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

Oxford bibliographies: a great but proprietary solution for information overload

As @alltalk and others tweeted to us at SM, Oxford University Press (OUP) is celebrating library week next week by giving everyone free access to their online databases. Its not unusual for presses to periodically ungate their content so everyone can try some free samples. We don’t usually blog about press sales or free samples, but I did want to use this opportunity to talk about Oxford’s new bibliography series, which I think represents a new and interesting way to organize knowledge in today’s web-saturated environment.

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No April fools: read Valeri’s “Rites and Annals”

A doomed genius taken before his time. One of the last line of ancient Roman noblemen revealing his secrets. Hidden writings once known only to an elite few, now revealed for all to see. It sounds so much like a Dan Brown novel that you mistake it for an April fools joke, but it’s  not. There were so many fake announcements and releases on April first this year that one thing got lost in the shuffle: the actually really real release of the second monograph in HAU’s “Classics of Ethnographic Theory”, Rites and Annals: Between History and Anthropology by Valerio Valeri. Valeri’s work deserves to be widely read today because of its own intrinsic quality, as well as for the kind of rigorous, sophisticated, and humanistic approach to anthropology it exemplifies. Valeri’s work combined ethnographic erudition with high-level theorizing, wrapped up with a sophisticated prose style and a commitment to scholarship that exploded American binaries of science versus the humanities, objectivity versus subjective expression. For that reason, the release of Rites and Annals gives us a chance not only to read Valeri’s work, but to think about how it fits into the current approaches our discipline is taking.

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Is there an anthropological canon? Evidence from theory anthologies

Is there a canon of anthropological theory? Do we have a ‘disciplinary history’ of where we have been and where we are going? Sure, there are many grand narratives we tell of our discipline, but these stores tend to be tendentious and based on anecdotal. Can we find a more empirical, disinterested way to look for order in anthropology’s past?

In this post I examine anthologies of anthropological theory in order to see to what extent anthropology has a coherent, institutionalized canon. Is there a strong degree of agreement between these books? Do they tell the same stories? Do they include the same authors and readings? To answer this question, I asked our intrepid intern Angela to track down the contents of every edition of the main anthropological theory readers in North America.

What did I find? The short answer is that these anthologies strongly agree on this history of anthropology between the years 1850-1950. Agreement rapidly decreases after — wait for it — 1974. Why and how? Are these anthologies accurate indicators of the anthropological zeitgeist? Who gets included and who doesn’t? For answers to these questions, read on….

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I think Princeton University Press kinda jumped the shark on this one

I’m suspicious of for-profit journal publishers, but I like university presses. They are often value-driven, down on their heels, and plucky. When the death of publishing at the hands of The Digital was first announced, they were pretty depressed. But since then they’ve moved into ebooks, developed new ways to market their books, and have done a good job embracing the new.

Princeton is a good example of a large, (relatively) wealthy press with a lot of cultural capital that is looking for new ways to engage audiences. I think this ‘trailer’ (yes, you read that right) for their new book 1177 B.C. just stepped over the line. My favorite part is when the words “NO MORE MYCENEANS” start drifting towards you while the soundtrack from Lord of the Rings plays in the background.

On the Defense of Confucius Institutes: At the University of Chicago, For Example

(This piece is a long guest blog by Marshall Sahlins. In an article titled “China U” published late last year in The Nation, Sahlins took issue with Chinese government’s global educational/political enterprise called “Confucius Institutes” (CI). These institutes teach Chinese language and culture which, together with cultural performances, films, celebrations of Chinese festivals, and the like, portrays China as generous, beautiful, and harmonious. Since the CI program was launched in 2004, some 400 such institutes have been founded in colleges and universities world wide—the US presently has 97—and nearly 600 “Confucius Classrooms” in secondary and primary schools. Sahlins argued that CIs exist “as a virtually autonomous unit within the regular curriculum of the host school”. Indeed, according to the standard agreement signed with host schools, the Confucius Institute Head Office (commonly known as “Hanban”) provides the teachers and textbooks for these courses.

In his article, Sahlins argued that CIs function in a way that is antithetical to academic values because they are intended to spread the political influence of the PRC. CIs, he argued, differ from other cultural institutes — such as the Goethe-Institut and Alliance Française — because they are located on university premises and are completely governed by state officials. By giving a foreign government charge of instruction, he claimed, universities promote censorship and self-censorship that are too much like the government prohibitions on discussion of politically-charged topics in Chinese universities.

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Ontology and wonder: an interview with Michael W. Scott

Thanks to the incredible incredibilicity of our intern Angela, I’m happy to present an interview I recently did with Michael W. Scott. Michael is currently an associate professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and his book, The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands, appeared in 2007. Michael frequently uses the concept of ‘ontology’ in his work, so I sat down to talk with him today about this and other aspects of his intellectual project. I’ve broken the interview down into sections, so scroll down to read Michael’s thoughts on Marilyn Strathern and Roy Wagner, wonder, whether reality exists, politics, and how to do fieldwork.

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Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry: SMOPS 11

“Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry” is perhaps the best summary of Sapir’s approach to what would become known as the ‘culture and personality’ movement in anthropology. But this brief, rich, and intelligent essay is more then that. It is also a statement about the nature of culture, the role of human agency in culture, and the complex, differentiated nature of culture. It is a remarkable piece that demonstrates the incredible clarity and sophistication of Sapir’s thought.

Cultural Anthropology and Psychiatry
, by Edward Sapir, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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Welcome Dick and Angela!

Dick’s beat me to the punch — please join me in welcoming Dick Powis and Angela Chen as our new interns! Dick will be writing up our weekly roundups and Angela will be helping me with comments moderation.

When we put out a call for comment moderators, we expected a half-dozen entries. Instead we got two dozen — all great applicants, from many walks of life. In the end, reading all the apps and doing video interviews with the shortlist ate up so much of our (my) time that we ended up giving the top two people positions in the blog, rather than run a separate and equally time-consuming search for a second position. Apologies to people who were waiting for that second position to be advertised — we just had a choice of either writing for the blog or reading resumes, and decided on the former.

Please welcome our newcomers on board — I hope you will see them around more and more on the site as we continue to grow and expand in 2014.

Obama was an adjunct

The press repeatedly refers to Obama as a ‘law professor’. I can see why: it plays into the public image of him as an educated (or over-educated, depending on your politics) and articulate (or inarticulate) thinker. But for those of us savvy to the world of academic hierarchy, this doesn’t quite ring true. Let’s face it: Obama was an adjunct.

According to the University of Chicago Law School Obama spent four years as a lecturer — “which signals adjunct status” according to the website — at the Law School. For eight years after that he was a ‘senior lecturer’. Chicago says that “senior lecturers…. are regarded as professors” but are “not full-time or tenure track”. If the university says he was considered a professor, then I suppose that journalists may technically be correct when they describe him that way. But I think if you ask the average academic what call someone who teaches part time and is not on the tenure track, their answer would not be “professor”.

Obama gets more cred then most adjuncts because professional schools have a different kind of faculty than academic schools, and because Chicago’s Senior Lecturers are all wealthy and powerful enough to not need the money that comes from teaching — indeed, the criteria that Chicago uses to award senior lectureships is that the recipients are eminent.

The tragedy of calling Obama a ‘professor’ while others are ‘adjuncts’ is that it is often the ‘adjuncts’ who are the heart and soul of academic departments — teaching the bread and butter courses that form the bedrock of a discipline’s curriculum. Obama, on the other hand, had the luxury of splitting his time between a political career, a private law practice, and a life as a published author. The people with the low-prestige titles are actually the ones with a deeper involvement with the day to day running of the institution. This is particularly the case at places which, unlike the University of Chicago, have larger undergraduate programs than they do graduate schools.

In calling Obama an adjunct, I’m not trying to insult him (that would just be a roundabout way of saying adjuncts status is shameful, which it is not) or suggest that he is duplicitous (since the law school itself has a press release on this topic). What I am saying is that in an era of casualization of the academic workforce, we need to make the public aware of the details of academic hierarchy, and the political economy that accompanies it. So the next time someone dismissively calls Obama an uptight ‘law professor’ let them know that he, like so many others, was off the tenure track and teaching part time. And remind them that for most people in that position, it is not an easy one to be in.

“Divorce your theory” – A conversation with Paul Farmer (part two)

(This is the second half of an interview (the first half is here) by Ståle Wig. Ståle Wig has recently completed a research based MA in Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, with a thesis on development workers in Lesotho. He is affiliated at the Center for Development and the Environment, and teaches a class in Science Outreach and Journalism at the University of Oslo.)

Last year I got together with Dr. Paul Farmer for a talk. In part two of our conversation, I ask Farmer about the limits of “applied” social science; the reasons for his apparent optimism; and whether, after all these years, he at all considers himself an anthropologist.

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“Divorce your theory” A conversation with Paul Farmer (part one)

 (This guest post comes from Ståle Wig. Ståle has recently completed a research based MA in Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, with a thesis on development workers in Lesotho. He is affiliated at the Center for Development and the Environment, and teaches a class in Science Outreach and Journalism at the University of Oslo.)

Paul Farmer was never an orthodox anthropologist. As an undergraduate I remember reading his article, An Anthropology of Structural Violence. It took me by surprise.

Not because I was unaccustomed to scholars arguing that we need to link the ethnographically visible to history and political economy – or, in Farmer’s words, “the interpretive project of modern anthropology to a historical understanding of the large scale social and economic structures in which affliction is embedded”. No, my class had already read Sidney Mintz. It was somewhat fascinating to read an anthropologist who at the same time was a doctor committed to heal the sick in his ethnographic surroundings. But that’s not really what got me, either.  Continue reading