Anthro in the news 4/29/13

• On Russian distrust of U.S. missile plan

Press TV interviewed William Beeman, a professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Minnesota, about U.S.-Russia relations especially in terms of Washington and NATO’s new plans to build an anti-missile system around Western Europe.

NATO missiles
U.S. and NATO Patriot missile deployment to Turkey. Flickr/Staff Sgt. Daniel Owen

In response to a question about American plans to strengthen military bases in Alaska, Beeman replied, “This is an old, old story. The United States tried to establish missiles in Eastern Europe, supposedly in the Czech Republic, I believe, in order to defend against the attacks, as they said, from Iran. Now we are talking about North Korea.

“So the difficulty of course for Russia is that Russia wants to make sure that these missiles would not ever be deployed against Russia, and I can tell you that Russia borders both on Iran and on North Korea. So it is very hard for the United States to guarantee the Russians in any satisfactory way that these missiles would never be used against Russian territories, and I can really understand the Russians’ trepidation about this.”

• Christian belief, practice, and mental health

When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann
Credit: Random House

The Deseret News of Salt Lake City carried an opinion piece in response to a recent New York Times column by Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann, where she says that the reason is not entirely clear why church attendance “boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”

She speculates that it is the social support of a congregation and the healthy habits of churchgoers. In clinical terms, she explains how someone can experience a God they can’t see and she observes, “those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier — at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.”

Luhrmann is a professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University and the author of When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

• Marketing meds with anthropology insights

A press release on the Wall Street Journal website describes the role of cultural/social/linguistic anthropology in its new marketing strategy which seeks to discover and use “layman’s language” for developing branding of particular items.

3v07 Medical Advertising has developed a quantifiable way to choose the words that best communicate with each audience. Healthcare advertising is seeing more medical device companies going direct to consumers thanks to the effectiveness of the Internet in reaching people looking for answers online to their medical conditions. This has made it important for medical device manufacturers to speak in the “voice of the consumer.” Jeffrey Moore, owner and creative director at 3v07, says, “What the market needed was the ability to mitigate risk and be very effective in communicating in layman’s language the benefits of a device or procedure. This alone can be the key differentiator in a patient’s request for your product or procedure.”

• More on marketing anthropology

An essay in The Huffington Post discusses the advantages of studying psychology and anthropology because they provides insights into successful product marketing:

“What really makes people buy? What underpins human decision making? Do we actually have the agency and power to make logic-based choices, or must we surrender to our inherent gut feelings? This has dominated the conversation in the marketing world for decades, and research has proven time and time again that it is our hearts, not our heads, that drive people to buy. In fact, the part of our brain that controls our feelings and decision-making has no capacity for language. It is a bit unnerving to realize that we can essentially be tapped into and programed by marketers to invest in their products, but given that we are all trying to connect with others to “sell” offers of our own, it would likely be to our benefit to understand the fascinating world of influence as well.”

• Cultural anthropologists should market cultural anthropology

The Orlando Sentinel carried an opinion piece by Ty Matejowsky and Beatriz M. Reyes-Foster, professors in the department of anthropology at the University of Central Florida, in which they argue that cultural anthropology has been in the news recently but mainly in a negative light: “it seems that journalists only acknowledge cultural anthropology when it is gripped by controversy.”

They suggest that: “Anthropologists need to take better ownership of our brand. The complexity of anthropological concepts such as ‘culture,’ ‘power’ and the ‘global’ should not dissuade anthropologists from engaging in meaningful public discourse.”

• Why anthropology matters: a larger view

Gina Athena Ulysse
Gina Athena Ulysse. Source:

Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of cultural anthropology at Wesleyan University, contributed an essay to The Huffington Post on the relevance and importance of cultural anthropology, weaving it around the recent award to Paul Stoller of Anders Retzius gold medal from the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography (more on this award below in Kudos).

She asked him to reflect on the significance of this recognition in these times when cultural anthropology is getting “a bad rap.” He replied: “Anthropology will continue to get a bad rap as long as we anthropologists think and write about the human condition in obtuse ways. When I talk about my life in anthropology and the people I have come to know and love over the years, I find people in the audience moved — not because what I had to say was particularly brilliant, but because I opened my experience — my joy and pain and that of my Nigerian friends — to them and such an opening established a connection. At my last several talks, I [have] seen people shed a tear to two when I talk about the depth of my ethnographic experience and the depth of the humanity of my Nigerian friends. That kind of connect is usually missing in anthropological accounts. In my view of things, this connect should be the centerpiece of what we do.”

• Take that anthro degree and…

…become a successful artist. X Andrade, a cultural anthropologist/artist lives in Ecuador. He writes about the influence of his anthropology studies:

X Andrade
X Andrade. Source:

“I was greatly influenced by a set of fruitful dialogues while studying anthropology at The New School For Social Research in New York City. Poole’s course on Visual Cultures, Johannes Fabian’s studies on vernacular painting and history in Zaire, Steve Caton’s ethnographic approach to film, Terry Williams’ attention to sexual images and the city, and Kevin Dwyer’s work on dialogical anthropology were crucial to shaping my ethnographic view of images. In several of those courses, artists attended and actively participated in pushing the borders of their own practice. Among them, of foremost importance were my dialogues with Aleksandra Mir, by now a very well known name within the global art circuits. While in NYC, I contributed to Mir’s Naming Tokyo, an alternative map of that city meant to convene idiosyncratic readings of constructed space and the politics behind labeling the urban gridlock.”

• Looting of archaeological sites in Egypt

According to an article in The Guardian, Egyptian archaeologists fear for pyramid sites as illegal building gathers pace in wake of Arab spring. Many Egyptians are grabbing areas in the ancient land of the pharaohs to bury their dead

In Manshiet Dahshur, 25 miles south of Cairo, the villagers recently extended the boundaries of the cemetery. For Ahmed Rageb, a carpenter who buried his cousin in the annexe, it was a logical decision.

An archaeologist looks into a fresh tomb
An archaeologist inspects a new cemetery illegally built near the Black Pyramid at Dahshur/Guardian

“We want to bury the dead,” he said, strolling through the new cemetery after visiting his cousin’s tomb. “The old cemetery is full. And there is no other place to bury my family.”

The new tombs are perilously close to the pyramids of Dahshur, less famous than those at Giza, but just as venerable. The article quotes Mohamed Youssef, Dahshur’s chief archaeologist: “What happened was crazy … They came and took space for about 20 generations.” According to some residents, people who have lived and died in the area have the right to be buried in Dahshur. However, Youssef argues that some have other intentions, including looting: “Some of them have a real need for the tombs for their families … But when you have 1,000 people, some of them will want to do illegal excavation.”

Nigel Hetherington, a British archeologist, said that he documented dozens of new illegal establishments on historical sites between the capital and Dahshur following President Hosni Mubarak’s fall in 2011.

• New theory of Maya origins

Science Daily covered a forthcoming publication in the journal Science about the origins of Maya civilization. The new University of Arizona study challenges the two prevailing theories on how the ancient civilization began, suggesting its origins are more complex than previously thought. Anthropologists typically fall into one of two competing camps with regard to the origins of Maya civilization. The first camp believes that it developed almost entirely on its own in the jungles of what is now Guatemala and southern Mexico. The second believes that the Maya civilization developed as the result of direct influences from the older Olmec civilization and its center of La Venta. It is likely, however, that neither of those theories tells the full story, according to a team of archaeologists archaeologists led by Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan: “We really focused on the beginning of this civilization and how this remarkable civilization developed.”

• Many very old skeletons found in Sumatra

Truman Simanjuntak
Professor Truman Simanjuntak holds an exact replica of an ancient stone hand ax excavated from East Java/University of Wollongong
NBC news reported that researchers in Indonesia have discovered the 3,000-year-old remains of 66 people in a cave in Sumatra.

Truman Simanjuntak of Jakarta’s National Research and Development Center for Archaeology said that he and his colleagues have never before found that many remains in a single cave.

The cave is known as Harimaru or Tiger Cave, and also contains chicken, dog and pig remains. Thousands of years ago, the Tiger Cave and other limestone caverns nearby were occupied by Indonesia’s first farmers. They used the caves to bury their dead, explaining the 3,000-year-old cemetery unearthed by Simanjuntak’s team. The ancient farmers also manufactured tools in the caves and produced rock art.

• Kudos

Every three years, the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography bestows the Anders Retzius gold medal on a scholar they believe has made a significant scientific contribution to anthropology. This year’s awardee is cultural anthropologist, Paul Stoller, who received the medal from His Majesty King Carl Gustav of Sweden.

Festivities included a symposium on “anthropology and well-being” the theme he chose, inspired by Yaya’s Story: The Quest for Well Being in the World, his latest book. Stoller, professor of anthropology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, has conducted extensive field research on religion and magic in Niger and Mali as well as among African immigrants in New York City. An expert and leading thinker in the fields of economic, reflexive and visual anthropology and anthropology of the senses, he is the author of eleven books spanning from ethnographies and biographies to memoirs and novels. He is also a prolific blogger for The Huffongton Post. During his thirty years in anthropology, Stoller has experimented with writing, believing there is no single way to write about the human experience.

• In memoriam

Hugo Nutini, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, died at the age of 84 years. Nutini was hired at Pitt in 1963, at a time when universities across the country were expanding their social studies programs, splitting anthropology into a discipline apart from sociology. He was one of the original members of Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies, which was created the next year.

He studied the Mexican aristocracy, in an era when anthropologists did not study the bourgeoisie. He wrote about Mexican folk sorcery and the story of tlahuelpuchi, a vampire-witch that feasted on infants. He studied the importance of “fictive kinship” — the sacramental, ritualistic relationships between nonkin (think godmothers and godfathers, in Catholicism). When he died, he was writing about rural Mexico’s drift away from the Catholic church and toward Protestantism. In all, he published hundreds of papers and more than a dozen books. “He was an icon,” said Kathleen Musante DeWalt, director of Pitt’s Center for Latin American Studies.

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