Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene [review]

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Cthulhu, Great Old One and Special Collections Librarian at Brown University.

When the puny mortals at Savage Minds invited me to review the latest work by Donna Haraway I was perplexed. After I had devoured the sanity of their pathetic messenger, I turned the book over in my tentacles. “Chthulucene,” eh? Was this meant to be a literary subversion of the Anthropocene, supplanting the implied anthropocentrism of that category with something alien and indifferent? And if so, was this really a wise move, politically speaking, when the purpose of the term was to draw attention to human actions that frequently remained hidden to those without the all seeing eyes of Yog-Sothoth? Needless to say, I was intrigued.


Full disclosure: Haraway and I are somewhat estranged. She never forgave me for guiding my cultists to infect Sumatran rat-monkies with a zombie virus (for more on this consult the 1992 documentary Dead Alive). Sure my methods are “controversial” but she and I have the same goal in mind: confronting our shared ecological crisis by addressing the problem of accelerating human population growth. Whereas she seeks to carve out the possibility that feminism can navigate the racist and eugenicist histories of limiting human reproduction, I advocate for a strategy of direction action, i.e. human sacrifice.

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Now accepting reader letters

We here at Savage Minds want to hear from you, our readers. To further this goal we are creating a new “Reader Letters” feature and we encourage you to share your thoughts, reactions, and reflections with us. Please keep the following guidelines: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. Some months we will invite letters on specific themes. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines about tone and content refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity.

For our first installment of Reader Letters we invite you to send us your thoughts about the U.S. election. Send your letter in the body of an email (not an attachment) to Deadline for submission is Nov 23 and we plan to publish Nov 30.

Bridging the Divide: Bringing Archaeology and Anthropology Closer through the AAA

This is the third in a series of guest blogs this November from the AAA Archaeology Division Executive Board detailing ideas generated at retreat at the Amerind Foundation this past June. This post is by outgoing AD Secretary, Jane Eva Baxter.

As thousands of anthropologists make their way to Minneapolis to take part in the AAA Annual Meetings, it is worth thinking about the potential ways this organization might help to foster a more robust and inclusive anthropology that actively embraces all of the subfields in intellectual and not just structural ways. When the Executive Board of the Archaeology Division (AD) of the AAA met at Amerind in June, one of the major areas of discussion was how to leverage the resources available through the AAA to create a unique intellectual space among all the professional organizations available to archaeologists.

The Archaeology Division is Welcomed to the Amerind Foundation in June 2016.
The Archaeology Division is Welcomed to the Amerind Foundation in June 2016.

It’s important to provide a bit of context for this discussion. Most archaeologists do not seethe AAA as their primary intellectual or professional home, but rather are more actively involved in the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the Archaeological Institute of America and/or the American Cultural Resources Association. The AAA is a secondary or tertiary membership for most current AAA AD members. The AAA is also the most expensive professional organization among these to join, and as Patricia McAnany noted in last week’s post the intellectual ties between archaeology and anthropology were disrupted significantly in the 1990s. These factors have resulted in a substantial reduction in AAA membership by archaeologists. Most of us who have retained our AAA membership have done so because of an enduring belief in the anthropological nature of archaeological inquiry and practice, and because we still find engaging with anthropology outside of our own subfield to be an enriching and nourishing intellectual experience. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: November 7

I am slowly recovering from the emotions of realizing a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and noted reality TV star will be the U.S. president for four long years. The onslaught of articles, op-ed pieces, and commentary trying to explain the cherry on top of a year filled with unprecedented global changes did little to ease the anxiety of seeing the product of dominant economic and political ideologies. Anthropologists are no stranger to the public with articles coming out in force such as:

A two-part series of posts by Paul Stoller on the importance of anthropology before and after November 8th.

The American Anthropological Society pushed for anthropology to be protected in a time where higher education is in peril

The Geek Anthropologist positions public anthropology as expanding conversations outside of academia.

Kristina Killgrove on Powered by Osteons details the experience of teaching students that subscribe to the ideology of Trump. 

Anyone who reads this blog regularly would advocate the importance of anthropology in a globalizing world, but we need more than theory and discussion. Public anthropology that only exists in university classrooms and op-eds does not actually engage the public. What does anthropology do for the student who cannot afford college to attend lectures? Working adults trying to survive in growing economic disparity? How will a new ethnography prevent violence being done to the people we study? What do neologisms that are unintelligible for someone without a humanities degree do for the public? The life of articles in the era of click-bait saturating the social media landscape are days at best. Many Trump supporters have college degrees and had ample opportunity to study the world-shaking discipline of anthropology, what does anthropology do for those who do not want to understand cultural relativism?

Obviously, I see the importance of higher education and anthropological representation in press, but when will conversations lead to action? How does a public anthropology manifest in concrete and material change for the people we engage with? How public anthropology manifests with increasing violence in the U.S. and around the world is still in debate, but it is clear that conversation alone is not enough. Anthropology does not have the luxury of existing solely in print; to do so is to accept irrelevance.

The day after Leonard Cohen died.

Suddenly the night has grown colder. 
The god of love preparing to depart.*

The chill of the 2016 US elections is still in my bones. Glued to any and all forms of media, I watched what Van Jones and Judith Butler have called, “whitelash” unfold in graphs, charts, and all forms of measurable outcomes. I watched as the states of my country turned red one by one. This was not the first time I had seen this, but there was something unique about this time. This time, it was not just me and people who looked like me, who felt precarious, but rather I watched as the whitelash was aimed at and betrayed the white Left/Center Left. I watched and felt the hush over the newscasters in the newsroom as they realized the precarity of the first amendment, particularly of free speech and thus, their very existence.

Without intending to, I consumed/embodied that hush. I could not respond or say anything about the election. My inbox was flooded with messages of coping, my social media was a manifest of betrayal, blame, violence, fear, and ultimately action. I was still silent. For me, as a Muslim woman of South Asian descent who has been working for decades on issues of social justice, sometimes through decolonizing anthropology, sometimes through collective action outside the academy, these results were not surprising. I wish they were more surprising. I wish I was surprised by white supremacy in America. I wish my idealism in the human spirit could have learned to forget or misplace that constant in my life. What I found myself wishing instead was that this outrage on my social media feed had coincided with the mapping of police violence, particularly on black bodies. Or the ways in which indigenous people are being arrested and violated for peacefully protesting the Dakota pipeline. Or the rising issue of domestic violence, or really anything, except the reiterating fact that the (white) Left was taken by absolute surprise, and that they did not win. As a person of color in the United States, I have never won. Obama was probably the closest thing to winning I came to, and even he ended up with drone issues (among others).

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Anthropology after November 8th: On race, denial, and the work ahead

For some people, the election that just took place might seem like just another choice between the lesser of two evils. One more election that we all learn to deal with, but that won’t fundamentally change much about their daily lives. But this isn’t everyone’s reality. For many people around the country the results of this election, which was fueled by messages of hate, bigotry, racism, and intolerance, has devastating implications. It’s not a matter of if it will affect their lives, but when and how. It is a privileged position to see this as “just another election” that we lament, accept, and endure. Many people here simply do not and will not have this choice.

Shaun King’s Twitter timeline this past week was just one indication of what these election results portend: a surge of racist, bigoted attacks across the country. This election has empowered and emboldened many people to express their contempt, disdain, and hate. According to local news reports, a Muslim woman at San Diego State University was attacked and robbed by two men who made comments “about President-elect Trump and the Muslim community.” This incident took place at 2:30 pm on Wednesday (November 9th). In a separate incident on the same day, a swastika and the words “Heil Trump” were painted on the sidewalk at a UC San Diego bus stop.  Continue reading


On Wednesday morning, amid the turbulent mix of feelings that washed across the country and beyond its borders, an anxious existential question took hold of many of us: “what the f***k do we do?” Some seriously considered the need to flee for their lives. Others took to the streets. More than a few folks I know spent the day drunk or in bed. And, by the end of the day, safe spaces for decompression and community care emerged on many college campuses. Part of my own response, one shared by many other faculty, has been: TEACH.

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The role of #openaccess in Trump’s America

Trump’s victory yesterday was the result of many factors. The politics of academic publishing was hardly an important part of the elections results. Large for-profit publishers like Elsevier and Taylor and Francis did not secretly elevate Trump to victory, nor would the outcome have changed if voters in Florida had access the entire run of Anthropology and Humanism. But this election did raise issues that central to open access as a movement. It was about truth, credibility, and authority. It was about how the same fact pattern can be interpreted in different ways. It was about judging for yourself the quality of partial and possibly biased information. And what comes next is even more relevant to our academic values. In the next four years we will see many people pushing back against accepted truths — that African Americans face discrimination, that the holocaust occurred, that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and much much more, I’m sure. Now, than, we academics need to explain what scholarly and scientific knowledge is, why it is important that non-experts should take it seriously, and how open access  is central to a vibrant, functioning democracy.

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Jigsaw Anthropology: Do the pieces fit together?

This post is the second in our November guest blogging effort reporting on the AAA Archaeology Division meetings at Amerind that explored the relationship between archaeology and anthropology. In this essay, Patricia McAnany, President of the Archaeology Division, reflects on the historical and contemporary ties than bind these fields of inquiry together. Dr. McAnany is the Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill.

In 2014, I felt like a marked woman. Time was running out; sooner or later I would be approached to run for President of the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association (AAA-AD). I had been a stalwart member over the years. My graduate training at the University of New Mexico was very anthropological but then I joined the Department of Archaeology at Boston University and began to rub elbows with a diverse group of archaeologists of all stripes and colors. My AAA membership became my tribal affiliation—a gut-level expression of how I deployed method and theory in the practice of archaeology.

Patricia McAnany, Archaeology Division President, leading discussions at Amerind in June 2016.
Patricia McAnany, Archaeology Division President, leading discussions at Amerind in June 2016. Photo courtesy of Annie Larkin.

Over the years, more and more of my anthropological-archaeology colleagues declined to renew their AAA-AD membership, citing the expense or the fact that sessions about archaeology don’t dominate the meeting schedule as they do at SAA meetings. I couldn’t believe that archaeologists had become so parochial that they were willing to forego the cross-fertilization that continues to happen when anthropologists of all persuasions are brought together under one roof. But, I admit that I am bothered by the price tag of AAA membership—not exorbitant as professional organizations go but formidable considering the weak job market and plateauing of academic salaries. I suspect that among my fellow archaeologists there also is a feeling of discomfort about the fact that archaeologists are a minority within the AAAs. We often struggle to have our voices heard and to air our perspectives in matters of direct concern to archaeology, such as ethics and heritage.

What are we to do? Should we sunset the AD, chalk it up to a casualty of the increasing specialization that inevitably occurs as a discipline matures? Archaeology has grown in ways not anticipated when the Archaeology Division of the AAAs was formed in 1983. No one anticipated that federal legislation—like NAGPRA—would shake the discipline to its core, or that scientific developments like aDNA would allow mapping of genetic relatedness in a way that would realize some of the pie-in-the-sky goals of processual archaeology—that is, kinship affiliation in the Broken K pueblo study. One can ask—as many are—if archaeologists trained in departments of Anthropology stand to lose anything by cutting the strings that bind us to Anthropology—a discipline birthed in that strange cauldron of nineteenth-century European imperialism laced with insatiable curiosity? Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the four jagged-edge sub-disciplines that fit together to create a holistic study of the human experience have morphed and transformed since their earlier crafting. Continue reading

Veganism, conversion, and adequation: How to make a strange diet seem familiar

Continuing with the Anthropology #22 Food issue, this next essay is from Aimee J. Hosemann, who is currently ABD at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Hosemann’s work focuses on linguistic and sociocultural anthropology. -R.A.

A May 7, 2015, piece on the website Science of Us, entitled “Diets are a Lot Like Religion”, cites Alan Levinovitz, a James Madison University professor who describes numerous parallels between religion and dietary regimes. Among reasons why dietary and religious practices are so similar is that both reduce complexity; play into nostalgia about a pastoral utopic past; engage discourses of morality using similar discourses of “good” and “bad”; and provide a sense of community (Dahl 2015).

I got interested in this as I was reading stories by people who have converted to vegan diets and share stories through blogs, books, and podcasts that detail their journeys through this new lifestyle (the Happy Herbivore Lindsey S. Nixon and No Meat Athlete Matt Frazier are but two examples). The stories often have all the elements of good conversion narratives – the teller is going about their business as usual, perhaps burying recognition of the ways they were cruising toward disaster at their own hands. Some series of increasingly threatening vignettes leads to a crisis in which it becomes clear that an immediate intervention is required for survival, and control is given over to some external power.  This higher power may be God, Alcoholics Anonymous, or the ethic behind a particular way of eating. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- October 31

I live in Chicago and the screams of Cubs fans assured me of no sleep for the rest of the night. So here I am bringing you some non-sports readings as my petty retaliation for a late night headache!

As the struggle at Standing Rock continues, most visibly through Facebook where users checked in at Standing Rock in solidarity with activists this week. Teachers and professors will find this syllabus useful in describing the history and context of resistance in Indigenous America.

Speaking of Indigenous life in America, listen to Gastropod explain the growing necessity  of Native American foodways in relation to lost knowledge of crops, high rates of diabetes, and food insecurity on reservations due to the history of displacement.

As capitalism continues its march into every facet of daily life, are those who exploit its mysteries and ambiguity  “magicians”?

The oldest Chinese laundry in the U.S. closed last week, a reminder of the racialized immigration policy that led thousands of Asian immigrants into the service industries and its aftermath.

With gentrification pushing out residents in Queens, New York City, the Queens accent is now an “endangered species”. Author Tara Clancy details the shift and struggle of code-switching in a less linguistically diverse world.

See you next week (hopefully with sleep)!

The AD at Amerind: Building the Next Generation of Anthropological Archaeology

This  post is an introduction to the November Guest Blogging Effort by Members of the American Anthropological Association Archaeology Division Executive Board. We are looking forward to having engaged dialog with Savage Minds readers on how the relationship between archaeology and anthropology can be rebuilt in the 21st Century! Jane Eva Baxter is coordinating this guest blogging effort and is the outgoing Secretary of the AAA Archaeology Division Executive Board.

American archaeology has long found its home both structurally and intellectually within the four fields of anthropology. The relationship between archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology has deep historical roots based in large part on shared interests in societies considered “pre-modern” or “traditional,” and early scholarship in both subfields mutually informed and enriched one another. The postmodern turn in the 1980s and 1990s created a rift between these sub-fields and this fissure has permeated both disciplinary structures and intellectual inquiry. The historical commonalities between these two areas of inquiry has been strained, and this tension is reflected in a notable decrease in professional and scholarly engagement between practitioners of these subfields Continue reading

Political Temporalities: 2016 U.S. Election

U.S. presidential elections are extraordinary moments—ruptures in everyday time, full of transformative promise. Maybe. More than two decades ago, in her seminal essay on time, Nancy D. Munn wrote: “the topic of time frequently fragments into all the other dimensions and topics anthropologists deal with in the social world.” So, in the cacophonous 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, how do we perceive time and why might that matter?

Elections, embedded in cyclical time, are sometimes interpreted as pivotal events that shape longer histories. Such histories can be narrated as slow change, fast change, or stasis; crisis or normalcy; repetitive or linear process; progress or regress. Anthropologists are attuned as well to smaller-scale temporalities. They listen for different personal experiences of time and observe social configurations in which they nest.

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Foundations of an Anarchist Archaeology: A Community Manifesto

By The Black Trowel Collective

An anarchist archaeology embraces considerations of social inequity as a critique of authoritarian forms of power and as a rubric for enabling egalitarian and equitable relationships.

The term anarchism derives from an– (without) + arkhos (ruler), but a better and more active translation of it is perhaps ‘against domination.’ An anarchist archaeology insists on an archaeology that is committed to dismantling single hierarchical models of the past, and in that sense, its core incorporates tenets of a decolonized, indigenous, and feminist archaeology, contesting hegemonic narratives of the past. It is a theory explicitly about human relationships operating without recourse to coercive forms like authoritarianism, hierarchy, or exploitation of other humans. Some anarchists extend this argument further to non-human relationships with objects, other species, and the environment.

In keeping with these principles, there is no orthodox, overarching, uniform version of anarchism. There are multiple approaches to anarchist theory and practice tied together by common threads, and it is these commonalities that inform our anarchist archaeology. Here we outline principles for an anarchist archaeology that can be applied towards studies of the past, toward archaeologically informed examinations of contemporary societies, and to archaeological practices, including professional ethics. We offer this as both a manifesto and as a living document open to constant contextual review and revision.

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