Reach

- (noun) an area over which activity, capacity, or influence extends

– Merriam-Webster.com

An October opinion piece in the Coloradoan by Kate Browne, an anthropologist whose work includes disaster recovery research and a broadcast documentary on the aftermath of Katrina, prompted Anthropology Now to post a call for commentary on the Anthropology and Environment Society listserv. We sought short, opinion page-style essays on whether culture brokers can indeed contribute to a paradigm shift in disaster recovery. Browne’s column is linked below, followed by Elizabeth EnglandKennedy’s commentary on how culture-broker training can help to secure the safety of people with mental health needs amid natural or social disasters. These two writers contribute insightful analyses that are also strong models for accessible, anthropologically-informed public commentary in a short format.

We want to help keep this type of conversation going by providing a platform where anthropologists can write confidently about current topics in styles that have reach. If you would like to elaborate on archaeological, biological, cultural or linguistic themes raised in a current news article, please submit a 50-word prospectus and a link to the original piece to vesperi4anthronow@gmail.com

                     — Maria D. Vesperi, General Editor

‘Culture brokers’ have role to play in flood disaster recovery

Floods in Evans, Colorado in 2013. Photo by Jeremy Hubbard.

Floods in Evans, Colorado in 2013. Photo by Jeremy Hubbard.

by Katherine E. Browne, professor of anthropology at Colorado State University.

Posted on Nov. 8, 2013; published by the Coloradoan on Oct. 4, 2013

As a disaster anthropologist and someone who has worked with a large, working-class, African-American bayou family for years following Katrina, I am writing to bring attention to a little-understood problem in disaster recovery. Certainly every person impacted by the flooding in Northern Colorado deserves recognition for their trauma and losses, and they all need help recovering. But the capacity to recover is not equally distributed, for reasons most people have never thought about. In my experience, recovery is not just about resolve and personal initiative.  Continue reading Katherine Browne’s piece here…

The Need for Culture Brokering for People with Mental Illness during Disasters

by Elizabeth S. EnglandKennedy, Ph.D., MPH, CHES, New Mexico State University. Posted on Nov. 8, 2013

There is high need for culture brokers who can help individuals navigate treatment and law enforcement structures and find appropriate care and safe haven during crises.

There is high need for culture brokers who can help individuals navigate treatment and law enforcement structures and find appropriate care and safe haven during crises.

As an anthropologist working with mental illness and forensic social systems, I would like to highlight the need for culture brokers who are able to work with people with severe and persistent mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia) and other mental health difficulties during natural and social disasters. Specifically, there is high need for brokers who can help these individuals navigate treatment and law enforcement structures and find appropriate care and safe haven during crises. The support need is especially high for people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, whose primary language is not English, who use non-allopathic medical systems, and/or who display culturally-specific idioms of distress to cope with situations of trauma. I have found that such individuals typically lack the sociocultural capital and communication skills required to successfully negotiate situations with bureaucracies such as FEMA and insurance agencies, even when their mental health is sound.

In disaster situations, these people may lose not only their immediate supply of medications, but also access to social supports and familiar treatment providers. Loss of access to treatment and trusted social others, especially in combination with shock, panic and a sense of being emotionally and cognitively overwhelmed, is likely to increase disorientation. It can lead to states of cognitive and emotional dissociation in which symptoms and other internal experiences override the person’s usual perceptions and decision-making abilities, potentially leading to violent and/or suicidal thoughts and actions. People in this form of extreme distress experience hallucinations, delusions and other internal experiences so powerful that they are unable to take actions that increase safety in a disaster situation, and can instead unknowingly endanger themselves and/or others. Individuals who maintain some control may still have exacerbated difficulty in accurately assessing risk; this is worsened by the repeated traumas experienced during disaster. If they are unable to maintain prescribed medication or other treatments for days or weeks, the risk of danger to self and others rises substantially.

In an increasing number of areas, first responders (e.g., police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians) receive Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). This is designed to provide them with skills for de-escalating situations in which someone is endangering self or others, and/or is in mental health crisis. However, this training is inadequate in disaster situations. It is designed only to help first responders calm people and bring them to allopathic services such as hospitals or crisis triage centers. During disasters, such facilities may be overwhelmed. Further, exigent circumstances likely mean that first responders will not have time and other resources required for CIT service provision or for helping individuals in crisis obtain specialized or culturally-appropriate treatments and supports.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration recently approved a course known as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a certificate program designed to reduce stigma by helping people learn how to offer support to individuals in mental health crises. However, it has limited availability and is designed only to enhance participants’ comfort level in speaking with people in psychological distress and contacting known sources of care. Individuals with MHFA training are not educated on ways to help people locate and enter appropriate treatment systems during times of disaster, particularly if the individual in distress uses a non-allopathic treatment provider, such as a curandero.

A limitation of programs such as CIT and MHFA is that they assume the validity and cross-cultural reliability of diagnostic categories. Individuals describing experiences interpreted as “delusions” or “hallucinations” by CIT- or MHFA-trained personnel could be inappropriately transferred to enforced allopathic treatment or incarcerated. People who hear voices of spirits or ancestors could be physically forced to undergo medications, hospitalizations, or other forms of “treatment” or confinement that exacerbate their crises rather than enhancing care and self-determination. Culturally-appropriate and effective idioms of distress may be misinterpreted as “illness” when they are, in fact, personally useful coping methods, particularly in situations of re-traumatization. In such cases, system navigators and workers trained only in allopathic systems can increase distress and danger. There is urgent need for culture brokers trained in emergency management systems, locally-available mental health crisis treatments and supports and the legal protocols of FEMA and other governmental agencies that are likely to be mobilized in disaster settings.

10/10/2013: Liz England Kennedy (photo by Darren Phillips)Liz England-Kennedy is an Instructor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at New Mexico State University.

 

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Previously on Reach

A recent New York Times review prompted Anthropology Now to post a call for commentary on the Association of Black Anthropologists listserv. We sought short, opinion page-style essays on how the work of African American artist Bill Traylor is contextualized by the arts establishment in the story linked below, a report by Times art critic Roberta Smith. Gina Ulysse viewed the exhibit for herself and contributed an insightful analysis that is also a strong model for anthropologically-informed commentary in a short format, written on a tight deadline.

We want to help keep this type of conversation going by providing a platform where anthropologists can write confidently about current topics in styles that have reach. If you would like to elaborate on archaeological, biological, cultural or linguistic themes raised in a current news article, please submit a 50-word prospectus and a link to the original piece to vesperi4anthronow@gmail.com

                     — Maria D. Vesperi, Incoming Editor

Presumed Innocent:  On Bill Traylor’s Verve

by Gina Athena Ulysse, August 9, 2013

Something was definitely stirring deep within William “Bill” Traylor. In a span of four years, he expunged a lot of it, producing 1200 drawings and paintings with graphite pencil stubs and poster paint on discarded cardboard.

Traylor bears the surname of the proprietor of the plantation in Dallas County, Alabama, where he was born into slavery on April 1, 1854. Like other families, after Emancipation his remained there in the modern form of enslavement as a sharecropper.   He moved to Montgomery in 1939. It was then, at the age of 85, that Traylor began to draw, producing his entire body of work by 1942.

Reading a New York Times review of the Traylor exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum made me want to see the works in person. His figures and scenes without landscapes brought Kara Walker’s paper-cut silhouettes to mind. It did not escape me that the reviewer, Roberta Smith, used a narrative of universalism to explicate the art of this “indelible individual talent,” which she characterizes as “modern and archaic… proof of Jung’s collective unconsciousness.” In the process, she did not have to dwell on a most recurring theme in Traylor’s work: America’s oldest non-secret, slavery.  In that sense, I would say that Smith was “playing in the dark,” a shout out to Toni Morrison, who wrote that “all of us are bereft when criticism remain too polite or too fearful to notice a disrupting darkness before its eyes.”  Indeed, Traylor has too often been presumed innocent.  Continue Reading…

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Kenneth Irby’s report on the end of photojournalism culture at the Chicago Sun-Times prompted Anthropology Now to post a call for commentary on the Society for Visual Anthropology listserv. We sought short, opinion page-style articles written from a visual anthropology perspective. Engaging in content, these submissions by Zeynep Gursel and Jennifer Cool are also strong models for anthropologically-informed commentary in a short format, written on a tight deadline.

Mallary Tenore, Managing Editor of Poynter.org, reports that Irby’s piece received 7600 likes on Facebook and was tweeted some 900 times in the three weeks following publication. We want to help keep this type of conversation going by providing a platform where anthropologists can write confidently about current topics in styles that have reach. If you would like to elaborate on archaeological, biological, cultural or linguistic themes raised in a current news article, please submit a 50-word prospectus and a link to the original piece to vesperi4anthronow@gmail.com

                     — Maria D. Vesperi, Incoming Editor

John White on Sun-Times layoffs: ‘It was as if they pushed a button and deleted a whole culture’

by Kenneth Irby, Poynter.org, June 3, 2013

John White’s 44-year career at The Chicago Sun-Times has been rooted in faith and professionalism. It’s a career he refers to as “an assignment from God.”

Earlier this week, that career came to an end on what some photographers have called the darkest day in Sun-Times photojournalism history. The paper announced Thursday that it had laid off its entire photojournalism staff and would rely on freelance photographers and reporters instead.  Continue reading Irby’s piece here…

A Challenge for Visual Journalism: Rendering The Labor Behind News Images Visible

by Zeynep Gursel, Macalester College, July 10, 2013

The Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to shut down its photography department to satisfy audiences “consistently seeking more video content with their news” is sad but not surprising. As an anthropologist who studies the changing culture of photojournalism and the rise of the visual content industry, the newspaper’s turn towards multimedia and video on the one hand and freelancers and text journalists equipped with iPhones on the other echoed the fears voiced to me by many in the last decade. The wording of the Sun-Times statement is telling: the news audience allegedly not only displays a preference for video but also does not perceive visuals as part of the news, rather they are reported to want “more video content with their news,”  the way I might ask for fries with a burger.  Continue Reading…

The Dark Side of DIY in Photojournalism and Photographic Ethnography

by Jennifer Cool, University of Southern California, June 29, 2013

Though DIY (do-it-yourself) is generally celebrated as empowering and democratizing, the recent layoff of the entire photojournalism staff at the Chicago Sun-Times is a potent indicator of the dark side of this popular ethos. The elimination of skilled, full-time jobs in favor of part-time, freelance, and unpaid labor is a familiar post-industrial pattern. In this era of media consolidation, corporate cost-cutting and downsizing have become as routine for news organizations, publishers, and media producers as they were for the auto industry in the 1980s. As Kenneth Irby observes in his report, the Sun-Times closing is “just the latest example of a disconcerting trend in American media” in which “news organizations increasingly [turn] to wire services, citizen-submitted content and independent/freelance contributions.”  Continue Reading…

One thought on “Reach

  • These changes should come as no surprise to any staff photojournalist. In small incremental ways, the digital creep has been upon us for at least 15 years. As a former freelance National Geographic photographer, I was given 6 months to complete a visual story. The average assignment length today is 6 weeks. This shift will eventually reduce the importance of news photography. It’s all about video today; read between the lines.

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