Anthropology

Monkey Politics

January 22, 2008
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Monkey Politics

Today’s New York Times is running an article titled “Political Animals,” comparing the current presidential candidates election politics to the complex social dynamics found in other species like elephants, whales, and rhesus macaques—the latter of which are the subject of Dario Maestripieri’s new book Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World. In the article, the NYT‘s Natalie Angier cites Maestripieri’s book as she compares the political behavior of these prolific primates to our own: As the candidates have shown us in the succulent telenovela that is the 2008 presidential race, there are many ways to parry for political power.… just as there are myriad strategies open to the human political animal with White House ambitions, so there are a number of nonhuman animals that behave like textbook politicians.… As Dr. Maestripieri sees it, rhesus monkeys embody the concept “Machiavellian” (and he accordingly named his recent popular book about the macaques Macachiavellian Intelligence). “Individuals don’t fight for food, space or resources,” Dr. Maestripieri explained. “They fight for power.” With power and status, he added, “they’ll have control over everything else.…” “Rhesus males are quintessential opportunists,” Dr. Maestripieri said. “They pretend they’re helping others, but they only . . .

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The fake thrills of urban nightlife

January 14, 2008
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The fake thrills of urban nightlife

Sunday’s Toronto Star ran an interesting article on sociologist David Grazian’s revealing portrait of Philadelphia’s thriving club scene in On the Make: The Hustle of Urban Nightlife. Summarizing the book the Star‘s Ryan Bigge writes: Although Grazian discusses the sophisticated public relations matrix that helps bring in customers, he’s more interested in exploring the paradox that club goers allow themselves to be willingly hustled. Making a comparison to movies filled with computer-generated effects, Grazian suggests, “People are willing to suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy a thrilling lie.” Which means the tens of thousands of club goers—the actual number is the subject of considerable contention, but even the lowest two-night estimate is 40,000—that cram Toronto’s entertainment district on Friday and Saturday nights, spending millions of dollars per year on drinks, are marks of their own making. Of course, just because the game is rigged, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself, as the eternal popularity of Las Vegas demonstrates. Read the rest of the article on the Toronto Star website or read this excerpt from the first chapter of the book. The press’s website also features an interview with Grazian about his previous book on a similar topic, Blue Chicago: . . .

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Review: Collins, Rethinking Expertise

December 12, 2007
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Review: Collins, Rethinking Expertise

Harry Collins and Robert Evans’ Rethinking Expertise was given an interesting review last Friday by Matthew Reisz writing in the December 7 Times Higher Education Supplement. Praising the book Reisz writes: The book offers a rich and detailed “periodic table” of expertise, ranging from the kind of beer-mat knowledge useful only in pub quizzes to the levels of skill that enable people to make a contribution to cutting-edge science. It considers wine buffs and art connoisseurs, hoaxers, journalists, and pseudoscientists. It looks at deep philosophical issues of “embodiment”—whether you need to move around in the world to acquire language or the jargon of a specialist field—that have major implications for the field of artificial intelligence and computer learning. It is full of case studies, anecdotes and intriguing experiments. But at its heart are questions arising out of the authors’ work in the sociology of science and the challenges of scientifically literate public decision making. A deep exploration of what it means to be an expert and the role expertise plays in our society Rethinking Expertise is essential reading for scientists, scholars, and policy makers alike. . . .

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Baboon Metaphysics on Fresh Air

December 10, 2007
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Baboon Metaphysics on Fresh Air

Primatologists Dorothy Cheney and Richard Seyfarth, authors of the new book Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind were featured last week on NPR’s Fresh Air to discuss their years of research in Botswana’s Okavango Delta observing baboons and their social world. The results of their studies, available in their book, reveal the surprising complexities of baboon society and the fascinating intelligence that underlies it—and indeed may even give us some valuable insights into our own social behaviors. You can listen to archived audio of the interview online at the NPR website or read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press Release: Maestripieri, Macachiavellian Intelligence

November 29, 2007
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Press Release: Maestripieri, Macachiavellian Intelligence

Power. Sex. Status. That’s pretty much what human life boils down to: a vicious, grasping struggle to get ahead and stay there. We look out for number one, claw for every advantage, and aren’t above using—and even betraying—friends and family to get what we want. So just what is it that separates us from the higher primates? Dario Maestripieri would argue that it’s less than you may think, and with Macachiavellian Intelligence he draws readers deep into the social life of the world’s most common monkey, the rhesus macaque, to show just how much we can learn from them about human life. Writing with a biting, sardonic wit, Maestripieri draws on primatology, evolutionary biology, economics, politics, and literature to present a wry, rational, and wholly surprising view of our humanity as seen through the monkey in the mirror. Read the press release. . . .

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Press Release: Narayan, My Family and Other Saints

November 15, 2007
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Press Release: Narayan, My Family and Other Saints

It’s the late 1960s. You’re nine years old, living in Bombay, and your family is a bit … complicated. Your mother was born in America, but she has fully adopted Indian dress, customs, and attitudes. Your Indian father, meanwhile, is cynical, worldly, and deeply suspicious of anything that smacks of mysticism or religion—which includes much of Indian culture. Then, out of the blue, your sixteen-year-old brother announces that he’s leaving home to go live with a guru and become holy. How on earth are you supposed to go about the business of growing up in such a complicated family? With My Family and Other Saints, Kirin Narayan shows us how. Her funny, touching memoir tells the story of her brother’s quest and its effects, revealing a family full of love, yet always on the verge of disintegration. As their house becomes a waystation for the army of hippies, gurus, and charlatans flooding India, Narayan also brings late-60s Bombay to life, taking us back to a time and place when nearly everyone, it seemed, was embarked on some sort of spiritual quest and Western seekers were obsessed with all things Indian, from yoga to transcendental meditation. Deeply moving, yet frequently hilarious, . . .

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Press Release: Akerman and Karrow, Maps

November 14, 2007
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Press Release: Akerman and Karrow, Maps

Maps are universal forms of communication, easily understood and appreciated regardless of culture or language. This truly magisterial book introduces readers to the widest range of maps ever considered in one volume. A companion to the most ambitious exhibition on the history of maps ever mounted in North America, Maps will challenge readers to stretch conventional thought about what constitutes a map and how many different ways we can understand graphically the environment in which we live. Collectors, historians, mapmakers and users, and anyone who has ever “gotten lost” in the lines and symbols of a map will find much to love and learn from in this book. Read the press release. Also see a special website for the book. . . .

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My Family and Other Saints, a bicultural memoir

November 7, 2007
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My Family and Other Saints, a bicultural memoir

Kirin Narayan’s new book My Family and Other Saints is the author’s captivating memoir of growing up in a culturally diverse household in India. With an American mother eagerly attempting to adopt an Indian lifestyle and an Indian father who is skeptical of it, Narayan’s memoir focuses on her family’s attempt to find peace of mind even while torn between the often conflicting ideologies of east and west. Narayan’s story revolves around her brother’s decision to quit school and leave home to seek enlightenment with a guru. As a recent review in Shelf Awareness notes, Narayan “sees this event (which bemused rather than alarmed her family) as setting the entire family in a slow-forward motion along their own spiritual journeys.” The review continues: She describes the next few years with fine impressionistic prose, weaving together her parent’s disintegrating marriage, her father’s descent into alcoholism and her brother’s departure for the U.S. with visits to ashrams, friendhips with gurus and tales from her paternal grandmother, Ba, who was regularly visited by Hindu dieties.… Some of their stories end sadly or without resolution (“Who knows why I became a drunkard?” her father asks at the end of his life), but Narayan, a . . .

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Review: Zaloom, Out of the Pits

November 5, 2007
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Review: Zaloom, Out of the Pits

Caitlin Zaloom’s Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London was recently given an interesting review in the November 1 London Review of Books. Writing for the LRB, Donald Mackenzie begins with a description of his own experiences on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade in 2000—while they were still bustling with traders, runners, and clerks vying for bids: At the Board of Trade, orders were still carried to the pits on pieces of paper by runners and clerks, and then shouted out by traders or ‘flashed’ to others in the pit using the hand signal language known as ‘arb’—an abbreviation for arbitrage, the exploitation of discrepancies in prices.… But as Mackenzie’s article notes, at the turn of the millennium the digital age was already poised to radically transform the way that modern traders conduct business. Chicago’s open-outcry trading, a way of life stretching back to the grain futures pits of the 19th century, was on the brink of disappearing when I visited the Board of Trade in 1999 and 2000. There were already signs that technology was encroaching: headsets were increasingly used instead of runners to communicate between the pits and the booths . . .

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Festival of Maps exhibition opens tomorrow

November 1, 2007
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Festival of Maps exhibition opens tomorrow

Tomorrow, November 2, as part of the three month long Festival of Maps, the Field Museum will open the exhibit, Maps: Finding Our Place in the World. On display will be some of the most fascinating cartographic artifacts ever shown. And just in time for opening day, the Press has released a companion volume of the same name edited by exhibit curators James R. Akerman and Robert W. Karrow, Jr. Like the exhibit, the book surveys a huge range of cartographic sources to explore the many ways that maps have changed our lives and helped us understand the environment in which we live. From a review in Discover magazine: From religious pilgrimages and vacation road trips to depictions of the ocean floor and the magical landscapes of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, maps chart both physical and imaginary worlds. As geographer Denis Cosgrove explains, “world’ is a social concept … a flexible term, stretching from physical environment to the world of ideas, microbes, of sin. Arguably, all these worlds can be mapped.” And they are in this compelling and very readable companion volume to the current exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago. To find out more about the . . .

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