GW event: Humanitarian Aid Accountability – Expectations and Realities in Haiti

Panelists will discuss the politics of humanitarian aid in the United States in the context of Haiti:

Mark Schuller, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership Development, Northern Illinois University

Michael N. Barnett, University Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

Thomas C. Adams, Haiti Special Coordinator, U.S. Department of State

When: Monday, September 9, 2013, 6:30-8:00 pm

Where: The Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E Street, NW, Lindner Commons, 6th floor


Sponsored by the Elliott School’s Institute for Global and International Studies and its Western Hemisphere Working Group and Culture in Global Affairs Program as well as the Latin American and Hemispheric Studies Program at the George Washington University.
This event is part of the IGIS Global Policy Forum Series and the Culture in Global Affairs Seminar Series.

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 2/25/13

• Human Terrain System update

According to an article in USA Today, a $250 million U.S. Army program designed to aid troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been riddled by serious problems that include payroll padding, sexual harassment and racism. The article cites Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason University who has studied the program.

U.S. soldiers pass out toys during a Human Terrain Team site survey mission in Iraq, 2009. (Photo: Spc. Benjamin Boren)
U.S. soldiers pass out toys on a Human Terrain Team mission in Iraq, 2009/Spc. Benjamin Boren

In an email to USA Today, he said: “It’s another example of a military program that makes money for a contractor while greatly exaggerating its military utility … The program recruited the human flotsam and jetsam of the discipline and pretended it was recruiting the best. Treating taxpayer money as if it were water, it paid under-qualified 20-something anthropologists more than even Harvard professors. And it treated our [AAA] ethics code as a nuisance to be ignored.”

In Afghanistan, the Human Terrain teams feed information to military intelligence centers called Stability Operations Information Centers. The reports are designed to help determine potential targets and adversaries. “We don’t know how that information is useful in identifying a group or individual,” said R. Brian Ferguson, a Rutgers University cultural anthropologist who has studied the program. USA Today has obtained a soon-to-be published report by the National Defense University, a Pentagon-affiliated think tank, noting that Human Terrain System efforts “collectively were unable to make a major contribution to the counterinsurgency effort.”

• Follow the vodka

An article in The Atlantic described the growing role of sociocultural anthropology in marketing studies. It highlights the work of Min Lieskovsky, a 31-year-old straight New Yorker who mingled freely and occasionally ducked into a bathroom to scribble notes about a lesbian party in Austin, Texas, that was heavily infused with vodka.

Absolut vodka
Absolut vodka/Wikipedia

Liekovsky had recently left a Ph.D. program in sociocultural anthropology at Yale University, impatient with academia but eager to use ethnographic research methods. The consulting firm she worked for, ReD Associates, is at the forefront of a movement to deploy social scientists on field research for corporate clients. The vodka giant Absolut contracted with ReD to infiltrate American drinking cultures and report on the elusive phenomenon known as the “home party.”

The corporate anthropology that ReD and a few others are pioneering is the most intense form of market research yet devised. ReD is one of a handful of consultancies that treat everyday life — and everyday consumerism — as a subject worthy of the scrutiny. According to the article, many of the consultants have trained at the graduate level in anthropology but have forsaken academia—and some of its ethical strictures—for work that frees them to do field research more or less full-time, with huge budgets. And agendas driven by corporate interests.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/25/13”

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.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/4/13”

Is there hope for the Niger Delta?

A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme reveals the extent of environmental devastation in Nigeria’s Niger Delta due to extractive oil and petroleum industries. Although the study was partially funded by Shell, it appears that it has some bite. Perhaps a sign of hope.

Niger Delta
Niger Delta viewed from space, with north to the left. Source: NASA via Wikipedia
Meanwhile, an African king is suing Shell, and Niger Delta villagers are going to the Hague to take on Shell. Perhaps further signs of hope.

Oil-related problems in the Niger Delta are not new. They are old, enduring and stain the future of Nigeria. They have to do with powerful corporate and state interests, corruption, global oil and petroleum demand, and the unrelentingly harsh cruelty of capitalist profiteering at the expense of local people and their environment and livelihoods. Nigeria is a major provider of petroleum to the United States.

The Niger Delta region has been exploited with impunity by outside powers for many years. During the British colonial era, Nigeria provided wealth for the Crown through the export of palm oil (Osha 2006). In the postcolonial era of globalization, a different kind of oil dominates the country’s economy: petroleum. Starting in the 1950s, with the discovery of vast petroleum reserves in Nigeria’s Delta region, several European and American companies have explored for, drilled for and exported crude oil to the extent that Nigeria occupies an important position in the world economy.

Most local people in the delta, however, have gained few economic benefits from the petroleum industry. Instead, most have reaped major losses in their agricultural and fishing livelihoods due to environmental pollution. They are poorer now than they were in the 1960s. In addition to economic suffering, they have lost personal security. Many have become victims of the violence that has increased in the region since the 1990s through state and corporate repression of a local resistance movement.
Continue reading “Is there hope for the Niger Delta?”

Chagos conference report

Guest post by Sean Carey

The Chagos Regagne conference at the Royal Geographical Society in London on May 19 focused on the possibility of establishing an eco-village and research station on one of the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago, part of the disputed British Indian Ocean Territory. It turned out to be extremely interesting.

Chagos International Support
Source: Chagos International Support. This is an historic image. The MPA was officially recognized in April 2010.

The event was the brainchild of bestselling novelist, Philippa Gregory, and conservationist and adventurer, Ben Fogle.


But this wasn’t just a “scientific” conference for marine and other scientists. Instead, there were conservationists, lawyers, development geographers, cultural anthropologists and a good number of former U.K. Foreign Office personnel, including David Snoxell, the former British high commissioner to Mauritius, as well as John MacManus, the newly appointed administrator of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Mauritius High Commissioner Abhimanyu Kundasamy attended. Mauritius is host to the largest group of Chagossian exiles and their descendants, around 3,000 people, who live in the capital, Port Louis, and surrounding areas. Mauritius wants the return of the archipelago. In 1965, under international law, the archipelago was illegally excised from its territory by the U.K. in order to provide the U.S. with a military base on Diego Garcia.

Also in attendance were around 150 Chagossians. They had travelled from Crawley and Manchester where they have settled since leaving Mauritius and the Seychelles and becoming British passport holders in 2002.

I met David Vine, of American University in Washington, D.C., who gave an excellent and impassioned summary of his book, Island of Shame, as well as sharing his more recent thoughts on why the U.S. prefers isolated, unpopulated islands for its military bases. Put simply, it’s all a question of “no people, no problems.”

Continue reading “Chagos conference report”

Unknown unknowns in our nuclear world

Safety. Flickr/Jonathan Warner.
Safety. Flickr/Jonathan Warner.
Barbara Rose Johnston, an environmental anthropologist at the Center for Political Ecology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, prompts us to consider what we mean by “safe” when it comes to radiation and the nuclear industry.

She says:

As the world’s nations reassess nuclear power operations and refine energy development plans, now — more than ever — we need to aggressively tackle this question: How do we define the word “safe”?

Here is a link to her full article, “In this nuclear world, what is the meaning of ‘safe’?