anthro in the news 11/9/2015


Enset is a survivor when other plants die. credit: DW/J. Brewer

A traditional African food crop is money in the bank

An article in Deutsche Welle described the importance of enset, a staple crop in parts of Ethiopia, in the past and future, given the effects of climate change in the region.  Endemic to Ethiopia, the plant has been cultivated there for more than 7,000 years. Often called the “false banana” because of its similarity to the banana tree, it can withstand droughts as well as heavy rains. The article quotes Gebre Ynitso, associate professor in the department of social anthropology at Addis Ababa University: “[As a child] I would play hide-and-go seek in the dense enset plantation.” He helped his parents transplant the enset and made toys out of its roots. He and his fellow villagers tended the towering plant and harvested its roots and leaves for food and collected its fibers to weave into hats, sacks, and mattresses. “No part of the plant went to waste…One of the unique qualities of the enset is that it will always be around as a backup plan,” he said. “It’s like money in the bank.”


Cultural context of mental illness

The New York Times published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor at Stanford University. She writes about how cultural context affects definitions of mental illness in Chicago, the U.S., and Chennai, India. From her perspective as an American, she notes: “If psychotic homelessness were an easy problem to solve, we would have already done so. But we aren’t going to do so until we recognize that the streets in different places have their own cultures. To reach the people who need our help we need to understand what it means to be crazy in their world.” Luhrmann highlights the work of a local NGO in Chennai, called The Banyan, which is help homeless women and their families.


Addressing historical trauma among American Indians in Montana

KPAX News (Montana) reported on a program in Montana that seeks to address and alleviate mental health problems among its American Indian population which is one of the largest in the U.S. The article describes an ongoing program called Native Generational Change and highlights the role of Dustin Monroe, CEO and founder of Native Generational Change. He is Blackfeet and Assiniboine and a University of Montana student working toward his Ph.D. in medical anthropology. According to KPAX, “When he was a child, a white teacher told him to stop talking like an Indian, and that may have silenced him for a while, but no longer. He’s founded a nonprofit group called Native Generational Change in an effort to find and foster new Native American leaders. He believes that part of that is teaching about all of Native American history.”


“Little Africa” in China

CCTV (China) carried a piece on the largest African community in China which is in Guangzhou. It describes this new trading colony ias an example of “low-end globalization.” It quotes Gordon Mathews, anthropology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong: “They’re [African immigrants] not here to learn Chinese culture. They’re here to make money….”  The number of Africans in Guangzhou is difficult to estimate as the group is constantly in motion. Figures range as high as 20,000 for those who stay for six months or more at a time, while the number of African visitors is over 200,000 per year.


Crashes as a taboo topic

The Guardian carried an article by David Graeber, professor of cultural anthropology at the London School of Economics. He writes that: “British public life has always been riddled with taboos, and nowhere is this more true than in the realm of economics. You can say anything you like about sex nowadays, but the moment the topic turns to fiscal policy, there are endless things that everyone knows, that are even written up in textbooks and scholarly articles, but no one is supposed to talk about in public. It’s a real problem. Because of these taboos, it’s impossible to talk about the real reasons for the 2008 crash, and this makes it almost certain something like it will happen again.” He explains why a crash in the U.K. is likely in the near future.


Forbes magazine article zings Graeber

The author begins with a slam: “We shouldn’t pay all that much attention to David Graeber. He was, of course, the guy who claimed, in his book on debt, that Apple was founded by refugees from IBM. Makes us question his eye for detail really. And that book itself contains so many mistakes about money, debt and their history that Brad Delong actually has a section of his blog dedicated to shouting about them. If you can motivate an economics professor to do that there might just occasionally be something wrong with your views on money, debt and the rest.” The piece concludes by saying: “So it’s very difficult indeed to take seriously people who argue that we must have both no reduction in government debt but we must have a reduction in the trade deficit. Because their own very argument shows that these are not compatible goals.” [Blogger’s note: Graeber is not only an anthropologist (not an economist) and left-wing (not right-wing), so he is fighting on many fronts. Good for him, with thanks].


Take that anthro degree and…

become a professional food writer. Layla Eplett writes about the anthropology of food for a variety of media outlets including Scientific American. She has a master’s degree in the social anthropology of development from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

….become an investment director. Lily Scott is director of the Investing with Impact program with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. She has a B.A. in anthropology from Bates College in Maine and an M.A. in sustainable business from Pinchot University in Seattle.

become a university-based recruiter for the U.S. Peace Corps. Helen Jolly has been named by Stony Brook University, New York, as its recruiter for the U.S. Peace Corps. Jolly, a doctoral student in sociology at the university, is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. She has an M.A. in anthropology from SUNY Stony Brook.

work in a human rights organization. Andy White is the coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). The RRI supports the developing world’s indigenous peoples and local communities in forests and other rural areas, helping them to secure and realize the rights to own, control, and benefit from the natural resources they have depended on for generations. White has an M.A. in anthropology and a Ph.D. in forest economics from the University of Minnesota.


Recovering stories of shipwrecked slaves

60 Minutes included a piece about research on shipwrecks that carried slaves on their way to the New World. One of the contributors was Steve Lubkemann, associate professor of anthropology at the George Washington University. Lubkemann is also an underwater archaeologist who has done research on sunken ships and works to develop tourism to support slave wreck sites off the coast of Africa. Lubkemann commented: “We don’t find intact ships. We find parts of ships. You have to go underneath the water, add some difficulty to this, find the pieces try to put them back together and put together the story that you can.” His research with the Slave Wrecks Project, funded by the Smithsonian Institution, has taken him under water and also into archives in Cape Town, South Africa, which reach back to the 1600s.


Cultural heritage of the Great Dismal Swamp

source: Wikipedia news (Virginia) reported on research in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia that includes its primary role as a wildlife refuge and also addresses its importance as a historical site, having been designated part of the Underground Railroad in 2003. It is the first U.S. national wildlife refuge in the country to earn that distinction. The article includes commentary by Dan Sayers, associate professor in the department of anthropology of American University in Washington. D.C.:  “We located the soil stains of at least a dozen … cabin footprints—the wood of those cabins is long gone but the dark soils that show the cabin footprints are present…This is the kind of thing that really kind of stokes the imagination and brings the people of the past front and center…We also found knife blades, whiskey flask fragments, and gunflints at the same site which collectively point to the resistance-nature of the laborer communities, the freedoms-of-possession those laborers had, and, probably the underground market that helped to define the internal economy of the swamp in the Antebellum era.”


Goodbye teaching and hello fulltime science writing

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on the transition from university teaching to science writing by Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College Of William And Mary in Virginia. She presented a farewell public lecture at the university on her signature research topic: emotions in the animal world. She is quoted as saying: “When I depart my classroom in the College of William and Mary’s anthropology department…it will surely feel surreal. After 27 years, I’m retiring from teaching to take up full-time science writing.”




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