anthro in the news 7/6/15

  • Blaming the victim

An article in the Guardian on Greece’s financial situation mentions the anthropologist of debt, professor David Graeber of the London School of Economics. While the head of the IMF has admitted to error in applying austerity policy to Greece, Graeber’s perspective, in his history of debt and debt forgiveness Debt: The First 5,000 Years, is that debt inevitably gives the lender the power of rightful coercion with blame inevitably attaching to the borrower. [Blogger’s note: Graeber is so right. In spite of some media coverage of LaGarde’s admission of the IMF’s underestimation of the effects of its austerity policies on Greece, the prevailing message is that Greece must change its economy, rather than the IMF changing its thinking. In other words, when things go wrong, as they will do, the borrower is always to blame].

  • The Pope, climate change, and Catholic perspectives

Moyers & Company carried an article about Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and what it means for the U.S., specifically the effects of pollution on the poor and disadvantaged minorities. It quotes Patricia Juarez, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso where she teaches a course on environmental justice in minority communities: “I hope and pray that Catholics will take a look at the encyclical…The development issues that result from pollutants often keep people in a cycle of poverty, keep them out of school or keep them isolated.” Juarez is optimistic that the Pope’s encyclical will encourage climate change doubters to look for more information, and she applauds the Vatican for leading the effort. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 71 percent of U.S. Catholics believe the Earth is warming, but only 47 percent believe it is a result of human activity.

  • A sublime commitment

An article in the Irish Examiner on political violence in Tunisia quotes cultural anthropologist Scott Atran: “So many guys radicalise because they can universalise their own personal, often frustrated, aspirations with something that is adventurous, glorious, and seemingly sublime…  The conversion of personal problems into universal moral outrage and willingness to kill, and die killing, perfect strangers innocent of direct harm to others, much less to that person, is what Isis is all about. With that kind of brutal, sublime commitment, even failure is victory.” Atran is the director of research in anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and senior research fellow at Oxford University.

  • What the world needs now

David Graeber, renowned anarchist anthropologist and Kropotkin enthusiast, gets another media spot this week in an op-ed in the Guardian that reviews of the work of Peter Kropotkin and its current relevance when both state socialism and the market have arguably failed.

  • We are making them disappear

CNN carried a piece, with video, on how global climate change is affecting the Marshall Islands where people are emigrating because of flooding. The article mentions the insights of University of Pennsylvania cultural anthropologist William Davenport, who wrote in 1964 about the intricate and accurate knowledge of canoe navigators: “By lying on his back in the bilge of his canoe and sensing the motion of the canoe, the skilled pilot can ‘fix’ his position at night even without looking at the sea, for the movement of the canoe alone will tell him what kinds of swells are acting on it.” Chiming in on the value of local maritime knowledge is Joseph Genz, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. He comments that training for “master navigators” starts in early childhood. The youthful trainees are placed for hours at a time in mini-canoes and floated out onto the water so that they can tune their stomachs to the waves. [Blogger’s note: These islands are very low-lying, their populations unprotected from rising sea levels, and an entire culture and its knowledge are in danger of being washed away literally and figuratively.]

  • Polling about “religion” and “belief” is tricky

The Albany Times Union reported on the findings from a poll by WIN/Gallup International, released earlier this year, which surveyed more than 50,000 people from 57 countries. Results indicate that China has one of the highest percentages of atheists in the world. In China, 47 percent identified as atheist and 30 percent as nonreligious; only 14 percent said they were religious. These findings contrast with the rest of the world. Overall, just 13 percent of those surveyed said they were atheists; 23 percent said they were nonreligious, and 59 percent said they were religious. The only countries whose percentage of declared atheists came anywhere near China’s were Japan, France and the Czech Republic, each with about 30 percent. No other country had more than 15 percent.

The article draws on commentary from Robert Weller, professor of anthropology at Boston University. He pointed to linguistic problems, with the term xinyang zongjiao perhaps understood to refer to being a formal member of one of China’s five officially recognized religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. Most Chinese practice an amalgam of Buddhism, Taoism and folk practices that is often described as “traditional belief” (chuantong xinyang) or simply “belief” (xinyang). Another problem with the poll could be methodology. In China, it was conducted online, which is not necessarily anonymous. So it could be that the “convinced atheist”’ rate is so high because people know it is the official answer.

  • Why Wyoming: Location and Bo-Bo culture

From Planet Jackson Hole, an article considers the reason for the growth of microbreweries in Wyoming. The article brings in insights from cultural anthropologist Michael Harkin of the University of Wyoming. Harkin has done preliminary research on beer and its history. He attributes much of Wyoming’s rise to prominence in the beer world to its proximity to Colorado. When the law was changed in the early 1990s allowing for breweries to sell directly to the public, rather than through a distributor, Wyoming followed suit immediately. Harkin believes, “this can also be seen as part of the larger cultural movement involving artisanal, organic, hand-crafted products, locally sourced, such as cheeses, grass-fed beef, and so forth. It also was a product of the maturing of the boomer and X generations, and the creation of the Bobo lifestyle. Bo-Bo culture, coined by editorialist David Brooks, combines the words bohemian and bourgeois — new-age yuppies concerned with buying expensive, exotic foods and claiming to have tolerant views of others. Harkin noted that, “in conversations with craft beer enthusiasts, I find that they take pride in their ability to distinguish various notes in beer, and to detect regional differences—something like the French concept of terroir in wine. Many craft beer enthusiasts are also brewers themselves, which fits into the general ‘Bo-Bo’ lifestyle.”

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become an osteopathic physician. Kathleen R. Schurr, has a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her B.A. is in anthropology from Beloit College in Wisconsin.

…work as an employment services case manager at a handicapped development center and be a hobbyist collage artist in Illinois. Amber Williams has a B.A. in anthropology from Albion College in Michigan. She writes about her art work on her website: “I find inspiration from both photographs and memories. I like to travel and am especially fond of the Pacific Northwest.”

…become a university basketball coach. Safiya Grant is assistant women’s basketball coach at Western Carolina University. She earned a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Virginia. Following graduation, she worked there for two years as a media relations assistant. A basketball player herself, Grant was a three-time Most Valuable Player in high school. She averaged 28 points and eight assists as a senior and led her squad to a 51-15 overall record. Additionally, she is a Juilliard-schooled violinist.

… become an award winning dog trainer. If you had told Laura Moretz that after she graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a B.A. in anthropology and sociology that she would be traveling the globe as an award winning dog trainer and performer 20 years later, she probably would have called you crazy. “I got an Australian Shepherd as a hiking partner,” Moretz said. “That is how I started throwing frisbees all those years ago, and here I am now.” She is one of the elite dog trainers in the U.S. Four of her five dogs have competed in the finals of the prestigious U.S. Disc Dog Nationals in Cartersville, Georgia. Since 2006, she has worked for Purina as part of the company’s Purina Pro Plan Performance Team, traveling to competitions in the Czech Republic, Japan, and Poland.

…become a freelance writer. Christina Newberry was a boomerang kid before the term was even in use. That was 16 years ago, when she was 21.  Newberry has a B.A. in English and anthropology from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Like many of her friends, she moved back home to figure out what to do next. That was just the first time she returned to her parents’ place. She went on to study journalism at Vancouver’s Langara College, and boomeranged again at 29 when she was going through a divorce. The freelance writer now lives in Vancouver. She has put her experiences to practical use, writing The Hands-on Guide to Surviving Adult Children Living at Home.

…become a researcher on aging in the U.S., a health rights advocate, and a professor of social work. Tam E. Perry is a researcher at the Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research and assistant professor at Wayne State University, where she heads The Relocation Lab.  She became so engaged in her research that she joined the Senior Housing Displacement-Preservation Coalition, a community advocacy group that works to preserve senior housing and to ease the transition for elderly people who are displaced.

…become director of The Native Alliance Initiative (NAI). Laguna Pueblo resident, Ashley Sarracino, shares a lineage of Acoma Pueblo and Laguna Pueblo and is a Laguna Pueblo tribal member. She has a B.A. in cultural anthropology from Stanford University and an M.A. in education. The Native Alliance Initiative is a non-profit organization that is an initiative under Teach for America. Its focus is on expanding education opportunities for students. The NAI does this by supporting teachers. One aspect that NAI promotes is called Culturally Responsive Teaching,

  • It’s just horrific: Forensic anthropologists and volunteers helping out at the Texas border

Brooks County, Texas, is the epicenter of death for thousands of migrants who cross the Southwest border illegally each year. To avoid a federal checkpoint in its county seat of Falfurrias, 70 miles from the border, they fan into the harsh, unforgiving brush in the vast private ranch land. Dozens die each year from heat and exhaustion. Many are never found. For years, until investigators began exhuming a large cemetery here two summers ago, even those who were discovered were buried haphazardly with almost no information, sometimes lacking even a grave marker, making it almost impossible for relatives to ever find them. Now forensic experts at Texas State University and Baylor University are volunteering their own time to give them back their names. “It’s as if they never existed,” said Kate Spradley, a Texas State biological anthropologist. “Everyone has the right to be recognized as a person.” At Texas State University’s Freeman Ranch, Spradley and a group of graduate students from across the country are part of an effort to identify them.

Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist at Baylor University who heads the Reuniting Families Project identifying bodies near the border, comments on the lack of trained medical examiners to determine cause of death. Many responsible for this role in the county have no experience in death determination or knowledge of the state law that requires they submit DNA samples to the University of North Texas, which runs a national database for missing persons, or that they keep death records for 10 years. In Hidalgo County, for instance, officials were cremating the remains of unknown dead until as late as 2006 when they discovered it was illegal.

Baker is quoted as saying: “We don’t have rule of law if we don’t investigate unattended deaths or unidentified remains.” She added that any number of U.S. citizens could also have died in the South Texas hinterland and stayed unidentified because their remains were never processed correctly. “It’s really just a nightmare…We’re all focused on Brooks County because it was a horrific situation but it’s happening all around the border counties, and we’re just not aware.”

  • What lies beneath: The story matters
Diagram of an Atlantic slave ship. Source: Wikipedia.

The Virgin Island Daily News reported on the work of a group of marine archeologists and others who are part of the Slave Wrecks Project which has been diving in the waters of Buck Island Reef National Monument, seeking the wrecks of at least two slave ships that sank there hundreds of years ago. Partners in the project include the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the George Washington University, the National Park Service’s Southeast Archeological Center and its Submerged Resources Center, Diving with a Purpose, Iziko Museums of South Africa, and the African Center for Heritage Activities in South Africa.  Through uncovering and studying the wrecks of slave ships, the Slave Wrecks Project works worldwide to advance scholarly and public understanding of the history of the global slave trade.

Steve Lubkemann, associate professor of anthropology and international affairs at George Washington University and co-founder of the Slave Wrecks Project, said that the wrecks of slave ships had largely been ignored by the field of marine archeology:  “We thought this was a new perspective, an important perspective that could really bring to light some of the travails of the middle passage…The Slave Wrecks Project was borne out of an interest in exploring this new perspective using maritime archeology research.” He noted that it has now expanded by involving local communities: “Part of the project is not simply to go out and document the shipwrecks and document the related land sites, but then to engage with the communities in thinking about ‘why does this story matter?’ What can this story do in these various different locations, whether it’s in terms of public education, whether it’s in terms of capacity building, whether in terms of economic development.”

  • In memoriam

John Cottier, associate professor of anthropology at Auburn University and professional archaeologist, died at the age of 75 years. Cottier was active in archaeological research in Alabama for over 20 years. He received substantial research funds including several grants from the National Science Foundation. He led several archaeological research projects for students and performed service to State, Federal, and local governments for cultural resource analysis. Recent research projects include the testing of an antebellum slave cabin complex near Opelika and excavations of sections of a Mississippian Period (1200 CE) fortification system in Macon County. Excavations of Fort Mitchell in Russell County, Alabama, provide findings about this frontier post in the old south which was occupied by military troops from 1813 till 1840.

Pauline Kolenda, Emerita professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, died at the age of 87 years. Her expertise was in rural India. She conducted extensive field research in north, central and south India focusing on kinship, family, and women. She provided a much-needed perspective on regional social variation in India at a time when “village studies” were the dominating genre and little attention was given to broader patterns. Kolenda’s publications include many scholarly articles, chapters, and books. She was professor of social anthropology at the University of Houston from 1962 until her retirement to California in 1999. [Blogger’s note: I had the privilege of knowing Pauline Kolenda, mainly through academic conferences. She was a brilliant, elegant, and warm person, and a role model for me at a time when South Asian studies and cultural anthropology had few women leaders.]

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