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A link between food resources and social hierarchies?

In a portrait on the website of The National University of Australia, anthropologist Ian Keen, tells about his research among Aboriginees in Australia. Among other things, he wanted to find out why pre-colonial Aboriginal societies tended to be more egalitarian than some of their counterparts elsewhere in the world:

In a paper published in the journal Current Anthropology, Keen argues that for any society to develop lasting social hierarchies, it must have access to plentiful, localised resources that could be defended. In this event, some people can assume authority over others. On the northwest coast of North America, for example, recent hunter-gatherers enjoyed a stable climate and concentrated, defendable resources, especially plentiful salmon. As a consequence, these societies developed such enduring inequalities as inherited chiefly office and marked social classes, while some even kept slaves.

In contrast, Aboriginal societies did not develop such enduring inequalities. (...) Keen argues this relative egalitarianism was the result of constraints arising from variable food resources and an unstable climate, meaning there was limited scope for people to assume dominion over others by asserting exclusive access to territory and resources.

Keen explains:

"It’s not exactly an environmental determinist argument, but it is suggesting that those conditions imposed restraints. I make the assumption that wherever they can, some humans will take the opportunities given to them to establish some kind of dominion over others. So my paper argues that even if people knew how to dominate one another, and wanted to do so, the opportunities were not there.

>> read the whole article

Brian Hayden, an archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, is not convinced and criiticizes that Keen does not put enough weight on the ecological and economic aspects of complexity that develop among some hunter-gatherers in Australia.

Keen is the author of the book Aboriginal Economy and Society. The website of the book is quite informative. If you click on Supplementary Materials you'll find several cases studies and several pages about aboriginal technologies. In the paper Variation in Indigenous Economy and Society at the Threshold of Colonisation, Keen tells about more about his book:

Just how similar and how distinct were Aboriginal societies in different parts of the continent at the time of British colonisation of Australia? The book I am currently writing attempts to answer this and related questions by comparing the economy and society of seven very varied regions of the continent as they were at the threshold of colonisation.


Such a comparative study is long overdue. There have been no recent systematic comparisons of Aboriginal ways of life in different parts of Australia, comparable to, for example, Marshall Sahlins on Polynesia or Rubel and Rosman on New Guinea.

>> download the paper (pdf)


  17:17:42, by admin   . Categories: indigenous people / minorities, culture traditions, Asia, gender

Where women rule the world and don't marry

She's a young women from the Lake Lugu is the southwestern part of China and tells us in an article in The Standard (Hongkong):

"Mother thinks I'm being disrespectful to our heritage by having a steady boyfriend. She thinks I ought to follow the old ways, to take more than one lover. It's a big problem between us. Actually," she lowers her voice, "my boyfriend and I are thinking of leaving Lugu after the summer, and moving to Kunming [capital of Yunnan province]. We may get married."

Journalist Joshua Samuel Brown explains that Lake Lugu is the home of the Mosuo - a matriarchal and matrilineal society: Women make most major decisions, control household finances, and pass their surnames on to their children:

But what makes the Mosuo truly unique is one particularly juicy facet of their familial relationships, their practice of zuo hun, or "walking marriage." The Mosuo do not marry - rather, a woman chooses her lovers from among the men of the tribe, taking as many as she pleases over the course of her life. In Mosuo culture, having children with different men bears no social stigma. Children are raised more or less communally, and in most cases grow up in the mother's home, surrounded by any number of sisters, brothers and "uncles."

>> read the whole story in The Standard


Wikipedia: The Mosuo

Chinese men threaten 'lake of free love' where women rule (Telegraph, 25.3.01)

The Chinese region with women in charge (BBC, 18.9.05)

Lu Yuan: Land Of The Walking Marriage - Mosuo people of China (Natural History, 11/2000)


Eggi's Village. Life Among the Minangkabau of Indonesia (another matrilineal society)

A Society Without Husbands or Fathers

Contemporary matriarchal societies: The Nagovisi, Khasi, Garo, and Machiguenga

Matriarchy: history or reality?


Anthropologists: U.S. Marriage Model Is Not Universal Norm


New blog: Sarapen. Online anthropology on Filipino bloggers

(via Livejournal Anthropology Community) Jesse de Leon, Master’s student in Social Anthropology, has started blogging on his research on Filipino bloggers - a very interesting blog about migration, transnationalism, identity and internet research. In his second post he explains:

I’m what’s known as a 1.5 generation immigrant: someone who immigrated as a child old enough to remember the country they were born in. In my case, I immigrated to Canada from the Philippines when I was ten years old. I consider myself as having grown up in both countries. I know that if I had grown up entirely in the Philippines, I would be a different person than what I am today.

It’s therefore understandable that I’m interested in issues of migration, transnationalism, and identity. I’m particularly interested in what identity is like for other Filipinos who have migrated. Do they consider themselves as being completely Filipino? Or do they see themselves as being Canadians now (or American, or Australian, or so on)?


Now, this is all well and good, but lots of other people have examined these issues. What am I doing that’s new? Well, I’m investigating Filipino migration and identity, but I’m investigating them through blogs. Specifically, I’m looking at how Filipino bloggers talk about these issues. I’m also looking at how Filipino bloggers don’t talk about these issues.

>> visit Sarapen. Online anthropology on Filipino bloggers

His blog is hosted at edublogs.org - a free blog host that he recommends.


  14:15:13, by admin   . Categories: Us and Them, Europe, cosmopolitanism, sports

World Cup: Cultural representations and why patriotism is not healthy

Kambiz Kamrani at anthropology.net has made a nice post about national fotballs: How do the different countries represent themselves? Sport is bringing the world closer together, in his opinion. His list of World Cup participants "shows us the color side of globalization in the form of socio-economic and cultural contributions of each country in the form of soccer balls" >> continue reading at anthropology.net

On the website Expatica, Editor-in-chief David Gordon Smith has written an interesting comment on the recent patriotism in Germany. As also noted critically by blogger Urmila Goel:

As also All of Germany is coloured in black-red-gold. Almost all. And all are very very happy. (...) I hardly find anybody who is so utterly disgusted by all this black-red-gold as I am. 'Nations' are based on exclusion. They are the basis for wars, not only with weapons. I do not like this structuring of the world, and I utterly dislike its national symbols. Especially the flags.

David Gordon Smith might be nearly as critical as Urmila Goel. As a migrant, he feels excluded (for some reason, he uses the term "expat" - but you should use it as a synonym for migrant):

It is a strange feeling to live here and be excluded from the collective hysteria: when newspaper editorials write about 'us' and 'our team', they are not talking about expats. For anyone who does not belong to, or identify with, mainstream Germany, ostentatious displays of patriotism can leave an uneasy feeling.(...) If anyone gets nervous at the sight of Germans waving flags, it is because Germany waged a terrible war within living memory.

He then goes on explaining why patriotism never can be healthy for a society:

Nationalism and war have always gone hand in hand, and probably patriotism is of most use to the nation state when it comes to armed conflict. Without feelings of intense patriotism, it would be hard for the nation state to get young men (and women) to die on its behalf. Patriotic emotions may not cause wars, but they make it easier for governments to wage wars--especially wars which can not be rationally justified. If it was not for patriotism, governments would have to be much more careful about engaging in military action.

But what sort of relationship should we have to our country of origin or residence?

I would argue that in the modern world the ideal relationship of an individual to a nation state (or supranational organisation) should be objective, critical and passionless. You might agree or disagree with certain things the state does, you might even be prepared to fight to defend it, but you do not feel the blind unquestioning loyalty that comes with patriotism. The fewer young men and women who are prepared to fight and die for an idea, whether that is a particular ideology or religion or the equally constructed notion of a nation state, the safer the world will be.

>> read the whole article at Expatica

I agree, but nevertheless I wonder: Are all flag waving people patriotic or nationalistic?


German Politicians Hail New Patriotism

Cicilie Fagerlid: Will France be more tolerant and less discriminatory and racist due to its multicoloured team?

"Germans stick to the ethnic definition more than any other European nation"

World Cup Enthusiasm: "Need for a collective ritual, not nationalism"

Per Wirtén: Free the nation - cosmopolitanism now!

For an Anthropology of Cosmopolitanism

Interview with Benedict Anderson: "I like nationalism's utopian elements"

Flags and identity: Strong feelings, mystical rituals and equivocal messages


  11:15:06, by admin   . Categories: Us and Them, fieldwork / methods, ethics

(updated) Embedded anthropology? Anthropologist studies Canadian soldiers in the field

Anthropologist Anne Irwin has spent years in dangerous places with front line troops to observe how soldiers construct their identities as warriors. She wears the same combat uniform and body armour as the troops when she's in the field. At the moment, she is researching how Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan bolster their identities by sharing their battlefield experiences through storytelling with their peers:

The storytelling not only helps forge the individual identity of each soldier, it builds interpersonal relationships that can have a bearing on how well the unit performs on the battlefield.

She says:

"These are tough, hard guys who people think of as being very one-dimensional. I guess what really strikes me is how much they really care for each other. How they can just pick themselves up and keep going."

Irwin isn't really "neutral". She has spent 16 years in the Canadian Forces reserve - not as an academic. She retired as a Military Police officer with the rank of Major.

Irwin's doctoral thesis at the University of Manchester was entitled: The social organization of soldiering: a Canadian infantry company in the field.

>> read the whole story on CNews Canada (TEXT WAS REMOVED read instead: "Scientist studies soldiers 'outside the wire'" (ctv.ca, 27.8.06)

Her paper "Soldiers Do It in the Field" can be downloaded as pdf but as many characters are displayed incorrectly, Googles HTML-version might be a better choice.


This story was also covered by the Livejournal Anthropology Community: "It seems like embedded anthropology to me":

My point is that embedded anthropology would imply certain ethical and methodological problems in ethnography. These aren't just a bunch of guys being studied, they're a bunch of guys committing violent acts for highly-contested political goals.


In a world where journalists and spies are considered one and the same (thanks to even the military's intel coming in directly from CNN in some cases), and with anthropology's shadowy history of being used as cover for spying, how are anthropologists regarded in situations like these in general?

UPDATE 2: Similar problems of embeddedness might have occured in the film "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" by anthropologist Sam Dunn. He has been metal-fan and headbanger for years. Of course, his background has influenced the way he presented his findings, according to a review in The Japan Times:

The film only partly succeeds in its mission, mostly due to Dunn's dual roles here: an anthropologist, by nature, needs to have a critical distance from the society he puts under the microscope. Dunn, however, displays a missionary's zeal in preaching the glory of metal, and explaining away its bad image. Dunn (...) appears in the film narrating, interviewing his idols, and headbanging with devil-horn fingers.


Secret rituals: Folklorist studied the military as an occupational folk group

Anthropologist shoots down stereotypes about gun enthusiasts (Book review)

  10:45:10, by admin   . Categories: Us and Them, books

Book review: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence

In Evolutionary Psychology, anthropologist Craig T. Palmer reviews the book The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence. Douglas P. Fry shows in this book how anthropology "can provide unique insights into the nature of war and the potential for peace". The description of the book sounds promising:

Challenging the traditional view that humans are by nature primarily violent and warlike, Professor Fry argues that along with the capacity for aggression humans also possess a strong ability to prevent, limit, and resolve conflicts without violence. (...) The Human Potential for Peace includes ethnographic examples from around the globe, findings from Fry's research among the Zapotec of Mexico, and results of cross-cultural studies on warfare. In showing that conflict resolution exists across cultures and by documenting the existence of numerous peaceful societies, it demonstrates that dealing with conflict without violence is not merely a utopian dream.

But the reviewer isn't convinced. Fry's book is according to him too polemical, his presentation too biased, most of his claims are untestable:

The various problems with the book all stem from Fry's decision to structure it as a contest between two supposedly opposite views of human nature, instead of a straight-forward presentation of his massive array of anthropological data on both violence and peace. (...) A straightforward presentation of the data on human violence and peace would have been much more useful to researchers actually trying to reduce war and violence by identifying its causes. However, such a presentation would have made for a much less dramatic book. This is because it would have revealed little if any difference between Fry's view of human behavior and those he portrays as his opponents.

>> read the whole review

  00:23:56, by admin   . Categories: religion cosmology, culture traditions, Africa, Europe, sports

World Cup Witchcraft: European Teams Turn to Magic for Aid

(via del.icio.us/anthropology) I've just returned from the match France-Portugal and have just stumpled upon this news story in the National Geographic. Many European soccer stars, including those currently playing in the World Cup, turn to magic and odd rituals before the game:

England defender John Terry, for example, says he always sits in the same place on the bus traveling to the game. He also must tie the tapes around his socks that hold shin guards in place three times before a game.

During this World Cup, Spanish striker Raul Gonzalez was reportedly berated for turning up at practice wearing a yellow T-shirt. His coach, Luis Aragones, considers yellow bad luck. (France went on to knock Spain out of the cup on Tuesday.)


Former Italy coach Giovanni Trappatoni could be seen sprinkling holy water on the playing field from a bottle provided by his sister, a nun.

>> read the whole story (as you see, the National Geographic has a different focus...)


Soccer superstitions: Some fans will have wacky ways of spurring their team to victory (BBC)

"Superstition, a football tradition" (Fifaworldcup.yahoo.com)


World Cup Enthusiasm: "Need for a collective ritual, not nationalism"


  13:28:53, by admin   . Categories: indigenous people / minorities, technology, history

Tropical Stonehenge found in the rainforest?

Why is everybody so surprised over the "finding" that the early inhabitants in the rainforest were "sophisticated" people? It might be a huge discovery to find a kind of Stonehenge in the rainforest, but nevertheless....This story has been published in many newspapers around the world:

A grouping of granite blocks along a grassy Amazon hilltop may be the vestiges of a centuries-old astronomical observatory.(...)
Anthropologists have long known that local indigenous populations were acute observers of the stars and sun. But the discovery of a physical structure that appears to incorporate this knowledge suggests pre-Columbian Indians in the Amazon rainforest may have been more sophisticated than previously suspected.

Archaeologist Mariana Petry Cabral says:

Transforming this kind of knowledge into a monument; the transformation of something ephemeral into something concrete, could indicate the existence of a larger population and of a more complex social organization.

Scientists not involved in the discovery said it could prove valuable to understanding pre-Columbian societies in the Amazon. Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida's Department of Anthropology, says:

Given that astronomical objects, stars, constellations etc., have a major importance in much of Amazonian mythology and cosmology, it does not in any way surprise me that such an observatory exists. (...) The traditional image is that some time thousands of years ago small groups of tropical forest horticulturists arrived in the area and they never changed _ (that) what we see today is just like it was 3,000 years ago.This is one more thing that suggests that through the past thousands of years, societies have changed quite a lot.

>> read the whole story in the Boston Globe


Our obsession with the notion of the primitive society

From Stone Age to 21st century - More "fun" with savages

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