Ryan Anderson is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and photographer. His current research focuses on the politics of development and land in Baja California Sur, Mexico. He is also an adamant advocate of Open Access publishing, challenging the current regime of student debt, and rethinking the state of Higher Ed. He is currently living out in the California desert, where he's working on his next move in the chess game that is life. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.
November 2012. I’m at a community meeting in Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico. It’s a gathering that includes members of the community of Cabo Pulmo, scientists, economists, planners, representatives from national and international NGOs, residents from surrounding communities, and development experts. The subject: the future of Cabo Pulmo and the East Cape. The problem: mass tourism development is slowly encroaching on the region. While the East Cape remains relatively undeveloped at present, this won’t last for long. Development is coming.
Only a few months before, Cabo Pulmo and its allies celebrated when “Cabo Cortes,” a massive tourism development project that was proposed for the region, was cancelled by former president Felipe Calderon (on national TV no less). Calderon cited environmental concerns as one of the primary reasons why he 86-ed the project (and left the presidency with a nice “green” feather in his cap to boot). The project plans for Cabo Cortes included approximately 30,000 rooms, a marina, residential units, multiple hotels, a separate community for workers, and multiple golf courses. It was, effectively, a plan to build a new tourism city in a region where the largest population is approximately 5,000 people. Cabo Cortes was the epitome of the kind of development that has dominated in Mexico for decades: big, fast, and profitable, with a long tail of problems that nobody wants to deal with over the long haul. Places like Cancun and Los Cabos exemplify this type of rapid, mass-tourism development that looks wonderful from the national level and often disastrous at the local community level (see, for example, M. Bianet Castellanos’s book Return to Servitude). Continue reading →
He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
-From the popular children’s song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
The tension. Stress. Anxiety! It was the night before Christmas and I couldn’t sleep. I knew he was watching. I was about six years old. My bedroom was right next to the living room, where the tree and the presents awaited morning light. I could hear the slightest noise that emitted from the room where our frenetically decorated electric masterpiece awaited its midnight visitor. I was sweating. I knew the rules. He was due to arrive at any moment. I knew that I was supposed to be asleep, and that I was running the risk of forfeiting all of my materialistic goodies if I failed to fall in line. It was hell. I just wanted to find a way to pass out so that I could sleep my way into the glory of Christmas morning.
Of course, the entire scenario was all in my mind; a cruel joke that my parents had played on me in order to control my behavior. It’s a little ridiculous, and a little insidious, this widespread cultural phenomenon known as “Santa Claus.” It’s ridiculous because year in and year out parents around the country tell stories about a white-bearded individual who flies through the air on a magical sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer, no less, delivering free stuff to kids around the world. The most unbelievable part? The magic sleigh? No. The flying reindeer? Nope. It’s the fact that this dude does all of this work without any expectation of getting paid. That, especially these days when money seems to rule above all else, is about as incredible as it gets.
But then we get to the insidious part. The whole idea of Santa Claus is twisted, if not a little cruel, because it is used as a form of social control. Kids are taught about the wondrous generosity of the old man who breaks into houses to leave free stuff…but then the carpet is pulled out from under them when they learn the catch. If you’re bad, you don’t get anything. The worst part of this is the fact that this form of social control is directed at our youngest members of society—those innocent, starry-eyed little angels that make up the lower ranks of our social order. All year, they are subjected to the watchful eye old a jolly old man who sees their every move. Santa Claus is the epitome of Foucault’s panopticon, embodied in a cheap red suit and a long white beard. Continue reading →
Earlier this year I posted two informal student debt surveys here on Savage Minds as part of the Anthropologies issue on Student Debt. Both of these surveys focused on student debt in anthropology. Here at long last are some of the results. (Sorry for taking so long to get to this…I was writing a dissertation over the last nine or so months.)*
There was a lot of data to sift through. In this post I’ll discuss the first survey, which had 285 total responses. We’ll start with the highest level of education attained. Thirty-four percent have completed their MA. Thirty-three have completed their PhD, fourteen percent have completed an undergraduate degree, nine percent have completed “some grad school,” six percent have completed between one and three years of college, and another six percent chose “other.”
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they are not currently enrolled in college or grad school. Forty-six percent are enrolled. Two percent chose “other” when asked if they are currently enrolled.
In terms of current employment status, forty-five percent have a full-time job, twenty-two percent have a part-time job, nineteen percent are unemployed, and fourteen percent chose “other.”
The majority of responses came from socio-cultural anthropologists (59%), followed by archaeologists (18%), biological anthropologists (13%), and linguistic anthropologists (3%). Eight percent chose “other” when asked about their disciplinary niche within anthropology.
This is the second part of my interview with Karen Brodkin. Part I is here.
Ryan Anderson: All of this has me wondering how this is happening in US anthropology. As a discipline, we have this sort of pride that comes with our Boasian legacy of anti-racism. But your work seems to indicate that something is terribly amiss. Despite all of our rhetoric about anti-racism, it turns out we have some serious internal problems when it comes to race and diversity. In your view, how has this happened and why do we tell ourselves such a different story?
Karen Brodkin: In its institutional profile, anthropology is not much different from other white-majority institutions, and like them, we also think we’re doing better than especially non-white anthropologists think we are. I’ve used “white public space” to highlight the different views that white and racialized minority anthropologists have about anthropology’s racial climate. But knowing that only raises two more questions. What are the specific practices and narratives that have led anthropologists of color give the discipline’s racial climate low marks over some 40 years? And, what are the positive changes anthropologists have been making within their departments and scholarly networks? Both these efforts and conversations about them need a bigger public profile within the discipline. Continue reading →
The following is an interview with Karen Brodkin, Professor Emeritus in the UCLA anthropology Department.
Ryan Anderson: You co-wrote an article back in 2011 with Sandra Morgen and Janis Hutchinson about anthropology as “white public space” (AWPS). What’s your assessment of the state of anthropology three years later? If you could add an “update” to this article, what would it be?
Karen Brodkin: The short answer is that anthropology is still white public space, especially in the consistently different ways that white and racialized minority anthropologists see race and racism in anthropology departments and universities. This is my reading of results of the 2013 online survey of the AAA membership (more on that in a minute). What I’ll do here is summarize the findings of the article, and then survey findings that buttress, complicate or contradict them.
AWPS was based on a survey of about 100 anthropologists of color about how they experienced anthropology. We used “white public space,” to sum up attitudes and organizational patterns that told anthropologists of color that they and their ideas were not real anthropology.
The 2013 survey (referred to hereafter as TFRR) was developed by the Task force on Race and Racism appointed by AAA president Leith Mullings (full disclosure, Raymond Codrington and I were its co-chairs). More than 15% of the membership, 1500 people, mostly white, took it. Half were faculty. We reported findings to the AAA Exec Board June 2014. Continue reading →
The following post by Daniel Souleles is another installment of the Anthropologies issue on student debt. Souleles is a PhD Student in Applied Anthropology at Columbia University. He has done field work with Catholic hermit monks and is currently studying private equity investors in New York City for his dissertation field work. He is interested in questions of belief, wealth, and value in the contemporary USA. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As the not quite proud holder of around 100k in student debt, I’d like to offer a few different ways to think about debt, student debt, and a career in anthropology. The attention Savage Minds has been giving to student debt and paying for grad school is excellent. However, I’d like to push beyond focusing on whether or not a prospective grad student should or should not take on a lot of debt. Focusing on the individual gets us into a mindset where we portray the grad student as a patsy or a fool, and spares anyone else any responsibility or blame. So starting from the individual making a decision, here are some better questions we might ask:
1) Why might someone want to spend their life as an anthropologist? Say what you will about the state of the discipline, its skills at teaching, its accessibility. For all these issues of access and abstruseness, and despite the cost of tuition and the amount of adjuncts hustling out there, we still manage to convince a lot of people that they want to become an anthropologist. This is awesome. How and why do we this? What does this tell us about the folks (possibly you and definitely me!) who are willing to go into debt to chase this dream? We should work with this desire instead of saying it’s stupid. Continue reading →
In the interest of providing fair and balanced coverage of the ongoing Anthropologies-Savage Minds issue on student debt, I contacted Thomas J. Snodgrass to share some of his thoughts with us. Snodgrass is a retired lobbyist (30 years of service), and currently heads up the Public Outreach Department (POD) for the American Education Fund (AEF), which is one of the premier student loan providers in the greater USA. He has an MBA and a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago (1967). His dissertation focused on efficient market models for domestic education and national patrimony. In 1986 he was named to the Ayn Rand Institute’s “Top 100 Loyal Americans” list, an honor which he held for a record 13 straight years. He is currently writing a memoir about his life and career in education reform, “The Spectre of Marxism: My fight to save the soul of higher ed.” His book will be published in early 2015.
I had the opportunity to take a class in anthropology with a young Clifford Geertz when he was at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s. I was nearing the end of my PhD, and I needed a “fun” course to blow off some steam. I picked the right class. Now, while Professor Geertz was indeed witty, frankly, after my rigorous studies in economics, I found anthropology to be slightly on the “soft” side. That’s not to demean the discipline; I have no doubt it has its uses. We all love dinosaurs and cave men, after all. But I wanted to share my experiences to let you know, as readers of this anthropology “weblog,” that I am quite well versed in anthropology (I got a B plus in Mr. Geertz’s class). Because of my deep familiarity with anthropology, I am not at all surprised by the slanted, misinformed, and, frankly, borderline un-American coverage of the student loan opportunity (it’s not a problem, let alone a “crisis”) on this site.
Frankly, back in the late 1960s anthropology was a hotbed of socialistic thinking and brazen anti-American thought. So it’s no surprise to see that trend continue today, although it is disheartening for a lover of America like myself. Only a bunch of Marxists could take the wonderful American institution of the student loan, which has helped generations improve their lives, and turn it into yet another blatant attempt to forgo personal responsibility and demand a free ride from the government. I am here to set the record straight in three easy points that even those of you from the social sciences and humanities should be able to digest. Continue reading →
The following is another installment for the Anthropologies/Savage Minds issue on Student Debt.
Well, it’s that time of year when prospective grad students around the country are anxiously pacing around their mailboxes waiting for responses from all the PhD programs they applied to. Many are wondering who accepted them, who rejected them, and, of course, if they got funding. That’s the big question. Getting a full-funding offer is the highest mark of acceptance and application success. It’s like getting the golden seal of academic and departmental approval. It means you’re in.
Getting accepted without a funding offer is a not-so-wonderful middle ground. Like getting a happy-face sticker that says “Great Job!” when you really needed a paycheck. It feels sort of like acceptance, but there’s something hollow about it. A lot of people decide to enter PhD programs without funding, thinking that at least it gets them in the door. If they happen to have piles of extra money on hand, or family support, or a full-time job, or maybe even a partner who is working, it might be a reasonable choice. Might being a key word there. But many people simply don’t have access to those kinds of financial resources. In these post-economic crash, disintegration-of-the-university-as-we-knew-it times, I think more students need to seriously reconsider entering PhD programs without full funding. Why? Because it doesn’t make any sense to go into debt trying to get a PhD in anthropology (let alone plenty of other disciplines). Sarah Kendzior said it best on twitter not too long ago:
Do not do a PhD program unless you are guaranteed full funding for every year. Use the system, don't let it use you.— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) January 13, 2014
This is an invited post by Douglas La Rose for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Douglas is a graduate of San Diego State University’s Applied Anthropology M.A program. He is an applied environmental anthropologist who has been living and working in rural Africa since 2005. He worked as a consultant for both the United Nations Development Program and the African Adaptation Program, and also established his own agroforestry project in Ghana in 2011. Currently, he works for Nuru International Ethiopia as an agriculture program specialist in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. His writing on Nuru Ethiopia’s agriculture program can be found here.
In order to make a real difference, you have to go deeply into “debt.” You have to take out a massive personal capacity-building loan to prepare yourself for the rugged terrain that is the world of international “development.” If you carry the heavier cross of wanting to entertain post-development notions – of deconstructing the way the North interacts with, represents, and perceives the South while “practicing” development – you must also drag along its corollary baggage: being a naysayer in an industry of entrenched professionals and experts. If you have had the misfortune of being trained beyond the capacity that is desired of a development professional – a reflexive applied anthropologist always willing to intervene with a “now, wait a second” – then you suddenly become less an asset than a perceived enemy or an implant.
In this academy-abandoned landscape of moving forward with a kind of loosely defined and intensively critical development philosophy, the very contours and nature of debt become something like a ghost. Debt becomes something that is difficult to believe in as a real entity. It is negative capital that must be plodded through to realize a sense of personal freedom. But at the same time it exists in a realm of voices, letters, phone calls, and news articles. One is constantly reminded of it – even distracted by it – but as it howls it is difficult to feel the substance of its howl. The wolves at the door appear to be more holograms than threats. Why throw your livelihood to these beasts when you have a child to feed? Why acknowledge their scratchings when your real task at hand is to co-create an agriculture program in Ethiopia or bring attention to indigenous adaptations to climate change in marginalized areas of Ghana? The ghost of debt becomes something like a joke. The voices, the letters, the phone calls, the news stories, the “bubble” – all of it collapses under the immensity of its absurdity. Of course, this is all wrong and unpatriotic. Right? Continue reading →
This is an invited post by Ann Larson for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Larson is a graduate of the PhD program in English at the CUNY Graduate Center where she researched first-generation students in higher education. In academic exile, she has worked as an adjunct professor, as a public relations assistant, and as a (volunteer) communications and technical coordinator for Strike Debt. Her writing on debt can be found here, here and here. She writes about academia on her blog.
With total student loan debt over one trillion dollars, millions of students and families can never hope to repay what they owe, especially since there are no individual solutions to the problem. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and student loan lenders can and do garnish debtors’ wages and social security checks. The powers of lenders to collect are unprecedented in the history of creditor/debtor relations.
Yet, belief in upward mobility through education is still a profoundly American ideal. In the midst of the latest recession, politicians and elites have argued not for the redistribution of wealth but for making college “more affordable” in the belief that increasing access to education makes more fundamental social changes unnecessary. Forgotten, too, in the emphasis on college financing is that education is not just a path to a job. It’s a site of human desire, aspiration, and hope for the future. Continue reading →
This is an invited post by Hollie Russell for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Russell is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, about to start her Masters in anthropology with a student loan debt of $33,515.08. Her interests include politics, activism, and good coffee. Follow her on twitter @hollierussell8
In New Zealand, student debt is a pervasive and powerful feature of student life. Neoliberal user-pay ideologies led to the introduction of tuition fees in 1989 and the formation of the Student Loan Scheme in 1992. Through the scheme many New Zealand students have become increasingly indebted to the government in the form of financial loans. As of June 2012, 701,000 people had a student loan with Inland Revenue and the nominal value of loan balances was almost $13 billion (MoE 2012). My own loan balance sits at $33,515.08 which is just above average for postgraduate students.
The prevalence of student loans and the massive amount of debt owed by students in New Zealand has directly influenced student activism, but has also affected participation indirectly because of its influence on the priorities, energy and time students have had. It seems that, that which could potentially inspire students to action often discourages them.
One way student debt effects activism is by influencing student’s priorities. Due to debt, most students take on part-time work, which on top of assignments, revision, lectures, and tutorials, does not leave students with much spare time. Additionally, when students do have free time, they are more likely to spend it doing activities and joining clubs which will benefit their résumé, a result of the anxiety surrounding their debt. As Paul Comrie-Thomson (2010) points out “a prospective employer is going to be considerably more inclined to take on a member of the debating club than say a member of the University’s Marxist community”. Zoe Zuccotti, a student activist herself, echoes Comrie-Thomson’s idea, explaining the conflicting features of contemporary student life: Continue reading →
This email-based interview with Karen Kelsky is part of the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Kelsky runs The Professor Is In, an academic career consulting business. She is a former tenured professor and department head with 15 years of experience teaching at the University of Oregon and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You can find her on twitter here: @ProfessorIsIn
Ryan Anderson: How serious is the student debt problem?
Karen Kelsky: NSF data shows us that almost 50% of all Ph.D.s in the Humanities and Social Sciences are finishing with debt. In the Social Sciences, almost 10% of all Ph.D.s are finishing with over $90,000 debt. Over 13% have $50K-$90K. So almost a quarter of all Ph.D.s in the Social Sciences have more than $50K of debt just from graduate school alone, not including the debt carried forward from college.
In the Humanities, while only 6.8% have debt above $90K, almost 13% have $50K-$90K debt, and a whopping 33.2% have debt of $10K-$50K. Again, these figures do not include undergraduate debt, which is usually higher than grad school debt, since so many Ph.D. programs carry some form of funding.
I’m using NSF data here because it’s “scientific” and harder to deny than the entries on my informal and unscientific Ph.D. Debt Survey. But the Survey, an open source Googledoc spreadsheet that is now well over 2200 entries (and still open to more!) gives the human stories behind these numbers. Continue reading →
I don’t get the ontological turn, to be honest. Oh, I get it intellectually, this struggle to understand how we can understand the other yet also incorporate that into our philosophy, and to open up our thinking beyond just a mentalese version of culture (rules, symbols, etc.). We’re material beings, we’re agents, the world is a material place, other people think differently than we do… You think that would all be common sense at this point for anthropologists, rather than a big existential crisis all over again.
Oh, I do think the ontological turn is doing interesting intellectual work; I like theory after all, and this is a struggle on the sociocultural side, a bit of an identity crisis about the loss of culture and the expansion of ethnography to just about everywhere. But I also see it as doing a fair amount of disciplining work, of promoting a high-intellectual agenda, of saying there’s serious stuff going on, and that’s what really matters.
It would be simpler to say, philosophers, we love you, you’re really smart, well trained, good at debate. But you’re also royally screwed, and experimental philosophy, that won’t really save you. And then just to claim philosophy as our own. I’ve often thought that, that anthropology is really an empirical, grounded philosophy, an investigation of how people think and act based on what they actually do and say. It’s like going back to the Greek philosophers. But we’re not doing that. Rather, the new ontologists are trying to act daring enough to claim that ground, but really don’t seem well-versed enough to get into that fight. Continue reading →
This is an invited post by Jeremy Trombley as part of the Anthropologies (#20) Student Debt issue. Trombley is a PhD student at the University of Maryland studying environmental anthropology. His dissertation research focuses on the use of computational environmental modeling to understand and predict the effects of environmental management practices on the Chesapeake Bay. In addition he has done research on coal power in western Kansas, traditional cultural properties (TCPs) in rural Nevada, and aquatic invasive species (AIS) on the Eastern Shore. He blogs at Struggle Forever!
Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been swindled. Not by anyone in particular but by an institution that is relentlessly trying to prop itself up despite its progressive decline. That institution is the academy – once a public good devoted to the free production of critical knowledge, it has become in the last few decades a corporatized factory for the production of capitalist consumers and wage slaves. More than that, it has become itself a product for consumption where what’s for sale is the facsimile of intellectual freedom and integrity. Like so many extravagant island resorts, universities offer manicured landscapes, leisure activities, freedom from the wage clock – all for a price and all safely sectioned off from the harsh realities outside. But the price is going up, and students – the consumers of this image world that they are being sold – are taking on increasing amounts of debt to pay it. What’s more, they’re told this is “good debt” – like buying a house, right? Remember when owning a home was the “American Dream” – a symbol of financial security? Now that bubble has burst – the academic bubble, I believe, is not far behind it.
Bubbles happen when a sector of the economy becomes delusional – when those who take part in it believe it to be free from the economic rules upon which our world is constructed. Academia has become such a delusion. But bubbles are not accidents – they are an inevitable part of a system that seeks the maximization of profit as the ultimate value. Speculators dive in, drawn by promises of wealth and freedom only to be crushed by the inevitable collapse of the delusional space. The speculators are consumers themselves, buying into a vision sold to them by the real beneficiaries – the banks, insurance companies, and, in the case of academia, the Universities. In this case, the speculator-consumers are the students – drawn in by the lure of “good debt”, stipends, the image of freedom and intellectual engagement, and the promise of a good job when it’s all over. Continue reading →
The surveys are open for another week, but there’s one aspect of the first survey that I’d like to explore a little closer right now: the respondents who reported being free of student loan debt on Survey #1. Out of a total of 226 responses (as of this morning), 75 people reported that they have zero student loan debt (33%). This is the most common response to the question about debt. The second most common response was student debt between $11,000 and $30,000, which was reported by about 19% of respondents.
So what’s going on with the folks who reported no student loan debt? What do these responses tell us? My first question when I saw these results was whether the “zero debt” segment would be overwhelmingly positive in terms of their outlook about anthropology and their academic career. I also wondered if this segment would be more dismissive about the student debt issue, since they don’t have any debt themselves. As is often the case, however, the actual results offer quite a lot more than the story the raw numbers seem to tell. Continue reading →