I am a social anthropologist. My work is about ritualized political innovation in Indigenous communities faced with colonial and postcolonial ruptures. I work on an agribusiness and hydropower frontier in Brazil and in peri-urban highland Papua New Guinea.
Vital Diplomacy in Brazil's Amazon region
I received my PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2012 for research with Enawene-nawe people in Brazil's Mato Grosso state, a soya agriculture and hydropower frontier in the southern fringes of the Amazon river watershed. I focused on the political dimensions of the community's everyday ritual activity in a context of hydropower exploitation. Hydropower developments involved the community in diplomatic encounters that put state sovereignty over natural resources to the test.
By conceptualising diplomacy I think about the ways ritualised social action is inherently political not only when it involves road blocks, high-level meetings in Brasilia, and acts of political warfare, but also playing flutes, dancing, and feasting in the centre of a panoptic circular village. I connect semiotic and processual analyses of ritual with political-economy perspectives to ask: How do people who build fishing dams themselves deal with the construction of concrete dams upriver? In an animist cosmology in which the environment - the palms, the fish, the manioc - is understood to respond with potential aggression to human impacts, how does a relationship with a predatory state-sponsored hydropower company unfold?
Like all anthropological work mine is holistic. My theorisations of ritualised political life - both diplomacy at the borders of states and egalitarian collectivism - is grounded in understandings of kinship processes, agricultural labour, fishing practices, and food systems. I seek to understand how Enawene-nawe people are social, how they manage to live with others: creating unity out of difference; creating conditions for peace after a history of colonial violence; generating vitality when death and illness always loom; and arranging sex and work to favour equality between people.
These are all themes I explore in my book Vital Diplomacy: the ritual everyday on a dammed river in Amazonia.
First published in 2018 by Berghahn, the book will be out in paperback in October 2023.
Other published work focuses on:
- food & fire
- Indigeous diplomacy and resource politics
- environmental anthropology and the study of technologies and material cultures that mediate human relations with the world
- the social and political efficacy of ritual
- key debates in the history of Amazonianist scholarship
2020 ‘Pyrotechnical Mastery and Humanization: Amazonian Cuisine, Care and Craft in Evolutionary and Semiotic Perspective’ Current Anthropology 61(4) 419-440
2020 ‘Anthropology and Diplomacy: Is another form of diplomacy possible?’ Special Issue Introduction with Emmanuel de Vienne. Terrain 73: 4-25
2019 ‘Cosmology and Practice in Amazonia’ Special Issue Introduction with Olivier Allard. Tipití: The Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America 16 (2) 1-19.
2019 ‘The Anthropology of Traps: Concrete Technologies and Theoretical Interfaces’ Special Issue Introduction with Alberto Corsín Jimenez. Journal of Material Culture 24 (4) 383-400
2019 ‘From Mastery to Subjection: An Embodied Ethics of Entrapment in Amazonia’. Journal of Material Culture 24 (4) 473-490
2019 ‘In Permanent Transition: Multiple Temporalities of Communitas in the Enawenê-nawê Ritual Everyday’ Anthropology Today 35 (3) 11-15
2019 ‘The Curse of Souw among the Amazonian Enawenê-nawê’ The Culture of Invention in the Americas: Anthropological Experiments with Roy Wagner (eds.) P. Pitarch and J. A. Kelly. Pages 211-233. Hereford: Sean Kingston
2017 ‘Feasting’ Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Anthropology
2017 ‘Pourquoi Filmer sa Culture ? Rituel et Patrimonialisation en Amazonie Brésilienne (Karajá, Enawenê-nawê, Suruí du Rondônia)’ Co-written with Nathalie Pétesche & Cédric Yvinec Journal de la Société des Américanistes 103 (2)
2016 ‘The To and Fro of Documents: Vying for Recognition in Enawene-nawe Dealings with the Brazilian State’ Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology 21 (3) 498–516
2012 ‘Enawene-nawe “Potlatch Against the State”’ Social Anthropology: Journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists 20 (4) 444–457
Witch hunts in Papua New Guinea, in Anthropology, and after #MeToo
Since 2015 I have spent 9 months in Papua New Guinea's Simbu Province collecting oral history testimonies of persons accused of witchcraft, their torturers, and the masterminds of recent witch hunts. I am currently writing a book that develops a post #MeToo feminist understanding of witch hunts.
Some of my thinking has already been published:
Church, Chief, Cat, Witch, London Review of Books Volume 44 no. 21
I am interested in exploring how post #Metoo feminism looks from Papua New Guinea, where women are tried and murdered as witches. #Metoo revealed the mundanity of sexual intimidation and violation in societies where gender equality is supposed to be law. And yet, somehow, this didn’t level the playing field with places like Papua New Guinea. When it happens over there, gender violence is something else, beyond the pale: Hilary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher may be taunted as witches in defeat and death but that’s not the same as seeing women actually bashed and bloodied. In classic anthropological way, I want to challenge the ways that contemporary feminism remains wedded to 'our' relative enlightenment, to work against the sensationalisation of gender violence in places like PNG.
At the same time, I want to disrupt the deadening perception - at a high watermark today, as it was in the 1970s - that patriarchy is everywhere and always. What do we mean by patriarchy? How are patriarchies plural and situated, and where do they intersect, both in colonial history and in the psychic life of power?
Back to Brazil, Amazonianist anthropology and feminism
Two projects take my feminist work on witchcraft in Papua New Guinea since 2015 back into thinking through Amazonia. It’s about the ways land despoliation and dispossession and state projects are refracted through changing gender relations. This work speaks to both rising neo-colonial violence in and the hopeful ways that Indigenous women have opposed Bolsonaro, entered universities, and made it into Lula’s cabinet. With Brazilian anthropologists Aline Regitano and Marta Amoroso at the Unviersity of São Paulo, in 2021 I co-organised an international workshop to focus attention on issues of gender, power and coloniality in Amazonianist scholarship.
This resulted in a special issue on Feminist Perspectives in Indigenous Amazonia. The introduction is available in both English and Portuguese:
2021 Aline Regitano & Chloe Nahum-Claudel 'Perspectivas Feministas na Amazonia Indígena' Cadernos de Campo 30 (2)
I am currently putting together a collection for a Brazilian Interdisciplinary Feminist Journal on what Indigenous Amazonia can contribute to critical menstrual studies, a renewed field of feminist research. Some of my own research on menarche rituals, menstrual control, and dieting, articulated in a critical, feminist dialogue with Lévi-strauss's work, was recently published in French:
Cuisiner avec Lévi-Strauss et les femmes enawenê-nawê : à la recherche de la condition humaine dans les subtilités de l’expérience quotidienne Chloe Nahum-Claudel Dans Cahiers d'anthropologie sociale 2020/1 (N° 20), pages 133 à 151
Before joining the University of Manchester in 2022, I worked at the LSE, as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow (2017-2021), and at the University of Cambridge (2012-2017), as a junior research fellow at Pembroke College and an affiliated lecturer at both the Centre for Latin American Studies and the Department of Social Anthropology. In 2013-14 I was a postdoc at the Centre for Research on the Americas, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS, Paris, 2013-2014). I am on the board of the Société des Américanistes and am a member of its journal's editorial committee.
Between 2006 and 2013, during my Master’s and then my PhD at the University of Cambridge, I conducted 18 months fieldwork with the Enawenê-nawê in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, at a time when several hydropower dams were being constructed in their fishing waters. Throughout this research I was supported by mentors and peers at the Museu Nacional, part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Since 2015, while continuing to collaborate with South American and french scholars in thinking through Amazonian reseach, I have been researching witch-hunts in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea with the support of PNG’s National Research Agency in Port Moresby and my partner, the anthropologist Anthony Pickles.
My undergraduate teaching is inspired by feminist and Indigenous issues and by my love of ethnography. At Manchester, I teach:
- Cultural Diversity in Global Perspective
- Witchcraft, Feminism and Anthropology
- Anthropology of Amazonia
- Food and Eating: the cultural body
I am interested in meeting prospective PhD students wishing to work in Papua New Guinea or the Amazon or on themes related to my own research, such as:
- environmental anthropology, human-animal relations & resource politics
- political life and diplomacy on the margins of states
- structuralism & semiotics
- ritual and cosmology, understood politically
- changing gender & kinship relations
- food and eating
I can be contacted at email@example.com