All posts by Rex

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

The duodenum is a noble, noble organ and I am totally, totally willing to own that name.

anthroduodenum /anTHrəˈd(y)o͞oəˈdēnəm/ or /anTHrōˈd(y)o͞oəˈdēnəm/ n 1. an anthropology blog dedicated to breaking down the most important issue facing our discipline. 2. the hard, under-appreciated, but vitally necessary work that gives anthropology energy. 3. an organ which digests contemporary trends and ideas into an easily readable form. 4. a site dedicated to taking all of the acid and bile of the Internet and turning it into something mentally and emotionally healthy in your daily diet of social media.

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Overall, responses to our blog’s new name have been positive — and often enthusiastic. That said, we’ve had our fair share of objections: some people miss the old name (that’s sweet of you guys but it’s time to move on), while others are glad the old name is gone, but don’t like the new one. Along the way, Social Media has generated a good-sized list of ‘anthrodendum’ parody names, ranging from Latinate-racy (anthropudendum) to botanical (anthrodendron, invoking either coral or rhododendrons), or Trump-worthy (anthrodumdum). The one that seems to keep coming up the most, however, is the one I am most willing to own: anthroduodenum.

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What happened on 12 July: A lot.

July 12 was a historic day for net neutrality, with 1.6 million comments sent to the FCC and over 3 million phone calls made to congress. Anthropologists did a great job stepping up as well. I don’t want to go on for too long, since I don’t want to burn anyone out on a fight that still has a long way to go. But I did want to share an imgur with some quick facts and images about the day of action I’ve been blogging so much about the past couple of weeks.

More soon — but feel free to take a look at the links above!

Today is the day: Help take back the net

It’s July 12th, the day of an Internet-wide day of action. As you can tell from the banner on our landing page, Savage Minds/Anthrodendum is protesting against threats to net neutrality. We are not alone, Cultural Anthropology and other sites are participating as well. And so can you! Read my piece at the cultural anthropology website for more information, and then take action by changing your social media avatar  and, most importantly, writing to the FCC to tell them you like things the way they are.

Thanks — and here’s to a free and open Internet!

Updated History of Anthropology timeline — now with ‘homepage’!

I (actually, Kerim, who is hosting it) updated my history of anthropology timeline. I’ve also added a homepage for the timeline on my personal website. This page explains how the timeline is set up, what all the tags are, how arcs and individuals are organized, how it is color-coded etc. I’ve also added a tag to my personal blog, so all new updates about the time line can be found there. When I have a chance I’ll upload the source files to my personal blog as well so anyone can download them. If in the meantime you’d like a look, just email me at golub@hawaii.edu.

When the Internet goes dark on 12 July, so should anthropology

I’ve written on this blog before about the Trump Administration’s recent changes to net neutrality rules. These rules will let your Internet Service Provider — your cable or mobile phone company — pick and chose what parts of the Internet you can view and how quickly video and webpages will load. As part of the campaign to stop these new rules, a massive coalition of non-profits, companies, and activist groups are planning a day of action to black out the net called ‘Battle for the Net’. Anthropology blogs and websites everywhere need to show solidarity and join this day of action. Continue reading

Which humanities?

Alfred Kroeber always used to say that anthropology is the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences. But which humanities? After all, ‘humanities’ covers an awful lot. How anthropologists do anthropology is probably deeply shaped by how we imagine ourselves to be similar to other disciplines — and that imagination has changed over time.  Continue reading

Vale Michael Agar

It is with sadness that I write about the death of Mike Agar on 20 May 2017. Others have written about his life and his passing on redfish.com and Anthropology News. I mention Mike’s passing here because not because I know him as well as others — I didn’t — but because Mike was a contributor to our site. The first contributor in the site’s history, in fact, to pass away. He did an occasional post for us, and also served as a guest blogger. Mike had a unique career, following his own path and always, always, producing work that was intelligent, great to read, and directly relevant to real-world problems like drug policy. He will be missed. Vale, Mike.

Clifford Geertz: Ethnographer?

Why was Clifford Geertz such a popular anthropologist? Because he connected anthropology and the humanities? Because he was a great writer? One answer that often comes up is that he was a great ethnographer. I mean, he actually did ethnography. Negara (1980) was a historical anthropology of power that appeared just in time for 1980s-era historical anthropology. Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (1978) is a massive tome.  Kinship in Bali (1975) was technical and dense, hardly the lackadaisical em-dash filled slackfest some people accused Geertz’s writing of being. Peddlers and Princes and Agricultural Involution (both 1963) are vintage New Nations ethnographies. Religion of Java (1960) seems to rise above its Parsonian roots.

But what does it mean to be a great ethnographer? Continue reading

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