Many open access advocates were disappointed (but not surprised) when the American Anthropological Association decided to renew its contract to publish with Wiley, which means that the AAA will continue to keep our publications behind their paywall. But in Trump’s America, anthropologists interested in open access are faced with another, bigger challenge: Just keeping the Internet itself open and free.
This Earth Day, 22 April, People across the world will be celebrating the important role that science plays in supporting human freedom and prosperity. This is an event that anthropologists everywhere should participate in. If you are an anthropologist who likes freedom and prosperity — and I’m guessing you are — then you should get out there this weekend and celebrate that fact.
Some people might say that anthropology is somehow opposed to science, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some anthropologists consider themselves scientists, while other consider themselves humanists, while yet others consider the humanities-science binary problematic. We are also aware that ‘science’ itself is not a simple term. As Steven Shapin has pointed out, scientists themselves don’t have a coherent meta-scientific account of what science is.
But a keen interest in how science works and the interesting epistemological questions raised but science studies are on thing. Actually opposing science is something else. I think if Bruno Latour found out people were becoming anti-vaxxers because they read Aramis he would begin vomiting uncontrollably. No. These very interesting, highly abstract discussions should not distract us from the more fundamental things that we agree on as a discipline: That life is better when we understand the world around us, that this understanding should be available for everyone and not just the powerful, and that we can make better decisions about our lives when we know how the world works.
Of course, if you are an anthropologist who is critical of science, perhaps you should not support the march. If you think that the government should not make policy based on evidence, then you shouldn’t support the march. If you don’t want our children to have cutting-edge science education, then don’t go. If you don’t think that we should include voices and contributions from people of all identities and backgrounds in science, then feel free to stay home — because the march is about supporting all of those things.
But I doubt our discipline is so muddled that there are very many people like that. Anthropology tends to skew left harder than most social sciences, and the left has gotten really good at talking about what it is against. But now we need to start talking about what we are for. We need to be honest about our value commitments, and we need to be clear about the bedrock assumptions of our discipline. I think anthropology is with science and against ignorance. We are with science because we believe in the power of skepticism to improve what we know about the world by asking “but how do we know this?” and “is this the best we can do?” We are with science because we think people have stories that need to be heard because those stories are true, even if they are inconvenient for the powerful. We are with science because we believe our discipline has results that are factual and accurate and important. We are with science because our ethnography tells us what it is like to live in places where free speech is stifled, where communication is controlled by the government, where students are taught lies, and where disconfirming evidence is explained away as the work of provocateurs. And we don’t want to live in that world.
So this Earth Day come out for science and be part of the conversation. Its the best way to show how important anthropology is to science, and how important science is to anthropology.
Even if you are not attending #AAA2017 in Washington, D.C. you have probably already heard about how much it sucked to try to register for it. The stories of frustration and anger on social media were, frankly, pretty epic. Over the past few years, I’ve felt a grudging respect for AAA staff, who have tried to modernize the office and make the AAA into a respectable organization. But it’s hard to find a bright side in the #AAA2017 registration sage. Let’s face it: As the AAA gets more corporate, it begins to suck the way a corporation sucks.
I haven’t investigated any of the complaints about the AAA in detail, so I can’t confirm what precisely went wrong or how fair the criticisms are. But even if only half of them are true, the situation was pretty grim. The interface was, I’m told, impenetrable. One person I know claims the app locked her out of her phone. Several others organizing panels had their participants replaced by other random people, which led to the idea of perhaps doing some sort of LARP at AAAs where you could pretend to be other anthropologists and give papers as if you were them. At one point passwords were changed unexpectedly. It seemed the only way to figure out what went wrong was to call AAA staff and harass them, which of course no one wanted to do. The entire thing was enough of a debacle that the AAA even extended the deadline to register.
I’m sure that these issues were not the AAA’s fault and people report that AAA staff were very helpful. It’s the contractors, I’ve been told — the people who sold the AAA the web portal they use. Given how poor the AAA’s web app was at #AAA2016, I have no doubt that the AAA was able to once again hire the wrong people. But but but… who really believed that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill wasn’t BPs fault, but their contractors? The diffusion of responsibility in this way is a classical technique of corporations, and the AAA should not take this route, no matter how tempting. The buck stops with them.
And since the AAA is acting like a corporation, let’s examine its product. The AAA meetings are a profit center for the AAA. In 2015, the association made over US$460,000 from it. Are we, as consumers, getting value for money out of the association? I’d say no. The registration system has always been a pain. But now it is getting worse. Most of the new additions to the conference are not very valuable (like the app) or turn us into advertisements (the sponsored bags). And the total cost of attending these events is extremely high — particularly for people who are not wealthy tenured professors. This is true despite the discounts the AAA has very thoughtfully made for the underemployed.
I’d urge the AAA to step up and run a great #AAA2017, and it still had plenty of time to make corrections and do that. But it needs to take these meetings seriously, because so far the AAA is giving us less and less for more and more. From my perspective, it makes more sense these days to small, stimulating, cheap meetings closer to home than it does to splash out for big, expensive events which the AAA — to judge from its registration system — doesn’t actually want us to attend anyway.
George Soros is one busy man, particularly for an octogenarian. If the rumors are to be believed, he is single-handedly funding agitators in the United States and Hungary (and likely other Central and Eastern European countries as well). He is funneling money into Black Lives Matter and importing Muslim refugees into Europe in order to destroy Christian white Europe. He is the mastermind behind lobbying groups masquerading as civil sector organizations in Hungary that have the goal of bringing down the Hungarian nation. In short, he is the perfect enemy. Nick Cohen writes in a recent Guardian article, “If he did not exist, they would have to invent him. As the ‘George Soros’ they credit with supernatural power does not exist, you could say that they have invented them.”
Conclusion: It’s all fun and games…
As I mentioned in the first post of my series, anthropologists and ethnobiologists have played an outsized role in studying and popularizing ayahuasca and Amazonian shamanism, and more recently, attending to its internationalization. This history affords anthropologists a stake in discussions of drug policy issues pertaining to the subjects; one might even suggest it requires their participation as a matter of ethical concern. One topic of interest among scholars and activists right now is whether and how to regulate ayahuasca practices within a framework of increasing legalization and legitimation in the global north. Some scientists and activists seem to believe that legality alone will bring increased transparency and safety by eliminating the need for practitioners and participants to navigate in what is effectively a criminal underground. However, the assumption of legality among the practitioners and participants of the new ayahuasca churches, particularly Ayahuasca Healings, sheds light on numerous other problems that legalization alone will not solve—in fact, may exacerbate. These include the misappropriation of indigenous culture, the hyper-commodification of spirituality, and a rapid increase in demand for the vine, which is already being overharvested in some areas. Continue reading
An estimated 70,000 people turned out to rally in support of Central European University in Budapest on Sunday. The amendment to the higher education law, given the moniker LexCEU, which would effectively close the international university was voted on and approved by the Hungarian parliament April 4th. On Sunday April 9th, demonstrators called for President János Áder to veto the bill but their cries fell on deaf ears. On Monday night, as one of my friend’s put it in her facebook post, “President Áder decided not to give a damn about 80.000 people in his country and signed the law.” Continue reading
Oklevueha Native American Church
In addition to the widespread appropriation of Native North American culture that characterizes neo-shamanic discourse, the current spate of ayahuasca churches in the U.S. adds insult to injury by claiming that their practices are legal because they are official branches of the Native American Church, specifically the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC), led by James Mooney. At least four churches and one retreat center have been established under the ONAC aegis focusing specifically on ayahuasca (though they may offer other services and products as well including herbal elixirs, cuddle parties and the ceremonial use of Life Frequencies Essentials and Chakra Tools computer software). These churches falsely claim to be offering legal ayahuasca ceremonies in the United States. Membership in these churches is available to the public for a fee, and in keeping with the common framework of Amazonian shamanic tourism, they charge a second (usually much higher) fee for ceremonial services.
Death in Kentucky
Because I regularly teach the history of anthropology, I have thought a lot about classical texts and the shape of our discipline. I also recently had a chance to sit in on a roundtable on Decolonizing Anthropology at #AES2017. Sitting in that panel reminded me of something that Max Weber said. I first encountered Weber’s thoughts on value ideals and concept formation in the 1990s. That was back in the day when Weber used to come over to my apartment and we would smoke out and watch anime. The time I’m thinking of, he got the munchies really bad and ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — a pint — before we even got to the first commercial break of the Cowboy Bebop episode we were watching. I was all like: “Freckles” — back then everyone called him Freckles — “Freckles, you just ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in, like, two minutes” and Weber just looked at me and said:
“Reality is ordered according to categories that are subjective, in that they are based on the presupposition of the value of the truth that knowledge is able to give to us. We have nothing to offer a person to whom this truth is of no value. We all harbour some belief in the validity of those fundamental and sublime value ideas in which we anchor the meaning of our existence, but the concrete configuration of these values remains subject to change far into the dim future of human culture. Everyone who works in the cultural sciences will regard his work as an end in itself. But, at some point, the colouring changes: the significance of those points of view grows uncertain, the way forward fades away in the twilight. The light shed by the great cultural problems has moved in. Then science, too, prepares to find a new standpoint and a new conceptual apparatus. It follows those stars that alone can give meaning and direction to its work.”
At the time, those words had a profound effect on me, despite the fact that as he spoke them Weber had Cherry Garcia dripping down his beard. They made me realize that anthropology is merely an empty pint carton, and our existential projects — the things we care about — are the ice cream that fills it up. Continue reading
“The New Paradigm”
Yesterday marked exactly a year since Ayahuasca Healings submitted to the DEA their petition for exemption from the Controlled Substances Act. The cover letter, dated April 4, 2016, sets the tone for some of the backpedaling that will follow:
At the outset, petitioners wish to admit that they were previously mistaken about the current state of the law regarding Ayahuasca…This misconception has since been corrected, and Petitioners offer their sincere apologies for any prior conduct which the DEA believes might have run afoul of its regulatory agenda…[AHNAC 2016:1]
The petition process has been developed by the DEA for groups wishing to claim exemption from the Controlled Substances Act in order to practice their religion, under the standards set by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment to the Constitution. Much of AH’s petition seeks to describe Ayahuasca Healings as a religion, and to their credit, the group’s creativity shines through. However, there are some inconsistencies, or to be more generous, selective eclecticisms, that an anthropologist might pick up on, even if the DEA doesn’t.
As the buds start popping out on the northern hemisphere, I emerge with your readings for the week.
As contemporary travel writing continues to perpetuate colonialist ideas and ignore the impact of military occupation in Hawaii; I ask all readers to never call poke, “sashimi salad”.
As violence in Chicago increases due to rising socioeconomic disparity and racial segregation, friendship among children are clouded with apprehension, fear, and strategic choices.
The current political climate will undoubtedly provide artists with new material for years to come, but fifty artists reflect on the power of art as a form of protest and their duty to speak truth to power.
Speaking of climate change, Medical Anthropology Quarterly posted a series of essays on “Sensorial Engagements with a Toxic World”.
If you need a quick introduction of Edward Said and Orientalism to Facebook friends that continue to post xenophobic garbage, Al Jazeera posted an easy to digest short video that complicates the binary thinking of the West.
Just when you think that The Bell Curve has been thoroughly debunked, it rears its ugly head…again. It’s like a weed that just won’t go away–and that should give us something to think about. Charles Murray, one of the authors of that book, is apparently on a US tour promoting his ideas about intelligence and race to a new generation. Oh great. But, all things considered, we shouldn’t be surprised that these ideas have once again resurfaced in the public sphere (they never really went anywhere, after all). Now is probably a good time to ask why these ideas persist, and why they get so much applause and support from certain segments of American society. Hmmm.
I’ve been hoping for an anthropological response to Murray’s latest quest to share his “knowledge” with the world, and this week there were two. First we had Agustin Fuentes share his response to Murray’s talk at Notre Dame. Fuentes comes in at about 53:00 (see YouTube video below), but it might be a good idea to watch the whole thing if you haven’t encountered the work of Mr. Murray. Just in case you don’t know the lay of the psuedoscientific landscape. I also suggest reading the late Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” if you haven’t already. That will definitely get you up to speed. Here’s the short version of what Fuentes had to say:
“your assertions are unsupported, unscientific, simplistic, myopic, agenda driven propaganda” Me to Charles Murray today
— Agustin Fuentes (@Anthrofuentes) March 28, 2017
And then Jon Marks wrote this great response on his blog. In it he covers a bit of the history behind Murray and his ideas, and examines the question of whether or not he should be invited to college campuses. Here’s part of Marks’ answer:
We should not be debating the innate intelligence of black people, or of the poor, on college campuses or anywhere. It is a morally corrupt pseudoscientific proposition.
It’s like inviting a creationist or an inventor of a perpetual motion machine. The university should not be a censor, but it sure as hell is a gatekeeper. At this point, sometimes they go all radical epistemological relativist and and say that all ideas deserve a hearing. But all ideas don’t deserve a hearing. The universe of things that do get discussed and debated on college campuses is rather small in proportion to the ideas that people have debated over the years. Should we stone witches? No. Might the speed of light be 140,000 miles per second, rather than 186,000? No. Might the universe just be made up of earth, air, water, and fire? No. Might Africans just be genetically stupid? Might people who want to debate this point have their fundamental civic morality called into question instead?
Well said, Mr. Marks. There you have it. Check out both, then post your comments below or on twitter: @anthropologia and/or @savageminds.
As guest blogger for the month, I’m going to be talking about Hungary, where I’ve been doing field research in since 2004. In doing so, I also have to talk about Trump. I don’t want to, but I have to, since Hungary has had a far right populist leader for a lot longer than the U.S. Viktor Orbán is the head of the right-wing party, Fidesz, and has been the prime minister of Hungary since 2010. Pretty much everything Trump has threatened to do, Orbán has already done louder and more effectively. Demonize the press as purveyors of “fake news”? Check. One of Orbán’s first acts in office was to change the constitution to limit the power of the free press. Now the vast majority of the media outlets are controlled by the government, private entities closely tied to the ruling party, or fear for their closure. Build a wall to keep out immigrants? Check. A razor-wire border fence stands at the southern border of Hungary to keep out asylum-seekers, most of whom international agencies claim meet the definition of a refugee. Attack institutes of higher education as breeding grounds for liberalism? Check. Last Tuesday, March 28th, legislative amendments were introduced that could effectively close Central European University (CEU), an institution that has stood as a proponent of internationalism and democracy since 1991. Continue reading
Savage Minds is pleased to announce our first workshop in artisanal anthropology. As we imagine a future for our discipline that is both sustainable and ethical, it is necessary that we look to the traditions established by our founding mothers and fathers. Theirs was an honest scholarship that was based on a healthy respect for the process of crafting research by hand.
While this blog has previously rushed to embrace new technology, we are now advocating adopting a “slow” or “craft” approach to anthropological research. An artisanal anthropology means valuing the hand-crafted labor that went into scholarship before social media turned everything into a meme. Workshop participants will learn how to record interviews on acetate disc and taking down observations in handmade notebooks using antique fountain pens. And what better way to slow down your research than to write it up on a Victorian era typewriter? (Please note all paper is direct sourced and patiently cut by hand.) Copying and pasting with scissors and glue ensures that proper care is given to each edit. Once your draft is prepared, it will be lovingly wrapped in kraft paper and twine, and sent to a leading scholar who will provide feedback to you by snail mail. The published collection will be carefully hand-stitched into a folio made from wagyu leather and will be delicately etched to commemorate your participation in the workshop.
As spring begins to rear its head, I come bearing the fruits of internet.
Buenos Aires, anarchism, and pastries. If a similar movement in bakeries happened in the U.S., I would like to propose the “cake pop(ulism)s” and immediately apologize for that joke I spent 20 minutes thinking about.
NPR illustrates the lives and history of a forgotten immigrant community in the Southern U.S., the Chinese of the Mississippi Delta.
For anthropologists looking to work with indigenous communities in the U.S., a helpful list was compiled on Native Anthro filled with tips to avoid awkward neocolonial moments.
Even after years of work to prove race as a social reality, not a biological one; Governments and public policy continues to be driven by the ideology of racial panic.
See you all next week.
This was meant to be a book review. Instead, it’s an essay about the power—and importance—of complaining.
The book under consideration here is Sarah Kendzior’s The View from Flyover Country, which was published in 2015. In case you don’t know, Kendzior is an anthropologist-turned-journalist whose academic work on authoritarianism turned out to be just slightly relevant to the recent turn of events here in the US (and elsewhere).
People ask me all the time what you can do with a degree in anthropology. Now, thanks to Kendzior, I can suggest that students study the intricacies of autocracies and use their analytical skills to warn fellow citizens of the impending erosion of constitutional democracies. Just for starters.
If you follow Kendzior’s work, you know she is willing to speak out. She is not shy. She doesn’t waver. She was willing to talk about issues that many academics—including myself—are hesitant to address. Ever since I first heard of her work, I respected her willingness to take on the kinds of issues that many academics often save for our closed conferences and pay-walled journals (or, perhaps, our Twitter accounts). I’m not sure if she identifies primarily as an anthropologist these days, but in my view she’s one of the few who is doing the kind of “public anthropology” that many of us talk so much about. This is what happens when the analytical perspective of anthropology is unleashed.
The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays Kendzior wrote for Al Jazeera English between 2012 and 2014. I read most of these essays when they first came out. But readings through them again was a powerful reminder of issues, and voice, that Kendzior brings to the table. The book is arranged in 5 parts: 1) Flyover Country; 2) The Post-Employment Economy; 3) Race and Religion; 4) Higher Ed; and 5) Beyond Flyover Country. There’s also a Coda titled “In Defense of Complaining” that is so poignant to the present moment I’m going to start—and end—there. Continue reading