New Approaches to Crisis in Russia

In my previous blog, I addressed the issue of the necessity of using a new approach to domestic violence awareness and prevention in a socialist country, like Russia. Here, I will use this space to discuss those new approaches. One common assumption in the Western culture about domestic violence is that women are economically dependent on men and stuck in the private sphere. For Russian women, the nationalization of property creates no space for private ownership and therefore no domestic inviolability. More likely than not, domestic violence occurs over tensions of living spaces, interpersonal conflicts and stresses, and/or alcoholism. These are not just husband versus wife issues, but can be mother versus daughter, father versus son, sibling versus sibling, etc.  Domestic violence is often justified within the culture as a response to economic hardship.

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(Photo: Anastasia Rudenko, Photo Philanthropy)

In handling these differences, advocates used anthropologists’ studies on domestic violence within a socialist system, to make changes in their approaches. One simple change is the use of the term crisis, rather than violence.  This ubiquity helped to address not only the issues of violence, but social and economic inequality  and mental health, because “the whole of Russian society is perceived to be in crisis.” One advocate insisted that sexual violence is, with no dispute, a terrible issue plaguing women, but it is much less a widespread problem than economic violence and discrimination, that touched most women of Russia’s lives.

Missionaries, mercenaries, and misfits: Are we hurting more than we are helping?

We all consider helping communities in need. This enthusiasm typically arises during natural disasters.  We risk romantisizing how we will benefit a community which we know little about.  However sincere, our efforts may not produce the result we imagined.

As new Anthropology students, we are just learning the importance of ethnography. Although foreign relief programs have good intentions, few expose their participants to the practices and beliefs engrained in the community they will visit.   As anthropologist Erin Taylor highlights in her article regarding the influx of foreigners in Haiti, the goal of foreign aid workers should not be to reshape society, instead to provide the local government with the resources to lead.

During her time in Haiti, Taylor spoke with Catholic priest, Father Marc.  He observed that foreigners in Haiti, can be classified into three groups: missionaries, mercenaries, and misfits.  Mercenaries are expat employees residing in developing nations for financial gain.  Missionaries “justify their labours on the basis of humanitarian convictions, though these may be at odds with local beliefs” (Taylor). Misfits are unable to function productively within their home countries.

Taylor recalls a group of American missionaries in Haiti wearing T-shirts which stated, “God sent us to save Haiti”.  This conviction gives them the false impression that their efforts can save a nation which will always be subject to natural disasters.  “Whether such conviction is grounded in religion or any other ideology, it dangerously blinds the believer to being dismissive of local abilities.” (Taylor).  Taylor remembers meeting a missionary who builds houses for Haitian citizens.  Despite his positive attributes, this man only helped individuals who contributed to his church.  “This is not saving Haiti, it is using resources to deliberately engineer the local culture in the image of the foreigner’s beliefs” (Taylor).

In Paul Farmer’s book Haiti After the Earthquake , he writes “more money should be directed to the Haitian government so that it can look after its own people. Corruption may be endemic, but without a budget, the government will never be able to turn itself around. NGOs cannot save Haiti.” (Farmer).  Our primary focus should not be on helping, rather supporting others in their initiative to lead their own society.

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Chimpanzees as Biomedical Research Subjects

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In her book, anthropologist Margaret Power discusses the social organization of humans and chimpanzees. She states that the emotions that are considered innate to humans are seen both across cultures and across species. Anthropologists, Christophe Boesch and Michael Tomasello discuss chimpanzee and human cultures in their article as well. They contend that human and chimpanzee cultures, do in fact share many similarities, indicating that the evolutionary roots of human culture could come from our ape relatives. These studies, amongst many others have helped to prove how similar these animals are to humans, not only genetically, but also socially and psychologically. Why then, is it considered okay for these animals to be kept in the often cruel conditions of scientific laboratories?

Scientists have been using chimps as psychological and biomedical research subjects since the 1920’s. According to Roger Fouts, who discusses his work with chimpanzees in his book, Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzeessome scientists justify the use of chimpanzees by saying that they are “physiologically, just like us” but “psychologically, they’re not like us,” which he, along with anthropologists, proves is untrue.

Today, the United States is the only western nation that still uses chimpanzees in testing. It has been established that these animals are incredibly social and emotional creatures, yet they are still tested on while there are many alternatives  that do not require testing on animals. Social scientists should further study the culture and social structures of chimpanzees and explore their similarities to humans in order to help promote the prevention of the often-cruel biomedical testing on these creatures.

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Uncontacted Tribes: The Endangered Tribes of the Awa People

An Awa woman breastfeeding her child and a baby pigThe Awa people have a close relationship with the Amazon. They know it as Harakwa or “the place that they know” (Uncontacted Tribes). This tight bond has developed into a kinship toward the forest. The tribe nurtures orphaned animals and even breastfeeds monkey’s, small pigs, and other animals who have lost their mother. The Awa people believe these “monkey’s are more human than animal” (Human Planet).  Awa woman raise baby monkey’s after their mothers have been killed. They take on the duties of a mother and breastfeed the little monkey’s as if it were their own child. The kinship a mother monkey would feel toward its child is translated to the Awa people after creating an orphaned animal. The Awa tribe has developed a symbiotic relationship with their Harakwa, or home, which has manifested into feelings of rights, duties, and kinship toward the forest.

Awa Man who spent 10 decades wandering the rainforest after his family was taken from him

Westerners are destroying the rainforest and the Awa people. An anthropologist interviewed an Awa Indian, Karapiru, who recounted memories of violence and destruction from the invaders. Karapiru believed his entire family was shot by outsiders. He was on the run 10 years after the invasion of his homeland. Less than 100 members of the Awa tribe still have not come into contact with the outside world. Up to 50 percent of uncontacted people will die with first contact to outsiders because of disease alone. It is important to protect the Awa people from genocide and allow them to live a life of reciprocity in their rainforest.

References:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/the-unknown-indian-the-incredible-story-of-an-uncontacted-tribe-member/274813/

One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?

For the past 5 years, Westerns have been questioning Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s motives in to regards to his Anti-Gay Marriage laws which have now resurfaced because of a recent bill that was signed. President Museveni doesn’t believe that enacting this bill is a step back for his country, regardless of the west’s perception, because, being a Christian country, Museveni believes that homosexuality “was learned and could be unlearned”. According to CNN, President Museveni also stated, “the bill also proposed years in prison for anyone who counsels or reaches out to gays and lesbians, a provision that would ensnare rights groups and others providing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” A question to take into consideration is; why now? Why create severe punishments for people who are already marginalized? To rebel against the Western culture? To create a pure society? In a way, the Ugandan president is emphasizing the moral code of Uganda through religion in stating that homosexuality is wrong; could he be right?

However, Leo Coleman’s report, titled Being alone together: from solidarity to solitude in urban anthropology, gives insight into the “queer theory”. He states that, “queer theorists explore discontinuities, deconstruct meaning and truth claims, and analyze how knowledge and identity have been formed.15 Claims about knowledge, the human person, and sexuality are deconstructed so that one can see how an idea or knowledge claim was formed, and which persons and groups benefited from them.” He further discusses how “queer theory has rightly stressed the nature of postmodern sexualities and identities: how fluid sexual identity is and how we need to pluralize the cultural notions of masculinity and femininity.” I believe that Uganda has become frozen in time; unwilling to break free from heterosexual norms and expectations from its people. Its evident that there is a divide in beliefs between the United states culture and the Ugandan culture which stems from “most early books on gay/lesbian theology assumed that a person was born gay or lesbian (the essentialist argument). On one hand, this approach can foster compassion for gays and lesbians because it assumes they cannot help that they are gay. On the other hand, this can also be used by those who want to ‘cure’ homosexuals through prayer or counseling.” Coleman highlights the extreme deviation between the two cultures as the Ugandan President rejects the idea of homosexuality all together and doesn’t believe in its existence. However, in the United States, we have accepted and learned to understand the several different identities within our soceity while beginning to break the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.

The underlining issues are social norms embedded within each culture. In the United States, the LGBTQ movement has flourished, giving people who identify with this movement freedom to express themselves. However, in Uganda, they don’t live in a democracy where they can have rights, freedoms, and liberties. Uganda still holds their religion very true to their culture and whatever goes against the Christian belief is immediately going against God and therefor should be punished. Maybe it’s not the United State’s place to judge this practice simply because we believe in it ourselves.

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References:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/24/world/africa/uganda-anti-gay-bill/

Alone in a Crowd

Have you ever felt very much alone while surrounded by a multitude of other people? In her article ‘Alone in the city: How we create personal space in the madding crowd,’ Erin Taylor discusses this phenomenon in regards to people who live in or work in New York City. According to Taylor, those who are used to constantly being surrounded by other people have developed natural tendencies to be ‘antisocial’ through actions such as avoiding eye contact and using phones more than usual.

However, as George Zimmel and other sociologists have written about for many years, people are not conducting such actions for the sake of unsociability (humans are actually inherently social); they do so to avoid being completely overwhelmed by the multitude of events taking place around them and to achieve their goal, which tends to be getting from one place to the next. Anthropologists, including Taylor, understand these actions as physical and social rules unintentionally created to allow humans to avoid such a sensory overload.

The idea of purposely ignoring others immediately stood out to me. As a ‘country bumpkin’ of sorts, I grew up in an environment where it was seen as rude to give anything less than a friendly nod to any passerby. Through the article and other anthropological studies, people from different geographical locations (myself included) can begin to understand the variances in social interactions based on a large-scale aspect of cultural differences.

Pertinence of Knowing A Foreign Language

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Contrary to the sense of monolingualsm that is prevalent throughout the United States, knowing a foreign language is an incomparable skill. Not only is competency in another language a useful capability, it is also been proven to be beneficial to one’s health. Studies have shown that those who are well versed in a foreign language are less likely to develop mental illnesses in their later years, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, knowing one language ameliorates an individual’s chance at obtaining equal proficiency in a third language.        

It appears that the limited knowledge that language requirements implemented by numerous colleges and universities provide is not truly helpful in the job market. This is rather wearisome, as a 2009 Hart Research Associates study deemed the proficiency in another language an imperative ability among graduate students. 

Beatriz Reyes-Foster
 and Ty Matejowsky’s article Mind Your Language emphasizes the importance of mastering a foreign language also has in the world of anthropology. The ability to read, speak and understand the local language provides a much more recompensing ethnographic experience, as it permits the anthropologist at hand to more thoroughly understand the cultural insider’s perspective.

The material provided by Mind Your Language further solidifies my desire to obtain near-fluency in some foreign language. Before approaching this article, I was cognizant of the many benefits of knowing a foreign language in the work force. However, I was not aware of the physical and mental advantages that language competency in a foreign language also provides. That being said, it is evident that having some mastery of a foreign language is a skill that can be only beneficial to an individual.

The Role of Alcohol Consumption on Culture

 

Drinking alcohol is most commonly a social activity, and the Social Issues Research Centre in Amsterdam studied many social roles that anthropology can teach us about the activity. Different types of drinks are symbolic for different types of situations. A comparison is given of Champagne and beer, which in many western cultures are used in relation to a type of celebration and in times of relaxing company, respectively.

The largest cultural aspect of alcohol consumption is the type of beverage chosen to drink. According to the Research Center, “Alcohol is a symbolic vehicle for identifying, describing, constructing and manipulating cultural systems… rarely a matter of personal taste.” Drink choice indicates a person’s origin or affiliation, social status and gender.  College students in America have strong affiliation as a group with cheap alcohol and beer specifically. But affiliation can also be with an origin of production such as Heineken beer with Holland and tequila with Mexico. An expensive bottle of wine bought to drink with dinner will present a higher social status than a box of wine. In Poland, consumption of imported wines is a symbol for high status, as “native beers and vodkas are ‘ordinary’ or working-class.” Also, there are beverage choices that indicate masculinity and femininity in a society, and those related to femininity are assumed to be less alcoholic and sweeter than a “masculine” glass of dark beer. The gender-based classification of drinks occurs even in cultures such as the Lele of Zaire, which only consume a single type of alcohol. Women drink a sweeter and weaker version of Mana ma piya, while men drink Mana ma kobo; a stonger version of the same beverage.

Anthropology has taught us that because consuming alcohol is such a social task, there are many more factors that determine choice than simply personal preference. Cultural and societal roles differentiate between countries, but what they all have in common is that there are always symbols for alcoholic consumption, and expectations that match each drink chosen to consume.

Is Domestic Violence Advocacy not important in Russia?

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When thinking of domestic violence, it is often thought of as a universal issue. Julie Hemment shows this in her work with crisis centers in Russia, that this is the case, yet not a priority in framing help and aid across the country. When approaching the issue of domestic violence, it is often seen from a Western view. The western view is quite obviously not a uniform way the world works. Because Russia is a socialist country, targeting domestic violence as the primary issue deflects attention away from other issues of social injustice that everyone in Russia, not just females, face.

The western idea of domestic violence concerns itself with the idea of“gendered” violence, yet in a socialist state like Russia, both men and women feel victimized under the state. Hemment quotes Peggy Watson in saying, “Under state socialism, society was excluded as a whole, and citizens, far from feeling excluded relative to each other, were held together in a form of political unity (1997, 25).” 

Using anthropology and studying the ways of state oppression, it allows for feminists and social organizations to question methods and create new ways in approaching not only domestic violence, but also bigger social issues within different countries. There is no uniform way of approach. 

Other references:

Hemment, Julie. “Global Civil Society and the Local Costs of Belonging: Defining Violence against Women in Russia.”  Anthropology at the Front Lines of Gender-Based Violence. Jennifer R. Wiles & Hillary J Haldane. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011. 165-190. Print.

Facebook and Gender Identity

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The differences between the terms sex and gender have become more refined in U.S. society over the past decade, and increasingly, there have been acknowledgements of gender options beyond male and female. Anthropologist Elizabeth P. Challinor writes, “We could say that sex refers to the biological body and that gender refers to cultural interpretations of biological differences which produce differentiated social roles and attributes for the sexes,” and continues, “I think that part of the difficulty is the presumption that cultural constructions of biological difference still have to fall under two categories: male or female.” The World Health Organization defines “sex” and “gender” similarly and further says on their website that, “Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.”

Facebook personal profiles include information that piece together the identity of the Facebook user. You can find information on what movies they watch or on a more fundamental level what gender they are. Facebook users no longer have to choose the option that corresponds to the sex they were born with, or choose to leave this part of their identity blank. As of February 13, 2014, users can now choose from over 50 options to describe their personal gender. You can also now choose what pronoun Facebook will refer to you publicly, female (her), male (him), or neutral (them). GLAAD announced their involvement with the development of this feature and currently it is only available to users who use Facebook in English. The president of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, says, “This new feature is a step forward in recognizing transgender people and allows them to tell their authentic story in their own words. Once again, Facebook is on the forefront of ensuring that the platform is safe and accessible to all of its LGBT users.” This new Facebook development may even mean that the term LGBT will be too limiting in the future.