Transcript

Simon:

Hello, and welcome to the Highlights Podcast. I am Simon Goodacre, the assistant director of communications and marketing for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis. Today, I'll be speaking with Amy Hanes, a PhD candidate in anthropology. Welcome to the podcast, Amy. You're our first student ever. So the pioneer.

Amy: 

Thank you. No pressure, right?

Simon:

No pressure, no pressure at all. Could you tell me a little bit about your project that you've been working on since you've been at Brandeis?

Amy:

Yeah, definitely. So I'm a cultural anthropologist, and I work in wildlife conservation. My research is in chimpanzee sanctuaries in Central Africa, in Cameroon. And so there, I'm studying care between species. So I'm looking at the relationships between rescued infant chimpanzees, and then the humans that are trying to figure out how to care for them. And that's humans all the way from the day to day caregivers doing the ins and outs of care work, and then all the way up to sort of state officials and international policy. And my main question is, what is it to care for or about someone?

Simon:                   

Oh, so you are looking at care from a variety of different perspectives. How would you describe the way that you're analyzing care though for your dissertation?

Amy:                        

So a lot of important work has been done on care and anthropology, and it's really an area that's kind of come into the fore right now. It's a great scholarly conversation that's happening. And they've really talked about place-based care, and so some of the differences that exist. So in the West, care is often thought of as sort of an internal state or a feeling. And then in Africa, people talk about it a lot as action; if you don't act, you don't care. But in a sanctuary setting, there's people from different countries speaking different languages, different ethnicities practicing different religions. So you can't really talk about care in terms of place. So I'm trying to go in without this idea of divisions ahead of time.

Amy:                        

So I'm looking in interviews, social media, in policy, kind of for the word care. I'm kind of chasing the word around. And then I'm really looking for moral claims that people make about how humans should treat each other, and how we should treat the chimps. And then I kind of look for it in gossip, that's a great place to ... gossip and disagreements actually because you really hear what's important to people, and they really articulate their values kind of when they're complaining about other people.

Simon:                   

Yeah, okay.

Amy:                        

So the other way that I'm looking at care is really around bodies, and what people think care is supposed to be when it comes to bodies. And that's human and chimp bodies. So I really did that through participating in care. I was a volunteer doing the daily work of sanctuary life. Sometimes that was 12, 14 hour days. And then I did infant care to see what we as humans try to give them, and then to see what chimps demand and what they reject from us. And I did a lot of that, I did about 14 months in the forest with chimps kind of on a regular basis. And then I was the primary human for a little guy named Little Larry. And I was with him for about two months, and that was 22 hours a day he was attached to me.

Simon:                   

Wow. 22 hours a day. And I understand the methodology you're using is pretty unusual for this project as well. Is that correct? Can you give me a little bit of information about how that's different from research that's been conducted in the past on this?

Amy:                        

Yeah, definitely. One of my favorite things about anthropology is that we really try to learn about whatever we're studying through participation. That gives you a different take on whatever it is you're trying to understand, and that's always an open question, that's part of your research. What are you going to do to participate? That's up to us. So I chose to become a volunteer caregiver. When it comes to multi-species projects, which this is between two species, there aren't many projects that have included ... that are on human and great ape relationships.

Amy:                        

And so within those, as far as I know, I'm the only one who's doing participant observation as a caregiver. And so that's kind of unique because, when you're in the forest with a chimp, or when you have an infant chimp 22 hours a day, you don't get to walk away. It's not like when I'm doing interviews, there's an end, I can go eat lunch. When you're in the forest, you're there when you're hot, when you're frustrated, when you're tired, when you want nothing more than to tell a little chimp to get off of you. I was stuck in care, doing care sometimes.

Simon:                   

So I understand you're looking at care in three different ways. You're looking at the importance of touch, you're looking at power dynamics between chimps and humans, and then also between humans based on race and gender as well. Should we run through each one of those-

Amy:                        

Yeah, definitely.

Simon:                  

One at a time. So why is a touch such an important element?

Amy:                        

So touch is sort of, for people in the sanctuary and the chimps, touch is the means and the end of care. It's kind of right there, it's the heart of care. So chimps, when they come in, they've been confiscated or rescued from really horrible situations. Some were being sold as bush meat. Some were going over to China or the Middle East to be exotic pets or to be in zoos. And others have been kept for entertainment in fake sanctuaries for years. And they've had no contact with other chimps, they come in poor health. So they arrive in really bad situations, and they need constant touch to sort of learn how to trust, to begin to grow physically. Socially, they need touch. They're a lot like us.

Amy:                        

So for the first year or two of their lives, it works out okay. We're similar enough to them, we're primates, we're great apes. We can offer them a lot of the touch and the contact that they need to grow. But then when they hit about three, they start to surpass us in terms of strength, and we really start to see those species differences. As humans, we start to fall short. We're too weak to provide the kind of touch they need. And so that's sort of the means to care. And then sort of the goal of care, in the sanctuary, is to help chimps integrate with other chimps, and to be able to give and receive touch like a chimp, and to sort of live a good chimp life. And so touch is everything.

Simon:                   

And so moving on from that, you sort of touched on the interplay there between chimps and humans, and how the power dynamics change depending on how old the chimp is. Could you maybe speak more to that?

Amy:                        

Yeah, definitely. So that's kind of a question ... not a question, but that's kind of something that shapes everyday life in a sanctuary. Power constantly shifts between humans and chimps. And so when they hit about two and a half, three, if they're doing well socially and physically, they start to understand that they're stronger than us. They start to test us in play. And also chimps learn how to use deception. A chimp can look at you and can want your cell phone and can wait until the opportune time to take it. Yeah.

Amy:                        

And so as they grow too, they become seven times stronger than us. So danger is a constant part of care. Just if I'm handing a chimp something, if I'm around a chimp, within arm's distance of a chimp, I can be attacked. And also danger is constant, because chimps escape sometimes, adult chimps escape. There was a really big escape several years ago at one of the sanctuaries when a tree came down and broke the enclosure wires, the electrified wires ... The chimps live in large tracts of forest, and they're enclosed by electric wires. So a tree fell, wires came down, a bunch of chimps got out. And one adult male went to the wire box that runs the power supply to all the fences, and he tore it apart. So he killed the electricity for fences around the sanctuary, and he knew where to go when he did that. So yeah. And they always say that chimps can get out if they want to. The electric fence is a psychological barrier. So power is constantly moving between two species. Yeah, and it's pretty dangerous.

Simon:                   

And then, finally, you were talking about dynamics between race and gender in caring for these chimps. Could you speak to that?

Amy:                        

Yeah, definitely. In terms of race ... Both race and gender get pretty complicated because the chimps recognize race and gender. From everything I have observed, and from everything I've been told, that's the case. And so when it comes to race and care, there are power dynamics between the humans first. Because Westerners who come from North America, from Europe, from Australia, they all generally have more means, more education, access to medical care, and greater mobility in terms of moving around internationally, and that shapes human interactions. And then when you get down to the level of chimps around humans and race, what you see is that there's a lot of disagreement about how to discipline younger chimps because they need to learn a sense of boundaries. If you take a young chimp who's around humans and not seen discipline and aggression around adult chimps, you have to create boundaries with that young chimp. Because when they get integrated with adults, if they don't recognize boundaries, they're going to get hurt.

Amy:                        

So there's disagreement on how to do that. And what you get is people, when they're trying to make sense of this and figure out something like discipline, people start to talk in terms of race, and they start to talk about white care, and they start to talk about African or black care. And so what happens is white care become synonymous with indulging the infants and coddling them and playing too much. And then when people talk about African care, sometimes they say that there's not enough touch, or it's cold and it's not warm enough. So you get people arguing or debating or negotiating in terms of race, in these race-based typologies of care.

Simon:                   

Interesting. And I understand there's also some tension around, or can be some tension around who's working at the sanctuaries and who's running them. Is that correct as well?

Amy:                        

Yeah, yeah. So some of that gets at the gender stuff you had mentioned a moment ago. The majority of these sanctuaries, of real sanctuaries ... I say real sanctuaries, and those are the ones that are accredited, are really kind of trying to do this work on chimps' behalf, they're normally ... they have been founded by white women, white Western women. And a lot of them are still directed by or managed by white expats from the West. And that's starting to change, there's Cameroonian managers. But for the most part, it's white women doing the managing or directing, and then it's African men, mostly Cameroonian, who are doing the day-to-day hard care labor. So that creates an interesting dynamic.

Amy:                        

And the second kind of interesting dynamic around gender is, Cameroonians ask us or one another kind of, "Why are all these white women here? Do they care more about chimps than about humans? And why do a lot of these white women who come not have kids? Are they scared of childbirth? Would they rather raise a baby chimp?" So stuff like that comes up more inside conversations, but it's ongoing.

Simon:                   

I mean why is it mostly white women who want to run these sanctuaries? Is that part of what you're investigating?

Amy:                        

Yeah, it's there. And I think the reasons are probably multifaceted. And it's been an interesting topic of conversation through primatology overtime. Because back in the 60s and 70s in National Geographic, we saw the biggest leaps forward in research, in terms of kind of what Western science, Western primatology found out about great apes, came from three women. Primatology, the big three were Galdikas with orangutans, Fossey with gorillas, and then Goodall with chimps. And so from the beginning, this has been sort of a science that's been dominated by women, which is rare as all of us know. And so yeah, it's kind of a million-dollar question.

Simon:                   

I understand that you're currently funded by the Newcombe Fellowship-

Amy:                        

Yes.

Simon:                   

Could you tell me a little bit about that, and how you came across it?

Amy:                        

Definitely. So the Newcombe Fellowship started in 1981, and it's a fund to help doctoral candidates in the humanities and the social sciences finish up their last year of writing. And so there aren't many funds like this. And so a lot of us in the humanities and social sciences are combing the internet for anything we can find. And I think the first time I ran across it may have been from some of your emails with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Yeah, so you guys put out great emails and try to-

Simon:                   

This is all just an exercise in how self-serving I can be.

Amy:                        

You prompted me ahead of time! But no, I really did. And sort of going through those emails and trying to find what's out there. And also the anthropology department here puts out resources for us. So they're looking for projects across the disciplines that have ethical values or religious values at the heart. And those projects can be ... there's history, there's projects from philosophy, from religion, from cultural anthropology. And the projects all can look pretty different in terms of where it is and kind of what we're analyzing, but at the heart, all of them ask big questions about what it is to be human and about the world.

Simon:                   

And as a successful applicant, do you have any advice for anyone else who might be considering applying?

Amy:                        

Yeah. Well I can tell you kind of what worked for me. What I feel like worked for me was, I really tried to make sure that, when I was writing, anyone from another discipline could read it. And so I think that was the first thing. Because for the first round of cuts for the fellowship ... I believe for the first round, it's people in your discipline who read it, and then they whittle it down, and they send it to a larger group of academics. I hope I don't have that backwards. So it really needs to be legible to people in other disciplines.

Amy:                        

And then the second thing that I really tried to focus on, they always tell us, "Don't sprinkle in things like ethics because people will see it when they're reading your proposal." So I would say to people, dig down into your discipline and see what conversations have already been happening around values, around ethics, around morality, and really put your project into conversation with those. Moral anthropology has had a resurgence in recent years, ethical anthropology, or the anthropology of ethics. And so in that resurgence, there have been great conversations happening. And I took some time to really dig into those and to see how my conversation ... or excuse me, how my research and how care spoke to those. Yeah. So I think those would be the two things I'd say.

Simon:                   

My penultimate question is the perennial favorite question. Now that your dissertation's coming together, what are you going to be doing, or what do you hope to be doing when Brandeis is in your rear view mirror?

Amy:                        

Yeah, that is the question, always. So I think my first goal would be to turn the dissertation into a book. And I would want the book to be a crossover, something that contributes to scholarly conversations, but also something that can be read by a wider audience. Because I think these conversations ... conversations about care and about interspecies relationships, also about extinction, and this touches on climate change, and conservation. So these conversations are of the moment, and they're of real, even dire, importance when it comes to what we're losing right now. So I really hope that my work can speak to both groups. So, that would be first.

Amy:                        

Second would be, I'd love to work in academia, but a lot of those positions are few and far between. So my backup is, I've been looking at academic publishing. And since I love to work with students on writing and developing arguments and ideas, I'm looking at development editing. Sort of where could I work with other thinkers to develop their ideas? So yeah, I'm looking at a couple different things.

Simon:                   

Okay. And my final, final question is, in case we have anyone listening who's considering embarking on a PhD in anthropology, do you have any advice for them?

Amy:                        

Definitely. I would tell you what someone really smart told me, which is, "You better like what you're doing because you're going to be doing it for a long time." And so they told me that in terms of just getting a PhD, period. And then second, whatever topic you're focusing in on is something that people are going to know you by. It's your first project, it's what you're going to have to talk about.

Amy:                        

So there's that. And then I think I would also say, make sure you know what you want to do in terms of a discipline. Because if you go too soon ... I knew some people who would try to go right after undergrad. I applied to some programs right after undergrad, and if I would've gotten in, I think I would have studied the wrong thing. So if you want to take time and do other things, I think that can only make your study and your applications richer. I worked some, I did Peace Corps in West Africa, I work some more, and then I ended up back at grad school, and I think it really paid off.

Simon:                   

Well Amy, thank you so much for making time for this. I really appreciate it.

Amy:                        

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Simon:                   

And listeners, I hope that you will join us next time on the Highlights Podcast.