President’s Message

Greetings from Vietnam and Happy 2019!

Headshot of Sarah Grant current SWAA President in VietnamI am writing from Saigon where I am currently leading a study abroad program for thirteen California State University, Fullerton students. This is also the first moment of downtime I have had to reflect on the trip and all that has changed since I led this program in January 2018. This city can, quite literally, change overnight. Trying to express the perpetual development of a city like Saigon to a group of students who are traveling here for the first time is always more difficult than I expect. We have not yet unpacked what this city means, nor will we be able to in such a short amount of time. The project of legibility is a tricky one.

With thirteen students and thirteen cameras (plus smart phones), I spent the first two days of the new year emphasizing the ethics of photography and subject consent. While visiting requisite tourist spots in the city and south of the urban center, in the Mekong Delta, I emphasized the complexities of the tourism industry (now the fifth largest industry in Vietnam) and the environmental degradation that comes with millions of tourists consuming things in a Mekong Delta village. As we move on to my field site in the south-central highlands of Vietnam, our discussions will turn to the politics of representation – of coffee farmers, the Vietnamese university system, and agricultural branding.

Of course, all of these discussions are rooted in an anthropological sensibility – a perspective on the world that is simultaneously critical and careful, sensitive and realistic. I am careful not to lead students down a road of exoticization of this place, but I also want my own anthropological knowledge of various industries and Vietnamese culture, generally speaking, to be legible. One way to do this is to explore alternatives to text-based forms of knowledge production and exchange. These forms are slowly coming to fruition in many social scientific disciplines and I hope that the forthcoming 2019 Annual Conference will introduce the SWAA community to these spaces of creativity.

With this in mind, I am excited to announce that Dr. Sherine Hamdy (University of California, Irvine) will be the distinguished speaker at the forthcoming SWAA Annual Meetings. Below is the title and abstract of her talk:

Legibility through Comics: The Making of Lissa, an ethnoGRAPHIC Story

Abstract: Sherine Hamdy will discuss her move from medical anthropological research to working on creating a graphic novel, featuring women from extraordinarily different circumstances, each facing a medical decision the other can’t understand. Lissa, which takes place against the backdrop of Egypt’s popular uprisings, is informed by Hamdy’s ethnographic research in Egypt on the vulnerabilities that expose people to kidney and liver disease, and the difficulties of accessing proper treatment. The work also draws on Coleman Nye’s research in the U.S. on the social and political calculus of managing genetic risk for breast and ovarian cancer within a commercial healthcare system. This graphic work of “ethnofiction” tells the story of an unlikely friendship between Anna, the daughter of an America oil company executive living in Cairo, who has a family history of breast cancer and Layla, the daughter of the bawab of Anna’s apartment building, who grows to become a resolute physician struggling for better public health justice and rights in Egypt. Following the women as they grow up together and grapple with difficult medical decisions, the project explores how different people come to terms with illness and mortality against the backdrop of political, economic, and environmental crises.

Please see page 5 of the Winter 2018-2019 Newsletter for more information about Dr. Hamdy and her work.

The Call for Papers, registration and hotel information, and information about the Student Paper Competition and Student Poster Competition can be found on pages 3 through 6 of the Winter 2018-2019 Newsletter.

Sarah Grant
SWAA President 2018-2019