anthro in the news 6/18/18

Tape magic. Credit: frankieleon/Flickr

a bullshit job might actually be important

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

Logo of HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

Open-access devotees in anthropology had high hopes for HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory upon 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.

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anthro in the news 6/11/18

The lights of Tucson. Credit: Bill Morrow/Flickr

climate-change migrants in the U.S.

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

The USDA’s options for what the labels might look like. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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.

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anthro in the news 6/4/18

Bikini Bottom. Credit: Encyclopedia Spongebobia

Bikini Bottom matters: More than SpongeBob

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

Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponnesus. Credit: Norman Rockwell, 1918. Credit: Public domain, Google Art Project

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.”

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anthro in the news 5/28/18

Bullshit Jobs in the news

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.’”

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anthro in the news 5/14/18

Flood damage along the Choluteca River caused by Hurricane Mitch. Credit: NOAA/Flickr.

immigration policy in the U.S.

The New York Daily News carried an article about the Trump administration’s decision to end protections for 57,000 Honduran immigrants in the U.S. who fled from the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Hurricane Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, caused over 11,000 deaths  in Central America with over 7,000 occurring in Honduras. Immigrant advocates contend that revoking the status will simply drive people underground who have been establishing roots in the United States for years, including having American-born children. The article quotes Miranda Hallett, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Dayton: “Generally speaking, people make decisions about migration based on human needs and social connections over legal statutes.” 

book review: Barracoon

TIME published a review of a long-awaited book written by anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston early in her career. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is about a man who was the last survivor of the last-known ship to bring enslaved people from Africa to America: “In 1927, a man in Alabama…received a visitor. A young anthropologist, working on her first big assignment, wanted to hear what he remembered of freedom, of bondage and of what came before. The aspiring scholar’s name was Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston returned several times, aiming to write a book about the man called Kossola…but never found an interested publisher. Even as she became an esteemed writer, his story stuck with her. His yearning for home, undimmed by time, was wedged in her mind. Now, about 90 years later, the book she had wanted, a nonfiction account of her interaction with a man who lived a vanishing history, has finally been released…

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anthro in the news 5/7/18

The ring. Credit Charley Marley/Flickr

sexism and the sumo ring

The Japan Times reported on current debates in Japan about the origins of the rule against women in the sumo ring along with current attempts to abolish the taboo. Some say that the unwritten rule is relatively recent, added sometime after the late 17th century to the sport which dates back more than 1,300 years.  Masataka Suzuki, professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at Keio University, observed that during that many ceremonies and taboos were gradually created during that period to “dignify” the main professional sumo league. According to him, the taboo, however, applied only to the professional league. Women were allowed to play sumo matches held at shrines during local festivals. 

bullshit jobs: book extract

The Guardian published an extract of David Graeber‘s latest book, which will be available May 15, called Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. “What is a bullshit job? The defining feature is this: one so completely pointless that even the person who has to perform it every day cannot convince themselves there’s a good reason for them to be doing it. They may not be able to admit this to their co-workers – often, there are very good reasons not to do so – but they are convinced the job is pointless nonetheless. Bullshit jobs are not just jobs that are useless; typically, there has to be some degree of pretence and fraud involved as well. The employee must feel obliged to pretend that there is, in fact, a good reason their job exists, even if, privately, they find such claims ridiculous…These considerations allow us to formulate what I think can serve as a final working definition of a bullshit job: a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence, even though, as part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend that this is not the case.”

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