Tag Archives: anthropology

Oh no, forgot about you there..

Wow, Teenthropologist readers, it has been quite a while. I apologise profusely for my lack of posts in the past year. To summarise, work took over my life and I fell out of love with blogging and social media – from an anthropological perspective, one only has to watch this poignant video to know why:


I long forgot the enjoyment and purpose of the blog – to inform others of my musings and ethnographies. But now that the majority of my assignments are in (I am soon to be a graduate Anthropologist- hurrah), I no longer have to see Anthropology as a subject of study to which I am assessed, but rather can go back to it being a wonderful hobby.

In short – Teenthropologist is back and ready to share.



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Dissertation – an anthropologists dream or nightmare?

I may be alone in actually choosing to do a degree for the sole purpose of being able to do a dissertation – our curriculum and what one should study has been set out for years and here is the chance to study and research whatever the hell I want. Passion drives motivation, and motivation leads to success so it is a recipe for genuinely interesting research and a toe dip into the ‘real’ academic world. That’s what I thought, and for the past two years I have dreamed about the time when I can let my own interests and passion (ok, starting to hate this word), drive my study.

Little did I know choosing a topic would be the most infuriating academic process I have ever gone through (let alone choosing a title), much worse than my worse exam ever (past or future). It MUST be easier for other subjects, already slightly defined in their discipline, but what about anthropology? It’s asset is its multi-disciplinary approach, but to have to chose something to narrow down to is near impossible. This is a compliment to the subject but how any anthropologist finds their niche is beyond me, and I would love to be enlightened by how you, reader, found your niche or key interest.

The frustration is not caused by not having any idea what I want to focus on. No, it is because the amount of things I could focus on could be listed down a whole loo roll and I’d still run out of room. From cultural identity, to the new social hierarchy, to altruism, to vitamin D deficiencies, to thrifty genotypes, to cumulative culture, to social depression the topics I would love to research are endless. On top of this, I want to make the most of being in the midst of exceptionally talented tutors and resources in the Durham University Anthropology Department, so if you add their fields of expertise into the mix, there is an explosion of anthropological chaos waiting to happen.

To say I am daunted would be an underestimate.

p.s. I think I’m going to have to stop apologising for my lack of posts, as no matter how I hard I try they are not going to be as regular as I’d like, so I hope that you are content with irregular, now and then musings!

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Dunbar’s number – Death and a Saadri

Recently I have read a lot of Robin Dunbar’s work in preparation for that research project looking at how social media has affected our social relationships. His main argument is that humans have the cognitive capacity to only maintain roughly 150 social relationships, a number known as Dunbar’s number. He argues that those relationships beyond this number, that may be found online (where social media supersedes time and cognitive constraints), are superficial and not meaningful, merely a representation of a person’s ability to memorise faces and names. The research project looked to see whether Facebook, and other social media sites have evaded this but this post is not about that project, but in fact about death and a saadri.

So why on earth have I brought a morbid topic of death into this? Well, last night I went to a Saadri (a Jain ritual/event that takes place after someone dies – a description is below), and I found it hard to believe that Dunbar’s number was constrained to 150.

A saadri is a somewhat unique event, (which when googled comes up with no description), among the Jain (more specifically the Indian-East African Jain) community. When a person dies, a saadri is held either that day or within a few days afterwards in a hired hall. Within this hall, the close family and friends of the deceased line up, with men and women having two separate lines and usually a picture of the deceased and a candle between, with people arranged with the closest to the deceased in the middle (nearest to the picture of the  deceased). Women wear white and seats are laid out throughout the hall in a regular fashion (with men and women separated). The saadri is the chance for anyone that knew or held a social relationship with the deceased to meet and pay their respects to the close family. When they enter the hall, they first go along the two lines and greet each person silently, offering their condolences, then take a seat. This takes place generally for 3 hours (though anyone can leave when they want), and within 10 minutes of the saadri starting a long queue often forms in order to meet the relatives of the deceased. Towards the end, there may be speeches, details of funeral arrangements or a few prayers may be sung. News of the timings and venue of a saadri moves quickly by word of mouth and is often posted on the Jain community website.

Sadly, I go to Saadri’s regularly but one thing that I have noticed for every single one that I have gone to, is that the number of people that attend and pay their respects far exceeds 150. In the case of yesterday, which was for my great aunt’s death, over a 1000 people attended, all having  some kind of social relationship with her. She was not a celebrity, did not have a mobile phone and certainly did not have any kind of social media – she was simply a 90 year old woman living in an elderly care home.

I know that Dunbar’s number verifies that 150 is for maintained relationships at one time, but in watching his speech on the TED channel where he describes these relationships as ones where were you to see someone at 3 am in a Hong Kong airport it would be mandatory for you to greet, I would argue that almost all of the people that attended the saadri would greet my great aunt in this scenario. If they wouldn’t then why would they acknowledge sadness at her death. Almost all saadri’s exceed 500 people in attendance and I remember aged 6 being in shock at over 3,000 people attending my foster grandmother’s one.

Maybe this large amount of people coming to a Saadri is unique to the Jain community, in fact maybe Dunbar’s number is not valid in the Jain community (I could come up with many reasons for why this may be the case). I just thought this was interesting to note, and whether you have found my musings on Dunbar’s number inane, I hope that at least you have learnt something about the saadri ceremony.

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Carpe Diem/”YOLO”

I hang my head in shame over the fact that it has been months since I last posted anything/went back into the world of teenthropology. To be honest it was hard to keep up motivation in making posts when you have no idea who the readers are/there are no personal benefts other than submitting yet more data into the internet-o-sphere, especially when other areas of my life have been pretty demanding. I’ve been energised though and whilst I definitely cannot guarantee frequent posts, I can commit to a couple here and there. genes

So yesterday, Dr Adam Rutherford (of Radio 4, scientific personality and genetic fame) came to give a talk and spoke about the misconceptions that exist in the media concerning genetics – such as there supposedly being a gene for pretty much everything ranging from violence to laziness to sudoku mastery. He pointed to misconstrued headlines informing the public that nearly everything in our nature can be bottled down to and are a product of our genes. Oh the power of the media.

As much as bad journalism can have bad consequences, I like to think that people would be critical of what they read and would not just accept that everything is down to their genes. Such genetic determinism could potentially have horrendous effects and I’m sure insurance companies would go wild. I do understand that having such incorrect headlines/misunderstood science is not the best of things, but I don’t think that these sorts of headlines are all that surprising or devastating. If anything they make human propaganda and hypochondria all the more entertaining.

Putting all the ‘serial murderer’ genes that have been used in court appeals aside, the mentality that ideas of genetic determinism and reduction has produced is quite revolutionary I think. I think it has made people more care-free and accepting of their fate “as it is in their genes” and any activity/behavior would prove meaningless (their ideals not mine). The current teenage motto trend of “YOLO” or You Only Live Once, also known in Latin terms as Carpe Diem (seize the day) reinforces that life’s too short to worry about what our genes are going to cause or do – we have no control over them, and we only live once so we might as well make the most of it and blame everything on the genes.

Now I personally do not believe in genetic determinism – whilst I think that many predispositions can be found in our genes, I think behavior and actions are just as important in determining their ‘activation’ and effects. It’s nice to pretend though that ‘what happens happens’ and if that can have a biological basis then that is even more motivation for me to take the plunge and do risky things I might not usually do, cause hey, life’s too short.

Life is after all a terminal disease contracted at birth.

So long as correct science is also portrayed in the media, I think it says a lot of the naivety and gullibleness of the general public if they genuinely believe that there is a gene for infidelity. How amusing for the rest of us that can see through the rubbish. If it gives us some entertainment and makes people live life to the fullest then I see no harm done.

*I would just like to add that beliefs of genetic determinism may not always lead to a YOLO mentality and that I have made many various sweeping assumptions above. I also do actually believe that only correct science explained well with a good understanding broken down to normal non-Brian Cox people should be conveyed in the media.

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Socialnomics/Social Media’s presence

(Click this > to watch) Socialnomics/Social Media’s presence

Akin to my previous comments on the attachment of teenagers to phones and the way that social media has changed social relationships and interactions, I would HIGHLY recommend you all to watch this video from start to finish.. not just because of the great music but because of the statistics that you might find slightly shocking and some bits that are a tad amusing (for the wrong reasons). Watch watch watch!

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Over the past few days I have been asking every teenager I have met what staple foods and drinks they would not be able to live without (not literally) and then giving them choices they had to pick from. The results were actually quite unanimous but not all that surprising (well for me) and I think certain big companies should take note of this as they may have found new target consumers.

The food of choice was the potato and the drink of choice was a cup of tea. ImageYes, that’s right, I asked 36 teenage boys and 27 teenage girls whether they would give up tea or alcohol if they could only live with one and 73% said they’d give up alcohol. This was a very small sample scale and may well just apply to Durham University students but I found it surprising (and very British, though these results may be biased by the 2012 year of the jubilee, Olympics and general Britishness) that teenagers these days would pick a cuppa over an alcoholic substance that seems to be central to so many of their surges of confidences and nights out.

I’m not surprised at all about the potato as that is a staple, and the source of chips and jackey p’s and all heavenly foods that are fundamental to teenager self catering. But the first choice of Tea! I’ve noticed that there has been less marketing over stopping binge drinking (it looks like it’s shifted more towards adults who habitually drink every night rather than binging on the weekend) but I hadn’t realised that there had been such a shift in preferences. As I said, this may all just be a total coincidence to the teenagers that I interact with who might just be abnormal teenagers with inner old granny personalities but the more that I think about it, the more that I think that yes actually, the teenager may be the actual core consumer for tea than the stereotypical granny or housewife or builder.Image

Now that my year group is now longer living together in college/halls and in separate houses/flats all over town, we generally do invite people round for a cup of tea and in the times of procrastination or just getting ready to start work or have a fry up, the tea is the first staple. When you look more into it too, the effects of having a good cuppa can be more enticing (and a lot more cheaper) than those of alcohol which usually comes with more regret anyway.

I have a previous post about the place that popcorn is beginning to play in our teenage lives, and now I can add to that and say that Tea is making a comeback. It might be to do with this whole massive surge in Britishness and patriotism but I think it’s more to do with people subconsciously realising how much they love and crave a good cup of hot tea. I will openly admit that I am a tea addict and I think that it is great that now it can be cool to be an addict for what used to not be thought of as a ‘cool’ chemical.

I haven’t even touched upon the ritual of tea making, the different types and all that jazz but the fact that it encompasses all of this not to mention the social cohesion that tea brings shows how fundamental it is to our daily lives. I think we may need to have a proper subcategory for Anthropology now, all the usual besides, just dedicated to food and drink. Maybe that can be my speciali-tea.

Tea and Potatoes

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News Online

With it being so easy to find a news article online in a split second, you’d think that this was a great benefit of the technological advances of the 21st Century, revolutionising News reporting. I certainly believed this to be the case, when news such as Osama bin Laden’s death, and the Egypt uprisings spread across the world within an hour via the means of Twitter and social media. Social networks like Facebook collaborated with leading newspapers to create apps whereby one can read articles through Facebook and see what their friends are reading too. Though this was an invasion of the privacy of whatever one chooses to read, I thought this was great, and upon seeing friends reading articles who I know never pick up newspapers and rarely have any interest in current affairs, I thought this would reap benefits. Nowadays, particularly in the midst of these Olympics, my Facebook homepage is always filled with recently read articles, and so I decided to spend a good 20 minutes just observing what my friends and fellow teenagers were reading on the internet to see if I could pick out any trends or just make any conclusions.

It took only 7 minutes for me to find one key trend and for it to transform my viewpoint of online news. All but one article that my friends have read recently (well according to Facebook) had been written pre-2010 and were from 4 online newspaper websites: The Guardian, The Washington Post, Yahoo and younews (India). Aside from the Guardian, the news articles were so outdated and not well written at all. Some outrightedly had misinformed data and were based on purely speculation that not even low brow gossip tabloids would include. I asked one of my friends who I had seen read an article about Harry Potter on the younews link their thoughts on it, and they had no idea that it was two years old and had been written by a member of the public rather than a journalist. With another friend, I asked them about the Yahoo article they had read about two frenemy celebrities, and she quickly changed the subject to how she’d read yesterday that Francis Boulle was going out with Louise Thompson from Made In Chelsea. I gave this a quick Google and in fact they date in early 2011, not recently. These two friends are studying at Cambridge.

Now this is just very selective to my Facebook friends, who all may well just be unobservant of dates and not caring about the quality and accuracy of the news that they are reading but I am almost certain that this applies to many teenagers across the UK who may not have been brought up by newspaper reading parents/who have no care for “proper” news per se, but just easily accessible gossip news that is right on their Facebook homepage made all the more cooler by their friends reading it and making it trend.

This led me to do some research and find out how online newspapers are doing generally (especially with the adult/post-educated), and who the main forerunners. I was shocked to find out that the New York Times has lost its ranking as the worlds biggest newspaper website to Britain’s Daily Mail. And only a quarter of Mail’s online readers are British. This is supposedly because of its political slant and biases which cause it to do well in an international global market, which apparently is the market necessary to exploit in order to survive as an online newspaper business. (Source: The Economist, 17th March 2012).

The fact that there is such a lack of impartial (well as best as it can be), good, clean news circulating around ordinary folk scares me. I really hope that my generation, with all this unreliable news at their fingertips, learns to evaluate it and take it all with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, I very much doubt that the Newspaper in paper form is going to have a strong presence in our lives and current affairs after 50 years, and the internet is always going to be filled with inaccuracies and trolls so it is up to us to read between the lines and make sure that we are not easily persuaded.

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What is Anthropology?

One of the downsides to Anthropology being a less well known field in schools (and communities) means that not a lot of people know what it actually is about other than maybe knowing it has something to do with humans and bones. I say communities because for every person in the British Asian community that I have spoken to that knows what Anthropology is, there has been at least 50 with no idea, and according to some of my Anth friends, this is the same for others too.

So then I get asked by those who want to know, what is Anthropology?

And then there is silence. I still haven’t mastered a proper answer (I really should and memorise it), I just sort of say that it’s an interdisciplinary field that studies humans in a broad context ranging from sociology to genetics to geography. It is both an art and a humanity that involves nearly every field. And then I throw in a few examples that usually gets them interested. Then I realise that this is a terrible answer and I am not doing the subject any justice at all. I just searched around the internet and dictionary (for probably the hundredth time) looking for a better and more succinct definition and couldn’t find the right one. It’s kind of like the word Anthropology being just like one of its analytical categories such as marriage – impossible to define when you really look into it.

So now I get all sorrowful and sad, not just by the fact that I can’t really put into words a description of a subject I am so “passionate” about, but by the fact that I am feeling like I need to find a proper definition, arguably so as to prove to people that yes I am studying a very important academic field that rivals the likes of Chemistry.

A little bit of me now doesn’t really want to find a proper definition. Selfish I know, but I just feel that if I attempt to convince people (note the word convince) of Anthropology who have it imbrained that only the Sciences and Maths are real subjects, I am belittling such a wonderful field. Anthropology doesn’t deserve that.

In hopefully my first proper interactive post, I ask YOU, What is Anthropology? How would you define it? I was going to have a proper poll/answer input but realised that this is for everyone’s benefit/interest so please comment below instead.

I am genuinely interested to see how ‘ordinary’ people would define it. If possible, please also state your relationship to Anthropology, i.e. whether you are just interested by it, whether you are a lecturer etc. You may even just put your favourite definition of what it is as said by someone else.

My personal favourite definition of Anthropology that sadly other people just don’t seem understand so I rarely orally repeat it is by Daniel Miller (an Anthropologist at UCL and author of “Stuff” – a great book, review shall come soon!):

An anthropologist is someone who seeks to demonstrate the consequences of the universal for the particular and of the particular for the universal by equal devotion to the empathetic understanding and encompassment of both.

Thank you in advance!

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1904 to 2012 – Anthropology Days at the Olympics

Did you know that at the 1904 Olympic games, on the 12th and 13th August, there were “Anthropology Days” which were a ‘scientific’ experiment by Anthropologists to see how the indigenous and “savages” compared to white men in sports. These were undignified and basically disgraceful events, chosen by the White men who obviously were going to be advantaged compared to the untrained Others. The Olympics founder, Baron de Coubertin, prophetically noted that such a charade

“will of course lose its appeal when black men, red men, and yellow men learn to run, jump, and throw, and leave the white men behind them.”

And look at the Olympics today. We are on the second day of the Olympics and Brazil have 3 medals compared to our British 0. No White 100m Athlete can really compete with Usain Bolt. Hearing about these Anthropology days fills me with disgust, not just by the discriminatory nature of those experiments but by the fact that the word Anthropology is associated with such an ethnocentric concept. What Anthropology really is about is the complete opposite – it is not about the degrading of other nations or studying them like caged, barbaric animals, far from it.

Boris Johnson said that Anthropologists will have a field day at these games and with its effects and legacies for years after, and from reading people’s responses to this I feel that I have to clarify a few things. Yes as the name suggests we study Humans in all aspects but we do not do it in a way that looks to see which nation is better than another. We admire the Olympic Games for the bringing together of so many countries and cultures (there were lots of countries in the opening ceremony that I hadn’t heard of!) and learning about their diversity. In fact as a biological anthropologist I have found it fascinating to see how our bodies can be so adapted for particular sports let alone how far we can push the limits. There are so many subfields of Anthropology that the Olympic Games fits into, but there is no place for ethnocentrism or discrimination.

The world is more globalised than ever and with a billion people expected to watch the Olympics interested in their own countries progress, the competition against other nations and the host city, I hope that 100 years on from the “Anthropology Days” of 1904, people understand and realise the true meaning and importance of Anthropology.

A massive apology again for the lack of posts recently, I can’t guarantee posts everyday  – my London 2012 schedule just won’t permit it but please visit this blog when you can to catch up. I cannot wait to do an ethnography concerning a few Olympic events that I’m going to see and I am still working on some great posts about my time in the Indian slums.

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Rain Rain Rain

Again I’d just like to apologise that it has been nearly a week since my last post! Work and everything has been super busy and manic, I’ve barely had a second to myself let alone go on the computer and construct a good post! But here is one now, and I promise that from next Monday once everything gets a bit settled in my diary there shall be posts nearly everyday covering a diverse range of topics. I spent a month living in the slums in Gujarat, India last December (with lions!) and have recently been going over my diary/ethnographies/research, so shall definitely tell you about that at some point soon too.

ImageSo the topic of this post comes as no surprise to any of you that live in London or the UK. Over the past few days we have experienced the most temperamental weather ever. Sunny and hot one moment, then soaked the next second as a bucket of rain comes out of nowhere. Unlike many other cultures around the world such as the Tarahumara of Mexico, we do not have a rain dance (“rutuburi”) and rain does not have such a significance to our lives – our fertility doesn’t change depending on the rain patterns (well that’s what I think) and we are unlikely to go immediately hungry if there is a serious lack of rain. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a massive cultural significance and I propose that it actually may be one of the cores of British culture, perhaps pinnacle to how our society functions.

Stereotypically, London is known for its rain (maybe this huge amount of rain is to show those coming for the Olympics that they are indeed in London). But unlike how many people suggest that miserable weather = miserable emotions and attitudes, it does not mean that Londoners are miserable. Yes we might get a bit grumpy if we are caught out in the rain without any waterproofs/umbrellas, but whether you are a kid or not there is something wholly satisfying about jumping in a puddle of water with wellies on. And anyway, having rain just makes you appreciate the Sun (on those rare occasions when it comes out) even more. But what draws me to rain from an anthropological perspective is the way that it changes people’s interactions and forces social interaction with arguably a boost in the economy (well in coffee shops anyway). Maybe this applies just to the people around me, but I’ve noticed that when there is rain, there are a lot more conversations, usually about the weather (will it clear up, will there be floods etc) and a lot more interaction between random strangers, usually under a bus or shop shelter. I think it also boosts creativity – when “stuck” inside, your thoughts will stay focused but be outside of the box rather than thinking more about the lovely weather outside and how you could be having picnics rather than working.

Rain is also healthy, stress free (to an extent) and a time generator. All those things that I have put off like sorting out cupboards are all the more liberating and motivating when its pouring down with rain outside. There’s also nothing like sitting down to watch a film with popcorn, a duvet and a cuppa when you know that actually there is nothing better to do/no regrets about wasting the glorious weather. As a teenager at university, rain does not bring procrastination, but bonding with flatmates over boardgames and a chance to bake some experimental cakes.

Respect to rain. Without it we would not have quite so beautiful parks, gardens and countryside and without it we would not have a sense of unity with all those others sharing those drips, clichéd chats about the weather and successful coffee shops and cinemas. If you are British, you know that whilst you are not liking this April weather in July when it is meant to be “Summer”, you are secretly proud of, appreciative and love what it stands for.  

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