Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ethnographic writing: The Studs Terkel model or what?

So, let’s say you’re in the middle of writing up your dissertation.  You’re going through your interviews, making notes, seeing some patterns, and piecing together some of the stories you are going to tell about your fieldwork.  Then you start actually outlining chapters and blocking things out.  You follow with selecting certain segments of interviews you are going to use to illustrate the points you want to highlight.

So here’s the question: How do you actually decide to put all the voices into your text?

I am currently in the writing stage, and in the process of figuring out how I am going to answer this question.  There are a range of ways to do this.  At one end of the spectrum, there’s the sort of raw interview transcript or narrative that Studs Terkel used for books like Working.  I have always found this style of presentation appealing.  The other end of the spectrum is the sort of voice over technique in which the author’s voice is most dominant, maybe sprinkled here and there with fragments and quotes from interviews.  In between these two poles there are many options–and of course there’s no reason why it’s not possible to employ a mixed strategy (Righteous Dopefiend by Bourgois and Schonberg comes to mind). Continue reading

The SCA's podcast series is pretty darn good

I’m so amazed and proud to see the way the anthropology noosphere has grown over the past few years. Where once we had two blogs and an Open Access lunch for six at the AAAs, we now have twitter meet-ups and more blogs and social media sites than you can shake a stick at. One missing piece of the puzzle, however, has been a good podcast. And now, thanks to the Society for Cultural Anthropology and their podcast series AnthroPod, we have that too. Go listen to it now.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been anthropology podcasts out there in the past. Savage Minds has played around with the genre from time to time, for instance. And of course the AAA has its own podcast series. But we at SM ultimately were too busy keeping the blog afloat to expand into podcasts, and the AAA series… well, the quality was somewhat uneven. Often podcasts would open up with a couple of seconds of static and then a phone dialing, and then people started talking, and if you listened for a while you slowly realized you were listening to Virginia Dominguez interview Marilyn Strathern. And even when they seemed a bit more professionally produced, these podcasts were too anthropological — too much for the sake of the interlocutors and not for the sake of the audience — to be interesting.

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Fill the tanks

In a recent interview Joss Whedon gives a bit of advice that I think every student and intellectual needs to hear: “fill the tanks”:

Constantly watch things and things you don’t [normally watch]. Step outside your viewing zone, your reading zone. It’s all fodder but if you only take from one thing then it’ll show… My vacation from Buffy.. was… two weeks every year, and in that vacation I read, in 14 days, 10 books. My wife and I saw like nine plays, and that’s all we did. We just filled the tanks.

To do most things that we want to do as students, teachers, researches, and thinkers, we simply need raw material. We need our tanks filled. This is a central point of fieldwork — to just load up on experience and let your self slowly sort it out at levels conscious and un-. But it is also true of any life of reading and writing.

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Op-Eds: What Anthropologists Can Add to the Debate

Anthropologists have much to contribute to civic discourse, but all too often we are bypassed in favor of experts in other fields, such as psychology or political science. Although many of us try to publicize what anthropologists really do, the general public still frequently confuses anthropology with Indiana Jones. Writing an op-ed is a good way to draw attention to anthropology, either by 1) commenting on a topic related to your own fieldwork or expertise, or 2) applying anthropological insights to current events. There are always news events that could benefit from an anthropologist’s analysis. The goal of an op-ed is to take a stance and make a point about those events, presenting facts along the way to support your argument.
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Anthropology Under the NSA’s Eyes

We now know that living abroad or corresponding with someone outside the US makes you fair game for government surveillance. Last year I wrote about the difficulties faced by anthropologists working in places like China, where there can be no expectation of privacy. We now know (as many long suspected) that nowhere is safe. What does this mean for anthropologists?

High levels of confidentiality may not be important for all types of anthropological fieldwork, but it can be hard to anticipate what statements might get our collaborators in trouble and we have a responsibility to protect their privacy to the best of our ability. As more and more of us are storing data in the cloud and more and more of our collaborators are communicating with us via email and on Facebook, we should be conscious of the fact that we cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything stored online. Continue reading

Open Access Success, California style.

(It took me a while to figure out how to post here since Savage Minds is now in a permanent state of exception. We are all Agambenians now, apparently.)

Two weeks ago the University of California system-wide Faculty Senate announced that they have passed an open access policy for all 10 campuses. The policy covers 8000 tenure-track faculty, and as many as 40,000 papers annually, making up 2-3% of the worldwide scholarly journal content. More details (and some videos of me looking really tired) are here.

This is a major success. It’s a huge university system, with an unusually powerful federal faculty governance system, and getting any organization that large to do anything forward thinking is itself a triumph, and I’m proud to have been part of it. The policy commits faculty to making their work available using the California Digital Library’s eScholarship platform, or any other open access repository. It will begin on Nov. 1st, and will roll out first at UCLA and UCI, in addition to UCSF which passed a policy in May of 2012. Continue reading

Anthropologists Engaging with Media

“Anthropology,” James Peacock said in a 1995 address at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, “boasts brilliant observers, cultural critics, writers, and creators, yet few if any of us have produced books that we (not to mention others) crave to read, films that we crave to see, or music that we crave to hear.” Eighteen years have passed since Peacock spoke these words. So, have anthropologists today heeded his call?  Are the crucial issues of our time receiving public reflection from anthropologists, if not in books, then in popular media? What are some of the obstacles that prevent us from doing so more often?

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Professionalization in Anthropology Graduate Programs

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Rachel Newcomb. 

Many of us find the transition from graduate school to the world of the gainfully employed to be a challenging one. One moment, you’re happily ensconced in a library carrel, surrounded by your beloved field notes and cranking away at your dissertation. The next moment, you’re lecturing to two hundred first year university students who may be in the room solely for a general education credit, and who could care less about your deep and abiding affection for kinship theory. Or maybe you’re sitting across the table from a nonprofit interviewer who wants to know whether your experience studying the effects of globalization on Ilongot gender roles will make you a good candidate to work with a team of social entrepreneurs promoting fair trade coffee in Indonesia.

How are graduate students trained to make the transition from the apprenticeship model of academia to settings that may be very different from our expectations?  Since receiving my PhD in 2004 from a research university, I have wondered how other graduate schools prepared students for Life After PhD. During my graduate school years, my professors were always generous with their knowledge whenever I approached them with questions about academia. Yet at that time, there was no formal instruction on what happened once the dissertation was defended, bound, and stored away on acid free paper in the university library.
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Colonial Entanglement [Book Review]

Colonial Entanglement [book review]

Dennison, Jean. 2012. Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-first Century Osage Nation. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill.

Framed by the public debates surrounding the Osage Nation’s moment of constitutional reform in the mid-2000s this ethnography illuminates the diversity of ways Osage define themselves and imagine their future as a polity, creating and negotiating ideas of self and nation. The first book from Jean Dennison, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Colonial Entanglement makes a strong contribution to the study of American Indian identity. It will be a must-read for anyone working with Native nations in the midst of institutional reform.


Contemporary relationships between Native Nations and their land can be shaped by complicated colonial histories. The Osage situation is especially convoluted! The colonizer did something unique to the Osage and Dennison begins by orienting the reader. In 1906 when the reservation was allotted, the mineral rights were separated from the surface lands. Some Osage held mineral wealth as a collective but all individuals held their land as ordinary private property. Thus the tribal membership roll is greater than the number of members with shares in the mineral trust. To be an Osage citizen you have to be a lineal descendant of someone on the 1906 roll, but all the headrights to the mineral trust were distributed at the moment of allotment. To have a share of the mineral trust you have to be descended from someone who was allotted and that’s a more select group than those who are enrolled.

The author shares a family anecdote. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest

Every day at Savage Minds we are diligently scouring the web for the best and most relevant current events and anthropology blogs. Ha! No not really. We just throw some stuff up on Twitter every once in awhile. But some of it is actually pretty good. At the first of the month I re-post our tweets here on the blog, just in case you missed one.

If you like your links a little more fresh, I invite you to follow us @savageminds or like our Facebook page. And if you’ve seen something around the web that you’d like to share with our community you can reach me at [].