anthro in the news 8/3/15

  • Seeking Angelina lips

The Globe and Mail reported on the growing use by women in Canada of cosmetic surgery, pointing to a look that is called “richface.” The article includes insights from Alexander Edmonds, professor of social and medical anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and author of Pretty Modern: Beauty, Sex and Plastic Surgery in Brazil. She says: “Part of the draw of duck lips is that some people like the artificial look. I am reminded of anorexia– which is not only a disorder of eating, but a disorder of perception. There is an addictive quality to cosmetic surgery that can alter, not just the body, but the perception of what is natural, artificial or beautiful.”

  • Military neuroscience: Too delicious to ignore

As reported by the Washington Post, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is increasingly funding research about the brain. One of its lesser known research endeavors is its Narrative Networks project which aims to understand how narratives influence human thought and behavior. Psychologists at the Georgia Institute of Technology recruited undergraduates to be hooked up to MRI machines and watch short movie clips. The excerpts featured a character facing a potential negative outcome and were taken from suspenseful movies, including Alfred Hitchcock movies as well as Alien, Misery, Munich and Cliffhanger. Researchers found that when suspense grew, brain activity in viewers’ peripheral vision decreased. Moments of increasing suspense were also associated with greater interference with a secondary task. Thus, an “emotional threat” affects a person’s attention both spatially (vision) and conceptually (across different tasks).

The article refers to a critical perspective on such research from Hugh Gusterson: “[m]ost rational human beings would believe that if we could have a world where nobody does military neuroscience, we’d all be better off. But for some people in the Pentagon, it’s too delicious to ignore.” Gusterson is professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University.

  • 100 years of occupation in Haiti

Mark Schuller published the second article of a three-part series in the Huffington Post. This piece looks at the role of outside actors such as the UN, the United States, and the EU, in terms of the current political and social situation in Haiti. Schuller is associate professor of anthropology and NGO leadership and development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti.

  • Climate deniers, please hear this

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College in Alaska, published an article in the Alaska Dispatch News which retells a Dena’ina story of a boy who dies as a result of his failure to listen to advice from knowledgeable elders. Boraas writes: (more…)

Anthro in the news 7/27/15

  • The past as present in the Greek referendum

Cultural anthropologist Daniel M. Knight published an article in the Huffington Post describing how people in Greece at the time of the referendum vote discussed “discussed their fears and aspirations for the future through extensive reference to poignant pasts.” Knight, an Addison Wheeler Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at Durham University and Visiting Fellow at the Hellenic Observatory, London School of Economics and Political Science, stated:

“I have written at length about the significance of the past in the way Greeks experience the current economic turmoil. As I argue in my recent book, History, Time, and Economic Crisis in Central Greece, the cultural and temporal ‘proximity’ of selective moments of the past help people understand dramatic social change. By embodying moments of the past, locals discuss their fears of returning to previous epochs of hardship while drawing courage that even the worst crises can be overcome.”

  • Rihanna and David Graeber: Connect the dots

An article in the Financial Times reviews Rihanna’s latest video, Bitch Better Have My Money, noting that the video’s fictional events are thought to be connected to Rihanna’s personal fury at a former accountant: “In the song’s seven-minute video, the Barbadian singer is depicted kidnapping the beautiful wife of a character called The Accountant. Torture and unpleasantness ensue. On failing to secure a ransom for the bound and gagged blonde, Rihanna kills (spoiler): him.”

The article points out that accountants, like lawyers, “are adepts of a system of codes and regulations that the rest of us are bound by but do not understand. In his book, Debt, anthropologist David Graeber traces the history of accountancy to Sumerian temple administrators in 3500BC. From its inception the practice of weighing up people’s debts and credits was infused with religion. The financialisation of morality, Graeber argues, is the root meaning of money.”

  • Proposed ban on smoking in U.K. prisons: And the winners are

The Independent carried an article about the effects of the proposed ban on smoking in U.K. jails written by Charlie Gilmour, a recent Cambridge University graduate in history who spent four months in jail for behavior during a student demonstration. Gilmour describes the tobacco economy inside the prison where he stayed. He acknowledges this insight from Alex Cavendish, an anthropologist and former inmate who served two-and-a-half years in various establishments, who wrote on his blog Prison UK: “The real winners will be the smugglers.” (more…)

Kinship has consequences: Ben Affleck not so different from British Bangladeshis

By Sean Carey

Hollywood star Ben Affleck’s attempt to suppress a story about a slave-owning ancestor of his has caused something of a furore, especially in the U.S. The information about Benjamin Cole, a great-great-great grandparent on Affleck’s mother’s side, who was “trustee” of seven slaves in Georgia, came to light after Affleck agreed to participate in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) genealogy programme Finding Your Roots.

Affleck, a self-defined “moderately liberal guy”, was horrified when the information about Cole was brought to his attention by researchers. So he decided to lean on the show’s producers to omit this detail before transmission last October, as he evidently felt that this information contaminated his public and private self. “The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth,” he revealed on Facebook after he was forced to apologize once his attempted cover-up was revealed by WikiLeaks.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post invoked cultural anthropologist Franz Boas’ demolition of “scientific racism” (in which character and behavior among groups or “races” are  supposedly  aligned with biologically inherited characteristics such as skin, hair or eye colour) to reassure Affleck that his “embarrassing” ancestor had zero input into his own character or personality. “If your grandfather was a louse that has no more bearing on you than if your neighbor is one as well,” declared political columnist Richard Cohen. “We may be our brother’s keeper, but we are not carbon copies of our ancestors.”

Cohen’s reprimand to Affleck that he was “dumb to pressure PBS” is itself interesting. That attitude fits Western-type hyper-individualist cultures, where family bonds are typically weak or restricted though not completely absent. Even, I surmise, in Hollywood or in the offices of the Washington Post.

Moreover, although Cohen is undoubtedly correct about the errors of scientific racism, his view that it’s possible to erase one’s family origins or standing is unlikely to gain traction among many contemporary groups in which kinship and perceptions of honour and shame are closely intertwined. (more…)

anthro in the news 7/20/15

  • Trending: #BoycottGermany

BBC News carried an article about the social media buzz on boycotting German products in protest of its position on Greece. #BoycottGermany was first mentioned on Twitter in connection with the Greek crisis last weekend, but started picking up on Monday. At the time of the article’s publication, the hashtag had been used more than 30,000 times. One of the most retweeted messages came from David Graeber, American anarchist activist and anthropology professor at the London School of Economics. He references the post-World War II cancellation of debts accrued by the Nazi regime:

“My proposal: Germany now morally obliged to repay Nazi debt canceled in 1953. With interest. We must #BoycottGermany until they do.” David Graeber (@davidgraeber) July 13, 2015

  • Overkill on the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal

Cultural anthropologist William Beeman, professor and chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, critiqued the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal in the Huffington Post: “The deal is, in fact, overkill. There is no evidence anywhere that Iran had, has or will have a nuclear weapons program and that mere enrichment of uranium–something 19 other non-nuclear weapons countries do without any complaints from the US–is not tantamount to weapons manufacture, the inspections regime negotiated in the Vienna accords are quite incredible–the most serious ever enacted anywhere.”

  • Orwellian: U.S. military bases are lily pads

David Vine, professor of anthropology at American University, published an op-ed in the Boston Globe about a new model the U.S. military is using for bases in Iraq called the “lily pad.” Lily pad entered the lexicon recently when Army General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the Pentagon is considering the creation of new lily pads in Iraq. In fact, Vine points out, the lily pad model “…is nothing new for a military notorious for its use of Orwellian euphemisms, from ‘collateral damage’ (killing civilians) to ‘area denial munitions’ (landmines) to “kinetic strikes” and “kinetic military action” (lethal attacks and outright war). In the military’s lexicon of obfuscation, a lily pad is a kind of military base. The elegant-sounding name provides a convenient cover for what would be a significant escalation in the US involvement in the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Formally called “cooperative security locations,” lily pads allude to the aquatic flora allowing a frog to jump across a pond and suggest small installations allowing troops in isolated locations to deploy quickly into battle.”

  • We beg to differ

The Globe and Mail published an op-ed co-authored by Wade Davis, anthropology professor and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. The subject is the proposed construction by Woodfibre LNG Ltd. of a liquefied natural gas facility at the head of Howe Sound, a scenic fjord beloved by British Columbians, especially those of the Lower Mainland: “Supporters of Woodfibre maintain LNG is perfectly safe. We beg to differ. In its liquid state (-162 C), methane does not burn. An LNG spill on land could be a non-event. But a spill over water presents an entirely different and potentially dangerous scenario…There may be places along the B.C. coast where LNG facilities can be safely established. But Howe Sound is not one of them.”

  • Muslim women in China: Pros and cons

An article in Foreign Policy describes the challenges and opportunities for Muslim women in China. In some ways Muslim women in China have more wiggle room than in other countries, for example, as seen in the existence of several women’s mosques and as promoted by state policies about gender equality.

The article quotes Dru Gladney, professor of anthropology at Pomona College in California, who refers to it as an “old-fashioned feminism.” In a phone interview. Gladney related how in the 2000s, one women’s mosque in the historic city of Xi’an had spearheaded an effort to save the local Hui Muslim quarter from government demolition. The women helped transform it into a popular restaurant district that successfully remained, even in China’s drinking culture, alcohol-free. [Blogger’s note: the cons include being, in general, a Muslim in China].

  • Exhibit in New York City: The Young Lords

Denise Oliver-Velez

The Wall Street Journal highlighted a multi-venue exhibition, titled ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York, documenting the Young Lords’ role in civil rights activism in the 1960s and 1970s with photographs, publications, films and artwork that came out of the movement. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio and the Loisaida Center will each focus on different aspects of the Lords’ history, which began as a struggle for Puerto Rican independence and racial equality, before evolving into a much larger fight.

The article mentions Denise Oliver-Velez who in 1970 became the first woman elected to the party’s central committee. She was among the Young Lords who barricaded themselves inside Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx to protest the facility’s unsafe conditions—an event portrayed in the exhibition with both photographs and film footage. She is quoted as saying:  “It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen,” said Oliver-Velez, who is an adjunct professor of women’s studies and anthropology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “Rats used to run across the operating table…and there would be cockroaches in the medicine cups.”

  • Supercute brand on the move

CBC Canada reported on the Hello Kitty’s Supercute Friendship Festival which kicked off in Vancouver, Canada, and will continue its tour throughout North America. It’s an interactive experience with seven live shows featuring Sanrio characters like Keroppi, Dear Daniel, and Purin. Hello Kitty is the brainchild of Sanrio, a company known for making kawaii products. Kawaii means “cute” in Japanese, and is a subculture that started with Sanrio in the 1970s. Now there are not only Hello Kitty toys, clothing, and furniture, but also Hello Kitty branded cars, airplanes and even gravestones. For a scholarly interpretation of why the Japanese character is so popular, there is Christine Yano’s book, Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek across the Pacific. Yano teaches anthropology at the University of Hawaii. Yano comments that Hello Kitty’s success is due to the simple design: “I call it elegance of design. It’s saying more with less. She’s an abstraction. It’s not that she doesn’t have a mouth exactly, but you don’t have to put every little thing into this figure.” Yano has spoken with many women who loved pink and frilly things, but she was most surprised at Hello Kitty’s more rebellious fans.

  • Special vide in The Shoals

The Times Daily (Alabama) reported on a book project that asks what it is about The Shoals, a region in northwestern Alabama that makes it such a rich area for the arts. “I started out asking ‘why here?’” said Cameron Walker, a lecturer in the anthropology professor at California State University-Fullerton. “There (are) a lot of places with a river and with a small liberal arts college, but this place has a funky feel to it.”

She is offering the book, Small Town, Big Style: Music, Textiles and Food in Alabama’s Shoals Region, to the University of Alabama Press for publication. “It explores the creative community here and why it’s persisted,” Walker said. While music is a major part of the local artistic history, Walker is looking at everything from the area’s cuisine to its textile industry.

  • Novelist inspired by Graeber

According to the Irish Times, Paul Murray, novelist and author of Skippy Dies, hadn’t planned to write his next novel, The Mark and the Void, about the financial crash. But he couldn’t help himself once he read about bankers’ antics. As he delved into the world of finance, one of the books he turned to was David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

  • Ultrarunners powered by plants, really

Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the University of William and Mary, wrote a piece for National Public Radio in the U.S. about how an ultramarathon runner, Scott Jurek, is also a vegan. King comments on the widespread skepticism about how vegans can consume enough protein to be superior athletes. She quotes ultrarunner and biological anthropologist Melissa Raguet-Schofield on the cultural embeddedness of the skepticism:

“I think that skepticism still exists with regard to vegan diets because the importance of meat consumption is so culturally engrained in many people’s minds. The assumption is that protein is the most important dietary component and that consuming animal products is the only way to get enough of it. Personally, I try to stay away from these types of debates because I don’t find them productive. No one likes to have someone else call into question their dietary choices and preferences, particularly when these conversations happen around the dinner table.

“Everyday runners like myself [*Barbara's note: Melissa routinely runs 50 miles at a time, so she's being modest here] tend to look to the elites to see what they are doing and how we might implement their techniques in our own lives. Jurek’s record is important because it was highly publicized and is the culmination of a long career of ultrarunning success. I suspect that his achievement may provide the evidence that motivates people to investigate veganism, or at least be less skeptical of it.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a qualitative researcher. Gina Crivello is a senior qualitative research officer at the Young Lives project in the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford. She has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California where her research focused on the role of gender in youth migration from Morocco to Europe.

…become an award winning folklorist, language professor, and cultural preservationist. Barry Jean Ancelet has a B.A. degree in French from the University of Louisiana, an M.A. in folklore from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in anthropology and linguistics from the Université de Provence in Marseille, France. He recently retired from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and will be presented with the Acadian Cultural Preservation Award which goes to a person in recognition of outstanding lifetime contributions to the preservation of the culture and the community.

…become a champion rower. Molly Bruggeman has a B.A. in anthropology with a supplementary degree in pre-health from the University of Notre Dame. She recently claimed first place in the women’s pair at the 2015 Pan American Games. The gold medal is the third of Bruggeman’s international career, as she claimed first place as part of both the four and eight boats at the 2014 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Varese, Italy. Bruggeman has competed in international competitions three times in addition to this year’s Pan Am Games – the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Under 23 World Championships. She was named a first team Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Pocock All-American as a sophomore and junior and a second team All-American as a senior.

…become a dance/movement therapist. Julia Cuccaro works as a dance/movement therapist for a public school district in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She has a B.A. degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. degree from Drexel University.

…become a business strategist. Robert Caleb Greene has a B.A. degree in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania and an M. A. degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago.  He works at Snagajob in Richmond, Virginia.

[Blogger’s note: I often discover references for the feature, “take that anthro degree and…” from engagement and wedding announcements. This is the first time I found two people with anthro degrees in one announcement: Julie Cuccaro and Robert Caleb Greene are planning a wedding in October. Could it be that anthropology brought them together?]

…work for a non-profit organization dedicated to human rights. Ryan Gayman has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the coordinator for outreach and admissions for Humanity In Action in New York City. The organization works to educate and connect a global network of students, young professionals, and established leaders committed to promoting human rights, diversity and active citizenship in their communities and worldwide.

  • Bonobos the tool makers

The Daily Mail carried an article describing research forthcoming in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology about tool-making and tool-using behavior of bonobos living in a zoo in Germany and a sanctuary in Iowa. The researchers gave them a series of problems that required tools to solve such as burying food under rocks. They left a tray of potential tools such as sticks, antlers and stones nearby. Two of the eight zoo animals made use of the tools and four of seven in the sanctuary. They used antlers, sticks and rocks to dig and longer sticks to lever rocks out of the way. In some cases the bonobos used different tools in sequence, rather like a tool kit, to access the food.

Itai Roffman, a research fellow at the International Graduate Centre of Evolution at Haifa University in Israel who led the study, said: ‘The bonobos used modified branches and unmodified antlers or stones to dig under rocks and in the ground or to break bones to retrieve the food. ‘Antlers, short sticks, long sticks, and rocks were effectively used as mattocks, daggers, levers, and shovels, respectively One bonobo successively struck a long bone with an angular hammer stone, completely bisecting it longitudinally. Another bonobo modified long branches into spears and used them as attack weapons and barriers.”

A testimony to the feistiness of female bonobos: one female bonobo sharpened a stick with her teeth to create a spear-like weapon that she then jabbed at the researchers.

  • In memoriam

Archaeologist Fred Wendorf died at the age of 90 years. His career included seminal discoveries in the American Southwest and Africa, as well as a stint as associate director of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. At Southern Methodist University, Wendorf founded the Anthropology Department and spent four decades on the faculty. His first archaeological milestone was the 1954 excavation of the so-called “Midland Man” in sand hills near Midland, Texas. The Late Pleistocene human burial was at the time one of the oldest human remains found in the Americas. In the early 1950s, he directed the world’s first pipeline archaeology salvage project during construction of a natural gas pipeline in New Mexico. He also conducted archaeological salvage projects on highways in New Mexico and later contributed wording to federal highway legislation requiring site excavations during construction. Among numerous awards, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1987.

anthro in the news 7/13/15

  • Mexico is not just a U.S. add-on

The U.S. needs to move beyond this

US-Mexico relations could improve with U.S. recognition of positive aspects of Mexican culture and legalizing marijuana in order to break the cartels. An article in the Guardian quotes Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso:

“We need to change the discourse about Mexico. Americans need to get beyond saying they like Mexican food and accept that these countries are joined at the hip…Mexico is a permanent part of American culture. Let’s embrace it as part of the country, not some kind of add-on.”

  • Ben Affleck: Please meet Boas

An article in the Washington Post has this lead: “To fully appreciate how dumb Ben Affleck was to pressure PBS into censoring any mention of a slave-owning ancestor, you have to know something about Franz Boas. He was the father of American anthropology, a Columbia University professor who repudiated the doctrine of scientific racism — the idea that you are pretty much what your grandfather was.”

Affleck prevailed on the producers of Finding Your Roots, and its host, Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., to erase mention of Benjamin Cole, a slave-owning ancestor of Affleck’s. The article concludes that Affleck should not worry about his ancestry: “If your grandfather was a louse that has no more bearing on you than if your neighbor is one as well. We may be our brother’s keeper, but we are not carbon copies of our ancestors.”

The series has been suspended on the grounds of Affleck’s  “undue influence.”

  • Do you believe in magic?

An article in Tulsa World discusses the bad luck of the Tulsa’s women’s basketball team, Shock, and quotes Phil Stevens, associate professor of anthropology at the State University of New York in Buffalo. Shock moved to Tulsa six years ago and has experienced a run of bad luck since then. Is Shock cursed, the article asks Stevens? He responds:

“People believe that there are mystical forces in the world, in nature, which can act on each other and that can be manipulated by people to act either on nature or on other people…There’s powerful evidence for the effects of human psychology, human belief…And that’s the way magic actually works, and that’s the way magic can be shown to work. If you believe it, boy, it can be devastating.”

Stevens explained that a curse is spoken evil magic, and there’s no evidence the Shock made anybody mad enough to actively curse the team, but maybe the franchise is jinxed: “It is universally believed that these interconnections in nature can themselves somehow get out of whack, without human manipulation…And if it has an adverse affect on people, then that’s called a jinx.”

  • Taking a step back to think about transgender identity

The Huffington Post published an article by Eric Plemons, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and a medical anthropologist, who focuses on trans-medicine and surgery in the U.S. He writes:

“If the sensationalism that followed Caitlyn Jenner‘s revelation of herself as a transgender woman has something to teach us, it is not about the particulars of what it means to be transgender. Jenner, like each of us, has a gender identity that is too complex and individual to generalize about, and neither she nor anyone can be made to stand for the entirety of a diverse social category. More important than a lesson in identities, Jenner’s announcement and the media frenzy that followed has provided an important diagnostic tool, a moment to pause and do what we anthropologists love to do: pull back from the tight focus on Jenner’s smiling face and corseted waist, and locate her story and its massive media response within a broader context.”

  • Uncertainty in Greece takes its toll

The Belfast Telegraph interviewed two Greek people living and working in Northern Ireland. One of the interviewees is Ioannis Tsioulakis, a lecturer in anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast. Originally from Athens, he has lived in Northern Ireland for eight years. His mother and father still live in the Greek capital. He says:

“I think it’s very positive that there’s a referendum, so I’m very happy with that development. I suppose everybody is very uncertain about the result and what a potential ‘No’ would mean, because a ‘Yes’ would just mean a perpetuation of the same policies. I don’t personally believe there’s any chance that Greece is going to leave the euro, but if there was a chance that it was going to exit I think this could potentially be a very good development. I’m one of the people who has been following the economists who are saying that Greece might be better outside the eurozone where there could be better development opportunities. My personal opinion is that Greece has been living in increasing financial, social, and political devastation since 2010. Salaries and pensions are disgraceful for a European country, unemployment is rising (and has reached a stunning 60% among the under-25s), and even those who have jobs feel extremely precarious.”

  • Music star’s death, media, and a cultural chasm in Brazil

As reported in the Guardian, while millions in Brazil mourned the death of sertanejo singer Cristiano Araújo on social media, some media expressed a mixture of bewilderment and disdain at the outpouring of grief, revealing a cultural chasm within Brazilian society. Allan Oliveira, professor of anthropology at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, believes the São Paulo and Rio-based media’s reaction to the death of Araújo is driven by ignorance of what is happening in large parts of the country: “There’s a prejudice against sertanejoSome of the elite in this country turn their noses up at what the people like.” Araújo and his 19-year old girlfriend were killed in a car accident in the early hours of June 24 as they returned from a concert in the state of Goiás.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a landscape oil painter. Magi Leland exhibits her work in New England and on Martha’s Vineyard. She has sung soprano for 14 years with Voices from the Heart, practices Reiki Healing privately and writes poetry with other New England poets. She has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Maine at Orono and a Certificate in Metals; Worcester Craft Center. She comments: “I have merged my love of natural places with my background in design and anthropology to form my artistic perspective.”

…pursue a graduate degree in public health in order to work in disability health care. Diana Padilla of Nogales, California, has a B.A. degree in anthropology with a minor in disability studies, from the University of California at Los Angeles where she was a Gates Scholar. She was awarded the Jessie Alpaugh Senior Prize in Disability Studies for her research project, “Latino Border Town Communities and Autism: An Analysis on Access to Resources for Children with Autism in Nogales, Arizona.” Padilla’s desire to help others was sparked by the challenges her family had to overcome in regard to her younger sister’s autism. Since there weren’t many services offered in Nogales, Padilla’s mother usually had to drive an hour north to find help. “Coming from Nogales and seeing the lack of help for my sister made me realize how important it is for everyone to have easy access to different resources no matter where they live,” she said.

  • A sacred fire: Remembering what they once had

The Anniston Star (Alabama) reported on a stomp dance held in Oklahoma by descendants of the Muscogee Creeks who whites forced out of Alabama in the 1830. The tribe members keep alive a sacred flame 200 years later. At the event they sing songs that are a tribute to that mother fire, carried from the original Arbeka town in the Choccolocco valley.

The article includes commentary from Harry Holstein, a professor of anthropology in Jacksonville State University’s department of physical and earth sciences. Standing in an archeological site off Choccolocco Road in Oxford, Alabama, several days before that stomp dance in Oklahoma, Holstein said life for the Muscogee Creeks and their ancestors was good until white men brought disease and drove them from the land: “They had plazas and ceremonial grounds. Very elaborate.”

According to the article, another form of violent cultural displacement is occurring now because of construction of a sports complex in Oxford. Holstein noted several places as likely containing Native American artifacts and human remains. The city dug in those areas regardless, and unearthed ancient human remains. Construction halted while the city officials worked with officials with the Muscogee Creek Nation and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which held a permit over the wetland construction site.

  • Exploding the myth of Kennewick Man’s identity as a “settler”

The Seattle Weekly published an article describing the impact of recent DNA-based findings, published in the journal Nature, debunking the “myth” that Kennewick Man was a settler from the Old World.  The reporter comments on the tenacity of the myth of Kennewick Man as a settler: “…I spent the better part of four years reporting the Kennewick Man case, talking to dozens of solid citizen scientists while doing so. But no matter how flimsy and misleading the K-Man myth, how total its lack of hard evidence, the archeological profession kept its collective mouth shut while a few outliers gave the press what it wanted: scientific ratification of the tale of a Caucasian loner representing a lost white tribe, obscured until now by redskins claiming they’d lived on the premises forever.”

  • In memoriam

Archaeologist John Clegg died at the age of 80 years. Clegg was an Australian archaeologist who specialized in the study of rock art and was one of the pioneers in the field. He undertook excavations with Eric Higgs and Charles McBurney, both of whom were influential on his studies. He was awarded an M.A. Honours at the University of Cambridge where he initially read geography, but after two years changed to archaeology. In the 1980s he took up a teaching position in the Archaeology Department of the University of Sydney. He wrote the popular Field Guide to Aboriginal Rock Engravings in Sydney.

anthro in the news 7/6/15

  • Blaming the victim

An article in the Guardian on Greece’s financial situation mentions the anthropologist of debt, professor David Graeber of the London School of Economics. While the head of the IMF has admitted to error in applying austerity policy to Greece, Graeber’s perspective, in his history of debt and debt forgiveness Debt: The First 5,000 Years, is that debt inevitably gives the lender the power of rightful coercion with blame inevitably attaching to the borrower. [Blogger’s note: Graeber is so right. In spite of some media coverage of LaGarde’s admission of the IMF’s underestimation of the effects of its austerity policies on Greece, the prevailing message is that Greece must change its economy, rather than the IMF changing its thinking. In other words, when things go wrong, as they will do, the borrower is always to blame].

  • The Pope, climate change, and Catholic perspectives

Moyers & Company carried an article about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and what it means for the U.S., specifically the effects of pollution on the poor and disadvantaged minorities. It quotes Patricia Juarez, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso where she teaches a course on environmental justice in minority communities: “I hope and pray that Catholics will take a look at the encyclical…The development issues that result from pollutants often keep people in a cycle of poverty, keep them out of school or keep them isolated.” Juarez is optimistic that the Pope’s encyclical will encourage climate change doubters to look for more information, and she applauds the Vatican for leading the effort. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 71 percent of U.S. Catholics believe the Earth is warming, but only 47 percent believe it is a result of human activity.

  • A sublime commitment

An article in the Irish Examiner on political violence in Tunisia quotes cultural anthropologist Scott Atran: “So many guys radicalise because they can universalise their own personal, often frustrated, aspirations with something that is adventurous, glorious, and seemingly sublime…  The conversion of personal problems into universal moral outrage and willingness to kill, and die killing, perfect strangers innocent of direct harm to others, much less to that person, is what Isis is all about. With that kind of brutal, sublime commitment, even failure is victory.” Atran is the director of research in anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and senior research fellow at Oxford University.

  • What the world needs now

David Graeber, renowned anarchist anthropologist and Kropotkin enthusiast, gets another media spot this week in an op-ed in the Guardian that reviews of the work of Peter Kropotkin and its current relevance when both state socialism and the market have arguably failed.

  • We are making them disappear

CNN carried a piece, with video, on how global climate change is affecting the Marshall Islands where people are emigrating because of flooding. The article mentions the insights of University of Pennsylvania cultural anthropologist William Davenport, who wrote in 1964 about the intricate and accurate knowledge of canoe navigators: “By lying on his back in the bilge of his canoe and sensing the motion of the canoe, the skilled pilot can ‘fix’ his position at night even without looking at the sea, for the movement of the canoe alone will tell him what kinds of swells are acting on it.” Chiming in on the value of local maritime knowledge is Joseph Genz, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. He comments that training for “master navigators” starts in early childhood. The youthful trainees are placed for hours at a time in mini-canoes and floated out onto the water so that they can tune their stomachs to the waves. [Blogger’s note: These islands are very low-lying, their populations unprotected from rising sea levels, and an entire culture and its knowledge are in danger of being washed away literally and figuratively.]

  • Polling about “religion” and “belief” is tricky

The Albany Times Union reported on the findings from a poll by WIN/Gallup International, released earlier this year, which surveyed more than 50,000 people from 57 countries. Results indicate that China has one of the highest percentages of atheists in the world. In China, 47 percent identified as atheist and 30 percent as nonreligious; only 14 percent said they were religious. These findings contrast with the rest of the world. Overall, just 13 percent of those surveyed said they were atheists; 23 percent said they were nonreligious, and 59 percent said they were religious. The only countries whose percentage of declared atheists came anywhere near China’s were Japan, France and the Czech Republic, each with about 30 percent. No other country had more than 15 percent.

The article draws on commentary from Robert Weller, professor of anthropology at Boston University. He pointed to linguistic problems, with the term xinyang zongjiao perhaps understood to refer to being a formal member of one of China’s five officially recognized religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. Most Chinese practice an amalgam of Buddhism, Taoism and folk practices that is often described as “traditional belief” (chuantong xinyang) or simply “belief” (xinyang). Another problem with the poll could be methodology. In China, it was conducted online, which is not necessarily anonymous. So it could be that the “convinced atheist”’ rate is so high because people know it is the official answer.

  • Why Wyoming: Location and Bo-Bo culture

From Planet Jackson Hole, an article considers the reason for the growth of microbreweries in Wyoming. The article brings in insights from cultural anthropologist Michael Harkin of the University of Wyoming. Harkin has done preliminary research on beer and its history. He attributes much of Wyoming’s rise to prominence in the beer world to its proximity to Colorado. When the law was changed in the early 1990s allowing for breweries to sell directly to the public, rather than through a distributor, Wyoming followed suit immediately. Harkin believes, “this can also be seen as part of the larger cultural movement involving artisanal, organic, hand-crafted products, locally sourced, such as cheeses, grass-fed beef, and so forth. It also was a product of the maturing of the boomer and X generations, and the creation of the Bobo lifestyle. Bo-Bo culture, coined by editorialist David Brooks, combines the words bohemian and bourgeois — new-age yuppies concerned with buying expensive, exotic foods and claiming to have tolerant views of others. Harkin noted that, “in conversations with craft beer enthusiasts, I find that they take pride in their ability to distinguish various notes in beer, and to detect regional differences—something like the French concept of terroir in wine. Many craft beer enthusiasts are also brewers themselves, which fits into the general ‘Bo-Bo’ lifestyle.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become an osteopathic physician. Kathleen R. Schurr, has a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her B.A. is in anthropology from Beloit College in Wisconsin.

…work as an employment services case manager at a handicapped development center and be a hobbyist collage artist in Illinois. Amber Williams has a B.A. in anthropology from Albion College in Michigan. She writes about her art work on her website: “I find inspiration from both photographs and memories. I like to travel and am especially fond of the Pacific Northwest.”

…become a university basketball coach. Safiya Grant is assistant women’s basketball coach at Western Carolina University. She earned a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Virginia. Following graduation, she worked there for two years as a media relations assistant. A basketball player herself, Grant was a three-time Most Valuable Player in high school. She averaged 28 points and eight assists as a senior and led her squad to a 51-15 overall record. Additionally, she is a Juilliard-schooled violinist.

… become an award winning dog trainer. If you had told Laura Moretz that after she graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a B.A. in anthropology and sociology that she would be traveling the globe as an award winning dog trainer and performer 20 years later, she probably would have called you crazy. “I got an Australian Shepherd as a hiking partner,” Moretz said. “That is how I started throwing frisbees all those years ago, and here I am now.” She is one of the elite dog trainers in the U.S. Four of her five dogs have competed in the finals of the prestigious U.S. Disc Dog Nationals in Cartersville, Georgia. Since 2006, she has worked for Purina as part of the company’s Purina Pro Plan Performance Team, traveling to competitions in the Czech Republic, Japan, and Poland.

…become a freelance writer. Christina Newberry was a boomerang kid before the term was even in use. That was 16 years ago, when she was 21.  Newberry has a B.A. in English and anthropology from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Like many of her friends, she moved back home to figure out what to do next. That was just the first time she returned to her parents’ place. She went on to study journalism at Vancouver’s Langara College, and boomeranged again at 29 when she was going through a divorce. The freelance writer now lives in Vancouver. She has put her experiences to practical use, writing The Hands-on Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home.

…become a researcher on aging in the U.S., a health rights advocate, and a professor of social work. Tam E. Perry is a researcher at the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research and assistant professor at Wayne State University, where she heads The Relocation Lab.  She became so engaged in her research that she joined the Senior Housing Displacement-Preservation Coalition, a community advocacy group that works to preserve senior housing and to ease the transition for elderly people who are displaced.

…become director of The Native Alliance Initiative (NAI). Laguna Pueblo resident, Ashley Sarracino, shares a lineage of Acoma Pueblo and Laguna Pueblo and is a Laguna Pueblo tribal member. She has a B.A. in cultural anthropology from Stanford University and an M.A. in education. The Native Alliance Initiative is a non-profit organization that is an initiative under Teach for America. Its focus is on expanding education opportunities for students. The NAI does this by supporting teachers. One aspect that NAI promotes is called Culturally Responsive Teaching,

  • It’s just horrific: Forensic anthropologists and volunteers helping out at the Texas border

Brooks County, Texas, is the epicenter of death for thousands of migrants who cross the Southwest border illegally each year. To avoid a federal checkpoint in its county seat of Falfurrias, 70 miles from the border, they fan into the harsh, unforgiving brush in the vast private ranch land. Dozens die each year from heat and exhaustion. Many are never found. For years, until investigators began exhuming a large cemetery here two summers ago, even those who were discovered were buried haphazardly with almost no information, sometimes lacking even a grave marker, making it almost impossible for relatives to ever find them. Now forensic experts at Texas State University and Baylor University are volunteering their own time to give them back their names. “It’s as if they never existed,” said Kate Spradley, a Texas State biological anthropologist. “Everyone has the right to be recognized as a person.” At Texas State University’s Freeman Ranch, Spradley and a group of graduate students from across the country are part of an effort to identify them.

Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist at Baylor University who heads the Reuniting Families Project identifying bodies near the border, comments on the lack of trained medical examiners to determine cause of death. Many responsible for this role in the county have no experience in death determination or knowledge of the state law that requires they submit DNA samples to the University of North Texas, which runs a national database for missing persons, or that they keep death records for 10 years. In Hidalgo County, for instance, officials were cremating the remains of unknown dead until as late as 2006 when they discovered it was illegal.

Baker is quoted as saying: “We don’t have rule of law if we don’t investigate unattended deaths or unidentified remains.” She added that any number of U.S. citizens could also have died in the South Texas hinterland and stayed unidentified because their remains were never processed correctly. “It’s really just a nightmare…We’re all focused on Brooks County because it was a horrific situation but it’s happening all around the border counties, and we’re just not aware.”

  • What lies beneath: The story matters

Diagram of an Atlantic slave ship. Source: Wikipedia.

The Virgin Island Daily News reported on the work of a group of marine archeologists and others who are part of the Slave Wrecks Project which has been diving in the waters of Buck Island Reef National Monument, seeking the wrecks of at least two slave ships that sank there hundreds of years ago. Partners in the project include the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the George Washington University, the National Park Service’s Southeast Archeological Center and its Submerged Resources Center, Diving with a Purpose, Iziko Museums of South Africa, and the African Center for Heritage Activities in South Africa.  Through uncovering and studying the wrecks of slave ships, the Slave Wrecks Project works worldwide to advance scholarly and public understanding of the history of the global slave trade.

Steve Lubkemann, associate professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University and co-founder of the Slave Wrecks Project, said that the wrecks of slave ships had largely been ignored by the field of marine archeology:  “We thought this was a new perspective, an important perspective that could really bring to light some of the travails of the middle passage…The Slave Wrecks Project was borne out of an interest in exploring this new perspective using maritime archeology research.” He noted that it has now expanded by involving local communities: “Part of the project is not simply to go out and document the shipwrecks and document the related land sites, but then to engage with the communities in thinking about ‘why does this story matter?’ What can this story do in these various different locations, whether it’s in terms of public education, whether it’s in terms of capacity building, whether in terms of economic development.”

  • In memoriam

John Cottier, associate professor of anthropology at Auburn University and professional archaeologist, died at the age of 75 years. Cottier was active in archaeological research in Alabama for over 20 years. He received substantial research funds including several grants from the National Science Foundation. He led several archaeological research projects for students and performed service to State, Federal, and local governments for cultural resource analysis. Recent research projects include the testing of an antebellum slave cabin complex near Opelika and excavations of sections of a Mississippian Period (1200 CE) fortification system in Macon County. Excavations of Fort Mitchell in Russell County, Alabama, provide findings about this frontier post in the old south which was occupied by military troops from 1813 till 1840.

Pauline Kolenda, Emerita professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, died at the age of 87 years. Her expertise was in rural India. She conducted extensive field research in north, central and south India focusing on kinship, family, and women. She provided a much-needed perspective on regional social variation in India at a time when “village studies” were the dominating genre and little attention was given to broader patterns. Kolenda’s publications include many scholarly articles, chapters, and books. She was professor of social anthropology at the University of Houston from 1962 until her retirement to California in 1999. [Blogger’s note: I had the privilege of knowing Pauline Kolenda, mainly through academic conferences. She was a brilliant, elegant, and warm person, and a role model for me at a time when South Asian studies and cultural anthropology had few women leaders.]

Save the date: Public Anthropology Conference (PAC 2015) 12th Annual Conference

Dialogues of the Urgent and Emergent

Call For Participation

When: October 3-4, 2015
Where: American University, Washington, DC

The rapidly transforming world in which we live requires an immediate response to the global discussions of climate change, economic development, armed conflict, international human rights abuses, racial injustice, medical emergencies, and sexual and gender inequalities. A dialogue concerning these and other pressing public issues will allow us the opportunity to discuss ideas of the “urgent” and the “emergent.”

“Urgent” draws our focus toward social justice issues that require a time-sensitive response while maintaining deliberate and careful attention to holistic human well-being. Likewise, the “Emergent” presents to us new challenges that arise, causing us to pause and reevaluate the framework in which we approach our everyday work. We will explore our roles as practitioners, teachers, students, and interested members of the public within these shifting climates and discover how we can produce and support positive social, environmental, economic, and political change.

All are welcome to apply.

Submit proposals to
Deadline: August 31st

For more info contact conference organizers:

Davis Shoulders

John Villecco

Anthro in the news 6/29/15

  • A matter of Pride: There is no neutral

An article in the Guardian reports on conflicts related to how a group of queer activists mobilized in solidarity with miners in the U.K are being treated in this year’s London Pride Parade line-up. The group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), was scheduled to lead this year’s parade, but the parade’s organizers won’t let trade union members march with them at the front of the parade because they are not political and not neutral. The article points out that LGSM is not the only political group at this year’s Pride and will be joined in the procession with Ukip, a political party whose leader recently declared that HIV-positive immigrants should be barred from the U.K. The article turns to insights from the “politically committed, morally engaged” anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes who points out that “neutrality” in the face of structural violence is not neutrality at all: it’s complicity.

  • Microfinance works, but for whom?

Cultural anthropologist Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics published an article in the Guardian in which he zings microfinance as “…the neoliberal development strategy par excellence. Forget about colonialism, structural adjustment, austerity, financial crises, land grabs, tax evasion, and climate change. Forget about challenging the concentration of power and wealth. And, above all, forget about collective mobilisation. Bankers shall be our new heroes and debt our salvation. Debt, incidentally, is a great way to keep people docile.” Hickel proposes alternatives that will address the structural causes of poverty.

  • Banned in Morocco

As reported in the New York Times, a film about prostitution in Morocco that had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May has set off a furor. After six minutes of excerpts appeared online, the Moroccan government banned the movie from theaters, the female stars received death threats, and a male actor was attacked with a knife. The film, Much Loved, by the Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, includes scenes of prostitutes in Marrakesh partying, speaking raunchy Arabic, and servicing wealthy Saudi clients. (more…)

Machik Weekend: A global forum for civic engagement and Tibet

Machik Weekend a global forum for civic engagement and Tibet November 20-22, 2015

Machik Weekend a global forum for civic engagement and Tibet November 20-22, 2015

Pepper water and protests in Haiti

By Scott Freeman

Tear gas is not uncommon in Port au Prince. Over the past decade, whether it has been protests over food shortages, controlling political demonstrations, or ‘peacekeeping’ actions by the infamous MINUSTAH UN forces, tear gas and other methods of crowd control have been a reality of the political and social landscape in downtown Port-au-Prince. A veteran reporter in Haiti told me that he had developed all sorts of strategies to deal with tear gas, ranging use of lime under his nose to more preventative measures like always having a paint masks handy.
But as of late, a new method of mass crowd control has been quite literally ‘sweeping the streets’ in the capital of Haiti. A type of pepper spray spiked water is being shot out of water cannons and into crowds of protesters. Dlo grate, or itching water, as it is referred to in Haitian Creole, is a now common term in Port au Prince. While not all have felt its devastatingly powerful effects, knowledge of the new tactic is widespread throughout the city.

The visit of French President François Hollande was the backdrop for the most recent student protest and excessive police response. Student protests are not uncommon in Port-au-Prince, and for the past years these demonstrations have often targeted the government in power. On May 12th, outside of the Faculté d’Ethnologie, the storied home of Haitian anthropology and site of many student demonstrations, 50 or so university students protested the arrival the French President– the first official state visit of any French President to Haiti. Given that Hollande had just rescinded an offer of reparations to Haiti for the damages of slavery and exploitation (officials insisting he was talking about a ‘moral debt’ and not a financial one), such a protest was largely predictable. Other protests in the plaza of Champ de Mars supposedly numbered around 200. During the day of his visit, students and protesters chanted ‘Nou pa esklav anko!’ (We won’t be slaves again), invoking France’s historical role as a slave owning colonial power, and hinting at the continual neocolonial tactics used by France and the broader international community. Some students provocatively dressed as slaves outside the university campus.

Student Protestors at Faculté d’Ethnologie on May 12, 2015.

During the late morning that Tuesday, I was in the second floor computer of the Faculté d’Ethnologie preparing a seminar that would be cancelled 45 minutes later. I could hear student chants that had been building for an hour or so. But new noises soon entered the air-conditioned room, and students sitting around me got up from their computers to see what caused the loud commotion.

From the second floor balcony, we could see that a black armored national police truck had parked itself outside of the walls of the school. On the top of this tank, visible over the wall, was a large turret fixed with a water cannon. The noise we could hear was the water that was being shot at students, occasionally hitting the metal door of the courtyard. The demonstration was non-violent (a Professor later remarked that he saw one student throw a stone, only to be quickly reprimanded by other demonstrators), yet the tank was parked right outside the courtyard, knocking students to the ground with a surge of water even when they were inside the gates of the university. From its position higher than the university walls, the water cannon was policing actions of even the students inside the gate. (more…)