Neuroanthropology

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Archive for August, 2010

The new linguistic relativism: Guy Deutscher in the NYTimes

Posted by gregdowney on August 31, 2010

ResearchBlogging.org
How does language affect thought and perception? It’s a question we’ve looked at here at Neuroanthropology.net on a number of occasions, but Prof. Guy Deutscher, offers a nice general survey of the current state of play in the research over at The New York Times in ‘Does Your Language Shape How You Think?’ Posts on language tend to attract a lot of traffic, so I’d encourage you to take a look.

Prof. Guy Deutscher
Prof. Deutscher is an accomplished linguist, who has written a number of general works as well as specialist works, including research on Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon and Assyria. Deutscher is honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester, and the article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, to be published by Metropolitan Books.

Deutscher lays out a number of different areas of research that suggest language affects thought, especially in the areas of gender, spatial perception, time, and colour perception, and suggests some areas where profound linguistic differences offer tantalizing possibilities for studying the subtle ways that linguistic practice can influence cognition.

Although I feel Deutscher is unreasonably harsh on Whorf, in part because some contemporary understandings of Benjamin Whorf paint him as a more radical linguistic determinist than I find him to be, the research Deutscher discusses is well worth considering, and it’s a nifty piece to share with our regular readers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Language | Tagged: , , | 17 Comments »

Our Top 100 Posts

Posted by dlende on August 31, 2010

Here are our top 100 posts – 10% of our overall content, given that we just hit 1000 posts.  For the nitpickers, I included some of our pages in the actual list of posts.  So there’s more than 100 in the table.  But for actual posts, it is 100!

One note – the stats are based on on-site visits as registered by WordPress.  The syndicated views are a different story, but WordPress doesn’t make it easy to tabulate those.  But the #1 post based on both onsite and syndicated views looks to be Greg’s recent “We agree it’s WEIRD, but is it WEIRD enough?”

Title Views  
Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone 37,405
Lose your shoes: Is barefoot better? 14,103
What do these enigmatic women want? 12,185
Wednesday Round Up #47: Obama Is A Neuroanthropologist! 10,704
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City 10,472
About Neuroanthropology 9,474
Cultural Aspects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 8,037
What’s the Dope on Music and Drugs? 7,100
The New Performance Enhancing Drugs 6,537
Be Afraid, America. Be Very Afraid: The Effect of Negative Media  6,507
Our Blessed Lady of the Cerebellum 6,489
Forever at War: Veterans’ Everyday Battles with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 6,337
Fear of Twitter: technophobia part 2 6,040
Synesthesia & metaphor — I’m not feeling it 6,036
Understanding Brain Imaging 6,000
The “Best of Anthro 2008″ Prizes 5,886
Video Games, Brain and Psychology Round Up 5,752
Talent: A difference that makes a difference 5,532
Silent Raves 5,462
Throwing like a girl(‘s brain) 5,435
The Genetic and Environmental Bases of Addiction 5,297
Trance Captured on Video 5,187
Conferences 5,038
Balance between cultures: equilibrium training 5,000
Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex 2 4,899
Life without language 4,877
Jeff Lichtman’s Brainbows 4,654
Encephalon #71: Big Night 4,461
Examples & Theory 4,460
The Encultured Brain: Why Neuroanthropology? Why Now? 4,438
We agree it’s WEIRD, but is it WEIRD enough? 4,398
Tobacco Worse Than Cocaine? 4,227
Poverty Poisons the Brain 4,210
Best of Anthro 4,120
Can Videogames Actually Be Good For You? 3,914
Sleep, Eat, Sex – Orexin Has Something to Say 3,647
Steven Pinker and the Moral Instinct 3,354
Popular Posts 3,287
Exporting American mental illness 3,267
Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail 3,263
Web Resources 3,257
Girls closing math gap?: Troubles with intelligence 1 3,235
Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex 1 3,160
Identical twins not… err… identical? 3,134
Dopamine and Addiction – Part One 3,013
Encephalon #48: The Usual Suspects 2,942
We hate memes, pass it on… 2,917
Is Facebook rotting our children’s brains? 2,886
MMORPG Anthropology: Video Games and Morphing Our Discipline 2,834
Four Stone Hearth #71: Australiana edition 2,815
Get into trance: Felicitas Goodman 2,553
Charlie Rose is on the brain 2,548
Thinking through Claude Lévi-Strauss 2,492
Good Sexual Intercourse Lasts Minutes, Not Hours, Therapists Say 2,480
Brain vs. Philosophy? Howard Gardner Gets Us Across 2,374
Cultural Neuroscience 2,366
How well do we know our brains? 2,357
Stress and Addiction: The Vicious Cycle 2,355
Brain doping poll results in 2,343
Brain School 2,300
Thinking to change your brain: Sharon Begley in the WSJ 2,289
Anthropology and Neuroscience Podcasts 2,268
Decision Making and Emotion 2,245
What makes humans unique? 2,217
Role of Emotions in Brain Function 2,214
Catching Happiness: Christakis and Fowler and the Social Contagion of Behaviors 2,200
The Relevance of Anthropology – Part 1 of the Best of Anthro Blogging 2008 2,190
Colour, is it in the brain? 2,165
Bad brain science: Boobs caused subprime crisis 2,164
The Flynn Effect: Troubles with Intelligence 2 2,147
The Legend of the Crystal Skull 2,094
Culture and Inequality in the Obesity Debate 2,068
The Sex Round Up 2,057
One Day at Kotaku: Understanding Video Games and Other Modern Obsessionss 2,049
Inside the Mind of a Pedophile 2,021
‘Innate’ fear of snakes? 2,011
Gravlee et al: Race, Genetics, Social Inequality and Health 1,997
Caught in the Net – The Internet & Compulsion 1,928
Evolution of altruism: kin selection or affect hunger 1,906
Why Do They Do It? Portrayals of Alcohol on Facebook and MySpace 1,851
Paleofantasies of the perfect diet – Marlene Zuk in the NY Times 1,842
How your brain is not like a computer 1,806
Sympathy for Creationists 1,791
Jean-Pierre Changeux, Gerald Edelman, and How the Mind Works 1,789
Psychiatry affects human psychology: e.g. bipolar children 1,760
Psychopharma-parenting 1,754
Subjectivity and Addiction: Moving Beyond Just the Disease Model 1,742
When Pink Ribbons Are No Comfort: On Humor and Breast Cancer 1,710
Andy Clark & Michael Wheeler: Embodied Cognition and Cultural Evolution 1,710
Righteous Dopefiend by Phillippe Bourgois 1,693
More on Brainbow 1,670
Daphne Merkin: A Journey through Darkness 1,656
Nature/Nurture: Slash To The Rescue 1,642
Raising IQ: Nicholas Kristof Meets Richard Nisbett 1,578
Genetics and Obesity 1,551
The Neural Buddhists of David Brooks 1,485
Equilibrium, modularity, and training the brain-body 1,431
Nature vs. Nurture and Sex: Why the Fight? 1,417
Cabbies’ brains 1,407
 Culture and Learning to Drink: What Age? 1,402
Neuroplasticity on the radio 1,395
Studying Sin 1,390
Hard Drinkers, Meet Soft Science 1,375
SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende 1,375
Red meat, Neandertals were meant to eat it 1,373
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was right… about adults 1,360

Posted in general | 2 Comments »

1000 Posts!

Posted by dlende on August 30, 2010

This is it, post #1000! Neuroanthropology is now the house of 1000 posts, a veritable host of long-tail zombie content sure to infect the entire internet. Well, at least those synergistic people who are still alive out there after surfing for too long.

Yes, it has indeed been the most shocking tale of neuroanthropological carnage ever seen!

All I can say is that Greg and I certainly didn’t anticipate this when we started this site in December 2007. It’s been a great ride.

Some stats for that time. According to WordPress, we’ve managed 858,400 onsite visits since then.

On top of that, we have over 1500 Google Reader subscriptions for neuroanthropology.net and another 380 through our old feed of neuroanthropology.wordpress.com. Throw in the people at Bloglines, and we have more than 2000 subscribers.

Alexa, the Web Information Company, ranks us as #599,463 in worldwide traffic. Sounds impressive, when there has to be millions and millions of sites out there.

But then you dig into the statistics. “Our data comes from many various sources, including our Alexa users; however, we do not receive enough data from these sources to make rankings beyond 100,000 statistically meaningful.” So, being number 600,000 just isn’t meaningful. Was it supposed to be?

Let us go to Technorati, a popular tracker of internet usage. They give us an authority of 587 right now. That sounds very authorative. Until you see that Huffington Post has the most authority. Uh oh.

So how about URL Fan, i.e., how popular is your site? They have us at #30294 out of 3,783,534 websites. We were just beat out by jcpenneycouponsfreeshipping.com for spot #30293. Darn.

How about our own analysis of success? Sorry, I’m busy! But go check out our old post, Neuroanthropology @ 500,000. I went into details there on our top posts, search terms, and more and Greg and I both reflected on what has made the site popular.

Just one last thing to do. Create a post for our top 100 posts. Go see what we’ve done!

Posted in general | 1 Comment »

Get the Syllabus – Biocultural Medical Anthropology

Posted by dlende on August 30, 2010

For those of you who are interested, here’s the list of readings for my class on Biocultural Medical Anthropology.  To make sure I had good articles, I drew on syllabi from other professors I really respect, and also dug into the latest literature.  I’m excited about this course!

I did cut out all the grading and policy details.  If you’re really interested in that, drop me an email.

Anthropology 5937: Biocultural Medical Anthropology

Prof. Daniel Lende, Fall 2010, University of South Florida

Content:

This course provides a comprehensive grounding in biocultural medical anthropology, which emphasizes understanding how health and healing are shaped by both biological and cultural processes.  This class will examine disease, illness, human biology, embodiment, public health, methods, and belief systems.  From the biology of stress to the biopolitics of medicine, students will engage in substantive discussion and read central pieces of the scientific and anthropological literature.  While the class is focused on biocultural dynamics, students will also cover the biological mechanisms of disease and applied biocultural practice.

Required Texts:

Wiley, Andrea & Allen, John. 2009. Medical Anthropology: A Biocultural Approach.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Nichter, Mark. 2008. Global Health: Why Cultural Perceptions, Social Representations, and Biopolitics Matter. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Knapp, Caroline. 1997. Drinking: A Love Story. New York: Dial.

Schedule of Classes and Readings

Week One

Aug 24: Introduction to Class

Book: None    

Aug 26: Biocultural Perspectives on Health & Disease

Book: Wiley & Allen, Ch 1-2

Reading:

- R. Hahn & M. Inhorn. 2009. Introduction. In: Anthropology and Public Health: Bridging Differences in Culture and Society, Second Edition. Pp. 1-31.

Recommended

- G. Armelagos et al. 2005. Evolutionary, historical and political economic perspectives on health and disease. Social Science and Medicine 61(4):755-765.

-A. McElvoy & P. Townsend. 2009. Interdisciplinary research in health problems. In: Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective, 5th Edition. Pp. 33-80.

-P. Farmer et al. 2006. Structural violence and clinical medicine. PLoS Medicine 3(10): e449.

-A. Kleinman. 2010. The art of medicine: Four social theories for global health.  Lancet 375:1518-19.

-S. McGarvey. 2007. Population health. Annals of Human Biology 34(4):393-396.

-R. Nesse. 2008. Evolution: Medicine’s most basic science. The Lancet 372: S21-S27.

Week Two

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Posted in Medical anthropology | 3 Comments »

Carol Worthman – Habits of the Heart Video

Posted by dlende on August 29, 2010

In the previous post Carol Worthman: From Human Development to Habits of the Heart, I covered two of Carol’s recent papers. Just after that I discovered a great lecture by Carol, where she covers her work on “Habits of the Heart: Life History and the Developmental Neuroendocrinology of Emotion Regulation.” So now you can see her in action!

This lecture was part of The Evolution Institute’s Risky Adolescent Behavior Workshop. You can see all the videos from the workshop at The Evolution Institute’s Viddler Page.

Posted in Developmental psychology, Embodiment, Emotion | 3 Comments »

Carol Worthman: From Human Development to Habits of the Heart

Posted by dlende on August 29, 2010

Carol Worthman, a mentor of mine at Emory University and a real leader in doing neuroanthropological research (even if she might call it “biocultural”), has two recent articles out that I really want to highlight.

The first is The Ecology of Human Development: Evolving Models for Cultural Psychology. Here is the abstract, part of a whole special issue in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology on the work of the husband-wife team John Whiting and Beatrice Whiting:

The Whiting model aimed to provide a blueprint for psychocultural research by generating testable hypotheses about the dynamic relationships of a culture with the psychology and behavior of its members. This analysis identifies reasons why the model was so effective at generating hypotheses borne out in empirical research, including its foundational insight that integrated nature and nurture, its reconceptualization of the significance of early environments, and its attention to biopsychocultural dynamics active in those environments.

Implications and the evolution of the ecological paradigm are tracked through presentations of three current models (developmental niche, ecocultural theory, bioecocultural microniche) and discussion of their related empirical literatures. Findings from these literatures converge to demonstrate the power of a developmental, cultural, ecological framework for explaining within- and between-population variation in cultural psychology.

The figure above is from this paper, and represents Carol’s own model for understanding human development. But the real point that Carol wants to make in emphasizing these three models goes as follows:

All of these models share a concern for how the cultural ecology of affect and affect regulation drive psychobehavioral development, competence, and well-being or health. Whoever has looked has found linkages among cultural practices, stress physiology, and emotion regulation. Note that each of these models foregrounds the development of emotion and emotion regulation and de-emphasizes classic knowledge acquisition. Although there are important reasons for this emphasis (Damasio, 2005), a reconsideration of what constitutes “knowledge” and more systematic investigation of the linkages between emotion and knowledge might prove valuable (588).

The second article is Habits of the Heart: Life History and the Developmental Neuroendocrinology of Emotion. This article was part of a special issue on Advances in Evolutionary Endocrinology in the American Journal of Human Biology. Here is Carol’s abstract:

The centrality of emotion in cognition and social intelligence as well as its impact on health has intensified investigation into the causes and consequences of individual variation in emotion regulation. Central processing of experience directly informs regulation of endocrine axes, essentially forming a neuro-endocrine continuum integrating information intake, processing, and physiological and behavioral response. Two major elements of life history—resource allocation and niche partitioning—are served by linking cognitive-affective with physiologic and behavioral processes. Scarce cognitive resources (attention, memory, and time) are allocated under guidance from affective co-processing. Affective-cognitive processing, in turn, regulates physiologic activity through neuro-endocrine outflow and thereby orchestrates energetic resource allocation and trade-offs, both acutely and through time. Reciprocally, peripheral activity (e.g., immunologic, metabolic, or energetic markers) influences affective-cognitive processing.

By guiding attention, memory, and behavior, affective-cognitive processing also informs individual stances toward, patterns of activity in, and relationships with the world. As such, it mediates processes of niche partitioning that adaptively exploit social and material resources. Developmental behavioral neurobiology has identified multiple factors that influence the ontogeny of emotion regulation to form affective and behavioral styles. Evidence is reviewed documenting roles for genetic, epigenetic, and experiential factors in the development of emotion regulation, social cognition, and behavior with important implications for understanding mechanisms that underlie life history construction and the sources of differential health. Overall, this dynamic arena for research promises to link the biological bases of life history theory with the psychobehavioral phenomena that figure so centrally in quotidian experience and adaptation, particularly, for humans.

In this second article, Carol is tying her work back into evolutionary theory. If the first took up more the cultural/psychological side, then here we are grounded in the mechanisms and ideas of biological anthropology. She writes here:

Given the evidence of gene-environment interactions and developmental effects discussed above, combinations of history and circumstance will condition the phenotypes generated from the genetic structure, and thus influence the impact of that structure on corresponding experience, welfare, behavior, and the balance of selective pressures upon genetic diversity. Such gene-environment interactions and their consequences for function and welfare deserve investigation across a wide range of human cultures and conditions. Such study bears exciting possibility for unlocking dynamics among culture, social conditions, the nature and distribution of social niches, and selection pressures operating on allelic variants (779).

Link to citation/abstract for Carol Worthman’s The Ecology of Human Development: Evolving Models for Cultural Psychology.

Link to citation/abstract for Carol Worthman’s Habits of the heart: Life history and the developmental neuroendocrinology of emotion.

Update: You can see Carol lecture on Habits of the heart: Life history and the developmental neuroendocrinology of emotion regulation here.

Posted in Developmental psychology, Emotion, Evolution, Human variation | 2 Comments »

Glory Days – Anthropologists as Journalists

Posted by dlende on August 29, 2010

Brian McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, has a great piece in the August 2010 newsletter of the Society for Applied Anthropology. Starting on p. 11 (the newsletter is a pdf), McKenna has a piece entitled “Doing Anthropology as an Environmental Journalist.”

He uses his 2002 article in City Pulse, Can Glory Days Return to Lake Lansing?, to discuss how he crafted a very effective piece of reporting that was also a very effective piece of public anthropology.

You just have to love how he uses a great hook at the beginning, and then seamlessly transitions to the broader “this is what this piece is about” while still maintaining relevance. Some great writing:

Lake Lansing just wants to be left alone. In the Prohibition Era, bootleggers raised hell in a house on stilts that sat in the belly of the lake – site of a men’s social club – while a lookout warned of an impending sheriff’s raid. By the time the police boat reached the moated fortress, all alcohol had been hurriedly dispatched into the lake through a trap door.

Over the years, the lake has imbibed more than its share of bad whiskey. Septage, arsenic, fertilizer, dog poop, gull dung, mercury and just about everything that people throw on the ground for miles around the 450-acre waterworld winds up in the lake. “If you spit on the sidewalk,” says Pat Lindemann, the Ingham County drain commissioner, “it goes into the lake.”

But what I really want to highlight in McKenna’s SFAA piece is how he demostrates how to connect core anthropological analysis with journalistic writing. He calls it using “The Anthropological Dozen.”

In every journalistic article I write I try to incorporate what I call “The Anthropological Dozen.” These questions help insure a muckracking result.

Very briefly, here they are: 1) holism (how do disparate phenomenon connect?); 2) fieldwork (from lab tests to participant observations); 3) What’s taken for granted (Did the Ojibwa help create this lake?); 4) culture (how is capital behind what’s behind); 5) cross-cultural justaposition (how did Indians and colonialists use the lake?); 6) Getting the native’s point(s) of view (Who are the natives? What are the ways in which the “native points of view” are ignored, omitted, or supressed?); 7) Contradictions and ideologies (Do people say one thing and do another? Are there dialectical tensions in the terrain of inquiry?); 8.) Origins and history (human origins, the origin of the state, the origin of a nation, the origin of a given institution, the origin of a name, the origin of a place. How have things transformed since the origin?); 9) epistemological critique (Begin with a “reification of names” in your analysis. Do names – like “Lake Lansing” in this instance – accurately capture the idea/object represented?); 10) conformity/resistance (what are the modes of resistance that the less powerful play?); 11) privilege the most powerless; and 12) analyze social change.

McKenna goes on in his essay to provide examples of these various techniques in action, and also to describe how he got the necessary information as journalist/anthropologist through interviews, library research, and the like. And all on a four day deadline!

Here is just one example, focusing on the writing part:

The colonialists originally called it Pine Lake for the stand of beautiful white pine trees on the east side of the lake – the largest stand in Ingham County. But the white pines were soon destroyed for their wood resources in the second half of the 19th century. According to Raphael, the biggest logging operation was conducted by a John Saltmarsh, whose name ironically revealed his intent. He “assaulted the ‘marsh’” in the winter one year, sending the logs over the lake ice on sled runners. They were stockpiled for export behind the new train depot. Saltmarsh also owned a picket mill, to make the fences that would set the enclosures around the new form of land division around Lansing: private property.

Notice how I translated academic parlance into civic voice. This is journalism as a public anthropology, a syncretism (McKenna 2010b). Think of it as converting ethnography into a good story. There are villains, dramatic tensions, metaphors and ample use of quotation to enliven the narrative.

Link to the City Pulse article, Can glory days return to Lake Lansing?

Link to the Society for Applied Anthropology August Newsletter

Posted in Applied Anthropology | Leave a Comment »

Foodspotting

Posted by dlende on August 28, 2010

I just came across a fascinating site worthy of some gourmet exploration. Foodspotting is a site that allows readers to upload photos of food linked to geographic information and also to short descriptions of the food featured in said picture. As they say:

It’s just about the food: It’s not about the place, the price, the surroundings, the crowd or the nutritional value — it’s just about good food and where to find it.

Good food can be found anywhere: We built Foodspotting to work in any city, small town or country from the start. It encourages exploration — trying new things vs. following the crowd.

So here I can find out what dishes people are recommending in Colombia. That mazorca in the photo here is one of my favorite street foods in Colombia – this one came from the Usaquen district in Bogota.

Belgium is there, a place I really enjoy traveling.

Or in my new home city of Tampa.

So go explore food over at Foodspotting

Posted in Food & Eating, Links | 1 Comment »

Join the Boob-olution!

Posted by dlende on August 27, 2010

Hat-tip to Savage Minds Around the Web

On a complementary note, especially for breast feeding at night, see our popular post: Cosleeping and Biological Imperatives: Why Human Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone

The Bump: The Inside Scoop of Pregnancy organization created the video. You can find out more about breastfeeding, including “10 Reasons Why Breastfeeding Doesn’t Suck,” over at TheBump’s breastfeeding page, which also has the clip. And they even have BumpTV.

Breastfeeding really does promote brain development and smarter babies! Here’s a very recent article by Elizabeth Isaacs et al. (2010): Impact of Breast Milk on Intelligence Quotient, Brain Size, and White Matter Development. You can get the pdf here; the abstract is below.

Although observational findings linking breast milk to higher scores on cognitive tests may be confounded by factors associated with mothers’ choice to breastfeed, it has been suggested that one or more constituents of breast milk facilitate cognitive development, particularly in preterms. Because cognitive scores are related to head size, we hypothesized that breast milk mediates cognitive effects by affecting brain growth. We used detailed data from a randomized feeding trial to calculate percentage of expressed maternal breast milk (%EBM) in the infant diet of 50 adolescents. MRI scans were obtained (mean age = 15 y 9 mo), allowing volumes of total brain (TBV) and white and gray matter (WMV, GMV) to be calculated.

In the total group, %EBM [amount of breast milk in infant's diet] correlated significantly with verbal intelligence quotient (VIQ); in boys, with all IQ scores, TBV and WMV. VIQ was, in turn, correlated with WMV and, in boys only, additionally with TBV. No significant relationships were seen in girls or with gray matter. These data support the hypothesis that breast milk promotes brain development, particularly white matter growth. The selective effect in males accords with animal and human evidence regarding gender effects of early diet. Our data have important neurobiological and public health implications and identify areas for future mechanistic study.

Posted in Relationships | 1 Comment »

Death metal, religion and the socialization of emotion

Posted by gregdowney on August 27, 2010

Photo by George E. Norkus


Over at The Immanent Frame, a website on religion, secularism and society supported by the Social Science Research Council (USA), Jim Robertson reflects on the presence of religion in Death Metal after a trip to Wacken Open Air (in Germany), the world’s largest music festival and ‘loud as hell’ according to its website.

Robertson’s piece, Death metal: A “pipeline to God”?, is well worth the read, if for no other reason that it will be an eye-opener for the non-metalhead to what these guys are screaming through the din. (One personal disclosure: Although I went through a phase of fascination with Canadian power trios with front-man shriekers that sounded like modern castrati — Rush, Triumph — and developed a now-mildly-embarrassing love of Supertramp, Aerosmith, and the Who, I was never really a native metalhead, so I can’t talk about these genres from any deep affection.)

I won’t rehearse all of Robertson’s arguments, but he basically asks why Death Metal and related genres are so obsessed with religion, from Satanic album covers to song lyrics that drip with Apocalyptic motifs to echoes of everything from neo-paganism to blatant anti-Christianism. It’s a great question because not every popular music genre, even iconoclastic subcultural genres, features religious imagery so heavily. One would probably have to move to something like gospel or 1970s reggae to find genres that were more saturated with spiritual symbolism (I have no statistics on this, only my own fleeting engagement with these genres).

Robertson explains:

What is fascinating here is the consistency with which black metal has pursued religious forms. Satanism is replaced, not by a basic materialist atheism but with almost anything else: Occultism, Nietzsche, paganism, mystical nazism. Such religious pluralism begs the question as to whether these are just new and interesting attempts at youth rebellion, or whether something more is playing itself out.

Robertson finds several reasons for the dominance of religious themes in Death Metal:

1) ‘Metal’s rebellious streak’ led to a backlash against attempts to censor or criticize these musical genres, most prominently efforts by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the mid-1980s. According to Robertson, the criticism actually hardened the resolves of many musicians to criticize mainstream religion, sparking very explicit anti-religious themes.

2) Extreme lifestyles among the musicians, a character of many Western popular artist communities, but featuring some extraordinary acts of violence, self-destruction and nihilism, especially among proponents of Scandinavian ‘Black Metal’ in the 1990s, Robertson discusses. In this sense, ‘Metal’s obsession with religion is part of its obsession with living at the limit.’ Robertson goes on to explain: ‘This concern with limit experiences explains metal’s obsession with religion. In its aspirations, metal parallels a kind of religious mysticism.’

3) Competition with mainstream religion to provide similar experiences, such as community belonging, emotional transcendence, and mystical experience, what one participant refers to as a ‘pipeline to God.’

4) Shifting philosophical and religious commitments within the community of Metal musicians, including a move away from Satanism toward various forms of paganism, ecological mysticism, and Nietzschean nihilism, reflect a groping to find a language to talk about these profound emotional-mystical experiences: ‘The constant grasping for new ideologies amongst the black metal scene, then, is an attempt to give this transcendental path discursive form.’

Robertson’s discussion is both colourful and insightful, but there are several dimensions I might add just to bring it into the Neuroanthropological fold. Borrowing some ideas from Simon Frith’s piece, ‘Towards an Aesthetics of Popular Music,’ I want to argue that Metal, like many musical genres, has a special role in educating emotion and moods among young people when they are trying to understand social interaction and their own emotions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Emotion | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

 
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