Around the Web

Around the Web: Anthropology, culture, blogs, news, and internet weirdness baked fresh each Monday at Savage Minds.

General-ly speaking: This fall I’m teaching General Anthropology for the first time in like five years, so I’m on the lookout for new ideas to spice up a course that, in all likelihood, is the only exposure most undergraduates will have to the discipline. Interesting assignments like this project in web design about students’ international travel experiences could be one antidote to the standard issue essay assignment. In my intro classes I always forward a strong argument against race thinking, but I’m a little apprehensive about using Neanderthal genomics to debunk the idea of race. It sounds like an interesting idea but I’m a little unsure about it. Maybe someone in the comments section can speak to this? In place of race thinking, anthro textbooks trot out a short list of go-to examples of human variation as rooted in evolutionary adaption to environment. One of these classic examples is how populations that live in high altitudes are barrel chested and can make better use of the thin air. pointed me to a May 13, 2010, publication in the journal Science that backs up these claims with genetic studies of Tibetans. Last but not least, the highs and lows of the new “nature” documentary Babies: The Film are well covered by Teaching Anthropology. The video preview reminded me somewhat of the beautiful Material World and Hungry Planet books (the latter I’ve used in my Food and Culture class) which also have their limitations but are still very thoughtful conversation starters.

There’s no accounting for Tastebook: Facebookers will remember that not long ago one could “become a fan” of this and that (I became a fan of Duke losing), but recently that has been replaced by the same “like” button used to comment on friend’s updates and photos. The International Culture and Cognition blog asks an interesting question, why make our preferences public? One answer, the blogger suggests, is that the user builds cultural capital by associating themselves with certain products or celebrities, but I’m not buying it. I’m going to pick Freud over Bourdieu in this instance and claim that clicking the “like” button is about the pleasure principle. People enjoy hitting “like” and that’s what motivates them to participate in its narrow evaluation of everything. But the bigger question may be: can social theory explain why there is no “dislike” button? (Or is it simply that that would make Facebook too much like Digg?)

Damn dams: Terry Turner reports, via the blog Anthropologyworks, that the Brazilian government has renewed efforts to dam major tributaries of the Amazon in the Xingu Valley. The article offers compelling reasons against progressing with the dam project in terms of the loss of indigenous land reserves and biodiversity, but its the local and national social movements that have coalesced around opposition to the dam that is really fascinating to the anthropological observer. This feature length story is briskly written. A good read.

Late(r) capitalism: Around the time of the Enron collapse questioning the ideology of free market capitalism gained some legitimacy outside of the anti-globalization social movements and academic left. Then in subsequent years that furor died down somewhat, Sarbanes-Oxely didn’t seem to have any teeth, and it was business as usual. Now the Great Recession, the Greek debt crisis, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have brought some of those questions back to the popular imagination. Three links on this subject were forwarded to me all last week: an exerpt from the book Ill Fares the Land , a David Harvey for laypeople type essay in Salon , and a provocative graph showing increasing disparities in wealth distribution between Whites and Blacks. The theme here is that “the people” are sick of the Wall Street fatcats and want a return to American industrial prowess. You can color me skeptical. The recent victory of Rand Paul in the Republican primary for Senate in KY shows that free market fundamentalism is alive and well. This current crisis is a blip, its going to take more, much more, to force ideological change in the US.

Baseball Fandom: Baseball is one of those things I just don’t get. I mean I’ve been to a few minor league games – the Durham Bulls, back when I was at Chapel Hill – and its fun to drink beer in the sun with your friends, but I certainly don’t see the appeal of watching the sport on television. Regardless I enjoyed this insightful reflection on being a NY Mets fan. Why do people root for a team that consistantly dissappoints? Why do fans chose to identify with a team that keeps getting beat?

Maps of the Middle Ages: Here is a cool article in the Washington Post about a conference sponsored by the Library of Congress on portolan maps of the sixteenth century. What beautiful objects!

This week in the future: Anthropology. Science Fiction. Two great tastes that go great together? I give you African Cyberpunk. If you can’t make it to class, send your Anybot to deliver the lecture, but don’t blame me if your students send Anybots to take notes. Paging Lawnmower Man, we’re getting closer to immersive virtual reality (I hope the cognitive anthroblogs pick this up). Oh, and artificial life is now a possibility too. “Naturally I would use artificial life to clean up environmental pollution and cure diseases, but of course my first order of business would be creating a woman that looks like Kelly Le Brock in Weird Science.” Just be sure to watch out for those six-legged timber cutters, though I’ve heard they’re perfectly safe. At least until Skynet is up. Yep, the future’s going to be a pretty strange place. And its where we’ll be spending the rest of our lives.

Not Taking this Lying Down: Check out this collection of photo images of discarded mattresses. Hey! I’ve got some of those from my fieldwork too! Great minds think alike, eh?

Ahh… good times, good times.

Seen something around the web that you would like to share with the Savage Minds community? Email me at

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

5 thoughts on “Around the Web

  1. Re: Dislike button, The Like button can be used by Facebook to court advertisers; the dislike button, not so much (“I’m not advertising here, 1,393,583 people don’t like us!”). As for why people click it, it’s the same reason private communications (“Hey awesome party!!!1!”) are written to people’s public walls: it shows everyone that you’re a active social person. It’s a public performance of your own importance in the world which helps build our social connections.

    Liking things via button has an added social benefit: it helps people broadcast their views in order to attract/confirm friends of similar ideology. The latest American Scientist as a great related article on forming kithgroups: people want to form, and do better in, groups of likeminded peers. The Like button is a simple tool which is used to satisfy this need in our collective brains.

  2. i see where you’re going with the “pleasure principle” thing vs. cultural capital, but i have to respectfully disagree. Users already know what they like (and dislike, even if Facebook won’t give them that outlet), clicking on a “Like” button i don’t think would give them much pleasure… does your acknowledgment of something you already know give you pleasure? i like Eddie Izzard and have “become a fan” or “Liked” him on FB, but that action didn’t really give me pleasure.

    i think the “Like” button is cultural capital, and also conspicuous consumption/production. Few people keep Facebook profiles for their own sake, instead Facebook is of course part of Social Media, and it takes more than one person to be social. FB profiles are more about showing the world (or at least your Friends) who you are, and part of it is status building as well. Therefore you like certain things because you know your Friends (note the capital there) will know you’re cool/with it/etc. Depending on the “me” i’m allowing my Friends to see, i may not admit to my love of the Bee Gees because it wouldn’t seem “nifty.”

    i think the more interesting question is how real FB profiles are, in the end. But that’s me. 🙂 (i’m slowly dragging myself back into scholarly thought after a year away, be gentle with me oh fellow savage minds :))

  3. I forgot to thank all my friends for sending me links over the past week. I really will figure out a methodology for acknowledging all the folks that contribute to this column.

    And thanks for reading!

  4. I would like to encourage you to address the (non)issue of race in your class. As you stated, for many students this is the only exposure they will have to anthropology and I think dispelling the race myth will stick with them long after they have forgotten about what make us different from Neanderthals. If you teach them that race is a cultural construct, rather than a biological fact, it will spark more debate and, potentially, in the greater scheme of things, create more change. I believe we need to begin to appreciate the similarities between people before we start to dissect the differences between us. That is what I have always valued most about my education in anthropology.

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