anthro in the news 6/29/15

  • A matter of Pride: There is no neutral

An article in the Guardian reports on conflicts related to how a group of queer activists mobilized in solidarity with miners in the U.K are being treated in this year’s London Pride Parade line-up. The group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), was scheduled to lead this year’s parade, but the parade’s organizers won’t let trade union members march with them at the front of the parade because they are not political and not neutral. The article points out that LGSM is not the only political group at this year’s Pride and will be joined in the procession with Ukip, a political party whose leader recently declared that HIV-positive immigrants should be barred from the U.K. The article turns to insights from the “politically committed, morally engaged” anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes who points out that “neutrality” in the face of structural violence is not neutrality at all: it’s complicity.

  • Microfinance works, but for whom?

Cultural anthropologist Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics published an article in the Guardian in which he zings microfinance as “…the neoliberal development strategy par excellence. Forget about colonialism, structural adjustment, austerity, financial crises, land grabs, tax evasion, and climate change. Forget about challenging the concentration of power and wealth. And, above all, forget about collective mobilisation. Bankers shall be our new heroes and debt our salvation. Debt, incidentally, is a great way to keep people docile.” Hickel proposes alternatives that will address the structural causes of poverty.

  • Banned in Morocco

As reported in the New York Times, a film about prostitution in Morocco that had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May has set off a furor. After six minutes of excerpts appeared online, the Moroccan government banned the movie from theaters, the female stars received death threats, and a male actor was attacked with a knife. The film, Much Loved, by the Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, includes scenes of prostitutes in Marrakesh partying, speaking raunchy Arabic, and servicing wealthy Saudi clients.

Within a few days of the May 19 premiere, the clips had received more than two million views on YouTube. The movie became the subject of protests outside Parliament in Rabat and of heated discussions on social networks in Morocco and France. The New York Times article draws on commentary from Meriam Cheikh, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Brussels who is writing her thesis on sex work in Morocco. She said the film accurately portrayed the situation she studied while living for two years among sex workers in Tangiers: “They are the first victims of unemployment…Many of them failed their studies, cannot find jobs and engaged in paid sexual relationships while hoping to find a husband and get out of the business.” She noted that prostitution, though illegal, was tolerated by the authorities: “Sometimes there are mass arrests, like in 2009, during election times when the state wants to show that it is doing its job.”

  • Chagos right of return: Amal Clooney’s halo effect

Cultural anthropologist Sean Carey of the University of Manchester and regular contributor to anthropologyworks, published an article in the New African about Amal Clooney’s request to a panel of five judges to set aside the 2008 House of Lords’ ruling upholding the ban against Chagos Islanders returning to their homeland. According to Carey: “The Supreme Court justices…now have an opportunity to put right one of the worst human rights abuses carried out by the UK in the modern era.”

  • Talking gender

Sawa Kurotani, professor of anthropology at the University of Redlands in California, published an article in the Japan Times on gender pronouns in different languages, noting that not all language are as gender-binary as English. She comments that many of her students have grown up in a cultural landscape in which gender binarism, the idea that “male” and “female” are two stable and distinct categories that differentiate people, is increasingly questioned.

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary film producer, writer, and director. Sarita Siegal’s latest film, for which she was producer, is In the Shadow of Ebola. It traces a Liberian family’s experience of the Ebola epidemic. Siegal’s academic background is in physical anthropology and religion, and her film work “gravitates to stories that lie at the intersection of cultural worlds.”

…work to improve relationships between coffee producers and consumers. Katie Slocum graduated in spring 2015 with a major in anthropology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. While an undergraduate, she began working at a local coffee shop as a barista. At the new employee orientation, Colby Barr, co-owner, called the new baristas to action by asking them how they can help the company better connect coffee customers (“street level”) to growers (“farm level”). Slocum developed a proposal to Barr for her senior research which involved fieldwork about coffee production in Honduras. Barr’s company agreed to sponsor her research trip to Honduras to study how the company’s direct trade practice affects producers, their families, and people across the supply chain. She published her project online with the hope that it will be a digital resource for coffee consumers, professionals, the public, and academics. Her thesis won the 2015 Social Sciences Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research at U.C. Santa Cruz. She plans to continue working to improve the relationship between producer and consumer.

…become an award-winning documentary film producer, chef, writer, and Korean television star. Wook-Jung Lee achieved unexpected success with his seven-episode Noodle Road, which follows the history and culture of noodles. He then went to London where he enrolled in its branch of the culinary school Le Cordon Bleu; and he made a documentary about that experience. Last year, Lee released another food-related documentary entitled Wook’s Food Odyssey, in which he traveled to more than 20 countries to introduce some of the most exotic and interesting cuisines and stories related to them. It was a huge project that cost 2.4 billion won ($2.2 million) and took two years.  However, his admiration for food, as well as his firm belief about what it can do for humankind, did not stop there. In April, Lee launched a daily cooking show, Wook’s Food Odyssey, in which he is the star. Lee has a B.A. in English Literature and an M.A. in cultural anthropology.

…go into theater production. For his senior project at Princeton University, Eamon Foley earned an anthropology degree and a certificate in theater in spring 2015. Foley blended his academic studies with his professional experience as a Broadway performer to create an original theater-dance piece titled Hero. It tells the story of a young man transformed by his experiences in the Vietnam War using indie rock music, dance and aerial choreography. The script is based on Foley’s interviews with Vietnam veterans and other research, including his visit to Vietnam in summer 2014. The work was performed April 25-May 1 at the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Matthews Acting Studio, the Program in Theater’s black box theater. In addition, a 30 minute documentary film has been produced about the making of Hero. It includes interviews and footage capturing key moments and milestones throughout the year. More than 70 hours of footage, including Foley’s video journal, were edited to create the 30-minute film. Foley received an Outstanding Senior Thesis in Theater Award for Hero from the Lewis Center for the Arts.

  • Underwater “treasure hunter” in the spotlight

The Press Herald (Portland, Oregon) reported on new findings by underwater explorer, Barry Clifford, from a sunken ship off the coast of Madagascar which he claims was that of the pirate Captain Kidd. So-called “mainstream” marine archaeologists and experts with UNESCO have expressed concerns about Clifford’s lack of attention to preserving underwater sites in his pursuit of valuable artifacts as well as his claims for the artifacts’origins which they say are often unsubstantiated.

  • Searching for Harappan DNA

Forbes (India) reported on archaeological research in Rakhigarhi, Haryana, in northwest India. Rakhigarhi is the the largest Harappan, or Indus Valley Civilization, site known. Archaeologists have found four skeletons and now seek to recover DNA from them. Vasant Shinde, vice chancellor of the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, is heading the excavation. DNA analysis will provide insights in to the inhabitants of one of the world’s oldest known civilizations.  The challenges of preservation of DNA in the monsoon climate is substantial, according to Benjamin Valentine, a bioarchaeologist and post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Dartmouth College: “It’s a matter of preservation conditions in monsoon climates. The constant cycle of wet and dry at high temperatures degrades any organic material.”

  • On the trail of humanity

The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) reported on the arrival of a film crew in Oregon that will document how humans first set foot on North America in the five part First Peoples series from Public Broadcasting Services. The series presents the most current theories about how humankind arose or arrived on North America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. The crew contacted archaeologist Jon Erlandson at the University of Oregon. Erlandson is featured in the film which will aired, or streamed, starting June 24. The story unfolds in narrative fashion with re-creations of the lives of individual early humans, including the Pacific Northwest’s most famous early inhabitant, Kennewick Man. The filmmakers synthesize the latest science from the fields of genetics, paleobotany, anthropology, archaeology and osteobiography, which is the telling of stories of ancient people based on the evidence of their bones.

Being at the center of the story is a welcome turnabout for Erlandson, who in his 25 years at the University of Oregon advanced the theory that the first humans came to North America by boat, rather than across a land bridge, or ice-free corridor, from Siberia, which has been the prevailing theory for many years. In the early years, on a scientific conference panel of 10 researchers, there would be nine presenting on aspects of the land bridge theory and one working on a coastal migration theory. “They always had a token, and I was one of those tokens for many years,” Erlandson said.

  • Early stone weapons and the birth of democracy

The Daily Mail carried an article about an article in the journal Current Anthropology which argues that stones tools among early humans were associated with social equality. The authors argue that weapons gave more power to individuals in social groups but also forced leaders to be more persuasive, practicing democratic politics beginning with Homo erectus around 1.9 million years ago. Christopher Boehm, an anthropologist at the University of Southern California and Carel van Shaik, an anthropologist at the University of Zurch, examined the evidence from studies in primates, anthropology and archaeology. They found that while most primate societies employ a hierarchical political system where a dominant female or male makes decisions for the group, this changes in human societies. In hunter gatherer societies, the existence of weapons leads to a far more egalitarian structure.

  • In memoriam

Jeremy Boissevain, a Dutch cultural anthropologist who made Malta his home, died at the age of 87 years. Boissevain built his anthropological corpus of work mainly through research on the southern Mediterranean, exploring the effects of tourism on society and the environment, patronage and politics. He first want to Malta in 1961 for his dissertation research. His doctoral thesis was published as Saints and Fireworks: Religion and Politics in Rural Malta. He authored several other books as well as chapters and articles. He taught at the University of Montreal, University of Sussex, University of Malta, Stony Brook University, the University of Massachusetts- Amherst, Columbia University, and the Jagiellonian University in Cracow.

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