Sally Cummings, St. Andrews University When: Thursday, May 1, 2014, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Where: Voesar Conference Room, Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E Street NW, Suite 412
Professor Sally Nikoline Cummings teaches in the School of International Relations, University of St Andrews. Her more recent publications include Understanding Central Asia (2012), Sovereignty after Empire: Comparing the Middle East and Central Asia (co-ed, 2012) and Symbolism and Power in Central Asia: Politics of the Spectacular (ed. 2010). In late 2009 she commissioned two prominent Kyrgyz artists to develop over a three-year period twelve visual art exhibits that captured the emotions surrounding the 2005 transfer of power. The resulting exhibition, “(…) Ketsin!,” premiered in London in May 2013. Professor Cummings narrates here the story of this exhibition and what it tells us about political intention and art, the nature of the 2005 events and the artist in times of political upheaval.
The Washington Post carried an opinion piece by cultural anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, professor at George Mason University.
Gusterson asks: what is the difference between a gift and a bribe, and provides some cultural anthropology insights: “Gifts are given in all cultures, and to remarkably similar effect … gifts by their nature create social ties and a sense of reciprocal obligation. To give a gift is to expect something in return, though it undermines the power and mystique of the gift to spell out too clearly what that something is … The failure to give something in response can end a friendship … Anthropologists have found that gifts create two kinds of relationships: those between equals and those that establish subordination.”
Gusterson goes on to discuss whether a federal grand jury will indict Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell: “…we know that McDonnell and his family accepted gifts including a $6,500 Rolex watch, a $10,000 engagement gift, $15,000 in wedding catering and a $15,000 Bergdorf Goodman shopping spree, not to mention $120,000 in loans, from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., chief executive of the Henrico-based company Star Scientific. If prosecutors determine that McDonnell made specific promises to promote Star Scientific’s dietary supplement Anatabloc in exchange for these favors, the governor could soon be spending a lot of time in court … For prosecutors, the key question is whether there was a clearly articulated ‘quid pro quo.’ If so, the gifts were bribes. If not, they were gifts. To me, as an anthropologist, this largely misses the point.”
[Blogger’s note: assuming I am on target here — a gift requires a return, unless it falls into the extremely rare and hard-to-document category of a “pure gift” for which the giver has absolutely no thought whatsoever of any kind of return].
• Benefits of postpartum placentaphagy to moms?
According to reporting in the Monterey Herald, a survey of 189 women who had consumed their babies’ placentas — raw, cooked or in capsule form — revealed that 95 percent reported their experience was either positive or very positive, and 98 percent said they would repeat the experience.
The article quotes Daniel Benyshek, co-author of the study and associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas: “Of course, we don’t know if those are placebo effects and their positive results are based on their expectations.”
The survey results were published in the journal, Ecology of Food and Nutrition. The report disclosed that the first author, Jodi Selander, is the founder of Placenta Benefits, an online information source that also offers training for placenta encapsulators. Benyshek is planning a double-blind pilot study that would compare the effects of placenta capsules and a placebo on women’s postpartum experiences.
Several mainstream media sources discussed the findings of a comprehensive new assessment led by UNICEF about the practice of female genital cutting in Africa and the Middle East. The data indicate a gradual but significant decline in many countries.
Teenage girls are now less likely to have been cut than older women in more than half of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. In Egypt, for example, where more women have been cut than in any other nation, survey data showed that 81 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds had undergone the practice, compared with 96 percent of women in their late 40s.
Generational change appears to be playing an important role in the decline with the difference in Egypt especially marked: only a third of teenage girls who were surveyed thought it should continue, compared with almost two-thirds of older women.
Researchers say the progress in Kenya makes sense, given efforts there to stop female genital cutting starting in the early 1900s. But they were at a loss to explain why the rate has plunged in the Central African Republic, to 24 percent in 2010 from 43 percent in the mid-1990s. Concerning the findings about the Central African Republic, The New York Times quotes Bettina Shell-Duncan, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of Washington who was a consultant on the report: “We have no idea, not even a guess, noting that researchers need to study the causes of the decline there.
She says indigenous people have an important contribution to make to knowledge about climate change, and scientists should listen to them because they are very well informed about their local climate as well as the natural world. Their knowledge, she says, is not a “treasure” of data to be stored and used when wanted by others, but a living and evolving process: “It is important to understand that traditional wisdom is not something simply transmitted from generation to generation. It is alive, and traditional and indigenous peoples are continually producing new knowledge.”