The Value of Culture
is a five part BBC radio series by Melvyn Bragg (which can be downloaded as a podcast
) which explores the modern concept of 'culture' from its roots in mid-19th Century Britain, specifically Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy
and Edward Burnett Tylor's Primitive Culture
), and exploring the discourse and uses of the concept until the present day. There are five episodes, each a little over forty minutes long, focusing in turn on Arnold and the roots of the concept of culture
, Tylor and the anthropological conception of culture
, C. P. Snow and the 'Two Cultures' debate
, mass culture and culture studies
, and then ending with a debate on the value of culture today
tells the stories of 36 Sri Lankan elders, about their lives and work, and their connections to their hometown. ... With the movement of people away from their hometowns, particularly from Jaffna and Galle, I also spoke to the so called 'internal diaspora', about their longing for their hometowns and their sense of belonging to their adoptive homes."
American Ethnography Quasi-Weekly
is a somewhat gonzo cabinet of curiosities -- a mix of photography, academic essay, archival materials, and bloggy postings on "outlaw aethetics" and outsider culture, presenting glimpses of American subcultures past and present, from Califormia low-riders
dancers to blackface tambourine jugglers
, and plenty more. [more inside]
Stress: Our collective mood
- "there seems to be a correlation between stress and lack of holidays
. More important, however, is whether a relationship exists
between either and economic performance. The data is equivocal. On average Americans put in an extra two hours a week compared with UK workers. Yet both countries had almost identical crises, while lazier nations fared considerably better." also btw: Why Women Don't Want Macho Men
(cf. A Theory for Why Latvian Women are Beautiful
) & Study Shows People In Power Make Better Liars
(The psychology of power
or The Duke and Dirty Harry
A new study
suggests that humanity's sense of fair play and kindness towards strangers is determined by culture, not genetics
. Speculation: the finding may be directly related to the rise of religion
in human history, as well as more complex economies
). [more inside]
From these various anthropological approaches, a basic dichotomy has emerged between two types of societies from very different ecosystems: societies born in rain forests and those that thrive in deserts....
Begin with religious beliefs. A striking proportion of rain forest dwellers are polytheistic, worshipping an array of spirits and gods.... But desert dwellers... are usually monotheistic. Of course, despite allegiances to a single deity, other supernatural beings may be involved, like angels and djinns and Satan. But the hierarchy is notable, with minor deities subservient to the Omnipotent One. This division makes ecological sense.... Desert societies, with their far-flung members tending goats and camels, are classic spawning grounds for warrior classes and the accessories of militarism.... Rain forest cultures also are less likely to harbor beliefs about the inferiority of women; you won’t be likely to find rain forest men giving thanks in prayer that they were not created female, as is the case in at least one notable desert-derived religion.... (Previously
How We Evolve:
"A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
Anthropologists in the digital domain tend to be a day late and a dollar short as far as us early adopters are concerned, but Michael Wesch
managed to capture the popular imagination with his YouTube video, The Machine is Us/ing Us.
He recently gave a presentation to the Library of Congress titled An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube
in which he talks about the best of the web (not to be confused with The Best of The Web
"Cultures at the far edge of the world"
) and "The worldwide web of belief and ritual"
). Two TED talks by anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis
) on the diversity of the world's indigenous cultures and their beliefs, and the richness of the "Ethnosphere," which he describes as "the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness." [Via Mind Hacks]
Shakespeare in the Bush:
in which an anthropologist tells the story of Hamlet
to a group of Tiv
, and ideas about the universal nature of literature get the worst of it.
Whatcha doin' tonight?
Me, I think I'll mosey over the block and a half to the Pit
and take in the vibes at the Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow
. Might even try to score some peyote
. No, I'm not trying to reinforce a stereotype
; I'm truly interested in the experience
. Besides, I'm descended from Sequoyah
- we're on the Dawes Rolls
and everything. Ha! Who am I kidding? I'm just another stupid white girl
Narts! The Nart Sagas are arguably the most essential ingredient of Circassian Culture, to which they are what Greek mythology is to Western Civilization. Though much less known than their Greek counterparts, the Nart epic tales are no less developed. The heroism, sagacity, guile and ferocity of the Nart demi-gods are more than matches
to those of the Greek Pantheon.
If this selection of stories
captures your interest, you might want John Colarusso's Nart Sagas from the Caucasus
; you can read the introduction
online ("A ship sailing across the Black Sea in the year 1780 eventually would have come upon a lush shore at the eastern end of the dark gray waters..."). Although they seem to have been brought by the Ossetes
(and J. Cassian is posting an Ossetian tale, The Death of Soslan
, on his blog
), they're everywhere
in the Northern Caucasus. And some people
say they were the source of the King Arthur stories.
Sapir/Whorf raises its head again in study of the Piraha tribe.
I can't stop thinking about this article
which appeared in the Globe and Mail Friday.
A study appearing today in the journal Science reports that the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting.
Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can't learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time ... the Piraha are the only people known to have no distinct words for colours.
They have no written language, and no collective memory going back more than two generations. They don't sleep for more than two hours at a time during the night or day.
Even when food is available, they frequently starve themselves and their children, Prof. Everett reports.
They communicate almost as much by singing, whistling and humming as by normal speech.
They frequently change their names, because they believe spirits regularly take them over and intrinsically change who they are.
They have no creation myths, tell no fictional stories and have no art.
Can any of our anthropologists or linguists comment? I had thought that narrative was the common link in all human cultures....
, on "Death and life in the Ethnosphere
- The Naked Geography Of Hope" : "In Haiti, a Vodoun priestess responds to the rhythm of drums and, taken by the spirit, handles burning embers with impunity. In the Amazon, a Waorani hunter detects the scent of animal urine at forty paces and identifies the species that deposited it....On an escarpment in the high Arctic, Inuit elders fuse myth with landscape, interpreting the past in the shadow of clouds cast upon ice.....Just to know that such cultures exist is to remember that the human imagination is vast, fluid, infinite in its capacity for social and spiritual invention."
The death of the Ethnosphere was Margaret Meade's great concern up to her death, says Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis of Serpent and the Rainbow
fame and student of Richard Evans Schultes
, founder of Ethnobotany
: "The surprising results
obtained from treating psychoactive plants allowed their users to communicate more directly with the unseen world which they believed to exist." Davis coined the concept of the "Ethnosphere" and has worked for it's preservation through Cultural Survival
"A sworn virgin is called such because she swears—takes a vow under the law of the Kanun
—to become a man. From the day she takes this vow (which is sometimes at a very early age), she becomes a man: she dresses like one, acts like one, walks like one, works like one, talks like one, and her family and community treat her as one. She is referred to as he. He will never marry and will remain celibate all of his life." If you find this stuff intriguing, by all means read Alice Munro's great short story "The Albanian Virgin" (from Open Secrets
, 1994); you might also want to check out A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture
, where there's much more cultural weirdness, and Edith Durham's classic High Albania
), from which I first learned of these mannish gals. Oh, and there's a movie
The Quiet American
provides glimpses of other cultures via phonographs: snapshots of sound. (The field recordings
in Vietnam are beautiful and evocative.) Vagabonding
also conveys the wonders of travel. What other sites allow non-travelers to experience other parts of the world?
examines how ancient cultures studied and worshipped the heavens. From the arrangement of the Stonehenge stelae
to the Mayan reverence for the planet Venus
, this science has resulted in some fascinating
and often beautiful
discoveries, including star charts found in tombs in Ireland
, the Lascaux caves in France
, and rock paintings of a supernova
in 1054 that resulted in the Crab Nebula
. My personal favorite is the “Sun Dagger”
in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (scroll down for photos).
day, lately, I see more news showing a tightening grasp**
on the peoples of the world by agents of power and knowledge. Domestic affairs are more about foreignness than ever, it seems.
* Story about an expedition by Brazilian anthropologists to collect information on the size and number of uncontacted indigenous groups in the Amazon (without actually contacting them).
** Story about tensions between indigenes and commercial fisheries in the Torres Straits Islands. Australia gives broad protection of indigenous rights to land, but courts have not yet ruled on rights to the sea.