Tag Archives: Public Anthropology

Introducing the Public Anthropology Institute

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the Decolonizing Anthropology series.

By: Faye V. Harrison, Carole McGranahan, Matilda Ostow, Melissa Rosario, Paul Stoller, Gina Athena Ulysse and Maria Vesperi

The massacre in Orlando was just two days before we sat together around a seminar table in an idyllic New England college town. A massacre of forty-nine people out dancing, celebrating life in a gay nightclub called Pulse. They were mostly young, queer, and Latinx. Gone. Already stories had turned to focus on the killer’s motivations. Was this primarily homophobic homegrown terrorism or the machinations of the Islamic State? We were meeting at Wesleyan University in Connecticut to discuss the creation of the Public Anthropology Institute (PAI) and contemplate ways to use our scholarly knowledge of cultural difference for greater service globally. Given the disheartening public debate in this moment reminiscent of Dickens’ best and worst of times, we were convinced that this work is necessary in the face of such violence and hate.

Creating PAI at Wesleyan University, June 2016
Creating PAI at Wesleyan University, June 2016

For too long anthropologists have retreated into the minutia of arcane disciplinary debate even when our knowledge can make a difference. It can be intellectually stimulating and important to turn inward, but conversations among ourselves cannot be the only ones we have. We also need to create work with a larger impact and a longer reach. As scholars who have studied across the global south and thought deeply about geopolitics, poverty, social and economic inequality, racism, homophobia, sexism and climate change, we believe it is time to reconnect with the obligation to produce knowledge that makes the world a better place. As the stakes get higher, anthropological perspectives can make critical, unexpected connections and offer direction beyond the logic of dominant assumptions. Continue reading

The Anthro/Zine strikes back!

Anthro/Zine, a venue for undergraduate publication from the team behind Anthropology Now, has entered its second year of publication. The premise behind the project is to provide a space for college students to reflect on how anthropology, in all its myriad forms, has touched their lives. As editor I have been completely blown away by the quality and creativity of our submissions which have included not only essay, but also art, poetry, photography, fiction, and what I call “briefs” — very short pieces. There are now four issues, open access and CC-BY, available at the link above. Check out our latest issue below!

Anthro/Zine publishes April, September, and December coinciding with each new issue of Anthropology Now. If you are a student or recent college graduate and would like to make a submission of some sort that is relevant to anthropology then we would like very much to see what you have to offer. We are most interested in seeing work that is creative, personal, and short. Original research is welcome but we do not publish term papers. Do not submit to us what you have given your professor, your peers are your audience here. Reflect on what you have already accomplished and tell us about your experience of encountering anthropology.

A/Z is not a venue for graduate students, however it is appropriate for grads to submit their work directly to Anthropology Now, please see their guidelines here.

Students or faculty with questions can reach me at mthompson@marinersmuseum.org, if you would like your work considered for the September issue than make your submission by August 1.

Click on the cover or the hyperlink below to download a pdf of our latest issue:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anthro/Zine | April 2016Anthro/Zine | April 2016

Continue reading

The anthropologist as a curious subaltern? Thoughts on precarity and publics

The title of this post is meant to provoke. Or so I hoped, when I first thought of it one night as I was cooking (a very thought-inspiring activity, I must say). I was replaying a conversation in my head that I had with a visual anthropologist from Macau, who was trained in Berlin. Our conversation traced the postcolonial critique of anthropology, as well as difficulties of translating anthropological works for the public. The reason he calls himself a ‘visual anthropologist,’ he said with a laugh, is because the term gives him legitimacy in academic circles (he also gets invited to screen his films at various festivals). I think that, perhaps, doing so gives him room to be more eclectic than what a category would allow.

I wondered: why, when, and how do we call ourselves anthropologists? Of course, there are academic conventions, and institutional structures. But there’s also a sense of belonging to a professional community, a global tribe, if one is pushing the cliché. In undergraduate and graduate programs, we’re initiated into the history of the discipline, into understanding seminal moments (Writing Culture is still fresh in my mind from a course from last year), as well as into the ‘field.’ We are privy to the workings of the discipline; we see how our peers, teachers and institutions (the AAA, for instance) have responded to political questions like institutional boycotts, or Black Lives Matter (not to mention scandals within anthropology – the Yanomamo being another ‘seminal’ moment in pedagogy).

Yet, we are asked, perhaps more so than any other discipline, what anthropology’s relevance to the world is? Very often, it is a question asked in classrooms – both, by students new to anthropology and by those who’ve been here for a while. I do note a crucial difference between asking, ‘How can we be relevant?’ and ‘Are we relevant?’ Both, of course, operate in a similar rhetorical level. But the latter can be particularly challenging.

*** Continue reading

Sapiens: Good (Maybe Great) But Not Transformational (So Far)

Last week marked the launch of Sapiens, a brand new website bankrolled by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The unveiling is especially welcome to those of us who think about public anthropology, since it will mean the end of Wenner-Gren’s seemingly endless social media campaign announcing that Sapiens will soon be launched. At last — after receiving five email which announce that Sapiens is not launched yet, and then invite me to click through a link to view a web page announcing that Sapiens is not launched yet — Sapiens has finally launched!

After scrupulously refusing to retweet non-news about the site, I was quit curious to see what final form Sapiens would take. So, is Sapiens worth the hype? Has a new day in public anthropology arrived? Can all other anthropology blogs now End? The short answer is that Sapiens is a major new voice in online anthropology, with a bucketload of skilled staff, quality features, and gorgeous web design. But if the Sapiens staff are hoping to transform how the public understands anthropology, they may be disappointed — this website is just one more voice in an already crowded online space. That said, with funding, legitimation, and editorial freedom from Wenner-Gren, Sapiens could make an impact in an already-crowded field.

Continue reading

NGO-graphies: On Knowledge Production and Contention

NGOgraphies logo

The NGOs and Nonprofits Special Interest Group held its second biennial conference before the AAAs last week. It’s designed to give anthropologists and practitioners working in and with NGOs a chance to engage with each other in a more intimate, focused way before diving into the chaos of the AAAs. Entitled “NGOgraphies,” this year’s conference explored the dual meaning of the term, coined by Steven Sampson and Julie Hemment in 2001, which refers both to critical ethnography of NGOs in general and to analysis of the human geography of NGOs in particular. The conference attracted 112 attendees from 13 countries, and session organizers were encouraged to use alternate formats to engage participants, ranging from workshops to roundtables. Rather than a general report on the conference, this post is a reflection on some of the specific conversations and lines of thought the conference generated for me.

When I circulated the call for papers for my roundtable panel What Is This ‘Local Knowledge’ that Development Organizations Fetishize? to the NGOs and Nonprofits Interest Group listserv in May, I got the following email in reply:

Dear All,

I might have been interested in participating, but will likely be traveling overseas for humanitarian work at the time. I have worked for international NGOs and aid agencies for 30 years, as I do now. However, I must say that the title of the session troubles me. As a long-time member and leader of such organizations, I have never known our community to “fetishize” local knowledge. I think the term is disrespectful to my colleagues and their work and insights. This seems like some sort of construct or perception of research-based academics.

Continue reading

Return of the Anthro/Zine

Last May I introduced you to Anthropozine, a new undergraduate venue associated with the journal Anthropology Now. The concept behind the zine was to get college students interested in engaging in earnest reflexivity by articulating their personal experience of encountering anthropology. The first issue, themed around the topic of “Food,” was a roaring success thanks to the efforts of our talented writers.

I’m happy to announce that there is now a second issue of the zine to go around! Our parent, Anthropology Now, moved to Taylor & Francis which involved a slight delay in publication, but they have kept us on board. We’re excited to once again provide a place for shorter works by college students. The latest issue is themed around “the Body.” Help us help our students express themselves by sharing this over your social networks and email listservs!

Anthrozine2

click here to download the PDF

Please visit us at http://anthronow.com/anthrozine where you can download our first two issues and view the submission guidelines. While you’re there check out all the amazing stuff Anthropology Now has to offer too. Continue reading

Osama Bin Laden, Chelsea Manning, and their anthropologists

Anthropology can turn up in the strangest places. While we often hold up Margaret Mead and… uh… well, mostly Margaret Mead… as examples of public anthropology, our discipline does a lot of important work in times and places few of us would suspect. For instance, take these two recent examples from the media featuring Chelsea Manning and Osama bin Laden:

Most people remember Chelsea Manning (then Bradley) as the person who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to WikiLeaks. After being imprisoned for the leak, Manning has become an activist and intellectual in her own right, as well as the center of an ongoing struggle to make sure her rights are respected in prison. And in her free time… she reads anthropology.

This according to a New York Post article Manning recently faced the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement because of the items she had in her possession, including a tube of toothpaste and a copy of Biella Coleman’s excellent ethnography Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy — The Many Faces of Anonymous (creative commons licensed PDF here). You knew anthropology ends up in unusual places — now we know that includes the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

The other anthropologist to make the news recently was Flagg Miller of UC Davis. Miller holds the unique title of being the only person in the world to sit down and listen to all 1,500 cassette tapes in Osama Bin Laden’s personal cassette tape collection.  My favorite part of the BBC’s piece on Miller’s new book, Audacious Ascetic: What the Bin Laden Tapes Reveal About Al-Qa’ida comes when Miller shows the reporter the earliest known recording of Bin Laden from the late 1980s. Recording quality is poor and the reporter asks “But how can you tell it’s Bin Laden?” There’s a short pause and Miller replies “Well… I’ve listened to over a thousand hours of him speaking…” That’s anthropology for you — you work it into your bones, and it’s that lived experience that lets you make the hard calls.

Anthropologists worry constantly that there isn’t enough public anthropology. But how much public anthropology is enough public anthropology? We are reaching all kinds of audiences in all kinds of ways — and with research totally different than the usual white-on-brown village ethnography that people (including us!) imagine that we do. So let’s give ourselves some credit where credit is due and pat ourselves on the back for showing up in unexpected — but important — places.

Welcome to the Anthropozine

Back in the late twentieth century, when cut and paste still meant scissors and glue, desktop publishing opened many doors for a creative person with something to say. We dubbed  these homebrewed screeds “zines” and reproduced them by photocopier. They were distributed not by webpage and email but left stacked next to alternative newsweeklies or sold for cheap at record stores.  Drugs and sex and politics were the dominant themes, and their chaotic aesthetic served as witness to a strong DIY ethic inherited from our punk ancestors. They were cheeky and irreverent, occasionally they were even good. In many respects they were the analog precursor to the blogs of today.

Anthropozine.
Anthropozine | April 2015

With this nod to the past, let us turn now to the future for I am excited to announce the launch of a new venue for undergraduate authors, Anthropozine, lovingly inspired by the ’90s zines of yore. Sure its a PDF now, but don’t let that stop you from running off a few hard copies on the departmental printer while no one’s looking. The publication carries a Creative Commons license making it easy for you to share with your students by email, over listservs, or social networks. Anthropozine is published jointly with Anthropology Now, a peer reviewed journal from Routledge with a special vision to make available illustrated works from leading scholars that are written for a general audience. Think of it as something like a missing link between scholarly journal and a popular magazine. If you are a member of the AAA’s General Anthropology Division you already have electronic access to the journal, but there is a fair amount of free content available at http://anthronow.com. Continue reading

Don’t be a hero, just make anthropology public

I really enjoyed Erin Taylor’s recent piece on SM about how to make anthropology public, and I wanted to add on to her suggestions about how to make anthropology public with a few, slightly more unorthodox ones of my own. These suggestions rub against the anthropological grain because they involve small, quiet, and steady work that doesn’t feel heroic, despite the big impact that it has. So it may seem strange at first blush, but I firmly believe the most effective way to get the best anthropology in front of the most people is to edit wikipedia and write book reviews on Amazon.

Wikipedia, of course, needs no introduction to most people. It is an indispensable source of information — even for people who hate it. It’s ubiquitous, and it’s here to stay. What’s more, it’s a site that people actively go to for information. One of the big questions for public anthropology is: how do we push content in front of eyeballs?This isn’t a question for Wikipedia, because people actively pull content from the site.

And they do it in tremendous numbers. Now and again I have a go at trying to improve the Wikipedia entry on Melanesia. It seems like an obscure topic for an obscure page, but it gets 28,000 views a month. This is far more than the entry on, say, Franz Boas, which got 14,000 views last month. (Mainly this is because more people live in Melanesia than live in Franz Boas, I reckon). With just a little bit of work, we can alter what thousands of people know about the topics we study.

Amazon reviews have the same features as Wikipedia entries: people pull information from the site, rather than have it pushed to them. It receives massive traffic. Amazon’s data base of reviews will probably live forever, just like Wikipedia’s — except in this case, this is because Amazon is a massive corporate behemoth taking over the world.

Reviewing a good book on a topic is vital because it tells Amazon’s algorithms to lift the book out of the massive sea of self-published noise that is Amazon’s book database. In fact, it is Amazon’s ruthless reusing of your content to infinity and beyond that is part of what is so valuable for writing with them — they will show it and spread it and reuse it for as long as they can. And, of course, it lets people know what you thought about the book.

Of course, when you review a book for Amazon you are making a deal with the devil: you are helping the public learn more about the book, but you are also adding value to a corporation who — let me be polite here — has different interests than scholarly publishers and anthropologists. I personally feel in this instance it’s a deal worth making. And, last time I read Amazon’s license for your review, they didn’t stop you from publishing it on as many book review sites as you like — which is probably another great thing to do.

There are things that writing for Wikipedia and Amazon doesn’t do: It doesn’t make you feel like a hero. It doesn’t make you feel personally responsible for changing the world. It doesn’t make you famous to people. In this sense, it is very much out of the Margaret Mead mold. It may not feel as gratifying as writing a 500 word op-ed in the TLS and having your colleagues fuss over it.

But if the goal is to get the best information in front of the most eyeballs, then we need to realize that in today’s world, the most effective way to make anthropology public may not be what is most emotionally gratifying for those with a need to save the world. In the past I’ve wondered what amount of public anthropology would actually satisfy public anthropology advocates. I know my answer to this question: when we can send our students to Wikipedia and Amazon knowing that they will get high-value information about our discipline from them.

Making anthropology public may involve doing things that most people don’t even recognize as public anthropology. Some may not even be aware that it is happening, even as it grows more and more successful. For as Margaret Mead once said, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Wikipedia edits can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Putting on our public face: How can anthropologists get better at it?

The following is an invited post from Erin Taylor. Erin mostly puts on her public face at PopAnth, where she leads a team of editors to provide what John McCreery calls “mentor review.” A firm believer in the responsibility of academic disciplines to disseminate their knowledge, Erin is fond of irritating anthropologists with ideas from economics, and economists with ideas from anthropology. She is also a Research Fellow at the University of Lisbon in Portugal since June 2011, which she describes as “possibly the best career move ever.”

An increasing number of anthropologists recognize the value of making our writing public. We’re improving at both writing and dissemination, but we still have a long way to go. How can we get better at it?

Our reasons for wanting to go public vary. Some of us believe in open access principles. Others feel that disciplinary conversations should take place in the open. Many people use blogs and other Internet-based media to communicate with other anthropologists, and there are increasingly more of us who are interested in outreach to the general public.

However, a lot of our public writing efforts fall short of the mark. We publish without having a clear idea of what audiences we’re aiming for. We struggle to shake off an academic writing style that alienates all but the initiated. We don’t know how to get published on anything other than our own blog or an anthropology website. We lack contacts with journalists, radio producers, and other gatekeepers who can help us disseminate our ideas.

We can do better than this. Continue reading

Friction and the Newsing of Anthropology

AAA Executive Director, Ed Liebow, recently posted an Anthropology News editorial on the controversy which flaired up after they posted Peter Wood’s Anthropology News piece “Ferguson and the Decline in Anthropology.” In his editorial Liebow asks why the discussion about this piece has occured on Social Media and Blogs, not in the comments on Anthropology News itself:

Alex Golub presented a thoughtful counter-argument to Wood’s post on Savage Minds, pointing out why Wood is fundamentally misguided. I think he appropriately recognized a teachable moment, and effectively countered Wood’s assertion about the absence of evidence concerning structural racism. What I want to know is why Twitter? Why Savage Minds? Why not comment in Anthropology News?

While I can’t speak for Alex, I’d like to try to answer this question. 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”?

Continue reading

Economy Such Complex, Culture Much Simple

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken

In a recent blog post, Paul Krugman argues that economists and policy makers have deliberately mystified the current economic situation for political reasons and that the solution to our current woes is actually very simple: we need more government spending to boost demand. He plays off the above Mencken epigram, saying “For every simple problem there is an answer that is murky, complex, and wrong.”

Continue reading

A good article on ‘uncontacted tribes’

Over at the BBC’s “Future” website, science journalist Rachel Nuwer has a 2,000 word piece up entitled Anthropology: The sad truth about ‘uncontacted tribes’. The piece focuses on Latin America, but is refreshing because it manages to avoid the usual clichés about ‘stone age innocents’. “Today’s so-called uncontacted people all have a history of contact, whether from past exploitation or simply seeing a plane flying overhead,” Nuwer writes. “It is almost always fear that motivates such hostilities and keeps isolated groups from making contact. In past centuries and even decades, isolated tribes were often murdered and enslaved by outsiders.”

Continue reading