Anthro in the news 1/9/12

• Is it time to ban plastic surgery?
The Los Angeles times carried an article by Alexander Edmonds, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and author of a book called Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex, and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. Here are some extracts from the article: “The faulty breast implants made by the French company Poly Implants Protheses, or PIP, have grabbed headlines around the world in recent weeks, and it’s no wonder. The prostheses are more prone to rupture than other models, and they contain an industrial grade of silicone never intended for use in a medical device. The scandal is also global in scope. Sold in 65 countries, the implants were re-branded by a Dutch company registered in Cyprus, offered on credit in Venezuela and smuggled into Bolivia, where they were bought by medical tourists….Some plastic surgeries similarly lie in a gray zone between necessity and medical enhancement. For example, breast reduction is seen by many in the United States as medically justifiable. But in Brazil the operation often has mainly a cosmetic aim (small breasts are an erotic ideal, while larger breasts are seen as matronly)…But while medical advances can result in safer cosmetic procedures, they can also contribute to their normalization. Yesterday’s vanity is often today’s health, or at least well-being. As beauty becomes a more visible part of medicine, health risks may become less visible. And that is a big risk.” This article has been picked up by the Korea Herald.

• Golf, sex and racism
A new book by Orin Starn looks at the “Tiger Woods incident” in the context of golf, race and celebrity culture in the United States. Starn is professor and chair of cultural anthropology at Duke University. The book is called The Passion of Tiger Woods: An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal. According to the reviewer, “Starn comes by his interest in Woods honestly. He began golfing at 12 with his grandfather, played on his college golf team and has a 5 handicap. In a conversational voice, he explores golf’s history and how using social media helped him get at the range of responses the public had to the Woods incident.”

• American football, military values, and violence
The Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted Peter Wogan, associate professor of anthropology at Willamette University in Oregon, in an article about football and American culture. Building on his “Tackle This” post for Anthroworks,Wogan comments to El Pais on how American football links with military tactics and values: “It’s two groups of men, coordinated and synchronized, who have to advance together, as one. …The players [like soldiers] stay on the field to save their buddies, so I don’t think the violence is gratuitous” [Blogger’s note: thanks to Peter Wogan for bringing the El Pais article to my attention and for translating this quotation into English].

• OWS and David Graeber’s claim to fame
The Daily Telegraph (London) carried an article on January 7 about the proliferation of writing about and for the 99 percent: “Under the banner of Occupy Writers, well over 3,000 writers have come out in support of the Occupy movement. Among them the likes of Jennifer Egan, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville and Salman Rushdie are very successful. Most writers, though, struggle even to earn minimum-wage rates from their trade. They cobble together careers through lecturing, copy-editing, penning the odd article…” The article goes on to refer to David Graeber’s book, Debt, as the “richest elaboration” of the critique of extreme capitalism.

• Class cancelled before it starts
Columbia University’s anthropology department planned to offer a class this spring that would be “a field-based course about Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement more broadly.” It was supposed to offer “training in ethnographic research methods alongside a critical exploration of the conjunctural issues in the Occupy movement.” According to the New York Daily News, “But then the adults stepped in and killed the idea.” The Columbia Spectator provides some background as of January 6: Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Brian Connolly said that Columbia’s Committee on Instruction has not approved the proposed class, which would allow students to conduct fieldwork at OWS protests. “A few news outlets reported that Columbia would be offering a new undergraduate course regarding Occupy Wall Street,” Connolly said in an email. “News reports and some departmental postings regarding the spring semester were premature.”

• Profile of Wade Davis reveals push factor
The Canada Global and Mail offers a feature article based on an interview with native son, Wade Davis: “Wearing corduroy and khaki, Wade Davis, Canada’s famous anthropologist and ethnobotanist, sweeps into a Toronto café and launches into a conversation about his latest book, Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, as though it’s a great adventure from which he has only recently returned…This adventurer is a photographer, award-winning filmmaker, author and scientist who has left few of the world’s cultural corners unexplored. And all because he grew up in Pointe Claire, an Anglo suburb of Montreal, where ‘the bourgeois blanket of banality’ fuelled his desire to escape. His father was an investment adviser with Royal Trust. He talked about it being the grind. He got smaller every day,’ Mr. Davis says. As a teen, ‘I desperately needed to know what I was going to do with myself.’”

• Take that anthro degree
…and become a rock star. The Sunday Times (London) talks about how a daughter of a cabinet minister and a lawyer ended up as “such a free spirit?” Who knows how much it has to do with getting a degree in anthropology and philosophy at the University of Sussex…perhaps the free spirit was already in place when she chose those subjects.

• Retro-diagnosis of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s affliction
The Philadelphia Inquirer picked up on a new interpretation for the ailments that plagued the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Anne Buchanan, a research associate in Penn State’s anthropology department who studies genetics and epidemiology, is personally familiar with the symptoms the poet describes in her diary and letters. Buchanan’s daughter, Ellen Weiss, now 30, experienced similar bouts of weakness starting during puberty. Weiss spent years going from doctor to doctor, seeking answers in vain, until she finally was diagnosed with periodic paralysis a few years ago. Buchanan thinks that the poet, like her daughter, suffered from a rare condition called hypokalemic periodic paralysis. She makes her case in the current issue of Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. Buchanan said the evidence does not constitute absolute proof, but physicians and scientists who have read the manuscript find her theory compelling.

• New Center without a center
The Munich-based Max Planck Society, is teaming up with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science to create a joint center devoted to studying archaeology and human evolution, to be based in both Rehovot, Israel, and Leipzig, Germany. The new center, worth about €5 million over the next 5 years, will be funded by the Max Planck’s Minerva Foundation, which has supported German-Israel collaborations since the 1960s. The new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology will not have a building. Instead, the money will fund up to 10 postdocs or graduate students in each city, says anthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

• What kind of coin is this?
A Roman coin, called a spintria, that was probably used by soldiers to pay for sex in brothels has been discovered in London on the banks of the River Thames. Made from bronze, the coin depicts a man and a woman engaged in “an intimate act” according to the Daily Telegraph Reporter. Experts believe it is the first example of its kind to be found in Britain. Pastry chef Regis Cursan and amateur archaeologist made the discovery near Putney Bridge in West London while using a metal detector: “The day I made the find it was a very low, early tide and raining heavily. At first I thought it was a Roman coin, because of the thickness and diameter…When I rubbed the sand off the artefact the first thing I saw was the number on one side and what I thought was a goddess on the other. Little did I know at the time it was actually a rare Roman brothel token.” The token has been donated to the Museum of London, where it will be on display for the next three months. Curator Caroline McDonald said: “This is the only one of its kind ever to be found in Great Britain. Some historians believe the Romans invented prostitution in the modern sense. It played a significant part in the empire’s economy – with sex workers required to register with the local authorities and even pay tax.”

• In memoriam
Elizabeth Brumfiel died on January 1, 2012, at the age of 66 years. A professor of anthropology at Northwestern University and former president of the American Anthropological Association, Brumfiel was one of the world’s leading scholars of Aztec archaeology. She explored the dynamics of social and economic inequality, including gender, and was a pioneer in feminist anthropology. For over 30 years, she and her students carried out archaeological research in Xaltocan, Mexico, exploring the economic and political consequences of Aztec rule. In 2007, the town presented her with the Eagle Warrior Prize (the highest warrior class in Aztec society) for her dedication to community issues in archaeology. She promoted an inclusive and inspiring research ethic for her students and colleagues through personal example and feminist-inspired research and teaching. Over the span of her career, she authored six books and edited volumes and more than 60 scholarly articles. In addition to her teaching and research, she held leadership positions in anthropology and archaeology. From 2003 to 2005, she served as the President of the American Anthropological Association. During her presidency, Brumfiel was instrumental in establishing the World Council of Anthropological Associations, obtaining funding for the AAA’s RACE Project, and furthering the Association’s support of social justice and human rights initiatives. Her strong voice on social justice and human rights as AAA President led conservative author David Horowitz to list Brumfiel as one of the “101 Most Dangerous Professors in America” in 2006. From 2008 through 2009, Brumfiel was the lead curator of “The Aztec World,” a popular exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum that traced the rise and fall of Aztec culture through 300 objects. Of particular interest to her was the insight that many of those objects shed on the lives of women under Aztec rule. To honor her memory, the Department of Anthropology is establishing the Elizabeth Brumfiel Award for Best Senior Thesis in Anthropological Archaeology.

Peter Garlake, archaeologist, died on December 2, 2011, aged 77 years. He is best known for his work in establishing that the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were built by indigenous Africans. He insisted on the Bantu origins of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, opposing the Southern Rhodesian Government’s view that they were built by white immigrants or invaders from the Mediterranean or southwest Asia. He paid the price by losing his job as inspector of monuments and his comfortable life in Rhodesia. He moved to a senior research fellowship at the University of Ife in Nigeria. He investigated the archaeology of the Ife region, like that of Zimbabwe, as one of complex African society. In 1976 he was appointed a lecturer in the anthropology department of University College London. While there he wrote The Kingdoms of Africa, an overview of the highly developed ancient cultures found across the continent. Some two decades later, he published Early Art and Architecture of Africa. After Zimbabwean independence in 1980, he returned to a university post in Harare. His guidebook, Great Zimbabwe, was published there. A completed manuscript on the Iron Age in Central Africa was destroyed in a fire at his home. He then turned his attention to the magnificent rock and cave art of the precolonial Shona people, and he published a book on the subject towards the end of his career in Africa, The Hunter’s Vision. After retirement, he and his wife shuttled between Zimbabwe and England, settling in London in 2008. Garlake continued to enjoy great esteem in Zimbabwe for his courage in defying the white authorities to insist blacks had built the country’s most celebrated monument.

Grace Gredys Harris, professor emerita of anthropology and of religion at the University of Rochester, died on December 20, 2011, at the age of 85 years. She was known for her insights into the cultural meaning of religious rituals in Africa. Professor Harris was a maverick in many ways, say her former colleagues. She made her mark initially exploring “spirit possession” among the Taita of Kenya. Her 1957 paper describing the symbolism of that ritual has been widely cited by anthropologists. Arriving in Rochester in 1961 just as the new Department of Anthropology and Sociology was being developed, she worked with a primarily male faculty. For her first seven years on campus, she was limited to part time. Her husband, Alfred Harris, had an appointment in anthropology and spouses were prohibited from holding full-time positions in the same department. Her personal struggle for professional opportunities led to a more general “concern about the place of women in academia,” says Dean Harper, professor emeritus of sociology, former colleague, and friend for many decades. In 1968, Professor Harris was appointed associate professor, promoted to professor in 1977, and then served as department chair from 1977 to 1983. Earlier, in 1963, she helped establish the doctoral program in anthropology. Anthony Carter, professor emeritus of anthropology at Rochester, comments: “The program was path breaking at the time…” because it was the first program in the United States to follow the British model of social anthropology.

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