn Strathern. In the coming years, I also envision the department continuing to build on the creative exchanges that are already occurring among the sub-disciplines within the department. Cultural anthropologists and archeologists at UCSC have much to say to one another about the new worlds created through colonialism and global trade. With our strength in medical anthropology and food studies, we are also beginning to pioneer new exchanges between cultural anthropology and physical anthropology, as well.
Our department has done all these things while maintaining an extraordinary reputation for working with students at all levels. In the past decade, our faculty and graduate students have won nearly every teaching award offered on campus. We have done so while maintaining a synergy between our pedagogy and our scholarship -- a synergy that has allowed us to maintain a vibrant intellectual community even in tough budgetary times. There is deep pleasure to be drawn from the practice of anthropology, especially in a department like this.