Anthro in the news 8/24

Cognitive anthropologist has a message for Obama about health care reform

Cognitive linguistic anthropologist George Lakoff lists nine things that the Obama administration should have done earlier on in the campaign to reform health care. He also offers specific advice for how to win the campaign through a more effective communications system, including a brilliant suggestion to rename the “public option” as the “American Plan,” which will remove any taint of “socialism” and instead invoke feelings of patriotism.

This blogger likes Lakoff’s idea very much but wonders about the chances of a label change in reminding Americans that patriotism and love of country can include compassion to fellow Americans who have less than they do.

Economic development can exacerbate gender inequality.

In many patriarchal situations (patriarchy is when men dominate most or all social domains including the economy, politics, family, and belief systems), sons are highly preferred to the extent that people opt to abort female fetuses or systematically neglect daughters in terms of food, health care, and affection.

Areas where such preferences are particularly include northern India’s richest states: Punjab and Haryana.

An article in a special issue of The New York Times Magazine (August 23, 2009, pp. 23- 25) devoted to women’s rights internationally highlights the field research of cultural anthropologist Monica Das Gupta in rural Punjab in the 1980s.

Her data revealed the double-edged sword of development: richer, more-educated people have fewer children than poorer, less-educated families, but they still want to have at least one son. So the pressure to avoid having a daughter is more extreme. Das Gupta is currently a senior social scientist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group.

The article offers no recommendations, just a faint note of hope that the “clash” between modernity and exacerbated masculine bias in infant and child sex ratios in highly patriarchal situations may be a problem of only “the short and medium terms” (p. 25). Whatever that means.

Note: For historical context on northern India’s extremely unbalanced sex ratios, see Chapter 2 of my book, The Endangered Sex: Neglect of Female Children in Rural North India, 2nd ed., Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997; originally published by Cornell University Press, 1981.

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