[This is an invited postby Tony Waters. Waters is a Professor of Sociology at California State University, Chico, and occasionally blogs at ethnography.com. His application for a PhD program in Anthropology was rejected in 1988 because he was unable to put together the appropriate charms needed by the admissions committee at an unnamed western United States university. In an attempt to please the gods of the tribe he has since offered up his first-born at the altar of an unnamed Anthropology PhD program in the eastern United States.]
I made a somewhat off-hand comment one of Ryan’s posts about graduate education. I think I warned graduate students about “fetishizing” various types of grant sources like NSF, NIMH, Fulbright, and the various others sources of grad student funding which students compete to get. This initially got me a deserved sharp rebuke from Ryan. After all, who was I as a fully tenured, overpaid, and underworked full professor to complain about graduate stipend which (obviously) are few and far between? Well that question is fair enough—but Ryan has also graciously offered me a chance to elaborate.
First my backstory. One of the reasons I am not an anthropologist is that in 1988 after eight years working in Thailand and Tanzania mostly with refugees (which is what I wanted to study), I would need at least eight years to become an anthropologist. In large part, it was explained to me that this was because (obviously) fieldwork is required for a doctorate in anthropology, you might need to try two or three times before success. But never mind while waiting for the grant to come through you would need to work 2-3 years as a t.a. waiting to strike gold. It was sonorously explained to me that to do field work, you would need pre-research visits, protocol visits, and finally what was in the early 1990s a $20,000 grant from Fulbright or NSF to buy your plane tickets, fly back to places you have already been, collect the data to do the field work. The field work would then take another year or two to do the write-up, and so forth.
So I ended up in Sociology, and completed a PhD in 5-6 years, without fieldwork and wrote a dissertation based mainly in the library. I also heard that I would never get a job unless I:
Could get a grant, preferably one via NSF or one of the other federal agents which pay “overhead.”
Curried favor with letter writers (i.e. they themselves) who controlled the job market via social networks.
Delivered multiple papers at conferences, preferably those organized by their networks.
Made a theoretical break-through in your dissertation, which they would sign off on. Continue reading →
By Carole McGranahan with Kate Fischer, Rachel Fleming, Willi Lempert, and Marnie Thomson
Wondering what to wear to the AAAs? We’ve got you covered. For women: throw a few scarves in your suitcase, a suitable range of black clothes, a kick-ass pair of shoes or boots, and some anthropological “flair,” and you should be good to go. Men need to pack their nice jeans, a good buttoned shirt, and the pièce de résistance: a stylish jacket. Unless you’re an archaeologist. Then all you need are jeans.
Anthropologists around the world are packing for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings (“the AAAs”) being held this year in balmy Chicago from November 20-24. What, you might wonder, are they packing? What look do anthropologists go for at the AAAs where thousands of anthropologists gather each year? We’ve turned to our social media networks to find out, posting this question on Twitter and on multiple Facebook accounts to learn just what fashion choices anthropologists are making this week. Continue reading →
Nicholas Cristakis’s recent op-ed in the New York Times “Let’s Shake Up The Social Sciences” has a lot of things going for it. I appreciate his call for more hands-on teaching of research methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the application of social scientific knowledge. To make this point, unfortunately, he mischaracterizes the social sciences as “stagnated”, “boring”, “counterproductive”, and “insecure”. He calls on us to “change the basic DNA of the social sciences” in order to “evolv[e] with the times” as the natural sciences have. What’s more, his piece mischaracterizes the natural sciences in important ways. Christakis’s piece is remarkably data-free and lacks any concrete reference to the social-scientific work it stigmatizes and merely asserts our dysfunction. Of course, he didn’t have much space and was writing for a popular audience, which probably explains this fact. An account of how the social and natural sciences actually work, however, makes clear that the difficulties of the social sciences stem from quite different sources then those that Christakis points to.
The first and most obvious difficulty that the social sciences face is funding, pure and simple. Compared to the natural sciences, we receive peanuts. In Fiscal Year 2013, the NSF got roughly 5.5 billion dollars from Congress to spend on research. Before you press the ‘Read More…’ link in this article, ask yourself “what percent of that was spent on social sciences?”
[The following is an invited post by Megan Tracy.]
About two weeks ago, I received an email from one of the editors of the Science Insider blog. He began: “You’ve probably heard that your NSF grant to study the [Chinese] melamine poisoning scandal was targeted at two House science committee hearings yesterday.” I hadn’t heard and this is the first time my research has become the target of what feels like the never-ending rounds of partisan politics. The original critique of my project and the others being targeted is that they fail to directly benefit the American people. I was, quite frankly, rather surprised to be included as my project examines China’s evolving food regulatory system and has direct relevance for America’s food safety and security. The targeting of particular awards are not (and never are) about their specific content or quality but rather involve broader issues including the allocation of funding, peer review and congressional oversight. (It can, however, certainly feel direct especially when the intellectual merit of your specific grant is questioned and copies of the peer reviews and the program officer’s evaluations are requested in a letter written by the committee’s chairman. As a recent Slate article notes, these attacks appear to be winning. this year, for example, the Coburn amendment successfully limits NSF funding in political science to those that promote national security or the economic interests of the US. The same article argues that with a few exceptions, the social sciences have not been pushing back and are failing to present arguments with much traction in today’s economic and political climate.
FASTR (Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act) is the newest revival of legislation designed to open access to federally funded research (used to be called FRPPA). Currently only the NIH requires open access to federally funded research (and this only after 12 months), but this bill would extend it to all federally funded research (for budgets over $100 million) and shorten the time to 6 months. Go forth and support it, it is good for everyone. The public will be your valentine if you do.
[This month, Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Donya Alinejad]
“For the first time I feel like this is my university.” Over the past year, hearing this comment – and ones like it – from colleagues in the hallways has been no coincidence. This past year at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) has been marked by plans for a set of deep and unprecedented budgetary cuts and reorganizations that will mean things like jobs lost, fewer student services provided, and workloads increased. But this period has also been one in which national media and political attention turned, however briefly, towards a bottom-up, employee-led movement (that we started building at our university against these damaging measures. During this period colleagues referred to a sense of ownership over the university. It was a budding and unique engagement among the many of us involved in this workplace movement. But the feeling was also fleeting, a rupture that plainly demonstrated the contrast with how marginalized the university’s employees normally feel.
The third in a guest series about the “Mayan Apocalypse” predicted for Dec. 21, 2012. The first two posts are here and here.
There are opportunities in the apocalypse. The end of the world has been commodified. A few are seriously investing in bunkers, boats, and survival supplies. Tourism is up, not only to Mayan archaeological sites, but also to places like Bugarach, France and Mt. Rtanj, Serbia. But even those of us on a budget can afford at least a book, a T-shirt or a handbag.
There are opportunities here for academics, too. Many scholars have been quoted in the press lately saying that nothing will happen on Dec 21 , in addition to those who have written comprehensive books and articles discrediting the impending doom. Obviously publishing helps individual careers, and that does not detract from our collective responsibility to debunk ideas that might lead people to physical or financial harm. But neither can we divorce our work from its larger social implications. Continue reading →
This post is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.
Last month I was involved as a planning committee member for a neat little event, the annual Anthropology in London Conference. Each June the anthropology departments at SOAS, Goldsmiths, LSE, UCL, Brunel, and UEL (and occasionally the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) come together as a community for a full day of talks and panels by doctoral students, academic staff, and anthropologists at large (mostly but not exclusively based in London). Unsurprisingly, the planning committee had wanted the theme for the event to somehow reflect both the current atmosphere of the discipline but also of London, the confluence of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the European economic crisis, and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. The theme we settled on—Certainty? (with a question mark)—struck a resonant and suitably interrogative chord.
If the waxing and waning drive for “certainty” deeply frames the academic profession (e.g. the tenure-track as canonical objective) I suppose I’ve had to contend with only a typical overall level of it, but it rarely feels that way. When I slid from technical employment and a BS in physics and computer science into the social sciences, it kicked off a cognitive and professional butterfly effect I couldn’t return to order even if I wanted to. Though several of my graduate mentors were anthropologists, I came not out of an anthropology program but rather a program in science & technology studies. I suspect that many here would concur with my own (mercifully limited) experience as an STS-person the academic job market: the thaumatrope-like character of the field is usually received within more conventionally-disciplined departments as either powerfully “interdisciplinary” or suspiciously “everywhere and nowhere at once.”
Even my dissertation fieldwork—nine months in north India—largely took the form of participant-observation within a school, specifically an institution for the training of satellite image interpreters. Most SM readers will be familiar with the often dicey proposition of having to explain their fieldwork to funding organizations or governmental agencies charged with evaluation, auditing, or border control. It may well be that you can’t throw a rock in South Asia without hitting an anthropologist, but throw satellite images and “school as fieldsite” into the mix and you’re pretty much guaranteed to confuse people before you’ve really gotten anywhere. If I’d had to choose a one-word theme for that work, Uncertainty! (with an exclamation point) might have worked fairly well.
This post is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.
It is said that when the Indian cricketer “iron man” Sunil Gavaskar announced his retirement in 1987, he observed that it’s nicer by far to quit when people still ask “why?” instead of “why not?”
I’d like to think that I quit the tenured position that I’d held for a decade at a similar juncture. Not simply because my research and career trajectories were pointing upwards, but because institutionally things were stable—or should I say, stable enough. Anthropology was accepted as a valued service department key to maintaining multiculturalist credentials; our graduate program was growing organically—enough to justify a new faculty line. And yet it was on a crisp sunny fall 2008 day that a container with most of our belongings left our home in Houston for Pondicherry; the implications of the subprime mortgage crisis were just beginning to manifest themselves, though an increasingly anxious buzz was the only sound on the airwaves. Our Dean was soon to retire, and with him was to go the system of benefaction we’d so long worked with just fine. Big changes were ahead, though we could hardly have predicted their impact at the time: close-to-bone cuts in legislative funding, new initiatives to measure faculty productivity both within and without, new drives to measure the value of service programs like Anthropology by majors enrolled rather than by semester credit hours taught, an apparently new proactiveness from State educational policy-makers that determined, more than ever before, the fates of individual programs.
These are not just idiosyncratic details, specific to our school or to Texas, but rough measures of the sort of dubious “stability” that exists within the public university and that creates spaces for scholarship: “secure” only until the next (financial) crisis or push to fiscal efficiency. This is a condition that probably doesn’t need much elaboration for Savage Minds readers, but I want to pin it as a point of contrast to what we see then as life off the precipice, in the abyss of adjunctdom. The fear of falling, as Barbara Ehrenreich might have described the feeling one gets looking down.
…searching for my lost book by Bernard. Ya, that title needs to be read with the underlying melody of a certain Jimmy Buffet song, which is always good to hear when you are mired in the depths of the purgatory that is academic grant writing. That’s where I happen to be trapped at present. Please feel free to send me a postcard, or say hi if you happen to be down here too. If you know the way out, at least leave some bread crumbs to mark the path. Seriously.
Moving on to the heart of the matter: I am in that special stage of graduate school where I spend the majority of my time attempting to create the perfect little document that will help me get that BIG, IMPORTANT GRANT so that I can actually go into the field and move on with my research. For some reason that perfect little document remains elusive. It is more than likely my own fault, rather than some macro-structural issue. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to making appeals to that complex funding machine that few people truly understand. When it comes to getting that BIG, IMPORTANT GRANT, I happen to be zero for two at this point. So if this were a baseball game, I would be in literal and metaphorical trouble. But, I could always get inspiration from one of the all-time great hitters like Rod Carew, and pull off a clutch ninth inning hit. That means money. End of metaphor.
Anyway, I happen to find grant writing incredibly excruciating on numerous levels. From what I hear around the halls of academia, I am definitely not alone. On the flip side, I can’t imagine having to spend hours and hours reading one grant after another about the “complexities” or “nuances” of this or that particular social conundrum. Imagine that! The whole grant writing process is filled with real people–and that’s a good thing to keep in mind. Let’s not dehumanize the process, folks. We’re all just people, trying to find our way in this world. Insert moody, yet pensive background music that makes us rethink our life priorities.
Enough pensiveness. Let’s talk about the trials and travails of grant writing. I’ll start, with some thoughts, questions, and observations that I have learned along the way. Then hopefully some of your will chime in and give me your two or three cents about the matter. Keep in mind the fact that I am not currently a grant writing MASTER, and realize that I am in the middle of working through all of this out too. I may never figure it out! If you are in the same fix, read along and join in. If you are not quite at this stage and terrified of the whole process, read along and join in. If you are in fact a grant writing master, read along and join in. If you are currently sitting on piles of grant money that you don’t know what do to with…WHAT??! HOW?!? Just kidding. Please read along, everyone, and let’s see if we can make that special place known as Grantlandia just a bit sunnier–or at least less horrifyingly stressful. Continue reading →
I think Kerim is too much of a gentleman to shill for his own project here on Savage Minds, so I’ll do it for him: consider donating to help him wrap up production of his film Please Don’t Beat Me Sir.
For just about as long as I’ve known him, Kerim has been working on PDBMS, about a stigmatized Indian tribal group who try to forge a future for themselves be performing street theater dramatizing their plight and other social justice issues. He’s been going on about the project for years, and most of the time I nodded my head politely and was like: yeah whatever street theater blah blah South Asia blah blah. I mean: some guy get a perfectly good Ph.D. from a respected university, moves to job in the ass-end of Taiwan, and then spends most of this time ranting on the Internet about Gramsci and editorials in the New York Times — and now he’s got some ‘documentary film’ he’s making. Really, what’s the chances of it being any good?
Except a few months ago I managed to get a sneak peak of the film and was pleasantly surprised that it is not just good, but actually very very good — which made me feel a lot better about asking my students to sit through the thing for extra credit. I repeat: it’s good. By any standards. To me the greatest part of the film is that it managed to convey on screen the immediacy and power of live theater, something that it is almost impossible to do. The ethics of the film making project are equally fascinating: it’s a film about Chharas not by them, except that they are performers so in a sense it is by them. It’s something less than ‘collaborative anthropology’ of the Lassiter mold, but also something more in its willingness to experiment with a form that goes beyond the usual cliches of sharing and caring with your host community.
Plus also there is a point at which someone puts a hand over the camera and you get to hear Kerim go all Michael Moore on people and demand in his New York accent “no you tell us why we have to stop filming.” So, you know, it has that going for it.
If you go to the movie home page and donate US$35 you can get to watch the film. But really, if you’ve ever appreciated all the work Kerim has done for Savage Minds, I think the donation site will accept way less than thirty five bucks. The money will be used to burnish up the final edit so that it can be shown in prime time at the Busan film festival.
As a policy we don’t make announcements of this sort on SM but I wanted to make an exception in this case so that Kerim can feel some of the SM love that he’s accrued over the past couple of years and his excellent film gets the support it deserves.
Social science research isn’t on the firmest ground in these days of economic malaise, but it’s not like this news is exactly exploding into the headlines across the nation. Funding cuts, like the recent “trimming” of the Fulbright program,* seem to take place somewhat under the radar. The same can be said of the recent debates about the value of social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences that took place about a month ago in a congressional hearing on June 2, 2011 (this link has PDFs of the introductory statements and the testimony of all the witnesses). The social sciences face an uphill battle, in part, because some folks see them as mere “soft sciences” that do not merit public support. The House panel subcommittee meeting was about assessing the relative merit of the social sciences and how federal funding should or should not be allocated to researchers. Did you hear about this? Well, I didn’t–at least not until just a few days ago. Funny what can happen in the middle of the summer, isn’t it? Anyway, here’s a recap of what went down according to a summary from the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA):
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) chaired the panel, which included the testimony of four witnesses: Myron Gutman (Assistant Director for NSF’s SBE directorate), Hillary Anger Elfenbein (Olin School of Business at Washington University, St. Louis), Peter Wood (President of the National Association of Scholars), and finally Diana Furchtgott-Roth (Senior fellow at the Hudson Institute). Here’s how Brooks described the basic purpose of the hearing:
The goal of this hearing is not to question whether the social, behavioral, and economic sciences produce interesting and sound research, as I believe we all can agree that they do. I come from a social science background. I have a degree in political science and economics. Rather, the goal of our hearing is to look at the need for federal investments in these disciplines, how we determine what those needs are in the context of national priorities, and how we prioritize funding for those needs, not only within the social science disciplines, but also within all science disciplines, particularly when federal research dollars are scarce.
Brooks may have been pulling his punches. In comments to ScienceInsider after the hearing, Brooks expressed serious doubts about the value of the social sciences. The freshman legislator said he “understands the value of basic research” because his constituents in and around Huntsville, Alabama, make up “one of, if not the most, highly educated districts in the sciences.” Brooks did say that “my priorities would be to protect basic research in the sciences as much as possible, even to the extent of cutting entitlements, in order to generate enough funding for basic research.” But his definition of the term “basic research” turns out to be synonymous with the so-called hard sciences, and to exclude the social sciences.
The AAA is asking people in the US to contact their congressional representatives over cuts to the Fulbright program and the NEH – and the possibility of even more drastic cuts in the near future. In addition to urging you to do the same, I wanted to add some comments about the Fulbright program.
I probably would have had to change my research topic if I hadn’t received a Fulbright dissertation grant to come to Taiwan. The Fulbright program was founded by Senator William Fulbright in 1946, and was initially paid for by selling off war surplus. This makes the current situation all the more depressing. The following chart shows where the current debt comes from.
As you can see, half the debt comes from a combination of Bush-era tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That means that the Fulbright program, originally paid for out of war surplus, is now being cancelled to pay for war debt.
Programs like the Fulbright-Hays grants aren’t just about supporting individual scholars; they have a larger mission of promoting work that collectively helps all of us contextualize the world we live in and recognize how it has come to look the way it does. By not providing the funding necessary to support this year’s crop of applicants, the government is implying that such work isn’t important, that we can exist in a global community but don’t need to understand it.
Unlike HTS, the Fulbright program and NEH fund important research which I believe genuinely contributes to our understanding of the world. It is depressing to see our reckless involvement in two unfunded wars now threatening these programs.
For the past several years, my research has led me further and further into the world of counterinsurgency, military anthropology, human terrain, and other aspects of a military regime of knowledge. What concerns me, most of all, is the way that knowledge generated by social scientists can be used (and, if the past is any indication, will be used) to the disadvantage of the people on, from, and with whom anthropologists and other social scientists generate that knowledge.
This issue is hardly limited to anthropologists, though we have traditionally held a kind of loose monopoly on the world’s most vulnerable peoples. Nowadays, social scientists of every stripe traipse through the same terrain anthropologists once considered their own – and we, of course, have no problem returning the favor.
So when a friend forwarded me a story about geographers in Oaxaca mapping the “cultural terrain”, my disciplinary ears perked up. At issue are many of the same issues at play in debates over anthropologists’ and others’ involvement with HTS in Iraq and Afghanistan, although in many ways I find the situation I’m about to describe more frightening still, as it presages wars or conflicts as yet unfought – even counterinsurgencies to insurgencies yet to surge. Continue reading →
The New York Timesreports that the humanities are feeling the pinch of budget cutbacks at universities:
With additional painful cuts across the board a near certainty even as millions of federal stimulus dollars may be funneled to education, the humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents
But it isn’t just the humanities. Anthropology is hurting as well.
These are uncertain days at Florida State University’s anthropology department.
University officials have told Glen Doran, chairman of the department, to not accept any new graduate students for the 2009-10 school year.
This has prompted rumors that the anthropology department – it has 120 undergraduate students, 35 active grad students and another 30 in various stages of finishing their degrees – may be on the chopping block when FSU is forced to make painful cuts following the upcoming legislative session.
I was sympathetic to this story, and even joined the Facebook group they set up to defend the department, but I was very concerned by this quote:
Anthropology plays a vital role in today’s geopolitical world, Ward said. The military recruited anthropologists to help it better understand and communicate with people in Afghanistan, she noted.
If we are going to have to start advertising HTS as a justification for Anthropology’s continued existence, maybe we should join the French and eliminate the discipline altogether.