Episode 25 Product Design Ethnography with Dr. Amy Goldmacher

Dr. Amy Goldmacher (photo courtesy of Dr. Goldmacher)

Business anthropologist Dr. Amy Goldmacher works with product and software designers to empower them to understand their users and customers. Using ethnographic research, she helps design new and improved products, software and experiences that better meet people’s needs.

Working both independently and as an ethnography consultant at The Understanding Group, Dr. Goldmacher applies anthropological methodologies to help companies organize and manage complex information, clarify purpose, create better products, and more effectively reach customers.

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Episode 24 Pubic Hair Grooming as Cultural Practice with Lyndsey Craig

Lyndsey Craig (photo courtesy of Ms. Craig)

Anthropology graduate student Lyndsey Craig examines pubic hair removal practices across 72 societies, and how the practices are tied to cultural concerns about hygiene and sexual activity.

Whereas most literature on public hair removal practices focus primarily on Western cultures, in particular how women are included in and affected by marketing, pornography, and pop culture, Craig and biological anthropologist Dr. Peter Gray performed historical, cross-cultural research across dozens of non-Western societies. They found that whether and how pubic hair was removed depended on a diverse array of cultural messages about hygiene, fertility, sexuality and beauty.

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Episode 23 Psychiatric Culture Clashes with Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster

Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster (photo courtesy of Dr. Reyes-Foster)

Medical Anthropologist Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster returns, this time to discuss her experiences researching a psychiatric hospital in Mexico, looking at how culture shapes the diagnoses, care, and outcomes of mental illness.

How is mental illness cultural? Medical Anthropologists have long demonstrated how a phenomenon categorized as a disorder, like schizophrenia, is understood and experienced very differently from culture to culture. How the illness is viewed in society, what support structures are available, and which ideologies dominate, such as individuality or the importance of family, all play roles in how a person with illness is treated. When these circumstances are situated in a location where the history of colonialism continues to dominate the lives and identities of indigenous patients, what is often narrowly defined as mental health becomes an issue of national economic, race, and identity systems.

Dr. Reyes-Foster documents how staff at a mental hospital in the Yucatan in Mexico struggle to be human in inhumane conditions, which are set from on high at a governmental level, the results of contemporary politics and the long-standing impacts of colonialism.

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Episode 22 Converting Belief at a Creationist Theme Park with Dr. James Bielo

Dr. James Bielo (Photo courtesy of Dr. Bielo)

The Ark Encounter creationist theme park in Kentucky was developed with one purpose in mind, to convince visitors of the truth of Creationism, the evangelical Christian history of the origins of life on earth. To do that, anthropologist Dr. James Bielo explains, Ark Encounter deploys strategies to entertain and evoke emotional reactions in order to legitimate and give authority to its message. Dr. Bielo researched the backstage creative labor of the design team who led the conceptualization and choreographing of the theme park, which is designed not simply to entertain but to transform the minds of attendees.

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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 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 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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