Archive for Cultural Anthropology

Episode 21 Antarctic Anthropology with Dr. Jessica O’Reilly

Dr. Jessica O’Reilly (Photo courtesy of Dr. O’Reilly)

Dr. Jessica O’Reilly works in the least populated continent on earth by far: Antarctica. Working with an array of scientists, she turns the anthropological gaze on science itself and the culture of the scientists who spend months, if not years, gathering data in an exceptionally challenging environment.

The process of doing science is complex, and anthropologists of Science and Technology Studies like Dr. O’Reilly can help demystify it, showing the general public how scientists come to know what they know.

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Episode 20 American Mosques with Dr. Jacqueline Fewkes

Dr. Jacqueline Fewkes (photo courtesy of Dr. Fewkes)

As an anthropologist of religion, it’s hard for Dr. Jacqueline Fewkes to pin down her research focus to just one element of life. Rather, her expertise in anthropology allows her to see how religion is lived and practiced, how material goods transform us as much as we transform them, and how spaces reflect our lives while helping to craft them.

Tying these elements together, Dr. Fewkes latest project is a focus on the sometimes surprising, always interesting history and architecture of mosques in America.

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Episode 18 Language, Time, and the Anthropology of Arrival with Dr. David Sutton

Dr. David Sutton has written about the anthropology of movies before, but the film Arrival, he says, is something special. Arrival debuted in 2016, starring Amy Adams as a linguist who was tasked with making first contact with an alien species. Like an anthropologist in a foreign culture, she has to orient herself to an entirely different way of being and communicating. The film is science fiction, but draws in sociolinguistic theory and cultural concepts of time, all while it illustrates the emotional rushes and pitfalls of trying to understand someone who doesn’t share your perceptions of how the world works

Most successful movies and television shows are popular because they connect with some cultural elements in their audiences, which makes them rich material for anthropologists striving to understand how communities think about everything from family to gift-giving to social class. But Arrival goes further, not only representing cultural elements but also showing what many cultural and linguistic anthropologists actually do.

In this episode, Dr. Sutton breaks down why fictional films and television shows can be important in revealing implicit cultural models, and discusses what Arrival tells us about language, time, and anthropology.

*WARNING: Spoilers abound in this episode, so listeners beware!*

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Episode 17 The Folklore of International Adoption with Dr. Patricia Sawin

Anthropologist, folklorist, and professor of American Studies, Dr. Patricia Sawin pays close attention to the stories we tell. Focusing on international adoption, Dr. Sawin examines how these stories weave together new families while sometimes over-simplifying difficult issues of race, privilege, and the power and limits of love.

Adoption is a culturally and historically complicated process that we like to envision as purely altruistic, yet usually involves moving children from less- to more-advantaged communities. Dr. Sawin discusses how international adoptive parents, who are usually white and financially secure, navigate the complicated emotional and social terrain of integrating children into their families who have been given by less powerful communities of color. Language plays a critical role in refashioning ideas about family, downplaying guilt about possible exploitation and others’ losses, strengthening bonds in the new families, and increasing comfort in a sense of larger purpose and design.

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Episode 16 Free Food in the Corporate World with Jesse Dart

Anthropology Candidate Jesse Dart (Photo Courtesy of Mr. Dart)

Anthropology Candidate Jesse Dart works at the intersection of business anthropology and the anthropology of food. Mr. Dart researches how and why tech companies offer their employees free food. Looking at the same company’s practices in several different countries, he draws out how patterns of eating reflect regional cultural beliefs about labor, land, and tradition, and how corporate practices both reflect and reinscribe these ideas as well.

Just in time for American Thanksgiving, we discuss how food is tied to ritual, emotion, identity, and history. From local wisdom about specific foods like truffles to the deeply embedded symbols and practices of national holidays like American Thanksgiving dinner, food plays a unique role in our lives that extends well beyond simple nutrition. And just like the Thanksgiving parade and Black Friday shopping reinforce the central role business and capitalism have on our lives, so too do our workplaces shift our practices and views.

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Episode 14 Political Divisiveness & the Encouragement of Violence with Dr. Jennie Burnet

Dr. Jennie Burnet (Photo courtesy of World Affairs Council of Atlanta, 2016)

When multicultural societies begin dividing into factions based on ethnic identities, assigning blame to the “other” and emphasizing the differences among us rather than the similarities, the stage is set for political violence… or worse.

Dr. Jennie Burnet researches the causes and consequences of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, two ethnic groups, the Hutus and Tutsis, lived side-by-side as neighbors and friends, until policies implemented under European colonization redefined the ethnic identities and shifted the power dynamics between them. After independence, the legacy of those changes created bitter divides that widened under political leadership.

Dr. Burnet is a Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology at Georgia State University, and the Associate Director of the Global Studies Institute. In her research she examines the causes of the genocide, how people pieced the country together afterwards, and what lessons can be learned about the role political leadership plays in preventing, or triggering, violence.
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Episode 12 Friendship Beyond Dementia – the Anthropology of Aging with Dr. Janelle Taylor

Dr. Janelle Taylor (Photo courtesy of Dr. Taylor)

Dementia changes not only memory but identity and social roles, as well. As the fabric of who we are changes shape, our culturally-inscribed ideas about aging, personhood, and health can influence whether we experience aging as crisis or whether we develop new aspects of ourselves.

Medical Anthropologist Dr. Janelle Taylor, a professor of anthropology at University of Washington, explores aging as a cultural phenomenon, made easier or harder depending on our expectations of friends and families and our beliefs about what makes us a person. In particular, Dr. Taylor researches how successful friendships adapt in the face of dementia and why those relationships are crucial to patients and their family caregivers.
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Episode 11 Prison Labor, Fighting Wildfires, & Crafting New Identities with Lindsey Raisa Feldman

Anthropology Doctoral Candidate Lindsey Raisa Feldman (Photo courtesy of Ms. Feldman)

The United States has faced an astonishing number of wildfires in the fall of 2017, but who is on the front line combating them? It turns out there are a number of state, community, and federal agencies battling the flames, but one group we don’t often hear about is men and women serving time in prison, released temporarily to fight fires on the frontlines.

Lindsey Feldman is a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and she has spent the last few years photographing, interviewing, and fighting fires alongside members of the prison wildland firefighters in Arizona. While Feldman, and many others, maintain that the use of prisoners for underpaid and dangerous labor presents deep ethical problems, Feldman’s on-the-ground ethnographic research provides a different, coexisting perspective. For prisoners able to join the firefighting teams, the experience can be extremely meaningful, allowing them to forge new relationships, new identities, and new promises for life after prison.
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Episode 10 Racism, Educational Anthropology, & Everyday Terror with Dr. Jeanine Staples

Dr. Jeanine Staples (photo courtesy of Dr. Staples)

The effects of racism are tangible and physical. They are carried in the bodies of their victims. But how does racism work? Why can it be hard to see? How do we combat racist messages that are woven into the very fabric of our social institutions?

Dr. Jeanine Staples works at the intersection of race, gender, identity, and education. By examining the subtle messages that devalue blackness, Afrocentric styles and fashions, Ebonics, and other cultural elements associated with African Americans, as well as the complex messages all girls receive about their sexuality and social worth, Dr. Staples reveals how African American girls internalize the simple message that they are not, and never will be, good enough.

Equally disconcerting is the way social institutions like schools, often thought of as neutral, act as places where cultural messages of value (and devaluation) are loudest. Far beyond teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, schools are a primary site where cultural values like competition, gender biases, and individualism are taught to the next generation. When those values include subconscious race discrimination, where black folks are coded as lazy or criminal or where black hairstyles are viewed as socially problematic, the broader messages about race affect everyone in society.

Dr. Staples discusses how we can make these messages more visible, why we need to take them seriously, and what we can do about them.
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Episode 9 The River is a Goddess: Environmental Anthropology with Dr. Georgina Drew

Dr. Georgina Drew (Photo courtesy of Dr. Drew)

The Ganga River in India is a goddess, who has a long history of protecting and caring for her followers. But as a source of water, how do followers balance their respect for the goddess amid the various ways they are supported by her? The practical needs of the surrounding population, like fresh water, electricity, and industrial development, meet the spiritual needs of absolution through water burial, redemption through bathing in her free flowing waters, and the broader desire to protect the goddess who provides for so many.

Hydroelectric dam redirects flow out of the riverbed in the Garhwal Mountains (Photo courtesy of Dr. Drew)

Environmental Anthropologist Dr. Georgina Drew explains how a river is many things to its surrounding inhabitants—they have religious concerns, economic concerns, and ecological concerns—but different people prioritize them differently. There’s no one perspective on how to use the river. Dr. Drew discusses how our cultural ideas, practices, and beliefs about the earth are central to how we impact it. Taking a humanistic, anthropological approach means viewing the partnership between the environment and ourselves, and how each impacts the other.
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