What’s That Smell?


Despite one of our dominant senses being smell, our culture lacks the language to describe smells. In the Banthad Mountains of southern Thailand, a few hundred people speak the language of Maniq, which has fifteen different terms to identify smells. Furthermore, when identifying smells the Maniq use abstract sensory properties that “perceive patterns, such as which smells are more likely to attract tigers to their settlements” (Downey). In comparison, instead of using scent terms, we identify the source of the smell. We simply do not have the language to identify these smells.

Susanne Langer asserts that each language gives us access to a different symbolic system; therefore, our language does not have a proper referent to the reality—the smell. In his piece, “What’s in an Aroma? Languages with odour vocabularies,”  Gregory J. Downey states, “the researchers argue that these are “basic” aroma terms in the same sense that we talk about “basic” colours: one-word descriptors, shared by almost everyone in the group, that do not refer to the source, and are used for a variety of objects.” The English language does not have the capacities to identify smell in  the same way in which the Maniq classify smell, thus, leaving us at a disadvantage to the behaviors and vocabulary of the olfactory system.

Our Fascination with Aliens


I think I can speak for the majority of my fellow humans when I say that my since my early childhood I have been bombarded with the idea of extraterrestrials. Whether it be scary sci-fi films or conspiracy theories, I can honestly say that the idea of aliens is inescapable and at the same time extremely interesting. So what is this fascination with aliens? Katy Meyers Emory explores this idea in her article, “Aliens and archaeology”.

In the article Emory looks at a few different archaeological cases concerning abnormal human remains in which elongated skulls were discovered. Now although these cases were completely explainable whether the cause of the misshapen-ed skulls being medical abnormalities or simply a sign of higher status, the stories still made worldwide news as humans first reactions had to do with aliens. But why is this our first reaction? Emory questions that perhaps “it is because we’ve hit a point in our human existence where our own earth is not as unknown as it was before.” Has our desire to seek and explore not been fulfilled? Are we somehow in a drought in which the unknown is now known and we need a new mystery to solve? The answer may only lie in human nature.


Anthropological Research and Emotions

Is is really possible to keep personal feelings separate from work? Many would argue that this is essential in conducting research, especially in the field of anthropology, but how is that really possible when sensory is inevitable when conducting this research? Is using your senses actually an effective way in observing?

Elizabeth P. Challinor talks about how senses may interact with research in the her article, “Sensory ways of knowing when research tunes into emotions”. She gives the readers insight to her old field notes and shares an excerpt in when she spent time with some Cape Verdean friends. She explains how throughout the fun conversation, in a language she wasn’t quite familiar with, she could not help but smile along even though she couldn’t quite follow what was happening in the story. She describes the mans use of animated gestures and loud laughs and attributes that to the contagiousness of the happiness she felt all around her. Should anthropologists allow their senses to act as another tool in research along with the survey , statistics, etc? Maybe the mixing of tuning in emotions into research will allow anthropologists to really become one with another s culture and give a deeper understanding in which plain questionnaires cannot give.


The Effectiveness of Anti-racism on the Internet?

When thinking about anti-racism and the civil rights movements, many would attribute it’s effectiveness to protests and physical signs of opposition. I mean, are there any other ways other than “real-life activism” to be progressive in this country? James Jang. in the post “What is so real about online anti-racism?”, looks at Richie’s point of view and argues against the idea that online anti-racism  is “is primarily about appearing as ‘progressive and helpful’ rather than being progressive and helpful.” Richie sees tumblr activism as somewhat of an inauthentic facade which is carefully constructed and mediated while Jang argues that “Tumblr activism and Real-World activism are both mediated. They are both authentic to the activists in question.”

This not only got me thinking of the similar motives that so called real activists have compared to the online ones, but also made me question the effectiveness of each one. To determine this, anthropologists could really look at how powerful social media is in shaping who its users are. We all know that technology is fast-moving and has easily landed itself as a very important element in our lives in such a short period of time, so how come protesting oppression and racism online cant be considered important? After all, change within ourselves starts with being exposed to new ideals and different ways of thinking. I know personally, the internet has been an essential tool in opening my eyes to the injustices of the world that “real life activism” could probably not have done in such a short period of time. It is easy to dismiss the online anti-racism as a facade without really knowing the power that online awareness of racial injustices really has but anthropologically speaking, conversation on the internet about these issues really is quite progressive.


Mental disorders in different cultures

Culture has a great impact in mental health. For example, the Nepalese culture has different hierarchies; if you’re in the lowest you have minimum resources. If a person has few to no resources, then it is more difficult for them to grow and move up the hierarchies to live a better life. The system is already incorporated in the culture and it is very hard to overcome it. Many people in the lower social classes can have more mental disorders then the others since they most likely live with more stress, lack resources, and may have bigger problems. Many individuals can have mental disorders due to the culture they live in and their traditions; this is were anthropology comes in.

Many people live in inequality, living under stress that can cause anxiety and eventually other disorders. The poor are the ones who suffer more. Since they are seen as less, they can’t grow and move up in the hierarchy causing this problem a cycle that doesn’t get solved. It is not only in Nepal that this happens, but also in the United States and other countries. Inequality influences a lot mental disorders and all health issues due to the lack of resources and the way those people from lower classes are seen. Anthropology can also see how mental health is in different cultures due to the religion and the traditions. Religion, which can be very important in certain cultures, also influences mental disorders since they have different beliefs on what is happening to the person. In addition, they have different procedures to treat them, medicine probably not being the first. Due to the inequality and the different social classes is why mental disorders can be more dangerous in lower classes since they lack resources and can’t see a professional psychiatrist, leaving it to what they do have that is probably a religious individual that brings traditions in. This is very common in rural areas in under developed countries since mental disorders don’t have the funding other illnesses have. Funding usually goes to were the crisis is; since mental disorders aren’t a crisis, then people don’t pay much attention to them.



A black feminist anthropologist writes about colorblindness, current issues with black people, and how colorblindness is racism. Colorblindness is the “inability to see certain colors in the usual way.” This means, colorblindness is when one treats everyone as a human being not looking at anything else or thinking about his or her race or history. If someone is colorblind, they are completely ignoring a great part of the individual because one is its history, and people act the way they act because of the history, culture, and background. Everyone: Latinos, Africans, Asians all have been greatly influenced and impacted by their history and culture; it has a lot to do with what the person is. It is a reality that we all come from different backgrounds and races.

Racism and inequality is one of the most popular topics talked lately in the United States. Anthropologist play a big role in it since we study, learn, and try to understand why things happen how they happening. We have all heard about Michael Brown and Eric Garner. If you are a white person then you can’t relate much to the every-day racism, but you should put yourself in the other people’s shoes and act upon it. We are in the 21th century and we are still dealing with what happened years ago. It is in our hands to try and comprehend what is happening for us to make a difference. Anthropologists have studied theories, methods, and observations. Their job is to understand humans and their culture, so they play a big role in investigating the trouble, separation, and inequality that still exist in the United States.


Why Thin is Still In

Sara Ziff, a Columbia University student, made a documentary about her 4 years in the modeling industry. Sara shares her personal experience and other model’s experiences in the industry. Her main goal after making the documentary was to change the agencies “beauty” perspective since it has affected many women’s life. “Why Thin Is Still In” is an article written about the documentary.

It is very interesting how a huge industry is affecting so many people. The mentality of the editors, agents, and designers is what has to change in order to see a difference in this industry. Everyone knows that models suffer from eating disorders, drug abuse, and self esteem. They are all doing those things for a reason, to fulfill the expectations of the agencies. But the agencies aren’t the only ones to blame; agencies have those requirements because the designers have the requirements, the designers have those requirements to find editors who are interested in their product and it attracts the writers and the readers. It is all a cycle; if none change then we wont see a change in the industry.

Models experience everyday violence. They suffer, but they don’t do anything about it because they want to be part of the industry. It has a great impact in their lives and society should take some action. Anthropologists play a role since they research the past and present. Back in the 1900’s models were completely different to what they are now. The media also plays a role because if it stops circulating, then women wont be under the pressure of being thin to look beautiful. But it’s all in the hands of the models; if they don’t act and try to make a change then the industry will keep running. The industry is nothing without the models so they have to start the change. Anthropologist can continue to research on this problem, the effects and the influences it has on society and culture.


Violence in Colombia

Lesley Gill, an author and professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, took a trip to Colombia where she conducted research on the impact of political and economic violence on the workers of Coca-Cola and SINALTRAINAL, a Colombian labor union. On July 22, 2006, Gill attended the “International Day of Protest Against Coca-Cola” in Barrancabermeja; workers performed street theater, rather than the usual political speeches. Workers protested in order to show the degradation of work that was brought about by the shift to neoliberal capitalism, and, furthermore, to denounce the corporate’s involvement in the murder of eight Coca-Cola workers by the paramilitary.

There is strong direct-political violence in the Coca-Cola workers lives, as well as the SINALTRAINAL union. Many had been living with death threats for years from the paramilitary, and many had suffered through multiple assassination attempts. In particular, Carlos Montes, a SINALTRAINAL board member, who Gill had known while she was visiting, was murdered by the paramilitary while walking home. Montes had received many death threats because of his union activities. Many workers and union members walk around with multiple body guards to try and ensure their safety. The violence that the workers and unionists suffer through displays their need to fight for better working conditions, and ultimately, a better life.

References: Fighting for Justice, Dying for Hope On the Protest Line in Colombia By Lesley Gill

The Emerging Issue of Global Mental Health

A few days ago I went to a talk here at Wheaton by a guy who had founded the MINDS foundation which brings mental health services to rural India. Before I attended the talk, it hadn’t occurred to me that mental health could be a global health issue on the same plane as HIV/AIDS or polio. And it looks like I’m not alone in that realization. Aaron Seaman at Somatosphere recently sampled the increasing literature on the global disparity in mental health care.

Interestingly, a lot was being written about the relationship between mental health and globalization. Again, not a problem that would have occurred to me. I generally view globalization as a good thing for international development. Many, many people have been lifted out of poverty and had their lives saved by its force. But it certainly has its downsides. As wealthy and powerful countries, such as the US, begin to spread wealth around the world, so to does our culture, and our ideas about psychology and psychiatry. Too often we forget that different cultures have different views of the mind, and that our model of psychiatry may not be as effective if we scale it up globally. Also of note, globalization is fundamentally an economic force, driven by profit. The fact that many have seen their lives improve is simply of a lucky byproduct. But when it comes to acute human needs, the profit motive is mostly lacking, and byproducts just won’t cut it.

Reference http://somatosphere.net/2014/11/global-mental-health-two-special-journal-issues.html


Portrait of a styled professional model. Theme: spa, healthcare.

When we think of the word aroma, we automatically associate it with something pleasant and then we create a certain image in our mind of what it is we smell. Many other cultures are a lot more descriptive when describing a scent. This Is what makes every culture so different.

This is supported in the article,  “What’s in an aroma? Languages with odour vocabularies” by Gregory J. Downey, an anthropologists report states that many non-Western cultures devote much greater attention to aroma than Europeans or North Americans do.

Another example used that is used is the Maniq and Jahai scent descriptors who cover a very wide range of variety but don’t cover the actual source. An example given in the article is a Maniq scent term which is linked to a very wide range of reference which talks about mushrooms, water, mud, bamboo, soil, sweat, urine. When we describe a certain smell we usually use words such as “sweet”, “strong”, or “flowery”. We never usually associate it to something specifically. The comparison of these two different cultures helps us determine why it is usually so hard for us English speaks to describe an odor and for other cultures it is so easy. Because, they have such a rich vocabulary to choose from it makes them so easy to describe something.

Describing a scent is something easy to do but for many cultures there is a specialized vocabulary which needs to be used. For many cultures that vocabulary used then leads to a more sophisticated and highly trained sensory system. Anthropologists use this example to explain that even simple everyday tasks which might very simple for one culture can be completely different for another which explain how diverse and unique every culture is.