Sunday, June 06, 2010


Yesterday, Juara Ginting interviewed me for the on-line newspaper Sora Sirulo to which he is an important contributor. My Back to the Villages project is news, apparently.

When I reflect on the project I oscillate between perceiving it as extraordinary and chastising myself for the same. After all, isn’t it the most normal thing in the world to give a copy of the research product to those who made it all possible? That is what museums and archives expect if they loan a photograph for use. Funding agencies also have that expectation.

So why shouldn’t anthropological informants receive a copy? Moreover, why would this not be a funding stipulation? I received the most prestigious grants from Canada (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Killam Foundation) and from The Netherlands (Netherlands Research Organization and Prince Bernhard Fund) who all demanded dissemination of the research findings. “Dissemination” among the peoples who supplied the information was not a requirement. 
Back to the Villages was considered a separate project. Knowledge production is what matters.

Juara has begun to work on a project to save and preserve important Karo Batak buildings from extinction. He found parallels with my project. We both are asking he general public for contributions: he collects coins and I have book donors. He asked me to reflect on his strategy. I pointed out that his coin collecting would raise awareness of the project and also spread ownership of the building over the general public. It encourages engagement.

Engagement is what it is all about. “Objective research” may be important for “scientific purposes” but it is also a conveniently “legitimate” way of turning a blind eye to the plight of indigenous peoples struggling for survival.

I am proud and thankful to have received prestigious funding for my anthropological endeavours, but I am ashamed that these agencies have not installed a stronger ethic in the interest of indigenous peoples. What I am doing with my book should not be exceptional but rather a routine matter!

See Back to the Villages - the map!

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