A short film produced by Square, Inc. tells the story of a refugee family living in Knoxville, TN.
Yassin Falafel, as some people call him, runs a popular restaurant in downtown Knoxville. After fleeing the war in Syria, he and his family settled in East Tennessee. Initially without a work permit, Yassin began selling his sandwiches at the local mosque. With a little help from an imam at the mosque, Yassin opened his downtown store.
Yassin says that anyone who comes in his restaurant is family – from the fellow refugees he employs to those who have never tried falafel before.
BBC News reported on the research of social anthropologist Emma Tarlo tracing the global industry in human hair, especially wigs, weaves, and extensions. Tarlo, professor of anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, is the author of Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair. While China is the biggest exporter and importer of human hair and harvests huge amounts from its own population, European hair is the most valuable because of its fine texture, variety of its colors, and relative scarcity. Tarlo is quoted as saying: “People who work in the industry are conscious of the fact Made in China is viewed as a negative label and market it in more glamorous ways instead.” [with audio]
welcome to the Drone Age
Foreign Affairs published a review of five books on drone warfare including one by Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. The reviewer refers to Drone as “gently critical” and a “thoughtful examination of the dilemmas this new weapon poses.”
USA Today reported on the surge in hate speech on Twitter during the U.S. presidential campaign especially via social media. The article quotes Sophie Bjork-James, post-doctoral fellow in the anthropology department at Vanderbilt University: “While various groups have been targeted with hate speech on Twitter during this election, I don’t think anything compares to what Jewish journalists are going through…Many white nationalists have been inspired by the Trump campaign to increase their involvement, and a central part of this ideology is anti-Semitism.”
Behind the presidential masks
An article in Smithsonian magazine asks, what’s behind America’s obsession with presidential masks? Among several interpretations reviewed is that of Nancie Loudon Gonzalez, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Maryland. College Park. She links the role of performance during political campaigns to the theory of carnivalesque in which people use humor to come together and seek social change through expressing both hope and fear.
As in previous years, I did a key word search in Dissertation Abstracts International to find dissertations defended in 2014 that address topics related to the anthropologyworks mission. I continue to regret that this source provides information almost exclusively on U.S. dissertations, in other words, it is not “international.”
“Best” means my “best” picks: dissertations that connect to major global issues. My search terms were human rights, justice, migration, gender/women, health, violence, conflict, environment, food, and energy.
As you may imagine, I do not read the entire dissertations, only the abstracts. My selection is based on the abstracts – and the topics as described therein. So maybe I should retitle this post as the 50 Most Important Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.
The dissertations are ordered alphabetically by the author’s last name. Dissertations are not generally available through open access. Here are my 50 picks for 2014. I was excited to read about them, and I hope you will be, too.
Can Anyone with Low Income Be Food Secure?: Mitigating Food Insecurity among Low Income Households with Children in the Tampa Bay Area, by Edgar Allan Amador. University of South Florida. Advisor: David Himmelgreen.
This study compares households with children at different levels of food security and insecurity using the USDA Core Food Security Module (CFSM) and an ethnographically informed analysis of coping. I seek to understand the differences between at-risk households in order to determine why some fall into more severe food insecurity while other manage to avoid it. Data on food security, demographics, use of food assistance programs, shared cultural models for food, food shopping behavior, food consumption, and measures of depression and anxiety were collected from 207 households. Future studies should explore how food insecurity and stress affect household relationships.
Logics of Sacrifice: An Ethnography of the Makah Whaling Conflict, by Leslie E. Beldo, Jr. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Richard A. Shweder.
This dissertation examines the ethics of human-animal interaction at work in the continued conflict over Makah indigenous whaling in the state of Washington. I argue that contemporary Makah whaling is driven as much by tribal members’ refusal to back down in the face of outside resistance as it is an affirmation of tribal identity and sovereignty. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Native American tribal identities were formed in the course of legal battles for fishing rights throughout the twentieth century. The dissertation takes anti-whaling activists seriously in their suggestion that Makah whaling is an environmental issue and an animal issue as much as it is a Native American sovereignty issue. Continue reading “50 Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations of 2014”→
Now in its eleventh year, the SCRM (Short Courses on Research Methods) program is for cultural anthropologists who already have the Ph.D. Three, five-day courses are offered during summer 2015 at the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Text Analysis (Instructors: Amber Wutich and Elizabeth Krause), July 13-17
Cultural anthropologist Barbara Rose Johnston offers an inside view on Counter Punch of a commitment from the Government of Guatemala to make reparations related to the Chixoy dam.
She has worked long and hard to push for this:
“The Government of Guatemala has finalized a legally-binding commitment to repair the human rights damages associated with forced displacement, violence, and related abuses accompanying the construction and operation of the internationally-financed Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. This historic action provides the legal means and financial commitment to launch the first-ever formal reparation mechanism that explicitly addresses the varied injuries and immense impoverishment resulting from internationally financed hydroelectric dam development.”
Johnston is an environmental anthropologist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Political Ecology, an independent environment, health and human rights research institute based in Santa Cruz, California.
Skin communicates many messages to others — a person’s race, gender, age, and even socioeconomic status. A tattoo is a chance for individuals to mark themselves outside of conventional boundaries. As DeMello explains: “If the physical body serves as a site in which gender, ethnicity, and class are symbolically marked, tattoos and the process of inscription itself create the cultural body themselves, thereby creating and maintaining specific social boundaries. Tattoos articulate not only the body, but the psyche as well” (1993:10).
Tattoos also have meaning to the individual. For my M.A. thesis at the University of Houston, my research goal was to analyze and understand how tattoo narratives help the story teller explain to themselves and to others how their tattoo has symbolized a change in their lives. Getting a tattoo can be a significant event for women in itself. Tattoos are often planned out with the artist to ensure that it is exactly what the wearer wants.
A tattoo narrative is rich with details and meaning. “As individuals reflect on the major events that have shaped their lives, they maintain and get others to acknowledge important features of their self-understanding. More than a social obligation, this sharing of personal experience serves the psychological purpose of bolstering one’s subjective sense of being properly motivated and well directed in life” (McCollum 2002:113). Being visually accessible to others the tattoo story is told over time and repeatedly. My goal was to record these stories and identify important changes in a woman’s life related to their tattoos. Continue reading “Tattoos as Transformational Pilgrimage: Women’s Tattoo Narratives in Houston, Texas”→
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.
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.]
KPBS radio (San Diego) interviewed medical anthropologist and health activist Paul Farmer about how to improve health care around the world.
Farmer talked about how to ensure equal access to health care through smart aid and the need to avoid what he calls “stupid deaths.” He comments on the “equity approach” in responding to a question about the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide.
He also addresses tough questions about HIV/AIDs and how to help the poorest people.
• Jim Kim: On leadership and cholera
The Washington Post carried a brief interview (embedded below) with Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank and a medical anthropologist and physician.
Kim discusses leadership and the need to develop a thick skin, in some areas, and openness in others.
During the April 12 meetings of the World Bank, Kim called for a renewed sense of urgency and more coordination from the international community to help Haiti eliminate cholera, which has killed thousands of Haitians since its outbreak in October 2010.
National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on the role of cultural anthropology in efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola in Guinea.
Doctors, nurses and epidemiologists from international organizations are flying in to help, along with cultural anthropologists. Understanding local beliefs can help get communities to trust international health care workers, says Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at Washington State University. Hewlett was invited to join the Doctors Without Borders Ebola team during an outbreak in Uganda in 2000. There are anthropologists on the current team in Guinea as well.
Before the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders started bringing in anthropologists, medical staff had a difficult time convincing families to bring their sick loved ones to clinics and isolation wards. In Uganda, Hewlett remembers, people were afraid of the international health care workers: “The local people thought that the Europeans in control of the isolation units were in a body parts business … Their loved ones would go into the isolation units, and they would never see them come out.”
Health care workers did not always promptly notify relatives of a death because of the need to dispose of the body quickly, Hewlett wrote in a report on his experiences in Uganda: “The anger and bad feelings about not being informed were directed toward health care workers in the isolation unit … This fear could have been averted by allowing family members to see the body in the bag and allowing family members to escort the body to the burial ground.” In addition, Hewlett points out that the large tarps surrounding isolation units were removed so family members could see and talk with a sick relative.
Efforts to contain such outbreaks must be “culturally sensitive and appropriate,” Hewlett says. “Otherwise people are running away from actual care that is intended to help them.” Medical anthropologists can help doctors and other medical experts understand how a local population perceives disease, death, and loss. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/7/14”→