Anthropology Update 20 July 2012
Trying to stay a bit more on top of things after the Biggest Anthropology Update Ever. Some of the posts at the end continue a thread about the scope of anthropological ideas and presentation. Some posts at the beginning have overlapping themes around biocultural perspectives and what Agustín Fuentes is calling the naturenurtural. And some good stuff in between!
There is Nothing Simple about Being Human: Busting Myths of Human Nature, Agustín Fuentes
The core toolkit needed to effectively engage with assertions about what it means to be human requires a baseline understanding of culture, genetics and evolution. Humans are not a blank slate at birth to be filled in via cultural experiences. We are born as an organism, a collection of organs, tissues and cells generated by the interactions of DNA and all of our developmental processes. But these processes do not exist in a vacuum. These organic, material processes have been shaped by our evolutionary histories and we are conceived and born into a human altered world of inherited ecologies, cultural patterns, and nutritional and social contexts which are intrinsically entangled with our biological structures even before the moment that we leave the womb. This process is what we call biocultural development: we begin, become and are human as naturenurtural beings.
Your Skeleton–on the Internet, Daniel Lende
Anthropology has a long tradition of demonstrating just how much what we do – our daily activities – shapes how our skeletons look, and I thought the cartoon was a really clever twist on it. Sue Sheridan’s Byzantine St. Stephens work on medieval monks shows how hours and hours of praying literally altered the skeletons of these men. Think knee caps!
Ethnography’s Sense, Ali Kenner
An ethnography of breathing, and how the breath registers embodied signs of late capitalism (in the contemporary asthma epidemic and U.S. yoga industry). It’s a project grounded in my own yoga practice, a risky set-up, I think, for someone already working on the margins.
What makes our language abilities unique? Or are they?, Anne Buchanan
As with all human traits, our language ability did not evolve from whole cloth. It has its origins in earlier traits, many of which we share with other lineages. And it’s complex and involves our complex ability to speak, our brain’s complex ability to let us speak and to process sound and abstract ideas, as well as our open-ended ability to learn. . . . The idea that a single trait can be plucked from the highly complex mix of traits that is language, which involves so many different parts of our anatomy and our brain, and can be used to define what it is that makes our language abilities unique is, to us, not a very useful one.
Fighting Back, Nathan Fisk
If we–as academically trained anthropologists and ethnographers–do not move to change the kinds of problematic research practices that serve to produce the feeling of “selling out,” it is somewhat unlikely that anyone else will.
Aliens and the Construction of Nature, Jeremy Trombley
What’s most interesting to me is that this issue of invasive species points to the fact that not only are our conceptions of “nature” and “culture” constructed, the very things themselves–natures and cultures–e constructed as well.
My Life as a Night Elf Priest, Alex Golub
My Life as a Night Elf Priest by Bonnie Nardi is the best ethnography of World of Warcraft out there. And that’s not likely to change soon. . . . I can see how aspects of Nardi’s book might have made it less splash-ful than it ought to have been. But for my money it is one of the best ethnographies of a virtual world out there and, even more importantly, a model of how ethnographic fact and theory should be used to help move a discipline forward. Also did I mention that it is short and cheap and clearly written? I’d recommend you give it a try.
Bright Ideas and Popular Anthropology, Jeremy Trombley
I don’t need a popular audience to validate the work that I do, and neither do most anthropologists. The fact that most anthropologists are not writing popular books is, in my opinion, not a fact to bemoan. Rather, my primary concern is in making sure that the research that I do is relevant to the people who are affected by it, which can be done through writing, collaborative or participatory methods, activism, or any number of approaches. This is a distinction in the discussion over the relevance of anthropology that is rarely made–the distinction between relevance to a vaguely defined popular audience, and relevance to a specific audience affected by the work a specific anthropologist is doing.
Sunflowers vs. Bougainvillea, Kerim Friedman
In the end I am not clear why ethnographic writing is necessarily less sunflower and more bougainvillea. One would think that ethnography would be well suited towards a particular TED style, in which personal stories replace statistics. But perhaps there is a need to write against the grain, to show the “other ways of knowing” which Jurgenson felt TED left out. If so, perhaps we need to move away from a system of training in which everyone’s first book must be an ethnography. Perhaps we should encourage more junior anthropologists to write big books about big ideas without having to first go through the initiation ritual of writing an ethnography? Maybe we should be cultivating the growth of sunflowers among our bougainvillea?