Anthropology Today

Published by Wiley
Online ISSN: 1467-8322
Print ISSN: 0268-540X
Background: 1985 saw the beginnings of a population-based biobank in Vasterbotten County, Sweden. In 1999, a start-up genomics company, UmanGenomics, obtained ‘all commercial rights’ to the biobank. The company introduced an ethics policy, which was well received in prestigious journals, focusing on public oversight and informed consent. Aims: To explore how social anthropology can aid understanding of the challenges posed by the new role of the biobank in Vasterbotten, and thus complement more established traditions in the field of medical ethics. An anthropological study of the ethics policy was executed. Theoretical perspective: Inspired by the anthropology of policy and social science perspectives on ethics and morality, the policy was studied at three analytical levels: policymakers (who formulate the policy), policy workers (who implement the policy, primarily nurses who obtain informed consent) and target group (for whom and on whom the policy is supposed to work: the potential donors to the biobank). Methods: Policymakers, nurses, and potential donors were interviewed, donations observed, and official documents analysed to mirror the moral problematizations made at the three levels in each other and to study the practical implications of the policy. To extend the reliability of the findings two surveys were executed: one among the general population, one among donors. Results: The qualitative studies show that policymakers distinguish between blood and data differently to potential donors. Informed consent seems more important to policymakers than potential donors, who are more concerned about political implications at a societal level. Among the respondents from the survey in the general public, a majority (66.8%) accepted surrogate decisions by Research Ethics Committees; a minority (4 %) stated informed consent as a principal concern; and genetic research based on biobank material was generally accepted (71%). Among the respondents to the survey in donors, 65% knew they had consented to donate a blood sample, and 32% knew they could withdraw their consent; 6% were dissatisfied with the information they had received; and 85% accepted surrogate decisions by Research Ethics Committees. Discussion: The ethics policy constitutes a particular naming and framing of moral problems in biobank-based research which overemphasises the need for informed consent, and underemphasises other concerns of potential donors. This embodies a political transformation where access to stored blood and medical information is negotiated in ethical terms, while it also has unacknowledged political implications. In particular, the relations between authorities and citizens in the Swedish welfare state are apparently transforming: from mutual obligation to individual contracts. Conclusion: Anthropology contributes to medical ethics with increased awareness of the practical implications of particular research ethical initiatives. This awareness promotes appreciation of the political implications of ethics policies and raises new issues for further consideration.
L'Islande a ete le lieu d'evenements complexes et controverses entre 1996 et 1999 : DeCode Genetics, une institution de recherche genetique a eu le projet de dresser une carte des genomes des populations et de mettre en place une base de donnees medicale afin de relever les maladies, les avancees cliniques depuis 1915 et d'enregistrer les donnees genealogiques. Les AA. ont etudie le developpement et l'expansion de cette institution, la construction de la base de donnees et les debats publics autour de ce projet. Cet article se veut une reflexion relative a la position de l'anthropologie vis-a-vis de la biotechnologie, de l'industrie du genome humain et du monde des medias. Quelles sont les relations entre ce type d'anthropologie appliquee et la pratique ethnographique ? Quelle position ethique faut-il adopter ?
This article tells the story of how the remains of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center have been mistreated and misused over the past 10 years. The article focuses on the experiences of some of the victims' families as they have sought to recover human remains dumped in the Fresh Kills landfill and to engage with officials about plans to house unidentified remains in a museum complex. The story reveals the institutional violence of a process in which human remains are devalued and subject to continual control by both state authorities and a private museum, a process that has turned victims into victims yet again. This second victimization lies in the gap between the shared heritage of that tragic September day and the individual rights of American citizens to care for their kin.
The 16th Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in July 2009 was an opportunity for China to showcase socialist policies toward ethnic minorities. However just three weeks before the Congress 200 people were killed in ethnic rioting in Xinjiang. Hann's Narrative contrasts the dominant rhetoric of the Congress with the realities on the ground in rural eastern Xinjiang.
‘I would like to be remembered – although I am sure that I will not be – as the equivalent, to the Tswana, of what Pepys is to English ethnography.’ Isaac Schapera interviewed by Jean and John Comaroff, 1988
Claude Lévi-Strauss is one of the greatest interdisciplinary writers of the twentieth century whose influence extends far beyond his own discipline of social anthropology. His inquiry illuminates the borderlands between ‘primitive’ and non-primitive, self and other, myth and history, human and animal, art and nature, and the dichotomies that give structure to culture, society, history and agency. This commemorative article of his legacy assesses disciplinary and interdisciplinary debates influenced by Levi-Strauss's inquiry and methods, and looks at potential challenges for the future. Lévi-Strauss's ideas continue to be influential in our assessments of what we mean by culture, values, social organization, including social transformations and cultural ideologies such as ethnocentrism, nationalism, fundamentalism, pluralism, neo-liberalism, post-modernism, relativism, humanism and universalism.
L'article se penche sur la vie de Pierre Bourdieu, son oeuvre, ses idees, ses apparitions mediatiques, son heritage en tant que sociologue et penseur. Il souligne avant tout la largeur de sa curiosite intellectuelle, son desir de defier les bastions en sociologie et d'abolir les frontieres interdisciplinaires, son aspiration a creer une communaute des chercheurs reellement internationale
Le 21 janvier 2002, Fadime Sahindal, une jeune fille kurde-suedoise, fut tuee par son pere - un meurtre d'honneur -, parce qu'elle avait voulu exerce son libre choix du conjoint. L'A. propose quelques reflexions a propos du traitement de cette histoire tragique dans la presse suedoise et sur le role et la responsabilite de l'anthropologue pour intervenir dans ce type de debats. Il suggere notamment que l'anthropologue doit reintroduire la dimension culturelle dans l'explication de ces faits. Reconnaitre des dimensions universelles a la violence envers les femmes est compatible avec une analyse mettant en lumiere ses manifestations historiques et culturelles. Confronte a des tragedies comme celle de Fadime, l'anthropologue a le devoir d'utiliser ses outils analytiques et de s'engager avec vigeur dans les medias.
Conference reviewed: Mark Allen Peterson, Context and Content in New Orleans AAA Meeting, New Orleans, 20–24 November 2002
Conference reviewed in this article: 102nd Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, 19–23 November 2003, Chicago
One of the major ways of dealing with problems and difficulties in Basra is through recourse to one's tribe to mediate, resolve and sometimes even protect an individual or family. In this paper I turn to an ethnographic instance to highlight both the importance and capriciousness of tribes with respect to providing help when it is required.
This is the first episode of our new column ‘Letter from Europe’, in which Keith Hart reflects on life. Ed.
By analyzing the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, this paper stretches the limits of the anthropology of war and citizenship. Trying to overcome anthropologists' usual unease about commenting on ‘big topics’, I examine citizenship policies ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ that potentially lead to conflict and war. Special attention is paid to the role of nationality as a crucial feature of post-Soviet citizenship, and to citizenship as an effective means of neo-imperial expansion. In my conclusion, I contextualize my findings within anthropological debates about citizenship and argue that the recent stress on rights and entitlements needs to be balanced by an analysis of the repressive dimensions of citizenship regimes.
This article discusses the anthropological, legal, and political significance of a recent lawsuit before the House of Lords involving the people of the UK-controlled Chagos Archipelago, exiled during creation of the US military base on Diego Garcia. Building on a growing body of anthropological and historical literature about the people and the base, the article reviews the history leading up to the June hearing and describes its proceedings as part of the islander's four-decades-old movement to win a return to their homeland. On the one hand, it represents the closest the Chagossians have come to a return in nearly 40 years. On the other, the case holds implications for the right of return of other displaced peoples, the rights of indigenous peoples more broadly, the limits of government authority, the balance of power in British parliamentary democracy, and the deepening of democracy worldwide. The suit holds significance for anthropologists studying indigenous peoples, displacement and migration, human rights, the law, government officials, and foreign policy.
The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland in 2010 caused havoc to global air traffic. This article examines that event by looking at theories of risk and culture. We demonstrate the fragility of today's mobilities, which depend on unpredictable nature as well as complex technological systems. A new type of risk was revealed by the eruption, which has since become a feature of cultural risk portfolios in contemporary society.
On 25 January 2011, Egyptians took to the streets demanding political and social reform. In Cairo, protesters converged upon Tahrir (‘Liberation’) Square, which remained constantly occupied until the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February. In this narrative, the author recounts his experiences over 12 days as a participant in what is now referred to as the Egyptian revolution. He concludes with reflections on the situation that emerged in the square, focusing in particular on some of the factors that may have contributed to the success of its continued occupation: the swift creation of an embryonic form of community, and the receding of the usual identities based on class and religion in favour of a simple yet powerful identity as people of the revolution.
Few anthropologists today would consider using the term ‘tribe’ as an analytical category, yet it has become a focal point for military commanders and other leaders prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, US-led occupation forces in both countries have begun pursuing ‘tribal’ strategies in which they have attempted to forge alliances with ‘sheiks’ and local power brokers. This article examines the reasons for the rapid rise of ‘tribal’ discourses, the role of social scientists in their propagation and the possible consequences for Iraqis and Afghans. It concludes by comparing these processes to ethnographically-informed pacification efforts initiated in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the European powers, and by suggesting that anthropologists can potentially play a critical role by challenging persistent, damaging assumptions.
The pro-life movement regularly employs tactics of political harassment in its campaign against abortion. As the murder of the controversial abortion doctor George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, demonstrated last year, such tactics often betray a potential for violence. This paper explores how the militant tactics of the pro-life movement in the 1990s have contributed to the formation of a ‘new’ political identity in Kansas politics: that of the moderate Republican. But for those that seek to counter-mobilize against the Christian right, the political stakes remain high.
Prior to the start of The Ashes in 2006 in which England and Australia played five five-day long games of cricket, Cricket Australia, the country's governing body for the sport, announced that it would be cracking down on racism. The words ‘Pom’ and ‘Pommie’, however, were deemed by Cricket Australia to be inoffensive. Unacceptable, nevertheless, was racial abuse directed at Monty Panesar, a Sikh member of the English cricket team. The author analyzes why abuse hurled at white English players is acceptable and abuse hurled at non-white players unacceptable. He does this by using the work of Ghassan Hage and an episode of the cartoon South Park and briefly examines the implications for multiculturalism as a policy.
‘Text, belief & personal identity – creating a dialogue’: Valmiki Studies Workshop, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), 21 February 2004
This article focuses on the 2008 global dairy scandal sparked by the distribution of milk adulterated with the industrial chemical melamine in the People's Republic of China. In China, roughly 300,000 children were suspected of having melamine-related illnesses and six children died. Subsequent court proceedings showed that the addition of melamine to the nation's milk supply was an open secret in the industry. Just months before, Western media had applauded China for relatively open access during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the Olympic Games. The scandal called into question this apparent rise of transparency in China. How is it that a common household substance like melamine ‘jumped’ from everyday object to a substance with severe effects on hundreds of thousands of bodies? This ‘jump’ offers an opportunity to consider melamine transductively – to examine these leaps across scales of experience and between particular modes of knowledge. Transduction refers to the conversion of one type of signal into another (e.g. sound into electrical energy). A transductive account of the melamine scandal focuses attention on melamine's materiality, its circulation through various media and experiences, and its transformation through and on these media. This transformative potential, melamine's mutability, is what allows it to hold social and political resonances.
North Korea is renowned for its inaccessibility, with anthropologists and others compelled to work beyond its borders. Presented in this article are select findings from ethnographic research carried out in 2006 among refugee survivors of the North Korean famine living in South Korea. The ethnographic material shows how refugees’ accounts of their plight are shaped by the political conditions of North Korea.
The development of an Anthropology A Level represents a major forward movement for the discipline in this country. Now that the RAI has at last succeeded in having the course accredited for teaching in schools, from this September, it is timely to try to put this achievement into a longer historical context. I here briefly review the discipline's attempts over four decades to address the role of Anthropology in educational contexts outside of the university. This process can be seen both as part of a wider public engagement (cf Eriksen, 2006) and as evidence that colleagues in this country have indeed been concerned for a long time with both anthropology in and of education (cf see Green and Bloome 1997).
'What makes your ears so long!' Cartoon by C.H. Bennett, published in 1863 at the height of the evolutionist/creationist debate. Bennett sends up Darwin's theory, using the ears to plot an absurd morphology across species. However, eight years later, in the Descent of Man, Darwin compared the ears of men and monkeys and found them to be 'curiously alike' (2003: 150). He noticed small points visible in 'the inwardly folded margin, or helix' of the ears of both species (ibid.: 16), which he believed to be 'vestiges of the tips of formerly erect and pointed ears' (ibid.), and asserted that the points in question 'are in some cases, both in man and apes, vestiges of a former condition' (ibid.: 16- 17).  
The ear is implicated in punishment and control. In 1883, anthropologist Alphonse Bertillion launched a system for the identification of persistent criminals based on a series of body measurements including the 'length of the right ear'. It proved very successful, and was adopted by police in Britain and the United States, some even going so far as to suggest that all citizens should be physically inspected for such signs of delinquency. The ears thus became integral to the development of a projected bio-panopticon (see alphonse.htm and dbnationtp/chapter/ch03.html).
In traditional Chinese medicine the ear is closely connected with the meridians (energy pathways) relating to supplementary vessels and organs throughout the body. It is both part of the body and an organic representation of the whole body.
A partir d'une recherche ethnographique realisee a l'Infirmerie royale d'Edimbourg (Ecosse), l'A. montre comment la dimension acoustique de la vie hospitaliere, le paysage sonore de l'hopital, contribue a la perception de soi du patient. Les sons des pratiques medicales, de la technologie et de l'equipement, qui ponctuent la vie hospitaliere, sont investis de significations particulieres par les malades. Ceux-ci expriment une comprehension de l'espace sonore comme etant produit par la promulgation d'un code de la pratique medicale (la biomedecine) qui suppose que les patients soient les destinataires passifs de l'attention medicale - objets des techniques medicales, et acceptant certains systemes de controle. Le paysage sonore est ainsi experimente comme symbole de la construction de la condition de patient, l'environnement hospitalier contribuant a la constitution sonore d'un sens du moi.
The article compares selected research ethical codes from medical science and anthropology. Though based on the same basic principles of respect, beneficence and justice, their history and emphases are different. All the codes stress the importance of informed consent, though the biomedical codes are more elaborated especially regarding ‘vulnerability’, ‘dependent relationships’ and ‘legally incompetent groups’. With respect to harm, the biomedical codes are more detailed, and in the two anthropological codes the emphasis is here on the potential harmful effect of the knowledge produced rather than the negative impact that may result from the data collection itself. When it comes to provision of benefits to the study population, the biomedical codes are generally more concrete, and where they focus on provision of (medical) services, the anthropological mention disseminating the study findings and the optional possibility for advocacy. The article concludes by recommending that research ethical codes be compared between disciplines and that not least anthropology could benefit from that.
Tout en critiquant l'analyse de James C. Scott dans son ouvrage Seeing like a state (1998) sur l'opposition entre les pouvoirs hegemoniques centraux, leurs discours rigides, leurs savoir theorique d'une part, et les pouvoirs locaux, leurs savoir pratiques et leur supposee souplesse d'autre part, l'A. veut montrer une triple voie relative aux metissages dans les processus cognitifs dans la societe de l'Inde contemporaine.
Children in and out of school, Kwapa, Uganda.  
School children at a government school in Lusaka, Zambia.  
Young children eating a meal of dhalbhat (rice and lentils) in squatter home, Kathmandu.
Birthday celebration in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The civilization of the children of the “savages” in the colonial world was seen as a crucial issue from early on was an inherent part of the colonization project in Africa, America and Oceania in the 19th century. The idea of civilizing “the savages,” today's South, through children has continued in the post-colonial era with the development of mass-schooling systems and various child-focused development projects. This has led to an export of internationally defined standards for a “good childhood” through various foreign funded development programs in South. While many NGOs, legitimizing their work on the basis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), are genuinely working for an improvement of children's conditions, they have also taken on the role as a second guardian in order to cultivate “proper” children and parents who can live up to the supposedly universal ideals of a “good childhood.” The article adopts a critical view on the child rights movement by shedding light on the crucial role, which NGOs play as civilizing institutions in the South. The article specifically draws attention to the double-sided patronization of children and parents, and “infantilization” of nations in South, which implicitly lies beneath CRC and the child rights movement.
This paper has benefited greatly from the time that I have recently spent working on the Committee of Section H of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. I am particularly grateful to David Shankland and Malcolm Smith, both of whom have served as Recorders for Section H, for generously sharing their knowledge and reminiscences of the Section with me. The paper further benefited from comments received at the recent 2004 Festival of Science in Exeter at which I presented it in a session entitled ‘Anthropology after Darwin: The role of the BA’. I also acknowledge the helpful comments of three anonymous reviewers.
This article analyzes the role of Kashmiri lawyers working in a context of conflict, militarization and political resistance in Kashmir Valley, India. It finds that the Kashmir Bar Association, operating under conditions of state control that are maintained and legitimized through the law, constitutes an authoritative normative community and powerful institutional actor, working within the parameters of the Indian legal system while simultaneously supporting and maintaining solidarity with the movement for self-determination, and contesting the legitimacy of Indian state rule. The association's decidedly moral vision of the law offers an alternative form of legal imagination that draws on transnational normative frameworks and practices to challenge the legal provisions and legal failures that function to legitimize human-rights violations taking place under conditions of militarization. As we show in this article, the recent crisis period in Kashmir has posed challenges to KBA lawyers, as they negotiate and assess their relationship to the state, their place in the struggle for self-determination, and the promise and potency of law as a strategy for social change.
Some have argued that anthropologists have a moral responsibility to advocate on behalf of research subjects suffering from structural and other forms of violence. However, advocacy is not without its problems; action taken on behalf of one's research subjects may have adverse consequences for others. This is our current predicament. Violence and insecurity have always been major themes in our work with mobile pastoralists in the Far North Region of Cameroon, who have suffered deadly cattle raids for decades. More recently, pastoralists have been subject to child kidnappings and extortion by criminal gangs. As researchers working with these people, we have repeatedly informed development projects, NGOs and government authorities about these and other insecurity problems. The difficulty is that the government response, in particular the use of paramilitary forces, has created another kind of insecurity which has adverse effects on others.
This is the first part of a two-part article in which Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney looks at popular and media images of ‘suicide bombers’. in the light of post-9/11 events in the United States. Part 1 looks at the backgrounds of Japanese World War II ‘kamikaze’ pilots, often adduced in discussions of the 9/11 hijackers. In Part 2, to be published in a future issue, Ohnuki-Tierney will address the specific parallels drawn between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in the US media and the role of intellectuals in wars.
The ethnographic focus of this article is on the ways in which Afghan families who lived in northern Pakistan as refugees are currently reflecting upon to their complex experiences of return to their country through a rich and complex culture of debate, as well as the deployment of other verbal and peformative skills, especially imitation. More broadly, it argues that the comparative study of situated practices of debate offers unique insights for the anthropological analysis of Islam, which an expanding body of work on the ways in which piety minded Muslims embody and cultivate ethical and moral values has thus far overlooked.
Anthropologists have showed only marginal interest in road safety, despite the loss of some 1.3 million people killed in road crashes every year, the bulk of which occurs in ‘developing’ countries. 2011 marks the beginning of a UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. Its scope is ambitious: to save five million lives and fifty million injuries by the end of the ‘decade’ in 2020. In this article, the author examines the way public health professionals and educators have appropriated the language of epidemiology to argue that road death and injury can be viewed as an ‘epidemic on wheels’ or a ‘disease of development’, to mention two often cited epithets among participants in the global road safety lobby. One major consideration of interest to anthropologists and policy makers is to what extent this effectively essentializes road death in Africa and depoliticises its injury politics. Bearing in mind the historical context of medical interventions in Africa, the article examines the global road safety lobby and its affinity with public health as a form of transnational governance, arguing alternatively that if the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety is to have any significant impact, it must recognize more clearly the political stakes being raised in claims to reduce deaths and injuries caused by automobility.
There are many circumstances in which South Africans and foreigners from elsewhere in Africa pursue shared interests peacefully. Anthropological field research points to a range of these circumstances, which have largely been ignored by commentators attempting to explain the episode of mass‘xenophobic’violence that wracked South African cities and towns in May 2008. Explanations such as the one criticised in this article focus on the xenophobic attitudes of ordinary South Africans, and link these attitudes to competition for resources between locals who are poor and their equally poor counterparts from further north. Recent research indicates, however, not only that relationships between poor South Africans and poor foreigners are more complex than most commentators allow, but also that South African xenophobia begins at the top, among the leaders of the ANC government and the black and white elites whose interests it serves. This article argues that a newly-issued report on the xenophobic violence by a government-orientated think tank reproduces the dominant xenophobic discourse in its recommendation that the state should construct a‘Fortress SA’with impenetrable borders. Yet this report seeks to mask its adherence to official discourse by representing its proposals as a response to the xenophobic attitudes of poor South Africans.
South Africa has been at the centre of world history for over a century and it is now the focus of all eyes for the World Cup. The country has been a by-word for racial inequality and more recently for crime and violence. But it is also notable for social progress and cultural vitality. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has claimed more victims there than anywhere else, a tragic sequel to apartheid. Successive political leaders highlight the contradictions of this historical moment in poignant, even Shakespearean ways. The author briefly reviews three books by anthropologists on AIDS there and suggests that South Africa is likely to remain a source of innovation for the discipline. But we need to take a broader view of world history than at present.
Top-cited authors
Evthymios Papataxiarchis
  • University of the Aegean
Justin Kenrick
  • Forest Peoples Programme
Jerome Lewis
  • University College London
Stephen Collier
  • The New School
Andrew Lakoff
  • University of Southern California