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Annual Editions: Anthropology, 37e
The September 11 Effect on Anthropology, Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar, Middle East Report, Winter 2011
The September 11, 2001 attacks have had a considerable effect on anthropological research in the Middle East and beyond. Along with the fact that job opportunities have increased in some areas and diminished in others, anthropologists have become increasingly concerned about the politics of funding and the ethics of particular kinds of projects offered. In general, pressures are mounting with respect to scholars' ability to maintain academic freedom and, perhaps, even tenure itself.
Eating Christmas in the Kalahari, Richard Borshay Lee, Natural History, December 1969
Anthropologist Richard Borshay Lee gives an account of the misunderstanding and confusion that often accompany cross-cultural experience. In this case, he violated a basic principle of the !Kung Bushmen's social relations— food sharing.
Tricking and Tripping: Fieldwork on Prostitution in the Era of AIDS, Claire E. Sterk, Tricking and Tripping: Prostitution in the Era of AIDS, Social Change Press, 2000
As unique as Claire E. Sterk's report on prostitution may be, she discusses issues common to anthropologists wherever they conduct fieldwork: How does one build trusting relationships with informants and what are the ethical obligations of an anthropologist toward them?
The Yuck Factor, Alison George, New Scientist, July 14, 2012
The power of disgust may have evolved to protect us from illness and death, but it also plays out in some rather unexpected areas, such as politics, the judicial system and our spending habits. As a shortcut to wisdom, it seems to have had some beneficial effects, but as a stimulus to prejudice, we may want to consider ways to consider ways to suspend it in favor of more rational human behavior.
War of Words, Mark Pagel, New Scientist, December 8, 2012
In taking on the task of explaining why humans communicate with thousands of mutually unintelligible languages, in direct contradiction with the principle that language is supposed to help us exchange information, the author finds that languages have diverged from each other because of migration, geographical isolation and a deeply rooted need for tribal identity.
How Language Shapes Thought, Lera Boroditsky, Scientific American, February 2011
As the author observes, each language contains a way of perceiving, categorizing, and making meaning In the world, an invaluable guidebook developed and honed by our ancestors. But, do differences in language create differences in thought or is it the other way around? The answer, says the author, is both.
Shakespeare in the Bush, Laura Bohannan, Natural History, August/September 1966
It is often claimed that great literature has cross-cultural significance. In this article, Laura Bohannan describes the difficulties she encountered and the lessons she learned as she attempted to relate the story of Hamlet to the Tiv of West Africa in their own language.
Vanishing Languages, Russ Rymer, National Geographic, July, 2012
With so many of the world's 7,000 languages rapidly disappearing, linguists are making a concerted effort to understand what these losses mean in terms of the languages themselves and the cultural perspectives that will die with them, but also the invaluable knowledge of the world in general.
My Two Minds, Catherine de Lange, New Scientist, May 5, 2012
Recent research indicates that speaking a second language is beneficial in terms of learning in general, problem solving and multitasking. Moreover, we now know that there are deep connections between language and thought, which in turn influences human social skills, the delay of brain aging and the shaping of personality.
The Evolution of Inequality, Deborah Rogers, New Scientist, July 28, 2012
Until 5,000 years ago, humans lived in hunter-gatherer societies that were egalitarian and lacking in organized conflict. The subsequent development of agriculture resulted in centralized authority, social inequality and organized conflict between groups. Rather than blame the relative recent development of dominance hierarchies and violence on human nature, it appears that social inequalities and wars are a matter of cultural choice.
Breastfeeding and Culture by Kathryn Dettwyler from Reflections on Anthropology: A Four-Field Reader, McGraw-Hill 2003
Whether or not a mother breastfeeds her child, and for how long, is influenced by cultural beliefs and societal restraints. Scientific research, including cross-cultural studies, show that nursing is not just beneficial for the child, but it improves the health of the mother, makes for more wholesome familial relationships and is good for the society as a whole.
The Inuit Paradox, Patricia Gadsby, Discover, October 2004
The traditional diet of the Far North, with its high-protein, high-fat content, shows that there are no essential foods—only essential nutrients.
Cell Phones, Sharing, and Social Status in an African Society, Daniel Jordan Smith, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 40(3), 2006
Although the economic dimensions of Nigeria's emerging cell phone culture are important, much of its cell phone-related behavior requires a social rather than an economic explanation.
Spoiled Rotten: Why do Kids rule the roost?, Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, July 2, 2012
American children are some of the most indulged young people in the history of the world. An understanding of our evolutionary past combined with ethnographic comparisons between the United States and more traditional culture shows this to be the logical extension of a long-range trend of delayed maturity. The more complicated modern society becomes, the longer it takes to achieve competency and autonomy.
The Invention of Marriage, Stephanie Coontz, from Marriage, A History, Viking 2005, Chapter 3
As social institutions, marriage and the family have taken on a variety of forms throughout the human past. Contrary to sweeping generalities, however, such as the patriarchal "protective theory" and the feminist "oppressive theory," each of which emphasized female dependence and subjugation to men, the archaeological, historical and anthropological evidence indicates that the way people organize their domestic lives has much more to do with the needs and contingencies of time and place.
When Brothers Share a Wife: Among Tibetans, the Good Life Relegates Many Women to Spinsterhood, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Natural History, March 1987 (Updated 2011)
While the custom of fraternal polyandry relegated many Tibetan women to spinsterhood, this unusual marriage form promoted personal security and economic well-being for its participants.
Death without Weeping, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Natural History, October 1989 (Updated 2011)
In the Shantytowns of Brazil, the seeming indifference of mothers who allow some of their children to die is a survival strategy, geared to circumstances in which only some may live.
Arranging a Marriage in India, Serena Nanda, Stumbling Toward Truth: Anthropologists at Work, Waveland Press, 2000
Arranging a marriage in India is far too serious a business for the young and inexperienced. Instead, the parents make the decision on the basis of the families' social position, reputation, and ability to get along.
Who Needs Love!: In Japan, Many Couples Don't, Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, February 11, 1996
Paradoxically, Japanese families seem to survive, not because husbands and wives love each other more than American couples do, but rather because they perhaps love each other less. And as love marriages increase, with the compatibility factor becoming more important in the decision to marry, the divorce rate is rising.
The Berdache Tradition, Walter L. Williams, The Spirit and the Flesh, Beacon Press, 1986, 1992.
Not all societies agree with the Western cultural view that all humans are either women or men. In fact, many Native American cultures recognize an alternative role called the "berdache," a morphological male who has a non-masculine character. This is just one way for a society to recognize and assimilate some atypical individuals without imposing a change on them or stigmatizing them as deviants.
The Hijras: An Alternative Gender in India, Serena Nanda, adapted from an article in Manushi, vol. 72, 1992
The transgender hijra of India form structured households and communities and, as a caste, fulfill roles that are rooted in social and religious tradition. As Serena Nanda notes, cross-cultural understandings such as this represent a challenge to the binary sex/gender notions of the West.
Where Fat Is a Mark of Beauty, Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1998
In a rite of passage, some Nigerian girls spend months gaining weight and learning customs in a "fattening room." A woman's rotundity is seen as a sign of good health, prosperity, and feminine beauty.
Kidnapping Women: Discourses of Emotion and Social Change in the Kyrgyz Republic, Noor O'Neill Borbieva, Anthropological Quarterly, 85, (1), 2012
As an alternative to having their marriages arranged by their elders, the kidnapping of brides by Kyrgyz young men may seem like a defiance of authority and a symbol of male oppression of females. On closer inspection, claims the author, kidnapping may also represent an affirmation of marriage as a "social institution whose main function is to strengthen social solidarity and ensure social welfare."
Rising Number of Dowry Deaths in India, Amanda Hitchcock, International Committee of the Fourth International, July 4, 2001
Traditionally, a dowry in India allowed a woman to become a member of her husband's family with her own wealth. However, with the development of a cash economy, increased consumerism, and a status-striving society, heightened demands for dowry and the inability of many brides' families to meet such demands have led to thousands of deaths each year.
The Untold Story of the Amputees, Carolyn Nordstrom, Global Outlaws, 2007
This is an account of women who, in spite of having been maimed by war, have taken control over their lives by creating a self-run banking system and by infiltrating the "informal economy" of Angola, in southwest Africa. As the "invisible center of gravity" of society, these women are keeping their families and their economy from falling apart.
Sex and the Society, Robert Epstein, Discover, 2012
The ratio of adult men to adult women who are available to marry has strong implications for the ease with which women can get an education, move out into the workplace and even for the stability of marriage. Generally speaking, when women are in short supply, the society tends to be more conservative, divorce occurs at a lower rate and a woman's place is in the home.
The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual, Richard Sosis, American Scientist, March/April 2004
Rituals promote group cohesion by requiring members to engage in behavior that is too costly to fake. Groups that do so are more likely to attain their collective goals than the groups whose members are less committed.
Understanding Islam, Kenneth Jost, CQ Researcher, November 3, 2005
As the world's second largest religion after Christianity, Islam teaches piety, virtue, and tolerance. Yet, with the emphasis of some Islamists on a strong relationship between religion and state, and with an increasing number of Islamic militants calling for violence against the West, communication and mutual understanding are becoming more important than ever.
Religious Terror and the Secular State, Mark Juergensmeyer, Harvard International Review, Winter 2004
According to the author, religious terrorism in the 21st century is a response to the globalization of the market economy which has eroded peoples' sense of national identity and brought about the secularization of society which, in turn, has resulted in individualism, skepticism and a loss of control. The assertion of traditional forms of religious identities, sometimes involving terrorism, is therefore an attempt to reclaim personal and cultural power.
The Secrets of Haiti's Living Dead, Gino Del Guercio, Harvard Magazine, January/February 1986
In seeking scientific documentation of the existence of zombies, anthropologist Wade Davis found himself looking beyond the stereotypes and mysteries of voodoo, and directly into a cohesive system of social control in rural Haiti.
The Great New England Vampire Panic, Abigail Tucker, Smithsonian, October 2012
A vampire panic spread through New England during the nineteenth century. Relatives of the deceased would exhume and violate corpses in order to prevent them from feeding on the blood of the living. Reasonable people—finding themselves in the midst of a tuberculosis epidemic that they did not understand—resorted to a folk system that offered an alternative—a choice—and their only hope.
Body Ritual among the Nacirema, Horace Miner, American Anthropologist, June 1956
The rituals, beliefs, and taboos of the Nacirema provide us with a test case of the objectivity of ethnographic description and show us the extremes to which human behavior can go.
Ruined, Michael Marshall, New Scientist, August 8, 2012
Recent studies of the correlations between climate change and social upheavals such as wars, famines and the collapse of civilizations indicate that temperature changes and droughts have played a significant role in human history. Perhaps the most important question now is—Will we learn from history or are we doomed to repeat it?
Why Can't People Feed Themselves?, Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins, Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, Random House, 1977 (Updated 2011)
When colonial governments force the conversion of subsistence farms to cash crop plantations, peasants are driven into marginal lands or into a large pool of cheap labor. In either case, the authors maintain their stand that the farmers are no longer able to feed themselves.
The Arrow of Disease, Jared Diamond, Discover, October 1992
The most deadly weapon colonial Europeans carried to other continents was their germs. The most intriguing question to be answered here is, why did the flow of disease not move in the opposite direction?
The Americanization of Mental Illness, Ethan Watters, The New York Times, January 8, 2010
According to some anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists, mental illness has varied in time and place much more than previously thought. American-led globalization, however, is undermining local conceptions of self and modes of healing and, says Watters, is "homogenizing the way the world goes mad."
The Price of Progress, John Bodley, Victims of Progress, Mayfield Publishing, 1998
As traditional cultures are sacrificed in the process of modernization, tribal peoples not only lose the security, autonomy, and quality of life they once had, but they also become powerless, second-class citizens who are discriminated against and exploited by the dominant society.
The Lost Tribes of the Amazon, Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian, March 2013
The contrast between the lifestyles of a few isolated Amazon Indian tribes, who are relatively well off and living harmoniously with their environment, and those indigenous peoples who have been contacted and assimilated into the modern world cannot be more striking. If the past is any guide as to the fate of contacted Indians, it shows their future to be characterized by environmental degradation, economic dislocation, widespread disease, cultural destruction and death. The only solution seems to be complete protection from outside influences.
“We Belong to the Land”: Samburu People's Legal Battle to Save Lands in Kenya, Sabrina Sameshima and Matt J. Stannard, Cultural Survival Quarterly, June 2012
A nomadic pastoral people, the Samburu of northern Kenya, are in a legal battle to keep their land. Even though the law is on their side, they have been attacked and driven out in some places by the police and much of the best land has been bought up by private owners or annexed by the government. In the purest sense, this is a struggle about tradition and autonomy.
Spirits of the Forest: Cambodia's Kuy People Practice Spirit-Based Conservation, Neal Keating, Cultural Survival, May 14, 2012
The traditional peoples of Cambodia have a spiritual relationship with their land that involves careful use of its resources with the idea of maintaining a lifestyle that has been successful for centuries. An international system of economic development threatens to destroy the well-being of their forests and their cultures.
Being Indigenous in the 21st Century, Wilma Mankiller, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Spring 2009
With a shared sense of history and a growing set of tools, the world's indigenous peoples are moving into a future of their own making without losing sight of who they are and where they come from.
Population Seven Billion, Robert Kunzig, National Geographic, January 2011
With the world's population rising by several billion from the current seven billion, inevitable questions arise as to how this will impact the quality of life as well as the condition of Planet Earth.