Monthly Archives: January 2014

Week 2: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-In

Here we are again: Friday! How was your week? Did you sink into a good groove, or did you more write-in-place as is sometimes the case? My writing this week was helped by Gina Athena Ulysse’s post Writing Anthropology and Such, or “Once More, with Feeling.” She gave us so much to think with as well as to feel and to allow without apology. Writing from the gut? Check. Writing without permission from others? Check. Writing with an awareness of the constraints of position and category? Check. Writing anyway? Check!

And she gave us this gem: “Decades ago, I realized that I am not a linear writer, but more of a quilt maker. I am content when I produce chunks. I have also learned to not berate myself if I can’t come up with anything. There are works by certain poets and art books near my desk (or in the moveable studio bag), which I need and reach for when words are not whirling out of my head as I face the screen.  As long as I am present in the space and in conversation with artists or even in silence, I now consider myself writing.”  Continue reading

Who’s an archaeologist, and what do we do? A few reflections on Identities and Boundaries in Four-Field Anthropology

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jane Eva Baxter]

This past year, I had two conference experiences that offered me a chance to reflect on what it means to be an anthropologist/archaeologist in the 21st century.  These experiences allowed me to consider the dynamic shifts in anthropological inquiry that move us beyond historical visions of and for the discipline.  Simultaneously, these encounters got me thinking about identities within anthropology, and how we connect, disconnect, and reconnect to the particular cultures of our own subfields.  Perhaps most interesting, was the realization that boundaries of practice are shifting with a different pace and rhythm than our own identities as anthropologists, or archeologists, or linguists, or…   In other words, these experiences gave me an opportunity to reflect upon a very active set of incongruities around traditional characterizations and boundaries of practice, the realities of what we actually do now as members of a particular anthropological subfield, and the ways we choose to identify ourselves within the incredible diversity of anthropology/anthropologists today. Continue reading

The Science of Culture: SMOPS 10

In this SMOPS I’m very pleased to present “The Science of Culture,” an essay that Ruth Benedict published in 1929 and has languished unread since then. “Science of Culture” was significantly revised to become the first chapter of Patterns of Culture, so readers will be familiar with the ideas expressed in it. However, this original version is significantly different from that chapter, and works better as a standalone essay. It seems that every decade or so, anthropologists feel the need to write an essay to tell a general audience what our discipline’s main findings and beliefs are. This article, like Kroeber’s “The Superorganic” published 12 years earlier, is Benedict’s version of a popular account of the anthropological credo.

The Science of Culture: The Bearing of Anthropology on Contemporary Thought, by Ruth Benedict, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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This Indigenous School Teacher Requested the Return of an Ancestral Pillar—What Happened Next Will Astound You…

In the first of what I hope to be several reviews of ethnographic and documentary films, I want to write about Hu Tai-li’s excellent film Returning Souls. This film will be of interest to anyone teaching about museum anthropology, repatriation, and indigenous rights. Filmed over eight years, the story it covers goes back forty years to a typhoon in 1958 which destroyed an indigenous ancestral house in the Amis village of Tafalong, about forty minutes south of where I live in Taiwan.

While Amis are generally egalitarian, the owners of this house, the Kakita’an family, had a special place in the village, and their house “is the only recorded structure with carved pillars” among the Amis (from the study guide – PDF). While aristocratic families and carved pillars are common among the Paiwan, they are not otherwise known among the Amis.

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Writing Anthropology and Such or “Once More, with Feeling”

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Gina Athena Ulysse as the launch post of our new Writers’ Workshop series. Gina is an associate professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University. Born in Haiti, she has lived in the United States for the last thirty years. She is also a poet, performance artist and multi-media artist. Prof U, as her students call her, is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica (Chicago 2008). She recently completed Why Haiti Needs New Narratives, a collection of post-quake dispatches, essays and meditations written between 2010-2012. Currently, she is developing, VooDooDoll, What if Haiti Were a Woman, a performance-installation project. Most recently, her writing has been published in Gastronomica, Souls, and Transition.)

When I write, there’s a slight lag- a-whatever- space-between when words strung together into phrases or sentences are transmitted onto the page with fingers trained as intermediaries.  A right hand injury made me identify this pause as I became more conscious of various aspects and levels in my writing. Not being able to type gave me a new relationship to interludes in my process. Continue reading

Anthro student debt: Stories from the debt-free

The surveys are open for another week, but there’s one aspect of the first survey that I’d like to explore a little closer right now: the respondents who reported being free of student loan debt on Survey #1.  Out of a total of 226 responses (as of this morning), 75 people reported that they have zero student loan debt (33%).  This is the most common response to the question about debt.  The second most common response was student debt between $11,000 and $30,000, which was reported by about 19% of respondents.

So what’s going on with the folks who reported no student loan debt?  What do these responses tell us?  My first question when I saw these results was whether the “zero debt” segment would be overwhelmingly positive in terms of their outlook about anthropology and their academic career.  I also wondered if this segment would be more dismissive about the student debt issue, since they don’t have any debt themselves.  As is often the case, however, the actual results offer quite a lot more than the story the raw numbers seem to tell. Continue reading

Student debt survey updates

Here’s a short update about the two student debt surveys I started last week. Both surveys will be open for another week.  After that I will compile the responses and share the results here as part of the Savage Minds/anthropologies series on student debt.  The first survey has a total of 226 responses so far.  The second survey, which looks at debt by country and institution, has 113 responses.  Thanks everyone for taking the time to do the surveys!  Please note: It would be great to get some more responses from biological/physical anthropologists, archaeologists, and linguistic anthropologists (and other sub-fields) for these surveys.  Responses from socio-cultural anthropologists dominate both surveys (65% in the first survey, 56% in the second).  Look for another update in one week when these surveys close!

On taking ontological turns

I didn’t make it to the AAA 2013 meetings.  I heard the news though: ontology is the next big thing.  I’m not sure what to make of this.  I am all for getting your theory on, but so far I haven’t heard anything from this latest ontological craze that’s really hit home.  Maybe I’m not paying enough attention.  Maybe I’m not reading the right stuff.  Or, perhaps after several years of being subjected to high doses of academic theory-talk, I have overdosed and now have some sort of weird allergy to anything that remotely resembles jargon.  In that case I just need some Benadryl and everything should be in order shortly.

I did read a post over on Allegra by Isaac Morrison about this whole “ontological turn” thing that makes some good points.  Here’s how it starts: Continue reading

The books about how to write for anthropologists (or anyone else)

I’ve received a lot of criticism in my life, but no one has ever accused me of having writer’s block. I do it all the time. On this blog, in my academic writing, in Amazon book reviews… I write write write. I wasn’t always a good writer or a fluent writer, and it took me years to get to the point where I could wake up every morning and feel that I could write five thousand words a day if I had to, and couldn’t sleep at night if I’d written less than a thousand. Many of my greatest teachers were role models, people who wrote comfortably and fluently and loved to do it. But I’ve also benefitted tremendously from good books on writing. Since we are doing the Savage Minds writing group this year, I thought I would share my favorite tips for books on writing. As an anthropologist, actually, when I say ‘books’ I really mean the conversations behind (and within) the books. And behind the the conversations I see the concrete networks of scholars. When it comes to books about how to write, there are two key figures who anchor two different (but related) literatures: Robert Boice and Joseph Williams.

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How to ruin your students' weekend in three easy steps

I live just far enough north to catch some snow and ice a couple of times a year, but far enough south that people still panic when it happens. So when we got 2-3 inches this Wednesday my university administration shut the whole place down for two days. This is problematic for me because my class meets once a week for a 2’40″ block, meaning my students just lost a week’s worth of content. And in the second week no less! I was going to cover evolution by natural selection in order to set up the next three weeks of study.

I have already got my semester totally planned and I don’t want to mess with it. How am I going to get at least a modicum of the lecture to my students remotely? In this blog post I’m going to  share with  you my work around strategy. Continue reading

Week 1: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-In

So…how did it go? How was the first week of writing? It’s time for our first weekly check-in. Please share your progress, accomplishments, and frustrations in the comment section below. If your first week was great, then fantastic and keep it up for week two. If your first week was somewhat rocky as (ahem) mine was, then work to find the energy and discipline to sink into a regular writing practice. Looking forward to hearing about everyone’s experience this week, and be sure to tune in on Monday for our first Writers’ Workshop guest author–Gina Athena Ulysse!

Undergraduate Ethnographers Infiltrate the AAA: Part 2

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jane Eva Baxter]

Structuring a course experience or assignment to enable a particular type of learning is a challenging task, and never guarantees a specific set of results. In Part 1 of this post, I described the course context, learning goals, and assignment structure for sending 30 DePaul senior anthropology majors to the AAA Annual Meeting to participate, observe, and write about their experiences as brief ethnographies.

I did not ask students in advance what their expectations were for the AAA meeting (opportunity lost) but my sense, based on their reactions, is they imagined the meeting to be a rather serious, sober, and scholarly affair. They were overwhelmed by how social, dynamic, and fun the meetings were not just as first time attendees figuring out how it all worked, but also for all of you who were busily conferencing away as they were attentively observing you!

Several of the resulting essays were so good I wish I could share them with you in their entirety.  Nearly all were thoughtful, competent, and reflective pieces of writing.  The best were innovative, humorous, and insightful. It is impossible to convey effectively the results of 30 different research projects at the AAA.  Instead, I’ve tried to summarize some of the students’ perceptions using the four broad categories assigned for their structured observations, and to offer some thoughts on what they learned by participating in the annual meeting as undergraduate ethnographers.

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The Methods of Ethnology: SMOPS 9

“The methods of ethnology” is among the two most taught and anthologized essay by Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology, and I include it here to give you a sense of who Boas was and what he thought. Boas is famous for doing ethnography, not talking about it. As a result it is extremely difficult to find explicit theoretical statements from him regarding what anthropology is or should be. There are three main texts that represent Boas at his most explicit: “the study of geography” is Boas’s earliest and most general statement, followed by “limitations” in the 1890s. “Methods” was written in 1920, and represents Boas’s views at the time that he had finally achieved institutional dominance in anthropology.

The Methods of Ethnology, by Franz Boas, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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Vale Stanley Tambiah

It was with a genuine sense of loss that I read over the weekend that Stanley Tambiah had passed away. Tambiah was a model anthropologist, a person whose personal life and work exemplified everything that our discipline can and should be. He was an area studies specialist whose monographs on life in rural Thailand expanded our ethnography of this area. He was a theorist who knit together British and American theories of symbolism and ritual at a key point in anthropological theory. And he also became a public intellectual who published substantive work on pressing issues of the day in books and articles about ethnic violence in India and Sri Lanka. Above all, he will be remembered by his colleagues as role model of the generous scholar and human being. His generosity, kindness, and humility seemed to combine the best of all the different cultures he lived in, from English gentleman to humble Buddhist to Sri Lankan Christian. His loss gives us a chance to reflect on the values he lived and that we, in turn, ought to continue to follow. Continue reading