Category: "culture traditions"
Antropologi.info is mainly about social anthropology. So, maybe now it’s time to get inspired by a paper from a neighbouring discipline - archaeology. Lukas Loeb has sent me this paper that he’d like to share with others: The Human Burial of the Abrigo Lagar Velho Child. An analysis of human burial and the understanding of social relations and ancient society.
Loeb is currently a student in the Social Science and Economy Department at the University of Agder, Norway. The paper was written as a part of an anthropology course he took at the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2009/2010. The course, an Introduction to World Archaeology, provided a survey of world archeology from the emergence of humankind to the beginning of state societies.
What is your essay about, Lukas Loeb?
– My essay is about the human burial of the Abrigo Lagar Velho Child, and the introduction of modern humans in Europe. How we can use a single burial to discover ancient cultures and study their social life by the burial itself and the tools and vegetation surrounding it?
In your email to me, you wrote this is an important topic that you’d like to share with others. Why?
– Many say that the Neanderthals disappeared from Europe because the continent were overtaken by modern humans. My essay discusses the important topic of the modern humans and Neanderthals interacted and that there were some sort of gene flow between these two human species.
Is this discussion also relevant for cultural- and social anthropologists?
– I would say that this discussion is both important and relevant for both cultural- and social anthropologists, this essay discusses and analyzes the burial itself and how it reflects to the religion, social life, hierarchy and status that was present 24,500 BP.
As a bonus: Some links for those who want to know more about your topic?
João Zilhão: Fate of the Neandertals (archaeology.org)
Lagar Velho - the Hybrid Child from Portugal (donsmaps.org)
Thanks for this short interview!
Download the paper (pdf, 421kb)
Can you make a complex subject like the world of finance accessible to outsiders? What about sending an anthropologist into the world of bankers in London’s financial district and let him blog his findings?
That’s the new project of the Guardian. They have engaged Dutch anthropologist Joris Luyendijk who has also a background as a journalist (perfect combination) to start an anthropological banking blog.
It’s a project in the spirit of public anthropology and anthropology 2.0 - at least in theory.
The anthropologist explains in his introductory post:
When I started interviewing financial workers this summer, I knew as little as the average Guardian reader. So I plan to start at the beginning. Every interview will be posted on the web, with comment threads open to let other outsiders to ask questions and, who knows, to let insiders to elaborate on the material. Over time I hope to build an intellectual candy shop full of interesting stuff about the world of finance, stuff that will then help you as a reader make better sense of the news.
It is important for outsiders to learn more about this sector, he stresses:
Finance directly affects everyone’s interests, but many have a hard time maintaining their interest in it. But as the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the following three years have shown, the financial world is too important to leave to the bankers – in fact in some countries democracy is beginning to look like the system by which electorates decide which politician gets to implement what the markets dictate.
The people in this very powerful sector are worth learning more about. And the good news is, when you listen to them in their own words, that can actually be pretty entertaining. And humanising.
But how anthropological are portraits of bankers? And does “humanising” mean depoliticising or even legitimizing their actions? Do we get a better understanding of the political economy of finance?
So far he has posted around ten portraits of financial workers, no analysis so far. The project has just started.
What I find striking: The financial workers don’t reflect about the consequences of their work. They seem to be obsessed with pleasing their clients, in making their clients more successful and richer.
You’ll find critical reflections in the comment sections only - like here
..and to generate wealth you have to generate poverty. Success?
It might sound as if anthropological studies of bankers are something extraordinary. No longer. There has been surprisingly much interest among anthropologists for the world of finance. Karen Ho for example has been on fieldwork in the Wall Street: Anthropologist Explores Wall Street Culture. Another anthropologist, Gillian Tett, who works in the Financial Times, explained three years ago that she used anthropology to predict the financial crisis and that it’s important to understand the tribal nature of banking culture.
See also How anthropologists should react to the financial crisis and – Use Anthropology to Build A Human Economy. Check also David Graeber’s comments on the current Occupy Wall Street Protests
The Dictionary of Man: Will Bob Geldof and the BBC reproduce racist anthropology? was the title of a (rather sceptical) post back in 2007. Now this ambitious project, four years ago described as “the largest ever living record of films, photographs, anthropological histories, philosophies, theologies, economies, language and art, as well as people’s personal stories” is ready for the TV-screens and partly for the web as well.
Human Planet is it called, now focussing on “man’s remarkable relationship with the natural world” with stories from “eighty of the most remote locations on Earth".
The website is beautiful. Stunning photographs, videos, text, music and lots of links to external websites. Unfortunately (not surprisingly, though in our economic system), most people on this planet won’t be able to view the videos (within the UK only, I suppose).
UPDATE: Sian Davies from the BBC writes to me and informs that some videos are availabe worldwide, f.ex Walking on the sea bed (Bajau fisherman, Sulbin, freedives to 20 metres to catch his supper.), Pa-aling divers (One of the most dangerous fishing methods of all. A 100 strong crew in the Philippines dive to 40 metres, breathing air pumped through makeshift tangled tubes by a rusty compressor), and Gerewol courtship festival.
Several anthropologists have been involved. Nevertheless, the question remains how people from around the world are represented. Is it the usual exotisation or has the BBC chosen a more innovative approach?
Have a look yourself - here are two (visually fascinating) videos from the Human Planet YouTube playlist
>> Human Planet Production Blog
Check also the comment on Culture Matters Bob Geldof – the “saviour” of the cultures of the world? (19.4.2007)
Another new initiative - more academic, though, to showcase this planet’s diversity is the Global Ethnographic, “a general interest, peer reviewed web journal featuring the field research and perspectives shaping our social world. Free and exclusively online, Global Ethnographic is multi-media driven and cross-disciplinary, bringing you the scholarly conversations on daily life as it is lived and experienced around the world.”
The website is already online, but the content will be launched the 31.1. 2011.
Why does anthropology tend to focus on “exotic others"? Why this obsession with Africa? How come calls by well-known anthropologists such as Paul Rabinow to “anthropologize the West seemed to have not brought forth much fruit? How racist is American anthropology?
Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi discusses those and other questions in his new book Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.
Yes, Ntarangwi has conducted an anthropological study of American anthropology! An important undertaking. He has studied textbooks, ethnographies, coursework, professional meetings, and feedback from colleagues and mentors. He “reverses the gaze", he stresses: Whereas Western anthropologists often study non-Western cultures, he studies “the Western culture of anthropology".
He is especially interested in “the cultural and racial biases that shape anthropological study in general".
In the preface and introduction he writes:
If anthropology truly begins at home as Malinowski states, how come, as I had thus far observed, anthropology tended to focus on the “exotic"? How come only a small percentage of fieldwork and scholarship by Western anthropologists focused on their own cultures, and when they did it was among individuals and communities on the peripheries, their own “exotics” such as those in extreme poverty, in gangs, ad others outside mainstream culture? (…)
This book is a personal journey into the heart of anthropology; representing my own pathways as an African student entering American higher education in the early 1990s that I knew very little about. It is a story about my initial entry into an American academic space very different from my own experience in Kenya, where we followed a British system of education.
It is also a story hemmed within a specific discourse and views about anthropology that can be best represented by remarks from fellow graduate students who wondered what i was doing in a “racist” discipline. (…) Troubled by this label, I consciously embarked on a journey to find more about the discipline.
He critiques dominant tenets of reflexivity, where issues of representation in his opinion are reduced to anthropologists’ writing style, methodological assumptions, and fieldwork locations. Inherent power differences that make it easier for anthropologists to study other people ("studying down") than to study themselves ("studying up") are rendered invisible.
Ntarangwi seeks to contribute to the process of “liberating the discipline from the constraints of its colonial legacy and post- or neocolonial predicament". As long as the bulk of anthropological scholarship comes from Europe and North America and focuses on studying other cultures than their own, the power differentials attendant in anthropology today will endure.
I have just starting to read and took among others a short look at the chapter about the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA).
“I believe it is at the AAA meetings that the anthropological ritual of what we do as anthropologists is best performed", he writes:
Just as America has become an economic and political empire, American anthropology has consolidated a lot of power and in the process has peripheralized other anthropologies, forcing them either to respond to its whims and hegemony or to lose their international presence and appeal. The American Anthropological Association (AAA), I argue, is an important cultural phenomenon that begs for an ethnographic analysis.
It was in 2002, four years after his graduation that Mwenda Ntarangwi attended his first AAA-meeting. It was held in New Orleans. Already at the airport, he realises it is easy to spot anthropologists:
They were dressed casually, many were reading papers, and majority wore some exotic piece of jewelry or clothing that symbolized their field site - either a bracelet from Mexico (…), a necklace from a community in Africa, a tie-dyed shirt, or a multicolored scarf.
His observations from the different sessions he attended remind me of my own impressions: “Conference papers were written to make the presenters sound more profound rather than to communicate ideas", he writes.
But there were interesting panels as well, among others about “marginalization and exclusion of certain scholars and scholarship on the basis of their race". There were, he writes, “discussions of how Haitian anthropologists challenged the notion of race but were never “knighted", as was Franz Boas, simply because they were Black".
He also attended sessions where the speakers were using data collected ten or twenty years before and yet were speaking of the locals as if representing contemporary practices.
Ntarangwi went to the 2007 annual meeting as well. He was very much interested in seeing how well the meeting itself reflected in its theme “Inclusion, Collaboration, and Engagement.”
I’ll write about it next time. I’ll take the book with me on my short trip to Portugal. I’m leaving tomorrow.
“I have been invited to at least four Christmas parties this year, and three of them are being held by Muslims. This is the first time I’ve felt such a huge emphasis on Christmas,” 33-year-old investment banker Osama Abdelshafy says.
Hotels in Egypts have long celebrated Christmas for tourism-related reasons. However, over the past few years, Christmas has been visibly gaining ground throughout various strata of Egyptian society according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm:
Around 10 December, the Christmas buzz starts to hit with displays popping up in almost every major Cairo mall. Banners with “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” adorn different store and restaurant fronts, and it becomes all too evident that the consumer fever that hits many other parts of the world has caught on here this year too. Some reports say that around 500,000 Christmas trees will have been sold this year in Egypt by 25 December.
Social anthropologist Reem Saad reminds us that the celebration of Christmas has always existed as part of Egypt’s heritage. “People in Egypt have traditionally celebrated religious diversity and joined each other in their celebrations", she says. “It has been a mainstay of Egyptian culture in the past.”
But Christmas in Egypt has departed from its roots as a celebration of the birth of Christ and taken on a more social role. “It’s not about being Christian or not, I just like the idea of getting together and giving gifts in a festive atmosphere”, Rania El-Nazer, who works in PR.
It seems that Christmas is turning into a global secular ritual. Not only in Egypt. Only a minority in Norway for example (23%) is attending the church service at Christmas. Maybe it’s best to describe Christmas as a celebration of the family and capitalism. Many muslims and people from other religious minorities in Norway celebrate Christmas.
At the same time, the Guardian writes that Egypt’s Coptic Christians struggle against institutionalised prejudice.
At GlobalVoices you find an overview over Christmas Recipes in Global Food Blogs
“Beyond postsocialism? Creativity, moral resistance and change in the corners of Eurasia” is the title of the new issue of Durham Anthropology Journal.
The authors want to give us alternative views on so called postsocialist societies.
Postsocialist studies, David Henig explains in his editorial, have been dominated by Western perspectives (the East as the “Other") and also by discourses of capitalist “triumphalism” (from socialism or dictatorship to liberal democracy, from plan to market economy).
The reality is different. Anthropologists have found important continuities between socialist and post-socialist eras.
Míriam Torrens has been on fieldwork in rural Romania. Instead of postsocialism or new capitalism", she writes, “what we find in these communities is the prevailing picture of a traditional peasanthood with some ‘innovations’":
(B)oth socialist and liberal economists (…) have failed in taking into account the strength – and the reasons for this strength – of social institutions such as the family and the community, their customary law and the broad impact of communal and cooperative action.
Durham Anthropology Journal is an open access journal
Public anthropology does exist. There are lots of anthropologists who write for the wider public and not only for other anthronerds. Here’s another example: The Polynesian Tattoo Today by Tricia Allen, doctoral candidate in anthropology at the university of Hawai’i.
In an interview with Honolulu’s Star Bulletin, she explains:
“The first book did well; it is now in its third printing. Its primary readership was those with a specific interest in Hawai’i and history. The new book will reach a larger audience, as it is far more general – covering all of Polynesia – and is primarily photographs. Anyone can enjoy looking at beautiful photos of artful bodies!”
The book was not launched in a traditional academic way with a seminar. The publishers hosted a “Tattoo Contest". Tricia Allen and several Polynesian tattoo artists were “on hand to autograph books – or your arm".
Allen is by the way not only anthropologist but tattoo artist herself and has tattooed over 8000 members of the Polynesian community. She completed her Master’s thesis at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1992 on the early practice of tattooing in the Marquesas Islands. For her doctoral thesis, she is researching the revival of the arts in the Pacific. “In the last few years a pan-Polynesian style has gotten incredibly popular", she says.
“Many tattoos featured in the book are a mixture of styles… Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan. Polynesian tattoos are increasing in popularity and many traditional designs have been revived", writes M.L. Sanico i his review in the Hawaii Book Blog:
What I especially liked about the book is seeing the diversity of people who have these tattoos, and who are tattoo artists themselves. Each photo has a short caption with the person or tattooists name, where they’re from and a little bit about the tattoo or what it means to them.
In an earlier interview, Tricia Allen tells us more about the revival of Polynesian tattoos:
There is a revival of all of the ancient arts: tattooing, tapa making, weaving, carving, dance, chanting and firewalking. There is a whole resurgence of Polynesian culture, and tattooing is just a part of that. In my mind it is one of the most significant parts of the revival because it’s such a permanent statement: “I’m Polynesian.” And to some degree in many cases it is a political statement, or a statement of allegiance to the traditional culture.
Also check her own website with more tattoo infos and pictures.
The recent example of public anthropology was my blog post Anthropologist uncovers how global elites undermine democracy and one of the most read posts ever.
Is it a good idea to fight against female circumcision? Not neccesarily according to Sierra Leonean-American anthropologist Fuambai Ahmadu.
In an interview in Anthropology Today (available free as pdf here), she attacks Western feminists, media and anti-Female Genital Mutilation campaigns and accuses them for presenting a one-sided, ethnocentric picture of female circumcision.
A great deal of what is regarded as facts is not true, she explains. Many people think circumcision is a “barbaric tradition” and “violence against women". But Ahmadu does not see circumcision as mutilation. Circumcision is no notable negative effects on your health and does not inhibit female sexual desire either.
The problem with the representation of various forms of female circumcision as ‘mutilation’ is that the term, among other things, presupposes some irreversible and serious harm. This is not supported by current medical research on female circumcision.
But this research (Obermeyer, Morison etc) has not received any attention in Western media:
However, neither Obermeyer’s reviews nor the Morison et al. study have been mentioned in any major Western press, despite their startling and counter-intuitive findings on female circumcision and health. This is in contrast to the highly publicized Lancet report by the WHO Study Group on FGM, released in June 2006, which received widespread, immediate and sensationalized press coverage highlighting claims about infant and maternal mortality during hospital birth.
Supporters of female circumcision justify the practice on much of the same grounds that they support male circumcision, she says:
The uncircumcised clitoris and penis are considered homologous aesthetically and hygienically: Just as the male foreskin covers the head of the penis, the female foreskin covers the clitoral glans. Both, they argue, lead to build-up of smegma and bacteria in the layers of skin between the hood and glans. This accumulation is thought of as odorous, susceptible to infection and a nuisance to keep clean on a daily basis. Further, circumcised women point to the risks of painful clitoral adhesions that occur in girls and women who do not cleanse properly, and to the requirement of excision as a treatment for these extreme cases. Supporters of female circumcision also point to the risk of clitoral hypertrophy or an enlarged clitoris that resembles a small penis.
For these reasons many circumcised women view the decision to circumcise their daughters as something as obvious as the decision to circumcise sons: why, one woman asked, would any reasonable mother want to burden her daughter with excess clitoral and labial tissue that is unhygienic, unsightly and interferes with sexual penetration, especially if the same mother would choose circumcision to ensure healthy and aesthetically appealing genitalia for her son?
It is important to remove the stigma around circumcision, Ahmadu stresses:
It is my opinion that we need to remove the stigma of mutilation and let all girls know they are beautiful and accepted, no matter what the appearance of their genitalia or their cultural background, lest the myth of sexual dysfunction in circumcised women become a true self-fulfilling prophecy, as Catania and others are increasingly witnessing in their care of circumcised African girls and women.
In an article in The Patriotic Vanguard, she describes the term Female Genital Mutilation as “offensive, divisive, demeaning, inflammatory and absolutely unnecessary":
As black Africans most of us would never permit anyone to call us by the term “nigger” or “kaffir” in reference to our second-class racial status or in attempts to redress racial inequalities, so initiated Sierra Leonean women (and all circumcised women for that matter) must reject the use of the term “mutilation” to define us and demean our bodies, even as some of us are or fight against the practice.
Anthropologist Carlos D. Londoño Sulkin comments Ahmadu’s talk in Anthropology Today and criticizes his colleagues:
My own sense, after listening to Ahmadu, is that many Euroamericans’ reactions to the removal of any genital flesh is shaped by parochial understandings and perfectly contestable biases and values concerning bodies, gender, sex and pain.
Many anthropologists, reacting against collectivist social theories and some of the less felicitous entailments of cultural relativism, have joined in the condemnation of female circumcision without first taking counsel from our discipline’s methodological requirement actually to pay attention to what the people we write about say and do about this or that, over an extended period. Listening to Ahmadu, I can no longer condemn the practices of genital cutting in general, nor would I be willing to sign a zero-tolerance petition.
>> Disputing the myth of the sexual dysfunction of circumcised women. An interview with Fuambai S. Ahmadu by Richard A. Shweder (incl. comment by Carlos D. Londoño Sulkin)
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