Anthropology

Excerpt: The Personalities on the Plate

April 12, 2017
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Excerpt: The Personalities on the Plate

Frequent NPR contributor, animal intelligence expert, and anthropologist Barbara J. King steals the show—and the front page—at NPR, with the below excerpts from her latest book, Personalities on the Plate: The Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat. *** Chickens may be resplendently different one from the other, as was immediately apparent when I made six hen acquaintances at Wilder Ranch State Park near Santa Cruz, Calif., in the summer of 2015. These beautiful birds, with names like Goosey and Bella, ranging in color from white to gold and yellow, sometimes with patches of a soft iridescent blue, live in an outdoor coop outfitted with a chicken swing for exercise. During my visit they were turned out into a vegetable garden; there among the planted rows, one sunbathed and several foraged. Some invited human interaction, and others did not. I gently picked up Bella — so white, so soft — and held her against my chest in a serene encounter that I enjoyed greatly and that Bella seemed to soak up pleasurably as well. That I held, stroked and talked to a chicken for the first time in my 50s is very much a product of my time and place. In . . .

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Personal Branding is blasé auto-fan fiction and other notes on the new economy

April 7, 2017
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Personal Branding is blasé auto-fan fiction and other notes on the new economy

“Personal branding” seems the provenance dystopian fiction—equal parts Idiocracy and neoliberal end game, one would think its merely a belabored joke about the individual in late capitalism, rather than a facts-on-the-ground-style employment strategy. “You are your brand!,” isn’t a line from 1984, though: it’s part and parcel of almost any TedTalk on the job market, despite the fact that—according to anthropologist Ilana Gershon, whose recent book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today is profiled in the Quartz review excerpted below—it rarely results in, um, an actual job. Read more from the Quartz piece after the jump. *** Gershon, a professor of anthropology at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, spent a year interviewing and observing job seekers and employers in Silicon Valley and around the US. Her new book, Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (Or Don’t Find) Work Today explains that branding is largely a boondoggle advanced by inspirational speakers and job trainers. It doesn’t help people get jobs. . . . According to Gershon, the concept of personal branding developed over the last 30 years as the concept of work itself became more precarious. Union membership has contracted. The number of hours in the . . .

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Bronzeville: Recommended reading for a new podcast

March 20, 2017
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Bronzeville: Recommended reading for a new podcast

Josh Olson’s new 10-part podcast Bronzeville, which stars Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, and Tika Sumpter, chronicles the lives of players in the illegal lottery that swept the African American community in the 1940s before the game was taken over by the mob. If that’s not enticing enough, here’s a list of some recommended background reading on the city, then and now; how it become one of America’s most iconic black neighborhoods; and why its redevelopment—in which the middle class benefits as lower-income residents are pushed out—continues to matter, now more than ever. *** Derek S. Hyra’s The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville explores the shared metamorphosis of these formerly notorious urban ghettos into two of our most iconic black communities, as the pressure of late-capitalist gentrification and a complicated web of factors—local, national, and global—shaped their remarkable revitalization. St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton’s Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City, based on research conducted by Works Progress Administration field workers, is a sweeping historical and sociological account of the people of Chicago’s South Side from the 1840s through the 1930s, as path-breaking today as it was when it was first published in 1945. Diane Grams’s Producing Local . . .

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The Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo (A Turkey Pardon)

November 24, 2016
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The Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo (A Turkey Pardon)

This oldie but goodie by Magnus Fiskesjö from Prickly Paradigm Press definitely remains the singular anthropological text published on the relationship between the Thanksgiving turkey pardon and the War on Terror: Each Thanksgiving, the president of the United States symbolically pardons one turkey from the fate of serving as a holiday dinner. In this pamphlet, anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö uncovers the hidden horrors of such rituals connected with the power of pardon, from the annual turkey to the pardoning of the original Teddy Bear. It is through these ritualized and perpetually remembered acts of mercy, Fiskesjö contends, that we might come to understand the exceptional—and troubling—status of the “War on Terror” prisoners being held by the United States at Guantánamo Bay. “In The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, Swedish anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö, see in the annual presidential reprieve of an otherwise doomed turkey something much more than a lark. (Just ask a vegetarian; it’s no joke.) ‘It is really a symbolic pardoning act which, through public performance, establishes and manifests the sovereign’s position at the helm of the state by highlighting . . . his power to control matters of life and death.’ That observation leads Fiskesjö to some troubling thoughts on the . . .

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Barbara J. King on whale grief

July 25, 2016
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Barbara J. King on whale grief

From National Geographic: More than six species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the body of a dead compatriot, probably a podmate or relative, scientists say in a new study. The most likely explanation for the animals’ refusal to let go of the corpses: grief. “They are mourning,” says study co-author Melissa Reggente, a biologist at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. “They are in pain and stressed. They know something is wrong.” Scientists have found a growing number of species, from giraffes to chimps, that behave as if stricken with grief. Elephants, for example, return again and again to the body of a dead companion. Such findings add to the debate about whether animals feel emotion—and, if they do, how such emotions should influence human treatment of other creatures. (See “Do Crows Hold Funerals for Their Dead?”) Animal grief can be defined as emotional distress coupled with a disruption of usual behavior, according to Barbara King, emeritus professor of anthropology at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and author of the book How Animals Grieve. Barbara J. King has long positioned her scholarship at the forefront of our study of animal emotions—in works like How Animals Grieve and in . . .

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“Anthropology’s Storyteller-Shaman-Sorcerer”

January 28, 2016
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“Anthropology’s Storyteller-Shaman-Sorcerer”

From a recent review of Michael Taussig’s The Corn Wolf at Pop Matters: Taussig’s work is the sort of bewilderingly beautiful prose (one is often tempted to call it poetry) that’s able to operate on multiple intellectual levels. The first essay in the collection, “The Corn Wolf: Writing Apotropaic Texts”, immerses the reader fully and mercilessly in the style. It opens with a poor graduate student realizing that writing up their fieldwork is the most difficult and important task of graduate school, and also the one thing graduate school teaches you nothing about. Fieldwork and writing; “they are both rich, ripe, secret-society-type shenanigans. Could it be that both are based on impossible-to-define talents, intuitions, tricks, and fears?” No wonder many careerist academics dislike him. Of course the essay isn’t so much about graduate writing as about his own writing, and about the act of writing—the magical act of writing—itself. For example, Taussig considers anthropology’s treatment of magic and shamanic sorcery: “Pulling the wool over one’s eyes is a simpler way of putting it… What we have generally done in anthropology is really pretty amazing in this regard, piggybacking on their magic and on their conjuring—their tricks—so as to come up with explanations that . . .

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Excerpt: Players and Pawns

August 17, 2015
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Excerpt: Players and Pawns

“The World of Chess” from Gary Alan Fine’s Players and Pawns: How Chess Builds Community and Culture *** Chess is not the oldest game of humankind. That honor goes to an Egyptian board game dating back to 3500– 4000 BC. But chess’s longevity is remarkable. While claims of the true beginnings of chess are various and the origins are shrouded in mystery, consensus exists that the game as we recognize it began on the Indian subcontinent in approximately 700 AD, although Persia shaped the early game as well. As with so many origin stories, one can find political motives. For instance, some claim that chess originated in Uzbekistan or even in China. Chess is considered a war game, or at least a game that models warfare or prepares soldiers, although some legendary origins (Myanmar or Sri Lanka) suggest in a more pacifist fashion that the game was developed to provide a less bloody equivalent to conflict. Given the passion of Napoleon for the game, such sublimation was not inevitably effective. When the game spread to the Islamic world, which rejected gambling and gaming, chess was permitted because it was considered preparation for war. In the Soviet Union, the game was treated . . .

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An excerpt from Lee Siegel’s Trance Migrations

October 8, 2014
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An excerpt from Lee Siegel’s Trance Migrations

From Trance Migrations: Stories of India, Tales of Hypnosis by Lee Siegel The Child’s Story And now, if you dare, LOOK into the hypnotic eye! You cannot look away! You cannot look away! You cannot look away! —THE GREAT DESMOND IN THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960) I was eight years old when my mother was hypnotized by a sinister Hindu yogi. Yes, she was entranced by him, entirely under his control, and made do things she would never have done in her normal waking state. My father wasn’t there to protect her and there was nothing I, a mere child, could do about it. I vividly remember his turban and flowing robes, his strange voice, gliding gait, and those eerie eyes that widened to capture her mind. I heard his suggestive whispers—“Sleep Memsaab, sleep”—and saw his hand moving over her face in circular hypnotic passes. “Sleep, Memsaab.” It’s true. I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes as I watched “The Unknown Terror,” an episode of the series Ramar of the Jungle, on television one evening in 1953. Playing the part of a teak plantation owner in India, my mother, the actress Noreen Nash, was . . .

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Malcolm Gladwell profiles On the Run

August 5, 2014
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Malcolm Gladwell profiles On the Run

From a profile of On the Run by Malcolm Gladwell in this week’s New Yorker: It was simply a fact of American life. He saw the pattern being repeated in New York City during the nineteen-seventies, as the city’s demographics changed. The Lupollos’ gambling operations in Harlem had been taken over by African-Americans. In Brooklyn, the family had been forced to enter into a franchise arrangement with blacks and Puerto Ricans, limiting themselves to providing capital and arranging for police protection. “Things here in Brooklyn aren’t good for us now,” Uncle Phil told Ianni. “We’re moving out, and they’re moving in. I guess it’s their turn now.” In the early seventies, Ianni recruited eight black and Puerto Rican ex-cons—all of whom had gone to prison for organized-crime activities—to be his field assistants, and they came back with a picture of organized crime in Harlem that looked a lot like what had been going on in Little Italy seventy years earlier, only with drugs, rather than bootleg alcohol, as the currency of innovation. The newcomers, he predicted, would climb the ladder to respectability just as their predecessors had done. “It was toward the end of the Lupollo study that I became convinced that organized . . .

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Q & A with Henry Gee

November 15, 2013
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Q & A with Henry Gee

As promised, to close out University Press Week, here’s a Q & A with author Henry Gee, whose recent book The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution questions the value of concepts like the “missing link” and the Great Chain of Being, positioning them as metaphors that paint a inaccurate portrait of how human evolution really works, and pinning down human exceptionalism as a gross error that continues to infect scientific thought. He also talks about Carl Sagan, Darwin’s vocabulary, and the ubiquity of battered copies of Beowulf in UK bookstores, after the jump. *** UCP: The Accidental Species is a serious work about a serious topic—the subject of how and where we locate our own   (flawed) notion of human exceptionalism—filled with pop-cultural references such as “Lady Marmalade,” sports cars, elephant jokes, The Hobbit, the works of Lewis Carroll, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Could you describe your sensibility as a paleontologist trying to write a trade book accessible for the general reader? HG: I’m quite sensitive to a possible criticism of didactic books like this—that is, they can get rather preachy. So, rather than gently introducing readers to unfamiliar arguments, some books tend to use such arguments . . .

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