Just over 10 years ago, Kerim contacted me with an idea. I’ve long since lost that first email but the gist was “Hey, this blogging thing seems to be going places, but there don’t seem to be many anthropologists doing it. We’re young and stupid, wouldn’t it be cool if we started a blog about anthropology?”
It would be cool.
The idea was simple: we’d collect a bunch of anthros, given them logins, and let them post whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, so long as it was somehow about anthropology. Interestingly, none of us had ever met, and wouldn’t for several years — this was all organized by email. Within a week or so, we had our first lineup: Kerim, Nancy, Ozma, Rex, Tak, and myself. Our freshman class, so to speak.
And on May 15, 2005, 10 years ago today, Kerim posted Welcome to Savage Minds and Savage Minds became a reality.
A note about the name: “Savage Minds” is one possible translation of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ La pensée sauvage (other translations include “the thinking savage”, “wild thoughts”, and of course, “wild pansies”, hence our header image). I can’t remember the other names we threw around, but we liked “Savage Minds” because a) it was a nod to a classic model of anthropology (as is our subtitle, “Notes and queries in anthropology’, which references the early 20th century British field reports, “Notes and queries”), and b) it had the feel of the kind of thing a bunch of self-important Fox News pundits would call themselves, and that struck us as funny at the time.
Over the years, many of the founding Minds have left the site for various professional and personal reasons, and we’ve added others. Within that first year, we already started reaching out to guest bloggers for commentary on specific timely topics none of us felt super-qualified to comment on; that first year saw posts by Fred and Errington and Deborah Gewirtz, Tad McIlwraith, and Maia Green (who has gone on to become a regular blogger here, what we call a full-time Mind). Kerim and Rex, of course, remain frequent contributors, while I struggle to come up with a post or two each year.
An anniversary is a time for looking backwards and reflecting on what one has accomplished, as well as looking forward to what one might do in the years ahead. In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to have a look at what our freshman class of Minds is doing today, starting with the Minds still active (though, in my case, barely) today.
Kerim Friedman, of course, still plays an active role in writing for Savage Minds as well as handling the behind-the-scenes maintenance of the site. When he’s not under our server jacked-up in the front yard, Kerim is an Associate Professor of Ethnic Relations and Cultures in the college of Indigenous Studies at the National Dong Hwa University in Hualien, Taiwan, where he teaches courses in linguistic and visual anthropology, among other topics, to a student body that is 60% indigenous. He is also, with his wife Shashwati Talukdar, a documentary filmmaker whose charmingly-titled film Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir! docuiments the lives of one of India’s Denotified Tribes. The film was awarded the 2011 Jean Rouch Award for Collaborative Filmmaking from the Society of Visual Anthropology.
Alex Golub (the beloved Rex) is also still an active writer at Savage Minds. He is also an Associate Professor in the Anthropology department at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and has done extensive fieldwork in Papua/New Guinea (much of which he was written about here). Last year, he published Leviathans at the Gold Mine: Creating Indigenous and Corporate Actors in Papua New Guinea with Duke University Press, an ethnographic account of the relationship between the indigenous Ipili people and the international corporation mining gold on their land. He has also published on research carried out within the online space of World of Warcraft.
Dustin Wax is me. I’m also known as OneMan on the site because when Kerim contacted me, my blog was called One Man’s Opinion and in those days we all thought we needed pseudonyms to be cool, and mind was OneMan. (I got better…) After the total dissolution of the Anthropology department at The New School for Social Research made it nigh impossible to finish my PhD (seriously, they wanted me to re-do the MA and PhD core!) I floundered about for a few years freelance writing (including working as the managing editor of Lifehack.org for a few years), all the while adjuncting at the Community College of Southern Nevada (now the College of Southern Nevada) and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where I taught (and still teach) Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Gender, Race, and Class. In 2010 I became the collection manager at UNLV’s Barrick Museum and began volunteering at the Burlesque Hall of Fame (BHoF), a museum dedicated to the history of burlesque. In fall of 2011 I became the Interim Director at BHoF, a position that became permanent in summer of 2012, at which point I left the Barrick. In 2008, Pluto Press published my edited volume, Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War: The Influence of McCarthyism, Foundations, and the CIA; the same year, I self-published a handbook on college success called Don’t Be Stupid: A Guide to Learning, Studying, and Succeeding at College.
Nancy Leclerc has transitioned to Jacky Vallée. They teach anthropology at Vanier College in Montreal and are working on a PhD dissertation at l’Université de Montréal. Their fieldwork took place in an Eeyou community in northern Quebec and dealt with the worldviews and life experiences of Native people who consume, or have consumed alcohol. They used an ethnomethodological and phenomenological approach. Other activities include promoting Indigenous and queer visibility at their college, co-running a drag troupe for 7 years, being involved in various community activities in Montreal, participating in Québec’s social revolution, and raising a teenager. They also sporadically blog at https://anthrojack.wordpress.com/
Ozma left the blog after an internal dispute and asked not to be part of this remembrance.
Tak Watanabe is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.
Most of us were graduate students when we started this thing; it’s interesting to note that except for me, all of the other first-year Minds have remained firmly in academia, and mostly in tenure-track (and tenured) positions. Although the vast bulk of my time is given over the the demands of running and growing a museum dedicated to histories that are typically ignored, I too have kept one foot in academia, continuing to teach as an adjunct.
Sadly, several of the early Minds left quite quickly, highlighting problems we have struggled with ever since. Some were simply unprepared for the public, and publicly contentious, nature of blogging — it’s not everyone who can calmly watch as commentors and other bloggers attack not just their writing but them as people. I don’t think any of us were prepared for that, actually, and it frustrated some of us pretty thoroughly. To be fair, it took us a while to figure out how to deal with comments [Ed. note: It’s taken TEN YEARS!] — on one hand, the potential for conversation is really the high point of the medium, on the other… well, the Internet can be an ugly place.
Unfortunately, among those who walked away were the only women in our lineup, and the only non-white Mind as well. For many reasons, some of which remain mysterious, Savage Minds has never been able to build and maintain much diversity in our lineup, an issue we started worrying about before the site even launched and which continues to this day. Part of it is surely the gendered nature of online spaces (paralleling the male-centrism of offline spaces) — women in public are often targeted more fiercely than men, not just at Savage Minds but throughout the Web, most notably recently on Twitter and Reddit.
On the other hand, Savage Minds has proven that blogs, and the online space in general, can be important forums for advancing new ideas and fostering new relationships. Most notably, Savage Minds has been a key voice in furthering the Open Access movement within anthropology, making the case for increasing the relevance of our work by making it available more widely, and especially by fulfilling our ethical requirement to make our work available to the people we study. We have also been an important outlet for critical discussion around the use of anthropology for the advancement of US military objectives abroad, through programs like PRISP and the Army’s Human Terrain Studies. And I’d like to think we’ve done yeoman’s work of holding Jared Diamond’s feet to the fire.
Most importantly, I think Savage Minds has shown the importance of releasing half-baked ideas “into the wild” for discussion and consideration. Ideas do not emerge in a vacuum; we more than any other discipline recognize the social and cultural fields at play in the development of concepts and theories that advance our understanding of the world. Yet we remain committed to these strange ideals of the solitary fieldworker and the solitary writer producing ethnographies, with the tiniest of tiny nods towards social idea-making in the 12-minute conference presentation which, we all know, is hardly enough time to even skim the depths of our work. Savage Minds aimed to fill that gap by challenging us to think in public — and let the public think back at us.
It’s worked out pretty well for us in the first 10 years. Hopefully the next 10 years will be even better. All we need is for Jared Diamond to publish something…