anthro in the news 1/25/18

after an unfortunate delay, anthro in the news is back!

Untitled. Credit: Dean Simone/Pixabay

good to think: the post-work world

The Guardian carried an article about the many problems with work in industrial/post-industrial societies, highlighting David Graeber‘s work on bullshit jobs and the possibly jobless future. Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, is a member of a loose, transatlantic network of thinkers who advocate a profoundly different future for both high-income countries and low-income countries where the crises of work and the threat to it from robots and climate change are, they argue, even greater. Calling this future “post-work,” they are engaged in a debate about whether post-work economies must include a universal basic income paid by the state to every working-age person so that they can survive when the great automation comes.

a cultural bridge-builder

The Huffington Post published an article lauding the work of anthropologist Jonathan Benthall, honorary research at University College London, by Akbar Ahmed, anthropologist and Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. Ahmed writes: “For far too long, Western anthropology has been seen by its critics as a tool of Western imperialists, a means of understanding how to best exploit “under-developed” societies. On the other hand there are those anthropologists who use their knowledge to create bridges between cultures and peoples. Jonathan Benthall is one of them. I first got to know Jonathan, the former director of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI) and now an honorary researcher in the Department of Anthropology at University College London, several decades ago. Since then I have been impressed by how he has extended the boundaries of anthropology. He has consistently championed the under-dog and spent the last decades building bridges between Islam and the West. Jonathan has taken a particular interest in Islamic charity organizations. His most recent book is Islamic Charities and Islamic Humanism in Troubled Times (2016). He considers his research in this field to be his most significant legacy.”

genderless style in Japan

CNN carried commentary by Jennifer Robertson, professor of anthropology and the history of art at the University of Michigan, about “genderless” people in Japan: “In the narrow alleys of Tokyo’s ultra-trendy Harajuku district, a growing number of Japanese men who self-identify as ‘genderless’ are boldly broadening their sartorial and cosmetic choices. With faces expertly made up, hair dyed and stylishly coifed, eyebrows plucked and painted, they sashay from one indie boutique to the next. Harajuku has become a catwalk for jendaresu-kei (or ‘genderless style’). Although women who dress in a more stereotypically masculine way may also identify as “genderless,” in Japan, the term jendaresu-kei more commonly refers to biological males who are neither interested nor invested in looking like ‘suits.’ Some, like celebrity model Ryuchell, insist that they are neither cross-dressing nor, necessarily, gay. Nor are they transgender in the sense of having a gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.”

foragers’ enriched vocabulary for smells

The New York Times reported on research by two sociolinguists on olfactory language. They have found that foragers, also called hunter-gatherers, are far better at identifying and describing odors than sedentary populations. Results from fieldwork in Malaysia are published in Current Biology. “I thought the differences would be more subtle between the two groups,” said Nicole Kruspe, a linguist at Lund University in Sweden who co-authored the study. Perhaps the importance a culture places on odor influences how people describe it. And if you depend on the forest’s produce to live, you may want to know more subtle attributes that indicate origin, safety or quality: “A cultural preoccupation with odor is useful in the forest with limited vision,” said Kruspe. The Semaq Beri value odors as food-locating resources but also as important pieces of life that can indicate a person’s identity and guide taboos and rules for behavior. Asifa Majid, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands and co-author of the paper, has also studied hunter-gatherers with comparable skills in Mexico. He worries that pressures of globalization may disrupt these lifestyles, limit access to odors, and threaten a vibrant odor lexicon.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a grassroots peace activist. Linda Lewis, of Redmond, Washington, runs an agricultural-development program in North Korea. She has studied the Korean Peninsula for decades and works with North Koreans regularly. She believes that sometimes the path to peace starts with small things, for example, interactions that help people get to know each other and build trust. Lewis lived for seven years in Dalian, China, from where she ran an agricultural-assistance program in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the China/DPRK country representative for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker outreach organization. She now runs the program from Washington State. Her interest in other cultures began when she was a junior in high school. Her father, a chemistry professor, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and took the family to spend a year in India. Later, she spent four years in South Korea, starting as a Peace Corps volunteer. After getting a Ph.D., she began a long career teaching in 1985, most of it at Wittenberg University in Ohio, where she was a professor of anthropology and director of the East Asian studies program. She taught at the University of Washington as a visiting scholar in 1993. Lewis joined the Quaker program in 2010 because she was impressed that AFSC focuses on places where trouble seems most intractable. Lewis has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University.

the wonders of Keros

Harp player of Keros, 2600 B.C.E. Credit: National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The Guardian reported on archaeological research on the Greek island of Keros and the now-deserted slopes of Dhaskalio which were once covered with structures and buildings suggesting a dense population 4,500 years ago. While the first evidence of metal-working was found in excavations 10 years ago, new finds have uncovered two workshops full of metalworking debris and objects including a lead axe, a mold for copper daggers and dozens of ceramic fragments from metalworking equipment. Joint director of the excavation Michael Boyd, of the University of Cambridge, said metalworking expertise was evidently concentrated at Dhaskalio at a time when access to both skills and raw materials was very limited: “What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanization.” Far-flung communities were drawn into networks centered on the site, craft and agricultural production was intensified, and the architecture became grander, gradually overshadowing the original importance of the sanctuary. Lord Renfrew, joint director of the excavation, former Disney professor of archaeology at Cambridge and now the senior fellow at the McDonald Institute for archaeological research, first landed on Keros as a student and has returned often throughout his long career. He believes the promontory may originally have become a focus for development because it guarded the best natural harbor on the island, with wide views across the Aegean. Excavations are being recorded digitally, using the iDig programme running on iPads for the first time in the Aegean. This creates three-dimensional models using photogrammetry recording of the entire digging process, giving everyone involved access to all data in real time.


Margaret Conkey, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, is recipient of the 2017 Huxley Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute. Conkey is known for her pioneering exploration of feminist perspectives and gender issues in archaeology as well as new interpretations of European cave paintings from the Paleolithic era. The Huxley Award, the highest award of the oldest anthropological organization in the world, is bestowed in honor of Thomas J. Huxley, a British biologist who was an early follower of Charles Darwin and a founder of the journal Nature. The medal has been issued annually since 1900, except for four years during World War I. Conkey is the 14th woman to receive the award.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s