Anthro in the news 3/18/13

• Going green for St. Patrick’s Day and more

The Pyramids and Sphinx on St. Patrick’s Day. (Courtesy of The Embassy of Ireland and Daily News Egypt)

Anthropologyworks’ Sean Carey published an article in The Guardian about going green for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. He discussed the trend to turn buildings and sites green through lighting or dye including  Berlin’s TV Tower, Cape Town’s Table Mountain, the Citadel in Jordan, Dubai’s Burj al Arab, the Empire State Building, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pyramids of Giza, the Sydney Opera House, and Niagara Falls. There was a request to the Queen that Buckingham Palace be turned green to mark the saint’s day (the answer was no). Tourism Ireland has recently discovered that royal bride and mother-to-be Kate Middleton has Irish ancestry: “We have an authenticated connection, with all the certificates and everything,” said Tourism Ireland’s chief executive Niall Gibbons. He promises to reveal details in the next few weeks.

• A less green note: Lessons from Chernobyl to Fukushima

Cultural anthropologist Sarah Phillips of the University of Indiana at Bloomington writes in CounterPunch: “The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused the deaths of approximately 16,000 persons, left more than 6,000 injured and 2,713 missing, destroyed or partially damaged nearly one million buildings, and produced at least $14.5 billion in damages. The earthquake also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s eastern coast. After reading the first news reports about what the Japanese call ‘3.11,’ I immediately drew associations between the accident in Fukushima and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 in what was then the Soviet Union…. I positioned the problem-riddled Chernobyl clean-up, evacuation, and reparation efforts as a foil, assuming that Japan would, in contrast, unroll a state-of-the-art nuclear disaster response for the modern age…surely a country like Japan that relies so heavily on nuclear-generated power has developed thorough, well-rehearsed, and tested responses to any potential nuclear emergency? Thus, I expected the inevitable comparisons between the world’s two worst nuclear accidents to yield more contrasts than parallels.” In fact, the author finds many parallels.

• What do you believe, and does it matter?

Tapestry is a radio feature of CBA Canada about modern spirituality. Its host Mary Hynes recently asked the question: What do you believe? A write-up of the program mentions Tanya Luhrmann, cultural anthropologist at Stanford University, and her recent book, When God Talks Back, Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. Hynes ackonwledges Lurhmann’s role in trying “to bridge the chasm between those who believe and those who find the concept of belief unfathomable…On the one side: those for whom belief is real, tangible and beyond question. On the other: those who regard belief with skepticism, hostility, confusion or bemusement. So, go ahead and ponder the question, ‘What do you believe?’ But spare a thought, too, for its corollary: Does it matter?”


• More on belief: A confusion of saints?

An image of St. Francis (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the University of Toronto).

An article in the Arizona Star Daily raised questions about the name “Saint Francis” and why the new Pope chose Francis as his name. The author ponders the connections between the name Francis and a possible confusion with Jesuits and Franciscans who apparently each have a Saint Francis [Blogger’s note: with apologies to my readers, I am a bit lost here myself].  The connection to anthropology in all this is some commentary by Bernard Fontana, retired University of Arizona anthropologist and ethnohistorian and leading expert on Jesuit-Franciscan history in the Southwest. [Blogger’s second note: the Saint Francis name choice is complicated, and I look forward to further clarifications].

• Museum exhibits in Pittsburgh on empowering women

Two exhibitions focus on how women around the world are taking charge of defining their lives. “Empowering Women: Artisan Cooperatives That Transform Communities” at Carnegie Museum of Natural History tells the stories of 10 groups in Africa, Asia, and the Americas that gain power through economic success. “Feminist And …” at the Mattress Factory Art Museum exhibits work by six women artists who challenge power. Sandra Olsen, curator of the Carnegie Museum show is quoted as saying:”The big story to be told about these women is what a difference they are making in their lives and in their families’ lives…” The positive results aren’t all monetary. As women gain status, there is a decline of rape in the community and of child marriages. Olsen is a cultural anthropologist and director of the Carnegie Museum’s Center for World Cultures.

• Throwing shoes at the anthropology of throwing shoes

Man on a park bench, Chicago 2006. (Courtesy Paul Goyette and Wikimedia Commons).

More ethnographic work on the culture of shoe-throwing is absolutely necessary, argues Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, in an op-ed published by Al Jazeera. Dabashi lobs several significant zingers at anthropological studies of “Middle Eastern culture,” notably Raphael Patai‘s book, The Arab Mind.  [Blogger’s note: Dabashi is right about the importance of the cultural meaning of shoes, especially their soles, as being connected with disgust and dirt…I learned about this when I first went to India as an undergraduate and did really stupid things with my sandals like putting them on the foot of my bed when the sweeper came to clean my room — he was appalled at my filthy habits. I still cringe when people here in America put their feet on a coffee table — shod or unshod. He’s also right about the problems with anthropologists’ writings about “the Arab mind.” I hope the new century brings better thinking and writing about the cultural meaning of shoes, insults, degradation, understanding, tolerance, and more ].

• Penis-snatching in the Central African Republic

[Blogger’s note: readers should first look at what a culture-specific syndrome is].  In an article in AlterNet, Louisa Lombard,  a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, recounts her visit to the village of Tiringoulou in the Central African Republic, where two men said their genitals had been stolen. She was surprised to encounter reports of penis-snatching in a village because this “crime” is normally confined to more populated areas, the Daily Mail reports. Lombard explains that the belief in “penis-snatching” is a manifestation of anxieties caused as villages grow into cities. So it is more common in larger population centers. “If penis stealing seems beyond-the-pale weird,” writes Lombard, “consider what people in Tiringoulou might think upon hearing of Americans who starve themselves near to death because their reflection in the mirror convinces them they are fat.” Click for her full article.

• Financial support for indigenous languages in Australia

ABC news Australia reports on a new Federal Government program that provides cash for maintenance and revival of indigenous languages. Anthropologist and linguist Murray Garde, research fellow at Australia National University,  welcomes the $14 million for language funding, though it is just a small proportion of the money set aside for the Commonwealth’s new National Cultural Policy. The National Cultural Policy, which includes more than $200 million to fund arts and culture, is the Government’s first such policy in almost 20 years.  Garde said the languages component  is “… a win-win for everyone because [it’s] based on good, solid, academic research…Aboriginal languages are good for everyone, whether or not you look at it from an economic point of view, or you’re looking at it from an identity point of view, community wellbeing, mental health, or even from a human rights perspective.”

• Anthropology and the interdisciplinarity movement

The Guardian (UK) carried an article about how: ‘Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword in academic research and education, but few universities are able to pay more than lip service to this concept. Indeed, the very nature of academia resists interdisciplinarity. We are trained to become experts on the most minute aspects of our subject, and are chastised for being too broadly focused or having too many interests.” The article provides a few sentences about Joe Henrich, an anthropologist, who uses game theory rather than the more traditional ethnography to elucidate cross-cultural differences in gift giving and human behavior. Apparently, Henrich has not been embraced either by researchers in cultural anthropology or other fields. “Many anthropologists felt threatened by this methodological promiscuity, finding it ‘unethical,’ ‘heavy-handed and invasive.” [Blogger’s note: referring to an ” interdisciplinarity movement” in the header is likely an overstatement; apologies for my enthusiasm].

• Yorkshire celebrates 100 years of Bollywood

Irna Qureshi (Source: Yorkshire Post).

An exhibition in Bradford, Yorkshire, U.K.,  of film posters reveals the rich and changing heritage of India’s Bollywood film industry. Bollywood produces hundreds of movies a year, and  it has recently secured the services of Kylie Minogue, Sylvester Stallone and Denise Richards. Yet, widespread views are that Bollywood movies are less worthy than movies made by the mainstream western film industry. The exhibition at Bradford’s National Media Museum challenges this view, telling the story of Indian cinema through iconic posters produced by the industry’s powerhouse studios. The exhibit is curated by anthropologist and Bollywood expert Irna Qureshi: “People think Bollywood is high melodrama, song and dance and not much more than that… it is those things, but it’s so much more. Bollywood stars are now crossing over into Hollywood movies and the crossover is happening the other way round. Bollywood is a massive industry with a huge worldwide appeal.”

• Come respectfully: When people become tourist attractions

An article in the Travel Section of The New York Times describes six days of sailing, exotic destinations, snorkeling, and memorable sunsets…as well as an unsettling experience with “human tourism”:  “The next day, Thaingar [the tour guide] had scheduled an early-afternoon stop at Bo Cho Island, a place I felt uneasy about after reading this description in the itinerary: ‘Observe the daily life of the almost extinct sea-Gypsies.’ This was a reference to the Moken, a nomadic ethnic group of about 2,000 that has lived on boats in the archipelago for at least 250 years. Expert divers and beachcombers, they roamed around the Andaman Sea subsisting on fish, sea cucumbers, mollusks and sandworms. But in the late 1990s, the government settled some Moken on Bo Cho Island…I felt foolish standing around the village in a sun hat during the hottest part of the day with no real reason to be there…Most of the adults observed us indifferently from small restaurants, boat-repair shops and thatched-roof homes with satellite dishes. But two women eventually motioned for me to come sit with them on their porch. We could not talk with each other, so I shared some of my old family photos from the 1980s that I had stored on my phone. Those caused some laughs…I felt torn about the visit. The zoo-like aspect of it was unsettling, but I also felt that skipping it would have meant taking a stance that basically said, ‘We love visiting all your beautiful beaches, but we’d rather not see the human impact of your formerly oppressive government’s policies.'” The author later contacted Jacques Ivanoff, an anthropologist who studies the Moken. Ivanoff said: “Even if I don’t really like it, if foreigners come respectfully and aren’t asking the Moken to recreate ceremonial traditions, maybe it means that more people will become aware.” Ivanoff fears that Myanmar’s Moken will meet the same fate as that of a population of Moken the Thai government settled in the Surin Islands who are now only a tourist attraction.

• Whose place is this?

Lake Hawea

Today ”the Neck” in New Zealand is known as not much more than a few steep bends on State Highway 6 between Wanaka and the West Coast. But this isthmus between Lakes Hawea and Wanaka has always been a sacred place to southern Maori. Two hundred years ago, a visitor to the Lake Hawea side of the Neck, north of the Lake Hawea township, would have found a Maori village called Manuhaea. Anthropology professor Peter Gathercole of the University of Otago recorded that 20 ”saucer-like” depressions thought to be house sites were seen in 1938. However, by 1956 they had been ”ploughed out” and since then the raising of Lake Hawea for hydro generation flooded the site of Manuhaea and the lagoon. This area may be accorded again the prominence it once had.

• Global Art Forum in Dubai

Dubai’s Global Art Forum is now the biggest annual art conference in the world. More than 40 prominent people are slated to participate including anthropologist Uzma Z. Rizvi. The forum also includes several commissioned projects and publications.

• Warning: This film may make you queasy

The Globe and Mail carried a review about a new documentary: “Leviathan is pure cinema verité pushed to a radical extreme: “Instead of one camera observing reality, scores of cameras – miniature HD models with tiny lenses – participate in reality, and force us, with queasy intensity, to join in. Queasy, because the subject here is a commercial fishing vessel bucking through the unforgiving Atlantic off the coast of New Bedford, Mass. – yes, the very port from which Melville set sail the doomed Pequod in Moby-Dick. The parallel is deliberate. Starting with its quote from Job, that patron saint of long-sufferers, the film is dark in tone and sobering in intention. Anyone who subscribes to the romance of the sea need not apply.” More about it from NPR. Co-directors are Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, anthropologists at Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab.

• Welcome to open access

The Chronicle for Higher Education reported that the American Anthropological Association  will convert the journal Cultural Anthropology to an open-access format, free of charge to anyone, as of January 2014. In addition to current material, the new format will provide a 10-year backlog. Duke University’s Charles Piot, professor of cultural anthropology and editor of  Cultural Anthropology, said that the move was unprecedented in this field: “I don’t know of any other [open-access journals] in the interpretive social sciences…”

• It’s about the people: Native California baskets reveal social relationships

A trade basket (Source: Eureka Times-Standard).

“Made for the Trade,” an exhibit at the Clarke Historical Museum in Eureka, Oregon,  brings together a collection of Karuk, Yurok and Hupa baskets that were created for sale, with the earliest examples from more than 100 years ago. Basketry made for the Arts and Crafts Movement between 1880 and 1929 has been relatively ignored within the scholarly literature until recently. The curators of this exhibit focus not on the ultimate purpose or destination of these commercialized baskets, but on the social processes that are created through weaving and circulation, exploring the relationships between the basket makers, dealers, anthropologists, and photographers. As you enter the gallery space, for example, you learn the story of Lila O’Neale, a University of California anthropologist, who in 1929 spent six weeks on the Klamath River, interviewing Yurok, Hupa, and Karuk basket weavers regarding traditional and commercialized baskets. Whereas many anthropologists of this era, including Alfred Kroeber, only researched and collected utilitarian, pre-contact basketry, O’Neale’s pioneer work in ethnoaesthetics paid r attention to the maker’s evaluations of basket weaving and the changes in the practice, which included “invented marks” and innovations in basketry types.

• Take that anthro degree…

…and become a successful novelist. Renata Adler, whose successful 1976 novel, Speedboat, has just been republished, earned a doctoral degree in Philosophy, Linguistics and Structuralism at the Sorbonne, where she studied with Claude Lévi-Strauss.

…and become a famous sculptor. Richard Nonas trained as an anthropologist, lived among Indians from the Mexican desert to Canada’s Yukon Territory, and then became a renowned minimalist sculptor. There will be an exhibit of his work in New York City, 55 Delancey Street, through April 21.

• Biophobia and anti-science: cultural anthropology not guilty as charged

Alan Goodman, biological anthropologist and professor at Hampshire College,  writes in the Huffington Post about how Napoleon Chagnon wrongly accuses cultural anthropology of biophobia, or a hatred of the discipline of biology, especially the sub-area of sociobiology and its approaches to explaining human behavior, and, more widely, an anti-science view:  “…critiques of sociobiology are neither biophobic nor anti-science. They are legitimate scientific practices. I hope we are ready to recognize and move past false charges of biophobia and anti-science. Anthropology today is an inclusive discipline that rests on respect for ethics, the people we work with and explanations that follow from evidence. Rather than navel gaze at false controversies, wouldn’t we prefer to learn about insights that come from paying close attention to the daily lives of diverse individuals and communities?”

• Let’s get together and talk about bigfoot

According to the Dallas News, the 12th annual Texas Bigfoot Conference took place last Saturday in Fort Worth: “Spurred on by blurry visuals, chilling audio, eyewitness testimonies and their own experiences, they’re determined to prove the validity of a thing largely considered mythological.” Fact: The U.S. Pacific Northwest accounts for about a third of all reported sightings, but they are otherwise spread around the continent. Texas ranks seventh in national sightings, according to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, the country’s largest such group. Among the speakers at the conference are Josh Gates of the SyFy channel’s Destination Truth, Idaho State University professor Jeff Meldrum (author of the book Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science) and U.S. Forest Service anthropologist Kathy Strain, author of Giants, Cannibals & Monsters: Bigfoot in Native Culture.

• Very old coins in Australia

An Indiana anthropologist is leading an expedition to find out how a handful of 1,000-year-old coins wound up on a beach on Australia’s northern coastline. Ian McIntosh of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis is using a grant from the Australian Geographic Society to take a team that includes a historian and an archaeologist to survey the site where the coins were found. An Australian soldier found the coins in 1944 on the Wessel Islands. Some are from the Dutch East India Company and some came from Africa.

• U.K. rock art endangered and what to do to save it

Chatton rock art (Credit: Image courtesy of Newcastle University).

Newcastle University experts say that urgent action is needed to prevent ancient art disappearing.  Writing in the Journal of Cultural Heritage Studies, they argue that, in addition to preservation efforts, understanding is needed about what causes rock art to deteriorate. Lead author of the article, Myra Giesen from the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) said: “Urgent attention is needed to identify those most at risk so the rock art can be saved and preventative steps can be taken, such as improving drainage around the panels. We are developing a toolkit so landowners can do this themselves. This is really important as they are the first line of defence.”

• Beer and civilization: the mis-use of archaeology

[Blogger’s note — with apologies, my voice permeates the following piece]. What must be a playful piece in The New York Times Sunday Review, takes some archaeological findings about the invention of beer (an alcoholic drink fermented from grain) in the Middle East as the foundation for “civilization.” The argument is: bear and wine allowed people some wiggle room from the “rigid social codes” that had made us human in first place: it “freed up” people from the “biological herd imperative” so we could create a “vibrant civilization.” The author, Jeffrey Kahn, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, is surely having some fun with the data. At one point, he gets more serious and reports that: “Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread. Brian Hayden and colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Canada provide new support for this theory in an article published this month (and online last year) in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory. Examining potential beer-brewing tools in archaeological remains from the Natufian culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, the team concludes that ‘brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic’ era.” Kahn goes on, ” Once the effects of these early brews were discovered, the value of beer (as well as wine and other fermented potions) must have become immediately apparent. With the help of the new psychopharmacological brew, humans could quell the angst of defying those herd instincts. Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds.” [Blogger’s question: So the only way to speak one’s mind or be creative — in our prehistoric past — was to be under the influence of alcohol?]

• Life and death before Twinkies

A new study of 137 mummies from around the world indicates that hardening of the arteries goes back to nearly 4,000 years ago. Many doctors and others have long assumed that hardening of the arteries — or atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes — was a disease of modern life. The new study suggests that hardening of the arteries may be a common, natural part of aging, said co-author Janet Monge, a biological anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania museum. More than one-third of the mummies sent through a CT scanner had calcification in their arteries. Findings are published in The Lancet. The mummies came from Egypt, Peru, the southwestern United States and the Aleutian Islands. [Blogger’s note: in terms of the entire sweep of human prehistory, 4,000 years is just a blink in time].

• Oh my, what big eyes you have

An article in ABC Science reports on the latest theory about the demise of the Neanderthals: their eyes (and eye sockets) were too big and led to an unfortunate organization of their large brains (which are as large, and sometimes larger than those of modern humans). Neanderthals’ bigger eyes and stocky bodies meant they had less room in their brains for the higher-level thinking required to form large social groups according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Neanderthals “would have required proportionately more neural matter” to maintain and control their larger bodies. So, it’s not the sheer size of the brain but its organization. [Blogger’s note: most scholars of human evolution equate growing brain size with growing intelligence and other capabilities; Neanderthals raise problems for this model since their brains were as large, or larger, than those of modern humans. This new explanation addresses the size problem by bringing in the organization factor thus keeping Neanderthal brains at a pre-modern level of capability].

• Kudos

Bruno Latour

The Board of the Ludvig Holberg Memorial Fund has awarded the 2013 Holberg International Memorial Prize to anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour. He will receive the prizes at an award ceremony in Håkonshallen in Bergen, Norway on June 5, 2013. Latour has been described by the Holberg Prize Academic Committee as a creative, humorous, and unpredictable researcher. The Academic Committee justifies the award for this year’s Holberg Prize by stating that “Bruno Latour has undertaken an ambitious analysis and reinterpretation of modernity, and has challenged fundamental concepts such as the distinction between modern and pre-modern, nature and society, human and non-human. (…) The impact of Latour’s work is evident internationally and far beyond studies of the history of science, art history, history, philosophy, anthropology, geography, theology, literature and law.” Latour is currently Professor at Sciences Po in Paris.

• In memoriam

Masao Yamaguchi died of pneumonia at a hospital in western Tokyo at the age of 81 years. After graduating from the department of Japanese history at the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Letters, Yamaguchi studied anthropology at the graduate school of (then) Tokyo Metropolitan University. He was head of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies’ Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, and president of Sapporo University. He also taught at the University of Paris as a visiting professor. He was among the 2011 Persons of Cultural Merit named by the government. Yamaguchi is known for the center and periphery concept based on his fieldwork in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, as well as his ethnological study on the role of tricksters.

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