Monthly Archives: June 2013

Reading non-ethnographic non-fiction

In yesterday’s post I discussed my discovery that I have non-ethnographic writing options. In today’s post I touch on the corollary, my discovery that I have non-ethnographic reading options.

What I like in ethnography

My reading of the decade prior to last November consisted almost entirely of anthropological and linguistic literature and of ethnographies and published primary sources when given the choice. During that period I began reading 18th century military journals as sources of data and came to appreciate the way their authors used language, as in the following example from a 1761 journal describing a scene from the area where I spent my youth:

The prospect from some of the Hills pleasant, though not very extensive, occasioned by a circumstance extraordinary enough & perhaps not to be parralled—viz. That go to the highest Mountain you can see yet when on the top of it you see others still higher. This we experienced every Day’s March.

Continue reading

Writing non-ethnographic non-fiction

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Matthew Timothy Bradley.

I began graduate coursework at the Indiana University (not the University of Indiana!) Department of Anthropology in August of 2004. I learned an enormous amount about anthropology while I lived in Bloomington. The majority of that learning ended up taking place outside of anthropology courses. Because I was on IU’s anthropological linguistics track I actually took more courses from within the Department of Linguistics than from within the Department of Anthropology. I never once felt deprived of what I had come to the Midwest for, though. Two of my linguistic’s professors had done more fieldwork than 99% of cultural anthropologists you will meet, and any content I might have missed in the classroom was more than made up for by the time I spent hanging around at my advisor’s wonderful research institute.

Despite the fact that I kept learning more and more quickly during my time in Bloomington—maybe because of it, actually—I started struggling more and more to write. Writing has always been a slow and trying process for me. But as graduate school wore on and then afterwards, the relationship between understanding better and writing worse held true. A movie could be made about the special kind of frustration that is gaining ever more esoteric knowledge in conjunction with loosing the ability to express it. Such a film would be, to paraphrase my friend Jon Marcoux, of interest to tens of people. But I digress.

Continue reading

Savage Minds Interview: Kristina Killgrove

Kristina Killgrove is a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida. Her research focuses on theorizing migration in antiquity and on understanding urban development and collapse through the analysis of human skeletal remains. She works primarily in the classical world, attempting to learn about the daily lives of the lower classes in Imperial Rome through osteological and biochemical analyses, but she has also worked on questions of population interaction in the contact-period southeastern U.S. and in Medieval Germany. A strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching help her bridge the sometimes large divide between classics and anthropology.  For more about Killgrove’s work, check out her website or blog, email her (, or follow her on twitter (@DrKillgrove).

Ryan Anderson: What brought you to anthropology?  What made you choose this as your career?

Kristina Killgrove: I’ve written a bit in the past (originally as a response to a Savage Minds post on love letters for anthropology) about how I’m an “accidental anthropologist.”  I never really set out to have a career in anthropology, as I honestly wasn’t entirely sure what anthropology was until maybe my third or fourth year in college.  What eventually brought me to anthropology, though, was a dissatisfaction with the field I’d chosen to major in: classics.

Continue reading

The Newest HAU: An Embarrassment of Riches

I am not an artless enthusiast for the open access journal HAU. I didn’t post a fawning blog entry when they released the first number of their Masterclass Series, “Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere” by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro” because, frankly, the meat of it has been published elsewhere and I don’t think perspectivism will have a big impact on anthropologists outside of VdC’s circle of trufans. I didn’t make a big deal of their reprint of Prytz-Johansen’s 1954 “The Maori and His Religion In Its Non-Ritualistic Aspects” because, despite my enthusiasm for the piece as a Pacifist, I don’t think (alas!) that tons of people were interested in it. But the latest issue of HAU deserves attention.

Continue reading

Anthropology: It’s not just a "promotion" problem

Just read this guest column in the Orlando Sentinel by Ty Matejowski and Beatriz M Reyes-Foster.  It was written a while back, but still worth a read.  Good on them for writing this piece.  It’s all about anthropology’s “branding problem”:

Cultural anthropology’s branding problem is largely superficial. Anthropologists possess unique knowledge and skill sets that have real-world value. Anthropology helps us understand the world in a way that cannot be reduced to numbers or captured in surveys.

The marketing industry is increasingly recognizing the value of anthropological methodologies. A recent Atlantic article highlights the way in which ethnography and participant-observation are used in market research. Moreover, the World Bank recently elected an anthropologist, Jim Yong Kim, as president.

Anthropologists need to take better ownership of our brand. The complexity of anthropological concepts such as “culture,” “power” and the “global” should not dissuade anthropologists from engaging in meaningful public discourse.

In short, the argument here is that anthropology suffers from a PR problem.  While this may be true at many levels, I think there’s quite a bit more to the story.  Sure, anthropologists should go about and promote their field and all of that.  Fine.  Great.  But the deeper issue here, in my view, is more about how we actually think about and practice anthropology rather than whether or not we are marketing ourselves well enough.  I think that once we deal with the former some of the PR issues will fall into place.  The short version of my argument: we don’t just need to promote ourselves, we need to change.  The “we need promotion” argument assumes that we are doing everything right, and we just need to get ourselves out there in the public view.  As if all is right in the house of anthropology, and we just need some good press on CNN.  I disagree.  I think we need to actually change how we do anthropology. Continue reading

Kotahi Mano Kaika, Kotahi Mano Wawata (Learning an Endangered Language Part 9)

In part six eight of this series1 I complained about how Taiwanese indigenous languages are being taught more like dead languages than living ones.

This point was really hit home to me when I was discussing with another student that I would like to have better communicative competence. It took a long time for me to explain what I meant, and it slowly dawned on me that other students really had no expectation of being able to use the language in such a way.

So I was very happy that the Hualien Tribal College and the College of Indigenous Studies at NDHU were able to arrange for two Maori language activists, Hana O’Regan [PDF] and Megan Grace, both affiliated with the center for Māori and Pasifika studies at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, to come to Hualien and share their thoughts and experiences. Hana and Megan have a very different approach to language revitalization – one which emphasizes building a living language. For this reason the focus of their work is in homes, not (just) in the classroom.

Continue reading

Healing Secular Life — Book Review

Savage Minds would like to welcome back guest blogger Ayla Samli and thank her for contributing this review of  Healing Secular Life: Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey by Christopher Dole, a 2012 publication from the University of Pennsylvania Press. While at Rice U. Samli completed her dissertation field research in Turkey and currently is Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

Review by Ayla Samli

I met Christopher Dole’s Healing Secular Life: Loss and Devotion in Modern Turkey with an eyeroll, the kind you might give an old uncle who tries to tell you a joke you’ve heard at every family gathering since the beginning of time. I looked at the book, winced at “secular” and “Turkey” in the title, and put it down, realizing that my dissertation-related injuries were fresher than I had imagined.

But the word “healing” in the title surprised and enticed me just a little. Isn’t healing misplaced here? Isn’t healing part of a somatic process, an outlier in the religio-political arenas of Turkey? For those unfamiliar with the anthropology (or the news, or anything making mention) of Turkey, religious and secular are binarized, regularly cast at odds in very tired ways.

However, as the demonstrations happening now reveal to the world, Turkey is full of internal dissonance. Dole’s book pushes beyond the predictable configurations of secular and Muslim, addressing instead healing practices among Sunni and Alevi healers and their respective neighborhoods in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.

Continue reading

Vale Ward Goodenough

As some readers out there may know, Ward Goodenough passed away this week. A Micronesianist who had done a little work on Papua New Guinea, his death prompted an spate of remembrances on the Pacific Anthropology list I belong to. By any account he was a remarkable man — a prolific author, a careful fieldworker, a mentor to a whole generation of anthropologists, and an innovative theorist to boot. At a certain point in anthropology’s history a lot of people looked at him and saw the future of anthropology. Now that he has passed away I thought I might ask — respectfully — how and why it happened that Goodenough is remembered as an area specialist and not a theorist. It’s an interesting question partially because of what it says about the twists and turns of anthropological theory, but also because of how it speaks to the way our discipline is configured today. So I should say up front that I’m interested in talking about him and why he is important, even if he is not the road that anthropology took. I don’t want to use his passing to speak ill of him.


Goodenough was a Yale man — his father taught there, and he got his Ph.D. there. He came off the edges of the Boasian tradition. Like Julian Steward, he went through Cornell before heading off to Yale to do his degree. He missed Sapir and ended up taking courses from Malinowski, Linton, and Murdock. Murdock became his mentor, he came out of Yale ready to turn anthropology into a Real Science. It was a good time for it: the cold war was on, and anthropology was ready to Apply itself. People like Goodenough, Frake, Conklin, Lounsbury, Romney, and others were interested in making anthropology more quantitative, and brought a lot of energy to that task.

They ended up being sidelined, however. I think of the post-war period in anthropology as a series of overlapping moments. The componential, formal modeling, ethnoscience, cognitive sort of moment of Goodenough got started just a few years before Geertz (and a bit later, Turner) got going on symbolic anthropology. Goodenough’s paper on “Componential Analysis and the Study of Meaning” was (iirc) in 1956. Geertz began publishing interpretive stuff in the early 1960s. Neoevolutionism also got going in the early 1960s. Structuralism, that genius school of social thought, managed to look like kinship algebra to the ethnoscience people, myth interpretation to the symbolic anthro types, and structural Marxism to the evolutionists. So as a result everyone read Lévi-Strauss.

Continue reading

God Bless Sage for their Unvarnished Commercialism

The nice thing about Sage is that they don’t try to hide who they are and what they do. They want to make money — lots of money — and they use us to do it. This is so different from the American Anthropological Association, which claims to be doing things because they are the right thing to do, but actually is desperate to make money, and uses us to do it. There are other differences as well — Sage has very high production values, while the AAA has AnthroSource. Most importantly, however, is the genius Sage shows in keeping its audience happy. Which (I should clarify at the start) is actually rather sinister.

Around the Web Digest

Most days somebody has got something worth tweeting @savageminds, although we slowed down a bit there at the end of the semester. This digest collects links we shared in April and May. If you’ve got something you want to share with the Savage Minds community — particularly if it comes off an anthropology blog, even if its your own — send me an email at []. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!


Continue reading

Faculty Privacy

For some time now, I’ve been meaning to write something about the Harvard email controversy because I think it teaches us something important about how we think about academic labor. First, a brief recap:

Last summer…Harvard was hit with scandal: “College officials [said] around 125 students may have shared answers and plagiarized on a final exam.”

Word about the scandal got to the news media in part thanks to a leaked email.

Here is what Harvard said happened next:

Consequently… a very narrow, careful, and precise subject-line search was conducted by the University’s IT Department. It was limited to the Administrative accounts for the Resident Deans… The search did not involve a review of email content; it was limited to a search of the subject line of the email that had been inappropriately forwarded.

Continue reading

Open Thread: Who owns anthropology?

Following up on some of the comments and discussion going on in Matt’s latest post, I wanted to open up a thread to talk a bit about this important question: WHO OWNS ANTHROPOLOGY?  Do PhDs own anthropology?  If so, which ones?  PhDs in the US, Europe, Latin America?  Who gets to define and control what anthropology is all about?  And what about other degrees in anthropology–MAs and BAs?  Where do they belong in the hierarchies we create?  What about the general public–where do they fit?  So feel free to comment and answer this question…and then maybe think about answering this question: Who SHOULD own anthropology?  Ok, fire away.