The 2016 MacArthur Fellows were announced yesterday and — unlike some years — there were no anthropologists on the list. Established back in 1981, the grant was intended not to find “geniuses” (despite the fact that its nicknamed the genius grant) but rather “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary orginality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. This year no anthropologists made the cut, but this isn’t how it always goes. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking about Dennis Tedlock and reading Marisol de la Cadena’s Earth Beings at the same time lately. Much of Earth Beings is concerned with intimacy, translation, and understanding — both cross-cultural and inter-personal. It seems to me that Earth Beings isn’t alone in having this concern. Although I am hardly an expert in this literature, Viveiros’s ‘controlled equivocation’, Holbrad’s Truth in Motion and much other work in this vein is really about what it means to understand someone who is different than you. Although much of this work is branded ‘ontology’ at times I feel like its central concern is really epistemology.
Jay Ellison’s recent letter on trigger warnings made the rounds of social media late last week, and this week the story continues to circulate. It’s a topic that hits close to home for me. I have two degrees (MA and Ph.D.) from Chicago. As a student, I worked part time in the Social Sciences and Humanities division and full time in Physical Sciences, punching down cross connects in building basements and visiting faculty offices to explain what ‘the web’ was. I sang the Sunday service in Rockefeller chapel, was married at Hillel, and had the reception at Ida Noyes (long story). At one point when I was writing up my Ph.D., working part time, and serving as the Starr Lecturer in anthropology, I joked that I was student, staff, faculty, and alum — simultaneously. I’ve been told that my latest book is featured on the front table of the Seminary Coop. What could be more Chicago then that?
That said, there are many people more connected to the university than I am. I am just an alum. But I still feel connected to my alma mater. That’s why I’m writing this letter to argue that Ellison’s letter is on the wrong side of this issue in general, and in violation of our university’s long-held academic values in particular.
In some sense, Ellison’s letter has little to do with Chicago itself. A newcomer to the university, Ellison is a full-time administrator with no faculty appointment (as far as I can tell) and, worse of all, has a Ph.D. from Harvard: A light-weight, blue-blooded institution which all true Chicago grads recognize as far more concerned with maintaining its cultural capital than letting scientia crescat and vita excolatur (of course, it could be worse — he could be from Yale). Continue reading
(update: I incorrectly spelled ‘Tedlock’ in the title of this post when it first went lived. This has now been corrected. Apologies.)
It seems like I’ve been writing a lot of obituaries lately. Between Elizabeth Colson, Edie Turner, and Anthony Wallace and Raymond Smith, I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about the past. Now, in close succession, we have also lost Paul Friedrich and Dennis Tedlock. It’s sad to record these passings, but I take some consolation in the fact that the people we remember have been so productive and matter so much to the people who mourn them — the world is richer for them having been in it. But in remembering these two today, I also want to talk briefly about how our discipline is changing, and what these demographic shifts might signal for anthropology’s future.
When Elizabeth Colson passed last month at the age of 99, anthropology lost one of its preeminent figures. Colson was a unique figure in many ways: She straddled the English and American anthropological traditions, rose to prominent positions of authority at a time when anthropology was still largely a men’s club, and exhibited a devotion to her research that few can match: According the Facebook post I was able to find confirming her death (thanks Hylton), Colson died and was buried in Africa.
Edith Turner — Edie as she was universally known — passed away on 18 June 2016. Perhaps the quickest and least accurate way to describe Edie is “Victor Turner’s wife”. But her importance in anthropology is pretty much totally erased by that description. Edie was a tremendous influence on Vic, and all of his work should be read with the recognition that there is a silent second author on the piece: Edie. But even reducing Edie to merely a co-author of some of the most important anthropology ever written doesn’t do her justice. Edie outlived Vic by 33 years, producing her own brand of anthropology with flair and originality. Edie produced around five books between Vic’s death and her passing — that is to say, after she was sixty-two years old, an age when most people are on the verge of retirement! In them, she crafted an audacious, unapologetic anthropology of religion that parted ways with secularism, science, and over-seriousness… and never looked back.
Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Duke University Press.
A few years ago, I had a chance to have lunch with David Price and some other people at the AAA meetings. Back then, he struck me as exactly like the kind of person you’d expect to be a professor at a small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest. Which is exactly what he is. Graying beard, laid back manner. I couldn’t see his feet but if he was wearing Birkenstocks, I wouldn’t be surprised. But beneath this amiable exterior is one of America’s most impressive historians of anthropology, a radical thinker and untiring author whose relentlessly probes the dark corners of our discipline’s history. In the course of twelve years Price has written three books which have helped redefine anthropology’s understanding of itself. And now, with Cold War Anthropology, Price brings his massive, precedent-make (and -busting) history of anthropology and American power to a close. It’s a defining moment in the history of anthropology, and deserves wide attention.
Please join me in reading responsively
We learned that Boycott supporters felt silenced and intimidated by the anti-Boycott sentiment in their departments while on the other hand anti-Boycott supporters felt silenced and intimidated by the Boycott sentiment in their departments.
We learned that the AAA could deal judiciously with a difficult topic or
We learned that the AAA’s curation of Israel’s “World Anthropology” was biased
we learned that everyone cared because turn out was at an all time high or
We learned that no one cared because only half the association votes
(but then again fifty percent is an F
even with grade inflation.)
We learned the other side couldn’t see how far right it was unless
The other side couldn’t see how far left it was.
The boycott was against anthropology’s commitment to relativism, tolerance, and dialogue and
The boycott was part of anthropology’s commitment to social justice.
We learned that the only reason the other side won is that they bought cookies to the business meeting
they purchased extra memberships just to vote.
We learned we couldn’t talk because politics is when the time for talking is past and
We learned should have talked more because talking is what politics is.
We learned that Israel is different than some have been told although
We learned the country is gravely misunderstood by others
We learned that we have the same values, just differently ranked or
have the same values, but believe different things are true
have different values, and differently rank what we think is true
but we don’t
have the same values and believe the same things
that is not the proper role of scholarly associations
this is the most important thing a scholarly association can do.
We learned that never again
or might mean
Because Jewish rights are human rights
and human rights are Palestinian rights
which are human rights which
is why never again means
what it does
#anthroboycott matters because we learned
we learned #anthroboycott matters because
Because we learned #anthroboycott matters
Matters learned because we #anthroboycott
we #anthroboycott because learned
learned because we #anthroboycott
we because #anthroboycott
I do not normally write about my duties as a professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa on this blog, since the blog isn’t associated with UHM and most of what I do in the classroom and committee meetings doesn’t belong on the Internet. But the Australian National University’s (ANU) recent decision to cut its School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL) deserves to be widely noted. This decision is not the first restructuring at Australia’s flagship university, and it will probably not be the last. But it is unique for its severity, short-sightedness, and the damage it will do to Australia’s well-earned reputation for excellence in studies of Asia and the Pacific. I would urge all readers to sign this petition to preserve the school. That said, there is one benefit to the ANU’s cuts: The increasing prestige and eminence of my university as a world center for study of Asia and the Pacific.
This is the start of a new series in the history of anthropology where I will document the way that grad school in anthropology has always sucked, there have never been jobs, and it is crazy to expect to make a living off of it. The reason is not neoliberalism, Obama, or anything else — or at least, these are not the only reasons grad school in anthropology has sucked. It is important to understand that wide variety of reasons that grad school has sucked, and the diverse methods by which people have grappled with this fact.
But my point here is not to produce another piece of quit lit. Rather, I want to add some historical depth to our sense of the chronic problems that academic anthropologists face. Anthropology, perhaps more than any other social science, has been deeply affected by the baby boom. Even today, we still live in a world where senior professors imagine there are as many job openings now as there were in 1965. We need a more expansive imagination of the challenges anthropologists have faced over the years. And, most importantly, we need to remember that there are many successful, happy survivors. Continue reading
There are a lot of things in life that can be solved with a good timeline. While most people tend to think of them as a specialized way of visualizing data, or something they learned about in elementary school, I love them. I think all my major research projects have involved creating timelines — they provide a level of organization to any project that is valuable. This could be just keeping track of when you interviewed who, or it could be to keep track of a complex case study. It could just be to keep track of when your exam papers are due. Basically, since you exist in time, the visual display of time will always be useful.
I’ve personally always been fascinated by the history of anthropology, and how telling stories about our past enables or disables certain futures for our discipline. At some point about ten years ago, I began a history of anthropology timeline and blogged about it on Savage Minds. I kept working on it, and did another post in 2010.
Since then my timeline has grown and now contains over 600 events! And in the course of doing this work, I’ve shifted between different software. After a decade of looking for Mac software to create timelines, I’ve found — and stuck with — Aeon Timeline. Continue reading
(Savage Minds is pleased to present this occasional post by Gregory Starrett, professor of anthropology at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This piece is a response to Charles Hirschkind’s Savage Minds piece A Smear in Disguise: Comments on Starrett. Hirschkind was himself replying to Starrett’s essay in anthropology news, The Symbolic Violence of Choice -Rx)
I am grateful to Charles Hirschkind, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness I’ve always appreciated, for his sharp observations on my essay in Anthropology News. I argued there that voting on whether or not to have the American Anthropological Association officially approve the boycott of Israeli academic institutions was a form of symbolic violence, an occasion for the precipitation of identities through multiple calls to order. I apologize for the number of times Charles had to read the essay in order to find hidden messages which were never actually there. So I will try to articulate its point more clearly below. His own exercise in eisegesis helps immensely with that task, because it works by attributing to me a set of political positions I do not hold, thereby pointedly illustrating the process I described. Continue reading
I was saddened to learn yesterday that my friend and colleague Bernard Bate passed away. A scholar in his prime in his mid-fifties, Barney (as he was known) was a model of vitality, health, optimism. On paper, Barney’s story is straightforward: A Chicago anthropology alumn with a speciality in Tamil oratory, he taught at Yale before moving to Yale-NUS, an innovative liberal arts college in Singapore where Yale and the National University of Singapore created a unique curriculum combining Western and Eastern classical traditions. His book, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic says a lot about Barney: It’s sly reference to Weber encapsulates the mix of playfulness and profound depth that marked Barney’s scholarship. The book is also a homage to Barney’s deep personal commitment to Tamil as a language, Madurai as a place, and to the global Tamil-speaking community.
But it is really in this YouTube clip where you can catch a sense of Barney’s remarkable personality. Asked by the interviewer what duty Tamil speakers have to preserve their language, Barney immediately turns the question around. “I wouldn’t put it like that,” he says. “What joy of preserving your language, I would say. I mean, it’s not a really a duty.” And then, switching into Tamil, he walks the walk by talking the talk, ending with the line “it’s your duty to enjoy your language.”