Anthro in the news 12/16/13

• Understanding the fragility of African states

The recent French interventions in Libya and Mali, and the most recent one in the Central African Republic, raise the question of the very existence of the state on the continent according to Jean-Loup Amselle, an anthropologist and director of Studies at the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in Paris.

Marcel Mauss. Flickr: Les bibliothèques de l'UPEC.

In an article in Worldcrunch, Anselle refers to classic studies by anthropologists that identified the existence in precolonial times of two types of societies: state societies represented by kingdoms and empires, and segmentary lineage societies, organized in tribes.

He states that the former’s characteristics are very different from those of the rational bureaucratic state, which one can observe nowadays in most developed countries.

For example, the Malian state machinery, like that of many other African countries, is “riddled by networks that feed on the range of resources available on the continent: mining and oil as well as international aid and drug trafficking.” The functioning of such networks is based on Marcel Mauss‘ theories of reciprocity and gift exchange, set out in his 1924 essay The Gift.

• G8 aid pledge for nutrition in developing countries

In June, the G8 Nutrition for Growth Summit pledged a landmark $4.15 billion to combat malnutrition in the developing world, the largest sum ever pledged to support nutrition. Nevertheless, a pledge is just a pledge, and a key step is to ensure the committed funds are realized. Then comes the implementation.

An article from Think Africa quotes Elizabeth Hull, a nutrition specialist and anthropology lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies, as noting that the funding compact contains “a strong emphasis on private-sector principles such as value for money and so on … The approach promoted seems to be very ‘outcomes’ focused.”

[Blogger’s note: six months after the pledge of $4.15 billion, it appears that only a fraction of that amount is actually a secure commitment; and experts say that even the full pledge level is far short of what is needed to solve malnutrition in low income countries].

• “The thieving craft” redeemed

From left: Mowarra Ganambarr Ḏätiwuy Thunderman and shark site, Arnhem Bay; Nänyin’ Maymuru Djarrakpi; Mundukul Marawili Fish trap, Baraltja. Berndt Museum of Anthropology, Perth

A review in the Australian of a new exhibit, “Yirrkala Drawings,” in Sydney praises the richness and beauty of art works displayed and provides some context of how they were collected.

Cultural anthropologist Ron Berndt conducted fieldwork in Arnhem Land, one of the five regions of Australia’s Northern Territory, in the early-mid twentieth century. His goal was the creation of a record of clan beliefs and the links between place and story-cycle. At the same time, he collected many drawings and marked down the drawings with numerals referring to expositions about them in his notebooks.

This is the first formal display of the large body of the drawings in an exhibition context, allowing for their full originality to be explored, and taken in. The principal scholar of Yolngu art history, Howard Morphy, professor of anthropology and director of the Research School of Humanities and the Arts at the Australian National University, offers an account of the works and their visual grammar in a catalog essay. Thus anthropology, that “thieving craft,” in this case, in some way, redeems itself by preserving and documenting art once taken away. Yirrkala Drawings is at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney until February 23, 2013.

• Take that anthropology degree and…

…become New York City’s deputy mayor for health and human services. Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who was born in Mexico, graduated from Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City in 1971 and received a doctorate in anthropology from the New School in 1978. She has served in three NYC administrations over four decades. Most recently, Bloomberg tapped her to lead the Department of Aging. She has also led the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Employment and its human resources administration.

…become a literary agent and launch your own company. Literary agent Anna Ghosh began her career as a literary agent in New York in 1995 and most recently was a partner there at Scovil Galen Ghosh. Her client list has included authors on The New York Times’ bestsellers list and winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Guggenheim and other awards. She studied cultural anthropology and literary journalism at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and then pursued liberal studies at The New School for Social Research in New York. She is now moving from New York to California to launch her own company.

Flowerland Albany, CA/Facebook

…become a social justice advocate and community organizer. Jaime Valdivia volunteered with the Social Justice Fund on racial and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer issues and with the Seattle Young People’s Project where she now works as a co-director, teaching marginalized communities how to organize and raise money. She attended the University of Washington on a scholarship from the Gates Foundation, graduating in 2009 with a degree in anthropology and women’s studies. She grew up in Yakima and Wapato, Washington. Her father was a farmworker from Mexico and her mother a warehouse worker who struggled financially after her divorce.

…become the owner of a destination gardening/coffee shop near San Francisco, California. A fixture on Solano Avenue since the 1940s, Flowerland Nursery has been undergoing a quiet but dramatic makeover since being taken over by Carly Dennett in 2008.

After earning her anthropology degree, she took some horticulture classes and started working as a gardener, even taking care of East Bay wine luminary Kermit Lynch’s estate. When the opportunity to be the third-ever owner of the Flowerland presented itself, Dennett jumped on it, and since then Flowerland has evolved into its current iteration as a destination nursery.

• A theory of collapse may collapse

Mara Mulrooney

According to a Huffington Post article, Mara Mulrooney is casting doubt on Jared Diamond’s famous assertion that the people of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island (a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean) committed “environmental suicide.”

Mulrooney, assistant anthropologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, spent six years collecting and analyzing radiocarbon data to show how the people of Rapa Nui sustained themselves before and after the first European discovery in 1722. She claims that the data paints a picture not of resource decimation but rather of “sustainability and continuity.”

Mulrooney goes so far as to say that “perhaps Rapa Nui should be the poster-child of how human ingenuity can result in success, rather than failure.”

• Alaska’s prehistoric shorelines and settlements

KRBO Radio of South Juneau, Alaska reported on a long-term research project mapping the first settlements of more than 10,000 years ago. The early residents, the Tlingit Indians and their predecessors, lived along these constantly shifting shores. Dan Monteith, an anthropology professor at the University of Alaska South Juneau, is a member of the research team.

• Very old couch potatoes

Couched in Death
Book cover

The New York Times published an article highlighting a new book on ancient Turkish tomb furniture titled, Couched in Death: Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond by Elizabeth P. Baughan, an associate professor of classics and archaeology at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

In her book, Baughan describes how corpses were found as if relaxing on daybeds during feasts. Klinai (pronounced KLEE-nye), meaning beds or banquet couches, were possibly used with the idea of equipping the deceased with luxury in the afterlife and recording for posterity that the occupant ranked “as an elite banqueter.”

Baughan analyzes couches and their images on vases and sculptures in widely scattered museums and excavations. Headrests, armrests, seats and legs were among the items plated with gold and silver, inlaid with ivory and amber, and carved and painted with volutes, sphinxes, hooves and flowers.

• And we think we’re so smart

Over the centuries, humans have assumed themselves to be the most intelligent beings on the planet, as noted in an article in The Independent covering some recent new (and intelligent) thinking on the subject of cognitive skills of animals.

Scientists at the University of Adelaide argue that emerging evidence suggests some animals actually have cognitive faculties that are superior to those possessed by human beings. Maciej Henneberg, a professor of anthropological and comparative anatomy at the School of Medical Sciences, highlighted the different abilities of animals that are misunderstood by humans:

“The fact that they may not understand us, while we do not understand them, does not mean our ‘intelligences’ are at different levels, they are just of different kinds. When a foreigner tries to communicate with us using an imperfect, broken, version of our language, our impression is that they are not very intelligent. But the reality is quite different.”

• Speaking of smarts … pick of 2013

For its second annual feature “The Wired Smart List,” Wired magazine asked 50 leading thinkers to choose one emerging talent whose ideas or influence they think will soon be part of our lives. Jane Goodall, the only anthropologist queried, selected Itai Rothman, an anthropologist focusing on human-primate relationships:

“I am recommending Itai because I really like the way his mind works. He has an unusual way of thinking about things, extraordinary persistence in finding ways to attain his goals, and deep commitment and passion. I met him when he was fighting to save an endangered toad — he created a whole new protected area in Israel as a result. His current research is learning about the unknown and intriguing life of cave-dwelling chimpanzees in Mali. With his usual quick grasp of possibilities, he also began interviews with the local Maninka tribespeople to discover their relationship with the chimps. Already, he has made fascinating discoveries. And, despite lack of funds, he’s developed a partnership with the zoo for the betterment of the three chimps there. I think that he will go far in anthropology.”

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