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Archive for July, 2009

Wednesday Round Up #74

Posted by dlende on July 29, 2009

So this week it’s the food crisis, then neuroscience and anthropology, and finally language. Enjoy.

I will be on vacation next week, so won’t post the Wed round up until Saturday August 8th. So you’ll just have to wait a couple days while we’re camping.

Top of the List

Vaughan Bell, A War of Algorithms
Mind Hacks provides overview and commentary on the latest in artificial intelligence and the potential to wreak war and the need for limitations

Adam Henne, Whale Relations
Looks like a good new blog by an anthropology, Nature/Culture, with a focus on the environment and anthropology. I had wanted to discuss this recent NY Times magazine piece on whales. Adam did it for me.

Peter Deeley, The Religious Brain: Turning Ideas into Convictions
Scribd article looking at how cultural beliefs actually work their impact on specific people

Kay Redfield Jamison, The Importance of Restlessness and Jagged Edges
The psychologist and author of An Unquiet Mind shares her This I Believe: “I believe that curiosity, wonder, and passion are defining qualities of imaginative minds and great teachers; that restlessness and discontent are vital things; and that intense experience and suffering instruct us in ways less intense emotions can never do.”

Ed Yong, Your Brain on Oprah and Saddam (and what that says about Halle Berry and your grandmother)
Or even the researcher himself – he found a neuron that responded specifically to him during the research, despite having never met the volunteer previously. But really, the change is from the idea of a single neuron encoding singular info to groups of neurons encoding info through patterns of activity

The Food Crisis

-Many thanks to Craig Hadley for highlighting these selections-

Grain, The Other “Pandemic”
It’s not just the financial crisis and swine flu sweeping the world – the food crisis is killing a lot more people

Bapu Vaitla et al., Seasonal Hunger: A Neglected Problem with Proven Solutions
PLoS Medicine article about what we can do about the main cause of acute hunger and undernutrition, seasonal shortages due to dwindling stocks, high prices, or scarce jobs

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Wednesday Round Up | 2 Comments »

Lose your shoes: Is barefoot better?

Posted by gregdowney on July 26, 2009

1984 Women's 3000 meter

1984 Women's 3000 meter

In 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics, the women’s 3000-meter final was marred by controversy when American Mary Decker fell after making contact with Zola Budd, a runner from South Africa who represented Britain (due to the boycott of South African sport).

Although Budd had been setting the pace, she faded to seventh in the end and was booed by the partisan LA audience (Decker would later say that she was inexperienced at running in a pack and, as the trailing runner, was responsible for their contact). Maricica Puica of Romania won the event, and Britain’s Wendy Sly took the silver in a final that was seared into my memory by the televised replays of a stricken Mary Decker, hip injured from her fall, shattered and crying on the infield.

In all of the drama, one of the things that left the greatest impression on me as a high school student and sometime athlete was the simple fact that Zola Budd ran without shoes, an almost unimaginable idea to me at the time. Budd was one of a handful of famous barefoot runners, including Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian marathoner who won his first Olympic gold in 1960 without shoes, Tegla Loroupe, the Kenyan women’s running legend and multiple world record holder, and Ken Bob Saxton, aka ‘Barefoot Ken Bob,’ a marathoner and guru to the shoeless.

I’ve been thinking about barefoot running for a while, oddly enough since I started writing about bare-knuckle punching in no-holds-barred fighting (or ‘mixed martial arts’ like the Ultimate Fighting Championship in its early days). Barefoot running, even more than bare-knuckle boxing, reveals the ways that very simple technologies, if used consistently enough, become part of the developmental niche of the human body, shaping the way that our bones, muscles, tissues, and nervous system develop.

Although this post is not strictly neuroanthropology, I thought I might share some of what I’m working on, in part because I’m interested to hear any feedback people have. In particular, this will focus on how hard it is to sort out what’s ‘natural’ when activity patterns, incredibly variable, are necessary ingredients in the development of biological systems. But also, as it will become clearer in the post, the ways that our nervous system adapt to different situations, such as having heavily padded feet or being barefoot when we run, illustrates well how even unconscious training is a form of phenotypic, non-genetic, adaptation.

Before I go any further, though, if you have anything to say in response to this, I would love to read it. This is my first attempt to put down some thoughts that will be in a chapter of an upcoming book…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Embodiment, general, Human variation, Skill acquisition, Sport | Tagged: , , , , | 53 Comments »

Public Anthropology by Biological Anthropologists

Posted by dlende on July 25, 2009

Skin A Natural History“Public anthropology” is often presented as primarily an effort of cultural anthropology. For example, the University of California Press Series in Public Anthropology focuses on ethnographies. Yet a broader public anthropology is inherent in its own description:

The California Series in Public Anthropology draws anthropologists to address major issues of our time in ways that readers beyond the discipline, find valuable. Many anthropologists write on narrow subjects in self-contained styles that only coteries of colleagues appreciate. The Series strives, instead, to analyze important public concerns in ways that help non-academic audiences to understand and address them.

Rob Borofsky echoes this broad conception when he writes, “Public anthropology seeks to address broad critical concerns in ways that others beyond the discipline are able to understand what anthropologists can offer to the re-framing and easing–if not necessarily always resolving–of present-day dilemmas.”

Biological anthropologists do public anthropology. They write for broad audiences and address social problems and public concerns. Their books move from the very body we live in to the importance of human variation, the origins of violence to assumptions about human nature and reproduction. Biological anthropologists have provided advice and information on caring for your child, looked at how our present-day environment can shape human health and behavior, and shown how to engage in primate conservation.

Here are those books, the ones that show public anthropology in action. The title links to the Amazon book listing. These books are recent, accessible, competitively priced, and compelling – all useful for increasing their public reach.

Public Anthropology Books by Biological Anthropologists

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (2000), Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species. Ballantine Books.
Hrdy “unblinkingly examines and illuminates such difficult subjects as control of reproductive rights, infanticide, ‘mother love,’ and maternal ambition with its ever-contested companions: child care and the limits of maternal responsibility.”
98% Chimp
Nina Jablonski (2008), Skin: A Natural History. University of California Press.
“This amply illustrated rhapsody to the body’s largest and most visible organ showcases skin’s versatility, importance in human biology and uniqueness… Penn State’s anthropology chair, Jablonski nimbly interprets scientific data for a lay audience, and her geeky love for her discipline is often infectious.”

Jonathan Marks (2005), What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and their Genes. University of California Press.
“So why should one venture through the 307 remaining pages of this book, if the main message is obvious from the start? I can see two good reasons. First of all, because it is fun… The second reason is that the subject of this book is extraordinarily important. Many scientists and physicians deal daily, in one way or another, with human variation and its consequences. However, only seldom do we have the time to reflect on the assumptions underlying many concepts, even apparently simple ones, in this area.”

James J. McKenna (2007), Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping. Platypus Media.
“Cosleeping is one of the most delicious experiences in parenting, and Dr. McKenna’s carefully researched and thoughtful advice separates the myths from the marvelous reality.”

Dale Peterson & Richard Wrangham (1997), Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. Mariner Books.
“Contradicting the common belief that chimpanzees in the wild are gentle creatures… they suggest that chimpanzee-like violence preceded and paved the way for human warfare.”

Meredith Small (1999). Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. Anchor.
“How we raise our children differs greatly from society to society, with many cultures responding differently to such questions as how a parent should respond to a crying child, how often a baby should be nursed, and at what age a child should learn to sleep alone… [This book] will be especially meaningful to those swept up in the wild adventure of parenting.”

E.O. Smith (2002). When Culture and Biology Collide: Why We Are Stressed, Depressed and Self-Obsessed. Rutgers University Press.
“This book will be completely accessible to laypersons, and yet equally thought provoking for scientists.”

Karen Strier (1999), Faces in the Forest: The Endangered Muriqui Monkeys of Brazil. Harvard University Press.
This book “outlines the fight against extinction of the wooly spider monkey. Muriquies remain one of the most endangered primates, but the detailed profile drawn up by the author and her fellow researchers has provided crucial information in their fight for survival. In all areas Strier has carried out impressively thorough and precise research, outlined here in a very readable form, accessible to specialist and laymen alike.”

Other Recent Popular Books by Biological Anthropologists

Why limit ourselves to just eight? After all biological anthropologists have written many popular books. Here is a wider listing, ones that might not hew to a strict definition of “major issues” and “critical concerns” that comes with public anthropology. But these are certainly books that interest a broad public.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Applied Anthropology, Evolution, Human variation | 5 Comments »

Brain, Dance and Culture

Posted by Paul Mason on July 24, 2009

slide2_Paul H Mason_copyright 2009

“Dance is created by the embodied brain, influenced by culture and shaped and inspired by our relationship to and our perception of the environment” (Mason, 2009:28). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Cognitive anthropology, Ethnography, general, Play, Psychological anthropology | 7 Comments »

Engaging & Dispatching Memetics

Posted by dlende on July 24, 2009

Engaging Anthropology
I am reading the book Engaging Anthropology: The Case for a Public Presence by the anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen. Quite enjoying it – definitely recommended.

I’ve just finished his section on Memetics and the Anthropologists. He systematically dismantles meme theory from an anthropological point of view, just like Greg did in his post, We Hate Memes, Pass It On. (Greg’s version is snarkier…) Eriksen also ties in the popular success of meme theory to a consideration of how anthropology can gain public relevance. This description resonates with much that we do here on this site.

Memetics may be beyond salvation as a theoretical project. However, it raises a few questions which are just right for anthropology seen as an endeavour of public relevance. It sees human culture as part of nature yet rejects the simplifications of human sociobiology, and it asks highly pertinent questions about cultural transmission, cultural diffusion and cultural change. The notion of contagion is useful and has not been properly explored in cultural studies, including anthropology.

But – I repeat- without an understanding of the human subject, no advance will be made, and of course, context is everything. Curiously, in attempts at applying memetics, the biology itself seems to suffer. In Ingold’s words, the genotype exists ‘in the mind of the biologist’ (Ingolg 2000: 382). The ambition of offering a simple and straightforward analytic account of the human mind has led to an untenable abstraction (62-63).

Eriksen pushes us to make generalizations and to take cross-cultural analysis seriously, to examine these big questions of cultural change and diffusion. But he ties that into a grounded understanding of the person, the human subject. Those subjects, or people, are always found in specific contexts, and these local environments help shape culture and subjectivity (beyond the generalizations of, say, contagion). Biology comes in as a crucial mediator here, from helping to understand the contours of cultural change to being a crucial player in the relations of subject and environment. At least that is how I read it. Memetics fails because it is not anthropological, neither grappling with the rich tradition of research on cultural change and meaning nor with the actual realities of people and their lives.

Eriksen then relates his analysis of memetics and anthropology to a larger public project.

The lesson from the experiment of memetics is that we have to do better: those of us who feel that memetics is insufficient have to come up with a better alternative than merely stating that things are more complicated than this. Saying ‘things are more complicated’ is like having endless meetings to avoid making a controversial decision.

The anthropologist’s account of human nature has to be holist – it must include the recipe, the ingredients, the oven and the cook – and it must supersede the conventional culture/nature divide. Looking in the direction of biology, it is likely to find more by way of inspiration in ecology than genetics. It must also take human experience seriously as an area of enquiry. These general delineations notwithstanding, several paths are possible and might shed light on the human condition. The field is open: with a handful of exceptions, there have been few attempts since the Second World War to develop a theory of human nature which draws on biological knowledge without succumbing to the temptations of easy fixes (63).”

Just to be clear, by recipe, ingredients, oven and cook, Eriksen means DNA, development, the environment, and subjectivity (or an actor). So I would certainly agree with a holistic approach that supersedes the conventional culture/nature divide. In biology, I actually hope that both ecology and genetics play a role. But I would point out that neuroscience is actually the closest to many of the areas that interest him as an anthropologist – experience and behavior, interactions with the environment, possible biological dynamics that help shape culture, and so forth. In other words, neuroanthropology.

To be honest, neuroanthropology probably has a branding problem, rather like cognition and culture. The term doesn’t shout out “public relevance.” But as a site to explore the proper combination of recipes, ingredients and cooks, and to gain an online presence, well, it’s a good start. Next stop, a theory of human nature. Right?

In any case, here’s the Google Book link to Engaging Anthropology. The “Memetics and the Anthropologists” section starts on page 57. Just do a search for memetics; it looks like you can read the entire section online to get Eriksen’s excellent analysis of the weaknesses of memetics.

And for more on Thomas Hylland Eriksen, he is a professor at the University of Oslo. He also runs a rich website called Engaging with the World, where you can see how he’s put his words into practice.

Posted in Applied Anthropology, Cultural theory | 6 Comments »

Wednesday Round Up #73

Posted by dlende on July 22, 2009

This week we’ve got synesthesia and drug categories, alongside the top selections and the anthro and neuro placeholders.

Top of the List

Aaron Traister, It’s Hot! It’s Sexy! It’s … Marriage!“Am I the only person who actually enjoys being hitched these days?”
A funny read with a substantive point, well, at least for this married guy.

Petra Boynton, The New Scientist, Female Ejaculation, and Six Things Science Has Taught Us about Sex
“The problem with the New Scientist piece and scientific research that focuses purely on the physiological is it taps into the women-are-mysterious narrative that unhelpfully underpins so much media coverage. “

Lindsey Tanner, Kids’ Lower IQ Scores Linked to Prenatal Pollution
Not good news. And of course pollution is unequally distributed in the environment.

Lauran Neergaard, Unraveling How Children Become Bilingual So Easily
Good summary of language learning by an AP journalist

Natalie Angier, When ‘What Animals Do’ Doesn’t Seem to Cover It
An informed discussion of what the term “behavior” actually means

Ed Yong, Why Information Is Its Own Reward – Same Neurons Signal Thirst for Water, Knowledge
I’m thirsty just thinking about it!

Cathryn Delude, Adult Brain Can Change within Seconds
“The brain is constantly recalibrating the connections through short-term plasticity mechanisms.” Or more provocatively, where already established connections meet with already established sociocultural phenomena?


David Eagleman, Synesthesia
Actually the lab page of the Baylor neuroscientist – but what I want to highlight is the video on synesthesia about half way down the page.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Wednesday Round Up | 2 Comments »

Top Ten Ways for Anthropologists to Make A Difference

Posted by dlende on July 17, 2009

(1) Critique. Our default position, but sometimes it does work. (Just not as well or as often as we hope.)

(2) Develop basic knowledge of problems. Rather than keeping to analysis, embrace our role as being able to speak directly about the causes and consequences of significant problems.

(3) Investigation. Take critique and go after something that matters to the public, whether that’s a community or the effects of a misguided policy.

(4) Advocacy. Use our understanding and our position as scholars to help advocate for change, to both represent the local point of view and to speak from our status as an expert. (Yes, expert – that research you did and the degree you have help grant that in the eyes of others.)

(5) Involve the community in your research. Besides making for better research and applied outcomes, including the community in your work yields direct and indirect benefits, through salaries, skill development, idea exchange and more.

(6) Have concrete community or applied outcomes. Start by making these outcomes a goal from the beginning, along with more traditional outcomes like peer-reviewed articles. Then do community-based research to make sure your applied outcome is relevant.

(7) Focus on developing or changing policy. Yes you can. As anthropologists we know plenty about unintended consequences, we also know a lot about what works locally. Put that to use.

(8) Get the word out. Communicate your work in an effective and popular way. Write an op-ed or a blog post or, gasp, a popular book. Remember that communication can also be informal. As anthropologists we can act as conduits, communicating among different constituencies in the field, different parties at the negotiating or policy table, and even different fields’ perspectives on a problem.

(9) Help develop organizations. Organizations do make a difference. They can bring people together in common cause and provide a framework through which to work. Indeed, organizations can take all the points made here and ramp them up to the next level.

(10) Create interventions or programs. Have a good idea? What about your community partners? Then try it out to see if it might work. Other fields do it. We can too. Do some investigation, get community involvement, and also check on what other fields recommend. And then see if our anthropology ideas make a difference. Remember, it’s always good to evaluate how effective your program is!

Posted in Applied Anthropology | 11 Comments »

Four Stone Hearth #71: Australiana edition

Posted by gregdowney on July 15, 2009 is pleased to bring you the 71st edition of Four Stone Hearth, the itinerant swagman of the anthropology world, with blog entries herded together from all corners of this immense anthropological territory. A Hot Cup of Joe will be hosting the next edition in two weeks time, so, if you couldn’t get your listing into this edition, and don’t want to just stick it in the comments, get in touch with Joe.

Because I need to study for my citizenship test for my adopted home, Australia, I thought I would lace some crucial Australiana into this particular carnival. Apologies, but that’s the best theme I’ve got, so if you want to skip the extraneous info about Oz, just ignore the text in the block quote boxes and stick to the main trail.

Really old humans

At, editor Tim Jones offers an extended discussion of the use in archaeology of ‘optimal foraging’ theory to understand the range and foraging catchment of a Spanish community around 10-14,000 BP. Jones especially likes the detailed discussion of the contemporary geography and flora, as well as the way that an analysis of the costs and benefits of butchering was included in the estimates of foraging area. The original article by Marín Arroyo is also available if you want to check out both the published version and the online discussion.

John Hawks is on the trail of a bone, possibly a biped femur, that can be seen in a photo of the Toumaï skull, Sahelanthropus remains. Hawks flagged that there would be more discussion of this femur in May, but points out the difficultly involved in judging whether the femur is evidence of bipedalism or its absence.

Geoff Manaugh at the BLDGBLOG offers ‘Origin and Detour,’ a musing on the political and even emotional implications of new ‘into Africa’ theories that human originated, not in iconic African locales like Olduvai, but rather in Europe and then later migrated to Africa. The post is inspired by a story in New Scientist.

The dingo was likely brought to Australia by human immigrants from Southeast or South Asia, as late as 4000 years ago; no dingo remains are found in Tasmania, which was last connected to mainland Australia 12,000 years ago. The dingo likely caused the extinction of what were later referred to as the Tasmanian Tiger and the Tasmanian Devil from mainland Australia. The longest fence in the world stretches across the states of Queensland and South Australia to try to keep dingoes away from sheep herds: 5531 kilometres.

Brains and culture

Babel’s Dawn author, Edmund Blair Bolles, discusses a recent article on speech evolution Francisco Aboitiz and Ricardo Garcia, published in Reviews in the Neurosciences. The article shifts the focus away from isolating the single trait that distinguishes human speech from other species’ capacities and proposes a network rather than isolated brain area as responsible for the fundamental incommensurably of language with other biological phenomena. The article, and Bolles’ reflection, focuses especially the arcurate fasciculus which links Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas and has been offered as a possible neural area responsible for working memory.

Edmund also covers how over-heated coverage of some recent research becomes: monkeys have grammar!

Nicolas Baumard at Cognition and Culture discusses the Visual Word Form Area in the brain and writing, arguing that the ‘neuronal recycling hypothesis’ of Dehaene and Cohen suggests that cultural forms make use of evolutionary older brain circuits and inherit their constraints, shaping how something like writing system can work.

Although not strictly anthropology, Neuroanthropology loves the blog Mind Hacks. Vaughan covers some of the best neuroscience research, often with fascinating implications for the study of human diversity, evolution and other anthropological issues. Two recent pieces on the genetic correlates of schizophrenia, one on popular misunderstandings of ‘heritability’ and another on the possible role of copy number variations, are great examples of why Vaughan is one neuropsychologist who doesn’t leave us pulling out our own hair.

There are an estimated 40 million kangaroos in Australia (more than people). Unlike other ruminants, like cattle, kangaroos emit no methane, converting the hydrogen by-product of fermentation into acetate, which they can then use as food. Some scientists are trying to transfer the bacteria responsible for this conversion to cows to cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientific and not-so-scientific worldviews

Razib Khan at Gene Expression runs some comparisons on attitudes toward and awareness of evolutionary theory and religious faith, drawing on a recent Zogby survey commissioned by the Discovery Institute (discussed by John Lynch on his blog, A Simple Prop) and the 2005 World Values Survey. Khan discusses the contradicting attitudes toward evolution in different countries, offering some historical-political explanations for diverging relations between religiosity and acceptance of evolution.

A scientific revolution happened in medicine in the 16th Century alongside the Enlightenment revolution in physics and astronomy, with Galen’s classical anatomy under attack from a number of experimental physicians. Eric Michael Johnson of the Primate Diaries argues that the intellectual independence and spirit of experimentation was more a quality of craftsmen then of the hidebound, conservative scholastic classes.

The deep and sinister link between Charles Darwin and Adolf Hitler is exposed by Eric Michael Johnson at Primate Diaries. Okay, actually it’s the opposite, as yet another crank strategy to try to discredit Mr. Darwin turns out to be full of, well, missing links, as the case for Darwin’s hidden eugenic agenda can’t stand up, on two or four feet.

Similarly Afarensis takes a close look at the Texas Social Studies Standards and discovers that they are flakier than those for science. Some of the board members seem to have real problems with activists and other uppity people being considered historically important.

Charles Darwin visited Australia near the end of the Beagle’s voyage. He spent about two months visiting in 1836, and although he was initially enthused about Sydney, found marsupials fascinating, and thought highly of the Aboriginal people, whom he noticed were being depleted, his mood soured.
‘On the whole I do not like New South Wales. It is no doubt an admirable place to accumulate pounds and shillings; but heaven forbid that I should live where every man is sure be somewhere between a petty rogue and a bloodthirsty villain.’ 
(Darwin to Henslow)

Walking and camping in ruins

On strolls through the ruins of Umm al-Jimal, Umm Cais and other sites in Jordan, Colleen Morgan of Middle Savagery sees the traces of so much excavating yet to be done. Her archaeological travelogue fills in some of the details that we don’t often see in excavation reports: the surrounding towns, the well-meaning but ill-conceived attempts at reconstruction, the jumble of spaces between and traces of what lies outside the areas that get carefully excavated. Also check out the earlier post for her trip.

Magnus Reuterdahl returns to the elk hunting camp where he spent days in his youth with his father, realizing that what he was told were ruins of a fallen church are more likely cairns. Although not as romantic as tales of churches abandoned during the plague and platforms for ancient trials, Magnus helps explain where Testimony of the Space originates.

Although Australia has a reputation for being settled by convicts, from 1788 to 1856, 157,000 convicts were sent to Australia. This is only one-third of the total sent to the United States.

They’re watching us (and taking pictures)

Don’t look now, but you’re been watched. At Old Dirt, New Thoughts, Brian shares images from Google Earth of his camp at Aniakchak Bay in Alaska.

And it’s been happening for a while, as Martin Rundkvist of Aardvarchaeology shows, with a release of 1950s Aerial Pictures of the Swedish Countryside that are now available on the internet.

Although Australia is 50% larger than Europe, it has only approximately 22 million people, making it the lowest population density of any country in the world (less than 3 people/sq. km on average). More than 85% of Australians live within 50 kilometers of the coast, which stretches for 50,000 km and has more than 10,000 beaches. The largest cattle station in Australia, the Anna Creek Station, covers 34,000 sq kms. (6 million acres). Because that area is so mind-bendingly huge, I must now compare it to some other equally unimagineable geographical entity: it’s about the size of Belgium!

Objects and artifacts: material culture from baskets to bare feet

Tim at Remote Central provides a massive discussion of basketry and weaving, moving from some video and discussion of the integration of decorative kachina motifs into basketry among the Hopi to speculation based on circumstantial evidence about how old weaving techniques might be in human history.

On the blog Material Culture, Haidy posts a discussion of a remarkably civil disagreement between scholars on how to approach material culture, pitting Daniel Miller against Martin Holbraad, advocate of ‘ontography.’ Miller adds a thoughtful response, but you can also follow some of the thinking to an earlier entry from May on Savage Minds by Olumide Abimbola.

Alex at Golublog gives us notes and photos from Kenmaity Chicken in a discussion of the difference between tourists’ and ethnographers’ vision, but also about the slippery boundaries around an ethnographer and the missing details when just living in a fieldsite, and doing things like eating chicken with friends under posters of small children with flying chicken parts.

Recent research on running by our hominid ancestors and high incidence of injury among contemporary runners has led to a series of articles on the benefits of running barefoot. Zinjanthropus throws a bit of cold water on this particular brand of ‘paleo-nostalgia.’ (I’ve got a longer post on the ‘throw out your shoes’ movement on the way, so check back in a couple of days.)

Looting Matters carries an update on objects stolen from Iraqi museums that have wound up at auctions and ongoing efforts to track, identify and return these artifacts. David Gill includes a number of important links on the subject.

Ryan Anderson at Ethnografix pays back a bit of his own ‘intellectual debt,’ especially for his early interest in photography, to the documentary photographer Dorthea Lange. It’s only a brief post, but it links on to some moving images.

Mathilda’s back and she’s noticing mustaches on Egyptian statues. The video is here.

In a short post that ranges far, Centauri Dreams author Paul Gilster discusses new efforts to increase the longevity of digital storage, a key technology not only for long-range space flight but also for a ‘planetary backup plan’ in case either external disaster or internal conflict cause humanity to slip into another Dark Age. As Gilster points out, many of the new information storage technologies we now rely upon are not nearly as durable as vellum, nor can we be certain that future archaeologists will know how to access materials that we store electronically, even if water, magnetism or other degrading agent doesn’t intervene in the meantime.

Vegemite, a paste made of yeast extract and made famous outside Australia by Men at Work’s song, ‘Down Under,’ is possibly one of the most vile edible substances on the planet (alright, maybe that’s not a ‘fact’). Kraft is introducing a new recipe for a second version of Vegemite this month (the original was created in 1923 – I’ll keep you posted how this ‘new recipe’ thing goes… it’s supposedly more ‘buttery’). The yeast extract is a by-product of beer manufacturing, so, technically, yes, Australian school children are routinely fed beer by-products from an early age.

Social relations, others and animals

Never one to refuse the horns of the bull, Max Forte at Open Anthropology, continues to dig into the moral and political grounding of the Human Terrain Systems project.

Greg Laden compares mail order Korean and Russian brides (the latter apparently getting some ad space on to the situation of foragers and villagers in some parts of the Congo, where foraging woman have the option of engaging in ‘hypergyny,’ or ‘marrying up’ (in terms of money, status, power, and other resources). What’s especially interesting is that Greg links the phenomenon to what he calls ‘gene stealing,’ where invading groups can actually gain environmentally crucial genetic immunities and other advantages out of the relationship.

Keith Hart at The Memory Bank posts a copy of a speech that he gave at the launch of the book, Working in Warwick: including street traders in urban plans. From the perspective of his long relationship to Durban, South Africa, he discusses how the informal economy works in the struggle between democracy and inequality.

Adam Henne points to a fascinating article about whales watching humans in The New York Times and discusses some of the implications for the moral lives of animals in human worlds.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, leading routinely to 95% voting rates in elections (failing to vote brings a fine if you do not have a valid reason for missing the election). Women gained the right to vote in South Australia in 1894; only New Zealand introduced women’s voting rights earlier in in the modern era. In 1901, all women (except Aboriginal Australians) gained the right to vote in the country.
Aboriginal Australians actually voted in the first Commonwealth Parliament election in 1901 at some out-stations, but a later legal ruling stripped them of their right. Federal voting rights were not truly restored until 1962, but they could not be compelled to vote like other Australians if they did not choose to enrol.

Book reviews and discussions

Tessa Valo writes a very thorough review of Assa Doran’s book on boatmen on the Ganges at, bringing up a fair set of critiques, but also describing in detail the account of relations of these workers to higher caste individuals and to the state.

John Postill offers a discussion of Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life in his own blog.

The only domesticated food plant that has been cultivated on an industrial scale to originate in Australia is the macadamia nut.

Announcements, media, links and other news

You Northern Hemisphere types are no doubt enjoying some time off, but that doesn’t mean everything’s stopped happening.

Mark Dingemanse announces the launch of the web page for the Language & Cognition group’s project, Synaesthesia across cultures. The group is looking for additional collaborators to ‘gather cross-cultural data on the forms and prevalence of synaesthesia.’ The pilot uses low-tech methods that are easy to replicate in the field.

Although she’s on vacation, Pamthropologist of Teaching Anthropology felt compelled by a video put together by students in cultural anthropology at Sussex County Community College to pull out the keyboard and post up the vid. It’s a Michael Wesch (of Kansas State ethnographic video) style presentation of their own ethnographic research on other students like themselves.

Here at Neuroanthropology, Daniel’s posted two recent items on a pair of our favourite anthropologists, one on Tim Ingold and another a video clip on Paul Farmer.

If you’re interested in podcasts, see also the review of a series of lectures from Oxford at

Somatosphere’s taking some time off for summer travels, so Eugene put up the top ten most popular postings from that site from their first year of being online. Remember, if you haven’t read it, it’s new to you.
cane toad

The cane toad (Bufo marinus), native to the Americas, was introduced to Australia in 1935 to help stem cane beetles. This poisonous amphibian has since become an invasive pest, spreading as far as Western Australia. The toad is so prevalent that it is putting selective pressure on snakes in the areas it lives, causing small-headed variants, with mouths too small to attempt eating the poisonous animals, to become more prevalent.

Tooooo much time on-line makes you laugh at everything…

Lisa Wynn at Culture Matters has a short but fun post on a proposal by Princeton University faculty to ‘Lockheed Martin to identify irony and weaponize it.’

If you haven’t been playing along, you can catch the rolling game ‘When on Google Earth.’ If you can identify the archaeological site and the period of construction first, you get to set the next satellite-view challenge. Last entry as of this writing was WOGE 67 at Iconoclasm, which also includes the table of previous winners and locations.

And it turns out that other apes laugh too.

There’s even video at Discovery News.

Thanks especially to Tim Jones at and, of course, my collaborator Daniel Lende, for helping put these references together. Of course they bear no responsibility for the Australiana. And if we missed you, it’s not out of malice. Please drop us a line and we’ll make sure there’s a link to what you’ve been posting.


Posted in general, Links | 11 Comments »

Wednesday Round Up #72

Posted by dlende on July 15, 2009

This week it goes top, placebo, neuro, anthro, and Colombia.


Mo Costandi, Evolutionary Origins of the Nervous System
Starting with one common worm ancestor 600 million years ago

Colleen Morgan, The Utility of Various Social Networking Tools for Archaeology
Middle Savagery’s comprehensive coverage and tips applies to whatever field you’re involved in

Owen Wiltshire, Ethnographic Blogging
See what people have to say and join the discussion over at the Open Anthropology Cooperative

Greg Laden, The Synaptic Cleft Rap
B. Bobby Voltage and the Glut-Tang Clan lay it out!

Eugene Raikhel, Somatosphere: Our First Year and Greatest Hits
The medical anthropology blog outlines the best of its first year


Sharon Begley, How Placebos Really Work
Newsweek article on placebo effects. Nice update on recent research, but I disagree with this line, “it is possible to think yourself out of pain.” Not really – the procedure itself matters, not just the resultant thinking.

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Posted in Wednesday Round Up | 2 Comments »

Students Are Not Natives – So Why Do We Treat Them That Way?

Posted by dlende on July 14, 2009

Tim Ingold Black and White
I have been re-reading Tim Ingold’s Anthropology Is Not Ethnography (pdf), and this time was quite struck by his discussion of teaching and students near the end of his Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthropology.

As educators based in university departments, most anthropologists devote much of their lives to working with students. They probably spend considerably more time in the classroom than anywhere they might call the field. Some enjoy this more than others, but they do not, by and large, regard time in the classroom as an integral part of their anthropological practice. Students are told that anthropology is what we do with our colleagues, and with other people in other places, but not with them. Locked out of the power-house of anthropological knowledge construction, all they can do is peer through the windows that our texts and teachings offer them. It took the best part of a century, of course, for the people once known as ‘natives’, and latterly as ‘informants’, to be admitted to the big anthropology house as master-collaborators, that is as people we work with. It is now usual for their contributions to anthropological study to be fulsomely acknowledged.

Yet students remain excluded, and the inspiration and ideas that flow from our dialogue with them unrecognized. I believe this is a scandal, one of the malign consequences of the institutionalized division between research and teaching that has so blighted the practice of scholarship. For indeed, the epistemology that constructs the student as the mere recipient of anthropological knowledge—rather than as a participant in its ongoing creative crafting—is the very same that constructs the native as an informant. And it is no more defensible (89-90).

This description resonated with me because it captures how students are often treated in the university system, where students come to be civilized and taught. They are our natives to be colonized.

Ingold’s words also give voice to some of the alternative ways that I think about teaching – of working with students, of developing their desire to learn and engage, of working on skills that will stay with them long after a class. Hence my efforts at creating community-based work and online reports with them. For me, all of this is anthropological – a way of being, of seeing things, of learning, of comparing. Ingold writes:

Too often, it seems to me, we disappoint our students’ expectations. Rather than awakening their curiosity toward social life, or kindling in them an inquisitive mode of being, we force them into an endless reflection on disciplinary texts which are studied not for the light they throw upon the world but for what they reveal about the practices of anthropologists themselves and the doubts and dilemmas that surround their work. Students soon discover that having doubled up on itself, through its conflation with ethnography, anthropology has become an interrogation of its own ways of working (89).

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Posted in Ethnography | 7 Comments »


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