I got to work with the Environmental Artist/Activist Dr. Jennifer (Jenny) Price of the LA Urban Rangers in designing environmental workshops for the students of Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges during the year 2011-2012.
The first time I got to work with her was during Fall 2010 when I was co-teaching a class on ‘Introduction to Environmental Anthropology’ with biologist Prof. Jonathan Wilson in my capacity as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Haverford College. Prof. Wilson and I collaborated with several faculty members of the Bryn Mawr college to engage students from both the Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges in designing Environmental Action Art projects on Bryn Mawr College campus, under the guidance of Dr. Price. The students were given a day and a half to come with ideas of art action enactments with environmental messages. As a result, we came to witness a variety of art actions that ranged from forming a ‘food pie’ with an actual pie depicting food waste, having a public park(ing) day where students enacted several ‘relaxation activities’ like ‘sun – bathing’ on a campus parking lot, to creating a public water tasting lab where we did blind tasting of water from several sources and voted on them. Here are some of the photographs from those events:
I worked with Prof. Ellen Stroud – the Chair of Environmental Studies of Bryn Mawr College – to bring back Dr. Price again to the Tri-Colleges (Haverford-Bryn Mawr-Swarthmore Colleges) campuses during Spring 2012. During this time I actively incorporated several of Dr. Prices’ articles and her book Flight Maps with both my courses on ‘Introduction to Environmental Anthropology’ and ‘Politics of Biodiversity Conservation.’ Students got to work closely with Dr. Price in designing ‘campus tours’ that highlighted new perspectives on viewing nature in unexpected places. The students were inspired by Dr. Prices’ article called Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in LA.
I also worked with Dr. Price in organizing an environmental workshop with students of the Tri-College Community to brain storm about different ways in which students can bring about effective art action events on pertinent environmental issues such as putting pressure on college administration to divest from financial institutions that invest in fossil fuels.
I spent almost two and a half months in the state of Uttarakhand in North India during Fall 2010 directing the ‘Environment and Development in the Indian Himalayas’ study-abroad program. The program was sponsored by the South Asia Center of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.
At the Program Director I had supervised 12 University of Washington undergraduate students during our quarter-long stay in India along with my program coordinator Mr. Keith Goyden. We started our orientation program in New Delhi, and then traveled to rural Uttarakhand to spend the rest of our time there. We were hosted by the Central Himalayan Institute for Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) – a non-profit organization that works on grassroots development projects in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand.
I taught two courses – ‘Political Economy of Development in India’ and ‘Women, Work, and Development.’ Both my courses introduced students to social theories as well as ethnographic case studies, and encouraged the students to draw direct connections between what they were reading in class and what they were learning from directly communicating with communities members and CHIRAG employees (who also came from local villages). The students were also required to participate in hand-on projects in the local villages, under the guidance of Mr. Goyden and our host NGO – CHIRAG.
Apart from our structured programs we also got involved with the local communities in various plays. Our students spent a few weekends working with local villagers in rebuilding some of the walls that had collapsed during monsoon just a month before our arrival. Most of our students also took time out of their busy schedules to interact with students in local primary schools, and teach them some English.
We ended our program with a trip to the famous Jim Corbett National Park where we spent a couple of days enjoying safari rides on jeeps and on elephants, and generally having a good time with each other. One of our students even saw a tiger!
As an environmental anthropologist living in the Washington state over a period of a decade (with a four year break in the East Coast of USA) I cannot but be astounded by the rapidly changing legal landscapes around one plant – Cannabis. It is fascinating to observe the unfolding relationships between the state and its residents, between the national government and the state, and between patients and their care givers around this one plant over a span of a very short period of time. Cannabis has co-evolved with humans for millennia. And for thousands of years Cannabis, in its various manifestations, has found its way into the homes, hearths, and apothecaries of dozens of civilizations. And yet, for the patients in WA state who wanted to use the plant – its flowers, its resins, and oils made from it – to heal themselves, have been entrapped in complex legal ambiguities ever since Medical Cannabis was made legal in WA in 1998. As Washingtonians are going through yet another round of ground breaking legal transformations that redefine human-Cannabis relationship in the state, it is time for us to reflect on how such changes are impacting people who have been growing the plant for a long time to either heal themselves, or take care of other ailing people. My current ethnographic project will involve in gathering life stories of people who have been growing Cannabis at a small scale for medicinal purposes, and who have been very active politically in the state (and in the nation) to shape public opinions and public policies. I will particularly focus on understanding the ways in which the current legal changes are affecting these growers’ ability to continue with their growing activities, and also the kinds of hardships many are currently facing paradoxically due to the legalization laws in the state. Lastly, I will focus on the ways in which such Cannabis growers and medical Cannabis patients/patient advocates are forming solidarity networks to both aid each other navigate the increasingly confusing legal landscape and to also lobby for social policies that are more in tune with the needs of the patients.
I am at the very initial stage of my ethnographic research. I invite comments, suggestions, and contacts. I look forward to learn from the WA medical Cannabis community. In return, I aim to contribute to public scholarship around this issue, and to produce scholarly work that will highlight the human face of Cannabis legalization in WA and beyond.