anthro in the news 6/8/15

  • Porn-driven female genital esthetics

The Globe and Mail reported on growing industry in women’s genital esthetics, illustrating its point with some details about genital-area waxing and skin treatment for women available in Toronto. The article quotes Eileen Anderson-Fye, the Robson Junior associate professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University: “Because of technological advances, we have greater access to pornographic images that explicitly and implicitly convey aesthetic and erotic ideals…“These images hold women to increasingly singular standards about beauty and desirability.” [Blogger’s note: there’s an even more serious question here about what drives porn to portray sexually desirable female genitals as child-like].

  • Culture, hormones, and menopause
Logo of the Women’s Health Initiative

A Reuters article describes findings from a survey about vaginal pain during intercourse in several Western countries. The results, which reveal substantial cross-country variations, will not be surprising to anthropologists. Researchers conducted an online survey asking 8,200 older men and women in North America and Europe how menopause affects their sex lives and relationships. While similar complaints were reported across all countries, the magnitude of suffering for vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and weight gain varied. According to Melissa Melby, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, the findings are limited because the survey recruited only women with vaginal pain and men who experienced it with their partners. Even so, she continues, the cultural differences about menopause highlighted by the survey underscore how regional differences in diet, physical activity, attitudes toward aging, and expectations about menopause influence how women experience symptoms.

  • Good news: First woman president in Mauritius

Anthropologyworks’ Sean Carey published an article in the New African on the election in Mauritius of its first woman president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, an eminent scientist specializing in ethnobotany. She will also serve her country as its ceremonial Head of State, a move that has caused some controversy but also much support. She vows to be an “apolitical president.” Well, let’s see says Carey, a longtime observer of politics in Mauritius.

  • Truth and Reconciliation in Canada

The National Post and other Canadian media reported on reactions to the pre-release sound bites of the Final Report of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. According to commentary co-authored by Hymie Rubenstein, professor of anthropology (retired) at the University of Manitoba, the report is likely to reinforce half-truths, exaggerations, and selective reporting about the schools and their mission.

  • Civil war memorial events in the U.S.: Not interesting to everyone
Civil War re-enactors at Stagville. Credit Leoneda Inge

WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio) carried an article on racial differences in attendance at events commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War. Most of the visitors attending these events are white. Efforts by the organizers at the Stagville State Historic Site in Durham, North Carolina, however, sought to ensure more diverse attendance.  “Freedom 150” focused on the lives of the former slaves once the Civil War ended.

The article quotes Anna Agbe-Davies, historical archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: “I know that I am very happy about emancipation.  I think that was an important step forward for our country.” She points out that Civil War history is a difficult history for African Americans, one that’s fraught with emotion – positive and negative: “I think that the focus on the war is perhaps less appealing to people of color because the way it is presented in schools, the war was about their fate but it was not driven by them.”

  • Does Jim Yong Kim have an anthropological heart?

An op-ed in The Jakarta Post urged Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, medical doctor, and anthropologist, to be less of a banker and more of an anthropologist:  “What could Kim do to help build a much more equitable civilization? He holds a PhD in anthropology, and is thus in a better position to recognize who we are, how we came to be this way and where we may go in the future. The more reason he should abandon the ‘trickle-down’ paradigm that the World Bank is unwittingly reinforcing by predicating poverty alleviation upon robust growth, even when it is fully aware that since 2008 for every dollar of wealth created, 93 cents accrue to the top one percent…Although the challenges posed by the 1 percent and their proxies may be daunting, Kim could use the remainder of his tenure to advance humankind by embracing the ‘growth through equity’ paradigm, wherein the locus of the accumulation of capital is in the household of the poor and marginalized.”

  • $ oil $ oil $ in Alaska

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, writes about slippery oil politics in Alaska. The slippery bit is the attempt by big oil companies to define a category of “new” oil.  The downside will be – no surprises here – further ruination of local communities’ livelihoods.

  • Latino poverty in the U.S.

NBC News (Chicago) reported on continuing high rates of poverty among and social exclusion of the Hispanic population in the United States with a focus on Chicago. The article mentions the 2008 book, Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race by Arlene Davila, professor of anthropology and American studies at New York University. She points to an orthodoxy “that true Latinos are always liberal, poor, needy, etc.” and that the only reason such biases are being overcome in academic research is the influx of middle-class Latino researchers, journalists and “Latinologists speaking for or on behalf of Latinos.”

The article notes that, seven years after the publication of Davila’s book, “we’re certainly not there yet, but the very fact that I have the privilege of writing about this subject for NBC speaks to the fact that we’re at least a little bit beyond the state of things that Davila described as a dearth of scholarly attention in the documentation and research of issues related to class differentiation among Latinos”

  • China and India will be the largest sources of immigrants to the U.S.

The Sioux City Journal carried an article about the rising numbers of immigrants from China and India to the United States. It draws on commentary from cultural anthropologist Shalini Shankar of Northwestern University and director of its Asian-American studies program. She notes that America is more than ready for “an acknowledgment that multiculturalism is no longer about just blacks and Latinos. Asian-Americans are a population that is growing increasingly diverse religiously, linguistically and in regard to nationality. They can’t help but make a very visible impact on major metropolitan areas and into the suburbs through businesses, the introduction of certain languages into school districts and diverse political stances.”

  • Resettlement for $: Cambodia welcomes many people rejected by Australia

An article in Euronews describes how Cambodia is accepting new immigrants – refugees, asylum seekers, and others – who Australia has refused. For which Canberra transfers an extra $40 million ($40 million) in aid to Cambodia. The article describes the plight of non-refugee status immigrants who have some rights but lack the benefits to which people with refugee status are entitled.  It quotes Gerhard Hoffstaedter, senior research fellow in anthropology at the University of Queensland in Australia: “Refugees and migrants are often the same people…A key factor that unites all of them is that you leave your country involuntarily because living conditions there threaten your survival, be it violence, persecution or poverty,” but their status as immigrants differs on the basis of their categorization as refugee or not.

Some rights groups condemn Australia for resettling refugees in Cambodia because of its possible human rights abuses and its economy which is less than one percent of the size of Australia’s.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become an inventor, entrepreneur, and CEO. Nathan Morin, who has a B.A. and an M.A. in anthropology from Ball State University, recently invented an organic deodorant. North Coast Organics is being sold in over 2,000 stories in the U.S.

…become a landscape painter and art teacher. Susan Trillingham of Santa Cruz, California, majored in anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She taught painting, drawing and sculpture as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years at a secondary school in a rural West African town. She later earned a Master of Science in rehabilitation counseling and a Master of Education in curriculum instruction through the arts. After working with developmentally disabled children and adults for 13 years, Trimingham now teaches art education and supervises student teachers at San Jose State. She also teaches art at Salinas Valley State Prison.

…become a comedian. Before he became a comedian, Leland Klassen graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in anthropology. He says his degree has helped him when it comes to his performances. “What it does is gives me an awareness of the cultural context that I’m in…I studied ethnology, which is the study of cultures, and I’m very aware that, while laughter may be universal, the comedy itself is cultural.” That means he changes certain things to better relate to the audience: “For example, when I talk about a washroom, it gives an American audience a pause before they realize I’m speaking about a restroom…So, I have to make sure I say ‘restroom,’ but that’s not to say that I have a lot of restroom jokes.”

…become executive director of a museum and a professor. April Counceller is the new executive director of Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum by the Alutiiq Heritage Foundation. A member of the Sun’aq Tribe, Counceller earned her B.A. degree in anthropology and American civilization from Brown University. She completed an M.A. degree in rural development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and then went on to a Ph.D. in the interdisciplinary program in language planning and indigenous knowledge systems at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Counceller interned at the museum as a high school and college student and became the manager of the museum’s Alutiiq language programs. She held that position for more than a decade, designing, funding, and implementing numerous projects to preserve and share Alutiiq speech and traditions. For the past two years, Counceller has been an assistant professor of Alaska Native studies at Kodiak College, where she built an Alutiiq studies program.

  • A site of slavery and death remembered

The George Washington University’s anthropology professor, Steve Lubkemann, commented in an article in the New York Times on a commemoration of the spot where slaves died when the Portuguese ship that was carrying them into bondage sank in 1794. The submerged remnants of the Sao Jose, which was on its way to Brazil, are located near one of Cape Town’s most scenic beaches. More than 400 African slaves were on board the vessel when it sank in bad weather and rough seas. About half the people on the ship perished, though the captain and crew survived. Divers, including Lubkemann, are recovering artifacts from the ship. Some of the artifacts be loaned to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture which is currently under construction in Washington, DC. Lubkemann said that the cold, churning conditions were treacherous and that “diving here is like diving in a washing machine.”

  • New species? Not so fast

NPR (Purdue University) carried an opinion piece by Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at William and Mary University on the recent announcement by paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie that he and his colleagues have discovered a new species of human ancestor rough contemporaneous with Lucy, also found in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Selassie is curator and head of the physical anthropology department at the Cleveland Museum of Nature History. King consults with Ian Tattersall, curator emeritus in the division of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History who agrees that the findings constitute a new species. She then turns to University of South Carolina anthropologist Andrew White who considered some of the challenges surrounding the species concept in a blog post published May 29. White is not convinced that the findings constitute a new species. She writes, “An assertion that Au. deyiremeda is a new species equates, then, to an assertion that it could not have interbred with other hominins living nearby at the time. For White, this causes concern.“ [Blogger’s note: White thus pinpoints a key problem with defining species (whose members, by definition do not mate and breed successfully with each other) on the basis of fossil-based morphology. Just because fossil looks very different from fossil Y in terms of tooth size or jaw size or femur length doesn’t mean X and Y couldn’t enjoy each other’s company in more ways than one. ]

  • They would if they could: Chimp chefs

The New York Times and several other media reported on findings that chimpanzees, at least those studied in the Republic of the Congo, have the patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and instead wait for to be cooked. Felix Warneken, a psychologist at Harvard University and Alexandra G. Rosati, who will join the Harvard faculty of human evolutionary biology, wanted to see if chimpanzees had the cognitive foundation for cooking. They created an experiment that, as described in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, presents the chimps with “problems that emulate cooking.” When a chimpanzee placed a raw sweet potato slice into a device, a researcher shook it, then lifted the top tub out to offer the chimp an identical cooked slice of sweet potato. While it was known that chimpanzees prefer cooked food, the question was whether chimps had the patience to wait through the pretend “shake and bake” process. The researchers also wanted to know if the animals could understand the process of something going into an oven raw comes out cooked. The authors carried out their study over two years at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, a sanctuary in the Republic of the Congo.

  • Pills from placentas

New England Public Radio carried a piece about the growing trend of human placentaphagy and its effects on new mothers’ postnatal health: “We simply don’t know what all the potential benefits or risks are yet,” said Daniel Benyshek, an associate professor of biomedical anthropology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. “Indirect evidence suggests that it is probably a safe practice — at least in the short term — given the number of women that are likely engaged in placentaphagy in just the U.S. alone, but we don’t have any good estimates based on real data about how many women are engaging in this practice.” He guesses that the number could range from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, and it is increasing. Many women are seeking protection against postpartum depression, according to a survey conducted in 2013 by Benyshek and his colleagues and Jodi Selander, founder of Placenta Benefits LTD in North Las Vegas. Selander’s company steams and dehydrates placentas to prepare them for encapsulation according to methods similar to those used in traditional Chinese medicine.

  • In memoriam

Arthur P. Wolf, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation Professor in Human Biology and professor of anthropological sciences at Stanford University, died at the age of 83 years. After receiving an associate degree from Santa Rosa College, Wolf received a Telluride Fellowship to Cornell University where he received his bachelor’s degree in English literature and doctorate in anthropology. He taught in the anthropology department at Stanford University from 1968 to 2015.Wolf spent many years doing field research in Taiwan, amassing an archive of information on early 20th-century Taiwanese households. His research focused on how biology and culture jointly shape the human condition. He examined family practices including marriage and adoption and the transmission of property and population trends. He was the author or editor of numerous books and articles, including Sexual Attraction and Childhood Association: A Chinese Brief for Edward Westermarck; Marriage and Adoption in China, 1845-1945; and Inbreeding, Incest, and the Incest Taboo.

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