Anthro in the news 3/30/15

  • Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette carried an article about the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology which was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, marking the 75th meeting of the SfAA. Over five days, 1,800 members of the Society convened to hear academic presentations at over 300 sessions as well as spending one day focusing on social challenges and real-life application of theory in Pittsburgh. Ten field trips included visits to museums and industrial sites including a coal-mining site in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The article quotes Kathleen Musante, anthropology professor at the University of Pittsburgh and president-elect of the Society. She said that the board members who chose the site of the conference “perceive Pittsburgh as being a symbol of the kind of community that has been able to not only adapt to changing circumstance but to flourish because of an enduring will to be a great place…Pittsburgh is also continuing to have the same issues that are true for other parts of the country. There is still inequality here, there are still adjusting economic circumstances. The board saw Pittsburgh as a place that really tries to address those issues.”

  • Anthropology should be taught from kindergarten on

AQA office in Guildford, England, one of several AQA offices throughout England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Ed Liebow, executive director of the American Anthropological Association, published an article in The Huffington Post arguing in support of the teaching of anthropology in primary and secondary schools around the world. Given the importance of understanding human behavior and values to prevent and solve global and local challenges from racial bias to climate change, he points to the exemplary model developed by the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 2010, after several years of careful curriculum design, the RAI succeeded in establishing an anthropology A-level course (roughly equivalent to high school Advanced Placement courses in the U.S.). Liebow bemoans the recent decision by the British Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) to discontinue the course and steering students to sociology or history courses. AQA said that it could not continue to offer the anthropology course because demand has been disappointing and the difficulty of finding graders. (more…)

Anthro in the news 3/23/15

  • But are you really Japanese?

Ariana Miamoto, Miss Japan Universe. Credit: Miss Universe Japan.

The Washington Post carried an article about Ariana Miamoto, the first biracial Miss Universe Japan.  Her mother is Japanese and her father is African American. The 20-year-old model is a Japanese citizen, a native of Nagasaki prefecture, fluent in Japanese, with an advanced mastery of the art of Japanese calligraphy. She is, in fact, Japanese, though what is termed a hafu, a person of mixed ancestry. So, some critics think she is not Japanese enough. Cultural anthropologist. Ted Bestor, professor of cultural anthropology and Japanese studies at Harvard University comments: “The Japanese like to think of their society and culture as having a unique identity that is ‘inaccessible to foreigners’….One of the ways in which Japanese think of their own society as ‘unique’ is to emphasize the homogeneity of Japanese society…”

  • Political upheaval in Mauritius

An article in Al Jazeera attempts to make sense of recent political events in Mauritius, including the change of government. It quotes Sean Carey, senior research fellow in social sciences at the University of Manchester and a frequent contributing author to anthropologyworks. He comments that part of the reason why there is so much social change is because of the rising stock of the meritocratic value in Mauritius.

  • On bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies, and the need for play

Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber spoke extensively, over dinner, with The Guardian on bullshit jobs, stupidifying bureaucracies and the need for play.

On bullshit jobs: “A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.” Is his work meaningless? He replies: “There can be no objective measure of social value.”

On stupidifying bureaucracies: Graeber came face to face with stupidifying bureaucracies when he had to deal with finding care for his aging mother. “I like to think I’m actually a smart person. Most people seem to agree with that…OK, I was emotionally distraught, but I was doing things that were really dumb. How did I not notice that the signature was on the wrong line? There’s something about being in that bureaucratic situation that encourages you to behave foolishly.” (more…)

Anthro in the news 3/9/15 and 3/16/15

  • What makes a car great?

Well-off Chinese consumers want Japanese toilets. Credit: AFP.

Gillian Tett, columnist for The Financial Times and an anthropologist by training, describes the increasing inclusion of cultural anthropologists and other social scientists in tech/design research labs around the world for their ability to learn about people’s consumption patterns and preferences. Tett offers the example of Ford, which is opening a new center in Silicon Valley:  “These psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are trying to understand how we interact with our cars in a cultural sense. It is a striking development and one worth pondering in a personal sense if, like me, you spend much of your life rushing about in a car.”

She emphasizes the value of localized, cultural knowledge in a globalizing world:  “…Chinese consumers often have radically different ideas of what makes a great car, especially if they are female.”

  • What makes a health project work?

So many pills. Credit:

Culturally informed research design in health projects is critical to success. Medical anthropologist Ida Susser of Hunter College, City University of New York, published an op-ed in Al Jazeera about the importance of not blaming the victim when an HIV intervention fails to show positive results. Instead, the blame may lie in a faulty research design. She examines a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine as an example of blaming the victim.

Known as VOICE, or Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic. The evaluation of the intervention failed to show any preventive results for women in southern Africa using ARV-based pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) pills or topical microbicide gel. Susser writes: “It’s a particularly unsettling failure because previous studies have demonstrated that these ARV-based methods work. Most of the women who participated in the VOICE study did not use the tablets or gel, but those who did were protected. In other words, the study failed not because the products didn’t work but because they weren’t used.”

Susser argues that the research design was to blame, not the women: “The challenge of this research is more social and behavioral than medical; to succeed, we must better understand which routines and methods work best for women in stressful daily conditions. If the offered methods are not used, then researchers must rethink their approach or at-risk women will continue to become infected with HIV, and the epidemic will spiral.”

  • Islam and feminism can be compatible

A lot depends on how you define feminism and women’s rights, according to an article in the U.S. News and World Report. Many believe a combination of the two is implausible, but it is, however, possible if one is prepared to accept that there are multiple feminisms and Islamisms in the world today. The article cites cultural anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod, Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University. She argues that Muslim women in different contexts and situations experience structures of domination differently. For example, a Muslim woman in a poor neighborhood of Riyadh experiences gender discrimination differently from a businesswoman. In other words, one should not “totalize” the experience of “Muslim women.”

  • Brazil: Sweet and sour

An article in The Huffington Post on Brazil as an emerging “food superpower” points to how agribusiness success is tied to growing landlessness and hunger in a country that is exporting massive amounts of food: “By the dawn of the twenty-first century, Brazil became the world’s number one beef exporter and star in the exports of sugar, coffee, orange juice, corn, soy, and cotton.” (more…)

DC event: How gender expectations impact girl’s education in West Nile, Uganda

When: Thursday, March 26th, 12- 1 PM
Where: International Center for Research on Women, 1120 20th St NW Suite 500N Washington, DC 20036

*A light lunch will be provided.

On Thursday, March 26th, ICRW will release a groundbreaking new report that helps shed light on the barriers to girls’ education in Uganda.

The report, based on research conducted by ICRW in collaboration with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), Uganda, examines the relationship between school dropout and adolescent pregnancy in post-conflict areas of the West Nile region of Uganda.

Dr. Kirsten Stoebenau, Gender and Population Specialist at ICRW, will present on the key findings and lead a discussion on how gender norms and expectations operating at the community, household and individual levels impact girls’ schooling. She will also address the implications for policy and programming to ensure girls can complete their schooling and contribute to the wellbeing of their families, communities and society.

DC event: The UN Sustainable Development Goals, 17 Goals or One?

When: Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 3pm – 5pm

Where: Wilson Center, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 6th Floor Flom Auditorium, 1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004


The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), being developed by the world community under the auspices of the UN, provide benchmarks for eradicating poverty, protecting the environment, and empowering people and communities. In September of this year, the UN will convene a summit to adopt these goals as the post-2015 development agenda. (more…)

DC event: Islands as Champions of Resilience

When: Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
Where: Wilson Center, Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW, 6th Floor Board Room, Washington, D.C. 20004

Island communities are often reported in policy documents, academic papers, and the media as being “most vulnerable” to climate change and disasters. But how accurate is that assumption? Island communities and governments are responding to these challenges with strategies ranging from effective loss and damage responses for small-island states, to incorporating communities, women, and population dynamics into climate responses. Additionally, donors such as USAID and AUSAID are supporting climate resilient development in small islands. Join three climate change experts for a discussion on reframing island states from victims of climate change to champions of resilience.


  • Maxine Burkett - Associate Professor of Law, University of Hawaii at Mānoa
  • John Furlow - Senior Climate Change Specialist, USAID
  • Charles Nyandiga - Programme Advisor, UNDP


  • Roger-Mark De Souza - Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Wilson Center



Uptown Funk! has the moves – and the endorphins

By Sean Carey

“Will Uptown Funk! be US Billboard’s Hot 100s No 1 Song of 2015?” is a question that is already being asked by both pop moguls and pop aficionados.

I must confess that I heard the song just a couple of weeks ago (I know what you’re thinking: where has this guy been?). It has an undeniably catchy, retro disco feel while still being part of today’s pop zeitgeist – which, I think you will agree, is a very clever trick to pull off.

Because I subsequently found myself humming the melody (not the lyrics which I could not remember) when I was on my way to do some shopping and not thinking of anything in particular I understood very well why Uptown Funk! had shot to the top of the charts, not only in the U.S., but also in neighboring Canada, as well as Australia, New Zealand, France, Ireland and the U.K.

Then, by chance, I saw the accompanying Uptown Funk! video on TV. It immediately struck me how good, Hawaiian-born Bruno Mars and his four backing singers are at dancing. Quiff-haired English music producer Mark Ronson, from whose album Uptown Special the song is taken, also makes occasional appearances. But for the most part he is either standing or sitting, simply clicking his fingers, tapping his feet or rotating his head on his neck.

By contrast, Mars and his group perform some very intricate moves with their whole bodies, using the street and a nightclub stage as backdrops. Occasionally Ronson pops up in one of the group sequences on the street but you can see for yourself that he doesn’t do very much. Overall he cuts a fairly reticent figure – the nerdy introvert to Mars’s street-wise extrovert, as it were. Perhaps Ronson is purposefully embodying the stereotype that white, middle-class British guys can’t dance – or at least can’t dance very well. (more…)

Check out two new Working Papers on anthropology and health!

Barriers to Barriers: An Anthropological Review of Impediments to Condom Use

by Colin Davis
February 2015





Mental Health Trauma among Cambodians and Cambodian Refugees after the Pol Pot Regime Conflict: A Literature Review

by Leshia Hansen
October 2014





Anthro in the news 3/2/15

  • Big dam problems in China and beyond

The Business Spectator (Australia) published a piece by Bryan Tilt, associate professor of anthropology at Oregon State University and author of Dams and Development in China: The Moral Economy of Water and Power. He asks: “China’s steep escalation in hydropower development is unlikely to slow anytime soon. So, how can China develop hydropower in a way that best protects ecosystems and people?” He then proposes three basic principles for moving forward.  Tilt also reminds us that:

“This is not just China’s problem. The repercussions of the current hydropower boom are being felt far beyond the country’s borders. Armed with the best hydropower engineering capacity in the world, and the backing of government financial institutions like China Exim Bank, Chinese firms are involved in the planning and construction of more than 300 dam projects in 70 countries, from Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. As hydropower development continues to build momentum as an important source of renewable energy, more public scrutiny is needed.”

  • Before reading further, fill out this form in triplicate

Reviews of David Graeber’s latest book, The Utopia of Rules, continue to appear, one published by National Public Radio and another in The Boston Globe. NPR comments: “Full credit to Graeber…When he eventually gets to a point, it’s almost always insightful, thought-provoking and, as befits the roundabout way he got there, unexpected.” The Boston Globe says: “David Graeber’s critique of bureaucracy, is meant to stop the reader short. It does.”

  • Nepal and Laos: Anthropologists, please compare notes

The Nepali Times published a piece by David N. Gellner, professor at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, in which he compares Nepal and Laos. He suggests that despite differences, the two countries have much in common and academics should meet and compare notes. Nepal has been likened to a yam between two boulders: “Laos is a yam between five boulders – and perhaps, given the legacy of US bombing, that should be six boulders.”

  • Interview with Claudio Lomnitz

Counterpunch carried an interview with Claudio Lomnitz, Campbell Family Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, about his new book, The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. It examines the life of renowned Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón (1874-1922) within the context of those closest to him—principally, his elder brother Jesús, younger brothers Enrique, Librado Rivera, and Práxedis G. Guerrero, all of whom were associates of the Junta Organizadora of the Mexican Liberal Party (PLM). As a result of his lifelong commitment to social revolution, Ricardo was a political prisoner for much of his life. In this interview, Lomnitz discusses the book’ title, the PLM, and more. (more…)

50 Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations of 2014

See also the best cultural anthropology dissertations of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

As in previous years, I did a key word search in Dissertation Abstracts International to find dissertations defended in 2014 that address topics related to the anthropologyworks mission. I continue to regret that this source provides information almost exclusively on U.S. dissertations, in other words, it is not “international.”

“Best” means my “best” picks: dissertations that connect to major global issues. My search terms were human rights, justice, migration, gender/women, health, violence, conflict, environment, food, and energy.

As you may imagine, I do not read the entire dissertations, only the abstracts. My selection is based on the abstracts – and the topics as described therein. So maybe I should retitle this post as the 50 Most Important Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.

The dissertations are ordered alphabetically by the author’s last name. Dissertations are not generally available through open access. Here are my 50 picks for 2014. I was excited to read about them, and I hope you will be, too.

  • Can Anyone with Low Income Be Food Secure?: Mitigating Food Insecurity among Low Income Households with Children in the Tampa Bay Area, by Edgar Allan Amador. University of South Florida. Advisor: David Himmelgreen.

This study compares households with children at different levels of food security and insecurity using the USDA Core Food Security Module (CFSM) and an ethnographically informed analysis of coping. I seek to understand the differences between at-risk households in order to determine why some fall into more severe food insecurity while other manage to avoid it. Data on food security, demographics, use of food assistance programs, shared cultural models for food, food shopping behavior, food consumption, and measures of depression and anxiety were collected from 207 households. Future studies should explore how food insecurity and stress affect household relationships.

  • Logics of Sacrifice: An Ethnography of the Makah Whaling Conflict, by Leslie E. Beldo, Jr. The University of Chicago. Advisor: Richard A. Shweder.

This dissertation examines the ethics of human-animal interaction at work in the continued conflict over Makah indigenous whaling in the state of Washington. I argue that contemporary Makah whaling is driven as much by tribal members’ refusal to back down in the face of outside resistance as it is an affirmation of tribal identity and sovereignty. In the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Native American tribal identities were formed in the course of legal battles for fishing rights throughout the twentieth century. The dissertation takes anti-whaling activists seriously in their suggestion that Makah whaling is an environmental issue and an animal issue as much as it is a Native American sovereignty issue. (more…)