along the ok tedi

•22 May 2010 • Comments Off on along the ok tedi

Stuart Kirsch is professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. His research addresses questions about ethics, globalization, and development, especially concerns about the environment and sustainability. He has worked in the Pacific and the Amazon on indigenous rights, including long-term research and advocacy with people living downstream from the Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea and political refugees from West Papua, Indonesia. His scholarly interests include perceptions of and responses to climate change, the corporation, engaged anthropology, political ecology, property, questions about loss, and social movements. He is currently working on a five-year research project Transitions: Pathways to a Post-Carbon Future supported by the NOMIS Foundation in Switzerland.

Kirsch is the author of Reverse Anthropology: Indigenous Analysis of Social and Environmental Relations in New Guinea (Stanford University Press, 2006), which examines how the Yonggom people draw on their cultural resources to interpret and respond to contemporary political challenges, including pollution from the mine, their participation in the global economy, and the predicament of being divided by two nation-states. The book asks whether culture continues to matter in the face of such overwhelming power disparities.

His next book, Mining Capitalism: The Relationship between Corporations and Their Critics (University of California Press, 2014), examines corporate responses to critique by comparing mining conflicts in Melanesia and other parts of the world. It analyzes the strategies corporations use to counter opposition from NGOs and indigenous groups. The book argues that better understanding of the dialectical relationship between corporations and their critics can help overcome the politics of resignation, in which the status quo is seen as natural or inevitable.

Professor Kirsch has consulted widely on indigenous land rights and environmental conflicts, including compensation for damage to persons and property caused by nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, a conservation and development initiative in Papua New Guinea, and mining and property rights in Solomon Islands. He has collaborated with Amerindian communities in Suriname and Guyana on indigenous land rights and the impacts of bauxite and gold mining, including two cases at the Inter-American Commission on and Court of Human Rights. He also co-authored a report on corporate social responsibility and violence in El Salvador. These and related projects are the focus of his most recent book, Engaged Anthropology: Politics Beyond the Text (University of California Press, 2018), which argues that anthropologists can and should roll up their sleeves and contribute to solving the problems facing the world.

Professor Kirsch earned his Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and taught at Mount Holyoke College before coming to the University of Michigan in 1995. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Cambridge, Goldsmiths College, Notre Dame, and Yale, and was a guest professor at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø and the University of Bern. He has also participated in collaborative research projects on cultural property in Melanesia and resource conflicts in the Andes. His work has been supported by fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Economic and Social Research Council, Fulbright-Hays, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, a Michigan Humanities Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the Program in Agrarian Studies, the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Social Science Research Council, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. At the University of Michigan, he teaches courses on the Anthropocene, Covid-19 futures, engaged anthropology, environmental anthropology, indigenous political movements,  property, and the responsible conduct of research and scholarship. His Ph.D. students have conducted research from Sierra Leone to Ancient Rome, and from Kathmandu to Pasco, Peru, and Quintana Roo.