Category Archives: anthropologies

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

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

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

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

Beyond Individual Choice: Student debt as a problem for all of us

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:

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

Counterpoint: Good Americans should pay their debts, thank Sallie Mae

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