All posts by Rex

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

Octopuses can see in the dark: Theme and variation

The original:

New York Times: For an Octopus, Seeing the Light Doesn’t Require Eyes

Which in other formats would be:

Scientific American: Octopuses Don’t Require Eyes To See

American Ethnologist: Visibility of Surface and Surface of Visibility: Octopuses Don’t Require Eyes to See

Cultural Anthropology: Entangled Skin and Vibrant Light: New Surfaces for Anthropology

Twitter: 4 realz! http://nyti.ms/1AmvllU #for #an #octopus #seeing #the #light #doesn’t #require #eyes

Feel free to add your own in the comments.

You can help stop drastic cuts to NSF funding for anthropology

Paid-up AAA members got an unusual email in their inboxes the other day from Monica Heller, the president of the American Anthropological Association. It’s unusual to get AAA direct mailing, and those of us who do often are halfway to hitting the delete button before we even get around to reading the subject line. This is one email, however, that we should all take seriously: Next week the House of Representatives will be debating the ‘COMPETES’ Act (H.R. 1806), which will, in essence, cut NSF funding of anthropology in half. This is one to worry about, folks.

I’ve argued in the past that the NSF already radically underfunds the social sciences. This new bill cuts the budget of the SBES (social, behavioral, and economic sciences) 45%, and targets a third of funding for one units (the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics) while leaving the other units to fight for the scraps.

Luckily, it is easy to tell your representatives what a lousy idea you think this is — head over to Vox Pop and follow their simple and easy process to send an email to your representative letting them know that you think anthropology and the social sciences deserve better.

Not all anthropologists practice a version of our discipline that is scientific — that’s why we also apply for funding from agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities. But for many of us, anthropology is a STEM discipline: an evidence-based research science interested in generating generalizable models of cultural and social process. It may not always look this way to non-anthropologists, mostly because hypothesis formation in inductive, qualitative field research looks a lot different from the version of the scientific method you are taught in high school. But that’s ok — numerous studies of bench science have shown that lab work doesn’t look very much like high school version of the scientific method either.

Consider, for instance, the winner of the 2015 Bateson Award,  Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think. The Bateson award is given out by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, the section of the AAA most likely to be named as anti-science by people who consider themselves pro-science. Kohn’s book is widely viewed as a part of the theoretical turn towards ‘ontology’, which is in turn seen as being the most anti-scientific approach imaginable. In fact, Kohn is quite frank in emphasizing his debt to Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist who does interdisciplinary work in neurobiology and human evolution. As counterintuitive as it may seem to  some, books like How Forests Think are tied to a scientific project which the NSF currently supports — but might not for much longer.

So take the time to click through this link and help support federal funding for anthropology. Thanks.

savageminds and anthropology.info meet in person

Back in the day when the original group of Minds first got this blog all stood up, the anthropology scene was in a different, pre-Twitter phase of deeper engagement and longer entries. We knew each other. Since then some blogs have given up the ghost, others have moved on to bigger and better things, and two (or three!) generations of anthropology blogs have replaced them.

Throughout all this time, there has always been antropologi.info. Founded in 2004 by Lorenz Khazaleh, this multilingual blog has been covering anthropology for longer than SM. Lorenz’s pace on the blog has slowed down and sped up (and slowed down again) over the years, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the most experienced anthropology bloggers around.

I was so pleasantly surprised, therefore, when I ran into him at a recent conference in Oslo. For the first time in eleven years of blogging, we were face to face for the first time! It was a genuine pleasure — especially when someone explained to me that ‘Lorenz’ was actually the true name for the blogger I knew as  ‘antropologi.info’!

We were so excited we took a picture. Here it is for the record books:

Rex and Lorenz in Oslo
Rex and Lorenz in Oslo

This picture comes just in time for SM’s tenth anniversary, which we’ll be marking in less than a week from now so… look forward to more self-satisfied nostalgia from middle-aged white guys in the near future :S Don’t worry — we’ll be back to normal after that.

State Crime on the Margin of Empire: A new book on Bougainville

The civil war on Bougainville — a large island that is part of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG) — was one of the most important events to happen in the Pacific since World War II. Local dissatisfaction with the island’s large, foreign-owned copper mine turned to demonstrations, escalated into a guerilla war, and forced both the mine and the PNG government to leave the island, which then entered a period of conflict between pro- and anti- PNG factions. It was a key test of sovereignty in newly-independent Pacific states, had an enormous human cost (20,000 dead, sexual violence, destruction of villages and property), and was a cautionary tale about the limits of corporate power. The reconciliation process that ended the conflict in itself is studied by academics and policy makers all over the world as an example of successful peacemaking. So what does this new book offer to Pacific scholars, and to the anthropology of mining?

Everyone knew Bougainville was important when it happened, and there is a large literature on the conflict — often written in the heat of the moment — recording the events that transpired. Given this crowded terrain, it’s fair to wonder whether Kristian Lasslett’s new book State Crime on the Margins of Empire: Rio Tinto, The War on Bougainville and Resistance to Mining can add anything new. The answer is: “yes.” Lasslett’s book is a remarkable and extremely valuable addition to the literature on this area. Written from a Marxist perspective, it uses impressively detailed original research to present a fresh take on the Bougainville conflict, one that is highly critical of the existing consensus about what happened on the island. Continue reading

This Earth Day, read about the anthropocene at Open Anthropology

As our guest blogger John Hartigan has show, 2014 was the year of the Anthropocene for anthropology. Multispecies? So 2010. Ontology? So 2013. This Earth Day is a great time to start thinking about the anthropocene — and to make sure that concern and attention to climate change is more than just a fad for anthropology. A great place to start is Open Anthropology’s current issue on the Anthropocene.

in the past Savage Minds has not been kind (at all) to Open Anthropology. This is the AAA’s faux-open access journal that present themed ‘best-of’ issues that are temporarily open and then go back behind a paywall. Over time the curation of these issues has gotten better, but serious problems still remain with the ‘journal’ — there are no permalinked URLs for the current (open) content, and of course that majority of the content on the site is actually behind a paywall — a bitter irony for a supposedly open access project.

This new issue on the Anthropocene is by Open Anthropology’s new editors Jason Antrosio and Sally Han. Jason has spent years earning cred with anthropology noosphere by producing great blog posts at Living Anthropologically and other blogs. As a result, I’m tempted to give Open Anthropology an easier time just because of my respect for Jason. But I’m not going to, because frankly the site still has a tremendous amount of problems. Hopefully, he and Sally will work on improving it as time goes on.

But enough kvetching — the Anthropocene issue that is currently up is quite good, with an excellent mix of four field approaches ranging from Franz Boas to Jim Roscoe. Go take a look — in fact, you may want to download all of the articles right now. This Earth Day, Open Anthropology is making valuable resources about the Anthropocene available to all. Next Earth Day, they’ll be locked up tight behind a paywall.

Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS: SMOPS 14

I’m happy to announce the next number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series, “Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS”. This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series is unusual for two reasons. First, this is the first SMOPS that is not a reprint of early pieces in the history of anthropology. Secondly, I am not the author of this piece, although the authors have assigned their copyright to me in order to give this piece a Creative Commons license. This piece presents in expanded and revised form material which originally appeared on the Savage Minds blog in June and July 2014. These guest blog entries, composed by two people writing under the pseudonym ‘Isaiah Silver’, are part of a wider discussion regarding the American Anthropological Association’s stance towards Israel. As such, this SMOPS is meant to provide a convienient, downloadable, citeable explanation of their position.

Divestment is an emotional — even explosive — topic for many anthropologists, and especially for Jewish anthropologists. To me, the most valuable contribution this SMOPS makes is not in arguing one side of divestment or the other. Rather, its value comes from the fact that it presents a picture — almost a mini-ethnography — of Israel that varies greatly from what Jewish American anthropologists such as myself were told about our homeland growing up. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of Israel, I believe that we as anthropologists have a professional obligation to see and know the full reality of life in Israel today, including evidence that contradicts many of our taken-for-granted ideas about that country. Challenging preconceptions in the name of truth is, after all, the fundamental duty of anthropological ethnography. As Jewish American anthropologists, we must work through these issues the ethnography presents. An incurious and uninformed support of Israel does not fulfill Jewish American anthropologists’ obligation to anthropology or Israel — and refusing to engage the issue at all is simply to give up on one’s identity altogether.

Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS, by Isaiah Silver,  Edited by Alex Golub

Déjà Lu: Now, more than ever

When Americans like myself say “anthropology” we usually mean “American anthropology” or — even worse — “American cultural anthropology”. But as the pretty much everyone in the world who is not American will tell you, there is a lot more to anthropology than just what Americans do. The World Council of Anthropological Associations is one of the key institutions seeking to raise the profile of the global anthropological scene. One of the key ways they do it is with their open-access journal Déjà Lu, which recently released its third issue. It’s great and you should read something in it now.

Déjà Lu is actually an anthology. Journals from around the planet select one article of their that they wish to feature, and contribute it to Déjà Lu, who then publishes it in open access format. The result is a scrumptious multilingual smorgasbord of anthropological treats.

American journals are heavily represented on Déjà Lu, since they are a large part of world anthropology. But there is a lot else on hand as well and the journal is a great way to discover new pieces to read, as well as new journals to follow, even if you are an ashamed monoglot like me. Suomen Antropologi usually keeps its content locked up pretty tight, but you can download Tim Ingold’s Westermark Lecture (like to PDF). SITES is a Pacific journal I’ve known about for a long time, but I would have missed it’s new issue on whakapapa if it wasn’t for Déjà Lu. And that’s really just the start.

Your interests are probably different than mine, so why don’t you go stroll over the Déjà Lu’s site and see what tickles your fancy?

“The essential job of a publishing house is curation”: Jacob Stevens on Verso Books

(update: I correct some typos -Rx 17 April 2015)

One of the great things about running a well-established blog is that you can just cold-call interesting people and ask to interview them, and they’ll say yes.  Verso Books has had a long history of publishing works which have has a tremendous impact in anthropologyand so I’d always tried to stay up to date with what the press was doing. When it began selling ebooks directly through its website and offering them at discounted prices through sales, I got curious about what their plan want to keep their independent, progressive press operating in an era of Reduced Everything. I was very lucky, therefore, to have a chance to speak to the managing director of Verso, Jacob Stevens, who talked with me about Verso’s plans and future directions.

I came away from this interview tremendously impressed with Stevens and Verso more generally. Stevens’s strategic vision is remarkably clear and focused on what the key commitments of progressive publishing should be. At the same time, he’s thought outside the box in many ways — looking to journal subscriptions as a model for direct sales of monographs, or taking the lessons of the music industry and applying them to publishing. I think you’ll really enjoy this interview and the light it sheds on Verso’s plans for the future, and the state of independent publishing today.

AG: Let’s start by talking about your Christmas sale. That seemed to be a pretty major statement by Verso. The discounts were incredibly steep and the selection was very good. Could you tell why you decided to do that sale, how successful it was, and its role in your publishing strategy?

JS: We initiated a redesign of the website in 2008, always with the aim of launching a strong direct sales channel. That finally came about in March last year, and we took three decisions to try and make sure that it was a success and that it was noticed. The first one was to bundle ebooks with print. The second one was to offer discounts, and the third was to offer free shipping. Essentially, we were competing with Amazon.

Continue reading

Who got the NSF GRFPs? And are we ok with that?

NSF recently awarded the latest round of the NSF GRFP, aka the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. These awards are given to graduating anthropology undergrads or first year graduate students. To make a long story short, they are very prestigious, pay for most (or all) of graduate school, and prove to grad schools and future funders that you are For Real. These awards set you up for success. So who got them and who didn’t says a lot about our discipline and where it’s going. So: what do they tell us?

Continue reading

Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford: Open Access and Relevant

This week’s open access spotlight falls on the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. A while ago I gave mad shouts out to Cambridge Anthropology when it was resurrected and published by Berghahn.  So it seems only fair to showcase the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (JASO) for making the decision to stay small, home-brewed, and open.

It can be a bit confusing navigating around JASO’s site, but it’s definitely worth your while. Their latest issue is on sexual harassment in the field, a topic that has been the topic of increasing attention in the blogosphere and and the discipline more widely. On this score, JASO couldn’t be more relevant to what’s going on in anthropology today.

As someone interested in the history of anthropology, however, it’s really in the back issues (over  twenty five years of them) that JASO really shines. Here, the journal shows how a small group of people embarked on a shared project can create. The ups and downs of the department are recorded in every issue — book reviews show you what the department thought of the outside world, while obituaries help it mourn its own. I feel like a biography of Godfrey Lienhardt could be written out of just these back issues alone. It’s rich stuff to explore, and its all open access.

Ultimately, the quiet way JASO publishes its material may not result in a tremendous ‘impact’ of the sort that audit culture likes to see. But that’s ok. A quick look at the list of contributors make it clear that this journal is not just a platform for producing scholarship, it’s a platform for nurturing scholars and reproducing institutions.

Go dig around the site — it’s a rich enough archive that I’m sure there’s something there to tickle your fancy or to underwrite a teachable class example.

Don’t be a hero, just make anthropology public

I really enjoyed Erin Taylor’s recent piece on SM about how to make anthropology public, and I wanted to add on to her suggestions about how to make anthropology public with a few, slightly more unorthodox ones of my own. These suggestions rub against the anthropological grain because they involve small, quiet, and steady work that doesn’t feel heroic, despite the big impact that it has. So it may seem strange at first blush, but I firmly believe the most effective way to get the best anthropology in front of the most people is to edit wikipedia and write book reviews on Amazon.

Wikipedia, of course, needs no introduction to most people. It is an indispensable source of information — even for people who hate it. It’s ubiquitous, and it’s here to stay. What’s more, it’s a site that people actively go to for information. One of the big questions for public anthropology is: how do we push content in front of eyeballs?This isn’t a question for Wikipedia, because people actively pull content from the site.

And they do it in tremendous numbers. Now and again I have a go at trying to improve the Wikipedia entry on Melanesia. It seems like an obscure topic for an obscure page, but it gets 28,000 views a month. This is far more than the entry on, say, Franz Boas, which got 14,000 views last month. (Mainly this is because more people live in Melanesia than live in Franz Boas, I reckon). With just a little bit of work, we can alter what thousands of people know about the topics we study.

Amazon reviews have the same features as Wikipedia entries: people pull information from the site, rather than have it pushed to them. It receives massive traffic. Amazon’s data base of reviews will probably live forever, just like Wikipedia’s — except in this case, this is because Amazon is a massive corporate behemoth taking over the world.

Reviewing a good book on a topic is vital because it tells Amazon’s algorithms to lift the book out of the massive sea of self-published noise that is Amazon’s book database. In fact, it is Amazon’s ruthless reusing of your content to infinity and beyond that is part of what is so valuable for writing with them — they will show it and spread it and reuse it for as long as they can. And, of course, it lets people know what you thought about the book.

Of course, when you review a book for Amazon you are making a deal with the devil: you are helping the public learn more about the book, but you are also adding value to a corporation who — let me be polite here — has different interests than scholarly publishers and anthropologists. I personally feel in this instance it’s a deal worth making. And, last time I read Amazon’s license for your review, they didn’t stop you from publishing it on as many book review sites as you like — which is probably another great thing to do.

There are things that writing for Wikipedia and Amazon doesn’t do: It doesn’t make you feel like a hero. It doesn’t make you feel personally responsible for changing the world. It doesn’t make you famous to people. In this sense, it is very much out of the Margaret Mead mold. It may not feel as gratifying as writing a 500 word op-ed in the TLS and having your colleagues fuss over it.

But if the goal is to get the best information in front of the most eyeballs, then we need to realize that in today’s world, the most effective way to make anthropology public may not be what is most emotionally gratifying for those with a need to save the world. In the past I’ve wondered what amount of public anthropology would actually satisfy public anthropology advocates. I know my answer to this question: when we can send our students to Wikipedia and Amazon knowing that they will get high-value information about our discipline from them.

Making anthropology public may involve doing things that most people don’t even recognize as public anthropology. Some may not even be aware that it is happening, even as it grows more and more successful. For as Margaret Mead once said, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Wikipedia edits can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Anthropologists are helping Vanuatu and so should you

People around the world have heard about the devastation cyclone Pam has wrought in Vanuatu and other areas of the Island Melanesia. It’s striking to see people who normally couldn’t tell Tanna from Tuvalu suddenly focus in on this part of the Pacific. And there is good reason to do so — Pam’s impact was devastating. The cyclone hit Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, square on. Many other outlying islands were also hit. Vanuatu needs our help to recover from these terrible, terrible events.

There are many excellent charities you can donate to to help the people of Vanuatu. But I’d like to particularly attract your attention to one charity organized by anthropologists and others with a close connection to the country: Heart blong mifala wetem yufela — which means roughly like “our hearts are with you” in Bislama, the English creole widely spoken in Vanuatu. This fund is being run through chuffed.org (‘chuffed’ is Australian for ‘pleased’), an excellent Australian charity site. The money  will go right to the Australian High Commission in Port Vila Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra — you can’t get much more directly targeted then that. The list of people who have donated to this fund are a who’s who of anthropologists, historians, and other researchers who work in Vanuatu and Melanesia more generally. Please consider giving.

What is Vanuatu that anthropologists should be mindful of it? Although less well known than the Papua New Guinea of Mead and Malinowski, Vanuatu has a long and important history in our discipline. Vanuatu — and Island Melanesia more generally — was the location that generated some of the first, and still highly-regarded, anthropological ethnography. Codrington’s hugely-influential book The Melanesians fundamentally shaped anthropology, and gave the west the concept of ‘mana’. Foundational researchers such as A.M. Hocart and W.H.R. Rivers conducted research in this area. Today, the Vanuatu Cultural Center is leading the world in its programs to produce new blends of indigenous and anthropological knowledge (please click on that last link — it’s an openness ebook!). A key player in supporting the cultural center, Ralph Regenvanu, is a parliamentarian with a background in anthropology.

There are so many reasons to help out now that Vanuatu is in such dire straits — especially for anthropologists. Donations are always helpful, but if you’re not in a position to send money overseas, take this opportunity to teach about this current disaster and how it intersects with our discipline — this may be the first and last time that students Vanuatu appears on the radar of many people outside the Pacific.

What you need to know about HAU Books

HAU, the ground-breaking open access anthropology journal, continues to grow and change. Now more of a scholarly society or research network than just a journal (if it was ever just a journal), HAU introduced it’s latest innovation on Monday: An open access book series. Actually, HAU Books is not exactly brand new — we ran an interview about HAU’s book project back in October. But with HAU’s current social media blitz about the site, I thought now would be a good time to talk about the new site and what it does. Disclosure: I’m on the board of the journal version of HAU, but have no affiliation with the book project and took no part in its creation.

There’s a lot to say about the site and the project, but the most important thing to deal with up front is the content: the books themselves. At the moment, two books are available live: Gifts and Commodities by Chris Gregory, and Anti-Witch by Jeanne Favret-Saada.

Gifts and Commodities is a hoary old classic of anthropological theory. Before its digitization, I remember it asa slender, pale blue volume with green letters. The book grew out of Gregory’s experience living in Papua New Guinea during its transition to independence (HAU’s new cover features the PNG equivalent of a twenty dollar bill on the cover, which was a brilliant choice). Talk of the difference between ‘the village’ and ‘the city’ was very big at that time, and Gregory turns Papua New Guinean insights about the distinction between gifts and commodities into a classic of Marxist anthropology. Continue reading

Check out the Allegra relaunch

I was utterly stunned by the amount of traction that National Anthropology Day got on social media yesterday. American anthropologists across the country got together to congratulate themselves on their National Anthropology and Chocolate Mint. But for those of you slightly turned off by the Yankee-centric air of the AAA’s latest holiday, never fear. I’m sure Ed Liebow is currently positioning his star destroyer off the bow of the World Council of Anthropological Associations in order to whip up a much more globalized twitter frenzy.

Until that day comes, you can get all non-Americany by heading over to Allegra. That largely-European but not narrowly-European blog has just done a complete overhaul to their website. It looks great, and their newest content is now splashed across their front page in vibrant, colorful photos.

I’ve been amazed to watch Allegra grow, and I’m so impressed at their ability to consistently produce genuine, long (by Internet standards) content day after day after day. Honestly, they put our occasional rantings about goats and Alessandro Volta to shame.

So go check out their new website! Onward Allegra!