Professor Elliot Fratkin: “Africa: The Good, the Bad, the Unexpected”

As part of Smith College’s Chaired Professor Lecture series, Professor Elliot Fratkin presents his lecture, titled “Africa: The Good, the Bad, the Unexpected,” discussing his anthropological research.

Introduction by Professor Gregory White, Mary Huggins Gamble Foundation Chair

Professor Fratkin is the Gwendolen Carter Chair in African Studies.

Elliot Fratkin received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, M. Phil. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America (1987), all in cultural anthropology. His research focuses on life and social change among nomadic pastoralist people who live and move with their domestic livestock and who are found largely in the arid regions of the world. In the last half century, many former nomads have settled in small towns or farms to take up other types of lives. Much of Fratkin’s work focuses on Ariaal pastoralists of northern Kenya. Ariaal are a cultural mix of two larger groups, cattle keeping Samburu and camel keeping Rendille, and are related to the larger cluster of Maasai peoples of East Africa. Fratkin’s initial research focused on Ariaal social organization, cultural ecology and ritual life including the activity of laibon medicine men.

In the 1980s Professor Fratkin turned his attention to issues of development and change, particularly what happened to Kenyan pastoralists during periods of drought and famine. During the 1980s Ariaal and Rendille communities became recipients of humanitarian relief of many international organizations, including the Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision. One consequence of these changes was a large scale settling of former pastoralists, particularly poor people who did not have enough livestock to subsist as they had before. In the 1990s, Fratkin participated in a three-year study which examined the health and nutrition effects of settling of Ariaal and Rendille people, in collaboration with his wife Marty Nathan, M.D. and Eric Roth, an anthropologist at the University of Victoria Canada. They found that settled children had higher levels of malnutrition and illnesses than the pastoralists, which we attributed to lack of milk animals in the settled communities.

In 2002 and 2003 Elliot Fratkin served as a consultant with the World Bank Inspection Panel investigating complaints about the building of the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline. In 2003, he was a US Fulbright Scholar teaching at the University of Asmara, Eritrea, and in 2011-2012 he served as a US Fulbright Scholar teaching anthropology at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. In addition, he has visited pastoral populations in Mongolia, Botswana, Ethiopia, and in 2007 led a Smith Alumnae tour to Mali, visiting Bambara, Dogon, Fulani and Tuareg people.

Bio and photo from Smith College, Department of Anthropology

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