anthro in the news 4/11/16

Sex trafficking and tea

CNN carried an article following up on a series of videos it did last month about how girls growing up on tea plantations in Assam, India, are often targeted by human traffickers. The current article poses selected questions, sent in by viewers of the videos, to several experts including cultural anthropologist Sarah Besky, professor at Brown University and author of The Darjeeling Distinction: Labor and Justice on Fair-Trade Tea Plantations in India. She responds: “Human trafficking in Northeast India does not only happen on tea plantations. It happens across rural and urban areas…poverty and a lack of employment opportunities are important factors — this goes for anyone, not just girls who grow up on tea plantations.”

Update: Chagos Islanders’ resettlement claims

File:View from the cockpit on approach to Diego Garcia.jpg
View of Diego Garcia. Source: Steve Swayne, Flickr

The Irish Examiner published a piece by social anthropologist Sean Carey of Manchester University which provides background on the situation of displaced Chagossians and an update on their ongoing struggle to be allowed to return to their homeland. The Chagossians are descendants of African slaves who, for several centuries, worked on coconut plantations in the Chagos Archipelago. They were all forcibly displaced by the U.K. between 1967 and 1973 to allow the U.S. to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands. Chagossians living in the U.K. have been campaigning for the right to return for many years.

Social drivers of diabetes

Newsweek carried an article about the rise of type 2 diabetes, especially among urban populations. It includes commentary from David Napier, professor of medical anthropology at University College London. He noted that by focusing on medical factors, most health research has failed to capture the social and cultural drivers that make urban populations especially vulnerable to type 2 diabetes, the type often linked to obesity. He urged policymakers and urban planners to develop strategies to take social factors into account and promote healthier life styles as migration from rural areas to cities continues.

Ethnic hate language on the rise in Kenya

As national elections in 2017 in Kenya near, ethnic hate language is surging, as reported in  AllAfrica. Social scientists say Kenyans will remain “tribal” until the government decides to share national resources equitably. “Everyone knows that the most powerful positions in government have been set aside for the Kikuyu and Kalenjins,” according to Erick Nyambedha, a medical anthropologist and professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Maseno University. “Everybody is talking about cohesion but even if you preach unity 100 times a day but you don’t practise it, it’s a total waste of time.” Nyambedha reckons that successive political power players have perfected the art of playing communities against one another in order to remain in power, a strategy used by the colonial powers. “When the British came, they clobbered us together into a country and, to hold power, they brought with them the principle of divide and rule. They magnified differences among the tribes…which served as a breeding ground for tribal stereotypes.”

Our curry, our selves

A Japanese curry eaten with chopsticks. Source: Creative Commons

National Public Radio (U.S.) described the research of Markus Bell, anthropology Ph.D. candidate at Australian National University, on the travels of curry from India to North Korea via Japan: “Curry is a chameleon of a dish and a well-traveled one at that — from India to Pyongyang, to Tokyo and the NASA space program. In each place, people have adapted and blended it to local tastes, making it one of the world’s most loved dishes. Perhaps this is why many of my friends and I feel such affection for it: Curry, like us, shifts and evolves through its journeys, the cultures it passes through, and the people who love and adopt it.” In September Bell will take up a lectureship in the University of Sheffield’s School of East Asian Studies.


Take that anthro degree and…

become a poet and fiction writer. Juan Felipe Herrera, the 2015-2016 Poet Laureate of the United States, is the author of 30 books, including collections of poetry, short stories, young adult novels, and children’s books. His most recent works include a collection of poetry, Notes of Assemblage, a picture book showcasing inspirational Hispanic and Latino Americans. He has received many awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award, International Latino Book Award, Independent Publisher Book Award, the Américas Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, three PEN awards, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Stanford University Chicano Fellows. Herrera has a B.A. in social anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles and an M.A. in social anthropology from Stanford University. He later pursued a Master’s of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

…become a museum director. Perry Price is executive director of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Previously he worked as a curator at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston, then was director of education at the American Craft Council in Minneapolis. He has a B.A. in anthropology and the history of art from the Johns Hopkins University and an M.A. in museum studies from the State University of New York at Oneonta.

become a medical doctor and public health advocate. Tonantzin Rodriguez works in Sacramento, CA, specializing in family medicine. She has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of California, Davis. Her research interest in cancer prevention led to a Master of Public Health degree from Cal State Fresno, a research fellowship at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a medical degree from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine.

become an artist. Claudia Biçen, who has worked as a recruitment consultant in the San Francisco Bay area, is an award-winning artist. Her exhibitions include: Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, London; the Pastel Society of America, New York; and the Pastel Society of the West Coast, California. She has received the Herman Margulies Award for Excellence and the Canson Excellence in Arts Award, along with several grants. She has a B.A. in philosophy and psychology from the University of Oxford and an anthropology from University College London.

Artist Claudia Bicen and one of her portraits. Source: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Debated: Extinction timing of “the hobbits”

The Monitor carried an article describing research suggesting that Homo floresiensis, nicknamed “the hobbits,” of Flores, Indonesia, may have gone extinct earlier than what prevailing thinking says.  Findings arguing for a revised chronology were published in the journal Nature. The Monitor piece includes commentary from Russell L. Ciochon, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who was not part of the study:  “In many ways, science does correct itself. By continually investigating a site, you sometimes find minor errors that you made in the earlier interpretations and then you want to revise those interpretations.” From Michael Chazan, a paleoarchaeologist at the University of Toronto who was also not part of the study:  “Although we think of determining the age of a site as just the simplest thing, it actually is pretty hard…[These new findings constitute] “the kind of research we’ve been waiting for in terms of a really well done, pretty fundamental description of how the site formed.”


TED awarded a $1 million prize to “space archaeologist,” Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama. She uses satellite remote sensing to identify buried sites of past human occupation.  Parcak is working with NASA’s and the U.S. Department of Defense’s infrared satellite technology to locate archaeological sites in the Middle East in order to help preserve them. Upon receiving news of the prize, she said: “(I) feel overwhelmed, honored, and excited – and definitely (feel) the weight of responsibility for my field. TED is an incredible organization and this is a phenomenal opportunity to raise awareness about what is happening to our ancient shared heritage…Archaeology is experiencing significant challenges right now due to ISIL (ISIS), economic crises, and drops in tourism. Looting and site destruction are global problems. We have a tough road ahead, and one key will be developing more collaborations using new technologies like satellite imagery.” [Blogger’s note: A report on Professor Parcak’s discovery of a Viking site she discovered in Canada is available at the TED site].


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