Category Archives: Blog post

Anthropology’s Long Tail, or AAA 2.0

Does anthropology have a long tail? Maybe it does, but the head really is superior. Isn’t that the idea behind science anyways? The best ideas are the vetted ideas and the rejected ideas are put to rest for a reason. Or maybe its not there at all. But then again…

First a refresher is in order. “The Long Tail,” refers to the now classic article (2004!!) by Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson. It gets its name from a particular kind of curve where one variable functions as the power of another. In Anderson’s classic example such curves are used to describe the business model of Amazon which trumped its competitors by selling “less of more.” Whereas bookstores had traditionally made their big bucks catering to customers in the green area of the graph, where more people were interested in fewer titles, Amazon is able to cater to the so-called Long Tail, the yellow area where products are more diverse and demand is low. Why does this matter? The yellow area is actually larger than the green area. Hence, cha-ching –> $$$

Long tail
‘Picture by Hay Kranen / PD’
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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

Friction and the Newsing of Anthropology

AAA Executive Director, Ed Liebow, recently posted an Anthropology News editorial on the controversy which flaired up after they posted Peter Wood’s Anthropology News piece “Ferguson and the Decline in Anthropology.” In his editorial Liebow asks why the discussion about this piece has occured on Social Media and Blogs, not in the comments on Anthropology News itself:

Alex Golub presented a thoughtful counter-argument to Wood’s post on Savage Minds, pointing out why Wood is fundamentally misguided. I think he appropriately recognized a teachable moment, and effectively countered Wood’s assertion about the absence of evidence concerning structural racism. What I want to know is why Twitter? Why Savage Minds? Why not comment in Anthropology News?

While I can’t speak for Alex, I’d like to try to answer this question. Continue reading

Why the Peer Review Process Works Even When It Doesn’t

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Alan Kaiser as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Alan is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville. He has published on issues of Roman culture in Spain, urbanism across the Roman empire, and streets as an organizing principle in Roman cities. He is the author of The Urban Dialogue: An Analysis of the Use of Space in the Roman City of Empúries, Spain (British Archaeological Reports, 2000), Roman Urban Street Networks (Routledge, 2009) and Archaeology, Sexism and Scandal: The Long-Suppressed Story of One Woman’s Discoveries and the Man Who Took Credit for Them (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).]

Eleven editors and more than two dozen anonymous reviewers rejected my scholarly article. It documented the scandal I had uncovered that David Robinson, famed excavator of the Greek site of Olynthos, had plagiarized the work of his forgotten graduate student, Mary Ellingson. My article clearly made a number of people uncomfortable as there is an unspoken rule among American archaeologists working in Greece that it is bad form to criticize our intellectual ancestors in print. In the end I did get the story published as a book but that was only because I found an editor at Rowman and Littlefield who was a former student of mine and who was determined to help. This would seem to be a case study in the problems with the peer review system but that would be the wrong conclusion; this blog post seeks to prove that peer review works despite the flaws in the system.

Mary Ellingson #1
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Check out the Allegra relaunch

I was utterly stunned by the amount of traction that National Anthropology Day got on social media yesterday. American anthropologists across the country got together to congratulate themselves on their National Anthropology and Chocolate Mint. But for those of you slightly turned off by the Yankee-centric air of the AAA’s latest holiday, never fear. I’m sure Ed Liebow is currently positioning his star destroyer off the bow of the World Council of Anthropological Associations in order to whip up a much more globalized twitter frenzy.

Until that day comes, you can get all non-Americany by heading over to Allegra. That largely-European but not narrowly-European blog has just done a complete overhaul to their website. It looks great, and their newest content is now splashed across their front page in vibrant, colorful photos.

I’ve been amazed to watch Allegra grow, and I’m so impressed at their ability to consistently produce genuine, long (by Internet standards) content day after day after day. Honestly, they put our occasional rantings about goats and Alessandro Volta to shame.

So go check out their new website! Onward Allegra!

Recipes for your National Anthropology Day

National Anthropology Day is on. The response on social media has been overwhelming. After a massive airdrop by the US of copies of The Nuer over Eastern Ukraine, guns have been silenced — although how long can it be before Putin begins distributing copies of Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka to Russian-speaking dissidents? At any rate, since I know many of you are in the middle of preparing for tonight’s festivities, I thought I’d include some helpful anthropological chocolate minty goaty electrical Chinese New Year related recipes.

These recipes come from random people posting them to me on Facebook, so they are totally unrepresentative of anthropology in general and just representative of the people I’m friends with on Facebook. If something sounds unusual or new, give it a shot!

Cocktails for National Anthropology Day

Mint Chocolate Goat Cheese Baijiu Bomb
Dick Powis
Place one small ball of goat cheese in the bottom of a shot glass. Fill shot glass with baijiu. Drop shot glass into a pint of Perennial 17 Mint Chocolate Stout. You’re welcome.

Lychee Mojito
James Crippen
Make a lychee mojito. Add a splash of goat milk and garnished with a Girl Scout thin mint. DISCLAIMER: I haven’t actually tried this, but it sounds harmless enough. Lychee because I can’t think of any other compatible Chinese signifier.

The Goat Fucker
Jonathan Padwe Continue reading

The missing piece of National Anthropology Day: ELECTRICITY

Goats, chocolate mint, Chinese New Year: National Anthropology Day seemed to have it all. Until, that is, long-time reader Eddie Schmitt pointed out the missing ingredient in National Anthropology Day: electricity. That’s right: National Anthropology Day is also the birthday of Alessandro Volta!

Alessandro Volta, reimagined for National Anthropology Day by Edwin Schmitt. Used by permission.
Alessandro Volta, reimagined for National Anthropology Day by Edwin Schmitt. Used by permission.

“Electricity?” You may ask, “do we need one more thing to celebrate on National Anthropology Day?” Well my friends, as you will see, electricity is key to most of the recipes (forthcoming) for National Anthropology Day.

“Wait a second,” you might also ask, “wasn’t Volta born the day before National Anthropology Day?” To which I would say: “This is yet another example of how Wikipedia is inferior to Official Reference Material. Luckily, there will always be places like Savage Minds which can be relied on to bring you 100% completely accurate information about anthropology.

Happy Anthropology! And happy Alessandro Volta day!

This National Anthropology Day, say 祝你全國人類學節快樂!

We are now only days away from the first annual National Anthropology Day. As I’ve said in past coverage of this story, the American Anthropological Association scheduled National Anthropology Day on 19 February, which is also National Chocolate Mint Day. But chocolate mint is small-fry compared to the major holiday to be celebrated this Thursday: Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year). That’s right, people, this year National Anthropology Day is also YEAR OF THE GOAT. So this year, let’s make National Anthropology Day extra Goaty by wishing each other:

祝你全國人類學節快樂!

My knowledge of the significance of the Year of the Goat derives largely from what the MC said at the parade this year. But, based on that experience, I understand that goats are, like anthropologists, team players who don’t give up on their goals. If this sounds like you, then congratulations — National Anthropology Day is for you!

In preparing for this blog post, I spent a good deal of time working through the specialist literature on the anthropology of goats. This ended up being pretty easy since not much has been written by cultural anthropologists about goats. About goat bones, and the dating thereof, the archaeologists have tremendous amounts to say. But the goat has not yet found its Evans-Pritchard. Perhaps this National Anthropology Day one of you will grasp the nettle in this as-yet-understudied topic in multispeciesality?

When I found out that National Anthropology Day and National Chocolate Mint Day were the same day, it seemed pretty clear to me that this meant that we should eat chocolate mint on National Anthropology Day. But what of goat? Is this a sign that we should make a point of eating goat on National Anthropology day? Or rather, does it indicate that the goat is Our Animal,  and hence ought not be eaten because of its close association to anthropology?

Regardless of the answer to this vexing question, Lunar New Year brings a whole host of fun holiday customs that are ready, willing, and able to diffuse into National Anthropology Day: red envelopes, fire crackers, jiaozi (perhaps with goat meat?), and much more besides.

Any ideas on how best to meld Lunar New Year and National Anthropology day? Find us in the comments or on social media and let us know!

Belief is a Practice

In an effort to cut through a lot of hot air being blown on the internet I recently argued that race (and gender) is a “technology of power.” I would like to follow that up with an argument that belief is best understood as a set of social practices, not as an internally coherent ideological system. This is because a large number of seemingly well-intentioned people on my timeline are arguing something along the lines of “we shouldn’t let Islam of the hook for terrorism.” In my previous post I argued that we should endeavour to engage the best arguments that we disagree with, not those easiest to dismiss. This is one reason I haven’t engaged this particular argument before. At first blush it strikes me as little more than laughable “clash of civilizations” Islamophobia (not that Islamophobia is funny). However, some recent discussions have convinced me that there might be a more anthropological version of this argument which is worth a more serious discussion. This argument has two parts: (1) that we should take people’s ideas seriously, including those of violent extremists, and (2) that we should not erase difference by arguing that all forms of violent extremism are the same (i.e. by arguing that not all, or even most, violent extremists are Muslims). I think few anthropologists would take issue with either point, but in so doing we would still not end up in the same place as those making these arguments.

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Don’t Trust Your Memory!

While this Slate article uses the recent news about Brian Williams as a hook, I think the advice it gives is very useful for anthropologists doing fieldwork. Whatever you think about Brian Williams, there is more and more evidence that human memories can’t be trusted. This is important for anthropologists who often rely upon their memories as a research tool. The article gives some good advice for avoiding that problem, much of which most anthropologists are probably already doing (keeping notes!) but it helps make clear just how important these practices are.

After decades of well-documented, prominent cases of memory distortion, people whose professions put a premium on facts and truth—journalists, politicians, business leaders, judges, lawyers, and public figures—should be aware of these limits. In fact, they have a responsibility to understand the fallibility of their memories and to take steps to minimize memory mistakes. If you are relying exclusively on your own memory when saying anything of consequence, especially when someone’s reputation is at stake, you must think twice.

I especially like the point that our most vivid and frequently recalled memories may be the most subject to distortion because “each recounting has the potential to introduce new distortions.” Worth keeping in mind!

Race is a Technology (and so is Gender)

I think there are two very different ways of talking about race and racism which frequently get conflated, and I think this confusion is responsible for a lot of wasted energy in various online debates. The same goes for discussions about gender and sexism. On the one hand we have a moralistic view of racism/sexism. This view seems more likely to be held by people who are decrying accusations of racism/sexism than by those who try to call attention to them, but not exclusively. Those who call out racism/sexism, on the other hand, are more likely to be talking about race/gender as technologies of power which work to systematically marginalize certain voices (and certain lives) than they are to be accusing anyone in particular of being immoral.

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Read More, Write Less

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Ruth Behar as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Ruth is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous articles and books including Translated Woman: Crossing the Border With Esperanza’s Story (Beacon Press, 1993), The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart (Beacon Press, 1996), An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba (Rutgers University Press, 2007), Traveling Heavy: A Memoir In Between Journeys (Duke University Press, 2013), and is co-editor with Deborah Gordon of Women Writing Culture (University of California Press, 1995).]

Rolando Estevez painting-Loynaz-Poema XV ala tensa

 

Years ago, when I started returning to Havana, the city where I was born, I had the good fortune to be welcomed into the home of Cuban poet, Dulce María Loynaz. By then she was in her nineties, frail as a sparrow, nearly blind, and at death’s doorstep, but enormously lucid.

Inspired by her meditative Poemas sin nombre (Poems With No Name), I had written a few poems of my own, and Dulce María had the largeness of heart to ask me to read them aloud to her in the grand salon of her dilapidated mansion. She nodded kindly after each poem and when I finished I thought to ask her, “What advice would you give a writer?” Continue reading

Why I like typewriters

This is my last post as a guest blogger for Savage Minds. I have enjoyed this experience of connecting with so many anthropologists. I want to thank the Savage Minds team for giving me this opportunity to discuss ethnographic writing, and to everyone who offered their thoughts and comments on my posts. Since this is my final contribution, I thought I would end on a personal note and share a short homage to typewriters.

A vintage German business typewriter from the 1930s.
A vintage German business typewriter from the 1930s.

As you may have noticed, many images of old typewriters accompanied my posts on writing this month. These photos are not culled from the Internet, but are pictures of my own growing collection of European manual typewriters, which I now use to write my fieldnotes and my first drafts. I am not a luddite, nor am I paranoid about the NSA reading my fieldnotes. And although I am old enough to have written many early college papers on a typewriter, my trusty Smith Corona was an electric model. I switched to a basic word processor, and eventually to a personal computer as soon as I could afford one. Writing on a manual typewriter is a newly acquired preference.

Skywriters

Over twenty years after I retired my electric Smith Corona, my partner surprised me with a vintage Skywriter as a birthday present. The Skywriter hails from the 1950s and was Smith Corona’s attempt at a portable machine that itinerant writers could use on airplanes. Last spring, I began writing research notes, letters, and first drafts of my work on that typewriter, mostly because I loved the clack of the keys, and the fact that email, social media, and the lures of the World Wide Web couldn’t distract me while I worked.

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