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 Age
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.”
Mother, mother: On police violence and race in the U.S.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
The Washington Post carried an opinion piece by cultural anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, professor at George Mason University.
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.
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.
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.
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
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].
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
The aim of this open-access lecture series is to summarize the evidence on Indigenous wellbeing, with a particular focus being an examination of the variation in measures of wellbeing across the life course. The series will suit students and policy makers working on or researching Indigenous issues, as well as academics with an interest in indigenous people’s wellbeing.
Each lecture is available on as a PDF document with presentation slides and embedded audio, along with an accompanying short formal paper addressing the lecture’s subject.
The series was created by Dr. Nicholas Biddle, a Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) at the Australian National University (ANU). He has a Bachelor of Economics (Hons.) from the University of Sydney, a Master of Education degree from Monash University, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the ANU where he wrote his thesis on the benefits of and participation in education of Indigenous Australians.
Aw’s Sean Carey published two articles in The Independent about the recent consideration of the Chagossians‘ claim for a right to return to their homeland.
In his first piece, he reviews the marathon battle that began in 1998 in the British courts, led by electrician Olivier Bancoult, the newly appointed leader of the Chagos Refugees Group. Although all of the judges in the lower courts unanimously found in favor, in 2008 the Law Lords decided against the Chagosssians’ right of return by a narrow 3-2 majority. The islanders are supported by the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, David Snoxell, novelist Philippa Gregory and conservationist Ben Fogle.
In his second article, Carey reports on the decision: “Yesterday, there was huge disappointment amongst Chagossian communities in Port Louis, Mahe, Crawley, Manchester, Geneva and Montréal. A seven-judge chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided by majority that the case regarding the right of return of the exiled islanders was inadmissible. Geographically and legally, it has been a long journey with many twists and turns for the islanders, the descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured labourers. The decision by the Strasbourg court means that they continue to be barred from returning to their homeland in the Chagos Archipelago, after their forced removal by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973, so that the US could acquire Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island, for its strategically important military base.” After eight years, a decision of inadmissable.
• Declining monkhood in Thailand
In Thailand, Buddhist temples grow lonely in villages as consumer culture rises and there is a shortage of monks. According to an article in The New York Times, monks in northern Thailand no longer perform one of the defining rituals of Buddhism, the early morning walk through the community to collect food. The meditative lifestyle of the monkhood offers little allure to the distracted iPhone generation. Although it is still relatively rare for temples to close down, many districts are so short on monks that abbots here in northern Thailand recruit across the border from impoverished Myanmar, where monasteries are overflowing with novices.
”Consumerism is now the Thai religion,” said Phra Paisan Visalo, one of the country’s most respected monks. He continues, ”In the past people went to temple on every holy day,” Mr. Paisan said. ”Now they go to shopping malls.” William Klausner, a law and anthropology professor who spent a year living in a village in northeastern Thailand in the 1950s, describes the declining influence of Buddhist monks as a ”dramatic transformation.” Monks once played a crucial role in the community where he lived, helping settle disputes between neighbors and counseling troubled children, he wrote in his book, Thai Culture in Transition. Klausner says that today most villages in northern Thailand ”have only two or three full-time monks in residence, and they are elderly and often sick.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/24/2012”→