Monthly Archives: May 2013

Reimagine the Masters

Sunday morning I’m flipping through the Memorial Day coupon flyers and scanning the headlines when I noticed this title from the WaPo: “Master’s degree programs surge”

Georgetown, for example, awarded 1,871 bachelor’s degrees and 2,838 master’s degrees in 2012. Its annual bachelor’s output rose 12 percent over eight years. Its growth in master’s: 82 percent.

My first thought was about how this is representative of the continuing corporate inclosure of the university. Just like a suburban chain restaurant looking to get its customers served and back out the door without any loitering, universities can hope to improve their revenue by making short graduate degrees more attractive than long ones.

This news story, in addition to having really interesting Marxist remarks in the comments section about capital forcing labor to pay for its own training, got me thinking about how anthropology could get in on the MA hustle. Granted, it’s not a natural fit. For many persons — professional anthropologists included — a Masters in anthropology is not a very valuable degree. How has that come to be? And does that necessarily need to be the case?
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Bureaucracies and the people within them

Over at the Anthropology & Environment Society’s “Engagement” blog, Janis Alcorn has a pretty fascinating post about some of the social inner-workings of large bureaucracies.  In this case, USAID–an organization that she has 25 years of experience working with.  The post starts off with a quote from an interview with Andrew Mathews, who argues that bureaucracies function by “bleaching out local context and coming up with big simplifications.”  Alcorn disagrees:

I would counter by positing that good bureaucracies do not bleach out local context. Instead, they create big, simplified umbrellas that cloak the complex, dynamic range of local circumstances and thereby give the staff of government bureaucracies the space to address local circumstances despite changes in political direction.

Later in the post, Alcorn brings up one aspect of USAID’s bureaucracy that resonates a bit with some of the things I saw in my own fieldwork.  She writes:

I entered USAID during the transition from President Reagan to President George H.W. Bush.  There was a flurry of activity creating documents for “transition teams.” In effect, those documents served as ideologically-aligned, simplified umbrellas that shielded the professional, non-ideological work of the agency.

This shielding of ideological/political work is really fascinating, and it reminds me of a few cases I encountered while doing fieldwork, in which certain organizations were used as a sort of “scientific” or “objective” screen to cover over individual members’ political desires and perspectives. Continue reading

Practical Training for the Digitally Il/literate Anthropologist

Most graduate programs in anthropology require us to take a course in methods to prepare us to “do anthropology” on our own. In class, we discuss what makes a good research question, the trade-offs between qualitative and quantitative data, and the importance of taking good field notes. Sometimes we even get to conduct research and experience firsthand how to enter a community, recruit informants, transcribe interviews, and code data. This practical training allows us to try out the methods we are learning in class and troubleshoot any problems we have along the way with our professors and peers. In this post, I want to talk about the benefits of this model for cultivating a related, necessary, but often neglected skill-set in graduate school – digital literacy.

Digital literacy is loosely defined as the ability to understand and use a range of digital technologies. For an anthropologist, these are specific tools such as social media, digital repositories, or web design that can significantly augment our success as scholars. Most of us have heard about the benefits of using Twitter or have figured out how to post lecture slides onto our online course management systems. However, I have found from personal experience that it is not enough to know that these tools exist – we also need to understand and navigate the complex digital cultures which they (and we) are bound up in.

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Summer reading…

The semester is over and grades are in. My family just moved to a bigger place — one block down the street, actually — thanks to my wife’s tenure promotion. And the stress of the two combined, plus Herculean applications of caffeine and alcohol (I thought they were supposed to cancel each other out, no?) has got me nursing a stubborn infection. While I convalesce I am enjoying being reunited with my book collection, which has mostly been in boxes in the attic since 2007. Last night I picked up Frazer’s The Golden Bough, one of many texts I purchased in a fit of compulsive consumerism but never read, and have resolved to read things I enjoy this summer.

What will you be reading now that classes are out?

Savage Minds Interview: Sarah Kendzior

Sarah Kendzior is a writer for Al Jazeera English. She has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Washington University and researches the political effects of digital media in the former USSR. You can find her work at, and on Twitter: @sarahkendzior

Ryan Anderson:  First of all, thanks for doing this interview.  Let’s start off with the basics:  Why anthropology?  How and why did you end up in this field?

Sarah Kendzior: I got interested in anthropology while working as a research assistant for an anthropologist, Nazif Shahrani, while getting my MA in Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University. Before I was an anthropologist, I was a journalist, but I was frustrated with the superficiality of foreign coverage. Journalists often cover foreign conflicts without knowing foreign languages, talking to local people, or examining the history and culture of the place they visit. I wanted to do things differently.

In 2004, I used to joke that anthropology was journalism with more work and less money. Of course, now there is no money in journalism either, but my point still stands. Ethnography is journalism that takes too long. I mean that not pejoratively but as an affirmation of the discipline’s values –– long-term observation; scrutiny of methodological practice; respect for history; commitment to understanding local beliefs and traditions.

I got spoiled working for Dr. Shahrani. He is an outspoken intellectual who spares no criticism of systems that he finds corrupt – including academia. He saw anthropology not as an abstraction removed from public life, but as a source of insight from which the public could benefit. Continue reading

#Adderall: Positionality and Ethics in Social Media Research

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger TAZ KARIM

In the past five years, Twitter has become a mecca for social science researchers: the number of topics, informants, and networks waiting to be analyzed are limitless (here are some examples). With the help of a nifty program like Tweet Archivist, you could literally collect thousands of micro-narratives about people’s ideologies, behaviors, and relationships around a search query – all from the comfort of your office. This was the utopian vision I had of Twitter research when I started designing my final project for the Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fellowship at Michigan State University (link has been fixed!).

Over the last year, I have become interested in how Americans are sharing experiences with prescription drugs through social media. My dissertation look at one drug in particular, Adderall, a treatment for ADHD which is being illegally bought and sold by college students for academic and recreational purposes.  At first, I was completely shocked by the sheer number of individuals who are openly admitting their illicit drug use online – after all, many twitter names are publically attached to an individual’s real name. More amazing was how many are intentionally categorizing their tweets using hashtags like # adderall or #adderallproblems,  so that people interested in the topic (like myself) could easily find and share their tweets. There are even entire accounts dedicated to the “adderall lifestyle” like @adderallavenger @adderallnation @adderalltalking @addiestories… and the list goes on. I felt like I had hit a goldmine of data – now all I had to do was figure out how to harvest it.

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The Academic Benefits of Twitter

Why Twitter? What value does Twitter offer to an academic? And, are you missing out if you are not on Twitter?

Yesterday someone I follow (@bacigalupe) posted a link to a Digital Sociology post titled “Can academics manage without Twitter?” My answer was: of course they can. Academics do not need to be on Twitter, and yet there are some very real benefits to Twitter. What are they, you ask? In the order I posted them (and with the original 140 character limitations of syntax preserved), here are five academic benefits I’ve experienced through using Twitter:

#1: learning about new research, publications, conferences, conversations

#2: community-building, following/connecting with colleagues around the world in your own + cognate fields

#3: the drop-in or hang-out-all-day options; you can tweet & read as you like, greatly enabled by list feature Continue reading

Anthro News takes on the adjunct crisis, and while commenting will cost you, the irony is free

This just in.  It appears that the AAA is starting to address some of the serious issues that adjunct scholars are facing day in and day out.  In a new post on the Anthropology News site, AAA president Leith Mullings takes on the adjunct issue.  This is good news, because this issue seriously needs some critical attention, especially since more and more new PhDs keep hitting the labor force each year.  This problem isn’t going away any time soon.  Mullings starts off her post about “Inequality Within” by citing Sarah Kendzior’s 2012 piece “The closing of American academia,” which highlights just how bad things are getting in academia these days.

Mullings covers many of the key aspects of the adjunct problem: 1) lack of access to adequate health care; 2) the fact that about 3/4 of the teaching workforce is NOT on the tenure track; 3) the abysmally low pay for many adjuncts (median compensation per class is about 2700 bucks); 4) adjuncts have to deal with high travel costs in order to teach enough classes; 5) retirement benefits are lacking; 6) they have very limited access to educational resources (many don’t have offices, libraries, etc); 7) serious job insecurity, which often “translates into lack of academic freedom.”

Clearly, there’s no shortage of problems.  We all know this.  The question now is what we’re all going to do about it.  Sit back and watch, or find a way to band together to start making some changes?  Mullings concludes her post with this: Continue reading

Peer Review and Congressional Oversight – An Invited Post

[The following is an invited post by Megan Tracy.]

About two weeks ago, I received an email from one of the editors of the Science Insider blog. He began: “You’ve probably heard that your NSF grant to study the [Chinese] melamine poisoning scandal was targeted at two House science committee hearings yesterday.” I hadn’t heard and this is the first time my research has become the target of what feels like the never-ending rounds of partisan politics. The original critique of my project and the others being targeted is that they fail to directly benefit the American people. I was, quite frankly, rather surprised to be included as my project examines China’s evolving food regulatory system and has direct relevance for America’s food safety and security. The targeting of particular awards are not (and never are) about their specific content or quality but rather involve broader issues including the allocation of funding, peer review and congressional oversight. (It can, however, certainly feel direct especially when the intellectual merit of your specific grant is questioned and copies of the peer reviews and the program officer’s evaluations are requested in a letter written by the committee’s chairman. As a recent Slate article notes, these attacks appear to be winning. this year, for example, the Coburn amendment successfully limits NSF funding in political science to those that promote national security or the economic interests of the US. The same article argues that with a few exceptions, the social sciences have not been pushing back and are failing to present arguments with much traction in today’s economic and political climate.

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Yes, The AAA's new 'open access' 'journal' is just as disappointing as everyone thought it would be

When the American Anthropological Association announced that it would create an ‘open access’ ‘journal’, most people in the anthropology’s public sphere were skeptical. Now that it has launched, Open Anthropology turns out to be just as disappointing as everyone thought it would be. Remember the brand disaster’s of MySpace’s failed logo or UPS’s vaguely fecal  “What Can Brown Do For You?” add campaign? Yeah, like that.

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