Anthropology panel addresses social justice

May 22, 2015, 9:07 a.m.

At the Intersections of Anthropology and Social Justice Panel on Wednesday, students in the anthropology department presented on a diverse range of research projects and their own connections to issues of social justice. The panel, which is intended to be an annual event, was started last year by Nestor Silva, a second-year anthropology Ph.D. student.

After Silva’s introduction to the current relevance of anthropology and social justice, five panelists presented their research to the audience.

The panelists included Andrea Hale ’15, speaking about the politics of cultural representation in Ecuador; Sam Maull, second-year Ph.D., about mass incarceration; Dean Chahim, first-year Ph.D., about NGO’s in Nicaragua; Peri Unver ’15 about narratives of disability, stigma and emotional impact and Jess Aurebach, Ph.D. candidate, about race and social inequality.

Chahim explained that the significance of his thesis is that some NGOs in Nicaragua are not actually promoting democracy but instead are, for the most part, promoting themselves.

“Anthropology allows us to be a radical critic of what’s ostensibly a very good thing, which is democracy and NGOs,” said Chahim. “It allows us to really think beyond those concepts and then also think about responses to them.”

Unver, who is working on her coterminal masters in anthropology, took a literary approach to emotional issues and stigmas that individuals with disabilities experience, claiming that it is often overlooked.

“It’s important to listen to these different stories of people who have experienced a disability,” said Unver. “It’s really significant just to bridge those gaps through dialogue, through expression, through honesty.”

Unver, who identifies as “a strong believer and lover of anthropology,” highlighted the importance of the field to create an open dialogue on issues of social justice.

“Anthropology makes people see the world in color and not just black and white, and…that overlaps here as well with the social justice parallel.”

Chahim agreed on the significant role anthropology plays when it comes to social justice.

“[Anthropology] has historically been at the forefront…of advancing different ideas of social justice,” Chahim said. “Thinking about the issue of race, anthropology was clearly the discipline that was able to change what we thought, that [race] is not a biological fact but a socially constructed idea. And I think that we need to further that agenda in the present with anthropology.”

Chahim also emphasized the importance of social justice not only to anthropologists, but to the society at large.

“I think that social justice is something that should be part of every department in the University,” said Chahim. “It should be at least a big part of what we do as academics, as intellectuals; I think it’s our responsibility.”

After the presentations, panelists and audience members participated in a casual discussion on the concepts and questions raised by the research projects.

Around 25 people attended the panel. Some panelists, including Hale, expressed disappointment regarding the turnout.

“I was kind of sad not to see people from outside of anthropology space,” said Hale. “I think it was great to hear what other people are working on [but] I would have liked to see a more diverse group of people.”

“I think that one of the goals was to get people that aren’t anthropology to learn about it, but I think it was still a fun discussion,” said Chahim.

However, some prospective students were in attendance. Ramah Awad ’17, who has been recently considering switching her major from history to anthropology, found the panel to be “a very productive and enlightening conversation.”

“I’ve also been very involved with social justice issues, [particularly] with Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine, and so I thought this event was very enlightening in the sense that I got to hear how [anthropology] could be used in issues of social justice, and how it relates to the issues I have been working towards,” Awad said.

According to Silva, he and other planners in the department are contemplating expanding the event next year and opening it up to not only students from different fields in humanities and other social sciences, but also to students from other universities.


Contact Sevde Kaldiroglu at sevde ‘at’


Sevde Kaldiroglu ’17 is a sophomore hoping to double major in English (Creative Writing) and Psychology. She was raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and decided to come to Stanford to pursue her passion of writing. A staff writer for the student groups beat at the Stanford Daily, Sevde is also the editor-in-chief of Avicenna - The Stanford Journal on Muslim Affairs. She also enjoys swings, drinking Turkish coffee, and fortune-telling. To contact Sevde, email her at sevde ‘at’

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