Anthro in the news 9/15/14

Arianna Whiteside leads demonstrators as they confront a wall of police during a protest march to the Ferguson Police Department . Source: UPI/David Broome.
  • In Alabama: Learning from Ferguson (Alabama) noted an upcoming town hall event sponsored by the University of Alabama at Birmingham which will bring together representatives from the Birmingham Police Department,   professors from the UAB, and the president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to discuss police and minority relations, examine the police killing of an unarmed civilian in Ferguson, Missouri, and to develop solutions. The town hall, called “Police and Minority Relations in Birmingham,” is sponsored by the UAB Department of Social Work, along with the university’s African-American Studies Program, the Anthropology Department, and the College of Arts and Sciences. Anthropology department chair, professor Douglas P. Fry, is one of the speakers.

  • Gluttony and gambling by design

Cultural anthropologist Natasha Schüll bridged the gap between human interaction and machine workings in her research on gambling. Her book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, published in 2012, evolved from her undergraduate thesis. In her book, she examines the connection between compulsive gamblers and the design of the slot machines they play.  Schüll also directed the documentary, BUFFET: All You Can Eat Las Vegas, showcasing the “designed gluttony” of the Vegas buffet scene. The film has screened in film festivals and on PBS. Her current research focuses on the design and use of self-tracking devices — such as when individuals use digital software to record and graphically visualize personal data — and examines what these behaviors say about society’s changing cultural and political values.

  • Hello Kitty is not a cat

A leading expert on Hello Kitty, cultural anthropologist Christine Yano of the University of Hawaii, says that the little Japanese icon is not a cat. During late August, there was a burst of media coverage, including from CNN, about Yano’s view. This week The New York Times picked up on it.  Apparently, Hello Kitty is British and her real name is Kitty White. Since this breaking news, Kitty’s website page has been updated to say that:  “She bears the appearance of a white Japanese bobtail cat with a red bow although she is actually a little girl.” Yano is the author of Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific.

  • Researching bike culture while biking reported on Lee McCorkle, an anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who is biking across the U.S. for the next year to learn about biking and the people who love it. Biking with a group of some 300 people, he has met bikers from Japan to Australia. He says what makes biking culture unique is that it is always on the move: “It’s different because it moves with time and space. There’s interaction between people, and together it’s interesting to see what comes out of it.” This week, McCorkle and his custom bike have been exploring the back roads and small towns along the BikeMaine route: “We’re coming through these towns with the 300 plus riders and support staff and sharing this experience with the people in these towns.” [with video].

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…be the books editor for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Nina Ayoub compiles the weekly listing of new scholarly books, contributes to the Nota Bene column in The Chronicle Review, and oversees PageView, The Chron’s publishing-industry blog. She joined The Chronicle in 1982 as a classified-advertising assistant. Ayoub holds a bachelor of arts in anthropology.

…bike across America to raise awareness of domestic and sexual abuse in the U.S. Shirley Christie, who was sexually abused, earned a B.A. degree in anthropology at Pasadena City College, California, many years ago and now hopes to attain a Ph.D. in anthropology.

  • Creative destruction: Oil boom and archaeology boom in the Dakotas

Keloland TV reported on how the North Dakota oil boom created thousands of new jobs ranging from rig workers to road builders to truckers and archaeologists.  Now the side benefits of oil are spilling over onto South Dakota college campuses, including Augustana College: “I think it’s great, it’s an opportunity that we’ll have when we leave here,” Augustana senior Jason Bassett said. Archeologists are in high demand to survey oil fields before the drilling can begin. “It kicks into place part of the environmental laws that require archaeology to be done and so I think that there’s been maybe a 4 or 5-fold increase in the number of archeologists up in North Dakota in just the last several months,” said Augustana Principal Archeologist Adrien Hannus.

Augustana anthropology and archaeology students are excited by their job prospects, plus in the rising prominence of their field of study. According to Bassett, “Just in talking to people on the street, everybody seems to know what archaeology is these days, a couple of years ago, people didn’t know. I get asked if I was going to build buildings because they thought architecture, because that’s all they know.”

  • A world ravaged: What we’ve done

The Washington Post carried a review by Barbara King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, of The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, by Diane Ackerman. King praises the book as “fascinating.”

King writes, “The Human Age, the current geological epoch that scientists formally term the Anthropocene, was named in recognition of our species’s ‘unparalleled dominion over the whole planet.’ Hand in hand with our astonishing scientific and technological progress since the Industrial Revolution and the first significant fossil-fuel production goes the havoc our species has caused. ‘The world is being ravaged by record heat, drought, and floods,’ as Ackerman puts it. Wildlife demographics have changed as a direct result of our world-tampering: Some scientists say that, by 2100, half the world’s plants and animals will be extinct. Meanwhile, birds’ biological clocks tick faster in cities than in the country, and coyotes are likely to roam those cities, seeking food as we encroach more and more on their natural habitat and experiencing newly close encounters with us.”

  • A lesson for the NFL from 5-year-olds?

Bloomburg News carried an article about problems the National Football League is facing (or not facing) including violent behavior of players off the field, the high rate of head trauma and brain injuries of players, and the naming of the Washington, DC, team, all of which are related to the larger culture of U.S. football, money, and decision-making at the top. The article makes a quick leap to discussing the importance of peer oversight:

“…the league apparently needed to do a more thorough job watching everyone who is watching it, and adjusting its behavior accordingly. Five-year-olds have better reputation management skills. Everything you ever needed to know about about responsibility, or sustainability, can be found in an October 2012 peer-reviewed evolutionary anthropology paper published in the journal PlosOne, titled “Five-Year Olds, but Not Chimpanzees, Attempt to Manage Their Reputations.” The study reports that in an experimental setting, five-year-olds “share more and steal less when they are being watched by a peer than when they are alone.” Chimpanzees behave the same no matter who’s around. People know they are being judged and, if they’re sane, adjust their behavior so that they are judged well. And just pretending to behave well doesn’t cut it. People hate cheaters, possibly more than anything else. The NFL would appear to need a better accounting of who the other kids are in the room, because a lot of them are upset. An NFL spokesman could not be reached by email or phone.” [Blogger’s note: I think there is a lot more going in a culture when peers, as well as supervisors, well know about bad behavior and don’t report on it for various reasons, personal and financial. Five-year olds, while they face many challenges depending on their social context, do not operate in such a money-dependent culture as that of the NFL. Further, it’s not just a question of “reputation management” – it’s about behavior management in game that’s all about knocking people around].

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