anthro in the news 10/26/2015

source: NPR

Happy slaves?

A piece on National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on how the coconut industry in Thailand thrives on the use of the labor of trained monkeys. Some observers claim that this work constitutes animal abuse. Skeptics of allegations of abuse include Leslie Sponsel, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Hawaii:  “…the monkeys are very similar to family pets, and for some households, even like family members to some degree. Young ones are trained, and they are kept on a chain tethered to the handler or to a shelter when not working. They are fed, watered, bathed, groomed and otherwise cared for. They often ride to the coconut palm plantation on the back of a motor bike or in a cart driven by the handler…That is not to say that there is never any cruelty or mistreatment.” Sponsel added that overall he respects “the poor farmers and others who are just trying to survive and prosper in support of their families.” A trained monkey can pick an average 1,000 coconuts a day while a human can manage to pick 80.

 


Domino effect of violence in northern Afghanistan

Al Jazeera published an op-ed by Morwari Zafar, a doctoral candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford and visiting scholar in the Institute of Global and International Studies at the George Washington University. She argues that violence in northern Afghanistan threatens the country’s vulnerable populations and jeopardizes stability in the country as a whole. Faryab province used to be a stable, economically self-sufficient home to nearly one million multiethnic inhabitants: “But today, Faryab simmers dangerously. Against the backdrop of the US government’s latest extension of its military commitment to Afghanistan, it is worth noting that the province is precariously situated along the same political fault lines that recently rattled Kunduz province.”

 

 


Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/26/2015”

Anthro in the news 9/29/14

  • Relevance of cultural anthropology to business

The Huffington Post carried an article describing how concepts in cultural anthropology apply to business models as presented in a new book, Handbook of Anthropology in Business, edited by Rita Denny and Patricia Sunderland. Denny and Sunderland are anthropologists who run a consumer research and strategic consultancy, Practica Group. Their clients include SC Johnson, Whirlpool, Nissan, Pernod Ricard, Target, PepsiCo, Samsung, and Darden Restaurants. This Handbook demonstrates the links between the commercial arena and ethnographic research and cultural analysis. The book presents findings from 60 international scholars. Sections include: Dynamics of Tension, Forces of Change: With “Big Data” coming into the forefront, what is the anthropologist’s role in sorting through, applying reason, making sense, and ultimately turning it to a productive business use?; Boundaries Breached and Blurred: Where does anthropology come into play when we are dealing in a global marketplace? Can interactions with other countries be enhanced with better cultural understandings?; Plying the Trade: Who are the anthropologists that have managed to successfully insert themselves into the business paradigm? How do they co-exist with the number crunchers and old-line sales mentalities?; and The Energy of Memes: How do ideas, products, or behaviors circulate through a culture? Is there a way to enhance the process? Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/29/14”

Anthro in the news 4/7/14

• Cultural anthropologists fighting Ebola

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on the role of cultural anthropology in efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola in Guinea.

Health specialists work in an isolation ward for patients in Guékedou, southern Guinea. Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images.
Specialists at a Guékedou, southern Guinea isolation ward. Seyllou/AFP/Getty

Doctors, nurses and epidemiologists from international organizations are flying in to help, along with cultural anthropologists. Understanding local beliefs can help get communities to trust international health care workers, says Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at Washington State University. Hewlett was invited to join the Doctors Without Borders Ebola team during an outbreak in Uganda in 2000. There are anthropologists on the current team in Guinea as well.

Before the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders started bringing in anthropologists, medical staff had a difficult time convincing families to bring their sick loved ones to clinics and isolation wards. In Uganda, Hewlett remembers, people were afraid of the international health care workers: “The local people thought that the Europeans in control of the isolation units were in a body parts business … Their loved ones would go into the isolation units, and they would never see them come out.”

Health care workers did not always promptly notify relatives of a death because of the need to dispose of the body quickly, Hewlett wrote in a report on his experiences in Uganda: “The anger and bad feelings about not being informed were directed toward health care workers in the isolation unit … This fear could have been averted by allowing family members to see the body in the bag and allowing family members to escort the body to the burial ground.” In addition, Hewlett points out that the large tarps surrounding isolation units were removed so family members could see and talk with a sick relative.

Efforts to contain such outbreaks must be “culturally sensitive and appropriate,” Hewlett says. “Otherwise people are running away from actual care that is intended to help them.” Medical anthropologists can help doctors and other medical experts understand how a local population perceives disease, death, and loss.
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/7/14”

Anthro in the news 2/24/14

• Bolivia under water

As described by an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Bolivia is suffering from weeks of heavy rains that have caused rivers to swell, homes to flood, and crops to rot.

Bolivia map
Bolivia map/ezilon.com

More than 58,000 families have been affected in the past month, and 56 people are reported dead, but limited reporting from isolated communities could mean that these numbers are significantly higher.

The article quotes Matthew Schwartz, a doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, who works with the Tsimane, an indigenous group:

“As dire as the situation is for campesino and Tsimane communities close to San Borja, it’s really bleak for the further-out communities.”

Members of the University of New Mexico’s research team are currently at work in flood-affected areas, helping to deliver supplies and provide other support.

• Youthful trend in illegal U.S. border crossing

The Los Angeles Times reported on a rising trend of lone teenagers and even children crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. While the overall number of undocumented immigrants has slowed compared to five years ago, a new surge of immigration includes children and teenagers traveling through the rugged area into south Texas.

Up to 120 unaccompanied youths are arriving each day, a number that has tripled over the last five years. The young immigrants tell harrowing stories of being abused before and during their journeys, according to Susan Terrio, cultural anthropology professor at Georgetown University who interviewed 40 youths:

“They witnessed or survived robberies and fell victim to brutal attacks and sexual assaults. They outran or hid from federal police and border patrol agents. They struggled with hunger, illness, and exposure to the elements and saw fellow migrants lose limbs or die while jumping on or off cargo trains.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/24/14”

Anthro in the news 1/20/14


 

Thomas Robert Malthus

  • China’s one-child policy: Malthus more than Mao

An article in The Times (London) cites the research of Harvard University cultural anthropology professor Susan Greenhalgh that reveals how the visit of a Chinese mathematician to an international meeting in Helsinki put him in touch with Malthusian thinking about population growth and its dangers and specifically the book, The Limits to Growth.

  • Falling down on the job in Cambodia

Over the past two years, many garment workers in Cambodia have fainted and been hospitalized and production has slowed or shut down, according to a report in The New York Times by Julia Wallace, the executive editor of The Cambodian Daily. In one instance, a worker started issuing commands in a language that sounded like Chinese, claiming to speak for an ancestral spirit and demanding raw chicken. No raw chicken was provided, and more faintings occurred.

The article mentions the work of two cultural anthropologists, Michael Taussig and Aihwa Ong, who have described spiritual responses to oppression. Taussig wrote about Colombian peasants working on sugar cane plantations in the 1970s and their perceptions of having sold their souls to the devil.

More closely related to the Cambodian case is Aihwa Ong’s research on spirit possession among women factory workers in Malaysia in the 1970s. Ong interpreted women’s spiritual affliction as a protest against harsh working conditions. Such “protests” however did not result in better working conditions for the women.  In Cambodia, in contrast, mass faintings have produced a positive response – indirectly, through public support for workers’ rights after a government crackdown on demonstrating workers and, directly, through a raise in the minimum wage. [Blogger’s note: garment workers in developing countries need all the help they can get, so bring on the spirits!].

  • The future of jobs in the world

An article in The Economist on the future of employment drew on the work of many scholars including cultural anthropologist David Graeber of the London School of Economics. The views in general are not promising for employment rates, given the ever rising replacement of labor by technology. Increasing income equality is projected. The article alludes to Graeber’s perspective that much modern labor consists of “bullshit jobs” (low- and mid-level screen-sitting that serves simply to occupy workers for whom the economy no longer has much use) and that keeping bullshit workers employed is a ruling class practice to maintain control. [Blogger’s note: interested readers should consult Graeber’s original writings for more details].

  • Eating cake and talking about death

Art du Jour, an art gallery and education space in downtown Santa Cruz, CA is a bright and cozy place where some 30 strangers gather to talk about death and dying. To help begin those conversations comes a new concept in an unlikely phrase: the Death Cafe. Death Cafes originated in England, the country where the hospice movement began. An article in the San Jose Mercury on Death Cafes in California quoted Shelley Adler, a U.C. San Francisco medical anthropologist who held the first San Francisco Death Cafe this past spring:

“Bundt cake makes everything easier…[regarding death, she says]. “We have more than 100 euphemisms for it. The end. Pass away. Kick the bucket. It’s not that we want to avoid it, necessarily. It’s everywhere, from zombie movies to video games. But we were desperately in need of a platform. And, when you face it, you suddenly feel unloaded. It’s not as scary.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/20/14”

Anthro in the news 10/14/13

Gregale cliffs lampedusa
North-Eastern cliffs of Lampedusa, photo by Arnold Sciberras/Wikipedia

• We need a bigger boat

The Wall Street Journal and other mainstream media reported on the second incident of a capsized boat near Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean.

The article quotes Maurizio Albahari, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, who says that the sinking on October 3 hasn’t deterred smugglers from bringing refugees into Europe from the Libyan coast:

“And it cannot possibly deter migrants who have gone through countless stages of peril and exploitation in their own country, especially in Syria and the Horn of Africa.”

• On U.S.-Afghan relations

In an article analyzing current U.S.-Afghan relations and the troop draw-down, Global Post referred to the work of cultural anthropologist Thomas Barfield of Boston University.

Barfield notes that Karzai faces a political conundrum, that: an Afghan ruler, “to be successful … will need to convince Afghans that he will not be beholden to foreigners even as he convinces these same foreigners to fund his state and its military.”

And, pondering the future stability of the country, Barfield is quoted as saying: “In the absence of [a strong leader] and the departure of foreign forces, Afghanistan will not survive as a unitary state. The most likely event in that case would be a sundering of the country along regional lines.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/14/13”

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”