Anthro in the News 4/2/2012

• What the World Bank needs now
The media has been abuzz with opinions about Jim Yong Kim, the U.S. nominee for the next director of the World Bank. Gillian Tett writes in the Financial Times, that Kim is a much-needed Renaissance man. Others, in the go-for-growth camp claim that Kim is too narrow to handle the breadth of the World Bank portfolio which is growth through building roads and ports which, as we have all heard many times, will perforce will help the poor. All Africa News is pro-Kim:  “Since its inception in 1944, the World Bank has largely been governed by a politician or a celebrated Wall Street Banker or Economist…None, at least out of the last 11 presidents, has had a first-hand experience of the real challenges that face the developing world… Dr. Kim has rubbed shoulders with the poor, mingled with the most destitute and sought sustainable solutions for some of their problems…Dr. Jim Kim will be taking on this multilateral body with a different kind of experience, one that is crucial in making the institution more responsive to the needs of the developing world.” The Wall Street Journal chimed in with an editorial  applauding President Obama’s nomination, noting that “…Kim will face stiff challenge in reforming misguided lending programs;  regrets only that [this] outmoded institution will not be shut down.”

•  Failure in the time of cholera
The New York Times carried an extensive article on the cholera epidemic in Haiti which included  substantial commentary from Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist/physician/and health equality advocate :  “Dr. Farmer of Partners in Health… said he wanted  ‘health equity” — for the developed world to respond to cholera in Haiti as it would at home.” Partners in Health initially requested potable water be trucked in so that a traumatized population would not have to filter and treat its water. Purification tablets were delivered instead because it was considered cheaper and simpler. He said he kept thinking about the many water stations at the New York City Marathon: ”That’s for a sport, for heaven’s sake. You’re telling me the giant humanitarian aid machine can’t do that in an epidemic?”

• Murder, caste and class in the American south
An article in the New York Times about the murder of Trayvon Martin mentioned cultural anthropologist John Dollard’s pioneering research in the 1930s in a small town in the American South. Dollard, a white northerner from Yale University, was told by local people that soon enough he would “…feel about Negroes as Southerners do.” [Blogger’s note: Dollard did not get that feeling].

•  Praise the lord
The New Yorker carried a review of  cultural anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann’ s new book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. Throughout her career, Luhrmann has studied a wide range of “esoteric faiths” including witch-and-warlock cults in England, the Parsis of  India, and Western psychiatric residents. For her newest book, she spent two years as a member of an evangelical church in Chicago and another two years in a congregation in Palo Alto. Most of the church members were white, middle class, college-educated, and politically centrist. In Luhrmann’s words, they placed “a flamboyant emphasis on the direct experience of God.” If you made contact with him, they believed, he would become your intimate, someone ‘who loves and cuddles you.’”

• Sympathy for the bully
Regarding the Rutgers University Webcam-spying and suicide case, cultural anthropologist danah boyd (who prefers no capital letters in her name) raises questions about stereotyping the bully and the victim.  According to an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education, boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and a visiting researcher at Harvard Law School, says that she is “troubled” by the decision to prosecute Dharun Ravi, the roommate of Tyler Clementi.

•  Tiger Woods burning bright
The Observer (England) carried a review of an “ex-coach’s tell-all memoir” about Tiger Woods. The review quoted Orin Starn, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University and author of The Passion of Tiger Woods, as saying: “Americans love second chances and stories of redemption. Most golf fans are very eager to have him back.”

•  Applied anthropology in industry
The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article about the relevance of ethnography/applied anthropology for business/industry: “…what is known as applied anthropology or sometimes industrial ethnography dates back to at least the 1920s. Anthropologists and Harvard researchers conducted a now-famous series of experiments designed to increase worker productivity at Western Electric Co.’s Hawthorne Works in Chicago. Applied anthropology isn’t exactly a common practice in the business world today, though it tends to be more popular at technology companies. In addition to Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM also apply these techniques.”

• Women’s empowerment through beautiful cloth
Bazin, hand-dyed polished cotton, is the mainstay of Malian fashion. Maureen Gosling, a U.S. filmmaker, is collaborating with Maxine Downs, an anthropologist, to produce a film on bazin called Bamako Chic: Threads of Power, Colour and Culture. According to Downs, the film will  show how “self-empowered African women turned their artistic creativity and resourcefulness into a force for alleviating their own poverty.” Downs visited Mali several times to meet some of the women in the burgeoning industry. According to Downs, bazin is not just a fashion statement: the women make a profit and they form close-knit social groups:  “It is like a collective enterprise, very communal. The women work with their children, friends and other family members to dye the fabrics. They hang them on their neighbours’ fences to dry, turning the whole community into a huge advertisement.” This is good news for a country ranked 175 out of 187 countries in the UN Development Program’s 2011 Human Development Index.

•  Cultural anthropology’s integrating role
The Indian Express covered a symposium on the “Role of Anthropology and Psychology”  held at Panjab University, India. Addressing the participants, Vice-Chancellor R. C. Sobti stressed the need for integration of various disciplines for the benefit of society, and he pointed to the role of anthropology in uniting the other disciplines. The session included lectures by professor Jitendra Mohan and professor Harish Sharma.

•  Chagos: It’s not over
Anthro in the news contributing author, Sean Carey, of Roehampton University in England, published an article in Le Mauricien on “The Chagos Issue” in which he writes: “Who is to blame? The answer is obvious: the buck stops with the UK and the US. With US approval, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) was the instigator of the policy to remove the Islanders, while Mauritius and the Seychelles were the places where the unfortunate people were deposited. If FCO administrators had not worked out what was likely to happen if you remove a significant number of people from a simple, agrarian way of life and then dump them in an urban slum with a cash economy, this adds to the evidence that the FCO was..[and] remains… culpable about what happened. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo, published a piece called “It’s Time to Act.” Eriksen states that “the occupation of the Chagos archipelago has never been legal, it has always been unacceptable, and it is time for the international community to act.”

•  Family cooking recipes as cultural heritage
The South China Post carried an article about Lau Chun, chef and television presenter, describing how he just learned from his 80-year-old uncle how to make the Cantonese dish of baked fish organs with egg. After the lesson is over, he worships his ancestors. The article connects that story with the work of Sidney Cheung, professor in the department of anthropology at Chinese University, who is writing a paper on family recipes as cultural heritage. Cheung recently traveled to New Orleans, where he discovered that, having lost so much following Hurricane Katrina, people are producing books of family recipes to preserve what history and tradition they can.  Regarding Hong Kong, he says, “…people…don’t know how to cook family food, we don’t inherit the family recipes…There’s a lack of inter-generational communication…This loss or diminishment of culinary culture is deeply affecting Hong Kong…”

•  Australian Aboriginal land claims and nuke dumping
The Australian federal government will use evidence from anthropologists to fight claims that traditional owners of a site at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory have not been consulted about a planned nuclear waste dump. Lawyers for the commonwealth told a Federal Court hearing yesterday that Mark Lane Jangala, a Ngapa man who opposes the proposed dump site, was not a traditional owner of the land.

•  It’s about relationships
An article in The Huffington Post by cultural anthropologist Melissa Rinehart asks:How can the work of anthropologists can be more meaningfully accessible to those outside the profession, yet maintain scientific rigor?” She notes that, working as a Native Americanist (a cultural anthropologist working with Native American communities), she has been troubled “…about the disconnects between relationship and research — whether observed in the latest publication or conference paper where the author is seemingly detached from the subject, or during conversations with peers who appear distanced from their work. Where are scholars’ emotive connections to the people who make their work possible?”

•  In Spain, despairing of life as a professor
A writer for The Australian attended a panel at the Foro de las Ciudades in Fuenlabrada,  near Madrid. The panel themes were social networks, new citizen movements, and technology. The event oscillated between two views: the internet will free us, no, the internet will control us. Angel Gabilondo, education minister in Spain’s recently vanquished Socialist government, argued for the democratic possibilities of the internet.  Francisco Cruces Villalobos, a professor of social and cultural anthropology at the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia, said that the current fiscal crisis is having a dramatic effect on young researchers: “They form part of the precariat or cognitariat, a new group of people who hail from the middle class and have invested in human capital, as they were told to do, but who suffer inordinately insecure employment. The inevitable result is that after a few years of short-term fellowships and contracts they are off to the corporate sector. They despair of life as a professor.

•  Take that anthro degree and…
become the editor of Vogue  magazine (Britain) and write a novel.  According to an interview with Alexandra Shulman, The Observer (England) reports that she “speaks frankly about skinny models, her panic attacks and why she’d hate to be a young woman today.” She has just published her first novel. Shulman’s parents are both journalists, and she is quoted as saying that becoming a writer “was my idea of a nightmare. I wanted to be a hairdresser.” She studied social anthropology at Sussex University and then “really more by accident than design” found herself falling into journalism when she got a temporary job as an editorial secretary on Over 21 magazine.

become an artist/communications specialist for African development. At Bates College, Alisa Weilerstein took a visual anthropology course about Africa:  “That’s when I really got hooked on anthropology,” she said. Another course in film prompted her to combine anthropology and filmmaking (she is also an accomplished cellist). She studied abroad in Senegal where she learned about the NGO Tostan. Weilerstein writes and helps produce films for Tostan, and she keeps a personal blog. Her livelihood is currently dependent on  fundraising. Next step: graduate school in art therapy and then full-time paid work.

become a comedian and primate conservation advocate. Natalia Reagan’s interest in anthropology began when she took a biological anthropology course during her undergraduate studies at a community college. She went on to graduate school, earning a degree in biological anthropology from California State University Northridge. During her studies, Natalia performed in an improv comedy troupe, The Omelettes, and worked as an actor in film and television. She has appeared on such shows as My Name is Earl, The Drew Carey Show, and Better Off Ted. Reagan began writing segments to explain human behavior in a humorous and entertaining fashion (the videos can be seen at Her current goal is to educate people about human behavior using humor, evolutionary biology and nonhuman primates (monkeys and apes) as models. She also works in primate conservation in Panama.

become an acclaimed novelist. In 1993, Favel Parrett added a course in creative writing to  her anthropology studies at La Trobe University. Decades later, her first novel, Past the Shallows, has been included on the longlist for this year’s Miles Franklin award, Australia’s most significant literary prize.

•  Historic bones returning from Canada to upstate New York
A collection of human bone fragments dating to the French and Indian War is expected to be returned soon from Canada to the upstate New York tourist attraction that owns the remains. Melodie Viele of the Fort William Henry Corporation in Lake George told The Associated Press that anthropologist Maria Liston, a member of the faculty at Ontario’s University of Waterloo, is expected to return several boxes of bone fragments to Fort officials as early as next month. Liston participated in an anthropology project at the fort in the spring of 1993, when 15 skeletons that had been on display at the fort for decades were being studied before a planned reburial. Only three skeletons were reburied while the other 12 were taken out of state, with the Fort’s permission.

•  Neanderthal demise under review again
One of the major explanations for the demise of Neandertals is competition from in-migrating modern humans, new research suggests that Western European Neandertals were on the verge of extinction long before modern humans showed up. This perspective comes from a study of ancient DNA published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. The research was carried out by a team including Rolf Quam, a Binghamton University anthropologis, Anders Götherström at Uppsala University, and Love Dalén at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

•  Male testosterone ups and downs
Biological anthropologists have studied Tsimane male farmers in the Bolivian Amazon where the men have low testosterone levels throughout their life. Tsimane men also have low rates of obesity, heart disease and other illnesses linked with older age in industrial societies. Ben Trumble, an anthropology graduate student at the University of Washington, and co-author of a new study, told Science Daily: “Maintaining high levels of testosterone compromises the immune system, so it makes sense to keep it low in environments where parasites and pathogens are rampant, as they are where the Tsimane live.” Trumble and his co-authors organized a football tournament for eight Tsimane teams. The players’ testosterone levels following the game rose, suggesting that competition-linked bursts of the hormone are a fundamental aspect of human biology.  Michael Gurven, co-author and anthropology professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, added: “What’s interesting is that in spite of being in a more pathogenic environment, it’s still important to raise testosterone for short-term bursts of energy and competition.”

•  Love among the voles and according to Jane Austen
The Independent carried a review of Robin Dunbar’s latest book The Science of Love and Betrayal. According to the article, Dunbar, who is professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford University, says that, “Jane Austen had it right, that picky women must accept the “curate option” or else meet their biological comeuppance…Drawing on the love lives of gibbons, voles and assorted wild-life he explains why being spurned by a lover can cause your entire body to ache and why monogamy is better for brain development than promiscuity.”

• This foot was made for walking…and climbing
According to study of fossil foot bones discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 2009, they are from a human ancestor who was a contemporary of Lucy, the famous fossil of the pre-human, or hominin, species, Australopithecus afarensis. The new finding indicate that the hominin was able to walk on two feet and move about in trees. Details of the foot bones, published in the journal Nature, describe a short big toe angled away from the foot, and long, slightly curved toes that are part-way between those of apes and hominins. According to an article in The Guardian, Bruce Latimer, professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and one of the lead researchers, said “I think it probably does represent a new species, but until we find more evidence, we’re being cautious about it.”  Africa News highlighted the contribution of  lead author and project team leader, Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a professor at Case Western University, who said that the partial foot clearly shows that at 3.4 million years ago, Lucy’ s species was not the only hominin species living in what is now the Afar regional state. Coverage in the New York Times provided comments from several specialists including Donald Johanson, founding director of the Institute for Human Origins at Arizona State University and the person who discovered Lucy, and Daniel Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University.

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