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

When life hands you a coffee plantation, make espresso

I started a new article recently on the life and thought of Bernard Narokobi, one of Papua New Guinea’s most influential thinkers. The paper grew out of my book, which has a significant section on Narokobi at the end. Expanding the material in the book into a whole article has involved digging deep, deep into the stacks and has gotten me thinking about what a funny thing research is, and what its goals are. I look at it this way: When life hands you a coffee plantation, make espresso.

Life is, after all, like a huge coffee plantation — perhaps one left fallow and running wild — and our articles about it are like espresso: distilled, highly processed condensations of the real thing.

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Academic life is a trapeze, and librarians are the safety net: SM is now archived

This open access day I wanted to officially announce some good news — Savage Minds is now being archived at the University of Texas at Austin. Thanks to the initiative of Pat Galloway and her students Brian Douglass, Kathleen O’Connell, Josephine Ragolia, and Rachel Winston, an archive of our blog now lives on UT Austin’s Dspace install(Update: I TOTALLY forgot to give Kerim credit for the incredible amount of work he did communicating with the UT Austin crowd to get the archive set up. In fact, he does ridiculous amounts of work on the back end of the blog all the time which few people (me included, apparently) understand, but that everyone benefits form. So thumbs up to Kerim as well.)

It’s a real mark of accomplishment that someone has taken the time to preserve the blog in a format that ensures that future generations will be able to read our poorly-spelled, hastily written blog entries. In some small sense — and I mean ‘small’, I’m not getting a swelled head here — SM really has become the blog of record for the sociocultural anthropological internetosphere.

The archive itself is just one part of a process to get SM more fully archived both now and in the future… but I’ll leave out details of our future plans since, frankly, they may never materialize.

SM started with no long-range plan for archiving, or indeed for pretty much anything, and over the years we’ve suffered a variety of data loses, ranging from minor to catastrophic. The lesson for open access week is this: back up your data. But at the same time, if you feel the urge to write, write. Start new projects when you feel you have the energy and opportunity to start them, even if all the pieces aren’t in place yet. Archiving is important, but don’t let scholarly apparatus have a chilling effect on your innovation. If academic life is a trapeze, librarians are the safety net. Thanks to UT Austin, Pat, and the whole crew for doing their job so that we can do ours.

The end of Open Access Anthropology (.org)

Open access week is a time to celebrate new projects and look back at the success of old ones. However today (yes, it is still Tuesday in Honolulu) I also want to look back at one open access project that I recently said goodbye to: the website openaccessanthropology.org.

OA Anthro was founded back in the heady days of 2006. Back then, open access was a movement that was just beginning to gain recognition in the social sciences, and the blog was meant to be a central location for anthropologists interested in open access issues. The blog continued for a number of years until, basically, we all got too busy doing other things. After a years of inaction, we recently finally decided to pull the plug.

So: was openaccessanthropology.org a success?

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It’s Open Access Week!

It’s Open Access Week! This week the Internetz celebrates and affirms our scholarly ideals of openness: the right of readers to know, of authors to be known, and for our research to be reused to keep the Knowing More And Knowing Better train rolling right along.

Anthropology, like much of the social sciences, has a more complicated view of openness than some other disciplines. We recognize the culturally-specific nature of our ideals. We also recognize that a commitment to openness doesn’t mean we have the right to compromise the privacy of the people we study and learn from. Indeed, open access is deeply to the ethics our fieldwork, because it is important that we openly share our research with the people who made it possible, whether that be in original, peer-reviewed form and in other, more accessible forms. Indeed, openness means trying to produce, as much as possible, scholarly work that a broad audience can find readable. Openness means, in other words, lowering the bullshit quotient as much as possible.

My personal goal this week is to do an entry a day on Open Access related issues to help celebrate this week. I will almost certainly fail. But let’s see how I do. And more importantly — let’s see what other great open access projects are our there this year!

Today is Indigenous Peoples Day

Today we celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, to remember and celebrate the heritage of indigenous people everywhere. There is a lot to say about IDP: is it too American? Does it elide the particularity of the American Indian experience? Is Dora The Conquistadora, perhaps, a bridge too far? And of course, there’s always this frequently-retweeted little morsel:

I don’t have a lot of insight at the moment into what IDP means of should mean. Since I feel that SM should mark this day, I will punt the ball with a random list of Indigenous Anthropologists (you’ll notice I’m biased towards the Pacific) who I’ve learned from over the years, and suggest you celebrate IDP today by making it a point to read something by them this week. So without further ado:

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HAU and the Malinowski Monographs: An Interview with Giovanni da Col

I recently sat down (virtually) with Giovanni da Col, the founder and editor-in-chief of HAU, to talk about the latest developments surrounding open access and HAU’s new monograph series, the “Malinowski Monographs”. Here’s what went down. (transparency: I’m on the editorial board of the journal HAU)

AG: Recently HAU unveiled a new partnership with the University of Chicago Press. It sounds like there are two parts to this: first, HAU’s existing open access books will be available for purchase in paper. Second, you will be publishing “The Malinowski Monographs,” which is a new line of books. Is that right?

GdC: Over the past three years, HAU has grown far beyond its initial ambition (and successful achievement) of being a world-class, open access journal in anthropology. In 2013, we become formally a Learned Society: The Society for Ethnographic Theory, which publishes HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, and now HAU Books (founded in 2014). With support from our sponsors (such as ISRF) and partners in the HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory (HAU-N.E.T.), HAU has become the first full-fledged open access press in anthropology, with current and future initiatives in both publishing and digital anthropology expanding on an ongoing basis.  Continue reading

University of Chicago ‘suspends’ its Confucius Institute

While the Internet has been aglow with hype about new social media network Ello, another story has been the rounds and deserves special note here: The University of Chicago will not renew the Confucius Institute that is operating in its Hyde Park campus.

The Economist has a piece on Chicago’s about-face which is a good summary  of the issue, and Inside Higher Ed has an even longer piece on the topic. Basically, many academics at the university felt that the Confucius Institute, a cultural outreach center with roots in the Chinese government, went beyond the role played by other cultural institutions such as the Germany’s Goethe Institut and France’s Alliance Française — specifically, they worried that the Institute’s presence interfered with free speech and open debate about the actions of China and its government.

What does this have to do with anthropology, other than the fact that it is part of our global, cross-cultural world? The answer is that much of the opposition to the Institute came largely from well-known anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, who wrote about the problems of the Institute at The Nation as well as here at Savage Minds. Furthermore, given Chicago’s national status, this decision will probably make other universities think seriously about their own relationship with the Confucius Institute program.

There are several important points that remain clear now: Was it pressure from faculty or from China that led to the UC’s administration to suspend the center? Just how final is this ‘suspension’? Whatever the answer to these questions eventually turns out to be, its gratifying to see that, for the time being, the university is acting in accordance with its core values, and that anthropologists have played an important role in this process.

Abbott’s “Digital Paper”: the best book about research EVAR

As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I occasionally sang with Andrew Abbott in choir — he was the bass in suspenders. It was only after moving halfway around the world that I began reading his work. I quickly became a fan. Abbott is one of the most thoughtful people writing today about what specialist knowledge is, and how we produce it. A historical sociologist with strong quantitative skills, he’s produced books on the history of academic disciplines and the dynamics of their formation and professionalization. But he’s also produced practical pieces about how students and professors develop ideas, and how to have new ones. There’s also an ‘applied’ dimension to his work — he produced the report on the University of Chicago’s library which made the bold move to double down on physical book purchases in what was supposed to be a digital future.

Abbott’s latest book, Digital Paper, continues this focus on the sociology of knowledge production by providing us with a “library methods” book: a ‘how to do fieldwork’ book, but for people who do library research. Andrew Abbott writing a book on how to do research? I was destined to like this book before I opened it up. But having read it now, and with a critical (if biased) eye, I can honestly say that every student, professor, and intellectual needs to read it. It’s a superb ‘how to’ guide about writing a long research paper or thesis. But it’s more than that. It’s an entire theory of how scholars pursue scholarship. It’s a memoir of Abbott’s own research. It’s a pessimistic and slightly misanthropic ode to a quiet world of well-ordered card catalogs destroyed by the garish vulgarity of online databases. It’s an epigrammatic summary of a career’s worth of knowledge. It is — yes, I really mean this — life-affirming. It improved my own ability to do research. Everyone needs to read it. You need to read it.

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Joan Rivers was not an anthropologist

When Joan Rivers passed away yesterday, the world paid far more attention than most people might have expected. A veteran of… well, pretty much everything, Rivers was someone who many more people took seriously than anyone expected. But anthropologists in particular were surprised and pleased (at least in my case) to discover that she had an undergraduate degree — and from Barnard no less, the mothership of American Cultural Anthropology. But, sadly, it is probably not true.

At the moment, the current wikipedia entry as earning “a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and anthropology”. So if Wikipedia says it it must be true? Hmmm…

Wikipedia lists three citations for this assertion: Rivers’ New York Times obit, her (superbly named) memoir Enter Talking, and a Washington Post obit. In fact, the Times obit gives her major as English. This morning when I checked it the WaPo obit listed her major as anthropology, but now that has been removed for some reason and her major is not specified. In Enter Talking (which Wikipedia cites without a page number, tsk tsk) what Rivers actually says is: “I was an English literature major” (that’s page 55 of the 1986, NYC, Delacorte press edition).

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“Everyone was running little magazines in those days”

I recently went a conference where I had a chance to meet Nikolas Rose recently. I’m always interested to meet Famous Professors to see how they do it — what unique combination of personality traits got them, well frankly, tenure. Isn’t that something every academic should start keeping track of?

I’m pleased to say that Rose’s success –as far as I can tell — is due to his genuine pleasantness and keen desire to keep his nose down in the weeds and keep producing substantive ethnographic/historical work. Its always a pleasure to meet someone who has managed to become a success without turning into an bad person or cutting themselves loose from the lived reality we are supposed to be studying.

One thing I learned about Rose, rather than from him, came from an excellent interview with him in Public Culture. It was about his early career in the 1970s. This is what he said:
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Boasian Critiques of Race in “The Nation”: SMOPS 12

I’m delighted to feature this, our dozenenth SMOPS, for readers. These papers provide an excellent example of anthropology’s long term commitment to social justice, public outreach, and a critique of incorrect folk theories of heredity and race. The real gems of this paper are not Boas or Herskovits or even Sapir, but the sparkling, penetrating papers by Hendrik Willem Van Loon and, especially, Konrad Bercovici. Read them first.

I’m also delighted that this issue of SMOPS is the first to feature an introduction by someone other than me. I’d like to thank Richard Handler, a distinguished historian of anthropology, for providing a brief introduction to this issue.

The pieces here are reproduced in full. Numbers in brackets indicate page breaks in the original. I hope that this paper, like the others in this series, will help present anthropological theory in a form that is accessible to everyone. There is today a tremendous amount of material which is open access, but it is difficult to find, inconvenient to read, and many people do not know where to start looking for it. By curating a selection of important open access work, I hope to make open access resources better known and to raise awareness of the actual history of anthropological theory.

Dude Guardians of the Galaxy is TOTALLY A METAPHOR FOR ANTHROPOLOGY

As I get older, I have less and less in common with my students and every fall I try to think back to movies or TV shows I’ve seen that might serve as a common reference point for us. I was walking to the library the other day wondering “What movies have I seen recently?” And the only thing that came to me was “Guardians of the Galaxy” And I was all like: “Ok, so how can I make Guardians of the Galaxy relate to anthropology?” And then I realized: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY IS ALREADY A TOTAL METAPHOR FOR ANTHROPOLOGY.

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Anthropology at the margins: A report of EASA 2014

(This guest blog comes to us from Theodoros Kyriakides. Theo is a PhD student at the University of Manchester social anthropology department, currently writing his thesis on the political and subjective dimensions of thalassaemia in Cyprus. You can follow him on twitter at @bio_karneia. -Rx)

I am reporting on the wrapped up EASA 2014 conference, entitled “Collaboration, Intimacy and Revolution,” which took place at Tallinn University from July 31st to August 3rd. EASA is the main body of European Social Anthropologists, and the conference takes place once every two years. This was the 13th EASA conference, and with an attendance of 1,200 delegates it was one of the biggest gatherings of anthropologists in the world this year.

I arrived two weeks before the conference, as part of an exchange scheme the Tallinn anthropology department recently set up with the Manchester anthropology department, where I am doing my PhD. Tallinn finds itself in a marginal position, not only in terms of European history and identity, but also in terms of anthropological relevance. As a scholar of illness I have always been interested in the marginal, not as a space of withdrawal, but of creativity and production. This has been the case with Tallinn anthropology: a relatively new initiative, founded in 2006, the department in the process of producing the first batch of Estonian anthropologists, conducting research in Estonia and also abroad.  Continue reading