Polly Wiessner is a Professor of Anthropology at Arizona State University and the University of Utah. She has conducted long-term fieldwork for more than thirty years among Kalahari Bushman foragers of Southern Africa and Enga highland horticulturalists of Papua New Guinea. She is recognized for her work social networks, past and present, to reduce risk in the Kalahari and her studies of style and social information in material culture. In Papua New Guinea she has carried ethnohistorical studies among the Enga of highland New Guinea, tracing developments in warfare, ritual, and exchange that occurred from the time from the introduction of the sweet potato some 300 years ago until present. She is currently working on the question of the evolution of social networks in southern Africa. Among the Enga she is studying warfare and restorative justice to address questions of adaptive responses rapid change resulting from globalization. Wiessner grew up in Vermont, graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1969 and completed her PhD. in Anthropology at the University of Michigan in 1977. She taught at the University of Aarhus, Denmark from 1977 to 1980 and was a research assistant at the Max Planck Institute for Human Ethology in Germany from 1981-1996.

Research Interests

Wiessner began her research with the Ju/?hoansi Bushmen of the Kalahari addressing the question of how foragers construct far-flung social security to reduce risk in a harsh desert environment. She is following risk reduction strategies and the development of social inequalities as the Ju/?hoansi shift from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to a mixed economy in this rapidly changing world. She is also studying Bushman campfire stories, asking the question of what happened to human sociality as firelight altered circadian rhythms and extended the day with economically unproductive, but socially productive hours. Together with Andrew Zipkin and John Kinahan, she is conducting studies of isotopic variation in ostrich eggshell ornaments and their potential for tracking the evolution of social networks in southern Africa. At her second field site among the Enga of Papua New Guinea, she is following changes in warfare after bows and arrows were replaced by high-powered weapons and studying how customary law courts are using restorative justice to update ?custom? to adapt to changes in practice made possible by new technologies.

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Section 51: Anthropology