anthro in the news 12/26/16


Roma in Poland
Roma in Poland, Source: The New Yorker

blaming Roma

Al Jazeera published an op-ed by Andrzej Mirga, anthropologist and chair of the Roma Education Fund, and a Roma from Poland. He argues that racism is the reason why Europeans fear refugees, not the failed integration of Roma into society. Muslims and Roma share the condition of being the most hated minorities in the region. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that 64 percent of Hungarians hold unfavorable views of Roma and 72 percent have a negative opinion of Muslims. Mirga writes, “In Poland, my home country, these figures are 47 percent and 66 percent respectively, even though both groups together total just 40,000 in a country of close to 40 million, mostly white Catholics.” According to a report by the Polish National Prosecutor’s Office, hate crimes increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2016 in Poland, affecting primarily Muslims, but also Roma, Jews, and blacks.

land conflict in Mexico

Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

An article in Reuters described the conflict between ranchers and Huichol Indians in Mexico over the ranchers’ intensive grazing and planting. Deforestation, and use of chemicals. It includes commentary from Paul Liffman, a research associate professor of anthropology at Rice University in Texas and Huichol expert:  The conflict echoes the Standing Rock dispute in the U.S. state of North Dakota where Native American activists and supporters have demanded a halt to an oil pipeline project. He noted that indigenous groups have been making land claims more forcefully since a 1989 United Nations convention provided a legal framework.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 12/26/16”

Anthro in the news 4/21/14

• In Boston, after the bombs

An article in The Boston Globe explored the experiences of Muslims in Boston following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Fortunately, an anti-Muslim backlash did not occur.

Islamic Society of Boston headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.
Islamic Society of Boston/Wikipedia

The article quotes Nancy Khalil, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Harvard: Years ago, she remembered “trying to explain who we really are, in these really anxious, tense meetings” with Jewish leaders, who were then trying to reconcile their desire for better interfaith relations with their communities’ concerns about a mosque founder’s anti-Semitic statements and alleged extremist ties.

“It was an unbelievable moment for me, and it was really indicative of the type of relationships that we now have across institutions and across communities,” Khalil said. “Because it wasn’t just the leaders being welcoming … It was everybody in that temple being welcoming. And that Muslims were comfortable staying there and mingling afterwards, that was telling.”

• U.S. evangelical churches reach out to save minds as well as souls

In an op-ed in The New Times, Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, writes about some movement in U.S. evangelical churches moving into the area of mental illness.

Rick Warren speaks at the 2006 TED conference
Rick Warren at TED, 2006/Wikipedia

She notes the pastor Rick Warren, whose son committed suicide one year ago after struggling with depression. Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the nation’s largest evangelical churches, teamed up with his local Roman Catholic Diocese and the National Alliance on Mental Illness for an event that announced a new initiative to involve the church in the care of serious mental illness.

According to Luhrmann, the churches are not trying to supplant traditional mental health care but instead complement it: “When someone asks, Should I take medication or pray?” one speaker remarked, “I say, ‘yes.’”

Members of the churches think there are not enough services available. Further, many people do not turn to the services that exist because of the social stigma. [Blogger’s note: In other words: all hands on deck to help fight mental health problems. And heads up to the health care system to do more and do better work and try to address the stigma problem.]

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/21/14”

Anthro in the news 3/31/14

• Conversation with Paul Farmer on World TB Day

The Huffington Post carried an article marking World TB Day and this year’s focus on finding and treating the 3 million people with active TB who are missed by public health systems.

Paul Farmer (right) in Haiti with Alcante. Credit: Moupali Das, 9/11/03
Paul Farmer in Haiti with Alcante/Moupali Das

It presents responses from Paul Farmer — medical anthropology professor, doctor, and health policy advocate — to several questions including why he started working on TB, the specific challenges in working on TB, and more.

• Paul Farmer’s latest book

The National Catholic Reporter included a review of Farmer’s latest book, In the Company of the Poor, a collection of writings and an interview transcript with Farmer and Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Notre Dame professor who is considered to be the founder of liberation theology.

“In a particularly poignant section, Farmer recalls gathering in Peru for a conference ambitiously titled ‘The New World Order and the Health of the Poor.’ He [Farmer] and his colleagues learned directly from the experiences of the poor, a key hermeneutical approach for liberation theology, and they came up with a model of accompaniment, or pragmatic solidarity. Farmer’s works are cerebral but captivating and pay tribute to the ‘disciplined humility’ and hopeful praxis of Gutiérrez’s intellectual and pastoral accomplishments.”

• “Tender mercies” say much about a society

Sarah Wagner, cultural anthropology professor at the George Washington University, published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun about U.S. scientific practices in accounting for war dead in the past century, especially MIAs (those missing in action).

She argues that many complexities involved need to be taken into account in order to serve the relatives: “We as a public need to understand more fully the scientific work and its costs and judge for ourselves if those tender mercies reflect the values of this nation. The missing, unknown and yet unidentified deserve that much.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/31/14”

Anthro in the news 2/24/14

• Bolivia under water

As described by an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Bolivia is suffering from weeks of heavy rains that have caused rivers to swell, homes to flood, and crops to rot.

Bolivia map
Bolivia map/

More than 58,000 families have been affected in the past month, and 56 people are reported dead, but limited reporting from isolated communities could mean that these numbers are significantly higher.

The article quotes Matthew Schwartz, a doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, who works with the Tsimane, an indigenous group:

“As dire as the situation is for campesino and Tsimane communities close to San Borja, it’s really bleak for the further-out communities.”

Members of the University of New Mexico’s research team are currently at work in flood-affected areas, helping to deliver supplies and provide other support.

• Youthful trend in illegal U.S. border crossing

The Los Angeles Times reported on a rising trend of lone teenagers and even children crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. While the overall number of undocumented immigrants has slowed compared to five years ago, a new surge of immigration includes children and teenagers traveling through the rugged area into south Texas.

Up to 120 unaccompanied youths are arriving each day, a number that has tripled over the last five years. The young immigrants tell harrowing stories of being abused before and during their journeys, according to Susan Terrio, cultural anthropology professor at Georgetown University who interviewed 40 youths:

“They witnessed or survived robberies and fell victim to brutal attacks and sexual assaults. They outran or hid from federal police and border patrol agents. They struggled with hunger, illness, and exposure to the elements and saw fellow migrants lose limbs or die while jumping on or off cargo trains.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/24/14”

Anthro in the news 12/30/13


Calgary Herald. Scott Platt, Getty Images.

  • E-cigarettes: good or bad?

As of the end of 2013, e-cigarettes are hot. According to an article in The Calgary Herald, one sign of the burgeoning popularity of e-cigarettes is that Internet searches for the products have grown exponentially in recent years. A study by U.S. researchers showed a several hundred-fold increase between 2008 and 2010 in searches for the devices over other smoking alternatives such as nicotine patches.

Richard Hurt, who runs the nicotine dependence center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, suggests the expansion of the e-cigarette industry and market is harmful because it is turning back the clock on tobacco control.

Cultural anthropologist Kirsten Bell, in contrast, believes e-cigarettes deserve a chance. A professor at the University of British Columbia, Bell has researched the public health responses to the devices. She feels e-cigarettes aren’t being given a fair shot: “They were sort of being condemned without trial by the majority of people in mainstream tobacco control in public health…You have this sort of unquestioning extension of smoke-free legislation to cover e-cigarettes when of course an e-cigarette isn’t a cigarette. It’s not a combustible product.” Bell thinks a moralistic agenda is at play, equating nicotine use with smoking, even though the dangers of cigarettes relate to how they deliver nicotine, not the compound itself

Couple Snap a Selfie, Macedonia. Adam Jones, Ph.D. Wiki Commons.
  • The meaning in the selfie

The Philadelphia Inquirer carried an article on the selfie in which it referred to the research of archaeologist Dean Snow on Paleolithic handprints on cave walls. What’s the connection? The fact that women are more likely than men to post selfies today and that Snow’s analysis of the handprints indicates that the majority were made by women. The meaning: authenticate the event. [Blogger’s note: that still doesn’t explain the gender difference].

  • Faye Harrison and public engagement

In an article in The Huffington Post, Gina Ulysses of Wesleyan University describes the contributions of University of Florida anthropologist Faye V. Harrison to the ongoing conversations about the future of the university and the “value of a liberal education within a hostile market economy.” Ulysses conducted the interview with Harrison at the November meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Faye Harrison. University of Florida, 2010.

Harrison’s three-decade long career has been marked by dedication to publicly-engaged work about people who produce and apply both academic and nonacademic knowledge. Her research agenda goes beyond the ivory tower, into what she calls “peripheralized” and “minoritized” areas, engaging people who are typically left out of processes of knowledge-making.

What’s next for Harrison? For one thing, she is co-organizing, with cultural anthropologist Yasuko Takezawa of Kyoto University, a three-session panel entitled “Engaging Race and Racism in the New Millennium: Exploring Visibilities and Invisibilities for the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences” for the intercongress in Chiba, Japan, that will be held in May 2014. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/30/13”

Anthro in the news 12/23/13


US Department of Homeland Security, US Border Patrol.

  • US-Mexico Border Patrol agents need training in every-day police skills

USA Today reported on the increasing number of cases nationwide in which Border Patrol agents back up local police or perform other police duties, such as serving warrants or responding to domestic disputes. Sometimes incidents turn deadly. Some critics say they aren’t adequately trained for this work. A report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General released in September found that many Border Patrol agents don’t understand their own policies on when to use force. The report also said trainees who leave the Border Patrol Academy “are not fully prepared for possible real-life situations they might encounter.”

The article quoted Josiah Heyman, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of Texas-El Paso, who has studied the border for 30 years, “Border Patrol agents are not adequately trained to solve problems with words,” he said. “They don’t have these every-day police skills.”

  • “Life in India humbles you”

The Hindu carried an article highlighting the work of cultural anthropologist Assa DoronThe Hindu caught Doron while he was vacationing in Kerala with his family, taking a break from his new book on garbage and waste disposal systems in India, co-authored with Robin Jeffrey. They are tracing the issue from the Mughal times, to the era when the British ruled India, to the present-day.

Boats on Ganges River in Varanasi. Maria Carmen. Flickr Commons.

Earlier, Doron co-authored Cellphone Nation, also with Jeffrey. Doron’s book, Life of the Ganga: Boatmen and The Ritual Economy, is a study of the boatmen of the Ganga and their multi-layered, multi-hued relationship with the river and the people. He is working on an anthology, a collection of works on the Ganga, including poems, essays and notes written by the likes of Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, and also translations of poems in Hindi on the river. Doron has also edited Gender and Masculinities: Histories, Texts and Practices in India and Sri Lanka. It includes chapters on the idea of masculinity, tracing it in history, literature, and development.

When asked: what has India taught him over the years, he responded, “Never take anything for granted. Life in India humbles you and fascinates you.”

  • Interview with David Kertzer
"The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim

In an interview with The Tablet, cultural anthropologist and university professor at Brown University, David Kertzer, discusses the impact the 19th century kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara had on both Italian and Jewish history.  Renewed interest in the case is prompted by the Sotheby’s sale of the recently discovered painting, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. The painting, by 19th-century German-Jewish painter Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, depicts Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old Italian Jewish boy seized by church authorities from his family’s home in Bologna, based on a rumor that he had been baptized by the family’s illiterate gentile servant girl. If baptized, the boy would have to be considered a Catholic in the eyes of the church and would no longer be allowed to remain in the home of his Jewish family. Despite the family’s desperate pleas and protestations, Edgardo was brought to a monastery in Rome, taken in by the pope, and raised as a Catholic. When he grew up, he became a priest.

In 1997, Kertzer published a book on the Mortara case, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. A finalist for the National Book Award, it was adapted into an opera and a play. A feature film is now in the works. The interview includes questions about the painting itself, its historical context, where it should reside, and what it means today.

Kertzer has spent much of his academic career researching Catholic Church-Jewish relations, the role of religion in politics, and the formation of political identities. His 2001 book, The Popes against the Jews: The Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Antisemitism, has been translated into nine languages. His forthcoming publication, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe, the result of research conducted in the newly opened Vatican archives, will come out next month.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/23/13”

Anthro in the news 12/9/13

Marlene McKay
Marlene McKay. Credit: Liam Richards/Canadian Press

• Violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada: stop it

Canada paused on Friday to remember the 14 young Montreal women who were murdered by a misogynistic madman. As part of the tribute, the Saskatoon Women’s Community Coalition unveiled a public art display of shoes in the square at City Hall to illustrate the lifetime loss of girls and women who are fatal victims of violence, often domestic abuse that forces them out onto the streets.

An article in The Toronto Star quoted Marlene McKay, a Métis anthropologist who has studied marginalized aboriginal women as well as the “broken women from Saskatoon’s 20th Street.” She said that history has inflicted so much pain and lowered the self-worth of Canada’s aboriginal women that the fact hundreds are missing has become little more than a sociological footnote. Feminism, she says, is still pretty much an F-word in indigenous culture: “We are just entering that conversation.”

• Belize in the news

The Huffington Post carried an interview with Joe Awe, a Belizean activist, entrepreneur, anthropologist, Mayanist, tourism lecturer at a junior college, and one of Belize’s top tour guides. Awe shares facts and ideas about Belize’s history, culture, ecotourism, economy and sustainable development.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/9/13”

Anthro in the news 11/11/13

Containers of Nourimanba organized for storage at newly opened Nourimanba Production Facility in Haiti. Photo: Jon Lascher/Partners In Health

• Peanuts! For health and prosperity

ABC News reported on the opening in Haiti of a new plant in Haiti’s Central Plateau that is making Nourimanba, a peanut-based food used to treat children for severe malnutrition. The peanuts are grown by Haitian farmers, and the project was launched by Paul Farmer’s non-profit, Partners In Health. The first shipments produced at the facility have been distributed to clinics run by Partners In Health. A pilot program will provide support for about 300 farmers to improve the quality and quantity of the peanut supply. The project will improve child health and increase farmers’ incomes.

• On Obamacare

Cultural anthropologist Paul Stoller writes in The Huffington Post about his experience with being diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and the risks of living in the U.S. without Obamacare (the Affordable Health Care Act):

“If I hadn’t had superior health insurance, I would have died many years ago — a life cut short by a lack of access to health care. It makes me angry that millions of Americans cannot not share my good fortune. For any number of reasons — a work-related accident, a sudden debilitating illness, an unexpected job loss — a hardworking person can be rapidly thrown into poverty, which usually means living without health insurance.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/11/13”

Anthro in the news 10/28/13

A sex counselor in Japan with one of her clients. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner/Panos Picture, in the The Guardian

• No sex please, for young Japanese

An article in The Guardian describes changing patterns of sex, love, and marriage, or none of the above in urban Japan. The article quotes cultural anthropologist Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University as saying: “Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure…But more people are finding they prefer it.” Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, “a new reality” in urban Japan. The current flight from marriage may signal a longer term rejection of earlier Japanese norms and gender roles.

• Alan Greenspan may take Social Anthropology 101

In an interview with Alan Greenspan, Financial Times writer Gillian Tett was surprised when Greenspan expressed interest in social anthropology and asked Tett for suggested readings. In shock, Tett comments that Greenspan no longer thinks that classic orthodox economics and mathematical models can explain everything. [Blogger’s note: I am dying to know which readings Tett suggested to Greenspan! David Graeber’s book Debt would be at the top of my list for Greenspan].

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a big  job

The Boston Globe carried an article about Jim Yong Kim’s attempts to overhaul the World Bank. Kim was in Boston Thursday to accept an award from the Harvard School of Public Health. A physician by profession and cofounder of Partners in Health with Paul Farmer and others, Kim is also a medical anthropologist. Although a proponent of the World Bank’s renewed commitment to supporting large hydroelectric dam projects, Kim at the same time expresses concern for the poor:  “What we’ve seen all over the world is that if you don’t pay attention to that bottom 40 percent, you can have fundamental instability in your society…Even in countries that have made so many gains in lifting people out of poverty, the bottom 40 percent were still saying, ‘But wait a minute, we want more.’ ” [Blogger’s note: Studies of large dam construction projects consistently show that they displace thousands, even millions, of people and thus increase the number of people in the “bottom 40 percent.”]

Tanya Luhrmann dumbing down religion?

In an article in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier its literary editor, argues that, in her recent series of op-eds in The New York Times, Tanya Luhrmann expresses positive views of evangelicism (which he says she “adores”) and is “peddling another intellectual argument for anti-intellectualism, another glorification of emotion in a culture enslaved to emotion.”

What’s in a name: Asylum seeker is preferable

Australia’s The Age published a critique of recent official Australian statements about categories of immigrants, particularly a new delineation between asylum seekers and illegal maritime arrivals: “The conjoining of ‘asylum’ and ‘seeker’ is evocative. Who seeks asylum? A human in danger, distress and despair; someone who is hoping to survive on the lee shore of kindness.”

In contrast, the phrase “illegal maritime arrivals” contains no sense of humanity. Jonathan Rosa, assistant professor of linguistic anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, says such phrasing “is more about signalling one’s political affiliation than about trying to describe immigration.”

• Post-multicultural ethnic branding in Canada

An article in The Vancouver Sun notes that one in five Canadians are immigrants and nearly as many are second-generation citizens. So, it would seem that ethnic marketing would be on the rise. Instead, there seems to be growing emphasis on a “post-multicultural” nation.

Design anthropologist Ujwal Arkalgud says brands would do well to leverage Canadiana with high profile examples including Molson Canadian beer, Tim Hortons coffee, Hudson’s Bay department stores, and Roots apparel, all of which have effectively used national identity to sell products.

“Looking at audiences based on their ethnicity is a brutal, brutal practice,” said Arkalgud, director of strategy at Sonic Boom, a strategic marketing communications firm in Toronto. “It makes the assumption that just because somebody has immigrated, or has a certain background, they think a certain way; the reality is that our behaviours are guided by who we are and our own beliefs and values.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/28/13”

Anthro in the news 10/21/13

• Growing bias against Uighurs in China

Region of Uighurs. Photo courtesy of National Geographic education blog.

The New York Times reported on what is apparently growing discrimination in China against Uighurs (or Uyghurs), who live mainly in the northwestern part of the country and are Muslim. The article refers to Beijing’s “strike hard” internal security approach and rapid economic development, both of which increase resentment among Uighurs, who say the best jobs go to newly arrived Han.

Sean Roberts, cultural anthropologist and professor of international development studies in the Elliott School at the George Washington University, is quoted as saying: “The Chinese government is focused on a very outdated understanding of macroeconomic development, thinking that it will bring everyone up to the same level, but it’s clearly not working.”

• Belief in angels and ghosts as hard-wired?

Angel at the Vatican
Vatican angel. Flickr/Madison Berndt

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Stanford University cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann considers various perspectives on how so many people in the U.S. believe in god and other aspects of the supernatural including angels and ghosts.

• Who’s crazy?

An article in Counterpunch about the recent killing of Miriam Carey in Washington, D.C., draws on insights from Luhrmann from her comparative study of narratives of schizophrenics in the U.S. and India.

The study showed that schizophrenics in both countries hear voices, “…but what was interesting was the voices were very different and clearly culturally generated. The Indian voices were ‘considerably less violent’ than the US voices. Americans heard voices suggesting suicide or violence to others, while Indians heard voices suggesting they do their chores or perform disturbing sexual acts. The voices mentally ill people hear are not completely generated from inside their heads; they’re based on things people have experienced in their lives or from the media.”

Implications are that it is important to pay attention to how culture constructs schizophrenia and learn to listen to the voices and respond to them in ways other than shooting them dead. The article raises questions about the voices that journalists do and do not listen to and the sanity of the police who killed Carey.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/21/13”