Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, well-known for his inspiring YouTube lectures and documentary shorts, has received over a hundred applications for his graduate course in ‘digital ethnography’ from around the world.1 The only problem: no such course exists. Wesch teaches undergraduates and has organized a ‘digital ethnography working group’ for them; and that’s it, so far. But millions have seen his creations on YouTube and people want more of it. The world is changing all around us and anthropology must try to keep up, not just because we study this world as anthropologists, but because our students live in it and they are rapidly leaving their teachers behind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Continue reading “Capitalism, revolution and racism in the US and the world”
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.
Continue reading “Measures of Quality Education”
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.
Continue reading “World’s Most Vital Resource”
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.
Continue reading “The War Against Privacy”
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.
Continue reading “Decline of Brazil’s Middle Class”
In his highly original work, Birth of the Clinic, Foucault focuses his attention on the human experience and the rational for its continued homogenous reality. He discusses in great detail concepts about ideological space, the transformation of language and the politicization of medicine. He attempts to illustrate and illuminate the development of methods of medical practice especially those influenced and regulated by the relations of power. But Foucault’s ideas about power are hard to define and comprehend. One reason for this is the common interpretation of power (when we think of power, we think about that which serves some sort of control). But to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations. In this article, we will attempt to disentangle the discourse that complicates and obscures the relationship between political ideology and medical technology. We will examine the politicization of medicine and the agenda for the establishment of bio politics in modern culture.
Continue reading “Birth of the Pharmaceutical”
For decades, investors in advanced economies (AEs) have shaped the evolution of global markets. Research shows that advanced economy investors tend to hold diversified portfolios that include significant investments in equities. Over the past decade, these pools of wealth have been growing at a much slower rate than emerging economies (EMs). With their rapid growth, emerging market economies are becoming important factors that shape global financial systems. More important, the integration of emerging market economies into the global economy has a significant impact on international financial markets. This month, we take a look at just what that means and how global spillovers from these market economies can impact other countries.
Continue reading “Changing Global Economies”
People are migrating across the globe in unprecedented numbers. More than 200 million people are residing in countries other than their home countries. Further, that number represents a forty per cent increase over the last decade. Regardless of status, permanent, temporary, circular, whether for work or to join families, countries are concerned. It seems that the developed countries are concerned with threats to security, lack of control, and effects on labor markets. While the less developed countries seem to focus more on disregard for human rights, labor issues, and the trafficking industry that has developed around it. From the US to Europe, from Africa to Asia, governments are confronting the same questions albeit from different perspectives. And it seems, no nation has developed a successful solution.
Continue reading “Undocumented Migration: a global problem”
Within a historical context, ethnography attempts to be holistic in nature based in part on emic views. It is written, observational science that provides an account of a particular culture, community or society. Typically, it involves fieldwork or spending a year or more in another society, living among its people, and trying to understand them as much as possible. Further, it is a meeting ground for many disciplines that focus on human and social sciences. Principle among these are sociology, economics, education, religious studies, geography, history, linguistics, psychology and political science. Over time, ethnographic methods have developed other research frameworks such as anthropometry, cross-cultural comparisons, thick description, cultural relativism, emic-etic approaches, and holism.
Continue reading “Origins and Scope of Thick Ethnography”
Some sources claim that one out of every 236 people becomes a victim of human trafficking. Even more startling, sources state that every 30 seconds another person becomes a victim of trafficking. Now, most people already know that the drug trade is probably the most lucrative illegal commerce in the world. But how many people know that human trafficking is running close to the drug trade – very close. Continue reading “Human Trafficking: a growing epidemic”
Recently, health officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a travel alert for Central, South America and the Caribbean, some 14 countries and territories exposed to the mosquito-borne Zika Virus. The alert targets pregnant women and follows reports that thousands of babies in Brazil were born last year with microcephaly, a brain disorder experts associate with Zika exposure. Babies with the condition have abnormally small heads, resulting in developmental issues and in some cases death. Some people believe that under a global rise in temperature, insects in particular are passing through their larval stages faster and becoming adults earlier. In addition, studies show that flying insects’ migratory patterns have shifted and show extensions in their boundaries. Continue reading “Global Warming: trends and consequences”
What are some of the primary concerns of Universal Health and access to quality health care? Among researchers doing studies in this area, these concerns have raised new narratives and debates. The general debate over Universal Health Care has revealed that certain populations are at greater risk and certain aspects of this crisis are particularly difficult to grasp. The process for achieving Universal Health care is not an easy one. And, many countries that currently have universal coverage systems needed decades to implement it. There are several factors involved in this process and this article will discuss some of the more important ones.
Continue reading “Intricacies of Universal Health Care”
Those who have chosen to become permanent expatriates at some time or another experience a very disturbing and confusing dilemma. What makes this dilemma so disturbing is it works at the psychological and emotional level and has the tendency to creep up unperceived and undetected. Some researchers define this phenomenon simply as culture shock. But, in reality it is something far more reaching than just a shock to one’s cultural sensibilities and way of thinking. Continue reading “Expatriates: Dilemmas and Misconceptions”
Recently, I came across an article in Lasa Forum Spring 2013 edition in which Edward Telles and Marcelo Paixão assessed the significance of Affirmative Action in Brazil. Now, Dr. Telles is by no means a stranger to Brazilian relations. He has been writing on Latin America and Brazil race, ethnic and social studies for more than thirty years and is one of the most distinguished American experts on race relations in Brazil and Latin America. It seems whenever I write something about Brazil, I need to refer to one if not several of his many works as reference. Now, the article provides some useful statistics about higher education students in Brazil and the number of students that are benefiting from the “Quota Law” (the 2012 National Congress Law requiring all federal higher education institutions to put in place quotas by 2016). Also, he tackles some controversial subjects such as class versus race-based politics, public and legal support, racial classification, and affirmative action and the labor market. Controversial in the sense that Brazilian people do not like to talk about “race” let alone acknowledge how racism creates disadvantages in education and social mobility for many Brazilians.
Continue reading “Affirmative Action in Brazil: is it necessary?”
Recently, a PhD educated, cultural researcher for a Canadian magazine contacted me about Perspectives’ focus on “open-access publishing, public accessibility and seeking a broad readership while maintaining a high academic standard.” This was the way he described it. He went on to state that he found that an intriguing balance. It appears he wanted information on how to not only make his own writing and research more comprehensible to those unfamiliar with academic writing but more important, he wanted an opinion on how his magazine, a print and online offering, could make their publication more accessible to the mainstream public. So, he presented a few formal questions and asked for a response. It took a couple of weeks to think over his request and develop what I thought would be an appropriate reply. After drafting a response, I began by thanking him for his kind words (he was quite sincere and respectful) and then began explaining how I think we “modern-day” intellectuals have failed in our obligation as educators. As a significant part of this article and to prove what I mean, I am including a letter I received from a PhD student who quit her program in the final year just a few months before graduation. I think it dramatically reveals what is happening in academia today.
Continue reading “Mandate of the Intellectual”
Medical anthropology, although considered a subcategory in anthropology, has been making contributions to medicine and public health since the development of anthropology itself. The fact that anthropology, as a multi-disciplinary, intrinsic, discipline has contributed valuable information and techniques to several other disciplines justifies its essential importance. Although its early history is diverse, there exist three empirical foundations that are considered “universals.” They are: 1) disease is a fact of life; occurring in all times, places and societies; 2) all groups of humans develop some sort of beliefs and perceptions for defining it; and 3) all groups of humans have methods for coping and responding to it. Writers like Rivers, Clements Ackerknecht, Paul, Livingstone,Wiesenfeld and others formulated these generalizations in a variety of ways yet they all maintain the legitimacy of these observations.
Continue reading “Indispensability of Medical Anthropology”
Any attempt to understand black American men and their relationships with Brazilian women must first consider cultural characteristics and the significance of social values. Now, we are not talking about any form of sexual voyeurism. Instead, this article focuses on those relationships that seek serious involvement, commitment or union. Further, the dynamics of these relationships are both interesting and unique. On one hand, they are interesting because these two groups share many of the same motives for seeking cross-cultural relationships. On the other, they are unique because two different cultures without any history of direct contact are able to communicate across cultural boundaries and share similar social and emotional values. However, to be honest about this discussion and not reactionary we must also examine the dynamics of ethno-cultural incompatibility.
Continue reading “Black American Men and Brazilian Women”
In 2012, Dr. Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Roscoe Pound Professor of Law, Harvard University Law School lectured at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American studies on Brazil and the United States. Not only was it a thought provoking seminar on Brazilian studies, it summarizes quite concisely similarities and variances between the two countries.
Unger presented a theses concerning the shortcomings of both countries and offers distinct reasons that support his argument. To begin with, he argues that both the US and Brazil lack sustainable policies that uplift the masses of ordinary men and women in their respective countries. He discusses something he terms the “sentimentalization of unequal exchange” and how it targets, isolates and marginalizes segments of their societies.
Continue reading “US – Brazil Relations: the dynamics of consciousness and empowerment”
When I first encountered Lévi-Strauss in graduate school, I thought the title of his monumental work sounded strange. At that time, I spoke absolutely no Portuguese but knew enough Spanish to understand that tristes meant sad. However, I could not for the life of me penetrate the “meaning” associated with the title of this passionate, perilous quest into (what at that time was considered) the dark world of myth, ritual and magic in the country of Brazil. Even today, Brazil is considered by most to be a land of far-off peoples, unexplored territories, and exotic culture. But really not so much. Even Leví-Strauss acknowledged this when he wrote in 1935,”…the tropics are not so much exotic as out of date.” Having lived, learned and lingered in Brazil for seven years now and having acquired an extensive local knowledge (including reasonable fluency in the Brazilian Portuguese language) along with my anthropological training in skilled observation, I decided to revisit this pivotal work to attempt to understand precisely its meaning. But perhaps more important, to see if I could verify some of the same underlying order of reality set off by this highly original and influential work. Continue reading “Tristes Tropiques: Revisited”