Tag Archives: University of Chicago

“An anti-nominalist book”: Eduardo Kohn on How Forests Think

Earlier this month I sat down with Eduardo Kohn to talk about his amazing book How Forests Think. We started out discussing his intellectual influences and ended up ranging widely over his book, the status of Peirce as a thinker, what ‘politics’ means, and a variety of other topics. Thanks to the hard work of our intern Angela, I’m proud to post a copy of our interview here. I really enjoyed talking to Eduardo, so I hope you enjoy reading it!

Wisconsin and the Amazon

RG: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk. I really enjoyed How Forests Think. When I started it I was a little on the skeptical side, but I ended up thinking it was a mind-blowing book. I thought we could begin by discussing the background for the book and your training. I see the book as mixing biology, science studies (especially Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour), and then some sort of semiotics. It seems like there are a lot of influences there. You got your PhD at Wisconsin, so how did that work out? Can you tell me a little about your background?

EK: The way I got into anthropology was through research, by which I mean fieldwork.  And I was always trying to find ways to do more fieldwork. I saw Wisconsin as an extension of this. When I was in college I did some field research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I had a Fulbright to go back and do research after college, and only then did I go to grad school.   Although How Forests Think aims to make a conceptual intervention in anthropology, I think of our field as a special vehicle for engaging intensely with a place in ways that make us over and help us think differently. Continue reading

No April fools: read Valeri’s “Rites and Annals”

A doomed genius taken before his time. One of the last line of ancient Roman noblemen revealing his secrets. Hidden writings once known only to an elite few, now revealed for all to see. It sounds so much like a Dan Brown novel that you mistake it for an April fools joke, but it’s  not. There were so many fake announcements and releases on April first this year that one thing got lost in the shuffle: the actually really real release of the second monograph in HAU’s “Classics of Ethnographic Theory”, Rites and Annals: Between History and Anthropology by Valerio Valeri. Valeri’s work deserves to be widely read today because of its own intrinsic quality, as well as for the kind of rigorous, sophisticated, and humanistic approach to anthropology it exemplifies. Valeri’s work combined ethnographic erudition with high-level theorizing, wrapped up with a sophisticated prose style and a commitment to scholarship that exploded American binaries of science versus the humanities, objectivity versus subjective expression. For that reason, the release of Rites and Annals gives us a chance not only to read Valeri’s work, but to think about how it fits into the current approaches our discipline is taking.

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On the Defense of Confucius Institutes: At the University of Chicago, For Example

(This piece is a long guest blog by Marshall Sahlins. In an article titled “China U” published late last year in The Nation, Sahlins took issue with Chinese government’s global educational/political enterprise called “Confucius Institutes” (CI). These institutes teach Chinese language and culture which, together with cultural performances, films, celebrations of Chinese festivals, and the like, portrays China as generous, beautiful, and harmonious. Since the CI program was launched in 2004, some 400 such institutes have been founded in colleges and universities world wide—the US presently has 97—and nearly 600 “Confucius Classrooms” in secondary and primary schools. Sahlins argued that CIs exist “as a virtually autonomous unit within the regular curriculum of the host school”. Indeed, according to the standard agreement signed with host schools, the Confucius Institute Head Office (commonly known as “Hanban”) provides the teachers and textbooks for these courses.

In his article, Sahlins argued that CIs function in a way that is antithetical to academic values because they are intended to spread the political influence of the PRC. CIs, he argued, differ from other cultural institutes — such as the Goethe-Institut and Alliance Française — because they are located on university premises and are completely governed by state officials. By giving a foreign government charge of instruction, he claimed, universities promote censorship and self-censorship that are too much like the government prohibitions on discussion of politically-charged topics in Chinese universities.

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Ontology and wonder: an interview with Michael W. Scott

Thanks to the incredible incredibilicity of our intern Angela, I’m happy to present an interview I recently did with Michael W. Scott. Michael is currently an associate professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and his book, The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands, appeared in 2007. Michael frequently uses the concept of ‘ontology’ in his work, so I sat down to talk with him today about this and other aspects of his intellectual project. I’ve broken the interview down into sections, so scroll down to read Michael’s thoughts on Marilyn Strathern and Roy Wagner, wonder, whether reality exists, politics, and how to do fieldwork.

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Obama was an adjunct

The press repeatedly refers to Obama as a ‘law professor’. I can see why: it plays into the public image of him as an educated (or over-educated, depending on your politics) and articulate (or inarticulate) thinker. But for those of us savvy to the world of academic hierarchy, this doesn’t quite ring true. Let’s face it: Obama was an adjunct.

According to the University of Chicago Law School Obama spent four years as a lecturer — “which signals adjunct status” according to the website — at the Law School. For eight years after that he was a ‘senior lecturer’. Chicago says that “senior lecturers…. are regarded as professors” but are “not full-time or tenure track”. If the university says he was considered a professor, then I suppose that journalists may technically be correct when they describe him that way. But I think if you ask the average academic what call someone who teaches part time and is not on the tenure track, their answer would not be “professor”.

Obama gets more cred then most adjuncts because professional schools have a different kind of faculty than academic schools, and because Chicago’s Senior Lecturers are all wealthy and powerful enough to not need the money that comes from teaching — indeed, the criteria that Chicago uses to award senior lectureships is that the recipients are eminent.

The tragedy of calling Obama a ‘professor’ while others are ‘adjuncts’ is that it is often the ‘adjuncts’ who are the heart and soul of academic departments — teaching the bread and butter courses that form the bedrock of a discipline’s curriculum. Obama, on the other hand, had the luxury of splitting his time between a political career, a private law practice, and a life as a published author. The people with the low-prestige titles are actually the ones with a deeper involvement with the day to day running of the institution. This is particularly the case at places which, unlike the University of Chicago, have larger undergraduate programs than they do graduate schools.

In calling Obama an adjunct, I’m not trying to insult him (that would just be a roundabout way of saying adjuncts status is shameful, which it is not) or suggest that he is duplicitous (since the law school itself has a press release on this topic). What I am saying is that in an era of casualization of the academic workforce, we need to make the public aware of the details of academic hierarchy, and the political economy that accompanies it. So the next time someone dismissively calls Obama an uptight ‘law professor’ let them know that he, like so many others, was off the tenure track and teaching part time. And remind them that for most people in that position, it is not an easy one to be in.

The books about how to write for anthropologists (or anyone else)

I’ve received a lot of criticism in my life, but no one has ever accused me of having writer’s block. I do it all the time. On this blog, in my academic writing, in Amazon book reviews… I write write write. I wasn’t always a good writer or a fluent writer, and it took me years to get to the point where I could wake up every morning and feel that I could write five thousand words a day if I had to, and couldn’t sleep at night if I’d written less than a thousand. Many of my greatest teachers were role models, people who wrote comfortably and fluently and loved to do it. But I’ve also benefitted tremendously from good books on writing. Since we are doing the Savage Minds writing group this year, I thought I would share my favorite tips for books on writing. As an anthropologist, actually, when I say ‘books’ I really mean the conversations behind (and within) the books. And behind the the conversations I see the concrete networks of scholars. When it comes to books about how to write, there are two key figures who anchor two different (but related) literatures: Robert Boice and Joseph Williams.

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Vale Stanley Tambiah

It was with a genuine sense of loss that I read over the weekend that Stanley Tambiah had passed away. Tambiah was a model anthropologist, a person whose personal life and work exemplified everything that our discipline can and should be. He was an area studies specialist whose monographs on life in rural Thailand expanded our ethnography of this area. He was a theorist who knit together British and American theories of symbolism and ritual at a key point in anthropological theory. And he also became a public intellectual who published substantive work on pressing issues of the day in books and articles about ethnic violence in India and Sri Lanka. Above all, he will be remembered by his colleagues as role model of the generous scholar and human being. His generosity, kindness, and humility seemed to combine the best of all the different cultures he lived in, from English gentleman to humble Buddhist to Sri Lankan Christian. His loss gives us a chance to reflect on the values he lived and that we, in turn, ought to continue to follow. Continue reading