anthro in the news 5/14/18

Flood damage along the Choluteca River caused by Hurricane Mitch. Credit: NOAA/Flickr.

immigration policy in the U.S.

The New York Daily News carried an article about the Trump administration’s decision to end protections for 57,000 Honduran immigrants in the U.S. who fled from the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, caused over 11,000 deaths  in Central America with over 7,000 occurring in Honduras. Immigrant advocates contend that revoking the status will simply drive people underground who have been establishing roots in the United States for years, including having American-born children. The article quotes Miranda Hallett, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Dayton: “Generally speaking, people make decisions about migration based on human needs and social connections over legal statutes.” 

book review: Barracoon

TIME published a review of a long-awaited book written by anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston early in her career. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is about a man who was the last survivor of the last-known ship to bring enslaved people from Africa to America: “In 1927, a man in Alabama…received a visitor. A young anthropologist, working on her first big assignment, wanted to hear what he remembered of freedom, of bondage and of what came before. The aspiring scholar’s name was Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston returned several times, aiming to write a book about the man called Kossola…but never found an interested publisher. Even as she became an esteemed writer, his story stuck with her. His yearning for home, undimmed by time, was wedged in her mind. Now, about 90 years later, the book she had wanted, a nonfiction account of her interaction with a man who lived a vanishing history, has finally been released…

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anthro in the news 5/7/18

The ring. Credit Charley Marley/Flickr

sexism and the sumo ring

The Japan Times reported on current debates in Japan about the origins of the rule against women in the sumo ring along with current attempts to abolish the taboo. Some say that the unwritten rule is relatively recent, added sometime after the late 17th century to the sport which dates back more than 1,300 years.  Masataka Suzuki, professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at Keio University, observed that during that many ceremonies and taboos were gradually created during that period to “dignify” the main professional sumo league. According to him, the taboo, however, applied only to the professional league. Women were allowed to play sumo matches held at shrines during local festivals. 

bullshit jobs: book extract

The Guardian published an extract of David Graeber‘s latest book, which will be available May 15, called Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. “What is a bullshit job? The defining feature is this: one so completely pointless that even the person who has to perform it every day cannot convince themselves there’s a good reason for them to be doing it. They may not be able to admit this to their co-workers – often, there are very good reasons not to do so – but they are convinced the job is pointless nonetheless. Bullshit jobs are not just jobs that are useless; typically, there has to be some degree of pretence and fraud involved as well. The employee must feel obliged to pretend that there is, in fact, a good reason their job exists, even if, privately, they find such claims ridiculous…These considerations allow us to formulate what I think can serve as a final working definition of a bullshit job: a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

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anthro in the news 4/30/18

Shinonome-riken Canal Court housing, Tokyo. Source: Pinterest

what lurks behind the door

Oxy (California) reported on the role of beliefs about the dead in affecting rent prices in Japan. It is much cheaper to rent a place where the previous occupant died of unnatural causes like suicide or murder. In Japan such properties are known as jiko bukken, and the law actually recognizes them. Any property in which an occupant has died of unnatural causes means it has a defect that must be explained to the consumer. Stigmatizing property associated with a death is not, however, unique to Japan. Phillips Stevens Jr., associate professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, says there are a couple of reasons why people generally shy away from such places. There’s the ghost factor. “In some cultures the mood of the ghost might depend on the way he died…A murdered person might be angry, wanting revenge; a suicide might be profoundly depressed and be dangerous for that reason.”

anthropology, the Nazis, and eugenics: book review

The Independent (Ireland) carried a review of a book about a 1930s Harvard-led research effort to determine a racial profile for the Celts by archaeologist Mairéad Carew: “In 1932, a group of scientists from the Ivy League college came to Ireland to investigate who the Celts were, where they had originated from and who were their descendants among modern Irish people…The overall manager of the Harvard mission was Earnest A Hooton, one of the leading physical anthropologists in America at the time. He was in charge of the bone laboratory at the Peabody Museum at Harvard which contained human skulls from all over the world. Hooton was a member of the American Eugenics Society, considered to be the key propaganda wing of the eugenics movement in America. Eugenics, the science of better breeding for human beings, was a variant of scientific racism. The American Eugenics Society supported Germany’s eugenic programme. However, Hooton claimed to be against Nazism but he still wanted to set up an American national breeding bureau in America. He was eventually disciplined by Harvard for his ‘inhuman’ teachings. The Harvard mission was part of a wider American eugenic project with investigators in Belgium, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. Potential immigrants to the United States were ‘eugenically inspected.’ Harsh new immigration laws had been enacted in the 1920s, after vigorous lobbying by eugenicists, in an effort to keep ‘defectives’ out. Hooton believed the Irish to be a pure race and a major source of American racial inheritance. Ireland was also chosen because of the Irish language as Celtic was believed to be an ancient Aryan language once spoken all over Europe.”

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anthro in the news 4/23/18

Bison Truck! Central San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, 2016. Credit: Joey Zanotti/Flickr

the damage humans do

Several media, including  NBC News, reported on a study of the correlation between humans and the decline of large mammal populations, expanding previous analyses from North America all the way back to the earliest humans in Africa. Over the past 125,000 years, the average size of mammals has shrunk, due to humans, not climate change, according to research on the fossil record by paleo-biologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico and her team. They found that, consistently, large mammals were abundant as people arrived and spread: “For example, a striking feature of the Pleistocene was the abundance and diversity of extremely large mammals such as the mammoth, giant ground sloth, woolly rhinoceros, and saber tooth tiger on all habitable continents.” When humans arrived, the rate of extinction for big mammals rose, and the process is still going on:  “Wild mammals are in decline globally because of a lethal combination of human-mediated threats, including hunting, introduced predators and habitat modification.” The study is published in the journal Science.

who cares about the environment

An article in The Christian Science Monitor pointed to the hypocrisy of environmentalism: Concern for the environment often rises alongside people’s material wealth, yet consumption of the wealthy in turn drives environmental destruction. Thus higher income people may support environmental causes but at the same time their lifestyle works against those causes. Studies show that low-income people are also aware of environmental problems and care about the environment, but they may be less financially able to act on their concerns. Just because there’s a kind of general prevailing idea of what sustainability and preserving the environment are, does not mean that people of color, poor people are not really concerned about the environment or involved in it,” says Melissa Checker, Hagedorn Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College and a faculty member in the Ph.D. program in anthropology at the City University of New York. “There are just different ways to think about nature and caring about it. All equally valid.”

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anthro in the news 4/16/18

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.

talking hair

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.”

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anthro in the news 4/9/18

Plate scraping. Credit: jbloom/Flickr

reducing food waste

Tri-States Public Radio (U.S.) reported on how the Food Recovery Network aims to reduce food wasted in college cafeterias. Food Recovery Network unites students on college campuses to fight food waste and hunger by recovering perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from their campuses and communities and donating it to people in need. The group delivers cooked but unserved food from the kitchen to local nonprofits, amounting to more than 13,000 pounds of food last year. Food waste is, however, not just a problem in college cafeterias. The article quotes Heather McIlvaine-Newsad, professor of anthropology at Western Illinois University, who said food waste is a global issue. It also contributes to global warming because discarded food from kitchens or grocery stores produces methane when it reaches landfills, and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. McIlvaine-Newsad noted that, at the household level, people can decrease the amount of food they waste: “If you go to a little more effort of planning your meals before going to the grocery store and buying exactly what you need, chances are you’re going to have less left on your plate after you finish.” [Blogger’s note: And let’s not forget composting]

culture and Irish literature

The Irish Times carried an article about a new book by Helena Wulff, professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University, about the culture of Irish literature and the Irish literary scene. The reviewer writes: “The patronising hauteur once maintained by anthropologists has long since been dislodged. In Wulff’s work, it is replaced by partisan but at times flinty commentary. In carrying out her fieldwork, she made friends, moreover, with many of the authors she dissects. Dinner party discussions as well as formal interviews form the basis of her analysis. As she admits, there is a fundamental kinship between authors and anthropologists; examining Irish writers involves ‘studying sideways’, making sense of one’s peers. But this closeness does not prevent her from grappling with besetting but seemingly jaded debates. Foremost among these is the question as to whether the term Irish writer carries any validity.”

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