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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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anthro in the news 9/25/17

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…”

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anthro in the news 9/18/17

Scene in Bangladesh. Credit: Wikipedia

water problems and cholera alert 

The Conversation published commentary by medical anthropologist Lauren Carruth, assistant professor in the School of International Service, American University: “As hurricanes barrel through some of the most impoverished communities in the Western Hemisphere, and as floods ravage Yemen, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh and India, now is the time to rethink and prioritize cholera epidemic prevention and response. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, a surge of cholera in Haiti increased the death toll from the disease. Officials in Haiti this week are already urging people to add bleach to their drinking water to prevent the spread of cholera in the aftermath of Irma…The WHO and its partners should lead a vigorous appeal to donors and humanitarian organizations working in several locations – in the paths of Atlantic hurricanes, in flooded regions of South Asia, and in war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa – where cholera still kills and the risk of an outbreak is high.”

remembering Guatemala in Ohio

The artist with some of his paintings. Credit: The Times-Reporter/Google Images Commons

An article in The Times-Reporter (Ohio) reported on an art exhibit in Dover, Ohio, that displays paintings by Jogendro Kshetrimayum, an artist and anthropologist who teaches cultural anthropology at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. His work depicts scenes of the city of Nebaj, Guatemala, an area that resonates with many Maya immigrants in the Dover area.  Maria Luz Garcia, assistant professor of anthropology at Eastern Michigan University, gave a talk at the show’s opening about how migration to the U.S. grew from the effects of genocide that devastated the native Maya population during a 36-year civil war, a war in which the U.S. government supported the country’s army. She pointed to the need for institutional change in the U.S. to create employment opportunities for local Guatemala-born youth who might work as language instructors for example.

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anthro in the news 9/11/17

Super Mario games follow player character Mario’s adventures in the fictional Mushroom Kingdom. Credit: Pixabay.

games, technology, and nostalgia

CNBC reported on the revival of some classic video games and the consoles used to play them. Retro fixtures like Atari and Sega are making a comeback, even as the new crop of video games are more sophisticated than ever. The article quotes Jared Miracle, an anthropologist and education researcher who specializes in game studies at the Ocean University of China: “After some generations, all forms of art and media become classics…Think of ‘Donkey Kong’ as having status akin to ‘Oliver Twist.'”

improving bike safety

As reported by The Herald-Sun (Durham, North Carolina), researchers at Duke University are using North Carolina bicycle crash data to improve transportation policy in the city of Durham. Their findings led them to recommend the installation of more crosswalks, additional median islands, and expansion of bike lanes on roads with a high number of reported crashes. They also developed an interactive website that demonstrates how factors such as the time of day, weather conditions, and demographics affect crash risk. The project is an offshoot of an international study conducted by Harris Solomon, associate professor of cultural anthropology and global health at Duke. He originally studied traffic accidents in India which has a large population of bicycle riders.

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