Upcoming film: Food Chains: The Revolution in America's Fields

In this exposé, an intrepid group of Florida farmworkers battle to defeat the $4 trillion global supermarket industry through their ingenious Fair Food program, which partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers in the United States.

There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of wages. In extreme cases they can be beaten, sexually harassed or even enslaved – all within the borders of the United States. Continue reading “Upcoming film: Food Chains: The Revolution in America's Fields”

Anthro in the news 3/24/14

• Flight 370 mystery shrouded in politics

An article in Firstpost reviewed several puzzles involved in the missing Malaysia Airline Flight 370, and discussed how various theories implicate Malaysian politics.

It suggests that unchallenged power has bred political apathy and inefficiency. In terms of the stumbles over the missing plane search, the article quotes Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales, who says that the government “lacks the ability to handle many technical matters with assurance and to communicate its purposes globally with clarity and agility.”

• From Haiti: After all, what has been done for us?

The Montreal Gazette carried an article about a new documentary film, Ayiti Toma, The Land of the Living.

It explores the problem of outsiders trying to aid Haiti without truly knowing Haiti. Montreal filmmaker Joseph Hillel’s film opens with a “full-frontal assault” on the role of international aid in helping Haiti. The article mentions anthropologist Ira Lowenthal, who says that the United Nations and other institutions are, “not focused on bettering Haiti.”

Echoing, even more forcefully, Lowenthal’s view is the comment from a man in one of the many neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince hit hard by the 2010 earthquake: “…what has been done for us? Absolutely nothing.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/24/14”

Anthro in the news 11/4/13

An anti-terrorism force holds exercises in Hami, in northwest China's Xinjiang region in July
An anti-terrorism force holds exercises in northwest China's Xinjiang region in July/CNN

• Just blame it on Uyghur terrorism

CNN invited cultural anthropologist Sean R. Roberts to write an article on the accusation by the Chinese government that the October 28 car crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that resulted in the death of five people and the injury of dozens was a terrorist attack by Uyghurs.

Roberts notes that while the deaths are a tragedy, it is not clear that they are a representative of a serious terrorist threat to the Chinese state as is now being suggested by official sources. According to Chinese security organs, this act of driving a jeep into a crowd of people and setting it on fire was a “carefully planned, organized, and premeditated” terrorist attack carried out by a group of Uyghur Islamic extremists from Xinjiang Province.

Roberts continues to say that given the lack of transparency historically in the Chinese state’s conviction of Uyghurs on charges of political violence, “we may never know whether this characterization of Monday’s events is accurate.” Roberts is an associate professor and director of international development studies in the Elliott School of the George Washington University. He has done substantial fieldwork in China’s Xinjiang region and is presently writing a book on the Uyghurs of Kazakhstan.

• Interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes

Mother Jones carried an interview with medical anthropologist Seth Holmes of the University of California at Berkeley. Holmes recounts his year and a half among the people who harvest food for consumers in the U.S. in his book Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies. Questions address how he became interested in anthropology, in U.S. farm workers, as well as what it’s like to illegally cross the Mexico-U.S. border.

[Blogger’s note: I assigned Seth’s book in my fall seminar on Culture, Risk and Disaster. It got a thumbs up from all the students, and I will assign it again next year.]

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 11/4/13”

Anthro in the news 9/2/13

Iquitos, Loreto region. Peru. The Amazons. 2012.
Iquitos, Loreto region. Peru.2012. From The Liquid Serpent by Nicolas Janowski

• A photo is worth a thousand words

The New York Times highlighted the work of Nicolas Janowski, a freelance photographer who was trained as an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In recent years, he has traveled around the western part of the Amazon in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. One result of his ongoing project is a photographic essay called The Liquid Serpent, referring to an indigenous term for the river that flows through the heart of the Amazon. The title offers a glimpse into Janowski’s conception of the region as having magical and mystical qualities. He says in his introduction: “The Amazon is neither man nor animal; she is nature’s hybrid.”

• The shifting odds of life and death in the Alto

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, published an article in Natural History magazine describing changes in a shantytown in northeastern Brazil. She first lived in the Alto as a Peace Corps worker in 1954 and later returned to do fieldwork on poverty, hunger, and child death. Those experiences led to her book, Death Without Weeping and many other publications.

Death Without Weeping
Book cover

The undercurrent driving the book is the very high rate of infant and child mortality at the time. Parents responded through delayed bonding until a child made it through the early years.

Fifty years later, fertility rates are down in Alto as are infant and child mortality rates. Scheper-Hughes writes: “…the bottom line is that women on the Alto today do not lose their infants. Children go to school rather than to the cane fields, and social cooperatives have taken the place of shadow economies. When mothers are sick or pregnant or a child is ill, they can go to the well-appointed health clinic supported by both state and national funds. There is a safety net, and it is wide, deep, and strong.”

Yet, now “The people of the Alto do Cruzeiro still face many problems. Drugs, gangs, and death squads have left their ugly mark. Homicides have returned with a vengeance, but they are diffuse and chaotic … One sees adolescents and young men of the shantytowns, who survived that dangerous first year of life, cut down by bullets and knives at the age of fifteen or seventeen by local gangs, strongmen, bandidos, and local police in almost equal measure.”

As Scheper-Hughes has written so compellingly for many decades, the “modernization” of life and death churns on, taking different shapes in different contexts. One wonders what the next fifty years will bring to the people of the Alto.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/2/13”

Anthro in the news 7/15/13

• A bold target for the World Bank

The Globe and Mail (Canada) carried an article based on a lunch conversation with Jim Yong Kim, medical doctor, medical anthropologist, and former university president, marking the end of his first year as president of the World Bank. The article discusses the pros and cons of targets. Targets, even wildly improbable ones, can inspire action and achieve change, even if the target is not achieved. Or they can create embarrassment when failure is seen as the outcome.

World Bank Washington DC
The World Bank in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 2013. Flickr: Simone D. McCourte/World Bank

Kim explains his dedication to a new World Bank target of eliminating extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. He is quoted as saying, “What would be really frightening to me is if people like me, people like the World Bank staff, were so concerned about their own lives that they would not grab the opportunity to set a bold target … It took a very long time to convince people that we should have this target, but now that we do, I just see it as a huge gift…”

[Blogger’s note: no one would argue that eliminating poverty, especially extreme poverty, is not a laudable goal. The question arises, though, of the chosen policy pathways toward the goal. Unfortunately for many small scale communities in developing countries, Kim plans to promote large dam construction and hydroelectric development which will destroy such people’s livelihoods].

• World Bank in Africa on the decline?

The New York Times published an op-ed on the declining importance of World Bank loans to Africa in spite of new World Bank efforts, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The authors argue that: “The World Bank has done important work in promoting good governance and evaluating reform efforts. But its latest pledge of aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo sends a very mixed message, coming at a time when the International Monetary Fund has been cutting its loan programs to the country because of concerns about poor governance.”

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon share stories while waiting for the state dinner in Kinshasa
World Bank Pres. Kim and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon laugh in Kinshasa. But the Bank's loan programs in Africa are declining. Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection

World Bank Director Jim Yong Kim is quoted as saying: “There are always going to be problems and downsides with the governance of places that are fragile [but he adds that through investment and aid]…we can both reduce the conflict and improve governance.” The authors point out that Kim’s argument assumes that more World Bank spending means better government. Despite the billions in aid the D.R.C. has already received, however, “Kinshasa has not felt compelled to improve. It’s not clear why the bank’s new effort will be different.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/15/13”

From the field: Reflections of a Yangon intern

Guest post by Julia Collins

The pounding rain muffles the sounds coming from the neighboring construction site. It is the rainy season in Southeast Asia and development season in Myanmar. With Myanmar’s recent debut on the global scene, it is the place to be for members of the development community.

World Economic Forum on East Asia 2013
Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Myanmar, 6/7/13. Photo: Sikarin Thanachaiary
In a recent edition of the Bangkok Post, Myanmar was mentioned more than three times in the business section alone. The articles reported on Japanese investment, Thai cement factories, and Norwegian sustainable tourism in Myanmar. Aid workers, foreign investors, economists, human rights activists, education specialists, you name it, everyone has caught Myanmar-fever.

The international spotlight is firmly fixed on this resource-rich, relatively untouched Southeast Asian country.

I intern at an independent policy research organization dedicated to the economic and social transformation of Myanmar. Led by Burmese economists, the think-tank recommends policies related to economic reform, poverty-reduction, and good governance. Professor Christina Fink, was instrumental in helping me find my internship. Her assistance along with the generosity of the Freeman Foundation Fellowship, enabled interning to become a reality, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I arrived in early June and am one of seven interns — four are also master’s candidates studying at Columbia’s SIPA, one is a law student from Yale and one a Burmese-American from Michigan State. We are fortunate to work alongside incredibly hardworking and intelligent Burmese research assistants, former political exiles, professors as well as a few foreign economists and lawyers. We often have internal trainings ranging from tax reform in Myanmar to media laws and hate speech to Myanmar’s role in the WTO to inform our research and endow us with a more comprehensive understanding of Myanmar’s reform process.
Continue reading “From the field: Reflections of a Yangon intern”

Hare Krishnas lose legal battle against McDonald's in Mauritius

By Sean Carey

The on-going legal battle between the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and McDonald’s over the right to sell hamburgers at the Jumbo Phoenix shopping mall in Vacoas, Mauritius, a site opposite the organization’s temple, highlighted in a previous post has taken a new turn.

The interim injunction in force since 26 February 2013 prohibiting the sale of beef products by McDonald’s was lifted on 27 March. Judge Prithviraj Fecknah was persuaded by members of McDonald’s legal team that the beliefs of religiously observant Hindus on the Indian Ocean island, the descendants of indentured labourers, about the protected status of the cow cannot trump the interests of an international fast food business.

Nevertheless, last Friday lawyers representing ISCKON, including Rama Valayden, a former Mauritian Attorney General, submitted new legal arguments to the Supreme Court, which will be heard on 18 April.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday the festival of Holi was celebrated by Hindus in residential areas (see video below), including at the Holyrood football stadium in Vacoas. Somduth Dulthumun, President of the Mauritian Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation, who has backed ISCKON in its dispute with McDonald’s, told the crowd: “We must live as one family forgetting and differences. Every Hindu has obligations to his religion. Nothing is free in life, and you have to make sacrifices to promote your religion.”