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
(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.
Anthropologists seem unusual in their desire to make the public think what they think. Other disciplines relate to the public differently — Classicists sigh endlessly about the anachronisms of Hollywood blockbusters, while for some philosophers the whole point is to be the kind of person the merely average can’t understand. But is there another discipline as obsessed with proselytizing as anthropology? I can’t think of one.
So here’s my question: instead of worrying that there isn’t enough anthropology out there, can we (as they say in video games) formulate victory conditions? Can we move from “there’s not enough public anthropology” to “this is how much public anthropology we want”?
(The Institute for Critical Social Inquiry [ICSI] is a program getting under way at the New School for Social Research, where advanced graduate students and junior faculty will have the opportunity to spend a week at The New School’s campus in Greenwich Village, New York City, working closely with some of the most distinguished thinkers shaping the course of contemporary social inquiry (you can apply here — they have financial aid!). Its director, Ann Stoler is a historian/anthropologist whose work has had a tremendous impact on how anthropologists and historians think about history and colonialism. Her writing has also been one key route through which Foucault’s work has come to be known in anthropology. I talked recently with Ann about ICSI and ‘theory’ more generally. Here’s what we said -R)
Rex: So, tell me about the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry [ICSI].
Jurafsky, Dan. 2014. The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
The Language of Food has always been one of my favorite blogs, and so when I heard that it was being turned into a blook, I leapt at the chance to review it. Having now read the book, I still like Jurafsky’s writing and approach, but feel the blog was occasionally unable to transition of the Internet and on to the page. And yet, despite the beefs anthropologists might have with the book, I find myself recommending it to non-academic friends both because it makes a fine read, and because it teaches some core anthropological lessons. It deserves a wide readership for the anthropological lessons it teaches and the delightful stories it tells along the way.
Here’s an SM mini-quiz: Given your knowledge of anthropological fads, what year would you expect to see a book published which had section headings like “Power, Politics, and Dominance”, “Tactics of Survival and Counter-assertion”, and “The Problems of Contemporary Imperialism”? Take a guess and click below the jump for the answer.
Since so many readers were interested in Faye Harrison’s piece here on SM and Karen Brodkin’s challenge to Boas’s supremacy as the exemplar of anti-racist anthropology I thought I would provide a quick walkthrough of some aspects of this alternate canon in anthropology — what Harrison has called the ‘DuBoisian’ stream in the history of anthropology (there is a whole special issue of Critique of Anthropology on this topic).
(Here’s a guest post from Sareeta Amrute. Sareeta is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Washington. She is currently completing her first book, Encoding Race, Encoding Class: an Ethnography of Indian IT Workers in Berlin (Duke U. Press). You can read more about her scholarship on her website)
Stuart Hall’s work is notable for the way it links biography, critique from within and of the ‘Left’, and a Marxian analysis of capitalism and popular culture. Hall passed away in February 2014, and is the subject of a series of talks on his life and work ongoing here in Seattle at the University of Washington. These remembrances inspired me to think more closely about Stuart Hall’s specific contribution to research methodology. Hall uses two sense of the limit to ground his research. First, he thinks through limit cases to question a given theorization. Second, he thinks at the limit to uncover what is not yet know about a particular case. The limit as research methodology has, to my mind, a very anthropological sensibility about it, since it uses empirical cases to talk back to establish categories, and at the same time, keeps newly developed conceptualizations open-ended. Continue reading
(This Thanksgiving I’m posting a short, edited snippet of pages 55-66 of Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. In it Mann describes the history of Indian-European relations that existed before the arrival of the Mayflower by following the story of a single Indian, Tisquantum, and the role he played in the events leading up to the first Thanksgiving. This fair use reproduction is just a small chunk of Mann’s 500+ page book. If you’d like to read more about this topic — I’d recommend buying and reading all of 1491. It’s excellent. Happy Thanksgiving.)
I had learned about Plymouth in school. But it was not until I was poking through the scattered references to Billington [the author’s ancestor] that it occurred to me that my ancestor, like everyone else in the colony, had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that had him arriving in New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Not only that, he joined a group that, so far as is known, set off with little idea of where it was heading. In Europe, the Pilgrims had refused to hire the experienced John Smith as a guide, on the theory that they could use the maps in his book. In consequence, as Smith later crowed, the hapless Mayflower spent several frigid weeks scouting around Cape Cod for a good place to land, during which time many colonists became sick and died. Landfall at Patuxet did not end their problems. The colonists had intended to produce their own food, but inexplicably neglected to bring any cows, sheep, mules, or horses. To be sure, the Pilgrims had intended to make most of their livelihood not by farming but by catching fish for export to Britain. But the only fishing gear the Pilgrims brought was useless in New England. Half of the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through the first winter, which to me seemed amazing. How did they survive?
Savage Minds has gotten a lot more sophisticated than we were when we first started this blog almost ten years ago: We have guest bloggers, comp’d copies of books for our book reviews, and polished, seven thousand word interviews. And for the past couple of years we’ve also gotten an increased amount of accolades and recognition for some reason — mostly because we’ve been able to stay around longer than most.
But I feel that somewhere in this mix of newfound coordination and respectability we’ve gotten away a little bit from our origins as bloggers: entries that represent raw, immediate, thought. Entries that don’t figure out what their point is until the end, entries where the reader can feel you writing the piece, thinking alongside them.
That’s why I want to write something now about Ferguson, Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson even though I don’t know what I want to say. I only know that I want — need — to say something. Continue reading
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.
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.
Open access scholarship faces a lot of challenges, and sometimes we focus on those so much we lose sight of how successful the movement for open access is. Just take a look, for instance, at the absolutely ridonculous amount of open access resources there are out there for the Pacific.
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?
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!