beware the messenger
The Herald (Zimbabwe) published a piece about recent CIA reports on Russian hacking by social anthropologist David Price, professor at St. Martin’s University in Washington State. He argues that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is a tool of American hegemony, not an unbiased source of information: “I remain agnostic in these matters and highly recommend others do too. While we know nothing about the truth of these reports, we know a lot about the messenger delivering this news, and what we know should give us pause before accepting news of a Russian electoral coup here at home. As a scholar with two decades of academic research studying the CIA, I think many on the American left are letting their dire fear of the damage Trump will surely bring to not fully consider how the CIA is playing these events. Many on the American left misunderstand what the CIA is and isn’t. It isn’t some sort of right wing agency, it is an agency filled with bright people with beliefs across the mainstream political spectrum…” [Blogger’s note: The article previously appeared in CounterPunch Magazine].
where health is a human right
An article in The Atlantic describes the success of Cuba in ensuring the people’s health according to its constitution which says health is a fundamental human right: “Cuba has long had a nearly identical life expectancy to the United States, despite widespread poverty. The humanitarian-physician Paul Farmer notes in his book Pathologies of Power that there’s a saying in Cuba: ‘We live like poor people, but we die like rich people.’ Farmer also notes that the rate of infant mortality in Cuba has been lower than in the Boston neighborhood of his own prestigious hospital, Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s.”
calling on anthropology
The New York Times reported on widening health care gaps in the U.S. and pointed to the value of some researchers, “mostly medical anthropologists,” who have taken steps to follow communities where significant numbers of people are caught in the coverage gap. The article quotes Heide Castañeda, associate professor in the anthropology department at the University of South Florida, in-depth, long-term research provides the kinds of insights “you don’t get from a single snapshot, a one-off survey.” Those insights reveal, as she puts it, “not just how vulnerable people are, but how much agency they have, how much initiative they have to try and find a solution when none seems to exist. You can’t code that in a binary way; you have to watch it unfold over time.”
visual writing in our times
An article in The Hurriet Daily News (Turkey) discussed the widespread use, and growing variety, of emojis. It quotes linguistic anthropologist Marcel Danesi of the University of Toronto: “We have turned a corner in writing, whereby phonetic script and visual symbols are being integrated more and more.”
tiny food videos trending
The Atlantic carried an article about the popularity of Japanese tiny food videos on YouTube. The YouTube channel, Miniature Space, for example, has more than 1 million subscribers, and its most popular video—a strawberry shortcake made from a single berry—has been viewed more than 8.5 million times. Merry White, professor of anthropology at Boston University, says that tiny food embodies the Japanese obsession with kawaii, or “cuteness.” Dishes are typically presented against a backdrop of dollhouse furniture and accessories—little chairs, plates, floor lamps, and potted plants. White notes a playful “teasing by miniaturizing, and making exceptional the ordinary.” The exacting attention required echoes the culture of otaku among young, predominantly male hobbyists who have interests in manga, video games, and anime.
The National (United Arab Republic) published a review of Everyday Creativity: Singing Goddesses in the Himalayan Foothills by cultural anthropologist Kirin Narayan, professor in the School of Culture, History and Language at Australian National University. The book is an “engaging study of traditional women singers of Kangra in the Western Himalayas…We learn that the songs have countless other applications, whether social, personal or devotional. They accompany such diverse rites of passage as weddings and a boy’s first haircut. They are part of the rituals celebrating Krishna’s birthday. The genre known as barsati or monsoon songs, meanwhile, dates from when rice was still grown in Kangra…The section of the book which explores pakharu songs – the genre specifically sung for and by women experiencing difficulties in their married lives – is particularly fascinating….”
The Daily Star (Pakistan) carried an interview with Nayanika Mookherjee, reader in socio-cultural Anthropology at Durham University, about her book: The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971. She says: the book “argues that identifying raped women only through their suffering not only creates a homogenous understanding of gendered victimhood but also suggests that wartime rape is experienced in the same way by all victims.” This limited view does not allow the reader to “see how violence is folded into the everyday lives of those who were raped during the war.”
museum engaging youth
According to an article in The Times of India, the Zonal Anthropological Museum in Nagpur, central India, is using documentaries to engage urban youth in learning about tribal cultures. Screening documentaries on tribal life has helped increase turnout, according to curator of the museum Sanjay Shukla: “Earlier, school and college students would visit our gallery only during their educational tours. But after we started showing documentaries at the museum, around 20-30 youngsters are coming daily to attend it.”
The Houston Chronicle reported on the unexplained, unannounced destruction of a small cemetery in Houston. The article includes commentary from Ken Brown, a University of Houston anthropology professor who works with the Harris County Historical Commission. He said that the owner of property dedicated as a cemetery may not remove headstones without a court order.
take that anthro degree and…
…become a musician. Jessie Burns is a master fiddler and songwriter who has travelled the world with such multi-national bands as Gaelic Storm. On December 10, she returned to Steamboat and the Chief Theater for Celtic Christmas. According to Burns, the concert represents the music of the seven Celtic nations — Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Mann, Wales, Cornwall and Galicia in northwestern Spain. “It’s the music of the people…It was an oral tradition, passed down by ear. Many people could not afford printed music, so the music was passed down generationally and geographically.” Burns’ performances are special because she takes the time to tell the stories that inspired the songs —stories of love, loss and celebration. “I lived in Asia, backpacked around Africa and all around Europe…Most of the time, I travelled with my fiddle. There was an Irish community everywhere I went. Music is such a strong cultural piece. It’s part of how we look out for each other.” She has a degree in anthropology from the University of Durham.
archaeological state of emergency
The Financial Times reported on Mali’s declaration of an archaeological state of emergency due to the large-scale destruction and theft of its artefacts. Mali’s cultural heritage came under direct threat in 2012, when Islamist militants took over part of northern Mali including the historic city of Timbuktu and destroyed shrines. Although looting and illegal trafficking are not new in Mali, the situation has worsened since 2012. Susan McIntosh, an anthropology professor at Rice University who has been working in Mali since the 1970s, says that although West Africa is “phenomenally archaeologically rich,” far less research has been done on the region’s many civilizations. “This connects directly to the [illicit trade] problem…We cannot in many cases recognise the styles of many artefacts because most of the areas are so understudied.”
footprints in the ash
The Japan Times carried an article about interpretations of 13 footprints found in volcanic ash that later hardened into rock that were excavated last year in northern Tanzania. Their comparatively large size, averaging a bit over 10 inches long (26 centimeters), suggests they were made by a male member of the species known as Australopithecus afarensis. The prints were found at Laetoli, a site famous for a separate set of smaller footprints left by other A. afarensis individuals. Those made headlines in the 1970s as the earliest clear evidence of upright walking by early human ancestors. Researchers include paleoanthropologist Giorgio Manzi of Sapienza University in Rome and Marco Cherin of the University of Perugia. Their estimate of the individuals’ height is suspect according to William Jungers, professor at Stony Brook University in New York State, because scientists have not recovered enough of an A. afarensis foot to reliably calculate height. Philip Reno, an assistant anthropology professor at Penn State who also did not participate in the study, said the height estimate was in the right ballpark. The findings are described in a report released by the journal eLife.
Book award: Caroline Besteman’s book, Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine, was named a Best Book of 2016 by Foreign Affairs. The book chronicles Besteman’s coincidental reunion in Lewiston with Bantu refugees she had met as a doctoral student in Somalia in 1980. The review in Foreign Affairs called it “required reading for policymakers currently debating what to do with refugees from Syria.” Besteman is the Francis F. Bartlett and Ruth K. Bartlett Professor of Anthropology at Colby College in Maine.
Research award: Anne Storch, professor cultural anthropology at the University of Cologne, received the Leibniz Award, the most prestigious research prize in Germany: “With her groundbreaking work, she has contributed to a far-reaching reorientation of her field. Storch applied theoretical and practical questions and methods from cultural anthropology and the social sciences to African studies, thus contributing important new perspectives to the research field. In exemplary studies, she has moreover shown how linguistic analyses can be applied to a cultural-anthropological understanding of contemporary Africa. Her study on taboo and secret language in central Africa from 2011 was particularly significant. Her linguistic observations allow for complex sociological descriptions of power practices and political modes of action. Storch’s case studies, which are grounded in linguistic descriptions, but go far beyond them, have become international model studies for a modern and self-critical orientation in African studies.”