NGO-graphies: On Knowledge Production and Contention

NGOgraphies logo

The NGOs and Nonprofits Special Interest Group held its second biennial conference before the AAAs last week. It’s designed to give anthropologists and practitioners working in and with NGOs a chance to engage with each other in a more intimate, focused way before diving into the chaos of the AAAs. Entitled “NGOgraphies,” this year’s conference explored the dual meaning of the term, coined by Steven Sampson and Julie Hemment in 2001, which refers both to critical ethnography of NGOs in general and to analysis of the human geography of NGOs in particular. The conference attracted 112 attendees from 13 countries, and session organizers were encouraged to use alternate formats to engage participants, ranging from workshops to roundtables. Rather than a general report on the conference, this post is a reflection on some of the specific conversations and lines of thought the conference generated for me.

When I circulated the call for papers for my roundtable panel What Is This ‘Local Knowledge’ that Development Organizations Fetishize? to the NGOs and Nonprofits Interest Group listserv in May, I got the following email in reply:

Dear All,

I might have been interested in participating, but will likely be traveling overseas for humanitarian work at the time. I have worked for international NGOs and aid agencies for 30 years, as I do now. However, I must say that the title of the session troubles me. As a long-time member and leader of such organizations, I have never known our community to “fetishize” local knowledge. I think the term is disrespectful to my colleagues and their work and insights. This seems like some sort of construct or perception of research-based academics.

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What really happened on Thanksgiving

(This is the second annual posting of a short, edited snippet of pages 55-66 of Charles Mann’s   1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. In it Mann describes the history of Indian-European relations that existed before the arrival of the Mayflower by following the story of a single Indian, Tisquantum, and the role he played in the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving. There reality is — surprise! — a lot messier, entangled, and nasty than the normal story taught in school. If you’re not American, or just wondering what really happened to create this current celebration of over-eating and colonialism, read on! This fair use reproduction is just a small chunk of Mann’s 500+ page book. If you’d like to read more about this topic — I’d recommend buying and reading all of 1491.)

I had learned about Plymouth in school. But it was not until I was poking through the scattered references to Billington [the author’s ancestor] that it occurred to me that my ancestor, like everyone else in the colony, had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that had him arriving in New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Not only that, he joined a group that, so far as is known, set off with little idea of where it was heading. In Europe, the Pilgrims had refused to hire the experienced John Smith as a guide, on the theory that they could use the maps in his book. In consequence, as Smith later crowed, the hapless Mayflower spent several frigid weeks scouting around Cape Cod for a good place to land, during which time many colonists became sick and died. Landfall at Patuxet did not end their problems. The colonists had intended to produce their own food, but inexplicably neglected to bring any cows, sheep, mules, or horses. To be sure, the Pilgrims had intended to make most of their livelihood not by farming but by catching fish for export to Britain. But the only fishing gear the Pilgrims brought was useless in New England. Half of the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through the first winter, which to me seemed amazing. How did they survive?

In his history of Plymouth colony, Governor Bradford himself provides one answer: robbing Indian houses and graves. The Mayflower hove to first at Cape Cod. An armed company of Pilgrims staggered out. Eventually they found a deserted Indian habitation. The newcomers—hungry, cold, sick—dug open burial sites and ransackedhomes, looking for underground stashes of food. After two days of nervous work the company hauled ten bushels of maize back to the Mayflower, carrying much of the booty in a big metal kettle the men had also stolen. “And sure it was God’s good providence that we found this corn,” Winslow wrote, “for else we know not how we should have done.”…

Inexperienced in agriculture, the Pilgrims were also not woods-people; indeed, they were so incurious about their environment that Bradford felt obliged to comment in his journal when Francis Billington, my ancestors son, climbed to the top of a tall tree to look around. As Thoreau noted with disgust, the colonists landed at Plymouth on December 16, but it was not until January 8 that one ofthem went as far away as two miles — and even then the traveler was, again, Francis Billington. …

Huddled in their half-built village that first terrible winter, the colonists rarely saw the area’s inhabitants, except for the occasional shower of brass- or claw-tipped arrows. After February, glimpses andsightings became more frequent. Scared, the Pilgrims hauled five small cannons from the Mayflower and emplaced them in a defensive fortification. But after all the anxiety, their first contact with Indianswent surprisingly easily. Within days Tisquantum [and Indian who had previously visited England] came to settle among them. And then they heard his stories.

No record survives of Tisquantum’s first journey across theAtlantic, but arithmetic gives some hint of the conditions in Hunt’s [who had captured Tisquantum] ship. John Smith had arrived with two ships and a crew of forty-five. If the two ships had been of equal size, Hunt would have sailed with a crew of about twenty-two. Because Hunt, Smith’s subordinate, had the smaller of the two vessels, the actual number was surely less.Adding twenty or more captured Indians thus meant that the ship wassailing with at least twice its normal complement. Tisquantum would have been tied or chained, to prevent rebellion, and jammed into whatever dark corner of the hull was available. Presumably he was fed from the ship’s cargo of dried fish. Smith took six weeks to cross theAtlantic to England. There is no reason to think Hunt went faster. The only difference was that he took his ship to Malaga, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. There he intended to sell all of his cargo, including the human beings.

The Indians’ appearance in this European city surely caused a stir. Not long before, Shakespeare had griped in The Tempest that the populace of the much bigger city of London “would not give a doit [a small coin] to a lame beggar, [but] will lay out ten to see a dead Indian.” Hunt managed to sell only a few of his captives before local Roman Catholic priests seized the rest—the Spanish Church vehemently opposed brutality toward Indians… The priests intended to save both Tisquantum’s body, by preventing his enslavement, and his soul, by converting him to Christianity… In any case,this resourceful man convinced them to let him return home — or, rather, to try to return. He got to London, where he stayed with John Slany, a shipbuilder with investments in Newfoundland. Slany apparently taught Tisquantum English while maintaining him as a curiosityin his townhouse. Meanwhile, Tisquantum persuaded him to arrange for passage to North America on a fishing vessel. He ended up in a tiny British fishing camp on the southern edge of Newfoundland. It was on the same continent as Patuxet [Tisquantim’s home], but between them were a thousand miles of rocky coastline and the Mi’Kmac and Abenaki alliances,which were at war with one another.

Because traversing this unfriendly territory would be difficult, Tisquantum began looking for a ride to Patuxet. He extolled the bounty of New England to Thomas Dermer, one of Smith’s subordinates, who was then staying in the same camp. Dermer, excited by Tisquantum’s promise of easy wealth, contacted Ferdinando Gorges. Gorges, a longtime, slightly dotty enthusiast about the Americas, promised to send over a ship with the men, supplies, and legal papers necessary for Dermer to take a crack at establishing a colony in New England… On May 19, 1619, still accompanied by Tisquantum, he [Dermer] set out for Massachusetts…

What Tisquantum saw on his return home was unimaginable. From southern Maine to Narragansett Bay, the coast was empty – “utterly void,” Dermer reported. What had once been a line of busy communities was now a mass of tumbledown homes and untended fields overrun by blackberries. Scattered among the houses and fields were skeletons bleached by the sun. Slowly Dermer’s crew realized they were sailing along the border of a cemetery two hundred miles long and forty miles deep. Patuxet had been hit [by Western-introduced diseases] with special force. Not a single person remained. Tisquantum’s entire social world had vanished.

Looking for his kinsfolk, he led Dermer on a melancholy march inland. The settlements they passed lay empty to the sky but full of untended dead. Tisquantum’s party finally encountered some survivors, a handful of families in a shattered village. These people sent for Massasoit, who appeared, Dermer wrote, “with a guard of fiftie armed men” — and a captive French sailor, a survivor of the shipwreck on Cape Cod. Massasoit asked Dermer to send back the Frenchman. And then he told Tisquantum what had happened.

One of the French sailors had learned enough Massachusett to inform his captors before dying that God would destroy them for their misdeeds. The Nauset scoffed at the threat. But the Europeans carried a disease, and they bequeathed it to their jailers. Based on accounts of the symptoms, the epidemic was probably of viral hepatitis… Whatever the cause, the results were ruinous. TheIndians “died in heapes as they lay in their houses,” the merchant Thomas Morton observed. In their panic, the healthy fled from the sick, carrying the disease with them to neighboring communities. Behind them remained the dying, “left for crows, kites, and vermin to prey upon.” Beginning in 1616, the pestilence took at least three years to exhaust itself and killed as much as 90 percent of the people in coastal New England. “And the bones and skulls upon the severall places of their habitations made such a spectacle,” Morton wrote,that the Massachusetts woodlands seemed to be “a new-found Golgotha,” the Place of the Skull, where executions took place in Roman Jerusalem.

The religious overtones in Morton’s metaphor are well placed. Neither the Indians nor the Pilgrims had our contemporary understanding of infectious disease. Each believed that sickness reflected the will of celestial forces… Until the sickness Massasoit had directly ruled a community of several thousand and held sway over a confederation of as many as twenty thousand. Now his group was reduced to sixty people and the entire confederation to fewer than a thousand. “The Wampanoag,” wrote Salisbury, the Smith historian, “came to the obvious logical conclusion: ‘their deities had allied against them.’”

The Pilgrims held similar views. Governor Bradford is said to have attributed the plague to “the good hand of God,” which “favored our beginnings” by “sweeping away great multitudes of the natives . . .that he might make room for us.” Indeed, more than fifty of the first colonial villages in New England were located on Indian communities emptied by disease. The epidemic, Gorges said, left the land “without any [people] to disturb or appease our free and peaceable possession thereof, from when we may justly conclude, that GOD made the way to effect his work.”

Much as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed tens of thousands in one of Europe’s richest cities, prompted spiritual malaise across Europe, the New England epidemic shattered the Wampanoag’s sense that they lived in balance with an intelligible world. On top of that, the massive death toll created a political crisis. Because the hostility between the Wampanoag and the neighboring Narraganset thad restricted contact between them, the disease had not spread to the latter. Massasoit’s people were not only beset by loss, they were in danger of subjugation.

After learning about the epidemic, the distraught Tisquantum first returned with Dermer to southern Maine. Apparently concluding he was never going to meet Rowcraft, Dermer decided in 1620 to make another pass at New England. Tisquantum returned, too, but not with Dermer. Instead he walked home—the long, risky journey he had wanted to avoid… Tisquantum was seized on his journey home, perhaps because of his association with the hated English, and sent to Massasoit as a captive.

As he had before, Tisquantum talked his way out of a jam. This time he extolled the English, filling Massasoit’s ears with tales of their cities, their great numbers, their powerful technology. Tisquantum said, according to a colonist who knew him, that if the sachem “Could make [the] English his Friends then [any] Enemies yt weare to[o]strong for him”—in other words, the Narragansett—“would be Constrained to bowe to him.” The sachem listened without trust. Within a few months, word came that a party of English had set up shop at Patuxet. The Wampanoag observed them suffer through the first punishing winter. Eventually Massasoit concluded that he possibly should ally with them — compared to the Narragansett, they were the lesser of two evils. Still, only when the need for a translator became unavoidable did he allow Tisquantum to meet the Pilgrims.

Massasoit had considerable experience with Europeans—his father had sent Martin Pring on his way seventeen years before. But that was before the epidemic, when Massasoit had the option of expelling them. Now he told the Pilgrims that he was willing to leave them in peace (a bluff, one assumes, since driving them away would have taxed his limited resources). But in return he wanted the colonists’ assistance with the Narragansett.

To the Pilgrims, the Indians’ motives for the deal were obvious. They wanted European technology on their side. In particular, they wanted guns. “He thinks we may be [of] some strength to him,”Winslow said later, “for our pieces [guns] are terrible to them.”

In fact Massasoit had a subtler plan. It is true that European technology dazzled Native Americans on first encounter. But the relative positions of the two sides were closer than commonly believed. Contemporary research suggests that indigenous peoples in New England were not technologically inferior to the British—or, rather, that terms like “superior” and “inferior” do not readily apply to the relationship between Indian and European technology.

Guns are an example. As Chaplin, the Harvard historian, has argued, New England Indians were indeed disconcerted by their first experiences with European guns: the explosion and smoke, the lack of a visible projectile. But the natives soon learned that most of the British were terrible shots, from lack of practice—their guns were little more than noisemakers. Even for a crack shot, a seventeenth-century gun had fewer advantages over a longbow than may be supposed. Colonists in Jamestown taunted the Powhatan in 1607 with a target they believed impervious to an arrow shot. To the colonists’ dismay, an Indian sank an arrow into it a foot deep, “which was strange, being that a Pistoll could not pierce it.” To regain the upper hand, the English set up a target made of steel. This time the archer “burst his arrow all to pieces.” The Indian was “in a great rage”; he realized, one assumes, that the foreigners had cheated. When the Powhatan later captured John Smith, Chaplin notes, Smith broke his pistol rather than reveal to his captors “the awful truth that it could not shoot as far as an arrow could fly.”

At the same time, Europeans were impressed by American technology. The foreigners, coming from a land plagued by famine, were awed by maize, which yields more grain per acre than any other cereal. Indian moccasins were so much more comfortable and water-proof than stiff, moldering English boots that when colonists had to walk for long distances their Indian companions often pitied their discomfort and gave them new footwear. Indian birchbark canoes were faster and more maneuverable than any small European boat. In 1605 three laughing Indians in a canoe literally paddled circles round the lumbering dory paddled by traveler George Weymouth and seven other men. Despite official disapproval, the stunned British eagerly exchanged knives and guns for Indian canoes. Bigger European ships with sails had some advantages. Indians got hold of them through trade and shipwreck, and trained themselves to be excellent sailors. By the time of the epidemic, a rising proportion of the shipping traffic along the New England coast was of indigenous origin.

Reading Massasoit’s motives at this distance is a chancy business. But it seems likely that he did not want to ally with the foreigners primarily for their guns, as they believed. Although the sachem doubtless relished the possibility of additional firepower, he probably wanted more to confront the Narragansett with the unappetizing prospect of attacking one group of English people at the same time that their main trading partners were other English people. Faced with the possibility of disrupting their favored position as middlemen, the Narragansett might think twice before staging an incursion. Massasoit, if this interpretation is correct, was trying to incorporate the Pilgrims into the web of native politics. Not long before Massasoit had expelled foreigners who stayed too long in Wampanoag territory. But with the entire confederation now smaller than one of its former communities, the best option seemed to be allowing the Pilgrims to remain. It was a drastic, even fatal, decision.

Tisquantum worked to prove his value to the Pilgrims. He was so successful that when some anti-British Indians abducted him the colonists sent out a military expedition to get him back. They did not stop to ask themselves why he might be making himself essential, given how difficult it must have been to live in the ghost of his childhood home. In retrospect, the answer seems clear: the alternative to staying in Plymouth was returning to Massasoit and renewed captivity.

Recognizing that the Pilgrims would be unlikely to keep him around forever, Tisquantum decided to gather together the few survivors of Patuxet and reconstitute the old community at a site near Plymouth. More ambitious still, he hoped to use his influence on the English to make this new Patuxet the center of the Wampanoag confederation, thereby stripping the sachemship from Massasoit, who had held him captive. To accomplish these goals, he intended to play the Indians and English against each other.

The scheme was risky, not least because the ever-suspicious Massasoit sent one of his pniese [a warrior-counselor], Hobamok, to Plymouth as a monitor… Sometimes the two men were able to work together, as when Hobamok and Tisquantum helped the Pilgrims negotiate a treaty with the Massachusett to the north. They also helped establish a truce with the Nauset of Cape Cod after Bradford promised to pay back the losses caused by their earlier grave robbing.

By fall the settlers’ situation was secure enough that they held a feast of thanksgiving. Massasoit showed up with ninety people, most of them young men with weapons. The Pilgrim militia responded by marching around and firing their guns in the air in a manner intended to convey menace. Gratified, both sides sat down, ate a lot of food, and complained about the Narragansett. Ecce Thanksgiving.

Getting Free in Cleveland

[Savage Minds is pleased to present the last essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” In the past week, events have taken place in Minneapolis and Chicago which demonstrate the need for even more fieldnote reporting and analysis of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the impact it is having in this moment of social and political transformation, and the violence these change agents are encountering from police and others. We find ourselves experiencing deja vu–a moment terribly similar to the one we experienced on November 24th last year, when the killer of Michael Brown was not indicted in Ferguson, Missouri and the streets erupted. And yet this moment is slightly different–filled with the energy, hope, persistence, and radical communal love of those that have been consistently fighting against white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and police violence for over 365 days, and are strengthened by the victories they have accomplished during this time.  We shall not be moved.

As editors of this series (and another that will be published in Anthropology News early next year), Bianca Williams and Dana-Ain Davis hope that these reflections from the ever-shifting ground of this Movement will inform you, encourage you, challenge you, and move you into action. This last essay is by Lynn Roberts, a professor of Community Health Education in the Program in Urban Public Health at Hunter College. Dr. Roberts’ research examines the intersection of race, class, and gender, and the resulting impact of multiple oppressions on the dating relationships and sexual behaviors of young women and men of color. She writes about her journey to the Movement for Black Lives Convening this past summer, and shines light on the healing process that is integral to the journey of getting free.]

My Journey.

My bus rolled into the Cleveland bus station on Chester Avenue at 2:30 AM on Saturday July 25 for Day 2[1] of the Movement for Black Lives National Convening (a.k.a. M4BL). This was a gathering of 1500 unapologetically Black family members in tremendous need and want of safe space and communion with each other to grieve, heal, and breathe from the days, months, decades, and even centuries of being denied equal protection and remedy from the state violence visited upon the collective body of our kinfolk. In the Newark bus station on Friday evening, I sat riveted by the live-stream of the M4BL Opening Ceremonies and quietly wept as the families of those lost in the distant and recent reign of terror against Black bodies[2] shared fond memories of their loved ones, so we could lift up the beautiful and precious humanity behind the hashtags and viral videos to be reminded: “This Is Why We Fight!” Calling upon the joy of resistance and ditching the pious sanctimony of my early roots in the A.M.E. Zion church[3] I imagined myself rising up out of my waiting room seat in jubilee with my fellow family members as they danced through the aisles, and filled the stage of the Waet Jen Auditorium of Cleveland State University (CSU) to Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop anthem of blessed assurance that “We Gon’ Be Alright”.  Having this virtual connection almost made up for not directly experiencing the beloved community, strategic insights, and healing offered in the 50 workshops and film screenings that took place earlier in the day. Continue reading

What Happened at #AAA2015: The Good, The Bad, and the Bibs

Last week, Denver welcomed about five thousand anthropologists to its Gilded Age (and Gilded Age revival) downtown for the massive anthropological blowout that was the Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. So what were the main trends of the meetings? Well, in no particular order they were:

The Bibs: This year’s membership badges were, well, slightly larger and redder than they were in the past. I think that the goal was to reduce plastic waste, since the badges were made of cloth. That was a great goal and I think it was well-achieved, and if bibs are the future then that’s fine with me. But… yeah…

#AAA2015 member badges were larger than in previous years
Member badges were larger than in previous years

Another feature of the badges  was a QR code, which could be used to scan your fellow anthropologists. No one I know actually tried to scan anyone else — most people I talked to feared what they would learn. However, according to AAA material, in the future being labeled with a QR code will enable us to participate in ‘scavenger hunts’. That’s right: scavenger hunts. The mind boggles. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of November 15

Forgive the lateness, dear readers… AAA fatigue is real. Help me out by sending me links you want featured here at

This post by a linguist in The Conversation points out that Norwegians’ emergent use of “Texas” to refer to anything chaotic or epic follows known linguistic rules of semantic narrowing and cross-cultural inspiration: Norwegians Using “Texas” to Mean “Crazy” Actually Isn’t So Crazy

This New York Times article compares life over the past few million years to “Middle Earth”… it’s not just hobbits anymore: In a Tooth, DNA from Some Very Old Cousins, the Denisovans. Genetic analysis of a tooth found in Siberia suggests that the Denisovans were interbreeding with both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, among others, as IFL Science reports: Mysterious Denisovan Humans Were More Genetically Diverse Than Neanderthals

IFL Science also discussed a monument from 3,000 BCE, known as the “Stonehenge of the Levant,” whose purpose remains similarly unconfirmed: The Enigmatic “Wheel of Giants” Monument as Old as Stonehenge

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The Ruination of Written Words

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by guest author Gastón Gordillo as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Gastón is Acting Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. A Guggenheim scholar, he is the author, among other books, of Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction (2014, Duke University Press) and Landscapes of Devils: Tensions of Place and Memory in the Argentinean Chaco (2004, Duke University Press, winner of the AES Sharon Stephens Book Award). He blogs at Space and Politics.]

When the Roman Empire collapsed, numerous libraries and an unknown quantity of books disintegrated with it. Amid a rising Christianity hostile to traces of paganism, the texts of many authors admired in Roman antiquity were turned to dust and the memory of their existence dissolved. Pieces of writing by noted figures such as Cicero or Virgil certainly survived, but the majority of what these men wrote has been lost. This was an epochal moment in the history of writing: an imperial collapse so profound that it physically disintegrated vast amounts of texts, erasing them from human memory.

Some books from ancient Rome were saved from this massive vanishing of written words only because a few copies survived for over a thousand years in the libraries of European monasteries. This survival was often the outcome of pure chance: that is, a set of conjunctural factors somehow allowed those books, and not others, to overcome the wear and tear and ruination of paper and ink by the physical pressures and cuts inflicted on them by the weather and by the living forms attracted to them, primarily insects, mice, and humans. In these monasteries, many ancient books and their words disintegrated after a few centuries, gone forever. But others lingered and were eventually copied by hand again on new and more robust paper, which could withstand atmospheric and bodily pressures for the next two to three centuries. Three hundred years or so later, another monk would grab a manuscript about to disintegrate and copy those words again. Who knows how many amazing books were eaten away by bugs simply because no monk chose to save them from their ruination? One of the books that miraculously survived in a monastery over a millennia of chance encounters with the void was Lucretius’ extraordinary philosophical treatise De rerum natura, The Nature of Things. Continue reading

A Day of Action: Justice for Black Women and Girls on May 21st, 2015

[Have a powerful Trans Day of Resilience! Savage Minds is pleased to present the fourth essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.Erin M. Stephens, the author, is a doctoral student in sociology at George Mason University and a graduate research assistant at the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR). At the IIR, she provides statistical analysis on immigrant economic participation and experiences as it relates to gender. Her dissertation uses qualitative research and social media analysis to explore emotional labor and intersectionality in the Black Lives Matter movement. She also works with The Beautiful Project to engage Black women and girls in critical discourse around the representation of Blackness in the media and broader society.]

I ride the elevator down to the MLK library basement with four other young Black adults, who (based on their conversation) I assume are going to the same event. Following them down the hall, I enter a long room with about 25 chairs set up in a large oval. More chairs line the perimeter of the room. There are only twenty or so of us here so far but the room fills quickly with bodies and light chatter over the next fifteen minutes.

All around the country people are gathering today in rallies, marches, or discussion-based events for the National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls. My dissertation research on the Black Lives Matter Movement draws me to this space – but so does my own identity as a Black woman and my personal concern for the invisibility of violence against Black women and girls. This particular event is organized by Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, a national black queer feminist/womanist organization that formed in the wake of the not-guilty verdict of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. The organization is limited in membership to Black activists between the ages of 18 to 35, and the majority of the people in the room fit that profile. The facilitators are women, as are most of the people in the room.

A young light skinned woman with short natural hair calls the room to attention. She is wearing a black t-shirt with white bold script “Unapologetically Black.” She explains that the purpose of this space is to lift up the experiences of black trans and cis women, femmes, and girls. After the warm welcome and introduction, she poses a question to the group to start us off: “What are examples of state violence against cis and trans Black women and girls?” The immediate answers extend beyond police violence: the prison industrial complex, the foster care to prison pipeline, disparities in access to education, sexual violence…The speakers use language and tones that convey deep concern and conviction. After about 10 minutes of discussion we transition into the next part of the agenda. Another facilitator, a slender brown skinned female, speaks on the importance of Black women ancestors who have been freedom fighters in the forefront of social movements. She leads us in an energetic song to bring their spirits into our space. It is a song I will hear many times in the months to come. Continue reading

Return of the Anthro/Zine

Last May I introduced you to Anthropozine, a new undergraduate venue associated with the journal Anthropology Now. The concept behind the zine was to get college students interested in engaging in earnest reflexivity by articulating their personal experience of encountering anthropology. The first issue, themed around the topic of “Food,” was a roaring success thanks to the efforts of our talented writers.

I’m happy to announce that there is now a second issue of the zine to go around! Our parent, Anthropology Now, moved to Taylor & Francis which involved a slight delay in publication, but they have kept us on board. We’re excited to once again provide a place for shorter works by college students. The latest issue is themed around “the Body.” Help us help our students express themselves by sharing this over your social networks and email listservs!


click here to download the PDF

Please visit us at where you can download our first two issues and view the submission guidelines. While you’re there check out all the amazing stuff Anthropology Now has to offer too. Continue reading

Savage Minds at #AAA2015

Welcome to Denver! If you are like me, you will be disappointed by the failure of the AAA to foreground the Mile High City  as the location of timeless classic Mork and Mindy. But you don’t be disappointed by the ridonculous amount of panels on offer. Savage Minds has a lot going on this AAA, so I hope you’ll join us at some of our events.

The two most important things to come to are:

The Savage Minds/HAU/University of Chicago Press Party.
Saturday, November 21st, 9:00 p.m.
Stout Street Social
1400 Stout Street, Denver, Colorado

We are going to rock and roll all night and party every day, so come join us. Secondly, to celebrate our blog’s 10th anniversary, we will be having throwing the panel

The Internet and Anthropology: Ten Years of Savage Minds
Saturday, November 21, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Centennial F (Hyatt Regency)

So grab a cup of coffee and come participate in the session where we’ll talk about where we think the blog and anthropology have been, and where it will go in the future. We’ll need some help with that last bit, so if you have any ideas please come share them!

Finally, many of our minds have their own sessions and papers underway. Here is some of what we are doing:

Ryan Anderson is giving the paper “The Life and Death of Cabo Cortes: Social Movements and the Politics of Tourism Development on the East Cape of Baja California Sur, Mexico” as part of the panel “Negotiating Collective Action: Dynamics of Social Movements as Shifting Spaces of Political Action”.  Thursday, November 19, 2015: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM 709 (Colorado Convention Center)

Kerim Friedman has organized the session “Teaching Language and Culture: Approaches from World Anthropologies”. Thursday, November 19, 2015: 10:15 AM-12:00 PM Centennial B (Hyatt Regency)

Maia Green has organized a session “The Productivity of Regulation: Ethnographies of Alignment and Citizenships” Thursday, November 19, 2015: 10:15 AM-12:00 PM. 707 (Colorado Convention Center)

Alex Golub is giving the paper “Answerability, Acknowledgement, and the Unknowable: Anthropological Entanglements with the Mining Industry and the Work of Dan Jorgensen” at the session “Cults, Christians, and Copper on the Global Frontier: Engaging the Anthropology of Dan Jorgensen”.  Thursday, November 19, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM 704 (Colorado Convention Center)

Carole McGranahan is organizing the panel “Theory in (Himalayan) Anthropology Since the Eighties”. Saturday, November 21, 2015: 10:15 AM-12:00 PM 405 (Colorado Convention Center)

Rebecca Nelson is organizing the panel “Unexpected Spaces of Feminist Practice?: Producing Latin American and Carribean Feminisms from the Margin”  Thursday, November 19, 2015: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM 604 (Colorado Convention Center). She’s also giving the paper “Tensions Between Cosmopolitanism and Cultural Management in a Guatemalan Volunteer Tourism Program” for the panel “Rethinking Cosmopolitanism: Tourism and Tourists in a Post-Hegelian Age”  Thursday, November 19, 2015: 10:15 AM-12:00 PM 604 (Colorado Convention Center).

Dick Powis is giving the paper “Men as Men: Toward a New Couvade” in the panel “Proper Births, Proper Parent”  Wednesday, November 18, 2015: 4:00 PM-5:45 PM
608 (Colorado Convention Center).

AAA is a busy time, but why not stop by some of our events and meet our bloggers in the flesh? It should be fun!

Anthropologies #22 Call for Submissions: The anthropology of food!

Burgers, Plate 4. Photograph by Thomas Hawk, 2009.

Everyone eats, and there are cultural and social meanings embedded in the food that we consume. This issue of anthropologies will look at the anthropological understanding of food and the values, beliefs, technologies, ideologies, and imaginaries that we construct around its production and consumption.

What is food? How do we decide what food is desirable and undesirable? Where does our food come from? How is it produced? What effect do our food habits have on others both human and non-human? What, ultimately, does food mean? We are looking for submissions from every corner of anthropology – linguistic, biological, cultural, and archaeology – and from a variety of perspectives within the discipline. So tell us what food means to you, or the role that it plays in the lives of people you work with.

Deadline for submissions: January 10, 2016

Publication Date: March 2016.

Email submissions to: anthropologiesproject AT gmail dot com

Jeremy Trombley and Lauren Moore will be the co-editors for this issue. We already have a few contributors lined up, but we have room for more! See below for more information. Continue reading

It’s Not the End of the World, It’s a Necessary Challenge to Our Cosmology: reflections of an Israeli anthropologist

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions was thrilled to receive this essay from an Israeli anthropologist working in an Israeli state institution. The post is anonymous in order to protect the person from the attacks such supporters of the boycott from within increasingly face from their colleagues, administrations, and government. For more on Israeli anthropologists’ criticisms of their colleagues’ anti-boycott stances, see here and here.

Come to the boycott vote on Friday November 20 at 6:15 pm! See Voting at #AAA2015 — What You Need to Know. VOTE YES on Resolution 2, Vote Yes for Justice.


It’s not the end of the world, it’s a necessary challenge to our cosmology

By: Anonymous

When I was in first grade my teacher Ms. B. tried to teach us children a lesson on gravity. She drew a large round circle to signify the earth, surrounded by small stick figures placed all around it. ‘You see,’ she explained, ‘gravity works the same way all around the world, that’s why none of the people fall off.’ As citizens of the northern hemisphere we six- and seven-year-olds found this picture very perplexing. ‘We already understand gravity,” we insisted again and again, “we know we don’t float off the floor. We just don’t understand how people don’t fall off the bottom.’

When I hear progressive Jews and Israelis these days voice their heartfelt and terrified opposition to the proposed academic boycott of Israeli institutions, I am reminded of this picture. I am a Jewish Israeli academic and my milieu includes, mostly, other left-leaning Jewish Israelis like myself. When my colleagues insist they genuinely care about and reject the horrors of the occupation, I know they mean it. We already know – not just intellectually, but, so we think, in our basic physical experience of the world – about inequality, about human rights, about injustice. But when it comes to shifting the cosmology so as to include true equality with our Palestinian students and colleagues, we are confused and panicked. The world is being upended by the boycott movement in a way we cannot stomach. Continue reading

Reclaiming Humanity for Black Lives in Jamaica

[Savage Minds is pleased to present the third essay in the series “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement.” Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Kimberley McKinson is a fourth year doctoral candidate in UC Irvine’s Department of Anthropology. Kimberley is currently conducting ethnographic fieldwork for her dissertation which is centered on crime, the aesthetics of security and the legacies of slavery and colonialism in Kingston. As a dancer Kimberley also engages her anthropological ideas and questions through movement. She was trained in classical ballet. Today however, her movement aesthetic represents a constant dialogue between modern practice and her inherited Afro-Caribbean traditions.]

The Simple Yet Contentious Truth

Jamaica is less than 600 miles from the mainland US, and the island nation imbibes US popular culture and news at a voracious rate. An awareness of the current plight of African Americans in the US is not beyond most Jamaicans, especially given the deep transnational networks that link the two countries. Many Jamaicans understand the history of what it means to be black in the majority white US, and understand the importance of the declaration “Black Lives Matter.” However, since beginning fieldwork in Kingston this year, and witnessing from a distance the attacks on black lives in the US, the question that I find myself asking as a young Jamaican anthropologist is whether Jamaicans understand or feel the need to assert the fact that Black Lives Matter in Jamaica. Continue reading

A Call to Action: Fieldnotes on Bringing the Black Lives Matter Movement Home

[Savage Minds is excited to present the second essay in the “Making Black Lives Matter: Reflections on the Declaration and the Movement“series. The author, Nicole Truesdell, is Senior Director of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Beloit College. Her research focuses on race, racism, citizenship and belonging, community organization and activism, inclusion and equity in higher education, and radical black thought.  A founding member of #blacklivesmatterbeloit, Nicole is committed to pushing against dominant narratives to ensure marginalized voices and bodies are seen and heard.]

What does it mean to do anti-racist activism as a black academic at a Primarily White Institution?

This is the question I asked myself after the non-indictments of officers in the shootings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. I was tired of seeing black people unjustly and unfairly detained/killed/murdered by the police. I was sick of having to bottle up my anger and grief, wishing I could “call in black” to deal with having to work within a white environment seemingly oblivious to the trauma and violence black people experience on a daily basis. I was angry as hell and felt compelled to action. Continue reading

Writing in and from the Field

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Ieva Jusionyte as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Ieva is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies at the University of Florida. She is the author of Savage Frontier: Making News and Security on the Argentine Border (University of California Press, 2015). Ieva is currently conducting fieldwork for a new project about emergency services on the U.S.-Mexico border, funded by NSF and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.]

This morning, as I am sitting down to write this blog entry in my rental apartment in Nogales, I peer through the window: The sun has illuminated the dark brown border wall that coils over the hilly landscape and reminds me of the spiked back of a stegosaurus. Six months ago I arrived in Southern Arizona to begin fieldwork with firefighters and paramedics for a new ethnographic project about emergency responders on both sides of the line, as the international boundary which abruptly separates Mexico and the United States is locally called. Though ethnographic fieldwork takes many forms – I am conducting interviews, participating in the daily activities at the firehouse, volunteering at a first aid station for migrants, teaching prehospital emergency care at a local fire district, and engaging with the first responder communities in Arizona and Sonora in multiple other ways – my primary activity continues to be writing.

I have always been a morning writer. When I was working on the manuscript of my first book, Savage Frontier: Making News and Security on the Argentine Border (University of California Press 2015), I would shut the doors of my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house in the forested suburbs of Vilnius, Lithuania, where I was fortunate to spend my research leave, and would sit at my large desk, facing the barren trees outside, until noontime. I did it every day of the week for several months during a long and cold winter. The manuscript was complete and sent off to my editor on the eve of spring.

The bollard-style border wall between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora. Photo by Ieva Jusionyte.
The bollard-style border wall between Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora. Photo by Ieva Jusionyte.

But during fieldwork keeping a regular writing routine has been difficult. The topic of our research inevitably shapes how, where and what we write, and my study of fire and rescue services under heightened border security is no exception. Often I spend the entire day on shift with the crew at the fire station, riding along with them to the scenes of emergencies. Other days there is training, community events, long drives to do interviews at more remote fire districts. Having a background in both journalism and in anthropology affects how I go about conducting research. Instead of dividing my time into chunks for doing fieldwork and writing up fieldnotes, I tend to pursue the story as far as it takes me before I finally sit down to reflect on the new material. I think of it as combining the in-depth view of an anthropologist with the fervor of an investigative journalist. It can be exhausting. Continue reading

The Anti-Boycott Resolution: Entrenching the Status Quo, Denying Justice

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions rejects the anti-boycott resolution put forward for a vote at the AAA meetings. While claiming to support peace and justice for Palestinians, it reproduces the very structural inequality that drives the conflict.

Vote No on the Status Quo, Vote No on Resolution 1

Vote Yes for Real Change and Justice, Vote YES on Resolution 2

For more information on the upcoming boycott vote on Friday November 20 at 6:15 pm, see Voting at #AAA2015 — What You Need to Know. VOTE YES on Resolution 2, for the boycott.


The Anti-Boycott Resolution: Entrenching the Status Quo, Denying Justice

At this year’s American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting, anthropologists will vote on two resolutions concerning Israel’s systematic violations of human rights.

Resolution 2 endorses the Palestinian call for boycott as an effective and nonviolent means to pursue their fundamental rights. By contrast, Resolution 1, submitted by the group, “Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel/Palestine” (ADIP), rejects the boycott in favor of “dialogue.”

Anti-boycott Resolution 1 must be seen for what it is: a thinly disguised vindication of an unjust status quo. Last year in Washington, D.C., the AAA’s membership voted overwhelmingly against a remarkably similar anti-boycott resolution. This year, boycott opponents are attempting to achieve the same goals – only this time they have added a mild reprimand of the occupation, boilerplate diplomatic talking points, and a vague charity program. Despite its perfunctory references to Palestinian human rights, Resolution 1 does not propose any concrete actions for pressuring Israel or its academic institutions into ending their discriminatory practices. Instead, it proposes “focusing research, debate, and teaching in and about the region,” as if the many anthropologists of Israel/Palestine who support an academic boycott have not been doing precisely this for decades. In restricting its criticism of Israeli policy to empty words, Resolution 1 disregards the unanimous conclusion of the AAA’s Task Force on Engagement with Israel/Palestine that censure alone would “be an insufficient course of action.” Continue reading