Category Archives: Blog post

Give and Take

This entry is part 16 of 16 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By Leslie J. Sabiston and Didier M. Sylvain

did i see that right?
my skull is in a cardboard box
in that basement?
my bones are under
an orange tarp from canadian tire,
cracked.
rattling plastic in the wind.
 
my grave is desecrated
my skull is in that white lady’s basement
my bones are under that orange tarp from canadian tire
cracked
rattling plastic in the wind like a rake on the sidewalk.
 
my body is tired
from carrying
the weight
of this zhaganashi’s house.
 
ah nokomis
this shouldn’t have happened.
your relatives took such good care.
the mound so clearly marked.
ah nokomis
how did this happen?
what have you come to tell us?
why are you here?
 
aahhhhh my zhaganashi
welcome to kina gchi nishnaabe-ogaming
enjoy your visit.
but like my elder says
please don’t stay too long.*

              —Leanne Simpson [1]

Beloved, she my daughter. She mine. See. She come back to me of her own free will and I don’t have to explain a thing.  —Toni Morrison [2]

We knew we would be confronting a constructed division between our communities and profession before we even got here. We already had questions to critique that construction, to deconstruct the idea of the university as a place of enlightenment. And as the years go by, as we return to our ancestral homelands to conduct research, those questions become stronger and also more difficult to parse. Today we feel even more compelled to refuse certain colonial practices of our discipline, but the “why” spirals deeper and deeper. How deep do we want to go? What do we give and take in the descent? What do we lose?

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Anthropology and the MacArthurs

The 2016 MacArthur Fellows were announced yesterday and — unlike some years — there were no anthropologists on the list. Established back in 1981, the grant was intended not to find “geniuses” (despite the fact that its nicknamed the genius grant) but rather “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary orginality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. This year no anthropologists made the cut, but this isn’t how it always goes. Continue reading

Childhood games: What would Margaret Mead say about screen time?

Last month, a New York Post article about video games being like “digital heroin” for kids caused a bit of an uproar. The article describes a young boy losing interest in reading and baseball in favor of Minecraft, increasingly throwing tantrums until late one night his mother finds him in a catatonic state. Many have refuted this article as based on suspect evidence and even as a plug for the author’s addiction recovery center, noting the human tendency to treat new technologies—especially those used by children—with hysteria. It’s just the latest in the “screen time” debates.

But beyond scaremongering, what does screen time and immersion in digital worlds actually mean in terms of child rearing? Continue reading

Decolonization as Care

This entry is part 15 of 16 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By Uzma Z. Rizvi

What happens to our praxis once we start from a place of acknowledging difference in our persons, our histories, our bodies, and our aesthetics? This text starts from a standpoint of curiosity, consideration, and mindfulness as we explore how, who and what we are, inform structures we create. The moment and place of knowing requires a certain slowness to enter into our thoughts, movements, and research, allowing for nuance and precision, for care and humility, and for an aesthetic of difference to incubate our praxis. Once we allow our work to breathe, to reflect, to sense difference, it transforms structures around it or structures created through it.[1] The act of research becomes praxis through which critical awareness of one’s own condition and the condition of others comes into high relief. One aspect of this praxis includes bodies co-producing the work. There are intricate processes that situate us between theory and practice as praxis, which must begin to take into account the many ways in which we are identified, the modes of address, our different bodies, and varied epistemologies.

Intersectionality allows us to occupy that praxis and standpoint critically.[2] It takes into account systems of oppression within the world that hold marginalized people in place (often at an inferior position) in multiple ways. It is not a new idea to acknowledge that our vectors of identity (race, class, ethnicity/gender/body, et cetera) inform how we experience and consider the world, but what is significant in intersectionality is that that place holding happens in different ways at different times and for different reasons. On the flip side, it also means that privilege manifests itself in similarly multifaceted forms. If, due to your body experience, you have never had to question how the world looks at your race/class/ethnicity/gender/body, or if that has never impacted the way the world identifies your research or work, you should know that that is a privileged experience. And that privilege or lack thereof, informs you and your praxis.

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Dialogical Anthropology in an Age of Controlled Equivocation

I’ve been thinking about Dennis Tedlock and reading Marisol de la Cadena’s Earth Beings at the same time lately. Much of Earth Beings is concerned with intimacy, translation, and understanding — both cross-cultural and inter-personal. It seems to me that Earth Beings isn’t alone in having this concern. Although I am hardly an expert in this literature, Viveiros’s ‘controlled equivocation’, Holbrad’s Truth in Motion and much other work in this vein is really about what it means to understand someone who is different than you. Although much of this work is branded ‘ontology’ at times I feel like its central concern is really epistemology.

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The deviant girl and feel-good feminism: Channeling Margaret Mead in Bangalore

In my field site of Bangalore, south India, I found support among young female professionals for feel-good feminism—that is, messages of female empowerment in pop culture that do not seek to shift the status quo much. This kind of feminism is often used by advertisers to appeal to female customers, as in this much-talked-about detergent ad in which a father belatedly realizes the bad example he set for his daughter by not helping with housework, or this recent Nike ad featuring female athleticism in India, where few women participate in sports. The idea here seems to be that a general female empowerment can allow (middle and upper-class) women to push the boundaries of gender norms ever so slightly.

But how much deviance from gender norms is really possible? Deviance is a word not used in contemporary anthropology very much anymore. It suggests a rigid norm that can be identified and described with a certainty few anthropologists would agree with now. It is also a term loaded with stigma. Who are the deviants? Continue reading

Seeing Culture Like a State

At this year’s Taiwan’s annual anthropology conference, the Taiwan group anthropology blog Guava Anthropology hosted a public event where blog members were invited to give five minute “lightning talks” on the topic of cultural policy. In May, Taiwan’s new Minister of Culture Cheng Li-chun 鄭麗君 announced plans to hold a national conference with the aim of establishing a “Basic Cultural Law” for Taiwan.1 These talks were to reflect on both the role of the government in shaping cultural policy and the role of anthropologists in shaping government policy. Below is the English version of the talk I gave in Chinese.2

The State must “see” culture

The central problem facing state cultural policies is the need to make culture visible to the state. After all, if the state can’t “see” culture, how can it regulate it? Post-war Taiwan saw tremendous changes in cultural policy: from promoting China-centric cultural nationalism to embracing multiculturalism. But whether it is mono-culturalism or multiculturalism, whether the state wants to suppress or encourage the development of local cultures, it must first be able to “see” them. Continue reading

ArXiv for anthropology: @SocArXiv + #AAA2016 = Open Access Strikes Back

Cliffs Notes version of this post: @SocArXiv is a Green Open Access digital repository that is currently being developed for the social sciences. I think this is a good thing. Let’s talk Open Access and publishing at #AAA2016. –R.A.

Back in May, fellow Savage Mind Chris Kelty wrote a post about Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN (aka the Social Science Research Network). The short version of the story is that this purchase is Not Good News, although some folks think it’s Worse News than others. Kelty’s primary argument was that SSRN users needn’t worry so much about their papers, and that DATA was the actual issue. Data, he wrote, is the real reason why Elsevier was attracted to the idea of getting their hands on the SSRN. This data is valuable, Kelty writes, because: Continue reading

Language, Power, and Pot: Speaking of Cannabis as Medicine

By: Elisa (EJ) Sobo

The US cannabis landscape is shifting quickly, and so is the way we talk about the plant and its uses. The push to end its prohibition has entailed a proliferation of stakeholder groups, each with its own labeling preferences. Interviews with Southern Californian parents using marijuana medically for children with intractable epilepsy (pharmaceutically uncontrolled seizures) taught me that what’s in a name matters—a lot. How it matters differs depending on who is talking, and what he or he seeks to accomplish when it comes to this plant and its products.

Cannabis—marijuana—has many medical applications, including for epilepsy. Parent interest in this rose sharply when CNN profiled its success with a child in Denver. However, little scientific research has been done with the plant (its legal classification makes that tricky), so doctors generally will not assist parents proactively in regard to its use. Word of mouth, online resources, and purveyor promises are often all that parents have to go by as they work out dosage and other aspects of their child’s cannabis regimen. My research explores how they manage this, which has implications for our understanding of how regular citizens contribute to biomedicine’s knowledge base and therapeutic tool kit. Findings also may be used to help improve service provision for these vulnerable families. Continue reading

Chicago’s “Trigger Warning” Letter Is very un-Chicago

Jay Ellison’s recent letter on trigger warnings made the rounds of social media late last week, and this week the story continues to circulate. It’s a topic that hits close to home for me. I have two degrees (MA and Ph.D.) from Chicago. As a student, I worked part time in the Social Sciences and Humanities division and full time in Physical Sciences, punching down cross connects in building basements and visiting faculty offices to explain what ‘the web’ was. I sang the Sunday service in Rockefeller chapel, was married at Hillel, and had the reception at Ida Noyes (long story). At one point when I was writing up my Ph.D., working part time, and serving as the Starr Lecturer in anthropology, I joked that I was student, staff, faculty, and alum — simultaneously. I’ve been told that my latest book is featured on the front table of the Seminary Coop. What could be more Chicago then that?

That said, there are many people more connected to the university than I am. I am just an alum. But I still feel connected to my alma mater. That’s why I’m writing this letter to argue that Ellison’s letter is on the wrong side of this issue in general, and in violation of our university’s long-held academic values in particular.

In some sense, Ellison’s letter has little to do with Chicago itself. A newcomer to the university, Ellison is a full-time administrator with no faculty appointment (as far as I can tell) and, worse of all, has a Ph.D. from Harvard: A light-weight, blue-blooded institution which all true Chicago grads recognize as far more concerned with maintaining its cultural capital than letting scientia crescat and vita excolatur (of course, it could be worse — he could be from Yale). Continue reading

“That” Moment of Clarity

Over dinner at a cozy beachfront restaurant in Florida, my dear friend from Costa Rica sadly talked about the devastating Orlando shooting that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others on a Latin theme night at the gay nightclub Pulse on June 12. As our conversation continued, she became more exasperated and eventually bewailed, “But these are my people!” For her, she went on, the heartbreak from the tragedy was the moment when she intensely felt her identity as a gay Latina for the first time. It was the moment she started to feel the strong impulse to stand up with other gay Latinx.

Another dear friend of mine Veronica Miranda, who started the organization “Coalition of Anthropology Students of Color” with me, once told me that it wasn’t until she left California for an anthropology graduate program in a staunchly conservative state when she became politicized. As she told me, “I never considered myself a person of color until I moved here and went to school here.” It was the moment when she came to the fuller sense of her identity as a Latina anthropologist. It was also the beginning of her advocacy for anthropology students of color.

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We’re Hiring a Social Media Intern!

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: SEPTEMBER 10, 2016.

We’re hiring! Are anthropology blogs and news part of your daily intake of internet media? Are you Twitter/Facebook/Instagram savvy? Then we’re looking for you!

Savage Minds is currently looking for a Social Media Intern.

The responsibilities of the Social Media Intern include sharing new and topical anthropology blog articles, anthropology-related and anthropology-relevant news articles, journal abstracts, memes, photos, etc. through our social media outlets (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), while maintaining a sort of social media voice or personality for Savage Minds (e.g. a sense of humor).

Ideally, the Social Media Intern already consumes of these sorts of media and has the spare time to fit in the sharing part. Undergraduates and recent graduates are highly encouraged to apply. (Speaking from experience, I did my internship with Savage Minds in my time between finishing my BA and starting my PhD.)

Unfortunately the job does not pay (money), but social capital is almost guaranteed (only valid with those that are impressed by an affiliation with Savage Minds). Savage Minds is willing to provide letters of recommendation after six months of service. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, after 12 months of service, the Social Media Intern has the opportunity to become a full-time writer for Savage Minds (which is what I did).

Applicants should email me (richard.powis@gmail.com) with a short paragraph about who you are and why you’re qualified, a recent CV, and links to your social media accounts.

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: SEPTEMBER 10, 2016.

Anthropology Students of Color

When I was an anthropology graduate student, I often found myself in an ambiguous place as someone who isn’t white. I swallowed my words, one too many times, about “race” issues in didactic discussions and any departmental occasions, because I felt that I wasn’t “colored” enough to express my disagreement with the rest of the mostly white room.

I knew I wasn’t white, but I knew I was “Asian,” as society has plentifully reminded me all along. I have belonged to this category ever since I came to the U.S. 20 years ago. Besides all the name-calling targeting Asians, I have received absurd treatments in public places. I was called “that,” as in “where did you get that?” which a random white dude asked my white male friend while pointing his finger at me. Restaurant servers sometimes seem to have difficulty approaching me, as they lock their eyes onto my husband (who is white) while taking our orders or explaining their specials. And let me just verify that I don’t I look spectacularly eccentric or weird to drive people away. But such incidents happen, as if I were some mute and visible oddity, because, let’s be honest, I do look Asian.

It’s not that I was pretending to be white and trying to work my way from the ambiguous place to whiteness, while sitting through those graduate school conversations about race. I was already aware that describing myself as “non-white” itself is deeply problematic because it conforms with the idea that “white” is the standard bearer of our social world. But my silence in the discussions of race for me was, in part, a product of the positioning of Asian Americans as the “least” oppressed in the racial hierarchy according to dominant discourses of race. Ironically, my voiceless existence would put me right back in the stereotypes of Asian women: quiet and subservient.

But I also suspect that my silence had something to do with graduate training in anthropology.

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Paul Friedrich, Dennis Tedlock, and Generational Change in Anthropology

(update: I incorrectly spelled  ‘Tedlock’ in the title of this post when it first went lived. This has now been corrected. Apologies.) 

It seems like I’ve been writing a lot of obituaries lately. Between Elizabeth Colson, Edie Turner, and Anthony Wallace and Raymond Smith, I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about the past. Now, in close succession, we have also lost Paul Friedrich and Dennis Tedlock. It’s sad to record these passings, but I take some consolation in the fact that the people we remember have been so productive and matter so much to the people who mourn them — the world is richer for them having been in it. But in remembering these two today, I also want to talk briefly about how our discipline is changing, and what these demographic shifts might signal for anthropology’s future.

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Rethinking Pedagogy of Race in Anthropology, Part 2

[Continuing from Part 1]

Thinking about my experience of teaching race, I feel that I fell short when it came to conveying to my students what “race” has meant historically, and how white America has produced various racial divides by weighing which group of color is better or worse than the others. I didn’t think about articulating the two seemingly conflicting facts about race – 1) the biological/genetic explanation of “racial” differences is unsound and thus should be rejected, at the same time; 2) we must not deny the social realities where people of color have lived with their “racial” categories/identities. Inevitably, when I say “we’re all Homo sapiens” to someone who doesn’t have a good grasp of racial history, what gets tossed out of the window are the differences among us humans, not to mention the long social processes through which powerful oppressors have assigned detrimental social meanings to these differences.

As late Sidney Mintz always asserted, the discipline of anthropology needs to be grounded in history. If anthropologists are to claim to be experts on race – and teach about it – I argue that they should also be able to teach larger histories of racism. After all, the collective experiences specific to different groups of color are different symptoms of the same problem. As Scot Nakagawa insists, for example, the liberation of African Americans is intimately tied with the liberation of all other people of color in the United States. Understanding larger racial histories can help us all see how these different symptoms have been created, not to mention how white supremacy has been produced within broader racial hierarchies. In this way, it can become unacceptable to be coy or disingenuous about the fact that white supremacy has been the law of the country, which also has shaped minds and perceptions about people of color. Understanding larger racial histories can help build solidarity among all people of color for anti-racism. We need more conversations, like “Building a Culture of Solidarity,” “Latino and Asian American Solidarity,” “How Multiracial Alliances Help End Discrimination,” and “How Black, Latino, and Muslim College Students Organized to Stop Trump’s Rally in Chicago.”

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