Panopti-claus: Foucaultian social control for the kiddies

He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

-From the popular children’s song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

The tension. Stress. Anxiety! It was the night before Christmas and I couldn’t sleep. I knew he was watching. I was about six years old. My bedroom was right next to the living room, where the tree and the presents awaited morning light. I could hear the slightest noise that emitted from the room where our frenetically decorated electric masterpiece awaited its midnight visitor. I was sweating. I knew the rules. He was due to arrive at any moment. I knew that I was supposed to be asleep, and that I was running the risk of forfeiting all of my materialistic goodies if I failed to fall in line. It was hell. I just wanted to find a way to pass out so that I could sleep my way into the glory of Christmas morning.

Of course, the entire scenario was all in my mind; a cruel joke that my parents had played on me in order to control my behavior. It’s a little ridiculous, and a little insidious, this widespread cultural phenomenon known as “Santa Claus.” It’s ridiculous because year in and year out parents around the country tell stories about a white-bearded individual who flies through the air on a magical sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer, no less, delivering free stuff to kids around the world. The most unbelievable part? The magic sleigh? No. The flying reindeer? Nope. It’s the fact that this dude does all of this work without any expectation of getting paid. That, especially these days when money seems to rule above all else, is about as incredible as it gets.

But then we get to the insidious part. The whole idea of Santa Claus is twisted, if not a little cruel, because it is used as a form of social control. Kids are taught about the wondrous generosity of the old man who breaks into houses to leave free stuff…but then the carpet is pulled out from under them when they learn the catch.  If you’re bad, you don’t get anything.  The worst part of this is the fact that this form of social control is directed at our youngest members of society—those innocent, starry-eyed little angels that make up the lower ranks of our social order.  All year, they are subjected to the watchful eye old a jolly old man who sees their every move.  Santa Claus is the epitome of Foucault’s panopticon, embodied in a cheap red suit and a long white beard. Continue reading

How much public anthropology is enough public anthropology?

Anthropologists seem unusual in their desire to make the public think what they think. Other disciplines relate to the public differently — Classicists sigh endlessly about the anachronisms of Hollywood blockbusters, while for some philosophers the whole point is to be the kind of person the merely average can’t understand. But is there another discipline as obsessed with proselytizing as anthropology? I can’t think of one.

So here’s my question: instead of worrying that there isn’t enough anthropology out there, can we (as they say in video games) formulate victory conditions? Can we move from “there’s not enough public anthropology” to “this is how much public anthropology we want”?

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141: For Tsepey Who Self-Immolated in Tibet Six Hours From Now

It is 8:00 in the morning in Colorado. On the other side of the world a young Tibetan woman self-immolated at 2:00 pm today, Monday the 22nd of December 2014. Her name was Tsering Dolma (and her nickname was Tsepey). She was twenty years old. She was the 141st Tibetan to self-immolate in recent years.

Tsepey Kyi 12-22-14

 

One hundred forty-one.

141 Tibetans have chosen to self-immolate, to set themselves on fire with the intention of dying. The first was Thubten Ngodup in 1998, who self-immolated on the 49th day of a Tibetan hunger strike in Delhi, India. The next was eight years later in 2006 when Lhakpa Tsering immolated in Mumbai. Then in 2009, the first self-immolation inside Tibet: a young monk named Tapey from Kirti Monastery who self-immolated the year after a brutal attack on the local community by Chinese security forces, and ensuing crackdowns on religion. After Tapey, another 138 have self-immolated. Offered themselves through fire as Tibetans often phrase it. One-third of these were religious figures, monks, nuns, and even reincarnate lamas. The rest were ordinary people—students, farmers, nomads, workers. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives. They were parents. They were ages 16-64, but were overwhelmingly young men in their late teens and early twenties. Seven Tibetans have self-immolated in India or Nepal, one woman self-immolated in Beijing, but the rest have done so in Tibet itself: 133 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet under the People’s Republic of China. Continue reading

The Future at Last: Unraveling the Embargo on Cuba

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by L. Kaifa Roland who is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Kaifa is the author of Cuban Color in Tourism and La Lucha: An Ethnography of Racial Meaning (OUP, 2010) “T/racing Belonging in Cuban Tourism” (Cultural Anthropology, August 2013), and “Between Belonging and the F/Act of Niggerisation” in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong (Sense Publishers, 2014). Currently, she is doing ethnographic research with Black women entrepreneurs in Havana.]

CUBA, Havana- Photographer Unknown, 'Cuba' - RESIZED

Just for the fun of it—in the aftermath of President Obama’s announcement that relations between the U.S. and Cuba were thawing—I decided to revisit the conclusion to my now ten year-old dissertation in which I had done the academically forbidden: I gazed into my “crystal ball” to imagine the future. I laid out a couple of scenarios involving Fidel Castro’s dying in office or relinquishing the position while still alive. Then I outlined another scenario that resonates with today: Continue reading

Anthropologies/Savage Minds student debt survey: THE DEBTORS

Earlier this year I posted two informal student debt surveys here on Savage Minds as part of the Anthropologies issue on Student Debt. Both of these surveys focused on student debt in anthropology. Here at long last are some of the results. (Sorry for taking so long  to get to this…I was writing a dissertation over the last nine or so months.)*

There was a lot of data to sift through. In this post I’ll discuss the first survey, which had 285 total responses. We’ll start with the highest level of education attained. Thirty-four percent have completed their MA. Thirty-three have completed their PhD, fourteen percent have completed an undergraduate degree, nine percent have completed “some grad school,” six percent have completed between one and three years of college, and another six percent chose “other.”

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they are not currently enrolled in college or grad school. Forty-six percent are enrolled. Two percent chose “other” when asked if they are currently enrolled.

In terms of current employment status, forty-five percent have a full-time job, twenty-two percent have a part-time job, nineteen percent are unemployed, and fourteen percent chose “other.”

The majority of responses came from socio-cultural anthropologists (59%), followed by archaeologists (18%), biological anthropologists (13%), and linguistic anthropologists (3%). Eight percent chose “other” when asked about their disciplinary niche within anthropology.

Now we get to the subject of debt. Continue reading

Revolutionary Time: First Thoughts on a Concept

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Melissa Rosario who is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology at Bowdoin College. Melissa is a cultural anthropologist interested in the politics of autonomy for Caribbean peoples and marginalized U.S. groups, particularly Puerto Ricans. She is currently writing a book tentatively titled Revolutionary Time: A Treatise on the Cultural Logics of Resistance in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.]

These days, I have been thinking a lot about revolution. Names of places—Ayotzinapa, Ferguson, Staten Island—now immediately trigger an affective response in me as evidence of the unbroken chain of state repression against black and brown and indigenous bodies. I don’t want to rehash all the extremely apt analyses of all that has remained the same—women’s bodies remain marginal to our collective outrage; the prison industrial complex operates as the new Jim Crow; we are waking up to the violence of the status quo; there is an ironic distance between Obama’s position on Mexico as a uncivil state who must be held responsible for killing innocent youth while remaining silent on the murders of unarmed black youth—but rather to think about what has changed. To do that, we have to turn to the mass mobilizations themselves, the creative responses, the emotional outcry and think about how they move us towards another way of imagining our present predicament and our collective future. As a Diasporican and scholar of the Caribbean, I know that others have been spending their time trying to unthink concepts like revolution and sovereignty. While I agree that the way we understand these concepts need to be redefined, I want to push us in another direction, and ask, what might it mean to reclaim them through communal presence even amidst today’s radical uncertainty? Continue reading

The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky

Jurafsky, Dan. 2014. The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

The Language of Food has always been one of my favorite blogs, and so when I heard that it was being turned into a blook, I leapt at the chance to review it. Having now read the book, I still like Jurafsky’s writing and approach, but feel the blog was occasionally unable to transition of the Internet and on to the page. And yet, despite the beefs anthropologists might have with the book, I find myself recommending it to non-academic friends both because it makes a fine read, and because it teaches some core anthropological lessons. It deserves a wide readership for the anthropological lessons it teaches and the delightful stories it tells along the way.

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Digital Anthropology: You could get with this, or you could get with that

Last week I reported from #AAA2014 on the emergence of digital anthropology as a growing theme in our discipline and one in need of some legitimacy relative to anthropology’s traditional domains. Readers posed questions interrogating the worth of digital anthropology. What is it good for? What does it add? How should we define it?

I’ve been mulling over this question of what digital anthropology can do that is different from digital sociology or digital communications studies and the answer I came up with is problematic because it points back to these questions of jobs and disciplinary legitimacy. The next frontier for digital anthropology should be participatory design with the added challenge of translating participatory design into conventionally valuable works of scholarship.
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When Peoples Meet

Here’s an SM mini-quiz: Given your knowledge of anthropological fads, what year would you expect to see a book published which had section headings like “Power, Politics, and Dominance”, “Tactics of Survival and Counter-assertion”, and “The Problems of Contemporary Imperialism”? Take a guess and click below the jump for the answer.

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Sources on St. Clair Drake

Since so many readers were interested in Faye Harrison’s piece here on SM and Karen Brodkin’s challenge to Boas’s supremacy as the exemplar of anti-racist anthropology I thought I would provide a quick walkthrough of some aspects of this alternate canon in anthropology — what Harrison has called the ‘DuBoisian’ stream in the history of anthropology (there is a whole special issue of Critique of Anthropology on this topic).

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Reflections on the AAA Die-in as a Symbolic Space of Social Death

[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Faye V. Harrison who is currently Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and President of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including the landmark volumes Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation (American Anthropological Association, 1994) and Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age (University of Illinois Press, 2008).] Continue reading

“The Digital” as major theme at #AAA2014

As I settled in to browse the conference program for the 2014 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (just hours before I was scheduled to leave, natch), I was immediately struck by a common thread running through a slew of paper panels and workshops. This year anthropologists convincingly demonstrated that they have wholly embraced the Digital, it was everywhere from topics to methodological choices, technologies and communications.

Here’s a sample of what conference goers had in store:

  • ACTIV(IST) DIGITAL SCREENS: THE POLITICS OF DIGITAL IMAGING ACROSS CULTURAL BORDERS
  • DIGITAL ANTHROPOLOGY GROUP (DANG) BUSINESS MEETING
  • DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL ETHICS
  • DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, TRANSPARENCY, AND EVERYDAY FORMS OF POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
  • CONFLICTED FANTASIES: ANTHROPOLOGY AND AFRICAN MEDIA CULTURES IN THE DIGITAL AGE
  • DIGITAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND CAREER MOBILITY: DO THESE GO HAND-IN-HAND?
  • SEEING ARGUMENTS: VISUAL ARGUMENTATION AND PRODUCTION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
  • DIGITAL DIASPORAS: AFRICAN MIGRANTS, MEDIATED COMMUNICATION, AND TRANSNATIONAL IDENTITIES
  • DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS (PART 1: PRIVACY, ACCESS, CONTROL, EXPOSURE)
  • ANTHROPOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE: ACCESS, CREATION AND DISSEMINATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
  • DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS (PART 2: ANONYMITY, VISIBILITY, PROTEST, PARTICIPATION, IDENTITY)
  • PRODUCING STORYTELLING IN THE DIGITAL AGE: NEW CHALLENGES
  • ON THINGS IMMATERIAL: DATA, USERS, AND PARTICIPATION IN DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES
  • THE LIFECYCLE OF ETHNOGRAPHIC INFORMATION – CHALLENGES IN THE PRESERVATION AND ACCESSIBILITY OF QUALITATIVE DATA
  • NAPA Workshop: (FREE) Software for Writing and Managing Fieldnotes: FLEX DATA Notebook for PCs
  • RESEARCHING ANTHROPOLOGY AND ORIENTALISM IN THE ERA OF BIG DATA: ROUNDTABLE ON THE ARAB STUDIES Institute’s KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION PROJECT
  • SMALL-SCALE, BIG DATA: A NETWORK SCIENCE APPROACH TO PRODUCING ANTHROPOLOGY IN SMALL-SCALE FOOD SYSTEMS
  • PRODUCING DATA, CRACKING DATA CULTURES
  • THE BIG DATA REVOLUTION AND THE FUTURE OF SOCIOCULTURAL WORLDS
  • MAKING ISLAM IN MULTIPLE MEDIA: INTERNET, THERAPY, ROMANCE, AND SCHOOLING IN THE FORMATION OF MUSLIM IDENTITIES
  • TEACHING ANTHROPOLOGY ONLINE: BEST TOOLS AND PRACTICES FOR E-LEARNING
  • Writing Ethnography: Experimenting on Paper, Experimenting Online
  • CASTAC BUSINESS MEETING (COMMITTEE ON THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND COMPUTING)
  • SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY WORKSHOP ON UTILIZING FACEBOOK FOR ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH
  • SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY WORKSHOP. BLOGGING BLISS: WRITING CULTURE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE

Add to this the #AAA2014 tweet-up, constant updates on social networks and blogs (not to mention the email and instant messaging we all take for granted) and it is clear — there is no part of our professional lives that is untouched by the online. Research, fieldwork, methods, teaching, scholarly communications. Digital anthropology is a major development in our discipline and rightly so, humanity, our bread and butter, is potentially redefining itself in relation to these technologies. We can’t not study this stuff!
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Learning from Stuart Hall: the Limit as Method

(Here’s a guest post from Sareeta Amrute. Sareeta is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Washington. She is currently completing her first book, Encoding Race, Encoding Class: an Ethnography of Indian IT Workers in Berlin (Duke U. Press). You can read more about her scholarship on her website)

Stuart Hall’s work is notable for the way it links biography, critique from within and of the ‘Left’, and a Marxian analysis of capitalism and popular culture. Hall passed away in February 2014, and is the subject of a series of talks on his life and work ongoing here in Seattle at the University of Washington. These remembrances inspired me to think more closely about Stuart Hall’s specific contribution to research methodology. Hall uses two sense of the limit to ground his research. First, he thinks through limit cases to question a given theorization. Second, he thinks at the limit to uncover what is not yet know about a particular case. The limit as research methodology has, to my mind, a very anthropological sensibility about it, since it uses empirical cases to talk back to establish categories, and at the same time, keeps newly developed conceptualizations open-ended. Continue reading

#BlackLivesMatter and #AAA2014: Die-In, Section Assembly Motion, and the ABA Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices

On Monday, December 8, 2014, the Association of Black Anthropologists issued a Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices. The Statement followed from recent events in the USA discussed and acted upon at last week’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC (#AAA2014): a die-in held on Friday, December 5 at 12:28 pm in the main lobby of the conference hotel, and later that same day, a section assembly motion on Michael Brown and Eric Garner, racialized repression and state violence was presented and approved by the AAA membership at the AAA business meeting. The die-in was planned and motion drafted Thursday by a group of anthropologists at special sessions on Ferguson, racism, and violence; this organizing work continues at the #BlackLivesMatterAAA website. Both the Statement and the Motion are published in full below.  Continue reading