anthro in the news 10/31/16

Source: Creative Commons
Source: Creative Commons

Tweeting hate   

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 Nancikeriyo_emoticons_by_delekete 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. 

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/31/16”

African Diaspora: open access annual publication

African Diaspora
Journal cover

This scholarly journal seeks to understand how African cultures and societies shape and are shaped by historical and current diasporic and transnational movements.

African Diaspora is a full Open Access journal, which means that all articles are freely available, ensuring maximum, worldwide dissemination of content.

The 2012 issue contains 19 articles on a wide range of topics, including

  • labor markets in Japan
  • an ethnic enclave in China
  • food practices and identity
  • Nigerian women’s experiences of deportation from Europe
  • monuments to slavery and belonging in the Netherlands

[Blogger’s note: I eagerly await the 2013 issue!]

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”

A heresy is occurring in Australia

Guest post by Helen Caldicott

Ever since white men appeared 200 years ago on the shores of Sydney Harbour in their uniforms, with their guns and flags, the aboriginal people have been hunted, shot at and herded off cliffs and escarpments, and have had to drink from poisoned water holes.

Until very recently, aboriginal children were stolen from their parents by policemen under the direction of government and transported to “Christian” mission stations where they were taught English history, language and morality. Many were treated as slaves and sexually and physically abused. This horrifying history leads me to the current abuse and desecration of several aboriginal tribes inhabiting their land in the Northern Territory.

This land called Muckaty Station is conveniently located adjacent to the railway line, constructed recently by Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton, which bisects Australia connecting Darwin, a port in the north, to Adelaide a port in the south.

In its wisdom, the previous conservative Howard government allocated this site along with three others for a possible radioactive dump. At the time the opposition labor party strongly criticized the nomination of Muckaty, labeling the Howard government’s National Radioactive Waste Management Bill as sordid and draconian. At the same time, the Howard government offered $12 million to just two of the tribal elders, excluding all other members. However the new labor government under the act can still impose a nuclear waste dump on the Northern Territory against the wishes of the indigenous owners and the government of the NT.

Muckaty Station sits above an ancient aquifer which is used by both the aborigines for drinking water and white station owners to water their cattle. It also experiences large intermittent rainfalls during the year.

Not only does the government intend to bury Australia’s low and high level waste at this site, but there is a distinct possibility that waste from overseas – namely the United States – will be transported by ship and on the Halliburton line to Muckaty Station, thus making Australia one of the main radioactive waste dumps in the world.

The reason for this eventuality is that Howard signed a treaty with the American government called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership GNEP which stipulates that after Australia exports its large quantities of uranium to nuclear powered countries, the high-level radioactive waste would be re-imported to prevent lateral proliferation of nuclear weapons. Despite its previous promises, Labor has not vetoed the GNEP and there is a suspicion that a secret deal was negotiated under the aegis of the GNEP to relieve America of some of its deadly radioactive waste.

Long-lived carcinogenic isotopes will inevitably leak into underground water systems, bio-concentrate in food chains and over generations induce cancer, genetic disease and congenital deformities in humans, animals and plants. A dismal prospect indeed for Australia’s future.

Helen Caldicott is an advocate of citizen action to remedy the nuclear and environmental crises. She has devoted the last 38 years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the necessary changes in human behavior to stop environmental destruction. Dr. Caldicott holds a medical degree from the University of Adelaide Medical School and was on the staff of Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Boston, when she resigned to work full time on the prevention of nuclear war. While living in the United States, she co-founded the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the umbrella group, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. She also founded the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament. The recipient of many awards and the subject of several films, she currently divides her time between Australia and the United States.

Image: “Northern Territory.” Creative commons licensed content from Flickr user dinaiz.

Recent sources on Haitian culture and social change

This list is intended to provide a guide to recent resources on culture and society in Haiti for people who wish to be better informed about the context in which the recent earthquake and its devastation are occurring. With apologies, most of the journal articles are not public access.

Furthermore, we really encourage everyone to visit InterAction’s Haiti response page, which includes a variety of ways to help out.

Benoît, C. 2007. “The politics of vodou: AIDS, access to health care and the use of culture in Haiti”. Anthropology in Action 143, 59-68.

Coreil, J. & Mayard, G. 2006. “Indigenization of illness support groups in Haiti”. Human Organization 652, 128-139.

Curci, S. 2008. “Mapping Haitian history: a photo essay”Journal of Haitian Studies 142, 120-30.

Farmer, P. 2004. “An anthropology of structural violence.” Current Anthropology 453, 305-325.

Farmer, P. E. 2001. “The consumption of the poor: tuberculosis in the 21st century.” Ethnography 12, 183-216.

Farmer, Paul. 1992. AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Farmer, P. E. 2008. “Mother courage and the future of war.” Social Analysis 522, 165-184.

Giafferi, N. 2004. The violence of relations in fieldwork: the Haitian example. Terrain 43, 123-40, 159.

Guilbaud, P., & Preston, M. 2006. “Healthcare assessment study in Les Cayes, Haiti: towards a framework for rural capacity development and analysis”. Journal of Haitian Studies 122, 48-69.

Hastings, A. 2007. “Eradicating global poverty: is it really achievable?” Journal of Haitian Studies 132, 120-134.

James, E. C. 2004. “The political economy of “trauma” in Haiti in the democratic era of insecurity”. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 282, 127-149.

Continue reading “Recent sources on Haitian culture and social change”

Why is Haiti so poor?

UPDATE 1/14: This post was linked in a story by Discovery News’ James Williams.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola. Following the island’s discovery by Columbus in 1492, Spanish colonialists exterminated the island’s indigenous Arawak Indians. In 1697, the French took control of what is now Haiti and instituted an exceptionally cruel system of African plantation slavery. In the late 1700s, the half million slaves revolted. In what is the only successful slave revolution in history, they ousted the French and established the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere.

Haiti’s population of over eight million people occupies a territory somewhat smaller than the state of Maryland in the United States. The land is rugged, hilly or mountainous. More than 90 percent of the forests have been cleared. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Extreme inequality exists between the urban elite, who live in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and everyone else.

The people in the countryside are referred to as peyizan yo (the plural form of peyizan), a Creole term for small farmers who produce for their own use and for the market (Smith 2001). Many also participate in small-scale marketing. Most peyizan yo in Haiti own their land. They grow vegetables, fruits (especially mangoes), sugarcane, rice and corn.

Accurate health statistics are not available, but even rough estimates show that Haiti has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS of any country in the region. Medical anthropologist Paul Farmer emphasizes the role of colonialism in the past and global structural inequalities now in causing these high rates (1992).

Colonial plantation owners grew fabulously rich from this island. It produced more wealth for France than all of France’s other colonies combined and more than the 13 colonies in North America produced for Britain. Why is Haiti so poor now?

Colonialism launched environmental degradation by clearing forests. After the revolution, the new citizens carried with them the traumatic history of slavery. Now, neocolonialism and globalization are leaving new scars. For decades, the United States has played, and still plays, a powerful role in supporting conservative political regimes.

In contrast to these structural explanations, some people point to problems with the Haitian people: They cannot work together, and they lack a vision of the future.

Opposed to these views are the findings of Jennie Smith’s ethnographic research in southwestern Haiti, which shed light on the life of peyizan yo and offer perspectives on their development (2001). She found many active social organizations with functions such as labor sharing, to help each member get his or her field planted on time, and cost sharing, to help pay for health care or funerals. Also, peyizan yo have clear opinions about their vision for the future, including hopes for relative economic equality, political leaders with a sense of social service, respe (respect), and access of citizens to basic social services.

The early colonizers did not decide to occupy Haiti because it was poor. It was colonialism and its extractive ways that have made Haiti poor today.


“Culturama: The Peyizan Yo of Haiti,” in Barbara D Miller, Cultural Anthropology, 5th edition, Pearson. 2009, p. 404.

Smith, Jennie M. 2001. When the Hands Are Many: Community Organization and Change in Rural Haiti. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Farmer, Paul, 1992. AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame.

Image: “Haitian Girl” by Flickr user Billtacular, licensed by creative commons.

Thanks to Samuel Martínez of the University of Connecticut for pointing out that the Haitian Creole plural “yo” means that one should not include an article in front of the noun.