Monday, 6 March 2017

Two ways of walking


An excellent depiction of walking styles. The anthropologist (camera bag on shoulder, Nikon DSLR in one hand) looks down, carefully dragging her increasingly overweight body up a slope. The hunter-gatherer at the back gazes at the surrounding forest, strolling insouciantly — well, he's in his element, he doesn't worry where he's going to place his foot. Shot by ʔeyMantɔr with my iPhone 6-plus, without direction from me. Penang National Park, Malaysia, 5/3/17. And being uploaded with the protagonists looking over my shoulder.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Announcement: 12th International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies

CHAGS Xll, the Twelfth International Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies, will be held on 23–27 July 2018 at the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

I'll have more to report later. Meanwhile, here's our new "first announcement" poster. Feel free to download and read the fine print, and help us spread the word!

A big shout-out and thanks to Kuah Li Feng, who designed the poster.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Announcements, publications, new and old work

Two article publications this year; I'm working on a couple of books (sometimes suspended in liquid gold):

Lye Tuck Po. 2016. Signaling presence: How Batek and Penan hunter-gatherers in Malaysia mark the landscape. In Marking the land: Hunter-gatherer creation of meaning in their environment. W. Lovis and R. Whallon, eds. Pp. 231–260. Oxford: Routledge.

Endicott, Kirk, Lye Tuck-Po, Fatanah Zahari, and Alice Rudge. 2016. Batek playing Batek for tourists at Peninsular Malaysia's national park. Hunter Gatherer Research 2(1):95–118.

Both take a slightly different tack on the ethnography. The marking paper puts Batek and Penan together for the first time in a full-length article (more Batek than Penan, I admit, since I know them so much better), with a sideways look at Jahai. A little experimental.

The tourism article is an unprecedented, 40-year, three-scholarly-generations look at how Batek deal with tourism. Kirk drafted the original manuscript, I added and edited here and there, Nurul made her MA thesis research available, and Alice gave the latest updates. It was a long journey from draft to print (a story so long we'd rather forget it); we're delighted it's out!

Of course, both articles can be further edited and expanded in different directions! Tracks, tracking, how landscapes reveal themselves, or are known--endlessly fascinating to me, even when I consciously take detours (e.g. looking at tourism and cultural resilience).

And while I'm on the subject of publications, here's a shout out for the new journal Hunter Gatherer Research too: it's published by Liverpool University Press on behalf of the newly-founded (since 2014) International Society for Hunter Gatherer Research, of which I'm the president! We're a cool group. If you like hunter-gatherers, or you're interested in our research, you should join us! Membership gets you the journal, attendance at CHAGS [more on this in another blog, another day] and bragging rights. If you just want to keep in touch, subscribe to the newsletter -- details on the society home page.

Elsewhere, I've been working up lecture notes (to our annual summer school in Southeast Asian Studies, which this year took us to Berlin for the first time) on "other ways of remembering." We're working on an edited interdisciplinary, comparative volume on the topic of memory and heritage in Southeast Asia, which will draw in contributions from current and past lecturers, representing at least three or four countries. My contribution will throw in work from Cambodia and East and West Malaysia, but essentially looks at the "interactions" between body and environment, memory and the politics of marginalisation. I've given drafts as seminars in Zurich and Cologne (actually the paper is currently in its 6th incarnation); now I've just got to knuckle down and write the damned paper!

But, there's an upcoming conference where I plan to speak on wildlife management (in the context of democratisation), and a few weeks back I joined a workshop on sustainability and religions. Laying down new tracks, I guess, while circling back to some never-fading interests. After all, the environment is worse than ever, and I'm not sure there are any genuinely new paradigms out there to help us think about solutions.

Monday, 24 October 2016

On hiatus from blogging

Been on a long hiatus. Still on hiatus, at least as far as this blog is concerned. But I'm home now.

Sunrise view from our lovely apartment in Berlin, this past September. Shot at 5:18 am.

Sunset on the Rhine River, with the skyline of Cologne in the distance

Landschaftspark, Duisburg Nord

But it wasn't all sunsets and historic architecture. Here's a panoramic view of a plenary at the European Association of Social Anthropology conference in Milan:

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

21st century fieldwork

I wish I could say that this is all I brought to the field with me:

Fieldwork kit | 1

Two blow-up toys, a sleeping bag, and a small backpack. I rather admired the monastic look of this scene. Alas, it was never thus. This is what that stuff, and more, was contained in:

Fieldwork kit | 2

Two medium-sized backpacks, and a box of rations to share. (My old backpack, that I got as a young student setting off for fieldwork and has done every fieldwork with me ever since, is still serviceable after 20 years, but I need to send it in for patching and sewing.) The plastic toy isn't mine. My only true concession to the monastic life was to have just two changes of clothes.

So what else were in those bags? Here's one universe of possibilities:

Fieldwork kit | 3

Pens and notebooks (with spares) came along, as did my laptop. I goofed this time, though. I was in such a rush to leave home that I forgot to bring along some old songs and photos for general sharing (my field packing and unpacking includes giving the MacBook Air's hard drive a periodic spring-cleaning) and my (organic) memory doesn't have permanent storage capabilities. As my Batek travel companions hilariously pointed out, I could only remember snatches of lyrics to entertain people with, and filled in the gaps with a lot of la-di-di-da ("you sing only one word at a time—where's the rest of it!").

For power, I used two solar kits (this and this); with rain falling and the sun behind clouds almost every day, I was glad to have two solar batteries (middle of photo). Indeed, other than the pre-charged camera batteries and a couple of disposables to run a GPS receiver, I was entirely on solar power. I seem to have finally devised the ideal PV system that literally travels on my back and imposes natural limits on my geeky tendencies, forcing me to spend most of the time on good old participant observation.

The iPhone continues to be a trusty companion, now with a new attachment—a mic that enables audio recording in .wav format. For the same purpose—getting archival quality uncompressed files—I'm also using a Zoom HN5 (portable handheld digital recorder—top centre of the photo). The iPhone got used a bit more; it's more portable and quicker to whip out at a moment's notice. I haven't yet compared audio quality across devices, though I should.

For photography, I'm approaching wretched excess, I suppose. My beloved Nikon D700 is on permanent standby (only one lens brought to the field this time: 50mm 1.4—my favourite) but I'm also using the iPhone camera a lot more now. The division of labour between cameras is about 50-50, with the D700 for "important" shots (rough yardstick: "this image needs to be lovingly preserved in RAW format"), and the iPhone for functional shots, memory aids and, my favourite use of it, panoramas (examples here). But as you can see from the photo above, I also now have a Sony mirrorless camera, the Alpha 6000. Originally I was looking for a lightweight but good pocket camera to take the strain off my shoulders, but I can't wean off the D700 after all. So the a6000 is now for movie recording (impressive audio capture and subject tracking, I must say) and extremes of low light (24 MP!). In short, boys and girls, instead of each new camera replacing the previous one (as the D700 had replaced the Nikon D70, and the D70 the Nikon FM2), I seem to be sprouting new photographic wings, exploring different image-making possibilities with different devices simultaneously. To what end, I wonder.

The main issue now is to develop a more-or-less efficient workflow. One does get swamped with data, none of which is useful unless properly organised, categorised, and integrated across media. Right now, for example, I'm annotating video and audio data, and keywording photos. Recently I was admiring my workflow in Cambodia, the care I put into designing useful keywords and writing photo descriptions most days in the field. Because those descriptions were written on the same day the photos were shot, they have an immediacy and vividness to them that you just don't get if you're writing years after the fact, when the feelings and sensations have been nudged aside by other feelings and sensations. Doing fieldwork with farmers in Cambodia is very different from fieldwork with hunter-gatherers in Malaysia, though. But I'm trying to go back to those good fieldnote-writing habits... at least I'm now downloading digital data by the day and monitoring progress...(you might notice there's a card reader hidden among the wires in the photo above; it too comes along on fieldwork).

Now, about those inflatable toys in the first photo above. It's all about age. Youthful injuries have, I suppose, caught up with me; I'll spare you the details, but I do increasingly appreciate the little luxuries like a super-comfy air mattress that folds down to the size of a hot dog (no, don't go there...).  I don't normally sleep more than four hours per night (I take naps, gloriously long naps) but with that air mattress I can get seven hours in, no problem, and wake up refreshed, ready for participant observation...

I'll try to post more in the next few months, but I'll be in and out of the field, collecting and processing data (did you hear that, students?).

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

New blog: International Summer School in Southeast Asian Studies

Interested in Southeast Asia, the study of, the thinking about, the living in?

We have a new blog, mainly to showcase the work of our postgraduate participants in the International Summer School in Southeast Asian Studies, an annual two-week programme jointly-organised by Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang (USM), the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (IAAW-HU), and Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta (UGM). Check it out here.

I am one of the contributors, yes...

We've only just set it up; come back frequently.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Aliran Down the Ages

Here's a bit of Malaysian social history, as seen through the work of Aliran, Malaysia's oldest human rights group. Watch how information dissemination styles have changed since the 1970s, when the group was founded. Past 2010, all the images (and video) were shot by me.