(This occasional post is a book review that comes to us from Alisha Wilkinson and Meg Stalcup. Meg Stalcup is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Ottawa, where she heads the Collaboratoire d’Anthropologie Multimédia (CAM/MAC). Alisha Wilkinson is a senior in the School of Sociological and Anthropological Studies at the University of Ottawa. Next year she will work in Peru, before starting graduate work in anthropology. I’m very excited to see undergraduates publishing on Anthrodendum, and hope to see more work like this in the future! -Rx)
All ethnographies, perhaps, contain some mystery: of how humans understand each other, or the way that words and glances, observations and encounters are turned into insights about what it means to be human at a given moment in history. But Sareeta Amrute’s Encoding Race, Encoding Class: Indian IT Workers in Berlin begins with a proper mystery, a person who has disappeared, and this literally missing body adroitly stages the subsequent exploration of IT workers’ missing bodies in scholarship on cognitive labor.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Vidula G. Khanduri. A STEM major at Wellesley College, Vidula enjoys dabbling in the crossroads of politics, science, technology, and society. She’s an avid reader of graphic novels and mystery books, is a skilled makeup artist, and loves to sing classical music.
Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story.
By Peter Bagge
72 pp + notes. Drawn and Quarterly. 2017.
Review by Vidula G. Khanduri.
Author, anthropologist, and feminist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) stood out among her peers during the Harlem Renaissance. She bent norms: denouncing communism, wearing unique clothing, and embracing social imperfections. Her books narrate black American life, “warts and all,” unlike the works of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois and other black literary figures, who accounted for white perceptions of the black community. Hurston’s impact on literature was long forgotten until Alice Walker revived her works in the 1970s. Her grave was left unmarked and untended for years. Since then, Hurston’s novels, especially Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), have found spots in college syllabi all over the country. Named after an unsuccessful black literary magazine Hurston and her colleagues created in criticism of Harlem politics, Peter Bagge’sFire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story narrates her life from start to finish in a graphic form as colorful as Hurston herself.
Bagge’s cover art turns the iconic Hurston – sitting, holding a cigarette between her fingers – on its head. The front cover is a composite picturing Hurston at a turpentine camp where she conducted fieldwork, donning the new Stetson hat, car, and shotgun she was notorious for spending her whole anthropological research grant on. Bagge consistently illustrates Hurston wearing bright yellow – homage to her commanding and bold personality. Episodes of dispute, frustration, excitement, and frenzy stand out as silhouettes in black and white panels.
This was meant to be a book review. Instead, it’s an essay about the power—and importance—of complaining.
The book under consideration here is Sarah Kendzior’s The View from Flyover Country, which was published in 2015. In case you don’t know, Kendzior is an anthropologist-turned-journalist whose academic work on authoritarianism turned out to be just slightly relevant to the recent turn of events here in the US (and elsewhere).
People ask me all the time what you can do with a degree in anthropology. Now, thanks to Kendzior, I can suggest that students study the intricacies of autocracies and use their analytical skills to warn fellow citizens of the impending erosion of constitutional democracies. Just for starters.
If you follow Kendzior’s work, you know she is willing to speak out. She is not shy. She doesn’t waver. She was willing to talk about issues that many academics—including myself—are hesitant to address. Ever since I first heard of her work, I respected her willingness to take on the kinds of issues that many academics often save for our closed conferences and pay-walled journals (or, perhaps, our Twitter accounts). I’m not sure if she identifies primarily as an anthropologist these days, but in my view she’s one of the few who is doing the kind of “public anthropology” that many of us talk so much about. This is what happens when the analytical perspective of anthropology is unleashed.
The View from Flyover Country is a collection of essays Kendzior wrote for Al Jazeera English between 2012 and 2014. I read most of these essays when they first came out. But readings through them again was a powerful reminder of issues, and voice, that Kendzior brings to the table. The book is arranged in 5 parts: 1) Flyover Country; 2) The Post-Employment Economy; 3) Race and Religion; 4) Higher Ed; and 5) Beyond Flyover Country. There’s also a Coda titled “In Defense of Complaining” that is so poignant to the present moment I’m going to start—and end—there. Continue reading →
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Cthulhu, Great Old One and Special Collections Librarian at Brown University.
When the puny mortals at Savage Minds invited me to review the latest work by Donna Haraway I was perplexed. After I had devoured the sanity of their pathetic messenger, I turned the book over in my tentacles. “Chthulucene,” eh? Was this meant to be a literary subversion of the Anthropocene, supplanting the implied anthropocentrism of that category with something alien and indifferent? And if so, was this really a wise move, politically speaking, when the purpose of the term was to draw attention to human actions that frequently remained hidden to those without the all seeing eyes of Yog-Sothoth? Needless to say, I was intrigued.
Full disclosure: Haraway and I are somewhat estranged. She never forgave me for guiding my cultists to infect Sumatran rat-monkies with a zombie virus (for more on this consult the 1992 documentary Dead Alive). Sure my methods are “controversial” but she and I have the same goal in mind: confronting our shared ecological crisis by addressing the problem of accelerating human population growth. Whereas she seeks to carve out the possibility that feminism can navigate the racist and eugenicist histories of limiting human reproduction, I advocate for a strategy of direction action, i.e. human sacrifice.
(This invited post comes from Ståle Wig, a Ph.D. fellow at the University of Oslo. In the past Ståle has also run an excellent twopart interview with Paul Farmer here on Savage Minds, so check that out as well. When asked about his interests, Ståle writes that he “never became a proper Africanist, and is currently preparing Ph.D. fieldwork in Cuba.” -R)
On an August afternoon in 2008, around 50 first-year students gathered in a dusty old movie-theatre that was turned into a lecture hall, near the University of Oslo. As we came in to find our seats, an elderly man observed us curiously from a wooden chair under the blackboard. I had seen him before, in our assigned textbook, with his engraved features and unmistakable, soft white moustache.
That day I had come to my first lecture in anthropology. Fredrik Barth had come to give his last.
Much like our new subject, there was a mystique to the man by the blackboard. We were told that he was an influential anthropologist. Some of us had heard that in his golden years, his ideas engaged big shots like Giddens and Bourdieu. That he was at times strongly criticized, but also hailed as a reformer of the study of social life. But as we sat there waiting, none of us knew why, and what all that really meant.
The civil war on Bougainville — a large island that is part of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG) — was one of the most important events to happen in the Pacific since World War II. Local dissatisfaction with the island’s large, foreign-owned copper mine turned to demonstrations, escalated into a guerilla war, and forced both the mine and the PNG government to leave the island, which then entered a period of conflict between pro- and anti- PNG factions. It was a key test of sovereignty in newly-independent Pacific states, had an enormous human cost (20,000 dead, sexual violence, destruction of villages and property), and was a cautionary tale about the limits of corporate power. The reconciliation process that ended the conflict in itself is studied by academics and policy makers all over the world as an example of successful peacemaking. So what does this new book offer to Pacific scholars, and to the anthropology of mining?
Everyone knew Bougainville was important when it happened, and there is a large literature on the conflict — often written in the heat of the moment — recording the events that transpired. Given this crowded terrain, it’s fair to wonder whether Kristian Lasslett’s new book State Crime on the Margins of Empire: Rio Tinto, The War on Bougainville and Resistance to Mining can add anything new. The answer is: “yes.” Lasslett’s book is a remarkable and extremely valuable addition to the literature on this area. Written from a Marxist perspective, it uses impressively detailed original research to present a fresh take on the Bougainville conflict, one that is highly critical of the existing consensus about what happened on the island. Continue reading →
Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis
Michael Kimmel, Christine Milrod, and Amanda Kennedy, eds. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2014. 251 pp.
“Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis” is a new publication (October 2014) from Rowman & Littlefield following fast on the heels of its companion “Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast” which was released in September. I’m told that they’ve been warmly received by anthropologists, as they both sold out rather quickly at the R&L booth at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association this past December in Washington DC. As a budding scholar (ahem) of global masculinities, I thought it would have been silly to not take the opportunity to review Cultural Encyclopedia of the Penis, if not simply for the title and synopsis, definitely because of Michael Kimmel’s involvement. Kimmel, one of three editors (in addition to Christine Milrod and Amanda Kennedy), is one of the more well-known sociological scholars on men and masculinities in America. Of more than a dozen books on the subject, perhaps his best-known is “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys become Men,” a book that I would highly recommend for undergraduate- and graduate-level students of Gender Studies. While some of Kimmel’s work is not without some anthropological blindspots (he is not an anthropologist after all), one should be able to approach Cultural Encyclopedia (henceforth, CEP) trusting that a book written by over 90 authors would ultimately deliver on its claim to being “cultural.” It should be noted that this review is written without any knowledge of the content and style of Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, which was edited by Merril D. Smith. Continue reading →
Jurafsky, Dan. 2014. The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
The Language of Food has always been one of my favorite blogs, and so when I heard that it was being turned into a blook, I leapt at the chance to review it. Having now read the book, I still like Jurafsky’s writing and approach, but feel the blog was occasionally unable to transition of the Internet and on to the page. And yet, despite the beefs anthropologists might have with the book, I find myself recommending it to non-academic friends both because it makes a fine read, and because it teaches some core anthropological lessons. It deserves a wide readership for the anthropological lessons it teaches and the delightful stories it tells along the way.
Rather than writing a a straightforward review of Paul Manning’s wonderful The Semiotics of Drink and Drinking (winner of last year’s Sapir Prize), I thought I’d instead engage with the book by endeavoring to apply Paul’s ideas and analytic techniques to a context which is more familiar to me than post-soviet Georgia: contemporary tea culture in Taiwan.
For those who don’t know, bubble tea is a sweet milk tea, often served cold, filled with chewy tapioca balls one drinks up through an extra-large straw. It was first invented in Taiwan in the 1980s and soon became a global sensation. It is now even available at the McDonald’s run McCafé shops in Germany. Continue reading →
As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I occasionally sang with Andrew Abbott in choir — he was the bass in suspenders. It was only after moving halfway around the world that I began reading his work. I quickly became a fan. Abbott is one of the most thoughtful people writing today about what specialist knowledge is, and how we produce it. A historical sociologist with strong quantitative skills, he’s produced books on the history of academic disciplines and the dynamics of their formation and professionalization. But he’s also produced practical pieces about how students and professors develop ideas, and how to have new ones. There’s also an ‘applied’ dimension to his work — he produced the report on the University of Chicago’s library which made the bold move to double down on physical book purchases in what was supposed to be a digital future.
Abbott’s latest book, Digital Paper, continues this focus on the sociology of knowledge production by providing us with a “library methods” book: a ‘how to do fieldwork’ book, but for people who do library research. Andrew Abbott writing a book on how to do research? I was destined to like this book before I opened it up. But having read it now, and with a critical (if biased) eye, I can honestly say that every student, professor, and intellectual needs to read it. It’s a superb ‘how to’ guide about writing a long research paper or thesis. But it’s more than that. It’s an entire theory of how scholars pursue scholarship. It’s a memoir of Abbott’s own research. It’s a pessimistic and slightly misanthropic ode to a quiet world of well-ordered card catalogs destroyed by the garish vulgarity of online databases. It’s an epigrammatic summary of a career’s worth of knowledge. It is — yes, I really mean this — life-affirming. It improved my own ability to do research. Everyone needs to read it. You need to read it.
A review of Euphoria by Lily King. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press (2014).
The last time Margaret Mead appeared as a character in a best-selling novel was over fifty years ago. In Irving Wallace’s The Three Sirens (1963), Dr. Maud Hayden (the Mead stand-in) finds her world turned upside down by the discovery of a Polynesian island where, as America’s foremost anthropologist, she leads a team of researchers who encounter “people from a simpler, happier society, free from the inhibitions and tensions of the 20th century.” The novel’s dust jacket informs us that the culture of the island is “a shocking assault, a challenge to their most cherished beliefs about love, sex, marriage, child rearing, and justice.” So profound is this encounter that the researchers end up studying their own desires, fears, and passions. Of course, this trashy potboiler had no redeeming social value, but interest in the Mead character, the tension between a repressive West and a permissive Polynesia, and the interplay between professional fieldwork and private lives attracted many avid readers. Continue reading →
Shore, Bruce M. 2014. The Graduate Advisor Handbook : A Student-centered Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
I’m a big fan of the University of Chicago Press’s series on academic life (disclosure: this may be because I went there for graduate school). Their series on writing, editing, and publishing features several of my favorite titles, and their younger series on ‘the academic life’ has also gotten off to a good start. So I was optimistic about Bruce Shore’s The Graduate Advisor Handbook: A Student-Centered Approach. Having read it (disclosure: I received a free review copy), I don’t feel like it’s the Final Statement In Human History About Advising Graduate Students. But I do strongly recommend that you read it, especially if you are new faculty or a new graduate student trying to get a grasp of what good advising looks like. Continue reading →
Rex’s post on back to school books got me thinking. `Doing the life of the mind’, as he puts it, involves lots of different activities. Its not just reading and writing. Talking is a big part of what we do. And to different audiences, or not , as the case may be. Much of the way that we do our academic presentations gets in the way of wider communication. This might be intentional. In reinforcing the walls of the silos in which we like to situate our knowledge it fosters the aura of complexity and exclusivity which in our social universe renders academic knowledge credible.
A recent book addresses this phenomenon as it applies to writing in the social sciences and, by extension, to anthropology. Learn to Write Badly . How to Succeed in the Social Sciences by Michael Billig is not a ‘How To’ book. Its a `How Not To’ book. But, as the author makes plain, if you don’t write in the way which has become authoritative in your field, even if it entails writing badly, there could be consequences for your reputation if not your career.
Although Billig’s is a book about writing I think that the author’s claims work pretty well for communication in the social sciences more generally. It certainly made me think about how we as anthropologists in academia tend to speak to our audiences whether they are our students or our peers. The formal style of academic presentations in anthropology based on writing rather than on `findings’ prioritizes engagement with other writing over and above engagement with either our audience or our informants. This is quite different to communication in other fields, within and outside academia. A how to book which you may find useful for engaging with these other fields is Carmine Gallo’s Talk like TEDsummarized neatly here by Sam Leith of the Financial Times .
Sure, it’s a manual in self promotion (but lets not kid ourselves that academia is any different). But it also has lots of useful tips about connecting with the audience, making a few key points and giving them something to remember. And I learned something wholly new, useful and unexpected. That if you press the B or W keys in powerpoint you can suspend the presentation so your audience is focusing on you not the slide until you are ready to show them the next one. Despite the acknowledged allure of intellectual posturing sometimes you just cant beat useful practicality.