All posts by Kerim

P. Kerim Friedman is an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University, in Taiwan, where he teaches linguistic and visual anthropology. He is co-director of the film Please Don't Beat Me, Sir!, winner of the 2011 Jean Rouch Award from the Society of Visual Anthropology. Follow Kerim on Twitter.

Assume the Crash Position

As I mentioned at the beginning of the month, we are getting ready for some big changes around here. To ensure that everything goes smoothly, we will be taking the site offline sometime on Friday evening (Eastern Standard Time). If all goes well, the site should be back up early Saturday morning with the new layout and the restored archives in place. I’ll keep this post active as a place for you to post your reactions (good or bad) to the new site, as well as for catching any bugs in the code.

UPDATE: Welcome to the new/old site! It is new because we have a fresh new look, and it is old because all our archives going back to 2005 have been restored. We are still working on ironing out a few things here and there, so please let us know if anything is broken, not working, or not to your liking. And if you like the new site, please don’t hold back from sharing your praise!

Doing Anthropology in Public

I’m not going to link to a certain New York Times columnist who inspired this post. His piece about how there are no good public intellectuals anymore is a pathetic attempt to troll the academic community. He clearly doesn’t read widely enough to know better. Or he does, but he chooses to pretend otherwise. I do, however, want to say something about anthropologists as public intellectuals. It may be an obvious point, but it is something I think all too often gets overlooked when we have these discussions. The thing is, anthropology is full of public intellectuals. You see anthropologists across all different forms of media, from leading newspapers to blogs, to local talk radio. You see anthropologists working on behalf of communities all around the world as well as working as bridges between communities. And you see anthropologists working daily with the large portion of the public that is in school, training the next generation of public intellectuals.

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ManDove

The filmmakers behind one of my favorite ethnographic films from last year, ManDove, are not professional anthropologists, but you’d never know that from watching this insightful, sensitive portrait of Indonesia’s National Perkutut Championship — a singing competition for doves. In fact, Kian Tjong, who made the film with his partner Jim de Sève, calls himself “a self-taught anthropologist and sociologist” and so it is only the lack of some institutional stamp of approval which prevents me from referring to him as a “professional” anthropologist…

The official synopsis for ManDove does a good job of setting up the story:

To be a real man, one must have a wife, a house, a horse, a dagger and a singing dove. – Javanese traditional wisdom

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Big News!

Three big announcements…

Founded in 2005, Savage Minds is now nine years old. Our current design is a default WordPress template I used when our original (more colorful) theme somehow got corrupted, preventing Google from indexing our site. Then our site went down again about a year ago when our hosting company decided it didn’t want to honor a promise made by a smaller company it had bought-out. This was a terrible crisis for us as we somehow hadn’t backed up the site in years, falsely believing that our host was keeping adequate backups on our behalf. Unsure of what to do next, we threw this temporary site up on WordPress.com, using the same generic template we’d been using before. Now all that is about to change, and a number of other things as well.

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Spoiler Alert!

Winner of the SVA’s Jean Rouch Award in 2012, Stori Tumbuna is the only ethnographic film I can think of for which one has to watch out for “spoilers.” Indeed, what starts off as a seemingly generic ethnographic film soon turns into a Blair Witch-esque horror film. Despite the title of this post, I don’t intend to write any spoilers —I really don’t want to ruin for anyone the pleasure I felt watching this film the first time — but there really is only so much I can say about the film without giving too much away… The story is so well crafted and shifts gears so subtly from ethnography to horror that the discerning and suspicious viewer will likely find themselves caught up in the excitement without even noticing the switch.

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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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Faculty Professors

As many of you know, our blog title comes from Lévi-Strauss’s book Pensée Sauvage, translated in English as The Savage Mind, but which is a pun on the French word for “wild pansies” (viola tricolor). We are now working on a redesign of our website and I’ve been spending a lot of my time searching Google for good images of wild pansies that we could use for our banner.

The image on the blog sidebar right now is the one that was on the cover of Lévi-Strauss’s book. It is by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to find high-resolution scans of this image in the public-domain. I have found some other botanical illustrations that I like, but was still looking when I discovered the work of Count Franz Pocci, who painted this delightful painting, which I just had to share with everyone:

viola tricolor

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A Disempowering Rant

Welcome to the NHK

I usually try to avoid ranting about my pet-peeves, but I just gotta get this one off my chest: what’s up with leftist academics criticizing a theory for being “disempowering”? I don’t even know where to begin with such criticism. It is as if someone, upon learning of such a theory, would be so overwhelmed by the inevitability of domination that they simply give up trying to make the world a better place. Has this ever happened to someone? Really?!

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House Cleaning

Since restoring the old site was taking so long, we took the plunge and paid WordPress.com the $100 to be able to use our old domain here, it also gets rid of the ads which were bothering us. (We’ve always been ad-free.) We still haven’t been able to restore our old posts, and we are still working on moving the site to our own self-hosted account, but all that will take much longer than we thought. Till then, we didn’t feel it was necessary to constantly advertise that this was a temporary site. If you have any problems using the site as a result of the changes, please let us know.

Beyond the College Essay

UPDATE: Rebecca Schuman has come under fierce attack for her article, including calls that she be fired. Please see this letter of support.

Rebecca Schuman has a piece in Slate which is getting a lot of attention. Titled “The End of the College Essay: An essay” she complains that “It wastes 15 hours of my time to mark up my students’ flaccid theses and non sequitur textual ‘evidence’” especially when plagiarism is so rampant and the students who actually read comments are the ones who need them the least, etc. She is quick to add that “Of course it would be better for humanity if college in the United States actually required a semblance of adult writing competency.” But insists that she has tried everything, all to no avail. In the end, she offers up some alternatives to writing papers, such as written and oral exams. It is an intentionally provocative piece, and I’d like to make use of this provocation by making a few points drawn from my personal experience as well as some more general observations based on things I’ve read.

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Support the Internet Archive

When Savage Minds went down unexpectedly, everything would have been lost if it wasn’t for the Internet Archive. On out sidebar is a link to the site backup on their servers, where almost all of our old posts are preserved. Please help us thank the Internet Archive by making a donation to their current fundraising drive. Via BoingBoing, here’s how you can have your donation count three-fold:

An incredibly generous anonymous donor is helping the Internet Archive rebuild — and grow — by matching every donation made before 2014 three-to-one. That means your $50 donation results in a $200 contribution. They are raising $1,000,000 before the end of the year to fund more machines and five petabytes — that’s five thousand terabytes! — of storage.”

And yes, we do hope to eventually restore the old site, thank you for your patience!

Media at the AAAs: Toward Greater Accessibility

[This is an invited post by Lavanya Murali Proctor. Lavanya is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist who believes that the academic class system is incompatible with the principles and ethics of anthropology, and therefore we can—and should—be at the frontlines of this battle. She lives online at @anthrocharya].

Many contingent faculty have noted that the AAAs are very expensive, and therefore exclude those who cannot afford to go—a fairly large number of anthropologists. At the Chicago meetings, I spoke to a few members of the AAA governance on this issue. They said that the AAA aims to increase accessibility broadly defined. This is no bad thing considering the meetings are inaccessible in a variety of ways to a variety of people, which problems anthropologists rehash every year (for example, unaffordable to adjuncts or hard to navigate for anthropologists with disabilities). The focus, in increasing accessibility, is on media and technology.

The question I’d like to throw open to the readership of this blog is this: do you have any suggestions for participatory media technologies that can be used at the meetings that would allow those currently excluded to be included as presenters and collaborators and not just audiences (within the parameters of limited bandwidth)?

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Snapshots of AAAs Past

AAA No.1*

My god, who are all these people? I never knew there were so many anthropologists! And so many books, panels, sub-fields, panels, etc. how to navigate it all? Maybe I’ll run out and do some sight-seeing instead…

AAA No.2

I’m giving a paper this time, but luckily it’s scheduled at a time nobody except my adviser will be there. Now that I’m in grad school I know some people who can help me navigate. I follow them around like a baby chicken. Continue reading

The Digital Revolution and Anthropological Film

[The following is an invited post by Jay Ruby. Jay has been exploring the relationship between cultures and pictures for the over forty years. His research interests revolve around the application of anthropological insights to the production and comprehension of photographs, film, and television. For the past three decades, he has conducted ethnographic studies of pictorial communication among several U.S. communities.]

I first became interested in documentary and ethnographic film in the 1960s and was a witness to a profound technological change motivated by the need some filmmakers had to create a new cinematic form. It occurred in two places almost simultaneously – France and the U.S. Filmmakers wanted lightweight 16mm cameras with sync sound that needed no lighting and would need only a small crew for location shoots. In 1960, Drew Associates – Bob Drew, Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennybaker jerry-rigged a fairly lightweight 16mm camera attached to a synced tape recorder and made the first American Direct Cinema film, Primary. (Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007) With its grainy, wobbly sometimes out of focus images and often-garbled sound, the film radically altered how some U.S documentarians made movies. While an interest in observational style films was relatively short among U.S. documentarians, some European anthrofilmmakers still consider it the best way to make films (See Anna Grinshaw and Amanda Ravetz’s 2009 Observational Cinema: Film and the Exploration of Social Film, Indiana University Press).

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Tweeting Westgate

[The following is an “invited post” by Dr. Sarah Hillewaert. Sarah is an Assistant Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her works focuses on shifting notions of personhood and the changing linguistic and material practices of youth in (coastal) Kenya.]

On Saturday September 21st 2013, an upscale shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya became the target of a ruthless siege. A group of gunmen, their estimated number ranging between 6 and 15, entered the Westgate Mall and opened fire on bewildered shoppers, indiscriminately killing men, women and children. A few hours into the siege, Al-Shabaab – a Somali Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda – claimed the Westgate attack, not through an auspicious video delivered to a major television network, nor through an official statement of Al-Shabaab’s leader, Ahmed Godane, but via a Tweet on the organization’s Twitter account. The militants’ use of social media, and of Twitter in particular, would be featured centrally in the international media’s coverage of the attack. This preoccupation with Al-Shabaab’s use of new media technology, and the concern it was able to create, revealed much more about our apprehension toward the unexpected linkages and similarities social media create than it did about Al-Shabaab’s international reach. The media coverage of the Westgate siege illustrated how we laud the “power” of social media when it generates desirable similarities; unanticipated linkages, however, need to be explained away. A focus on “outliers” or “extremists,” or the identification of practices that answer to our social imaginary then restores the familiar distance between of “us” and “them.” 

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