Category Archives: Site News

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Now we are seven

This week Savage Minds turns seven years old.

It’s been a great, tumultuous seven years. Although regular readers may not know it, behind the scenes we at Savage Minds have contemplated closing down the blog numerous times, mostly because it is so much trouble to keep posting things to it. But blogging is a habit that’s hard to quit, and so we stumble on.

In this past year the blog has become weirdly hegemonic in anthropology, despite the large number of better things out there being written by other authors. I was talking to someone recently who was afraid they detected a lack of quality in ‘SM’s usual high standards’ and were worried the blog was going down hill. This, to me, indicated that they has not read anything from our first three years! While we soldier on the anthropological noosphere keeps getting bigger and better, filled with more journals, blogs, occasional papers, and social networks. Its gratifying.

Most gratifying for me, however, has been working with the other Minds on this site. I probably lay eyes on Kerim or Celty once every two years, and so I’m always amazed that when we do sit down together we find that we really have become close friends. Even if SM can’t take credit for the development of anthropology’s online community, it definitely has created — no kidding — friendships that are set to last a lifetime. I’m quite happy in our little silo, and I hope regular readers have enjoyed the past year as much as I have.

Thanks!

Just writing to send two quick thanks out to the anthropological blogosphere. First, on behalf of myself and all the other Minds here at SM I wanted to say thanks to all our readers for voting us their favorite anthropology blog for 2011. I understand that 75 votes may not be a totally representative sample of Teh Internetz, but it’s nice to receive the honor. We hope in future years we are totally blown out of the water by some of the other great anthropology blogs that have sprung up on line — it’s great to see the anthropological community grow.

Second, I wanted to thank Jason over at Anthropology Report for running the survey and for the bang-up job he’s been doing keeping us up to date with the goings-on of the blogosphere. No matter how many aggregators and algorithms you have, there is no substitute for a human filter, and anthropology has long needed a blogger who has made our online community his ‘beat’. Various people — us, Neuroanthropology, antropologi.info and so forth — have done this to some extent or another, but it’s never gotten the attention its deserved, so I’m very excited to see someone take this on. What I take to be Jason’s two beats — covering the blogosphere and connecting popular audiences to academic anthropology — are really valuable. He’s on my short list of feeds to read, so maybe he belongs on yours as well?

Once again, thanks everyone and here’s looking forward to a richly anthropological 2012.

Two Amazing Things

It just occurred to me that two amazing things happened in Ryan’s post about Wasting Away In Grantlandia. First, I find it sort of amazing that someone could write a post asking for advice how to apply for grants and then have the readership, which includes people who have actually doled grants out, offer advice. Maybe this happens regularly on other blogs in other fields, but I don’t remember seeing it before — especially in anthropology. Grantsmanship is usually the sort of thing discussed at secretive graduate seminars and even then grad students are given advice about how to apply, rather than being told what it is like to actually judge the damn things. I don’t know — it just struck me that this sort of instant, true feedback on the topic of grants is pretty unusual.

The second amazing thing is the same as the first: a grad student wrote a blog post and then tenured professors left comments in the margins. Usually this goes in reverse order: professors write books, articles, lectures, and so forth, and then the graduate students get to leave some feedback, if they are lucky. On SM, the grad students have a chance to be front and center

There are lots of websites on the Internet that do a better job of building community than Savage Minds, I’m sure, and we still have a long way to go to really do what we want the site to do. I just mention these two things to point out something that suddenly struck me as unusual and valuable about the site.

Success Stories

I write a lot about graduate school and graduate student life — mostly because I’m responsible for training graduate students myself, which has forced me to figure out… well… what to tell graduate students to do. As a result, my thinking out loud on the blog has mostly been for my own sake, as I try to present my best approximation of the advice that I’d like to give people and the state of my thoughts at the present moment. I was really, psyched, therefore, to get an email from an SM reader who I’d corresponded with briefly who had actually followed some of that advice and successfully gotten into a graduate school they really wanted to go to. Lordy — it works! It’s always nice to know that your online ruminations actually amount to a hill of beans, or at least take the form of a metaphorical bean which, along with others, presents a hill on which future anthropologists can climb climb climb until they reach that Ph.D. program in the sky. Of course it’s also nice to know when you’ve done something to totally screw people up as well. So just a reminder — if you find SM useful, feel free to let us know either via email or in comments.

Welcome Ryan (and Future Guest Bloggers)

Just a quick note to announce that Ryan Anderson, who recently guest blogged on Savage Minds, will be joining us full-time.

Welcome Ryan!

We will also be making some other changes here with regard to how we handle guest bloggers, hopefully making it easier to have more guest bloggers. Ryan will be the last one who gets a special introduction. Instead, you will see short bios at the bottom of all posts on the blog. (If you are looking at an individual post rather than the front page of the site you should see this below.) We also hope to have more former guest bloggers stick around like Zoë, popping in to do an occasional post now and then when the mood strikes them. Expect to see these changes rolled out over the summer. Of course, even as we open up to new voices, we intend to keep the same high standards. Know someone you’d like to see blogging on Savage Minds? Feel free to contact us, or leave a suggestion in the comments.

We want you to like us

On Facebook that is.

Eventually we might get around to adding “like” box to the website, but for now you can just go here. Liking us will allow you to keep up with both new posts and twitter posts via your Facebook account.

Welcome guest blogger Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is currently a third year cultural anthropology graduate student at the University of Kentucky. His dissertation research focuses on the politics and conflicts that pervade tourism development in Baja California Sur. Before anthropology, Ryan spent several years studying and practicing photography and working toward a career in the fine art world. Then he came to his senses and took up anthropology. After his initial training in archaeology (which is still ingrained in his thinking to this day), Ryan eventually found his way to cultural anthropology.

Ryan bloggs at Ethnografix and is behond the wonderful Anthropologies project.

For his guest posts on Savage Minds Ryan will focus on some of the relationships between anthropology and photography–methodological, political, theoretical, and otherwise. He writes:

I started off studying photography before I eventually gravitated to anthropology, and I am constantly looking for ways to bring the two together. In fact, that’s the long term plan. For my posts I would like to explore some of the issues with using photography in anthropological contexts.

Welcome Ryan!

Thanks Julian and a Note on Guestbloggers

Thanks to Julian, our recent guest-bloggger for a lovely series of thought-provoking posts!

We have two kinds of guest bloggers at Savage Minds, regular guest bloggers who are given their own accounts to do a series of posts on a “theme” over a two week period. Julian’s posts can be all be found here. A full list of all past and future Savage Minds authors can be found in the footer.

We also have “occasional contributors” who write single posts now and then, but who don’t have their own accounts. These posts are posted under the accounts of whomever on Savage Minds invited that person to post. (Like this recent entry by Jenny Cool, posted under Adam’s account.) These posts are all in the “occasional contributions” category. Sometimes we forget to add the category, so don’t hesitate to remind us!

Finally, the list of “full-time” Savage Minds authors is on our “authors” page, including links to their home pages. Many of us are also on Twitter, and you can see the full list by looking at who is being “followed” by the official Savage Minds Twitter feed.

Have a suggestion for a guest blogger? Let us know in the comments!

Welcome Guest Blogger Julian Brash

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to our new guest blogger, Julian Brash. Julian’s research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of anthropology, geography, and urban studies. His recent book, “Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City,” focuses on how Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s corporate and technocratic approach to urban governance fared in the contentious arena of New York City development politics. Julian is an assistant professor of Anthropology at Montclair State University.

While guest blogging at Savage Minds, Julian will discuss some or all of the following topics: his book, urban governance in the United States, urban imaginaries, the cultural politics of class, New York City, “studying up,” what the super-rich are up to when they become involved in politics and government, professionals and politics, interdisciplinarity, and what it means for a project to be “anthropological” (or not).

Welcome Simone Abram

Back-to-back guest blogging goodness here at Savage Minds this month. I’d like to tank Michael Powell for sparking lots of interesting discussion and, in the same breath, welcome our new guest blogger: Simone Abram.

Simone Abram is currently doing participant observation on employment practices in UK universities, but she’s not planning to write it up just now. She’d rather be thinking about houses, of various kinds, how they’re planned, built, occupied, decorated, heated, left vacant, shared, sold or inherited.

She has two books due for publication in 2011, a monograph currently called Culture and Planning and an volume edited with Gisa Weszkalnys called Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World.

She will be writing about houses, policies and governments, mostly in the UK but possibly elsewhere too. And about Anthropology, of course.

Patience

Please don’t e-mail us or post a comment letting us know that one of your comments is in moderation. At least not right away. We try to check the moderation queue as often as is humanely possible, and if it is there we will see it. Occasionally, something goes to the SPAM queue instead of the moderation queue, in which case we will miss it, but most of the time that’s not the case. Most of the time it is in the moderation queue and will be pushed to the blog as soon as we get around to checking it. Sending us unnecessary e-mail and comments only slows us down…

Gift economies suck (except ours)

First off: wow. A few angst-filled posts were all it took for this blog to come back to life with a series of great new posts (by great new members of the blog!) and rich thoughtful comments. Rumours of our death were greatly exaggerated. Congratulations and thanks everyone — be sure to pace yourselves as I hope this will turn into a beautiful glowing marathon of content rather than a brief multicoloured spasm of posts that ends suddenly full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. So: thanks!

Second, feedback on Adam’s recent post on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s typical-but-wrong misunderstanding of the Potlatch concept turned into a wider thread about how people imagine the Potlatch and gift economies.

I am sure that someone out there has written about the long history of this concept, beginning with its practice on the Northwest Coast by First Nations types amongst whom it still flourishes, continuing through early ethnographic reporting by Boas (and Mauss) and others, the disemmination of the idea through books and the display of truly beautiful masks and material culture in museums associated with it, its adoption in Frenchified surrealism/ethnological circles in the Interwar period, the eagerness with which countercultural babyboomer types seized on the concept as the caring-sharing inverse of capitalism, the way it exists in post-boomer subcultures of the Berkeley squat PKD RAW Loompanics variety, and was thus integrated into current internet/hacker antiglobalization adventure travel+social/multi media lifestyles. If they haven’t, they should, since it would be a great reference. Let me know. At any rate the point is just that these days most portrayals of Potlatch: The Concept Part Deux now circulates with an almost haughty disregard for what the event is and was.

Most of these concepts of potlatch are, to be frank, straight out of the Book of Acts, in which caring sharers and sharing carers unite in the name of uniting. In this version of potlatch, ubi caritas et amor, potlatch ibi est. Like the community of saints left behind by Jesus it is imagined as a utopian but fragile community, unable to sustain itself in the face of external pressures and the internal conflicts that come from trying to build a community of the righteous when the only materials to hand are the debased, unregenerate sinners who have populated the planet since Adam’s fall.

To be honest, I’ve always thought the gift/goods distinction has more to do with the national ideologies of newly independent nations as imbibed, processed, and expelled by visiting anthropologists than reality (this is particularly the case with PNG, where a lot of these ideas come from). At any rate, this tendency of the concept of potlatch to serve as a receptacle for standard average European fantasies of utopian communal solidarity doesn’t do justice to places where a large part of people’s lives are lived transacting goods with one another (i.e. ‘gift economies’).

My experience in rural Papua New Guinea, as well as what I’ve read about similar areas has been somewhat different. Egalitarian communities in which people share everything are often less than paradise. In a world in which everyone shares everything with everyone, people often feel a constant sense of surveillance. You can’t have Nice Things unless everyone else has them, and it is often quite depressing to watch food get distributed so that everyone has a bite, but no one more than that. Secrecy becomes a cultural theme, and people begin worrying about witches.

I don’t mean to demonize ‘gift economies’ by inverting their moral valuation, but I do want to emphasize that people who grew up in gift economies don’t mind getting out of them all that much. It can actually be tremendously rewarding to buy a honkin’ big piece of meat from someone who you will never meet again, take it back to your hotel room, and eat the entire thing by yourself, completely alone.

I think most readers of this blog are so used to living lives full of government and cash that they only see the downsides (which I admit are considerable). I think its worth reminding ourselves how nice it is to live in communities where firefighters will come to help you with a phonecall — and without mandatory participation at the fire house.

Of course, many attempts to build technofied or more complex gift economies will be different — Zuckerburg imagines a world where technology scaffolds social networks that would otherwise collapse under their own complexity, while others imagine various softwares that will reduce transaction costs so that specialization and generalized reciprocity can coexist. Obviously, I wish these projects well. At the same time, I feel that they may fall prey to one of the keenest insight of egalitarian gift economies: the keen bullshit detectors and frank evaluation of worth that comes from really, really highly valuing human dignity. A lot of people I’ve met in Papua New Guinea realize that the guy behind the desk making twice the salary of the guy cleaning the toilet is living a lifestyle that is exploitative and just plain wrong. We can tell ourselves that writing a fun iphone app for everyone to use is somehow equivalent to being a garbage man in such a way that a sufficiently complicated technical system could make the two equivalent in some sort of way. But I fear that a lot of the time such a hope is merely a way to mask the reality of continuing and entrenched inequality that exists in complex societies.

Welcome to the Party

After considerable discussion amongst ourselves, here is the deal about commenting on the blog:

We used to say that Savage Minds is not ‘an academic conference’ but rather the ‘bar at the conference’ — not formal and staid, but vigorous and lively while still being (perhaps being even more) substantive than the conference itself. We realize now that this metaphor no longer works for us. Savage Minds is not the bar at an academic conference. It is the party in the hotel room at 2 in the morning.

For those of you not familiar with this metaphor, let me explain: a major part of the American Anthropological Association annual meeting is not actually the papers, or the bar afterwards, but the parties that get held in the conference rooms of participants in the evening. Sometimes these parties are organized by department — someone from Columbia throws ‘the Columbia party’, someone from UCLA volunteers the ‘UCLA Party’ — but at other times it might be a particular association or special interest group.

To outsiders these parties seem like sad attempts of middle-aged people to recreate the uninspiring bacchanalia of their youth, but to sad, middle-aged academics they are riproaring fun: dozens of people crammed into small hotel rooms, bathtubs filled with ice filled with bottles of booze, animated talk, people jumping up and down on the bed. In fact things can get quite lively at times — I remember one party where a department chair, numbed into resigned silence, actually rented a second hotel room so he wouldn’t have to sleep in the same place where he hosted his department party.

We think that Savage Minds has now become a hotel room party. Just to make the metaphor perfectly clear this means:

This is our party: This blog is a private place. We have to clean it up and sleep in it afterwards, and the guys who rent us the server will make us pay if you break the furniture and steal the towels. If you are an angry drunk, or start hitting on people, or otherwise behave badly, we will ask you leave. If you don’t like it, get your own room/blog or stand on the street shouting, where you have a constitutional right (in the US at least!) to do so.

We’re Taking Responsibility: One of the things that shocked us about the comments on this blog were how many people described us as ‘moderators’ of the comments. We had never thought of ourselves as ‘moderators’ — we thought of ourselves as ‘authors’. We thought our guests could be moderate by themselves and at any rate we weren’t their mothers — or their super-egos. But apparently people want/need/already-consider us to be moderators. So we will be more involved in moderating comments.

Community Standards are Getting Thicker: One reason we did not feel right ‘moderating’ comments in the past was that we did not feel we should tell people what this blog should be. Many of the early comments on our site challenged what we wrote about and how we wrote about it: we were too male, too white, too privileged, too academic. Bleeding-heart liberals that we were, we welcomed a community that actively challenged who we — and anthropology — might be.

That has changed. You don’t need an invitation to a hotel room party, but you do need someone to tell you the room number. This blog has a more defined set of community standards now and we will moderate as a result of a thicker set of norms because we have a more definite sense of who we are.

To a certain extent, this decision is a post-facto recognition of the trend this blog has taken towards a more academic, less ‘public’ tone. Earlier minds like Oneman/Dustin who were big on writing articles about having great sex or whatever have fallen by the wayside, while the rest of us are five years on to academic careers where academic topics matter more and more and take more and more of our mental space. I think this is a great loss to the blog and would die to have, say a female indigenous anthropologist who does native title come on the blog, write three posts a day, and kick our asses. If you’re out there — let us know!

That said, you will be dismayed to hear that we pretty much have no hard and fast rules about what it takes to get moderated, or even what steps we are Ultimately Prepared To Take. Perhaps over time we’ll manage to make our expectations explicit. But now that we are officially enforcing our academic habitus we are assuming this stuff goes without saying because it comes without saying.

In the future, thought, if you find us asking you politely to moderate your tone, or quietly suggesting that you’re shouting, please consider becoming more ‘moderate’.

We’re Not Voting Anyone Off The Island. Yet. : Several commentors suggested that we more actively ban people from the website — and a few even had a short list they wanted us to take a look at. We thought long and hard about this, but ultimately decided to take the high road.

The Panic Button Works, We Promise: We have installed a plugin that allows users to flag comments that they believe are Pure Concentrated Evil. Please note: the button works, but it doesn’t currently tell you that it worked. Trust us, it does. This is really meant to be used in cases where you think something absolutely needs our attention. Please don’t use it to express mild concern with someone or as a secret way to send us little messages — we won’t reply to feedback through the panic button. We will only reply to panic through the panic button. Please refrain from using it unless you are sure you are facing Pure Concentrated Evil.

I think that’s all: More involvement, and active but by-degrees-arbitrary enforcement. We got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and we aim to keep it nice and quiet. So… let’s get this party started, play safe, and have fun. Thanks!

Advisory Board, Author List & Comment Flagging

Over the last five years numerous people have written for Savage Minds, either as full time members of our blog, or as guest or occasional bloggers. As a result it has sometimes been hard to figure out just who, exactly, is Savage Minds? We’ve liked to keep things ambiguous in the hopes that former bloggers would come back and write for us again, but this summer we had a better idea: Why not turn our roster of former bloggers into an ad hoc “advisory board,” like what you’d find on an academic journal, to which we could turn for advice, recommendation for new bloggers, etc.? We asked our former guest bloggers and alumni, and many of them happily signed up. As a result, if you now click on the Savage Minds “authors” page, you will see a list of our esteemed advisory board members. Thanks to all of them for participating in this experiment!

You will also see that where we used to have separate pages for “guest bloggers” and “Savage Minds alumni” we’ve now simply added a list of all Savage Minds authors to the foot of the page. This is a full list of everyone who has posted at least one blog post on Savage Minds. Clicking their name will bring up an archive page for their posts. (You can do the same by clicking on the name of the author when reading an individual blog post.) In some cases we post on behalf of a contributor who does not wish to create their own account. These “occasional contributions” have their own archive page.

Finally, in response to your feedback on how we handle comments, we’ve added a “report comment” button on every comment. This will allow users to flag particularly offensive comments directly, alerting the Savage Minds moderators of the violation. Hopefully this will help us more proactively respond to some of the worst abuses.

As always, if you don’t see all the changes immediately, be patient. We use some page-caching technology to ease our server load and sometimes it takes a while for site-changes to appear.

UPDATE: Initial tests show that the comment reporting feature is working. However, it does not properly let you know that the report has been sent successfully. We are looking into that, but our technical skills are limited, so please be assured that it is working even though it doesn’t display a confirmation message.