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.”
The Financial Times reported on continuing efforts in the U.K. and elsewhere by displaced Chagos Islanders to return home and receive compensation for their forced removal fifty years ago. The article provides comments from two cultural anthropologists: David Vine of American University and Sean Carey of Manchester University. “When you tell people about the history, they think it must be something out of the 19th century. They are shocked to hear it happened so relatively recently,” says Vine, author of the book, Island of Shame about Diego Garcia. Carey is quoted as saying: “A lot of the islanders [living in Mauritius] remain at the bottom of the heap…Mauritius is dominated by Indian politicians for whom the issue does not have the same emotional resonance. Even among the local Creole population [Mauritians of African origin], many Chagossians talk about discrimination.”
Fracture Zones in the Eurozone
The Eurasia Review carried an article about the current European refugee crisis. It refers to the refugees in the park in Belgrade as “part of a fracture zone” that is easy to trace; across Greece, Macedonia and Serbia and on through Europe. The article acknowledges cultural anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom of Notre Dame University as the source of the term fracture zone, in her chapter in the edited book, An Anthropology of War. She wrote that “fracture lines run internationally and follow power abuses, pathological profiteering, institutionalized inequalities, and human rights violations – actions that fill the pockets and secure the dominance of some while damaging the lives of others.” Nordstrom sees the danger of fracture zones in how they institutionalize crisis and make it enduring. Continue reading “anthro in the news 9/7/15”→
Gillian Tett, columnist for The Financial Times and an anthropologist by training, describes the increasing inclusion of cultural anthropologists and other social scientists in tech/design research labs around the world for their ability to learn about people’s consumption patterns and preferences. Tett offers the example of Ford, which is opening a new center in Silicon Valley: “These psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are trying to understand how we interact with our cars in a cultural sense. It is a striking development and one worth pondering in a personal sense if, like me, you spend much of your life rushing about in a car.”
She emphasizes the value of localized, cultural knowledge in a globalizing world: “…Chinese consumers often have radically different ideas of what makes a great car, especially if they are female.”
What makes a health project work?
Culturally informed research design in health projects is critical to success. Medical anthropologist Ida Susser of Hunter College, City University of New York, published an op-ed in Al Jazeera about the importance of not blaming the victim when an HIV intervention fails to show positive results. Instead, the blame may lie in a faulty research design. She examines a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine as an example of blaming the victim.
Known as VOICE, or Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic. The evaluation of the intervention failed to show any preventive results for women in southern Africa using ARV-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pills or topical microbicide gel. Susser writes: “It’s a particularly unsettling failure because previous studies have demonstrated that these ARV-based methods work. Most of the women who participated in the VOICE study did not use the tablets or gel, but those who did were protected. In other words, the study failed not because the products didn’t work but because they weren’t used.”
Susser argues that the research design was to blame, not the women: “The challenge of this research is more social and behavioral than medical; to succeed, we must better understand which routines and methods work best for women in stressful daily conditions. If the offered methods are not used, then researchers must rethink their approach or at-risk women will continue to become infected with HIV, and the epidemic will spiral.”
Islam and feminism can be compatible
A lot depends on how you define feminism and women’s rights, according to an article in the U.S. News and World Report. Many believe a combination of the two is implausible, but it is, however, possible if one is prepared to accept that there are multiple feminisms and Islamisms in the world today. The article cites cultural anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University. She argues that Muslim women in different contexts and situations experience structures of domination differently. For example, a Muslim woman in a poor neighborhood of Riyadh experiences gender discrimination differently from a businesswoman. In other words, one should not “totalize” the experience of “Muslim women.”
Brazil: Sweet and sour
An article in The Huffington Post on Brazil as an emerging “food superpower” points to how agribusiness success is tied to growing landlessness and hunger in a country that is exporting massive amounts of food: “By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Brazil became the world’s number one beef exporter and star in the exports of sugar, coffee, orange juice, corn, soy, and cotton.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/9/15 and 3/16/15”→
The Business Spectator (Australia) published a piece by Bryan Tilt, associate professor of anthropology at Oregon State University and author of Dams and Development in China: The Moral Economy of Water and Power. He asks: “China’s steep escalation in hydropower development is unlikely to slow anytime soon. So, how can China develop hydropower in a way that best protects ecosystems and people?” He then proposes three basic principles for moving forward. Tilt also reminds us that:
“This is not just China’s problem. The repercussions of the current hydropower boom are being felt far beyond the country’s borders. Armed with the best hydropower engineering capacity in the world, and the backing of government financial institutions like China Exim Bank, Chinese firms are involved in the planning and construction of more than 300 dam projects in 70 countries, from Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. As hydropower development continues to build momentum as an important source of renewable energy, more public scrutiny is needed.”
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Reviews of David Graeber’s latest book, The Utopia of Rules, continue to appear, one published by National Public Radio and another in The Boston Globe. NPR comments: “Full credit to Graeber…When he eventually gets to a point, it’s almost always insightful, thought-provoking and, as befits the roundabout way he got there, unexpected.” The Boston Globe says: “David Graeber’s critique of bureaucracy, is meant to stop the reader short. It does.”
Nepal and Laos: Anthropologists, please compare notes
The Nepali Times published a piece by David N. Gellner, professor at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, in which he compares Nepal and Laos. He suggests that despite differences, the two countries have much in common and academics should meet and compare notes. Nepal has been likened to a yam between two boulders: “Laos is a yam between five boulders – and perhaps, given the legacy of US bombing, that should be six boulders.”
Interview with Claudio Lomnitz
Counterpunch carried an interview with Claudio Lomnitz, Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, about his new book, The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. It examines the life of renowned Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón (1874-1922) within the context of those closest to him—principally, his elder brother Jesús, younger brothers Enrique, Librado Rivera, and Práxedis G. Guerrero, all of whom were associates of the Junta Organizadora of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM). As a result of his lifelong commitment to social revolution, Ricardo was a political prisoner for much of his life. In this interview, Lomnitz discusses the book’ title, the PLM, and more. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/2/15”→
Financial benefits of migrant work in the UAE, yes but…
The National (Abu Dhabi) and The Hindu (India) carried articles about findings from a recent study of workers from India in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The headline in The Hindu reads: “UAE great destination for Indians to get richer”
The study, conducted by the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., involved interviews with 1,500 Indian workers to measure the effects their working here has had on their families at home. One finding is that the laborers earn salaries two and a half times more than what they would earn in India. And remittances they send home improve their families’ situation.
A more critical perspective comes from Jane Bristol-Rhys, associate professor of anthropology at Zayed University. She has studied migration in the UAE since 2001 and has written a book about it that will be available this year. Bristol-Rhys says the study was limited in its scope:
“The study seems to have focused narrowly on financial gains, but what about the emotional impact? In India many children are seeing their fathers only once in two years. The study has not taken this into account…The study also seems to have ignored work done by anthropologists in India as well as the UAE for the past 20 years. These have not been referenced. We know that the individual families are benefiting but is the community benefiting? The local villages do not benefit. Instead, the government takes a large chunk of the remittances that are sent. The people working in the Gulf are also under pressure to bring back gifts with them. In many cases, they take loans to go work and then have to stay for two-three contracts to earn the money back.”
[Blogger’s note: studies also exist documenting the harsh living and working conditions for immigrant labor in the UAE, indicating that it’s not clearly a “great destination” – it’s a very tough destination].
Misunderstanding: Ebola’s shadow epidemic in Dallas
The Dallas Morning Newsreported on a panel presentation at Southern Methodist University by three medical anthropologists: Adia Benton, an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University, Doug Henry, associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Texas, and Carolyn Smith-Morris, associate professor and director of SMU’s health and society program.
While Dallas’ Ebola “outbreak” may have ended last fall, scientific exploration of what happened in the city has only begun, especially among medical anthropologists. In a two-hour discussion, the three experts sorted through how the crisis evolved, how people responded, and the language they used to describe what happened. They agreed that what took place was an “an epidemic of misunderstanding.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/9/15”→
Morwari Zafar writes in Time magazine about why some Afghan-American youth may turn to radicalism. Zafar is conducting fieldwork among Afghan-Americans for her dissertation in social anthropology at the University of Oxford. She writes: “The current policy climate risks insularity by focusing on external motivators — such as unemployment, disenfranchisement and susceptibility to recruitment via social media. Such an approach raises valid points, but it is conducive only to identifying a limited range of resolutions.” [Blogger’s note: Morwari Zafar is a visiting scholar with the Culture in Global Affairs Program, within the Elliott School’s Institute for Global and International Studies, at GW].
Korean adoptees seeking Korean roots
The New York Times Magazine carried an article describing how many Korean adoptees, from locations around the world, are returning to the Republic of Korea. The article mentions the work of Eleana Kim, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. Kim notes that many adoptees fear that searching for their Korean roots is seen as a betrayal of their adoptive parents and they dread “coming out” to their adoptive parents, whether in the form of birth-family searches, returning to birth countries, or criticizing the adoption system.
Spotlight on Breastfeeding
On NPR, biological anthropologist and blogger, Barbara King of William and Mary, interviews cultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler of the University of Delaware on cross-cultural breastfeeding practices. Dettwyler discusses cross-cultural patterns of which mothers decide to breast feed and for how long as well as social stigma toward women who may breast feed for “too long” in some people’s opinion.
Book in the news: Social inequality in South Africa
Time Magazine published an article by cultural anthropologist John Bowen of Washington University in which he describes three factors contributing to France as a target for jihad: First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. In conclusion, he states:
“France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.”
Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.
On Muslim integration and discrimination in France
The International Business Times carried an article stating that the terror attacks in Paris will likely exacerbate the challenges faced by Muslim communities in Europe, as extreme right-wing political parties politicize the tragedy. A large proportion of France’s Muslim population of five million faces day-to-day discrimination along with broader, institutional forms of disenfranchisement, said Mayanthi L. Fernando, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose work focuses on Islam and secularism in France. “The problem here is not a lack of willingness among a large number of French Muslims to integrate — many would say they are already integrated — the problem is they are not accepted as legitimately French by the rest of the white, Christian majority…The problem is that on one hand they are asked to prove their integration in the French mainstream, but on the other hand they are facing discrimination day to day and institutionally.”
Colonialism, dispossession, desperation, and suicide
The Guarani Indians of Brazil, according to a report cited in The New York Times and other media, have the highest suicide rates in the world. Overall, indigenous peoples suffer the greatest suicide risk among cultural or ethnic groups worldwide. In Brazil, the indigenous suicide rate was six times higher than the national average in 2013. Among members of the Guaraní tribe, Brazil’s largest, the rate is estimated at more than twice as high as the indigenous rate over all, the study said. And in fact it may be even higher. Continue reading “Anthro in the news1/12/15”→
The New York Times carried an article called “Senegal Helps Plant a Great Green Wall to Fend Off the Desert.” It mentions the changes in the environment from a time still remembered by elders when there were so many trees that you couldn’t see the sky to now, when the landscape is miles of reddish-brown sand dotted with occasional bushes and trees. Overgrazing and climate change are the major causes of the Sahara’s advance, said Gilles Boetsch, an anthropologist who directs a team of French scientists working with Senegalese researchers in the region. The article quotes him as saying: “The local Peul people are herders, often nomadic. But the pressure of the herds on the land has become too great…The vegetation can’t regenerate itself.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/24/14”→
All Africa carried an article about the arrival of Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and Partners in Health (PIH) co-founder, in Liberia, as part of a high level delegation from PIH. They are in Liberia to hold discussions with relevant partners on the outbreak and spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease. The PIH delegation, led by Farmer, is jointly in Liberia with a partner institution, Last Mile Health (LMH). The objective of the team’s visit includes seeking the guidance of the Government on the proposed set of immediate response programs to be implemented by the coalition in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the County Health Teams, including managing an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in southeastern Liberia as well as scaling up community-based interventions. The delegation will also discuss strategies for ensuring that the global response works to strengthen national and country-level institutions by building local capacity (public and private, including for community-based care for Ebola and other diseases). Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/22/14”→
An open access review in Pacific Affairs of Deborah McDowell Aoki’s book, Widows of Japan: An Anthropological Perspective, says that this “…comprehensive study of Japanese widows brings into focus the complex, ambiguous, often tragic history of the impact of spousal death on Japanese women. Her eight years of research from 1996 included 58 interviews with women from urban and rural areas. She states the themes in the introduction: ‘the fetishism of female bodies to protect and embody family honor, the historical role of state formation in creating family and kinship systems, and the integrative functions provided by women…’ ”