Archive for Current Anthropology

Inside Current Anthropology: Petrobarter: Oil, Inequality, and the Political Imagination in and after the Cold War

The April edition of Current Anthropology is out now. In this issue, Yale University’s Douglas Rogers discusses how petrobarter – the exchange of oil for goods and services – had real implications for the political landscape of post-Cold War Russia, and how, as a practice on the rise, it continues to affect world regions and their populations.

Oil, perhaps more closely and more pervasively than any other commodity, is associated with the circulation of money. From corner gas stations to high politics, from funding for social and economic development projects to global economic forecasts, the relationship between oil and money seems to be everywhere in our societies. But oil and oil products are not always exchanged for money. A new article in Current Anthropology focuses on petrobarter: the direct exchange of oil for goods and services. Petrobarter has been a more common and more significant dimension of local, regional, and global exchange than has previously been understood, as examples from post-Soviet Russia and the global oil trade in the early Cold War illustrate.

Precisely because it avoids global monetary circuits and the political and economic institutions channeling them, petrobarter has often generated imaginations—both dreams and fears—of alternate global or regional orders. Petrobarter has also been an important generator of inequalities, and is a tool that corporations, states, and elites have used to corner markets and accumulate wealth and power. These petrobarter dynamics are especially clear when the examples are drawn from Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, as opposed to the much more commonly analyzed colonial and postcolonial states—from Nigeria to Venezuela to Saudi Arabia—where Western oil companies and their successors have long operated.

In the Perm Region of the Russian Urals in the 1990s, for instance, in the conditions of widespread economic collapse and demonetization that followed the end of the Soviet Union, petrobarter was central to the formation of a new regional political and economic elite. It was, in key part, through the barter of both crude and refined oil for foodstuffs and many other goods that the Perm Region weathered the crisis years of the 1990s and emerged as a significant oil-producing region by the early 2000s. The fact that these exchanges took place through very localized barter rather than through transactions involving state-issued monetary currency made petrobarter crucial to the creation of a new and specifically regional sense of Permian identity.

China, Ecuador, Ghana, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Russia, and a number of other counties have recently proposed or entered into petrobarter transactions, most notably oil-for-infrastructure deals between China and African states and oil-for-doctors exchanges between Venezuela and Cuba. With this type of transaction on the rise around the world, and in the conditions of ongoing global economic instability, it is especially useful to track petrobarter’s long history and its relationship to both patterns of inequality and varieties of political arrangements.

Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. The journal is published by The University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Current Anthropology Special Issue: Alternative Pathways to Complexity

image courtesy Dr. Leslie C. Aiello

The Wenner-Gren Foundation and the University of Chicago Press are pleased to announce the publication of Current Anthropologys eight installment of its popular Symposium Series, “Alternative Pathways to Complexity”. Based on WGF’s 148th symposium held at Axel Wenner-Gren’s former residence of Häringe Castle, Sweden, this collection of articles traces the evolution of the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens and the complex emergence of anatomically-modern humans.

Thanks to Rachel Wiseman of the University of Chicago Press for provding us with this press release detailing this issue’s exciting contents:
Neanderthals and biologically modern humans represent two fascinating case studies in parallel evolutionary experiments. Descended from a common ancestor, they evolved independently for hundreds of thousands of years, during which time some physical differences had developed and a large degree of cultural evolution had occurred. With their large brains and complex behavioral and cultural adaptations, humans and Neanderthals created two distinct avenues for evolutionary change. A new special issue of Current Anthropology examines these separate but corresponding evolutionary courses, from multiple angles.
The most recent installment of the Wenner-Gren Symposium Series, Alternative Pathways to Complexity: Evolutionary Trajectories in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age, features fifteen articles, plus an editors’ introduction and a note from Leslie Aiello, President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The issue is cross-disciplinary in nature, featuring contributions from archaeologists researching material culture and subsistence; physical anthropologists; a demographer; a geneticist; modelers of cultural evolution; and a climatologist.
The papers included in this supplement help to inform our understanding of why Neanderthals went extinct while modern humans flourished, and, just as importantly, provide a more nuanced look at the elaborate and unique adaptive systems these sophisticated hominins developed. As a collection, these articles explore the hypothesis that modern human behavior did not evolve in a straight line, but that there may actually have been multiple evolutionary trends occurring simultaneously. Answering these questions definitively goes beyond the scope of this supplement, but the scholarship included suggest that we have the scientific tools to research these evolutionary models more thoroughly.
The articles in this special issue “provide an assessment of state-of-the-art knowledge in the Middle Paleolithic of Eurasia as well as the Middle Stone Age in Africa, along with relevant paleoclimatological, genetic, demographic, and biological perspectives” writes Leslie Aiello. “This collection is destined to be an important resource for the future.”
Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. The journal is published by The University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Inside Current Anthropology: India’s Hunter-Gatherers: Hidden in Plain Sight

Thanks to Rachel Wiseman at the University of Chicago Press for this press release from the latest issue of Current Anthropology! The latest issue, Volume 54 Number 4 (August 2013) is out now. 

Civilization flourished in India as early as 3000 BCE. With a history of advanced agricultural production going back more than five thousand years, it would seem unlikely that hunter-gatherers would have escaped displacement by farming or integration into the new way of life. However, new scholarship suggests that of the 5.2 million present-day and recent hunter-gatherers worldwide, fully 1.3 million live in mainland India, in addition to 600 Andaman islanders. This would account for 25% of the global population of hunter-gatherers—a much higher fraction than had previously been assumed.

To put this in perspective, the new estimates mean that India possesses five times the number of people living by this means of subsistence in North America and the Arctic region combined, four times as many as Australia, and nearly three times as many as Africa. This has led some to wonder: how could hunter-gathering cultures have persisted in India for so long with a complex agricultural society right next door?

A new article in Current Anthropology seeks to answer that question through a survey of ethnographic information about hunter-gatherers in India and their neighbors. The author of the article, Peter M. Gardner of the University of Missouri, argues that Hindu culture may have actually protected these foraging peoples from assimilation pressure up until the twentieth century.

When interviewing Tamil-speaking Hindus in the 1960s, Gardner found that his subjects considered the forager to be admirable and “one of us.” In the Current Anthropology article, Gardner outlines three elements of Hindu culture that may have accommodated the continuation of hunter-gathering on the Indian subcontinent.

First, Hinduism emphasizes a system of mutual dependence among occupational specialists in their society. Since hunter-gatherers collected and exchanged medicinal plants, wild honey, and other valuable forest products with their specialist neighbors, they were believed to serve an important economic function and were allowed to continue their way of life unmolested. Hindus considered these foragers to belong to the larger social system.

In addition, since they were not viewed as outsiders, Indian hunter-gatherers were not expected to prove their adherence to cultural norms. As long as contacts remained tangential, they merely had to provide lip-service to Hindu notions of propriety to avoid harassment from their neighbors but did not have to change their customs in any meaningful way.

Finally, in Hindu society hunter-gatherers were appreciated for their simple, hermitical lifestyle. Living quietly and peaceably in the forest, these foragers were ascribed by many the ritual purity afforded to Hindu ascetics.

With the encroachment of the modern state in the twentieth century, the protections traditional Hindu society provided hunter-gatherers began to erode. But the historical role of Hinduism in the preservation of hunter-gathering on the Indian subcontinent should not be understated. By creating an established place in the social order for hunter-gatherers, Hindu perspectives safeguarded this unique way of life for millennia.

Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. The journal is published by The University of Chicago Press and sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

Inside Current Anthropology: Why Are the Greeks So “Indignant” about Austerity?

 

image courtesty Wikimedia Commons

The April issue of Current Anthropology is out now. Here’s a press-release preview of The University of Kent’s Dimitrios Theodossopoulos’ ethnographic study of Greek citizens during the financial crisis of 2011 explores the causes and consequences of the rhetoric of discontent.

The austerity measures introduced as a response to the financial crisis in Greece have inspired a wave of discontent among Greeks. A new Current Anthropology paper explores Greek “indignation” with economic austerity in the general context of the financial crisis.

In 2011, a protest movement was born that was pointedly critical of politicians’ handling of the economy. The protesters were not alone in their indignation: an overwhelming majority of Greek citizens at the time, regardless of political affiliation, claimed they were angry, outraged, infuriated, and exasperated with the way the situation had been handled by those in power, as well as the general conditions of austerity.

While much of the coverage in the international media has been concerned with the public manifestations of the protest, this article is primarily interested in the perceptions and interpretative trajectories of ordinary Greek citizens, and their views about accountability for the country’s economic woes. Paying close attention to local conversations in Greece during the anti-austerity protest, Theodossopoulos argues that the interpretive tactics of local citizens do not merely represent an attempt to evade culpability, but also demonstrate a desire to reinterpret and renegotiate responsibility and blame.

Theodossopoulos found that local commentary often centered on the causes of indignation. In some cases, responsibility was traced to external causal factors, such as inefficiencies in the political system, as well as inequalities in the global financial system. While on the surface these blame tactics may seem self-serving, the author contends that they represent a persistent attempt to explain a massive crisis in locally meaningful terms. In everyday life, where social obligations matter, character evaluations provide more persuasive explanations than abstract economic concepts. Seen from this point of view, engaging in conversations about the crisis and the austerity measures can be seen as an empowering act—even allowing protesters to dare to imagine alternative solutions to current economic and political problems. In this respect, indignation with the causes of the crisis may lead to explanations that question established political and economic theories.

Theodossopoulos’s ethnography provides a fascinating look into the ways Greeks view themselves and others in the shadow of the crisis, and shows what an anthropological approach to contemporary economic issues can add to the international discussion by highlighting the complexity and meaningfulness of local responses to the crisis.

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

Inside Current Anthropology: Is Poverty in Our Genes?

The February issue of Current Anthropology is out now, and is already making waves with this CA Forum on Public Anthropology piece, “Is Poverty in Our Genes?” Read a preview below and then visit JSTOR to view the entire article for free.

The authors of a new Current Anthropology forum paper refute the findings of a forthcoming paper by Ashraf and Galor in the American Economic Review. In their study, Ashraf and Galor argue that there are strong links between population genetic diversity and the per-capita income of nation states, even after accounting for factors like geography and land productivity. They further contend that the United States, Europe, and Asia are affluent because they have optimal genetic diversity, while developing nations in Africa and the Americas are impoverished because they have either too much or too little genetic diversity.

Ashraf and Galor have attempted to use human genetic data to contend that the level of diversity present in a population as humans spread out and peopled the world has caused long-lasting effects on economic development. They claim that high genetic diversity (common in African populations) increases the incidence of distrust and conflict, which causes social instability and lower productivity. In addition, they argue that populations that are relatively genetically homogeneous (such as Native Americans) are at an economic disadvantage because genetic diversity increases competition and thus innovation. Ashraf and Galor arrive at the controversial conclusion that colonialism might have had a positive effect on development in Africa and the Americas by changing the genetic composition of the colonized territories.

The authors of the critique demonstrate that Ashraf and Galor’s analyses rely on flawed data and a naïve understanding of genetics, while also ignoring relevant findings in anthropology and related fields on the subject of human evolution, cooperation, and innovation.

In light of the fact that governments look to social science research to inform policy decisions, the authors of the critique call for social scientists in the emerging field of “genoeconomics” to adhere to a higher burden of evidence when making provocative assertions capable, among other possible consequences, of placing vulnerable populations at greater risk and reinforcing various forms of casual and institutionalized prejudice.

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

Current Anthropology Special Issue: Human Biology and the Origins of Homo

Picture credit: Charmet, París

We are pleased to announce the publication of Human Biology and the Origins of Homo. This is the sixth in the open access Current Anthropology Supplementary Series on big questions in the field of anthropology – and the origin of Homo is currently one of the biggest questions in hominin paleontology.

This CA supplementary issue resulted from a Wenner-Gren Symposium organized by Susan C. Antón (New York University) and Leslie C. Aiello (Wenner-Gren Foundation) held March 4–11, 2011, at the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais in Sintra, Portugal.

Although Homo erectus has been known since the 1890s and Homo habilis was announced almost 50 years ago, new fossil discoveries in the last decade have complicated our understanding of early Homo and challenged our long-held assumptions about its similarities and differences to the australopiths as well as to later members of our genus. This necessarily influences our interpretations for the origin and evolution of Homo and also highlights the need for a new framework for interpretation of the hard evidence.

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Inside Current Anthropology: Deconstructing the Redemptive Power of “Bearing Witness”

The December issue of Current Anthropology is out now. Enjoy a sampling of this issue’s offerings with this special preview of “Alterity and the Particular Limits of Universalism: Comparing Jewish-Israeli Holocaust and Canadian-Cambodian Genocide Legacies.” (Current Anthropology 53:6) by Carol A. Kidron of the University of Haifa.

The experience of genocide as transmitted trauma may not be universal, according to new ethnographic research published in Current Anthropology.

In the fields of human rights and memory studies, giving testimony about one’s personal experience of genocide is believed to be both a moral duty and a psychological imperative for the wellbeing of the individual and the persecuted group to which she belongs. Accordingly, the coping strategies proposed to victims of genocide tend to be rather uniform: tell your story and do not let the violence you suffered be forgotten.

The author of this study offers two persuasive case studies that suggest that this universalizing approach to genocide is misguided. In her interviews with Jewish-Israeli children of Holocaust survivors and Cambodian-Canadians whose parents were persecuted at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, Carol Kidron found that virtually all subjects rejected the pathologizing construct of transmitted PTSD.

The author’s research reveals key differences in the genocidal legacies of Cambodian-Canadian and Jewish-Israeli trauma descendants. While the Jewish-Israeli subjects felt that they bore some emotional scars that were passed on by their parents, they opposed the idea that they have been afflicted by these inherited traces of the Holocaust. In fact, in the Jewish-Israeli cultural context, these markers of emotional difference may serve instead as an empowering way to carry on their parents’ memory. In great contrast, Cambodian-Canadians not only resist the stigma of trauma, but also insist that the genocide has not left them psycho-socially impaired in any way. Instead of remembering tragedy, the Cambodian-Canadian subjects appealed to Karma and subscribed to Buddhist forward-looking attitudes.

Despite their differences, both accounts defy the tropes of victimization and trauma that pervade scholarship on genocide and humanitarian practice. The author argues that religious worldviews and cultural values frame responses to trauma. Cultural paradigms may valorize or marginalize the importance of remembrance, and the author calls for scholars and humanitarian workers to take into account the diversity of cultural frameworks for remembrance when dealing with descendants of genocide victims.

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

Current Anthropology Preview: Awakening to a Nightmare

Photo by Miguel Gutierrez, Jr.

In advance of the upcoming printing of the June issue of Current Anthropology, we welcome guest-bloggers Roberto G. Gonzales and Leo R. Chavez with a summary previewing their article “Awakening to a Nightmare”: Abjectivity and Illegality in the Lives of Undocumented 1.5 Generation Latino Immigrants in the United States.” (Current Anthropology 53(3). 2012)

 

The political rhetoric over the fate of the children of undocumented immigrants is deeply divided.  Are they simply “illegal aliens” who broke the law and thus do not deserve what is called a “path to citizenship”? Or, are undocumented young people filled with great potential and we should provide a way for them to live and work legally in the United States?

“Awakening to a Nightmare” attempts to go beyond the political rhetoric. Using data collected from a random-sample survey and in-depth ethnographic interviews, it provides insight into lived experiences of undocumented young Latinos in Orange County, California, who came to the United States as children. They daily confront the importance of citizenship.  They are constantly aware of the potential for detection and deportation during the current period of heightened police surveillance and rising deportation numbers.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress almost eleven years ago in effort to reconcile the untenable circumstances confronting these young people. While legislators continue to debate their futures, these young people must carry out their everyday lives.  Through the narratives of the study’s respondents, “Awakening to a Nightmare” reveals daily life to be rife with legal obstacles and risks. While much of contemporary immigration research focuses on outcomes, this study shows that increased enforcement efforts narrow their worlds and sows fears—so much that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation.

The consequences of two related processes—the shrinking of rights for non-citizens and the intensification of enforcement efforts—are profoundly felt as young Latinos confront their undocumented status.  As they get older and want to experience the rites of passage common to American youth – getting a driver’s license, traveling, and applying to college – they come to realize they are different from their friends. As one young person told us, “It was like awaking to a nightmare.” The constraints on their lives become real and unavoidable, as one interviewee said:

I know I can do so much more, but I can’t because…I can’t choose where I live.  I can’t choose where I work.  And the worst thing is that I can’t choose my friends.  In high school I was able to do that.  I can’t anymore. I can’t even hang out with my high school friends anymore and that hurts a lot.  Yeah, they want to do grown up stuff.  I can’t do anything that is eighteen and over.  I can’t do anything.  I can only hang out where little kids hang out.  I can’t hang out with them. I can’t travel with them.  I can’t go out to dinner with them.  I can’t go to Vegas with them.  If I want to go to a bar, I don’t even have a drink.  If they want to go to San Diego, if they want to go visits museums down there, if they want to go to Sea World, I can‘t go with them.  I can’t go to Los Angeles.  I can’t go to any clubs in L.A.

“Awakening to a Nightmare” explores what an abject life means.  Undocumented Latino youth realize society sees them as discardable, as easily castaway. The idea that undocumented young people should simply “self-deport,” as if they did not have emotional or social attachments to the United States, captures this sense of being discardable and unwanted.  Rather than merely give up, many of the young people profiled here became involved in campaigns to change the law.  They are called DREAMers because they hope for the day the U.S. Congress passes the DREAM Act, thus giving them a chance to become legal residents and even citizens.  For these young people, this would be a sign that society recognizes them as contributing members of society. Until then, they must wait.

“Awakening to a Nightmare” is thus both timely and revealing, providing important insights into the fundamental questions facing the nation and the future of undocumented young people living among us.

 

Current Anthropology, published by The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.

 

Current Anthropology Special Issue: The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations

The latest issue of the Wenner-Gren Symposium Series has mailed together with the Current Anthropology April Issue. This is our fifth supplementary issue and the series has been a phenomenal success. The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations. Is edited by Susan Lindee and Ricardo Ventura Santos and as with other Symposium Supplements is now available through the CA website as an Open Access Issue. This issue, which is available completely open-access, is the result of the International Symposia held in Teresopolis, Brazil in 2010.

 

The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations: World Histories, National Styles, and International Networks

 Current Anthropology Volume 53, Supplement 5, April 2012

Edited by Susan Lindee and Ricardo Ventura Santos

Karl Ernst von Baer, "Principal types of different human races in the five parts of the world", St. Petersburg 1862

This Current Anthropology Supplementary Issue developed from a Wenner-Gren Symposium held in Teresópolis, Brazil, in 2010, and explored the past, present and future of biological anthropology. The papers in this issue aim to understand from a comparative international perspective the contexts of genesis and development of physical/ biological anthropology around the world. While biological anthropology today can encompass paleoanthropology, primatology, and skeletal biology, the symposium focused on the field’s engagement with living human populations. Bringing together scholars in history of science, science studies, and anthropology, the participants examined the discipline’s past in different contexts, but also reflected on its contemporary and future conditions. Papers in this issue explore national histories, collections, and scientific field practice with the goal of developing a broader understanding of the discipline’s history. The work tracks a global, uneven transition from a typological and essentialist physical anthropology, predominating until the first decades of the twentieth century, to a biological anthropology informed by post-synthesis evolutionism and the rise of molecular biology, a shift which was labeled “new physical anthropology”. The papers thus place biological anthropology in a broad historical context, and suggest how the histories documented can inform its future.

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Current Anthropology and Communicating Climate Knowledge

We at the Wenner-Gren Foundation are very proud of our sponsored journal Current Anthropology, published by the University of Chicago Press. In honor of the release of the April issue of CA, we’re pleased to announce that the issue’s Forum on Anthropology and the Public will be available for all as a downloadable open-access article.

This interdisciplinary forum addresses the communication of cultural knowledge of environmental change. Titled “Communicating Climate Knowledge: Proxies, Processes, Politics,” the forum is the product of discussion at a Climate Histories conference held at the University of Cambridge in 2011.

The forum features two lead pieces by Simon Schaffer, a historian of science, and Kirsten Hastrup, an anthropologist, which highlight the role of agents and proxies—indicators that enable the representation and assessment of a certain environmental setting.

Hastrup’s article examines the role ice plays in climate knowledge for arctic peoples. She argues that the ice itself makes as powerful a case for a changing climate as science ever could. “I would suggest that the ice is its own argument; it is not for us to argue its case—it would only be a faint echo of its own powerful impression upon the Arctic world,” she writes. “Whatever climate history one wants to tell, it begins and ends with ice.”

Schaffer offers a historical account of mountains as proxies for western understanding of climate. He describes the work of the nineteenth century scientist John Tyndall in bringing his mountaintop discoveries to the public at large. Schaffer argues that the challenge for science then and now is finding ways to communicate knowledge that is often “judged remote, socially, geographically, and temporally.”

The two lead pieces are followed by five interdisciplinary commentaries that engage with the lead articles through new ethnographic material and a set of reflections by leading scholars of different disciplines, including a lead scholar of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “We hope these cross-disciplinary exchanges will encourage further conversations and new approaches to action,” Diemberger said.

The forum is available free to all.

In addition to this piece, the entirety of April’s gold-covered Supplementary issue, “The Biological Anthropology of Living Human Populations: World Histories, National Styles, and International Networks” is available as open access.

(Thanks to UChicago Press’ Kevin Stacey for his help with the text of this post.)