Anthro in the news 5/24/10

• Reality anthropology–who knew
Since this blog has existed (August 2009 start-up) the only time anything about cultural anthropology has made the front page of the New York Times, till now, was the death of Claude Lévi-Strauss. And, hey, this coverage is about live people. In California. With jobs and kids. What could be more exciting (maybe a famous French anthropologist’s death)? Well, it is exciting. Ironic, though, that micro-data about everyday life, the stock in trade of cultural anthropology, has gained sufficient traction to merit front page coverage in the NYT because it’s like reality television. Ouch, but beggars can’t be choosers about which door opens for them and who hands them a meal. What’s it all about? It’s about a research project conducted from 2002-2005 under the direction of Elinor Ochs, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles and director of UCLA’s Center of Everyday Living of Families, a Sloan Center on Working Families. The project collected 1,540 hours of unscripted videotape from 32 middle-class, dual-earner, multiple-child families in the Los Angeles region. Ochs and her team are still working their way through this immense dataset. Professor Ochs is a renowned scholar who has used similarly fine-grained data to study mother-child interactions in Western Samoa and the United States, agoraphobia in the United States, and autism in the United States.

• Shadowing the shadow elite
In the Huffington Post, Janine Wedel reviews Gillian Tett’s book, Fool’s Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe. Wedel is a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and author of Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market. Wedel lauds Tett, also a social/cultural anthropologist by training now with the Financial Times, for focusing on banking culture, specifically the issue of derivatives, in relation to the global economic crisis that began in 2007.

• What took us so long?
A tour guide at Sterkfontein, South Africa, site of some of our earliest human ancestors, asked the visitors whether they had been there before. No hand went up. “What took you so long” he said. An article in the Travel section of the Washington Post describes a visit to Sterkfontein–the Cradle of Mankind World Heritage Site. Dr. Frances Thackeray, anthropologist and director of Witwatersrand University’s Institute for Human Evolution, accompanied the WP journalist. Thackeray (and yes, he’s related) avoided the term “missing link,” suggesting instead that the human family tree is complicated.

• Buried with jade and amber
Archaeologists from the University of Brigham Young in the United States and the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology announced the discovery of an ancient tomb inside a pyramid in Chiapas, southern Mexico, which could be 2,700 years old. If the date is confirmed, it would be the oldest burial in a pyramid in Mesoamerica. The richness of the burial goods indicate that the individual was of high status, a finding that affects theories about how, when, where and why social inequality emerged in Mesoamerica.

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