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I asked one of the anthropology newslists to publish Ann Dunham’s bibliography. In the meantime, this article provides a bit of context for the current election season.

“Anthropological perspective” is difficult to define, but if one is lucky enough to be exposed to it, it proves invaluable for running corporations or countries or non-profits or farm co-ops. Anthropology is the comprehensive, comparative study of people in space and time.

Holistic perspective of the environment (change with time)

Holistic perspective of the environment (change with time)

Obama’s mother’s work, focus of seminar

Posted on: Friday, September 12, 2008
By Dan Nakaso

Sen. Barack Obama’s approach to economic and foreign policy most likely was influenced by the research his mother conducted decades ago through the University of Hawai’i.

Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who died of cancer in 1995, earned her doctorate at the University of Hawai’i while helping craftsmen in Indonesia and Africa get small loans to improve their lives and their villages, and ended up becoming an expert in “micro lending.”

Dunham’s work — from an anthropology undergraduate to her doctoral dissertation — will be discussed today at a free seminar at UH called, “Dr. Stanley Ann Dunham: An Extraordinary Woman and Her Work.”

UH professor emeritus Alice G. Dewey, Dunham’s graduate anthropology adviser, who will be speaking in today’s program, said Dunham “made it clear that you had to understand what they (the people you hope to help) are doing and for what. The implication for Sen. Obama is that if you’re going to do something intended to help somebody, you better understand the implications and whether it’s suited to the economics of that place. Just throwing money at a problem doesn’t do it. You really have to understand what you’re doing in order to help people.”


“However this election turns out, it’s important for us to focus on her in a way we haven’t to date. She is a significant figure in women’s history in Hawai’i and we need to take a look at her and be proud of her as a UH-Manoa student and show our female students that they can do anything.”

Much of the discussion will focus on the scholarly aspects of Dunham’s work in Indonesia — “her knowledge of Indonesian craftsmanship and her efforts in micro-financing,” said one of the organizers…

The implications are profound for potential U.S. policies around the world, Dewey said….

In Indonesia, Dunham home-schooled Obama and gave birth to his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who now teaches at La Pietra School and plans to be in the audience at today’s presentation.

“There was a recognition that we could change the world by helping as many people as possible in the lower economic tiers to empower themselves so they could have some decision-making power over their own lives,” Soetoro-Ng said.

“Our mother’s work greatly influenced my brother’s commitment to service and to inclusiveness and to grass-roots democracy, obviously democratic decision making. Those commitments were certainly imbedded in his list of priorities, in part because of her example.”…

Her life of service is something to which we should all aspire. […]

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Ann’s most lasting professional legacy was to help build the microfinance program in Indonesia, which she did from 1988 to ’92—before the practice of granting tiny loans to credit-poor entrepreneurs was an established success story. Her anthropological research into how real people worked helped inform the policies set by the Bank Rakyat Indonesia, says Patten, an economist who worked there. “I would say her work had a lot to do with the success of the program,” he says. Today Indonesia’s microfinance program is No. 1 in the world in terms of savers, with 31 million members, according to Microfinance Information eXchange Inc., a microfinance-tracking outfit.

Analytical anthropology includes the study and application of biocultural variation and adaptation in complex, non-linear, dynamic systems (simply, you and yours). We’re very good at working with communities (nuclear physicists or public health epidemiologists or seal hunters or small town mayors but not dinosaurs, silly. Those are paleontologists.) to accurately assess difficult problems and create sustainable, innovative solutions. Anthropologists, not afraid to skin a moose with a stone knife, explain the half-life of stable carbon to bureaucrats, diagnose the organizational culture of foreign enterprises, or redesign hockey rinks for efficiency.


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