Anthro in the news 9/23/13

• Happy birthday to the Occupy movement

Zuccotti Park
Zuccotti Park/Wikipedia

This past week marked the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. On September 17, 2011, a small band of activists took over Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park until Mayor Michael Bloomberg cleared them out. An article in Businessweek notes that, in contrast to the thousands who packed the park in 2011, only around 100 people showed up for Tuesday’s anniversary at Zuccotti Park. Perhaps the movement is defunct. Businessweek reports that, recently David Graeber, professor of cultural anthropology at the London School of Economics, said that he is “taking a little time off” from the movement.

• Hearing voices and sometimes killing people

In an opinion piece for The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University writes about the rising “specter of violence caused by mental illness.” She emphasizes that the vast majority of people with schizophrenia never commit violent acts. In fact, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators of it.

The risk of violence from people with schizophrenia, she says, increases sharply when people have disturbing hallucinations and use street drugs. We also know that many people with schizophrenia hear voices only they can hear, and “They are often mean and violent.”

She asks “whether the violent commands from these voices reflect our culture as much as they result from the disease process of the illness.” The cultural construction of the messages of voices appears to be demonstrated by a comparative study Luhrmann is conducting with colleagues at the Schizophrenia Research Foundation in Chennai, India, to compare the voice-hearing experience of 20 people with schizophrenia in San Mateo, California, and 20 people in Chennai. While both groups of patients have much in common, the voices heard by patients in Chennai are considerably less violent than those heard by patients in San Mateo.


• U.S. health care reform and Amish people

WESA FM radio interviewed Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor of linguistic anthropology at the State University of New York at Potsdam, about the possible effects of the U.S. Affordable Care Act on Amish people:

Amish Country From A Distance
Amish country. Flickr/Beechwood Photography

“The Amish have from the beginning been excused from Social Security on the grounds that they would refuse to collect it that they practice their own kind of Social Security,” she said. Johnson-Weiner has been studying Amish culture for decades.

The Amish do not pay into Social Security and Medicare, and they do not receive benefits from those plans. They will also be exempt from buying insurance on the health exchanges.

• Human-chicken interactions focus of major grant in the U.K.

According to The Scotsman, a group of academics have been awarded a GPB2 million grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to launch an interdisciplinary study of Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions. The project will include researchers in cultural anthropology and archaeology as well as genetics and history. Commentary in the article includes this:

Chicken by Peter Harrison
Chicken. Flickr/Peter Harrison

“Of course, the whole mission has been blasted as being ‘bird brained’ by those often tiresome nitpickers at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, who noted that the amount of public money funding the ‘ridiculous’ project ‘isn’t chicken feed.’ But frankly, I’m disappointed they have cried ‘fowl’ in this intriguing endeavour. For what do chickens offer us but fundamental questions about the human condition? Which came first, the chicken or the TaxPayer’s Alliance?”

• Glass explorer

As a Ph.D. graduate research assistant studying archaeology and applied anthropology at the University of South Florida, Joseph Evans is using a high-tech device to transform both the classroom and the world around him. Google Glass, a tiny computer built into an eyeglasslike frame, is still in test mode. Evans is one of about 10,000 people nationwide selected to act as Glass Explorers.

As part of his doctoral dissertation, Evans plans to head to a dig site in central Mexico to document the imperiled stone monuments from the Olmec culture. With Glass’ video capabilities, his students will travel there, too: “I’m going to, in real time, show people what we are doing, how we are doing it and exactly what it means to discover something,” Evans said.

Glass also has many real world applications, Evans said. While attempting to make etouffee recently, he called his mom for help. Through Glass’ video technology, she was able to see the cooking process from Evans’ perspective and walk him through the steps he had forgotten.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…build a human resources management business and become a philanthropist supporting … cultural anthropology! Randy Freedman studied anthropology and archaeology at Cornell University and went to earn an MBA in human resource management from the University of Colorado. She said that her training as an anthropologist is very relevant in her career, which has included working in human resources at CIGNA (1983-89) and the National Farmers Union Insurance Co. (1978-83) and as executive director of the York Jewish Community Center (JCC).

At JCC, she was among a group of parents concerned about the lack of diversity in the local school district and its impact on minority students. She formed a Department of Diversity Programming at the center, which has grown to offer training programs on bias awareness, from racial and ethnic diversity to religious and gender identity, for educators throughout local school districts.

…become the co-owner of a start-up business with your adult child. When Nancy Burkhart, now 69, graduated in 1966 from UCLA with a degree in anthropology, she “wanted to save the world.” Today, with the help of her daughter, she feels as if she is doing that, in her own way. The two own and operate Earth Safe Finishes, a nontoxic paint and finishes company based in Moorpark, California, that they founded in 2007.

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