farewell to the anthropologyworks blog

It was sometime in the summer of 2009 when I was approached by a staffer in the Public Affairs department of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University about launching a blog. At the time I was a professor of anthropology and international affairs, an associate dean in the Elliott School, and the head of a research and policy program called Culture in Global Affairs (CIGA) which was largely devoted to hosting several speaker events every year. 

That enterprising person was Menachem Wecker who convinced me to launch a blog about sociocultural anthropology as a CIGA project. He coached me through it. Later, he persuaded me into developing a Facebook and Twitter presence. Menachem again played a pivotal role in designing the platforms and guiding me in how to make them successful. 

We named the whole project anthropologyworks. Its driving message is that a deep understanding about people is important and relevant to human well-being and policy affecting human well-being. We felt that informing the wider public, beyond academia. about such knowledge is a good thing.

Now, in August 2018, nine years after the blog was launched, and 1,200 posts later, I have to say farewell to the blog. 

After generous support from two Elliott School Deans, Harry Harding and Mike Brown, CIGA’s budget is exhausted, and I need to devote more time to some book projects. But the blog is archived, and the legacy lives on. The entire collection of 1200 posts is archived under an unlikely link name: anthropologyworks.business.blog 

As you can imagine, the blog has nothing to do with “business” but under this new site, the entire corpus of 1,200 posts will be accessible indefinitely. I will continue posting regularly on anthropologyworks Facebook page and tweeting @anthropologyworks

The past nine years have been nothing but amazing for me in terms of what I have learned from paying close attention, on an almost daily basis, to how “anthropology works” and expanding its visibility through social media. I also thoroughly enjoyed working with the many contributors to the blog.

First, I thank the original instigator of the blog, Menachem Wecker. Without his inspiration, coaching, and care, anthropologyworks would not exist. Menachem, you are the best. I also extend deep gratitude to my student assistants who, through the years, have taken up with enthusiasm and cheer the task of posting essays as well as dealing with less interesting matters such as domain name issues including billing. My warm thanks and continuing good wishes to each of them: Graham Hough-Cornwell, Erika Buckingham, Nic Johnson, Lesli Davis, and Sara Brouda. Graham: you were there at the beginning, and you even wrote a most memorable post based on an interview with Steve Raichlen. Erica: you were the foundational builder, working with me every step of the way to increase the number of posts and the anthropologyworks’ visibility. Nic: you came in and helped redesign the overall look, despite my resistance, to make it more cellphone friendly. Lesli: you carried on with posting and other matters even when it wasn’t part of your job description. Sara: you kept it going through the end and helped immensely by creating the archive. What a wonderful team.

Next, I cannot thank enough Sean Carey, anthropologywork’s longstanding contributing writer. Sean is a sociocultural anthropologist and honorary senior research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester. We first got connected through an article he published in The Statesman on Europe’s problem with the burqa. Anthropologyworks posted a link to his article, he and I got in touch, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sean’s 60 essays cover an impressive range of topics about his experiences in London, for example, a chance encounter with a steel band performing Christmas carols on Oxford Street and the problems encountered by people wearing pajamas in public places like supermarkets. Beyond London, he wrote about the involvement of sociocultural anthropologists in tackling the chikungunya virus on Reunion Island, and several posts on the ongoing legal struggles of Chagos Islanders who wish to return to their Indian Ocean homeland after their forced removal by the U.K. government. Sean also contributed three posts based on interviews: two with Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Professor of Social Anthropology at Oslo University, and one with John Eade, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Roehampton.

To quote Sean Carey: “For the record, I enjoyed writing them all!”

Additionally, sociocultural anthropologist Peter Wogan, professor of anthropology at Willamette University contributed three guest posts, the last of which asked why people throw coins in fountains. Thank you, Peter, for being a friend of anthropologyworks.

Jason Antrosio, professor of anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, and active blogger, helped get the word out by regularly retweeting my weekly “anthro in the news” round-up to his many Twitter followers. Thanks, Jason.

I also remember fondly that it was Kerim Friedman, associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at the National Dong Hwa University in Taiwan, who first warmly welcomed anthropologyworks to the blogosphere. Thank you, Kerim. You have done so much to give sociocultural anthropology a strong social media presence.

Last, I am thankful to the many colleges and universities who gave anthropologyworks permission, without requiring a fee, to republish articles from their campus newsletters about the work of anthropologists on their faculty.

People around the world every day live their lives. Sociocultural anthropologists have the immense privilege of spending time living with and studying people around the world as those people go about living their lives. Sociocultural anthropologists write up and otherwise present their findings, mainly in in academic outlets that do nothing to help either the people they studied or inform the public.

Therefore, it is a very good thing that social media is helping to move sociocultural anthropology knowledge from academic channels to a wider audience using channels that are more widely available and a writing style that is more accessible and engaging.

As anthropologyworks transitions to becoming an archive, as its proud editor, I thank again all those who have supported anthropologyworks, and I wish all the longstanding and emerging anthropology bloggers well.

Keep on and stay with me on anthropologyworks Facebook and Twitter!

anthro in the news 8/6/18 and 8/13/18

The three sisters: beans, corn, and squash. Credit: nativeamericans.mrdonn.org

reclaiming Native food sovereignty

The Santa Fe New Mexican carried an article about the movement to reclaim Native North American food sovereignty, highlighting a recent book, Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman, by Charlotte J. Frisbie, professor emerita of anthropology at Southern Illinois University. Taking the perspective that improving Native American diets is “a political as well as a public health measure,” she offers firsthand experiences and information collected during the decade she lived with Tall Woman, who died in 1977 at 103 years of age. Frisbie documents the gathering, growing, and preparation of traditional foods on the Navajo Nation.  Beyond the case of the Navajo, Frisbie defines food sovereignty as an international movement by indigenous peoples to “return to traditional foods produced by traditional methods…to reestablish healthy lifeways.”

Gurkhas fighting for their rights

Gurkha kukri, c. 1814. Credit: National Army Museum U.K.

The Asia Times (Hong Kong) reported on the progress of Gurkha activism in gaining equal rights, compared to British comrades, in terms of pay and pensions. For nearly two centuries Ghurka warriors fought and died for Britain on battlefields around the world. For most of that time, the Gurkhas were paid far less than their British counterparts. Their struggle for equal rights is now almost over, thanks to the Gurkha Justice Campaign, a movement launched in the early 1990s, and other Gurkha organizations such as GAESO (Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organization), the first organization to push for reform. Om Gurung, professor and head of the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology of the Tribhuvan University of Nepal, played a significant role in providing GAESO with the international platform that it needed. As a result, GAESO was able to organize national and international seminars and conferences, liaise with human rights organizations, and gain global exposure. 

If you are a woman seeking a man, move to Seattle

An article in The Washington Post described findings from a quantitative analysis of an online dating site in four U.S. cities. It shows, among things, stark gender and age differences in “desirability” and the relative abundance of single, heterosexual men in Seattle. The article quotes Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Kinsey Institute who was not involved in the study. She commented, first, that these are not really dating apps: They’re “introducing apps.”  “The only real algorithm is your own brain. Where you meet him [or her] doesn’t matter. On a park bench, online or other places. The app can set you up with someone who might seem perfect, but traits like humor or trustworthiness are hard to measure online.”  Fisher, also the chief scientist at Match.com, offered advice for online dating based on user research by Match.com. Humans are visual animals, so picture choice is important. She recommends uploading six photos. Also, perhaps the most helpful advice was, “if what you’re doing isn’t working, change your strategy.”

forensic anthropology and war remains: interview

Two military cargo planes carrying 55 aluminum coffin-shaped cases landed at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, containing the presumed remains of American service members who died in North Korea between 1950 and 1953 during the Korean War. The remains were turned over to United States officials by the North Korean government, the first such handover since joint recovery efforts between the two countries came to a halt in 2005. The New York Times Magazine spoke with Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist for the D.P.A.A. (Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency) who has been identifying missing American military personnel since 2002, to understand what steps the agency takes to make an identification.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary filmmaker and photographer. Karen Cantor has just released her third documentary, Return: Reclaiming Native American Foodways. The film explores Native American food sovereignty in a conversational way by focusing on six women involved in the movement. Although the foods they champion — salmon in Washington; whale in Alaska; corn, beans, and squash in New Mexico and South Dakota — are as different as the tribes and their geographical origins, their shared passion for the work they are doing ties the film together and demonstrates the national reach of the food sovereignty movement. Cantor has a B.A. in anthropology from Goucher College and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. 

Welsh burials at Stonehenge

BBC reported on archaeological findings about the identity of some cremated human remains buried at Stonehenge around 5,000 years ago.  Christophe Snoeck compared the levels of different forms, or isotopes, of the element strontium against a national database to work out where the cremated individuals spent the last years of their lives. Rick Schulting, senior author on the study, said: “These must have been important people. Being buried at Stonehenge is the ancient equivalent of being interred in Westminster Cathedral today…The evidence suggests that some of the people buried at Stonehenge must have spent much of their last 10 or so years in Wales. Although we tend to think that immigration is a new thing, these people were obviously able to travel substantial distances across difficult terrain.” Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

sexism and ageism in Anglo-Saxon prehistory

Quartz carried an article describing archaeological research indicating that young women were buried with more treasure than their older counterparts between the years 475 and 625 C.E. in England.  In a study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Christine Cave, a graduate student in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, and Marc Oxenham, professor of bioarchaeology in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, explain that the treatment of people in death reflects their status in life. After examining grave goods in English cemeteries across three centuries, they found that female graves tended to have high-status objects which represented beauty, such as gemstones, rings, and brooches. Male tombs were filled with tools and artifacts of martial power, like spears, axes, and goblets. But, while men tended to accumulate more items with increased age, the opposite was true of women: “older women on the whole were shown less respect in death than their male counterparts…Aging in Anglo-Saxon England was a gendered process.” [Blogger’s note: this finding about the combined effects of gender and ageism mirrors the results from the contemporary U.S. study of “desirability” in U.S. date-seeking, noted above, which revealed that the most “desirable” age for females is up to 18 years with a steady decline after that, while, for men, “desirability” increases with age].

Hobbits and human evolution in Southeast Asia

News (Australia) republished an article originally on The Conversation, written by archaeologists Michael Westaway, senior research fellow with the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University and Francis David Bulbeck, senior research associate at the Australian National University. They discuss earlier and new findings about Homo floresiensis, nicknamed Hobbits because of their short stature, and point to the species’ possible links with living people in the area. ABC (Australia) carried a piece about research arguing against any genetic continuity between Homo floresiensis and contemporary local people. Princeton University evolutionary biologist Serena Tucci and her colleagues compared DNA from 32 pygmy (short-statured) adults from the village of Rampasasa with sequences from modern humans from around the world as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans. They found Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA within the pygmy genomes — which was expected — but nothing out of the ordinary that might point to another archaic hominin, said study co-author and University of Queensland geneticist Peter Visscher: “They kind of fit in where you’d probably expect them to fit in, in terms of ancestry, when you compare that group of people to other populations in South-East Asia, Oceania and so on.” This study was published in Science.

tracking down the real Lorax

Inception of The Lorax. Credit: a,d, Yvonne A. de Jong and Thomas M. Butynski; b,c, Dr. Seuss Enterprises; e, Anup Shah, courtesy of Nature Picture Library; Nature Ecology and Evolution

An article in The Washington Post described how a chance meeting of two Dartmouth College professors at an academic dinner led to a collaboration that yielded insights into the likely inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ renowned character, the Lorax. According to Nathaniel J. Dominy, associate professor of anthropology, he and Donald Pease, an English professor, and two other scholars, “…used eigenface decomposition methods to calculate facial similarities and we generated the plot with t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE), an iterative algorithm that down-projects multidimensional information into two dimensions for visualization.” Their conclusion: The Lorax was inspired by patas monkeys of West and East Africa. These creatures share the Lorax’s general facial characteristics, particularly his distinctive mustache. The monkeys’ vocalizations sound like the Lorax’s “sawdusty sneeze.” And the monkeys depend, for 80 percent of their diet, on the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

 

anthro in the news 7/30/18

Stop them before they stop us – Bumper stickers on a car in Austin, Texas, 2016. Credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr

ethics of AI weapons research

The Guardian reported that thousands of leading AI (artificial intelligence) researchers have signed a pledge against killer robots. A key issue is that, while researchers of course can choose not to work on autonomous weapons, for those who do such research, the use of their published findings is beyond their control. The article quotes Lucy Suchman, a signatory to the pledge and professor of anthropology of science and technology at Lancaster University. She said that even though researchers cannot fully control how their work is used, they can engage and intervene when they have concerns:  “If I were a machine vision researcher who had signed the pledge I would, first, commit to tracking the subsequent uses of my technologies and speaking out against their application to automating target recognition and, second, refuse to participate in either advising or directly helping to incorporate the technology into an autonomous weapon system.”

decolonizing African universities

Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda . Credit: Makerere University

The London Review of Books published an essay by sociocultural anthropologist Mahmoud Mamdani, director of the Institute of Social Research at Makerere University and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at the School of International and Public Affairs, and  professor of anthropology, political science and African Studies at Columbia University. He writes: “It is striking, in the postcolonial era, how little the modern African university has to do with African institutions. It draws its inspiration from the colonial period and takes as its model the discipline based, gated community that maintained a distinction between clearly defined groups: administrators, academics and fee-paying students. The origins of this arrangement lay in 19th-century Berlin, and Humboldt University, founded in 1810 in the aftermath of Napoleon’s conquest of Prussia. The African university makes its appearance later in the 19th century. At the southern end of the continent, colleges were started from scratch – Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Witwatersrand. In the north, existing institutions such as al-Azhar in Cairo, a centre of Islamic scholarship, were ‘modernised’ and new disciplines introduced. The Humboldt model aimed to produce universal scholars, men and women who stood for excellence, regardless of context, and – in the colonies – could serve as a native vanguard of ‘civilisation’ without reservation or remorse. The African university, in other words, began as part of the European colonial mission, a precursor of the one-size-fits-all initiatives that we associate with the World Bank and the IMF. And so it continued, until decolonisation.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/30/18”

anthro in the news 7/16/18

Coca-Cola, Mexican death sentence [left]. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Infant formula as a death threat [right]. Credit: Photo-shopped from the original image on Wikimedia Commons by Jack Heaton

corporate greed: let them drink Coke

The New York Times reported on the dire situation in a city in southern Mexico created by the presence of Coca-Cola production there. Local sources of clean drinking water have been destroyed, people are now hooked on drinking Coke, and they have high rates of diabetes. Mexico in general is among the world’s top consumers of sugary drinks. Residents of San Cristóbal in Chiapas drink on average more than two liters, or more than half a gallon, of soda a day. The article quotes sociocultural anthropologist Laura Mebert, assistant professor of liberal studies at Kettering University in Michigan, who says Coca-Cola pays a disproportionately small amount for its water privileges: “Coca-Cola pays this money to the federal government, not the local government…while the infrastructure that serves the residents of San Cristóbal is literally crumbling.”

corporate greed: let them drink formula

The Chicago Sun Times, among other media, reported on the ongoing battle against breast milk being waged by corporate interests in promoting the sale of infant formula, a battle supported by the Trump presidency. In response to claims that women in low-income countries are physically unable to breastfeed their infants because of malnutrition, the article quotes Sera Young, professor of anthropology and global health at Northwestern University:  “You have to be basically starving to not produce enough breast milk because of under-nutrition.” Formula poses the greatest risks to the poor because of risks related to water contamination and other factors: “It’s worse not to breastfeed when you’re living in a low-income country.”

letter to the editor


The Santa Fe New Mexican published a letter to the editor from
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chancellor’s Professor Emerita of medical anthropology at UC-Berkeley on DNA matching: “Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has called for volunteers to help in DNA matching of migrant children separated from their parents in detention. Many people volunteered to which Azar exclaimed ‘Wow!’ Sadly, this latest scientific intervention in the chaotic mishandling of 3,000 traumatized children crying and wetting their beds, refusing to speak to their government-supplied caretakers, brings to mind the use of DNA in another context. Following the so-called Argentine Dirty War (1976-1983), some 500 infants and children were confiscated from their parents who were ‘disappeared’ and killed as ‘subversives’ by the military dictatorship. Their children were ‘transferred’ to right wing military families and their friends. When democracy returned to the country in 1984, the biological grandmothers, led by the famous Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, sought the help of Professor Mary-Clare King, a University of California geneticist, to set up an index of grandparents and applied DNA matching to reunite them with their grandchildren.”

nuclear orientalism

An article in The Tehran Times mentioned nuclear orientalism, a concept coined by Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. The piece was an interview with Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri economist and writer, who teaches politics and international relations at the University of Westminster, London. She is quoted as saying: “Nuclear weapons are threats to world peace and yet, rather than working toward denuclearization of the entire world, we are witnessing what an IR scholar Hugh Gusterson calls ‘nuclear orientalism’. U.S. is the only country that has actually used atomic weapons and killed hundreds of thousands and yet it is seen as the custodian of international community. Now, Israel, India and Pakistan have been involved in multiple wars and their nuclear weapons are taken for granted even though they are not signatories of the NPT. All this shows that the real issue is that ‘world peace’ has become a convenient label countries evoke and discard depending on what their interests are.”

more on Bullshit Jobs

An article in Quartz about job trends said this: “Perhaps the contemporary quest for future unemployment stems from the fact that many jobs seem meaningless and unfulfilling. According to anthropologist David Graeber, author of the recently published book Bullshit Jobs, much work today features a lot of unnecessary busywork. Society didn’t consciously design work this way, Graeber argues, but it’s preventing people from making a ‘meaningful contribution to the world.’” Also, The Times (London) Sunday edition listed Bullshit Jobs as recommended nonfiction summer reading.

date push-back for early humans out of Africa

One of the 2.1 million-year-old artifacts [right], recovered from a gully in western China [left], suggest that hominins may have left Africa far earlier than previously believed. Credit: Zhaoyu Zhu

The New York Times reported on findings by geologists and paleoanthropologists from new research at a previously known site in western China. They have found the oldest stone tools outside Africa. The tools, used by hominins who were ancient members of the human lineage,   are estimated to be as much as 2.1 million years old. Thus, some hominins left Africa far earlier than once believed in order to reach a place 8,000 miles from their place of origin. The age of the Chinese tools suggests that the hominins who made them were neither tall nor big-brained. Instead, they may have been small bipedal apes, with brains about the size of a chimpanzee’s. The researchers have made a thorough search of the site which is a gully: “Working up and down it can be hair-raising at times,” said Robin Dennell, a paleoanthropologist and honorary professor at the University of Exeter who joined the Chinese team in 2010. The researchers have found over a hundred stone tools embedded in 17 geologic layers of the gully. The work was painstakingly slow because the researchers wanted to make a compelling case that these really were tools made by hominins: “We wanted to make it watertight and bombproof,” said Dennell. “The implications of all this are large,” said paleoanthropologist Michael Petraglia, professor of human evolution and prehistory at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, who was not involved in the study. He added, “We must re-evaluate our understanding of human prehistory in Eurasia.” Findings are published in the journal Nature.

 

Thomas Hylland Eriksen on Australia’s Boomtown and its ecological sustainability: Interview

 

Thomas Hylland Eriksen is professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo. He is the author of numerous books, including Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual History; Ethnicity and Nationalism; A History of Anthropology; Small Places, Large Issues; Tyranny of the Moment; Globalization; and Common Denominators.

Here he talks about his latest book Boomtown: Runaway Globalisation on the Queensland Coast with AW contributor Sean Carey. Boomtown, will be published in July in the U.K., August in the U.S., and September in Australia.

Continue reading “Thomas Hylland Eriksen on Australia’s Boomtown and its ecological sustainability: Interview”

anthro in the news 7/9/18

Relatives of the soccer team members and the coach pray at a shrine for their rescue. Credit: Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press

a goddess is watching over them

As reported in The New York Times, people are praying to the goddess Jao Mae Nang Non at a shrine near the cave in northern Thailand where 12 soccer players and their coach have been trapped. Her legend is similar to dozens of other tales across a country whose belief system and folklore are heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu, and local traditions. It also speaks to the spiritual significance that caves hold in region. According to Alan Johnson, assistant professor of  anthropology at Princeton University, caves throughout Thailand have shrines, many of them Buddhist, and they connect to stories about the Buddha’s travels in the region and how he pacified fearsome giants or spirits.

intersectional look at Brazilian soccer stars

Brazil’s team at FIFA 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An article in The Guardian described the backgrounds of many of the Brazilian soccer players, addressing intersectional issues such as race and class and, prominently, the absence of fathers in the lives of several players. According to government figures, women are the household head in 40% of Brazilian families, even when they have a conjugal partner, up from 23% two decades earlier. The article quotes Debora Diniz, professor of anthropology at the University of Brasília who notes that many of Brazil’s great players come from backgrounds of crushing poverty. “[The mothers] are much more universally Brazilian women,” she said. “There is a racial contrast that is very important. There is a class contrast that is very important.” That contrasts with the upscale lifestyle enjoyed by of players’ wives and girlfriends who in many cases are lighter-skinned, unlike the team which is a typically Brazilian racial mix.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/9/18”