Anthro in the news 4/27/15

  • Prisoners who paint murals

The Huffington Post republished an article originally in French on HuffPo France about a project of artist David Mesguich in which he is working with prisoners to paint large murals in Marseilles’ Baumettes prison, one of the most notorious prisons in France. His goal was, “to show the prisoners…that beautiful and positive things can still come from inside them.” The article quotes Didier Fassin, cultural anthropologist and physician, and author of The Shadow of the World: An Anthropology of the Penal Condition, who says that the initiative is compelling but difficult to assess without commentary from the inmates: “It transforms the prison space, and brightens it, while emphasizing by contrast the ugly and oppressive character of the metal gates, the barbed wire, and the walls…This being the case, the question is more general, as is the case with cities. Making murals in a city does not change its reality.”

  • Muslim integration working in Brazil
The Islamic Centre Mosque, Brasilia.

According to an article in WorldCrunch, Brazil, which is the world’s largest Catholic country, has a growing Muslim population and, with some rare exceptions, is a model for integration of Islam into a mixed population. The article presents commentary by Francirosy Ferreira, an anthropology professor at Sao Paulo University. He notes that it is impossible to know the exact number of Muslims in Brazil because they are registered under the “other” category in the census: “But their estimated number is now about a million, of whom 30% to 50% are converts, depending on the region.” He attributes the renewed interest in Islam in Brazil to the airing of a soap opera that took place in Morocco. The series, called The Clone, created before the 9/11 terror attacks, included an admirable Muslim protagonist.

  • China seeks to ban strippers performing at funerals

The Washington Post carried an article on a new ban against strippers performing at funerals issued by China’s Ministry of Culture. The trend to hire strippers for funerals in China has been growing, and is apparently an import from Taiwan where, as National Geographic documented three years ago, inviting funeral strippers is decades-old. The article includes commentary on why people want strippers at a funeral from Marc L. Moskowitz, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina and producer of a documentary on Taiwan’s funeral strippers: “In Taiwan, all public events need to be ‘hot and noisy’ to be considered to be a success.” Moskowitz explained that “Usually the people involved are working-class folks, both in Taiwan as well as in China. In urban areas, there is a greater push to be part of a global culture.” Thus, he speculates, that the ban may be related to the Chinese government positioning itself in terms of global culture through “an awareness that people outside of Taiwan or China might find the practice strange or laughable.”

  • On being black in Japan

John Russell, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of Gifu in Japan, published an opinion piece in The Japan Times.  A “Japanese black half” himself, he comments on experiencing racism in Japan as a youth, the differences between racism in Japan and the United States, and the ongoing performance of blackface in Japan.

John Russell, a cultural anthropology professor at Gifu University in Japan, published an opinion piece in The Japan Times on the history of blackface performances and other forms of racial caricature in Japan. He points to the need for nuanced, transnational conversations about racism and racial mimicry that reject “historical Alzheimer’s” through which racially insensitive transgressions are forgotten, misremembered, and inevitably repeated.

  • Dutch forensic anthropologist rebuked for showing photos of Malaysian Airlines victims during a lecture

According to ABC News and several other mainstream media, George Maat, an anthropologist and pathologist who was part of the international team working to identify people killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down over Ukraine, has been suspended from the team for discussing the case and showing photos of victims in a lecture to students. In addition, the head of the Dutch police forensics unit that is leading the international identification team criticized Maat for making comments that were “speculative, untrue and partly outside his area of expertise.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a political advisor and aspiring politician in Scotland. Chris Law is running for a seat in The House of Commons. He is a Dundee-based financial adviser who trained in his youth as a chef, then studied anthropology, and started a business running vintage motorcycle expeditions to the Himalayas. Law is considered a near certain winner on May 7.

  • Liquid mercury in Mexican pyramid may have royal significance

The Guardian carried an article about the discovery liquid mercury at the end of a tunnel beneath a Mexican pyramid, a finding that could suggest the existence of a king’s tomb or a ritual chamber. Mexican researcher Sergio Gómez announced his discovery of “large quantities” of liquid mercury in a chamber below the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, the third largest pyramid of Teotihuacan, the ruined city in central Mexico. The mercury may have symbolized an underworld river or lake, Gómez postulated. Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, said that archaeologists have found mercury at three other sites, two Maya and one Olmec, in Central America.

  • Paleo-diet included mushrooms

The Daily Mail reported on findings by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, that the teeth of a Paleolithic woman who lived in Spain 18,000 years ago contain the remains of plant pollen, animals, and fungi. Robert Power, who led the research, said: ‘These types of microremains show that the individuals at El Mirón consumed a variety of plants from different environments…including possibly bolete mushrooms…This finding at El Mirón Cave could be the earliest indication of human mushroom use or consumption, which until this point has been unidentified in the Palaeolithic.”

  • Skin color studies

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette carried an article highlighting the contributions of biological anthropologist Nina Jablonksi, Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University. Her wide ranging research on skin color and human health has revealed insights about the relationship between skin color and Vitamin D. Jablonski has also studied and written about racial categories and racism as well as skin color adaptations of immigrants.

  • A sexist view of women as “superior”

For Public Radio East, Barbara J. King interviewed Mel Konner about his recent book, The End of Male Supremacy. King is Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at William & Mary University. Konner is Samuel Chandler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology and of Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology at Emory University. King’s jaw dropped when she read a synopsis of the book by Konner in the Chronicle Review. She notes that Konner’s perspective conflicts with three central conclusions that she teaches to her anthropology students:

“Women and men are more alike in their behavior than they are different; sex differences that do exist arise in large part from variation in how children are raised and other experiences of living and working, attesting to the magnificent plasticity of the human brain; and no group of people, regardless of gender identification (I’m no fan of an oversimplified male vs. female binary) is biologically superior to any other.”  King decided to invite Konner to an interview, which is presented on Public Radio East. Read/listen for yourself.

In conclusion, King gets the last word: “I’m going to take a stab at the question posed in the headline to this post. Is it sexist to say that women are superior to men? Yes, in a way that hurts men and women.”

  • Kudos

David Kertzer won a Pulitzer Prize for his biography detailing how Benito Mussolini’s secret relationship with Pope Pius XI influenced the Italian dictator’s persecution of his country’s Jews. Kertzer, professor of anthropology and Italian studies and Paul Dupee University Professor of Social Science at Brown University, was recognized in the biography-autobiography category for The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe.

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