Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.
Since starting to work alongside an artist and a designer, I’ve become more aware of ethnographic practice inflected by art and design. There seems to be a growing number of institutional spaces, degree programs, courses, workshops and books devoted to exploring different combinations of art/design aesthetics and ethnography. While audience and aims vary, one can’t help but wonder what it means for there to be a kind mushrooming of art/design inflected methods and outputs (Design Anthropology, Anthropology Design, Design Ethnography, Sensory Ethnography to name a few and see for instance a last year’s ANTROPOLOGY + DESIGN series on Savage Minds). While visual anthropology has an extended history, and anthropologists have long been interested in the intersections of aesthetic and cultural production, is there something of a “visualisation of anthropology” (Grimshaw & Ravetz 2005) underway? Is an attention to art and design in anthropology ‘new’ or simply new to me? For those of us not designated as ‘visual’ anthropologists, are we being asked/invited/demanded to engage with different modalities for fieldwork and scholarly output?
I decided ask an expert. Keith M. Murphy is an anthropologist of design. His new book Swedish Design: An Ethnography is just that. It is a rich description and analysis of how everyday things (furniture, lighting) are made to mean through processes of design within the context of larger cultural flows. Like some of the iconic objects he describes, Keith’s writing is sharp, uncluttered and politically aware. Continue reading →
This is Part III of an interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works. Part I of the interview is here. Part II is here.
RA: And so, while Obama’s latest action does have some positive aspects, the underlying problems persist, right? This seems to be a long-running theme in US immigration policy: we end up with one partial solution after another, but the underlying problems are still there. Meanwhile, we have all of these migrants stuck in various liminal states — whether legal, social, political, or cultural. Sometimes this means prison. Sometimes it means they live the “shadowed lives” that Leo Chavez detailed years ago. Often it means many of these people live in incredibly marginalized conditions. Every election cycle, politicians on both sides often talk about the need to “fix” the immigration system, but that never seems to happen. It’s almost as if it’s this massive, unsolvable problem. What’s your take on this? Why are these problems with immigration so persistent? And, coming from this as an anthropologist — as opposed to an economist or political scientist — what can be done to move things forward?
RGM: The first thing to note is that immigration is not a “problem” for everyone. In fact, many people benefit not only from migration but also from the massive enforcement apparatus that has been built up around it. Continue reading →
This is Part II of an interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works. Part I of the interview is here.
Ryan Anderson: Earlier you made reference to the historically race-based nature of the U.S. immigration system. Race is an issue that many tend to avoid here in the U.S. — and this is definitely the case when it comes to immigration. Immigration debates often focus on crime, economics, competition over jobs, pressure on social services, taxes, and, of course, upholding the rule of law. It’s almost as if many people bend over backwards to deny that race has anything to do with our current policies. What’s this avoidance and denial all about?
Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz: I think that many people are unaware of the central role that race has played in shaping the U.S. immigration system. For example, the very first major citizenship policy in the U.S. limited citizenship to “free white men of good moral character,” while the first immigration policy, 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibited immigration of Chinese nationals. The first comprehensive immigration bill, passed in 1924, was designed to curb immigration of “filthy” and “unassimilable” Southern and Eastern Europeans, and Asians were deemed ineligible for lawful immigration and U.S. citizenship until 1952. It was not until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that overt racial biases in U.S. immigration policy were eliminated. Continue reading →
Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.
Ryan Anderson: For decades many of the debates about immigration in the US focus on legality. Politicians and pundits often speak in terms of following — and breaking — the law. But in your work you talk about the “illegalization” of migrant workers. What do you mean by this?
Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz: Migration is only “illegal” when laws prevent mobility. Historically, U.S. immigration policies have encouraged migration of workers deemed essential to the U.S. economy, a long-standing practice of labor importation punctuated by deportation and restrictionist campaigns in times of economic downturn. For example, Mexican migrant workers were imported to the United States by the millions in the mid-20th century to help fill labor shortages brought about by World War II and an expanding U.S. economy. Laws were created, negotiated, and adjusted to allow U.S. employers access to these workers; a contract worker program was instituted, and Mexicans and other Latin Americans were exempted from the quotas that limited immigration from elsewhere in the world at the time.
In the 1960s, the laws changed. An explicitly race-based U.S. immigration system was altered to prioritize family reunification, and Mexican workers became subject to numerical restriction for the first time ever. Over the next four decades, widespread demand for Mexican migrant labor persisted, while free trade policies undermined the ability of millions of Mexican farmers and workers to make a living in Mexico. Not surprisingly, numerical restrictions did not ultimately curb the migration of Mexicans to the U.S., but they did make it far more difficult for Mexicans and other Latin Americans to migrate legally. In this context, barriers to lawful immigration have produced unauthorized migration by “illegalizing” long-standing patterns of migration at a time when workers needed them most. Continue reading →
This is the second part of my interview with Karen Brodkin. Part I is here.
Ryan Anderson: All of this has me wondering how this is happening in US anthropology. As a discipline, we have this sort of pride that comes with our Boasian legacy of anti-racism. But your work seems to indicate that something is terribly amiss. Despite all of our rhetoric about anti-racism, it turns out we have some serious internal problems when it comes to race and diversity. In your view, how has this happened and why do we tell ourselves such a different story?
Karen Brodkin: In its institutional profile, anthropology is not much different from other white-majority institutions, and like them, we also think we’re doing better than especially non-white anthropologists think we are. I’ve used “white public space” to highlight the different views that white and racialized minority anthropologists have about anthropology’s racial climate. But knowing that only raises two more questions. What are the specific practices and narratives that have led anthropologists of color give the discipline’s racial climate low marks over some 40 years? And, what are the positive changes anthropologists have been making within their departments and scholarly networks? Both these efforts and conversations about them need a bigger public profile within the discipline. Continue reading →
“Rage. Tears. Grief. Rage.” These are the words of Kalaya’an Mendoza, Amnesty USA Senior Organizer. Kalaya’an was on the advance team supporting the work of Human Rights Observers in Ferguson since Michael Brown was shot in August. On the night of the no-indictment verdict in the Michael Brown shooting case (Monday, November 24), Kalaya’an and other members of the Amnesty staff wore bright yellow shirts that were clearly marked “Human Rights Observer.” Around 1:30 am, they were with community members and protestors in MoKaBe’s coffee shop when they were tear gassed by police. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Kalaya’an about the rage and tears and grief. And the rage. With gratitude and respect, our conversation: Continue reading →
The following is an interview with Karen Brodkin, Professor Emeritus in the UCLA anthropology Department.
Ryan Anderson: You co-wrote an article back in 2011 with Sandra Morgen and Janis Hutchinson about anthropology as “white public space” (AWPS). What’s your assessment of the state of anthropology three years later? If you could add an “update” to this article, what would it be?
Karen Brodkin: The short answer is that anthropology is still white public space, especially in the consistently different ways that white and racialized minority anthropologists see race and racism in anthropology departments and universities. This is my reading of results of the 2013 online survey of the AAA membership (more on that in a minute). What I’ll do here is summarize the findings of the article, and then survey findings that buttress, complicate or contradict them.
AWPS was based on a survey of about 100 anthropologists of color about how they experienced anthropology. We used “white public space,” to sum up attitudes and organizational patterns that told anthropologists of color that they and their ideas were not real anthropology.
The 2013 survey (referred to hereafter as TFRR) was developed by the Task force on Race and Racism appointed by AAA president Leith Mullings (full disclosure, Raymond Codrington and I were its co-chairs). More than 15% of the membership, 1500 people, mostly white, took it. Half were faculty. We reported findings to the AAA Exec Board June 2014. Continue reading →
Earlier this month I sat down with Eduardo Kohn to talk about his amazing book How Forests Think. We started out discussing his intellectual influences and ended up ranging widely over his book, the status of Peirce as a thinker, what ‘politics’ means, and a variety of other topics. Thanks to the hard work of our intern Angela, I’m proud to post a copy of our interview here. I really enjoyed talking to Eduardo, so I hope you enjoy reading it!
Wisconsin and the Amazon
RG: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk. I really enjoyed How Forests Think. When I started it I was a little on the skeptical side, but I ended up thinking it was a mind-blowing book. I thought we could begin by discussing the background for the book and your training. I see the book as mixing biology, science studies (especially Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour), and then some sort of semiotics. It seems like there are a lot of influences there. You got your PhD at Wisconsin, so how did that work out? Can you tell me a little about your background?
EK: The way I got into anthropology was through research, by which I mean fieldwork. And I was always trying to find ways to do more fieldwork. I saw Wisconsin as an extension of this. When I was in college I did some field research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I had a Fulbright to go back and do research after college, and only then did I go to grad school. Although How Forests Think aims to make a conceptual intervention in anthropology, I think of our field as a special vehicle for engaging intensely with a place in ways that make us over and help us think differently. Continue reading →
[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]
NICOLAS NOVA. design researcher. ethnographer.
ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.
The word “design” is problematic as it’s often related to furniture and glossy magazines at the local newsstand. And because this term is used in different fields, from engineering to management, you have different professions in which practitioners see themselves as “designers:” architects, engineers, people developing user interfaces for websites or video games, etc. A good way to approach design is to understand what “designers” do: they define the shape and the behavior of artifacts based on their understanding of potential users and the context in which they live or work. Said differently, they materialize “prospective futures.”
In order to speculate about near future possibilities, designers usually need to make their work relevant, useful, or believable by people. This is where the social sciences fit in. Knowledge and methods coming from anthropology–such as ethnography–are used and often repurposed by designers to help make different decisions over the course of a project. Observing people’s routines in a kitchen can inform the design of electric appliances, for instance. Interviewing users with a non-standard way of using their bike can also be curious and lead to new bicycle designs.
(This guest post comes from Ståle Wig. Ståle has recently completed a research based MA in Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, with a thesis on development workers in Lesotho. He is affiliated at the Center for Development and the Environment, and teaches a class in Science Outreach and Journalism at the University of Oslo.)
Not because I was unaccustomed to scholars arguing that we need to link the ethnographically visible to history and political economy – or, in Farmer’s words, “the interpretive project of modern anthropology to a historical understanding of the large scale social and economic structures in which affliction is embedded”. No, my class had already read Sidney Mintz. It was somewhat fascinating to read an anthropologist who at the same time was a doctor committed to heal the sick in his ethnographic surroundings. But that’s not really what got me, either. Continue reading →
Recently I Skyped with Tim Elfenbein, managing editor of Cultural Anthropology to talk about the journal’s transition to open access distribution. Elfenbein, 39, took over the position of managing editor in July 2013 after a stint as assistant managing editor in Duke University Press’s book division and switching from the UNC – Chapel Hill Anthropology program to Information Science. The first OA issue of Cultural Anthropology debuted earlier this month.
When did the SCA decide to go the open accessroute and what was motivating them?
Cultural Anthropology may have been one of the earlier AAA journals to start our own website. Kim and Mike Fortun were responsible for the initial site. They wanted to know what extra materials they could put up that would supplement the journal’s articles. I think that experience probably spurred the idea that there is some of this publishing stuff we can do ourselves. The Fortuns are also heavily involved in science and technology studies (STS), where discussions about open access have been occurring for a long time. When Anne Allison and Charlie Piot took over as editors of the journal, they continued to push for an open access alternative in our publishing program. The Crow report is what really spurred the AAA into action. Last year, the AAA decided to put out a call to all the sections to see if anyone would want their journal to go open access. The SCA formed a task force to evaluate the AAA’s proposal and the feasibility of shifting the journal. At the time, we were the only ones who put our hands up and I think it is probably because we were the only ones who had been already been seriously thinking about this. Continue reading →
This email-based interview with Karen Kelsky is part of the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Kelsky runs The Professor Is In, an academic career consulting business. She is a former tenured professor and department head with 15 years of experience teaching at the University of Oregon and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. You can find her on twitter here: @ProfessorIsIn
Ryan Anderson: How serious is the student debt problem?
Karen Kelsky: NSF data shows us that almost 50% of all Ph.D.s in the Humanities and Social Sciences are finishing with debt. In the Social Sciences, almost 10% of all Ph.D.s are finishing with over $90,000 debt. Over 13% have $50K-$90K. So almost a quarter of all Ph.D.s in the Social Sciences have more than $50K of debt just from graduate school alone, not including the debt carried forward from college.
In the Humanities, while only 6.8% have debt above $90K, almost 13% have $50K-$90K debt, and a whopping 33.2% have debt of $10K-$50K. Again, these figures do not include undergraduate debt, which is usually higher than grad school debt, since so many Ph.D. programs carry some form of funding.
I’m using NSF data here because it’s “scientific” and harder to deny than the entries on my informal and unscientific Ph.D. Debt Survey. But the Survey, an open source Googledoc spreadsheet that is now well over 2200 entries (and still open to more!) gives the human stories behind these numbers. Continue reading →
This past month, I interviewed Kirin Narayan over email, she in Australia and India, and me in the USA. Inspired not only by her writings, but also by an ethnographic writing workshop she led for faculty and students at the University of Colorado a couple years back, I wanted to share her insights and inspiration with Savage Minds readers and participants in our ongoing writing group. Below is our exchange. Enjoy, learn, write!
CM: One of the things so unique about your writing are the many genres and forms you write across: academic prose, fiction, memoir, creative non-fiction, writing about writing, storytelling, editing, books, articles, and so on. What has your writing path in anthropology been like? How much have you purposefully shaped what and how you wrote versus how much have embraced what invitations and opportunities have serendipitously come your way?
The folks at Allegra drew some attention on the Internet recently with their fish out of water story of visiting the AAA annual meetings in Chicago last year. I ran into the main authors of the site, Miia and Julie, in Chicago and was blown away ( ‘wilted under’ would be a better description) by their energy and enthusiasm. So what is Allegra? How does a website manage to be ‘deadly serious’ ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and ‘sexy’ all at the same time? How does it fit into the Internetoblogosphere? We sat down together for a (virtual) interview recently so they could tell me about their site.
Kristina Killgrove is a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida. Her research focuses on theorizing migration in antiquity and on understanding urban development and collapse through the analysis of human skeletal remains. She works primarily in the classical world, attempting to learn about the daily lives of the lower classes in Imperial Rome through osteological and biochemical analyses, but she has also worked on questions of population interaction in the contact-period southeastern U.S. and in Medieval Germany. A strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching help her bridge the sometimes large divide between classics and anthropology. For more about Killgrove’s work, check out her website or blog, email her (firstname.lastname@example.org), or follow her on twitter (@DrKillgrove).
Ryan Anderson: What brought you to anthropology? What made you choose this as your career?
Kristina Killgrove: I’ve written a bit in the past (originally as a response to a Savage Minds post on love letters for anthropology) about how I’m an “accidental anthropologist.” I never really set out to have a career in anthropology, as I honestly wasn’t entirely sure what anthropology was until maybe my third or fourth year in college. What eventually brought me to anthropology, though, was a dissatisfaction with the field I’d chosen to major in: classics.