It’s been an exciting month on Savage Minds, from a great new open access and digital anthropology effort to a reading of foundational texts to a discussion of contemporary scholarship, with a lot of stuff in between. And all the while a glance at the right-hand column opens onto a window of often fiery comment exchanges. I haven’t guest-blogged as much as I wanted to, in part because things came up, in part because I wanted to keep priority on the main discussions, and in part because I’m afraid of that comment stream. Although I’m sensing this post is headed toward an “epic fail,” I would like to register a plea to find our way beyond internet conventions that encourage people to tear each other limb from limb. These conventions can sometimes be exacerbated by anthropological training, making anthropology a “field of stumps” as each generation cuts down the work of the previous (I think Eric Wolf said that, but can’t locate the reference; [update, thanks Ryan and see this comment for full reference]).
The internet is mean
Jonathan Marks recently posted a A rant on race and genetics, which despite its provocative title is really about how people need to take account of over a century of anthropological study on human variation. For that he gets branded a “Boasian Cultural Marxist race denier” (perhaps a compliment, really). My recent Race redux hasn’t drawn the same ire, but I’m really wondering how to respond to the idea that “agonies” about health inequalities for U.S. blacks are “misdirected” or if I want to “risk the outer darkness” where Charles Murray resides. Similar things, or much worse, happen across the blogosphere, like when female anthropology bloggers write about gender.
It is in this context–and let’s just be honest here–that at least some readers consider Discuss White Privilege to be associated with internet-troll behavior. I’ll immediately note the irony that the prototypical internet troll is a white adolescent male. So it may not be fair, but people who have been blogging much longer than me tend to tune out and never reply to certain kinds of comments. Of course, the designation of troll signifies a less-than-human status, which is what Discuss White Privilege has been trying to get people to discuss. Unfortunately, in the context of the internet, adopting a name like Discuss White Privilege is almost guaranteed to provoke exactly a dehumanizing reaction, and I actually think some of the shorthand replies to @ DWP might be an attempt to humanize the addressee through initials.
Where should anthropology blogs go?
Unfortunately my anthropology blogging is not yet paying the bills, and so it’s always difficult to know what to do. Do I try to answer that whole race-intelligence thing? Do I head over to try and help Marks, seizing the Boasian Cultural Marxist race denier mantle? Take a swipe at John McCreery? And then of course it strikes me that this is all blogging anyway, and the comment stream at that–does anyone actually care? Shouldn’t I be more involved in these issues on my campus? Or doing some real political work?
Plus, it seems a lot of this blog back-and-forth is rather like something I’m again dimly remembering of an anthropologist from the Manchester School punching out a fellow Brit in an all-white bar in colonial Africa for insulting blacks (apologies again for not having a reference–grateful for help!). In other words it’s a white-male brawl over who gets to speak about others, something DWP has been saying. I paste below the poster she discussed in her previous comment, a “deeply racist–though ‘well-intentioned’–poster.”
I do wonder if Adam Fish is correct to argue for post-anthropological approaches, as invoking anthropology may just too inevitably call up all those worn ideas about race, bounded non-West cultures, and the racist merging of gorilla-indigenous on this poster. Or these days, get you labeled as–oh, those people who aren’t science anymore. Is it time to jump ship on the anthropology brand?
I think not. Drawing on the anthropology brand means drawing on some of the best thinking on human origins, variation, and diversity:
Anthropologists are well placed to face these changes, first by documenting them in ways that are consistent with our disciplinary history. The populations we traditionally study are often those most visibly affected by the ongoing polarization brought about by the new spatiality of the world economy. They descend directly from those who paid most heavily for the transformations of earlier times. . . . We cannot abandon the four-fifths of humanity that the [ 1% ] see as increasingly useless to the world economy, not only because we built a discipline on the backs of their ancestors but also because the tradition of that discipline has long claimed that the fate of no human group can be irrelevant to humankind. (Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Global Transformations, p.138)
Moreover, and to simply be crassly opportunistic and pragmatic about this, there seems to be a growing interest in anthropology–internationally, at the undergraduate level, and if the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can be believed, even for job growth in the U.S.
Savage Minds is undoubtedly the core of the anthropology blogosphere, and is a logical place for hashing out these issues. But it does seem important to note that most all of us are here because in some sense we are not exactly part of that academic anthropology core–although of course it is important to immediately add that many of those inequalities get echoed in the anthropology blogosphere and exclusions are not all equivalent. But I do hope we can work on ways to work together, or at least productively disagree. There is a need for anthropology, and an anthropology blogosphere–I’m grateful to Savage Minds for all the blogging they have done and for a chance to share some thoughts.