DC event: Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless, Post-Earthquake Aspirations and Achievements


The Focus On Haiti Initiative is proud to publish our Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless: Post-Earthquake Aspirations & Achievements symposium agenda.

The Focus On Haiti Initiative and the U.S. Department of State will host Voices of Haiti’s Voiceless in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 1, 2015. The symposium will discuss Haiti’s fundamental development challenges and progress toward meeting them in the post-quake period, focusing on the aspirations of the country’s under-represented population as presented at the March 31, 2010 post-earthquake UN-sponsored Donors’ Conference in New York.

If you would like to RSVP, please visit: http://go.gwu.edu/VHV. If you have already submitted an RSVP and would like to change your response, please email foh@gwu.edu.

- Focus On Haiti team


Anthro in the news 4/27/15

  • Prisoners who paint murals

The Huffington Post republished an article originally in French on HuffPo France about a project of artist David Mesguich in which he is working with prisoners to paint large murals in Marseilles’ Baumettes prison, one of the most notorious prisons in France. His goal was, “to show the prisoners…that beautiful and positive things can still come from inside them.” The article quotes Didier Fassin, cultural anthropologist and physician, and author of The Shadow of the World: An Anthropology of the Penal Condition, who says that the initiative is compelling but difficult to assess without commentary from the inmates: “It transforms the prison space, and brightens it, while emphasizing by contrast the ugly and oppressive character of the metal gates, the barbed wire, and the walls…This being the case, the question is more general, as is the case with cities. Making murals in a city does not change its reality.”

  • Muslim integration working in Brazil

The Islamic Centre Mosque, Brasilia.

According to an article in WorldCrunch, Brazil, which is the world’s largest Catholic country, has a growing Muslim population and, with some rare exceptions, is a model for integration of Islam into a mixed population. The article presents commentary by Francirosy Ferreira, an anthropology professor at Sao Paulo University. He notes that it is impossible to know the exact number of Muslims in Brazil because they are registered under the “other” category in the census: “But their estimated number is now about a million, of whom 30% to 50% are converts, depending on the region.” He attributes the renewed interest in Islam in Brazil to the airing of a soap opera that took place in Morocco. The series, called The Clone, created before the 9/11 terror attacks, included an admirable Muslim protagonist.

  • China seeks to ban strippers performing at funerals

The Washington Post carried an article on a new ban against strippers performing at funerals issued by China’s Ministry of Culture. The trend to hire strippers for funerals in China has been growing, and is apparently an import from Taiwan where, as National Geographic documented three years ago, inviting funeral strippers is decades-old. The article includes commentary on why people want strippers at a funeral from Marc L. Moskowitz, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina and producer of a documentary on Taiwan’s funeral strippers: “In Taiwan, all public events need to be ‘hot and noisy’ to be considered to be a success.” Moskowitz explained that “Usually the people involved are working-class folks, both in Taiwan as well as in China. In urban areas, there is a greater push to be part of a global culture.” Thus, he speculates, that the ban may be related to the Chinese government positioning itself in terms of global culture through “an awareness that people outside of Taiwan or China might find the practice strange or laughable.” (more…)

Anthro in the news 4/20/15

  • On human understanding

Tanya Luhrmann published an op-ed in The New York Times exploring how people around the world can use multiple angles that might include both Western scientific ways of thinking and “belief”-based thinking. She cites the work of psychologist Cristine H. Legare and colleagues “…who recently demonstrated that people use both natural and supernatural explanations in this interdependent way across many cultures. They tell a story, as recounted by Tracy Kidder’s book on the anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, about a woman who had taken her tuberculosis medication and been cured — and who then told Dr. Farmer that she was going to get back at the person who had used sorcery to make her ill. ‘But if you believe that,’ he cried, ‘why did you take your medicines?’ In response to the great doctor she replied, in essence, ‘Honey, are you incapable of complexity?’”

  • Not a “medical moon shot”

An article in The New York Times reviewed Partners in Health’s aspirations and challenges in addressing Ebola in West Africa:

“Partners in Health, a Boston-based charity dedicated to improving health care for people in poor countries, signed on to the Ebola fight last fall with high ambitions. Unlike Doctors Without Borders and other relief agencies that specialize in acute response to crises, Partners in Health pledged to support the deeply inadequate health systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia for the long haul. Its leaders also publicly criticized the low level of care provided to Ebola patients and promised that its treatment units would do better. “’Let’s have a medical moon shot,’ the group’s co-founder, Dr. Paul Farmer, said last October.  But the medical group, which had never responded to an Ebola outbreak before and had rarely worked in emergencies, encountered serious challenges.” [Blogger’s note: Nonetheless, without a doubt, PIH did save lives. Whether or not they will be able to effect long-term preventive changes awaits to be seen.]

  • Take that anthro degree and…

…become a community life director and chef. Liana Hernandez is the community life director and executive chef at the YWCA in Tucson, Arizona. Having studied anthropology at the University of Arizona, she gained from it an understanding of the imbalance that exists between marginalized communities of color and the dominant ones in the U.S. This insight, coupled with a strong sense of social service, drives her work at the YWCA where she says she is “setting the table for change,” an image that she takes seriously. (more…)

Anthro in the news 4/13/15

  • Why some women choose to be circumcised

The Atlantic carried an interview with Bettina Shell-Duncan, professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Washington, about common misconceptions about female genital cutting, including the idea that men force women to undergo the procedure. Shell-Duncan favors the term “cutting” rather than “mutilation,” which sounds derogatory and can complicate conversations with those who practice FGC (female genital cutting). She challenges the widespread belief among outsiders that the practice is forced on women by men whereas her research suggests that elderly women often do the most to perpetuate the custom. In Shell-Duncan’s experience, most people who practice FGC recognize its possible health consequences, but they think the benefits outweigh them. Shell-Duncan recently joined a five-year research project, led by the Population Council, whose goal is reducing female genital cutting by at least 30 percent across 10 countries over five years.

  • Where do break-through insights come from?

An article in The Telegraph (U.K.) presents a counter-argument to the big push to teach STEM fields in favor of a curriculum that values creativity and critical thinking. Many examples exist of innovators who gained insights from non-STEM fields. Notably, “…Financial Times journalist, Gillian Tett, perhaps the only mainstream journalist who predicted the financial crash, saw the risks of collateralised debt obligations by drawing on lessons on group dynamics from her PhD in anthropology.

  • Partners in Health volunteer is Ebola-free

The Boston Herald reported that a volunteer from the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health (PIH) who was sickened with Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone has been released from the hospital and deemed Ebola-free. The article quotes medical anthropologist Paul Farmer of Harvard University: “We’re cheering here in rural Liberia and in Sierra Leone, and are sure our co-workers in Boston and Haiti and Rwanda and Peru and elsewhere are too.” Farmer is co-founder and chief strategist for PIH. (more…)

Anthro in the news 4/6/15

  • Beyond pabulum: Make the IPCC relevant through social science research

In an excellent article published in Nature, political scientist David G. Victor calls for expansion of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) process to include social science insights into controversial issues and stop providing cooked-down, irrelevant, “pabulum” findings and recommendations. Victor is a professor of international relations and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California at San Diego.

Victor, who serves on the IPCC’s Working Group III, brings an insider’s perspective to the workings of the IPCC. He comments that it “…is becoming irrelevant to climate policy. By seeking consensus and avoiding controversy, the organization is suffering from the streetlight effect — focusing ever more attention on a well-lit pool of the brightest climate science. But the insights that matter are out in the darkness, far from the places that the natural sciences alone can illuminate.”

“The IPCC has engaged only a narrow slice of social-sciences disciplines. Just one branch — economics — has had a major voice in the assessment process. In Working Group III, which assesses climate-change mitigation and policy, nearly two-thirds of 35 coordinating lead authors hailed from the field, and from resource economics in particular. The other social sciences were mostly absent. There was one political scientist: me.”

Moving forward, Victor suggests that “…the IPCC must ask questions that social scientists can answer…if it engages the fields on their own terms it will find a wealth of relevant knowledge — for example, about how societies organize, how individuals and groups perceive threats and respond to catastrophic stresses, and how collective action works best.”

Cultural/social anthropologists can answer this call. Let’s hope the IPCC punches in our number. Victor, however, does not include anthropology on his A-list: “As soon as the new IPCC leadership is chosen later this year, the team should invite major social-sciences societies such as the American Political Science Association, the American and European societies of international law, the American Sociological Association and the Society for Risk Analysis to propose relevant topics that they can assess and questions they can answer.”

  • Some bodies are allowed to go home

The remains of Richard III have been reburied without scientists’ complaints. Credit: The New York Times.

Chip Colwell, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, published an article in The Huffington Post about how white bodies, such as that of Richard III, are allowed to return home and be reburied without scientists making a claim on them.

The quiet about the reburial of Richard III “…stands in stark contrast to how so many regard the reburial of Native American human remains in museums. Around the world archaeologists have resisted the return of skeletons for decades — arguing that they are needed for science. Even nearly 25 years after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became federal law, only 27% of the Native skeletons in U.S. museums have been offered for return. More than 100,000 skeletons continue to sit on shelves. In Europe, only in the last few years have the first sets of Native American remains come home.”

Colwell is the author of the forthcoming book, Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Treasures.

  • The Battle of Okinawa lives on

The Epoch Times published Paul Christensen’s article that first appeared on TheConversation.com in which he writes about the Battle of Okinawa, a long and bloody encounter at the end of World War II. Christensen, assistant professor of anthropology at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, notes that April 1, 2015, marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the battle. The death count was more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers 12,000 Allied troops, and 150,000 Okinawan civilians. Moreover, untold people were wounded or captured as prisoners of war. Memories of the battle live on as well as resentment against both Japan and the United States for its continued military presence. The battle is not over. (more…)

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: talkafricque.com.

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…)