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

Official #AAA2015 #tweetup planning thread

Ok trying to plan the tweetup for the AAAs on twitter is getting ridiculous because by the time you mention everyone who is involved in planning it there is no room for an actual message. So here is a thread where we can plan the time and date of the tweet up.

I am happy to coordinate this and provide enough structure that the discussion doesn’t flop around like a fish out of water and never reach a conclusion.

The only thing I’d like to emphasize is that the best day to have the tweetup is friday and usually we have had good results having it in the late afternoon/early evening so people can grab a bit and then head out to other events.

Usually what happens is we set a time and then when I arrive at AAAs I scout a location and then let people know where to meet on twitter. I’ll be arriving on Wednesday so I’ll have plenty of time to have a look around.

Things You Might Be Inclined To Say That People Say Every Year We Try To Organize This:

  1. “Why have it on Friday? Why not Saturday? (Or Thursday or Sunday)?”

Answer: Because Friday is the middle of the conference. It is actually less busy that Saturday, which is when most of the main parties are. Thursday not enough people have arrived. Sunday no one is around. And Wednesday? It’s like Thursday, but with even less people.

  1. “We can’t have it at that time because it overlaps with [something]!”

Answer: The tweetup will overlap with something. That is because the AAA schedule is ridounculous. Inevitably it is going to overlap with something. The goal is to have it overlap with the least number of things, not nothing. When planning the tweetup, if you don’t like a time, please demonstrate that it’s a bad time slot because it overlaps with many things, not one thing.

  1. “Why don’t we just have the tweetup at [some other event someone else is already organizing]?”

Answer: 1) Because no one will be able to hear a damn thing at that event anyway (Wenner-Gren I’m looking at you) 2) The purpose is to meet other anthropology tweeters and get to know them, not wander around a room full of people asking “do you tweet or are you just here to watch Marisol de la Cadena hand out drink tickets?” 3) It will be more intimate and allow real conversation with people  and 4) I sort of believe anthrotwitter flourishes when it isn’t coopted by some other organization.


I am thinking Friday evening/late afternoon. Theoretically it could be at lunch. What do you think?

My plan is to let this thread run for about a week and then see if we can reach agreement. If not, I’ll try to figure out what the closest thing is to agreement and then I’ll start broadcasting that as the date of the tweetup.

The _other_ enemy of Open Access

An article made the rounds of social media recently on whether or not the for-profit website is outflanking the open access movement. It’s a great article that I’d encourage people to read closely., in case you didn’t know, is basically tumblr for academics — a bunch of hosted blog sites tied together into a social network. I am deeply ambivalent about (and its more sciency cousin Research Gate) but in the end I use the site and even accepted one of the many ‘editorships’ they provided to people, which allows you to rate up content on their site.

There’s a lot to be said about, most of which can be found in the post I linked to above. But what that piece sparked in my head was the way and other sites enable (and perhaps even promote?) the other enemy of the open access movement: law-scoffing consumerism.

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What a cooperative proposal means for the AAA

Social media was a-twitter (see what I did there?) today with an important statement about the future of anthropology publishing posted at both Cultural Anthropology and in the latest number of HAU. But what precisely is this post about? What are the broader politics that form its context, and what is its point?

The basic idea is this: We have long known that the American Anthropological Association is unable and/or unwilling to innovate on its own. Most of the developments in open access anthropology have happened outside of the AAAs structure. Sure, the AAA has tried various things such as a faux-open access journal and open access book reviews. But its core business model has been to throw in its lot with a large corporate publisher.

Our recent proposal to the AAA marks an important watershed in open access anthropology because it represents something new. Now, open access is not only growing outside of the AAA’s auspices, it is actually feeding back into the AAA itself. Instead of just going its own way, the open access community is now saying to the AAA: “You can’t develop a robust open access business model on your own. But what if we developed one for you? What if we could prove to you that there is a financially sustainable way for you to run your publishing unit? If we build it, will you come?”

My guess is that, no, the AAA will not endorse the model. The AAA has published American Anthropologist for over a hundred years, and their fundamental goal is to make sure that it continues for another hundred years. In the past couple of years the AAA has done a good job of building capacity, but it is still a conservative institution which is very risk averse.

But we can hope. And hopefully the cooperative proposal we have set out will receive lots of pushback from the AAA and people in the publishing industry to tell us that It Cannot Be Done, You Don’t Understand The Numbers, and so forth. This will only lead us to sharpen our argument, gather more data, and make an even stronger case. And — if you don’t mind my saying so — I think the open access movement deserves a lot of kudos of continuing to press its case with an institution that it very easily could have walked away from. In the end, the only way to test the business model is to actually try it, and I hope that someday we can prove to the AAA that our proposals are indeed feasible. If we do not, it will not be for lack of trying on our part.

Happy Open Access Week!

This week is Open Access week! In fact, by the time you read this it will already be Tuesday or Wednesday of Open Access Week because I’m not getting to writing this post until Monday PM Honolulu time. But regardless of how far into it you are: Happy open access week!

Open Access Week is a time to celebrate Open Access, get people involved in Open Access opportunities (like the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon) and discuss the challenges that Open Access faces in the future.

A quick google search shows that we’ve been celebrating Open Access Week on this site for at least five years. This year, I hope to spend some of this week demonstrating just how much quality open access anthropology there is online. In particular, I’d like to show that one of the biggest challenges facing open access anthropology is finding and using the huge amount of resources that are out there. In some cases, it’s possible to replace textbooks or anthologies with open access sources — or at least come pretty darn close.

The big challenge is finding a way to curate all of the available material and make it available to other people. This is something that requires time, expertise, and effort. Google searches won’t cut it anymore — we need to build a layer of curation on top of the layer of open access material that is currently available. This week, I hope to provide some examples of how this might get done.

So stay tuned, and until then — happy open access week!

Encrypting Ethnography: Digital Security for Researchers

(This invited post comes to us from Jonatan Kurzwelly. Jonatan is a a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of St. Andrews. You can email him at . his PGP fingerprint is: 1B4B 89B4 DD31 B05E 949A E181 B51C CA99 2FD6 6382 -Rex)

Imagine a situation in which everything you do on your computer, tablet or telephone is easily available to local authorities, criminal organizations, corporations or even your neighbors or their teenage children. Imagine that your electronic diary is public and anyone can read everything you have written about the people you work with. Every piece of secret, confidential information you have been entrusted with is being read. It doesn’t matter if you use nicknames and codewords – someone who knows the context of your fieldsite will figure it out. With the use of special software, all your text, photographs, videos and sound recordings can be quickly and automatically analyzed, regardless of the language you write in. Moreover, imagine that all of your communications with your colleagues, sponsoring institutions or supervisors are also publicly available. This includes field reports, emails, video conversations, instant messaging, phone calls.

These are not fantasies but real threats if you are not taking additional measures to protect your data and are using a computer! The aim of this post is to introduce the problem of digital threats for sociocultural anthropologists and their informants. My intention is to bring this issue into public debate within the discipline and suggest introduction of appropriate security training into research preparation. I then describe some free-of-charge methods and tools that increase protection from Internet surveillance and data theft. I focus on the need to protect researchers’ personal computers, as well as the benefits of increasing the digital protection, privacy and anonymity of their informants. Continue reading

#OpenAccess as Famine

The current state of thinking about open access today is a lot like our contemporary understanding of famine.

In the early 1980s Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze published the ground-breaking book Hunger and Public Action. In it, Sen and Drèze made the unexpected and original argument that famines are not caused by lack of food. Rather, they are caused by lack of entitlement — when famines occur, there is typically enough food to feed everyone, but the social system that distributes it is out of whack. Prices change such that poor people can no longer afford food, and there are not enough (or not correctly designed) social programs that ensure the food is distributed to the poor. It’s not the food that’s missing, it’s the justice.

The metaphor can be run several ways. From one point of view, our closed access world is one in which there is more knowledge than ever, but paywalls ensure that most people are starved for it. While some brave souls continue their long tradition of smuggling, most people starve or watch ad-supported TV, which is the knowledge equivalent of eating mud to feel full (apologies to the legitimate geophages out there who find this an invidious comparison).

In another version of this metaphor, it’s the resources needed to publish — money, manpower, software — that’s the food and it’s the scholarly ecology that doesn’t provide the entitlements necessary for open access publishers to get the resources they need to survive and thrive. That’s why so much of the recent work on open access has now moves to understanding the scholarly ecosystem as whole. Projects like Libraria are trying to see if we can rearrange the existing relations of production (ahem) to create cheaper, more free research. In the Netherlands, the univerisites are realizing that cancelling the Elsevier subscription would liberate enough money to make accessible all those articles the Netherlands currently publishes with Elsevier. In this case, the money to publish open access is in place, but the existing system runs this money through for-profit publishers whose profit margins are too large.

Once, we had to face the claim ‘there’s no money to pay for it’. Now, we know the question is ‘who is entitled to access it?’ Of course, open access advocates have long looked at the big picture when it comes to what needs to change in scholarly publishing. But I do feel that in the past couple of years there has been a shift away from the basic groundwork of developing software and making arguments for the legitimacy and feasibility of open access. It could have been that open access remianed a fringe idea pursued by those without a lot of institutional power. Now, however, as governments, funders, universities, and publishers take open access seriously, it’s increasingly the systematics of entitlement that’s being examined and rethought. It’s an exciting time for open access, and I hope to see even more exciting times ahead.

Osama Bin Laden, Chelsea Manning, and their anthropologists

Anthropology can turn up in the strangest places. While we often hold up Margaret Mead and… uh… well, mostly Margaret Mead… as examples of public anthropology, our discipline does a lot of important work in times and places few of us would suspect. For instance, take these two recent examples from the media featuring Chelsea Manning and Osama bin Laden:

Most people remember Chelsea Manning (then Bradley) as the person who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks. After being imprisoned for the leak, Manning has become an activist and intellectual in her own right, as well as the center of an ongoing struggle to make sure her rights are respected in prison. And in her free time… she reads anthropology.

This according to a New York Post article Manning recently faced the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement because of the items she had in her possession, including a tube of toothpaste and a copy of Biella Coleman’s excellent ethnography Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy — The Many Faces of Anonymous (creative commons licensed PDF here). You knew anthropology ends up in unusual places — now we know that includes the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

The other anthropologist to make the news recently was Flagg Miller of UC Davis. Miller holds the unique title of being the only person in the world to sit down and listen to all 1,500 cassette tapes in Osama Bin Laden’s personal cassette tape collection.  My favorite part of the BBC’s piece on Miller’s new book, Audacious Ascetic: What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal About Al-Qa’ida comes when Miller shows the reporter the earliest known recording of Bin Laden from the late 1980s. Recording quality is poor and the reporter asks “But how can you tell it’s Bin Laden?” There’s a short pause and Miller replies “Well… I’ve listened to over a thousand hours of him speaking…” That’s anthropology for you — you work it into your bones, and it’s that lived experience that lets you make the hard calls.

Anthropologists worry constantly that there isn’t enough public anthropology. But how much public anthropology is enough public anthropology? We are reaching all kinds of audiences in all kinds of ways — and with research totally different than the usual white-on-brown village ethnography that people (including us!) imagine that we do. So let’s give ourselves some credit where credit is due and pat ourselves on the back for showing up in unexpected — but important — places.

Malinowski’s Legacy: One Hundred Years of Anthropology in the Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

(Last week a major international conference was held in Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, where Bronislaw Malinowski did the research on kula that resulted in Argonauts of the Western Pacific (pdf of the conference program)The conference organizer Sergio Jarillo de la Torre was kind enough to write up this report of what happened, which I post here – R) 

As one of the “Malinowski’s Legacy” conference participants put it, good ideas have many fathers but bad ideas are orphans. Allan Darrah’s observation came as we were discussing the origins of the symposium at the Wanigili Centre in Alotau a day before its beginning. As far as my share of the paternity in this conference goes, the idea was generated during a road trip to Buffalo with Joshua Bell, who argued for the need for a third kula conference. It was then put forward to a group of Massim scholars at the 2012 ASAO meeting in Portland. And if 2015 seemed the right time to all (the 100th anniversary of Malinowski’s arrival in the Trobes gave us a perfect excuse to update Massim anthropology), there wasn’t much agreement on what would be the right place.

For my part, I wanted this conference to be a return of sorts and I claimed that it needed to take place in PNG or it wouldn’t take place at all. I think nowadays there is little excuse to keep anthropology far removed from the place where it originates. It is no longer a matter of bringing Pacific and other native scholars to Europe or America for our conferences but rather taking back “our” ideas to the people who help us form them, scholars and non-scholars. If we can’t discuss kula with our partners in the Milne Bay, chances are we haven’t learned much about exchange in these last hundred years… Continue reading

Book proves culture leads to Asian American success, headlines claim opposite

A strong media push by the Sage Foundation has put Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou’s book The Asian American Achievement Paradox into the public sphere in the past couple of days, garnering an op-ed on and an interview on Inside Higher Ed. The book — at least what I’ve been able to read of it so far — is excellent. Even better, it pushes back against the embarrassing, amateurish work of Amy Chua, which claims, in essence, that ‘Asians’ are successful because they are morally virtuous. Or rather, since the weird, deeply-seated Anglo-Protestant cultural currents that run the US are often disguised, because of their ‘cultural values’. Lee and Zhou are adamant that cultural values do not cause Asian American success, and should be commended for boiling down their research findings into headline — and then getting people to run it. But their alternate explanation of Asian American success will look to most people, and especially most anthropologists, essentially cultural. The book deserves discussion because of the way it frames the culture concept, studies ‘culture of success’ (and, lurking in the background, ‘culture of poverty’ ) arguments, and attempts to intervene in the public sphere. It is an excellent model for how anthropologists should approach a topic they often shy away from. But it’s an argument for culture not against it. Or rather, for a good understanding of culture rather than an essentialized and inadequate ethnoracial understanding of culture.

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Welcome Libraria!

When twitter lit up last week with the news that PKP and SPARC had partnered with EASA, SCA, and 4S your response was probably “WTF?” The new project is called Libraria and is an important development in open access publishing for anthropologists. So important, in fact, that it deserves a bit of explanation for those who are not insiders into the acronym-filled world of the open access movement.

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Vale Jack Goody

Keith Hart recently announced on social media that Jack Goody passed away. He was just a few days before his 96th birthday. Goody had a long and productive life and was a model of the successful anthropologist: Born in England at the end of the one world war, he spent much of the second as a prisoner of war. After the war he joined the anthropology program at Cambridge, where he was a junior partner to Edmund Leach and Meyer Fortes. He ended up becoming the William Wyse Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge, taking up the mantle from Fortes, who was the first person to capture Cambridge for social anthropology. Given his institutional centrality, it’s not surprising that Goody is remembered by British anthropologists. But he deserves to be remembered by American ones — and by everyone, really — both for being a role model of successful scholarship and an indirect influence on authors we read today, such as David Grabber and Tanya Li.

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Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography (book review)

Thomas Hylland Eriksen. 2015. Fredrick Barth: An Intellectual Biography. London: Pluto Press.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen has a well-earned reputation for writing good, short books on large, intractable topics. His introduction to anthropology, history of the discipline, and books on globalization and ethnicity and nationalism have given the Norwegian anthropologist an international profile. We ran a preview of Eriksen’s new book on SM a while back (and have mentioned Barth more than once). So does Eriksen’s biography of Norway’s Greatest Anthropologist live up to the hype? Yes. But interestingly enough, in reading it you come to appreciate the author of the biography slightly more than you do its subject.

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