Anthro in the news 4/27/15

  • Prisoners who paint murals

The Huffington Post republished an article originally in French on HuffPo France about a project of artist David Mesguich in which he is working with prisoners to paint large murals in Marseilles’ Baumettes prison, one of the most notorious prisons in France. His goal was, “to show the prisoners…that beautiful and positive things can still come from inside them.” The article quotes Didier Fassin, cultural anthropologist and physician, and author of The Shadow of the World: An Anthropology of the Penal Condition, who says that the initiative is compelling but difficult to assess without commentary from the inmates: “It transforms the prison space, and brightens it, while emphasizing by contrast the ugly and oppressive character of the metal gates, the barbed wire, and the walls…This being the case, the question is more general, as is the case with cities. Making murals in a city does not change its reality.”

  • Muslim integration working in Brazil
The Islamic Centre Mosque, Brasilia.

According to an article in WorldCrunch, Brazil, which is the world’s largest Catholic country, has a growing Muslim population and, with some rare exceptions, is a model for integration of Islam into a mixed population. The article presents commentary by Francirosy Ferreira, an anthropology professor at Sao Paulo University. He notes that it is impossible to know the exact number of Muslims in Brazil because they are registered under the “other” category in the census: “But their estimated number is now about a million, of whom 30% to 50% are converts, depending on the region.” He attributes the renewed interest in Islam in Brazil to the airing of a soap opera that took place in Morocco. The series, called The Clone, created before the 9/11 terror attacks, included an admirable Muslim protagonist.

  • China seeks to ban strippers performing at funerals

The Washington Post carried an article on a new ban against strippers performing at funerals issued by China’s Ministry of Culture. The trend to hire strippers for funerals in China has been growing, and is apparently an import from Taiwan where, as National Geographic documented three years ago, inviting funeral strippers is decades-old. The article includes commentary on why people want strippers at a funeral from Marc L. Moskowitz, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina and producer of a documentary on Taiwan’s funeral strippers: “In Taiwan, all public events need to be ‘hot and noisy’ to be considered to be a success.” Moskowitz explained that “Usually the people involved are working-class folks, both in Taiwan as well as in China. In urban areas, there is a greater push to be part of a global culture.” Thus, he speculates, that the ban may be related to the Chinese government positioning itself in terms of global culture through “an awareness that people outside of Taiwan or China might find the practice strange or laughable.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/27/15”

Anthro in the news 3/9/15 and 3/16/15

  • What makes a car great?
Well-off Chinese consumers want Japanese toilets. Credit: AFP.

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?
So many pills. Credit: talkafricque.com.

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”

Anthro in the news1/12/15

  • On France as a target for jihad

Time Magazine published an article by cultural anthropologist John Bowen of Washington University in which he describes three factors contributing to France as a target for jihad: First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. In conclusion, he states:

“France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.”

Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.

  • On Muslim integration and discrimination in France

The International Business Times carried an article stating that the terror attacks in Paris will likely exacerbate the challenges faced by Muslim communities in Europe, as extreme right-wing political parties politicize the tragedy.  A large proportion of France’s Muslim population of five million faces day-to-day discrimination along with broader, institutional forms of disenfranchisement, said Mayanthi L. Fernando, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose work focuses on Islam and secularism in France. “The problem here is not a lack of willingness among a large number of French Muslims to integrate — many would say they are already integrated — the problem is they are not accepted as legitimately French by the rest of the white, Christian majority…The problem is that on one hand they are asked to prove their integration in the French mainstream, but on the other hand they are facing discrimination day to day and institutionally.”

  • Colonialism, dispossession, desperation, and suicide

The Guarani Indians of Brazil, according to a report cited in The New York Times and other media, have the highest suicide rates in the world. Overall, indigenous peoples suffer the greatest suicide risk among cultural or ethnic groups worldwide. In Brazil, the indigenous suicide rate was six times higher than the national average in 2013. Among members of the Guaraní tribe, Brazil’s largest, the rate is estimated at more than twice as high as the indigenous rate over all, the study said. And in fact it may be even higher. Continue reading “Anthro in the news1/12/15”

Anthro in the news 4/21/14

• In Boston, after the bombs

An article in The Boston Globe explored the experiences of Muslims in Boston following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Fortunately, an anti-Muslim backlash did not occur.

Islamic Society of Boston headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.
Islamic Society of Boston/Wikipedia

The article quotes Nancy Khalil, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at Harvard: Years ago, she remembered “trying to explain who we really are, in these really anxious, tense meetings” with Jewish leaders, who were then trying to reconcile their desire for better interfaith relations with their communities’ concerns about a mosque founder’s anti-Semitic statements and alleged extremist ties.

“It was an unbelievable moment for me, and it was really indicative of the type of relationships that we now have across institutions and across communities,” Khalil said. “Because it wasn’t just the leaders being welcoming … It was everybody in that temple being welcoming. And that Muslims were comfortable staying there and mingling afterwards, that was telling.”

• U.S. evangelical churches reach out to save minds as well as souls

In an op-ed in The New Times, Tanya Luhrmann, Watkins University professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, writes about some movement in U.S. evangelical churches moving into the area of mental illness.

Rick Warren speaks at the 2006 TED conference
Rick Warren at TED, 2006/Wikipedia

She notes the pastor Rick Warren, whose son committed suicide one year ago after struggling with depression. Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of the nation’s largest evangelical churches, teamed up with his local Roman Catholic Diocese and the National Alliance on Mental Illness for an event that announced a new initiative to involve the church in the care of serious mental illness.

According to Luhrmann, the churches are not trying to supplant traditional mental health care but instead complement it: “When someone asks, Should I take medication or pray?” one speaker remarked, “I say, ‘yes.’”

Members of the churches think there are not enough services available. Further, many people do not turn to the services that exist because of the social stigma. [Blogger’s note: In other words: all hands on deck to help fight mental health problems. And heads up to the health care system to do more and do better work and try to address the stigma problem.]

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/21/14”

Anthro in the news 1/27/14

  • From Davos, with anthropology
    Jim Yong Kim. Photograph: Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters

Several media sources connected with Jim Yong Kim during this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. According to coverage from CNN in Davos, World Bank president and medical anthropologist Jim Yong Kim has called for a concerted global effort to help Syria’s refugees, saying the international community has failed to formulate an adequate response to a “humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions…”

CNBC also reports on Kim and his view that that Southern Europe is facing the risk of losing a whole generation to chronic unemployment: “Among the things that we’re especially concerned about are the extremely high rates of youth unemployment because that has implications not just for the short term, but especially in the medium to long term.”

The Huffington Post presents Kim’s views on pollution, noting that he has called on global leaders to address climate change: “This is the year to take action. There are no excuses.” His clarion call comes shortly after a WEF report revealed that failure to arrest, and adapt to global warming is one the greatest threats facing our planet.

  • More about Jim Kim: The World Bank and big dam problems

Chixoy Dam.

The Washington Post, in its business section, published an article about the U.S. pushing for greater oversight of the World Bank as it pushes ahead with its new plan to solve extreme poverty through major hydro-elective projects: “In a blow to plans set by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, the United States recently approved an appropriations bill that orders the bank’s U.S. board member to vote against any major hydroelectric project — a type of development that has been a source of local land conflicts and controversies throughout the bank’s history including the ongoing case of the displacements and human rights abuses related to the Chixoy dam in Guatemala. The measure also demands that the organization undertake ‘independent outside evaluations’ of all of its lending.” [Blogger’s note: In October, CIGA hosted a talk at the Elliott School by Barbara Rose Johnston who is a leading advocate and expert on the Chixoy dam project and the human rights abuses it involved].

  • Forcing women into marriage

An article in Al Jazeera on forced marriage among Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world, mentions the work of cultural anthropologist Ric Curtis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Curtis, along with some of his students, interviewed 100 students at several City University of New York campuses, focusing on students from Middle Eastern, North African and Southeast Asian (MENASA) countries to try to determine the extent of forced marriage, an issue he suspects is more widespread than what the research shows: “All that we are seeing is the ugly tip of the iceberg, but how much more is there?”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/27/14”

Anthro in the news 11/4/13

An anti-terrorism force holds exercises in Hami, in northwest China's Xinjiang region in July
An anti-terrorism force holds exercises in northwest China's Xinjiang region in July/CNN

• Just blame it on Uyghur terrorism

CNN invited cultural anthropologist Sean R. Roberts to write an article on the accusation by the Chinese government that the October 28 car crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that resulted in the death of five people and the injury of dozens was a terrorist attack by Uyghurs.

Roberts notes that while the deaths are a tragedy, it is not clear that they are a representative of a serious terrorist threat to the Chinese state as is now being suggested by official sources. According to Chinese security organs, this act of driving a jeep into a crowd of people and setting it on fire was a “carefully planned, organized, and premeditated” terrorist attack carried out by a group of Uyghur Islamic extremists from Xinjiang Province.

Roberts continues to say that given the lack of transparency historically in the Chinese state’s conviction of Uyghurs on charges of political violence, “we may never know whether this characterization of Monday’s events is accurate.” Roberts is an associate professor and director of international development studies in the Elliott School of the George Washington University. He has done substantial fieldwork in China’s Xinjiang region and is presently writing a book on the Uyghurs of Kazakhstan.

• Interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes

Mother Jones carried an interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes of the University of California at Berkeley. Holmes recounts his year and a half among the people who harvest food for consumers in the U.S. in his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. Questions address how he became interested in anthropology, in U.S. farm workers, as well as what it’s like to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border.

[Blogger’s note: I assigned Seth’s book in my fall seminar on Culture, Risk and Disaster. It got a thumbs up from all the students, and I will assign it again next year.]

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/4/13”

Anthro in the news 10/21/13

• Growing bias against Uighurs in China

Region of Uighurs. Photo courtesy of National Geographic education blog.

The New York Times reported on what is apparently growing discrimination in China against Uighurs (or Uyghurs), who live mainly in the northwestern part of the country and are Muslim. The article refers to Beijing’s “strike hard” internal security approach and rapid economic development, both of which increase resentment among Uighurs, who say the best jobs go to newly arrived Han.

Sean Roberts, cultural anthropologist and professor of international development studies in the Elliott School at the George Washington University, is quoted as saying: “The Chinese government is focused on a very outdated understanding of macroeconomic development, thinking that it will bring everyone up to the same level, but it’s clearly not working.”

• Belief in angels and ghosts as hard-wired?

Angel at the Vatican
Vatican angel. Flickr/Madison Berndt

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Stanford University cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann considers various perspectives on how so many people in the U.S. believe in god and other aspects of the supernatural including angels and ghosts.

• Who’s crazy?

An article in Counterpunch about the recent killing of Miriam Carey in Washington, D.C., draws on insights from Luhrmann from her comparative study of narratives of schizophrenics in the U.S. and India.

The study showed that schizophrenics in both countries hear voices, “…but what was interesting was the voices were very different and clearly culturally generated. The Indian voices were ‘considerably less violent’ than the US voices. Americans heard voices suggesting suicide or violence to others, while Indians heard voices suggesting they do their chores or perform disturbing sexual acts. The voices mentally ill people hear are not completely generated from inside their heads; they’re based on things people have experienced in their lives or from the media.”

Implications are that it is important to pay attention to how culture constructs schizophrenia and learn to listen to the voices and respond to them in ways other than shooting them dead. The article raises questions about the voices that journalists do and do not listen to and the sanity of the police who killed Carey.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/21/13”