Our next installment in the climate change series comes from Katherine J. Johnson, who is currently a PhD candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Maryland. –R.A.
College students have acquired a lot of useful information, but a limited ability to utilize that knowledge–and sometimes a surprising lack of perspective on real world problems. Many of the students I have taught in Anthropology and Climate Change courses seem to have little factual and context-specific understanding of climate change, despite growing up in an era of public contestation around this issue. Anthropology has a lot of strengths stemming from core theoretical tenants such as holism, reflexivity, and concern for marginalized populations. We can easily leverage these strengths to aid students in better understanding of climate change issues within relevant contexts, and to build on their weak knowledge of accepted science.
Lisa Bennett makes several important points in her Grist article: “10 things you want to know about human nature if you’re fighting climate change.” A key point (and I think all of them are relevant) is #2: “We can be blasé about the most important issues in the world because the global perspective is way beyond ordinary human scale”. She argues that we need “human-sized” stories to teach lessons around climate change. This is something at which anthropologists excel. Many ostensibly well-educated students have no sense of the scope of human history on Earth, our interrelationship with our environment through time, and the dramatic effect we have had on our planet. There are a lot of ways that climate change intersects with real life and our understanding of our human past and present. Making sure that we are developing these lessons into cogent and easily understandable stories (ahem, case studies) will provide students with information they can latch onto and remember. Continue reading →
Our next essay comes from Elena Burgos-Martínez, who is currently completing her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at Durham University. Her research explores local conceptualisations of the environment at the intersection between cultures in coastal Indonesia. She is interested in linguistic variations brought about by semantic expansion and new forms of rationalization which define local senses of modernity and belonging. Elena has background in Education, Geology, Chemistry, Sociolinguistics and Social Anthropology and strives to integrate different scientific paradigms when undertaking research. –R.A.
‘Kala ale’ boe mecin’, shouted Ila, while starting a Bajo song which is intended to ask the wind for help in very hot days. Wind, as stated in the song, travels from deep under sea water up to the surface, all the way through to what is above sea level. Winds mimic humans and humans mimic the wind – each featuring different attitudes towards what is in between wind directions (‘barat’/’west winds’ tends to be a bit volatile and impatient). Winds are an important feature of the environment for the Bajo of Nain Island, in North Sulawesi (Indonesia) and as such they regulate socio-ecological understandings and practices. Although intimately connected to conceptions and representations of climate change, this essay centres its critical consideration on environmental change rather than climatic discourses. I approach my subject by looking at ethnographic data collected through participant observation and posterior analysis on different conceptualisations of the environment and perceptions of the physical environment as un-detachable from the social. Continue reading →
Up next for this issue we have Todd Sanders and Elizabeth F. Hall. Sanders is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. He has written extensively on African and Euro-American knowledge practices, and is currently collaborating with Elizabeth Hall on a project called ‘Knowing Climate Change.’ Hall is a physician-scientist and Research Associate at the Centre for Ethnography at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She trained as a specialist in public health medicine and holds a PhD in epidemiology. –R.A.
Global climate change is driving anthropologists in opposite directions. Some are enthusiastically adopting “the Anthropocene” – a “gift” from our friends in the natural sciences (Latour 2014) that might enable us to exit, at long last, our Modern world and its Holocene thinking (Hamilton, et al. 2015). The concept potentially dovetails with old and new concerns – networks, rhizomes and relational ontologies; more-than-human socialities; hybrids, nonhumans and the posthuman; multispecies, multinaturalisms and modes of existence – and promises critical purchase over today’s troubled times. For as we enter the Anthropocene, we’ll need new conceptual tools and ways of thinking to understand our new home. The familiar dualisms that have long dogged our discipline and world – Nature and Culture; local and global; Moderns and non-moderns; and so on – are not up to the task. Discard the Modern dualisms. Dwell on the emergent processes of their production. And reimagine worlds as partial and provisional, composed through multiple, heterogeneous entanglements. For many anthropologists, the time is ripe for such an Anthropocene Anthropology. Continue reading →
The next installment for the anthropologies issue on climate change comes from Douglas La Rose. La Rose is the regional coordinator for the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), a humanitarian organization operating in Northern Bahr al Gazal, Western Bahr al Gazal, and Warrap States in South Sudan. He has previously worked on food security and livelihoods interventions and research projects in Ghana, the Solomon Islands, and Ethiopia. He has a Master’s Degree in Applied Anthropology and lives with his wife and two children on their family farm in the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa.
Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable people in the world. In the sprawling global region where I have been working over the past decade, Western and Eastern Africa, it is even more biased against the fortunes of people struggling against parching droughts and sweeping floods. The ways that communities respond to these climate extremes are disparate and not established, but certain variables such as conflict and strong political social institutions have a profound influence on the suite within which communities can situate their responses. Communities that live in conflict zones often don’t have the ability to adapt to climate extremes, while communities facing similar problems in relatively peaceful areas with stability and stronger social and political institutions can take certain risks that increase their resilience and adaptability. Continue reading →
To kick off this issue, we begin with Sean Seary’s excellent overview of recent literature about anthropology’s engagement with climate. This review originally appeared on Anthropology Report, has been reproduced here to give us a solid foundation for moving forward. Seary, a recent graduate from Hartwick College, currently lives in Brunswick, Maine. His research interests focus on the convergence of anthropology and climate change. Seary’s work has also been featured on PopAnth. –R.A.
Introduction: Anthropological Interventions
Since the 1960s, global climate and environmental change have been important topics of contemporary scientific research. Growing concerns about climate change have introduced a (relatively) new variable in climate change research: the anthropogenic causes of local-global climate and environmental change. Despite archaeologists providing some of the first research and commentary on climate change–a point that is explored in Daniel Sandweiss and Alice Kelley’s Archaeological Contributions to Climate Change Research: The Archaeological Record as a Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental Archive–the field of climate and environmental change research has been predominantly studied by “natural scientists.” This is where Susan Crate’s Climate and Culture: Anthropology in the Era of Contemporary Climate Change in the 2011 Annual Review of Anthropology intervenes. Crate calls for anthropological engagement with the natural sciences (and vice versa) on global climate change discourse, with the intention of creating new multidisciplinary ethnographies that reflect all the contributors to global environmental change. Continue reading →
For the latest issue of anthropologies, we’re taking a look at the ever contentious subject of climate change. Over the next week or so, we will be posting individual essays from our contributors. At the end we will post the issue in its entirety. Please share, and feel free to post your thoughts and comments. Here’s the introduction, written by Jeremy Trombley, the co-editor for this issue. You can contact him on Twitter here: @jmtrombley. Thanks Jeremy for all of your help putting this issue together! –R.A.
The climate is changing. Oceans are rising, glaciers melting, animals migrating to more hospitable environments, people struggling to understand, resist, and adapt. But solutions seem far off, and many seem reluctant to change their lives to prevent the worst-case scenarios. Even those who are aware and accepting of the science underlying climate change are often unwilling to look the realities in the face – the extent to which the world could be changed, the apparent inevitability of the process, the feedback loops that could escalate climate change beyond even our most dire predictions. Scientists who study the environmental effects of climate change – past, present, and future – struggle to comprehend the extent and intensity of its effects. It can be disheartening, even hopeless, but time moves on and ever-increasing amounts of CO2 are being pumped into the atmosphere on a daily basis. What can be done? What should be done? How do we even begin to answer these questions? This is what the essays in this issue explore from an anthropological lens. Continue reading →
The next issue of anthropologies focuses broadly on anthropology and climate change. We’re seeking contributions from cultural anthropologists, archaeologists, linguistic anthropologists–the more the better. We already have some contributors lined up, but there’s room for more!
Also, I’m looking for a guest editor for this issue. I need help! Experience in environmental anthropology and/or archaeology would be a plus. Guest editors will help line up contributors for the final issue and edit essays before they are published online. Ideally, the guest editor will also write or co-write the introduction to this issue.
This issue will include diverse coverage of climate change from an anthropological perspective. What does anthropology add to our understanding of climate change around the world? What do we have to offer? What do archaeological perspectives bring to the table? How can anthropology take part in addressing and/or confronting climate change? What about teaching climate change–or the politics of climate change debates? Above all, the goal of this issue is to use anthropology to challenge, critique, and illuminate this often controversial issue. Have an idea? Email us!
If you’re interested in taking part, please send a short query email with your idea to:
You can also contact me on twitter: @anthropologia
Submissions for this issue will be due on July 15, 2015. The standard word range is between approximately 750 and 2000 words. See below for more information about submissions and style. Continue reading →
It’s time to bring the anthropologies project back to life. The project was on “sabbatical” all of last year while I was working on turning an unfinished dissertation into a done dissertation. Now it’s time to bring it back, and I’m looking for people to take part. Here are the (tentative) ideas I have for the next few issues:
Issue on the social, environmental, and political implications of climate change (with, hopefully, contributions from archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, linguistic anthros and ???).
Anthropological perspectives on the food we eat–what it means, where it comes from, what it does to us (would be great to have cultural, archaeological, and bio-anth perspectives here).
An anthropology of home/housing/shelter (I imagine a broad anthropological take on the idea of home/shelter that spans from the present to the past. Again, here it would be great to have submissions from across anthropology. I keep thinking of submissions about the meaning of the contemporary Tiny House movement alongside archaeological takes on rock shelters. Maybe some cross-cultural stuff on housing, economics, and use of space?? A revisit of Bourdieu’s The Berber House? Mix it up!).
Interested? Send me an email! Have some ideas? Email me!! In order to bring anthropologies back I’m going to need some help. I will announce more specific dates for upcoming issues and themes soon.
Earlier this year I posted two informal student debt surveys here on Savage Minds as part of the Anthropologies issue on Student Debt. Both of these surveys focused on student debt in anthropology. Here at long last are some of the results. (Sorry for taking so long to get to this…I was writing a dissertation over the last nine or so months.)*
There was a lot of data to sift through. In this post I’ll discuss the first survey, which had 285 total responses. We’ll start with the highest level of education attained. Thirty-four percent have completed their MA. Thirty-three have completed their PhD, fourteen percent have completed an undergraduate degree, nine percent have completed “some grad school,” six percent have completed between one and three years of college, and another six percent chose “other.”
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they are not currently enrolled in college or grad school. Forty-six percent are enrolled. Two percent chose “other” when asked if they are currently enrolled.
In terms of current employment status, forty-five percent have a full-time job, twenty-two percent have a part-time job, nineteen percent are unemployed, and fourteen percent chose “other.”
The majority of responses came from socio-cultural anthropologists (59%), followed by archaeologists (18%), biological anthropologists (13%), and linguistic anthropologists (3%). Eight percent chose “other” when asked about their disciplinary niche within anthropology.
The following post by Daniel Souleles is another installment of the Anthropologies issue on student debt. Souleles is a PhD Student in Applied Anthropology at Columbia University. He has done field work with Catholic hermit monks and is currently studying private equity investors in New York City for his dissertation field work. He is interested in questions of belief, wealth, and value in the contemporary USA. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As the not quite proud holder of around 100k in student debt, I’d like to offer a few different ways to think about debt, student debt, and a career in anthropology. The attention Savage Minds has been giving to student debt and paying for grad school is excellent. However, I’d like to push beyond focusing on whether or not a prospective grad student should or should not take on a lot of debt. Focusing on the individual gets us into a mindset where we portray the grad student as a patsy or a fool, and spares anyone else any responsibility or blame. So starting from the individual making a decision, here are some better questions we might ask:
1) Why might someone want to spend their life as an anthropologist? Say what you will about the state of the discipline, its skills at teaching, its accessibility. For all these issues of access and abstruseness, and despite the cost of tuition and the amount of adjuncts hustling out there, we still manage to convince a lot of people that they want to become an anthropologist. This is awesome. How and why do we this? What does this tell us about the folks (possibly you and definitely me!) who are willing to go into debt to chase this dream? We should work with this desire instead of saying it’s stupid. Continue reading →
In the interest of providing fair and balanced coverage of the ongoing Anthropologies-Savage Minds issue on student debt, I contacted Thomas J. Snodgrass to share some of his thoughts with us. Snodgrass is a retired lobbyist (30 years of service), and currently heads up the Public Outreach Department (POD) for the American Education Fund (AEF), which is one of the premier student loan providers in the greater USA. He has an MBA and a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago (1967). His dissertation focused on efficient market models for domestic education and national patrimony. In 1986 he was named to the Ayn Rand Institute’s “Top 100 Loyal Americans” list, an honor which he held for a record 13 straight years. He is currently writing a memoir about his life and career in education reform, “The Spectre of Marxism: My fight to save the soul of higher ed.” His book will be published in early 2015.
I had the opportunity to take a class in anthropology with a young Clifford Geertz when he was at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s. I was nearing the end of my PhD, and I needed a “fun” course to blow off some steam. I picked the right class. Now, while Professor Geertz was indeed witty, frankly, after my rigorous studies in economics, I found anthropology to be slightly on the “soft” side. That’s not to demean the discipline; I have no doubt it has its uses. We all love dinosaurs and cave men, after all. But I wanted to share my experiences to let you know, as readers of this anthropology “weblog,” that I am quite well versed in anthropology (I got a B plus in Mr. Geertz’s class). Because of my deep familiarity with anthropology, I am not at all surprised by the slanted, misinformed, and, frankly, borderline un-American coverage of the student loan opportunity (it’s not a problem, let alone a “crisis”) on this site.
Frankly, back in the late 1960s anthropology was a hotbed of socialistic thinking and brazen anti-American thought. So it’s no surprise to see that trend continue today, although it is disheartening for a lover of America like myself. Only a bunch of Marxists could take the wonderful American institution of the student loan, which has helped generations improve their lives, and turn it into yet another blatant attempt to forgo personal responsibility and demand a free ride from the government. I am here to set the record straight in three easy points that even those of you from the social sciences and humanities should be able to digest. Continue reading →
The following is another installment for the Anthropologies/Savage Minds issue on Student Debt.
Well, it’s that time of year when prospective grad students around the country are anxiously pacing around their mailboxes waiting for responses from all the PhD programs they applied to. Many are wondering who accepted them, who rejected them, and, of course, if they got funding. That’s the big question. Getting a full-funding offer is the highest mark of acceptance and application success. It’s like getting the golden seal of academic and departmental approval. It means you’re in.
Getting accepted without a funding offer is a not-so-wonderful middle ground. Like getting a happy-face sticker that says “Great Job!” when you really needed a paycheck. It feels sort of like acceptance, but there’s something hollow about it. A lot of people decide to enter PhD programs without funding, thinking that at least it gets them in the door. If they happen to have piles of extra money on hand, or family support, or a full-time job, or maybe even a partner who is working, it might be a reasonable choice. Might being a key word there. But many people simply don’t have access to those kinds of financial resources. In these post-economic crash, disintegration-of-the-university-as-we-knew-it times, I think more students need to seriously reconsider entering PhD programs without full funding. Why? Because it doesn’t make any sense to go into debt trying to get a PhD in anthropology (let alone plenty of other disciplines). Sarah Kendzior said it best on twitter not too long ago:
Do not do a PhD program unless you are guaranteed full funding for every year. Use the system, don't let it use you.— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) January 13, 2014
This is an invited post by Douglas La Rose for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Douglas is a graduate of San Diego State University’s Applied Anthropology M.A program. He is an applied environmental anthropologist who has been living and working in rural Africa since 2005. He worked as a consultant for both the United Nations Development Program and the African Adaptation Program, and also established his own agroforestry project in Ghana in 2011. Currently, he works for Nuru International Ethiopia as an agriculture program specialist in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. His writing on Nuru Ethiopia’s agriculture program can be found here.
In order to make a real difference, you have to go deeply into “debt.” You have to take out a massive personal capacity-building loan to prepare yourself for the rugged terrain that is the world of international “development.” If you carry the heavier cross of wanting to entertain post-development notions – of deconstructing the way the North interacts with, represents, and perceives the South while “practicing” development – you must also drag along its corollary baggage: being a naysayer in an industry of entrenched professionals and experts. If you have had the misfortune of being trained beyond the capacity that is desired of a development professional – a reflexive applied anthropologist always willing to intervene with a “now, wait a second” – then you suddenly become less an asset than a perceived enemy or an implant.
In this academy-abandoned landscape of moving forward with a kind of loosely defined and intensively critical development philosophy, the very contours and nature of debt become something like a ghost. Debt becomes something that is difficult to believe in as a real entity. It is negative capital that must be plodded through to realize a sense of personal freedom. But at the same time it exists in a realm of voices, letters, phone calls, and news articles. One is constantly reminded of it – even distracted by it – but as it howls it is difficult to feel the substance of its howl. The wolves at the door appear to be more holograms than threats. Why throw your livelihood to these beasts when you have a child to feed? Why acknowledge their scratchings when your real task at hand is to co-create an agriculture program in Ethiopia or bring attention to indigenous adaptations to climate change in marginalized areas of Ghana? The ghost of debt becomes something like a joke. The voices, the letters, the phone calls, the news stories, the “bubble” – all of it collapses under the immensity of its absurdity. Of course, this is all wrong and unpatriotic. Right? Continue reading →
This is an invited post by Ann Larson for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Larson is a graduate of the PhD program in English at the CUNY Graduate Center where she researched first-generation students in higher education. In academic exile, she has worked as an adjunct professor, as a public relations assistant, and as a (volunteer) communications and technical coordinator for Strike Debt. Her writing on debt can be found here, here and here. She writes about academia on her blog.
With total student loan debt over one trillion dollars, millions of students and families can never hope to repay what they owe, especially since there are no individual solutions to the problem. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and student loan lenders can and do garnish debtors’ wages and social security checks. The powers of lenders to collect are unprecedented in the history of creditor/debtor relations.
Yet, belief in upward mobility through education is still a profoundly American ideal. In the midst of the latest recession, politicians and elites have argued not for the redistribution of wealth but for making college “more affordable” in the belief that increasing access to education makes more fundamental social changes unnecessary. Forgotten, too, in the emphasis on college financing is that education is not just a path to a job. It’s a site of human desire, aspiration, and hope for the future. Continue reading →
This is an invited post by Hollie Russell for the Anthropologies Student Debt Issue (#20). Russell is a student at Victoria University of Wellington, about to start her Masters in anthropology with a student loan debt of $33,515.08. Her interests include politics, activism, and good coffee. Follow her on twitter @hollierussell8
In New Zealand, student debt is a pervasive and powerful feature of student life. Neoliberal user-pay ideologies led to the introduction of tuition fees in 1989 and the formation of the Student Loan Scheme in 1992. Through the scheme many New Zealand students have become increasingly indebted to the government in the form of financial loans. As of June 2012, 701,000 people had a student loan with Inland Revenue and the nominal value of loan balances was almost $13 billion (MoE 2012). My own loan balance sits at $33,515.08 which is just above average for postgraduate students.
The prevalence of student loans and the massive amount of debt owed by students in New Zealand has directly influenced student activism, but has also affected participation indirectly because of its influence on the priorities, energy and time students have had. It seems that, that which could potentially inspire students to action often discourages them.
One way student debt effects activism is by influencing student’s priorities. Due to debt, most students take on part-time work, which on top of assignments, revision, lectures, and tutorials, does not leave students with much spare time. Additionally, when students do have free time, they are more likely to spend it doing activities and joining clubs which will benefit their résumé, a result of the anxiety surrounding their debt. As Paul Comrie-Thomson (2010) points out “a prospective employer is going to be considerably more inclined to take on a member of the debating club than say a member of the University’s Marxist community”. Zoe Zuccotti, a student activist herself, echoes Comrie-Thomson’s idea, explaining the conflicting features of contemporary student life: Continue reading →