Savage Minds Notes and Queries in Anthropology Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:07:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Waiting” in the Neoliberal University: The Salaita Case and the Wages of an Academic Boycott Tue, 28 Jul 2015 16:07:44 +0000 Continue reading “Waiting” in the Neoliberal University: The Salaita Case and the Wages of an Academic Boycott ]]> This essay by anthropologists Martin Manalansan and Ellen Moodie at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides an updated account of the fall-out from their institution’s un-hiring of Steven Salaita for his tweets critical of the state of Israel during its 2014 war on Gaza. It argues for a broader campaign against the revanchist state and neoliberalization of the university.

“WAITING” IN THE NEOLIBERAL UNIVERSITY:  The Salaita Case and the Wages of an Academic Boycott

Martin F. Manalansan IV and Ellen Moodie**

The crisis at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has become known as “the Salaita case,” or just “Salaita.”  In common parlance the surname refers not so much to the Palestinian American literary scholar who signed a contract with the university in the fall of 2013 as to the choleric situation that emerged from the efforts of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, in collusion with other Illinois figures, to prevent Steven Salaita from coming to campus to join the renowned faculty at the American Indian Studies (AIS) Program. The decision came after Wise began receiving complaints from alumni and donors, as recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests reveal. By now, few people doubt that a campaign against this staunch critic of Israel and author of several books was orchestrated by well-funded political lobby groups.

We have since watched and waited as a devastating administrative decision has spiraled into a crisis in the humanities and social sciences at the University of Illinois and beyond. American Indian Studies—always vulnerable in the context of the university’s supposedly retired “chief” mascot—has been all but destroyed. It’s likely that most of our AIS colleagues will leave Urbana. University rhetoric about faculty governance has been revealed as a farce. The local, donor-driven decisions in Urbana, instigated by an organized campaign among pro-Israeli alumni, sparked a national and international boycott, one unofficially linked to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. This link is not simply one of parallelism (an example of how a boycott works, as many claimed), but one of substance. It is no coincidence that it was Steven Salaita, Palestinian-American critic of Israel, who was discarded.

In this column we share what it has meant to be boycotted. We cannot speak for AIS or Steven Salaita (who recently accepted a position at the American University of Beirut for 2015-2016). We are two anthropologists active in the Urbana-Champaign campus faculty coalition that emerged last August, first to exchange information, and then to plan a series of actions and protests. Many progressive-minded faculty members and graduate students at UIUC have rallied to take the administration to task not only for the Salaita unhiring, but also for the complete disavowal of shared governance and academic freedom.

Beyond these university-focused issues, we have considered our struggle to be part of the overall BDS movement. We strongly believe in responding to the call to action in the fight against the violent and inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli state. Discussions of Salaita’s work and other critiques of Israel’s settler colonialist policies have been happening not only in classes, but also in informal seminars and reading groups on the UIUC campus. We see the Salaita case as not just a local case of bad university hiring practices, but part of a complex set of opposing forces around the Israel-Palestine issue.

However, for those of us on the ground at UIUC, the national boycott of UIUC has brought to the surface tensions between ideal goals and everyday life on campus. One huge difference between the BDS and the UIUC boycott is that the boycott of Israeli academic institutions was well thought-out over the past decade. There are clear guidelines.  It came from calls from within Palestinian civil society. The UIUC boycott, in contrast, was decreed by outsiders with no previous stakes in UIUC and without much practical consideration. It was not formed as part of a bigger strategy.

Nearly a year after all this began, we are waiting, still waiting. We can wait, as a mode of resistance; they (the administration) can wait, as an exercise of power (see Javier Auyero, Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina [Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012]). As we wait, we ask: What’s the next move? Who will refuse to come to campus? What now, after the definitive censure vote from the national AAUP? What are the latest rulings in the lawsuit for breach of contract and violation of free speech rights that Steven Salaita filed in federal court (against campus leaders and “unknown donors”)? When will we be able to plan an event on campus without feeling ethically compromised? Inevitably, how can we create long-term critical pedagogical and research goals during this impasse?

So: “This is how a boycott works,” as a prominent fellow anthropologist repeated several times last year at the American Anthropological Association meetings, explaining that rather than going to Urbana, people invite UIUC faculty to their campuses. Most of the UIUC faculty involved in the internal efforts to oppose our administration, to fight for academic freedom and faculty governance, are still waiting to be included in various discussions of the Salaita case across the nation. Some of us have used other invitations as an opportunity to talk about the boycott, and more broadly, the fragility of faculty governance in a moment of neoliberal revanchism. Most of us have never claimed that this is simply a liberal individual “academic freedom” issue. Instead, we see this as part of a larger effort designed not just to silence critics of Israel or censor critics of powerful monied interests, but also to remake the (public) university in a neoliberal corporate framework.

When talk of the UIUC boycott first began, at least a few of us were skeptical. The idea came entirely from outsiders. No one consulted with any of us: not with Steven Salaita, not with the AIS faculty, not with anyone on campus affected by our administration’s end-run around established procedures. Still, many of us in the humanities and social sciences wanted to consider the movement one of solidarity, and one that would pressure the administration to reverse its decision—or at least embarrass it a little. But the terms of the boycott were never clear. How long will the boycott be enforced? What is the scope? Some people from other universities threatened to not write tenure reviews. There has been fear that UIUC graduates will not fare well in the academic job market.

In the meantime, in our everyday lives, we forge on. Sometimes, we forget, if just for a moment, that we are waiting. We teach, grade, write, conduct research, review manuscripts, write tenure letters, attend faculty and committee meetings…  Then out of the blue, something brings us back to the terra firma of the boycott. For example: In April a top recruit for the Anthropology graduate program wrote emails to several faculty members who had hoped to work with him, saying,  “I do not see myself thriving socially in Urbana-Champaign at large. I take very seriously the effects the boycott has had on the stability of the American Indian Studies program.”

It is important to note that the boycott has not harmed the vigorous exchanges in the STEM departments and colleges. Instead, the boycott has hit hard on vulnerable humanities and humanistic social sciences, especially those in the interdisciplines such as gender, women’s and ethnic studies. Now the former university system president Bob Easter has forecast new austerity measures, telling us: “Some programs will not survive.”

The UIUC boycott has become unwittingly complicit with the planned dismantling of these interdisciplines by the neoliberal university and the revanchist state. If ongoing events in Wisconsin and North Carolina are any indication, the unintentional crippling of these fields becomes part of the eventual undoing or weakening of these critical knowledge sites where vital critiques of local and trans-national landscapes emanate. Will ethnic studies and other interdisciplines be the necessary collateral damage in the boycott such that we lose the very sites and people that think critically about why we need to act ethically in a political world, whether within the BDS or in other movements?

We urge allies across the country to go beyond the Illinois boycott. It is no longer just about Steven Salaita’s un-hiring, the administration’s view of the disposability of AIS, the racist battle against the BDS movement, and/or academic freedom. Progressive people behind the boycott should gather to fight not only for justice for Steven Salaita, but also for the very survival of the university outside the state’s neoliberal purview of producing laborers for the service economy. We cannot just stand and wait while various state legislatures and national institutions decry and demolish tenure, academic programs, and shared governance.

These days, many of us on campus feel demoralized, frustrated, and even silenced. Most of the external “support” of the boycott has come to feel like a great emptiness. In the meantime, the UIUC administration and the Board of Trustees have not moved or even shown much distress over the cancellations and refusals, even after the AAUP censured the university. They are waiting it out, waiting for the outcome of the lawsuit Steven Salaita has filed against them, undoubtedly ready to make their settlement. But we, politically progressive members of universities and college should no longer wait. We should step up our game and move to other more effective modes of action.

We suggest the boycott of UIUC be superseded by an expansive coalition and a multi-stranded set of actions to oppose the virulent and revanchist state apparatus and the increasingly imperial/neoliberal university. Concerned citizens of higher educational institutions in this nation must now fight directly and more forcefully with clearer agendas and goals. Waiting is no longer an option.

*Both authors are associate professors in anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Manalansan has a joint appointment in Asian American Studies. We thank Jessica Winegar for her encouragement and suggestions.

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Summer Writing: Units of Time Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:55:31 +0000 Continue reading Summer Writing: Units of Time ]]> In the 2002 rom-com About a Boy, Hugh Grant plays a well to do bachelor who lives off the royalties of a song his deceased father produced. With no need to work, Will Freeman (Grant) spends most of his time engaged in leisure pursuits: taking bubble baths, playing pool, getting scalp massages and looking for attractive women to rendezvous with. I can relate to the character. Not so much that I spend most of my time taking bubble baths and looking for attractive women (I do this only in moderation) but in that I live alone and have a flexible schedule. Like Freeman (Grant) I feel I need to impose order on my time. There is a scene early on the film where Freeman narrates his “units of time” theory.

I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully disheveled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job; how do people cram them in?

There is an academic version of the units of time theory. For struggling writers, the advice is to commit to a nominal unit of daily writing (usually 45 minutes). The idea is that the large project is daunting and seeing it in small units helps get things under way and helps you to see realistically what can be accomplished. It is supposed to prevent ‘binge’ style writing that has been shown to be ineffective for producing consistent work over the long-term. This theory is part of many of the writing self-help books I have read (in lieu of writing) over the years. Books like: How to Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a DayWriting Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, and a personal favourite Professors as Writers: A self-Help Guide to Productive Writing. Many of these have been reviewed on Savage Minds. In most of these types of books they encourage to take a serious look at how you spend your time (oh, hi Tumblr and Savage Minds!). The point they try to make is that very few academics have “absolutely no time for writing” rather it is easy for it to get de-prioritized (it is VERY easy to argue with this especially for the many precariously employed teaching faculty out there).

When the teaching term is over and I am free to organize my time as I see fit, my protestant fears that I don’t work hard enough really dial-up. Here is where the units help. I decide on Sunday nights what has to be done in the week and assign units to different projects. This helps me make time to things I do not want to and limit the things I get carried away with (household reproduction).  Sometimes I go over on tasks and don’t get to others. This helps me see what I am unrealistic about time-wise (anything that involves university bureaucracy or Canada). A post this week on the Chronicle’s Vitae makes the case for realistic summer writing schedules. I find myself needing to re-read these types of messages as I set rather lofty goals almost daily.

D096608F-0C13-49F3-B4DB-2D2FE0E35790Organizing your own time for/at work is a privilege many people don’t have. It is part of why I am professoring despite the erosion of proper conditions of work and compensation. That said, I often feel uneasy about my time. Did I do as much as I could? Should I take Saturday off? How many times a day on Tumblr is too many? But isn’t Tumblr ‘work’ if most of your buds are anthropologists on there? I spend one (ok, 2 units) on organization each week. Do I need to better organize my organization time? Is there a book on organizing your organizing? Oh, the agony!

What about you summer writers? What shape does your practice take? Do these systems support or daunt you?

*Checks off one unit of 700 words for today despite a slow start*

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Dying in the Age of Facebook Mon, 27 Jul 2015 01:41:21 +0000 Continue reading Dying in the Age of Facebook ]]>

We crave sincerity as much as scholarship

-Micheal Jackson 2012: 175

How many dead people do you know on Facebook? I know three. Well, maybe two because one was aware that she was dying and took her page down. For the others, death was a surprise, even though in one case it was planned. Plans can be surprises of sorts.

Many people worry that social media is changing the world for the worse. It is pretty common to hear people lament the lack of face to face communication these days or worry that people are ‘disconnected’ in the age of digital connection. I don’t worry about this. If the undergraduate students I teach have shown me anything, it is that the medium of communication doesn’t over determine its purpose or possibility. Plus, I am a linguistic anthropologist and a human being so I know face to face interaction isn’t a connective walk-in-the-park. One thing I have been dwelling on is how social media alters how we know death.

Two months ago, I saw on twitter that a friend/mentor/colleague died. JJ was the first professor I was a teaching assistant for. We are not far apart in age as she was a veritable academic superstar and I arrived late to the PhD party. She told me early on in the term she had cancer as we walked out of an exam carrying armfuls of Scranton sheets. She was as thoughtful a teacher as she was a thinker and writer. I find myself channelling her when I’m explaining Saussurian linguistics.

The last time I saw JJ was two or three years ago. We were beside each other at a conference. She raised her hand to engage the panel (whose theme I forget) by telling a story about a coyote in her neighbourhood and a string of missing cats, including a three-legged cat she and her partner named Tripod. She said something to the effect that while we might know in the abstract that the coyote and Tripod’s disappearance were connected, we certainly would not want to know this relationship intimately. We purposefully hold things apart. This allows us to love even what may be gone. Like Tripod the cat.

I was angry that she died. I was angry I saw it on Twitter. Tweets don’t hedge. There are no “Are you sitting downs?” or “I have some bad news’”. There are none of the stock phrases that prepare you for imminent pain. The specter of doubt also seems greater when the news of death is sandwiched between hashtags, humble brags and stories about dress colours as optical illusions.

My friend/mentor/colleague AA also died this year. Facebook told me. Someone tagged him in a photo and wrote that they would miss him. His account is still up and sometimes he crosses someone’s mind and they will write to him or about him and their message will show up in my feed as if AA has posted it himself.

AA was a quiet ringleader of a group of grumpy Marxist anthropologists I have hung out with for many years. They like to get together to drink scotch, smoke American Spirit cigarettes and lament  the US economy.  Like me, AA studied mining. AA always made me feel like my ideas were good ones, even if they strayed from Classical Marxist Thought. AA’s grumpy political rants stood in stark contrast to his frequent, sentimental photo uploads to Facebook which chronicled the many birds of his backyard. He had elaborate feeders set out to draw in fowl from far and wide.

In times of distress like the loss of two very wonderful anthropologists, I turn to the insights of Buddhist teacher Micheal Stone. Micheal knows a lot of philosophy and practices from East and West. He has published many books including conversations with French feminist-theorist Luce Irigaray. Since finding his work, I’ve become a devout podcast Buddhist. Feeling the weight of the news of JJ’s and AA’s deaths, I cleaned my kitchen while listening to a talk titled, “Save a Ghost”. In it, Michael says “when we lose someone, all the other losses in our lives pile up”. He also says that our personality is constructed by how we mourn and that mindfulness is the ability to mourn. Micheal isn’t big into the McMindfulness sweeping corporate America. He says that we need to be intimate with what’s happening, but at the same time we need to not hold onto it, like how JJ was with Tripod and AA with his birds. “As we mourn the dead, the dead are alive in us making culture” Michael says. Anthropologists fight a lot about what culture is and isn’t. For some time I had to give up on my commitments in the culture debates and side with Micheal. Social media brings the intimacy of pain and loss. Hurt piles up. News feeds refresh. We can’t hold on.



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Welcome Libraria! Sun, 26 Jul 2015 19:52:35 +0000 Continue reading Welcome Libraria! ]]> When twitter lit up last week with the news that PKP and SPARC had partnered with EASA, SCA, and 4S your response was probably “WTF?” The new project is called Libraria and is an important development in open access publishing for anthropologists. So important, in fact, that it deserves a bit of explanation for those who are not insiders into the acronym-filled world of the open access movement.

Ever since the open access movement picked up steam in the late nineties, there have been a wide variety of initiatives, movements, and programs out there all aimed at creating a world where knowledge is free for all. One of the oldest and most well-known are the Public Knowledge Project (PKP). PKP is run by Stanford Professor John Willinsky and is supported by Canadian and American universities (including Simon Fraser university, home of Kathleen Gough, author of the seminal piece “Anthropology and Imperialism“).

One of the biggest issues facing open access journals is the business model: How do you get the money to publish a journal if you don’t make people pay for journal articles? There are lots of good answers to this question, but they have all evolved organically over time and often have some fishy politics. For instance, one option is to have governments give money to researchers and then have the researchers pay for-profit journals to publish open access work, a situation in which companies wring profits out of tax payers.

So PKP got roughly half a million dollars from the MacArthur Foundation to conduct a study on what new ways of publishing might be possible — ways that totally rethink and break down the traditional divide between author, publisher, library, and reader. The focus here is not on rethinking what a book is or what peer review is, but rethinking how journals are funded, produced, and put together.

TThe good news is that anthropologists have a part to play in this. Several of the leading independent forces in anthropology publishing have formed up like Voltron to create Libraria, a coop that will participate in the PKP study.

So who is in Libraria? The Wenner-Gren Foundation, known to Americans for Current Anthropology and Wenner-Gren fieldwork grants. The people behind HAU and Cultural Anthropology of course, the two largest open access anthropology journals. The European Association of Social Anthropologists — Europe’s AAA and publisher of Social Anthropology — is also on board. There’s also Anthropological Forum (once less-tactfully known as Mankind), a well-known Australian journal which dates back to the days when Katherine and Roland Berndt founded the anthropology department at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Anthropologists are not alone in Libraria. 4S — the AAA of Science Studies — is involved, as are the open access journals Limn (run by Savage Mind Chris Kelty) and the interdisciplinary journal Valuation Studies (which studies what value means, who and what gets it, and how its assigned). So Libraria is anthropology, science studies, and some of the more bleeding-edge mixtures of the two of them.

So far Libraria hasn’t done to much more than just come into existence. But over time I hope that it finds new ways for its members to pool resources and find new ways to publish open access scholarly content. If anyone can do it, they can. Welcome, Libraria!

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Around the Web Digest: Week of July 19 Sun, 26 Jul 2015 17:18:37 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of July 19 ]]> Happy Sunday, pansies! Please write in with links to include here at… or just to say “¡Hola!”

An interesting debate is forming surrounding uncontacted groups. In an editorial in Science, Protecting Isolated Tribes, Robert Walker and Kim Hill argued that it is unfeasible and patronizing to maintain the current “hands-off” approach to uncontacted groups. Stephen Corry has responded in Truth Out – Unprotected Tribes Don’t Need the “Protection” of Western Anthropologists – and Survival International – Defending Tribes’ Right to Remain Uncontacted, arguing that contact has been universally detrimental to groups and that their ways of life can be viable in today’s world.

Hakai Magazine on coastal science featured this post about the material remains of sea otter tool use, drawing from primatology and archaeology: The Quest for an Archaeology of Sea Otter Tool Use

Similarly, this short post on John Hawks’ blog questions the uniqueness of human behaviors, exploring how elephants deliberately bury their dead: Carl Safina on Animal Grief

This is an older post but I want to bring A Hot Cup of Joe to your attention, as I become more familiar with the landscape of archaeoblogging. The Underground City Hoax explores certain tendencies in pseudoarchaeology, like citing 19th century journalism as a more authoritative source than modern research.

Another blog you should know is Middle Savagery. Post-Photography and Archaeology points out that dynamic models and three-dimensional imagery too often become frozen into two-dimensional, static images in archaeological publications.

I love this post from The Educational Linguist, which critiques the deficit model of language by flipping the script and deploring the linguistic poverty of monolingual white children: What If We Talked About Monolingual White Children the Way We Talk About Low Income Children of Color?

This post on Tabsir critiques the politicization of anthropological descriptions of Afghani migration, which the author argues is primarily an economic phenomenon: Anthropology and the Representation of Migrations from Afghanistan

If I include another weekly digest in my blog roundup, will the Internet enter an endless recursion loop? Let’s risk it! This digest from Anthropologizing has some older material from a variety of sites that’s worth a look: Great Internet Stuff: The Not-So-Weekly Digest 7

The Geek Anthropologist points out that fieldwork can be emotionally exhausting and that researchers can struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I remember going through a bout of amoebas and feeling unable to face the eight-hour roundtrip bus ride to interview a participant, and how that made me feel like a terrible anthropologist. Check out Playing Along: Emotional Labor and Self-Care 

This post on Disability Field Notes also points to the personal nature of fieldwork and how it can interact with our own histories, experiences, and issues: Disability, Anthropology and a Sister’s Ambivalence. I relate to this quote: “It is too intimate, too close, and I struggle to break out of the scripts I’ve been working on for three decades now. Friends nod when I mention writers block, saying this is simply what happens with academics – the projects drag, they mess with our perspectives of the world – but for me it is much more than that. My research grows forth from my core, from the most hidden and intimate spaces of my being.”

The Anthropo.scene hosts the keynote for the 2015 Dimensions of Political Ecology conference. Kim Tallbear points out that cryopreservation is reinscribing the philosophy of salvage ethnography by seeking to conserve indigenous genomes (among other things). In her words, “cryopreservation and its disappearing indigeny narrative aids a broader genomic death song.” Disrupting Life/Not-Life: A Feminist Indigenous Take on New Materialism and Interspecies Thinking.

See you next week!

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The four hundred dollar fish Sun, 26 Jul 2015 04:17:15 +0000 Continue reading The four hundred dollar fish ]]> fishmarket_1
Mercado de Mariscos-Ensenada by Flickr user Rebeca Anchondo. Creative Commons 2.0 License.

When you see piles of fresh fish in a market, do you ever ask yourself whether or not the listed price accurately reflects the actual value of those now-lifeless creatures? How much is one fish really worth? I never thought much about that question until I attended a community meeting in the coastal pueblo of La Ribera, Baja California Sur. Who knew it would be a lesson in value?

The meeting itself was hosted by a group of marine scientists and other scholars from the nearby university in La Paz. The goal of the meeting was to change some minds. You see, fishermen from La Ribera weren’t exactly elated about the nearby Marine Protected Area in Cabo Pulmo (aka the Cabo Pulmo National Park), despite its immense national and international support. Some surrounding communities were not completely sold on the idea of a no-take fishing zone. La Ribera was among them; many residents felt that Pulmo’s MPA only benefited the residents of Cabo Pulmo. A group of marine biologists, economists and other scholars from the nearby university in La Paz (UABCS) arranged a community meeting to try to convince residents of La Ribera otherwise.

About 35 to 40 people showed up. One of the main speakers was a marine biologist who has spent more than two decades working in Cabo Pulmo. He began by talking about the “environmental services” that Pulmo’s MPA provides. He followed up with a brief overview about coral reef systems and how they benefit local communities. Next, he talked about why Cabo Pulmo is so famous–it is one of the few hard coral reefs in this part of the Pacific. This is why it was set aside as a protected area back in 1995.

Reefs provide many things, the marine biologist explained, including basic necessities such as food. Much of the value of reefs can be calculated in monetary terms, he told the audience, but not all of it. He explained that reefs produce billions of dollars annually around the world, and, for some countries, are the base of their economy. Reefs are places where commercially valuable fish live and breed, he added. Then he listed all of the raw materials and products that come from reefs. They also add to the beauty of places, he said, which draws in tourists.

The message: reefs mean money.

This is where things get interesting. He followed up by telling the audience that each fish on the reef is worth about $400 dollars. He was talking in terms of US dollars, not pesos. This is about 6400 pesos. Think about this. The minimum wage in Mexico is about 70 pesos per day (about $4.50 USD). For someone making double the minimum wage (140 pesos per day, or 3360 per month), one fish is equivalent almost two months of work (assuming six working days per week).

The notion of a $400 fish reverberated through the audience. Attention captured.

After the expensive fish bombshell, the marine biologist started to wrap up his presentation by talking about the relations between the communities of Cabo Pulmo and La Ribera. Both are communities of fishermen; both rely on the ocean for survival. He explained how marine reserves and no-take zones work: fish concentrate, populations grow, then they spread out to other places. The protected area at Cabo Pulmo directly impacts the fisheries in La Ribera, he told the audience. The MPA, he said, is like a McDonald’s for various species–they come to the reef, eat, and run. His final point was that there is room for the people of La Ribera to benefit from the conservation of Pulmo Reef–and the growing tourism market. This can happen without direct competition or conflict, he explained. He implored the audience to consider the idea that preserving Pulmo can be complementary for La Ribera, that everyone can benefit from conservation.

At the end of the meeting, the presenters asked the audience to evaluate and comment on everything they heard. All of the responses were positive. All of them. One man stood up: “This is the first time I have gone to one of these meetings,” he said. “Now, I understand the importance of Pulmo,” he declared. He also added that he sees there are many opportunities for his own community to create businesses, to make money. “We just need the training to do this,” he explained. He ended by telling the audience that he has seen the effects of environmental degradation–and recovery–first hand. In the past, he said, lobsters were hard to find. But today, there are many more, thanks to Pulmo’s MPA. This man made it very clear that he saw things very differently, thanks to this meeting.

I remember walking out of the meeting thinking “Well, that worked pretty well.” And it apparently did. The whole money/economic opportunities angle did seem to be compelling for the local fishermen. It made people stand up and pay attention. It seemed to change some minds, to get people to rethink the importance of Cabo Pulmo and its protected reef. But the whole idea of the $400 fish stuck with me. I understand the rationale behind telling people that one fish swimming out there on the reef is worth all of that money. It’s meant to express the value of something in clear, powerful terms. The point is to motivate people, using one of the dominant registers of our time. Money talks–I get it.

But isn’t there something wrong with putting a price on nature? The moral indignation of this question was expressed perfectly by the late comedian Bill Hicks, who once shouted: “Quit putting a dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!” Yet, beyond all of the arguments and righteous indignation about the commodification of every possible aspect of our daily lives, what is actually the problem with standing in front of a room full of people and telling them that there’s a fish out there that’s worth two months of work? Do we really need to stay up late at night worrying about this?

Possibly. As Richard Conniff wrote on Yale Environment 360 (linked above), critics suggest that viewing nature in purely economic terms makes “a fundamental change not just in the world around us, but in ourselves.” Ok, so it changes the world around us, and it also changes us in a fundamental sense. Along similar lines, Marx once wrote,

Money is the universal self-established value of all things. It has therefore robbed the whole world—both the world of men and nature—of  its specific value. Money is the estranged essence of man’s work and man’s existence, and this alien essence dominates him, and he worships it.

Money robs the world of its specific value, says Marx.  For David Harvey, money is a corrupting, corrosive force. In Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference, he also argues that the intrinsic value of nature exists beyond the imposed realm of money values (1996:157-158). Money, as powerful as it is, falls short–it doesn’t quite cover over our world. But we often don’t take the time to look, to see the holes in the facade. There is something about nature (land, trees–and fish) that cannot quite be captured or expressed by money–much in the same way that language can never completely express human reality and experience. Money is a social convention, Harvey reminds us, not an immutable fact or law. It exists within particular social arrangements (or, to use other terms, specific modes of production).

In Capital, Marx warned against naturalizing value as it is created and understood in capitalism. Because if we internalize particular ways of valuing the world around us, we may lose the ability to think outside of such conceptions and imagine alternatives (see Harvey 2010:45-46). This brings us back to that $400 fish. This way of thinking about fish–and nature–commits exactly the kind of naturalization of one form of value that Marx warns about. It takes something that exists within a complex, dynamic ecological system and reduces it to a very specific value within one particular human-constructed system. Such a discourse frames nature in terms of money, markets, and capitalism. Period. This presupposes a certain kind of world, in which the primary meaning (i.e. value) of nature is tied to its economic productivity (even if the money values that are often assigned to nature are often incredibly vague). And thus, nature is robbed of all other potential meanings and values. This reminds me of an Aldo Leopold quote (in this case about land, but equally applicable to “nature” in general):

It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect and admiration for the land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense so that a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it trends otherwise” (1968:223-224).

So where does this leave us? Is the $400 fish a signal of immanent corruption and doom, as Marx seems to suggest? In speaking about nature in terms of money, are we opening up a Pandora’s Box that ultimately leads us down a destructive, end-of-the-world path that could only be painted by Hieronymus Bosch? Maybe, and maybe not. As Keith Hart writes, “Anthropologists might sign up for the sentiment that money is the root of all evil. But, in demonising money, they come close to endowing the institution with an evil power all of its own.” Clearly, both Harvey and Marx can be put into the “money is the root of all evil” camp. But are they right?

On the one hand, speaking about fish in terms of dollars sets up the kind of situation that often plagues many Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes. In essence, when you start atomizing nature and putting price tags on all of its various components, it becomes possible to start substituting money for those components. Especially when things go wrong. In the case of fish, imagine if a local developer wanted to put in a massive hotel that required an equally behemoth desalination plant. Let’s say this desal plant produces sludge that affects the reef, and ends up killing 30% of the local reef’s fish biomass. Well, if you know the specific money value of each fish, you can just pay for the damage and move on with your business. Pay the 30% in cash, and done. No problem…except for the degraded reef and all the dead fish.

But then there’s the other hand. One of the issues here is that it sometimes seems as if the rhetoric of commodification automatically transforms and reshapes the world in which we live. As if the mere mention of money completely washes over, corrupts, and distorts nature. Sure, discourse has its effects and all, but the act of speaking of fish in terms of (US-based) money values doesn’t instantly make it so. And although this comparison may have grabbed the attention of La Ribera’s fishermen, it doesn’t mean, from that moment on, that they completely forgot about all of the other meanings and values of the fish, fisheries, and local marine systems. Other values persist, despite the ubiquitous dominance of money, markets, and western economies. There are times, I think, when our critiques about commodification do indeed endow money–and capitalism–with a bit too much evil, almost magic, transformational power.

Despite the seemingly unending dominance of global capitalism, it’s vital to imagine alternatives, to see other possibilities. In the case of La Ribera, maybe the strategic framing of fish in terms of money accomplished just that for La Ribera’s fishermen. It was a rhetorical tactic, framed in one powerful register of value, that helped people think differently about the importance of local conservation. Maybe, in the final tally, the fish in Pulmo reef aren’t doomed to be swimming dollar signs after all–thanks to one imaginary four hundred dollar fish.

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The new AnthroSource is fantastic! Here’s why I won’t be using it. Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:31:25 +0000 Continue reading The new AnthroSource is fantastic! Here’s why I won’t be using it. ]]> I haven’t yet seen any official announcement from the AAA about the change,1 but if you now click on the “Login to use AnthroSource now” link from the top of the AAA website, you will get directed to this glorious webpage. Those who know me will be surprised to learn that I am not being the slightest bit ironic when I say the page is glorious. It truly is. Not only does it look great, but at long last searching through the back catalog of AAA journals is simple and easy. Even better, when you find something you can quickly access the content you are looking for without any hassles. If you are an AAA member you will have access to that content as part of your membership fee and won’t have to use your school’s VPN to get the content you want. Bravo to Wiley and AAA for pulling this off, it really should make AAA membership that much more attractive for everyone.

Having said that, I probably won’t be using this portal for my own research purposes. The first reason for this is that AnthroSource limits you to just two search options: you can search an individual journal, or you can through the entire catalog of all AAA journals. I almost never want to conduct either of these searches. The AAA archive is great, but I prefer to conduct narrower searches. For instance I might want to exclude archaeology journals, and journals focusing on Latin America and Europe, without confining myself to just one journal. Secondly, there are a number of Wiley anthropology journals not included in the AAA’s catalog that I would like to search along with the other cultural anthropology journals. These include: Anthropology Today, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Oceania, and Social Anthropology. Third, AnthroSource doesn’t currently offer an advanced search interface. That means you can’t limit the date range for searches or restrict your keyword search to the abstract or title of articles, etc.

Fortunately, it is already possible to conduct such a search via Wiley’s Advanced Search Page. All you have to do is list the titles of journals in quotes, separated by the word “OR” and select “Publication Titles” from the drop down menu. For instance, you could copy the entire block of text below and paste it in the “Publication Titles” field to search six of the leading anthropology journals on Wiley, including two that aren’t in AnthroSource:

“American Anthropologist” OR “American Ethnologist” OR “Anthropology Today” OR “The Australian Journal of Anthropology” OR “Cultural Anthropology” OR “Journal of Linguistic Anthropology” OR “Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute”

You can add additional titles if you like, or replace this with your own list of journals – just be sure that the title matches how the journal is listed in the Wiley database. If there is an upper limit to the number of journals you can list in a single search, I’ve not yet encountered it. If you are logged in you can save your searches from the advanced search screen, which not only saves you time, but also allows you to create “search alerts.” Neither of these features are currently available for AnthroSource. Unfortunately, once you find what you are looking for this way, even if you are logged in to AnthroSource, the advanced search interface won’t unlock AAA content for you. If your institution doesn’t offer access to Wiley content you may find yourself having to search for it again via AnthroSource in order to get the PDF.

I still dream of a single search engine that will search all my favorite Anthropology journals (and only those journals), no matter whether they are on Wiley, JSTOR, or somewhere else. For instance, I’d love to add Current Anthropology and HAU to the above search, but there is currently no way (that I know of) to do this as a single search. Still, I think such narrow disciplinary searches can yield important results that you might not find on Google Scholar. For this reason I’m glad to see AnthroSource getting a shiny new look, even if I won’t be using it.

  1. There is an announcement on the site from before AnthroSource went live, but nothing (that I can find) actually announcing the launch. UPDATE: An email announcement went out the day after I posted this. (This kind of thing happens to me a lot, living in a time zone that is twelve hours ahead of the US.) 
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Vale Jack Goody Wed, 22 Jul 2015 01:18:25 +0000 Continue reading Vale Jack Goody ]]> Keith Hart recently announced on social media that Jack Goody passed away. He was just a few days before his 96th birthday. Goody had a long and productive life and was a model of the successful anthropologist: Born in England at the end of the one world war, he spent much of the second as a prisoner of war. After the war he joined the anthropology program at Cambridge, where he was a junior partner to Edmund Leach and Meyer Fortes. He ended up becoming the William Wyse Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge, taking up the mantle from Fortes, who was the first person to capture Cambridge for social anthropology. Given his institutional centrality, it’s not surprising that Goody is remembered by British anthropologists. But he deserves to be remembered by American ones — and by everyone, really — both for being a role model of successful scholarship and an indirect influence on authors we read today, such as David Grabber and Tanya Li.

Goody had a long and prolific career. I remember reading his Culture of Flowers in 1993 and thinking “well, even the author of the driest studies of inheritance should get to pretend to be Mary Douglas in his final book.” How little I knew then! Although he was seventy four at the time, Goody would go on to write thirteen more books. The total count as of today is just over thirty. The sheer volume of Goody’s output demonstrates a healthy relationship to work that most academics envy. But it also speaks to an intellectual project which deserves to be remembered far more than I fear it will be.

When Goody became a faculty member in 1954, social anthropology had finally taken over the British academy, replacing the Victorian anthropology that Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski had (a bit unfairly) derided as old-fashioned. But what was social anthropology? Both Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski had argued that it was a generalizing science, and comparative: Part of a larger sort of sociology  but not (for some vague but extremely important reason) something to be merged into a sociology department.

Different people had different answers regarding the future of anthropology, many of them unjustly forgotten today. By the time Goody became professor in 1973, anthropology was well into the ‘Arjun Appadurai’ era of theory — that is, one in which you wrote programmatic statements about what anthropologists should do, and then never carried out the program.

Goody was a bit like J. Clyde Mitchell, in that he had an answer to “what is social anthropology” and then actually implemented the program, even though it moved him far from mainstream anthropology. Mitchell ended up becoming a founding figure in formal modeling and social network analysis, and his festschrift hardly looks anthropological at all. Goody, on the other hand, took the idea of a comparative, generalizing account of kinship systems, and then historicized and super-sized it.

Goody’s overarching project was a comparison of kinship and social reproduction that had time-depth and was global in scope. It was, in many ways, an example of the sort of work that Jared Diamond might have done if he had bothered to seriously read about human society. There were lots of pieces to Goody’s puzzle: Actually comparing East and West, rather than assuming that the West was unique (a powerful assumption in the first world during the cold war), examining the differences between literate and non-literate societies, and studying patterns of material culture tied to everyday reproduction like cooking and (yes) flowers. In the end, it was interdisciplinary and perhaps more like Annales school history than Radcliffe-Brown. But Goody needs to be given credit for finding the project and then Just. Doing. It.

I never found Goody easy to read. There were good and bad reasons for this. Like a lot of hyper-prolific people, not all of his work was ruthlessly polished. Yes, Goody always wrote clearly and with a minimum of jargon, but I sometimes found signposting missing. His book on the comparative study of renaissances, for instance, really fails to give up its secrets until you read all of it — there’s no skeleton key to the book in the first couple of chapters as (imho) there should be.

And then of course, when you’re dealing with technical issues like inheritance there will be jargon. One of the reasons why Goody’s earlier work won’t be read is that it is actually about something. It concretely engages ethnography and abstract problems of social organization. It limits one’s readership to fellow specialists. Which, I suppose, is the point.

Goody was probably the last living anthropologist whose intellectual horizons were formed by the 20s triad of Marx, Freud, and James Frazer. He also took Weber seriously. Indeed, his comparative work far more successful than Weber’s, and not just because he had better sources to work with. It seems to me (and I could be wrong here) that Goody’s initial, genius, move was to see that Marx’s focus on mode of production grew out of the same Victorian jurido-legal scholarship that produced Radcliffe-Brown. I’m hardly a Goody scholar, but it seems to me that he read Marx as a descendant of Henry Buckle and Henry Maine as much as Hegel. Goody was materialist. Perhaps he got that from Pul Eliya as much as Marx. But he got it.

While the French would spend the seventies trying to figure out how structural marxism could make sense of ‘primitive’ societies, Goody’s Marx-inflected lens focused on how different regimes of inheritance and ownership (modes of reproduction) affected kinship systems. It is interesting to compare him to Eric Wolf (only five years younger than Goody), who also went macro using Marx. Both produced big-picture syntheses, relished ethnographic detail, and managed to talk in macro terms without falling back on essentialized and reified concepts of Cultural Wholes and Essences the way that, for instance, Toynbee did. Wolf, like other American Marxists of his time, also connected Marx to anthropology via the nineteenth century, typically by focusing on Engels’s use of Morgan.

But Wolf was a Marxist, while Goody described himself as “not a non-Marxist”. Wolf really genuinely participated in political struggles and actively identified as a leftist. Goody was a contrarian with a populist streak and a commitment to decolonization, but he was an insider and academic politician. True, those roles can be combined (for instance, in the career of Goody’s contemporary at Oxford, Chris Hill), but Goody’s real contribution to the sort of political anthropology I do comes more from the influence he had on his students. Keith Hart came of age in Goody’s Cambridge and went on to influence David Graeber’s Debt. It wouldn’t even be too much to see Tanya Li’s work as existing in Goody’s wake, since Li worked with Alan Macfarlane, who worked with Goody. That big-picture, inequality -focused flavor of British economic anthropology was influenced by Goody.

But maybe those who knew Goody well will tell me I’m getting some of these details wrong. I don’t want to speculate too much, and I’m hardly an expert in this area, and haven’t read much of Goody’s work (let’s face it, with thirty books, who can say that?) All I’m saying is: Vale. He deserves to be remembered.

If you’d like to learn more, here are some open access sources on Goody:

An interview with Jack Goody about his life and career

Alan Macfarlane’s remembrance of Jack Goody

Jack Goody’s autobiographical essay in Annual Review of Anthropology

An article from History and Anthropology where Goody summarizes his views of the differences between Europe and Asia. 

Alan Macfarlane’s video of Jack Goody:

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VISUAL TURN III: Anthropology of/by Design — A Conversation with Keith M. Murphy Tue, 21 Jul 2015 19:36:20 +0000 Continue reading VISUAL TURN III: Anthropology of/by Design — A Conversation with Keith M. Murphy ]]> Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.

Since starting to work alongside an artist and a designer, I’ve become more aware of ethnographic practice inflected by art and design. There seems to be a growing number of institutional spaces, degree programs, courses, workshops and books devoted to exploring different combinations of art/design aesthetics and ethnography. While audience and aims vary, one can’t help but wonder what it means for there to be a kind mushrooming of art/design inflected methods and outputs (Design Anthropology, Anthropology Design, Design Ethnography, Sensory Ethnography to name a few and see for instance a last year’s ANTROPOLOGY + DESIGN series on Savage Minds). While visual anthropology has an extended history, and anthropologists have long been interested in the intersections of aesthetic and cultural production, is there something of a “visualisation of anthropology” (Grimshaw & Ravetz 2005) underway? Is an attention to art and design in anthropology ‘new’ or simply new to me? For those of us not designated as ‘visual’ anthropologists, are we being asked/invited/demanded to engage with different modalities for fieldwork and scholarly output?

I decided ask an expert. Keith M. Murphy is an anthropologist of design. His new book Swedish Design: An Ethnography is just that. It is a rich description and analysis of how everyday things (furniture, lighting) are made to mean through processes of design within the context of larger cultural flows. Like some of the iconic objects he describes, Keith’s writing is sharp, uncluttered and politically aware.

In addition to researching and writing about design, Keith experiments with how to harness design modalities to anthropological and ethnographic practice. Through the Center for Ethnography at the University of California, Irvine, Keith and George Marcus host occasional events called ‘Ethnocharettes’. An ethnocharrette is described as a collaborative session of intense activity in which design thinking and methods are used to interrogate and explore ethnographic concerns. Their most recent installment was in March. I was fortunate enough to be there and do what anthropologists do best: hang out, watch, listen, and ask questions.

I reached Keith at his standing desk in his Long Beach home via FaceTime. Our conversation tacked back and forth between the particulars of the ethnocharrette exercise and his speculations on why ‘the visual’ and borrowed modalities from art and design seem to be growing new roots (routes) in anthropology. It was less of an ‘interview’ and more of an ongoing conversation we have been having for the past year or so. I re-assemble our discussion over two posts and invite you to join the conversation.

Before I arrived in California, Keith described the ethnocharrette to me as “this thing”. The ambiguity of his shorthand reflected the changing form of the event since its inception. A charrette is a common activity in design disciplines. Keith described it as more than brainstorming, less than consequential. It is inherently collaborative. Whereas a classic brainstorm involves individuals tossing out ideas and then selecting ones to choose, a charrette is designed collaboratively create by bringing things together.

The impetus for the ethnocharrette experiment came partly from Keith’s own exposure to design thinking in his research, through an earlier pre-doctoral internship at Sapient, and from working briefly as a member of the COLAB team at Syracuse University. Since Writing Culture, George Marcus has increasingly been interested in exploring the appeal of design and the studio as a legitimate form of experimentation in association with fieldwork projects. Keith was upfront that as a pair they have been willfully sidestepping the issue of whether the charrette model is for pedagogy or ethnographic practice. It has always been done in the context of pedagogy (graduate student training), however they have found the boundary between pedagogy and practice blurred by students themselves. Some of the techniques introduced pre-fieldwork end up being independently taken up by students as they move into their analysis and writing.

Thinking In Progress

The most recent iteration involved students bringing ‘ethnographica’ related to their projects. They were instructed to bring ‘things” (texts, images, objects, sound files) that were easily displayed and shared with others. They were in groups of three to five and had each selected a theorist to think through their materials with. Phase one of the charette involved students giving brief introductions of their materials and then laying out ‘pieces’ of their selected theory on post-its. The culling for simplified parts and constraining them to a post-it is an attempt to disturb anthropology’s penchant for the complicated. “If anthropology had a tombstone it would say ‘its complicated’ ”, remarked Murphy. The charette is designed to extract information from materials before deep thinking. This slows down the desire to ‘complicate’ and take better stock of what is.


Once the theory pieces are up, students are invited to ‘read’ each other’s materials. The ethnocharette works against the normative model of anthropological production where singular people are doing work on singular projects. Instead of having students trained to think as individuals first, collaborators later, the charrette model introduces co-thinking earlier in the academic process. Of course there are long lists of successful collaborations from our field, yet individual projects continue to be favoured and rewarded. In the exercise, students relinquish sole ‘ownership’ over their materials and see the variety of ways in which they can be read. Again, post-its keep track of pieces.


Next, students look at the bits of information they have co-produced and think about how they might sensibly cluster. They can re-arrange and combine them in ways they see fit. Keith describes this as ‘structured non-thinking’. The process asks them to physically relate to materials in different ways. Instead of solely cultivating habits like sitting, thinking, attacking, the charette has people standing, moving, touching and seeing things differently. The groups I observed related to the task in different ways. Some had highly tidy rows of like terms, others had stacks of ideas, while one group was determined to extract from us the ‘correct’ way of proceeding.

Charrette Output
Charrette Output 1
Charrette Output
Charrette Output 2

Phase two of the charrette asks participants to take what has been assembled and re-present it in light of the process. The idea is that if Phase I is a process that compels the participants to let go of their pre-conceived commitments to their field sites and ethnographic materials, and to find otherwise unnoticed connections between their individual field sites, Phase II is  intended to push students to create something — a rough material or conceptual prototype — that could account for these new connections in unforeseen ways. Theory is important here, too. Each group worked with a specific theorist, and tried to incorporate those ideas into their prototypes as glue that held the disparate projects together. Again some groups quickly set about creating, while others waded through possibilities with some uncertainty what could/should be done. Keith sees this hesitation as part of the ‘ideology of creativity’ that design rests on. Design assumes everyone is creative, whereas many anthropologists assume they aren’t creative. In fact, there are explicit discourses against creativity. The charrette is meant to interrupt some of these [stereotypes] to push the boundaries of what anthropology can be, while not oversubscribing to ‘creativity’ as inherently valuable (sellable).

Here I objected. My migration to anthropology from sociology/ applied linguistics was precisely my sense that there was space for creative scholarly practice and that corners of the discipline were staunchly uncommitted to a sharp divide between art and science. If anything, I remarked, I over estimate my creativity. He reframed. The question is perhaps less about if you are creative, but rather what opportunities do you have to manifest creativity? He had me there. While I have been fortunate to be part of Ethnographic Terminalia in the past, most creative projects have been taken on through art-based residencies rather than academic ones.

I still wanted to push the issue of creativity. The analysis seems gendered. Many women anthropologists take on creative modalities (literary ethnography, creative non-fiction) and while they find an audience in the Real World, they can sometimes seem ‘niche’ in mainstream anthropology. Keith acknowledged that there is a difference between certain kinds of aestheticizations and the regimes of value they find themselves circulating in. Broadening what it means to be ‘creative’ as an anthropologist is about understanding stylizations (creative non-fiction, or jargon laden prose) do stand for themselves as inherently valuable. Rather the question must be asked, what are you attempting to do? Who is the audience? What’s the goal? Ethnocharrette is just a part of a longer conversation that students’ work will be in over the course of their training.

Our own conversation moved to the bigger picture. Later that week, he and I would join a larger group of faculty and advanced graduate students for a Productive Encounter led by anthropologist Christine Hegel and set designer Luke Cantarella. We would be making use of design exercises to think through Doug Holmeswork on central bankers. Perhaps as a result of my own training, I was inclined to ask the question, ‘why this, why now?’ Why are these modes of thinking/ practicing anthropology appearing? Our conversation continues in my next post.

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Coffee rituals and resistance to domination Mon, 20 Jul 2015 18:57:45 +0000 Continue reading Coffee rituals and resistance to domination ]]> Remember resistance to domination? This was a very popular theme in cultural studies in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Eventually it reached a saturation point where, like an overplayed hit on Top 40 radio, it elicited only eye-rolls. Change the channel, quick! Contributing to this was the fact that it was a snap to find pretty much anywhere plus it would lead to an easy Foucault citation. While in all honesty it did get a tad rote there were also authors who did it right like Scott or (my favorite) De Certaeu.

A spontaneous conversation at work cast my memory back there.

We drink a lot of coffee in the library, this was one of the first things I noticed when I started working here. There’s an upstairs pot and a downstairs pot, the campus cafe is here in the same building. Everyone brings a thermos from home too. And its a constant struggle, because being that we work with rare and archival materials we can’t have a cup at our desks at all times.

One day I had been the one to make the pot and before it was time to go (the archives is an alarmed space, so we all leave at the same time) I announced to my colleagues I was cleaning the pot, would anyone like another cup for the road? After all I had drank from pots they had made, taking a turn to do the dishes seemed the right thing to do.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” tutted my co-worker Kit. “I’ll drink it in the morning.”

I scrunched up my nose in mock disgust. Seriously? Day old coffee in the morning?

“Yes. That’s just the way I like it.”

Okay, fine. I’m off the hook. Weirdo. My other co-worker Alison walks in the room and I relate to her what just happened. Can you believe Kit will let the coffee sit out overnight so she can drink it cold in the morning?

“Oh. Yeah. I do that too. Mostly because I’m lazy. It tastes just fine”

Apparently I was the weirdo and not ‘tother way round.

I live in Hampton Roads, my neighbors are shipyard workers and Navy officers. I work at a maritime history museum. The culture of the sea hangs in the air like the humidity. So I related to my work friends the stories that I had heard from those folks about the symbolic capital that can be gained in the Navy by consuming coffee in particular ways. One of the most important of these is the prohibition on ever washing coffee pots and mugs. They had never heard of these magical rituals before and I took great delight in retelling the stories.

Librarians are curious people and Alison quickly went to work searching the web for anecdotes from Navy crew about their coffee rituals.

From the use of social sanctions to enforce conformity (link)–

Chief Martin was grizzled and salty. He was by far one of the saltiest sailors I have ever met. He grabbed my arm washing the cup. My hesitation grew to fear. He leaned in close and told me to “never wash it again,” staring back down at my cup and back to me.

To manly boasts about super-heroic consumption (link)–

From the time I was 20 until I left the service at 32, I did not measure the volume of coffee I drank in cups. It was more like in quarts and probably averaged 6 quarts daily.

But it was in the comments section (first link, above) where readers shared their own stories that this gem popped up:

Having spent over 26 years in the Navy, and NOT being a coffee drinker, I am familiar with the practice of not washing one’s coffee cup. But there were a couple of times during my early Navy career that, for whatever reason, I felt a need to wash someone’s coffee cup. I mean, some of those folks just needed to be taken down a notch or two. Mind you, I did it surreptitiously so no one knew who to blame. I don’t regret doing it even now, but I would not do it again. Age has a way like that.

This one just blows me away!

The unwashed coffee cup is significant because it is a sign of seniority. The longer you’ve been in the Navy the blacker the inside of your mug, the filthier your pot. That washing dishes could become a symbolic act of resistance is a classic example of weapons of the weak. It is literally using low prestige labor to erase a superior’s marker of social status. If anyone is teaching Scott and De Certeau this fall, here’s a great classroom example for you to use.

And I’ll take my coffee fresh, in a clean mug. Thank you.

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Around the Web Digest: Week of July 12 Mon, 20 Jul 2015 00:19:11 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of July 12 ]]> It was my birthday weekend, so I’ll just say “Here are some blogs. Enjoy!” Send me anything you’ve written or read at

The blog Sex and Psychology breaks down this American Anthropologist article: Is Kissing a Universal Sexual and Romantic Behavior Among Humans? The answer? No. Of course.

Archaeodeath actually vindicates the TV show Vikings in showing grave robbings (although of course they got the details wrong): Vikings Season 2: Floki Digs Up Dad 

This post on Phys.Org, Anthropologist Leads Global Effort to Improve Climate Change Models, features such a classic anthropologist quote: “The models are over-simplified,” [archaeologist] Morrison explained. “They are based on mathematical equations relating how many people were in a particular area and what they think that did to transform vegetation. But, they don’t integrate evidence […] about how people organized agriculture—differences such as dry versus wet crops, like rice paddies—that show the same number of people can have a very different impact on the land.”

For something different on here, Allegra Lab posted this video of a lecture by Tim Ingold on humans’ relationship to the natural world: Tim Ingold on the Correspondence of Lives

This post from (“Cooling Out” the Victims of the Grad School Pyramid System) struck a personal chord with me because I’ve seen this process happen to people I care about… people who don’t necessarily “fit in” in academia due to their socioeconomic backgrounds or other factors.

The Chronicle of Higher Education similarly takes aim at those who encourage talented young people to join a system that will ultimately chew up and spit out some of them – in this case, the academic counseling service The Professor Is In: The Paradoxical Success of The Professor Is In 

The Scientific American blog Anthropology in Practice looks into an aspect of academia criticized in the previous post: conformity. Why Does Everything Look the Same?

Somatosphere is introducing a new series on the imagery of graphic illness narratives… and there’s still time for you to contribute should you choose: Image + Text – A New Series

This post on Anthropoliteia points out that viral videos can be as effective as public anthropology – if not much more so – in critiquing unjust systems of policing: Mitch Henriquez: Death by Cop in the Epicenter of Global Justice and the Virtues of Hashtag Activism

See you next week!

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Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography (book review) Fri, 17 Jul 2015 00:49:34 +0000 Continue reading Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography (book review) ]]> Thomas Hylland Eriksen. 2015. Fredrick Barth: An Intellectual Biography. London: Pluto Press.

Thomas Hylland Eriksen has a well-earned reputation for writing good, short books on large, intractable topics. His introduction to anthropology, history of the discipline, and books on globalization and ethnicity and nationalism have given the Norwegian anthropologist an international profile. We ran a preview of Eriksen’s new book on SM a while back (and have mentioned Barth more than once). So does Eriksen’s biography of Norway’s Greatest Anthropologist live up to the hype? Yes. But interestingly enough, in reading it you come to appreciate the author of the biography slightly more than you do its subject.

True to form, Eriksen has given us a concise book. Biographies can get big  — for instance, this book is 496 pages shorter than Michael Young’s Malinowski biography (or should I say the first volume of that biography!). One reason the volume is concise is that it is an insider biography, written by someone who is very familiar with Barth and his world. The book is not dripping in citations and little archival work appears to be done. Eriksen goes very light on background as well, giving us a page on Cambridge here and a page on structuralism there. Most readers will appreciate these deft and competent sketches of Barth’s contexts, but those with a scholarly interest in the history of anthropology will be disappointed that, for instance, that Barth does not shed much light on the world Cambridge, where he earned his Ph.D.

The exception is the book’s close coverage of the development of social anthropology in Norway. For English language readers (and perhaps Norwegians as well?) this is the first and perhaps only monograph which covers this history — something that is not surprising, given that this book was originally written in Norwegian for a Norwegian audience. As someone who often deals with Norwegian colleagues, I appreciated the potted history that Eriksen provides here. But other readers might find certain passages a bit of a slog.

One of the dangers of insider biographies is that they can often pull their punches in order to protect their subjects. This is particularly a challenge in this case, since Barth is still alive, although retired and in managed care. Eriksen, perhaps aware of this danger, does a thorough job of describing both the positive and negative aspects of Barth’s life. Moreover, although Eriksen does not delve deep into an analysis of Barth’s psyche or personal motivations, one nonetheless emerges from the book with a clear idea of what the man is like, warts and all. Eriksen manages to show us why Barth deserves to be remembered without lionizing him, an impressive feat that not all biographers manage, especially with living subjects.

Really, commemorating Barth is Eriksen’s goal, rather than producing a scholarly contribution to the literature on the history of anthropology. Eriksen walks us through Barth’s life confidently, explaining the context that produced Barth’s monographs and articles. Eriksen does a good job providing potted descriptions of Barth’s books, as well as frank evaluations of their strengths and weaknesses. By the time you finish this book, you are eager to read more Barth. But, on the other hand, you don’t really have to. This scholarly skeleton key to Barth’s work is really a sort of guided tour of possible future reading for those will really want to, for instance, have a deep conversation with Tony Crook about Barth’s theory of ritual innovation in Bolivip. But for 90% of humanity,  you already know everything you need to about Cosmologies in the Making just by reading Eriksen.

There are places where I would have liked to see a bit more. For instance, Eriksen brushes over Barth’s austerely technical Models of Social Organization. I would have appreciated a more detailed exposition of this work, and Barth’s concept of ‘generative models’ more generally. Although Eriksen does provide an overview of these concepts, at times I felt they were more often invoked than explained – or at least I imagine that’s how they would feel to a reader who was not already familiar with them. Also, I would have liked more coverage of Barth’s reception by area specialists. What is the relationship of his work to that of Ashraf Ghani, anthropologist and now head of state of Afghanistan? True, Eriksen does describe criticisms of Barth, but I would have appreciated more bibliography here to help guide my reading not just of Barth, but of his scholarly reception.

Barth was one of the key figures in anthropology after World War II, and remains on the list of top anthropologists of that period. But saying why is difficult because Barth was so protean.  As a theorist, he argued for a kind of scientific modeling of social process. But he also wrote about ethnicity and ecology, and later on in his career pursued the sociology of knowledge. Ethnographically he was all over the map, conducting his best-known fieldwork in what is now Afghanistan and Iran, although the complete list of his field sites includes Oman, Norway, Bhutan, Bali, and Papua New Guinea.

In many ways, Barth’s work was designed to make him famous: dense technical writing on social organization that everyone respected but nobody read, one article (on ethnicity) that everybody read, and then a smorgasbord of articles on ecology, knowledge, and politics in variety of field sites that ensured that pretty much everybody would at least hear of him. Barth’s omnivorousness provides an interesting contrast to his contemporary Ward Goodenough,  who is less remembered today than Barth, perhaps because Goodenough put all of his eggs in just a few theoretical and areal baskets.

Still, I came away from this book with less respect for Barth than I had for him before I read it. In the brief time I’ve spent with Barth — mostly chatting at receptions — he struck me as a genial and diplomatic figure, something at the time I, perhaps mistakenly, attributed to Oxbridge refinement and not Norwegian reserve.  The man in Eriksen’s biography, on the other hand, comes across as highly driven and slightly self-centered.

The fifties and sixties were a time of massive, massive expansion for anthropology and the global economy more generally. Anthropologists of Barth’s generation, born in the late 1920s and early 1930s were members of an extremely small cohort that was showered with tremendous resources and ended up training the generation born after World War II. Even the recession of the 1970s didn’t effect Barth, whose country came into North Sea oil revenue just as other first world economies began stalling. It is interesting, then, to see what Barth did with this freedom.

Eriksen paints Barth as a charismatic academic entrepreneur, but reading between the lines, one also gets a sense of Barth as self-absorbed artist. Barth turned down a prestigious — but challenging — position in the United States for the safety (and control) of founding Bergen’s anthropology department. He left his wife for a younger woman (admittedly, in the late sixties, which was the high season for this sort of thing). He worked as an administrator for a time, but (it seems) never really aimed to build an institution or social network that would be more than a base from which he could work. This makes him very different from, say great academic politicians like Edmund Leach.

Reading this book, one also gets a sense of the limits of Barth’s accomplishments, both theoretically and ethnographically. An ethnographic wanderer, he lack a deep immersion in regional literature or even local languages. This also meant he never opened himself to the ethnographic vulnerability that deep entanglement with a field site entails. The chief reason Barth appears to be successful are that he worked in areas that were not described, and his ethnographies were published in a pre-Internet age, when anthropologists could make a reputation out of relieving an information bottleneck. He also relied extensively on key informants/assistants who Eriksen wisely credits — people who today might be scholars themselves (this is a polite way of saying: enabled by colonialism). And, of course, they were short.

It’s also not clear what his ethnographic accomplishments are. His work in Oman and Papua New Guinea was not particularly successful, and his research on Bhutan was never really published. Barth’s ethnographies of Swat and the Basseri are valuable, but they are also very short, and they lack the sort of deep scholarship we’d expect today — or at least some of us expect today! But I don’t think you see the in-depth case studies and analysis that you see in other ethnographers such as Turner. Rather, the holistic but also very general level of coverage reminds me of Nadel’s Black Byzantium. But shorter.

Barth also comes across as far less theoretically impressive than you might expect. In the 1950s many shared Barth’s ambition of trying to produce a social anthropology that was more rigorous and scientific, and which studied social relations while giving due to individual agency. Barth never deepened his commitment to his project the way J. Clyde Mitchell did, trying to realize the sort of social anthropology which social anthropologists claimed they wanted to do. Barth did not want to end up doing sociology, economics, or political science and, like many to come before and after him, gestured to an empirical and theoretical project that he never really ended up taking up.

Rather (perhaps in a bow to fashion) he pivoted in the direction of ‘meaning’, following a trajectory similar to (but less famous than) Victor Turner’s. His work in this period is very interesting, but one also gets a sense that it was impoverished by his theoretical isolation. Barth refused to read theoretical work that didn’t interest him, turning away from the great debates of his time because they didn’t personally suit him. In retrospect, opting out of the late Lévi-Strauss and the enthusiasms of structural Marxism is certainly understandable. But it also had its costs.

By never throwing his hat into the ring Barth missed a chance to enrich his own work and the work of others. Just think: a focus on agency and its limits, instrumental action and knowledge practices — Barth was supposed to be what Bourdieu became. And then, to make matters worse, he never read Bourdieu.  Barth, like Bourdieu, even worked in the tribal hinterlands of the Muslim world. Complaints about jargon aside, Outline of a Theory of Practice deserved the attention it got because of the way it moved social anthropological debates about agency, structure, and process forward by retheorizing the key terms of the debate.

Ultimately, one gets a sense that Barth began life as a big fish in a small pond, and then gradually lost the plot as the pond increased in size by two orders of magnitude. He is someone with aspirations to science, but also someone who found his intellectual style slightly out of place in a fully professionalized discipline. Of course, he stayed famous and continued to do good work. But ultimately lived his life for himself and not the institutions or intellectual projects around him. I don’t know. Perhaps you can’t expect someone to live in any other way.

At any rate, all of these ruminations are as much a result of Barth’s life choices as well as my own post-tenure mooting of The Point Of It All. But they are also the result of something else: Eriksen’s skill in telling Barth’s story. For indeed, while I came away from this book with my image of Barth slightly tarnished, I also had really come to respect Eriksen as an author.

Eriksen’s books feel like extended avuncular office hour with that one faculty member you always wished you got to spend more time with, but didn’t. Scattered amongst the volume are recommendations for further reading and nuggets of wisdom that are actually pretty nuggety. It’s 85% about Barth, but also 15% about being a good anthropologist as well. Perhaps most infuriatingly, Erikson always manages to write clear prose in an equanimous voice. And this despite the fact that his sentences are full of the constant hedging and passive voice constructions which makes the prose of others so unreadable. Or, perhaps as Eriksen would say, “it seems likely that many would say this book was well written.”

In sum, Eriksen’s well-written, balanced, and concise biography gives you a real chance to engage both Barth and his work. As anthropology moves on and Barth’s work seems more distant than ever from the axes ground by the current generation, Eriksen provides a convincing account of the relevance of the past, and offers a fitting memorial to an anthropologist whose life — warts and all — should not be forgotten.

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Visual Turn II: Teaching to Take Stock Wed, 15 Jul 2015 16:33:18 +0000 Continue reading Visual Turn II: Teaching to Take Stock ]]> Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.

Earlier this year I was reading the Internet and came across Duke University Press’ list of “Best books of 2014”. Scrolling through, I was held by the title Syllabus: Notes from An Accidental Professor. Cartoonist and author Lynda Barry’s work Syllabus is not easy to pigeonhole into a genre. It is one part how-to manual, two parts graphic novel and a dash of memoir. Its form mimics the inexpensive composition books she asks her students to work in for the semester. Drawn in by her use of images (pardon the pun) I ordered a copy.

IMG_7657University of Toronto Press Editor, Anne Brackenbury already had me thinking about the possibilities of the graphic novel form for ethnography. Her new book series EthnoGRAPHIC makes a strong case for  “understanding the power of drawing and comics as a valuable method and way of seeing, as well as a potent teaching and communicative form that captures the sometimes less visible elements of fieldwork”. Barry’s Syllabus chronicles her methods for teaching cartoon-making classes at Wisconsin-Madison. Her courses ask bigger questions like “What is an image and how does it work?” and “Where do memories come from?” but the brass tacks of her method involves daily drawing and taking stock of the world around of you. Pieces of her approach resonated with me as teacher of ethnography and so I tried them out in my third year course Life in America: Ethnographies of Everyday Experience in the United States and at Its Borders (25 students). Here are two of the practices I found most powerful for teaching what Carole McGranahan calls ethnographic sensibilities without fieldwork.

1. X pages or 6 Minute Diary: The exercise is simple. Students begin by writing seven things they did that day. Next, they write seven things they saw. They then record one snippet of talk they heard and finish by doing a thirty-second drawing of some aspect of their day. You can have Barry time the diary entry using this video. I had them do this four to five times a week. The exercise has an arc that Barry aptly summarizes in her book. Students often say “nothing” happened and find the exercise dreadful about three days in. Then, if they stick with it, something changes. They begin to “see” differently. They start taking stock of small details that usually go unnoticed but are now somehow significant. I found it helped to compile examples of ‘rich’ observations so that they could move beyond lists like “I had a shower, played video games, did homework”.


When you take fiction writing classes, you hear a lot of clichés about details. “The devil is in the details!” “Show don’t tell!”. My own teacher Cordelia who isn’t normally into clichés (or people with MFAs, her ex-husband or wearing shoes while she teaches) would always say “the more specific you are, the more universal your writing will be”. Anthropologists can be pretty interested in the particular-universal dynamic and we sense that indeed the devil is in the details. But let’s face it, it is hard work to collect those small pieces! It is like cleaning up ocean glass from the beach. Barry’s 6-minute diary shapes habits of attention and reveals the mundane work of gathering details which at first seem insignificant, but later may build into a research question or ethnographic query. It provides a stripped-down introduction to field note taking and opened up conversations about embodied knowing and the ways we can feel ‘zoned out’ or ‘tuned in’ (their words) to what is around us.

Students’ observations of their ‘everyday’ became the platform I could build cases on about how campus spaces are used, how race comes to matter, how gender /sexuality is organized and so forth. Half way through the term, we went through the notebooks together and found the seed of a final paper. From readings they have done, they see how good ethnographers get the details right and students make strides to be more attentive. Teaching ethnography reminds me of how difficult it is to derive arguments from ‘the everyday’.


2. Self-Portraits: Here is the exercise: in lieu of attendance, provide students with 1/2 an index card for a self-portrait (broadly defined). I had a small Tupperware at the front open for five minutes before class started. Portraits must be in the box by the time we started. For the record, I have never been one to take attendance. In part, I don’t like the policing feeling, but mostly I am bad at keeping track of it and see it as a low reward burden. I decided to try the self-portrait exercise not because I wanted to track who was in class when but rather so I could amass a visual data set about the experience of the group. Again, this appeared to  students as a strange, likely pointless, exercise. Some loved it right away, others loathed it.


Things came around on the last class. I covered a large table with their images. I asked them to look at the pieces and think about the ‘story’ the images were able to tell. They start to see how one image may not reveal very much, however the collection revealed something about their particular college culture. There were many indexes of snow, hints of stress and anxiety, specific ways they code gender. For some students, particular drawings conjured vivid details from the day they drew the portraits. Our data of everyday life was multiplying as we talked. I could ask them about the ‘conditions of possibility’ of their collective college story and we were able to reinvigorate earlier discussions of abstract ideas like ‘de-industrialization’ and ‘the rust belt’. Through 6 minute diaries, self-portraits and other activities, they began to understand the odd practice of putting everything down on paper, clueless of what you will need or what it will mean, and later, somehow, culling and cobbling together a narrative, an argument, a picture.


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Around the Web Digest: Week of July 5 Sun, 12 Jul 2015 21:53:44 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of July 5 ]]> I’m brimming with conference energy from the Guatemala Scholars Network meeting this last week in Antigua, Guatemala, so this post will be longer than usual. Thanks for reaching out with links and suggestions at

Language Log featured this Open Letter to Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, that I found useful as a reminder that just because privilege goes unmarked, it shouldn’t necessarily be seen as the norm or default. (In other words, it’s not “speech” and “gay speech,” it’s “straight speech” and “gay speech”).

Along similar lines, thank you, Society for Linguistic Anthropology, for pointing out that young women are blamed for creating “annoying” vocal aberrations like uptalk and vocal fry, just as women are blamed for not “leaning in” in the workplace: (Socio-)Phonetics in the News. (Also, as an aside, radio host Ira Glass exhibits more vocal fry than anyone I’ve ever heard).

If, like all of my students, you’ve read Abu-Lughod’s great article of the same name, this Allegra Laboratory review won’t be surprising. I’m glad to hear she takes on Kristof and WuDunn’s problematic Half the Sky movement, though: Review: Do Muslim Women Need Saving? 

I like the approach in this Teaching Culture post to embracing and working with new media culture (the same way my friends and I explicitly discuss how to use Wikipedia as a tool to find sources in the beginning stages of research rather than demonizing it): Thinking About and With “Selfies” in the Classroom

This is another post in the series at The Geek Anthropologist but I’m linking to the repost on Anthropologizing to encourage you to check it out over there: Anthropology Blogging 101: Anthropologizing 

The AAA blog points out that gaining popular attention may have an effect like that old “Telephone” game in distorting public perceptions of your research: The Challenge of Public Dissemination 

Born This Way: Society, Sexuality, and the Search for the Gay Gene: I’m excited that this article came out in The Guardian because I’ve long felt that our way of talking about sexuality in the US has become too solidified around the “born this way” narrative, which has been useful in combating homophobia. It seems to reflect the experiences of many but not all.

Dadthropology gives us a refreshing cross-cultural look at parenting, as in this post: The World’s Most Badass Fathers 

The Forbes bioarchaeology column provides some interesting historical context for a group of soldiers that suffered a gruesome death hundreds of years ago: Mass Grave Reveals Ottoman Soldiers Fought to the Death in 16th Century Romania 

I had never heard of a Chaîne Opératoire so this Material World post was as informative methodologically as it was pedagogically for me:  Unleashing the Chaine Operatoire: Students’ Experimentation with an Old Methodology 

See you next week!

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AAA Meeting Schedule is Up: There’s a .gif for that Thu, 09 Jul 2015 15:11:20 +0000 Continue reading AAA Meeting Schedule is Up: There’s a .gif for that ]]> It is that time of year. Our major conference, though months away, is already starting to take shape. Yesterday, notices of acceptance went out. If you are like me, you began reciting prayers for a decent time slot. I may have thrown salt over my shoulder for good measure as I clicked through to see my allotted times. 

The AAA meeting schedule is an elusive creature. I’ve had the pleasure of helping make it, so I know it isn’t a conspiracy, just a mystery. I helped with scheduling back in the old days when we used post-its on the wall of the AAA head office (true story). Now it is a little more techno, but it still persists in the space between friend and foe depending on the year.

In one corner of the internet, feelings about AAA time slots could only be expressed in .gifs… maybe you can relate?

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