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.

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