Around the Web Digest: Week of March 8

Beware the Ides of March, pansies. The dedicated anthropology blogs were a bit quieter than usual this week but to make up for it, anthropologists were featured in a variety of other spaces. As always, if you come across anything good or want to bring an anthro blog to my attention, email me at

Let me take a minute to boost the Savage Minds Reader Survey (after all, survey data shows that people who take surveys are nicer and smarter than people who don’t!).

This is a January post, and it’s not even written by an anthropologist. Bear with me. It blew up my feeds this week when it was republished by The Guardian, so I think it’s worth a look. The title is pretty self-explanatory: Don’t Call them Expats, They are Immigrants like Everyone Else

In an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, anthropologist Ted Fisher argues that self-help books may be wrong and happiness may come from fulfilling social roles and aspirations: Why One Scholar Says That Happiness Isn’t a Personal Responsibility

Anthropologist David Price calls out the use of deterministic models of culture to “manage” cultural difference in counterinsurgency efforts on political blog Fabius Maximus. A provocative quote: “Most prominent is the absence of any systemic discussion of how difficult it is to bring about engineered culture change, there is no mention of applied anthropologists[‘] failures to get people to do simple things (like recycling, losing weight, reducing behaviors associated with the spread of HIV, etc.)[:] basic things that are arguably in their own self-interest”: We Weaponized Anthropology. Why Didn’t It Work?

Along the same lines, Erin Taylor summarizes a discussion of how anthropologists have contributed to (or been sidelined from) economic conversations on Anthropology News: Economic Anthropology, Economics and the Social Sciences 

Here’s my attempt at reaching the physical/biological anthropology audience with this summary of a talk by primatologist Frans de Waal on primate empathy and reconciliation: Monkeys for Equal Pay (And Every Cat for Itself) 

I was really tempted to introduce this one, about how many of us may share a limited set of common male ancestors, with a joke. But we’re all better than that. Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog summarizes: Bottleneck in Human Y-Chromosomes in the Last 10,000 Years

Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog has been particularly active this week. This short post links to a study (full text available) that used DNA analysis to determine the ethnic origins of 17th century enslaved Africans: DNA of 17th Century African Slaves from the Caribbean

Anthropologist Kelly D. Alley’s work on the corruption in the environmental impact assessment process in India is featured in this Economy Lead article: US Scientist Questions Green Nod to Indian Hydel Projects

UPDATED to include this Allegra post on experiments in progressive education: We Are Not Containers! On Experimental Objects, Past Struggles and Alternatives for Education 

Finally, there’s a conversation about the destruction of archaeological heritage going on at the New York Times: Deploring ISIS, Destroyer of a Civilization’s Art

See you next week!

Rebecca Nelson

Rebecca Nelson is the executive director of América Solidaria U.S. She recently graduated with a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on volunteer tourism in Guatemala and how it is opening up new avenues for tourists and hosts to develop more cosmopolitan understandings of the world (as well as opening up new forms of friction over the circulation of knowledge).

8 thoughts on “Around the Web Digest: Week of March 8

  1. Re “Don’t call them expats.” While it may be absurd and offensive that white folks are called “expats” while those of other colors are called “immigrants,” the article misses important nuances in the “expat” label. At least here in Japan, the term “expat” refers specifically to executives who move around the world, typically taking a series of two to five-year assignments in a series of different countries. These are only a subset of non-Japanese who live and work in Japan. A friend once described the situation of “gaijin” [outside people] in Japan as an old-fashioned sugar-coated donut. The expats live in the sugar. They quickly disappear. Then there are those who live in the cake. We have come to Japan for all sorts of reasons but have found niches in the local economy. We are happily settled here, often for life. And then there are those in the hole. Most often people of color from third-world countries, more rarely from Eastern Europe or the former USSR, they find work doing dirty, difficult, dangerous or simply low-paid jobs that others—Japanese as well as foreign expats and those of us in the cake—are unwilling to do. There are, in addition, large numbers of Koreans and Chinese whose families have lived in Japan for generations but never become Japanese citizens. A handful of other foreigners also fit this description. In Yokohama, we have a smattering of people who retain citizenship in the India, the U.S. or Europe, who trace their descent to ancestors who started businesses here after the port was opened in 1859.

  2. Johnmccreery, that’s something I was thinking about as well… I agree with the author of the post that the term “expat” has been applied in a biased way, but I think the term “expat” conveys a certain transience that “immigrant” does not. I was wondering if “expat” could be used for those who are neither tourists nor longer-term immigrants. The term “expat” also expresses a kind of privilege by suggesting that the move isn’t permanent… it’s implying that they retain the ability to pick up and return to their home countries should things get difficult in their new home.

  3. The whole expat question is tricky. Here’s something from the Wall Street Journal that gets into similar issues:

    I worked with a lot of “expats” in Baja. The term is common, but contested. Not everyone likes it. One person stopped me one day and told me she hated the term, since she is still considers herself connected to her native country (the US). Other people are ok with the term–there are lots of posts and blogs dedicated to expat life in Mexico and around the world. In Baja, ironically, many people I talked with actually preferred the term “gringo,” which was originally a derogatory term (and still is to some).

    But I do think it’s worthwhile thinking about why some people are called expats and others aren’t. It is about transience? Or ability to move whenever you want? Class? I do think there is some privilege in there.

  4. It could be an interesting multi-sited, collaborative research project to explore the usage of “expat” in different parts of the world. Reading Ryan’s comment, I was reminded that Ruth and I know “expats” who live in Mexico who are not at all the kind of expat to which I referred, the executives who move from country to country on two to five-year assignments. Our friends in Mexico are Americans who have retired in Mexico in a place called Ajijic near Guadalajara. They are people who enjoyed successful middle to upper middle class careers in the United States and decided to retire to Mexico because houses and household help are cheaper. Are they expats in local terms? I can’t say for sure.

    Coming back, then, to Japan, I notice that the implications of “expat” have changed during the years since Ruth and I moved here in 1980. The mid to late 80s were the years of the economic bubble, when the real estate value of the land on which the Imperial Palace sits in the middle of Tokyo was said to be equal in value to the whole state of California. Then “expat” implied “the expat package”: a $10,000 per month apartment in an up-scale, mid-city neighborhood, private international school for the kids, the Tokyo American Club for the family, all on top of a mid-six figure income in US$. A typical expat was a senior executive in his forties or fifties with a wife and two or three teenage children. The “expat wife” was a pillar of the Club and the church and not infrequently a caller on crisis counseling lines venting about how she hated being stuck in Japan. Those days are over. Today’s expat is likely to be in his or her 30s, the children are newborn, in kindergarten or in elementary school. The trailing spouse may be the husband. Incomes are lower and while “the package” may include housing and a bonus, the school OR the club OR the family vacation in Phuket or Bali has to be paid for personally. These perks are no longer automatically covered by the company. There is an undercurrent of anxiety as well. Restructuring can make the breadwinner redundant and, while yes, you can live well, you are always wondering when someone will take it all away. Expat-oriented clubs and churches are having to cut back and operate on reduced budgets. Charities are having to scramble for volunteers and donors. Being an expat isn’t what it used to be.

  5. I’ve always found the prospect of “expat” research fascinating in Mainland China. There term doesn’t really exist here since non-citizens are described by a similar “gaijin” term, as in “laowai” (old outsider) or “waiguoren” (foreigner). But these terms are definitely not used for non-citizens with Chinese ancestry who are called “huaqiao” (overseas Chinese…”hua” is Chinese and “qiao” is actually bridge). The issue of “huaqiao” has been a major feature of the Anthropology of China since Skinner’s work in S.E. Asia. But the study of “laowai” is still quite under researched as far as I know. Other than issues of race, ethnicity and class, I think there is a level of bureaucratic influence here as well which doesn’t easily allow for the kind of “cake” foreigners John is describing for Japan. Unless you are married to a Chinese national, it is really not possible to stay in one place in China for more than five years at a time. After working in one place for five years, foreign nationals are required to return home for a year before they can re-apply for a new work visa. Holders of Business visas are generally forced to exit the country at most every 90 days (in very rare instances every 180 days). Additionally I believe the U.S. government requires that citizens return home every five years, although I can’t remember what the penalty is if you don’t. For China, settling down or immigrating is not a practical possibility even for spouses married to Chinese nationals. Historically, citizenship has rarely been granted and even permanent residency is a pipe dream unless you know very well connected individuals in the government. Fairly recently, brides from Myanmar who live with their Chinese national husbands have been issued special “blue books” which allows them to fairly smoothly move between the Myanmar and Chinese border to visit family. But that is an exception to the rule. These kinds of bureaucratic elements naturally lead to a higher degree of movement in this particular population.
    I should note though that I have no idea if this holds true for Taiwan. Hong Kong definitely seems to have an Expat vs. Immigrant concept and it is primarily based on issues of class, race and ethnicity.
    Good suggestion about a multi-sited ethnography on this topic!

  6. Good stuff, Eddie. Where I did work in Baja California, the only ones who use the term “expat” are the expats themselves. It’s a self-identifier, but not one that everybody likes. Local Mexican residents do not use the term. Instead they call people “extranjeros,” “americanos,” “gringos,” and other such terms.

    For getting into the anthro/sociology of expats a good place to start is Erik Cohen’s “Expatriate Communities,” which was published in 1977. Cohen’s work was definitely useful for me, especially when he talks about expats within wider processes of “discovery” and subsequent development.

    I agree that I multi-sited study of expats would be great!

  7. Many thanks John, I met James a few years ago, super nice guy and has done excellent research in mainland China for many years. I was not aware of this paper, looks sharp!
    Thanks to Ryan as well, for the Cohen recommendation!

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