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

“Divorce your theory” A conversation with Paul Farmer (part one)

 (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

The Science of Culture: SMOPS 10

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.

The Science of Culture: The Bearing of Anthropology on Contemporary Thought, by Ruth Benedict, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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The books about how to write for anthropologists (or anyone else)

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.

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The Methods of Ethnology: SMOPS 9

“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.

The Methods of Ethnology, by Franz Boas, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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Vale Stanley Tambiah

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

This copyright week, Let's make the AAA's monographs open access

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.
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Tons of newly published open anthropology

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.

Configurations of Culture in North America
: SMOPS 8

This edition of “Configurations of Culture in North America” is the openest, freest, and shortest summary of Ruth Benedict’s 1934 classic Patterns of Culture available. In it, Benedict rehearses the same arguments — often with the same data — that we see in Patterns. I hope that it will introduce these arguments to readers who do not have the time (or money) to read Patterns, which is still under copyright (at least in the United States).

Savage Minds Occasional Papers No. 8: Configurations of Culture in North America By Ruth Benedict, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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An Interview with Allegra

The folks at Allegra drew some attention on the Internet recently with their fish out of water story of visiting the AAA annual meetings in Chicago last year. I ran into the main authors of the site, Miia and Julie, in Chicago and was blown away ( ‘wilted under’ would be a better description) by their energy and enthusiasm.  So what is Allegra? How does a website manage to be ‘deadly serious’ ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and ‘sexy’ all at the same time? How does it fit into the Internetoblogosphere? We sat down together for a (virtual) interview recently so they could tell me about their site.

Beware, Internet: Miia Halme-Tuomasaari and Julie Billaud

All up in your internetz: Miia Halme-Tuomasaari (left) and Julie Billaud (right)

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Vale Gerald Berreman

Last night I received an email announcing that Gerald Berreman passed away on December 23rd. I never met him, and his work on India and the Himalayas was far outside of my fieldwork in the Pacific. But I — and everyone else — deserve to remember Berreman not only because of his ethnographic work, but because he was one of the first generation of anthropologists to politicize anthropology in the late sixties and early seventies.

If you are interested in learning more about Berreman, you may want to check out two of his better-known articles, both of which have been posted online at his website: “Anemic and Emetic Analyses in Social Anthropology” and “Is Anthropology Alive? Social Responsibility in Social Anthropology“. We have a new generation of anthropologists who know not Berreman, not this influential work doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

Apply for an internship with us!

Savage Minds is currently seeking a volunteer to join our crew to help Rex with community outreach. This internship (if that’s not too fancy a name for it) will run from late January to early May, with a possibility of extension. Duties may include: comment moderation, interview transcription, handling correspondence with publishers, and posting on social media such as facebook and twitter.

SM plans to provide mentoring and training to our volunteers, which will may also include readings (on for instance, comment moderation, best practices for transcription, etc.) We expect this job to take 3-10 hours a week, depending on how interested you are and how busy we become. I’d really like to use it to go beyond comment moderation to expand what we are doing to include more interviews, podcasts, syllabi collections, and other things that we just don’t have the cycles for at the moment.

No one at Savage Minds is paid to work on the site, so you won’t be either. At the end of the internship, however, we will be willing to provide a letter of recommendation for job or grant applications. If you hit it off well with us, then there is also the possibility of joining us as a blogger.

We imagine these positions will appeal to a graduate student or aspiring undergraduate anthropology major. However, pretty much any one can apply if they want to.

Savage Minds is strongly committed to increasing the diversity of our Minds, and we are particularly interested in receiving applications from people who are not White Men.

We will soon post another call for volunteers for a position to work with Matt Thompson. You can apply for both positions if you like.

To Apply

Send a CV, contact details of three personal references, and a short (no more than a page) bio describing who you are and why you’d be good for the job to golub@hawaii.edu. The application deadline is next Friday, January 17th.

Please wait a bit for your comments to post

Good morning everyone. As promised, I’ve changed the discussion settings on our blog. Everyone who wants to post comments will now have to register with the site (you can do this with preexisting credentials, such as twitter or WP). Pseudonyms are fine.  All comments will now be manually approved by me (or, in the future, an intern) before they appear on the site, and they must follow our existing comment policy (which you can find in the header of our site). I expect 90% of the comments submitted will be approved, but please be patient if it takes a little bit — especially if you post during the Hawai‘ian evening. If I feel your comments are in violation of our comment policy, I will do my best to send them back to you to explain how they don’t meet it. That way you can resubmit and have your comments appear. Thanks for your patience, everyone.

Welcome to my reign as comment czar

Happy 2014 everyone! We have a number of improvements and expansions planned for Savage Minds that we’ll roll out as the year goes forward. Today I’m announcing the first one: we will be revamping the comments policy on our site.

For years we’ve felt that the comments section of the blog were, well, toxic is pretty much the word that comes to mind. We never really had a solution to this problem because different Minds had different senses of how severe the problem was, and because solutions took cycles that most of us didn’t have. This semester, however, I am finally taking the plunge and am dedicating myself full-time to moderating all comments.

My goal is to create a vibrant, civil, inclusive space where genuine discussion about anthropology can occur, and where anyone — professor, grad student, or random passer-by — can participate. Creating this community has always been central to our vision of the blog, but had fallen by the wayside. We’re bringing it back.

In the next week I’ll be announcing a new comment policy. We’re still working out the kinks, but essentially, I will personally be moderating all SM posts. Every commentor will have to register with our site, and all comments will be moderated by me before they are posted. I am also planning to ask for a volunteer/intern to work with me on comment moderation, as well as other aspects of the site. There’ll be endless thanks (and a letter of recommendation) for the person who comes on board to help.

I’ll be posting more of this soon. If you want to provide comments about the new comment policy before it comes into effect, now’s your chance.

Anthropology and the Humanities: SMOPS 7

This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series features Ruth Benedict’s “anthropology and the humanities.” This piece is the published version of the lecture Benedict delivered for her presidential address at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological association in 1947. In this piece, one of the last she wrote before she passed away, she argues that anthropologists can benefit from drawing on the methods of the humanities in addition to scientific methods. Benedict’s argument is worth examining in its own terms, but it is also worth reading between the lines of her essay. In making her case for the humanities, Benedict implicitly describes anthropology’s core values. This piece is valuable, then, not only for its argument about the humanities, but because it gives us a summary of what one of our foundational figures considered the essence of anthropology to be.

Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series #7: Anthropology and the Humanities by Ruth Benedict, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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