anthro in the news 6/25/18

How about gun control for the military and/or racist police? Credit: PosterBoy/Flickr

police killings: collateral damage

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on a study published in The Lancet assessing the mental health effects of police killings in America on African Americans. The article quotes Christen Smith, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies and anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin: “Whenever we see a study that confirms some of the suspicions and kind of colloquial information that we have from the black American community, then that’s something that tells us that we’re on a path toward healing and really trying to address this issue…the trickle-down effect from the national outcry around police violence and the black community is really just now getting to [the] point where people are starting to be able to get the funding and set up the research in order to do this work…” Now is the time to see similar studies start bubbling to the surface, she said.

toxic masculinity

The Australian Journal of Anthropology published a special issue in 2016 on Gender and Christianity in Melanesia

Coverage by National Public Radio (U.S.) described the problems related to toxic masculinity in the highlands of Papua New Guinea [with audio]. According to Richard Eves, an Australian National University anthropologist, when men react violently because their wives are earning money on their own, it’s because they see power as a zero-sum game: “So any powerful woman is seen as a loss for men…Basically, they want to keep the status quo of them being the powerful person in the household. So that entails bullying their wives, and beating them up.” While aid groups trying to stop violence against women may default toward focusing on female survivors, he says they should spend time with both sexes. “There’s strong social pressures on the masculine role model there, to be assertive, to be in control, to be dominating…One of the things we need to do is challenge those rather toxic notions of masculinity that are at work.”

Taiwan’s indigenous people

An article in The Saskatoon Star Phoenix (Canada) described a recent trip to Taiwan by a Star Phoenix reporter who went there to learn about Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and how their history has similarities to indigenous people in Canada. She and 12 other journalists from around the world were guests of the Taiwanese government through its Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. The article includes commentary from Yuan-chao Tung, associate professor of anthropology at National Taiwan University. She says that the university needs more Indigenous faculty and needs to distance itself from its colonial beginning in the Japanese era. She also noted that talks are underway to repatriate the remains of 60 Indigenous people held by the university’s medical college.

work in the bullshit sphere: book review

The New Yorker published a review of David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs: “…Graeber, an anthropologist now at the London School of Economics, seeks a diagnosis and epidemiology for what he calls the ‘useless jobs that no one wants to talk about.’ He thinks these jobs are everywhere. By all the evidence, they are. His book, which has the virtue of being both clever and charismatic, follows a much circulated essay that he wrote, in 2013, to call out such occupations. Some, he thought, were structurally extraneous: if all lobbyists or corporate lawyers on the planet disappeared en masse, not even their clients would miss them. Others were pointless in opaque ways. Soon after the essay appeared, in a small journal, readers translated it into a dozen languages, and hundreds of people, Graeber reports, contributed their own stories of work within the bullshit sphere.”

many limbs were lost

The Washington Post reported on archaeological research at a Civil War battle site in Virginia. A burial site reveals the frequent resort to amputation of soldiers’ limbs by surgeons in the field. “As an archaeologist . . . it’s exciting,” said Brandon S. Bies, who brought the bone out of the pit. “As a human being, lifting the leg of an American soldier and holding the bone with the bullet that killed him, it’s an emotional experience.” “Smithsonian anthropologist Douglas Owsley said, “But for that soldier…It was the end of his life.” He said the surgeon would stand on the wounded man’s right side. If a leg was being removed, the uninjured leg would be tied to the operating table. The soldier would be put to sleep with chloroform or ether. Medical aides might hold the soldier’s hands. “It starts out with scalpels, and it’s going to ultimately progress to the bone saw,” Owsley said. “A good surgeon can do this in about 10 minutes or less.” The result, after almost any Civil War combat, was the refuse of amputated arms, legs, and feet.

he kept his tools sharp

An article in The New York Times described findings of an analysis of the tools Otzi, the well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived between 3400 and 3100 B.C.E. on the border between Switzerland and Austria. He carried with him a small dagger, some arrowheads, and a few other possessions made of stone, wood, and deer antler. They provide insight into their owner’s final days before he was shot with an arrow and died. Ursula Wierer, an archaeologist with the provincial Department of Archaeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape in Florence, Italy, used high-power microscopes and a CT scanner to examine Ötzi’s dagger and arrowheads. She is quoted as saying: “He cared about his tools…It’s really surprising how many re-sharpenings and how many modifications we can see on this tool…[he] did a last re-sharpening and perhaps wanted to use it again, but there was no time.” The findings are published in the open access journal PLOS One. 

gossip has its upsides

Hair salons are sites of grooming, sociality, and often gossip. Credit: sanforiciare

An article in The Atlantic reviewed several studies of how gossip functions in human society: “By far the most positive assessment of gossip…comes courtesy of the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. Once upon a time, in Dunbar’s account, our primate ancestors bonded through grooming, their mutual back-scratching ensuring mutual self-defense in the event of attack by predators. But as hominids grew more intelligent and more social, their groups became too large to unite by grooming alone. That’s where language—and gossip, broadly defined—stepped in…Dunbar argues that idle chatter with and about others gave early humans a sense of shared identity and helped them grow more aware of their environment, thus incubating the complex higher functioning that would ultimately yield such glories of civilization as the Talmud, Pascal, and Ann Landers.”

in memoriam

Seena Kohl, professor at Webster University in Missouri, has died at the age of 88 years. A pioneering feminist anthropologist and professor for 40 years, Kohl helped found the university’s women’s studies program in 1976. By then she had defied the sexist expectations held by many of her peers and earned her doctoral degree, traveling across the U.S. to conduct research, all while raising four children. Unlike many anthropologists of the time, Kohl eschewed the exotic to study her own country and spent more than 40 years studying family life and women’s roles on farms in the northern Plains, especially Montana and North Dakota. Taking a close look at gender and women’s roles in the 1960s was new for the time.


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