Anthro in the news 12/2/13

• Breast cancer screening in Israel: opportunity or not?

In Israel, a push to screen for a breast cancer gene leaves many women conflicted, according to an article in The New York Times. Israel has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world, and many scientists are advocating what may be the first national screening campaign to test women for cancer-causing genetic mutations that are common among Jews. But the tests mean that women have to choose between what they want to know, when they want to know it, and what to do with the information.

Komen Race Jerusalem 2012
Komen Race for the Cure (for breast cancer) in Jerusalem 2012. Flickr/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Jews of Ashkenazi, or central and eastern European, backgrounds, make up about half of the Jewish population in Israel and the vast majority of those in the U.S. They are much more likely to carry mutations that pose risks for breast and ovarian cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The debate about screening is economic — will the state cover the costs of testing — and ethnic — will only Ashkenazi Jews be routinely tested? Israel is a melting pot of both Arab citizens and Jews from all over the world, and only half of the country’s six million Jews are of Ashkenazi ancestry.

Moreover, even though the testing would be voluntary, women could feel pressured to participate, said Barbara A. Koenig, a professor of medical anthropology and bioethics at the University of California, San Francisco. “When you institute mass screening, you’re making a collective decision that this is a good thing.”

• Sharing amidst poverty in the U.S.

An article in The Los Angeles times described how L.A.’s close-knit Tongan community struggles with poverty while maintaining their strong cultural tradition of sharing. Statistics show half of Tongan Angelenos live in poverty. But, they say, a culture of sharing means “no Tongan is here to get rich”—because even the smallest thing is given.

Scholars believe the numbers of people in the Tongan diaspora is larger than the population of Tongans on the islands. The article quotes Cathy A. Small, a Northern Arizona University anthropology professor who has long studied Tongan communities. When visiting a classroom in Tonga a few years ago, children were told to write letters to their mothers in New Zealand, saying what they wanted for their birthdays. “Nobody found the assignment strange.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 12/2/13”

GW event: From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World – Let’s End Violence against Women

This international video conference will link the George Washington University with Lahore College for Women’s University (LCWU) in Pakistan for a live student discussion to mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. It will provide the opportunity for students at both universities to share views about challenges and prospects for change. The event is part of a new three-year partnership between GW and LCWU funded by the U.S. Department of State.

Convenors/moderators: Professor Barbara Miller, Elliott School, GW

Professor Shaista Khilji, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, GW

Professor Sarah Shahed, Chair, Department of Gender and Development Studies, LCWU

When: Tuesday, December 3 | 8:30 AM-10:00 AM

Where: 1957 E Street NW, Lindner Family Commons, 6th floor

To RSVP for this event: go.gwu.edu/LCWU

Sponsored by the Elliott School’s Global Gender Program (GGP). Coffee/tea/juices will be provided.

Anthro in the news 8/5/13

• When prayer becomes addiction

Intense prayer among some Christians can become an addiction, as described by Tanya Luhrmann, professor of cultural anthropology at Stanford University, in an op-ed for The New York Times.

Praying Hands, Durer, Wikipedia
'Praying Hands' by Dürer/Wikipedia

She has learned that when people use prayer to enhance their real-world selves, they feel good. But when it disconnects them from the everyday, they feel bad. Luhrmann points to an anthropological study of the popular Internet game World of Warcraft for insights about when the supportive use of communicating with a different world veers into something less healthy.

The anthropologist Jeffrey G. Snodgrass and his colleagues found that some people were relaxed and soothed by their play: “Sometimes I just log on late at night and go out by myself and listen to the soothing music.” Others felt addicted: “Once I start playing it’s hard to tell whether or not I’ll have the willpower to stop.”

What made the difference was whether people found their primary sense of self inside the game or in the world. When play seemed more important than the real world did, they felt addicted; when it enhanced their experience of reality outside the game, they felt soothed. Prayer, Luhrmann suggests, works in similar ways. When people use prayer to enhance their real-word selves, they feel good. When it disconnects them from the everyday, as it did for the student, they feel bad.

• Our pills, our selves

Viagra
Viagra. Source:Men-Health

Salon magazine published an excerpt from Cracked: The Unhappy Truth about Psychiatry by cultural/medical anthropologist James Davies.

He explores big pharma’s rebranding practices, suggesting that it constitutes deliberate deception. The piece mentions the work of Daniel Moerman, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Moerman has written about the placebo effect of medical practices and drugs, including how the very shape and color of a pill can change its effectiveness.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 8/5/13”

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”

Anthro in the news 7/1/13

• DOMA and beyond: it’s complicated

The Los Angeles Times published an article by Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is quoted as saying: “One doesn’t have to go far afield to question the idea that marriage has always been defined the same way.”

The Huffington Post published an essay by Tom Boellstorff, professor of anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. He offers four points, the first of which echoes Joyce’s:

Defense of Marriage Act
January 10, 2009 Chicago protest of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Flickr/Kevin Zolkiewicz
  1. social scientists and historians have shown that many forms of marriage and kinship exist, and have existed, around the world, and heterosexual marriage itself takes many forms;
  2. the victory is bittersweet given the Supreme Court’s finding of a key element of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional;
  3. both the DOMA and Proposition 8 decisions were 5-4 rulings and this split represents divisions in society and suggests that heterosexism and homophobia will not disappear with these court rulings;
  4. finally, it is important to anticipate questions about what is “normal.”

• Structural violence and popular revolts

A Brazilian news source carried an article about the uprisings there and mentioned cultural anthropologists Paul Farmer, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and Philippe Bourgois.

The article points to how social exclusion plays a role in fomenting protest and predicts that given structural limitations, the government, even if it wants to, cannot resolve the major issues on the table in the short term. [Blogger’s note: the article is in Portuguese; my thanks to my colleague, David Gow, for this synopsis].
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 7/1/13”

Review of new book on widows of Japan

Widows of Japan by Deborah McDowell AokiAn open access review in Pacific Affairs of Deborah McDowell Aoki’s book, Widows of Japan: An Anthropological Perspective, says that this “…comprehensive study of Japanese widows brings into focus the complex, ambiguous, often tragic history of the impact of spousal death on Japanese women. Her eight years of research from 1996 included 58 interviews with women from urban and rural areas. She states the themes in the introduction: ‘the fetishism of female bodies to protect and embody family honor, the historical role of state formation in creating family and kinship systems, and the integrative functions provided by women…’ ”