Anthro in the news 3/23/15

  • But are you really Japanese?
Ariana Miamoto, Miss Japan Universe. Credit: Miss Universe Japan.

The Washington Post carried an article about Ariana Miamoto, the first biracial Miss Universe Japan.  Her mother is Japanese and her father is African American. The 20-year-old model is a Japanese citizen, a native of Nagasaki prefecture, fluent in Japanese, with an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy. She is, in fact, Japanese, though what is termed a hafu, a person of mixed ancestry. So, some critics think she is not Japanese enough. Cultural anthropologist. Ted Bestor, professor of cultural anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University comments: “The Japanese like to think of their society and culture as having a unique identity that is ‘inaccessible to foreigners’….One of the ways in which Japanese think of their own society as ‘unique’ is to emphasize the homogeneity of Japanese society…”

  • Political upheaval in Mauritius

An article in Al Jazeera attempts to make sense of recent political events in Mauritius, including the change of government. It quotes Sean Carey, senior research fellow in social sciences at the University of Manchester and a frequent contributing author to anthropologyworks. He comments that part of the reason why there is so much social change is because of the rising stock of the meritocratic value in Mauritius.

  • On bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies, and the need for play

Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber spoke extensively, over dinner, with The Guardian on bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies and the need for play.

On bullshit jobs: “A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.” Is his work meaningless? He replies: “There can be no objective measure of social value.”

On stupidifying bureaucracies: Graeber came face to face with stupidifying bureaucracies when he had to deal with finding care for his aging mother. “I like to think I’m actually a smart person. Most people seem to agree with that…OK, I was emotionally distraught, but I was doing things that were really dumb. How did I not notice that the signature was on the wrong line? There’s something about being in that bureaucratic situation that encourages you to behave foolishly.” Continue reading “Anthro in the news 3/23/15”

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 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 9/30/13

El Paso, Texas by Robin Kanouse
El Paso, Texas. Flickr/Robin Kanouse

• Heavy toll at the U.S.-Mexico border

The Washington Post reported in the rising number of deaths of people attempting to enter the U.S. at the Mexican border. It mentioned the work of cultural anthropologist Lori Baker, a professor at Baylor University, who has lead a team to excavate unidentified immigrants’ graves.

• In South Africa, women burning to braai

September 24 is South Africa’s Heritage Day, a national holiday and a time when all people are supposed to come together and feel as one. A colloquial term for the day is National Braai Day, marking a connection to traditional meat grilling. Claudia Forster-Towne, lecturer at the University of Johannesburg in the Development Studies and Anthropology Department, published an opinion piece in Gender Links, asking for disruption of male dominance of the braai. She points to a spatial divide and the re-enactment of unequal gender roles. She demands the tongs!

Blogger’s note: here are links to two amusing videos on YouTube spoofing braai gender rules and practices:
Continue reading “Anthro in the news 9/30/13”

Book note: Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico

Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico by Vania Smith-Oka. Vanderbilt University Press, 2013.

Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico book cover
Vanderbilt University Press
Mainstream Mexican views of indigenous women define them as problematic mothers. Development programs have included the goal of helping these women become “good mothers.” Economic incentives and conditional cash transfers are the vehicles for achieving this goal.

This book examines the dynamics among the various players – indigenous mothers, clinicians, and representatives of development programs. The women’s voices lead the reader to understand the structures of dependency that paradoxically bind indigenous women within a program that calls for their empowerment. The cash transfer program is Oportunidades, which enrolls more than a fifth of Mexico’s population. It expects mothers to become involved in their children’s lives at three nodes–health, nutrition, and education. If women do not comply with the standards of modern motherhood, they are dropped from the program and lose the bi-monthly cash payments.

Smith-Oka explores the everyday implementation of the program and its unintended consequences. The mothers are often berated by clinicians for having too many children (Smith-Oka provides background on the history of eugenics and population control in Mexico) and for other examples of their “backward” ways. One chapter focuses on the humor indigenous women use to cope with disrespectful comments. Ironically, this form of resistance allows the women to accept the situation that controls their behavior.

Anthro in the news 2/4/13

• Violence in Africa begins with greed

In an op-ed in The New York Times, Kamari Maxine Clarke, professor of cultural anthropology at Yale University, argues that violence in Africa is rooted in greed, related to contested and highly desired natural resources, and corporate greed should be considered a war crime:

Gold dollar symbol
Gold dollar symbol/Wikipedia

“Violence in Africa begins with greed — the discovery and extraction of natural resources like oil diamonds and gas — and continues to be fed by struggles for control of energy, minerals, food and other commodities. The court needs the power to punish those who profit from those struggles. So do other judicial forums.

At a summit meeting here last week, leaders of the African Union proposed expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to include corporate criminal liability for the illicit exploitation of natural resources, trafficking in hazardous wastes and other offenses.”

• Legal decision in Guatemala that genocide is genocide

According to an article in The New York Times, a Guatemalan judge ordered Efraín Rios Montt, the former dictator, and his intelligence chief to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres of highland Maya villagers three decades ago.

President Otto Pérez Molina, a former general, says he does not believe that the killings during the war amounted to genocide. A UN truth commission determined that the military had carried out “acts of genocide,” including in the Maya-Ixil villages during the war, in which 200,000 people died. As a legislator until last January, Mr. Rios Montt was protected from prosecution. Prosecutors filed charges when his term expired, but his lawyers’ appeals delayed the case.

Guatemala CIA World Factbook
Guatemala/CIA World Factbook

Scholars of Guatemala said that a number of factors combined to get the case to court, including the tenacity of the attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, and successful efforts to appoint more independent judges.

Victoria Sanford, an anthropology professor at the City University of New York who has written about Guatemala’s civil war, is quoted as saying: ”For Rios Montt to be tried breaks the wall of impunity … It says genocide is genocide and it is punishable by law.”

• Crash course in blood football

The Toronto Star carried an article about how “the concussion issue threatens to sack NFL’s business model” given the impending threat to profits from brain injury lawsuits.

As context, the article points out: The National Football League brought in more than $9 billion in revenue in 2012, and tickets to its showcase event, this weekend’s Super Bowl, range from $850 to $1,250, and even more trough the online resale market. Meanwhile, corporations advertising on Sunday’s game paid a record $3.8 million (U.S.) for a 30-second slot. The NFL is the undisputed king of cash among North American pro sports.

Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, 2006/Wikipedia
Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, 2006/Wikipedia

But as the money piles up, so do lawsuits and workers compensation claims filed against the league and its teams by former players, who say they suffered irreversible brain injuries while playing in the NFL, and that the league and its teams never informed them about the lasting effects of football’s repeated head trauma.

Duke University cultural anthropology professor Orin Starn wonders if the legal action will lead to similar efforts to raise awareness among football players and fans: “Football is in the same situation; they’ve got a product that’s hazardous to your health,” says Starn, who specializes in the anthropology of sport. “It should come with a warning label stamped on the helmet. America is in massive denial about the blood cost of football.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 2/4/13”

Anthro in the news 12/31/2012

From the blogger: Here is the last aitn for 2012. I had to work hard to find any mainstream media mention of cultural anthropology, whereas archaeology continues to attract substantial media attention, and we can almost always count on something about Neanderthals to attract interest. Please check out anthropologyworks’ short piece on the cultural anthropologist who was most in the news in 2012. Stay tuned for 2012 highlights from aitn and my top dissertation picks for 2012. And Happy New Year!

Debt by David Graeber
Debt by David Graeber
• Debt as a best book of 2012

The Global and Mail (Canada) asked several writers and avid readers to comment on their top book of 2012, from contemporary fiction to classic literature and nonfiction. Novelist Sheila Heti chose Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

“I can’t think of anyone who shouldn’t read David Graeber‘s paradigm-shifting book on the ethics of debt. He’s an anthropologist and one of the Occupy movement’s greatest thinkers. Here, he shows how debt has been a central economic, political, and social tool throughout human history. It’s an essential read, particularly for those who, in the wake of the financial crisis, believed we were at the beginning of “an actual public conversation about the nature of debt, of money, of the financial institutions,” and were stunned not to see that conversation happen.” Heti’s most recent book is the novel How Should a Person Be?

• Hadrian’s auditorium found under streets of Rome

Several media sources, including the BBC, covered the findings in Rome of an ancient auditorium 18 feet below one of Rome’s most-trafficked junctions. Italian archaeologists announced the discovery of a 900-seat arts center dating back to the second-century reign of Emperor Hadrian.

Marble bust of Hadrian at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums.
Hadrian bust, Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums/Wikipedia
Archaeologists believe the structure was an arts center or auditorium, built by Hadrian where, beginning in 123 C.E., Roman noblemen gathered to hear rhetoricians, lawyers, and writers recite their works. According to the archaeologists running the excavation, Hadrian’s auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s.

• 800 year-old skeletons unearthed in Cholula, Mexico

Archaeologists in central Mexico uncovered the bones of 12 children and adults who may have been buried 800 years ago, according to an expert with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The skeletons were discovered as the archeologists supervised the installation of a new drain in an old neighborhood of Cholula, a city located 120 kilometers north of the Mexican capital. They were found buried just a few centimeters below a paved section of asphalt, said archeologist Ashuni Romero Butron, who added “fortunately they were not damaged by erosion before the paving.” He said most of the 12 skeletons are complete and laboratory analysis is ongoing.

Relief from the Sanctuary of Khonsu Temple at Karnak depicting Ramesses III
Ramesses
• Judean temple found

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a rare temple and religious figurines dating back to the Judaean period nearly 3,000 years ago. The discoveries were made at Tel Motza, outside Jerusalem, during archaeological work ahead of new highway construction in the area. Anna Eirikh, a director of the project, said the discoveries were rare evidence of religious practices outside Jerusalem in the Judaean period. The findings date to the 9th-10th century B.C.E.

• Death of a pharoah

Scans of the mummy of Ramses III reveal that his throat was slit. The pharaoh Ramses III ruled Egypt in the 12th century B.C.E. A plot by his wife to kill him in order to place her son on the throne is documented in an ancient papyrus, but the exact circumstances of Ramses’ death have been unclear. ”The big cut is in his throat, and it was very deep and large,” said Albert Zink, an anthropologist at the European Academy, who was involved in the research. ”It would have killed him immediately.” Zink and colleagues from Egypt, Italy and Germany, published their findings in the British Medical Journal. [Blogger’s note: so now we know the immediate cause of death, but we still don’t know who did the deed].

• 4,000 year-old spear heads found in Sinaloa, Mexico

Spearhead
Credit: INAH
Researchers have discovered 4,000-year-old spearheads and other artifacts at a site in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Archaeologist Joel Santos Ramirez said that the find “will change the chronologies of the antiquity of human settlement in the northwest of the country.”

• Neanderthal genome mapping update

According to a piece in CBC news, renowned archaeological geneticist Svante Paabo is almost finished with the mapping the DNA of Neanderthals, a distant cousin of modern humans.

Paabo has found that many people today carry within their DNA about 3 to 5 percent in common with Neanderthals. Paabo says it is important to learn more about Neanderthal DNA to reveal the differences between us and them, differences that have seen modern humans survive and thrive over the millennia while Neanderthals have become extinct.

Svante Paabo with reconstructed Neanderthal skull. Frank Vinken/Max Planck Gesellschaft
Svante Paabo with reconstructed Neanderthal skull. Frank Vinken/Max Planck Gesellschaft
He is quoted as saying: “I really hope that over the next 10 years we will understand much more of those things that set us apart. Which changes in our genome made human culture and technology possible? And allowed us to expand and become 7, 8, 9 billion people and spread all over the world?”

• In memoriam

Glenys Lloyd-Morgan died at the age of 67 years after a career devoted to the understanding of Roman archaeology. She graduated from the archaeology department at Birmingham University in 1970 with a dissertation on Roman mirrors. In 1975, she joined the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, where she catalogued collections and did re-enactments as a Roman lady. Later, she became a finds consultant specializing in Roman artifacts. She was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1979.