Anthro in the news 7/28/14

Flooding on the Marshall Islands. Source: Getty Images.

  • Climate change, blame, and moving on

National Public Radio provided commentary by anthropologist Barbara J. King of William and Mary on “the blame game” about climate change. After reading an article by anthropologist Peter Rudiak-Gould in the August issue of Current Anthropology, “Climate Change and Accusation: Global Warming and Local Blame in a Small Island State“, she gained an appreciation for the scale of the problem of climate change faced by people in the Marshall Islands. Rudiak-Gould seeks to understand how the Marshallese Islanders think about who is responsible for climate change: Do they engage in industrial blame, in which Western, developed and industrialized countries are held to be at fault? Or do they adopt a perspective of universal blame that puts blame on all of us collectively, even Marshall Islanders?

King and Rudiak-Gould have been communicating by email, exploring several questions related to his article. You can read about their exchanges in her piece. The upshot is: talk to the people and move on from there to considering ways to make positive change. King is inspired to talk to people in Norfolk.

  • A migrant who died on the way: Documentary film

The Independent (U.K.) covered a new film documenting illegal immigration into the United States along its southern border with Mexico.  The film, made by the Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, tells the story of Dilcy Martinez, a Honduran who died 20 minutes’ drive from a new life in Tucson. It highlights the work of the Missing Migrant Project, based at the office of the Pima County medical examiner in Tucson, which identified his remains. The story of the fatal journey is the subject of Who Is Dayani Cristal?, released in the U.K. this weekend. (more…)

Gaza: What you can do

Without doubt many people are following the devastating attack on Gaza and may be wondering if there is anything they can do to help. If you are interested in donating to assist Gaza’s population, one excellent organization is ANERA ( They have been doing exemplary work in Gaza (along with the West Bank and Lebanon) for a long time and are trying very hard to keep it up even under these devastating conditions.

And if you are looking for something to do, consider supporting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) call that will be coming to the American Anthropological Association. It is likely that there will be a resolution at this year’s AAA meeting for the membership to vote on. Certainly, there are a number of panels and roundtables on the AAA program to allow for discussion of this issue.

Ilana Feldman
Associate Professor of Anthropology, History, and International Affairs
George Washington University, Washington, DC 20052

Anthro in the news 7/21/14

Kate Clancy

  • The perils of fieldwork

The Washington Post and other mainstream media reported on a survey about sexual harassment and assault by colleagues during fieldwork. The study includes 142 men and 516 women in anthropology (including archaeology), geology, and other scientific disciplines. Results show that younger women are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and sexual assault during fieldwork.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, claims to be the first to investigate experiences of scientists at field sites. Researchers conducted an online survey with respondents recruited through social media, e-mail and links on Web sites of major anthropological organizations as well as other scientific disciplines that require fieldwork. The study’s lead author is Kate Clancy, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

The Washington Post quotes Clancy: “Our main findings – that women trainees were disproportionately targeted for abuse and felt they had few avenues to report or resolve these problems – suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive…We worry that this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.”

[Blogger’s note: Nearly a quarter of a century ago, in 1990, Nancy Howell published a landmark study, "Surviving Fieldwork: A Report of the Advisory Panel on Health and Safety in Fieldwork", supported by the American Anthropological Association. I don’t have my copy at hand -- it’s at my university office, so I cannot check the accuracy of the following statement, but I think I am right in saying that her study did not include sexual harassment and assault by colleagues. Perhaps it is time to reassess the wider range of dangers in the field and how to prevent them.]

  • Scheper-Hughes talks back

The Pacific Standard Magazine carried a response by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, to an article about her work exposing human organ trafficking. An excerpt:

“In his profile of me (“The Organ Detective,” July/August), Ethan Watters quotes sources indicating that I have a deep animus toward the medical establishment. I have always worked closely with surgeons, pathologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and transplant professionals. I have co-authored numerous articles with physicians and transplant surgeons. In 2007, I was offered a McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair and Professorship at the University of Minnesota, with a primary appointment in the Department of Surgery. I declined, regretfully, but I believe the offer reflected that school’s faith in my ability to play a positive role in the training of medical students (including surgeons) in medical anthropological concepts and methods bearing on ethical clinical practice.” (more…)

La Réunion leads the way in tackling the chikungunya virus

By Sean Carey

After an outbreak of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus which affected 270,000 people on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion in 2005-2006, scientists at L’Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) in Marseille have been working hard to come up with a solution so that no one in France’s overseas departments (DOM), or anywhere else, has to experience high fever, headache, rash, and severe joint and muscle pain. These symptoms, although rarely fatal, can last between a few days and several months.

About time too some would say. Indeed, two academic commentators have accused the public health authorities as well as the media in metropolitan France of being far too slow to react to the initial crisis on an island, which lies nearly 6000 of miles south-east of Paris. In two papers on the chikungunya epidemic in La Réunion, one in 2008 and another in 2009,  University of South Australia’s  Philip Weinstein and Srilata Ravi claim that the delay in acknowledging the public health risk of the virus reflected “passive denial” by the French metropolitan government, convinced that its mainland European citizens were in no danger, a view which was mirrored in the “residual colonial thinking on the priority placed on reporting on an epidemic in the remote tropical location” by the mainstream media.

It was only towards the end of 2006, observed Weinstein and Ravi, that there was a significant shift in attitude signalled by the use of a “more inclusive language” by government and newspapers, such as Le Figaro and Le Monde, in metropolitan France. In any event, according to epidemiologists the medical costs of treating around 40 per cent of the population for chikungunya  in La Réunion (an island with the healthcare system of a developed country) was around €43.9 million (though note that this figure does not take into account self-medication using over-the-counter medicines, or alternative or complementary remedies). (more…)

Anthro in the news 7/7/14

  • Crypto-colonialism

Michael Hertzfeld. Source: Harvard University.

An article in The Himalayan Times (Nepal) described how the concept of crypto-colonialism, as introduced in 2002 by cultural anthropologist Michael Herzfeld of Harvard University, applies to Nepal as well as Greece and Thailand, where Herzfeld initially researched it. [Blogger’s note: A vimeo made in 2012 provides an update on Herzfeld’s thinking about crypto-colonialism].

  • Jewels of the desert

A girl and her Llama. Source: Thomas Quine.

Archaeologists from the University of Wroclaw have uncovered 150 graves of a little known community that inhabited the Peruvian side of the Atacama Desert prior to the 7th century C.E. According to archaeologist Jozef Szykulski of the Institute of Archaeology of Wraclow University, Poland: “These burials are of the virtually unknown people who inhabited the area before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilization.”

He comments, further: “Items found in individual graves indicate that the people already had a clear social division…Members of the team discovered a large amount of jewellery, as well as lavishly decorated weaving tools…Inside some of the graves we found bows and quivers with arrows tipped with obsidian heads…This is a very interesting find, because bows are a rarity in Peru.” Discovery of a llama skeleton shows that llamas had been brought to the region earlier than scholars previously thought.

  • We’re getting older all the time

The Telegraph (U.K.) reported on findings by three researchers – Susan Antón of New York University, Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution, and Leslie Aiello of the Wenner-Gren Foundation — who reviewed a wide variety of studies and data and concluded that early hominids had started displaying aspects of behavior associated with the Homo genus far earlier than scholars previously thought, including making tools, evolving long limbs, and diversifying their diets to cope with climate change. Findings were published in the journal Science.

  • Modern Tibetans have Denisovan genetic heritage

Tibet is the highest region on earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 meters (16,000 ft). Source

The Los Angeles Times and several other media reported on the findings by ancient genetics researchers that Tibetans can trace part of their ancestry to this little-known group of early human ancestors. Scientists collected blood samples from 40 Tibetans and sequenced more than 30,000 nucleotides on a segment of DNA containing EPAS1, the gene that makes Tibetans adapted for life at high altitude. The scientists compared that sequence with those of 1,000 individuals representing the 26 human populations in the Human Genome Diversity Panel. They found the high-altitude gene in only 2 of the 40 Han Chinese people in the panel and no one else.

“Natural selection by itself could not explain that pattern,” said Rasmus Nielsen, a computational biologist at UC Berkeley and an author of the study. “The DNA sequence was too different from anything else we saw in other populations.”

Abigail Bigham, a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, is quoted as saying that the search for Denisovan DNA should extend to other groups: “When they looked in Han Chinese, they saw it in only two individuals…But other populations in Central Asia or East Asia — there are 49 other ethnic minorities in China that have different genetic backgrounds — would have been interesting to look at as well.”


Anthro in the news 6/30/14

  • She said, he said, he said: Public debt is slavery or not?

As reported in an article in The Washington Post, last fall, at a fundraiser in Iowa, Sarah Palin said:

“Our free stuff today is being paid for today by taking money from our children and borrowing from China. When that money comes due and, this isn’t racist, so try it, try it anyway, this isn’t racist, but it’s going to be like slavery when that note is due. Right? We are going to be beholden to a foreign master.”

Then: The Baffler provides a transcript of a public conversation about the financial crisis between American anthropologist David Graeber, a leading figure in the Occupy Wall Street movement and author of  Debt: The First 5000 Years, and French economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century. They were in Paris talking about the financial crisis and its implications.

About half-way through the conversation, Piketty says: (more…)

If you want to get on in life try acting like Rebekah Brooks

Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex Features.

By Sean Carey

“Brooks is almost indefinable – a contemporary shapeshifter, light and dark, adored and loathed,” reports The Guardian. “One moment, she is charming her way through life, the perfect party girl with her cheek and charm, taking Sun reporters to the annual love-in with their readers at an old Butlins holiday camp, chatting to the lady who serves the coffee in the Old Bailey canteen.”

Acquitted yesterday after a near eight-month trial of charges of phone hacking, the former editor of the U.K.’s News of the World, Rupert Murdoch’s most loyal and favorite editor, unsurprisingly has been the focus of much press comment. By contrast her former colleague and lover Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor, was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones and faces a long prison sentence.

As you can see from the comment above, The Guardian doesn’t quite know how to categorize Brooks. She certainly has an interesting back story. Brought up in a semi-detached cottage in the village of Hatton in Cheshire, she joined the News of the World as a secretary in 1989 before being made editor at the age of 32 in 2000. Three years later she was appointed editor of the U.K.’s best-selling daily, The Sun.

How to account for that meteoric rise? (more…)

Anthro in the news 6/24/14

  • Sunni-Shi’a war not likely

Cultural anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota wrote an article in Highbrow Magazine stating that the many factions among Sunnis and Shi’as in the Middle East will act to limit the possibility of an all-out war:

“The success of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in capturing large territories in Syria and Northern Iraq, and now threatening Baghdad, has raised once again the specter of a Sunni-Shi’a war in the Middle East. Such a scenario is possible, but unlikely. That’s because Sunni and Shi’a believers throughout the world are divided into many factions living under different social conditions and with different religious, social and political agendas. These differences greatly reduce the possibility of the emergence of a coalition of either group into a single bloc opposing the other.”

  • Beware the weed

    In an op-ed in The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University warns of the dangers of marijuana:  “Marijuana is more dangerous than many of us once thought. For one thing, cannabis use is associated with schizophrenia, an often devastating disorder in which people can hear disembodied voices that sneer, hiss and command.”

    • To co-sleep or not to co-sleep

    The National Post (Canada) carried an article on views of parent-child co-sleeping. While doctors warn against co-sleeping, a growing number of parents are willing to take risk to feel close to their child. New Brunswick’s minister of social development recently required social workers to review safe sleeping practices with their clients in light of two infant deaths this April linked to co-sleeping. At the same time, co-sleeping advocates condemn governments for demonizing their choice and refusing to provide information on how to co-sleep safely. The article quotes anthropologist James McKenna, an authority on co-sleeping who heads the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame:

    “I’m afraid parents are going around whispering, feeling they have to whisper — they can’t tell the truth about where their baby sleeps at night…They feel… that these institutions, by way of their expertise and their authority, their rights supersede what is really an inherent civil right of the parents to make decisions about the way they want to nurture and communicate their love and care for their child.”

    Further, in scores of cultures around the world, people co-sleep with their children. (more…)

    Anthro in the news 6/16/14

    • Mixed emotions in Brazil about the World Cup

    Source: The Telegraph.

    BBC News, among many other media, reported on the mixed reactions in Brazil to the launch of this year’s World Cup competition – from jubilation among some to resentment and protest among others. The BBC quoted cultural anthropologist Arlei Damo of the University of Rio Grande do Sul:

    “There is a real conflict…The usual love affair with the Selecao has been undermined by many things – the protests, the realisation that few Brazilians can’t afford to watch them as they wanted to. The emotions aren’t flowing as they typically would.”

    • Can fathers be good “mothers”

    An article in The National Post (Canada) raises the stereotype based question of whether fathers can be good mothers. In addition to reviewing findings from some ongoing studies about “mother”- associated roles and behavior such as nurturance and listening, the article quotes cultural anthropologist Barry Hewlett of Washington State University, who researches childhood: “It’s quite clear both men and women can be sensitive and excellent caregivers of children.” For the past 40 years, Hewlett has studied the Aka Pygmy peoples of Central Africa, where fathers spend more time in close contact to their babies than in any other known society and where mothers are the disciplinarians. Watching the fathers bounce babies on their knees while they socialize with other males makes it a less convincing case that care is specifically innate according to gender, he said. The only “obligate” responsibility for care giving that’s innate to women is breastfeeding, Hewlett noted. (more…)

    Anthro in the news: 6/9/14

    • Banned in the USSR

    The New Zealand Herald carried an article about a recently discovered Soviet era blacklist of “ideologically harmful compositions” including Tina Turner, Madness, and The Village People. The list, which was put together by the Communist Party’s youth wing, was distributed to bureaucrats in January 1985, two months before Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to the premiership. Banning the artists only helped to make them more popular in Russia, according to Alexei Yurchak, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, who unearthed the blacklist: “The measures proposed to curb the spread of Western music helped to create the conditions that enabled its further expansion.”

    • It takes a community

    Darryl Reano, honored with a ceremonial blanket at Purdue U.’s Native American Educational and Cultural Center upon his graduation, will start a Ph.D. program in geology and geoscience education this fall. Source: The Chonicle for Higher Education.

    The Las Cruzes Sun News reported on college graduation rates among Native Americans at New Mexico State University. Native Americans have the highest poverty rate of any group in the U.S., according to 2013 census figures. Many Native Americans who make it to college are the first in their families to attend. It also is the first time many Native Americans, particularly those who grew up on reservations, leave home. Many come from tight-knit communities where friends are also family members. Donald Pepion, an anthropology professor at New Mexico State University and member of the Blackfeet Indian tribe of Montana, says many Native students struggle with a “cultural value conflict.” Native people come from cultures that value groups — the family, the tribe — above the individual:

    “…In our roots, as a people…the self was not as important as the family…The broader cultural value of individualism can make college feel even more foreign. Many Native students often feel lonely because they can’t walk down the street to visit grandma or spend time with their aunts, uncles and cousins. Then there’s history: the centuries of war, disease, colonization, forced assimilation and discrimination that Native people carry with them today…In the face of all that, we’re still here…I think (Native Americans) are some of the most resilient people in the world.” (more…)