Anthro in the news 1/26/15

  • Political cartooning

The Business Standard (India) carried a review of a new book on political cartooning in India by cultural anthropologist Ritu Khanduri, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Arlington, College of Liberal Arts. Understanding what makes political caricature funny to some but not to others is critical today, says the author in an interview. Her book, Caricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and History in the Modern World, traces India’s political history through political caricatures.

Khanduri comments:  “As a visual reaction to events, cartoons have the ability to reflect as well as shape public opinion. “They’re complex images with layers of sub-textual meaning. Understanding what makes them funny to some but not to others is what we need to understand, especially in our present times.”

  • Changing views on dating and marriage in Oman

Newsweek reported on changing patterns of finding a spouse in Oman where mixing between genders is limited. Marrying for love was rare just 20 years ago in Oman, and arranged matches were the norm, with minimal contact between a couple before their wedding. Oil wealth, globalization, and higher education have transformed the country since Sultan Qaboos bin Said seized power from his father in 1970. A survey of 921 Omanis aged 18 to 60, found that 83% were against arranged marriage. More than a love marriage, young Omanis want a “compatible marriage.” Many young people are looking for partners at university, at work or on social media. Social media offers a discreet ways for young men and women to connect.

Similar changes are happening in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, says Jane Bristol-Rhys, associate professor of anthropology at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Exposure to other cultures – whether through television, the Internet, or direct contact with foreigners – has influenced ideas about what a good marriage should look like. “They’re not living in a vacuum here, and they know there are other choices,” Bristol-Rhys says.

  • Rethinking mental illness

Cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which she comments in depth on a “remarkable document” from the British Psychological Society, “Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia”. Its authors say that hearing voices and feeling paranoid are common experiences, and are often a reaction to trauma, abuse or deprivation: “Calling them symptoms of mental illness, psychosis or schizophrenia is only one way of thinking about them, with advantages and disadvantages.”

In all, the report presents:

“A radically different vision of severe mental illness from the one held by most Americans, and indeed many American psychiatrists. Americans think of schizophrenia as a brain disorder that can be treated only with medication.”

“The implications are that social experience plays a significant role in who becomes mentally ill, when they fall ill and how their illness unfolds. We should view illness as caused not only by brain deficits but also by abuse, deprivation and inequality, which alter the way brains behave. Illness thus requires social interventions, not just pharmacological ones.”

  • On mindless TV watching

Cultural anthropologist Sawa Kurotani, professor of anthropology at the University of Redlands in California, published an op-ed in The Yomiuri Shimbun (Tokyo). She confesses to being an “intellectual” who, at the end of the day, loves stretching out on her couch and watching TV. She writes:

“Old habits die hard: in my parents’ household, the TV was on as soon as we got up in the morning and stayed on for a good part of the day, so recollections of my daily life as a child are also accompanied by the sights and sounds of various TV shows. Whenever I think of weekday breakfast, I can see in my mind’s eye the animated clock on the TV screen that appeared right before the 7 o’clock news began from NHK (Japan’s national public broadcasting system). As we got ready for school, my sister and I would try to catch as much of the cartoons we could, until our mother finally scolded us to hurry up. When we got home from school, we’d have an afternoon snack and do our homework, with reruns of old American TV shows — “Bewitched,” “Star Trek,” and “Combat!” among them — playing in the background.”

Kurotani is the author of Home Away from Home: Japanese Corporate Wives in the United States.

  • Take that degree and…

…become a potter and art shop owner. Artist Molly Noseworthy combines her love for animals and her anthropology studies with her art work to create unique pottery pieces. She graduated from East Tennessee State University with a B.A. in anthropology. You can learn about her work  on

…become one of France’s most prominent Muslim intellectuals. Malek Chebel had a religious upbringing in Algeria, followed by two French doctorates in social anthropology and psychology, he earned his reputation in Arab society by translating the Koran into French in an edition that won the approval of all the key Muslim clerics from the Maghreb to Indonesia. But he has also tackled the two subjects closest to French hearts: sex and psychoanalysis. Chebel’s titles include The Arabic Kama Sutra, Arab Eroticism, and the just-published The Islamic Unconscious. Using his erudition to spread a message of liberation from what he calls the dangerous ideologies that have taken possession of his religion, Chebel regularly cites the learned and inclusive Islamic society that was established under the Abbasid caliphates of the Middle Ages.

..become a dancer and choreographer. Netherlands-based dancer and choreographer Kalpana Raghuraman was dabbling with some questions. What do religion and spirituality mean to the Indian diaspora? Has the Indian urban youth seen a shift in interests in the topics over the years? She wanted to find the answers and explore the context of religion and spirituality in contemporary times through performance. Her work “Padme” was presented at in Chennai, a few months after it premiered in Bengaluru. She will be staging “Tightrope Walker” and “Kandam Ostinato” at the Cadance Festival in the Netherlands. Kalpana says, “I created “Padme” for Indian diaspora dancers and found out that the theme is also very relevant to the young urban Indians, while re-setting this work on them in Bangalore. Lotus (Padme) is seeking the light just like the human who is becoming a conscious being.” Raghuraman has a Masters in anthropology from the University of Leiden.

…become the owners of a commercial kitchen. As anthropology graduate students at Brandeis University, Laurie Rothstein and Jacqueline Baum anticipated teaching or research in exotic locations. Instead, they now spend their days in aprons at the Stock Pot Malden, a commercial kitchen, surrounded by tubs of honey and jars of spices for Trillfoods, their specialty sweets business. They specialize in intensely flavored recipes prepared in small batches, which they describe as “sweets worth savoring.” Says Rothstein, “We look at recipes and flavor profiles from many culture areas.”

…become an arts programming director. Margaret Lawrence, programming director for the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, received an Award for Programmatic Excellence from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Lawrence earned a double Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley in anthropology and humanities. She has represented New England in Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Morocco and Uzbekistan and has taught professional workshops in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and throughout the United States.

…become a documentary filmmaker. Kristine Stolakis is currently a student in the Master of Fine Arts program at Stanford University. After receiving an undergraduate degree in cultural anthropology from New York University, Stolakis headed west to pursue an MFA from Stanford University’s prestigious documentary film program. Now in her second year of the two-year course of study, Stolakis is just months away from a finished thesis and graduating. She has produced three films while at Stanford. The first, “Funny People”, deals with the difficulty of making a career out of stand-up comedy; the second, “Balancing Act”, paints a portrait of a performer, DeMarcello, and the circus-oriented after school program with which he is involved; the third, “The Typist”, features a detailed re-enactment of an interview with a gay Korean war veteran.

…become William Ury, an anthropologist, author, academic, and negotiation expert. Ury co-founded the Harvard Program on Negotiation and helped found the International Negotiation Network with President Jimmy Carter. Ury is the co-author of Getting to Yes with Roger Fisher, which set out the method of principled negotiation and established the idea of the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement within negotiation theory

  • Date push back for landmarks in human evolution

Human evolution milestones keep getting earlier. According to a new study, human ancestors may have been capable of using tools much earlier than previously thought. Analysis of fossil hand bones of the species of Australopithecus africanus that lived in southern Africa about 3 million to 2 million years ago indicated this human ancestor used its hands in ways very much like modern people. It possessed the ability to have a power-squeeze grip and a forceful precision grip.

“Forceful precision grips have been linked specifically to stone tool use and tool making, and so it is possible that Australopithecus africanus was using stone tools as well,” said Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, who helped lead the study published in the journal Science with fellow University of Kent paleoanthropologist Matthew Skinner.

“This evidence suggests that species of Australopithecus were more human-like in their behavior than we previously thought and that we should concentrate our efforts on finding evidence for tools that they might have been using, whether made out of stone, wood or bone,” Skinner said.

  • A possible new human species?

BBC News reported on findings of fossils suggesting that an unknown species of human was roaming parts of northern China between 60,000 and 120,000 years ago. The fossils, first discovered in 1976, consist of skull fragments and nine teeth from four individuals. A comprehensive analysis of the teeth has been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. María Martinón-Torres of the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, and her colleagues looked at the size and shape of the crown and root system, the grooves, cusps and crests, and their positions relative to each other. These were then compared to a pool of over 5,000 teeth representing nearly all the known hominin species. She and her team are cautious about claiming new species status.

Others echo Martinón-Torres’ caution. Matthew Skinner of the University of Kent, says fossil samples from Asia are so sparse that it is hard to infer species status. Fred Spoor of University College London agrees with Skinner. He says the remains show a mix of modern and primitive features. “What it means is another matter.” Conceivably the remains come from a hybrid of modern humans and Denisovans, “but that is pure speculation”. Many of the supposedly separate Homo species might just be variants of a single species, says Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

Support for a separate species designation comes from Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, who says that surface features on the teeth alone should be enough to argue for a new species. He says, while the sample is small, it “strongly suggests the presence of a previously unrecognized species…There’s little doubt in my mind that these teeth stand out as something unique.”


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