Anthro in the news 12/30/13


Calgary Herald. Scott Platt, Getty Images.

  • E-cigarettes: good or bad?

As of the end of 2013, e-cigarettes are hot. According to an article in The Calgary Herald, one sign of the burgeoning popularity of e-cigarettes is that Internet searches for the products have grown exponentially in recent years. A study by U.S. researchers showed a several hundred-fold increase between 2008 and 2010 in searches for the devices over other smoking alternatives such as nicotine patches.

Richard Hurt, who runs the nicotine dependence center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, suggests the expansion of the e-cigarette industry and market is harmful because it is turning back the clock on tobacco control.

Cultural anthropologist Kirsten Bell, in contrast, believes e-cigarettes deserve a chance. A professor at the University of British Columbia, Bell has researched the public health responses to the devices. She feels e-cigarettes aren’t being given a fair shot: “They were sort of being condemned without trial by the majority of people in mainstream tobacco control in public health…You have this sort of unquestioning extension of smoke-free legislation to cover e-cigarettes when of course an e-cigarette isn’t a cigarette. It’s not a combustible product.” Bell thinks a moralistic agenda is at play, equating nicotine use with smoking, even though the dangers of cigarettes relate to how they deliver nicotine, not the compound itself

Couple Snap a Selfie, Macedonia. Adam Jones, Ph.D. Wiki Commons.
  • The meaning in the selfie

The Philadelphia Inquirer carried an article on the selfie in which it referred to the research of archaeologist Dean Snow on Paleolithic handprints on cave walls. What’s the connection? The fact that women are more likely than men to post selfies today and that Snow’s analysis of the handprints indicates that the majority were made by women. The meaning: authenticate the event. [Blogger’s note: that still doesn’t explain the gender difference].

  • Faye Harrison and public engagement

In an article in The Huffington Post, Gina Ulysses of Wesleyan University describes the contributions of University of Florida anthropologist Faye V. Harrison to the ongoing conversations about the future of the university and the “value of a liberal education within a hostile market economy.” Ulysses conducted the interview with Harrison at the November meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Faye Harrison. University of Florida, 2010.

Harrison’s three-decade long career has been marked by dedication to publicly-engaged work about people who produce and apply both academic and nonacademic knowledge. Her research agenda goes beyond the ivory tower, into what she calls “peripheralized” and “minoritized” areas, engaging people who are typically left out of processes of knowledge-making.

What’s next for Harrison? For one thing, she is co-organizing, with cultural anthropologist Yasuko Takezawa of Kyoto University, a three-session panel entitled “Engaging Race and Racism in the New Millennium: Exploring Visibilities and Invisibilities for the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences” for the intercongress in Chiba, Japan, that will be held in May 2014.

  • Deciphering Christmas lunch

In The New Republic, undergraduate anthropology student at Oxford University, Alice Robb, drew on the work of symbolic anthropologist Mary Douglas in deciphering Christmas lunch. According to Douglas’ model put forth in her 1971 paper “Deciphering a Meal”, for this family meal you should put more effort into cooking the food and less into the drinks.

  • Young people leaving Facebook

According to The National Post, a study of how older teenagers use social media has found that Facebook is “not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried” and is being replaced by simpler social networks such as Twitter and Snapchat. Many young people see the site as “uncool” and keep their profiles live purely to stay in touch with older relatives, among whom it remains popular.

The article mentions the research of Daniel Miller, cultural anthropologist at University College London, wrote in an article on the subject for the academic news website The Conversation. He is quoted as saying: “Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. This year marked the start of what looks likely to be a sustained decline of what had been the most pervasive of all social networking sites.”

  • Family still matters in industrialized societies

Phys Org news published a review of a new book co-edited by cultural anthropologist Susan MacKinnon of the University of Virginia and Fenella Cannell of the London School of Economics. Their book Vital Relations: Modernity and the Persistent Life of Kinship challenges the claim that kinship has lost importance in modern, industrialized societies. The contributing authors re-evaluate 150 years of social science theory on modernity and describe cases around the world showing how kinship ties still play an influential role in business, religion, nationality, politics, and other areas.

  • Wade Davis joins UBC anthropology department

The Globe and Mail reported on a major new hire in the anthropology department at the University of British Columbia: Wade Davis. Davis will teach an undergraduate class open to majors and non-majors. He commented: “I want students to know why anthropology matters, why culture matters.” He has been hired as a full professor with tenure.

As part of his agreement, Wade’s teaching duties will be for half of each academic year to allow time for research and outreach. At UBC, he is expected to advance awareness of global cultures and ecosystems at risk, a mandate that, according to the media source: “will inevitably thrust him into debates over proposed resource projects,” including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project as well as other pipelines and mines in British Columbia and the rest of Canada. [Blogger’s note: in addition to consulting Wade’s publications, you can learn about his thinking from a recent TEDx talk and several other online sources.]

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a cheerleader for the Washington Wizards. Joanna [last name not revealed in the article] has an anthropology degree from Harvard University and is a corporate trainer as well as an NBA cheerleader.

  • Nominated for Current Archaeology Award

According to the Leicester Mercury, the archaeologist who led the team which discovered Richard III beneath a city car park has been nominated for Archaeologist of the Year by Current Archaeology. Richard Buckley, of the University of Leicester’s archaeological services, directed the project which located, unearthed and identified the 500-year-old royal remains. Since uncovering the bones last August, he has received a number of awards for the find – for both himself and the university – including the coveted Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

  • Walking the Lévy walk

The Washington Post and several other media sources reported on a new study of movement patterns of 44 members of the Hadza, a group of hunter-gatherers in northern Tanzania. Results show that they follow a mathematical pattern of movement found repeatedly in nature called a Lévy walk. In a Lévy walk, most of the steps are within a small area, but longer routes are taken on occasion in order to optimize foraging success.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used GPS-tracking devices strapped to the belts or arms of the research participants.

“The Lévy-like pattern has been found in insects, marine predators like sharks and tuna, terrestrial mammals — really a wide swath of organisms,” said study author and University of Arizona biological anthropologist David Raichlen. Evidence of the Lévy walk has also been found in the way people wander through university campuses, urban environments, and Disney World.


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