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

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!

Recipes for your National Anthropology Day

National Anthropology Day is on. The response on social media has been overwhelming. After a massive airdrop by the US of copies of The Nuer over Eastern Ukraine, guns have been silenced — although how long can it be before Putin begins distributing copies of Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka to Russian-speaking dissidents? At any rate, since I know many of you are in the middle of preparing for tonight’s festivities, I thought I’d include some helpful anthropological chocolate minty goaty electrical Chinese New Year related recipes.

These recipes come from random people posting them to me on Facebook, so they are totally unrepresentative of anthropology in general and just representative of the people I’m friends with on Facebook. If something sounds unusual or new, give it a shot!

Cocktails for National Anthropology Day

Mint Chocolate Goat Cheese Baijiu Bomb
Dick Powis
Place one small ball of goat cheese in the bottom of a shot glass. Fill shot glass with baijiu. Drop shot glass into a pint of Perennial 17 Mint Chocolate Stout. You’re welcome.

Lychee Mojito
James Crippen
Make a lychee mojito. Add a splash of goat milk and garnished with a Girl Scout thin mint. DISCLAIMER: I haven’t actually tried this, but it sounds harmless enough. Lychee because I can’t think of any other compatible Chinese signifier.

The Goat Fucker
Jonathan Padwe Continue reading

The missing piece of National Anthropology Day: ELECTRICITY

Goats, chocolate mint, Chinese New Year: National Anthropology Day seemed to have it all. Until, that is, long-time reader Eddie Schmitt pointed out the missing ingredient in National Anthropology Day: electricity. That’s right: National Anthropology Day is also the birthday of Alessandro Volta!

Alessandro Volta, reimagined for National Anthropology Day by Edwin Schmitt. Used by permission.
Alessandro Volta, reimagined for National Anthropology Day by Edwin Schmitt. Used by permission.

“Electricity?” You may ask, “do we need one more thing to celebrate on National Anthropology Day?” Well my friends, as you will see, electricity is key to most of the recipes (forthcoming) for National Anthropology Day.

“Wait a second,” you might also ask, “wasn’t Volta born the day before National Anthropology Day?” To which I would say: “This is yet another example of how Wikipedia is inferior to Official Reference Material. Luckily, there will always be places like Savage Minds which can be relied on to bring you 100% completely accurate information about anthropology.

Happy Anthropology! And happy Alessandro Volta day!

This National Anthropology Day, say 祝你全國人類學節快樂!

We are now only days away from the first annual National Anthropology Day. As I’ve said in past coverage of this story, the American Anthropological Association scheduled National Anthropology Day on 19 February, which is also National Chocolate Mint Day. But chocolate mint is small-fry compared to the major holiday to be celebrated this Thursday: Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year). That’s right, people, this year National Anthropology Day is also YEAR OF THE GOAT. So this year, let’s make National Anthropology Day extra Goaty by wishing each other:

祝你全國人類學節快樂!

My knowledge of the significance of the Year of the Goat derives largely from what the MC said at the parade this year. But, based on that experience, I understand that goats are, like anthropologists, team players who don’t give up on their goals. If this sounds like you, then congratulations — National Anthropology Day is for you!

In preparing for this blog post, I spent a good deal of time working through the specialist literature on the anthropology of goats. This ended up being pretty easy since not much has been written by cultural anthropologists about goats. About goat bones, and the dating thereof, the archaeologists have tremendous amounts to say. But the goat has not yet found its Evans-Pritchard. Perhaps this National Anthropology Day one of you will grasp the nettle in this as-yet-understudied topic in multispeciesality?

When I found out that National Anthropology Day and National Chocolate Mint Day were the same day, it seemed pretty clear to me that this meant that we should eat chocolate mint on National Anthropology Day. But what of goat? Is this a sign that we should make a point of eating goat on National Anthropology day? Or rather, does it indicate that the goat is Our Animal,  and hence ought not be eaten because of its close association to anthropology?

Regardless of the answer to this vexing question, Lunar New Year brings a whole host of fun holiday customs that are ready, willing, and able to diffuse into National Anthropology Day: red envelopes, fire crackers, jiaozi (perhaps with goat meat?), and much more besides.

Any ideas on how best to meld Lunar New Year and National Anthropology day? Find us in the comments or on social media and let us know!

Why you shouldn’t take Peter Wood (or Anthropology News) seriously

In this piece I would like to explain, in detail, why I think Peter Wood’s recent piece in Anthropology News is fundamentally misguided. For a lot of readers, there will be no point in my doing so — they will just write Wood off as ‘racist’ and move on. I’m, shall we say, extremely sympathetic to this point of view. But I do think that Wood’s piece deserves some scrutiny to explain why so many people find it so misguided.

In his piece, Wood takes issue with four essays in Anthropology News responding to the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent reaction in Ferguson. Wood  argues that the essays are “a retelling of… the left’s canonical myth of Ferguson: facts submerged in a sea of fiction”. He goes on to argue that these authors’ accounts of Ferguson ignore “the record of events established by the grand jury”. He claims that the concepts of “structural violence” and “structural inequality” used in the essays are “intellectually lazy simplifications of complex social circumstances” which “remove all moral and social responsibility from the actors who are portrayed as victims”. In doing so, he claims, anthropology “erases the motives of key participants and reduces them to objects acted on by invidious external forces”. In the end, Wood claims, it is a “just-so story that America is a nation run by privileged whites determined to maintain their privilege.” In  fact, he says, “this is, quite plainly, a myth. There is nothing in the realm of fact to support it.”

These are amazing claims, and it is difficult to understand how Wood can make them in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence that proves exactly the opposite of what he claims. Wood is clearly not stupid. Charitable readers will assume that he is not evil. The nicest interpretation of Wood’s position, therefore, is that he is simply ignorant.

Continue reading

420 ways to teach “Pigs For The Ancestors”

Pigs for the Ancestors is an iconic ethnography, taught for decades in introductory courses and graduate seminars alike. Rapport’s theoretical ambition, the richness of highland PNG life, the detail in the ethnography — it all works together to produce an ethnography whose life has exceeded its sell-by date for decades. And now, the University of California San Diego provides 420 new ways to teach it: a massive, open access collection of 420 photos taken by Roy Rappaport across the course of his career.

Not all the pictures are from Papua New Guinea, so I guess technically there aren’t 420 images that you can use when teaching Pigs. But in this case, it is important to emphasize not just quantity, but quality. The pictures are high-quality, and they are very well cataloged: each one has extensive metadata describing when it was taken, and what and who is in each picture. They are organized by topic so you can see, for example, just the pictures with pork in them if that’s what you’re into.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll state right away that the people who did this work are friends of mine, so I’m hardly an impartial observer. But it seems to me that collections like this are The Future. As the Internet gets more and more turgid, filled with ad-encrusted crud and unverifiable assertions, carefully curated open access collections like this are so, so welcome.

The Rappaport photos are hardly novel. Museums and libraries all over the world are making their collections available — just check out the institutions participating in the Flickr Commons project. But the key step between availability and use is discovery: making sure people know about all the great resources out there.

That’s hard to do for libraries, for whom just producing digital collections is work enough. We need to use these collections regularly, and credit them when we do use them. It’s only when word of mouth spreads that people will really develop a sense of the many hidden treasures out there available for research and use.

So this week, the next time you need a picture for a powerpoint, why not get this process rolling and use a picture from the Roy Rappaport collection?

Hellz yes National Anthropology Day is ON

The Internetz were atwitter recently with the announcement that 19th February 2015 is officially going to be National Anthropology Day. And yet some people expressed confusion. What is National Anthropology Day? What does it mean? What are we supposed to do? Some questions were quickly answered: If the holiday is generically labeled ‘National’ that must mean ‘They do it in the US’. But others questions persist — why this day, instead of other days? What, concretely, will occur?

The Official National Anthropology Day website provides  some useful handouts, but no deeper contextualization of what the holiday is supposed to be about. This has led some people to grouse that it is a ‘fake holiday’. For this reason I wanted to write this blog post to help people understand why 19 February 2015 is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Continue reading

What we’re teaching this semester: Political Anthropology

Almost all academics, and a lot of semi- or non-academics, end up teaching in the course of their careers, but we rarely spend much time talking with others about how we think about course design and broader issues about how courses fit into our lives and the lives of our students. With the semester beginning for several Minds, we thought it would be interesting to talk about the courses we teach and the thought that goes into teaching them. Continue reading

The Politics (and Stories) of Fieldwork in Cuba: Good job, President Obama, but is this just ‘here we go again’?

(This guest post comes to us from Laurie Frederik. Laurie is Associate Professor and Director of the Latin American Studies Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.  She is author of Trumpets in the Mountains: Theatre and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba, Duke University Press, 2012, and has been conducting research in Cienfuegos and Guantánamo provinces since 1997. -Rex )

The promised opening up or “normalizing” of diplomatic relations with Cuba may or may not mean that much will change for researchers, although tourists and commercial entrepreneurs rejoice in its potential.  President Obama’s statement had significant performative value, a declaration more powerful than a promise, perhaps, given the authority of the speaker. It was exciting for those of us who have been struggling to conduct research on the island for many years, and it inspired a flurry of projected “what if” and “when…” scenarios.

As amazing as Obama’s and Raul Castro’s televised statements were, however (their simultaneity is also notable), real policy change probably has a long way to go.  There has been easing of restrictions before.  Does anyone really believe that Obama can do more than Carter or Clinton?  Does this moment simply mean that a new generation of ethnographers has a window of opportunity they must seize before the next clampdown and/or next election?  I think we all feel that after 54 years, it’s about time and that Obama would be the man to do it.  What remains to be seen is how fast, to what degree, and how the changes directly affect those on each side of the Florida straits.

Continue reading