Ramadan Diaries: Introduction

Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites.

During the holy month of Ramadan, the month when the Devil (Shaitan) is chained, many Muslims around the world undertake the practice of fasting. Fasting, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is first and foremost a practice where Muslims rediscover the importance of self-restraint. As an individual is deprived of bodily intakes such as food, water, and cigarettes, the mind goes through a journey of self-discipline. The fasting individual is also asked to watch his/her manners, such as restrain from being foul-mouthed, gossiping or staring at the opposite sex with bad (i.e., sexual) intentions. One of the aims of this month, then, is to discover that one’s will can overcome his/her physical weaknesses, and to tame the ego (nefs). Another aim is to be reminded of the bounties that Allah provides year-long, to be thankful of His grace, and to help those who may not be as fortunate by sharing one’s wealth (a practice known as the sadaka-i fitr). Sharing is not only monetary. During this month, Muslims come together, attend communal dinners, after dinner prayers specific to Ramadan (known as the tarawih/teravih), Quran recitations (known as muqabala/mukabele) and other conversation circles. Another aim of Ramadan, then, is to teach Muslims the importance of fraternity and community (ummah/ummet). Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- Week of May 29

Hi everyone! My name is Eddie and I am the new Around the Web/Social Media Intern! I am a recent B.A. from Loyola University Chicago; flailing through post-grad life in the city. I am excited to scour the web for some fun reads that really tickle your anthropological imaginations. If you have links for articles and pieces that you would like to share or promote, please send them to me at smechong@gmail.com.

The controversy surrounding Harambe the Gorilla and the Cincinnati Zoo has sparked a flood of opinions among the public, primatologists Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal weigh in the incident.

Captain America: Civil War has inspired The Geek Anthropologist to relate the Avengers to global systems of diplomacy, peacekeeping, policy and security. However, with the controversial release of the new Captain America series where SPOILERS Steve Rogers is revealed to be an agent of Hydra, Captain America as a symbol of American Exceptionalism is now in question.

Lindsey Bell explores the podcast as a tool for teaching ethnography for undergraduates on University of Toronto’s Teaching Culture blog! Check out This Anthropological Life podcast on for a taste of what podcasts can do for anthropology!

Join me in a journey deep into the uncanny valley with masks designed to fool facial recognition software. “Data Masks” intervening between the body, digital surveillance, and political activism. If these make you uncomfortable, maybe this analysis of Snapchat faceswaps might help you confront your disgust?

With the American Anthropological Association announcing the election decision on BDS in a few days, here is an activist perspective surrounding anthropology’s colonial past and a review of Anthropology’s Politics: Disciplining the Middle East by Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar by Stanford University Press.

Come back next week for more!

We’ve already got the robes: Of monks and us

This is the last post in a six part sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

In this series I’ve written a lot about education, its constraints, the pressure we all feel to compete in the meritocracy, and some possible ways out. Much of this came from my reflecting on the fact that the financiers I study make use of university credentials to speak to their own worth in ways that are far from what we would like to do in our classrooms and in our research. I’ve distinguished assessments that are supposed to speak to essential parts of a person (GREs, SATs, GPAs and so on) and mark them as special, from feedback on particular work that is often offered open-endedly and in a pass/fail format (on, say, a thesis), as in a model of apprenticeship. I’ve also suggested that the more we get in the business of assessing the worth of someone’s character or the potential of someone’s soul from our various course and research offerings, the less we know what we’re doing, and the more we play into our current, meritocratic modes of anointing elites. In this last post I want to offer some thoughts on what academia might look like if somehow we were able to strip away the meritocratic ranking, the obsession with grades and league tables, and focus on the substance of teaching and growing what we know. So in the grand spirit of comparison I want to compare the student’s path in a university to the novice’s path in a Catholic monastery.

To reiterate I’m not saying academia is a monastery, or the monastery is a college (though there are similarities). What I am suggesting is that, insofar as we want to get out of the soul-weighing business, and into the work of teaching what we know, monastic formation is worth considering.

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A Letter to the AA Regarding its World Anthropology Section on Israel

[Savage Minds welcomes the following invited post by Matan Kaminer. Matan is a doctoral candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is working on his dissertation, an ethnographic exploration of the conjunction between settler colonialism and global migration on the farms of Israel’s Arabah region, where the majority of the workforce is made up of migrants from Northeast Thailand (Isaan). He has been active in the Israeli conscientious objectors’ movement, in national and municipal politics and in migrant solidarity work in Israel for the past fifteen years.]

The Spring 2016 issue of American Anthropologist carried a World Anthropology section on Israel. Unlike previous installments, this issue featured a series of written interviews with former and current heads of the Israeli Anthropological Association, many of which used the opportunity to weigh in against the academic boycott of Israeli universities. Matan Kaminer, a young Israeli anthropologist, wrote the following response, which was rejected for publication by Anthropology News. It is reproduced here verbatim. Continue reading

Held in Suspension: Reflections on “After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed”

Savage Minds is delighted to present this invited book review by Lauren Cubellis, a Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis.

In this engaging first book, Zoë H. Wool takes on the density of daily life after war for young veterans recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed (2015), is a timely contribution to the growing anthropological literature on precarity, ordinary ethics, and care, as well as ethnographic accounts of soldierly life and PTSD in the wake of US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wool’s theoretical framework, of queering masculinity and experiences of the extra/ordinary, challenges long-held assumptions about violence and suffering, and masculine roles in the United States. And it trains a critical eye on the experience of ordinariness as it is both coveted by former soldiers, and persistently postponed by the complexity of their post-war existence. Continue reading

Canberra’s loss is Mānoa’s gain as the ANU walks away from decades of excellence

I do not normally write about my duties as a professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa on this blog, since the blog isn’t associated with UHM and most of what I do in the classroom and committee meetings doesn’t belong on the Internet. But the Australian National University’s (ANU) recent decision to cut its School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL) deserves to be widely noted. This decision is not the first restructuring at Australia’s flagship university, and it will probably not be the last. But it is unique for its severity, short-sightedness, and the damage it will do to Australia’s well-earned reputation for excellence in studies of Asia and the Pacific.  I would urge all readers to sign this petition to preserve the school. That said, there is one benefit to the ANU’s cuts: The increasing prestige and eminence of my university as a world center for study of Asia and the Pacific.

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Domestic Policy: The Resolutions Will Not Be Televised

This is the fifth post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

Given that we as a discipline seem to feel empowered to develop a foreign policy, I figured I’d offer a few domestic policy ideas, a few resolutions that might take care of some our own local inequities.

The purpose of these resolutions is to suggest some ways out of what most everyone agrees is a generally miserable situation for those currently coming of age or working in academia. More or less, all of us want jobs for scholars and a free education for our students. Repeat that to yourself: jobs for scholars, free education for students. In proposing these, I’m also suggesting that we have some power over our academic, professional and disciplinary destiny and can and should act in concert. I see the decline in tenure-line positions, the specter of academic debt, and even the coercive and jealous guarding of scholarship by publishing cartels, as an invitation to collective action. We already have a communications infrastructure, national and international associations in place, as well as active local chapters across the globe (those hot-beds of activism, academic departments). From this point of view, we’re actually very well organized. All we need to do now is raise some consciousness and come up with a few action items. Should you doubt whether collective action is worthwhile or appropriate, it’s also worth keeping in mind the ways in which activists and unions are making the university a more livable, humane place (one example of each).

Here follow three resolutions. They are drafts. I accept and apologize for their limitations and shortcomings. They don’t talk about all that’s worth fixing (how could they?). I offer them to imagine what collective action on our problems might look like. Interested academic associations should consider them for debate, improvement, and vote.

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What is arXiv and how can we get one?

After ckelty’s post on the SSRN/Elsevier merger fellow mind, Ryan Anderson, gave me a shout out in Twitter,

This is a pretty interesting idea. What would it entail taking arXiv as a role model?

What is arXiv?

Like SSRN, arXiv is a digital repository. They are both examples of Green OA — a type of open access where authors deposit versions of their work so that they can be accessed by readers for free. What version of an article makes it into the repository depends on which publisher you’re working with, but almost all of them allow authors to deposit the original submission: no peer review, no mark-up, no type setting. Others are more generous, a few even allow the post-print to be deposited. It just depends, if you want to go Green do some research on your publisher’s homepage or ask a company rep.

Green OA is frequently contrasted with Gold OA, where the author submits to a journal that makes the final product available to readers for free, examples include HAU and Cultural Anthropology. Again, there is great diversity among Gold OA publishers just as there is among Green repositories but we’re not getting into that here.

arXiv is Green OA, it is a pre-print repository but of a particular kind. If you’re at an elite or second tier R1 you probably already have access to a repository through your institution. However many of these institutional repositories (IRs) share a common problem, faculty participation is low. Some universities have attempted to address this with OA mandates, but this is not always sufficient to change faculty behavior. People are really busy, or maybe they don’t see the value in access. Perhaps they think someone else will do it for them, or are mistaken about their author’s rights. For whatever reason many people who can go Green choose not to.

The generally poor showings for institutional repositories has lead some in the digital libraries field to argue that IRs are not the way forward for Green OA. Instead they anticipate that disciplinary repositories (DRs), sometimes called subject repositories, will be more successful. Perhaps in our neoliberal world faculty are less tied to their institution than their discipline? Both SSRN and arXiv are DRs.
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On Decolonising Anthropology

By Zodwa Radebe

Decolonisation can be understood as the process that decolonises what was colonised; not what was used to colonise. Therefore, it is absurd to think that anthropology can be used as a tool to decolonise because it was used to colonise. We need to unthink anthropology and imagine something like decolonised ethnic studies, which Maldonado-Torres explains as: “studies of and from the lived experience of the damned, that are able not only to offer positivistic analysis and corrected facts about certain communities but can also offer a radical critique of the sciences.” (2009:127)

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What would your university look like if you could just say, “no?”

This is the Fourth post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

Sometime towards the end of graduate school, I got it into my head that students should be able to veto tuition hikes. It’s pretty widely known that university tuition in the United States, at both public and private universities has increased far faster than inflation or wages over the last few decades . So, as a graduate student, I and a few of my colleagues had done some research into our own particular situation and found, as you might expect, that tuition had gone up a lot. Our college’s budget in 2013 included a 4.5 percent tuition increase, raising the cost per credit hour to $1,344. One comparison ultimately stood out to us: in this same year, the Graduate Center at the City University of New York’s tuition per credit hour was $465 for in-state students, and $795 per credit hour for out of state students. Now, of course, we might expect a public university to be more affordable than a private university. But we didn’t have just one year of data. We had credit-hour prices going back to 1915 ($6.00 per credit hour, or $138.94 per credit hour in 2013 dollars, in case you were wondering, all this according to the bureau of labor statistics inflation calculator). With this historical data, and with this nifty inflation calculator, we were able to see that tuition was at or below $500 per credit unit for most of the 1970s and 1980s. Prior to 1967 or so, tuition was well below $400 per credit hour, in 2013 dollars. So, I and my colleagues stumbled into the fact that for most of our private college’s history, tuition was cheaper than it currently is at CUNY, even for an in-state student.

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It’s the Data, Stupid: What Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN also means

On Tuesday May 17, 2016, SSRN announced that it was being acquired by Elsevier. SSRN, the Social Sciences Research Network, is a widely used repository of scholarly articles that can be uploaded and downloaded by anyone. It is “open access” (that’s in quotes because SSRN’s approach to OA has always been partial and peculiar, and Monday’s news confirms that perception). Elsevier is, well, if you don’t know who Elsevier is, none of this will make sense to you.

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An Interview With Reviewers 1, 2, and 3

This is the third post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

[What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of an interview I conducted with Reviewers 1, 2, and 3. NB: Reviewer 1 and 2 and I had been sitting around for two hours, waiting for Reviewer 3 to show up, when we decided, to hell with it, we’ll just start talking. Reviewer 3 eventually showed up.]

Daniel: I just wanted to thank both of you for taking the time to talk with me. I know graduate students and junior scholars will likely appreciate a peek behind the curtain of anonymous peer-review. For many people it’s their first excursion into the broader discipline beyond the networks of their home institution, professional colleagues, or academic peers. More prosaically, successfully navigating peer-review is the only way any of us will get jobs. I’m guessing, too, that some mid- and senior-level scholars who are not actively involved in journal editing might like hearing what their colleagues say.

I also want to apologize for Reviewer 3. I’ve been getting texts, I think they’re stuck in traffic, or there was a schedule conflict, or there was a sick pet, or a student crisis, or something. I’m not really sure. The message keeps changing. They say, though, that they’ll be here soon. So I guess we should get started, and make due.

I was wondering if we could start off with a basic question. When you review for an academic journal, what do you look for in an article?

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Suggestions for Summer Reading: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Struggle to Write

For the past couple of years I’ve been addicted to a series of books by the  Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard.  Presented as fiction,  these explore in minute detail the everyday life experiences of the author  from his childhood in the 1970’s to his relationships with his friends, his family and his children.

Knausgaard presents a vivid picture of the world around him  as  it  is affected by, and affects, the  constantly evolving  interior world of his own perception and consciousness. The writing is phenomenological. It evocatively captures the materiality of  ordinary living through its various locations and artifacts, as well as the intensity of  the embodied feelings and sensations which make up life as it is lived.  The reader experiences what it was  like to grow up on an  island in Norway, to ride a bike aged thirteen on a summer evening and the click of  inserting  a cassette tape into a tape recorder in the 1980’s.

These evocations of   what   anthropologists would  recognize  as  ‘ordinary affect’  are profoundly moving. The  first book in the series deals with the emotional repercussions of the death of the author’s father, a violent alcoholic. The  most recent, published in English translation in 2016,  describes a visit to  his  elderly  grandfather in a city hospital.  While the interior orientation of these books and the emphasis on the narrow consciousness of the author seems at first sight to be in sharp contrast to the  exterior orientation of  an ethnographic approach,  it  generates astute insights into the wider cultural and social worlds which he inhabits. Reflecting on the organization of the hospital in which his grandfather is a cardiac patient, and by extension all hospitals, Knausgaard observes how the medical categorization of disease  as afflicting specific organs organizes social relations and the space within it.  The personal identity of his grandfather is rendered insignificant through this process of classification. `For hospitals all hearts are the same’.

I love reading  Knausgaard’s books  because such close accounts of every day life and relationships are  fascinating.  These  are, after all, the staple diet of  anthropology.  But  I think these books are good for anthropological thinking beyond this, prompting a  reflection on anthropological practice as comprising  both participation and representation.   Knausgaard’s books  offer a situated perspective on what it is to be a social actor in a specific time and place.   They  provide access to a position usually inaccessible to  an anthropologist.  They allow the reader to experience `being there’  as an observant participant, from the inside looking out,   and as a person who is  changed by these experiences.

Knausgaard  is not solely concerned  with  thinking about participation. He takes us one step further as he  explores  the difficulties of capturing this in writing.   Representation is explored practically through the  structuring of the texts  and as a  social practice. Knausgaard’s  life effort which he recounts in this series  is his struggle to become a writer. This struggle is not simply intellectual.  It entails getting the time and space to sit alone and write uninterrupted, managing the demands of   other work,  of partners and children and dealing with the  unsightly by products  literary production in the form of  wasted effort, rejections and negative reviews.

A key insight, over the five books so far published in English (there are six in all), is that good writing takes time. Time to actually do writing, time to develop the skills to write well and, importantly, time to develop a voice. Recommended summer reading.

Are Palestinian Scholars Our Colleagues? Boycott and the Material Limits of Friendship

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions publishes this powerful reflection by Alireza Doostdar on how opposition to the boycott rests on an unquestioned assumption that Israeli academics are our colleagues while Palestinian academics are not. This assumption is bolstered by the structures of inequality that the boycott itself is meant to address.

Accept Palestinian scholars as our colleagues and vote today. Answer their call to us to support boycott. Instructions to support the boycott vote are here.

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Are Palestinian Scholars Our Colleagues? Boycott and the Material Limits of Friendship

Alireza Doostdar

The debate over the AAA motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions has centered on questions of justice and academic freedom. Proponents of boycott argue that the exhaustively-documented injustices that Israel metes out on the Palestinian people, which includes systematic denial of their academic freedom, warrants a boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the state’s crimes. Opponents argue that even though Israel may be oppressing the Palestinians, this should not be cause for curtailing the academic freedom of Israelis, which they see as amounting to unjust collective punishment.

Implicit in these arguments are a set of unexamined attitudes toward collegiality and reciprocity. Briefly, I want to argue that the decision whether or not to support boycott turns on whether one is able to imagine Palestinian scholars as colleagues and friends. This imagination is a product not just of our individual cognitive capacities, but of specific material conditions.

At a very basic level, the motion to boycott Israeli institutions is an explicit response to a call by Palestinian civil society (including academics) to exert nonviolent pressure on the Israeli regime to end the occupation. Whether or not we consider Palestinians to be our colleagues has a direct bearing on whether we think we should respond to this call, and indeed, whether we have the capacity to hear the call at all. Continue reading