Are you curious about the ways present day migration is connected with enduring (post)colonial relations? Are you interested in exploring the materialities of these connections through studies of extractivism and pollution? Do you have affinity, interest, or experience with ethnographic research based in Tunisia? Are you familiar with or curious about Science and Technology Studies (STS) and material semiotics? Do you enjoy working in a team of spirited researchers?
The Department of Anthropology
is currently seeking a postdoctoral researcher for the project ‘Vital Elements and Postcolonial Moves: Forensics as the Art of Paying Attention in a Mediterranean Harbour Town’ – led by Prof. Amade Aouatef M’charek. This project is funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant.
The Department of Anthropology
is one of the departments at the University of (UvA) Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG). The position is located in the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) programme group Health, Care and the Body
.What are you going to do?
You will conduct a detailed ethnographic study focused on one of the two materialities – so- called vital elements – that are listed below. Briefly, the project Vital Elements relates the problem of migration and in particular, migrant death in the Mediterranean, not so much to European deadly borders that kill, but to resources for live and livelihood.
Take the following example of an ethnographer in Zarzis: It is 16 July 2019. I call Mohsen Lihidheb, an artist and friend, to go for a walk and talk. It is still early, so I take a book to pass the time on the beach. As I approach, I notice an unusual gathering of cars and a truck on the beach. My legs tremble as I get out of the car. I walk towards the crowd and see two police officers towing a body from the water. More policemen are further out in the water, diverting a body away from a stretch of beach popular with tourists. Two weeks earlier, on the night of 4 July, a ship carrying 89 people from Libya to Europe had sunk off Tunisia’s southern coast. Only four people were rescued by fishermen; 85 drowned. All washed up on the long shore of Zarzis on that horrible day.The bodies of drowned migrants have been washing ashore in Zarzis since the 1990s. But this was the first time the bodies were attended to forensically. Given their number, the bodies were transported to the nearby city of Gabes to be examined by the forensic pathologist. A few days later, we are burying the bodies in a provisional cemetery. Standing outside the burial site, I see what appear to be glistening white mountains in the distance. It is salt. The French company Cotusal harvests it from the saline flats of Zarzis, purchased for rates set in the colonial era. Trucks carrying the salt make the trip to the port of Zarzis several times each day. While the bodies we buried were stopped on their journey to Europe, the salt moves easily into EU territory.
While in Europe people who are adrift may be seen as evidence of a “migration crisis,” from the African side of the Mediterranean they point to the chronic, (neo-)colonial depletion of livelihoods. To map how life is enduringly made unliveable, this program develops the method of forensics as the art of paying attention
to ethnographically study the complexity of, and the relations between, vital elements
– resources crucial for fostering life and livelihood – and the ways they impact on living and dying. Our cases include: the extraction of phosphate, the fishing of sea sponges, the cultivation of tomatoes, the extraction of water, and the leaving behind of industrial waste.
To better understand the complexity of, and material semiotic relations between, vital elements, we focus on Zarzis as a nodal point. This will make it possible for team members to visit each other’s sites and to work together in a Method Lab as well as to collaborate with local artists who will help to sensitise us to local concerns in a Vital Elements Atelier.What are your tasks
- You will conduct ethnographic research on one of the following two topics: the extraction of water and the leaving behind of industrial waste.
- You will be part of a research team consisting of three PhD candidates, two Postdoctoral researchers and the Principal Investigator. This team will be made up by people working at the University of Sousse and the University of Amsterdam.
- Your main task will be to develop your own postdoctoral research within the framework of the overall project, including:
- conducting ethnographic field research in the south of Tunisia;
- publishing within four years with respect to the project;
- participating in conferences, workshops, seminars and other scholarly activities.
- Next to that, you will be tasked with be co-managing the project, including:
- participating in, and co-coordinating project meetings;
- co-supporting and mentoring PhD students;
- co-coordinating partner collaboration (including management and preparing and writing of reports and papers);
- co-organising workshops and conference panels (co-writing call for papers,
- coordinate paper selection, logistics);
- co-coordinating collaborative publication projects of team members.
- Next to working on your own research within the framework of the overall project, you will contribute to collaborative aspects of the project. This will include collecting data for jointly written publication(s), and lending respective (language) expertise to team members.
- Mentoring and support to prepare for your next career steps will be available and facilitated.
- In the final year of your appointment, you are expected to live in Amsterdam and take active part in team meetings and the research environment at the AISSR.