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.”
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.”
National Public Radio (U.S.) carried an interview about the situation in Haiti with Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist, medical doctor, and co-founder of Partners In Health. The first question: Do you think cholera could spread more widely after the storm as a result of people drinking contaminated water? His answer: “I don’t want to say I’m terrified, but that’ll do. You can die in hours from cholera. It’s one of the true infectious disease emergencies.”
Anthropology needed more than ever
The Huffington Post published an op-ed by anthropologist George Leader, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and adjunct professor at the College of New Jersey.Commenting on presidential candidate Donald Trump’s negative remarks about particular groups of people, Leader writes: “It would serve Americans quite well to learn from the field of anthropology and colleges and high schools should do more to encourage students to take some courses. We must educate our next generation of business leaders, doctors, nurses, engineers and those pursuing all careers towards a worldview that is not limited but conscious. Anthropology should be an integral part of the education of policy makers and law enforcement.”
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.
Medical anthropologist and doctor Paul Farmer has credentials that require their own paragraph. He is Kolokotrones University professor and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at the Harvard Medical School; chief of the Division of Global Health Equity, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and co-founder of Partners In Health.
Farmer published an article in The Huffington Post celebrating President Bill Clinton who, nearly 13 years after leaving office, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Farmer writes, “While his accomplishments as the 42nd President of the United States were extraordinary, the work he’s done since then as a private citizen has had as profound an impact on millions more around the world.”
[Blogger’s note: this may be a first – when an anthropologist gets to pat a former president on the back?]
• Japan on the verge
A review in The Japan Times of Anne Allison’s new book, Precarious Japan, praised it as “a forward-thinking commentary on the current state of Japan, detailing a progressive history from the economic collapse in 1991 to how the country functions today in a modern, post-earthquake society.”
Allison, Robert O. Keohane professor of cultural anthropology and women’s studies at Duke University, explores how Japanese society is on the cusp of a new transition. Prior to the country’s economic decline, gender and societal roles were firmly secured in Japan: Men were full-time workers, typically loyal to a single company for most of their lives; woman were housewives, dedicating their lives to the caretaking of their households and families.
Allison explores how this paradigm is rapidly shifting — despite the lag in society’s perceptions of gender roles. The review also comments that “Allison gives an eye-opening view into the darker aspects of modern Japanese society, and how such instability is effecting both individuals and the country at large … Despite being an academic book, readers in Japan will likely feel connected to the events and conditions that Allison describes … For those wondering just how precarious Japan’s future really is, this book is a good place to start.”
A review of Allison’s book in The Atlantic focused on her description of Japan’s highly competitive school system and its cautionary implications for the U.S. For more insights about the book and Anne Allison’s perspectives, NPR provides a wide-ranging audio interview with the author.
Roberts notes that while the deaths are a tragedy, it is not clear that they are a representative of a serious terrorist threat to the Chinese state as is now being suggested by official sources. According to Chinese security organs, this act of driving a jeep into a crowd of people and setting it on fire was a “carefully planned, organized, and premeditated” terrorist attack carried out by a group of Uyghur Islamic extremists from Xinjiang Province.
Roberts continues to say that given the lack of transparency historically in the Chinese state’s conviction of Uyghurs on charges of political violence, “we may never know whether this characterization of Monday’s events is accurate.” Roberts is an associate professor and director of international development studies in the Elliott School of the George Washington University. He has done substantial fieldwork in China’s Xinjiang region and is presently writing a book on the Uyghurs of Kazakhstan.
• Interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes
Mother Jones carried an interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes of the University of California at Berkeley. Holmes recounts his year and a half among the people who harvest food for consumers in the U.S. in his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. Questions address how he became interested in anthropology, in U.S. farm workers, as well as what it’s like to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border.
[Blogger’s note: I assigned Seth’s book in my fall seminar on Culture, Risk and Disaster. It got a thumbs up from all the students, and I will assign it again next year.]
“Since 2009, anthropologist Jason De León has led groups of students from across the U.S. and Canada through the Sonoran Desert to study unauthorized migration using archaeological and anthropological methods. The project has collected and cataloged more than 10,000 artifacts left along the way by those trekking the desert,” reports the Arizona Daily Star‘s Perla Trevizo. “He can usually tell how old the site is or how far the migrants walked by the objects found. For instance, black shoe polish tells him it’s an older site from a time when migrants painted their water bottles to attract less attention. Now, they buy them already black.”
De León, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, started the Undocumented Migration Project to record history and get a fuller picture of what’s happening: “Undocumented migration is a complex phenomenon…I want to provide reliable information to help the public see behind the curtain.”
Half of the research is done by walking the same trails migrants use. The other half is spent talking to border crossers staying in the migrant shelters in Nogales, Sonora, or getting ready for their journey in the town of Altar, Sonora.
Medical anthropologist and UC Berkeley assistant professor of health and social behavior, Seth Holmes, has just published Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. The book chronicles Homes’ in-depth study of the lives of indigenous Triqui farmworkers who travel from Oaxaca, Mexico to the western states of the United States and back, and how these farmworkers experience unfair treatment, inadequate healthcare and horrible living conditions.
Holmes lived and worked with a group of Triqui farmworkers for over one and a half years, traveling with them during an illegal cross of the Arizona-Mexico border, then on to picking berries in Washington state, pruning vineyards in California (along with a week of homelessness living in cars), and harvesting corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, the home state of the Triquis.
Discrimination against Triqui farmworkers, Holmes said, can be seen starting with the jobs they are given on farms: “The Triquis were given the hardest jobs, picking strawberries in Washington state for instance … This work involved putting their bodies into repetitive positions, crouched and picking, under stress and all weather, seven days a week, exposed to pesticides and insects that made them get sick more often.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/22/13”→
An editorial in the Economic and Political Weekly asks: Is the opposition to a proposed new BSc degree in community health course in the interest of the rural population?
“A Parliamentary Committee on Health recently asked that the government abandon its proposal to introduce a new educational course that will train healthcare providers for rural areas. The committee’s suggestion appears in tune with the Indian Medical Association’s (IMA ) shrill cries that this new course, the BSc in community health, will create “half-baked doctors” and with the general response of the MBBS doctors’ lobby that the government would be playing with the lives of the rural population.”
In 1978, Brigitte Jordan published her foundational cross-cultural ethnography Birth in Four Cultures, declaring that childbirth “is everywhere socially marked and shaped” (Jordan 1993:3). This publication signaled the birth of reproduction as a focused field of anthropological inquiry. That same year, the world’s first “test tube baby” conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) was born, ushering in the age of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). Over thirty years later, both biomedical reproductive technologies and anthropological attention to technological approaches to reproduction have increased substantially. Anthropologists are engaged in studying the intersections of technologies and reproduction because they are deeply connected, indeed, central, to many other aspects of human life, including gender, kinship and notions of the family, individual identity, religion, social inequality, globalization, and health care policy. Concerning ARTs, Rapp has stated that “there can be no more hallowed or classic ground on which anthropological interpretation reverentially and critically occurs” (2006:421).
ARTs developed and spread rapidly, if not evenly, throughout the globe after the birth of the first baby conceived through IVF. An estimated 5 million babies have been born using ARTs since 1978, with an average 27% of treatment cycles resulting in the birth of a baby, the majority of these resulting from traditional IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which fertilization is achieved by injecting a single sperm into the egg (ESHRE 2012). Assisted reproductive technologies created new opportunities to study biomedicine’s involvement in conception, and, indeed, medical anthropologists have answered Ginsburg and Rapp’s (1995) call to situate reproduction at the center of social analysis. The importance of ARTs to this effort is evidenced by the number of edited volumes produced in the last 15 years that are devoted either completely or in part to the study of these technologies (Birenbaum-Carmeli and Inhorn 2009; Browner and Sargent 2011; Culley et al. 2009; Dumit and Davis-Floyd 1998; Davis-Floyd and Sargent 1997; Franklin and Ragoné 1998; Inhorn 2007a; Inhorn and van Balen 2002; Inhorn et al. 2009; Morgan and Michaels 1999).
The review that follows presents a survey of some of the most recent anthropological literature on reproductive technologies, focusing on those published in the last 5 years (2007 and forward). The review demonstrates the breadth of this field of research, which has produced important insights on such topics as infertility experiences, the commodification of reproductive bodies, the phenomenon of international reproductive travel, new kinship configurations, among others. However, the review reveals that this research area has also suffered from a narrowed field of focus resulting from certain gaps in the literature along racial, socioeconomic, geographic, and gender lines. These imbalances problematize our ability to document the varied uses and impacts of reproductive technologies at global and local levels. I discuss this problem after the review section and underscore some recent studies that point the way toward a more inclusive and complete field of reproduction-focused medical anthropology.