anthro in the news 3/14/16

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Source: Creative Commons/Flickr

People posting: Why and what

The Economist carried an article about the emerging findings of a multi-country anthropological study of social media led by Daniel Miller of University College London. Researchers spent 15 months at locations in Brazil, Britain, Chile, China (one rural and one industrial site), India, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turkey. They embedded themselves within families and the communities. Participant observation offered nuanced insights into the roles of social media in the study sites which could not be gained by analyzing participants’ public postings.


Source: Pixabay

What’s in a name: HTS rebranding and growing

WFAA-TV/ABC (Dallas) described how the much-debated Human Terrain System of the United States Army, which the U.S. said it “killed,” is alive and well. It has a new name and awaits an even bigger budget from the Department of Defense. “The American Anthropological Association, the world’s largest organization of the field’s scholars, condemned the program [the HTS] at its outset for putting at risk its social scientists and the people they surveyed. Anthropologists could be used by the military to target insurgents, a violation of their ethics not to harm those whom they study, according to the association.” The new name, which so far lacks a presence on Wikipedia, is the Global Cultural Knowledge Network. [Blogger’s note: the American Anthropological Association issued a statement saying that it is “profoundly disturbed” that the U.S. Army has not dismantled the HTS].

What’s in name: Just call me Cola

The South China Post reported on changing practices in personal names in Hong Kong. It quoted Joseph Bosco, associate professor of cultural anthropology at the Chinese University: “People in Hong Kong are trying to assert their individuality. It is a bit like when you choose clothes – you are making a statement of sorts.” Many young people in Hong Kong take on a new persona through choosing an English word as a first name. Bosco explains that a lot of Chinese people have similar surnames so it is important to have a distinct first name. In contrast to the U.S. and the U.K., where parents choose their children’s names, children in Hong Kong are coming up with their first names, often choosing an English word that sounds good with their last name or that represents something they like, for example, Cola, Fish, Orange, and Apple.


The perils of HIV exceptionalism

Medical anthropologist Adia Benton of Brown University, published an article in Foreign Affairs pointing to the downsides of HIV exceptionalism in sub-Saharan African countries: “At the heart of HIV exceptionalism was an attempt to respond to a disease that poses a unique threat through unique techniques. To fight the spread of HIV, health-care organizations advocated treating the disease differently than other epidemics—with a siloed set of resources and approaches. This led to the creation of separate HIV/AIDS funding streams from nongovernmental organizations, as well as the separation of HIV/AIDS personnel and institutions from other public health initiatives…But the exceptionalist approach has been for the worse. In fact, HIV exceptionalism often allows the disease to be seen as an emergency, rather than as one issue to tackle within a part of a larger health overhaul. In other words, the framing of HIV/AIDS as an emergency has overwhelmed efforts to build robust and resilient health systems in Sierra Leone, for example, and elsewhere.”

Experiencing virality: No formula for success

An article in Esquire describes the thrill and peril of having something you post go viral, not once but twice. The author mentions insights from Michael Wesch, associate professor of anthropology at Kansas State University who studies the effects of new media on human interaction. He comments that virality can’t be planned for, at least not easily, whereas serendipity is usually a key ingredient. People try to manufacture memes all the time, says Wesch, but most of them fail to catch on. What connects all memes, from “Charlie Bit My Finger!” to “Damn, Daniel!,” is twofold: they are easy to share and sharing says something about you when you do. Unsubtle emotion helps: “It doesn’t often make sense to say something mundane to a large group of people…because of that, the Internet often triggers extremes.”


Take that anthro degree and…

become a professor of photography. Christine Rogers is an assistant professor of photography at Belmont University. She received a B.A. degree in anthropology from Oberlin College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in studio art from Tufts University.

…become a writer, researcher, and tour organizer. Liz Garibay is a beer historian and writer about beer. She has devoted a great deal of her life to thinking about, visiting, researching, studying, and otherwise partaking of the pleasures offered by bars. Garibay writes for a variety of publications, runs her own website (, consults for companies, frequently comments for publications and on broadcasts, and conducts private and public tavern tours. In 2002, she began “History on Tap,” a personal research/writing project that focuses on history and culture as observed through the lens of alcohol. That became her website. By 2007, having accumulated more than 100 local tavern histories, she took her work on the road, starting “History Pub Crawls” for the Chicago History Museum. Last year she led a tour to Scotland and organized a small exhibition, “Beer Chicago: The Refreshing History,” for the Elmhurst History Museum (it will be remounted this summer at the Harold Washington Library). She hopes to one day have a museum dedicated to beer in Chicago; to that end she has formed a 501c3 organization and gathered a board of directors. Garibay has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was a two-time National Science Foundation fellow in Mesoamerican archaeology, working at the University of California, Boston University, MIT, and Harvard University.


Old becomes new purple beer

ABC News reported on the launch of Wari Ale at Chicago’s Field Museum. The beer is based on a recipe developed from findings at a 1,000 year-old brewery in Peru. The article quotes Patrick McGovern, an expert on ancient beverages at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia: “They [current micro-brewers] started spreading out and trying other things, and it turned out that ancient people were doing the same thing…It takes us back to our roots.” Wari Ale carries the sourness of a corn mash with a late-breaking, delicate hint of sweetness from the pepper, said Patrick Ryan Williams, the museum’s associate curator and head of anthropology.

Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery was among the first to tap into ancient beers market in 1999 as part of collaboration with McGovern. Inspirations for later Dogfish Head ancients, which McGovern will be chronicling in his upcoming book, Liquid Time Capsules, include a 3,500-year-old Danish drinking vessel, 3,400-year-old pottery fragments found in Honduras, and remains from a 9,000-year-old Neolithic tomb in China.

Go for it: Health benefit of getting many tattoos

Source: Pixabay

The Huffington Post published an article by Christopher Lynn, a biological anthropologist at the University of Alabama. According to ….a new study published in the American Journal of Human Biology suggests that people with multiple tattoos have a better immune response to new tattoos than people who are getting tattooed for the first time. According to the research, “Tattooing may stimulate the immune system in a manner similar to a vaccination to be less susceptible to future pathogenic infiltration.” While the study has a small sample size and is not yet conclusive, it provides fascinating evidence of how well the body can be “trained” to respond to stresses over time. For the study, researchers at the University of Alabama collected saliva samples from 29 volunteers before and after they were given tattoos.

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