anthro in the news 10/12/2015


Caption: Artemisia annua which yields an anti-malarial drug [source: Wikipedia].
Caption: Artemisia annua which yields an anti-malarial drug, source: Wikipedia
Nobel Prize catalyzes controversy in China


The New York Times reported on reactions in China about its first Nobel prize in science which was awarded to Tu Youyou, a retired researcher who worked at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences) in Beijing. The award recognizes her role in extracting the malaria-fighting compound Artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua. It is the first time China has won a Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline. Bu the award has refueled a longstanding debate in China between Western science approaches to medicine and Chinese traditional medicine. Critics of the award say that it valorizes Western science while seeming to recognize traditional Chinese medicine. The article quotes Volker Scheid, an anthropologist at the University of Westminster in London who refers to Chinese traditional medicine:  “It’s part of the nation, but the nation of China defines itself as a modern nation, which is tied very much to science…So this causes a conflict.”


source: Wikipedia

Guinea elections

The New York Times carried an article about the presidential election in Guinea, noting that ethnic clashes marked the last presidential election threaten to resurface. President Alpha Conde is running against seven candidates in the West African nation that has been hard hit by the Ebola crisis. The main opposition leader, Cellou Dalein Diallo, is the same man he ultimately defeated in a 2010 election marked by clashes between their supporters along ethnic lines. The article quotes Mike McGovern, a West Africa expert and associate professor of anthropology at University of Michigan: “What Ebola has made clear is many ordinary Guineans’ deep mistrust of government.”

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Anthro in the news 5/18/15

  • Disenchantment and British politics

Emma Crewe, social anthropologist and research associate at SOAS, the University of London, published an op-ed in the Times Higher Education (U.K.) on how to improve British politics and re-enchant the public: “Public cynicism towards politics is reaching new heights. Politicians are widely considered to be venal, tribal and dishonest. But what are they really like?”

Since October 2011, she has been studying MPs at work. She finds that, surprisingly, “half the new 2010 intake of MPs took a pay cut to enter Westminster, MPs have defied their whips more frequently in every Parliament since 1945, and MPs did not seem to be any less honest than any other professional group – or, specifically, than members of groups with complex combinations of interests where compromises have to be made.” In contrast to the popular image of MPs as power-hungry egoists, many reminded her of aid workers, motivated by both ambition and altruism “…but MPs work harder and accept more painful scrutiny.”

Crewe opines that public disenchantment is more about the work of politics – “…its messiness, contradictions and changeability” and public conflation of Parliament and government which are “different parts of the state and need to be disentangled.”

  • Protecting coffee farmers: Tune in on Tuesday

At the Guardian’s comments page on Tuesday, May 19, from 1pm – 2pm BST, a group of experts will discuss how best to protect coffee farmers. One of the speakers is Sarah Lyon, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and author of Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets. Her work focuses on Maya women farmers and social/gender justice in coffee production.

  • Debt: It can make you sick

The Globe (Canada) is carrying a series exploring the growing dependence around the world on credit. You can join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #DebtBinge. A recent article discusses how debt-related financial stress is linked to mental-health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and a higher risk of suicide. As the health consequences of financial stress become more evident, researchers and health professionals are making the case for treating personal debt as a public health problem. The article presents commentary from biocultural anthropologist Elizabeth Sweet, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is examining the factors that can make debt a health hazard. She notes that it is not well understood what types of debt provoke the most stress. For instance people may feel less stressed about mortgages and student loans than credit-card debt or payday loans.

  • On Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers

The Chronicle Herald (Canada) published an op-ed by Rylan Higgins, professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, on the plight and rights of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in Canada. Canada’s use of TFWs is complicated: Programs vary from province to province and from sector to sector within provinces, and policies have changed over time. Long-term anthropological studies of TFWs, however, “reveal common and unsettling patterns regarding what it means to be such a worker in Canada.” Higgins notes that a primary finding of anthropological studies is that the relationship between employers and workers is exploitative: “The detailed and intimate accounts that anthropological research provides reveal that many employers in Canada regularly seek TFWs precisely because these workers’ precarious status is a benefit to those seeking a tractable workforce.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/18/15”

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 5/6/13

• What New Yorkers are thinking about

The Village Voice included a review of “a fascinating set of videos from an anthropologist named Andrew Irving, a researcher who spent part of 2011 documenting 100 random New Yorkers’ inner monologues.”

Andrew Irving
Andrew Irving, New York Stories: The Lives of Other Citizens/Village Voice
The videos, published by Scientific American, were created by Andrew Irving, professor and director of the Granada Centre of Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, England. He spent part of 2011 documenting 100 randomly selected New Yorkers’ inner monologues. Irving stood on street corners and asked pedestrians to put on headsets and narrate their streams of consciousness out loud.

While each narrative is distinct, Irving picked up on a recurrent theme of economic instability and concerns in “the age of terror.” Irving told the Voice that this particular project arose out of work he had done in Uganda, trying to understand the thoughts of people diagnosed with HIV.

• Hello, God

Tanya Marie Luhrmann
Tanya Marie Luhrmann/Stanford
In a guest column for The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, a professor at Stanford University, discusses findings from her ethnographic field work in a charismatic evangelical church in Chicago. It was not at all uncommon for people to talk about hearing God. She asks, what do we make of this?

“I don’t think that anthropologists can pronounce on whether God exists or not, but I am averse to the idea that God is the full explanation here. For one thing, many of these voices are mundane. A woman told me that she heard God tell her to get off the bus when she was immersed in a book and about to miss her stop… Schizophrenia, or the radical break with reality we identify as serious mental illness, is also not an explanation.” She provides more detail in her book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

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A double shot of culture at the 57th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

If you wanted to watch the inauguration in Washington, D.C., on Monday, some of the best places to be were near the swearing-in area, along Pennsylvania Avenue where the president and Michelle Obama might have decided to step out of their limousine and walk for a while, at home on your couch (with preferred snacks and beverages), or at the Embassy of Canada at 501 Penn.

Canadian mittens
A pair of mittens handed out at the Canadian Embassy during the 2013 U.S. Presidential Inauguration. Photo by Barbara Miller
I have never trekked downtown to watch the inauguration and parade in person before — in my 20 years of residence in the nation’s capital. But this year, a friend and colleague at GW received an invitation to attend the “tailgate party” at the Embassy of Canada, and he was allowed to bring a friend. Bob Maguire, a professor in the Elliott School, is the friend.

I got a double shot of culture: Canadian and American, all in one day.

Getting there was a short story in itself. Bob and I each live north of downtown, in different directions. Our original plan was to take the Metro, meet at Judiciary Square, and then walk to the embassy from there. Wisely, Bob suggested a change of plans: We would meet in my neighborhood in northwest D.C. and take public transportation to the Judiciary Square Metro stop. It turns out, that was a great idea; otherwise, we might never have met up.

The bus trip went well as did the subway segment. Who knew: friendly people on the red line! Conversations! The usual daily commute felt more like being part of a competitive sport.

During the commute, I asked Bob, who got his Ph.D. at McGill University and therefore has some direct Canadian experience, what we might expect at the tailgate party in terms of typical Canadian food and snacks. “Maybe bison,” he said, although he explained that bison might be reserved for a fancier occasion. He went on to explain that we could likely encounter Beaver Tails, poutine, and Mae Wests.

Beaver Tails are akin to what Americans might encounter at a state fair as fried dough, but it turns out that Beaver Tails are several gourmet steps up from most fried dough I have had. And there is a variety called the Obama Beaver Tail.

Poutine is french fries with a kind of clotted cheese (like feta only blander) and hot brown gravy. It was served in Dixie cups, and people snacked on it throughout the day. The main course on offer was either a hamburger (likely not a bison burger) or a hot dog on bun. There were no Mae Wests — apparently kind of like a double Twinkie consumed with a Pepsi on the side.

Back to the arrival: In getting into the secured area, we made a couple of strategic errors, standing in a line or two that we didn’t need to be in (see slideshow below). But eventually we found our way to the security line leading to the embassy, and we whizzed through with no problem to find that we were being gifted with a pair of really warm mittens. What a welcome!

Around 11 a.m., when — with warm hands and a happy feeling to be at such a nice party — we lined up for the competition to win a new Blackberry device. But you had to successfully complete a quiz about Canada. Lucky for us, the kind Canadians provided a tutorial in advance. Do you know how many checkpoints there are between Canada and the U.S.?

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