Archive for culture

Episode 19 The Culture of Teeth with Dr. Julia Boughner

Dr. Julia Boughner (photo by and included with permission from Dr. Boughner)

What do cultural practices have to do with how our teeth and jaws develop? Biological Anthropologist Dr. Julia Boughner works with dentists and oral surgeons to answer the question: why do modern humans in industrialized nations face dental problems that don’t affect primates, modern hunter-gatherers, and previous generations of humans? The key may be in what we eat and how we prepare it.

Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, our jaws have become smaller and weaker as our preferred foods became softer as humans (and our hominid ancestors) used hands, fire, and tools to do the work jaws used to do. Dr. Boughner explores evolution (and its misperceptions), science journalism, and how anthropology can be integral in developing safer and more effective dentistry.
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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 15 Steampunk Archaeology & the Anthropology of Science Fiction with Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger by photographer Vanessa Applegate (Photo courtesy of www.gailcarriger.com)

Gail Carriger is a remarkable example of an anthropologist whose training informed a creative career shift. A former archaeologist (who still occasionally gets called to the field), Carriger’s expertise in ceramic analysis and technological transitions means that she can determine how a piece of pottery was designed and produced, simply by looking at a small fragment of it. From that tiny piece of material culture, she can read how populations were coming together and sharing technological styles, and how knowledge moved across the ancient landscape.

On the cusp of completing her dissertation in archaeology, Carriger’s life took an interesting turn as she was awarded a book contract for her steampunk fantasy novel, Soulless. Now she is a much awarded, best-selling author whose books mix “comedies of manners” with paranormal romance. But this shift into literature is still greatly informed by her training in, and critiques of, anthropology and archaeology. The world of steampunk Victorian England allows her to explore the role material culture plays in everyday life, as well as how and why technologies arise or fade thanks to their unintended consequences. Her careful research into elements of the past, such as the cuisine of each particular time and place, brings to life the material experience of worlds that live in the historical and fantastical past. In addition, Carriger’s multiple series explore the remarkable diversity of past cultures, which, ironically, are often depicted in nonfiction as far more homogenous than they actually were.

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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 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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Episode 8 Understanding Transgender Health & Identity with Brett Nava-Coulter

Brett Nava-Coulter (photo courtesy of Mr. Nava-Coulter)

Transgender politics have been everywhere lately, from North Carolina bathrooms to Presidential tweets, yet many are still confused about what exactly it means to be transgender. It’s not surprising there is confusion, as the category of transgender is both diverse and complicated. To help unpack these issues and politics, Brett Nava-Coulter joins the podcast to discuss his research with transgender youth. Mr. Nava-Coulter is a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University in sociology, researching LGBTQ community centers as well as hospitals that reach out to transgender youth and adults. In addition, he is an active member of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth, where he helps identify issues and needs specific to the transgender community. Read More →

Episode 7 Ancient Bones & Peaceful Coexistence with Dr. Sara K. Becker

Dr. Sara K. Becker in Moquegua (photo courtesy of Sara Becker)

1000 years before the Inca civilization emerged in Peru and Bolivia, there were the Tiwanaku–a large nation consisting of a complex and ethnically diverse community of people. Today, amid the vestiges of Tiwanaku architecture, pottery, lithics, and other artifacts, Dr. Sara K. Becker’s focus is on the human remains. However, to understand the bones, as Dr. Becker says, you have to understand the culture. To do so, she collaborates with local communities and archaeologists to unlock the lives of this ancient group.

While another contemporaneous society routinely intimidated surrounding groups through physical violence, the Tikanawu managed to control vast regions through nontraditional and mostly nonviolent methods. When we examine the tensions and violence of many contemporary societies, Dr. Becker’s research becomes especially important: what can the ancient Tiwanaku teach us about how we can we live together in unified, diverse, and peaceful communities?

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Episode 6 “Bharat Babies” Books & Business Anthropology with Sailaja Joshi

Bharat Babies C.E.O. Sailaja Ganti Joshi (photo courtesy of Sailaja Joshi)

Sailaja Joshi is the CEO and founder of Bharat Babies, an independent publishing house that “designs and produces developmentally appropriate books for young children that tell stories about India’s Heritage.” She was inspired to launch her business when she struggled to find books for her young daughter that would represent the unique hybrid nature of growing up American with Indian or Pakistani heritage.

Bharat Babies’ books cover Hinduism, Islam, and a myriad of South Asian subcultural identities, and readers have responded with gratitude. For CEO Sailaja Joshi, it has been affirming, not only of the need for multiple voices in literature, but of the need for more anthropology in the business world
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Episode 3 Digging for Truth on a Cherokee Plantation – with Dr. Lance Greene

Dr. Lance Greene (photo courtesy of Lance Greene)

Looking at a complex moment in American history, when Cherokee were being forced off their land by President Andrew Jackson, Dr. Lance Greene’s research brings to life a nineteenth century plantation in North Carolina, where Cherokees, whites, and enslaved Africans lived and worked together. Dr. Greene pieces together life on a Cherokee/Euro-American plantation through archaeological digs and historical documents, providing insight into both how Cherokee were changing to attempt to fit in to European-American culture and the ways they were resisting it. Dr. Greene walks us through what archaeology on a plantation site can reveal, and how the process of writing fictional stories of everyday life actually helps him fill in the gaps in his research.
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