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.
"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)
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.
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.
(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...)
"Superstition, a football tradition" (Fifaworldcup.yahoo.com)
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.
The new issue of Anthropology Matters - one of the few online anthropology journals - is out! The nine articles on "Doing Fieldwork in Eastern Europe" try to explore post-communism in Eastern Europe in new ways. They are based on ethnographic case studies of communities in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Georgia, Serbia and Croatia, among others among vendors in the market square, waste gatherers, Greek migrants, Transylvanian Saxons etc.
From the editorial by Michaela Schäuble, Tomasz Rakowski and Wlodzimierz Pessel:
Ethnographic micro-societal fieldwork creates new insight into the contemporary dilemmas and everyday practices of ordinary people dealing with the heritage of socialist ideology while simultaneously trying to obtain a sense of security and continuity in their identity.
Tackling everyday realities seems to be the most emblematic feature of anthropological research in post-socialist scenarios, insofar as it provides a valuable counterpart to 'apparent history' as featured in legal acts, political programmes, and changes of economic and monetary systems. In his influential Anthropology, Michael Herzfeld notes that anthropology and history 'have danced a flirtatious pas de deux throughout the past century' (Herzfeld 2001:55). In Central and Eastern Europe this flirtation has turned into a productive intellectual relationship, in that the authors' anthropological micro-scale fieldwork brings hitherto unseen or neglected levels, 'paces', and cultural narratives (back) into sight.
Anthropologist and blogger Johannes Wilm has published a fascinating video about the annual meeting of the Danish minority in a small village in Northern Germany called Ascheffel. Is it possible to be both German and Danish? Why are there so many Germans who send their kids to the Danish school? As he shows, there is both nationalism and much transnational history among the participants of the annual meeting.
Musee Quai Branly, a new major museum in Paris, dedicated entirely to well, how should it be called "non-Western arts"?, "indigenous arts?" has opened last Friday. Although the organizers named the new museum in Paris after the street it was built on after stirring criticism for floating the idea of a "primitive arts" or "first arts" museum, we read news headlines like "Paris unveils tribal art museum" (BBC), Paris welcomes new museum of indigenous art (Financial Times), and the Los Angeles Times informs: Parisians and tourists had their first chance Friday to visit Paris' new primitive-art museum
Why do we need such a huge museum for non-European art?
"We want to show that this type of art is equivalent to European art. We want to place it on the same level", said Patrice Januel, the museum's director and curator.
But many people oppose the idea of categorising African, Asian and Pacific art as separate from Western art, according to the Telegraph:
Criticism ranges from claims that an institute dedicated to ethnic art is a patronising reinforcement of racist stereotypes to complaints that it relies heavily on items plundered in the ex-colonies. Some historians also suggest that the museum could "ghettoise" the works by isolating them from other art forms. (...) Among African observers, doubts persist. One Johannesburg critic said the museum would prompt bitter cries of "return the pillaged colonial loot".
The museum is designed around a jungle theme. This design risked perpetuating colonial stereotypes, historian Gilles Manceron said according to The Guardian. It's quite "natural" inside as well.
The New Zealand Harald describes the interior:
Inside, the sensation is of spirituality, with random shimmerings of light dappling the floor like sunbeams that pierce a rainforest canopy. The floor gently slopes, and the pillars are daubed in ochre coatings to make it look as if they have strangely taken root there.
Objects are arranged according to the continent of origin.
Patrick Lozes, president of an umbrella group of several hundred black associations called Cran, said he feared the new museum's "archaic way of showing the past" would accentuate divisions rather than heal them, according to the New Zealand Harald:
"It's an extension of a certain colonialist vision. Today we should emphasis migration and the mixing of people and not try to artificially separate the various strands of French society."
The Courier Mail (Australia) on the otherhand writes about indigenous artists who are quite positive about the museum. The contribution to a wing of the Musee Quai Branly might be the largest and most significant permanent display of indigenous art outside Australia. Artist Gulumbu Yunupingu says:
"This place is a sacred place. I feel something here. It's bringing us healing. These people recognised my hand, my work."
Ap /Los Angeles Times reminds us:
Issues about France's colonial past are still sensitive here — just last year, parliament passed a law requiring schoolbooks to highlight the "positive role" of French colonialism. The term was later stripped from the legislation, but the law was an embarrassment for France.
Or rather start here:
A good summary: Al-Ahram Weekly: Museum of the oppressed
Swissinfo interviews anthropologist Fabrizio Sabelli about the enthusiasm of Swiss fans during the World Cup. According to Sabelli, it's driven by a need for a collective ritual and not nationalism:
We're currently going through a pretty dull cultural period, which offers few gatherings like the World Cup, and people need them. They want to get together because they are increasingly lonely. And this solitude is not a uniquely Swiss malaise – it is found in all contemporary societies. Everyone needs rituals but there is a dearth of them in our globalised society.
I think it's simply about rediscovering a sort of collective feeling shared at a celebration and above all the thought of a potential victory.
This Swiss team is made of different backgrounds, yet it doesn't prevent members from presenting a united front under the Swiss flag. This, he says, is "an effect of the magic of sport ". Nevertheless, he doesn't believe that football can have a determining influence on how we perceive others.