anthro in the news 5/25/15

  • The non-science (and more) of virginity testing of women

Sherria Ayuandini, a doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, published an op-ed in The Independent (U.K.) in which she argues against testing women’s virginity on scientific grounds:  “Any type of virginity test that relies on the observation of the hymen or of the tightness of the vagina is inconclusive, at best, or completely invalid.”  Beyond the science, she states: “No-one, neither a woman nor a man, should ever be compelled to endure such questioning, regardless of the reliability of the exam.” She concludes with this question:  “…it is worth pondering that as the testing tool at hand is highly unreliable, why would anyone even dare to entertain the imposition of such fallibility?” [Blogger’s note: Answer to the question – because they are patriarchists].

  • Farmers protesting in Burma
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay, Burma/Myanmar

Elliott Prasse-Freeman, doctoral candidate in anthropology at Yale University, published an article in Foreign Policy on how grassroots farmers are protesting elite control of “development” and land takeovers. Farmers have gone to court to protect their homes and land are increasingly taking to the streets to protest the new “development” policies and the draft land acquisition policy. According to Prasse-Freeman, a combination of protests and individual actions has, in some cases, succeeded in winning farmers meaningful concessions.

He cautions however that, “The successes of these movements and village-based politics should not be overstated. In Burma’s central Magwe region, most people still live under the thumb of the state. In outlying regions, ethnic minorities struggle for the freedom to govern themselves and for equal representation in national affairs. Plow protesters often end up in jail, the money they spent plowing their fields squandered. (Ko Taw estimates that only 5 percent of plow protests succeed in getting land returned.)”

  • Try this: NATO should first “assess”

Morwari Zafar published an article in Foreign Affairs in which she addresses plans for strengthening NATO’s new non-combat “train, advise, assist” mission in Afghanistan. She emphasizes the need for a first, key step: “assess.” Zafar is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Oxford and a visiting scholar in the Institute for Global and International Affairs in the Elliott School at the George Washington University.

  • Unions for graduate students: Why not ask us?

Natasha Raheja, doctoral candidate in anthropology at New York University, co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times on: Why Did the New York Times Ask Everybody but Grad Students about Grad Student Unions? She and her co-authors point out that instead of talking with graduate students and teaching assistants, “…the Times chose to interview university administrators and faculty, some of whom dismiss student-worker unionization as ‘naïve’ and disruptive of ‘delicate balances.’ While we welcome the Times’ late entrance into the debate over graduate student unionization, in order for such a debate to take place in earnest, student-worker perspectives must be included.”  Raheja is a teaching assistant in NYU’s Department of Anthropology, has served on the GSOC-UAW Bargaining Committee, and is a member of the social justice caucus Academic Workers for a Democratic Union.

  • Posh primates of Park Avenue

The New York Times published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Wednesday Martin in which she draws on her new book, Primates of Park Avenue: A Memoir. After moving to Manhattan, she decided to study women in her upscale neighborhood who she terms the Glam SAHMs, for glamorous stay-at-home-moms: “My culture shock was immediate and comprehensive. In a country where women now outpace men in college completion, continue to increase their participation in the labor force and make gains toward equal pay, it was a shock to discover that the most elite stratum of all is a glittering, moneyed backwater.”

  • U.S. parenting programs sideline fathers

An op-ed posted on highlights recent research by medical anthropologist Catherine Panter-Brick on how parenting programs in the U.S. sideline fathers. Panter-Brick, professor of anthropology, health, and global affairs at Yale University, found seven major barriers in parenting programs which fail to “maximize benefits to children from their fathers” in her research, Parenting programs sideline fathers with long-term costs for children. Barriers include cultural, institutional, professional, operational, content, resource, and policy biases.

  • They say it’s your birthday…

According to an article in the Irish Times, some parents in Ireland are devising ways to escape the tyranny and expense of birthday parties for their school-age children. Some parents at Holly Park, a national school for boys in south Dublin, have developed a simple solution. Every month, they send out an email with a list of the boys who have birthdays, and the parents of those children get together to hold one big party instead of separate parties for each child. This plan also eliminates the pressure of buying birthday presents for children all year round. The article acknowledges the research of Alison Clarke, a lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Vienna, who wrote in 2007 that children’s birthday parties form an integral part of the social lives of parents, particularly mothers, who tend to do most of the gift shopping.

  • Anthropology wanted: For an engaged, global curriculum

The Register Guard (Oregon) published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Lamia Karim in which she argues that cultural anthropology’s perspectives are essential for careers in a globalized world. She notes that the new century is marked by human insecurity including wars, migration, disasters, poverty and environmental degradation on a monumental scale and asks: “Are the students we are sending out into the world prepared to take on these challenges as policy makers and ethical citizens?” She argues for a curriculum that is global in scope and with a primary focus on structural racism and poverty:  “Today’s graduates enter a workplace in which their co-workers will come from different nationalities, ethnicities and religions…In this highly competitive job market, those with linguistic skills and cultural knowledge will get ahead.” Karim is an associate professor at the University of Oregon where she is associate head of the Department of Anthropology.

  • How do you say “butterfly”?

The word “butterfly” in languages around the world appears to present an unusual challenge to linguists, according to an article in the New York Times. The article quotes linguistic anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota who has written on the subject.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a writer, explorer, and Zumba instructor. Colombian-born Adriana Páramo left her native country 23 years ago. Since then, her geographical explorations have shaped how she sees the world and describes it in her books, My Mother’s Funeral and Looking for Esperanza. Her third book in progress, You’re not my Sister, maps the author’s experiences in Kuwait. After working as a geophysicist for a multinational oil company for 10 ten years, she pursued a Ph.D. in anthropology. She lives in Qatar, where she works as a Zumba instructor at numerous gyms and spas. She also writes a blog.

…become a researcher, artist, educator, and Fulbright Scholar. Mimi Onuoha received a B.A. in anthropology from Princeton University and an M.A. from New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Her work focuses on exploring the overlap of online and offline identities and investigating how technology and culture influence and respond to each other. For her Fulbright-National Geographic Fellowship, she created visual maps of the mobile/computer browsing history and personal geolocation data taken from a demographically diverse group of Londoners. Using this data, she explores whether and how the structural realities of urban offline spaces are replicated online. She blogs for National Geographic.

  • Another king under a car park?

According to the Guardian, researchers suggest that the remains of Henry I, William the Conqueror’s youngest son, may lie under a car park in Reading, England. After the well-publicised exhumation in 2012 of Richard III from beneath a parking lot in Leicester, attention has now shifted to the possibility that Henry I could be lying in similar circumstances in Reading. The article draws on comments from Turi King, lecturer in genetics and archaeology at the University of Leicester, who carried out the DNA testing on Richard III. She thinks that the Henry I team will face a tougher challenge verifying his remains, mainly because they will have to trace his ancestry back a further 350 years before Richard III, to 1135 rather than 1485: “We were quite lucky with Richard because of the genealogical evidence, but the further back you go the less reliable it becomes.”

  • Extractive industry: Ancient dentistry in Rome

Kristina Kilgrove, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of West Florida, published an article in Forbes about recent findings on dentistry in ancient Rome. Discovered in 1997 in a shop floor drain in the Roman Forum, were 86 loose teeth, intact but all with cavities. Nearly three decades later, bioarchaeologist Marshall Becker thinks the teeth were extracted by a highly skilled Roman dentist in the 1st century C.E. In his article in the International Journal of Anthropology, Becker writes that: “The person or persons who removed these teeth must have been quite skilled in the procedure.” The procedure would have involved firmly grasping and wiggling the teeth loose in their sockets before extraction as well as “cutting the gum and the alveolar areas of the jaw,” as described by Celsus in his medical treatise De Medicina.

  • Pompeii: Plaster casts depict the frailty of life

The Daily Mail carried an article with photos and a video about archaeological preservation at Pompeii and the ongoing project of repairing and making new plaster casts of victims.  Experts at the Pompeii Archaeological Site are readying the poignant remains for a forthcoming exhibition called Pompeii and Europe. The people’s poses reveal how they died, some trapped in buildings and others sheltering with family members. One image shows Stefano Vanacore, director of the laboratory, carrying the remains of a child who was imprisoned in ash when the volcano erupted on August 24, 79 C.E.

  • B.T.E. (Before the Twitter Era): Communicating with cave art

CBC News (Canada) carried an article, with video, on the research of Genevieve von Petzinger, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Victoria who has been studying prehistoric signs in European caves. She sees them as “the first glimmers of graphic communication” among humans and “an incredibly pivotal moment in human history when we went from spoken language to making these durable marks, which could then be communicated to people who were outside of the physical realm of speech distance.” This milestone in human evolution, in her view, is an ancient precursor to Twitter. Von Petzinger has studied published inventories of over 300 archaeological sites and conducted her own research in 52 French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian caves. She classified the signs in categories and entered them into a database to track trends over space and time.

  • Push back: The oldest human-made stone tools…so far

The dates for the oldest human-made stone tools keep getting pushed back. Time reported on findings by researchers at Stony Brook University of stone tools in Kenya in 2011, revealed in a new paper. The discovery in West Turkana was first chronicled in the journal Nature by co-authors Jason Lewis and Sonia Harmand. The tools are about 3.3 million years old, or 700,000 years older than tools researchers had previously discovered. And, about a half million years before the known emergence of “modern humans.” Alison Brooks, an anthropology professor at the George Washington University who examined some of the tools, told the Associated Press, “It really absolutely moves the beginnings of human technology back into a much more distant past, and a much different kind of ancestor than we’ve been thinking of.”


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