Anthro in the news 10/20/14

  • Anthro advice: Don’t panic over Ebola

An article in the Springfield News/Sun (Ohio) on the Ebola epidemic advised against panic in the U.S.  It quoted Simanti Dasgupta, an anthropology professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio. According to Dasgupta, this disease can further the “othering” of Africa as a “wholly dark” place rather than a continent that encompasses deserts, jungles as well as ports and big cities.

  • Anthro advice: Don’t blame Ebola on eating bushmeat

As reported by the BBC, media coverage attributing the Ebola in Africa to eating bushmeat, inclulding bats, is not only unhelpful but dangerous, warns Melissa Leach, an anthropologist at the Institute of Development at the University of Sussex: “It’s not a disease spread by eating bushmeat. As far as we know it originated in one spillover event from one bat to a child in Guinea…Subsequent to that it’s been a human-to-human disease. People are more vulnerable to Ebola by interacting with people than by eating bats.” She says negative coverage of bushmeat “has deterred people from understanding the real risk of infection.”

  • Fear of dying as a cause of death

Pacific Standard magazine carried an article about how an intense belief that you are about to die can actually kill you. Researchers are learning more about so-called voodoo death, or psychosomatic death, and how it is not found only in “superstitious, foreign cultures.”

“In 1977, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started receiving reports that otherwise healthy Southeast Asian men were dying mysteriously in their sleep, some with terrified expressions on their faces. Researchers, at a loss, called it SUNDS—Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome. In particular, SUNDS disproportionately affected Hmong refugees from Laos.”

“People didn’t know at all what was going on,” says University of California-San Francisco professor Shelley Adler, who was a graduate student studying medical anthropology at the time. But after interviewing 118 Hmong men and women about their experiences, her suspicions were confirmed. Many attributed the deaths to fatal attacks from dab tsog, an evil nighttime spirit in the traditional Hmong religion that crushes men at night. Their descriptions of dab tsog were similar to sleep paralysis, a disorder in which a person’s mind awakens while their body is still asleep or paralyzed; they often feel like they are being crushed and experience hallucinations.

But there were still unanswered questions. Adler says. “Sleep paralysis alone does not kill anyone. Why was it fatal for the Hmong?” (more…)

DC event at the World Bank

The Poverty GP and the Gender CCSA Invite You to a Brown Bag Lunch on
The Role of the Private Sector in Addressing GBV – Experiences from Latin America and the Caribbean

Date: October 20, 2014 from 12:30-2 p.m.
Location: World Bank Headquarters, MC C1-100

*A light lunch will be served

External participants: Please RSVP with Amparo Lezama for building access:

Gender-based violence (GBV) has become an increasing concern in the LAC region, not least for companies affected by it. The World Bank Group has been addressing this issue through analytical work and operational support. However, more can be done by directly engaging the private sector. This conversation will shed light on the impact GBV can have on the private sector and what companies can do about it. The study “Violence Against Women and its Financial Consequences for Business in Peru” will be presented. In addition, two companies from the LAC region will present their specific initiatives to address GBV. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and taking action!


  • Louise Cord – Practice Manager (Poverty GP, LAC)
  • Henriette Kolb - Gender CCSA (Head Gender IFC)


  • Christine Brendel – Manager, ComVoMujer project (GIZ), “Violence Against Women and its Financial Consequences for Businesses in Peru”
  • Claudia Cárdenas – Manager, Foundation “Estás Vivo” (VIVA, Bolivia)
  • Paola Ramírez - Coordinator, Social Corporate Responsibility (HAUG, Peru)


  • Jennifer Solotaroff -  Senior Social Development Specialist (Urban, Rural and Social Developoment GP)
  • Alys Willman -  Social Development Specialist, (Urban, Rural and Social Development GP)

Joining WebEx Instructions:

Meeting number: 738 509 157
Meeting Password: JkwKVm5D

For more information, please contact: Miriam Muller, or Carolina Ferrer:

Dial-in instructions:

Domestic participants (Continental US & Canada), please dial: (1-855) 244-8681
International participants, please dial:+1 (650) 479-3207
Access code:  738 509 157


Call for student papers: Human Development Conference at Notre Dame University

The 7th Annual Human Development Conference
February 27-28, 2015
University of Notre Dame
The Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity and the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame and SIT Study Abroad announce the 7th annual conference on human development.

The conference is an opportunity to explore past trends in development, evaluate current best practices, and discuss the future of development after the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. This year’s theme emphasizes the role of human dignity in development and how it may influence theory and practice in the future.

We are happy to announce our keynote speaker for this year, Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and senior UN advisor.

We invite undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines to apply to share their research experiences from a broad spectrum of topics, including:

For those interested in presenting a paper, please submit your abstract no later than Friday, November 14, 2014.

For abstract submission please click here.

Invitations for participation will be extended by early December. Students who accept invitations to present at the conference will be responsible for securing funding for travel and other related expenses.

We hope you will join us!

Anthro in the news 10/13/14

  • Ebola crisis is worse than statistics say

Aida Benton speaking at Brown University.

The Providence Journal (Rhode Island) reported on a teach-in on Ebola at Brown University.  Speakers included an anthropologist, an epidemiologist, a biostatistician, a community organizer and a representative from the Rhode Island Department of Health. Adia Benton, an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown who specializes in the medical anthropology of sub-Saharan Africa, said the crisis is worse than statistics indicate. According to Benton, health institutions in West Africa have been gutted by war and corruption. Medical services, where they exist, are devoted to diseases such as HIV-AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, and basic supplies are lacking. The solution is to build a health system in those countries, and that takes time.

  • Ebola in local and global context

The Columbian (Washington state) reported on the work of cultural anthropologists Barry Hewlett and Bonnie Hewlett, a husband-and-wife team at Washington State University Vancouver. They have worked with the World Health Organization in containing previous Ebola epidemics in Africa. The Hewletts are co-authors of a 2007 book called Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease. They were asked by the World Health Organization to learn why people flee the hospital, the ambulances and the health workers trying to save them.

In a talk this week at the university, the Hewletts noted that the current Ebola outbreak is fueled by West African people’s long-standing mistrust of their own governments as well as actions of foreign powers and international aid organizations.

  • How to protect Syria’s cultural heritage? Answer: Stop the war

The New York Times “Room for Debate” section opened a discussion on: What is the most effective way to stop looting and preserve the ancient heritage of Syria? Respondents included Abdalrazzaq Moaz, the former Syrian deputy minister of culture and director general of Antiquities and Museums, is a visiting professor at Indiana University and a co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Syrian Heritage Initiative. Jesse Casana is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas and a co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research’s Syrian Heritage Initiative. They said:

“It is critical to understand that the cultural heritage issue is simply one dimension of the much larger humanitarian crisis in Syria. Looting and damage follow on the heels of intense military conflict, regardless of which factions are fighting. Despite the fact that ideological destruction of the region’s extraordinarily rich cultural heritage could be considered a war crime, prolonged conflict inevitably results in looting and damage to ancient sites and monuments, for reasons of profit, desperation and tactical expediency.”

Their answer to the question: “The solution to the cultural heritage crisis is the same as the solution to the broader humanitarian crisis, and that is to find a comprehensive and just political resolution to the war. If we truly care about cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq or about the suffering of the people who live there, then our overall objective must be to advocate for a lasting peace.” (more…)

Anthro in the news 10/6/14

  • Global Politics, Global Health and the Anthropological Moment

Paul Stoller, professor of cultural anthropology at Westchester University, published in article in The Huffington Post about how anthropologists are uniquely positioned to understand the complex multiethnic nuances of 21st century social and political life. He discusses two examples: ISIS and the Ebola epidemic.

  • Beyond words: Canada should address Ebola

Two students, an MPH student and a medical anthropology PhD student, co-authored an op-ed in the Waterloo Record about how Canada should respond to the Ebola outbreak. Lauren Wallace and Nicole Markwick argue that Canada must move beyond words:

“Canada must move beyond words — and quickly. We must disperse current pledges, and successfully deploy emergency treatment centres and specialized medical teams immediately. If we do not, the virus will claim thousands more lives and more deeply damage West Africa’s health-care systems and economies.”

Earlier this week, students at the Universities of Guelph, British Columbia and McMaster turned heads as they ran across campus dressed as doctors in scrubs and lab coats. At times, students shouted battle cries: “We’re coming for you, Ebola!” Students did not organize the flash mobs to incite fear and concern that Ebola will soon come to Canada. Rather, they organized the events as a way of highlighting Canada’s slow humanitarian response.

  • Talking white in review

Slate carried an article reviewing perspectives on so-called Black English in the United States and the “talking/acting white” theory. The author states that Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth. The article pays substantial attention to the work of Berkeley cultural anthropology professor, John Ogbu, who explored the allegedly “oppositional” culture of black teenagers and pushed the “acting white” idea into the popular discourse, starting with his 1986 paper, coauthored with Signithia Fordham, ‘Black Students’ School Success: Coping with the Burden of ‘Acting White’.” His work lives on and goes on.

  • Syrian antiquities in danger

The New York Times carried an article about the loss and endangerment of antiquities in Syria due to the conflict there. Among many experts mentioned is archaeology professor Michael Danti of Boston University and co-director of the American Schools of Oriental Research Syrian Heritage Initiative, a project financed by the State Department that monitors sites at risk:

“ISIS uses heritage explicitly, tying it into history, providing a back story for itself and showing it is part of this massive unstoppable force to appeal to young fighters.”

The article includes a slide show.

Anthro in the news 9/29/14

  • Relevance of cultural anthropology to business

The Huffington Post carried an article describing how concepts in cultural anthropology apply to business models as presented in a new book, Handbook of Anthropology in Business, edited by Rita Denny and Patricia Sunderland. Denny and Sunderland are anthropologists who run a consumer research and strategic consultancy, Practica Group. Their clients include SC Johnson, Whirlpool, Nissan, Pernod Ricard, Target, PepsiCo, Samsung, and Darden Restaurants. This Handbook demonstrates the links between the commercial arena and ethnographic research and cultural analysis. The book presents findings from 60 international scholars. Sections include: Dynamics of Tension, Forces of Change: With “Big Data” coming into the forefront, what is the anthropologist’s role in sorting through, applying reason, making sense, and ultimately turning it to a productive business use?; Boundaries Breached and Blurred: Where does anthropology come into play when we are dealing in a global marketplace? Can interactions with other countries be enhanced with better cultural understandings?; Plying the Trade: Who are the anthropologists that have managed to successfully insert themselves into the business paradigm? How do they co-exist with the number crunchers and old-line sales mentalities?; and The Energy of Memes: How do ideas, products, or behaviors circulate through a culture? Is there a way to enhance the process?

  • Tattoos on the rise

CNN reviewed a new book about body art by Nicholas Thomas, Director of the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University. He argues that the tattoo has made a powerful comeback: “There has been an extraordinary, epochal change in the last 25 years…When I was a child in the 1960s, we didn’t see tattoos everywhere. But there has been an explosion in popularity, and this tells us a lot about who we are, both culturally and as individuals.”

  • New Task Force of the American Anthropological Association on Israel-Palestine

Al Jazeera reported on the announcement by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) of the creation of the Task Force on AAA Engagement with Israel/Palestine, part of a broad association effort to respond to members’ interest in dialogue about the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict. The Task Force is charged with helping the Executive Board consider the nature and extent to which AAA might contribute to addressing the issues that the Israel/Palestine conflict raises. Task Force members were appointed based on criteria including: significant expertise in relevant subject areas (such as conflict; historical memory); representation of the four fields of archeology, linguistics, biological, and cultural anthropology; and understanding of the association. Members of the group are Chair Don Brenneis (UC-Santa Cruz), Niko Besnier (University of Amsterdam), Patrick Clarkin (University of Massachusetts-Boston), Hugh Gusterson (George Washington University), John Jackson (University of Pennsylvania), and Kate Spielmann (Arizona State University). (more…)

DC event: State, Economy and Society in the Horn of Africa

Friday, October 3, 2014: 1-8pm
City View Room, 7th Floor, 1957 E Street NW

RSVP here


Welcome and Opening Remarks

Barbara Miller – Director of Institute for Global and International Studies, Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, The Elliott School of International Affairs

Ambassador David Shinn – Former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso,
Adjunct Professor of International Affairs, The Elliott School of International Affairs


Conflict, Peacekeeping, and Politics

Terrence Lyons – Associate Professor, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution,
George Mason University

Ambassador Lange Schermerhorn – Former Ambassador to Djibouti

Jon Temin – Special Advisor, Africa Program, United States Institute of Peace

Paul Williams – Associate Professor of International Affairs, The Elliott School of International Affairs


The State, Rights, and Civil Society

Semhar Araia – Executive Director, Diaspora African Women’s Network

Daniel Bekele – Executive Director, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

John Harbeson – Professor of Political Science Emeritus, City University of New York,
Adjunct Professor of International Affairs, The Elliott School of International Affairs

Mahdere Paulos Hirigo – Program Officer, Freedom House


Development and Humanitarian Challenges

Berhanu Abegaz – Professor of Economics, The College of William & Mary

Lauren Carruth – Postdoctoral Fellow, The Elliott School of International Affairs

Derek Headey – Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute


Policy Implications
5:15-5:45 pm

Ambassador Lange Schermerhorn – Former Ambassador to Djibouti

Ambassador David Shinn – Former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, Adjunct
Professor of International Affairs, The Elliott School of International Affairs


5:45 pm

This event is part of the Global Policy Forum series.
Sponsored by: The Institute for Global and International Affairs, The Africa Working Group

Anthro in the news 9/22/14

  • Paul Farmer in Liberia to address Ebola

All Africa carried an article about the arrival of Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist and Partners in Health (PIH) co-founder, in Liberia, as part of a high level delegation from PIH. They are in Liberia to hold discussions with relevant partners on the outbreak and spread of the deadly Ebola virus disease. The PIH delegation, led by Farmer, is jointly in Liberia with a partner institution, Last Mile Health (LMH). The objective of the team’s visit includes seeking the guidance of the Government on the proposed set of immediate response programs to be implemented by the coalition in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the County Health Teams, including managing an Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in southeastern Liberia as well as scaling up community-based interventions. The delegation will also discuss strategies for ensuring that the global response works to strengthen national and country-level institutions by building local capacity (public and private, including for community-based care for Ebola and other diseases).

  • Girls who become boys in Afghanistan

A book review in The Washington Post by Rachel Newcomb, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Rollins College, Virginia, discusses Jenny Nordberg’s new book, The Underground Girls of Kabul:

“Nordberg’s specific focus is on girls and women known as bacha posh, a term that literally means ‘dressed up as a boy, but bacha posh serve as an entry point into a rich exploration of women’s lives in contemporary Afghanistan. Families who have not succeeded in conceiving boys will designate young girls as honorary sons, allowing them to roam freely and masquerade as boys, with the tacit acceptance of others in their communities. At adolescence, most are switched back to young women, a transformation that can be traumatic for those accustomed to their assumed male identities. A few, such as Shahed, a woman in her late 20s who was trained by the Americans to serve as a paramilitary sharpshooter, maintain their bacha posh status, eschewing traditional expectations that they marry and bear children. ‘Some women are braver and stronger than men. I am a warrior,’ Shahed tells the author.

  • America’s National Football League under review

CBS Minnesota carried an article about the widespread concern in the United States about its widely beloved National Football League: (more…)

GW event: Threading a Tale: Language and Cloth in Andean Culture

Saturday, September 20, 2014. 10:30 am
Where: 2320 S Street, NW, Washington, DC

In this illustrated talk, GW Anthropology Professor Emerita Catherine Allen discusses her research on weaving and storytelling in highland Peru. Weavers in the Andean highlands create fabric of great beauty and technical virtuosity, continuing a rich textile tradition spanning over five millennia. The centrality of the fiber arts in Andean culture affects other expressive media, including the spoken word.

Free; no reservations required. Seating is limited, so please arrive early.

For more information:

Can Barshim become king of the high jump?

By Sean Carey

“I think it’s possible to break the record,” said an ecstatic Mutaz Essa Barshim after jumping 2.43 m (7’11.7″) at the recent Diamond League meeting in Brussels, the second highest recorded jump in history.  Much to his and the crowd’s disappointment, he then failed by the tiniest of margins to clear the bar positioned 1 cm higher than Cuban Javier Sotomayor’s 21-year-old 2.45 m (8’0.5″ world record).

Unsurprisingly, Barshim was confident that he could go higher. Referring directly to Sotomayor’s effort he added: “It’s been done by a human, we’re all human, so it’s possible.”

Barshim’s words got me thinking about the human ability to jump. “Much Depends on Dinner,” is the title of a chapter in Daniel Lieberman’s 2013 highly-acclaimed book The Story of the Human Body. The Harvard-based evolutionary biologist links some of our most basic movement patterns, especially walking and running, to strong selection amongst ape-like creatures in Africa at a time of rapid climatic and environmental changes several million years ago.

Put simply, by first standing fully upright and then walking upright, early hominins living at the edges of the central African rainforest were better able to find different types of edible plant material, and thus increase their chances of survival and reproductive success. Then around 2.5 million years ago the descendants of those hominins began to run medium and long distances as well, competing with other animals to add meat to their diet which, among other things, led to our species developing relatively small stomachs but very large brains.

If Lieberman is right about the evolutionary significance of running, then the ability to jump may have evolved in the same period, since both running and jumping depend in part on the storage and release of energy in the plantar arches on the underside of the foot as well as the Achilles tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. So far, however, our capacity to jump has not been subjected to the same intense analysis by biological anthropologists as locomotion, though anatomists, physiologists and evolutionary psychologists have all gone some way to unravel its complexities – for example, physiologists have discovered that untrained bonobos easily outperform highly-trained human athletes at squat (vertical) jumping, while evolutionary psychologists have identified and explored the manner in which humans in all societies use “motion cues,” including the ability to jump, to recognize and classify fellow humans and other animal species.

But it’s evident that compared with other animals such as frogs, fleas or grasshoppers, humans are not specialist jumpers. So what motivates athletes such as Barshim to spend endless hours practicing alone and then performing in front of purposefully noisy (and sometimes quiet) crowds in stadiums throughout the world?

High jumping is a very good example of why cultural anthropologists think of the body as a sociocultural entity rather than just another material object. As Marcel Mauss put it some years back, “the body is man’s first and most natural instrument” operating in complex sociocultural fields – which includes small (or large) changes in technology with unforeseen consequences.

In fact, the technique for contemporary high jumping was revolutionized in the mid-1960s by U.S. high jumper Dick Fosbury, who took advantage of the deep foam matting that replaced sand or sawdust in the landing area to experiment with new ways of going over the bar. Instead of using a traditional scissor jump, straddle technique, or Western roll, Fosbury ran the last few strides in a curve, which allowed him to lean away from the bar and obtain a good degree of rotatory momentum around his spinal axis. This technique, with the head leading, face pointing skywards, and arched body and extended legs following, allowed Fosbury to jump much higher than he had before. It worked so well that with a jump of 2.24 m (7’4″) on his third attempt he won the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. His competitors saw there was a huge advantage in this highly counterintuitive way of moving, and over the next few years most switched styles.

Today everyone jumps using the so-called Fosbury Flop — though my guess is that many younger competitors erroneously think that this is the way the high jump was always performed in the modern era.

Meanwhile back in Brussels, Barshim had come up with a neat metaphor for his and the current world record holder’s achievements. “It means Javier is the king and now you’re the prince,” he said indicating that in an era of unprecedented media coverage jumping over a very high bar is about achieving global status and recognition rather than anything else. “You might take over at any time, so that’s really big for me and really good motivation.”

So will Barshim be crowned king or remain a prince? His ambition is not in doubt, so 2015 promises to be a big year for this outstanding athlete.


Sean Carey is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, and a Centre for London Associate. He writes for The Guardian, The Mauritius Times, The New African and African Business. He has a Ph.D. in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.