Anthropology

Chungking Express at the Center of the World

July 12, 2011
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Chungking Express at the Center of the World

The tale told in Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express isn’t particularly straightforward. In between the stop-motion jumps and alternative shots, the flick tells two stories: a cop with a jones for a lost love buys tins of pineapple that are due to expire the same day as his affection, while another cop. . . . Well, there’s some mirroring with postdated boarding passes and a girl named Faye and California, the restaurant and the place and that kind of Dreamin’ from the Mamas and the Papas song, and . . . uh, flight attendants and cousins . . . and. . . . Suffice to say it’s perfectly complicated. The title of the film in Chinese literally translates to “Chungking Jungle,” which refers to both its dense urban landscape and the Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, where much of the movie’s first sequence is set. Like the film, the Chungking Mansions offer an idiosyncratic slice of life in our transnational capitalist society. Curry shops, African record stands, clothing stalls, sari tailors, Nigerian exporters, Sub-Saharan internet cafes, Lahore Fast Food, barbershops, Bollywood video kiosks, guestrooms inhabited by 120 distinct nationalities (on any given day), porno stands, . . .

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Chimpanzees Do Not Make Good Pets

August 26, 2010
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Chimpanzees Do Not Make Good Pets

Most pets in the US either bark or meow—Americans own more than seventy-seven million dogs and ninety-three million cats. But how many chimpanzees are kept at home as pets? It’s a question that, until now, had no easy answer. But thanks to the pioneering work of Lincoln Park Zoo scientist Steve Ross, we now have a figure: about 113. And, if Ross, has his way, that number will dwindle to zero. Today’s Chicago Tribune reports on Ross’s mission to change the way people view these primates and their (un)suitability as pets. His organization, Project ChimpCARE, hopes “to locate every chimpanzee in North America and assess its level of care.” For Ross, the ChimpCARE project is about protecting chimps and people from a dangerous public misperception that chimps are safe, people-friendly animals, which makes him opposed in particular to using chimps as actors. Chimps seen on screen are babies or prepubescent youngsters, never adults, Ross said. When they reach puberty, they become dangerously unpredictable and aggressive, a tendency that resulted in tragedy last year when one retired chimp attacked and severely injured a woman in Connecticut. And Ross should know a thing of two about chimpanzees. After all, he coedited our . . .

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Gina A. Ulysse on Human Rights, Haiti, and Wyclef

August 12, 2010
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Gina A. Ulysse on Human Rights, Haiti, and Wyclef

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Climate change and human evolution

March 23, 2010
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Climate change and human evolution

NPR’s Morning Edition recently aired an interesting piece that investigates the next big trend amongst evolutionary scientists to explore how climate change has effected human evolution—a project recently endorsed by a panel of experts from National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. In the piece reporter Christopher Joyce talks with several experts on the subject including Smithsonian Anthropologist Rick Potts, curator of a recent exhibit titled “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” The exhibit offers climate change as perhaps the most important factor influencing evolution, especially the evolution of the genus homo over the last 2.5 million years or so. Anticipating this trend in the evolutionary sciences by nearly a decade, William H. Calvin’s 2002 A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change offers one of the most thorough explorations of the topic, taking readers around the globe and back in time to demonstrate how climatic cycles of cool, crash, and burn, provided the impetus for enormous increases in the intelligence and complexity of human beings. And with the recent warnings of more climatic catastrophe to come, Calvin’s book not only offers a look at our evolutionary past, but perhaps at our future as well. Navigate . . .

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A Haitian Anthropologist on Haiti

January 25, 2010
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A Haitian Anthropologist on Haiti

Gina Ulysse, author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, a Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, has been quite busy in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. Born in Pétionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, since her hometown’s recent tragedy, Ulysse has been inundated with calls asking for her insights—as both a former resident and current scholar of Haiti—on the quake, its aftermath, and what it means for the future of one of the poorest and most embattled countries in the Western hemisphere. She has done numerous interviews and op-eds for NPR, the Huffington Post, and PRI’s The World radio program with more to come. Click on the links to navigate to the articles—we’ll update the page as more of Ulysse’s commentary becomes available. In the meantime find out more about Ulysse’s fascinating study of entrepreneurial women in the Caribbean isle in Downtown Ladies. Update: As promised here are a couple more links to some of Ulysse’s recent writing and commentary on Haiti: From the January 11 edition of the Huffington Post, an article titled ““Avatar,” Voodoo and White Spiritual Redemption” From Duke University’s Social Text journal — “Dehumanization & Fracture: Trauma at Home & Abroad” And listen to this . . .

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Deciphering the secret languages of the jungle

January 12, 2010
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Deciphering the secret languages of the jungle

The science section of today’s New York Times is running an article about animal communication—more specifically, communication among some of our closest primate ancestors like chimpanzees, baboons, and monkeys—that sheds light on some of the recent research scientists have been conducting to decipher the meaning behind their grunts and yells. In the hopes that this research will one day yield some insight into how the human faculty for language has evolved, as the article notes, scientists like Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth have dedicated their lives to studying primate societies in the field to help piece together a clearer evolutionary road map between monkeys, and us. The NYT‘s Nicholas Wade cites the scientists’ research published in several of their books, including their fascinating study of vervet monkeys in How Monkeys See the World: Inside the Mind of Another Species, and their more recent Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind, to demonstrate how their work has helped to reveal some primate species to possess a number of the essential faculties that also underlie human language. “Yet,” as Wade writes, “monkeys have been around for 30 million years without saying a single sentence. What is it that has . . .

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Santa Claus vs Bigfoot

December 21, 2009
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Santa Claus vs Bigfoot

Joshua Blu Buhs, author of Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend has a written an article for the Washington Post‘s Short Stack blog that makes an unlikely, but nevertheless illuminating comparison between the mythical creature that is the subject of his book, and another mythical figure more appropriate to the season: Santa Claus. As Buhs argues, “though comparatively domesticated, his rough edges hidden behind a great white beard and cherubic cheeks,” as with Bigfoot, the myth of S. Claus has volumes to tell us about ourselves and the culture we inhabit. As Buhs writes, “We tell stories about Santa Claus not because we believe in him, but because those stories convey messages we want shared—about generosity and pure love and respect for others. And that’s why we tell stories about Bigfoot. Not only to argue for and against the existence of the Big Guy, but because through those stories we come to understand more about ourselves, our neighbors, and our place in this world.” Navigate to Buh’s article on the Short Stack blog for more, or see this excerpt from his book, this interview, or Buhs in dialogue with Sigrid Schmalzer, author of The People’s Peking Man, about . . .

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The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion on WGN’s Extension 720

November 30, 2009
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The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion on WGN’s Extension 720

WGN’s Milton J. Rosenberg recently invited several guests on his radio talk show Extension 720 to discuss the press’s recent publication of The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion—the definitive reference book for parents, social workers, researchers, educators, and others who work with children. Listen in as editor-in-chief Richard A. Shweder, contributor Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, and house editor Mary Laur, talk about their new book and field questions from callers on the WGN Extension 720 website. Bringing together contemporary research on children and childhood from pediatrics, child psychology, childhood studies, education, sociology, history, law, anthropology, and other related areas, The Child contains more than 500 articles—all written by experts in their fields and overseen by a panel of distinguished editors led by anthropologist Richard A. Shweder—each providing a concise and accessible synopsis of the topic at hand. In addition to these topical essays, The Child also contains more than forty “Imagining Each Other” essays, which focus on the particular experiences of children in different cultures. Compiled by some of the most distinguished child development researchers in the world, The Child is an essential addition to the current knowledge on children and childhood. To find out more navigate to this special website for the . . .

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Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2009

November 3, 2009
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Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2009

The weekend death of Claude Lévi-Strauss was announced in Paris this morning. He would have turned 101 later this month. One of the most influential anthropologists in the history of the discipline, Lévi-Strauss achieved international renown for his seminal works in structural anthropology which sought to understand human social relationships in terms of their most basic formal qualities. His La Pensée Sauvage or The Savage Mind, published in 1966, is considered the work that most firmly established his groundbreaking ideas in the social sciences, followed closely by his application of that theory in his four volume Mythologiques—a series of books that trace the structural similarities of a single myth originating in South America through its many variations and re-tellings in cultures throughout Central America and all the way to the Arctic Circle. Born in Brussels, Strauss grew up in France and attended the Sorbonne in Paris where he agrégated in Philosophy in 1931. He briefly became a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil where he also made one of his first forays into ethnographic fieldwork conducting research in the Matto Grosso and Amazon rainforest in 1935. His return to Paris roughly coincided with the beginning of . . .

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Creating a public debate about ‘Honor Killing’

November 2, 2009
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Creating a public debate about ‘Honor Killing’

As an article in the November London Review of Books points out, the term “honor killing” is relatively new to the western legal system, but in recent years it has increasingly come into play as cases of filicide in Middle Eastern immigrant communities—often motivated by inter-generational culture clashes over arranged marriages—become more common. To explore this topic the LRB article cites several recent books on the subject including Unni Wikan’s In Honor of Fadime: Murder and Shame—the tragic tale of Kurdish emigre Fadime Sahindal, murdered in Uppsala, Sweden in 2002 by her father because of her relationship with a man outside of their community—a tragedy compunded by her efforts to avoid such a fate by bringing the issue to the public’s attention. As Jacqueline Rose writes for the LRB: Fadime is remarkable for the way she went public. She secured convictions against her father and brother for threatening to kill her, and then again against her brother for seriously assaulting her during a return visit to Uppsala: he was given a five-month prison sentence.… Fadime’s successes in court gave her every reason to believe that her boldness was paying off. A month before her father and brother were due to . . .

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