Reader Letters #2: Call for Submissions (Due 12/20/16)

A few weeks ago we published our first installment of our new Reader Letters series. We want to hear more. Send us your letters! Please keep the following guidelines: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity.

For this second installment of Reader Letters we invite you to send us your thoughts about the Savage Minds name change, the impending end of the semester, or the upcoming winter break. If you want to write about Levi Strauss’s take on Father Christmas, or perhaps Panopti-claus, we would not object. Otherwise it’s up to you. Write about anthropology and what’s on your mind, and send it to us. No stamp necessary.

Send your letter in the body of an email (not an attachment) to ryananderson@uky.edu. Deadline for submission is December 20 and we plan to publish between December 25 and January 1, 2017.

“Just the Tip”

So, since October I’ve been accompanying Savage Minds’ social medias, trying to keep everything updated and making sure we have a continuum of posts on Facebook and Twitter. The other part of the job consists in getting involved in the conversations and debates we have in this platforms. It’s being a nice experience so far, especially for learning other points of view and getting to know the readers of the blog. But I’ve been questioning myself to what extent we really can rely on social media to spread anthropological knowledge and trying to understand how blogging really impacts on our everyday anthropological discussions. I’m still in search for some of this answers. Some insights that interested me were Ryan’s discussion on why 95% of SM readers never comment and Kerim’s four types of comments, just to sort out a few examples. Continue reading

Teaching the Anthropology of Elections in times of Trump

This is post in the #teachingthedisaster series comes to us from Maria L. Vidart-Delgado. Maria lectures in the Anthropology Program at MIT and is also the co-founder of Department of Play. 

I taught a class on the 2016 U.S. presidential election (syllabus here) to a group of undergrads at MIT with diverse political commitments, social sensibilities, and with different levels of exposure to anthropology. I faced two challenges. One was getting my students to think anthropologically about electoral politics and democracy more broadly. I mean moving away from analyses that mimic prevalent political punditry (do elections work?), to a comparative mode of analysis attentive to how different groups of people experience, understand and perform free, fair, legitimate elections. The second challenge was to build a common ground to listen to each other in an emotionally charged political environment. I found that in cultivating an anthropological perspective we built a common place to question the assumptions shaping our political preferences, and to discuss the implications of those preferences.

I made an effort to cultivate in my students what Clifford (1988:19) calls an “ethnographic attitude,”  one that sees “culture and its norms—beauty, truth, reality—as artificial arrangements susceptible to detached analysis and comparison with other possible dispositions.” This “relativistic” approach (and I mean it facetiously) was fruitful to study electoral campaigning in its own terms. As charismatic assemblages—of experts, supporters, techniques, political ideals, political networks and media infrastructures—working in concerted action toward electing a candidate (Nielsen 2012; Stromer-Galley 2014). We saw that these assemblages deploy strict top-down management tactics to fuel and spread a collective enthusiasm for a political cause, and produce dominant storylines that ultimately become the bases for political judgment and policy design (Laclau 2008). 2016 provided abundant case studies, like Brexit or the Colombian Peace Referendum.
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Behold, a timeline of the history of anthropology!

I am extremely happy to announce today that I’m making open access my timeline of the history of anthropological theory. This timeline has over 1,000 entries, beginning with the birth of Lewis Henry Morgan on 21 Nov 1818 and the latest is the death of Roy D’Andrade on 20 Oct 2016. It includes details from the careers of roughly 118 anthropologists from England, France, and the United States. It is designed to be viewed in Aeon Timeline, but I’ve also provided a dump of the data so you can play with it however you like.

History of Anthropology Timeline (98K .zip file on google drive)

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The lives of George Hunt, Franz Boas, and Zora Neale Hurston. You need to scroll around the full database to see all the dates.

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Around the Web Digest- November 28

I hope the students and professors that are finishing up their terms in the coming weeks are surviving the last wave of work before taking a well-deserved break. If you need some ideas for papers or just procrastination, here are some readings!

The American Anthropological Association released a blog post that defines concrete steps for professors and those who work in academia to support undocumented students written by three scholars at University of California, Irvine.

Rachel Barney, professor at University of Toronto proposes a 10-point “Anti-Authoritarian Academic Code of Conduct” 

Months after the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, financial instability in the city due to ill-informed policy changes are forcing public employees, artists, and citizens to take to the street to protest political corruption.

To those interested in visual anthropology, photojournalist Matt Black photographed “poverty areas” across the U.S. where poverty rates exceed 20% in beautiful black and white photographs. Along this line of thought, University of Michigan released a series of videos profiling Jason de León and the Undocumented Migration Project where he uses analogue photography as a major methodology. (Part 1) (Part 2) (En Español)

The Times of Higher Education gathers recent conversations surrounding ethnography in changing political climates in fieldsites and at home institutions. Issues brought up by the article include increasing political violence in the field, biases in employment when considering fieldsites, and the dismissal of auto-ethnography.

Riham Alkousaa laments the role of social media in the Syrian Revolution and how Facebook content actually hurt revolutionaries through pacifying international solidarity and making it easier to find individuals involved in the revolution.

See you next week!

Boundaries and Bundles: Further Thoughts on Jigsaw Anthropology

We apologize for the delay in releasing our last November guest blog post on behalf of the AAA AD Executive Board. We had to have a last minute author change, and I am incredibly grateful that Patricia McAnany stepped up to write a second post for our series. We hope readers will see all of our posts as a chance to comment on potential ways we can further integrate archaeology and other fields of anthropology. Patricia McAnany is the Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill and is the President of the AAA Archaeology Division.

The AAA annual meetings in Minneapolis went pretty well this year. Held just a week after one of the most startling and disconcerting U.S. elections on record, the meeting sessions all seemed to refer, even if vaguely, to the specter of a brave new world under a Trump administration. With promised dismantling of the EPA and related protection of cultural resources—not to mention unbridled racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the air—anthropologists of all stripes and colors huddled together in ad hoc strategy sessions. Suddenly, we had more in common than our epistemological differences might suggest.

Randy McGuire delivered the Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecture at the Archeology Division (AD) Business Meeting on Thursday evening and reminded us of the many ways in which an archaeological approach to the human experience matters and can drill to the core of issues like racism, xenophobia, and even darker legacies, such as human torture during the Argentine “Dirty War” of 1976-83. Human practices leave traces and that material legacy can speak volumes (or not, if suppressed).

In my last blog, I addressed the increasing interdependence (in methodological terms) between anthropology and archaeology that comes along with the collaborative turn within archaeology. There is now greater attention to entanglements between living people and objects or places that resonate with ideas and feelings about a past. Today and at the urging of Jane Baxter, I turn to the deeper question of whether there is commensurability between the productions of knowledge within socio-cultural anthropology and within archaeology. As before, my thoughts are channeled through my recent experience as President of the AAA-AD. But I warn the reader that I do not represent the views of the AD or the AAA, the membership of which represent an extraordinarily diverse array of opinions on this topic. Continue reading

Re-Naming the Savage Minds Blog: Your Suggestions, Please

The editorial collective at Savage Minds has decided to change our name. We have several reasons for this, but mostly feel that the name no longer fits or best represents the blog. As a title, “Savage Minds” was a sort of anthropological insider’s double pun. As we explain on our About page, the name “comes from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind, published in 1966. The original title of the book in French, La Pensée Sauvage, was meant to be a pun, since it could mean both ‘wild thought’ or ‘wild pansies,’ and he put pansies on the cover of the book, just to make sure readers got the pun. Lévi-Strauss was unhappy with the English title of his book, which he thought ought to have been “Pansies for Thought” (a reference to a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet). We liked the phrase “savage minds” because it captured the intellectual and unruly nature of academic blogging. As a result, the pansy has become our mascot as well.” And thus, a blog was born in 2005. Continue reading

Of Quinoa, Agricultural Science, and Social Change

Adam Gamwell rounds out the anthropologies #22 issue on food. Gamwell is a public anthropologist and PhD Candidate at Brandeis University working across food, design, science, and markets. His research is based in southern Peru on quinoa. He is also Creative Director and host for This Anthropological Life Podcast. Connect with Adam on academia.edu or linkedin.com –R.A.

Specters of the Dead

Aymara legend has it that some 5000 years ago there was a massive drought across the land, across what would become known as the Andean Altiplano spanning southern Peru and Bolivia. During this years-long drought harvests were lost, there was hunger, and many people and their animals died. Farmers, llamas and alpacas, travelers subsisting on the hospitality of locals all ran out of stores and eventually starved. There was virtually no food to be found, save for two plants that grew wild: quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), and its cousin cañihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule). These two species grow primarily in the Lake Titicaca basin and are remarkably resilient in the face of drought and frost, and can grow in salty, sandy, and acidic soils that kill most other plants. People quickly realized the nutritional qualities of these plants, and quinoa became famous for sustaining those who ate its seeds. The plant was named jiwra in Aymara which translates in Spanish to “levanta moribundos” or that which raises the dying (Canahua y Mujica, 2013).

This legend was recounted to me in perhaps an unusual place by an unexpected storyteller: a plant geneticist told the tale in-between explaining the orthomolecular and nutraceutical qualities of quinoa. Continue reading

Reader Letters #1: Post-election edition

Last week we put out a call for letters from our readers. Here’s our first installment. If you’re interested in submitting a letter to Savage Minds, please keep the following guidelines in mind: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. Some months we will invite letters on specific themes. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines about tone and content refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity. For the next installment, please send us your letters by December 15th, 2016. We will publish the next round by December 22nd. If you want to write about Levi Strauss’s take on Father Christmas, or perhaps Panopti-claus, we would not object. Otherwise it’s up to you. –SM Eds.

On the exceptionality of the election

Melissa Harris-Perry’s keynote “What just happened?” at the most recent AAA in Minneapolis was a captivating appeal to stop viewing the U.S. election results as exceptional, shocking, or out-of-order. To her, Donald Trump’s election reaffirms the United States’ century-old hatred towards minorities. Whatever white anthropologists consider extraordinary, posits for many Black Americans and Black Anthropologists the ongoing fight against an everyday reality of discrimination and violence – and she is right. Yet Harris-Perry’s advocacy for denying the exceptionality in this year’s election complicates strategic political protest. Protesters need the semantics of the exceptional to show that Trump breaches a new set of rules that were introduced by Americans electing their first Black (even if male) president. For many on the ground, Obama’s time in office hasn’t changed the world profoundly. Yet it introduced better policies for the disenfranchised, and the poor. This progress is now at risk of being overturned by a nationalist demagogue who clearly articulated his intentions of returning America to its old racist and sexist self. This return needs to be framed as the extraordinary for two reasons. Firstly, referring to the exceptionality of the situation helps advocates to mobilize protest. They use the exceptional to display their disavowal of Trump’s new order. Secondly, however, allowing anthropologists to use the exceptional as a refusal of the status-quo hopefully induces more ethnographically grounded research on the causes and effects of this regrettable political degeneration in the ‘land of the free’.

Melanie Janet Sindelar, Vienna University Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- November 21

So after a week of visiting family for Thanksgiving and slowly accepting the crushing weight of neoliberalism that came crashing down in 2016. I come back with readings to begin the last month of the year.

American Ethnologist posts an interview with Lila Abu-lughod on the impact of her groundbreaking work and reflections on the aftermath of unstable times.

Post-Thanksgiving, Anne Keala-Kelly considers the role of media like Disney in erasing colonialism and the realities of indigenous life throughout the world.

A piece that only gains relevance in the past few weeks, Current Affairs illustrates the history and importance of “political vulgarity”. Your newly nihilistic friends and family may enjoy you validating their frustrations as subversions of the current political climate.

If you need a gift idea for the ethnographer in mind, Public Books released a list of novels based on anthropologists (ignore the cringe inducing first paragraph).

Are you a dirty liberal professor trying to indoctrinate pure American youth with your vile leftist propaganda? Well if you are, I hope you stand strong as the spectre of Joseph McCarthy looms over us once again.

Enjoy the first days of December!

We’re in Crisis! Time to Slow Down: Discernment in a Trumpian Age

(This occasional post comes from Edgar Rivera Colón, Ph.D. Dr. Rivera Colón is a medical anthropologist and teaches at Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine program. Dr. Rivera Colón is also Assistant Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies at Saint Peter’s University, The Jesuit University of New Jersey. He does spiritual direction with activists as a ministry of the Ecumenical Catholic Church (ECC), an LGBT-affirming faith community, based in Guadalajara, Mexico.)

No hay mal que dure cien años — ni cuerpo que lo resista.” (Popular Puerto Rican saying).

“There is no evil that can last a century — nor bodies equipped to endure it.”

The last weeks have been a marathon (Trumpathon?) of despair, grief, resistance, and mobilization in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory. I’ve spent part of time having long conversations with younger activists — folks in their 20’s and 30’s — about their feelings of disorientation and anger at what seemed to many to be an impossible electoral outcome. One of most dangerous, hate-spewing, fear-mongering, and vulgar presidential candidates in the US history is about to take over one wing of the state apparatus. Whatever one’s take on the whys and wherefores of the 2016 presidential election results, the negative effect on many bodies, spirits, and minds is palpable and worrying. What to do in such a crisis with so many layers and consequences that could warp even further the American polity for two or three generations hence? Continue reading

The good and the bad of #AAA2016 or, THE AAA MUST NEVER USE THAT SCHEDULING APP AGAIN

The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association is now over, as is Thanksgiving. Now that we are over the hump and have a bit of perspective, we can ask: How well did the AAA handle the meetings?

#tweetup #aaa2016
The Spaghetti Factory-turned Irish Bar named The Local hosted 8 events by anthropologists a day, 6 days a week in November, including the #tweetup. I’ve added a filter to this image to give you a sense of what it looked like after two pints.

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The social role of anthropology’s racist uncle

There’s a certain trope that has been going around for years, and it has hit a peak these days as many people express their collective shock and surprise at recent events here in the USA. The narrative uses a family metaphor to talk about the problems of race and racism—and specifically the difficulties of confronting racism.

The narratives center upon the figure of the stereotypical family member, like the old racist uncle. This narrative goes something like this: White liberals think of themselves as progressive and they condemn racism, etc. They “get it,” you know, and want to do something about the issue, and are definitely not racist. But, there’s a problem. They have a lot of family members who don’t think this way, and it’s often uncomfortable to deal with them and talk about issues of race and racism. It’s those family members who are the bigoted, racist, 19th century leftovers, and, therefore, the real problem. The racist uncle personifies this conflict:

One response to this trope is that white liberals need to just get over it and confront their collective racist uncles (read: the older generations who still hold onto strong prejudices and hatreds). This is perhaps not a bad starting point. But there’s something deeper to think about here. Another response critiques the whole scenario, arguing that the trope of the old racist uncle is just an excuse people use to avoid talking about and dealing with the broader causes and conditions of racism. That hypothetical family member is a rhetorical device that people use as a point of comparison to say “Hey, at least I’m not like that.” Continue reading

More thoughts from the Archaeology Division of the AAA- Publications, Blogging, and Making Conversations Count

This post is the latest in the November guest blog series by the Archaeology Division of the AAA. This post is by Lynne Goldstein. Lynne Goldstein is a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Campus Archaeology Program at Michigan State University. She is the outgoing Publications Director for the Archaeology Division of the AAA.

In this blogging miniseries, some of the officers of the AAA’s Archaeology Division (AD) have been outlining what makes the AD unique and important, as well as some future plans to increase our reach, as well as our member numbers. As noted earlier by both Jane Baxter and Patricia McAnany, the AD may not be the primary organization for most archaeologists, but it is the place where we can best bridge archaeology and other parts of anthropology.

Since 2013, my focus within the Archaeology Division has been on publications. But, as of the AAA meeting last week, I have come to the end of my tenure as Publications Director of the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association. We are back on track, healthy, and publishing some great articles. Our publication – AP3A – is different than most AAA journals: it comes out only once a year, and the articles are submitted as a group with a guest editor. The volume is peer reviewed at several levels, and we don’t accept individually submitted articles. This has been the structure of the journal since its beginnings almost 30 years ago, and because each issue has a specific focus or theme, many scholars use the volumes for both research and teaching. Indeed, articles from AP3A are often also included in other anthropological collections focused on related topics. The journal has relatively small circulation numbers, but it is available in most libraries, and faculty often assign articles in their classes. Now that AnthroSource has been improved and the journal is digital only, anyone with full access to AnthroSource has access to the journal.

Are there ways that the AD can increase the influence and discussion that AP3A volumes produce? If the journal really focuses on broad theoretical and topical issues, shouldn’t more AAA members be interested in its content? If the impact can be increased, it would be to the benefit of the authors, the journal, and the members. Can we leap the divide and encourage other types of anthropologists to read AP3A? Certainly, with AnthroSource, accessibility is easy, but most people are busy and look only at those things they know. How do we get folks to take advantage of their easy accessibility to AP3A, and move us toward better integration of anthropology?

Blogging is one obvious way that we could increase interest in the journal, and we think that it might be a way to keep the issues of the AP3A active and relevant. If we regularly blog about the topics in the issue, more people would become engaged in the discussion, and more people would link back to the original articles.

Although I may be sounding crass, this strategy is not really about numbers – it is a discussion that the AD is having in an attempt to try and make its content more accessible, relevant, and part of larger anthropology conversations.

Many of us are rethinking publications and what they mean. If you work at a university, you are likely being evaluated and measured based on your Google Scholar scores or other such measures. The number of citations you have is seen as a measure of your influence in the profession, and while there are many, many problems with the calculation of such measures and what is included, it is also clear that these so-called “objective” measures will not go away. Universities like to use what they see as objective numbers that someone else calculates, and pushes by faculty to change their use will likely succeed only at the margins.

But I am talking about something else here. We have the technology and capacity to change the way we use and apply publications in our research and teaching. Once something is published, it should not be considered “done.” Why not regularly and actively focus a discussion on the published piece or pieces in a blog related to the publication? Discuss the article(s) and implications for current and/or future research. Highlight things that might be significant or interesting to a broader range of scholars, or to the general public. And, in addition to blogging, promote the discussion in other forms of social media. This is the kind of approach that the AD is discussing to make its work more visible, more accessible, and more relevant to a much broader range of people, whether they ever become members or not. We can have threads that focus on each issue, yet overlap and make broader points, develop arguments for and against specifics, and represent a real discussion of the topics.

What do you think? Would you participate in such discussions? Would it make you rethink your current or former opinion of the AD? Let us know. Of course, we are always open to other ideas too!

 

“Pass the stuffing, hold the -isms please”: Engaging Mixed Philosophies and Difficult Conversations at the Dinner Table

By: Caitlyn Brandt, Allison Dudley, Will Lammons, and Aaron Trumbo

The holidays are upon us once again, and soon many of us will engage in those family dynamics that reunite extended family and old acquaintances. This is a time to be thankful for loved ones, but it can also be a reminder that “you choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family.” In many households, clashes over differing politics and ideologies are a holiday tradition. This season, however, passions are running especially high fresh out of a divisive U.S. election cycle. For many of us, the events of recent days have been a disheartening reminder of deep political division within the U.S., and the serious social and environmental injustices that persist. Yet for some, perhaps even members of our own families, the recent election has bolstered views of bigotry and prejudice along with the actionable expression of those beliefs. These deep divisions will be represented at dinner tables across the nation this holiday season. Thus, the question is how, as students and practitioners of anthropology, can we facilitate open discussions that acknowledge opposing views, while refuting bigotry and statements (or denials) that are potentially dangerous and hurtful? How can we turn these conversations into productive moments of solidarity during these celebrations of gratitude and family?

This essay is the result of a discussion on public anthropology in an empire seminar, where a ‘politics of scholarship’ discourse morphed into the ‘politics of Thanksgiving dinner’ discussion.  Anxieties over inevitable confrontations about refugees, sexism, border walls, race, climate change, and other divisive issues prompted us to consider our role as public spokespersons of the discipline. The holidays may test our patience and resilience in the face of tough conversations, but they can also be ground for public anthropology. In what follows, we enlist a set of best practices for confronting bigotry and insensitivities among family and friends in a direct, yet compassionate manner.
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