When Elizabeth Colson passed last month at the age of 99, anthropology lost one of its preeminent figures. Colson was a unique figure in many ways: She straddled the English and American anthropological traditions, rose to prominent positions of authority at a time when anthropology was still largely a men’s club, and exhibited a devotion to her research that few can match: According the Facebook post I was able to find confirming her death (thanks Hylton), Colson died and was buried in Africa.
Edith Turner — Edie as she was universally known — passed away on 18 June 2016. Perhaps the quickest and least accurate way to describe Edie is “Victor Turner’s wife”. But her importance in anthropology is pretty much totally erased by that description. Edie was a tremendous influence on Vic, and all of his work should be read with the recognition that there is a silent second author on the piece: Edie. But even reducing Edie to merely a co-author of some of the most important anthropology ever written doesn’t do her justice. Edie outlived Vic by 33 years, producing her own brand of anthropology with flair and originality. Edie produced around five books between Vic’s death and her passing — that is to say, after she was sixty-two years old, an age when most people are on the verge of retirement! In them, she crafted an audacious, unapologetic anthropology of religion that parted ways with secularism, science, and over-seriousness… and never looked back.
Price, David H. 2016. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. Duke University Press.
A few years ago, I had a chance to have lunch with David Price and some other people at the AAA meetings. Back then, he struck me as exactly like the kind of person you’d expect to be a professor at a small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest. Which is exactly what he is. Graying beard, laid back manner. I couldn’t see his feet but if he was wearing Birkenstocks, I wouldn’t be surprised. But beneath this amiable exterior is one of America’s most impressive historians of anthropology, a radical thinker and untiring author whose relentlessly probes the dark corners of our discipline’s history. In the course of twelve years Price has written three books which have helped redefine anthropology’s understanding of itself. And now, with Cold War Anthropology, Price brings his massive, precedent-make (and -busting) history of anthropology and American power to a close. It’s a defining moment in the history of anthropology, and deserves wide attention.
Please join me in reading responsively
We learned that Boycott supporters felt silenced and intimidated by the anti-Boycott sentiment in their departments while on the other hand anti-Boycott supporters felt silenced and intimidated by the Boycott sentiment in their departments.
We learned that the AAA could deal judiciously with a difficult topic or
We learned that the AAA’s curation of Israel’s “World Anthropology” was biased
we learned that everyone cared because turn out was at an all time high or
We learned that no one cared because only half the association votes
(but then again fifty percent is an F
even with grade inflation.)
We learned the other side couldn’t see how far right it was unless
The other side couldn’t see how far left it was.
The boycott was against anthropology’s commitment to relativism, tolerance, and dialogue and
The boycott was part of anthropology’s commitment to social justice.
We learned that the only reason the other side won is that they bought cookies to the business meeting
they purchased extra memberships just to vote.
We learned we couldn’t talk because politics is when the time for talking is past and
We learned should have talked more because talking is what politics is.
We learned that Israel is different than some have been told although
We learned the country is gravely misunderstood by others
We learned that we have the same values, just differently ranked or
have the same values, but believe different things are true
have different values, and differently rank what we think is true
but we don’t
have the same values and believe the same things
that is not the proper role of scholarly associations
this is the most important thing a scholarly association can do.
We learned that never again
or might mean
Because Jewish rights are human rights
and human rights are Palestinian rights
which are human rights which
is why never again means
what it does
#anthroboycott matters because we learned
we learned #anthroboycott matters because
Because we learned #anthroboycott matters
Matters learned because we #anthroboycott
we #anthroboycott because learned
learned because we #anthroboycott
we because #anthroboycott
I do not normally write about my duties as a professor at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa on this blog, since the blog isn’t associated with UHM and most of what I do in the classroom and committee meetings doesn’t belong on the Internet. But the Australian National University’s (ANU) recent decision to cut its School of Culture, History, and Language (CHL) deserves to be widely noted. This decision is not the first restructuring at Australia’s flagship university, and it will probably not be the last. But it is unique for its severity, short-sightedness, and the damage it will do to Australia’s well-earned reputation for excellence in studies of Asia and the Pacific. I would urge all readers to sign this petition to preserve the school. That said, there is one benefit to the ANU’s cuts: The increasing prestige and eminence of my university as a world center for study of Asia and the Pacific.
This is the start of a new series in the history of anthropology where I will document the way that grad school in anthropology has always sucked, there have never been jobs, and it is crazy to expect to make a living off of it. The reason is not neoliberalism, Obama, or anything else — or at least, these are not the only reasons grad school in anthropology has sucked. It is important to understand that wide variety of reasons that grad school has sucked, and the diverse methods by which people have grappled with this fact.
But my point here is not to produce another piece of quit lit. Rather, I want to add some historical depth to our sense of the chronic problems that academic anthropologists face. Anthropology, perhaps more than any other social science, has been deeply affected by the baby boom. Even today, we still live in a world where senior professors imagine there are as many job openings now as there were in 1965. We need a more expansive imagination of the challenges anthropologists have faced over the years. And, most importantly, we need to remember that there are many successful, happy survivors. Continue reading
There are a lot of things in life that can be solved with a good timeline. While most people tend to think of them as a specialized way of visualizing data, or something they learned about in elementary school, I love them. I think all my major research projects have involved creating timelines — they provide a level of organization to any project that is valuable. This could be just keeping track of when you interviewed who, or it could be to keep track of a complex case study. It could just be to keep track of when your exam papers are due. Basically, since you exist in time, the visual display of time will always be useful.
I’ve personally always been fascinated by the history of anthropology, and how telling stories about our past enables or disables certain futures for our discipline. At some point about ten years ago, I began a history of anthropology timeline and blogged about it on Savage Minds. I kept working on it, and did another post in 2010.
Since then my timeline has grown and now contains over 600 events! And in the course of doing this work, I’ve shifted between different software. After a decade of looking for Mac software to create timelines, I’ve found — and stuck with — Aeon Timeline. Continue reading
(Savage Minds is pleased to present this occasional post by Gregory Starrett, professor of anthropology at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This piece is a response to Charles Hirschkind’s Savage Minds piece A Smear in Disguise: Comments on Starrett. Hirschkind was himself replying to Starrett’s essay in anthropology news, The Symbolic Violence of Choice -Rx)
I am grateful to Charles Hirschkind, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness I’ve always appreciated, for his sharp observations on my essay in Anthropology News. I argued there that voting on whether or not to have the American Anthropological Association officially approve the boycott of Israeli academic institutions was a form of symbolic violence, an occasion for the precipitation of identities through multiple calls to order. I apologize for the number of times Charles had to read the essay in order to find hidden messages which were never actually there. So I will try to articulate its point more clearly below. His own exercise in eisegesis helps immensely with that task, because it works by attributing to me a set of political positions I do not hold, thereby pointedly illustrating the process I described. Continue reading
I was saddened to learn yesterday that my friend and colleague Bernard Bate passed away. A scholar in his prime in his mid-fifties, Barney (as he was known) was a model of vitality, health, optimism. On paper, Barney’s story is straightforward: A Chicago anthropology alumn with a speciality in Tamil oratory, he taught at Yale before moving to Yale-NUS, an innovative liberal arts college in Singapore where Yale and the National University of Singapore created a unique curriculum combining Western and Eastern classical traditions. His book, Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic says a lot about Barney: It’s sly reference to Weber encapsulates the mix of playfulness and profound depth that marked Barney’s scholarship. The book is also a homage to Barney’s deep personal commitment to Tamil as a language, Madurai as a place, and to the global Tamil-speaking community.
But it is really in this YouTube clip where you can catch a sense of Barney’s remarkable personality. Asked by the interviewer what duty Tamil speakers have to preserve their language, Barney immediately turns the question around. “I wouldn’t put it like that,” he says. “What joy of preserving your language, I would say. I mean, it’s not a really a duty.” And then, switching into Tamil, he walks the walk by talking the talk, ending with the line “it’s your duty to enjoy your language.”
As an undergraduate, I was deeply impressed with Daniel Miller’s Material Culture and Mass Consumption — in fact, in one of my first published articles I used Miller’s concept of ‘forging’ (which implies both making and faking) to help understand the transformation of landowner identities around customary land registration. I’ve admired a lot of Miller’s other works as well, including Stuff, which is an accessible walk through his writings on material culture. On the other hand, I haven’t been that impressed by his work on the Internet and Digital Anthropology. I think I may be the only one who feels this way, however: UCL’s Center for Digital Anthropology (which offers an innovative MSc in Digital Anthropology) has grown from strength to strength. Of course it’s important not to reduce the center to just Miller, or to view it as the institutional expression of the personality cult surrounding him (which I know some detractors do). Miller has changed the field not only with his publications, but by creating a network of scholars with a shared outlook — a genuine movement in anthropology, not just a clique with a rigid doctrine. It’s incredibly impressive.
We might look at Miller as a consummate academic entrepreneur then, at least until today. Today the Miller and his team have turned up the volume on their project with the simultaneous release of three open access books on social media that have emerged from their global social media impact study: Social Media in an English Village, Social Media in Southeast Turkey, and How The World Changed Social Media. And a fourth volume on social media in Chile is coming in June! All open access, and all from UCL Press. You can get even more over at Why We Post, a further website of the project.
I can not speak to the quality of the works (tho if you do stop by the UCL Press site, I’d recommend Lisa Jardine’s Temptation in the Archives), which I have not read, but it’s hard to miss the impact of an event like this. It’s an incredible accomplishment I’m reminded of Mimi Ito’s Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media project, which produced not only the volume Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out, but also trained up a bevy of great scholars, including danah boyd, Patricia Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and others.
I particularly like Miller’s project because of its strong open access component. It’s great to have these pieces available. The biggest issue now is reception: In a world full of Too Much Stuff To Read, can the UCL open access volumes grab the attention of readers? Well, as we used to say on the Internet back in the nineties: I, for one, welcome our new global social media impact overlords. So this weekend why don’t you download a book or two, take a gander, and see if you think this latest piece of open access scholarship is worth spreading.
I’m in a reading group with sociologists — no, really, it’s been a good experience — and they said to me “it’s been a while since we read any ethnography, why don’t you chose the next book.” Choosing a book for a reading group is difficult : You sort of want to pick something you don’t really want to read, since the reading group will make you read it. But then after all you want to pick something you really want to read, right? Something of general interest that you need to keep up with the field, or maybe a specialist work that you absolutely need to read and haven’t yet. You know what your friends and colleagues are publishing, but then you want to chose a book that stretches your horizons and moves you out of your usual networks.
When I sat down to draw up my list of six or seven books that I really wanted to read, I found it was actually incredibly easy to do so. And as I looked over my list I thought: Damn, anthropology is pretty fracking interesting. Then I thought: well, yesterday I wrote a thousand word post about identity politics but decided not to blog it because it would just piss people off, so why don’t I at least share my reading list with the world (BTW having the covers strangely cropped like that was a complex and principled stylistic choice on my part, not a result of my failing to understand how my blogging platform handles images).
And so, without further ado, some of the most interesting and relatively recent books that I, at least, think deserve to be read: Continue reading
Today is World Anthropology Day, a global celebration of all things anthropological. The American Anthropological Association beta-tested this new holiday last year as ‘National Anthropology Day’, and we had a splendid time celebrating with delicious recipes and reminiscing about Alessandro Volta (and more). But ‘world anthropology day’ is a better fit, not only because it is more inclusive, but because it helps point out just how tight the fit is today between the world and anthropology.
Anthropology — and I’m using the term here to mean the American version of it that I practice — is just about a hundred years old. It’s been stretched, shredded, critiqued, defended, and expanded on like the Winchester Mystery House. And while there have been a lot of fair criticisms of the discipline over the years, it’s fundamental approach and findings seem more relevant than ever. Partially this is because they have stood the test of time, but partially it’s because the world of today needs them now more than ever.
At its heart, anthropology’s core finding still largely stand: Human beings are a single species. There are not naturally distinct ‘races’ some of which are superior to others. For most of history human beings have been, on the whole, connected rather than isolated — most of our customs and cultures were borrowed from other places. All human groups must meet the challenge of making a living, but our culture displays a more or less coherent degree or patterning or structure which cannot be reduced to genetic or environmental factors.
Last week marked the launch of Sapiens, a brand new website bankrolled by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The unveiling is especially welcome to those of us who think about public anthropology, since it will mean the end of Wenner-Gren’s seemingly endless social media campaign announcing that Sapiens will soon be launched. At last — after receiving five email which announce that Sapiens is not launched yet, and then invite me to click through a link to view a web page announcing that Sapiens is not launched yet — Sapiens has finally launched!
After scrupulously refusing to retweet non-news about the site, I was quit curious to see what final form Sapiens would take. So, is Sapiens worth the hype? Has a new day in public anthropology arrived? Can all other anthropology blogs now End? The short answer is that Sapiens is a major new voice in online anthropology, with a bucketload of skilled staff, quality features, and gorgeous web design. But if the Sapiens staff are hoping to transform how the public understands anthropology, they may be disappointed — this website is just one more voice in an already crowded online space. That said, with funding, legitimation, and editorial freedom from Wenner-Gren, Sapiens could make an impact in an already-crowded field.