Vale Jack Goody

Keith Hart recently announced on social media that Jack Goody passed away. He was just a few days before his 96th birthday. Goody had a long and productive life and was a model of the successful anthropologist: Born in England at the end of the one world war, he spent much of the second as a prisoner of war. After the war he joined the anthropology program at Cambridge, where he was a junior partner to Edmund Leach and Meyer Fortes. He ended up becoming the William Wyse Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge, taking up the mantle from Fortes, who was the first person to capture Cambridge for social anthropology. Given his institutional centrality, it’s not surprising that Goody is remembered by British anthropologists. But he deserves to be remembered by American ones — and by everyone, really — both for being a role model of successful scholarship and an indirect influence on authors we read today, such as David Grabber and Tanya Li.

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VISUAL TURN III: Anthropology of/by Design — A Conversation with Keith M. Murphy (1/2)

Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.

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

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

Coffee rituals and resistance to domination

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

A spontaneous conversation at work cast my memory back there.

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

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

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

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

“Yes. That’s just the way I like it.”

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

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

Apparently I was the weirdo and not ‘tother way round.
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Around the Web Digest: Week of July 12

It was my birthday weekend, so I’ll just say “Here are some blogs. Enjoy!” Send me anything you’ve written or read at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com.

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

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

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

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Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography (book review)

Thomas Hylland Eriksen. 2015. Fredrick Barth: An Intellectual Biography. London: Pluto Press.

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

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Visual Turn II: Teaching to Take Stock

Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.

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

Around the Web Digest: Week of July 5

I’m brimming with conference energy from the Guatemala Scholars Network meeting this last week in Antigua, Guatemala, so this post will be longer than usual. Thanks for reaching out with links and suggestions at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com.

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

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

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Good bye (and good riddance) to Human Terrain System

Both Counterpunch and Inside Higher Ed ran stories recently on the end of Human Terrain System or HTS. What was HTS? A program run by the army and employing social scientists, including some anthropologists, to help them learn more about the people (i.e. ‘human terrain’) in Afghanistan and Iraq. Booted up in 2005, the controversial program attracted massive criticism from anthropologists, including a report from the AAA and a formal statement arguing that it was fundamentally unethical. Now, a decade after the idea for embedded social scientists in American’s invasions was first floated, the program has officially folded.

There were many problems with HTS. Not only was it unethical, the quality of work it produced was, iirc, pretty lousy. Moreover, it actively supported American military action which was not only morally wrong, but a tremendous strategic error with an enormous price tag in dollars and lives. According to Counterpunch, HTS’s slice of the pie was US$725 million dollars. It’s hard to see HTS as anything except an object lesson in ethical and scientific failure. It didn’t even engage interesting ethical questions about collaboration with the military, applied anthropology, and ethics. It was just fail. Anthropologists everywhere can be glad it has now been relegated to ethics section of anthropology syllabi.

Perhaps one good thing that has come out of HTS is that the AAA managed to show strong ethical leadership throughout this period. This is in stark contrast to the American Psychological Association, which colluded with the CIA to produce ethical standards that made facilitating torture acceptable to its members. To be honest, I’m not really sure this indicates the strong moral fiber of the AAA so much as its lack of relevance to American actions abroad, at least until a network of concerned anthropologists pushed it to act (or, perhaps, to act in and through it).

At the end of the day, anthropology took a stance against HTS, and history has born this stance out. Goodbye and good riddance to HTS.

 

Around the Web Digest: Week of June 28

Savage Minders, was your Sunday ruined by the absence of the Around the Web Digest? I’ll have to cast the blame on my intermittent Internet access here in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Thanks to those who’ve sent me links for the digest at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com! (For those who haven’t, make this your resolution for next week).

This post on Cotton Belt Journal connects recent debates about the Confederate flag to the archaeology of African American history: This Place Matters: Remembering African American Heritage Sites

I’m becoming a big fan of Food Anthropology… their posts on “food pedagogy” always make me want to revisit my syllabi and push myself to engage more with the local environment: “You Can’t Talk About Food Without Talking”: Aimee Hosemann with a Professor’s Perspective on the Course “Food and Culture”

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Summer Writing: Practice Community

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Lindsay Bell

In the middle of the teaching term, summer is the far away season where you imagine that all of your academic, and possibly creative, writing projects will get off the ground. It is an oasis over the desert horizon. When summer finally arrives, you realize the large, luscious lagoon you imagined is more like a puddle. Desperate, you dive in anyways. The reality of the academic summer is that we continue to have competing demands on our time. We rush off to the field. Our families have a heightened sense of entitlement to interact with us.  Kids aren’t in school. We are faced with duties left undone in the scramble to get through the term. Those of us who are junior, or precariously employed, are likely packing and moving (again).

According to every “how to” book on successful academic writing, waiting for big chunks of time to advance intellectual projects is ill-advised. Instead, consistent short bursts are the way to cultivate a long and successful publication record. Through various experiments, I found this to be true. Nevertheless, most of us stay committed to a substantial amount of summer writing. We have to. Savage Minds has been a supportive space for thinking and talking about anthropological writing. In this first guest post I want to open a conversation about summer writing and sketch out my plan for the coming month as guest blogger.  Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of June 21

It’s been a rollercoaster week in US politics! Hope that, no matter where you are in the world, something in the news made you happy this week. Send me any blog links at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com.

According to this post on Media/Anthropology, bilingualism has a different social valence in Spain (where it signifies upward mobility) and Denmark (where it signifies loss of competency in Danish): Educating “Bilingual” Children in Spain and Denmark

At Raving Anthropology, a student is chronicling her fieldwork on drug use and harm reduction in electronic dance music halls in Toronto. In Eat, Sleep, Anth, Repeat, she discusses entering the field, and follows up with excerpts from her field notes in Field Notes: This Data Collection is Interfering with My Dancing. (There’s strong language in case you’re squeamish).

This AAA blog post points out that white middle-class parenting standards should not be taken as the norm, with any difference seen as a lack: White+Word Gap=Wrong! 

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Kennedy and the Triumph of the Social

While everyone should be celebrating the monumental decision of the Supreme Court to recognize same-sex marriages, there is also something in there that, along with this weeks’ ruling on the Fair Housing Act in Texas, should warm the hearts of social scientists in particular. Both of these decisions, in different ways, have advanced the view that our understanding of the real world matters for deciding legal principles. In Obergefell v. Hodges Kennedy argued that the proper interpretation of the constitution, of what it means to be “equal,” is subject to shifting societal norms:

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times,” he wrote on Friday. “The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

And in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Kennedy argued that it is not necessary to establish a discriminatory intent in order to sue under the Fair Housing Act. Rather, it is enough to show that “an identified business practice has a disproportionate effect on certain groups of individuals.”

This move towards looking at real world context (Obergefell) and consequences (Texas) in deciding the law just makes sense to us as anthropologists. But while we should welcome the way that these rulings increase the sway of the social sciences in shaping the law, we should also be cautious, for it remains an open question exactly what kind of social science will be held to be relevant in deciding legal questions. The move to include real world implications of the law received its biggest push from the law and economics movement and it is likely that quantitative research by economists and sociologists will continue to hold sway over qualitative work. Certainly several members of the Supreme Court remain quite ignorant about anthropological research on subjects like marriage. At the same time, however, these two decisions by Kennedy seem to establish important precedents for the inclusion of social science research in how we think about the law, and I think that’s a good thing.

Senses of Connection

I tell you this

to break your heart,

by which I mean only

that it break open and never close again

to the rest of the world

—Mary Oliver

It is a knot, an ache, this longing to be present in Nepal right now. Even so, virtual presence fosters awareness. The Internet has become a strange safety net, catching us as we fall into senses of connection. The initial social media push to mark people as “safe” and to track immediate needs as well as report destruction after the two major earthquakes was truly remarkable. Mark Zuckerberg’s stated commitment of substantial Nepal relief funds and a push, through Facebook, raised $17 million quickly. I believe such efforts helped to move my own government into allocating resources beyond the paltry $1million initially proferred by the powers that be.

At latest tally, $3 billion has been pledged toward rebuilding Nepal by foreign donors, from states to NGOs. I will leave aside, for the  moment, the tangle of questions about how such funds will be allocated, and the Nepali government’s role in this process, except to say that there is a great deal at stake beyond semantics in an official shift from “relief” to “rebuilding.”  And that each community’s effort at remaking a world contains its own nuance, as my friend and colleague Sara Shneiderman points out from the vantage of Dolakha District – a place she knows well.

But back to webs and the representations they spin out.

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