Anthro in the news 11/21/11

• Understanding Afghanistan: how and for whom
The New York Times book review Sunday section carried a two-page review, with a color illustration, of three books on Afghanistan — two of them by cultural anthropologists: Noah Coburn’s Bazaar Politics, “the first extended study of an Afghan community to appear since the Taliban fell” and Thomas Barfield‘s “ambitious history.” The reviewer mentions the U.S. military’s demand for “local knowledge” and how American anthropologists are resistant to providing it. Nonetheless, cultural anthropologists’ expert knowledge of aspects of Afghanistan’s social life could help in ways not directly related to military activities. [Blogger’s note: stay tuned for another important book coming out in January 2012 co-authored by cultural anthropologist Magnus Marsden and historian Ben Hopkins].

• Impact: reducing poverty’s health burden through primary health care
Paul Farmer, physician and medical anthropologist, is a co-founder of Partners in Health and chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Farmer is one of the most prominently mentioned anthropologists in the mainstream media. In an op-ed this past week on sustainable health programs for the world’s poor, he writes: “Partners in Health, a nonprofit I’ve worked with for almost three decades, started by moving resources and primary care into a part of central Haiti where almost none existed. As TB, AIDS, cancer and other diseases emerged as leading killers, we did our best to combat them: Treating patients no matter the cause of the illness nor the cost of the remedy is what health-care workers are trained to do. Some of our AIDS and TB treatment efforts in rural Haiti and elsewhere achieved success rates rivaling those in hospitals in Boston. We witnessed another benefit: Delivering care for cancer, AIDS or multidrug-resistant TB improved a community’s general health. Fewer women died in childbirth, and infant mortality declined.”

• Advanced capitalism gets a look
AW’s contributor, Sean Carey of Roehampton University, published an article in the New Statesmen in which he offers insights into the worldwide demonstrations against bankers and capitalism in the world’s big economies: “Until recently, the world’s advanced economies had experienced nearly two decades of the biggest increase in prosperity in the history of mankind. This has been very fortunate for the majority of the population, especially those in the middle classes and above. As British anthropologist, Ernest Gellner, pointed out it in his acclaimed 1997 book, Nationalism, the material improvement in (most) people’s lives creates political and social legitimacy.” He goes on from there.

• Drug use in Manipur
A one-day seminar on the Impact of Drug Use in Manipur was jointly organized by the Department of Anthropology of Manipur University, India, and Community Network for Empowerment (CoNE). Speaking on the Social and Economic Impact of Drug Use in Manipur, M. C. Arun, a professor in MU’s dept of anthropology, said that the problems faced by the youth need to be addressed.

• American Anthropological Association considers ethics code revision
The Chronicle for Higher Education covered changes in the proposed new code with a focus on the “prime directive.” The previous code told anthropologists that they “have primary ethical obligations to the people, species, and materials they study and to the people with whom they work.” This means that an anthropologist’s obligation to the research population must override the goal of acquiring new knowledge. The proposed newer version has not yet been formally adopted. It explains that the primary ethical obligation is “to avoid doing harm to the lives, communities, or environments” that anthropologists study. “Dealing with ethics codes is complicated,” said cultural anthropologist David Price, a member of the committee charged with revising the guidelines and professor at Saint Martin’s University, in Washington. The word was echoed last week by fellow committee members at a panel on ethics at the annual meeting of AAA.

• Anthropology student among 32 Rhodes Scholars
Congratulations to all 32 winners including the “aspiring anthropologist“!

• Anthro degree leads to successful software business in Africa
According to an article in The Monitor (Kampala), Hans Verkoijen, the Executive Director of Crystal Clear Software Limited, says that the transformation that saw him turn into an entrepreneur was not easy. He studied social anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. He then worked as an accountant in the Netherlands and as an auditor in the microfinance sector in Burkina Faso before coming to Uganda to support the Uganda Women Finance Trust. After leaving UWFT, he saw an opportunity that would define the rest of his career. In 1998, he started Crystal Clear Software Limited. Today, it has over 300 clients from all over Africa. According to Verkoijen: “Loan Performer (the company’s signature software) is the leading micro-finance product in Africa, whether it is in the Sahara desert or deep in the bush in Congo, you will find organisations using our software.”

• Focus on the colonial camera
In the Telegraph (India), Malavika Karlekar, of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in New Delhi, writes about cultural anthropology’s use of photography. Her essay mentions the early British anthropologist, Sir E.B. Tylor and Bronislaw Malinowski. Malinowski is considered the founder of participant observation as the cornerstone method of cultural anthropology. According to Karlekar, Malinowski: “…used the camera extensively, often inserting himself into images.” Early reflexivity of a sort.

• Gullah heritage center in Charleston
During field studies for his master’s degree in anthropology in Kenya and Nigeria, Ade Offuniyin lived in communities where blacksmiths acted as spiritual leaders. That experience provided the inspiration for an artisan hub he hopes to create in Charleston, South Carolina, to express and maintain Gullah culture.

• Review of new biography of Claude Lévi-Strauss
The Independent carried a review of a biography of Claude Lévi-Strauss by Patrick Wilcken. The reviewer rates the biography as “superb.”

• Gold rush: digging up Buddhist treasure in Afghanistan
The Scotsman carried an article that would make Indiana Jones’ heart race: “The gold still glistened after a more than a thousand years underground; the gemstones glinted at their first touch of sunlight, undimmed by a millennium in the dirt. ‘It’s a necklace,’ said a Polish archeologist, breathless with excitement. ‘They’ve found a gold necklace!’ As the fine grey sand of Afghanistan’s sun-bleached mountains was gently sieved away, there was treasure in the pan: tiny golden orbs adorned with even smaller gold beads, tulip shaped pendants no bigger than a fingernail, red gemstones and swirling gold bowls, like acorn lids. Next to them were two spoons and a brooch made of copper, green from corrosion, and two copper hair pins embellished with gold.” Excavations at Mes Aynak, a Buddhist site, have unearthed more than enough to secure its place as one of the most significant archeological sites in a generation.

• Politics of archaeology in Egypt
Egypt’s prime minister, Essam Sharaf, has appointed a successor to Egypt’s controversial antiquities chief, archaeologist Zahi Hawass. Hawass was recently removed from office after a cabinet reshuffle. Abdel Fattah will become the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the position Hawass held before former President Hosni Mubarak elevated the council to a ministry. Since Mubarak’s demise, the ministry was changed back to a council.

• Neanderthals may have been done in by sex with humans
According to a computer simulation study of 1,500 generations, Neanderthals were not outsmarted by modern humans. They lost out by sleeping with them. “Neanderthals were not inferior to modern humans,” said Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Denver and co-author of the study published in Human Ecology.

• Those were the days: ancient Greek commercial area on Sicily
According to an article in Science Daily, an excavation on Sicily shows that the Greeks were not always in such dire financial straits as today. German archeologists have discovered a large commercial area from the ancient Greek era during excavations on Sicily. Led by Martin Bentz, professor of archeology at the University of Bonn, a team began unearthing one of Greek antiquity’s largest craftsmen’s quarters in the Greek colonial city of Selinunte (7th-3rd century B.C.E.) on the island of Sicily since fall 2010.

• Very large skull on a Peruvian mummy
A headline in the Daily Mail asks if a prehistoric mummy found in Peru is from an “alien” because the head is so large in proposal to the body.

• Domesticated soybeans older than you thought
Human domestication of soybeans has long been thought to have first occurred in central China around 3,000 years ago. Archaeologists now suggest that domestication occurred earlier and in several locations in East Asia. Lead author Gyoung-Ah Lee, an archaeologist at the University of Oregon, says that assumptions about soybean domestication have to be revised based on comparisons of 949 charred soybean samples from 22 sites in northern China, Japan and South Korea. The new study moves domestication back to around 5,500 years ago. “Soybeans appeared to be linked to humans almost as soon as villages were established in northern China,” says co-author Gary Crawford, professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Findings are presented in the online journal PLoS ONE.

• What it takes to make it
According to an article in the New York Times, muriqui monkeys of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil live in an egalitarian society. Among this endangered species that numbers only about 1,000, females are as muscular as males, so there is no threat of physical subjugation. Males do not compete to be alpha monkey and when it comes to mating, males tend to wait their turn instead of fighting. Karen Strier, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, has been observing muriquis for nearly 30 years. In the absence of a social hierarchy, she says that no individual male should be much more successful at reproducing than any other. To test this idea, she and a team recently used DNA analysis to determine who fathered each of 22 muriqui babies. Findings from the research appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It shows that some males had a slight edge. Why? Apparently, a male who has strong ties to his mother or lives with a sister or two has better chances of getting in line for fatherhood.

• Kudos
Rebecca Richards, the first Australian Aborigine to be a Rhodes Scholar, has been given the South Australian, Young Australian of the Year Award. She says the award honors her family, the Riverland and South Australia as well: “It’s recognition of how great South Australia’s young people are, and what a great future young people have in South Australia.” Richards is studying for a Masters in Anthropology at Oxford. She plans to bring her knowledge back to Australia, at the end of her scholarship, to work at the National Museum and in education.

Thomas W. Murphy, chair of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College, has been named the Washington Association of Conservation Districts’ Conservation Teacher of the Year. The award recognizes a K-12, college, technical or trade school educator in Washington state. He will now be considered for the National Association of Conservation Districts award.

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