anthro in the news 11/23/2015


As of November 21, Brussels was on high alert for a possible terrorist attack. source: Smirnoff, Creative Commons

What does ISIS want?

CBS (Minnesota) carried a brief interview with cultural anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota. He addresses the question: What does ISIS want? He says ISIS is seeking to recreate the Islamic caliphate that was active in the Islamic world from the time of the Prophet to 1926 when the caliph was abandoned: “They would like the entire world to be Muslim, but they want the world to be Muslim in a very, very narrowly defined manner…They are fundamentalist Muslims and their idea of Islam is quite different from the rest of the Islamic world…They want the U.S. to declare war in the worst way…by doing battle, they think they will eventually succeed, they eventually will conquer and establish their domination over the world…it’s a bit of megalomania.”


source: Creative Commons

Combating “homegrown” terrorism in France

John Bowen, Dunbar-Cleve Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about how France can combat “homegrown terrorism”

What can France do? I leave aside the questions of border security, surveillance and military strategy in Syria: Those are above my pay grade. But I have two recommendations for how President Francois Hollande can improve matters at home. One, break the isolation. Continue efforts already begun to redesign the urban landscape so that it encourages a sense of national belonging rather than a sense of exclusion. Cease the repeated efforts to stigmatize practicing Muslims with silly rules banning face coverings in public or preventing school officials from offering non-pork meal options to children. The French prize their laïcité — their strict separation of church and state — but there should be room for religious observance in a free, open society. Second, recognize that mainstream Islamic teachers are part of the solution. Many have worked hard to build cultural associations and religious schools, where young people can learn a more complex and responsible idea of Islam. Understand that they base their teachings in a centuries-old body of work, as do Catholic, Jewish and other religious scholars, and stop telling them to devise a brand new “French Islam.” They are citizens or long-term residents of France and participants in global networks of religious scholarship. Whether they help in religious schools or as chaplains in the prisons, they need much more recognition and support from the French state.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 11/23/2015”

anthro in the news 10/5/15


The Vatican, source: Creative Commons

An anthropologist meets the Pope

The Huffington Post published an article by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, medical anthropologist at the University of California Berkeley, describing her visit to the Vatican in April at the invitation of Pope Francis. The Pope convened an international meeting of experts to discuss human trafficking and modern slavery.  Scheper-Hughes writes:  “…he is an incredibly happy man, a man at peace with himself and with the world. He seems comfortable in his skin. But most of all, he is fearless. Although he still ends most encounters with the petition, “Pray for me,” he is smiling and radiant. In accepting the heavy cargo that is the papacy, with all of its entanglements, intrigues, risks and dangers, and its daily uncertainties, Pope Francis is calm and reassuring.”


A 481-foot drug tunnel in Nogales discovered in 2014. source: USA Today

Smugglers’ tunnels give U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security a bad name

Nogales International (Arizona) reported on the situation in Nogales, a city in Arizona that accounts for most of the 183 cross-border tunnels between Mexico and the U.S. that have been discovered  since the mid-1990s. The article draws on commentary from cultural anthropologist Howard Campbell of the University of Texas-El Paso who has studied drug trafficking in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. He said that tunnel trafficking is just a small part of the overall drug smuggling picture: “Although it’s very colorful and exciting, it’s not really important for the overall volume, except for short periods of time…” He added that other researchers have found that the “majority of drugs, in terms of value…actually cross through ports of entry.” Campbell suggested the Border Patrol’s interest in rooting out tunnels has less to do with how many loads pass through them than with their symbolic value. With the Department of Homeland Security spending billions of dollars annually on agents and technology, smugglers outwitting their efforts with shovels and pickaxes doesn’t look good: “The tunnels really give the Border Patrol and Homeland Security a bad name.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/5/15”

Anthro in the news 4/20/15

  • On human understanding

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?’”

  • Not a “medical moon shot”

An article in The New York Times reviewed Partners in Health’s aspirations and challenges in addressing Ebola in West Africa:

“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”

Anthro in the news 4/6/15

  • Beyond pabulum: Make the IPCC relevant through social science research

In an excellent article published in Nature, political scientist David G. Victor calls for expansion of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) process to include social science insights into controversial issues and stop providing cooked-down, irrelevant, “pabulum” findings and recommendations. Victor is a professor of international relations and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego.

Victor, who serves on the IPCC’s Working Group III, brings an insider’s perspective to the workings of the IPCC. He comments that it “…is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. By seeking consensus and avoiding controversy, the organization is suffering from the streetlight effect — focusing ever more attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are out in the darkness, far from the places that the natural sciences alone can illuminate.”

“The IPCC has engaged only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines. Just one branch — economics — has had a major voice in the assessment process. In Working Group III, which assesses climate-change mitigation and policy, nearly two-thirds of 35 coordinating lead authors hailed from the field, and from resource economics in particular. The other social sciences were mostly absent. There was one political scientist: me.”

Moving forward, Victor suggests that “…the IPCC must ask questions that social scientists can answer…if it engages the fields on their own terms it will find a wealth of relevant knowledge — for example, about how societies organize, how individuals and groups perceive threats and respond to catastrophic stresses, and how collective action works best.”

Cultural/social anthropologists can answer this call. Let’s hope the IPCC punches in our number. Victor, however, does not include anthropology on his A-list: “As soon as the new IPCC leadership is chosen later this year, the team should invite major social-sciences societies such as the American Political Science Association, the American and European societies of international law, the American Sociological Association and the Society for Risk Analysis to propose relevant topics that they can assess and questions they can answer.”

  • Some bodies are allowed to go home
The remains of Richard III have been reburied without scientists’ complaints. Credit: The New York Times.

Chip Colwell, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, published an article in The Huffington Post about how white bodies, such as that of Richard III, are allowed to return home and be reburied without scientists making a claim on them.

The quiet about the reburial of Richard III “…stands in stark contrast to how so many regard the reburial of Native American human remains in museums. Around the world archaeologists have resisted the return of skeletons for decades — arguing that they are needed for science. Even nearly 25 years after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became federal law, only 27% of the Native skeletons in U.S. museums have been offered for return. More than 100,000 skeletons continue to sit on shelves. In Europe, only in the last few years have the first sets of Native American remains come home.”

Colwell is the author of the forthcoming book, Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Treasures.

  • The Battle of Okinawa lives on

The Epoch Times published Paul Christensen’s article that first appeared on in which he writes about the Battle of Okinawa, a long and bloody encounter at the end of World War II. Christensen, assistant professor of anthropology at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, notes that April 1, 2015, marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the battle. The death count was more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers 12,000 Allied troops, and 150,000 Okinawan civilians. Moreover, untold people were wounded or captured as prisoners of war. Memories of the battle live on as well as resentment against both Japan and the United States for its continued military presence. The battle is not over. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/6/15”

Anthro in the news 3/23/15

  • But are you really Japanese?
Ariana Miamoto, Miss Japan Universe. Credit: Miss Universe Japan.

The Washington Post carried an article about Ariana Miamoto, the first biracial Miss Universe Japan.  Her mother is Japanese and her father is African American. The 20-year-old model is a Japanese citizen, a native of Nagasaki prefecture, fluent in Japanese, with an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy. She is, in fact, Japanese, though what is termed a hafu, a person of mixed ancestry. So, some critics think she is not Japanese enough. Cultural anthropologist. Ted Bestor, professor of cultural anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University comments: “The Japanese like to think of their society and culture as having a unique identity that is ‘inaccessible to foreigners’….One of the ways in which Japanese think of their own society as ‘unique’ is to emphasize the homogeneity of Japanese society…”

  • Political upheaval in Mauritius

An article in Al Jazeera attempts to make sense of recent political events in Mauritius, including the change of government. It quotes Sean Carey, senior research fellow in social sciences at the University of Manchester and a frequent contributing author to anthropologyworks. He comments that part of the reason why there is so much social change is because of the rising stock of the meritocratic value in Mauritius.

  • On bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies, and the need for play

Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber spoke extensively, over dinner, with The Guardian on bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies and the need for play.

On bullshit jobs: “A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.” Is his work meaningless? He replies: “There can be no objective measure of social value.”

On stupidifying bureaucracies: Graeber came face to face with stupidifying bureaucracies when he had to deal with finding care for his aging mother. “I like to think I’m actually a smart person. Most people seem to agree with that…OK, I was emotionally distraught, but I was doing things that were really dumb. How did I not notice that the signature was on the wrong line? There’s something about being in that bureaucratic situation that encourages you to behave foolishly.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/23/15”

Anthro in the news 2/16/15

  • Cultural anthropology expertise essential

An article in The Guardian on global mental health aid following disasters and crises noted that: “The best experts to bridge the gap between international and local experience are those who might not have a health or psychology background, but have deep knowledge about cultural differences: anthropologists.”

And more: “Since the Ebola outbreak there is a growing recognition of this discipline’s role in emergencies. The American Anthropological Association has asked its members to become more involved in the West African countries hit by the disease. It argues that if anthropologists had been more involved from the start of the outbreak more people wouldn’t have caught the disease due to misunderstandings over traditional burials and conspiracy theories about westerners spreading the illness.”

[Blogger’s note: I am happy to report that my Institute, at the George Washington University, co-hosted the meeting in November in Washington, D.C., that was supported by the American Anthropological Association, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and other organizations. See the You Tube videos, Part 1 – Panel 1 and Part 2 – Panel 2 of the event and the recommendations].

  • Hope for return to Chagos
Diego Garcia

The New African magazine published an article by Sean Carey, of the University of Roehampton,  summarizing the current status of the Chagossians’ claims for the right of return to their homeland. Carey discusses the legal shenanigans at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and other parts of the Empire. Leaders of the return movement are cautiously optimistic.

  • No religious basis for anti-vaxxers

An article in The New York Times reviews the issue of formal exceptions in New York state, allowing parents to not have their children vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. Recent outbreaks of measles and mumps in ultra-Orthodox communities in the Brooklyn area have prompted discussion among rabbis about possible underpinnings for anti-vaccine attitudes in interpretations of Jewish law. At one school the proportion of students receiving vaccine exemptions more than doubled to 12 percent during the 2013-14 school year. The article quotes Don Seeman, a rabbi and professor of Jewish studies and medical anthropology at Emory University: “I don’t think there’s much rabbinical support for not vaccinating…What does exist in certain communities is a lot of anxiety about science and the risks we are exposed to through technology.” The texts of most major religious were created before vaccinations were invented, so interpretations have to rely more on teachings about health and well-being in general. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/16/15”

Anthro in the news 2/2/15

  • Applying anthropology: How to find a date for Valentine’s Day

As Valentine’s Day approaches, GMA News (The Philippines) offered a heads up about a Sunday, February 1, TV variety show, Ang Pinaka, with a panel on how to find your dream date. The segment entitled, “The Top Ten Ang Pinaka Smart Ways to Find a Date”, includes Nestor Castro, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of the Philippines. [Blogger’s note: if anyone watched the show, please send in comments!]

  • Adios, comadre
Ruth Behar, Esperanze, and their book. Source: Chronical for Higher Education.

Ruth Behar, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan, says farewell in an essay in The Chronicle for Higher Education, to her longtime friend and comadre, Esperanze. Esperanze died late in 2014.

Behar and Esperanze first met in 1983: “An unusual friendship was born, and over time we became ‘co-mothers’ of a book, Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story (1993). It wasn’t your typical life history. The story of her life was entangled with the story of how we came to know each other and why I was the one who wrote her story down.”

  • On Iran’s letter to Western youth

Tiziana Ciavardinia. Source: Tasnim News.

Tasnim News (Iran) carried an interview with Italian anthropologist Tiziana Ciavardini about the significance of the letter sent by Iran’s Supreme Leader to Western youth. On January 21, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei wrote a letter asking European and North American youths not to judge Islam based on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. He urged Western youths to try to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of the religion in reaction to the flood of prejudgments and disinformation campaigns.

The interview with Ciavardini covers a range of topics including whether the letter can be effective in attracting Western youth to study Islam, prevent Islamophobia in the West, whether the Western media will print the letter, and comments on the letter’s contents in general.

  • Teen pregnancy ad campaign going too far?

An article in Urban Milwaukee describes the recently launched public awareness campaign sponsored by the United Way seeking to reduce teen pregnancy. Ads show teen parents as a hand puppet, a jack-in-the-box, and a pull toy. The intended message is: wait and settle down before having a baby.

But the campaign sends a different message to two university professors who head a project called Hear Our Stories, which works to change and reshape what people think about teen parenting. Aline Gubrium, a medical anthropologist and associate professor of public health at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and her colleague Elizabeth Krause, associate professor of anthropology, take exception to the ad campaign.

Gubrum is quoted as saying: “We see calling out teen parents as bad examples to other teens, as [is done] in this campaign, as harmful and cruel…Teen parents have important stories to share and rather than stigmatizing and silencing the voices of young parents, our project gives young mothers the opportunities to share their stories.”

Krause said she realizes the campaign is not intentionally cruel, but said its visuals bully teen parents: “It’s not a campaign that has dignity.”

  • Book on Franz Boas: Reviewer wants more on his Inuit experience

The Alaska Dispatch carried a review of a book by Canadian cultural anthropologist and geographer Ludger Müller-Wille, The Franz Boas Enigma. The book asks how Boas became a leading figure in American anthropology, shaping the discipline and mentoring many prominent anthropologists.

The reviewer offers this context: “Boas did his first fieldwork during a year spent in the Canadian Arctic living with the Inuit of Baffin Island. He arrived in the fall of 1883 and to the best of his ability lived as the Inuit did, learning their language, their lifestyle and their cosmology.” Then he zings the book with this comment: “In the end, very little is gained from this book.” His concern is that, while the author credits much of Boas’ views and contributions to his initial time with the Inuit, he “…dashes right past this very experience and never delivers the story he promises.”

  • Forensic anthropologist pioneer in facial reconstruction

The Financial Times magazine profiled the work of forensic anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson:

“Professor Caroline Wilkinson is one of the first people alive to have looked into the faces of a Bronze Age warrior, a Neolithic child — and Father Christmas. She uses a combination of the latest medical and digital-imaging techniques to recreate faces from the past; some from centuries or even thousands of years ago, some more recent. Her highest-profile projects have included King Richard III, who died at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 and whose remains were eventually­ identified in 2012, Mary Queen of Scots, J.S. Bach and Saint Nicholas (Santa, it turns out, had a broken nose and olive skin).” She has worked with remains from around the world as well as forensic cases.

Wilkinson is director of the Liverpool School of Art & Design at Liverpool John Moores University; previously she was head of human identification in the Centre for Anatomy & Human Identification at the University of Dundee.

  • Take that degree and…

…become a conservationist working to preserve great apes. Robert Ford has a master’s degree in public health and anthropology and a doctorate in earth science/physical geography. He has over 35 years’ experience as a professor, administrator, field researcher, development consultant and conservation scientist. Ford has carried out conservation science and park management consulting and planning in many countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Haiti, Pakistan, Ghana, Eritrea, Gabon, the Marshall Islands, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Belize, Peru, Bolivia, and China.

…become a psychiatrist, specifically a social psychiatrist with a critical perspective on biopsychiatry. Jeremy Wallace, MD, did a M.Sc. degree in anthropology focusing on culture and mental health run by Professor Roland Littlewood at University College London. It provided him with his first critical look at psychiatry. A practicing psychiatrist working in the public sector in Finland primarily in a psychosis rehabilitation clinic. He is also the author of a book, The Recovering Psychiatrist.

  • Out of Africa and hello Neanderthals

CNN and several other mainstream media covered newly reporting findings about a prehistoric human partial skull found in Manot Cave in western Galilee, detailed in a study published in Nature. Co-author Israel Hershkovitz told the Guardian, “This is the first specimen we have that connects Africa to Europe.” The skull dates back about 55 millennia. This discovery provides the best possibility so far for interbreeding of modern humans with Neanderthals since Neanderthals were established in the region during this time period.

Israel Hershkovitz with the partial skull. Source: CNN.

Anthro in the news 01/19/15

  • Afghan-American youth who turn to extremism

Morwari Zafar writes in Time magazine about why some Afghan-American youth may turn to radicalism. Zafar is conducting fieldwork among Afghan-Americans for her dissertation in social anthropology at the University of Oxford. She writes: “The current policy climate risks insularity by focusing on external motivators — such as unemployment, disenfranchisement and susceptibility to recruitment via social media. Such an approach raises valid points, but it is conducive only to identifying a limited range of resolutions.” [Blogger’s note:  Morwari Zafar is a visiting scholar with the Culture in Global Affairs Program, within the Elliott School’s Institute for Global and International Studies, at GW].

  • Korean adoptees seeking Korean roots

The New York Times Magazine carried an article describing how many Korean adoptees, from locations around the world, are returning to the Republic of Korea. The article mentions the work of Eleana Kim, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, and author of Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging. Kim notes that many adoptees fear that searching for their Korean roots is seen as a betrayal of their  adoptive parents and they dread “coming out” to their adoptive parents, whether in the form of birth-family searches, returning to birth countries, or criticizing the adoption system.

  • Spotlight on Breastfeeding

On NPR, biological anthropologist and blogger, Barbara King of William and Mary, interviews cultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler of the University of Delaware on cross-cultural breastfeeding practices. Dettwyler discusses cross-cultural patterns of which mothers decide to breast feed and for how long as well as social stigma toward women who may breast feed for “too long” in some people’s opinion.

  • Book in the news: Social inequality in South Africa

Seattle radio KUOW interviewed a co-author of a new book on South Africa showing that the country is less equal today than during apartheid. After Freedom: The Rise of the Post-Apartheid Generation in Democratic South Africa is an ethnographic account of seven young South Africans whose lives illustrate the realities of South Africa today. It is written by cultural anthropologist Katherine S Newman, provost at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Ariane De Lannoy, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Capetown. The radio interview ranges from the research methods, some of the people in the book, and parallels between poverty in South Africa and in the United States. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 01/19/15”

Anthro in the news 12/22/14

  • On U.S.-Cuba relations

An article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the possible opening up of U.S.-Cuba relations quoted cultural anthropologist Kathleen Musante of the University of Pittsburgh who travels to Cuba frequently with students: “I think we all miscalculated the pressures on Raul Castro…The economy in the last three or four years has appeared as desperate as it was after the Soviet Union’s collapse. I think there is no going back now.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/22/14”

Anthro in the news 10/20/14

  • Anthro advice: Don’t panic over Ebola

An article in the Springfield News/Sun (Ohio) on the Ebola epidemic advised against panic in the U.S.  It quoted Simanti Dasgupta, an anthropology professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. According to Dasgupta, this disease can further the “othering” of Africa as a “wholly dark” place rather than a continent that encompasses deserts, jungles as well as ports and big cities. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/20/14”