anthro in the news 10/19/2015


source: The Independent

Muslim refugees and culture talk

The Independent (Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada) carried an article about Canada’s failure to help with the current Middle East refugee crisis, drawing on the fact that Alan Kurdi, the child refugee found dead on a Turkish beach, had an aunt in British Columbia, who had appealed without success to the Immigration Minister to help get the family to Canada. This episode highlights the erosion of government support for refugees with the odds of being granted asylum have declined since 2006, when the Conservatives took power.  The article mentions the writings of two Columbia University cultural anthropologists, Lila Abu-Lughod and Mahmood Mamdani. Abu-Lughod argued in a 1991 essay that policy narratives used the “plight of Muslim women” to justify making war after 9/11 at the expense of analyzing the historical development of those contexts in which “Islamic extremism” flourished. Mamdani diagnosed “culture talk” as a central feature in post-9/11 attempts to find links between Islam and terrorism. Cultural explanations tend to erase history he said: “By equating political tendencies with entire communities … such explanations encourage collective discipline and punishment – a practice characteristic of colonial encounters. They also imply that people’s “identities are shaped entirely by the supposedly unchanging culture into which they are born.”  The Conservatives in Canada insist they are not targeting Muslims as such. Rather, they claim to be speaking for “Canadian values,” including those of “the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are moderate Muslims.” As Mamdani says, they are pitting “good Muslims” against “bad Muslims,” placing the burden on individual Muslims to prove that they are on the right side.


source: BBC News

Welcome to the neighborhood

BBC News carried an article by Irish anthropologist Martina Tyrrell of the University of Exeter has studied the relationship between humans and animals in Arviat, an Inuit community on the west coast of Hudson Bay for fifteen years. The townspeople are increasingly having to cope with polar bears in town. In the past it was rare for bears to enter the town, but now in the summer and autumn, it’s becoming a part of everyday life. Encounters with bears are common, but harm to either humans or bears is rare.


Apocalypse whenever: It’s about fear

An article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on apocalyptic thinking draws on commentary from Kevin Rafferty, a College of Southern Nevada professor who teaches the anthropology of religion. Rafferty says that apocalypse “one of the deepest and longest-held motifs or ideas in civilization…It crops up on a fairly regular basis…About 1000 A.D., at the millennium, everybody thought God was coming back, and at least in Western Europe, there were crowds of flagellants wandering Europe, atoning for the sins of mankind, hoping God would forgive everybody.” Doomsday thinking goes beyond religion, says Rafferty: Consider “all the doomsday scenarios in movies…The ‘Terminator’ series is, perhaps, the most recent example of this secular approach to apocalypse or doomsday, and that fear that things are out of control and there isn’t anything we can do about them…” The fear “may not be at the top of your mind or your emotions, but fear is always there at some level…the world is, for an ordinary human being, kind of a mysterious, uncontrollable place…as soon as things start going wrong, our fears of being out of control kind of come to the fore, and this kind of apocalyptic thinking is kind of the expression of this fear being out of control.”


Interview with David Graeber

Libération (France) carried an interview with cultural anthropologist and social activist David Graeber of the London School of Economics.  Topics include alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, climate change, and anarchy. [Blogger’s note: the article is in French; note also that Libération was founded by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1973].


Take that anthro degree and…

…become a medical doctor and health news analyst. Jamie Zimmerman, a medical doctor, provided on-air analysis for ABC News. She studied anthropology and film at the University of California-Los Angeles, earning her bachelor’s degree. She then went on to graduate from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. A member of ABC’s “Medical Unit,” Zimmerman carved out a successful niche in media. She also contributed to the Huffington Post, Yahoo News, and PBS. According to a biography on her website, she performed on television shows such as “7th Heaven” and “Boston Public” when she was a teenager. Tragically, she recently died in a drowning accident while vacationing in Hawaii. She was 31 years old.

…become a playwright. Sandra Kamman’s new play, Duir-wyyd: The Dreamer’s Doorway, opens on October 24 at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre in Maryland. Kamman is a playwright, director, and choreographer, and a practitioner of transformational theater and mystical traditions. She is founding artistic director of Sisters of One Eye Theatre Troupe and the playwright/director of Crack between the Worlds: The Goddess Returns. Kamman has an M.A. in anthropology from the George Washington University.

…work with an environmental non-profit organization. Dawit Zeleke, an immigrant to the U.S. from Ethiopia, is senior advisor at Conservation Farms & Ranches, a subsidiary of the Nature Conservancy that manages a 9,000-acre farming operation in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta in California. Zeleke has a B.A. in anthropology from Friends World College in Huntington, New York. He began his career as a farm laborer in a Northern California vineyard in 1989.


Date push-back

BBC News and other media reported on findings based on 47 fossil teeth in China that indicate a much earlier arrival of modern humans in China than researchers had thought. Scientists working in Daoxian, south China, have discovered teeth belonging to modern humans that date to at least 80,000 years ago. This is 20,000 years earlier than the widely accepted “Out of Africa” migration that led to the successful peopling of the globe by our species. Details of the work are provided in the journal Nature. According to an author of the report, María Martinón-Torres, lecturer in the anthropology department of University College London, the teeth are clearly from modern humans, and there is a need for revising   current models of modern human migration. Professor Chris Stringer, of London’s Natural History Museum said the new study was “a game-changer” in the debate about the spread of modern humans.


To sleep perchance

The Economist and other media reported on findings published in the journal Current Biology by Jerome Siegel, a sleep science researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles and Gandhi Yetish, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. They studied the sleep patterns of three foraging groups: the Hadza of northern Tanzania, the Ju/’hoansi San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, and the Tsimané in Bolivia. The researchers asked for volunteers, and 94 people agreed to collaborate with them by wearing devices that recorded their level of movement, and also when the blood vessels near their skin were constricting. They also put humidity- and temperature-monitoring devices in the areas where their volunteers tended to rest at night, in order to find out if these variables helped determine when they went to sleep and woke up. In total, the researchers collected 1,165 days’ worth of data. They found that people from all three groups slept for between 5.7 and 7.1 hours a day, with an average that hovered around 6.5 hours. Far from exceeding those of a modern city-dweller, these values are near the low end of the range found in industrial societies where an average 7.5 hours a night is the norm. [Blogger’s note – three points: First, I am not sure what the source of the “7.5 hours norm” is – certainly not among my students, though I realize that college students’ sleep patterns are not “normal”; second, the article is titled “Natural Sleep…” as if sleep among foragers is not culturally constructed, which it surely is — there is no such thing as “natural sleep” among living humans; third, for further reading, Dan Everett’s book, Don’t Sleep: There are Snakes, based on his long-term research among a group of Amazonian foragers].


In memoriam

source: Duke University Archives

Ernestine Friedl, cultural anthropologist and first woman dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University, died at the age of 95 years. Friedl received her Ph.D. at Columbia in 1950, writing her dissertation on the political leadership and organization of the Chippewas in Wisconsin. She then taught at Wellesley College and Queens College of the City of New York and was one of the few anthropologists at the time who applied the tools of the discipline to study modern Europe. Friedl’s 1962 book, Vasilika: A Village in Modern Greece, was the first ethnographic study of modern Greece. In other path-breaking work, Friedl used the tools of anthropology to explore gender roles. She came to Duke in 1973 to chair the newly formed Department of Anthropology and retired as James B. Duke Professor Emerita. As dean, Friedl added faculty and supported promising departments and units, such as the Primate Center, the Marine Lab, and the Art Museum. She launched initiatives to hire senior women and black faculty, to improve advising and teaching, and to make study abroad more feasible. During her tenure as dean, the Women’s Studies Program at Duke was established. In 2008, the building that housed the art museum was renovated as a center of learning for the humanities and social sciences and named after her. The Friedl Building now houses the departments of African & African American Studies and Cultural Anthropology, Literature and other humanities programs.



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