Ethnographic Invention

Megha Majumdar interviews Lily King
March 2, 2015

The novelist on the vivid life of Margaret Mead, a love triangle in the South Pacific, and the shared language of anthropology and fiction.
Image by Laura Lewis.

In 1978, when the villagers of Pere, New Guinea, learned of anthropologist Margaret Mead’s death, they rested for seven days and planted a coconut tree in her memory. This was how they honored “big men.” Mead was indeed a “big man,” an anthropologist of Oceanic cultures who studied gender and family, living for months in the field and authoring the seminal Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). A professional of great rigor—she donated to the Library of Congress a full record of her methods in the field, including notes and letters, comprising half a million items—Mead strove in her work to strike down barriers between academy and public life. Her commitment to public service saw her serving on organizations from the National Council for Negro Women to the Committee on Food Habits during WWII.

It is perhaps no surprise that a woman so morally engaged in the world repeatedly came under criticism. Often, she was lambasted for her supposedly “unscientific” and “impressionistic” research methods. “Each time I write something about ‘how I really do it,’” she once complained, “they use it to show that I’m not to be trusted.” In the 1960s and 70s, Mead faced derision for her participation in the American feminist movement. Her personal life wasn’t any easier. Mead was married thrice, and admitted that she loved her third husband, Gregory Bateson, whom she met in the South Pacific, the most. (She called her first marriage a “student marriage.”) She was devastated when Bateson left her.

Mead’s life—in particular, her ethnographic and personal trials in the far-flung tropics—inspired author Lily King’s latest novel, Euphoria. Set in the interwar period, in a region of Papua New Guinea, Euphoria follows three anthropologists whose intellectual devotions and personal frailties grow increasingly intertwined. The narrator, Bankson (a subtly disguised Bateson) grows desperately attached to his married companions. He helps them find a research site, a village he cunningly chooses close to “his” village, and thinks of “how to keep them, how to keep them.” The married pair, though seemingly secure, struggle with failure and loneliness—sentiments that turn savage in the field. But while romantic strife certainly animates the novel, Euphoria is equally, and refreshingly, attentive to the passion of work and the joys of intellectual adventure.

Taking up the fundamental condition of being an anthropologist, the book evinces a fascination with the position of the outsider—and the observer. It is a role King is familiar with, having grown up in Massachusetts with stepparents and step-siblings, in families with varying operating principles. “Even though they were all in my hometown, they had different cultures, different ideas of what was acceptable behavior,” King recalls. “When you’re in a situation like that early on, you really become an observer.” Family and belonging have long preoccupied King’s work. Her first novel, The Pleasing Hour (1999), followed an American au pair’s fraught involvement with a French family. In The English Teacher (2005), she wrote of a boy seeking to comprehend his mother’s violent past, and in Father of the Rain (2010), of a daughter’s loyalty to her father.


David Graeber: ‘So many people spend their working lives doing jobs they think are unnecessary’

The anarchist author, coiner of the phrase ‘We are the 99%’, talks to Stuart Jeffries about ‘bullshit jobs’, our rule-bound lives and the importance of play

David Graeber
Radical heritage … David Graeber. Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian

A few years ago David Graeber’s mother had a series of strokes. Social workers advised him that, in order to pay for the home care she needed, he should apply for Medicaid, the US government health insurance programme for people on low incomes. So he did, only to be sucked into a vortex of form filling and humiliation familiar to anyone who’s ever been embroiled in bureaucratic procedures.

At one point, the application was held up because someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles had put down his given name as “Daid”; at another, because someone at Verizon had spelled his surname “Grueber”. Graeber made matters worse by printing his name on the line clearly marked “signature” on one of the forms. Steeped in Kafka, Catch-22 and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Graeber was alive to all the hellish ironies of the situation but that didn’t make it any easier to bear. “We spend so much of our time filling in forms,” he says. “The average American waits six months of her life waiting for the lights to change. If so, how many years of our life do we spend doing paperwork?”

The matter became academic, because Graeber’s mother died before she got Medicaid. But the form-filling ordeal stayed with him. “Having spent much of my life leading a fairly bohemian existence, comparatively insulated from this sort of thing, I found myself asking: is this what ordinary life, for most people, is really like?” writes the 53-year-old professor of anthropology in his new book The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. “Running around feeling like an idiot all day? Being somehow put in a position where one actually does end up acting like an idiot?”

“I like to think I’m actually a smart person. Most people seem to agree with that,” Graeber says, in a restaurant near his London School of Economics office. “OK, I was emotionally distraught, but I was doing things that were really dumb. How did I not notice that the signature was on the wrong line? There’s something about being in that bureaucratic situation that encourages you to behave foolishly.”


Understanding common knowledge

Cooperation rises when you know that she knows, and she knows that you know, and you know that she knows that you know, and she …

March 20, 2015 | Editor’s Pick

Harvard researchers have discovered a new psychological capacity for cooperation.

For decades, researchers have examined the psychology behind altruistic cooperation, when one person pays some cost to benefit another. However, another form of cooperation in which both people benefit has been little studied, but that is changing.

A study co-authored by graduate student Kyle Thomas and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker examines how people use “common knowledge” — the shared understanding in which two or more people know something, know that the other one knows, know the other one knows that they know, and so on — to coordinate their actions, and how people’s efforts to cooperate may fail without this infinite level of shared beliefs.

The study is described in a recently published paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study also included Peter DeScioli, now Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stony Brook University, and Omar Haque, with Harvard Medical School.

“There has been a great deal of research that examines the psychological roots of altruism, and you can think of that as a kind of motivation problem,” explained Thomas, a doctoral candidate in Harvard’s Psychology Department, and the lead author. “However, when cooperation involves coordinating behavior, the problem people must solve is a knowledge problem rather than a motivation problem: What do partners need to know about each others’ beliefs to coordinate their behavior?”

While the notion of common knowledge has existed for decades and has been applied to fields as varied as philosophy and computer science, studies that focused on the actual psychology of common knowledge have been few and far between, Thomas said.

The chief reason, he said, is that “paying costs to benefit others poses obvious evolutionary puzzles that are not apparent when both people benefit. Because they do not present any evolutionary puzzles, the coordination problems of common knowledge are not nearly as obvious to researchers. The question is, how do we anticipate what our social partners will do, when what they do depends on what they expect us to do? This is a profound social cognition problem. How does one read the mind of a mind reader?”

To examine the psychological roots of coordination and how different levels of knowledge affect it, Thomas and his colleagues recruited participants to play an online game.

The participants were paired off, with each assuming the role of either butcher or baker working in a market. As the game began, each was offered a choice: Try to work together for mutual benefit — butchers making hot dogs and bakers making buns — or work on their own for a lesser, but certain profit.

To test how knowledge levels might affect whether participants would work together, researchers created four levels of knowledge for how participants could earn more by working together.

The first level, called private knowledge, involved telling one player that he could earn more by working with his partner, but leaving him in the dark about what his partner’s knows. At the second level, called secondary knowledge, one player knows conditions are good, and knows his partner knows that as well. In the third, one player knows, knows his partner knows, and knows his partner knows that he knows. To create common knowledge, this information was broadcast over a loudspeaker.

“Each player then makes a decision,” Thomas explained. “They can decide to work alone or work together, and we paid them accordingly.”

As predicted, these levels of knowledge dramatically affected how people played the game.

“What we found was that, for private knowledge, even if we varied the payouts, or the number of people involved, only about 15 percent of people cooperated,” Thomas said. “With shared knowledge, we saw about 50 percent, and with common knowledge, it was 85 percent. It was just a whopping effect. That indicated to us that we are very sensitive to this previously unappreciated mental state. Our minds evolved to understand this important kind of social structure, and how different kinds of knowledge can impact it.”

The effects of common knowledge, however, are hardly limited to the type of economic games described in the study.

“You can see evidence of these coordination problems everywhere,” Thomas said. “We’ve done work on euphemism and indirect speech, where everyone understands the subtext of what’s being said, though it isn’t explicit. You can also see aspects of it when people talk about taboos or political correctness. When something is taboo, that’s a common-knowledge issue because even though everyone may think it, you can’t say it. There’s even evidence that self-conscious emotions, like guilt or pride or shame, are sensitive to common knowledge, and that certain emotional signals like blushing or crying are built around the idea.”

Where Do Young People Get Knowledge About the Clitoris?

Posted: 20 Mar 2015 07:34 AM PDT

Flashback Friday.

The D.C. Council’s Committee on Health released a report after surveying high school students about sex education. One of their questions was about the source of sexual health information. The pie chart below shows that students name, in order, their parents or guardians, health workers, teachers, friends, and boyfriends or girlfriends as the most common sources of information.


I asked a similar question in a study I did with college students (full text). The students in my sample rated their friends, secondary school teachers, books, their sexual partners, and the media as their most important sources. Men also included pornography. Very few students counted parents among their most valued sources. (Significance indicators are for sex difference.)


My co-authors and I were interested in how those sources correlated with actual knowledge, specifically knowledge about the clitoris. And so we gave them a “cliteracy test,” we had them answer a set of true/false questions about the clitoris and find it on a diagram of the vulva.

We then compared their scores on the test to their reported sources of knowledge. The table below is a regression showing which sources of knowledge were most predictive of a high score. The findings were interesting: only two sources predicted significantly higher scores on the test: media (for men and women) and self-exploration (for women).


So, only one of the most frequently used sources of information, media, actually translated into real knowledge. And, ironically, the best source of information for women, their own bodies, was among the least often cited source of information for women, beating out only pornography and parents.

In other words, the best source of information about the clitoris is probably the… clitoris, but female college students would rather read books to learn about it.

This puts the D.C. study into some perspective.  The high school students in that study reported that their parents or guardians, health workers, teachers, friends, and boyfriends or girlfriends were sources of sexual information, but that doesn’t mean that they are good sources. It could be that they’re giving them misinformation or good information only about certain things.

Originally posted in 2009. You can see a summary of our findings on the correlation (or lack thereof) between knowledge about the clitoris and orgasm for women here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.(View original at

mapping ignorance: Does Fair Trade deliver?


 Raluca et al. (2014) 1 provide a survey of the economic studies regarding the performance of Fair Trade certifications. They focus on the coffee industry, by large the most important product under the Fair Trade label. In this article I summarize their main findings and conclusions.

The aim of Fair Trade certification is to improve the lives of the poor in developing countries by offering better terms to producers. The main instruments are the price premium paid to producers that obtain the certification and the longer-term buyer-seller relationship, implying financial stability. In return, the producer has to adhere to some practices: use the price premium to invest in the community, improve workers’ conditions, favor associations like cooperatives, and use of some environmental standards. Although the number of certified production is increasing, in 2011 Fair Trade exports for coffee represented just 1.8% of world exports.

The certification is issued by some private organization (most of them belonging to Fairtrade International), and the producer must pay application, initial certification and renewal certification fees. The rational for the Fair Trade initiative is that it provides credible information to the consumer. If a number of consumers have preferences for the production practices promoted by Fair Trade and are willing to pay a higher price for that, and produces are willing to produce in this manner, then a credible certification can facilitate mutually beneficial transactions that otherwise would not occur.

There is, however, a concern about whether Fair Trade makes economic sense and is sustainable in the long run. For instance, Development economist Paul Collier (2007, p. 163) 2, writes: “They [Fair Trade–certified farmers] get charity as long as they stay producing the crops that have locked them into poverty.” The Economist (2006) 3 writes: “perhaps the most cogent objection to Fairtrade is that it is an inefficient way to get money to poor producers.”

The studies summarized in Raluca et al. provide some evidence on whether the goals of Fair Trade are indeed met, but do not have much to say about the long run effects and on whether it is indeed an inefficient way to help poor producers.

Do consumers have preferences for Fair Trade?

Using surveys and field experiments, empirical evidence shows that many consumers indeed have preferences for items with the Fair Trade label. They buy more of a coffee variety if it is so labeled, and are willing to pay as much as a 23% premium (e.g., Herter et al., 2009 4, Hainmueller et al., 2011 5 and Hiscox et al., 2011 6). On the theoretical part, given these preferences, voluntary certification improves aggregate welfare. (gehiago…)

Zientzia Kaiera: Emakumeak osasungintzan, Gerra Zibilaren aurretik

Emakumeak osasungintzan, Gerra Zibilaren aurretik

Posted: 20 Mar 2015 01:00 AM PDT

Uxune Martinez

Savoiako Amadeo erregeak baimena eman zion 1872. urtean Maria Elena Maserari medikuntza ikasteko Bartzelonako Unibertsitatean. Bera izan zen, estatuko unibertsitate baten matrikulatu zen lehen emakumea. Matrikulatu bai, baina ezin izan zuen klaseetara joan lehen urteotan, ikasketak modu pribatuan gauzatzeko baimena eman baitzion bakarrik erregeak. Horrela hasten da medikuntzaren historian lehen emakume medikuen bidea.

1. irudia: 1936. urtea, Bilboko Medikuntza Fakultateko ikasleak gelan. (Argazkia: Danielle Labajos de Bertolinek utzita, "Amets baten oinordeko gara" libururako)1. irudia: 1936. urtea, Bilboko Medikuntza Fakultateko ikasleak gelan. (Argazkia: Danielle Labajos de Bertolinek utzita, “Amets baten oinordeko gara: 1936ko Euskal Unibertsitatea” libururako)

XIX. mendearen amaieran eta XX.eko hasieran, ez zen ohikoa goi-mailako ikasketak zituzten andrazkoak aurkitzea Euskal Herrian. Famili oneko alabek musika, atzerriko hizkuntzaren bat, takigrafia eta antzeko gaiak lantzen zituzten baina gutxik egin zuten unibertsitateetarako bidea. Familia aberatsetako neskak ere ez ziren hurreratzen unibertsitateko ikasketak egitera, ez baitzegoen ondo ikusita sasoi hartan. Karrera bat ikasi zuten emakume gehienen gurasoek zerikusi handia izan zuten horretan, alabak ikastera animatu eta bultzatu baitzituzten. Alabak unibertsitatera bidaltzen zituzten familien bizitza erabat aldatzen zen, kasu gehienetan amak alabekin joaten baitziren Zaragoza, Madrilera, Salamancara, Sevillara edo Bartzelonara bizitzera, seme-alabek ikasketak burutzen zituzten bitartean. Horrela egin zuten, esaterako, Luz Zalduegiren -lehen emakume albaitari euskaldunaren- edota Felisa Martinen -Fisikako doktoregoa lortu zuen lehen emakumearen- amek.

Euskal Herriko lehen emakume unibertsitario askok osasun arloko ikasketak egitea erabaki zuten. Farmazia, odontologia, erizaintza eta medikuntza izan ziren hainbatek hautatu zituztenak baina datu gutxi gorde dira haien ibilbideaz. Gerra Zibilaren aurretik arlo honetako goi-mailako ikasketak egiteko kanpora joan behar izan zuten. Izan ere, 1936. urtera arte Euskal Herrian ez zegoen arlo honetako ikasketarik egiteko aukerarik. Urte hartan, azaroaren 18an, Agirre lehendakariaren lehen gobernuak unibertsitatea sortu zuen, Universidad Vasca/Euzko Irakastola Nagusia. Bertako lehen fakultatea, Bilboko Osakintza Ikastola edo Medikuntza Fakultatea izan zen. Hau izan zen, Mikel Aizpurua historiagileak “Amets baten oinordeko gara: 1936ko Euskal Unibertsitatea” liburuan jasota dakarren bezala, Euskal Herriko Unibertsitateko lehen unibertsitate-fakultatea eta gerra aurretik ireki zen bakarra. Fakultatearen irekiera 1936. urteko abenduaren 1ean egin zen, egoitza Bilbon ezarri zen, bertako Bilboko Ospitalean (egun Basurtuko Ospitalean) bazegoelako jada erizaintza eskola bat. Lehen fakultate hartan guztira 143 ikasle matrikulatu ziren, %94,23a bertakoak ziren eta horietatik, 19 emakumeak. Matrikulatutako bost emakume, estatuko beste medikuntza fakultate batzuetatik etorri ziren ikasketak etxean amaitzeko asmoz. Baina Bilbo frankisten menpe gelditu zenean, medikuntzako lehen fakultate hark ateak itxi zituen.

Osakintza Ikastolan ikasten hasitako emakume haien aurretik baziren Euskal Herrian osasun arloko ikasketak burutu zituzten andrazkoak.

XIX. mende amaieran jaiotako Juana Garcia Orcoyen izan zen Medikuntzan lizentziatu zen lehen emakume nafarra. 1921. urtean gutxi gorabehera. 1925. urtean doktorego-tesia burutu zuen eta Valentziako Malvarrosa Ospitalean gauzatu zuen lana, medikua zen senarrarekin batera. Medikuntzako tesia gauzatu zuen lehen emakume euskalduna izan zen.

Ascension Ariz Elcarte Iruñean jaio zen 1911. urtean. Medikuntza ikasi zuen Madrilgo Unibertsitatean. Ikasten ari zen bitartean, 1929. urtean, Unibertsitateko Kimika Teorikoko Katedran ikasle laguntzaile bezala ibili zen. 1933. urtean lizentziatu eta Zaragozara joan zen puerikulturako espezializazioa lortzeko asmoz. 1935ean, puerikultura ikasketak gaindituta, etxera bueltatu zen eta Nafarroako Medikuen Elkargo Ofizialean izena eman zuen. Elkargoan kolegiatu zen lehen emakumea izan zen berau. Pediatra moduan ibili zen lanean Jarauta kalean zegoen Udaleko Haurren Kontsultategian eta 1942. urteko martxoaren 15ean, ikasketak burutu eta 7 urte beranduago, eman zioten puerikulturako medikuaren titulua (beste bi emakumerekin batera, Herminia Adrados Vicente eta Matilde Perez Jover). Datuen arabera, bera izan liteke Euskal Herriko lehen emakume pediatra. Virgen del Caminoko Ospitalean hasi zen lanean eta urteen ondoren, Pediatriako Zerbitzu burua izendatu zuten. 1974. urtean, 60 urtetik gora zituela, oposaketak gainditu eta haurren osasunerako eta higienerako probintzia-ikuskatzaile plaza lortu zuen.

Maria Victoria Oiarzabal (1915) bergararrak, farmaziako ikasketak burutu zituen gerra aurretik eta botika jarri zuen Malagan ezkondu eta gero.

1919. urtean Tolosan jaio zen Maria Luisa Agirrek medikuntzako karrera egin zuen Tolosako Udalak emandako beka bati esker eta baita ere, Legazpiko Patricio Echeverria enpresa gizonak emandako diru-laguntzaren bidez. Maria Luisaren gurasoek ez zuten dirurik alaba unibertsitatera bidaltzeko baina Donostian egin zuen batxilergoa hain nota onekin, bataz beste nota matrikulakoa zuen, udalak diruz laguntzea onartu zuela. Madrilen eman zituen karrerako lehen urteak, gero Salamancako Unibertsitatera joan zen eta Santanderren espezializatu zen pediatrian. Ikasketak bukatu ondoren Tolosara bueltatu zen eta Euskal Herriko lehen emakume medikuetariko bat izan da. Pediatra bezala aritu zen erretiroa hartu arte eta bere hitzetan, medikua izan arren, herriko txurrogile edo patata-saltzaileen parekoa zen, beste emakumeen parekoa.


Revista Historia para todxs

Herramientas: Octubre (1928)

Posted: 21 Mar 2015 08:51 AM PDT

Pelicula sovietica de 1928 dirigida por Sergei Eisenstein. La misma, en una mezcla de documentalismo y propaganda estatal, busca recrear la situación en Rusia antes y durante la revolución. Hoy en día puede ser utilizada a manera de documental por alguna de sus imagenes o para ver la fuerza que para aquel entonces, el aparato sovietico tenía para retratar lo que fue la situación. En síntesis, su mirada particular.

Presentacion del Programa Interdisciplinario sobre Estudios Descoloniales en Mar del Plata

Posted: 20 Mar 2015 04:33 PM PDT



NEWS UPDATE 3-21-2015

Jeffrey St. Clair on what he learned from the release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Caution: it’s not for the faint of heart.

Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark break down basic income, and explain why it’s always the poor that embrace human rights.

Rob Urie on money manager capitalism.

Tanya Golash-Boza writes that deportation is best understood as an instance of racialized state repression.

A Frightful Prospect: Jeb vs. Hillary
Andrew Levine explains how to make the best of a bad election.

Neve Gordon on the end of the liberal Zionist façade.

Alyssa Röhricht says the Senate Torture Report only scratches the surface of the U.S. government’s depravity.

Pete Dolack on why the real unemployment rate is double the ‘official’ unemployment rate.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro writes an Open Letter to the people of the United States.

Scott Borchert remembers the Godmother of Rock n’ Roll.



Wiley Online Library
Research on Indigenous Australia
Wiley, along with many of its publishing partners, is proud to present this collection of recent papers on the theme of ‘Research on Indigenous Australia’.

As a leading publisher of Australian academic and scientific journals, including a large number of journals owned by Australian research and practitioner organisations, Wiley is in an excellent position to provide readers with exposure to ideas from across the Australian research landscape. The papers collected here are from a broad range of journals in the fields of medicine, allied health, social sciences and environmental sciences. While from diverse fields of study, the papers share an interest in improving the lives of Australian indigenous peoples.

Individual papers included in the collection will be freely available until 30 September. Wiley would like to thank our publishing partners for their involvement in this initiative.

Click here to visit the Research on Indigenous Australia Site