Savage Minds Around the Web

Marcus: “Who Cares?”: Lorenz from recently asked George Marcus about his views on AAA Open Access. Marcus’s response?

[Marcus] said: “Journals? Who cares?” There is little original thinking in journals, no longer exciting debates, he told me. “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I don’t care.” He explained that “journals are meant to establish people”. They are more important for one’s career.

Lorenz cites another interview in which Marcus expressed disinterest in current anthropology, saying that there were no new ideas in the discipline. What a buzzkill.

War of the Media: Communications scholar Michael J. Socolow wrote a great interpretation of the legend of suicidal responses to Orson Wells’s War of the Worlds. His neat summary puts a polemical twist on some commonly-held assumptions of media influence on individuals.

More on Cellphones…This just in. Cell phones are once again saving the third world. Long live technology! National Geographic reports that public health workers are now using text messages in the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

The New York Times reported on the recent unearthing in Baltimore, MD by historical archaeologists of an African religious artifact dating to the 18th century. The object is currently on display at the African American Museum in Annapolis.

Tribute Film: According to, two undergraduates from University of Kansas produced a film celebrating the life and work of late Amazonianist anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis. According to the short announcement, the film is up on the website of Cultural Survival, the NGO founded by Maybury-Lewis (although I can’t find it). It sounds as if the film might also have a small commercial distribution.

Uncool Beans: As folk economic theories go, this one is pretty funny, and it’s logic might not be that far off. Riffing off of Thomas Friedman’s McDonald’s theory (that one country with a McDonald’s will not invade another country with a McDonald’s), Daniel Gross at Slate has come up with the Starbucks Theory. Basically, the more Starbucks you’re country has, the more it is tied to the international market and will suffer economic repercussions of the U.S. fiscal crisis. How safe is your latte?

16 thoughts on “Savage Minds Around the Web

  1. Random convergence: David Mayberry-Lewis was George Marcus’s Advisor, Marcus is one of my mentors, and I CANT GET ANYONE TO NOMINATE A FUCKING JOURNAL ARTICLE for our little contest. Is there a connection here?

  2. Excellent question, Chris. Caused me to start rummaging through some of the unread journals I’ve accumulated in the last several months.

  3. If Marcus thinks there are no more exciting debates in journals, are we to assume he bored himself to death with his own contributions to a debate with Judith Okely in a recent issue of Social Anthropology on “How short can fieldwork be?”

  4. Tried to insert a link there, but it didn’t work. Here’s the reference — Volume 15 Issue 3 , Pages 271 – 411 (October 2007)

  5. I hereby appoint myself the task of, every time a poster makes note of the fact that their tags were stripped in the previous post, pointing out that markup has never ever worked on this blog for non-maintainers. I know they have real lives that take precedence but it has been about a year since I first pointed out this problem.

  6. About G. Marcus…

    A lot of what he is saying is interesting. Not everything though. At least he gets people thinking. At the same time, nobody is going to agree with or like everything that anyone says. So when Marcus says something to the effect that there is nothing interesting going on today in anthropology, well, that’s his opinion. No need for anyone in the anthropological community to get upset because of his statement. It’s all opinion anyway.

  7. wait… it’s not exactly “all opinion”. I’ll defend it. I think George is right that journals are not where the action is— and this is related to why I and others are so passionate about open access. Journals are increasingly getting slower, more clogged with submissions, finding it difficult to get reviewers, cash strapped and so on. And at the same time, getting published in a “good” journal (i.e. one with “prestige”) is getting more and more important for people who want permanent jobs in the academy. the result is that the interesting debates and discussions have moved elsewhere… in some fields (though not anthropology, I fear) they have moved online and into the blogosphere. In others (anthropology I fear) they have retreated into departments and enclaves of other sorts, or have produced and increased sense of alienation from things. George is a really good person to listen to on this (to an extent) because he travels so much and listens to anthropologists from all over the world talk about what they find exciting and fascinating, and ask him questions (like lorentz) even if they get curmudgeonly (or bewildering) answers in response. I’d have to agree that I don’t go to journals for new work very often (and if I do, it’s usually for issues far outside my own expertise or social world).

  8. ckelty,

    Look, I think you make some good points. But when it gets to defining what is and what is not “interesting” to the anthropological community (or any other community for that matter) it’s pretty hard to differentiate between individual opinions and some kind of accurate assessment of reality. Who knows? There are millions of opinions on the subject…why pretend that there is some kind of consensus?

    I agree with you that open access has some pretty exciting possibilities. So does the internet/blogosphere. And I do think that Marcus is certainly an interesting person to listen to when it comes to the direction of anthropology. Hell, academic anthropology definitely does get bogged down in stuffy journals and other fairly static forms of media.

    But when Marcus starts saying that “there are no new ideas in the discipline” and all that, well, that’s when it starts getting into an opinion-fest. I have no problem with his opinion, but also think it’s important to take it for what it is. One very well known anthropologist’s opinion. And that’s great, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the end all word on the matter.

  9. I just wanted to mention that this approach [trying to insist that a dissertation focus on an ‘anthropological’ topic] in stark contrast to the one taken by the professor of my PhD seminar at Université de Montréal. He is having us read all kinds of things from various disciplines and we are to hand in a weekly response showing how that work ties in to anthropology. For instance, this week the topic is intersections between anthro and economics and we are reading J.K. Galbraith and Amartya Sen, both economists. We’ve also read stuff in the sociology of science (Latour and Hacking). And of course, there is Foucault.”

    To which I was moved to reply,

    “One thing I noticed when I started reading anthropology is how much the authors of the classics–Malinowski sticks out in my mind–were constantly using ethnography to address issues raised by the assumptions of other disciplines. The Kula ring and garden magic were counterpoints to contemporary ideas in economics; The Sexual Life of Savages addressed the assumptions of Freud. Makes me wonder how people who do nothing but anthropology could pull off similar feats, not knowing what is going on in neighboring fields.”

    I offer this exchange here to ask what people mean when they say “interesting.” There is, of course, a trivial sense in which every topic addressed in every journal article must be of interest to someone, the author, and at least a few other people, the reviewers who supported its publication. But what I took George Marcus to be saying is that debates in anthropological journals are no longer interesting in the broader sense of interesting to anyone but a handful of academics who share an interest in their own particular academic hobbyhorse.

    This, too, is not true in every case. The debate over “How short fieldwork can be” is of interest not only to anthropologists but to people doing ethnography in market research. Since clients with pressing decisions to make are not likely to fund research that stretches over long periods of time, the question how short fieldwork can be and still produce respectable results is, for this audience, very interesting, indeed.

    To me one of the strongest arguments for open access and making research available on line is that the occasional item in journals that might be of more than academic interest is unlikely to be found if access to it is limited to printed journals to which people in other fields are not likely to subscribe nor take the time to run down–assuming that they have access to a large academic library. If a Google search for “How short can fieldwork be?” popped up this article, it might actually be read by non-anthropologists and increase the level of interest in what anthropologists have to say.

    Anyway, I’m rambling now; the retreat to “Oh, it’s just George Marcus’s opinion” is a remarkably juvenile response to a topic that deserves more serious consideration.

  10. “Anyway, I’m rambling now; the retreat to “Oh, it’s just George Marcus’s opinion” is a remarkably juvenile response to a topic that deserves more serious consideration.”

    Scathing commentary! Yes, let’s all be MORE SERIOUS.

    “But what I took George Marcus to be saying is that debates in anthropological journals are no longer interesting in the broader sense of interesting to anyone but a handful of academics who share an interest in their own particular academic hobbyhorse.”

    I agree with you that anthropology certainly has a very limited audience. Very few people I know, outside of those in the discipline, really have any idea what contemporary anthropology is all about. Many people either think it has to do with the study of insects or dinosaurs, at least from my experience. It’s funny and it’s not…I got to have another conversation about that at a wedding this past weekend.

    As for what GM was trying to say on the matter, I think that the link on comment #9 above is helpful.

    “If a Google search for “How short can fieldwork be?” popped up this article, it might actually be read by non-anthropologists and increase the level of interest in what anthropologists have to say.”

    I agree with you. Few people outside of the discipline read or learn about what anthropologists do because all of the information is published in either academic books or journals–neither of which are designed to be accessible or appealing to a wider audience, for the most part. The cycle of research and dissemination often gets locked up in a pretty tight little circle.

  11. Clare: Funny. My guess is that Marcus might, perhaps, have been bored with that discussion. I know I bore myself a lot — almost always in fact. Maybe that’s why I stopped saying anything on this blog.

    It’s interesting that everyone is bagging on journals. I mean, it’s certainly TRUE that journals are important gatekeepers at this point — people for *years* have complained about AE being mainly just a repository for the ‘one important article’ generated by a dissertation, published in AE on the way to tenure in the States.

    But actually, honestly, I read all kinds of fascinating stuff in the journals. Like, Sarah Jain’s cancer butch article in CA — thought that was great. (Side note: Could someone at Cultural Anthropology please pay like just a little bit more attention to copy editing?? {cf. varied spellings of ACT UP (e.g., ‘Act Up’ ‘ACT UP’ ‘Act UP’) in the Jain article.) Matti Bunzl’s little provocation (vis-a-vis Professor Tsing & Co) in American Anthropologist was fantastic I thought. Povinelli’s recent ‘Child in the Broom Closet’ in SAQ was thought provoking. Public Culture publishes regularly interesting stuff (see Comaroff criticizing Biehl on politics of AIDS and ‘sovereignty’ as uber-analytic). I think the journals are pretty much fine. Good even. And I’m liking the kind of ‘patchwork quilt’ pattern my mutlicolored CAs are creating on the shelf.

  12. Just a thought, but how would it be if those of us who do read journal brought articles like those that Strong mentions to our attention. I suspect that many of us are, like me, people who subscribe to journals that pile up unread as other, more accessible media, e.g. the Internet, eat up our time and attention span. A nudge along the lines of, “Check out Sarah Jain’s cancer butch article in CA. I really liked X, Y, and Z” could start a productive thread as well as publicizing a piece that we like.

  13. Strong mentions copy editing. This is a systematic issue rather than one specific to Cultural Anthropology or any other journal. It is not just cosmetic, it is a (real, growing) symptom of the ways that scholarly journals are changing, which is the issue in both the Marcus discussion and the “Anthropology in/of Circulation” project. There are very significant intellectual issues to talk about, but I will just note that journal copy editing is no longer the simple matter that it once was. While editors can be very diligent in handing off clean/cleaned up (even effectively pre-copy edited) manuscripts, what happens next (when they rely on a publishing partner) is often outside their control and the kinds of profit-driven standardized processes that Kelty mentions in the Circulation essay come into play, often with negative consequences for the final product. My circumstances preclude going into details, but a journal (or journal program) with typo problems is no longer clearly a sign that its editorial office is not tending to its responsibilities.

    Of course, I acknowledge that some editorial offices, like some publishers, do more careful work than others.

    Separate from the bigger issues, I would also say that the Cultural Anthropology editorial office appears to me, as a AAA editor, to be among the hardest working and most innovative in the association.

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