UNIT: Anthropological Perspectives
1. The September 11 Effect on Anthropology, Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar, Middle East Report, 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.
2. The “It” Factor, Gary Stix, Scientific American, 2014.
Our ability to make tools and improve upon them and our capacity to engage in shared tasks, such as hunting large game animals and building cities may be what separated modern humans from our primate cousins.
3. Eating Christmas in the Kalahari, Richard Borshay Lee, Natural History, 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.
4. Tricking and Tripping: Fieldwork on Prostitution in the Era of AIDS, Claire E. Sterk, Tricking and Tripping: Prostitution in the Era of AIDS, 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?
5. Why Manners Matter, Valerie Curtis, New Scientist Magazine, 2013.
A crucial factor in human evolution has to do with the problem of getting close to others without sharing pathogens. Disgustologist Valerie Curtis shows that the solution to this problem has to do with good manners.
UNIT: Culture and Communication
6. War of Words, Mark Pagel, New Scientist Magazine, 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.
7. The Secret Ones, Matthew Bradley, New Scientist Magazine, 2012.
In the process of documenting the words spoken in a remote valley in Mali, a linguist realized that understanding the origins of language could tell a lot about the history of West Africa, including its slave trade and the way in which languages are born and evolve.
8. How Language Shapes Thought, Lera Boroditsky, Scientific American, 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.
9. Armor against Prejudice, Ed Yong, Scientific American, 2013.
Even subtle reminders of prejudice against one's sex, race, or religion can hinder performance in school, work, and athletics. Researchers have found new ways to reverse and prevent this effect.
10. Strong Language Lost in Translation: You Talkin' To Me?, Caroline Williams, New Scientist Magazine, 2013.
Recent scientific evidence has called into question the notion that we can tell a lot about people by watching how they move their bodies. If we want to truly know what people are thinking and feeling, we are much better off listening to what they are saying.
11. Vanishing Languages, Russ Rymer, National Geographic, 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.
12. My Two Minds, Catherine de Lange, New Scientist Magazine, 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 influence human social skills, the delay of brain aging, and the shaping of personality.
UNIT: The Organization of Society and Culture
13. The Evolution of Inequality, Deborah Rogers, New Scientist Magazine, 2012.
Humans lived in egalitarian societies for tens of thousands of years before the development of agriculture. Maintaining a level playing field was a matter of survival. Then, with agriculture, wealth, and authority became more centralized, and the more hierarchically organized societies eliminated the more egalitarian ones. A "survival-of-the-fittest" social structure is, therefore, not inevitable, but is a matter of choice.
14. Breastfeeding and Culture, Katherine Dettwyler, Reflections on Anthropology: A Four-Field Reader, 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 improves the health of the mother, makes for more wholesome familial relationships, and is good for the society as a whole.
15. Meghalaya: Where Women Call the Shots, Subir Bhaumik, Aljazerra, 2013.
In a far corner of India, a country where women usually cry out for equality, respect and protection, there's a state where women own the land, run the business and pass on their family names to their children. Meanwhile, it is the men who are asking for more rights.
16. The Inuit Paradox, Patricia Gadsby, Discover, 2004.
The traditional diet of the Far North, with its high-protein, high-fat content, and shows that there are no essential foods—only essential nutrients.
17. Cell Phones, Sharing, and Social Status in an African Society, Daniel Jordan Smith, Applying Cultural Anthropology: A Cultural Reader, 2008.
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.
18. You Can Go Home Again, The Wilson Quarterly, 2014.
Compared to times past, American parents have developed new and unique expectations regarding their relationship to their adult children. But the young have their own ideas about the matter, especially with respect to what it means to be free and autonomous.
19. Friends with Benefits, Lauren Brent, New Scientist Magazine, 2014.
Recent research shows that human friendship is of critical importance for the biological, psychological and social health of our species and the converse is also true: social isolation leads to stress, illness and death.
20. Friends in High-Tech Places, Michael Bond, New Scientist Magazine, 2014.
While, for the average U.S. citizen, the number of close, personal friendships is on the decline, the number of on-line friends, on the other hand, is on the increase. The debate as to the benefits and detriments of such high-tech human relationships is heating up—especially with respect to prospective robotic friends.
21. A Terrible Shame, Eric Posner, Slate, 2015.
In the distant past, when legal systems were rudimentary, shaming was a major source of public order. Now, thanks to the internet, a new kind of "small-town society" is being created in which everyone knows just about everything about everyone else, thereby establishing a new kind of control over personal and corporate behavior.
UNIT: Other Families, Other Ways
22. The Invention of Marriage, Stephanie Coontz, Marriage: A History, 2005.
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.
23. When Brothers Share a Wife: Among Tibetans, the Good Life Relegates Many Women to Spinsterhood, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Natural History, 1987.
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.
24. No More Angel Babies on the Alto do Cruzeiro, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Natural History, 2013.
During her thirty years of fieldwork in a shantytown of Northeastern Brazil, anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes has seen profound changes take place in poverty-stricken mothers' attitudes towards rampant infant mortality. Whereas at one time these women would resign themselves to their children's fate—and even withhold tender loving care from them so as to hasten the day they became angels, today there are fewer children being born and every one of them is cherished. The greatest single factor in these changes, says Scheper-Hughes, are the Brazilian government's anti-poverty programs.
25. Arranging a Marriage in India, Serena Nanda, Stumbling Toward Truth: Anthropologists at Work, 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.
26. Who Needs Love! In Japan, Many Couples Don't, Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, 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.
UNIT: Gender and Status
27. The Berdache Tradition, Walter L. Williams, The Spirit of the Flesh, 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.
28. The Hijras: An Alternative Gender in India, Serena Nanda, Manushi, 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 binary sex/gender notions of the West.
29. Where Fat Is a Mark of Beauty, Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times, 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.
30. Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part, Jenny Nordbert, The New York Times, 2010.
Some Afghan families have many reasons for pretending that their girls are boys, including economic need, social pressures to have sons and even the belief that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy. In any case, lacking a son, the parents may decide to make one up.
31. Kidnapping Women: Discourses of Emotion and Social Change in the Kyrgyz Republic, Noor O' Neill Borbieva, Anthropological Quarterly, 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."
32. Rising Number of Dowry Deaths in India, Amanda Hitchcock, World Socialist Website, 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 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.
33. Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, Mona Eltahawy, Naureen Chowdhury Fink, and Joanne J. Myers, Carnegie Council on Ethics & International Affairs, 2015.
The populist uprisings of “Arab Spring” in so many Islamic countries seemed to call for a democratic revolution. Left out of the equation in most people’s minds, however, was the simultaneous need for the elimination of what has been called the “trifecta” of women’s oppression by the state, the culture of the street and the misogyny within the home. In other words, says Mona Eltahawy, what began as a political revolution must also include a social and sexual revolution.
UNIT: Religion, Belief, and Ritual
34. The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual, Richard Sosis, American Scientist, 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.
35. Dark Rites, Dan Jones, New Scientist Magazine, 2015.
Rituals tend to follow a defined script. While the actions are often hard to make sense of in terms of cause and effect and, to the outside, they may seem to be utterly useless, they have the power to signal group membership and to create the social glue that binds people together.
36. Understanding Islam, Kenneth Jost, CQ Researcher, 2005.
As the world's second largest religion after Christianity, Islam teaches piety, virtue, and tolerance. Yet, with the emphasis of some Islamist's 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.
37. Five Myths of Terrorism, Michael Shermer, Scientific American, 2013.
Acts of terrorism educe strong emotions, a desire to explain the motives behind such awful deeds and a need to justify whatever action is taken against the perpetrators. The response to terrorism, in other words, may be just as irrational as the act itself.
38. The Secrets of Haiti's Living Dead, Gino Del Guercio, Harvard Magazine, 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.
39. Losing Our Religion, Graham Lawton, New Scientist Magazine, 2014.
The world is becoming less religious in the formal sense, a trend that seems to be related to prosperity, security and democracy. Yet, most of those who no longer affiliate with a particular religious institution still subscribe to some form of spiritual belief in a continuing effort to seek the comfort that organized religion provides.
40. Body Ritual among the Nacirema, Horace Miner, American Anthropologist, 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.
UNIT: Sociocultural Change
41. Ruined, Michael Marshall, New Scientist Magazine, 2012.
Recent studies of the correlation 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.
42. The Arrow of Disease, Jared Diamond, Discover, 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?
43. The Price of Progress, John Bodley, Victims of Progress, 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 became powerless, second-class citizens who are discriminated against and exploited by the dominant society.
44. Anthropology: The Sad Truth about Uncontacted Tribes, Rachel Nuwer, BBC News Online, 2014.
When isolated tribes make contact with the outside world, the typical result involves destruction of their traditional way of life, disease and death. With no existing international protocol to protect indigenous people, continued harm is inevitable.
45. Ecuador’s Paradise Lost, Christian Parenti, The Nation, 2013.
The efforts to save a forest have implications not only for the area's biodiversity, but also for the survival of indigenous culture, the ability of the Ecuadorian government to alleviate the poverty among its people, and the forestalling of the disastrous effects of worldwide climate change.
46. Saving our Identity: An Uphill Battle for the Tuva of China, Yuxin Hou, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 2013.
Stripped of their traditional culture and lifestyle by economic development which is being forced upon them from the outside, the Tuva face an identity crisis, a health crisis, and a population decline.
47. Blood in the Jungle, Scott Wallace, Smithsonian, 2014.
The sensational murder of a married couple trying to protect an Amazon rainforest points to an ominous trend: a worldwide spike in violence against environmental advocates and the creation of a culture of impunity with respect to the perpetrators.
48. Being Indigenous in the 21st Century, Wilma Mankiller, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 2009.
With a shared sense of history and a growing set of tools, the world's Indigenous people are moving into a future of their own making without losing sight of who they are and where they come from.
49. The Evolution of Diet, Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, 2014.
The transition from the Paleolithic way of life, in which our ancestors hunted for meat and gathered vegetables, to one with agriculture and processed foods, has had a lasting impact on human health. Questions arise, however, as to the degree to which humans have adapted to the changing circumstances or are simply going to suffer the consequences of abandoning the “paleo-diet.”
50. Population Seven Billion, Robert Kunzig, National Geographic, 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.
51. Happy Planet, Robert Adler, New Scientist Magazine, 2014.
With our current economic system becoming increasingly unsustainable, the future of humanity must involve a significant reduction, and perhaps elimination, of population growth, expansion of renewable resources, more energy-efficient modes of transportation, and living and working in compact and self-sufficient small towns.