Anthro in the news1/12/15

  • On France as a target for jihad

Time Magazine published an article by cultural anthropologist John Bowen of Washington University in which he describes three factors contributing to France as a target for jihad: First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. In conclusion, he states:

“France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.”

Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.

  • On Muslim integration and discrimination in France

The International Business Times carried an article stating that the terror attacks in Paris will likely exacerbate the challenges faced by Muslim communities in Europe, as extreme right-wing political parties politicize the tragedy.  A large proportion of France’s Muslim population of five million faces day-to-day discrimination along with broader, institutional forms of disenfranchisement, said Mayanthi L. Fernando, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose work focuses on Islam and secularism in France. “The problem here is not a lack of willingness among a large number of French Muslims to integrate — many would say they are already integrated — the problem is they are not accepted as legitimately French by the rest of the white, Christian majority…The problem is that on one hand they are asked to prove their integration in the French mainstream, but on the other hand they are facing discrimination day to day and institutionally.”

  • Colonialism, dispossession, desperation, and suicide

The Guarani Indians of Brazil, according to a report cited in The New York Times and other media, have the highest suicide rates in the world. Overall, indigenous peoples suffer the greatest suicide risk among cultural or ethnic groups worldwide. In Brazil, the indigenous suicide rate was six times higher than the national average in 2013. Among members of the Guaraní tribe, Brazil’s largest, the rate is estimated at more than twice as high as the indigenous rate over all, the study said. And in fact it may be even higher.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Guaraní, who today live primarily in Brazil and Paraguay, were forced off their ancestral land when the Brazilian government granted farmers and ranchers the legal title to that land. Tribe members were placed in crowded reservations, and often separated from family members. “Living in this nonplace, they commit suicide,” said Maria de Lourdes Beldi de Alcantara, an anthropologist at the University of São Paulo who for years has studied adolescent suicides among the Guaraní.

  • The last “purebred” Aryans?

The Daily Beast discussed current research on, and controversies about, a group in Kashmir reputed to be “purebred” Aryans. The Brogpas (or Brokpas) who live in a remote location in Kashmir with little means for economic development are using this identity to their advantage. The region is marketed for visitors as “Aryan Valley,” and some people have added “Aryan” to their last names. For the Brogpas, transforming into a tourist attraction may offer their community a way to generate much-needed income. Another income generator, apparently, is a kind of sex tourism where women, especially German women, come to the area to get impregnated by someone who is supposedly a purebred Aryan.

DNA aside, the claims have a lot to do with identity politics, according to Mona Bhan, a cultural anthropology professor at DePauw University. Bhan believes the concept of Aryan roots traces back to the British colonialists and their interest in racial categorization: “There is also an underlying current here to reclaim a particular kind of nationalist pride and masculinity that relies on Brogpa bodies to bolster the superiority of Indian genes.” Further, Bhan points out that the Brogpas are located in the disputed zone between India and Pakistan, and surrounded by one of the world’s longest running conflicts. In a recent article in the Journal of Cultural Anthropology, she writes that branding the tribe as a pure and indigenous population has fueled tensions between different ethnic groups in the Kashmir region. Militant groups operating in the disputed area have been using this categorization as a historical root for their positions in the conflict. Further, the Brogpas “rely on the discourse of Aryan and Hindu indigeneity to validate their hold on India’s disputed territory [and are] laying new grounds for intensely violent politics.”

  • Effect of Japan’s shrinking population

Deutsche Welle reported on the “palpable effects” of Japan’s shrinking population and interviewed cultural anthropologist Fabio Gygi about what the decline means for the nation’s economy and society as a whole. Gygi is a Japan expert at SOAS, University of London. He explains the causes and consequences of Japan’s population decline. While a sweeping change in the country’s immigration policy could address key issues such as pensions and a lack of nurses, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

  • Two favorite books on health care, both related to anthropology

The New York Times asked its reporters with experience covering health care to name a favorite book on the subject. Two books named are related to medical anthropology. Sheri Fink recommended Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, about the conflict between a California hospital’s procedures and a Laotian family’s religious beliefs. Fadiman is a journalist, not an anthropologist, but her book is widely assigned in undergraduate medical anthropology classes. The second selection, by nonfiction writer Tracy Kidder, is Mountains Beyond Mountains, a documentary about Paul Farmer, the doctor who helped found the medical aid group Partners in Health.

  • M.N. Srinivas Professorship to be established at Oxford

According to an article in The Hindu, the University of Oxford has announced plans to establish an endowment for the M.N. Srinivas Professorship to ensure recognition of Srinivas’ contributions to social anthropology and that anthropological approaches contribute to new cohorts of Oxford students being trained for M.Sc. in Contemporary India, for M. Phil in modern South Asia, and in other courses in anthropology. Srinivas, originally from southern India, has been credited with contributing to key sociological concepts like “vote bank,” “dominant caste,” and “Sanskritization.” Prof. Srinivas, who had been associated with various education and research institutions in Baroda, Delhi and Bengaluru, including ISEC and the National Institute of Advanced Studies, passed away in Bengaluru in 1999 at the age of 84 years.

  • Paul Famer’s latest op-ed on Partners in Health leadership

Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl, co-founders of Partners in Health, published an op-ed in The Boston Globe describing the mission and leadership of the new CEO of Partners in Health, Gary Gottlieb: “Gottlieb’s downwardly mobile trajectory, from an $11 billion operation to our more-like-$100 million budget, has to be seen as one of the great boons to global health in these frightening times. People of his stature don’t normally come this way. We’re relieved to have him as our new leader.” Farmer is also a medical anthropologist, professor at Harvard, longstanding health advocate for the poor, and prolific op-ed writer, helping to get the good word out.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…go into advertising and become managing director of a U.K. advertising firm. Justin McCarthy is Irish born and raised in Africa. He studied anthropology and English at the University of the Witswatersrand, toured the world, and owned and operated two restaurants before committing to advertising. He also occasionally writes opinion pieces.

…become a conservation ecologist. Dr Kaberi Kar Gupta is trained in wildlife biology from the Wildlife Institute of India and in anthropology from Arizona State University. She studied the slender loris in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu for her Ph.D. research. She is a visiting scientist at the Centre for Ecological Science, Indian Institute of Science and is working with a research project on urban lorises.

…become an actor and producer. Michael Finley, from Chicago, has a B.A. in theatre, film, and anthropology from Northwestern University. He recently moved to Los Angeles where he is in pursuit of a career in acting on television, in film, and on stage. He says, “You can catch me at the end of February in my first episodic costar role as “Riley on ABC’s The Middle!”

…become an art curator and social activist. Chen Tamir, who was born in Israel and raised in Canada, has a B.A. in anthropology and a B.F.A. in visual art from York University in Toronto. She then went on earn a Master’s Degree in curatorial studies from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. She returned to Israel two and a half years ago and is the curator of the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. She also works with Artis, a nonprofit organization based in New York that supports and promotes artists from Israel internationally.

  • Genomic differences among indigenous populations in Mexico

The Latin American Herald Tribune reported on findings published in Science in June 2014 showing that genomic differences across indigenous populations in Mexico are, not surprisingly, most marked among more isolated groups:

“There is a high degree of differentiation among indigenous populations, and more so between those who are more isolated,” said Victor Acuna Alonzo, an anthropologist at the National School of Anthropology and History.

See an earlier article in Science for a useful map.

  • In memoriam

Bernd Lambert, professor of anthropology emeritus and a faculty member at Cornell University since 1964, died at the age of 82 years in Ithaca, New York. He was an authority on kinship among the Pacific islanders of the Republic of Kiribas (formerly the Gilbert Islands). Lambert taught courses on Contemporary Theory, Kinship and Social Organization, and Myth, Ritual and Symbolism. His publications include Fosterage as a Model for the Aristocratic-Commoner Relationship in the Northern Gilbert Islands (1965) and The Uses of Kinship Terms and Personal Names in the Gilbert Islands (1968).

David H. Marlowe, a military anthropologist, died in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the age of 83 years. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard and spent years in the field in Thailand, Somalia and Haiti, as well as among American troops at home and abroad. He spent the bulk of his career as chief of military psychiatry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring. His studies among soldiers argued for the importance of group cohesion in combat and helped prompt enduring changes in how the military disciplines, organizes and cares for its troops.

One of his early studies of Army deserters in the 1950s found that those who go AWOL are neither criminals nor cowards but mostly young people who cannot adapt to military life.  In another research project, investigating drug use among soldiers in the 1970s, he found that a crucial factor was group cohesion. His findings influenced the U.S. Army leadership to make administrative changes to keep soldiers together longer, having them train together and move as units.  Marlowe produced scores of papers on adaptation to combat, post-traumatic stress, integrating women into the Army, and the unique psychological challenges of different wars, including the Persian Gulf War and those in Iraq and Afghanistan. He testified to the U.S. Congress multiple times on the policy implications of his findings.

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