Capstone Details

Anthropology capstone projects may be based on experiential and field research utilising ethnographic or other methods, or they can be based on published or unpublished texts, archival, historical, visual, linguistic, musical or other materials. It might involve folklore or museum studies, oral history, historical analysis of anthropological writings, archival work, interviews and/or field research or a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. They will all include some written component, but may involve other appropriate formats including, sound recordings, visual media, virtual demonstrations, material culture exhibits, etc., or a combination.

During year 4, students take two capstone courses.

  • In Semester 1, students will develop a formal prospectus, timeline, and bibliography, and carry out the research component of the project in consultation with the supervisor. The project may build on a project from year 3, study abroad, summer research or another course. However, empirical research of some kind must occur during the capstone year as an addition to or in order to augment work completed in year 3.
  • During Semester 2, students will meet with the supervisors and/or other mentors and supervising committee members only. Arrangements should be made between students and supervisors regarding the scheduling of consultations, additional readings, and so forth as students move forward in completing their projects. The final project – regardless of its initial form as an exhibit, film, paper etc. — will take the form of a written capstone report (max 10,000 words) that demonstrates the student’s ability to think broadly and critically about his/her particular anthropological project and about anthropology in general. For students who have done ethnographic or archival research, the capstone report will likely take the form of an academic research paper. For other sorts of projects (e.g., exhibitions or ethnographic films), the report may be a shorter analysis or reflection on the project and its anthropological significance.

Capstone Projects 2016/2017

YSS4103 Anthropology Capstone 1: End-of-semester Presentations
16 November, 2016, 1-3:30pm

Planting the Seed: Winning Lands and Gaining Souls in the Jesuit mission to Cochinchina

Student: Linh Nguyen
Supervisor: Steve Ferzacca

Abstract: When the first Jesuit missionaries came to Cochinchina (present-day Southern Vietnam) to “plant the divine seed,” they were not the only newcomers to the land. Their hosts, the local Vietnamese, were also fresh immigrants, exiled from the orthodox political center in the north and trying to negotiate their own identity, cultural and political, in the bosom of their new refuge. What metaphorical seeds were being planted in this material land of new possibilities, how were they sown and grown, and how were they perceived in the eyes of the Jesuit fathers and Cochinchinese settlers? This project aims to demonstrate the dynamics of knowledge and authority in the early days of the Jesuit mission to Cochinchina, through a close analysis of the first two written accounts of the field by Christoforo Borri and Alexandre de Rhodes. Specifically, it is an attempt to understand the semiotic relations of missionary work and conversion by grounding them in the relationship each of the parties developed with the land, physically and symbolically, in the context of Cochinchinese exploration south and Jesuit pursuits in geography and
science. It argues that the basic interactions between the missionary and the host in the mission field are to be found in their interactions with the literal material field, in its management, representation, and symbolic association. How, then, is power and authority among Jesuit fathers and Cochinchinese settlers manifested in physical management and geographical knowledge of the land? What does the cultivation of the divine seed and the conversion of the human soul signify on each side of the missionary contact? And what do such mission field reports amount to as vehicles of knowledge and authority?

Contesting Rights With Compensation: Negotiating Rest Days for Migrant Domestic Workers’ in Singapore

Student: Margaret Schumann
Supervisor: Anju Mary Paul

Abstract: In 2012 and following a years-long, NGO-led “Day Off Campaign”, the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower issued a regulation change stating domestic workers are “entitled” to a weekly day of rest but granted the choice to negotiate away that rest day for extra monetary compensation. My previous research while at Yale-NUS has employed bio-data profiles of 20,000 domestic workers published on two websites, and, to demonstrate that only a small subset of domestic workers ask for a weekly day of rest. This capstone uses interviews with agency representatives, domestic workers, and employers to complement the previous quantitative research with a qualitative component and answer the question of why so few domestic workers request a weekly rest day. What does domestic workers’ right to a weekly day of rest day mean to stakeholders in the domestic work industry in Singapore? My presentation will be a mid-project report, in which I’ll put forward preliminary findings from my 30 interviews.

Food, Society and Agency: Local Experiences and Negotiations of Social Relations of Palm Oil Production in Sungai Batang, Sumatra

Student: Ami Firdaus
Supervisor: Steve Ferzacca

Abstract: In my research, I would like to examine how these plantation and other rural communities exercise agency by reacting to and negotiating these new social relations of production centered on palm oil. For my primary research, I employed ethnographic methods of participant observation as well as interviews conducted both at the main site of fieldwork and the nearby city of Jambi. I spent almost a week in Indonesia to conduct this research most of that time was spent in the vicinity of the main market of Sungai Batang, Jambi Province. In studies of agrarian and environmental change and the theories that inform it, a peasant-proletariat binary and a clean transition from peasanthood to proletariat life is often assumed for a populace whose heterogeneity is not often considered. Also, the agency of indigenous non-peasant communities living on the land is often overlooked in discussing processes of proletarianisation. Unlike depeasantisation, where subsistence practice with higher commodity potential is commodified, indigenous communities often must completely abandon centuries-old practices that have low commodity potential (Montefrio, 2012, p. 45). This research would therefore inform and provide material for a critique of the use of longstanding Marxist theories of accumulation and proletarianisation in agrarian scholarship towards a sustainable future for Indonesia’s rural communities.

Suzhi at the Margins: Minority Politics of Quality and Belonging in Southwest China

Student: Graham Link
Supervisor: Kathryn McHarry

Abstract: This capstone thesis explores the Chinese state discourse of ‘human quality’ within the Mosuo minority group, residing in the highland border regions between Yunnan and Sichuan. The concept of human quality, known in Mandarin as ‘suzhi’, first appeared during the 1980s in the context of ‘population quality’ (renkou suzhi), which refers variously to the educational attainment, material development, or more abstract moral character of a people. In terms of ethnicity in China, numerous other studies have already shown how discourses like ‘suzhi’ have been deployed to construct ‘Han modernity’ vis-a-vis its ‘Other’, the ‘primitive’ minority. Comparatively, little inquiry has been directed toward how ‘suzhi’ is negotiated within ethnic minority communities. In other words, how do marginal and subaltern groups such as China’s ethnic minorities redefine, readapt or reappropriate dominant state discourse to local ends? The study concludes that while these marginal subjects adopt the discriminatory language of the state toward their local realities, they challenge the univocality of authoritative discourse (Caldeira 2000, Bakhtin 1981). Mosuo communities have effectively renegotiated their own position within the rhetoric of ‘suzhi’ outside of state or majority legitimation.

The Death of Muath al-Kasasbeh: the Politics of Mourning, Memory, Identity, & Power

Student: Ronald Chen
Supervisor: Steve Ferzacca

Abstract: The death of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh through immolation by ISIS is a watershed moment in the modern history of Jordan. Through strategic politicisation by means of elaborate state rituals together with collective feelings of grief and anger by the people, his death was transformed and sacralised into a profound sacrifice for the nation. He is at once a symbol (outwardly) for the fight against religious fundamentalism and (inwardly) of what it means to be Jordanian. This multi-vocality transcends any number of identity markers from religion, and origin, to tribal affiliation. Beneath this potent symbol lies the enmeshed specific issues of terrorism and the refugee crisis; structural problems such as rampant poverty and unequal development; the intersection between religion and politics; and the active construction of history. We will consider Tambiah’s and Bloch’s meanings of ritual and Foucault’s theory of power alongside Williams’s ‘structures of feelings,’ Durkheim’s ‘collective effervescence,’ and Turner’s ‘social drama’. We will examine the convergence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the tribal monarchy power-sharing system, which twinly define Jordanian politics. We will survey the main political actors in the Islamic world and situate Jordan’s unique position therein. At the heart of this geopolitical issue, we find, ironically, solutions to Jordan’s domestic issues. In this project, we will describe some of the aforementioned state-sanctioned rituals in brief, but mainly aim to understand the desired narrative of the state and pay close attention to ground-up voices in response to the state. We will reconstruct the meaning of his death—for whom and to what end—and situate it in Jordan’s current geopolitical position while keeping an eye out for historical struggles for power. The story of his death is one revealing of structures and ruptures in identity politics, and one that is firmly embedded in the fate of the nation.

What’s in a Pokeball? – Pokemon Go and what it tells us of us

Student: Marcus Koe
Supervisor: Gabrielle Koch

Abstract: This project looks at how Pokemon Go (PoGo) allows people/players to organise and act in certain ways. PoGo is a mobile augmented-reality smartphone game that took the world by storm by the number of the application downloads, media and social media attention, and the very visible impact of its many players. The most obvious fact was that mobile games and, thus play, was shifting from an individual, private experience, to a public, social and at times, interruptive experience. The ethnography traces and follows the game and some of its players when it was first released in Singapore, through its peak popularity and into its steady decline. This project thus divides into two phases. The first phase is an exploration of PoGo popularity, success and the experience of players and other relevant stakeholders during its peak. The second phase involves a deep study of why and how some players continue to play after the hype of PoGo had died down. Current research and theories of games and gaming have explored and excavated experiences of mobile gaming and online gaming communities. These, however, are inadequate in describing the complex social interactions of affirmation, rejection, etc, that involve physically interacting bodies. The anthropology devised here further pays attention to periphery technologies (spaces, transport technologies, third party applications and portable chargers) that enable and augment the lived PoGo experience. This experience, when created, enacted and reinvented in the urban setting of Singapore, must be understood through what was sought after by the particular people of the ethnography. Herein lies the appeal of PoGo and its critique of urban modernity.

Polyphonic Narratives from (that rectangle named) Geylang

Student: Annette Wu
Supervisor: Gabriele Koch

Abstract: For a number of reasons, ‘Geylang’ often occupies a specific position in many collective imaginations. Often connoted with ‘red light’ work, ‘religion’, ‘vice’ and great food at surface level, it has also become a place very much changed and influenced by Singapore’s need for migrant labour, in relation to wider changes in its economic structures. I was attracted by such connotations, especially because the imagination of ‘vice’ evokes a particular excitement in a political and urban climate that invests so much into designing social environments. However, the unique ways that Geylang operates, how its internal components interact and how it engages with a wider Singapore are aspects that nuanced discourses on Geylang and how Singapore benefits from it. To start discussing this, there is a need to not only look at alternative narratives about Geylang, but alternative narratives from ‘Geylang’. In the ethnographic process I have learned about Geylang as a polyphonic place, there are different voices that form diverse imaginaries and ways of navigating space. This has been concentrated mainly in a Buddhist association, in a gambling area and among Chinese migrant workers. What has arrived, particularly in speaking with Chinese migrant workers, is an alternative view not only of Geylang but of the experience of being a situated ‘other’ in Singapore. In the different responses to themes such as safety, security, surveillance, ethnicity and community, alternative narratives of Geylang arise. In order to incorporate these themes from a polyphonic perspective, it seems necessary to write through the polyphony of voices I had engaged with or have surfaced in my mind throughout this process. I seek to meditate on my learnings through poetry-image pairs, taking sensorial images combined with ethnographic evidence and background information to convey a sense of the alternative narratives of Geylang and its unique political economy.