anthro in the news 7/13/15

  • Mexico is not just a U.S. add-on
The U.S. needs to move beyond this

US-Mexico relations could improve with U.S. recognition of positive aspects of Mexican culture and legalizing marijuana in order to break the cartels. An article in the Guardian quotes Howard Campbell, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso:

“We need to change the discourse about Mexico. Americans need to get beyond saying they like Mexican food and accept that these countries are joined at the hip…Mexico is a permanent part of American culture. Let’s embrace it as part of the country, not some kind of add-on.”

  • Ben Affleck: Please meet Boas

An article in the Washington Post has this lead: “To fully appreciate how dumb Ben Affleck was to pressure PBS into censoring any mention of a slave-owning ancestor, you have to know something about Franz Boas. He was the father of American anthropology, a Columbia University professor who repudiated the doctrine of scientific racism — the idea that you are pretty much what your grandfather was.”

Affleck prevailed on the producers of Finding Your Roots, and its host, Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates Jr., to erase mention of Benjamin Cole, a slave-owning ancestor of Affleck’s. The article concludes that Affleck should not worry about his ancestry: “If your grandfather was a louse that has no more bearing on you than if your neighbor is one as well. We may be our brother’s keeper, but we are not carbon copies of our ancestors.”

The series has been suspended on the grounds of Affleck’s  “undue influence.” Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/13/15”

Anthro in the news 4/27/15

  • Prisoners who paint murals

The Huffington Post republished an article originally in French on HuffPo France about a project of artist David Mesguich in which he is working with prisoners to paint large murals in Marseilles’ Baumettes prison, one of the most notorious prisons in France. His goal was, “to show the prisoners…that beautiful and positive things can still come from inside them.” The article quotes Didier Fassin, cultural anthropologist and physician, and author of The Shadow of the World: An Anthropology of the Penal Condition, who says that the initiative is compelling but difficult to assess without commentary from the inmates: “It transforms the prison space, and brightens it, while emphasizing by contrast the ugly and oppressive character of the metal gates, the barbed wire, and the walls…This being the case, the question is more general, as is the case with cities. Making murals in a city does not change its reality.”

  • Muslim integration working in Brazil
The Islamic Centre Mosque, Brasilia.

According to an article in WorldCrunch, Brazil, which is the world’s largest Catholic country, has a growing Muslim population and, with some rare exceptions, is a model for integration of Islam into a mixed population. The article presents commentary by Francirosy Ferreira, an anthropology professor at Sao Paulo University. He notes that it is impossible to know the exact number of Muslims in Brazil because they are registered under the “other” category in the census: “But their estimated number is now about a million, of whom 30% to 50% are converts, depending on the region.” He attributes the renewed interest in Islam in Brazil to the airing of a soap opera that took place in Morocco. The series, called The Clone, created before the 9/11 terror attacks, included an admirable Muslim protagonist.

  • China seeks to ban strippers performing at funerals

The Washington Post carried an article on a new ban against strippers performing at funerals issued by China’s Ministry of Culture. The trend to hire strippers for funerals in China has been growing, and is apparently an import from Taiwan where, as National Geographic documented three years ago, inviting funeral strippers is decades-old. The article includes commentary on why people want strippers at a funeral from Marc L. Moskowitz, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina and producer of a documentary on Taiwan’s funeral strippers: “In Taiwan, all public events need to be ‘hot and noisy’ to be considered to be a success.” Moskowitz explained that “Usually the people involved are working-class folks, both in Taiwan as well as in China. In urban areas, there is a greater push to be part of a global culture.” Thus, he speculates, that the ban may be related to the Chinese government positioning itself in terms of global culture through “an awareness that people outside of Taiwan or China might find the practice strange or laughable.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 4/27/15”

Anthro in the news 3/9/15 and 3/16/15

  • What makes a car great?
Well-off Chinese consumers want Japanese toilets. Credit: AFP.

Gillian Tett, columnist for The Financial Times and an anthropologist by training, describes the increasing inclusion of cultural anthropologists and other social scientists in tech/design research labs around the world for their ability to learn about people’s consumption patterns and preferences. Tett offers the example of Ford, which is opening a new center in Silicon Valley:  “These psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are trying to understand how we interact with our cars in a cultural sense. It is a striking development and one worth pondering in a personal sense if, like me, you spend much of your life rushing about in a car.”

She emphasizes the value of localized, cultural knowledge in a globalizing world:  “…Chinese consumers often have radically different ideas of what makes a great car, especially if they are female.”

  • What makes a health project work?
So many pills. Credit: talkafricque.com.

Culturally informed research design in health projects is critical to success. Medical anthropologist Ida Susser of Hunter College, City University of New York, published an op-ed in Al Jazeera about the importance of not blaming the victim when an HIV intervention fails to show positive results. Instead, the blame may lie in a faulty research design. She examines a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine as an example of blaming the victim.

Known as VOICE, or Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic. The evaluation of the intervention failed to show any preventive results for women in southern Africa using ARV-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pills or topical microbicide gel. Susser writes: “It’s a particularly unsettling failure because previous studies have demonstrated that these ARV-based methods work. Most of the women who participated in the VOICE study did not use the tablets or gel, but those who did were protected. In other words, the study failed not because the products didn’t work but because they weren’t used.”

Susser argues that the research design was to blame, not the women: “The challenge of this research is more social and behavioral than medical; to succeed, we must better understand which routines and methods work best for women in stressful daily conditions. If the offered methods are not used, then researchers must rethink their approach or at-risk women will continue to become infected with HIV, and the epidemic will spiral.”

  • Islam and feminism can be compatible

A lot depends on how you define feminism and women’s rights, according to an article in the U.S. News and World Report. Many believe a combination of the two is implausible, but it is, however, possible if one is prepared to accept that there are multiple feminisms and Islamisms in the world today. The article cites cultural anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University. She argues that Muslim women in different contexts and situations experience structures of domination differently. For example, a Muslim woman in a poor neighborhood of Riyadh experiences gender discrimination differently from a businesswoman. In other words, one should not “totalize” the experience of “Muslim women.”

  • Brazil: Sweet and sour

An article in The Huffington Post on Brazil as an emerging “food superpower” points to how agribusiness success is tied to growing landlessness and hunger in a country that is exporting massive amounts of food: “By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Brazil became the world’s number one beef exporter and star in the exports of sugar, coffee, orange juice, corn, soy, and cotton.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/9/15 and 3/16/15”

Anthro in the news1/12/15

  • On France as a target for jihad

Time Magazine published an article by cultural anthropologist John Bowen of Washington University in which he describes three factors contributing to France as a target for jihad: First, France has been more closely engaged with the Muslim world longer than any other Western country. Second, the French Republic has nourished a sense of combat with the Church—which for some means with religion of any sort. Third, the attack risks to add fuel to the rise of the Far Right in France and throughout Europe. In conclusion, he states:

“France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.”

Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French, Blaming Islam, and the forthcoming Shari’a in Britain.

  • On Muslim integration and discrimination in France

The International Business Times carried an article stating that the terror attacks in Paris will likely exacerbate the challenges faced by Muslim communities in Europe, as extreme right-wing political parties politicize the tragedy.  A large proportion of France’s Muslim population of five million faces day-to-day discrimination along with broader, institutional forms of disenfranchisement, said Mayanthi L. Fernando, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose work focuses on Islam and secularism in France. “The problem here is not a lack of willingness among a large number of French Muslims to integrate — many would say they are already integrated — the problem is they are not accepted as legitimately French by the rest of the white, Christian majority…The problem is that on one hand they are asked to prove their integration in the French mainstream, but on the other hand they are facing discrimination day to day and institutionally.”

  • Colonialism, dispossession, desperation, and suicide

The Guarani Indians of Brazil, according to a report cited in The New York Times and other media, have the highest suicide rates in the world. Overall, indigenous peoples suffer the greatest suicide risk among cultural or ethnic groups worldwide. In Brazil, the indigenous suicide rate was six times higher than the national average in 2013. Among members of the Guaraní tribe, Brazil’s largest, the rate is estimated at more than twice as high as the indigenous rate over all, the study said. And in fact it may be even higher. Continue reading “Anthro in the news1/12/15”

Anthro in the news 3/31/14

• Conversation with Paul Farmer on World TB Day

The Huffington Post carried an article marking World TB Day and this year’s focus on finding and treating the 3 million people with active TB who are missed by public health systems.

Paul Farmer (right) in Haiti with Alcante. Credit: Moupali Das, 9/11/03
Paul Farmer in Haiti with Alcante/Moupali Das

It presents responses from Paul Farmer — medical anthropology professor, doctor, and health policy advocate — to several questions including why he started working on TB, the specific challenges in working on TB, and more.

• Paul Farmer’s latest book

The National Catholic Reporter included a review of Farmer’s latest book, In the Company of the Poor, a collection of writings and an interview transcript with Farmer and Dominican Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Notre Dame professor who is considered to be the founder of liberation theology.

“In a particularly poignant section, Farmer recalls gathering in Peru for a conference ambitiously titled ‘The New World Order and the Health of the Poor.’ He [Farmer] and his colleagues learned directly from the experiences of the poor, a key hermeneutical approach for liberation theology, and they came up with a model of accompaniment, or pragmatic solidarity. Farmer’s works are cerebral but captivating and pay tribute to the ‘disciplined humility’ and hopeful praxis of Gutiérrez’s intellectual and pastoral accomplishments.”

• “Tender mercies” say much about a society

Sarah Wagner, cultural anthropology professor at the George Washington University, published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun about U.S. scientific practices in accounting for war dead in the past century, especially MIAs (those missing in action).

She argues that many complexities involved need to be taken into account in order to serve the relatives: “We as a public need to understand more fully the scientific work and its costs and judge for ourselves if those tender mercies reflect the values of this nation. The missing, unknown and yet unidentified deserve that much.”
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/31/14”