Category Archives: Blog post

“To Peace, Because the Awful Alternative is the End of All Life”: Build Bomb–Explore Space(s)–Save World! (Part 2)

This two-part post is a collaborative authorship between Taylor R. Genovese and Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. For more on Martin’s work see his blog Deus Ex Atomica and his personal Twitter account @NuclearAnthro.

In Part 1, we analyzed nuclear weapon and defense industry advertisements from 1950-1964 to demonstrate the fundamentally, and publically imagined, imbrications of spaces exploration and U.S. military supremacy. In Part 2 we continue with a deeper theoretical examination of technoutopian spaces imaginaries. Although in this post we make use of colloquialisms like “Space Race,” “Ocean Race,” and “Earth Race,” we do not accept the real-world separations they imply. We argue, as per our discussion in Part 1, that these spaces explorations were fundamentally aspects of the same underlying colonial and militarist processes.

Continue reading

Do we even need to define ethnographic film?

Before this year I never felt the need to come up with a clear definition for what counts as an “ethnographic film.” Constructing better pigeonholes only seems to be of use to the gatekeepers who get to decide which films count and which do not. I still think that’s true, but this year I became one of those gatekeepers! As programmer for the 2017 Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival I suddenly found myself needing to articulate some kind of working definition that could be communicated to filmmakers, distributors, festival judges, etc. so that everyone understood what did or did not count as an “ethnographic film” for the purpose of this festival. I failed.

The best I could offer was “I know one when I see one” but this definition cost me dearly. We had over 1,500 entries for the festival, and it took a lot of work to weed out which of those films would go on to the judges and which would not. In the end about two thirds of the films were rejected in the first round. In many cases we only needed to read the film description or watch a few minutes to know that it wasn’t right for the festival. In other cases I ended up watching the whole film before deciding. It was a lot of work.

To be honest, I don’t know if a better definition would really have helped. Festival submissions are free1 and a lot of filmmakers don’t bother to read the rules before submitting. Many of the rejected films didn’t even meet the most basic entry requirements listed on the submissions page, and hundreds of them were clearly scripted dramas with no claims to being the slightest bit anthropological or ethnographic. Still, the whole process got me thinking about how I would go about trying to define ethnographic film. Here’s what I came up with. I’m posting this in two parts. Today I’ll set out my goals for such a definition, including my overall approach. In a later post I plan to actually sketch out what such a definition might look like. Continue reading

Surfing vs. the commodification of everything

curren_servais
Tom Curren, logo-free, 1991. Photography by Tom Servais.

Do you ever think about the first time a concept really stuck for you? Not the first time you heard of the concept, but rather the first time it resonated and had meaning. I think about this all the time. We are inundated with a flood of ideas and words all the time, but what makes them stick? What memories or experiences make this possible? Take, for example, the concept of “commodification,” an idea that always gets me thinking about the strange, complex, symbolic, abstracting behaviors of humans.

Commodification. I think I know the moment I was first confronted with that strange idea…but I didn’t really know it at the time. I just knew there was something there, something equally fascinating and revolting, that needed to be examined, picked apart, and dissected. It happened in the early 1990s. I was 16 years old. I remember opening a copy of a new surfing magazine, and laying my eyes on the photograph above, taken by photographer Tom Servais, of the greatest surfer of all time,[1] riding a logo-free surfboard in full defiance of the (then) highly commercialized world of professional surfing. Continue reading

“To Peace, Because the Awful Alternative is the End of All Life”: Build Bomb–Explore Space(s)–Save World! (Part 1)

This two-part post is a collaborative authorship between Taylor R. Genovese and Martin Pfeiffer, a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. For more on Martin’s work see his blog Deus Ex Atomica and his personal Twitter account @NuclearAnthro.

Introduction

Beginning in 1966, millions of people around the world (including the authors) have settled in front of the warm glow of a television or movie screen to watch an intrepid crew of space explorers venture through the cosmos—not for reasons of invasion or extraction, but for the more virtuous purpose of simply going where no human has ever been. We are of course talking about watching Star Trek. As we grew up and learned more about human “space exploration,” our understandings remained consistent with the dramatic imaginary of Star Trek: that adventuring into the cosmos is an inherently noble goal, pursued by good people, for inherently noble reasons. Space was the “final frontier” and humanity strode out into that glittering darkness as a matter of destiny, not conquest. Formal education during our college years initially added little nuance to our opinions about human space exploration. Sure, the space race was part of the Cold War “competition” with the Soviet Union, but “space exploration” remained pure and good in our minds.

Graduate school, that Eater of Dreams, began to change our conceptualizations as we dug deeper into these subjects. As part of Martin’s coursework at UNM, he has engaged in ethnographic and archival research including collecting nuclear weapon laboratory and defense advertising from Physics Today and Scientific American between the years of 1950-1964. Meanwhile, Taylor spent his MA years ethnographically investigating humanity’s changing perceptions of the cosmos, particularly in how the rapid commercialization of space affairs was shifting our cosmic goals from exploration to exploitation. As we brought our separate research endeavors into conversation with each other, we began to realize the imbricated natures of U.S. projects and discourses of nuclear weapons and space development.

Continue reading

The duodenum is a noble, noble organ and I am totally, totally willing to own that name.

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.

Continue reading

What happened on 12 July: A lot.

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!

Shitting in Space: Engagements with Cosmic Taboo

Last December, I was asked an interesting question on Twitter: “How much poop is on the moon?” After a quick, panicky, existential reevaluation centered on whether my mountain of student loan debt was justified by having the ability to answer questions centered on feces, I began to do some research. Interestingly, the precise answer was easy to find.

Continue reading

Today is the day: Help take back the net

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!

Our New Name: Anthrodendum

anthrodendum /anTHrəˈdendəm/ or /anTHrōˈdendəm/ n 1. anthropological annotations of a community’s practices, expectations, experiences, and relationships. 2. an additional text, directing the reader to that which is alongside or parenthetical. 3. that which possesses the power to add or change conditions or contexts, as well as acknowledging the responsibility to do this ethically, and with consideration of shifts in historical and political context. 4. the constant building of anthropological knowledge over the decades resulting in sedimented layers of thinking and activism and writing of those scholars and community members who came before us.

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

A new name has been a long time coming. On December 3, 2016, we announced that we would be re-naming this blog. Our primary reason was that we had come to understand that the name “Savage Minds” was harmful or offensive. Two Indigenous scholars were key to this prompt: guest blogger Zoe S. Todd – now a member of our core blogging team – was the first one to publicly state on the blog that a new name was needed; and Savannah Martin, an invaluable provocateur and wordsmith, generously gave us our new name: Anthrodendum. In a discipline with a history of entanglement with empire, and with longstanding commitments to meaning and context, we unanimously decided “Savage Minds” was no longer an acceptable name for us or for our readers. The word “savage” has historically been used to dehumanize non-White peoples and no pun or irony can obscure that reality. Continue reading

Casting into the Cosmos: Magic and Ritual in Human Spaceflight (Part 2)

In Part 1, I wrote a gonzo ethnography about my experience at a rocket launch in Florida. For Part 2, I will be utilizing historical records, museum didactic text, and astronaut testimony to illustrate that magical and ritualistic practice is heavily engaged with in spaceflight operations. One may speculate that with the extreme emphasis on the (perceived) empiricism of Western science in the realm of outer space affairs, there would be no room for the subjective—let alone magic, ritual, and religion. However, one of the themes that became apparent to me throughout my research is that there exists an enormous amount of mysticism within the field of human spaceflight. Some rituals are performed within the confines of accepted Western religious dogmas, while some fall into the realm of how some anthropologists understand magic and witchcraft.1 The first mystical component to human spaceflight is what writer Frank White has coined “the overview effect.” The term refers to the spiritual oneness that many astronauts report feeling after reaching outer space and seeing our planet from orbiting altitude, with many developing environmental and social justice viewpoints.2 Furthermore, many astronauts report that their time in space was filled with spiritual experiences, including temporal shifts, floods of emotion, and feelings of being a part of something larger than themselves. For a recent example, take what astronaut Ron Garan reports in the beginning of his autobiography:
Continue reading

Hacker and Drone Training as Ethnographic Fieldwork

Recently, I enrolled in two multi-day training workshops in the United Kingdom with the pretense of gathering ethnographic data about emergent cultures of practice surrounding new technologies. The first was an ethical hacking workshop in Manchester–where we learned how to “ethically” use malware to examine, test, and ultimately penetrate and control computer servers. The second was a class to acquire a certificate to be able to conduct commercial drone flights. These experiences revealed interesting insights into the process of professionalisation as well as contemporary ethnographic methodologies. I will briefly theorise the process of professionalisation, how this happens, why it is interesting, and why training-as-ethnography is an important place to participate in this process.

Continue reading

Casting into the Cosmos: Magic and Ritual in Human Spaceflight (Part 1)

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Taylor R. Genovese.

Field Notes – September 8, 2016 (Cape Canaveral, Florida):

I see the light and smoke first. The radiant fuel pours out of the rocket’s engines and the glow is absolutely blinding—like the brilliant ball of light at the end of a welding tool. I have to squint and look away from the base of the rocket as if I am staring directly into the sun. Then the sound comes. Roaring ripples of sound, reflecting off the Banana River and ricocheting off of buildings before finally kicking me square in the chest. The reverberations rock through my body as this asteroid-interceptor spacecraft, nestled on top of a cylinder of explosives begins to pick up speed—punching through the thick atmosphere of our planet. Within a few seconds, it is nothing but a small point of light high in the eastern sky—in a few more seconds, it has vanished.

I walk down the observation gantry and sit in the cool grass while other spectators begin to file out of the enclosure. I look up into the reverent afterglow of the rocket’s exhaust—the contrails swirling and slithering into sublimely beautiful colored shapes in the high winds of the stratosphere.

A mother and her son walk by. The mother asks her child what he thought of the launch. Clutching a toy rocket, he looks up at his mother and replies unabashedly and honestly:

“I have never seen quite a beautiful sight.”

These were my initial thoughts and feelings while experiencing my first rocket launch last summer. I scribbled these words down quickly and haphazardly, like the furious sketches of an artist attempting to capture a street scene that is moving quicker than their hand ever could. My hurried writing defiantly disobeyed the straight lines in my notebook; I didn’t want to look away from the rocket’s splendor. This was the first time I felt I had participated in a magical or religious encounter. In this two-part post, I would like to engage with magic, witchcraft, and ritual in human spaceflight—not only in a reflexive manner from my own field experience (Part 1), but also by historically and anthropologically analyzing the recorded rituals of astronauts and cosmonauts (Part 2).

Continue reading

Decolonization is political action, not an act of historical circumstance.

As an archaeologist who is invested in the project of decolonization, I admit to being wary of its overuse within anthropological discourse to such a degree that it is depoliticized. Decolonization must remain a political project. As Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang succinctly reminded us in the first issue of the journal Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society“Decolonization is not a metaphor.” (2012)

Recently The National Archives (UK) Blog posted a piece entitled, “Decolonising Archaeology in Iraq?” by Dr. Juliette Desplat. Whereas I am a big fan of archival research, in particular Dr. Desplat’s ongoing work on making the archive more publicly accessible through her blog posts, I was a bit perturbed by the generous use of the word decolonizing. Decolonization must be protected as a political act. The use of the word as a descriptor is naively violent if used to illustrate the manner by which bureaucracies articulate themselves in the post-colony — those are not acts of decolonization, more often than not they are in their first instances replications of previous power structures. Decolonization must continue to be thought of and contextualized as a mode of political action that, alongside dismantling colonial structures of power, provides the space for the oppressed to occupy equitable power relations. It is about reparations, it is about social justice, it is about equity, and it is about claiming power socially, politically, and psychologically.

Continue reading

TAL + SM: The Stories Bones Tell

This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 4
by Adam Gamwell and Ryan Collins

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. We’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text.

In our fourth episode of the TAL + SM collaboration Ryan and Adam chat with Dr. Kristina Killgrove about her strategies for engaging popular, interdisciplinary audiences through writing.  We also explore Kristina’s strategies for choosing content to cover in her blog, Powered by Osteons, and end by considering some ways research has been changing in terms of crowdfunding and open access data.

Continue reading

Updated History of Anthropology timeline — now with ‘homepage’!

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 golub@hawaii.edu.