Anthro in the news 10/7/13

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in May 2012. Flickr/isafmedia

• Another run for Afghanistan presidency

Al Jazeera carried an interview with Ashraf Ghani Aamadzai (known more in the U.S. as simply Ashraf Ghani) about the Afghanistan presidential race. The article introduces him by saying: “On paper Columbia-educated cultural anthropologist Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is an ideal candidate to be Afghanistan’s president. Ghani has worked at the World Bank and United Nations, and has written a book on failed states. In Afghanistan, however, his 2009 bid for the highest political office was dogged by criticism that his 24 years abroad meant Ghani had become a virtual stranger to the Afghan people.”

Ghani speaks about engaging youth and fighting corruption. On the latter, he comments:

There are 100 countries that are extremely corrupt. There are 20-25 countries that came out of corruption and succeeded. The United States still has major corruption, particularly at the municipal level. England invented corruption. Dealing with corruption is a multi-pronged agenda.

Ghani also ran in the last election and garnered only 3 percent of the vote. This time around, he may be running against a brother of his.

• Freedom’s just another word…

According to an article in The Globe and Mail (Toronto), “we” are overly comfortable with debt. The article mentions LSE cultural anthropologist, David Graeber, author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. According to Graeber, the English word “freedom” was originally associated with freedom from debt. It translated into “return to mother” because when debtors fell into arrears badly enough, their children were taken away from them.
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/7/13”

Anthro in the news 9/16/13

• Battle for Ground Zero

Boston’s NPR reported on the political and emotional struggles over what the site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City should represent.

Battle for Ground Zero
Battle for Ground Zero book cover.

In a new book, Battle For Ground Zero: Inside the Political Struggle to Rebuild the World Trade Center, Harvard University cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Greenspan documents America’s most fought over public space.

She says that as the memorial was being designed, there was tension between commerce and remembrance: “This is one of the most valuable pieces of land in the world — it held the largest office complex in the country … But then you had all these other people who said this is a now historic piece of land where so many thousands of people were killed.”

The memorial includes One World Trade Center, which will be used as commercial space, and a memorial area with reflecting pools and the names of those who died. While some families are pleased with the design of the memorial plaza, others hoped that there would be artifacts from that day incorporated into the memorial.

“For many families, they felt like there needed to be more that remembered the day itself and the attacks, and not just the twin towers,” Greenspan said.

• On the future of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Bloomberg BusinessWeek interviewed cultural anthropologist David Graeber on the future of the Occupy Movement. Here is an extract:

Q: Were you disappointed that the Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t accomplish more?
A: I’m personally convinced that if it were not for us, we might well have President Romney. When Romney was planning his campaign, being a Wall Street financier, a 1 Percenter, he thought that was a good thing. That whole 47 percent thing that hurt him so much was something the right wing came up with in response to our 99 percent.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/16/13”

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.

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Anthro in the news 3/15/10

• Yo-Yo Ma’s anthropological soul

Classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma is, according to an article in the Washington Post, “one of the most recognizable classical musicians on the planet.” Besides being a star of the musical world, he is also a social activist, in his own way. “I realized late in life,” Ma says, that my twin passions are music and people. Maybe that is why I am an odd person in this profession.” The article goes on to point out that Ma’s wonderful oddness may be in part due to his liberal arts education at Harvard where he expanded his view beyond music: “I have been passionate about music … but people in my dorm were equally passionate about other things. So suddenly, it was like, oh my gosh, what a huge world.” He is still an avid fan of anthropology. Blogger’s note: Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma.

• Knowledge about domestic violence for prevention

What safety nets are in place to protect women from domestic violence/partner abuse? The recent murder of two women in Miyagi Prefecture has raised concern about how to provide protection for potential victims. The Daily Yomiuri (3/14, page seven) of Tokyo quotes Ichiro Numasaki, professor of social anthropology at Tohoku University: “Many victims of domestic violence are scared to end the relationship because they are kept under the control of the abuser … Police need to learn more about domestic violence itself.”

•”I’m done with Indian stuff”

According to an article in The New York Times, a likely American Indian site has been, or soon will be, destroyed due to pressure from local business interests to “develop” the area. Harry Holstein, a professor of archaeology, has been lobbying for protection of what was a mound. Leon Smith, the mayor of Oxford, wasn’t eager to discuss the issue with the NYT: “You’re not going to hear from me … I’m done with Indian stuff.” He plans to top off the mound, level it and build a restaurant, hotel or clinic: “It’s going to be pretty,” he said. Blogger’s note: Yet another chapter in the shameful treatment of American Indians and their heritage in the United States.

• Career skill: anthropology students love the odd

A story on NPR applauds a new documentary, The Parking Lot Movie. It’s about a parking lot in Charlottesville, Va., and the characters who populate it. Most of the workers, all male, are students from the University of Virginia. The manager, who is also the filmmaker, says: “The anthropologists are always the best. They have a perspective that allows them to look at oddness and be interested in it, and not be bored.”

• Culture and AIDS in Lesotho

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried an article on the efforts of David Turkon to push policy makers to rely more on anthropological research in combating AIDS. Turkon is associate professor of cultural anthropology at Ithaca College and chair of the AIDS and Anthropology Research Group within the American Anthropological Association.

• Freedom of speech in China

Scott Simon, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Ottawa University says that freedom of speech in China is a global issue. He hosted a discussion forum profiling three Chinese human rights activists.

• Homage to American Jewish cultural anthropologist who redefined “blackness”

A review of the 2009 film, Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness, praises it as a “dense and fascinating documentary. ” Herskovits, a Jewish American cultural anthropologist, pioneered African American studies in the United States.

• Welcome to England and off with your head

Excavations for a road near the London 2012 Olympic sailing site unearthed a mass grave of 51 young Viking males. All were decapitated, and some showed multiple body wounds. The remains are dated between 890-1030 CE.

• Prehistoric climate change responders

Ezra Zubrow, professor of archaeology at the University of Buffalo, has been conducting research with other scientists in the Arctic regions of Quebec, Finland and Russia to understand how humans living 4,000-6,000 years ago coped with climate change. Zubrow is quoted in Science Daily: “…analysis of data from all phases of the study eventually will enable more effective collaboration between today’s social, natural and medical sciences as they begin to devise adequate responses to the global warming the world faces today.”

• Sick or just small? Hobbit debate still newsworthy

The Canberra Times quoted several biological anthropologists commenting on a recent publication in the Journal of Human Evolution in which Peter Brown and Tomoko Maeda argue for the position that the Hobbits (aka Homo floresiensis) were small but healthy. Dean Falk, Florida State University, supports their view. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard University, now agrees that the Hobbits represent a new species. Ralph Holloway, Columbia University, has not ruled out the disease hypothesis.

• Those bonobos are sharing again

BBC News picked up on research by Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, showing that bonobos share food. He conducted research on orphaned bonobos living in a study center in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In experimental settings, the bonobos willingly share food with other bonobos. He now wants to understand why they share. His findings are published in Current Biology.

• American biological anthropologist wins Max Planck Research Award 2010

Tim Bromage has been awarded one of the two annual Max Planck Research Awards for his achievements in establishing the field in human evolution of growth, development and life history. Bromage is professor of basic science and craniofacial biology and of biomaterials and biometrics in New York University’s College of Dentistry. The award carries a stipend of $1.2 million.

Heavy metal and mental health


by Barbara Miller

Metal music fans in France are no more anxious or depressed than the general population, in fact, they are somewhat less so. Fewer than 5 percent of the 333 fans in a recent study have pathological symptoms, as evaluated on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Characteristics of the small minority with high scores for anxiety and depression are: literature/arts interests rather than scientific interests, writing metal music lyrics, alcohol consumption, and body modification/scarification.  Relevance: opponents of metal music should re-examine the basis for their criticism.

Photo, “Heavy Metal Funhouse”, via Flickr and Creative Commons.