anthro in the news 7/2/18

A collective wedding party organized by Al Afaf, a charitable organization. Credit: Al Afaf/The Jordan Times

marriage crisis in Jordan

The Jordan Times reported on the several challenges facing men and women who want to marry in Jordan and quoted Geoffrey Hughes from the Anthropology Department, London School of Economics:  “I would assume most people who have talked to a young Jordanian man [or even his father, mother, or sister] will have heard a version of this problem: at the very least, a Jordanian man who wants to marry needs money for a flat, a bridewealth [mahr] payment and a wedding…This is all mutually reinforcing: the more people invest in marriage, the more problematic it is if the values of the families and the bride and the groom don’t match…So the difficulty of getting married becomes magnified with time in both its economic and social dimensions.” As his research continued, Hughes learned about an organization called Jama’iyyat Al Afaf Al khayriyya or the Chastity Society. It addresses some of the socioeconomic problems underlying the  marriage crisis through interest-free loans to people hoping to marry, training sessions, publishing research on Jordan’s marriage crisis, and hosting annual mass weddings where about 50 to 80 people get married at once.

church ethnography

KUOW radio (Seattle) aired a piece about a Christian minister’s rise and fall in Seattle and how a sociocultural anthropologist studied it. At the Mars Hill Church, a charismatic minister preached in a daring, new way, seeking to make his ministry “culturally relevant” and bringing a hipster attitude to conservative theology. His methods drew growing numbers of people to the church which expanded to fifteen facilities in five states. Accusations arose, however, from within the church about the minister’s misogyny, plagiarism, emotional manipulation, and abuse of authority. In 2014 he was forced to resign and the church collapsed. Throughout this process, Jessica Johnson, lecturer in anthropology and gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, was doing participant observation in the church. The result is her book, “Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/2/18”

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.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/25/18”

anthro in the news 6/18/18

Tape magic. Credit: frankieleon/Flickr

a bullshit job might actually be important

An article in The Washington Post connected sociocultural anthropologist David Graeber’s latest book, Bullshit Jobs, with a Politico story about two former “records management analysts” in the White House whose $65,000-a-year jobs entailed preserving the president’s memos, letters, emails and papers for the National Archives. Under President Trump, part of their job became Scotch-taping papers back together that Trump had torn into pieces. The story went viral, and one Twitter user noted the Scotch-taping duties were an unusual but apt example of “bullshit jobs.” [Blogger’s note: Scoth-taping torn Trump documents may actually be an important job and not a bullshit job, sadly, because it may contribute to future interpretation of important world issues by preserving information that would otherwise have been lost to history].

HAU in transition

Logo of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

Open-access devotees in anthropology had high hopes for HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory upon its launch in 2011. The idea behind HAU, named after the concept of “hau” described in Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, was intended to shake up academic publishing’s subscription model and elevate ethnography. Now, according to this source, the free, independent “gift” of a publication is moving to a modified subscription model as part of an agreement with the University of Chicago Press. While HAU’s Board of Trustees says the move is due to the publication’s growth, current and former journal staffers are blaming the broken free-access promise on what they describe as failed and even abusive leadership.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/18/18”

anthro in the news 6/11/18

The lights of Tucson. Credit: Bill Morrow/Flickr

climate-change migrants in the U.S.

The Arizona Daily Star reported on the trend of internal migration from coastal areas of California to parts of the U.S. southwest, with a focus on the city of Tucson. It notes that Arizona’s capacity for population growth has its limits due to, perhaps more than anything else, water shortages. The article quotes Thomas Sheridan, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona: “The Southwest, ever since the Second World War, has experienced this absolutely explosive urban growth, and that growth has been based on cheap water and cheap electricity…There’s no major new source of water on the horizon.”

proposed U.S. food labels are pro-GMO propaganda

The USDA’s options for what the labels might look like. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about proposed food labeling in the U.S. to indicate if it is a GMO item. Critics of the options say that they are confusing because they use the obscure term B.E. (biologically engineered) instead of the widely known term GMO. Further, the images convey a happy, positive message. The article quotes Glenn Stone, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. This fight, he says, is about “clashing visions of agriculture,” where people concerned about the practices of powerful corporations such as Monsanto should be able to easily choose not to purchase those products…”People who aren’t in a place where there’s good wi-fi won’t know if it’s a GMO, and people who don’t use smartphones won’t know if it’s a GMO and also people who are in a hurry won’t know if it’s a GMO.” The public has until July 3 to submit comments on the USDA’s proposal.

kids doing chores is a good thing

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried an update on the positive effects of children, even so-called toddlers, doing tasks. The article includes a comment that “Toddlers are very eager to be helpful” from David Lancy, emeritus professor of anthropology at Utah State University, who documented this universality in his new book, Anthropological Perspectives on Children as Helpers, Workers, Artisans, and Laborers. Overall, the article emphasizes work by psychologists and fails to mention the ground-breaking cross-cultural research conducted nearly 50 years ago by anthropologists Beatrice Whiting and John Whiting, published in their classic book, Children of Six Cultures.

bush foods are super foods

An article in The Border Mail (Albury Wodonga, Australia) points out that so-called smart foods or super foods are nothing new to indigenous peoples who have been eating and using healthy food products for thousands of years. John Carty, professor and head of anthropology at the Museum of South Australia, states that: “People felt the way about Aboriginal art that we do now about our native food. And in one generation, that perception has shifted so dramatically.” Aboriginal people were sustained by a thriving food culture, with research revealing bush foods as superior sources of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals.

tracking Russian soccer fan “hooligans”

ITV (London) reported on concerns about Russian “hooligans” during the World Cup which runs from June 13 to July 16. The matches will spread through 11 cities, with the finals in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Concerns have been raised about possible violence from “ultra” groups of fans with a spotlight on Russian “hooligans.” The article includes comments by Julia Amatuni,of  the anthropology department at the European University in St Petersburg, who said the crackdown started even before Euro 2016, after Russia was awarded the World Cup in 2010. She adds: “The key hooligans have been located by the police and now are either in prison or avoiding the risk of provocatively active fighting on the streets of big cities.”

more to dancing thatn fun and mate-seeking

A video carried on BBC offered insights from Bronwyn Tarr, an evolutionary anthropologist in the department of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, about the significance of dancing in human evolution. She explains that when people dance with others, especially in full-body synchrony, they are rewarded with feel-good endorphins that change how they feel about themselves and those around them. Tarr refers to the effect as self-other merging.  Thus dancing might have helped human to survive as a species through enhancing sociality.

still fighting “Man the Hunter”

Homo erectus adult female model. Credit: Tim Evenson/Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Fifty years on in anthropology, “Man the Hunter” remains a sticky brand, one that’s hard to replace with the more accurate alternatives such as “Woman the Gatherer” and the “Grandmother Hypothesis.” Nevertheless, we must keep trying. National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a round-up of some recent thinking on women’s critical roles in early human evolution, spotlighting the research of biological anthropologist Kristen Hawkes, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah, who framed the “grandmother hypothesis” on the basis of her field research among the Hadza, foragers of northern Tanzania, and Sarah Hrdy a primatologist at the University of California at Davis, who studies connections between child-rearing and human evolution: “An ape that produced such costly, costly slow-maturing offspring as we have could not have evolved unless mothers had a lot of help.” First among these helpers, she thinks, would have been grandma. The NPR piece, however, completely overlooks the groundbreaking work of early feminist anthropologists such as Sally Slocum, whose 1975 essay, “Woman the Gatherer: The Male Bias in Anthropology” provided an enduring critique of the Man the Hunter model. Thank you to Sally Slocum, a pioneering “grandmother” of deconstructing a sexist model. And, while we are at it, let’s not forget Woman the Hunter.


anthro in the news 6/4/18

Bikini Bottom. Credit: Encyclopedia Spongebobia

Bikini Bottom matters: More than SpongeBob

The Conversation (U.S.) published commentary by Holly M. Barker, senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Washington, republished in The Hour (Norwalk, Connecticut). Barker draws a connection between the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants and his home, Bikini Bottom: “’Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?’ My anthropology class replied, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.’ Their thunderous response filled the auditorium. Nearly 20 years ago, the underwater world of SpongeBob and his quirky, colorful friends debuted as a cartoon. The cultural icon is now a Broadway musical, up for 12 Tony awards. My follow-up question, however, was met with silence: I asked students what they could tell me about the real Bikini Bottom. Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob’s fictional home, is based on an actual place in the Pacific Ocean. But how much do most Americans know of the real-life Bikini Atoll, the location of 23 U.S. nuclear weapons tests during the Cold War era?”

Indian-Americans are top spellers

Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponnesus. Credit: Norman Rockwell, 1918. Credit: Public domain, Google Art Project

Big Think (New York) reported that Karthik Nammani is the 14th-consecutive Indian-American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship, noting a pattern that may be explained in part by a cultural emphasis on education, and the existence of a spelling bee circuit exclusively for spellers of South-Asian descent. The article quotes Shalini Shankar, associate professor of anthropology and Asian-American studies at Northwestern University: “Among the elite classes in India, both economically and socially elite, there’s a real emphasis on education and the use of education for social mobility. It’s not so different from other places in the world, but it’s certainly quite prevalent there. So I think that value is one that gets very magnified when you look at what Indian-American populations actually emigrated.”

what works: lessons from Japan about elder care

The Conversation (U.K.) published commentary by Iza Kavedžija, lecturer in anthropology at the University of Exeter, republished by Metro News (U.K.): “In anticipation of a UK green paper on social care for older people, the Nuffield Trust published a report claiming that ‘England could learn lessons from Japan to address social care crisis’, with a range of recommendations for the provision of care to the elderly.”

family tomb excavated near Rome

The New York Times reported on the archaeological excavation of a tomb near Rome, Italy, dated between 335 and 312 B.C.E. The family tomb is distinctive “because it remained intact, and was never violated,” said the archaeologist Stefano Musco, scientific director of the project. The quality of the black-glazed pottery found next to the skeletons — a variety of bowls and plates, some bearing mini-skeletons of animals suggest that the owners of the tomb were of a privileged social class. Archaeologists have begun removing the remains of the occupants and the artifacts which will be sent to a laboratory for research, including DNA testing on the skeletons to determine the familial connection.

family tomb excavated near Rome

The New York Times reported on the archaeological excavation of a tomb near Rome, Italy, dated between 335 and 312 B.C.E. The family tomb is distinctive “because it remained intact, and was never violated,” said the archaeologist Stefano Musco, scientific director of the project. The quality of the black-glazed pottery found next to the skeletons — a variety of bowls and plates, some bearing mini-skeletons of animals suggest that the owners of the tomb were of a privileged social class. Archaeologists have begun removing the remains of the occupants and the artifacts which will be sent to a laboratory for research, including DNA testing on the skeletons to determine the familial connection.

marriage as a “capstone” project 

Rings. Credit: emmagrau/Pixabay/Creative Commons

An article in The New York Times covered relationship trends among young adults in the U.S. It quoted Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist who is a consultant to the dating site She coined the phrase “fast sex, slow love” to describe the juxtaposition of casual sexual liaisons and long-simmering committed relationships. Young adults are not only marrying and having children later in life than previous generations, but taking more time to get to know each other before they marry. Some spend the up to a decade as friends or romantic partners before marrying, according to new research by eHarmony, another online dating site. Just as childhood and adolescence are becoming more protracted in the modern era, so is courtship and the path to commitment. Fisher is quoted as saying: “With this long pre-commitment stage, you have time to learn a lot about yourself and how you deal with other partners. So that by the time you walk down the aisle, you know what you’ve got, and you think you can keep what you’ve got.”

in memoriam

Social anthropologist Michael Banton has died at the age of 92 years. Banton taught social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh from 1954 to 1965. political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1962 to 1963. and sociology at the University of Bristol from 1965 to 1992. He was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland from 1987 to 1989. While Banton was concerned with the improvement of concepts and theories in social anthropology, he also wrote about measures for the reduction of racial discrimination. He served as an elected member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination from 1986 to 2001 and as its chairman from 1996 to 1998. He was honored by a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from the British Sociological Association. One of his several books, What We Now Know about Race and Ethnicity, recently became available as open access.

Social anthropologist Peter Morton-Williams has died at the age of 95 years. A former pro-vice chancellor of Ulster University, he worked for many years in Nigeria and Ghana and was a leading authority on the history and culture of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. His many academic publications about West African society, include An Outline of the Cosmology and Cult Organization of the Oyo Yoruba. Long into his retirement he was frequently consulted by students, academics, and others, including museums and auction houses who sought his advice on West African artefacts.

anthro in the news 5/28/18

Bullshit Jobs in the news

The latest book by David Graeber, London School of Economics anthropology professor book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, was published May 15 and is being widely reviewed and discussed. In The New Zealand Herald: “When anthropologist David Graeber set out to write his provocatively titled book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, he invited the internet to share stories of occupations that people believed may contain a high concentration of faecal matter. Among the hundreds who shared stories was an online marketer whose team spent its days crafting and designing online banner ads for pedantic clients, while being fully aware that no one ever clicked on their ads — at least not intentionally. ‘They later had to make up these new kinds of statistics and measures on how many people see these things from the corner of their eye,’ [comments Graeber…]. ‘They’re doing this tiny detail work because the customer wants everything to be perfect, all the while knowing it makes no difference.’’ This piece contains a short video interview with Graeber in which he differentiates between bullshit jobs and shit jobs.

The review in The Daily Mail included this insight from the author: “‘What I ended up doing, when I was researching the book, I created an email account [and]…advertised the account and invited people to share their experiences…‘I said, “Have you ever had a job that’s totally pointless? Tell me all about it.”’ The responses came rolling in – in their hundreds…I wrote them all in one giant file, and I color coded it for content,’ he says, clarifying that he’s not labeling any jobs ‘bulls**t’ himself; he’s only reporting the feelings expressed by people actually working in those positions. ‘Telemarketers were way up there…There’s nobody in telemarketing who doesn’t feel that their job shouldn’t exist … It’s also unusual because most bulls**t jobs pay pretty well and have good benefits; telemarketers aren’t like that. It’s the worst of the worst.’”

A review in Bloomberg commented: “Graeber writes that the only people who’ve ever argued with his basic premise are business owners, the people who are in charge of hiring and firing. He says he periodically receives ‘unsolicited communications’ from such people, who insist that no one ‘would ever spend company money on an employee who wasn’t needed.’ LOLOLOLOL. Sure, corporations and private equity amassers are always laying people off in the name of shareholder value, but, as Graeber mentions, that’s usually a felling of  workers who are actually productive while the top layers of overpaid, unnecessary management are the last to go. (Or, if they go, it’s with severance packages.)”

Reuters’ review includes this point:  “The book’s main contribution is its highly entertaining definition of terms. A bullshit job is a paid role that’s ‘so completely, pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence’ – even though the incumbent will typically pretend that’s not the case. Qualifying positions are numerous, from the bored receptionist whose main job is to wind up a grandfather clock once a week, to the unhappy employee in a warehouse full of clown noses. Anyone who works in public relations, or has ‘strategic’ in their title, automatically joins the club.”

WGN radio (Chicago) carried an eleven-minute interview with Graeber about what kind of jobs fall into the category of bullshit jobs and how there are more unfulfilling jobs in the market now than in recent years. Not all jobs, he says, have to change the world. Many non-bullshit jobs, however, such as bus driving and nursing, continue to exist. Ironically, however, bullshit jobs often pay better than such useful jobs. 

talking trash 

The Economic Times (India) carried an article spotlighting a book about the huge problem of waste management in India and the lack of commitment to dealing with it: “The book’s extensive research includes stories from landfills, open dumps and recycling sheds by [historian Robin] Jeffrey and his co-author Assa Doron, an associate professor and Australian Research Council Future Fellow in Anthropology at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. The book begins with a taxi ride to Seelampur, a highly-congested locality in northeast Delhi infamous for churning out e-waste in huge quantity.” Doron commented that the “immense volume” of thrown-away electronic gadgetry and the people — women and children, old and young — engaged in breaking it down and segregating material provoked nagging questions: “We’ve got to do a book about garbage” said he had thought to himself.

playing the anthropology card and winning 

Quartz reported on comments by Jim Yong Kim, anthropologist and medical doctor, who spoke at a conference and mentioned how he nailed his job as president of the World Bank in his interview with President Obama. As a non-economist, he was an unconventional candidate for the position. Kim reports that Obama looked at him and said, “So, Jim, why would I nominate you to be president of the World Bank? Why wouldn’t I nominate a macroeconomist?” “Well, president Obama,” Kim replied “have you read your mother’s Ph.D dissertation?” Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was an activist and anthropologist who spent years living in Indonesia, researching village craft industries. One of the ideas she explored was the argument made by development economists that the Indonesian artisanal industry would be destroyed by globalization. “But in her 1,000-page dissertation, she showed that globalization led to the flowering, the rapid expansion, of the Indonesian artisanal industry,” said Kim. Her field research had given her better information. “I’m not going to be able to tell you what it looks like from 30,000 feet, like a macroeconomist,” Kim told Obama, “but I can tell you if the programs are working on the ground, because that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life.” “Ok, I get that,’” Obama responded. Kim got the job. When the two met again at an informal gathering, Obama remarked, “Jim, that was one of the best ploys to get a job I’ve ever seen.”

sorcery-driven murders in Papua New Guinea

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on the high mortality rates from local violence fueled by sorcery accusations in Papua New Guinea. Analysis of newspaper records and court filings led by the Papua New Guinea National Research Institute found an annual average of 30 killings from 1996 to 2016. Some government estimates put the number even higher — up to 500 deaths a year. Given the lack of detailed data on such deaths, sociocultural anthropologist Fiona Hukula, a senior researcher with the National Research Institute’s Building Safer Communities program, has enlisted a network of volunteers to report attacks on people accused of sorcery to a national database. With this information, she has identified hot spots of reported sorcery-accusation killings in the highlands and the autonomous region of Bougainville, an island that went through a decade-long civil war that ended in 1998. Hukula is quoted as saying: “The belief in sorcery is quite widespread in this country. But the violence we are seeing is not happening everywhere…Some provinces have had ways to deal with this for a long time that isn’t violent.” The localized data may help inform approaches to preventing future violence.

anthropology in and for everyday life

A panel discussion on Maine Public Radio included four anthropologists explaining how anthropology is part of everyday life. Discussion covered different areas of anthropological research including linguistics and archaeology, what we know about why humans separate into different groups, how anthropology informs our understanding of the human dimensions of climate change, and the anthropology of war. Speakers were: Scott MacEachern, professor of anthropology at Bowdoin College; Cindy Isenhour, assistant professor of anthropology and climate change Institute at the University of Maine; Nadia R. El-Shaarawi, assistant professor of global studies at Colby College; and Sara Lowden, doctoral student in anthropology and environmental policy at the University of Maine.

identifying enslaved people of Maryland

The Washington Post reported on how DNA research may help identify enslaved people buried in a cemetery in Maryland and reconnect them to their descendants. In Catoctin Furnace, the cemetery of enslaved workers of the iron furnace was discovered in 1979 and some skeletal material removed to the Smithsonian. The local historical society knows the years when enslaved people tried to escape the industrial site from “wanted” advertisements in the newspaper. But dating when they died or moved from the area has eluded the historical society. “It’s not unusual at all for them to be lost in time,” said Elizabeth A. Comer, an archaeologist and member of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society. While the history of the European-American owners and workers at the furnace is well-preserved, that of the black enslaved workers has vanished. Research just completed on the DNA of half of the exhumed slaves may be the key to finding links with possible descendant populations. The historical society is going to load the existing genetic profiles to 23andMe in order to see they can find any matches with living people.


The Guardian reported on national Canadian recognition of an activity book that invites children to discover Prince Edward Island archaeology. The Canadian Archaeological Association named the provincial government’s Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat the recipient of its 2018 Public Communications Award for producing the book, Archaeology in Action. Aimed at young readers, it highlights three case studies.

in memoriam

Zhao Kangmin, the archaeologist who led the excavation of China’s Terra Cotta Army, has died at the age of 82 years. He first saw fragments of the terra cotta warriors in 1974. Farmers, about 20 miles from China’s central city of Xi’an, were digging a well and struck into the pieces. The farmers contacted Chinese authorities, who sent out government archaeologists. Since that time, some of the farmers have since sued the government for recognition of the discovery. Zhao disagreed with their claim: “The farmers saw the terracotta fragments, but they didn’t know they were cultural relics, and they even broke them,” he told China Daily in 2009. “It was me who stopped the damage, collected the fragments and reconstructed the first terracotta warrior.”