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.
M.P. Pimbert, N.I. Moeller, J. Singh, and C.R. Anderson
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.
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 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.
Anthropology of the Balkans
Anthropological research in the Balkans has taken place under different labels—ethnography, ethnology, and folkloristics, to name a few. A throughline that connects the various scholarly histories in the region is the emergence of the discipline under the influence of German Romantic ideas about language and culture. Early anthropological research was entangled with the political goals of nation-building in the aftermath of projects of national liberation and oriented toward internal others, mainly peasants. After World War II, ideas from the Soviet practice of ethnography gained influence. Since the 1970s, national traditions of anthropological research have opened up to influences from the centers of anthropological knowledge production, primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. From then on, a greater number of foreign anthropologists were coming to do fieldwork in the Balkans, more scholars from the Balkans began receiving their training outside the region, and those trained in their home countries started engaging in a more dynamic exchange with foreign anthropologists. This exchange resulted in a critical and reflexive examination of the definition and status of the Balkans as a concept. Anthropological research conducted in the aftermath of the fall of socialism, in the 1990s and later, has four overarching topics. First, many researchers focused on postsocialist transformations aiming to understand the various domains in which profound cultural changes were taking place. Second, the war in the former Yugoslavia and the rise of nationalism elsewhere saw a growing interest in the topic of ethnonationalism. Third, the continual flows of outmigration from the region, the process of European integration, and more attention to the enduring legacies of empires crystallized in the research on transnational flows. Fourth, analyses of gender and kinship across the previous three topics became important in their own right. Since the turn of the millennium, anthropologists have been more likely to take up topics that have global reverberations rather than those that are more limited to the Balkans. First, anthropologists have focused on novel political and economic subjectivities that have appeared in the region in response to overlapping crises. Second, the region has provided ample anthropological theorizations of the state against the backdrop of nostalgia for the lost socialist state and changing forms of action in the political domain. Finally, anthropologists have engaged with materiality more deeply by focusing on topics such as infrastructure, environment, and the body.
Ann T. Jordan
Business anthropology is a fast-evolving field. Social sciences such as sociology, psychology, and anthropology each have a unique set of constructs and theories for studying human behavior and each brings special insights to understanding business. Anthropologists are skilled in observing and learning from the rich interaction of social beings in their environment. With methods based in techniques for first-hand observation and interviewing of participants, and with theoretical knowledge gleaned from studying human societies across the world, anthropologists are the social scientists uniquely situated by training to analyze the social milieu and group-patterned interaction in any human setting. Simply, business anthropology is the use of anthropological constructs, theory, and methods to study its three subfields: organizations, marketing and consumer behavior, and design. Organizational anthropology is the study of complex organizations from an anthropological perspective to solve organizational problems or better understand the nature and functioning of the organizational form within and across organizations. In marketing and consumer behavior anthropology’s methods allow one to get close to consumers and understand their needs, while anthropology’s theoretical perspectives allow one to understand how human consumption plays out on the world stage. In the design field anthropologists use their methods to observe and learn from the detailed interaction of social beings in the designed environments in which we all live. They use their theoretical perspectives to develop a holistic analysis of the rich data to develop new products and evaluate and improve existing ones whether they be refrigerators or office buildings. The field of business anthropology is difficult to define because the moniker “business anthropology” is a misnomer. This field, as most anthropologists practice it, is not limited to work in for-profit businesses. Business anthropologists work with for-profit organizations, but also non-profit ones, government organizations and with supranational regulatory bodies. In addition to working for a business, an organizational anthropologist might be working in a non-profit hospital to improve patient safety, a design anthropologist might be working for an NGO to develop a less fuel-intensive cooking system for refugee camps and an anthropologist in marketing might be working in a government agency to develop ways to advertise new vaccines.
Ceramic Ethnoarchaeology in Africa: Status and Scope
Per Ditlef Fredriksen
Studies of social practices that include the making and use of ceramics constitute a significant part of the subfield of ethnoarchaeology. Pottery is still the archaeological artifact par excellence in many parts of the world, not least in Africa. Because of its omnipresence, pottery not only persists as a convenient way of dating but is also a frequently used point of entry to meaning in the archaeological record. Ethnoarchaeology gained momentum in the 1960s to improve reasoning and inference, by conducting studies of 21st-century practices viewed as providing analogical insights of value for archaeology. Needless to say, this studying of Others in the 21st century to understand Others in the past is a source of severe critique. However, since the late 1990s ethnoarchaeology has transcended the handmaiden role. The debates are not only critical but also vibrant and forward-looking. Key issues relate to ethics, the use and continued development of postcolonial critique, the archaeology of technology, and new forms of interdisciplinarity in the wake of increasing amounts of data coming from laboratory disciplines. The latter issue compels the question what a “slow” science field like ethnoarchaeology can and should offer, not least since there is a clear tendency for modeling and syntheses of past societal change to be constantly “lagging behind.” Viewing research within the field in Africa so far in the early 21st century against a geographically wider and temporally deeper backdrop, comprising key developments in the research field globally since the 1960s: what are its main contributions and challenges? What is the status in the early 21st century, and what can and should the near future hold?
Cereals, Rituals, and Social Structure
From the end of the Paleolithic Period onwards, cultivated cereals have interacted with ritual practices and social patterning through a variety of channels: the agrarian cycle provides a society with an array of stories and practices that are enshrined into its system of local knowledge; representations associated with grains develop into everyday practices; and cereal cultivation favorizes (or is triggered by) specific political forms, thus becoming embedded into the rituals through which political entities assert their legitimacy. Interactions between cereals, rituals, and social forms are informed by the characteristics proper to each staple cereal (maize, wheat, rice, sorghum, and millet, among others): the length of the maturation cycle, the degree of solidarity required from the rural community, the environmental requirements linked to its cultivation, its process of transformation into alcohol—all these factors inform the way a cereal inserts itself into a ritual and social complex. Starting with the changes in farming methods that coincided with the First Industrial Revolution, technological, social, and cultural transformations have been seemingly working toward the elimination or transmutation of cereal-based rituals. However, the timing, intensity, and effects of such transformations have differed widely from region to region. Besides, critical observation highlights the fact that these rituals are often hybridized, a phenomenon that repeatedly happened in history. Furthermore, current social processes affecting both producers and consumers may lead to a progressive ritualization of new beliefs and ways of proceeding.
Jeanne Féaux de la Croix
Collaborative and transdisciplinary research are ambitious and influential streams of thought in current anthropology. Collaboration represents a family of ideas often described as “transdisciplinary” in other disciplines. Proponents argue that collaborative models explicitly create greater recognition of research relationships and produce a more socially engaged research process. This research philosophy claims to produce more just, theoretically innovative, and robust research outcomes. Advocates highlight both the value and the difficulty of reformulating research relationships in this way, specifying conditions such as the need for heightened personal and programmatic reflexivity in the process. Debates over the essence of collaborative practice intersect with key theoretical questions around the (co)production of knowledge and power, including issues of representation, reflexivity, engaged and public anthropology, the nature of fieldwork, and tensions around the institutional logics of evaluating research excellence and usefulness. The collaborative ethos bears many similarities with earlier and related fields such as action anthropology and decolonizing agendas. The current popularity of the term should be viewed critically in the context of wider scientific and societal logics. The institutional homes of collaboration can be found in countries subscribing to democratic and human rights ideals, and those experiencing a strong push for Indigenous rights. Because of potential risks in self-consciously declaring collaboration, such research is relatively rare in authoritarian settings, though often practiced with a lower profile. Uncertainty also in predefining research outcomes is discussed as essential, producing both unexpected findings as well as potential failures. General patterns of reciprocity and degrees of power-sharing are differentiated along three axes. The more politically radical the outlook of the researcher, the less control over the project the researcher tends to exert. Second, the more socially similar researcher and counterpart are to one another, the higher the degree of power-sharing and reciprocity. Third, the more heterogeneous the kinds of people the project draws together, the more negotiation and potential friction it entails. The very popularity of the collaborative principle holds some risks, such as potentially leading to abusing collaboration as a source of “cheap” research labor. Further, often the unfamiliarity of funding reviewers with the principles of open-ended research design and value of alternative research products from standard academic publishing patterns can pose difficulties in realizing research. In addition, the often longer timeline of reaping the potentially huge benefits of collaboration also poses risks, especially for precariously employed researchers. In sum, the demanding discussion and practice of collaboration quickly takes on core disciplinary questions and uncertainties: what is good anthropology, who is it for, and how do you get there?
Community-Based Participatory Research
Community-based participatory research (CBPR) refers to a methodological and epistemological approach to applied community projects in which researchers and community members collaborate as equals in the research process. Also known as participatory action research (PAR), CBPR has gained considerable acceptance both as a set of methods for identifying and addressing local issues of concern and as a vehicle for applying the principles of equity, cultural humility, mutual learning, and social justice to the relationships between researchers and communities. Although somewhat distinct from applied anthropology, CBPR shares with ethnography in particular an attentiveness to rapport building and community engagement and an overall validation of local knowledge. There is little consensus regarding the threshold of community participation necessary for a given research project to be considered CBPR. However, at a minimum the approach requires that community members define the problems to be assessed, provide consultation on the cultural and social dimensions of the study population, and serve in an advisory capacity over the entire project. The history of CBPR and its antecedents reflects its twin values as a pragmatic approach to researching and addressing local problems and as an emancipatory social justice project that seeks to diminish the hierarchical relationship between researchers and community members. Specifically, the pragmatic perspective was developed in the United States by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s (and subsequently by the anthropologists Laura Thompson and Sol Tax), while the emancipatory approach derives from the work of educational theorist Paulo Freire in Brazil in the 1970s. Community Advisory Boards (CABs) play an outsized role in the success of CBPR projects, since they typically represent the community in these studies, and thus maintain oversight over all aspects of the research process, including the study design, sampling and recruitment protocols, and the dissemination of findings. Accordingly, nurturing and maintaining trust between researchers, the CAB, and the community constitutes a foundational practice for any CBPR study.
Development and Anthropology
Riall W. Nolan
International development is one of humanity’s most important global undertakings, but it is also a “wicked problem” characterized by uncertain and shifting priorities, disagreements, and unexpected outcomes. Created during and in the aftermath of World War II, the development industry of the early 21st century is large, complex, and highly influential. It is also relatively opaque to outsiders and largely independent of normal means of democratic control. Anthropology has been involved in development from colonial times, but particularly so since the 1950s, and anthropologist practitioners have made several important contributions to development planning and implementation. The discipline’s influence overall, however, has been overshadowed to a large degree by other disciplines, such as economics, which still remains dominant in the industry. Anthropological influence has waxed and waned over the years, both as a response to development policies and priorities, and as a response to changes within the discipline itself. Anthropological analyses of development, as well as detailed development ethnographies, have helped people inside and outside the industry understand why and how development efforts succeed and fail, and indeed, how to define success and failure in the first place. At the same time, anthropologists have enhanced our appreciation of the role of language, power, and agency in the development process. In the future, anthropology is likely to become more important and influential in development work, given the growth of disciplinary trends favoring practice and application and renewed focus within the development industry on poverty eradication.
Ethnographies of Water
Water in all its permanent, temporary, colored, salt and freshwater forms, is vital and life-sustaining to human and other living species. Ethnographic research has, by necessity, always included water in all its variations, whereas ethnographies of water describe and analyze not only accounts about water’s intrinsic value to life, but also how different societies conceptualize, sustain, use, control, and attribute meaning to it. Water as a cultural ethnographic lens reveals how both the presence and absence of water is managed, as well as how it is believed to have originated and should be cared for. Practices such as the regular enactment of religious rituals, the development of irrigation, origin narratives, understandings of hydrological movements, and the problem of drought and flood, all convey a complex of water-inspired stories. Water’s relationship to other elements—air, wind, fire, cloud, and smoke—are also part of the depth and breadth embedded in ethnographies of water, constituting a richness of narratives, especially when explored from country to country, and place to place, as new generations and circumstances across time and space converge. These inevitably include the impact of global warming, the technology revolution, and globalization, alongside the curiosity, rigor, and insight that is the long-term hallmark of anthropological inquiry.
History, Anthropology, and Rethinking Modern Disciplines
Pervasive presumptions in the human sciences project anthropology and history as taken-for-granted divisions of knowledge, whose relationship is then tracked as being vexed but constructive. At the same time, it is more useful today to rethink history and anthropology as disciplines of modernity – in their formation, elaboration, and transformation. To begin with, going back to the Enlightenment and Romanticism, historical and anthropological knowledge each appeared as mutually if variously shaped by overarching distinctions between the “primitive/native” and the “civilized/modern.” It followed that the wide-ranging dynamic of empire and nation, race and reason, and analytical and hermeneutical orientations underlay the emergence of anthropology and history as institutionalized enquiries in the second half of the nineteenth century. Further, across much of the twentieth century and through its wider upheavals, it was by attempting uneasily to break with these genealogies yet never fully even escaping their impress that history and anthropology staked their claims as modern disciplines. This entailed especially their discrete expressions of time and space, culture and change, tradition and modernity. Finally, the mutual makeovers of history and anthropology since the 1970s have thought through the formidable conceits of both these disciplines while reconsidering questions of theory and method, object and subject, and the archive and the field. Based upon salient intersections with a range of critical understandings – for instance, postfoundational and postcolonial perspectives, considerations of gender and sexuality, and subaltern and decolonial frames – the newer emphases have imaginatively articulated issues of historical consciousness and marginal communities, colony and nation, empire and modernity, race and slavery, alterity and identity, indigeneity and heritage, and the state and the secular. At the same time, considering that such disciplinary changes are themselves embedded within wider shifts in social worlds, the haunting terms of the antinomies between the “savage/native” and the “civilized/modern” unsurprisingly find newer expressions within ever emergent hierarchies of otherness.
Indigenous anthropology is an emergent praxis of Indigenous knowledge production that can be vaguely translated and tentatively identified as approximating anthropological enquiry in the Western sense of the social science. The decolonizing practices by Indigenous scholars have outlined contours of critical Indigenous praxis that seek to liberate Indigenous communities from colonial and settler hegemonies of knowledge production, dissemination of knowledges, and the ongoing constraints colonial systems of systemic racism have imposed on Indigenous peoples as a global phenomenon. The growing call for a world anthropology inadvertently imposes an uncritical ventriloquism on Indigenous peoples who are attempting to contribute to the discipline of anthropology from the situated perspectives of diverse Indigenous communities. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) provided a catalyzing moment for a global Indigeneity that brings the diverse experiences together for mutual consultation and strategic planning. Indigeneity as a global phenomenon also creates the potential for the discipline of anthropology to shed its colonial roots and consider the prospects for a vibrant anthropology that truly reflects a shared human experience and does not privilege one knowledge over another.
Managing Heritage Sites and the Politics of Cultural Continuity in Mesoamerica
The dynamic between indigenous descendant communities, archaeologists, and other heritage professionals in Mexico and Central America embodies a distinct regional history of relations between native peoples and the state. In contrast to the United States and other regions, where indigenous polities have a history of legal sovereignty, the legacy of Spanish colonialism has created few parallel avenues for native Mesoamericans. Linguistic, cosmological, and social continuities between living and ancient indigenous populations have long been an emphasis of Mesoamericanist anthropology. Nevertheless, laws for the management of heritage in those countries often marginalize descendant communities from the use and stewardship of the material traces left behind by their ancestors. The ethical dimensions of this dynamic are further complicated by the fact that many activities that are criminalized by existing heritage laws are, in fact, consistent with long-standing traditions of landscape use and material recycling in these societies. Lacking the sovereignty principle that shapes interactions between indigenous communities and archaeologists in the United States, a more inclusive practice of heritage in Mesoamerica involves new kinds of pragmatic dialogue and accommodation.
Matauranga Maori and Environmental Research: The Interface of Māori Knowledge and Anthropology
In a world where scholarship is constantly evolving and adapting, Mātauranga Māori is emerging in Aotearoa–New Zealand as a unique and legitimate knowledge source. The word Mātauranga is composed of two parts: mātau, which means to know, be acquainted with, or understand, and the suffix ranga, which turns the word from a verb into a noun. Mātauranga Māori is knowledge passed down intergenerationally from Polynesian ancestors, linking kin across time and space. It is knowledge that belongs to Māori from their earliest beginnings in Hawaiki to descendants living contemporary lives in Aotearoa–New Zealand and in other parts of the world. Guiding and informing Māori lives, Mātauranga Māori is a continuum of ancestral knowledge that binds people. Importantly, relationships between whānau (family), marae and hāpori (communities), and hapū (sub-tribes) are melded through shared experiences and practices of Mātauranga. Shaping the Māori world, Mātauranga Māori is comprehensive and includes creation stories, genealogy, history, oratory, the creative arts, environmental and technological knowledge, and local traditions specific to places and communities. Additionally, it contains the meanings and values of other significant Māori concepts such as kaitiakitanga (guardianship), rangatiratanga (leadership), mana (authority), mauri (life force), whanaungatanga (relatedness), tikanga (customs and protocols), and whakapapa (genealogy). Mātauranga Māori has historically been excluded from New Zealand’s mainstream curriculum, but this is changing as its value and potential become recognized by the state. The body of knowledge offers new ways of seeing the world, and many scholars, both Maori and non-Māori, believe it may be used to address some of the critical issues we face as a global society. Along with the desire for Mātauranga to be included in Aotearoa–New Zealand’s mainstream education, a domain previously dominated by Western science, there is a deep concern that Māori knowledge will be appropriated to benefit “others” who do not whakapapa to the original Mātauranga sources. This is an issue that Māori communities and Māori researchers must address going forward.
Megalithism and Territoriality in Eastern Adamawa Plateau
The megaliths of the northwestern part of the Central African Republic consist of monuments built with numerous large knapped stones crested on a mound. They appear at the beginning of the first millennium cal bc underlining a socioeconomic change that needs to be better characterized. During the following millennia, the archaeological record attests to an intensification of the building of monuments, together with a diversification of their form and function. Appendages such as funeral chambers begin to appear at this stage. These features have led scholars to explore the relationship of these monuments in the social dynamics and symbolic systems of their communities. The emergence of megalithism in a society marks major shifts in their cultural, economic, and political development, as the scale of these works requires significant coordination of materials and resources. In the Eastern Adamawa Plateau, these massive stoneworks allow the excavation and pinpointing of the development iron metallurgy, the diversification of funerary practices, the political development of villages and of the centers of ceramic production.
Bianca Brijnath, Samantha Croy, and Josefine Antoniades
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.
Northeastern African Stone Age
Research on the northeastern African Stone Age is intrinsically linked to the study of human occupation along the Nile, which flows north through the now hyper-arid eastern Sahara to meet the Mediterranean, forming a natural route toward the Sinai Peninsula. Since this is the only land bridge between Africa and Eurasia, the region is often referred to as a “corridor,” with the hypothesis that the Nile Valley may have repeatedly acted as a possible route used by hominins out of (and back into) Africa guiding many research projects on the Stone Age of this region. However, past human occupation of northeastern Africa is far from restricted to the Nile Valley and includes evidence from areas that are now desert on either side of the Nile, as well as the Red Sea Mountains. Throughout the Pleistocene (2.58–0.01 Ma), the region was subject to climatic and environmental fluctuations that may have alternately rendered the desert habitable or the Nile Valley inhospitable for hominin settlement. Researchers have used both European and African terminologies to describe the northeastern African Stone Age record. In particular, the terms Early Stone Age and Middle Stone Age are often used for earlier phases, but Upper Paleolithic, Late Paleolithic, Epipaleolithic, and Mesolithic are commonly used for the later phases. Evidence for the Earliest Stone Age is sparse, but numerous sites are attributed to the later part of the Early Stone Age, the Late Acheulean, after c. 0.6 Ma. The Middle Stone Age is known by many surface scatters of lithic assemblages and few stratified sites, sometimes associated with raw material extraction features. Only a few sites document the Upper Paleolithic in the region, whereas a rich archaeological record documents the hunter-gatherer-fisher societies of the Late Paleolithic. While Acheulean and Middle Stone Age sites are located in the desert areas as well as the Nile Valley, for the later periods until the beginning of the Holocene, c. 12 ka, sites are mainly restricted to the Nile Valley. The study of the northeastern African Stone Age reveals complex human-environment interactions with implications for the potential central role of this region in hominin dispersals out of and back into Africa during the Pleistocene.
Ochre Use in the Middle Stone Age
The term “ochre” has many meanings: a colored stone, a pigment, sunscreen, a curiosity item, a mustard hue, or even an object used for ritual. Ochre found at archaeological sites is described as a range of earthy, ferruginous rocks with red–yellow–purple streaks. The use of ochre in the past has proven valuable for interpreting not only cognitive capabilities of its users but also for its potential to shed light on behavioral and social factors. The late Pleistocene, and specifically the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa, is a time of significant behavioral and cognitive advances for Homo sapiens—this coincides with the habitual use of ochre. By looking at the collection and use of ochre in the African Middle Stone Age, placed within a global and temporal context, important behavioral conclusions can be made. Ochre has many potential uses, making interpretations of ochre use in the past complicated. Ethnographic and modern analogies are considered as well as the experimental work that has been produced by numerous researchers. All accounts have deepened our understanding of the many ways that ochre may have been used in the distant past. It is likely that both its color and mineralogical content dictated its use in the past.