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.

Embracing Impostor Syndrome

Cat posing as a meerkat
image source

It seems a fair amount of academics, especially women, suffer from impostor syndrome, “a constant fear of being discovered to be a fraud and a charlatan.” Self-doubt is surely a universal human trait, but we vary in our ability to suppress, ignore, and/or manage such feelings. What is perhaps somewhat unique about impostor syndrome among academics is that “it’s the successful who tend to suffer from it: In order to feel like you’re faking it, you need to have already reached a certain level in your discipline.” As Kate Bahn puts it, it’s “a twisted version of the Socratic paradox—the more you know, the more you feel like you know nothing.” I once calculated that for every book I read I find myself discovering at least ten new books or articles I feel I need to read. That means that if I read a book a week there are about five hundred and twenty new books on my list by the end of the year, each of which feels urgent and essential for my own intellectual development. One’s awareness of the vast body of knowledge we don’t know is actually part of what makes us “experts” but the price we pay for this expertise is a kind of self-doubt. It is always possible that the next book will contain the golden nugget we are searching for.

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The new AnthroSource is fantastic! Here’s why I won’t be using it.

I haven’t yet seen any official announcement from the AAA about the change,1 but if you now click on the “Login to use AnthroSource now” link from the top of the AAA website, you will get directed to this glorious webpage. Those who know me will be surprised to learn that I am not being the slightest bit ironic when I say the page is glorious. It truly is. Not only does it look great, but at long last searching through the back catalog of AAA journals is simple and easy. Even better, when you find something you can quickly access the content you are looking for without any hassles. If you are an AAA member you will have access to that content as part of your membership fee and won’t have to use your school’s VPN to get the content you want. Bravo to Wiley and AAA for pulling this off, it really should make AAA membership that much more attractive for everyone.

Having said that, I probably won’t be using this portal for my own research purposes. The first reason for this is that AnthroSource limits you to just two search options: you can search an individual journal, or you can through the entire catalog of all AAA journals. I almost never want to conduct either of these searches. The AAA archive is great, but I prefer to conduct narrower searches. For instance I might want to exclude archaeology journals, and journals focusing on Latin America and Europe, without confining myself to just one journal. Secondly, there are a number of Wiley anthropology journals not included in the AAA’s catalog that I would like to search along with the other cultural anthropology journals. These include: Anthropology Today, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Oceania, and Social Anthropology. Third, AnthroSource doesn’t currently offer an advanced search interface. That means you can’t limit the date range for searches or restrict your keyword search to the abstract or title of articles, etc.

Fortunately, it is already possible to conduct such a search via Wiley’s Advanced Search Page. Continue reading

Kennedy and the Triumph of the Social

While everyone should be celebrating the monumental decision of the Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages, there is also something in there that, along with this weeks’ ruling on the Fair Housing Act in Texas, should warm the hearts of social scientists in particular. Both of these decisions, in different ways, have advanced the view that our understanding of the real world matters for deciding legal principles. In Obergefell v. Hodges Kennedy argued that the proper interpretation of the constitution, of what it means to be “equal,” is subject to shifting societal norms:

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” he wrote on Friday. “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

And in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Kennedy argued that it is not necessary to establish a discriminatory intent in order to sue under the Fair Housing Act. Rather, it is enough to show that “an identified business practice has a disproportionate effect on certain groups of individuals.”

This move towards looking at real world context (Obergefell) and consequences (Texas) in deciding the law just makes sense to us as anthropologists. But while we should welcome the way that these rulings increase the sway of the social sciences in shaping the law, we should also be cautious, for it remains an open question exactly what kind of social science will be held to be relevant in deciding legal questions. The move to include real world implications of the law received its biggest push from the law and economics movement and it is likely that quantitative research by economists and sociologists will continue to hold sway over qualitative work. Certainly several members of the Supreme Court remain quite ignorant about anthropological research on subjects like marriage. At the same time, however, these two decisions by Kennedy seem to establish important precedents for the inclusion of social science research in how we think about the law, and I think that’s a good thing.

Welcome new blogger Uzma Rizvi!

Savage Minds has long been looking for an archaeologist whose writing would mesh well with our own (predominantly cultural anthropological) sensibility, and so when Uzma Rizvi guest blogged for us last August we knew we had found exactly what we had been looking for. We quickly asked her to consider joining the blog as a full time member. While interested, Uzma didn’t want to start until after the end of the school year. . . which has finally come around. So now it is with great pleasure that we welcome Uzma Rizvi, the newest addition to our team! We also would like to extend a hearty congratulations to Uzma on her recent promotion to Associate Professor! Below is a short bio from her academic homepage at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in Brooklyn, NY.

I am an anthropological archaeologist specializing in the archaeology of the first cities. I teach anthropology, ancient urbanism, issues in new materialisms, critical heritage studies, memory and war/trauma studies, decolonization/the postcolonial critique, and social practice. My current research work is largely focused on Ancient India and Ancient UAE, both during the 3rd millennium BCE. Beyond these vast umbrellas of interest, I have a few distinct projects that have been occupying my research world of late. These include, but are not limited to, understanding ancient subjectivity and related to that, the idea of an intimate architecture; war and trauma in relationship to the urban fabric; and finally, epistemological critiques of archaeology that have emerged from my earlier work in postcolonial theory.

Welcome Uzma!

The Limits of the Virtuoso

Via @jbouie
Via @jbouie

Pierre Bourdieu, in his famous critique of structuralism from Outline of a Theory of Practice, says:

only a virtuoso with a perfect command of his “art of living” can play on all the resources inherent in the ambiguities and uncertainties of behavior and situation in order to produce the actions appropriate to each case, to do that of which people will say “There was nothing else to be done”, and do it the right way.

Two recent headline-grabbing stories, Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover and Rachel Dolezal getting outed by her parents as “white,” have served to highlight the limits to virtuoso performance: the boundaries our society places over the individual’s ability to perform gender and ethnicity. Continue reading

Hegel on Physiognomy and Phrenology

(Chinese translation 中文翻譯)

For those of you who actually read Hegel’s Phenomenology in its entirety it will not come as news that there is a chapter on physiognomy & phrenology, but if you are like me and never made it that far on your first try, discovering his unique approach to criticizing these pseudosciences for the first time is quite an eye opener. I have been listening to Jay Bernstein’s two-semester course on the Phenomenology ever since Ann Stoler mentioned it in her conversation with Rex and I absolutely love it. In his lecture on this chapter Bernstein draws on Alasdair MacIntyre’s essay “Hegel on faces and skulls” which can be found in the book Hegel on Action and I thought Savage Minds readers would be interested in a summary of MacIntyre’s argument, especially since he makes an important comparison to the kind of neuroscience reductionism which is still so popular today. (And which is the whole raison d’être for the wonderful Neuroskeptic blog.)

Illustration in a 19th-century book about physiognomy
Illustration in a 19th-century book about physiognomy
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Savage Minds Reader Survey Results Part 1: Demographics

First of all, a big “Thank you!” to everyone who responded to the Savage Minds Reader Survey. Over the one month the survey was up Google tells us that we had 31,003 people visit the site1, but of those only 6,255 were returning visitors. It is that second number we want to target, since we aren’t really interested in the people who randomly end up on the site because they are Googling “jewish glam rock” or “origin sexy librarian” (although we’re happy if they become regular readers after ending up here). The fact that 430 people responded to the survey means we got about 7% of the regular readers during that period, which is fantastic. Of those almost half left their email to be entered in our prize drawing. The lucky winners have already been selected and (hopefully) notified of their prizes.

If you’d like to look at the survey results directly, take a look here. In this post I’m going to summarize some of the demographic data and information on how people use the site. At least one or two more posts will come later on with more information on the qualitative answers, and the data on employment and student debt, etc. Continue reading

Savage Minds Welcomes Rebecca Nelson

Savage Minds is happy to announce the selection of our new “around the web” intern, Rebecca Nelson!

Rebecca Nelson is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at the University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on volunteer tourism in Guatemala and how it is opening up new avenues for tourists and hosts to develop more cosmopolitan understandings of the world (as well as opening up new forms of friction over the circulation of knowledge). One of her claims to fame is that her image appeared in the Quetzaltenango paper El Diario, to her surprise, with the caption “Tourists Disappointed By Lack of WiFi in Parque Central.”

She’s about to submit the first draft of her Ph.D. thesis this week, so she won’t start posting weekly roundups till the 8th, but if you come across anything you’d like to bring to her attention you can email her at

Friction and the Newsing of Anthropology

AAA Executive Director, Ed Liebow, recently posted an Anthropology News editorial on the controversy which flaired up after they posted Peter Wood’s Anthropology News piece “Ferguson and the Decline in Anthropology.” In his editorial Liebow asks why the discussion about this piece has occured on Social Media and Blogs, not in the comments on Anthropology News itself:

Alex Golub presented a thoughtful counter-argument to Wood’s post on Savage Minds, pointing out why Wood is fundamentally misguided. I think he appropriately recognized a teachable moment, and effectively countered Wood’s assertion about the absence of evidence concerning structural racism. What I want to know is why Twitter? Why Savage Minds? Why not comment in Anthropology News?

While I can’t speak for Alex, I’d like to try to answer this question. Continue reading

Belief is a Practice

In an effort to cut through a lot of hot air being blown on the internet I recently argued that race (and gender) is a “technology of power.” I would like to follow that up with an argument that belief is best understood as a set of social practices, not as an internally coherent ideological system. This is because a large number of seemingly well-intentioned people on my timeline are arguing something along the lines of “we shouldn’t let Islam of the hook for terrorism.” In my previous post I argued that we should endeavour to engage the best arguments that we disagree with, not those easiest to dismiss. This is one reason I haven’t engaged this particular argument before. At first blush it strikes me as little more than laughable “clash of civilizations” Islamophobia (not that Islamophobia is funny). However, some recent discussions have convinced me that there might be a more anthropological version of this argument which is worth a more serious discussion. This argument has two parts: (1) that we should take people’s ideas seriously, including those of violent extremists, and (2) that we should not erase difference by arguing that all forms of violent extremism are the same (i.e. by arguing that not all, or even most, violent extremists are Muslims). I think few anthropologists would take issue with either point, but in so doing we would still not end up in the same place as those making these arguments.

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Don’t Trust Your Memory!

While this Slate article uses the recent news about Brian Williams as a hook, I think the advice it gives is very useful for anthropologists doing fieldwork. Whatever you think about Brian Williams, there is more and more evidence that human memories can’t be trusted. This is important for anthropologists who often rely upon their memories as a research tool. The article gives some good advice for avoiding that problem, much of which most anthropologists are probably already doing (keeping notes!) but it helps make clear just how important these practices are.

After decades of well-documented, prominent cases of memory distortion, people whose professions put a premium on facts and truth—journalists, politicians, business leaders, judges, lawyers, and public figures—should be aware of these limits. In fact, they have a responsibility to understand the fallibility of their memories and to take steps to minimize memory mistakes. If you are relying exclusively on your own memory when saying anything of consequence, especially when someone’s reputation is at stake, you must think twice.

I especially like the point that our most vivid and frequently recalled memories may be the most subject to distortion because “each recounting has the potential to introduce new distortions.” Worth keeping in mind!

Race is a Technology (and so is Gender)

I think there are two very different ways of talking about race and racism which frequently get conflated, and I think this confusion is responsible for a lot of wasted energy in various online debates. The same goes for discussions about gender and sexism. On the one hand we have a moralistic view of racism/sexism. This view seems more likely to be held by people who are decrying accusations of racism/sexism than by those who try to call attention to them, but not exclusively. Those who call out racism/sexism, on the other hand, are more likely to be talking about race/gender as technologies of power which work to systematically marginalize certain voices (and certain lives) than they are to be accusing anyone in particular of being immoral.

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