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Dr Nahum-Claudel awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship

last modified Aug 19, 2016 11:25 AM

Dr Chloe Nahum-ClaudelWe are pleased to announce that Chloe Nahum-Claudel has just been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship which she will hold at the London School of Economics from March 2017. Her research project is entitled  ‘Intimate Witchcraft: forging human life between unseen and phenomenal worlds’.

Here is what she says about the grant:

The grant will allow me to conduct a year’s fieldwork in the Papua New Guinea highlands, in the Sinasina-speaking area of Simbu Province. I will be focusing on local conceptions of witchcraft as they are embedded in kinship processes, gender relations and the political-economy. Witchcraft is the dominant invisible force shaping life in this locale as well as in other parts of contemporary Papua New Guinea and during pilot fieldwork in 2015 the problem of witchcraft was uppermost in the community’s self-presentation. Witchcraft is also perceived as a bar to development, human flourishing and prosperity nationally and internationally. After the 2015 trip I decided to focus on witchcraft because of this salience at local and national levels and also because it allows me to pursue comparisons with my previous work, based in Amazonia, on the cosmological mediation of kinship processes, gender relations and economic life.

I conducted research among the Arawakan speaking Enawenê-nawê in the Brazilian Amazon over the last decade. This new project makes the most of my unusual trajectory – as far as I know, no one else has done long-term fieldwork in both these regions. In broad terms the aim of my research is to make the most of thinking across dual ethnographic experiences, data sets and the larger bodies of anthropological work they relate to as I seek to understand a new community, nation and region. Since previous experience always serves as the ground against which the new stands out, comparison is inevitable. My task is to make this process of thinking across geographically and historically separate contexts quite explicit, allowing it to inform my choices about themes I pay attention to, and how I approach, describe and analyse them. This kind of displacement is one way of  motivating theoretical creativity in the interpretation of data. It can open lines of questioning in the field that are less confined by the blinkers of regional scholarly traditions, which privilege certain lines of questioning and theoretical approaches. It can also be a way to think outside of the modernist dualism between the West and its Others. This is particularly important in Melanesian and Amazonian anthropology since both regions have served as laboratories for cultural critique and as privileged others. This West-Rest dualism has left an indelible mark on the anthropology of both regions.

At another level – one which is explanatory, as well as interpretive – I want to advance theorizations about Melanesia-Amazonia comparison, which has interested but largely slipped from anthropologists’ theoretical grasp over the last decade or so. I hope to test hypotheses about commonalities and differences between Melanesian and Amazonian cultures e.g. is animal domestication the diacritic that separates Melanesian and Amazonian regimes of personhood ? Can we speak of animism in the densely populated, socio-centric Papua New Guinea highlands?