Ep #52: An exploration of truth & trust: This month on TFS

Welcome to our first podcast of 2020!

And to kick of the new year season of TFS, we are joined by the lovely Kirsty Wissing, PhD candidate from the School of Culture, History and Language at the Australian National University.

Alex [1:16] begins off our discussion with a bit of activism. Referring to the work of Nancy Scheper-Hughes, he asks: when you’re an anthropologist going to generate knowledge about culture, but you are simultaneously an activist (i.e. going into a field to advocate for a certain cause), how does that shape or influence your perspective? Kirsty draws upon her own experience in her research, Jodie questions how this changes in different contexts (particularly when money is involved!), and Simon reminds us to think critically about what ‘doing good’ means in the discipline. So, is there a way we can be anthropologists and work without partaking in some kind of ‘activism’?

Next, Jodie [6:19] pulls us into the world of Fintech. After first assuring us that she isn’t referring to fish, she tells us it’s “technology that is aiming to make change in financial areas” to eliminate the likelihood of human corruption. So instead of trusting humans to remain honest in these transactions, the human is removed and replaced with technology – which in turn transfers our trust to the tech. What does this say about the current era if we are determined to replace humans with technologies where trust is necessary? How does our relationship with trust and truth reflect that of humans and machines?

Simon [9:10]  moves us onto a more harrowing topic – the recent assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the United States. This opens a broader discussion of truth in politics, especially when we compare politics in the West, which is seen as being an inherently ‘dirty business’ with politics in Iran, where there is a notion that politics should not be dirty, “that it should be a more noble virtue”. We try to unpack the differences between what is the truth in politics, and what are rights, and how their relationship can change the political landscape or response to something like a sanctioned assassination. Thoughts?

Lastly, Kirsty [12:49] wraps up our panel this month by drawing on her own research around water and purity in relation to the hydro-power Akosombo Dam in Ghana, which is reflected in the many different truths that surround and encapsulate it: “there are many different ways of telling the same story”. Who decides that water is pure? Who has the authority to decide? Is it a question of how water is packaged, or a question of spiritual values? How do ideas of cleanliness show us who is trusted and trustworthy?

If I had to choose a metaphor for trust, it would be something like this little friend learning to fly off a cliff. (Dee)


If you’d like to know more about Kirsty’s work, check out: https://anu-au.academia.edu/KirstyWissing

For more on anthropologists and questions about Native Titles, give this article by Dr Kingsley Palmer (2011) a read: https://aiatsis.gov.au/sites/default/files/products/research_outputs/palmer-2011-anthropologist-expert-native-title-cases.pdf

Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ (1995) article ‘The Primacy of the Ethical: Propositions for a Militant Anthropology’, from Current Anthropology, vol. 36, no. 3, pages: 409-440, can be found here:

Mary Douglas. (1975). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Here’s a link to the book: https://www.routledge.com/Purity-and-Danger-An-Analysis-of-Concepts-of-Pollution-and-Taboo-1st/Douglas/p/book/9780415289955

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Shownotes by Matthew Phung and Deanna Catto
Podcast edited by Matthew Phung and Alexander D’Aloia

Feature image ‘ Lomviunge hopper 3’ by NRK Natur
(2016) from Flickr

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