Category Archives: Blog post

Year of the Mushroom

In the next week or so, many of us will celebrate the year of the rooster. The year of the monkey, which we are just saying good bye to, had a lot of stuff going on inside of it. But looking back at the anthropology end of things, it’s pretty clear that 2016 was not the year of the monkey, but of the mushroom.

Continue reading

Population #ReadIn

“Racism” is such an unwieldy concept. Living in a world in which racism is one of the fundamental building blocks that shapes all our relationships, calling someone racist is somewhat akin to a fish accusing another fish of swimming in water. This is how I felt when I saw Democrats claiming that the election was won because of racism. If I were to make a list of racist things in American politics it would be just as likely to include welfare reform as the southern strategy, just as likely to include drones as border walls, and just as likely to include super-predators as a muslim registry.

I don’t want to create a false equivalency. There is a very important difference between a political party which relies on minority votes and one which tries to suppress them. There is an important difference between a party which engages in dog-whistle politics to win over swing voters and a party for which such voters are their electoral base. But that doesn’t get us away from the fact that – in American politics – we are always talking about relative racisms. Many of those supposedly racist voters voted for Obama in the last election, and many minority voters handed the election over to Trump in their state simply by staying home on election day.1 I don’t write this because I want to assign blame, but simply to illustrate how crude a tool “racism” is when trying to make sense of this all. So, if racism can’t help us, how do we talk about this phenomenon which is so central to contemporary politics?

It is not an easy riddle to solve, but one important part of the solution can be found in in the writings of Michel Foucault. Just a part of the solution, mind you, but for my own thinking on the matter it has been key. For that reason I was very happy when a bunch of anthropologists announced that they wanted to read read Michel Foucault’s lecture eleven in Society Must Be Defended as a means to think through “the interplay of sovereign power, discipline, biopolitics, and concepts of security, and race” on inauguration day. This is because the concept of biopolitics is a very useful addition to the analytical toolkit we have for talking about the diverse phenomenon grouped under the term “racism.” As with any such analytical tools, the benefits of highlighting certain features necessarily obscure others, and there are entire books written to try to sort out exactly what is lost and what is gained by using these tools; however, today I would like to simply focus on one aspect of this lecture which has been particularly useful to me: Foucault’s use of the term “population.” Continue reading

Teaching Martin Luther King in Hawai‘i

Every Spring I teach “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in the class immediately following MLK day. Typically I focus on first and second year college students. I do it for several reasons: For many of my students, “I have a dream” is the only text of MLK’s that they know; because it helps explain the reason for the season; and, most of all, because the letter is incredibly teachable.

I originally got the idea from Gerald Graff, who remarked that King was such a clear writer you could almost reconstruct the letter he was responding to just by turning his sentences around. So I said, alright, let’s do it. I’ve done the assignment is several different ways, but basically it goes like this: Students come to class, and we read the letter out loud, each student reading one paragraph at a time. We then begin with the logice of his argument: What are his claims, his reasons, and his examples (this goes pretty quickly in a college setting).

We then move on to rhetoric, asking: How does MLK creates roles for readers and audience in the text? Who does he compare himself to? Who is Paul, what is Tarsus? Many students don’t know this, while others are proud to be able to share their knowledge in an institution which is sometimes not totally welcome to practicing Christians. Some who think they are Christians realize they don’t actually know anything about key texts from their tradition. It’s interesting. But anyway the questions are: Who does he think his audience is? What does he assume that they know?

I then introduce the concept of heteroglossia and ask my student what other voices they can find in the text. How is this single-authored piece shot through with other opinions. Who is King agreeing with or disagreeing with? At the end of class I give students an assignment to write the letter than King was responding to, using only text-internal clues regarding what that letter said. I ask them to reconstruct the argument, as well as to sign it — that is, imagine what kind of people wrote it, even if they don’t know their names.

This process is not too hard on students — you could do it in middle school or high school, in addition to college. You can tweak it, asking them to read MLK’s letter outside of class and then come to class having written the letter to which he’s responding. You can assign some chapters on the book on the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, to provide context, or read other texts by King (I’ve used “Conforming Non-Conformist” in the past).

But really, it’s the ease of analyzing King’s text that makes the exercise so useful. Students feel like they can do it. And you can basically teach ALL intro level college analytic skills just out of this one piece of writing. Once they have that under their belt, you can tell them: “Great. Now on Thursday we’ll be doing this with Foucault. Good luck!”

King’s text is not just easy to analyze, it’s also a model of clarity and persuasive speech. King writes clearly and concisely, but does not write sparely or sparsely. When he needs to let the clauses roll out, they roll out. It’s a valuable corrective to the indigestible academic prose that fills the academy, and which our students unfortunately learn to imitate.

King is exemplary for more than just his prose of course. Undergraduates today — especially those in Hawai‘i — don’t live in King’s world. This is the first experience with Jim Crow that many of my students have had. It’s powerful. And King does more than remind readers of a past that they may not have had access to before. His approach to dialogue is important to. In academy which is used to critique, King tries to convince. In an academy which too often stigmatizes enemy subject positions, King offers readers a chance to be good people — if they get on board his plan. King doesn’t just know what’s wrong. He knows what’s right.

It’s also quite shocking to some students to see that King was in fact a political agitator. We have a vision of him as a great conciliator, someone who found common ground, increased shared understanding, etc. But the King of the Letter actively advocates disruptive, illegal protests. He urges us to heighten tensions, not resolve them. He encourages violation of unjust laws. King was an activist who did the right thing, not the legal thing. I sometimes feel that this is something that people would like us to forget about him.

Finally, reading the Letter makes students ask new questions: What happened after the letter was written? How did we get from there to here. If I fill in some of the context, they start asking: Who was Malcolm X? Martin Buber? If I am teaching a more advanced class, we begin asking “how are we interpellated as a subject? What are the rights and wrongs of such interpellation”?

Your mileage may vary, and it may be too late for you to incorporate some of this material into your own classes later on this week. I’m sure that I’m hardly the only person who finds time in class to teach MLK around MLK day. But if you haven’t yet, why not give this exercise a shot, or adapt it for your own use? Or why not share your own in-class exercises below? Thanks. And happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Society Must Be Defended: Join us for a Read-In on 20 January 2017

By: Paige West and JC Salyer

 

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election scholars across the country and internationally have worked to understand the drivers for the election outcomes. We have tried to foresee the potential consequences of a Republican party domination of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government for vulnerable populations, for the environment, and for the economy. And, we continue to grapple with the serious threats the president elect and his cabinet nominees pose to the freedom of the press, to citizen’s rights to free speech, and to the various protections that scholars receive through university systems of academic freedom and tenure. At most universities there have been teach-ins, learn-ins, and panels, as well as emergency meetings of departments, faculty action groups, student groups, and other concerned parties. What more can scholars do?

Since the election, one statement we have heard repeatedly from some academics, pundits, journalists, and bloggers who write about academic life, is that scholars need to somehow change what they are doing, and how they are doing it, in order to face this seemingly new political reality in the Unites States. While the latter part of this argument has been addressed by numerous scholars and activists who write and think about race, class, sexuality, and inequality more generally – with clear and compelling arguments about how this is not a “new” political reality for many but rather a kind of contemporary culmination and re-entrenchment of the structures of power and oppression that underpin the entirety of the national political project – the former part of the argument has been allowed to stand with little critique. Do we need to change what we do and not just how we do it? Not necessarily. Continue reading

Why Anthropologists Failed to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

By: Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar

In 2016 the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions for their involvement in the illegal occupation of Palestine both gathered significant steam and faced a huge roadblock. In the United States, the country that largely underwrites and funds the Israeli occupation, the call to boycott initiated in 2004 by Palestinian civil rights organizations movement has had some impressive successes, with eight associations endorsing it thus far, notably in academic fields that challenge Eurocentrism.[1] The movement continued to grow last year as scholars across disciplines learned more about the Israeli occupation and its consequences. Several larger academic organizations discussed or voted on the boycott call, including the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA). As criticisms of the Israeli state and Zionist ideology spread, backlash intensified.

We are part of the diverse group of anthropologists of different backgrounds, including Israelis and Palestinians, who have organized a movement to convince the AAA membership to adopt the boycott. For several years, we have worked to educate our colleagues about both Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the boycott as an effective tactic by which to support those rights. We’ve done this through panels, roundtables, dozens of op-eds, videos, webinars, teach-ins, email outreach, and canvassing on the floors of various anthropology conferences. As the MLA begins its discussions of the boycott, we offer this retrospective on the AAA vote last spring. Continue reading

On writing from elsewhere

My childhood imagination enhanced stories told to me by my elders of where we were from, and my history embraced the possibility of exciting seafarers, noble learned men and women, poor housekeepers, exiled princesses, wandering mystics, Marxists fighting the good fight, and revolutionaries standing up against the British. While some of this might very well be true, at age five or six, sitting in New Jersey, truth was a far fetched notion and irrelevant. As we do, I have carried these stories with me through my life and into my practice, and I revisit them now as I consider the topography of text. I am curious about what it means to write about others from a position of otherness as the cartography of elsewhere informs my writing from within, while positioned somewhere else.

Where are you from?
But, where are you really from?

Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: 2016 in Review

  1. I cannot say I will be nostalgic this Sunday morning, but Savage Minds and our incredible contributors never stopped writing and confronted every step with a critical eye. In order to mark the coming year,  Savage Minds compiled a list of our favorite pieces written in 2016.

The ongoing “Decolonizing Anthropology” series by Carole and Uzma continues to push anthropology to confront the historical trauma of our disciplines and how we can address this in the present. Movements like #NODAPL only highlight the importance of facing our colonial past. Decolonization as Care  was one of our favorites of the series.

Beyond the Decolonize series, Uzma and Carole were writing nonstop on their own pieces. Uzma’s favorites include The day after Leonard Cohen Died (as if 2016 was not hard enough) and “Situational Awareness” about the increasing militarization of daily life.

Among Rex’s favorites, his writing knows no genre with his work ranging from the timeline of anthropological theory, critiques of University of Chicago’s trigger warning letter, and a written memorial for Bernard Bate.

Earlier in the year, the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions by the American Anthropological Association was rejected. A three-part series by Kerim illustrates why he voted for the boycott.

Part 1: David vs. Goliath

Part 2: SQUIRREL! 

Part 3: It’s in the Resolution 

Rex reflects on the AAA vote in What we learned from #anthroboycott in a poetic turn.

Kerim teaching at National Dong Hwa University means he also writes about updates on cultural politics of Taiwan including his talk at Taiwan’s annual anthropology conference in Seeing Culture Like a State and the relation of gender and hair in youth culture in Freddy’s Hair. (My favorite part of living in time zones 14 hours apart is my insomnia making me very responsive to direct e-mails)

Matthew, our resident museum cataloger raves over arXiv and its potential to expand collaboration between anthropologists. Matt also pulls out Max Weber again in Infrastructure as Iron Cage in order to explain the constraints of capitalism in our daily lives.

Cthulhu, graces us with their presence in 2016 by reviewing Donna Haraways’s Making Kin in the Cthulhucene.

The guest contributors this year wrote some the most provocative, brave, and thought provoking work to match the turbulence of 2016. Some standouts among Savage Minds contributors include:

As 2017 comes around the corner and the consequences of the previous year come into fruition, be sure that Savage Minds and our contributors will be there to reflect, debate, and critique with an anthropological twist.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Faculty work, librarian work, and life balance

Tis the season. As my professor friends hustle to write final exams and grade them, only to press through to letter grade submission and finally revel in winter break I am reflecting on my absence from teaching. Now three semesters out of the classroom (I cashed my last paycheck as an adjunct in May 2015) I feel more certain than ever that I made the right career choice moving into museums and libraries. In this post I would like to share some observations, incomplete as they are, on my professional life outside the academy.

First, a little professional biography. Prior to moving out of teaching I racked up a lot of hours in the classroom — in addition to being instructor of record at my alma mater I’ve been behind the lectern at a community college, small liberal arts college, and large urban university. I’ve tutored, taught high school, and led service learning. But to be honest my list of courses taught is pretty basic: gen anth, cultural, evolution, food, and gender studies. I never had much of a say in which classes I would teach, such is the lot of a hired gun.

There’s a lot to love about teaching and those thrills, I miss them. I love teaching as performance, standing up in front of a crowd and telling stories, leading discussions. You know, doing my thing. But most of all is the experience of playing a part, however large or small, in opening up a young person’s mind to exciting new ways of seeing the world. Anthropology has a lot to offer! And to be there when a talented student makes that discovery, that’s really special. I even have a small handful of former students I count as true friends.

Obviously there’s a lot I don’t miss about teaching too. Our pet peeves are almost universal, are they not? Grading mountains of papers. Looming deadlines. Answering clueless emails. The dreadful sense that you’re supposed to be doing something productive right this instance. “My printer ran out of ink” and other lame excuses. Of course we teachers can commiserate over all of that together and there’s a certain solidarity that comes with the shared burden. Its always a hoot to pop the cork on a bottle of wine or toss back a couple of beers at the pub and swap horror stories. (My personal best-worst excuse: “I can’t tell you why I missed class because my sorority has sworn me to secrecy.”) In addition to all the intellectual labor there is a huge toll of emotional labor and to me that was the worst part of the job.

Museum and library work offers an interesting foil to academics.
Continue reading

Amazon Go and the Erosion of Supermarket Sociability

Invited post by: Sally A. Applin (@AnthroPunk on Twitter)[1]

I recently finished my Ph.D. As a present, a friend of mine gave me a hand. Not help, which he had done during the process, but rather a battery-powered automated hand, cut off at the wrist, similar to that of Thing, the Addams Family’s servant from TV and film. In part of my thesis, and my research on automation, I’ve looked to Thing as a metaphor for IoT software automation. Thing, on TV, is a trusted friend who builds relationships with family members and can negotiate with others on their behalf. In fiction, and the representation of fiction, Thing works beautifully and embodies what a smart agent could be. It is aware of its surroundings, it builds trust. It connects people. Thing is a keeper of local knowledge. The Applin and Fischer (2013) Thing agent, is a software construct using deontic logic to encourage and support human agency, building trust in a relationship based context.  The hand my friend gave me moved on a fixed path for several seconds, and then stopped until its button was pushed again. It looked like Thing, but it was only a physical representation, a simulation of physical form. In automation, data collection is not the same as building relationships, and community knowledge cannot easily be derived from quantitative Big Data. This is one of the more serious problem with Amazon Go.

Amazon Go is a grocery store concept that allows people who have activated the Amazon Go app on their mobile phone, to walk through an “authentication” turnstile into an Amazon Go supermarket. Once inside, people can “grab” what groceries they want or need, and walk out the door, without needing to check out, because Amazon’s “computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning” will calculate what people take, and charge them accordingly via the app. Amazon Go has a video on their website that explains all of this, and shows people “grabbing and going” with their groceries, stuffing them into bags or just holding onto them, and walking out. In the Amazon Go video, no one is shown talking to each other. Continue reading

Decentering “the human” at the interfaces of anthropology and science studies?

This entry is part 19 of 19 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By: Kristina Lyons

In what ways do seeds, soils, bees, microbes, and rivers matter when Native, Black, brown, queer, and trans human bodies are systematically under assault? Can a decolonizing approach successfully decenter “the human” in this political moment? For whom, when, and how is human exceptionalism a problem that needs to be overcome in the first place?

In my first year teaching feminist science studies courses at UC Santa Cruz, certain literature at the interfaces between anthropology and science studies that might be said to deal with “naturescultures” and “human-nonhuman” relations was received with discomfort by a number of the undergraduate students I encountered in my classes. Some of these students were in tension with being asked to care about what they perceived as beings or things outside their political identities and collectives in a commitment to foreground the violence(s) experienced by Native, Black, brown, queer, and trans human bodies. Others were predisposed against the masculine whiteness and Euro-Atlantic based analytical focus of much science studies, which has been a recurrent critique of dominant science and technology studies (STS) genealogies and scholarship. Still others were suspicious of anything that smelt of the Anthropocene, and its current framings that often uncritically assume a blanket concept of humanity, history, and geologic record. Despite their roles in shaping and being shaped by racist legacies and ongoing coloniality, I found myself at times in the extremely uncomfortable and impossible position of defending the disciplines of anthropology and science studies. One Native American student wrote me to share that her father had taught her never to trust an anthropologist. What if anything had “environmental” anthropology learned from the critical contributions of Indigenous, queer, feminist, and critical race and ethnic studies? Why does much STS continue to be focused on such a limited portion of the world narrated by white voices and perspectives? How might we go about “decolonizing” science studies and its interfaces? Where, when, how, by, and for whom is this a possibility or even desired? Continue reading

“Just the Tip”

So, since October I’ve been accompanying Savage Minds’ social medias, trying to keep everything updated and making sure we have a continuum of posts on Facebook and Twitter. The other part of the job consists in getting involved in the conversations and debates we have in this platforms. It’s being a nice experience so far, especially for learning other points of view and getting to know the readers of the blog. But I’ve been questioning myself to what extent we really can rely on social media to spread anthropological knowledge and trying to understand how blogging really impacts on our everyday anthropological discussions. I’m still in search for some of this answers. Some insights that interested me were Ryan’s discussion on why 95% of SM readers never comment and Kerim’s four types of comments, just to sort out a few examples. Continue reading

Teaching the Anthropology of Elections in times of Trump

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the #teachingthedisaster series.

This is post in the #teachingthedisaster series comes to us from Maria L. Vidart-Delgado. Maria lectures in the Anthropology Program at MIT and is also the co-founder of Department of Play. 

I taught a class on the 2016 U.S. presidential election (syllabus here) to a group of undergrads at MIT with diverse political commitments, social sensibilities, and with different levels of exposure to anthropology. I faced two challenges. One was getting my students to think anthropologically about electoral politics and democracy more broadly. I mean moving away from analyses that mimic prevalent political punditry (do elections work?), to a comparative mode of analysis attentive to how different groups of people experience, understand and perform free, fair, legitimate elections. The second challenge was to build a common ground to listen to each other in an emotionally charged political environment. I found that in cultivating an anthropological perspective we built a common place to question the assumptions shaping our political preferences, and to discuss the implications of those preferences.

I made an effort to cultivate in my students what Clifford (1988:19) calls an “ethnographic attitude,”  one that sees “culture and its norms—beauty, truth, reality—as artificial arrangements susceptible to detached analysis and comparison with other possible dispositions.” This “relativistic” approach (and I mean it facetiously) was fruitful to study electoral campaigning in its own terms. As charismatic assemblages—of experts, supporters, techniques, political ideals, political networks and media infrastructures—working in concerted action toward electing a candidate (Nielsen 2012; Stromer-Galley 2014). We saw that these assemblages deploy strict top-down management tactics to fuel and spread a collective enthusiasm for a political cause, and produce dominant storylines that ultimately become the bases for political judgment and policy design (Laclau 2008). 2016 provided abundant case studies, like Brexit or the Colombian Peace Referendum.
Continue reading

Behold, a timeline of the history of anthropology!

(Update 11 Dec 2016: Up-to-date timeline files are now hosted on github and there is an interactive version of the timeline as well -Rx)

I am extremely happy to announce today that I’m making open access my timeline of the history of anthropological theory. This timeline has over 1,000 entries, beginning with the birth of Lewis Henry Morgan on 21 Nov 1818 and the latest is the death of Roy D’Andrade on 20 Oct 2016. It includes details from the careers of roughly 118 anthropologists from England, France, and the United States. It is designed to be viewed in Aeon Timeline, but I’ve also provided a dump of the data so you can play with it however you like.

History of Anthropology Timeline (98K .zip file on google drive)

hunt-hurston-boas
The lives of George Hunt, Franz Boas, and Zora Neale Hurston. You need to scroll around the full database to see all the dates.

Continue reading

Boundaries and Bundles: Further Thoughts on Jigsaw Anthropology

We apologize for the delay in releasing our last November guest blog post on behalf of the AAA AD Executive Board. We had to have a last minute author change, and I am incredibly grateful that Patricia McAnany stepped up to write a second post for our series. We hope readers will see all of our posts as a chance to comment on potential ways we can further integrate archaeology and other fields of anthropology. Patricia McAnany is the Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill and is the President of the AAA Archaeology Division.

The AAA annual meetings in Minneapolis went pretty well this year. Held just a week after one of the most startling and disconcerting U.S. elections on record, the meeting sessions all seemed to refer, even if vaguely, to the specter of a brave new world under a Trump administration. With promised dismantling of the EPA and related protection of cultural resources—not to mention unbridled racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the air—anthropologists of all stripes and colors huddled together in ad hoc strategy sessions. Suddenly, we had more in common than our epistemological differences might suggest.

Randy McGuire delivered the Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecture at the Archeology Division (AD) Business Meeting on Thursday evening and reminded us of the many ways in which an archaeological approach to the human experience matters and can drill to the core of issues like racism, xenophobia, and even darker legacies, such as human torture during the Argentine “Dirty War” of 1976-83. Human practices leave traces and that material legacy can speak volumes (or not, if suppressed).

In my last blog, I addressed the increasing interdependence (in methodological terms) between anthropology and archaeology that comes along with the collaborative turn within archaeology. There is now greater attention to entanglements between living people and objects or places that resonate with ideas and feelings about a past. Today and at the urging of Jane Baxter, I turn to the deeper question of whether there is commensurability between the productions of knowledge within socio-cultural anthropology and within archaeology. As before, my thoughts are channeled through my recent experience as President of the AAA-AD. But I warn the reader that I do not represent the views of the AD or the AAA, the membership of which represent an extraordinarily diverse array of opinions on this topic. Continue reading

Re-Naming the Savage Minds Blog: Your Suggestions, Please

The editorial collective at Savage Minds has decided to change our name. We have several reasons for this, but mostly feel that the name no longer fits or best represents the blog. As a title, “Savage Minds” was a sort of anthropological insider’s double pun. As we explain on our About page, the name “comes from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind, published in 1966. The original title of the book in French, La Pensée Sauvage, was meant to be a pun, since it could mean both ‘wild thought’ or ‘wild pansies,’ and he put pansies on the cover of the book, just to make sure readers got the pun. Lévi-Strauss was unhappy with the English title of his book, which he thought ought to have been “Pansies for Thought” (a reference to a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet). We liked the phrase “savage minds” because it captured the intellectual and unruly nature of academic blogging. As a result, the pansy has become our mascot as well.” And thus, a blog was born in 2005. Continue reading