GW event: Threading a Tale: Language and Cloth in Andean Culture

Saturday, September 20, 2014. 10:30 am
Where: 2320 S Street, NW, Washington, DC

In this illustrated talk, GW Anthropology Professor Emerita Catherine Allen discusses her research on weaving and storytelling in highland Peru. Weavers in the Andean highlands create fabric of great beauty and technical virtuosity, continuing a rich textile tradition spanning over five millennia. The centrality of the fiber arts in Andean culture affects other expressive media, including the spoken word.

Free; no reservations required. Seating is limited, so please arrive early.

For more information:

Can Barshim become king of the high jump?

By Sean Carey

“I think it’s possible to break the record,” said an ecstatic Mutaz Essa Barshim after jumping 2.43 m (7’11.7″) at the recent Diamond League meeting in Brussels, the second highest recorded jump in history.  Much to his and the crowd’s disappointment, he then failed by the tiniest of margins to clear the bar positioned 1 cm higher than Cuban Javier Sotomayor’s 21-year-old 2.45 m (8’0.5″ world record).

Unsurprisingly, Barshim was confident that he could go higher. Referring directly to Sotomayor’s effort he added: “It’s been done by a human, we’re all human, so it’s possible.”

Barshim’s words got me thinking about the human ability to jump. “Much Depends on Dinner,” is the title of a chapter in Daniel Lieberman’s 2013 highly-acclaimed book The Story of the Human Body. The Harvard-based evolutionary biologist links some of our most basic movement patterns, especially walking and running, to strong selection amongst ape-like creatures in Africa at a time of rapid climatic and environmental changes several million years ago.

Put simply, by first standing fully upright and then walking upright, early hominins living at the edges of the central African rainforest were better able to find different types of edible plant material, and thus increase their chances of survival and reproductive success. Then around 2.5 million years ago the descendants of those hominins began to run medium and long distances as well, competing with other animals to add meat to their diet which, among other things, led to our species developing relatively small stomachs but very large brains.

If Lieberman is right about the evolutionary significance of running, then the ability to jump may have evolved in the same period, since both running and jumping depend in part on the storage and release of energy in the plantar arches on the underside of the foot as well as the Achilles tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone. So far, however, our capacity to jump has not been subjected to the same intense analysis by biological anthropologists as locomotion, though anatomists, physiologists and evolutionary psychologists have all gone some way to unravel its complexities – for example, physiologists have discovered that untrained bonobos easily outperform highly-trained human athletes at squat (vertical) jumping, while evolutionary psychologists have identified and explored the manner in which humans in all societies use “motion cues,” including the ability to jump, to recognize and classify fellow humans and other animal species.

But it’s evident that compared with other animals such as frogs, fleas or grasshoppers, humans are not specialist jumpers. So what motivates athletes such as Barshim to spend endless hours practicing alone and then performing in front of purposefully noisy (and sometimes quiet) crowds in stadiums throughout the world?

High jumping is a very good example of why cultural anthropologists think of the body as a sociocultural entity rather than just another material object. As Marcel Mauss put it some years back, “the body is man’s first and most natural instrument” operating in complex sociocultural fields – which includes small (or large) changes in technology with unforeseen consequences.

In fact, the technique for contemporary high jumping was revolutionized in the mid-1960s by U.S. high jumper Dick Fosbury, who took advantage of the deep foam matting that replaced sand or sawdust in the landing area to experiment with new ways of going over the bar. Instead of using a traditional scissor jump, straddle technique, or Western roll, Fosbury ran the last few strides in a curve, which allowed him to lean away from the bar and obtain a good degree of rotatory momentum around his spinal axis. This technique, with the head leading, face pointing skywards, and arched body and extended legs following, allowed Fosbury to jump much higher than he had before. It worked so well that with a jump of 2.24 m (7’4″) on his third attempt he won the gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. His competitors saw there was a huge advantage in this highly counterintuitive way of moving, and over the next few years most switched styles.

Today everyone jumps using the so-called Fosbury Flop — though my guess is that many younger competitors erroneously think that this is the way the high jump was always performed in the modern era.

Meanwhile back in Brussels, Barshim had come up with a neat metaphor for his and the current world record holder’s achievements. “It means Javier is the king and now you’re the prince,” he said indicating that in an era of unprecedented media coverage jumping over a very high bar is about achieving global status and recognition rather than anything else. “You might take over at any time, so that’s really big for me and really good motivation.”

So will Barshim be crowned king or remain a prince? His ambition is not in doubt, so 2015 promises to be a big year for this outstanding athlete.


Sean Carey is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, and a Centre for London Associate. He writes for The Guardian, The Mauritius Times, The New African and African Business. He has a Ph.D. in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


Anthro in the news 9/15/14

Arianna Whiteside leads demonstrators as they confront a wall of police during a protest march to the Ferguson Police Department . Source: UPI/David Broome.

  • In Alabama: Learning from Ferguson (Alabama) noted an upcoming town hall event sponsored by the University of Alabama at Birmingham which will bring together representatives from the Birmingham Police Department,   professors from the UAB, and the president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to discuss police and minority relations, examine the police killing of an unarmed civilian in Ferguson, Missouri, and to develop solutions. The town hall, called “Police and Minority Relations in Birmingham,” is sponsored by the UAB Department of Social Work, along with the university’s African-American Studies Program, the Anthropology Department, and the College of Arts and Sciences. Anthropology department chair, professor Douglas P. Fry, is one of the speakers.

  • Gluttony and gambling by design

Cultural anthropologist Natasha Schüll bridged the gap between human interaction and machine workings in her research on gambling. Her book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, published in 2012, evolved from her undergraduate thesis. In her book, she examines the connection between compulsive gamblers and the design of the slot machines they play.  Schüll also directed the documentary, BUFFET: All You Can Eat Las Vegas, showcasing the “designed gluttony” of the Vegas buffet scene. The film has screened in film festivals and on PBS. Her current research focuses on the design and use of self-tracking devices — such as when individuals use digital software to record and graphically visualize personal data — and examines what these behaviors say about society’s changing cultural and political values.

Anthro in the news 9/8/14

  • Ebola can be stopped according to double docs

The dynamic duo of medical anthropologist/physicians, Jim Young Kim and Paul Farmer, published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that Ebola can be stopped if an effective response system is put in place:

“Ebola is spread by direct physical contact with infected bodily fluids, making it less transmissible than an airborne disease such as tuberculosis. A functioning health system can stop Ebola transmission and, we believe, save the lives of a majority of those who are afflicted…To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.”

Jim Yong Kim is president of the World Bank. Paul Farmer is the Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard University. Farmer and Kim co-founded the nonprofit organization Partners in Health.

  • Indictment of Discovery News

An article in The Guardian provides a damning indictment of Discovery Channel’s unethical interactions with indigenous people and unprofessional reporting. The article refers to a film series about the Matsigenkas in Peru. Discovery is accused of “staging” scenes and story-lines and providing grossly inaccurate translations.  The article draws extensively on commentary from cultural anthropologist Glenn Shepard. He was in Yomibato when the crew arrived and is one of the world’s leading experts on the Matsigenka.

  • Beyond the category of “women and children” in humanitarian aid

Morwari Zafar, Ph.D. candidate in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, published an article in Foreign Policy, arguing for the need to look within the general category of “women and children” when providing humanitarian aid. While she refers specifically to aid in Afghanistan, the message has wider relevance to those hoping to provide effective aid. (more…)

Happy (U.S) Labor Day from anthropologyworks!

Anthropology in the news will not appear this week but will return on September 8th.

In the United States, Labor Day began in New York City. New York state stands out today as the state with the strongest record of labor unionizing.

DC event: The Unfair Construction of beauty for the (Market) Beast

“Whiter Skin in 1 Week: The Unfair Construction of Beauty for the (Market) Beast,” presented by Dr. Gitiara Nasreen, Visiting Fulbright Scholar from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. We will serve light refreshments.  Free and open to public.

When: September 10, 2014, 2:00-4:00 pm
Where: Howard University, The Founders Library, 500 Howard Place NW, Washington, DC, 20059
The Founders Library is on the main quad of the campus and is easy to recognize by its tall clock tower that rises above all other buildings. The closest intersection is 4th Street NW, and College Street. There is 4-hour parking along 4th Street NW.  Come through the big iron gates and the Library is directly in front of you.



Workshop in Abu Dhabi on intangible cultural heritage

Cultural anthropologists, academics and researchers are set to gain a greater understanding of Abu Dhabi’s intangible heritage in a workshop in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

Organized by Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi) under the title, “Identifying Community-based Intangible Cultural Heritage,” the workshop targets heritage enthusiasts, particularly teachers and researchers at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development, heritage departments, local institutions, individuals, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others involved in preserving intangible cultural heritage.

The workshop, running between August 24 and September 4, will be supervised by Dr. Nasser Ali Al Humairi, intangible heritage director and Unesco international files coordinator at TCA Abu Dhabi. Participants will receive theoretical training for five days in Abu Dhabi, followed by another five days of practical training in Al Ain City on how to collect documented information covering three intangible cultural heritage elements (Al Harbiyah, Al Majlis and Arabian coffee) which will be on the Unesco’s Intangible Heritage List in 2015.

“This is a very important workshop because the process of identifying community-based intangible cultural heritage is a fairly new practice which does not have a fixed form yet. It draws on different experiences and tools used in multiple research areas including participatory rural appraisal and other developmental participatory tools; receiving free, conscious prior approval by local communities on the decisions related to their future; participatory ethnographic studies, folkloric surveys; oral history studies; and spatial data management and participatory delivery,” said Dr Nasser Al Humairi.

Women, Peace and Security:Practical Guidance on Using Law to Empower Women in Post-Conflict Systems

When: August 27, 2014 | 10:00 – 11:30 am

Where: Women in International Security, 1111 19th St. NW, 12th floor | Washington, DC 20036

United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security and international human rights and humanitarian law provide a powerful international framework for advancing gender equality and women’s rights. The key is to know and understand these principles and use them strategically.

In our recently released toolkit, Women, Peace and Security:  Practical Guidance on Using Law to Empower Women in Post-Conflict Systems, two international human rights lawyers examine practical measures on how to integrate international principles on gender equality and women’s rights into post-conflict legal systems. Learn more about the toolkit in an interview with Julie Arostegui, toolkit author.

Please join Women In International Security, Women’s Action for New Directions, and the U.S. Institute of Peace for a discussion of the toolkit and specific ways that all practitioners – both at the policy and grassroots levels – can use law to promote gender equality and empower women.


  • Julie L. Arostegui, J.D. – Toolkit Author; Women, Peace and Security Policy Director, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)
  • Stephenie Foster – Senior Advisor, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State
  • Susan Markham – Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, USAID
  • Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini – Executive Director and Co-Founder, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

Moderator: Kathleen Kuehnast – Director, Center for Gender and Peacebuilding, U.S. Institute of Peace

Anthro in the news 8/25/14

  • Kidnapping of two Amish girls in upstate New York

The New York Times reported on the kidnapping and sexual violation of two Amish girls in Oswegatchie, New York, near the U.S.-Canada border. The two sisters were abducted from the roadside vegetable stand in front of their house. The police needed photos of the girls to issue an alert, but the family had none because the Amish people generally prohibit photographs partly based on the biblical injunction against likenesses. Thus, cultural norms among the Amish made it especially difficult to conduct the search for the girls. Fortunately, the girls were released from their abductors and returned to their family.

The article quoted Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, a professor of anthropology at nearby State University of New York at Potsdam, who has studied the Amish for years:  “They are in the world but not of the world…They rely on the world. They couldn’t make a living without the world.” Yet, she added, the Amish regard their life on Earth as a passage to eternal life: “They are passing through this world without becoming part of it.” [Blogger’s note: I hope these two girls will, with their faith and their community, be able to recover from the terror and suffering they experienced].

  • Stop sexual abuse of girls in Alaska

Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, wrote an opinion piece on sexual abuse of girls in the Alaska Dispatch News. He ties sexual abuse to subsequent eating disorders:

“Though not all eating disorders are PTSD or sexual assault related, many are, and affect both women and men. Resultant eating disorders are the most fatal of mental illnesses, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sexual assault in Alaska has got to stop.”

Alaska has no eating disorder treatment center.

  • Improving U.S response to mental health and addiction problems

Jennie M. Simpson, a cultural anthropologist, wrote an opinion piece in The Huffington Post, advocating for more attention in the U.S. to integrating services for mental health and addition disorders in primary healthcare settings:

“Primary health care professionals can the first line in communicating this message in communities and with patients. Every primary care professional should have the ability to conduct behavioral health screenings and refer patients to behavioral health specialists and resources. This will take training, continued education and the support of health care professionals to make sure their door is not closed when a patient is in need of behavioral health services.”

  • The bunny: To eat or not to eat

The Gothamist carried an article about disparate views on whether or not people should eat rabbits. It links to an impeccably-sourced think piece in The Atlantic to the topic.

The view of rabbits as super meat:  Rabbits are easy to raise and butcher in your backyard, they’re light on the environment—producing six pounds of rabbit meat requires the same amount of food and water as it takes to produce one pound of cow meat—and their meat is lean and low in cholesterol. Whole Foods is stepping in as a new supplier.


Call for contributions from GEMS (Gender, Education, Music, Society)

GEMS is extending a call for articles and book reviews/summaries for the upcoming year – particular topics of interest include: women studies, gender studies, LGBTQ or other current topic. Topics do not have to be directed towards “music or music education” – generalization can be made. For the September issue, please consider submitting an article or a book review/summary. Please email me your word document directly to the editor, Dr. Colleen Pinar, at

Submissions are also welcome for later issues.

GEMS’ archives is located at Queens University
(Queens University may be working on the OJS system. If you are having trouble downloading a pdf- try Firefox or Chrome).

Articles (Book Reviews/Summaries are also located at the above web address). (more…)