The Newest HAU: An Embarrassment of Riches

I am not an artless enthusiast for the open access journal HAU. I didn’t post a fawning blog entry when they released the first number of their Masterclass Series, “Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere” by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro” because, frankly, the meat of it has been published elsewhere and I don’t think perspectivism will have a big impact on anthropologists outside of VdC’s circle of trufans. I didn’t make a big deal of their reprint of Prytz-Johansen’s 1954 “The Maori and His Religion In Its Non-Ritualistic Aspects” because, despite my enthusiasm for the piece as a Pacifist, I don’t think (alas!) that tons of people were interested in it. But the latest issue of HAU deserves attention.

Don’t believe me? When was the last time you saw a journal — or a book, or really any form of scholarly communication — with names like this: Anna Tsing, Tanya Luhrmann, Webb Keane, Michael Jackson, Joel Robbins, Veena Das, Sydney Mintz, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Dumont? And those are just the names that I think middle-brow American cultural types will recognize. People looking to the continent (including the UK) will find James Laidlaw, Alain Testart, Valerio Valeri, Chris Gregory, Ton Otto, and André Iteanu.

There are more authors in the latest issue of HAU and I don’t mean to skip their names here because I think their contribution is any less important (sorry Bob and Steffen!). I just don’t want to guild the lily. It’s ridiculous who is in this issue.

The reason there are so many authors is because many of the pieces are short. The reason the pieces are so short is because the journal, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: the first is a selection of articles organized around the theme of value, organized by Ton Otto. Otto is responsible for the important (and unfortunately over-priced) Experiments in Holism edited volume as well as a few other collections — he does a good job of rounding up talent. The next two sections are new book review forums: each one features a series of two to five page comments on a chosen book. This is not the first time this format has been tried — the journal Pacific Studies has given this sort of treatment to Pacific books for some time — but it is the first time in a while that it has become a regular feature of a major journal with a general audience. And of course, if Webb Keane, Veena Das, Michael Jackson, Tanya Luhrman, Steve Sangren, Tobias Kelly, et. al. have taken the time to write about a book then you probably have a good idea of what should be on your bookshelf, shouldn’t you?

And of course, this is just the journal. As I mentioned above HAU also has two other publication series: the classics and masterclass series. While some of this material may be more focused on specialists than a general audience, there is genuine value in getting important work out and in open access form. And of course I could be totally wrong in assuming that people won’t be writing about perspectivism for generations to come. The next few volumes that will come out will include, iirc, a book by Marilyn Strathern written in English, which I expect will draw a wide audience, and some collected papers of Valerio Valeri, who surely deserves far more consideration than he has received so far.

I know that some people at HAU sometimes worry that the journal is not being read as widely as it should be because people are not used to going beyond the entrenched two or three journals that they are used to. But if this really is a problem, I think they must surely be wrong about the cause. The biggest problem with HAU today is shear amount of good material the group produces: its overwhelming. And increasingly these days, its more and more important to more and more people. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

7 thoughts on “The Newest HAU: An Embarrassment of Riches

  1. How many people actually read articles in the “entrenched” journals? My guess is that it isn’t as many as you might think…

  2. Isn’t it rather telling that you rattle off a list of celebrated names, rather than talk about the content? It is interesting that American and European anthropology reflects the celebrity obsessed culture which hosts it, even if the “celebrities” are little known outside our circle.

    “of course, if Webb Keane, Veena Das, Michael Jackson, Tanya Luhrman, Steve Sangren, Tobias Kelly, et. al. have taken the time to write about a book then you probably have a good idea of what should be on your bookshelf, shouldn’t you?” – or I could form my own opinion on what to have on my bookshelf, based on the capacity for critical reasoning which I would have thought would be a hallmark of the anthropologist.

    “He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly/ In matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be/ ‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion”

  3. I should add that I think that Hau is very much a good thing; firstly, because of its commitment to open access publishing, and secondly because it promises to look to the richness of ethnography for theoretical insight. So I have no intention of slighting the journal, only this blogpost.

  4. It might be better to ask when and why people read articles from any source. I remember Jack Roberts, the first professor I met at Cornell in 1966, telling me that he could remember when the entire membership of the American Anthropological Association could meet in a ranch house outside of Tucson. Stimulated by that remark, I imagine a world in which four-fields anthropology d a more settled definition of itself, grounded in the notion that ethnography, paleontology, archeology and linguistics were all relevant to each other in various important ways. More importantly the professional world of the anthropologist was small enough that keeping up with research in all four fields seemed liked a reasonable task — for which journals like the American Anthropologist or Current Anthropology were created. Now, however, the idea that one could keep up by regularly reading in particular set of journals could only be grounded in some insanely narrow vision of what counts as important in the field. HAU is, alas, a case in point.

    HAU is, for me, a great journal, a glimpse of what is going on in areas of anthropology in which I retain a sentimental interest. I cannot help noticing, however, that the introduction runs on about the possibility of anthropology contributing something important to the study of values without mentioning scholarship outside of anthropology. I notice that the issues raised seem familiar. Of course they are. Sitting on my bookshelf beside me is Charles Taylor’s _Sources of the Self_, a magisterial work of intellectual history that begins by critiquing the modern, positivist tendency to reduce value to a question of rights and excluding the larger question addressed by classical philosophers—what it is to lead a good life. It then goes on to explore how the moral horizon has changed from the heroic world of the Iliad and Odyssey to the humdrum bourgeoise world of twentieth century consumerism. Taylor’s language is a bit different from that used by the editors of HAU; but, it seems to me, the thinking and the thrust of the arguments is similar. But it seems that the editors in question may simply not know that he is a very big deal in discussions of this type, who has beat them to the punch by several decades. They have taken large issues and, while huffing and puffing about the importance of anthropology, reduced the argument to a parochial quarrel among a small sub-tribe of anthropologists, who don’t count for much in larger debates. Is this any way to make friends and influence people.

    But, reverting to the question at hand: I hardly ever read a whole journal any more. If I have a spare moment, I may pick one up, skim the table of comments, even read an abstract or two. What keeping up now means to me is regular Google and other searches for new material directly relevant to the research I am doing, and the top hits are more likely to be in sociology or even physics journals (lot of good stuff there on network analysis, phase transitions, that sort of thing) than in the latest issues of AA, AE, or CA, even, alas, HAU. I suspect that I will continue to read HAU because I rather like the sheer archaism of the project, to make large pronouncements based on observations in odd corners of the world. I enjoy the writing, too. Will it have some huge impact on my intellectual life? Possible, yes. LIkely, hmmmmm……

  5. Another way of asking Kerim’s question might be: what journals do people actually read?

    I for one look forward to each new issue of American Quarterly.

  6. Many thanks for the wonderful post, Rex! It’s rare for anyone to take the time to write about a journal or book series–it’s humbling, but it’s also an honor to our hard work. HAU is still a baby at less than two years old and we’re growing rapidly. Our goal is never to sacrifice quality for quantity though. We’ll keep the free gifts coming and never take our success for granted.

    RE: Publishing Viveiros de Castro and Prytz-Johansen. One has to start somewhere and we at HAU think these were excellent places to begin. Despite finally being available in something other than scattered pieces, the Cambridge perspectivism lectures are VdC’s most accessible and condensed version of this very challenging (and increasingly popular) concept. Many of my colleagues in the US (at institutions where “perspectivism” simply isn’t in any syllabus) are now using this Masterclass for their own education. Prytz-Johansen’s monograph is simply a masterpiece–and we would argue it is just as so for scholars who don’t work in the Pacific. After all, his first chapter on the “kinship I” was one of the central inspirations for Sahlins’ essays/book on kinship. I’m also finding immense value from his chapter on names and naming (and I work in Northeast India). And it looks like its gaining in popularity. Since we released the volume about six months ago, it’s had over 700 unique downloads.

    We also have a long list of volumes planned for the Masterclass and Classics Series, including several translations. We’re also planning a “Short Monographs” series to release new anthropological work in OA format. In the journal, we have lots of outstanding new articles from junior and senior scholars in the works–as well as more excellent Book Symposia. I’d say more, but I’ll keep the suspense hanging! Keep an eye out for some important news coming on the eve of the Strathern Masterclass release in late July. For anyone that might see HAU’s vision as either narrow or parochial, we think you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.

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