Category Archives: Blog post

It’s Open Access Week!

It’s Open Access Week! This week the Internetz celebrates and affirms our scholarly ideals of openness: the right of readers to know, of authors to be known, and for our research to be reused to keep the Knowing More And Knowing Better train rolling right along.

Anthropology, like much of the social sciences, has a more complicated view of openness than some other disciplines. We recognize the culturally-specific nature of our ideals. We also recognize that a commitment to openness doesn’t mean we have the right to compromise the privacy of the people we study and learn from. Indeed, open access is deeply to the ethics our fieldwork, because it is important that we openly share our research with the people who made it possible, whether that be in original, peer-reviewed form and in other, more accessible forms. Indeed, openness means trying to produce, as much as possible, scholarly work that a broad audience can find readable. Openness means, in other words, lowering the bullshit quotient as much as possible.

My personal goal this week is to do an entry a day on Open Access related issues to help celebrate this week. I will almost certainly fail. But let’s see how I do. And more importantly — let’s see what other great open access projects are our there this year!

Mourning, survival and time: Writing through crisis

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Adia Benton as part of our Writer’s Workshop seriesAdia is an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University. She has worked in and studied the fields of development and global health since 2000, and is a contributor to Cultural Anthropology’s recent special issue on Ebola in Perspective. Her book HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in 2015).

“Everyone identifies with the survivor.” The man, whose name I have yet to learn, wore a sage-colored newsboy cap. We were sitting next to each other at my neighborhood café. A half-hour before, he was several feet away, sketching, occasionally eyeing my copy of The Wretched of the Earth. “Pardon me,” he said, as he approached my table. “I couldn’t help but notice that you’re reading…” Within minutes, our conversation about radical anti-imperialist writing and secret societies had devolved into a meditation on how humans cope with tragic and sudden death.

“Everyone identifies with the survivor,” he repeated, as he adjusted his sketchpad in his lap.

“I don’t,” I said. Continue reading

New App City

Over the next four weeks Sam Collins and Matthew Durington are posting a series of writings that are theoretical and activity extensions based on their recently published book Networked Anthropology (Routledge).

The Man of the Crowd–Android Version

Collins downloads a free app from the Chongno District Government in Seoul, “Chongno Alleys” (종로 골목길).  The app is an extension of the Chongno tour series (of the same name), each course highlighting lesser known places of interest in Chongno, the central district in Seoul that is home to the lion’s share of Seoul’s national treasures, including palaces, countless museums and architectural landmarks.  But these tours are different.  Developed with neighborhood residents and community groups, these alley courses highlight significant places that are generally overlooked by large crowds of tourists.  It is targeted specifically at Korean tourists (that is, the app is only in Korean).  The app (which appears to have been released in 2011-2012) transforms 9 of the alley tours into a mobile experience using mapping, GPS and gamification.

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Today is Indigenous Peoples Day

Today we celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, to remember and celebrate the heritage of indigenous people everywhere. There is a lot to say about IDP: is it too American? Does it elide the particularity of the American Indian experience? Is Dora The Conquistadora, perhaps, a bridge too far? And of course, there’s always this frequently-retweeted little morsel:

I don’t have a lot of insight at the moment into what IDP means of should mean. Since I feel that SM should mark this day, I will punt the ball with a random list of Indigenous Anthropologists (you’ll notice I’m biased towards the Pacific) who I’ve learned from over the years, and suggest you celebrate IDP today by making it a point to read something by them this week. So without further ado:

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Ethnographic Fiction: The Space Between

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to post this essay by guest author Roxanne Varzi as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Roxanne is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. She is author of Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran (Duke University Press, 2006). Her ethnographic research in Iran spans multiple genres, from the ethnographic monograph to ethnographic fiction to the film Plastic Flowers Never Die (2008) and on to the sound installation Whole World Blind (2011). Her current research is on Iranian theater.)

Fiction, for me, like ethnography, has always melded with a deep desire to understand and explain the world around me. As an eight-year old in Iran I wrote stories to either escape or explain the Revolution that had turned my country into an Islamic Republic and had turned my single identity as a dorageh, or two-veined Iranian, into half-American, half-Iranian, forcing me to either choose one identity or to stay in-between. Writing helped me to make sense of the in-between, to make sense of my new life while holding on to the one that was already becoming a dream — unreal.

The past was a place where “Bombs were flying through the air, the sky was ablaze, there was no night.” My American high school teacher read this opening of one of my stories and said, “Write what you know.” She smiled at me and told me to try again. I explained that I had seen bombs and that the sky was ablaze and night or not I couldn’t sleep for days as a child because I was so scared about what was happening in the streets. At least that’s how I remembered it.   I came to see early on that we cannot fully replicate reality—even and especially in ethnography—in film, text or sound (the mediums I work in), nor is fiction purely a figment of its writer’s imagination. Was I writing fiction or ethnography and did the distinction really matter? Continue reading

A Networked Anthropology

Students capturing media in Baltimore for their Networked Anthropology
Students capturing media in Baltimore for their Networked Anthropology

A Networked Anthropology

“Networked Anthropology” is suspended between a theoretical and methodological program, on the one hand, and a critique and engagement with the network society we’re enmeshed within, on the other.  How can we possibly justify using social media in our applied anthropology?  And how can we afford not to?  Our book, “Networked Anthropology,” lays out the the premises of this ongoing inquiry, contextualizing it within a public, media anthropology.  But the promise and the problems of a networked anthropology hardly end there; each new wrinkle in our socially networked lives suggests new problems for anthropology–and for any scholarly inquiry that purports to engage communities of people.

(Over the next four weeks Sam Collins and Matthew Durington will post blogs related to social media, mobile applications in anthropological research and the idea of a Networked Anthropology…post 1 of 4  below is an excerpt from their recent book.)

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HAU and the Malinowski Monographs: An Interview with Giovanni da Col

I recently sat down (virtually) with Giovanni da Col, the founder and editor-in-chief of HAU, to talk about the latest developments surrounding open access and HAU’s new monograph series, the “Malinowski Monographs”. Here’s what went down. (transparency: I’m on the editorial board of the journal HAU)

AG: Recently HAU unveiled a new partnership with the University of Chicago Press. It sounds like there are two parts to this: first, HAU’s existing open access books will be available for purchase in paper. Second, you will be publishing “The Malinowski Monographs,” which is a new line of books. Is that right?

GdC: Over the past three years, HAU has grown far beyond its initial ambition (and successful achievement) of being a world-class, open access journal in anthropology. In 2013, we become formally a Learned Society: The Society for Ethnographic Theory, which publishes HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, and now HAU Books (founded in 2014). With support from our sponsors (such as ISRF) and partners in the HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory (HAU-N.E.T.), HAU has become the first full-fledged open access press in anthropology, with current and future initiatives in both publishing and digital anthropology expanding on an ongoing basis.  Continue reading

Writing to be Read

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Mary Murrell as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Mary is a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She received her Ph.D. in 2012 from the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently writing a book about books entitled The Open Book: The Entanglements of Digitization. Formerly, she was the acquisitions editor for anthropology at Princeton University Press.)

In the midst of my fieldwork into the “future of books,” I encountered an equally familiar and unfamiliar character: the academic author. Certainly, I knew a thing or two about such a figure. During my many years as an acquisitions editor at a university press, I had published an awful lot of them, and, as a graduate student doing dissertation fieldwork, I was in preparation to become one myself. As they say, some of my best friends are academic authors! Yet, at the same time, this new academic author, this ethnographic datum before me, was curiously distinct.

The context was the proposed conclusion to litigation over Google’s book digitization program, announced in 2004 and quickly the object of legal dispute. In 2005, author and publisher trade groups had banded together into only large class-action lawsuit, charging Google with massive copyright infringement. For two years, author and publisher representatives negotiated and, in late 2008, they revealed a settlement that resolved their differences. Their plan was essentially to turn Google’s database of digitized books into a commercial product sold by subscription to libraries. This way there would be money for everybody: authors, publishers, and Google—in what was called a “win-win-win.” Despite their confident sense of achievement, opposition to the settlement slowly grew, from expected and unexpected quarters until, in February 2011, the judge in the case finally rejected it. Despite its defeat, the maelstrom it put into motion was productive, and one just product was the “academic author.” Continue reading

OA anthropology, at a glance

I’m starting a research project on open access publishing in anthropology, specifically on the kinds of metadata different venues use to make their material findable by users. Along the way I’ve collected a running list of English language titles of interest to cultural anthropologists. The original list was started by anthropologi.info but it had a number of broken links and also included moribund journals I am excluding from my research. The anthropologi.info link also lists a number of multilingual journals that I haven’t gotten to yet but am working on currently.

In the meantime, check these out. The following titles have been updated at least once since 2013. Parenthetical notes are included to describe the titles if necessary.

Anthropology for a General Audience

American Ethnography
Journal of Indigenous research
PopAnth
Radical Anthropology

Anthropology for Scholars

Africa Spectrum (politics and economics)
Africa Studies Quarterly
Anthropoetics: Journal of Generative Anthropology (humanism)
Anthropological Notebooks
Anthropology & Aging
Anthropology of This Century
Anthropology Matters (student journal)
Anthropology of East Europe Review
Asian Ethnology
Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology
Cultural Anthropology
Dhaulagiri Journal of Sociology and Anthropology (Nepal)
Durham Anthropology Journal
Global Ethnographic
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
Himalayan Journal of Sociology and Anthropology
Imponderabilia (student journal)
Irish Journal of Anthropology
Journal of Anthropological Society of Oxford
Journal of Business Anthropology
Museum Anthropology Review
NatureCulture (STS)
Nordic Journal of African Studies (language and literature)
Omertaa (applied anthropology)
Paranthropology (paranormal studies)
Structure and Dynamics (quantitative studies)
The Unfamiliar (student journal)
Vis-à-vis: Explorations in Anthropology (student journal)
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University of Chicago ‘suspends’ its Confucius Institute

While the Internet has been aglow with hype about new social media network Ello, another story has been the rounds and deserves special note here: The University of Chicago will not renew the Confucius Institute that is operating in its Hyde Park campus.

The Economist has a piece on Chicago’s about-face which is a good summary  of the issue, and Inside Higher Ed has an even longer piece on the topic. Basically, many academics at the university felt that the Confucius Institute, a cultural outreach center with roots in the Chinese government, went beyond the role played by other cultural institutions such as the Germany’s Goethe Institut and France’s Alliance Française — specifically, they worried that the Institute’s presence interfered with free speech and open debate about the actions of China and its government.

What does this have to do with anthropology, other than the fact that it is part of our global, cross-cultural world? The answer is that much of the opposition to the Institute came largely from well-known anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, who wrote about the problems of the Institute at The Nation as well as here at Savage Minds. Furthermore, given Chicago’s national status, this decision will probably make other universities think seriously about their own relationship with the Confucius Institute program.

There are several important points that remain clear now: Was it pressure from faculty or from China that led to the UC’s administration to suspend the center? Just how final is this ‘suspension’? Whatever the answer to these questions eventually turns out to be, its gratifying to see that, for the time being, the university is acting in accordance with its core values, and that anthropologists have played an important role in this process.

In Dialogue: Ethnographic Writing and Listening

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Marnie Thomson as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Marnie is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado currently finishing her dissertation “Solutions and Dissolutions: Humanitarian Governance, Congolese Refugees, and Memories of a Neglected Conflict.” Her research focuses on refugee experiences of violence and dislocation to reveal the politics of humanitarian intervention in both Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is the author of “Black Boxes of Bureaucracy: Transparency and Opacity in the Resettlement Process for Congolese Refugees” (PoLAR, 2012), and was the winner of the first SfAA Human Rights Defender Award.) 

“How do we write anthropology in a way that does justice to the stories we tell?” It weighs on me, this question. There it is, staring at me from the introduction to this Writers’ Workshop series. It is the question that paralyzes me when I sit down to write. Sometimes it prevents me from even making it into the chair. How can I portray the complexities of the stories people have shared with me?

I have convinced myself that I am a better listener, a better researcher, than I am a writer. I have been cultivating this research persona since 2008, when I first visited my primary fieldsite, a UN camp for Congolese refugees. I have spent years listening and dutifully recording what I heard. Yes, I was an academic writer long before that first trip but now it feels different. I have never written a dissertation before. I have never had to distill so many personal and cultural details into a document that will do justice to the many stories I have collected. Continue reading

Finding Your Way

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the Fall 2014 Writer’s Workshop series.

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Paul Stoller as part of our Writer’s Workshop series. Paul is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He is the renowned author of innumerable articles and eleven books ranging from ethnography to memoir to biography, and is also a regular Huffington Post blogger on anthropology, Africa, higher education, politics, and more. In 2013, he received the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology from the King of Sweden. His newest book Yaya’s Story: The Quest for Well-being in the World will be out in October from the University of Chicago Press.) 

For the Songhay people of Niger and Mali life is a series of paths that end and then fork off in two new directions. At these forks in the road the traveler must choose her or his direction, destination, and fate. My choices, many of which were shaped by forces beyond my control, miraculously led me to two mentors: the late Jean Rouch, French filmmaker extraordinaire, and the late Adamu Jenitongo, a profoundly wise sorcerer-philosopher among the Songhay people. Both of these men loved to tell stories, the life source of their science and their art. They never told me how to tell a story; rather, they asked me to sit with them, walk with them, and laugh with them. In this way, they said, I would find my own way in the world and my own way to tell stories. They both believed that the story, in whatever form it might take, is a powerful way to transmit complex knowledge from one generation to the next. Like Milan Kundera in his magisterial The Art of the Novel, they believed that the evocative force of narrative could capture truths far beyond the scope of any philosophical discourse. Continue reading

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Economy Such Complex, Culture Much Simple

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken

In a recent blog post, Paul Krugman argues that economists and policy makers have deliberately mystified the current economic situation for political reasons and that the solution to our current woes is actually very simple: we need more government spending to boost demand. He plays off the above Mencken epigram, saying “For every simple problem there is an answer that is murky, complex, and wrong.”

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Joan Rivers was not an anthropologist

When Joan Rivers passed away yesterday, the world paid far more attention than most people might have expected. A veteran of… well, pretty much everything, Rivers was someone who many more people took seriously than anyone expected. But anthropologists in particular were surprised and pleased (at least in my case) to discover that she had an undergraduate degree — and from Barnard no less, the mothership of American Cultural Anthropology. But, sadly, it is probably not true.

At the moment, the current wikipedia entry as earning “a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and anthropology”. So if Wikipedia says it it must be true? Hmmm…

Wikipedia lists three citations for this assertion: Rivers’ New York Times obit, her (superbly named) memoir Enter Talking, and a Washington Post obit. In fact, the Times obit gives her major as English. This morning when I checked it the WaPo obit listed her major as anthropology, but now that has been removed for some reason and her major is not specified. In Enter Talking (which Wikipedia cites without a page number, tsk tsk) what Rivers actually says is: “I was an English literature major” (that’s page 55 of the 1986, NYC, Delacorte press edition).

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The Private Lives of Anthropologists: A Review of Lily King’s Euphoria

[This is an invited post by Paul Shankman, professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado. Paul is an anthropologist of Samoa, and author of numerous articles about Margaret Mead and the Mead-Freeman controversy including The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009, and reviewed here on Savage Minds).]

 A review of Euphoria by Lily King. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press (2014).

The last time Margaret Mead appeared as a character in a best-selling novel was over fifty years ago. In Irving Wallace’s The Three Sirens (1963), Dr. Maud Hayden (the Mead stand-in) finds her world turned upside down by the discovery of a Polynesian island where, as America’s foremost anthropologist, she leads a team of researchers who encounter “people from a simpler, happier society, free from the inhibitions and tensions of the 20th century.” The novel’s dust jacket informs us that the culture of the island is “a shocking assault, a challenge to their most cherished beliefs about love, sex, marriage, child rearing, and justice.” So profound is this encounter that the researchers end up studying their own desires, fears, and passions. Of course, this trashy potboiler had no redeeming social value, but interest in the Mead character, the tension between a repressive West and a permissive Polynesia, and the interplay between professional fieldwork and private lives attracted many avid readers. Continue reading