Certainly more promising in its tone and affect than Strong’s recent case of anthropology villification is Jane Kramer’s New Yorker article about Nadia Abu El-Haj’s tenure case at Barnard (it’s not up on line yet, but I’ll post the link when it is). I think the article is well done, given the near impossible noise to signal ratio that develops around such issues, and especially in Morningside Heights. It gave me a sharper sense of just how powerful Edward Said’s legacy has become in the years since his death. It is, however, a bit light on explaining why her book, Facts on the Ground is innovative, or why it might be interesting to those who want to understand the situation in Israel and Palestine from a new perspective. Although it mentions the basic outlines (the something-more-than-ironic intertwining of Israeli archeology and Zionism), it doesn’t go very far towards contextualizing why anthropologists are doing this kind of work now, and why the reaction represents not only the ideological extremism of the people who deliberately misinterpret it, but also the failure of anthropology and anthropologists to get their messages out.
I think this is a shame, because the book really could be an authoritative one, and I don’t really understand why everyone (including Abu El Haj herself) just sort of wilts and defends, not the book, but the right for academics to decide tenure amongst themselves (which I completely agree with, of course, I have to). But this instead of coming out with a forceful statement of the content and substance of the book? I think there must be something interesting to say about the inability anthropology has of defending itself against the contemporary blog-mediated, 72-hour news cycle, personal-attack media ecology we live in. Note the total absence of the AAA in this article, save a mention of our president-elect, Virginia Dominguez, who was Abu El-Haj’s advisor. Why shouldn’t the AAA step in and fight this fight on behalf of Abu El-Haj? Is there as choice other than responding to idiotic, personlized, ideological attacks and sticking one’s head in the sand? Clearly institutions like Columbia are too economically and politically captured to do it for their faculty, should our professional society be helping?