How much do board games reflect on our lives?

By Ville Miettinen from Helsinki, Finland (Sex, Drugs & Dungeons & Dragons) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In this article titled Playing the hero: How games reflect life, Celia Emmelhainz interviews Nick Mizer, an anthropologist who researches gaming, storytelling, and how we make sense of our lives, if we are really the hero in our own lives. Celia talks to him about storytelling, tabletop games, and what they tell us about the world we live in. Nick describes gameplay as “the overlap of a couple of general human behaviors” such as the idea of play, narrative, and story. He also claims that talking about things like daily activities are told as narrative, “the way we make sense of our lives”. Narrating our daily activities can be viewed as storytelling and good stories emphasize our humanness and the craziness of life. Nick states that part of his job is to look at how humans experience things and “the question of whether we are all heroes in our own stories”. He continues stating that the only way we can share stories with other people is to envision ourselves in another’s place. Nick talks about Dungeons and Dragons and how although it is very rule bound, you still get to contribute largely to the outcome by deciding what your character does. He claims that most video games now are influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, but the actual board game takes more of a creative mind. He closes his interview stating, “as we understand why people play games, we can apply it to other areas”.

I think Nick Mizer’s argument relates to idea of fate and how we really put in what we want to get out. With Dungeons and Dragon, there are plenty of chances for you to decide what you want to have happen but a lot of it is also rolling dice. I think he is also trying to say that they way narrate our lives really determines how we feel about our lives and how much we have achieved.

Symbolism Defined Through Social Class


Anthropologist Dana Reed-Danahay unintentionally discovered a wedding ritual that is rooted in Lavialle, the heart of Auvergne region in France. This region is considered to be rustic, back country with lower class peasants occupying the territory.

La rotie is a ritual presented as a rite of passage for newly weds. To perform the ritual a chamber pot is filled with a mixture of champagne and chocolate. The pot is brought to the newly weds by unmarried youths on the night that their wedding took place. The youths tip the bed that the couple is laying in and make them drink from the chamber pot. The youths then drink from the chamber pot after the couple. The whole ritual is meant to be rowdy and obnoxious.

The chocolate and champagne mixture symbolizes urine and feces. Other fowl objects and food are added to the mixture to make it disgusting. The interesting thing is that this ritual is actually mocking what champagne and chocolate mean to upper class French. For upper class, these decadent treats are meant to be rich and noble foods. The poorer class twist this meaning in a way where the prized food is now undesired feces and do it in a way where they are acting out of control compared to their richer counterparts. This just shows the way social class plays a role in defining certain foods and objects.




Where Does Creativity Originate?

Creativity is a messy process, and not just in getting your hands dirty. Photo by Jennifer Rensel (Flickr: Let's paint!) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.


John McCreery discusses a recent topic claiming that scientists having interests in arts and crafts outside of work makes them more creative in his article, Creativity, what is it? In culture industries it is well known that creativity lies in finding new combinations of materials from different sources, but the focus here is on what makes scientists more creative. McCreery argues that scientists still have to have some innate creativity and that doing arts and crafts doesn’t simply make them creative. There is a certain neatness to arts and crafts that only certain people have.  The creator’s medium limits what he or she can create. McCreery also argues that creativity is best achieved in groups. Creators tend to work in teams where a large range of skills come together. All people from a group need to voice their own opinions and argue with each other to produce a result that none of them could do individually. The art of working together is finding the balance that maximizes everyone’s productibility while keeping the focus on your original goal. In the advertising industry this goal is often set by the client who has a business idea in mind that he or she needs others to produce.

McCreery’s argument is very similar to the idea of nature vs. nurture. I think his overall argument is that although some individuals might be born with creativity, you can still work to achieve it. The idea that doing arts and crafts make you more creative is a bit of a stretch because you would have already had some creativeness there to be doing them.

“Performing Gender” as a Job


When I saw Sara Snitselaar‘s recent article on performing gender, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to respond and dissect it. Having taken a queer theory class this semester, I have become well-versed in Judith Butler, along with other theorists, and their ideas of “performing gender.” To those of you without a background in this study of gender and sexuality, I’ll give a quick overview.

When you think of girls, you think of feminine. When you think of boys, you think of masculine. These traits of femininity/masculinity constitute a gender performance. Someone is performing the roles and perceived traits of their assigned gender. With this very basic knowledge, understanding Sara’s work becomes easier. As a job to support her educational pursuits, she is a promotional model. She plays up her feminine traits and roles within a capitalist system. They are paid to play up “femininity,” such as displaying their cleavage, being flirtatious and coy, and serve men.

Through Snitselaar’s work as a promotional model and Judith Butler’s work with gender performance, we can start to see the way gender is socially constructed and what someone may see, or perceive to be true, doesn’t always mean it is. This article definitely highlights the idea that one’s identity can be formed through social interactions and perceptions. She ends with a very poignant line.  “Before we fall into essentialist thinking about gender, we need to acknowledge that both cultural and economic forces create and uphold the ways in which it is constructed.”

This, I believe, is what anthropology can do. Break down these perceptions and look at the social forces that are in place to allow these to continue.

If anyone wants more information on gender performativity, I would strongly recommend reading Judith Butler’s “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.”

Fished or Fishing? Internet Deception and “Catfishing”


The term “catfish” was introduced and popularized by Yanev Shulman, a filmmaker and former prey to an online catfish. In “Catfishing: The Truth About Deception Online”, New York anthropologist, Krystal D’Costa explains the phenomenon of these online false identities. With a rise in the success of online dating services, and a decrease in their previously negative stigma, the number of virtual relationship, both honest and dishonest, has drastically increased over the past few years.

Similarly to any initial face-to-face interaction, hopeful Internet users post their best attributes for others to see. Users often also portray information that they believe will attract the kind of person they are looking for. D’Costa discusses a women who chooses the wording in her profile deliberately to “avoid sounding ‘cutesy’ because she wanted to avoid people who might be looking for a less serious relationship” than she was. A catfish comparably uses the same deliberate techniques to find a person who fits the relationship they are searching for.

The reasons for a person to create a false online identity are as numerous as the ways in which people go about doing it.  A catfish creates his or her profile with purpose and intent, just like social media user or online dating hopeful. They are searching for a certain type of relationship, and create profile in reflection and in search of that. Next time you change your profile picture or like a page on Facebook, consider your motivations behind your decision. What version of yourself are you putting up for other to see?

A Need for Change in India

A young women lies on the ground after being gang raped and disemboweled by a group of young men in India. The police refuse to touch her body because it has been ‘sullied’. Only a male partner, who has also been beaten during the attack will lift her into the ambulance. This was the fate of Jyoti Singh Pandey in New Dehli, India. She died 13 days later at a hospital in Singapore. Rape has become a national crisis in India. Women have gained some independence in the nation, such as carrying jobs, but they are not safe, especially in urban centers. Women are still looked upon as wards of their family or the state. Soon after this incident came a backlash of political protests. These protests “seemed to cut across class, gender, and caste profile”. This gave international attention to the issue of rape in India. People were awakened to the issue and protesters believed they were being part of the change.

Violence Against Women Protest In India

It is important to remember that violence against women is not just a problem for the Indian community, but it is an international issue. Violence against women transcends cultural boundaries. There are common patterns of this violence all over the world. The story of Jyoti Singh Pandey is a testament to the brutality of violence against women. While India struggles with laws protecting the women of their country. Other countries should review their cultural practices to ensure safety for women throughout the world.

Folk Music in Chile



What do you think you when you think of folk music? I guarantee most of you pictured bearded men with guitars, lamenting about lost love, whiskey, and their life struggles, much like the picture above.

As a huge fan of folk music, I would say this is a slightly accurate depiction. In America and many other Western countries, folk music is a working man’s music, growing out of the struggles of the common farmer; it was a way to rejuvenate themselves after a long day. In Chile, this is not the case. The upper and middle classes within Chile did not have a strong musical tradition, so they took the peasant tradition of folklore and developed it into folkoristic music. It became a place of artistic expression for bourgeoisie. The wealthy in Chile took this style and made it a way of expression for themselves. Instead of talking of the struggles of working long hard day, they romanticized farm life and summer days. The “folk” music of Chile is simply a more stylized version, a “souvenir” as the author determined.

This exploration of the cultural tradition of folk is something ethnomusicologists do. Ethnomusicology is a form of anthropology in which music and its impact on culture is studied. This study and history was discussed by Juan Pablo González, as he explored the work of Inti-Illimani, a long lasting musical group within Chile and their use of folk music and their goals within the genre.

Article mentioned:

“Inti-Illimani” and the Artistic Treatment of Folklore
Juan Pablo González
Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Autumn – Winter, 1989), pp. 267-286


The Art of Fart


With a recent post exploring the anthropology of burping, it seems only right to follow up with discussion of another expulsion of bodily gases- farting. Flatulence is cross-cultural but unstudied due to taboo and stigma of unimportance attached to the issue. Anthropologist Kirsten Bell treads down this uncelebrated path of research, determined to unravel the complicated relationship that we have with our farts.

Her article mentions anthropologist Mary Douglas who states, “bodily refuse is seen as a universal symbol of power and danger as it crosses the boundaries of the body.” Philosopher Julia Kristeva similarly states that matter expelled from the body “disturbs identity, system, order.” Bell argues that in one ‘foul swoop’ the fart “destroys the integrity and autonomy of the human body” and “attacks the boundaries of others.”

 Furthermore, Bell states that “not all farts are equal” – the farts of children, sick or elderly are easily forgiven. A study showed that loud and intentional farts are viewed more harshly. The farts of women were less easily forgiven and women were also seen to find farts less humorous and forgave easier than men.

 Examples of negative attitudes can be seen in Morocco where “it is traditionally held that breaking wind inside a mosque will blind, or even kill the angels within.” On the other hand, Japanese fart (He-Gassen) scrolls from the Edo period (shown above) depict intense “Fart Battles.” The farts highlighted political and social changes and were a metaphor for “rampant xenophobia of the Tokugawa sogunate” as evidenced by portrayals of “Westerners being blown home on thunderous toots.”

 In conclusion, there is a need to explore the notions of body and ownership that are related to bodily expulsions. To do this we must move away from the idea that only immature schoolboys should be interested in farts.

Trobriand Islands Cricket


In 1903 cricket was introduced by the British as a replacement for violence between tribes to the Trobriand Islands. They thought it would be better for the locals to work out their differences though competition than through violence. The Trobriand Islanders, however, adapted their own form of cricket, mixing in customs of warfare. They made up their own chants and incorporated food and beverages into the game, making it more of a social event. They basically play backyard cricket, similar to how people play cricket anywhere casually. Their form of cricket, Erin Taylor argues in “If the home team always wins, is it really sport?”, is actually pretty similar to professional competitions because they both  involve rituals and rules. For instance, Trobriand Islanders perform their own tribe’s song and dance similar how to in international matches, the opposing teams will sing their national anthems before the beginning of the game. In addition, players’ apparel is also chosen for cultural reasons as opposed to practicality. The only major differences are that professional cricket has more complex rules and is played competitively.


The origin of Trobriand Island form of cricket is very interesting, and Taylor’s comparison of version to the professional one brings up some good points. Professional sports here are made out to be a big deal through media, but it sounds like the Trobriand Islanders playing cricket treat their sport with just as much, if not more, respect than we do by incorporating their own dance into their games.

Is Wikipedia Correct?




          One place one might not expect to see an anthropologist research is Wikipedia. Heather Ford, an anthropologist working in Kenya, was doing research on how Wikipedia editors managed pages during rapidly occurring and changing events. While there, news that “the Kenyan army had invaded Southern Somalia to try and root out the militant Al Shabaab terrorist group” came out. Ford noticed that the Wikipedia page made on the event had been nominated for deletion on the basis of notability because the event was no different than “routine” occurrences of troops to crossing boarders for military operations. Being that Ford was in Kenya, she was closer to the primary source of information and noted that this event had many more implications for the county’s politics than what meets the eye. To the Kenyan people this invasion was the national army’s first attempt at proving itself after independence and notably during an election year.

            To the person who nominated the Wikipedia page for deletion the event had no other significance other than the usual mobilization of militants. In interviewing people who are active participants in nominating pages for deletion she found that the rational of the nomination was not ignorance but lack of availability to primary news sources. Traditional media has since decreased its coverage of international events leaving people outside of a specific area unable to attain reliable and all full information. Since, Ford has been working on “filtering tools for use during rapidly evolving news events” in hopes that more information can be spread and documented on international events. This finding could change the way that information is provided to the world giving a more accurate history of events.