Comments on Culture

Photo exhibit: African-American Kentuckians

March 30, 2010
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A new photo exhibit on display at University of Kentucky presents a visual ethnography* of African-American communities in the state’s central region, by Sarah Hoskins.

The Picture Show Blog : NPR.

Exhibit details here.

These images present several layers of identity: Christian, multi-generational, black, agricultural, Kentuckian. I would love to have been along for these photography trips, to ask each person to tell me about their community. I bet I would hear great stories and many more identity markers than listed above.

*To some, ethnography implies studying “the other.” Not here. Its real meaning is “description of culture.”


New Ghost Towns

March 4, 2010
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What if the American economy began favoring locally produced goods and materials? Could the Buy Local movement help us recover from this long recession?

An article in USA Today, New Ghost Towns, warns, “Industrial communities teeter on edge of survival” (March 2, 2010). The piece focuses on Ravenswood, West Virginia, where 650 of the town’s 4,000 people were laid off during an aluminum plant closing one year ago, leaving the community “one plant shutdown from oblivion.”

The current unemployment rate amongst industrial workers rivals that of the Great Depression. However, in the past, “people could leave a ghost town – miners to new veins, farmers to till fresh land, merchants to move closer to road or rail,” but now the unemployed see no such options. What will happen in Ravenswood? “People will start leaving here. It’s that or a minimum-wage job at Wal-Mart.”

The pattern recurs in so many communities in America: First, local businesses shrink because consumers favor cheap imported goods from chain stores. Then, factory production dwindles against cheap imported materials. What is the ultimate cost of valuing the cheapest option?

What if American culture shifted away from cherishing the cheap to valuing local sustainability? I daresay, what if it became a matter of national pride to support your local economy?


Tasty disclaimers

August 26, 2009
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It’s something we hear about a lot, in the news, movies, and while we travel. Americans are perceived by the rest of the world in certain romanticized or despised ways. United States citizens are aware of this very general idea, but we don’t talk about it much.

I asked an Anthropology professor a long time ago if one could specialize in American culture. She replied that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AMERICAN CULTURE, only American cultureS. We are too varied and diverse a people to all fall under one “American culture.” Interestingly, though, every non-academic person I’ve told this to says, “Huh? Of course there’s an American culture.”

I wondered, why are the pro’s missing what the laypeople see? Why is the discipline whose job it is to identify patterns of behavior—values and norms shared by groups of people—missing this seemingly obvious group? Why don’t anthropologists study American culture? (more…)


Warming up the amp

August 26, 2009
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“CNN is supposed to be the best. But, I’m not buying the crap they’re selling lately.”

Now, these two young adults don’t seem to be crackpots. They’re not inadvertently flaunting teenage pot use and think they sound, like really smart, man, when they talk about media conspiracies. No, these are your average college students, people who would be your friends or coworkers or children. People I would talk to. But I don’t; today I’m just eavesdropping.

If they think the crap that the news tells them is either a half-truth or just some fluff line about something they don’t care about… What do they consider truth, to be valuable? What would they want to hear the international voice of America to say?

The individual—that forever targeted consumer, that internationally disdained representative of America, that constituent—what does that person really think? (more…)