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.


Anthro Comics?? March 16, 2011

Filed under: Anthropology — MallyMay @ 12:50 AM
Tags: ,

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?