The Ecology of What We Write

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Anand Pandian as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Anand teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. His books include Reel World: An Anthropology of Creation (Duke University Press and Penguin India, forthcoming this fall), and Ayya’s Accounts: A Ledger of Hope in Modern India (Indiana University Press, 2014), which he wrote with his grandfather.]

One day last summer, a caterpillar dropped from the rim of my desktop monitor. A peculiar little creature—no more than an inch long, clothed in a jacket of wispy white, a jaunty pair of lashes suspended well behind a tiny black head.

The visitation was unexpected. It’s not as though I work in a natural wonderland. The walls of this office are made of painted cinderblock. The window is fixed firmly in place, completely sealed from the outside. Peculiar odors sometimes drift from the vent above my desk, possibly from the labs upstairs.

The caterpillar seemed unhappy with the windowsill, where I placed it for a closer look. So I scooped up the errant traveler and stepped outside the building, wondering, for a moment, whether there was anything more palatable in the turfgrass. Then I went back to writing, back to whatever I could forage for my monitor that day. Continue reading

Savage Minds Welcomes Rebecca Nelson

Savage Minds is happy to announce the selection of our new “around the web” intern, Rebecca Nelson!

Rebecca Nelson is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at the University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on volunteer tourism in Guatemala and how it is opening up new avenues for tourists and hosts to develop more cosmopolitan understandings of the world (as well as opening up new forms of friction over the circulation of knowledge). One of her claims to fame is that her image appeared in the Quetzaltenango paper El Diario, to her surprise, with the caption “Tourists Disappointed By Lack of WiFi in Parque Central.”

She’s about to submit the first draft of her Ph.D. thesis this week, so she won’t start posting weekly roundups till the 8th, but if you come across anything you’d like to bring to her attention you can email her at Rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com

Anthropology’s Long Tail, or AAA 2.0

Does anthropology have a long tail? Maybe it does, but the head really is superior. Isn’t that the idea behind science anyways? The best ideas are the vetted ideas and the rejected ideas are put to rest for a reason. Or maybe its not there at all. But then again…

First a refresher is in order. “The Long Tail,” refers to the now classic article (2004!!) by Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson. It gets its name from a particular kind of curve where one variable functions as the power of another. In Anderson’s classic example such curves are used to describe the business model of Amazon which trumped its competitors by selling “less of more.” Whereas bookstores had traditionally made their big bucks catering to customers in the green area of the graph, where more people were interested in fewer titles, Amazon is able to cater to the so-called Long Tail, the yellow area where products are more diverse and demand is low. Why does this matter? The yellow area is actually larger than the green area. Hence, cha-ching –> $$$

Long tail
‘Picture by Hay Kranen / PD’
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A day for adjuncts

In case you didn’t know, today is National Adjunct Walkout Day.  If you need to catch up, here’s a good piece from Democracy Now.  For some more background, check out this recent piece from Inside Higher Ed.  It’s a good day to think about all those adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers and other contingent workers in academia–and what the university is, perhaps, versus what it should be.

Most importantly, I think, it’s time for those who are doing relatively well, and in relatively stable positions, to think about the current labor situation in academia, and how that is affecting the system as a whole.  As Sarah Kendzior argues, this is everyone’s problem, not just those who are working those low-paying, contingent academic jobs.  If we’re going to do something about this issue, it’s going to require attention–and solidarity–across the academic ranks.  The tenured, the retired, comfortable, and the secure need to pay attention and speak up…right alongside these adjuncts and others who are putting themselves out there to raise awareness.  Now, onto some links and excerpts (from me and others).  Please feel free to share your links, comments, and thoughts below. Continue reading

Open Access: it’s about more than just open access (a conversation between two early career anthropologists)

The following is based upon a conversation about the implications of Open Access that Jeremy Trombley and I have been having over the course of the past few weeks.  Please do add your own thoughts below.  Jeremy blogs at Struggleforever.

Ryan Anderson: So I just finished grad school, and I’m focusing on publishing some articles. I remember a while back you mentioned that you want to commit to publishing all Open Access (OA) articles, and I am right there with you. I think it’s important to push OA forward through our own work. Have you started looking into this?

Jeremy Trombley: OA is always in my mind, but I haven’t had the opportunity to publish too much yet so it hasn’t been a major issue. I have one co-authored with my advisor in a journal called Estuaries and Coasts, which has the option of publishing OA. But now I’m in the process of writing three(!) articles, and I’m thinking about where to publish them — if I ever get around to finishing them.

So that’s where I’m at, I guess. I think it’s a real challenge as a grad student trying to get publications so that I can get noticed so that I can maybe — if the stars align, and I pick the right lotto numbers, and my I Ching comes out well — get a job when I graduate. At the same time, I’m increasingly wondering if I should even bother with academia or focus on learning skills that might be useful in the “real world” — which I want to do anyway, but it’s hard to balance with all the writing, reading, etc. I have to do otherwise.

RA: I hear that. I spent so much time with anthropologies and Savage Minds during graduate school that I didn’t make much time for publishing in journals. Continue reading

Friction and the Newsing of Anthropology

AAA Executive Director, Ed Liebow, recently posted an Anthropology News editorial on the controversy which flaired up after they posted Peter Wood’s Anthropology News piece “Ferguson and the Decline in Anthropology.” In his editorial Liebow asks why the discussion about this piece has occured on Social Media and Blogs, not in the comments on Anthropology News itself:

Alex Golub presented a thoughtful counter-argument to Wood’s post on Savage Minds, pointing out why Wood is fundamentally misguided. I think he appropriately recognized a teachable moment, and effectively countered Wood’s assertion about the absence of evidence concerning structural racism. What I want to know is why Twitter? Why Savage Minds? Why not comment in Anthropology News?

While I can’t speak for Alex, I’d like to try to answer this question. Continue reading

Why the Peer Review Process Works Even When It Doesn’t

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Alan Kaiser as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Alan is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville. He has published on issues of Roman culture in Spain, urbanism across the Roman empire, and streets as an organizing principle in Roman cities. He is the author of The Urban Dialogue: An Analysis of the Use of Space in the Roman City of Empúries, Spain (British Archaeological Reports, 2000), Roman Urban Street Networks (Routledge, 2009) and Archaeology, Sexism and Scandal: The Long-Suppressed Story of One Woman’s Discoveries and the Man Who Took Credit for Them (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).]

Eleven editors and more than two dozen anonymous reviewers rejected my scholarly article. It documented the scandal I had uncovered that David Robinson, famed excavator of the Greek site of Olynthos, had plagiarized the work of his forgotten graduate student, Mary Ellingson. My article clearly made a number of people uncomfortable as there is an unspoken rule among American archaeologists working in Greece that it is bad form to criticize our intellectual ancestors in print. In the end I did get the story published as a book but that was only because I found an editor at Rowman and Littlefield who was a former student of mine and who was determined to help. This would seem to be a case study in the problems with the peer review system but that would be the wrong conclusion; this blog post seeks to prove that peer review works despite the flaws in the system.

Mary Ellingson #1
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Check out the Allegra relaunch

I was utterly stunned by the amount of traction that National Anthropology Day got on social media yesterday. American anthropologists across the country got together to congratulate themselves on their National Anthropology and Chocolate Mint. But for those of you slightly turned off by the Yankee-centric air of the AAA’s latest holiday, never fear. I’m sure Ed Liebow is currently positioning his star destroyer off the bow of the World Council of Anthropological Associations in order to whip up a much more globalized twitter frenzy.

Until that day comes, you can get all non-Americany by heading over to Allegra. That largely-European but not narrowly-European blog has just done a complete overhaul to their website. It looks great, and their newest content is now splashed across their front page in vibrant, colorful photos.

I’ve been amazed to watch Allegra grow, and I’m so impressed at their ability to consistently produce genuine, long (by Internet standards) content day after day after day. Honestly, they put our occasional rantings about goats and Alessandro Volta to shame.

So go check out their new website! Onward Allegra!

Recipes for your National Anthropology Day

National Anthropology Day is on. The response on social media has been overwhelming. After a massive airdrop by the US of copies of The Nuer over Eastern Ukraine, guns have been silenced — although how long can it be before Putin begins distributing copies of Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka to Russian-speaking dissidents? At any rate, since I know many of you are in the middle of preparing for tonight’s festivities, I thought I’d include some helpful anthropological chocolate minty goaty electrical Chinese New Year related recipes.

These recipes come from random people posting them to me on Facebook, so they are totally unrepresentative of anthropology in general and just representative of the people I’m friends with on Facebook. If something sounds unusual or new, give it a shot!

Cocktails for National Anthropology Day

Mint Chocolate Goat Cheese Baijiu Bomb
Dick Powis
Place one small ball of goat cheese in the bottom of a shot glass. Fill shot glass with baijiu. Drop shot glass into a pint of Perennial 17 Mint Chocolate Stout. You’re welcome.

Lychee Mojito
James Crippen
Make a lychee mojito. Add a splash of goat milk and garnished with a Girl Scout thin mint. DISCLAIMER: I haven’t actually tried this, but it sounds harmless enough. Lychee because I can’t think of any other compatible Chinese signifier.

The Goat Fucker
Jonathan Padwe Continue reading

The missing piece of National Anthropology Day: ELECTRICITY

Goats, chocolate mint, Chinese New Year: National Anthropology Day seemed to have it all. Until, that is, long-time reader Eddie Schmitt pointed out the missing ingredient in National Anthropology Day: electricity. That’s right: National Anthropology Day is also the birthday of Alessandro Volta!

Alessandro Volta, reimagined for National Anthropology Day by Edwin Schmitt. Used by permission.
Alessandro Volta, reimagined for National Anthropology Day by Edwin Schmitt. Used by permission.

“Electricity?” You may ask, “do we need one more thing to celebrate on National Anthropology Day?” Well my friends, as you will see, electricity is key to most of the recipes (forthcoming) for National Anthropology Day.

“Wait a second,” you might also ask, “wasn’t Volta born the day before National Anthropology Day?” To which I would say: “This is yet another example of how Wikipedia is inferior to Official Reference Material. Luckily, there will always be places like Savage Minds which can be relied on to bring you 100% completely accurate information about anthropology.

Happy Anthropology! And happy Alessandro Volta day!

This National Anthropology Day, say 祝你全國人類學節快樂!

We are now only days away from the first annual National Anthropology Day. As I’ve said in past coverage of this story, the American Anthropological Association scheduled National Anthropology Day on 19 February, which is also National Chocolate Mint Day. But chocolate mint is small-fry compared to the major holiday to be celebrated this Thursday: Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year). That’s right, people, this year National Anthropology Day is also YEAR OF THE GOAT. So this year, let’s make National Anthropology Day extra Goaty by wishing each other:

祝你全國人類學節快樂!

My knowledge of the significance of the Year of the Goat derives largely from what the MC said at the parade this year. But, based on that experience, I understand that goats are, like anthropologists, team players who don’t give up on their goals. If this sounds like you, then congratulations — National Anthropology Day is for you!

In preparing for this blog post, I spent a good deal of time working through the specialist literature on the anthropology of goats. This ended up being pretty easy since not much has been written by cultural anthropologists about goats. About goat bones, and the dating thereof, the archaeologists have tremendous amounts to say. But the goat has not yet found its Evans-Pritchard. Perhaps this National Anthropology Day one of you will grasp the nettle in this as-yet-understudied topic in multispeciesality?

When I found out that National Anthropology Day and National Chocolate Mint Day were the same day, it seemed pretty clear to me that this meant that we should eat chocolate mint on National Anthropology Day. But what of goat? Is this a sign that we should make a point of eating goat on National Anthropology day? Or rather, does it indicate that the goat is Our Animal,  and hence ought not be eaten because of its close association to anthropology?

Regardless of the answer to this vexing question, Lunar New Year brings a whole host of fun holiday customs that are ready, willing, and able to diffuse into National Anthropology Day: red envelopes, fire crackers, jiaozi (perhaps with goat meat?), and much more besides.

Any ideas on how best to meld Lunar New Year and National Anthropology day? Find us in the comments or on social media and let us know!

Legality, race, and inequality: An interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz (Part III)

This is Part III of an interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.  Part I of the interview is here.  Part II is here.

RA: And so, while Obama’s latest action does have some positive aspects, the underlying problems persist, right? This seems to be a long-running theme in US immigration policy: we end up with one partial solution after another, but the underlying problems are still there. Meanwhile, we have all of these migrants stuck in various liminal states — whether legal, social, political, or cultural. Sometimes this means prison. Sometimes it means they live the “shadowed lives” that Leo Chavez detailed years ago. Often it means many of these people live in incredibly marginalized conditions. Every election cycle, politicians on both sides often talk about the need to “fix” the immigration system, but that never seems to happen. It’s almost as if it’s this massive, unsolvable problem. What’s your take on this? Why are these problems with immigration so persistent? And, coming from this as an anthropologist — as opposed to an economist or political scientist — what can be done to move things forward?

RGM: The first thing to note is that immigration is not a “problem” for everyone. In fact, many people benefit not only from migration but also from the massive enforcement apparatus that has been built up around it. Continue reading

How a Professional Writer Improved My Academic Writing

[Savage Minds  is pleased to publish this essay by Annie Claus as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Annie  is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. specializing in the social ecology of marine and coastal environments and diverse environmentalisms. She has published work on the impacts of environmental policies on coastal communities, the political ecology of disasters, and conservation social science. Her most recent work analyzes the relationship of Okinawa to Japan through the lens of coral reef conservation.]

I weaseled my way into a writing class as I was finishing my dissertation. Others had advised against taking the course (“just finish your dissertation and worry about its readability later”). But I had been convinced that clear writing reflects clear thinking. If clear thinking emerges through writing with clarity, shouldn’t we all be required to take at least one class about the craft of writing before we inflict our thinking on others?

The professor had taught writing for years and was on the editorial board of The New York Times—a real professional! His (The Pro’s) over-enrolled class was pitched to future journalists but that seemed insignificant to me. I pleaded with The Pro for a spot:

“Anthropologists are also writers, without training or hope. Isn’t it important to make academia a better, more accessible place?”

I argued and implored and won. Continue reading

Belief is a Practice

In an effort to cut through a lot of hot air being blown on the internet I recently argued that race (and gender) is a “technology of power.” I would like to follow that up with an argument that belief is best understood as a set of social practices, not as an internally coherent ideological system. This is because a large number of seemingly well-intentioned people on my timeline are arguing something along the lines of “we shouldn’t let Islam of the hook for terrorism.” In my previous post I argued that we should endeavour to engage the best arguments that we disagree with, not those easiest to dismiss. This is one reason I haven’t engaged this particular argument before. At first blush it strikes me as little more than laughable “clash of civilizations” Islamophobia (not that Islamophobia is funny). However, some recent discussions have convinced me that there might be a more anthropological version of this argument which is worth a more serious discussion. This argument has two parts: (1) that we should take people’s ideas seriously, including those of violent extremists, and (2) that we should not erase difference by arguing that all forms of violent extremism are the same (i.e. by arguing that not all, or even most, violent extremists are Muslims). I think few anthropologists would take issue with either point, but in so doing we would still not end up in the same place as those making these arguments.

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