All posts by Ryan

Ryan Anderson is a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Kentucky. He is currently writing up his dissertation, which is about the politics of development in Baja California Sur, Mexico. You can reach him at ethnografix AT gmail dot com or @publicanthro on twitter.

Anthropologies on Savage Minds

After a couple years of running the anthropologies project and writing for Savage Minds, I have decided to combine my online energies.  Anthropologies is moving to Savage Minds!  The core idea of the project is going to stay the same, but the way it works is going to change a bit.  Instead of publishing collections of essays all at once in journal-esque format, the new anthropologies here on Savage Minds will entail a series of themed, invited posts over a 1-2 month period.  At the end of the series I will publish the collection in either E-pub or PDF format to make things nice and accessible.  I think it’s going to work out very well.

All upcoming issues will be announced in advance to encourage as much participation as possible.  If you have any comments or ideas, please feel free to email me at ethnografix at gmail dot com.  Suggestions and ideas are always welcome.

The first Savage Minds/anthropologies issue will focus on the pressing, depressing, and ever-worsening subject of student debt.  It’s an issue that affects far too many people, and it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.  I wrote about student debt here on Savage Minds a while back–at the end of the post I mentioned the idea of marshaling anthropology to start finding some answers.  That’s what this issue is all about: bringing anthropology to bear on a subject that hits close to home for a lot of people trying to slog their way through grad school, recent graduation, adjunct-hood, and the horrible job market.  Several contributors are already lined up, and the first installment of the series will be online soon!  In anticipation of the student debt issue, check out this must read article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed by Audrey Williams June (published today), which mentions the PhD Debt Survey that Karen Kelsky started just a few days ago (it already has more than a thousand anonymous responses).  Also check out Rebecca Schuman’s related piece on Slate.  Those two articles will be a good prep for taking on–and hopefully pushing back against–the entrenched problem of student debt.

*Upcoming themes include: The politics of global warming and environmentalism; Aging; The uses and abuses of “culture”;  An anthropology of the stuff we eat.  And more!  This series is open to suggestions, participation, and ideas, so please feel free to post your comments here or email me (ethnografix@gmail.com).

Is an NSF Grant Just another Fetish?

[This is an invited post by Tony Waters. Waters is a Professor of Sociology at California State University, Chico, and occasionally blogs at ethnography.com.  His application for a PhD program in Anthropology was rejected in 1988 because he was unable to put together the appropriate charms needed by the admissions committee at an unnamed western United States university.  In an attempt to please the gods of the tribe he has since offered up his first-born at the altar of an unnamed Anthropology PhD program in the eastern United States.]

I made a somewhat off-hand comment one of Ryan’s posts about graduate education.  I think I warned graduate students about “fetishizing” various types of grant sources like NSF, NIMH, Fulbright, and the various others sources of grad student funding which students compete to get.  This initially got me a deserved sharp rebuke from Ryan.  After all, who was I as a fully tenured, overpaid, and underworked full professor to complain about graduate stipend which (obviously) are few and far between?  Well that question is fair enough—but Ryan has also graciously offered me a chance to elaborate.

First my backstory.  One of the reasons I am not an anthropologist is that in 1988 after eight years working in Thailand and Tanzania mostly with refugees (which is what I wanted to study), I would need at least eight years to become an anthropologist.  In large part, it was explained to me that this was because (obviously) fieldwork is required for a doctorate in anthropology, you might need to try two or three times before success.  But never mind while waiting for the grant to come through you would need to work 2-3 years as a t.a. waiting to strike gold.  It was sonorously explained to me that to do field work, you would need pre-research visits, protocol visits, and finally what was in the early 1990s a $20,000 grant from Fulbright or NSF to buy your plane tickets, fly back to places you have already been, collect the data to do the field work.  The field work would then take another year or two to do the write-up, and so forth.

So I ended up in Sociology, and completed a PhD in 5-6 years, without fieldwork and wrote a dissertation based mainly in the library.  I also heard that I would never get a job unless I:

  • Could get a grant, preferably one via NSF or one of the other federal agents which pay “overhead.”
  • Curried favor with letter writers (i.e. they themselves) who controlled the job market via social networks.
  • Delivered multiple papers at conferences, preferably those organized by their networks.
  • Made a theoretical break-through in your dissertation, which they would sign off on. Continue reading

Return to grantlandia

Back in 2011 I wrote a post here called “Wasting away again in grantlandia.” That one was written when I was right smack in the middle of the joys of grant writing. I think by that point I had revised my proposal about 1000 times and my eyes were just about to go on strike. My brain was having a hard time with basic sentences. I was fried. Ah, those were the days.

Now that I’m on the other side of the grant writing process, I want to take the time to revisit the whole subject a bit. Not because I’m some sort of self-proclaimed expert or guru on grant writing—far from it. I just want to talk about some of the things that I learned about revisions, rejections, reviewer comments, and some other fun grant-related goodies. So let’s get started. Continue reading

From slinging food to anthropology

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up where I am–a graduate student nearing the end of my formal education in anthropology–and where I am going next.  In my other life, I was a photographer (I spent most of my 20s walking around with Leicas and view cameras, taking pictures of all sorts of random things).  But my occupation–how I made money–was undeniably in the restaurant industry.  I started working in restaurants when I was 15.  I got a job in a pizza place answering phones.  I made about 15 bucks every two weeks and thought it was amazing to have that amount of cash.  I worked with a bunch of older surfers who were my heroes.  What a life.

Later I worked for a chain of restaurants that sold pies and “home-cooked” American food.  Let’s call it “The Olde Pie Shoppe” to keep things nice and anonymous and avoid any lawsuits.  That was a four-year experience in the wonderful world of corporate food production.  I will never forget the weekly pre-work meetings where the managers tried to encourage us all to think of creative, interesting ways to make our straight-from-the-freezer foods sound appealing and desirable (like chicken fried steaks).  After that, I started working as a bartender.  It was a good move for two reasons: 1) I never really liked the whole singing-birthday-songs-at-tables thing, and 2) bartending meant a lot more money.

I’m pretty sure my interest in anthropology began when I was working in food service.  Continue reading

Making public anthropology: putting it all together

Erin Taylor recently posted this thread over at the Open Anthropology Cooperative:

It’s long been my belief that anthropologists can increase their public visibility and engagement by working together, especially cross-promoting each other’s work. The PopAnth website has been using social media (TwitterFacebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn) to bring attention to articles written by anthropologists in newspapers, on blogs, in books, and so on.

Recently, I’ve had conversations with Tricia Wang (Ethnography Matters), Matt Thompson (Savage Minds / DANG) and Ryan Anderson (Anthropologies Project / DANG) about furthering collaboration. We agreed that it would be a great idea!

DANG are already bringing together all kinds of people who are interested in open access, digital anthropology, blogging, and so on. For this reason, I suggested that the DANG website might be a good place to put information that can help anthropologists in their public engagement: stuff on open access, guides to writing for the public, ideas on how to get published in newspapers, and so on.

But that’s just one idea. My question is: how do we best coordinate?

There are indeed a lot of us out there who are thinking along similar lines, and we’re often off on our own doing our own things.  This is good, on many levels.  But I also think we could use a bit of collaboration, working together, and finding ways to move the idea of a more public anthropology toward a reality. Continue reading

Numbers

This is a post about numbers.

1. The other day I was thinking about conferences.  Let’s say you’re in a panel with 10 people, and each person pays a total of $500 dollars to get there.  This includes conference fees, airfare, hotel, and so on.  So that’s a grand total of $5000 dollars so everyone can write a paper, fly across the country, walk into a room, present their paper for 12-15 minutes and maybe have a group conversation for another 20 minutes or so.  It’s a lot of money.  Granted, conferences are about a lot more than just going to present.  They are about going to other presentations, making connections, seeing friends, etc.  But I think there are times when it might make sense to take that collective $5000, round up 10 people who want to collaborate, find a cheap central place to meet—and then do something.  Like write a book.  Create and actually start implementing a project.  Whatever.  Again, conferences have their place.  But I think sometimes it’s also good to look at what we’re doing—and what we want to do—and know when it’s the moment to do something a little different.  Imagine what 10 people with a common goal could really do if given some serious time to really put their heads together.

2. I saw this chart the other day.  It showed the number of PhDs produced every year compared with the number of jobs that are actually available each year.  The ratio was something like 35,000 to 3,000.  These are not good odds.  Continue reading

Trouillot on rethinking "culture" (via Living Anthropologically)

Jason Antrosio has a great new post about Michel Rolf Trouillot’s chapter on culture in the excellent book Global Transformations.  It’s easy to misread Trouillot’s argument–so I think it’s important to really look closely at what he’s saying and why.

Trouillot’s chapter on culture is incredibly relevant these days.  Especially considering the fact that the concept has taken on endless new uses and meanings.  These varied uses often rankle anthropologists, who feel that the concept is somehow theirs and that there must be some way to right the wrongs that have been done to their blessed theoretical child.  Trouillot basically smashes this sort of thinking.

I read through this chapter the other day and it also reminded me of some of the issues that came up in Jason’s recent post about gang culture and court room anthropology.  What happens when people start using the idea of culture to make warped arguments about human behavior?  How can anthropology be used to counter these kinds of arguments?  Trouillot gets right into these issues and arguments in his chapter.  But I think people can easily misread Trouillot’s argument as some sort of dismissal of the culture concept.  However, that’s not what he’s doing–he makes a crucial argument about getting back to the “conceptual kernel” of the culture, basically what those early 20th century anthropologists were  trying to do with it in the first place.  In essence, get back to the point.  Get back to what they were trying to address with that concept.   This is fundamental. Continue reading

It’s been a week now since US representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith published an article on USA Today about “rethinking science funding.”  Their main point is supposedly that we need to take a closer, critical look at how we fund science through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  On the surface their argument seems reasonable, even “common sense.”  Below the surface, it’s little more than a disingenuous, ideologically-based attack on the social sciences.  And it’s nothing new from Cantor, Smith, and their cronies.  As a graduate student in anthropology–and a recipient of a dissertation grant from the NSF–it’s pretty infuriating to see these two politicians trying to intervene so recklessly into the funding process.*

I understand the need for both accountability and clarity in the whole grant process.  Are there things that need to be changed?  Problems that need to be addressed?  Absolutely.  There are always ways to improve how things work.  Definitely.  But what Cantor and Smith are proposing, despite some of their benign-sounding rhetoric, is not just some altruistic attempt to “help” make things better.  In fact, what they are doing is more like a witch hunt than the “we’re doing this for the people” line they’re trying to sell to the US public. Continue reading

Tools for the field: Digital audio recorders

My digital voice recorder died a slow death this year.  It was a Zoom H2.  I bought it about 5 years ago and used it all last year for fieldwork in Baja.  I think the salt air may have something to do with its death–or maybe a battery leaked, I am not really sure.  There is some greenish crud on the back near the battery compartment, and it has been acting up in all sorts of ways lately–giving error messages, not wanting to shut off, and so on.  It has also been eating batteries like, like, like something really, really hungry for batteries!  My wife has been using it for her interviews and now it’s burning through two AA batteries in about an hour and a half, which is not good.  But the battery life of the H2 has never been great.  That’s been a problem from the start.

So, long story short this means I ended up looking around for a new voice recorder.  Looking back, the H2 was an ok investment.  It had great sound quality, but the user interface was really clunky, and the construction of the unit itself felt pretty shoddy.  It looked and felt pretty cheap to me.  I spent about 250 bucks on that thing and I definitely would not buy another one. Continue reading

Breastfeeding in public: what is and what is not "appropriate"

I just read about a discrimination case in the San Diego area in which author/educator Rachel Rainbolt was told by her child’s homeschool teacher that breastfeeding was “inappropriate” behavior during weekly meetings.  Read more about this case on her site.

First of all, this sort of reaction to breastfeeding is not uncommon.  It reminds me of this cartoon, which points out some of the deep hypocrisy that pervades this whole issue, especially here in the US.

Second, this is obviously about cultural norms–and this includes ideas about what is and what is not considered “indecent” in public settings.  Part of the issue is who defines norms, and how certain activities (or parts of bodies) are deemed either acceptable or not.  The whole conversation about breastfeeding is entangled in all kinds of social and cultural ideas about human nature, sexuality, and how we think about individual human bodies in relation to the larger social body.  When a lot of people think about breasts (this includes men and women), they automatically think SEX.  As if that’s their primary reason for existence. Continue reading

OAC Online Seminar: A cultural analysis of the Lance Armstrong "reality show"

The Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC) is continuing its online seminar series with its latest installment (#17), a paper by Lee Drummond that takes on the Lance Armstrong phenomena (or debacle), using it as a lens for understanding American society.   The seminar is well underway, and will be open for comments and questions until September 21.  Here’s a bit from Drummond’s abstract: Continue reading

Ethnographic writing: The Studs Terkel model or what?

So, let’s say you’re in the middle of writing up your dissertation.  You’re going through your interviews, making notes, seeing some patterns, and piecing together some of the stories you are going to tell about your fieldwork.  Then you start actually outlining chapters and blocking things out.  You follow with selecting certain segments of interviews you are going to use to illustrate the points you want to highlight.

So here’s the question: How do you actually decide to put all the voices into your text?

I am currently in the writing stage, and in the process of figuring out how I am going to answer this question.  There are a range of ways to do this.  At one end of the spectrum, there’s the sort of raw interview transcript or narrative that Studs Terkel used for books like Working.  I have always found this style of presentation appealing.  The other end of the spectrum is the sort of voice over technique in which the author’s voice is most dominant, maybe sprinkled here and there with fragments and quotes from interviews.  In between these two poles there are many options–and of course there’s no reason why it’s not possible to employ a mixed strategy (Righteous Dopefiend by Bourgois and Schonberg comes to mind). Continue reading

Savage Minds Interview: Kristina Killgrove

Kristina Killgrove is a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida. Her research focuses on theorizing migration in antiquity and on understanding urban development and collapse through the analysis of human skeletal remains. She works primarily in the classical world, attempting to learn about the daily lives of the lower classes in Imperial Rome through osteological and biochemical analyses, but she has also worked on questions of population interaction in the contact-period southeastern U.S. and in Medieval Germany. A strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching help her bridge the sometimes large divide between classics and anthropology.  For more about Killgrove’s work, check out her website or blog, email her (killgrove@uwf.edu), or follow her on twitter (@DrKillgrove).

Ryan Anderson: What brought you to anthropology?  What made you choose this as your career?

Kristina Killgrove: I’ve written a bit in the past (originally as a response to a Savage Minds post on love letters for anthropology) about how I’m an “accidental anthropologist.”  I never really set out to have a career in anthropology, as I honestly wasn’t entirely sure what anthropology was until maybe my third or fourth year in college.  What eventually brought me to anthropology, though, was a dissatisfaction with the field I’d chosen to major in: classics.

Continue reading

Anthropology: It's not just a "promotion" problem

Just read this guest column in the Orlando Sentinel by Ty Matejowski and Beatriz M Reyes-Foster.  It was written a while back, but still worth a read.  Good on them for writing this piece.  It’s all about anthropology’s “branding problem”:

Cultural anthropology’s branding problem is largely superficial. Anthropologists possess unique knowledge and skill sets that have real-world value. Anthropology helps us understand the world in a way that cannot be reduced to numbers or captured in surveys.

The marketing industry is increasingly recognizing the value of anthropological methodologies. A recent Atlantic article highlights the way in which ethnography and participant-observation are used in market research. Moreover, the World Bank recently elected an anthropologist, Jim Yong Kim, as president.

Anthropologists need to take better ownership of our brand. The complexity of anthropological concepts such as “culture,” “power” and the “global” should not dissuade anthropologists from engaging in meaningful public discourse.

In short, the argument here is that anthropology suffers from a PR problem.  While this may be true at many levels, I think there’s quite a bit more to the story.  Sure, anthropologists should go about and promote their field and all of that.  Fine.  Great.  But the deeper issue here, in my view, is more about how we actually think about and practice anthropology rather than whether or not we are marketing ourselves well enough.  I think that once we deal with the former some of the PR issues will fall into place.  The short version of my argument: we don’t just need to promote ourselves, we need to change.  The “we need promotion” argument assumes that we are doing everything right, and we just need to get ourselves out there in the public view.  As if all is right in the house of anthropology, and we just need some good press on CNN.  I disagree.  I think we need to actually change how we do anthropology. Continue reading

Open Thread: Who owns anthropology?

Following up on some of the comments and discussion going on in Matt’s latest post, I wanted to open up a thread to talk a bit about this important question: WHO OWNS ANTHROPOLOGY?  Do PhDs own anthropology?  If so, which ones?  PhDs in the US, Europe, Latin America?  Who gets to define and control what anthropology is all about?  And what about other degrees in anthropology–MAs and BAs?  Where do they belong in the hierarchies we create?  What about the general public–where do they fit?  So feel free to comment and answer this question…and then maybe think about answering this question: Who SHOULD own anthropology?  Ok, fire away.