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.

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On science, conscience, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences

Upon the recent appointment of anthropologist/sociobiologist Napoleon Chagnon to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, longstanding member, Marshall Sahlins of the University of Chicago, resigned in protest on February 23. An article in CounterPunch by cultural anthropologist David Price includes an interchange with Sahlins about his views on Chagnon’s research and the NAS. The article clarifies the distortion that has long surrounded the critique of Chagnon’s interactions with the Yanomamö and his publications, notably his assertions of a reproductive/ adaptive advantage to male violence and that male violence is innate and “natural.” The critique is not “anti-science” but instead is about bad science and harmful science that is a discredit to an ethical pursuit of knowledge.

As Price comments, “We are left to wonder what is to become of science, whether practiced with a capital (at times blind) “S” or a lower case inquisitive variety, when those questioning some its practices, misapplications and outcomes are increasingly marginalized, while those whose findings align with our broader cultural values of warfare are embraced. The NAS’s rallying around such a divisive figure as Chagnon, demonizing his critics, claiming they are attacking not his practices and theories, but science itself damages the credibility of these scientists. It is unfortunate that the National Academy of Sciences has backed itself into this corner.”