anthro in the news 11/7/16

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-9-49-39-amnot all hair is equal   

BBC News reported on the research of social anthropologist Emma Tarlo tracing the global industry in human hair, especially wigs, weaves, and extensions. Tarlo, professor of anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, is the author of Entanglement: The Secret Lives of Hair. While China is the biggest exporter and importer of human hair and harvests huge amounts from its own population, European hair is the most valuable because of its fine texture, variety of its colors, and relative scarcity. Tarlo is quoted as saying: “People who work in the industry are conscious of the fact Made in China is viewed as a negative label and market it in more glamorous ways instead.” [with audio]

welcome to the Drone Age9780262034678

Foreign Affairs published a review of five books on drone warfare including one by Hugh Gusterson,  professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. The reviewer refers to Drone as “gently critical” and a “thoughtful examination of the dilemmas this new weapon poses.”


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anthro in the news 9/26/16

Mother, mother: On police violence and race in the U.S.

At the 50th Anniversary JFK March in 2014. Source: Google Images/Creative Commons
At the 50th Anniversary JFK March in 2014. Source: Google Images/Creative Commons

The Huffington Post carried an article discussing recent writings about the problem of policing and race in the U.S. It mentions the work of Christen Smith, professor of anthropology and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas Austin. She argues that addressing the problem of anti-black police violence also requires taking into account the traumatic and long-term deadly effects on the living, who are often women: “We know from the stories of black mothers who have lost their children to state violence that the lingering anguish of living in the aftermath of police violence kills black women gradually. Depression, suicide, PTSD, heart attacks, strokes and other debilitating mental and physical illnesses are just some of the diseases black women develop as they try to put their lives back together after they lose a child.”


Can cultural “appropriation” ever be called theft?

Screenshot of the costume for the character Maui from the film "Moana" on the Disney online store. It was pulled on September 21. Source: Hawaii Public Radio/AP
Screenshot of the costume for the character Maui from the film “Moana” on the Disney online store. It was pulled on September 21.
Source: Hawaii Public Radio/AP

Hawaii Public Radio reported on Disney’s pulling of its Moana costume for children because of the negative reaction to it as racist and derogatory. The piece quotes Tevita Kā‘ili, associate professor of  cultural anthropology and department chair at Brigham Young University Hawai‘i: “This costume should have never been made in the first place…It’s difficult for me to see how Disney can benefit and make a lot of money off of someone else’s culture…Especially someone as significant as Maui.”

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Australian Scholarships for US-based PhDs in Asian Studies

The Perth US Asia Centre in Australia is offering four scholarships for researchers based in the US to attend the 20th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, to be held at The University of Western Australia, in Perth from 7-10 July 2014.

Applicants must have a PhD in Asian studies. Deadline for applications is February 28, 2014.

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.

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Anthro in the news 8/26/13

• Beware the poison in the gift

The Washington Post carried an opinion piece by cultural anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, professor at George Mason University.

Gifts but do they come with strings attached
Gifts, but do they come with strings attached? Flickr/FutUndBeidl

Gusterson asks: what is the difference between a gift and a bribe, and provides some cultural anthropology insights: “Gifts are given in all cultures, and to remarkably similar effect … gifts by their nature create social ties and a sense of reciprocal obligation. To give a gift is to expect something in return, though it undermines the power and mystique of the gift to spell out too clearly what that something is … The failure to give something in response can end a friendship … Anthropologists have found that gifts create two kinds of relationships: those between equals and those that establish subordination.”

Gusterson goes on to discuss whether a federal grand jury will indict Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell: “…we know that McDonnell and his family accepted gifts including a $6,500 Rolex watch, a $10,000 engagement gift, $15,000 in wedding catering and a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree, not to mention $120,000 in loans, from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of the Henrico-based company Star Scientific. If prosecutors determine that McDonnell made specific promises to promote Star Scientific’s dietary supplement Anatabloc in exchange for these favors, the governor could soon be spending a lot of time in court … For prosecutors, the key question is whether there was a clearly articulated ‘quid pro quo.’ If so, the gifts were bribes. If not, they were gifts. To me, as an anthropologist, this largely misses the point.”

[Blogger’s note: assuming I am on target here — a gift requires a return, unless it falls into the extremely rare and hard-to-document category of a “pure gift” for which the giver has absolutely no thought whatsoever of any kind of return].

• Benefits of postpartum placentaphagy to moms?

According to reporting in the Monterey Herald, a survey of 189 women who had consumed their babies’ placentas — raw, cooked or in capsule form — revealed that 95 percent reported their experience was either positive or very positive, and 98 percent said they would repeat the experience.

Placenta Capsules
Placenta capsules. Flickr/latisha

The article quotes Daniel Benyshek, co-author of the study and associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas: “Of course, we don’t know if those are placebo effects and their positive results are based on their expectations.”

The survey results were published in the journal, Ecology of Food and Nutrition. The report disclosed that the first author, Jodi Selander, is the founder of Placenta Benefits, an online information source that also offers training for placenta encapsulators. Benyshek is planning a double-blind pilot study that would compare the effects of placenta capsules and a placebo on women’s postpartum experiences.

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Anthro in the news 8/12/13

• How long must we dream?

Bloomberg news reported on World Bank president Jim Young Kim’s dream: ending poverty. Or, ending extreme poverty. And by a certain date. A wonderful dream.

Carabayllo Peru
Carabayllo Peru. Flickr/Gaia Saviotti

The article zooms in on Kim, who:

once slept in his office and drove dusty roads to help his patients in a slum near Lima. When he returned to Carabayllo in Peru two decades later as World Bank president, a motorcade whisked him from a luxury hotel past welcome signs on banners and brick walls. The reunion in June, a year after the Harvard-trained physician took over the bank, was as much about the future for Kim as it was the past. In the 1990s, his Partners in Health organization helped Carabayllo patients suffering from drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project, relying on community health workers for the treatment, got a better cure rate than U.S. hospitals, was expanded in Peru and influenced other countries.

According to the article, there has been progress in the hills of Carabayllo; Kim can use 4G Internet and his mobile phone in areas where he once waited in line to make calls. But what motivated him in 1993 has not changed: “If we can show that even in these poor communities we can deliver, we could have a much, much broader impact … There’s no question that’s still what I am here to do.”

• Big mining and indigenous people in Australia

Marcia Langton
Marcia Langton/University of Melbourne

According to an article in The Guardian, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, chairman of the mining giant Fortescue Metals Group, says that he has delivered more $1 billion in contracts to indigenous companies and so now the government must provide training for Aboriginal workers to thrive in the newly created jobs.

At a company event with guests including the MP Ken Wyatt, indigenous academic and anthropologist Marcia Langton, and indigenous leader Noel Pearson, Forrest announced that the program had “smashed” its target six months ahead of schedule, and with most companies being above 50 percent Aboriginal ownership.

• Black is black, especially for adoptive dogs

In the U.S., at least, black dogs have a slimmer chance of adoption than lighter-colored dogs. And the same may be true for cats.

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle on color-based adoption practices in Bay Area animal shelters mentions the research of Amanda Leonard, who heads the Black Dog Research Studio in Maryland and whose anthropological study is perhaps the only — or one of the very few — scholarly works on the subject.

“Black dogs are usually portrayed as mean, threatening dogs,” says Leonard who earned a master’s in anthropology from George Washington University, with a thesis about the “black dog syndrome” in the U.S. based on her work in an animal shelter. She is attempting through her research to legitimize what shelter workers have long said is true and plans to earn a doctorate on the subject. “It’s a totally ingrained and significant part of our culture that we associate black with negative,” Leonard said in a phone interview.

[Blogger’s note: I am very pleased to see Amanda Leonard’s M.A. work get deserved recognition. She published a summary of her M.A. thesis findings in the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers].

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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”