anthro in the news 8/18/15

  • “Blood coming out of her wherever”

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about cross-cultural attitudes toward menstruation, noting that while negative attitudes about menstruating women are widespread, they are by no means universal. The article was prompted by Donald Trump’s remark during a recent debate that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.” NPR quotes Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos: “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal.” Yet the exceptions, societies that treat menstruating women with respect, are important. Alma Gottlieb, professor of cultural anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, is co-editor with Thomas Buckley of Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, which includes positive examples.

  • So true: Graeberian bullshit jobs

According to an article in the Independent (U.K.), a study has found that more than a third of British workers believe their jobs are meaningless. In 2013, David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, argued in his article, On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, that increasing numbers of jobs are not socially useful and exist only for their own sake.

  • Caucasus ritual: You cannot be sober

The Independent (U.K.) carried an article about an annual summer ritual in a region in the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgia. The event includes horse racing, animal sacrifice, dancing, and beer drinking. The article focuses on the ritual leaders, or khevisberi, and provides commentary about them from Kevin Tuite, professor of anthropology at Montreal University: “Boxing with God,” as he calls it, is the defining experience in becoming a khevisberi. You are haunted by dreams and hallucinations, the deity visits calamities on you and your family, and finally you submit. [Blogger’s note: while a khevisberi is not easily recruited, it seems likely that they would not consider their work as a khevisberi to be meaningless in the Graeberian sense]. Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/18/15”

anthro in the news 7/27/15

  • The past as present in the Greek referendum

Cultural anthropologist Daniel M. Knight published an article in the Huffington Post describing how people in Greece at the time of the referendum vote discussed “discussed their fears and aspirations for the future through extensive reference to poignant pasts.” Knight, an Addison Wheeler Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University and Visiting Fellow at the Hellenic Observatory, London School of Economics and Political Science, stated:

“I have written at length about the significance of the past in the way Greeks experience the current economic turmoil. As I argue in my recent book, History, Time, and Economic Crisis in Central Greece, the cultural and temporal ‘proximity’ of selective moments of the past help people understand dramatic social change. By embodying moments of the past, locals discuss their fears of returning to previous epochs of hardship while drawing courage that even the worst crises can be overcome.”

  • Rihanna and David Graeber: Connect the dots

An article in the Financial Times reviews Rihanna’s latest video, Bitch Better Have My Money, noting that the video’s fictional events are thought to be connected to Rihanna’s personal fury at a former accountant: “In the song’s seven-minute video, the Barbadian singer is depicted kidnapping the beautiful wife of a character called The Accountant. Torture and unpleasantness ensue. On failing to secure a ransom for the bound and gagged blonde, Rihanna kills (spoiler): him.”

The article points out that accountants, like lawyers, “are adepts of a system of codes and regulations that the rest of us are bound by but do not understand. In his book, Debt, anthropologist David Graeber traces the history of accountancy to Sumerian temple administrators in 3500BC. From its inception the practice of weighing up people’s debts and credits was infused with religion. The financialisation of morality, Graeber argues, is the root meaning of money.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/27/15”

anthro in the news 5/25/15

  • The non-science (and more) of virginity testing of women

Sherria Ayuandini, a doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, published an op-ed in The Independent (U.K.) in which she argues against testing women’s virginity on scientific grounds:  “Any type of virginity test that relies on the observation of the hymen or of the tightness of the vagina is inconclusive, at best, or completely invalid.”  Beyond the science, she states: “No-one, neither a woman nor a man, should ever be compelled to endure such questioning, regardless of the reliability of the exam.” She concludes with this question:  “…it is worth pondering that as the testing tool at hand is highly unreliable, why would anyone even dare to entertain the imposition of such fallibility?” [Blogger’s note: Answer to the question – because they are patriarchists].

  • Farmers protesting in Burma
U Bein Bridge, Mandalay, Burma/Myanmar

Elliott Prasse-Freeman, doctoral candidate in anthropology at Yale University, published an article in Foreign Policy on how grassroots farmers are protesting elite control of “development” and land takeovers. Farmers have gone to court to protect their homes and land are increasingly taking to the streets to protest the new “development” policies and the draft land acquisition policy. According to Prasse-Freeman, a combination of protests and individual actions has, in some cases, succeeded in winning farmers meaningful concessions.

He cautions however that, “The successes of these movements and village-based politics should not be overstated. In Burma’s central Magwe region, most people still live under the thumb of the state. In outlying regions, ethnic minorities struggle for the freedom to govern themselves and for equal representation in national affairs. Plow protesters often end up in jail, the money they spent plowing their fields squandered. (Ko Taw estimates that only 5 percent of plow protests succeed in getting land returned.)” Continue reading “anthro in the news 5/25/15”

Anthro in the news 4/27/15

  • Prisoners who paint murals

The Huffington Post republished an article originally in French on HuffPo France about a project of artist David Mesguich in which he is working with prisoners to paint large murals in Marseilles’ Baumettes prison, one of the most notorious prisons in France. His goal was, “to show the prisoners…that beautiful and positive things can still come from inside them.” The article quotes Didier Fassin, cultural anthropologist and physician, and author of The Shadow of the World: An Anthropology of the Penal Condition, who says that the initiative is compelling but difficult to assess without commentary from the inmates: “It transforms the prison space, and brightens it, while emphasizing by contrast the ugly and oppressive character of the metal gates, the barbed wire, and the walls…This being the case, the question is more general, as is the case with cities. Making murals in a city does not change its reality.”

  • Muslim integration working in Brazil
The Islamic Centre Mosque, Brasilia.

According to an article in WorldCrunch, Brazil, which is the world’s largest Catholic country, has a growing Muslim population and, with some rare exceptions, is a model for integration of Islam into a mixed population. The article presents commentary by Francirosy Ferreira, an anthropology professor at Sao Paulo University. He notes that it is impossible to know the exact number of Muslims in Brazil because they are registered under the “other” category in the census: “But their estimated number is now about a million, of whom 30% to 50% are converts, depending on the region.” He attributes the renewed interest in Islam in Brazil to the airing of a soap opera that took place in Morocco. The series, called The Clone, created before the 9/11 terror attacks, included an admirable Muslim protagonist.

  • China seeks to ban strippers performing at funerals

The Washington Post carried an article on a new ban against strippers performing at funerals issued by China’s Ministry of Culture. The trend to hire strippers for funerals in China has been growing, and is apparently an import from Taiwan where, as National Geographic documented three years ago, inviting funeral strippers is decades-old. The article includes commentary on why people want strippers at a funeral from Marc L. Moskowitz, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina and producer of a documentary on Taiwan’s funeral strippers: “In Taiwan, all public events need to be ‘hot and noisy’ to be considered to be a success.” Moskowitz explained that “Usually the people involved are working-class folks, both in Taiwan as well as in China. In urban areas, there is a greater push to be part of a global culture.” Thus, he speculates, that the ban may be related to the Chinese government positioning itself in terms of global culture through “an awareness that people outside of Taiwan or China might find the practice strange or laughable.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/27/15”

Anthro in the news 1/5/15

Source: Francisco Leong/Agence France-Presse. Getty Images
  • Paul Farmer in the news

Farmer zings M.S.F.: The New York Times quoted Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and professor at Harvard University, in an article about controversy over the use of IV therapy for Ebola victims in West Africa. Two of the most admired medical charities are divided over the issue. Partners in Health, which has worked in Haiti and Rwanda but is just beginning to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, supports the aggressive treatment. Its officials say the more measured approach taken by Doctors Without Borders is overly cautious.

Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health, using the French initials for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is quoted as saying: “M.S.F. is not doing enough…What if the fatality rate isn’t the virulence of disease but the mediocrity of the medical delivery?”

Farmer joins the movie stars: The Huffington Post reported on an effort by The Hunger Games movie stars to keep pressure on efforts to stamp out Ebola. They created a YouTube video which includes luminaries Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali and Julianne Moore….and Paul Farmer.

Farmer was right: Ross Douthat, a regular columnist for The New York Times, reflected on three errors he had made in 2014, one of which was to assume that the Ebola crisis would arrive in the U.S. Therefore, he supported travel restrictions. But now, he writes, “Two months later, there has been no wider outbreak, most of the cases treated domestically have resulted in a cure, and the president and his appointees can reasonably claim vindication (as can Dr. Paul Farmer who argued in an October essay that with Western standards of medical treatment, Ebola victims could have a 90 percent survival rate). Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/5/15”

Anthro in the news 12/22/14

  • On U.S.-Cuba relations

An article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the possible opening up of U.S.-Cuba relations quoted cultural anthropologist Kathleen Musante of the University of Pittsburgh who travels to Cuba frequently with students: “I think we all miscalculated the pressures on Raul Castro…The economy in the last three or four years has appeared as desperate as it was after the Soviet Union’s collapse. I think there is no going back now.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/22/14”

Anthro in the news 9/15/14

Arianna Whiteside leads demonstrators as they confront a wall of police during a protest march to the Ferguson Police Department . Source: UPI/David Broome.
  • In Alabama: Learning from Ferguson

AL.com (Alabama) noted an upcoming town hall event sponsored by the University of Alabama at Birmingham which will bring together representatives from the Birmingham Police Department,   professors from the UAB, and the president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to discuss police and minority relations, examine the police killing of an unarmed civilian in Ferguson, Missouri, and to develop solutions. The town hall, called “Police and Minority Relations in Birmingham,” is sponsored by the UAB Department of Social Work, along with the university’s African-American Studies Program, the Anthropology Department, and the College of Arts and Sciences. Anthropology department chair, professor Douglas P. Fry, is one of the speakers. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/15/14”