anthro in the news 3/7/16

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Trump declaring party loyalty in September 2015. Source: Wikipedia

Trump’s shallow celebrity culture

Paul Stoller, professor of anthropology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, published an article in The Huffington Post asking how to explain the rise of Donald Trump: “As an anthropologist, I see the rise of Trump from a cultural vantage. He is the embodiment of celebrity culture — a world filled with glitz, fantasy and illusion. It is culture in which shallow perception is more valuable than deep insight. If you watch Donald Trump perform his shtick, you hear pretty much the same thing. Mr. Trump comes on stage, recites his poll numbers, insults his opponents, invites famous supporters to the stage to sing his praises, and then talks, without giving concrete factual examples, about how bad things are and how he’s the man to make things better.”


A three year old representing herself in court?

1As reported by The Seattle Times, a senior Justice Department official in the state of Washington is arguing that 3- and 4-year-olds can learn immigration law well enough to represent themselves in court, taking an unconventional position in a growing debate over whether immigrant children facing deportation are entitled to taxpayer-funded attorneys. The article quotes Susan J. Terrio, a Georgetown University anthropology professor, who said she has observed hundreds of children in various immigration court proceedings, many of whom couldn’t speak English, for her book Whose Child Am I? Unaccompanied, Undocumented Children in U.S. Immigration Custody.  Some were as young as 10 years old. They “were incredibly passive,” she said, and “they responded with monosyllabic answers…It didn’t appear that they understood anything at all.”

Detecting home-grown terrorists

U.S. national security efforts rest on the assumption that home-grown terrorists can be detected and therefore the U.S. relies heavily on racial profiling and the assumption that normative values such as marriage and employment shield individuals from extremist ideologies. Instead, writes Morwari Zafar in Al Jazeera, authorities need to recognize radicalization as the result of “an explosive mix of very human experiences and frustrations that lack outlets for self-expression” and approach the issue accordingly. Zafar is a Ph.D. candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, a visiting scholar in the Institute of Global and International Studies in the Elliott School of International Affairs, GW, and an international security consultant at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, D.C.


On corruption in Pakistan and what to do about it

Hamza Siddiq published an op-ed in The Daily Times (Pakistan) about the widespread and ongoing political corruption in Pakistan. He argues that anti-corruption and accountability bodies are likely to be effective only when they operate in a strong institutional environment with honest leadership, and insulation from political influence. He raises three big questions: what has made this exploitation possible and unchallenged? Why does it persist? Can we ever get rid of this historical trend of looting and extraction? Siddiq is a lecturer of international development for the University of London International Programme. He holds a M.Sc. degree in anthropology and development from the London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.Sc. degree in sociology and anthropology from the Lahore University of Management Sciences.


Reviving a controversial exhibit on “race”

PBS interviewed Alaka Wali, curator of North American Anthropology in the Science and Education Division of Chicago’s Field Museum, about the revival of a controversial 1933 exhibit on “The Races of Mankind.” It consisted of 104 bronze statues depicting so-called “races” from around the world. Most of the statues were removed from view by 1969 as public opinion on the concept of “race” evolved, and anthropologists began to reject “race” categories as defined by physical traits. The new exhibit, “Looking at Ourselves: Rethinking the Sculptures of Malvina Hoffman,” displays 50 of the original pieces, contains a section on the Black Lives Matter movement, and digital displays countering earlier notions.


Boycott will/will not affect relations with Israeli academics

The Wisconsin Gazette carried an article about the possible negative effects on Israeli scholars of the proposed global boycott of Israeli universities. It draws on commentary from Dan Rabinowitz, professor of anthropology and head of environmental studies at Tel Aviv University, who sees the boycott as discriminatory. To the contrary, cultural anthropologist Ilana Feldman, associate professor at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a boycott supporter, says the proposal, if passed, would not impede professors “in any way” from working with Israeli scholars.


Women’s political engagement in the Iran elections

Narges Bajoghli, a Ph.D. candidate in socio-cultural anthropology at New York University and a documentary filmmaker in NYU’s Culture and Media Program, published an article in The Washington Post on the role of women voters in Iran’s February elections. The elections witnessed 60 percent voter turnout and produced significant gains for the reformists and moderates associated with President Hassan Rouhani. The reformist/moderate success was in large part shaped by preexisting networks of people and activists, along with online organizing via social media platforms.

Bajoghli writes: “One key preexisting network was the women’s rights movement. Women’s organizations began organizing for the elections in November by releasing videos encouraging women to register as candidates and pushing for a 30 percent increase in seats for women, through ‘The Campaign for Women to Win 100 Seats.’ Significantly, these efforts featured activists from across the political spectrum coming together for one goal: to gain seats for women who would fight for pro-equality gender issues.”


Farewell to Ranginui Walker

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Scene at the tangi for Ranginui Walker. Source: The Spinoff

The Spinoff (New Zealand) carried a tribute to Ranginui Walker by Dame Anne Salmond, cultural anthropologist, environmentalist, writer, and professor of Maori studies at the University of Auckland. In her article, she said farewell to her former colleague, the acclaimed author and Maori studies expert, Ranginui Walker, who died recently at the age of 84 years: “We have all heard about Ranginui, the scholar, the teacher, the writer, the public figure. He was also a loving family man, incredibly proud of his children and grandchildren. Deidre has been his strength and comfort, and thank you so much for that. He also loved this country with all of his heart. Ranginui has died, but he hasn’t left us. His words, and his thoughts, and his insights will echo on down our history, giving us reason for hope and pride. There are still huge challenges for us to tackle, but he has inspired us to see what one person can do for others, with intelligence, courage, warmth, discipline and dedication. No one can live a better life than that.”


Take that anthro degree and…

become a jazz musician, musical director, and producer. Eric Oberstein is associate director of Duke Performances, a music producer, Grammy award winner, and current Grammy nominee for his work with Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and the album, Cuba: The Conversation Continues. This album came at a timely moment as it was recorded in Havana 48 hours after U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The album is an aspect of “cultural diplomacy,” building on the musical dialogue started by Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, which bridged the gap between jazz and Afro-Cuban music. Oberstein has a B.A. from Duke University in cultural anthropology, arts management and cultural policy, and Latin American Studies. He has an M.A. in arts administration from Teachers College of Columbia University, and an M.A. in Education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

become a newspaper editor. Autumn Phillips is the new editor of The Southern (Illinois) and previous editor of The Quad Times (Iowa). She has a B.A. in anthropology and geography from the University of Southern Maine and an M.F.A. degree in creative writing from Goddard College. Before becoming an editor, she was a news reporter.

become a sculptor. Jim Coffman creates designs from blocks of stone that resemble artifacts from the past. He also runs Altered Stones in Montclair, California. He has double B.A. degree in environmental sciences and anthropology from Pitzer College where he also studied Meso-American cultures. His love of crafting and creating goes back to his childhood when he began making artifacts out of copper and coins with his father. He comments: “I like making things that look like they’ve been around for a long time…I don’t know very many people who like to build ruins.”

…become a science writer. Wendy Orent is a freelance science writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Republic, Discover, and The American Prospect. She is also an instructor of science journalism at Emory University. Orent assisted Russian scientist Igor Domaradskij in the writing of his memoir, Biowarrior: Inside the Soviet/Russian Biological War Machine. This collaboration led her to develop her own theories about the emergence of the Black Death in Europe, which she writes about in her book, Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World’s Most Dangerous Disease. She was involved in a controversial debate about the possibility of an H5N1 (bird flu) epidemic in which she argued that there was no legitimate basis to assume that any large-scale epidemic would ensue. She has a B.A. in anthropology/zoology from the University of Michigan, an M.A. in cultural anthropology from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Michigan.

…become a filmmaker and professor of film and media. Ashish Avikunthak is an experimental filmmaker from India whose films have been shown in film festivals and museums worldwide. He has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Stanford University and teaches film making at the University of Rhode Island. OZY carried an interview with him about his current film project.


Protecting and preserving Pompeii

The Christian Science Monitor reported on the work of German archaeologist Albrecht Matthaei whose primary objective is to ensure that Pompeii will be around to benefit future generations. That means a fight against the ever-present environmental threats and structural collapses that threaten this important site. Matthaei is coordinator of the Pompeii Sustainable Preservation Project (PSPP), a German-based initiative begun in 2012 as a partnership between Matthaei and Dr. Ralf Kilian at the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics (IBP) in Valley, Germany. The project, which involves 10 leading European research institutions, is based at the Fraunhofer IBP.


Drill, baby, drill

The BBC provided a round-up of research on prehistoric dentistry. Most researchers agree that rotten teeth only became a common problem very recently, about 10,000 years ago, with the beginning of farming and more carbohydrates in the diets of farming peoples. Relatively sophisticated dentistry emerged soon after including practices that involved scraping bad teeth, scouring, and even drilling and filling. Thus, dental drilling is older than writing and the wheel. The article includes commentary from several archaeologists including Marc Oxenham of the Australian National University, James Watson of the Arizona State Museum, and Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna, Italy.

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