Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 22: Auld Lang Syne

As we pass into a new year, what better time to reflect on times gone by? Instead of the regular reader, I thought I'd just share a few photos from the NYPL Digital Archives.

New Year's Day in New Amsterdam (1878)
NYPL Image ID:

Christmas carnival in the New York Stock Exchange. (1885)

For those of you watching the ball drop in Times Square—from wherever you are—this bit of information about the ball may be of interest:
For 2011, Waterford Crystal has designed 288 new “Let There Be Love” crystal triangles featuring a romantic pattern that blends a modern cascade of hearts with diamond cutting.  288 triangles are emblazoned with last year's "Let There Be Courage" design of a ribbon medal defining the triumph of courage over adversity; and 1,152 triangles sparkle with the "Let There Be Joy" design of an angel with arms uplifted welcoming the New Year.  The remaining 960 triangles are the original "Let There Be Light" design of a stylized radiating sunburst. 

New Year's Eve Ball, 1978. © New York Times

Happy New Year, Readers! Wishing you all a safe and happy celebration. And thanks, as always, for visiting my little corner of the web. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Are Online Recommendations a Form of Digital Peer Pressure?

Facebook's reminder that the new profile is here.

It started with Twitter's move to the version. The message that would appear on the top of the screen went something to the effect of "Psst, there's a new version of Twitter available. Why not try a sneak peek?" It was a bit coercive, but I clicked and tried my sneak peek. I also promptly opted to switch back. Similarly Facebook tried to entice me to try the new profile. I took a look at the preview and decided I would wait for the mandatory change. It seems that I have been resistant for longer than anticipated because the messages by both of these services has become a bit more direct. On Twitter, the message at the top of the screen informs me matter-of-factly that "You're using an older version of Twitter that won't be around much longer. Switch to the New Twitter!" Facebook is using a slightly different tactic as you can see from the image above: the application wants me to know that I'm trailing behind 99 of my connections in delaying the move to a newer version. In both cases, the message is clear, I'm lagging behind in adopting the latest digital tools.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Does the Nutcracker Have to do With Christmas?

My route home from the LIRR takes me past a rather festive street. Most of the houses have some sort of holiday light display set up. (My favorite is a decorated evergreen, complete with LED gifts underneath. It's almost like a community tree.) Another apparent decorative favorite are wooden toy soldiers and nutcrackers—though I've often wondered at the connection between the season and these childhood favorites.

In this age of commercialization, it can be difficult to find true symbols of the season. After all, Santa himself is a shill spokesman for one of the largest department stores in the United States. And Rudolph, that iconic red-nosed reindeer, was created by Montgomery Ward, another large American retailer. A closer look at the Nutcracker and his battalion of wooden soldiers suggest that the figures and symbols that seem to get closest to the meaning of the holiday are those that are somewhat peripheral.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Digital Story of the Nativity

Merry Christmas to all who are observing the day! I'd like to share with you the story of the Nativity as told in terms of today's technology. (Thanks to Dana Blackshaw for the tip!)

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 21

From The Economist
Higher education has been taking a beating. An anonymous contributor to The Economist has a fair amount to say about the worthlessness of the PhD track:
Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.
Madhusudan Katti of Leaf Warbler, who agrees that the realities facing the doctoral group are grim, points out a systemic problem that he feels The Economist should have certainly picked up on:
Let me get this straight: we have MORE students enrolling in college, competing to get into overfull classes taught by FEWER faculty every year, and TOO MANY PhDs who would love to have those faculty jobs that are clearly needed to teach all the new students! Does that sound about right? How does this make any kind of economic sense even with a supply-and-demand analysis? Seems to me that the demand is there, as is the supply, yet they aren't exactly meeting up! WTF is that about?!
Fortunately the disillusionment and harsh realities of higher education hasn't tainted the process of research and discovery for a group of eight-year-old children, who have published a study on bees. The study examines how bumblebees choose flowers for foraging. The kids developed the project on their own, with some help from their teacher and a local neuroscientist, and it is a wonderful and fascinating read—particularly as you get to see science unfold through their eyes. The paper is currently free from Biology Letters, and if you have the time I'd recommend you read it.

Have you met the Denisovans yet? You should absolutely get acquainted with these long lost relatives—they're a separate group of humans who coexisted with Neanderthals and likely interbred with our species.
The study shows that Denisovans interbred with the ancestors of the present day people of the Melanesian region north and north-east of Australia. Melanesian DNA comprises between 4% and 6% Denisovan DNA.
Homo floresiensis skull from
"Scenes From Our Evolutionary Past."
Scientists now believe there were four distinct species of humans alive when anatomically modern humans first left Africa, including Neanderthals and Homo floresiensis ("the Hobbit"). Perhaps a bio-archaeologist will treat us to a review of this article—hint, hint. [EDIT: Per a recommendation from BoneGirl below, John Hawks has an excellent write up, and has promised more to come.] I'd really be interested in learning more about how the bones were treated, and the sort of "enigmatic" fossil evidence that set the stage for this idea in the first place.

It is Christmas Eve, so what would The Anthro Reader be without a few seasonal tidbits? For your holiday reading pleasure, I give you the curious evolution of holiday lights from Wired—the bulbs that now adorn our trees replaced the practice of using candles thanks in part to Edison. This unusual article traces the variety of ways we have lit our trees.

And finally, tis the season to recall New York's Dutch heritage! Ephemeral New York reminds readers that two streets named for St. Nicholas are actually in remembrance of the patron saint of New Amsterdam. Hmm, even Santa is a New Yorker, who knew?

From Ephemeral New York
Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season, Readers!

Merry Christmas to those who observe—for anyone interested, you can always track Santa courtesy of NORAD.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On My Shelf: Written in Stone (Review)

Written in Stone | Brian Switek | Bellevue Literary Press | 320 pages | $16.95 (Paperback)

Brian Switek's Written in Stone is a quiet testament to the power of the fossil record. Page after page, Switek takes the reader through a deftly narrated tale of evolution as told by fossilized remains that have been interpreted, reinterpreted, manipulated, marketed, destroyed, and ultimately preserved. This is a journey not just through natural history, but through science. The real impact of Written in Stone is that it highlights the cast of characters who shaped our understanding of evolution—allowing readers share firsthand with the frustrations, ambitions, conflicts, and successes of the scientists. It's certainly an interesting approach to a history that has the potential to be dry and unappealing.

Joining the ResearchBlogging Family!

I have exciting news: I'll be joining the fantastic ResearchBlogging team of editors! As the new Social Sciences Editor, I'll be selecting posts from Anthropology, Philosophy, Social Sciences, and Research/Scholarship every Thursday beginning on January 6th.

What does this mean for AiP? Nothing will change around here. The RBEditor post does not replace AiP as a whole—but it's a chance to learn about new developments in the social sciences. I'm really excited to accept this post, and I look forward to sharing some of the best research blogging with you.

Thanks so much to Dr. SkySkull for all he's done for ResearchBlogging, and for his recognition of AIP in his weekly Editor's Selections. Fellow new editor Sarah Askew of One Small Step and I have our work cut out for us! Sarah will be joining ResearchBlogging as the new Physical Sciences Editor and will be covering Physics, Astronomy, Maths, Engineering, Chemistry, Computer Science, and Geosciences.

You can follow our weekly selections, as well as those from the other editors, on Twitter at @ResearchBlogs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sharing to Communicate Is Here to Stay

The Pew Research Center's most recent internet study suggests that the popularity of blogging is shifting between generations: declining among Millenials and younger users, and increasing among Gen-Xers and older cohorts.

The rise of microblogging and the incorporation of status sharing features on various social networking sites may account for part of the decline of stand-along blogs for the younger group. But blogging has increased to 16% from Dec. 2008 (10%) among Gen X. And younger groups appear to be reading blogs more than other groups. This information has prompted some to question whether blogging has reached its end (see here and here). But Wired's Ryan Singel has a fantastic post that offers the opinion we may be burying blogging too soon. He argues:
the central vision of blogging — give citizens a nearly cost-free online printing press and let them make media — hasn’t died, even if many people find that it’s too much work for too few readers to write up their trip to Greece or opine at length on Sarah Palin or the indignities of Comcast customer service.
Singel proposes instead that we view this data as evidence of the ways in which communication is shifting, rather than the demise of a platform that is largely defined by methods of sharing.


The Pew Research Center continues to provide insights on our evolving relationship with the web in a recent study on how the different generations are using the web [pdf].

Seventy-nine percent of American adults go online. What about the other 21%? Their reasons for their offline status are below:

© Pew Research Center, 2010

Not surprisingly, younger generations continue to be prominent Internet users: adults ages 45 and younger make up 49% of the total adult population yet represent about 56% of online users. Internet use drops off significantly for adults over the age of 65. It's hard to tell what percentage of this group is represented in the 21% above. 

What is surprising is that the primary reason given for being offline is "Just not interested" with "Too old to learn" and lack of access to resources falling far behind. Who makes up the 21%? They may just be the last of the most productive people on the planet.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Go On, Get Angry

I've been angry for the last couple of days. (I've also been sick, which may or may not be related.) Anger can be useful, but in this case it has just been the result of being frustrated. I'm really, really tired of always having to be the grown up in conflicts, particularly with other adults who do foolish but forgivable things and then try to ignore the problem. But alas, this is not a post about why I'm angry, but rather how I've dealt with that anger: I've played video games.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Walk? Fuhgettaboutit!

Remember when your parents taught you how to cross the street on your own? What were the rules? Stop, look, and listen? I'm not sure if it's the pace of life in New York City, or a feeling that pedestrians have the advantage of numbers, but I'm often struck by the way pedestrian traffic in New York City is more aggressive than motor vehicle traffic. If you're looking for a free activity to do when you're in the city, find a corner Starbucks (THAT won't be hard at all), grab a caffeinated beverage or a snack, find a window seat, and then watch.

There is a palpable sense of impatience apparent during rush hour and in areas with high foot traffic. And a curious pattern emerges at crosswalks where pedestrians are waiting for the signal:  As the wait for the light wears on, pedestrians tend to stack up in rows, but after the third row forms anyone who approaches the waiting group bypasses the waiting lines and joins the first row. Then the stack grows in the front. I've watched this happen on the intersection of Water and Wall Streets many times. I've also participated in the stacking—as a smaller person, I tend to get through the crowd to the front fairly easily. And there are advantages to being out front: I don't have to wait for the people in front of me to start moving and I don't have to deal with impatient drivers who try to cut through the swarm of pedestrians. I also get to bypass any confused tourists who will stop in middle of the crosswalk to get their bearings. Sure there's a chance that I'll encounter a driver who's trying to beat the light, but there's no way the driver will hit me. The driver will stop short, and the other pedestrians will give him dirty looks, and flood into the intersection, stranding him in the box. If there's a cop handy, the driver may even get a ticket. (Yes, the hive mind can be that calculating.)

But is it any surprise that we cross the streets this way? New Yorkers don't do waiting well. That's one of the reasons we have so many types of 24-hour businesses. The mind-set here is constant motion, and it manifests in all aspects of our behavior.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 20

The #AAAfail continues. It has achieved cartoon status:
Note: I took this cartoon from Neuroanthropology. It was originally posted by antradio.

Dan Lende continues to lead the discussion at Neuroanthropology. (Seriously, it's as though he's been working overtime to provide coverage. I actually plan to spend some time over there this morning catching up.) His latest post takes NY Times writer Nicholas Wade to task for stirring the controversy needlessly by citing Frank Marlow of the Evolutionary Anthropology Society:
“I really don’t see how or why anthropology should entail humanities,” said Frank Marlowe, president-elect of the Evolutionary Anthropology Society, another association affiliate, given that the social sciences are empirical, while the humanities are analytic, critical or speculative.
Dan responds:
Do you bring a knife to a gun fight? No. Do you bring a science reporter to cover a complicated and heated debate over science? In this case, no. The knife of precision did not cut through all the smoke from the gun battles, some internal, many external, that surrounded the controversy.
He then shares responses from the AAA and the Section Assembly. Dan also takes a moment to inject a bit of humor into the situation by poking some fun at some of the colorful responses to this whole mess on the web.

If you haven't already, you should read the AAA response, as well as "What is Anthropology?," which they appear to float as a means of reinforcing anthropology as a holistic discipline. Still, I agree that it is a move in the right direction, and perhaps time for the anthropological community to help drive the discussion. I really liked Rex's idea over at Savage Minds about creating creeds for evaluation. (Incidentally, Rex has a recent post up where he discusses the PR failings of the AAA.)

Elsewhere on the web, Martin Rundvkist shares his thoughts on hope for the humanities:
The humanities won't mend a leaky roof. They won't put food on the table. They won't cure polio. They won't create peace or prosperity. And taxpayers know this perfectly well. For these reasons, I believe that we absolutely cannot market ourselves in terms of any indispensable societally structure-supporting utility. We will only makes fools of ourselves. Because the raison d'ĂȘtre of the historical humanities doesn't lie in any practical utility, but in their enjoyment potential. In the joy of learning something interesting about the past that is true. In the joy of seeing something for real that has survived since antiquity.
While you're over there, wish Martin a happy blogiversary—he's been doing this for five years now!

There's a fantastic post up at Not Exactly Rocket Science on what we can learn about language from Google Books:
It’s a record of human culture, spanning six centuries and seven languages. It shows vocabularies expanding and grammar evolving. It contains stories about our adoption of technology, our quest for fame, and our battle for equality. And it hides the traces of tragedy, including traces of political suppression, records of past plagues, and a fading connection with our own history.
The patterns that are suggested are really provoking—so much of who we are is defined by what we say (and what we don't say). We've generated a history of sorts with our words that may be deeply revealing.

hawkinsw shared a story with me about an oral history project available to the public via the British Library. I had a chance to take a look, and it's really neat. The collection is essentially people telling you about their lives in the late-19th and 20th centuries. For me, the rate of change is really astounding. I plan to delve deeper when I have some time.

And finally, ever wonder what happened to Amelia Earhart? She may have been eaten by crabs.
Researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar) found what appears to be a phalanx from a finger and two other bones, one of them from the neck, alongside a host of other clues after two decades and 10 expeditions attempting to solve the mystery.

The suspected finger is being tested for human DNA. It may turn out to be from a turtle – which have similar bones in their flippers.

But the other discoveries lend credence to the theory that Earhart died on the atoll after going missing en route to Howland Island in July 1937 at the age of 41 – she was declared legally dead 18 months later.
Sadly, her Castaway story did not seem to end well.

Until next time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Degrees of Tolerance

A few months ago, I wrote about the response to a crying child on the subway. Yesterday in a packed subway car, a young mom struggled with a crying toddler and the response from the other riders was decidedly different from that other instance. Why?

You might cry too if you were trapped
under a blanket while on the subway.
New York has been subject to frigid temperatures over the last few days. (It took a good twenty minutes for my ears to warm up yesterday!) This mom had put a blanket over the front of her stroller to help keep her child warm. While she was sitting in the car she had the stroller in front of her, and the blanket partially draped over her so that the child could see her. However, a few stops before she got off the train, she disentangled herself from the blanket and tucked it around the opening of the stroller. The result was a personal cavern for the child, but he couldn't see out which may have contributed to his distress. Once she had created his cocoon, he started to wail. Overall, people seemed a bit more sympathetic. There were a few sympathetic smiles in her direction, and when she finally disembarked, someone tried to help by holding the door for her and helping her steer the stroller. One man did decide he couldn't take the noise and he made a hasty exit when the train stopped to wait for a subsequent train. (I know this was his strategy because he got off of the train that pulled into Penn station right behind the one that I was on. I passed him on the platform.) Now, the mom did attempt to soothe the toddler ("It's okay, baby. We're getting off soon." and "We're going to see ---. Don't cry.") unlike the mom in the other post. And there are other factors that may have played a role in the response:
  • The child in this case was younger than in the other situation.
  • There was an identifiable source of potential distress for the child.
  • It was clear that the mom and her child would be getting off the train shortly.
There was also another difference that I admit I'm a bit hesitant to raise, but is probably worth mentioning: The parent of the non-stop crier in the other post was of a different race than this mother. And I seriously have to wonder if that didn't play a role in the way the mothers were judged by the surrounding public.

Monday, December 13, 2010

At a Loss for Words: Modern Lessons From a Lost Language

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgIt's hard to imagine that knowledge could be lost today. Technology seems to have put the ability to know almost everything within our grasp. So when researchers announced that they had "found" a previously unknown Peruvian language earlier this year, it was strangely tantalizing. Here was knowledge that we couldn't Google. We could plumb the archives and look for clues that might offer answers, but true understanding would not be easily attainable. And in all likelihood, we would have to resign ourselves to not knowing.

The back side of the Magdalena document shows
translations for numbers from Spanish to a lost language.
Photo by Jeffrey Quilter.
In a public-friendly article, Jeffrey Quilter and colleagues (2010) announced in September that they had uncovered a remarkable find at an archaeological dig in Northern Peru: It wasn't a funerary mask or ornate pottery or even a mummy, but a page. A letter actually, dating to 17th-century and detailing a minor trade event in the church complex where it was found. It is an interesting artifact by itself that could offer a glimpse into the life of the colonial community being uncovered. However, on the back of the letter someone had scribbled a number list in a previously unknown language, making the page more than just a record of church concerns. Though the list is short, it is enough to help researchers understand that they have in their hands the details of a number system that has not been previously recorded. As the researchers note, the history of the document itself—how and why it was created and then discarded—is tied to larger aspects of Peruvian history. And this history can help us understand the linguistic dynamics of cultural contact—which may be extended in some ways to the digital age.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 19

Welcome to another round of The Anthro Reader!

This week the anthropology blog carnival, Four Stone Hearth, was hosted by Michael of Archive Fire. He's put together a nice collection of posts from around the web for your morning coffee accompaniment, including discussions on poverty among indigenous people, gendered customization of mobile communication, and connections between lungfish, trout, and humans. As a reminder, the carnival is always looking for hosts, so please contact Afarensis if you'd be willing to have a bunch of anthropologists into your blog living room for the day. There's also going to be a special edition of FSH next week for Monkey Day hosted by Ashlee at (where else?) This is Serious Monkey Business.

Last week's fallout over #AAAfail continues with the New York Times chiming on the growing divide in the discipline:
The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.
The article notes that AAA president Virginia Dominguez has said that the statement can still be modified, but Peter Peregrine, president of the Society for Anthropological Sciences, believes that reverting to the original statement will not ease the growing sense of disquiet:
“Even if the board goes back to the old wording, the cat’s out of the bag and is running around clawing up the furniture,” he said.
Over at Savage Minds, Rex proposes that this situation might be resolved if the AAA did some research of its own—a little ethnography might go a long way here:
What if, as an alternative, we started a grassroots movement to say, in a public and synthesizable way, what we thought anthropology was about? An anthropologist’s creed, as it were. They would have to be short, a paragraph each, and address (hopefully in the same order) a concrete number of issues: what the word ‘science’ means to them, what disciplines are adjacent to anthropology, what research methods are important, the role of the analyst, the appropriateness of politics involvement, and so forth.
It actually might not be so bad of an idea. If the AAA is listening, it might make sense to coordinate an effort to suggest changes, rather than us those of use who disagree with the statement shouting our disapproval.

Edit: Dan Lende has already penned a response to the NY Times piece.

Elsewhere on the web, Bone Girl raises a question that has been debated much in anthropology: Is race a biological or social construct? Naturally, there are many grey areas that warrant exploration. She has a video clip up where sociologist Alondra Nelson takes the stance that race is purely social. Kristina presents race as a social construct partly rooted in biology:
There is a vast range of clinal variation in the world, and if you walked from the North Pole to Antarctica, for example, there wouldn't be the stark differences in skin color we think of as a racial marker. But if you take individuals from these populations (and individuals are the subject of, for instance, forensic anthropology), there can be large differences in one's external appearance (phenotype) based on ancestry.
She cautions that
DNA can tell us about an individual's genotype, but race is largely constructed based on one's phenotype (which is affected by the environment as well as genes).
I actually have a bit to add to this discussion based on a talk I attended this week at Wenner Gren. Look for a post from me on this soon.

At The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski writes about the rising cost of food and the growth of urban agriculture.
As the global supply of fossil fuels shrink and oil gets more expensive, foods that have to be shipped long distances - and particularly those that have to be refrigerated in transit - will become much harder to afford. Urban agriculture, which already seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance, will become more necessary.
Liz discusses the possibilities offered by vertical farming. It's a fascinating and highly recommended read.

Gambler's House has a fantastic post on the gendering of agriculture:
Boserup proposed that cultures in which farming is done primarily by men tend to farm with plows, while those in which agriculture is done by women use other agricultural techniques. Furthermore, she argued that these two types of agrarian societies tend to differ systematically in other ways as well, particularly with respect to gender roles. In plow societies women tend to stay at home and tend to household tasks while men are out working in the fields, and in many cases they develop highly elaborated systems of gender role differentiation with men in a clearly dominant role. This has historically been the case especially in the Near East and most of Europe, as well as in other areas such as northern India. In places without plow agriculture, however, societies tend to have less rigid gender role definition and more flexibility in acceptable economic activity for women. This is the case in most of Africa, the Americas, and southern India. Strikingly, these differences in economic role for men and women in plow societies seem to persist even when societies industrialize: men take the manufacturing jobs outside the home instead of working in the fields, but women still stay at home rather than working.
The paper discussed in this post was prepared by economists, and teofilo finds merit in their statistical approach.

If you're still in need of other interesting things to read, you may want to also check Kate Clancy's Around the Web feature on stress and social disparities at Context and Variation. (Disclaimer: AiP gets a mention, but there's tons of other good stuff listed there as well.) Daniel Lende's roundup also went up earlier this week at Neuroanthropology—and to tell you the truth, I'm still working my way through it.
And finally, for a bit of yummy holiday cheer, you may enjoy this brief history of gingerbread from Food and Think. Here's a tidbit:
Gingerbread was a favorite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe—often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or even armor—and several cities in France and England hosted regular “gingerbread fairs” for centuries. Ladies often gave their favorite knights a piece of gingerbread for good luck in a tournament, or superstitiously ate a “gingerbread husband” to improve their chances of landing the real thing.
Until next week, folks! In the meantime, if you want to share something you're reading or have read recently, feel free to drop a link in the comments.

Closing The Urban Ethnographer

After considerable deliberation, I announced this morning that I've decided to close The Urban Ethnographer. In the coming weeks I will be folding the archives into Anthropology in Practice. Thanks to everyone to helped spread the work about UE. I wish the Scientopia community the best of luck and look forward to watching them grow.

No Substitute for IRL Relationships for Adolescents

Credit: Scott Hampson
It's no secret that the Internet is a black hole when it comes to time. Fifteen minutes on Twitter spirals into an hour or two of witty banter. A quick stop on Facebook to read statuses or water crops becomes three hours looking at photos from someone's vacation or wedding. (And email? Fuggedaboutit!) But it's easy to be online—simple and almost instantaneous access to all your friends and connections, and none of them need to know you're in your pajamas. And you can reinvent yourself online, which is handy for those of us with histories of awkwardness (or present awkwardness for that matter). The Internet is always with us. It's in our pockets and bags on our phones, and wherever free WiFi can be found for those with netbooks, tablets, and laptops, which provides us with a handy way to escape uncomfortable situations—how many of your with smart phones have checked (or pretended to check) email, Facebook, or Twitter at a party where the conversation wasn't going quite right? 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Twelve Months of Anthropology in Practice

Some bloggers are taking a look at their year of blogging with a summary of sorts. Drugmonkey has put out a call for participants for the twelve month meme:
The rules for this blog meme are quite simple. Post the link and first sentence from the first blog entry for each month of the past year.
Seems simple enough. I skipped blog carnivals, blog announcements, and Anthro Readers that may have fallen on the first, and instead went to the next full post. Here's a sampling of 2010 on AiP:
  • January: Question: What do you need to get you through the day?
  • February: I'm always interested in changes to the landscape because I think that these changes are often reflected in the social landscape as well.
  • March: The City That Never Sleeps, The Crossroads of the World, The Information City, The Port of Many Ports, The Media City—these nicknames that imply fluidity.
  • April: As today is Good Friday, perhaps it's a good time to talk about death in the digital world.
  • May: Cisco's recent advertising campaign, featuring actress Ellen Page, has focused on the human network—a network that grows decidedly more digital with each passing day.
  • June: As the MTA prepares to roll out a new, user-friendly subway map this month, I thought it might be the right time to take a look at some artifacts from the subway's history.
  • July: I was accosted by a homeless man this morning.
  • August: Have you ever had the experience of experiencing a familiar place in a new way?
  • September: Yesterday's post on gender titles sparked some interesting comments on Twitter.
  • October: Mets fans know disappointment.
  • November: It’s not quite news that Cookie Monster no longer eats cookies.
  • December: Kroeber is rolling his eyes at the AAA Executive Board.  
If you decide to participate, share a link in the comments!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Evolutionary Roots of Talking With Our Hands

Human and bonobo ape hands. © SPL

New Yorkers are hand talkers—we often use gestures to add emphasis to our conversations. Whether we're pointing to direct tourists, or waving to demonstrate our exasperation with traffic, drivers, or pedestrians, or trying to interject (New Yorkers don't interrupt!) we're gesticulating. We're not the only ones to do this, of course, but in my experience we do tend to employ this element of communication fairly frequently.

The role of gestures in communication has been on my mind recently because my goddaughter is just beginning to communicate beyond crying and laughing. She recently celebrated her first birthday, and she's begun to speak her first words. ("Shoe!" is a favorite even when it is in fact a sock, as is "No!" and "Elmo!" I'm working on "Dinosaur" but that one is slow going.) It's extremely exciting. I find it really interesting that she points with increasing frequency to emphasize her exclamations—Elmo isn't just a word, he's a recognizable part of her world, from the decorations that were a part of her birthday celebration to her stuffed muppet that laughs when shaken. Her gestures help her bridge a communication gap.

ResearchBlogging.orgGestures are an integral part of language. Arbib, Liebal, and Pika (2008) believe that gestures, via pantomime and protosigns, may have played a large role in the emergence of vocalization (protospeech) leading to the development of protolanguage (1054). Their hypothesis is based on the structure of the brain, specifically a mirroring of structures in the brain: near Broca's area, a region of the brain said to be involved in language production, is a region "activated for both grasping and observation of grasping" (1053). The proximity of a grasping region to a language region is intriguing. Individuals who have suffered damage to Broca's area have difficulties with language production. They can often understand others perfectly, but they have difficulty responding in all but the simplest of ways. Arbib and colleagues suggest that because damage to Broca's area also impedes the emergence of signed languages as well, the region should be understood in relation to multimodal language processes and not just vocalization. They believe this creates a strong case for understanding the place of gestures in the evolution of language.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 18

The reader is a bit late and somewhat sparse today. My week was blindsided by the AAA's long term plan statement. (Thanks very much to Barbara King for drawing our attention to it on Twitter!) If you haven't already, you may want to read the following posts for thoughts about the new statement. I strongly suggest you start with Daniel Lende's Anthropology, Science, and Public Understanding. Daniel provides a nice overview, and states his concerns in a calm, thoughtful way.
Update: The AAA has also posted a response called simply Long Range Plan:
We believe that the source of the problem speaks to the power of symbols: we replaced the term “science” in the preface of this planning document by a more specific (and inclusive) list of research domains, while explicitly acknowledging that the Association’s central focus is to promote the production, circulation, and application of anthropological research findings. 

At CultureBy Grant McCracken has a post up about Bob Smith's Amazing Strangers project. Smith has dissected Union Square and cataloged the people who frequent the area, drawing attention to groups like "peepers." It's a fun read, and a reminder that someone is always watching.

At A Hot Cup of Joe, there's a really interesting post up about vandalism in antiquity. CFeagans examines vertical gouges in Egyptian monuments:
One thing they seem to have in common is that they are typically vertical and that they are deeper in the center, as if scooped out. Pilgrims and believers in magic scraped the stone to remove a fine dust, which they collected and mixed in a drink. By scraping out a portion of the temple or monument, the pilgrim hoped to obtain some of the power through sympathetic magic. This practice occurred from about the time of the New Kingdom to around the 5th century CE.”
You may also want to check out Barbara King's post on co-sleeping, which is fairly common in may cultures around the world. King presents research by biological anthropologists James McKenna and Thomas McDade (2005) on the benefits of co-sleeping for babies. I wasn't really familiar with the evolutionary discussion on co-sleeping, so this post really informative—and it seems to make a lot of sense:
Lemurs of Madagascar, squirrel monkeys of Brazil, baboons and chimpanzees of Tanzania- in all these species, indeed in almost all nonhuman primate species, babies cling round-the-clock to mom, breast-feeding and sleeping at will. This intense day-and-night closeness lasts for months and sometimes years. 
Is it a reflection of the personality of our culture that we don't really practice co-sleeping? Is the idea of independence what drives parents to hasten the process to get children to sleep by themselves? Would definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts on those questions.

See you next week!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

East River Waterfront Update

Longtime readers know that I am particularly interested in landscapes, specifically the relationships we have with our environments and the ways they shape us while we shape them. The shoreline around New York City has changed since the early settlers established the colony here, expanding to meet our harbor needs. Over the last year, I've been watching development of the East River Waterfront unfold. It's time for another update (you can view previous updates here, here, here, and here).

Here's a look at where we are today:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

AiP Elsewhere on the Web

Credit: Jamesongravity, Flickr
I hope you'll bear with me as I toot my horn a little: AiP has been mentioned in a few places that I'd like to share with you!

First, Southern Fried Science has signed off for the month of December, but not before naming Anthropology in Practice as one of its favorite blogs for 2010:
Anthropology in Practice is one of the best social science blogs out there, plus anthropological writing turned towards our own culture.
Not only that, but the network has named Recycling for Profit: Rise of the Can Collectors as one of its favorite posts. I should also mention that Smells from the Past: The Fulton Fish Market, which I posted at The Urban Ethnographer, was also selected as a favorite post.

I am really honored to be included in this selection by Southern Fried Science!

Also, AiP gets a mention from Dave Munger at Seed Magazine. In his column, The Human Animal, Dave references AiP's recent post, Faunal Friends: The Animal Connection. He also includes work by Jason Gold who blogs at The Thoughtful Animal. It's a fantastic piece on our relationship with pets. (Clearly I'm not biased at all in my assessment!)

Anthropology Just Says No to Science?

“Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.” - Alfred Kroeber

Kroeber is rolling his eyes at the AAA Executive Board.

At a recent AAA meeting the Board decided to remove mentions of “science” from the mission statement via a strategically crafted "long term goal" statement (original PDF here):
Mission Statement in the new LRP (additions underlined; deletions in strikethrough)
Section 1. The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies public understanding of humankind in all its aspects, through This includes, but is not limited to, archeological, biological, ethnological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research; The Association also commits itself and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists, including the dissemination of
anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. and its use to solve human problems.
Section 2. To advance the science of anthropology the public understanding of humankind, the Association shall: Foster and support the development of special anthropological societies organized on a regional or functional basis; Publish and promote the publication of anthropological monographs and journals; Encourage anthropological teaching, research, and practice; act to coordinate activities of members of the Association with those of other organizations concerned with anthropology, and maintain effective liaison with related sciences knowledge disciplines and their organizations.
Section 3. To further the professional interests of anthropologists, the Association shall, in addition to those activities described under Section 2: Take action on behalf of the entire profession and integrate the professional activities of anthropologists in the special aspects of the science; and promote the widespread recognition and constant improvement of professional standards in anthropology.
The backlash has been immediate. Various anthropological communities justly feel such changes alienate those with a scientific background from the Association. This prompted spokesman Damon Dozer to respond that the changes are examples of “wordsmithing” and are not meant to be intentionally provocative:
"We have no interest in taking science out of the discipline," he said. "It’s not as if the anthropology community is turning its back on science."
Fantastic. So then what was the goal of this “wordsmithing”? It only seems to exacerbate divisions within anthropology while overlooking the roles and contributions of the physical anthropological disciplines.

As a cultural anthropologist, I am perplexed.