Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Diary for 14th February to 20th February 2008

THURSDAY 14TH FEBRUARY - Music to make your heart flutter

There can be few better ways to get Valentines Day evening started than by listening to the romantic sounds of Italian classical music. Which is why today I'll be making an afternoon visit to Pocketvisions at the British Museum, for the screening of 'At the right time' - a documentary that interweaves the musical histories of four talented young Italian musicians. Anthropologists who are interested in music are normally known as 'ethnomusicologists', and are interested in the role that music and dance can play in social contexts. You can study the subject as part of your degree at SOAS and The Open University, but for today watching this film should be enough to get you thinking - it's on at 16.00 in the Stevenson Theatre and entrance is FREE.

FRIDAY 15TH FEBRUARY - Gangland academia

On Friday I want to listen again to a recent NightWaves programme broadcast on Radio 3, in which an American sociologist, Sudhir Venkatesh, was interviewed. He has just released a memoir about his extended fieldwork in which he joined a violent Chicago gang and became close acquaintances with its members. In other interviews, Venkatesh has described how he moved away from traditional 'survey' forms of research - and in fact his methods had more in common with anthropological techniques of 'participant observation' and spending extended periods in the field. Whilst I'm not sure this makes him a 'rogue sociologist', the programme and his book 'Gang Leader for a Day', should provide some great insights into the difficulties, and dangers, that you can come across in fieldwork...

SATURDAY 16TH FEBRUARY - Show me the love

Come Saturday I'll be pondering a question that might have been on many people's lips earlier this week - where have all the men gone? The reason I want to consider this most thorny of topics is that anthropologist Robin Dunbar this week described in an article how the apparent difficulties 30-something women have in finding a life partner is down to the different ways men and women value their 'market appeal' to the opposite sex. His findings were based on research into the qualities and age ranges that people looked for in their lonely hearts adverts. Make up your own mind, but bear in mind you may not have too many people to choose from - Dunbar is also famous for 'Dunbar's Number', which asserts that humans are only capable of holding relationships with 150 people at any one time. A few more fish in the sea then...

SUNDAY 17TH FEBRUARY - Captured at the British Museum

Today I'm going along to a conference called 'Adoption, Captivity & Slavery' which will look at differing cross-cultural understandings of the exchange in human beings, in early colonial America. Many of the contributing speakers at the conference are anthropologists, and they will be talking on a variety of related subjects, ranging from the Indian slave trade, to hostage exchange and missionary evangelism. You can read more about the whole programme on the website here, but be aware that some of the sessions may only be appropriate for those with prior experience of anthropology. The conference is being held in the Sackler Room at the British Museum, and costs just £5 for students to attend both days - you can register on site from 10.00.

MONDAY 18TH FEBRUARY - Anthropology and action

To start the week, I'm going to read more about an eminent anthropologist, David Maybury-Lewis, who recently passed away. He was renowned for his reflexive approach to fieldwork, namely the way in which he sought to understand his own impact on the societies he was studying, as much as the societies and people themselves. For example, in The Savage and the Innocent he described what the Shevante people of Brazil found disgusting about him and his wife as well as vice versa! He also founded an organisation that campaigned for the rights of indigenous peoples, Cultural Survival, and his work is an interesting example of how anthropologists can combine their research with practical action.

TUESDAY 19TH FEBRUARY - Walk on the wild side

On Tuesday I'm going to be at the Royal Geographical Society lecture that I mentioned on last week's blog. Given by the journalist and traveler Jay Griffiths, it's all about her experiences of living amongst indigenous communities across the world, and the book she has just released about those periods. She is particularly concerned to turn misleading representations of 'savage' indigenous people and 'civilised' westerners on their head and provide an alternative version of people's historical roles. The event begins at 19.00 - you can book online here, or over the phone on0207 730 5344. As I said last week, mention Anthropologist About Town and tickets are exclusively £10.


This afternoon I'm attending a book launch down at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which is accompanied by a talk from the author. The book in question - The Moon Princess - is the memoirs of Sao Sanda, the daughter of the first president of independent Burma, and she will be discussing her family's experiences of political upheavals in the country. Burma's ethnic make-up was the inspiration for one of the most well-known ethnographies from the early 20th century - Edmund Leach's 'Political Systems of Highland Burma', so you may also be interested to compare his study of the Kachin people with that of the Moon Princess. The talk begins at 14.00 and admission is FREE but you need to email the organisers beforehand at to confirm your place.

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