Anthro in the news 7/12/10

• One year after: return to repression in Honduras
Speaking from Honduras during a march of democracy protestors in the capital, professor Adrienne Pine, a cultural anthropologist at American University in Washington, DC, is quoted in the Huffington Post: “We’ve…returned to the 1980s, when death squads killed several hundred people…they’re using the same repressive strategies….Even the same people are in charge.” And what is the US position in terms of human rights?

• Not such a shura thing
Shura is the word for a meeting of village elders (men) in Afghanistan. NATO military frequently organize shuras to explain their intents and operations. The elders appear and make a case for their interests. Brief footage of shuras in the film Restrepo shows that people on the two sides totally speak past each other. An article in the Christian Science Monitor quotes cultural anthropologist Thomas Barfield: “Communications at any point is a good thing. [But] having them in the midst of combat operations is a bit like talking about fire safety when the fire engines have arrived — most attention on both sides is focused elsewhere.” If you’ve seen Restrepo, just think about the dead cow.

• Drug trials as a way of life
Phase I drug testing on prisoners was banned in the United States in the 1980s. Since then, financial incentives for participation by “volunteers” have produced a stream of participants as well as debate about the ethics of the system in terms of whether or not volunteers have sufficient information about potential risks. An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education profiles the research of cultural anthropologist Roberto Abadie on this topic and his new book, The Professional Guinea Pig: Big Pharma and the Risky World of Human Subjects. Abadie, now a visiting scholar in the health sciences program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, spent a year living in youth hostels and group hotels in Philadelphia to learn about why people volunteer for clinical trials and their experiences in and after the trials. One finding: volunteers underestimate their risks. Read the article for more.

• Making a difference
Dame Joan Metge is a Paheka, a white outsider living in New Zealand with many honors to her name including being an honorary member of the Te Rarawa. She is a also a cultural anthropologist and tireless advocate for the Maori people and for better relations between the Paheka and the Maori. The New Zealand Herald carried an article about her and her new book, Tuamaka: The Challenge of Difference in Aotearoa New Zealand.

• Real men don’t like shopping
An oped in the Times (London) gave a shoutout to cultural anthropologist Kate Fox and her book, Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior. She wrote that shopping, in England, is a female skill, and for men, being good at shopping lowers your manliness quota.

• Channelling Sir Herbert Risley
The 1901 Indian Census systematically attempted to count all “castes” throughout British India and record their population. This effort was led by Sir Herbert Risley, a British colonial anthropologist. His legacy lives on in a new report, “Caste in the United Kingdom”.

• Let’s go England: archaeo dates pushed back again
It was very cool in England then, even cold. But archaic humans made the trek out of Africa to… Norfolk. There they were with their flint tools, 800,000 years ago at Happisburgh (pronounced HAZE-bura). Supporters of this new date include researchers Simon Parfitt and Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum and Nick Ashton of the British Museum. A leading skeptic is Richard Klein of Stanford University, notorious for resisting date push back.

• Could we perhaps assume kindness
Selfishness and cruelty, in the Darwinian-informed world, need no explanation. They are rational and logical forms of behavior as individuals struggle to the top of whatever pyramid they have made for themselves. Frans de Waal, primatologist at Emory University, writes against the grain and is a good choice for the New York Times review of the new book, The Price of Altruism. He ends his review by saying, “This is a book for anyone interested in the question, first posed by Darwin himself, of how we ended up with so much kindness in a natural world customarily depicted as ‘red in tooth and claw.’

• Better than sex
Now that bonobos are becoming a bit more known, it’s time to correct their image as just all about sex. The New York Times provides an interview with Brian Hare, assistant professor at the Duke University Institute for Brain Sciences, and Vanessa Woods, research scientist in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and author of Bonobo Handshake. So what’s better than sex? I’ve read the interview several times, and I am not sure whether the answer is sharing food, females sticking together in the face of male aggression, or refusing to “grow up” and becoming selfish. Could be a winning trifecta.

• LOL a long time ago
Who had the first laugh? Humor in human prehistory was addressed at the EuroScience Open Forum in Turin, Italy. Tom Flamson, who recently completed his PhD in anthropology at UCLA and is an adjunct professor at Santa Monica College, noted that humor is a human universal. Thus, according to evolutionary biology, there must be an adaptive reason for it. The imputed answer: joking ability is a sign of mental fitness and a factor in female selection of male mates (apologies if I have any of this wrong–I am working from the media coverage only, always a risk). And the data? According to the article in the Irish Times, brain-scan studies show that women react more positively to humor than men do. Blogger’s note: Sounds to me like we have a long way to go in terms of generating hard data on funny stuff. I hope my tax dollars don’t pay for it, though I would rather pay for humor studies than for one nail in one wing of a Drone.

• Appointments
David Shankland, reader in social anthropology in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University has been appointed Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Brian Gilley, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Vermont, will be the first director of First Nations Educational and Cultural Center at Indiana University Bloomington.

One thought on “Anthro in the news 7/12/10

  1. Pingback: Roberto Abadie investigates the world of ‘professional guinea pigs’ | Somatosphere

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