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.

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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. 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
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Ode (Owed?) to Baltimore

[Savage Minds is pleased to present an invited post from Mike Agar. Mike Agar left academia in 1996 with an early emeritus exit from the University of Maryland and now works in New Mexico as Ethknoworks (ethknoworks.com for details on his checkered past and present). His long life on drugs is described in Dope Double Agent: The Naked Emperor on Drugs. He recently published The Lively Science: Rebuilding Human Social Research and currently works on water governance in the Southwest.]

The phone was ringing and the message light blinking when I walked into the project office in Baltimore. Fred, an outreach counselor my age with whom I’d worked on a Johns Hopkins project, had already shown me a copy of our flyer that he’d gotten I didn’t know where. “It’s all over the streets,” he said with the sideways smile he used when he knew he had me inside a teaching moment.

It was the late 90s and I’d just started running a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to figure out why illegal drug epidemics happened. Yet another white researcher in a majority black city. Though I lived in a suburb near the University of Maryland, College Park, from which I’d resigned in 1996, I wanted to do the project in Baltimore because I’d done work there before consulting with Hopkins public health and I was weary of the strange city that Washington was and is. Many people in Washington said that Baltimore is a “real” city.” Continue reading

Tansi! Tawnshi!

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Zoe Todd. 

Tansi! or Tawnshi!

These are, respectively, the nehiyawewin and Michif greetings of my home territory.  I grew up in amiskwaciwâskahikan/pêhonan in Treaty Six territory in central Alberta, also known by the colonial name Edmonton. Michif and nehiyawewin are two of several Indigenous languages spoken in my hometown, which is the traditional territory of Cree, Blackfoot, Saulteaux, Dene, Nakoda and Métis peoples. I am finishing my PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen and will begin a position at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada in July.

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The hills of Nepal are crying, but why aren’t we listening?

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this guest essay by Galen Murton. Galen is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research examines of questions of identity, development, and material culture in the Himalayan borderlands of Nepal and Tibet. He is currently in Nepal conducting research on roads, borders, and trade in Mustang district.]

It is for the living paradox of Nepal that so many of us love this country. The sacred spaces of Kathmandu in the profanity of an overwhelmed, polluted city. The beautiful smiles and namastes of a village within communities for which the government could hardly give a damn.

Yesterday the children of Pokhara returned to school while mass burials and cremations continued in Gorkha, Lamjung, Nuwakot, and elsewhere. This return to normalcy in Nepal’s most scenic city is essential, and yet nothing is in fact normal. Tourists are in short supply and yet the shopowners of Lakeside sit in vacant showrooms, eagerly awaiting their return. Everyday conversations tend towards the mundane again – the price of petrol, the pre-monsoon weather – and yet the specter of disaster looms everywhere – where were you when IT happened?; are you and your family and your home alright?; what about the village?; did you lose anyone? Everywhere there is a big elephant in the room, or better yet, a makara in the shadows. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of April 26

It’s that time of year that makes you grateful for good students and good moments throughout the semester… we just had a great review session that helped put the whole course into perspective. If anything is happening online that I need to know about, send me the link at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com.

This post on Brain Pickings is a little older but a reader just brought it to my attention (thanks!). It describes a broad-ranging public conversation between Margaret Mead and the writer James Baldwin that touches on issues of the extent of our moral responsibility and the formation of American racial/ethnic identities:  A Rap on Race: Margaret Mead and James Baldwin’s Rare Conversation on Forgiveness and the Difference Between Guilt and Responsibility 

For this week’s piece of shameless self-promotion, here’s a post I wrote for Anthropology News about a tour I took of a Guatemalan archaeological site that took a post-colonial turn: Welcome to the Jungle: Touring Tikal 

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Gone: The Earthquake in Nepal

Gone. This one word is in heavy use right now. Heavy as in frequent, and heavy as in weighty. Gone are homes. Gone are temples. Gone are entire villages. Gone are animals. Gone are the thousands of people who died in the 7.8 earthquake which rocked central Nepal midday on Saturday, April 25. Felt across Nepal and into Bangladesh, India, and Tibet, the earthquake is still not over. There are people being rescued alive in rubble. There are still tremors and aftershocks. There are landslides and avalanches. There are still entire regions from whom we have not heard, about which we do not know their status. We do not yet know. It is not over.

Langtang village, now gone
Kyangjin Gompa in the Langtang Valley survived the earthquake.
Before the earthquake this was Langtang village. Now gone.
Before the earthquake this was Langtang village. Now it is gone.

What we did know was that a big earthquake was coming. One had long been predicted for Nepal. Despite this, emergency preparedness mostly took the form of prayer, of hoping it wouldn’t happen or that it wouldn’t be too bad. It did happen and it was bad. Continue reading

Between the Anthropocene and Neostructuralism

Over the weekend I read the book symposium in Hau on Philippe Descola’s Beyond Nature and Culture; then I perused the Open Anthropology current issue on the Anthropocene, recently highlighted by Rex. The experience was somewhat jarring—Descola’s ontological perspective renders up an almost placid view of humanity via fairly timeless schemas such as totemism and naturalism; while Jason Antrosio and Sallie Han’s curation of anthropological writings depict humans (finally?) confronting the precarity of our species-being in the face of climate change. Strikingly, though, they both share a confidence in the relevance and purchase of “classic” concerns of anthropology—conceptually, methodologically, and theoretically. And it’s this shared confidence I want to tap in thinking about how multispecies analytics are percolating up in anthropology. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of April 19

I practiced writing “Dr. Rebecca Nelson” a few times but it still doesn’t flow naturally… The anthropology blogs seemed a bit quiet this week, which makes sense for this time of year. It’s also possible that I missed some good pieces (something you can remedy by sending me links at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com).

This Past Horizons post summarizes an Open Access article suggesting that Caribbean architecture that could be flexibly rebuilt might provide a model for aid workers providing disaster relief: Humanitarian Decision Makers and Archaeologists Should Collaborate 

This “GradHacker” post on Inside Higher Ed is not specifically anthropological, but it might be of interest if you’re new to academic conferences and networking: Preparing for Conferences. We can forgive them for the title of the section and the use of “hacking” to refer to any kind of daily activity…

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Savage Minds Reader Survey Results Part 1: Demographics

First of all, a big “Thank you!” to everyone who responded to the Savage Minds Reader Survey. Over the one month the survey was up Google tells us that we had 31,003 people visit the site1, but of those only 6,255 were returning visitors. It is that second number we want to target, since we aren’t really interested in the people who randomly end up on the site because they are Googling “jewish glam rock” or “origin sexy librarian” (although we’re happy if they become regular readers after ending up here). The fact that 430 people responded to the survey means we got about 7% of the regular readers during that period, which is fantastic. Of those almost half left their email to be entered in our prize drawing. The lucky winners have already been selected and (hopefully) notified of their prizes.

If you’d like to look at the survey results directly, take a look here. In this post I’m going to summarize some of the demographic data and information on how people use the site. At least one or two more posts will come later on with more information on the qualitative answers, and the data on employment and student debt, etc. Continue reading

Puppy-Dog Eyes of Science

“Scientists say…” It’s interesting what natural science research starts making the rounds on social media. Mostly on diet or health broadly, and increasingly concerning climate change. On rare occasion—as over the past few days—some reports surface that offer insight into the circulating clutter itself, as in “cute dog” photos. In this instance, they’re opportunities to glimpse changing understandings of big topics, like domestication and evolution.

Links for two articles recently popped up in my Twitter feed: “The Science of Puppy-Dog Eyes” (NYTimes, 4/21/14) and “The Guilty Looking Companion,” Scientific American (4/20/15), both treating the gazing behavior of dogs and its various effects on humans. The first, by Jan Hoffman, reported on a study published in Science (in a themed-column on evolution), titled, “Dogs hijack the human bonding pathway.” The second, by Julie Hecht, “The Guilty Looking Companion,” builds off an article in Behavioral Processes, on a tangled question: “Are owners’ reports of their dogs’ ‘guilty look’ influenced by the dogs’ action and evidence of the misdeed?” Both suggest a far more agential companion species than many people might’ve suspected, but more importantly they each complicate stock domestication narratives suggesting it was something we simply did to them. They also suggest opportunities for extending social analysis beyond the human. Continue reading

This Earth Day, read about the anthropocene at Open Anthropology

As our guest blogger John Hartigan has show, 2014 was the year of the Anthropocene for anthropology. Multispecies? So 2010. Ontology? So 2013. This Earth Day is a great time to start thinking about the anthropocene — and to make sure that concern and attention to climate change is more than just a fad for anthropology. A great place to start is Open Anthropology’s current issue on the Anthropocene.

in the past Savage Minds has not been kind (at all) to Open Anthropology. This is the AAA’s faux-open access journal that present themed ‘best-of’ issues that are temporarily open and then go back behind a paywall. Over time the curation of these issues has gotten better, but serious problems still remain with the ‘journal’ — there are no permalinked URLs for the current (open) content, and of course that majority of the content on the site is actually behind a paywall — a bitter irony for a supposedly open access project.

This new issue on the Anthropocene is by Open Anthropology’s new editors Jason Antrosio and Sally Han. Jason has spent years earning cred with anthropology noosphere by producing great blog posts at Living Anthropologically and other blogs. As a result, I’m tempted to give Open Anthropology an easier time just because of my respect for Jason. But I’m not going to, because frankly the site still has a tremendous amount of problems. Hopefully, he and Sally will work on improving it as time goes on.

But enough kvetching — the Anthropocene issue that is currently up is quite good, with an excellent mix of four field approaches ranging from Franz Boas to Jim Roscoe. Go take a look — in fact, you may want to download all of the articles right now. This Earth Day, Open Anthropology is making valuable resources about the Anthropocene available to all. Next Earth Day, they’ll be locked up tight behind a paywall.

Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS: SMOPS 14

I’m happy to announce the next number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series, “Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS”. This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series is unusual for two reasons. First, this is the first SMOPS that is not a reprint of early pieces in the history of anthropology. Secondly, I am not the author of this piece, although the authors have assigned their copyright to me in order to give this piece a Creative Commons license. This piece presents in expanded and revised form material which originally appeared on the Savage Minds blog in June and July 2014. These guest blog entries, composed by two people writing under the pseudonym ‘Isaiah Silver’, are part of a wider discussion regarding the American Anthropological Association’s stance towards Israel. As such, this SMOPS is meant to provide a convienient, downloadable, citeable explanation of their position.

Divestment is an emotional — even explosive — topic for many anthropologists, and especially for Jewish anthropologists. To me, the most valuable contribution this SMOPS makes is not in arguing one side of divestment or the other. Rather, its value comes from the fact that it presents a picture — almost a mini-ethnography — of Israel that varies greatly from what Jewish American anthropologists such as myself were told about our homeland growing up. Regardless of where one stands on the issue of Israel, I believe that we as anthropologists have a professional obligation to see and know the full reality of life in Israel today, including evidence that contradicts many of our taken-for-granted ideas about that country. Challenging preconceptions in the name of truth is, after all, the fundamental duty of anthropological ethnography. As Jewish American anthropologists, we must work through these issues the ethnography presents. An incurious and uninformed support of Israel does not fulfill Jewish American anthropologists’ obligation to anthropology or Israel — and refusing to engage the issue at all is simply to give up on one’s identity altogether.

Why Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS, by Isaiah Silver,  Edited by Alex Golub

Cultural Evolution As Dialectic

Are cultural anthropologists going to get serious soon about evolution? When I first learned anthropology, back in the mid-1980s, “cultural evolution” (Lewis Morgan and E.B. Tylor) was always an early lesson in intro courses, basically on how not to think about culture. Or as an illustration of European ethnocentrism, with their culture as the more complex evolutionary development from simpler, primitive societies. But now I teach Darwin’s Origin of the Species in my intro grad theory course and to my undergraduates, as well. There’s no better way to engage the importance of yet problems with talking about underlying commonalities across species lines. As well, if we’re going to talk about “life itself” in relation to biopower and biopolitics, we have to become fluent with the underlying grammar of biology, and that’s evolutionary theory. Perhaps the “biocultural synthesis” will promote this kind of fluency; certainly Hicks and Leonard make a powerful argument for this in their recent article in Current Anthropology, “Developmental systems and inequality: Linking evolutionary and political-economic theory in biological anthropology.” They see an opportunity “to balance the importance of our long evolutionary history with our social and cultural complexity as explanatory frameworks for understanding modern human variation and health.”

But the challenges here are manifold. Continue reading