anthro in the news 10/5/15


The Vatican, source: Creative Commons

An anthropologist meets the Pope

The Huffington Post published an article by Nancy Scheper-Hughes, medical anthropologist at the University of California Berkeley, describing her visit to the Vatican in April at the invitation of Pope Francis. The Pope convened an international meeting of experts to discuss human trafficking and modern slavery.  Scheper-Hughes writes:  “…he is an incredibly happy man, a man at peace with himself and with the world. He seems comfortable in his skin. But most of all, he is fearless. Although he still ends most encounters with the petition, “Pray for me,” he is smiling and radiant. In accepting the heavy cargo that is the papacy, with all of its entanglements, intrigues, risks and dangers, and its daily uncertainties, Pope Francis is calm and reassuring.”


A 481-foot drug tunnel in Nogales discovered in 2014. source: USA Today

Smugglers’ tunnels give U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security a bad name

Nogales International (Arizona) reported on the situation in Nogales, a city in Arizona that accounts for most of the 183 cross-border tunnels between Mexico and the U.S. that have been discovered  since the mid-1990s. The article draws on commentary from cultural anthropologist Howard Campbell of the University of Texas-El Paso who has studied drug trafficking in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. He said that tunnel trafficking is just a small part of the overall drug smuggling picture: “Although it’s very colorful and exciting, it’s not really important for the overall volume, except for short periods of time…” He added that other researchers have found that the “majority of drugs, in terms of value…actually cross through ports of entry.” Campbell suggested the Border Patrol’s interest in rooting out tunnels has less to do with how many loads pass through them than with their symbolic value. With the Department of Homeland Security spending billions of dollars annually on agents and technology, smugglers outwitting their efforts with shovels and pickaxes doesn’t look good: “The tunnels really give the Border Patrol and Homeland Security a bad name.”


anthro in the news 9/28/15

Mural in New York City, September 2015 (Source: Anthony DelMundo / NY Daily News)

What the Pope said

Two media sources included commentary from anthropologists about the Pope’s messages during his visit to the United States. The Real News Network (TRNN television) provides a transcript of a panel discussion in which Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of medical anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley discussed the Pope’s language about and position on capitalism and how his message does or does not resonate with poor people in Latin America.  KNPR (Nevada) aired a discussion about the implications of the Pope’s U.S. speeches for the state of Nevada, including insights from Kevin Rafferty, archaeologist and professor at the College of Southern Nevada where he chairs the department of human behavior.


Hostess Cupcake (Creative Commons, public domain)

Food studies and activism rising

KQED (California) reported on the rising popularity of food studies courses and degree programs on U.S. campuses as well as student food activism. The piece mentioned Emory University’s Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, who has introduced several food courses including the Anthropology of Coffee and Chocolate and Fast Food/Slow Food. Indiana University, which established the first Ph.D. in the anthropology of food in 2007, reports an upswing in the addition of and student interest in food-related courses; food was a university-wide focus during the spring semester.



anthro in the news 9/21/15


North American totem pole; source: Erika Wittlieb, Creative Commons

North American totem pole; source: Erika Wittlieb, Creative Commons

Indigenous tourism offers hope

CBA Canada reported on a gathering of iIndigenous groups from around the world in Vancouver, British Columbia, to discuss and promote the burgeoning field of “indigenous tourism” or “indigenous cultural tourism” with attention to the value of the unique relationship between First Nations and the environment. Delivering the conference’s keynote address was Wade Davis, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of British Columbia and National Geographic explorer-in-residence. He said that indigenous tourism could potentially revolutionize the industry by encouraging a better appreciation of cultural diversity:

“I think there’s a moral and huge opportunity to become ambassadors for an entire new way of being, a new geography of hope,” said Davis. But it needs to go beyond leveraging quotas of First nations into the field. “Real tourism is when aboriginal societies on their own terms can share their visions of life in a profound way that gives the visitor a true sense of authenticity, such that a visitor goes away as an avatar of the wonder of culture.”


Protests for peace in Japan

Symbol for peace in Japanese


USA Today reported on a surge of youth protests in Japan opposing legislation that would weaken Japan’s post-World War II commitment to pacifism. Weekly gatherings have grown into the largest protest movement Japan has seen in half a century. A crowd estimated by organizers at more than 100,000 turned out on a recent weekend, and nightly demonstrations have taken place outside the parliament building and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence nearby. Young people provided the spark for mass protests this summer, said David Slater, a professor of cultural anthropology and director of Sophia University’s Institute of Comparative Culture, in Tokyo:  “Young people have not been apathetic; they have just been disgusted with politics, as have most of the Japanese adult population… This last set of bills just pushed the whole citizenry too far…”



anthro in the news 9/14/15


Refugees from Syria arrive in Europe [source: Al Jazeera]

Refugees from Syria arrive in Europe (Photo from Al Jazeera)


Refugees in Europe: Care is reasonable and possible

Bloomberg News carried an article on the European refugee crisis, noting that Europe appears to be swinging between two responses:  xenophobia and a compassionate pragmatism. Most migration experts agree that a longer-term solution will require the participation of Canada and the U.S. It draws on commentary from Dawn Chatty, a professor of anthropology and former director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. She reminds us that, to deal with the Vietnamese boat people at the end of the 1980s, “the biggest countries got together, and between them they divvied up a million boat people and resettled them. It’s reasonable and possible.”


anthro in the news 9/7/15



Chagos update

The Financial Times reported on continuing efforts in the U.K. and elsewhere by displaced Chagos Islanders to return home and receive compensation for their forced removal fifty years ago. The article provides comments from two cultural anthropologists: David Vine of American University and Sean Carey of Manchester University. “When you tell people about the history, they think it must be something out of the 19th century. They are shocked to hear it happened so relatively recently,” says Vine, author of the book, Island of Shame about Diego Garcia. Carey is quoted as saying: “A lot of the islanders [living in Mauritius] remain at the bottom of the heap…Mauritius is dominated by Indian politicians for whom the issue does not have the same emotional resonance. Even among the local Creole population [Mauritians of African origin], many Chagossians talk about discrimination.”


Fracture Zones in the Eurozone

The Eurasia Review carried an article about the current European refugee crisis. It refers to the refugees in the park in Belgrade as “part of a fracture zone” that is easy to trace; across Greece, Macedonia and Serbia and on through Europe. The article acknowledges cultural anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom of Notre Dame University as the source of the term fracture zone, in her chapter in the edited book, An Anthropology of War. She wrote that “fracture lines run internationally and follow power abuses, pathological profiteering, institutionalized inequalities, and human rights violations – actions that fill the pockets and secure the dominance of some while damaging the lives of others.” Nordstrom sees the danger of fracture zones in how they institutionalize crisis and make it enduring. (more…)

anthro in the news 8/31/15

  • Debating the U.S.-Iran deal

The MinnPost (Minneapolis, U.S.) carried an article describing a debate among four scholars about the Iran nuclear deal that was held at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School. Anthropologist William Beeman of the University of Minnesota, who travels to Iran frequently, argued that Iran never was seeking nuclear weapons; thus all of the concessions the United States and its negotiating partners have made have only induced Iran to give up something that it wasn’t doing anyway. Beeman favors ratification of the agreement, saying that many who oppose the agreement are motivated by a desire to humiliate Iran and embarrass President Obama. Those who believe it is possible to get back to negotiations to strengthen the deal are engaging in “magical thinking” because the other world powers that had imposed sanctions on Iran have already decided to approve the deal and have moved onto opening trade relations with Iran.

  • Displaced from New Orleans

The Huffington Post carried an article describing the findings of a new report, based on five years of research, on the experiences low-income of black women who were displaced from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The study was led by cultural anthropologist Jane Henrici of the George Washington University and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

  • Pool parties in Damascus

The Wall Street Journal reported on the Syrian government’s attempts to promote life as normal even though the country is in a state of war and the president continues to lose control. For example, the government hosted a conference in May to mark World Migratory Bird Day, even though half the country’s human population have been forced from their homes. Weekend pool parties in Damascus go on as usual despite a water crisis in much of the country. The article quotes Amr al-Azm, an archaeologist and professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio: “We’re hearing of these over-the-top parties. It is almost manic in the sense of they’re going over the top to pretend that everything is fine…You know how on the Titanic, as it is sinking, you have the band playing the last few songs? It is sort of like that.” (more…)

anthro in the news 8/24/15

  • Islamic State vision driven by dreams

An article in the Independent (U.K.) draws on a recent paper by Durham University emeritus reader in anthropology Iain Edgar regarding the role of night dreaming in Islam in general and violent sectarian offshoots in particular. Edgar follows IS twitter posts and other sources to learn about dream-motivated activities including frequent dreams about “green birds” – jihadi fighters who are on their way to paradise.

  • New Orleans cuisine ten years after Katrina

Building back better? The Australian Financial Review reported on the changes in the restaurant scene in New Orleans ten years after hurricane Katrina. The article draws on insights from cultural anthropologist David Beriss of the University of New Orleans who points out that the shuffle of post-Katrina cultural influences is just another example of Creole culture expressing itself through food:  “Creolisation – that way of adapting and being in the world – shows up everywhere.” Others express concern about gentrification and loss of a more traditional Creole menu. (more…)

anthro in the news 8/18/15

  • “Blood coming out of her wherever”

National Public Radio (U.S.) carried a piece about cross-cultural attitudes toward menstruation, noting that while negative attitudes about menstruating women are widespread, they are by no means universal. The article was prompted by Donald Trump’s remark during a recent debate that Fox News host Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever.” NPR quotes Beverly Strassmann, evolutionary anthropologist and biologist at the University of Michigan who studies menstrual taboos: “Menstrual taboos are so widespread, they’re almost a cultural universal.” Yet the exceptions, societies that treat menstruating women with respect, are important. Alma Gottlieb, professor of cultural anthropology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, is co-editor with Thomas Buckley of Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation, which includes positive examples.

  • So true: Graeberian bullshit jobs

According to an article in the Independent (U.K.), a study has found that more than a third of British workers believe their jobs are meaningless. In 2013, David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, argued in his article, On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs, that increasing numbers of jobs are not socially useful and exist only for their own sake.

  • Caucasus ritual: You cannot be sober

The Independent (U.K.) carried an article about an annual summer ritual in a region in the Caucasus Mountains, in Georgia. The event includes horse racing, animal sacrifice, dancing, and beer drinking. The article focuses on the ritual leaders, or khevisberi, and provides commentary about them from Kevin Tuite, professor of anthropology at Montreal University: “Boxing with God,” as he calls it, is the defining experience in becoming a khevisberi. You are haunted by dreams and hallucinations, the deity visits calamities on you and your family, and finally you submit. [Blogger’s note: while a khevisberi is not easily recruited, it seems likely that they would not consider their work as a khevisberi to be meaningless in the Graeberian sense]. (more…)

Fear of falling

By Sean Carey

Remember when your mother or other responsible adult told you as a small child to tie your shoelaces so you would not trip and fall? I do. And I’ve carried out that hard-to-learn-as-a child-shoelace-tying maneuver ever since.

Now, my tying skill is used on a pair of old running shoes, which, with the over-cushioned insoles removed, I find very comfortable for everyday walking. The shoes do though have very long laces.  Even when tied with a double knot, the laces create large loops.

Two weeks ago I was walking along a footpath, shod in my favorite running shoes. Heading in the direction of my local bank, I become aware that the tip of my right shoe is caught in one of the loops of my left shoe. It’s happened several times before, and I’ve always managed to quickly disentangle myself without taking a tumble.

This time I’m not so lucky.

My foot is well and truly stuck. Down I go, breaking the fall with the palm of my right hand. The pain is excruciating, especially as I land on a hard surface composed of small stones. I roll over onto my right shoulder. I am aware that the area around my right eye has just skimmed the ground. That part of my head hurts. I swear a lot, both at the injuries and my own stupidity for not being more careful to prevent something like this happening to me.

A few weeks previously on TV I watched Australian Olympic gold medallist, Sally Pearson, fall after hitting a barrier in the women’s 100m hurdles at a Diamond League meeting in Rome. She landed on her hand. I winced while watching the slow-motion replay. Later, an orthopaedic surgeon described Pearson’s injury as a “bone explosion” in her wrist, which highlights the delicacy of the human hand bones even in very fit young people. Those images, of Pearson sitting on the track in agony, and the information about her multiple broken bones flash through my mind as I lie on the ground. (more…)

anthro in the news 8/10/15

  • Politics and dirty water: A recipe for poor health

An article in the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) describes the role of politics in the mishandling of water treatment in South Africa  It is includes comments from Mary Galvin, associate professor in the department of anthropology and development studies at the University of Johannesburg. She says municipalities ignore both directives and incentives to improve their treatment works.

  • The life of flags

House in Memphis, Tennessee. Credit: Thomas R. Machnitzki.

Robin Conley, assistant professor of anthropology at Marshall University in West Virginia, is lead author of an article in the Huffington Post about the Confederate flag controversy in the U.S.: “Recent challenges to displays of the Confederate flag have created an ironic outcome; its presence is in fact more ubiquitous than before the challenges began. This resurgence is not just found among those championing the Confederate flag as a symbol of state’s rights, or a symbol of a southern identity (that may or may not include an overtly racist agenda). Every time the use of the flag is questioned or criticized, for example when a picture of two white men waving the flag proudly is recirculated as a reminder of the hatred that potentially drives their actions, it appears again. Thus, in efforts to assure its invisibility, it has in fact become even more visible.” (more…)