anthro in the news 2/19/18

Acceptable N-words: This was in the kindergarten room today. They’re learning N. Credit: Kevin Fillips/Flickr

teaching about hate language

Several media reported on conflict at Princeton University about a course taught by Lawrence Rosen, professor emeritus of anthropology, on cultural freedoms and hate speech. His use of a racial slur during a class discussion prompted some students to walk out in protest. Rosen subsequently cancelled the course. According to The Guardian, colleagues say Rosen has often used the slur during lectures on free speech, and that this is the first time he has received such a negative response from students. The university issued a statement defending Rosen. Carolyn Rouse, chairwoman of Princeton’s anthropology department, who is black, wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian defending Rosen’s use of the slur. By the end of the semester, she wrote, Rosen hoped his students would be able to argue why hate speech should or should not be protected using an argument other than “because it made me feel bad.”

architectural nostalgia in Tokyo

The Japan Times carried an article about nagaya, rowhouses, that have been disappearing from downtown Tokyo for many decades, torn down to make way for office blocks and more comfortable and profitable housing complexes. Nagaya first appeared in Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868) as living quarters for the “common” class. Residents lived side by side in the long wooden buildings and shared a communal well, toilet, and waste disposal area. The article includes insight from Hidenobu Jinnai, anthropologist and architectural scholar, who has noted that an Inari shrine housed a protective deity providing “a spiritual bond for the denizens of the alleyway.”

book review

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a book review by Barbara J. King, professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary. She says: “I love what Engelke does in this book [How to Think Like an Anthropologist]. He takes a common word and unpacks it through anthropology, introducing readers to major thinkers and texts in the field along the way. Each chapter is centered around one such word: In addition to civilization, there’s culture, values, value, blood, identity, authority, reason and nature. The idea is that, as readers learn about these nine words, we learn to think critically about our own assumptions regarding people across the globe who may seem exotic to us. The trick, Engelke explains, is to avoid exoticizing these “others” and, at the same time, also to avoid “reducing cultural differences to the point of inconsequence.” That balance sits at the heart of good anthropology. How to Think Like an Anthropologist is intended for a “a wider audience, a wider public” to anthropology, to quote Engelke in his acknowledgments section. Doing this — informing and perhaps occasionally startling readers who aren’t themselves anthropologists — is a profoundly important goal.”

stone camels in the desert

The New York Times reported on the discovery by archaeologists of the creations by artists who, some 2,000 years ago, carved life-size camels into stone in the Saudi Arabian desert. Although camel art has been found elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula, these are stylistically unique. “This is a major new discovery and in some ways a completely new type of rock art in Saudi Arabia,” said archaeologist Maria Guagnin, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History who was not involved in the study. “The naturalistic, almost three-dimensional depictions are unlike anything else I’ve seen before and highlight the skills of their prehistoric engravers.” In one rock panel there is a camel lying on the ground with its head tilted toward a donkey that is on its feet. The two are nearly touching. “It raises its head to the head of the donkey, like Michelangelo in the Vatican — it’s the connection of two species,” said Guillaume Charloux, an archaeologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research and lead author on the paper, which appeared in the journal Antiquity. “To me, it’s a real piece of art.”

contested American Indian remains

An article in The Japan Times described ongoing negotiations among three Native American tribes claiming the remains of two 500-year-old skeletons discovered in Idaho and anthropologists who are concerned about a lost research opportunity. Authorities said the remains are either from a double homicide that happened in recent decades or the remains of Native Americans from the 19th century or earlier. Carbon dating tests, however, reveal that the young adult and the child or teen lived sometime during the 1400s to 1600s. Anthropologists say evidence of how the two had lived might have been found by trained experts if the area had also been treated from the onset as a possible anthropological site: “If there had been any indication at the outset that this was a prehistoric internment, a much more systematic process would have been conducted,” said Mark Plew, professor of anthropology at Boise State University. Plew said a more thorough examination of the bones with isotope analysis and by anthropologists could reveal the gender of the two, what they ate, whether they had survived periods of famine, and possibly their cause or causes of death. For the tribes, trying to recover the remains “is a very emotional process,” said Pei-Lin Yu, associate professor of anthropology at Boise State, who previously worked as a federal government official on projects to return Native American bones to tribes. The age of the bones doesn’t matter to them, she said: “Time doesn’t actually figure into their feelings of association and responsibility as stewards of their ancestors.”

orangutans are critically endangered

The Japan Times reported on what is said to be the most comprehensive study of Borneo’s orangutans which estimates that their numbers have dropped by more than 100,000 since 1999. The palm oil and paper industries have shrunk their habitat, and fatal conflicts with people are increasing. The finding, published in the journal Current Biology, accords with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2016 designation of Borneo’s orangutans as critically endangered. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and other institutions said the original population of the orangutans is larger than previously estimated but so is the rate of decline. The most dramatic declines were found in areas where tropical forests were cut down and converted to plantations for palm oil, which is used in many consumer products and for timber. Significant population declines also occurred in selectively logged forests. “In these forest areas human pressures, such as conflict killing, poaching, and the collection of baby orangutans for the pet trade have probably been the major drivers of decline,” the authors of the study said.

in memoriam

Andrei Simic, professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California has died at the age of 87 years. Simic’s primary area of specialization was the Balkans and Eastern Europe, but he had several secondary areas of interest, including Latin American studies, ethnicity and nationalism, post-communist society, Euro-American ethnic groups, popular culture, social gerontology, and visual anthropology with a focus on film production and film analysis. Simic was the author of several books, including The Peasant Urbanites: A Study of Rural-Urban Mobility in Serbia, considered by many in the field to be a seminal work on post-World War II migration patterns in former Yugoslavia. He was a prolific researcher and writer who published numerous articles in academic journals as well as in a wide variety of other publications. He presented research papers at various academic meetings and as an invited lecturer, and conducted ongoing research projects on various aspects of Balkan culture. In addition to his written work, Simic was credited and involved in the production of 27 ethnographic films, including his two major film projects, Ziveli: Medicine for the Heart and The Children of Lazo’s Grove. He also presented several major photo exhibits focusing on Yugoslav ethnographic issues.

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