It’s been an exciting month on Savage Minds, from a great new open access and digital anthropology effort to a reading of foundational texts to a discussion of contemporary scholarship, with a lot of stuff in between. And all the while a glance at the right-hand column opens onto a window of often fiery comment exchanges. I haven’t guest-blogged as much as I wanted to, in part because things came up, in part because I wanted to keep priority on the main discussions, and in part because I’m afraid of that comment stream. Although I’m sensing this post is headed toward an “epic fail,” I would like to register a plea to find our way beyond internet conventions that encourage people to tear each other limb from limb. These conventions can sometimes be exacerbated by anthropological training, making anthropology a “field of stumps” as each generation cuts down the work of the previous (I think Eric Wolf said that, but can’t locate the reference; [update, thanks Ryan and see this comment for full reference]).
In a recent post, Kerim does excellent work tracing the Savage Minds engagement with Jared Diamond, which dates to the establishment of this blog as a scrappy band of Davids taking aim at Goliath.
These days, Diamond gets criticized mostly for not reading or potentially libelous composite misreadings. But I want to dial this back to Diamond’s 1987 article “Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” when Diamond obviously takes anthropology from Richard B. Lee–mongongo nuts with no acknowledgment–and also reproduces Lee and Irven DeVore, again with no credit for what almost any professor would call plagiarism.
Did people challenge Diamond for this taking of anthropology in 1987? Could a more forceful response have cautioned Diamond from appropriating anthropology with impunity and “diluting the brand“? Would Jared Diamond have become… JARED DIAMOND?
Recent comments on Hau and the opening of ethnographic theory remind me of what I always think of when I hear about the Bongobongo:
The time is gone when anthropologists could find solace in the claim that our main civic duty–and the justification for our public support–was the constant reaffirmation that the Bongobongo are “humans just like us.” Every single term of that phrase is now publicly contested terrain, caught between the politics of identity and the turbulence of global flows. Too many of the Bongobongo are now living next door, and a few of them may even be anthropologists presenting their own vision of their home societies, or studying their North Atlantic neighbors. The North Atlantic natives who reject them do so with a passion. Those who do accept them do not need anthropologists in the welcoming committee.
–Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Global Transformations (2003:137)
Trouillot is then outlining a vision of anthropological duties and risks, include making native voices more full interlocutors, identifying the ultimate targets of anthropological discourse, and publicizing the stakes of anthropological exchange.
To what degree do Open Access efforts–specifically Hau–move us in that direction?
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jason Antrosio.
[I realize the irony of prominently citing American Anthropologist during the Open Access debates–I do end with a call to support Rex’s proposal to read and talk about HAU]
These major waves of anthropology’s critical self-examination were the neo-Marxist, feminist, postmodern, and postcolonial autocritiques between roughly the late 1960s and the end of the 20th century. . . . A careful and balanced history of those sequences of anthropological autocritique still remains to be written, but to my mind, one may argue with some justification that each of these critiques in some ways went too far and that none of them fully achieved what its main advocates originally had in mind.
–Andre Gingrich, Transitions: Notes on Sociocultural Anthropology’s Present and Its Transnational Potential, December 2010:555
Our argument is that anthropology departments have not done well when it comes to decolonizing their own practices around race. This is neither true of all departments nor true all of the time–but is still true all too often.
–Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen and Janis Hutchinson, Anthropology as White Public Space?, December 2011:545