anthro in the news 2/8/16


On eliminating Valentine’s Day in U.S. public schools

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, many schools in the Minneapolis area will not be marking Valentine’s Day or many other so-called “dominant holidays” in the interest of promoting diversity. An ongoing debate concerns what, if any, celebrations should take place in classrooms. The article quotes cultural anthropologist William Beeman, chair of the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, a “holiday supporter:”  “It’s very difficult to eliminate all celebrations from human society, and finding a reason for celebration is a terribly important human function because it creates social solidarity…And we don’t want our schools to be a grim place, where there’s never any fun, never any community building.”

In Argentina: Culture of police violence vs. human rights

Complicated Connection: President Macri and his family meeting the Pope. The declaration of a national security emergency does not fit with a Francisan approach to social justice. Source: Wikimedia.

An article in the Argentina Independent discusses the “tough on crime” approach of President Mauricio Macri who assumed office in December and has already decreed a national public security emergency. The article expresses concern about the culture of police violence that continues to plague Argentina. It quotes Maria Victoria Pita, anthropology professor at the University of Buenos Aires:  “There is a historical tradition of confrontation and violence between civil society and the police…It is a very complicated issue because it has to deal with the basis of cultural development and political conditions.”

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anthro in the news 2/1/2016

Source: Creative Commons

U.S. football violence

Cultural anthropologist William Murphy, lecturer in the department of anthropology at Northwestern University, published an op-ed in the Chicago Sun Times about how U.S. football turns a person into a commodity: “In football calculus, knocking a skilled player out of the game is sometimes (but not always) worth the penalty for some form of unnecessary roughness. Some players specialize in this tactic, and are rewarded by fans and coaches when they get away with it. Unnecessary roughness is necessary in this calculus.” He draws on Homer, Simone Weil, and others to connect the violence of war and U.S. football with dehumanization.


U.S. football pride: It hurts not being first

Source: Creative Commons

An article in the San Diego Union Tribune reported on the decision to keep San Diego’s football team, the Chargers, for at least another year. The article quotes Seth Mallios, professor of anthropology at San Diego State University and the author of multiple books on San Diego history: “In terms of our collective psyche…we feel like we are in L.A.’s shadow. Los Angeles has two NBA teams, and one of them is one of our former teams. And look at the difference between the Dodgers’ payroll and the Padres’. When you start thinking about the giant money donations they can get up there, we can feel a little inferior.”

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anthro in the news 1/25/2016


Eritrea landscape. Source: Creative Commons

Misguided U.K. asylum policy

As described in an article in the Guardian, John Campbell, reader in the anthropology of Africa and law at the University of London, U.K. asylum policy for Eritreans is misguided. Campbell analyzed two Country Information Guidance documents issued by the Home Office last year which say that it is safe to return asylum seekers to Eritrea. Campbell argues that this position over-relies on one outdated source and does not take into account other available evidence and. Campbell is reported to have said: “An undergraduate would be failed for this sort of thing.” The Home Office has not responded.


Haiti: Still seeking an elected president

Poster encouraging citizens to vote in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 2016. Source: Nicholas Johnson, IGIS

An article in the Huffington Post offers insights into the unresolved presidential election in Haiti. It focuses on one candidate who is closely linked with the banana industry. Co-authors are Jennifer Vansteenkiste, a Ph.D. candidate in geography at the University of Guelph and Mark Schuller, associate professor of anthropology and NGO leadership development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti.

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Sam Beck's book frames anthropology as a means of change

By Susan Kelley, Republished with Permission from Cornell Chronicle

Sam Beck, senior lecturer in the College of Human Ecology, has co-edited a new volume on the theory and practice of public anthropology. Source: Cornell Chronicle, Mark Vorreuter/College of Human Ecology

Social and cultural anthropologist Sam Beck is a leading proponent of moving anthropology out of academia’s ivory tower and into communities and cultures to bring about positive change.

He has been a fixture in the New York City neighborhood of North Brooklyn for more than two decades, where he has studied the effects of gentrification and supported community groups rallying for more affordable housing for ethnic minorities.

Beck has brought that experience to bear as co-editor of a new book, “Public Anthropology in a Borderless World.” With 10 essays in three thematic sections, the edited volume explores how public anthropology improves the modern human condition by actively engaging with people to make changes through research, education and political action. Beck has also contributed a chapter, “Urban Transitions: Graffiti Transformations.” He co-edited the book with Carl Maida of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Public anthropology is a relatively new term that refers to the discipline as a collaboration between the anthropologist and communities to co-construct research and knowledge and communicate that knowledge to a variety of audiences. It also advocates for anthropologists to engage in various forms of intervention, including political action.

American anthropologists, Beck says, have a rich history of positioning themselves in the struggle for social justice and democratization. “Critical and political, [public anthropology] embraces advocacy and at times activism, not just as a strategy for generating data but as a commitment to support and effect change for society’s most vulnerable members and for those living in oppressive conditions,” Beck and Maida write in the introduction. Continue reading “Sam Beck's book frames anthropology as a means of change”

anthro in the news 1/18/16


Source: Google Images/Creative Commons

Autism that can kill

Kim Shively, professor of cultural anthropology at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, published an article in the Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania) about how autism can be fatal to children. Her article notes a recent death by drowning of a five-year old autistic boy in Allentown. She focuses on the variety of autism that involves a tendency to wander away from home, arguing that it is the most dangerous, especially for non-verbal children. She notes that “public safety and health service providers in our area…have poor understanding of what autism is or how it is manifested.” She offers three recommendations.


Sons of a paramount chief, seated, with an African slave, 1904. The Guardian/Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies, Tehran, Iran

African slavery in Iran

Anthropologist Pedram Khosronejad is Farzaneh Family Scholar and Associate Director for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies at the School of International Studies of Oklahoma State University. He has embarked on a new and controversial topic in Iranian studies, developing a narrative on African slavery in Persia through archival photography, interviews, and texts. The African slave trade in the Persian Gulf began well before the Islamic period. Mediaeval accounts refer to slaves working as household servants, bodyguards, militiamen and sailors in the Persian Gulf including what is today southern Iran. In Iran’s modern history, Africans were integral to elite households.

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anthro in the news 1/11/16


Source: Washington Post

Buy a kidney, exploit the poor and desperate

Washington Post published a weekly “In Theory” piece by medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California at Berkeley. She is also director of Organs Watch, and advisor to the World Health Organization, the European Union, and the United Nations. She writes: “Be aware that the sale of organs has damaged the families of sellers and their communities — in Syria, India, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Ukraine, Brazil, Egypt, the Philippines, Turkey and wherever political refugees wash up on the shores of Europe. A kidney for an (un)safe passage to freedom: This is the unbalanced agreement demanded of many families fleeing political conflict and drought. In the watery slums of Manila, the obligation to sell a kidney for the financial sake of the family is being passed down from the father to his wife to their underage sons and daughters, whose bodies are seen as a family piggy-bank.”


Too many men?

Politico Magazine and the Australian cited Barbara Miller‘s work on male-biased sex ratios in relation to the many refugees entering Europe. Politico mentions her argument that countries should consider a balanced sex ratio to be a public good. The Australian quotes her as saying that heavily male-biased sex ratios can be a risk to local security. [Blogger’s notes: (1) political scientist Valerie Hudson of Texas A & M University has done much to promote awareness of the connection between heavily male-biased sex ratios and violence; a much earlier, foundational study on the social implications of male-biased sex ratios is an article by anthropologists William Divale and Marvin Harris appeared in the American Anthropologist in 1976. (2) It would be most unfortunate if the “too many men” factor were to become a knee-jerk justification for denying male asylum seekers since a common pattern of refugee migration is that a “pioneer” male first arrives and then brings in his family; see the next entry on U.S. family immigration/reunification policies].

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anthro in the news 1/4/16

Sidney Mintz: Founder of the anthropology of food

Cultural anthropologist Sarah Hill, associate professor at Western Michigan University, published an article in the Boston Review detailing the work of cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz of the Johns Hopkins University. [See also:  In memoriam, below]. Mintz is lauded as the founder of “food anthropology” with the publications of his landmark book in 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Hill writes: “…at the heart of Sweetness and Power lies an understanding of the history of capitalism in the Atlantic world that goes far to explain slavery’s enduring legacy.”


Can planet Earth be saved?

In an article in The Atlantic, several U.S. experts, including cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Moreno, assistant professor at Oregon State University, offer reasons for despair and hope about the future of our planet. Her reason for despair: “As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate…These burdens are all part of climate injustice…I [also] despair because…climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.”  On the side of hope: “The rest of the world is talking back…. It’s going to be an interesting century.”


Continue reading “anthro in the news 1/4/16”