Mac McClelland (Mother Jones) on being a “Warehouse Wage Slave”

This is the kind of investigative journalism that I find extremely relevant.  Have you ever bought books or anything else from online distributors?  Ever stopped to really think about how that product you ordered actually makes it to your doorstep so rapidly, and at such a low price?  Journalist Mac McClelland has a new article over at Mother Jones where she does a little digging into the inner-workings and conditions of “Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.” (not the real name of the company), which is a large-scale online distributor.  Her first hand descriptions and experiences remind me of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle–although the jungle she explores isn’t filled with the horrors of meatpacking, it’s congested with long hours, brutal time constraints, low wages, and, well, other strange things that people buy online and want shipped to them as soon as possible (read it to find out).  Here’s a poignant selection where McClelland critically questions the reasons behind these conditions:

As if Amalgamated couldn’t bear to lose a fraction of a percent of profits by employing a few more than the absolute minimum of bodies they have to, or by storing the merchandise at halfway ergonomic heights and angles. But that would cost space, and space costs money, and money is not a thing customers could possibly be expected to hand over for this service without huffily taking their business elsewhere. Charging for shipping does cause high abandonment rates of online orders, though it’s not clear whether people wouldn’t pay a few bucks for shipping, or a bit more for the products, if they were guaranteed that no low-income workers would be tortured or exploited in the handling of their purchases.

Is it anthropology?  Does that question even matter?  I think there is plenty of relevance here.  The article is worth a read.  But, in regards to anthropology, this article has me wondering whether or not there are anthropologists out there exploring similar issues.  If so, who?  If not, why not?  Another example of a pervasive, everyday issue that anthropologists are in a good position to thoroughly explore.  McClelland’s narrative and discussion is based upon a relatively short stint with the company, and I’d be interested to hear about similar projects, as well as others that are based upon longer-term experience.  Anyway, if any of you Savage Minds out there know of related work, let me know about it in the comments section.  Or, let me know what you think about McClelland’s investigation and article.

Ryan Anderson is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on the politics of development and land in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is currently living out in the desert while finishing up his dissertation. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

22 thoughts on “Mac McClelland (Mother Jones) on being a “Warehouse Wage Slave”

  1. Ryan. I am totally with you that this type of politically fraught immersion should be the frontier of our field rapidly receding into obscurity. More often however I see anthropologists and graduate students playing a nostalgic simulation of colonial anthropology, the year in the field after a year cuddling the IRB after three years of nurturing the literature. We should take a page from investigative journalism–their dirty methods and social responsibility. My future students are going to take jobs like this author at their fieldsites and challenge the notion of part/ob and the stultifying pre-field ethics of this discipline.

  2. I see anthropologists and graduate students playing a nostalgic simulation of colonial anthropology

    My interests are in Indonesia and the Pacific – primarily eastern Indonesia. The people whose actions and motivations I study are very different from me – they’re dark-skinned, live in beehive-shaped huts (or more modern buildings adjacent to the huts), conduct genealogical rituals through the night, marry their classificatory cousins, and believe in ancestor ghosts. And yes, I’m interested in studying in that part of the world because it’s different to where I come from. But what I’m really interested in is the flexibility of human motivation. Why do people in NTT marry their matrilateral cousins? Can belief in ghosts make entire groups of people move village? Neither ghost-belief nor matrilateral cross-cousin marriage is common throughout the world, and documenting the whats, hows, and whys is a pretty important thing to do. Those questions are of interest whether you’re from Indonesia or Ohio, and to say that it’s just a “nostalgic simulation of colonial anthropology” is a ridiculous dismissal when what you want to replace it with is a kind of investigative journalism that is already being done by paid professionals.

    What does this article tell us? It tells us that corporations are often greedy and self-serving; that they cut corners and costs in ways that benefit consumers and themselves over their workers; and that the workers suffer in the absence of employment options. I, for one, already assumed that. I think it would be safe to say that we knew it already. Even those who support such capitalistic practices know it. So the purpose of the article isn’t to convey new information, as such – it’s to tell us, without telling us, who the perpetrator is, and why we should stop buying products from them. It is, in other words, a polemic. It’s rhetoric. I don’t have a problem with it, and I’m no enemy of fairer treatment of workers, but it’s not anthropology, unless that word has become synonymous with writing supporting left-wing positions.

  3. Al makes a good point here. If one of anthropology’s long range goals is to document the full variety of human ways of life, both those who study employees of modern industries and those who study villages in the Global South have important contributions to make. And the question whether anthropologists produce anything but investigative journalism is also a good one. I would say myself that there is a significant difference between a journalist who pursues a story and then moves on to the next one and an anthropologist who may spend years digging into the context in which stories occur to enrich our understanding of them.

    But, Al, to claim that ghost beliefs are uncommon when they are virtually universal, that’s pretty strange. What do you see that is distinctive about ghost beliefs in the part of aindonesia you study?

  4. Al West wrote:

    “Those questions are of interest whether you’re from Indonesia or Ohio, and to say that it’s just a “nostalgic simulation of colonial anthropology” is a ridiculous dismissal when what you want to replace it with is a kind of investigative journalism that is already being done by paid professionals.”

    Anthropology isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not an either/or issue here. My point in saying that I think this investigative journalism is “relevant” is that there is a lot we can learn from the kinds of subjects that some journalists explore. This doesn’t mean that every other type of anthropological subject is invalid or unimportant. Far from it. I am also not arguing that we need to simply replace anthropology with the practices of investigative journalists–but I do think that there is something to be learned from them, definitely. But I think we can learn from a lot of different folks–and we have something to offer them as well.

    “I, for one, already assumed that. I think it would be safe to say that we knew it already. Even those who support such capitalistic practices know it.”

    Really? So your argument is basically that there’s nothing to see here because we all already know what’s going on?

    “So the purpose of the article isn’t to convey new information, as such – it’s to tell us, without telling us, who the perpetrator is, and why we should stop buying products from them.”

    I agree that the writer is on the polemic side in a kind of classic muckracker sense (so was Upton Sinclair), but I also think her point was definitely to convey information about what it’s like to work in these kinds of warehouses. That’s one of the main points, along with the obviously political issues she confronts. Is she doing “anthropology”? No, she’s doing pretty classic investigative journalism. But to me that’s beside the point. I think these kinds of themes or subjects provide some pretty relevant ground for anthropological investigation.

  5. @John:

    “If one of anthropology’s long range goals is to document the full variety of human ways of life, both those who study employees of modern industries and those who study villages in the Global South have important contributions to make.”

    That’s a good point. I agree 100 percent.

    “I would say myself that there is a significant difference between a journalist who pursues a story and then moves on to the next one and an anthropologist who may spend years digging into the context in which stories occur to enrich our understanding of them.”

    For me, the “this isn’t anthropology” argument is kind of a non-starter. I mean, what’s the point of spending a lot of time worrying about that? They do things differently, and their methods have certain benefits and certain drawbacks. Our methods certainly have strengths and drawbacks as well. Also, I think it would be interesting to see an anthropologist tackle a similar issue that this journalist has explored. Actually, I think it would be interesting to see more collaborative efforts between journalists and anthropologists.

  6. @Adam:

    “We should take a page from investigative journalism–their dirty methods and social responsibility.”

    Agreed. I think there’s a lot to be learned from peeking over the disciplinary walls every now and again.

    “My future students are going to take jobs like this author at their fieldsites and challenge the notion of part/ob and the stultifying pre-field ethics of this discipline.”

    I think the point about ethics/IRB that you bring up is important to think about. Philippe Bourgois brought up some good critical points about that in Righteous Dopefiend.

  7. @Ryan

    I have no problem with anthropologists doing investigative journalism. If they hit the sweet spot, as Gillian Tett did with Fools Gold, it’s good for everybody. I am also very much on board with Adam’s recommendation that young scholars position themselves in a way that creates opportunities in a set of adjacent fields instead of leaving them stuck if departments are more interested in studies of virtual worlds than matrilineal kinship.

    On the other hand, Al makes a good point, too. Adam’s comment about nostalgic simulations of colonial anthropology is not only dismissive. It recreates the divide between the cool, modern stuff and the old-fashioned backwater, easily dismissible stuff that once defined the boundary between the social sciences that study modern societies and the anthropologists and area studies folk who pursue exotic interests in stuff of now, to borrow the late, great Joseph Levenson’s words, “of merely historical interest.”

  8. But, Al, to claim that ghost beliefs are uncommon when they are virtually universal, that’s pretty strange. What do you see that is distinctive about ghost beliefs in the part of aindonesia you study?

    You’re right – they are common, and it’s wrong to say that they aren’t. However, ghost beliefs in eastern Indonesia do show peculiar features, and these have been documented in several places. Gregory Forth’s Beneath the Volcano, A.K Molnar’s Grandchildren of the Ga’e Ancestors, and David Hicks’ Tetum Ghosts and Kin are probably the best sources that are accessible for non-Dutch speakers, off the top of my head. Briefly, ghost beliefs in this part of eastern Indonesia (Nusatenggara Timur, east of Sumbawa/Lombok/Bali, south of Sulawesi, and north of Australia) are interesting in that the lines between ancestor and ghost and between friendly and unfriendly ghosts are blurry. There are also several documented cases of villages moving location because of purported ghost activity, something I’m unaware of elsewhere (although perhaps someone will correct me on that). Much of what Evans-Pritchard said about Azande witchcraft applies to NTT ancestors and ghosts, perhaps pointing to a similar underlying principle that has no necessary relationship to belief in witches, but rather to any kind of non-material intentionality. Ghosts are also widely considered to be female with respect to the living, who are male, and female ghosts are female with respect to male ghosts, a fairly typical example of the recursive complementary symbolism of the area.

    Other than that, little distinguishes them. Ghost belief is almost universal, as you say. However, the degree to which ghost belief affects action in NTT is quite extraordinary, and my interest is less in the content of the beliefs about ghosts (although that is interesting enough) and more in the ways in which people act on those beliefs, how they acquire them, and so on.

    Really? So your argument is basically that there’s nothing to see here because we all already know what’s going on?

    Not at all. There’s plenty to see, plenty that is distasteful and deserving of publicity. I did not know that, ahem, Ama…lgamated treated its workers so poorly in the states. But I assumed they had motive for doing so, as do many corporations. The purpose of the article was to make a moral point, one with which we can all sympathise (and ideally act upon), and that is simply not the purpose of anthropology.

    I am also very much on board with Adam’s recommendation that young scholars position themselves in a way that creates opportunities in a set of adjacent fields instead of leaving them stuck if departments are more interested in studies of virtual worlds than matrilineal kinship.

    It is this that arouses my righteous anger. For many people in the world, people whose beliefs and actions are studied only by anthropologists, unilineal descent groups are of the highest importance. They gossip about and argue over their lineages just as I might over corporations and governments. I have no problem with people who want to study virtual worlds or wage slavery in US warehouses, but you’ve got to remember that for someone who wants to study the social structure of a Timorese village, there’s only one kind of department they can work in, unlike those who study San Francisco crackdens. And it is a snub not only to anthropologists but also to their enthusiastic informants to disregard their lives and beliefs in this way.

    So when Ryan says that it doesn’t matter what we consider anthropology to be, I bristle slightly.

  9. @Al West:

    “The purpose of the article was to make a moral point, one with which we can all sympathise (and ideally act upon), and that is simply not the purpose of anthropology.”

    So, in your view, the purpose of anthropology is definitely not to make any sort of moral point? What about the basic point that other ways of life are valid, and deserve respect? I mean, isn’t that the basic argument you are making about the study of these Timorese villages? Isn’t there a moral point in there? Also, in your view, what IS the purpose of anthropology? Is it an amoral project? How?

    “And it is a snub not only to anthropologists but also to their enthusiastic informants to disregard their lives and beliefs in this way.”

    My argument is that this isn’t an either/or issue. It’s not an either you study working conditions in warehouses and online gaming OR you study kinship and ancestor ghosts in Indonesia. Both are valid in my view, and I’m not interested in trying to claim that one avenue is better for the discipline of “anthropology” than another. Of course, some people will be drawn to one or the other, and to me that’s part of what’s really interesting about the field.

    “So when Ryan says that it doesn’t matter what we consider anthropology to be, I bristle slightly.”

    That’s not my point. To me, it’s pretty clear that what this reporter is doing is investigative journalism. I guess I don’t really see the point of looking at this article and then spending a lot of time debating whether or not it’s anthropology. To me, it’s clearly not anthropology, it’s investigative journalism. So what? Sure, there is some overlap, but there are also some clear differences between what journalists do and what ethnographers do (time in the field being a key difference). I get that. Still, I think that what this journalist is doing is interesting, worth looking at, and certainly dealing with anthropologically relevant material.

    I also think it’s funny when anthropologists look at work in investigative journalism, documentary photography, or even something closer like sociology and want to just spend time talking about how the end products aren’t sufficiently anthropological or ethnographic. Again, I don’t see the point. The famous photographer Walker Evans was not an ethnographer, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t pay attention to the work he did and maybe even get some ideas for our own work.

  10. @Al West

    Just a PS:

    I agree with the point you are making about the validity of “traditional” kinds of anthropological research. We’re in agreement there. Just wanted to make that clear.

  11. So, in your view, the purpose of anthropology is definitely not to make any sort of moral point? What about the basic point that other ways of life are valid, and deserve respect? I mean, isn’t that the basic argument you are making about the study of these Timorese villages? Isn’t there a moral point in there? Also, in your view, what IS the purpose of anthropology? Is it an amoral project? How?

    The purpose of anthropology is to document what human beings do and how and why they do it.

    Eastern Indonesian societies are famous for headhunting. It’s tempting to think of headhunting as a noble initiation practice, but while it was certainly used for initiation, it was also a way of acquiring food at the end of the dry season, achieving various political ends, appeasing ancestral spirits, and acquiring slaves and prestige items. For thousands of years – as long as Austronesian speakers have been in the region – people in eastern Indonesia have gone on deliberate raids to kill men, women, and children and steal food and other products. Body parts (not just heads) were often gibbeted in trees, a practice common enough to have been specifically prohibited by Christian missionaries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Slavery was also extremely common. Simply put, pre-20th century NTT was a hellish place.

    Headhunting still goes on in some places. I have to say, I disapprove of it. I don’t think it’s legitimate, and I would never see it as my role to show headhunting to be a way of life worthy of respect, despite the respect still accorded to such traditions in Indonesia. The same goes for marriage alliance; I would hate to have a marriage arranged for me, and I don’t really think it is a good idea to promote it. But I can understand why headhunters take/took heads and why people marry their matrilateral cross-cousins, both in terms of their individual reasons and the long-term historical influences on such individual decisions, without condoning or condemning these activities in the slightest. Headhunting is what it is. In order to investigate it, I don’t need to approve of it.

    So, no, it’s not a basic argument. I see it as basic that people act on the basis of reasons, which must take the form of intentional mental states. That must be true in any instance, from idly twirling a pen to planning a headhunting raid. I do not take it as basic that the things people do are inevitably valid in some way.

    Clearly, there’s a moral aspect to anthropology. Interacting with people for any purpose is an ethical exercise. But that isn’t the purpose of the discipline – it’s not a moral quest. I don’t doubt that information from anthropological research could have a variety of applications, and could inform any number of sophisticated moral philosophies, but promoting a particular moral position is not and should not be the purpose of any academic discipline.

    Both are valid in my view, and I’m not interested in trying to claim that one avenue is better for the discipline of “anthropology” than another.

    I agree that both are valid, but due to competition over funding and the fact that some kinds of research can only be conducted by anthropologists, I can’t say that I think both should be equally represented in anthropology departments. Why should there be competition for funding between people studying 4chan and people studying Penan social organisation (for instance)? Doesn’t seem to make sense. And if the 4chan-studiers take over anthropology departments, then the Penan-studiers will have nowhere to go. Nowhere. Not film studies, not social science of the internet, not sociology (except in Singapore), not even history. So I think certain kinds of study are more legitimately anthropological than others.

  12. “Simply put, pre-20th century NTT was a hellish place.”

    This is of course a very personal judgment on your part that may or may not reflect the perspectives of people residing in NTT during the pre-20th century. But, what if, and here I am playing Devil’s advocate, people in NTT considered the post 20th century to resemble a “hellish place”?

    The subject of head hunting brings to mind a few points: Was headhunting carried out by every member of a particular “headhunting” group, society, band etc? Meaning is it like a little kid, grandmother/father would set out to get someone’s head or upon receiving someone’s body collectively remove the head? Or was headhunting conducted by select groups of individual’s within a village (or band, tribe, community etc) so that most people pass their entire lives without headhunting?

    The topic reminds me of stories (which indeed may be fictional accounts of war or actual representations) of how some soldiers fighting for or against nation-states severed and collected their enemy combatant’s body parts.

  13. @Al West:

    “So, no, it’s not a basic argument.”

    Ok, so you’re not making the argument that these other ways of life are valid and/or deserve respect. Your arguing, then, that anthropological research about these other ways of life is what is valid and deserving of respect (in your response to Adam)? Is that it?

    I guess I misread you when you wrote: “And it is a snub not only to anthropologists but also to their enthusiastic informants to disregard their lives and beliefs in this way.”

    I was thinking that you were making an argument about respect/validity with that statement. That’s where I was seeing a kind of moral claim. Again, it looks like I misread you. Apologies.

    “The purpose of anthropology is to document what human beings do and how and why they do it.”

    In your view, whose “purpose” is served?

    “Headhunting is what it is. In order to investigate it, I don’t need to approve of it.”

    That’s a pretty difficult example you bring up, and I see the point you’re making. Still, is it really this simple? Are you saying that you can dispassionately examine these practices no matter who they involve? What happens if someone you know very well is the intended target? I understand the point about what might be called “methodological relativism,” but at some point it seems like there are certain boundaries…even for an anthropologist who is really attached to the concept of objectivity.

    “So I think certain kinds of study are more legitimately anthropological than others.”

    But you’re making this argument because of funding shortages in departments? Or because of a deeper belief about what anthropology is really all about? Because the shortage of funding argument is really another issue, at least in my opinion.

    “Why should there be competition for funding between people studying 4chan and people studying Penan social organisation (for instance)?”

    What happens when Penan social organization includes 4chan–or iPhones? Then what? ;)

    Overall, I see the argument you are making, but I still am not buying into the either/or choice you’re setting up between these different types of anthropology. And to me people who things like 4chan, cell phones, the internet, and online retailers are just as anthropological as people who do what might be called more “traditional” anthropological research.

  14. I am personally very interested in witnessing the end of anthropology of the pre-colonial other. The historical and present power inequality at root in a study of the rural indigene and its curious rituals is nauseating. Applied social studies should be done and done by emically situated members of those communities. I don’t believe in the mystique of “critical distance” — in non-naval gazing and exceptionally critical ways we should study the seat of power within our own communities, its cheaper and more impactful research. I applaud McCelland and the long line of anthropologists of elites and the West who have extended this disciplinary transformative methodology.

  15. @Adam:

    “…in non-naval gazing and exceptionally critical ways we should study the seat of power within our own communities, its cheaper and more impactful research. I applaud McCelland and the long line of anthropologists of elites and the West who have extended this disciplinary transformative methodology.”

    That was part of the reason why posted this piece: because I think there is a lot of work that can and should be done right in our own backyards that is extremely relevant and meaningful. And that’s exactly what this journalist is doing. I don’t think that people need to travel all the way around the world to do “anthropology.” I am pretty drawn to the idea of an anthropology that works closely with our own communities, definitely. I think it was my experience in CRM in southern California that made me get really interested in this kind of local anthropology (or whatever you want to call it), because I think there’s a need and it’s important. Working in CRM was an important experience for realizing more about the politics of history and development, that’s for sure.

    PS: This is why I have always liked programs that have really strong local archaeology and history components. I also like the work of people like Ed Soja at UCLA and his work on the massive city of Los Angeles.

  16. Ryan, that’s so cool, my pro-local values as an anthro also come out of a decade of CRM and archaeology, the meaningfulness of that (paid) research opened my eyes to the foreignness of proximal life and provoked my applied response to local issues.

  17. What happens when Penan social organization includes 4chan–or iPhones? Then what? ;)

    This is a pertinent question. There are several blogs (or there were) about Timorese rajas, written by people from Timor, often rajas themselves. So yes, of course – it’s important to study both, and, in the present, they often overlap. But I don’t think anthropology is synonymous with ethnography, and when it comes to documenting the diversity of human life and the flexibility of human motivation, which is surely at least part of what anthropology is, you can’t just live in the present, and it is not possible to do an ethnological study of headhunting in a history department. Headhunting, human sacrifice, cousin marriage – these aren’t common things today, but they used to be, and that’s an important thing to know about human beings. Why and how such things – things that have largely ceased – occurred is not only of personal interest, but of general scientific interest.

    By “scientific” I mean science in the broadest sense: reason and naturalistic knowledge. And that is what I think is the purpose of anthropology, to contribute to knowledge about our universe.

    Still, is it really this simple? Are you saying that you can dispassionately examine these practices no matter who they involve? What happens if someone you know very well is the intended target?

    Fortunately, neither I nor anyone I know has been in this situation, and headhunting is largely a historical topic. And of course, I have no doubt it would have some impact on my views on headhunting to see a friend beheaded. But what is your point? That this moral position should be an intrinsic part of research, deliberately inflicting our own moral views on our studies? I fail to see why.

    I was thinking that you were making an argument about respect/validity with that statement.

    I was, but that isn’t the purpose of conducting such studies. If you care about inequality in anthropology, then you shouldn’t just care about the inequality between ethnographer and subject. If Timorese people only study Timorese people, and nobody else does, then the only writing on Timor will be in local languages or Indonesian. That would be to say, in effect, that the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of Timorese people are not interesting or important enough for a potential global audience. That’s a different question to whether their actions are valid in a moral sense.

    If it were up to me, there’d be one gigantic department of “Anthropology” that would live up to its name and involve the study of everything humans do. All of it under one roof, with piles of funding and experts on every aspect of human behaviour. But that can’t and won’t happen.

  18. But, what if, and here I am playing Devil’s advocate, people in NTT considered the post 20th century to resemble a “hellish place”?

    Maybe they do. But the immediate effect of Dutch pacification (yes, that’s quite a loaded term, but it’s the most commonly used) in the region was a sudden prosperity brought on by the expansion of villages out of narrow defensive zones (like hilltops) and an increase in food supply due to the lack of theft, slavery, and warfare, as well as integration into the Dutch East Indies administration and, therefore, produce from Java, Sumatera, and the rest of the world. Whether or not people in NTT dislike today’s world I can’t say, but I don’t think they’d like a return to the world of 100 years ago.

    Applied social studies should be done and done by emically situated members of those communities

    And who decides who counts as a member of which community? I’ve never worked in a warehouse. I’m British – would I be able to work as an “emically situated member” of an American community, or a German one, or a Singaporean one? I’ve bought products from German companies, and Amazon.com (oops), and I speak German and can understand the speech of people in American warehouses, and I’m also integrated in some political sense into these things – but obviously that also applies to villages in Indonesia. It is a very spurious kind of essentialism to claim otherwise.

    its cheaper and more impactful research.

    This is a canard. A few plane tickets might cost quite a bit, but look up the cost of living for one day in an African village vs. the cost of living for one day in any first world democracy. Consider also that much research on ethnological, as opposed to ethnographic, topics (like headhunting, or a comparative study of parallelism or marriage alliance) is something that can only be done by studying old ethnographies, travellers’ accounts, historical documents in the relevant archives, and by consulting historical linguists and archaeologists. That’s all fairly cheap. It’s not entirely about ethnography, after all.

    As for “more impactful” – for whom? to what end? I’m interested in forging a naturalistic understanding of human beings and their actions. Doing research in your own backyard – something I have no problem with – will continue to give an ethnocentric picture if unallied to the documentation of diversity. I fail to see why this is beneficial. And if the purpose is to improve life for people, then I’m certain that there are better ways of doing it. I am also certain that that is undeserving of the moniker “anthropology”, in the same way that dropping an atomic bomb is undeserving of the moniker “physics”.

  19. I am surprised nobody brought up Steve Striffler, and his ethnography “Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s favorite food”. It’s part food history, documenting the rise of chicken as an industrial food, but Strifler also did ethographic work on the line at a Tyson chicken plant in Arkansas.

    It’s a model of good ethnography, in my opinion. It provides a window into a range of human variation (the multi-ethnic world of western industrial labor) that most people have little understanding of, particularly since Tyson has worked so hard to keep inspectors out. And it does so through tried-and-true participant observation–and Striffler talks frequently about the impact the work had on his body, his drive and motivation after work, and his outlook on the world.

    Having said that, the book was critiqued because Striffler did not tell Tyson he was an anthropologist when he applied for the job. So doing the kind of anthropology that Striffler and (?) Mclelland do may require a re-thinking of ethical considerations.

  20. Ethics is the crucial issue here. What McClelland did was brilliant, well-argued and promoted (by Mother Jone) and timely. An anthropologist could, and should, be able to do this.

    But the AAA code of ethics pretty clearly states that deceit or non-discloure is not appropriate. That’s already murky when you’re interacting with someone on the street and writing fieldnotes about it later.

    It’s murky when you’re taking pictures on the street and then can’t use them in publication because you didn’t get a signed consent sheet from the passerby depicted (I recently submitted a popular article about anthropology with 10 pictures of material culture but none of people, because we hadn’t had 300 rural Mongolians sign photo consent forms over the course of a summer of fieldwork, even though we had verbal consent for the interviews).

    And it’s very murky when you’re doing investigative journalism, even though anthropologists could be extremely well-placed for this. I’ve had to think of myself as part writer/journalist and part anthropologist in order to deal with these sort of issues as an anthropologist currently not in the academy!

  21. What are the ethics of non-disclosure when you’re studying up? Rather than protecting a vulnerable population, certain kinds of straightforwardness can raise a PR savvy entity’s hackles and in some sense become complicity with those well-funded, protected organizations.

  22. First, to amplify what Celia says, investigative journalists resemble undercover cops. Both are after stories that someone doesn’t want told. Is it possible to do that while remaining within the strict bounds of the AAA code of ethics? Almost certainly not.

    The good news is that studying up includes research that does not fit this model. Biographies, both authorized and unauthorized, name names. Another example is the research I did for my book on Japanese consumer behavior. It built on the research and includes the verbatim opinions of the researchers at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living and ends with a remarkably candid interview with Shoji Takahashi, then the CEO of Hakuhodo, the advertising agency that set up the institute. Everyone named in the book was happy to be directly cited or quoted. They were, in this respect, like academic researchers. The only problem I had was when I had to ask the director of the Institute to sign a publisher’s release for the illustrations used in the book. His initial response was, “I told you that you could use them, didn’t I?”

    All of the work that I have done, and I have always worked with people who were at least as rich, powerful, and frequently smarter than I have, has confirmed Frank Cancian’s advice at a methods seminar at Cornell in the 1960s. Some people have secrets, and their secrets must be respected. But most people are happy to talk about what they do to researchers who treat them respectfully and take a genuine interest in what they are doing.

    There are, of course, people with dangerous secrets, who will be endangered or very angry if those secrets are revealed. I vividly recall Mike Salovesh, who before his death, was a frequent contributor to Anthro-L talking about his research in Mexico, where one of his most important informants was a local crime boss. Legally speaking, ratting him out might have been the right thing to do. It wouldn’t have been good for the research and it wouldn’t have been good for Mike.

    My conclusion. These questions can only be answered, as my Japanese colleagues put it, case by case. In most cases, however, treating people as peers, with courtesy and respect is exactly where you want to be. It is only when you are doing something inherently disrespectful—trying to bring them down—that the undercover cop who lurks in the heart of every good investigative journalist becomes a problem.

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