Archive for Around the Web

Schooling, Urgency, and Hope For Movement Ahead of The Ebola Crisis in Liberia: Perspectives from Recent Fieldwork

[Eva Harman is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University and received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2011 to aid research "Desire for Education and 'Ties that Lift': Schooling, Movement, and Social Regeneration in Post-War Liberia," supervised by Dr. Carol Greenhouse. This post originally appeared in "Ebola In Perspective", a Cultural Anthropology Hot Spots series.]

In this essay, I discuss the importance of schooling, in light of the Ebola outbreak. The Liberian President’s order to suspend schooling in August had significant impact even though regular classes were not yet in session. “Vacation schooling,” or summer school, is attended by many young people in Liberia. Parents send children to vacation school for various and often-interconnected reasons: They are invested in their children’s education and an extended break from school could be an interruption to their children’s progress. Violence is a concern that many parents address through the act of sending their children to school, both in the summer and during the regular school year. Parents are concerned that their children could become victims of violence or that they could be drawn into violent practices. They hope to bring up a person who will enable them to die feeling proud of the accomplishments they achieved as a person and a member of society.

Summer classes and sessions make education more flexible. Many students I worked with dropped schooling, or came and went from schooling, in order to make money through entrepreneurial activities, to help family, to have and nurse children, to care for ill or aging relatives, or to respond to other sharp needs. A difference between a colloquial American and a colloquial Liberian expression is suggestive: In the United States, “dropping out of school” carries with it an assumption that the person will not return. When narrating their education histories, young Liberians mentioned “dropping” school while also often expressing their intention to continue.

Summer or vacation schooling can make it possible to advance more quickly. In part due to the war, and in part due to accumulations of periods when schooling is interrupted, ages range fairly widely in Liberian classrooms, from kindergarten to university. It is not uncommon for young adults to attend primary school with children. Some young people who had fought in the war or had travelled along with those fighting emphasized their desire for continuing educational and professional advancement within civilian life.

A journalist spoke with a grandmother who pulled her grandson out of vacation school shortly before the state of emergency was declared in Liberia. The grandmother said, “He cried, but no child will control me. It will be better for him to live and attend many more vacation schools than get sick from Ebola.” In the news report, the grandmother is communicating her response to images on a highly graphic Ebola campaign poster that inspires fear. Agency is also expressed; she will not allow a grandson to control her. She conveys the grandson’s distress at having to interrupt his schooling and her hope that he can return to school later. Schooling allows people to say something beyond “I am complying with global public health orders.” They can also express the interruptions that Ebola and global public health orders are causing in their lives and insist upon a better future. They can also directly, or more subtly, signal disagreement or their will to continue living.

A friend of mine, who gives informal instruction in reading and writing, wrote that she is continuing to meet with a few women students. They still want to learn! They are also discussing “Ebola in town,” she added. Official educational institutions remained closed in Liberia, though some people are continuing schooling in private settings. The children of a Liberian, who works at an NGO, set up a classroom on the family’s front porch. The administrators of the play school asked pupils to pay a tuition fee—a reminder of the tight connection between schooling and money in Liberia. Money is required for attending both public and private school. Public primary schooling is tuition-free, but resources to repair, expand, or improve educational infrastructure are often demanded from students, parents, and teachers. Through schooling, people may be able to put something in between themselves and a crisis.

Schooling is also a location for conversation and engagement on different levels. The National Teachers’ Association in Liberia is calling for schools to be re-opened. An editorial in the Liberian press examines issues impeding the re-opening of schools that extend beyond logistics and health. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is preparing radio broadcasts that will include not only Ebola awareness but also limited academic subject content. The Liberian Minister of Education has objected to the use of schools as Ebola holding centers or facilities on the grounds that this may “create fear among students when classes shall officially resume in the not too long distance future.”

It matters tremendously that medicine and treatment should be made available to those who are sick right now with this deadly disease. An emergency medical-humanitarian intervention is necessary; yet, it is important to keep in mind that perspectives on health care can become vehicles for people to express their discontent with economic or political matters, including global inequality. Although the formal educational infrastructure in Liberia is weak, Liberians I worked with had confidence in the power of schooling to materialize their engagement in building a better life for themselves and the next generation. The United States government and global corporations with direct or indirect ties to Liberia have made commitments to the fight against Ebola, but they should also increase their investment in the existing national educational infrastructure. Scholarships for Liberian students to pursue advanced degrees and specialized training, particularly in the under-resourced fields of medicine and education, are greatly needed. My recent fieldwork convinces me that moving ahead of the Ebola crisis in Liberia will happen with less violence, terror, and mistrust when people feel supported in their aspirations for the future.

Wenner-Gren Year in Review: A Few Media Mentions in 2012

Every year, our grantees see their hard work recognized both within the academic world and in more popular channels. To commemorate a very successful year for the Wenner-Gren Foundation and our mission to advance anthropological research, we thought to list some of these achievements.

Of course, these are just some of the grantees and former grantees that saw their work in print in 2012. The below represents a selection of some of the more visual and visible mentions that Wenner-Gren-sponsored scholars received in the past year. Congratulations to all published grantees regardless, and if you would like to tell us about a media mention of your own, please don’t hesitate to do so!

 

In March, Notre Dame professor of anthropology and longtime Wenner-Gren associate (as well as the author of the Psychology Today blog “Busting Myths About Human Nature”) Agustin Fuentes appeared on New Zealand’s TV One to discuss what primate behavior can teach us about human sexuality.

In August, George Washington University postdoctoral researcher Erin Marie Williams was one of five scholars awarded the L’Oreal For Women in Science Fellowship for 2012. Williams, who received a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to aid her Ph.D. dissertation while studying at GWU, works on the biomechanics of stone tool production and will receive up to $60,000 to aid her postdoctoral research. In the Fall we interviewed Erin to learn more about her research and this tremendous honor.

In September, Notre Dame anthropologist and former Wenner-Gren grantee Lee Gettler received press in the Huffington Post for his study investigating the effects on male physiology in the context of paternal care.

In December, Post-Ph.D. Grant recipient and professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Mahir Saul was named one of 12 “Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World in 2012” by UTNE Reader. Dr. Saul, whose research has covered many facets of African anthropology, was recognized for his work promoting African cinema outside of the continent.

 

Anthropology Around the Web, Friday 2/24

Another fine edition of Anthropology Around the Web!

Popular imagination and scholarship alike have long imagined prehistoric Eurasian steppe nomads as highly militaristic and mobile societies of horsemen perpetually threatening the “classic” ancient civilizations such as China, Persia, and Greece. But recent inquiries into the nature of small-scale societies and pastoral economies have challenged this dominating stereotype. PhysOrg.com reports on a piece by WashU’s Michael Frachetti appearing in the February issue of Current Anthropology.

 

The first line of Savage Minds’s Adam Fish’s advice for job-seeking PhDs and ABDs? “Stop being an Anthropologist”.  

 

It seems we cannot approach any popular discussion of pleasure or pain (or indeed of anthropology itself) without appealing to the old chestnut of “human nature”. This week on NPR.org’s “cosmos and culture” blog 13.7, anthropologist Barbara J. King concisely argues that this intellectual tack does disservice to the complexities of human life.

 

In what one might call a human-interest story wrapped around a mini-ethnography in the mainstream press, The Detroit News reported on the complex development of their city’s historic Black funeral home industry.

 

…and of course, I have to self-plug the second installment of our own Grant Season Journal, penned by foundation president Dr. Leslie Aiello. Exhaustive, in-depth tips that anyone wrestling with grant proposals can’t afford to miss.

Anthropology Around the Web, Friday 2/17

Happy Friday and welcome to a long-weekend edition of Anthropology Around the Web.

Will 20,000-year-old huts in Jordan challenge the accepted narrative of the development of human dwelling? A new open-access paper from PLoS One has the details.

Some call 3rd President of the United States Thomas Jefferson ‘the first anthropologist’ for the detailed inquiries into local lifeways made in his Notes on the State of Virginia. In honor of Presidents Day, read some of his ethnographic observations in this vintage issue of American Anthropologist

Throughout history, people have used votive offerings in the shape of various ailed body parts such as hearts, lungs and limbs to solicit supernatural aid. Biological anthropologist Kristina Killgrove (@bonegirlPHD on Twitter) takes a look at these stylized anatomical components in antiquity to see what they might have to say about the medical knowledge of the cultures which produced them  

 

Anthropology Around the Web

Today I’m experimenting with a new type of post – a small selection of anthropology-related news and articles that have popped up around the internet in the past 24 hours or so. In my duties as the Foundation’s communications assistant and social-media jockey, I get to sample a huge amount of anthropology stuff on a daily basis, and sometimes the fragmented nature of the usual channels (twitter, etc) make me wish there was a place where the most interesting things could be gathered.

And as far as the credibility of my editorial eye goes…don’t worry, I have a Masters. ;-)

-Daniel

(Thanks to @BoneGirlPHD, @johnhawks, and others for turning me on to these links)