Anthro in the news 3/24/14

• Flight 370 mystery shrouded in politics

An article in Firstpost reviewed several puzzles involved in the missing Malaysia Airline Flight 370, and discussed how various theories implicate Malaysian politics.

It suggests that unchallenged power has bred political apathy and inefficiency. In terms of the stumbles over the missing plane search, the article quotes Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales, who says that the government “lacks the ability to handle many technical matters with assurance and to communicate its purposes globally with clarity and agility.”

• From Haiti: After all, what has been done for us?

The Montreal Gazette carried an article about a new documentary film, Ayiti Toma, The Land of the Living.

It explores the problem of outsiders trying to aid Haiti without truly knowing Haiti. Montreal filmmaker Joseph Hillel’s film opens with a “full-frontal assault” on the role of international aid in helping Haiti. The article mentions anthropologist Ira Lowenthal, who says that the United Nations and other institutions are, “not focused on bettering Haiti.”

Echoing, even more forcefully, Lowenthal’s view is the comment from a man in one of the many neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince hit hard by the 2010 earthquake: “…what has been done for us? Absolutely nothing.”

• From India’s tea pickers: What has fair trade done for us?

The Economic Times (India) carried an article describing fieldwork-based findings about how the fair trade movement is not helping tea pickers in India.

A billboard for Darjeeling tea/Sarah Besky
A billboard for Darjeeling tea/Sarah Besky

Sarah Besky, assistant professor of anthropology and natural resources and environment, at the University of Michigan, spent three years from 2007-2010 doing participant observation on the tea plantations in Darjeeling, West Bengal. She talked with workers, plantation owners and area activists.

Besky said the most-prized first-flush tea leaves — designated SFTGFOP, meaning “Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe” — sell for more than USD 60 for eight ounces. The field workers who pick the delicate leaves earn just over a dollar for a full day’s work, she said.

“But ironically, fair trade and other programs that purport to provide justice to plantation workers in the age of global ‘ethical consumption’ are not having much effect in providing justice to the tea pluckers…” she said. “Women in Darjeeling are keenly aware of the irony that they produce some of the world’s most expensive tea yet get paid a minuscule fraction of what this tea fetches abroad.”

• The Isan of Thailand: Silent no more

Finding Their Voice: Northeastern Villagers and the Thai State
Book cover

Cultural anthropologist Charles Keyes, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Washington, has published, Finding Their Voice: Northeastern Villagers and the Thai State

According to a review in The Bangkok Post, this book is a “…brilliant survey of the cultural and political history of the Isan region.

Keyes tells the story from the micro-viewpoint of the village and the macro-level of the region.” Keyes first did research in the area in the 1960s when the village was self-sufficient though poor. Now, Keyes describes the new political assertiveness of Isan as part of Thailand’s transformation, “into a pluralist polity in which diverse interests are accommodated through a democratic system.”

• Anthropology of homesickness

Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys
Book cover

The Jerusalem Post carried an article about a new book, Traveling Heavy, by Ruth Behar, the Victor Haim Pereira Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

Behar, born in Havana, is a “Sephardi-Ashkenazi Cuban-American multi-breed.” The book, a kind of memoir, portrays Behar’s life as an immigrant child and then as an adult who loves to travel but is terrified of boarding a plane. Behar calls herself an anthropologist who specializes in homesickness — she asks why we leave home to find home.

• Birds, people, and landscape in Malta

The Times of Malta announced a talk by Mark-Anthony Falzon on March 26 titled “Cherchez l’oiseau: Birds, Hunting and Landscape in Malta” at the University of Malta.

His presentation will draw on ethnographic fieldwork in Malta during the past four years studying birds and hunting as part of Maltese cultural and landscape. He will explore themes of multi-sensory landscape, the trouble with biophilia, transformations of the landscape for hunting and trapping, the contestation and moral evaluation of transformed places, and the Maltese countryside as a site of surveillance and counter-surveillance tactics. Falzon holds a doctorate in social anthropology from Cambridge University and is the head of the University of Malta’s Department of Sociology.

• Reactions to First Kiss video

Cognitive and pop anthropologist Bob Deutsch published an article in Huffington Post about positive and negative reactions to the “First Kiss” video produced by the Wren Clothing Company.

It shows 10 couples, people who were strangers to each other, kissing for the first time. The video was made to display Wren’s fall fashion collection, items of which were worn by the kissers.

The video has attracted tens of millions of views on YouTube. Why? Deutsch looks at the positive factors: soft porn, the need for intimacy in the “24/7 on” world, and wish fulfillment.

• Take that anthro degree and…

…become head of planning of Planning, Building and Environmental Services in Napa County, Calif. David Morrison, with a staff of 72 and an annual budget of $10.7 million, oversees planning, building, development, environmental health, conservation, engineering, parks and open space.

He has a bachelor’s degrees in economics and anthropology and a master’s degree in city and regional planning, both from Fresno State University. Morrison says: “Napa County is the birthplace of agricultural protection in California and has long been a leader in managing land uses consistent with local values … I am honored to be a part of creating solutions to meet the challenges that face our community…”

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