Monthly Archives: March 2013


ikea instructions

If you’ve spent any time perusing web forums you’ve encountered the phrase “RTFM” which stands for “Read the fucking manual.” This invariably offends the initial poster who, rightfully (IMHO), points out that if the documentation was clearer they never would have taken the time to register for a web forum and post their question in the first place. The problem with most documentation is that it only makes sense if you already know the answer. People who write documentation have a hard time putting themselves in the mindset of the people for whom the documentation is actually written.

This is not a trivial insight. Continue reading

Monogamous heterosexual marriage is just one of many ways humans can live. Sorry.

If you haven’t seen the link making its way through social media, I highly recommend Rosemary Joyce’s piece Ask An Anthropologist about Marriage. It’s an excellent anthropological analysis of the empirical claims made in the oral argument over proposition 8 in the US Supreme Court. In addition, it does a good job of linking back to earlier public statements by anthropologists about this issue.

Joyce is exactly right when she writes that

 Stable societies have been based on many different kinds of social relations that provide for the birth, care, and education of children, as well as the many other activities that marriage covers in modern US society: joint property ownership, joint medical and end of life care, joint taxation, none of which– contrary to the somewhat bizarre, reductive view of marriage argued before the Supreme Court– are about “procreation”

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anthropology, race, and racism II: the way we look edition

Three easy to find definitions of racism:

  1. A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others (
  2. Faye V. Harrison (from here): “My working definition of racism is the following: any action, whether intended or not, that reinforces and reproduces racial inequalities, which are ultimately structured around disparities of power.”

  3. From Tim Wise’s FAQ page: Continue reading

anthropology and student debt

Student debt is everywhere.  It seems like everyone is going into debt.  It’s unstoppable, endless, ubiquitous.  We’re all in debt.  We’re all drowning in numbers and compound interest.  All from an attempt at “getting ahead” and going to school.  Ya, something’s not right about all this.  You know this.  More and more seem to fall into the debt trap each day.  This includes a lot of anthropology students–graduate and undergraduate.  I am pretty sure none of you out there started studying anthropology in order to get trapped in debt.  I sure didn’t.  Did you?  I doubt it.

So what happened?

The subject of student debt sort of ebbs and flows.  Sometimes it comes up more than others.  I was hearing about it a lot when all the Occupy Wall Street stuff was going on last year, and when this book, and this one, were published.  That was about the time that I first heard about the project on student debt.  Lately though I haven’t heard too much about this issue…but it’s not like it has gone away.  It’s still here.  And we’re all still in debt (well, not all of us, but far too many).

This past week a few different people sent me some different links about student debt. Continue reading

Everyone needs a Plan B

If you’re on the job market you need to have a Plan B and, whether you’re a grad student or a post-doc, be steadily working towards it. Not only is the job market tough but being a tenure-track assistant professor (which sounds like a great job) actually turns out not to be for everyone. Let me tell you a little bit about how I came to my own exit strategy.

Earlier this month I had a video interview with the Chronicle. This was part of an ongoing series they’re hosting on the many different ways of being an adjunct. There’s the adjunct who commutes to multiple positions, the adjunct who is on food stamps, the adjunct who made it to TT. Me? I’m the adjunct who is getting out of the game.

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Senate Blocks Poli Sci Funding

The Senate voted Wednesday to bar the use of National Science Foundation funds for political science research not deemed essential to national security or economic interest. [Link.]

The American Political Science Association has a page with more information.

Temporary Home of Savage Minds

Till our regular site is back up (which could take days) we will be posting here.

Why is down? The short answer is that our webhost messed up big time. They are working on sorting out the issue and hopefully will get the regular site up soon. At that time we will re-import these posts back to the regular site.

Is There a Window to getting a Tenure Track Job?

One of the questions that Matt Thompson and I had going into the surveys of adjuncts and past adjuncts was whether or not there is a window of opportunity for getting a tenure track job. In other words: is there some cutoff point where the likelihood of getting a tenure track job is greatly diminished? We don’t have a hard and fast answer — the surveys were too limited — but there’s some data to think about.

Of the 50 respondents to the post-adjuncting survey, 32 now hold tenure track positions. Of the 13 that provided answers to clarify what kinds of jobs they currently work in, most were in full-time research, consulting, or non-tenure track instuctorships. Of those same 50 respondents, the vast majority adjuncted as their principle means of income for four years or less (43); the other seven have all been adjuncting for six or more years, with two respondents doing so for 10 or more years. (Based on the data, it looks like the two long-term adjuncters are half of a two-income household, which might explain why they have continued to adjunct for so long.) When compared to the current adjuncts, the numbers are pretty similar. Of the 36 respondents who provided an answer to how long ago they received their Ph.D.s, most were in the five years or fewer category (31 of 36). The other five are all in the nine years or more category.

Taken together, it looks like the window of opportunity for getting a tenure track job is the first five years after the awarding of a Ph.D. Continue reading

Cultural Anthropology Goes Full-OA!


For years now Open Access news from the AAA has been nothing but one frustration after another, so it is great to finally have some unqualified good news:

The Society for Cultural Anthropology (a section of the American Anthropological Association) is excited to announce a groundbreaking publishing initiative. With the support of the AAA, the influential journal of the SCA, Cultural Anthropology, will become available open access, freely available to everyone in the world.  Starting with the first issue of 2014, CA will provide world-wide, instant, free (to the user), and permanent access to all of our content (as well as ten years of our back catalog).

Well, OK, maybe not completely unqualified… There was this:
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The dangers of Excess and Restraint

Most major criticisms of World Until Yesterday have focused on Diamond’s description of ‘traditional societies’ as violent and dangerous. Diamond, Critics clam, over estimates the dangers of living in a traditional society, underestimates the benefits of living in a modern state, and drastically overlooks the evils of colonization, and the way that colonization shaped the people Diamond considers typical of ‘traditional societies’. If you scroll down long enough, Jason Antrosio has a nice society by society breakdown of how Diamond’s examples of traditional violence are actually people whose lives have been fundamentally and tragically shaped by colonialism. Or (in some cases) the ethnographers that Diamond relies on were just nuts. I like Antrosio’s blog entry a lot, but I think his section on Papua New Guinea could use a little elaboration. So that’s what I’ll do here.

Diamond knows the PNG literature a lot better than works written about other areas, mostly because he knows the people who wrote it and about whom it is written. Most of his sources come from authors who are well-respected for their ethnographic chops: Polly Weissner and Akii Tumu, Malinowski, Jane Goodale, and Roy Rappaport. Some of the other anthropologists he cites are considered problematic in some way, but are generally considered to be excellent ethnographers: Mervyn Meggitt had some issues analyzing his data, and Roy Wagner is currently not on the same planet as the rest of us — but despite these issues most Melanesianists recognize that Meggitt and Wagner produced very detailed and reliable ethnography.

And then there are the Berndts.

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Building Intellectual and Professional Bridges

One of the questions we asked in our survey of post-adjuncting anthropologists who are now gainfully employed was ‘what steps did you take to make yourself a desirable job candidate?’ Overwhelmingly, respondents identified publishing as the key thing they did in order to land a tenure track job. Among other common responses were networking (especially in the form of attending more than one conference each year), and being willing to move to an ‘undesirable’ location (which is pretty subjective). For those who ended up being employed in a non-academic job, acquiring new skills was the most important thing respondents identified. And this was the case for some who landed in academic jobs as well – which isn’t something that we often talk about, but, it seems, many people do.

One of the responses I found most interesting was this one (which I’m excerpting a bit):

I’m currently TT in a Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology–but I was hired via the Criminology portion. My ethnographic research was on police, and I was hired as part of a search for someone whose research focused on policing. I don’t know what steps I can say I took to make myself desirable–I feel pretty lucky. I didn’t have any real background in Crim, but my application caught the eye of the search committee just enough for them to imagine the creative possibilities of hiring an anthropologist to teach their policing classes.

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Finding Time for Professionalization, or, Grading Less Isn’t Caring Less

One of the things that jumps out from our two surveys on the life of adjuncts and life after adjuncting is that most respondents who currently serve as adjuncts only spend 1-5 hours each week on their own professionalization (which we define like this: ‘publications, conference papers, etc.; i.e. things that ostensibly count towards tenure’ outside of teaching). This is surprising because the majority of respondents also claim to only be teaching two courses per term and spending 40 or fewer hours in all teaching-related activities (with most people responding in the 30-40 range, and some reporting as high as 60 hours each week). Which leads me to this question: What are people doing with their time?

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Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Matthew Wolf-Meyer

Back in December, I started a conversation with the staff at Savage Minds about professionalization, particularly in relation to recent Ph.D. recipients who might be on the job market and who might also be adjuncting. While we often collectively bemoan the state of affairs around non-tenure track employment in academia, it seemed to me that very little had actually been written about navigating the waters between graduating, adjuncting and finding a tenure track job. We began with a couple of surveys — one for people who are currently adjuncting and seeking more permanent employment, and another for people who had adjuncted and successfully made the move to a tenure track job or moved into a different form of work. About 50 people responded to each of the surveys (although if you’re so moved, you can fill them out now). Over the next month, I’ll be presenting some of the findings we collected from these surveys and thinking about the kinds of challenges that people face and how they might be overcome. In addition, I’ll be writing some posts about professionalization in anthropology in our current climate — an extension of some of my work on my professionalization blog based on the series I run in the anthropology department at UC Santa Cruz.

My interest in professionalization is based on my own experience, which has been characterized by a persistent need to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’m now halfway through my fifth year on the tenure track at UCSC, and was previously employed at Wayne State; I was fortunate to enter the job market in 2007, at the height of jobs being offered. I graduated from Oakland University, a little-known liberal arts school is suburban Detroit, with a BA in Literature; taught elementary school for a year in Columbus, OH; went to the University of Liverpool for an MA in Science Fiction Studies; returned to the US for an MA in American Cultural Studies at Bowling Green; and then went on to work on my Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. By no means do I have an elite background, and I attribute my professional success entirely to robust efforts to professionalize early in my career, a quirky project on sleep in American society, and supportive mentors.

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“But of course, only a fucking idiot would believe that”

Sometimes a blog entry comes along that just bowls you over. I almost always enjoy Jon Marks’s all-to-infrequent posts but his latest one  is really a work of art and now wins my awards for ‘best short explanation of why anthropologists think NAS jumped the shark when it elected Napoleon Chagnon’.

The fire works really start in the second half of the entry, where Marks asks “can we generalize from Napoleon Chagnon’s demonstration that murder and babies are correlated?” He writes:

What would it mean if Yanomamo murderers outbred non-murderers?  Well, if you believe that this is a bi-allelic system, then the Yanomamo murderer alleles would quickly swamp out the non-murderer alleles.  But of course only a fucking idiot would believe that. 

When Brian Ferguson (amongst others) made this point (without cursing) Chagnon said that “it looks as though [Ferguson’s] hypothesis doesn’t hold up”. To which Marks replies:

No, Chagnon is the one with a hypothesis, and his data are statistically inadequate to either confirm or deny it.  Moreover, when Nicholas Wade writes, “Dr. Chagnon said he was familiar with those criticisms but called them invalid and said none had been published in a peer-reviewed journal”  he puts an unchallenged falsehood in Chagnon’s mouth in support of this poor scientific reasoning In science, if you make a claim, you have to demonstrate its validity and do the proper controls.  Or else shut up.  Really. That’s not an extravagant demand; it is an expectation.

Emphasis is in the original there folks.

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