Choosing Normal

11 Nov


On this Veterans Day 2016 many social scientists, myself included, are asking ourselves what it means to be “American” and whether this meaning changed on 11/9. Is an anthropological perspective of understanding, compassion, and inclusion still normal?

Lived experience in any human society is shaped by a complex interplay of cultural factors, especially its norms:

  • “Typical patterns of actual behavior as well as the rules about how things should be done” (Welsch and Vivanco 2016:265. Asking Questions About Cultural Anthropology).

In times of political upheaval our norms can be challenged and/or reinforced. In the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, some of our most fundamental norms of acceptable behavior were challenged and often flagrantly violated. To prevent these violations from becoming an emboldened “new normal,” we should vigilantly reinforce our shared values and oppose the following:

Anti-Semitism (or any religious discrimination)






Mocking the disabled


Scientific illiteracy


Sexual assault


These behaviors were not normal in the United States of 11/8/2016 and they remain unacceptable (and largely illegal) today. Starting in January 2017, we will be led by a character who personifies the worst attributes of the American past. Yet we retain the power to shape our own cultural norms. It has never been more critical to expect the best of ourselves and work tirelessly to encourage “the better angels of our nature” in others.

Natural selection in our species during the last two millennia

22 Oct

Why Evolution Is True

A question I’m always asked in popular lectures on evolution is this: “Are humans still evolving?” The answer I give is “Yes, but we have good evidence for such evolution in only a handful of traits: evolution of earlier reproductive maturity in females, later menopause, and selection for reduced blood pressure and a few other traits related to heart disease.” That is based on longitudinal studies of human health over decades, observing changes in these traits and presumed estimates of the genetic basis of their variation.

Now, however, we can, by DNA sequencing, look at DNA directly, and with some fancy statistical footwork, get an idea of which genes have changed in frequency so fast that they must have been due to positive natural selection. That’s the subject of a new paper in Science by Yair Field et al. (reference and free download below).  The authors conclude that several…

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Anthropology Feels Like Home

21 Jul

Welcome to the AAA Blog

This post was submitted by Callie Randall, a high school senior and anthropology student interning with the AAA.

When I was a little girl, I began to realize I was different than a lot of my peers. It was beyond the apparent truth of being the only black kid in gifted or intensified classes and more than feeling like I was the only child that said please and thank you to the lunch ladies. It was something less transparent. My ability to acknowledge the things that made me different set me apart from many others. In the simplest of terms, I was observant. I took in my surroundings everywhere. As I got older, I tried to understand why things were the way they were and why people chose to do certain things or why they chose to not. The world was big and beautiful and mysterious and with wide eyes everything…

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Anthropology Changed the Way I See the World

7 Jul

Welcome to the AAA Blog

This post was submitted by Veronica Sirotic, a high school senior and anthropology student interning with the AAA.

For the longest time, I thought anthropology was a chic boutique for women’s clothing. Little did I know, anthropology would change the way I see the world.

My interest in anthropology began two years ago when I signed up for a two-year anthropology class. Many friends recommended it to me and I heard it was an easy A. My first class started with a plain definition of anthropology: Anthropology: the study of humans, past and present. We were given a packet to skim. At first glance, the packet detailed a wacky and bizarre society. The people in the unnamed society would stick themselves in ovens in order to darken their skin. They would only eat at particular times during the day and the food they ate strictly adhered to the time of…

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Anthro Blogging 101: Allegra Lab

1 Jul

The Geek Anthropologist

In this edition of Anthropology Blogging 101, we welcome Miia Halme-Tuomisaari and Julie Billaud, Editors in Chief at Allegra Lab.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 5.39.50 PM

Tell us a little about Allegra Lab. How did it get started? What would you say is the purpose of Allegra Lab and what are its anthropological and digital orientations?

First, thank you giving us the opportunity to present Allegra Lab, the funkiest blog in the anthropological blogosphere (after the Geek Anthropologist, of course)! We started Allegra Lab in 2013, mostly because of our dissatisfaction with the way anthropological knowledge was shared with the world. Our primary aim was to create a space where anthropologists could show the best of themselves, demonstrate the richness of their work while simultaneously speaking to a broader audience, not limited to our small academic circles. Our vision was that anthropologists had important things to say and that it was high time to make their voice…

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Flagged: Children on July 4th

29 Jun

Interesting anthropological analysis of this familiar (to those in the US) holiday.

Welcome to the AAA Blog

Author Cindy Dell Clark, associate professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, did fieldwork on Memorial Day and July 4th during 2005-2012.  She has also studied American families at Christmas and Easter, chronicled in her book “Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith” (University of Chicago Press).

During the years 2005 to 2012, when I conducted research on July 4th family rituals, the United States imported — mostly from China — over $32,000,000 worth of American flags.  These flags testify to and plot the vigorous ceremonial life of the American nation-state:  decorating military veterans graves’ at Memorial Day and the caskets of war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq, waving atop flag poles in front of schools and inside classrooms, at capitals and public buildings.  In public places, flags are daily raised and later lowered, raised only at half mast to honor the passing of revered Americans.

But Old Glory comes…

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Neanderthal, The Interior Cave Decorator

28 May

Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. (Etienne FABRE – SSAC) Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. (Etienne FABRE – SSAC)

A pile of hundreds of broken stalagmite pieces found deep inside Bruniquel cave, France were made by humans from about 176,000 years ago. The ancient structures are actually made of more than 400 pieces of stalagmites, located about 300 meters from the cave’s entrance. All the stones are similarly sized, piled up, and arranged in two circles. The researchers also found signs of fire on the structures, as well as burned bone fragments. By analyzing the stalagmites as well as the calcite that grew on top of them, the researchers were able to date the site to about 176,500 years ago. At that time, only Neanderthals lived in Europe.

The findings were published earlier this week in Nature and indicate Neanderthals were creating complex structures way before modern humans arrived in Europe. The only other known remnants of Neanderthal constructions are…

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