Tag Archives: Public Anthropology

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”?

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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.”

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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.”

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Anthropology and Enlightenment: Reflections on the ASA Conference in Edinburgh

I have just got back from the Association of Social Anthropologists Decennial conference. The ASA formally represents anthropologists from the former Commonwealth countries, including the UK. Like the AAA for those such as myself,  who are neither resident in nor citizens of the United States,  it’s now more than this- a forum for anthropologists to get together to discuss practice, organize conferences and share ideas.

The ASA holds annual conferences, some of which are in commonwealth countries.   This year’s conference was Edinburgh, a fabulous city as well as a pertinent choice given the forthcoming referendum which will determine whether or not Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.  This nationalist moment informed the theme of the conference which was structured around the intellectual contributions of the Scottish enlightenment- to modern thought in general and to contemporary concerns in anthropology.

These big ideas were intended to be explored in some of the plenaries, depending on the contributors, many of whom did as academics will and explored their own big ideas. This wasn’t   a particular problem. As in any conference of this sort, themes are primarily ways of organising the order of events and putting people together.   And, this being anthropology, there was less orientation to coherence than to the presentation of highly individual points of view which we were presented with in abundance.

If anything, there was slightly too much on offer. I am not sure exactly how many delegates attended, maybe somewhere between five hundred and one thousand, but there were so many panels, almost eighty, over three full days that the audiences were often very small. On the plus side, this gave the event an intimate feeling, which was reinforced by the social buzz of the coffee breaks. In contrast to the social awkwardness induced by the overwhelming scale of the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings where delegates huddle over flat screens as they try to work out with whom to seek a connection this was a meeting which encouraged face to face interaction.   The setting, a University campus in a part of the city near to downtown, was suitably informal.

The content on offer was not very different from that presented at other social or cultural anthropology meetings elsewhere. There were, for example, panels on animal human relations, on issues of care and gender , on forms of modern knowledge, on utopias and on waiting. Ontology and neoliberalism as terms were invoked with an unsurprising regularity (I even managed to invoke them in my own presentation on religion and David Hume!) , as were emergent keywords struggling to become dominant as the next wave of fashionable theory.

A number of  strong papers foregrounded field findings presenting insights on observed social practice as it is being reconfigured in the face of rapid change.   Others foregrounded an analysis which preconfigured the interpretative framing of a story, generally including the anthropologist, as ethnographic insight. I left the conference having learned far more about my fellow anthropologists than I learned about the worlds which they had experienced first hand.

This isn’t a comment on this specific conference. Far from it. It’s a reflection on the current preoccupations of anthropology. Good anthropology should both reflect on itself and our own theory and on real social practice in the world. The whole point of ethnography and of spending an extended time in the field was to use observation of how people lived in the worlds they made as the building blocks of the theories which could to describe and explain them in different settings.

As a professional showcase of what social anthropology currently is and what social anthropologists think its important to talk about I enjoyed the conference enormously. Its appeal to those outside the discipline is less certain. As long as our concerns are driven fundamentally by the models and imaginaries of social theory   we will continue to have the kinds of conversations which characterise our conferences. These are fascinating and erudite for sure, but if we are really concerned with wider society should we be having them only with ourselves?

Mana: How an Austronesian concept became a video game mechanic

Today The Appendix (“a quarterly journal of experimental and narrative history”) published my piece “The History of Mana: How an Austronesian Concept Became a Video Game Mechanic“. I’m very happy with the piece (tho there are a few typos I want to fix), which is meant to be accessible to a broader audience — i.e. ‘public anthropology’. I wanted to blog about it here in order to get people to read it and to draw attention to a great young journal with a lot of energy behind it. But more importantly, I wanted to talk about how this article happened, and what the production process says about public anthropology and scholarly workflow. Continue reading

Who Majors in Anthropology? An Infographic and a Request

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A little irked by the tone and skepticism with which some ask the question, “What can you do with a degree in anthropology,” I’ve decided to address the quandary with an infographic. Often, I’m confronted with the assumption that after finishing my Bachelor’s in Anthropology, I would find myself behind a bar or waiting tables. From my perspective, my question is “What can’t you do with a degree in anthropology?” I’ve taken at stab at answering this question here (after the jump), but I want help from Savage Minds’ readers to find lesser-known examples of influential former-anthropology students. Continue reading

Anthropologists as Scholarly Hipsters, Part II: Critiques from the Margins

In this guest blog series, the Savage Minds folks have been kind enough to provide a space for me to untangle and unpack some of my recent thoughts on anthropologists, hipsters and such. In my first post, I took the conventional path of defining my terms. In this second post, I focus on a common characteristic that is both productive and frustrating for anthropologists and hipsters alike: their position at the margins.

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Unconventional Anthropology: Re-Reading Gerald Berreman

Is anthropology alive? Gerald Berreman asked this question in 1968. The Vietnam war was raging. Some anthropologists were collaborating with the U.S. government and military. Others were advocating for a value-free, politically-neutral social science. Berreman was not among either of these groups. Instead, he was participating in the UC-Berkeley Vietnam teach-in in 1965, was exposing CIA-academic schemes in the Himalayas, and was asking hard questions about social responsibility for anthropologists all the while conducting important research in India on caste, polyandry, race, religion, environment, and more. Long interested in experiences as well as structures of social inequality, he called social inequality “the most dangerous feature of contemporary society.” Anthropology, he believed, must speak to this danger and thus should not only announce its knowledge, but also act on its “implications and consequences.” We must see that “our knowledge is used for humane changes.” Anthropology must engage the world.

Reason, passion, and courage: these are the traits Gerry Berreman argued an anthropologist needed to address the problems of our times. These traits are as important now as they were when he wrote this forty-five years ago in Current Anthropology. He advised that anthropologists needed moral sensibilities and not just technical proficiencies to recognize the implications of our research. We needed to be involved with public policy. We needed to be responsible. We still need to be all of these things. Continue reading

From slinging food to anthropology

Sometimes I wonder how I ended up where I am–a graduate student nearing the end of my formal education in anthropology–and where I am going next.  In my other life, I was a photographer (I spent most of my 20s walking around with Leicas and view cameras, taking pictures of all sorts of random things).  But my occupation–how I made money–was undeniably in the restaurant industry.  I started working in restaurants when I was 15.  I got a job in a pizza place answering phones.  I made about 15 bucks every two weeks and thought it was amazing to have that amount of cash.  I worked with a bunch of older surfers who were my heroes.  What a life.

Later I worked for a chain of restaurants that sold pies and “home-cooked” American food.  Let’s call it “The Olde Pie Shoppe” to keep things nice and anonymous and avoid any lawsuits.  That was a four-year experience in the wonderful world of corporate food production.  I will never forget the weekly pre-work meetings where the managers tried to encourage us all to think of creative, interesting ways to make our straight-from-the-freezer foods sound appealing and desirable (like chicken fried steaks).  After that, I started working as a bartender.  It was a good move for two reasons: 1) I never really liked the whole singing-birthday-songs-at-tables thing, and 2) bartending meant a lot more money.

I’m pretty sure my interest in anthropology began when I was working in food service.  Continue reading

Anthropology, Empathy and the Other Regarding Emotions

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger LINDSAY A BELL

In the last few weeks, social work scholar turned pop-psychology web superstar Brené Brown came out with a short animated video summarizing much of her writing on empathy. It opens by drawing a distinction between empathy and sympathy.  According to Brown, empathy fuels connection while sympathy drives disconnection. For those of you who are expert in the area of the anthropology of emotions, I am guessing it would be fairly easy to come up with cross-cultural scenarios that put this pop-psych in its place (and please do!). That sympathy has become the bad guy in US self-help genres isn’t all that surprising.  In psychology and analytic philosophy, empathy and sympathy are part of a larger cohort referred to as “other regarding emotions”. Debating the appropriateness of the other regarding emotions—from pity to compassion to sympathy to empathy—lends itself to prescriptive ways of being the world.  This short video presumes that we can know what will feel good to others. In this case empathy feels good, and sympathy feels bad.

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