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.

One Love vs. side dishes

Sylvia Tamale, a feminist sociologist and legal scholar who teaches at Uganda’s Makerere University, is quoted in a recent PlusNews article as saying that the “risky sexual practices” framework, as uncritically accepted in HIV policy circles in Uganda, is “racist, moralistic and paternalistic.” Instead of fighting people’s culture, she suggests that raising people’s awareness about safe sex is more likely to be effective in reducing sexually transmitted diseases.

Having concurrent sexual partnerships, she feels, is deeply ingrained in Ugandan culture. Furthermore, concurrent sexual partnerships have not been definitively proven as a factor underlying high rates of HIV/AIDS.

Yet, since the 1980s in Uganda, HIV prevention campaigns have pushed for fidelity to one sexual partner. The recent “One Love” campaign urges people to abandon “side dishes.” But they also promote condom use for those who don’t.

Anthro in the news 5/17/10

• Africa is not a big country
In a letter to the editor of The New York Times concerning an article on the global war on AIDS, Steve Black zings it for totalizing “Africa.” He writes, “Now just imagine what would happen to investment in the United States if articles did not distinguish between the United States and Colombia and discussed “American drug lords”?” Black spent a year in Durban, South Africa, while pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology. See also this.

• The tragedy of trachoma
Infectious trachoma is widespread among the indigenous peoples of Australia. Some eye care specialists argue that services in remote areas to provide eye care should be increased. Peter Sutton, an anthropologist, responds that spending more on services is questionable when much of the burden of trachoma could be prevented by improved facial hygiene.

• Let’s face it
A French proposal to ban full face veils for women has prompted much media discussion. The Daily Star (Lebanon) quotes Abdelrhani Moundib, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco: “The West has the right to preserve its secularism … As a Moroccan Muslim, I am against the burqa. I see nothing in it that relates to Islam or chastity.”

• Talk to me
Just hearing your mother’s voice can raise levels of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” according to an experimental study conducted by biological anthropologist Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

• Jaws are us (guys)
Human males have thicker jaw bones than human females. The interpretation of this difference, provided by biological anthropologist David Puts of Penn State University, is based in evolution. Physically superior males were more attractive to females as mates, and male jaw bones were part of the selective mix: “Males have thicker jawbones, which may have come from men hitting each other and the thickestboned men surviving,” he said. “Things are different for us now in many ways.” Blogger’s note: I hope he’s right about things being better now.

• Makerere University drops archaeology B.A. degree
Scrapped programs on the main campus of Makerere University, Uganda, include the B.A. in archaeology. In all, 20 programs were dropped including the bachelor’s degrees in dance, tourism and wildlife health and management, and the master’s program in ethics and public management.

Anthro in the news 3/15/10

• Yo-Yo Ma’s anthropological soul

Classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma is, according to an article in the Washington Post, “one of the most recognizable classical musicians on the planet.” Besides being a star of the musical world, he is also a social activist, in his own way. “I realized late in life,” Ma says, that my twin passions are music and people. Maybe that is why I am an odd person in this profession.” The article goes on to point out that Ma’s wonderful oddness may be in part due to his liberal arts education at Harvard where he expanded his view beyond music: “I have been passionate about music … but people in my dorm were equally passionate about other things. So suddenly, it was like, oh my gosh, what a huge world.” He is still an avid fan of anthropology. Blogger’s note: Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma.

• Knowledge about domestic violence for prevention

What safety nets are in place to protect women from domestic violence/partner abuse? The recent murder of two women in Miyagi Prefecture has raised concern about how to provide protection for potential victims. The Daily Yomiuri (3/14, page seven) of Tokyo quotes Ichiro Numasaki, professor of social anthropology at Tohoku University: “Many victims of domestic violence are scared to end the relationship because they are kept under the control of the abuser … Police need to learn more about domestic violence itself.”

•”I’m done with Indian stuff”

According to an article in The New York Times, a likely American Indian site has been, or soon will be, destroyed due to pressure from local business interests to “develop” the area. Harry Holstein, a professor of archaeology, has been lobbying for protection of what was a mound. Leon Smith, the mayor of Oxford, wasn’t eager to discuss the issue with the NYT: “You’re not going to hear from me … I’m done with Indian stuff.” He plans to top off the mound, level it and build a restaurant, hotel or clinic: “It’s going to be pretty,” he said. Blogger’s note: Yet another chapter in the shameful treatment of American Indians and their heritage in the United States.

• Career skill: anthropology students love the odd

A story on NPR applauds a new documentary, The Parking Lot Movie. It’s about a parking lot in Charlottesville, Va., and the characters who populate it. Most of the workers, all male, are students from the University of Virginia. The manager, who is also the filmmaker, says: “The anthropologists are always the best. They have a perspective that allows them to look at oddness and be interested in it, and not be bored.”

• Culture and AIDS in Lesotho

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried an article on the efforts of David Turkon to push policy makers to rely more on anthropological research in combating AIDS. Turkon is associate professor of cultural anthropology at Ithaca College and chair of the AIDS and Anthropology Research Group within the American Anthropological Association.

• Freedom of speech in China

Scott Simon, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Ottawa University says that freedom of speech in China is a global issue. He hosted a discussion forum profiling three Chinese human rights activists.

• Homage to American Jewish cultural anthropologist who redefined “blackness”

A review of the 2009 film, Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness, praises it as a “dense and fascinating documentary. ” Herskovits, a Jewish American cultural anthropologist, pioneered African American studies in the United States.

• Welcome to England and off with your head

Excavations for a road near the London 2012 Olympic sailing site unearthed a mass grave of 51 young Viking males. All were decapitated, and some showed multiple body wounds. The remains are dated between 890-1030 CE.

• Prehistoric climate change responders

Ezra Zubrow, professor of archaeology at the University of Buffalo, has been conducting research with other scientists in the Arctic regions of Quebec, Finland and Russia to understand how humans living 4,000-6,000 years ago coped with climate change. Zubrow is quoted in Science Daily: “…analysis of data from all phases of the study eventually will enable more effective collaboration between today’s social, natural and medical sciences as they begin to devise adequate responses to the global warming the world faces today.”

• Sick or just small? Hobbit debate still newsworthy

The Canberra Times quoted several biological anthropologists commenting on a recent publication in the Journal of Human Evolution in which Peter Brown and Tomoko Maeda argue for the position that the Hobbits (aka Homo floresiensis) were small but healthy. Dean Falk, Florida State University, supports their view. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard University, now agrees that the Hobbits represent a new species. Ralph Holloway, Columbia University, has not ruled out the disease hypothesis.

• Those bonobos are sharing again

BBC News picked up on research by Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, showing that bonobos share food. He conducted research on orphaned bonobos living in a study center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In experimental settings, the bonobos willingly share food with other bonobos. He now wants to understand why they share. His findings are published in Current Biology.

• American biological anthropologist wins Max Planck Research Award 2010

Tim Bromage has been awarded one of the two annual Max Planck Research Awards for his achievements in establishing the field in human evolution of growth, development and life history. Bromage is professor of basic science and craniofacial biology and of biomaterials and biometrics in New York University’s College of Dentistry. The award carries a stipend of $1.2 million.