Welcome to the ANTH 2100 Blog – Fall 2015

Welcome to Anthropology2100, a cultural anthropology course blog for Fall 2015.

Anthropology 2100 was originally created by the undergraduate students and graduate student TAs of Professor Carole McGranahan’s Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course, Fall 2010 at the University of Colorado. We are now doing Round Four of this blog in the Fall 2015 semester.

This blog was designed so that students could read and engage others’ work, rather than solely writing for their professor or TAs.  Our goal is to create a space for discussion and debate between students outside of the classroom.

Over the course of this semester, students will write essays on three topics: family, the body, and the non-human.  Students will address these topics from anthropological perspectives, specifically using two different theories in each essay to gain a sense of how anthropological scholarship and argument unfolds.  Depending on what point in the semester the students write any given essay, the theories they are using might be a bit old-fashioned or might represent contemporary theories in cultural anthropology.  Either way, our intention is for students to learn anthropological theory by putting it into use toward topics they find compelling.

(Don’t know much about anthropological theory? Check out our course Theory+Anthropology Wikipage, created by students in the 2010 version of this course.)

We will choose a handful of student essays to put up on Anthropology2100.  As part of their assignment, students are also required to participate in the blog through commenting on posted essays.  Everyone is invited to join in the conversation. Respectful, civil exchanges, questions, and disagreements are welcome; rude, snarky, and/or mean-spirited comments will be taken down.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to good intellectual conversation and anthropology!

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Social Class Hanging from a Shoulder

by Lindsey

Between Louis Vuitton and Prada, there is wide-ranging market for expensive handbags. The ability to afford and flaunt such luxury items has created a visible distribution of wealth among women in various cultures. However, it is clear that the desire and ability to possess such opulent products is not universal. Designer handbags have come to display more than a woman’s personal style; they now distinguish the hierarchy and social classes within the American culture. Using the Marxist and post-structuralist theories of cultural anthropology, this ostentatious trend can be explained.

Marxism addresses the ways that material factors cause social transformation.[1] In present United States society, the capitalist economy has created barriers for lower-class individuals, but has made it easier for upper class individuals to continue on their path to success. Focusing on women in particular areas of the U.S., one may be able to see the differences in values and socioeconomic statuses simply by the purses that women own. Karl Marx, a founding figure of this theory, compared the many positions within a capitalist society and found that peasants, previously agriculturists and presently day-laborers, provide the upper classes the resources needed for their inherent prosperity.[2] The transformation of an average American to an elitist seems to occur by acquiring well-known couture handbags, produced by so-called peasants. This, in turn, reshapes a woman’s social status. By carrying designer brands under their arms, women may gain a sense of power and entitlement because of the known prices of their possessions and esteem that comes from the ability to own such a good. The Marxist belief that economic relationships are based on power may reveal why women seek to enhance their social rank or alleviate class struggles by reaching for materialistic objects.[3]

Through the lens of a poststructuralist, power is expressed differently in each culture because of the idea that it is relational and acts as a liaison for many social trends.[4] Women attempting to create or solidify the social stigma associated with the purchase and use of designer handbags shows that in their culture, power is asserted in the form of physical goods. Because there are various cultures and illustrations of power, poststructuralists identify the subject position, or category of being, for each individual.[5] In the case of women and designer handbags, one might say that their subjectivity is “wealthy” or “influential”. Analyzing each of these classifications helps in understanding how particular people in society chose to be viewed by their peers because of their choice in buying perceived symbols of power. Another aspect of this theory states that power fluctuates and is a form of consent or resistance.[6] In the search for power and recognition through designer purses, women are consenting to a particular subjectivity in return for a form of material power.

Designer handbags are material factors that have transformed social and cultural ideas of power, which have created differences in social classes. Marxism and poststructuralism provide an interesting viewpoint of the variability in expression and meaning of power.

 

[1] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532604/Marxism%20and%20Political%20Economy, accessed 6 November 2015.

[2] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532604/Marxism%20and%20Political%20Economy, accessed 6 November 2015.

[3] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532604/Marxism%20and%20Political%20Economy, accessed 6 November 2015.

[4] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532663/Poststructuralism, accessed 6 November 2015.

[5] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Introduction to Cultural Anthropology: Globalization, Capitalism, Resistance II, 4 November 2015.

[6]  http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532663/Poststructuralism, accessed 6 November 2015.

Posted in Non-Human Essay (2015) | 29 Comments

Cannabis

by Stevie

At the core of anthropology there is one fundamental lesson: there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong”, only culture. The relationship between humans and the cannabis plant is just another reiteration of this foundational understanding of cross-cultural variation. In our society, cannabis is exponentially attracting more political attention, however cannabis has been cultivated by people for at least 4,000 years[1]. It seems appropriate to investigate the relationship between humans and cannabis from an anthropological perspective instead of a political one. This year at the 2015 American Anthropological Association Meeting in Denver, there will even be special event titled “Cannabis Cultures”.

Historically consumed by a plethora of societies around the world, cannabis has been used medicinally, recreationally, and ritually for thousands of years. The image of the marijuana leaf symbolizes an exceptional variety of concepts and meanings to different people and cultures. The relationship between this ancient plant and humans is bizarre, ranging everywhere between a fashion statement worn on socks in some societies to the most miraculous medicine in others. Symbolic anthropology allows us to explore the cultural and social contexts of cannabis within our society. Medical marijuana is currently available in 23 states and Washington, DC. Widespread fear that legalizing cannabis would increase crime and drug use has been undermined by states such as Colorado who have actually experienced a decrease in both teenage drug use and drug-related crime. The White House has even acknowledged the “dramatic” decrease in deaths from prescription pills in the states that have chosen to legalize medical marijuana[2]. Just a few years ago, and even still in some aspects within our culture, there were completely different symbols and stereotypes associated with cannabis. The image of the cannabis leaf symbolized lethargy, unproductiveness, and evoked terms such as “burnout” or “stoner”. Cannabis symbolized the gateway to further drug use and has been excessively associated with criminal activity. Our culture has slowly begun to shift away from this mindset, making the pivotal distinction between treating cannabis as a health issue instead of a criminal one. Now the cannabis leaf can begin to symbolize freedom and our culture can now associate cannabis use with medicating instead of intoxicating.

While a feminist anthropologist could universally evaluate the correlation of cannabis and culture, there are specific examples of the relationship between the plant and women in our society. The flourishing cannabis industry is undeniable, creating over 200,000 jobs just in the past year[3] and inspiring many groups like Women Grow to form. Women Grow is a Denver organization with the mission to “connect, educate, and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders by creating a community for aspiring and current female business executives.” These types of organizations serve as a catalyst for females to influence and succeed in the cannabis industry especially as the end of cannabis prohibition unravels on a national scale.[4]

 

[1] http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2015/10/19/cannabis-cultures-special-event-at-aaa-2015/ accessed 11 November 2015

[2] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/01/colorado-legal-marijuana-charts-statistics accessed 12 November 2015

[3] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/14/6-facts-about-marijuana/ accessed 10 November 2015

[4] http://womengrow.com/mission/ accessed 10 November 2015

Posted in Non-Human Essay (2015) | 46 Comments

Exploring the South American Ayahuasca Drug

by Mickey

For an estimated 2000 years, the ayahuasca drug has been consumed for religious and healing purposes among indigenous Amazonian peoples.[1] The religious uses for the drug serve to provide the individual with some sort of divine knowledge or personal enlightenment through communicating with spirits and the divine. It is also used as a medicine to cure those with mental illness. All of this is achieved through the alternative state of consciousness that is caused by ayahuasca.[2] Shamans lead these rituals, as they have all the knowledge of ayahuasca, including the specific guidelines for consuming it.

A symbolic and interpretive anthropologist would see this spiritual practice as a learned and shared symbol that holds significant cultural meaning for the people of the Amazon. Symbolic and interpretive anthropology’s main focus is to understand symbols from an emic perspective[3], meaning that the rituals surrounding ayahuasca must be understood from the context of Amazonian culture. From this cultural context, it can be concluded that to the Amazonian people, personal enlightenment and communication with the divine is important for not only religious figures of authority like shamans, but also for the tribespeople. That everyone should experience the alternative state of consciousness regardless of social position or level of authority. In order to fully understand this ritual symbol, a Symbolic anthropologist would first collect information on the observable characteristics included in the practice, what the shamans believe about it and lastly make deductions himself – as anthropologist—from specific contexts, like his own previous knowledge.[4] From these three forms of data, consuming ayahuasca and the spiritual effects it brings to individuals are a way for the people of the Amazon to communicate how they think people should view the world.

A functionalist anthropologist would most likely say that this custom came to be so that a certain basic human need could be fulfilled.[5] In the case of spiritual awakening, this perspective of anthropology would see this practice as a way to satisfy the basic need for human growth. Specifically growth and development of personal enlightenment. This provides insight into the social aspects of this culture as well, according to a functionalist anthropologist. Personal spiritual enlightenment is a very individualistic practice, demonstrating how individuals operate in their own way, so that the society as a whole can successfully function.[6] Since this practice is over 1000 years old to Amazonian cultures, functionalism is a great perspective to interpret it from, being a synchronic theory. While the history of a practice is important to note when interpreting it, ayahuasca use has not changed among this culture since its introduction.

[1] Rios, Marlene Dobkin De, and Charles S. Grob. “Editors’ Introduction: Ayahuasca Use in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37.2 (2005): 119-21. Print.

[2] Sayin, H. Umit. “The Consumption of Psychoactive Plants in Ancient Global and Anatolian Cultures During Religious Rituals: The Roots of the Eruption of Mythological Figures and Common Symbols in Religions and Myths.” NeuroQuantology 12.2 (2014): 276-96. Print.

[3]http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532647/Symbolic%20and%20Interpretive%20Anthropology

[4] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29532647/Symbolic%20and%20Interpretive%20Anthropology

[5] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29531810/Functionalism

[6] http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29531810/Functionalism

Posted in Non-Human Essay (2015) | 23 Comments

The Hierarchical Value of the Black Body

by A

“I don’t see color”, a common phrase used in the United States to promote a Colorblind society and essentially one free of racism. “ I have a Black friend”, “I love Beyonce”, “LeBron James is my favorite athlete”, and countless other ways White people frame anti-racist sentiments and feed a colorblind rhetoric. Until stories reach national news, we are do not feel comfortable or even the necessity of discussing race within in a Black and White binary In recent news, the University of Missouri, also known as Mizzou, has made headlines and stirred social media on the topic of racial inequities and assaults on its campus. These issues are not new nor are they unique to this university, but it has brought national attention to issues within the university system and especially on predominantly white populated campuses, which bodies are valued? and how are certain bodies valued over others?

Upon the countless protests, rallies, and demands Black Students and other students of color were putting their safety of the line for the benefit of themselves and future students at the university. The Chancellor, R.Bowen Loftin and President of Mizzou, Tim Wolfe acknowledged racial assaults on campus as unacceptable, they fail to listen to the concerns of students of color. Wolfe issued an apology to the student group that organized the multiple protests and rallies, Concerned Students 1950, saying, “Racism does exist at our university and it is unacceptable…It’s—systematic oppression is because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success”[1], Wolfe frames the racial tensions and systematic oppression as students of color creating a problem for themselves rather, taking any responsibility of the system in which they live. Students demanded for the resignation of Wolf, but their protests were not enough and neither was a student on a hunger strike. What came to be the catalyst was the football team. Black football players and some White football players refused to attend practice and play a game against Baylor until Wolfe stepped down. Consequently, he stepped down a few days later.[2] Applying Marxist anthropology to this situation in particular, it is apparent how material factors cause social transformation and how certain bodies,whether Black or White, are privileged over others[3]. Also applying Political economy, Black student athletes bodies are seen as labor and commodities to produce money for the university. The student athletes refusing to participate in the political and economic system the university created forced the president to step down. What athletes did in a fews days was not accomplished as quickly by the students of color because they do not have the same economic benefit Black student athlete bodies produce.

[1] Pearson, Michael. “A Timeline of the University of Missouri Protests – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

[2] Pearson, Michael. “A Timeline of the University of Missouri Protests – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

[3] Molnar, Catherine. “Marxism and Political Economy.” Theory + Anthropology [licensed for Non-commercial Use Only] /. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Increasing Plastic Surgery by Low and Middle Class Brazilians

by Ash

An interesting case study involving the human body can be found in Brazil. Here, elective plastic surgery by women has seen a surge in popularity. The high demand has made the price come down, and opened the market to the middle and lower classes. Brazilians see this change as positive, and many point to the rise as a direct result of growing economic prosperity. This perspective is especially popular with Brazilian news media.

The growing prosperity of the middle class has allowed millions of people to have their ideals of beauty to be realized through plastic surgery. This demonstrates a case where material factors caused a social transformation, a core principle of economic anthropology. This analysis may be partially true, but is believed by a least one anthropologist to be incomplete. One anthropologist observed that the increase in plastic surgery (or “plástiqa”) is not because of increasing economic prosperity, citing data showing that the rise of plastic surgery was during the 1980’s and 1990’s when Brazil saw mounting economic inequality[1].

Edmonds (2010) argues that a range of problems—with social origins—manifest themselves as “aesthetic defects”. This manifestation can be treated by the so-called beauty industry. In this way, systemic problems can be “solved” with a procedure. The women who choose to have these procedures (it is almost exclusively women) do so for many reasons, including some who believe that having their nose changed, or breasts augmented, would allow them to earn more money—women make up much of the service industry in Brazil. This illustration of patriarchal power is not atypical, and demonstrates the power of a male dominated hegemony. The author analyzes this phenomenon using the ideology of feminist anthropology. Women know that they are more likely to be hired if they are closer to a socially recognized standard of beauty.

It goes without saying that there are ethical issues with treating poverty or low self-esteem with surgical procedures—but the doctors see themselves as therapists, treating the mental, not physical conditions of the patients. Their laissez-faire attitude towards plastic surgery seems incongruent with our American ideal of health care, but most doctors see the underlying social problems. As one plastic surgeon put it: “her principle illness is poverty”. Brazil has a long history with distorted perceptions of physical beauty, and stereotypes of women with exaggerated curves are pervasive. Globalization of western ideals of beauty have led to women wanting to look more “western”. This has led to women desiring tan skin—but having surgeries to correct noses that look “negroid”—the way they describe African facial features. The combination of global media and Brazilian aesthetics of race and beauty has produced a form of body modification that acts as a proxy for many social issues of the working class.

[1] Edmonds, A. The poor have the right to be beautiful?: Cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute J Royal Anthropological Inst, 363-381.

 

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Ecological Burial: Body Composting

by Levi

‘Ecological Burial’ or ‘Body Composting’ are names for a method of burial which has gained media attention and popularity in recent years. Several companies[1] offer services in which the deceased’ body is put through refrigeration, chemical, or decomposition processes that turn the body into nutrient-rich compost so they can be integrated into soil, usually closely tied to ideas of eco-friendliness or being close to nature. Simply due to its relation to death rites and the disposal of bodies but also because of its core ideals, body composting has close connections to the body and culture. In this essay, I shall approach how body composting relates to culture, seeing how this recently-introduced method of burial can be of both symbolic and functional significance.

From a symbolic/interpretive perspective, the concept of body composting is a matter of image and communication, frequently conveying environmentalist values by using the body as a cultural symbol. Clifford Geertz argues in his text Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropology that culture is “embodied in public symbols and actions”[2], and one’s body, particularly in death, has huge cultural importance on a public level, holding meaning in a cultural context. Similar to how scattering ashes from cremation, a Tibetan sky burial[3], or a Christian ground burial have philosophical and ritual connections, ecological burial stands for certain beliefs and conveys the deceased’ values to their whole culture. The body serves as a direct symbol that communicates how a person viewed the world, transmitting ideals such as a dedication to nature or being involved in the broader cycle of life. Body composting works well in the context of Geertz’ webs of significance: many humans imbue cultural meaning in being eco-friendly or close to the natural world (forming the webs), and body composting works to make one’s body an ultimate symbolic gesture in support of those concepts (man becoming ‘suspended in those webs’, using his/her own body).

Another way to look at body composting is through a functionalist perspective. Proponents of ecological burial argue that body composting is not only symbolic but also serves a definite purpose for the benefit of their whole society[4]. Standard methods of burial fail to meet certain needs of a culture, frequently taking up or wasting resources, and many of these issues are addressed by body composting. There is often a lack of burial space in cities, with cemeteries becoming increasingly crowded, urbanized, and impersonal. Additionally, the body holds nutrients which are usually wasted in standard burial but can be effectively recycled for agricultural growth through body composting (the bodies of livestock are already used in some places for fertilizer in agriculture). Among functionalism’s seven basic needs are bodily comforts and nutrition[5], which are addressed by body composting when the process contributes to making more spacious and well-organized cities as well as aiding in food production. Utilizing human bodies not only works as a symbolic gesture in support of nature; through a functionalist lens, it also directly serves the basic needs of the culture, taking up less space and helping agriculture.

[1] See Urban Death Project: http://www.urbandeathproject.org/ , accessed 4 Nov. 2015 Promessa Organic: http://www.promessa.se/ , accessed 4 Nov. 2015.

[2] McGee, R. Jon and Richard L. Warms. 2004[1996]. Anthropological Theory: An Introductory History (Third Edition). New York: McGraw HIll. pg. 467.

[3] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 31 Aug. 2015

[4] See profile here: http://www.thestranger.com/features/feature/2015/03/03/21792773/the-architect-who-wants-to-redesign-being-dead

[5]: http://anthrotheory.pbworks.com/w/page/29531810/Functionalism#footnote-3, accessed Nov.4

 

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The Significance of Being Greek

by Brynn

My first month here at CU I was consistently asked whether or not I was going to rush. Now, this may have to do with a the fact that my roommate is a senior in Chi Omega, but I don’t think anyone will argue the prominence of CU’s Greek on this campus. This made me question why were so many students inclined to pay to be a part of this society. Why subject yourself to yet another hegemonic system within our greater hegemonic society? My roommate pointed out that for her “My sorority is like my family, I always know that I have a huge support system backing me up, and especially as a freshman, this was really important to me.”[1] I know students who work 40 hours a week, and partake in a full course schedule just to make sure that they are able to keep up with their semester dues. If this isn’t an indication as to the importance of Greek life to participants, I don’t know what is. This importance, I would argue, stems strongly from this family bond that is developed within each house.

A symbolic and interpretative anthropologist such as Clifford Geertz may argue that a sorority or fraternity is symbolic of family. Members call each other “sisters” and “brothers,” and the house letters students parade across campus are symbolic of belonging and connection found in their Greek life.[2] Agree with it or not, you can’t argue that the participants who propagate such letters feel very connected to their house and the community within them. Not every family is connected by blood, sometimes the family you feel you belong with most, are the families you choose. Sporting these letters is a symbolic way of illustrating a family-like bond and connection.

Being raised by privilege tends to perpetuate privilege. Through a Marxist lens Greek life may be seen as a way to keep the privileged surrounded by the privileged by way of this this Greek-family bond. Even if you are that small percent that pays for your dues without the aid of your parents, you are still privileged enough to have that as a decision as to where your money goes. Marxist anthropology focuses on the ways material factors cause class divisions and social transformation.[3] In this case, the social transformation would be the family (and the class distinction within the University that comes with it) created by the factor of the Greek institution. Class distinction can be seen perpetuating through lineages within and beyond the university by way of legacy, and its influence later in the work force. As we all know, you can be as qualified as you want but getting a job really comes down to whom you know. If a CEO of a company feels closer to an applicant due to the family bond created by Greek life, chances are they are going to be hired over someone with equal credentials who was not a Greek “sister” or “brother.” Thus the family created through Greek life has real material impacts.

 

[1] Rangnekar, Naina. Interviewed by Summer Taylor. Significance behind “being Greek”. November 1, 2015

[2] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 31 August, 2015

[3] Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontier of Cultural Anthropology, 10 October, 2015

 

Posted in 2015 Family Essay | 26 Comments