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, Nancy Scheper-Hughes sees “The house gun” as a metaphor for a militarized society complete with a compliant criminal justice system.
Gun Owners, Ethics, and the Problem of Evil: A Response to the Las Vegas Shooting, Joe Anderson, Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2017
Joe Anderson’s article examines the ways in which some American gun owners deploy a particular ethical system in their responses to instances of mass gun violence. They order the world into “good guys” (gun owners and the people they protect) and “bad guys” (gang members, drug dealers, and mass shooters), thus relying upon a personification of the opposition between good and evil.
Comment on “Gun Owners, Ethics, and the Problem of Evil,” Hugh Gusterson, Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2017
In response to Joe Anderson’s ethnographic report, Hugh Gusterson finds it problematic to present some gun owners’ perspectives without the broader context of the “friction between belief and reality.”
The Science of Good and Evil, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, National Geographic, 2018
What makes people especially giving or cruel? Researchers say the way our brains are wired can affect how much empathy we feel for others. And when it comes to such matters as extreme sensitivity to other people’s distress versus a total disregard for human suffering, the cultural environment has a role to play, too.
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, 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.
Speak Up, I Can’t Hear You, Deborah Cameron, from The Myth of Mars and Venus, Oxford University Press, 2007
There is a widespread notion that men and women communicate differently and that the resulting “misunderstandings” can best be resolved if only women would learn to be “direct,” more “assertive,” etc. Nonsense, says the author. Not only does this claim fail to stand up to scrutiny, but it is all too often used to explain away such serious matters as male sexual abuse of women.
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.
Unit 3: The Organization of Society and Culture
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.
Children Playing and Learning, David F. Lancy, from Raising Children, Cambridge University Press, 2017
In most societies, childhood is a time for play, offering a wealth of opportunities to learn useful skills in order to “fit in.” Children become active, hands-on, and engaged learners who, if not motivated, will be called to account. In contrast to our society, says the author, there is “a bedrock belief in the power of children to learn autonomously.”
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.
Wanted: Compassion, Bryan Goodwin, Educational Leadership, 2017
Studies show that there has been a marked increase in incivility in America. At the same time, there have also been studies that point to ways to cultivate compassion, kindness and even happiness among our youth.
Unit 4: Other Families, Other Ways
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
Return of the Missing Daughters, Monica Das Gupta, Scientific American, 2017
The traditions that have favored sons in Asia—resulting in millions of dead or neglected girls—have started to change. Major disruptions over the centuries, such as famine and war, often heightened the pressure on parents to get rid of children they perceived as superfluous, i.e. girls. Recent social changes such as urbanization, female education and employment, and growing access to pensions and social protection systems have meant less dependence on sons for financial support. The result: the bias against girls has begun to diminish.
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.
Dethroning Miss America, Roxane Gay, Smithsonian, 2018
The Miss America pageant has never been a progressive event, but in 1968, it sparked a feminist revolt. Today, women and their allies are marching in the nation’s capital and in cities around the world “to reaffirm women’s rights, and the rights of all marginalized people as human rights. And, for the first time, men are facing real consequences for their predation. The connective tissue between 1968 and now is stronger than ever, vibrantly alive.”
Me Too Anthropology, Elizabeth Beckmann, Culture and Capitalism: A Sussex University Anthropology Blog, 2017
As an anthropologist considers her reluctance to disclose her own experiences of sexual abuse, she reflects on the fact that she has elicited the same kinds of stories from informants while doing fieldwork. Even as she realizes that keeping traumatic events to oneself is an absolutely valid coping mechanism, she also has come to understand that anthropology and anthropologists can share the weight of such a burden and give voice to those that still feel unable to do this for themselves.
What About The Breakfast Club? Molly Ringwald, The New Yorker, 2018
How can revisiting a coming of age film from the eighties spark thoughtful conversations in the age of #MeToo?
Unit 6: Religion, Belief, and Ritual
Thoughtlessly Thoughtless, Graham Lawton, New Scientist, 2017
The human tendency to engage in cognitive shortcuts results in the belief in “folk theories,” such as the notion that the sun moves across the sky or that rocks are there for animals to scratch themselves. Even though such theories get knocked back by education, they never go away because scientific thinking is hard-won—a matter of overcoming first impressions, snap judgments and our tendency to favor the status quo. In other words, we dislike ambiguity, cognitive complexity, and the burden of thinking analytically.
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.
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.
We Were Different, Julia G. Young, Commonweal, 2018
Today’s immigrants are not the same as those that came from Southern and Eastern Europe 100 years ago and earlier. Even the Catholics coming to America in more recent times are different from those who came before. And, yet, differences in language, culture and economic circumstances continue to account for recurring themes of exclusion and marginalization that echo the past.
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.
Losing Our Religion, Graham Lawton, New Scientist, 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, 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, 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 Traders Are Kidnapping Our People, Adam Hochschild, Prologue from King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Houghton Mifflin, 1998
The age of European exploration and colonialism ushered in the most extensive economic development, resource acquisition, and slave-trading the world had ever seen. In the case of Africa, some indigenous peoples were complicit in the process only to realize that they were selling out their own people—even their own relatives—but by then it was too late.
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.
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 ongoing 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.
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 buy the goods and services provided by machines?
Coming to America, Ann Morse, State Legislatures, 2017
Given the persistent focus on illegal immigration in the public dialogue, the author answers such questions as who is coming to America, how do they impact our economy and how are lawmakers responding?
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.