Savage Minds Around the Web

Peer Review Revealed: Inside Higher Ed discussed Michèle Lamont’s new book How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgement. In the research for the book, Lamont sat in on multiple peer review panels and interviewed people making decisions. Her findings: that reviewers reward proposals that reminds them of their latest weekend vacation, dislike proposals that doesn’t speak to their own work, form alliances with other reviewers, read moral judgements into statements of purpose, etc. But in the end, Lamont seems to conclude, it’s the worst system except for every other kind.

Distant Parents: As a lot of you probably know, Material World has fabulous extended posts/photo essays presenting the first results of recent ethnographic research. The latest is by Daniel Miller at UCL who discusses his research of tele-parenting of Filipina parents who work in domestic service abroad. It looks like a great project on intimacy, transnationalism, gender and labor.

Thanks for Your Time (But No Thanks?): NYU Historian Jonathan Zimmerman unveiled his plan in the Christian Science Monitor to save daily newspapers in the U.S. Have academics write them…for free. Zimmerman proposes that such a plan could go hand in hand with universities rewarding writing for the broader public in promotion decisions. Of course, Zimmerman doesn’t discuss what the difference would be between academic news articles that the no one may read and current publications that no one reads.

Changes Coming? The Harvard Crimson reports on Harvard’s plans to ramp up a program for one-year teaching fellowships for young scholars in order to deal with the shortage of faculty and funds in the economic downturn. Many tenured faculty at Harvard worry that the administration is using the university’s financial hardship as a excuse to undermine the tenure process. Indeed.

Generational Lives of Questions: Tad McIlwraith at Fieldnotes commented on some of the reactions of his students in Intro to Anthro and Intro to Religion classes. Among some of the very interesting insights are that students want to hear about grand theories again, and McIlwraith questions if this is the Jared Diamond-ization of pop science culture.

Finally, someone to explain the financial meltdown. The Minnesota Star interviewed Karen Z. Ho on her ethnographic research on New York investment bankers. Ho explains to the interviewer how bankers’ conceptualizations of risk and risk management lead them to make rather irresponsible decisions.

Investment bankers are structured toward the next bonus. They’re compensated on how many deals they can push through, not on the quality of the deals or long-term strategy. Investment bankers have tons of job insecurity; they are a total revolving door. But what’s interesting is that because of their fairly elite biographies and kind of privileged networks they move in, as well as their lavish compensation, the way they experience downsizing is very different from that of the average worker.

A New Site for Archaeologists: A new social-networking site just for archaeologists has been launched, and in its first month gathered 250 participants.

8 thoughts on “Savage Minds Around the Web

  1. Having now read the talk by Bloch, I see the extent of my own intellectual naiveté. My initial observations were informed, however, less by a desire to eliminate grand theorizing in my classes and more from an interest in understanding why my students insist on them. (Notably, evolution is the only grand theory that my students seem to want or know about.) I wonder if grad school sucked the big questions out of me!

    But the talk also struck me for the insecurities anthropology seems to feel when it comes to sharing ideas publicly. As Bloch says, we leave culture and kinship to Dawkins, totemism to Pinker, etc. (p. 10). I’ve sensed this insecurity before but do not fully understand it. My students come to anthropology because they believe there are interesting things to discuss and (amazingly?) answers to be found. Surely there’s more to our collective intellectual insecurity than simply a dislike of grand theories. Any suggestions here?

    (Thanks again, maniaku. My teaching into the future will be informed by Bloch’s talk.)

  2. Bloch’s talk is just a warmed over materialist critique of idealism. I don’t really see how he can gloss over the differences between all of the perspectives he labels diffusionist. Many of them do implicitly assume certain things about “human nature” and do allow for the influence of biology. In addition, he is unclear about what his “functionalist” “third way” would entail. It is clearly not old style Malinowskian or strucutural functionalism so I am unclear why he is using “functionalism.” Equally baffling is his claim that anthropology have had problems speaking to other disciplines. I must have imagined some of the Europeanist anthropologists studying the EU who have coloborated with political scientists (or at least had their work cited by them) or some environmental and medical anthropologists who have been a part of larger research projects.

    Do you want to know the real reason the “public” likes grand theories? They give simple black and white answers. For example, why are some countries “poor” or “less developed”? Because of their environment or biological differences or the natural spread of wealth. These answers don’t require much critical examination and imply that the solutions to the world’s problems are simple (or that they are just the way things are and there is not much anyone can do about it).

    The problem anthropology has is not that it does not have “grand theories”, it is that we suck at articulately the complexity of the world in a way that the “general public” can understand. This has more to do with the inability of most anthropologists to write or speak in a way that most non-academics can understand. The “you’re doing anthropology wrong” critique is counterproductive to improving our interactions outside of anthropology because it identifies the problem as theoretical instead of rhetorical. Anthropologists should not have to subsume themselves into a very narrow theoretical straight jacket in order to get others to understand what anthropology does.

  3. Well, the main reason I like that paper is because it does a good job of showing that these types of questions are widespread, genuine, and not necessarily just for “Westerners”… Sometimes it seems like there is a bit of a quick impulse (by anthropologists) of jumping around from Evolution, to Dawkins or Diamond, to an implication of bad faith. And I think this can be very counterproductive, and even damaging, in the way that Bloch talks about. For example, this seems also to be lurking beyond GSG’s comment:

    >Do you want to know the real reason the “public” likes grand theories? They give simple black and white answers. For example, why are some countries “poor” or “less developed”? Because of their environment or biological differences or the natural spread of wealth. These answers don’t require much critical examination and imply that the solutions to the world’s problems are simple (or that they are just the way things are and there is not much anyone can do about it).

    To me, this is exactly the kind of thing that Bloch points out. While there are the issues with idealism, materialism, etc. I think to see the talk as primarily about that is to miss the point, frankly. But I agree that the prescription, as far as functionalism, doesn’t seem that fleshed out.

    So I’m glad of Tad McIlwraith’s comment that he found he could use the paper constructively!

    As far as rhetoric, grand theories, etc. I suppose it partly depends on what exactly that “public” is. It also reminds me of a completely different kind of article
    I think that when you think about the two of those articles together, you can start to reflect on the fact that sometimes people read things because they are interested in the willingness to tackle big, difficult, interesting questions head-on… not necessarily because they provide easy answers that confirm their ideologies nor because their writing is jargon-free, reader-friendly…

    Yeah, it can be simplification but sometimes, hrmm, okay one more article that I like on this topic:


  4. Also, I think it is noticeable that none of these articles, to me anyway, give satisfactory solutions, prescriptions, etc. for what should be done correctively. But, they do do a very good job of outlining a/the problem imo…

  5. I am in San Diego for my second social network analysts Sunbelt Conference and don’t have the source with me. But if my memory serves me right, Clifford Geertz nails this in “The Concept of Culture and the Concept of Man” when, replying to Levi-Strauss’ argument that science consists of formulating simple models, Geertz says that we should not replace complex realities with simple models but should, instead, create complex models that retain the clarity and persuasiveness of the simple ones. That is, of course, a very good rhetorical trick if one can pull it off.

  6. Thanks to all for helping me think through these issues. I benefit greatly from the conversation and expect it will translate nicely into classroom discussions. –Tad

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