27 June 2016

Re/telling the story of Canada's Residential Schools

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada investigated the impact of Canada's Indian Residential Schools system on students, their families, and indigenous peoples across Canada more broadly. The report, which concluded that this schools system was part of a systematic government program of cultural genocide, was just the first step toward reconciliation and healing for those affected, and for relations between all Canadians and indigenous peoples on whose land Canada was founded.

As was evidenced in the joint CASCA SANA meetings held at Dalhousie University this past May, many projects are now underway to begin and continue this journey of healing and reconciliation. Federal funding is now being made available to projects committed to this goal. At Dalhousie, Andrea Walsh (Victoria; scroll to "Current projects - Collections and Community Based Research and Curating") and Myrna Cranmer (Kwakwaka'wakw, 'Namgis) discussed "The work of redress through repatriation in the case of the Alberni Indian Residential School paintings collection." In 2013, another project was the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's creation of what is now a "critically acclaimed original ballet, based on a story by The Orenda novelist Joseph Boyden and featuring music from Tanya Tagaq" (2016, CBC). Projects are also making this history more accessible to settler-Canadians, for instance through the creation of a new Heritage Minute. For Canadians who grew up in the 1990s, we learned a lot about Canadian history through the minute-long educational shorts shown during commercial breaks called Heritage Minutes. Yet, only 6 of these minutes addressed aboriginal peoples, and none addressed the uncomfortable and shameful past of this cultural genocide... until this past week with the publication of Heritage Minutes: Chanie Wenjack. Like all of these minutes, this one provides an evocative glimpse into part of Canada's history.

Instructors teaching about colonialism and the reverberations of systemic violence against indigenous peoples might be interested in reflecting on these projects as an opening to a broader discussion on these topics. What can these examples bring to the discussion colonial legacies in the context of Canadian national identity? Why is it important to collaborate with and support indigenous peoples in the re/telling of this brutal history? How does voice and representation matter in projects of reconciliation and healing? What role has anthropology played in these historical projects, and what can anthropologists do today?

Quick links and further reading:
UPDATE 30 June 2016: CBC now has a link to their documentary, Truth, Dance, & Reconciliation (44.10 minutes run time), about the RWB ballet about Canada's Indian residential school history, "Going Home Star." 

23 June 2016

Anthropologist, CTO

Is it really that strange to think that an anthropologist would be the best choice for a Chief Technology Officer?

According to Susannah Fox, the CTO for HHS (U.S. Health and Human Services), no, it shouldn't be:
“We’re living through this time right now where technology is a Trojan Horse for change ... . We say technology, but we mean innovation. We say interoperability and open data, but we mean culture change. And this is why the HHS CTO is an anthropologist. I know about culture change. I know how difficult it is for everyone involved.” (mobihealthnews.com, 2016)
For Fox, part of this cultural change has to do with understanding patients' needs, and the technology hacks that people are already doing, as in the #WeAreNotWaiting movement among people living with diabetes.

 Quick links & further reading:

20 June 2016

Anthropology and Public Health Policy

Medical anthropologist (and medical student) Dave Campbell outlines "Anthropology's Contribution to Public Health Policy Development" (2011) in this accessible (and open access) piece published in the McGill Journal of Medicine.

The article is written for non-anthropologists, and therefore provides a useful brief overview of the history of medical anthropology, what it has contributed to public health policy to date, and importantly, areas where "anthropology can influence public health policy in ways that epidemiology or other methods cannot." In this relatively short paper, Campbell discusses the value of an anthropological perspective for public health and policy creation in terms of:
"(A) The ability to see culture in its proper context in the social world and how culture affects all research. (B) The ability to pick up on minute and seemingly irrelevant details. (C) Independence from biomedical goals and hegemony allows medical anthropologists to add a critical voice to the public health discourse. (D) Provision of objective, qualitative data in an otherwise quantitative field."

For more on the role of anthropology/ anthropologists in healthcare, check out the links on our Applying an anthropological perspective outside of university page.

16 June 2016

Language learning

Although more and more anthropology students choose to research in sites 'at home' where they are already familiar with the language, it has been a long tradition in the discipline that students learn a second language. 

This expectation may be formalized through a degree requirement in your program to learn a second language. Or, it may be an unspoken norm, as many senior academics see overseas travel and language acquisition as a sign of true scholarship. Learning a second language may also be a political choice. For instance, meetings of the Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) over the past few years have raised the question of the politics of language in (Canadian and World) Anthropology/ies and the dominance of English-language scholarship (and the AAA). Learning another language may be part of your professional development strategy (even if you study a site where you use your first language). In Canada, for example, federal public servants are usually required to have competency in both French and English. Meanwhile, the market research companies that are increasingly hiring ethnographers may be interested in candidates with specific language skills.

In any case, linguist Stephen Krashen has some important advice regarding how to approach language learning in this piece from The Washington Post: "The wrong and right way to learn a foreign language" (2012). Bascially, Krashen advises that: 
"We do not master languages by hard study and memorization, or by producing it. Rather, we acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read, when we get “comprehensible input.” As we get comprehensible input through listening and reading, we acquire (or “absorb”) the grammar and vocabulary of the second language."

15 June 2016

Anthropology Newspaper (beta)

If you felt a little overwhelmed by the wonderful (and extensive!) variety of current anthro blogs posted in the 2016 Anthropology Blog Report last week, you might want to check out the new Anthropology Newspaper. This blog publishes an aggregate feed from a wide variety of anthro blogs in one handy place, including posts from anthro everywhere!

This 'newspaper' is published by antropologi.info, a blog I first came across when I was working on my Master's degree and just starting to learn about the possibilities of blogging as a way to learn about and share an anthropological perspective. The site began in 2004 publishing on social and cultural anthropology in the news in English, Norwegian and German, but seems to have stopped publishing new posts on their blog in 2015. It is therefore great to see that antropologi.info has launched the Anthropology Newspaper! The pinboard-style page updates every 2-3 hours with posts from blogs published in English, German, and Norwegian. You can filter by language, and search through entries using their tag cloud, which lists the top 100 tags in the original blog posts.

14 June 2016

DNA Discovery and Taking a Trip around the World

There is a very interesting project happening through Momondo right now. It's called the DNA Journey.

As explained on Bloghizzle's website:
We are currently populating an earth that is unaware of the underlying roots. How deep those roots go and how intertwined they are is a mystery. That is, of course, if you ignore the fact that our DNA tells us exactly that…Momondo gathered a bunch of people and asked them a few questions:
  1. Where are you from? 
  2. What’s your heritage?
  3. Are there any nationalities/people you don’t get along with?
These are questions most of us can answer, and most of us probably did when reading over the questions above.

Aside from the point that we are all humans and should care about DNA, Momondo brought a very special offer to the table. They allowed the participants to travel to every country that pops up in their DNA makeup. An offer that this group of people could not refuse.

Perhaps you're thinking that Momondo is a research group, a think tank, a non-profit?
Nope. Momondo is like a itravel2000.com. It's a website where you can find cheap flights (website).

Does this seems too good to be true? Unfortunately it is. Rahaman (2016) reports that Danish scientists have now weighed in and, according to them, the logic behind the tests doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny.

Rahaman: Johannes Hansen, a professor at the National History Museum of Denmark, argues that an individual's DNA needs to be compared with a characteristic sample of ‘national’ DNA in order to contextualize it.

Then I thought, well the promotional video could be a useful pedagogical tool to show in class where contestants are recorded as they discover 'the roots' of their DNA. However, Rahaman notes in her article that "several online commentators have drawn attention to how the advert used actors".

This website also has a DNA expert on tap to discuss How DNA opens the world. Unfortunately, Brad Argent is an international commercial development director and spokesperson at Ancestry.com, who has a graduate diploma in counselling, according to Rahaman. He also loses his scholarly-looking glasses between taking the video screen shot and then talking expertly about DNA.

Despite that, you can enter a contest on Momondo's website to have your DNA checked AND if selected, they will fly you to all the places in the world where your DNA supposedly comes from! That, in itself, is enough for me to sign up for hundreds of unwanted Momondo emails at least until the end of the contest (Aug. 16, 2016).

13 June 2016

Mass Violence and Teachable Moments

This past weekend, Orlando, Florida witnessed the worst mass shooting in America's recent history. This violent, planned attack in a public place is tragic, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

As the LA Times discussed after the 2015 mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and in an English class at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, in the US such violence has become "often both stunningly senseless and paradoxically routine." We continue to be shocked each time that mass public violence happens, mourn for the victims, and look for answers. As social scientists, and as teachers, we should also recognize these as teachable moments to talk about these mass shootings not as exceptional instances, but as part of broader patterns and systems of violence in (North) American/ Western society.

Precisely because mass shootings and less sensational instances of gun violence in America are so prevalent, there are already a number of interesting discussions and reflections from an anthropological or social science perspective available, such as:

An important issue that has been little addressed in the days following Orlando, has been how such violence is part of a long history entangled with ideas of cultural and moral superiority. In my social media feed, I have been seeing many posts about how the headline that Orlando is the worst mass shooting in American history ignores an important part of that history. Many commentators point to Native American massacres, for instance, the massacre at Wounded Knee, where some 150 Lakota men, women and children were killed by the US government. While these deaths were distinctly connected to colonization and the systemic inequality this earlier history established, we continue to see such processes of systemic violence play out in many different encounters today (for instance, see our previous posts on Racist Mascots, or The Anthropology of Terrorism).

As a deliberate attack on LGBT+ people, Orlando shows us how homophobia is woven into these broader patterns, histories, and our cultural scripts in North America about belonging, violence, cultural difference, and masculinity. In America, the realities of how this structural violence is experienced is complicated by how easy it is for people to access a wide range of powerful firearms. In 2015, the connections between toxic masculinity and gun violence were explicit in the murder of female students in Roseburg, Oregon. In Canada, where gun violence is much less prevalent, we have nonetheless seen and remember these powerful connections in the 1989 Montreal Massacre. Homophobia is also intricately connected to these deeply held ideas of what it means to be a man in North America, and how homosexuality and non-normative gender expressions transgress and are thought to threaten such masculinities.

We see this not only in North America, but elsewere in the world as well. For instance, in Montenegro, the country's first Pride Parade (2013) ended in violence. Protesters focused on the parade's logo, the moustache, as a symbol of traditional Montenegrin masculinity. As the anthropologist Branko Banovic commented, in spite of the culturally contextual focus on the moustache, the discourse framing the controversy was "structured on the basis of a pattern with well-documented main elements ... : the centrality dichotomies of normal/abnormal, natural/unnatural, and moral/immoral; homosexuality regarded as an illness; religious institutions and officers that play an important role in the public debate on homosexuality; LGBT people who attack the core of national values; and the battle between the police and the right-wing groups."

Although these discursive themes are specific to the Montenegrin context, they resonate with what we've witnessed over the past few years in America -- for instance, in the recent and ongoing legislation regarding transgendered people and public toilets.

As social scientists, we can encourage our students to look for, debate, and dig into the cultural, historical, political, and economic factors that connect eruptions of violence like the Orlando shooting to broader processes of systemic violence and inequality in our societies.

The dos & don'ts of Cultural Appropriation

In "The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation" (2015, The Atlantic), author Jeni Avins argues that cultural appropriation can actually be a positive thing. Heavily focused on the issue of cultural appropriation in fashion, Avins declares,
At my house, getting dressed is a daily act of cultural appropriation, and I’m not the least bit sorry about it. ...
As I dress in the morning, I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship and design behind these items, as well as the adventures and people they recall. And while I hope I don’t offend anyone, I find the alternative—the idea that I ought to stay in the cultural lane I was born into—outrageous. No matter how much I love cable-knit sweaters and Gruyere cheese, I don’t want to live in a world where the only cultural inspiration I’m entitled to comes from my roots in Ireland, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe.
Before you write this piece off as ethnocentric and privileged (or even generously, naive and frivolous)... Avins does lay out some arguments and cases for how and when cultural appropriation may be okay:
1. Blackface Is Never Okay
2. It’s Important to Pay Homage to Artistry and Ideas, and Acknowledge Their Origins
3. Don’t Adopt Sacred Artifacts as Accessories
4. Remember That Culture Is Fluid
5. Don’t Forget That Appropriation Is No Substitute for Diversity
6. Engage With Other Cultures on More Than an Aesthetic Level
7. Treat a Cultural Exchange Like Any Other Creative Collaboration—Give Credit, and Consider Royalties
Instructors may consider using this piece as a way of provoking or introducing class discussion around issues of cultural appropriation. Angles to consider might include how processes of globalization affect what cultural appropriation means, or how historical power relations play out today in such banal parts of our lives as fashion.

10 June 2016

Cultural constructions of illness

"The Diseases You Only Get if You Believe in Them" (2016, The Atlantic) looks at certain forms of illness that are culturally specific. In this piece, Julie Beck interviews Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes (2016).

Although Bures' book begins and ends with the 'exotic' cultural syndrome of penis theft in places like Nigeria and China, the interview provides a really interesting discussion of cultural syndromes in general, and asks "why the United States is not immune from them, and why asking if they’re “real” is the wrong question."

Some interesting points for discussion here include  the cultural imperialism and ethnocentrism of Western medical knowledge above understandings of health and illness in other cultures, and a critical reflection on how Western experiences of health/ illness are also culturally constructed.

09 June 2016

A New Home for Ethnography: The Use and Legacy of Ethnography by Anthropologists and Non-Anthropologists

Rhiannon and I are currently completing an article that looks at ethnography at this moment in time. One thread in this discussion is the way in which ethnography is used by non-anthropologists or anthropologists working outside academia.

One of my recent favorites has been Dr. Linda Hill's work on Creativity and Management.

In Dr. Hill's talk about How to Manage for Collective Creativity, she states:
I'm an ethnographer. I use the methods of anthropology to understand the questions in which I'm interested. So along with three co-conspirators, I spent nearly a decade observing up close and personal exceptional leaders of innovation. We studied 16 men and women, located in seven countries across the globe, working in 12 different industries. In total, we spent hundreds of hours on the ground, on-site, watching these leaders in action. We ended up with pages and pages and pages of field notes that we analyzed and looked for patterns in what our leaders did. The bottom line? If we want to build organizations that can innovate time and again, we must unlearn our conventional notions of leadership.

By looking at the various ways ethnographic methods are used by anthropological practitioners and non-anthropologists alike, it is instructive to revisit the question of what defines 'ethnographic methods' apart from other qualitative and quantitative research methods?

We'll check back in to this question once our article is closer to its release date.

08 June 2016

American Anthropological Association Votes Against Resolution to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

Elizabeth Redden reported today about the American Anthropological Association's close vote against a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

She writes:A total of 2,423 AAA members voted to oppose the boycott measure, while 2,384 supported it. About 51 percent of AAA’s 9,359 voting-eligible members participated in the boycott vote, which took place online from April 15 through May 31.
The results of the online vote contrast sharply with the results of a vote in favor of an academic boycott that took place at the association’s annual business meeting in November. At that time, members in attendance voted by an overwhelming 1,040 to 136 margin to move forward with a boycott resolution by placing it on an online ballot for consideration by the full membership this spring.
Despite the boycott being voted down, the AAA has passed the following actions. For more information about this boycott leading up to the vote, see our previous post entitled The Vote Heard Around the (Anthropological) World: American Anthropological Association v. Israeli academic institutions.

07 June 2016

A Little Social Science Cheerleading

In case anyone anywhere is looking for reasons why social scientists are needed in a societal sense or are arguing for the value of their degree, check out these quick links:

1. From Universities Canada/Universit├ęs Canada (March 2016):
"Canada needs graduates with liberal arts education, and these data reinforce that value,” says Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada. “A new report out last week from the Business Council of Canada also confirms high demand for the skills and abilities that are core to a liberal arts education. Employers want to hire young people with a strong complement of soft skills, such as adaptability, collaboration, teamwork, communication and critical thinking abilities.

From this website is a link to their Quick Facts on the Value of the Liberal Arts

2. In case you haven't seen it, there is a Campaign for Social Science out of the UK and they've published the 10 reasons for Social Science. I like their mention of how social scientists can: help others make informed choices; allow others to feel empowered to act; tailor advice and findings to people's everyday lives and contexts; identify patterns; and, bring out the human (context, question or impact) in decision making practices and projects.

3. Finally, out of the UK, Professor Karl Spracklen, author of Making the Moral Case for Social Sciences's describes what he thinks are the challenges against and cases for social science today.

Challenges include:

  1.  Focus on STEM by government policies and planning
  2. Interest among the public for popular science explanations of complex issues that reduce social and cultural factors down to biological
  3. Sustained low-level attack on social scientists by populism and their pundits
  4. The integration of right-wing critiques into discourses of impact and value with regard to university workings and funding trends
Three Moral Cases for Social Science (I've flipped their order according to his rating of importance). To study the social sciences...:

  1. Allows 'us' to resist the instrumentality, injustice and inequality that under-gird the norms and values of our late modern society by revealing the truth about abuses of power that continue the majority's hold on power
  2. Allows 'us' to flourish as humans and develop as happier and equal individuals based on Aristotelian idea that sciences are good for helping humans to flourish (in general)
  3. Allows us to discover and explore humanity and is in the vein of learning for learning's sake
I switched the order of these cases around as I thought the now final (his original first case) was reminiscent of the slow professor movement/debate is going around so much at the moment.

06 June 2016

A guide to academic conversations

It can be a little daunting to approach a speaker after an academic talk.

We've all been there at one time or another. You've just heard an inspiring public lecture, faculty talk, or panel speaker at a conference, and you have so much to say, but you just don't quite know how to approach the speaker after the talk.

Luckily, Gretchen McCulloch of All Things Linguistic has written up "How to interact with someone who’s just given a talk - A guide to academic conversations" (2016). In this post she offers a number of tips and scripts for students starting up a conversation with other scholars. Although these are directed at linguistics students, they easily apply to students of all stripes, and go beyond just speaking to a public lecturer (e.g. ice-breaker and networking tips).

While this post was originally written with graduate students in mind, McColloch notes that a lot of this information might also be useful for undergraduates trying to figure out how to approach their instructor during their office hours, or raise a question in class. It might be useful for instructors to bring some of these tips into their classrooms as a link on a syllabus, or even as part of a short assignment to help cultivate critical thinking and engagement skills.

03 June 2016

Anthropology Blog Report

Anthropology Report has updated their list of over 200 active blogs sharing information and thoughts on anthropology. We are thrilled to see anthro everywhere! listed in the company of so many other great blogs.

Check them all out at Anthropology Report's Anthropology Blogs 2016!

02 June 2016

Valuing Aboriginal cultural knowledge in Western science

The relationship between Western science (scientists, government officials, etc.) and Aboriginal knowledge has often been rocky, with Westerners often only acknowledging the value of local indigenous knowledge when it corroborates their scientific findings, or when it can be exploited for profit. The negative effects of this habitual dismissal of local indigenous knowledge was highlighted in Canadian media in 2014. To much fanfare and after considerable expense to Canadian taxpayers, the federal government announced that they had 'found' the long lost wreck of the Franklin expedition. Immediately after the announcement, a flurry of news articles followed indicating that local Inuit groups had known where the ship had wrecked all along:
Inuit oral tradition said the two ships appeared on the northwest side of King William Island, said Kamookak. One was crushed in ice and the other drifted further south.
It was afloat for two winters before it sank. Elders said there may have been people living on it during the first winter, but there were no signs of people during the second winter. 
"For us Inuit it means that oral history is very strong in knowledge, not only for searching for Franklin's ships but also for environment and other issues," Kamookak said. (Franklin find proves 'Inuit oral history is strong:' Louie Kamookak, CBC, 2014)
Unlike the ill-fated Franklin expedition, or the government's ill-considered hunt for these artifacts, new scientific studies and conservation projects are increasingly underscoring the mutual benefit of valuing indigenous knowledge and practices. This is the discussion in Researchers around the world are learning from Indigenous Communities. Here's why that's a good thing (Ensia, 2016)
“The hardest thing is to sit in a room with scientists who think they’ve discovered something, but their scientific discovery just confirms what our oral histories have talked about forever,” says William Housty, a member of British Columbia’s Heiltsuk First Nation and director of Coastwatch, a science and conservation program. “That’s been the biggest hump for us to overcome, to get people to think about our culture on the same level as Western science.”
The article covers many interesting cases from Canada’s Far North to Australia showing how working together can create better shared knowledge, and relationships that are more respectful of indigenous lifeworlds and the natural environment.

Quick links:

Local food, global labour

The globalized movement of things, money, ideas, images and people has become more frequent and normal than any time in history. This is especially the case for those of us in North America, where what we eat has travelled to our grocery stores from across the world. This concern for where our food comes from has prompted many people to "eat local" and champion the idea of farm-to-table meals.

But, something that we usually don't consider about our "100-mile diets" is the labour of growing and harvesting these local foods. The reality often is that the people who work on the farms and in factories where our food is processed are migrant labourers. And, as we have seen in the Canadian case, even though many of these workers arrive through legal channels, they often lack the kinds of labour and human rights we expect in Canada.

In this piece from CBC Radio, you can hear a discussion about the problems with Canadian labour programs like the temporary and seasonal farm worker programs. In this discussion, social justice activist Chris Ramsaroop (Justice for Migrant Workers) discusses how these programs are actually part of broader processes of systemic racism, and global economic inequalities between the Global North and Global South.

Quick links and further reading: