anthro in the news 1/4/16

Sidney Mintz: Founder of the anthropology of food

Cultural anthropologist Sarah Hill, associate professor at Western Michigan University, published an article in the Boston Review detailing the work of cultural anthropologist Sidney Mintz of the Johns Hopkins University. [See also:  In memoriam, below]. Mintz is lauded as the founder of “food anthropology” with the publications of his landmark book in 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Hill writes: “…at the heart of Sweetness and Power lies an understanding of the history of capitalism in the Atlantic world that goes far to explain slavery’s enduring legacy.”

 


Can planet Earth be saved?

In an article in The Atlantic, several U.S. experts, including cultural anthropologist Elizabeth Moreno, assistant professor at Oregon State University, offer reasons for despair and hope about the future of our planet. Her reason for despair: “As an anthropologist working alongside indigenous communities in the United States, it’s hard not to see climate change as another wave of violence inherent in the colonial ideal. Colonized geographies like communities in Alaska, small nation states in the Pacific, and large nations in sub-Saharan Africa all share the heaviest burdens of a rapidly changing climate…These burdens are all part of climate injustice…I [also] despair because…climate change needs alternative cultural models for framing problems and non-Western solutions.”  On the side of hope: “The rest of the world is talking back…. It’s going to be an interesting century.”

 


Continue reading “anthro in the news 1/4/16”

Anthro in the news 5/18/15

  • Disenchantment and British politics

Emma Crewe, social anthropologist and research associate at SOAS, the University of London, published an op-ed in the Times Higher Education (U.K.) on how to improve British politics and re-enchant the public: “Public cynicism towards politics is reaching new heights. Politicians are widely considered to be venal, tribal and dishonest. But what are they really like?”

Since October 2011, she has been studying MPs at work. She finds that, surprisingly, “half the new 2010 intake of MPs took a pay cut to enter Westminster, MPs have defied their whips more frequently in every Parliament since 1945, and MPs did not seem to be any less honest than any other professional group – or, specifically, than members of groups with complex combinations of interests where compromises have to be made.” In contrast to the popular image of MPs as power-hungry egoists, many reminded her of aid workers, motivated by both ambition and altruism “…but MPs work harder and accept more painful scrutiny.”

Crewe opines that public disenchantment is more about the work of politics – “…its messiness, contradictions and changeability” and public conflation of Parliament and government which are “different parts of the state and need to be disentangled.”

  • Protecting coffee farmers: Tune in on Tuesday

At the Guardian’s comments page on Tuesday, May 19, from 1pm – 2pm BST, a group of experts will discuss how best to protect coffee farmers. One of the speakers is Sarah Lyon, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and author of Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair Trade Markets. Her work focuses on Maya women farmers and social/gender justice in coffee production.

  • Debt: It can make you sick

The Globe (Canada) is carrying a series exploring the growing dependence around the world on credit. You can join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #DebtBinge. A recent article discusses how debt-related financial stress is linked to mental-health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and a higher risk of suicide. As the health consequences of financial stress become more evident, researchers and health professionals are making the case for treating personal debt as a public health problem. The article presents commentary from biocultural anthropologist Elizabeth Sweet, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is examining the factors that can make debt a health hazard. She notes that it is not well understood what types of debt provoke the most stress. For instance people may feel less stressed about mortgages and student loans than credit-card debt or payday loans.

  • On Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers

The Chronicle Herald (Canada) published an op-ed by Rylan Higgins, professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, on the plight and rights of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) in Canada. Canada’s use of TFWs is complicated: Programs vary from province to province and from sector to sector within provinces, and policies have changed over time. Long-term anthropological studies of TFWs, however, “reveal common and unsettling patterns regarding what it means to be such a worker in Canada.” Higgins notes that a primary finding of anthropological studies is that the relationship between employers and workers is exploitative: “The detailed and intimate accounts that anthropological research provides reveal that many employers in Canada regularly seek TFWs precisely because these workers’ precarious status is a benefit to those seeking a tractable workforce.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/18/15”

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 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 1/21/13

• Revenge against French fueling conflict in Mali and Algeria

Mali. Source: CIA Factbook
Mali. Source: CIA Factbook. The contested region is in the north.

An article in The Star (Toronto) about how Mali’s conflict spilled across its borders into Algeria this past week quoted Bruce Whitehouse, a cultural anthropology professor at Lehigh University, and a Fulbright scholar who has lived in Mali.

He says: “They want to get back at the French desperately and they have a history of carrying out a tit-for-tat response when it comes to French intervention …They clearly want to portray what they’re doing as a direct and balanced response to what’s being directed against them … It will bring a lot more pressure from the United States and European governments to get involved … (It) might be a good thing from Mali’s point of view. Algeria has what’s reckoned to be the most capable military there and they have experience and they know the terrain.”

• Mali: Where music is dangerous

An opinion piece in the Cyprus Mail says that Islamic extremism is stopping the music in Mali:

Talking Timbuktu
Talking Timbuktu/Amazon.com

“We all have a favourite album. Mine is Talking Timbuktu, the collaboration between the great Malian musician Ali Farka Tourι and Ry Cooder. Arguably it’s some of the best guitar playing you’ll ever hear. Ali died in 2006, but his son Vieux carries the sound onward, that curious mix of African soul and heart with a blues base.

“So it was with utter horror that I heard Lucy Durán, who hosts the BBC programme World Routes and teaches the anthropology of world music at SOAS (University of London), say in an emotional comment this week that one of the terrible side effects of the extreme Islamic fundamentalism now invading northern Mali is the silencing of music. Outlawed under Sharia law, all instruments, radio, CD players have been destroyed, and as Lucy chillingly said, those seen playing guitars were threatened with having their fingers cut off.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/21/13”

France deports Roma

The Roma camps in France are not great places to live, but being summarily deported from them is even worse. Dozens of media sources around the world reported on the deportation. I am proud that my colleague, Michelle Kelso, assistant professor of sociology and international affairs at the George Washington University, was quoted in the reports as pointing out that: “Almost every family here is the family of a Holocaust survivor…Their grandparents were deported to camps in World War II.” Kelso translated interviews at Roma camps around Paris for The Associated Press.” See article.

Roma Flag. Wikimedia Commons.
Roma Flag. Wikimedia Commons

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.