The Washington Post published an op-ed by cultural anthropologist Omaira Bolaños, Latin America program director for the Rights and Resources Initiative. She argues for property rights reform: “One of the most devastating aspects of the war for me was to see indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Colombian communities who spent their entire lives investing in and caring for their territories suddenly left with nothing. Displacement has a particularly destructive impact, leading to the loss of livelihoods, languages and cultures, and to the tearing apart of social fabrics — in addition to the lives lost to violence. For a lasting peace to take root, the legal recognition of collective property rights for indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities would be an important step in addressing the war’s damages and in continuing a process of comprehensive land reform.”
Disney-ification of Tibetan culture
An article in The Washington Post described the effects of the ever-growing number of Chinese tourists in Tibet. It quotes P. Christiaan Klieger, a San-Francisco-based cultural anthropologist, historian, and writer: “It is very similar to how the United States treated its developing West 100 years ago…They are commodifying the native people and bringing them out as an ethnic display for the consumption of people back east.” Other critics point out that such domestic tourism is part of a plan to bind Tibet ever more tightly into China. Tourism development trivializes Tibet’s culture, marginalizes its people, and pollutes the environment. Tibetans are neither consulted nor empowered in this process. The top jobs and most of the profits go to companies and people from elsewhere in China.
CBA Canada reported on a gathering of iIndigenous groups from around the world in Vancouver, British Columbia, to discuss and promote the burgeoning field of “indigenous tourism” or “indigenous cultural tourism” with attention to the value of the unique relationship between First Nations and the environment. Delivering the conference’s keynote address was Wade Davis, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of British Columbia and National Geographic explorer-in-residence. He said that indigenous tourism could potentially revolutionize the industry by encouraging a better appreciation of cultural diversity:
“I think there’s a moral and huge opportunity to become ambassadors for an entire new way of being, a new geography of hope,” said Davis. But it needs to go beyond leveraging quotas of First nations into the field. “Real tourism is when aboriginal societies on their own terms can share their visions of life in a profound way that gives the visitor a true sense of authenticity, such that a visitor goes away as an avatar of the wonder of culture.”
Protests for peace in Japan
USA Today reported on a surge of youth protests in Japan opposing legislation that would weaken Japan’s post-World War II commitment to pacifism. Weekly gatherings have grown into the largest protest movement Japan has seen in half a century. A crowd estimated by organizers at more than 100,000 turned out on a recent weekend, and nightly demonstrations have taken place outside the parliament building and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence nearby. Young people provided the spark for mass protests this summer, said David Slater, a professor of cultural anthropology and director of Sophia University’s Institute of Comparative Culture, in Tokyo: “Young people have not been apathetic; they have just been disgusted with politics, as have most of the Japanese adult population… This last set of bills just pushed the whole citizenry too far…”
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”→
Tear gas is not uncommon in Port au Prince. Over the past decade, whether it has been protests over food shortages, controlling political demonstrations, or ‘peacekeeping’ actions by the infamous MINUSTAH UN forces, tear gas and other methods of crowd control have been a reality of the political and social landscape in downtown Port-au-Prince. A veteran reporter in Haiti told me that he had developed all sorts of strategies to deal with tear gas, ranging use of lime under his nose to more preventative measures like always having a paint masks handy.
But as of late, a new method of mass crowd control has been quite literally ‘sweeping the streets’ in the capital of Haiti. A type of pepper spray spiked water is being shot out of water cannons and into crowds of protesters. Dlo grate, or itching water, as it is referred to in Haitian Creole, is a now common term in Port au Prince. While not all have felt its devastatingly powerful effects, knowledge of the new tactic is widespread throughout the city.
The visit of French President François Hollande was the backdrop for the most recent student protest and excessive police response. Student protests are not uncommon in Port-au-Prince, and for the past years these demonstrations have often targeted the government in power. On May 12th, outside of the Faculté d’Ethnologie, the storied home of Haitian anthropology and site of many student demonstrations, 50 or so university students protested the arrival the French President– the first official state visit of any French President to Haiti. Given that Hollande had just rescinded an offer of reparations to Haiti for the damages of slavery and exploitation (officials insisting he was talking about a ‘moral debt’ and not a financial one), such a protest was largely predictable. Other protests in the plaza of Champ de Mars supposedly numbered around 200. During the day of his visit, students and protesters chanted ‘Nou pa esklav anko!’ (We won’t be slaves again), invoking France’s historical role as a slave owning colonial power, and hinting at the continual neocolonial tactics used by France and the broader international community. Some students provocatively dressed as slaves outside the university campus.
During the late morning that Tuesday, I was in the second floor computer of the Faculté d’Ethnologie preparing a seminar that would be cancelled 45 minutes later. I could hear student chants that had been building for an hour or so. But new noises soon entered the air-conditioned room, and students sitting around me got up from their computers to see what caused the loud commotion.
From the second floor balcony, we could see that a black armored national police truck had parked itself outside of the walls of the school. On the top of this tank, visible over the wall, was a large turret fixed with a water cannon. The noise we could hear was the water that was being shot at students, occasionally hitting the metal door of the courtyard. The demonstration was non-violent (a Professor later remarked that he saw one student throw a stone, only to be quickly reprimanded by other demonstrators), yet the tank was parked right outside the courtyard, knocking students to the ground with a surge of water even when they were inside the gates of the university. From its position higher than the university walls, the water cannon was policing actions of even the students inside the gate. Continue reading “Pepper water and protests in Haiti”→
The Focus On Haiti Initiative is proud to publish our Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless: Post-Earthquake Aspirations & Achievements symposium agenda.
The Focus On Haiti Initiative and the U.S. Department of State will host Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 1, 2015. The symposium will discuss Haiti’s fundamental development challenges and progress toward meeting them in the post-quake period, focusing on the aspirations of the country’s under-represented population as presented at the March 31, 2010 post-earthquake UN-sponsored Donors’ Conference in New York.
If you would like to RSVP, please visit: http://go.gwu.edu/VHV. If you have already submitted an RSVP and would like to change your response, please email email@example.com.
Farmer zings M.S.F.: The New York TimesquotedPaul Farmer, medical anthropologist and professor at Harvard University, in an article about controversy over the use of IV therapy for Ebola victims in West Africa. Two of the most admired medical charities are divided over the issue. Partners in Health, which has worked in Haiti and Rwanda but is just beginning to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, supports the aggressive treatment. Its officials say the more measured approach taken by Doctors Without Borders is overly cautious.
Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health, using the French initials for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is quoted as saying: “M.S.F. is not doing enough…What if the fatality rate isn’t the virulence of disease but the mediocrity of the medical delivery?”
Farmer joins the movie stars: The Huffington Postreported on an effort by The Hunger Games movie stars to keep pressure on efforts to stamp out Ebola. They created a YouTube video which includes luminaries Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali and Julianne Moore….and Paul Farmer.
Farmer was right: Ross Douthat, a regular columnist for The New York Times, reflected on three errors he had made in 2014, one of which was to assume that the Ebola crisis would arrive in the U.S. Therefore, he supported travel restrictions. But now, he writes, “Two months later, there has been no wider outbreak, most of the cases treated domestically have resulted in a cure, and the president and his appointees can reasonably claim vindication (as can Dr. Paul Farmer who argued in an October essay that with Western standards of medical treatment, Ebola victims could have a 90 percent survival rate). Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/5/15”→
President Obama in Indonesia: The son of an anthropologist
That’s meant to be a compliment! The Washington Post and other media covering the President’s trip to Asia noted that President Obama appeared to be especially comfortable during his visit to Indonesia:
“While Obama often utters a few halting words in the language of the countries he visits, he tossed off Malaysian phrases with ease during a state dinner in Kuala Lumpur. He also broke into a spontaneous exchange in Indonesian during a town hall meeting the next day. His personal connection to the region showed up in more subtle ways as well, as when he slowed his pace to keep in step with Malaysia’s king — a move many Malaysians saw as a cultural gesture of respect for an elder.”
Obama lived in Indonesia between the ages of 6 and 10. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was a cultural anthropologist whose second husband was Indonesian. Their daughter, Maya Soetero, is President Obama’s his only sibling. Dunham spent two decades living in the region doing anthropological research on local artisans. She died at the age of 52 in Honolulu.
Vetiver: Wealth from Haiti’s land whisked away
According to an article in Reuters, the vetiver plant, a tropical grass, is a little-known Haitian agricultural treasure, producing one of the most prized essential oils for high-end perfumes. The crop is a major employer in southwest Haiti, where farmers have harvested vetiver for decades but earn little from it. Production of the plant in Haiti collapsed in the late 1960s during the three-decade-long dictatorships of Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) and Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc). Pierre Léger, a Haitian agronomist, revived vetiver farming in the 1980s. Léger took samples to the top French and Swiss perfumers. “The quality was so good, they couldn’t believe it was from Haiti.”
The question now is: given the global value of Haitian vetiver, how can Haitian farmers benefit from it? Critics say the fair-trade system may not help the farmers enough given the precarious situation of vetiver famers. Cultural anthropologist Scott Freeman, a visiting scholar at George Washington University and author of a 2011 paper on Haitian vetiver, said events often force farmers to dig up immature roots to cover medical care, school fees or a funeral: “When they find themselves in a tight squeeze, they dig up the vetiver.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/5/14”→
KPBS radio (San Diego) interviewed medical anthropologist and health activist Paul Farmer about how to improve health care around the world.
Farmer talked about how to ensure equal access to health care through smart aid and the need to avoid what he calls “stupid deaths.” He comments on the “equity approach” in responding to a question about the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide.
He also addresses tough questions about HIV/AIDs and how to help the poorest people.
• Jim Kim: On leadership and cholera
The Washington Post carried a brief interview (embedded below) with Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank and a medical anthropologist and physician.
Kim discusses leadership and the need to develop a thick skin, in some areas, and openness in others.
During the April 12 meetings of the World Bank, Kim called for a renewed sense of urgency and more coordination from the international community to help Haiti eliminate cholera, which has killed thousands of Haitians since its outbreak in October 2010.
It suggests that unchallenged power has bred political apathy and inefficiency. In terms of the stumbles over the missing plane search, the article quotes Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales, who says that the government “lacks the ability to handle many technical matters with assurance and to communicate its purposes globally with clarity and agility.”
• From Haiti: After all, what has been done for us?
It explores the problem of outsiders trying to aid Haiti without truly knowing Haiti. Montreal filmmaker Joseph Hillel’s film opens with a “full-frontal assault” on the role of international aid in helping Haiti. The article mentions anthropologist Ira Lowenthal, who says that the United Nations and other institutions are, “not focused on bettering Haiti.”
Echoing, even more forcefully, Lowenthal’s view is the comment from a man in one of the many neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince hit hard by the 2010 earthquake: “…what has been done for us? Absolutely nothing.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/24/14”→