Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jason Antrosio.
[I realize the irony of prominently citing American Anthropologist during the Open Access debates–I do end with a call to support Rex’s proposal to read and talk about HAU]
–Andre Gingrich, Transitions: Notes on Sociocultural Anthropology’s Present and Its Transnational Potential, December 2010:555
–Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen and Janis Hutchinson, Anthropology as White Public Space?, December 2011:545
I am hoping in these guest posts to examine episodes of how anthropology gets taken–starting with a follow-up to Kerim’s archive on Jared Diamond, and then tackling the Anthropologie Store, the TV series Community, and other instances where anthropology either gives stuff away or gets hijacked. But I’d also like to write about taking anthropology back, in alliance with what Rex proposes around Hau or Matt suggests about the AAA.
As an introduction, I would like to use the two articles above, from the December 2010 and December 2011 issues of American Anthropologist, to assess anthropology’s current position, to evaluate resources and risks.
Andre Gingrich’s article hit the press just as the AAA science and mission statement issue really earned anthropology some great NY Times coverage. If anyone is working on a “careful and balanced history” of the autocritique, please let me know–in the wake of old wounds and new emotions about science, such accountings became nearly impossible. Bad feelings and suspicion persist, and for those in adjacent disciplines, anthropology can now always be dismissed with some lines about how it is “at war with itself” and “got rid of science.” This only exacerbated the way the autocritique had been misused, as Giovanni Da Col and David Graeber argue in the inaugural issue of HAU:
The anthropological auto-critique of the 1980s was made to serve a purpose for which it was never intended. In fact, anthropology has been since its inception a battle-ground between imperialists and anti-imperialists, just as it remains today. For outsiders, though, it provided a convenient set of simplified tag lines through which it was possible to simply dismiss all anthropological knowledge as inherently Eurocentric and racist, and therefore, as not real knowledge at all. (2011:xi)
This debate also proved how much the tag line postmodernism still serves as a convenient device to lump all opponents. Such lumping ignores how accusations of postmodernism tend to conceal more than they reveal about actual positions, and that there were legitimate critiques of normative science from Marxism and feminism long before–and that did not depend upon–this so-called postmodern critique.
Andre Gingrich could also have hardly known of all the other minor and major assaults in the works for anthropology in 2011, including the backlash from the “F— You Republicans” e-mail as a minor ambush and then the Florida Governor’s declaration of a no-anthropology-needed zone, which together with the heightened threats to educational funding and continued use of “economic crisis” to discipline and informalize academic labor, amounted to a major assault. However, Gingrich did have pertinent and rather prophetic words of advice for navigating these episodes:
Opponents will not remain inactive. In times of crisis, it is not difficult to predict that some forces will emerge that will argue either for an intensification of anthropology’s applied subordination and instrumentalization at the service of other needs and fields or for anthropology’s radical downsizing–or for both, as one step toward its dissolution. (2010:558-559)
Nevertheless, as of December 2011 there were good reasons to be hopeful. In contrast to the December 2010 science-in-anthropology incident, the AAA swiftly responded to Florida Governor Scott; anthropology bloggers like Daniel Lende and students like Charlotte Noble provided round-the-clock coverage and response, coalescing in what seemed to be anthropology’s first-ever rapid action team.
Meanwhile, the Occupy movement dramatically re-framed issues of plutocracy, wealth, and power, with anthropologist David Graeber playing a critical role. As a record number of attendees headed to the AAA annual meetings in Montreal, there were certainly reasons for optimism.
It is in this context that the December 2011 article “Anthropology as White Public Space?” was a particularly painful reminder of incongruities and what anthropology has been unable to accomplish. Anthropology as an academic discipline has generally been more willing to engage in autocritique and to take this further than other disciplines even begin to ponder. Anthropology also claims an anti-racist heritage and position. But though the authors found “some improvement” the overall tenor is that “many of the same exclusionary ideological and structural elements that the Committee on Minorities and Anthropology encountered [in 1973] are still prevalent in many anthropology departments” (2011:546).
This is a must-read article for anthropology. As the 2012 U.S. election season unfolds, vitriol and vicious denials of any kind of bias or structuring along lines of race, class, and gender will undoubtedly intensify. This is no time for anthropology to turn away from these issues.
Can a beleagured discipline simultaneously go through a transition to transnationalism and at the same time “take seriously the points of view of those who are internal others” (Brodkin et al. 2011:555)? I believe these issues can and must be linked and tackled together. But it requires awareness and political will.
Of most immediate relevance, and since I have the honor and privilege of blogging on the most distinguished of anthropology blogs, is how those of us who write and read anthropology blogs might contribute to this realignment. Anthropology blogs could potentially be a transnational hub and a place to embrace anthropologists of color, but I don’t think we are there yet.
Rex’s proposal to read and talk about HAU has real potential to address the kinds of “minimum consensus about transnational quality standards” Andre Gingrich discusses: “I would have great difficulties envisioning future postdocs in anthropology who have never done any fieldwork whatsoever, who speak no other language than their own, and who have never heard or read anything about Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, or Marcel Mauss” (2010:557). HAU precisely asks us to consider ethnographic insights, prominently includes translated works, and brings classic authors and basic texts to our attention.
At the same time, I want to highlight the insights from Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson:
The heart of our conclusion is embarrassingly obvious. It is this: the defamiliarizing insights and analyses generated from vantage points developed by anthropologists of color are better tools for diversifying departmental organization and culture (among other things) than hegemonic ones, and anthropology departments should embrace them instead of marginalizing them. Alternatively put, anthropology has made its mark on understanding cultures by taking seriously the points of view of those it studies. We suggest it needs to take seriously the points of view of those who are internal others to better understand and diversify itself as well as enhance its theoretical robustness. (2011:555)