Biological anthropologists aim to explain the hows and whys of human biological variation using the concepts of evolution and adaptation. High-altitude environments provide informative natural laboratories with the unique stress of hypobaric hypoxia, which is less than usual oxygen in the ambient air arising from lower barometric pressure. Indigenous populations have adapted biologically to their extreme environment with acclimatization, developmental adaptation, and genetic adaptation. People have used the East African and Tibetan Plateaus above 3,000 m for at least 30,000 years and the Andean Plateau for at least 12,000 years. Ancient DNA shows evidence that the ancestors of modern highlanders have used all three high-altitude areas for at least 3,000 years. It is necessary to examine the differences in biological processes involved in oxygen exchange, transport, and use among these populations. Such an approach compares oxygen delivery traits reported for East African Amhara, Tibetans, and Andean highlanders with one another and with short-term visitors and long-term upward migrants in the early or later stages of acclimatization to hypoxia. Tibetan and Andean highlanders provide most of the data and differ quantitatively in biological characteristics. The best supported difference is the unelevated hemoglobin concentration of Tibetans and Amhara compared with Andean highlanders as well as short- and long-term upward migrants. Moreover, among Tibetans, several features of oxygen transfer and oxygen delivery resemble those of short-term acclimatization, while several features of Andean highlanders resemble the long-term responses. Genes and molecules of the oxygen homeostasis pathways contribute to some of the differences.
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Adaptations to High-Altitude Hypoxia
Cynthia M. Beall and Kingman P. Strohl
The African Middle Stone Age
Alexander F. Blackwood and Jayne Wilkins
The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is a period of African prehistory characterized by the production of flake-based assemblages, often with a focus on stone points and blades using prepared core reduction techniques. The MSA follows the Earlier Stone Age and precedes the Later Stone Age, although the boundaries between these periods are not as sharp as originally defined. The MSA is generally regarded as having started by at least three hundred thousand years ago (ka) and lasted until roughly forty to twenty thousand years ago. Identifying the chronological limits for the MSA is challenging because some aspects of MSA technology are found in assemblages outside this time range that also have Earlier or Later Stone Age-type tools. The earlier part of the MSA is associated with fossils belonging to the Homo sapiens clade (alternatively referred to as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo rhodesiensis, or archaic Homo sapiens). The later part of the MSA post 200 ka is associated with Homo sapiens. Determining the processes underlying the anatomical evolution of Homo sapiens during the MSA is a major aim of ongoing research, however fossil remains are rare. Across the African continent and through time, the MSA exhibits a high degree of variability in the types of stone tools that were manufactured and used. Archaeologists have used this variability to define several technocomplexes and industries within the MSA that include, but are not limited to, the “Aterian,” “Howiesons Poort,” “Still Bay,” and “Lupemban.” Variation in point styles, presumably hafted to wooden handles or in some cases projectiles, is considered a hallmark of the regional diversification that originates in the MSA. This variability, which is temporally and spatially restricted, differs in both degree and kind from the preceding Earlier Stone Age. The MSA is significant from an evolutionary perspective because, in addition to being associated with the anatomical origins of Homo sapiens, this period in time documents several significant changes in human behavior. Populations in the MSA practiced a foraging economy, were proficient hunters, and began efficiently and systematically utilizing aquatic resources such as shellfish and freshwater fish for the first time. Other significant changes include the elaboration of and increased reliance on symbolic resources and complex technologies. For example, the first known externally stored symbols in the form of crosshatched incised pigments date to ~100 ka. In contexts of similar age, shell beads for making jewelry have been recovered from Morocco and South Africa. The earliest evidence for complex projectiles dates to at least 74 ka. The meaning, utility, and persistence of symbols and complex technologies depend on social conventions and confer advantages in contexts that involve long-distance, complex social networks. While many of these earliest finds linked to behavioral modernity have so far been geographically restricted, the combined suite of genetic, fossil, and archaeological evidence may better support a polycentric African origin for Homo sapiens over the course of the MSA.
M.P. Pimbert, N.I. Moeller, J. Singh, and C.R. Anderson
Agroecology is an alternative paradigm for agriculture and food systems that is simultaneously: (a) the application of ecological principles to food and farming systems that emerge from specific socioecological and cultural contexts in place-based territories; and (b) a social and political process that centers the knowledge and agency of Indigenous peoples and peasants in determining agri-food system policy and practice. Historically, agroecology is associated with a multifaceted body of transdisciplinary knowledge. The academic literature emphasizes the role of scientists in developing an interdisciplinary agroecology over the past ninety years. However, the practice of agroecology is much older, with deep roots in many Indigenous and peasant societies of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Polynesia. Although these societies never adopted the term “agroecology,” their time-tested practices in growing food and fiber illustrate many principles of modern agroecology. The transdisciplinary field of research on agroecology examines how agroecology contributes to equitable and sustainable food and fiber production, processing, distribution, and consumption. Agroecology builds on people’s knowledge, Indigenous management systems, and local institutions through “dialogues of knowledges” with social science, natural science, and the humanities. The study of Indigenous and peasant agri-food systems has thus been pivotal for the development of both agroecology and anthropology. The agroecological perspective is based on a transformative vision of the relationship between people and nature. Economic anthropology has unearthed a wide diversity of systems of economic exchange that are informing work on agroecology, including the vital importance of Indigenous and peasant economies, gift economies, circular economies, subsistence, and economies of care. These are pushing agroecologists to think outside of the box of dominant commodity capitalism. Agroecology is also based on a radical conceptualization of knowledge systems, whereby work on cognitive justice, epistemic justice, Indigeneity, and decoloniality is upending the dominance of Western, scientific, Eurocentric, and patriarchal worldviews as the basis for the future of food and agriculture. Agroecology is also underpinned by radical notions of democracy and new conceptualizations of popular education, transformations in governance, and empowering forms of participation. While the transformative agenda offered by agroecology is deeply contested by proponents of industrial and corporate food and agriculture, agroecology is increasingly important in academic and policy debates on sustainable food, farming, and land use. Exploring the relationship between agroecology and anthropology is both fruitful and timely because it can help re-root agroecology—which is increasingly at risk of becoming an abstract and devitalized concept—in the fundamentally localized practices and culture of agri-food systems.
Ancient Human DNA and African Population History
Kendra A. Sirak, Elizabeth A. Sawchuk, and Mary E. Prendergast
Ancient DNA has emerged as a powerful tool for investigating the human past and reconstructing the movements, mixtures, and adaptations that have structured genetic variation throughout human history. While the study of genome-wide ancient human DNA was initially restricted to regions with temperate climates, methodological breakthroughs have now extended the reach of ancient DNA analysis to parts of the world with hot and humid climates that are less conducive to biomolecular preservation. This includes Africa, where people harbor more genetic diversity than can be found anywhere else on the planet, reflecting deep and complex population histories. Since the first ancient African genome was published in 2015, the number of individuals with genome-wide data has increased to nearly 200, with greater coverage of diverse geographical, temporal, and cultural contexts. Ancient DNA sequences have revealed genetic variation in ancient African foragers that no longer exists in unadmixed form; illuminated how local-, regional-, and continental-scale demographic processes associated with the spread of food production and new technologies changed genetic landscapes; and discerned notable variation in interactions among people with distinct genetic ancestries, cultural practices, and, likely, languages. Despite an increasing number of studies focused on African ancient DNA, multiple regions and time periods have yet to be explored. Research to date has primarily focused on the past several thousand years in eastern and southern Africa, setting up northern, western, and central Africa, as well as deeper time periods, as key areas for future investigation. As ancient DNA research becomes increasingly integrated with anthropology and archaeology, it is advantageous to understand the basic methodological and analytical techniques, the types of questions that can be investigated, and the ways in which the discipline may continue to grow and evolve. Critically, the growth and evolution of ancient DNA research must include attention to the ethics of this work, both in African contexts and globally. In particular, it is essential that research is conducted in a way that minimizes the potential of harm to both the living and the dead. Scientists conducting ancient DNA research in Africa especially must also contend with structural challenges, including a lack of ancient DNA facilities on the continent, the extensive fragmentation of African heritage (including ancient human remains) among curating institutions worldwide, and the complexities of identifying descendant groups and other stakeholders in the wake of colonial and postcolonial disruptions and displacements. Ancient DNA research projects should be designed in a way that contributes to capacity building and the reduction of inequities between the Global North and South to ensure that the research benefits the people and communities with connections to the ancient individuals studied. While ensuring that future studies are rooted in ethical and equitable practices will require considerable collective action, ancient DNA research has already become an integral part of our understanding of African population history and will continue to shape our understanding of the African past.
Amy Johnson, Chris Hebdon, Paul Burow, Deepti Chatti, and Michael Dove
The Anthropocene is a newly proposed geological epoch that situates humans as geological agents responsible for altering Earth systems as evidenced in the geological record and directly experienced through the earth’s changing climate. There remains significant debate regarding when humans manifested change in Earth systems, as well as how human influence in planetary processes is evidenced geologically. As of 2022, “Anthropocene” has yet to be adopted as an official category of geological time by the International Commission on Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geologic Sciences. Its influence has nonetheless outpaced academic debate, informing politics, policies, and opinions worldwide. In this context, anthropologists engage the Anthropocene simultaneously as a coupled biophysical and geological fact and an imaginary shaping human relations to Earth and environment. While upholding the validity of the Anthropocene as a reflection of accelerating planetary-scale environmental changes, anthropology is notable for asking critical questions about how the concept is developed and mobilized and what mainstream interpretations of the Anthropocene hide from view about life on our changing planet. Anthropology has been especially sensitive to the ontologies of time latent in the Anthropocene debates, recognizing the plural ways time is lived globally and how the concept of the Anthropocene interacts with ideas of past, present, and future. Moreover, in concordance with the standpoints of Indigenous theory and feminist and queer studies, and in conversation with critical scholarship of power and justice, anthropology has contributed to ongoing discussion about the criteria used to evaluate the Anthropocene’s beginnings, advancing discussions about the complicity of political economies of capitalism, colonialism, and plantations in the production of the Anthropocene. The engaged ethnographic approaches central to contemporary anthropology have thus deepened understanding of how the proposed Anthropocene epoch is lived and how its framing is changing human relations to environment and responsibilities for Earth’s future.
Anthropological Approaches to South American Rock Art
Marcela Sepúlveda, Leonardo Páez, María Pía Falchi, and Liz Gonzales
The study of rock art in South America has become a particularly relevant topic in the archaeology developed throughout the different countries within the continent. In this context, anthropology’s methodological and theoretical contribution has become particularly fruitful in specifying the meaning of rock art and involving the communities around the different sites for their interpretation and preservation. Thus, ethnography has become essential in various regions for this type of work, and even more so in territories harmed by the actions of major extractive companies, such as mining and oil drilling. Tourism also exerts growing pressure on the communities to manage rock art sites better. Finally, the theoretical contribution has become significant for the interactions between humans, human–environment, agency, embodiment, or ontological practices to broaden the spectrum of meaning, value, and the role of rock art in our continent.
Anthropological Perspectives on Fair Trade
Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers. Minimum prices and social premiums linked to fair trade certifications, which require independent audit of the environmental, economic, and social conditions of commodity production and exchange, are integral to the system. Anthropological explorations of fair trade practices emphasize the cultural dimensions, socio-economic conditions, and political economy. Anthropological scholarship explores how experiences of fair trade are diversely influenced by gender; racial and ethnic identities; differences in wealth and resources, education, and geographic location; and political hierarchies and social institutions. The nuanced insights into fair trade impact produced through detailed, ethnographically driven anthropological research ultimately illustrate the limits of social movement-driven, rural-development alternatives and produce empirically informed, practical suggestions for how the current system could be improved. Anthropological expertise is appreciated within the fair trade assemblage, which encompasses development organizations, certification firms, importers, and retailers.
Cultural Anthropological Practice in US Military Organizations
Kerry B. Fosher and Eric Gauldin
Cultural anthropologists work with US military organizations in a wide variety of employment situations and roles. Some who work full-time within these organizations conduct research on personnel or teach in schools, holding roles and doing work similar to anthropologists in academia. Others are external consultants, providing advice and research in ways similar to practicing anthropology in other sectors. Others work in less common capacities, such as providing scientific advising, conducting analysis, or designing and administering programs. Most forms of engagement or employment with military organizations are controversial within the discipline of anthropology. The controversy is an important source of caution and critique. However, it sometimes masks the complexity of the work and context. Few large institutions are truly homogenous. The several million uniformed and civilian personnel who work in US military organizations have diverse, often conflicting perspectives on important issues and varying degrees of agency to effect or resist change. Consequently, the opportunities and constraints anthropologists have to affect the institution depend heavily on not only their specific roles but also on where they work within the institution and who their colleagues are. The broad range of the roles and positions anthropologists hold in military organizations, coupled with the complexity of the work context, create challenges for developing ethical and practical guidelines. Practicing anthropologists in this sector must collaborate with colleagues to interpret and meet disciplinary professional standards for ethics, transparency, and quality. The work context and controversy also create challenges for building and maintaining an identity as an anthropologist. As is the case with practicing anthropology in all sectors, anthropological work with US military organizations also has broader implications for the discipline. Connections to powerful institutions, such as corporations or government entities, always bring with them legitimate concerns about how the biases and intentions of the institutions might reshape the field. There are also significant questions about how colleagues can assess ethical decision making and evaluate the work of those employed in nontraditional roles and settings. In addition, the field continues to grapple with how anthropologists practicing in this sector can communicate most effectively what they learn about military organizations back to the discipline.
Anthropologies of Cancer
Nickolas Surawy-Stepney and Carlo Caduff
Cancer is a relatively new subject for the discipline of anthropology, but scholarship on the topic has already yielded a distinct and important body of literature. In biomedical terms, cancer can be thought of as the wide range of conditions characterized by the uncontrolled (and ultimately pathological) proliferation of cells. It is a disease that is responsible for the deaths of millions of people worldwide each year. As such, it is the focus of a vast number of discourses and practices in multiple areas, ranging from scientific research and media discussion to health insurance and government regulation, to name just a few. Anthropologists concerned with cancer typically use the methodology that is a hallmark of the discipline, long-term ethnographic fieldwork, in order to investigate these discourses and practices. This involves conducting participant observation among doctors, patients, nurses, family members, scientists, politicians, policymakers, and pharmaceutical representatives. Cancer is examined as a lived experience, revealing the numerous ways that local, regional, national, and transnational histories and politics shape the embodied realities of disease. Anthropologists also investigate the regimes of risk and statistical analysis to which bodies are subjected and the technologies around cancer, such as methods of screening or vaccination that aim to prevent it and the different ways in which these and other interventions and technologies fit into—or push uneasily against—the local words in which they are implemented. Anthropologists aim to look beyond the problem as simply one of biology and medicine, instead investigating cancer as pervasive within multiple dimensions of social, cultural, political, and economic life. Anthropological studies displace the prominent biomedical notion that cancers are the same in diverse locations and reveal the incoherence and intractability of cancer as an object. In paying close attention to this object in varied settings, anthropologists offer a critical account of discourses and practices that destabilize and decenter some of the assumptions on which global oncology is based.
Anthropology and Catholicism
Roman Catholicism has been a repeated subject of interest for anthropology, from Julian Pitt-Rivers’s early ethnography of an Andalusian Catholic community to Talal Asad’s historical anthropological work on medieval monastics. Furthermore, a number of prominent social anthropologists of the mid-20th century—e.g., E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Mary Douglas, Victor Turner, and Godfrey Lienhardt—were themselves Catholics, a fact which infused not just their biography but often their subsequent work. At the same time, anthropologists on the whole have rarely taken Roman Catholicism as the focus of study; instead, Roman Catholicism has often been the invisible backdrop against which the main ethnographic action takes place. In the wake of the development of the anthropology of Christianity, however, an anthropology of Catholicism has burgeoned. The modern Catholic Church, with around 1.3 billion members worldwide, is the largest institution in history. As such, scholars have often examined the way the Church maintains itself as a unified institution even while containing vast spectrums of diversity in practice, theology, and lived experience. Resulting literature has often focused on this, examining institutional continuity over both time—such as the legacy of Catholic evangelization as a key part of colonial endeavors—and space—such as the question of syncretism and the nature of Catholicism’s relationship with indigenous cultures around the world.
Anthropology and Implementation Science
Elissa Z. Faro, Suzanne Heurtin-Roberts, and Heather Schacht Reisinger
Basic science and health services research has produced a substantial body of knowledge that has the significant possibility of improving human health and well-being. Much of that knowledge is published, yet read only by other researchers. Alternatively, this research becomes “evidence-based practice” (EBP), that is, knowledge obtained under specific controlled conditions. The world where humans live their everyday lives tends to be complex and “messy.” Thus, these EBPs are frequently ineffective when employed in the scientifically uncontrolled world. Implementation Science (IS) is a fast-growing field intended to remedy this situation. IS was established to study the most effective strategies to integrate EBPs into public and community health and healthcare delivery. IS asks whether an intervention can be effective in a specific local context; that is, under what conditions and in what contexts can any change-oriented action be effective in the real-world? IS will continue to grow in visibility and significance as governments and funding agencies seek to ensure their investments in research are reaching their intended audiences and having demonstrable impact. Anthropology has contributed significantly to IS, yet it can contribute so much more. Well-equipped to answer many of the questions posed by IS, anthropology’s theory and methods allow researchers to understand and broker both emic and etic perspectives, as well as represent the richness, fluidity, and complexity of context. Both anthropology and IS recognize the importance of context and locality, are real-world-oriented (vs. controlled research environments), and embrace complexity and nonlinearity. They are both comfortable with the emergent nature of research-produced knowledge and use both qualitative and quantitative methods. Beyond these congruencies in perspectives and approaches, the rationale for having more anthropology in IS is not only because it is a good fit. Anthropology emphasizes critical analysis of power and unequal power structures; while such phenomena are sometimes included in IS, they are not frequently critiqued. Anthropology can furnish a questioning, critical perspective of the object of study and how it is studied, a perspective that is lacking in much IS work. Indeed, this approach is something that anthropology does best, and is integral to anthropology’s conceptual orientation. IS is one of the many spaces in which anthropologists are demonstrating relevance and having an impact.
Anthropology and Informatics in Health Care
Laurie Novak and Joyce Harris
Information technology increasingly figures into the activities of health-care workers, patients, and their informal caregivers. The growing intersection of anthropology and health informatics is reviewed, a field dedicated to the science of using data, information, and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health-care services. Health informatics as a discipline wrestles with complex issues of information collection, classification, and presentation to patients and working clinical personnel. Anthropologists are well-suited as collaborators in this work. Topics of collaborative work include the construction of health and illness, patient-focused research, the organization and delivery of health-care services, the design and implementation of electronic health records, and ethics, power, and surveillance. The application of technology to social roles, practices, and power relations that is inherent in health informatics provides a rich source of empirical data to advance anthropological theory and methods.
Anthropology Between Academia and Practice
Anthropological skills and perspectives are of use in many professional contexts, and in a few industries, the value of anthropology is generally accepted: historic preservation, public health, and user experience research are prominent examples. As a result, a vibrant community of “practicing,” “professional,” “public,” and “applied” anthropologists has taken root in a variety of non-academic settings. The relationship between academia and professional practice is sometimes difficult, however, as some practitioners feel stigmatized or excluded by academics, while others inhabit professional spaces where academic anthropology is largely irrelevant. While anthropologists often speak of a “divide” or “split” between academic and practicing anthropology, this view overlooks the fact that much work in the discipline maintains a presence both inside and outside of higher education institutions. Not only do anthropologists often form collaborative partnerships among members with diverse professional commitments, but individual anthropologists may simultaneously maintain both academic and non-academic affiliations, and they may move among professional spheres over the course of their career. If we are to reach a full understanding of the profession, we must move beyond a simplistic “academic/practitioner” dualism to consider these diverse professional contexts and work-life trajectories.
Anthropology in Consumer Research
Maryann McCabe and Rita Denny
Consumer research, an emergent field in applied anthropology, examines relationships between producers and consumers as mediated by the marketplace. The anthropological purpose of consumer research is to discover cultural meanings of products and services in people’s everyday lives and to identify societal practices and discourses that inform and perform these meanings. While consumer research is inspired by and draws on traditional anthropological theory, it has also made theoretical contributions to anthropology, including consumption practices as crafting identity, consumption activities generating and maintaining social relationships, and the transformative power of consumer goods instigating cultural change. Anthropologists engaged in consumer research work in three primary areas: (1) market-making to assist organizations in defining the environments in which they operate; (2) branding to differentiate an organization’s products and services from those of competitors by attaching to the brand a symbolic meaning from the lived experience of consumers; and (3) innovation to guide business growth by analyzing consumer practices, as well as client and other stakeholder suppositions about the nature of the problem to be solved. Anthropologists in consumer research not only represent consumer voices but are also mediators of stakeholder interests. Change occurs at minimal scale by reframing problems for clients and affecting how clients address target audiences through marketing and advertising strategies, communications, or innovation; and at broader scale, by simultaneously contesting cultural ideologies (e.g., gender, personhood, ethnicity) perpetuated by business practices.
Anthropology of Education
The anthropology of education (also known as educational anthropology, pedagogical anthropology, ethnography of education, and educational ethnography) is a broad area of interest with roots and continuing connections in several major disciplines, including anthropology, linguistics, sociology, psychology, and philosophy, as well as the field of education. It emerged as a named subdiscipline in the 1950s primarily in the United States through the work of George and Louise Spindler, Margaret Mead, and others. However, work of a related nature was also taking place around the same time in Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and Britain. While research in the anthropology of education is extremely diverse, a few central aims can be articulated. One is to build our understanding of how people teach and learn and what they teach and learn across different community, cultural, national, and regional contexts. Through comparisons of educative processes, scholars often draw insights about how culture shapes educational processes, how culture is acquired by individuals and groups through such processes, as well as how people create changes in and through their educational environments. A basic premise is that formal schooling is implicated in a paradoxical relationship with social inequality. While formal education can lead to greater social justice, it can also contribute to the creation and widening of social inequality. Thus, another key aim is to describe, uncover, and expose educational processes that undermine as well as enhance greater social equality. Formal education is not the only focus; studies of informal learning in families and communities provide rich descriptions of everyday contexts in which young people develop the skills and knowledge to be productive members of their community. Often such descriptions stand in stark contrast to the formal educational system where the same learners may be perceived as deficient. Since the 1990s, the anthropology of education has witnessed a number of shifts, including a movement toward research that takes an activist and engaged stance (e.g., research that includes a goal of changing oppressive conditions by collaborating directly with stakeholders such as youth and parents). This movement entails accompanying changes in methodologies, expanding beyond primarily descriptive ethnography to include methods such as participatory action research, teacher research, policy research, and critical ethnography. A more international and less US-centric perspective is also emerging as scholars around the world recognize the importance of studying both formal and informal education through ethnographic and other qualitative methods. The field is enriched as scholars around the world contribute new perspectives forged in regions with different historical and political environments. One of the key questions asked in early 21st-century educational anthropology is, under what circumstances can formal education be a force for change to create more egalitarian and inclusive societies?
The Anthropology of Financialization in Eastern Europe
Initially understood as a narrowly economic process of financial expansion, the concept of financialization has expanded to describe the increasing power of financial actors, practices, logics, and narratives in various domains of social life and the resulting transformations. Anthropologists study financialization as a polyvalent social process that works in and through social relations and encompasses financial expansion and penetration as well as particular forms of morality, governmentality, and subjectivity. They employ ethnography and relational analysis to defamiliarize finance, destabilize its dominant representations, reveal its hidden agendas, and expose the gaps between its promises and actual outcomes. In the late 20th century and early 21st century, Eastern Europe has been one of the most dynamic areas of anthropological research on financialization. The process had a distinct flavor in the region inasmuch as it was part of its wider transition from socialism to capitalism and integration into the global capitalist economy in an unequal and dependent position. Peripheral financialization in the region depended on cross-border inflows of interest-bearing capital, orchestrated mainly by banks owned by Western European banking groups. Much relevant work by anthropologists has examined the consequences of peripheral financialization for households, focusing especially on characteristic predatory lending practices such as foreign exchange (FX) lending. Another prominent line of inquiry has been concerned with forms of civil society and contestation emerging in response to financialization. These often took a more conservative or technocratic form than similar movements in the West, which reflected the specificities of financialization as well as wider political dynamics in the region. Anthropologists also studied the state as an agent and object of financialization, exploring issues such as articulation between financialization and authoritarianism or the impact of growing public debt on the ideologies of governance. A general thread in anthropological analyses has been a complex interplay between transformations induced by financialization and the manifold ways in which finance was “domesticated” by preexisting social relations and values, especially those based on kinship and gender.
The Anthropology of Hope
As part of a belated interest in people’s engagements with possible futures, the start of the third millennium witnessed the emergence of a burgeoning subfield around the anthropology of hope. Anthropologists investigate the objects of people’s hopes and their attempts to fulfill them. They also reflect on hope as an affect and disposition, and as a method of knowledge production. Three interrelated but analytically distinguishable concerns can be discerned in the anthropology of hope. First, anthropologists are interested in the conditions of possibility of hoping. Such studies of the political economy of hope explore the circumstances in which hopefulness does or does not flourish, and the unequal distribution of intensities of hoping, and of particular hopes, among different categories of people. A second domain consists of anthropological research on the shapes that hoping takes. Studies in this phenomenological vein investigate how hopefulness and hopes appear in the world. How does hoping work over time in people’s practices, reflections, and orientations, and with which intended and unintended effects? A third concern emerges around the relationship between hoping as a subject matter of ethnographic study and anthropology as a form of knowledge production. How do scholarly understandings of hope inform the development of the discipline and, particularly, its engagement with political critique and its capacity to help imagine alternatives?
The Anthropology of Labor
In the final decades of the 20th century, market reforms in China and India, post-socialist transitions in Eastern Europe, deindustrialization of historic centers of factory production, and the international project of neoliberalization ushered billions of people worldwide into a range of labor relations—waged and unwaged, relatively stable and wholly insecure, formal and informal, bonded and free. The heterogeneity and fragmentation of these labors require new insights about capitalism, class, politics, and culture. One position holds that inequality on a global scale creates people and communities who are permanently outside of capitalism. Many terms catalog capitalism’s failure to incorporate vast numbers of people, and they denote the irrelevance of surplus populations for capitalist value production. “The precariat,” “bare life,” and “disposable people” are among those classifications. More optimistic thinkers see capitalism’s outside comprised of “non-capitalist” spaces, where “alternative modernities” and “ontological difference” flourish. Marxist anthropologists counter that capitalism incorporates, marginalizes, and expels people on shifting terms over time and on a global scale. Capital and labor accumulation are always uneven, creating differences within and between working populations, especially along axes of race, ethnicity, gender, immigration status, skill, and work regime. The proletariat or any similar uniform designation does not adequately capture this broader, heterogeneous social formation. Class analysis is nonetheless critical for understanding these actually existing social relations. In turn, this approach is criticized for too closely following surplus-value-producing labor, whereas cross-culturally, and especially in the global south, non-capitalist regimes of value persist. Disagreements between two overarching perspectives—one emphasizing political economic factors and the other culture—influence many debates within the anthropology of labor. Scholars extend the study of labor to engage theories of social reproduction, value, and uneven and combined development. New organizations address the problem of precarious work in academia, and a network connects labor anthropology researchers.
Anthropology of Peace and Justice Studies
Eric Montgomery and Elizabeth Drexler
The early 21st century has seen the largest protests for social justice in the history of the U.S., including the Women’s Marches of 2016–2020 as well as the Movement for Black Lives. Meanwhile, the Farmers’ Protest in India constitutes the largest and most expensive protest in the history of the world. Cases of state and political violence and genocide around the world have been addressed in transitional justice processes and peace agreements or commemorated in various forms. And yet, even as individuals and groups mobilize for peace and justice, violence and oppression continue to proliferate around the world. What we identify as the anthropology of peace and justice encompasses the empirical analysis, theoretical engagement, and practical advocacy of anthropologists across the subfields. These anthropologists work to identify, conceptualize, and study individual and collective engagement with violence, oppression, injustice, and efforts to make change, seek justice, and establish sustainable peace. Anthropological theory and methods are well suited to capture emergent, ongoing, and innovative struggles for justice that occur in a range of social, cultural, political, and institutional realms drawing on collective cultural and symbolic actions. Today’s anthropologists engage with issues of violence, conflict, inequality, and struggles for justice and equity. We highlight theoretical, methodological, analytic, and ethnographic elements that distinguish anthropological approaches to peace and justice studies from other disciplines that examine this domain. Anthropologists engaging immigrant rights, movements for racial justice, indigenous rights, climate justice, gender equity, the Fight for $15, Occupy Wallstreet, gun violence, and issues of authoritarian rule and neoliberalism (market-oriented principles and government deregulation) in the era of globalization continue to build this vibrant and expanding area of anthropological concern.
The Anthropology of Special Economic Zones (Free Ports, Export Processing Zones, Tax Havens)
Special economic zones (SEZs) are a key manifestation of neoliberal globalization. As of 2020, more than 150 nations operated more than 5,400 zones. The combined workforce of factories and service industries in bonded warehouses, export processing zones (EPZs), free trade zones (FTZs), science parks (SPs), regional development zones (RDZs), economic corridors (ECs), and other types of SEZs exceeds one hundred million. These figures include tax havens, offshore financial centers, and free ports. Neoliberal academics and researchers from international organizations say that this has been a long time coming, as the freedom offered in the zones was integral to being human and first implemented in free ports of the Roman Empire. Critical social scientists, among them many anthropologists, have instead identified the zones as products of a 1970s rupture from Keynesian welfarism and Fordist factory regimes to neoliberal globalization and post-Fordist flexible accumulation. Since the early 21st century, scholarship in anthropology has expanded this critical stance on worker exploitation in SEZs toward a historical analysis of SEZs as pacemakers of neoliberal manufacturing globalization since the 1940s. A second strand of ethnographies uses a postmodern lens to research the zones as regimes that produce neoliberal subjectivities and graduated sovereignty.