They didn’t manage to kill us all at the time of colonization” says Celia Xakriabá “but we are living through a moment of legislated genocide.” Xakriabá is an activist who is featured in Tribal Voice, an online campaign that is organised by Survival International.

Confronting Genocide

Anthropology and Geography Conference, London June 4-7, 2020.

How do we deal with the threat of genocide in 2020?

That is a question that we will be putting to people attending the Anthropology and Geography Conference in London in June 2020.

“We” are a group of researchers, academics, and environmental activists who are responding to the humanitarian consequences of unprecedented and accelerated deforestation in the Amazon, which raises the issue of genocide in Brazil and other countries across the globe.

The burning of the Amazon rainforest in Mato Grosso state, Brazil. Photo: Mayke Toscano/AFP/Getty Images & The Guardian

In keeping with the conference theme of “dialogues past, present and future,” we are asking if we have learned anything from over 150 years of genocide and humanitarian activism in response to it. For instance, in the 1890s, a small group of anthropologists and geographers went against the colonial mainstream and demanded a radical political response from the scientific community and the public to the threat of genocide created by habitat destruction by colonists.

It sounds very historical, but Celia Xakriabá (see above ) makes it clear that the threat of genocide is very real, very current and the call to action is even more urgent today given the situation that is developing in the Amazon under Bolsonaro, whose policies have been described as “legislated genocide.”

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon are not the only populations under threat and Brazil is not the only place where a combination of globalisation and habitat destruction is leading to “legislated genocide”-–the deliberate destruction of livelihoods and the legalised murder of indigenous peoples. Genocide is happening now in Turkey, the Kalahari, the Congo Basin, the jungles of India, the Andaman Islands, Australasia.

Mohammad Salas, a 51-year-old man from Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority. Salas was executed by the Iranian authorities after a trial that was widely condemned as a miscarriage of justice. Amnesty International.

Much of this genocide has remained hidden and we hope that our research and activism will start a debate about “legislated genocide,” a combination of advocacy and activism that will encourage further action in solidarity with the victims of habitat destruction, forced migration, and genocide, whether the causes are cultural, political, economic, or environmental.

The Contributors

The debate will be chaired by Dr Eve Bratman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. She will give a paper on “The Lives and Landscapes of Sustainable Development in the Xingu River Basin of the Brazilian Amazon.” She asks how the discourse of sustainable development legitimates and privileges certain interests, and how it comes to be manifested – and resisted. She will present as a case study the geographic and social terrain of the Xingu river basin in the state of Pará. Oxford University Press has just published her book Governing the Rainforest: Sustainable Development Politics in the Brazilian Amazon.

Representatives of the local indigenous communities and environmental activists demonstrate in Sao Paulo against the construction of Belo Monte dam at Xingu river in the Brazilian state of Para. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images (The Guardian).

Fiona Watson, Advocacy and Research Director with Survival international, will present Tribal Voice, a series of hard-hitting videos that provide an online platform for tribal peoples living in an age of legislated genocide. These videos expose hidden genocides and support tribal peoples in their fight against genocide. Tribal Voice represents a significant development in the nature and direction of humanitarian activism and has profound implications for the idea of engaged practices in a multi-agency fight against legislated genocide in 2020 and beyond. Watson is a regular contributor to The Guardian.

Dr Raúl Acosta-Garcia, Institut für Ethnologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich, will deal with advocacy networks that have sought to protect the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants, creating associations that have become laboratories for political experimentation. His analysis builds on arguments presented in his new book Civil becomings: performative politics in the Brazilian Amazon and the Mediterranean, the first monograph of the series NGOgraphies (University of Alabama Press).

Top: An aerial view of the road BR-319 highway near city of Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil (Irish Examiner). Bottom: A paved section of the BR-163 highway in Brazil. (Photo by Jeso Carneiro/Flickr / Eve Bratman & NACLA)

Dr Federico Ferretti, Associate Professor, University College Dublin, School of Geography, will present a paper on “Savage anarchy’ between geography and anthropology”, which deals with early forms of collaboration that occurred between geographical and anthropological (or ethnographical) knowledge around the circuits of anarchist geographers between the nineteenth and the twentieth century. Ferretti is the invited author for the Progress in Human Geography report series on ‘History and Philosophy of Geographyfrom 2020 to 2022 (3 papers).

A detail of a photograph taken by Alfred Cort Haddon in the Torres Strait in 1888 and a detail from a Tribal Voice video released by Survival International in 2019

Ciarán Walsh, freelance curator, will deal with the emergence of social anthropology from radical geography in Ireland in the 1890s, using the photo-ethnographic practice of Alfred Cort Haddon as a novel vantage point from which to see how anthropology is positioned to deal with climate change, the destruction of habitats, and hostile borders in the present and assess the future relevance of the discipline in this context. His essay on “Anarchy in the UK: Haddon and the anarchist agenda in the Anglo-Irish folklore movement” is about to go to press (Routledge).

The discussant is Dr Matthew Cheeseman, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, College of Arts, Humanities and Education, University of Derby, who is working with Carina Hart of the University of Nottingham on a collection of essays (Routledge) dealing with the relationship between nationality, identity, and folklore movements in the context of Brexit and the rise of the alt right in Europe.

The Anthropology and Geography: Dialogues Past, Present and Future conference is jointly organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the Royal Geographical Society, the British Academy, the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS (The School of Oriental & African Studies), and the British Museum’s Department for Africa, Oceania and the Americas. The conference will be held in SOAS, Senate House, and the Clore Centre of the British Museum.