Finding My Muse While Mourning

[Savage Minds  is pleased to publish this essay by Chelsi West part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Chelsi is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. She holds a BA from Millsaps College and an MA from UT. Her research in Albania was funded by J. William Fulbright program, the National Science Foundation, and the International Research and Exchanges Board. She is currently writing her dissertation, tentatively entitled, “Racial Entanglements: Charting Emerging and Shifting Categories of Identity and Belonging in Albania.”]

February is the worst month of the year. I keep repeating these lines in my head as I stare at the blank screen. I struggle to think of anything else to say. The beginning of this month is now becoming some sort of a routine.

My Dad taught me to write in the early morning hours. “When I was your age,” he used tell me, “I went to bed early so that I could wake up around 4 a.m. and do my homework when the house was quiet.” Around age 11 or 12 I began to emulate this practice, though I never quite got a handle on the waking up early part so instead, I just developed late-night writing habits. To this day I usually produce some of my best work between midnight and 5 a.m. When I think about it, my Dad helped me to craft much of my approach to writing. Continue reading

Race is a Technology (and so is Gender)

I think there are two very different ways of talking about race and racism which frequently get conflated, and I think this confusion is responsible for a lot of wasted energy in various online debates. The same goes for discussions about gender and sexism. On the one hand we have a moralistic view of racism/sexism. This view seems more likely to be held by people who are decrying accusations of racism/sexism than by those who try to call attention to them, but not exclusively. Those who call out racism/sexism, on the other hand, are more likely to be talking about race/gender as technologies of power which work to systematically marginalize certain voices (and certain lives) than they are to be accusing anyone in particular of being immoral.

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J. N. B. Hewitt, Iroquois Americanist (SMNAB 1)

It took me several years to get a command of the Hewitt Six Nations ceremonial and text notes. – Bill Fenton1

John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt (1859–1937) is often described as a linguist by vocation, but his interest in linguistic structure was of a piece with a much broader set of research interests. He was a skilled comparativist who collected native language accounts in the service of historical reconstruction. In his reliance upon this particular set of sources and methods, Hewitt falls squarely within the Americanist Tradition.2

During his five decade career at the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE hereafter), Hewitt returned from the field with scores of texts in Tuscarora, Seneca, Onondaga, and Mohawk. Upon each return to D.C. he then proceeded to fastidiously gloss them at his own pace, and publish only in drips and drabs. In the years since his death his publications and manuscripts have served as rich source material for ongoing study of Iroquois culture history and the Iroquoian languages.

Bureau of American Ethnology
Undated portrait of John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt. (NAA INV 02858800, Photo Lot 33, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.)

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Legality, race, and inequality: An interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz (Part II)

This is Part II of an interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.  Part I of the interview is here.

Ryan Anderson: Earlier you made reference to the historically race-based nature of the U.S. immigration system. Race is an issue that many tend to avoid here in the U.S. — and this is definitely the case when it comes to immigration. Immigration debates often focus on crime, economics, competition over jobs, pressure on social services, taxes, and, of course, upholding the rule of law. It’s almost as if many people bend over backwards to deny that race has anything to do with our current policies. What’s this avoidance and denial all about?

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz: I think that many people are unaware of the central role that race has played in shaping the U.S. immigration system. For example, the very first major citizenship policy in the U.S. limited citizenship to “free white men of good moral character,” while the first immigration policy, 1882’s Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibited immigration of Chinese nationals. The first comprehensive immigration bill, passed in 1924, was designed to curb immigration of “filthy” and “unassimilable” Southern and Eastern Europeans, and Asians were deemed ineligible for lawful immigration and U.S. citizenship until 1952. It was not until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that overt racial biases in U.S. immigration policy were eliminated. Continue reading

Savage Minds Native Anthropologist Biographies (SMNAB)

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Matthew T. Bradley

Over the next four weeks I will be posting a series of biographical sketches of indigenous anthropologists. The genesis of my month’s guest blogging lies in a late October biographical post on Ely S. Parker I put together for my personal blog. Rex contacted me after seeing the post to broach the idea, motivated in part by the intention to “alter how Google remembers [indigenous anthropologists].” I never walked to school barefoot in the snow, but I do remember a pre-recap era Internet back before fresh content had less shelf life than a quart of milk. Call me a geek, but the opportunity to craft something digital and durable struck me as authentically exciting.

“Three Iroquois in Diverse Costumes,” c. 1827 watercolor by Tuscarora ethnologist David Cusick. Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture, object no. X.521, New-York State Historical Society.

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Read More, Write Less

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Ruth Behar as part of our Writers’ Workshop series. Ruth is the Victor Haim Perera Collegiate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous articles and books including Translated Woman: Crossing the Border With Esperanza’s Story (Beacon Press, 1993), The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart (Beacon Press, 1996), An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba (Rutgers University Press, 2007), Traveling Heavy: A Memoir In Between Journeys (Duke University Press, 2013), and is co-editor with Deborah Gordon of Women Writing Culture (University of California Press, 1995).]

Rolando Estevez painting-Loynaz-Poema XV ala tensa

 

Years ago, when I started returning to Havana, the city where I was born, I had the good fortune to be welcomed into the home of Cuban poet, Dulce María Loynaz. By then she was in her nineties, frail as a sparrow, nearly blind, and at death’s doorstep, but enormously lucid.

Inspired by her meditative Poemas sin nombre (Poems With No Name), I had written a few poems of my own, and Dulce María had the largeness of heart to ask me to read them aloud to her in the grand salon of her dilapidated mansion. She nodded kindly after each poem and when I finished I thought to ask her, “What advice would you give a writer?” Continue reading

Angry White Buddhists and the Dalai Lama: Appropriation and Politics in the Globalization of Tibetan Buddhism

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Ben Joffe. Ben is a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado. He holds a MA from the University of Capetown, and a Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research dissertation grant for the project “White Robes, Matted Hair: Tibetan Renouncers, Institutional Authority, and the Mediation of Charisma in Exile.”]

You know that guy. He talks about ‘Tantric yoga’ in casual conversation. Maybe he has dreadlocks. Maybe he’s shaved his head. He’s definitely not had a beverage with regular milk in it for years. He’s probably white and affluent. He’s probably been to India. And he probably wears Buddhist prayer beads as jewelry.

It’s easy enough to compare this stereotype to the ‘serious’ convert to Buddhism, who though they too may talk about Tantra, sport distinctive hairstyles or be white and affluent, seem at least to wear their prayer beads as more than just a fashion statement. Yet, how easy is it to identify where religious conversion begins and cultural appropriation ends? Continue reading

Why I like typewriters

This is my last post as a guest blogger for Savage Minds. I have enjoyed this experience of connecting with so many anthropologists. I want to thank the Savage Minds team for giving me this opportunity to discuss ethnographic writing, and to everyone who offered their thoughts and comments on my posts. Since this is my final contribution, I thought I would end on a personal note and share a short homage to typewriters.

A vintage German business typewriter from the 1930s.
A vintage German business typewriter from the 1930s.

As you may have noticed, many images of old typewriters accompanied my posts on writing this month. These photos are not culled from the Internet, but are pictures of my own growing collection of European manual typewriters, which I now use to write my fieldnotes and my first drafts. I am not a luddite, nor am I paranoid about the NSA reading my fieldnotes. And although I am old enough to have written many early college papers on a typewriter, my trusty Smith Corona was an electric model. I switched to a basic word processor, and eventually to a personal computer as soon as I could afford one. Writing on a manual typewriter is a newly acquired preference.

Skywriters

Over twenty years after I retired my electric Smith Corona, my partner surprised me with a vintage Skywriter as a birthday present. The Skywriter hails from the 1950s and was Smith Corona’s attempt at a portable machine that itinerant writers could use on airplanes. Last spring, I began writing research notes, letters, and first drafts of my work on that typewriter, mostly because I loved the clack of the keys, and the fact that email, social media, and the lures of the World Wide Web couldn’t distract me while I worked.

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Legality, race, and inequality: An interview with Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz (Part I)

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz is an assistant professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago. Her 2011 book, Labor and Legality, explores the work and social lives of undocumented busboys in Chicago. Since 2011, Gomberg-Muñoz has been conducting ethnographic research with mixed status couples as they go through the process of legalization; a book manuscript based on that research is in the works.

Ryan Anderson: For decades many of the debates about immigration in the US focus on legality. Politicians and pundits often speak in terms of following — and breaking — the law. But in your work you talk about the “illegalization” of migrant workers. What do you mean by this?

Ruth Gomberg-Muñoz: Migration is only “illegal” when laws prevent mobility. Historically, U.S. immigration policies have encouraged migration of workers deemed essential to the U.S. economy, a long-standing practice of labor importation punctuated by deportation and restrictionist campaigns in times of economic downturn. For example, Mexican migrant workers were imported to the United States by the millions in the mid-20th century to help fill labor shortages brought about by World War II and an expanding U.S. economy. Laws were created, negotiated, and adjusted to allow U.S. employers access to these workers; a contract worker program was instituted, and Mexicans and other Latin Americans were exempted from the quotas that limited immigration from elsewhere in the world at the time.

In the 1960s, the laws changed. An explicitly race-based U.S. immigration system was altered to prioritize family reunification, and Mexican workers became subject to numerical restriction for the first time ever. Over the next four decades, widespread demand for Mexican migrant labor persisted, while free trade policies undermined the ability of millions of Mexican farmers and workers to make a living in Mexico. Not surprisingly, numerical restrictions did not ultimately curb the migration of Mexicans to the U.S., but they did make it far more difficult for Mexicans and other Latin Americans to migrate legally. In this context, barriers to lawful immigration have produced unauthorized migration by “illegalizing” long-standing patterns of migration at a time when workers needed them most. Continue reading

Seeking New Around the Web Intern for 2015

[UPDATED: Added a FAQ at the bottom of the post.]

With Dick Powis now a full time contributor, Savage Minds is looking for someone to fill his shoes as our Around the Web editor. This position is called an “internship” because we see it as a way to cultivate new talent. (Also because it isn’t paid, but then nobody here is paid.) Doing the weekly roundups is not only a great way to force yourself to pay closer attention to the anthro blogosphere, but it also gives you a seat at the table behind-the-scenes at Savage Minds, helping select guest bloggers and discussing the future of the blog. Interns are encouraged to blog as well – but it isn’t required. Full time contributors like Dick Powis and Matt Thompson started out as Around the Web interns, but there is no requirement to stick around more than a year if you don’t want to. (We hope you do…) Continue reading

Why you shouldn’t take Peter Wood (or Anthropology News) seriously

In this piece I would like to explain, in detail, why I think Peter Wood’s recent piece in Anthropology News is fundamentally misguided. For a lot of readers, there will be no point in my doing so — they will just write Wood off as ‘racist’ and move on. I’m, shall we say, extremely sympathetic to this point of view. But I do think that Wood’s piece deserves some scrutiny to explain why so many people find it so misguided.

In his piece, Wood takes issue with four essays in Anthropology News responding to the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent reaction in Ferguson. Wood  argues that the essays are “a retelling of… the left’s canonical myth of Ferguson: facts submerged in a sea of fiction”. He goes on to argue that these authors’ accounts of Ferguson ignore “the record of events established by the grand jury”. He claims that the concepts of “structural violence” and “structural inequality” used in the essays are “intellectually lazy simplifications of complex social circumstances” which “remove all moral and social responsibility from the actors who are portrayed as victims”. In doing so, he claims, anthropology “erases the motives of key participants and reduces them to objects acted on by invidious external forces”. In the end, Wood claims, it is a “just-so story that America is a nation run by privileged whites determined to maintain their privilege.” In  fact, he says, “this is, quite plainly, a myth. There is nothing in the realm of fact to support it.”

These are amazing claims, and it is difficult to understand how Wood can make them in the face of an overwhelming body of evidence that proves exactly the opposite of what he claims. Wood is clearly not stupid. Charitable readers will assume that he is not evil. The nicest interpretation of Wood’s position, therefore, is that he is simply ignorant.

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Announcing the Spring 2015 Writers’ Workshop Series

What are you writing right now? Are you writing right now? An article, a paper, a book, a dissertation. A poem, a report, a proposal, an exam. A blog post. Who are you talking to about your writing? Who is reading your writing?

book shelf

 

One year ago, we launched the Writers’ Workshop series here on Savage Minds to provide a new space for reflecting on writing. We’ve now had two successful seasons with twenty-one anthropologists contributing: Continue reading

A Political Suicide and the Return of the Greek Left

The results of yesterday’s Greek elections, which the radical left coalition, SYRIZA, won in an historic landslide, reminded me of a humble pharmacist named Dimitris Christoulas. What follows is an excerpt from an essay I wrote in his honor back in 2012.

I hope his spirit rests a little better today.

A sign posted on the tree where Dimitris Christoulas shot himself in 2012. "In memory of the thousands who lost their lives in an undeclared economic war."
A sign posted on the tree where Dimitris Christoulas shot himself in 2012. “In memory of the thousands who lost their lives in an undeclared economic war.”

It was a Wednesday when I read about the suicide. At 8:45 am on the morning of April 4 2012, 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas killed himself amidst a rush of morning commuters near a metro station in front of the Greek Parliament. I choked on tears when I finished the article.

I was probably surfing the Internet, perendinating as usual. I’d just returned from a research trip to Bulgaria, and had been unceremoniously rocket launched into the second half of my spring semester. On top of writing lectures, teaching, grading, and supervising my students, I had four composition books full of hand-written fieldnotes that needed to be transcribed. But I was restless and feeling depressed about the world of academic knowledge production.

Probably my existential mood made the news of the suicide afflict me so deeply. Mr. Christoulas had leaned his head against a cypress tree. It meant he considered the logistics before he pulled the trigger. He knew that his head might jerk away from the force of the bullet. The cypress tree provided the answer. I imagined him with one temple pressed against the bark and the other temple pressed beneath the barrel of the handgun. I could see his body crumpling to the ground in Syntagma Square, the blood from his head soaking into the spring grass still wet with the fresh morning dew. It would be Orthodox Easter soon. Despite the divine reference in his surname, there would be no resurrection for Mr. Christoulas.

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420 ways to teach “Pigs For The Ancestors”

Pigs for the Ancestors is an iconic ethnography, taught for decades in introductory courses and graduate seminars alike. Rapport’s theoretical ambition, the richness of highland PNG life, the detail in the ethnography — it all works together to produce an ethnography whose life has exceeded its sell-by date for decades. And now, the University of California San Diego provides 420 new ways to teach it: a massive, open access collection of 420 photos taken by Roy Rappaport across the course of his career.

Not all the pictures are from Papua New Guinea, so I guess technically there aren’t 420 images that you can use when teaching Pigs. But in this case, it is important to emphasize not just quantity, but quality. The pictures are high-quality, and they are very well cataloged: each one has extensive metadata describing when it was taken, and what and who is in each picture. They are organized by topic so you can see, for example, just the pictures with pork in them if that’s what you’re into.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll state right away that the people who did this work are friends of mine, so I’m hardly an impartial observer. But it seems to me that collections like this are The Future. As the Internet gets more and more turgid, filled with ad-encrusted crud and unverifiable assertions, carefully curated open access collections like this are so, so welcome.

The Rappaport photos are hardly novel. Museums and libraries all over the world are making their collections available — just check out the institutions participating in the Flickr Commons project. But the key step between availability and use is discovery: making sure people know about all the great resources out there.

That’s hard to do for libraries, for whom just producing digital collections is work enough. We need to use these collections regularly, and credit them when we do use them. It’s only when word of mouth spreads that people will really develop a sense of the many hidden treasures out there available for research and use.

So this week, the next time you need a picture for a powerpoint, why not get this process rolling and use a picture from the Roy Rappaport collection?