Article of note by GW sociologists

Holocaust commemoration in Romania: Roma and the contested politics of memory and memorialization

Michelle Kelso and Daina S. Eglitis

Abstract: In 2009, the Romanian government unveiled a $7.4 million Holocaust memorial to commemorate over 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Roma who died as victims of the Ion Antonescu regime. Located in central Bucharest, the monument is part of a national agenda, outlined by an international commission, to study the crimes of the Holocaust in Romania and to help the country come to terms with historical atrocities. Under communism and in the early post-communist period, the Romanian state denied its role in the Holocaust. In this article, we explore the representation of the Holocaust and, in particular, Roma victims in the dominant historical narrative and the Holocaust memorial. We delve into discourses around this monument, which feed into a larger dialogue of victim recognition and contested national narratives about the Holocaust. We highlight the construction and contestation of the Holocaust memorial, considering in particular the paradox of Roma victims and suggesting that Roma are simultaneously represented, unrepresented and misrepresented in the historical story and memorial of the Holocaust in Romania.

Read the full article here.

Assisted reproductive technologies: reviewing recent perspectives and addressing research gaps in medical anthropology

Guest post by Jessica Grebeldinger

ICSI is a common form of IVF in which sperm is injected directly into the egg. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

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[1978]: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).

Birth in Four Cultures by Brigitte Jordan

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.

Continue reading “Assisted reproductive technologies: reviewing recent perspectives and addressing research gaps in medical anthropology”

War hurts

Arlington National Cemetery, U.S. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Just published: findings on “Long-Term Impact of War on Healthcare Costs” from an eight-country comparative study. No surprises. War hurts and war costs. I think we can safely assume that the impact of war on healthcare costs also indicates long-term impact of war on people’s very health in the first place.

But that’s too simple a conclusion to need stating. Or maybe it isn’t so simple. Since in some cases, a “good” war that pre-empts mass murder and genocide, launched at the right time, could prevent death and suffering in the short-term and the long-term.

Source: PLOS ONE: Long-Term Impact of War on Healthcare Costs: An Eight-Country Study

Killing with kindness: readings in the NYC area

Mark Schuller, assistant professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership Development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti, is the author, most recently, of Killing With Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs (Rutgers, 2012). He will be doing readings from his book at the following locations in early November:

  • Sunday, November 4, 2012 – 5:00pm – Grenadier Books / Haïti Liberté, 1583 Albany Avenue, Brooklyn

Oct 2011 Meeting: The Maintenance of Life

When: Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Where: Sumner School, 7:00 pm

Dinner, Beacon Bar and Grill, 5:30 pm

Dr. Frances Norwood will talk about her book, The Maintenance of Life: Preventing Social Death through Euthanasia Talk and End-of-Life Care–Lessons from the Netherlands. .  The book is based on a 15-month ethnography of home death in The Netherlands and develops from two important study findings: Continue reading “Oct 2011 Meeting: The Maintenance of Life”

Must Read: Memorial Mania by Erika Doss

Guest post by Tristram Riley-Smith

Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America
by Erika Doss, University of Chicago Press (2010)

At the end of William Faulkner’s masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, the castrated idiot, Benjy Compson, weeps when his black carer walks him the wrong way past the memorial to the Confederate soldier in Oxford, Miss. Honor-rites have been flouted, and through Benjy’s tears we sense the pent-up emotions of a defeated yet defiant, impotent yet proud, South.

Memorial Mania
Credit: University of Chicago Press

This vignette points to a wider truth. Memorials carry enormous emotional and symbolic freight, providing clues as to how people feel about their society. This is the subject of Erika Doss’s scholarly and readable book, Memorial Mania.

In responding enthusiastically to this work, I must admit to sitting in the center of its target audience “sweet spot.” As an anthropologist of art (having conducted doctoral research among the Buddhist “god-makers” of the Kathmandu Valley), I am partial to books that focus on the place of material culture in society. And in my recent incarnation as an anthropologist of America, I relish work that reveals new aspects of this complex and fascinating society.

But I believe Memorial Mania will appeal to a wide audience – both inside and outside academia – given the quality of the writing and the presentation of the material. The book is packed with information and insight as it documents the growing phenomenon of memorialization in America; and 160 illustrations can only enhance the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the subject. Doss also has an ear for the well-turned phrase: she describes memorials, for instance, as “archives of public affect” and “repositories of feelings and emotions.”

The author adds depth and structure to her work by examining her subject in relation to different feelings. Under “fear,” for instance, Doss explores the proliferation of terrorism memorials, linked to security narratives (with an interesting digression into the narrative of national innocence). Under “shame,” she describes memorials recalling racism, slavery and war relocation; she focusses this chapter on Duluth’s Lynching Memorial in Minnesota, that recollects a horrific act of mob violence from the 1920s that was new to me. Continue reading “Must Read: Memorial Mania by Erika Doss”

Violence in the city: book launch and discussion

NOTE: This event has been canceled.

Understanding and Supporting Community Responses to Urban Violence
When: Thursday, February 10th, 2011 from 12pm-2pm
Where: MC 13-121
The World Bank

Sarah Cliff, Director, World Development Report

Alexandre Marc : Cluster Leader, Conflict Crime and Violence Team, Social Development Department (SDV), World Bank
Alys Willman: Social Development Specialist, Conflict Crime and Violence Team, SDV, World Bank

Junaid Ahmad: Sector Manager, Africa – Urban & Water, World Bank
Rodrigo Serrano: Senior Social Development specialist, LAC, World Bank

For millions of people around the world, violence, or the fear of violence, is a daily reality. Much of this violence concentrates in urban centers in the developing world. Cities are now home to half the world’s population and expected to absorb almost all new population growth over the next 25 years. In many cases, the scale of urban violence can eclipse those of open warfare; some of the world’s highest homicide rates occur in countries that have not undergone a war, but that have serious epidemics of violence in urban areas. This study emerged out of a growing recognition that urban communities themselves are an integral part of understanding the causes and impacts of urban violence and of generating sustainable violence prevention initiatives.

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Anthro connection: for all the gold in Colombia

An article in the Economist reports that the FARC is turning to gold. Literally. Apparently some FARC groups are financing their efforts through illegal gold mining.

The story of digging for gold in Colombia is not a pretty one and it is not a new one.

Cultural anthropologist Michael Taussig has written a powerful book about gold in Colombia, from before Columbus got there to the stunning displays in the Museo del Oro, a living tribute to the beauty of gold.

Read Taussig’s My Cocaine Museum and think about gold, slavery, violence and the pretty little bits of it that we (speaking for myself) attach to ourselves. And the billionaires who trade in gold. And the poor who work for pitiful wages sifting gold from the earth. Beyond gold, Taussig draws connections to cocaine and more.

I love this book: it is deep and dark and bright and memorable from page one to the end. Here is chapter 2 as a teaser.

Photo: Piece of gold from the Museo del Oro; Courtesy of dariorana, Creative Commons license on Flickr

Open access articles from Medical Anthropology

Medical Anthropology, a journal dedicated to publishing papers that examine human behavior, social life and health in an anthropological context, has recently made available a number of articles published since the inception of the journal in 1977. The journal provides a global forum for inquiring into and elucidating the social and cultural, ideational, contextual, structural and institutional factors that pattern disease, shape experiences of illness and wellbeing, and inform the organization of and access to treatments.

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Must read: The Cracked Bell by Tristram Riley-Smith

The Nacirema are a large and diverse group of people who live south of Canada and north of Mexico (spell the tribal name backward in case you haven’t figured out who they are). In the mid-20th century, Horace Miner wrote a clever parody about the culture of this tribe. The nickname continues to have some currency among anthropologists and their students. It’s a clever way to get Americans to think of their culture as a culture: contextualized, changing and not at all natural.

Because the Nacirema are such a large and diverse population, I ask students in my introductory cultural anthropology class to avoid referring to Americans as a whole. Because of the many and deep differences across regions, urban/rural, class, age groups, genders, ethnicity and more, I ask that any mention of Americans be preceded by several adjectives.

I have long held to a belief that the only thing all Americans share is knowing what crayons smell like. I have learned much, therefore, from reading Cracked Bell by Tristram Riley-Smith, and I may have to acknowledge that all Americans share an attraction to the concept of freedom.

Riley-Smith is English. He earned his doctorate in cultural anthropology at Cambridge University and did his fieldwork in Nepal. In 2002, he moved to Washington, D.C., working in the British Embassy. Over the next few years, he cast his anthropological gaze on America, taking the pervasive value of freedom as his focal point.

His book provides deep insights for those who wish to understand the United States. In seven chapters, he explores the theme of freedom in America from different angles, all wide angles that allow space for Riley-Smith to draw on his very deep well of knowledge about my country. He knows far, far more about my country than I do — a citizen steeped in its history from childhood and nurtured on its popular culture. I stand in awe of the range of Riley-Smith’s data: historic documents, movies, one-on-one interviews with Americans throughout the land and much, much more.

Chapter one tackles the question of identity. Riley-Smith raises the question of how can and does a sense of identity as American exist out of so much difference? He discusses how the education system shapes a shared sense of identity, as well as “rituals” such as summer camp and mass devotion to sport teams. Yet freedom and opportunity cannot and do not successfully bridge the deep divisions of race and ethnicity and the dispossession of American Indians and the poor in general.

Riley-Smith goes on to tackle six more big issues, bringing to each of them startlingly original insights. Chapter two examines consumerism, with Riley-Smith taking us down the corridors of excess and into the aisles of Walmart where the freedom to consume in fact shackles us all. Other chapters address religion, innovation, the wilderness, war and peace and law.

Riley-Smith isn’t as naive as Mork, who came to America from another planet to learn about our customs, but his observations are just as crisp and memorable. This is not a book you can whiz through in a few hours. I had to stop frequently, put it down, and think. It’s worth the effort.