Weed or Not Weed?

Weeding is an exercise in anthropology. How do we know what’s a weed? The great French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, organized his nearly-80-year-long career around a single, foundational principle: “culture” basically comes down to classification. If something is “this” (whatever “this” is), then it’s not “that.” Reciprocally, if something is “that,” then

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Does “Reasonable” = Racist?

What can anthropology contribute to the critical conversation about race in America, following the welcome jury decision in the Derek Chauvin trial? After they amassed and presented a week’s worth of technical details–medical, anatomical, temporal, legal–in the end, the prosecuting attorneys’ case against Derek Chauvin rested on a simple claim:

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The Witches Invade Washington

They should have asked an anthropologist. The political and military professionals ignored the warnings presaging last week’s Capitol invasion.  But many who conduct research in rural Africa, while untrained in cyber-espionage, could have predicted the attack. From living in small, rain-forest villages hosted by the Beng people of Côte d’Ivoire

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Two Lessons I Learned about the Transfer of Power while Living in Africa

1. The moment that any transfer of power occurs from one individual or regime to another is fraught—ritually, sociologically, emotionally. Why? This is a liminal period–“betwixt and between,” as the great anthropologist Victor Turner described it–neither fully in one political space, nor in another. Liminal moments offer options for creativity,

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What Anthropology Teaches Us about COVID-19, Part 4: A Conversation with Physician-Anthropologist, Dr. Bjørn Westgard

Recently, I checked in with Dr. Bjørn Westgard, to see how he was doing. Back in the ‘90s, Bjørn was enrolled in a wildly demanding, combined M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois, where I had the pleasure of serving as his academic advisor.  After completing his medical school coursework,

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What Anthropology Teaches Us about COVID-19, Part 3: A Few Thoughts about Culture, and What We Can Learn from Artists . . . and the Homeless

What is “culture”? Early generations of anthropologists offered all sorts of definitions. No matter what their specifics, the various definitions inevitably shared one feature: “culture” is identifiable. Above all, it encompasses a set of beliefs and behaviors that, together, are premised on an enduring set of values. Or something like

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What Anthropology Teaches Us about COVID-19, Part 2: An Optimist’s Scenario

Here’s what I imagine could–and should–emerge from this viral nightmare. Locally, stranger-neighbors will (re)discover each other. Re-appreciate the bonds of co-residence. Translate that appreciation into forging new relationships, even new neighborhood groups. Friendly elevator chats, book groups, block parties, children’s after-school clubs. Remember that our common humanity unites us more

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What Anthropology Teaches Us about COVID-19, Part 1-Early Thoughts

Lesson 1: Like the ducks and brants my husband and I see congregating regularly by the dozens along the shore’s edge of Narraganssett Bay near our coastal home, we humans are a social species.  (Audobon’s description of the Brant: “Feeds in flocks at most times of year”), Whether indoors or

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