anthro in the news 8/31/15

  • Debating the U.S.-Iran deal

The MinnPost (Minneapolis, U.S.) carried an article describing a debate among four scholars about the Iran nuclear deal that was held at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School. Anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota, who travels to Iran frequently, argued that Iran never was seeking nuclear weapons; thus all of the concessions the United States and its negotiating partners have made have only induced Iran to give up something that it wasn’t doing anyway. Beeman favors ratification of the agreement, saying that many who oppose the agreement are motivated by a desire to humiliate Iran and embarrass President Obama. Those who believe it is possible to get back to negotiations to strengthen the deal are engaging in “magical thinking” because the other world powers that had imposed sanctions on Iran have already decided to approve the deal and have moved onto opening trade relations with Iran.

  • Displaced from New Orleans

The Huffington Post carried an article describing the findings of a new report, based on five years of research, on the experiences low-income of black women who were displaced from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The study was led by cultural anthropologist Jane Henrici of the George Washington University and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

  • Pool parties in Damascus

The Wall Street Journal reported on the Syrian government’s attempts to promote life as normal even though the country is in a state of war and the president continues to lose control. For example, the government hosted a conference in May to mark World Migratory Bird Day, even though half the country’s human population have been forced from their homes. Weekend pool parties in Damascus go on as usual despite a water crisis in much of the country. The article quotes Amr al-Azm, an archaeologist and professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio: “We’re hearing of these over-the-top parties. It is almost manic in the sense of they’re going over the top to pretend that everything is fine…You know how on the Titanic, as it is sinking, you have the band playing the last few songs? It is sort of like that.”

  • “Digital India” critiqued by U.S. academics

As reported in the Economic Times (India) several U.S. academics, including cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai and subaltern studies scholar Partha Chatterjee, are raising questions about “Digital India” in advance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. and his stop in Silicon Valley to promote the strategy.

  • Bring cultural anthropology into high schools

The Huffington Post published an opinion piece by Laura P. Appell-Warren in which she argues for adding cultural anthropology to the curriculum of U.S. secondary schools. She notes the distinctive features of cultural anthropology and the need for students to learn about cultural diversity in our increasingly globalized world. Appell-Warren, the director of Global Citizenship at St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts, has taught cultural anthropology in secondary schools since 1993. [Blogger’s note: I Facebooked about this article on anthropologyworks, noting that it makes sense to me to start cultural anthropology learning even earlier, as soon as math is introduced. Upon reflection, that raises the question of when that is, since learning to count starts way before even pre-school. STEM gets lots of funding in the U.S. Not so much “people studies.” The next item is closely related to the need for cultural anthropology early on to prevent “the silo effect”].

  • Tech silos are cultural constructions: They can be taken down

The Australian Financial Review Magazine published an excerpt from Gillian Tett’s new book, The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, in which the journalist and Ph.D. cultural anthropologist argues that the tech industry needs cultural anthropology to bust silos. She writes:  “For many years, as I worked as a financial journalist, I was wary about revealing my peculiar past. Knowing about the wedding customs of the Tajiks does not seem an obvious training for writing about banks…But these days I have come to realise that anthropology can be extremely useful. After all, we learnt during the Great Financial Crisis that finance and economics are not just about numbers. How we organise institutions, define social networks, and classify the world has a crucial impact on how the government, business, and economy function (or sometimes do not function, as in 2008). Studying these cultural aspects is thus important. And the lens of anthropology is also useful if you want to make sense of silos. After all, silos are cultural phenomena, which arise out of the systems we use to classify and organise the world; and the best way to fight tribalism and tunnel vision is to notice that silos exist; and then try to imagine alternatives.”

  • The marketing genius of Hello Kitty

CNN (Philippines) reported on the extensive business empire of the Hello Kitty brand. It quotes Christine Yano, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii:  “You can find Hello Kitty on so many different kinds of products appealing to a whole range of customers — she can appeal to the five-year-old, but she’s also going to appeal to the 15-year-old, and also maybe the 50-year-old…By licensing agreements … [and] dealing with different kinds of niche markets — that’s the marketing genius.”

  • Peace and reconciliation for Nagas not assured

E-Pao News (Manipur, India) carried an article about a meeting of the United People’s Front (UPF) to celebrate its 17th foundation day with a panel discussion on the “NSCN (IM)-Government of India Framework Agreement” at Manipur. Professor W. Nabakumar Singh of the Anthropology Department, Manipur University, moderated the panel discussion.

  • “A certain kind of mediocrity is coming through”: Interview with Veena Das

The Daily News & Analysis (India) published an interview with cultural anthropologist Veena Das of the Johns Hopkins University, while she was in Delhi for a book launch event for Wording the World: Veena Das and the Scenes of Inheritance. The book is a collection of essays by some of her students showing how they have critically taken her teaching forward. In the interview, she comments on her background in Sanskrit studies, the new book launched in her honor, the state of the university system in India and the declining quality of higher education in the U.S. where the number of administrators is growing along with the proportion of ad hoc teachers.

  • Darwin didn’t coin “the survival of the fittest:” Interview with Felix Padel

The Tribune (India) published an interview with Felix Padel, a cultural anthropologist who is also Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson. Questions address development in India, the role of evolutionary theory, and Padel’s attraction to Indian classical music.

  • Physicists more playful than biologists

An article in the Vancouver Sun described findings that while physics is often considered the “hardest” science of all, it might also be more “playful” and “poetic” than biology, according to cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics. Graeber’s comments about the differences between physicists and biologists echo opinion surveys that have shown that biologists are, on average, somewhat more inclined to be atheists than physicists and others in the physical sciences. In contrast, physicists are more likely than biologists to believe in some form of transcendent reality, which some might call God. [Blogger’s note: not sure what the connection is between religious beliefs and being playful or poetic…but food for thought which is definitely one thing Graeber is good for.]

  • Low incomes, poor health of Hispanics in Idaho

According to an article in the Idaho State Journal, poor health among Idaho’s Hispanic population is related to low income and lack of English skills. Says Liz Cartwright, a professor of medical anthropology at Idaho State University: “You have this hidden population, people in their 40s or 50s who crossed the border and didn’t learn English and now rely on their kids.” In Aberdeen, the Health West clinic recently hired a bilingual counselor who comes in once a week. They also have a staff there to help people sign up for insurance through the Affordable Health Care Act or other public programs. However, the language barrier doesn’t just affect older immigrants since a lot of young kids who just came from Mexico don’t speak English. [Blogger’s note: the comments on this article are informative as well].

  • Aztec skull rack

The Japan Times and other media reported on the discovery of a trophy rack of sacrificed human skulls at Mexico City’s Templo Mayor Aztec site. The Aztecs displayed the severed heads of sacrifice victims on wooden poles pushed through the sides of the skull, and the poles were suspended horizontally on vertical posts. Eduardo Matos, an archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, suggested the skull rack in Mexico City “was a show of might” by the Aztecs. Friends and even enemies were invited into the city, precisely to be cowed by the grisly display of heads in various stages of decomposition. Archaeologist Raul Barrera said that “there are 35 skulls that we can see, but there are many more” in underlying layers. “As we continue to dig, the number is going to rise a lot.” University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, wrote that “I do not personally know of other instances of literal skulls becoming architectural material to be mortared together to make a structure.”

  • In memorium

Wilton S. Dillon, a cultural anthropologist who spent decades leading the Smithsonian Institution’s interdisciplinary conference series, has died at the age of 92 years. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. Dillon was research director and executive secretary of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, a New York-based philanthropic organization. He moved to Washington in 1963 to take over the African affairs section at the National Academy of Sciences. Six years later, he joined the Smithsonian as director of seminars. He worked closely with S. Dillon Ripley, the longtime secretary of the Smithsonian who helped transform the institution from its reputation as the stuffy and somber “nation’s attic” into a far more lively and ambitious museum and research complex. Dillon graduated in 1951 from the University of California at Berkeley and a decade later received a doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University, where one of his teachers was Margaret Mead. Between degrees, he was an anthropology instructor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., and a staff anthropologist for the Japan Society of New York.

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