Category Archives: Blog post

Open access is organic: on the Journal of Material Culture

Back in December Haidy Geismar, the incoming editor of The Journal of Material Culture (published by Sage), published an editorial mooting the future of JMC as an open access journal and asking readers to weigh in by taking an online survey about the future of the journal.  To date, sixteen people have responded. Sixteen. That’s pretty embarrassing — for Geismar and for the JMC, but also for the open access movement more generally. So after you read this, go take the survey.

The apathy of the JMC’s readership is worth dwelling on because it demonstrates what  is really at stake in debates about open access. Its not about open versus closed access, or for-profit versus non-profit publishing. Its about organic, flourishing publishing tied to vibrant intellectual communities versus mechanical mass production of journals. My use of the term ‘organic’ is intentional: just as consumers and farmers today are increasingly becoming aware of and taking responsibility for the production of the food we eat, so to is open access part of a broader movement to take responsibility for the production of scholarly content.

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Oxford bibliographies: a great but proprietary solution for information overload

As @alltalk and others tweeted to us at SM, Oxford University Press (OUP) is celebrating library week next week by giving everyone free access to their online databases. Its not unusual for presses to periodically ungate their content so everyone can try some free samples. We don’t usually blog about press sales or free samples, but I did want to use this opportunity to talk about Oxford’s new bibliography series, which I think represents a new and interesting way to organize knowledge in today’s web-saturated environment.

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No April fools: read Valeri’s “Rites and Annals”

A doomed genius taken before his time. One of the last line of ancient Roman noblemen revealing his secrets. Hidden writings once known only to an elite few, now revealed for all to see. It sounds so much like a Dan Brown novel that you mistake it for an April fools joke, but it’s  not. There were so many fake announcements and releases on April first this year that one thing got lost in the shuffle: the actually really real release of the second monograph in HAU’s “Classics of Ethnographic Theory”, Rites and Annals: Between History and Anthropology by Valerio Valeri. Valeri’s work deserves to be widely read today because of its own intrinsic quality, as well as for the kind of rigorous, sophisticated, and humanistic approach to anthropology it exemplifies. Valeri’s work combined ethnographic erudition with high-level theorizing, wrapped up with a sophisticated prose style and a commitment to scholarship that exploded American binaries of science versus the humanities, objectivity versus subjective expression. For that reason, the release of Rites and Annals gives us a chance not only to read Valeri’s work, but to think about how it fits into the current approaches our discipline is taking.

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Is there an anthropological canon? Evidence from theory anthologies

Is there a canon of anthropological theory? Do we have a ‘disciplinary history’ of where we have been and where we are going? Sure, there are many grand narratives we tell of our discipline, but these stores tend to be tendentious and based on anecdotal. Can we find a more empirical, disinterested way to look for order in anthropology’s past?

In this post I examine anthologies of anthropological theory in order to see to what extent anthropology has a coherent, institutionalized canon. Is there a strong degree of agreement between these books? Do they tell the same stories? Do they include the same authors and readings? To answer this question, I asked our intrepid intern Angela to track down the contents of every edition of the main anthropological theory readers in North America.

What did I find? The short answer is that these anthologies strongly agree on this history of anthropology between the years 1850-1950. Agreement rapidly decreases after — wait for it — 1974. Why and how? Are these anthologies accurate indicators of the anthropological zeitgeist? Who gets included and who doesn’t? For answers to these questions, read on….

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I think Princeton University Press kinda jumped the shark on this one

I’m suspicious of for-profit journal publishers, but I like university presses. They are often value-driven, down on their heels, and plucky. When the death of publishing at the hands of The Digital was first announced, they were pretty depressed. But since then they’ve moved into ebooks, developed new ways to market their books, and have done a good job embracing the new.

Princeton is a good example of a large, (relatively) wealthy press with a lot of cultural capital that is looking for new ways to engage audiences. I think this ‘trailer’ (yes, you read that right) for their new book 1177 B.C. just stepped over the line. My favorite part is when the words “NO MORE MYCENEANS” start drifting towards you while the soundtrack from Lord of the Rings plays in the background.

Clothing – 7 Ethnological Studies

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Matthew Timothy Bradley.

One of the things I want to do during my second go-round guest blogging at Savage Minds is to create a series of how-to posts—what is called “service writing” in the commercial publishing world—about dressing for hot weather fieldwork. Prior to that, though, I want to offer this list of seven of my favorite academic articles about clothing. The list is meant to be fun, as are the photos and the video of mine I have included along with it, none of which are meant to be illustrative of the items discussed in the articles. Please do feel free to mention some of your own favorite clothing-related articles, books, broadcasts, or films in the Comments, as well as to link to any photos or videos of your own. (Seriously! Please do. ☺)

finger weaving

Ceinture fléchée (aka, Assomption sash), on sale in Québec, May 2012.

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11 Cutting-Edge Thinkers That Anthropologists Should Be Paying Attention to Right Now!

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Well it wouldn’t be an unpaid internship in the 2014 if the bosses upstairs didn’t have me doing a listicle, so I’m proud to present to you a new feature: The Savage Minds Rundown. Every week, I’ll be bringing you an informative list of items that I think you should be paying attention to, if you want to impress your colleagues. This week, I bring you the top 11 big thinkers that you, as an anthropologist, should be reading right now.

You won’t believe who’s on this list. Number seven nearly stopped my heart! Without further ado: Continue reading

Beyond Surveillance Fridges and Socialized Power Drills: Social Media and the Financialization of Everyday Life

written with John Carter McKnight, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

This past weekend, two prominent socio-technical critics have given us radically different versions of the future of capitalism in the age of social media. Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, argues in an op-ed for FT for a dystopia of toothbrush analytics, trash bin surveillance, and our personal lives being turned into marketing data and sold back to us as irresistible products and services. Meanwhile, Jeremy Rifkin in the New York Times sees similar trends leading to “The Rise of Anti-Capitalism.” These big-picture visions are important for steering us towards futures we’d rather live in. However, studying companies and consumers at the forefront of the transformative interaction of social media and financial services gives us a different picture entirely: one where old and new, privacy and sociality, onrushing corporatism and peer to peer pushback are producing a tangled, complicated, often contradictory mess – and along with it, the future we’ll probably see.

As kids growing up in Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” 80s we endured a lot of propaganda regarding drugs. One was the myth of the “gateway drug.” We were told that drugs like marijuana with few medically provable harms were highly dangerous because they were gateways to harder more evil drugs. Gateway drugs are like linkbait, hooks that bring unwitting subjects from a one innocuous practice to one more pernicious.

Morozov claims that social media is a gateway drug for the financial sector to hook us on a new range of products and services, while increasing its control over our lives. We hear that the dark insides of our mouths, fridges, rubbish bins, and cars will be scrutinized by networked and image-recognizing surveillance cameras. Videos will be algorithmically analyzed producing “data portfolios” which will be automatically used (for a fee) by third parties to adjudicate our credit worthiness, employability, and romantic fitness. As longtime admirers of Morozov’s guts and wit we’ve been pleased to see him begin (finally) to use the name and identify the problem head-on—neoliberal capitalism galvanized by ubiquitously networked humans. Continue reading

Week 10: Reflections on the 1st Savage Minds Writing Group

Phew. We did it. This week concludes the first ever Savage Minds Writing Group. Launched in January with seventy people expressing interest in joining in, our writing group was designed to provide community, inspiration, and a schedule or some sort of accountability in the writing process.

Writing is such a solo activity at times, yet one that requires the support and involvement of others. Imagination is key to this, imagining the people one is writing about, imagining readers, as are face-to-face conversations with friends and mentors as you write. I hoped an online writing group of anthropologists in many different places around the world might complement these relationships, and provide a sense of community of others engaged in similar processes, similar difficulties, similar joys in the writing. Continue reading

The curse of the moveable stacks

This year my wife was elected to the faculty senate. I already know her friends and enemies in her department, but since this puts her in contact with new colleagues it gives me perspective on different parts of her school. Now I’m privy to a whole new level of gossip and hearsay.

One running joke between us is that I’ve been to her campus library more than she has. For the most part she uses electronic resources, but on occasion she will need a book from my campus. Her campus has a smaller collection and all of it is set in moveable stacks. It seems that one of her secret fears is getting trapped between the moving walls of books and crushed as another person is shifting the stacks. I shake my head and tell her that’s not possible, but she insists that it is and so on the rare occasions she needs a book she fetches it under a cloud of distress. Quickly she dashes in and out without lingering.

Real estate on her campus is tight and the library is popular, so to expand the library will be hugely consequential because there is not much space. Or, I should say that the library is popular but the stacks are not. All of this is fodder for discussion in the senate. Students come to the building to use the coffee shop and commons more than the books. In discussion with her fellow senators about how to get more students to use books it was suggested that the proposed library expansion intersperse work areas throughout the stacks, so that students would have to enter that space in order to get to the desks and carrels.

Then one senator addressed the elephant in the room. If the library was to expand the stacks would that mean there would be more moveable stacks? He had always been afraid to go in them for fear of being crushed. And a second person rose to agree, she too never went in there. What if someone rolled the stacks on top of her?

See! My wife declared, other people are afraid of the moveable stacks too. It’s not just me.

Apparently this is a thing? Be honest. Are you afraid to go into your libraries moveable stacks?

Unpacking an Erotic Icon: The Sexy Librarian

I recently came across the blog post Naughty Librarians and the Eroticism of Intellect, which purports to explain the enduring appeal of the image of the “sexy librarian” in modern life. Aside from the post’s dismissable evolutionary psychology conclusions, the author raises some interesting points about the ways the image of the librarian in our culture intersects with and embodies certain aspects of modern eroticism, grounding his or her (the author is identified as “J.M. McFee” with no bio) argument in a highly individualized literary psychological approach.

The trope of the sexy librarian as an aspect of the American sexual psyche has interested me for a long time — in fact, it was what triggered my academic interest in sex in American culture and eventually drove me into Women’s Studies. So I was quite interested to see what this J.M. McFee had to say. Unfortunately, in the absence of any sort of historical or cultural context, I found McFee’s musings rather toothless. For example, the contention that “eyeglasses and print media are already sufficiently antiquarian to have become as fetishized as garter belts and riding crops” could be true (though I rather doubt it, since eyeglasses and books are very much part of our daily lives in a way that garter belts absolutely aren’t) but even so, it doesn’t tell us very much about why librarians have become so idealized and not, say, book store clerks, editors, or opticians.

The sexualization of the librarian does not stand alone in our cultural erotics, nor can it be cleanly separated from the whole structure of American (possibly Western) sexuality. While I can’t profess to have the whole story, I hope here to give at least an outline of what the whole story might look like. Continue reading

From Different Throats Intone One Language?

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Matt Sponheimer as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Matt is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. He conducts research on the ecology of early hominins in Africa, among other topics including Neandertals and poetry. He is the author or co-author of numerous articles, including “The diet of Australopithecus sebida” in Nature 2012. Note: The title is from Jeffers’ Natural Music.)1

I’ve been thinking a lot about collaborative writing of late, and not the internecine conflict it sometimes engenders within U.S. anthropology departments. We are all certainly aware of subdisciplinary differences with regard to multi-authored manuscripts and the occasional contestation that occurs when credit for such undertakings must be meted out.2 No, I’m talking about something rather different, and I also hope much less charged. I’ve been gingerly contemplating the act of collaborative writing itself, both what it represents from a practical standpoint and as an intellectual exercise.
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Sunflower Student Movement

What is happening1 in Taiwan?

The best introductory text to the events immediately preceding the protest is this piece by J. Michael Cole in The Diplomat:

Thousands of Taiwanese were surrounding and occupying the Legislative Yuan (LY) in Taipei on March 19 after legislators from the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) expedited the review process of a services trade pact with China that many fear could have damaging repercussions on Taiwan’s economy and sovereignty.

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Week 9: Savage Minds Writing Group Check-in

Nine weeks down, one week to go. The first ever Savage Minds Writing Group is winding down. Let’s check in now about our past week of writing, but also reflect on how our styles of writing are indebted to our mentors.

This week’s Writing Workshop post by Michael Ralph–Styles of Writing, Techniques of Mentorship: A Tribute to Michel-Rolph Trouillot–was heart-stirring in many ways. The process of becoming an anthropologist, a scholar, a writer, is one that involves so many people as mentors along the way. In the field, at your university, at large in the discipline.

So much of this piece resonated with me, and with others whom I’ve spoken with this past week:

On the physical constitution of the scholar,

on writing as re-thinking as well as re-deploying,

and

on the need for teachers.

Thank you, Michael Ralph, for this piece. And thank you to my mentors too. My thinking and my writing are indebted to them in ways I am still realizing.