anthro in the news 1/4/16

Sidney Mintz: Founder of the anthropology of food

Cultural anthropologist Sarah Hill, associate professor at Western Michigan University, published an article in the Boston Review detailing the work of cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz of the Johns Hopkins University. [See also:  In memoriam, below]. Mintz is lauded as the founder of “food anthropology” with the publications of his landmark book in 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Hill writes: “…at the heart of Sweetness and Power lies an understanding of the history of capitalism in the Atlantic world that goes far to explain slavery’s enduring legacy.”


Can planet Earth be saved?

In an article in The Atlantic, several U.S. experts, including cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Moreno, assistant professor at Oregon State University, offer reasons for despair and hope about the future of our planet. Her reason for despair: “As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate…These burdens are all part of climate injustice…I [also] despair because…climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.”  On the side of hope: “The rest of the world is talking back…. It’s going to be an interesting century.”


Continue reading “anthro in the news 1/4/16”

anthro in the news 11/9/2015


Enset is a survivor when other plants die. credit: DW/J. Brewer

A traditional African food crop is money in the bank

An article in Deutsche Welle described the importance of enset, a staple crop in parts of Ethiopia, in the past and future, given the effects of climate change in the region.  Endemic to Ethiopia, the plant has been cultivated there for more than 7,000 years. Often called the “false banana” because of its similarity to the banana tree, it can withstand droughts as well as heavy rains. The article quotes Gebre Ynitso, associate professor in the department of social anthropology at Addis Ababa University: “[As a child] I would play hide-and-go seek in the dense enset plantation.” He helped his parents transplant the enset and made toys out of its roots. He and his fellow villagers tended the towering plant and harvested its roots and leaves for food and collected its fibers to weave into hats, sacks, and mattresses. “No part of the plant went to waste…One of the unique qualities of the enset is that it will always be around as a backup plan,” he said. “It’s like money in the bank.”


Cultural context of mental illness

The New York Times published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University Professor at Stanford University. She writes about how cultural context affects definitions of mental illness in Chicago, the U.S., and Chennai, India. From her perspective as an American, she notes: “If psychotic homelessness were an easy problem to solve, we would have already done so. But we aren’t going to do so until we recognize that the streets in different places have their own cultures. To reach the people who need our help we need to understand what it means to be crazy in their world.” Luhrmann highlights the work of a local NGO in Chennai, called The Banyan, which is help homeless women and their families.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 11/9/2015”

anthro in the news 8/3/15

  • Seeking Angelina lips

The Globe and Mail reported on the growing use by women in Canada of cosmetic surgery, pointing to a look that is called “richface.” The article includes insights from Alexander Edmonds, professor of social and medical anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and author of Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. She says: “Part of the draw of duck lips is that some people like the artificial look. I am reminded of anorexia– which is not only a disorder of eating, but a disorder of perception. There is an addictive quality to cosmetic surgery that can alter, not just the body, but the perception of what is natural, artificial or beautiful.”

  • Military neuroscience: Too delicious to ignore

As reported by the Washington Post, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is increasingly funding research about the brain. One of its lesser known research endeavors is its Narrative Networks project which aims to understand how narratives influence human thought and behavior. Psychologists at the Georgia Institute of Technology recruited undergraduates to be hooked up to MRI machines and watch short movie clips. The excerpts featured a character facing a potential negative outcome and were taken from suspenseful movies, including Alfred Hitchcock movies as well as Alien, Misery, Munich and Cliffhanger. Researchers found that when suspense grew, brain activity in viewers’ peripheral vision decreased. Moments of increasing suspense were also associated with greater interference with a secondary task. Thus, an “emotional threat” affects a person’s attention both spatially (vision) and conceptually (across different tasks).

The article refers to a critical perspective on such research from Hugh Gusterson: “[m]ost rational human beings would believe that if we could have a world where nobody does military neuroscience, we’d all be better off. But for some people in the Pentagon, it’s too delicious to ignore.” Gusterson is professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University. Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/3/15”

Anthro in the news 4/6/15

  • Beyond pabulum: Make the IPCC relevant through social science research

In an excellent article published in Nature, political scientist David G. Victor calls for expansion of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) process to include social science insights into controversial issues and stop providing cooked-down, irrelevant, “pabulum” findings and recommendations. Victor is a professor of international relations and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego.

Victor, who serves on the IPCC’s Working Group III, brings an insider’s perspective to the workings of the IPCC. He comments that it “…is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. By seeking consensus and avoiding controversy, the organization is suffering from the streetlight effect — focusing ever more attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are out in the darkness, far from the places that the natural sciences alone can illuminate.”

“The IPCC has engaged only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines. Just one branch — economics — has had a major voice in the assessment process. In Working Group III, which assesses climate-change mitigation and policy, nearly two-thirds of 35 coordinating lead authors hailed from the field, and from resource economics in particular. The other social sciences were mostly absent. There was one political scientist: me.”

Moving forward, Victor suggests that “…the IPCC must ask questions that social scientists can answer…if it engages the fields on their own terms it will find a wealth of relevant knowledge — for example, about how societies organize, how individuals and groups perceive threats and respond to catastrophic stresses, and how collective action works best.”

Cultural/social anthropologists can answer this call. Let’s hope the IPCC punches in our number. Victor, however, does not include anthropology on his A-list: “As soon as the new IPCC leadership is chosen later this year, the team should invite major social-sciences societies such as the American Political Science Association, the American and European societies of international law, the American Sociological Association and the Society for Risk Analysis to propose relevant topics that they can assess and questions they can answer.”

  • Some bodies are allowed to go home
The remains of Richard III have been reburied without scientists’ complaints. Credit: The New York Times.

Chip Colwell, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, published an article in The Huffington Post about how white bodies, such as that of Richard III, are allowed to return home and be reburied without scientists making a claim on them.

The quiet about the reburial of Richard III “…stands in stark contrast to how so many regard the reburial of Native American human remains in museums. Around the world archaeologists have resisted the return of skeletons for decades — arguing that they are needed for science. Even nearly 25 years after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became federal law, only 27% of the Native skeletons in U.S. museums have been offered for return. More than 100,000 skeletons continue to sit on shelves. In Europe, only in the last few years have the first sets of Native American remains come home.”

Colwell is the author of the forthcoming book, Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Treasures.

  • The Battle of Okinawa lives on

The Epoch Times published Paul Christensen’s article that first appeared on in which he writes about the Battle of Okinawa, a long and bloody encounter at the end of World War II. Christensen, assistant professor of anthropology at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, notes that April 1, 2015, marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the battle. The death count was more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers 12,000 Allied troops, and 150,000 Okinawan civilians. Moreover, untold people were wounded or captured as prisoners of war. Memories of the battle live on as well as resentment against both Japan and the United States for its continued military presence. The battle is not over. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/6/15”

DC event: Islands as Champions of Resilience

When: Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
Where: Wilson Center, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW, 6th Floor Board Room, Washington, D.C. 20004

Island communities are often reported in policy documents, academic papers, and the media as being “most vulnerable” to climate change and disasters. But how accurate is that assumption? Island communities and governments are responding to these challenges with strategies ranging from effective loss and damage responses for small-island states, to incorporating communities, women, and population dynamics into climate responses. Additionally, donors such as USAID and AUSAID are supporting climate resilient development in small islands. Join three climate change experts for a discussion on reframing island states from victims of climate change to champions of resilience.


  • Maxine Burkett – Associate Professor of Law, University of Hawaii at Mānoa
  • John Furlow – Senior Climate Change Specialist, USAID
  • Charles Nyandiga – Programme Advisor, UNDP


  • Roger-Mark De Souza – Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Wilson Center



DC event: Building Inclusive Climate-Smart Resilience from the Ground Up

Myanmar Advanced Leadership Institute on Climate Change for
Government Officials and Civil Society Leaders

Building Inclusive Climate-Smart Resilience from the Ground Up
featuring Mr. Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience, Wilson Center

A bustling market in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan

When: Thursday, November 13, 2014, 5:30pm- 7:30pm

Where: The Elliott School of International Affairs, Lindner Family Commons Room 602
1957 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052

Light refreshments will be provided.

Seating is limited! RSVP now at:

This event is part of the Myanmar Advanced Leadership Institute on Climate Change (MALICC), which brings a delegation of 14 government officials and civil society leaders to Washington. MALICC builds on a two-year partnership between PISA and ALARM, Myanmar’s leading environmental organization, in order to help mainstream climate change into the nation’s policy-making.

Anthro in the news 7/28/14

Flooding on the Marshall Islands. Source: Getty Images.
  • Climate change, blame, and moving on

National Public Radio provided commentary by anthropologist Barbara J. King of William and Mary on “the blame game” about climate change. After reading an article by anthropologist Peter Rudiak-Gould in the August issue of Current Anthropology, “Climate Change and Accusation: Global Warming and Local Blame in a Small Island State“, she gained an appreciation for the scale of the problem of climate change faced by people in the Marshall Islands. Rudiak-Gould seeks to understand how the Marshallese Islanders think about who is responsible for climate change: Do they engage in industrial blame, in which Western, developed and industrialized countries are held to be at fault? Or do they adopt a perspective of universal blame that puts blame on all of us collectively, even Marshall Islanders? Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/28/14”

Anthro in the news 6/2/14

  • Los Angeles rediscovers Carlos Castaneda
Castaneda made it to the cover of Time Magazine.

Cultural anthropology icon of the 1970s, and subsequently discredited, Carlos Castaneda rises again. The Los Angeles Times reviewed an exhibit at the Fowler Museum at UCLA displaying a collection of twelve masks from the Yaqui people of Sonora, Mexico that Castaneda put together as a graduate student at the university. They are on view in The Yaqui Masks of Carlos Castaneda along with five others and accompanying accessories used in Yaqui ceremonies for celebration and commemoration. These pahko’ola masks are made of carved wood, mostly painted in vivid red, white and black, with goat hair added for bushy eyebrows and beards. Sometimes they resemble goats, most important of Yaqui domesticated animals, or monkeys, which were seen as tricksters in the wilderness.

David Delgado Shorter, associate professor and vice chair of the World Arts and Cultures/Dance department at UCLA, who has done extensive field work with the Yaquis of Sonora, Mexico, acknowledged the problems in Castaneda’s books: “Much of it seems completely fabricated and not based at all in Yaqui traditions…There are also ways of talking about speech and mannerism that are undeniably Yaqui.” For him, the masks themselves, which would have been very difficult to obtain outside of Mexico in the 1960s, are the clincher. “It attests he was right there,” Shorter said, “in that specific area where he said he was doing field work.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 6/2/14”

Anthro in the news 3/3/14

  • Parents beware: Don’t talk to your kids online

As reported in The Globe and Mail (Canada), Danah Boyd, cultural anthropologist, Microsoft researcher, and professor at New York University, recommends that parents who worry about the countless hours their teens spend on phones, tablets and computers: stop worrying. In her new book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Boyd argues that teens need screen time to grow, learn and stay socially plugged in. And unlike those who fear social media is bad for our kids, making them sedentary and incapable of face-to-face interaction, she says the Internet is an essentially good (as well as inevitable) part of their lives. And they don’t need anxious parents monitoring everything they tweet or post. The Telegraph (U.K) also carried an article about Boyd and her new book.

  • Honey, can I trust you?

Fox News reported on research at Texas A & M University shows that most honey labels do not tell the truth: at least 75 percent of the honey in the U.S. is not what it says it is on the label. One lead honey investigator says the mis-reporting could be as high as 90 percent. Vaughn Bryant is an anthropology professor at Texas A & M University and is also known as the “honey detective.” He says pollen is so unique in all the different plants worldwide, that it is like a fingerprint. He can discover a honey’s unique “pollen print” which reveals where it’s from. Bryant keeps a library of 20,000 different types of pollen in his lab.

  • Mapping indigenous heritage sites for human survival

Environmental authorities have conducted heritage mapping on Gunbower Island in Australia, according to an article in The Northern Times. Cultural heritage sites located on traditional Barapa Barapa land have been identified in a partnership involving The North Central Catchment Management Authority, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, 19 traditional land owners, an archaeologist, and an ecologist. The three week program funded by an Indigenous heritage grant included groups from Kerang, Deniliquin and Mildura. NCCMA project officer, Robyn McKay, said the purpose of the program was to gain information on watering priorities for the forest: “We need to have a knowledge of cultural and spiritual values…We want a holistic approach to environmental water and incorporate those values into water plans.” She said the program provides skills, training employment and a connection with the country: “It is great to have indigenous evolvement in water plans.”

Archaeologist Colin Pardoe is interested in the population distribution in the region: “We will update the survey records and research earth mound distributions, family to village size along the lagoons…People consider aboriginals and traditional owners to be nomads but in reality people are fairly stable and lived in villages for months at a time. From 1850, within five years they had all disappeared. We will document the reliance on recourses, nets, bags, string and bulrush which was a major food source.”

  • Take that anthro degree…

…and become a businesswoman and an environmental philanthropist. Wendy Schmidt is president of the Schmidt Family Foundation and co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in sociology/anthropology and went on to get a graduate degree in journalism. The Schmidt Family Foundation was founded in 2006 to focus on climate and energy issues. The Schmidt Ocean Institute, which supports oceanic research, was created in 2009. Wendy serves as vice president of the SOI and president of the Family Foundation, making the major grant decisions. To date, the Schmidt Family Foundation has given away $451 million, and the ocean institute has gifted more than $100 million. The Schmidts have given additional gifts to academic and medical institutions.

…and become director for visual trends at Getty Images and lead a new initiative, The Lean In Collection, a partnership between Getty Images and Leanin.Org, the nonprofit founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, to contribute to women’s empowerment. Getty Images provides illustrations to 2.4 million clients in more than 100 countries. Its customers cover a broad spectrum from advertising and marketing to news media and from large corporations to individual bloggers. Getty is a young company, founded in 1995 to bring stock photos into the digital age. Pam Grossman was instrumental in forming the partnership with, an important step toward modernizing stock images. Grossman, a cultural-anthropology major, believes that images have an immediate emotional impact and deliver messages that affect us consciously and unconsciously on a deep level. The team she works with has been studying depictions of women for the decade she has been working with Getty. Last summer she noticed an uptick in discussions nationally about portrayals of women and girls and decided Getty should have a voice. She put together a presentation that got her an invitation to meet with, and the partnership arose from that meeting. Learn more about Pam Grossman from this article in the Seattle Times. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/3/14”