April 16, 2006

Ancient States Presentation

Following a peer review, I've changed around some things on my paper and began my Powerpoint presentation for Monday morning:

The archaeological site of Lamanai in present-day Belize was inhabited for more than two thousand years, making it one of the longest continuously occupied sites in the region. Settlement began in the early Preclassic period (2000-900 BCE) and continued until Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. Lamanai’s persistence can be partly attributed to its role in the regulation of Maya trade, which in turn is due to its proximity to the New River. Previous research at Lamanai has focused primarily on ceremonial and residential architecture, ecology, and political economy. Consequently, few investigations have focused specifically on the subsistence practices of the ancient residents at Lamanai. The lack of archaeological data concerning agriculture limits our ability to develop theories that attempt to explain the rise of social and political complexity at Lamanai. Archaeological remains of intensive practices such as canal irrigation, raised fields, and terracing at other lowland sites in northern Belize occur in analogous ecological contexts and can illuminate the situation at Lamanai. This paper will discuss the types of agricultural practices that may have supported the residents of Lamanai and their subsistence economy, concluding that in the absence of direct evidence, examining the nature of the interactions between humans and their environment holds great potential for guiding future research.

Posted by Will at 12:07 AM

March 17, 2006

Foundations of Applied Anthropology: Public involvement in archaeology

I had heard of some archaeologists using community volunteers to carry out fieldwork but I always thought that it was sort of a public service apart from getting real work done. Of course this is not the case and it’s (in my opinion) completely necessary for archaeologists to not only engage the public but invite them to get dirty and make real contributions to research results. From what I know about the field many archaeologists can be rather elitist or give the impression that their research is too important to invest time and effort in involving the general public. This is where applied archaeology comes in and why I think it’s important to constantly engage the public on several levels. Would involving non-archaeologists in actual excavations and analyses compromise the rigorousness of a study? Basically, I feel that in most situations (but not all) the benefits of inviting the public to participate in archaeology far outweigh any potential risks. I think it’s irresponsible for an archaeologist to assume that just because a person doesn’t have a degree they are going to ruin a dig or compromise results. There’s an inherent risk in bringing aboard untrained individuals to help with your work, but so is believing that your training automatically makes you a better steward of the past.

Another interesting point is raised by some anecdotal evidence. When I was in Belize two summers ago with a field school it turned out that the locals hired to help with clearing and moving dirt were actually very successful at contributing to the goals of the project. As students we were learning all about methods and types of analyses but were still very new to archaeology. Some of our helpers had been on many digs throughout Mesoamerica and although they had no formal training, they were able to locate certain artifacts more readily than most of the students (usually the very small copper prills our instructor was primarily interested in). Richard Leaky describes how some of his fossil hunting expeditions were only successful after local guides were able to spot skeletal fragments on the surface, objects that would be invisible to most people unfamiliar with the terrain. Finally, many untrained people who participate in archaeology will sometimes come up with ideas or theories that may never have crossed the mind of the trained archaeologist. We often get so caught up in our research goals that we can easily miss things that aren’t immediately relevant to what’s in our cluttered mind at that moment. Of course overcoming this obstacle is part of the archaeologist’s training and takes practice and patience, but I find it hard to believe that a single individual with a piece of sheepskin is the end-all when it comes to ensuring sound treatment of the past. Finally, I’ll end by saying that there are indeed certain situations where having untrained individuals would be detrimental or impractical to a project, especially when you are dealing with human remains or highly publicized sites.

Posted by Will at 10:47 AM | Comments (2)

March 08, 2006

Application for Graduate Student Research Award

This is a short "grant" proposal that I'm applying for with the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at USF. It's supposed to be what my thesis is this summer, but as I haven't yet nailed down a specific topic it's sort of vague, but it does provide a general picture of what I hope to do. The prize? A plane ticket to Honduras.

Two of the central goals of the Department of Anthropology are to provide “applied archaeological insight of the prehistory of Florida, the Caribbean region and the world” and “historical and contemporary studies of Latin America and the Caribbean.” These goals, along with those of the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean, will provide the foundation for the research project outlined below.

The proposed project will be carried out in rural northwest Honduras, near the country’s second largest metropolis and one of the fastest growing urban areas in Central America, San Pedro Sula. This rapid expansion is expected to result in an urban population of more than one million people in the coming years, leading to increased human pressure on land and resources already stretched beyond their limits. Widespread poverty and concerns about the sustainability of current land management strategies create an urgent need for applied research. Archaeology is one of the many fields that have the potential to inform the situation in Honduras and offer insight regarding sustainable development. Methods that will be used to gather such data include surveying and mapping of local communities and archaeological sites, excavations in areas where ancient subsistence is apparent, laboratory analysis, and formal interviews with individuals living in communities potentially affected by urban expansion. The practical and theoretical tools of archaeology will be used to structure a research design that (a) is informed by past and present research in the area including useful projects in other areas of applied research, (b) incorporates the goals of the Department of Anthropology and ISLAC, (c) makes the best use of resources offered by USF and the local community in Honduras, and (d) has an end product offering useful data with the potential for practical application.

First, specific methodologies and theoretical frameworks employed over the course of the project will be informed by past and contemporary research which has demonstrated the usefulness of archaeological approaches in addressing issues of sustainability. The extent of such research is great and will be enhanced by the contributions made by this project’s applied dimension. Second, the goals set forth by the Department of Anthropology and ISLAC will guide the project to completion by placing the often static nature of archaeological “snapshots” in the social, political, and environmental universe of contemporary Honduran life. Third, the goals of the project will be realized using the resources offered by the University as well as by the Honduran government and local communities. At USF, these include but are not limited to financial resources, research and laboratory facilities, and the expertise of archaeologists and other applied researchers. The Honduran government works closely with archaeologists from all over the world and the local community will provide an important resource for information not available anywhere else. Finally, the project will result in a written thesis that will be used as a requirement toward a Masters thesis in Applied Anthropology with the potential for subsequent publication and presentation at professional conferences.

As always, this weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Posted by Will at 11:54 PM

March 02, 2006

Lost in Translation

Here's the short introduction to my paleoclimatology paper and presentation that's coming up on Monday. Does anyone know what the hell I'm talking about because I sure don't:

This paper will examine the methodology used in examining variation in the shell and tissue of marine organisms. Sources of shell and fossil tissue variation, how shell and tissue relate, and differential carbon and nitrogen signatures within and between tissue types and shells will be examined for the purpose of how these processes can illuminate paleoclimate reconstruction. A discussion of the role of tropic layers and geographic location of organisms will account for the various contributing factors.

Oh what fun it is to write about something that you have no background in whatsoever. And I'm not kidding, I really don't comprehend 90% of the stuff I'm trying to talk about in this paper. Just use big words, nice sentences, and hope for a little pity.

Posted by Will at 01:26 PM

February 28, 2006

Culture, Power, and History in Cabanaconde, Peru: A Multidimensional approach to Anthropological Advocacy

Paper submitted 28 Feb. 2006
Foundations of Applied Anthropology II
University of South Florida

When addressing the problems arising from the intersection of culture, power, and history from an anthropological perspective, it is important to recognize the often disparate viewpoints that inform research objectives. These viewpoints belong to the anthropologist, the individuals or the communities being studied, as well as others that may be directly or indirectly involved in a particular issue. Their unique experiences are defined by culture, power, and history and fundamentally shape how each group confronts a given situation. Thus, the researcher who aims to become an advocate for a people must understand the complexities that inform his or her own anthropological perspective as well as that of the group being advocated for. Only after grasping each worldview will the advocate make progress. This paper will examine the water management situation described by Gelles (1994) in the highland peasant community of Cabanaconde in southern Peru in order to highlight the importance of a multidimensional approach to anthropological advocacy.

The fluidity of culture, power, and history is one reason it has often been difficult for anthropology to maintain a definitional consensus on these three concepts. The relatively short history of the field coupled with its own dynamic nature further complicate this situation. The social revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s fundamentally restructured anthropology in the United Stated as the emergence of applied and action anthropology found acceptance among a small but growing circle of academics (Bennett 1996). As a result, scholars are beginning to approach the concepts of culture, power, and history from a different perspective, one that emphasizes the existence of multiple, equally valid sets of meanings. Additionally, the meanings given by one community, group, or individual may or may not compliment those of another.

Wright (1998) defined two sets of ideas about what culture is: one that is inextricably linked to a people and one that is defined in terms of political processes and the power to define. When a checklist typology is employed to delineate what seems to be a unique group of individuals, as with the former set of ideas, much is lost in terms of individuality and the possibility of those being advocated for having an active role in the advocacy process. The latter is more congruent with a strategy that takes into account the large variety of experiences and viewpoints that make up a culture. Like culture, “power” alone is often too broad of a concept to convey the complexities that define a situation. Wolf (1989) articulates this idea by describing four different modes of power: as an attribute of the person, as one person imposing his or her will on another, power that controls contexts, and as power that “…specifies the distribution and direction of energy flows.” By describing finer meanings of the concept of power Wolf creates the possibility of capturing the variable experiences of people as they exist within a society’s power structure. Finally, history cannot be taken for granted in an advocacy strategy because often a group’s present situation has come about due to past events and how these have interacted with the concepts described above. The intersection of culture, power, and history is both complex and distinct in Cabanaconde.

Gelles’ (1994) study focuses on the peasant community of Cabanaconde and how it navigates a political system that, like any other, is the product of a long and complex history. The official political structure is made up of a municipal council, a governor, an irrigation commission, a local water administrator, and two water mayors. A number of powerful and influential families are also involved in the political process. Cabanaconde’s situation is influenced on a regional scale as well. Although locally managed, the Irrigators Commission has an effect on water management when it enacts the state model of irrigation during dry spells of the rainy season. This group has an interest in maintaining the state model for a certain period of time and, when not burdened by shady commission members looking to benefit themselves, can be quite effective. Although Cabaneño society is economically differentiated, often resulting in conflicting interests from these different groups, acquiring wealth is not the only motivating factor behind differing viewpoints. Gelles discusses at length the complicated and ritualized nature of localized water management and how this plays out in the context of power relations. More important than the specific details of these practices is the reality of them and the value placed on the structure they provide. This is an example of history intersecting with culture in such a way as to provide a set of boundaries within which power relations are carried out. The complexity of the entire system is evident in the multiple intersections between these three concepts. In other words, each concept is played out in the context of the other two.

An additional viewpoint that is absent from Gelles’ two-part study is that of the anthropologist. While this is not necessarily detrimental to the value of such work, it becomes integral when designing a successful advocacy strategy. Hastrup and Elsass (1990:307) make this point when they conclude that “anthropology is concerned with context rather than interest, while advocacy means making a choice among interests within the context.” When anthropologists decide to cross over into the realm of advocacy, they bring with them their own experiences and worldview and are forced to examine these in relation to indigenous concepts of culture, power, and history.

The role of these various viewpoints and how they interact is important to advocacy strategies that are informed by anthropological studies. The dynamics that shape how, when, and by whom water is manipulated are deeply embedded in personal- and community-level relationships (power), beliefs about the supernatural properties of water as well as rational norms and community expectations (culture), and organizational structure and ideas about land management (history). In order to achieve the goals set forth in a successful advocacy strategy, it is important to synthesize the characteristics of Cabanaconde’s water management system with nonrestrictive, contextualized definitions of culture, power, and history (described above). Underlying this approach is the recognition that indigenous or traditional concepts of reality, however incongruous with those of anthropology, are equally valid. The rest of this paper will outline a potential advocacy strategy that underscores the importance of a multidimensional approach.

The concepts of culture, power, and history and their intersections correspond to the different components of an advocacy strategy that could be implemented in Cabanaconde. First, recognition of and respect for the culture of the peasant farmers should inform the particulars of the strategy. The strategy must recognize that Cabaneños exist in the same physical world as the advocate anthropologist. All humans require water for survival and this is a fundamental reality that connects peasant farmer to advocate. With this realization firmly in place, advocacy planning can proceed in such a way as to not dismiss even the smallest nuance of Cabaneño water management. Second, recognition of the power relationships that define water management must be at the forefront of the advocacy strategy. These relationships translate to social structures that hold together the current system, for better or worse. Becoming cognizant of the dynamics that inform these relationships independent of their role in the exploitation or suppression of indigenous rights will ensure that an advocacy strategy is effective. Finally, history provides a context that sheds light on all aspects of a strategy and can magnify the finer points of a situation.

It has been shown that there is much that needs to be considered when integrating advocacy with anthropological research. Concepts of culture, power, and history are often too broad to account for the complexities of a given situation. In the case of water management at Cabanaconde in Peru, peasant farmers, like any group of individuals, must make decisions in a variety of contexts. To reduce these contexts to three terms can be problematic, but need not restrict the anthropologist who wishes to offer information and insight. These terms are convenient for generalized discussion but must be more specifically defined in order to achieve the goal of aiding indigenous communities in mobilization efforts. It is not the job of the anthropologist to single-handedly induce change. Instead, the advocate anthropologist should recognize the impossibility of separating culture, power, and history for the purpose of bettering one or more. The inclusion of all viewpoints that are involved in a situation is directly linked to the success or failure of an advocacy strategy.


Bennett, John W.
1996 Applied and Action Anthropology: Ideological and Conceptual Aspects. Current Anthropology (supplement, February) 36: S23-S53.

Gelles, Paul H.
1994 Channels of Power, Fields of Contention: The Politics of Irrigation and Land Recovery in an Andean Peasant Community. In Irrigation at High Altitudes: The Social Organization of Water Control Systems in the Andes, edited by William P. Mitchell and David Guillet, pp. 233-273. Society for Latin American Anthropology Publication number 12.

Hastrup, Kirsten and Peter Elsass
1990 Anthropological Advocacy: A Contradiction in Terms?. Current Anthropology 31(3): 301-311.

Wolf, Eric R.
1990 Distinguished Lecture: Facing Power-Old Insights, New Questions. American Anthropologist 92: 586-596.

Wright, Susan
1998 The politicization of “culture.” Anthropology Today 14(1): 7-15.

As always, this weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Posted by Will at 01:48 PM

February 19, 2006

A couple of papers

Here are the abstracts of two papers I am working on. For Ancient States, I'm writing about agriculture at Lamanai in present-day northern Belize, where I studied for a month two summers ago:

The archaeological site of Lamanai in present-day Belize was inhabited by the Maya for more than two thousand years, making it one of the longest continuously occupied sites in the region. Settlement began in the early Preclassic period (2000-900 BCE) and continued until Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. Lamanai’s persistence can be partly attributed to its role in the regulation of Maya trade, which in turn is due to its proximity to the New River. Previous research at Lamanai has focused primarily on ceremonial and residential architecture, ecology, and political economy. Consequently, few investigations have focused specifically on the subsistence practices of the ancient residents at Lamanai. Data gathered from other lowland sites and regions in northwest Belize and the Belize River Valley provide analogous ecological contexts that can illuminate the situation at Lamanai and provide direction for future research. Drawing from research that has been carried out at Lamanai and similar sites, this paper will explore the role of agriculture and how it facilitated the establishment of Lamanai as an independent city-state.

And for Graduate Seminar II, we are to write a 5-page paper about anthropological advocacy and the intersection of culture, power, and history:

When addressing the problems arising from the intersection of culture, power, and history from an anthropological perspective, it is important to recognize the often disparate viewpoints that inform research objectives. These viewpoints belong to the anthropologist, the individuals or the communities being studied, as well as others that may be directly or indirectly involved in a particular issue. Their unique experiences are defined by culture, power, and history and fundamentally shape how each group confronts a given situation. Thus, the researcher who aims to become an advocate for a people must understand the complexities that inform his or her own anthropological perspective as well as that of the group being advocated for. Only after grasping both worldviews will the advocate make progress. This paper will examine a small sample of representative case studies to highlight the importance of a multidimensional approach to anthropological advocacy.

As always, this weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Posted by Will at 06:31 PM

February 15, 2006

A tale of two papers

I have a paper proposal due on Monday for the Ancient States course I’m taking. Last semester in Chiefdoms I wrote on water management and claims to land resources during a shift from a kinship social structure to one defined by kingship in the Maya lowlands. One section of that paper was to be about state appropriation and management of water resources but I ended up scrapping it because it seemed forced at the time. I’m thinking about reviving my thoughts on that for the Ancient States paper and narrowing it down to talk about either a) the similarities/differences between water management in territorial states and city-states (a distinction made in Trigger’s Understanding Early Civilizations, our course text) or b) continuities between prestate and state forms of water management (perhaps as related to agriculture?). I’d really like to take one of these routes because I already have a nice stack of articles on the topic from some stuff I did last semester. I’m waiting on some feedback from my prof/advisor because I have yet to come up with a nice, solid thesis. Oh how I miss the days of doing book reports on other countries where the most complicated research involved tracking down the average annual precipitation and major exports.

In Paleoclimatology, I am working with two of my archaeology friends on a group paper due at the end of the semester. In two weeks we have individual papers and class presentations about a research technique used in paleoclimatology. I wish I could tell you more but after a brief review of a fraction of the literature, I've determined that geologists and climatologists speak a foreign language (not sure what it is yet). We're the only three archaeologists in a class of about 15 environmental science grad students studying advanced techniques and theories. For instance, here's what I picked up from today's lecture (each ellipsis represents about 10 minutes lecture time): "OK, welcome...the earth...climate change...rotates on an axis...sediment cores...*professor coughs*...temperature variation..."

Posted by Will at 02:48 PM

January 14, 2006

Foundations of Applied Anthropology: A response

One of my courses, entitled Foundations of Applied Anthropology II, requires us to post five questions and five resposes to classmates' questions over the course of the semester. This is done on USF's internet web forums. I'll reproduce some of my responses periodically because it makes for a quick and easy blog post!

We are currently reading Skull Wars by David Thomas Hurst. One of my classmates asks about the role of applied anthropology, early governmental policies regarding Native Americans, and today's policy of spreading democracy and peace throughout the world (in other words, capitalism).

I too, while reading Skull Wars, saw the parallels between the U.S. government’s early Native American policies and our current policy regarding democracy and the spread of peace. There are some big differences but the effect is the same. The Western world, of which we are the most powerful representatives, have a monopoly on morality and worldview. It is often opined that cultures different than our own are somehow either against us or wanting to be like us. While this has never been explicitly stated by any recent administration (I could be wrong), foreign policy indicates that it is the dominate way of viewing nonwestern societies. As the federal government has an uncanny ability to shape public opinion, we end up with an American culture that is largely oblivious and sometimes even hostile toward cultures that do not exhibit similarities to a Western way of viewing the world. My classmate goes on to state that capitalism can be viewed as a more humane form of slavery. I would agree with this only after pointing out that in what is traditionally considered a slave/master relationship, there is a thinking human on both ends while capitalism is an economic system with a life of its own, dominated by those who wish to gain the greatest amount of wealth possible. For most, getting caught up in the capitalist machine is unavoidable because it is greater than any one person.

Social scientists are the “experts” on anything having to do with humans, at least in the view of the general public and the federal government. There is one small catch, however: they pick and choose. If the social sciences publish something that does not help a particular viewpoint or policy, it is simply ignored by the policy makers. Conversely, if they find a tidbit of information that furthers a cause they latch on to it not necessarily because it demonstrates a truth about humanity but because it is science and this alone produced the credibility of our product in the eyes of many. “Well, it’s science, sorry.” This puts the burden on us to produce responsible research, always mindful of who may be using it and for whatever purpose. It is wrong to take a hands-off approach and conclude that even if we do good science it is not our responsibility to ensure that it isn’t eventually used for harmful purposes.

I believe that anthropology, and applied anthropology in particular, is in a unique position to affect change and influence the wider society in which we are forced to operate. Like it or not, we live in a capitalist society that was built on the backs of those we eventually forgot about via poor policy-making and patronizing efforts to recognize our roots. This has changed dramatically over the past several decades although we still have a ways to go. The role of anthropology should be to play mediator in the growing influence of Western ideals and morality. We cannot stop the spread of the negative and harmful aspects of Western culture but we can facilitate the spread of the positive ones, such as charity and a genuine concern for others.

Posted by Will at 06:34 PM

October 30, 2005

Language and Thought

The question of whether or not language determines how humans think does not yield a simple, concise answer that accounts for all possible variations within reality. Few questions raised in the social sciences do. For this reason, the language-cognition debate in anthropology has been ongoing since its establishment as a discipline and continues to explore aspects of language, thought, and action. The two hypothetical extremes of each respective side of the debate are equally implausible: language has nothing to do with how humans view and act within the world or humans are subject to the rules of language and as a result their experiences and perceptions are inseparable from the dictates of this structure. The former does not take into account the validity of linguistic relativity while the latter seems to deny human ingenuity and creativity. This short paper will present brief overviews of representative readings relevant to the debate. It will be shown that while neither of the extremes mentioned above serve as an accurate synthesis of current linguistic evidence, arguing that language does indeed influence how we think will lead to the most reasonable conclusion.

Taking Sides (2005) presents the debate as if it were indeed a strict “yes/no” issue. By providing brief representative writings from each side, the authors allow the reader to compare and contrast at a broad level. However, after reading each of the sides and considering what is presented, one comes away with the notion that while we are not trapped within the walls of linguistic determinism there is certainly a degree of relativity between different human languages and the way their speakers think. Pinker admits there is a relationship between language and thought but that the former does not determine the latter in the way that Whorf hypothesized. Gumperz and Levinson are more generous in the various ways language structure influences thoughts.

If language does not determine how we think, how are we to describe what is happening within the heads of all humans when they process information and manifest these thoughts verbally? Pinker proposes a universal mental language, mentalese (Endicott and Welsch 2005). Teng (1999) contends that Fodor’s version, a Language of Thought hypothesis, is not supported by the systematicity of language and that “cognitive activity can occur without a language of thought.” If cognitive activity can indeed occur as Teng proposes then one is able to process sensory information without “thinking in English,” for example. I tentatively agree with this notion to the extent that it does not completely separate spoken language and all aspects of thought processes.

Hill and Manheim (1992) describe a shift in the linguistic paradigm to include the “fragmented and contingent nature of human worlds,” whereas previous linguistic research took for granted the “wholeness and persistence” of these worlds. Another central issue of the authors’ thesis is that the linguistic relativity espoused by Boas, Sapir, and Whorf is to be taken as more of an epistemological stance rather than a hypothesis in the traditional sense. As a result linguists are rethinking the ways in which they explore the connections between certain linguistic phenomena and psychobiology.

The authors go on to suggest that the traditionally-accepted version of the “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” is inconsistent with the writing of both men and that, as mentioned above, it is not a hypothesis. Several alternatives to traditional linguistic frameworks are explored, including cognitive linguistics and Silverstein’s interpretive rendering of linguistic relativism. Hill and Manheim’s central thesis of pulling away from universal relationships of language in favor of a focus on ideologies as they relate to specific languages signals that there is room (and perhaps a need) for a shift in thinking.

Hill and Manheim also make note of Sherzer’s (1987) discourse-centered approach to language studies. And like the previous article discussed Sherzer aims to reevaluate (then) current ways of looking at culture/language relationships. Essentially Sherzer believes that by looking at discourse, or grammar-independent oral or written interactions, one can reconceptualize the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. He gives a handful of useful examples that illustrate his point that discourse is manifested in the multi-dimensional aspects of word usage and sentence structure.

Finally, Mendoza-Denton (1996) describes an interesting and provocative examination of how Latina gang girls speak about and conceptualize their use of makeup in relation to their broader appearance and demeanor. She starts off by indirectly criticizing Geraldo's episode where he tries to "feminize" girls that don't fit into the popular ideal of what it is to be feminine in America. While this is indeed a valid criticism in my opinion, I fail to see the same type of subtle criticism of cholas that would seem to naturally come from the same or at least a similar line of reasoning.

Mendoza-Denton is critical of the Geraldo episode because it perpetuates the notion that there is a naturalized gender that should be achieved by all young females (if they are to be “girls” in the traditional sense). By not following these guidelines (appropriate makeup, tight clothes, short skirts, etc.) they are outside of the mainstream. Indeed, they are not subscribing to the ideals of “hegemonic masculine gender norms.”

Mendoza-Denton’s criticism seems to be based on an underlying contempt of this ideal, as indeed much of feminine philosophy is. Mendoza-Denton believes the cholas are resisting the gender ideal that is often forced upon girls (at least in America) from birth by creating their own form of unique femininity. From this, I inferred (either correctly or incorrectly) that she believes popularized gender ideals (i.e. girls are supposed to wear tight clothes and Barbie makeup) have turned girls into zombies so to speak, that they follow these roles like sheep in an attempt to fit in socially or in many cases, stand out by being more feminine (prettier) than the next girl. Overall, this article raises very important issues and observations about culturally manifested and perpetuated gender ideals and how these ideals are sometimes “hijacked” (not with a negative connotation) to suit the aspirations of a distinct subculture or group, in this case the cholas.

As these readings indicate, there are no clear answers to the relationships between language and cognition. While the traditional Sapir-Whorf model suggests, to at least two different degrees, that how we think is dependent on the language that we learn, is being challenged more and more I am hesitant to completely abandon it at this juncture. I feel that the evidence seems to show that there is indeed a relationship between language, culture, and worldview (or ideology) but that the use of the word “determine” is too strong. To say that our cognitive processes are determined by language structure devalues much of what makes us uniquely human to begin with.

Works Cited

Endicott, Kirk M. and Robert L. Welsch, eds.
2005 Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Anthropology, Third Edition.
Dubuque: McGraw Hill.

Hill, Jane H. and Bruce Manheim
1992 Language and World View. Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 381-406.

Mendoza-Denton, Norma
1996 ‘Muy Macha’: Gender and Ideology in Gang-Girls’ Discourse about Makeup. Ethnos
61(1-2): 47-63.

Sherzer, Joel
1987 A Discourse-Centered Approach to Language and Culture. American Anthropologist
89(2): 295-309.

Teng, Norman Yujen
1999 The Language of Thought and the Embodied Nature of Language Use. Philosophical
Studies 94: 237-251.

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Posted by Will at 02:35 PM

October 13, 2005


I submitted my paper proposal/abstract and outline for Chiefdoms (my favorite course of the semester so far). I'll reproduce it here but I'll wait to hear back from my prof first so as to avoid posting something completely off the wall (I don’t want to be denied tenure ten years from now!).

My other two research proposals are due on Tuesday. The one for Archaeological Methods is to be sort of a mock National Science Foundation proposal for funding. I downloaded the forms and guidelines and I must admit I’m glad I’m not actually doing this for real yet. It’s good practice though and will surely come in handy down the road. The summary page that we have to turn in Tuesday must contain a “statement of objectives and methods to be employed, intellectual merit of the proposed activity, and broader impacts resulting from the proposed activities.” Yikes…

There’s no specific format for the graduate seminar research paper, although it will be treated as “an extended research proposal.” This paper will have an applied dimension because, well, I’m in an applied anthropology department. This shouldn’t be too hard because I would have trouble justifying a research project in the first place unless it had some real-world applicability rather than simply doing archaeology for the sake of digging up stuff and documenting it. Like the Methods paper, this one will be a project we won’t actually carry out (or at least don’t have to) but to make it good I’ll have to ignore that fact.

As I mentioned in another post, all three papers will focus on some aspect of Maya agriculture. The Chiefdoms edition is sort of my reference point with the two other papers building off of that to suit the particular needs. Besides being incredibly interesting, there are several applied dimensions that one can take with agricultural research. For an example, check out one of my favorite charities, Sustainable Harvest International.

Posted by Will at 05:07 PM

October 01, 2005

Linguistic Environments

The dictionary definitions of loot, find, and forage are as follows (American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition): Loot: 1) Valuables pillaged in time of war, spoils. 2) Stolen goods. Find: 1) To come upon, often by accident; meet with. 2) To come upon or discover by searching or making an effort. Forage: 1) Food for domestic animals; fodder. 2) The act of looking or searching for food or provisions.

Perhaps the most obvious and well-known example of the use of the terms “looting” and “finding” occurred in a set of news photographs published by the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP) in which citizens are shown carrying goods through chest-deep water. The assumption is that these good were acquired in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and without compensation to the vendors. Much was made of the usage of the two terms to describe what is happening in the photographs. There are only two apparent differences in the photos: the AP image is of one black male while the AFP image is of two light-skinned individuals. While the AP image uses the term “looting” to describe the scene, the AFP image describes the activity as “finding.”

This is just one many accusations of media bias in the wake of Katrina and as mentioned above, perhaps the most representative. A September 29th piece in the International Herald Tribune describes looting as varying “from basic thievery to foraging for the necessities of life.” The use of the term “foraging” in this context is more neutral than the use of “looting” and “finding” in the images described above. If one is to come to a relatively objective conclusion about a perceived media racial bias, one must consult the commonly-accepted dictionary definitions and their usages in a given linguistic environment.

Linguistically, it is hard to infer much from a short photo caption. The terms forage, find, and loot all have to do with acquiring something material. Broadly speaking, two are legal while one (looting) is against the law. They therefore they have different connotations and meanings when used in similar contexts, such as wading through chest-deep water with a bag of items. One would not describe a person walking off with a loaf of bread in a time of extreme circumstance such as Hurricane Katrina as “looting.” Similarly, an individual walking off with a television set when an entire town is flooded and without power cannot be considered finding when viewed in the context of the situation. It may indeed be the case that someone comes across a television by happenstance while searching for food, but to walk off with the television crosses the linguistic divide between a contextually-based definition of “finding” and one of “looting.”

Originally submitted as an exercise for Anthropology 3610: Linguistic Anthropology
University of South Florida

Posted by Will at 01:20 PM