On Decolonising Anthropology

By Zodwa Radebe

Decolonisation can be understood as the process that decolonises what was colonised; not what was used to colonise. Therefore, it is absurd to think that anthropology can be used as a tool to decolonise because it was used to colonise. We need to unthink anthropology and imagine something like decolonised ethnic studies, which Maldonado-Torres explains as: “studies of and from the lived experience of the damned, that are able not only to offer positivistic analysis and corrected facts about certain communities but can also offer a radical critique of the sciences.” (2009:127)

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What would your university look like if you could just say, “no?”

This is the Fourth post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

Sometime towards the end of graduate school, I got it into my head that students should be able to veto tuition hikes. It’s pretty widely known that university tuition in the United States, at both public and private universities has increased far faster than inflation or wages over the last few decades . So, as a graduate student, I and a few of my colleagues had done some research into our own particular situation and found, as you might expect, that tuition had gone up a lot. Our college’s budget in 2013 included a 4.5 percent tuition increase, raising the cost per credit hour to $1,344. One comparison ultimately stood out to us: in this same year, the Graduate Center at the City University of New York’s tuition per credit hour was $465 for in-state students, and $795 per credit hour for out of state students. Now, of course, we might expect a public university to be more affordable than a private university. But we didn’t have just one year of data. We had credit-hour prices going back to 1915 ($6.00 per credit hour, or $138.94 per credit hour in 2013 dollars, in case you were wondering, all this according to the bureau of labor statistics inflation calculator). With this historical data, and with this nifty inflation calculator, we were able to see that tuition was at or below $500 per credit unit for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Prior to 1967 or so, tuition was well below $400 per credit hour, in 2013 dollars. So, I and my colleagues stumbled into the fact that for most of our private college’s history, tuition was cheaper than it currently is at CUNY, even for an in-state student.

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It’s the Data, Stupid: What Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN also means

On Tuesday May 17, 2016, SSRN announced that it was being acquired by Elsevier. SSRN, the Social Sciences Research Network, is a widely used repository of scholarly articles that can be uploaded and downloaded by anyone. It is “open access” (that’s in quotes because SSRN’s approach to OA has always been partial and peculiar, and Monday’s news confirms that perception). Elsevier is, well, if you don’t know who Elsevier is, none of this will make sense to you.

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An Interview With Reviewers 1, 2, and 3

This is the third post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

[What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of an interview I conducted with Reviewers 1, 2, and 3. NB: Reviewer 1 and 2 and I had been sitting around for two hours, waiting for Reviewer 3 to show up, when we decided, to hell with it, we’ll just start talking. Reviewer 3 eventually showed up.]

Daniel: I just wanted to thank both of you for taking the time to talk with me. I know graduate students and junior scholars will likely appreciate a peek behind the curtain of anonymous peer-review. For many people it’s their first excursion into the broader discipline beyond the networks of their home institution, professional colleagues, or academic peers. More prosaically, successfully navigating peer-review is the only way any of us will get jobs. I’m guessing, too, that some mid- and senior-level scholars who are not actively involved in journal editing might like hearing what their colleagues say.

I also want to apologize for Reviewer 3. I’ve been getting texts, I think they’re stuck in traffic, or there was a schedule conflict, or there was a sick pet, or a student crisis, or something. I’m not really sure. The message keeps changing. They say, though, that they’ll be here soon. So I guess we should get started, and make due.

I was wondering if we could start off with a basic question. When you review for an academic journal, what do you look for in an article?

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Suggestions for Summer Reading: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Struggle to Write

For the past couple of years I’ve been addicted to a series of books by the  Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard.  Presented as fiction,  these explore in minute detail the everyday life experiences of the author  from his childhood in the 1970’s to his relationships with his friends, his family and his children.

Knausgaard presents a vivid picture of the world around him  as  it  is affected by, and affects, the  constantly evolving  interior world of his own perception and consciousness. The writing is phenomenological. It evocatively captures the materiality of  ordinary living through its various locations and artifacts, as well as the intensity of  the embodied feelings and sensations which make up life as it is lived.  The reader experiences what it was  like to grow up on an  island in Norway, to ride a bike aged thirteen on a summer evening and the click of  inserting  a cassette tape into a tape recorder in the 1980’s.

These evocations of   what   anthropologists would  recognize  as  ‘ordinary affect’  are profoundly moving. The  first book in the series deals with the emotional repercussions of the death of the author’s father, a violent alcoholic. The  most recent, published in English translation in 2016,  describes a visit to  his  elderly  grandfather in a city hospital.  While the interior orientation of these books and the emphasis on the narrow consciousness of the author seems at first sight to be in sharp contrast to the  exterior orientation of  an ethnographic approach,  it  generates astute insights into the wider cultural and social worlds which he inhabits. Reflecting on the organization of the hospital in which his grandfather is a cardiac patient, and by extension all hospitals, Knausgaard observes how the medical categorization of disease  as afflicting specific organs organizes social relations and the space within it.  The personal identity of his grandfather is rendered insignificant through this process of classification. `For hospitals all hearts are the same’.

I love reading  Knausgaard’s books  because such close accounts of every day life and relationships are  fascinating.  These  are, after all, the staple diet of  anthropology.  But  I think these books are good for anthropological thinking beyond this, prompting a  reflection on anthropological practice as comprising  both participation and representation.   Knausgaard’s books  offer a situated perspective on what it is to be a social actor in a specific time and place.   They  provide access to a position usually inaccessible to  an anthropologist.  They allow the reader to experience `being there’  as an observant participant, from the inside looking out,   and as a person who is  changed by these experiences.

Knausgaard  is not solely concerned  with  thinking about participation. He takes us one step further as he  explores  the difficulties of capturing this in writing.   Representation is explored practically through the  structuring of the texts  and as a  social practice. Knausgaard’s  life effort which he recounts in this series  is his struggle to become a writer. This struggle is not simply intellectual.  It entails getting the time and space to sit alone and write uninterrupted, managing the demands of   other work,  of partners and children and dealing with the  unsightly by products  literary production in the form of  wasted effort, rejections and negative reviews.

A key insight, over the five books so far published in English (there are six in all), is that good writing takes time. Time to actually do writing, time to develop the skills to write well and, importantly, time to develop a voice. Recommended summer reading.

Are Palestinian Scholars Our Colleagues? Boycott and the Material Limits of Friendship

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions publishes this powerful reflection by Alireza Doostdar on how opposition to the boycott rests on an unquestioned assumption that Israeli academics are our colleagues while Palestinian academics are not. This assumption is bolstered by the structures of inequality that the boycott itself is meant to address.

Accept Palestinian scholars as our colleagues and vote today. Answer their call to us to support boycott. Instructions to support the boycott vote are here.

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Are Palestinian Scholars Our Colleagues? Boycott and the Material Limits of Friendship

Alireza Doostdar

The debate over the AAA motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions has centered on questions of justice and academic freedom. Proponents of boycott argue that the exhaustively-documented injustices that Israel metes out on the Palestinian people, which includes systematic denial of their academic freedom, warrants a boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the state’s crimes. Opponents argue that even though Israel may be oppressing the Palestinians, this should not be cause for curtailing the academic freedom of Israelis, which they see as amounting to unjust collective punishment.

Implicit in these arguments are a set of unexamined attitudes toward collegiality and reciprocity. Briefly, I want to argue that the decision whether or not to support boycott turns on whether one is able to imagine Palestinian scholars as colleagues and friends. This imagination is a product not just of our individual cognitive capacities, but of specific material conditions.

At a very basic level, the motion to boycott Israeli institutions is an explicit response to a call by Palestinian civil society (including academics) to exert nonviolent pressure on the Israeli regime to end the occupation. Whether or not we consider Palestinians to be our colleagues has a direct bearing on whether we think we should respond to this call, and indeed, whether we have the capacity to hear the call at all. Continue reading

Make the C.V. Great Again: An argument for a short-form C.V.

This is the second post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

Oh god, more title clickbait. I’m going to lose this guest blog gig if I’m not careful. But please, allow me a moment. Like the “campaign” slogan that I’m riffing on, I’m sure this title makes you wonder things like, wait, what exactly do you mean by “great?” And when exactly was the C.V. ever “great?” We should probably be answering those before we get to this “again” nonsense. And, like supporters of the referred-to campaign slogan, you’d probably be hard-pressed to come to any sort of consensus about when and why and where were the salad days of the CV. For many of us, I suspect, the CV is one of those taken for granted bits of technology, that more or less unreflexively (except when we’re being hounded by the furies of the career center or harassed by the specter of The Professor is In) gives a sense of who we are academically. And if we’re to follow Rex’s thematic, it probably always sucked in one way or another. Moreover it’s the thing that presumably allows a hiring committee to make a snap judgment about whether any particular person will get more than a fleeting review before joining the party in the trash can.

So, against this natural- and normal-ness I’d like to suggest that the CV as it currently works allows for two things that are anathema to open scholarship: a privileging of authority and seniority; as well as a credentialed elitism. I’ll also suggest a “Short-form C.V.” that should mitigate some of this. And again, yes, the C.V. is a bit player given the larger structural problems of the academy: the over production of Ph.D.s and the conversion of the academy into a majority non-tenure-track work place to name two. But the C.V. is the place at which we tell the professional story about ourselves which we think our colleagues should know. Perhaps for this reason, the not-so-humble C.V. deserves at least a blog post.

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Grad school has always sucked: “I am sorry to be so discouraging, but the truth requires it”

This is the start of a new series in the history of anthropology where I will document the way that grad school in anthropology has always sucked, there have never been jobs, and it is crazy to expect to make a living off of it. The reason is not neoliberalism, Obama, or anything else — or at least, these are not the only reasons grad school in anthropology has sucked. It is important to understand that wide variety of reasons that grad school has sucked, and the diverse methods by which people have grappled with this fact.

But my point here is not to produce another piece of quit lit. Rather, I want to add some historical depth to our sense of the chronic problems that academic anthropologists face. Anthropology, perhaps more than any other social science, has been deeply affected by the baby boom. Even today, we still live in a world where senior professors imagine there are as many job openings now as there were in 1965. We need a more expansive imagination of the challenges anthropologists have faced over the years. And, most importantly, we need to remember that there are many successful, happy survivors.  Continue reading

Building the Great Firewall of Cameron

Deemed the “Great firewall of Cameron”, UK Prime Minister has since 2013 aggressively pursued web censorship in the UK. Without transparent and democratic processes enacted, the government has insisted that by default, internet service providers such as Sky, BT, and TalkTalk block links leading to pornography, content pirates, and sites related to terrorism. It is the job of an EU charity, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), to develop a list of offensive material which it then provides to ISPs for blocking. The IWF has received a fair amount of criticism which claims it’s web filtering practices are ineffective and secretive. Internet freedom advocates such as the Open Rights Foundation reject censorship and sees these efforts as disastrous for the future of free speech. To date, the ORF has documented that 1 in 5 sites are blocked, many erroneously such as the UK Parliamentary committee on torture, computer security conferences, rape crisis centres, and charities for survivors of sexual abuse. Continue reading

Healing “the Break”: A DiaspoRican Project of Return

By: Melissa Rosario

Decolonization has always been a fraught term for me. As a third generation Puerto Rican from the burbs of NYC who has studied anthropology and the politics of/at “home” for over a decade, this is probably not surprising. In today’s world, members of US Congress propose “solutions” to Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis in the form of financial oversight, wage cuts and increased exploitation and privatization of natural resources. Within this context, to speak of decolonization feels futuristic at best, oblivious at worst. And yet, the practices I associate with the decolonial—shifting, unlearning and reclaiming—are more important than ever.

This piece is a riff on a “social project of return”[i] that I have been scheming on as of late. It began as a dream of helping to foster alternative economies in Puerto Rico. Right now, I’m calling it the Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action (CEPA) to signal its dual mission of building eco-social futures in Puerto Rico while fostering purposeful island/diaspora encounters at home. It is primarily a version of my teaching life—a curriculum for transformative justice that I have been developing on the margins of academia—integrated with my deepest political aspirations. CEPA will be a cooperatively run experiment in local self-reliance that bridges the divides that have (almost) broken me: diaspora-island/expert-community/study-practice. My hope is that by building a base for diaspora based Puerto Ricans and allies to live and work with others who have stayed, we can build a translocal approach to transforming island’s economic system. Continue reading

Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians: A Case for Boycotting Israeli Academic Institutions

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents anthropologists of education Thea Abu El-Haj and Fida Adely. The authors discuss the extreme violations of Palestinian youths’ right to education and why the boycott is an important and necessary tool for educational justice.

Voting is open at the AAA until May 31. To vote “yes” to have the AAA adopt the institutional boycott, follow these instructions.

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Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians: A Case for Boycotting Israeli Academic Institutions

Thea Abu El-Haj & Fida Adely

During the 50 day Israeli War on Gaza in the summer of 2014, the Israeli military killed 1462 Palestinian civilians, 495 of whom were children. Israeli forces destroyed or severely damaged the homes of over 100,000 Gazans and over 200 schools. Among the most egregious events of this 50 day siege were the bombings of three UN schools that were sheltering internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to Human Rights Watch, 45 Gazans, including 17 children, were killed in these attacks on schools. Those killed had believed that UN facilities—particularly schools—would offer protection from rampant shelling.

The Israeli bombing of UN schools became a focus of much international condemnation—a flagrant violation of human rights. Moreover, Gazans continue to feel the effects of the destruction of so many schools because the nearly 10-year Israeli blockade of Gaza has greatly hampered reconstruction, leaving the region in shambles.

Behind the high visibility of the destruction of UN schools hides the much wider, systematic, and routine violation of the rights of Palestinian children and youth to education. Whether within Israel proper, in the West Bank, or Gaza, the rights of Palestinian children and youth to an equitable education are tremendously restricted and their ability to develop and grow in safety and security is systematically violated. Frequent school closings across the Occupied Territories mean that Palestinian children and youth often do not have a right to any type of education at all.

urlShelled school in Gaza. Source: Human Rights Watch

As anthropologists of education and educators committed to social justice, we want to call attention to the routine and systematic violations of Palestinians’ right to education—violations that are imbricated with, not accidental to, Israel’s unjust and oppressive treatment of Palestinians. These violations of the right to education are one of the key reasons we support the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and we urge our colleagues to vote in favor of the AAA resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Continue reading

How to Teach Anthropology Without Making Your Students Dumb

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Daniel Souleles. This is the first post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

Yes, this title is clickbait. Please, allow me a few paragraphs to explain.

In my graduate program, particularly in the early stages, there was a lot of anxiety, impostor syndrome, and fear. All told, fear was probably at the root of things–fear of failure, fear of being found out, and perhaps, most basically, fear of being tossed out. Over the first two years of the program we would meet at the beginning and or end of each semester with the four professors who ran the program. Masters students and other  departmental students called them “the four horseman.” And The ever-present concern in these meetings was that your number would finally be up. It helped matters not one bit that there was a healthy oral history in the department about all manner of ejection. Did you hear the one about the whole cohort that got asked to leave after summer field-work? The fields lay fallow that year, and there was but one survivor.

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Decolonizing Anthropology: A Conversation with Faye V. Harrison, Part II

On March 3, 2016, three anthropologists at the University of Colorado–Carole McGranahan, Kaifa Roland, and Bianca C. Williams–sat down with Faye V. Harrison, distinguished professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to talk about decolonizing anthropology then and now. We share now a lightly edited transcript of our videotaped conversation: this is Part II of the conversation; Part I is here.

Left to right: Kaifa Roland, Faye Harrison, Bianca Williams, Carole McGranahan
Left to right: Kaifa Roland, Faye Harrison, Bianca Williams, Carole McGranahan

 

KAIFA ROLAND: [Continuing the conversation from Part I]…..Carole, I think you had a question related to that, to who the community of anthropologists are.

CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. Sure, what I’m most prompted by here is in some ways a two-part question. The first part is that anthropology has for a long time been responsive to what’s happening on the ground. We tell our students that when you go to the field, your project’s going to change, because you need to see what’s going on in the moment and what matters to the people. So there’s the way that we’ve become responsive in terms of both the objects and the subjects of our research, and then there’s the way structurally we’ve become responsive to what’s happening on the ground in the discipline. To what you’re talking about now, Faye, that the AAA and other institutions have been trying, maybe lip-service at times, but at other times some real, hard, blood, sweat and tears effort to try and institute some changes. You are someone who has tried to create changes in the discipline beyond the AAA. You are one of the few American anthropologists, as we sit here all of us are anthropologists in the US, but you are the president of the IUAES, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, a name which doesn’t roll off the tongue easily—

FAYE HARRISON. It doesn’t, but you did wonderfully! [Laughs]

CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. But you’re someone who is right now at a point in your career where you’re going around and talking to anthropologists in lots of different countries. What do we need to be learning from that in this decolonizing moment?

FAYE HARRISON. Well, one thing that you brought up earlier, is that you know, in that essay that conceptually frames the Decolonizing Anthropology volume, I had a sense that we need to be talking to and taking seriously with intellectuals, not just anthropologists, from the Global South. At that time, many politically conscious and active folk of color sometimes also used “third world” metaphorically to mean us. We are in the belly of the beast; we are third world. We know, what, twenty generations removed sometimes, that some of our ancestors did come from what today or then would have been the third world, what today we call the Global South. So we articulated and imagined that solidarity, and that comparability with our counterparts in other parts of the world. I had a sense that we need to be more inclusive, because anthropology should not be the western study of the rest of the world, which is basically what its history has been. It should be more of democratized conversation, with everyone having a chance to make a contribution. Continue reading

Decolonizing Anthropology: A Conversation with Faye V. Harrison, Part I

On March 3, 2016, three anthropologists at the University of Colorado–Carole McGranahan, Kaifa Roland, and Bianca C. Williams–sat down with Faye V. Harrison, distinguished professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to talk about decolonizing anthropology then and now. We share now a lightly edited transcript of our videotaped conversation: this is Part I of the conversation; Part II is here.

Faye Harrison
Faye V. Harrison, editor of Decolonizing Anthropology (1991)

KAIFA ROLAND. Thank you all for coming. I’m Kaifa Roland here with Carole McGranahan and Bianca Williams. We’re all anthropologists at the University of Colorado, and we are thrilled to welcome our distinguished cultural anthropologist for 2015-16, Dr. Faye Harrison, from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. We’re going to have a conversation on looking back at Decolonizing Anthropology and then moving toward the future, but who knows where things will take this. I will let Carole start us off.

CAROLE MCGRANAHAN. Faye, thank you so much for being here. In the discipline of anthropology, you can’t utter the words “decolonizing anthropology” without immediately thinking of your book Decolonizing Anthropology which came out in 1991, and was so ahead of its time. However, right now the idea to decolonize anthropology, or even decolonize the academy in some ways feels really of the current moment, that this is something new. And yet 25 years ago, you and a group of colleagues put this volume together. For anyone who actually reads the fine print, you can see that the book came out of the first invited session for the Association of Black Anthropologists in 1987. So I think where we wanted to start was with that moment, both with the volume, but also the session, and to ask, how did the idea and the impetus for this come about and even the term to “decolonize” in that moment, which just hadn’t really been used in that way, so could you can share with us a little more back from the day?

FAYE HARRISON. Well, in the late 80s the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA) was a site where I think some very exciting things were happening. At that time the ABA had gone through many crises, it didn’t have the membership, it didn’t have the visibility that it has now with an established journal: Transforming Anthropology, with a lot of things going for it, a track record. So in the late 80s, Angela Gilliam and I, we were having conversations, we were organizing sessions. I was in a network of people who made sure that the ABA had a presence at the AAA, and on its conference program. We had just officially joined as a section, a recognized section, in the AAA, and that gave us at that time I think one invited session. And so Angela and I—I can’t remember if I came up with the idea, or if she did, but it was definitely, you know, at that moment, a dialogue, a collaboration—so we decided that we would organize a session on decolonizing anthropology. Continue reading

Why I’m Voting for the Boycott Part 3: It’s in the Resolution

This is the third post in a three-post series of personal reflections on the AAA boycott vote. The first post discussed my own childhood Zionist education, while the second post addressed the false claim that the boycott unfairly singles out Israel.

Last November anthropologists attending the AAA business meeting in Denver voted by an astounding 1040-136 to endorse the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, but this was just a resolution to put the boycott to a vote, not an actual endorsement of that boycott by the entire AAA membership. The actual voting is now taking place by electronic ballot. It started on April 15th and lasts until May 31. For this reason it is crucial that all AAA members, whether or not they support the boycott, vote to make their voices heard in this historic decision. Because each update to the AAA website seems to make it even more difficult to navigate, please read this useful guide on how to vote.

It’s in the Resolution

What do we mean by an academic boycott anyway?

What if I told you that the answer can be found in the the boycott resolution?

what if I told you? 

First and foremost, it can’t be emphasized enough that the boycott only applies to institutions, not to individuals. Continue reading