Archive for cultural anthropology

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 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 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 2 Breast Milk Sharing and “Good” Mommies with Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster

beatriz-reyes-foster-13-250x324

Dr. Beatriz Reyes-Foster Assistant Professor, Socio-Cultural Anthropology University of Central Florida

Human breast milk has become a hot commodity in the U.S., and parents have become creative in networking among moms who have milk to spare. Yet health officials, who continue to promote the standard that “breast is best”, are characterizing informal milk sharing as dangerous and risky; a depiction based not in fact but in assumption and a desire to control the circulation of this “liquid gold”.

In this episode, I talk to medical anthropologist Beatriz Reyes-Foster, a professor at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Reyes-Foster explains the new forms milk sharing is taking today, how “peer breast milk sharing” is rooted in a lack of support for new parents, and why we need to pay careful attention to the moralities hidden in how milk, moms, donors, and sharing practices are being discussed by health professionals.
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Episode 1 Anthropology Beyond Indiana Jones with Dr. Angela Jenks

Dr. Angela Jenks, Asst. Teaching Professor at UC Irvine (photo courtesy of Angela Jenks)

From Indiana Jones to Bones to that graduate student kidnapped by pirates on Archer, there are many different representations of anthropology in pop culture, but what do real anthropologists do?

Anthropology is the study of what it means to be human. Which means that anthropologists study pretty much everything, including politics, art, medicine, religion, and our relationship with the environment. Some anthropologists take us into communities that are intensely different—ones we may not even know exist—and help us understand them from the inside. Other anthropologists use those same methods to get us to question the familiar—what feels normal to us, and why doesn’t it feel the same way to others?

In this first episode of The Anthropologist on the Street podcast, I have invited Dr. Angela Jenks to explain what anthropology is and why it is important. Dr. Jenks is an anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, a recipient of an award for excellence in teaching, and the first Teaching “Scholar-in-Residence” for the prestigious journal Cultural Anthropology. She talks to us about humanity, culture, and the paradox of being an American and an anthropologist, where we collectively share a culture of individuality.
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