anthro in the news 10/16.17

School girl, India. Credit: Google Images Commons/Pexels.

educated brides sought, but not working wives

Japan Today published an opinion piece co-authored by cultural anthropologist Rachael Goodman, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She and her co-author base their comments on ethnographic fieldwork in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India: “Even in remote rural areas of Uttarakhand, an Indian state in the foothills of the Himalayas, most young women now earn bachelor’s degrees while their mothers often did not finish high school and their grandmothers were lucky to attend primary school at all… many families expect prospective brides to have college degrees, even if the groom does not. Educated women are seen as higher status and are expected to raise children who will be even better educated…Rather than leading directly to increased participation in the formal labor market, the greater interest in educating girls has changed the landscape of arranged marriage…While expectations for brides have changed, those for wives have not.”

sexual harassment in anthropology

A teal ribbon stands for awareness of sexual harassment and assault. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/MesserWoland

Newsweek reported on the occurrence of sexual harassment in many professional contexts, outside of Hollywood. The article mentions a new study of sexual harassment in anthropology fieldwork and academia co-authored by Robin Nelson, assistant professor of biological anthropology at Santa Clara University and quotes her as saying: “We have that same dynamic happening in academia and academic fieldwork [as in Hollywood].”

anticipating Puerto Rican migrants

The Patriot Ledger (Massachusetts) carried an article on the likely rise of migrants to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico, due to the ongoing effects from Hurricane Maria. Massachusetts, home to the fifth largest Puerto Rican population in the U.S., is preparing to accommodate them. The article quotes Rosalyn Negrón, associate professor of anthropology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston: “…we’re going to have to think about how Massachusetts is able to respond to a higher influx of families who have either small children or elders that they’re trying to take care of here…it’s not too soon to think about them…I think it is realistic to expect there could be a lot of people coming.”

The Los Angeles Times, in an article on the same topic, quotes Jorge Duany, professor of anthropology at Florida International University, who left the island five years ago to pursue his career in Florida. He said that although a mass influx of Puerto Ricans is nearly guaranteed, at least one question is open: “Whether they will stay.”

famous children of anthropologists

Forbes published a piece by regular contributor Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist at the University of West Florida, about some famous Americans with an anthropologist as a parent: “It may be easy to suggest that most people on any list of famous actors, writers, and musicians likely share a common political affiliation. But in this case, actor Ted Danson, writer/producer Mike Judge, former President Barack Obama, author Ursula Le Guin, and drummer Stewart Copeland all share one interesting aspect of their upbringing: one of their parents was an anthropologist…President Obama has discussed his relationship with his mother extensively in the press and in autobiographies. In 2007, he told the Chicago Tribune that his mother was ‘the dominant figure in my formative years. The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics.’” Stanley Ann Dunham, his mother, did fieldwork in Indonesia on traditional crafts production. Her revised dissertation, Surviving against the Odds, was published after her death.

take that anthro degree and…

…work in a non-profit. Katie Johnson is on the staff of the Alabama Blues Project which is dedicated to the preservation of blues music as a traditional and contemporary art form through interactive programs that educate and entertain. The organization provides blues music lessons for children ages 8-18 including at-risk and troubled youth. Teachers include some of the best blues musicians in the state. The Alabama Blues Project has been awarded the National Coming up Taller Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and a Keeping the Blues Alive award from the Blues Foundation. Johnson has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Alabama.

archaeology exhibit in Sharjah

Gulf Today reported about an upcoming Unesco-supported exhibit at the Sharjah Archaeology Museum that celebrates the 40th anniversary of an archaeological partnership between the UAE and France. Featuring more than 100 objects excavated by the French Archaeological Mission since it began its work in the UAE in 1977, the exhibit runs from October 18 to January 31, 2018. It is curated by Sophie Mery, Director of the French Archaeological Mission to the UAE. Highlights include the Emirates Pearl – the oldest pearl found in the world – from the Neolithic period, an etched carnelian bead from the Bronze Age, an incense burner in the shape of a standing man with raised arms from the Iron Age, a silver coin from the late Pre-Islamic Period, and a Pilgrim flask from the 15th century.

skin-color genes

The New York Times reported on the research of University of Pennsylvania geneticist Sarah Tishkoff on the evolution of genes that determine human skin color. The article quotes Nina Jablonski, Evan Pugh University Professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University: …the new study provides “a deeper appreciation of the genetic palette that has been mixed and matched through evolution.”

kudos: genius award

National Public Radio (U.S.) did an interview with cultural anthropologist Jason De León, associate professor at the University of Michigan and one of the 24 winners of a 2017 MacArthur “Genius” award. His research involves following the paths of undocumented migrants crossing the U.S./Mexico border and documenting and preserving what they have left behind. He comments: “…we hike in the desert. We survey vast parts of the Sonoran desert, looking for the things that migrants have left behind. When we find those things, we will stop and map them, photograph them, take GPS coordinates, collect artifacts. They get put into a database and then get stored at the University of Michigan, where we analyze them and we use them in various ways.” Quartz notes: “The reality de León has uncovered through his Undocumented Migration Project…is decidedly different. For example, his documentation of the objects left behind by border crossers on their perilous journeys north helps dispel Trumpian notions of immigrants as ‘bad hombres’ and rapists. Among the items he’s unearthed: A shirt emblazoned with the Statue of Liberty, a child’s weathered boot, and balled-up diapers.”



anthro in the news 10/9/17

Territories of the United States. Credit: Wikipedia

colonies of the U.S.

The Washington Post published a piece by David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University. He writes: “Why, in 2017, decades after the civil rights and decolonization eras, does the United States still have colonies and citizens who lack full democratic rights by law? The answer is largely simple, but troubling: Because the desires and power of the United States military have overwhelmed the desires and rights of colonized peoples.”

testing the social fabric in Puerto Rico

People lining up for water delivered by the Puerto Rico National Guard, September 24. Credit: U.S. Army National Guard/Sgt. Alexis Velez

The New York Times carried an article about a strengthened sense of community in Puerto Rico following the recent hurricanes with a cautionary note about limits to that solidarity given the challenges. The article quotes Diana Lopez Sotomayor, professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus, who is among those who fear that the social fabric may begin to fray if residents are forced to deal with months without reliable employment, food, and energy: “There is a new feeling in Puerto Rico, a new ‘nosotros’ [sense of we]. “More people in the street are saying, ‘Buenos Dias, Como estas?’ You’re in a queue for hours, and of course you become friends. In the same lines are rich and poor. It’s breaking the barriers of class.” However, she added, “When people are starving they will get violent. If things don’t get better the new ‘nosotros’ is going to break down.”

lessons from Haiti

Trump meeting service members during a visit to Puerto Rico, October 3. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense/ Sgt. Jose Diaz-Ramos

The Huffington Post published commentary by Mark Schuller, associate professor of anthropology and NGO leadership at Northern Illinois University, about the lessons from Haiti in advance of Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico. He writes: “…it is unfortunate that the mainstream media’s memory about the international response in Haiti skips over the painfully obvious: far from a success story, the 16-billion-dollar effort was patchy at best, leading to massive corruption, inequality, and radical ruptures of Haitian solidarity, destroying traditional families and even increasing violence against women.” He offers ten points for effective post-disaster aid, as “New Minimum Standards.”

intra-national relations

ABC News reported on the strong presence of Puerto Ricans in New York City and their political support of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans living on the island, though technically U.S. citizens, cannot vote in federal elections. “That’s what has galvanized the Puerto Rican community in the states — because we need to speak for citizens in Puerto Rico,” said Arlene Davila, a Puerto Rico-born professor of anthropology and American studies at New York University.

endangering the world

Commentary by William O. Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, appeared on New American Media (San Francisco). He writes: “President Trump is about to take action that will withdraw the United States from the ‘Iran Nuclear Deal’. On October 15, Trump will reportedly ‘decertify’ American participation in this historical agreement. This action is dangerous. This action will endanger the world. It will erode American credibility with both allies and enemies, and will destabilize the Middle East by worsening relations with Iran.”

exhibit review

Seven Days (Vermont) published a review of the exhibit, Spirited Things: Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic, at the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum: “As one delves into the gallery and its abundance of contextualizing labels, however, it becomes clear that complex and exciting arguments about the fetish, race, slavery and reclamation are at the heart of the exhibition. The chief force behind those arguments is
J. Lorand Matory, a scholar of West African and African diasporic religions and a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University. His book The ‘Fetish’ Revisited: Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make is forthcoming in 2018. The professor offered a talk of the same name at the University of Vermont last week.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a chef. Andrew Wong, the son of Chinese immigrants to the U.K., never intended to get involved in the restaurant business. But when his father died suddenly, he decided to assume responsibility for managing the restaurant his father had started. Along the way, he attended culinary school and studied anthropology, having realized the connections between food and culture. His philosophy focuses on taking original Chinese recipes and giving them a unique spin without changing their ultimate flavor profiles. His restaurant in London, A. Wong, won a Michelin Star in 2017, and the Michelin Guide 2018 has just awarded him a second star for contemporary Cantonese cooking. Wong studied cooking at Westminster Kingsway College and has a B.A. in social anthropology from the London School of Economics

…become a professor of psychology. Alexandra Rosati is assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Her research examines the evolutionary origins of the human mind, primate psychological abilities, and variation in cognition across species. She is working with other scientists and supporters to organize aid and relief to Cayo Santiago Biological Field Station — its staff, community, and monkeys –and to the town of Punta Santiago, both devastated when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Rosati has a B.A. in psychology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology and cognitive neuroscience from Duke University. 

the tomb of St. Nicholas

The Guardian and other media reported that archaeologists say they have found the burial grounds of Saint Nicholas in Turkey. Surveys have uncovered an intact temple and burial grounds below St. Nicholas church in the province of Antalya, where he is believed to have been born. “We have obtained very good results but the real work starts now,” said Cemil Karabayram, the director of surveying and monuments in Antalya. “We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of Saint Nicholas.” Revered for his gift-giving and aid to the poor, the 4th-century saint gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus.

in memoriam

Sinoto discovered the mast of an ancient voyaging canoe during a dig in Huahine, French Polynesia, in 1979. Credit: Bishop Museum/Star Advertiser

Yosihiko H. Sinoto, an anthropologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, died at the age of 93 years. He is known for his anthropological expeditions throughout the Pacific, particularly Hawai’i and French Polynesia.  He was a giant in the field of Polynesian archaeology,” said Bishop Museum board member and archaeologist Patrick Kirch of the University of California Berkeley. His work was “fundamental in the understanding of the settlement of eastern Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands.”  Kirch noted that Sinoto did much of the important, early excavation in Polynesia, uncovering key sites in the Marquesas, the Society Islands, Tahiti, and at South Point on Hawai’i that showed the sequence and timing of the settlement in the region.


fishing for answers

SDSU anthropologist Matthew Lauer with local fishermen (Credit: Matthew Lauer)

San Diego State University anthropologist Matthew Lauer is teaming up with scientists and islanders alike to figure out how fishing practices influence coral reef health.

As climate change dramatically alters the dynamics of sea life in and around coral reefs, it is important not to forget that humans, too, feel the effects of an altered reef ecosystem. Although we aren’t sea creatures, the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world depend upon the fish and other marine life that coral reefs sustain. A $1.6 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to San Diego State University anthropologist Matthew Lauerand colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Florida State University will help investigators explore the complex interplay between fishers, their communities and coral reef ecology.

Fishers on the island of Mo’orea, French Polynesia, in the South Pacific Ocean tend to prefer algae-eaters like parrotfish. Too few parrotfish mean that algae can grow unchecked, smothering the reef and robbing it of nutrients, potentially permanently damaging or killing the coral population. How exactly these fishers choose their quarry, monitor fish populations and think about the dynamics of their catch—and how this interdependent food web will respond to pressures such as climate change—is an unsolved question.

Lauer and his colleagues will combine state-of-the-art, water-penetrating satellite imaging technology with citizen-based information collection to generate data on how the coral and algae populationsin Mo’orea lagoons shift in response to fish catch patterns.

The Mo’orean fishermen and fisherwomen themselves will contribute to this effort, collecting data with GPS-enabled smartphones when they go out to sea. Lauer said involving community stakeholders is a critical element of this work.

“To learn more about coral reefs and to manage them better, we need to engage in non-arrogant collaborations with the island peoples who depend on them for their livelihoods,” he said.

Ultimately, the researchers hope their findings will help conservationists and coastal dwellers alike to better manage global reef populations.

Written by: Michael Price

Note: This post is republished from San Diego State University NewsCenter, with permission

magic, a microcosm of modern culture

“I would say that a surprisingly large number of my students at MIT are juniors and seniors, and they often say to me, ‘Oh, I wish I had found out about anthropology sooner,’” anthropologist Graham Jones remarks. “And I say, ‘Oh the same thing happened to me in college.’ Not many people come to college knowing what anthropology is.”
Photo: M. Scott Brauer

Anthropologist Graham Jones has turned a fascination with magic into a career.

Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office 

Many MIT professors were in a classroom or lab when they first encountered the subjects they now study. Not anthropologist Graham Jones. He found his life’s work in a New York City magic store.

The year was 2001, and Jones was a graduate student. A class he was taking on the transmission of knowledge in society assigned students to videotape people who teach skills to apprentices. So Jones, literally looking around the streets of Manhattan for ideas, wound up in a magic shop, inspired and relieved: At least he would have enough material to complete the assignment.

What Jones didn’t realize was that he had encountered the subject that would fuel his academic career — all the way to MIT, where he received tenure earlier this year.

“I had a powerful feeling that magic is a beautiful thing: It’s fun, and I’m interested in it and excited by it, so I’m just going to run with it,” Jones recalls.

Run with it, Jones has. He wrote his dissertation — which became his first book — about the secretive world of French magicians, studying how a small band of practitioners keeps their tricks tightly guarded while passing along enough knowledge to help the craft flourish.

Jones’ second book, to be published this fall, broadens the lens and looks at the way early anthropologists used the notion of “magic” to understand the systems of belief they encountered in distant, non-Western cultures. While retracing the history of his own discipline, Jones discovered that anthropologists, when interpreting the ritual practices of shamans and other holy figures, often drew comparisons with the trickery of stage magicians in their own societies.

As Jones is quick to note, watching a magician perform tricks and consulting a shaman for medical help represent two very different scenarios involving magic. By lumping them together, Jones argues, anthropologists developed influential theories about the supposed cultural difference between “modern” people who take a rational, incredulous stance about magic performances and “primitive” people who regard magic with a naïve credulity.

Retracing these debates about the meaning of magic, Jones is able to drill down toward bedrock-level issues about belief and the nature of knowledge — how we know what we know, and how we form our beliefs about the world.

“Magic, in a way, is a microcosm for culture,” Jones says. One of the biggest debates originally shaping anthropology, he adds, was “how to understand the prevalence and persistence of beliefs in things, forces, or abilities that seem fundamentally irrational. Why do otherwise rational people believe in the magic powers of witches, healers, shamans, and sorcerers, even when they have evidence to the contrary? Are they just dupes, or is there something else going on?”

And thus, in Jones’ way, studying magic is a neat trick: It makes us confront big questions about knowledge.

Making doubts disappear

Jones mostly grew up in Conifer, Colorado, a town in the Rocky Mountains. His mother was a caseworker for the Social Security Administration, and his father was a teacher, who taught Jones algebra in junior high school and physics in high school. When Jones became an undergraduate, at Reed College, he first tried studying physics. Then he tried philosophy. But neither one stuck.

On some level, Jones was searching for a subject that would say something deep about the structure of our world. But as he soon realized, he also wanted to explore people’s search for beauty and meaning. So he majored in literature and did not take an anthropology class until his college days were almost over — something he now sees as a familiar pattern in students.

“I would say that a surprisingly large number of my students at MIT are juniors and seniors, and they often say to me, ‘Oh, I wish I had found out about anthropology sooner,’” Jones remarks. “And I say, ‘Oh the same thing happened to me in college.’ Not many people come to college knowing what anthropology is.”

Jones quickly realized that by studying anthropology, he could have it both ways, examining big questions by studying how people in particular societies had formed beliefs about them.

“It provided a way of approaching philosophical questions, like how people deal with existential doubt, but in the context of lived human experience,” Jones says. “I had the feeling that I had finally found the path to satisfying my intellectual interests. … I liked the way it emphasized and required human contact, and accountability to the people you write about and represent.”

In graduate school, at New York University, Jones settled on writing his dissertation about magicians in Paris, the place where a pioneer named Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin established magic as a form of performance art in the mid-19th century. (America’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini, took his stage name from Robert-Houdin.)

Immersing himself in the subject, Jones spent almost two years as an apprentice magician in Paris, developing his own repertoire of tricks and passing an exam to join France’s largest professional association for magicians. His resulting book, “Trade of the Tricks,” published by the University of California Press in 2011, gained acclaim as the first-ever anthropological study of the field. His new book, “Magic’s Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy,” will be published by the University of Chicago Press.

Part of Jones’ intention with the second book, he says, “is to think more broadly about how anthropologists can ever know anything,” and shed light on ways scholars have wrestled with the status of their own conclusions: “How do you ever know about another culture, [unless] it’s through the categories or lenses of your own culture? It’s always an interpretation, so how do you ensure it’s a good one?”

“I always have more to learn”

In person, Jones can be self-effacing about his research: “Teaching is what I really care about,” he says. And indeed Jones won MIT’s 2013 Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, granted to junior professors, in part for his teaching.

On that front, Jones has developed a wide variety of classes intended to introduce undergraduates to both the dizzying range of questions anthropologists grapple with and the careful methodology of the discipline.

One class Jones co-teaches with Heather Paxson, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology, is called “The Meaning of Life” and delves into the philosophical questions that anthropologists encounter when they study belief systems in other societies. Another course, “Teaching and Learning,” aims to replicate the same kinds of inquiries that led Jones to discover magic as a vital topic in his own student days.

This year, Jones has unveiled a new course, “Magic, Science, and Religion,” which tackles the questions about the status of knowledge and belief that he has examined in his own research.

“The topic of religion is so important in studying how our world works,” Jones says. “I’m happy to foster that kind of exploration for MIT students.” Moreover, he adds, the rejection or denial of science is “one of the biggest, if not the single biggest issue of our times. In 2017, the vicissitudes of history are such that these musty old anthropological debates now seem like the most topical thing I could teach.”

That doesn’t mean Jones and his students will arrive at easy answers or solutions for reconciling the conflicting beliefs that different social groups hold. But it does mean he, and his students, will keep striving to understand more about the reasons why people believe the things they do, magical and otherwise.

“I feel my career has been a pursuit of an insight or understanding that’s always just slightly out of reach,” Jones says. “That’s a good reason for going into a field and staying in it. I always have more to learn. It’s something that’s inexhaustible.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News

anthro in the news 10/2/17

Don and Kim: Things in Common. Credit: Frank Fenemma, 2017. Commons Wikipedia/Flickr

nuclear orientalism

The Ramapo News (Suffern, New York) published an op-ed about U.S.-North Korea relations which points to the relevance of what Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology at George Washington University, wrote about in his 1999 article Nuclear Weapons and the Other in the Western Imagination: … “‘nuclear orientalism’ — the perception that western leaders of nuclear powers are calm and rational while their counterparts in the east are impulsive and dangerous. And while Donald Trump may yet prove to blow the lid off this charade for all time, it is still the predominant assumption.”

debt justice for Puerto Rico

Wiping Out Debt. Credit:

Forbes published commentary by Adriana Garriga-López, associate professor of anthropology at Kalamazoo College:  “The U.S. owes Puerto Rico more than just aid and support after a disaster like this. Hurricane Maria’s destruction has laid bare the political subjugation Puerto Rico has experienced since 1898. This imbalance of power has led to a flawed relationship in which the U.S. prioritizes Puerto Rico’s credit obligations—held primarily by vulture funds from the U.S.—over its inhabitants’ quality of life. The U.S. owes Puerto Rico a serious attempt at restructuring this relationship to ensure justice for Puerto Ricans…It is time for the U.S. to not only forgive Puerto Rico’s fiscal debt, but pay off its moral debt to its southern neighbor.

NFL protests part of a long tradition

An article on Yahoo Sports News included comments from Orin Starn, professor of cultural anthropology and history at Duke University. He sees the NFL protests as continuing a tradition of activism started by black athletes in the 1960s: “There’s a thread connecting Tommy Smith and John Carlos in 1968…black athletes using sport to protest racial injustice, to say to America that it doesn’t have its racial house in order.” As to whether or not, the protests will have an effect: “This is a divided country. One part of it thinks that African-Americans have been given too many breaks; the other, a big segment of America, thinks we have real problems with racism and police brutality and wants to do something about it. But it is not clear to me that the status quo is changing.”

Mao and women’s liberation

The New York Times carried a piece about women’s lives in China during the time of Mao, and how difficult it is to assess the reality behind the rhetoric. It mentioned the research of two cultural anthropologists. During field study in China in 1970s, Margery Wolf noted how effusive Chinese women were about the miracle of female emancipation under Mao. Elisabeth Croll observed that all published accounts of Chinese women’s lives during the early decades of the People’s Republic followed the standard narrative of their rise from mistreated wives and daughters to independent, socialist workers. 

engagement not marginalization

Street market, Johannesburg. Credit: Joonas Lyytinen, Käyttäjä:Joonasl/Creative Commons

The Daily Maverick (South Africa) published an op-ed by Matthew Wilhelm-Solomon, lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand and an associate researcher with the Migration and Health Project Southern Africa: “The city of Johannesburg needs to improve public security and policing, along with environmental health conditions. But this relies on trust, intelligence, and effective reporting. It relies on greater inclusion and engagement. The blanket targeting and criminalisation of the occupants of ‘bad buildings’, alienating large numbers of inner-city residents, be they South African or foreign, will not serve these ends…a solution based on the continued marginalisation and ‘ghettoisation’ of the poor in the post-apartheid city, be they South African or foreign national, could well foster violence, further social divides and perpetuate historical cycles of displacement.”

textbook case

Kerala News (India) reported on the inclusion in a major American textbook of a cultural anthropology study of a tribal school program in eastern India. The author, Christine Finnan, professor of anthropology at Charleston College, did fieldwork and wrote about the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) which, according to its website, is a free, residential home for over 25,000 indigenous children who are provided education from kindergarten to post graduation as well as vocational and life skill empowerment to overcome poverty and injustice. Finnan conducted interviews with students between the ages of 9 and 15 at KISS and at government day schools in the state of Odisha. The Kerala Times article comments: “This is a matter of pride for India, Odisha and KISS as well as entire Indian tribal community.” Finnans’ (and co-authors’) findings are published in the journal Global Studies of Childhood. 

deportation fear in graduate students

An article on AlterNet described the growing fear of deportation among international graduate students at Washington University in St. Louis related to the movement to unionize graduate student workers. The article quotes Bret Gustafson, associate professor of anthropology at Washington University, who says that the university’s stance on unionization is an effect of its  corporatization in recent years: “This university like most universities has turned into a corporation…they have some really high-paid lawyers that fight unions…When I read [the provost’s statement], and it said they were threatening foreign students with deportation, I couldn’t believe it, but in fact, if you look at the document, that is what they are doing.” Gustafson has received emails from his department forbidding faculty from inquiring into students’ “union sympathies.”

take that anthro degree and…

…work in office administration. Maria Therese Antonetti is an office administrator with Universal Underground Utility Contractors in Auburn, Georgia. She develops upcoming project estimates and bids, prepares project invoices and accounts payable ledgers, manages internal databases for project evaluation and inventory; and controls payroll, 401(k) contribution reports, and employee benefits enrollment. In this position, she builds relationships with local governments through business management and civic engineering.  Antonetti has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Georgia and is working toward a Certificate in nonprofit management and leadership at the University of Georgia. 

wide-ranging Dene people

CBC News (Canada) carried an article about the second Dene Migration Symposium hosted by the Tsuut’ina Nation, a Dene community near Calgary, Canada, in September. One subject discussed at the conference was the history of the Dene people. The article mentions the work of John Ives, professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and executive director of its Institute of Prairie Archaeology, as central to the understanding of Dene history. He is quoted as saying: “Dene speakers go from the North slope of Alaska all the way to northern Mexico,” Ives said. “It’s one of the most remarkable language family distributions in the New World — it’s probably the largest.” Also noted is the research of Todd Kristensen, a Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at the University of Alberta and a regional archaeologist for Alberta’s Archeological Survey. He is tracking the spread of raw materials and stone tools made from them across North America to learn about the origins and movement of Northern Dene. His findings confirm that the pre-contact Dene travelled and traded widely.


Uber and Mr. Uddin

Caption and credit: An anti-Uber demonstration in London, 2014. Credit: David Holt/Flickr.

Written by: Sean Carey

“Do you think Uber will close?” asked Mr. Uddin, a worried 52-year-old British Bangladeshi Uber driver.

“I’ve just heard on my car radio that more than 600,000 people have signed a petition against its closure and the number is growing all the time,” I replied, in an attempt to provide him with some moral support. “My guess is that although the [London] Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said he backs TfL’s [Transport for London] decision not to renew Uber’s licence, with that number of people campaigning against closure he will be very keen find a way to solve the problem and continue to let Uber operate. I mean that’s what politicians who want to get re-elected do – they respond to popular opinion, don’t they?”

Mr. Uddin, a first-generation migrant from Sylhet, who lives in a council flat in Bethnal Green in the heart of the U.K.’s most populous Bangladeshi community, nodded appreciatively at my reply but it was obvious from his facial expression that he remained concerned about his future employment prospects, especially the likely effects on his wife and four children if he could no longer work.

In fact, Mr. Uddin is one of around 40,000 Uber drivers in the U.K. capital, serving an estimated 3.5 million users of the app-driven service. It’s evident that many of the company’s drivers in London come from ethnic minority backgrounds, and that most have little in the way of formal educational qualifications that would smooth their way into other parts of the U.K.’s increasingly digital economy. Indeed, with employment as waiters or kitchen staff in the once buoyant Bangladeshi-dominated “Indian” restaurant trade becoming increasingly scarce, there are few alternative job opportunities for middle-aged Bangladeshi men such as Mr. Uddin.

Sadiq Khan, the most powerful Labour politician in the land, undoubtedly has a delicate balancing act to perform. The son of working-class Pakistani immigrants who became a human rights lawyer, he will know very well the social and economic background and circumstances of the vast majority of Uber drivers, as well as the displeasure of millions of relatively and very affluent, predominantly Labour-backing users, of the service in London.

Little wonder that once he sniffed the way the political wind was blowing he said: “I have every sympathy with Uber drivers and customers, affected by this decision but their anger really should be directed at Uber. They have let down their drivers and customers by failing, in the view of TfL, to act as a fit and proper operator.” He added, being careful to reinforce his position as a champion of social and economic “openness” in the capital: “I suspect it will take some time before this situation with Uber fully plays out. In the meantime, I will continue to help support innovative businesses in London and to create a vibrant and safe taxi and private hire market.”

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi-born Iqbal Wahhab, owner of Roast restaurant in Borough Market and a former chair of the Department of Work and Pensions Ethnic Minority Advisory Group, reminded TfL in an article for the International Business Times that it has a legal duty not to discriminate against ethnic minority groups. He added: “If they are able to win their appeal, Uber will have to rigorously clean up its conduct and be fit to serve London better. But by having put fear of economic uncertainty into 40,000 households yesterday, City Hall could also more rigorously interrogate all its responsibilities – not just to those who are highly vocal but also to those who are quietly marginalized and trying to enter the mainstream economy.”

Back in Mr. Uddin’s living room I hear about what entering the mainstream economy by working for Uber entails. “I work nights – about five or six hours on average,” he says. “It suits me. And the people like Uber – it’s much less expensive than calling a black cab.” Before he goes out for his night shift, his wife always makes him a black coffee. “Then I feel strong,” he says, flexing his arms. “It means I can work without feeling tired. If someone wants me to take them on a long journey, say, to Birmingham [around 100 miles] it’s not a problem.”

Some sort of compromise between Uber and TfL around employment rights and passenger safety needs to be hammered out quickly. For sure, it would be a great shame for all concerned if Mr. Uddin never again drove a passenger to Birmingham.

anthro in the news

Money. Credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons.

disaster capitalism

The Sun Sentinel (Florida) published commentary by Yarimar Bonilla, associate professor of anthropology and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation. She mentions a fieldwork interview she had with a financial manager on the island who advised her to buy stock in Home Depot in anticipation of a hurricane, because such disasters bring in federal money. And, indeed, not one but two hurricanes hit Puerto Rico in September. She writes: “But if history is any indication, they [the funds] will do little to alleviate long-standing disparities or to remedy the conditions that put Puerto Rico at greatest risk. More likely, the expedited management of emergency money will only serve to fuel the drive for increased privatization and the gutting of public services…Vulnerability is not simply a product of natural conditions; it is a political state and a colonial condition.”

street fashion in Tokyo

An article in Japan Today highlighted a book on Tokyo street fashion by Philomena Keet, a freelance researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in anthropology from SOAS University in London: “Tokyo’s fashion-obsessed inhabitants are the subject of Keet’s latest book, ‘Tokyo Fashion City,’ which is part guide book and part fashion photography album…The book effectively takes readers on a stroll through eight districts of Tokyo that each have a reputation for an interesting fashion scene, be that cutting-edge, traditional or the embracing of a subculture.” The article includes commentary by Keet: “Some Japanese are so fanatical about what they wear that they will push the boundaries of a certain style, often creating new sub-subcultures…It also means that rarely does a ‘style tribe’ totally disappear, as there are likely to be at least a handful of hardcore fans keeping it alive somewhere…”

choice and Muslim women

The Jordon Times reported on a conference titled Muslim Women and the Right to Choose Freely, held at the Columbia Global Centers in Amman. Lila Abu Lughod, the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University, gave a presentation about choice and Muslim women. She noted that some writings misleadingly depict Muslim women as oppressed :  “By convincing readers that other cultures, especially Muslim cultures do not value freedom of choice, they produce this comfort fantasy that, in contrast, Western women do have choice…when the ideological loaded categories of choice and consent are applied to non-Western women in this way, they stigmatise these groups.”

choreography of robot-cars

The San Francisco Chronicle carried a piece on the multidisciplinary work going into developing self-driving cars including that of cultural anthropologist Melissa Cefkin, principal scientist and design anthropologist at the Nissan Research Center in Sunnyvale, California. She has studied folk dancers in Turkey, salespeople in Spain and Germany, and bus dispatchers in the United States. Her research has focused on how people express themselves through body movements and form their identities through workplace practices. She is now applying her ethnographic skills to solving the problem of how self-driving cars can communicate with people. She is quoted as saying: “what happens on the road is very much like an impromptu choreography…“Cars are profoundly intertwined with our lives…he increasingly autonomous future will reconfigure how that will feel. What will it mean for these vehicles to be good citizens in the world? How will they interact with everybody else on the road? That’s a job for social scientists to understand.”

anthropology connection between Ken Burns and the U.S.-Vietnam War:

An article in The Washington Post about the new television series on the U.S.-Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick points out how they and their colleagues had to confront their own memories and preconceptions about the war: “Burns, who was 11 when American ground troops landed in Vietnam in 1965, grew up feeling divided about the conflict. His father, Robert Burns Jr., taught in the anthropology department at the University of Michigan, where his colleague Marshall Sahlins eventually came up with the idea of the ‘teach-in.’ The wide-ranging forum on the war, held on the Michigan campus in March 1965, would become a model for similar events around the country. Burns’s father attended the teach-in, though Burns himself remembers little about it. Burns was preoccupied with his mother’s illness; just a month later, Lyla Burns died after a long struggle with breast cancer.”

take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary filmmaker, social researcher, and social activist. Hermon Farahi is a multi-media artist, working in filmmaking, photography, and music production.  He has done research on undocumented sub-Saharan African refugees in Morocco;  the impact of continual US colonization and militarization on indigenous populations in to Guam and the Mariana Islands, Micronesia; and grassroots social justice movements in Washington, D.C. He has presented and published his research, films, and photographs at academic conferences, film festivals, photo exhibits, and with community-based programs. Farahi has B.A. in anthropology and ethnic studies from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and an M.A. in anthropology and a Masters Certificate from the Institute of Documentary Filmmaking at George Washington University.

become an epidemiologist. Loranne Stallones is Director of the Graduate Program in Public Health and professor of epidemiology at Colorado State University. Her research interests include relationships between pesticides and mental health, adolescent farm work, fatigue and injuries, pesticide exposures and traumatic injuries among women and men, farm work injuries among children, suicide among farmers, and preventing traumatic brain injuries and school playground related injuries. She has authored and co-authored over 150 refereed journal articles as well as several books and book chapters. Stallones has a B.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of California Santa Barbara, and an M.P.H. in community health and a Ph.D. from the School of Public Health at the University of Texas.

divine king burial in Guatemala

Newsweek and other media reported on archaeological excavation of the tomb of a fourth century divine king in Guatemala. The burial chamber, the oldest uncovered in the Maya city of Waka, was discovered through the work of the U.S.-Guatemalan El Perú-Waka’ Archaeological Project. Previous research at the site revealed six royal tombs and sacrificial offering burials dating to the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries. “The Classic Maya revered their divine rulers and treated them as living souls after death,” said research co-director David Freidel, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. “This king’s tomb helped to make the royal palace acropolis holy ground, a place of majesty…”

growth of Neanderthals

Several media reported on findings about childhood growth and development of Neanderthals based on the analysis of a Neanderthal boy’s skull found in the 49,000-year-old archeological site of El Sidron, Spain. The results suggest that he grew much like a modern boy would. The Guardian quotes co-author Luis Rios, member of the Paleoanthropology Group at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales: “What we see in this Neanderthal is that the general pattern of growth is very similar to modern humans.” Adam Van Arsdale, associate professor of anthropology at Wellesley College who was not involved in the study, described the differences between Neanderthals and humans in the paper as “subtle.” Milford Wolpoff, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, agreed “that Neandertals may have had extended period of brain growth.” Findings are published in the journal Science.

words of hope from Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Providence Journal (Rhode Island) covered a talk by activist and primatologist Jane Goodall at the University of Rhode Island. Sounding a positive note, she offered her short list of hope: her first hope in young people, for the many she has worked with quickly move past despair to a resolve to make a difference. “You are my hope for the future…” Having witnessed the rapid return of animals and plants to areas restored after destruction — quarries, for example — Goodall also places her hope in the resilience of nature. More hope is found, Goodall said, in growing international environmental and peace movements whose message is amplified by social media: “Eventually the voice of the people will be so strong that politicians and business will have to listen.” Last, she places her hope in “the indomitable human spirit.” She cited Nelson Mandela, who emerged from years of imprisonment to forgive his captors and end apartheid, but “every single one of us,” Goodall said, has that same spirit.