Anthro in the news 5/18/15

  • Disenchantment and British politics

Emma Crewe, social anthropologist and research associate at SOAS, the University of London, published an op-ed in the Times Higher Education (U.K.) on how to improve British politics and re-enchant the public: “Public cynicism towards politics is reaching new heights. Politicians are widely considered to be venal, tribal and dishonest. But what are they really like?”

Since October 2011, she has been studying MPs at work. She finds that, surprisingly, “half the new 2010 intake of MPs took a pay cut to enter Westminster, MPs have defied their whips more frequently in every Parliament since 1945, and MPs did not seem to be any less honest than any other professional group – or, specifically, than members of groups with complex combinations of interests where compromises have to be made.” In contrast to the popular image of MPs as power-hungry egoists, many reminded her of aid workers, motivated by both ambition and altruism “…but MPs work harder and accept more painful scrutiny.”

Crewe opines that public disenchantment is more about the work of politics – “…its messiness, contradictions and changeability” and public conflation of Parliament and government which are “different parts of the state and need to be disentangled.”

  • Protecting coffee farmers: Tune in on Tuesday

At the Guardian’s comments page on Tuesday, May 19, from 1pm – 2pm BST, a group of experts will discuss how best to protect coffee farmers. One of the speakers is Sarah Lyon, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and author of Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets. Her work focuses on Maya women farmers and social/gender justice in coffee production.

  • Debt: It can make you sick

The Globe (Canada) is carrying a series exploring the growing dependence around the world on credit. You can join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #DebtBinge. A recent article discusses how debt-related financial stress is linked to mental-health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and a higher risk of suicide. As the health consequences of financial stress become more evident, researchers and health professionals are making the case for treating personal debt as a public health problem. The article presents commentary from biocultural anthropologist Elizabeth Sweet, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is examining the factors that can make debt a health hazard. She notes that it is not well understood what types of debt provoke the most stress. For instance people may feel less stressed about mortgages and student loans than credit-card debt or payday loans.

  • On Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers

The Chronicle Herald (Canada) published an op-ed by Rylan Higgins, professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, on the plight and rights of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in Canada. Canada’s use of TFWs is complicated: Programs vary from province to province and from sector to sector within provinces, and policies have changed over time. Long-term anthropological studies of TFWs, however, “reveal common and unsettling patterns regarding what it means to be such a worker in Canada.” Higgins notes that a primary finding of anthropological studies is that the relationship between employers and workers is exploitative: “The detailed and intimate accounts that anthropological research provides reveal that many employers in Canada regularly seek TFWs precisely because these workers’ precarious status is a benefit to those seeking a tractable workforce.”

  • Two reviews of The Utopia of Rules: Irrepressible, ruminative, fascinating

The Times Higher Education (U.K.) reviewed David Graeber’s The Utopia of Rules, saying:  “In his irrepressible, ruminative way, Graeber stands in the comic tradition of Walt Whitman, archy and mehitabel and James Thurber. This is the chorus with which to laugh the trousers off corporate management.”

And, in The Australian:  “Utopia of Rules isn’t quite as brilliant as Graeber’s previous book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, which is available, appropriately for an anarchist author, free online. Nor is it as titillating as his widely read 2013 essay, On Bullshit Jobs. It is, nonetheless, a fascinating and thought-provoking read, conversational in style and bursting with clever leaps from classical to pop culture, from Malagasy ethnography to the machinations of the International Monetary Fund, all made substantial by thorough grounding in the philosophical literature. His analysis may sometimes seem far-fetched, but it is wonderful to have the world tip-tilted so it can be examined from unusual angles. Even free-market enthusiasts the Financial Times and The Economist have enjoyed the view.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a writer and blogger. Viktor Lund holds a B.A. in theoretical philosophy and social anthropology from Lund’s University, Sweden. He takes a particular interest in themes such as symbolism and propaganda, but writes about many things relating to music and literature. Lund lives in southern Sweden and blogs here.

  • Fake cave art vs. the real thing

On National Public Radio, Barbara J. King asks if fake prehistoric art can move you, as the real thing would do. King is Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at William and Mary University. The April 25 opening of a $59 million replica of France’s Chauvet Cave inspired this piece in which she asks: “What moved the artists of the original to create these gorgeous representations? Why did they choose not to paint themselves, or the rivers and trees in the surrounding landscape but, instead, almost always animals? What did the animal paintings mean to them?” [Blogger’s note: We will never know what the paintings meant to the Paleolithic painters and the Paleolithic people who viewed the depictions. But King’s other question is researchable: what is the value of seeing a fake or of a video/virtual visit to the fake? The answer might be: Better than nothing since Chauvet Cave has been closed to the public since its 1994 discovery].

  • Kudos

St. Andrews University in Scotland will honor twelve distinguished individuals during its June graduation ceremonies. Among them is social anthropologist Jean Lave, Professor Emerita of Geography, Anthropology, and Education at the University of California, Berkeley.

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