Monthly Archives: July 2013

Best Worst Job Interview

I know its not exactly jobs season, but I was inspired by this epic open thread about usual/ inappropriate/ trick questions that have come up in a job interview. A tour through the comments section reveals that a lot of people get asked about their marital status, kids, and religion. And a fair number of people claim to have been asked brain teasers or to solve puzzles, which, obviously, the Lifehacker readership is more business and tech focused than academic, but I would be blown away in some of those scenarios.

I’ve heard some crazy stories about weird interview committee behavior, too. Committee members falling asleep mid-interview, etc. Once, for a postdoc interview I was asked what my definition of critical thinking was and how I approached that in the class room. I replied that I thought it was the ability to draw connections between material in the course and events in the real world, and you do this linking up theoretical to the applied. To which my interviewer replied with an exasperated, quizzical, “Ohhh-kaaay.” That was the same interview where none of the interviewers were in the same room, it was done as a five way conference call.

I’ve flopped some interviews hard too. Like the one where they were looking for a specialist in a particular sub-field, but that wasn’t advertized in the job listing. But then, the alchemy of writing job ads could be left for a whole other post.

So the Lifehacker post got me thinking. What are the hardest, wackest, most left-field job interview questions you’ve had to answer? I’ll go first. In an interview for a admissions job I was asked, “What qualities would you use to describe your ideal supervisor?” Ouch!

Harry Potter on a Sunday Morning

Public anthropology is something any of us can do and its a practice we can engage in at any scale. I’ve written before about how anthropology helped me speak in front of city council to save the bookmobile and I’ve advocated for a public anthropology that is “fast, cheap, and out of control” — meaning it can be local, easy, and not professionally oriented.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to do something new that was very rewarding for me. I gave a sermon! I’ve included the text of it here. It’s a long read (I had 20 minutes to fill), but if turning cultural relativism into a religion is your cup of tea you might enjoy it. What a treat it was for me to deliver it.


If you’re nostalgic about church but are too anti-authoritarian to put your kids in Sunday school, if you’re interested in your spiritual well-being but can’t stand rules, if you don’t mind a little New Age hugging then check out your local UU. You’ll meet a lot of misfits, hippies, New Englanders, and people who for whatever reason had to walk away from other religions. As my friend Ayla, who grew up in the UU, describes it, “It’s a little bit of Christianity, a little bit of rock and roll.”

Chances are you’ll find other anthropologists, scientists, and professors too. For example my minister has a PhD in physics from Princeton. When I shared with him this story about how some Christian fundamentalists reject Set Theory he said, “Well then, they must object to Godel’s incompleteness theorem as well.” UU’s are a bunch of smartypants.

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We need more mainstream social science, not less.

Nicholas Cristakis’s recent op-ed in the New York Times “Let’s Shake Up The Social Sciences” has a lot of things going for it. I appreciate his call for more hands-on teaching of research methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, and the application of social scientific knowledge. To make this point, unfortunately, he mischaracterizes the social sciences as “stagnated”, “boring”, “counterproductive”, and “insecure”. He calls on us to “change[] the basic DNA of the social sciences” in order to “evolv[e] with the times” as the natural sciences have. What’s more, his piece mischaracterizes the natural sciences in important ways. Christakis’s piece is remarkably data-free and lacks any concrete reference to the social-scientific work it stigmatizes and merely asserts our dysfunction. Of course, he didn’t have much space and was writing for a popular audience, which probably explains this fact. An account of how the social and natural sciences actually work, however, makes clear that the difficulties of the social sciences stem from quite different sources then those that Christakis points to.

The first and most obvious difficulty that the social sciences face is funding, pure and simple. Compared to the natural sciences, we receive peanuts. In Fiscal Year 2013, the NSF got roughly 5.5 billion dollars from Congress to spend on research. Before you press the ‘Read More…’ link in this article, ask yourself “what percent of that was spent on social sciences?”

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Heavy Hearted and Sick: Responding to the Verdict of Zimmerman

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Dana-Ain Davis, Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Queens College. She is author of “Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform” and, most recently, co-editor with Cristina Craven of the volume “Feminist Activist Ethnography.” Davis has served as President of the Association of Black Anthropologists and is currently editor of the ABA journal, Transforming Anthropology.


Heavy Hearted and Sick

by Dana Davis

It has been six days since the verdict.  Nothing has changed; I was heavy hearted and sick then, and I continue to be.  I was not surprised at the verdict, but I was glad I did not have a son.  I was sad that I even had the thought. I wrote my friends with boy children and reminded them that they should ask their friends to make a protective circle around their sons to shield them from the atrocities of racism.

It has also been six days since Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Florida received a sentence of 20 years because she defended herself against her abusive husband by firing warning shots inside her home at the ceiling to stop him from attacking her.  As a result I must equally remind my friends that they should rely on their friends to make a protective circle around their daughters from the atrocities of racism and sexism.

In the moments just after the verdict of Not Guilty was announced in the case of the State vs. Zimmerman, on Saturday July 13th, and the State vs. Marissa Alexander, I was unable to fall asleep, unable to quell the rage. My mind in a state of excess activity, thinking about what this verdict meant, and what I might do.  Because I stayed up most of the night mourning, I quickly found out that there were protests planned across the country one of which would be in Union Square in New York City.

In the days after Trayvon Martin was killed, I attended the vigil in Union Square, brushing lightly against his mother as she was ushered from the podium to the front of a line forming to lead the march.  So it seemed fitting to go there again; it seemed like a good place to be in the company of others who also felt the same rage.  No explanation for tears, or silence, hugs and handholding would be necessary. I went.  I marched some, but the flame of rage would not die out. Continue reading

AAA President Reflects on Race

AAA President, Leith Mullings, has a must-read post on Anthropology News: Trayvon Martin, Race and Anthropology.

Anthropology is the discipline that fostered and nurtured “scientific racism,” a world view that transforms certain perceived differences into genetically determined inequality and provides a rationale for slavery, colonialism, segregation, eugenics, and terror. Our discipline also has a significant tradition of anti-racism that emerged from the tumult leading to World War II.

What I like about it is it’s self-critical stance, something I felt was missing from all the gushing over Obama’s comments on race. (Maybe he could do something about the “war on drugs“?) Namely, it criticized the AAA’s Race exhibit and racial disparities within the discipline. About the Race exhibit she writes:

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How to explain anthropology to a physicist

cartoon courtesy of under a cc-by-nc license

Science works by proposing and disposing of hypotheses. Hypotheses come from a lot of places: previous research results, modeling, inspiration, and plain old intuition. Our intuition is a good source of scientific hypotheses because our species has evolved to possess an implicit model of the natural world that allows us to move, eat, balance, and so forth. Of course, this model is not perfect nor is it explicit. Which is why we need science. Nevertheless, it is a good source of hypotheses, and our intuitions about where things go when we throw them are an excellent place to begin elaborating, say, a classical mechanical account of projectile motion, regardless of where in the world you are when you throw something. This is because physical laws operate uniformly on earth, modulo extremely advanced concerns in quantum physics or the philosophy of science.

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Star Trek and the Unfinished Project

I recently watched a “fan episode” of Star Trek which felt so much like the original series that you could easily believe it was directed produced by Gene Roddenberry. This devotional attention to detail got me thinking about the continued appeal of Star Trek. Habermas’ phrase “the unfinished project of modernity” immediately sprung to mind. Whereas in Star Wars modernity is represented by the dreaded Empire, Star Trek’s Federation is a benign force that carefully oversees the social development of lesser species. If the Enterprise encountered Jedi knights they would probably see them as a vestigial form of feudalism oppressing peasant society with their special powers.*

Here’s a confession. I not only grew up watching Star Trek, but I also grew up being spoon-fed that same version of modernity at school. I went to the United Nations International School for both middle school and high school, and I helped organize a series of student-run conferences on development related issues at the UN. But then I became an anthropologist. As an anthropologist, reading the likes of James Ferguson, James Scott and Arturo Escobar, one becomes a little skeptical about modernity’s “unfinished project.” It was for this reason that I found myself watching this nearly flawless recreation of the original Star Trek series and wondering: what’s the point? I loved it and will continue to watch any new episodes, but I also found it disturbing to have this outmoded vision of modernity preserved so uncritically.

It is like someone designing, in 2013, a building in the style of brutalist architecture from the sixties. I can admire some of these buildings and can even see the argument for preserving the greatest examples of brutalism, but would you really want to make a new building in this style? Perhaps the problem is that we still don’t really have a good alternative? It seems that a lot of science fiction these days is dystopian, zombie movies abound, but there there are very few movies or TV shows that see modernity as something positive. I understand the appeal of the enchanted vision of modernity that Star Trek gave us, but rather than forever try to recapture our lost-innocence, to finish a project which can never be finished, maybe it is time to tell a new story about modernity?

  • Star Wars, of course, is set in the past.

Using George Zimmerman as an object lesson in the anthropology of policing

(Savage Minds is pleased to run this guest column from Kevin Karpiak. Kevin is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at Eastern Michigan University.  His work focuses on policing as a useful nexus for exploring questions in both political anthropology and the anthropology of morality.  He is currently completing a manuscript based on his dissertation research (UC Berkeley 2009), entitled The Police Against Itself: refiguring French liberalism after the social, which provides an ethnographic account of the ethical work undertaken by police officers, administrators, educators and citizens as they experiment with new forms of sociality “after the social moment” in France.  He also maintains both apersonal blog and a group blog on the Anthropology of Policing. -R)

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been exploring the tragedy involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in a course I teach entitled “Policing in Society.”  My goal is to use the event as a concrete opportunity that can give students practical experience in using the tools we learn in class for conceptualizing “police,” “society,” and their relationship.  An added benefit is that it allows students to form and articulate their own positions in regards to such issues.

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Authorship and the writer

A now dearly departed friend of mine was a living archive of Iroquoian linguistics. The first hour I sat down with him consisted of me asking questions, him reeling references off the top of his head, and my pencil trying desperately to keep up. To one of his suggestions I responded, “I’ve seen that one, but I had a hard time reading it.” To which he replied, “Well, you should have seen it before I rewrote it for her!”

My first semester in graduate school my Linguistic Field Work professor was asked if there was a difference between an informant and a collaborator. His answer, as I remember it—an informant is someone from whom you gather data, a collaborator is someone who really should be listed as a co-author.* Continue reading

Fiction and familiarity

My impression is that many people read fiction as an escape from their day-to-day. I am not those people. I like to have enough of a non-fictional toehold on a story to be able to judge its verisimilitude. I don’t want to be the reader analog to the millions of people under the impression that the legal system is in any way similar to Law & Order or CSI.

Given my interests and experiences, my toehold criterion seems to leave me with only so many fictional reading options to choose from. But early this spring I came across one short story and one novel fitting it to a T. Continue reading

The Lessons of Arnold Toynbee

When William McNeill’s biography of Arnold J. Toynbee dropped to 2 bucks on the kindle store, I knew that I had to read it. Like most scholarly flashes, it had more to do with the way decades of reading and browsing were being shuffled around in the back part of my brain. My intuition was right — McNeill’s book is valuable to people interested in Toynbee but also, more importantly, to scholars everywhere trying to balance work and life. As someone who gave himself up wholly to work, Toynbee exemplifies what an intellectual can accomplish once they give up everything but their work. As a result, this well-written and intimate biography of Toynbee serves as a cautionary tale (or how-to guide) for many of us.

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Around the Web Digest

For most of the year I’ve been slacking on the Around the Web Digests and only doing them every other month. Might as well try and turn that habit around in the summer time, you know? Set a new groove forward into the fall. You can get tweets from Savage Minds on a pseudo-daily basis by following us @savageminds or liking our Facebook page. If you’ve seen something around the web that you’d like to share with our online community email me at [].

So, without further ado, here’s a sampling of what we were reading in June. Enjoy!

Eco on Fascism

When I was in high school I thought Utne Reader was the bees knees and one summer I even managed to stumble through Foucault’s Pendulum all the way to the end. Didn’t understand a goddamn thing, but Umberto Eco took on the mantle of  intellectual superhero in my imagination. So picture the waves of nostalgia that came washing over me this afternoon as I rediscovered an Eco piece published by Utne, squirreled away amongst ancient file folders full of xeroxed articles.

The fall semester of 2002 I was a greenhorn grad student and I shared full responsibility with another grad  for a service-learning course on American multiculturalism called UNITAS — the twist was all the enrolled students lived together in a themed dorm. So this was at the peak of post-9/11 hysteria. Good times. Required reading included this essay that by its date, November 1995, must have first caught my eye as a freshman in college. It’s still a keeper, so I thought I’d share it with you. Here it is in precis.

Eco, Umberto. 1995. “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” Utne Reader, No. 72. Nov-Dec 95. Reprinted from The New York Review of Books (June 22, 1995).

Eco acknowledges that many of these traits are contradictory and representative of other kinds of despotism, nevertheless he feels it is possible to outline the qualities of an “Ur-Fascism”. I especially keep my eye out for #8.

  1. The cult of tradition. “There can be no advancement in learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.”
  2. Rejection of modernism. “Even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements… The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

  3. Action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
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