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 email@example.com.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.