anthro in the news 10/10/16

Land rights are key in Colombia

Indigenous people want land rights. Source: Bluedotpost.com
Indigenous people want land rights. Source: Bluedotpost.com

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

Tibetans perform for tourists. Source: Getty Images/Kevin Frayer
Tibetans perform for tourists. Source: Getty Images/Kevin Frayer

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.

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/10/16”

anthro in the news 8/10/15

  • Politics and dirty water: A recipe for poor health

An article in the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) describes the role of politics in the mishandling of water treatment in South Africa  It is includes comments from Mary Galvin, associate professor in the department of anthropology and development studies at the University of Johannesburg. She says municipalities ignore both directives and incentives to improve their treatment works.

  • The life of flags
House in Memphis, Tennessee. Credit: Thomas R. Machnitzki.

Robin Conley, assistant professor of anthropology at Marshall University in West Virginia, is lead author of an article in the Huffington Post about the Confederate flag controversy in the U.S.: “Recent challenges to displays of the Confederate flag have created an ironic outcome; its presence is in fact more ubiquitous than before the challenges began. This resurgence is not just found among those championing the Confederate flag as a symbol of state’s rights, or a symbol of a southern identity (that may or may not include an overtly racist agenda). Every time the use of the flag is questioned or criticized, for example when a picture of two white men waving the flag proudly is recirculated as a reminder of the hatred that potentially drives their actions, it appears again. Thus, in efforts to assure its invisibility, it has in fact become even more visible.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/10/15”

anthro in the news 6/1/15

  • Not funny

In an article in the Huffington Post, Christa Craven, assistant professor of anthropology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and chair of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the College of Wooster, takes on campus jokes about sexual violence. Pointing out what should be unnecessary – that such jokes are not funny — she offers steps to address this widespread and enduring problem.

Craven, who has been threatened as a professor, writes: “What bothers me the most about my experiences…is that over the past 20 years, I see little difference in how we — as a society and in many campus communities — are responding to sexual violence and threats of violence. Many continue to see violence as an essential part of masculinity and adopt the naïve (and often dangerous) stance that ‘boys will be boys.’”

  • The ills of humanitarian health aid

Medical anthropologist Paul Farmer of Harvard University writes about “the caregivers’ disease” in the London Review of Books. He ponders recent health humanitarianism in West Africa in response to the Ebola outbreak, providing a wide historic sweep from Graham Greene’s writings to medical anthropologist Adia Benton‘s book, AIDS Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone. He praises her book as a “withering critique” of the workings of public health funding.

  • Spelling bee culture
Co-winners of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee

WBUR (Boston NPR) highlighted the research of Shalini Shankar, sociocultural and linguistic anthropologist at Northwestern University, in an article on the May 28 results of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Her current research examines the growth and proliferation of spelling competitions, specifically how they have become a mass-mediated, sport-like spectacle, why South Asian American children dominate them, and how spelling bee franchises are being exported to other countries leading to further commodification of the English language. Shankar is conducting fieldwork in the New York City area on spelling bees, spellers and their families, broadcasters such as ESPN and SONY TV, spelling bee production companies, and the Scripps Foundation. Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/1/15”

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 4/13/15

  • 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”

Anthro in the news 2/23/15

  • On endless bureaucracy, forms, and mindless work

Gillian Tett, cultural anthropologist and writer for The Financial Times, reviewed David Graeber’s latest book, The Utopia of Rules: “His new book…asks why so much of modern life is dominated by endless bureaucracy and frustrating administrative tasks, whether in relation to finance, healthcare or almost everything else.”

  • Plausible connections between ISIS and organ trafficking

Two media sources, KCCI Detroit and Front Page Magazine, mentioned Organs Watch and the activist work of cultural anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California at Berkeley. [Blogger’s note: The Organs Watch website makes no direct link between organ trafficking and ISIS. But in an email today to me, Scheper-Hughes says, “it is plausible.”]

  • Chinese New Year: To the beach!

The Globe and Mail carried an article about the trend among middle and upper class families in China to go to the beach for the Chinese New Year. In this reshaping of tradition, the key element is keeping the family together. The article quotes Myron Cohen, a professor of anthropology at Columbia University who says that going to the beach for New Year’s is nothing surprising since Chinese New Year “is not a place-oriented, but rather a family-oriented event…so if the whole family goes to Hainan, that’s fine and dandy.”

  • Chinese New Year:  Sheep or goat?

CCTV America published a piece on the Chinese New Year and whether this year is the Year of the Sheep or Year of the Goat. This confusion has business implications—does a shop stock sheep toys or goat toys?  Either way, being born in the Year of the Sheep or the Goat is not preferred, since those born are thought to be mild-mannered and sympathetic but not leaders. The article quotes anthropologist Zhao Xudong, director of the Institute of Anthropology at Renmin University, who said sheep are often considered unlucky in China, particularly for women.

“Some parents delay birth to avoid Sheep years, because it’s considered to be burdened by bad luck. This is partly because Empress Dowager Cixi in the Qing dynasty was born in the Year of the Sheep and brought about policies that stagnated China’s development. All too often, when people confront failures, they attribute it to animal years. Of course there is no scientific evidence to prove this.”

  • “Haiti’s hero” in Toronto

The Toronto Star reported on a visit to Haiti by Paul Farmer, medical anthropology professor at Harvard, doctor, and health activist. Farmer saved hundreds of thousands of Haitian lives, both personally and through the “social medicine” organization Partners In Health, which he co-founded. He was in Toronto to accept a $1-million cheque from the Slaight Family Foundation to launch Haiti’s first emergency medicine training program.

  • Anthropology professor as president of Afghanistan

Al Jazeera America carried an article asking if Ashraf Ghani, president of Afghanistan and former cultural anthropology professor at Johns Hopkins University, can bridge the rift of his contended and contentious election and make progress in the country.

  • Tracking down cholera in the past

The Atlantic magazine carried an article on the research of Clark Larsen, professor of biological anthropology at Ohio State University, on the third cholera pandemic in recorded history—and the deadliest. It began in India and spread across Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas throughout the 1850s. By the time it subsided in 1860, the pandemic had killed more than a million people around the world. Larsen and his team are studying the remains of victims buried in the mass grave at Badia Pozzeveri, an ancient church in the small town of Altopascio, Italy. They are searching for clues about the evolution of the disease.

For six weeks each summer, the Field School at Badia Pozzeveri, a collaboration between Ohio State and the University of Pisa, gives students a chance to excavate the site’s human remains, which stretch back as far as the bubonic-plague outbreak that devastated Europe in the 14th century. The discovery of the grave—which Larsen estimates contains “a couple hundred” bodies—was a happy accident during a dig in the summer of 2012, as Science magazine reported the following year; old records confirmed that the victims had died of cholera when the epidemic swept through Tuscany in 1855.

  • Kudos

Anthropologist Philippe Descola has won the 2014 International Cosmos Prize, a Japanese award, for his study of the Jivaroan Achuar people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Their lives had previously been unknown to the wider world. Descola, who studied under Claude Levi-Strauss, lived in Achuar communities from 1976 to 1979 as he conducted ethnographic fieldwork on their coexistence with nature. “Through slash-and-burn horticulture and hunting, they collected and buried droppings of animals and created a forest with much more varieties of plants than those found in surrounding areas,” Descola said. He explained that the Achuar people communicate with animals in dreams and have a unique relationship with nonhumans. The Cosmos Prize is awarded by the Osaka-based Commemorative Foundation for the International Garden and Greenery Exposition, also known as the Expo ’90 Foundation.

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”