Monthly Archives: November 2013

Snapshots of AAAs Past

AAA No.1*

My god, who are all these people? I never knew there were so many anthropologists! And so many books, panels, sub-fields, panels, etc. how to navigate it all? Maybe I’ll run out and do some sight-seeing instead…

AAA No.2

I’m giving a paper this time, but luckily it’s scheduled at a time nobody except my adviser will be there. Now that I’m in grad school I know some people who can help me navigate. I follow them around like a baby chicken. Continue reading

Ontology as the Major Theme of AAA 2013

Most attendees of the annual meetings in Chicago are, as one wag put it, exhAAAusted from all our conference going, and the dust is only now settling. As we look back on the conference, however, it is worth asking what actually happened there. Different people will have different answers to this question, but for me and the people in my scholarly network, the big answer is: ontology.

The term was not everywhere at the AAAs, but it was used consistently, ambitiously, audaciously, and almost totally unironically to offer anthropology something that it (supposedly) hasn’t had in a long time: A massive infusion of theory that will alter our paradigm, create a shift in the field that everyone will feel and which will orient future work, and that will allow us, once again, to ask big questions. To be honest, as someone who had been following ‘ontological anthropology’ for the past couple of years, I was sort of expecting it to not get much traction in the US. But the successful branding of the term and the cultural capital attached to it may prove me wrong yet.

In fact, there were just two major events with the world ontology in the title: the “Politics of Ontology” roundtable and the blowout “The Ontological Turn in French Philosophical Anthropology”. But these events were full of ‘stars’ and attracted plenty of attention.

Will this amount to anything? What is ontology anyway? Were there other themes that were more dominant in the conference? I don’t have any answers to these questions yet, but I hope to soon and will let you figure it out when I do. If you get there before me, then fire away in the comments section and we’ll see what people think.

Conference Chic, or, How to Dress Like an Anthropologist

By Carole McGranahan with Kate Fischer, Rachel Fleming, Willi Lempert, and Marnie Thomson

Wondering what to wear to the AAAs? We’ve got you covered. For women: throw a few scarves in your suitcase, a suitable range of black clothes, a kick-ass pair of shoes or boots, and some anthropological “flair,” and you should be good to go. Men need to pack their nice jeans, a good buttoned shirt, and the pièce de résistance: a stylish jacket. Unless you’re an archaeologist. Then all you need are jeans.

Anthropologists around the world are packing for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings (“the AAAs”) being held this year in balmy Chicago from November 20-24. What, you might wonder, are they packing? What look do anthropologists go for at the AAAs where thousands of anthropologists gather each year? We’ve turned to our social media networks to find out, posting this question on Twitter and on multiple Facebook accounts to learn just what fashion choices anthropologists are making this week. Continue reading

Copyright Law and Scholarly Communication — An Intro

In late October we marked the 6th International Open Access Week and in honor of the occasion the Perry Library at Old Dominion University (my employer) invited copyright attorney Kimberly Bonner to give a talk on negotiating agreements with scholarly publishers. The talk, “Scholarly publishing agreements: what you don’t know can hurt you, your university, and your peers,” fell ironically on Halloween day.

Bonner, who has 15 years experience in copyright law, presented a jokey easy going demeanor which helped deliver a rather dry topic. She was also kind enough to permit me to record her talk and post it to the Savage Minds blog. Now granted this is not a complete introduction to the vagaries of copyright as it pertains to scholarship, but if you currently know zip then you’ll know slightly more after listening to the talk.

In the space below I provide a chronology of the different topics Bonner touched on. I will place some bookmarks on the Soundcloud page later, that will help in case you don’t won’t to listen to the whole thing or want to come back to your favorite part. Continue reading

Made in China: Notes from the CIA Gift Shop

What might an anthropology of the covert look like? I think of the covert as a particular type of secret, one grounded in deception and shadows, and populated by individuals pretending—in part—to be someone other than who they actually are. My current research project is about the CIA as agents of US empire during the Cold War. It is about being invisible, being undercover, and being a legitimate ethnographic subject rather than just a historical or political one. Yet, what sort of ethnography can be written about covert, undercover subjects? How does one humanize the CIA?

I’ve been turning this question over since October 2009 when I found myself at CIA Headquarters. Two weeks before, a mysterious envelope arrived in my on-campus mailbox in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. The return address read “CIA Fine Arts Commission.” I remember looking around the office to see if this was a joke. The CIA Fine Arts Commission? For real? The CIA had an art department? It didn’t help matters that the envelope looked sort of homemade, as if someone had printed the mailing and return addresses on a home laser printer. Perhaps they had. At any rate, I opened the envelope up in the main anthropology office, thinking it was somehow safer to open it there rather than alone back in my own office.

There was no explosion. Phew. Continue reading

A hunter-gatherer in the stacks

For one of my library school assignments I had to bring something new to the class. I chose to report on an article out of The Library Quarterly, “An Optimal Foraging Approach to Information Seeking and Use,” (Vol. 64, No. 4, Oct. 1994, pp.414-449) by Pamela Sandstrom. Since I teach hunter-gatherer food foraging behavior in my Introduction to Anthropology class I was interested to see whether the application of evolutionary ecology to information seeking behavior was warranted. Was this a genuinely productive application of the model or if it was merely an interesting metaphor?

Prior to grad school I never had an interest in human ecology, but through my studies with Brian Billman and Bruce Winterhalder (and via being married to biologist) this has become one of the defining attributes of my anthropological worldview. In fact I remember Old Man Winterhalder mentioning in class that his work modeling forager behavior had been cited in research on how people find information on the Internet. It was a treat to finally get around to reading something that had been recommended to me about twelve years ago!

In a nutshell optimal foraging theory (OFT) describes animal/ resource relationships such as predator-prey, mate seeking, or how tribal peoples living in small-scale societies acquire wild foods. The basic components of the theory include an actor who is making choices, a currency that measures costs and benefits, any constraints that limit or otherwise shape behavior, and a strategy that specifies a range of possible options for the actor.

Imagine you are a woman who feeds her family by collecting nuts and berries. You walk to your favorite nut grove but some wild boars have beaten you there and they’ve already eaten most of the ground fall. Which course of action would be a better use of your time: carefully picking through the remaining nuts or walking out of your way to the next grove? Or say you are a man with a spear out hunting free roaming wild animals. You come across the tracks of an antelope: should you invest your energy in following this fast moving animal or look for something that’s easier to catch? We are all descended from ancestors who successfully answered similar questions.
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AAA to hear resolution on contingent and part-time academic labor

At the AAA business meeting, the Committeee on Labor Relations (Sharry Kasmir, chair) will bring forward a resolution on adjunct rights. If you are attending the meeting on Thursday and care about adjunct rights please come to show your support. For this resolution to go forward there has to be a quorum met, so it is vital that we have enough warm bodies in the room.

That’s Thursday, 11/21 at 6:15pm.


Whereas the number of faculty members teaching in the US in non-tenure track, contingent positions—defined as part-time or adjunct faculty, full-time non-tenure track, postdoctoral teachers, or graduate student teaching assistants—has more than doubled since 1970;

And today these colleagues teach more than 75% of classes nationwide;
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Grambling State as football in dialectic

The corporate enclosure of American academia continues apace. Some current events have brought this into sharper focus, both revolving around the mania for assessment. A third news story offers us hope in the guise of some unlikely role models.

Does anything embody neoliberalism in education to a greater degree than standardized testing? While I’m not expert enough to proclaim a starting point for neoliberalism (the late, great Neil Smith took a stab at it) and can remember well sitting through ITBS all the way back in 1984 Texas, we can acknowledge No Child Left Behind as a symbolic and significant policy event shaping the contemporary education scene. NCLB was supposed to be the centerpiece of Bush’s promised “compassionate conservativism” and, indeed, it does have a sensible conservative principle at its core. Recipients of public monies ought to be held accountable such that resources flow to more effective programming.

Anyone shepherding their children through public K-12 education knows what this has meant in practice. Stress and anxiety imposed on young bodies by high stakes testing. Weeks and weeks of teaching to the test. Loss of teacher’s instructional freedom. Disciplining young bodies into docility before computer monitors, diligently clicking away with a mouse for hours. Hours for a little kid to take these tests ya’ll.

Hey! I’ve got a great idea! Let’s bring standardized testing to higher education and use student performance on the test to assess faculty. A recent article in the Chronicle, “States Demand That Colleges Show How Well Their Students Learn” 10/28/13 (behind paywall but worth reading if you have access), describes just such a movement.
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Culture, Genuine and Spurious: SMOPS 5

This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series presents an edited version of Edward Sapir’s essay “Culture, Genuine and Spurious.” “Culture, Genuine and Spurious” is worth reading for several reasons: it demonstrates the way anthropological theory can be applied to ethical issues; it exemplifies the way Boasians founded public anthropology by weighing in on the great issues of their day alongside cultural critics like Randolph Bourne or George Seldes; it gives us insights into the opinions of Boasians on cultural imperialism and the exploitation of labor; and above all, it presents us with a set of questions — and answers — that are as relevant today as they were eighty years ago.

Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series #5 Culture, Genuine and Spurious by Edward Sapir, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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The Digital Revolution and Anthropological Film

[The following is an invited post by Jay Ruby. Jay has been exploring the relationship between cultures and pictures for the over forty years. His research interests revolve around the application of anthropological insights to the production and comprehension of photographs, film, and television. For the past three decades, he has conducted ethnographic studies of pictorial communication among several U.S. communities.]

I first became interested in documentary and ethnographic film in the 1960s and was a witness to a profound technological change motivated by the need some filmmakers had to create a new cinematic form. It occurred in two places almost simultaneously – France and the U.S. Filmmakers wanted lightweight 16mm cameras with sync sound that needed no lighting and would need only a small crew for location shoots. In 1960, Drew Associates – Bob Drew, Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennybaker jerry-rigged a fairly lightweight 16mm camera attached to a synced tape recorder and made the first American Direct Cinema film, Primary. (Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007) With its grainy, wobbly sometimes out of focus images and often-garbled sound, the film radically altered how some U.S documentarians made movies. While an interest in observational style films was relatively short among U.S. documentarians, some European anthrofilmmakers still consider it the best way to make films (See Anna Grinshaw and Amanda Ravetz’s 2009 Observational Cinema: Film and the Exploration of Social Film, Indiana University Press).

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