Searching for Solutions to Climate Change Risks in the Peruvian Andes

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Courtney Cecale

Climate change has arrived in the Cordillera Blanca. Since 1970, this high altitude mountain range with the largest concentration of tropical glaciers in the world has lost around 30% of its icy mass (or around 200km²). The flowing meltwater converges into hundreds of new high alpine lakes, many of which grow overfull and unstable with each passing year. In a place already notorious for one of the worst environmental disasters in history (killing over 20,000 people), the consequences of further melt from climate change are potentially catastrophic. But in the last 15 months of fieldwork research here, climate change has taken multiple other forms — less sensational than a disastrous flood, but alarming and life threatening none the less.  Continue reading

Re-materializing the Immaterial Economy: Sareeta Amrute’s Encoding Race, Encoding Class

(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.

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Ethnographic Films: A Family of Resemblances

This is the third post in my series on the definition of “ethnographic film.” In the first post I laid out the basic approach I am using: one based on Umberto Eco’s model of listing a “family of resemblances” rather than offering a strict test of a film’s “ethnographicness.” In the second post I showed how this would work in practice, based on a rough sketch of the “family of resemblances” I will be outlining in more detail here.

Before I do that, however, I’d like to take a moment to point readers to Carole McGranahan’s 2012 post “What Makes Something Ethnographic?” There she provides a list of nine features generated by her class. One of the points of she makes is that these features are constantly changing and evolving. This is why, in defining ethnographic film, I chose to dodge the bullet by avoiding the question altogether! Letting others deal with that problem is the easy way out, I don’t deny it; but it also allows me to articulate a definition that can change along with the discipline. Looking back at previous attempts to define ethnographic film, many of them strike me as having been dated before the ink even dried on the paper. Hopefully this more flexible approach can avoid that fate.

And now on to the list! If you feel I missed an important feature, or overlooked something, please let me know in the comments. Continue reading

Stepping Down from Savage Minds

I’m sad to announce that I am leaving Savage Minds.

Long-time readers have noticed that I have posted less and less frequently over the years, with my last post being over two years ago now. Part of this is just that I’m busy — I’m the executive director of a fast-growing museum with too little staff and too little resources (your basic museum, that is…) and it leaves little time for “extracurricular” activities.

But more than that, as we’ve been discussing changing the name of the site, we’ve naturally also been discussing the future direction of the site, and it’s become more and more clear that I don’t really have much to contribute. When we started Savage Minds, our goal was to apply anthropological understandings to the world around us in a way that was accessible to the general lay reader. Over the years, as my colleagues have gone from grad students to junior faculty to tenured professors, and as we’ve added new members and visiting writers from across the field, the focus of the site has naturally changed. Today’s Savage Minds (and tomorrow’s Anthrodendum) functions far more as a watercooler for anthropologists, with discussions of AAA resolutions and internal review boards and publishing standards.

And that’s fine. The anthropology community obviously needs that kind of place, judging by the reception and accolades Savage Minds has received within the field. At its best, Savage Minds provides a forum for multi-vocal discussions of issues that deeply affect the discipline and our ability to do the work it demands.

That’s just not the kind of work I can play much of a role in. While I still teach an intro to anthro class every semester at the local community college, I simply cannot keep up with the literature in the field. Running a museum means keeping up with a whole different literature, dealing with security, facilities maintenance, retail practices, product development, staff training, legal compliance, financial record-keeping, conservation, cataloguing, text label design, and so on. Only a small percentage of my job, the part dealing with the actual content of our collection and the social contexts which produced it, draws on my anthropological training — and generally my work there deals with interpreting the history we represent for a general lay audience, not other academics and professionals.

So with a name change on the horizon, and all that it represents, now seems like a good time to make my exit. I’m proud to have been a founding member of Savage Minds and I’m proud of the contributions I’ve made to the site, and I’m proud of my fellow Minds for the work they’ve done to make Savage Minds an indispensable anthropological resource. When we set out to create this site, we felt that “blogging”, then a new phenomenon in the world, had an important role to play for anthropology, and I think the last 11 years have proven that feeling correct over and over.

Thank you to all the readers and to my fellow Minds for letting me be a part of Savage Minds. I look forward to watching the site continue to grow and evolve with the field. And if you’re ever in Las Vegas, be sure to drop by the Burlesque Hall of Fame (soon to be in it’s new home at 1027 South Main Street!) and say “hi”.

Perspectives: An Open Access Intro Anthro Textbook

(This guest post by Nina Brown, Thomas McIlwraith, and Laura Tubelle de González announces the launch of what I believe is the first open access textbook for an introduction to cultural anthropology course. I’ve blogged about this textbook before so I’m very excited that it is now available!)

The Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges (SACC) is pleased to announce the publication of Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology (ISBN 978–1-931303–55–2), an open access, peer-reviewed cultural anthropology textbook. The initiative to create this book took shape in 2012 when several SACC members identified a need in our community college classes for less expensive teaching materials. From our inception in the 1970s, SACC has supported lower income and first generation college learners and this book fits with that orientation and concern. We believe strongly, however, that this is a good introductory textbook and that it is suitable for first year classes in cultural anthropology at any post-secondary institution. Continue reading

The Four Dimensions of Ethnographic Films

In my last post I argued that rather than choosing between overly narrow (“closed”) or overly broad (“open”) definitions of ethnographic film, it would be better to follow Uberto Eco’s model of listing a “family of resemblances.” This would consist of a list of features that make a film “ethnographic” but without any two ethnographic films necessarily sharing the exact same list of features. When I wrote that I had a draft list of about sixteen features I had been working on. I had planned to prune it down a bit and sharing it with you today; however, upon further reflection it occurred to me that the longer list could be grouped into four broad categories, or “dimensions,” as follows:

  • Discipline: features related to the discipline of anthropology (e.g. films made by anthropologists)
  • Norms: features related to the norms and practices of ethnographic research (e.g. research ethics)
  • Subject: features related to the topics and peoples discussed in the anthropological literature (e.g. films by or about nomadic peoples)
  • Genre: features related to the various styles associated with the genre of ethnographic film (e.g. “reflexivity”) Continue reading

“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.

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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

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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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