All posts by Dick Powis

Dick Powis

Dick Powis is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include men and childbirth, prenatal screening technologies, and reproductive health in urban settings in Senegal. Read more at dickpowis.com.

On the Importance of Collaboration (and Remuneration!) in Ethnographic Photography

(C) Dick Powis 2017

“Photography was a license to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do,” [Diane] Arbus wrote. The camera is a kind of passport that annihilates moral boundaries and social inhibitions, freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward the people photographed. The whole point of photographing people is that you are not intervening in their lives, only visiting them. The photographer is supertourist, an extension of the anthropologist, visiting natives and bringing back news of their exotic doings and strange gear. The photographer is always trying to colonize new experiences or find new ways to look at familiar subjects—to fight against boredom” (Sontag 1977, 33).

The very popular photography blog, PetaPixel, posted an article yesterday called “How to Deal with Locals Who Ask You for Money to Take Their Photo.” If you can’t tell from the title, the author – Kelly Johnson – argues that people asking for money must be “dealt with.” Photographers, they argue, should consider ways to take photos of people that don’t involve giving them money, because, as they write, “You may be harming them more than helping.” Paternalism is paired generously in this article with condescension, as they suggest photographers should not always take locals’ requests for money seriously. After a great deal of negative attention, the article was taken down, but luckily, the internet never forgets (a colleague found a cached version), but then it did forget for some reason (and now it’s gone). As it turns out, the article was posted on Johnson’s business blog a few days prior by the company’s founder, Etienne Bossot. (There’s no telling how long it will stay up.) It’s not clear who is the actual author, so I’ll address them both below.

I’m writing about this because, as an ethnographer who uses photography extensively, I find that these ethical issues cut across both fields of expertise, and that ethnographers might learn something from a conversation that is ongoing and concurrent amongst travel photographers. Below what I have to say here, I’ve taken to annotating the article as I might a student’s rough draft, though with much less tact.

Continue reading

A Note about Changing the Name of the Blog and the Podcast Series

Earlier this week, in collaboration with the podcast This Anthro Life, we debuted our new five-part series called “These Anthro Minds” – except that wasn’t the first choice for the title. A rather unfortunate choice that incorporated words from our own blog title made it through unvetted, a choice that had the unwanted consequence of retraumatizing those who take issue with the name of our blog in the first place.

Since announcing that we would like to change the name, I have heard from a number of Colleagues of Color in anthropology who support our decision. Most frequent among the responses were “It’s about time,” and “You know there’s a reason I never felt comfortable guest blogging for you.” Some of us knew that the name was problematic, and and some of us knew that it held the potential to marginalize these colleagues, but I don’t think we ever knew if it actually did. All the more reason to change it.

I fear that the favor we have won with the gesture of initiating this change has evaporated in the extended length of time that it has taken to deliberate on a new name. (We hope to announce by #AAA2017 in Washington DC.) All I can say is that we have not prioritized what needs to be prioritized in order to arrest the ongoing damage. For that, I am sorry.

Now, with this incident involving TAL, I also fear that it might appear to our Colleagues of Color that someone here at this blog has doubled-down on their belief that the blog title is not problematic. I can assure you that we all recognize the problem with the name. The producers of TAL moved forward with the name unaware that we would like to distance ourselves from it. That we ever thought it would be an appropriate title for our blog speaks to the dehistoricized and institutionalized characteristics of méconnu words that are tangled in a web of esoteric social theory, French-English translational puns, and “post-racial” anthropology, while casually traumatizing and marginalizing those that we (white Euro-American anthropologists) have historically traumatized and marginalized.

For what it’s worth, when we brought this issue to their attention, the producers of TAL changed the series name with lightning speed.

The new name for the podcast series, “These Anthro Minds,” was suggested by Indigenous Scholar and Biological Anthropology PhD Candidate Savannah Martin from Washington University in St. Louis.

In short: We can do better. You deserve better.

We’re Hiring a Social Media Intern!

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: SEPTEMBER 10, 2016.

We’re hiring! Are anthropology blogs and news part of your daily intake of internet media? Are you Twitter/Facebook/Instagram savvy? Then we’re looking for you!

Savage Minds is currently looking for a Social Media Intern.

The responsibilities of the Social Media Intern include sharing new and topical anthropology blog articles, anthropology-related and anthropology-relevant news articles, journal abstracts, memes, photos, etc. through our social media outlets (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), while maintaining a sort of social media voice or personality for Savage Minds (e.g. a sense of humor).

Ideally, the Social Media Intern already consumes of these sorts of media and has the spare time to fit in the sharing part. Undergraduates and recent graduates are highly encouraged to apply. (Speaking from experience, I did my internship with Savage Minds in my time between finishing my BA and starting my PhD.)

Unfortunately the job does not pay (money), but social capital is almost guaranteed (only valid with those that are impressed by an affiliation with Savage Minds). Savage Minds is willing to provide letters of recommendation after six months of service. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, after 12 months of service, the Social Media Intern has the opportunity to become a full-time writer for Savage Minds (which is what I did).

Applicants should email me (richard.powis@gmail.com) with a short paragraph about who you are and why you’re qualified, a recent CV, and links to your social media accounts.

DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: SEPTEMBER 10, 2016.

Ramadan Diaries: Week Three

[Note: Ramadan is long over, but due to some technical difficulties, our weekly entries were interrupted. With this entry on not fasting during Ramadan, we pick up where we left off.] 

Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites. This is the fourth entry in the series, you can read the Introduction, Week One, and Week Two here. 

Oguz Alyanak: Last week, I took the overnight bus from Strasbourg to Paris to attend a two-day conference. The six-hour bus trip, on Wednesday (to Paris) and Friday (back to Strasbourg), started at midnight. I boarded the bus less than two hours after breaking fast, and skipped my last meal of the day (sahur) because I fell asleep during both legs of the trip. So far, fasting has not been physically demanding. However, I was not sure whether my body would handle it while attending a conference tired and sleep-deprived. Hence, for the first time, I thought about skipping. The idea led me to think of my Ramadan experience, and particularly of its purpose, and what I made of it as part of my fieldwork. Continue reading

Ramadan Diaries: Week Two

Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites. This is the third entry in the series, you can read the Introduction here and Week One here.

Oguz Alyanak: On Ramadan Diet: A Vegetarian’s Perspective

Without a doubt, one of the challenges of doing fieldwork is dietary. While some may be open to dietary change, and willing to experience new dishes, others, like myself, may be less inclined in giving up on dietary restrictions. Continue reading

Ramadan Diaries: Week One

Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites. This is the second entry in the series, you can read the Introduction here.

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Oguz Alyanak: On Doing Fieldwork During Ramadan

Ramadan has a different rhythm to it. For those who conduct fieldwork in a very systematic manner—e.g., wake up at 6 to prepare for the day, leave home by 9, get back before sunset and type down fieldnotes before sleep—fasting will pose challenges. For one, there is no coffee or snacks to keep you going during the day. Instead your best friend is your constantly rumbling stomach. The sahur (predawn) meal is in the middle of the night. You can either get up at 3AM or stay awake until 4. Either way, you will end up losing sleep. And try falling asleep with a belly full of food and water! Continue reading

Why are conferences in Africa excluding African scholars?

Savage Minds is excited to present this invited blog from Ellen E. Foley, an Associate Professor in International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University. She was also the Program Committee Co-Chair of the recent #DakarFutures2016 conference, which was co-sponsored by the African Studies Association (ASA), the American Anthropology Association (AAA), the West African Research Center (WARC), and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

The recent AAA and ASA joint conference in Dakar, Senegal was recently highlighted on the True Africa blog under the headline “Why are conferences in Africa excluding African scholars?” As the US academy turns its gaze inwards to questions of diversity and inclusion (sanitized terms for racism, sexism, cis-patriarchy, white settler colonialism, capitalism, heternormativity, transphobia, Trumpmania, xenophobia) it is fair to ask: do American academic organizations take their colonial legacies and institutionalized inequalities on the road when they travel beyond the United States?  Drawing attention to the politics of knowledge production, particularly about Africa, is important if not new.  Francis Nyamnjoh (then head of publications at CODESRIA) nailed it in his 2004 critique of the politics of publishing on Africa.  He highlights “the epistemological imperialism that has facilitated both a Western intellectual hegemony and the silencing of Africans even in the study of Africa.” Continue reading

Ramadan Diaries: Introduction

Ramadan Diaries takes you into the Ramadan experience of two students of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, Oguz Alyanak and Dick Powis. They will be fasting amongst Muslims in two Francophone contexts, Strasbourg, France and Dakar, Senegal, respectively. By sharing brief notes on the fasting experience, the aim is to provide a reflexive account of participant observation as it is undertaken by two scholars with distinct backgrounds and field sites.

During the holy month of Ramadan, the month when the Devil (Shaitan) is chained, many Muslims around the world undertake the practice of fasting. Fasting, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is first and foremost a practice where Muslims rediscover the importance of self-restraint. As an individual is deprived of bodily intakes such as food, water, and cigarettes, the mind goes through a journey of self-discipline. The fasting individual is also asked to watch his/her manners, such as restrain from being foul-mouthed, gossiping or staring at the opposite sex with bad (i.e., sexual) intentions. One of the aims of this month, then, is to discover that one’s will can overcome his/her physical weaknesses, and to tame the ego (nefs). Another aim is to be reminded of the bounties that Allah provides year-long, to be thankful of His grace, and to help those who may not be as fortunate by sharing one’s wealth (a practice known as the sadaka-i fitr). Sharing is not only monetary. During this month, Muslims come together, attend communal dinners, after dinner prayers specific to Ramadan (known as the tarawih/teravih), Quran recitations (known as muqabala/mukabele) and other conversation circles. Another aim of Ramadan, then, is to teach Muslims the importance of fraternity and community (ummah/ummet). Continue reading

Held in Suspension: Reflections on “After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed”

Savage Minds is delighted to present this invited book review by Lauren Cubellis, a Ph.D. student at Washington University in St. Louis.

In this engaging first book, Zoë H. Wool takes on the density of daily life after war for young veterans recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed (2015), is a timely contribution to the growing anthropological literature on precarity, ordinary ethics, and care, as well as ethnographic accounts of soldierly life and PTSD in the wake of US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wool’s theoretical framework, of queering masculinity and experiences of the extra/ordinary, challenges long-held assumptions about violence and suffering, and masculine roles in the United States. And it trains a critical eye on the experience of ordinariness as it is both coveted by former soldiers, and persistently postponed by the complexity of their post-war existence. Continue reading


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Ode (Owed?) to Baltimore

[Savage Minds is pleased to present an invited post from Mike Agar. Mike Agar left academia in 1996 with an early emeritus exit from the University of Maryland and now works in New Mexico as Ethknoworks (ethknoworks.com for details on his checkered past and present). His long life on drugs is described in Dope Double Agent: The Naked Emperor on Drugs. He recently published The Lively Science: Rebuilding Human Social Research and currently works on water governance in the Southwest.]

The phone was ringing and the message light blinking when I walked into the project office in Baltimore. Fred, an outreach counselor my age with whom I’d worked on a Johns Hopkins project, had already shown me a copy of our flyer that he’d gotten I didn’t know where. “It’s all over the streets,” he said with the sideways smile he used when he knew he had me inside a teaching moment.

It was the late 90s and I’d just started running a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to figure out why illegal drug epidemics happened. Yet another white researcher in a majority black city. Though I lived in a suburb near the University of Maryland, College Park, from which I’d resigned in 1996, I wanted to do the project in Baltimore because I’d done work there before consulting with Hopkins public health and I was weary of the strange city that Washington was and is. Many people in Washington said that Baltimore is a “real” city.” Continue reading

What Are You Reading This Summer?

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The semester is nearly complete, and summer is upon us. After finishing my first year in graduate school, I have this to say: I had no idea that I was capable of reading so much so quickly. Wow.

And yet, there were many things that I wanted to read and could not fit into those tiny pockets of “free” time. You know what I’m talking about, right? You get that itch that says, “If only there were more hours in a day, I would totally pick that book up!” And reading Carole’s Ethnographic Theory syllabus is not helping matters.

So I need to keep this momentum going; here is my summer reading list for 2015. It serves a few purposes, so it has to be somewhat calculated. This time next year, I’ll need to turn in a substantial literature review that gestures (somehow) toward my dissertation research/proposal, so now is the time to ramp up my consumption of readings that will contribute to it. There are also some things that I feel like reading, because “How have I gone this long without reading that” (e.g. Nietzsche)? One is out of sheer curiosity (i.e. Bennett). A few things I’ve read in the past, but I’d like to revisit with a full year of graduate social theory seminars under my belt (e.g. Foley, Fullwiley). And I owe Duke University Press a review (i.e. Starn; coming soon!). Naturally, this does not include the rapidly growing list of articles – classics, landmarks, and brand new publications – that I’ll need to whittle away.

In order (by nothing other than a sense of urgency, I guess): Continue reading

Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis – [Book Review]

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Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis
Michael Kimmel, Christine Milrod, and Amanda Kennedy, eds. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2014. 251 pp.

Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis” is a new publication (October 2014) from Rowman & Littlefield following fast on the heels of its companion “Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast” which was released in September. I’m told that they’ve been warmly received by anthropologists, as they both sold out rather quickly at the R&L booth at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association this past December in Washington DC. As a budding scholar (ahem) of global masculinities, I thought it would have been silly to not take the opportunity to review Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis, if not simply for the title and synopsis, definitely because of Michael Kimmel’s involvement. Kimmel, one of three editors (in addition to Christine Milrod and Amanda Kennedy), is one of the more well-known sociological scholars on men and masculinities in America. Of more than a dozen books on the subject, perhaps his best-known is “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys become Men,” a book that I would highly recommend for undergraduate- and graduate-level students of Gender Studies. While some of Kimmel’s work is not without some anthropological blindspots (he is not an anthropologist after all), one should be able to approach Cultural Encyclopedia (henceforth, CEP) trusting that a book written by over 90 authors would ultimately deliver on its claim to being “cultural.” It should be noted that this review is written without any knowledge of the content and style of Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, which was edited by Merril D. Smith. Continue reading

Around the Web: Year in Review 2014

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As 2014 comes to a close, I thought I’d take up the annual task of rounding up the best of Savage Minds and the anthroblogosphere. First, some fellow Savage Minds authors will share their favorite posts from the year. As the Around the Web curator, I’ll list the posts (from SM and elsewhere) that stood out for me. Then, I’ll show some of the submissions that we received from our readers. Finally, we’ll review some of the best blogs and articles that have provided an anthropological perspective on the 2014’s current events.

Let’s go! Continue reading