All posts by Ryan

Ryan Anderson is an environmental and economic anthropologist. His current research focuses on the social dynamics of coastal development and conservation in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is currently a lecturer in the department of anthropology at San Diego State University. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

Anthropologies #22 Call for Submissions: The anthropology of food!

Burgers, Plate 4. Photograph by Thomas Hawk, 2009.

Everyone eats, and there are cultural and social meanings embedded in the food that we consume. This issue of anthropologies will look at the anthropological understanding of food and the values, beliefs, technologies, ideologies, and imaginaries that we construct around its production and consumption.

What is food? How do we decide what food is desirable and undesirable? Where does our food come from? How is it produced? What effect do our food habits have on others both human and non-human? What, ultimately, does food mean? We are looking for submissions from every corner of anthropology – linguistic, biological, cultural, and archaeology – and from a variety of perspectives within the discipline. So tell us what food means to you, or the role that it plays in the lives of people you work with.

Deadline for submissions: January 10, 2016

Publication Date: March 2016.

Email submissions to: anthropologiesproject AT gmail dot com

Jeremy Trombley and Lauren Moore will be the co-editors for this issue. We already have a few contributors lined up, but we have room for more! See below for more information. Continue reading

Reader Survey Results Part 3: 95 percent of you never (or rarely) comment!

Why do you comment on Savage Minds. Or why don’t you comment on Savage Minds? Are the comments good? Do they suck? Do you even care? Can internet comments save the future of the human species? These were some of the questions we tried to answer with our reader survey earlier this year. Ok, well, we didn’t actually ask that last one about saving the human species–that was just to see if you’re still paying attention and not frittering away on Twitter while “reading” Savage Minds. I know you’re out there! Anyway, here are some of the answers to this riveting survey. Bonus: Star Wars reference if you reach the end. How can you resist reading this post now? Answer: Don’t even try.

About twelve percent of you never read the comments, period. The majority, about 73 percent, said they read our comments “sometimes.” About fifteen percent said they always read them.

But when it comes to posting comments, about 95 percent of people said they never or very rarely leave comments. Nearly five percent said they comment occasionally. Only 0.2% (one person out of 430 responses) said they comment regularly.

Less than one percent of you regularly posts comments! What’s up with that? Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Weather changes people: stretching to encompass material sky dynamics in our ethnography

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Heid Jerstad brings our climate change issue to a close with this thoughtful essay. Jerstad (BA Oxford, MRes SOAS) is writing up her PhD on the effects of weather on peoples lives at the university of Edinburgh. Having done fieldwork in the western Indian Himalayas, she is particularly interested in the range of social and livelihood implications that weather (and thus climate change) has. She is on twitter @entanglednotion –R.A.

For most people, the climate change issue is a bundle of scientific ideas, or maybe a chunk of guilt lurking behind that short haul flight. The words have fused together to form a single stone, immobile and heavy. Change is a bit of a nothing word anyway – anything can change, and who is to say if it is good or bad, drastic or practically unnoticeable?

But what about climate? It is a big science-y word, neither human nor particularly tangible. Climate is about a place – engrained, palimpsested, with time-depth. That big sky, those habits – the Frenchman advising wine and bed on a rainy day, the Croatian judge lenient because there was a hot wind from the Sahara that day. This is weather I am talking about, seasons, years, the heat, damp and sparkling frost.

People care about the weather. We consider ourselves used to this or good at observing that. My home has more weather than other places – it is colder in winter, the air is clearer and brighter – because it is mine. My sunsets – this is eastern Norway – are vibrant and fill the sky, my sky will snow in June with not a cloud, my nose can feel that special tingle when it gets to below -20˚c. The north is not gloomy in winter – the snow is bright white, the hydro-fuelled streetlights illuminate empty streets and windows seal the warmth in.

What is your weather? It would be safe to assume it is part of the climate and I would go out on a limb and say I think you care about it. Am I wrong?

When the weather matters to people, the task becomes one of bridging this caring and the climate change science and projections. Looking at the impact of these weather changes in different areas of life is, then, going to make up a steadily larger part of useful climate change research.

Mead famously convened a conference with Kellogg titled ‘The Atmosphere: Endangered and Endangering’ in 1975, and Douglas published Risk and Blame in 1992. In the new millennium Strauss and Orlove (2003), Crate and Nuttall (2009) and Hastrup and Rubow (2014) brought edited volumes to the debate. It seems to be fairly well established, then, that climate change is a matter for anthropologists, as phrased by the AAA statement on climate change: ‘Climate change is rooted in social institutions and cultural habits. … Climate change is not a natural problem, it is a human problem.’ What then, can anthropologists do, about this problem? Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Global Warming is not a Crisis

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

For the next installment of the anthropologies issue on climate change, we have a counterpoint essay from Lee Drummond. Drummond is a retired professor of social/cultural anthropology (McGill University).  For the past twenty years he has been director of a very modestly staffed think tank, the Center for Peripheral Studies in Palm Springs, CA.  As a “real” anthropologist he studied South American myth and Caribbean ethnicity.  Later, reincarnated as a “reel” anthropologist he applied his work on myth to blockbuster American movies, treating them as myths of modern culture (see American Dreamtime). –R.A.

The principal “texts” for this little essay are a 2009 lecture, “Heretical Thoughts about Science and Society,” by Freeman Dyson, one of the smartest people on the planet, and an epic performance, “Saving the Planet,” by George Carlin, until his death in 2008 one of the funniest people on the planet. Dyson’s lecture may be found here.

It’s over an hour long, but watch the whole thing–it’s great. Carlin’s performance is on YouTube.

It will take only a few minutes of your day.

Before taking up a few specifics of these pieces, let me provide a background sketch of the phenomenon of global warming that has attracted so much attention over the past couple of decades.

The Big Picture: Greenhouse Earth and Icehouse Earth

Environmentalists gravely concerned with rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere and rising temperatures in the oceans not uncommonly issue the dire warning that these are runaway processes, that Earth will continue to get cloudier and hotter until it becomes another Venus, where lead can melt on its surface. The entire history of the planet suggests that this is not the case. Earth’s climate has oscillated through periods of unusually hot conditions (Greenhouse Earth) and unusually cold conditions (Icehouse Earth), each period lasting tens or hundreds of millions of years. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Betwixt and Between: Geological Phase Transition, Adaptive Co-Management, and Anthropology

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

The next piece in the anthropologies climate change series comes from Michael Agar. His bio is here. Check out more of his work on the rest of the Ethnoworks site, or email him at magar AT umd dot edu. –R.A.

Several years ago, in 2011, The Onion—a satirical newspaper—ran a feature story entitled “Planet Earth Doesn’t Know How To Make It Any Clearer It Wants Everyone To Leave.” The Onion presented the Earth’s prepared statement as follows:

At this point, I think I’ve stated my wishes quite loudly and clearly,” the Earth’s statement to all of humanity read in part. “I haven’t exactly been subtle about it, you realize. I have literally tried to drown you, crush you, starve you, dehydrate you, pump you full of diseases, and suck your homes and families into swirling vortices of death. Honestly, what more is it going to take for you people to get the message? Do I have to spell it out for you?” the statement continued. “Get the fuck out of here. I want you to leave now.

Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: The Challenge of Motivated Reasoning: Science, Education, and Changing Climates

This entry is part 7 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Next up we have an essay about climate change and education from Joseph Henderson and David E. Long. Henderson is a Learning Sciences Researcher at the University of Delaware. Trained as an anthropologist of environmental and science education, his research investigates how sociocultural, political and economic factors influence teaching and learning in emerging energy and climate systems. You can find Joseph on here, and on Twitter: @josephenderson. David Long is Research Assistant Professor in the Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology at George Mason University.  Long examines how religious faith and political ideology mediates the U.S. cultural relationship toward evolution, climate science, and genetic engineering in educational settings. You can find more about his work on the George Mason University website and on –R.A.

What does it mean to know climate change? A recent study on the global awareness of climate change found that nearly 40% of adults did not know about climate change (Lee et al., 2015). Among those who did, formal education proved the biggest individual predictor of awareness, with more education leading to greater awareness. The researchers also discovered that awareness levels increased in so-called “developed” nations, where access to formal education tends to be greater. They also found that each nation had a risk perception dynamic unique to their particular context. For example, “developing” countries are more likely to experience the local effects of climate change in their daily lives, even though they rate lower official knowledge of abstract climate change concepts. This shaped perceptions of risk accordingly, toward the more tangible and concrete impacts of already existing climate impacts. Conversely, “developed” countries tend to be spatially and temporally detached from the immediate impacts of climate change (Norgaard, 2011). While simply knowing about climate change is a laudable educational goal, it is also not enough to merely know. Actually moving someone to action—that is, knowing what to do about climate change and why to do it—necessarily entails bringing one’s worldview and values into account, including the possibility that they might need to change. When change asks you to evolve your values, there is often anxiety and resistance. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Why do we need to teach climate change in anthropology?

This entry is part 6 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Our next installment in the climate change series comes from Katherine J. Johnson, who is currently a PhD candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Maryland. –R.A.

College students have acquired a lot of useful information, but a limited ability to utilize that knowledge–and sometimes a surprising lack of perspective on real world problems. Many of the students I have taught in Anthropology and Climate Change courses seem to have little factual and context-specific understanding of climate change, despite growing up in an era of public contestation around this issue. Anthropology has a lot of strengths stemming from core theoretical tenants such as holism, reflexivity, and concern for marginalized populations. We can easily leverage these strengths to aid students in better understanding of climate change issues within relevant contexts, and to build on their weak knowledge of accepted science.

Lisa Bennett makes several important points in her Grist article: “10 things you want to know about human nature if you’re fighting climate change.” A key point (and I think all of them are relevant) is #2: “We can be blasé about the most important issues in the world because the global perspective is way beyond ordinary human scale”. She argues that we need “human-sized” stories to teach lessons around climate change. This is something at which anthropologists excel. Many ostensibly well-educated students have no sense of the scope of human history on Earth, our interrelationship with our environment through time, and the dramatic effect we have had on our planet. There are a lot of ways that climate change intersects with real life and our understanding of our human past and present. Making sure that we are developing these lessons into cogent and easily understandable stories (ahem, case studies) will provide students with information they can latch onto and remember. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: ‘Patabea se bariu’–Rethinking environmental change

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Our next essay comes from Elena Burgos-Martínez, who is currently completing her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at Durham University. Her research explores local conceptualisations of the environment at the intersection between cultures in coastal Indonesia. She is interested in linguistic variations brought about by semantic expansion and new forms of rationalization which define local senses of modernity and belonging. Elena has background in Education, Geology, Chemistry, Sociolinguistics and Social Anthropology and strives to integrate different scientific paradigms when undertaking research. –R.A.

Kala ale’ boe mecin’, shouted Ila, while starting a Bajo song which is intended to ask the wind for help in very hot days. Wind, as stated in the song, travels from deep under sea water up to the surface, all the way through to what is above sea level. Winds mimic humans and humans mimic the wind – each featuring different attitudes towards what is in between wind directions (‘barat’/’west winds’ tends to be a bit volatile and impatient). Winds are an important feature of the environment for the Bajo of Nain Island, in North Sulawesi (Indonesia) and as such they regulate socio-ecological understandings and practices. Although intimately connected to conceptions and representations of climate change, this essay centres its critical consideration on environmental change rather than climatic discourses. I approach my subject by looking at ethnographic data collected through participant observation and posterior analysis on different conceptualisations of the environment and perceptions of the physical environment as un-detachable from the social. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Is There Hope for an Anthropocene Anthropology?

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

Up next for this issue we have Todd Sanders and Elizabeth F. Hall. Sanders is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He has written extensively on African and Euro-American knowledge practices, and is currently collaborating with Elizabeth Hall on a project called ‘Knowing Climate Change.’ Hall is a physician-scientist and Research Associate at the Centre for Ethnography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She trained as a specialist in public health medicine and holds a PhD in epidemiology.  –R.A.

Global climate change is driving anthropologists in opposite directions. Some are enthusiastically adopting “the Anthropocene” – a “gift” from our friends in the natural sciences (Latour 2014) that might enable us to exit, at long last, our Modern world and its Holocene thinking (Hamilton, et al. 2015). The concept potentially dovetails with old and new concerns – networks, rhizomes and relational ontologies; more-than-human socialities; hybrids, nonhumans and the posthuman; multispecies, multinaturalisms and modes of existence – and promises critical purchase over today’s troubled times. For as we enter the Anthropocene, we’ll need new conceptual tools and ways of thinking to understand our new home. The familiar dualisms that have long dogged our discipline and world – Nature and Culture; local and global; Moderns and non-moderns; and so on – are not up to the task. Discard the Modern dualisms. Dwell on the emergent processes of their production. And reimagine worlds as partial and provisional, composed through multiple, heterogeneous entanglements. For many anthropologists, the time is ripe for such an Anthropocene Anthropology. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Agricultural Adaptations and their Socio-Political Parameters: Social Responses to Climate Change in Ghana and South Sudan

This entry is part 3 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

The next installment for the anthropologies issue on climate change comes from Douglas La Rose. La Rose is the regional coordinator for the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), a humanitarian organization operating in Northern Bahr al Gazal, Western Bahr al Gazal, and Warrap States in South Sudan. He has previously worked on food security and livelihoods interventions and research projects in Ghana, the Solomon Islands, and Ethiopia. He has a Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology and lives with his wife and two children on their family farm in the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa.


Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable people in the world. In the sprawling global region where I have been working over the past decade, Western and Eastern Africa, it is even more biased against the fortunes of people struggling against parching droughts and sweeping floods. The ways that communities respond to these climate extremes are disparate and not established, but certain variables such as conflict and strong political social institutions have a profound influence on the suite within which communities can situate their responses. Communities that live in conflict zones often don’t have the ability to adapt to climate extremes, while communities facing similar problems in relatively peaceful areas with stability and stronger social and political institutions can take certain risks that increase their resilience and adaptability. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Annual Review of Anthropology, Climate Change, Anthropocene

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

To kick off this issue, we begin with Sean Seary’s excellent overview of recent literature about anthropology’s engagement with climate. This review originally appeared on Anthropology Report, has been reproduced here to give us a solid foundation for moving forward. Seary, a recent graduate from Hartwick College, currently lives in Brunswick, Maine. His research interests focus on the convergence of anthropology and climate change. Seary’s work has also been featured on PopAnth. –R.A.

Introduction: Anthropological Interventions

Since the 1960s, global climate and environmental change have been important topics of contemporary scientific research. Growing concerns about climate change have introduced a (relatively) new variable in climate change research: the anthropogenic causes of local-global climate and environmental change. Despite archaeologists providing some of the first research and commentary on climate change–a point that is explored in Daniel Sandweiss and Alice Kelley’s Archaeological Contributions to Climate Change Research: The Archaeological Record as a Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Archive–the field of climate and environmental change research has been predominantly studied by “natural scientists.” This is where Susan Crate’s Climate and Culture: Anthropology in the Era of Contemporary Climate Change in the 2011 Annual Review of Anthropology intervenes. Crate calls for anthropological engagement with the natural sciences (and vice versa) on global climate change discourse, with the intention of creating new multidisciplinary ethnographies that reflect all the contributors to global environmental change. Continue reading

Anthropologies #21: Climate Change Issue (Introduction)

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the Anthropologies #21 series.

For the latest issue of anthropologies, we’re taking a look at the ever contentious subject of climate change. Over the next week or so, we will be posting individual essays from our contributors. At the end we will post the issue in its entirety. Please share, and feel free to post your thoughts and comments. Here’s the introduction, written by Jeremy Trombley, the co-editor for this issue. You can contact him on Twitter here: @jmtrombley. Thanks Jeremy for all of your help putting this issue together! –R.A.

Photo by Flickr user Erik Jackson. Original caption: “The Act on Climate March in Quebec City, on April 11th, 2015, was led by First Nations to protest governmental inaction on the issue. Main concerns included oil exploitation and transportation by pipeline. My goal with this photograph is to ensure their voices are heard.”

The climate is changing. Oceans are rising, glaciers melting, animals migrating to more hospitable environments, people struggling to understand, resist, and adapt. But solutions seem far off, and many seem reluctant to change their lives to prevent the worst-case scenarios. Even those who are aware and accepting of the science underlying climate change are often unwilling to look the realities in the face – the extent to which the world could be changed, the apparent inevitability of the process, the feedback loops that could escalate climate change beyond even our most dire predictions. Scientists who study the environmental effects of climate change – past, present, and future – struggle to comprehend the extent and intensity of its effects. It can be disheartening, even hopeless, but time moves on and ever-increasing amounts of CO2 are being pumped into the atmosphere on a daily basis. What can be done? What should be done? How do we even begin to answer these questions? This is what the essays in this issue explore from an anthropological lens. Continue reading

The social costs of export agriculture in San Quintin, Baja California–An Interview with Christian Zlolniski

Workers in the fields, San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico. Image courtesy of Christian Zlolniski.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to interview Christian Zlolniski about his ongoing work in Baja California, Mexico. I contacted Zlolniski in hopes of getting some more insight about the farmworker strikes in the San Quintin Valley that began this past March. Zlolniski is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at the University of Texas at Arlington. His research focuses on economic globalization and immigrant labor, with regional emphasis in the US Southwest and Mexico.  He is the author of the book Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley (UC Press, 2006) and co-author of De Jornaleros a Colonos: Residencia, Trabajo e Identidad en el Valle de San Quintín (COLEF, Mexico 2014).

Ryan Anderson: When did you first start doing fieldwork in San Quintin? Why San Quintin?

Christian Zlolniski: I began doing fieldwork in 2005 with two professors at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Colef) in Tijuana, Mexico –Laura Velasco a sociologist, and Marie Laure Coubes a demographer. We wanted to study the settlement of thousands of indigenous farmworkers in the region who in the past were seasonal migratory workers. It was evident to us that San Quintin was changing fast and becoming a major agro-export enclave in Northern Mexico. It combined advanced agricultural production technologies with the massive employment of indigenous workers as a source of cheap and flexible labor. Except for a few pioneering studies, the academic literature on this region was rather thin and San Quintin was not in the radar screen of politicians, the media or scholars. We also felt that the academic literature on border studies in Mexico had an urban bias with special focus on the economic, demographic and cultural changes in large border cities (and studies on the maquila industry) while important transformations in rural society and economy, including the rapid growth of export agriculture, were largely ignored. Continue reading

Forget the outrage: Stop signing away your author rights to corporations

Earlier this summer here at the Savage Minds editorial offices, we had a temporary informational mishap that led some of our staff to believe that the mega-publisher Elsevier had purchased and, possibly, the rights to all of our first born children. This insider intelligence had us all on the edges of our figurative seats for about 11 tension-ridden minutes.*

In the end, the intel turned out to be incorrect and we all let out a collective sigh of status-quo-preserving relief. For a minute there we thought we might have to get all up in arms and start checking the oil in our X-Wing fighters and such to fight the big Open Access battle of the century. No need. Stand down folks, stand down.

But the false alarm got me thinking of the time that Elsevier issued more than 2,000 take-down notices to authors who had illegally posted articles on This was back in 2013. Remember that? You might not. But. It. happened. That was the time that a bunch of scholars get all bent out of shape at the Big Evil Publisher that had committed the dastardly act of exercising its legal rights! The nerve! The gall! What right does that Big Evil Publisher have over work that authors freely and willingly gave away via signed author agreements? I mean, seriously, what those publishers are doing is an outrage. Right? Who has the time to read the author agreements? Is there even any text on those agreements? Who reads any fine print these days? Continue reading

Savage Minds Reader Survey Results Part 2: Education, Work & Debt

Earlier this year we conducted the Savage Minds Reader Survey. Kerim described some of the demographic results in this post. Here I’ll provide a very brief recap. The majority of the responses came from readers in North America (62.8%) and Western Europe (16.7%). In terms of gender, 57% chose “female,” 43% chose “male” and two chose “other.” About 70% of the responses came from people in their 20s and 30s. Seventy six percent have either a PhD or a Master’s degree. Finally, to add one demographic detail to Kerim’s summary, when asked about their ethnicity, about 81% of the respondents chose “white” (244 out of 302 respondents).* For the rest of this post I’ll be talking about education, work (employment), and debt. Continue reading