Friday, July 15, 2005

Meeting with Laura Rival

Bastille day lunch with Laura Rival. She's about to go for much of the summer to Salvador in Brazil where she will research the history of black politics across Latin America (including one of her own areas of particular knowledge - Ecuador).

Laura says black politics in South America today is impoverised in comparison to where it was in the sixties. A hope is that though her research she can publish evidence that will help people understand how much more outward-looking an earlier generation of leaders were.

Laura has just organised a conference in Oxford of anthropologists from around the world on issues of sustainability in the 21st century. Anthropology as if it were relevant to human concerns in our common crisis.

She invited Steve Rayner, head of the James Martin Institute, to chair one of the sessions. Rayner is Director of the UK Economic and Social Research Council's national research programme on Science in Society. In an earlier life he did his PhD in anthropology on Maoist and Leninist groups in Britain, it seems.

Another of the conference participants was Scott Atran. Once a graduate student with Margaret Mead at Columbia, Atran did his PhD on the Druze, has done groundbreaking work with the Maya. He is a cognitive scientist with special interests in decision making and the origins of religion (he is the author of In Gods We Trust), and has conducted numerous in depth interviews with people who went on to be suicide bombers.

An hour or so with Laura was deeply inspiring and encouraging for the task I'm setting out on in the next few months.

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