anthro in the news 8/18/15

  • “Blood coming out of her wherever”

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about cross-cultural attitudes toward menstruation, noting that while negative attitudes about menstruating women are widespread, they are by no means universal. The article was prompted by Donald Trump’s remark during a recent debate that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.” NPR quotes Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos: “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal.” Yet the exceptions, societies that treat menstruating women with respect, are important. Alma Gottlieb, professor of cultural anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, is co-editor with Thomas Buckley of Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, which includes positive examples.

  • So true: Graeberian bullshit jobs

According to an article in the Independent (U.K.), a study has found that more than a third of British workers believe their jobs are meaningless. In 2013, David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, argued in his article, On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, that increasing numbers of jobs are not socially useful and exist only for their own sake.

  • Caucasus ritual: You cannot be sober

The Independent (U.K.) carried an article about an annual summer ritual in a region in the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgia. The event includes horse racing, animal sacrifice, dancing, and beer drinking. The article focuses on the ritual leaders, or khevisberi, and provides commentary about them from Kevin Tuite, professor of anthropology at Montreal University: “Boxing with God,” as he calls it, is the defining experience in becoming a khevisberi. You are haunted by dreams and hallucinations, the deity visits calamities on you and your family, and finally you submit. [Blogger’s note: while a khevisberi is not easily recruited, it seems likely that they would not consider their work as a khevisberi to be meaningless in the Graeberian sense]. Continue reading “anthro in the news 8/18/15”

Anthro in the news 3/24/14

• Flight 370 mystery shrouded in politics

An article in Firstpost reviewed several puzzles involved in the missing Malaysia Airline Flight 370, and discussed how various theories implicate Malaysian politics.

It suggests that unchallenged power has bred political apathy and inefficiency. In terms of the stumbles over the missing plane search, the article quotes Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales, who says that the government “lacks the ability to handle many technical matters with assurance and to communicate its purposes globally with clarity and agility.”

• From Haiti: After all, what has been done for us?

The Montreal Gazette carried an article about a new documentary film, Ayiti Toma, The Land of the Living.

It explores the problem of outsiders trying to aid Haiti without truly knowing Haiti. Montreal filmmaker Joseph Hillel’s film opens with a “full-frontal assault” on the role of international aid in helping Haiti. The article mentions anthropologist Ira Lowenthal, who says that the United Nations and other institutions are, “not focused on bettering Haiti.”

Echoing, even more forcefully, Lowenthal’s view is the comment from a man in one of the many neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince hit hard by the 2010 earthquake: “…what has been done for us? Absolutely nothing.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/24/14”

Anthro in the news 11/11/13

Nourimanba
Containers of Nourimanba organized for storage at newly opened Nourimanba Production Facility in Haiti. Photo: Jon Lascher/Partners In Health

• Peanuts! For health and prosperity

ABC News reported on the opening in Haiti of a new plant in Haiti’s Central Plateau that is making Nourimanba, a peanut-based food used to treat children for severe malnutrition. The peanuts are grown by Haitian farmers, and the project was launched by Paul Farmer’s non-profit, Partners In Health. The first shipments produced at the facility have been distributed to clinics run by Partners In Health. A pilot program will provide support for about 300 farmers to improve the quality and quantity of the peanut supply. The project will improve child health and increase farmers’ incomes.

• On Obamacare

Cultural anthropologist Paul Stoller writes in The Huffington Post about his experience with being diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and the risks of living in the U.S. without Obamacare (the Affordable Health Care Act):

“If I hadn’t had superior health insurance, I would have died many years ago — a life cut short by a lack of access to health care. It makes me angry that millions of Americans cannot not share my good fortune. For any number of reasons — a work-related accident, a sudden debilitating illness, an unexpected job loss — a hardworking person can be rapidly thrown into poverty, which usually means living without health insurance.”

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

Anthro in the news 5/13/13

• Go directly to jail: Prison sentence for Guatemalan dictator

Fundacion Myrna Mack
Official site.

Many major news media covered the sentencing of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt to a landmark 80 years in prison for genocide and crime against humanity. ABC News quoted Victoria Sanford, a cultural anthropologist at Lehman College, City University of New York, who noted that genocidal massacres occurred before and after Rios Montt, “but the bulk of the killing took place under Rios Montt.”

Sanford has spent about 50 months in Guatemala and participated in excavations in at least eight massacre sites. Several of the articles quote Helen Mack, a noted human rights activist, and sister of Myrna Mack, who was murdered in Guatemala in 1990 for her work on behalf of indigenous human rights .

• What would Paul Farmer say?

To Repair the World by Paul Farmer
U. of California Press

Time magazine carried an interview with medical anthropologist, medical doctor, professor, and health activist Paul Farmer, prompted by his new book, To Repair the World, a collection of his speeches including some of his commencement speeches.

The lead question is: “Are you ever tempted to tell graduates, ‘I could have saved thousands of lives with the money you spent on your degree?'”

Paul Farmer responds: “I don’t think of it that way. I think, Here’s a chance to reach out to people who probably are unaware — as I was at their age — of their privilege and to engage them in the work.” He was also interviewed on the Diane Rehm show.

• Presidential note of gratification

Leith Mullings, president of the American Anthropological Association, published an article in The Huffington Post, expressing her appreciation of President Obama’s acknowledgment of the importance of anthropology in a recent speech:

Leith Mullings
Leith Mullings

“As an anthropologist and president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), I was especially gratified to hear President Barack Obama acknowledge the discipline of anthropology and support its scientific integrity. In a speech at the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama said:

‘And it’s not just resources. I mean, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.'”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/13/13”

Tourism, human rights, and who is in control

By Barbara Miller

Lead articles in the travel sections of the Sunday August 24 issues of The Washington Post and The New York Times raise some interesting questions about tourism in relation to indigenous peoples.

Both articles offer food for thought for anthropologists who work with indigenous peoples to protect, preserve, and “manage” their cultural heritage and for cultural tourists who want to avoid harming indigenous peoples and fragile environments. The articles also provide a useful source for classroom discussions around issues of heritage, rights, and responsibility.

The Washington Post article is about possible human rights abuses of Padaung women in northern Thailand. Their necks are elongated by wearing a stack of brass coils. They have long been an attraction to outsiders — photographers, journalists, tourists, and other voyeurs. Human rights activists and some eco-tourist company owners have expressed concern that unscrupulous businessmen are keeping Padaung women in “human zoos” across a wide area of northern Thailand.

The author of the article visited one village in which the women told him they are paid to live there and wear traditional clothing including their brass rings. It’s a village created for and sustained by tourists. The author asks: “So it is unethical to visit the long-necked women?” (p F4). The author notes that the women he talked with said that their life in the fake village where they earn money is preferable to poverty.

The New York Times article on the Navajo highlights the value, to indigenous people, of controlling tourism including the narrative conveyed to the tourists in terms of the complicated concept of “authenticity” and the profits generated from tourism. The contrasts with the situation of the Padaung women are clear. While the Navajo in this article are also putting parts of their culture on display for outsiders, they are in control of what to make publicly available and how, including an emphasis on respect for heritage and environmental concerns which responds to a new generation of tourists.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Padaung could be liberated from the “businessmen” and become in charge of their heritage and its consumption by outsiders?

Image: “Padaung Village,” licensed under Creative Commons from Flickr.