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.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/14/14”

Anthro in the news 8/5/13

• When prayer becomes addiction

Intense prayer among some Christians can become an addiction, as described by Tanya Luhrmann, professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, in an op-ed for The New York Times.

Praying Hands, Durer, Wikipedia
'Praying Hands' by Dürer/Wikipedia

She has learned that when people use prayer to enhance their real-world selves, they feel good. But when it disconnects them from the everyday, they feel bad. Luhrmann points to an anthropological study of the popular Internet game World of Warcraft for insights about when the supportive use of communicating with a different world veers into something less healthy.

The anthropologist Jeffrey G. Snodgrass and his colleagues found that some people were relaxed and soothed by their play: “Sometimes I just log on late at night and go out by myself and listen to the soothing music.” Others felt addicted: “Once I start playing it’s hard to tell whether or not I’ll have the willpower to stop.”

What made the difference was whether people found their primary sense of self inside the game or in the world. When play seemed more important than the real world did, they felt addicted; when it enhanced their experience of reality outside the game, they felt soothed. Prayer, Luhrmann suggests, works in similar ways. When people use prayer to enhance their real-word selves, they feel good. When it disconnects them from the everyday, as it did for the student, they feel bad.

• Our pills, our selves

Viagra. Source:Men-Health

Salon magazine published an excerpt from Cracked: The Unhappy Truth about Psychiatry by cultural/medical anthropologist James Davies.

He explores big pharma’s rebranding practices, suggesting that it constitutes deliberate deception. The piece mentions the work of Daniel Moerman, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Moerman has written about the placebo effect of medical practices and drugs, including how the very shape and color of a pill can change its effectiveness.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 8/5/13”

Anthro in the news 2/4/13

• Violence in Africa begins with greed

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Kamari Maxine Clarke, professor of cultural anthropology at Yale University, argues that violence in Africa is rooted in greed, related to contested and highly desired natural resources, and corporate greed should be considered a war crime:

Gold dollar symbol
Gold dollar symbol/Wikipedia

“Violence in Africa begins with greed — the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil diamonds and gas — and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities. The court needs the power to punish those who profit from those struggles. So do other judicial forums.

At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses.”

• Legal decision in Guatemala that genocide is genocide

According to an article in The New York Times, a Guatemalan judge ordered Efraín Rios Montt, the former dictator, and his intelligence chief to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres of highland Maya villagers three decades ago.

President Otto Pérez Molina, a former general, says he does not believe that the killings during the war amounted to genocide. A UN truth commission determined that the military had carried out “acts of genocide,” including in the Maya-Ixil villages during the war, in which 200,000 people died. As a legislator until last January, Mr. Rios Montt was protected from prosecution. Prosecutors filed charges when his term expired, but his lawyers’ appeals delayed the case.

Guatemala CIA World Factbook
Guatemala/CIA World Factbook

Scholars of Guatemala said that a number of factors combined to get the case to court, including the tenacity of the attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, and successful efforts to appoint more independent judges.

Victoria Sanford, an anthropology professor at the City University of New York who has written about Guatemala’s civil war, is quoted as saying: ”For Rios Montt to be tried breaks the wall of impunity … It says genocide is genocide and it is punishable by law.”

• Crash course in blood football

The Toronto Star carried an article about how “the concussion issue threatens to sack NFL’s business model” given the impending threat to profits from brain injury lawsuits.

As context, the article points out: The National Football League brought in more than $9 billion in revenue in 2012, and tickets to its showcase event, this weekend’s Super Bowl, range from $850 to $1,250, and even more trough the online resale market. Meanwhile, corporations advertising on Sunday’s game paid a record $3.8 million (U.S.) for a 30-second slot. The NFL is the undisputed king of cash among North American pro sports.

Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, 2006/Wikipedia
Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, 2006/Wikipedia

But as the money piles up, so do lawsuits and workers compensation claims filed against the league and its teams by former players, who say they suffered irreversible brain injuries while playing in the NFL, and that the league and its teams never informed them about the lasting effects of football’s repeated head trauma.

Duke University cultural anthropology professor Orin Starn wonders if the legal action will lead to similar efforts to raise awareness among football players and fans: “Football is in the same situation; they’ve got a product that’s hazardous to your health,” says Starn, who specializes in the anthropology of sport. “It should come with a warning label stamped on the helmet. America is in massive denial about the blood cost of football.”

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Football drives health education among schoolchildren in Mauritius and other African nations

By contributor Sean Carey

Like the populations of many African countries, Mauritians are football mad. The game played in stadiums and streets all over the palm-fringed Indian Ocean island is a legacy of 19th century British colonialism — administrators, missionaries, soldiers and sailors introduced the game to locals — whereas in other African nations it was popularized by the Portuguese and French.

Mauritius football players
Mauritius football players. Flickr/llee_wu

Traditionally, Mauritius split into two more or less equal groups — those who supported Liverpool and those who supported Manchester United. Now, because of increased television coverage and the easy availability of football merchandise, especially branded t-shirts, other UK Premier League teams like Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City are gaining support as younger people choose different football clubs as vehicles for sporting and other identities appropriate to their age sets.

But Mauritians from all of the country’s diverse ethnic groups — Hindu, Muslim, Creole, Chinese and French — know that a Frenchman of Mauritian descent — in fact, of Hindu Telugu heritage — Vikash Dhorasoo, a member of the French team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, was one of the most gifted midfielders in modern times.

The former AC Milan, Lyon and Paris St Germain player is also the most prominent footballer of South Asian descent in the history of the game, and very well known for his views on the importance of combating racism, homophobia and gender discrimination in sport. The regret among Mauritian football fans is that Dhorasoo never played for a Premier League team before his retirement in January 2008. However, he did visit Mauritius in May 2009 to promote FIFA’s Grassroots programme, which was inaugurated on the island.

The Mauritius football team did not make it to the current African Cup of Nations, the finals of which are being co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. But the country is following the championship closely through local and international TV channels and local press coverage.

Significantly, Mauritius along with Zimbabwe, another former British colony, has been part of the FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre’s research into “11 for Health”, a football-based health education programme for young and teenage children. It had previously been piloted in a smaller study in Khayelitsha township in South Africa in 2009.

Vikash Dhorasoo playing with school girls from Birmingham, Flickr/Housing and Sport Network

In Mauritius, 389 schoolchildren, boys and girls, aged 12-15 years, at 11 secondary schools took part in eleven 90 minute sessions which combined learning or refining a football skill with linked information about 10 health issues – for example, heading a football and avoiding HIV infection, defending well and washing one’s hands, shooting for goal and vaccination for self and family, building fitness and eating a varied diet, and good teamwork and fair play. The study was conducted between February and June 2010.

Questionnaires assessed participants’ pre and post-intervention health knowledge as well as views about the “11 for Health” programme. The results carried out in co-operation with the Mauritius Football Association and the Mauritius Ministries of Heath and Quality of Life, Education, Culture and Human Resources, and Youth and Sport were extremely positive. The results among a similar group of children in an out-of-school setting In Zimbabwe were also excellent. Continue reading “Football drives health education among schoolchildren in Mauritius and other African nations”

Anthro in the news 7/18/11

UPDATE: Zahi Hawass has confirmed that he is losing his appointment as Egyptian Antiquities Minister in an ongoing cabinet shuffle.

• Whose lies are better?
Two weeks ago, cultural anthropologist Mike McGovern of Yale University published an op-ed in the New York Times about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in which he argued for understanding of why the immigrant hotel maid would have lied on her asylum application. His position is that life in Guinea can be so difficult and dangerous that lying to get out can make sense, given the context. Now, Robert Fulford, professor of journalism at Massey College of the University of Toronto, claims that McGovern abuses the concept of cultural relativism and is building a culture of excuse-making. Blogger’s note: there appears to be the likelihood of lying on both sides of the case. Questions are: whose lies will be more damaging to the person’s credibility, and whose lies will be left to lie?

• Gillian Tett on the European financial situation
Cultural anthropologist Gillian Tett, an award-winning journalist at the Financial Times, where she is an assistant editor overseeing global financial markets coverage, appeared on the U.S. news television show, Morning Joe. She discussed the European financial situation and, particularly, Irish banking. And she actually managed to work in the word ‘anthropology’!

• Morocco’s Arab Spring
Paul Silverstein, cultural anthropology professor at Reed College, gave a radio interview about Morocco’s response to the Arab Spring movement. He also comments on Morocco’s new constitution that was overwhelmingly approved on July 1.

• Anthro of chess
Robert Desjarlais, a cultural anthropology professor at Sarah Lawrence College, has published a new book on chess, Counterplay: An Anthropologist at the Chess Board. The Boston Globe online included a piece on the book in its section on (guess what?) chess.
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Magical hair on the move

By contributor Sean Carey

What a difference a year can make. For example, in the life of Wayne Rooney. In 2010 there was endless speculation about whether he would be leaving Manchester United and sign for Real Madrid (a new contract ensured that he didn’t). This year the headlines are all about his new hair transplant.

Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney. Wikipedia, via Flickr.
The 25-year-old Liverpool-born England striker has been losing the hair on his head for some time. In 2009, it was reported that he was taking the drug finasteride, produced by U.S. company, Merck, and sold under the brand name Propecia. It blocks the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and helps to prevent further hair loss. It even promotes hair re-growth in some people.

Evidently, in Rooney’s case the pills didn’t work. So he took more drastic action: a hair transplant operation.

According to press reports, Rooney spent around £30,000 on the operation in a clinic in London’s Harley Street. That’s a significant amount for most people but very small change for the soccer superstar, who is reputed to be on £200,000 a week.

The operation involved taking hair follicles from the back of his head and transplanting them to the top and front. The results certainly look impressive – at least so far. According to his own account on Twitter, Rooney is as pleased as punch: “The new hair is coming on people” announced to his followers on Thursday. “Swelling gone down #hairwego.”

However, the even more interesting aspect of the story is the ostentatious public declaration. It appears that the embarrassment attached to hair replacement at least amongst some segments of the U.K.’s male population has disappeared. Simply put, a hair transplant is no longer a source of shame. Instead it provides an opportunity to communicate and celebrate with members of an abstract, diffuse peer group using diverse global social media platforms.
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Tackle this: football as an American ritual

Guest post by Peter Wogan

In preparation for Super Bowl Sunday, there is something we should stock up on, along with the nachos and beer: anthropological analysis. Yes, it is a great time to step back and ask ourselves how football reflects American culture. Such an extremely popular sport must resonate with some underlying aspects of our culture. Otherwise, we could be getting ready right now to watch Super Shot-Put Sunday or the Big Badminton Bowl (BBB).

Football action. Photo credit: JSmith, Creative Commons, Flickr
Football action. Photo credit: JSmith, Creative Commons, Flickr

The best way to understand American football is to compare it with basketball. The comparative perspective should induce culture shock and throw football’s essential qualities into relief.

In football, players dress in Superhero outfits.
In basketball, players dress in bathing suits.

In football, it’s so cold you see steam coming out of the players, as if they’re scaling Mt. Everest.
In basketball, it’s so hot you see sweat pouring off players, as if they’re mowing the lawn.

But the ultimate difference lies in spatial orientation.

Football is all about lines: Lining up on lines, measuring lines, crossing lines. The central objective of the game, in fact, is to cross a line: the goal line.

Basketball, on the other hand, is all about circles: putting a rubber circle inside a slightly larger, metal circle (the ball and the hoop). Instead of yard lines, the basketball court is divided up into circles: the center circle (which contains a circle within a circle), the 3-point line (which is a semi-circle), and the foul circle at the top of the key. Not to mention all the players running around in circles, trying to get open for a pass. Lines vs. circles—that’s the key difference.

Blazers Court. Photo credit: Tom Langston, Creative Commons, Flickr
Empty Redskins Field; Photo credit: squidpants, Creative Commons, Flickr

How, though, do these micro aspects of football and basketball reflect American culture? Warning: I’d rather risk overstating the case than stating the obvious, and I would never say there’s only one reason we love and play these sports, nor that one is better than the other.

Basically, football reflects a hierarchical model of authority. Coaches, quarterbacks, and coordinators control every play. Basketball comes out of a more democratic model based on spontaneous teamwork. The basketball coach cannot even intervene in most plays.

Football is about masterful strategies, specialized roles (punter, receiver, linebacker, etc.), and strict lines of authority (have you ever heard anyone call it “circles of authority”?). Basketball is about role flexibility (every player shoots, passes, plays defense) and fast-paced improvisation.

Football comes out of America’s hierarchical, industrial economy and military strategizing, whereas basketball emerges from the more recent knowledge economy. Lines and circles.

It’s not just about political economy, however. Basketball, with its sweaty players in bathing suits, matches the growing informality and bare-all impulses of post-1960’s, mass media culture (casual Fridays, confessional memoirs, reality TV, Facebook, etc.). An ethos of social openness also plays a role. Circles are more associated than lines in American culture with equality and togetherness. Not coincidentally, basketball, the Circle Game, has skyrocketed in popularity at the same time that there’s been a push toward greater multiculturalism and gender equality. Circles and lines.

No matter what, though, much of the country comes together to watch the Super Bowl. Maybe that is because football does more than just reflect contemporary American culture, including longings and ambivalence. It also exquisitely embodies The Thrill of The Chase. The heart of football is The Chase: players frantically trying to get a few steps ahead of their pursuers. As anthropologists can tell you, that’s how homo sapiens and our hominid ancestors spent much of their time: chasing and being chased. So let the beer flow and The Great Chase begin.

Peter Wogan is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Willamette University, co-author of Hollywood Blockbusters: The Anthropology of Popular Movies (2009), and author of, where he tries to make sense of sharks (“Jaws”), baseball (“Field of Dreams”), and model families (“The Godfather”), among other things. Peter thanks David Sutton for comments on a draft of this post.

For further reading:

Arens, W. “Professional Football: An American Symbol and Ritual.” In The American Dimension, Arens and Montague, eds., Alfred Publishing, 1976. A wonderful, early anthropological essay on football, with insight into things like football’s resonance with labor specialization in postwar America.

Continue reading “Tackle this: football as an American ritual”

Anthropology of sport photo contest

Photo Credit: Discover Anthropology
Photo Credit: Discover Anthropology

In anticipation of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Education Outreach Programme has launched an Anthropology of Sport Photo Contest.

The photo contest is open to anyone interested in anthropology, photography and sport.

Deadline for submissions is December 10, 2010.

For further information and submission guidelines please click here.

World Cup fans keeping their pants on

According to a news report from South Africa published in the Irish Times, sex workers are experiencing an economic downturn during the 2010 World Cup rather than the expected upswing. Only those working closest to the stadia are finding that business is brisk.

Some sex workers point to increased police presence, the cold weather, girls asking for too much money, and HIV risk as factors keeping punters away. One woman said that the visitors she had met so far are “boring.”

If this report is accurate, predictions in advance of the games of extra demand for sexual services and the likely massive trafficking of sex workers have not materialized. That sounds like good news to me, though I am sympathetic to sex workers who are disappointed at not making some extra money that is no doubt much needed.

Image: “P1010233” from flickr user Thomas Ormston, licensed Creative Commons.