Anthro in the news 1/2/12

• “Aid from abroad can sometimes help”
In a review in the New York Times of a book on recent Haitian history, the reviewer addresses the differing effects of external and internal factors in explaining Haiti’s current situation. Near the end of the essay, the author that “…aid from abroad can sometimes  help, as with the work of the estimable, Creole-speaking Dr. Paul Farmer and his Partners in Health Program…” Blogger’s note: Once again, Paul Farmer’s impact is noted without any mention of the fact that he is a cultural anthropologist. At least his Creole abilities made it into the article. That’s kind of anthro.

• Politics of culture in Indonesia
The Jakarta Post carried an article about a major “cultural project” the government is undertaking. It mentions anthropologist Jean Couteau’s criticism of the project for focusing only on Islamic and Malay traditions.

• New anthropology course at Columbia University on OWS
According to an article in CBS News, Columbia University will offer a new course next semester on Occupy Wall Street. The class will be run by the anthropology department and taught by Dr. Hannah Appel, a veteran of the Occupy movement. It will include class work at Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus and fieldwork requiring students to become involved with the Occupy movement. The course will be called “Occupy the Field: Global Finance, Inequality, Social Movement.” Blogger’s note: what would Governor Perry say?

• Debt relief as step number one
According to David Graeber, an anthropologist at Goldsmiths College of the University of London, the first act of many successful rebellions in history was to annihilate the records of debt owed. In his book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, Graeber describes how “cancelling the debts, destroying the records, reallocating the land, was to become the standard list of peasant revolutionaries everywhere”.

• A new age category: middle childhood
The Science section of the New York Times carried a front page article on “middle childhood” which researchers say begins around 5 or 6 years and ends with the teen years. It discusses findings from the September issue of the journal Human Nature. “Middle childhood has been very much overlooked until recently,” said David Lancy, an anthropologist at Utah State University and a contributor to the special issue, “which makes it all the more exciting to participate in the field today.” An underlying message is that there is something biological going on around the age of 5-6 years that enables children to be more like adults. Therefore, in many societies, boys and girls start take on some adult roles around this time such as sibling care, gathering wood, herding, or agricultural work. But taking on such tasks for “middle-aged children” is not universal, as demonstrated by the article about the Pumé, a foraging group in west-central Venezuela. Among the Pumé, preadolescent girls do little in terms of work, while their brothers do more. Girls chat with each other and do beadwork.

• Thinking like a Neanderthal
The New York Times carried a review of a new book, How to Think Like a Neandertal, by Thomas Wynn, an anthropologist, and Frederick Coolidge, a psychologist, both at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Their book goes beyond the physical evidence to speculate about Neanderthals. They suggest that Neanderthals were empathetic, possessed some language, were companionable, attached to family, able to plan ahead, and had impressive mechanical skills.

• Thinking like a chimpanzee
Not so dumb either, are wild chimpanzees according to new a study showing that chimpanzees monitor the information available to other chimpanzees and inform group members of danger. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of St. Andrews, Great Britain, set up a study with wild chimpanzees in Uganda. They found that chimpanzees were more likely to send an alarm call about a snake to unaware group members than to aware group members. Thus, they recognize awareness and unawareness in others, and they can share new information with others by means of communication.

• In memoriam
Khoo Khay Jin died in December in Penang, Malaysia. Khay Jin, a leading public intellectual, had an M.Phil. from Columbia University and spent a large part of his career (1975-1995) as a lecturer in anthropology and sociology in the School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang. He taught rural sociology and peasant societies, economic anthropology, Southeast Asian ethnography, the sociology of development, ethnic relations, social theory and the philosophy of social science. Khay Jin was a multi-talented person. He was a gifted child prodigy in mathematics and music, and played the piano in his younger days under the name of Philip Khoo.

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