Forced to Work: U.S. Prisons and the New Forced-Labor Camps

~ "Made on the inside to be worn on the outside" ~
"Prison Blues" work jeans made by inmates in
Oregon. Photo from American Ground  
by douglas reeser on January 30, 2013
Sometimes it takes just a slight shift of perspective to reveal the insidiousness of certain practices of the capitalist regime. Over the last 30 years or so, outsourcing of all types of jobs, from service to production, has enabled increased profits at the cost of worker exploitation in places outside of the major regions of consumption. As the continued globalization of the corporate production machine has taken root, so too have fair trade and other worker's-rights movements, that have aimed to fight the exploitation of workers around the globe. These actions are beginning to force corporations to seek new outlets of cheap labor, which has led to a turn back to the center: the ever-growing U.S. prison population.

In the past, prison labor was touted as a means of reforming inmates, and providing them with a skill that would aid in their re-integration with society. Today, prison labor is something much different. It's now a source of incredibly inexpensive, highly controllable labor. Prison labor shows up to work on time, receives no benefits, overtime, or other perks, cannot organize, and is rarely paid even minimum wage. If a prisoner refuses these terms, they are reportedly locked up in solitary. A report from Global Research, a Canada-based globalization research center, has begun to frame this "insourcing" of jobs in way that reveals just how underhanded this development in labor practice is.

First a little prison population background is in order. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2011, there were about 1.6 million total prisoners in state and federal prisons in the US. Of those, 1.4 million are male, and almost 1 million are black or hispanic (about 63% of the total prison population). Prisoners in private prisons represent a relatively small fraction of the total number of total prisoners (about 130,000 in 2010), but the privatization of prisons is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. All of these prisoners combine to represent around 25% of the world's prisoners, and more than any other country, including China and India, which have 4-5 times the total population of the US.

Challenging Anthropology: Teaching with Positive Messages

What is advertising doing to us? How does it effect different people
differently? Photo courtesy of Advert Lover.
Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on January 23, 2013
By now, most of us in the academic world are back in the classroom, teaching or taking classes. For me, it's a return to the classroom after about a year and a half of research in Belize. At this point, the culture shock of being back in the US has begun to wear off, but the levels of consumption, the degrees of insular individualism, and the sheer amount of stuff remain palpable. I'm not thrilled to be back, but I'm also trying to steer clear of the negativity, find the positives, and maintain some optimism about the world I find myself in. Interestingly, I find myself in a similar situation in the classroom.

Critique of the world around us is one of the most valuable tools of anthropology. Our research, our work, and our thinking seek fuller pictures and deeper understandings about all aspects of our lives and society than may be readily apparent. Such examinations shed light on the myriad problems facing humanity today, and without such critique, it's likely that many would be worse off than they may be currently. In the classroom, one of my main goals is to demonstrate the value of critique, and then encourage my students to engage with that tool a bit more in their own lives and work. What is sometimes challenging, is the ease at which critique can slide into criticism and negativity, of which there is already too much in this world.

Balancing Copyright for the Ne(x)t Generation

Creative Commons is a more friendly way to license
your work. 
Open Minds
by Diane Daly on January 16, 2013
There are a number of lessons about United States copyright laws for young people on the internet. Most that I have found assume a tone similar to this excerpt from

When you create something, aren't you proud of your work when you spend a lot of time and energy creating it? How about that social studies report you finally finished, that poem for your Mom that made her smile, that cool logo you came up with for your soccer team...? Well, all these are your creations and you'd probably be pretty upset if someone just copied any of them without your permission. That's where copyright comes in.

I have not found any resources on copyright directed at kids below college level that support work reuse, collaboration, or sharing. (Argue with me if I've missed something.) Even in the copyright-questioning world of librarians, more radical copyright education is considered a grown-up subject.

I understand why. Copyright is a challenging field to teach, for two reasons:

One: It's complicated - no, make that labyrinthine - and when we teach kids, we try to keep it simple.

I'd argue that simple need not always mean conservative, but let's move on to the other reason it's hard to teach about copyright…

Two: Simple copyright lessons that try to discourage information reuse diverge utterly from reality.

Infrastructural Violence and the Belizean Health System

The hospital in Punta Gorda Town, Belize
Photo by douglas reeser.
Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on January 19, 2013
Life in the southern Toledo District of Belize is full of contradictions. It has a tropical climate, and the beautiful geography of the Maya Mountains and the Caribbean Sea makes it an aesthetically pleasant place to live. There is a rich ethnic diversity in the district, and after a short time there, it often feels like everyone knows everyone else. This small-town rural feel and its distance from the more populous parts of the country have also served to insulate the district from most of the violence that has plagued larger cities in the north of the country.

Along with its rural location and low population density, however, the Toledo District has a fair amount of problems. Poverty rates in the district have historically hovered around 70%-75%, unemployment is usually over 20%, and jobs are always scarce. Additionally, there is a sense articulated by many of my research participants that the district is neglected in many ways by the State. Indeed, my research of the health system has revealed this perception to be a fair characterization.

The State has a National Health Insurance (NHI) program under which citizens typically make a small co-payment for most health services provided through the state-run clinics and hospitals. In the Toledo District, the co-pay has been waived, so that health services can be obtained for free. Despite this kind gesture from the State, there remain limitations to the services people have access to. In the understaffed clinics and hospital, there are only general practitioners available, and more serious health issues and emergencies require patients be transferred to a larger regional hospital that is about 3 hours away by vehicle.

The Coming Backlash against Social Networking

Has social networking turned communication into one big shouting match?
Image courtesy of
Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on January 10, 2013.
My gig as a teaching assistant throughout my years as a graduate student was great. The position came with a tuition waiver as well a small paycheck, and while it didn't keep me out of student debt, it kept some change in my pocket. The position also gave me a lot of insight about the class room environment, and especially into how I want my classes to function. And while there's nothing like teaching your own class to really learn what works best, I have borrowed bits and pieces from a number of different professors that I assisted over the years. One thing that I picked up that I use every semester is a short questionnaire that I give to my students on the first day of class. I ask the students to tell me a little bit about themselves with questions about their major, where they grew up, and travel experience. I ask about things they enjoy, like hobbies, favorite films and books - it always surprises me how many students admit that they don't read! This semester, I added a question about their use of social networking.

The responses to this new question about social networking surprised me. I had expected near-universal use of some platform, most likely Facebook, followed by a number of other slightly less popular platforms. I was correct in one way, as 64% of my students reported that they use Facebook, by far the most popular in this class. After that, there was a steep drop-off in reported user rates. Instagram was the next most popular (and is actually owned by Facebook), but with just 24% of students reporting use, followed by Tumbler (16%), and Twitter (12%). After that, other social networking sites were only mentioned once.

First Friday Picture Show: Thorns & Sand: Exploring Southern Puerto Rico

~ Thorns & Sand 16 ~
photograph by Federico Cintrón Moscoso
Recycled Minds Picture Show
by Federico Cintrón Moscoso on January 4, 2013
Our first Picture show of 2013 presents an amazing set of photos from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. OJOxOJO (Eye for an Eye) is a visual project developed by anthropologist Federico Cintrón-Moscoso. It represents the conversation that occurs when the audience's and the photographer's point of view meet over the photograph. In this collection the author invites you to explore the particular thorny and dry environment of southern Puerto Rico, one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the planet. In particular, these pictures where taken around Guanica's Dry Forest and Caja de Muertos (Dead People's Coffin).
You can see more of Federico's projects and ideas at Cultura de Papel

~ Thorn & Sand 6 ~
photograph by Federico Cintrón Moscoso
Check out the rest of the show....

Awakening to a New Era: Occupy, Idle No More and the Zapatistas

Zapatistas march in southern Mexico in late December, 2012
Photo courtesy of
by douglas reeser on January 2, 2012
Change is inevitable. It is a constant that we can all be sure of. Many people thought - or were hoping - that the change accompanied with the turning of the calendar from 2012 would be drastic, catastrophic even. And while there were no collapsing cities, burning bridges, or major environmental events, change is afoot. It's a matter of where your attention is focused, and if you train your eyes on the people, you will quickly see that the awakening and transformation of humanity is alive and growing. As evidence, take a look at three popular movements that have begun to find a firmer footing with the shifting calendar: Occupy, the Zapatistas, and Idle No More.

By now, most readers are familiar with the Occupy Movement that  began with protests in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan that quickly spread to cities across the U.S. and around the globe. Occupy caused a ruckus at first, but it was characterized as unfocused and disorganized in the popular press, and appeared to lose some steam. It turned out to simply be a pause, as first, a coalition of Occupy groups began the Strike Debt campaign through which they are buying up debt and abolishing it. Then, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Occupy became one of the most effective aid organizations in New York City and surrounding areas. The new year is witness to a renewal and transformation within Occupy, from simply a group of protestors, to a group of protestors that are also fulfilling basic human needs.