Category Archives: Blog post

On the 90th Anniversary of the First European Crossing Of New Guinea, “Explorer” Benedict Allen Claims to Have Done It For The First Time

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 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

Three Places to Avoid if You’re New to Anthropology

If you’re just starting out in anthropology, let me do you a favor. I want to point out three items that are NOT resources for learning more about anthropology, though they may seem like it at first glance.

1. Anthropologie. This is obvious for many of our readers: Anthropologie is a clothing and home décor retailer in the United States, UK, Germany, and France – not a store where you can find the course readings or cool skull things for your office. In fact, there is no clear connection between what Anthropologie sells and what anthropology is. I’ve heard stories of anthropologists shopping at Anthropologie who have tried to strike up conversation with employees about anthropology, only to be met with blank stares. Furthermore, Anthropologie’s ridiculously high prices for frivolous products are totally counter to anthropology’s long relationship with social justice and political economy. Instead: If you need anthropology-related goods, try patronizing your local bookstore or buy from the local artists wherever you do your research. Continue reading

The end of (the capitalist white supremacist heteropatriarchal hate-full order of) the world, a survival guide:

This piece originally appeared as a Twitter essay I published on November 4, 2017. I am re-posting it here with minimal edits to improve clarity and formatting.

fossilized fish and plants at the Peabody Museum, New Haven

One: find your beloveds. Find your beautiful soul-kin. Check in with them every day. Tell them they matter. Weather storms together, like schools of fish in rough seas.

Two: Manifest care however you can, to whatever extent is possible in your given circumstances. Choose care. Choose tenderness. Admit to yourself when you are enacting care in name only. Regroup. Restore. Breathe. Ask for help if you can, in your circumstances.

Continue reading

Bidding “bon voyage” to la pensée sauvage: Why the “Savage Minds” name change couldn’t come soon enough

I never thought I would be guest-blogging for an internet publication whose name was (once) a racial slur directed at me and my ancestors. For many years now, “the-blog-formerly-known-as-Savage-Minds,” Anthrodendum, has been engaging the public in discussions about anthropology, but until recently it has alienated the very people upon whom this field is built — due to the desire to cling to an unfortunate name.

Continue reading

Enchantment as Methodology

An invited post by: Yana Stainova

 

“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic or intellectual

forms a bridge between the sharers, which can be the basis for

understanding much of what is not shared between them,

and lessens the threat of their differences,”

Audre Lorde

 

We often equate good scholarship with a critical attitude. A cynical view of the world is almost automatically welcomed as more scientifically sound than an enchanted one. While this methodology has led to destabilizing habits of thought that perpetuate large structures of power, it has also elevated the critical perspective onto a pedestal. We are more inclined to unveil the mechanisms, cultural logics, and uneven global flows that underpin magic than to suspend disbelief and to partake in it. We have grown afraid of feeling enchanted.

I was attracted to my research topic, a classical music program in Venezuela popularly called ‘El Sistema,’ because I found it enchanting. The program provided free classical music education and instruments to more than half a million young people in schools all over Venezuela. Even in video recordings, I was smitten by the energy with which the young musicians played, by the sight of people who were passionate about a pursuit.

In Venezuela, I met musicians who took musical enchantment seriously: it was a state of mind and spirit that they consciously aspired towards. One of them was Carlos, an eighteen-year-old musician. I asked to interview him because his playing stood out for me at a concert: when Carlos played, he lifted the instrument unusually high in his left hand, his cheek resting against the instrument as if on a pillow. He closed his eyes. And smiled. Continue reading

#MeToo: A Crescendo in the Discourse about Sexual Harassment, Fieldwork, and the Academy (Part 2)

UPDATED 10/29/17, 9:50 am: Edited to include links to helpful resources

During the first few months of ethnographic research, many cultural anthropologists recognize that the training you received in the classroom seldom prepares you for the spontaneous, erratic, and frequently daunting task of actually completing field research. You are (oftentimes, but not always) away from friends, family, and home—people and spaces that make you feel safe and empowered. You may be learning a new language, new geography, and trying to gain access to communities and institutions that are cautious about letting you in. Fieldwork is a process that one submits to—sometimes throwing caution to the wind and pushing oneself to talk to people, go to locations, and navigate situations you would never openly embrace at home or in your everyday life.

Unfortunately, because this fascinating and complex process does not happen in a vacuum, ethnographers must create relationships in the context of all the oppressions that operate in the world. In their call for a “fugitive anthropology,” Berry et al (forthcoming 2017)[1] demand that we acknowledge and theorize the gendered, racialized, and sexualized violence that often constitutes the field and fieldwork for women of color and queer ethnographers. They write that speaking of “fieldwork as an individualistic rite of passage often obscures its constitutive and interlocking racial and gender hierarchies and inequities” and favors “the emblematic racially privileged male anthropologist” (1-2). The writers offer fugitive anthropology as a tool for resistance to anthropology’s “implicit masculinist ‘shut up and take it’ mentality in reference to gendered violence in the field” (2). Recognizing that women are three times more at risk than men for experiencing sexual harassment or assault in the field,[2] I share three fieldwork stories here hoping to contribute to the discussion about the politics of gendered and sexualized violence in the field and fieldwork, particularly for women of color ethnographers.

  Continue reading

#MeToo: A Crescendo in the Discourse about Sexual Harassment, Fieldwork, and the Academy (Part 1)

Anthrodendum welcomes guest blogger Bianca C. Williams.

Sunday night, October 15, I watched women across my social media timeline bravely and vulnerably share their stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment as part of the collective conversation tagged #MeToo. I contributed my own #MeToo post after reading the initial three shares by friends, writing that I did not think I knew a woman who had not experienced some form of sexualized violence. Within two hours, hundreds of my friends, colleagues, and former students had added their voices to the orchestra of rage, sadness, disappointment, indignation, frustration, and stoic resolve accompanying #MeToo. I experienced it like it was an atmosphere-piercing, discursive crescendo. As a Black feminist anthropologist who studies, teaches, and experiences the intricate ways patriarchy, misogyny, and misogynoir shape our educational institutions and lives, you would think I wouldn’t have been surprised by the sheer vastness of the stories this hashtag brought to the digital surface. But I was. And I simultaneously wasn’t. I knew the boundless reach of sexualized violence, and yet seeing its pervasiveness in the most-heartbreaking narratives of those in my communities made it more real. And then to see a few men in my timeline express shock, disbelief, and dismissive sentiments—as if they haven’t been listening to us for decades, generations—made me angry. However, it was the silence from the majority that made me livid. But isn’t silence part of how oppression works?

I went to sleep. And then I woke in the middle of the night in a fright, uncomfortable with my post so clearly being visible online. Initially, I posted my #MeToo in solidarity with my sistas and sibs who wanted to share their stories, and to support those in community who were hesitant because they thought they were the only ones. But as I thought about the stories of rape and sexual assault of those closest to me, I wondered if my “tame” encounters with sexualized violence even counted in comparison to theirs. I took my post down, giving myself permission to be unsure and unresolved. I’m usually pretty transparent, even in a profession that values obscurity and inaccessibility as intellect. I attempt to practice radical honesty in discussions, writing, and teaching, believing that narrative as truth-telling is a form of resistance. But for the first time in a while, leaning into the truth didn’t feel right. Not yet.[1] All I could do was lay there in my bed, wondering if the experiences of unwelcome attention; touching; uncomfortable conversations filled with sexual innuendo were enough to validate my public #MeToo. That might seem foolish, but again, isn’t this how oppression works? Isn’t it a force that would ask one to quantify and qualify one’s pain, wondering if it is “bad” enough to count as sexual assault?[2]

Continue reading

About that takedown notice from the AAA

Here we go again. If you’re a member of the American Anthropological Association, you should have received an email this past week (10/17) about avoiding copyright infringement. The message was concise and right to the point: A bunch of members are in violation of their author agreements, and the AAA wants you to take your papers down. Here’s the message in case you missed it:

Basically, the AAA is saying that that more than 1,000 AAA copyrighted articles are in violation of copyright because they have been posted on ResearchGate and Academia.edu. This news is not super shocking, since many of us who publish aren’t particularly informed about the author agreements we sign, let alone how the publishing process works. We just sign those agreements in the rush to publish before we perish…and then sometimes post stuff on commercial sites to make our content “accessible” to the world. Awesome, right? Not so much. This is ultimately to our own detriment.

To quote the Library Loon (as I have before on this site), “The great mass of those who publish in the scholarly literature are pig-ignorant about how scholarly publishing works.” Ouch. But it’s pretty true. How many of you pay close attention to the author agreements you sign? If you did, we might not be having this conversation. Why, you ask? Because you likely signed away your rights, willingly. So when Wiley (or Elsevier, etc) demands that you take your paper down from Academia.edu, they’re just exercising the power you handed to them. As Rex once wrote here on Savage Minds, “if most people realized the way they had signed away their rights to publishers, the open access movement would double or triple in size overnight.”* Continue reading

Explaining Ethnography in the Field: A Conversation between Pasang Yangjee Sherpa and Carole McGranahan

What is ethnography? In anthropology, ethnography is both something to know and a way of knowing. It is an orientation or epistemology, a type of writing, and also a methodology. As a method, ethnography is an embodied, empirical, and experiential field-based way of knowing centered around participant-observation. This is obvious to anthropologists as it has been our central method for the last century. However, what ethnography is, how it works, and the unique specificity of ethnographic data is not always clear to outsiders, whether they are other researchers, officials, or members of the communities with whom we are working. Why is this, and how do we explain ethnography and its value when we are in the field? In April, we started a conversation about this in person at a conference at Cornell University, emailed back and forth over the summer, and concluded the conversation this month at a conference at the University of Colorado. We cover topics including the context of research, questions of technology, IRBs, being a native anthropologist, the usefulness of ethnography and stories, and ethnographic research as a unique sort of data.

****************

Carole: What constitutes the field always differs by scholar. Who we are in dialogue with, where, and why depends on one’s research project. However, no matter where we are or who we are, explaining our research topic and method is critical. In your research, with whom are you discussing ethnography as method, and how do you explain it?

Pasang: In my research, I discuss ethnography as method with village residents, diaspora communities, government officials, NGO officials, scientists, youth leaders, students, policy makers, technocrats, and conservation practitioners. These categories often overlap. Continue reading

Paying with Our Faces: Apple’s FaceID

In early September, Apple Computer, Inc. launched their new iPhone and with it, FaceID, software that uses facial-recognition as an authentication for unlocking the iPhone. The mass global deployment of facial-recognition in society is an issue worthy of public debate. Apple, as a private company,  has now chosen to deploy facial-recognition technology to millions of users, worldwide, without any public debate of ethics, ethics oversight, regulation, public input, or discourse. Facial-recognition technology can be flawed and peculiarly biased and the deployment of FaceID worldwide sets an alarming precedent for what private technology companies are at liberty to do within society.

One of the disturbing issues with the press coverage of FaceID during the week of Apple’s announcement, was the limited criticism of what it means for Apple to deploy FaceID, and those who will follow Apple and deploy their own versions. What does it mean to digitize our faces and use the facsimile of our main human identifier (aside from our voices) as a proxy for our human selves, and to pay Apple nearly $1000 U.S. to do so?

Continue reading

Resources for Understanding Race After Charlottesville

In this time of fake news and alternative facts coming from the White House as well as some media, what can we as scholars contribute to challenge this?

In this time of amplified racist hate and violence, whether it is anti-Black, anti-Muslim, or directed at any group, what can we as scholars contribute to challenge this?

In this time of newly public white supremacy in the USA, what can we as scholars contribute to challenge this?

Today, Monday, September 18, 2017 is devoted to Understanding Race After Charlottesville. Four professional organizations—the American Anthropological Association, the American Historical Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Society for Applied Anthropology—are each encouraging and holding events leading up to and following after this day. Here at Anthrodendum, we are collecting resources from this event to share, as well as offering others relevant in this political moment. Since the 2016 presidential campaign, anthropologists have been busy trying to interpret where we are and how we got here—and collectively thinking about how to research, write, and teach in this moment. Continue reading

Remembering the Mexican Revolution with Aunt Julia

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Diez y Seis — Mexican Independence Day — always seemed to hold an official, albeit minor, status in the state capitol. This was not a holiday that we observed in my family in any formal capacity. Much like Cinco de Mayo we might find ourselves at a Mexican restaurant that night just by happenstance. After all we ate Mexican all the time! As we waited for our enchiladas I would proclaim, “Today is Deiz y Seis,” as if realizing that the Longhorns were on TV. Unlike the Fourth of July, it never warranted parades of children on decorated bicycles and riding lawnmowers. More than likely it would be a human interest story at the end of the local nightly news.

While a student, and at the encouragement of my mother, I recruited my grandmother to help me collect ghost stories from her oldest sister, Julia, the most renowned storyteller and tamale maker in my family. In addition to learning a little bit about linguistics and a lot about transcribing interviews I also heard for the first time the tale of how her family came to Texas from Torreón, Coahuila. In honor of Diez y Seis and with all due respect to the still precarious status of immigrants and refugees in the United States I am retelling it to you today.

Special thanks are due to my mom Janis, Grandma Pauline, and Aunt Julia who guided me to that kitchen in south central Austin, January 1997, where I first heard this tale.  I had to exercise a little poetic license to weave that conversation into a single narrative but its really Julia’s story. Believe me, when its family holding you to account you’re going to do your best to tell the tale right!

Continue reading

Peer Review Boycott: Say No to Political Censorship

By: Charlene Makley and Carole McGranahan

Would you peer review manuscripts for a journal or press that politically censors its content? If your answer is no, then please join us in making your statement public by signing this petition.

Why the need for what seems like such an obvious defense of academic freedom? Several weeks ago, the People’s Republic of China pressured Cambridge University Press to restrict access in China to articles and book reviews in two major journals: China Quarterly and Journal of Asian Studies (the flagship journal of the US-based Association of Asian Studies). The Press agreed to censor content in China Quarterly, but then changed this decision after international scholarly protest.

The content to be censored was scholarship the Chinese government considered sensitive or dangerous, including works by anthropologists of China, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Content requested to be censored is extensive and dates back to 1952 as you can see on the censorship list for each journal (list of the 300 articles China Quarterly initially blocked, then reversed decision on, and list of content Journal of Asian Studies refused to block).

Not a scholar of this part of the world? Your support of this peer review boycott still matters. It matters for broad support of intellectual freedom and access to scholarship. Your expertise matters as a peer reviewer on manuscripts with topical and theoretical overlaps with your specialties. Continue reading

Situating Knowledge

As an anthropologist working at the intersection of anthropology and development studies I sometimes undertake work for development organizations. The kind of work I do does not fall into the category of applied anthropology or  the work of cultural translation. Most often  I’m asked to provide, in written form,  a rapid analytical overview of an issue or situation in relation to a pressing policy objective. What counts as a situation  or an issue  is determined by the political context and policy framing which makes it relevant at a particular moment.

The private sector takes the lead

 

Such work can be challenging, personally and politically. Current development paradigms which fetishize market forces and the unfettered private sector as an engine for positive social transformation are laying the foundations that consolidate the entrenchment of  new kinds of inequalities on an  unprecedented scale.  At the same time, financial transfers from richer countries to poorer ones provide much needed subsidies for improved public provision of essential basic services. Understanding where policies have traction,  and for whom,  is a critical part of the contested politics of development practice, within and between development organizations. Continue reading

What you can REALLY do with an anthropology degree

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.

Continue reading