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.
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%.
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.
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.
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”
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. Continue reading “Brexit: Where once was an empire”
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. Continue reading “Why do Leaders Fail?”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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?”
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”
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”
Now this is an article that is going to upset a lot of people but at the same time it will cause a lot of people to reflect on something that we so easily take for granted. As anthropologists, we are charged with trying to understand and explain what humans do and essentially why. We investigate similarities and variances, things that we share, and things that are private and sacred. We try to find underlining qualities that unite us as a species and set us apart as individuals. One very important part of our work is examining those characteristics that we all share in common. We call them the “universals” like sleeping, breathing, eating, movement, procreation, communication, our need to feel safe, to relax and grow. Malinowski called them the “seven basic needs” that we all share within our societies. But what about the concept of truth – and is it a universal or just a construct? Does it cross cultural, linguistic, social, and scientific boundaries in an attempt to define and validate our understanding, practices and systems of knowledge? It would seem that this should be an epistemological concern of some importance to us as living, working, and speaking beings. Continue reading “Universality of Truth”
When I arrived in Brazil seven years ago as an American anthropologist seeking to discover if Brazil would be a good place to do research for a book, I had no idea about the degree of class discrimination that existed and the depths of its penetration into the cultural fabric of Brazilian society. Clearly, I was familiar with “racial” discrimination growing up in America and struggling against it for the opportunity to advance socially. That is to say, I was confronted with it in the military, in the ivy halls of the university and in the sterile workplaces of corporate American offices. And yet, in spite of it all, I still believe that America is one of the best countries in the world to live in primarily because of the high quality of life, the advanced standards and conditions within the society, but perhaps most important is the plethora of opportunities and benefits for everyone. And believe it or not, because it actually protects its citizens (i.e., the very nature of the American legal system is one that is built on protecting the rights of its citizens – they call it the “commonwealth” – not like other countries whose legal systems are designed to exploit and plunder its citizens). Continue reading “Self-imposed Discrimination in Brazil”
In the years I have been doing ethnographic research, I have found that some ethnographers have a tendency to avoid researching issues that involve deep immersion. Clearly, there is a difference between what is termed participant-observer and observer-participant; however, I have also found that to take up positions in the midst of other’s lives in order to really observe and understand them some form of deep immersion is required. With this type of immersion, the ethnographer is able to see from the inside how people live, how they carry out their daily routines, what they find meaningful and why. Some researchers believe that deep immersion has the tendency to dissolve initial impressions and deadens sensitivities to subtle patterns causing the ethnographer to lose insight into experiences, meanings and concerns. Many believe that this compromises or contaminates objective data rather than provide insight into significant processes. In contrast to such views, deep immersion can provide the field researcher with a method to assimilate more profoundly into the lifestyle because the researcher does not learn all at once but in a constant, continuing process in which one builds an insight and understanding of other’s lives over an extended period. Continue reading “Long-term Ethnographic Immersion”