Radu Umbres’ blog

Ethnographic tidbits on minds and cultures.

Cultures of academic (dis)agreement

Sian White and Robert Aunger at EHBEA 2016 in London / Photo: Anne Koerber/LSHTM

There is more to being an anthropologist with a strong interest in psychology and natural and cultural evolution than experiencing the imposter syndrome in several disciplines. One of the perks of transdisciplinarity is attending conferences in different fields. While I have very little expertise in the social studies of sciences, I like to observe people, and conferences are great places to see science at work by watching its practitioners interact with each other. ...

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Beheadings as honest communication devices

People kill others in different ways, but executions are special in that the killer can choose the method. Practices officially used today are hanging, shooting or stoning, lethal injection, electrocution, gas inhalation, and decapitation. The last method is currently confined to Saudi Arabia, but has a bloody and prestigious history. Many cultures and societies have used it across time, with different social interpretations. In Japan, the honorary suicide was followed by beheading by an assistant, but mere beheading carried shame. Before 1789, only French nobles could be beheaded, and the revolution democratised and extended the practice by guillotining. Today, terrorists use it to great shock value. But what explains the historical popularity of beheading?...

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Staring back at the evil eye

A few months into my fieldwork in a Romanian village, I was told by friends that I wonder way too much. When visiting people in their homes, I alway noticed something interesting, be it old house architecture, inventive implements, cute animals or anything catching my attention. My mistake, I was told, was expressing my curiosity out loud, wondering how this was made or where that came from. Worse, I was praising my hosts’ properties, mistakenly thinking they wouldn’t mind, or quite feel proud. Instead, I was told people were uncomfortable with such expressions of wonder, curiosity, and praise because they bring misfortune by means of deochi the “evil eye”....

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Why do scammers persist in saying they are from Nigeria?

A research report by Cormac Herley, a Microsoft security analyst, proposes a clever response to an apparent paradox. Nearly everyone minimally competent in Internet use knows about the Nigerian 419 ...

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Snipe hunters of preys with low epistemic vigilance

What weapon would you use to hunt a dahu? Where would you start looking for a Volkswagen Beetle radiator hose? Does elbow grease come in cans or tubes? You shouldn’t even begin thinking about ...

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