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
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
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.
*North American Dialogue; with apologies in advance for acronym abundance
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Lindsay A. Bell
I recently became the Associate Editor of North American Dialogue (NAD). Part of the AAA Wiley-Blackwell basket of goodies, NAD is the peer reviewed journal of the Society for the Anthropology of North America (SANA). I was brought on to help with the journal’s “brand issues”; namely its recent conversion to a peer reviewed publication and its history as being, um, well CUNY-centric. I am pretty excited about working with SANA on NAD. As a relatively recent section of the AAA, SANA has done much in the way of establishing anthropologies of North America as politically and theoretically important. As the incoming Associate Editor, I am hoping to pick your savage minds about publishing, social media and related issues. In particular, for those of you whose work is North American (and we mean that as broadly as possible), what would you like to see from this publication? From the digital gurus in the crowd, I want to hear about how or if social media should be used to draw a broader public to scholarly work?
[This is an invited post by Lavanya Murali Proctor. Lavanya is a linguistic and cultural anthropologist who believes that the academic class system is incompatible with the principles and ethics of anthropology, and therefore we can—and should—be at the frontlines of this battle. She lives online at @anthrocharya].
Many contingent faculty have noted that the AAAs are very expensive, and therefore exclude those who cannot afford to go—a fairly large number of anthropologists. At the Chicago meetings, I spoke to a few members of the AAA governance on this issue. They said that the AAA aims to increase accessibility broadly defined. This is no bad thing considering the meetings are inaccessible in a variety of ways to a variety of people, which problems anthropologists rehash every year (for example, unaffordable to adjuncts or hard to navigate for anthropologists with disabilities). The focus, in increasing accessibility, is on media and technology.
The question I’d like to throw open to the readership of this blog is this: do you have any suggestions for participatory media technologies that can be used at the meetings that would allow those currently excluded to be included as presenters and collaborators and not just audiences (within the parameters of limited bandwidth)?
“The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”
—Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism
Sarah Kendzior’s interview from the summer over at PolicyMic started making rounds again on my facebook feed recently. If anything, it seems to resonate more now.
I spent this past Thanksgiving with a bunch of orphaned activists and grad students. At some point, I foolishly started asking people for advice on grad school, assuming I’d find similar sympathies with more perspective. But I was shocked: several people told me it wasn’t that bad, that they enjoyed it, that it was better than anything else they could be doing—and even that finding jobs wouldn’t be that much of a problem.
Erin Taylor recently posted this thread over at the Open Anthropology Cooperative:
It’s long been my belief that anthropologists can increase their public visibility and engagement by working together, especially cross-promoting each other’s work. The PopAnth website has been using social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn) to bring attention to articles written by anthropologists in newspapers, on blogs, in books, and so on.
Recently, I’ve had conversations with Tricia Wang (Ethnography Matters), Matt Thompson (Savage Minds / DANG) and Ryan Anderson (Anthropologies Project / DANG) about furthering collaboration. We agreed that it would be a great idea!
DANG are already bringing together all kinds of people who are interested in open access, digital anthropology, blogging, and so on. For this reason, I suggested that the DANG website might be a good place to put information that can help anthropologists in their public engagement: stuff on open access, guides to writing for the public, ideas on how to get published in newspapers, and so on.
But that’s just one idea. My question is: how do we best coordinate?
There are indeed a lot of us out there who are thinking along similar lines, and we’re often off on our own doing our own things. This is good, on many levels. But I also think we could use a bit of collaboration, working together, and finding ways to move the idea of a more public anthropology toward a reality. Continue reading
It’s been a week now since US representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith published an article on USA Today about “rethinking science funding.” Their main point is supposedly that we need to take a closer, critical look at how we fund science through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). On the surface their argument seems reasonable, even “common sense.” Below the surface, it’s little more than a disingenuous, ideologically-based attack on the social sciences. And it’s nothing new from Cantor, Smith, and their cronies. As a graduate student in anthropology–and a recipient of a dissertation grant from the NSF–it’s pretty infuriating to see these two politicians trying to intervene so recklessly into the funding process.*
I understand the need for both accountability and clarity in the whole grant process. Are there things that need to be changed? Problems that need to be addressed? Absolutely. There are always ways to improve how things work. Definitely. But what Cantor and Smith are proposing, despite some of their benign-sounding rhetoric, is not just some altruistic attempt to “help” make things better. In fact, what they are doing is more like a witch hunt than the “we’re doing this for the people” line they’re trying to sell to the US public. Continue reading
Hardly a day goes buy that I don’t see an email, Facebook post, or Tweet asking for access to some academic PDF or another. I’m all for anything that erodes the awful paywall system that academic publishers have erected in order to preserve a broken model, but it bothers me that the reality of the current system is that a small coterie of academics have the equivalent of open access, while the rest of the world is blocked out. If I really need access to an article right now, I’m pretty sure someone at a major research library would email me a copy, but if someone who isn’t an academic wants that same article they are unlikely to be able to call upon their social network in the same way. What is really absurd about this system is that it is the people least able to pay for access who are the most likely to have to pay.
“Anthropology,” James Peacock said in a 1995 address at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, “boasts brilliant observers, cultural critics, writers, and creators, yet few if any of us have produced books that we (not to mention others) crave to read, films that we crave to see, or music that we crave to hear.” Eighteen years have passed since Peacock spoke these words. So, have anthropologists today heeded his call? Are the crucial issues of our time receiving public reflection from anthropologists, if not in books, then in popular media? What are some of the obstacles that prevent us from doing so more often?
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?”
AAA President, Leith Mullings, has a must-read post on Anthropology News: Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology.
Anthropology is the discipline that fostered and nurtured “scientific racism,” a world view that transforms certain perceived differences into genetically determined inequality and provides a rationale for slavery, colonialism, segregation, eugenics, and terror. Our discipline also has a significant tradition of anti-racism that emerged from the tumult leading to World War II.
What I like about it is it’s self-critical stance, something I felt was missing from all the gushing over Obama’s comments on race. (Maybe he could do something about the “war on drugs“?) Namely, it criticized the AAA’s Race exhibit and racial disparities within the discipline. About the Race exhibit she writes:
Kristina Killgrove is a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida. Her research focuses on theorizing migration in antiquity and on understanding urban development and collapse through the analysis of human skeletal remains. She works primarily in the classical world, attempting to learn about the daily lives of the lower classes in Imperial Rome through osteological and biochemical analyses, but she has also worked on questions of population interaction in the contact-period southeastern U.S. and in Medieval Germany. A strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching help her bridge the sometimes large divide between classics and anthropology. For more about Killgrove’s work, check out her website or blog, email her (email@example.com), or follow her on twitter (@DrKillgrove).
Ryan Anderson: What brought you to anthropology? What made you choose this as your career?
Kristina Killgrove: I’ve written a bit in the past (originally as a response to a Savage Minds post on love letters for anthropology) about how I’m an “accidental anthropologist.” I never really set out to have a career in anthropology, as I honestly wasn’t entirely sure what anthropology was until maybe my third or fourth year in college. What eventually brought me to anthropology, though, was a dissatisfaction with the field I’d chosen to major in: classics.
The comments section from my last post about the Napoleon Chagnon controversy eventually led into a discussion about race, racism, and anthropology. If you read more about the debates surrounding Chagnon, it’s pretty clear that they bring up some important (and complex) issues about race, power, the academy–and anthropology’s place within all of this. Near the end of the comment thread, one of our readers mentioned an article that’s well worth reading (thanks, Kat): Interrogating Racism: Toward an Antiracist Anthropology, by Leith Mullings (Annual Review of Anthropology, 2005).
I thought that would be a good place to start for a discussion about some of these issues. So I read the article and jotted down some notes. I am just going to go through some of my own questions and responses to the piece by Mullings, and then I’ll open things up for discussion. Please feel free to jump in whenever you want. Continue reading
[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.