Governor of Florida: We don’t need no anthropologists

News from the “why don’t you all just get a real job” front.  Who cares about anthropology?  Who thinks that anthropology matters in the 21st century?  Well, it’s definitely NOT Florida Governor Rick Scott.  Yesterday, Governor Scott made his opinions about anthropology loud and clear during a radio interview:

We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.

Daniel Lende provides a good recap of the situation and some of the reactions with this mega-linked, all inclusive postJason Antrosio has also weighed in on the matter–his post also includes a link to the AAA response, which is here.  Jason sees this as an opportunity to rally anthropologists:

Not only does this give anthropology an opportunity to emphasize our scientific side, it could also be a rallying point for social science and humanities disciplines that were equally dismissed. It seems worth mentioning that while Scott dismisses everyone except math-science-engineering, it is at a time when other countries are seeking the lifelong thinking and creativity developed in a Liberal Arts education.

In another piece, John Hawks discusses some of the possible avenues for responding to this debacle.  How can or should anthropologists make their case?  He writes:

It’s very difficult to come up with a rapid and effective reply from an organization or department, so I understand these aren’t as punchy as they might be. Still, it seems to me a vastly more effective response would describe the economic impact of anthropologists in Florida, the dollar amounts of federal and private grants they bring to Florida universities, their role as custodians of natural and cultural history, and their history of engagement with indigenous and immigrant peoples in the state.

One of Scott’s underlying arguments is that anthropology doesn’t produce JOBS, and this is an argument that seems to get a lot of mileage by certain folks who aren’t exactly fans of social science (Tom Coburn, anyone?).  I am going to leave off with a few questions for all you Savage Minds out there: What do you think about this tactic of using jobs as the sole calculus for measuring the value of a discipline?  Should anthropologists be completely focused on producing jobs, or are there other elements that matter in a valuable and worthwhile education?  What about the value of teaching students how to think critically and holistically about the world around them?  Why say you, readers?

Ryan Anderson is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Kentucky. He is currently writing up his dissertation, which is about the politics of development in Baja California Sur, Mexico. You can reach him at ethnografix AT gmail dot com or @publicanthro on twitter.

29 thoughts on “Governor of Florida: We don’t need no anthropologists

  1. What I find interesting is his emphasis on majors with more career opportunities and his suggestion of STEM programs. This is including mathematics, a field whose job prospects are probably lower than even anthropology’s. Word from some engineering major friends is that their professors are telling them to get as much internship experience they can because out of school they will not be able to find a job without experience.

    There is more to getting an education than the pursuit of money. I knew about the lack of jobs coming in and I know about them now. It doesn’t deter me from my goals as an anthropology student in the state of Florida. It does affect my desire to continue my education in this state if cost cutting measures are taken but based on the outpouring from the state’s university system and the residents I doubt it. Ultimately he wants to get reelected and I hope he realizes that his remarks were a mistake.

  2. Does this mean that all the anthropologists who say we shouldn’t engage with the general public will STFU now?

    As a grad student, I’ve had several conversations with anthropology professors both in person and online in which I posited that anthropology was an easy target for politicians or universities who were trying to eliminate university departments (either to lower costs or to target departments which are perceived to be associated with certain “liberal/multicultural” political positions). In almost every case, professors claimed that anthropology was not in danger and that anthropology didn’t have to do anything to prevent departments from disappearing. To be blunt, I’m hoping that this sort of head in the sand attitude disappears. It doesn’t help our discipline continue to receive funding and it undermines our efforts to engage in robust, wide ranging research.

  3. If Governor Scott wants to support the hard sciences then he’s ready to accept their conclusions regarding evolution and climate change too, right?

    *crickets chirpping

  4. Isn’t this just an Amurican political talking point of the ilk of Cain’s 9-9-9 plan or of Romney’s proposal to grow the military? It 1) is an easy to grasp statement which 2) purports to solve an issue voters (focus groups made up of voters, anyway) have identified as relevant to them and which 3) is formulated to alienate the fewest potential voters possible. One could react to it by defending anthropology, I suppose, but there are many more reasons to be cautious about picking up what Scott is laying down. How well, for example, do the skills acquired in the course of studying for an undergraduate degree in a STEM discipline map onto the breakdown of Florida’s economy by sector?

  5. @MTBradley, the difference is Scott isn’t campaigning right now, he has already been elected and has already made cuts to the states education. Also, you’re assuming that students in Florida plan on staying in Florida after they graduate. Realistically it should be compared to national numbers rather than just the numbers within the state.

    As far as alienating the fewest potential voters. I can’t speak for other schools but in ours it is not just the Social Sciences that are upset but most people who I have spoken to, including professors of STEM classes. In general it seems that most educated people I speak to understand the importance of social sciences and humanities outside the realm of academia which is what Gov. Scott is failing to realize.

    However, this is just my perspective as a student at a Florida public university.

  6. Also, you’re assuming that students in Florida plan on staying in Florida after they graduate.

    I’m not, I just didn’t point out that particular issue with Scott’s statement. I mean, yeah, Florida isn’t exactly known as a state full of lifelong residents.

  7. I think you have already answered your own questions by the way you posed them, Ryan. Yesterday I saw this wondeful response, “This is anthropology” http://prezi.com/vmvomt3sj3fd/this-is-anthropology/. It is wonderful for its spirit and the talent that went into its production. But it depressed me that the response seemed to accept his terms for defining a discipline as useful. Basically, it adds up to the claim that we produce medical social workers. Even saying that anthropology is a training in critical humanism glosses over the idea of being committed to studying humanity as a whole. But you know all that. I would like you to offer a summary of what you have learned from all the Anthropologies you have posted recently.

  8. Response to “Grad Student Guy”:

    I completely agree with you! I have also been wondering for some time when my department (and the discipline as a whole) would start to build some political muscle and prepare for such attacks.

    At my university, I witnessed the humanities division face massive cuts and lose dozens of faculty members over the past few years. I realized pretty quickly that if it could happen to them, it could also happen to us. I also worried about the fact that the humanities people didn’t seem to have pushed back hard enough when they were accused of being “non-productive.” In a way, the humanities folks that I knew just didn’t appreciate the threat to their fields until it was too late. I DON’T WANT THE SAME THING HAPPENING TO US!

    I think that, so far, the response to Gov. Scott has been good. But we should all be prepared to face some variation of this attack in our respective universities, regardless of whether we’re in FL or not.

  9. While this is often something I see resisted in these discussions about the social sciences, I think we need to face up to the fact that jobs are a very important metric to the perceived value of an education, especially anthropology. You’ve set up a sort of binary between “jobs are what matter” and “creative thinking is what matters” (I’d say this is actually consistent with the direction Mr. Scott was coming from), but I think this line of reasoning if flawed. What we really need to ask is why are there so few jobs for anthropologists. The answer, it would seem, is that we have done a poor job advertising the value of an anthropologist. This is a horrendous failure for a profession that is supposed to facilitate conversations between groups – if we aren’t educating the public about what we do and who we are how do we think we can ever education them about more important issues?

    I also have and issue with the idea that what we offer students is the ability to “think critically and holistically about the world around them”. Sure, we do that, but so does pretty much every other profession. It is imagined on our part that an engineer doesn’t graduate with these skills because we too often think of “critical thinking” in a, ironically, narrow context; we ‘know’ what critical thinking is so we miss it in other contexts. Further, why aren’t we more often adding “scientific reasoning” to the list of traits important to an anthropologist? Even if you feel that we should drop the “science” out of our particular “social science” how can we even pretend to understand the STEM communities if we aren’t even versed in the frameworks they work within?

    I guess the summary of this rant is that if we think we are adding value to the world, we can’t just sit around and be sad that the world doesn’t recognize this value. If we don’t bother to educate the public, the other disciplines are more than happy to do it and take over our turf. So, yes, Mr. Scott is right about the jobs thing even if for the wrong reasons.

  10. @Enekk:

    “You’ve set up a sort of binary between ‘jobs are what matter’ and ‘creative thinking is what matters’…”

    Actually, no, that’s not what I set up. Read what I wrote. What I asked was whether jobs should be the SOLE CALCULUS for measuring the value of a degree in anthropology. I asked what other factors we should take into account. It’s not an either/or situation. Gov Scott is only looking at jobs, and my argument is that we might want to look at this in some other ways as well.

    “The answer, it would seem, is that we have done a poor job advertising the value of an anthropologist. This is a horrendous failure for a profession that is supposed to facilitate conversations between groups – if we aren’t educating the public about what we do and who we are how do we think we can ever education them about more important issues?”

    I completely agree. No argument from me on this point. In fact, this is exactly the subject that I write about a lot around here.

    “I also have [an] issue with the idea that what we offer students is the ability to “think critically and holistically about the world around them”. Sure, we do that, but so does pretty much every other profession.”

    Sure, other disciplines have their ways of teaching critical and holistic thinking. I think anthropology and other social sciences add a unique, and valuable perspective–one that is different from what you might get in engineering. This isn’t a knock against the philosophies and perspectives behind engineering by any means. There are all kinds of valuable perspectives, and I think that anthropology happens to be one of them. I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make here.

    “Further, why aren’t we more often adding ‘scientific reasoning’ to the list of traits important to an anthropologist?”

    I would absolutely add that to the list of traits, as do tons of other anthropologists. I just listed a couple examples, and of course there are many more. Scientific perspectives and reasoning are, of course, an important part of anthropology. Definitely.

    “Even if you feel that we should drop the ‘science’ out of our particular ‘social science’…”

    Let me just stop you right there. I definitely do NOT think that we should drop the word science. So, now we have that cleared up.

    “I guess the summary of this rant is that if we think we are adding value to the world, we can’t just sit around and be sad that the world doesn’t recognize this value.”

    Yep. And it’s not going to happen magically. We actually have to do something about this. Agreed.

    “If we don’t bother to educate the public, the other disciplines are more than happy to do it and take over our turf.”

    Agreed, again.

  11. I also have and issue with the idea that what we offer students is the ability to “think critically and holistically about the world around them”. Sure, we do that, but so does pretty much every other profession.

    There is always intragroup variation, of course, but are you really of the opinion that your average psychologist, economist, or political scientist thinks as holistically as your average anthropologist?

  12. I have been reading Martha Nussbaum’s Not For Profit recently, specifically for the lead-up to an academic planning meeting that is supposed to provide guidelines on what our academic goals are as a university and thus for how resources are spent. Here in Ontario, whenever there is an economic downturn, it seems as if the knee-jerk reaction of the provincial government is to provide some (but never enough) resources to increase enrollments at universities and get more people into them. It is no wonder that there is an expectation that universities are job-creation mills. And this is something we need to fight against. Anyway, although the book is in defense of the humanities and liberal arts education, many of the arguments are important for anthropology as well. She argues the need to educate for a healthy democracy, and “reason” and “critical thinking” are part of that; additionally, however, is the need to educate the ability to sympathize and empathize with those that are different from us, to recognize their humanity in all its messiness and counter the tendency to see others are merely instrumental to satisfying our own wants and desires. She also argues for the education to stimulate the imagination. She rightly argues that this is all necessary to work together to solve the social problems we face (at any level), and this kind of education is something that the humanities and anthropology are extremely well-suited to do. She reminds us that for many, work is a means to other ends, and those other ends are as important if not more important as the work. And while she foregrounds these aspects of the role of the humanities (reason, critical thinking, empathy with others, the imagination), she also argues that in fact those capacities which are critical to democracy are actually important for a successful life in the job world.

  13. @Ryan

    “What I asked was whether jobs should be the SOLE CALCULUS for measuring the value of a degree in anthropology.”

    My mistake.

    “I’m not really sure what point you’re trying to make here.”

    I think part of the communication problem we are having is that you are assuming I am responding directly to your post and you as a person whereas I was responding more towards the field of anthropology. We’ll see this one again later. My point with this, however, is that an anthropology education often focuses too much on us being special or privileged in what we learn. Feel free to disagree, but I can only speak to the departments I’ve observed.

    “Let me just stop you right there. I definitely do NOT think that we should drop the word science. So, now we have that cleared up.”

    Again, I wasn’t intending to imply you, but there are many anthropologists that do think this way. My point was that even if this is the line of thought that you take, how can you really understand the world without understanding one of the fundamental ideologies that drive it.

  14. @MTBradley

    “There is always intragroup variation, of course, but are you really of the opinion that your average psychologist, economist, or political scientist thinks as holistically as your average anthropologist? ”

    I believe that this is the case especially in the latter two disciplines that you’ve mentioned, but that it might not take on quite the same form that it does in anthropology. To put it another way, I think the fields might be using different languages to talk about phenomena, but they are still talking about the same phenomena even if the language they speak in makes the grammar appear different.

  15. Let me add another discipline, history. As I age, I find myself reading more and more history and less and less ethnography. Why? The breadth and depth of perspective I find in what good historians write.

    Like Enekk, I see anthropologists claiming to possess knowledge denied to those in more narrow-minded fields. I, too, take these claims with large grains of salt.

    Consider as provocations three books I am now in the process of reading.

    The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China by French sinologist Francois Jullien is to my eye the book that E. E. Evans-Pritchard might have written about Nuer religion if he’d had available to him several centuries worth of texts by Nuer scholars with which to refine his interpretations of Nuer ideas of divinity. Sweeping magisterially through classical Chinese writings on war, politics, calligraphy, painting, poetry, the novel, and martial arts, he demonstrates the pervasive recurrence of the term shi, roughly translatable as disposition or propensity and derives from its multiple usages a worldview significantly different from that which Western philosophy and social theory takes for granted.

    Kingdom of Beauty: Mingei and the Politics of Folk Art in Imperial Japan by historian Kim Brandt is a narrative history of the “Mingei” (folk art) movement’s origins and development in the years between Japan’s acquisition of Korea as a colony and its postwar recovery from defeat in WWII. In it we learn, for example, that Yanagi Tsuneo, now hailed as the founder of the Mingei movement, was a member of a class of middle-class intellectuals for whom Yanagi’s original interest in Yi Dynasty Korean porcelain was a way of asserting both independence from and intellectual superiority to members of corporate elites whose embrace of Japanese tea ceremony had driven the prices of tea ceramics sky high. Japan’s colonization of Korea made it possible for people like him to acquire art that was, for them, still reasonably priced. Brandt’s artful interweaving of social, cultural, political and economic factors in the rise of Mingei is far closer to a holistic view of a cultural phenomenon than most ethnography I’ve read recently.

    Finally, Organizational Ethnography is the English rendition of a book in Japanese by Toshihiro Kanai, Ikuya Sato, Gideon Kunda, and John Van Maaren. The authors teach at business schools and their educational backgrounds vary. But Kanai, who writes as a sociologist who later went on to do a Ph.D. at the Sloan School at MIT where Van Maanen teaches shows a highly sophisticated grasp of the anthropological roots of ethnography in his introductory essay. I am looking forward to the rest of the book.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, “Guys, you need to get out a bit and explore what is going on outside the disciplinary walls in which you confine yourselves.” Others are doing a lot of what you claim to do out there, and some of them at least are doing it better. Can you pull yourself together and equal or surpass their scholarship?

  16. Thanks for the stroke, Matt. One small caution if I may. What you call my reading list isn’t a list at all. It is, what shall we call it, an assemblage, perhaps, or bricolage. Perhaps I wanted to be all hoity-toity and Deleuzian, I’d call it rhizomatic.

    To me one of the greatest things about the Internet is being able to check up now and again on topics once central but still of interest to me. So, for example, there is a term ling, usually translated “efficacy,” that plays a central role in discussions of Chinese religion. Browsing to see what was new in that area, I stumbled upon Jullien.

    Through accidents of fate, good luck in the best sense, I am married to a woman who has attracted a lot of art-related translation to our business. It was she who ordered the Brandt from Amazon and left it lying around where I picked it up and started to read it.

    Discovering the last book, on organizational ethnography, was a bit more deliberate. I have, oddly enough, been invited to a conference on business anthropology in China and need to find something to say. So I did a few searches on Amazon.jo to find out what’s been happening in Japanese in this area. That book was one of the first things to pop up.

    If there is any lesson here, it may be the one I underlined at the end of my last comment. There’s a lot going on in places that students or their teachers may never look once the grip of disciplinary boundaries hardens. The Internet and its search engines free us from those barriers. I can’t imagine beginning a project these days without poking around first to see what I can find.

  17. At least ya’ll aren’t semioticians. (See Steven Johnson’s essay I Was an Under-Age Semiotician) in today’s NY Times Sunday Book Review.

  18. @Tom Boellstorff

    A BA in cultural anthro is an increasingly popular antecedent to an MBA, particularly in the growing number of MBA programs with a design component. Meanwhile, a google search for “Rick Scott moron” returns 503,000 results.

  19. An apology and a correction. I have just been contacted by someone who can’t find an English-language version of Organizational Ethnography. My apologies. I should have written that “Organizational Ethnography” is the English version of the title [sic] of the book. If you read Japanese, 組織エスノグラフィー is available on Amazon.jp.

  20. The demand by businessmen like the lawyer Rick Scott that high schools or universities produce for them is an old one. Business has long viewed K-12 and universities as being the front office of their HR Department. Sadly for them (and lucky for us), society has long been made up of more than the narrow list of majors that Gov. Scott likes.

    Still, it makes for rough sledding when it comes to justifying the liberal arts to such people. The only good news–such that it is–is that the unemployment rates for those with and without Bachelor’s degree of any kind has widened in recent years. Here in California, unemployment rates for those without Bachelor’s degrees is about 13-14%, and those with in the 5% range.

  21. If anthropologists are good at gaining access to different groups in legitimate ways and yet understanding nuances even that group may not perceive, can they get jobs as consultants or industry analysts? Or what about creating jobs explaining different cultures to each other, like this guy said some people are good at: “What they have is a particular kind of genius that’s not really part of their specific area of expertise as such areas are usually defined and taught. There’s not really even a good univocal word for this kind of genius—which might be significant.” Or is that more like what a sociology degree-holder might try to do?

  22. @Enekk

    “I think part of the communication problem we are having is that you are assuming I am responding directly to your post and you as a person whereas I was responding more towards the field of anthropology.”

    Ah, I see. That makes sense. Thanks for clearing that up!

    “My point with this, however, is that an anthropology education often focuses too much on us being special or privileged in what we learn. Feel free to disagree, but I can only speak to the departments I’ve observed.”

    I think I see where you’re coming from here. I definitely do not think that anthros need to go around saying that we’re better than everyone, or that we have some magical perspective that everyone else needs to discover. John M. makes the point very well that there’s a lot of great work going on out there, and that we need to take the time to see what the historians, sociologists, etc are up to. There’s a lot of good work out there. I do think that anthropology has some unique perspectives, though. But the way to get those perspectives out in public isn’t so much through PR but through good anthropological work that takes media production and dissemination seriously.

    “My point was that even if this is the line of thought that you take, how can you really understand the world without understanding one of the fundamental ideologies that drive it.”

    That’s a good point on more than one level. Thanks for your comments and thoughts.

  23. Briefly, I’d love to see the Gov examine how many anthropology graduates work in government now, in NGOs and in public health and service organizations… anthro is a path to all manner of national service, among job opportunities.

    But then again, what IS creating jobs right now?

  24. More now that I had a chance to read the comments. I have to say that this dialogue led to a really fascinating and dynamic debate with my husband, who is a computer scientist (and who got his college degree in the mid 1990s). We went back and forth on everything from government spending priorities to the military’s current need for legitimate anthropologists – always a thorny issue, to the future of jobs in the U.S.

    First, thanks to John for the reading recs. I wonder how many of us read across disciplinary boundaries when it comes to our field sites. I’d imagine most.

    I find that although most of my non-academic friends read history publications, very few read ethnography. Why is that? For one, they learn about history books more from non-academic sources, like NPR. Is it that anthropologists engage the media less? That would seem counter-intuitive.

  25. “Or what about creating jobs explaining different cultures to each other”

    A multitude of such jobs already exist. The majority are in corporate training programs for employees sent to jobs outside their native countries. For an entry point to this world, do a Google search for “SIETAR”. SIETAR is the Society for International Education, Training and Research.

    Beyond the cross-cultural training jobs, which are usually associated with corporate HR programs, there are also quite a few folks like myself who have found niches in translation, copywriting, speechwriting, and consulting. It’s important to realize, however, that the market for generic cultural difference advice is shrinking in places where it’s comfortable to work. One of the first things I learned after arriving in Japan in 1980 was that most of what I thought I knew about Japanese culture was familiar to most foreign business people working in Japan. To add value to my work as an advertising copywriter, I had to learn about the businesses our clients were in and their corporate cultures as seen through the eyes of the people on the client side of presentations.

  26. The terms of this debate are completely ridiculous. Anthropologists do not bear responsibility for job creation, nor do universities as a whole.

    It is the politicians who make decisions about the regulation of the economy that bear on job creation mainly. Yes, you need an educated population, but if the jobs are there, educated people, even Anthropologists, will find them. People with liberal arts educations make good decision makers and analysts, that is why they catch up with and overtake vocational degrees in terms of salaries in the long run. Even the economy needs people who are trained to really think.

    The US political classes have gone for a resource intensive economic model that relies mainly on technology, cheap overseas labour and massive natural resource usage. This means few jobs created per unit of through-put. The American economy is not set up to employ people, but to make a few people rich.

    If Anthropologists get suckered into saying, “but we are useful for making a few people rich, no really” you have been suckered into being a scapegoat. Far better to say, we know full well why there are no jobs, we know who is responsible. We know that society need not be organised this way.

    They (especially the GOP) are part of the problem, we can be part of the solution.

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