Hospitable Subjects: Indigenous hospitalities in the history of science

“In Polite Company: Pueblo Management of Ethnographic Data Collection”

Adam Johnson (University of Michigan)

When an entourage of Anglo anthropologists arrived in the pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico, in 1879, Palowahtiwa made sure the newcomers felt welcome and provided for. As the governor of Zuni, Palowahtiwa managed his community’s relationship with outsiders, and in this case even adopted one of the visiting Anglos, Frank Hamilton Cushing, lodging him at his house and clothing him in Zuni garb. Pueblo governors had long managed outsiders, and when anthropologists swarmed to the Southwest at the turn of the century, strategies were already in place for controlling ethnographic data collection. Pueblo gestures of hospitality, for instance, ensured that someone was always present with a visiting anthropologists—both to assist them throughout their stay and to watch over them.

Anthropologists, however, increasingly worked to pull back the curtain on the “secrets” that Zuni and other Pueblo people appeared to hold. In this paper, I examine the role of the Pueblo governor as a manager of ethnographic inquiry, faced with cavalier anthropologists and probing questions about private ceremonial details. The increasing anthropological interest in Pueblo ceremonialism had, by the 1920s, heightened concerns in Pueblo communities for privacy. In response, some anthropologists sought to remove the structuring conditions of visiting the pueblo, and instead arranged clandestine meetings with individual informants in hotel rooms and ranch kitchens, away from the watchful eyes of their community.

“The Invention of Participant Observation: A Host–Guest History of Science”

Isaiah Wilner (Harvard University)

Between 1879 and 1922, Western investigators of non-Western societies abandoned their assumption of an Archimedean standpoint, experimenting with the value of embodied knowledge—physical participation in the practice of culture creation—to derive insights from the intellectual ecosystems of their hosts. This paper reveals participant observation as an Indigenous invention. Behind every anthropologist who codified the crossing of the mind/body binary there exists an Indigenous interlocutor who has been erased from that knowledge-making process, screened out of the history that Indigenous people initiated. On America’s Northwest Coast, that person is George Hunt, whose enculturation into the gift-giving system of his adopted people, the Kwakiutl of Fort Rupert, British Columbia, created the conditions of possibility for Franz Boas’s groundbreaking investigations into culture. It was Hunt who initiated Boas into the knowledge known as “potlatch,” taking him from the colonial construction of Self and Other to the reciprocal relation of Host and Guest. The education of Boas by Hunt alters our understanding of who holds the pen, thus who holds the power, in the anthropological encounter. It also calls attention to the history of erasure that is our intellectual inheritance, preventing us from recognizing the foundations of scientific knowledge by marginalizing the minds of people of color. If the method of participant observation adumbrates the contributions of human science to modernity, and if Indigenous people played a key role in making the method, then the so-called subjects of scientific study are in fact agents in the creation of modern knowledge

“Strangers on an Island with no Beach: Pitcairn Islanders, physical anthropology, and the places of captivation”

Adrian Young (Denison University)

When American physical anthropologist Harry Shapiro came to Norfolk Island in 1923 and Pitcairn Island in 1924 to conduct anthropometric measurements, he found people well-accustomed to receiving—and managing—their visitors. Both islands were home to the descendants of Tahitian women and the British mutineers of the Royal Navy vessel Bounty, and their inhabitants’ status as the racially-hybrid inheritors of a much-mythologized story made them well known across the Anglophone world. During the 19th and early 20th-centuries, Pitcairn islanders hosted many visitors who came to write about their lives and their pasts. They received Shapiro according to the same well-rehearsed practices of hospitality, making possible certain forms of invasive anthropometric work while safeguarding other forms of knowledge as out-of-bounds. This paper will situate Shapiro’s fieldwork and his ensuing critiques of interwar racial science within the history of hospitality in Pitcairn and the Pacific. On many islands, the beach served as a pivotal site of cross-cultural encounter, but Pitcairn has no beach. Rather, these small, inaccessible, and cliff-bound island communities developed their own unique methods with which to welcome those who came to scrutinize them. As the inheritors of one of Britain’s most famous imperial myths, they worked to make their home islands into spaces of “captivation,” ready to capture the benevolent interest of their investigators.

“Hosting Indigenous Subjects: Scientific Hospitality in the City and the Lab”

Rosanna Dent (McGill University)

The residents of the Xavante Territory of Pimentel Barbosa in Central Brazil have decades of experience receiving researchers. Entangling their scientists and anthropologists in affective and kin relations, villagers have cultivated strategies to compel reciprocity in many forms. As personal relationships and scholarly agendas have developed, since the 1990s researchers have increasingly found it necessary to return the favor of hospitality. This paper examines how researcher-subject kinship extends beyond the space of the Indigenous territory to look at what happens when it is the scientists who host their subjects. Xavante interlocutors have traveled to urban spaces in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre, and New York City. They have visited genetics laboratories, participated in public cultural events, and stayed in hotels or at their scientists’ homes. Welcoming Xavante subjects has implied new kinds of labor for researchers, and shifted relationships that previously existed primarily in “the field.” Scientists’ invitations to their Xavante subjects make plain the emotional and political stakes of hospitalities in urban spaces. They respond to scientific controversies over the use of Indigenous biosamples, critical approaches to the notion of “informed consent,” but also to the affective ties developed over years of collaborations in anthropology, human ecology, and public health. When the typical researcher-subject hospitality is reversed, the intimate basis of human sciences research becomes clear.