The editorial collective at Savage Minds has decided to change our name. We have several reasons for this, but mostly feel that the name no longer fits or best represents the blog. As a title, “Savage Minds” was a sort of anthropological insider’s double pun. As we explain on our About page, the name “comes from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind, published in 1966. The original title of the book in French, La Pensée Sauvage, was meant to be a pun, since it could mean both ‘wild thought’ or ‘wild pansies,’ and he put pansies on the cover of the book, just to make sure readers got the pun. Lévi-Strauss was unhappy with the English title of his book, which he thought ought to have been “Pansies for Thought” (a reference to a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet). We liked the phrase “savage minds” because it captured the intellectual and unruly nature of academic blogging. As a result, the pansy has become our mascot as well.” And thus, a blog was born in 2005.
In 2016, however, we found ourselves in a different political moment in the discipline as well as the world. For a while, some of us have been privately mulling over a name change, but right now no longer feels like a time to ponder, but one to act. And so we are acting now in response to international political trends towards populism and xenophobia in general, and in response to an earlier impetus in particular. In June 2015, one of our wonderful guest bloggers, Zoe S. Todd, posed an important challenge to us in a very generous way:
“So, I’ve danced a bit around the elephant in the room in the last few weeks, which is something I want to bring up in a loving and gentle way before we begin. As I’ve sought out Indigenous and/or POC people to interview for this series, I have found myself in the rather awkward position, as a Métis scholar, of asking you (and others) to do an interview on your work and your experiences in the academy for a blog titled Savage Minds. So, I guess before we begin I just want to get it out of the way that this title bothers me somewhat. And I want to re-iterate that I say this in a loving, open way. I mean, I understand that it is a nod to a highly regarded French anthropologist. And I love a good play on words (especially one that involves wild flowers!)–particularly ones that draw attention to contested words, or those that draw attention to words with baggage. And I acknowledge that Levi-Strauss has perhaps one of the most influential people in Anthropology in a great long while. But, as an Indigenous woman, it’s another one of those moments that puts me in a ‘double bind‘, so to speak–I want to celebrate anthropology while at the same time, some of our language and our phrasing, even when used ironically, alienates me from the anthropological academy—how do I explain to my non-anthropology friends that in writing for something titled ‘savage’ that the title is meant to be a nuanced commentary on anthropology’s history? It has made it awkward for me to seek out Indigenous interviewees for this series because I feel that I have to keep explaining the context of the title in an apologetic way in order to move forward. I don’t know how to address this, other than to preface our interview with a gentle statement about it just so it’s clear that I myself am struggling with the complex position of wrangling with the multiple, complicated facets of using words like savage (or indeed other loaded words from Anthropology’s past, like primitive or ‘hunter-gatherer’) in our work. Because while this title is playful and purpose-full (and politically informed), I have also been the person in the room critiqued for ‘going native’ by a classmate. How do we make space to talk about what happens when ironic use of phrases can unwittingly create space for the un-ironic, deliberate and pejorative use of phrases within our discipline?”
We’ve sat with these words for a while now. It has taken over a year, but we are changing our name. The title “Savage Minds” was not meant to be offensive, but we acknowledge that it can be seen that way, read that way, and felt that way. We are going to choose a new name, one that will better represent us and the discipline, as well as reflect the progressive commitments to scholarship that this blog and its bloggers have held dear for so long. We will not erase our history or our love of puns or pansies, but instead will explain when asked why the blog was named Savage Minds and why, in 2016, we decided we wanted to change the name.
We have been brainstorming new names among ourselves, and would like to open up the process to you—our readers—to suggest new names for us to consider. Please put your suggestions in the comments section below. We will be soliciting suggestions through Thursday, December 15.
We look forward to moving forward together. We look forward to all a new name might bring. And we like to think there still might be some unruly irreverence every now and then. Thank you.