anthro in the news 6/29/15

  • A matter of Pride: There is no neutral

An article in the Guardian reports on conflicts related to how a group of queer activists mobilized in solidarity with miners in the U.K are being treated in this year’s London Pride Parade line-up. The group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), was scheduled to lead this year’s parade, but the parade’s organizers won’t let trade union members march with them at the front of the parade because they are not political and not neutral. The article points out that LGSM is not the only political group at this year’s Pride and will be joined in the procession with Ukip, a political party whose leader recently declared that HIV-positive immigrants should be barred from the U.K. The article turns to insights from the “politically committed, morally engaged” anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes who points out that “neutrality” in the face of structural violence is not neutrality at all: it’s complicity.

  • Microfinance works, but for whom?

Cultural anthropologist Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics published an article in the Guardian in which he zings microfinance as “…the neoliberal development strategy par excellence. Forget about colonialism, structural adjustment, austerity, financial crises, land grabs, tax evasion, and climate change. Forget about challenging the concentration of power and wealth. And, above all, forget about collective mobilisation. Bankers shall be our new heroes and debt our salvation. Debt, incidentally, is a great way to keep people docile.” Hickel proposes alternatives that will address the structural causes of poverty. Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/29/15”

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 6/30/14

  • She said, he said, he said: Public debt is slavery or not?

As reported in an article in The Washington Post, last fall, at a fundraiser in Iowa, Sarah Palin said:

“Our free stuff today is being paid for today by taking money from our children and borrowing from China. When that money comes due and, this isn’t racist, so try it, try it anyway, this isn’t racist, but it’s going to be like slavery when that note is due. Right? We are going to be beholden to a foreign master.”

Then: The Baffler provides a transcript of a public conversation about the financial crisis between American anthropologist David Graeber, a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement and author of  Debt: The First 5000 Years, and French economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century. They were in Paris talking about the financial crisis and its implications.

About half-way through the conversation, Piketty says: Continue reading “Anthro in the news 6/30/14”

Anthro in the news 10/7/13

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in May 2012. Flickr/isafmedia

• Another run for Afghanistan presidency

Al Jazeera carried an interview with Ashraf Ghani Aamadzai (known more in the U.S. as simply Ashraf Ghani) about the Afghanistan presidential race. The article introduces him by saying: “On paper Columbia-educated cultural anthropologist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is an ideal candidate to be Afghanistan’s president. Ghani has worked at the World Bank and United Nations, and has written a book on failed states. In Afghanistan, however, his 2009 bid for the highest political office was dogged by criticism that his 24 years abroad meant Ghani had become a virtual stranger to the Afghan people.”

Ghani speaks about engaging youth and fighting corruption. On the latter, he comments:

There are 100 countries that are extremely corrupt. There are 20-25 countries that came out of corruption and succeeded. The United States still has major corruption, particularly at the municipal level. England invented corruption. Dealing with corruption is a multi-pronged agenda.

Ghani also ran in the last election and garnered only 3 percent of the vote. This time around, he may be running against a brother of his.

• Freedom’s just another word…

According to an article in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), “we” are overly comfortable with debt. The article mentions LSE cultural anthropologist, David Graeber, author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. According to Graeber, the English word “freedom” was originally associated with freedom from debt. It translated into “return to mother” because when debtors fell into arrears badly enough, their children were taken away from them.
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/7/13”

Anthro in the news 12/31/2012

From the blogger: Here is the last aitn for 2012. I had to work hard to find any mainstream media mention of cultural anthropology, whereas archaeology continues to attract substantial media attention, and we can almost always count on something about Neanderthals to attract interest. Please check out anthropologyworks’ short piece on the cultural anthropologist who was most in the news in 2012. Stay tuned for 2012 highlights from aitn and my top dissertation picks for 2012. And Happy New Year!

Debt by David Graeber
Debt by David Graeber
• Debt as a best book of 2012

The Global and Mail (Canada) asked several writers and avid readers to comment on their top book of 2012, from contemporary fiction to classic literature and nonfiction. Novelist Sheila Heti chose Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

“I can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t read David Graeber‘s paradigm-shifting book on the ethics of debt. He’s an anthropologist and one of the Occupy movement’s greatest thinkers. Here, he shows how debt has been a central economic, political, and social tool throughout human history. It’s an essential read, particularly for those who, in the wake of the financial crisis, believed we were at the beginning of “an actual public conversation about the nature of debt, of money, of the financial institutions,” and were stunned not to see that conversation happen.” Heti’s most recent book is the novel How Should a Person Be?

• Hadrian’s auditorium found under streets of Rome

Several media sources, including the BBC, covered the findings in Rome of an ancient auditorium 18 feet below one of Rome’s most-trafficked junctions. Italian archaeologists announced the discovery of a 900-seat arts center dating back to the second-century reign of Emperor Hadrian.

Marble bust of Hadrian at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums.
Hadrian bust, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums/Wikipedia
Archaeologists believe the structure was an arts center or auditorium, built by Hadrian where, beginning in 123 C.E., Roman noblemen gathered to hear rhetoricians, lawyers, and writers recite their works. According to the archaeologists running the excavation, Hadrian’s auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s.

• 800 year-old skeletons unearthed in Cholula, Mexico

Archaeologists in central Mexico uncovered the bones of 12 children and adults who may have been buried 800 years ago, according to an expert with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The skeletons were discovered as the archeologists supervised the installation of a new drain in an old neighborhood of Cholula, a city located 120 kilometers north of the Mexican capital. They were found buried just a few centimeters below a paved section of asphalt, said archeologist Ashuni Romero Butron, who added “fortunately they were not damaged by erosion before the paving.” He said most of the 12 skeletons are complete and laboratory analysis is ongoing.

Relief from the Sanctuary of Khonsu Temple at Karnak depicting Ramesses III
Ramesses
• Judean temple found

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a rare temple and religious figurines dating back to the Judaean period nearly 3,000 years ago. The discoveries were made at Tel Motza, outside Jerusalem, during archaeological work ahead of new highway construction in the area. Anna Eirikh, a director of the project, said the discoveries were rare evidence of religious practices outside Jerusalem in the Judaean period. The findings date to the 9th-10th century B.C.E.

• Death of a pharoah

Scans of the mummy of Ramses III reveal that his throat was slit. The pharaoh Ramses III ruled Egypt in the 12th century B.C.E. A plot by his wife to kill him in order to place her son on the throne is documented in an ancient papyrus, but the exact circumstances of Ramses’ death have been unclear. ”The big cut is in his throat, and it was very deep and large,” said Albert Zink, an anthropologist at the European Academy, who was involved in the research. ”It would have killed him immediately.” Zink and colleagues from Egypt, Italy and Germany, published their findings in the British Medical Journal. [Blogger’s note: so now we know the immediate cause of death, but we still don’t know who did the deed].

• 4,000 year-old spear heads found in Sinaloa, Mexico

Spearhead
Credit: INAH
Researchers have discovered 4,000-year-old spearheads and other artifacts at a site in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Archaeologist Joel Santos Ramirez said that the find “will change the chronologies of the antiquity of human settlement in the northwest of the country.”

• Neanderthal genome mapping update

According to a piece in CBC news, renowned archaeological geneticist Svante Paabo is almost finished with the mapping the DNA of Neanderthals, a distant cousin of modern humans.

Paabo has found that many people today carry within their DNA about 3 to 5 percent in common with Neanderthals. Paabo says it is important to learn more about Neanderthal DNA to reveal the differences between us and them, differences that have seen modern humans survive and thrive over the millennia while Neanderthals have become extinct.

Svante Paabo with reconstructed Neanderthal skull. Frank Vinken/Max Planck Gesellschaft
Svante Paabo with reconstructed Neanderthal skull. Frank Vinken/Max Planck Gesellschaft
He is quoted as saying: “I really hope that over the next 10 years we will understand much more of those things that set us apart. Which changes in our genome made human culture and technology possible? And allowed us to expand and become 7, 8, 9 billion people and spread all over the world?”

• In memoriam

Glenys Lloyd-Morgan died at the age of 67 years after a career devoted to the understanding of Roman archaeology. She graduated from the archaeology department at Birmingham University in 1970 with a dissertation on Roman mirrors. In 1975, she joined the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, where she catalogued collections and did re-enactments as a Roman lady. Later, she became a finds consultant specializing in Roman artifacts. She was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1979.