This chapter explores how Russian data scientists learn and are taught technical skills. In the Moscow data science community, well-developed mathematical skills are almost universally treated as a given: a fundamental bedrock of established knowledge, upon which the specific methodological skills proper to data science can be scaffolded in the classroom and workplace. Beyond these concrete techniques, however, Russian data scientists are expected to cultivate more ephemeral forms of abstraction and judgement, which requires concrete experience developing applied research projects. This cultivation of technical skill is part of a broad commitment to lifelong learning shared by both academic and industrial researchers, and is allied to a widespread understanding of professional data scientists as constitutionally flexible workers. Rather than the product of a precarious labour market, however, I argue that my informants’ twin commitments to flexibility and lifelong learning are inextricable from their scientific and intellectual ethos.
Expertise, flexibility and lifelong learning
Modelling, ethnography and the challenge of the anthropocene
This chapter looks at how practices of scientific analysis are being put under strain by the appearance and necessity of working with new kinds of data. Whilst most commentary about new forms of data have focused on the value and ethics of analysing and using transactional consumer data, this chapter is concerned with the analytical challenge of another field of ‘big’ data – that of environmental modelling.
The chapter provides an ethnographic account of the challenges faced by a particular group of climate modellers based at a UK university as they attempt to work with emerging forms of data that promise to bridge a divide between natural processes (sensory data on weather and climate) and social relations (statistical data on poverty, tourism, economy). A central concern of these climate modellers (and shared with analysts of ‘big’ data) is the problem of how to conduct analysis without a controllable baseline for comparison. The chapter compares statistical analysis that informs climate modelling with the epistemology of ethnography, a method which has long operated with an alternative analytical foundation that does not start with the necessity of a generalisable baseline. Reflexively engaging the analytical commitments of the ethnographic method, the chapter considers whether an alternative approach to numerical data might be developed out of ethnographic analysis and what kind of knowledge this approach to data would produce.
Results of the Charité Human Remains Project
Holger Stoecker and Andreas Winkelmann
From 2010 to 2013 the Charité Human Remains Project researched the provenance of the remains of fifty-seven men and women from the then colony of German South West Africa. They were collected during German colonial rule, especially but not only during the colonial war 1904–8. The remains were identified in anthropological collections of academic institutions in Berlin. The article describes the history of these collections, the aims, methods and interdisciplinary format of provenance research as well as its results and finally the restitutions of the remains to Namibia in 2011 and 2014.
Colonialism, grave robbery and intellectual history
Larissa Förster, Dag Henrichsen, Holger Stoecker and Hans Axasi╪Eichab
In 1885, the Berlin pathologist Rudolf Virchow presented three human skeletons from the colony of German South West Africa to the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. The remains had been looted from a grave by a young German scientist, Waldemar Belck, who was a member of the second Lüderitz expedition and took part in the occupation of colonial territory. In an attempt to re-individualise and re-humanise these human remains, which were anonymised in the course of their appropriation by Western science, the authors consult not only the colonial archive, but also contemporary oral history in Namibia. This allows for a detailed reconstruction of the social and political contexts of the deaths of the three men, named Jacobus Hendrick, Jacobus !Garisib and Oantab, and of Belck’s grave robbery, for an analysis of how the remains were turned into scientific objects by German science and institutions, as well as for an establishment of topographical and genealogical links with the Namibian present. Based on these findings, claims for the restitution of African human remains from German institutions cannot any longer be regarded as a contemporary phenomenon only but must be understood as part of an African tradition of resistance against Western colonial and scientific practices.
The fate of Namibian skulls in the Alexander Ecker Collection in Freiburg
This article explores the history of the Alexander Ecker Collection and situates it within the larger trajectory of global collecting of human remains during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is then linked to the specific context of the genocide in then German South West Africa (1904–8), with the central figure of Eugen Fischer. The later trajectory of the collection leads up to the current issues of restitution. The Freiburg case is instructive since it raises issues about the possibilities and limitations of provenance research. At the same time, the actual restitution of fourteen human remains in 2014 occurred in a way that sparked serious conflict in Namibia which is still on-going four years later. In closing, exigencies as well as pressing needs in connection with the repatriation and (where possible) rehumanisation of human remains are discussed.
Transnational dynamics in post-genocidal restitutions
Taking its starting point from a socio-anthropological study combining biographical interviews, semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observations collected between 2016 and 2018 in Germany, France and the United States among Ovaherero and Nama activists, and also members of different institutions and associations, this article focuses on the question of human remains in the current struggle for recognition and reparation of the genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama from a transnational perspective. First, the text shows the ways in which the memory of human remains can be considered as a driving force in the struggle of the affected communities. Second, it outlines the main points of mismatches of perspective between descendants of the survivors and the responsible museums during past restitutions of human remains from German anthropological collections. Third, the article more closely examines the resources of Ovaherero in the United States in the struggle for recognition and reparation, the recent discovery of Namibian human remains in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the questions that it raises.
Overriding politics and injustices
Vilho Amukwaya Shigwedha
In October 2011, twenty skulls of the Herero and Nama people were repatriated from Germany to Namibia. So far, fifty-five skulls and two human skeletons have been repatriated to Namibia and preparations for the return of more skulls from Germany were at an advanced stage at the time of writing this article. Nonetheless, the skulls and skeletons that were returned from Germany in the past have been disappointingly laden with complexities and politics, to such an extent that they have not yet been handed over to their respective communities for mourning and burials. In this context, this article seeks to investigate the practice of ‘anonymising’ the presence of human remains in society by exploring the art and politics of the Namibian state’s memory production and sanctioning in enforcing restrictions on the affected communities not to perform, as they wish, their cultural and ritual practices for the remains of their ancestors.
Caroline Fournet, Benoit Pouget and Jean-Marc Dreyfus
This chapter explores the history and development of the Barefoot College in relation to wider social and political contexts, in particular the progress and advancement of the voluntary sector in India from an industry largely based on voluntarism to one of professionalisation. Against this backdrop of a move towards modernity and conflict between rural and urban ideals, it charts the emergence of the Barefoot College from the early 1970s: how it developed, its aims and philosophy, and some of the challenges it faced as it sought to establish its authenticity.