anthro in the news 10/30/17

Elia Fester & children, Kalahari Khomani San Bushman, Boesmansrus camp, Northern Cape, South Africa. credit: South African Tourism

maintaining minimalism and equality

The Guardian published a piece by anthropologist James Suzman, author of Abundance without Affluence. He describes how the Bushmen long maintained social equality and abundance without overconsumption and damaging the environment and draws lessons from their culture for our times: “Crucially, their success was based not on their ability to expand and grow into new lands or develop new productive technologies, but on the fact they mastered the art of making a good living where they were. It is no coincidence that the continent with the evidence of the longest continuous human habitation is the only place unaffected by the extinction events that put paid 75% of the megafauna species – including mammoths, cave bears and sabre-tooth cats – when Homo sapiens expanded into Europe, Asia and the Americas.” Their minimalist consumption patterns were maintained through derision directed at boastful, self-aggrandizing people which had a social levelling effect.

clock time vs event time

Quartz carried an article about the sociological classification of people into those who follow clock time or event time. It includes commentary from Kevin Birth, professor of anthropology at Queens College (CUNY) in New York City. He notes that for most of human history, event time was the norm:  “Clock time really came into its own, he explains, when wage hours took over as a handy tool that employers used to start standardizing labor costs in the 18th century, when people began migrating for work. Suddenly, a day’s wages could equal a wide range of output depending on the length of “days” in locations at different latitudes. Employers began thinking in terms of wages per hour, and work days came to be demarcated by the clock, not the rising and setting sun.”

“fixing” Afghanistan

Politico published a lengthy article profiling cultural anthropologist Scott Guggenheim, long-time friend of Afghanistan’s president. Ashraf Ghani, and his senior advisor since 2002 [Blogger’s note: Ghani also has a Ph.D. in anthropology]. The author writes, “Guggenheim has been serving the Afghan state off and on for as long as the United States has occupied it…Over that time, amid Afghan politics’ literal palace intrigue and Hobbesian infighting, Guggenheim has somehow become one of the most powerful people in the country. He often functions as a connector—between Kabul and Washington, between Washington and its many allies, and sometimes even among the various branches of the American and Afghan governments.” The author quotes Guggenheim on the current situation: “What the British achieved was turning one of the oldest civilizations into warring tribes…What the Americans did was empowering the mujahedeen without thinking through the consequences. In the second round, the Americans brought back warlords. How do you lose a popularity contest against the Taliban? They [the U.S.] found a way.” As the article moves on, through the change from the Obama to the Trump administration, Guggenheim’s growing disillusionment with “the project” of democratization becomes clear. The author asks him why he bothers at all, and he responds: “What I’d like to see is countries with deep historical legacies, that are struggling, pull it off…Some sense that they will finally get their act together and they are going to be democratic and there is going to be basic freedoms. Kids can go to a movie theater and not worry about being blown up, that sort of thing. I’m still a deep idealist on those scores.” And, finally: “What you are doing is doomed,” he said. “But isn’t that the story of life? And so, you do it anyway.”

omen peace builders 

The Guardian reported on the conflict in the Central African Republic that started in late 2012 when rebels – mostly Muslims, and many from Chad and Sudan – began seizing control of towns and eventually overthrew the president. Predominantly Christian fighters retaliated. Thousands have died in the fighting, more than 1.1 million people have been displaced, and two-thirds of the country is controlled by armed groups. The article quotes Louisa Lombard, assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University: “If you’re Muslim, you have this sense that even though you’re Central African no one ever takes you seriously as a Central African. You’re always called a foreigner and every institution of government is biased against you.” At the same time, Christians feel threatened, even though both groups have lived peacefully together for generations. Fed up with the violence, Eiwa Djabou, a Muslim woman in one town in the southwest, gathered women of both religions to convince the militias to put down their arms. Their efforts brought peace to the town and may serve as a model for elsewhere.

tech, tech, tech: whatever happened to people? 

The Guardian published commentary by cultural anthropologist Genevieve Bell, director of the Autonomy, Agency & Assurance Innovation Institute at Australian National University and the university’s inaugural Florence Violet McKenzie Chair. Before taking up her position at ANU, she was a resident anthropologist with Intel in the U.S. where she worked at the interface of culture and technology. She writes: “My time in Silicon Valley has left me with the distinct sense that we need to keep reasserting the importance of people and the diversity of our lived experiences into our conversations about technology and the future. It is easy to get seduced by all the potential of the new and the wonders it promises. There is a lot of hype and not so much measured discussion. So it is time for a conversation about our possible digital and human futures and about the world we might want to make together. What actions can we take, individually and collectively? Is there a particular Australian thread we could follow? I want to suggest four things we should do in Australia.”

spotlight on headwrapping

South African singer Simphiwe Dana at the Rathausplatz in Vienna, 2007. Credit: Tsui/Wikimedia

Public Radio International reported on the October 29 Headwrap Expo in Dearborn, Michigan, an annual event since 2013, organized by self-employed anthropologist and entrepreneur, Zarinah El-Amin Naeem of Detroit. The event includes fashion, panels, and vendors, from a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds:  “Broadening the understanding of the practice [of headwrapping] is important because women’s dress, and in particular Muslim women’s dress, has been politicized so much in today’s world,” says El-Amin Naeem. “Many Muslim women feel like it is a burden that they and only they bear. However, when you see the full scope of the head covering practices, it causes you to wonder why one group — Muslim women — have been the focus of this debate.”

book review

The Irish Times published a review of James Suzman’s Abundance without Affluence: “Deprived of their traditional territories, first by the slow encroachment of Bantu agricultural peoples from further north, and then later by white colonists, most bushmen are no longer permitted to hunt. Few of the young know how to hunt anyway. And the game fences that run for hundreds of miles across the Kalahari thirstlands, erected to protect cattle herds from wild diseases, have blocked ancient migration routes, killing off most of the game.There is, it seems, no way back to that garden. But Suzman’s talent for evoking the region’s vast and haunting landscapes, his elegiac account of a passing covenant with nature, and his warm and compassionate character sketches of individual Ju’/hoansi, make this a fascinating and at times profoundly moving work of literary non-fiction.”

take that anthro degree and…

…work in a zoo. Kristen Ritchotte Is a Play Partner Program Specialist at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. She oversees its Play Partner volunteer program, supports the development and management of Our Big Backyard programming, handles a variety of exotic animals, performs routine maintenance of Our Big Backyard structures, supervises interns, and conducts study design, implementation, and data analyses. Ritchotte has a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Rhode Island and an M.A. in physical and biological anthropology from Tulane University.

…become an endangered language teacher. Jesse DesRosier, a Pikuni (Blackfeet) warrior and veteran of the United States Marines Corps, believes it is his duty and obligation to protect his country and lands, as well as to uphold the tribe’s traditions and culture while safeguarding its natural resources for future generations. He teaches at the same Blackfoot-language immersion school he attended nearly 20 years ago, the Cuts Wood School, a program under the Piegan Institute. He also teaches a native language class once a week at the University of Montana and has started offering an online course to some Yale University students. DesRosier has a B.A. in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Montana.

teach in China. Matthias Scappi teaches English to two children and lives with the family in Shenzen, China, through the Shenzhen AU PAIR International Cultural Exchange Co., Ltd. Scappi has a B.A. in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Vienna.

rocking the cradle of humanity

CNN’s Inside Africa series includes a video detailing the discovery at Jebel Irhoud, a site in Morocco, of fossil and artifact evidence of the presence of Homo sapiens there 300,000 years ago. Ethiopia was previously the site of the oldest Homo sapiens fossils, and East Africa has long been considered the “cradle of life.” The Morocco discovery greatly extends the geography of very early Homo sapiens while also pushing the date back by 100,000 years. “It’s like a puzzle,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the department of human evolution in the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and head of the German team collaborating with Moroccan archaeologists. “We have to put together, to reconstruct, not just the anatomy of these humans but also their lifestyle, their activities.”

oldest known tsunami victim

The Guardian reported on the analysis of a 6,000 year-old skull found in 1929 in a coastal area of Papua New Guinea. It indicates the individual’s death in a tsunami event. A multidisciplinary group of scientists examined geological deposits at the riverbed site where the skull was found, identifying clear signs of tsunami activity. They spotted microscopic organisms from the ocean in the sediment, similar to those found in soil after the 1998 tsunami. “We also employed chemistry and examined the size of sediment grains,” finding they were indicative of a tsunami, said Mark Golitko, assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame.

nature, culture, and sleep

An article in The Huffington Post reviewed findings of a biological anthropology study published in July in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Researchers tested the sentinel hypothesis in humans by looking at the sleep patterns of a rural Tanzanian tribe. Over the nearly three weeks of the study, they found that 99.8 percent of the time, at least one adult in the tribe was awake. The adults averaged just over six hours of total sleep a night and spent nearly two-and-a-half hours awake each night after initially falling asleep. And whether intentionally or not, somebody was nearly always “on guard.” Implications for people in contemporary societies afflicted by insomnia are noted by study co-author Charles L. Nunn, professor of evolutionary anthropology and global health at Duke University: “Maybe the ideal of a block of consolidated eight hours of sleep is not … how natural selection has shaped human sleep.” Study co-author David Samson, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, is quoted as saying: “It may be that such variation was adaptive in our ancestral past, and we have an occurrence of ‘evolutionary mismatch’ ― where our ancient hardware conflicts with our modern social and technological context.” 


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