It’s fascinating to see how certain holidays spread around the world, and how they are marked, celebrated, and “localized” in different countries and regions and among different groups. Valentine’s Day is clearly going global, but with many regional and local permutations. Some of those variations have to do with the very fact that Valentine’s Day is associated with love and romance and, let’s face it, sex. Here are some news bits about Valentine’s Day 2014 around the world.
Just wanting somebody to love:
In France, Internet dating rises before Valentine’s Day. According to an article in The Global Times, “The Internet is powering Cupid’s wings in France, with use of online dating sites soaring, according to matchmakers preparing to help singletons maximize their seduction opportunities this Valentine’s Day. Of the 18 million single people in France “one in two uses Internet dating,” said Jessica Delpirou, director in France of the Meetic dating website, which was launched in 2001 and recently taken over by the US website match.com. The run-up to St Valentine’s Day — before New Year resolutions are forgotten — is a particularly busy time. “
An article in The Times (London) cites the research of Harvard University cultural anthropology professor Susan Greenhalgh that reveals how the visit of a Chinese mathematician to an international meeting in Helsinki put him in touch with Malthusian thinking about population growth and its dangers and specifically the book, The Limits to Growth.
Falling down on the job in Cambodia
Over the past two years, many garment workers in Cambodia have fainted and been hospitalized and production has slowed or shut down, according to a report in The New York Times by Julia Wallace, the executive editor of The Cambodian Daily. In one instance, a worker started issuing commands in a language that sounded like Chinese, claiming to speak for an ancestral spirit and demanding raw chicken. No raw chicken was provided, and more faintings occurred.
The article mentions the work of two cultural anthropologists, Michael Taussig and Aihwa Ong, who have described spiritual responses to oppression. Taussig wrote about Colombian peasants working on sugar cane plantations in the 1970s and their perceptions of having sold their souls to the devil.
More closely related to the Cambodian case is Aihwa Ong’s research on spirit possession among women factory workers in Malaysia in the 1970s. Ong interpreted women’s spiritual affliction as a protest against harsh working conditions. Such “protests” however did not result in better working conditions for the women. In Cambodia, in contrast, mass faintings have produced a positive response – indirectly, through public support for workers’ rights after a government crackdown on demonstrating workers and, directly, through a raise in the minimum wage. [Blogger’s note: garment workers in developing countries need all the help they can get, so bring on the spirits!].
The future of jobs in the world
An article in The Economist on the future of employment drew on the work of many scholars including cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics. The views in general are not promising for employment rates, given the ever rising replacement of labor by technology. Increasing income equality is projected. The article alludes to Graeber’s perspective that much modern labor consists of “bullshit jobs” (low- and mid-level screen-sitting that serves simply to occupy workers for whom the economy no longer has much use) and that keeping bullshit workers employed is a ruling class practice to maintain control. [Blogger’s note: interested readers should consult Graeber’s original writings for more details].
Eating cake and talking about death
Art du Jour, an art gallery and education space in downtown Santa Cruz, CA is a bright and cozy place where some 30 strangers gather to talk about death and dying. To help begin those conversations comes a new concept in an unlikely phrase: the Death Cafe. Death Cafes originated in England, the country where the hospice movement began. An article in the San Jose Mercury on Death Cafes in California quoted Shelley Adler, a U.C. San Francisco medical anthropologist who held the first San Francisco Death Cafe this past spring:
“Bundt cake makes everything easier…[regarding death, she says]. “We have more than 100 euphemisms for it. The end. Pass away. Kick the bucket. It’s not that we want to avoid it, necessarily. It’s everywhere, from zombie movies to video games. But we were desperately in need of a platform. And, when you face it, you suddenly feel unloaded. It’s not as scary.”
• Violence against indigenous women and girls in Canada: stop it
Canada paused on Friday to remember the 14 young Montreal women who were murdered by a misogynistic madman. As part of the tribute, the Saskatoon Women’s Community Coalition unveiled a public art display of shoes in the square at City Hall to illustrate the lifetime loss of girls and women who are fatal victims of violence, often domestic abuse that forces them out onto the streets.
An article in The Toronto Star quoted Marlene McKay, a Métis anthropologist who has studied marginalized aboriginal women as well as the “broken women from Saskatoon’s 20th Street.” She said that history has inflicted so much pain and lowered the self-worth of Canada’s aboriginal women that the fact hundreds are missing has become little more than a sociological footnote. Feminism, she says, is still pretty much an F-word in indigenous culture: “We are just entering that conversation.”
• Belize in the news
The Huffington Post carried an interview with Joe Awe, a Belizean activist, entrepreneur, anthropologist, Mayanist, tourism lecturer at a junior college, and one of Belize’s top tour guides. Awe shares facts and ideas about Belize’s history, culture, ecotourism, economy and sustainable development.
A report from AllAfrica about the devastating cyclone in Somalia, which has left hundreds dead and many thousands in need of aid, said that the government of Puntland appealed for help from the international community, but response was not strong. This does not surprise Markus Höhne from the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Leipzig, who is doing research on Somalia. He said “Somalia is generally seen as a hopeless case that doesn’t affect us any more … The fate of the people who have been hit by disasters, natural or manmade, attracts little attention.” Instead, topics such as the terrorism and piracy that originate in Somalia sparks international interest.
• China newspaper says anthropologist’s opinion piece is “vile”
A Chinese government-backed newspaper criticized CNN for publishing an opinion piece disputing the Communist Party’s claims that Muslim Uighur extremists were behind the recent attack on Tiananmen: “CNN is way out of line this time,” the Global Times‘ editorial read, referring to the American news organization’s piece titled, “Tiananmen crash: Terrorism or cry of desperation?” written by Sean R. Roberts, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in the Turkic Uighur ethnic group. “It is of a vile nature to present such a view at the mainstream media,” the Global Times stated.
Roberts notes that while the deaths are a tragedy, it is not clear that they are a representative of a serious terrorist threat to the Chinese state as is now being suggested by official sources. According to Chinese security organs, this act of driving a jeep into a crowd of people and setting it on fire was a “carefully planned, organized, and premeditated” terrorist attack carried out by a group of Uyghur Islamic extremists from Xinjiang Province.
Roberts continues to say that given the lack of transparency historically in the Chinese state’s conviction of Uyghurs on charges of political violence, “we may never know whether this characterization of Monday’s events is accurate.” Roberts is an associate professor and director of international development studies in the Elliott School of the George Washington University. He has done substantial fieldwork in China’s Xinjiang region and is presently writing a book on the Uyghurs of Kazakhstan.
• Interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes
Mother Jones carried an interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes of the University of California at Berkeley. Holmes recounts his year and a half among the people who harvest food for consumers in the U.S. in his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. Questions address how he became interested in anthropology, in U.S. farm workers, as well as what it’s like to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border.
[Blogger’s note: I assigned Seth’s book in my fall seminar on Culture, Risk and Disaster. It got a thumbs up from all the students, and I will assign it again next year.]
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.”