Annual Highlights — 2012

Tis the season for list making! Looking back on Savage Minds Annual Highlights past I see that this regular feature is falling later and later with each passing year. So I felt it was in keeping with tradition that I wait until 2013.

Looking back on the most popular posts of 2012 it seems that we here at Savage Minds were preoccupied with professional concerns: grad school, finding a job, getting published, and teaching. We also covered current events and political topics. We had some great guest bloggers featured and we talked a lot about David Graeber.

Advocating for Open Access remained one of our core interests at Savage Minds. Rex reviewed HAU: Journal for Ethnographic Theory and Adam interviewed the editor of Anthropology of This Century, which debuted in 2011. Kelty railed against The Archaeological Institute of America which came out against OA and he broke down how much publishing really costs. Rex reflected on the five virtues of peer reviewers. And Ryan interviewed outspoken OA activists Jason Baird Jackson, Open Anthropology Collective guru Keith Heart, and outgoing editor in chief of American Anthropologist, Tom Boellstorff. We also ran an open thread on OA activism.

It was a busy year, 2012, but we even found time to blog about anthropology here at Savage Minds. Rex coached us on the virtues of thinking while conducting research and provided some tips on generating literature reviews. Kerim wrote extensively on learning a foreign language (check out all five installments) and the politics of speaking English abroad. He also provided an overview of how the iPad was changing his workflow. The interrelationships among activism, cultural relativism, and “empathy” in anthropological fieldwork also proved fertile grounds for discussion. Ryan shared some notes from the field on the nature of money, which kindled his ongoing obsession over theorizing value. And I wrote a book review of Freedom in Entangled Worlds.

One of our favorite beats to cover is American culture and politics. The big story was the U.S. presidential election and, as anthropologists, we saw everything as slightly askew. Kerim gave the presidential debates the Nacerima treatment, I turned an evolutionary ecologist’s eye on Rick Santorum, and Rex picked apart an Atlantic piece that made use of an obsolete anthropological debate. Then Mitt Romney went and cited Jared Diamond for some goddamn reason.

Speaking of Jared Diamond… You cannot deny that Jared Diamond has something going for him: people read his books. For better or worse his name is out there on very popular texts and it impacts the public’s perception of anthropology. Rex went on to characterize Diamond’s new book as “the anti-Debt.

Meanwhile, in 2012 Jeremy Lin confounded everyone’s preconceptions about who could be an elite basketball player. The handsome Michael Woods prompted Rex to reflect about idioms. I spent the morning floating in a sensory deprivation tank and wrote a review of the animated feature, Sita Sings the Blues. Savage Minds, ladies and gentlemen.

Going to Work
Challenging ourselves and our profession was another of our primary concerns. Guest blogger Jason (of Living Anthropologicaly and Anthropology Report) extolled us to find a better way to blog and comment with rigor and civility.

I wrapped up my coverage of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Writing Culture by wondering what had anthropology been doing for the past twenty-five years anyway, just as the epistemological shit was hitting the fan for psychology. Rex criticized the cost and economy of prestige of the AAA annual meetings. And we opted to organize a Digital Anthropology interest group within the AAA which, by the way, actually exists now. Send an email to 01anthropology @ to join for free. Read our statement of purpose too.

It was a crisis year for academia in 2012, but anthropology seemed particularly pressed when its worth was publicly questioned by Rick Scott, governor of Florida. The matter seemed especially dire for anthropology grad students and folks working hand to mouth as adjuncts. Kerim wondered whether it was feasible to cut the amount of time required to earn a PhD. The institutional failure of graduate training was something lampooned in the popular 3 Idiots, which Kerim also covered. Perhaps it was the Occupy movement that brought the patently unfair, two-tier labor system of academia to the forefront of our concerns but Eliza Jane Darling, Sarah Kendzior, and Fran Barone kept the issue on the front burner with some powerful blogging. Adjuncts were through with being silent. Ryan, a grad student, lead the charge from SM’s ranks. Read his commentary on Darling and Kendzior. He hosted an open thread on adjunct life and co-wrote an open letter to the AAA on the matter. I wrote a piece of science fiction imagining a future world where academia as we know it has been complete replaced by massively multi-player online role playing games.

It is said that the basic conflict of the tenure track life is that your job is to do research, but you’re paid to teach. The vocation of teaching is what unites adjuncts as well. I shared my method of zipping through grading essays and wondered if changing textbooks for an established class was a mistake. Carol discussed her methods of using social media to teach theory. Kerim offered tips for writing a statement of teaching philosophy. And I shared a lecture on matrilineal kinship patterns in memory of mother, complete with examples from the Book of Genesis.

Top Five
Finally, we have come to the most popular posts of the year. In fifth place, Adam advised us that to get a job as an anthropologist one ought to stop billing oneself as an anthropologist and instead to rebrand one’s skill set across four or five disciplines. The fourth most popular post goes to a guest blogger, Darryl, who recapped coverage and popular debate around historical representation in the Taiwanese feature film Seediq Bale, adding his own commentary: “Complicated, but not complicated enough.” If you subscribe to Netflix you can stream Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale instantly (for more on Seediq Bale see this companion piece).

The third most popular post was a spin off from a conversation about Jared Diamond and popular coverage of anthropology. Ryan asked: what five anthropology books should a well educated person read? Undergrads, grads, and professionals alike jumped on the comment boards to share their favorite books. Ryan and I were both temporarily inspired to do more open threads like this one. Maybe that will be our resolution in the new year?

The top two posts belong to the same author, Carol. Initially a guest blogger, Carol has become a permanent member of the Savage Minds cohort! Her post, What Makes Something Ethnographic?, set out a definition of the quintessential genre and method of anthropology, including a list of some of the books she uses to teach. And in the most popular post of the year Carol related an anecdotal tale of a chance encounter with Adam Yauch, one third of the legendary Beastie Boys who passed this year from cancer. This cautionary tale warned us all against the ugly side of academia, as a distinguished professor put down Yauch, a noted activist for Tibet, for asking a question at a conference.

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

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