The anthropology of mental illness involves the study of human distress in context, which in turn shapes the way in which distress is understood and treated. Anthropology provides theoretical foundations and an ethnographic approach that attends to the lived experience of mental illness as well as capturing the intersections of the cultural, social, political, economic, historical, and ecological in the everyday. Much work in the field has contributed to an appreciation of similarities and differences across societies and cultures, with increasing recognition of the dynamic and fluid nature of understandings and practices associated with mental health in an interconnected world. Analyses of how the dominance of Western psychiatry and pharmaceutical interventions shape understandings and approaches to treatment show that these can be at once lifesaving and limiting; other work highlights the vast resources across human cultures for coping with mental distress. Studies that emphasize the sociostructural as well as the cultural raise questions of whether mental distress should always be pathologized and whether solutions may lie in improvement of the conditions in which people live. Anthropologists’ acquaintance through their fieldwork with the lives of people with mental illness and their families and communities allows them to provide critical insights into the enduring problems in the field as well as possibilities for hope and recovery. The discipline’s theoretical resources provide tools for understanding the sociality of what might otherwise be considered as deeply personal. Necessarily interdisciplinary, the anthropology of mental illness reveals the complexity of mental illness as human experience and underscores how a singular monocultural approach to addressing the challenge of mental illness is insufficient.
Bianca Brijnath, Samantha Croy, and Josefine Antoniades
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. Since the 2010s, there has been an enthusiastic call for the use of multimodal methods in anthropological research. This call dovetails with the democratization of media production technologies that make the collection of data and the distribution of findings more accessible, particularly to audiences outside of academia. Some of these “modalities” include social media, digital mapping, video games, soundscapes, graphic novels, AI technologies, and critical archival practices. The contemporary field of multimodal anthropology has developed from longer-established fields of visual anthropology and media anthropology, which have participated in the production, dissemination, and study of images since the advent of the camera. Anthropologists were among the first to use new audio and visual technologies in their research activities in the early 20th century. These experimental filmmakers developed the tradition of ethnographic filmmaking, a cinematic genre that for decades was nearly synonymous with the field of visual anthropology. Newer multimodal methods strive to redefine and expand what counts as knowledge in ways that move beyond racist, colonial, and ableist legacies in the field of anthropology. Like the field of media anthropology, multimodal anthropology acknowledges and embraces the central role that media places in everyday life for anthropologists and interlocutors alike. Notably, the initial excitement for multimodal methods has been closely followed by an ambivalence among scholars who account for how new digital media tools often fall short of creating the hoped-for social and political change. The ethical use of new online platforms requires scholars to remain cautious of the ways in which popular digital technologies are often subsumed in contemporary forms of racial capitalism and white supremacy through ongoing issues of data-centered extraction and exploitation. Scholars working with multimodal methods are called to embrace the potentials of this new field while being aware of its limitations. Such awareness requires scholars to center the contributions of intersectional feminist and decolonial approaches when engaging in multimodal anthropology.
Participatory Design of Language and Culture Archives
Online archives to preserve and share Indigenous language and culture materials emerged in the 1990s and 2000s. They were, in part, a response to concerns about Indigenous language and culture loss that gained prominence during that time period, both in Indigenous communities and in fields such as anthropology and linguistics. From an Indigenous perspective, language and culture were central to community members’ identities and exercise of sovereignty. The development of online archives was also facilitated by technology advances in the 1990s and 2000s, including more sophisticated online platforms for storing and sharing information, broader access to the internet, and digital recording technologies. Prior to the development of online archives, traditional brick-and-mortar archives had a long history of collecting language and culture materials from Indigenous communities. However, they operated in a colonial context in which their practices contributed to the subjugation of Native peoples. In response, the 1970s and 1980s saw a rise in tribal archivists and Indigenous approaches to managing Indigenous materials and collections. Concerns to treat Indigenous materials appropriately and with respect have continued with the development of online archives. One focus has been Indigenous data sovereignty. Some online archives have focused more on language and some have focused more on cultural heritage. The field of documentary linguistics has been highly active in developing language archives, with a particular concern for endangered languages. For example, Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR), Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC), Archive of the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA), and The Language Archive (TLA) all include data from a large number of different languages. A smaller group of anthropologists has engaged with the development of cultural heritage archives. Anthropologists have also critiqued the colonial logics of traditional archives and theorized what a “postcolonial archive” might look like. Some cultural heritage archives have started to enact these new principles. At the same time, Indigenous communities have developed their own community-based archives, often focused on meeting the needs of community members. Although Indigenous community-based archives have generally had a solid understanding of the needs of their users, archives that collect materials from a large number of communities have not always conducted user research. A user-centered design approach to archives was initiated through a 2016 workshop funded by the US National Science Foundation. In addition, there has been a trend to integrate language and culture materials into combined archives. Participatory design may be the most appropriate approach for archive development because it recognizes and honors the sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples whose materials are included in an archive. One example of an ongoing participatory design process for an archive is a collaboration between Christina Wasson’s research team and four Indigenous communities in Northeast India. Language and culture archives offer opportunities for design anthropologists to engage in a more participatory process than is possible in most private sector work. Many archives, museums, and libraries would be open to hiring people with this expertise.
People, Plants, Animals, and Formlings in the Rock Art of Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, the term “rock art” refers mainly to prehistoric engravings and paintings that were executed on the walls of shallow caves, rock shelters, or faces of boulders across the country. Rock paintings were executed using pigments in a variety of colors and textures while engravings were etched into the rock using incisions, polishing, or pecking methods. The paintings dominate the corpus of rock art in the country. They are found within the granitic boulders that cover much of the country while rock engravings are confined to narrow belts in the eastern, southern, and southwestern parts where the sandstone is found. The spatial distribution of rock art in Zimbabwe helps to show that geology was the influential factor in choosing whether to paint or to engrave. In terms of subject matter, the rock art of Zimbabwe is mostly dominated by what is known as hunter-gatherer art, with a few sites having what has been termed “farmer art.” There is a possibility of some of the art having been made by herders but this requires further research and conformation. The hunter-gatherer art is made up of mostly animals and humans. Nevertheless, the occurrence of plants and geometric figures, especially the “formlings,” sets the rock art of Zimbabwe apart from that of other areas in southern Africa. Farmer art has animal and human figures, mostly in white kaolin and usually found superpositioned on top of the hunter-gatherer images. The color and superpositions led the art to be termed the Late Whites. The possibility of herder art has been raised due to the occurrence of depictions such as handprints and finger-painted dots. These images are associated with herders in neighboring countries such as South Africa and Botswana. Research in Zimbabwe has tended to favor the dominant aspects of rock art. As such, rock paintings have been extensively investigated at the expense of engravings. In the same vein, hunter-gatherer research art has been preponderant as compared to the study of farmer and possibly herder art. Nevertheless, it is important to note that although a lot of strides have been made in rock art research, fewer researchers, especially among the indigenous, have had an interest in these aspects of the Zimbabwean past. Rock art is often overshadowed by the archaeology of the farming communities, which has Zimbabwe culture and particularly Great Zimbabwe as its hallmark. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an upsurge in students working on projects concerning rock art, which foretells good prospects for the uptake of rock art research in the future
Anna Maria Mercuri
Plant use is a familiar word pair that emphasizes how the great wealth of properties and characters of different botanical species has allowed humans to develop different aspects of their culture. On one hand, plants communicate chemically with each other; on the other hand, their wealth of chemical communication tools has attracted humans, who are interested in colors and smells, taste and food, fuel, wellness, and health. The traces of plants buried in archeological sites—the subject of archeobotany—allow us to reconstruct the steps of the relationship between humans and plants. Surprisingly, the study of botanical remains from the past shows complex uses since the very early stages of human cultures, dating back even before the beginning of the Holocene. The relationship with the environment was structured in forms of increased control, at least from the invention of agriculture (as something that had never existed before) onward, undertaking complex forms of exploitation in accordance with the different cultures in the different regions of the world. In more recent times, people and plants have also progressively developed a history of greater management and interdependence, including the development of agricultural landscapes, selection of domesticated species, and creation of gardens. The relationship with plants changes as society changes, leading to the loss of much knowledge in present times because of less connection and contact with nature. Knowledge and conservation of traditions dealing with plants are studied with ethnobotany, which explores plant use in the present day. Ecology for ecosystem services is the newest perspective on plant use, where perhaps trees return to play a key role in human existence without being cut down, and the green color of chlorophyll returns as a reassuring signal to the human species.
Stacy Lindshield and Giselle M. Narváez Rivera
While anthropological primatology is known for its basic research on understanding the human condition from comparative and evolutionary perspectives, its applied and practicing domains are equally important to society. Applied researchers and practitioners often work in the fields of environmental sustainability and conservation, biomedicine, captive care and management, and education. For sustainability and conservation specializations, primatologists seek careers in higher education, government, and nongovernmental organizations and may work in large and diverse teams on conservation and management problems for nonhuman primates (hereafter, termed primates). Primate conservation has largely focused on population monitoring in protected and unprotected areas; measuring effects of agriculture, extractive industries, and tourism on primates; and evaluating intervention strategies. Primate population management in urban and peri-urban areas is a growth area; these landscapes pose risks for primates that are absent or rare in protected areas, which include dog attacks, animal–vehicle collisions, and electrocutions. Anthropologists can leverage their deep knowledge of primate behavior, cognition, and ecology as part of interdisciplinary teams tasked with environmental mitigation in these human-centered landscapes. One example of this work is the use of arboreal crossing structures for primates to move safely through forests fragmented by roads. Primate conservationists recognize that environmental sustainability extends beyond conservation. For instance, primates may create public health problems or nuisances for local communities in cases where they are potential disease vectors. While these circumstances lead some people to view primates as pests, in a subset of these cases, cultural norms and values prohibit culling (i.e., killing or otherwise removing from a population) as a management strategy. Primate conservationists working on these issues may integrate human perspectives and attitudes toward primates in localized intervention or mitigation programs aimed at environmental sustainability and/or natural resource management. More than half of the world’s nonhuman primate species are threatened with extinction, and this problem is mostly a modern and global phenomenon related to unsustainable land use. Primates enhance many societies through providing ecosystem services, enriching cultural heritage, and advancing scientific research. It is for these reasons that primatologists often contribute to conservation programs in protected areas. Protected areas are designed to allow wildlife to flourish in spaces by restricting land use activities, but the history of protected areas is fraught with social injustices. Such areas are often but not always associated with higher biodiversity than adjacent and unprotected spaces. People and primates have shared spaces since time immemorial, often in sustainable ways. In addition, allocating a majority of primate range areas to fortress-style protection is at odds with the economic growth models of some primate range countries (i.e., nations with indigenous wild primates). Furthermore, many primatologists recognize that conservation benefits from integrating social justice components into programs with the ultimate goal of decolonizing conservation. Primate conservation continues to build on the foundation of basic and applied research in protected areas and, further, contributes to the development of community conservation programs for environmental sustainability. Examples of these developments include participating in offset and mitigation programs, introducing ethnographic methods to applied research to evaluate complex social processes underlying land use, and contributing to the decolonization of primate conservation.
Scales of Observation
One of the particularities of applied anthropology is working on demand, and performing research on demand requires changing fields constantly. This diversity of fields has led to an awareness in applied anthropology that the focal point of observation varies from study to study, and that depending on the particular scope or decoupage, researchers do not see the same thing. This scales-of-observation method has four empirical principles: (a) What one observes at one scale vanishes at another scale. (b) The causes explaining actors’ behavior vary based on the scale of observation; they can stem from situational effects or meaning effects, or suggest statistical correlation. (c) Knowledge acquired at one scale is complementary and cumulative with that of other scales of observation. However, they cannot be fused into a single, global description. Indeed, although reality is continuous, observation between the “macro” and the “micro” is discontinuous. Discontinuity stems from the importance of the situational effects in anthropology and organizational sociology. These two approaches are most often centered on the interactions among actors operating under situational constraints. All generalizations are thus limited to scales pertaining to the same type of causality. (d) Part of the conflict among schools, disciplines, or professions regarding explanations for human behavior and changes within a community, an organization, a society, or an individual can most often be explained by different choices in the scale of observation. The scales-of-observation method is a mobile tool of knowledge founded on the anthropological practice of the cultural detour, in this case scientific cultures. It is an inductive epistemological theory on the variability of the explanatory causes of human behavior and falls under methodological relativism. Consequently, the scales-of-observation method is also a tool of negotiation among actors who are involved collectively in a project of social change, but with contradictory interests or objectives.
Social Media Relationships
Umoloyouvwe Ejiro Onomake
Ethnography has been used to research various people and topics online, primarily using netnography and digital ethnography. Researchers and businesses employ digital ethnographic methods to access an assortment of social media platforms in order to learn about social media users. Researchers seek to understand relationships between social media users and organizations from both academic and practitioner perspectives. These organizations run the gamut from for-profit businesses, to nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies. The specific focus here is on social media research as it relates to businesses. Organizations make use of social media in a variety of ways, but chiefly to market to clients and to gather information on followers; the latter of which, in turn, helps them understand their target markets. While this social media data is both quantitative and qualitative in nature, the emphasis here centers on qualitative data, particularly the ways businesses interact with social media users. While some firms mainly use older forms of one-way marketing that solely focus on disseminating information, other firms increasingly seek ways to interact with customers and co-create products with clients. Additionally, social media users are creating their own communities, formed due to a shared interest in a brand. Companies strive to learn more about their customers through these groups. Influencers also play a role in the relationship between organizations and social media users by linking their own followerships to products and brands. In turn, influencers develop their own relationships with organizations through sponsorships, thus becoming brands themselves. Influencers risk losing their followerships when followers perceive them as no longer accessible or authentic. This change in perception can occur for a variety of reasons, including when followers believe that an influencer has prioritized brand alignment over building connections with followers. Due to multiple relationships with different brands and their followers, influencers must negotiate the ambiguity and evolving nature of their role. As social media and digital spaces develop, so must the tools used by anthropologists. Anthropologists should remain open to incorporating hallmarks of ethnographic research such as fieldnotes, participant observation, and focus groups in new ways and alongside tools from other disciplines, including market and UX (user experience) research. The divide between practitioners and academics is blurring. Anthropologists can solve client issues while contributing their voices to larger anthropological and societal discussions.
Squatting is one of the most important forms of housing for the world’s poor, accommodating perhaps a billion people, with the numbers continuing to grow. Squatters occupy vacant land or buildings without the consent of the owner. Squatting in existing buildings is more common in the Global North, particularly in Europe, and tends to be more political, often explicitly anticapitalist, than squatting on vacant land, which accounts for the vast majority of squatters, particularly in the Global South. Urban squatter housing needs to be seen as valuable housing rather than just as a social problem. Housing generally has exchange value, a price on housing markets, as well as use value, the utility of it for those who live in it. Early research dealt primarily with use value because of the emphasis on self-building and collectively organized invasions of land. Demand for scarce stocks of affordable housing leads to market prices despite governmental denial of the possibility of ownership of illegal dwellings. Squatter housing often meets the needs of poor people more effectively than public housing, and policy initiatives around the world are attempting to enhance the utility of informally built and regulated housing while mitigating the environmental problems that they can cause. Formalizing informal housing is a key but controversial policy. Research has revealed that informal tenure security is considered adequate by residents, resulting in lower than expected demand for squatter titling. Formalization may also lead to gentrification and thus diminishes the abilities of informal housing to provide affordable accommodation.
Lotta Björklund Larsen and Karen Boll
Taxation is the collection by a revenue authority of levies, fees, or charges from residents, businesses, or other legal entities deemed taxable pursuant to laws and regulations. Taxation affects most people in the world within the confines of a nation, state, or region. Some people claim taxation is theft by the state, others claim that it is a moral action and duty, and a third view is that taxes are expenses that citizens incur in order to make claims on the state. Taxation is thus an area of contestation. Taxpayers pay taxes on what they produce or transport, on their salaries and other income, and on their consumption. Taxation not only has a fiscal purpose, but can be used for resource allocation within society, for income redistribution, and for leveling economic stability to address issues of unemployment, prices, and economic growth. Research on taxation has been conducted in most social sciences. Legal scholars discuss changes to the law, economists emphasize taxation’s economic impact within the constraints of models, the accounting discipline addresses the organization and measurement of taxation, and behavioral economists and psychologists aim to predict human behavior in taxation experiments. While this research has extended the knowledge of fiscal practices, taxation has long been in dire need of a critical perspective on its human consequences, its social impact, and how it is culturally shaped. An emerging anthropology of taxation can address these issues. The anthropology of taxation opens a host of interconnected issues at the nexus of states, markets, and citizenship. It focuses on money, work, and ownership; notions of fairness and honesty or avoidance and evasion; the politics of regulation and redistribution; and the balance between taking responsibility for oneself and for others, to name a few. Ethnographic studies of taxation can depict how various stakeholders in the tax arena shape and are shaped by taxation. And they can illustrate how subjects of taxation—residents, businesses, communities, and societies—through their view on and practices of taxation, negotiate their relation to the state and to other beneficiaries. Turning our attention to the collecting side, taxation provides a multifaceted arena for issues such as policymaking, governance, and digitalization. The role that tax advisers play, often advising taxpayers on curtailing tax, also suggests a complicated relation with society. Anthropologists can untangle and illustrate the relations taxation create between various stakeholders through notions of social contract, governance, fiscal citizenship, reciprocity, and redistribution.
The Challenges of Planning for High-Impact Research
Brian L. Foster
In major universities, research must be seen in many dimensions: the different disciplines, basic vs. applied, incremental vs. transformative, disciplinary or interdisciplinary, single researcher or collaborative, and much more. A fundamental difference that receives increasing attention is the distinction between incremental research vs. transformative research. Incremental research takes existing research results to the next step while transformative research opens up whole new ways of framing questions, often challenging what is “known,” and leading to new paths of knowledge creation that could lead to new academic disciplines or completely new approaches to practical issues/problems. Incremental research is critical to bring existing results to their most valuable ends. Transformative research has high impact in opening up new paths to important knowledge, but it poses daunting challenges in being unpredictable, long term, and high risk. Providing appropriate infrastructure is critical for all kinds of research (e.g., facilities, lab space, special equipment, staff support). To assure sustained access to these resources, effective planning is necessary, which poses a significant challenge given the long-term, high-risk, and unpredictable nature of transformative research. To address these planning challenges, it is necessary to explore ways of creating an environment and resources that make successful transformative research more likely to happen rather than planning for incremental research. Such strategies include supporting uniquely powerful facilities that fit with academic strengths (e.g., a strong research reactor, radio-astronomy facility). Another is to maintain a supportive environment for interdisciplinary research. Yet another strategy is to orient performance evaluation away from productivity, which is the enemy of long-term, risky, unpredictable research. And lastly, it is critical to have a positive mindset for challenges to existing knowledge.
Water and Religion
There are many different and distinct types of religious waters: holy, sacred, neutral, and even evil. The ways various divinities invest waters with specific qualities and capacities depend upon a wide range of ecological, theological, and eschatological factors; some are shaped by the environment while others are purely ontological and concerned with otherworldly realms, and often there is an intimate relation between the mundane and the divine. Rivers, rain, lakes, springs, and waterfalls are some specific forms of religious water, which also relate to seasonality and changing hydrological cycles. All these variations create different dependencies not only to ecological factors but more importantly to divine actors. Religious water may heal and bless individuals and be a communal source for fertility and plentiful harvests, but may also work as a penalty, wreaking havoc on society as floods or the absence of the life-giving rains in agricultural communities. Given the great variation of religious waters throughout history where even the same water may attain different qualities and divine embodiments, divine waters define structuring practices and principles in ecology and cosmology.
Water Ownership and Governance
Water governance refers to the material and regulatory control of water and waters. It involves questions such as who makes decisions about water and how; at what scale such decisions are made in relation to different waters; and who and which water or ecosystem benefits. Classical work in anthropology considered how irrigation practices may have given rise to the development of state forms, and in response to early-21st-century privatization regimes, anthropologists have considered how different groups have challenged the apparent global dominance of commodity values and water as property. Infrastructures for water distribution in urban areas (such as systems of canals, pipes, and faucets), and considerations of the sociocultural effects of hydrological unit delineation and definition (e.g., groundwater or river “basins”) have become key sites for the ethnographic investigation of water governance, emerging forms of personhood, and societal inequalities. The diversity in anthropologies of water unsettles generalized models in global regimes of water governance. The anthropology of water governance and ownership considers the context and contingencies of water and power. It reveals the global dominance of markets, rights, and technical approaches to water management, such as the case of “private water” in Chile, in which water markets have failed to provide equity and environmental health, but also how certain groups avoided complete privatization of water under this extreme example. Ethnographic studies of the cultural organization of resource scarcity over topographically complex and remote terrain, such as that of irrigators in the Andean cordillera, express the diversity of human innovation at the intersection of politics and ecology. In arid South Eastern Australia, basin plans that treat water as a unit of calculation and economic trade place social and ecological relations in peril. Infrastructures of development provide a narrative of unsettled state and development ideologies, and the problem of groundwater management reveals governance challenges in the face of unstable, unknown, and invisible material. Anthropological studies of water contribute to knowledge of earth’s diverse humanity, knowledge practices, and ecologies. Researchers propose that water governance might engage with human differences articulated at multiple scales, as well as in understanding water’s material agency and waters as dynamic, especially in an ever-changing climate.
Water Security and Scarcity
Amber Wutich, Melissa Beresford, Teresa Montoya, Lucero Radonic, and Cassandra Workman
Anthropological thinking on water security and scarcity can be traced through four scholarly approaches: political ecology of water scarcity, water insecurity, water economics, and human-water relationality. Political ecologists argue that water scarcity a sociopolitical process and not necessarily related to physical water availability. The political ecological approach is concerned with power, global-local dynamics, and how water scarcity is unevenly distributed within and across communities. Water insecurity research is concerned with how injustice and inequity shape household and individual variability in water insecurity. Inspired by biocultural research, water insecurity scholars have used systematic methods to advance theories of how water insecurity impacts mental health, food insecurity, dehydration, and other human biological outcomes. Economic anthropologists explore how economic dynamics—including formal and capitalist economies, noncapitalist and hybridized economies, reciprocity, social reproduction, and theft—shape water scarcity and insecurity. Research priorities in economic anthropology include water valuation, meanings of water, and water as an economic good. Building from Indigenous scholars’ insights, relational approaches argue that humans have reciprocal obligations to respect and care for water as a living being. Water justice, these scholars argue, requires restoring human-water relations and upholding Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. All four of these research areas—scarcity, insecurity, economics, and relationality—are producing cutting-edge research, with significant implications for research agendas in the anthropology of water security and scarcity.