Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sucks Stinks

(READ THIS BEFORE MOVING ON—the following post contains repeated instances of curse words, including one that some find particularly offensive—the “f-word” [that’s the last time in this post that I do not use the actual word]. I use the words in this post to analyze their semantic functions through an anthropological lens. I also spend the entire post criticizing their use, not because they’ve been defined as “curses,” but because I think their use has other, nasty social consequences. This warning may seem overboard, but if anyone from my institution of employment comes across this post, I want to be clear that this is not the case of a professor going off with f-bombs for some polemic purpose. I’m doing this because it’s anthropologically interesting and relevant.)

Why Sucks Stinks
I never thought I’d be one of those parents to watch my language around my children to avoid cursing, but it’s happened. More than anything, I don’t want them to suffer the consequences of using foul language in some non-home context…some teacher or other parent scolding them for doing something that may have seemed normal at home. So, my wife and I have become active patrollers of our language.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer in the Suburbs: A Reflection on Bad Parenting

Update (10/14/2011): A recent Sociological Images post discusses how American infrastructure is so car friendly and includes a number of telling photographs of the problems that pedestrians face.

Part I
As noted in my initial post, the origins of this blog are found in a summer spent nearly exclusively with my two children and the myriad difficulties embedded in such a summer. Throughout the summer, something has gnawed at me; I have repeatedly wrestled with the fact that I’m not enjoying much of this summer. Aren’t parents supposed to revel in time with their kids? Everyone is constantly telling me to “enjoy this time,” because it “goes by quickly.” Am I a bad parent because I’m not enjoying it? The answer may well be “yes” (while relevant to my situation, I won’t often discuss my personal psychology—I don’t have the training, and that’s embarrassing), but I’ve also come to the conclusion that parenting in the contemporary US occurs in a context that is unusual when compared with much of cross-cultural human experience, and that makes parenting hard*. Specifically, it’s hard for a single adult to successfully manage and meet the needs of more than one child. I am in awe of single parents.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cultural Relativism, Excuses and Understanding

In a recent New York Times op-ed, anthropologist, Mike McGovern offered an examination of the background of the woman involved in the alleged case of rape against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It’s well known that problems emerged with her credibility and the accounts she provided for investigators. McGovern’s piece was simply one that provided a greater context for the woman’s life, as she is an immigrant from Guinea and McGovern is an anthropologist who specializes in West Africa.

Robert Fulford of the National Post wrote a response piece earlier this week that criticized McGovern for using a “coarsely applied version of cultural relativism” to excuse or explain away any of the woman’s potential guilt for deceiving investigators. While cultural relativism is a multifaceted and, at times, contentious concept, it is not “an idea that long ago lost its professional moorings and became a dead weight on serious thinking” as Fulford argues.

McGovern’s essay nicely shows this. He gives the social, political, cultural backstory of a woman in the news to show that she wasn’t simply some Westchester County debutante looking to make a quick buck off of a rich older man. She was a woman who had come from a difficult place in difficult times, when bad choices were often more available than good ones. McGovern provided the context which makes her actions a bit more understandable, not excusable, but understandable. In my opinion, making it easier to understand other people is one of the noblest missions of anthropology and cultural relativism.

Update: Just after I made this brief post, Living Anthropologically posted a more thoughtful and informative response in line with my own.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


The following is a quick stream of consciousness take on the purpose of this blog.

Over the summer of 2011, I was teaching three classes online, but more importantly, serving as primary caregiver to my two small sons, one three years old and one almost one year old. While I love my kids and they are the amazing, wonderful creatures that all parents proclaim the greatness of, I became increasingly weary during these child-centric months. I began to crave adult interaction. As such, the internet increasingly served as an outlet of communication and a proxy for socialization with grown-ups. Problem was, I often didn’t have anyone specific to communicate with. Who wants to hear about the minutiae of my days with kids, oh yeah, Twitter. While I’d initially thought it trivial, I began to experiment with Twitter, sending out tweets about kids, politics, and anthropology. Surprisingly, there was some satisfaction in doing this.