1 George E. Marcus and Fred Myers, ‘Introduction’ in The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology. eds. George E. Marcus and Fred Myers, (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1995.
This collection is meant to feature more than 100 anthropology research paper examples. Since its emergence as a scientific discipline in the middle of the 19th century, anthropology has focused on the study of humankind in terms of science and reason, as well as logical speculation. Within a comprehensive and interdisciplinary framework, anthropology aims for a better understanding of and proper appreciation for the place of our species within earth history and organic development. As such, the scientific theory of biological evolution has been indispensable for giving meaning and purpose to the awesome range of empirical facts and conceptual insights that now constitute the rich content of present-day anthropology. Furthermore, cross-cultural studies emphasize the vast differences among human groups from the perspectives of material culture, social behavior, languages, and worldviews.
The tension between anthropology’s scientific rationalism and its humanistic relativism was particularly acute (at the time of writing the essay from which I have been drawing) when President Bush advocated the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside natural selection in American schools, refused subsidies for AIDS prevention programs that promoted the use of condoms, and referred to an axis of evil. Do anthropologists simply interpret the coherence of conservative Christianity and analyze the power of its rhetoric or do we try to fight, as secularists, for the naturalist and evolutionary premises on which anthropology and the life sciences are built? The inverse question in Europe has been how anthropologists represent the worlds and rights of Muslim religious communities in face of a secularist ethos as well as sheer prejudice and fear, questions that produce conferences such as the one for which this essay was written, which ought then to be part of its subject matter. If there is a compass to the anthropological direction perhaps it lies in unmasking or decentring hegemonic assumptions, undue power, unfairness, and dogmatic or absolutist thinking, from whatever quarter. These are, of course, not the special province of religion, science, or the state per se but are characteristic of certain manifestations of each.
The most successful entrepreneur on Wall Street—certainly of the past decade and perhaps even of the postwar era—is a hedge-fund manager named John Paulson. He started a small money-management business in the nineteen-nineties and built it into a juggernaut, and Gregory Zuckerman’s recent account of Paulson’s triumph, “The Greatest Trade Ever,” offers a fascinating perspective on the predator thesis.
By 2004-05, Paulson was increasingly suspicious of the real-estate boom. He decided to short the mortgage market, using a financial tool known as the credit-default swap, or C.D.S. A credit-default swap is like an insurance policy. Wall Street banks combined hundreds of mortgages together in bundles, and investors could buy insurance on any of the bundles they chose. Suppose I put together a bundle of ten mortgages totalling a million dollars. I could sell you a one-year C.D.S. policy on that bundle for, say, a hundred thousand dollars. If after the year was up the ten homeowners holding those mortgages were all making their monthly payments, I’d pocket your hundred thousand. If, however, those homeowners all defaulted, I’d owe you the full value of the bundle—a million dollars. Throughout the boom, countless banks and investment firms sold C.D.S. policies on securities backed by subprime loans, happily pocketing the annual premiums in the belief that there was little chance of ever having to make good on the contract. Paulson, as often as not, was the one on the other side of the trade. He bought C.D.S. contracts by the truckload, and, when he ran out of money, he found new investors, raising billions of new dollars so he could buy even more. By the time the crash came, he was holding insurance on some twenty-five billion dollars’ worth of subprime mortgages.
Towards the end of his most influential work, Critique of Pure Reason(1781/1787), Kant anthropology essay kants argues that all philosophy ultimately aims at answering ….
There is something about the cultural dimension of social problems that eludes us. When confronted with the rowdy youth in the bar, we are happy to raise his drinking age, to tax his beer, to punish him if he drives under the influence, and to push him into treatment if his habit becomes an addiction. But we are reluctant to provide him with a positive and constructive example of how to drink. The consequences of that failure are considerable, because, in the end, culture is a more powerful tool in dealing with drinking than medicine, economics, or the law. For all we know, Philomena Sappio could have had within her genome a grave susceptibility to alcohol. Because she lived in the protective world of New Haven’s immigrant Italian community, however, it would never have become a problem. Today, she would be at the mercy of her own inherent weaknesses. Nowhere in the multitude of messages and signals sent by popular culture and social institutions about drinking is there any consensus about what drinking is supposed to mean.
I heard a commotion, and saw people running past me. One young man stopped and urged me to flee because this dangerous drunk was coming down the path attacking all whom he met. As I was about to take this advice and leave, the drunk burst wildly into the clearing where I was sitting. I stood up, ready to run, but much to my surprise, the man calmed down, and as he walked slowly past me, he greeted me in polite, even deferential terms, before he turned and dashed away. I later learned that in the course of his “drunken rage” that day he had beaten two men, pushed down a small boy, and eviscerated a goat with a large knife.
The abuse of alcohol has, historically, been thought of as a moral failing. Muslims and Mormons and many kinds of fundamentalist Christians do not drink, because they consider alcohol an invitation to weakness and sin. Around the middle of the last century, alcoholism began to be widely considered a disease: it was recognized that some proportion of the population was genetically susceptible to the effects of drinking. Policymakers, meanwhile, have become increasingly interested in using economic and legal tools to control alcohol-related behavior: that’s why the drinking age has been raised from eighteen to twenty-one, why drunk-driving laws have been toughened, and why alcohol is taxed heavily. Today, our approach to the social burden of alcohol is best described as a mixture of all three: we moralize, medicalize, and legalize.
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From La Paz, they travelled five hundred miles into the interior of eastern Bolivia, to a small frontier town called Montero. It was the part of Bolivia where the Amazon Basin meets the Chaco—vast stretches of jungle and lush prairie. The area was inhabited by the Camba, a mestizo people descended from the indigenous Indian populations and Spanish settlers. The Camba spoke a language that was a mixture of the local Indian languages and seventeenth-century Andalusian Spanish. “It was an empty spot on the map,” Heath says. “There was a railroad coming. There was a highway coming. There was a national government . . . coming.”