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.”
Pilapa Esara Carroll, associate professor of anthropology at the College at Brockport of the State University of New York, co-authored an op-ed in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY) about the need to end refugee-phobia: “We urge our political leaders to refrain from viewing potential U.S. citizens as threats to our nation. Legislation to halt refugee resettlement and to add more bureaucracy to the refugee vetting process are band-aid responses to complex international problems. Neither legislative acts address the root causes of the Syrian war or the mass displacement of Syrians.”
The human nature of peace
An article in the Huffington Post draws on cultural anthropologist Douglas Fry of the University of Alabama, with a focus on his new edited book War, Peace and Human Nature. According to the article, Fry summarizes the findings of decades of research on peaceful societies around the world and argues that assumptions about the war-like nature of humans and the inevitability of war are both erroneous and yet deeply ingrained in American culture. A clear alternative vision of a peaceful society is therefore needed. Research has found that when societies define themselves as peaceful, they are much more likely to behave and organize themselves in a consistent manner. Iceland, Denmark, Canada, and Norway provide good examples.
The MinnPost (Minneapolis, U.S.) carried an article describing a debate among four scholars about the Iran nuclear deal that was held at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School. Anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota, who travels to Iran frequently, argued that Iran never was seeking nuclear weapons; thus all of the concessions the United States and its negotiating partners have made have only induced Iran to give up something that it wasn’t doing anyway. Beeman favors ratification of the agreement, saying that many who oppose the agreement are motivated by a desire to humiliate Iran and embarrass President Obama. Those who believe it is possible to get back to negotiations to strengthen the deal are engaging in “magical thinking” because the other world powers that had imposed sanctions on Iran have already decided to approve the deal and have moved onto opening trade relations with Iran.
Displaced from New Orleans
The Huffington Post carried an article describing the findings of a new report, based on five years of research, on the experiences low-income of black women who were displaced from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The study was led by cultural anthropologist Jane Henrici of the George Washington University and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Pool parties in Damascus
The Wall Street Journal reported on the Syrian government’s attempts to promote life as normal even though the country is in a state of war and the president continues to lose control. For example, the government hosted a conference in May to mark World Migratory Bird Day, even though half the country’s human population have been forced from their homes. Weekend pool parties in Damascus go on as usual despite a water crisis in much of the country. The article quotes Amr al-Azm, an archaeologist and professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio: “We’re hearing of these over-the-top parties. It is almost manic in the sense of they’re going over the top to pretend that everything is fine…You know how on the Titanic, as it is sinking, you have the band playing the last few songs? It is sort of like that.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/31/15”→
The non-science (and more) of virginity testing of women
Sherria Ayuandini, a doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, published an op-ed in The Independent (U.K.) in which she argues against testing women’s virginity on scientific grounds: “Any type of virginity test that relies on the observation of the hymen or of the tightness of the vagina is inconclusive, at best, or completely invalid.” Beyond the science, she states: “No-one, neither a woman nor a man, should ever be compelled to endure such questioning, regardless of the reliability of the exam.” She concludes with this question: “…it is worth pondering that as the testing tool at hand is highly unreliable, why would anyone even dare to entertain the imposition of such fallibility?” [Blogger’s note: Answer to the question – because they are patriarchists].
Farmers protesting in Burma
Elliott Prasse-Freeman, doctoral candidate in anthropology at Yale University, published an article in Foreign Policy on how grassroots farmers are protesting elite control of “development” and land takeovers. Farmers have gone to court to protect their homes and land are increasingly taking to the streets to protest the new “development” policies and the draft land acquisition policy. According to Prasse-Freeman, a combination of protests and individual actions has, in some cases, succeeded in winning farmers meaningful concessions.
He cautions however that, “The successes of these movements and village-based politics should not be overstated. In Burma’s central Magwe region, most people still live under the thumb of the state. In outlying regions, ethnic minorities struggle for the freedom to govern themselves and for equal representation in national affairs. Plow protesters often end up in jail, the money they spent plowing their fields squandered. (Ko Taw estimates that only 5 percent of plow protests succeed in getting land returned.)” Continue reading “anthro in the news 5/25/15”→
Cultural anthropologists Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin published an op-ed in The Globe and Mail (Canada) urging that mechanisms be put in place in Nepal “to ensure that the relief reaches far beyond the capital of Kathmandu to remote, rural areas, where the devastation is least reported but most widespread. The loss of world heritage sites in Kathmandu’s urban center is visually striking, but it is now time to look elsewhere.” Shneiderman is assistant professor in the anthropology department at the University of British Columbia, and Mark Turin is chair of the First Nations Languages Program and associate professor of anthropology at UBC.
Helping earthquake victims vs. protecting material heritage
Newsweek described the situation in Kathmandu, where temples collapsed and stone sculptures and other valuable material heritage items lie in heaps. The article quotes cultural anthropologist and Nepal expert, Sara Shneiderman of the University of British Columbia, about the possibility of theft, in spite of many official and volunteer guards: “I wouldn’t be surprised if people were taking advantage of the current situation…There is a long history of stolen temple art, much of which turns up in auctions and so forth. And in a situation where people are desperate to secure their own resources, you can understand why people might do this.” In terms of the trade-off between helping people and protecting material heritage: “I think it is right that police should be focused on relief efforts and not necessarily on protecting statues,” says Shneiderman. “Though it would be sad if there were some loss in that regard.”
Nepal’s challenge in managing aid influx
The Hays Daily News (Kansas) carried an article about the possibly insurmountable administrative challenge to the country of Nepal after the earthquake. Sara Shneiderman, anthropology professor at the University of British Columbia, said possible corruption and weak links between Kathmandu and rural areas, where approximately 90 percent of Nepal’s 28 million people live, could make it difficult for officials to set priorities: “Most people’s first impulse is to do the best they can, but with large funds there is always that risk (of misallocation).” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/4/15”→
Tanya Luhrmann published an op-ed in The New York Times exploring how people around the world can use multiple angles that might include both Western scientific ways of thinking and “belief”-based thinking. She cites the work of psychologist Cristine H. Legare and colleagues “…who recently demonstrated that people use both natural and supernatural explanations in this interdependent way across many cultures. They tell a story, as recounted by Tracy Kidder’s book on the anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, about a woman who had taken her tuberculosis medication and been cured — and who then told Dr. Farmer that she was going to get back at the person who had used sorcery to make her ill. ‘But if you believe that,’ he cried, ‘why did you take your medicines?’ In response to the great doctor she replied, in essence, ‘Honey, are you incapable of complexity?’”
“Partners in Health, a Boston-based charity dedicated to improving health care for people in poor countries, signed on to the Ebola fight last fall with high ambitions. Unlike Doctors Without Borders and other relief agencies that specialize in acute response to crises, Partners in Health pledged to support the deeply inadequate health systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia for the long haul. Its leaders also publicly criticized the low level of care provided to Ebola patients and promised that its treatment units would do better. “’Let’s have a medical moon shot,’ the group’s co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, said last October. But the medical group, which had never responded to an Ebola outbreak before and had rarely worked in emergencies, encountered serious challenges.” [Blogger’s note: Nonetheless, without a doubt, PIH did save lives. Whether or not they will be able to effect long-term preventive changes awaits to be seen.]
Take that anthro degree and…
…become a community life director and chef. Liana Hernandez is the community life director and executive chef at the YWCA in Tucson, Arizona. Having studied anthropology at the University of Arizona, she gained from it an understanding of the imbalance that exists between marginalized communities of color and the dominant ones in the U.S. This insight, coupled with a strong sense of social service, drives her work at the YWCA where she says she is “setting the table for change,” an image that she takes seriously. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/20/15”→
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 dynamic duo of medical anthropologist/physicians, Jim Young Kim and Paul Farmer, published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that Ebola can be stopped if an effective response system is put in place:
“Ebola is spread by direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids, making it less transmissible than an airborne disease such as tuberculosis. A functioning health system can stop Ebola transmission and, we believe, save the lives of a majority of those who are afflicted…To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/8/14”→
Cultural anthropologists, academics and researchers are set to gain a greater understanding of Abu Dhabi’s intangible heritage in a workshop in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
Organized by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) under the title, “Identifying Community-based Intangible Cultural Heritage,” the workshop targets heritage enthusiasts, particularly teachers and researchers at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development, heritage departments, local institutions, individuals, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others involved in preserving intangible cultural heritage. Continue reading “Workshop in Abu Dhabi on intangible cultural heritage”→