“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.
As some of you may know, in my free time I’ve created a timeline of anthropology using the program Aeon Timeline (I’d highly recommend it). As I’ve plugged more and more dates into it I’ve become increasingly convinced that 1974 is the year that anthropology took on the form that it currently exists in today.
The short answer is: I was tired.
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.
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.
(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.
It’s Friday!!!! Remember, if you have more Unicorn and Sapir pics, send them to email@example.com and we’ll post them next week
(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
In this SMOPS I’m very pleased to present “The Science of Culture,” an essay that Ruth Benedict published in 1929 and has languished unread since then. “Science of Culture” was significantly revised to become the first chapter of Patterns of Culture, so readers will be familiar with the ideas expressed in it. However, this original version is significantly different from that chapter, and works better as a standalone essay. It seems that every decade or so, anthropologists feel the need to write an essay to tell a general audience what our discipline’s main findings and beliefs are. This article, like Kroeber’s “The Superorganic” published 12 years earlier, is Benedict’s version of a popular account of the anthropological credo.
I’ve received a lot of criticism in my life, but no one has ever accused me of having writer’s block. I do it all the time. On this blog, in my academic writing, in Amazon book reviews… I write write write. I wasn’t always a good writer or a fluent writer, and it took me years to get to the point where I could wake up every morning and feel that I could write five thousand words a day if I had to, and couldn’t sleep at night if I’d written less than a thousand. Many of my greatest teachers were role models, people who wrote comfortably and fluently and loved to do it. But I’ve also benefitted tremendously from good books on writing. Since we are doing the Savage Minds writing group this year, I thought I would share my favorite tips for books on writing. As an anthropologist, actually, when I say ‘books’ I really mean the conversations behind (and within) the books. And behind the the conversations I see the concrete networks of scholars. When it comes to books about how to write, there are two key figures who anchor two different (but related) literatures: Robert Boice and Joseph Williams.
“The methods of ethnology” is among the two most taught and anthologized essay by Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology, and I include it here to give you a sense of who Boas was and what he thought. Boas is famous for doing ethnography, not talking about it. As a result it is extremely difficult to find explicit theoretical statements from him regarding what anthropology is or should be. There are three main texts that represent Boas at his most explicit: “the study of geography” is Boas’s earliest and most general statement, followed by “limitations” in the 1890s. “Methods” was written in 1920, and represents Boas’s views at the time that he had finally achieved institutional dominance in anthropology.
It was with a genuine sense of loss that I read over the weekend that Stanley Tambiah had passed away. Tambiah was a model anthropologist, a person whose personal life and work exemplified everything that our discipline can and should be. He was an area studies specialist whose monographs on life in rural Thailand expanded our ethnography of this area. He was a theorist who knit together British and American theories of symbolism and ritual at a key point in anthropological theory. And he also became a public intellectual who published substantive work on pressing issues of the day in books and articles about ethnic violence in India and Sri Lanka. Above all, he will be remembered by his colleagues as role model of the generous scholar and human being. His generosity, kindness, and humility seemed to combine the best of all the different cultures he lived in, from English gentleman to humble Buddhist to Sri Lankan Christian. His loss gives us a chance to reflect on the values he lived and that we, in turn, ought to continue to follow. Continue reading
I have a suggestion for Copyright Week: Let’s ask the AAA to release their books and monographs into the public domain. After all, one of the easiest, most important, and least risky things the American Anthropological Association has ever done is to put into the public domain all of its journal articles published prior to 1964. By doing so, the AAA took our heritage as anthropologists and made it available to the world — exactly as it should be. The decision making behind this move was a little complicated (I can tell you about it later), but the decision making behind our next one doesn’t have to be. Let’s do the same for all the books and monographs the AAA hold copyright for — regardless of when they were published.
When it rains it pours. In the past two days it seems like I’ve been deluged with quality open access anthropology. Perhaps open access is not the right word, since some of them have pretty traditional copyright on them, but the important thing is that they are all free to read, and all deserve to be read. Where to begin?
I mentioned earlier that for many people ontology was a major theme at AAAs. Well now the good folks at Cultural Anthropology have published the papers from the Politics of Ontology Session. Short. Sweet. Ontologytastic. Most of what happens at the AAAs doesn’t live on in any meaningful way, or else is published years afterwards. It’s amazing, frankly, to see such relevant stuff from such high-calibre people get thrown up on the Intarweb.
Speaking of high-calibre, Museum Anthropology Review has published a ginormous double issue on digital repatriation and the circulation of indigenous knowledge. Its an amazing collection of papers that help get the word out about the cutting edge of digital repatriation projects which are out there. Hats off to the organizers.
There are also many new less scholarly, more general-interest pieces out now. Limn, an art magazine/scholarly journal hybrid founded by our own Chris Kelty, published its fourth issue on Food Infrastructures. Yum. There is also a new issue of Anthropology of This Century out as well as a new number of Popular Anthropology.
I wish I could recommend specific articles out of all these journals, but frankly I’m swamped — and eager to hear what you all have to say. Anything in here you’re particularly keen to read? Or what would you recommend, having read some of this stuff? The Internetz wants to know.