23 February 2011

veritas gratis

Anyone with the link can now access dolphin ascendant, our ramshackle online library.  If you would like to contribute, let us know.

(click here to view previous related posts)

22 February 2011

UAB chapter of Alabama Citizens for Consitutional Reform upcoming meeting

The newly formed UAB chapter of ACCR is holding its second meeting this week.  The ACCR is a group of citizens united in advocacy for a reformed state constitution.  Our allegedly "sweet" home's constitution is thick and sticky with racist, outdated laws, including the foundations of a tax system that regressively and negatively impacts the poor and a stipulation that mandates that statewide votes be counted in order to change legislation.  The student film "It's a Thick Book" demonstrates both the structural violence carried out against already marginalized populations because of our constitution and also the irrelevance of our constitution to the reality of our biologically and culturally diverse state. Watch the film for free here, or here with a free teaching guide.  Details about the UAB ACCR meeting are below:

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all having a great Spring semester and enjoying this gracious weather.  As you will read on the attached flier, we are having our first ACCR event of the semester this Thursday night at 7pm in HHB 106.  This meeting is not only for UAB students, but for the surrounding community as well.  We want these meetings to provide an open forum for discussion and encourage positive action within our city.  Would you mind forwarding the event flier out to friends, students, faculty, staff, and anyone that you think would be interested in actively supporting our struggle for a new state constitution?

We will be viewing a short film, Open Secret, which I had the pleasure of viewing at the American Association of University Women conference this fall.  Using the actual transcripts from the 1901 Constitutional Convention as the basis of script, the film very adequately illustrates the cultural, racial, and political biases that comprise the legislative foundation of our great state.  We will also be discussing the next step in solidifying ACCR's presence on UAB's campus.
Thank you for your support, and I hope to see you all there!  

20 February 2011

News and upcoming events from around UAB

1.  The next UAB AnthroClub meeting will be Tuesday, March 1 at 3:30pm in HHB 225.  We will discuss the upcoming Earthweek festivities (post coming soon) and other plans for club activities this semester.

2.  UAB events:
Should religious leaders be held to a higher moral standard?
The next Free Food for Thought meeting, to be held at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23 in HUC 412, will focus on the moral standards of our religious leaders. Free Food for Thought is designed to promote the use of dialogue on a diversity of topics. With the variety of cultures, lifestyle, and personalities at UAB, learning from one another through discussion helps us understand the ideas, and opinions of others.  In exchange for your opinion, we will provide free food.

Sister Souljah to present Black History Month lecture Feb. 24
Sister Souljah, author of The Coldest Winter Ever, will discuss the rise and decline of African-American leadership at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 in Volker Hall Lecture Room A. Free tickets are available. Information about this and other Black History Month events is available from the Office of Student Involvement at 934-8225.

Henry is going the distance for hunger

Six days and 150 miles later, through some of the coldest temperatures yet this winter, UAB employee and alumnus Joe Henry continues his run to Canada to raise awareness for Universities Fighting World Hunger. Learn how Henry prepared for this Hunger 500 journey and why this cause means so much to him in this week's BlazerCast at www.youtube.com/uabnews.

Ask questions and get answers from President Carol Garrison, Provost Eli Capilouto, deans, department chairs and administration from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 in Blazer Hall RLC.

The USGA and the Office of the Provost are starting a new program, Commons Chat. Beginning Feb. 28 — and continuing the fourth Monday of every month — there will be an informal lunch with Provost Eli Capilouto, Vice Provost Suzanne Austin and Vice Provost Harlan Sands at noon in the Commons side room. 

3.  Exciting news:  a new Undergraduate Journal for student ethnographers - details below:

We are excited to announce the formation of a new online journal for research conducted by undergraduates. The Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography (JUE) seeks to distribute original student-produced work from a variety of disciplinary areas. Our goal is to bring readers, especially other undergraduates, insights into subcultures, rituals, and social institutions. We expect crossovers with anthropology, sociology, American studies, urban studies as well as programs in education and marketing.

The JUE encourages current undergraduates or those who have graduated within the past twelve months to submit original ethnographic manuscripts for consideration.  Manuscripts may include research on any subject. We also encourage faculty to recommend promising student work.

Submissions are now welcomed. The deadline is April 15th, 2011. Please check out our website (undergraduateethnography.org) or our Facebook page for details.

For more information contact Jason Patch at editor@undergraduateethnography.org.

4.  Birmingham Archaeological Society Monthly Meeting info:

The next Birmingham Archaeological Society meeting will be held at McWane Science Center on Tuesday, March 8th  at 7PM. 
The evening program will be led by Karen Utz, Curator - Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark and Adjunct History Professor, UAB.
Program topic: Sloss Furnaces: The History of Birmingham's Iron Plantation"
Birmingham Archaeological Society monthly meetings are held on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at McWane Science Center and are always open to the public. Meeting attendees should park in the deck on "Level C" and enter the doors labeled "Special Events Center." The business meeting begins at 7:00 and is followed by the monthly program. Parking for attendees is free.

12 February 2011

Sagan Spamming

Letting the people know what Papa Carl has to say (via google search).

Photo credit: Skepticblog

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. 
"For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love." 
"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." 
"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." 
"Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense." 

Links to free PDFs of his writings:

10 February 2011

Considering Gender

Last night the UAB Gay/Straight Student Alliance hosted a showing of the Groundspark film "Straightlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up" on campus.  The film is an amalgam of Southern California high school students of diverse backgrounds, gender identities, and sexual orientations speaking to their experience with and perceptions of the concept of gender.  The students consider gender as it is expressed in the media, as society or western culture instructs us to perform gender, and their own identities as they struggle with fitting in to the categories provided to us by our culture.  The students' voices are the only bearer of information in this film - with the exception of the documentary's narrative structure derived from the editor's understanding of the interview content - and their articulate young voices are a welcome grabbag of fresh perspectives on a binary that our culture is only recently attempting to move beyond.

Until I saw the film, I was unaware of the label "genderqueer" and its definition.  According to the biological female that identified herself as genderqueer in the film, the category encompasses individuals who do not identify as either male or female but rather a kind of third gender space.  Genderqueer is not analogous to the sexual orientation of bisexual in the context of the homo-hetero spectrum of sexuality because it is not a combination of male and female gender roles; instead, genderqueer individuals consider themselves as neither male nor female, but something else entirely.  This concept is difficult to grasp in a culture whose cognitive framework is so often founded on binary oppositions and language is equally dependent on these contrasts.  Much anthropological research exists on gender as it is culturally mandated and performed in other parts of the world, and a glance at this information can sharpen our understanding of gender in our own culture.

Anthropology is useful because it is the attempted scientific study of humans.  I emphasize the word attempted because the field's founders and practitioners - though they have certainly strived to proceed ethically - have for the most part failed to be both an objective voice on the reality of human existence and also an advocate for applying that knowledge to real world social and environmental justice problems; in other words, good anthropology is done with and for the people it studies, and it is my understanding that this is a relatively new idea in the discipline.  Despite the mistakes of the past, it is because of the diligent research of all previous anthropologists that we have so much data on the diversity of the human experience.

Most anthropologists recognize that gender is a performance because culturally proscribed gender roles are not dependent on biology.  In other words,  the behavior and mental categories associated with gender roles are arbitrarily determined by culture, not governed by material differences in men and women.  The fact that certain gender roles just happen to pertain to biological females and others to biological males is completely socially determined.  For example, in traditional Fiji, the female gender role is associated with inshore marine fishing while all gardening activities are associated with men.  This division of activities has nothing to do with the physical inability of Fijian women and men to carry out the gendered behavior of the opposite sex, but rather stems from 3,000 year old traditional cultural values.  It is important to note that even though gender is considered a performance of cultural standards of behavior and categories of thought that govern that behavior, gender roles are often strident in a way that the term "performance" does not convey.  Individuals who express gender in unique ways can be socially punished and in some cases are even considered "deviant" for violating their culture's gender rules.

Margaret Mead and her Samoan collaborators, dressed in traditional barkcloth skirts.

Early work done by Margaret Mead is considered to be the first research in Anthropology to challenge the idea that gender roles are biologically based.  In her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Mead compares gender roles among “the gentle mountain-dwelling Arapesh, the fierce cannibalistic Mundugumor, and the graceful head-hunters of Tchambuli,” and finds that each society expresses female and male gender roles in a different way (1935).  Most importantly, the genders and gendered behavior recognized by the societies she studied were different from - and in one case, quite the opposite of - genders and gender roles as they are expressed in American culture.  Though this book has since received criticism because of Mead's tendency to generalize data to fit her theory and her sometimes romantic prose, it was nonetheless groundbreaking in its assertion that gender is not innate.

A slightly more recent work by Serena Nanda discusses the third gender class of the Hijras in India.  In Neither Man nor Woman, Nanda explores the lives of Hijras, religious groups of men that dress and behave as women, but neither identify nor are identified as women or men (1999).  Hijras perform a specific religious role in certain ceremonies in India (mostly weddings and births), and because of their status as individuals of a third gender, are believed to have the power to bless or curse ceremony attendants.  However, also because of their status as individuals of a third gender, many Hijras must beg to survive.

18 year old Sonia in Armritsar, India
Photo Credit: Antonio Di Vico, Nazca Pictures

Photo Credit:  ASC Queer Theory Blog

Another frequently cited work by Nanda on the anthropology of gender explores the lives and cultural roles of third genders in indigenous America.  Titled "Multiple Genders among North American Indians," the essay discusses how early historical accounts of Native American gender variants referred to them as the Berdache, but that this term stems from the bias of historians because it is derived from the Arabic translation of the phrase "male prostitute."  Early misunderstandings of third genders by white anthropologists who could not see beyond their own culture's values have tainted what little evidence we have on the origins and past expressions of these third genders, but studying with existing North American Indians that identify as these genders has improved this.  Nanda notes that across American Indian societies, gender variants had these features in common:  "transvestism, cross-gender occupation, same sex (but different gender) sexuality, some culturally normative and acknowledged process for recruitment to the role, special language and ritual roles, and associations with spiritual power" (2000:14).  More information on Native American gender variants are available here.  [shameful plug: Nanda's essay appears in this introduction to cultural anthropology reader].

"Two-Spirit" people of the Crow Indians.
Photo credit: AllyAction

While these are just a few examples of gender roles as they occur cross-culturally, they illustrate that just like sexuality, religion, and table manners, gender is not limited to just our culture's categories of expression, but is more like a spectrum of human diversity and possibility.  

Graphic Credit: I'm in Flux

I recently read the fantastic book Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman's 2010 update to their 1993 book about members of our culture who bend America's gender rules into something new.  Both volumes are composed of original contributions from untraditionally gendered individuals and provide insight to the struggles and triumphs faced by those that choose to create their own gender reality.  Like the film "Straightlaced," these books - along with the emergence of Queer Theory as a social science and the increasing portrayal of untraditional genders in the media - demonstrate that the movement to go beyond a dual-gendered cultural system is well underway in America.  I think an anthropological perspective remains as salient to our culture's understanding of gender today as it has been in the past and can only lend more context to this movement; I hope to use the perspective provided by the cross-cultural lens to ignite social change through my own activism, teaching, and research.

The glitter rainbow - an appropriate symbol for the gender spectrum?