“Access Denied: Protests, Urban Green Spaces, and Changing Transportation” Online now!

no-signEpisode 35, Season 3. Aired 7/22/14

From Access Denied to Transforming Access, numerous cases of the re-appropriation of space from occupy protesters to Shock Top beer fests, cars to bikes, city spaces and pavement to guerrilla gardens, join us as we delve further into the world of space and ask tough questions about who has the right and power to claim and change space, and who does this exclude?


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Lost in Space: From the Universe to the Space Between Atoms

Season 3, Episode 34

Galaxy_ESO_570-19_and_Star_UW_Crateris-Phot-14b-06This week Aneil and Adam tackle Space in all of its complexity and multi forms, from the universe to the space between atoms we will dive into the numerous connotations of space. We explore outer space, inner space, city space, atomic space, and even cyberspace. How is it that the idea of space can be so flexible yet still retain the power to define and shape our thinking?

Aired 7/15/14


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Stress Test w/ Guest Luke Hanlin

"Worried People 2" by Bhernandez from miami, Wikimedia Commons

“Worried People 2″ by Bhernandez from miami, Wikimedia Commons

Episode 33, Season 3

Feeling Stressed? Join Aneil and special Guest Luke Hanlin, Psychology PhD student, as they discuss the psychology of stress and the human capacity to deal with stress in a variety of ways.

Aired  7/8/14


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Reproducing Rights and Wrongs: Personhood, Religious and Reproductive Freedoms, Gender, and SCOTUS

Artgate_Fondazione_Cariplo_-_Canova_Antonio,_Allegoria_della_GiustiziaEpisode 32, Season 3

Special Episode on the Supreme Court’s rulings over religious freedom and freedom of speech.

On this week’s episode we take on 5 recent and ongoing court cases that deal with first amendment rights of freedom of speech, reproductive rights, gender and bodies including the Supreme Court rulings that close corporations that label themselves for-profit may deny contraceptive health care that they deem a burden to their religious beliefs, the ban on the 35-foot buffer zone outside Massachusetts Planned Parenthood buildings, gun laws and more! We dive into corporate personhood, freedom of speech and religion, gender, bodies, emotions, individuality versus collectivity and more! Keeping pace with last week, this episode is one of our most jam packed yet! You don’t want to miss this!


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The Beautiful Game: World Cup 2014

Maracana_Stadium_June_2013

Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Episode 31, Season 3, Aired 6/24/14

 

Gooooooooooolllllll!!!!! Today we turn our anthropological lens towards the most popular sport in the world and perhaps the most global sporting competition in human history, the World Cup, this year in Brazil. We travel from a favela decorated bar in Milwaukee to actual favelas in Brazil to tackle the commodification of culture and the divorce of culture from economic inequality based around world attention on Brazil.  We discuss the local impact of regional and global policies including squatter’s rights and police action against protesters. We cover street protests and graffiti as radical forms of public inclusion to raise questions about who and what does (and doesn’t) get represented when the world’s eyes are turned towards Brazil. From questions of sustainability to the role sports play in the human psyche, this is one of our most jam packed episodes yet! You don’t want to miss it!


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How to Talk about Terror

Episode 30, Season 3

Afghan_captured_weaponsIn “How to Talk about Terror” we delve into the rise of terrorism as a political and media term framing violence within the world and how meanings of terror change depending on different contests. We move from vulnerability, emotions and empathy to violence, culminating next week (6/24/14) on how all these topics converge in the World Cup and world sport cultures.
http://www.wbrs.org/

Aired 6/17/14

Play

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A Meditation on Vulnerability

This blog post is a follow up to this week’s episode on “The Power of Vulnerability”, aired 6/11/14 A friend of mine and I have been having an on and off discussion about the need for people to be able to be more vulnerable and raw with one another in contemporary United States. And I know we aren’t the only ones. And the conversation isn’t new. My inspiration for this post comes from a discussion a friend and I had about consumption, our recent episode on The Power of Vulnerability, a quote from Harvey Milk a friend shared about going after the things that really matter to you in life - particularly to take chances with people you like or love and let them know, and third from a wonderful TED talk on vulnerability by Brené Brown.

I suppose my larger question here is that is there some sort of existential imperative to be vulnerable and raw with one another built into the human species? Like nearly all anthropologists, I take the position that culture acts as a filter through which we experience and interact with the world. Because it is porous and social it does not dictate everything, just in the same way that we never reflect exactly the influences we are privy to, even though cultural influence may set the terms of what we can know at any one time. We change our influences, just as they change us. Thus culture and the world external to our bodies always act upon us, shaping us in multiple ways. However, taking Michael Jackson’s existential approach to anthropology, we never give back or reflect exactly the forces external to us. That is, our individuality is part of being human too. The existential position is that the struggle of life is often experienced and lived at the interface between internal desires and needs and external forces, imperatives, and environments. We are a continual assemblage of inner and outer forces, much like a cybernetic system. What I am interested in here is cultural examples of ‘letting go’, acting in ways that normally seem culturally inappropriate, wrong, backwards, etc; but the trick is that in these specific contexts such actions are not only morally appropriate, but perhaps socially mandated. Why do different cultural groups have these types of events? Two examples from across the world come readily to mind – funerary rituals among Giriama in Kenya and Carnivale in many countries.

The first example points towards what I’m getting at. In this case, reported by anthropologist Janet McIntosh, during the funeral of a well-respected male community member, women associated with him – through kinship or other forms of affinity will ‘act out’ of turn culturally. In brief, during the funeral of a male head of household, it is common for the women, who traditionally act very chaste, in essence keeping sexuality out of public discourse, to act and speak in very sexually pronounced ways, through dances, poems or songs often pointed at the deceased male. During funerals, male and female roles are upended – women chant ribald lyrics, dance suggestively, make sexual jokes at the expense of the deceased, but also making fun of the social system of men and women, calling out the gender inequality, etc – you get the idea. These kinds of actions are traditionally proscribed to men, and seen as out of place for women. But, this isn’t some moment of social chaos; these actions by women during funerary ritual are culturally mandated. They are supposed to happen here. The question McIntosh poses here to great effect is that are these funeral ‘acting out’s’ just women engaging their cultural tradition or do such actions pose a legitimate threat to the social order?  This is the only public time this type of behavior happens. So do these upended social roles in this specific ritual context constitute just a tradition that ultimately keeps power hierarchies in place or is this a potential threat to these hierarchies, revealing hidden desires for change? Socially conscious readers in the United States or other Western-thinking areas might ask the question like this: are feelings of sexual and gender repression seething under the surface  and do such rituals serve to ‘let off some steam’ and vent anger at ’the system’? Or are these actions just part of tradition that don’t necessarily threaten social order? Do these two layers – tradition and threat – operate  simultaneously?

What might a focus on the existential need to ‘let go’ tell us? What might it mean, particularly since we see it cross-culturally? What is it about ‘letting off some steam’, temporarily upending social rules, or simply and intentionally changing one’s perspective? Theories abound over power – for example whether or not, since such events are culturally mandated, they actually just serve to reinforce existing hierarchies, or who has power in what ways over what is actually (socially) happening at such events? Are people actually actively rebelling against ‘regular’ social norms, and do they actually feel like they are doing something countercultural, or different? Is this upending actually a threat to the prescribed social order? Think about examples of this in your own cultural context. How does rebellion work? Is it about letting of steam, asserting one’s individuality, challenging the system? Does it actually have any social effect or just individual? Think about Carnivale. What is happening with upended social roles here?

OK, but neither of these examples are exactly about vulnerability. Or are they? As a person born and living in the United States discussions with colleagues and various online posts about the need for us to be able to express our vulnerabilities point me towards a similar existential imperative that I think the Giriama and Carnivale examples do as well. But is our need to be vulnerable and raw with one another just a US or “Western” need? (for more on this, check out our Podcast episode “The Power of Vulnerability”) Is vulnerability what is suppressed by overarching cultural myths of the ‘rugged individual’ or ‘everyone has a fair shot to become wealthy’  in the United States or do we see this same sentiment elsewhere too? Is vulnerability the same thing here? Is there a ‘rawness’ of the human condition that might be expressed through an emotional openness? My inclinations, bolstered by various write ups and conversations on the topic talk about vulnerability as opening oneself up to both emotional shaming and deep connection, to letting others know how one feels about them, are that while we cannot talk about vulnerability the same way cross-culturally, we can recognize a human capacity for an emotional going-beyond-culture. Drawing upon Nigel Rapport’s notion of human nature as a capacity for going beyond, or transcending categories, a focus on vulnerability points towards the human capacity to move beyond the cultural categories we proscribe for ourselves and others. Recall the existential position that life is often experienced at the intersection of self and other, mutually defined through interaction – and empathy happens when we learn to put ourselves in the emotionally shared space of the other (with a little help from mirror neurons it seems). There is a mystery in the plurality of the human condition, writes Hannah Arendt. There are an infinite ways to be human. Though not all are recognized. Culture is a creative filter, a translation, a guide, and a roadblock to human experience. Does vulnerability sit outside of culture? No, but I think the above examples help challenge our thinking on how certain parts of being human – in this case vulnerability – can both be seen as threatening to the social order we have created for ourselves and as simply shoring up existing social hierarchies.

- Adam

comments, questions, rebuttals, all welcome below!


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The Power of Vulnerability

Episode 29, Season 3 1024px-Blue_eye

Vulnerability evokes multiple feelings simultaneously-intense discomfort, respect and awe, intimacy, and fear. Why does it resonate so broadly and deeply across contexts? What should we make of it when, in one place, it’s a virtue to strive for and in another its a danger to be avoided?  Join Adam and Amy as these questions as they intersect with gender and robotics, questions of universality, and the differences between feeling and practice. Aired 6/11/14


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Episode 29 “The Power of Vulnerability” will air TOMORROW (Wednesday 6/11) at 1 pm instead of the usual Tuesday time.

Episode 29 “The Power of Vulnerability” will air TOMORROW (Wednesday 6/11) at 1 pm instead of the usual Tuesday time. Join Amy and Adam as we cover the human capacity for Emotions, Affect, Vulnerability, and Empathy! It’s going to be an awesome episode!

This also will lead directly into next week’s (6/17) episode “How to Talk about Terror” focusing on Boko Haram and the Taliban.


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Looters, Tombs, and Witchcraft, Oh My! – In the Field with Ryan Collins

NEW FEATURE: IN THE FIELD WITH RYAN COLLINS

Check out what it’s like to be an archaeologist! This Anthropological Life will feature blog posts, pictures, and video from our intrepid archaeologist while he works abroad in Yucatan, Mexico! Check out his Blog here

Ryan archaeology blog post 1It’s hard to imagine that it’s been nine months since setting foot in the camp at Yaxuná, Yucatan, Mexico. In many ways it feels as if I have never left. Yet, reminders that things rarely remain as you leave them are constant. For example, a box of clothes and supplies for the field that I left last summer is about 50% salvageable. I consider this a win because anything I left behind should be viewed as a gain. Thus, I have two pairs of boots and an extra set of (working) rechargeable batteries!  Then, some changes serve as reminders that field life isn’t always easy.

Yesterday I ventured on site to assess the situation.  Before beginning work each year my team needs to determine the amount of workmen to hire from the village to do any number of things that will help the project get started. This year we need workmen to repair leaks on five thatch huts, clear the vegetation in camp, clear trails to the areas we will investigate, build a wooden platform for a specific investigation, and construct wooden supports to avoid architectural collapse. But workmen cannot solve all issues. When venturing out to the site, my team and I found a new looters trench by a high priority excavation.

A looters pit is a hole dug by individuals essentially looking for treasure. The difference between most archaeologists and looters is that we care about recording the context learning about the materials recovered, and testing them in order to read something about the past. Looters don’t typically share in the same care for preservation or have the same expertise and precision a trained archaeologist will have. Understanding that there is a gray area here, because many great archaeological discoveries are made as a result of looters, I want to state that looters in general are not my concern. What concerns me is beginning a high priority excavation that could be looted before I have a chance to record, preserve the context, of what we may find.

As things stand now, I’m hesitant to write about what and where I will be excavating, at least until this part of the project is closed (hopefully by the end of May). At that point I will share more photos and videos of the process and be more open about preliminary understandings of the findings (should there be any). Needless to say, this excavation will continue forth under the possibility that something interesting could be there. In order to get to where there is, my team and I need to construct a wooden platform, mount structural reinforcements, and break through a mortared stone wall (via pick axe and sledge hammer) before the fun (equally tenuous) part can begin.

One of the problems we face in excavating in this area is drawing too much attention the specific excavation. While looters have recently been investigating the area, there is also evidence of local ritual, possibly witchcraft, taking place there as well. On a makeshift stone altar, my team observed a burnt candle with lace. It has been suggested by a team member that this sort of ritual could be one meant to steal someone’s air. When I was working in caves back in 2011, I learned a lot about air in relation to caves, but the same basic ideas apply. Some caves tend to breathe, that is some caves have air currents that run in and out of them making it seem as if the cave mouth is breathing in and breathing out at different parts of the day.

For Mesoamerican cultures, the earth is anthropomorphized and caves are part of its living body. Caves are its mouth. When the cave breathes out all is well and people may enter.  When the cave breathes in (in some areas this occurs at mid day and at mid night) a persons breathe, their air, can be taken away. This means the unfortunate individual is victim to the breath and it is believed that they could die. The candle and lace on the altar may be an offering to the wind, to take away someone’s air, possibly someone working in the area, in much the same way. This is not a good sign.

Another curious finding was a shoebox sized Tupperware container filled with water and a dead tarantula, left at the base of pyramid in the same area. The lid was discovered removed a few feet away with large holes in it. The type of holes you might find on a box to keep an animal inside though too big for the tiny tarantula. Who’s to say what it was for, but whatever was inside no longer is.

Before yesterday, excavations seemed perilous enough. I knew I would be entering a small cave like passage, I knew there would be a deep pit with jagged wood and rocks at the bottom. I also knew there was an active wasps nest and a giant snakeskin. I was beginning to feel secure with these issues but while we’re at it let’s throw in some giant boulders, booby-traps, Nazi’s, and golden idols.

All joking aside, this is shaping up to be the most exciting investigation I have been a part of and it pains me that I can’t share much more, at least for now. At three pm today (May 7, 2014, central time zone) we will consult with a few local workmen and begin the process of excavation. Soon after I will continue to write updates. Until then, there is plenty of work to do in camp. Bare with me for now, there is much more to come.

 

For now, this is TAL (This Anthropological Life) Field Correspondent Ryan Collins signing off.

NOTE: Don’t hesitate to comment or message me at ryanhco@brandeis.edu if you are curious or have questions about anthropology, archeology, early civilization, the Maya, and the Yucatan. I’d love to hear from you.

 


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