Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Christopher Annear recently presented a paper as part of the conference, “Narratives of Nationhood: Transformation and Contestation in Post-Colonial Zambia,” which took place in Lusaka, Zambia this fall.
Annear’s work focuses on how communities adapt to variable environments and the effectiveness of management and legislation of these areas. Specifically, he has spent an extensive amount of time in the fisheries of Zambia, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and several times since as a researcher.
His most recent research trip to Zambia took place this summer, when he spent two months in the country continuing studies and compiling information for his manuscript, “Your Neighborhood is Your Family: Village Urbanites and Environments of Strangers in a Fishery in South Central Africa.” He intends to make the argument that a fishery is presumed to be a tragedy of the commons and, therefore, is presumed to be collapsing.
“The perception is that people are fishing too much,” explains Annear. “However, I can present sociocultural and ethnographic data that shows the fishery is more robust than is explained by these tragedies of the common; it is not collapsing.”
He began his summer in Malawi by exposing himself to a different type of fishery than the one where he would spend the bulk of his time, along Lake Mweru, in Kashikishi, northern Zambia.
Annear describes villages in Zambian fisheries that look “a whole lot like neighborhoods.” People come together to form temporary communities around the fishing trade. While men do most of the fishing – in part because they have the money and status to buy fishing boats – single women and women with young children contribute to the commerce of the fisheries through trading.
He explains the fisheries are environments with ecological variability. “It is difficult to catch a whole lot of fish and, if you’re not, how do you manage your life? There is a community adaptation to these environments. If you don’t catch fish this week, you’d better have something else going on; move on or move out.”
For this reason, communities that would otherwise seem to be rural villages are more cosmopolitan in nature, with grass-thatched roof houses existing as rental units.
“The people are urbanites. This is surprising in what is presumed to be the far-off African hinterland,” says Annear. “And they’ve been doing it this way in this area for a long time – 40 years.”
As part of his research in Zambia, he also gathered information on a new fisheries law enacted in 2011, in an effort to better understand the political and legal aspects for the chiefs, headmen, fishing association representatives and market women involved in the fishing trade.
His goals during the course of the summer were twofold. Most immediately, he aimed to make his findings accountable to people – he distributed copies of his research to anyone interested and had conversations with a wide range of people affected by the fishery, from the Office of the President to a musician who sings about it.
The conversations were part of the second, more ideological goal, according to Annear. “I had lots of good conversations so in a sense, the primary ideological goal is to be an actor in the conversation.”
This was done, he notes via personal conversations and being on the community radio show.
“The station covers the whole fishery. People heard the interview and told me about it so I knew they were concerned and listening,” he says.
Back on campus, he is working to complete his manuscript and will begin looking for a publisher in the next year.
Annear is also a 2012-2013 Fisher Center Research Fellow, studying a project that touches on this year’s Fisher Center for the Study of Women and Men topic, “Gender, Collectivity, and the Common.” His project will focus on the “sexual parallelism” of men and women’s lives (the seemingly separate lives) in the Luapula Valley.
He joined the HWS faculty in 2011 and holds a B.A. in cultural anthropology from Hampshire College, and a master’s and Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from Boston University.