Anthro in the news 12/16/13

• Understanding the fragility of African states

The recent French interventions in Libya and Mali, and the most recent one in the Central African Republic, raise the question of the very existence of the state on the continent according to Jean-Loup Amselle, an anthropologist and director of Studies at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in Paris.

Marcel Mauss. Flickr: Les bibliothèques de l'UPEC.

In an article in Worldcrunch, Anselle refers to classic studies by anthropologists that identified the existence in precolonial times of two types of societies: state societies represented by kingdoms and empires, and segmentary lineage societies, organized in tribes.

He states that the former’s characteristics are very different from those of the rational bureaucratic state, which one can observe nowadays in most developed countries.

For example, the Malian state machinery, like that of many other African countries, is “riddled by networks that feed on the range of resources available on the continent: mining and oil as well as international aid and drug trafficking.” The functioning of such networks is based on Marcel Mauss‘ theories of reciprocity and gift exchange, set out in his 1924 essay The Gift.

• G8 aid pledge for nutrition in developing countries

In June, the G8 Nutrition for Growth Summit pledged a landmark $4.15 billion to combat malnutrition in the developing world, the largest sum ever pledged to support nutrition. Nevertheless, a pledge is just a pledge, and a key step is to ensure the committed funds are realized. Then comes the implementation.

An article from Think Africa quotes Elizabeth Hull, a nutrition specialist and anthropology lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, as noting that the funding compact contains “a strong emphasis on private-sector principles such as value for money and so on … The approach promoted seems to be very ‘outcomes’ focused.”

[Blogger’s note: six months after the pledge of $4.15 billion, it appears that only a fraction of that amount is actually a secure commitment; and experts say that even the full pledge level is far short of what is needed to solve malnutrition in low income countries].

• “The thieving craft” redeemed

From left: Mowarra Ganambarr Ḏätiwuy Thunderman and shark site, Arnhem Bay; Nänyin’ Maymuru Djarrakpi; Mundukul Marawili Fish trap, Baraltja. Berndt Museum of Anthropology, Perth

A review in the Australian of a new exhibit, “Yirrkala Drawings,” in Sydney praises the richness and beauty of art works displayed and provides some context of how they were collected.

Cultural anthropologist Ron Berndt conducted fieldwork in Arnhem Land, one of the five regions of Australia’s Northern Territory, in the early-mid twentieth century. His goal was the creation of a record of clan beliefs and the links between place and story-cycle. At the same time, he collected many drawings and marked down the drawings with numerals referring to expositions about them in his notebooks.

This is the first formal display of the large body of the drawings in an exhibition context, allowing for their full originality to be explored, and taken in. The principal scholar of Yolngu art history, Howard Morphy, professor of anthropology and director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University, offers an account of the works and their visual grammar in a catalog essay. Thus anthropology, that “thieving craft,” in this case, in some way, redeems itself by preserving and documenting art once taken away. Yirrkala Drawings is at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney until February 23, 2013.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/16/13”

Anthro in the news 10/14/13

Gregale cliffs lampedusa
North-Eastern cliffs of Lampedusa, photo by Arnold Sciberras/Wikipedia

• We need a bigger boat

The Wall Street Journal and other mainstream media reported on the second incident of a capsized boat near Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean.

The article quotes Maurizio Albahari, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who says that the sinking on October 3 hasn’t deterred smugglers from bringing refugees into Europe from the Libyan coast:

“And it cannot possibly deter migrants who have gone through countless stages of peril and exploitation in their own country, especially in Syria and the Horn of Africa.”

• On U.S.-Afghan relations

In an article analyzing current U.S.-Afghan relations and the troop draw-down, Global Post referred to the work of cultural anthropologist Thomas Barfield of Boston University.

Barfield notes that Karzai faces a political conundrum, that: an Afghan ruler, “to be successful … will need to convince Afghans that he will not be beholden to foreigners even as he convinces these same foreigners to fund his state and its military.”

And, pondering the future stability of the country, Barfield is quoted as saying: “In the absence of [a strong leader] and the departure of foreign forces, Afghanistan will not survive as a unitary state. The most likely event in that case would be a sundering of the country along regional lines.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/14/13”

International conference in Oslo

This Africa Center for Information & Development conference, “Africa’s triple threat — The rise of transnational and jihadist movements on the continent,” will cover Boko Haram, Al Shabab, and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and Sahel. Speakers include:

Norad logo Twitter
Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation Twitter page

  • Dr. Emmanuel  Franklune Ogbunwezeh, Head, Africa department of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) in Frankfurt
  • Stig Jarle Hansen, Associate Professor, Department of International Environment 6 Development Studies, Noragric. UMB
  • Morten Bøås, Senior Researcher at Fafo’s Institute for Applied International Studies in Oslo
  • Imam Ibrahim Saidy, Imam at Darus Salam Islamic Center Masjid Attawwabin, Oslo
  • Ms. Samia Nkrumah, Ghanaian politician and Chairwoman of the Convention People’s Party
  • Mr. Mohamed Husein Gaas, PhD Fellow at Norwegian University of Life Sciences and a Research fellow a Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies

When: October 17, 2013, 10am – 5pm
Where: P- Hotels, Oslo, Norway
Conference funded by Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

GW event: African Women on the Move

The Elliott School’s Institute for International and Global Affairs and its Africa Working Group and Global Gender Program are pleased to host “African Women on the Move — Diaspora Women’s Empowerment and a Call to Action to Invest in Africa’s Girls and Women” which is co-sponsored with the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) and is part of the 13th Annual Ronald H. Brown African Affairs Series.

DAWN logo
DAWN Logo

Speakers will address the importance and impact of investing in women and girls in Africa and in the African diaspora. They include:

  • Imani M. Cheers, Assistant Professor, School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University
  • Nina Oduro, Founder, African Development Jobs

When: Monday, September 16, 2013, 3 – 5 p.m.

Where: GW, Alumni House, 1918 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20052

To RSVP for this event: go.gwu.edu/womenonthemove

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!]

Canada to support women's political leadership in Middle East, North Africa

According to a statement from the Canadian government, the Honorable Lynne Yelich, minister of state (foreign affairs and consular), has announced Canada’s contribution to two projects that will encourage the participation of women in the political process in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

“Women’s participation in decision-making processes is essential to ensure that democracies are truly representative of their populations … Canada will continue to support the development of women’s leadership skills and increase their active participation in elections so that more qualified women will be elected. These activities will strengthen the voice of women in emerging democracies at all levels of government.”

Canada's Ambassador to Afghanistan Attends Training Session on Leadership for Women's Rights
Canada's Ambassador to Afghanistan Attends Training Session on Leadership for Women's Rights, Oct. 1 7, 2012. Flickr/Canada in Afghanistan

“As the Middle East moves to a new era of political development, women have a great responsibility to shape the debate on how their societies will be run,” added Tami Longaberger, chair of the Arab Women’s Leadership Institute. “The Arab Women’s Leadership Institute is proud to partner with the Canadian government to increase the number of female elected officials who will contribute to this debate in Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia.”

The projects in Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen will support the development of women candidates’ electoral campaigning skills and help to expand recognition of women’s rights as these countries continue to undergo political transitions. They will contribute to Canada’s efforts and interests in promoting democratic transition and increasing the political participation of women in the MENA region.

Anthro in the news 7/15/13

• A bold target for the World Bank

The Globe and Mail (Canada) carried an article based on a lunch conversation with Jim Yong Kim, medical doctor, medical anthropologist, and former university president, marking the end of his first year as president of the World Bank. The article discusses the pros and cons of targets. Targets, even wildly improbable ones, can inspire action and achieve change, even if the target is not achieved. Or they can create embarrassment when failure is seen as the outcome.

World Bank Washington DC
The World Bank in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2013. Flickr: Simone D. McCourte/World Bank

Kim explains his dedication to a new World Bank target of eliminating extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. He is quoted as saying, “What would be really frightening to me is if people like me, people like the World Bank staff, were so concerned about their own lives that they would not grab the opportunity to set a bold target … It took a very long time to convince people that we should have this target, but now that we do, I just see it as a huge gift…”

[Blogger’s note: no one would argue that eliminating poverty, especially extreme poverty, is not a laudable goal. The question arises, though, of the chosen policy pathways toward the goal. Unfortunately for many small scale communities in developing countries, Kim plans to promote large dam construction and hydroelectric development which will destroy such people’s livelihoods].

• World Bank in Africa on the decline?

The New York Times published an op-ed on the declining importance of World Bank loans to Africa in spite of new World Bank efforts, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The authors argue that: “The World Bank has done important work in promoting good governance and evaluating reform efforts. But its latest pledge of aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo sends a very mixed message, coming at a time when the International Monetary Fund has been cutting its loan programs to the country because of concerns about poor governance.”

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon share stories while waiting for the state dinner in Kinshasa
World Bank Pres. Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon laugh in Kinshasa. But the Bank's loan programs in Africa are declining. Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

World Bank Director Jim Yong Kim is quoted as saying: “There are always going to be problems and downsides with the governance of places that are fragile [but he adds that through investment and aid]…we can both reduce the conflict and improve governance.” The authors point out that Kim’s argument assumes that more World Bank spending means better government. Despite the billions in aid the D.R.C. has already received, however, “Kinshasa has not felt compelled to improve. It’s not clear why the bank’s new effort will be different.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/15/13”

Anthro in the news 7/1/13

• DOMA and beyond: it’s complicated

The Los Angeles Times published an article by Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is quoted as saying: “One doesn’t have to go far afield to question the idea that marriage has always been defined the same way.”

The Huffington Post published an essay by Tom Boellstorff, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. He offers four points, the first of which echoes Joyce’s:

Defense of Marriage Act
January 10, 2009 Chicago protest of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Flickr/Kevin Zolkiewicz
  1. social scientists and historians have shown that many forms of marriage and kinship exist, and have existed, around the world, and heterosexual marriage itself takes many forms;
  2. the victory is bittersweet given the Supreme Court’s finding of a key element of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional;
  3. both the DOMA and Proposition 8 decisions were 5-4 rulings and this split represents divisions in society and suggests that heterosexism and homophobia will not disappear with these court rulings;
  4. finally, it is important to anticipate questions about what is “normal.”

• Structural violence and popular revolts

A Brazilian news source carried an article about the uprisings there and mentioned cultural anthropologists Paul Farmer, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and Philippe Bourgois.

The article points to how social exclusion plays a role in fomenting protest and predicts that given structural limitations, the government, even if it wants to, cannot resolve the major issues on the table in the short term. [Blogger’s note: the article is in Portuguese; my thanks to my colleague, David Gow, for this synopsis].
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/1/13”

GW event: Mobility, Precarity and Empowerment in African Migration

May 23, 2013, from 8:30am to 2pm
Location: Room 651 Duques Hall, GW (corner of G and 22nd St, NW Washington, DC)

Presentations and discussion will offer a creative re-thinking of African migration and displacement in which movement is typically cast as a process of “rupture” in which disconnections, losses, and dilemmas receive the most attention, thus neglecting how migrants and migration transform social, economic, and political processes.

Speakers include: Jennifer M. Brinkerhoff (The George Washington University), Stephen Lubkemann (The George Washington University), Loren Landau (Witwatersrand University), Martin Murray (University of Michigan), Jørgen Carling (Peace Research Institute Oslo), Lisa Cliggett (University of Kentucky), and Bruce Whitehouse (Lehigh University)

RSVP by May 19th to: abukar@gwmail.gwu.edu and Paragas@ssrc.org

Co-sponsored by: The Social Science Research Council and GW’s CIBER, IFER, CIGA, IGIS, Diaspora Program, and Africana Studies Program

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”