encounters in anthropology
A triple book review in the New York Times looks at Katherine Verdery’s latest book, My Life as a Spy, and reflects on it in terms of two other new works: Matthew Engelke’s How to Think Like an Anthropologist, and Stuart Kirsch’s Engaged Anthropology. The driving question is about the relationships between sociocultural anthropologists and the people with whom they study. In the end, the reviewer notes the “benefit of the approach” of sociocultural anthropologists who get close to people in their research, with all the pros and cons for the researcher and the researched along the way.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution carried an article about the cropped hair style of Emma González, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaker at the March for Our Lives, and a founder of #NeverAgain. The article points to her hair style as political and quotes anthropologist Grant McCracken who wrote in his book Big Hair, that hair is a “court of deliberation, the place where we contemplate who and what we are.” So, people may attribute many meanings to Emma González’ cropped hair. But here is what she said a few weeks before the shooting on her school’s Instagram account: “I decided to cut my hair because it was a pain in the neck, if you’ll forgive the pun. It was really hot all the time; it was very cumbersome and very heavy, leading to a lot of headaches. It was expensive to keep it up, and as prom time came around, I figured it would be cheaper to not have to worry about doing my hair.”
don’t want to go there
Hong Kong Free Press reported on the challenges faced by the many seniors in China who, according to longstanding traditions, want to age at home in the care of, ideally, a devoted son and his wife, and not in some institution for the aged. The article mentions preliminary findings of a joint study with the polling organization Gallup as reported by Jing Jung, professor of anthropology at Tsinghua University in Beijing: Only one percent of rural seniors said they were willing to live in nursing homes, compared with 10 percent in urban areas. Even if they were disabled, only 30 percent said they would accept to live in nursing homes. Aside from tackling the practical issues of quality regulation, cultural perception of the demands of filial piety also limits nursing homes’ appeal to Chinese people.
Nacirema in the news
Many, but not all, readers will know who the Nacirema are – if so, here’s an update for you. If not, welcome to their world. The Guardian carried a piece about a new book by social critic Barbara Ehrenreich in which, among other topics, she writes about the requirement in Western societies for regular health checks: “There’s an argument that health checks have value as rituals, that beeping machines in sterile rooms provide the kind of reassurance to modern western consumers that shamanistic drumming and animal horns do in more “primitive” cultures. Ehrenreich quotes from a 1950s spoof anthropology paper, Body Rituals Among the Nacirema (“American” spelled backwards), in which supplicants lie on hard beds within temples, while magic wands are inserted in their mouths and needles jabbed in their flesh. Modern medicine invokes science in its defence. But whereas science is ‘evidence-based’, medicine tends to be ‘eminence-based’, with patients in thrall to the doctor’s superior prestige. It’s no coincidence, Ehrenreich thinks, that most American medical schools still insist on the dissection of cadavers. That’s how living patients are expected to be – as passive and silent as corpses.
An article in the San Diego Tribune highlighted the work of several San Diego’s scientists who are traveling “the globe to unearth new discoveries, [to] solve deepest mysteries.” One of the scientists profiled is Tom Levy, Distinguished Professor and Norma Kershaw Chair in the Archaeology of Ancient Israel and Neighboring Lands at the University of California, San Diego. He is a member of the Department of Anthropology and Judaic Studies Program and leads the Cyber-archaeology research group at the Qualcomm Institute, California Center of Telecommunications and Information Technology. He will travel to Israel with a team from the university’s new Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology to conduct a marine archaeology field school. He will also lead an expedition exploring the question of how climate and environmental change affected the collapse of civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean region around 1200 B.C.E.