I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New blog

My friend and fellow anthropologist Dori Turnstall has just started a blog. She always has interesting things to say, and I think she will be taking it on the road with her as she tours Europe as a Marshall Scholar. Should be an interesting trip!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Medical compliance and social issues

There is a contest here to find interesting things patients do to increase their adherence to their drug regimens. That is of course the 6 million dollar question that the whole medical profession is asking, and there are even international conferences around it.

As an anthropologist, I find the more interesting question is why people are not compliant. My friend Ari Shapiro did an interesting study on this, noting that "Ethnography opens up the issue by entering the private space of pill-taking to understand the beliefs, relationships, and activities that contribute to patient (non-)compliance." The abstract for his paper is available at the EPIC website, but you have to be a member of Anthrosource to get the whole thing.

His study, as well as many articles in the popular media, point to the fact that compliance is about much more than remembering to take pills at the right time. Medications can make people feel awful, or look awful, or be unable to participate in important family events. Teenagers with cancer don't really believe they might die. The list goes on.

Interestingly, in my (admittedly very cursory) research, it looked like HIV/AIDS patients are a constituency which overall is very concerned with being compliant, but it is difficult because of all the cocktails and combinations of meds that must be taken at different times. I found several instances of people looking for community solutions (say text messaging each other) to help remember. I am not sure why this is different that other diseases (if in fact it is, or just a sampling error in my own research) but it is interesting nonetheless.

Ideal Anthropology program?

I was interviewed yesterday by a student at University of North Caroline Charlotte, as part of an applied anthropology class she is taking. An interesting assignment, I think, because the students both learn about what applied anthropologists are doing and practice interviewing and interaction skills. She told me the university is growing, and the anthro department is hoping to set up a Master's program, which would be great.

One of the questions she asked me was what course did I think was essential, if I were to set up an anthropology program. I couldn't give her one course, but I did give a description of my ideal program. Granted, I went through a strictly academic progam, so I lean that way--I do feel an ideal program should expose students to all four fields, but in such a way that they understand how they are related to each other, and that they understand both how they can be applied in the "real world" (what is the real world?) or they can pursue deeper academic reseach. I have to admit I am not sure who if anyone is doing that. There are some great academic programs, and some great applied programs (and many people who work on both sides), but it seems like for anthropology to have a strong future better integration than there is now.

15 seconds of fame

We had a visit from Senator Christopher Dodd last week. Always interesting to watch a politician at work. My politics are mostly in line with his, so I didn't have major objections to much of what he said (and in fact got my own moment in the press by asking a question). But it was fascinating to watch him talk and answer questions--he gave lengthly answers that managed to weave through multiple issues, so that even though the majority of the time was Q&A (as opposed to speech) he addressed all the major topics he wanted to speak to. And in some cases managed to answer questions without giving a definitive opinion, yet he was fairly outspoken on his stance on many things.

An interesting fact I didn't know was that his father, Thomas Dodd, was one of the prosecutors at the Nuremburg Trials.

Out of hibernation

Or at least that is a nice way of noting that I haven't been blogging in a while...And well winter does involve a different mode really. Perhaps I am just thinking about hibernation because I am reading Verlyn Klinkenborg's book Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile. The book is written from the perspective of the tortoise who lived in Gilbert White's garden in Selbourne, England in the 18th century. One of the many things White himself was fascinated by was the clockwork disappearance and reappearance of Timothy in fall and spring. I am a little biased, having had the opportunity to take a class from Klinkenborg when I was an undergraduate, but I would highly recommend anything he has written to anyone who loves reading excellent writing.

While we as humans don't hibernate (though sometimes I wish I could), I am not sure how well suited we are for colder climates where we do need to hide from the elements. Now that the weather is warmer, the only place my son (19 months old today!) wants to be is outside, and he objects when it is time to come in. We did evolve in Africa after all, and one only need to visit warmer climates to see how much of traditional life is lived outside--I write this of course at a cubicle removed from windows or doors...