Anthro in the news 11/17/14

  • A taste for service and adventure

Bloomberg Business News reported on the origins and ongoing success of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. On a budget of €952 million ($1.2 billion) per year, MSF runs a volunteer collective of 30,000 physicians, nurses, logisticians, and locally recruited staff that functions as an independent ambulance corps and a kind of MASH unit for those in need.

MSF is able to move so swiftly, in large part, because of its decentralized structure, which is more akin to a guerrilla network than a top-down corporation. They go where things are worst, often to care for civilian casualties and refugees of war. They also confront “neglected” diseases, from malaria to HIV/AIDS, to drug-resistant tuberculosis. They are truly global, privately funded, and astonishingly effective, able to treat diseases others won’t touch in places few will go—and where they’re not always welcome.

In addition to medical training, another prerequisite for MSF work is a taste for adventure:  “That’s certainly part of their myth, of being on the front lines,” says Peter Redfield, a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina, who has written a book on MSF, Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders. “But they are careful in who they select and who they send. It’s not risk-takers, per se, they want, but people willing to assume a risk responsibly. And they never willingly sacrifice staff in the face of death threats or abductions.”

  • The future of money

CBC News carried an article in its business section on whether cash will live on or be replaced in the near future by e-money. It quoted cultural anthropologist Bill Mauer, an expert on the anthropology of money. Mauer feels that people are largely satisfied with old-fashioned money and plastic cards and was quoted as saying: “All these mobile wallets are looking for a problem to solve.”

  • Refugee or IDP: Labels matters

All Africa reported on how the different labels of “refugee” and “internally displaced person” affect the kind of help and care that people receive. In Iraq and Syria, people in both categories are fleeing what the international community now views as the same crisis. Yet due to UN protocols and how funding is allocated, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Iraq and refugees from Syria are being supported by, in some cases, completely separate programs, despite their similar needs and geographical proximity. In some cases, duplication results, prompting experts to call for a rethinking of how organizations in Iraq and elsewhere respond to dual caseloads of IDPs and refugees, with a strong push to prioritize based upon need rather than status. The article quoted Dawn Chatty, professor of anthropology and forced migration at the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford who also questioned the practice of allocating aid according to “on-paper labels:”

“Why are we making certain kinds of distinctions between what assistance we give to a group that has a particular label and another group that doesn’t have that label, when they are both actually fleeing the same crisis…In Iraq you had the case of the Iraqi Yazidis who fled Mount Sinjar. Many of them became refugees when they crossed into Syria, but then, when they crossed back into Iraqi Kurdistan, they were re-categorized as IDPs, which rather makes a nonsense of these categories being so rigidly adhered to.”

“Not everyone wants to be called a refugee…Many people crossing into countries like Turkey prefer to be called muhajir (migrant). They are not interested in third country re-settlement; what they want is some temporary protection and to sustain themselves until they can go back home. People being displaced internally are in the same position and I think the international humanitarian and refugee regime has got to do a lot of thinking about this.”

  • Disaster capitalism and the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat

The Hindu reviewed a book by Edward Simpson entitled, The Political Biography of an Earthquake. Aftermath and Amnesia in Gujarat, India. “Earthquakes, says Edward Simpson, “are capable of rubbishing the best achievements of humanity and levelling the vainest cultural ambition.” Following widespread havoc wrought by the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, those affected had to cope with the trauma of death and destruction all around them and salvage the remnants of their lives for reconstruction of a future that might possibly include recurrence of a similar event. Simpson portrays with deep sympathy and humane concern how the survivors and the affected region experienced the aftermath of the calamity. After the 2001 earthquake, Simpson spent varying periods between 2001 and 2012 in Kutch, the region that bore the brunt of the earthquake, observing the interface between the lives of ordinary people and the processes of reconstruction, or what can be considered the “second quake” in which social relations were destroyed.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary filmmaker. Rachel Lears‘ most recent feature documentary, The Hand That Feeds, co-directed with Robin Blotnick, won the audience award for best feature at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2014, Best of Fest recognition at AFI Docs, and the jury award for Best Documentary at Sidewalk Film Festival. Rachel’s first feature documnetary, Birds of Passage (2010), was supported by Fulbright and the National Film Institute of Uruguay (ICAU), had two community screening tours in Uruguay sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture, and was broadcast nationally throughout Latin America. Her ongoing video-art collaborations with artist Saya Woolfalk have screened at numerous galleries and museums worldwide since 2008. Lears was a 2013 Sundance Fellow. She holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from New York University.

…work in environmental conservation. Andy White is the coordinator of Rights and Resources Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, dedicated to supporting forest tenure, policy, and market reforms. He recently published an op-ed about how to create protected areas without a “trail of tears.” He has a Ph.D. in forest economics and an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Minnesota.

…become president of the World Psychiatric Association, professor of psychiatry and advocate for understanding gay identity in psychiatry. Dinesh Bhugra is also former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, chair of the board of trustees for the Mental Health Foundation (of which he is now also president) and has been awarded a CBE for services to psychiatry. An expert in transcultural psychiatry, Bhugra is one of the most prolific academics in the U.K., with hundreds of research papers and more than 30 books to his name.  As head of the World Psychiatric Association, he now represents more than 200,000 psychiatrists across 137 national organizations and 117 countries. And he is openly gay. Many psychiatrists around the world still view homosexuality as a mental illness. Bhugra has his work cut out for him in pushing for diversity and understanding among psychiatrists worldwide about this issue. Bhugra has a Ph.D. from the King’s College London, an M. Phil. From Leicester University, and M.Sc. in sociology from South Bank University and an M.A. in social anthropology from the University of London.

  • ISIS accused of cultural desecration

Newsweek reported that the head of the UN’s cultural preservation organization has spoken out against the “barbaric” destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage, saying that Islamic State (ISIS) is seeking to “delete” entire civilizations. Irina Bokova, who heads the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted the desecration of key historic and religious sites by ISIS, alongside civilian atrocities, during her visit to northern Iraq. The country is home to three UNESCO world heritage sites–two are currently listed as “at risk”.

  • In memoriam

George C. Bond, William F. Russell Professor of Anthropology and Education at Teachers College of Columbia University, died at the age of 77 years. He was also Director of the College’s Center for African Studies and former Chair of the Department of International and Transcultural Studies. An authority on the African diaspora and a member of TC’s faculty for 40 years, Bond was widely credited with identifying and representing the historical narratives of indigenous African peoples. An old-time “dirty anthropologist” whose decades of field work in remote African villages left him fluent in Bantu and afflicted by the effects of at least two bouts of malaria, Bond devoted much of his career to demonstrating that the classes of intellectual and political leaders known as elites create themselves by taking control of their historical narratives. He argued that this process is essential for a colonized people to assume its own identity and assert itself against its masters.

 

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