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Anthropology on Power, Inequality, Human Nature

Lots of anthropology blog activity over the weekend–I’m saving some material for a general update. This update concentrates on recent reflections about how anthropology studies power, inequality, and human nature. Daniel Lende writes an intriguing analysis of the new Prisoner’s Dilemma paper, and neuroanthropology gets a plug in Anthropology News; Agustín Fuentes on being moral humans; Jeremy Trombley on “Power and Revolution”; some reflections on inequality and culture by Bo and Ben Winegrad; news on major resource projects in the north from Siomonn Pulla; on Savage Minds, Matt Thompson opens a provocative thread on power and higher education; and two calls for papers, one specifically on inequality from the Society for Economic Anthropology and the other on “Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds.”

Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Evolution of Inequality – Does Unfairness Triumph After All?, Daniel Lende
Wolf - Europe and the People Without HistoryThe implications of this paper are fascinating. For biological evolution, it opens up new thinking about reproductive strategies and life history theory, as well as the direct impact on ideas about the evolution of cooperation. For cultural evolution, it seems to provide some powerful insights into the evolution of inequality in human society. As the agriculture revolution and population growth led to the ability to monopolize social resources and create differential wealth, what happened with social class? Did human cooperation turn from fairness to enforcing the sort of unfair game that Press and Dyson outline? . . .
Or, to draw on Eric Wolf’s magnum opus, Europe and the People Without History. Discounting shared history – shared accountability – is certainly one way to force short-term interactions, and that will benefit a dominant trading partner.

Neuroanthropology, 24 June 2012

Boas’s Dream, Stephen P Reyna
Anthropology is the investigation of human being. Franz Boas’ dream was of a big anthropology that studied the ‘whole’ of this being, which included the interconnection of the cultural and the biological in all places and all times. Sadly Boas never attained his dream because it was so necessary at the beginning of the 20th century to demonstrate that one biological-cultural connection did not exist, that between race and culture. However, recent publication in Anthropological Theory (AT, March 2012) of an issue devoted to the topic of the brain and culture suggests a new field of neuroanthropology is emerging, offering the possibility of attainment of the Boasian dream. Allow me to introduce readers to the articles in AT, suggest some intellectual possibilities they open, other activities currently occurring in the rising neuroanthropology, and why a neo-Boasianism is imaginable. . . .
The AT issue on culture and the brain is far from the only activity in neuroanthropology. Interested persons might wish to consult Daniel Lende and Greg Downey’s forthcoming The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology (Cambridge, MA: MIT). Additionally they might explore the neuroanthropology blog for postings as well as information of conferences and web resources.

Are We Moral Animals?, Agustín Fuentes
No we are not “moral animals,” we are moral humans, and there is a difference. We are a kind of animal, specifically we are primates, and share much with other social mammals. We are a particular kind of primate that manipulates ecosystems and organisms across this planet and is capable of intense cruelty and amazing compassion via symbol, language, niche construction, and interaction with other animals and ourselves. So examining what makes up human morality and ethics is important, and commonalities and differences in other species might help us better understand why we do what we do.

Power and Revolution, Jeremy Trombley
I can see another way to reconceptualize power in a way that allows us to start thinking about ways to address it. If the struggle must continue, then power, at least in some sense, is the ability of an individual or group (due to their position in a particular material-semiotic assemblage) to close off the struggle before it has ended (which is never). In other words, it is the ability to make sure that people can’t or won’t continue to fight despite injustice, suffering, or harm.

American Inequality and Cultural Strategies Theory, Bo and Ben Winegrad
Large cultures–like nation states–often contain a variety of environments and therefore a variety of simultaneous cultural strategies. Sometimes this is healthy and the different groups (of strategies) are harmonized. Sometimes, however, it is volatile because the groups have competing interests. Large disparities in status can provoke envy and resentment as well as scorn and hostility between groups. In the United States, income inequality has steadily increased since the late 1970s. Further, this inequality has been very much concentrated in the top income brackets, i.e. most incomes have stagnated while the top 1/10th of 1% have seen their income growth dramatically increase. Evidence indicates that income inequality contributes to all kinds of social ills, ills that are the result of 1) the engagement of a large number of short-term cultural strategies and 2) a small amount of long-term cultural strategies dominating the cultural pool and 3) an increasing amount of status disparity, resulting in more pronounced status hierarchies and more intense status competition.

Balancing Act: Major Resource Projects in the North, Siomonn Pulla
The resolution of various land claims in the North is building investor confidence across the country. These agreements continue to be a positive force that enables industry, government and Aboriginal communities to work together. Aboriginal peoples and communities are interested in more than jobs. They want to be, and increasingly are, sitting as members on the Boards of large resource development projects. At the same time, Aboriginal leaders and entrepreneurs face the challenges of balancing the social and environmental concerns of their communities with the benefits of many major development projects.

Brick and Mortarboards, Matt Thompson
While I sympathize with the desire to fight for our principles as educators embodied in the call to arms surrounding the UVA fiasco, to a certain extent the marketization and privatization of higher ed, like global climate change, is coming whether we like it or not. Simply resisting neoliberalism will be insufficient. We will also need to adapt to it in order to survive. The Dutch aren’t waiting until the sea level starts to rise before they start to work on that problem. How can we prepare ourselves now so that we too will not sink with the tides? What is the value of a college education at a brick and mortar school if, in the future, online education is better and cheaper? And who wants to make that high-quality, low-cost educational MMORPG?

Savage Minds, 22 June 2012

Call for Papers: Inequality, 2013 SEA Annual Meeting
The current recession, Occupy Wallstreet, and growing recognition of the gap between the top 1% and the middle class have brought new attention to the problem of economic and social inequality in the United States in particular and across the globe more generally. Questions regarding the origins, generation, and perpetuation of inequality in diverse societies are certainly not new to anthropologists. Anthropological and other social science research can improve understanding of the social, economic, cultural and political processes contributing to systems of inequality and stratification around the world. Better analysis of such processes not only enriches scholarship on critical issues but also has practical relevance for policy and interventions aimed at alleviating inequality.
This conference aims to bring together researchers from all fields of anthropology as well as other social sciences to present and discuss research that engages with the broad theme of inequality.

Society for Economic Anthropology, Last date for abstract submissions, 20 November 2012; Meeting date April 11-13, 2013, St. Louis, Missouri

Call for Papers: Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds
In recent decades there have been major changes in production structures in the world, centrally involving the application of different modes of labor flexibility and precariousness. These changes, which extended to both the urban and the rural, redefined the terms of employment, labor relations and business strategies, and the methods of protest and resistance of workers, resulting in forms of mobilization, strategies collective production and employment, recovery, innovation and diffusion of union strategies. We invite contemporary approaches that are presented to describe the complexity of daily work (industrial, service, trade, informal) exerted in urban contexts, involving the challenges of skills, the uses of technology, tensions represented by phenomena such as instability, unemployment and risks faced by workers. We want to understand the changes occurring in rural areas related to agribusiness activities, whether in farming or ranching, paying attention to changes made in the field worker’s identity and way of life. We believe that an ethnographic eye and an approach through field work can grasp the multiplicity of meanings that these processes take. This working group aims to bring together research from a socio-anthropological perspective, contrast observations, explanations and interpretations.
The term for sending entries is 13 July 2012. Conference is in Manchester, UK; 5th-10th August 2013.

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