sNAPAshots: Saira Mehmood

This entry is part 25 of 25 in the sNAPAshots section
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Interviewer 0:02
Welcome to sNAPAshots. Conversations with Practicing, Professional, and Applied anthropologists. Let’s meet our next guest Saira Mehmood. How did you get interested in anthropology?

Saira Mehmood 0:19
One of the best pieces of advice I got, as an undergrad, when I was still sort of figuring out my major, was take as many different types of classes as I can, and eventually I’ll find something I’ll fall in love with. And I found anthropology. And so I took more biological anthropology classes as an undergrad, because I was also pre med and it aligned better with that. But by the time I was a senior, and I was working on my senior honors thesis, I decided to do something a little more cultural anthropology, medical anthropology, I looked at the movement towards community-based health care clinics in New Orleans. And this was because the state of Louisiana had decided to shut down and not reopen Charity Hospital in New Orleans. And there’s a documentary called big charity that goes a little more into the history and detail of that hospital. But it was also the hospital where I was born. So it had a little bit of meaning to me and my family as well. And during, when I was defending my honors thesis, my committee members suggested maybe this is the route I should take. And I realized, I liked studying the healthcare system, more than kind of being in it as a health care professional.

Interviewer 1:48
How has the anthropological perspective or training enhanced your contribution to your workplace?

Saira Mehmood 1:54
Anthropology thinks, helps us think in a holistic perspective. And that type of thinking and being curious as researchers helps us look at things a little bit differently than other disciplines. In a way I end up doing organizational ethnography. In whatever job I’m doing, or project I’m working on and thinking about things from a bottom up and top down perspective. And I think that storytelling component also comes in handy when I’m doing informational interviews with folks in different work context. Because people love to talk about themselves.

Interviewer 2:40
What types of challenges do you experience as a practicing anthropologist?

Saira Mehmood 2:45
Even if we do have expertise in that area? Is this community, does it even want us there in the first place? And if not, should we even be there? And so I think just, you know, whether it’s in the classroom or at conferences, or in other settings as before doing consulting work, having these hard discussions about, you know, maybe a someone not from that community, I might not be the best person to do the research or solve the problems, but maybe we can train someone from that community who might be better at doing this and know, because they know that community a little bit better and have a different positionality. So I think there’s different ways we can talk about this.

Interviewer 3:42
What was the one thing about the practice of anthropology that nobody told you as a student?

Saira Mehmood 3:48
Both undergrad and grad school when we do research, it’s a solo project. We might work with other anthropologists on you know, if it’s a collaborative project, but outside of academia, you know, we’re not often working with anthropologist, might be a few, but we’re really working with people from different disciplines. And Gillian Tett wrote a book called “The Silo Effect.” She’s an anthropologist and a journalist. And she argues that a lot of the systemic problems that exists today in society, whether it’s climate change, you know, structural racism, these things are not going to be solved by one discipline. It’s going to take a lot big teams and lots of different people from different with different expertise to solve the big problems we have. I wish someone that someone had told me sooner not told me but helped me figure it out how to get out of these silos earlier.

Interviewer 5:05
Was there a moment that changed the way you practiced anthropology

Speaker 1 5:12
I’m gonna share two things. The first is being from New Orleans and having experienced Hurricane Katrina and evacuating from that. And living in the area after and the rebuilding, cognizant of a lot of researchers who did “helicopter research”, they came in, collected their data, left, published, but they didn’t necessarily communicate with the communities they were working with their studying later on, they just sort of vanished or disappeared. And so for me, as an anthropologist, I definitely didn’t want to do that, or replicate that. And so, I did a field school where I got training to do community based participatory research and really learn how to do research with a community instead of doing a study on a community. So that type of anthropology definitely is something I want to build on and influences how I practice anthropology. And then the second thing is not so much practicing, but in the way I teach anthropology. We have a code of ethics. And as an anthropologist, we know not to do harm to the communities we work with, we talk less about the violence that may happen to us while we’re doing or are conducting research. So for me, it was important to have those difficult or hard conversations with my students, because oftentimes, that violence, not always, but is often gendered. And I think we need to be a little bit more open in discussing that. And so a few years ago, Anthro Addendum had a series on trauma and resilience. And I talked a little bit about my perspective on that with a blog post.

Interviewer 7:23
What advice would you like to pass on to future anthropologists taking roles in professional fields?

Saira Mehmood 7:29
If you’re interested in policy, or say, user experience research, or something totally different, go find someone who’s been doing that, and try to get advice from them. Because your academic professors, anthropologists might not necessarily know like the right people here. And don’t be afraid to ask them out for a cup of coffee, or email them for a chat or informational interview on over zoom. Some of the most meaningful projects and friendships I’ve developed started with an email or message on LinkedIn. And I think none of us got here without mentorship from someone else. So I think most of us are okay with or happy to pass along the knowledge we have to the next generation. And so the worst thing that will happen is you won’t get a response or someone will say no, but then just move on to the next person. Be curious, stay curious, and dream big.

Interviewer 8:39
Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your experience as a practicing anthropologist. For more snapshots, find a set practicing anthropology.org, LinkedIn, Meta, and X.

Credits 8:51
PRODUCED BY Niel Tashima Cathleen Crain Joshua Liggett
DIRECTED BY Reshama Damle Suanna Crowley
EDITED BY Whitney Margaritis
MUSIC BY by Ron Gelinas “Chillout Lounge Fulfilled”
Many Thanks to NAPA’s Governing Council for supporting sNAPAshots Conversations with Practicing, Professional, and Applied Anthropologists
NAPA is a section of the American Anthropological Association
NAPA is seeking volunteers to join the sNAPAshots project. We’d love to hear from YOU!
Contact us at: ntashima@ ltgassociates.com

Saira Mehmood 8:50
[Outtakes] The stories I would get for why people got involved it was that could be very different, whether someone is Palestinian or not, and why they become an ally. But I think the connecting theme, is there some type of human rights violation that’s happening that people connect with whether it’s related to refugee rights or indigenous rights, or prisoner rights, it can be reproductive justice rights, but when you look at it in the grand scheme of things and holistic perspective, you realize that a lot of the oppression that exist is connected and part of an oppressive system. So that’s sort of one example of you know, when I listen to people’s stories, how to connect it back to a bigger theme.

Interviewer 9:45

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *