Teaching Anthropology in 2018

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Recently, a colleague contacted me with a very interesting and specific question. At the time, I was on the road and too busy to address his inquiry. I asked him to hold on until I had time to think about how to approach the question. After some thought, I decided to respond by penning this opinion piece to express my ideas. It seems that everything around us these days are changing, so the interest of academicians in wanting to “open up” to possible new approaches to the discipline is refreshing.  These are some of the main subjects that, in my opinion, would be interesting to those wanting to study the discipline.

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There’s Something in the Water



A recent death in the family necessitated a return to the United States after living abroad for the past ten years. A family member in Miami has a large home, so I stayed there for six months while handling family business. From the very beginning, I noticed a slight discoloration in the tap water in Miami. It was not a thick discoloration but more like a light “tea” color something akin to Chamomile tea. Of course, I made inquiries but everyone seemed to be accustomed to it. No one seemed to think that there was anything unusual about the color or the after taste of the water. Most people just passed it off and stated that they buy “purified” water anyway (whatever that means). All of this prompted me to look further into the situation of the water supply in the US and particularly the Flint Michigan water crisis.

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The Struggle for Power by Keith Hart

 

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Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Nations: Ten Rules of Change in the Post-Crisis World by Ruchir Sharma, London: Allen Lane, 2016; pp 464, £25.

Ruchir Sharma grew up between Mumbai,  Delhi  and  Singapore. He entered the world of international investment in the early 1990s as a specialist in emerging markets. He has travelled  a  lot  ever  since—around  one week a month on average. He was also an  active  journalist  at  first,  posting vignettes drawn from his travels in the mass media. In 2012, he published Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles which is said to have broken sales  records.  He  is  now  the  head  of emerging markets and chief global strategist  at  Morgan  Stanley  Investment Management in New York. In his earlier book,  he  reported  the  views  of  village barbers as well as celebrities, but in the present one, we just get the celebrities.

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Anthropology and the New Human Universal by Keith Hart

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World society today resembles nothing so much as the eighteenth century ancient régime that Kant had every reason to believe had been abolished by revolution. Now a rich, aging white minority inured to luxuries unimaginable two centuries ago presides over masses whose passivity is measured by their lack of spending power (Hart 2002). The institutional legacy of 5,000 years of agrarian civilization, Childe’s (1954) “urban revolution”, still weighs heavily with us. The traditional recipe for managing inequality, to inject as much distance as possible between rich and poor, is contradicted by a world being drawn closer together by the digital revolution in communications. Yet, rather than embrace as inevitable its demographic replacement by the young, darker, poor masses, the dominant white elite frantically erects further barriers against entry whose principle is apartheid generalized to a world scale.

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Gun Violence in American Schools

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There is something terribly wrong going on in American schools today. A silent epidemic is spreading throughout the country like a cancer. What does it say about a society when children and adolescents can get their hands on military grade weapons, somehow get them into their schools and gun down dozens of fellow classmates and teachers? Where are all the scientists (CDC, think tanks, privately funded research firms) and why aren’t they screaming from the top of the roofs about the dangers of such a phenomenon becoming “normalized”? When we step back and take a sobering look at the facts, we will find that we are closer to normalizing such behavior than we actually realize. Without a doubt, these horrific acts are becoming more frequent.

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The Bitcoin Controversy


Most people have already heard of Bitcoin. However, very few know what it is or how it originated. Many people know that it is some form of “cryptocurrency” but only a few know what that term means. Those of us that spend time on the Internet are familiar with the term but do not know that Bitcoin is just one form of cryptocurrency – there are others. Also, a lot of people are familiar with PayPal and other online payment platforms but do not associate cryptocurrencies in the same way. There is a lot of controversy but there is also a sign that cryptocurrencies may be here to stay.

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Brazil’s Dichotomous Treatment of Corruption – PT 3


Brazil had an opportunity to be a leading, democratic, Latin American country but lost its sense of direction. The political system designed to assist emerging countries grow and prosper does not work there. Instead of growing, as so many predicted it would, over the last seven years the country has fallen apart.

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Brazil’s Dichotomous Treatment of Corruption – PT 2


After the end of the Brazilian military dictatorship, the Liberal Front Party (LFP), Democratic Social Party (PMDB) and Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) dominated the government of Brazil. For more than 20 years, right wing and centrists autocrats controlled the government and struggled with enormous foreign debt, rampant hyperinflation, and the difficulties of transitioning to democracy.

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Brazil’s Dichotomous Treatment of Corruption – PT 1

Brazil is a country saturated with corruption. From the small, family-owned mom and pop neighborhood grocery store to the hallowed halls of the Senate and Congress, the country suffers from a cancer that consumes the bone marrow of its political elements, economic structures, and social relationships. The one-time rising star of Latin America and its fall from grace has been both dramatic and shocking. Political chaos, administrative mismanagement, and digressive legislation now overwhelm this once hopeful democratic republic.

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The Open Anthropology Cooperative: Towards an Online Public Anthropology

 

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We attempt here to explore the relationship between anthropology, social media and public engagement through a web-based network that we helped to found and manage. We argue that obscure social and technical dynamics are at work here, but academic anthropology today also poses significant obstacles for this enterprise.

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Preface to the Coming World Crisis


Trump’s election has accelerated talk on the left of the end of (neo-) liberalism and the rise of fascism in the West. The prospects for world war seem closer now. As when the 2008 crash is placed in history, comparison is usually with the 1930s. We need rather to develop a perspective on 1900-2100 as a whole. There have been enormous demographic shifts in that time: Europe had 25% of the world population in 1900, Africa 7.5%; Europe is predicted to have a 6% share in 2100 and Africa 40% — all the Americas, Europe and Russia, Australasia and Oceania together will then account for only 18%, Africa and Asia 82%.

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What Anthropologists Really Do


The Summary


The new anthropologist is a self-appointed people’s representative in the double sense of writing them up and acting as their advocate. And anthropology is a sort of democratic politics, informed by long-term, empty-headed exposure to strangers wherever they live and shaped by the main public issues of the day. This populism is hostile to elites, especially experts; it is anti-intellectual and definitely anti-scientific. The ethnographer is confident of making a difference simply by being open to what ordinary people think and do. There are no shared ideas in this discipline and whatever passed for theory before is now dismissed as a preoccupation with outlandish customs for their own sake.

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Mess in the Middle East


Many people throughout the Western world do not understand what is happening in the Middle East. Much of the confusion stems from a misunderstanding of the complicated relations between countries, land, people, and political objectives. One particular myth is these conflicts go back as far as the Crusades and the wars between Muslims and Christians. However, this is not the case for current modern day conflicts, wars, and the destabilization that has taken hold of the region. Although, one could argue that outside foreign influence is responsible for starting the present day chaos, still there exist conflicts between different Muslim countries, people and rulers.

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The Second American Revolution


Well, it only took about two-hundred and forty years but the greatest fear of the writers of the Constitution of the United States has taken place. A rich, capitalist class of billionaire Americans have finally taken over the government. It seems that political representatives from states all over the country have sold out their constituents and are peddling themselves to billionaire donors. Of course, many of us already knew that these interests had been working in the shadows to usurp the power of the Constitution and civil liberties for decades. But now, these interests have come out of the darkness into the clear light of day in full array and unbridled hubris.

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Religion and Economy – Part Two

Religion and Economy – Part Two


We need to understand better how we build the infrastructures of collective existence, money among them. How do meanings come to be shared and memory to transcend the minutiae of personal experience? Property must endure in order to be property and that depends on memory. Money thus expands the capacity of individuals to stabilize their own personal identity by holding something durable that embodies the desires and wealth of all the other members of society. Money is a ‘memory bank’ (Hart 2001 Money in an Unequal World; http://thememorybank.co.uk/book/), a store allowing individuals to keep track of those exchanges they wish to calculate and a source of memory for the community. Economic history is dialectical. Most people become quite anxious when they depend on impersonal and anonymous institutions. This is an immense force for reversing the historical pattern of alienation on which the modern economy has been built. How we combine the personal and impersonal aspects of money has much in common with religion.

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Religion and Economy – Part One

Religion and Economy – Part One


Religion belongs to a set of terms that also includes art and science. Science began as a form of knowledge opposed to religious mysticism, but is now often opposed to the arts. If science may crudely be said to be the drive to know the world objectively and art is mainly a means of subjective self-expression, religion typically addresses both sides of the subject-object relationship by connecting our inner being to what is outside. Religion binds something inside each of us to an external force; it stabilizes our meaningful interactions with the world, providing an anchor for our volatility.

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Capitalism, revolution and racism in the US and the world

Capitalism, revolution and racism in the US and the world


In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, we would do well to recall Hegel’s maxim that difference-in-sameness moves history. Max Weber used a similar argument to moderate the polarised Methodenstreit (Battle over Methods) between Berlin and Vienna about economics in the late 19th century. We would not be interested in the Greeks if they were the same as us, he wrote, and we couldn’t understand them, if they were completely different.

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Brexit: Where once was an empire


Separation from Europe has opened up the real possibility that the United Kingdom will break up. Scotland is already bent on secession and the two Irelands may resolve the problem of belonging to different commercial regimes by reunification. The London media portray such an outcome as unthinkable. My aim here is to recall the violent innovation of the United Kingdom’s formation 300 years ago, lest we forget where the ‘UK’ came from and how.

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Measures of Quality Education

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Measures of Quality Education

When I first came to Brazil, I quickly became aware of the problem in the educational system here. So, I began to collect statistics and study why the educational levels were so low. During that time, Lula was the president and Brazil was making a serious effort to address its problems in education. The country was allocating an increasing amount of the GDP to improving the schools, opening new colleges and universities across the country and providing programs to finance education to deserving students. As I delved deeper into this study, I began to widen the scope of the research to include other countries. Along with the World Economic Forum’s reports, there are several other watchdog organizations monitoring this area and several other sources reporting on it. So, why is this so important? Well, believe it or not education is an indicator of how economies shape up and a country’s growth factor. Some of those factors include the quality of products manufactured, the amount of a country’s productivity, the future of the countries industries, projected economic growth, competitiveness, and the quality of its leadership.
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Why do Leaders Fail?

Augusto Pinochet
Why do Leaders Fail?

This is an opinion piece that some might say loosely fits within the realm of anthropology. And yet, if one could say that anthropology is the genealogy and archaeology of human activity, then under those circumstances it should be appropriate. I wish to discuss those things that any head of State, President, or sovereign leader should attempt to avoid in order not to be hated or despised by their people, the military of their country, or the rich and wealthy. Characteristics that will succeed in preventing them from being fearful of danger or reproach.
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Perennial Narratives in Anthropology

Perennial Narratives

Since the 1960s, there has not been any new innovative advances in the field of anthropology. Although some good work has been done, most of it has been concerned with fleshing out the subtler nuances of what was discovered during that time. The 1960s and 1970s brought to anthropology issues of critical theory and awareness in American, British and French anthropology. Scholars focused on discovering important similarities and establishing links between factors that previously were hidden. It is safe to say that it was a period of reflection that sought to diversify conventional views by yielding new constitutive elements to a traditional practice. Armed with meticulous research, scholars sought to analyze the relations within politics, science and ethics and the processes that interacted with one another in their formation. This movement became known as the “crisis of representation” (Marcus and Fischer) whose purpose it was to lay bare the conditions and show the generative factors behind discourses in civil and political activism, feminism, environmental pollution, the growth of ghettos, health and wealth disparities between the rich and poor, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, the impact of globalization, migration, material culture, and economic development. Continue reading “Perennial Narratives in Anthropology”

World’s Most Vital Resource

World's Most Vital Resource
World’s Most Vital Resource


It is not necessary to explain the process by which algae through millions of years of geological time and chemical reactions become fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal. It is important to explain, however, why these fossil fuels have become the most vital resources in the world today. Our modern-day lives depend on these fossilized resources so much. More important, we should reflect on how we consume in just one year what it took nature over 5 million years to produce. Since 1860, geologists have discovered over 2 trillion barrels of oil and since that time, we have consumed over half that amount.

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The War Against Privacy

In the May-June 1993 issue of Wired Magazine, an article on a group of mathematicians advocating a radical, libertarian, cryptographic philosophy appeared on the front cover. The group of scientists called themselves the “Cypherpunks.” By 1996, their political-scientific philosophy had developed into a populace movement against government intrusions into the private lives of individuals. We should also be reminded that one of the first voices to speak on the subject of government surveillance into the private lives of individuals was George Orwell’s work 1984. Apparently, the Cypherpunks picked up the gavel and took it further. It is also important to remember, that it was President Ronald Reagan and his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or “Star Wars”) which was proposed as a missile defense system intended to protect the US from attack by ballistic strategic nuclear weapons (intercontinental and submarine-launched) that actually gave birth to “Big Brother.” He made the public announcement of his brain-child in 1983 and established the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization to oversee the SDI. And although this initiative is used to fight terrorists even today, no one ever thought it would be used to spy on individual Americans, other countries, governments, politicians or corporations.
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Decline of Brazil’s Middle Class

 

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Decline of Brazil’s Middle Class

Although he was a left-wing, socialist president for two consecutive terms, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva demonstrated that a left-wing administration was capable of navigating a sound macroeconomic course for Brazil. Also, he opened the country’s economy to unprecedented global trade and investment. During his presidency, Brazil became more integrated into the global economy than it had in forty years and trade accounted for 25-30% of Brazil’s national economy.  Under his leadership, he successfully lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty making it possible for them to enter the middle class. However, Brazil’s economic crisis and corruption have tarnished his legacy and millions of people from Brazil’s middle class are now at risk of falling back into poverty.
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