Savage Minds Notes and Queries in Anthropology Thu, 03 Sep 2015 02:53:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Anthropologies #21: Agricultural Adaptations and their Socio-Political Parameters: Social Responses to Climate Change in Ghana and South Sudan Thu, 03 Sep 2015 02:53:09 +0000 Continue reading Anthropologies #21: Agricultural Adaptations and their Socio-Political Parameters: Social Responses to Climate Change in Ghana and South Sudan ]]> The next installment for the anthropologies issue on climate change comes from Douglas La Rose. La Rose is the regional coordinator for the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), a humanitarian organization operating in Northern Bahr al Gazal, Western Bahr al Gazal, and Warrap States in South Sudan. He has previously worked on food security and livelihoods interventions and research projects in Ghana, the Solomon Islands, and Ethiopia. He has a Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology and lives with his wife and two children on their family farm in the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa.


Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable people in the world. In the sprawling global region where I have been working over the past decade, Western and Eastern Africa, it is even more biased against the fortunes of people struggling against parching droughts and sweeping floods. The ways that communities respond to these climate extremes are disparate and not established, but certain variables such as conflict and strong political social institutions have a profound influence on the suite within which communities can situate their responses. Communities that live in conflict zones often don’t have the ability to adapt to climate extremes, while communities facing similar problems in relatively peaceful areas with stability and stronger social and political institutions can take certain risks that increase their resilience and adaptability.

I began my research on climate change adaptations in 2009 in Ghana. I found farmers in the forest-savannah transition area of the Volta Region redundantly planting cassava and adopting agricultural practices from their northern neighbors in the savannah to adapt to an environment transitioning from lush rainforest to a grassland Sahelian environment characterized by fluctuations between desiccation and oversaturation (La Rose 2011). From there, I began working with farmers in South Sudan in facilitating and supporting their own adaptations to climate change. In both instances, the weather fluctuations and unpredictable transitions into the rainy season that I had come to learn so much about in Ghana surfaced to challenge farmers.

In both countries, a similar cycle of agricultural uncertainty prevailed: timely land preparation, early light showers, optimistic and appropriate planting, and then a cruel wait for the rainy season followed by the death of seeds and need for replanting. Though the narratives were couched in different interpretations and embedded worldviews, the overall hydrological pattern was the same. Social institutions and embedded worldviews were metamorphosed by the cracking clay of the dry season stretching endlessly into sudden temperamental rainy seasons of battering storms and engulfing floods. Environmental perturbations were challenging, refining, and broadening agricultural practices. Resilient crops and mixed agricultural practices buffered against the vulnerability that intensive cultivation of cereals created. In Ghana, I found farmers trading the economics of mono-cropped cereals for the security of crop diversification and the intensification of food and drought tolerant crops like cassava, sweet potatoes, and other less marketable crops.

In South Sudan, the negative impacts of climate change are exacerbated by other social upheavals. These social upheavals are often the result of climate change or other social and cultural tensions piggy-backing onto the historical currents which define nations’ and ethnic groups’ current anxieties. In areas consumed by conflict, climate change deepens the hunger of displaced peoples and routs the attempts by rural, sedentary farmers to produce enough food to buttress some form of local or domestic food security. In these contexts, the option to adapt to climate extremes is replaced by the need for external assistance, displacement, or a combination of the two.

In the following, I will discuss the ways climate change is impacting dissimilar ecological, social, and cultural contexts and the way people are or aren’t adapting to the challenges that it presents. In the case of Ghana, I argue that the relative peace and prosperity of the country and a supportive political and economic system allow farmers to adapt to environmental changes using local, imported, and hybridized environmental knowledge. In South Sudan, the civil war that has engulfed the country since 2013 has limited the options of agriculturalists and pastoralists and plunged both rural and urban households into deep food insecurity. Working in South Sudan from December 2014 to the present, my experiences with farmers have transformed my understandings of the resilience that rural farmers have towards adapting to climate change. Even communities who have adapted to climate extremes and disasters through the deployment of traditional and hybridized knowledges are unable to deal with environmental fluctuations when there are no social and economic support systems or military or non-military organizations to protect them from violence. In fact, conflict fuels and is fueled by climate change in South Sudan. People who can’t cultivate their land or secure their livestock become internally displaced and a) face hunger from being divorced from food production and b) indirectly cause hunger by not generating food within the local economy.


Ghana is one of the most iconic nation states in sub-Saharan Africa. Africans all across the continent gaze towards Ghana as an example for their own political and economic development. It is reputable for having a robust liberal democracy characterized by free and fair elections, an economy that has mostly seen consistent growth for three decades, and a highly skilled population that is transforming the country and the continent to meet locally identified needs with African solutions. In the 1960s, Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah led an ambitious newly-independent country with his ideology of pan-Africanism – the desire for a self-reliant African continent that looked inward for solutions and shook off colonial ties and economic exploitation by Western powers.

This ideology predicted and promoted a “United States of Africa” which would take the form of an African federation of states. Elements of isolationism within pan-Africanist ideology eventually ceded to a more globalized perspective wherein African nation-states held on to sovereignty and the politics of patronage within fragmented political institutions, ethnic loyalties, and nationalisms. Both ideological systems were undercut when the Cold War kicked-off proxy wars throughout the continent, including the deposition of Kwame Nkrumah himself in a CIA-backed coup following his warming to the Soviet Union. After decades of coups and countercoups, Ghana emerged from the ashes in the mid-1990s with a liberal democracy that led the country on an exponential growth curve from economic deterioration to applauded heights. The economic recession over the past decade has hit Ghana hard, spurring inflation and setbacks in the struggle against poverty. However, Ghana has maintained its robust political system and is undoubtedly still the beacon of liberal democracy in sub-Saharan Africa.

The less told story is the one of climate change and agricultural transformation in rural Ghana. Taking all variables into account, the fact that Ghana has become less agriculturally productive over the past decade is a testament to the country’s struggle against climate change (FAO 2015). This can be seen in macro level analyses of the agricultural economy as well as embedded anthropological perspectives at the community level. There have been valiant efforts by the government of Ghana and international organizations to reverse this trend, but these efforts have, at best, stalled the deterioration of agricultural production. An increased focus on chemical fertilizers has not led to a marked improvement in the yields of cereal crops.

The research I undertook between 2009 and 2011 in a rural farming community in the Volta Region of Ghana demonstrated that farmers are embracing crop diversification, agricultural strategies from their northern neighbors in the savanna, and the redundancy of crops such as cassava and plantains in place of more valuable cereal crops as a means of adapting to climate change (La Rose 2011). Cassava in particular emerged prominently among farmers’ narratives about climate change and their adaptability strategies. Farmers talked of their increased reliance on cassava as, according to them, the last crop available once all of the other crops had withered away. As Vivian Kesee, a peasant farmer in her late 40s who had increased her cassava production as a result of lower maize yields and closer brushes with hunger explained to me, “I plant a lot of cassava because it will not fail me, it will not deceive me” (Kesee, Personal interview, August 15, 2010). Plantains and bananas also figured prominently in their narratives about climate change adaptation. According to the data I collected, 88% of farmers grew cassava in 2010 compared to 30% in the 1990s. While most farmers still maintained plots of maize for income-generation, they had reduced the amount of land they grew maize on by 70% over the past twenty years, and they had almost completely abandoned mono-cultural systems of maize production. Only wealthy farmers and people who had secondary agricultural investments practiced intensive maize cultivation and were secured by access to chemical fertilizers.

Innovative farmers and early adopters in the community had started implementing agricultural practices more common in northern Ghana, particularly on marginal lands. Whereas the methods of intensive cereal cultivation and agroforestry had begun to shrink their yields, farmers picked up hoes and tilling tools and started to cultivate the land in rows and ridges. They planted more beans and yams – crops that weren’t cultivated in the area until recently – and started building live fences out of cassava and maintaining small “reserve plots” with scattered crops consisting mostly of cassava and plantains. Gone were the multi-story farms crowned by tropical hardwoods and cocoa trees. They were replaced by low-lying meticulously intercropped pulses, cereals, and tubers that were fenced in by live fences.

Even on satellite photographs, one can see the chess-board pattern which is emerging along the forest-savanna transition zone. One element of the pattern demonstrates farmers sticking with more traditional cultivation practices and the other shows farmers who are adopting new strategies in response to climate change. These practices aren’t just being deployed by farmers at the local level, they are also producing a feedback mechanism which is inspiring the government to support this transition. Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) extension workers travel to communities throughout the district supporting farmers that shift to these methods with technical expertise and government incentives.

South Sudan

The immediate impacts of climate change look far different for farmers in Ghana than South Sudan. Since December 2013, South Sudan has been mired in a violent civil war that has split the country into multiple factions. The government of South Sudan has focused its energy on defeating the opposition rebel group, and thus neglecting services for farmers and other actors in the broader local economy. While NGOs and donors try to fill in the gap, the lack of a political solution often undermines their efforts to aid farmers and pastoralists throughout the country. The food production system is thus undermined by both insecurity as well as unprecedented droughts and floods. Where in Ghana the government might work with international organizations to find solutions to changing environments and fluctuating food production, in South Sudan farmers are essentially left on their own to battle climate change with no safety nets. As a result, more than 5 million people face hunger and starvation. In addition, the 2.5 million people who have been internally displaced as of July 2015 are thus a mosaic of peoples displaced by civil war and agriculturalists and pastoralists displaced by their politically induced inability to adapt to an unpredictable environment.

Farmers in South Sudan are eager to take up agricultural adaptability strategies. In communities I have worked with in Warrap State in northern South Sudan, farmers are cultivating vegetable plots along extensive snaking rivers and using treadle pumps to irrigate them. Farmers are learning the merits of tilling their land and row planting sorghum and groundnuts, shifting the crops each season to maintain soil fertility. They are embracing principles of natural resource management that focus on keeping livestock out of plots through natural fencing strategies, soil and water conservation through mulching and buffer strips, and the importance of trees in land management. Farmers are using compost and other means of managing soil fertility to increase their crop yields. This eagerness to adapt to climate change through tailored agricultural practices, however, is being sapped by the presence and/or prospect of violence. Farmers in South Sudan can only be as eager as the situation permits.

Talking about climate change with farmers in South Sudan is often a very sobering experience. It is also the touch point where their agricultural adaptation strategies quickly divert course with the strategies explained by rural Ghanaian farmers. As one farmer in Warrap state explained to me,

I used to have a lot of cows, and I had to destock [cull] them as grazing lands became less healthy due to the weather problem. Now I am indeed cultivating more and more crops, and there is an unlimited amount of land that is accessible to us. The government encourages us to expand our farmland and vegetable plots. I have been following their advice, but I don’t get enough technical support and there are no reliable market linkages if I do produce a surplus. Also, there has been a conflict here that stopped me from farming for more than one month this year and now you can see half of my sorghum is dead and the vegetable garden is choked with weeds (Deng, personal communication, April 2015).

What is notable in this comment is the realization of a “weather problem” that had impacted the livelihood of this pastoralist and pushed him into crop and vegetable farming. However, this transition – or adaptation – has been impacted by a lack of quality extension services and the time needed to dedicate himself to cultivation while conflict engulfs the country. A lack of good market access – and, indeed, good markets – further disincentivizes him from focusing on producing the kind of surplus the country needs to meet its food security needs.

Conclusion: Climate Change, Social Institutions, and Vulnerability

While it might seem peculiar to compare the impacts of climate change on agricultural production in Ghana and South Sudan, the two countries offer unique insights into the ways that communities respond to climate change at the local level and the ways that the relative social and political contexts impact farmers’ ways of responding to environmental perturbations.

In Ghana, farmers have freedom from both violence and isolation and the luxury of multiple layers of economic buffers to allow them to devise and deploy agricultural adaptations to climate extremes. These adaptations are hybridized solutions based in farmers’ knowledge sources on the local level, the national level, and the international level. Farmers have the freedom and means to seek agricultural knowledge and the support systems necessary to take risks.

In South Sudan, farmers have the desire to adapt to a changing environment through fine-tuned agricultural practices. The civil war and political situation, however, both prevents farmers from completing their work and disincentivizes them by eroding markets and market linkages. While some farmers are able to deploy these strategies to maintain food security, other farmers don’t receive the support or conditions necessary to adapt to environmental changes and feed themselves.

Environmental anthropologists examining climate change adaptability strategies should examine the conditions on multiple layers of social organization. Most communities have the willingness and capacity to both devise agricultural strategies on their own and successfully implement them. However, communities who are exposed to political uncertainty, violence, and a lack of support systems may not have the necessary conditions to enable them to adapt to climate change. Where this line is drawn is important for understanding the situation on an anthropological level as well as devising impactful solutions at the humanitarian level. For example, in some situations farmers might be free from violence but lack the support systems required to adapt to climate change. In other situations, farmers might have the support systems necessary to adapt but be impacted by social or political violence. In ideal situations, farmers would be able to provide food for themselves and their agricultural economy as well as take risks and devise new production systems in anticipation or response to further environmental changes. Climate change, social institutions, and vulnerability levels are interconnected, inseparable, and provide the conditions wherein a community may or may not be able to maintain its livelihoods.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2015, Country Fact Sheet on Food and Agriculture Policy Trends in Ghana, Ghana, viewed 15 June 2015, <>

La Rose, D. 2011. Buem Crop Choices and Agricultural Strategies as Adaptability Practices: Social Responses to Environmental Change in a Rural Ghanaian Farming Community. M.A Thesis. Montezuma Publishing, San Diego, CA

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Anthropologies #21: Annual Review of Anthropology, Climate Change, Anthropocene Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:12:43 +0000 Continue reading Anthropologies #21: Annual Review of Anthropology, Climate Change, Anthropocene ]]> To kick off this issue, we begin with Sean Seary’s excellent overview of recent literature about anthropology’s engagement with climate. This review originally appeared on Anthropology Report, has been reproduced here to give us a solid foundation for moving forward. Seary, a recent graduate from Hartwick College, currently lives in Brunswick, Maine. His research interests focus on the convergence of anthropology and climate change. Seary’s work has also been featured on PopAnth. –R.A.

Introduction: Anthropological Interventions

Since the 1960s, global climate and environmental change have been important topics of contemporary scientific research. Growing concerns about climate change have introduced a (relatively) new variable in climate change research: the anthropogenic causes of local-global climate and environmental change. Despite archaeologists providing some of the first research and commentary on climate change–a point that is explored in Daniel Sandweiss and Alice Kelley’s Archaeological Contributions to Climate Change Research: The Archaeological Record as a Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Archive–the field of climate and environmental change research has been predominantly studied by “natural scientists.” This is where Susan Crate’s Climate and Culture: Anthropology in the Era of Contemporary Climate Change in the 2011 Annual Review of Anthropology intervenes. Crate calls for anthropological engagement with the natural sciences (and vice versa) on global climate change discourse, with the intention of creating new multidisciplinary ethnographies that reflect all the contributors to global environmental change.

Crate’s review begins by stating that the earliest anthropological research on climate change was associated with archaeologists: most of whom studied how climate change had an impact on cultural dynamics, societal resilience and decline, and social structure. Anthropological and archaeological engagement with climate change revolved around how cultures attributed meaning and value to their interpretations of weather and climate. Archaeology has long been working on understanding the relationship between climate, environment, and culture. Historically, archaeologists have worked with “natural” scientists in the recovery of climate and environmental data pulled from archaeological strata (Sandweiss and Kelley 2012:372). Such works include Environment and Archaeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography (Butzer 1964), Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective (Waters 1992) and Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Practice (Dincauze 2000). The archaeological record incorporates not only stratigraphic data, but also proxy records. These records contributed to much larger paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental studies, including publications in general science literature like Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Sandweiss and Kelley 2012:372; see also the 2013 article in Nature, Contribution of anthropology to the study of climate change). Conversely, the work of “natural” scientists has also appeared in archaeological literature. Contemporarily, archaeologists have studied the impacts that water (or lack thereof) can have on human-environment interactions, through the study of soil and settlements drawing from case studies in Coastal Peru, Northern Mesopotamia, the Penobscot Valley in Maine, or Shetland Island.

Contemporary anthropological analysis of climate change usually focuses on adaptations towards local climate, temperature, flooding, rainfall, and drought (Crate 2011:178). Climate change impacts the cultural framework in which people perceive, understand, experience, and respond to the world in which they live. Crate believes that because of anthropologists’ ability to “be there,” anthropologists are well-suited to interpret, facilitate, translate, communicate, advocate, and act in response to the cultural implications of global (and local) climate change. Understanding the role that people and culture play in understanding land use changes is crucial to defining anthropology’s engagement with climate change. Anthropologists, as well as scientists from allied disciplines must engage in vigorous cross-scale, local-global approaches in order to understand the implications of climate change (Crate 2011:176).

Crate urges that anthropology use its experience in place-based community research and apply it to a global scale, while focusing on ethnoclimatology, resilience, disasters, displacement, and resource management. By studying people living in “climate-sensitive” areas, anthropologists can document how people observe, perceive, and respond to the local effects of global climate change, which at times can compromise not only their physical livelihood, but also undermine their cultural orientations and frameworks (Crate 2011:179). Anthropology is well positioned to understand the “second disaster,” or sociocultural displacement which follows the first disaster (physical displacement), as a result local environmental and climate change. Some of these “second disasters” include shifts in local governance, resource rights, and domestic and international politics (Crate 2011:180). These “second disasters” present yet another challenge to anthropology’s involvement with global climate change: that global climate change is a human rights issue. Therefore, anthropologists should take the initiative in being active and empowering local populations, regions, and even nation-states to seek redress for the damage done by climate change (Crate 2011:182) It is the responsibility of anthropologists working in the field of climate change to link the local and lived realities of environmental change with national and international policies.

In order to accommodate to the rapidly changing (human) ecology, anthropology is in need of new ethnographies that show how the “global” envelops the local, and the subsequent imbalance (environmental injustice/racism) that it creates during this process. Crate urgently calls for anthropologists to become actors in the policy process, utilizing a multidisciplinary, multi-sited collaboration between organizations, foundations, associations, as well as political think tanks and other scientific disciplines. Anthropology’s task at hand is to bridge what is known about climate change to those who are not aware of its impacts, in order to facilitate a global understanding of climate change and its reach (Crate 2011:184).

Crate’s “Climate and Culture” may not have been the first Annual Review article regarding climate change and anthropology, but it is certainly one of the most urgent and pressing. Crate became a member of the American Anthropological Association’s Global Climate Change Task Force. Their report released in January 2015 sets an ambitious agenda for anthropology and climate change. Crate’s article also became foundational for a thematic emphasis of the 2012 Annual Review of Anthropology, which featured seven additional articles on anthropology and climate change.

Politics of the Anthropogenic

Nathan Sayre’s Politics of the Anthropogenic continues where Crate’s Climate and Culture left off: at the advent of a new form of anthropology, one that utilizes an interdisciplinary approach towards understanding the human ecology in relation to global climate change. Sayre invokes a term which Crate did not use in her review article, but that seems to have increasing salience to anthropology: The Anthropocene. Notably, the idea of the Anthropocene and its relationship to anthropology was also the subject of Bruno Latour’s keynote lecture to the American Anthropological Association in 2014: Anthropology at the Time of the Anthropocene.

Sayre describes the Anthropocene as the moment in history when humanity began to dominate, rather than coexist with the “natural” world (Sayre 2012:58). What defines the Anthropocene as a distinct epoch or era is when human activities rapidly shifted (most often considered the Industrial Revolution) from merely influencing the environment in some ways to dominating it in many ways. This is evident in population growth, urbanization, dams, transportation, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and the overexploitation of natural resources. The adverse effects of anthropogenic climate change can be measured on nearly every corner of the earth. As a result of local environmental change and global climate change, humans, climate, soil, and nonhuman biota have begun to collapse into one another; in this scenario, it is impossible to disentangle the “social” from the “natural” (Sayre 2012:62). Sayre states that anthropology’s role, together with other sciences, in analyzing climate change in the Anthropocene is to understand that there is no dichotomy between what is considered natural and cultural. Understanding the fluctuations in the earth’s ecosystems cannot be accounted for without dispelling the ideological separation between the natural and the cultural. By adopting conceptual models of “climate justice” and earth system science, anthropologists and biophysical scientists can further dispel the archaic dichotomy of humanity and nature.

The atmosphere, the earth, the oceans, are genuinely global commons. However, environmental climate change and the subsequent effects are profoundly and unevenly distributed throughout space and time (Sayre 2012:65). Biophysically and socioeconomically, the areas that have contributed most to global climate change are the least likely to suffer from its consequences. Those who have contributed the least suffer the most. Anthropologists can play an important role in utilizing climate-based ethnography to help explain and understand the institutions that are most responsible for anthropogenic global warming–oil, coal, electricity, automobiles–and the misinformation, lobbying, and public relations behind “climate denialism” in the Anthropocene. This is the first step in seeking redress for the atrocities of environmental injustice.

Evolution and Environmental Change in Early Human Prehistory

Understanding climate change in the Anthropocene is no easy task, but as Richard Potts argues in Evolution and Environmental Change in Early Human Prehistory, humans have been influencing their environments and their environments have been influencing them well before the era that is considered the “Anthropocene.” Throughout the last several million years the earth has experienced one of its most dramatic eras of climate change, which consequently coincided with the origin of hominins. Homo sapiens represent a turning point in the history of protohuman and human life, because of their capacity to modify habitats and transform ecosystems. Now, approximately 50% of today’s land surface is reserved for human energy flow, and a further 83% of all the viable land on the planet has either been occupied or altered to some extent (Potts 2012:152).

Vrba’s turnover-pulse hypothesis (TPH) and Potts’s variability selection hypothesis (VSH) both serve as explanations for the correlation between environmental and evolutionary change. Vrba’s TPH focused on the origination and extinction of lineages coinciding with environmental change, particularly the rate of species turnovers following major dry periods across equatorial Africa. Potts’s VSH focused on the inherited traits that arose in times of habitat variability, and the selection/favoring of traits that were more adaptively versatile to unstable environments (Potts 2012:154-5). There are three ways in which environmental change and human evolution can potentially be linked. First, evolutionary events may be concentrated in periods of directional environmental change. Second, evolution may be elicited during times of rising environmental variability and resource uncertainty. Finally, evolution may be independent of environmental trend or variability (Potts 2012:155). The aforementioned hypotheses and subsequent links between evolution and environmental change help shed light on the origins and adaptations of Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthals. The anatomical, behavioral, and environmental differences between neanderthals and modern humans suggests that their distinct fates reflect their differing abilities to adjusting to diverse and fluctuating habitats (Potts 2012:160). Potts does an excellent job of stating that before the Anthropocene, early Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthals not only impacted and manipulate their surrounding environments, but were (genetically) impacted by their environments.

Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change

Heather Lazrus’s Annual Review article Sea Change: Island Communities and Climate Change returns to climate change in the more recent Anthropocene. For island communities, climate change is an immediate and lived reality in already environmentally fragile areas. These island communities, despite their seeming isolation and impoverishment, are often deeply globally connected in ways that go beyond simplistic descriptions of “poverty” and “isolated” (Lazrus 2012:286). Globally, islands are home to one-tenth of the world’s population, and much of the world’s population tends to be concentrated along coasts. Therefore both are subject to very similar changes in climate and extreme weather events. Islands tend to be regarded as the planet’s “barometers of change” because of their sensitivity to climate change (Lazrus 2012:287). Not only are islands environmentally dynamic areas, consisting of a variety of plants and animal species, but they also have the potential to be areas of significant social, economic, and political interest.

Madagascar: A History of Arrivals, What Happened, and Will Happen Next

Madagascar is a fascinating example of sociopolitical and ecological convergence, and is explored by Robert Dewar and Alison Richard in their Madagascar: A History of Arrivals, What Happened, and Will Happen Next. Madagascar has an extremely diverse system of human ecology that is nearly as diverse the island’s topography, environments, and climate. As a product of its physical diversity, the human ecology of Madagascar has a dynamic social and cultural history. In the Southwest, the Mikea derive significant portions of their food from foraging in the dry forest. Outside of most urban areas, hunting and collecting wild plants is common. Along the west coast, fishing is crucial as a central focus of the economy, but also as a supplement to farming. Farmers in Madagascar have a wide range of varieties and species to choose from including maize, sweet potatoes, coffee, cacao, pepper, cloves, cattle, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, and turkeys (Dewar and Richard 2012:505). Throughout the island, rice and cattle are the two most culturally and economically important domesticates, and are subsequently adapted to growing under the local conditions of the microclimates of Madagascar. Semi-nomadic cattle pastoralism takes place in the drier regions of Madagascar. Whatever the environmental, climatic, social, or economic surroundings may be, Madagascar (as well as other islands) serve as local microcosms for climate change on the global scale. This relates to Crate’s call for an anthropology that brings forth the global array of connections (“natural”/ sociocultural) portraying local issues of climate change to the global sphere.

Ethnoprimatology and the Anthropology of the Human-Primate Interface

Agustin Fuentes’s main arguments in Ethnoprimatology and the Anthropology of the Human-Primate Interface focus on human-induced climate change and how it affects a vast amount of species, including the other primates (Fuentes 2012:110). By getting rid of the ideology that humans are separate from natural ecosystems and the animals within them, then anthropology can better grasp inquiries relating to global climate change within the Anthropocene. Fuentes then goes on to say (similarly to Crate and Sayre) that by freeing anthropological (and other scientific discourse) from the dichotomy of nature and culture, people will fully understand their relationship in the order of primates, but also their place within the environment. Our human capacity to build vast urban areas, transportation systems, and the deforestation of woodland all impact the local environments in which we live, and consequently gives humans an aura of dominance over nature. As Fuentes states, “at the global level, humans are ecosystem engineers on the largest of scales, and these altered ecologies are inherited not only by subsequent generations of humans but by all the sympatric species residing within them. The ways in which humans and other organisms coexist (and/or conflict) within these anthropogenic ecologies shape the perceptions, interactions, histories, and futures of the inhabitants” (Fuentes 2012:110). Essentially, Fuentes points out that humans have dominated ecosystems on a global scale; however, this has impacted not only human populations but also various plant and animals species, as well as entire ecosystems. It is only within the understanding of the symbiotic relationship between human/plants/animals/ecosystems that people will realize their impact on the environment on a global scale.

Lives With Others: Climate Change and Human-Animal Relations

In Lives With Others: Climate Change and Human-Animal Relations, Rebecca Cassidy ties together Fuentes’s arguments with Crate’s by demonstrating how climate change not only impacts people’s physical livelihood, but also their sociocultural lives. Cassidy states that people with animal-centered livelihoods experience climate change on many different levels, and subsequently, climate change may see those animals (or plants) become incapable of fulfilling their existing functions. Societies that are most frequently geopolitically marginalized often are left reeling from the impacts that climate change has on their social, political, economic, and environmental lives (Cassidy 2012:24). The impacts that climate change has on marginalized societies often affects their ability to live symbiotically and sustainably with other species. Human/animal “persons” are conceived to be reciprocal and equal, living in a symbiotic world system, in which their sustenance, reproduction, life, and death are all equally important. The extinction of particular species of animals and plants can cause cosmological crises, as well as disrupt the potential for future adaptability.

Cassidy’s claim that humans, animals, plants, and their environments are reciprocal and symbiotic ties in with Crate’s plea for an anthropology that rids itself of the old dichotomy of the natural and cultural. Crate’s idea for new ethnographies that consider the human ecology of climate change begin by utilizing what Lazrus calls Traditional Environmental Knowledge, or TEK. TEK is “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive process and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment” (Lazrus 2012:290). TEK utilizes the spiritual, cosmological, and moral practices that condition human relationships with their surrounding physical environments. Such ethnographies should reflect all of the potential contributors to climate change in the Anthropocene, but they should also infuse new urgency to anthropological approaches. As Crate states “anthropologists need to become more globalized agents for change by being more active as public servants and engaging more with nonanthropological approaches regarding climate change” (Crate 2011: 183).

As made evident by the work of Sandweiss and Kelley, anthropology has early roots in climate change research dating back to the 1960s. Since then, anthropology’s contribution to climate change research has been significant, and is now sparking a new generation of engaged anthropology in the Anthropocene.

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Around the Web Digest: Week of August 23 Mon, 31 Aug 2015 16:26:21 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of August 23 ]]> Better late than never, I always say, as the semester starts anew and we all either pack our lunchboxes to go back to school or feel that old pull in a job that runs on a different cycle. Help me stay on top of the links by sending me anything you write or discover at

The Alice Goffman controversy continues to provoke critique and introspection about the nature of ethnographic fieldwork. A recent critique by Paul Campos goes beyond the typical claims that ethnographers are unconcerned with fact-checking to suggest that a small percentage are engaging in wholesale fabrication. Paul Stoller addresses this in his column for HuffPost: In Defense of Ethnography. His basic claim, that ethnography can allow us to delve into the messiness of human experience in a way that fact-checkers cannot, reminds me of the time that a researcher from another discipline came to my field site and was met with evasiveness and equivocation.

This post on Somatosphere links Stoller’s post to the practice of giving pseudonyms and changing identifying information: “Ethnography is not about ‘fact-checking,’ Stoller notes, but rather a weaving of personal and professional interactions into fruitful, if not fruitfully frustrating, entanglements. Acknowledging the precariousness of other people’s lives, a precariousness that the writer often does not share, may mean blending the ‘facts’ to protect people’s identities.” What’s in a Name?

HuffPost was on a roll this week… its AAA blog contained this post, whose title is self-explanatory: Cultural Anthropology in Secondary Schools: An Essential Part of a 21st Century Education. It’s hard to disagree that both the general public and anthropology would be better off if the subject were introduced to students earlier.

It’s a little scattered but if you like pop cultural analysis, you’ll enjoy this two-part post (in Spanish) on El Antropólogo Perplejo. It suggests that Superman represents the rural hero against the city itself, which is demonized, whereas Batman is an essentially urban hero from a functionalist perspective, attempting to restore the parts of the city to working order: Superman y Batman Desde la Antropologia Urbana 1/2 and 2/2. It also suggests that superheroes are fascist. features some straight-talking advice for professors: Be collegial, get to know the staff, and be aware of your own privilege. The Tattooed Professor Has Some New Year’s Resolutions for Academics (because, of course, the new year begins in late August).

The New Yorker actually did a long-form article on the shipwreck excavations at Yenikapı. The article explores how the differential valuations of various layers of occupation (Byzantine and Ottoman) relate to Turkish nation-building: The Big Dig:
Istanbul’s City Planners Have a Problem: Too Much History

The NY Times reports on the archaeological discovery of a rich nearly 4,000-year-old archive describing trading activities between Assur (modern-day Iraq) and Kanesh (modern-day Turkey): The V.C.s of B.C.

Food Anthropology continues to slay with interviews on pedagogy; in this case, focused on a service project: “It all comes alive.” Robbie Baer on Successful Service-Learning Projects with Anthropology of Food Students

Now premiering: Syllabus: The Movie. Digital Ethnography reports on a professor who got so excited about his new syllabus he gave it its own trailer. Could this help get students energized on the first day of class? The Syllabus: Trailer for Introduction to Cultural Anthropology

Imaginative Ethnography links to a lovely set of hand-drawn fieldnotes by Carol Hendrickson, who suggests that incorporating drawings and ephemera into the notes creates a much richer record of the anthropologist’s experiences. Unlike taking a photo, sketching takes time and requires a different perspective: Ethno-Graphics

See you next week!

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Anthropologies #21: Climate Change Issue (Introduction) Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:41:51 +0000 Continue reading Anthropologies #21: Climate Change Issue (Introduction) ]]> For the latest issue of anthropologies, we’re taking a look at the ever contentious subject of climate change. Over the next week or so, we will be posting individual essays from our contributors. At the end we will post the issue in its entirety. Please share, and feel free to post your thoughts and comments. Here’s the introduction, written by Jeremy Trombley, the co-editor for this issue. You can contact him on Twitter here: @jmtrombley. Thanks Jeremy for all of your help putting this issue together! –R.A.

Photo by Flickr user Erik Jackson. Original caption: “The Act on Climate March in Quebec City, on April 11th, 2015, was led by First Nations to protest governmental inaction on the issue. Main concerns included oil exploitation and transportation by pipeline. My goal with this photograph is to ensure their voices are heard.”

The climate is changing. Oceans are rising, glaciers melting, animals migrating to more hospitable environments, people struggling to understand, resist, and adapt. But solutions seem far off, and many seem reluctant to change their lives to prevent the worst-case scenarios. Even those who are aware and accepting of the science underlying climate change are often unwilling to look the realities in the face – the extent to which the world could be changed, the apparent inevitability of the process, the feedback loops that could escalate climate change beyond even our most dire predictions. Scientists who study the environmental effects of climate change – past, present, and future – struggle to comprehend the extent and intensity of its effects. It can be disheartening, even hopeless, but time moves on and ever-increasing amounts of CO2 are being pumped into the atmosphere on a daily basis. What can be done? What should be done? How do we even begin to answer these questions? This is what the essays in this issue explore from an anthropological lens.

Anthropologists are at the forefront of studying the “human dimensions” of climate and environmental change– although not always in the same form, it has been a major topic of ethnographic research since the early years of the discipline (Kroeber 1947; Steward 1972). Recently, with the release of the AAA statement on climate change (Fiske et al. 2014), it has become solidified as an important concern not just for a handful of anthropologists specializing in the topic, but for the discipline as a whole. And yet, despite this interest, everything about climate change goes against our disciplinary norms.

Where anthropologists tend to focus on specific peoples in specific places, the effects of climate change are global and universal. Although the effects on people will vary depending on geography, climate, subsistence, cultural perspectives, socio-economic status, racial and ethnic background, gender, and so on, we will all feel its effects and we will all need to contend with change. Whereas anthropologists tend to make use of qualitative methods and data, climate science is driven by some of the most complex quantitative machinery the world has ever seen in the form of Global Circulation Models and climate science (Edwards 2010). Finally, where anthropologists prefer long-term research allowing us to deeply understand the complexities of the communities with whom we work, climate change demands an immediate and rapid response. Nothing short of everything will do.

So how is an anthropologist to contend with such a significant topic? As is common in anthropology, and particularly with issues that are as complex and global as climate change, you will find no easy solutions, no firm answers here. However, we hope that the essays presented in this issue will stimulate discussion and debate, and provide important concepts and methods for understanding and dealing with the changed and changing world in which we live.

Understanding the local impacts of climate change has been an important aspect of anthropologists work on the issue. Sean Seary gives us a comprehensive review of Susan Crate’s work on climate change, while Douglas Larose examines the social and political impacts of climate change in Ghana and South Sudan. Elena Burgos-Martinez uses climate change ethnography to elucidate the conflicting ontologies of change in Western development organizations and the Bajo of Indonesia. Meanwhile, Sanders and Hall critique ethnographies of climate change that focus on localized impacts, suggesting that they fail to develop a fully “anthropocene anthropology” because they do not break with the traditional dualisms of “Holocene” thought.

Next we explore methods of communicating and educating future generations about the issues associated with climate change. Katherine Johnson examines the challenges of teaching climate change from an anthropological perspective, and overcoming the sense of resignation that students may develop when learning, for the first time, the effects that it has for people around the world. Similarly, Henderson and Long discuss climate change curricula and the potential for education to motivate students to change and take an active role in advocating for solutions to the problem.

In spite of the scientific consensus on climate change, it has been a politically and economically polarizing issue. Questions of how (and whether!) to manage climate change and the politics of the required socio-economic changes are of central concern for anthropologists. Mike Agar uses concepts drawn from complexity theory and adaptive management to shed some light on the role of ethnographic research in addressing climate change. Lee Drummond provides a counterpoint to the assumption that climate change represents a crisis, drawing on an anthropological understanding of human evolution and adaptability. Finally, we end the issue with Heid Jerstad’s evocative essay about weather, change, and the socially- and politically-charged terms of debate that frame climate change discourse.


Edwards, Paul N. 2010. A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Fiske, S. J., S. A. Crate, C. L. Crumley, K. Galvin, H. Lazrus, L. Lucero, A. Oliver-Smith, B. Orlove, S. Strauss, and R. Wilk. 2014. “Changing the Atmosphere.” Anthropology and Climate Change. Report of the AAA Global Climate Change Task Force (American Anthropological Association, 2014).

Kroeber, Alfred Louis. 1947. Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America. Vol. 38. Univ of California Press.

Steward, Julian Haynes. 1972. Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. University of Illinois Press.

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Ethnographic Field Data 3: Preserving and Sharing Ethnographic Data Fri, 28 Aug 2015 12:00:03 +0000 Continue reading Ethnographic Field Data 3: Preserving and Sharing Ethnographic Data ]]> [This is the final post in a three-part series on archiving and sharing fieldwork data.]

Lisa Cliggett: How can we archive all this data? 

Two years ago, I worked with Lisa Cliggett on an NSF-sponsored project to curate 60 years of anthropology projects in the Gwembe Tonga region of Zambia, a complex pilot project that involved anthropologists, campus IT, librarians, and a gullible library school student then-willing to work for free (me!). We experimented with ways to curate Lisa’s field records in a digital library using Greenstone and Drupal. Our goal was a small teaching archive that undergraduates could use to better understand the processes involved in fieldwork–something that could be built into a larger archive over time.

This comes from Cliggett’s long-standing interest in preserving qualitative research. As she’s covered, there is a profound risk of data loss if we don’t find ways to share anthropological data and archive our fieldnotes as anthropologists. As she explains, thinking carefully through our archiving practices is important:

“As early as 1999, a colleague and I experimented with digitizing. . . a portion of Elizabeth Colson’s field notes in order to explore possibilities for creating a fully digital qualitative database. . . We saved files in an OCR format, storing them on “the standard” of the time – a 3.5 inch floppy disk. . . Now, 13 years later, we have a shoebox of 3.5 inch disks with files saved in 1990s proprietary software. Surely we could find technicians to free those files from their fossilized form, but it would require determination, time, and funding” (Cliggett 2013, p. 6).

So there’s a tension running throughout these last few posts: Dr. Bernson’s paper documentation could easily be lost, and Kristin Ghodsee’s sensitive research materials shouldn’t yet be openly shared—yet Lisa Cliggett’s earliest attempts to preserve historic field records also didn’t result in secure and accessible digital files.

Tips on preserving and sharing ethnographic source materials

This final set of tips, then, relates to how—and what—we can to do best document and share our field materials with other researchers, including the limits we might place on sensitive information and how we could later make that accessible to other scholars or to the descendants of original participants. Some suggestions:

Choose durable formats. Save your digital records in “open” file formats that are not owned by any particular corporation. This ensure that your files can be accessed by future scholars. For instance, storing in rich text (.rtf) instead of Word files (.doc) makes documents easier to analyze in Atlas.ti or NVIVO, as well as accessible to future researchers even if Microsoft goes out of business.

Use coding software with care. Most commercial qualitative coding software, such as MaxQDA, NVIVO or Atlas.ti, does not let you export your coding system into an open format that can be archived or imported into other programs. This is a huge concern, because if we can’t share our coding with future researchers, our perceptions and context for our notes may not be available. Before licensing any of this software, I recommend that you talk with vendors and ask that they allow the ability to fully export your codes in an open format like XML, one that can be imported to another program or stored in a long-term archive.

Code in open formats. Given that commercial coding software does not yet support data sharing, your easiest open may be to code within a text, using #hashtags or other in-text notations that could be read in any software or printout.

Get informed consent for archiving. If doing formal interviews, you can include language on an IRB consent form that lets participants indicate if they are willing to have anonymized versions of their interview stored in a secure data archive like Michigan’s ICPSR. Click here for a sample informed consent sheet that has participants choose whether to have their interview anonymized and shared with future researchers. Such consent is best given for clear records like one-off interviews or surveys.

Remove direct identifiers. If you are archiving a subset of your research to be accessed by other scholars or students, remove “direct identifiers” (name, location, family ties) from the text. Michigan’s ICPSR data archive is the best developed social science digital archive, and it requires that you strip identifying data from interviews before depositing them. Microsoft Word’s “find and replace” may be your friend here; have a student or colleague look over the materials as well.

Store identifying data in a restricted archive. If you have historical or contextual reasons for wanting to keep ‘direct identifiers’ within a set of field documents, you may be able to archive ‘restricted data‘ with ICPSR. This would require that later researchers get IRB approval before accessing and using your field data.

Embargo sensitive data. Are the above two points making you nervous? Me too, and that’s why I’m working in this area. Qualitative data archives are still very experimental; we can’t always share current videos, images, or texts. Our records, being deeply implicated in community and people’s lives, have enough details to easily identify others, even with changed names or places. Many ethnographic source notes should be embargoed, limiting access for 50 or 100 years. This balances the usefulness of our records to future scholars against the risks of current exposure.

Document your field documents. Because funders like the NSF are often the ones asking us to manage qualitative records, their grants should cover the costs of ‘documenting’ any project data that you plan to share. Student assistants can be tasked to add ‘metadata’ (tags, codes, context) to each document. Use of standard labels (a “controlled vocabulary”) for place, language, or authors can help make your project easier to find in a larger database or archive.

Create finding aids. Let others know what’s out there. In libraries and archives, a finding aid is a sort of abstract for a set of records, listing their topics, regions, persons, or content. For instance, I’ve collected notes and interviews on topics like:

  • Multi-level marketing in Central Asia
  • Kazakh and Kyrgyz names and naming practices
  • Democratic elections in Mongolia
  • Missionaries in Central Asia

Finding ways to share when we have more information on both published and unpublished topics could let other ethnographers know what prior projects might have aspects that could be available or reused.

Consider data reuse contracts. Much as non-disclosure contracts can make it clear that field assistants shouldn’t write up results without you, a reuse contract can clarify the terms under which you share your notes with other researchers. This could include your right to check results for identifying information, or the need for other researchers to abide by certain ethical standards before building on your work.

Support the AAA data registry. The AAA is already working with archivists and librarians to build an Anthropological Data Registry, which currently hosts information about 52 anthropological datasets and archival collections. This is based on an older CoPAR list of where physical fieldnotes are archived. If you know of any other physical or online archives of prior anthropological research materials, share that in the data registry!

Talk to a research librarian.If this is overwhelming or threatening, don’t despair! These are complicated issues that librarians and anthropologists are working together on. Send a quick note to your librarian or archivist now, while you’re thinking about it. Ask to talk about archiving or data sharing options at your institution.  Librarians are attuned to these kinds of concerns, and can help you or find someone else who can.

All in all, I hope this is inspiring you to look at some of your field documents and see how you could archive or share them. And once again, if you’ve experimented in any of these areas, do share your experiences or interests in the comments.

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Osama Bin Laden, Chelsea Manning, and their anthropologists Fri, 28 Aug 2015 00:11:02 +0000 Continue reading Osama Bin Laden, Chelsea Manning, and their anthropologists ]]> Anthropology can turn up in the strangest places. While we often hold up Margaret Mead and… uh… well, mostly Margaret Mead… as examples of public anthropology, our discipline does a lot of important work in times and places few of us would suspect. For instance, take these two recent examples from the media featuring Chelsea Manning and Osama bin Laden:

Most people remember Chelsea Manning (then Bradley) as the person who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks. After being imprisoned for the leak, Manning has become an activist and intellectual in her own right, as well as the center of an ongoing struggle to make sure her rights are respected in prison. And in her free time… she reads anthropology.

This according to a New York Post article Manning recently faced the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement because of the items she had in her possession, including a tube of toothpaste and a copy of Biella Coleman’s excellent ethnography Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy — The Many Faces of Anonymous (creative commons licensed PDF here). You knew anthropology ends up in unusual places — now we know that includes the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

The other anthropologist to make the news recently was Flagg Miller of UC Davis. Miller holds the unique title of being the only person in the world to sit down and listen to all 1,500 cassette tapes in Osama Bin Laden’s personal cassette tape collection.  My favorite part of the BBC’s piece on Miller’s new book, Audacious Ascetic: What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal About Al-Qa’ida comes when Miller shows the reporter the earliest known recording of Bin Laden from the late 1980s. Recording quality is poor and the reporter asks “But how can you tell it’s Bin Laden?” There’s a short pause and Miller replies “Well… I’ve listened to over a thousand hours of him speaking…” That’s anthropology for you — you work it into your bones, and it’s that lived experience that lets you make the hard calls.

Anthropologists worry constantly that there isn’t enough public anthropology. But how much public anthropology is enough public anthropology? We are reaching all kinds of audiences in all kinds of ways — and with research totally different than the usual white-on-brown village ethnography that people (including us!) imagine that we do. So let’s give ourselves some credit where credit is due and pat ourselves on the back for showing up in unexpected — but important — places.

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Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 2 Tue, 25 Aug 2015 19:37:01 +0000 Continue reading Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 2 ]]> Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Takami Delisle. Tak currently works as a medical interpreter for Japanese patients and helps run an organization for anthropology students of color. You can read the first installment of this piece here. She also has her own blog. If you’re interested, please contact her through Twitter @tsd1888.


Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology

by Takami Delisle

Looking back on those years when I was perpetually in fear of disappointing my professors, I realize that’s when I began to question the whole point of anthropology. I wasn’t alone; there have been many discussions out there about what anthropology can teach us, what we can do with it, and what anthropological knowledge means (e.g., Anthropologies, Issue 1, and Ryan’s open thread on who owns anthropology). Among them I encountered a handful of anthropologists questioning the validity of academic anthropology. I felt vindicated – I too am in disbelief of academic anthropology, because what it seems to be doing is producing its own kind of species of “anthropologists,” claiming that they are the only real, true, and legitimate anthropologists. If the goal of anthropology is to better understand humankind and help make the world an equitable place, now would be a good time for these academic anthropologists to take a good look in their own backyard. Those who are leading the next generations of anthropologists have to learn not to take themselves too seriously, not to be arrogant. They owe mentorship and respect to their students, the future generations of anthropologists, before claiming how righteous, intellectual, and special they are.

For this, I argue here that academic anthropologists are in dire need of critical evaluation. They must not become or practice what they critique. They must not fall into the delusion of believing that anthropology is a post-racist/sexist discipline. They can’t keep claiming to not be racists or sexists without taking the time to understand their own privileges. As Faye Harrison firmly asserts in her AAA report “Racism in Academy” (2012), academic anthropologists must confront anthropology’s exceptionalism, which is “the common claim that anthropologists make that the discipline is intrinsically multicultural and nonracist because of its cross-cultural orientation and its Boasian tradition of intellectual racism” (17). In reality, as Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson astutely highlight in their report “Anthropology as White Public Space?” (2011), academic anthropologists “have not done well when it comes to decolonizing their own practices around race … the racial division of academic labor and race-avoidant workplace discourses are key constituents of anthropology departments as white public space” (545).

One of the strikingly familiar results in the report is how often anthropology students and faculty of minority become responsible for “diversity duty.” Not surprisingly, one of the few minority faculty in my second graduate program represented the department in the university-wide “diversity” committee, which was supposedly to promote diversity in the whole university community. What would be the benefit of having such a committee, if a representative from every department is a minority and a bunch of nonwhites get together discussing diversity? Aren’t minorities more than well aware of the importance of diversity, and aren’t the white folks the ones who need to be included in these discussions?

In the end, “students and faculty of color are often hyper-visible as tokens of institutional political correctness but invisible as scholars in their work settings” (Brodkin et al 2011:551). Race-avoidant discourses were prevalent in my second anthropology department. I lost my personal “affirmative action” battle to my white advisor. The department gave no guidance and support to nonwhite graduate students in teaching the topic of racial issues to the mostly white students, who often frustratingly threw dagger-like angry stares at me – some of them even called me “anti-white.” The department gave me no place to express my experiences as a racial minority. I once voiced my concern about why I – as a racial minority – felt forced to suppress my thoughts on racism in our seminars. All the white faces swiftly turned to me with acrimonious glares. The white professor simply carried on, and it was the cue for my classmates to move on as well, without responding to my concern. Just like white professors, white students didn’t want to get involved in conversations about racial issues within our department. Yet they were all eager to discuss race as a theoretical, distant, anthropological topic.

The authoritative academic anthropologists who run departments can become the panopticon, transforming their community into a microcosmic biopolitical society. They do this, ironically, while using these concepts as tools for social analysis and critique. Graduate students in my second department practically had no say in departmental policies, even collectively in the name of our graduate student association. As such, the notes taken by a student representative during the faculty meetings were severely censored by the faculty. Students spent so much time trying to figure out many unwritten, intangible rules; they were constantly riding an emotional roller coaster of panic, thrill, distress, ecstasy, and despair. But they took those rules as they were, even those seemingly unreasonable ones, while quietly complaining among themselves. And they worked hard to follow the rules, often policed each other, and competed with each other under the rules. Some of them even took a great deal of pride in fulfilling the rules, as any positive comments from the professors made students totally high. If anyone challenged the rules, hostility flared up within the students, who were divided by the not-so-subtle color line. After all, students simply did what they were told to do. Just like Michel Foucault described “biopolitical” societies, authoritative power is conditioned into the consciousness and bodies of the population (graduate students). Those rules are a form of power (or “biopower”) that “regulates social life from its interior, following it, interpreting it, and rearticulating it … every individual embraces and reactivates of his or her accord,” as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt put it in their book “Empire” (2000:23-24). The beauty of anthropological inquiry and knowledge gets lost in this.

I am not getting into every detail of my experience in the department here, but towards the end of my career there, I just felt so bullied. I could feel that the program was destroying me – it depressed me, controlled my life, and emotionally tortured me. The only good thing I had in the department was my good friend there, who happened to be another minority student and shared many struggles with me. My husband wanted me to pull the plug way before I realized I should have. But the big turning point was a meeting with my advisor to discuss my leave of absence. “You’ve already asked for delaying your progress three times,” she declared in the beginning of the meeting. I felt so angry that I could feel my heartbeat in my face. Yes, the “three times” part was absolutely correct, but no, the “you’ve asked for it” part was unequivocally wrong. The first time was when one of my dissertation committee members left for another institution, as I was nearing the time for my proposal defense. She loved my project. She was the only one who patiently helped me go through the writing process. But some of the materials in my project were outside of the expertise of her replacement, who of course pushed my project into her direction.

Soon enough, I was rewriting my entire proposal. The second “delay” was when another committee member just quit, out of the blue, with no clear explanation, just a few weeks before my qualifying exam. Her replacement wanted me to add more materials on my exam bibliographies, almost a dozen books, which made it impossible to prepare for the exam within such a short amount of time. The third time was when Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami happened. I had to go home abruptly, knowing that the whole disaster devastated my sister-in-law’s family in Fukushima and my mom’s relatives up in the north. So, let me ask again. Did I ask for delaying my progress under these circumstances? Are they all my fault? I dare anyone say yes.

And I eventually did leave the program with full of guilt, self-blame, and shame. My therapist once asked me, “Do you really want to go back to the burning airplane? It injured you so badly, but just because you spent so much time, energy, and money to get on it, you’d want to get back on that burning airplane, knowing you will get injured more?” “It’s not that simple,” I bluntly responded. “I know, but I want you to think about it,” he shot back. The metaphor turned out to be quite effective. One day I said to myself that it was the time for me to learn to be gentle and merciful to myself. So the recovery process began, and oddly enough, anthropological knowledge has helped me through all of this.

Some people may say that my passion for anthropology wasn’t strong enough to put my personal difficulties aside and still pursue the degree. Others may say that I wasn’t intelligent enough to complete the program after all. And still others may tell me to stop being so much of an idealist and accept the reality: everyone is a hypocrite, teaching something while practicing the opposite. But at least I am not engulfed in the biopolitical, institutionalized world of anthropology. I didn’t let it take over me. I am getting myself back. I get to be me again. I would rather live my life with anthropology in my pocket than live my life trying not to drown in the middle of a massive ocean of anthropology.

To those who are out there thinking about going to graduate school for an anthropology degree – Be wise and selective about the culture of the anthropology department you want to be a part of, especially if you’re a minority student. You need to know about your prospective advisor, talk to current and former students, and figure out how/whether the department as a whole is engaged in communications about its own gender and racial issues. Doing all this is that important because it will determine the course of your life for the following 7 to 10 years. And if you make it to the end, stay humble and worldly, be true to anthropology.

To those who are happily doing their graduate studies in anthropology: Remember, complacency with the status quo can be your worst enemy. Keep in mind that people with more power are less aware of the power relationship than people with less power are. And,

…. practice what [you] preach … to do the same with those [you] see as a part of [your] own culture (department) – particularly if they may see themselves as part of ‘the Other’ themselves. To not do so is hypocrisy. To do so creates real understanding, acceptance, and diversity in a department (Brodkin et al 2011:546).

To those who had limited choices of graduate programs and are finding yourself burned out in academic anthropology because of your department’s oppressive power structure – If you’re looking for advice, I’m afraid I cannot offer any, except that it’s worthwhile identifying and communicating with faculty and fellow graduate students with willing ears. But I’m not the one who stuck around to finish the PhD. All I can say is that I still love anthropology, and I still call myself an anthropologist, whether some of the academic anthropologists like it or not. I don’t think I have ever lost my appreciation for anthropology, even in the midst of the craziness at my second graduate program. I simply couldn’t take the authoritative academic anthropology, and I didn’t want to use it as a vehicle to do anthropology any more. If I had stayed there longer, I could have started to dislike anthropology. In retrospect, I left academic anthropology to preserve my passion for anthropology, and I think it worked for me. But I cannot tell others like myself to do the same.

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Ethnographic Field Data 2: When Not-Sharing is Caring Tue, 25 Aug 2015 13:00:03 +0000 Continue reading Ethnographic Field Data 2: When Not-Sharing is Caring ]]> In my last post, I recommended that we consider archiving and sharing records from our fieldwork. Yet sharing both raw notes and publications can present challenges, as Rex recently covered with the controversy over Alice Goffman’s ‘anonymous’ but easily traced research in Philadelphia, published after she destroyed her fieldnotes.

Kristin Ghodsee similarly writes of the difficulties she encountered as she researched post-Socialist Muslims in Bulgaria—research that caught the interest of both local and American officials. After being detained and interrogated by Bulgarian officials, she decided to drop almost all of the ethnography from her forthcoming work. She describes her encounter with the state in this way:

He then asked me: “Are you responsible for this?”
“Excuse me?” I said, not quite understanding his implication.
“Is your purpose in Bulgaria to encourage these girls to assert their human rights?”
“No,” I stammered, “I’ve been doing this research since 2004, long before this summer.”
“But you know the girls?”
“Some of them.”
“And the people who are teaching them?”
“They are all the subject of my ongoing research. An academic research project.”
“Good,” he said. He nodded and jotted something down on his clipboard. He finally asked me if I had any questions for him.
“Is this interview a normal procedure for Americans applying for long-term residency?”
“No,” he said, matter-of-factly, “It is only for you.”
“Why me?”
“Your topic is interesting to us.” (Ghodsee 2011, p. 180).

As Ghodsee goes on to suggest, sharing the results of our research in any form, published or unpublished, can attract unwanted attention and present unexpected ethical dilemmas. This is a challenge: how can we ensure the safety and privacy of the people we share life with, and yet convey what we’ve learned. How could we share some raw materials in a way that might inform future scholars–or at least those who agree to keep the ethical norms of our profession?

Or, as the American Anthropological Association’s 2012 code of ethics puts it, how can we “do no harm” and yet “make your results accessible” and “preserve your records“?

Security for ethnographic data

We’ll talk more about sharing research in the next post, but let’s start with how we can secure our records. Below is a sketch of ways to begin securing the ethnographic data you currently gather, and to manage how it is passed along to other researchers when you can no longer care for it. Once again, you’re encouraged to share your experiences in the comments.

Consider what you gather. This is obvious to many of us, but there are times not to gather—or not to record—stories that could be used to harm the people we work with, especially if they’re outside of the scope of our research.

Lock it up. If you need to encrypt sensitive data, do so—but keep a record of passwords and security keys on paper, as well as in a PGP-encrypted digital file (more details here or here). You can look up how to create encrypted volumes on your computer, or talk with campus IT about how you might transmit data directly to secure servers in your home country. Health researchers such as Caroline Kuo are way ahead of us in securely storing and transmitting sensitive stories from vulnerable and remote communities worldwide.

Back it up. Store any important files in multiple formats and locations, both print and digital. The 3-2-1 Rule is a common way to remember this:

Keep 3 copies of any important files
on 2 different types of media (print, digital, CD, computer, flash drive)
with 1 copy being stored in another location and/or offline.

For instance, you could print out digital fieldnotes and lock the papers up. Or, you could scan/snap photos of your paper diaries, storing the scans on a secure computer drive. This multiple formats-multiple locations principle helps to protect your notes in case of theft, fire, decay, and computer or network failures. Backup hard drives should also be locked up and password-protected (but give the password to someone you trust!).

Beware the Cloud. There’s a tradeoff here: storing in more formats and places means you are less likely to lose irreplaceable records, but also increases the chance of hacking or leaked notes. Notes on sensitive topics may not belong in the Cloud, Dropbox, email, or even local computers in the field, as your notes can easily be accessed and personal connections traced.

Write a fieldnotes will. Even before you reach the end of your career, it would be wise to document and share your expectations of who will care (a “fieldnotes will”?) for your documents if you can no longer care for them. Campus archives may be prepared to advise on this, at least for physical materials. ‘Data’ librarians attempt to advise on digital materials. As above, giving passwords to a deeply-trusted person or arranging their access to your future archives will help ensure that your records won’t be lost or inaccessible when it comes time to pass them on.

Talk to a librarian or archivist. Seriously. These people are the campus experts on long-term storage of paper–and increasingly digital–research records, and campus IT may also be able to help in securing your digital files. See also Andrew Asher & Lori M. Jahnke‘s readable exploration of qualitative archiving — if your librarian isn’t familiar with the particularly challenges of safeguarding ethnography, this is a good primer.

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“Anthropology” in the Snowden Surveillance Archive Tue, 25 Aug 2015 10:17:40 +0000 Continue reading “Anthropology” in the Snowden Surveillance Archive ]]> A search for “anthropology” in the Snowden Surveillance Archive results in two hits. Both documents were created and presented by the UK GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) which sees anthropology as a method with which to “manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.” Take a look at the two GCHQ Powerpoints below and see how the surveillance apparatus views your discipline.

The ART of DECEPTION: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations

Psychology: A New Kind of SIGDEV

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Around the Web Digest: Week of August 16 Mon, 24 Aug 2015 17:05:16 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of August 16 ]]> Dear readers, either the blogs have been quiet this week or I’m missing some, which you can rectify by sending me links at

The most shocking, terrible news in anthropology this week was the Islamic State’s murder of archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad for refusing to reveal the location of artifacts from Palmyra that had been moved for safekeeping. Archaeologist Kristina Killgrove posted a tribute to him on her Forbes blog: Archaeologists Respond to the Murder of Khalel al-Asaad at Ancient Palmyra

An exhibit at the National Geographic Museum uses Indiana Jones as an entry point to dispel myths about archaeology… it even uses the arguably non-canonical fourth installment (#notmyindy) to explore alien astronaut pseudoscience. The Geek Anthropologist’s review: “It Belongs in a Museum”: Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology Review 

The blog How to Anthropology isn’t advocating laziness in the post How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read; instead, it’s about how to keep up with our immense reading load and deal with imposter syndrome

Somatosphere tells the story of Kelly, a US soldier in Iraq who experienced what she felt to be a near brush with death (rather than a near brush with murdering an Iraqi civilian), to look at the “fog of war” as a morass of confusion structured by guidelines that both empasizes and removes individual responsibility: “He Didn’t Blow Us Up”: Routine Violence and Non-Event as Case

The Guardian reports on a salvage ethnographic project: Racing to Record Indigenous Languages Under Attack from “Onslaught of English”


I love hearing people talk about their career trajectories, so I appreciated this post on Anthropologizing, which profiles three researchers who use anthropological methods to let companies know what users need and want: Getting Into User Experience Research: 3 Senior Practitioners Share Their Stories 

Are anthropologists crazy? This post on looks at the craziness of anthropology as a field and the ways that it can make celebrities of groups like the Ju/’Hoansi through an exploration of the careers of ethnographers Gene and Mary Long: Ethnography as a Contact Sport: The Mla Bri and the Long Family of Phrae Thailand 

When did Homo sapiens leave Africa and spread around the world? This Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog post radiates with vindication, as a new article suggests that the date of ~70,000 years ago needs to be revised: Rethinking the Dispersal of Homo Sapiens Out of Africa

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The social costs of export agriculture in San Quintin, Baja California–An Interview with Christian Zlolniski Mon, 24 Aug 2015 00:29:50 +0000 Continue reading The social costs of export agriculture in San Quintin, Baja California–An Interview with Christian Zlolniski ]]>
Workers in the fields, San Quintin, Baja California, Mexico. Image courtesy of Christian Zlolniski.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to interview Christian Zlolniski about his ongoing work in Baja California, Mexico. I contacted Zlolniski in hopes of getting some more insight about the farmworker strikes in the San Quintin Valley that began this past March. Zlolniski is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at the University of Texas at Arlington. His research focuses on economic globalization and immigrant labor, with regional emphasis in the US Southwest and Mexico.  He is the author of the book Janitors, Street Vendors, and Activists: The Lives of Mexican Immigrants in Silicon Valley (UC Press, 2006) and co-author of De Jornaleros a Colonos: Residencia, Trabajo e Identidad en el Valle de San Quintín (COLEF, Mexico 2014).

Ryan Anderson: When did you first start doing fieldwork in San Quintin? Why San Quintin?

Christian Zlolniski: I began doing fieldwork in 2005 with two professors at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Colef) in Tijuana, Mexico –Laura Velasco a sociologist, and Marie Laure Coubes a demographer. We wanted to study the settlement of thousands of indigenous farmworkers in the region who in the past were seasonal migratory workers. It was evident to us that San Quintin was changing fast and becoming a major agro-export enclave in Northern Mexico. It combined advanced agricultural production technologies with the massive employment of indigenous workers as a source of cheap and flexible labor. Except for a few pioneering studies, the academic literature on this region was rather thin and San Quintin was not in the radar screen of politicians, the media or scholars. We also felt that the academic literature on border studies in Mexico had an urban bias with special focus on the economic, demographic and cultural changes in large border cities (and studies on the maquila industry) while important transformations in rural society and economy, including the rapid growth of export agriculture, were largely ignored.

RA: Can you give us some insight into the lives of the jornaleros (ie migrant farmworkers) in the San Quintin Valley? Where are many of these workers from? What is it like to live and work in San Quintin?

CZ: The lives of farm laborers in San Quintin experienced significant changes since the 1990s. In the past many were migratory workers housed in labor camps who after the harvest season left the region. With the expansion of employment opportunities year-round because of the growth of commercial agriculture, many of these workers settled with their families and severed links with their home communities. To settle, they had to buy land plots and work very hard over the years to build and improve their homes and sustain their families. Often they lived in one-room shacks made of cardboard and plastic until they could save enough money to add more rooms and build a roof on their homes. Many of the jornaleros in San Quintin are indigenous peoples from poor regions in southern Mexico such as Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas among others. Thus San Quintin is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in Baja and Mexico as a whole. This is quite remarkable considering this is not a big city but a rural region, which shows that like in other parts of the world agro-export enclaves are magnets for labor immigration of the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Workers and greenhouses, San Quintin. Image courtesy of Christian Zlolniski.

While San Quintin is a beautiful region along the Pacific coast that attracts some tourists from California, the lives of farmworkers remain largely invisible for outsiders passing by. They live in colonias difficulty accessible in dusty roads and lack the basic infrastructure and service we take for granted in the United States such as sewage, paved roads, water, clinics, and the like. With time and thanks to the collective mobilization of their residents who organized to press the local government to respond to their needs, the conditions in some colonias have improved. Yet San Quintin is one of the least developed regions in Baja despite having one of the most productive and affluent horticultural industry in the country. Despite the big challenges they confront, farmworkers in San Quintin have adopted this region as their own and are proud citizens of the region and committed to build a better future for their children so they don’t have to work as jornaleros like them and find employment in better-paid and less strenuous jobs.

RA: Much of your work focuses on the social costs of export agriculture. Elsewhere, you talk about the price we pay for having access to fresh produce all year long. Can you briefly outline your argument? What is the price we pay?

CZ: My argument is that we are used to expect easy access to fresh vegetables and fruits year round at reasonable prices to sustain our lifestyles without thinking about what is takes to produce these crops. One or two generations ago, our parents and grandparents did not expect access to off-season veggies unless they were willing to pay high prices in premium stores. Today things have changed and we can find tomatoes, berries, grapes, and all types of tropical fruits all year round regardless of the season with some but not dramatic price fluctuations. How is this done? To meet our demands commercial agriculture has gone through a major restructuring over the past few decades with the formation of large multinational companies that outsource and buy these produce from developing countries around the world. It has also fueled the development of the so-called counter-seasonal agriculture, which is growing crops in protected environments such as greenhouses to “liberate” agriculture form traditional nature constrains and increase productivity. The result is that in Mexico and many other regions in Latin America, agro-export enclaves have emerged as part of the global food commodity chain which are fully dedicated to export agriculture.

View of a colonia (informal settlement) where workers live, San Quintin. Image courtesy of Christian Zlolniski.

But while providing jobs for farmworkers, agro-export enclaves also generate high ecological, economic and social costs. In San Quintin which is an arid region, water-intense crops such as tomatoes and berries are irrigated with underground water. As a result the underground table has dramatically receded and farmworkers and other residents have increasing problems having access to water for their basic needs. The work in the fields and greenhouses is also very demanding, and field workers when reaching the forties or fifties are often replaced by a young cohort of indigenous workers without having access to pensions or any support after having worked in the region and the same employers. These workers cannot afford to buy the very vegetables they grow, most of which are destined to export markets alone. And because they cannot grow their own food staples any longer, their diets have deteriorated and have health problems such as diabetes they did not have before when they lived as peasants growing their own foods. The social transformation from peasants to rural wage workers employed in commercial agriculture has come with a price tag for them. I think as consumers we have to be aware of these implications and just we have become more socially sensitive about the labor conditions of the workers overseas who build our computers or make our clothes and garments, we ought to ask the same questions about the food and vegetables we consume.

RA: The migrant farmworkers have received a lot of coverage this year because of the strikes that began back in March of this year (see here and here). As an anthropologist, what’s your take on the media coverage and public response to these strikes? What are the root causes of the current strike?

CZ: The strikes that started last March took everybody by surprise, including growers, government officials and the media. There are several factors that explain the resurgence of labor unrest in the Valley which, since the late 1990s, did not experience large strikes. First, while horticultural companies have been doing very well with impressive productivity gains, workers who contribute to this wealth have barely received any benefits from their labor. On the contrary, wages have only modestly increased over the past ten years, and many farmworkers still do not receive the basic labor benefits mandated by the law, including health coverage through the Seguro Social (IMSS). Also since the early 2000s, companies implemented a new pay system based on piece-rate rather than daily wages to enhance workers’ productivity which has led to the intensification of work and, often, more labor exploitation. Labor subcontracting has also become a common practice by many growers and companies to reduce labor costs and increase labor flexibility.

A second factor is the inclusion of labor claims as part of a larger agenda of community activism by farm laborers in San Quintin. In the past when many migratory workers settled in San Quintin they concentrated their time and energies to get a land lot where to build their homes and to mobilize to press government authorities to get the basic infrastructure and services such as water, electricity, schools, and clinics for the colonias. For a while labor-related issues and demands took a back seat as farmworkers and their families were setting up roots in the region. Now after many years of community-based activism, labor issues have come back at the center of the political agenda. Many farmworkers are eager and ready to mobilize for old demands that were never met, including their registration in the Seguro Social, higher wages, and stop abuses by mayordomos (crew leaders) and labor contractors.

A final factor is the emergence of a new independent labor union to articulate workers’ demands and feelings. In San Quintin farm workers have been represented by what in Mexico are known as “sindicatos patronales” state-sanctioned yellow unions that represent more the interest of the companies than the workers. Local growers and the Mexican government have always opposed, sometimes through the use of violence, the formation of independent unions that could threaten the political status quo in the region. Yet this time a new independent organization –the Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional, Estatal y Municipal por la Justicia Social– has emerged to challenge the historical shady association between growers, “official” unions like the CTM, and government officials to demand a seat and voice in the table when labor contracts for farmworkers in the Valley are negotiated. There is also new blood in the labor leadership brought by the Alianza, including Mixtec and Triqui farmworkers with experience of labor organizing in Florida and Mexico. And while in the past when labor strikes erupted, growers and government officials tried to regionalize the conflict to control it, this time the Alianza has internationalized farmworkers’ strike to galvanize the support of sympathizers in the United States where the crops they produce are sold. These innovative strategies have paid off and the labor strike in San Quintin has captured the media attention in the U.S., especially in California, Mexico as a whole, and even reached Europe in countries like Spain. I hope the media does not forget San Quintin and keeps bringing attention to the labor conditions of farmworkers employed in this important agro-export enclave.

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Forget the outrage: Stop signing away your author rights to corporations Sat, 22 Aug 2015 06:09:24 +0000 Continue reading Forget the outrage: Stop signing away your author rights to corporations ]]> Earlier this summer here at the Savage Minds editorial offices, we had a temporary informational mishap that led some of our staff to believe that the mega-publisher Elsevier had purchased and, possibly, the rights to all of our first born children. This insider intelligence had us all on the edges of our figurative seats for about 11 tension-ridden minutes.*

In the end, the intel turned out to be incorrect and we all let out a collective sigh of status-quo-preserving relief. For a minute there we thought we might have to get all up in arms and start checking the oil in our X-Wing fighters and such to fight the big Open Access battle of the century. No need. Stand down folks, stand down.

But the false alarm got me thinking of the time that Elsevier issued more than 2,000 take-down notices to authors who had illegally posted articles on This was back in 2013. Remember that? You might not. But. It. happened. That was the time that a bunch of scholars get all bent out of shape at the Big Evil Publisher that had committed the dastardly act of exercising its legal rights! The nerve! The gall! What right does that Big Evil Publisher have over work that authors freely and willingly gave away via signed author agreements? I mean, seriously, what those publishers are doing is an outrage. Right? Who has the time to read the author agreements? Is there even any text on those agreements? Who reads any fine print these days?

Here’s what Barbara Fister had to say about the whole Elsevier fiasco:

HAHAHAHAHahahahahah . . . whew, that was funny. (Wipes away tears of laughter and frustration.) Those chickens finally came home to roost. All these years librarians have been saying to scholars, “uh, you realize what happens when you sign away your rights, don’t you? You just gave your copyright to a corporation. We have pay them to get access to that content, and anyone who can’t pay can’t read it. Is this really what you had in mind when you wrote up that research?

As Fister explains in her post, the usual response she gets when she tries to bring up these issues is something along the lines of: “ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz snort, snuffle. Huh? Did you say something? Oh, yeah, tenure. Promotion. Don’t be silly. I’m working on a review article, can you get these articles for me?” But when people get take-down notices, suddenly they wake up and get outraged about their articles and their rights. Here’s her response:

While in a way I find this outrage a little funny, I can’t indulge in “I told you so.” This episode once again shows that librarians are not the change agents we want to see. We can’t get scholarly authors attention quite the way a publisher can when it actually uses the all-rights-reserved copyright that authors have willingly given them.

Fister’s post ends with some suggestions: read some Peter Suber. Take some time to learn a bit more about the rights journals are asking for, and the kinds of waivers you can request that help you retain more of your rights. Browse the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). She lists a few more suggestions as well. The main problem persists though. Despite the options that exist, many scholars keep doing the same old thing and signing away the rights to their work. Sure, the Elsevier take-down created a stir…but it was short-lived. Now most of us are back to the grind–publishing and signing away our rights faster than you can say “Hey what the hell are those folks at Cultural Anthropology talking about with all of this ‘publishing otherwise’ business?

Rex here at Savage Minds also wrote about the big Elsevier shocker:

When you publish with Elsevier, you sign an agreement with them called a ‘copyright transfer agreement’. Guess what it does? That’s right: It transfers control of your creative work to them. In many important ways, your work no longer belongs to you. You may be the author, but you are no longer the owner.

Rex wrote that “Elsevier and other publishers have quietly tolerated the tremendous traffic of PDFs that happens both in public and private on the Internet.” They do this because it’s in their best interest, as Rex explained: “if most people realized the way they had signed away their rights to publishers, the open access movement would double or triple in size overnight.”

Did you see that? Let’s recap: If most people realized the way they had signed away their rights to publishers, the open access movement would double or triple in size overnight.

This mass realization obviously hasn’t happened yet. And so the screwed up world of corporate academic publishing keeps grinding forward. The worst part, as Rex points out, is that so many of us are surprised–if not shocked–when publishers actually do what they told us they were going to do in the first place. This, he says, is like being upset at Jaws for eating people in questionably accurate 1970s films. Of course the shark is eating people! It’s the 1970s! And, duh, look at the poster for the film! Likewise, of course the massive corporate publisher is gobbling up and controlling all of our academic output! We went swimming in their ocean, after all.

Like Fister, Rex has some advice to help soothe our wounded souls. There are ways to make the world of scholarly communication a better place. Publish in gold OA journals. Publish in green OA journals. Alter the terms of your author’s agreement. He ends with this:

But there’s one thing I don’t think it is fair for us to do: complain about the way the world is because we lived under the impression that it was something else. Especially if we are actively engaged in reproducing it. So if you are pissed off about the Elsevier takedowns, then please join our rebel alliance now — because guess what? Darth Vader actually is out to get you.

Jason B Jackson made a similar argument at the time:

While I am a Elsevier boycott participant and cannot ever imagine publishing with them, I 100% support the rights of Elsevier and other publishers to fully and legally exercise the copyright that they legally hold and to protect their property from illegal misuse by third party firms and from their author agreement-disregarding authors who mistakenly believe that because their name is on the byline of an article that they can do whatever they wish with value-added property that, despite their authorship, they do not own.

Self-piracy is wrong and it is not helping build a better scholarly communication system. Instead, it further confuses the already confused into believing that [pseudo] open access is easy and it leads to painful ironies such as scholarly society leaders setting publishing policies that they do not understand and that they, even as they make them, are out of compliance with.

Jackson’s final argument is that breaking contracts we signed by essentially stealing articles and posting them on for-profit sites “is not the way to do it.” There are other options. Plenty, he reminds us. He also says that it is our obligation as scholars to know how to modify author agreements. This is one step in moving things forward (and something that has been suggested by all three authors I have cited so far–probably good reason to pay attention).

Gavia Libraria also chimed in on the matter right around the same time. For her, much of it comes down to mass ignorance of the issues:

The great mass of those who publish in the scholarly literature are pig-ignorant about how scholarly publishing works. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have to worry about scam open-access journals or journal impact factor, just to offer up two obvious examples, because they would be laughed out of existence.

This mass of people, she says, has an unwarranted sense of entitlement to the scholarly literature and a warped understanding of their own contributions to it. This entitlement, combined with ignorance, works to the benefit of toll-access publishers. How? Because, she argues, people who feel this sense of entitlement yet know almost nothing about the workings of the publishing world are”are easily manipulated into signing contracts they shouldn’t and vehemently defending organizations and processes out to exploit them.”

These are some harsh words. They might hurt–but that’s probably because they’re right on the mark. I’m definitely someone who has been guilty of complaining about Big Evil Publishers in the past–without looking deeper into the issues. This kind of populism is fun and all, but there’s no actual end game. If the goal is to do something about the current publishing regime, then the first thing we’re going to have to do is wise up. Read up. Learn more and listen more when it comes to publishing.

And here I’m not just talking about the usual conversations about publishing–you know, the ones where people tell you to either get yourself published in the usual toll-access journals or watch your career slowly wither away. I’m talking about the kind of “publishing otherwise” that Marcel LaFlamme writes about (not one, but two nods there folks). The kind of rowdy, alternative publishing that Eileen Joy writes about. And after we educate ourselves, well, it’s time to actively take part in building the alternative publishing platforms that will make the current world of pay-walled publishing seem ridiculous, laughable, and, probably most important, completely inept.

Maybe now is actually the time for the big Open Access battle of the century. If not now, when?

*We don’t actually have an editorial office.


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Savage Minds Reader Survey Results Part 2: Education, Work & Debt Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:12:38 +0000 Continue reading Savage Minds Reader Survey Results Part 2: Education, Work & Debt ]]> Earlier this year we conducted the Savage Minds Reader Survey. Kerim described some of the demographic results in this post. Here I’ll provide a very brief recap. The majority of the responses came from readers in North America (62.8%) and Western Europe (16.7%). In terms of gender, 57% chose “female,” 43% chose “male” and two chose “other.” About 70% of the responses came from people in their 20s and 30s. Seventy six percent have either a PhD or a Master’s degree. Finally, to add one demographic detail to Kerim’s summary, when asked about their ethnicity, about 81% of the respondents chose “white” (244 out of 302 respondents).* For the rest of this post I’ll be talking about education, work (employment), and debt.

Let’s start with education. About 50% of the respondents are either currently attending college or attended during the past year (as of Spring 2015 when we did the survey). About 21% attended college between one and five years ago, 11% between six and ten years ago, and 8% between eleven and fifteen years ago. A final 8.6% attended college sixteen or more years ago (see Chart 1). Of these, 56% said they teach at the college level, while 44 percent do not. We also asked whether people plan to continue formal studies in anthropology or a related field. About 44% said they are done with formal schooling, while another 34% said they hope to get a PhD in anthropology. Another 11% said they plan on getting a Master’s in anthropology.

Chart 1

We also asked about employment–we divided this up into those who teach (or taught) at the university/college level, and those who do not. Let’s start with the latter. For those who do not teach, 37% have a full-time job, 35% work part-time, and 27% reported being unemployed. Another 1 percent are retired (see Chart 2).

Chart 2

For annual income (again, we are talking about the non-teachers here), about 78% of the respondents make $30,000 USD or less (I converted all non-US currency). Another 14% make between $31,000 and $60,000. Approximately 6% make between $61,000 and $100,000, and a final 3% makes $101,000 or more. Next we asked whether or not people are using their anthropology skills in their current job. About 64% said that they are using their anthropology training either directly (28%) or indirectly (36%) in their current job. About 18% said they are not using their anthropology training at all in their current job. When asked if they would prefer to be teaching at the college/university level, 43.1% chose “That’s my dream job,” 16.4% said “No way!” and 42.3% were neutral. Overall, when it comes to job satisfaction, 30.7% were satisfied, 22.8% were not, and 46.6% were in the middle. When we asked people to provide some more detail about job satisfaction, here’s what some of them wrote:

  1. “I enjoy using my anthropology background on how information is used in my job, even though it has nothing to do with my master’s thesis (primate-parasite interactions). It allows me to exercise my cultural anthropology muscles I would otherwise neglect.”
  2. “I’ve had a major in visual anthropology thus my anthropological training helps in a way in my current job but I would prefer to work in a field more related to anthropology and more intellectually challenging.”
  3. “My goal was to continue my research and teach at the University level. Lack of funding, getting in the field late, and mounting debt forced me to re-evaluate this goal and return to my previous job.”
  4. “I am a broke graduate student trying to fill the gap between my fellowships and reality with part-time work. Some has been decently lucrative but right now it is tough.”
  5. “I love my job and love the ability to apply my anthropological training.”
  6. “I aspire to academia, but have been unable to secure a postdoc and with a family to support, I can’t afford the asceticism that would allow me to spend the necessary time reading researching reflecting writing reviewing rewriting revising and resubmitting to return to the fold of academia. Nor am I really sure I want to anymore, but I do miss the collegiality and conversation.”
  7. “It’s hand-to-mouth and there are still embedded cultural expectations of doing a lot of work for no pay.”
  8. “I’d like to work somewhere where I’m being challenged.”
  9. “I’m interested enough in computers that I don’t hate this line of work, but I’m not talented enough for it to be anything more than a way to get by. My passion is in educating people about anthropology.”
  10. “Incessant mindless desk work.”
  11. “As an undergrad there aren’t many opportunities to build or use Anthro skills. I did apply for a summer research assistantship which has a stipend. Waiting to hear back about that. I can’t work as an unpaid intern because I have bills that need to be paid. Work-study makes $500 a month max and this is just not sustainable.”
  12. “Well, I do need money to sustain myself. When I returned to the US I did not have any luck finding a job as most employers said I was over-educated. I returned overseas when offered a scholarship for my MA degree, but also face issues of unemployment being overseas. “
  13. “Happy to be employed full time, but miss being in the field, and I am one of the few qualitative folks in a sea full of economists/statisticians.”
  14. “Financing for my research is on the verge of finishing. In 10 days I ll be all unemployed with part time job non related to anthropology.”
  15. “I am currently a graduate student in anthropology, but prior to it I worked as a research assistant and consultant for NGOs (based in Mumbai, India – because context is important!)
    In my experience, anthropological (and qualitative) research needs more space to contribute to existing social programs. In a way, the research “industry” is myopic and often fails to use data and evidence efficiently to contribute to better programs.
    The fact that ethnography – which can greatly contribute to this largess – rarely is at the fore of research (or is badly implemented) is disappointing.”
  16. “I am doing mainly administrative and logistical work. My employers also value quantitative skills over qualitative skills, which can feel frustrating when my anthropological and ethnographic experience feels undervalued.”
  17. “I aspire to academia, but have been unable to secure a postdoc and with a family to support, I can’t afford the asceticism that would allow me to spend the necessary time reading researching reflecting writing reviewing rewriting revising and resubmitting to return to the fold of academia. Nor am I really sure I want to anymore, but I do miss the collegiality and conversation.”
  18. “I get to do research, help design things, use my anthropology and make money.”
  19. “I get to travel from place to place and learn about different cultures, and I’m paid handsomely to do so.”
  20. “I have a good job with a good employer working with mothers and their babies…what’s not to love?”
Chart 3

For those who do teach, 22.4% have tenure, 19.5% are adjuncts, 14.9% have a full-time, non-tenure track job. In addition, 13.3% have a tenure track job, but not tenure. Another 2% are either emeritus or retired. A final 27.8% answered “other” to this question (see Chart 3 above).** Overall, 81% of teach college students and 43% teach grad students. Another 7% percent teach at community colleges. When asked about job satisfaction, 39.8% say they are satisfied with their current employment situation, 23.2% say they are unsatisfied, and another 36.9% are on the fence. When we asked the teachers to talk more about job satisfaction, here’s what some of them wrote:

  1.  “‘You could make more money as a butcher.’ I find myself bogged down with minutia. My job feels very precarious, even if it is the gold standard of academic employment: tenure-track job in an anth department. I worry about getting “stuck” – it’s good to have a job, but lack of mobility in the academic job market means it is difficult to look forward to advancing… I think these are probably good problems to have, but they do reduce job satisfaction.  Finally, in general, I’m frustrated with the priorities of our culture and political system, which do not reward intellectual work, inquiry, research…”
  2. “Academia always has its ups-and-downs, but it would be stupid to complain about a tenured job at a liberal arts college.”
  3. “Adjuncting is not a sustainable long-term career path and with few TT jobs in the region where I live, I am likely to change careers in the long-term.”
  4. “Have a TT position, happy with it and my department. Definitely feelin’ lucky.”
  5. “Adjuncts are treated like garbage.”
  6. “Adjuncts need better structures and tenure track people are in a position to help this. But they seem to talk the talk in classes about Marxist thought and fair wages, yet they don’t speak up in their own departments to change the status quo.”
  7. “All-research museum position, teach when and what and if I want, lots of freedom to travel, write, do research, would be a dream job if the Brazilian bureaucracy weren’t such a nightmare. And if my city had sewage treatment…”
  8. “After finishing my Ph.D. coursework, I had to move back home to live closer to my parents who were willing to offer me financial support and were able to help my husband get a job teaching at a local high school.  While working to finish my PhD qualifying exams and apply for grants, I began substitute teaching to earn a little cash and get out of the house. After finally passing my dissertation proposal defense and achieving ABD status, tight on money, I accepted a more permanent position teaching high school mathematics, replacing a teacher who left the local district in November. As college professors are not certified to teach high school, I am actually earning just above minimum wage.”
  9. “I am currently on the job market, without much success. The whole thing is a big mystery to me.”
  10. “I am extremely, unbelievably, stupendously lucky that when I was writing up my PhD, this university advertized a position in EXACTLY my specialization, and I was far enough along in writing up that they could hire me. (I submitted my PhD diss for examination the day before my job started.) I was the last of 9 tenure-track profs hired over 5 years, before a hiring freeze struck. They had the hiring process down pat and knew I’d fit in. My department is collegial, supportive and altogether a great place to be.”
  11. “I am underpaid, under appreciated, overworked– all for no potential job advancement. It’s way more demoralizing than I expected it to be when I signed on. To be surrounded by TT and tenured faculty who get paid 2x more plus benefits and don’t do half of the work I do for students– it’s depressing. It’s making me seriously consider leaving academia.”
  12. “I get to do cool research on climate change and anthro.”
  13. “I have a low teaching load, and good funding from my university. My colleagues are awesome.”
  14. “I have a tenure track position in a supportive department in an area that I like living in. Its academic happiness (a rarity).”
  15. “I have a wonderful TT job in an anthro dept with wonderful colleagues.”
  16. “I have an office, benefits, and almost enough money to cover the basics.  But I’d like to teach less, write and research more, have permanent employment, tenure, and a higher salary.”
  17. “I love teaching at my community college. Great colleagues, love the teaching, and enjoy the students. It feels great to be part of helping those with fewer resources and opportunities get ahead and make their lives better.”
  18. “I teach at an R1, state university, tenured senior faculty. Good salaries, good benefits, etc. Livin’ the dream.”
  19. “The city in which I live is miserable: harsh winters, very little diversity, and an uber-conservative, anti-science, religious extremist, under-educated and unhealthy population. The students are by and large disappointing. Publication education has let them down, and I struggle to teach them basic skills. They make me worry about the future of our species. There are too many complacent senior faculty, and little energy on campus. There are severe budget cuts, and massive restructuring underway. I am witnessing the erosion of higher education up close, and feel there is nothing I can do about it.
  20. “While I have a full time, non tenure track job at the moment (1-year postdoc), I have just accepted an offer for a tenure-track job beginning fall 2015. I am very satisfied with this outcome.”

This brings us to the debt question. The total reported debt from our readers was $8,302,507. The mean for this total debt was about $19,308 per person. The mean debt of people who have at least some debt (i.e. excluding those with no debt) was $38,616. The most striking aspect of the debt stats for me was the number of people who had zero debt. Check out the breakdown (see Chart 4):

  • Zero debt: 215 people (50.1%)
  • Debt between $1 and $10,000: 55 (12.8%)
  • Debt between $11,000 and $30,000: 66 (15.4%)
  • Debt between $31,000 and $50,000: 42 (9.8%)
  • Debt between $51,000 and $70,000: 25(5.8%)
  • Debt between $71,000 and $90,000: 6 (1.4%)
  • Debt between $91,000 and $120,000: 12 (2.8%)
  • More than $120,000 in debt: 9 (2.1%)
total debt_1
Chart 4. Total debt in dollars and total number of individuals within each debt category (labeled on pie chart).

That gap–between those with no debt at all and those with debt–speaks to some of the disparities that exist in academia (for a graphic representation of this debt gap, see Image 1). Explaining those disparities is the hard part. The largest percent of respondents fall within the $11k to $30k range, but a significant percentage of our readership has more than $30,000 in debt.

For some help envisioning what I called the "debt gap," please refer to this image of the Gulfoss chasm in Iceland by photographer Carl Jones.. Creative Commons 2.0 License.
Image 1. For some help envisioning the “debt gap,” please refer to this image of a chasm in Iceland by photographer Carl Jones. Creative Commons 2.0 License. Notice the people who are safely watching this scene in the upper left corner. They are the ones without debt. Those with massive debt are somewhere in the depths of the icy cavern. Others are somewhere between. End of illustration.

I compared debt with a few other factors to see if I could tease out any interesting differences. First, I looked at debt and ethnicity. Keep in mind that the responses for ethnicity were a bit unwieldy (as Kerim noted in his summary). What I ended up doing was reducing the responses down to “white” and “non-white.” The average debt for white respondents was $20,852, while the average debt for non-white respondents was $20,272. In terms of percentages, 46.7% of white and 50% of non-white respondents reported having at least some debt. These results do not indicate much of a difference, but considering the complexity of the ethnicity question (and trying to assess it with an opt-in online survey), this is one that could definitely be revisited.

Next I checked debt as it relates to gender. Here there were some differences. Our female readers reported an average of $20,930 in debt, while our male readers reported an average of $17,308. So this means that the female respondents carry about 21% more debt on average. This certainly isn’t definitive, but it points toward some potential differences that would merit greater attention. In addition, two people chose “other” for gender. The total debt of these two was $7,000, which translates to an average of $3,500 per person. Obviously, such a low number of responses for that category doesn’t tell us much. As with the question about ethnicity,  this question could use some greater attention (and a more rigorous sample) if we really want to parse out some of these differences.

Debt and age_2
Chart 5

Finally, let’s talk about debt in terms of age (see Chart 5). Our readers who are 19 years old and under (4) carry an average debt of $2,500. For those in their 20s (138), the average debt is $16,010, while the respondents in their 30s (162) reported an average debt of $26,755. After that point the debt starts to drop off again: readers in their 40s (78) have an average debt of $18,381, those in their 50s (30) are remarkably lower at $5,501. The average for those in their 60s (15) jumps back up to $10,000, but here it’s important to note that 14 had no debt at all and one person reported $150,000 in debt. Finally, our three oldest readers who responded to this survey, who happen to be women in their 70s, reported having no debt at all.

I know this was a numbers-intensive post. For me the numbers are interesting, but some of the most compelling information comes from the various experiences that our readers shared in the open-ended questions. Perhaps this doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since I’m primarily a qualitative researcher (along with much of our readership). I’d like to find a way to share more of those answers–perhaps in another follow up post, or maybe even via one long catalog of responses. Let me know what you all think, since they are your answers after all. For those of you who made it all the way to the end of this long post: thanks!

UPDATE: I know this is a mass of information. I’ll add in some charts asap to help make some of the data more reader friendly. I’ve added a few already.

UPDATE II: I added some more charts and one image to help illustrate the data. I also added some tongue-in-cheek commentary to the aforementioned image. If you feel I haven’t quite hit the proper chart threshold, please let me know.

*Note: There were 430 total responses to the survey. Many people either did not respond to the ethnicity question, or left answers that were highly ambiguous (often terms of nationality that do not translate to any one particular ethnic group). I was left with 302 usable responses for this question. Answered ranged from “white” to “black” to “Latina” to “Poi dog” to “Pacific Islander,” among others.

**Note II: For this question we asked “Do you work full-time?” Since about 28% of the answers to this question were “other,” this is another question we obviously need to rethink if we end up doing another survey in the future.

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Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 1 Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:38:48 +0000 Continue reading Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 1 ]]> Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Takami Delisle. Tak currently works as a medical interpreter for Japanese patients and helps run an organization for anthropology students of color. You can find her on Twitter @tsd1888 and she also has her own blog. If you’re interested, please contact her.


Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology

by Takami Delisle

I have spent most of my American life doing anthropology. I think about and with anthropology when I observe the world around me, whether watching the news or listening to friends’ conversations. It’s not that someone is forcing me to do so with a knife right at my jugular, but it’s that anthropology has been one of the biggest passions I have ever had in my entire life. Coming home after my very first cultural anthropology class, I felt as if I had just been awakened by something magical. I still remember the sense of thrill when I declared my major as anthropology at my first U.S. university. I sat in the very front row in every single cultural anthropology class like a little kid watching a cartoon right in front of the TV.

What drew me into anthropology is that it opened a door to a wide-open space where I was encouraged to ask questions that I had never felt allowed to voice – like Japan’s appalling gender inequalities, Japanese corporations’ socioeconomic exploitations overseas, and the central government’s ill treatments of Okinawa. Anthropology gave me opportunities to critically and objectively reevaluate the country where I was born and raised, the place I often took for granted. It’s not that anthropology gave me answers to all of my questions, but it did bring me closer to the answers.

My first anthropology graduate program did not betray my expectations of anthropology. The seminar “Poverty, Power, and Privilege” was the most instrumental for strengthening my passion for anthropology. It provided me with theoretical and analytical tools to trace social injustices back through history – to see where they came from and how they changed over time. This seminar taught me to look at the bigger picture when it comes to inequality, and to pay close attention to issues of power. Everything about the seminar blew my mind.

I also learned what it means to be a good anthropologist from this graduate program, which had incredible, worldly-minded teachers who were also good mentors. For instance, after I submitted the final draft of my master’s thesis to my faculty committee members, one of them, who was also the department chair, e-mailed me his comment, which started with, “I want to thank you for teaching me about this important community” – his humbleness taught me to be humble, as I also thanked many of my own students for teaching me things I didn’t know. Another professor, who didn’t believe in the value of testing and grading his graduate students, asked us in his seminar to write what each of us found the most intriguing about the seminar, instead of giving us a final exam – his consistent practice of the principle against the standardized education taught me to be loyal to my principles. When a white student in one of my discussion sections complained about the class materials on racial issues and accused me of being a racist toward whites, the professor whom I was a TA for asked me to let him directly speak with the student to defend me, instead of telling me to ignore the incident – his courage to pursue justice taught me to stand up to injustice. When I brought the dilemmas and difficulties that I had encountered during my research fieldwork to my advisor, instead of telling me to figure them out on my own, she patiently listened, worked out strategies with me, and suggested to incorporate these encounters into my research data and thesis – her mentorship taught me to stay motivated, to keep pushing forward. I was entirely impressed, when another professor, who was often quite harsh on me, stood in front of the whole seminar at the first meeting of the semester and publicly admitted that she was wrong for her vehement disagreement with my argument in another seminar during the previous semester. Her honesty and integrity as an anthropologist taught me to be committed to anthropological inquiries. All these professors helped solidify my deeper understanding of what anthropology should be as a discipline.

My confidence in academic anthropology began to crumble when I joined another anthropology graduate program later on. It was drastically different from my previous program, particularly the relationships between the professors and the graduate students. Some of the professors were obsessed with exerting their authority; this hierarchical pressure permeated throughout the entire department, instilling a cold, sometimes hostile air among the graduate student body. Because of this, anthropology started to take over me, to preoccupy my essence. It consumed every minute of my everyday life, constantly making me question whether I grasped what I was expected to in the course materials, whether I was writing the right things in the weekly reflective essays, and whether I was intelligent enough to be an anthropologist. I had no time to do anything else. I never felt I was doing anything right.

I got so paranoid about falling behind. There were days when I didn’t even see my husband because I sat behind books and the computer in our back room for hours on end. I worked hard, very very hard. But the way I spent my life doing anthropology changed. I was no longer doing anthropology because I was passionate about it—I was doing it out of fear. And out of my fear, I lost interest in everything else. Not only did I have few real friends in the department, but also I had no time, energy, and motivation to make friends outside the department. The result was that I turned into this statue-like apathetic thinking machine with “Anthropology” written big on my forehead.

What was it about the fear that was colonizing my life with anthropology? The truth is that anthropology is not a pure knowledge genre, but it is an institutionalized discipline. When knowledge gets institutionalized, the ways in which the knowledge is practiced and disseminated fall into the hands of the people who run the institution. The materialization of the knowledge depends heavily on how these people carry themselves under the authoritative titles. In other words, the remarkable potential of anthropological knowledge gets filtered through authoritative anthropologists. What is truly detrimental to anthropology is, then, that if they can’t embody the ingenious knowledge to their students and colleagues in everyday life, they also turn anthropology into hypocrisy. This is what was rampant in my second anthropology graduate program. The fear, which consumed my life in anthropology, was of getting disapprovals from those authoritative anthropologists. They scared the hell out of me.

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Ethnographic Field Data 1: Should I Share my Fieldnotes? Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:01:29 +0000 Continue reading Ethnographic Field Data 1: Should I Share my Fieldnotes? ]]> [Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Celia Emmelhainz.]

“This will be your office,” Dr. Bernson* says, unlocking the storage room near her office.

Tall wooden shelves frame rows of ethnography, gender studies, and area studies book, dog-eared dictionaries of minority languages, and obscure books she picked up in the field. A row of file cabinets faces the bookshelves, and in the back: two old computers for the graduate students.

One Tuesday, when work is slow, I unlock my office door and open the large file cabinet marked fieldnotes. Curious, I pull out slim tablets of lined paper, and discover the records of Dr. Bernson’s first fieldwork, some twenty years before: handwritten notes on conversations, dinners attended, interviews in halting tongue, new vocabulary, and reflections on her early research projects.

I flip through the tablets, and carefully put them back in the cabinet. Close the drawer. Lock the office.

For the next year, I work for Dr. Bernson to code her data, prepare a manuscript, translate online articles, and revise her existing publications. Yet I wonder what happened to the rest of her stories, the fieldnotes we take but never share. Will I someday inherit her notes? And what would I even do with them all?


In this series, I’d like to talk about what it might take to safely archive and share Dr. Bernson’s—and your—field research. I’m sure this raises many questions/reflections, which you’re welcome to share in the comments.

The first, of course, is: why bother? Why even share fieldnotes?

I suggest we have an ethical responsibility to safeguard and protect our “data,” the stuff of our research—but also to preserve and share it at the appropriate time. Sometimes, we protect local communities by limiting access to information.

(Other times, we protect ourselves and our own reputations. I’ve heard from younger archaeologists that the practice of ‘hiding information’–and even withholding data for thirty years or more!–may help established scholars but may also limit the access of younger scholars to materials that might inform their research.)

There are many good reasons to secure our field data: the possibility that sharing could harm the people we work with or our own scholarly reputations, a lack of established guidelines, and a lack of time and expertise for us to archive both the content and context of our research.

Yet there are also many reasons to preserve and share our work: a desire to share stories from communities that may be ‘off the record,’ to memorialize people we have worked closely with, or to record communities, their constraints, and their ways of living in the world. We may want to help future researchers or those from outside our field to begin developing a broader view of current topics. And we may want to put photos, field documents, and stories back into the hands of those who first shared them with us.

In other words, archiving and sharing our field documents can at times be part of our responsibility to the people we work with, to fellow researchers and to the public. In this series, I’ll bring up some of the issues in securing, archiving, and sharing our fieldwork records–but also discuss why we would do that for ourselves and for future historians and social scientists.

Of course, these posts are only a primer. As an anthropologist-turned-librarian, I’ll remind you that you likely have a “liaison” librarian, archivist, repository manager, or data librarian at your institution. These folks could advise you on preserving and sharing field records. Getting connected with others, here or in person, is one of the best ways to begin thinking through how we can best care for our irreplaceable notes, images, interviews, and other field documents!

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