Sustainability in Supermarkets: A Sweet Controversy

By Francesca Dakin • BA Archaeology and Anthropology

Since the vote for Brexit and the triggering of Article 50, we as consumers have experienced an increase in the price of our weekly shop. This is prompting more and more individuals to opt for supermarket own-brand products that are more economically friendly. However, less friendly is the store’s approach to their own-brand product’s supply chain. This is particularly clear in the case of many leading supermarket’s own-brand chocolate, much of which is sourced from Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. These are among many countries in the Global South where social and environmental issues associated with the production, processing and transport of cacao are rife. The majority of these problems stem from rampant inequality in the shares of value held by the cacao farmers as opposed to the manufacturers and retailers.

image2-19Such an economic imbalance – whereby millions of cocoa farmers in the Global South account for only a 6.6% share of the value chain of chocolate – means that farmers are living well below the extreme poverty line1. This has a knock-on effect in regard to the exploitation of farm workers that toil for long hours with little pay. Similarly there are gross exploitations of child labour laws across the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where there are over two million children involved in hazardous work on cocoa farms. These conditions, endured by both workers and children, are in direct violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organization.

In an attempt to reduce the cost of production and to feed the desires of industrialized nations, cacao farmers will expand growth into more productive soils through the clearing of rainforest areas. Though this provides farmers with a cheap, fertile soil that supports a high yield, deforestation disrupts the delicate nutrient cycle, promoting faster degradation of the area’s delicate latosol. This unsustainable manner of growth also creates a boom-and-bust cycle of development which, when coupled with the low and fluctuating cacao prices, does not leave the farmers any more financially stable.

image1-17Aside from these negative social impacts, this mass scale deforestation has a devastating impact on the environment. During the processing and transport stages of the chocolate’s supply chain more forest is felled and burnt to fuel the drying process. Thereafter combustion of fuel used in inter-continental transport to manufacturers and retailers emits carbon dioxide, contributing to the enhancement of the greenhouse effect, global warming and ultimately climate change. Not to mention the additional environmental issues inherent in the production and supply of the milk that is added to various strengths of chocolate.

The example of cacao is but one in a sea of issues relating to unsustainable practice in food production for the global market. Abuses occur on local and national scales in relation to local and indigenous cultures, social injustice and the environment. Although these issues are being tackled by organisations such as Fairtrade Foundation, Traidcraft and Survival International, the greatest power of the consuming community lies in the voices of its people – and their purchasing power. Choosing to buy Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance Certified products yourself increases demand and thus increases the likelihood of a wider choice in fair trade products in the future. Similarly asking supermarkets to make a #supplychainge in favor of farmers that are members of protective initiatives like the Cocoa Organic Farmers Association, consumers can affect real change in the lives of children, farmers and workers in production areas like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Choose to make a difference, and think big. Think Global.

1Bittersweet Chocolate: The truth behind the international chocolate industry (2016).

More information is available below:
Twitter: @ThinkGlobalUK


ICT and Health in the Global Shipping Industry

By Annamaria Dall’Anese • PhD Anthropology

The world’s 1.2 million merchant marines are responsible for transporting around 90% of global cargo. In spite of their importance for the international economy, they have not been featured prominently in the anthropological literature. The reason why even those ethnographers who have conducted fieldwork on this topic have spent very short periods at sea (e.g. Bloor 2005: 768) can be related to the challenges to board a merchant vessel. These are numerous, and include vaccinations, insurance, training and visas. These difficulties also explain why I decided to present a library-based dissertation (entitled ‘The Effects of the Adoption 
of Information and Communication Technology on Merchant Marines’ Health-Seeking Practices’). Drawing upon sources of various types (e.g. anthropological, corporate and medical), my guiding question was: what impact can the implementation of ICT have on the health-seeking practices of cargo-ship communities?

Annamaria - Photo 1

Just as ships in the past used to be an incubator for epidemics, absorbed at one port and spread at the next (Echenberg 2007), they are now a hub of medical information transmitted to and from land, formally and informally. In fact, because of this information transmission, the implementation of ICT on-board merchant vessels turns out to be a double-edged sword.

Whilst the upside is perhaps obvious, the downside is that it can exacerbate the inverse relation between illness and employability. An ICT-empowered telemedicine can lead to sensitive information about seafarers’ health being passed on to their employers, thus threatening their occupational chances. Therefore, merchant marines may be tempted to hide their clinical conditions in order to keep a job that allows them to gain economic resources, which in turn contributes to their wellbeing. Clearly, the medical problems that are concealed can deteriorate if left untreated.

Annamaria - Photo 2I propose a shift from ‘right to health’ to ‘right to illness’ to counter this phenomenon. At present, the underlying principle of telemedicine is an idealistic ‘right to health’ rather than a realistic ‘right to be ill’. I suggest that a shift from the expectation that crewmembers should be healthy to the acknowledgement that health does sometimes fail them would entail a more pragmatic approach to the management of sickness on-board. As employers could not, by any good reason, deny their employees the right to be ill, they would be pushed to dissect the notion of illness into less vague and more manageable components.

There is room to be optimistic, though. In the past, if a crewmember was ‘under the weather’, a ship could contact a doctor on land via radio or satellite telephony. Nowadays, the options offered by telemedicine are manifold, and include email and faster data transmission. This is why modern telemedicine can offer seafarers a level of healthcare comparable to that enjoyed by land-based communities.

Additionally, the informal use of personal communication devices can contribute to seafarers’ wellbeing by allowing them to consult medical websites and join online health support groups. Independent internet access can also allow merchant marines to receive the emotional support of their families. This is crucial on board, as I had the opportunity to discover during a brief passage on a cargo ship. In 2009, I sailed from Newcastle, Australia, to Singapore as a passenger/English teacher, which triggered my interest in merchant-marine communities. This remains a rather unchartered territory in the otherwise densely populated waters of anthropology, and therefore one well-worth exploring.


Bloor M. (2005) Observations of Shipboard Illness Behavior: Work Discipline and the Sick Role in a Residential Work Setting. Qualitative Health Research 15(6):766 – 777.

Echenberg M. (2007) Plague Ports: The global urban impact of bubonic plague, 1894 – 1901. New York: New York University Press.

An Anthropology of Revolutions

By Nalan Azak  BSc Anthropology

This year, anthropology students in their penultimate and final year got a one-off opportunity of choosing the ‘Social Forms of Revolution’ module. As the course convenor and professor of Social Anthropology Martin Holbraad puts it, the course is ‘the most research led teaching you can get’, which is part of the larger Comparative Anthropologies of Revolutionary Politics (CARP) project funded by the EU. I think the fact that Martin Holbraad decided to run this course while on research leave suffices to explain the enthusiasm involved in the teaching. A moment in time of UCL Anthropology that is worth writing about!

Left to right: Martin Holbraad, Nico Tassi and Igor Cherstich

The course tutors are bringing in their own ethnographic research from Latin America to the Middle East – Martin Holbraad from Cuba, Igor Cherstich from Libya and Nico Tassi from Bolivia – along with other ethnographies from the inside of revolutions. The course is in itself a critique to the so called ‘canonical’, top-down approaches of political scientists. The proposed anthropological approach refuses to define what ‘revolution’ is, but rather engages in the process of defining what ‘revolution’ might be. It is thus turning the ‘canonical’ model upside down and listening to what the locals have to say.

With topics varying from revolutionary ‘personhood’, ‘asceticism’, ‘charisma’, ‘political mediation’ and more, the course questions how revolution is lived. What marks the start and end of a revolution, or can a revolution be eternal? What about the people? For instance, how does the lady in Egypt watching the uprisings from her balcony while also preparing food for the evening experience the revolution? (Winegar, 2012). How can we understand the relationship between the Cuban women and Fidel Castro, or define the ‘charismatic’ leader who upon his death is remembered as the ‘man who makes himself smaller than he is, even as he is so immense as to seem eternal’? (Holbraad, 2017).

Another thing that makes the course unique is that the topics, which are taught through weekly lectures and discussed in smaller tutorial groups, essentially form the draft chapters of the book Martin, Igor and Nico will be writing together – a module that serves to draft a book by ‘testing ideas’ with the students!

A special treat was the The ‘Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts that formed one of our sessions – a heaven-sent gift for the ‘Social Forms of Revolution’ students this year! Could there be a better coincidence? Well, to be fair, it’s actually another benefit of studying in London – and of course the kindness of our tutors to buy each student a ticket! Observing the revolution through art was like looking through binoculars into history and listening to vivid tales of how the revolution was lived, both socially and personally. The exhibition nicely captured many of the themes we discussed in class, and summarised the hopes for revolution versus the realities of revolution in paintings, sculptures, short-films and everyday objects.

Revolutions - Iran

‘The U.S. can not do anything.’ Iran, c. 1980

‘Social Forms of Revolution’ is probably one of the best classes I’ve taken that will stay with me for a long time. Also, a great way to make a professional project accessible to students, and I suppose helpful to write a book!


Holbraad, M. (2017). Hasta Siempre Comandante! Anthropology of This Century 18.

Winegar, J. (2012). The Privilege of Revolution: Gender, class, space, and affect in Egypt. American Ethnologist 39(1): 67-70.

Inside the K-Pop World

Pre-Fieldwork Research by Elaine Wong • BSc Anthropology

As a music lover from Southeast Asia, I have been listening to South Korean pop music (K-pop) on-and-off for 10 years. However, it was only after my trip to Seoul last summer that I became interested in the impacts K-pop had on society – both locally and globally. image1-17So, I decided to write my 3rd year dissertation on this topic, linking it to anthropological theories I have learnt over my course (e.g. affect theory and digital infrastructures). My provisional title asks: How does Korean pop music as a local and global infrastructure affect social and political relationships? In order for me to explore relevant key ideas such as affective infrastructures, political censorship, and celebrity status, I plan to do fieldwork this July using a mixed methods of interviews and internet research. As such, I did some preliminary research and organized my pre-existing knowledge and sources into rough notes in preparation for my fieldwork.


K-pop group VROMANCE promotional busking before debut in Hongdae

Following a month of learning Korean language and culture last summer, I gained most of my insight about the K-pop world through a program where I was trained as a K-pop idol at an entertainment company for 2 weeks. This led me into spending another week in Seoul last month to get a better sense of what types sources I can collect data from during my actual fieldwork in the summer. During the week, I met up with some of the friends and company staff I kept in touch with from last year’s events. Some of the points that came up in casual conversation appealed to me:


My training schedule in the first week of my K-pop training experience at RBW

  • Social and cultural urban life:
    • Everyday social life and most working environments (including the entertainment industry) are dominated by hierarchies that put more emphasis on age rather than experience.
    • image3-21Local and foreign obsession with South Korean beauty and fashion is closely linked with fans looking up to K-pop idols as role models (e.g. many stores play K-pop music for customers’ shopping experience; shopping malls in Dongdaemun open 10am-4am).
    • Culturally distinct districts in Seoul reveal how different agents and activities related to K-pop are distributed. For instance, some of the ‘big-shot’ entertainment companies have their headquarters situated around Apgujeong and Gangnam. Hongdae and Edae are university hubs, where there are a lot of young buskers and dance groups performing covers of K-pop songs.
  • Political situation:
    • On the South Korean side of the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), K-pop music (with liberal messages embedded in the lyrics) is blasted through life-sized speakers towards North Korea.
    • Current political relationship with China has negative effects on K-pop marketing and the overall economy.


Lyrics to K-pop song ‘Voice Mail’ by IU with detailed annotations for singing technique and emotion

The current state of my research shows that K-pop has a large influence on interactions of demographic and material factors with social and political infrastructures. Keeping this in mind, I feel that my next focus should be on constructing a structured but flexible plan for asking the right questions to the right people via the most appropriate format during my fieldwork. Looking forward to my next trip to Korea!

Anthropolitan Online

Anthropolitan - Photo

Welcome to Anthropolitan Online, the official blog of Anthropolitan, the biannual magazine of the UCL Anthropology Department. This is a brand new and exciting online platform for student-led reporting about anthropology, in all its diversity.

The Spring Term of 2017 saw the inception of a new initiative to revitalise the UCL Anthropology Department’s online and social media presence. The central feature of this initiative was the formation of the Student Editor Committee (SEC), a group of twenty-two student representatives from all corners and levels of the department (undergraduate, masters, doctoral, and postdoctoral). The members are reporting on a range of exciting anthropology-related content from our own department, UCL, London, and the wider world.

The SEC members will be publishing digestible articles and reports throughout the year, and utilising our integrated social media channels (Facebook, WeChat, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, and Instagram) to disseminate their work. We already have around 800 followers on our Facebook page, and the number is growing quickly. In the coming weeks, we will begin posting regular podcasts and vodcasts on the blog, as part of our multimedia strategy.

Projects currently underway include a report on the recent RAI ethnographic film festival; articles on the cargo shipping industry, sustainability in supermarkets, and K-pop culture; a review of the ‘Anthropologies of Revolution’ project; interviews with various teaching and research staff; and features on unique objects in our Ethnographic Collection.

Please do get in touch if you would like to engage with or contribute to Anthropolitan Online, at – or via our social media pages.