British “explorer” Benedict Allen made news recently by being rescued from a failed attempt to cross the central mountain range of Papua New Guinea and paddle downs stream to the coast. While most of the world was alternately amused and thrilled to hear of Allen’s failed exploits, those of us who have lived in Papua New Guinea were struck by Allen’s invocation of uncontacted tribes and primordial jungles. To be honest, this sort of thing does more to convince me that it is Allen, not Papua New Guineans, who is out of touch with the modern world. Others have claimed that Allen’s failed walk is rooted in racism and bad for the Papua New Guineans who hosted him. As a historian and anthropologist who lived for two years in Porgera (about 20 miles from where Allen was eventually rescued) I want to weigh in here with another criticism of Allen: Although he claims to be be the first person to cross Papua New Guinea’s central ranges, he is not. His accounts of his amazing feats not only downplay the achievements of Papua New Guineans, they ignore — or perhaps were made in ignorance of — the actual explorers, both white and Papua New Guinean, who have so long ago accomplished what he claims to have done first.
This most recent failed walk repeats a path he took in the late 1980s, which he describes in his book The Proving Grounds. In it, he is flown into the upper reaches of the Sepik, crosses the central ranges, and then ends up on the shores of the Lagaip, and then returns to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. It’s hard to judge, but I reckon the total distance is about 50 kilometers as the crow flies. But that doesn’t really give you a sense of how onerous this walk is. On his website Allen claims that this walk was “the first recorded crossing of the Central Mountain Ranges of PNG”. This is incredibly tough terrain, and he should be congratulated for managing to do it. But he was not the first. Not by a longshot. Continue reading
The Brooking Institute’s Hamilton Project (because after Hamilton everything has to be named after Hamilton) has a new website examining the relationship between career path and college major — in other words, it shows you what people who major in one field do for a living. The site and its accompanying interactive data visualizer and reports affirms what I have spent the last three years telling undergraduate majors in my role as undergraduate advisor, so I wanted to take a second here and discuss what you can actually do with your major. What the data actually say.
Here is the standard speech I give students: There is no strong connection between your college major and occupation (at least for anthropology and most other majors). The purpose of an undergraduate degree is to give you general skills which will enable you to be a citizen of your country and the world. These same generalized capacities you need for citizenship are what you need for the job market. There is no point learning how to mechanically follow orders, since that just means you can be replaced by a robot. What’s key is the ability to learn quickly is key, since companies don’t really believe in training any more. You will be paid best if you can build or maintain the lives of the privileged. You will be paid poorly if you work for the poor or disadvantaged. The answer to the question “what can I do with this major” is not a fake list of job choices. It is ask “what do you want?” If you are waiting for your college professors to hand you a high-paid job, that’s not going to happen. And this is not our fault: it isn’t the educational sector that keeps blowing up the economy so the rich can get richer. College is not about choosing a major off a menu so that you can chose a job off a menu. College is about figuring out what you want to do and then seeing how possible that is in the world we live in today.
When it comes to Internet Drama, nothing beats the paper letter. Anthropology’s founders did not lead isolated lives. “American cultural anthropology” corresponded with “British social anthropology” and the “Année Sociologique” all the time. I’ve blogged before about Marcel Mauss talking trash about Malinowski with Radcliffe-Brown. But for pure in-your face, the winner has got to be Robert Lowie’s response to A.R. Radcliffe-Brown.
Some of you who — unlike me — have not had family members murdered by nazis or had every synagogue in their home town firebombed in the same night may now be learning about antifa for the first time. But although it’s making waves in the media now, antifascist action has a century-long history which includes many anthropologists, who have fought fascism not by writing letters to the New York Times or retweeting an animated .gif but by putting their lives on the line.
As histories of antifascist action document, antifa is a fundamentally illiberal political movement which seeks to oppose fascism by any means necessary — including violence. For this reason, I can’t stress enough that I am opposed to antifa in the United States at the moment because I am opposed to violence, which is both against my values and tactically and strategically against our interests at this point in time given the mood of the country. But in different times and different places the threat of fascism was so dire that violent resistance was necessary. And in those moments, anthropologists acted bravely and with honor. Continue reading
When Google engineer James Damore wrote his now-infamous memo about how woman are naturally unsuited to work at Google, anthropologists everywhere groaned inwardly. Our discipline’s lot in life is tragic. After about a century of research, we have a pretty good understanding of how human beings work. And yet, our findings run counter to what the average American’s ideas about how society and culture function. As a result, we face the unenviable task of having to constantly explain, over and over again, generation in and generation out, our truths to a skeptical public. It sucks. It’s tempting to throw up your hands and walk away from discussion. But we have no choice: Our integrity as scholars and scientists demands that we wade in to every public debate about race, gender, and human nature in order to explain — once again — how people actually work.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un’s war of words is threatening to become a real nuclear war as North Korea has announced that it is seriously considering attacking Guam. This reckless escalation of tension is profoundly frightening to everyone. But one group who will suffer from this potential attack has not gotten enough attention: Indigenous Chamorro people who have had little choice but to live with the US’s massive military buildup on their island, and its consequences.
(This occasional post is a book review that comes to us from Alisha Wilkinson and Meg Stalcup. Meg Stalcup is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Ottawa, where she heads the Collaboratoire d’Anthropologie Multimédia (CAM/MAC). Alisha Wilkinson is a senior in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa. Next year she will work in Peru, before starting graduate work in anthropology. I’m very excited to see undergraduates publishing on Anthrodendum, and hope to see more work like this in the future! -Rx)
All ethnographies, perhaps, contain some mystery: of how humans understand each other, or the way that words and glances, observations and encounters are turned into insights about what it means to be human at a given moment in history. But Sareeta Amrute’s Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin begins with a proper mystery, a person who has disappeared, and this literally missing body adroitly stages the subsequent exploration of IT workers’ missing bodies in scholarship on cognitive labor.
(This guest post by Nina Brown, Thomas McIlwraith, and Laura Tubelle de González announces the launch of what I believe is the first open access textbook for an introduction to cultural anthropology course. I’ve blogged about this textbook before so I’m very excited that it is now available!)
The Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC) is pleased to announce the publication of Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology (ISBN 978–1-931303–55–2), an open access, peer-reviewed cultural anthropology textbook. The initiative to create this book took shape in 2012 when several SACC members identified a need in our community college classes for less expensive teaching materials. From our inception in the 1970s, SACC has supported lower income and first generation college learners and this book fits with that orientation and concern. We believe strongly, however, that this is a good introductory textbook and that it is suitable for first year classes in cultural anthropology at any post-secondary institution. Continue reading
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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
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.