All posts by Rex

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

Vale Ben Finney

I was deeply saddened to hear that Ben R. Finney passed away around noon on 23 May 2017. Ben was a professor in the anthropology department at UH Mānoa for over forty five years. He will be best remembered as a founding member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a member of the first crew of the Hōkūle‘a that sailed from Hawai‘i to Tahiti in 1976. But Ben was much more then that. A pivotal figure in Pacific anthropology in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, he not only helped rekindle voyaging as a form of indigenous resurgence, he also studied capitalism in the Pacific and humanity in space.

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Bronislaw Malinowski: Don’t Let The Cosplay Fool You

If there’s one picture that epitomizes White Guys Doing Research, it’s this one:

The canonical author of the canonical book, naked black people, white guy in white clothes being White  — for a lot of people, it’s totally crazy-making. But in many ways, Malinowski was far more more complicated than we given him credit for. There are many people who deserve more criticism for their role in colonialism than Malinowski (just wait for my blog post on Julian Steward). This is not to absolve Malinowski of whatever sins he committed. Rather, it’s just to ask that we remember what he actually did rather than project sins onto him.

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Facebook in Papua New Guinea: What Happens When The Net Isn’t Neutral

If you care about open access, you should care about net neutrality. There are obvious reasons why: After all, there’s  no point in putting your preprints online if potential readers  can’t afford to connect to your site. Pricing the web up means moving it out of the hands of those who need it most. It hinders the free flow of information and works against an informed citizenry. But there is another, subtler danger that comes from ending net neutrality: losing not only access to information, but the habit and expectation of access.  A good example of this can be seen in the case of Papua New Guinea, where people have access to more and more information, but might never learn that they could look for it.

As an anthropologist, I’ve been going back and forth to Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 1998. PNG is the size of France and has a population of around 8 million people (that’s almost twice the population of New Zealand). So it’s not a small coral atoll somewhere. It’s a large, regionally important country, as well as a classical location for anthropological work, from Margaret Mead to Marilyn Strathern.

Unfortunately, Papua New Guineans have not received the education system they deserve. Universities struggle to stay open. The few museums in the country are underfunded and underappreciated. There are few libraries. While there are many Christian bookstores, there are few secular ones. Since much of the country is tropical, books simply don’t last as long as they do in colder climates. Today, sadly, you can grow up in Papua New Guinea without any real knowledge of its past or the great cultural achievements of its many civilizations. Many young Papua New Guineans growing up today aspire merely to become Australian, because they can’t have pride in a past they have never heard of.

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The biggest threat to open access is a closed Internet

Many open access advocates were disappointed (but not surprised) when the American Anthropological Association decided to renew its contract to publish with Wiley, which means that the AAA will continue to keep our publications behind their paywall. But in Trump’s America, anthropologists interested in open access are faced with another, bigger challenge: Just keeping the Internet itself open and free.

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This Saturday I’m Marching for Science and You Should Too

This Earth Day, 22 April, People across the world will be celebrating the important role that science plays in supporting human freedom and prosperity. This is an event that anthropologists everywhere should participate in. If you are an anthropologist who likes freedom and prosperity — and I’m guessing you are — then you should get out there this weekend and celebrate that fact.

Some people might say that anthropology is somehow opposed to science, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some anthropologists consider themselves scientists, while other consider themselves humanists, while yet others consider the humanities-science binary problematic. We are also aware that ‘science’ itself is not a simple term. As Steven Shapin has pointed out, scientists themselves don’t have a coherent meta-scientific account of what science is.

But a keen interest in how science works and the interesting epistemological questions raised but science studies are on thing. Actually opposing science is something else. I think  if Bruno Latour found out  people were becoming anti-vaxxers because they read Aramis he would begin vomiting uncontrollably. No. These very interesting, highly abstract discussions should not distract us from the more fundamental things that we agree on as a discipline: That life is better when we understand the world around us, that this understanding should be available for everyone and not just the powerful, and that we can make better decisions about our lives when we know how the world works.

Of course, if you are an anthropologist who is critical of science, perhaps you should not support the march. If you think that the government should not make policy based on evidence, then you shouldn’t support the march. If you don’t want our children to have cutting-edge science education, then don’t go. If you don’t think that we should include voices and contributions from people of all identities and backgrounds in science, then feel free to stay home  — because the march is about supporting all of those things.

But I doubt our discipline is so muddled that there are very many people like that. Anthropology tends to skew left harder than most social sciences, and the left has gotten really good at talking about what it is against. But now we need to start talking about what we are for. We need to be honest about our value commitments, and we need to be clear about the bedrock assumptions of our discipline. I think anthropology is with science and against ignorance. We are with science because we believe in the power of skepticism to improve what we know about the world by asking “but how do we know this?” and “is this the best we can do?” We are with science because we think people have stories that need to be heard because those stories are true, even if they are inconvenient for the powerful. We are with science because we believe our discipline has results that are factual and accurate and important. We are with science because our ethnography tells us what it is like to live in places where free speech is stifled, where communication is controlled by the government,  where students are taught lies, and where disconfirming evidence is explained away as the work of provocateurs. And we don’t want to live in that world.

So this Earth Day come out for science and be part of the conversation. Its the best way to show how important anthropology is to science, and how important science is to anthropology.

#AAA2017 registration sucked. I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

Even if you are not attending #AAA2017 in Washington, D.C. you have probably already heard about how much it sucked to try to register for it. The stories of frustration and anger on social media were, frankly, pretty epic. Over the past few years, I’ve felt a grudging respect for AAA staff, who have tried to modernize the office and make the AAA into a respectable organization. But it’s hard to find a bright side in the #AAA2017 registration sage. Let’s face it: As the AAA gets more corporate, it begins to suck the way a corporation sucks.

I haven’t investigated any of the complaints about the AAA in detail, so I can’t confirm what precisely went wrong or how fair the criticisms are. But even if only half of them are true, the situation was pretty grim. The interface was, I’m told, impenetrable. One person I know claims the app locked her out of her phone. Several others organizing panels had their participants replaced by other random people, which led to the idea of perhaps doing some sort of LARP at AAAs where you could pretend to be other anthropologists and give papers as if you were them. At one point passwords were changed unexpectedly. It seemed the only way to figure out what went wrong was to call AAA staff and harass them, which of course no one wanted to do. The entire thing was enough of a debacle that the AAA even extended the deadline to register.

I’m sure that these issues were not the AAA’s fault and people report that AAA staff were very helpful. It’s the contractors, I’ve been told — the people who sold the AAA the web portal they use. Given how poor the AAA’s web app was at #AAA2016, I have no doubt that the AAA was able to once again hire the wrong people. But but but… who really believed that  the Deepwater Horizon oil spill wasn’t BPs fault, but their contractors? The diffusion of responsibility in this way is a classical technique of corporations, and the AAA should not take this route, no matter how tempting. The buck stops with them.

And since the AAA is acting like a corporation, let’s examine its product. The AAA meetings are a profit center for the AAA. In 2015, the association made over US$460,000 from it. Are we, as consumers, getting value for money out of the association? I’d say no. The registration system has always been a pain. But now it is getting worse. Most of the new additions to the conference are not very valuable (like the app) or turn us into advertisements (the sponsored bags). And the total cost of attending these events is extremely high — particularly for people who are not wealthy tenured professors. This is true despite the discounts the AAA has very thoughtfully made for the underemployed.

I’d urge the AAA to step up and run a great #AAA2017, and it still had plenty of time to make corrections and do that. But it needs to take these meetings seriously, because so far the AAA is giving us less and less for more and more. From my perspective, it makes more sense these days to small, stimulating, cheap meetings closer to home than it does to splash out for big, expensive events which the AAA — to judge from its registration system — doesn’t actually want us to attend anyway.

Anthropology is an empty pint carton, and our existential projects are the ice cream

Because I regularly teach the history of anthropology, I have thought a lot about classical texts and the shape of our discipline. I also recently had a chance to sit in on a roundtable on Decolonizing Anthropology at #AES2017. Sitting in that panel reminded me of something that Max Weber said. I first encountered Weber’s thoughts on value ideals and concept formation in the 1990s. That was back in the day when Weber used to come over to my apartment and we would smoke out and watch anime. The time I’m thinking of, he got the munchies really bad and ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s — a pint — before we even got to the first commercial break of the Cowboy Bebop episode we were watching. I was all like: “Freckles” — back then everyone called him Freckles — “Freckles, you just ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in, like, two minutes” and Weber just looked at me and said:

“Reality is ordered according to categories that are subjective, in that they are based on the presupposition of the value of the truth that knowledge is able to give to us. We have nothing to offer a person to whom this truth is of no value. We all harbour some belief in the validity of those fundamental and sublime value ideas in which we anchor the meaning of our existence, but the concrete configuration of these values remains subject to change far into the dim future of human culture. Everyone who works in the cultural sciences will regard his work as an end in itself. But, at some point, the colouring changes: the significance of those points of view grows uncertain, the way forward fades away in the twilight. The light shed by the great cultural problems has moved in. Then science, too, prepares to find a new standpoint and a new conceptual apparatus. It follows those stars that alone can give meaning and direction to its work.”

At the time, those words had a profound effect on me, despite the fact that as he spoke them Weber had Cherry Garcia dripping down his beard. They made me realize that anthropology is merely an empty pint carton, and our existential projects — the things we care about — are the ice cream that fills it up. Continue reading

Remembering Teresia Teaiwa: An Open Access Bibliography

Scholars of the Pacific are mourning the loss of Teresia Teaiwa this week. Teresia was an iconic figure in Pacific Studies: A poet and critic, dedicated teacher, and determined institution builder. Teresia was the director of the Va‘aomanū Pasifika (Pacific Studies Center) at Victoria University in Wellington, the first and only place (afaik) where you can earn a Ph.D. in Pacific Studies.

I only had a chance to meet Teresia a few times, and I can’t speak to her life the way that so many others can, except to say that she was an impressive figure in every sense whether it be reading poetry or rethinking Pacific Studies. She had mana. She was a trenchant critic of colonialism and other things, but in person she was hardly austere or intimidating. She was an approachable person, down to earth, with a sense of humor. I think in her mixture of dignity and a willingness to laugh she was deeply Pacific.  So many people counted on so many more years of work and inspiration from her. I can’t say I knew her enough to mourn her the way her family and friends do, but her presence and project impacted everyone who ever met her or read her work. Just being in the same room was enough. She was on a journey, and still is. But we had hoped to spend more time traveling with her then we were allowed.

Teresia was a prolific author, and much of her work is open access. However, google searches for her work produce a maze of citations that is hard to find your way around in.  I feel like my way to contribute to her memory is to help provide a guide to her work which can help future readers stop digging through search results and start reading Teresia. What follows is a quick bibliography of work that is available open access. I’ve included both poetry and academic publications. I’ve linked to stable repositories as much as possible so the information on this page will age well. Many of these links will take you to a repository entry and you will then have to click through to the PDF. Others are online journals which lack librarian-friendly meta-data. In all cases I’ve tried to give reasonable citations but I’m sure there are irregularities in the format that I’ve used. There are also probably typos. Also, please note that these are just the open access texts Continue reading

Open Access and Anthro in Community Colleges: HELLZ YES.

I was originally going to title this post #OA & @SACC : HELLZ YES, but I was afraid that would be too hard to understand. But what isn’t too hard to understand is the bang-up job that the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges is doing  to advance open access in anthropology. First, they create Flip The Portfolio, a website asking the AAA to develop a five year plan to go open access. And second, they are getting ready to drop the first (afaik) open access intro anthropology textbook at the end of the month. Bam. Continue reading

Editing Wikipedia > Writing Letters to the New York Times

I copied this from the verge. I have no idea what the rights are or who the creator is. Sorry!

Various bits of social media began vibrating rapidly recently when it was discovered that white supremacists had fooled Google into providing inaccurate information about Boas and cultural relativism. The situation is now apparently resolved, but it isn’t a new problem. Old-timey internet veterans will remember that martinlutherking.org has been run by Stormfront for, like, decades. But this latest kerfuffle should give us the opportunity to think about our priorities as anthropologists writing for the general public today. In a previous post, I argued that there is a difference between the older ‘heroic’ public anthropology and ‘new’, more important public anthropology. Today I want to expand on this point and emphasize that we need shift our conception of public anthropology away from older, moribund genres and to newer, more important, but less familiar ways of reaching the public.

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Gareth Dale on Karl Polanyi

Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) is difficult to summarize. A patriotic citizen of his native Hungary, he spoke German at home and identified with German intellectual culture. He was a Jew who converted to Christianity, as well as an Anglophile who was deeply impressed by the spiritual intensity of Russian culture. He witnessed Europe’s fin-de-siecle nervousness and survived two world wars, living in Hungary, Vienna, England, before finally taking a position at Columbia University just in time to witness the birth of the Cold War.

Disciplinarily, Polanyi was equally hard to pigeonhole. A socialist, he insisted that markets were created by and embedded in society, not naturally existing creations that could or ought to be ‘free’.  Economists thought him a sociologist, sociologists thought him an economist. Much of his work was historical, but he greatly influenced the field of anthropology.

In fall 2016 British academic Gareth Dale published the first ever biography of Karl Polanyi, presenting for us at last a major account of Polanyi’s complex and fascinating life. I interviewed him recently over email about his book, Polanyi’s life, and his relevance for today. Continue reading

The Anthropology of Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration

Ever since the pioneering work of Mary Douglas on risk back in 1992, anthropologists have understood that there is a difference between what is actually dangerous and what people think is dangerous. Scientists can measure the probability of you being struck by a bolt of lightning or getting hit by a car. But our fears are not based on extensive scientific study, nor are they the results of our own idiosyncratic psychology. They are shaped by the culture we live in and the history we’ve collectively experienced. The sad thing, anthropologically, about Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration is that it does not make Americans safer, just makes some Americans feel safer. The tragic thing about the order is that forces others to suffer for the sake of our own false sense of security.

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Year of the Mushroom

In the next week or so, many of us will celebrate the year of the rooster. The year of the monkey, which we are just saying good bye to, had a lot of stuff going on inside of it. But looking back at the anthropology end of things, it’s pretty clear that 2016 was not the year of the monkey, but of the mushroom.

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Teaching Martin Luther King in Hawai‘i

Every Spring I teach “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in the class immediately following MLK day. Typically I focus on first and second year college students. I do it for several reasons: For many of my students, “I have a dream” is the only text of MLK’s that they know; because it helps explain the reason for the season; and, most of all, because the letter is incredibly teachable.

I originally got the idea from Gerald Graff, who remarked that King was such a clear writer you could almost reconstruct the letter he was responding to just by turning his sentences around. So I said, alright, let’s do it. I’ve done the assignment is several different ways, but basically it goes like this: Students come to class, and we read the letter out loud, each student reading one paragraph at a time. We then begin with the logice of his argument: What are his claims, his reasons, and his examples (this goes pretty quickly in a college setting).

We then move on to rhetoric, asking: How does MLK creates roles for readers and audience in the text? Who does he compare himself to? Who is Paul, what is Tarsus? Many students don’t know this, while others are proud to be able to share their knowledge in an institution which is sometimes not totally welcome to practicing Christians. Some who think they are Christians realize they don’t actually know anything about key texts from their tradition. It’s interesting. But anyway the questions are: Who does he think his audience is? What does he assume that they know?

I then introduce the concept of heteroglossia and ask my student what other voices they can find in the text. How is this single-authored piece shot through with other opinions. Who is King agreeing with or disagreeing with? At the end of class I give students an assignment to write the letter than King was responding to, using only text-internal clues regarding what that letter said. I ask them to reconstruct the argument, as well as to sign it — that is, imagine what kind of people wrote it, even if they don’t know their names.

This process is not too hard on students — you could do it in middle school or high school, in addition to college. You can tweak it, asking them to read MLK’s letter outside of class and then come to class having written the letter to which he’s responding. You can assign some chapters on the book on the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, to provide context, or read other texts by King (I’ve used “Conforming Non-Conformist” in the past).

But really, it’s the ease of analyzing King’s text that makes the exercise so useful. Students feel like they can do it. And you can basically teach ALL intro level college analytic skills just out of this one piece of writing. Once they have that under their belt, you can tell them: “Great. Now on Thursday we’ll be doing this with Foucault. Good luck!”

King’s text is not just easy to analyze, it’s also a model of clarity and persuasive speech. King writes clearly and concisely, but does not write sparely or sparsely. When he needs to let the clauses roll out, they roll out. It’s a valuable corrective to the indigestible academic prose that fills the academy, and which our students unfortunately learn to imitate.

King is exemplary for more than just his prose of course. Undergraduates today — especially those in Hawai‘i — don’t live in King’s world. This is the first experience with Jim Crow that many of my students have had. It’s powerful. And King does more than remind readers of a past that they may not have had access to before. His approach to dialogue is important to. In academy which is used to critique, King tries to convince. In an academy which too often stigmatizes enemy subject positions, King offers readers a chance to be good people — if they get on board his plan. King doesn’t just know what’s wrong. He knows what’s right.

It’s also quite shocking to some students to see that King was in fact a political agitator. We have a vision of him as a great conciliator, someone who found common ground, increased shared understanding, etc. But the King of the Letter actively advocates disruptive, illegal protests. He urges us to heighten tensions, not resolve them. He encourages violation of unjust laws. King was an activist who did the right thing, not the legal thing. I sometimes feel that this is something that people would like us to forget about him.

Finally, reading the Letter makes students ask new questions: What happened after the letter was written? How did we get from there to here. If I fill in some of the context, they start asking: Who was Malcolm X? Martin Buber? If I am teaching a more advanced class, we begin asking “how are we interpellated as a subject? What are the rights and wrongs of such interpellation”?

Your mileage may vary, and it may be too late for you to incorporate some of this material into your own classes later on this week. I’m sure that I’m hardly the only person who finds time in class to teach MLK around MLK day. But if you haven’t yet, why not give this exercise a shot, or adapt it for your own use? Or why not share your own in-class exercises below? Thanks. And happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Behold, a timeline of the history of anthropology!

(Update 11 Dec 2016: Up-to-date timeline files are now hosted on github and there is an interactive version of the timeline as well -Rx)

I am extremely happy to announce today that I’m making open access my timeline of the history of anthropological theory. This timeline has over 1,000 entries, beginning with the birth of Lewis Henry Morgan on 21 Nov 1818 and the latest is the death of Roy D’Andrade on 20 Oct 2016. It includes details from the careers of roughly 118 anthropologists from England, France, and the United States. It is designed to be viewed in Aeon Timeline, but I’ve also provided a dump of the data so you can play with it however you like.

History of Anthropology Timeline (98K .zip file on google drive)

hunt-hurston-boas
The lives of George Hunt, Franz Boas, and Zora Neale Hurston. You need to scroll around the full database to see all the dates.

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