Anthro in the news 2/4/13

• Violence in Africa begins with greed

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Kamari Maxine Clarke, professor of cultural anthropology at Yale University, argues that violence in Africa is rooted in greed, related to contested and highly desired natural resources, and corporate greed should be considered a war crime:

Gold dollar symbol
Gold dollar symbol/Wikipedia

“Violence in Africa begins with greed — the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil diamonds and gas — and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities. The court needs the power to punish those who profit from those struggles. So do other judicial forums.

At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses.”

• Legal decision in Guatemala that genocide is genocide

According to an article in The New York Times, a Guatemalan judge ordered Efraín Rios Montt, the former dictator, and his intelligence chief to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres of highland Maya villagers three decades ago.

President Otto Pérez Molina, a former general, says he does not believe that the killings during the war amounted to genocide. A UN truth commission determined that the military had carried out “acts of genocide,” including in the Maya-Ixil villages during the war, in which 200,000 people died. As a legislator until last January, Mr. Rios Montt was protected from prosecution. Prosecutors filed charges when his term expired, but his lawyers’ appeals delayed the case.

Guatemala CIA World Factbook
Guatemala/CIA World Factbook

Scholars of Guatemala said that a number of factors combined to get the case to court, including the tenacity of the attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, and successful efforts to appoint more independent judges.

Victoria Sanford, an anthropology professor at the City University of New York who has written about Guatemala’s civil war, is quoted as saying: ”For Rios Montt to be tried breaks the wall of impunity … It says genocide is genocide and it is punishable by law.”

• Crash course in blood football

The Toronto Star carried an article about how “the concussion issue threatens to sack NFL’s business model” given the impending threat to profits from brain injury lawsuits.

As context, the article points out: The National Football League brought in more than $9 billion in revenue in 2012, and tickets to its showcase event, this weekend’s Super Bowl, range from $850 to $1,250, and even more trough the online resale market. Meanwhile, corporations advertising on Sunday’s game paid a record $3.8 million (U.S.) for a 30-second slot. The NFL is the undisputed king of cash among North American pro sports.

Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, 2006/Wikipedia
Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, 2006/Wikipedia

But as the money piles up, so do lawsuits and workers compensation claims filed against the league and its teams by former players, who say they suffered irreversible brain injuries while playing in the NFL, and that the league and its teams never informed them about the lasting effects of football’s repeated head trauma.

Duke University cultural anthropology professor Orin Starn wonders if the legal action will lead to similar efforts to raise awareness among football players and fans: “Football is in the same situation; they’ve got a product that’s hazardous to your health,” says Starn, who specializes in the anthropology of sport. “It should come with a warning label stamped on the helmet. America is in massive denial about the blood cost of football.”

• Waiting for motherhood

An article in The Scottish Daily Record called “Why I’m glad I left it late to be a mum,” looks into “later motherhood,” when women have children in their late 30s and 40s. Several interviews with older mothers in Scotland indicate that, rather than getting bogged down in the fears over being an older mother, women embrace the changes.

Andrea Cornwall, professor of anthropology and development at Sussex University, said: “Faced with so much pressure to have it all, younger women have to navigate a minefield of expectations in figuring out when and whether to have a child. When they do have children, there’s a lot of constant juggling of career and childcare, and niggling resentments as once-equal relationships are frayed with the encroachment of gender gaps in pay, in domestic labour and in self-esteem. Not so the older woman.”

• Living in a post-cash world

The Los Angeles Times carried an article about shopping without cash but, instead, using mobile payment through iPads and other devices.

Square founder Jack Dorsey, right, makes a purchase in December at the Fizzary in San Francisco. The business uses his company’s mobile payment technology with an iPad. (Peter DaSilva, For The Times)
Square founder Jack Dorsey, right, makes a purchase in December at the Fizzary in San Francisco. (Peter DaSilva, For The Times)

In 2012, 36 percent of online consumers with mobile phones said they would be open to making this kind of a payment in a store. UC Irvine cultural anthropology professor Bill Maurer said Square has leaped ahead of competitors by using existing technology to create payment systems that blend into the background.

It also took advantage of existing consumer behavior, swiping credit cards, rather than asking consumers to learn a whole new way of paying for something. And it targeted an underserved niche: businesses that couldn’t take credit cards.

• Cultural heritage destruction in Mali — and nothing creative about it

Several media sources covered the destruction of material culture in Timbuktu by Islamist militants fleeing the French-led assault in Mali, including burning a library of ancient African manuscripts. The torching of the library, confirmed by Timbuktu Mayor Ousmane Halle to news agencies, followed the destruction last year of more than 300 ancient tombs that the militants deemed un-Islamic and smaller fires in which residents said they saw manuscripts burned.

Scholars had only recently begun to catalog and scan Ahmed Baba’s vast trove of documents, hoping to gain insight into issues including ancient people’s response to climate change and the genesis of a more liberal, tolerant strain of Islam in West Africa. The article quoted Douglas Park, a visiting anthropology lecturer at Rice University: “If all the manuscripts are destroyed, it would represent the greatest loss of the written word in Africa since the destruction of the library in Alexandria.” [Blogger’s note: the header for this piece derives from a recent book titled Creative Destruction by economist Tylor Cowen].

• Ethnographers wanted for business and development

In an opinion piece in The Financial Mail (South Africa), development economist Rabelani Dagada, who is based at the Wits Business School, argues for the importance of training Ph.D.s in ethnography (cultural anthropology):

“I recently read about a young researcher who spent 10 years in rural Punjab in Pakistan, conducting ethnographic research for his Ph.D. However, on completion of his doctorate he relocated to India to take up a research position … The choice faced by this young researcher has implications for [South Africa] … if a country is to remain competitive in the knowledge economy, it needs to retain its researchers … Relevant arms of government, including the departments of science & technology and higher education & training, should be working with the National Research Foundation on implementing measures to facilitate PhD opportunities. Both government and private companies should invest heavily into research and development. Researchers in corporate environments should also be encouraged to have master’s degrees and Ph.D.s to drive innovation.”

• Kerry Washington uses her anthropology education

The Advertiser (Australia) writes about how “…Kerry Washington doesn’t do in-betweens. In Django Unchained, she plays a slave, whipped and degraded by a white plantation owner.” She didn’t just read the lines that Tarantino wrote for Broomhilda, the wife that drives Jamie Foxx’s Django on his mission of revenge; she dived head first into America’s slave history.

“I like to approach my work as a social scientist,” says Washington, who studied anthropology, sociology and psychology at George Washington University. “The goal as an actor is to `go native’, so I read most of the slave narratives, I read a lot of novels that take place during the time.”

• A moment of truth is near: is Richard III buried under the parking lot or not?

Tomorrow could be a landmark moment in British history. If the skeleton of a man found with an arrowhead embedded in his curving spine, dug from beneath a Leicester council car park in September last year and now lying in the city’s university lab, is identified as that of King Richard III, the implications will be enormous.

The University of Leicester, which is leading the search, refuses to speculate on what the announcement will say. But archaeologists, historians and local tourism officials are all hoping for confirmation that the monarch’s long-lost remains have been located.

The parking lot where the skeleton was found/Leicester Mercury
The parking lot where the skeleton was found/Leicester Mercury

“If it is Richard III we would know an awful lot about his death and burial,” says professor Lin Foxhall, head of Leicester University’s Archaeology Department, which lead the dig. “We would have hard, hard evidence to compare against the various historical accounts.”

The scientific team has been on “lock-down” in case the results of the investigation are leaked before the official announcement, but Foxhall hinted that the department was “very excited”. She’s optimistic that there are sufficient pieces of the puzzle in order for them to reach a “meaningful conclusion.” All of this will be detailed in a film-length Channel 4 documentary in which a host of scholars and scientists have been invited to present their case.

• Aztec imperialism and genetic change

The Aztecs who conquered the city of Xaltocan in ancient Mexico around 1435 may have fundamentally changed the genetic makeup of the people who lived there, new research suggests.

The study, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, showed that maternal DNA from 25 residents of Xaltocan prior to the conquest did not match that found after. The findings may shed light on a long-standing debate over whether the original Otomi people who lived in Xaltocan before the conquest either abandoned the site or were assimilated into Aztec life.

“We’re telling a story that’s more complicated and nuanced,” said study author Lisa Overholtzer, an archaeologist at Wichita State University in Kansas. “We don’t think there was a population replacement but we do think there was a demographic shift associated with the Aztec conquest.”

• Qatar-Sudan relations: Qatar to support Sudanese material cultural heritage

Sudan and Qatar have signed an agreement to preserve and develop monumental sites in Sudan. The project will include Nuba monuments in Northern State and rehabilitate 27 archaeological sites, including the Al-Bajrawiyah pyramids. The minister of supreme council for investment, Dr. Mustafa Uthman Ismail, expressed his appreciation for the significant role played by Qatari projects in Sudan and stressed the desire to attract many Arab investments to Sudan. Dr. Ismail called for the need to activate the role of tourism investment because of Sudan’s huge tourism resources, reiterating that the year 2013 will be a year of investment in Sudan. [Blogger’s note: here is a link to a photo gallery on the Al-Bajrawiyah pyramids].

• Marital sex and men’s housework don’t mix

Several mainstream media sources picked up on a recent finding that husbands who do more housework also have sex less often with their wives than “traditional” husbands do.

According to CBS News, “findings suggest the importance of socialized gender roles for sexual frequency in heterosexual marriage,” lead author Sabino Kornrich, junior researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, said in a press release. “Couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks — such as yard work, paying bills, and auto maintenance — report higher sexual frequency.”

The study, which was published in the February edition of the American Sociological Review, surveyed 4,500 heterosexual married U.S. couples from 1992 to 1994. The new study contradicts other recent studies which suggest men can ”trade” extra work in the home and expect more sex as ”payment.” In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald, professor Ruth Mace, an evolutionary anthropologist at University College London, is quoted as saying: ”Sex and housework are notoriously difficult areas to get data on.” The fact is that people lie about, or at least misremember, how much housework they do almost as much as they lie about the amount of sex they are having. [Blogger’s note: not to mention that things may have changed in the study population since the 1990s, and perhaps helpful husbands are now multi-tasking more effectively].

• It takes three (or more) to tango: Evolutionary anthropologists reconsider polyandry

An article in The Atlantic addressed research on polyandry by evolutionary anthropologists that was published in a recent paper in Human Nature.

The co-authors are Katherine Starkweather, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri, and Raymond Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska. While earning her masters under Hames’ supervision, Starkweather surveyed the literature and found anthropological accounts of 53 societies outside of the “classic polyandrous” Tibetan region that recognize and allow polyandrous unions including “among foragers in a wide variety of environments ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, and to the desert.”

Recognizing that at least half of the polyandrous groups are foraging societies, and that such groups may be similar to our ancestors, then “it is probable that polyandry has a deep human history.” Rather than treating polyandry as a mystery to be explained away, Starkweather and Hames suggest polyandry constitutes a variation on the common, evolutionarily-adaptive phenomenon of pair-bonding that may respond to particular environmental circumstances.

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