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.”
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.
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 ofanthropology 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
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.
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 themarriage 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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
Open-access devotees in anthropology had high hopes for HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theoryupon 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.
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
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.
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
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.”
The latest book by David Graeber, London School of Economics anthropology professor book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, was published May 15 and is being widely reviewed and discussed. In The New Zealand Herald: “When anthropologist David Graeber set out to write his provocatively titled book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, he invited the internet to share stories of occupations that people believed may contain a high concentration of faecal matter. Among the hundreds who shared stories was an online marketer whose team spent its days crafting and designing online banner ads for pedantic clients, while being fully aware that no one ever clicked on their ads — at least not intentionally. ‘They later had to make up these new kinds of statistics and measures on how many people see these things from the corner of their eye,’ [comments Graeber…]. ‘They’re doing this tiny detail work because the customer wants everything to be perfect, all the while knowing it makes no difference.’’ This piece contains a short video interview with Graeber in which he differentiates between bullshit jobs and shit jobs.
The review in The Daily Mail included this insight from the author: “‘What I ended up doing, when I was researching the book, I created an email account [and]…advertised the account and invited people to share their experiences…‘I said, “Have you ever had a job that’s totally pointless? Tell me all about it.”’ The responses came rolling in – in their hundreds…I wrote them all in one giant file, and I color coded it for content,’ he says, clarifying that he’s not labeling any jobs ‘bulls**t’ himself; he’s only reporting the feelings expressed by people actually working in those positions. ‘Telemarketers were way up there…There’s nobody in telemarketing who doesn’t feel that their job shouldn’t exist … It’s also unusual because most bulls**t jobs pay pretty well and have good benefits; telemarketers aren’t like that. It’s the worst of the worst.’”