“I know of Malinowski’s despotism”: Mauss to Radcliffe-Brown

The people who fill our theory readers are real people who lived vibrant, quirky lives.  It is easy to reduce them to a set of ideas or to a stereotyped, essentialized colonizer. But in fact their ideas — and their colonialism! — were flesh and blood and richly particular.

And they all knew each other.

Consider Mauss’s correspondence with Radcliffe-Brown. Durkheimians both, their theoretical interests allied them against Malinowski. Mauss’s withering, gallic trashing of Malinowski may have more to do with placating Radcliffe-Brown than it does genuine animus. But it also reflects so much else that academia still has: A concern with funding, grudging respect for publication history, trash-talking about a rival’s advising style. It’s all there.

I know of Malinowski’s despotism. Rockefeller’s weakness with regard to him is probably the cause of his success. The weakness, due to the age and the elegance of the other English, those in London as well as those of Cambridge and Oxford, leave the field in England free for him; but you may be sure, even the young whom he protects know how to judge him. There are dynasties that do not last. His big work on magic and agriculture will surely be a very good exposition of the facts. This is what he excels at. And the subventions from Rockefeller for a whole army of stooges which he has had at his disposal will certainly have allowed him to have done something definitive. Only, alongside it there will be a very poor theory of the magical nature of this essential thing. At last he is going to write a great book on his functionalist theory of society and family organization. Here his theoretical weakness and his total lack of learning will make itself still more obvious.

This little glimpse into history is just one of the many open access publications on the history of our discipline that are out there. In addition to the newly-revived History of Anthropology Newsletter there are also the many excerpts and memorial over at the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. Thanks to them for making this small, wonderful, slightly terribly little bit of historical kvetching accessible to all!

The Taste of Nostalgia: Vanishing Flavors from the Ancestral Japanese Village

Next in line for the Anthropologies #22 Food Issue, we have this essay by Christopher Laurent. He is currently a Cultural Anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Montreal in Quebec Canada. Laurent’s research primarily focuses on regional food revival in Japan. Check out his blog Chanko Food, and look for him on Twitter: @SFchanko –R.A.

On a vernal Sunday morning, I meet with a group of retired women to travel to the mountains of rural Kochi in Japan. The day is overcast, yet the drive outside the city is pleasant with patches of flowering trees dotting the side of the road. We reach a small windy lane wide enough for one small car. Mitani sensei, the driver, tells me that the road did not exist when she was younger and the trip had to be made on foot. We reach her hometown, a hamlet, also called Mitani where we came to collect wild mountain vegetables called sansai. For many in Japan, spring evokes recollections of a peculiar grassy bitterness that can only be found in these wild mountain greens. This bitter taste is one that Japanese people seek as it reminds them of seasonal flavors from times immemorial. The aim of this essay is precisely to uncover the relationship that exists between unique flavors of the past and the elusive sentiment of nostalgia. Continue reading

2016 U.S. Presidential Election: Views from Bolivia

Daniel M. Goldstein

I have known the Aliaga family for 24 years, since I first arrived in Bolivia to study Quechua in 1992. My wife and I were living with a Bolivian family, headed by the widow of a lawyer who had once been business partners with a man named Gunther. Gunther was a Holocaust survivor then living in Cochabamba. On learning that we were Jewish – a rarity in Bolivia – the widow exclaimed, “I know someone Jewish!” and put us in touch with Gunther. On meeting us, Gunther exclaimed, “I know someone young!” – not so unusual, except among Gunther’s acquaintances – and he put us in touch with the Aliagas. We’ve been friends ever since.

I was interested to learn more about Bolivians’ perceptions of the U.S. Presidential campaign through which we are now living, a campaign that many observers have described as among the most bizarre and revolting they have ever witnessed. Recently, Raúl Rodriguez Arancibia (a Bolivian studying in the U.S.) and I wrote a piece on this blog exploring Raúl’s feelings about the Trump campaign in light of Bolivian political experience. For this follow-up piece, I wanted to change directions, to understand the perspectives on this election of some Bolivians and Bolivian-Americans living in Bolivia. And so I wrote to the Aliagas to ask for their insights. (For a perspective from Kenya, see Angelique Haugerud’s Savage Minds post, “Is This What Democracy Looks Like?”)

Anna Aliaga is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in Grass Valley, California. She met and fell in love with Carlos, and the two of them settled in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba to raise a family. Anna founded and runs a business producing and exporting artisanal knitwear and leather goods; Carlos is an intellectual, artist, author, and musician. Their two sons, Eduardo and Elahdio, are now grown: Eduardo graduated from Stanford University in 2013 and is working in Austin, Texas, and Elahdio recently graduated from Santa Clara University in California and returned to Bolivia. I asked them to write a bit about their perspectives on the current electoral campaign.

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Malinowski and Hats

The alternate title for this post was going to be “Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, and Boas walk into a bar…”. This is a little autobiographical passage from pages 46-48 of History, Evolution, and the Concept of Culture: Selected Papers by Alexander Lesser. In it, Lesser (a vastly under-read and under-appreciated author) describes what it was like to be a graduate student in the 1920s. It’s a fun little vignette that says something about the limits of functionalism… and academic networking! I’ve condensed this account down a good deal — if you’d like to see the full version, check out the book. 

I first met both Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski in 1926 or 1927. It was the first occasion of their both being in New York at the same time. Pliny Earle Goddard was very anxious to have Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski meet Boas. He believed they would both discover that Boas was driving at the same thing they were driving at, that there really weren’t any fundamental conflicts. Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski were invited to what was a large living room in Ruth Bunzel’s parents’ apartment, somewhere near Riverside Drive. There were only about ten of us: six graduate students, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, and Boas.

When the time seemed right, Goddard invited Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown to say something. Radcliffe-Brown started off by giving extemporaneously a fifteen minute exposition of what he considered to be the meaning of meaning. It was, from a verbal standpoint a beautiful performance. Boas simply looked at Goddard, and looked at Radcliffe-Brown, and nodded his head. And that was all. Then Goddard turned to Malinowski and asked him if he wanted to say anything, and Malinowski gave an exposition of his concept of functionalism. After he got through with his fifteen minutes, Goddard turned to Boas, expecting him to say something… and then there was utter silence.

After the silence had gone on for as long as I could stand it, I asked a question. I was scare to death, of course. I asked Malinowski if he meant it when he said that every thing, every item in culture, had a vital function. He said, “Yes.” I said to him, “In the back of my hat here’s a little bow which is sewn on to where the seam comes. Now if you go to a store and try to buy a hat, you’ll find it has a little bow on it.” I asked him what its function was. The binding of the hat is sewn together at the back end very tightly; the bow doesn’t hold anything. If it isnt’ there, nothing will happen. And yet if you should happen to buy such a hat in a store, and it didn’t have the bow, the salesman would say, “wait a minute, I’ll have the bow put on.” But what function does it have? Well, Malinowski looked at me and said, “Well….” He thought first of course that maybe it held the hat together, and I showed him it didn’t. So then he said, “Well, maybe it’s decorative.” I said, “How? You can’t even see it.” We went on like this, for some time, but he finally said, “Oh, I’m interested in important matters.” He simply dropped it.

Now, where did I get this item? I happened to be indexing the first forty volumes of the Journal of American Folklore – that’s how I was earning my way through Columbia, for fifty cents an hour. If you start trying to index a thing like that believe me, as you go through a volume it becomes damned boring. So every once in a while, you say: “Oh, what the hell, at fifty cents an hour I’ll read a paper.”

There were several papers by a man named Garrick Mallery. He was an American ethnologist, and he was particularly interested in survivals. In regard to the hat bow, his explanation was that this was a survival of something which had once been more functional. At the back end of the hat ribbons were attached, and one wore the hat with ribbon streamers; style had gradually dictated that these become smaller and smaller, until they were finally stuck up inside the hat, and disappeared into the bow. So much for hats and Malinowski.


Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Angelique Haugerud.

“America is a shining example of how to hold a free and fair election, right?” asks Bassem Youssef, a comedian and former heart surgeon who is often referred to as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart.” Astute answers to that question about the condition of U.S. democracy often come from foreigners such as satirists, as well as my East African research interlocutors.

Like Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah (The Daily Show), Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report), and Jon Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Bassem Youssef uses irony and satire to hold a mirror up to society, and to unsettle conventional political and media narratives. State political pressure forced termination of the popular satirical news show Youssef created in Egypt during the Arab Spring. He then moved to the United States, became a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in 2015, and in 2016 started a new show in the United States called “Democracy Handbook” on Fusion TV. As foreigners, Youssef, Jon Oliver (British), and Trevor Noah (South African) wittily play off stereotypes of their own home regions as they comment on events in the United States—such as Trevor Noah’s Daily Show segment comparing the 2016 Republican presidential nominee to African dictators.

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Around the Web Digest- October 3

As I continuously wait for the US to abolish Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, here are your readings for the week.

All throughout Mexico, indigenous knowledge surrounding agriculture and foodways provide valuable insight into sustainable futures. Biodiversity, alternative proteins, and landscape restoration are nothing new in the age of food insecurity.

Māori women are embracing the Moko Kauae after colonization almost wiped the tattoos away. As Māori women embrace increased political visibility, the facial tattoos embody resistance in a changing state. 

As gentrification in Washington, D.C. continues to increase rent prices and attract predatory developers, the Ethiopian community is quickly being displaced. The security of ethnic enclaves for new immigrants are threatened in this competitive housing market.

The term “Chinese” cuisine erases the vast diversity of styles and flavors that emerge among different Chinese ethnic groups. NPR covers a new exhibit in New York at the Museum of Chinese in America that explores the nuance of regional cuisine in China.

As the aftermath of the Rio Summer 2016 Olympic Games are slowly manifesting, social movements for queer people and feminism are gaining traction in response to growing political violence. 

See you next week!

Local Food, Process, and Social Change

The next installment of the Anthropologies #22 Issue on food comes from Allison Perrett, who is part of the Local Food Research Center and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. –R.A.

In 2007, I moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina to conduct research for my doctorate in applied anthropology and begin my immersion in an initiative to build a local food system through the efforts of one particular organization, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). Nearly 10 years later, I’m still here. I co-direct the work of Local Food Research Center, the research arm of the organization that is looking at what happens when we localize food systems and more specifically at the actions we need to take so that local food system building creates the economic, environmental, and social changes we imagine are possible through this process.

Ten years ago one of the first meetings I attended at ASAP was around the development of a local food brand, Appalachian Grown™. With a group of farmers and other entrepreneurs making value-added products with locally-sourced ingredients, we met one afternoon to talk about brand qualities and standards. As we were waiting for members of the group to arrive, I took the opportunity to ask Greg[1] one of the organizers at ASAP, “So what production standards will the logo stand for?” His response was “none.”  To further clarify my understanding of the purpose of the brand, I asked, “So other than the location where it was grown, what will the brand stand for?”  In reply, he said, “Well, the logo will brand food grown on family farms in the region that we serve.” Seeing the blank look on my face, he continued, “If we limit the program to farms growing in a certain way, then we are leaving out the majority of farms in the region and all of them need support. Without it, we will continue to lose farms and farmland. And farms can’t grow food or shift their production [to environmentally sustainable methods] if they are no longer in business.” Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- September 25

As anthropologists in the U.S. prepare for the barrage of racist costumes at the end of October, we here at Savage Minds offer you some readings for the week!

In a hearing world, sign language confronts the linguistic conventions that dominate “bodily expressiveness”. How can the spaces we create be designed with the deaf and heard of hearing in mind?

Christine Moellenberndt, your local anthropologist at Reddit answers questions on the culture of online communities in this podcast for Marketplace.

As climate change continues in the anthropocene, can astrobiology offer insight into the futures of humanity?

As iPhone users live their life without a headphone jack, the global trade of cobalt stem used in many electronics come from dangerous mines in the Congo.

At Billingsgate Fish Market in the U.K.,Dawn Lyon details the stakes of the aesthetics of fisherman’s catch in such a competitive market.

See you next week!

Trump: A Bolivian’s Perspective

[Savage Minds welcomes guest bloggers Daniel M. Goldstein and Raúl Rodriguez Arancibia]

In the Andes last summer, while traveling to visit family and friends prior to beginning his studies in anthropology at Rutgers University, Raúl Rodriguez Arancibia took a long-distance bus ride on which they were showing the 2015 film “Our Brand is Crisis.” (Most Bolivian buses have mounted screens at the front on which they show movies throughout the ride). The movie is a political satire based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, which recounts the role of American political campaign professionals working as consultants in a Bolivian presidential election. The film depicts the Bolivians as dolts, their primitive innocence contrasted with the wisdom and sophistication of the Americans. What might it look like, Raúl wondered, if the roles were reversed, and the camera turned on U.S. politicians? What might a Bolivian insider’s view of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign reveal?

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Can anthropology solve big problems? Imagining Margaret Mead’s response to climate change

Climate change is the nightmare that keeps me up at night. The consensus seems to be that the world will be significantly different within my children’s lifetimes. Many places will be uninhabitable. Many if not most of the world’s great cities, which are built on waterfronts, will be flooded and destroyed by unpredictable weather events and rising oceans. The global refugee crisis will become much, much larger. The food supply will become uncertain. The American landscape and economy will be different in ways I cannot imagine, while India, where I conduct my research, will be a place exponentially more difficult for the millions of people already struggling to get by. There is a degree of uncertainty in these statements, albeit a hopeful uncertainty. Many of the predicted changes are already happening, faster than scientists had thought.

For me, climate change is a crisis so big it is hard to think about at all. Can anthropology help us think through a problem that leaves us feeling overwhelmed? I would argue that yes, anthropological thinking can tackle these thorny problems, and in fact, it’s one of the few approaches that can. The recent AAA Global Climate Change Task Force Report makes this clear, by pointing out anthropology’s unique view on historical and current adaptation. Here, I also want to look back and find some inspiration in the public anthropology of Margaret Mead, who did not hesitate to comment on thorny problems of her day. Continue reading

Give and Take

By Leslie J. Sabiston and Didier M. Sylvain

did i see that right?
my skull is in a cardboard box
in that basement?
my bones are under
an orange tarp from canadian tire,
rattling plastic in the wind.
my grave is desecrated
my skull is in that white lady’s basement
my bones are under that orange tarp from canadian tire
rattling plastic in the wind like a rake on the sidewalk.
my body is tired
from carrying
the weight
of this zhaganashi’s house.
ah nokomis
this shouldn’t have happened.
your relatives took such good care.
the mound so clearly marked.
ah nokomis
how did this happen?
what have you come to tell us?
why are you here?
aahhhhh my zhaganashi
welcome to kina gchi nishnaabe-ogaming
enjoy your visit.
but like my elder says
please don’t stay too long.*

              —Leanne Simpson [1]

Beloved, she my daughter. She mine. See. She come back to me of her own free will and I don’t have to explain a thing.  —Toni Morrison [2]

We knew we would be confronting a constructed division between our communities and profession before we even got here. We already had questions to critique that construction, to deconstruct the idea of the university as a place of enlightenment. And as the years go by, as we return to our ancestral homelands to conduct research, those questions become stronger and also more difficult to parse. Today we feel even more compelled to refuse certain colonial practices of our discipline, but the “why” spirals deeper and deeper. How deep do we want to go? What do we give and take in the descent? What do we lose?

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Around the Web Digest- September 12

Hello everyone! Hope the first few days of Fall are treating you well. Here are some readings to keep you company as the temperature drops.

The fashion industry in Los Angeles, California keeps growing as the market continues to manufacture goods at an explosive rate. In a blog post by Stephanie Canizales in Youth Circulations, the lives of unaccompanied Guatemalan migrant youth in L.A. and how they navigate the harsh labor conditions of the garment industry.

Ghassan Hage on declining an invitation to address the Israeli Anthropological Association: “So to me, the beginning of any decolonial anthropology is to be anti-politicidal. It has to be concerned with how to stop this horrendous violence and how to give presence and political and social power to the colonised.”

As the struggle against DAPL continues, representatives from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe met with the United Nations Human Rights Council to advocate for international support. Eventually UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz stated that DAPL should stop immediately due to the lack of informed consent, environmental degradation to water supplies, and destruction of sacred land.

As major transportation shifts from railways to airlines in India, the culture of sharing meals on train cars among passengers begins to shift. NPR cites chef and anthropologist Kurush Dalal in the socioeconomic shifts in food and travel among India’s growing middle class.

Algorithms are subject to just as much bias as the humans who program them. However, is bias encoded into the basis of the English language itself?

See you next week!

Anthropology and the MacArthurs

The 2016 MacArthur Fellows were announced yesterday and — unlike some years — there were no anthropologists on the list. Established back in 1981, the grant was intended not to find “geniuses” (despite the fact that its nicknamed the genius grant) but rather “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary orginality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. This year no anthropologists made the cut, but this isn’t how it always goes. Continue reading

Childhood games: What would Margaret Mead say about screen time?

Last month, a New York Post article about video games being like “digital heroin” for kids caused a bit of an uproar. The article describes a young boy losing interest in reading and baseball in favor of Minecraft, increasingly throwing tantrums until late one night his mother finds him in a catatonic state. Many have refuted this article as based on suspect evidence and even as a plug for the author’s addiction recovery center, noting the human tendency to treat new technologies—especially those used by children—with hysteria. It’s just the latest in the “screen time” debates.

But beyond scaremongering, what does screen time and immersion in digital worlds actually mean in terms of child rearing? Continue reading

Decolonization as Care

By Uzma Z. Rizvi

What happens to our praxis once we start from a place of acknowledging difference in our persons, our histories, our bodies, and our aesthetics? This text starts from a standpoint of curiosity, consideration, and mindfulness as we explore how, who and what we are, inform structures we create. The moment and place of knowing requires a certain slowness to enter into our thoughts, movements, and research, allowing for nuance and precision, for care and humility, and for an aesthetic of difference to incubate our praxis. Once we allow our work to breathe, to reflect, to sense difference, it transforms structures around it or structures created through it.[1] The act of research becomes praxis through which critical awareness of one’s own condition and the condition of others comes into high relief. One aspect of this praxis includes bodies co-producing the work. There are intricate processes that situate us between theory and practice as praxis, which must begin to take into account the many ways in which we are identified, the modes of address, our different bodies, and varied epistemologies.

Intersectionality allows us to occupy that praxis and standpoint critically.[2] It takes into account systems of oppression within the world that hold marginalized people in place (often at an inferior position) in multiple ways. It is not a new idea to acknowledge that our vectors of identity (race, class, ethnicity/gender/body, et cetera) inform how we experience and consider the world, but what is significant in intersectionality is that that place holding happens in different ways at different times and for different reasons. On the flip side, it also means that privilege manifests itself in similarly multifaceted forms. If, due to your body experience, you have never had to question how the world looks at your race/class/ethnicity/gender/body, or if that has never impacted the way the world identifies your research or work, you should know that that is a privileged experience. And that privilege or lack thereof, informs you and your praxis.

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