anthro in the news 8/6/18 and 8/13/18

banner_na_foodThe three sisters: beans, corn, and squash. Credit:

reclaiming Native food sovereignty

The Santa Fe New Mexican carried an article about the movement to reclaim Native North American food sovereignty, highlighting a recent book, Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman, by Charlotte J. Frisbie, professor emerita of anthropology at Southern Illinois University. Taking the perspective that improving Native American diets is “a political as well as a public health measure,” she offers firsthand experiences and information collected during the decade she lived with Tall Woman, who died in 1977 at 103 years of age. Frisbie documents the gathering, growing, and preparation of traditional foods on the Navajo Nation.  Beyond the case of the Navajo, Frisbie defines food sovereignty as an international movement by indigenous peoples to “return to traditional foods produced by traditional methods…to reestablish healthy lifeways.”

Gurkhas fighting for their rights

Gurkha kukri, c. 1814. Credit: National Army Museum U.K.

The Asia Times (Hong Kong) reported on the progress of Gurkha activism in gaining equal rights, compared to British comrades, in terms of pay and pensions. For nearly two centuries Ghurka warriors fought and died for Britain on battlefields around the world. For most of that time, the Gurkhas were paid far less than their British counterparts. Their struggle for equal rights is now almost over, thanks to the Gurkha Justice Campaign, a movement launched in the early 1990s, and other Gurkha organizations such as GAESO (Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organization), the first organization to push for reform. Om Gurung, professor and head of the Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology of the Tribhuvan University of Nepal, played a significant role in providing GAESO with the international platform that it needed. As a result, GAESO was able to organize national and international seminars and conferences, liaise with human rights organizations, and gain global exposure. 

If you are a woman seeking a man, move to Seattle

An article in The Washington Post described findings from a quantitative analysis of an online dating site in four U.S. cities. It shows, among things, stark gender and age differences in “desirability” and the relative abundance of single, heterosexual men in Seattle. The article quotes Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at the Kinsey Institute who was not involved in the study. She commented, first, that these are not really dating apps: They’re “introducing apps.”  “The only real algorithm is your own brain. Where you meet him [or her] doesn’t matter. On a park bench, online or other places. The app can set you up with someone who might seem perfect, but traits like humor or trustworthiness are hard to measure online.”  Fisher, also the chief scientist at, offered advice for online dating based on user research by Humans are visual animals, so picture choice is important. She recommends uploading six photos. Also, perhaps the most helpful advice was, “if what you’re doing isn’t working, change your strategy.”

forensic anthropology and war remains: interview

Two military cargo planes carrying 55 aluminum coffin-shaped cases landed at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii, containing the presumed remains of American service members who died in North Korea between 1950 and 1953 during the Korean War. The remains were turned over to United States officials by the North Korean government, the first such handover since joint recovery efforts between the two countries came to a halt in 2005. The New York Times Magazine spoke with Paul Emanovsky, a forensic anthropologist for the D.P.A.A. (Defense P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Agency) who has been identifying missing American military personnel since 2002, to understand what steps the agency takes to make an identification.

take that anthro degree and…

…become a documentary filmmaker and photographer. Karen Cantor has just released her third documentary, Return: Reclaiming Native American Foodways. The film explores Native American food sovereignty in a conversational way by focusing on six women involved in the movement. Although the foods they champion — salmon in Washington; whale in Alaska; corn, beans, and squash in New Mexico and South Dakota — are as different as the tribes and their geographical origins, their shared passion for the work they are doing ties the film together and demonstrates the national reach of the food sovereignty movement. Cantor has a B.A. in anthropology from Goucher College and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. 

Welsh burials at Stonehenge

BBC reported on archaeological findings about the identity of some cremated human remains buried at Stonehenge around 5,000 years ago.  Christophe Snoeck compared the levels of different forms, or isotopes, of the element strontium against a national database to work out where the cremated individuals spent the last years of their lives. Rick Schulting, senior author on the study, said: “These must have been important people. Being buried at Stonehenge is the ancient equivalent of being interred in Westminster Cathedral today…The evidence suggests that some of the people buried at Stonehenge must have spent much of their last 10 or so years in Wales. Although we tend to think that immigration is a new thing, these people were obviously able to travel substantial distances across difficult terrain.” Findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

sexism and ageism in Anglo-Saxon prehistory

Quartz carried an article describing archaeological research indicating that young women were buried with more treasure than their older counterparts between the years 475 and 625 C.E. in England.  In a study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Christine Cave, a graduate student in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, and Marc Oxenham, professor of bioarchaeology in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra, explain that the treatment of people in death reflects their status in life. After examining grave goods in English cemeteries across three centuries, they found that female graves tended to have high-status objects which represented beauty, such as gemstones, rings, and brooches. Male tombs were filled with tools and artifacts of martial power, like spears, axes, and goblets. But, while men tended to accumulate more items with increased age, the opposite was true of women: “older women on the whole were shown less respect in death than their male counterparts…Aging in Anglo-Saxon England was a gendered process.” [Blogger’s note: this finding about the combined effects of gender and ageism mirrors the results from the contemporary U.S. study of “desirability” in U.S. date-seeking, noted above, which revealed that the most “desirable” age for females is up to 18 years with a steady decline after that, while, for men, “desirability” increases with age].

Hobbits and human evolution in Southeast Asia

News (Australia) republished an article originally on The Conversation, written by archaeologists Michael Westaway, senior research fellow with the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University and Francis David Bulbeck, senior research associate at the Australian National University. They discuss earlier and new findings about Homo floresiensis, nicknamed Hobbits because of their short stature, and point to the species’ possible links with living people in the area. ABC (Australia) carried a piece about research arguing against any genetic continuity between Homo floresiensis and contemporary local people. Princeton University evolutionary biologist Serena Tucci and her colleagues compared DNA from 32 pygmy (short-statured) adults from the village of Rampasasa with sequences from modern humans from around the world as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans. They found Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA within the pygmy genomes — which was expected — but nothing out of the ordinary that might point to another archaic hominin, said study co-author and University of Queensland geneticist Peter Visscher: “They kind of fit in where you’d probably expect them to fit in, in terms of ancestry, when you compare that group of people to other populations in South-East Asia, Oceania and so on.” This study was published in Science.

tracking down the real Lorax

Inception of The Lorax. Credit: a,d, Yvonne A. de Jong and Thomas M. Butynski; b,c, Dr. Seuss Enterprises; e, Anup Shah, courtesy of Nature Picture Library; Nature Ecology and Evolution

An article in The Washington Post described how a chance meeting of two Dartmouth College professors at an academic dinner led to a collaboration that yielded insights into the likely inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ renowned character, the Lorax. According to Nathaniel J. Dominy, associate professor of anthropology, he and Donald Pease, an English professor, and two other scholars, “…used eigenface decomposition methods to calculate facial similarities and we generated the plot with t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE), an iterative algorithm that down-projects multidimensional information into two dimensions for visualization.” Their conclusion: The Lorax was inspired by patas monkeys of West and East Africa. These creatures share the Lorax’s general facial characteristics, particularly his distinctive mustache. The monkeys’ vocalizations sound like the Lorax’s “sawdusty sneeze.” And the monkeys depend, for 80 percent of their diet, on the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

anthro in the news 7/30/18

Stop them before they stop us – Bumper stickers on a car in Austin, Texas, 2016. Credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr

ethics of AI weapons research

The Guardian reported that thousands of leading AI (artificial intelligence) researchers have signed a pledge against killer robots. A key issue is that, while researchers of course can choose not to work on autonomous weapons, for those who do such research, the use of their published findings is beyond their control. The article quotes Lucy Suchman, a signatory to the pledge and professor of anthropology of science and technology at Lancaster University. She said that even though researchers cannot fully control how their work is used, they can engage and intervene when they have concerns:  “If I were a machine vision researcher who had signed the pledge I would, first, commit to tracking the subsequent uses of my technologies and speaking out against their application to automating target recognition and, second, refuse to participate in either advising or directly helping to incorporate the technology into an autonomous weapon system.”

decolonizing African universities

Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda . Credit: Makerere University

The London Review of Books published an essay by sociocultural anthropologist Mahmoud Mamdani, director of the Institute of Social Research at Makerere University and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at the School of International and Public Affairs, and  professor of anthropology, political science and African Studies at Columbia University. He writes: “It is striking, in the postcolonial era, how little the modern African university has to do with African institutions. It draws its inspiration from the colonial period and takes as its model the discipline based, gated community that maintained a distinction between clearly defined groups: administrators, academics and fee-paying students. The origins of this arrangement lay in 19th-century Berlin, and Humboldt University, founded in 1810 in the aftermath of Napoleon’s conquest of Prussia. The African university makes its appearance later in the 19th century. At the southern end of the continent, colleges were started from scratch – Stellenbosch, Cape Town, Witwatersrand. In the north, existing institutions such as al-Azhar in Cairo, a centre of Islamic scholarship, were ‘modernised’ and new disciplines introduced. The Humboldt model aimed to produce universal scholars, men and women who stood for excellence, regardless of context, and – in the colonies – could serve as a native vanguard of ‘civilisation’ without reservation or remorse. The African university, in other words, began as part of the European colonial mission, a precursor of the one-size-fits-all initiatives that we associate with the World Bank and the IMF. And so it continued, until decolonisation.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 7/30/18”

anthro in the news 7/16/18

Coca-Cola, Mexican death sentence [left]. Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Infant formula as a death threat [right]. Credit: Photo-shopped from the original image on Wikimedia Commons by Jack Heaton

corporate greed: let them drink Coke

The New York Times reported on the dire situation in a city in southern Mexico created by the presence of Coca-Cola production there. Local sources of clean drinking water have been destroyed, people are now hooked on drinking Coke, and they have high rates of diabetes. Mexico in general is among the world’s top consumers of sugary drinks. Residents of San Cristóbal in Chiapas drink on average more than two liters, or more than half a gallon, of soda a day. The article quotes sociocultural anthropologist Laura Mebert, assistant professor of liberal studies at Kettering University in Michigan, who says Coca-Cola pays a disproportionately small amount for its water privileges: “Coca-Cola pays this money to the federal government, not the local government…while the infrastructure that serves the residents of San Cristóbal is literally crumbling.”

corporate greed: let them drink formula

The Chicago Sun Times, among other media, reported on the ongoing battle against breast milk being waged by corporate interests in promoting the sale of infant formula, a battle supported by the Trump presidency. In response to claims that women in low-income countries are physically unable to breastfeed their infants because of malnutrition, the article quotes Sera Young, professor of anthropology and global health at Northwestern University:  “You have to be basically starving to not produce enough breast milk because of under-nutrition.” Formula poses the greatest risks to the poor because of risks related to water contamination and other factors: “It’s worse not to breastfeed when you’re living in a low-income country.”

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Thomas Hylland Eriksen on Australia’s Boomtown and its ecological sustainability: Interview


Thomas Hylland Eriksen is professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo. He is the author of numerous books, including Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual History; Ethnicity and Nationalism; A History of Anthropology; Small Places, Large Issues; Tyranny of the Moment; Globalization; and Common Denominators.

Here he talks about his latest book Boomtown: Runaway Globalisation on the Queensland Coast with AW contributor Sean Carey. Boomtown, will be published in July in the U.K., August in the U.S., and September in Australia.

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anthro in the news 7/9/18

Relatives of the soccer team members and the coach pray at a shrine for their rescue. Credit: Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press

a goddess is watching over them

As reported in The New York Times, people are praying to the goddess Jao Mae Nang Non at a shrine near the cave in northern Thailand where 12 soccer players and their coach have been trapped. Her legend is similar to dozens of other tales across a country whose belief system and folklore are heavily influenced by Buddhist, Hindu, and local traditions. It also speaks to the spiritual significance that caves hold in region. According to Alan Johnson, assistant professor of  anthropology at Princeton University, caves throughout Thailand have shrines, many of them Buddhist, and they connect to stories about the Buddha’s travels in the region and how he pacified fearsome giants or spirits.

intersectional look at Brazilian soccer stars

Brazil’s team at FIFA 2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An article in The Guardian described the backgrounds of many of the Brazilian soccer players, addressing intersectional issues such as race and class and, prominently, the absence of fathers in the lives of several players. According to government figures, women are the household head in 40% of Brazilian families, even when they have a conjugal partner, up from 23% two decades earlier. The article quotes Debora Diniz, professor of anthropology at the University of Brasília who notes that many of Brazil’s great players come from backgrounds of crushing poverty. “[The mothers] are much more universally Brazilian women,” she said. “There is a racial contrast that is very important. There is a class contrast that is very important.” That contrasts with the upscale lifestyle enjoyed by of players’ wives and girlfriends who in many cases are lighter-skinned, unlike the team which is a typically Brazilian racial mix.

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anthro in the news 7/2/18

A collective wedding party organized by Al Afaf, a charitable organization. Credit: Al Afaf/The Jordan Times

marriage crisis in Jordan

The Jordan Times reported on the several challenges facing men and women who want to marry in Jordan and quoted Geoffrey Hughes from the Anthropology Department, London School of Economics:  “I would assume most people who have talked to a young Jordanian man [or even his father, mother, or sister] will have heard a version of this problem: at the very least, a Jordanian man who wants to marry needs money for a flat, a bridewealth [mahr] payment and a wedding…This is all mutually reinforcing: the more people invest in marriage, the more problematic it is if the values of the families and the bride and the groom don’t match…So the difficulty of getting married becomes magnified with time in both its economic and social dimensions.” As his research continued, Hughes learned about an organization called Jama’iyyat Al Afaf Al khayriyya or the Chastity Society. It addresses some of the socioeconomic problems underlying the  marriage crisis through interest-free loans to people hoping to marry, training sessions, publishing research on Jordan’s marriage crisis, and hosting annual mass weddings where about 50 to 80 people get married at once.

church ethnography

KUOW radio (Seattle) aired a piece about a Christian minister’s rise and fall in Seattle and how a sociocultural anthropologist studied it. At the Mars Hill Church, a charismatic minister preached in a daring, new way, seeking to make his ministry “culturally relevant” and bringing a hipster attitude to conservative theology. His methods drew growing numbers of people to the church which expanded to fifteen facilities in five states. Accusations arose, however, from within the church about the minister’s misogyny, plagiarism, emotional manipulation, and abuse of authority. In 2014 he was forced to resign and the church collapsed. Throughout this process, Jessica Johnson, lecturer in anthropology and gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, was doing participant observation in the church. The result is her book, “Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Evangelical Empire.”

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anthro in the news 6/25/18

How about gun control for the military and/or racist police? Credit: PosterBoy/Flickr

police killings: collateral damage

National Public Radio (U.S.) reported on a study published in The Lancet assessing the mental health effects of police killings in America on African Americans. The article quotes Christen Smith, associate professor of African and African diaspora studies and anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin: “Whenever we see a study that confirms some of the suspicions and kind of colloquial information that we have from the black American community, then that’s something that tells us that we’re on a path toward healing and really trying to address this issue…the trickle-down effect from the national outcry around police violence and the black community is really just now getting to [the] point where people are starting to be able to get the funding and set up the research in order to do this work…” Now is the time to see similar studies start bubbling to the surface, she said.

toxic masculinity

The Australian Journal of Anthropology published a special issue in 2016 on Gender and Christianity in Melanesia

Coverage by National Public Radio (U.S.) described the problems related to toxic masculinity in the highlands of Papua New Guinea [with audio]. According to Richard Eves, an Australian National University anthropologist, when men react violently because their wives are earning money on their own, it’s because they see power as a zero-sum game: “So any powerful woman is seen as a loss for men…Basically, they want to keep the status quo of them being the powerful person in the household. So that entails bullying their wives, and beating them up.” While aid groups trying to stop violence against women may default toward focusing on female survivors, he says they should spend time with both sexes. “There’s strong social pressures on the masculine role model there, to be assertive, to be in control, to be dominating…One of the things we need to do is challenge those rather toxic notions of masculinity that are at work.”

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anthro in the news 6/18/18

Tape magic. Credit: frankieleon/Flickr

a bullshit job might actually be important

An article in The Washington Post connected sociocultural anthropologist David Graeber’s latest book, Bullshit Jobs, with a Politico story about two former “records management analysts” in the White House whose $65,000-a-year jobs entailed preserving the president’s memos, letters, emails and papers for the National Archives. Under President Trump, part of their job became Scotch-taping papers back together that Trump had torn into pieces. The story went viral, and one Twitter user noted the Scotch-taping duties were an unusual but apt example of “bullshit jobs.” [Blogger’s note: Scoth-taping torn Trump documents may actually be an important job and not a bullshit job, sadly, because it may contribute to future interpretation of important world issues by preserving information that would otherwise have been lost to history].

HAU in transition

Logo of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

Open-access devotees in anthropology had high hopes for HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory upon its launch in 2011. The idea behind HAU, named after the concept of “hau” described in Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, was intended to shake up academic publishing’s subscription model and elevate ethnography. Now, according to this source, the free, independent “gift” of a publication is moving to a modified subscription model as part of an agreement with the University of Chicago Press. While HAU’s Board of Trustees says the move is due to the publication’s growth, current and former journal staffers are blaming the broken free-access promise on what they describe as failed and even abusive leadership.

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anthro in the news 6/11/18

The lights of Tucson. Credit: Bill Morrow/Flickr

climate-change migrants in the U.S.

The Arizona Daily Star reported on the trend of internal migration from coastal areas of California to parts of the U.S. southwest, with a focus on the city of Tucson. It notes that Arizona’s capacity for population growth has its limits due to, perhaps more than anything else, water shortages. The article quotes Thomas Sheridan, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona: “The Southwest, ever since the Second World War, has experienced this absolutely explosive urban growth, and that growth has been based on cheap water and cheap electricity…There’s no major new source of water on the horizon.”

proposed U.S. food labels are pro-GMO propaganda

The USDA’s options for what the labels might look like. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about proposed food labeling in the U.S. to indicate if it is a GMO item. Critics of the options say that they are confusing because they use the obscure term B.E. (biologically engineered) instead of the widely known term GMO. Further, the images convey a happy, positive message. The article quotes Glenn Stone, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. This fight, he says, is about “clashing visions of agriculture,” where people concerned about the practices of powerful corporations such as Monsanto should be able to easily choose not to purchase those products…”People who aren’t in a place where there’s good wi-fi won’t know if it’s a GMO, and people who don’t use smartphones won’t know if it’s a GMO and also people who are in a hurry won’t know if it’s a GMO.” The public has until July 3 to submit comments on the USDA’s proposal.

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anthro in the news 6/4/18

Bikini Bottom. Credit: Encyclopedia Spongebobia

Bikini Bottom matters: More than SpongeBob

The Conversation (U.S.) published commentary by Holly M. Barker, senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Washington, republished in The Hour (Norwalk, Connecticut). Barker draws a connection between the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants and his home, Bikini Bottom: “’Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?’ My anthropology class replied, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.’ Their thunderous response filled the auditorium. Nearly 20 years ago, the underwater world of SpongeBob and his quirky, colorful friends debuted as a cartoon. The cultural icon is now a Broadway musical, up for 12 Tony awards. My follow-up question, however, was met with silence: I asked students what they could tell me about the real Bikini Bottom. Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob’s fictional home, is based on an actual place in the Pacific Ocean. But how much do most Americans know of the real-life Bikini Atoll, the location of 23 U.S. nuclear weapons tests during the Cold War era?”

Indian-Americans are top spellers

Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponnesus. Credit: Norman Rockwell, 1918. Credit: Public domain, Google Art Project

Big Think (New York) reported that Karthik Nammani is the 14th-consecutive Indian-American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship, noting a pattern that may be explained in part by a cultural emphasis on education, and the existence of a spelling bee circuit exclusively for spellers of South-Asian descent. The article quotes Shalini Shankar, associate professor of anthropology and Asian-American studies at Northwestern University: “Among the elite classes in India, both economically and socially elite, there’s a real emphasis on education and the use of education for social mobility. It’s not so different from other places in the world, but it’s certainly quite prevalent there. So I think that value is one that gets very magnified when you look at what Indian-American populations actually emigrated.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 6/4/18”