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Profile: Gilda Sheppard

I saw a great speaker today, Gilda Sheppard. She’s a sociologist who has worked with refugees in Ghana and street youth in Tacoma, WA (she teaches at the Evergreen College, Tacoma branch, which I didn’t know there was until today). She discussed and showed a film about her work in Ghana, and the organization that was formed there “Women Together as One.” Her main role in the organization was organizer and instigator for the idea, but otherwise in was the Liberian refugee women Sheppard worked with in Ghana that really made the organization exist and work.

The way Sheppard spoke of her work made me feel like I was at a story-telling or poetry recital, or even a gospel church, the way her cadence and voice moved around the words and her body seemed to follow. It was very inspiring for me to see someone using film to inspire repressed people, both in Ghana and here, to take action for themselves, and to use that footage to inspire us as well.

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The outer limits…of humans

I’ve been collecting some weird stuff that doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to humans and culture, but they all do in a roundabout, sideways, too-cool-to-not-mention sort of way.

For starters, some researchers have found evidence that humans have taste buds for calcium. I wonder if there is a difference between cultures who practically live off milk compared to those who don’t.

Also, there is a cool YouTube video about parasitic worms that can actually recreate or at least mimic the genes of their host insect to the extent that they can send messages to the insect’s “brain” and make the insects do what they want, including commit suicide by jumping into a body of water so the worm can escape, essentially turning the bug into a zombie. As the researcher mentions in the video, this has implications for human parasitic diseases (which I can’t remember right now but if you watch the video he will explain it better).

Getting back into the traditional “Anthropology” stuff, German anthropologists have been able to genetically trace bones from the Bronze Age to a pair of men living in a village nearby the cave where the bones were found, making this the longest family tree in history.

As a cool example of the power of motherhood and how much dogs have evolved to be co-habitants of humans, a dog in Argentina rescued a newborn baby abandoned in the ghettos/favelas. The dog was a new mother herself, and after the dog’s owner discovered the baby cuddled in with the pups, he alerted authorities and the baby’s 14-year-old mother came forward. Unfortunately the media attention is actually freaking the dog out a bit, so leave her alone!

Also, for all you star gazers out there, a Top 10 of ancient astronomy observatories throughout the world (interestingly, the Mayan pyramids made it on there, the Egyptian pyramids did not).

Finally, for all you visual or historical anthropologists, a cool article on the history of the daguerrotype, and links to other articles about cool photographic inventions.

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Dancing Matt videos: a positive critique

I honestly had never heard of this guy until a few months ago (apparently he’s been a viral internet celebrity for almost two years now), but watching this interview of Matt made some really good points. Having been trained as an anthropologist, I find the connection of people from completely different cultures through the Internet and through (silly) dance fascinating and wonderful. There are many reasons, such as:

1. There are definitely downsides to globalization, but when I see things like this it reminds me that there are some good parts to it too. People are connected in very different ways than they used to be, and community is no longer determined exclusively by geography.

2. The fact that dance is being used so successfully to bring everyone out is great, and it shows just how universal dancing really is.

3. There is also the point that the dance is silly, and lots of people (granted mostly young adults and kids) are willing to go on film, and all over the world, dancing and being silly and playing. Play is something that has been totally disregarded as important in the last 60 years my humble opinion (or IMHO for those of you who knew about this guy before now), when in fact play and creativity have been shown to be so important for brain development and just coming up with new solutions to problems. It is time that “play” returned to everyone’s positive vernacular, and just as everyone knows they need to brush their teeth and exercise, they also need to play. And watching Dancing Matt doesn’t count; dancing like Dancing Matt does.

autism · cognition · language · psychology · youtube

Power of communication: "In My Language"

This video, which I found on the blog neuroanthropology, was created by a woman who is severely autistic. The first three minutes show the woman interacting with her environment, and then the woman, through typing on the computer, provides a translation of what she describes as her native language. She is severely critical of people who do not understand and appreciate how she views the world and who call her non-communicative.

This video is fascinating to me on so many levels (warning: possible spoilers). Watching her behavior from a psychologists’ standpoint is interesting with observing her self-stimulating behavior and how her mind is processing all this. But it also from a visual anthropology perspective. She chose to include these specific examples of her language in the movie, and even though she explicitly says they do not symbolize anything in particular, I wonder why these were chosen. Why did she choose to use a visual format to explain herself? Was this video made originally for Youtube, or some other audience? There is obvious editing, and not so much a storyline but definite parts to the movie. How did she decide on this structure, and who helped her, if anyone? Did anyone else film her (from what I can tell I don’t think so). How was she aided in this project? She gives credits at the end of her film, but they’re all thanks as opposed to assigned jobs.

From a communication studies and linguistics perspective, she’s challenging the definition of language. She argues that she has a discourse (several, actually) with her environment, with the objects in her house; they even get a credit at the end of the film. She also uses the “dominant language,” as she describes it, to explain herself and language and berate those who do not appreciate hers for what it is.

She also points out that most of us would probably not look at her on the street, or deliberately look away, which is absolutely correct, which makes a great statement about humans’ fear of the different, “disabled,” and unknown.
(end spoilers)

So a really interesting video on many levels, and I’m sorry my visual anthropology class is essentially over this quarter because I think it’d be great to show to the class and have them discuss it.