All posts by Carole McGranahan

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

Can There Be a Cheat-Proof Exam?

Cheating is not fun for anyone, except perhaps for the student who does not get caught. At my university I have only one class I teach for non-majors, that is students from around campus who are not majoring in anthropology. It is a class in the anthropology of Tibet, and is a large, lecture class consisting of 150-250 students in any given semester. Each week I lecture twice for fifty minutes, and the students have weekly “recitation” sessions of roughly twenty-five students each where they collectively discuss that week’s readings and lectures with a graduate student Teaching Assistant (TA). This is a classic course model for a large, public university in the USA. It is a course I resisted teaching for years—so many students, I thought. How could I ever teach about Tibet to such a huge audience?—but one I have now taught five times since 2008, and that I have come to love. There is a thrilling combination of reaching an audience for whom this is likely to be the first and only class in anthropology or about Tibet for the great majority of the students. I like to think of the students taking lessons from anthropology back with them to their home majors, whether it is biology or business or neuroscience or journalism. I [optimistically] like to think of them rethinking aspects of their studies, or the world around them, with the introduction to anthropology via Tibet they have received. Of the many things I like about the course, there is one thing I do not: it is the only course in which I catch students cheating.

My initial explanation for this was due to the fact that the course was mostly non-majors. Anthropology students were more committed, less likely to cheat, I thought. Non-majors took the course as a novelty, it seemed, thinking it would be interesting but easy. Some were not amused when they found out it was not easy but actually required attending lecture and recitation, and reading, and thinking. Other students loved the class, and over the years, a number have changed their majors to anthropology after taking this class (and other ones my colleagues teach similar to this—“gateway” classes, we sometimes call them). These students, and the overwhelming majority of the students did not cheat, but instead enjoyed a semester devoted to a topic often radically different than that what they usually studied. For some students it was the only time they had written papers in their college career. Others had no idea how to study for the exam. “Its all stories,” they would say. “And do we need to know the theories?” Exactly, and yes. Welcome to anthropology. Continue reading

Counting and Being Counted: New AAA Tenure and Promotion Guidelines on Public Scholarship

How do we count and value public scholarship in anthropology? — Do we count and value public scholarship in anthropology? — And, how do we do it at the time of tenure and promotion?

Some departments of anthropology do value and count public scholarship, and have for a long time. Some have built metrics or possibilities into their evaluation systems for considering public scholarship as a part of one’s intellectual work. Others haven’t. Some universities have made strong statements about the value of public scholarship. Indiana University is a one good example; see their Faculty Learning Community’s work on this, including system-wide guidelines on how to count such scholarship. But most universities do not have formal guidelines or even mandates for public scholarship.

Public scholarship is a key part of anthropology. In some ways, it has been part of our practice for a very long time. In other ways, it feels newly important in today’s political climate. Regardless of the genealogies we might chart for the anthropological commitment to having our scholarship be public, it has sometimes been considered something extra to what we do, or something that falls outside what we count as “real” contributions to the field. Given the move of some departments and some universities, as well as some other disciplines to find ways to acknowledge the value of public scholarship, AAA President Alisse Waterston decided it was time for anthropology to act. Continue reading

Rogue: Scholarly Responsibility in the Time of Trump

What if scholars need to go rogue? If anthropologists need to go rogue? In the USA right now, we are not in normal times, but in a new period of attack on academia and science, on facts and funding, on communities with whom anthropologists conduct their research, and on communities to which anthropologists belong. Our scholarly knowledge is increasingly needed in new political ways. But, how do we act effectively and with an awareness of the issues and risks involved?

On Saturday, February 4, 2017, I gave a talk at Duke University as part of their “Precarious Publics” workshop. My invitation was to speak about public anthropology and the current political moment. The initial title of my talk, decided upon after the election but before the inauguration, was “Political Crisis and Scholarly Responsibility, or, Public Anthropology in the Time of Trump.” After the inauguration, things changed, and so did my title. Amidst not only the Muslim ban/immigration ban, but also the attack on climate change science, including the banning of the open, public sharing of scientific knowledge, and in some cases, the erasure of scientific research conducted during the period of the Obama administration, it was no longer sufficient to simply consider “public” anthropology. Instead, along with colleagues in numerous governmental offices and institutions—from the National Park Service to the EPA to NASA to the White House itself—it was time to think of a rogue anthropology. The new title for my talk, delivered on the sixteenth day of the Trump presidency (and posted here on the sixty-first day) was: “If On the Sixteenth Day … : Rogue Anthropology.” Continue reading

Resistance, Hegemony, Violence, Empire: The Next #AnthReadIn on March 24, 2017

By: Paige West and J.C. Salyer

This month the Anthropology Read In (#AnthReadIn) will move our collective focus to the articulation of United States Empire, environmental violence, and the dynamics of resistance. On March 24 (the third Friday of the month) we will come together to read the following pieces: the Introduction to Alyosha Goldstein’s edited volume “Formations of United States Colonialisms” (Duke 2014), the Introduction to Rob Nixon’s “Slow Violence” (Harvard 2011), and an excerpt from “Poor People’s Movements and the Structuring of Protest” by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward.

Taken together these three pieces guide us to towards an understanding of how the United States became a global hegemonic force, how that force and the structures of capital behind and within it came to override the rights and needs of global citizens with regard to the environment, and the complex dynamics of how politically marginalized people resist multiple forms of domination and oppression.

These readings are meant to elucidate the deeper historical context of Trump administration’s policies without diminishing the uniqueness of the challenges posed by the brutal onslaught of the administration’s revanchist campaign against the rights of indigenous people, immigrants, minorities, and the poor. Thus, we want to highlight that to act in the present moment requires that we acknowledge and understand that the historical precedents that have allowed for a phenomenon such as Trump have for a long time been a far greater burden for marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed peoples. At the same time, the current policies threaten to ravage the environment on a global level and dispossess people – economically, socially, and politically – on a disastrously unprecedented scale and demand unity in condemnation and resistance. Thus, we must recognize that to resist Trump now, requires us to address the crushing socioeconomic inequality that preceded this moment and generate a movement that does not merely long for a time before Trump but demands a future of equality and justice heretofore unrealized.

Now, a short reminder of how this works: On the third Friday of every month for the next four years (or as short or long as necessary), using the new #AnthReadIn on Twitter and utilizing the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/170068806806067/ we come together in person and virtually to read, think, and discuss. The event is co sponsored by Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Environment and Society, and Political and Legal Anthropology, based on hundreds of suggestions from anthropologists, and conceptualized initially and curated by Paige West and J. C. Salyer.

 

Paige West is Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University

JC Salyer is Term Professor of Practice, Barnard College

No, These Are Not the Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations

Since 2009, the blog AnthropologyWorks has created an annual list of the “Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.” Being included on this list seems as if it might be a grand honor, but is it? Unfortunately, the answer is no, not really.

Here is why: the process for choosing the “best” dissertations is problematic. It consists of one anthropologist reading the abstracts of dissertations published in that year. Just the abstracts; no actual dissertations are read to determine which are “best.”

But it gets worse: only abstracts of dissertations in certain research areas are eligible. In order to be considered, one’s scholarship must overlap with the focus of the AnthropologyWorks blog, as follows: “food, resources, and livelihoods; power and politics; health; conflict and violence; population dynamics; stratification including race, class, gender, and age; activism, programs and policies.” This list is wide, but is not inclusive of all possible anthropology topics. If you don’t do research on any of these topics, you are not even considered for “best” distinction.

For the final blow, only scholarship from the USA is included. Have a PhD from outside the U.S.? Is it fantastic? Too bad. You’re not eligible for consideration. Continue reading

The Stories We Tell about Resettlement: Refugees, Asylum and the #MuslimBan

By: Nadia El-Shaarawi

As a volunteer legal advocate working with refugees who were seeking resettlement, I learned to ask detailed questions about persecution. These were the kind of questions you would never ask in polite conversation: Who kidnapped your best friend? Were they wearing uniforms? What did those uniforms look like? Where did they hit you? Did you pay a ransom for her release? How did you identify her body? Questions like these, which refugees are asked over and over as part of the already extreme vetting that they undergo to be granted asylum and resettlement, are personal, intimate, painful. They demand a precise and consistent command of autobiographical detail and the strength to revisit events that one might otherwise want to forget. They try to get to the heart of what happened to a person, what forced them to leave everything behind.

On a more cynical level, these questions try to catch a person in a lie, to identify those who are not “deserving” of refuge. The answers are checked and cross-checked, asked again and again across multiple agencies and organizations. In separate interviews, family members are asked the same questions. Do the answers match up? Do the dates and places make sense? Were you a victim of persecution? Are you who you say you are? While these questions and their answers shape the narrative of an individual resettlement case, there is a way in which they don’t get to the heart of what happened to a person, why someone was forced to flee, cross at least one border to enter another state, and is now seeking resettlement in a third country.

Vetting, extreme or otherwise, is about inclusion and exclusion. But before someone even gets to the arduous, opaque process of being considered for resettlement in the United States, decisions are made at the executive level about who to include in a broader sense. While the Refugee Convention provides protection for any person with a “well-founded fear of persecution” on specific grounds, this has never been the full story of the US refugee program, where a presidential determination each year decides how many refugees will be resettled, and from where. Some die-hard advocates and detractors aside, refugee resettlement has historically had bipartisan support and mostly stays under the radar of public attention, except, it seems, in moments where it becomes a reflection of broader anxieties and struggles over belonging and exclusion. Continue reading

Refugees, Immigrants, and Trump’s Executive Order: Six Anthropologists Speak Out

By: Catherine Besteman, Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, Tricia Redeker Hepner, Carole McGranahan, Nomi Stone, and Marnie Thomson

 

The Racist Gift of Immigration and Citizenship Bans, Again

Catherine Besteman

How can we understand Donald Trump’s executive order banning the entry of immigrants from Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Iraq, as well as all refugees? As an act of national security, the ban makes no sense. Rather, I read them as a racist gift to the white Christian alt-right that formed President Trump’s initial core base. The United States has a history of bans and color bars to entry and citizenship, about which we are rightfully embarrassed in hindsight. The Naturalization Act of 1790 restricted citizenship to only white immigrants, a law that remained on the books until 1952. Entry to the US remained open to anyone, however, until the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and then the Johnson Reed Act of 1924, which imposed the first comprehensive control over immigration. The Act placed a cap on the number of people to be admitted, set national origins quotas based on the 1890 census for entry, and barred anyone ineligible for citizenship from entry. By using the 1890 census, the national origins quotas intentionally favored immigrants from northern Europe and restricted Jewish immigrants because of anti-Semitism and fears of Communist influence.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court declared ineligible for citizenship everyone from Japan to Afghanistan, with the exception of the Philippines, then a US territory, thus creating a new racial category of “Asian” to be universally banned. When comprehensive immigration reform in 1965 removed national origins quotas and bans, it was heralded as a rejection of racist barriers to entry and a victory for American values of justice, human rights, and fairness. A dog whistle to those lusting for white Christian hegemony, the bans are an initial step to return America to a time when Muslims were barred from entry and immigration to the US was controlled by and for whites only. Continue reading

Hannah Arendt and Martin Luther King Jr.: The Next #AnthReadIn on February 17, 2017

By: JC Salyer and Paige West

On January 20, over one thousand anthropologists came together to read Michel Foucault’s lecture eleven in “Society Must Be Defended.” What began as a simple blog post became a global showing of scholarly solidarity and transnational anthropological community building in the wake of the disastrous presidential election in the United States. Groups in sixteen countries convened to both read aloud and discuss Foucault’s analysis of biopower, racism, and the state. Some of these groups were based in university settings but many were not. We had readers in pubs, museums, living rooms, on a live radio broadcast, and in front of Trump Tower in New York City. After the events on January 20 people contacted us through e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter, to describe the sense of collective scholarly engagement that this event provided. Many said that the feeling of anthropological community in the face of this disastrous political change grounded them.

In the wake of this extraordinary response to the initial Read-In idea, we now propose along with co-sponsors Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Environment and Society, and Political and Legal Anthropology, and based on hundreds of suggestions from anthropologists, a monthly global Anthropology Read-In.

Here is how it will work: On the third Friday of every month for the next four years (or as short or long as necessary), using the new #AnthReadIn on Twitter and utilizing the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/170068806806067/, we will come together to read and discuss a single text or a few short texts. Anthropologists will curate the monthly reading lists with each curator, or curatorial collective, assuming responsibility for three months’ worth of readings. At the end of their tenure as curators, they will then pass the responsibility on to another individual or group. Hence, we will provide readings for February and March and then pass the responsibility onto someone else who will provide readings for April, May, and June. We are hoping that this method (a kind of snowball sampling method of editorial control) will move the privilege of choosing the readings around through a broad network of anthropologists and through a range of perspectives and expertise.

We initially chose lecture eleven from “Society Must Be Defended” because we had both been trying to think through how the election did and did not alter the United States as a nation-state. In the two months following the election we watched in horror as hate crimes increased in the United States and as it became even clearer than it had been in the months leading up to the election that the new administration was going to focus on representing Black Lives Matter protesters, migrants, and other people of color as enemies of the state. Therefore, we wanted to read Foucault to consider how racism is the dividing practice par excellence of the modern biopolitical state. But we also wanted to remind ourselves that the state itself is grounded in, and literally built on, racism and dispossession. Specifically, it is on the land of indigenous peoples and it was built with and through the labor of slaves.

Sadly, the first week of the Trump administration has proved to be as much of an assault on principles of equality, democracy, and humanism as was feared, if not more so. Because we believe it is important that the #AnthReadIn be primarily about providing an intellectual response to the Trump presidency, we have tried to select readings that directly address that actions of the administration and that challenge us to consider what is actually mandated in terms of a moral response. Therefore, for February 17 we propose to read Hannah Arendt’s “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man,” which is the ninth chapter of The Origins of Totalitarianism as well as Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Personally, we will both be reading, discussing, and sharing our thoughts through social media. We invite you to do the same.

 

Paige West is Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University

JC Salyer is Term Professor of Practice, Barnard College

Welcome Zoe Todd to our Core Blogging Team!

On behalf of the entire core blogging team of this soon-to-be-renamed blog, I am delighted to announce that Zoe S. Todd will be joining us as our newest member!

Zoe Todd—“Academic, Writer, Indigenous Feminist, Métis Advocate”–is assistant professor of anthropology at Carleton University. Her research is on colonial and legal relationships between indigenous peoples and the Canadian state, and cultural relationships between people and animals, especially in the context of indigenous personhood. Zoe has been a guest blogger for us before; her past writings are:

What Does It Mean to Decolonize Anthropology in Canada? (2016)

Tansi! Tawnshi! (2015)

Tending to duties across legal orders: committing anthropology while Indigenous (2015)

The We and Them of Anthropology (2015)

Building Better Disciplines: An Interview with Black Feminist Philosopher Cato Taylor (2015)

The Work of Kyle Ways Mabinaw: Bringing History to Young People (2015)

“Academia Has Its Own Set of Rules”: Jenny Davis on language revitalization and Indigenous gender and sexuality in North America (2015)

Welcome, Zoe!

 

 

 

Society Must Be Defended: Join us for a Read-In on 20 January 2017

By: Paige West and JC Salyer

 

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election scholars across the country and internationally have worked to understand the drivers for the election outcomes. We have tried to foresee the potential consequences of a Republican party domination of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government for vulnerable populations, for the environment, and for the economy. And, we continue to grapple with the serious threats the president elect and his cabinet nominees pose to the freedom of the press, to citizen’s rights to free speech, and to the various protections that scholars receive through university systems of academic freedom and tenure. At most universities there have been teach-ins, learn-ins, and panels, as well as emergency meetings of departments, faculty action groups, student groups, and other concerned parties. What more can scholars do?

Since the election, one statement we have heard repeatedly from some academics, pundits, journalists, and bloggers who write about academic life, is that scholars need to somehow change what they are doing, and how they are doing it, in order to face this seemingly new political reality in the Unites States. While the latter part of this argument has been addressed by numerous scholars and activists who write and think about race, class, sexuality, and inequality more generally – with clear and compelling arguments about how this is not a “new” political reality for many but rather a kind of contemporary culmination and re-entrenchment of the structures of power and oppression that underpin the entirety of the national political project – the former part of the argument has been allowed to stand with little critique. Do we need to change what we do and not just how we do it? Not necessarily. Continue reading

Why Anthropologists Failed to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

By: Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar

In 2016 the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions for their involvement in the illegal occupation of Palestine both gathered significant steam and faced a huge roadblock. In the United States, the country that largely underwrites and funds the Israeli occupation, the call to boycott initiated in 2004 by Palestinian civil rights organizations movement has had some impressive successes, with eight associations endorsing it thus far, notably in academic fields that challenge Eurocentrism.[1] The movement continued to grow last year as scholars across disciplines learned more about the Israeli occupation and its consequences. Several larger academic organizations discussed or voted on the boycott call, including the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA). As criticisms of the Israeli state and Zionist ideology spread, backlash intensified.

We are part of the diverse group of anthropologists of different backgrounds, including Israelis and Palestinians, who have organized a movement to convince the AAA membership to adopt the boycott. For several years, we have worked to educate our colleagues about both Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the boycott as an effective tactic by which to support those rights. We’ve done this through panels, roundtables, dozens of op-eds, videos, webinars, teach-ins, email outreach, and canvassing on the floors of various anthropology conferences. As the MLA begins its discussions of the boycott, we offer this retrospective on the AAA vote last spring. Continue reading

Re-Naming the Savage Minds Blog: Your Suggestions, Please

The editorial collective at Savage Minds has decided to change our name. We have several reasons for this, but mostly feel that the name no longer fits or best represents the blog. As a title, “Savage Minds” was a sort of anthropological insider’s double pun. As we explain on our About page, the name “comes from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind, published in 1966. The original title of the book in French, La Pensée Sauvage, was meant to be a pun, since it could mean both ‘wild thought’ or ‘wild pansies,’ and he put pansies on the cover of the book, just to make sure readers got the pun. Lévi-Strauss was unhappy with the English title of his book, which he thought ought to have been “Pansies for Thought” (a reference to a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet). We liked the phrase “savage minds” because it captured the intellectual and unruly nature of academic blogging. As a result, the pansy has become our mascot as well.” And thus, a blog was born in 2005. Continue reading

“Pass the stuffing, hold the -isms please”: Engaging Mixed Philosophies and Difficult Conversations at the Dinner Table

By: Caitlyn Brandt, Allison Dudley, Will Lammons, and Aaron Trumbo

The holidays are upon us once again, and soon many of us will engage in those family dynamics that reunite extended family and old acquaintances. This is a time to be thankful for loved ones, but it can also be a reminder that “you choose your friends, but you don’t choose your family.” In many households, clashes over differing politics and ideologies are a holiday tradition. This season, however, passions are running especially high fresh out of a divisive U.S. election cycle. For many of us, the events of recent days have been a disheartening reminder of deep political division within the U.S., and the serious social and environmental injustices that persist. Yet for some, perhaps even members of our own families, the recent election has bolstered views of bigotry and prejudice along with the actionable expression of those beliefs. These deep divisions will be represented at dinner tables across the nation this holiday season. Thus, the question is how, as students and practitioners of anthropology, can we facilitate open discussions that acknowledge opposing views, while refuting bigotry and statements (or denials) that are potentially dangerous and hurtful? How can we turn these conversations into productive moments of solidarity during these celebrations of gratitude and family?

This essay is the result of a discussion on public anthropology in an empire seminar, where a ‘politics of scholarship’ discourse morphed into the ‘politics of Thanksgiving dinner’ discussion.  Anxieties over inevitable confrontations about refugees, sexism, border walls, race, climate change, and other divisive issues prompted us to consider our role as public spokespersons of the discipline. The holidays may test our patience and resilience in the face of tough conversations, but they can also be ground for public anthropology. In what follows, we enlist a set of best practices for confronting bigotry and insensitivities among family and friends in a direct, yet compassionate manner.
Continue reading

Race, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Trump, Prison Abolition, Welfare Reform, Pulse Orlando: #Teachingthedisaster through Crowdsourced Syllabi

The 2016 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association — or #AAA2016 #amanth2016 — just concluded in Minneapolis. I’ve been attending these meetings since 1993, and this was the most politicized, energized one I have experienced. From the opening comments of AAA President Alisse Waterston to panels on “Unapologetic Blackness” and activist sessions on #NoDAPL and more, a sense of urgency, action, and productive anger pervaded the meetings. A commitment to say no to hate, to white supremacy, to destructive policies, and to act on these commitments.

Teaching is part of our commitments.

anthropology

With this in mind, I continue here the initiative started by my SM colleague Zoë Wool to #teachthedisaster. Starting, I believe, with the #FergusonSyllabus, a new form of activist action is to curate a list of readings to teach about ongoing crises. These come from across the disciplines, and from scholars in and out of academia. I’m sharing all those I could find here. Some glaring absences—in my online searching at least—was anything on immigrant and refugee issues or on Islamophobia. If anyone knows of such syllabi, please do share the links. All contributions welcome. Continue reading

When Cultural Anthropology Was Popular: A Quiz

Guest post by Paul Shankman

Cultural anthropologists are often concerned that their work is not getting the public attention that it deserves. Yet just a few decades ago, cultural anthropology was familiar to a broad audience who thought it to be interesting, thought provoking, and even life changing. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the work of a number of cultural anthropologists found an appreciative public, and their books sold well. These anthropologists wrote in plain English, on eye-catching subjects, and for commercial presses rather than academic presses. Looking back, their work may elicit a mixture of admiration, amazement, embarrassment, and even dismay. Can you identify these anthropologists? (Answers follow the questions.)

THE QUIZ: Continue reading