All posts by Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.

Grambling State as football in dialectic

The corporate enclosure of American academia continues apace. Some current events have brought this into sharper focus, both revolving around the mania for assessment. A third news story offers us hope in the guise of some unlikely role models.

Does anything embody neoliberalism in education to a greater degree than standardized testing? While I’m not expert enough to proclaim a starting point for neoliberalism (the late, great Neil Smith took a stab at it) and can remember well sitting through ITBS all the way back in 1984 Texas, we can acknowledge No Child Left Behind as a symbolic and significant policy event shaping the contemporary education scene. NCLB was supposed to be the centerpiece of Bush’s promised “compassionate conservativism” and, indeed, it does have a sensible conservative principle at its core. Recipients of public monies ought to be held accountable such that resources flow to more effective programming.

Anyone shepherding their children through public K-12 education knows what this has meant in practice. Stress and anxiety imposed on young bodies by high stakes testing. Weeks and weeks of teaching to the test. Loss of teacher’s instructional freedom. Disciplining young bodies into docility before computer monitors, diligently clicking away with a mouse for hours. Hours for a little kid to take these tests ya’ll.

Hey! I’ve got a great idea! Let’s bring standardized testing to higher education and use student performance on the test to assess faculty. A recent article in the Chronicle, “States Demand That Colleges Show How Well Their Students Learn” 10/28/13 (behind paywall but worth reading if you have access), describes just such a movement.
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Bloggers and Digital Anthropologists Unite at AAA

In late November the American Anthropological Association will convene its 112th annual meeting in little town right outside Gary, Indiana, and the name of that town is Chicago! The AAA conference gives professional anthropologists (particularly cultural anthros) a chance to preview some of the latest research in their fields, chime in at section business meetings, and hug old friends. For those of us active in the blogosphere, tweetosphere, and other technological hoohah we’re given a chance to put faces to the screen names.

Last year some of us collaborated to create what’s called a “interest group,” a club basically, within the AAA for those of interested in digital anthropology. The DANG organizational business meeting was a roaring success, ideas were floated, business cards were exchanged, hands were uhm… shaken? shook? Anyways, it was a great time and we do in fact have a tangible and official result that you can participate in at this year’s conference as a result. “Bridging digital and physical publics: Digital anthropologists’ current engagement with 21st century publics” chaired by Bonnnie Nardi (UC-Irvine) and Sydeny Yeager (SMU) is on the preliminary program for Friday morning.

DANG is grateful to the Society for Visual Anthropology who reached out to us and invited us to submit a conference panel proposal for them to review. Bloggers and other digirati: if you have this slot free in your schedule please join us at the panel so that we can make plans to socialize later. Sydeny tells me she’s interested in meeting people over lunch afterwards. In the past we’ve had great turn outs for our AAA tweet-up where bloggers and tweeters show up at a nearby pub one night. Someone will take the initiative for this in mid-November. Probably a Chicago alum. Rex, I’m looking in your general direction…

Of course not everyone has the opportunity to travel — conferences are pricey. I know! I’m still paying off my credit card from the last one. But for those of you who will be present I would invite you to take this space on Savage Minds to begin thinking about meeting up in meatspace. If you’re a blogger and will be at the conference or are presenting on topics related to digital anthropology tell us about your blog or panel in the comments section. Viva DANG!

Around the Web Digest

The kids have this thing called Twitter and since most of us Savages are courting a mid-life crisis we decided it would be a good idea to get hip and shout the academic equivalent of “Get off my lawn” from our respective ivory towers. Now if only we could afford convertibles everything would be all right! Follow us @savageminds or like our Facebook page, which pretty much has the same thing. If you’re actively avoiding the timesuck of social networks, you’re in luck because ever month or two I collect all the tweets here on the blog. If you’ve seen something around the web that you’d like to share with the Savage Minds community, email me at [mdthomps@odu.edu] or tweet back at us. So, without further ado here’s a selection of what we were reading in August and September.

August

An anthropologist among the librarians

It’s been more than five weeks since I first settled in Librarilandia and the natives are starting to accept me as one of their own. Since navigating the perilous voyage to this out of the way place and enduring countless humiliations as I’ve embarrassed myself in a bumbling effort to learn their customs and expectations I have finally begun networking in earnest. The pace of the note taking has picked up too. Now, having studied at the feet of the Librarian elders, I can begin to offer these first insights, hunches, and observations.

In the mode of Ruth Benedict, here’s a list of “Anthropologists do this… but Librarians do that.”

1. Information Science has an ambivalent relationship to science

What was once called “library science” is now increasingly known as “information science,” but what is so scientific about it? Much like in anthropology it is in part a rhetorical move, to position oneself in a way to claim the authority of science. Which is not to say that science is absent. Anthropology is inclusive too of ecology and evolution, Boas saw the application of cultural relativism in the scientific method as making a break with the amateur scholars of the Victorian Era, and even the Writing Culture crowd argues that radical reflexivity is actually in keeping with more empiricism, not less. Similarly for the information sciences. It has its toes dangling into the waters of mathematics, logic, and computer programing. It has a tradition of what I would call “scientistic” internal communications: they love charts and graphs and diagrams. But there just aren’t a whole lot of natural laws about information, so it is still very humanistic in its orientation.

2. Regardless of the science issue, librarians are still positivists Continue reading

Colonial Entanglement [Book Review]

Colonial Entanglement [book review]

Dennison, Jean. 2012. Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-first Century Osage Nation. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill.

Framed by the public debates surrounding the Osage Nation’s moment of constitutional reform in the mid-2000s this ethnography illuminates the diversity of ways Osage define themselves and imagine their future as a polity, creating and negotiating ideas of self and nation. The first book from Jean Dennison, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Colonial Entanglement makes a strong contribution to the study of American Indian identity. It will be a must-read for anyone working with Native nations in the midst of institutional reform.

dennison_colonial_PB

Contemporary relationships between Native Nations and their land can be shaped by complicated colonial histories. The Osage situation is especially convoluted! The colonizer did something unique to the Osage and Dennison begins by orienting the reader. In 1906 when the reservation was allotted, the mineral rights were separated from the surface lands. Some Osage held mineral wealth as a collective but all individuals held their land as ordinary private property. Thus the tribal membership roll is greater than the number of members with shares in the mineral trust. To be an Osage citizen you have to be a lineal descendant of someone on the 1906 roll, but all the headrights to the mineral trust were distributed at the moment of allotment. To have a share of the mineral trust you have to be descended from someone who was allotted and that’s a more select group than those who are enrolled.

The author shares a family anecdote. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest

Every day at Savage Minds we are diligently scouring the web for the best and most relevant current events and anthropology blogs. Ha! No not really. We just throw some stuff up on Twitter every once in awhile. But some of it is actually pretty good. At the first of the month I re-post our tweets here on the blog, just in case you missed one.

If you like your links a little more fresh, I invite you to follow us @savageminds or like our Facebook page. And if you’ve seen something around the web that you’d like to share with our community you can reach me at [mdthomps@odu.edu].

Best Worst Job Interview

I know its not exactly jobs season, but I was inspired by this epic open thread about usual/ inappropriate/ trick questions that have come up in a job interview. A tour through the comments section reveals that a lot of people get asked about their marital status, kids, and religion. And a fair number of people claim to have been asked brain teasers or to solve puzzles, which, obviously, the Lifehacker readership is more business and tech focused than academic, but I would be blown away in some of those scenarios.

I’ve heard some crazy stories about weird interview committee behavior, too. Committee members falling asleep mid-interview, etc. Once, for a postdoc interview I was asked what my definition of critical thinking was and how I approached that in the class room. I replied that I thought it was the ability to draw connections between material in the course and events in the real world, and you do this linking up theoretical to the applied. To which my interviewer replied with an exasperated, quizzical, “Ohhh-kaaay.” That was the same interview where none of the interviewers were in the same room, it was done as a five way conference call.

I’ve flopped some interviews hard too. Like the one where they were looking for a specialist in a particular sub-field, but that wasn’t advertized in the job listing. But then, the alchemy of writing job ads could be left for a whole other post.

So the Lifehacker post got me thinking. What are the hardest, wackest, most left-field job interview questions you’ve had to answer? I’ll go first. In an interview for a admissions job I was asked, “What qualities would you use to describe your ideal supervisor?” Ouch!

Harry Potter on a Sunday Morning

Public anthropology is something any of us can do and its a practice we can engage in at any scale. I’ve written before about how anthropology helped me speak in front of city council to save the bookmobile and I’ve advocated for a public anthropology that is “fast, cheap, and out of control” — meaning it can be local, easy, and not professionally oriented.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to do something new that was very rewarding for me. I gave a sermon! I’ve included the text of it here. It’s a long read (I had 20 minutes to fill), but if turning cultural relativism into a religion is your cup of tea you might enjoy it. What a treat it was for me to deliver it.

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If you’re nostalgic about church but are too anti-authoritarian to put your kids in Sunday school, if you’re interested in your spiritual well-being but can’t stand rules, if you don’t mind a little New Age hugging then check out your local UU. You’ll meet a lot of misfits, hippies, New Englanders, and people who for whatever reason had to walk away from other religions. As my friend Ayla, who grew up in the UU, describes it, “It’s a little bit of Christianity, a little bit of rock and roll.”

Chances are you’ll find other anthropologists, scientists, and professors too. For example my minister has a PhD in physics from Princeton. When I shared with him this story about how some Christian fundamentalists reject Set Theory he said, “Well then, they must object to Godel’s incompleteness theorem as well.” UU’s are a bunch of smartypants.

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Heavy Hearted and Sick: Responding to the Verdict of Zimmerman

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Dana-Ain Davis, Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College. She is author of “Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform” and, most recently, co-editor with Cristina Craven of the volume “Feminist Activist Ethnography.” Davis has served as President of the Association of Black Anthropologists and is currently editor of the ABA journal, Transforming Anthropology.

 

Heavy Hearted and Sick

by Dana Davis

It has been six days since the verdict.  Nothing has changed; I was heavy hearted and sick then, and I continue to be.  I was not surprised at the verdict, but I was glad I did not have a son.  I was sad that I even had the thought. I wrote my friends with boy children and reminded them that they should ask their friends to make a protective circle around their sons to shield them from the atrocities of racism.

It has also been six days since Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida received a sentence of 20 years because she defended herself against her abusive husband by firing warning shots inside her home at the ceiling to stop him from attacking her.  As a result I must equally remind my friends that they should rely on their friends to make a protective circle around their daughters from the atrocities of racism and sexism.

In the moments just after the verdict of Not Guilty was announced in the case of the State vs. Zimmerman, on Saturday July 13th, and the State vs. Marissa Alexander, I was unable to fall asleep, unable to quell the rage. My mind in a state of excess activity, thinking about what this verdict meant, and what I might do.  Because I stayed up most of the night mourning, I quickly found out that there were protests planned across the country one of which would be in Union Square in New York City.

In the days after Trayvon Martin was killed, I attended the vigil in Union Square, brushing lightly against his mother as she was ushered from the podium to the front of a line forming to lead the march.  So it seemed fitting to go there again; it seemed like a good place to be in the company of others who also felt the same rage.  No explanation for tears, or silence, hugs and handholding would be necessary. I went.  I marched some, but the flame of rage would not die out. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest

For most of the year I’ve been slacking on the Around the Web Digests and only doing them every other month. Might as well try and turn that habit around in the summer time, you know? Set a new groove forward into the fall. You can get tweets from Savage Minds on a pseudo-daily basis by following us @savageminds or liking our Facebook page. If you’ve seen something around the web that you’d like to share with our online community email me at [mdthomps@odu.edu].

So, without further ado, here’s a sampling of what we were reading in June. Enjoy!

Eco on Fascism

When I was in high school I thought Utne Reader was the bees knees and one summer I even managed to stumble through Foucault’s Pendulum all the way to the end. Didn’t understand a goddamn thing, but Umberto Eco took on the mantle of  intellectual superhero in my imagination. So picture the waves of nostalgia that came washing over me this afternoon as I rediscovered an Eco piece published by Utne, squirreled away amongst ancient file folders full of xeroxed articles.

The fall semester of 2002 I was a greenhorn grad student and I shared full responsibility with another grad  for a service-learning course on American multiculturalism called UNITAS — the twist was all the enrolled students lived together in a themed dorm. So this was at the peak of post-9/11 hysteria. Good times. Required reading included this essay that by its date, November 1995, must have first caught my eye as a freshman in college. It’s still a keeper, so I thought I’d share it with you. Here it is in precis.

Eco, Umberto. 1995. “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” Utne Reader, No. 72. Nov-Dec 95. Reprinted from The New York Review of Books (June 22, 1995).

Eco acknowledges that many of these traits are contradictory and representative of other kinds of despotism, nevertheless he feels it is possible to outline the qualities of an “Ur-Fascism”. I especially keep my eye out for #8.

1. The cult of tradition. “There can be no advancement in learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.”

2. Rejection of modernism. “Even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements… The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

3. Action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
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Healing Secular Life — Book Review

Savage Minds would like to welcome back guest blogger Ayla Samli and thank her for contributing this review of  Healing Secular Life: Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey by Christopher Dole, a 2012 publication from the University of Pennsylvania Press. While at Rice U. Samli completed her dissertation field research in Turkey and currently is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

Review by Ayla Samli

I met Christopher Dole’s Healing Secular Life: Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey with an eyeroll, the kind you might give an old uncle who tries to tell you a joke you’ve heard at every family gathering since the beginning of time. I looked at the book, winced at “secular” and “Turkey” in the title, and put it down, realizing that my dissertation-related injuries were fresher than I had imagined.

But the word “healing” in the title surprised and enticed me just a little. Isn’t healing misplaced here? Isn’t healing part of a somatic process, an outlier in the religio-political arenas of Turkey? For those unfamiliar with the anthropology (or the news, or anything making mention) of Turkey, religious and secular are binarized, regularly cast at odds in very tired ways.

However, as the demonstrations happening now reveal to the world, Turkey is full of internal dissonance. Dole’s book pushes beyond the predictable configurations of secular and Muslim, addressing instead healing practices among Sunni and Alevi healers and their respective neighborhoods in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.

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Around the Web Digest

Most days somebody has got something worth tweeting @savageminds, although we slowed down a bit there at the end of the semester. This digest collects links we shared in April and May. If you’ve got something you want to share with the Savage Minds community — particularly if it comes off an anthropology blog, even if its your own — send me an email at [mdthomps@odu.edu]. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

April

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Reimagine the Masters

Sunday morning I’m flipping through the Memorial Day coupon flyers and scanning the headlines when I noticed this title from the WaPo: “Master’s degree programs surge”

Georgetown, for example, awarded 1,871 bachelor’s degrees and 2,838 master’s degrees in 2012. Its annual bachelor’s output rose 12 percent over eight years. Its growth in master’s: 82 percent.

My first thought was about how this is representative of the continuing corporate inclosure of the university. Just like a suburban chain restaurant looking to get its customers served and back out the door without any loitering, universities can hope to improve their revenue by making short graduate degrees more attractive than long ones.

This news story, in addition to having really interesting Marxist remarks in the comments section about capital forcing labor to pay for its own training, got me thinking about how anthropology could get in on the MA hustle. Granted, it’s not a natural fit. For many persons — professional anthropologists included — a Masters in anthropology is not a very valuable degree. How has that come to be? And does that necessarily need to be the case?
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Summer reading…

The semester is over and grades are in. My family just moved to a bigger place — one block down the street, actually — thanks to my wife’s tenure promotion. And the stress of the two combined, plus Herculean applications of caffeine and alcohol (I thought they were supposed to cancel each other out, no?) has got me nursing a stubborn infection. While I convalesce I am enjoying being reunited with my book collection, which has mostly been in boxes in the attic since 2007. Last night I picked up Frazer’s The Golden Bough, one of many texts I purchased in a fit of compulsive consumerism but never read, and have resolved to read things I enjoy this summer.

What will you be reading now that classes are out?