Dataverse: an open source solution for data sharing

When you think of scholarship you might think first of publications, articles and books, but that is just the final product. Yes it is polished through countless hours of research, writing, and responding to reviewers, however all that work is built on an even more time consuming foundation of collecting raw materials. In cultural anthropology this includes field notes, journals, marked up literature, audio recordings, transcripts, and maybe photographs and video. I think I even have a few 3-D objects squirreled away in banker’s boxes. Although we seldom refer to it as such all of this is “data,” it is information awaiting interpretation.

We take great pride in our finished products. Peer reviewed publications are still the coin of the realm. Our attitudes towards data in cultural anthropology are less clear. Are our data worth saving? What have you done with your data? How would you feel about sharing your data with others?
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Around the Web Digest: Week of April 12

Greetings to everyone at the SAA meetings this week. Also, I defend my dissertation on Thursday so wish me luck! As always, if you write or read anything interesting in the anthroblogosphere, let me know at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com and I will include it here.

This is an article published last year by Business Insider Australia, recently republished by the New Zealand mag Stuff. I include it because I’m currently facing the job market and I have questions. First, where are these companies and why are they not stalking my LinkedIn profile? Second, why are these kinds of stories of anthropologists in the private sector getting passed around? Do we cling to them as signs of the commercial value of our field? Why Companies are Desperate to Hire Anthropologists

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Déjà Lu: Now, more than ever

When Americans like myself say “anthropology” we usually mean “American anthropology” or — even worse — “American cultural anthropology”. But as the pretty much everyone in the world who is not American will tell you, there is a lot more to anthropology than just what Americans do. The World Council of Anthropological Associations is one of the key institutions seeking to raise the profile of the global anthropological scene. One of the key ways they do it is with their open-access journal Déjà Lu, which recently released its third issue. It’s great and you should read something in it now.

Déjà Lu is actually an anthology. Journals from around the planet select one article of their that they wish to feature, and contribute it to Déjà Lu, who then publishes it in open access format. The result is a scrumptious multilingual smorgasbord of anthropological treats.

American journals are heavily represented on Déjà Lu, since they are a large part of world anthropology. But there is a lot else on hand as well and the journal is a great way to discover new pieces to read, as well as new journals to follow, even if you are an ashamed monoglot like me. Suomen Antropologi usually keeps its content locked up pretty tight, but you can download Tim Ingold’s Westermark Lecture (like to PDF). SITES is a Pacific journal I’ve known about for a long time, but I would have missed it’s new issue on whakapapa if it wasn’t for Déjà Lu. And that’s really just the start.

Your interests are probably different than mine, so why don’t you go stroll over the Déjà Lu’s site and see what tickles your fancy?

A Cultural Anthropologist Reads a Science Journal

One morning, chasing down a lead about research on plant memory from an article published in The Economist, I ended up at the journal Oecologia. This trajectory is increasingly familiar: a news source renders a popular account of life science research, and, trying to learn more, I end up at the academic source. The table of contents quickly overwhelmed me, though, and provoked me to stop for a moment and take stock of what I look for or find interesting in journals on genetics, biology, and botany.

Working on race, I initially began reading science journals as a way to keep up with claims and counterclaims in the polemics over its social construction. But as my focus shifted from people to plants (still keyed in on race), and as I developed an ethnographic project on biodiversity research, I began reading the journal articles to better understand what these plant scientists are up to. Along the way, the items in these reports (concepts, techniques, analytics) shifted, in my view, from socially constructed artifacts to crucial means for comprehending the very subjects that interest my ethnographic subjects. Now my approach to cultural analysis is changing. Continue reading

What Are You Reading This Summer?

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The semester is nearly complete, and summer is upon us. After finishing my first year in graduate school, I have this to say: I had no idea that I was capable of reading so much so quickly. Wow.

And yet, there were many things that I wanted to read and could not fit into those tiny pockets of “free” time. You know what I’m talking about, right? You get that itch that says, “If only there were more hours in a day, I would totally pick that book up!” And reading Carole’s Ethnographic Theory syllabus is not helping matters.

So I need to keep this momentum going; here is my summer reading list for 2015. It serves a few purposes, so it has to be somewhat calculated. This time next year, I’ll need to turn in a substantial literature review that gestures (somehow) toward my dissertation research/proposal, so now is the time to ramp up my consumption of readings that will contribute to it. There are also some things that I feel like reading, because “How have I gone this long without reading that” (e.g. Nietzsche)? One is out of sheer curiosity (i.e. Bennett). A few things I’ve read in the past, but I’d like to revisit with a full year of graduate social theory seminars under my belt (e.g. Foley, Fullwiley). And I owe Duke University Press a review (i.e. Starn; coming soon!). Naturally, this does not include the rapidly growing list of articles – classics, landmarks, and brand new publications – that I’ll need to whittle away.

In order (by nothing other than a sense of urgency, I guess): Continue reading

What We’re Teaching This Semester: Ethnographic Theory

What courses do professors teach and why? Who determines what students need to know? In my department we teach a combination of required courses and elective courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. At the graduate level, I regularly teach a semester of our year-long introductory theory course, and other times I teach seminars focused on more narrow topics either in one of my specialties or an exploratory course. This semester I am teaching the latter: a new graduate seminar in ethnographic theory. In the spirit of our not-quite-official Savage Minds series on teaching, I offer some thoughts here on why and how I am teaching ethnographic theory this semester.

Right now, where is intellectual energy in cultural anthropology? This seminar is designed to ask and answer this question through looking at scholarship from the last several years organized around the concept of ethnographic theory. Our overall prompt is dual, both the call for a ‘return’ to ethnographic theory in the now four-year old journal HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory and recent reflections in Cultural Anthropology on the current anthropological moment twenty-five years after Writing Culture. On the syllabus, I wrote the following introduction to the course which is officially titled “Ethnographic Theory: On Philosophy, Method, and Writing:”

What is the ethnographic? How do we practice and write ethnography? In this seminar, we will look beyond ethnography as method to consider the ethnographic as theory. Ethnographic knowledge is both epistemology and ontology, a way of knowing and a way of being. It is experiential, embodied, and empathetic, and is the foundation of field efforts to arrive at—as Clifford Geertz so famously stated in 1974—how people collectively explain themselves…to themselves. It is through ethnography that we can get to “where true life and real lives meet.” Ethnography is excessive and it is messy, but so is life. Our goal in ethnographic research is to get to this excess and messiness, to the lived expectations, complexities, contradictions, and possibilities of any given cultural group. In this seminar, we will explore ethnographic theory through reading in three areas: political subjectivity, ethnographies of the suffering subject, and the ontological turn Continue reading

Culture is for the birds…and the bees…and the dolphins, etc.

I guess I’m not surprised the idea of nonhuman cultures still generates disquiet for some cultural anthropologists. But I was a bit taken aback that this long-running argument seemed to be news. After all, there are recent ethnographic examples of what this looks like: Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut characterize their book, Buzz, as “an api-ethnography that considers bees as cultured beings that traffic between worlds of the hive and of the urban landscape” (2013:36), taking “the subjective experience of bees” as one of their foci as they work to interpret bees’ behavior. Somewhat less boldly, Colin Jerolmack’s The Global Pigeon (2013) depicts these birds as part of the social interactional order of public space; though he maintains them at the center of his ethnographic analysis, arguing, by the way, that “pigeons partly domesticated themselves” (9) in colonizing urban space. And of course there’s Eduardo Kohn’s, How Forests Think, winner of the 2014 Gregory Bateson Prize.

But in response to the question about the theoretical foundations for all of this, I’m quite ready to go beyond anthropologist and primatologists like Raymond Corbey and Frans de Waal who’ve been making this case for years. I’m more interested in how nonhuman cultures are being documented and analyzed by natural scientists, because their work opens up new spaces for theorizing culture “beyond the human.” Continue reading

“The essential job of a publishing house is curation”: Jacob Stevens on Verso Books

(update: I correct some typos -Rx 17 April 2015)

One of the great things about running a well-established blog is that you can just cold-call interesting people and ask to interview them, and they’ll say yes.  Verso Books has had a long history of publishing works which have has a tremendous impact in anthropologyand so I’d always tried to stay up to date with what the press was doing. When it began selling ebooks directly through its website and offering them at discounted prices through sales, I got curious about what their plan want to keep their independent, progressive press operating in an era of Reduced Everything. I was very lucky, therefore, to have a chance to speak to the managing director of Verso, Jacob Stevens, who talked with me about Verso’s plans and future directions.

I came away from this interview tremendously impressed with Stevens and Verso more generally. Stevens’s strategic vision is remarkably clear and focused on what the key commitments of progressive publishing should be. At the same time, he’s thought outside the box in many ways — looking to journal subscriptions as a model for direct sales of monographs, or taking the lessons of the music industry and applying them to publishing. I think you’ll really enjoy this interview and the light it sheds on Verso’s plans for the future, and the state of independent publishing today.

AG: Let’s start by talking about your Christmas sale. That seemed to be a pretty major statement by Verso. The discounts were incredibly steep and the selection was very good. Could you tell why you decided to do that sale, how successful it was, and its role in your publishing strategy?

JS: We initiated a redesign of the website in 2008, always with the aim of launching a strong direct sales channel. That finally came about in March last year, and we took three decisions to try and make sure that it was a success and that it was noticed. The first one was to bundle ebooks with print. The second one was to offer discounts, and the third was to offer free shipping. Essentially, we were competing with Amazon.

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Genre-bending, or the Love of Ethnographic Fiction

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Jessica Falcone as part of our Writer’s Workshop Series. Jessica is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University. She is the author of numerous articles on transnational Tibetan Buddhism, religious activism in diasporic Hindu and Sikh communities, and anthropological theory. She has won awards from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology for her ethnographic fiction, and from AIIS for her book manuscript Battling the Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never Built.]

 

“Open your eyes; listen, listen. That is what the novelists say. But they don’t tell you what you will see and hear. All they can tell you is what they have seen and heard, in their time in this world, a third of it spent in sleep and dreaming, another third of it spent in telling lies.” (Ursula K. Le Guin 1969: ii)

I like to slip Ursula K. Le Guin into my syllabi as often as possible. I have used her work in my “Futurity” course, my “Utopias” class, my “Anthropology and Literature” course, and my “Ethnographic Methods” course. She is best known as a celebrated science fiction writer, but she also writes essays, realist fiction, experimental ethnographic fiction, children’s lit, anarchist social theory, and more. Even when (especially when?) weaving yarns about aliens, she is writing about us, about humanity, about power, gender, identity, and cultural mores. For an anthropologist attentive to the beating art of ethnography, Ursula K. Le Guin’s work is a softly uttered challenge about the complex nature of truth, and a whispered promise about the potential of fiction as a means of approaching it. Ever wonder what the “K” stands for? Kroeber, the “K” stands for Kroeber.

Writing Ethnographic Fiction

“Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth.” (Le Guin 1969: iv)

Ursula K. Le Guin’s father, Alfred Kroeber, considered the first ethnographic novel—Bandelier’s “the Delight Makers” (1890)— a successful and faithful representation of the Pueblo culture the author had studied; he called the novel, “…a more comprehensive and coherent view of native Pueblo life than any scientific volume on the Southwest” (1922:13). Although ethnographic fiction has a long and storied history in anthropology, it remains marginalized, perhaps even stigmatized.

I see myself as an ambassador for ethnographic fiction, albeit a poor one, perhaps. It is a nigh endangered species within our disciplinary ecosystem, and I myself have done precious little to rail against that trend. While I worked towards tenure, I published just one book chapter with pretensions to ethnographic fiction, and although it’s destined to only ever be read by about a dozen people max, it is my most beloved text-baby. It is the true story of a giant statue in Bodh Gaya, India, which was cancelled, shifted, or interrupted, depending on who you ask and when. My narrative tacked back and forth between straight ethnography and (crooked?) ethnographic fiction. Since the piece was quite deliberately modelled upon Bruno Latour’s “Aramis, or the Love of Technology,” I titled it “Maitreya, or the Love of Buddhism,” and called it a work of “social scientifiction.” I would argue that my creative licenses made my product more compelling, and more achingly true. And if the piece succeeded at all, it was because of the fictions, not despite them. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of April 5

I’ve declared it Language Week at the Around the Web Digest! If you write or come across any interesting blogs, email me the links at rebecca.nelson.jacobs@gmail.com

This New Yorker article discusses a particularly paradoxical new phrase, drawing from the history of negation: What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand? 

Slate featured this article Jahai speakers from the Malay Peninsula have a rich language for describing smells and perform better on smell tests than English speakers: English Speakers Stink at Identifying Smells

This Language Log post links to a modern noire masterpiece about a detente between prescriptivists and descriptivists as they face off against the clickbaiters: The Conditional Entente

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Talal Asad: Why do I support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement?

[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Talal Asad. He teaches anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and specializes on religion and politics in the Middle East and Europe.]

I have never visited Israel, or the occupied West Bank and Gaza, but I have several friends, Jews and Palestinians, who teach in universities there and joining the BDS movement does not entail breaking my friendship with them. But I am appalled by the repeated savage destruction of Gaza as well as the slow strangulation of Palestinian society living under occupation – including Gaza, a minute territory besieged by Israel for years by land, sea and air. I am disturbed by the fact that the majority of Israelis express strong support for the repeated Gaza assaults in which thousands of Palestinians have been killed, in which vastly superior weaponry has been used by the IDF against poorly armed opponents. There is much hysteria about “thousands of Hamas rockets falling on Israel” although virtually no damage has been inflicted on Israeli civilians and buildings as a consequence. And yet Israel always presents itself as the victim in these conflicts.

Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions. Photo from Inside HigherEd
Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions. Photo from Inside HigherEd

Israeli universities have not merely expressed approval of IDF’s violence in Gaza, but strengthened their practical links with it. Israeli society seems to have become increasingly militaristic and contemptuous towards the Palestinians under its control. It is the educational, cultural and news institutions that encourage racism toward Palestinians. Critics of BDS sometimes ask whether Israelis and Palestinians talking to each other isn’t more effective than boycott in changing views –whether it isn’t precisely academic institutions that provide the spaces where people with widely different points of view can come together to talk and argue without any preconditions. So isn’t the boycott of Israeli educational and cultural institutions a repudiation of free speech, they say? One answer to that might be that there is no value to endless talk between political opponents, especially where one side is not only far more powerful than the other but also regards it with contempt and hatred. It is widely remarked that the peace talks over the last two decades have completely failed. But in fact they have not. They have bought valuable time for colonizers – openly funded, encouraged, and protected by the Israeli state – to take over more Palestinian land and water, to intensify the punitive siege of Gaza, and to solidify Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. For peace talks to have a just outcome the parties have to be mediated by a third who is committed to seeing justice done. And this certainly hasn’t been the case in the so-called Peace Talks where the United States is the supposed “honest broker.” Continue reading

Nonhuman Cultures

You know, they have it too. Not all species, certainly, but there are enough instances of nonhuman cultures to begin shifting how we think about this key concept.

In the decades since the idea of nonhuman cultures was broached, the notion has taken hold through recognitions that they also learn and transmit social knowledge. As Andrew Whiten and Kevin Laland et al explain, the presence of social learning as well as “traditions and other culturally related phenomena” among nonhumans has “proved to be far more widespread across the animal kingdom than imagined a half-century ago and more complex in their manifestations” (2011: 938). That’s partly because the list of such creatures is sprawling: numerous vertebrates—horses and hyenas, bats and crows, dolphins and dogs, all kinds of cats and rodents, and of course, our closest cousins, the primates—and the most globally dominant invertebrate genera: ants and termites, bees and wasps, and even some spiders. But this also reflects shifting sensibilities among researchers, that what we observe other species doing is not a matter of anthropocentric projection but rather a fairly accurate perception of homologous activities.

Thinking this way requires a simple, mobile analytic that applies widely across species and foundationally to humans, as well. Continue reading

Who got the NSF GRFPs? And are we ok with that?

NSF recently awarded the latest round of the NSF GRFP, aka the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. These awards are given to graduating anthropology undergrads or first year graduate students. To make a long story short, they are very prestigious, pay for most (or all) of graduate school, and prove to grad schools and future funders that you are For Real. These awards set you up for success. So who got them and who didn’t says a lot about our discipline and where it’s going. So: what do they tell us?

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Domestication Now!

In the late 1990s, the study of kinship got zapped. A similar surge of new thinking is transforming another classic anthropological concept—domestication. In both cases, breaches in the fine lines between biology and culture open up generative possibilities. With kinship, ethnographies of the new reproductive technologies led the way (e.g. Sarah Franklin’s Embodied Progress, 1997). With domestication, multispecies ethnographies are provoking a reassessment of this mainstay of anthropological analysis. And, as with kinship, unsettling the human in relation to “nature” frees up domestication as a means to think differently about anthropology and culture.

Why domestication now? Let’s start with the Anthropocene: it’s not just our carbon based economy driving drastic climate change; the fact that we and our domesticated species comprise 90% vertebrate biomass on the planet matters greatly. Then there’s the giddy question of agency: who’s doing what to whom when it comes to species transformations? Continue reading

The Nuclear Option: For Anthropologists Who Have Considered Humor When the Drive to Modernity is Not Enough

[Savage Minds is pleased to run this essay by guest author Donna Goldstein as part of our Writer’s Workshop Series. Donna is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. She is the author of  Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown (University of California Press). She is currently writing about pharmaceutical politics, bioethics, regulation, and neoliberalism in Argentina and the United States, and is investigating the history of genetics, Cold War science, the health of populations, and the future of nuclear energy in Brazil.]

“Going through the Brazilian Portal. Hold on! We are heading into Porto Frade, a gated community of the rich and wealthy! Everything functions here!” These are the words of my Brazilian research co-pilot, Nelson Novaes Pedroso Junior, during our recent field excursion to Angra dos Reis to explore perceptions of risk and the role of the nuclear energy plants in the region. Together with doctoral candidate Meryleen Mena, our research team entered Porto Frade, a securitized community not far from the Angra I and II nuclear complex in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is a gated community and a world of yachts, million dollar homes, mostly empty streets (in March of 2015, at least), and security apparati just within the five-kilometer mark of the emergency evacuation plan of the nuclear plant.

Yacht Porto Frade
Porto Frade. Photo by Donna Goldstein.

This is not only a less well-known Monaco or Sausalito, but also a community of second homes that are underutilized by their wealthy Brazilian owners. The homes are perfect, the gardens well-kept, and the yachts are supersized. In Porto Frade you can find restaurants with French names and menus that would please the most discerning cosmopolitan foodie. If I had no social conscience at all, I could probably have enjoyed my late Saturday lunch that much more. But knowing a tiny bit more about the broader context made enjoyment somewhat difficult. One needs a good sense of humor and sense of the absurd to work in Brazil and to write about its contradictions. Continue reading