Community-Based Work and the Importance of Being Integrative – The Ganey Award and Video

In April I had the honor of receiving the Rodney F. Ganey, Ph.D., Faculty Community-Based Research Award. Given by the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, the Ganey Award goes to a Notre Dame faculty who has done collaborative work in the local community. For those interested in the details of that work, here is the press release – Daniel Lende Wins 2009 Ganey Award.

Neuroanthropology.net has played a central role in the community-based research I have done with my students. These include posts on using humor in recovery from breast cancer, a support group for women with HIV/AIDS, research to help redesign a local hospital waiting room, and the stories that US war veterans wanted to share about their everyday battles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two peer-reviewed articles have come out of the community-based research with my students: Embodiment and Breast Cancer among African American Women, and Community Approaches to Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission: Perspectives from Rural Lesotho. A great community guide, Underneath It All: Humor in Breast Cancer, was put together by the students, community members and myself, and is now used in a local hospital.

One of the best things about the award was that the Center for Social Concerns made this wonderful video with my community partners and my students. Here’s the YouTube link, but I also present it below as it captures why I do this sort of work.

I also want to share a written version of what I said at the CSC award dinner. No, no, not all the thank yous (there were plenty and all richly deserved), but a reflection on my own approach to my work.

I want to close by speaking to why the work I have done has meshed so well with the Center for Social Concerns.

At its core my work is integrative. Notre Dame had encouraged that integrative spirit. These five factors make that spirit a reality.

First is listening, listening to the person across the table. That is the start to doing community-based work and the start to understanding other ideas.

Second is the synthesis of intellectual and social problems. These are human problems, where compassion and involvement can matter as much as intellectual analysis or abstract policy.

Third is a push to make our research international and interdisciplinary, and not just local and field specific. Integration only happens by crossing boundaries.

Fourth is the combination of traditional publishing with other forms of scholarship, such as a community guidebook and electronic publishing. These forms of scholarship can reach many, many more people than a typical peer-reviewed article.

Fifth, being community-oriented, with an insistence that what we do is relevant to more than just the university. Some of the most challenging questions and even our best answers and outcomes can come from those people across the table, the people with whom we are lucky enough to work.

These five factors – listening to others, the synthesis of intellectual and social problems, making our work interdisciplinary, combining traditional publishing with other forms of scholarship, and having a community orientation – all matter. Together they make a tremendous difference in our lives as academics, students, and community partners.

Vidéothèque: Videos on Cross-Cultural Health, Sickness and Healing

The Vidéothèque : Santé, Maladie, Malheur is an absolutely incredible video archive on medical anthropology, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa. I started exploring it when it was mentioned as part of the trance video links, but it’s so rich it deserves its own post – well over 100 video clips that are freely available in Real Media packaging.

Alain Epelboin
Alain Epelboin

The collection has been put together by Alain Epelboin, who has also contributed the lion’s share of footage. Other film makers include Beatriz Soengas, Sylvie Heslot, Susanne Fürniss and Claire Lussiaa-Berdou. The collection is hosted through Réseau Académique Parisien.

Alain Epelboin is a doctor and anthropologist who runs the Labotoire Eco-anthropologie et Ethnobiologie, which is part of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. You can see a video of Alain discussing his work, as well as this informative article – both in French, as are most of the videos.

Some of the videos you can see include Ebola in Congo, this narrated documentary on the Aka of the Central African Republic and the Congo, Traditional Medicine, Culture and AIDS, and Mort et naissance de Masiki.

And here’s the entire list of the Santé, Maladie, Malheur videos.

What Is Social Anthropology? by Alan Macfarlane

I found the following video quite good – rather like getting to sit down in a tutorial and listen to a master speak. Your tutor is Alan Macfarlane, professor in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

If you’re interested in comparing the master class to the group document, here’s the Wikipedia entry on social anthropology.

Macfarlane’s most recent book is Letters to Lily: On How the World Works, where he brings together his work as historian and anthropologist to answer his granddaughter’s questions, What is love? Why are families so difficult? How do we get justice? How well does democracy work? Who is God? What makes us individuals? And why are we here in the first place?

You can get the full list of questions and some background and a taste of how he answers the questions at Macfarlane’s website.

Macfarlane has written many books, including The Glass Bathyscape: How Glass Changed the World (publishing in the US as Glass: A World History), written with Gerry Martin. The two published a synopsis of the book in Science, Beyond the Ivory Tower: The World of Glass. Macfarlance has also provided us a set of video clips on glass, its making and uses, which highlight the conclusion to the Science piece:

“The different applications of glass are all interconnected–windows improved working conditions, spectacles lengthened working life, stained glass added to the fascination and mystery of light and, hence, a desire to study optics. The rich set of interconnections of this largely invisible substance have made glass both fascinating and powerful, a molten liquid that has shaped our world.”

Also, with a hat-tip to Kerim at Savage Minds, Macfarlane has interviewed an extraordinary range of social scientists in his “Ancestors” page, from Frederick Barth to Roy Wagner, with full audiovisual files available.

Early Oliver Sacks and Neuroanthropology Today

Here’s a 1986 video with Oliver Sacks, where he discusses his work and his early book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

I found his description of his approach striking:

As a neurologist, as a physician one is concerned with patients and with people in jams, in predicaments. In particular predicaments that are being caused by their nervous system acting up, either their brain, their spinal cord, their peripheral nerves, maybe some disease, maybe some damage. As a neurologist you want to find out what exactly is the matter for the nervous system and what you can do about it, but you are equally concerned with the effect of this on the person, how it may alter their world, their inner experience and if need be, how they can cope best, live and survive in an altered world. And so this way you have to be equally sensitive and equally knowledgeable about the anatomy and the chemistry of the nervous system but also to all the things that make a life and make a world for an individual… One is rooted in the neurosciences at one end and in psychology and in phenomenology and in just what it is to be a person.

In some ways the patients I write of can seem very remote from ordinary life and from normality. But in other ways I think one can… I think as a physician one has to be able to, one has to try to imagine what it is like for them and enter into their situation and their world and relate it to one’s own.

That same impulse inspires neuroanthropology—the bringing together of our nervous systems, individual experience and coping, and our surrounding world, the consideration of the things that make a life. That really is the core of it.

What has changed in the twenty plus years since Sacks spoke is that we are now in the position to take this impulse and direct it into our scholarship. Rather than individual cases and rare neurological problems, we can now speak of establishing a field of inquiry that addresses how we are human through this synthesis.

So what has changed to make this possible? I see the development of four areas as making our work possible. Take one of these four away, and we probably wouldn’t be speaking about neuroanthropology right now. These bases make possible what we now want to do.

Continue reading “Early Oliver Sacks and Neuroanthropology Today”

David Attenborough on the Tree of Life

There’s a beautiful, albeit animal-centric, video on the evolutionary ‘tree of life’ narrated by David Attenborough and produced by the BBC. I’ll embed the HD version below, but you can also go to the ‘Tree of Life’ website to find more.


According to the site’s blog, they’ve attempted to address the absence of discussions of plants in the interactive version of the tree:

We’ve already had some feedback about the lack of plants in the interactive tree. The key point is that what we’ve put up for now is pretty much the interactive version of the film. We used the same tools and data structures to build both. Obviously the film has its own narrative structure and logic, but the choice of species might make less sense when on its own in the interactive. This is the situation at launch but it will not be the case in the future.

The irony of a ‘tree’ without sufficient mention of plants is a bit rich, but it’s well worth a look. It’s a beautiful little animation and Attenborough’s voice makes me want to drink port and sit by the fireside, even though it’s about 90 degrees here and we haven’t seen rain in what feels like months…