Anthro Brown Bag

News and interesting stuff for Anthros and beyond!

Notes from the South March 25, 2011

This post comes to you from the lovely city of Richmond, Virginia, at the annual meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society.  It’s a bit colder here than I’ve been used to the past couple weeks.  It’s supposed to snow here tonight!  Why would I ever leave the warm upper 70’s weather for chilly VA?  Research and networking in new places, of course!


Regrettably, I’m only able to be here for Friday’s presentations, but there have been some interesting ones so far.  I’ll hit the highlights that I found most noteworthy, and pop over to One Thing Campaign’s blog for more SAS notes from Anna as well.


Visual Anthropology

Two interesting presentations here, looking at ethnophotography and ethnofilm.  The first presenter uses photos to show the culture of Cuba, and notes that it can be a strong visual way to help people get past the propaganda and stereotypes associated with Cuba here in the US.  She uses ethnographic photography as a teaching tool: students view the photos, then discuss various topics and concepts related to the images.  This can be an engaging way to challenge students to break down preconceived barriers.  The presenter also uses photography to open up dialogue and bring ethnographic research to a broader audience through community exhibits and events.  She has beautiful photos of an intriguing subject to which more Americans should definitely be exposed.  The only wrinkle I see here is the concept that photo essays can be used by themselves as a method of presenting ethnographic findings.  This is the same hesitation I found myself feeling in an earlier post on Anthro comic books.  Photos are subjective pieces that can mean different things to different people.  Do these photos need some kind of description or direction to help guide the viewer?


The second presentation in this grouping dealt with ethnographic film.  The presenter emphasized the need for interdepartmental and technical collaboration.  She is also using a broad spectrum of media to share her project with diverse audiences – film, website, twitter, university television, etc.  The main issues brought up in relation to this presentation dealt with IRB (Institutional Review Board) problems.  This is the branch of a university’s research arm that makes sure research projects are safe for any human participants (often meaning informed consent forms in the social sciences).  This a big topic with lots of debate, and I’ll make a note to cover this in a later post.


Food and Family


The presentation that has generated the most conversation among the other students attending the meeting with me was the one about early childhood feeding and mothers’ conceptual frameworks in Guatemala.  I found the idea fascinating: the presenter spent 2 months in a rural, predominately Mayan village doing interviews and participant observation.  Basically, she looked at when mothers begin to introduce solid foods to children’s diets, and which foods begin this process.  She stated that mothers choose some foods to give to the child rather than others out of a fear that their feeding decisions will do harm to the child.  Her terminology for this choice gives the two categories of “hard” and “soft” food.  Hard foods are considered dangerous and inappropriate for young children and include beef.  The main thing that stood out to me about this study was its link with malnutrition.  The presenter stated that 60% of children in the area were malnourished, and implied that this notion of “hard = bad” delayed the introduction of crucial protein and nutrients to developing children.  A couple of comments asked why the presenter focused on beef, since many cultures do not give beef to young children, and perhaps the nutrients could come from another place such as leafy greens?  While this would seem to be a very US-based notion of “good” nutrition, I’ll give the presenter the benefit of the doubt.  She stressed that people attempting to help mothers improve the nutritional health of their children should be working within the mothers’ conceptual frameworks to address these issues rather than attempting to change the entire outlook.  Perhaps this means that nutritional aid workers should look at what foods are considered “hard” and bad for infants in this culture, determine what nutrients they’re not receiving from those foods, and try to find “soft” and good alternatives for Guatemalan mothers.  Overall, a very interesting and thought-provoking presentation.


Teaching Anthropological Theory


Sadly, our lunch time ran long and I didn’t get to hear all of the presentations in this category that I had planned to attend.  However, the one presentation I heard intrigued me – one professor was using the TV show LOST to teach anthropological theory to her students!  She had them watch clips and relate anthropology theory readings to the situations in the show.  She would ask questions like: “What would Weber and Durkheim have to say about what’s going here?  How would they interpret the social roles of the characters?”  At the end of the semester, students chose their own clip from a TV show or movie and analyzed it according to the theorist of their choice.  The presenter stated that this gave students a familiar springboard that made theory seem applicable and relevant.  It let them develop a skill set for utilizing theory that they could then apply to more traditional ethnographies.  While I don’t particularly like the show LOST, it sounds like a great way to get students involved and engaged in a theory class – a notoriously difficult subject for undergrad students.


Loving Anthropology March 17, 2011

Filed under: Anthropology — MallyMay @ 12:14 AM

In college, I had a friend whose major was Accounting.  Number crunching, tax preparation, corporate budgeting Accounting.  I didn’t get it.  I mean, I really didn’t get it.  Why on earth would she choose such a mind-numbingly boring major??


So one day I asked her.  What she told me was simple: “I’m good at it.  I can do the work, it doesn’t drive me nuts, and it pays really well.  This way, I have job security and a way to make money to pay for the things I enjoy doing in my free time.”


To be honest, it still didn’t make sense to me.  In the intervening years, I’ve decided that it comes down to a difference in how the two of us looked at the issue of work.  My friend saw her job as a means to afford things she truly enjoyed doing.  I, on the other hand, have always maintained that I have to truly enjoy the work I’m doing.  I need to be passionate about my career field, or it’s really just not worth it for me.


Last month (regrettably just before I started blogging), Rex at Savage Minds asked Anthro bloggers to write a love letter to the discipline in honor of Valentine’s Day.  Several great bloggers answered his call, and Neuroanthropology gathered a bunch of the letters together into one post.  Reading these letters brought back a lot of the reasons why I fell in love with Anthropology in the first place…always a good thing for stressed-out, jaded graduate students to remember from time to time.  Rex’s own letter reverberated with me the most, and inspired me to pull together a few of my own reasons for loving Anthropology.


I was never one of those kids who knows exactly what she wants to be when she grows up.  By middle school, I had recognized a love of world history and mythology.  In early high school, I had my first exposure to people from other countries.  There’s an entry in my 10th grade diary that goes something like this: “I wish there were something I could do that lets me study people from other places all the time.  Is there something like that out there?  Maybe International Relations?”  Enter the undergrad years.  International Relations had too much politics involved for my taste.  I settled for majoring in Spanish and minoring in Psychology, but it wasn’t quite right.  When graduation came, I still had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up.


Finally, after a year of life-changing procrastination from real life in Spain, I got my first taste of Anthropology.  I was hooked after the first Intro class.  At the end of the semester, I declared my intention to go to graduate school, and my mother declared that I had “found my people”.  I laughed, but she was right.


Anthropology takes everything I have ever been interested in studying and brings it together in one legitimate field of study.  It brings together people who, like me, have a diverse range of interests and experiences, and it unites us in a shared passion for studying humanity and all its quirks.  The potentialities for research and collaboration within and beyond anthropology are practically limitless.  Once I found the discipline, I was equal parts dismayed and elated that my biggest problem was now figuring out what exactly I wanted to study within anthropology!


Most people, when I tell them I’m now in graduate school studying Anthropology, give me blank or puzzled looks.  The majority of people don’t even know what Anthropology is.  That would have been me a few years ago.  And while I wouldn’t change the events that have finally gotten me here, part of me does wish it had come a little sooner.  Maybe that’s why I’m so adamant about introducing Anthropology to kids at a younger age.  If I’d known this were an option back in middle school when I first started learning about Greek mythology, Egyptian temples, and Mozambican dances…would things have been a little easier?



Anthro Comics?? March 16, 2011

Filed under: Anthropology — MallyMay @ 12:50 AM
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Doing my first bit of trolling the Anthro blogosphere looking for interesting stuff, I came across a very interesting post on  Apparently, a couple of cultural anthropologists in Norway have taken a rather unorthodox approach to reporting their findings – they’ve written a comic book!


If this sounds crazy to you, you’re probably not alone.  I must admit, my first thought was “ok…that’s…different…”  I was skeptical about whether the authors thought they could accurately present their findings through cartoons.  Anthropologi asked one of the researchers to write a short blog entry about the project, which answered most of my questions.


Turns out, the researchers were very much aware of the potential for disaster in this project, yet they maintain that visual anthropology in its many forms is just as valid an approach as traditional written ethnography.

“While working on this collection, various storylines, narrative arcs, drawings, and so forth, we were faced with a series of esthetic, philosophical, and ethical choices. We not only interpreted our ethnographic findings but also presented our view of the world. In some instances, we used irony and humor to clarify situations. These forms of expression also represent our informants’ subjective experiences. They reflect the tone, emotions, and comments that were expressed by the students and employees during our conversations with them.”


The project was meant to explore the intersect between social/cultural diversity and informational services on a college campus in Oslo, Norway.  The challenge that followed was to present their findings in some way that made it usable to the general public…a challenge all anthros can relate to, I believe.  The resulting comic book can be found online here, along with a more detailed discussion of the project and methods.  Anthropology is a fascinating discipline that studies important and relevant issues, yet we’re often relegated to the background, if we make it into the picture at all.  The authors of this comic book were looking for a way out of the rut of traditional writing, a way to make sure their findings were noticed.

“People tend to better understand the complex issues when they are visible. Literally. Sometimes we need to see ourselves in a mirror to see ourselves at all. These comics were like a mirror that made people reflect upon the social and cultural issues without the distance which written texts often are creating.”

I’m not saying that comic books are the new form of ethnographic writing, nor would they appropriate for every project (incidentally, the comic book authors aren’t saying that either).  However, getting anthropological research to the general public is an issue of real concern, and we definitely shouldn’t turn down an option simply because it’s “just not done”.  There are many different options, and we should be thinking about how to take advantage of those.


As a side note, I still think that longer, technical writing (yes, even with the discipline-specific jargon) is very important.  I don’t think we should be writing ONLY for the public lay person, but ALSO for the public lay person.  Anthropology has a lot to offer!  Blogs, websites, social media, and even comic books can be good ways to spread the word on good, current research that has relevance for the public.


I’ve heard of plans in the making for children’s books, video games, and wiki pages meant to broaden the audience for anthropology.  Any other bright ideas out there for bridging the gap?



And so it begins… March 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — MallyMay @ 12:18 AM

I suppose I should begin by introducing the blog.  This is as much an experiment in social media and information dissemination as anything else.


As a graduate student who has recently begun to delve into anthropology blogs, I suddenly realized just how much information we were missing!  People are reading, writing, and researching a fascinating array of topics in anthropology, most of it never even published.  Several of the blogs out there (Savage Minds and Neuroanthropology being two of my favorites) have done a great job at pulling together information from across the discipline, and it’s often inspiring.


However, I quickly realized that copying and pasting blog links on Facebook and in emails to my friends was going to get old very fast.  (Don’t you just hate it when someone takes over your FB News Feed with a hundred link posts to outside content??)  Inspired as I was by the Anthro blogging community, I decided to try a different tact.


This blog will pull together interesting information from news, current events, scholarly papers, student presentations, current research, other Anthro blogs, and occasionally my own personal observations.  It’s my hope everything collected here will bring new information, insights, and connections to my fellow Anthro students.  And this way, I won’t have to clog up your Facebook feeds!


Since grad students rarely have time to do anything worthwhile for more than 5 minutes at a time, I’ll be enlisting help from my fellow students as well.  If you see an interesting article, read a cool new paper, or just have some thoughts of your own that you’d like to share in a guest post, please let me know about it!  Here’s hoping this humble project can turn into something helpful for all us Anthro kids.