anthro in the news 11/28/16


dear “comrade”

Quartz published an article about the changing use and meaning of the term tongzhi, “comrade,” in China. Originating in the early Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.E), the word tongzhi was a common form of address during China’s Communist Revolution of 1921-1949. The article quotes linguistic anthropologist Andrew Wong, associate professor at the University of California East Bay, who says that the term “signalled solidarity, equality, respect, and intimacy among the revolutionaries.” With the emergence of a market economy starting in 1978, the term’s popularity waned. In the late 1990s, Chinese gay people began to use tongzhi as a term of address, it is still in use today. Party rules published earlier in November outline stricter party governance, including the revival of the use of tongzhi to promote an atmosphere of social equality. In the meantime, complications will arise given the ongoing and widespread use of the term among gay people. [Blogger’s note: for related reading, see Tiantian Zheng’s ethnography, Tongzhi Living: Men Attracted to Men in Postsocialist China].

well worth revisiting

9781598535051The Philadelphia Inquirer carried a review of a two-volume, edited set of works by Loren Eiseley. Eiseley, who died in 1977, was the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. The Library of America and editor William Cronon have presented his work in Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos that “serves as a treasure trove of 20th-century science writing.” The review goes on to say that Eiseley had “a singular voice in American letters, one well worth revisiting.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 11/28/16”

anthro in the news 10/24/16

It is now accepted, even by the UN, that UN Peacekeeping forces in Haiti from Nepal brought cholera with them in 2010. Before that, Haiti was cholera-free.
It is now accepted, even by the UN, that UN Peacekeeping forces in Haiti from Nepal brought cholera with them in 2010. Before that, Haiti was cholera-free.

Interview with Paul Farmer

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried an interview about the situation in Haiti with Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist, medical doctor, and co-founder of Partners In Health. The first question: Do you think cholera could spread more widely after the storm as a result of people drinking contaminated water? His answer: “I don’t want to say I’m terrified, but that’ll do. You can die in hours from cholera. It’s one of the true infectious disease emergencies.”

Anthropology needed more than ever

cvqhabdueaal85o-233x300The Huffington Post published an op-ed by anthropologist George Leader, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and adjunct professor at the College of New Jersey.  Commenting on presidential candidate Donald Trump’s negative remarks about particular groups of people, Leader writes: “It would serve Americans quite well to learn from the field of anthropology and colleges and high schools should do more to encourage students to take some courses. We must educate our next generation of business leaders, doctors, nurses, engineers and those pursuing all careers towards a worldview that is not limited but conscious. Anthropology should be an integral part of the education of policy makers and law enforcement.”

Continue reading “anthro in the news 10/24/16”

Anthro in the news 10/28/13

A sex counselor in Japan with one of her clients. Photograph: Eric Rechsteiner/Panos Picture, in the The Guardian

• No sex please, for young Japanese

An article in The Guardian describes changing patterns of sex, love, and marriage, or none of the above in urban Japan. The article quotes cultural anthropologist Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University as saying: “Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure…But more people are finding they prefer it.” Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, “a new reality” in urban Japan. The current flight from marriage may signal a longer term rejection of earlier Japanese norms and gender roles.

• Alan Greenspan may take Social Anthropology 101

In an interview with Alan Greenspan, Financial Times writer Gillian Tett was surprised when Greenspan expressed interest in social anthropology and asked Tett for suggested readings. In shock, Tett comments that Greenspan no longer thinks that classic orthodox economics and mathematical models can explain everything. [Blogger’s note: I am dying to know which readings Tett suggested to Greenspan! David Graeber’s book Debt would be at the top of my list for Greenspan].

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a big  job

The Boston Globe carried an article about Jim Yong Kim’s attempts to overhaul the World Bank. Kim was in Boston Thursday to accept an award from the Harvard School of Public Health. A physician by profession and cofounder of Partners in Health with Paul Farmer and others, Kim is also a medical anthropologist. Although a proponent of the World Bank’s renewed commitment to supporting large hydroelectric dam projects, Kim at the same time expresses concern for the poor:  “What we’ve seen all over the world is that if you don’t pay attention to that bottom 40 percent, you can have fundamental instability in your society…Even in countries that have made so many gains in lifting people out of poverty, the bottom 40 percent were still saying, ‘But wait a minute, we want more.’ ” [Blogger’s note: Studies of large dam construction projects consistently show that they displace thousands, even millions, of people and thus increase the number of people in the “bottom 40 percent.”]

Tanya Luhrmann dumbing down religion?

In an article in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier its literary editor, argues that, in her recent series of op-eds in The New York Times, Tanya Luhrmann expresses positive views of evangelicism (which he says she “adores”) and is “peddling another intellectual argument for anti-intellectualism, another glorification of emotion in a culture enslaved to emotion.”

What’s in a name: Asylum seeker is preferable

Australia’s The Age published a critique of recent official Australian statements about categories of immigrants, particularly a new delineation between asylum seekers and illegal maritime arrivals: “The conjoining of ‘asylum’ and ‘seeker’ is evocative. Who seeks asylum? A human in danger, distress and despair; someone who is hoping to survive on the lee shore of kindness.”

In contrast, the phrase “illegal maritime arrivals” contains no sense of humanity. Jonathan Rosa, assistant professor of linguistic anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, says such phrasing “is more about signalling one’s political affiliation than about trying to describe immigration.”

• Post-multicultural ethnic branding in Canada

An article in The Vancouver Sun notes that one in five Canadians are immigrants and nearly as many are second-generation citizens. So, it would seem that ethnic marketing would be on the rise. Instead, there seems to be growing emphasis on a “post-multicultural” nation.

Design anthropologist Ujwal Arkalgud says brands would do well to leverage Canadiana with high profile examples including Molson Canadian beer, Tim Hortons coffee, Hudson’s Bay department stores, and Roots apparel, all of which have effectively used national identity to sell products.

“Looking at audiences based on their ethnicity is a brutal, brutal practice,” said Arkalgud, director of strategy at Sonic Boom, a strategic marketing communications firm in Toronto. “It makes the assumption that just because somebody has immigrated, or has a certain background, they think a certain way; the reality is that our behaviours are guided by who we are and our own beliefs and values.”

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 10/28/13”

Anthro in the news 6/17/13

• Unexpected result in Iran’s presidential election

Presidential Election Map of Iran/Wikimedia Commons, Nima Farid.

For New America Media, William Beeman, professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology at the University of Minnesota, commented on the recent presidential election in Iran: “Much of what transpired in Iran during the presidential election on Friday, June 14 (Flag Day in the U.S.), won by Hassan Rowhani should be familiar to American citizens: A candidate replacing a term-limited president contrasting himself with a former conservative government, campaigning on social and human rights issues along with a promise for an improved economy, combined with a split vote for his opposition that assured his victory by less than a one per-cent margin. Echoes of the American election in 2012 and many earlier elections are clearly present in Iran in 2013. Apparently Iranian and American voters are more alike than either group realizes.”

Paradoxical consequences of elections in Malaysia

In The Malaysia Chronicle, Clive Kessler analyzes the how, paradoxically, the election of a reduced Barisan Nasional presence and increased opposition numbers in parliament has amplified, not diminished, the power of the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), specifically its power within the nation’s government and over the formation of national policy. He also examines the election campaign that yielded this paradoxical outcome. Kessler is emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of New South Wales.

• Studying abroad at home

Paula Hirschoff, two-time U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and M.A. in anthropology, published an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education on the value of student exchange programs within a country. She describes her positive experiences in a program which placed her in a traditionally black college in the U.S.

Investigation of unmarked graves in Florida delayed

DNA testing begins to further unravel the mystery of the unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys./ Tampa Bay News

According to several sources, including The Tampa Bay News, a request to dig up remains at the controversial Dozier School For Boys in Marianna, Florida, has been put on hold. Researchers at the University of South Florida requested an archaeological permit from the state at the end of May to excavate. Through ground penetrating radar, researchers earlier discovered the remains of close to 50 boys buried in unmarked graves there. The State Archaeologist sent a letter to USF researchers asking for more information before making a decision on granting the permit. Families of those believed to be buried there are frustrated by the delay. Despite the permit delay, forensic experts from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office proceeded with the next step for families, taking DNA samples of three relatives. Researchers are hoping to match the DNA with the remains at the reform school. USF Archaeologist Erin Kimmerle said they will  review the questions from the state archaeologist next week. Once the answers are received, it will be at least another two weeks before a decision about the permit is made. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 6/17/13”

Can we really stand on our own two feet?

By Sean Carey

Street side tailor in Bangkok. Many people around the world spend substantial time sitting/ Mark Fischer, Wikimedia Commons.

In his 1982 book Man, the Tottering Biped the South African-born anatomist and paleoanthropologist, Philip V Tobias (1925 – 2012), questioned the conventional wisdom, developed from Charles Darwin onwards, that standing in an upright stance on two feet freed our arms for tool making and tool using and marked a significant advance in human evolutionary history.

Tobias argued, instead, that the capacity to sit upright occurred long before the ability to stand on two feet and walk bipedally. Sitting upright, in his view, allowed our ancestors to develop a range of manual skills and with them the growth of a large brain.

Tobias made a further point about Homo sapiens’ achievement in standing upright:

“The way in which the body adjusted its structure and it bio-mechanics to the new way of uprightness and bipedalism may be described as little short of ingenious. Nonetheless, after perhaps four million years or more, we have not yet evolved a fault-free mechanism. Our bodies are still subject to what Sir Arthur Keith called the ills of uprightness. They include flat feet, slipped discs, hernias, prolapses and malposture. These maladies of uprightness account for much that keeps today’s orthopaedic surgeons busy. So the mechanism of man’s posture and gait, though resourceful and craftily contrived, is imperfect. The first human ancestors to come upright became heir to a host of new problems.”

That’s an impressive list but even so, it leaves out: plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, ankle sprains, shin splints, fallen pelvic floors, hernias, sway back (lordosis), a sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis), a rounded upper back or hunch back (kyphosis), and spontaneously fractured vertebrae.

No one would disagree that standing upright, the head poised on top of the spine, is a truly remarkable achievement. Many biological anthropologists, such as Craig Stanford of the University of Southern California, believe it is the key defining feature of Homo sapiens. As he says in his 2003 book Upright:

Feet are complicated. / Wikimedia Commons.

“Of the more than two hundred species of primates on earth today, one is bipedal. Of more than 4000 species of mammals, one – the same one – is fully bipedal when walking (a few oddities such as kangaroo rats and meerkats stand bipedally for a few moments at a time). If we include thousands more kinds of animals – such as amphibians and reptiles – walking on two feet emerges as the most unlikely way to get around. Kangaroos and birds such as ostriches and penguins are bipedal – sort of. But they are built on an entirely different body plan, and are not, strictly speaking, relying only on their legs for transport.”

Only the human primate, then, is able to come to a truly upright stance with fully extended knees and hips, that is without the bent leg joints found amongst bonobos and chimpanzees, our nearest relatives, and has the capacity to remain in that attitude for a significant amount of time.

Nevertheless, Tobias’s perspective on the problems of uprightness has plenty of contemporary supporters. “The human vertebral column is unique in its sinusoidal curvatures that allow the upper body to balance over the hips,” anatomist and physical anthropologist Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University recently argued at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “Turning a spine originally adapted for a quadruped into one that is perpendicular to the ground has resulted in numerous problems that are unique to our species. If you take care of it, your spine will get you through to about 40 or 50. After that you are on your own.”  Continue reading “Can we really stand on our own two feet?”

Anthro in the news 6/3/13

• Unhappy 40th anniversary


Map of Chagos Archipelago/Wikipedia Commons

David Vine, cultural anthropology professor at American University, published an article in The Huffington Post remarking on the painful 40th anniversary of the final deportations of Chagossians from their homeland in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Archipelago in order to build a secretive military base on Chagos’s largest island, Diego Garcia. He writes: “Over a weekend of memorials, I was remembering a friend who died of a broken heart. Her death certificate may not say so, but she did. Aurélie Lisette Talate died last year at 70 of what members of her community call, in their creole language, sagren–profound sorrow… Madame Talate died of sagren because the U.S. and British governments exiled her and  the rest of her Chagossian people from their homeland…”  And, further: “In those same forty years, the base on British-controlled Diego Garcia helped launch the Afghan and Iraq wars and was part of the CIA’s secret ‘rendition’ program for captured terrorist suspects.”

• Paul Farmer: it’s not innovative to help the poor

WGBH radio interviewed medical anthropologist and humanitarian advocate Paul Farmer of Harvard University. In speaking about Partners in Health, which has moved many, including former President Bill Clinton, to call Partners in Health’s methodology innovative, is quoted as saying: “The idea that it’s somehow innovative to serve the poor is kind of sad, right? Because it’s not a new idea.”

Map of Karnataka

Research Institute in India launches student fieldwork program

The Karnataka State Tribal Research Institute
in southern India will recruit 50 to 100 anthropology students every year to conduct studies on the education, economics and health of tribals, besides their society and lifestyle, throughout the State. The Institute was set up in Mysore in 2011. It is undertaking research, evaluation and training activities, besides organizing seminars and producing documentaries. The students will receive training and monthly salary.

The Gerzeh bead has nickel-rich areas that indicate a meteoritic origin/ OPEN UNIV./UNIV. MANCHESTER (Nature)

Jewels from the sky

Fox News carried an article about an ancient Egyptian iron bead found inside a 5,000-year-old tomb that was crafted from a meteorite. In an article in Nature, researchers say the bead has a Widmansttten pattern, a distinctive crystal structure found only in meteorites that cooled at an extremely slow rate inside asteroids when the solar system was forming. Further investigation showed that the bead was not molded under heat, but rather hammered into shape by cold-working: “Today, we see iron first and foremost as a practical, rather dull metal,” study researcher Joyce Tyldesley, an Egyptologist at the University of Manchester…”To the ancient Egyptians, however, it was a rare and beautiful material which, as it fell from the sky, surely had some magical/religious properties.”  Continue reading “Anthro in the news 6/3/13”

Anthro in the news 5/6/13

• What New Yorkers are thinking about

The Village Voice included a review of “a fascinating set of videos from an anthropologist named Andrew Irving, a researcher who spent part of 2011 documenting 100 random New Yorkers’ inner monologues.”

Andrew Irving
Andrew Irving, New York Stories: The Lives of Other Citizens/Village Voice
The videos, published by Scientific American, were created by Andrew Irving, professor and director of the Granada Centre of Visual Anthropology at the University of Manchester, England. He spent part of 2011 documenting 100 randomly selected New Yorkers’ inner monologues. Irving stood on street corners and asked pedestrians to put on headsets and narrate their streams of consciousness out loud.

While each narrative is distinct, Irving picked up on a recurrent theme of economic instability and concerns in “the age of terror.” Irving told the Voice that this particular project arose out of work he had done in Uganda, trying to understand the thoughts of people diagnosed with HIV.

• Hello, God

Tanya Marie Luhrmann
Tanya Marie Luhrmann/Stanford
In a guest column for The New York Times, cultural anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, a professor at Stanford University, discusses findings from her ethnographic field work in a charismatic evangelical church in Chicago. It was not at all uncommon for people to talk about hearing God. She asks, what do we make of this?

“I don’t think that anthropologists can pronounce on whether God exists or not, but I am averse to the idea that God is the full explanation here. For one thing, many of these voices are mundane. A woman told me that she heard God tell her to get off the bus when she was immersed in a book and about to miss her stop… Schizophrenia, or the radical break with reality we identify as serious mental illness, is also not an explanation.” She provides more detail in her book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.

Continue reading “Anthro in the news 5/6/13”