The 11th Conference on Hunter and Gatherer Societies – CHAGS XI for short – will be held for the first time in Vienna in September, 2015. As the biggest CHAGS yet, the interdisciplinary conference will include two keynote speakers, five plenary sessions, 52 regular sessions, and about 500 participants. The conference will be a joint effort by four of the major anthropological institutions in town – the World Museum Vienna, the Institute for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna and the Vienna Anthropological Society.
A variety of stakeholders will discuss important issues such as the social and political structures of hunting and gathering societies, the situation of hunter-gatherers in a changing world, questions concerning ‘human nature’… with a special focus on how the results of the last 50 years and new research agendas can be utilized for the present and future.
Furthermore the conference is marked by a distinct form of collaboration between official academic institutions, such as the Academy of Science, and a student organizing committee. A group of students – mainly from cultural and social anthropology – are significantly involved in the organization.
The Student Organizing Committee (SOC)
Since the first meeting in October 2014, the SOC has grown to 38 students who are working independently in twelve different task groups. We have coordinated our activities in a university course as well as in several informal sessions. The groups are responsible for specific tasks such as
- the external communication,
- the layout of the conference booklet,
- the corporate design of everything visual,
- the catering for the coffee breaks,
- the video documentation of the conference,
- the technical infrastructure,
- the conference bags,
- the couch surfing platform and
- the social program.
In the context of this distinct form of inclusion of students into a conference’s organisation, the social activities group is especially remarkable. Getting to know new people at academic events usually happens between or after sessions, but leads to some of the most interesting conversations and best memories. That’s why the idea for a broader social activity program than usual was born. We planned some fun and challenging activities in which participants of the conference can take part during breaks or in evenings. The social program ranges from playful activities such as Völkerball (Dodgeball), an interdisciplinary quiz and childcare for those who bring their kids, through informative events like ‘Tales from the field’ where students can engage in a dialogue with young and experienced researchers, up to evening activities such as visiting Wiener Heurigen or watching films at the movie nights on conference related topics offered by Ethnocineca. The highlight will be the world’s first fieldwork slam. In this competition, inspired by the idea of poetry slams, researchers share stories from their fieldwork with the audience, which then votes on the best performance. The slam is as much about entertainment as it is about the actual anecdotes.
CHAGS and Sustainability
The concept of sustainability is related to the field of hunter and gatherer societies. Therefore we decided that a ‘green’ conference is important and possible by developing alternative concepts with creative ideas. Regionality, fair working conditions and organic production are central in choosing the consumer goods used for the conference.
Coffee Breaks & Open Kitchen
With these ideas in mind, we decided to do the coffee breaks in an alternative way. The beverages and snacks at CHAGS will be offered as an organic, sustainable, regional buffet. We get our coffee from an organic coffee cooperative, which campaigns for fair trade and supports self-sustaining micro-farming structures in Mexico. Regional organic farmers supply us with milk products. Bread, vegetables, and fruits that would otherwise go to waste are gathered from stores and markets. By doing so, we are trying to make a statement against the excessive waste of food. Another feature of our coffee breaks is the absence of meat and use of recyclable and ecological materials wherever possible. To be transparent for the participants of the conference and to bring an alternative way of diet closer to them, we welcome everybody who is interested to come visit us in our open kitchen, where we will answer any questions about the organization and our products.
Environmentally and socially sustainable materials
Similarly, the materials for conference bags, the conference booklet and the t-shirts for the staff are selected according to criteria of fairness and sustainability. In the creation of the booklet, for example, we cooperated with an environmentally-friendly copy shop to print it with non-toxic colors on recycled paper. Furthermore, empty glass bottles are included in the conference bag, to avoid the enormous amount of plastic waste 500 people can produce over the course of five days.
In this spirit, we are looking forward to a kind of special and inspiring conference with unforgettable memories. We also hope to show that all involved parties can benefit through the integration of students in such projects/events.
For more information and a detailed description, please see:
#CHAGS11 and #CHAGS2015