The Herald (Zimbabwe) published a piece about recent CIA reports on Russian hacking by social anthropologist David Price, professor at St. Martin’s University in Washington State. He argues that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is a tool of American hegemony, not an unbiased source of information: “I remain agnostic in these matters and highly recommend others do too. While we know nothing about the truth of these reports, we know a lot about the messenger delivering this news, and what we know should give us pause before accepting news of a Russian electoral coup here at home. As a scholar with two decades of academic research studying the CIA, I think many on the American left are letting their dire fear of the damage Trump will surely bring to not fully consider how the CIA is playing these events. Many on the American left misunderstand what the CIA is and isn’t. It isn’t some sort of right wing agency, it is an agency filled with bright people with beliefs across the mainstream political spectrum…” [Blogger’s note: The article previously appeared in CounterPunch Magazine].
where health is a human right
An article in The Atlantic describes the success of Cuba in ensuring the people’s health according to its constitution which says health is a fundamental human right:“Cuba has long had a nearly identical life expectancy to the United States, despite widespread poverty. The humanitarian-physician Paul Farmer notes in his book Pathologies of Power that there’s a saying in Cuba: ‘We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.’ Farmer also notes that the rate of infant mortality in Cuba has been lower than in the Boston neighborhood of his own prestigious hospital, Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s.”
The Montreal Gazette carried an op-ed by Roger Lancaster, professor of anthropology and cultural studies at George Mason University, and author of Sex Panic and the Punitive State. He comments on the rise of “fake news” and its circulation, especially as related to imputed sex-related crimes: “We have good reason to think that the role of fakery is expanding in the public sphere. Part of this expansion has to do with the speeding-up of communication, its dissemination through networks that lack protocols or fact-checking. This is part of the long story of modernity. Fear and confusion propagate faster through radio and television than by way of mass-produced broadsides or fliers; the Internet is a more efficient means of converting anecdote into evidence and rumour into “fact” than was the Hearst newspaper chain of yesteryear.”
big deal phone call
In a guest column in The Orlando Sentinel, Robert Moore, professor emeritus of anthropology at Rollins College in Florida, comments on the recent phone call that president-elect Trump had with the president of Taiwan:“The relationship between China and the U.S. is likely to be the world’s most significant vortex of diplomacy for at least the next few decades…Thanks to that phone call, we might do well to take a good look at Taiwan, one area in which America’s and Beijing’s interests do not perfectly coincide. Whether we view Taiwan as a province of China (which is what our One-China policy requires) or as an independent, self-governing entity (which, in reality, it is), we have to admire it for its robust, democratic institutions.”
Anthropologist and writer for the Financial Times, Gillian Tett argues that U.S. election polling would have benefited from ethnography: “…pollsters and political pundits need to move beyond their obsession with complicated mathematical models, and participate in more ethnographic research into subtle cultural trends of the sort that anthropologists do.” A letter to the editor, in response to her article, says that sedation of respondents would provide more accurate information about voting preferences, a “truth serum” effect.
Paul Stoller, professor of cultural anthropology at West Chester University, published a piece in The Huffington Post describing some recent hate incidents in the U.S., framing his words as a “letter to our students.”The examples are: incidents in New York City in a supermarket and in a diner, booing of a Gold Star family on a flight, and negative social media during the Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony.He concludes by saying: “You can take your knowledge and transform it into practice. You can observe small-scaled interactions and ethnographically describe incidents of hate as well as examples of social tolerance. You can post these descriptions on social media to create an ethnographic record of both intolerance and tolerance that will spread far and wide on the Internet—an anthropology of us.”
An article in The Minneapolis Star Tribune included commentary from two social anthropologists at the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association. Christine Walley, professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showed a documentary she made, Exit Zero, about the closing of a steel mill in Illinois, and drawing from her book with the same title. It is an example of the changes that caused white, rural Midwestern workers to turn to Trump. Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University, agrees. He wrote a book, The Insecure American, which looked at the U.S. in 2009 when many in the middle class retreated to gated communities and were worried about their retirement funds, health insurance, terrorist attacks and immigrants. “A lot of people are trying to understand this election in terms of class,” Gusterson said. “But I’m more struck by how geographical it was.”
fascism in the land of the free
Mark Schuller, professor of anthropology and NGO leadership at Northern Illinois University, published an article in CounterPunch reviewing social repercussions of Trump leadership and values which have strong elements of fascism. He ends by noting that: “…the historical and anthropological record[s] show that empires often descend into fascism during their final decline. Whether this is the end of empire, and whether there are alternatives, is up for we the people to decide.”
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.
Tear gas is not uncommon in Port au Prince. Over the past decade, whether it has been protests over food shortages, controlling political demonstrations, or ‘peacekeeping’ actions by the infamous MINUSTAH UN forces, tear gas and other methods of crowd control have been a reality of the political and social landscape in downtown Port-au-Prince. A veteran reporter in Haiti told me that he had developed all sorts of strategies to deal with tear gas, ranging use of lime under his nose to more preventative measures like always having a paint masks handy.
But as of late, a new method of mass crowd control has been quite literally ‘sweeping the streets’ in the capital of Haiti. A type of pepper spray spiked water is being shot out of water cannons and into crowds of protesters. Dlo grate, or itching water, as it is referred to in Haitian Creole, is a now common term in Port au Prince. While not all have felt its devastatingly powerful effects, knowledge of the new tactic is widespread throughout the city.
The visit of French President François Hollande was the backdrop for the most recent student protest and excessive police response. Student protests are not uncommon in Port-au-Prince, and for the past years these demonstrations have often targeted the government in power. On May 12th, outside of the Faculté d’Ethnologie, the storied home of Haitian anthropology and site of many student demonstrations, 50 or so university students protested the arrival the French President– the first official state visit of any French President to Haiti. Given that Hollande had just rescinded an offer of reparations to Haiti for the damages of slavery and exploitation (officials insisting he was talking about a ‘moral debt’ and not a financial one), such a protest was largely predictable. Other protests in the plaza of Champ de Mars supposedly numbered around 200. During the day of his visit, students and protesters chanted ‘Nou pa esklav anko!’ (We won’t be slaves again), invoking France’s historical role as a slave owning colonial power, and hinting at the continual neocolonial tactics used by France and the broader international community. Some students provocatively dressed as slaves outside the university campus.
During the late morning that Tuesday, I was in the second floor computer of the Faculté d’Ethnologie preparing a seminar that would be cancelled 45 minutes later. I could hear student chants that had been building for an hour or so. But new noises soon entered the air-conditioned room, and students sitting around me got up from their computers to see what caused the loud commotion.
From the second floor balcony, we could see that a black armored national police truck had parked itself outside of the walls of the school. On the top of this tank, visible over the wall, was a large turret fixed with a water cannon. The noise we could hear was the water that was being shot at students, occasionally hitting the metal door of the courtyard. The demonstration was non-violent (a Professor later remarked that he saw one student throw a stone, only to be quickly reprimanded by other demonstrators), yet the tank was parked right outside the courtyard, knocking students to the ground with a surge of water even when they were inside the gates of the university. From its position higher than the university walls, the water cannon was policing actions of even the students inside the gate. Continue reading “Pepper water and protests in Haiti”→
UC Berkeley anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes has been honored by the American Anthropological Association with its first ever Anthropology in Public Policy Award for her trailblazing work shedding light on the dark practice of human organ trafficking.
The award, recognizing anthropologists whose work has had a significant and positive influence on government decision-making, was announced at a recent American Anthropological Association conference in Chicago.
In 1999, Scheper-Hughes, director of UC Berkeley’s medical anthropology program, helped found the Berkeley Organs Watch project. It monitors the organ-transplant trade for abuses among the transnational networks that connect patients, transplant surgeons, brokers, medical facilities and live donors, who often live in the poorest parts of the world.
“When I began the Organs Watch project, it was heretical to suggest that human trafficking for organs was not just a hyperbolic metaphor of human exploitation, but was actually happening in many parts of the world,” Scheper-Hughes said in her acceptance remarks.
But the project generated international headlines, particularly as Scheper-Hughes has called for more accountability from the medical profession in the field of medical anthropology. She also has been asked to testify before national and international governmental and medical panels, and has helped law enforcement agencies uncover illicit organs trafficking around the globe.
In recent years, Scheper-Hughes has advised the European Union, the United Nations and the Human Trafficking Office of the World Health Organization. She has also testified before Congress, the Council of Europe and the British House of Lords. In addition, she has consulted on several documentary as well as commercial films exploring organ trafficking.
In accepting the award, the self-proclaimed “agent provocateur” acknowledged that the complex social issues that anthropologists explore often have no single, simple solution, and one answer can prompt a new problem.
“So, yes,” Scheper-Hughes said in her speech, “I did help interrupt kidney trafficking in Moldova, only to have the international brokers use my Organs Watch web site … to set up a robust scheme in illicit transplants using Afro-Brazilian men from the slums of Recife to service Israeli and European transplant tourists to South African hospitals … And, yes, I contributed to the ban on the use of executed prisoners in China as organ suppliers, only to learn that new organ suppliers could be found in China among rural village girls and Vietnamese immigrants.”
Scheper-Hughes said agent provocateurs must continue “to put their bodies, as well as their words, on the line, and work on behalf of communities and populations under siege…”
For more information:
A 2004 story on the UC Berkeley NewsCenter reported on Scheper-Hughes’ transplant investigations in South America and Africa.
A 2007 story posted by UC Berkeley’s Center for Latin America recounted a presentation by Scheper-Hughes on the “medically disappeared” of Argentina during that country’s “Dirty War” of the 1970s and ‘80s.