anthro in the news 12/5/16

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better voting projections with ethnography

Anthropologist and writer for the Financial Times, Gillian Tett argues that U.S. election polling would have benefited from ethnography: “…pollsters and political pundits need to move beyond their obsession with complicated mathematical models, and participate in more ethnographic research into subtle cultural trends of the sort that anthropologists do.” A letter to the editor, in response to her article, says that sedation of respondents would provide more accurate information about voting preferences, a “truth serum” effect.

combating hate

vqobabc2Paul Stoller, professor of cultural anthropology at West Chester University, published a piece in The Huffington Post describing some recent hate incidents in the U.S., framing his words as a “letter to our students.”  The examples are: incidents in New York City in a supermarket and in a diner, booing of a Gold Star family on a flight, and negative social media during the Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony.  He concludes by saying: “You can take your knowledge and transform it into practice. You can observe small-scaled interactions and ethnographically describe incidents of hate as well as examples of social tolerance. You can post these descriptions on social media to create an ethnographic record of both intolerance and tolerance that will spread far and wide on the Internet—an anthropology of us.”


political shuffling in Gambia

An article in The New York Times discussed the upcoming presidential election in Gambia in which the current  president Yahya Jammeh is running for re-election against the major opposition contender, Adama Barrow. Barrow represents an uncertain coalition, and some analysts question whether he can rally enough support to overcome the incumbent. The article quoted Marloes Janson, reader in West African anthropology in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London:  “It has already turned out difficult to appoint a coalition leader, which raises the question as to whether the parties are willing to cooperate or are more interested in defending their own interests.”

making beautiful buds

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on “trimmigrants,” migrant laborers to California from Mexico CHECK who work as trimmers and processors in the marijuana industry.  The article includes commentary from Fred Krissman, a cultural anthropologist at Humboldt State University: “I have known about the trimmers since 2011…Earlier this year, while researching a story about Prop. 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, I met a group of newly arrived trimmigrants on a large pot farm.” No one seems to know who coined the word “trimmigrant.” Moreover, while no one has measured the total number of pounds they process, marijuana-industry observers like Krissman say they play an indispensable role in the industry. 

money and meaning in India 

new-notes-bearddesign-650_650x400_81480335948New Delhi Television carried an op-ed by Nikita Sud, professor of development studies at the University of Oxford in which she discusses India’s “demonetization” policy in terms of a moral economy:  the PM [Prime Minister] and his government are targeting something much bigger than money, and that something is value. So what is value, and what is it that we value? The geographer Susan Mayhew suggests that value, simply put, is the importance, worth or usefulness of something. The anthropologist David Graeber indicates that value is best seen as the way in which actions become meaningful to actors by being incorporated in some larger, social totality – even if in many cases the totality in question exists mainly in the actor’s imagination.”

Sud analyzes the new 2,000-rupee note, noting that it is an artefact of a “dream-like India” replete with Hindu nationalist symbols:  “The note is a tacky hodgepodge of fonts, colours and symbols. We see Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, and Mangalyaan, India’s low-cost space probe that has been orbiting Mars since 2014. These representations of the old and the new are brought together by (a) the Devanagari script used in Hindi, the language of parts of North India, and of many leaders of the BJP and RSS, but not of the majority of Indians. It is no surprise that the use of Devanagari has already been challenged in the Madras High Court. (b) The PM’s mission for cleaning India: Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. In fact ‘Swachh Bharat’ is imposed in Devanagari on spectacles that are widely associated with Gandhi. This is not just about old and new India’s coexisting, but about a new India taking over from the old.”

take that anthro degree and…

…work as an administrator for a foundation. The Mat-Su Health Foundation recently welcomed Kathryn Swartz to its team in the position of executive assistant. She provides primary administrative support for the executive director of the foundation and coordinates meetings of its board of directors and board committees. Schwartz was previously employed by the World Bank in contract positions, doing research and technical writing and providing operational support for international development projects. She received a Ford Foundation Social Justice fellowship and worked for the Cultural Heritage and Education Institute in Fairbanks. She has a B.A. in sociology/anthropology and Spanish from Kalamazoo College and an M.A. degree in international development studies and anthropology from George Washington University. 

…become a consumer research specialist. Paul Otto works for GfK, a consumer research organization with a branch in the San Francisco Bay area. He uses the tools, methods, and lessons of anthropology to design better consumer experiences and improve brand strategy.  He has a B.A. in anthropology from DePaul University and an M.A. in social science from the University of Chicago.

before outdoor outfitters

The National Post (Canada) picked up on archeological findings published in the journal, Current Anthropology about early human ancestors’ adaptation to cold climates. Rob Hosfield, a palaeolithic archeologist at the University of Reading, addresses the puzzle of how early humans survived the cold, noting that a danger for anthropology is in thinking of these hominids as either apes or people, either nothing like us or just like us: “That’s the challenge for us always, not to fall into one trap or the other.” On one hand, they were very different, and probably always naked. They would have used fox for warmth, otter for durability, but they had none of the skills modern hunter-gatherers had for making clothing, like stitching with bone needles. At best, they could have managed to wrap skins around their limbs. Shelters were like made of vegetation, deadfall, and skins, which leave no archeological traces.

when you can’t have the real thing

The Lascaux caves are closed to visitors, but France has funded an elaborate replica of one of the grottoes. An article in The Guardian describes the nearly complete project, including commentary from archaeologist Jean-Pierre Chadelle of the University of Bordeaux who described it as a work of art in itself, adding that the work on the replica had enabled experts to discover new details about the original Lascaux: “We know the paintings were done with natural colours found in the earth around here, but we cannot exactly date the pigment so we cannot exactly date the paintings…Lascaux is still a mystery, even today.”

very old beer

BBC News reported on archaeological research on the origins of brewing in the U.K. One site at Kinloch on the Outer Hebrides’ Isle of Rhum found apparent residue from a long-evaporated beverage. The pottery it came from dated back about 4,000 years. Chemical analysis detected pollen grains, which suggested high levels of heather, and some meadowsweet and royal fern. According to Caroline Wickham-Jones, one of the excavation’s archaeologists: “And one of the things was heather ale as a fermented drink – but it might easily have been a mouthwash or something.”  Wickham-Jones and her team enlisted the help of a Glenfiddich distillery to brew a new ale inspired by the potential recipe. “It was fabulous,” she says. The article then discusses other sites and possible evidence of alcoholic beverages. Jessica Smyth, an archaeologist and chemist at the University of Bristol comments that conclusive proof that specific alcoholic beverages were drunk as far back as the Neolithic is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible. “If you’ve got sprouted barley, that’s good evidence for beer production,” says Oliver Craig, an expert in biomolecular archaeology at the University of York. But such confirmation is difficult to find at pre-Roman sites in Britain. One theory says that during the Neolithic period, Britons had a shortage of cereal grains for several hundred years due to climatic changes between 5,300 and 4,400 years ago, according to University College, London archaeologist Chris Stevens. In response to that claim is the possibility that early Britons may have fermented honey to make a form of mead.

temple to the god of wind

Archaeologists working in Mexico City have uncovered a circular temple built more than 650 years ago to worship a god of wind. Coverage in The Guardian describes how it was excavated at a site discovered two years ago when a mid-20th-century supermarket was demolished. The circular platform, about 36ft in diameter and 4ft tall, now sits in the shadow of a shopping mall under construction. It was likely dedicated to the god of wind, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl. It will be preserved and make it visible to the public with a large viewing window. The article includes commentary by Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, national archaeology coordinator for Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute, about remains of various offerings made at the temple.

fake news as feel-good grooming

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the success of fake news, including insights from biological anthropologist Agustín Fuentes, chair of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame: “This is a deep, primate reality: We love being groomed. Monkeys do it by touching each other, but we also groom linguistically. We love when people tell us that we’re right and we’re OK…Fake news “is all about making people feel OK. It justifies their anger or their fear. It tells them, ‘You’re right to think this way.’ It validates them. That’s powerful stuff. It has a huge neuropsychological impact on us.”

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