Early this week, Voice of America reported that supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi were defiantly remaining at their protest camps in Cairo, despite days of warnings that the government would soon move on the sites. The article quoted Saba Mahmood, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, who told VOA the interim government has not broken up the camps because the resulting bloodshed would be a “very serious political cost.”
But she says Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood is facing bigger stakes than getting him back in office: “So there is that issue that if indeed they back down, they’re going to not just simply lose Morsi, but they’re going to lose even the basis — the political, social basis — they have built over the last 40 years.”
[Blogger’s note: since then, much blood has been shed and are yet to see what the political costs for the military government will be].
• A probable first in history of anthro: U.S. President fist-bumps anthropologist
While on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, according to the Boston Globe, U.S. President Obama played golf with World Bank President Jim Kim.
[Blogger’s note: Jim Kim, as most aw readers know, is not only the president of the World Bank but also a medical anthropologist, doctor, health advocate, and former university president].
Bloomberg news reported on World Bank president Jim Young Kim’s dream: ending poverty. Or, ending extreme poverty. And by a certain date. A wonderful dream.
The article zooms in on Kim, who:
once slept in his office and drove dusty roads to help his patients in a slum near Lima. When he returned to Carabayllo in Peru two decades later as World Bank president, a motorcade whisked him from a luxury hotel past welcome signs on banners and brick walls. The reunion in June, a year after the Harvard-trained physician took over the bank, was as much about the future for Kim as it was the past. In the 1990s, his Partners in Health organization helped Carabayllo patients suffering from drug-resistant tuberculosis. The project, relying on community health workers for the treatment, got a better cure rate than U.S. hospitals, was expanded in Peru and influenced other countries.
According to the article, there has been progress in the hills of Carabayllo; Kim can use 4G Internet and his mobile phone in areas where he once waited in line to make calls. But what motivated him in 1993 has not changed: “If we can show that even in these poor communities we can deliver, we could have a much, much broader impact … There’s no question that’s still what I am here to do.”
• Big mining and indigenous people in Australia
According to an article in The Guardian, Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, chairman of the mining giant Fortescue Metals Group, says that he has delivered more $1 billion in contracts to indigenous companies and so now the government must provide training for Aboriginal workers to thrive in the newly created jobs.
At a company event with guests including the MP Ken Wyatt, indigenous academic and anthropologist Marcia Langton, and indigenous leader Noel Pearson, Forrest announced that the program had “smashed” its target six months ahead of schedule, and with most companies being above 50 percent Aboriginal ownership.
• Black is black, especially for adoptive dogs
In the U.S., at least, black dogs have a slimmer chance of adoption than lighter-colored dogs. And the same may be true for cats.
An article in the San Francisco Chronicle on color-based adoption practices in Bay Area animal shelters mentions the research of Amanda Leonard, who heads the Black Dog Research Studio in Maryland and whose anthropological study is perhaps the only — or one of the very few — scholarly works on the subject.
“Black dogs are usually portrayed as mean, threatening dogs,” says Leonard who earned a master’s in anthropology from George Washington University, with a thesis about the “black dog syndrome” in the U.S. based on her work in an animal shelter. She is attempting through her research to legitimize what shelter workers have long said is true and plans to earn a doctorate on the subject. “It’s a totally ingrained and significant part of our culture that we associate black with negative,” Leonard said in a phone interview.
[Blogger’s note: I am very pleased to see Amanda Leonard’s M.A. work get deserved recognition. She published a summary of her M.A. thesis findings in the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers].
The Globe and Mail (Canada) carried an article based on a lunch conversation with Jim Yong Kim, medical doctor, medical anthropologist, and former university president, marking the end of his first year as president of the World Bank. The article discusses the pros and cons of targets. Targets, even wildly improbable ones, can inspire action and achieve change, even if the target is not achieved. Or they can create embarrassment when failure is seen as the outcome.
Kim explains his dedication to a new World Bank target of eliminating extreme poverty worldwide by 2030. He is quoted as saying, “What would be really frightening to me is if people like me, people like the World Bank staff, were so concerned about their own lives that they would not grab the opportunity to set a bold target … It took a very long time to convince people that we should have this target, but now that we do, I just see it as a huge gift…”
[Blogger’s note: no one would argue that eliminating poverty, especially extreme poverty, is not a laudable goal. The question arises, though, of the chosen policy pathways toward the goal. Unfortunately for many small scale communities in developing countries, Kim plans to promote large dam construction and hydroelectric development which will destroy such people’s livelihoods].
• World Bank in Africa on the decline?
The New York Times published an op-ed on the declining importance of World Bank loans to Africa in spite of new World Bank efforts, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The authors argue that: “The World Bank has done important work in promoting good governance and evaluating reform efforts. But its latest pledge of aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo sends a very mixed message, coming at a time when the International Monetary Fund has been cutting its loan programs to the country because of concerns about poor governance.”
World Bank Director Jim Yong Kim is quoted as saying: “There are always going to be problems and downsides with the governance of places that are fragile [but he adds that through investment and aid]…we can both reduce the conflict and improve governance.” The authors point out that Kim’s argument assumes that more World Bank spending means better government. Despite the billions in aid the D.R.C. has already received, however, “Kinshasa has not felt compelled to improve. It’s not clear why the bank’s new effort will be different.”
Victoria Sanford, professor of cultural anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center, published an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that it is too soon to declare victory in Guatemala given the evidence that the current president, the former military commander Otto Pérez Molina, may have been involved in the same mass killings for which General Ríos Montt has now been convicted.
Nonetheless, she states that the conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity is of monumental significance:
“It was the first time in history that a former head of state was indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide. It offers hopes to those similarly seeking justice in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.”
• Culture and technology
CBS published a video interview with Intel’s cultural anthropologist, Genevieve Bell. Bell discusses the role of cultural anthropology in understanding people’s needs and preferences related to technology, people’s time patterns, social relationships, and more.
• Go directly to jail: Prison sentence for Guatemalan dictator
Many major news media covered the sentencing of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt to a landmark 80 years in prison for genocide and crime against humanity. ABC News quoted Victoria Sanford, a cultural anthropologist at Lehman College, City University of New York, who noted that genocidal massacres occurred before and after Rios Montt, “but the bulk of the killing took place under Rios Montt.”
Sanford has spent about 50 months in Guatemala and participated in excavations in at least eight massacre sites. Several of the articles quote Helen Mack, a noted human rights activist, and sister of Myrna Mack, who was murdered in Guatemala in 1990 for her work on behalf of indigenous human rights .
• What would Paul Farmer say?
Time magazine carried an interview with medical anthropologist, medical doctor, professor, and health activist Paul Farmer, prompted by his new book, To Repair the World, a collection of his speeches including some of his commencement speeches.
The lead question is: “Are you ever tempted to tell graduates, ‘I could have saved thousands of lives with the money you spent on your degree?'”
Paul Farmer responds: “I don’t think of it that way. I think, Here’s a chance to reach out to people who probably are unaware — as I was at their age — of their privilege and to engage them in the work.” He was also interviewed on the Diane Rehm show.
“As an anthropologist and president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), I was especially gratified to hear President Barack Obama acknowledge the discipline of anthropology and support its scientific integrity. In a speech at the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama said:
‘And it’s not just resources. I mean, one of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last four years and will continue to do over the next four years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process; that not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science — all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review — but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.'”
According to an article in USA Today, a $250 million U.S. Army program designed to aid troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been riddled by serious problems that include payroll padding, sexual harassment and racism. The article cites Hugh Gusterson, an anthropology professor at George Mason University who has studied the program.
In an email to USA Today, he said: “It’s another example of a military program that makes money for a contractor while greatly exaggerating its military utility … The program recruited the human flotsam and jetsam of the discipline and pretended it was recruiting the best. Treating taxpayer money as if it were water, it paid under-qualified 20-something anthropologists more than even Harvard professors. And it treated our [AAA] ethics code as a nuisance to be ignored.”
In Afghanistan, the Human Terrain teams feed information to military intelligence centers called Stability Operations Information Centers. The reports are designed to help determine potential targets and adversaries. “We don’t know how that information is useful in identifying a group or individual,” said R. Brian Ferguson, a Rutgers University cultural anthropologist who has studied the program. USA Today has obtained a soon-to-be published report by the National Defense University, a Pentagon-affiliated think tank, noting that Human Terrain System efforts “collectively were unable to make a major contribution to the counterinsurgency effort.”
• Follow the vodka
An article in The Atlantic described the growing role of sociocultural anthropology in marketing studies. It highlights the work of Min Lieskovsky, a 31-year-old straight New Yorker who mingled freely and occasionally ducked into a bathroom to scribble notes about a lesbian party in Austin, Texas, that was heavily infused with vodka.
Liekovsky had recently left a Ph.D. program in sociocultural anthropology at Yale University, impatient with academia but eager to use ethnographic research methods. The consulting firm she worked for, ReD Associates, is at the forefront of a movement to deploy social scientists on field research for corporate clients. The vodka giant Absolut contracted with ReD to infiltrate American drinking cultures and report on the elusive phenomenon known as the “home party.”
The corporate anthropology that ReD and a few others are pioneering is the most intense form of market research yet devised. ReD is one of a handful of consultancies that treat everyday life — and everyday consumerism — as a subject worthy of the scrutiny. According to the article, many of the consultants have trained at the graduate level in anthropology but have forsaken academia—and some of its ethical strictures—for work that frees them to do field research more or less full-time, with huge budgets. And agendas driven by corporate interests.
• “Invisible cultural anthropologist” Jim Kim in the news
Anthro in the news picked up on two mentions of Jim Kim, medical anthropologist, physician, humanitarian development expert, and current president of the World Bank.
First, his op-ed, “Make Climate Change a Priority,” appeared in the Washington Post opinion section in which he wrote: “As economic leaders gathered in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum, much of the conversation was about finances. But climate change should also be at the top of our agendas, because global warming imperils all of the development gains we have made. If there is no action soon, the future will become bleak. The World Bank Group released a report in November that concluded that the world could warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) by the end of this century if concerted action is not taken now.”
Second, an article in an economic/trade-focused forum discussed Kim’s visit to Tunisia to promote private sector development: “World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim today concluded a two-day visit to Tunisia during which the Group’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, announced a $48 million investment to support the growth of private entrepreneurs. Kim met the country’s leadership and civil society to discuss the reform agenda and Tunisia’s progress two years after its popular uprising. ‘We are here as strong supporters of the Tunisian revolution,’ said Kim. ‘[The people of Tunisia] went through some very difficult times, but in doing what you’ve done, you’ve inspired the entire world. [Now] we’ve got to make sure that Tunisia is successful in showing that Islam and democracy go together, that you can have economic development that includes everyone.'”
Kim emphasized ongoing World Bank Group support for Tunisia’s aspirations through programs that address improved governance and accountability, opportunities for women and youth, private sector job-creation and investments in interior regions. Continue reading “Anthro in the news 1/28/13”→