HBERG in the Wild
It was painful to watch Alabama loose in the Sweet 16 when we should have at least made the Final 4 (historic year, blah blah), but at least some of our lab members banded together to jointly suffer this ignominious defeat.
It's gratifying to be contacted for excellent pieces like this new one that came out in The Atlantic last week. Katherine Wu digs into the various studies of tattooing and the immune system, including comments from a phone conversation we had a few months ago.
Spring Break in Samoa
I spent the week of UA's spring break in Samoa to get the project I was awarded NSF funding for in 2020 started finally. I spent 5 weeks this past summer in Honolulu talking with the Samoan diaspora community and had intended to collect similar data in Samoa via coordinated training of research assistants at the Centre for Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa. However, having only arranged these relationships via email, I could not wrap my brain around how I was going to accomplish those things, and, after chatting with Jessica Hardin, another anthropologist who works with CSS for research in Samoa, I realized the best strategy would be to pay for an extra plane ticket and make the trip to have some meetings in person about the project.
I stayed at the Samoan Outrigger Hotel because it cost about as little as a cheap AirBnB and is located close enough to the Samoan Cultural Village, where Suluape Tatau do hand-tap tattooing, and the National University of Samoa, where I would be giving a talk and have meetings. I went down to the Cultural Village right after I arrived, but no one was tattooing so I popped into a bar overlooking the Village and Apia Bay to see who was around. It was happy hour and full of Kiwi expats talking about their schemes to make money. Felt like a James Michener novel, but I guess everyone needs to make a living.
The flight there is super long, and Samoa is 18 hours ahead of US Central Time, so I left on Sunday at 2PM, but I didn't arrive in Samoa until Tuesday afternoon. But I didn't have any appointments until Thursday, so I tried to find everyone on Wednesday. I walked around looking for NUS and CSS for several hours, and I finally found everyone I was looking for after getting thoroughly sunburned and foot-blistered. My stupidity for forgetting a hat, sunscreen, or my already broken in slides. I found Dionne Fonoti in CSS and the main offices and met a few other folks over there. Then I walked down to the Cultural Village and found Ata Sulu'ape tattooing. Junior (Paul) was in Pago Pago, and their father Alaiva'a was at home. Ata told me their father doesn't come down to the Cultural Village anymore, and I didn't have a car so didn't seem him while there. However, right as I was leaving, his daughter Patricia saw on FB that I was in Samoa and sent a message, leading me to realize I could have reached him through the daughters. I didn't think of it though, so next time.
On Thursday, I gave a seminar talk about the research I've done and tried to describe the goals and methods I am planning for the Samoa project. The seminar was very well attended with lots of great questions and several people excited to potentially work with me. More on that in a paragraph or so.
On Friday, I had some meetings to determine, now that my plans were somewhat clear, how CSS and I could help each other. Much of it revolved around who would be available to take on extra work. I'd be training and paying the person or people, but NUS does have have biological anthropology. They have cultural and language studies and archaeology. There was a medical doctor who is president of the Malofie Association, which is an association of people with the pe'a. I've been trying to catch up with him ever since, but he's super busy as a surgeon and director of the teaching medical program.
On Saturday, I had a fruitful breakfast meeting with Dionne, her partner, and Greg Jackmond, the archaeologist at CSS. We talked a lot about the tatau project and generally got to know each other, but I also got the opportunity to hear about some amazing archaeology and bioarchaeology material they have that they're looking for help analyzing. So now, as part of our exchange, I'm trying to find students and colleagues who could help them with this analysis or who may be interested in doing archaeology research there. Contrary to my beliefs that anthropologists have been studying Samoa ad nauseum forever, it's really that anthropologists have popped in now and again and written books but never maintained a constant presence. The archaeology that's been done there has languished since the 1970s, save the occasional study to reify the Lapita story of peopling the Pacific. It's really still unknown why people migrated there or spread out and migrated from there to other Polynesian Islands. However, they have LiDAR data indicating Savai'i was once extensively inhabited, and there is tons of evidence of prehistoric habitation that is completely unexplored.
Sunday is the day of the Lord, so no meetings. Frankly, most Samoans are so booked up with chief, village, and church responsibilities on the weekends that they're more busy than during the workweek. So I spent Sunday watching Alabama play basketball (in March Madness, the Saturday night game in Alabama was Sunday morning in Samoa) then went to a hike up to Robert Louis Stevenson's house and grave again. I'd been there last time but got caught in the rain. This time I walked in intense sun and got another sunburn.
Monday was the day I was supposed to leave, but since the flight was at 8pm, I had time for some more meetings, which was providential. I had breakfast with Bernadette Samau-Sila, who is a Lecturer in Finance and Marketing. She's Samoa-born but raised and schooled in New Zealand. Shes a qualitative researcher whose methodology is perfect for the study I've proposed, which is why she reached out. She's done some research on the malu and just loves research, and I'm really looking forward to combining our ideas to make this project better.
I headed back over to NUS with her after breakfast and went to see Greg's LiDAR maps, which I then played with for several hours until I needed to get to the airport.
Our new paper mentioned in the previous post is out, Open Access, in the Nature subsidiary journal Humanities & Social Science Communications. We're pretty stoked to have open access in a Nature journal. Is that big time? It is in my head!
Furthermore, I'm really proud of the students in my lab who stuck in there for Zoom meetings over the course of a year as we figured out how to do a scoping review, write it up, and get it published.
Here is the DOI for the paper, where everyone can read it: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-023-01511-6
New Tattoo Paper Accepted
My friend Becci Owens, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Sunderland specializing in evolutionary psychology, had started working on a scoping review of psychological studies of body modification a few years ago but was stalled. I volunteered my lab to help her finish it. It took us about a year to discover that a "scoping review" is a real thing and not another word for a systematic review. After developing a coding system for the corpus of articles Becci had gathered, I googled scoping reviews and found the articles by Nunn like this one that describe scoping reviews in detail and realized that I'd led us all astray for a year. When we refocused on what a scoping review actually is, it became apparent that we simply needed to describe the basic patterns of how psychology studies of tattooing have been conducted.
When we started, we noticed that so many of the studies looked for correlations between tattooing and negative personality traits and risk behaviors, despite the fact that most of the same articles and other contemporary sources note that no correlations between tattooing and negative personality traits how been found and that the primary correlations are with openness to experience and youth. So, our secondary objective was to try to understand why so many studies reify tattoo stigma by studying it as though it were a negative behavior and trying to understand causes of such poor behavior. In examining the group of studies that included tattooing as a "stigma" variable in this way (the largest category by far), it became clear that there was a temporal factor. Early studies were looking at penal and mental health populations, seeing lots of tattoos among patients relative to the general population, and trying to determine if marking the self is some aberration of fragile identities. Later studies seemed to indicate that tattooing itself is not a negative behavior but let's just throw it in anyway because we wonder if it might be a useful way to identify people at risk for mental fragility in the general population. But, though I paraphrase, what the hell is that anyway?
I have long argued that such studies should just use the Big 5 Personality Inventories because what they're interested in is not risk-taking behavior so much as openness to experience. It appears that by the 2000s, scholars such as Viren Swami had laid to rest with explicit studies saying that all tattooed and non-tattooed people are the same, but even then his titles were ambiguous, leading people to potentially think there are differences if they don't read further (which, shocker, many people don't).
Anyway, it became apparent that studies shifted from the above to social psychology studies that look at tattooing in much more interesting ways, such as how tattooing can have different meanings or impacts depending on the type of job you have or how tattooing may intersect with multiple marginalities to influence how people are treated in healthcare settings. These more granular studies are much more interesting.
When we looked at the history of the discipline of psychology, the studies we note start after the first renaissance, which was much more recent than generally assumed--tattoos were only out of fashion for about 15-20 years. The pattern of psychology studies also follow the general patterns for research foci in the field of psychology.
As of earlier this month, the article entitled "Deviance as an Historical Artifact: A Scoping Review of Psychological Studies of Body Modification" researched and written by Becci, me, Alex Landgraf, Steve Filoromo, and Mike Smetana, has been accepted for publication by Humanities and Social Sciences Communications.
Click here to read a preprint of the whole paper.
Discourse BHAM Tattoo Talk
The ad might seem a little cringe, since I'm far from famous, which is what is implied. However, my research has gone viral internationally, so I am known, but so is any anthropologists whose work has been published around the world. This is the type of hyperbole that is par for the course in promoting music, so it is fitting here. And, frankly, I find academics too reticent to market themselves and their work. If it because of concerns with hyperbolic headlines spreading misinformation, then I can sympathize and agree. However, if the concern is about being taken seriously, I think the real underlying fear is that there is not enough substance underlying the flash. So this ad made me chuckle more than anything, and apparently it worked. There was a great crowd in attendance, lots of folks came up and talked to me after, and we closed the place down shooting the breeze. Thanks to Lawrence and Janek and Monday Night Brewing Co.!
I went to AAA in Seattle this year because I'd convened a session with my PhD adviser Larry Schell and like Seattle. Unfortunately, it was cold, so I wasn't especially motivated to go out and about. For some reason, I didn't dress appropriately. I didn't think to get many photos. I was presenting during my session and up at the table of presenters in front, so I couldn't take them from there anyway.
The session went well. It was on the first day in a big room with only a few people there, so it was a little awkward. However, the goal of the session is to feel out a potential special issue and to meet and hear each other, so it served that purpose. Several of us went out afterwards to continue conversing, including a few attendees from Dmitris Xygalatas' lab at UConn. I am a big fan of Xygalatas' work, so it was flattering that they attended my talk as well.
Thursday and Friday I worked the podcast exhibit, which was a good call by the Dirt Podcast crew. They finagled free registration for podcasters who worked the booth, and it gave us an opportunity to make the association members aware of all the affiliated podcasts. I should have taken a photo of the posters we were encouraging visitors to photograph, but I wasn't that thoughtful to myself.
I had some good meetings with publishers about my next book, which will be about the tattoo project. Vanderbilt and Waveland seemed promising for different reasons. I like the enthusiasm and proximity of Vanderbilt, and the acquisitions editors seemed sharp and with it. Waveland very specifically targets undergrad courses, which I think a book on tattooing might do well in.
Friday was most of the Biological Anthropology Section (BAS) stuff, which is where I see most of my friends. There was a double session put together by Delaney Glass, a former Sausage of Science producer and doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, and Delaney's adviser, Melanie Martin. After that, Larry Schell and Alex Brewis invited me to join them for dinner with local Seattle anthropologist (& former postdoc of Alex) Sarah Trainer. We went to the BAS Awards ceremony after, and that was that.
I am grateful to the graciousness of the Auburn Sociology, Anthropology, & Social Work Department for hosting a volunteered book talk. I told them I'd like the excuse the come down to visit my son and offered to give it for free, but they insisted on paying and were very hospitable. Hoping to get out and about and do more of these talks, so don't be surprised if I invite myself to YOUR university (LOL).
New Sausage of Science Season
My cohost Cara Ocobock and I brought two new producers on this season and have produced new episodes with Andrea Silva-Caballero, Amanda Veile, Rachael Anyim, Zachary Cofran, Natalia Reagan, and Lara Durgavich. The producers, Cristina Gildee, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, and Eric Griffith, a postdoc at Duke who got his PhD from UMass under Lynnette Sievert. The Sausage of Science producers are supported as Junior Service Fellows of the Human Biology Association and the American Journal of Human Biology. Subscribe to the Sausage of Science on Soundcloud or wherever you get podcasts (except Spotify apparently [deep sigh]}.
AAA Talk Next Week
Larry Schell and I convened this session on "Religious and Spiritual Influences on Human Biology: The Unsettled Landscapes of Bodies in Culture" for the American Anthropological Association meetings in Seattle next week. We'll be giving this introduction to the session called "Theorizing Human Biological Variation Through the Lens of Religion and Spirituality."
It's an in-person, Invited Session by Biological Anthropology Section on Wednesday, 2:15-4PM Pacific Time if you're at the conference. Session includes presentations by Eric Shattuck, Bonnie Kaiser, Joshua Brahinsky, Susan Schaffnit, Susan Sheridan, and Lawrence Schell with Jessica Hardin as Discussant.
Christopher D. Lynn
I am a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama with expertise in biocultural medical anthropology.