anthro in the news 12/7/2015

 

A view of Mauna Loa taken from a Pu'u near The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station at Mauna Kea. source: Wikipedia

Saying no to big telescope in Hawaii

Indigenous peoples everywhere seek the right to say no to various outside interventions. The National Post (Canada) reported on the controversial plan to build a giant telescope in Hawaii on top of Mauna Kea, a sacred mountain. A proposal to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) makes claims that it will benefit the whole world, and that Mauna Kea is the best and most rational place to build it. The article quoted, J. Kehaulani Kauanui, associate professor of anthropology and American Studies at Wesleyan University: “…telescopes on Mauna Kea are “supplant(ing) our indigenous temple of worship” and the TMT would constitute a “desecration” of the cynosure of Hawaiian existence. The Post article goes on to comment: “Canadians know well what this sort of fight looks like at home. It turns out other places have aboriginal peoples who want the right to say no, too.”

 


U.S. military is working on a bomber that later could be nuclear-certified. Source: PressTV

U.S. as major threat to world peace and security

PressTV (Iran) carried an article about the possibility of a new nuclear arms race involving Russia and China and untold financial costs. It drew on comments from Dennis Etler, professor of anthropology at Cabrillo College in California. Etler noted that the United States has “a military budget which exceeds that of all other countries combined, ” adding that the U.S. “has hundreds of military bases spread across the length and breadth of the globe, it has invaded sovereign nations throughout the world to protect what it claims is its national security, it has imposed economic sanctions on countries it deems adversaries, and supports subversion and separatism in order to dismember nations it wishes to control…This has all happened time and again. The U.S. as a result of its unilateral actions has become the major threat to world peace and security.”

 


Continue reading “anthro in the news 12/7/2015”

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 8/31/15

  • Debating the U.S.-Iran deal

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”

anthro in the news 8/18/15

  • “Blood coming out of her wherever”

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about cross-cultural attitudes toward menstruation, noting that while negative attitudes about menstruating women are widespread, they are by no means universal. The article was prompted by Donald Trump’s remark during a recent debate that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.” NPR quotes Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos: “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal.” Yet the exceptions, societies that treat menstruating women with respect, are important. Alma Gottlieb, professor of cultural anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, is co-editor with Thomas Buckley of Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, which includes positive examples.

  • So true: Graeberian bullshit jobs

According to an article in the Independent (U.K.), a study has found that more than a third of British workers believe their jobs are meaningless. In 2013, David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, argued in his article, On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, that increasing numbers of jobs are not socially useful and exist only for their own sake.

  • Caucasus ritual: You cannot be sober

The Independent (U.K.) carried an article about an annual summer ritual in a region in the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgia. The event includes horse racing, animal sacrifice, dancing, and beer drinking. The article focuses on the ritual leaders, or khevisberi, and provides commentary about them from Kevin Tuite, professor of anthropology at Montreal University: “Boxing with God,” as he calls it, is the defining experience in becoming a khevisberi. You are haunted by dreams and hallucinations, the deity visits calamities on you and your family, and finally you submit. [Blogger’s note: while a khevisberi is not easily recruited, it seems likely that they would not consider their work as a khevisberi to be meaningless in the Graeberian sense]. Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/18/15”

anthro in the news 7/27/15

  • The past as present in the Greek referendum

Cultural anthropologist Daniel M. Knight published an article in the Huffington Post describing how people in Greece at the time of the referendum vote discussed “discussed their fears and aspirations for the future through extensive reference to poignant pasts.” Knight, an Addison Wheeler Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University and Visiting Fellow at the Hellenic Observatory, London School of Economics and Political Science, stated:

“I have written at length about the significance of the past in the way Greeks experience the current economic turmoil. As I argue in my recent book, History, Time, and Economic Crisis in Central Greece, the cultural and temporal ‘proximity’ of selective moments of the past help people understand dramatic social change. By embodying moments of the past, locals discuss their fears of returning to previous epochs of hardship while drawing courage that even the worst crises can be overcome.”

  • Rihanna and David Graeber: Connect the dots

An article in the Financial Times reviews Rihanna’s latest video, Bitch Better Have My Money, noting that the video’s fictional events are thought to be connected to Rihanna’s personal fury at a former accountant: “In the song’s seven-minute video, the Barbadian singer is depicted kidnapping the beautiful wife of a character called The Accountant. Torture and unpleasantness ensue. On failing to secure a ransom for the bound and gagged blonde, Rihanna kills (spoiler): him.”

The article points out that accountants, like lawyers, “are adepts of a system of codes and regulations that the rest of us are bound by but do not understand. In his book, Debt, anthropologist David Graeber traces the history of accountancy to Sumerian temple administrators in 3500BC. From its inception the practice of weighing up people’s debts and credits was infused with religion. The financialisation of morality, Graeber argues, is the root meaning of money.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/27/15”

anthro in the news 7/20/15

  • Trending: #BoycottGermany

BBC News carried an article about the social media buzz on boycotting German products in protest of its position on Greece. #BoycottGermany was first mentioned on Twitter in connection with the Greek crisis last weekend, but started picking up on Monday. At the time of the article’s publication, the hashtag had been used more than 30,000 times. One of the most retweeted messages came from David Graeber, American anarchist activist and anthropology professor at the London School of Economics. He references the post-World War II cancellation of debts accrued by the Nazi regime:

“My proposal: Germany now morally obliged to repay Nazi debt canceled in 1953. With interest. We must #BoycottGermany until they do.” David Graeber (@davidgraeber) July 13, 2015

  • Overkill on the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal

Cultural anthropologist William Beeman, professor and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, critiqued the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal in the Huffington Post: “The deal is, in fact, overkill. There is no evidence anywhere that Iran had, has or will have a nuclear weapons program and that mere enrichment of uranium–something 19 other non-nuclear weapons countries do without any complaints from the US–is not tantamount to weapons manufacture, the inspections regime negotiated in the Vienna accords are quite incredible–the most serious ever enacted anywhere.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/20/15”

anthro in the news 7/6/15

  • Blaming the victim

An article in the Guardian on Greece’s financial situation mentions the anthropologist of debt, professor David Graeber of the London School of Economics. While the head of the IMF has admitted to error in applying austerity policy to Greece, Graeber’s perspective, in his history of debt and debt forgiveness Debt: The First 5,000 Years, is that debt inevitably gives the lender the power of rightful coercion with blame inevitably attaching to the borrower. [Blogger’s note: Graeber is so right. In spite of some media coverage of LaGarde’s admission of the IMF’s underestimation of the effects of its austerity policies on Greece, the prevailing message is that Greece must change its economy, rather than the IMF changing its thinking. In other words, when things go wrong, as they will do, the borrower is always to blame].

  • The Pope, climate change, and Catholic perspectives

Moyers & Company carried an article about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and what it means for the U.S., specifically the effects of pollution on the poor and disadvantaged minorities. It quotes Patricia Juarez, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso where she teaches a course on environmental justice in minority communities: “I hope and pray that Catholics will take a look at the encyclical…The development issues that result from pollutants often keep people in a cycle of poverty, keep them out of school or keep them isolated.” Juarez is optimistic that the Pope’s encyclical will encourage climate change doubters to look for more information, and she applauds the Vatican for leading the effort. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 71 percent of U.S. Catholics believe the Earth is warming, but only 47 percent believe it is a result of human activity. Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/6/15”

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”

Anthro in the news 5/11/15

  • Disasters never really end

An article in The Indian Express about India’s efforts to help Nepal recover from the April 25 earthquake quotes Edward Simpson, professor of social anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London: “An earthquake does not conclude. It lives in metaphor and history, passing in and out of popular consciousness.” In addition to dealing with loss as survivors try to put their lives back together, they know that future earthquakes are inevitable.

  • Buggy debate: Amish cultural rights vs. road safety

National Public Radio (WRVO) reported on a recent vote by the St. Lawrence County Legislature to table a resolution that would ask the state of New York to require Amish buggies to display orange, reflective triangles. People on both sides of the buggy debate spoke at the meeting. The group supporting the resolution is focused on road safety. Karen Johnson-Weiner, professor of anthropology at SUNY Potsdam and studies the Amish, said the Amish will not use the orange reflectors:

“It’s bright. I’ve heard some say the three-sided reflects the trinity…I’ve heard some say it’s putting belief in a man-made symbol that’s too gaudy for them, they don’t use those bright colors, and at the base those things that are against the Ordnung — the rules each Amish church group sets for themselves — are against their understanding of how they should be as Christians in the world.” [Blogger’s note: some Amish groups have accepted the placement of the orange triangle on their buggies while others do not. Non-Amish drivers should perhaps be asked to bear a symbol of their high speed and assertiveness…not sure what it would be].

  • Bugs for dinner tonight?

The Huffington Post carried an article on how eating bugs has not spread in Western cultures in spite of attempts to promote them as an edgy new food source in high end restaurants. It points out that, while millions of people around the world rely on insects as part of their diet, people in Western cultures typically don’t seek out insects to eat. The article draws on commentary from Julie Lesnik, an associate professor of anthropology at Wayne State University who specializes in entomophagy.  She points out the cost factor which makes a steak dinner more expensive than a specialty insect dish at a restaurant. In addition is what she calls the ick factor: many Westerners have been taught from a young age to associate insects with the spread of disease or to think of them as agricultural pests, “a stigma translated into disgust and then we don’t eat them.” From an evolutionary perspective, Lesnik notes that when humans first arrived in Europe and North America, it would have been covered in ice and so insects were not available as an edible resource. She feels that the chances of major growth in insect consumption in the United States is not likely to happen since she knows of no example of a group who stopped or drastically reduced eating an affordable, readily available protein (such as beef) in favor of a more expensive, less available one (such as crickets). Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/11/15”

Anthro in the news 4/13/15

  • Why some women choose to be circumcised

The Atlantic carried an interview with Bettina Shell-Duncan, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, about common misconceptions about female genital cutting, including the idea that men force women to undergo the procedure. Shell-Duncan favors the term “cutting” rather than “mutilation,” which sounds derogatory and can complicate conversations with those who practice FGC (female genital cutting). She challenges the widespread belief among outsiders that the practice is forced on women by men whereas her research suggests that elderly women often do the most to perpetuate the custom. In Shell-Duncan’s experience, most people who practice FGC recognize its possible health consequences, but they think the benefits outweigh them. Shell-Duncan recently joined a five-year research project, led by the Population Council, whose goal is reducing female genital cutting by at least 30 percent across 10 countries over five years.

  • Where do break-through insights come from?

An article in The Telegraph (U.K.) presents a counter-argument to the big push to teach STEM fields in favor of a curriculum that values creativity and critical thinking. Many examples exist of innovators who gained insights from non-STEM fields. Notably, “…Financial Times journalist, Gillian Tett, perhaps the only mainstream journalist who predicted the financial crash, saw the risks of collateralised debt obligations by drawing on lessons on group dynamics from her PhD in anthropology.

  • Partners in Health volunteer is Ebola-free

The Boston Herald reported that a volunteer from the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health (PIH) who was sickened with Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone has been released from the hospital and deemed Ebola-free. The article quotes medical anthropologist Paul Farmer of Harvard University: “We’re cheering here in rural Liberia and in Sierra Leone, and are sure our co-workers in Boston and Haiti and Rwanda and Peru and elsewhere are too.” Farmer is co-founder and chief strategist for PIH. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/13/15”