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.

The four hundred dollar fish

Mercado de Mariscos-Ensenada by Flickr user Rebeca Anchondo. Creative Commons 2.0 License.

When you see piles of fresh fish in a market, do you ever ask yourself whether or not the listed price accurately reflects the actual value of those now-lifeless creatures? How much is one fish really worth? I never thought much about that question until I attended a community meeting in the coastal pueblo of La Ribera, Baja California Sur. Who knew it would be a lesson in value?

The meeting itself was hosted by a group of marine scientists and other scholars from the nearby university in La Paz. The goal of the meeting was to change some minds. You see, fishermen from La Ribera weren’t exactly elated about the nearby Marine Protected Area in Cabo Pulmo (aka the Cabo Pulmo National Park), despite its immense national and international support. Some surrounding communities were not completely sold on the idea of a no-take fishing zone. La Ribera was among them; many residents felt that Pulmo’s MPA only benefited the residents of Cabo Pulmo. A group of marine biologists, economists and other scholars from the nearby university in La Paz (UABCS) arranged a community meeting to try to convince residents of La Ribera otherwise. Continue reading

anthropologies #21: climate change (call for contributors)

The next issue of anthropologies focuses broadly on anthropology and climate change. We’re seeking contributions from cultural anthropologists, archaeologists, linguistic anthropologists–the more the better. We already have some contributors lined up, but there’s room for more!

Also, I’m looking for a guest editor for this issue. I need help! Experience in environmental anthropology and/or archaeology would be a plus. Guest editors will help line up contributors for the final issue and edit essays before they are published online. Ideally, the guest editor will also write or co-write the introduction to this issue.

This issue will include diverse coverage of climate change from an anthropological perspective. What does anthropology add to our understanding of climate change around the world? What do we have to offer? What do archaeological perspectives bring to the table? How can anthropology take part in addressing and/or confronting climate change? What about teaching climate change–or the politics of climate change debates? Above all, the goal of this issue is to use anthropology to challenge, critique, and illuminate this often controversial issue. Have an idea? Email us!

If you’re interested in taking part, please send a short query email with your idea to:


You can also contact me on twitter: @anthropologia

Submissions for this issue will be due on July 15, 2015. The standard word range is between approximately 750 and 2000 words. See below for more information about submissions and style. Continue reading

small photographs forgotten


A box of photographs. Disheveled, sitting in a corner in our garage. Left behind by previous residents. Nobody seems to know where it came from or who it belongs to or whose faces are mixed in there. There are more than just photographs in this plastic box–receipts and old checkbook ledgers and even things like high school diplomas. There’s no order to any of it. But the photographs dominate. It’s as if somebody just threw these things into a pile and maybe someone else threw that mess into a box and after several rounds of this process they ended together in this disorderly, dusty cemetery of artifacts. All of those years and eyes and faces and moments just sitting there, cut off from the social lives that produced them. What strange objects, photographs. Continue reading

The anthropologies revival (call for ideas and submissions)

It’s time to bring the anthropologies project back to life.  The project was on “sabbatical” all of last year while I was working on turning an unfinished dissertation into a done dissertation. Now it’s time to bring it back, and I’m looking for people to take part. Here are the (tentative) ideas I have for the next few issues:

  1. Issue on the social, environmental, and political implications of climate change (with, hopefully, contributions from archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, linguistic anthros and ???).
  2. Anthropological perspectives on the food we eat–what it means, where it comes from, what it does to us (would be great to have cultural, archaeological, and bio-anth perspectives here).
  3. An anthropology of home/housing/shelter (I imagine a broad anthropological take on the idea of home/shelter that spans from the present to the past. Again, here it would be great to have submissions from across anthropology. I keep thinking of submissions about the meaning of the contemporary Tiny House movement alongside archaeological takes on rock shelters. Maybe some cross-cultural stuff on housing, economics, and use of space?? A revisit of Bourdieu’s The Berber House? Mix it up!).

Interested? Send me an email! Have some ideas? Email me!! In order to bring anthropologies back I’m going to need some help. I will announce more specific dates for upcoming issues and themes soon.

Here’s some info on contributing and submitting to anthropologies: Continue reading

University of Toronto: Boundless Exploitation–“Business as Usual” IS the Problem

The following is an invited post by Sarah Williams and Jennifer Gibson.* 

“It’s business as usual at University of Toronto”, the Provost’s messages proclaim. These messages, meant for students and the media, assert that CUPE 3902 Unit 1’s decision to strike has had no impact on undergraduate classes or the daily operations of Canada’s largest university, recently ranked number 20 in the world. This union represents more than 6,000 graduate student employees. The provost’s claims seek to undermine both the value and importance of graduate student labour and justify the administration’s hard line against raising the minimum funding package, stalled at $15,000 per year, to an amount closer to, though not exceeding, Toronto’s version of a poverty line, the “Low Income Cut-Off” (LICO), which is $23,000. However, underneath the calm and unaffected airs of the university administration lies the reality that over 800 undergraduate classes and tutorials are no longer meeting or have been cancelled for the duration of the strike. As finals draw closer, so too does the possibility that students’ graduations may be delayed.

Photo: Daniel Kwan
Photo: Daniel Kwan

At base, the aim articulated by striking CUPE 3902 members is one of structural change to the funding relationship between graduate students and the university. The guaranteed minimum funding package achieved as a direct outcome of this union’s last strike, fifteen years ago, has dramatically diminished in real wage value thanks to the rapidly rising cost of living in one of Canada’s most costly cities, and has not seen any increase to account for inflation since 2008. Meanwhile, tuition––particularly for international students––continues to climb to the maximum rates legal in Ontario ($8,000-20,000––the highest rates in all of Canada). Combined, it is these two issues that have led to the now 21 day standoff between graduate student contract workers and the administration. If any tentative agreement is to achieve ratification, two core demands must be addressed: meaningful increases to the minimum funding package, and significant reductions in post-funded-cohort tuition. Continue reading

Putting on our public face: How can anthropologists get better at it?

The following is an invited post from Erin Taylor. Erin mostly puts on her public face at PopAnth, where she leads a team of editors to provide what John McCreery calls “mentor review.” A firm believer in the responsibility of academic disciplines to disseminate their knowledge, Erin is fond of irritating anthropologists with ideas from economics, and economists with ideas from anthropology. She is also a Research Fellow at the University of Lisbon in Portugal since June 2011, which she describes as “possibly the best career move ever.”

An increasing number of anthropologists recognize the value of making our writing public. We’re improving at both writing and dissemination, but we still have a long way to go. How can we get better at it?

Our reasons for wanting to go public vary. Some of us believe in open access principles. Others feel that disciplinary conversations should take place in the open. Many people use blogs and other Internet-based media to communicate with other anthropologists, and there are increasingly more of us who are interested in outreach to the general public.

However, a lot of our public writing efforts fall short of the mark. We publish without having a clear idea of what audiences we’re aiming for. We struggle to shake off an academic writing style that alienates all but the initiated. We don’t know how to get published on anything other than our own blog or an anthropology website. We lack contacts with journalists, radio producers, and other gatekeepers who can help us disseminate our ideas.

We can do better than this. Continue reading

Walking on Money

It’s mid-day in Cabo Pulmo. October, 2012. The heat is well on its way. I just finished a late breakfast at a small local restaurant called “El Caballero.” Huevos rancheros, juice, coffee, beans, tortillas. I’m talking with Lorenzo*, who has lived in Cabo Pulmo for more than a decade. He tells me more about the story of Meri Montaño, as he heard it from one of the primary founding members of the community. According to this elder, Lorenzo tells me, Meri had a massive amount of land, many heads of cattle and lots of money. She was rich. Meri adopted him, the elder explained to Lorenzo, and eventually gave him everything when she died. This story — about Meri giving all of her land to this particular patriarch—is one of the primary versions of history that gets told about Cabo Pulmo. There are other, competing versions of community history as well.

Lorenzo continues with his version. This elder had no idea the land would become valuable one day, so he sold it piece by piece, often without papers. Some also say he gambled it away. According to one anthropologist who worked in the community in the early 2000s (see Weiant 2005), the land was informally sold, traded, gifted, and passed around for decades. These practices led to an incredibly complex and confusing land tenure situation, which worsened in the early 1970s when the Mexican government tried to clarify and formalize land titles in preparation for impending tourism and real estate development. This transformation from informal to formal tenure systems led to decades of conflict. Continue reading

A day for adjuncts

In case you didn’t know, today is National Adjunct Walkout Day.  If you need to catch up, here’s a good piece from Democracy Now.  For some more background, check out this recent piece from Inside Higher Ed.  It’s a good day to think about all those adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers and other contingent workers in academia–and what the university is, perhaps, versus what it should be.

Most importantly, I think, it’s time for those who are doing relatively well, and in relatively stable positions, to think about the current labor situation in academia, and how that is affecting the system as a whole.  As Sarah Kendzior argues, this is everyone’s problem, not just those who are working those low-paying, contingent academic jobs.  If we’re going to do something about this issue, it’s going to require attention–and solidarity–across the academic ranks.  The tenured, the retired, comfortable, and the secure need to pay attention and speak up…right alongside these adjuncts and others who are putting themselves out there to raise awareness.  Now, onto some links and excerpts (from me and others).  Please feel free to share your links, comments, and thoughts below. Continue reading

Open Access: it’s about more than just open access (a conversation between two early career anthropologists)

The following is based upon a conversation about the implications of Open Access that Jeremy Trombley and I have been having over the course of the past few weeks.  Please do add your own thoughts below.  Jeremy blogs at Struggleforever.

Ryan Anderson: So I just finished grad school, and I’m focusing on publishing some articles. I remember a while back you mentioned that you want to commit to publishing all Open Access (OA) articles, and I am right there with you. I think it’s important to push OA forward through our own work. Have you started looking into this?

Jeremy Trombley: OA is always in my mind, but I haven’t had the opportunity to publish too much yet so it hasn’t been a major issue. I have one co-authored with my advisor in a journal called Estuaries and Coasts, which has the option of publishing OA. But now I’m in the process of writing three(!) articles, and I’m thinking about where to publish them — if I ever get around to finishing them.

So that’s where I’m at, I guess. I think it’s a real challenge as a grad student trying to get publications so that I can get noticed so that I can maybe — if the stars align, and I pick the right lotto numbers, and my I Ching comes out well — get a job when I graduate. At the same time, I’m increasingly wondering if I should even bother with academia or focus on learning skills that might be useful in the “real world” — which I want to do anyway, but it’s hard to balance with all the writing, reading, etc. I have to do otherwise.

RA: I hear that. I spent so much time with anthropologies and Savage Minds during graduate school that I didn’t make much time for publishing in journals. Continue reading

Legality, race, and inequality: An interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz (Part III)

This is Part III of an interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.  Part I of the interview is here.  Part II is here.

RA: And so, while Obama’s latest action does have some positive aspects, the underlying problems persist, right? This seems to be a long-running theme in US immigration policy: we end up with one partial solution after another, but the underlying problems are still there. Meanwhile, we have all of these migrants stuck in various liminal states — whether legal, social, political, or cultural. Sometimes this means prison. Sometimes it means they live the “shadowed lives” that Leo Chavez detailed years ago. Often it means many of these people live in incredibly marginalized conditions. Every election cycle, politicians on both sides often talk about the need to “fix” the immigration system, but that never seems to happen. It’s almost as if it’s this massive, unsolvable problem. What’s your take on this? Why are these problems with immigration so persistent? And, coming from this as an anthropologist — as opposed to an economist or political scientist — what can be done to move things forward?

RGM: The first thing to note is that immigration is not a “problem” for everyone. In fact, many people benefit not only from migration but also from the massive enforcement apparatus that has been built up around it. Continue reading

Legality, race, and inequality: An interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz (Part II)

This is Part II of an interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.  Part I of the interview is here.

Ryan Anderson: Earlier you made reference to the historically race-based nature of the U.S. immigration system. Race is an issue that many tend to avoid here in the U.S. — and this is definitely the case when it comes to immigration. Immigration debates often focus on crime, economics, competition over jobs, pressure on social services, taxes, and, of course, upholding the rule of law. It’s almost as if many people bend over backwards to deny that race has anything to do with our current policies. What’s this avoidance and denial all about?

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz: I think that many people are unaware of the central role that race has played in shaping the U.S. immigration system. For example, the very first major citizenship policy in the U.S. limited citizenship to “free white men of good moral character,” while the first immigration policy, 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibited immigration of Chinese nationals. The first comprehensive immigration bill, passed in 1924, was designed to curb immigration of “filthy” and “unassimilable” Southern and Eastern Europeans, and Asians were deemed ineligible for lawful immigration and U.S. citizenship until 1952. It was not until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that overt racial biases in U.S. immigration policy were eliminated. Continue reading

Legality, race, and inequality: An interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz (Part I)

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.

Ryan Anderson: For decades many of the debates about immigration in the US focus on legality. Politicians and pundits often speak in terms of following — and breaking — the law. But in your work you talk about the “illegalization” of migrant workers. What do you mean by this?

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz: Migration is only “illegal” when laws prevent mobility. Historically, U.S. immigration policies have encouraged migration of workers deemed essential to the U.S. economy, a long-standing practice of labor importation punctuated by deportation and restrictionist campaigns in times of economic downturn. For example, Mexican migrant workers were imported to the United States by the millions in the mid-20th century to help fill labor shortages brought about by World War II and an expanding U.S. economy. Laws were created, negotiated, and adjusted to allow U.S. employers access to these workers; a contract worker program was instituted, and Mexicans and other Latin Americans were exempted from the quotas that limited immigration from elsewhere in the world at the time.

In the 1960s, the laws changed. An explicitly race-based U.S. immigration system was altered to prioritize family reunification, and Mexican workers became subject to numerical restriction for the first time ever. Over the next four decades, widespread demand for Mexican migrant labor persisted, while free trade policies undermined the ability of millions of Mexican farmers and workers to make a living in Mexico. Not surprisingly, numerical restrictions did not ultimately curb the migration of Mexicans to the U.S., but they did make it far more difficult for Mexicans and other Latin Americans to migrate legally. In this context, barriers to lawful immigration have produced unauthorized migration by “illegalizing” long-standing patterns of migration at a time when workers needed them most. Continue reading

Sustainability is everything–and nothing

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

Panopti-claus: Foucaultian social control for the kiddies

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

Anthropologies/Savage Minds student debt survey: THE DEBTORS

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.

Now we get to the subject of debt. Continue reading