Anthro in the news 4/30/12

• Breivik trial in Oslo
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at Oslo University, figured prominently this past week in reports about the trial of Anders Behring Breivik which opened in Oslo last week. One issue revolves around the very conduct of the trial itself, as discussed in an article in the New York Times: the fact that the officers of the court took time to shake Breivik’s hand, offering courtesy and even deference to someone who had openly boasted of killing 77 people last summer. According to Eriksen, “The decency and openness of the trial is our defense against him.” Several media sources, including USA Today and the New Zealand Herald carried an article in which Ericksen comments that by treating the trial with “respect and decency,” Norwegians are showing defiance against Breivik by standing up for values at the core of their national identity. When Ericksen called Breivik “pudgy” in Norwegian media before the trial, Eriksen said some people took offense: “I received mail from people who said “you shouldn’t say that about his appearance. He has a mother. We have to treat him with respect.” In an interview with Eriksen that is videorecorded, he says that the self-confessed killer “…does not seem to be very successful in distinguishing between the virtual reality of World of Warcraft and other computer games, and reality.”

• The social life of AIDS
The New York Times published an extended review of a new book on AIDS in Africa by Craig Timberg, a journalist for The Washington Post, and Daniel Halperin, an epidemiologist and medical anthropologist. It leads with a quotation from physician/anthropologist/humanitarian activist Paul Farmer, who writes in “Partner to the Poor,” that “the failure to contemplate social and economic aspects of epidemics stunts our understanding of them.” The reviewer goes on to say that “Timberg and Halperin’s book constitutes a strong warning to those who would disregard the cultural specificities of those one is trying to serve, whether individuals or entire societies.”

• Military operations in Mali
After months of fighting in northern Mali, the Mouvement National de Libération de L’Azawad (MNLA) – National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad – declared an end to military operations. The rebels refer to the regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu in northern Mali as Azawad. However, following international and regional condemnation of the movement’s declaration of independence on 6 April, several factions have emerged, exposing deep divisions among several groups. Africa News carried an interview about the current situation and prospects for the future with three specialists in Tuareg issues including Naffet Keita, professor of anthropology at the University of Bamako.

• From the kula to Wall Street
An article in The Guardian discussed the contributions of several cultural anthropologists to understanding contemporary financial markets, noting that an “…anthropological perspective on how bankers function can help challenge our reliance on discredited neoliberal economics.” Specific mention was made to Karen Ho‘s work on the culture of Wall Street and Gillian Tett who has been hailed as “the most powerful woman in newspapers.”

• Norwegian king connecting to youth
Among current debates about Norway’s multiculturalism, King Harald V has sent a clear message by paying a visit to youths in Groruddalen. Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology at Oslo University, commented on the King’s fourth visit to the area in less than a month: “Groruddalen has long been considered as a stepchild in Norwegian society” and “The fact the King is travelling here at this time is a clear message from the Royal family about the kind of society they want…he is showing that he is king for all people.”

• Just a routine blood test
AW’s contributing blogger, Sean Carey, went in recently for a routine blood test. His test results are fine, but he came out with some observations on how routine blood tests are now conducted in the U.K., especially the implications for personal privacy vs. community. His comments, which include a nod to the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim, are published in The Guardian. Carey recommends that the NHS employ social anthropologists to make sure practices and policy changes do not have undesired results, including too much privacy.

• College student drinking
The Boston Globe covered an ongoing project at Dartmouth College in which some anthropology students are trying to figure out why many college students drink excessively.

• New book on older workers
The San Francisco Chronicle carried an article about a new book by Caitrin Lynch, associate professor of anthropology at Olin College of Engineering. Lynch examines a Boston-area company that seeks out older workers and finds in its unusual business model important lessons for a society in which workers increasingly find themselves employed beyond traditional retirement age. The book, Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory, is the result of five years of research, including joining the production line. “Retirees and older adults…simply want to continue to live and to be part of life, where life itself means community engagement and contribution,” writes Lynch, who notes the strong connection between work and personal identity in American society.

• Anthropology and degree-relevant jobs
Frank Bruni published an op-ed in the New York Times on the value of a college degree in the job market. Noting that, “…for a long time and for a lot of us, ‘college’ was more or less a synonym for success. We had only to go. We had only to graduate. And if we did, according to parents and high-school guidance counselors and everything we heard and everything we read, we could pretty much count on a career, just about depend on a decent income and more or less expect security. A diploma wasn’t a piece of paper. It was an amulet.” He then proceeds to “single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields — along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press.”

• Take that anthro degree and…
…and become a famous author. The Huffington Post published an interview with Jessica Maria Tuccelli, author of Glow. In response to this question: With a degree in anthropology and a background in acting, you bring a unique combination to the table. How do the two fields help the characters come to life? Jessica replies: “To quote Margaret Mead, ‘Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.’ The skills I acquired in my training at MIT and in the field allowed me to draw from my personal experience with the local people and transform that into the historical foundation and background for my characters. Acting allowed me to inhabit my characters. Perhaps it is an unconventional approach to writing, but it is vital to my method of creating for the page as well as the stage. Experience and imagination are like the reactants in a chemical equation, the writing is the product.”

• Early anthropology’s headhunting on display
A new exhibit in Dunquin, Ireland, will display photographs taken in remote parts of the west of Ireland between 1891 and 1900, in The Irish Headhunter exhibition. The pictures were taken by Dublin physician and anthropologist Charles R Browne, who was instrumental in developing anthropology in Trinity College Dublin’s anatomy department. Browne surveyed communities on the western seaboard, starting with the Aran Islands, using the anthropometric methods of the time to measure and then classify humans and racial types. “Alive or dead, the head of the Irish peasant was a source of intense interest to Browne and his associates,” writes curator Ciarán Walsh in his introduction to the exhibit.

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