Anthro in the news 4/14/14

• Health equity, smart aid, and “stupid deaths”

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.

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Anthro in the news 2/17/14

• Lessons learned about AIDs?

The Washington Post published an op-ed by medical anthropologist, health advocate, doctor, and professor at Harvard University, Paul Farmer.

Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer/Wikipedia

He asks whether, a decade after the global AIDS response began in earnest, the lessons learned will be sustained over time and used to fight other diseases. He notes the similarities between the prevalence of chronic hepatitis C infections today and AIDs in the 1990s.

Hepatitis C inflicts 170 million people worldwide, is the leading indication for liver transplant in the United States, and a common cause of liver failure around the world. For some, however, Hepatitis C is about to become curable thanks to the knowledge doctors and researchers gained fighting AIDs.

• Source your chocolate

Cultural anthropologist Mark Schuller, anthropology professor at Northern Illinois University, writes in The Huffington Post about where chocolate comes and options for the future. He highlights a documentary film, “Nothing Like Chocolate,” by sociologist Kum-Kum Bhavnani of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Noting that over 40 percent of the world’s chocolate comes from Côte d’Ivoire, the film documents the violence behind its harvest, including civil war and child labor. It reveals the growing consolidation of the chocolate industry by transnational agribusiness corporations like Nestle and Hershey’s who continue to buy up small producers.

On a more positive note, the film highlights an alternative to this process in the Grenada Chocolate Company: “Within 5 years, the co-operative was producing 9 to 10 tons of local organic chocolate. Nothing Like Chocolate looks at this revolutionary experiment, focusing on how solar power, appropriate technology and activism merge to create a business whose values are fairness, community, sustainability and high quality.”

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3 statements and an article for International Widows' Day 2013

On June 23, the world is supposed to pause and think about widows for at least one day. International Widows’ Day was first recognized by the United Nations in 2010 to highlight poverty and injustice faced by widows and their children in many countries.

Here are some speeches and statements from the UN Women website:

Widow Santosh Komodi sweeps her house on June 17, 2013 in Vrindavan, UP, India. Flickr/UN Women Asia & the Pacific
Widow Santosh Komodi sweeps her house on June 17, 2013 in Vrindavan, UP, India. Flickr/UN Women Asia & the Pacific
UN Women Acting Head calls for robust measures to ensure rights of widows in message for International Widows’ Day
In her message for International Widows’ Day, UN Women Acting Head and Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri, calls on the international community to end discrimination against widows so they can live in dignity and fully participate in society. Ms. Puri draws attention to the estimated 115 million widows currently living under the poverty line, and the 81 million who are subjected to physical abuse, often by their own family members.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS widows strive to regain their rights after husbands are gone
AIDS widows face economic and social exclusion and, for many, living with HIV adds to their vulnerability and stigmatization. UN Women is working with community groups and traditional leaders to empower widows, protect their property and inheritance rights, and provide essential services.

Socially-excluded widows mobilize for their rights
Along with partners, UN Women is working on initiatives to support widows in Guatemala, India and Malawi. To mark International Widows Day, a look at the work that is currently underway.

For my part, I browsed through Google Scholar, with the simple search term “widows” and with the time parameter of 2009 to present. As always, Google Scholar presents a rich array of things for me to read — I noticed several articles and reports on widows in Iraq and Africa.

I have chosen this article to highlight here, since it brings together widowhood, climate change, and women’s roles as agents of change as well as victims of circumstances. Here is the abstract for the article and publication information (it is not open access, I am sorry to say):

Journal of Cleaner Production
Widows: agents of change in a climate of water uncertainty
Sara Gabrielsson, Vasna Ramasar
Centre for Sustainability Studies, Lund University (LUCSUS), PO Box 170, 221 00 Lund, Sweden

The African continent has been severely affected by the HIV and AIDS pandemic and as a consequence, development is being obstructed. Agriculture and food production systems are changing as a result of the burden of the pandemic. Many farming families are experiencing trauma from morbidity and mortality as well as facing labour losses and exhaustion. To further exacerbate the situation, climate variability and change reduce the available water supply for domestic and productive uses. This article describes how these multiple stressors play out in Nyanza province in Western Kenya and explores livelihood responses to water stress in Onjiko location, Nyanza. In this community, widows and divorced women affected by HIV and AIDS have become agents of positive change. Data from local surveys (2007), mapping of seasonal calendars (September 2009) and numerous focus group meetings and interviews with women in Onjiko (October 2008, January 2010, January 2011), reveal that despite a negative fall-back position, widows are improving their households’ water and food security. This adaptation and even mitigation to some of the experienced climate impacts are emerging from their new activities in a setting of changing conditions. In the capacity of main livelihood providers, widows are gaining increased decision making and bargaining power. As such they can invest in sustainable innovations like rain water harvesting systems and agroforestry. Throughout, they work together in formalized groups of collective action that capitalize on the pooling of natural and human resources as well as planned financial management during hardship periods.

Click here to view figures and tables from the article.

Anthro in the news 5/6/13

• What New Yorkers are thinking about

The Village Voice included a review of “a fascinating set of videos from an anthropologist named Andrew Irving, a researcher who spent part of 2011 documenting 100 random New Yorkers’ inner monologues.”

Andrew Irving
Andrew Irving, New York Stories: The Lives of Other Citizens/Village Voice
The videos, published by Scientific American, were created by Andrew Irving, professor and director of the Granada Centre of Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, England. He spent part of 2011 documenting 100 randomly selected New Yorkers’ inner monologues. Irving stood on street corners and asked pedestrians to put on headsets and narrate their streams of consciousness out loud.

While each narrative is distinct, Irving picked up on a recurrent theme of economic instability and concerns in “the age of terror.” Irving told the Voice that this particular project arose out of work he had done in Uganda, trying to understand the thoughts of people diagnosed with HIV.

• Hello, God

Tanya Marie Luhrmann
Tanya Marie Luhrmann/Stanford
In a guest column for The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, a professor at Stanford University, discusses findings from her ethnographic field work in a charismatic evangelical church in Chicago. It was not at all uncommon for people to talk about hearing God. She asks, what do we make of this?

“I don’t think that anthropologists can pronounce on whether God exists or not, but I am averse to the idea that God is the full explanation here. For one thing, many of these voices are mundane. A woman told me that she heard God tell her to get off the bus when she was immersed in a book and about to miss her stop… Schizophrenia, or the radical break with reality we identify as serious mental illness, is also not an explanation.” She provides more detail in her book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

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From the perspective of the poor: An analytical review of selected works of Paul Farmer

Guest post by Megan Hogikyan

To label Paul Farmer as a practitioner or theorist of any one field would be a disservice to the multi-faceted nature of his commentary and points of view. A self-described physician and medical anthropologist by training (Farmer 2001 [1999], 2005), Farmer’s career experiences highlight his other important roles as an academic, humanitarian activist, diplomat, and voice of the poor. Evidence of each can be found when tracing the development of Farmer’s theories through analysis of selected works published since the 1990s. Depending on the function and audience of the work, and its place in his timeline of experience, each book highlights different concepts, practices, and forms of theory.

Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer/Wikipedia

The categorization of Farmer’s writings into early, middle, and late periods helps to demonstrate the development and evolution of his core theories, how they build on each other, and how their progression is affected by each of his varied perspectives and audiences.


Analysis of selected works by Farmer traces the development of his main theories and arguments as they build on each other over time. Over the last two decades, Farmer’s central theories have evolved from studies of social suffering to practical analysis of political, social, and economic inequality and structural violence, and to pragmatic solidarity and the provision of tools of agency and targeted solutions to suffering stemming from tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS, and poverty. The use of ethnography, local and international history, and the practice of actively bearing witness to violations of health as a human right facilitate what has become a collective, comprehensive approach and body of theory associated with Farmer. Consideration of his central concepts, writing style, and practical experiences serves to demonstrate how his unique approach came to be associated with the household name he is today.

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State of hunger: Food insecurity’s place in anthropology

Guest post by Natalie Sylvester

Food insecurity is considered by major aid agencies to be the world’s biggest health risk (World Food Programme 2011). Food insecurity, however, receives far less research attention and aid than other world health problems such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. This bias in attention holds true in cultural anthropology as well.

One-seventh of the world’s population goes to bed hungry every night. Yet anthropology does not have an edited volume that addresses the wide-ranging topics of food insecurity. The subfields of medical anthropology and nutritional anthropology are especially well-equipped to study food insecurity and its related issues in nuanced, reflective, and powerful ways.

This review, originally prepared for a graduate seminar in medical anthropology, examines works written about food insecurity in the anthropological and closely-related social science literature. I highlight what is, and is not, being spoken about within the anthropological food insecurity discourse. My review reveals three major connections and complications: Development Policy and Food Insecurity, Mental Health and Food Insecurity, and HIV/AIDS and Food Insecurity.

Development Policy and Food Insecurity

The Cauca Valley is in southwest Colombia.

Food insecurity is often the subject of policy and those development projects that attempt to enact policy. Taussig (1978) in his classic article “Nutrition, Development, and Foreign Aid” is one of the first to demonstrate the complex interplay between food insecurity of a population, outside political and economic intervention, and its consequences. 

Taussig focuses on the Community Systems Foundation (CSF) which found that in the Cauca Valley, “50 percent of the children under six years were malnourished” (1978:109). The CSF’s solution was to increase peasant’s consumption of soya, which would close both the protein and caloric gaps.

Taussig examines three important points that exemplify why the CSF intervention failed to work. He first explains that the caloric and protein gaps that the CSF were concerned with were based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) daily requirements (1979:110). That is, the CSF came up with a guideline, without basing those guidelines on their population’s actual energy expenditures and what they needed to consume.
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Tweetography: making cuts to save lives?

Guest post by Graham Hough-Cornwell

The XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna concluded on July 23. Twitter buzzed all week with updates from speakers and attendees, and comments from those who, like me, didn’t attend but followed from home.

The biggest stories of the week? Undoubtedly at the top are the speeches of Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. They each championed male circumcision as an effective method for preventing HIV transmission.

Some tweeters expressed relief at finally seeing circumcision receive serious attention as a possible preventive measure:

GLOBALHEALTHorg: Male circumcision, proven HIV prevention strategy, finally gets some attention at #AIDS2010,

Others, however, doubt recent findings, particularly from activist groups Intact America and the International Coalition for Genital Integrity:

Intactamerica: New study shows circumcision would not halt spread of HIV in the United States: #i2 #AIDS2010 #humanrights #AIDS

Tweeters representing these groups contend that males who sign up for circumcision are under the impression they no longer need to use a condom.

Dan Bollinger, a spokesman for ICGI, argues that without “fully informed consent,” circumcisions are unethical, even for adult males. But no one is talking about duping men into the surgery. Rather, if the problem is simply a misunderstanding of necessary precautions and possible health benefits, then isn’t the solution more information and more options, not less?

In a press release from this week, Intact America scorches a straw man by claiming that the circumcision solution is just another desperate attempt to find a “silver bullet”.

But the speeches of Clinton and Gates – not to mention the many roundtables, conversations, research presentations, and blog posts of countless others – also highlighted major advances in a microbicidal gel that women apply before and after sex:

Gatesfoundation: microbicide trial: A turning point for women in #HIV prevention: #AIDS2010

Everyone would love a “silver bullet”. In the meantime, some practical, implementable solutions might be the gold standard.

Graham Hough-Cornwell is an M.A. candidate in Middle East Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University and a Research Assistant for the Elliott School’s Culture in Global Affairs program.

Image: “Teaching scouts about HIV/AIDS 15,” from flickr user hdptcar, licensed with Creative Commons.