Anthro in the news 5/4/15

  • Getting help to Nepal’s rural poor

Cultural anthropologists Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin published an op-ed in The Globe and Mail (Canada) urging that mechanisms be put in place in Nepal “to ensure that the relief reaches far beyond the capital of Kathmandu to remote, rural areas, where the devastation is least reported but most widespread. The loss of world heritage sites in Kathmandu’s urban center is visually striking, but it is now time to look elsewhere.” Shneiderman is assistant professor in the anthropology department at the University of British Columbia, and Mark Turin is chair of the First Nations Languages Program and associate professor of anthropology at UBC.

  • Helping earthquake victims vs. protecting material heritage

Newsweek described the situation in Kathmandu, where temples collapsed and stone sculptures and other valuable material heritage items lie in heaps. The article quotes cultural anthropologist and Nepal expert, Sara Shneiderman of the University of British Columbia, about the possibility of theft, in spite of many official and volunteer guards: “I wouldn’t be surprised if people were taking advantage of the current situation…There is a long history of stolen temple art, much of which turns up in auctions and so forth. And in a situation where people are desperate to secure their own resources, you can understand why people might do this.” In terms of the trade-off between helping people and protecting material heritage: “I think it is right that police should be focused on relief efforts and not necessarily on protecting statues,” says Shneiderman. “Though it would be sad if there were some loss in that regard.”

  • Nepal’s challenge in managing aid influx

The Hays Daily News (Kansas) carried an article about the possibly insurmountable administrative challenge to the country of Nepal after the earthquake.  Sara Shneiderman, anthropology professor at the University of British Columbia, said possible corruption and weak links between Kathmandu and rural areas, where approximately 90 percent of Nepal’s 28 million people live, could make it difficult for officials to set priorities: “Most people’s first impulse is to do the best they can, but with large funds there is always that risk (of misallocation).”

  • Diaspora as source of aid for Nepal

The Toronto Star quoted cultural anthropologist and Nepal expert Mary Des Chene, research associate at Washington University, on how remittances will help rebuild Nepal. About 2.2 million Nepalis live and work abroad, and many of them are mobilizing to help rebuild after the April earthquake: “Remittances will help rebuild Nepal…Migrant workers are fundraising for immediate relief there. For long-term rebuilding too, they will also do a tremendous amount.” In addition to sending money, some migrants will likely return to Nepal and help with local rebuilding, including even large scale hydroelectric projects or highways.

  • Dam project in Pakistan

The New York Times reported on China’s involvement in dam building in Pakistan as part of its New Silk Road economic development program. The article quotes Bryan Tilt, associate professor of anthropology at Oregon State University, who has studied dam projects in China. In terms of population displacement projections for the planned Karot Dam on the Jhelum River, he questions the quality of the dam builder’s assessment of the number of people who would be forced to move: “Punjab Province, where the dam is to be sited, is the most populous in Pakistan, so there will likely be population displacement associated with the project.”

  • Technology works
Natasha Dow Schull. Credit: The New York Times.

The New York Times profiled the research of Natasha Dow Schull, associate professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is writing a book about emerging technology, such as new self-tracking and self-improving devices. She sees the benefits of some of this technology as well as the downsides. Using a device that tells you when you are not sitting straight effectively transfers a person’s agency to a machine. She is more favorable about the Muse, a brain-wave monitoring headband that tells you what mood you are in and, according to Schull, does help to calm the mind.  Furthermore, Schull points out, a self-improving gadget may have a placebo effect from simply purchasing it.

  • Xenophobia in South Africa

The Premium Times (Nigeria) reported on frequent outbreaks of violence in South Africa, apparently fueled by the belief among local people that immigrants are stealing jobs from them. The article quotes Zaheera Jinnah, a cultural anthropologist and researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University in Johannesburg: “The idea that people are here ‘stealing’ jobs and that they don’t have a right to be here needs to be corrected…There is a disconnect between perception and reality largely because there hasn’t been data available until now. So a lot of what has been said and reproduced is based on hearsay and anecdotal evidence or myths.”

  • On eating up vs. picky eating

New York Times op-ed writer, Pamela Druckerman, commented on the rising trend, in some contexts, toward choosy food habits. She juxtaposes this trend to the fieldwork ethic associated with cultural anthropology which requires the anthropologist to eat whatever the host offers in order to build and maintain rapport. Druckerman’s piece was inspired by a collection of academic essays called Selective Eating: The Rise, Meaning and Sense of Personal Dietary Requirements, first published in France and soon to appear in English. The editor, Claude Fischler, a social anthropologist, chose the topic after discovering that even anthropologists can be picky eaters in the field: an Australian colleague  asked her Aboriginal study participants to accommodate her gluten-free diet which she followed by choice, not by medical necessity.

Jim Roscoe, a professor of anthropology at the University of Maine followed up with a letter to the editor about his experiences in New Guinea with boiled sago jelly, the gist of which is that a cultural anthropologist can decline a choice food item without dire repercussions.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…get a job working for a tech company in the Silicon Valley.  Sumat Lam got his first job after graduating from Stanford University at BOX, not long before it went public. He majored in anthropology.

…become a professional football player. Laken Tomlinson is a guard for the Detroit Lions of the U.S. National Football League. He graduated from Duke University with a double major in evolutionary anthropology and psychology.

…become a youth organizer. Amy Hosotsuji is the coordinator of the Grassroots Youth Collaborative (GYC) in Toronto. She builds alliances between youth-driven, youth-serving organizations in the city. The GYC gives practical tools to youth organizations, helping them grow. Hosotsuji majored in anthropology at Long Island University.

…become a healthy communities organizer. Celia White developed her position as the healthy communities coordinator at Vancouver Island University after graduating from the university in 2013 with a double major in anthropology and global studies. She submitted a proposal to the VIU administration for a healthy communities coordinator on campus. Under her leadership, the university: hosts a twice-weekly farmers’ market during the harvest season, gives VIU students the chance to volunteer with the Nanaimo Community Garden’s glean team, and encourages staff and students participate in bi-monthly field trips to a local farm where they volunteer in exchange for free, fresh local vegetables. She is also expanding the work of a national youth-led charity called The Meal Exchange into western Canada.

  • In memoriam Tony Whincup

Tony Whincup, photographer and visual anthropologist, died at the age of 71 years. His first book Nareau’s Nation, was presented to Princess Anne when Kiribati became independent in 1979. Several others books and articles followed, including Akekeia! Traditional Dance in Kiribati which won the 2002 Montana Book Award for illustrative design. In 2008 he was honored with the Kiribati Order of Merit for his contributions to the development, reputation, and international recognition of the common welfare and traditional life in Kiribati. He was head of the photography department at Wellington Polytechnic (now Massey University) where he established a School of Visual and Material Culture. He earned his master’s degree in anthropology at Massey University in Palmerston North.

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