Savage Minds Notes and Queries in Anthropology Wed, 27 May 2015 02:17:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Welcome to the Anthropozine Wed, 27 May 2015 01:53:37 +0000 Continue reading Welcome to the Anthropozine ]]> Back in the late twentieth century, when cut and paste still meant scissors and glue, desktop publishing opened many doors for a creative person with something to say. We dubbed  these homebrewed screeds “zines” and reproduced them by photocopier. They were distributed not by webpage and email but left stacked next to alternative newsweeklies or sold for cheap at record stores.  Drugs and sex and politics were the dominant themes, and their chaotic aesthetic served as witness to a strong DIY ethic inherited from our punk ancestors. They were cheeky and irreverent, occasionally they were even good. In many respects they were the analog precursor to the blogs of today.

Anthropozine | April 2015

With this nod to the past, let us turn now to the future for I am excited to announce the launch of a new venue for undergraduate authors, Anthropozine, lovingly inspired by the ’90s zines of yore. Sure its a PDF now, but don’t let that stop you from running off a few hard copies on the departmental printer while no one’s looking. The publication carries a Creative Commons license making it easy for you to share with your students by email, over listservs, or social networks. Anthropozine is published jointly with Anthropology Now, a peer reviewed journal from Routledge with a special vision to make available illustrated works from leading scholars that are written for a general audience. Think of it as something like a missing link between scholarly journal and a popular magazine. If you are a member of the AAA’s General Anthropology Division you already have electronic access to the journal, but there is a fair amount of free content available at

My colleague Andria Timmer and I have signed up to shepherd the first six issues of Anthropozine and we would be grateful for your support in getting this work to students. Our tagline is “Anthropology unleashing creativity” because we are most interested in publishing works that explore the relationship between students’ personal experience and their encounter with anthropology. Take a look inside and you’ll what we mean.

Students, if you are reading this, you do not need to have original research or even be an anthropology major to write for Anthropozine. If anthropology has intersected with things that have happened in your life then tell us your story! If you want to get in on the action check the call for submissions inside the PDF or visit our workspace at

The September issue will be themed around “The Body,” for best results please submit by June 15. The December issue will open topic and comes with a October 15 submission date. Feel free to direct any questions to, we look forward to seeing your work.

Our April issue is all about Food and you can download it by clicking the link above or visit our homepage at Enjoy!

]]> 0
Around the Web Digest: Week of May 17 Sun, 24 May 2015 23:48:38 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of May 17 ]]>  

And we’re back for the shift into the summer blogging season! Thank you for your submissions… send anything of interest to me at

Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove is blogging at Forbes. Several recent posts look interesting but I pulled out this one on dentistry: Roman Forum Yields Stash Of Teeth Extracted By Ancient Dentist 

This post on The Conversation describes the discovery of ancient stone tools that have reset the boundary for toolmaking yet again: Our Stone Tool Discovery Pushes Back the Archaeological Record by 700,000 Years 

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is hosting a series of posts by Palestinian anthropologists, such as this one: We Are All Uncomfortable: On Academic Boycott & What Is Productive

Given that my own perspective is admittedly centered in the USA, I enjoyed this post on the Dutch blog Standplaats Wereld that explores the question of standpoint: Confessions of a Native? Anthropologist in the Making

This series in Scientific American has been exploring food culture in Queens, NY. I’ve often thought about the question of genre myself in working with handicrafts in Central America: how do regional styles come about? Rice and Beans: How Does Culture Become Generic?

What does it mean for games to be “representative,” especially along gender lines? The Geek Anthropologist reviews recent work on this topic: Pixels and Politics: Representation in Video Games 

Culture Matters describes the case of New South Wales Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie, in which a Scottish person’s non-specified gender disrupted the legal need to classify people according to gender binaries: Biologically Constructed

I hope you’re reading this next to a pool! You deserve it.

IMG_3725 ]]> 0
Indigenous scholar resists language hegemony Fri, 22 May 2015 11:38:40 +0000 Continue reading Indigenous scholar resists language hegemony ]]> Just a quick update to share an example of a PhD student directly challenging the ways in which we evaluate thinking within the academy–enacting Indigenous pedagogy, language and legal orders in a tangible way within his discipline. Nisga’a architect Patrick Stewart recently submitted a dissertation for his PhD in architecture at the University of British Columbia without punctuation.

National Post story on Stewart’s dissertation explains that he originally submitted his dissertation in the Nisga’a language:

“He wrote his first draft in the Nisga’a language. That failed to impress at least one senior UBC professor, a powerful figure who would eventually have to sign off on the work, or all would be lost. Stewart was called on the professor’s carpet and told his work was not acceptable. He was asked to translate “every word” of his dissertation into English. “So I did that,” he recalls. “There was still no guarantee it would be approved.”

And approval was crucial, of course. Without it, Stewart couldn’t complete his doctorate in interdisciplinary studies, which he’d been pursuing since 2010. It was his second attempt at a PhD; Stewart says he “ran into similar problems” in the early 1990s at UBC, while working towards a doctorate. He gave up, and concentrated instead on his architectural practice.”

What is important to note is that Stewart’s ability to write his dissertation in his own language was prevented by Euro-Western academic conventions that reinforce English as one of the de facto languages of knowledge transmission in Canada (the other being French). However, not all Canadian universities are hostile to students working in their own Indigenous language. In 2009, PhD student Fred Metallic submitted his dissertation at York University in Toronto in Mi’kmaq.

How can we truly enact self-determination, pluralities, Indigenous legal orders within the academy if Indigenous languages, themselves an integral part of Indigenous laws and sovereignty, are deemed only worthy to study as objects or relics, not to employ for intellectual labour itself?

I, for one, am thrilled by Stewart’s choice to forego punctuation in response to the demands that he translate his dissertation to English.

]]> 0
anthropologies #21: climate change (call for contributors) Fri, 22 May 2015 07:08:08 +0000 Continue reading anthropologies #21: climate change (call for contributors) ]]> The next issue of anthropologies focuses broadly on anthropology and climate change. We’re seeking contributions from cultural anthropologists, archaeologists, linguistic anthropologists–the more the better. We already have some contributors lined up, but there’s room for more!

Also, I’m looking for a guest editor for this issue. I need help! Experience in environmental anthropology and/or archaeology would be a plus. Guest editors will help line up contributors for the final issue and edit essays before they are published online. Ideally, the guest editor will also write or co-write the introduction to this issue.

This issue will include diverse coverage of climate change from an anthropological perspective. What does anthropology add to our understanding of climate change around the world? What do we have to offer? What do archaeological perspectives bring to the table? How can anthropology take part in addressing and/or confronting climate change? What about teaching climate change–or the politics of climate change debates? Above all, the goal of this issue is to use anthropology to challenge, critique, and illuminate this often controversial issue. Have an idea? Email us!

If you’re interested in taking part, please send a short query email with your idea to:


You can also contact me on twitter: @anthropologia

Submissions for this issue will be due on July 15, 2015. The standard word range is between approximately 750 and 2000 words. See below for more information about submissions and style.


One of the main goals of the anthropologies project is to encourage participation from a wide range of people. This means we seek ideas and submissions from people who are connected with anthropology (and social science) at various levels and in a variety of ways. While the editors do solicit submissions for each issue, we also highly encourage unsolicited contributions. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to ryan@savageminds dot org. Let us know which issue you have in mind, and provide a brief synopsis of the idea you have in mind for your contribution. Contributions are accepted based on relevance to topic and writing quality. We reserve the right to deny submissions based on quality of writing and fit with theme/other contributions. All upcoming themes will be announced on Savage Minds. If you have suggestions, thoughts, or other ideas that you would like to share with us, don’t be shy, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Submission guidelines

The word range for submissions is anywhere between 750-2000. Essays can be written in a more formal academic style, as personal essays, or as opinion pieces. The style is up to the contributors themselves. Please send all photos as separate attachments in JPEG format. Lastly, we use a modified version of the AAA style guide for all references. The only change is with the formatting of the author and date. Here’s an example:

Asad, Talal. 1993. Genealogies of religion: Discipline and reasons of power in Christianity and Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


]]> 0
Octopuses can see in the dark: Theme and variation Wed, 20 May 2015 23:46:38 +0000 Continue reading Octopuses can see in the dark: Theme and variation ]]> The original:

New York Times: For an Octopus, Seeing the Light Doesn’t Require Eyes

Which in other formats would be:

Scientific American: Octopuses Don’t Require Eyes To See

American Ethnologist: Visibility of Surface and Surface of Visibility: Octopuses Don’t Require Eyes to See

Cultural Anthropology: Entangled Skin and Vibrant Light: New Surfaces for Anthropology

Twitter: 4 realz! #for #an #octopus #seeing #the #light #doesn’t #require #eyes

Feel free to add your own in the comments.

]]> 0
The We and Them of Anthropology Sat, 16 May 2015 19:22:31 +0000 Continue reading The We and Them of Anthropology ]]> I think about the ‘we’ and ‘them’ of anthropology quite frequently. I have always found the royal ‘we’ a bit of funny notion. Who is included in this ‘we’? Such a simple word, all of two letters, and yet it has an ambivalent presence. It can be an act of loving kinship—we are here together. We look out for one another. Or it can be an act of violence through the denial of difference: ‘we’ are just like you, so your concerns are invalid. We know what’s best. We are not amused.

The complex negotiation of simultaneous and often contradictory sameness and difference across legal orders, societies, nations, communities, disciplines, and histories drives my research of human-fish and colonial relations in Canada, and this negotiation of sameness and difference is encapsulated in the use of the word ‘we’. The State often tells Indigenous people in Canada that we are a ‘we’. It does this by asserting ‘we’ are all Canadian, so we are all one happy family of Canadian citizens loyal to the laws and principles of the Canadian State. But, paradoxically, when it suits it, the Canadian State does recognize difference (on its terms), and in so doing it frames all Indigenous peoples in Canada (through the state’s preferred moniker ‘Aboriginals’) as a contemptable ‘them’: one amorphous group of vaguely inter-related First Peoples it can treat with the same indifference and barely veiled disgust. (This produces the further problem of forcing upon Indigenous peoples a ‘we’ unasked for by any of us: the ‘we/them’ as The Other which situates the default body of authority and knowing as a white, non-Indigenous one). In Canada, it bears noting that the since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples issued its report in 1996, the Canadian State claims to recognize (though often fails to honour) a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship between itself and First Peoples. This speaks to the articulation, in this place at least, of Indigenous peoples as nations and/or societies with our own laws, histories, language and claims to land/territory. However, the actual mobilization of this nation-to-nation relationship is another matter entirely. All too often, ‘we’ as Indigenous peoples are denied this nationhood and framed instead as a social, economic, and legal  ‘problem’ the State is saddled with. We and Them as distancing tools to avoid acknowledging ongoing legal-governance duties across nations.

As of 2011, there are 1.4 million Indigenous peoples–First Nations, Inuit and Métis—across the entire mosaic of territories claimed by the Canadian State. Each community, nation, people enacts and enlivens their own rules of relating to one another, to delineating respectful relationships to the land, to the other-than-human constituents of their nations, to determining legal and accountable membership. To frame Indigenous people as simply the Other, collectively and paradoxically denoted by settler-colonial actors as both a ‘we’ and a ‘them’ to serve various aims of the State, is to conflate our unique and plural nationhood and peoplehood, to flatten our long-rooted legal-governance practices that are informed by the places each of us lives. At the same time, however, there is a collective understanding of the place- and temporally- specific experiences different Indigenous peoples have experienced, and continue to experience, as peoples colonized by the French and British Crowns and now by the Canadian State. If we have one uniting factor, it is in the experience of having our legal orders and self-determination denied by various Empires and Nation States. This is a complex sameness and difference that is negotiated each and every day. Dwayne Donald (2009) describes this negotiation as ‘ethical relationality’–the recognition of difference while also negotiating what it means to live accountably and ethically within a shared place shaped by complex (and I would argue painful) historical realities.

It matters, then, who asserts the ‘we’. Is it a nation or people themselves defining kinship and governance relations for themselves, or someone else imposing the ‘we’ upon them? I puzzle through this question quite often as I study the relationships between Indigenous peoples and the state in Canada, and as I study human-fish relations within Indigenous legal orders. The ‘we’ and the ‘them’ employed within research, policy and political discourses matters. It creates walls, sometimes permeable, often not. As Sara Ahmed argues, quite often the people doing the describing, the citing, are not those who belong to a particular group being described to begin with. Her idea of ‘white men as buildings’ (Ahmed 2014) speaks to the pervasiveness of white, male scholars being the default voice and hive-mind of academia. If we continue to use the same citation practices, which Ahmed calls a ‘reproductive technology’ (Ahmed 2013), then it is very much within a discipline of White Men as Buildings that we find ourselves committing anthropology. The statistics bear this out in Britain, where of 18,500 professors in the entire country, only 85 professors are black and only 17 are black women (Grove 2014). I have tried, but failed, to find data for how many Indigenous and/or POC [People of Colour] scholars there are in departments in British anthropology. But my personal experience within the discipline demonstrates that it is still a very white space (though thankfully there are POC and WOC [Women of Colour] working in the discipline in the UK), which is not surprising when we look at the work of Brodkin et al. (2011), who demonstrate the racialised realities of the practice of anthropology in the USA.

So, anthropology is itself an interesting locus of ‘we’ and ‘them’. Who is being referred to in discussing the ‘we’ of anthropology? Who is doing the anthropologizing, and who is being acted upon? Which bodies do you conjure up in your mind’s eye when you envision the discipline? Who are the scholars of note describing when they discuss the ontological, the political, the theoretical? How often do you encounter an Indigenous scholar on a conference panel about Indigenous issues? How often do anthropologists acknowledge Indigenous peoples as active intellectuals and thinkers rather than informants passing down static ‘Indigenous knowledge’ or ‘traditional knowledge’?** Dr. Val Napoleon has taught me to move away from ‘Indigenous Knowledge’ to Indigenous thinking and thinkers because the latter reinforces the active and present nature of the intellectual labour we perform as Indigenous peoples working in and across relationships to one another, to the land, and to the State and its institutions.

Holbraad et al. (2014) explain that to them, the politics of the ontological turn “means giving the ontological back to “the people,” not the people back to “the ontological.””. But what if ‘we’—the people out there that anthropology, broadly, sees itself describing–never gave away the ontological? As I said in my previous post, indigenous self-determination in my home territory of amiskwaciwâskahikan/pêhonan/Treaty Six pre-supposes the ontological. We never gave ‘it’ away because ‘we’ have always incorporated the other-than-human and the understanding that many nations operate within their own cosmopolitics into our relations across nations, legal orders and geographies. We have continued to assert our legal orders in the face of the Euro-Western legal-governance and ethics of the French, British and Canadian States. We had treaties with one another through which we negotiated our own relationships to place, people and stories, such as the nehiyaw-pwat. We never relinquished our self-determination, ontological or otherwise. We have continued to think, write, speak, move and act within our dynamic and living intellectual practices. We don’t need anyone to give that (‘the ontological’) back to us, because we’ve held it all along.

So what would anthropological discourses look like if the halls of the academy physically reflected the actual societies we belong to? In Canada, one cannot avoid the daily encounter with the self-determination of Indigenous peoples because we all live in Indigenous land. Every city in Canada is in Indigenous land. Every scholar lives in Indigenous land. Every University is in Indigenous land. Every department, therefore, rests within sentient and knowing lands that long precede the Euro-Western state and its institutions, including the Euro-Western academy. On the other hand, my experience in the UK that it is much easier to render conversations about Indigenous self-determination and Indigenous peoples into philosophical or theoretical language—distancing language– because the ‘we’ doing the talking does not necessarily incorporate the people being described. But in Canada, the unruly and fleshy bodies of Indigenous peoples, which Vanessa Watts (2013) argues are inextricably bound to the soil and to the land–like the Mouthy Michif writing this very piece–are present and actively resisting the ‘we/them’ anthropology has employed in the past. We as Indigenous peoples are in your halls. We are actively asserting our legal-governance and intellectual lives in dynamic ways. We are working across sameness and difference. We will demand that the academy be responsible for how it impacts Indigenous sovereignty, just as we ourselves are responsible to our nations, communities, peoples for how our work impacts self-determination. We will ask how on earth you can write about Indigenous self-determination without citing Indigenous thinkers. We will write with or without you. We, the non-dominant voices and bodies of the discipline, will keep discussing the things that matter to us, and anthropology must decide whether it will keep being ‘white public space’ (Brodkin et al. 2011) that reproduces ‘white men as buildings’ (Ahmed 2014), or whether it will embrace the vulnerability, and potential, that comes with radically dismantling the ongoing patriarchy and white supremacy of contemporary Euro-Western academia. Anthropology re-imagined is anthropology unbound from its current  Euro-Western institutions and logics.

Either way, ‘we’ as Indigenous peoples and those not currently reproduced by the citational practices of the discipline and/or the Euro-Western academy, will do many things, because we are here to stay. It’s up to anthropology, broadly, to decide if it’s going to join us.

*special thank you to my colleague Danielle Lorenz for reading the first draft of this piece and offering editorial input.

**I say without hesitation that the work of scholars like Julie Cruikshank demonstrates a praxis of what I call ‘thoughtful anthropology’ that teaches all of us so much about what an accountable, reciprocal anthropology can look like. There is a lot of very good work being done in the discipline.

Works Cited

Ahmed, S. (2013). Making Feminist Points. Accessed April 24, 2015.

Ahmed, S. (2014). White Men. Accessed April 24, 2015.

Brodkin, K, Morgen, S. and J. Hutchinson. (2011). Anthropology as White Public Space? American Anthropologist 113(4): 545-556.

Donald, D. (2009). Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous Metissage: Imagining Decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian Relations in Educational Contexts. First Nations Perspectives 2(1): 1-24.

Grove, J. (2014). Black academics still experience racism on campus. Times Higher Education. Accessed May 16, 2015,

Holbraad, M., Pedersen, M. and E. Viveiros de Castro. (2014). The Politics of Ontology: Anthropological Positions. Fieldsights – Theorizing the Contemporary. Cultural Anthropology Online, January 13, 2014. Accessed May 16, 2015,

Watts, V. (2013). Indigenous place-thought and agency amongst humans and non-humans (First Woman and Sky Woman go on a European Tour!). DIES: Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education and Society 2(1) (2013): 20-34.

]]> 5
Savage Minds: First Class Fri, 15 May 2015 10:00:44 +0000 Continue reading Savage Minds: First Class ]]>  

Savage Minds: First Class


Just over 10 years ago, Kerim contacted me with an idea. I’ve long since lost that first email but the gist was “Hey, this blogging thing seems to be going places, but there don’t seem to be many anthropologists doing it. We’re young and stupid, wouldn’t it be cool if we started a blog about anthropology?”

It would be cool.

The idea was simple: we’d collect a bunch of anthros, given them logins, and let them post whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, so long as it was somehow about anthropology. Interestingly, none of us had ever met, and wouldn’t for several years — this was all organized by email. Within a week or so, we had our first lineup: Kerim, Nancy, Ozma, Rex, Tak, and myself. Our freshman class, so to speak.

And on May 15, 2005, 10 years ago today, Kerim posted Welcome to Savage Minds and Savage Minds became a reality. 

A note about the name: “Savage Minds” is one possible translation of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ La pensée sauvage (other translations include “the thinking savage”, “wild thoughts”, and of course, “wild pansies”, hence our header image). I can’t remember the other names we threw around, but we liked “Savage Minds” because a) it was a nod to a classic model of anthropology (as is our subtitle, “Notes and queries in anthropology’, which references the early 20th century British field reports, “Notes and queries”), and b) it had the feel of the kind of thing a bunch of self-important Fox News pundits would call themselves, and that struck us as funny at the time.

Over the years, many of the founding Minds have left the site for various professional and personal reasons, and we’ve added others. Within that first year, we already started reaching out to guest bloggers for commentary on specific timely topics none of us felt super-qualified to comment on; that first year saw posts by Fred and Errington and Deborah Gewirtz, Tad McIlwraith, and Maia Green (who has gone on to become a regular blogger here, what we call a  full-time Mind). Kerim and Rex, of course, remain frequent contributors, while I struggle to come up with a post or two each year.

An anniversary is a time for looking backwards and reflecting on what one has accomplished, as well as looking forward to what one might do in the years ahead. In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to have a look at what our freshman class of Minds is doing today, starting with the Minds still active (though, in my case, barely) today.

Kerim Friedman, of course, still plays an active role in writing for Savage Minds as well as handling the behind-the-scenes maintenance of the site. When he’s not under our server jacked-up in the front yard, Kerim is an Associate Professor of Ethnic Relations and Cultures in the college of Indigenous Studies at the National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan, where he teaches courses in linguistic and visual anthropology, among other topics, to a student body that is 60% indigenous. He is also, with his wife Shashwati Talukdar, a documentary filmmaker whose charmingly-titled film Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! docuiments the lives of one of India’s Denotified Tribes. The film was awarded the 2011 Jean Rouch Award for Collaborative Filmmaking from the Society of Visual Anthropology.

Alex Golub (the beloved Rex) is also still an active writer at Savage Minds. He is also an Associate Professor in the Anthropology department at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and has done extensive fieldwork in Papua/New Guinea (much of which he was written about here). Last year, he published Leviathans at the Gold Mine: Creating Indigenous and Corporate Actors in Papua New Guinea with Duke University Press, an ethnographic account of the relationship between the indigenous Ipili people and the international corporation mining gold on their land. He has also published on research carried out within the online space of World of Warcraft.

Dustin Wax is me. I’m also known as OneMan on the site because when Kerim contacted me, my blog was called One Man’s Opinion and in those days we all thought we needed pseudonyms to be cool, and mind was OneMan. (I got better…) After the total dissolution of the Anthropology department at The New School for Social Research made it nigh impossible to finish my PhD (seriously, they wanted me to re-do the MA and PhD core!) I floundered about for a few years freelance writing (including working as the managing editor of for a few years), all the while adjuncting at the Community College of Southern Nevada (now the College of Southern Nevada) and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I taught (and still teach) Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Gender, Race, and Class. In 2010 I became the collection manager at UNLV’s Barrick Museum and began volunteering at the Burlesque Hall of Fame (BHoF), a museum dedicated to the history of burlesque. In fall of 2011 I became the Interim Director at BHoF, a position that became permanent in summer of 2012, at which point I left the Barrick. In 2008, Pluto Press published my edited volume, Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War: The Influence of McCarthyism, Foundations, and the CIA; the same year, I self-published a handbook on college success called Don’t Be Stupid: A Guide to Learning, Studying, and Succeeding at College.

Nancy Leclerc has transitioned to Jacky Vallée. They teach anthropology at Vanier College in Montreal and are working on a PhD dissertation at l’Université de Montréal. Their fieldwork took place in an Eeyou community in northern Quebec and dealt with the worldviews and life experiences of Native people who consume, or have consumed alcohol. They used an ethnomethodological and phenomenological approach. Other activities include promoting Indigenous and queer visibility at their college, co-running a drag troupe for 7 years, being involved in various community activities in Montreal, participating in Québec’s social revolution, and raising a teenager. They also sporadically blog at

Ozma left the blog after an internal dispute and asked not to be part of this remembrance.

Tak Watanabe is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.

Most of us were graduate students when we started this thing; it’s interesting to note that except for me, all of the other first-year Minds have remained firmly in academia, and mostly in tenure-track (and tenured) positions. Although the vast bulk of my time is given over the the demands of running and growing a museum dedicated to histories that are typically ignored, I too have kept one foot in academia, continuing to teach as an adjunct.

Sadly, several of the early Minds left quite quickly, highlighting problems we have struggled with ever since. Some were simply unprepared for the public, and publicly contentious, nature of blogging — it’s not everyone who can calmly watch as commentors and other bloggers attack not just their writing but them as people. I don’t think any of us were prepared for that, actually, and it frustrated some of us pretty thoroughly. To be fair, it took us a while to figure out how to deal with comments [Ed. note: It’s taken TEN YEARS!] — on one hand, the potential for conversation is really the high point of the medium, on the other… well, the Internet can be an ugly place.

Unfortunately, among those who walked away were the only women in our lineup, and the only non-white Mind as well. For many reasons, some of which remain mysterious, Savage Minds has never been able to build and maintain much diversity in our lineup, an issue we started worrying about before the site even launched and which continues to this day. Part of it is surely the gendered nature of online spaces (paralleling the male-centrism of offline spaces) — women in public are often targeted more fiercely than men, not just at Savage Minds but throughout the Web, most notably recently on Twitter and Reddit.

On the other hand, Savage Minds has proven that blogs, and the online space in general, can be important forums for advancing new ideas and fostering new relationships. Most notably, Savage Minds has been a key voice in furthering the Open Access movement within anthropology, making the case for increasing the relevance of our work by making it available more widely, and especially by fulfilling our ethical requirement to make our work available to the people we study. We have also been an important outlet for critical discussion around the use of anthropology for the advancement of US military objectives abroad, through programs like PRISP and the Army’s Human Terrain Studies. And I’d like to think we’ve done yeoman’s work of holding Jared Diamond’s feet to the fire.

Most importantly, I think Savage Minds has shown the importance of releasing half-baked ideas “into the wild” for discussion and consideration. Ideas do not emerge in a vacuum; we more than any other discipline recognize the social and cultural fields at play in the development of concepts and theories that advance our understanding of the world. Yet we remain committed to these strange ideals of the solitary fieldworker and the solitary writer producing ethnographies, with the tiniest of tiny nods towards social idea-making in the 12-minute conference presentation which, we all know, is hardly enough time to even skim the depths of our work. Savage Minds aimed to fill that gap by challenging us to think in public — and let the public think back at us.

It’s worked out pretty well for us in the first 10 years. Hopefully the next 10 years will be even better. All we need is for Jared Diamond to publish something…


]]> 2
You can help stop drastic cuts to NSF funding for anthropology Wed, 13 May 2015 06:28:44 +0000 Continue reading You can help stop drastic cuts to NSF funding for anthropology ]]> Paid-up AAA members got an unusual email in their inboxes the other day from Monica Heller, the president of the American Anthropological Association. It’s unusual to get AAA direct mailing, and those of us who do often are halfway to hitting the delete button before we even get around to reading the subject line. This is one email, however, that we should all take seriously: Next week the House of Representatives will be debating the ‘COMPETES’ Act (H.R. 1806), which will, in essence, cut NSF funding of anthropology in half. This is one to worry about, folks.

I’ve argued in the past that the NSF already radically underfunds the social sciences. This new bill cuts the budget of the SBES (social, behavioral, and economic sciences) 45%, and targets a third of funding for one units (the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics) while leaving the other units to fight for the scraps.

Luckily, it is easy to tell your representatives what a lousy idea you think this is — head over to Vox Pop and follow their simple and easy process to send an email to your representative letting them know that you think anthropology and the social sciences deserve better.

Not all anthropologists practice a version of our discipline that is scientific — that’s why we also apply for funding from agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities. But for many of us, anthropology is a STEM discipline: an evidence-based research science interested in generating generalizable models of cultural and social process. It may not always look this way to non-anthropologists, mostly because hypothesis formation in inductive, qualitative field research looks a lot different from the version of the scientific method you are taught in high school. But that’s ok — numerous studies of bench science have shown that lab work doesn’t look very much like high school version of the scientific method either.

Consider, for instance, the winner of the 2015 Bateson Award,  Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think. The Bateson award is given out by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, the section of the AAA most likely to be named as anti-science by people who consider themselves pro-science. Kohn’s book is widely viewed as a part of the theoretical turn towards ‘ontology’, which is in turn seen as being the most anti-scientific approach imaginable. In fact, Kohn is quite frank in emphasizing his debt to Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist who does interdisciplinary work in neurobiology and human evolution. As counterintuitive as it may seem to  some, books like How Forests Think are tied to a scientific project which the NSF currently supports — but might not for much longer.

So take the time to click through this link and help support federal funding for anthropology. Thanks.

]]> 0
Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology – [Book Review] Tue, 12 May 2015 22:13:38 +0000 Continue reading Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology – [Book Review] ]]> I wrote a review for Duke University Press on the new “Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology,” edited by Orin Starn. And then I broke it into less-than-140-character ideas and then I tweeted it.

Essentially what you’re about to read is a blog-embedded Storify of a review of a book (about a book), made up of tweets based on marginalia.


]]> 14
savageminds and meet in person Tue, 12 May 2015 06:51:39 +0000 Continue reading savageminds and meet in person ]]> Back in the day when the original group of Minds first got this blog all stood up, the anthropology scene was in a different, pre-Twitter phase of deeper engagement and longer entries. We knew each other. Since then some blogs have given up the ghost, others have moved on to bigger and better things, and two (or three!) generations of anthropology blogs have replaced them.

Throughout all this time, there has always been Founded in 2004 by Lorenz Khazaleh, this multilingual blog has been covering anthropology for longer than SM. Lorenz’s pace on the blog has slowed down and sped up (and slowed down again) over the years, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the most experienced anthropology bloggers around.

I was so pleasantly surprised, therefore, when I ran into him at a recent conference in Oslo. For the first time in eleven years of blogging, we were face to face for the first time! It was a genuine pleasure — especially when someone explained to me that ‘Lorenz’ was actually the true name for the blogger I knew as  ‘’!

We were so excited we took a picture. Here it is for the record books:

Rex and Lorenz in Oslo
Rex and Lorenz in Oslo

This picture comes just in time for SM’s tenth anniversary, which we’ll be marking in less than a week from now so… look forward to more self-satisfied nostalgia from middle-aged white guys in the near future :S Don’t worry — we’ll be back to normal after that.

]]> 1
Around the Web Digest: Week of May 3 Sat, 09 May 2015 13:48:25 +0000 Continue reading Around the Web Digest: Week of May 3 ]]> ¡Hola chicos y chicas! Next week instead of the weekly digest I’ll be sending you all a “Wish You Were Here” postcard from the Yucatán. As always, you can bring blogs to my attention at .

In my ongoing search for anthropologists in the private sector, I came across this piece in MetroNews Canada on Ford’s cultural anthropologist. A fun excerpt: “How does one gather cultural anthropological data? By shadowing people, from the time they get up to the time they’re done for the night, for several days in a row, much like a reality show, just without the cameras, fake drama, and C-list celebrities.” Yes, Ford Motor Company Has Its Own Cultural Anthropologist

In high school, I did a report on cannibalistic practices around the world… so of course I was a sucker for this sensationalizing piece in The Conversation. One good thing about the Paleo Diet is that it’s opened a space to talk about the human past:   The “Other” Red Meat: On the “Real” Palaeodiet

I didn’t have the energy this week to try to find more four-field posts but here’s one on Cahokia at Megafloods and the Collapse of Cahokia

This Somatosphere post takes an interesting angle on a phenomenon we’ve come to see as exclusively race-based by pointing out that teens are treated as mentally deficient: Policing at the Synapse: Ferguson, Race, and the Disability Politics of the Teen Brain

Continuing the theme of policing, here’s a book excerpt on American Ethnography Quasimonthly on “driving while Mexican”: Regulating Lowrider Space

This piece on Access Denied is a little dry but it points to the need to create broader coalitions to press for immigration reform and ultimately promote migrants’ well being:  Arguing for Alliances: Why Business and Religious Leaders Should Promote Migrant Health Care

In an effort to be topical, I looked for an anthropological analysis of the British elections and found it on The Memory Bank: The 2015 British Election and the UK’s Creeping Constitutional Crisis. You’re welcome.

I’m not sure about this one, a post by Paul Stoller for HuffPost, but ultimately it resonated with me because many of my students discussed an exercise we did (on linking the labels on their clothing to locations known for factory rights violations) in their final exams: In Search of Soul and Soulful Social Science 

So how DO you teach complex social issues? This post on Struggle Forever discusses a technique that might be useful: Playing Games with Anthropology

What’s Wrong with the Global North and the Global South? What indeed, Thomas Hylland Eriksen? Spoiler alert: they may not be tied to Cold War geopolitics like the First and Third World, but they’re still essentializing.

As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you the week after next!

]]> 2
small photographs forgotten Fri, 08 May 2015 07:45:42 +0000 Continue reading small photographs forgotten ]]>

A box of photographs. Disheveled, sitting in a corner in our garage. Left behind by previous residents. Nobody seems to know where it came from or who it belongs to or whose faces are mixed in there. There are more than just photographs in this plastic box–receipts and old checkbook ledgers and even things like high school diplomas. There’s no order to any of it. But the photographs dominate. It’s as if somebody just threw these things into a pile and maybe someone else threw that mess into a box and after several rounds of this process they ended together in this disorderly, dusty cemetery of artifacts. All of those years and eyes and faces and moments just sitting there, cut off from the social lives that produced them. What strange objects, photographs.

They are small photographs forgotten. Detritus of times past. If you learn about the history of photography, these aren’t the kinds of images you spend much time reading about. Most histories of photography focus on iconic imagery, on the kinds of photographs that (supposedly) changed the world. You will learn about Matthew Brady, Lewis Hine, Dorthea Lange, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Sebastiao Salgado, Mary Ellen Mark and so many others. All great photographers, no doubt. There’s value in learning about iconic images and iconic photographers (especially since many of them weren’t all that iconic when they were living and breathing, particularly those dedicated documentary photographers of the early to mid 20th century).

But there’s something to the mass of mundane photographs that people produced–and cast aside–throughout the 20th century. There’s something to taking the time to learn about the non-professionals, the people who were just taking everyday photos and snapshots of life all around them. That’s why I’m drawn to boxes of photographs like this. They remind me of James Deetz’s arguments about “small things forgotten” in his famous little book.

His classic argument is that those small things tell us much more about the daily lives of people than the kinds of artifacts and material culture we might deem “valuable” upon first glance. Deetz’s little book focuses on common things, like pottery, gravestones, silverware, and even chairs (which tell us more about social relationships and changing cultural attitudes than you might think). His ideas apply to photographs as well.

What can we learn by looking at these small photographs forgotten? They may not be technically perfect, or even aesthetically pleasing, but they do offer insight into the lives, meanings, and values of people. The problem, of course, is that photographs, especially without captions, can be interpreted in so many different ways. What interests me, however, is not so much the intentional meanings that such images might hold, but also the unintentional.

Deetz argues that mundane, everyday, often discarded artifacts provide us with some of the most objective information about past lives that we can hope for. Unlike written documents, much of the material record consists of what amounts to garbage, or things left behind. This material culture tells us about the kinds of things people used, how they used them, how much they used, and how they disposed of them. It can potentially tell us much more. But none of it was intentionally left behind in order to provide future archaeologists and anthropologists with a window into the past. That is part of the power of this kind of material culture.

Photographs, on the other hand, do have a more direct meaning behind them–or at least an attempt to capture meanings through technology. People take photographs, or try to, in order to produce something. A record of a moment, something they can eventually hold in their hands and pass around (it’s a little different these days with digital photography). The act of taking photographs is, undoubtedly, done with certain future expectations in mind. Part of the beauty of amateur photography is the chasm between attempted and achieved results. Yet, beyond the question of technological capability and aesthetic success, these kinds of images do give us insight into the kinds of things that people deemed either photographable or, at least, worthy of being photographed.

The image above is a perfect example of what might be called a classic amateur image, in which the photographer was not able to capture what he/she intended. Yet it’s also an amazing, beautiful image in its own right (that’s an opinion). The baby, located in the center of the frame, appears to be the intended subject. All of the other individuals play a peripheral role. But the camera focus missed, as is apparent with the fuzzy baby in the foreground, the fuzzier girl in the lower right corner, and the razor sharp car parked in the driveway in the background. The young girl on the left, hand to her face, appears to know that everything has fallen apart.

These are just my own subjective ruminations. What do we know for sure? What does this image tell us? It tells us a little bit about the role of photography in domestic spaces and life. It’s part of a wider story of quotidian documentation, made possible by cheaper cameras, films, and photographic paper in the mid 20th century. It’s a story about daily life, and the mass photographing of almost everything that began around the 1830s and hasn’t stopped yet. It provides us with fragments of information about fashion, hair style, possible familial relations, the use of automobiles. It provides a glimpse of architectural information–see those wooden shingles? And that garage door?

Yet, so much is missing. There is almost no context to this photographs…and that’s the case with the rest of the box. Few of the images have captions to help viewers decipher what the images meant, or were supposed to mean, to the people who made them, carried them around, shared them, and eventually placed them in this box.

Beyond image content and intended meanings versus unintended meanings, I often wonder about how these kinds of photographs functioned as social objects. Elizabeth Edwards writes about photographs as material artifacts, and also as “relationships made visible.” I find this artifactual view of photographs fascinating. I think about the life history of such objects, as they made their way from clean boxes of paper to darkrooms to albums to being passed through different hands and lives. Think about all the scuffs, bends, scratches, stains, and creases on such photographs, and the small events they represent. Mostly, I wonder about who it was, finally, that made the decision to leave these images behind.

Look at this photograph. Based upon some of the information from this collection, it was likely taken in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s. What does it tell us about the people whose faces are captured in the rectangular frame? What does it tell us about life at that moment, which came together for a literal fraction of a second (1/60th, or 1/125th, or 1/250th)? What can such small photographs forgotten tell us about past lives? So many questions!

These questions make me want to get back to photography, but in a very different way than I imagined years ago.


]]> 6
Tending to duties across legal orders: committing anthropology while Indigenous Fri, 08 May 2015 03:44:42 +0000 Continue reading Tending to duties across legal orders: committing anthropology while Indigenous ]]> In October 2014, I wrote a piece about citation practices and the relationships between Indigenous people, Indigenous scholars and contemporary anthropology more broadly. The piece went viral and has received well over 28,000 hits from around the world since I posted it. I never thought that my own personal reflections on what it is to be Indigenous and working within Anthropology would garner that much attention.

Since writing the piece I have returned to Canada, where I currently am living and writing within unceded Katzie First Nation territory along the Lower Pitt River, which snakes its way south from Pitt Lake towards from the mighty Fraser River in the province known by the profoundly settler-colonial name British Columbia. Within this territory, much like my home territory in amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), live fish. Many fish. Specifically: sturgeon, salmon, trout and many others.

As a little girl, I grew up fishing in northern Alberta. I learned about the land, about water, about relationships between humans and the other-than-human from sitting in the wooden boats my Métis dad built by hand. We would cast for jackfish, perch, whitefish and walleye. I still relish the quiet of sitting on the water, casting a Len Thompson red devil spoon or a wriggler lure with a ‘plunk’ at the water’s surface. The inscrutable fish swimming below, determining on their own whether they will bite. My Dad remembers abandoned fishing boats, from bygone Depression-era attempts at Alberta commercial fisheries, sitting beached and bleached against the sandy lakeshore of mânitow sâkahikanihk (Lac St. Anne) in his childhood. He remembers his friend’s family setting lines for suckers along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, just under the hulking High Level Bridge, in the 1950s/1960s. This landlocked province, famous globally for its bituminous oil, is also a fish place. And whether we, as Albertans, realize it or not, fish have been shaping and influencing many aspects of political, social and legal-governance lives here for millennia (McNeil 1983: 4-5). In fact, my own doctoral dissertation examines the ways that fish shaped and shape colonial engagement in the small Inuvialuit hamlet of Paulatuuq, Northwest Territories, Canada.


Fish are slippery. John Law and Marianne Lien (2013) remind us of this in their wonderful piece on salmon farming in Norway. My Inuvialuk friend Millie taught me that fish carry stories in their bones. These are not my stories to share, neither as an anthropologist nor as a Métis person fortunate enough to work within another Indigenous people’s territory.  However, what I learned from her was to seek out the stories that fish carry in my territory. Within those stories, too, are law (Napoleon and Friedland forthcoming). Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe scholar Vanessa Watts (2013: 23) reminds us that:

habitats and ecosystems are better understood as societies from an Indigenous point of view; meaning that they have ethical structures, inter-species treaties and agreements, and further their ability to interpret, understand and implement. Non-human beings are active members of society.

 Legal scholar Val Napoleon (who is  a member of Saulteau First Nation (Treaty 8 Territory) and  is an adopted member of the Gitanyow (Gitksan) House of Luuxhon, Ganada (Frog) Clan) advocates for Indigenous peoples to engage with, and actively rebuild, our legal orders (Napoleon 2007; Napoleon and Friedland forthcoming). In a recent conversation, Val Napoleon reminded me that ‘law is a language’ and that ‘law is a verb’. According to Napoleon (2007:3), Indigenous legal orders are practiced through “law that is embedded in social, political, economic and spiritual institutions”. As Napoleon (2007:3) points out:

Indigenous peoples applied law to harvesting fish and game, the access of berries, the management of rivers, and the management of all other aspects of political, economic, and social life. Since our legal orders and law are entirely created within our cultures, it is difficult to see and understand law in other cultures.

In my own work, I employ the concepts of Indigenous legal orders (Borrows 2014; Napoleon 2007), Indigenous Place-Thought (Watts 2013) and ethical relationality (Donald 2009) to examine the ways that people govern themselves within territories populated by a myriad of human and non-human actors. These three concepts—Indigenous place-thought, ethical relationality and Indigenous legal orders— describe what it is to live, accountably, in the land. They also help me to consider what is to live and work, accountably, across legal orders and pluralities. As Watts (2013), Van Camp (2012), Borrows (2014) and so many other Indigenous thinkers and artists teach us: stories, bodies, memory, land, law and knowing are inextricably bound together. These Indigenous articulations of place-story (Donald 2009: 10) and Indigenous Place-Thought (Watts 2013) coincide with, and complement, the theories advanced by anthropologist David Anderson (2000) of ‘sentient ecology’ and Tim Ingold’s (1996: 121) notion of an ‘ontology of dwelling’ and so many other scholars writing about the inter-relation of land, animals, thinking, stories and legal-governance relationships.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 5.10.09 PM

The people, moments and presences I wish to cite, first and foremost, when discussing human-animal, human-environmental and cosmopolitical matters in my home territory are those I grew up with as an Indigenous person in the prairies. My first teachers–the fish, the water, the land, my family–remain my most powerful ones. Viveiros de Castro (2003) calls for anthropologists to strive ‘to create the conditions of the…ontological self-determination of  people’. This is an important principle for anthropology to engage. However, as an Indigenous scholar, I argue, too, that Indigenous self-determination, within the plurality of legal orders I am responsible to in Treaty Six territory, pre-supposes the ontological. Self-determination encompasses the myriad relationships between people, land and the laws that are generated from relationships between people and place. In North America, it is almost funny to imagine anthropology creating the conditions for self-determination considering the often negative connotations and legacies it carries for so many Indigenous peoples (see, for example, Audra Simpson’s work for a study of the negative implications anthropology can have on Indigenous self-determination.  In her research, she examines the experience of Kahnawake Mohawks asserting sovereignty vis-à-vis settler states (Simpson 2014)). In many ways, self-determination is possible in spite of the structures and processes of the academy. In fact,  scholar Sarah Hunt (2014:30) (who is a member of the Kwagiulth band of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation) argues (and I cite this piece frequently in my work now because it is so well articulated):

The potential for Indigenous ontologies to unsettle dominant ontologies can be easily neutralized as a triviality, a case study or a trinket, as powerful institutions work as self-legitimating systems that uphold broader dynamics of (neo)colonial power.

If Anthropology is to engage Indigenous legal orders and self-determination effectively, it must also seriously address the structural violences of the academy itself.  Following the work of Sara Ahmed (2013, 2014), one very direct way in which to dismantle the structural violences of our work is to tackle the citational practices of our disciplines. Who do we cite when discussing Indigenous legal orders? Who is sitting on the panels about these matters at our conferences? Who is vetting these discussions in our journals?

Through the duties people posses to one another, to sentient and knowing lands, to the water, to the air (or climate), to animals and other-than-human presences, we also currently encounter one another across colonial realities. I argue that we negotiate simultaneous and often contradictory ‘sameness and difference’ across these legal orders.  This can produce friction, particularly when trying to translate legal orders and embodied experiences within an academic system that presupposes the logics of Euro-Western law and ethics. However, through the plurality of legal orders that animate Turtle Island, I am accountable to you, to the land, to other Indigenous peoples, to the fish.

Since posting my critique of the ontological turn, I continue to puzzle through my role as an Indigenous person from Alberta complicit in ‘committing anthropology’ within another Indigenous people’s territory in northern Canada. Perhaps I move through these academic and ethical entanglements and meshworks (two concepts I borrow here from Ingold 2010) like a northern pike. Slippery. Trickster-y. On the move. Hungry.

What I continue to think about within my own work, both as a researcher but also as a political agent moving between Canada and the UK, are my duties to the Indigenous legal orders, and those who think them and rebuild them, that animate sovereign Indigenous territories and nations/societies throughout Turtle Island. And I firmly feel that in my own work, in order to commit to the ongoing decolonization of Indigenous-State relationships in Canada, requires that I unambiguously confront the legal-governance implications of my role as researcher, as Indigenous feminist, as family member, as student, peer, as critic, colleague, artist, daughter, sister, cousin, friend. It is not enough to simply write about self-determination—I have a duty as a Michif/Otipemisiwak/Métis person living in amiskwaciwâskahikan/pêhonan to embody, every day, my reciprocal legal-governance duties to human and other-than-human actors alike. To the land. To the water. To the fish. To the plurality of legal orders (Borrows 2014) and the people who think them into being across the entire continent. These are ongoing and nuanced living relationships that require constant tending to and will require constant tending for the rest of my life. But in that tenderness, reciprocity, and care are the conditions for an accountable and ethically robust anthropology that is attentive to what it means to embody an ‘ethical relationality’ (Donald 2009) across legal orders.

In the coming weeks as a guest blogger for Savage Minds, I will share with you the insights of Kyle Mays Wabinaw, Catherine Clune-Taylor and others as time allows. We will explore what it means to be critical, present and accountable within an academy that still struggles with reproducing disciplines like anthropology as ‘white public space’ (as per the work of Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen and Janice Hutchinson 2011). We will ask what it is to ‘be ethical’ within an academy that, for all intents and purposes, remains firmly planted within a very particular legal-governance and ethical paradigm.

Ahmed, S. (2013). Making Feminist Points. Accessed April 24, 2015.

Ahmed, S. (2014). White Men. Accessed April 24, 2015.

Anderson, D. (2000). Identity and Ecology in Arctic Siberia: the Number One Reindeer Brigade. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Borrows, J. (2014). Physical Philosophies: Freedom and Indigenous Peoples. Public talk, Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Summer Institute, Osoyoos: Canada.

Borrows, J. (2014b). John Borrows on indigenous legal traditions: ‘We need to explore how we can take that law and carve it in new and beautiful ways’. Accessed May 07, 2015:

Brodkin, K, Morgen, S. and J. Hutchinson. (2011). Anthropology as White Public Space? American Anthropologist 113(4): 545-556.

Donald, D. (2009). Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous Metissage: Imagining Decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian Relations in Educational Contexts. First Nations Perspectives 2(1): 1-24.

Hunt, S. (2014). Ontologies of indigeneity: the politics of embodying a concept. Cultural Geographies 21(1) (2014): 27-32.

Ingold, T. (1996). “Hunting and Gathering as Ways of Perceiving the Environment”. Pp. 117-155 in Redefining Nature: Ecology Culture and Domestication. Katsuyoshi Fukui and Roy Ellen, eds. Oxford: Berg.

Ingold, T. (2010). Bringing Things Back to Life: Creative Entanglements in a World of Materials. NCRM Working Paper. Realities / Morgan Centre, University of Manchester. (Unpublished)

Law, J and M. Lien. (2013). Slippery: Fieldnotes in empiricial ontology, Social Studies of Science, 43(3): 363-378.

McNeil, K. (1983). McNeil, Kent. “Indian Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Rights in the Prairie Provinces of Canada”. (Report). Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan Native Law Centre.

Napoleon, V. (2007). Thinking About Indigenous Legal Orders. Research Paper for the National Centre for First Nations Governance. Accessed via the internet April 14, 2015:

Napoleon, V. and H. Friedland, (forthcoming). “The Inside Job: Engaging With Indigenous Legal Traditions Through Stories”. Tony Lucero & Dale Turner (Eds.), Oxford Handbook on Indigenous Peoples’ Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Simpson, Audra. (2014). Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life ACross the Borders of Settler States. Durham: Duke University Press.

Watts, V. (2013). Indigenous place-thought and agency amongst humans and non-humans (First Woman and Sky Woman go on a European Tour!). DIES: Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education and Society 2(1) (2013): 20-34.

Van Camp, R. (2012). Godless But Loyal to Heaven. Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications.

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2003). And (Manchester Papers in Social Anthropology, 7). Manchester: Manchester University Press




]]> 4
State Crime on the Margin of Empire: A new book on Bougainville Fri, 08 May 2015 00:32:24 +0000 Continue reading State Crime on the Margin of Empire: A new book on Bougainville ]]> The civil war on Bougainville — a large island that is part of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG) — was one of the most important events to happen in the Pacific since World War II. Local dissatisfaction with the island’s large, foreign-owned copper mine turned to demonstrations, escalated into a guerilla war, and forced both the mine and the PNG government to leave the island, which then entered a period of conflict between pro- and anti- PNG factions. It was a key test of sovereignty in newly-independent Pacific states, had an enormous human cost (20,000 dead, sexual violence, destruction of villages and property), and was a cautionary tale about the limits of corporate power. The reconciliation process that ended the conflict in itself is studied by academics and policy makers all over the world as an example of successful peacemaking. So what does this new book offer to Pacific scholars, and to the anthropology of mining?

Everyone knew Bougainville was important when it happened, and there is a large literature on the conflict — often written in the heat of the moment — recording the events that transpired. Given this crowded terrain, it’s fair to wonder whether Kristian Lasslett’s new book State Crime on the Margins of Empire: Rio Tinto, The War on Bougainville and Resistance to Mining can add anything new. The answer is: “yes.” Lasslett’s book is a remarkable and extremely valuable addition to the literature on this area. Written from a Marxist perspective, it uses impressively detailed original research to present a fresh take on the Bougainville conflict, one that is highly critical of the existing consensus about what happened on the island.

Lasslett is a criminologist and a member of the fascinating new field of State Crime Studies, which seeks to describe, analyze, and denounce actions that would be considered crimes if done by anyone other than a sovereign country. Lasslett’s leftist agenda has a different reading list than most contemporary anthropology does: Laclau and Rancière are not on the menu but Marx and Trotsky are, and Lasslett sees Bougainville as an important case study of state violence being used to secure the interests of capital (in this case, mining). Since Lasslett uses the Bougainville case to elaborate a wider theory of state crime, it’s fair to ask whether he really has the deep areal expertise necessary to keep from embarrassing himself when writing this book. I hate to admit it, but as I picked this volume up I thought “this guy is not an anthropologist, and not a Pacific specialist, and not a mining guy. A million half-informed well-meaning NGOs types parachute into conflict zones like Bougainville. Does Lasslett really have real areal chops?”

The answer is: Yes. The greatest strength of this book is Lasslett’s profound mastery of the primary and secondary sources on Bougainville. His deep research — clearly conducted in Pacific libraries and in close collaboration with Pacific people — has produced a level of erudition that, in my opinion, establishes him as one of the world’s top experts on Bougainville. And, most amazingly of all, he has done so despite the fact that he is a junior scholar who, unlike many Bougainville scholars, did not live through conflict.

Lasslett’s book is a revisionist history which is frankly critical of the existing literature and the scholars who produced it, especially Anthony Regan. The more original and controversial a claim is, the more important it becomes to make the case convincingly, and so in taking on established scholars, Lasslett set the bar very high. His research is more than up to the task. In addition to library, archival, and grey literature work, Laslett also did a great deal of original interviewing for this project, producing some amazingly frank assessments of the mine by mine executives and PNG politicians, civil servants, and soldiers. Lasslett’s work is partisan and activist, and also compelling and convincing precisely because he marries his strong political commitments to rigorous research and careful presentation of evidence. I wish other scholars — including myself! — had such high standards. Ultimately, I am not an expert on Bougainville, so I will be interested in seeing what the small community of scholars of the island have to say about this book. But as an expert on mining in Papua New Guinea with a strong background in the history of the country, I found Lasslett’s work to be superb. I would recommend it as the one book people should read about the island and its conflict — especially in conjunction with the more popular backgrounder Bougainville Before The Conflict. 

That said, I should emphasize that the book does have its drawbacks. It is ethnographically dense. You must really be interested in reading about what happened on Bougainville, week by week to enjoy the volume. And — I can’t really tell at this point — I think you already have to be an expert on PNG history to tune in to the story. I’ve interviewed Rabbie Namaliu about his time as Prime Minister during the Bougainville conflict, and so I was very interested in reading Lasslett’s take on Namaliu’s performance during that period. But your mileage may vary.

Additionally, the book is written in a high Marxist style full of abstract noun phrases and cynical analysis of real politik. Again, for me this was a refreshing throwback to my Cold War childhood when people sat in cafés and read Lenin and were pissed off at Reagan. But I imagine for many readers it will be a slog. Perhaps in the future we will have a popular version of this history by Lasslett, but for now if you want to work through this book you’ve got to be all in, both ethnographically and theoretically.

Lasslett is committed to showing that rigorous Marxist theory can explain the Bougainville conflict. I strongly agree with his argument that we must move beyond abstractions like ‘landowners’ or ‘the company’ to reveal that complex actually existing reality of political action during the crisis — this demand for particularity is a fundamentally anthropological impulse. And I was convinced by Lasslett’s claim that a Marxist framework could be used to analyze Bougainville, but I wasn’t quite convinced that only a Marxist framework could make sense of it. The Weberian in me feels like you don’t need to be a Marxist to understand that when a company has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into mining infrastructure, they’ll be reluctant to walk away from it. As a result, I sometimes found myself skimming over passages which insisted that close reading of certain sections of Capital provided the key analyzing events which seemed to me amenable to a common-sense analysis of political maneuvering. Again, I think your mileage may vary here.

Lasslett is associated with the Jubilee Australia, an NGO critical of current attempts to re-open the Bougainville mine, and his book is published by Pluto, a publisher proud of its tradition of leftist and radical publishing. Some may be put off by Lasslett’s decision to write such a specialized book given the publicity and importance of the Bougainville conflict, but I believe his choice here was justified. This specialist scholarly monograph provides the erudite anchor for a whole chain of other texts written in other genres: reports, press releases, twitter flamewars, and more. Considered on its own, some might fault it for not doing enough to reach a broad audience. But when considered as part of an ecology of activist publishing, this book plays an important role.

I can’t comment about the importance of this monograph for state crimes studies. But as someone who focuses on the anthropology of mining and of the Pacific, I think this volume deserves to be widely read and deeply engaged with. Pacific scholars — who might not hear of the book through their usual networks — should take note and anthropologists of mining should definitely have it on the agenda. There are barriers to entry, to be sure, but for anyone truly concerned with these issues, there is no doubt that this volume establishes Kristian Lasslett as an important figure in contemporary debates.

]]> 7
Hegel on Physiognomy and Phrenology Thu, 07 May 2015 09:16:11 +0000 Continue reading Hegel on Physiognomy and Phrenology ]]> For those of you who actually read Hegel’s Phenomenology in its entirety it will not come as news that there is a chapter on physiognomy & phrenology, but if you are like me and never made it that far on your first try, discovering his unique approach to criticizing these pseudosciences for the first time is quite an eye opener. I have been listening to Jay Bernstein’s two-semester course on the Phenomenology ever since Ann Stoler mentioned it in her conversation with Rex and I absolutely love it. In his lecture on this chapter Bernstein draws on Alasdair MacIntyre’s essay “Hegel on faces and skulls” which can be found in the book Hegel on Action and I thought Savage Minds readers would be interested in a summary of MacIntyre’s argument, especially since he makes an important comparison to the kind of neuroscience reductionism which is still so popular today. (And which is the whole raison d’être for the wonderful Neuroskeptic blog.)

Illustration in a 19th-century book about physiognomy
Illustration in a 19th-century book about physiognomy


The central claim of physiognomy was that character was systematically revealed in the features of the face. Character consists of a set of determinate traits, and the face of a set of determinate features. In some cases the cause of the face’s being as it is the character’s being as it is, but in other cases certain experiences, such as the experiences incurred in certain occupations, may leave their marks both on the character and on the face.1

Hegel points out the contradictions between how physiognomists read facial expressions and how we interpret them in daily life. While the physiognomist sees facial expressions as revealing the true expression of inner character, in daily life we treat expressions as “parts or aspects of actions.” This leads Hegel to make the following four points:

  1. Expression is a form of action.

    It is not what the face is, its bone structure or the way the eyes are set, that is the expression of character or action; it is what the face does that is such an expression.”

  2. Character is the sum total of those actions.

    A man’s character is not something independent of his actions and accessible independently of his actions. There is nothing more to his character than the sum-total of what he does.

    MacIntyre explains that the process of interpreting expressions is not automatic, but culturally and historically contingent, and they have to be learned. This leads to point number three:

  3. We are prone to make mistakes.

    the rules that we use in everyday life in interpreting facial expression are highly fallible. . . . if someone is apparently glaring at me and I accuse him of being angry with me, he has only to retort that he was thinking of something quite different and I shall have no way to rebut him . . .

  4. Character is malleable in a way that bone structure is not.

    My bone structure can be altered by surgery or violence, but at any given moment it is simply what it is. But my character is not determinate in the same way as my bone structure, and this in two respects. First, a disposition to behave in a particular way always has to be actualized in some particular context, and the nature and meaning of the action that manifests the disposition is in many cases unspecifiable apart from that context.

This last point is key, and also (according to Bernstein) one of the key elements of Hegel’s philosophy of action. For Hegel, as with much contemporary social science, action is only meaningful in light of it’s social context, and we (as actors) become aware of it as self-conscious beings only in light of the prevailing social norms which make such action intelligible. As Bernstein moves on to the later chapters, on Antigone, he argues that all action for Hegel is essentially “tragic” in that it is backward-looking, unlike the forward-looking concepts of intentionality which still govern so much of positivist philosophy. Hegel’s argument against physiognomy can thus be understood as part of the setup for this tragic notion of intentionality.

Another key feature of human self-consciousness is that character is “never simply fixed and determinate” but is open to the “possibility of exchanging what he [sic] is for what he is not.”

Moreover, the agent who does not change his traits may change their manifestations. Indeed, for him to become conscious that he manifests certain traits and so appears in a certain light is to invite him to do just this.

Here Hegel quotes one of Lichtenberg’s aphorisms:

Suppose the physiognomist ever did have a man in his grasp; it would merely require a courageous resolution on the man’s part to make himself again incomprehensible for centuries.

Phrenology diagram
Phrenology diagram


MacIntyre highlights three claims phrenology makes about the brain:

  1. Localization

    It was, for instance, a central thesis of phrenology that different types of activity were localized in different areas of the brain.

  2. Bumps

    that the different areas of the brain correspond to different areas of the cranial bone, and that the shapes of these areas, the famous bumps of the phrenologists, reveal the different degrees of development of each area of the brain.

  3. Cranial determination of behavior

    local activity of the brain is the sufficient cause and explanation of behavior, and that therefore the shape of the cranium allows us to predict behavior.

He points out that 1 and 3 are very close to reductionist conceptions of neuroscience which are still common today. Both the idea that there is a specialized location of the brain for each aspect of human behavior and the idea that our behavior can be explained entirely by “biochemical or neural states of affairs, processes, and events” make for some of the more popular clickbait science stories shared on my Facebook feed.

Hegel’s arguments against phrenology are similar to those against physiognomy. Hegel is making an argument about what it means to be a “rational agent” and any argument which reduces human rationality to a set of physical traits is problematic for him. Hegel was not alone in criticizing these pseudosciences, but his approach differed from those of Francis Jeffrey and Henry Brougham who “fastened all their attention on the alleged causes, seeking to show that the mental cannot have a physical, or more specifically a physiological cause.” In making this argument they reiterated the Cartesian dualism of mind and matter, a dualism which the Phenomenology was supposed to bury once and for all.

Hegel compares the case of a murderer and a poet, arguing that the same underlying traits and qualities might lead one man to murder his beloved and the other to write her a sonnet. Here it is interesting to look at Hegel’s text:

The skull of a murderer has — not this organ or sign — but this “bump”. But this murderer has in addition a lot of other properties, and other bumps too, and along with the bumps hollows as well. Bumps and hollows, there is room for selection! And again his murderous propensity can be referred to any bump or hollow, and this in turn to any mental quality; for the murderer is neither this abstraction of a murderer, nor does he have merely one protuberance and one depression.

I was caught by the phrase “the murderer is neither this abstraction of a murderer.” It made me think of Hegel’s famous lecture, “Who Thinks Abstractly?” where he describes the procession of a convicted murderer to his place of execution.

For the common populace he is nothing but a murderer. Ladies perhaps remark that he is a strong, handsome, interesting man. The populace finds this remark terrible: What? A murderer handsome? How can one think so wickedly and call a murderer handsome; no doubt, you yourselves are something not much better!

He contrasts this with “a common old woman who worked in a hospital” who, looking on the severed head of a murder on a scaffold said “How beautifully . . . the sun of God’s grace shines on Binder’s head!” For Hegel this old women ‘kills’ the abstraction that reduces everything about the dead man to a single act by granting him his individuality and particularity in death.

MacIntyre argues that, for Hegel, universals are “particularized in their concrete occurrence to which we respond in our actions.” Hegel is not denying that human actions might have physiological causes, but arguing that humans are historically and culturally constituted agents who will respond to the same physiological causes differently depending on the particular context. Hegel’s critique of Hume’s empiricism means that human subjectivity cannot be reduced to “merely the sum of the movements that we observe” but must always take into account “the expression of rational activity.”

neuroscience image


MacIntyre concludes by highlighting three features of Hegel’s argument:

  1. The backward-facing (“tragic”) nature of human action.

    the way in which each stage in the progress of rational agents is seen as a movement towards goals that are only articulated in the course of the movement itself. Human action is characteristically neither blind and goalless nor the mere implementation of means to an already decided end. Acting that is the bringing about of such an end by a calculated means certainly has a place, but a subordinate place, in human activity.

  2. The role of rationality in shaping future action.

    Hegel [sees] history as composed of sequences in which the actions that constitute later stages of sequences involve reference to, and thus presuppose the occurrence of, actions that constituted earlier stages of the same sequences.

  3. Self-knowledge is always historically constituted.

    The past is present in the self in so many and so important ways that, lacking historical knowledge, our self-knowledge will be fatally limited.

I don’t know how everyone else feels after reading this, but it is stuff like this which makes me really appreciate how relevant Hegel still is and has me kicking myself for not having tried to tackle his work earlier. To be fair, it really is rather opaque. Even MacIntyre starts his essay with the following complaint:

The Phenomenology of Spirit was written hastily. It is notorious that one outcome of this is that arguments are compressed, that the relation of one argument to another is often unclear, and that paragraphs of almost impenetrable obscurity recur.

It is only thanks to Bernstein’s lucid lectures (including the one that pointed me to MacIntyre’s essay) that I have been able to begin to appreciate both Hegel’s brilliance and his continued relevance.

  1. Unless stated otherwise, all quotes are from MacIntyre. 
]]> 0