Pilapa Esara Carroll, associate professor of anthropology at the College at Brockport of the State University of New York, co-authored an op-ed in the Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY) about the need to end refugee-phobia: “We urge our political leaders to refrain from viewing potential U.S. citizens as threats to our nation. Legislation to halt refugee resettlement and to add more bureaucracy to the refugee vetting process are band-aid responses to complex international problems. Neither legislative acts address the root causes of the Syrian war or the mass displacement of Syrians.”
The human nature of peace
An article in the Huffington Post draws on cultural anthropologist Douglas Fry of the University of Alabama, with a focus on his new edited book War, Peace and Human Nature. According to the article, Fry summarizes the findings of decades of research on peaceful societies around the world and argues that assumptions about the war-like nature of humans and the inevitability of war are both erroneous and yet deeply ingrained in American culture. A clear alternative vision of a peaceful society is therefore needed. Research has found that when societies define themselves as peaceful, they are much more likely to behave and organize themselves in a consistent manner. Iceland, Denmark, Canada, and Norway provide good examples.
The Independent (Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada) carried an article about Canada’s failure to help with the current Middle East refugee crisis, drawing on the fact that Alan Kurdi, the child refugee found dead on a Turkish beach, had an aunt in British Columbia, who had appealed without success to the Immigration Minister to help get the family to Canada. This episode highlights the erosion of government support for refugees with the odds of being granted asylum have declined since 2006, when the Conservatives took power. The article mentions the writings of two Columbia University cultural anthropologists, Lila Abu-Lughod and Mahmood Mamdani. Abu-Lughod argued in a 1991 essay that policy narratives used the “plight of Muslim women” to justify making war after 9/11 at the expense of analyzing the historical development of those contexts in which “Islamic extremism” flourished. Mamdani diagnosed “culture talk” as a central feature in post-9/11 attempts to find links between Islam and terrorism. Cultural explanations tend to erase history he said: “By equating political tendencies with entire communities … such explanations encourage collective discipline and punishment – a practice characteristic of colonial encounters. They also imply that people’s “identities are shaped entirely by the supposedly unchanging culture into which they are born.” The Conservatives in Canada insist they are not targeting Muslims as such. Rather, they claim to be speaking for “Canadian values,” including those of “the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are moderate Muslims.” As Mamdani says, they are pitting “good Muslims” against “bad Muslims,” placing the burden on individual Muslims to prove that they are on the right side.
Welcome to the neighborhood
BBC News carried an article by Irish anthropologist Martina Tyrrell of the University of Exeter has studied the relationship between humans and animals in Arviat, an Inuit community on the west coast of Hudson Bay for fifteen years. The townspeople are increasingly having to cope with polar bears in town. In the past it was rare for bears to enter the town, but now in the summer and autumn, it’s becoming a part of everyday life. Encounters with bears are common, but harm to either humans or bears is rare.
Refugees in Europe: Care is reasonable and possible
Bloomberg News carried an article on the European refugee crisis, noting that Europe appears to be swinging between two responses: xenophobia and a compassionate pragmatism. Most migration experts agree that a longer-term solution will require the participation of Canada and the U.S. It draws on commentary from Dawn Chatty, a professor of anthropology and former director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She reminds us that, to deal with the Vietnamese boat people at the end of the 1980s, “the biggest countries got together, and between them they divvied up a million boat people and resettled them. It’s reasonable and possible.”
Obama’s Trans-Pacific trade agreement may be tanking
KFOXTV (El Paso, Texas) commented on the defeat in the U.S. House of Representatives of President Barack Obama’s global trade agenda. Republican leaders, who generally support Obama’s trade objectives, signaled they might try to revive the package. Lack of support from Democrats in the House was pivotal in the defeat. Aurolyn Luykx, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso, agrees with those opposing the trade agreement, saying that it helps corporations at the expense of workers:
“Again and again we see that these trade deals are good for the richest people in all of the countries that are being affected but bad for everybody else in the country they are affecting…I think the consequences could be very dire. We already saw under NAFTA how so many jobs left the U.S. and also went from Mexico. Then, we saw as well tens of thousands of low income Mexican families being put out of work and losing their land and we saw how that drove migration to the U.S..”
Shame on us: Remembering Rwanda
Matthew Emery, Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at McMaster University, published an op-ed in the Hamilton Spectator (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), reflecting on 21 years since the violence in Rwanda:
“As people were being slaughtered the governments of the West remained silent, preferring instead to debate the definition of genocide and whether it was actually taking place in Rwanda at the time. It was not until post-July 1994 that the world finally paid tribute to those in peril. It was too late, however. It has been 21 years since the atrocities in Rwanda ended. This is a token in memorandum to those who lost so many family members in such a short amount of time between April and June, 1994. “ Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/15/15”→
The Globe and Mail reported on growing industry in women’s genital esthetics, illustrating its point with some details about genital-area waxing and skin treatment for women available in Toronto. The article quotes Eileen Anderson-Fye, the Robson Junior associate professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University: “Because of technological advances, we have greater access to pornographic images that explicitly and implicitly convey aesthetic and erotic ideals…“These images hold women to increasingly singular standards about beauty and desirability.” [Blogger’s note: there’s an even more serious question here about what drives porn to portray sexually desirable female genitals as child-like].
Culture, hormones, and menopause
A Reuters article describes findings from a survey about vaginal pain during intercourse in several Western countries. The results, which reveal substantial cross-country variations, will not be surprising to anthropologists. Researchers conducted an online survey asking 8,200 older men and women in North America and Europe how menopause affects their sex lives and relationships. While similar complaints were reported across all countries, the magnitude of suffering for vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and weight gain varied. According to Melissa Melby, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, the findings are limited because the survey recruited only women with vaginal pain and men who experienced it with their partners. Even so, she continues, the cultural differences about menopause highlighted by the survey underscore how regional differences in diet, physical activity, attitudes toward aging, and expectations about menopause influence how women experience symptoms.
Good news: First woman president in Mauritius
Anthropologyworks’ Sean Carey published an article in the New African on the election in Mauritius of its first woman president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, an eminent scientist specializing in ethnobotany. She will also serve her country as its ceremonial Head of State, a move that has caused some controversy but also much support. She vows to be an “apolitical president.” Well, let’s see says Carey, a longtime observer of politics in Mauritius. Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/8/15”→
Bloomberg Business News reported on the origins and ongoing success of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. On a budget of €952 million ($1.2 billion) per year, MSF runs a volunteer collective of 30,000 physicians, nurses, logisticians, and locally recruited staff that functions as an independent ambulance corps and a kind of MASH unit for those in need.
MSF is able to move so swiftly, in large part, because of its decentralized structure, which is more akin to a guerrilla network than a top-down corporation. They go where things are worst, often to care for civilian casualties and refugees of war. They also confront “neglected” diseases, from malaria to HIV/AIDS, to drug-resistant tuberculosis. They are truly global, privately funded, and astonishingly effective, able to treat diseases others won’t touch in places few will go—and where they’re not always welcome. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/17/14”→
Cultural anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota wrote an article in Highbrow Magazine stating that the many factions among Sunnis and Shi’as in the Middle East will act to limit the possibility of an all-out war:
“The success of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in capturing large territories in Syria and Northern Iraq, and now threatening Baghdad, has raised once again the specter of a Sunni-Shi’a war in the Middle East. Such a scenario is possible, but unlikely. That’s because Sunni and Shi’a believers throughout the world are divided into many factions living under different social conditions and with different religious, social and political agendas. These differences greatly reduce the possibility of the emergence of a coalition of either group into a single bloc opposing the other.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 6/24/14”→
An article in The Times (London) cites the research of Harvard University cultural anthropology professor Susan Greenhalgh that reveals how the visit of a Chinese mathematician to an international meeting in Helsinki put him in touch with Malthusian thinking about population growth and its dangers and specifically the book, The Limits to Growth.
Falling down on the job in Cambodia
Over the past two years, many garment workers in Cambodia have fainted and been hospitalized and production has slowed or shut down, according to a report in The New York Times by Julia Wallace, the executive editor of The Cambodian Daily. In one instance, a worker started issuing commands in a language that sounded like Chinese, claiming to speak for an ancestral spirit and demanding raw chicken. No raw chicken was provided, and more faintings occurred.
The article mentions the work of two cultural anthropologists, Michael Taussig and Aihwa Ong, who have described spiritual responses to oppression. Taussig wrote about Colombian peasants working on sugar cane plantations in the 1970s and their perceptions of having sold their souls to the devil.
More closely related to the Cambodian case is Aihwa Ong’s research on spirit possession among women factory workers in Malaysia in the 1970s. Ong interpreted women’s spiritual affliction as a protest against harsh working conditions. Such “protests” however did not result in better working conditions for the women. In Cambodia, in contrast, mass faintings have produced a positive response – indirectly, through public support for workers’ rights after a government crackdown on demonstrating workers and, directly, through a raise in the minimum wage. [Blogger’s note: garment workers in developing countries need all the help they can get, so bring on the spirits!].
The future of jobs in the world
An article in The Economist on the future of employment drew on the work of many scholars including cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics. The views in general are not promising for employment rates, given the ever rising replacement of labor by technology. Increasing income equality is projected. The article alludes to Graeber’s perspective that much modern labor consists of “bullshit jobs” (low- and mid-level screen-sitting that serves simply to occupy workers for whom the economy no longer has much use) and that keeping bullshit workers employed is a ruling class practice to maintain control. [Blogger’s note: interested readers should consult Graeber’s original writings for more details].
Eating cake and talking about death
Art du Jour, an art gallery and education space in downtown Santa Cruz, CA is a bright and cozy place where some 30 strangers gather to talk about death and dying. To help begin those conversations comes a new concept in an unlikely phrase: the Death Cafe. Death Cafes originated in England, the country where the hospice movement began. An article in the San Jose Mercury on Death Cafes in California quoted Shelley Adler, a U.C. San Francisco medical anthropologist who held the first San Francisco Death Cafe this past spring:
“Bundt cake makes everything easier…[regarding death, she says]. “We have more than 100 euphemisms for it. The end. Pass away. Kick the bucket. It’s not that we want to avoid it, necessarily. It’s everywhere, from zombie movies to video games. But we were desperately in need of a platform. And, when you face it, you suddenly feel unloaded. It’s not as scary.”
Anthropology in Action editor, Dr Christine McCourt, is seeking anthropological literature to aid research on aspects of medicalization in childbirth in Saudi Arabia and the experience of Afghan refugee women having a baby in the UK.