anthro in the news 1/4/16

Sidney Mintz: Founder of the anthropology of food

Cultural anthropologist Sarah Hill, associate professor at Western Michigan University, published an article in the Boston Review detailing the work of cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz of the Johns Hopkins University. [See also:  In memoriam, below]. Mintz is lauded as the founder of “food anthropology” with the publications of his landmark book in 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Hill writes: “…at the heart of Sweetness and Power lies an understanding of the history of capitalism in the Atlantic world that goes far to explain slavery’s enduring legacy.”


Can planet Earth be saved?

In an article in The Atlantic, several U.S. experts, including cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Moreno, assistant professor at Oregon State University, offer reasons for despair and hope about the future of our planet. Her reason for despair: “As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate…These burdens are all part of climate injustice…I [also] despair because…climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.”  On the side of hope: “The rest of the world is talking back…. It’s going to be an interesting century.”


France is failing its Muslims

An article in the Toronto Star points out that, while France has similar levels of immigration as Canada, even second- and third-generation immigrants in France suffer from systemic discrimination. The article extensively quotes Mayanthi Fernando, a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz: “Muslim citizens in France are constantly being asked, ‘why haven’t you integrated?’” While France’s immigrants come predominantly from Muslim countries — Algeria and Morocco top the list — once in France, they tend to get lumped together into a “monolithic” Islamic identity. Fernando, who has first-hand experience teaching in the Parisian suburb of St-Denis says: “A Malian Muslim and a Moroccan Muslim have very different ways of practicing Islam and may not even identify as Muslim, but rather as Berber or Tuareg. Our understanding of these people as Muslims, and therefore as similar, is part of the problem when they are actually incredibly diverse.”


Mobiles, holograms, and the future of human relationships

An article in the Irish Examiner looked at the prospects of holograms and technology that will allow us to conjure up people so they are in the room with us when we talk to them.  The article mentions ongoing research on culture and cellphones by cultural anthropologists Joshua Bell of the Smithsonian Institution and the George Washington University (GW) and Joel Kuipers, also of GW. Discussing the 2013 film Her, about a guy who falls in love with a computer operating system called Samantha, Bell notes:  “The film was a really compassionate look at alienation, with capitalism in some ways, and people’s inability to connect…The Apple interface Siri is an interesting forerunner to what Samantha in Her is, in the sense that you can have someone there to talk to, day to day, and it will ask you questions. I don’t think it’s far off. The question is whether humans will fall in love with this thing, this voice- activated personal assistant. I think it’s possible.” Kuipers offers the concept of moral panic: “There are fears that people are […] lonelier than ever and more isolated than ever.”


GenX: Squeezed out carried a piece on GenerationX, some 46 million Americans born between 1965 and 1980, wedged between the Boomers and the Millennials. They have seen “…five decades marked by economic turmoil, the dismantling of family and career structures, and the introduction of technologies that have forever changed human interaction — is ambling toward an uncertain future.” The article quotes Wendy Fonarow, professor of anthropology at Glendale Community College in California, an Xer in her late 40s:  “We did not have the same optimism that offspring of the post-war generation had…Coming home to no parents, either through divorce or because both parents were working … was an Xer phenomenon.”


Kamran Asdar Ali’s Surkh Salam discussed

Dawn (Pakistan) reported on a panel discussion, in Karachi that was part of a book launch for Surkh Salam:  Communist Politics and Class Activism in Pakistan 1947–1972, a new book about communist politics and class activism in Pakistan between 1947 and 1972. The author is cultural anthropologist Kamran Asdar Ali, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The panelists addressed the book from a variety of angles including why the communist movement in Pakistan failed.






David Vine’s Base Nation reviewed

The Seattle Times carried a review of Base Nation by David Vine, cultural anthropology professor at American University in Washington, DC: “In his edgy investigative work, ‘Base Nation,’ David Vine asks a fundamental question about this military empire — do all these bases actually make us safer? Vine concludes that all too often, they do not make the nation more secure, even as they siphon off tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in a post-World War II expansion.”


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a make-up artist and entrepreneur. Ashunta Shariff is a celebrity make-up artist who has worked with many stars including Alicia Keys, Lala, and Taraji P. Henson. Also an entrepreneur, she has developed her own line of make-up called Perfect Blend. Sheriff has a B.S. in cultural anthropology from Howard University and a masters from New York University.

…become an animal rights activist, and writer. Aviva Vetter is a campaigner for Be Cruelty-Free Canada and program officer in the Department of Research and Toxicology of Humane Society International (HSI). Launched in 2012 by HSI, the Be Cruelty-Free Canada campaign works to ban cosmetic animal testing in the country. She also writes for RSVP magazine. Vetter has a B.A. degree in anthropology and political science from Concordia University, a B.A degree in communications/public relations from McGill University, and an LLB (Bachelor of Laws) from the University of London. [Blogger’s note:  readers beware, if you look at the Huffington Post article describing Vetter’s work, you will see a photo of a row of rabbits in stocks, literally, so that they cannot use their paws to try to wipe out the stuff that’s put into their eyes. We should all join Vetter in supporting her work, stop wearing make-up, and stop being manipulated by the vast make-up economy that continually needs to develop new products. This position, of course, ignores the fact that some people apparently have to wear make-up, and lots of it – actors, newscasters, etc. Given that requirement, they should have access to products that are safe. So, given the likelihood that the demand for make-up is not going to go away, researchers need to test products without animal abuse].

…become a humanitarian NGO director. John Friedman is director of the NGO Focus on Vision. Friedman earned his doctorate in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge. He served in the Peace Crops in Namibia and later undertook three years of field research in Namibia to better understand people’s post-apartheid experiences with democratization and governance. While there, he established a youth center and discovered that many young people needed glasses. Focus on Vision has developed ocusSpecs, assembled with two thin lenses that slide over each other and can adjust the focus like a camera lens, eliminating the need for an optician. In Southern Africa, where up to 30 percent of secondary school children need glasses and can’t get them, Freidman said: “…teachers think they are naughty, and their classmates think they’re stupid, but they’re neither. They just need glasses.”

…become an antiques appraiser and museum director. Lars Tharp, who is well-known from the Antiques Road Show, has an undergraduate degree in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge University. He began his working career as an auctioneer at Sotheby’s. After sixteen years he left to set up his own company, and is now director of the Foundling Museum in London and visiting professor at De Montfort University, Leicester.

…become an educator and consultant. Lia Berman is an instructor at Istanbul Technical University in Turkey and a development consultant in education management. She has a B.A. degree in physical and biological anthropology from Eckerd College, Florida, and a Master’s degree in anthropology and international development management from the London School of Economics.

…become a Presbyterian minister. Margaret Jumonville was installed this past fall is the minister of the Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church in Minnesota. She has a B.A. degree in anthropology and archaeology from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She worked for several years in school systems in New Hampshire and Wisconsin as a school psychologist. She then decided to train for the ministry. While she’s only been serving the congregation for a few months, Jumonville says: “One of the biggest challenges for me has been to keep track of family connections in the congregation and community.  I keep a lot of ‘kinship charts’ in my head.”  [Blogger’s note: just goes to show the career value of learning how to do a kinship chart!].


Vanuatu: Pacific heartland

A longstanding question is how Polynesia came to be settled. The shape and contour of an ancient skull in Vanuatu may provide a clue. The Guardian reported on a new study about the peopling of the Pacific published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It reports that the shape and contours of the earliest skull in a 3,000-year-old burial ground in Vanuatu, a group of islands once known as the New Hebrides suggests a starting point for the great Polynesian migration. The study, led by Frederique Valentin, an archaeologist and ethnologist from Nanterre, France, says that although most of the skulls from other later Lapita sites in Vanuatu and elsewhere are linked to the western Pacific’s Melanesian ethnic group, the oldest ones, dated 3,000 years ago from the graveyard on Efate Island in Vanuatu, seem more aligned with present-day Polynesian and Asian populations. Nonetheless, the big questions remain of why and how one group of oceanic navigators, located in Vanuatu, took their language and traditions by canoe to tens of thousands of islands scattered across almost one third of the world’s biggest ocean.


Documenting genocide in Guatemala

WRAL radio (North Carolina) reported on the first-time involvement of the Shoah Foundation in documenting genocide in Latin America. The Shoah Foundation, founded by American film director Steven Spielberg, is located at the University of Southern California. For the first tiem, the Foundation is undertaking research in Latin America. When completed, it will be the most comprehensive repository of eyewitness accounts from Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil conflict in which some 245,000 people were killed or disappeared, most of them by soldiers and paramilitary gangs. The Foundation has recorded 100 testimonies and plans to gather at least 500 in cooperation with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala. The remaining oral histories will be collected in 2016 with the aim of completing the project the following year. Fredy Peccerelli, director of the Forensic Anthropology Foundation, said the goal is to tell the stories “that nobody wants to know about, without either political or ideological filters,” and paint a retrospective portrait of life before, during and after the war.


In memoriam

Sidney Mintz, professor of anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University, died at the age of 93 years. Mintz, a cultural anthropologist, was known for his studies of the Caribbean, creolization, and the anthropology of food. Mintz received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, having conducted fieldwork among sugar-cane workers in Puerto Rico. Expanding his research to Haiti and Jamaica, he produced historical and ethnographic studies of slavery and global capitalism, cultural hybridity, Caribbean peasants, and the political economy of food commodities. He taught for two decades at Yale University before founding the anthropology department at Johns Hopkins University, where he remained for the duration of his career. As noted in the New York Times, “…he had stretched the academic boundaries of anthropology beyond the study of aboriginal peoples. (He joked about those who believed that “if they don’t have blowguns and you can’t catch malaria, it’s not anthropology.”).  “Professor Mintz was as much at home in the 21st century as he was in the 17th. In “Sweetness and Power,” he observed that Americans were consuming more by multitasking, writing, ‘Watching the Cowboys play the Steelers while eating Fritos and drinking Coca-Cola, while smoking a joint, while one’s girl sits on one’s lap, can be packing a great deal of experience into a short time and thereby maximizing enjoyment.’” He made cultural anthropology a much larger and more important field of study than it had been.


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