Welcome to Anthrotopical

“So, what can you do with Anthropology?”

This is a question you either have heard or will inevitably hear in your experience as an Anthropology student. Ultimately, there are many misconceptions about Anthropology and what can be done with it; we intend to challenge some of those misconceptions by exploring the diverse nature of this discipline and its relevance to current issues.

We are two undergraduate students studying Anthropology at Durham University (one of us is joint Archaeology and Anthropology) with interests that collectively span several different branches of the discipline. While we do not, nor do we pretend to have all the answers, we have started this blog as a creative platform for us to share and apply theories, ideas and knowledge we have learned from our course to real-life topics we are interested in. Of course, this blog will never fully cover the scope of Anthropology. Why? Well, imagine Anthropology as a bit like a spider’s web, but far from a nice neat one. It more resembles a giant cobweb that has been developing for the entirety of human history, worked on by billions of spiders. That’s probably why one of our lovely lecturers (Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti) said that our lectures would create ‘informed critical confusion’. Anyway, we hope you enjoy reading and feel free to add your own thoughts!

– Haylie and Sabrina

Reflections: ‘Archaeology in the Time of Black Lives Matter’ Panel Discussion

Last week (25th June) there was a panel discussion about the current state of archaeology and its future in light of the global momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement – you can find the recorded session here.

Event information, sourced from The Society of Black Archaeologists.

I wasn’t able to make it to the live version, but I watched it today and I really recommend it! The speakers and discussion were so engaging, inspiring and insightful and I think non-archaeologists/anthropologists will find this fascinating too. Anyone with an interest in history, culture and social progress may enjoy the discussions of how to create an actively anti-racist archaeology.

This panel discussion was sponsored by the Columbia Center for ArchaeologyThe Society of Black Archaeologists and the Theoretical Archaeology Group (North America).

There were so many great points raised (I have pages and pages of notes), and here are a few that really stood out to me:

  • The unfairness to expect that those who have been subjugated should then have to bear the brunt of the anti-racist labour.
    • Departments shouldn’t ask the one Black faculty member or graduate student to pen a response to events – rather, the faculty as a whole should come together to give a response.
    • There is space for non-BIPOC people to help: critically going through your syllabus, student demography, departmental and institutional partnerships etc. is work you can do. The resources, especially in this age of the Internet, have been put out there for you.
  • Decolonise your bookshelves. Diversify your bibliography. Representation matters, not only in fiction but the photos/illustrations used in textbooks too.
  • Diversifying the popular image of archaeology. Not all archaeologists look like Indiana Jones (aka white men). Archaeology’s contributive potential to helping BIPOC communities needs to be raised in its popular image.
  • Race may be a social construct, but its impact on every aspect of BIPOC lived experiences is very, very real. Race matters. It has bodily effects.
  • Consider the back-end of your BIPOC scholarship/grant if you believe there isn’t enough ‘demand’ for it – is the environment you are making more ‘accessible’ actually toxic (e.g. a field school with a supervisor known to be racist)?
  • Ignorance about these issues at the level of higher education reflects a refusal to know. A conscious choice to brush aside these issues because they make you uncomfortable.
  • Interdisciplinarity of research and intersectionality of BIPOC queer lives. How does power and oppression change their appearance over different spatial and temporal contexts?
  • Black feminism’s importance to Black archaeology: being forced to dream beyond what is possible.
  • It is a constant learning process for everyone. Incorporate new knowledge out of love for your fellow humans.

This panel discussion made me personally reflect a lot on the diversity of the curriculum I studied at university. Looking back, I don’t remember learning about the work of Black archaeologists or much about queer archaeology (until my final year), though in anthropology we fared a bit better. I remember how mind-blowing it was when we were introduced to concepts of structural inequality, queer theory and the memorialisation of state perpetrated violence. It really altered how I see the world.

Thanks for reading! Did you attend/watch this panel discussion? Let me know any thoughts below…

New Frontiers: reflections on the 2019 Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology Conference

The weekend of September 13th-15th was full of ‘new’ things for me – pretty fitting for a conference themed around ‘New Frontiers in Archaeology’! The Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology Conference (CASA 3), held at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, was…

…my first experience leading a conference session

After coming across an interesting email detailing the theme of this year’s CASA conference, and calling for prospective session leaders to submit an abstract, I shot my shot. I emailed the CASA committee with an abstract outlining an interdisciplinary session about researching past lifestyles, with pretty robust expectations that it probably wouldn’t be accepted, but planning to attend the conference nonetheless. To my great and pleasant surprise, the committee accepted my idea and encouraged myself and Helena Muñoz-Mojado (of Leiden University) to lead a session together, as our interests overlapped. I really enjoyed this unexpected opportunity to make a new friend!

…my first experience at any conference, actually

I do think that I would’ve benefitted from attending another conference before CASA 3, just to know what to expect (in general) – to say I was terrified was an understatement. It’s all well and good planning a session in a Google Doc and emailing back and forth, it’s quite another to stand up and talk in front of a roomful of archaeologists! I have massive admiration for the delegates who presented their research; it’s tough enough just introducing the speakers and leading Q&A sessions. My headache during Day 1 (the same day as my session) was awful, but unwarranted. Everyone was so lovely – I really enjoyed meeting students from other universities (and countries!) and learning what their departments were like. I’m actually applying to the University of York for a PhD purely stemming from a great conversation I had with a postgrad student from their department! I loved seeing what other people are currently researching – I had constant ‘why-didn’t-I-specialise-in-that-field’ questions after every presentation.

…filled with fascinating research – here are two favourites:

(I apologise in advance for any slight inaccuracies in relaying their work, I’m writing this from my conference notes! Please contact the presenters if you’re interested in their research.)

  • new perspectives on the phenomenon of ‘desert kites’ in the Near East, presented by Mariam Shakhmuradyan of Yerevan State University (mariam.shakhmuradyan@gmail.com)
    • these large stone structures (2 or more long stone rows attached to an enclosure with towers) date back to as early as the Neolithic period, and the enclosures have a myriad of forms. Despite the popular theory that these ‘kites’ were hunting corrals, they’re nearly always totally devoid of organic material (as a bioarchaeologist I found this aspect the most interesting), have low walls that animals can easily leap over and escape – and out of over 5000 kites only 10 have arrowheads, one or two per site and always surface finds rather than at deeper, archaeologically significant levels. It’s possible these ‘kites’ had a cult aspect to them – and Mariam drew some very striking links between the structures and animal forms, as well as some Mesopotamian and Egyptian glyphs. Truly fascinating stuff!
A group of us discussing the desert kites after Mariam's exciting talk.
Several of us stayed behind to discuss the ‘desert kites’ further with Mariam before the conference dinner!
  • a maritime archaeological case study of two surfboards from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Hawaii, presented by Joanna Tonge of the University of Southampton (jt21g13@soton.ac.uk)
    • As an anthropologist with an interest in identity politics and the self, I found this talk to be a really interesting look into the cultural importance and material agency that Hawaiian surfboards hold for indigenous Hawaiians, tied to the social tumult taking place there in the 19th century. Decreasing surfboard size mirrored the shift from surfing as an act of displaying prowess and prestige, to surfing as an act of subversion against European imposition. Joanna also drew a very intriguing comparison between pewa repairs on surfboards to Japanese kintsugi repairs on pottery – both styles of repair add to the object’s life-history as well as augmenting its design, and may reflect a micro-scale repair of the macro-scale trauma experienced by its its relevant community, such as an earthquake or political upheaval.

Aside from these two, there were plenty of other riveting talks that you’ll soon be able to see in print!

Proceedings from CASA 3 is set to be published in 2020 with Archaeopress, with both print format and a free online download available (three cheers for open-access research!). I’m helping to edit the relevant material to my session, and I look forward to having both a useful reference text as well as a memento of a great first conference! I shall definitely be keeping an eye out for CASA 4…

20190915_124559
A hilarious piece of decor hanging in the McDonald Institute!

~ S

The Hypocrisy of Environmentally ‘Woke’ YoutTubers

Every now and then (although recently with increasing frequency) I stumble across a Youtube video by a prominent teenage or young adult ‘influencer’ on how to be more environmentally friendly. Curious about these insights and whether I could actually discover more ways I could reduce my impact on the planet, I click.

I overhear the same-old claims: use metal straws, reduce plastic usages, buy re-usable water-bottles. All excellent points, I would like to emphasise. The biggest change is, however, often to reduce animal product consumption. This, according to the expertise of these Youtubers is the single most significant way to reduce your impact on the environment. Again, this is an excellent point. We can all reduce our animal product consumption, as the damaging effect of these industries on the global climate is well-known. For a moment, however, I take a step back. I realise that whilst the YouTuber has claimed we all need to reduce our consumption to help the planet, they have held up a plastic, reusable cup, (obviously great stuff) but branded with a fast fashion clothing brand. Perhaps this a metaphor for the general hypocrisy I have observed with individuals or many ‘influencers’ across this platform. I dive a little deeper. Upon a more thorough examination of their Youtube content, the term ‘haul’ pops up rather often. When a large number of clothes either purchased or given by a sponsor are rattled through, bargain prices and all. An important thing to emphasise is that these are often from fast fashion companies. This is a trend I have noticed across a lot of Youtuber platforms that is a rather disturbing one. These hauls are almost always large (sometimes even labelled ‘huge’), frequent and are often themes in regard to the many holidays they are going on during the year. I find myself time and time again asking the same question: but didn’t you just tell me I needed to be more environmentally friendly?

I have noticed this consistent lack of critique of the many fast fashion brands that these YouTubers promote and purchase from, as well as a frequent ‘travel’ vlog of their 10th holiday in the year. I do want to add that this is not all Youtubers as many often promote sustainable brands. Additionally, I don’t want to by any means claim that going on holiday is morally wrong. However, I do think it is important to raise the question: why lecture your audience about reducing their plastic usage, while you go on holiday so frequently, rarely disclosing whether or not to use certain schemes like carbon offsetting to reduce your impact from travelling? I do not wish to get into this issue further, but I hope the main point of hypocrisy is pretty obvious. I don’t want to shame these Youtubers. Their version of ‘environmentally friendly’ is nevertheless problematic. It is that which is most digestible to their lifestyle. With the money that some of them have, it’s much easier to buy a metal water bottle at £20 and eat delicious and nutritious vegan food and be ‘environmental’ in the process. Comparably, it’s much less digestible to consider how frequent travelling and excessive purchasing and promotion of fast fashion companies are equally problematic. Maybe even more so than plastic usage, often for viewers that might have little choice over how their food is packaged and what food they eat. I do want to emphasise, these YouTubers have certainly done a lot to raise wider awareness of being environmentally conscious across the platform. So, kudos to them. Importantly, their efforts are great, and we can always do more to be environmentally friendly and they make great attempts. That is something that should not be taken away from.

The main issue I have, however, is the promotion and purchasing of fast fashion brands by Youtubers that emphasise their efforts to reduce their environmental impact that is a frequent theme in their videos. Why, if you care so much about the environment and ethics do you tell me in one video to be vegan and use metal straws, yet a week later you are showing off your most recent haul from the next biggest fast fashion brand (that may or may not have sponsored you)?. I urge all of these YouTubers to perhaps take a step back and be critical of their consumption habits in this regard. It is particularly problematic to claim you are vegan for the environment when your excessive consumption of fast fashion (probably more than the average consumer) fuels an industry that is one of the most polluting on earth and yet, you don’t have a single video on this. I am tired of being lectured about animal welfare and ethics of the animal product industry when you buy or promote clothes from a fast fashion brand that uses sweatshops, does not pay a decent living wage, violates human rights and contributes to deaths and illnesses from working conditions and poor treatment. How do you think it is fair to care so much about the rights of animals when you care so little about the rights of human beings that make your clothes? You have a very minimal understanding of being environmentally-friendly and ethics if you believe food from animal products to be the only industry on earth that is unethical, kills and pollutes. Your clothes are doing it too.

Furthermore, I have recently seen one YouTuber promoting their own active-wear line that is sustainable and ethical. This is excellent news for sure, especially as it promotes subscribers and followers of this particular YouTuber to consider where their clothing comes from. I raise, however, another issue with this. Isn’t it ironic that the one brand of clothing they promote that is sustainable is their own? The one they will be profiting from. It takes just 5 minutes to go back over their Instagram and Youtube videos to find them continuing to purchase and promote products from unethical, unsustainable fast fashion brands. Surely, you now know about the damaging effects of the fast fashion industry on the planet because you made a whole active-wear line to mitigate this. So why not be consistent with your brand promotion rather than urging subscribers to buy from the one that you created and benefit from? When the planet is at stake, shouldn’t your profits come second? For instance, why have you never promoted sustainable active-wear prior to the creation of your own brand? This just makes very little sense to me if the motives behind a lot of this are exclusively to be environmentally friendly like these individuals claim.

This is not an attempt to say these Youtubers or influencers are being terrible human beings. Their efforts to promote greater awareness of sustainability and environmentalism are excellent. However, the task of saving the environment is far more nuanced than I fear they make out. Doing something will always be better than doing nothing. But, for those who are privileged to have a large platform whereby they can promote more environmentally-friendly behaviours, I urge that they perhaps consider how being more environmentally-friendly for them will not always be digestible, nor fit within the comfort zone of their current lifestyle.

~ H

60,000 March in Poland

This is being written a day after 60,000 neo-nationalists have marched through streets in Poland calling for a “white Europe”. To an anthropology student, this is terrifying. Not only does this symbolically take place in Poland, the site of so many Nazi atrocities towards Jewish individuals during WWII. But also, this signifies a disturbing trend in neo-nationalism, xenophobia and far-right politics that has swept Europe. This can no longer go ignored or denied.

In the midst of apathetic governments rejecting their responsibility and disparaging the individual, anthropology offers significant analysis, an analysis that governments might have missed. Anthropology looks deeper. This behaviour is unacceptable, but not unexplained and its origins must be considered in order to understand why it has emerged.

Europe has experienced significant political, economic and social challenges that have resulted in an inflation of anxiety, paranoid politics and dissatisfaction with governments. The September 11 attacks in 2001 marked a change in global politics; the narrative was generated that it was, as Bush stated, the “axis of evil” versus the US and its allies, the ‘fighters of freedom’. A very specific narrative was generated about Islam being ‘the other’, ‘the enemy’, which has only increased a decade later, despite attempts to refute this. Additionally, the rising power of corporations, austerity in Britain, the refugee crisis and the global financial crash have left populations abandoned by governments and misrepresented by politicians. The defence of national culture, not only by individuals but reinforced by the governments themselves through programmes of forced integration has fortified specific ideas of ethnic nationalities. These coincide with the cultural practices synonymous with the countries past and thus, resist the unregulated change associated with globalisation.

Ultimately, this has produced conditions whereby the facts don’t matter, the emotions do. People’s lives have been overhauled by global events they cannot control. They are fighting back. However, often instead of resisting the structures of power that they cannot see, the ones that deceive and manipulate the public. They turn to their neighbours, ethnic minorities that they can see, and that they often fight unfairly with for limited resources. This is not justifying the vulgar actions of these neo-nationalists, but offering a contextual framework at which one might take a closer look. It is not always about nationalism, but about neglect and misrepresentation. If these people are able to feel more powerful by being racist, they will do just that.

By Haylie

Welcome to Anthrotopical

“So, what can you do with Anthropology?”

This is a question you either have heard or will inevitably hear in your experience as an Anthropology student. Ultimately, there are many misconceptions about Anthropology and what can be done with it; we intend to challenge some of those misconceptions by exploring the diverse nature of this discipline and its relevance to current issues.

We are three undergraduate students studying Anthropology at Durham University (one of us is joint Archaeology and Anthropology) with interests that collectively span several different branches of the discipline. While we do not, nor do we pretend to have all the answers, we have started this blog as a creative platform for us to share and apply theories, ideas and knowledge we have learned from our course to real-life topics we are interested in. Of course, this blog will never fully cover the scope of Anthropology. Why? Well, imagine Anthropology as a bit like a spider’s web, but far from a nice neat one. It more resembles a giant cobweb that has been developing for the entirety of human history, worked on by billions of spiders. That’s probably why one of our lovely lecturers (Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti) said that our lectures would create ‘informed critical confusion’. Anyway, we hope you enjoy reading and feel free to add your own thoughts!

  • Sabrina and Haylie