Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cultural Relativism and Sudan

In our class discussion or Janice Boddy’s article “Womb as Oasis,” we discussed a variety of topics, including female genital modification, cultural relativism, and some aspects of the current situation in regions of Sudan other than the specific area discussed by Boddy, in particular the ongoing humanitarian crisis and genocide occurring in the Darfur region.

You may be interested in the following posts from my main blog, Robert Philen’s Blog:

John Prendergast on Darfur

Shamans, Jazz, and Genocide: On Definitions and Sets

Sudan and the U.S.: Genocide and the War on Terror

Shamanism, Fascism, Gulags, and Genocide

Genocide and Hairsplitting

Sudan and Cultural Relativism

A Typology of Genocide

Cultural Relativism: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Is There a World Music?

I originally posted the following short essay on my main blog (Robert Philen's Blog) back in July. Since I showed the video documentary, Kienes?, which I discuss below, in class the other day, I thought I'd repost the essay here as well:

Kienes? (a variation on “Quién es?” – “Who are you?”) is a short documentary of Algerian-French singer Rachid Taha’s tour of Mexico from 2004. (A DVD copy is included with Taha’s album Tékitoi.) At one point in the video, Taha responds to a question from a Mexican journalist about World Music. Taha argues that “World Music” is simply a convenience for shopkeepers. He also says that “World Music” is a short hand for music from “there” rather than “here,” and that for a Mexican audience, U2, as an Irish band, is a band from “there” and hence “World Music.”

Part of Taha’s comment is straightforwardly true. World Music is a catch-all label that serves as a marketing tool and a convenience for music shops and customers. Another part of his comment is playful and facetious, though making a serious point. World Music is music from “there,” but where “here” and “there” have become fixed locations (“here” is the U.S., the U.K., and sometimes the rest of northern and western Europe – “there” is everywhere else) rather than deictic shifters. To the extent “World Music” exists, and largely as a marketing tool, U2 doesn’t fit (though some other bands from Ireland, like Clannad, might).

World Music as a Marketing Tool

There are many types of music with very real histories and traditions, some quite old, some more recent, that are often today lumped together (at least in the U.S. and some other parts of the world) as “World Music.” “World Music” as this catch-all category would not exist were it not convenient for the recording industry and record dealers (whether conventional stores or online). As I began to argue above, world music is largely the music of there, with here defined largely from a North American or European and mainly English-speaking perspective.

What defines this catch-all category? What’s included? The most important criteria seem to be culture, geography, language, and modernity.

Culture, geography, and language are separate criteria, but in the marketing of World Music, they’re inextricably intertwined. Much of the marketing of World Music plays on the tropes of purity, authentic linkage between voice and place (which links culture, language, and place), primitiveness as sign of purity, authenticity, and autochthony – it’s the marketing of “natives,” and as Arjun Appadurai has pointed out, one of the qualities of “the native” in many genres of discourse, including a lot of ethnographic writing, is the intertwining of culture and place, such as to imprison the (non-modern) native in contrast to the world wandering (and modern) Westerner.

The music of all non-western cultures and places is included in the “World Music” category, whether the musics of Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, Asia, or the Pacific.

Most music not sung in English is World Music. The major exception to this is that rock and pop genre music performed in languages of Northern and Western Europe that are perceived as modern (i.e. a language like Gaelic is typically perceived and marketed as “traditional) are generally not marketed as “World” (though I’ve seen plenty of record stores market French and German pop music as varieties of World Music, too). Rock and pop “en español” are more ambiguous. They are typically marketed as “Latin” music, which might or might not be marketed as World Music, marking, I think, English speakers’ ambiguous sense of Latin America’s place as part of “Western Culture.”

Some Western musics are included also. Some North American and Northern European musical traditions are at least sometimes marketed as varieties of World Music. The key is that they’re not the traditions of populations that are or were historically mainly English-speaking, and simultaneously, they’re musics associated with tradition rather than modernity. So, North American genres like blues, country, bluegrass, or folk might be seen as rural, or traditional, or even quaint,” musics, but they’re not generally “World Music,” while zydeco (associated with both tradition and French-speaking Cajuns) sometimes is. “Irish” or “Celtic” music (which doesn’t include all the music of Ireland, e.g. U2 are not “Irish” in the “traditional music” sense), with its association with a Gaelic speaking population (even if many if not most of the musicians are now English speakers), has an ambiguous relationship to World Music like that of zydeco – sometimes it’s included in the category and sometimes not.

Looking at what’s included in the category of “World Music” provides an interesting, if not all that surprising, window into how culture is marketed and how many North American and European English speakers view their relation to the world. English-speaking Europe and North America is definitively “here.” Northern/Western Europe is pretty clearly “here.” Cajuns, Celts, and Spanish speakers are ambiguously “here/there,” and everyone/everyplace else is definitively “there.”

There is a real World Music

“World Music” is a marketing tool. There’s not a lot of commonality to much of the music included within it, e.g. not a lot in common between Tuvan throat singing, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, Mexican ranchero, or Native American flute music.

There is within the catch-all category, though, and growing largely out of the success of the marketing of world music, a subset that has developed into a meaningfully coherent genre in its own right. It is a hybrid genre, generally mixing the rhythms of western pop and rock music with musical elements from a wide variety of non-western musics. A typical result is western electric bass, drum kit, and/or synthesizers and drum machines providing rhythms recognizable to the average western listener surrounded by other “exotic” sounds, i.e. producing at once music that is familiar and different.

Much of this is done cynically, a way to cash in on the “exotic,” often at the same time watering down non-western musical traditions with not much compensation (economic or aesthetic) for the musicians. Some of this World Music, though, is done quite creatively – and it’s not always a matter of westerners appropriating non-western exotic material, but in some cases of musicians incorporating western musical elements (or simply elements from other places) into their own music, such as with Rachid Taha’s “Rock El Casbah,” Sheila Chandra’s “Love is a Killing Thing,” Sekouba Bambino’s version of the James Brown classic “It’s a Man’s, Man’s World,” or the incorporation of electronic beats into Issa Bagayogo’s music.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Possible, Plausible, Probable, Proven

“Possible,” “Plausible,” “Probable,” and “Proven” are terms used to indicate rough degrees of statistical probability of something happening or some proposition being true. (My use of the “probable” here reflects the vernacular. When we say that something is probably true, we don’t mean that it has just any level of statistical probability, but specifically that it is quite likely to be true.)

The terms do reflect an ascending order of probability (and a nested one – anything that is plausible is also possible; anything proven is also probable, plausible, and possible), though not in a numerically precise way. They represent a sort of qualitative statistics. When we can realistically indicate precise probabilities, that is obviously a useful thing, but even a rough sense of degree of probability is far more useful than no such sense at all.

Errors in thinking arise whenever we jump up this ascending ladder of probability without evidence, or without sufficient evidence (though admittedly, knowing what counts as sufficient evidence is always tricky business). Just because it’s possible that Bigfoot could be running around the Pacific Northwest or elsewhere doesn’t make it plausible, much less probable or proven.

The Possible

Saying that something is possible simply means that it does not violate the basic laws of logic. In the realm of empirical scholarship, one could also add that it does not violate basic physical laws, that something is both logically and physically possible.

The existence of Bigfoot is possible – it violates no logical or physical rules, but given the overwhelming lack of evidence, there’s no reason to regard Bigfoot’s existence as having anything but the lowest degree of probability. The same goes for claims about extraterrestrial influence in building the Egyptian Pyramids or Stonehenge or the Nazca Lines.

The Plausible

To say that something is plausible is to indicate that it has a higher probability than the merely possible - it is believable, it makes sense. But claims that are merely plausible (that is, that are not also probable) lack the evidence to be taken as having a high degree of probability of truth.

Thor Heyerdahl’s famous voyage on his Kon-Tiki raft from South America to Polynesia certainly proved that it was possible for people to have traveled from the one place to the other using fairly simple watercraft. He even made it plausible that Polynesians could have made voyages to South America, but his voyage alone did nothing to make such notions probable, much less proven. (See this news article from this past summer from Live Science on both Heyerdahl and more recent evidence of Polynesian voyaging to South America that I’ll discuss below.)

An article I encountered this morning on Science Daily, “Early Apes Walked Upright 15 Million Years Earlier Than Previously Thought, Evolutionary Biologist Argues,” makes what I’d consider a plausible claim. “An extraordinary advance in human origins research reveals evidence of the emergence of the upright human body plan over 15 million years earlier than most experts have believed. More dramatically, the study confirms preliminary evidence that many early hominoid apes were most likely upright bipedal walkers sharing the basic body form of modern humans.” So long as there’s evidence, it’s plausible that hominoid bipedalism might be much older than previously thought, but this is an extraordinary claim, and as such requires not simply a single study with good evidence, but a body of good evidence in order to be taken as probable, much less proven by many scholars.

The Probable and the Proven

To say that something is probable means that it is very likely to be the case, that it has a high degree of probability. To refer to something as proven implies that a claim is definitely true, though given the ever present possibilities of faulty observation (even systematic faulty observation), partial understanding or misunderstanding of empirical materials, nothing (at least outside the abstract realm of pure logic and mathematics) is ever demonstrated to be completely and irrevocably true. Instead, to say something is proven is really to say that it has such a high degree of probability of truth that we can pragmatically assume it to be true (though ideally keeping an open mind towards potential counter-evidence).

When Pizarro and his Spanish soldiers reached Peru, they encountered chickens (an Old World domesticated bird) already there. There are at least a couple ways the chickens could have arrived in the New World – they could have been brought by the very earliest European voyages to the Caribbean and Central America in the 1490s and 1500s and very rapidly diffused southward; or they could have been brought by Polynesia voyagers to South America (the only problem there being, at least until now, a lack of evidence of such Polynesian voyages having actually occurred).

When Captain Cook and other explorers encountered a variety of Polynesian islands in the late 18th century, they encountered sweet potatoes, among other crops being grown. As I understand it, there’s no definite evidence of how these South American plants reached Polynesia. They could have been brought by the Spanish to the Philippines early in the Colonial period and diffused from there to Indonesia, Melanesia, and ultimately Polynesia, or they could have been brought back from South America by Polynesians themselves.

New evidence released this past summer addresses this situation. Chicken bones were recovered in Peru that, according to carbon dating, predate Spanish voyages to the Americas by about a century. Further, genetic evidence links the chicken bones to Polynesian varieties of chickens. (See the previously cited article from Live Science and also this article from New Scientist.)

If the carbon dating and DNA evidence hold up (always an important consideration with important new claims), this proves that Polynesian chickens reached Peru at least on one occasion. Given the highly implausible nature of chickens making the voyage on their own (though not logically impossible), it makes highly probable if not proving claims that Polynesians came to South America on at least one occasion. It makes highly probable that the chickens seen by Pizarro were of Polynesian stock as well. I’d even go so far as to say that this new evidence makes probable the idea that Polynesians brought sweet potatoes back from South America directly, though the distinction between plausible and probable is a bit more ambiguous in this case.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Charles Wagley's "On Social Race in the Americas"

Much has been written about race in the Americas since this article by Charles Wagley was first published in the 1950s. This article, though, was foundational for much of the writing on race by anthropologists since then, and with perhaps a few caveats it still functions quite well as an overview of the social organization of race in various parts of the Western Hemisphere. (The most important qualification is that Wagley’s terminology for reference to populations, “negroid,” “caucasoid,” “mongoloid,” is now anachronistic – though the terms were common parlance in social science writing of the day. The terms Wagley uses are often taken to have connotations of biological fixity of the racial groups that his own work did much to help undermine. If the terms are read as “African,” “European,” and “Native American,” that is as simply indicating geographic regions of origin, what Wagley says about the three groups and their interactions remains important.)

Wagley identifies several factors that are influential in shaping three broadly distinguished patterns of social race. Each of the patterns takes into consideration ancestry (i.e. degree of ancestral membership in any of the three areas of geographic origin), physical appearance (e.g. skin color, facial features, hair texture or other physical features that can be taken as signs of race), and cultural factors (e.g. language, dress, occupation). These factors of ancestry, physical appearance, and culture are differentially emphasized, though, generating one pattern with a strongly delineated binary distinction between European and African (i.e. black and white) with a focus on ancestry especially; a second pattern emphasizing a continuum of racial mixture between African and European, with physical appearance especially emphasized in categorization; and a third pattern emphasizing a continuum of racial mixture between Native American and European, with cultural factors particularly important in racial categorization.

Wagley points out how these three basic patterns are regionally associated, not so much with three specific regions, but with three types of regions in the Americas. These types of regions are defined by Wagley in broad ecological terms: the temperate zones of northern North America (specifically northeastern North America during the colonial period in which race patterns were first constituted) and southern South America associated with the first pattern; the tropical lowland areas of Brazil, the Caribbean, and coastal Spanish America (and to a lesser extent, the sub-tropical southeastern North America – at least for a time) associated with the second pattern; and tropical to temperate highland zones of Latin America (i.e. Mesoamerica and the Andes) associated with the third.

Equally important for Wagley are two other factors, both of which are intimately connected to the basic ecological characteristics of the different types of regions. First are the predominant economic activities of a region. For example, a critical difference between the first and second type regions is the pervasive presence of extremely labor intensive agricultural practices based for a long time in plantation slavery in tropical lowland areas in contrast to Euro-American farming practices in Northern North America and Southern South America that, while quite distinct in certain ways from one another, had in common the lack of utilization of large pools of intensive labor, i.e. the lack of plantation agriculture or slavery practiced on a large scale.

Alongside economic practices, another important consideration discussed by Wagley is population history. Although Wagley doesn’t quite put it this way, the population history of Native Americans is particularly important in playing a role in shaping the organization of race. Low population densities of Native Americans persisted at least into the 19th century in Northeastern North America and Southern South America, but without being particularly integrated with European society in the form of a laboring group. (The fur trade in North America and cattle ranching in South America certainly involved Native American labor, but with relatively small numbers of laborers involved and in ways and contexts where Europeans still thought of them as largely outside their own social universe.) High population densities of Native Americans in the tropical lowlands were largely wiped out early on, mainly by disease, and were replaced with slave labor imported from Africa on newly introduced plantation systems. Even higher population densities of Native Americas in the Latin American highlands were also decimated by disease, but large numbers of Native Americans remained even after the worst of the plague years of the 1500s and 1600s and were incorporated as labor into a variety of economic endeavors.

In this article and other writings (his work tended to focus on race in the Americas generally or on the ethnography of Brazil in particular), Wagley was an important influence on the shape of anthropological debate in the mid- to late 20th century. He especially influenced the development of ecological and economic anthropology in the 1950s through the 1970s. In most anthropologists’ conception of the history of the discipline, he is greatly overshadowed in this regard by figures such as Julian Steward, and probably rightfully so – Steward’s writings, such as Theory of Culture Change, are more widely read today and were so at the time as well. Wagley’s influence took more the form of teaching and mentorship. He taught at Columbia at a time when many scholars who were to become extremely important in ecological and economic anthropology were studying there as Ph.D. students, probably most prominently Eric Wolf (see Europe and the People without History), Sidney Mintz (see Sweetness and Power), and Marvin Harris (see Cultural Materialism and The Rise of Anthropological Theory). It is clear that Harris was especially influenced by Wagley: Harris’ early work on race in the Americas is essentially a direct development of Wagley’s work, and Harris’ cultural materialist theory builds upon Wagley’s broadly ecological approach (though obviously also drawing on many other sources of inspiration also).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mundurucú Culture

The next course reading, “Mundurucú Culture,” is a chapter from an important ethnography, Women of the Forest by Yolanda and Robert Murphy.

Much of the material in the chapter is a straightforward presentation of basic cultural features of the Mundurucú, a Native American society from Central South America, including discussion of the gendered division of labor in horticultural and foraging practices, kinship and marriage patterns, residence patterns, etc.

One key topic to consider when reading and thinking about the chapter is the role of architecture and the social organization of space in shaping interactions between people, especially in relation to gender. The Murphys talk a great deal about the ways in which men’s and women’s houses are constructed and laid out within a village, as well as a concentric organization of social space, with the village the inner circle, the gardens in a ring around the village, and the forest as a nearly purely men’s area surrounding that.

Another key topic is not just the presence of male domination, but the particular way in which it is organized in practice. We discussed in class June Nash’s account of the growth over time of patriarchal male domination in certain class contexts of the Aztec polity. Here we encounter another society characterized in part by male domination, though in a distinct form referred to by some anthropologists as fratriarchy.

Another issue the Murphys address, though more in other parts of their book than in this particular chapter, is the relationship between ideas or perceptions and practices. If we ask whether the Mundurucú society is male dominated, our answer depends in part on our definitions.

My inclinations are generally to define something like “male domination” in terms of regular or typical social practice. In practice, women’s actions and movements are highly restricted while men’s are not; men’s activities are more highly valued (by men, and by women much of the time); men tend to have more influence in the community in general; men occasionally physically control women through physical violence, including occasional gang rapes. At the same time, the Murphys stress that Mundurucú women, for the most part, do not see themselves as oppressed or dominated. If domination or oppression are conceptualized mainly in terms of perception (to be oppressed is to feel oppressed), then Mundurucú women are not oppressed. If domination is conceptualized in terms of practices, the Mundurucú are a male-dominated society (and the absence of publically reported feelings of being dominated can be seen as a further example of male domination in practice, in terms of influence on the culture’s discourse on what is properly masculine and feminine, i.e. women’s lack of feeling dominated in society in which their actions are thoroughly regulated can be seen as an instance of socialization of "false consciousness" – or an instance of hegemonic control, for those familiar with the thought of Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci).

Language Extinction and Global Patterns

National Geographic online has posted an interesting (and depressing) article on language extinction, noting the presence of five global “hotspots” for the extinction of languages currently spoken by only small numbers of individuals. These hotspots are: the Northwest Coast of North America, Oklahoma, Central South America, Northeast Asia, and Northern Australia, which is also to say that Native American, Siberian, and Australian Aboriginal languages in particular are disappearing quickly at the present time. As the article discusses, this is a concern not just in terms of the loss of linguistic diversity, but also the loss of knowledge, e.g. of the natural environment, that was thoroughly embedded in each of these languages.

I’d simply note two things in terms of how these five hotspots reflect underlying global patterns. First, these instances don’t reflect just any random languages going extinct. Rather, they reflect particular sorts of interactional histories between quite different sorts of societies. Each is the end result of a few centuries interaction between societies (Native American, Siberian, Australian Aboriginal) with relatively low population densities and technologies that were less efficient for the specific purposes of armed conflict or intensive agricultural production (capable of supporting larger, dense populations) being faced with colonizers from much larger societies (European and Euro-American) with technologies that gave them a distinct edge in direct confrontation. (In the case of the Americas, especially, diseases brought along with Europeans were another major factor in the process of social disruption and linguistic disappearance.)

Second, the current hotspots of linguistic (and cultural) disappearance do not reflect a new phenomenon. They represent the tail end of a now centuries long process of social disruption, cultural loss, and cultural and linguistic assimilation. These hotspots represent remnant areas. What’s happening now in these areas already happened (often long ago) in other areas of the Americas with dense Euro-American settlement, in more densely populated Southern Australia, or in more westerly Siberian areas closer to the heartland of Russian culture.

Tragically, in all likelihood in the near future, very few Native American, Siberian, or Australian Aboriginal languages will remain. The ones that will remain will also not be random. They will in most cases be languages of cultural populations that had relatively high population numbers and densities prior to colonization (e.g. Mesoamerican or Andean languages and a few other North and South American languages), or populations settled in places where the effects of colonization have been particularly light on the ground.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

June Nash and "Aztec Women"

June Nash has been a prominent anthropologist for the past few decades. She has written extensively about contemporary Mayan communities in southern Mexico, but also about a variety of contemporary and ethnohistorical topics related to Mesoamerica or Latin America more generally, as with the current course reading.

Nash’s article, “Aztec Women,” was published as part of the collection Women and Colonization, edited by Mona Etienne and Eleanor Leacock. The collected articles of this book examined the effects of the transition to a global economic system and of colonialism around the world over the course of the past several centuries on women and gender relationships. Nash’s article focuses on this process in the context of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and the colonization of New Spain/Mexico.

Nash is also concerned here with two topics that could be considered for any cultural context: social production and reproduction, and culture change. She considers the role of gender, of women and men, in the production of economic goods and of persons (through socialization, for example) and in social reproduction (of people and of the conditions and materials for social production). She also writes of how gender roles in relation to social production and reproduction changed through time in the Aztec context, both in the century or so preceding the Spanish Conquest and in the Spanish Colonial period after that Conquest.

For more information on June Nash, see her faculty web page at the City University of New York.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

"The Navaho View of Life," by Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton

Our next course reading is a selection from a classic ethnography, The Navaho, written by Kluckhohn and Leighton in the mid-1940s.

Both Kluckhohn and Leighton were interested in the Navaho culture (though Kluckhohn also wrote extensively on other cultures as well). Both also shared interests in the relationship between psychology and anthropology, or put a different way the relationship between culture and personality. The two worked together on a couple ethnographic works about the Navaho and their shared theoretical interests.

Of the two, Kluckhohn was the more prominent. In fact, he was one of the most prominent anthropologists of the mid-20th century. His major interests were, as said above, the relationship between culture and personality, and the value orientations typical of specific cultural contexts (with this evident in our course reading selection). (For an extended assessment of his life and work, see the lengthy obituary published in American Anthropologist by Talcott Parsons and Evon Vogt after his death in 1960.)

The following paragraph is a quotation from the Wikipedia (a reference source that should be used cautiously, but which can be useful for background information) entry on Kluckhohn:

“In 1949, Kluckhohn began a long-term study of what he and his colleagues called "Values Orientations" among five adjacent communities in Texas: Zuni, Navajo, Mormon (LDS), Spanish-American (Mexican-American), and Texas Homesteaders. A key methodological approach that he developed together with his wife Florence Rockwood Kluckhohn and colleagues Evon Z. Vogt and Ethel M. Albert, among others, was the Values Orientation Theory. They believed that cross-cultural understanding and communication could be facilitated by analyzing a given culture's orientation to five key aspects of human life: Human Nature (people seen as intrinsically good, evil, or mixed); Man-Nature Relationship (the view that humans should be subordinate to nature, dominant over nature, or live in harmony with nature); Time (primary value placed on past/tradition, present/enjoyment, or future/posterity/delayed gratification); Activity (being, becoming/inner development, or doing/striving/industriousness); and Social Relations (hierarchical, collateral/collective-egalitarian, or individualistic). The Values Orientation Method was developed furthest by Florence Kluckhohn and her colleagues and students in later years.”

In the selected reading, Kluckhohn and Leighton get at Navaho personality, culture, and value orientations through the analysis of cultural premises. Cultural premises can be seen as the basic operating assumptions typical of persons socialized within a particular cultural context. As such, the cultural premises outlined by Kluckhohn and Leighton do not represent a description of what Navajo individuals do on a day-to-day basis in their lives. Rather, they are a description of the operating assumptions that guide Navajo individuals in their choices and actions in both usual and unusual situations as they move through life.

As such, Kluckhohn and Leighton provide a dynamic model for understanding culture and individuals. It doesn’t assume that Navajo culture is static, but provides a way to understand how individuals socialized in a particular sociocultural environment might interact with ongoing and changing circumstances.

Although not many anthropologists today would claim to be “Kluckhohnians,” the approach was influential, and important affinities remain in much contemporary work, such as some varieties of contemporary practice theory (see the course reading by Sherry Ortner) or some more semiotically inclined anthropologists’ work (see the course reading by E. Valentine Daniel).

For more information on the Navajo, see the Navajo Nation’s website, as well as a web page on Navajo history.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Useful Advice For Any Students Contemplating Graduate School

For any students contemplating further studies in graduate school, take a look at this post on the blog Easily Distracted.

Easily Distracted is written by an historian, but the advice is useful for anyone thinking about grad studies in any discipline in the social sciences or humanities.

Iroquois and Other Native American Cooking

For anyone interested in Native American cookery and recipes, check out this site of Native American recipes. The site includes two corn soup recipes from Iroquois or other Northeastern Native groups that I’ve copied in here.

Oneida Corn Soup

Wild rice
Wild greens

Cook corn in water with bits of venison, wild edible greens like cowslip, ferns, or milk weed and a handful of wild rice.

My Disclaimer: Do not start collecting wild greens to cook this soup if you do not know what you are doing. Store-bought greens should substitute nicely.

Winter Corn Chowder

Yield: 1 pot

1 1/2 c Dried corn
6 sl Bacon
4 c Milk
1/2 ts Salt
3 c Broth
2 c Chopped onion
2 ts Sugar

Rinse corn and combine with broth in saucepan; bring to boil. Remove to heat and allow to stand for 2 hours, then cook for 45 minutes. Cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Drain. Cook onion in drippings. Add to corn mixture and simmer 5 minutes. Add milk, sugar, and salt; sprinkle with

Notice that while the first recipe utilizes ingredients that would have been available to Native Americans for quite some time before contact with Europeans, the second recipe demonstrates cultural change in foodways resulting from Native contact with Euro-American culture with the inclusion of Old World ingredients – in fact everything but the corn and salt would have been unavailable to Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans. (I’m assuming the “broth” is chicken, beef, or pork stock – venison stock could have been available prior to European contact.)

Another interesting food and recipe site is specific to Tuscarora cooking. The Tuscarora are one of the six tribal groups of the League of the Iroquois – historically the last of the six to join.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Judith K. Brown's "Iroquois Women"

Judith K. Brown’s article “Iroquois Women” is an important text in the history of ethnography. The article was first published in 1975 as part of the collection edited by Rayna Reiter, Toward an Anthropology of Women. This book was one of the more prominent collections of feminist anthropology (also often called “the anthropology of women” at the time) in the mid-1970s. (Woman the Gatherer and Woman, Culture, and Society were two other important collections of essays and articles. The names of those two books were responses to the titles of two other important anthropological books of the 1960s, Man the Hunter and Man, Culture, and Society.)

Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, gender was an understudied aspect of culture and information on women often underreported, as male ethnographers often worked mainly with male informants or presented information collected from men as typical of a culture in general. The collection Toward an Anthropology of Women and the Brown essay were part of a broader project to redress earlier male bias in ethnography and introduce more information about women specifically and the importance of gender as a social factor generally.

Historically, Iroquois women had great influence and status within their communities and culture. Brown’s essay is in part a discussion of this status of women in Iroquois culture and of Iroquois gender relations (so it’s also very much about Iroquois men).

She’s also concerned to examine the social factors that influence gender relations in any culture through the discussion of an Iroquois case study. Among the factors she discusses are economic production, the gender division of labor in relation to production, kinship and residence organization, and the control and distribution of economic goods.

For more information on Judith K. Brown, see her faculty web page at Oakland University.

For more information on the Iroquois, see the web site.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Scholarship and Revision

The following is something I posted for an open discussion forum within the online Introduction to Anthropology I am currently teaching. It's something that readers of this blog and members of the Peoples and Cultures of the World Class may also find interesting. (The second topic/link is not directly relevant for this course and blog, since it deals with paleoanthropology and primate evolution, but it may be of interest to anyone with a general anthropological interest.)

One quality of good scholarship is a willingness to revise what we thought we understood about the world in light of new discoveries. Good scholarship, whether in the sciences or humanities, involves the production of interpretations and arguments that fit the facts, rather than picking and choosing facts to fit preconceived notions. When new facts are discovered, our interpretations and arguments have to change to incorporate this new information. Inevitably, over the course of our semester together, discoveries will be made that force anthropologists to rethink what we know and to revise our understanding bit by bit. (In other words, scholarship is an ongoing, neverending process.) As this happens, I'll do my best to keep you posted on such new discoveries.

Here, I'd like to draw your attention to two new findings. One area of anthropological research in which many new discoveries are challenging previously held ideas has to do with the archaeological investigation of the origins of urbanization. Here is a link to a blog post discussing recent findings in Mesopotamia from Anthropology.Net:

Another field of study where there have been many recent important discoveries is paleoanthropology, the study of human (and non-human primate) biological evolution through the study of the fossil record. In the past few weeks, there's been much discussion among anthropologists of the fossil species Chororapithecus abyssinicus, an East African ape species from around 10 million years ago and possibly a common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, and hominids. The finding of this species helps to fill an important gap in the fossil record, as there have been few fossil finds of apes from this period up until now. The following is a link to a discussion of this species on another anthropology blog, Hot Cup of Joe:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

John E. Kicza and Native Cultures of the Americas

Our first course reading is "The Native Societies of the Americas before contact," from John E. Kicza's book Resilient Cultures: America's Native Peoples Confront European Colonization, 1500 - 1800.

Here's a link to Kicza's website at Washington State University, where he's the chair of the history department:

Kicza uses a somewhat different terminology from what I have introduced thus far in class to characterize general types of societies in the Americas. Specifically, he frames his discussion in terms of "sedentary imperial societies," "semisedentary societies," and "nonsedentary or nomadic societies." To translate this into terms more frequently used by anthropologists, Kicza's "sedentary imperial societies" would correspond to agricultural states, "semisedentary societies" would correspond to horticultural tribes and chiefdoms, as well as a few relatively sedentary intensive foraging societies, and "nonsedentary or nomadic societies" would correspond to nomadic foraging bands.

Food, Culture History, and Globalization

Foodways are a critical component of any culture. What people eat, and the ways they acquire and prepare food offer important insights on a culture in general. Likewise, as cultures change through time, foodways change as well - new foods are added (e.g. the "Colombian Exchange" and introduction of New World foods, like chiles, maize, most beans, or potatoes, to the Old and Old World foods, like pork, rice, or chickpeas, to the New); new preparations are introduced (e.g. frozen entrees); while at the same time, old foods and preparations ("gopher soup" in Pensacola - see below; grinding corn by hand in Mexico) may become rarer or fall to the wayside altogether.

This Food Time Line provides a fun and insightful window on global cultural history, including especially some of the major cultural changes and changes to food ways in the context of the globalization of the last 5 centuries.

For perspectives on how things have changed and stayed the same in our local area, check out the link to the "Pensacola Souvenir Cookbook" from 1900. I myself was intrigued by the two gopher soup recipes (where for those not familiar with, perhaps now archaic, local lingo, the gopher in question is not a mammalian gopher [those don't exist around here] but the gopher tortoise).

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Reginald T. Dogan on Reading

Local Columnist Reginald T. Dogan has an engaging piece on the importance and the pleasures of reading in the Pensacola News Journal, Reading a Skill and a Passion Worth Developing and Nurturing.

Here are just a few selections from Dogan's essay:

"As we need nourishment for the body, we also need it for the mind. Books stimulate the mind, create understanding and cultivate knowledge and wisdom."

"You don't see folks sitting around reading like they used to. At airports, everybody is yapping or sending text messages on cell phones. In bookstores, of all places, they are sipping mocha or taking naps.It amazes me every time I watch the MTV show "Cribs." As the rich and famous give tours of their palatial homes, decorated with expensive furniture, with plasma TVs and exotic fish tanks, they never showcase their bookcases.More distressing is a report that says 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Importance of Reading

For success in this or any other course, it is absolutely crucial that you keep up with the assigned reading.

Beyond success in the class, if you want to have the most fully rewarding learning experience possible, I encourage you to be a student and scholar of life and not just a student meeting set requirements in a specific course. Read everything you can get your hands on. Learning through reading is not a replacement for learning through experience (which is one reason for the hands-on observation in the field exercise assignment) as much as a complement to it – a different way of learning. Reading broadly and thoroughly allows you to access the experiences, perspectives, and arguments of countless individuals. The more you read and learn through reading, the more you’ll understand your own experiences of the world or the materials you encounter in courses such as this one.

The following are links to useful reading available online that are directly relevant to anthropology, though again, I encourage you to read broadly and beyond a single academic discipline (and not just online).

Anthropology and Academic News Sites:

“Anthropology in the News” is a digest of links to news items directly relevant to one of the sub-fields of anthropology:

“Science Daily” posts a wide variety of news stories focusing on different sciences, including anthropology:

“Arts and Letters Daily” posts links to essays and articles pertaining to humanities disciplines (which can also include anthropology, as in many ways anthropology straddles a divide between the sciences and humanities):

World News Sites:

Keeping up with current events around the world can be interesting in itself and is important for relating anthropological study to current and changing realities. The following sites provide extensive coverage of particular world areas.

Middle Eastern Times:

Asia Times:

Latin American Post:

Indian Country Today:

Anthropology Blogs

There are a growing number of blogs written by anthropology graduate students and professionals that present a variety of interesting perspectives from within the discipline. The following are some I find regularly insightful (plus the last one on the list, written by me, that I hope is insightful):

Culture Matters:

Anthropology Net:

Hot Cup of Joe:

Nicolette Bethel’s Blog:

Savage Minds:

Robert Philen’s Blog: