John Barker


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Learnscapes on Kaua'i : education at a Hawaiian-focused charter school, a food sovereignty movement, and the agricultural biotechnology industry. (2016)

This dissertation interrogates the different forms that education takes in regards to land across three different settings on the Hawaiian island of Kauaʻi: a Hawaiian-focused charter school, a food sovereignty movement, and the agricultural biotechnology industry. As ethnographic researcher, I approached Kauaʻi about 15 years after three seemingly parallel developments had commenced: the establishment of Hawaiian-focused charter schools to educate Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) students on their culture, language and history, a “New Economy” resulting among other changes in a shift in agriculture to research and develop genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and a burgeoning social movement concerned about the impacts of GMOs. Following these developments, I argue that education as a term and transinstitutional practice has populated social, cultural and scientific discourses beyond the school. In effect, and at times in overlapping ways, I show that education was firstly a means of self-determination and sovereign right for Indigenous educators to move teaching and learning into the public sphere and onto the ʻāina, land. Secondly, education emerged as democratic right for consumers, environmentalists, and food producers, who practiced self-education – by “educating yourself” – on contested food technologies. Thirdly, among scientists and industrialists, education was both a corrective effort of public misconceptions of biotechnology – by “educating the public” - and a process of community building as to demonstrate a legitimate presence in Hawaiʻi. I further probe what it means for high school students at a Hawaiian-focused charter school to learn to be young Kānaka Maoli while learning about ʻāina (land), aloha (love, affection), andʻohana (family). Through the concept of learnscapes, I indicate that these knowledge ways are not assessed in school education. Rather, the students learned in often inconspicuous ways how to navigate remediation and recovery for land and people, which in times of the “New Economy” and in the colonial aftermath remain pressing issues. Situated in the anthropology of education and science & technology studies (STS), this dissertation furthers scholarship on everyday expertise by elucidating how young Kānaka Maoli as much as citizens concerned with GMOs are knowledge-able social experts, who gain often tacit forms of expertise on their lived-in worlds.

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Ghost herds : rescuing horses and horse people in Bluegrass Kentucky (2014)

This dissertation examines the cultural and historical dimensions of why certain communities in the United States are compelled to rescue animals from abuse, neglect, or death. In particular, it engages with the debate over sending “unwanted” horses to slaughter, touching upon not just the history of cultural taboo over the consumption of horsemeat and concerns about the cruelty and food safety of industrialized animal slaughter, but also what happens to such horses when they are rescued from slaughter. As such, this dissertation fundamentally asks: what makes a horse save-able and re-wanted again? What kind of lives do they go on to live and why? And how are the decisions to “rescue” certain horses and provide them with “second chances” distinctly cultural and worthy of anthropological analysis? Based on the emerging field of multispecies ethnography, this dissertation thus examines how and why a certain population of the so-called unwanted horses, Thoroughbred ex-racehorses, are rescued from slaughter and how this practice is made culturally meaningful by the “horse people” in the self-proclaimed “horse capital of world,” the Lexington / Bluegrass region of Kentucky, U.S.A. My analysis stems from ten months of fieldwork in the Bluegrass where I conducted ethnographic research at two specific rescue operations for Thoroughbred ex-racehorses: one an equine re-training and adoption facility based at the Kentucky Horse Park called the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, and the other a vocational horse care program for male inmates at Blackburn Correctional Complex called the Second Chances / Groom Elite program.Based on my research at these two sites as they are situated within a larger, regional culture intently focused on the production and glorification of horses, this dissertation concludes that the practice of animal rescue involves constant re-evaluation of the moral and economic worth of human and nonhuman animal lives that were previously marginalized to the point of social and/or mortal death, a concept I have termed “redemptive capital.” Redemptive capital helps measure “who” gets saved and why - and furthermore, how once a life is spared death, what implicit debt is owed one’s redeemers.

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Destination enlightenment : buddhism and the global bazaar in Bodh Gaya, Bihar (2010)

This dissertation is a historical ethnography that examines the social transformation of Bodh Gaya into a World Heritage site. On June 26, 2002, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya was formally inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. As a place of cultural heritage and a monument of “outstanding universal value” this inclusion has reinforced the ancient significance of Bodh Gaya as the place of Buddha's enlightenment. In this dissertation, I take this recent event as a framing device for my historical and ethnographic analysis that details the varying ways in which Bodh Gaya is constructed out of a particular set of social relations. How do different groups attach meaning to Bodh Gaya's space and negotiate the multiple claims and memories embedded in place? How is Bodh Gaya socially constructed as a global site of memory and how do contests over its spatiality implicate divergent histories, narratives and events? In order to delineate the various historical and spatial meanings that place holds for different groups I examine a set of interrelated transnational processes that are the focus of this dissertation: 1) the emergence of Buddhist monasteries, temples and/or guest houses tied to international pilgrimage; 2) the role of tourism and pilgrimage as a source of economic livelihood for local residents; and 3) the role of state tourism development and urban planning. Based on my analysis of these social constituencies I argue that World Heritage sites, like the Mahabodhi Temple Complex, are important global spaces of convergence where history, memory, narratives and groups are entangled through UNESCO's universal claims. It is for these reasons that it is important to look beyond the universal abstraction and examine the ways in which spaces of global memory are laden with social and cultural meaning that is activated, reproduced and contested through a range of social practices. In this way, World Heritage is not only about the production of authoritative pasts but it is also about creating new meanings and forging new global public spheres across cultural, national and religious difference.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Hot heads and soft hearts : community and the self in the British Columbia Christian Soccer League (2018)

This thesis is about the British Columbia Christian Soccer League. The Metro Vancouver based league is part of a long history between sports and Christianity. The thesis is concerned with the question: what does it mean to be a Christian soccer player? Additionally, my project was interested in the social forms and relationships that could be produced, overcome and renegotiated through the soccer league. My fieldwork was spent with the soccer teams at an evangelical church, North Shore Alliance Church, in North Vancouver, Canada. This thesis is based on my time following the teams throughout the 2017 season and attending services at the churches. Soccer is a medium within the institution of North Shore Alliance Church to create community. Ideally, the soccer team, of mostly male church members, serves as a site of creating tight social bonds for people to ultimately become closer to God. The team is understood to serve as a site of community to counteract the fracture, individualism and self-glorification that the church associates with Western secularism. Players believe that the speed of the game, competitiveness and intensity leads to their “honest” or authentic self being shown. In the affective quality of the soccer field the players’ reactions to the game reveals the state of their “heart”. This knowledge allows the players to conceive of their relationship to God and the progress in a greater process of transformation. The play on the field acts as space to produce knowledge about their character and “heart”. Through soccer God can reveal and address areas of the player’s lives, such as anger. In this capacity, Christian soccer players should be open, emotionally attuned with God, emotionally responsive, vulnerable, concerned with others, and honest. The soccer team presents evangelical Christianity as a form of religion of felt experience, bodily knowledge, and emotion. In addition, it shows evangelical Christianity, a form of religion often associated with individualism, to be a form of religion that is also concerned with community and social bonds.

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Reconstructing Disrupted Lives : the Canadian exhibition of children's art from refugee camps (2012)

During the 1980s International Observers from Canadian churches and development organizations went to Central American refugees living in Honduras and México who fled from conflict zones in El Salvador and Guatemala, respectively. While there the observers commissioned and collected drawings by children living in the refugee camps. Shortly after this, the drawings were exhibited across Canada from 1986-1987 as part of the exhibition Disrupted Lives: Children’s Drawings from Central America. In this paper I argue that the exhibition of children’s drawings gave voice to a silenced aspect of Latin American history – the experiences of children living abroad in refugee camps displaced by the violence and civil wars in their home nations Guatemala and El Salvador. The “unsilencing” (Michel-Rolph Trouillot; 1995) of their histories also positions the drawings as illustrated examples of testimonio as defined by John Beverley (2004).

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Texomazatl : the negotiation of identity through Aztec dance (2010)

This work explores the identity politics of performance through the example of an Aztec dancer in the United States, Texomazatl (David Vargas). A central theme involves how Texomazatl's performance of Aztec dance both contests and accomodates hegemony, often simultaneously. This theme is explored through an analysis of his performances before school-age children and "outsider" audiences as well as his reflections on ceremonial Aztec dance. Aztec dance is revealed as an act of resistance whose proliferation in the San Francisco Bay Area from the 1970's onward is closely tied to a social movement in the cultural empowerment of Mexican Americans within the United States. Hegemonic narratives in the United States that have historically portrayed Aztecs as a vanquished and extinct people challenge Texomazatl's presentation of Aztec dance as a continuing tradition. Texomazatl's deliberate methods of countering these obstacles in representing his identity include highlighting the presentation of his spoken narrative (which accompanies his dance performances)in a present tense format. Another method is the enlistment of audiences as participants in performances. In these ways, Texomazatl seeks to utilize audiences as agents of sorts for the inclusion of Aztec culture into the larger American cultural tapestry. Through the course of my research, questions emerged of how de-contextualizing dance through specific types of performances may be impediments to the positive and meaningful presentation of Texomazatl's culture to "outsider" audiences. The thesis thus explores larger questions of how cultural performers who perform as their livelihood at times have to navigate entanglements of cultural commoditization with the intent to bring about culturally educational performances and assertions of agency in their performances. The thesis also touches upon the notion of authenticity as an entrapping force historically used by the dominant society in defining and dismepowering marginalized populations. Texomazatl's experience provides an example of how concepts of authenticity of physical ethnic image may be strategically appropriated by a hisorically marginalized population (in this case, Mexican Americans through Aztec dance). In sum, Texomazatl's experience allows a consideration of how in the quest for social recognition identity revitalization may emerge out of a legacy of cultural assimilation.

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