Category Archives: Blog post

Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 3

Part 3: Legality (or lack thereof)

(In the last post, I promised to start this one with some explanation of what goes into ayahuasca that makes it the concern of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, and why some people in the U.S. can drink it legally while others can’t. Here goes.)

Ayahuasca is most commonly defined in the literature both lay and academic as a brew made from the combination of two plants: a vine, ayahuasca (Banistseriopsis caapi); and a leaf, usually chacruna (Psychotria viridis) but sometimes chaliponga, chagroponga or yáji (Diplopterys cabrerana). Although this definition obscures the myriad historical and contemporary iterations of brews that use the ayahuasca vine as a base, the ayahuasca-chacruna dyad is the basis for the spread of ayahuasca usage in the Amazon and around the world.

The leaves that go into the ayahuasca brew contain a substance, dimethyltryptamine or DMT, that has a number of interesting characteristics. It is produced in the healthy human body and brain, and recent research (here, here, and here) suggests that it modulates the immune system and may provide other biologically protective functions as well. DMT is also produced in numerous other plant and animal species. When extracted, purified, and smoked (or injected, as it was in a series of clinical experiments that jump-started the current wave of psychedelic research), DMT produces prodigious if short-lived hallucinations. When ingested orally, however, it does nothing at all. That’s because an enzyme in the human digestive system, monoamine oxidase or MAO, breaks down the DMT before it can get into the bloodstream and through the blood-brain barrier.

On the other hand, ayahuasca the vine (and subsequently the brew) contains substances that inhibit the monoamine oxidase (we call them mono-amine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs), thus rendering the DMT orally active and, therefore, hallucinogenic.

The legal problem arises over the fact that DMT is a Schedule 1 substance, a classification reserved for drugs that the US government defines as having no legitimate medical use and a high potential for abuse. Possession of Schedule 1 substances is illegal. Therefore, possession of ayahuasca is, ostensibly, illegal as well.

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Remembering Teresia Teaiwa: An Open Access Bibliography

Scholars of the Pacific are mourning the loss of Teresia Teaiwa this week. Teresia was an iconic figure in Pacific Studies: A poet and critic, dedicated teacher, and determined institution builder. Teresia was the director of the Va‘aomanū Pasifika (Pacific Studies Center) at Victoria University in Wellington, the first and only place (afaik) where you can earn a Ph.D. in Pacific Studies.

I only had a chance to meet Teresia a few times, and I can’t speak to her life the way that so many others can, except to say that she was an impressive figure in every sense whether it be reading poetry or rethinking Pacific Studies. She had mana. She was a trenchant critic of colonialism and other things, but in person she was hardly austere or intimidating. She was an approachable person, down to earth, with a sense of humor. I think in her mixture of dignity and a willingness to laugh she was deeply Pacific.  So many people counted on so many more years of work and inspiration from her. I can’t say I knew her enough to mourn her the way her family and friends do, but her presence and project impacted everyone who ever met her or read her work. Just being in the same room was enough. She was on a journey, and still is. But we had hoped to spend more time traveling with her then we were allowed.

Teresia was a prolific author, and much of her work is open access. However, google searches for her work produce a maze of citations that is hard to find your way around in.  I feel like my way to contribute to her memory is to help provide a guide to her work which can help future readers stop digging through search results and start reading Teresia. What follows is a quick bibliography of work that is available open access. I’ve included both poetry and academic publications. I’ve linked to stable repositories as much as possible so the information on this page will age well. Many of these links will take you to a repository entry and you will then have to click through to the PDF. Others are online journals which lack librarian-friendly meta-data. In all cases I’ve tried to give reasonable citations but I’m sure there are irregularities in the format that I’ve used. There are also probably typos. Also, please note that these are just the open access texts Continue reading

Rogue: Scholarly Responsibility in the Time of Trump

What if scholars need to go rogue? If anthropologists need to go rogue? In the USA right now, we are not in normal times, but in a new period of attack on academia and science, on facts and funding, on communities with whom anthropologists conduct their research, and on communities to which anthropologists belong. Our scholarly knowledge is increasingly needed in new political ways. But, how do we act effectively and with an awareness of the issues and risks involved?

On Saturday, February 4, 2017, I gave a talk at Duke University as part of their “Precarious Publics” workshop. My invitation was to speak about public anthropology and the current political moment. The initial title of my talk, decided upon after the election but before the inauguration, was “Political Crisis and Scholarly Responsibility, or, Public Anthropology in the Time of Trump.” After the inauguration, things changed, and so did my title. Amidst not only the Muslim ban/immigration ban, but also the attack on climate change science, including the banning of the open, public sharing of scientific knowledge, and in some cases, the erasure of scientific research conducted during the period of the Obama administration, it was no longer sufficient to simply consider “public” anthropology. Instead, along with colleagues in numerous governmental offices and institutions—from the National Park Service to the EPA to NASA to the White House itself—it was time to think of a rogue anthropology. The new title for my talk, delivered on the sixteenth day of the Trump presidency (and posted here on the sixty-first day) was: “If On the Sixteenth Day … : Rogue Anthropology.” Continue reading

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Stefano Portelli. Stefano is a cultural anthropologist with a doctorate in Urban Studies, his primary fieldsites are a barrio of Barcelona and the Ostia neighborhood of Rome, where the issue of mafia is crucial. Starting September 2017, he will be a Marie-Curie fellow for Leicester University’s Department of Geography.

Black flags from Rome: Mafia and Isis, as before Mafia and Al Qaeda
by Stefano Portelli

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre of January 2015, some social networks mostly based in Southern Italy published an uncanny piece of news, that bounced back on the web immediately after the much more deadly attacks in November. The Sicilian mafia boss Totò Riina, from the maximum security jail where he is secluded since 1993, was reported answering to the fear of terrorism spreading across Italy, by suggesting that if the Italian state really wanted to defeat Isis, they should release him from prison, and let him do. “Ci penso io” is a sentence that could condense the mafioso’s claim of being able to deal with the Islamic state: a very ambiguous formula in Italian, as anthropologists know. It entails taking charge of somebody else’s problem through one’s connections and savoir faire, but without disclosing the means. It creates a relation of gratefulness tinged with admiration – the basis for dependency and patronage.

The piece of news was certainly a hoax, as some of the websites themselves suggested. Still, that same January some newspapers echoed it in a more ‘respectable’ form, by quoting an interview with an anonymous secret agent, who literally said: “Terrorist leakings are much more difficult in the South [of Italy], where there is somebody who controls or even manages the territory”. A title was “Half of the country is safe (under the Mafia)”, the other “Isis only fears the Mafia”. In November the idea gained even more popularity, when the online version of an influential weekly magazine built a whole article on it, quoting another source from the intelligence community who declared that “the real protection” for Italy against Isis is “the indirect one wielded by criminal organizations”. “The Mafia succeeds in opposing terrorism”, was the title. The thesis was promptly rejected by an Italian left-wing journalist, but its very presence in public discourse reveals a rather unexplored consequence of the terrorist threat. Fear quickly evokes national cohesion, but can reach the point of crossing the boundary of what is publicly admitted, into the realm of the unspeakable, and of the obscure.

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Falling in love with @MerriamWebster in the era of Trump (and his budget proposals)

I grew up with dictionaries. I have had my own dictionary for as long as I can remember. Even now, when I walk by one of those BIG dictionaries on a pedestal in the library, with the leather binding and almost translucent thin paper, I will run my finger down the page and read the words. I am usually looking for some word I haven’t heard of, or an etymology of a word I was unaware of, but curious about, and sometimes just to remind myself of words I already know. There continues to be something alluring about the book, and the form of the book as a vessel of knowledge.

Because of this intimate, longstanding affair with books, I have to admit to being slow to commit to any one dictionary online. My searches for meaning online have become more opportunistic, focused, yet strangely scattered, and entirely dependent upon where in the world I am when I am searching and which search engine I am using. The variety did not bother me because there was nothing particular about any of the online dictionary platforms, they could have all been the same because they felt the same. And then last fall, I saw Merriam-Webster across a crowded twitter-scape, and I caught my breath and thought, I never knew how much we needed a dictionary in our social lives at this moment. They won me over with tweets like:

We’re seeing a spike for both ‘ombre’ and ‘hombre’. Not the same thing. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hombre …

and

*whispers into the void* In contemporary use, fact is understood to refer to something with actual existence. https://www.merriam-webster.com/news-trend-watch/conway-alternative-facts-20170122 …

I went from being an occasional user of @MerriamWebster to subscribing and following them. On March 16 I recognized my growing need to touch base with the dictionary as I read the FY18 Budget proposal from the White House. As I looked through it, excavating the many meanings embedded in words used, I felt like I was engaged in some paranoid action, but it was the best way not to panic and gave me a feeling of control through words. I found myself thinking at various points during my read of the budget proposal: words have multiple meanings and interpretations; words can combat words; we just need a good argument made of specific words; words, words, words… (although to be fair, the cynic in me rolled her eyes at the idea that the current White House even cared about words).

It is probably the only thing I do have access to, words and arguments. But where and how those words are used, needs to be reassessed and re-imagined (for example, see a recent post by Alex on intervening on Wikipedia here). I don’t think we’ve (collectively as Anthropologists) have figured it out yet, but @MerriamWebster has hit their stride.

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Open Access and Anthro in Community Colleges: HELLZ YES.

I was originally going to title this post #OA & @SACC : HELLZ YES, but I was afraid that would be too hard to understand. But what isn’t too hard to understand is the bang-up job that the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges is doing  to advance open access in anthropology. First, they create Flip The Portfolio, a website asking the AAA to develop a five year plan to go open access. And second, they are getting ready to drop the first (afaik) open access intro anthropology textbook at the end of the month. Bam. Continue reading

Resistance, Hegemony, Violence, Empire: The Next #AnthReadIn on March 24, 2017

By: Paige West and J.C. Salyer

This month the Anthropology Read In (#AnthReadIn) will move our collective focus to the articulation of United States Empire, environmental violence, and the dynamics of resistance. On March 24 (the third Friday of the month) we will come together to read the following pieces: the Introduction to Alyosha Goldstein’s edited volume “Formations of United States Colonialisms” (Duke 2014), the Introduction to Rob Nixon’s “Slow Violence” (Harvard 2011), and an excerpt from “Poor People’s Movements and the Structuring of Protest” by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward.

Taken together these three pieces guide us to towards an understanding of how the United States became a global hegemonic force, how that force and the structures of capital behind and within it came to override the rights and needs of global citizens with regard to the environment, and the complex dynamics of how politically marginalized people resist multiple forms of domination and oppression.

These readings are meant to elucidate the deeper historical context of Trump administration’s policies without diminishing the uniqueness of the challenges posed by the brutal onslaught of the administration’s revanchist campaign against the rights of indigenous people, immigrants, minorities, and the poor. Thus, we want to highlight that to act in the present moment requires that we acknowledge and understand that the historical precedents that have allowed for a phenomenon such as Trump have for a long time been a far greater burden for marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed peoples. At the same time, the current policies threaten to ravage the environment on a global level and dispossess people – economically, socially, and politically – on a disastrously unprecedented scale and demand unity in condemnation and resistance. Thus, we must recognize that to resist Trump now, requires us to address the crushing socioeconomic inequality that preceded this moment and generate a movement that does not merely long for a time before Trump but demands a future of equality and justice heretofore unrealized.

Now, a short reminder of how this works: On the third Friday of every month for the next four years (or as short or long as necessary), using the new #AnthReadIn on Twitter and utilizing the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/170068806806067/ we come together in person and virtually to read, think, and discuss. The event is co sponsored by Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Environment and Society, and Political and Legal Anthropology, based on hundreds of suggestions from anthropologists, and conceptualized initially and curated by Paige West and J. C. Salyer.

 

Paige West is Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University

JC Salyer is Term Professor of Practice, Barnard College

Editing Wikipedia > Writing Letters to the New York Times

I copied this from the verge. I have no idea what the rights are or who the creator is. Sorry!

Various bits of social media began vibrating rapidly recently when it was discovered that white supremacists had fooled Google into providing inaccurate information about Boas and cultural relativism. The situation is now apparently resolved, but it isn’t a new problem. Old-timey internet veterans will remember that martinlutherking.org has been run by Stormfront for, like, decades. But this latest kerfuffle should give us the opportunity to think about our priorities as anthropologists writing for the general public today. In a previous post, I argued that there is a difference between the older ‘heroic’ public anthropology and ‘new’, more important public anthropology. Today I want to expand on this point and emphasize that we need shift our conception of public anthropology away from older, moribund genres and to newer, more important, but less familiar ways of reaching the public.

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Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 2

Part 2: The New Ayahuasca Churches

Yesterday I sat in on a webinar sponsored by ICEERS (the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service) and organized by anthropologist Bia Labate. Entitled “Myths and Realities about the Legality of Ayahuasca in the USA,” the webinar featured three experts on the subject. The first was Jeffrey Bronfman, a leader of the União do Vegetal church in the US whose shipment of ayahuasca (the UDV calls it hoasca) was seized in 1999, leading to a protracted court battle and, eventually, a supreme court decision in favor of the church’s right to use the tea as their sacrament. The second was Rob Heffernan, member of the Santo Daime church (which also uses ayahuasca as a sacrament) and chair of its legal committee. The third was J. Hamilton Hudson, a recent graduate of the Tulane law school who has been following legal developments surrounding ayahuasca-using groups who are affiliated with neither of the aforementioned churches.

The webinar—and the series of which it is a part—are a response to the apparent confusion regarding the legal status of ayahuasca in the United States. This confusion, and some of the factors contributing to it, came to light over the past year and a half with the rise and fall of a group called Ayahuasca Healings, the self-proclaimed “first public legal ayahuasca church in the United States.” Also known as Ayahuasca USA and Ayahuasca Healings Native American Church (AHNAC), AH is one of a number of groups who use ayahuasca in a neo-shamanic setting and, more importantly, who claim that they have the legal right to do so. Unfortunately for AH, they don’t, and a friendly letter from the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) was enough to finally convince them of that fact—at least for now.

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Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Christina Callicott.

I’m guessing that by now most of my readers will have heard of this stuff called “ayahuasca.” Everyone from Stephen Colbert to the New Yorker is talking about it, some in terms more cringe-inducing than others. A quick primer for those who don’t know: Ayahuasca is a psychoactive (read: psychedelic) brew developed by the peoples of the Amazon for ritual purposes ranging from ethnomedicine to divination. It’s just one in a pantheon of sacred plant and multi-plant concoctions used by Amazonian shamans, but it’s one that has sparked the fascination of peoples everywhere, from the Amazon itself to the distant corners of the urban and industrialized nations. Ayahuasca, along with other “entheogens” such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD, is a centerpiece of the new Psychedelic Renaissance, an artistic and scientific movement which has, as one of its primary aims, the legitimization of these currently illegal substances by researching and promoting their efficacy as treatments for intractable ailments, usually psychological, including depression, end-of-life anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Around the Web Digest- February 20

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday and in old Chicago tradition, I tried to grab a paczki from my favorite bakery. Unfortunately, in my own personal tradition, I came back empty handed. However, I do not come back empty handed here and I bring new readings for the week!

Anthropologists live the mantra “talk s**t, get hit” when white nationalists tried to come for cultural anthropology’s eccentric, yet well-meaning grandpa Franz Boas.

As the last protestors at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock were forcibly removed and arrested last week, we are left to recommit ourselves to environmental resistance as the powers at be continue to push for ecological disaster.

Sara Shneiderman reflects on the fragile nature of citizenship in the age of the travel ban and demands a critical reflection on the destruction it takes to create a “home”.

Youtube and other social media sites facilitate an archive and community for transgender youth in Chile, where young trans and gender-nonconforming youth can learn about the process of transitioning and document their own experiences outside the western model of LGBT life.

Harajuku is dead.

Emma Louise Backe reflects on the emotional tolls of fieldwork as both an advocate and ethnographer of rape victim advocates. For any readers out there in emotionally stressful times, please take care of yourselves.

See you next week!

 

Around the Web Digest- February 13

It is 66ºF in the middle of February in Chicago and I am appreciating the warmth while writing this before climate change destroys us all. With that I have your readings for the week!

While we believe in all you doctoral students out there finishing your dissertations and we are sure they will be fantastic, might I suggest you change directions and drop a mixtape instead?

For centuries, the Nunatsiavut people in the northern regions of what is now Canada along the Atlantic and their long artistic history has never received recognition due to perceived acculturation. Only in recent years has the work of Labrador Inuit artists and craftspeople gained acceptance from institutions and broader indigenous artistic communities.

In addition to the standard audio recorders, cameras, and notebooks to gather data from fieldwork; Anthropologia 2.0 offers why your smartphone may be one of the best tools in the ethnographic methods toolbox.

Valentine’s Day was last week, but in the spirit of Esther Newton “Margaret Mead made me gay”. 

Finally, it would not be a proper Around the Web Digest without your weekly reminder of resistance.

Haley Bryant and Emily Cain discuss the possibilities and struggles of being both an ethnographer and activist in rising political turmoil.

The Society of Medical Anthropology released a letter to Trump and those trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act detailing why without affordable healthcare the most marginalized in the U.S. would face greater struggles.

The proposed border wall by Trump would cut through Tohono O’odham land, another blow to indigenous sovereignty in the past few months. 

See you next week!

Beast of Contention: The Polar Bear as National Symbol and Emblem of Conservation

By Michael Engelhard*

The Icelandic artist Bjargey Ólafsdóttir painted this outline on Langjökull Glacier to draw attention to activists’ demands to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm. (Photo by Christopher Lund.)

In the new millennium’s politics, polar bears play the part whales played in the 1980s. From a theatrics-as-protest perspective, their shape lends itself better to impersonation than that of a rainforest or whale. Activists take advantage of this. Dressed as polar bears, they show up in the most unlikely places—the Kremlin, or Ottawa’s Parliament Hill—as nonhuman “climate refugees. In an act billed as “part protest, part performance,” Greenpeace paraded a mechanical polar bear the size of a double-decker bus through central London, as part of its Save the Arctic campaign. Fifteen puppeteers operated Aurora the bear, which had an articulated head and neck, a mouth like an ice cave, and the real bear’s “slightly lazy” ambling gait. Continue reading

No, These Are Not the Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations

Since 2009, the blog AnthropologyWorks has created an annual list of the “Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.” Being included on this list seems as if it might be a grand honor, but is it? Unfortunately, the answer is no, not really.

Here is why: the process for choosing the “best” dissertations is problematic. It consists of one anthropologist reading the abstracts of dissertations published in that year. Just the abstracts; no actual dissertations are read to determine which are “best.”

But it gets worse: only abstracts of dissertations in certain research areas are eligible. In order to be considered, one’s scholarship must overlap with the focus of the AnthropologyWorks blog, as follows: “food, resources, and livelihoods; power and politics; health; conflict and violence; population dynamics; stratification including race, class, gender, and age; activism, programs and policies.” This list is wide, but is not inclusive of all possible anthropology topics. If you don’t do research on any of these topics, you are not even considered for “best” distinction.

For the final blow, only scholarship from the USA is included. Have a PhD from outside the U.S.? Is it fantastic? Too bad. You’re not eligible for consideration. Continue reading

Teach America Great Again

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the #teachingthedisaster series.

By Rucha Ambikar

The day after Trump won the election, I went into my class as usual. I was setting up the smart podium, when a student in the first row turned back to another student to chat. I couldn’t overhear everything that went on between the two of them, but I did hear the student in the first row loudly exclaim “Well if you don’t like it; you can go to Canada.” Even though it was before class time, I gave this student the side-eye, wagged my finger at them and said “we don’t use that kind of language in this classroom. We’re going to practice being polite to each other in here!” The student apologized to me and class began. I don’t know if they apologized to the other student. This was the first day after the election and I wish I could say that this was the last time I heard exclusionary language in my classes. But I wasn’t surprised; throughout that semester I had been teaching to red ‘Make American Great Again’ hats.

I teach at a rural university in Minnesota where I am the only anthropologist on campus. It is not as much cache as it sounds. I teach large service courses where students in my classes are there only for the liberal education credits they receive. Most neither know nor care what anthropology is, and if anything, are prepared for college only as a hostile climate that may challenge their faith, their belief in creationism, their comfort with their ideas and self image. I wish I could say that this is a Trump-era problem, but the fact is that my classes at this university have always been this way. Barring a few welcome exceptions, students are not interested in learning anything that challenges their worldview, and certainly not from a foreign woman with an accent, who isn’t even Christian.
Post-election, when it feels like the entire climate in the country has shifted to resemble one I normally face in my classroom, I’m contemplating how we, as anthropology professors can continue to teach. Whom do we teach now, and to what purpose?
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