anthro in the news 10/3/16

UN ineffectiveness in Middle East peace

picture1-10416
Source: Google Images

The Tehran Times carried an interview with cultural and linguistic anthropologist, William Beeman, head of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota. He says that the rivalries between the United States and Russia have made the United Nations unable to be an influential player in building peace in the Middle East: “For example, Russia and the United States both have different interests in Syria, and so a UN Peacekeeping force would have to have the agreement of both Russia and the United States, since both have veto power in the Security Council.” Further, he notes that “There are no new active peace missions in the Middle East, and have not been since 2012.”


Cargo shorts: You don’t care or you are cool?

Source: Creative Commons/Nick Warzy
Source: Creative Commons/Nick Warzy

An article in New York Magazine about the cargo-short boom quotes Brent Luvaas, associate professor of anthropology at Drexel University, who says that the shorts’ “thoughtless” convenience appeals to American males with a particular set of priorities: “What’s offensive about cargo shorts…is that it’s the kind of thing you wear if you want to be comfortable and truly do not care what people think of how you look — which itself is a kind of privilege. It does not signal striving. Maybe this is why people wear it on weekends or days off; it’s not associated with work, even though it’s supposedly utilitarian.” On the other hand, Kim Jenkins, a visiting assistant professor of fashion design at the Pratt Institute who studied anthropology, points to the coolness factor. Cargo shorts are evolved from cargo pants which were worn by servicemen during World War II. American fighter planes had narrow cockpits, so your pants needed front-facing pockets to get at your cigarettes, pens, and whatever. Like bomber jackets, peacoats, and desert boots, cargo pants and cargo shorts have ended up on the street.

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anthro in the news 9/19/16

Trump’s chimp-style displays

A chimpanzee at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, as Jane Goodall gives a press conference. Source: Getty Images/Jan Waldie
A chimpanzee at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, as Jane Goodall gives a press conference. Source: Getty Images/Jan Waldie

Several media, including The Huffington Post, reported on primatologist Jane Goodall’s statement that U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump behaves much like a male chimpanzee:  “In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals…In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks…the more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”


Where have all the young men gone?

Punjabis at home. Source: Sent Away Boys press kit.
Punjabis at home. Source: Sent Away Boys press kit

The Indian Express carried an interview with cultural anthropologist Harjant Gill of Towson University in Maryland about his new documentary on the widespread out-migration of young men from Punjabi villages in India. Sent Away Boys explores the effects of their absence on the sending villages, including the development of a genre of folk songs sung for the departing male family member. Gill says: “A few years ago, during a visit to my maternal village, I decided to draw a kinship chart of my mother’s side of the family. I realised that, in the past 15 years, more than 75 per cent of my mother’s extended family had settled overseas.”

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anthro in the news 9/12/16

Having no remains of loved ones adds to the loss

Memory site. Source: Creative Commons/Pixabay.
Memory site. Source: Creative Commons/Pixabay

NBC News reported about the ongoing grief of 9/11 families whose relatives were killed in the World Trade Center attack and whose remains were never recovered. The article quotes Chip Colwell, senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science:  [The void is] “…intangible, lingering, the opposite of something that is concrete and tangible…That leads to ongoing pain and suffering for many of these families.” Remains are a key part of the grieving process, giving mourners something specific to remember the person they have lost, Colwell said. They are symbols, something to visit and make part of a routine, providing a sense of connection and closure.


Walk it to change it

Violence against women is not just a “women’s issue.” Source: Google Images/Creative Commons
Violence against women is not just a “women’s issue.” Source: Google Images/Creative Commons

The Berkshire Eagle (Massachusetts) published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Susan Birns, chair of the department of anthropology, sociology, and social work at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She asks, Why Walk in Her Shoes? In response, she outlines the scope of violence against women in the U.S. and says: “We walk because we insist that these facts become completely unacceptable in our community. We walk to promote social change. We walk to build community. We walk to raise money to provide services for survivors. We walk because it’s a fun way to tackle an extremely serious social problem.” In conclusion, she reminds us that gender-based violence is not just a “women’s issue.”

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anthro in the news 8/15/16

Anthropologist walks into the World Bank…

World Bank headquarters in DC. It is a bank, after all. Source: Creative Commons
World Bank headquarters in DC. It is a bank, after all. Source: Creative Commons

What happens when an anthropologist/physician becomes president of the World Bank and tries to move funding into projects that are more about “humane development” than infrastructure? The Guardian’s article on the presidency of Jim Yong Kim leads with this line: “After years of working with the poor, Jim Yong Kim thought he could lead the World Bank to fight global suffering. Then the organisation turned against him.” The article describes Kim’s early work, with Paul Farmer, both co-founders of Partners in Health. [Blogger’s note: In addition to a commitment to “humane development,” Kim has strongly supported mega-projects in the energy sector including hydropower. Nonetheless, it’s likely that during his presidency, he has done less harm to communities in low-income countries than a non-anthropologist would have. Reforming the mission of an institution as large and cumbersome as the World Bank, as someone wrote many years ago, is like trying to alter the course of an ocean liner with a feather].


Brazilian sports fans are boisterous

Source: Creative Commons
Source: Creative Commons

Cheering and booing during an Olympics fencing match? It happens in Rio. The Globe and Mail (Canada) reported on fan behavior at the Olympics where the stands are mostly populated by Brazilians who are active commentators through cheers, boos, and improvised songs.  Martin Curi, a social anthropologist at the Federal University of Fluminense in Rio and editor of Soccer in Brazil is quoted as saying:  “…well, if you’re in Brazil, you get Brazilians…They’re used to the logic of soccer and the behaviour of soccer…So of course they defend their own athletes and their own teams and of course they make a lot of noise, sing and disagree with the referee.” He adds that when they don’t have a Brazilian team to support, they cheer for Cuba, any small African country, or any underdog.

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anthro in the news 8/8/16

Olympic sports vs. favela life

Rio’s Rocinha favela in the foreground. Source: Wikipedia
Rio’s Rocinha favela in the foreground. Source: Wikipedia

An article in The Chicago Tribune juxtaposed the lavish display of competitive sports at the Olympics with the lack of options for recreation, especially for children and youth, in Rio’s favelas. It quotes Benjamin Penglase, a cultural anthropology professor at Loyola University in Chicago who has studied the city’s favelas for nearly 25 years: “A lot of parents see the lack of recreational opportunities as a major threat to the safety of their children.”


WikiLeaks and “anti-Americanism”

WikiLeaks logo. Source: Creative Commons
WikiLeaks logo. Source: Creative Commons

The Huffington Post published an article looking at the anti-U.S. slant in WikiLeaks’ published material and how it can be partially attributed to the fact that WikiLeaks is an English-language platform. The organization cannot control who is leaking to it, and its lack of transparency means it is impossible to determine what proportion of the material it receives is published. The article quotes Maximilian Forte, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Concordia University who has written about WikiLeaks: “Non-English releases have generally been met with silence or near silence, which is not good for an organization that needs to be in the limelight of transparency causes on a fairly regular basis.”

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anthro in the news 8/1/16

Listen to the data: Police in the U.S. fatally shoot more blacks than whites

Source: Creative Commons, Lorie Shaull
Source: Creative Commons, Lorie Shaull

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried an article describing findings from a county-level quantitative analysis by Cody Ross, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of California Davis. His research confirms that blacks, unarmed or armed, are more likely to be shot and killed by police than whites. In his paper, he examines the independent effect of a range of county-level indicators and finds several clear associations including between the higher the level of inequality within a county and more killings, and greater racial segregation and more killings. These findings contradict those of Harvard economist, Ronald Fryer, who used a different data set based on police reports and found that police officers are less likely to fire their weapons at blacks than at whites.


In the field: Preventing and dealing with danger

41Ftg6Ts0KL._SX269_BO1,204,203,200_Two social anthropology doctoral students at the University of Cambridge, Corinna Howland and Christina Woolner, published an op-ed in The Guardian about how universities must do more to prepare students to prevent and cope with danger during fieldwork. They write: “No risk assessment or training course can ever address all fieldwork complications. But increased attention to student preparedness and support, and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations, will promote safer, and ultimately better, research.” Their suggestions: talk openly about difficulties, encourage early visits, provide alternative mentoring support, develop contingency plans, and cultivate local networks. [Blogger’s note: Nancy Howell’s ground-breaking report, Surviving Fieldwork, published in 1990, would benefit from a re-study including  attention to recently discussed problems such as sexual harassment by supervisors and options, such as those mentioned in this op-ed, for prevention and coping].

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anthro in the news 7/25/16

Mass killings are local and global

Source: Creative Commons
Source: Creative Commons

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of medical anthropology at the University of California Berkeley, published an article in Counterpunch (U.S.) on how recent mass attacks in Dhaka and Nice take Americans into a “gray zone” of terrorism, showing “…how totally vulnerable we all are and how deficient are our national and international security systems.” Her essay begins by stating that one Berkeley student was killed and three wounded in the Nice attack, and one Berkeley student was killed in the Dhaka attack.


Gender, power, agency, and blame in transactional sex

978-0-8223-3864-2_prSABC News (South Africa) reported on the trending terms for transactional sex participants: blesser and blessee. The article include an interview with one blesser, the person who provides money and gifts to the blesse who normally is expected to return the favors with sex. In discussing how blessees in South Africa often have a negative public reputation as vixens or evil, the article mentions cultural anthropologist Sherry Ortner‘s book, Anthropology and Social Theory:  Culture, Power and the Acting Subject, in which she looks at why women who use their agency are often depicted as evil.

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