Anthro in the news 01/19/15

  • Afghan-American youth who turn to extremism

Morwari Zafar writes in Time magazine about why some Afghan-American youth may turn to radicalism. Zafar is conducting fieldwork among Afghan-Americans for her dissertation in social anthropology at the University of Oxford. She writes: “The current policy climate risks insularity by focusing on external motivators — such as unemployment, disenfranchisement and susceptibility to recruitment via social media. Such an approach raises valid points, but it is conducive only to identifying a limited range of resolutions.” [Blogger’s note:  Morwari Zafar is a visiting scholar with the Culture in Global Affairs Program, within the Elliott School’s Institute for Global and International Studies, at GW].

  • Korean adoptees seeking Korean roots

The New York Times Magazine carried an article describing how many Korean adoptees, from locations around the world, are returning to the Republic of Korea. The article mentions the work of Eleana Kim, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. Kim notes that many adoptees fear that searching for their Korean roots is seen as a betrayal of their  adoptive parents and they dread “coming out” to their adoptive parents, whether in the form of birth-family searches, returning to birth countries, or criticizing the adoption system.

  • Spotlight on Breastfeeding

On NPR, biological anthropologist and blogger, Barbara King of William and Mary, interviews cultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler of the University of Delaware on cross-cultural breastfeeding practices. Dettwyler discusses cross-cultural patterns of which mothers decide to breast feed and for how long as well as social stigma toward women who may breast feed for “too long” in some people’s opinion.

  • Book in the news: Social inequality in South Africa

Seattle radio KUOW interviewed a co-author of a new book on South Africa showing that the country is less equal today than during apartheid. After Freedom: The Rise of the Post-Apartheid Generation in Democratic South Africa is an ethnographic account of seven young South Africans whose lives illustrate the realities of South Africa today. It is written by cultural anthropologist Katherine S Newman, provost at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Ariane De Lannoy, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Capetown. The radio interview ranges from the research methods, some of the people in the book, and parallels between poverty in South Africa and in the United States.

  • Mainland Chinese tourists gaining a bad reputation: could be culture shock?

The Star (Malaysia) reported on how stories of obnoxious international tourists increasingly involve tourists from China. Examples of pushy, impolite, unruly and obnoxious Chinese travelers are not hard to find. In December 2014, a mainland Chinese passenger caused a Nanjing-bound Thai AirAsia flight from Bangkok to return to the airport after she hurled a cup of hot instant noodles at a flight attendant. According to CNN, Hong Kong Airlines trains its cabin crew in kung fu to deal with drunken passengers to and from mainland China. The China National Tourism Administration issued a Guide to Civilised Tourism, a 64-page illustrated etiquette manual, in late 2013. The article quotes Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, lecturer in the department of anthropology and sociology at the Universiti Malaya, who suggests that culture shock may be a contributing factor to such behavior:

“It’s only recently that China began climbing up the global economic ladder, and a lot of its people who have not travelled much before are now exploring the world for the first time, especially the older generation. It is not uncommon for them to experience culture shock.”

  • Fashion trends in north Indian nose rings

The Times of India carried an article on fashions trends in women’s nose rings, or “naths”, in northern India. New designs, new metals, different stones are all trending, depending on the area. The article quotes anthropology researcher and ancient art collector Lokesh Ohri:

“One can see women wearing elaborate bejeweled naths in traditional seventeenth century paintings etched on the walls of Guru Ram Rai Darbar Sahib in Dehradun…These paintings were made by Mughal artisans. In fact, real stones such as ruby, emerald etc were engraved in the rings of the naths depicted in these paintings.”

  • Take that degree and….

…become an artist and restaurant manager. Felicia Gilman, who has a B.A. in anthropology from UC Santa Cruz, has been an artist her whole life but only recently discovered her talent at paper-cutting art. Gilman describes her art as similar to collage but three-dimensional. The art form takes a great amount of precision and patience. In her newly built studio, her drafting table is covered in used X-Acto knife blades and the floor with shreds of paper. She is also a manager at Ristorante Avant.

…work for the World Health Organization in addressing Ebola in West Africa. Khadija Bah-Wakefield, a Sierra Leone-born social anthropologist, joined the WHO to help the Geneva-based agency better understand cultural practices that contribute to or hinder Ebola’s spread including initiations of girls that involve genital cutting. Bah-Wakefied studied rural sociology at Cornell University and a master’s degree in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge where she wrote her thesis on the relationship between female initiation rituals and education in sub-Saharan Africa. Bah-Wakefield is working in northeastern Sierra Leone, engaging traditional leaders of secret societies to help spread messages about how to stop transmission of the virus.

  • Book in the news: On Indian World Heritage sites

The Hindu carried a review of a new book on UNESCO cultural heritage sites in India which includes chapters by anthropologists and archaeologists, Indian World Heritage Sites in Context, edited by Himanshu Prabha Ray and Manoj Kumar. The article mentions a chapter by Lynn Meskell, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University, who asks about who has rights to heritage and a chapter on the Vijayanagara Metropolitan Survey by Kathleen D. Morrison, professor of anthropology of the University of Chicago.

  • What really happened to the Rapa Nui of Easter Island?

Some researchers have argued that the Rapa Nui, as the islanders were known, died out after using up the natural resources on their 63-square-mile island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Others say the island’s population collapsed after Europeans brought disease and took many survivors as slaves. New research, described in The Huffington Post, suggests another possibility: that harsh environmental conditions on the island–from variations in rainfall to declining soil quality–caused a decline, but not a collapse, in the native population before the Europeans arrived in 1722.

In an email to The Huffington Post, Thegn Ladefoged, professor of anthropology at the University of Auckland and co-author of a paper describing the research, said:

“The results of our research were really quite surprising to me…In short, our research does not support the suggestion that societal collapse occurred prior to European contact due to physical erosion and productivity decline, but it does indicate that use of less optimal environmental regions changed prior to European contact…While we do not have direct population data, it is clear that people were reacting to regional environmental variation on the island before they were devastated by the introduction of European diseases and other historic processes.”

The paper was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Closing the gap: Neanderthals’ multi-purpose tool

The Daily Mail (U.K.) reported on the discovery of a site in central France of a 60,000-year-old multi-purpose bone tool which suggests Neanderthals understood how to use bones to make useful devices. “This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered,” said Luc Doyon of the University of Montreal. Experts have long thought that human ancestors before Homo sapiens lacked the cognitive ability to produce this type of artifact.

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