2017 MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Recipient Jason De León to Speak at UMass Amherst

Jason De León
Jason De León

AMHERST, Mass. – MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient Jason De León, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and author of the award-winning book The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail, will deliver a public talk on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 4:30 p.m. in the Integrative Learning Center third floor Communications Hub at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

De León will be presenting “Soldiers and Kings: Photoethnographic Practice in the Context of Human Smuggling Across Mexico,” a timely topic in light of DACA and border wall politics. The event is free and open to the public.

Since 2015, De León has been involved in an analog photoethnographic project focused on detailing the lives of Honduran smugglers who profit from transporting undocumented migrants across Mexico. In this talk he will discuss the complicated relationship between transnational gangs and human smuggling, and outline some of the ways that he uses photography as a field method in this violent and ethically challenging ethnographic context.

De León was named a 2017 MacArthur fellow for his work combining ethnographic, forensic and archaeological evidence to bring to light the human consequences of immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border. MacArthur fellows are selected for having “shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” and each receive a $625,000 award—commonly referred to as a “genius grant”—from the foundation “as an investment in their potential,” paid out over five years with no strings attached.

De León’s visit is co-sponsored by the departments of anthropology and communication, the Amherst College departments of anthropology and sociology, and the Five College Program in Culture, Health and Science.


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