Unit 1: Anthropological Perspectives
How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield, Sebastian Junger, Vanity Fair, 2015
Although only 10 percent of American forces see combat, the U.S. military now has the highest rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in its history. Taking an evolutionary perspective helps to understand the resulting trauma not only in terms of the combat experience, but also—and especially—in light of the problems involved in adjusting to society at home.
Eating Christmas in the Kalahari, Richard Borshay Lee, Natural History, 1969
Anthropologist Richard Borshay Lee gives an account of the misunderstanding and confusion that often accompany cross-cultural experience. In this case, he violated a basic principle of the Kung Bushmen’s social relations—food sharing.
Tricking and Tripping: Fieldwork on Prostitution in the Era of AIDS, Claire E. Sterk, Social Change Press, 2000
As unique as Claire E. Sterk’s report on prostitution may be, she discusses issues common to anthropologists wherever they conduct fieldwork: How does one build trusting relationships with informants and what are the ethical obligations of an anthropologist toward them?
The House Gun: White Writing, White Fears, and Black Justice, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Anthropology Today, 2014
The legacies of apartheid in South Africa and racism in America continue to take their toll in the form of white fears of black men, walled communities and random acts of violence. An anthropologist who has had to deal with violence in much of her fieldwork see “The house gun” as a metaphor for a militarized society complete with a compliant criminal justice system.
Unit 2: Culture and Communication
Baby Talk, Patricia K. Kuhl, Scientific American, 2017
While it is true that human infants are natural-born linguists, it takes “parentese” with its exaggerated inflections, immersive social interaction, and even computational skills to effectively learn all the nuances and complexity of a language. And when it comes to learning a second language, the earlier the better.
The Eloquent Ape, Mark Pagel, New Scientist, 2016
If there is one thing that clearly sets humans apart from other creatures, it is language. Our ability to communicate symbolically enables us to cooperate more effectively, to act in coordinated ways outside the family, to understand a situation from someone else’s perspective and, most importantly, to empathize with our fellow human beings. In fact, given how socially adaptive language has enabled us to be become, it is highly likely that our species would not even exist today without it.
War of Words, Mark Pagel, New Scientist Magazine, 2012
In taking on the task of explaining why humans communicate with thousands of mutually unintelligible languages, in direct contradiction with the principle that language is supposed to help us exchange information, the author finds that languages have diverged from each other because of migration, geographical isolation, and a deeply rooted need for tribal identity.
Armor against Prejudice, Ed Yong, Scientific American, 2013
Even subtle reminders of prejudice against one’s sex, race, or religion can hinder performance in school, work, and athletics. Researchers have found new ways to reverse and prevent this effect.
Strong Language Lost in Translation: You Talkin’ to Me? Caroline Williams, New Scientist Magazine, 2013
Recent scientific evidence has called into question the notion that we can tell a lot about people by watching how they move their bodies. If we want to truly know what people are thinking and feeling, we are much better off listening to what they are saying.
Vanishing Languages, Russ Rymer, National Geographic, 2012
With so many of the world’s 7,000 languages rapidly disappearing, linguists are making a concerted effort to understand what these losses mean in terms of the languages themselves and the cultural perspectives that will die with them, but also the invaluable knowledge of the world in general.
The Birth and Death of a Language, Shira Rubin, New Scientist, 2016
New sign languages have been spontaneously created across the globe within families and small communities of the deaf. These are of great interest to linguists who study them to understand how languages form and to test theories regarding the relative influence of genetics and cultural circumstances upon language acquisition. The imminent disappearance of such “village signs” is itself an interesting by-product of the trends as villagers are increasingly exposed to national education systems and globalization communication.
Unit 3: The Organization of Society and Culture
The Unexpected Origin of Human Values, Ian Morris, New Scientist, 2015
Primate experiments and cross-cultural observations of humans show that having values is an evolved adaptation. While the specifics of what is right and wrong have changed over time, the overall concept has not. It is one of fairness.
The Exercise Paradox, Herman Pontzer, Scientific American, 2017
Although conventional wisdom has long held that physically active people burn more calories than less active people do, studies of hunter-gatherers show that this is simply not the case. Conclusions: obesity is “a disease of gluttony,” and “you can’t n a bad
Generous by Nature, Bob Holmes, New Scientist, 2016
In many traditional societies, such as the Masai of East Africa, the ability to survive a natural catastrophe, whether it be a drought or a winter storm, involves “need-based” giving, a “proto-insurance policy” by which people are taught to be empathetic and generous with no more reward than prestige. With some tweaking, these are lessons that are applicable in modern society as well.
Breastfeeding and Culture, Katherine Dettwyler, McGraw-Hill Education, 2003
Whether or not a mother breastfeeds her child, and for how long, is influenced by cultural beliefs and societal restraints. Scientific research, including cross-cultural studies, shows that nursing is not just beneficial for the child, but improves the health of the mother, makes for more wholesome familial relationships, and is good for the society as a whole.
Taste Test, Bee Wilson, Discover, 2016
In a ground-breaking experiment, pediatrician Clara Davis, investigated what children’s appetites would look like if allowed to develop without preconceived ideas of what tasted good. Contrary to what most people took from this study—that children’s’ likes and dislikes are built-in and natural—Davis found that as long as children were allowed to select only from wholesome and nutritious foods, they not only liked what they were offered, but their health improved dramatically. In other words, the beneficial outcomes for the children were not based upon some mystical “wisdom of the body,” but rather upon the particular food environment presented to them.
Meghalaya: Where Women Call the Shots, Subir Bhaumik, Aljazerra, 2013
In a far corner of India, a country where women usually cry out for equality, respect, and protection, there’s a state where women own the land, run the business, and pass on their family names to their children. Meanwhile, it is the men who are asking for more rights.
The Inuit Paradox, Patricia Gadsby, Discover, 2004
The traditional diet of the Far North, with its high-protein, high-fat content, shows that there are no essential foods—only essential nutrients.
Cell Phones, Sharing, and Social Status in an African Society, Daniel Jordan Smith, McGraw-Hill Education, 2008
Although the economic dimensions of Nigeria’s emerging cell phone culture are important, much of its cell phone-related behavior requires a social rather than an economic explanation.
Unit 4: Other Families, Other Ways
The Invention of Marriage, Stephanie Coontz, Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2005
Social institutions, marriage, and the family have taken on a variety of forms throughout the human past. Contrary to sweeping generalities, however, such as the patriarchal “protective theory” and the feminist “oppressive theory,” each of which emphasized female dependence and subjugation to men, the archaeological, historical, and anthropological evidence indicates that the way people organize their domestic lives has much more to do with the needs and contingencies of time and place.
When Brothers Share a Wife: Among Tibetans, the Good Life Relegates Many Women to Spinsterhood, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Natural History, 1987
While the custom of fraternal polyandry relegated many Tibetan women to spinsterhood, this unusual marriage form promoted personal security and economic well-being for its participants.
No More Angel Babies on the Alto do Cruzeiro, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Natural History, 2013
During her 30 years of fieldwork in a shantytown of Northeastern Brazil, anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes has seen profound changes take place in poverty-stricken mothers’ attitudes toward rampant infant mortality. Whereas at one time, these women would resign themselves to their children’s fate—and even withhold tender loving care from them so as to hasten the day they became angels, today there are fewer children being born and every one of them is cherished. The greatest single factor in these changes, says Scheper-Hughes, are the Brazilian government’s anti-poverty programs.
Arranging a Marriage in India, Serena Nanda, Waveland Press, 2000
Arranging a marriage in India is far too serious a business for the young and inexperienced. Instead, the parents make the decision on the basis of the families’ social position, reputation, and ability to get along.
Unit 5: Gender and Status
The Berdache Tradition, Walter L. Williams, Beacon Press, 1986, 1992
Not all societies agree with the Western cultural view that all humans are either women or men. In fact, many Native American cultures recognize an alternative role called the “berdache,” a morphological male who has a non-masculine character. This is just one way for a society to recognize and assimilate some atypical individuals without imposing a change on them or stigmatizing them as deviants.
The Hijras: An Alternative Gender in India, Serena Nanda, Manushi, 1992
The transgender hijra of India form structured households and communities and, as a caste, fulfill roles that are rooted in social and religious tradition. As Serena Nanda notes, cross-cultural understandings such as this represent a challenge to binary sex/gender notions of the West.
Afghan Boys Are Prized, So Girls Live the Part, Jenny Nordbert, The New York Times, 2010
Some Afghan families have many reasons for pretending that their girls are boys, including economic need, social pressures to have sons, and even the belief that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy. In any case, lacking a son, the parents may decide to make one up.
Rising Number of Dowry Deaths in India, Amanda Hitchcock, World Socialist Website, 2001
Traditionally, a dowry in India allowed a woman to become a member of her husband’s family with her own wealth. However, with the development of a cash economy, increased consumerism, and a status-striving society, heightened demands for dowry and the inability of many brides’ families to meet such demands have led to thousands of deaths each year.
Like a Virgin?: Hymen Restoration Operations in Contemporary China, Hans Steinmüller and Tongxue Tan, Anthropology Today, 2015
China has made great strides toward gender equality, which have in turn resulted in changing in attitudes toward sexuality. Yet, because patriarchal attitudes persist, some women are opting for hymen restoration so as to satisfy potential husbands that they are still virgins and improve their marital chances.
Poverty Is Sexist: Why Girls and Women Must Be at the Heart of the Fight to End Extreme Poverty, ONE.org
This international organization, ONE, is an advocacy group whose message is that poverty affects women disproportionately and in every aspect of their lives, including employment, living standards, and health.
Unit 6: Religion, Belief, and Ritual
Dark Rites, Dan Jones, New Scientist, 2015
Rituals often seem overly complex and nonsensical when they involve a mode of thinking distinct from a logical cause-and-effect approach. Yet, because they reflect group values and demonstrate a shared commitment to the group, they have been important for developing trust between people who interact and trade with one another.
The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual, Richard Sosis, American Scientist, 2004
Rituals promote group cohesion by requiring members to engage in behavior that is too costly to fake. Groups that do so are more likely to attain their collective goals than the groups whose members are less committed.
Morality Tale, Nicolas Baumard, New Scientist, 2016
Moralizing religions such as Christianity arise in times of great stress, when resources are scarce and mortality is high and people tend to be impulsive and aggressive. The privileged elites will use religion to exhort the disadvantaged to be good. In good times, the opposite happens as the need to morally condemn “bad” behavior declines.
Understanding Islam, Kenneth Jost, CQ Researcher, 2005
As the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, Islam teaches piety, virtue, and tolerance. Yet, with the emphasis of some Islamist’s on a strong relationship between religion and state, and with an increasing number of Islamic militants calling for violence against the West, communication and mutual understanding are becoming more important than ever.
Reputation Is Everything: Unearthing Honour Culture in America, Emma Young, New Scientist, 2016
Anthropologists have found “honor cultures” to be characterized by a deep concern for reputation and a sense of being duty-bound to retaliate against anything perceived as a slight. In contrast with “dignity cultures,” such societies tend to be misogynistic, violent and retaliatory. In parts of the United States, particularly in the South, such traits are expressed in the objectification of women, lax gun laws, and higher rates of school shooting. As might be expected, “honor cultures develop where there is some degree of economic insecurity and lawlessness
Five Myths of Terrorism, Michael Shermer, Scientific American, 2013
Acts of terrorism educe strong emotions, a desire to explain the motives behind such awful deeds, and a need to justify whatever action is taken against the perpetrators. The response to terrorism, in other words, may be just as irrational as the act itself.
Losing Our Religion, Graham Lawton, New Scientist Magazine, 2014
The world is becoming less religious in the formal sense, a trend that seems to be related to prosperity, security, and democracy. Yet, most of those who no longer affiliate with a particular religious institution still subscribe to some form of spiritual belief in a continuing effort to seek the comfort that organized religion provides.
Body Ritual among the Nacirema, Horace Miner, American Anthropologist, 1956
The rituals, beliefs, and taboos, of the Nacirema provide us with a test case of the objectivity of ethnographic description and show us the extremes to which human behavior can go.
Unit 7: Sociocultural Change
Quiet Revolutions, Bob Holmes, New Scientist Magazine, 2015
It has long been believed that the transition from hunting to farming occurred in a very few places in the world, that it was a response to population pressures and that it happened relatively rapidly. Now, archaeologists are finding that the domestication of crops and/or animals happened at least 11 times, it grew more as a curiosity—a hobby almost—and it happened rather slowly. Even after crops were domesticated, it was sometimes thousands of years before people began to rely on them for most of their calories. It was a revolution with respect to its effect on our lives more than it was in terms of the time it took.
Ruined, Michael Marshall, New Scientist Magazine, 2012
Recent studies of the correlation between climate change and social upheavals such as wars, famines, and the collapse of civilizations indicate that temperature changes and droughts have played a significant role in human history. Perhaps the most important question now is: Will we learn from history or are we doomed to repeat it.
The Price of Progress, John Bodley, Mayfield Publishing, 1998
As traditional cultures are sacrificed in the process of modernization, tribal peoples not only lose the security, autonomy, and quality of life they once had, but they also became powerless, second-class citizens who are discriminated against and exploited by the dominant society.
The Lost World, Alex Shoumatoff, Smithsonian, 2016
As Borneo’s epic rainforests are being cleared at a faster rate per acre than the Amazon’s, the world’s insatiable hunger for palm oil and timber is closing in on some of the last hunter-gatherers and their ancient way of life.
We Walk on Our Ancestors: The Sacredness of the Black Hills, Leonard Little Finger, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 2014
As a source of sustenance, both material and spiritual, the Black Hills of South Dakota have always been sacred to the Lakota Sioux. Having been offered $350 million in 1876 for the loss of that land and having won a Supreme Court decision acknowledging that the United States had indeed violated the treaty which originally ceded the Black Hills to the Sioux, some are afraid that the on-going assimilation of the people will lead to their taking the money.
Green Grab, Red Light, Fred Pearce, New Scientist, 2015
As a general rule, what is left of the tropical forests of the world are under the control of local tribes. In contrast, deforested zones are the result of the “green grab,” the appropriation of indigenous lands by governments in the name of conservation and commercial interests that can only see the money to be gained. The true conservationists are those who live off the land.
Being Indigenous in the 21st Century, Wilma Mankiller, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 2009
With a shared sense of history and a growing set of tools, the world’s indigenous people are moving into a future of their own making without losing sight of who they are and where they come from.
The Organ Detective: A Career Spent Uncovering a Hidden Global Market in Human Flesh, Ethan Watters, Pacific Standard, 2014
According to Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a new kind of anthropology is being called for, not one involving an isolated, exotic culture, but of a globalized, interconnected black market for human organs—one that crosses classes, cultures, and borders, linking impoverished paid donors to the highest-status individuals and institutions in the modern world.
The Evolution of Diet, Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, 2014
The transition from the Paleolithic way of life, in which our ancestors hunted for meat and gathered vegetables, to one with agriculture and processed foods, has had a lasting impact on human health. Questions arise, however, as to the degree to which humans have adapted to the changing circumstances or are simply going to suffer the consequences of abandoning the “paleo-diet.”
On the Road Again, Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist, 2016
Controversies abound regarding the refugee and immigrant crises afflicting the global economy. Does the movement of people enhance the quality of local workforces by introducing diversity in ethnicity and talent or does it threaten national economies as a drain on government resources and the exploitation of cheap labor? What will automation do to the ability of people to find jobs and, if they can’t, who will be buy the goods and services provided by machines?
Population Seven Billion, Robert Kunzig, National Geographic, 2011
With the world’s population rising by several billion from the current seven billion, inevitable questions arise as to how this will impact the quality of life as well as the condition of Planet Earth.