The Trickster's Race: a Blackfoot Story

In many stories, the Trickster is often a role filled by the Coyote.
Picture courtesy of 
by douglas reeser on July 31, 2013
Across traditions around the globe, the Trickster is a famous character who plays a central role in many fables, stories, and tales. Rules and norms are usually meaningless to the Trickster, and people, gods, and animals have often been the prey of the Trickster's pranks. However, more often than not, there is a lesson to be learned when the Trickster enters the story, and upon hearing such a story, one is often left contemplating just what that lesson is.

I have recently begun working on a seasonal project, developing a Halloween event for the fall. In some ways, the Trickster is the perfect character from which to draw inspiration for such an event. I am seeking ways to break rules and norms, to make people uncomfortable, and leave them contemplating what they just experienced when they leave the event. In a sense, I am seeking to create an event that embodies the Trickster.

In a seemingly random occurrence, I was picking up some props for the event, and came across an old book by Stith Thompson, called "Tales of the North American Indians." First published in 1929, the book is a collection of folk stories from Native American groups from across the US. Most compelling to me at this point in time, is the fact that chapter three has a selection of 15 stories about the Trickster. I've begun reading them, not so much in search of specific ideas, but more in an effort to find inspiration from the character of the Trickster.

Why be Normal? Thinking about Neurodiversity and Mental Health

Open Minds
Neurodiversity celebrates "the unique manifestations of
the human spirit."
Image courtesy of Reflections of a Chronic Anthropologist.
by Kristina Baines on July 29, 2013
Wherever you go, there you are. I’ve considered this old adage quite a bit lately in my thoughts and conversations. Wherever I turn, I can’t get away from the brain. By this, I don’t just mean my own thoughts, but conversations about the brain and what it does and how it makes us do what we do and be who we are. More specifically, these “brain-centered” conversations often turn to mental health and questions about the role of brain function and chemistry in keeping us well. 

This flurry of mentally-focused activity is strange for me.  I am not a brain scientist.  I am not more than casually acquainted with mental illness.  My son doesn’t even have ADHD.  In fact, I spent the better part of the last decade chipping at the walls of the Cartesian divide between mental and physical health and, thus, the idea that there is mental illness distinct from physical illness at all.  As part of my recent doctoral dissertation research, I explicitly blur those lines, arguing that what we do and what we think and how we feel are fundamentally intertwined.

Despite the recent WHO definition, which outlines this holistic view of health, it is clear from everyday living that our medical community, and our popular culture, are not giving up “mental health” discussions anytime soon.  From ADHD to autism to depression to PTSD, it is difficult not to become involved in mental health debates.  Lately, I feel compelled to leap into these discussions, ignoring that I have almost no personal or professional experience with any of these disorders.  Complaints fly that our culture is over-diagnosing, over-labeling, over-medicating, under-counseling, ignoring potential causation and generally freaking out.  We are caught up in a multi-faceted mental crisis.

Mexican Puppetry and Balance in Technology

Open Minds
~ Mechanical details for a puppet head ~
Photo courtesy of Puppetitieres.

by Diane Daly, Puppetiteres, on July 12, 2013
Puppetry is a fascinating art form from an Information perspective because it is defined by balance in the technology it uses. The term technology today has come to mean digital tools - the more, the better. But when I speak of the balance in technology inherent within puppetry, I am using the older meaning of technology: Using devices to more effectively accomplish our goals. A puppet itself is technology used toward the goal of creative expression, but a puppet's movements must convey to the audience an intimate connection with the movement of the puppeteer(s). Overdo the technology of Mr. Punch, or El Negrito, or Hanuman, and you end up not with a puppet but with an automaton.

In the US, birthplace of so many digital innovations, we rarely imagine a ceiling for our technological inundation. In my studies of of Information and Library Science, I have begun to explore how people who know how to balance technology approach social networking. Although puppetry exists everywhere, I chose the puppetry community in Mexico as the focus of this research because in my experience digital technology is approached very practically here in Mexico. Tech skills are not perceived as hallmarks of superiority; one simply learns them to advance human objectives.

The Mexican Puppetry Community

Knowledge about puppetry techniques, source and construction materials, performance venues, and marketing are just a few of the types of information that are shared online in this community. But on a deeper level, the puppetry community in Mexico is interesting from an Information perspective is because it is alive.

The Curandera: Healing in Action

July 10, 2013
Traditional healers play an integral role in the health and well-being of people around the world, and are able to treat ailments and conditions in ways unfamiliar to biomedical science. Check out this brief video that shows such a healer in action in Mexico and how and why they have maintained their effectiveness.

"A short (seven minute) piece that shows a rural curandera treating various village children with plants and other methods including various types of limpias or cleansings. Through interviewing the curandera we learn what is the most important thing that enables healing..."

Writing Research Online: Personal or Public?

~ Research by the Sea in PG ~
Photo from Belize by douglas reeser.
Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on July 3, 2013
Regular readers know that I've spent two of the last three years in southern Belize, where I was engaged in anthropological fieldwork that will be the basis for my PhD dissertation. Early on in my fieldwork, I agreed to write a column for the American Anthropological Association's Anthropology News, called Notes from the Field. The column appeared monthly, and included a range of topics related to my fieldwork. I also used my fieldwork as a source of inspiration to write frequent columns for Recycled Minds. Each of these commitments to write about my fieldwork for a wide audience led to fairly constant questions of what was ok to write about, and who I was writing for. Other questions included: How much detail about my research should I share publicly at such an early stage? What would people find interesting? Who would be reading? What will Belizeans think? There are few (if any) guides about writing online while in the field, so I used my own judgement in trying to answer these and other questions while writing about my fieldwork.

Now returned from the field and working on my dissertation, I am still writing for both forums, and so I still grapple with some of those same questions. With a column due to Anthropology News, I saw that Popular Anthropology Magazine, an open access publication that aims to raise public awareness of anthropology and anthropological perspectives, just released their latest issue, which contains three articles about blogging from the field. I eagerly downloaded the articles in hopes that they might offer some new inspiration for my continued writing about my fieldwork.