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.