I cannot say I will be nostalgic this Sunday morning, but Savage Minds and our incredible contributors never stopped writing and confronted every step with a critical eye. In order to mark the coming year, Savage Minds compiled a list of our favorite pieces written in 2016.
The ongoing “Decolonizing Anthropology” series by Carole and Uzma continues to push anthropology to confront the historical trauma of our disciplines and how we can address this in the present. Movements like #NODAPL only highlight the importance of facing our colonial past. Decolonization as Care was one of our favorites of the series.
Earlier in the year, the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions by the American Anthropological Association was rejected. A three-part series by Kerim illustrates why he voted for the boycott.
Kerim teaching at National Dong Hwa University means he also writes about updates on cultural politics of Taiwan including his talk at Taiwan’s annual anthropology conference in Seeing Culture Like a State and the relation of gender and hair in youth culture in Freddy’s Hair. (My favorite part of living in time zones 14 hours apart is my insomnia making me very responsive to direct e-mails)
As 2017 comes around the corner and the consequences of the previous year come into fruition, be sure that Savage Minds and our contributors will be there to reflect, debate, and critique with an anthropological twist.
[This is an invited post by Debra J Occhi, Miyazaki International College (aka Hyuga Natsuko1, yellow team). Debra is a linguistic anthropologist employed at Miyazaki International College. Her current research interests include leisure, gender, cuteness, characters, and regionality.]
Pokemon GO, one of the big waves in summer 2016 media-mix pop culture, was released July 20, 2016 in Japan, immediately triggering warnings about personal safety and public manners. I downloaded it and embarked on participant observation ethnography for the next three weeks in Tokyo, and have played it in various parts of Kyushu since then. From the start, news from various countries of the changes wrought by Pokemon GO framed it as both a new source of social mayhem and conversely, a boon to the sedentary, depressed gamer. Yet here in its birthplace, Pokemon GO is just one of the summer events centered around this franchise. In the late 1990s Pokemon had entertained my kids while we were living in Sendai during my dissertation fieldwork. Back then the original media consisted of the card-based game, Game Boy games, and the summer’s movie, all based on the anime. I was downtown teaching English conversation when that notorious episode triggered epilepsy in some viewers; fortunately my kids were safe at the neighbor’s. From then on, all anime contain warnings at the start of each show to viewers to maintain distance from the screen and watch with lights on. While Pokemon has been misinterpreted as the devil’s temptation by some in the USA, it seems to me that in its home country Pokemon has continued to inspire personal safety instructions, and public manners training as well.
Tis the season. As my professor friends hustle to write final exams and grade them, only to press through to letter grade submission and finally revel in winter break I am reflecting on my absence from teaching. Now three semesters out of the classroom (I cashed my last paycheck as an adjunct in May 2015) I feel more certain than ever that I made the right career choice moving into museums and libraries. In this post I would like to share some observations, incomplete as they are, on my professional life outside the academy.
First, a little professional biography. Prior to moving out of teaching I racked up a lot of hours in the classroom — in addition to being instructor of record at my alma mater I’ve been behind the lectern at a community college, small liberal arts college, and large urban university. I’ve tutored, taught high school, and led service learning. But to be honest my list of courses taught is pretty basic: gen anth, cultural, evolution, food, and gender studies. I never had much of a say in which classes I would teach, such is the lot of a hired gun.
There’s a lot to love about teaching and those thrills, I miss them. I love teaching as performance, standing up in front of a crowd and telling stories, leading discussions. You know, doing my thing. But most of all is the experience of playing a part, however large or small, in opening up a young person’s mind to exciting new ways of seeing the world. Anthropology has a lot to offer! And to be there when a talented student makes that discovery, that’s really special. I even have a small handful of former students I count as true friends.
Obviously there’s a lot I don’t miss about teaching too. Our pet peeves are almost universal, are they not? Grading mountains of papers. Looming deadlines. Answering clueless emails. The dreadful sense that you’re supposed to be doing something productive right this instance. “My printer ran out of ink” and other lame excuses. Of course we teachers can commiserate over all of that together and there’s a certain solidarity that comes with the shared burden. Its always a hoot to pop the cork on a bottle of wine or toss back a couple of beers at the pub and swap horror stories. (My personal best-worst excuse: “I can’t tell you why I missed class because my sorority has sworn me to secrecy.”) In addition to all the intellectual labor there is a huge toll of emotional labor and to me that was the worst part of the job.
I recently finished my Ph.D. As a present, a friend of mine gave me a hand. Not help, which he had done during the process, but rather a battery-powered automated hand, cut off at the wrist, similar to that of Thing, the Addams Family’s servant from TV and film. In part of my thesis, and my research on automation, I’ve looked to Thing as a metaphor for IoT software automation. Thing, on TV, is a trusted friend who builds relationships with family members and can negotiate with others on their behalf. In fiction, and the representation of fiction, Thing works beautifully and embodies what a smart agent could be. It is aware of its surroundings, it builds trust. It connects people. Thing is a keeper of local knowledge. The Applin and Fischer (2013) Thing agent, is a software construct using deontic logic to encourage and support human agency, building trust in a relationship based context. The hand my friend gave me moved on a fixed path for several seconds, and then stopped until its button was pushed again. It looked like Thing, but it was only a physical representation, a simulation of physical form. In automation, data collection is not the same as building relationships, and community knowledge cannot easily be derived from quantitative Big Data. This is one of the more serious problem with Amazon Go.
Amazon Go is a grocery store concept that allows people who have activated the Amazon Go app on their mobile phone, to walk through an “authentication” turnstile into an Amazon Go supermarket. Once inside, people can “grab” what groceries they want or need, and walk out the door, without needing to check out, because Amazon’s “computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning” will calculate what people take, and charge them accordingly via the app. Amazon Go has a video on their website that explains all of this, and shows people “grabbing and going” with their groceries, stuffing them into bags or just holding onto them, and walking out. In the Amazon Go video, no one is shown talking to each other. Continue reading →
In what ways do seeds, soils, bees, microbes, and rivers matter when Native, Black, brown, queer, and trans human bodies are systematically under assault? Can a decolonizing approach successfully decenter “the human” in this political moment? For whom, when, and how is human exceptionalism a problem that needs to be overcome in the first place?
In my first year teaching feminist science studies courses at UC Santa Cruz, certain literature at the interfaces between anthropology and science studies that might be said to deal with “naturescultures” and “human-nonhuman” relations was received with discomfort by a number of the undergraduate students I encountered in my classes. Some of these students were in tension with being asked to care about what they perceived as beings or things outside their political identities and collectives in a commitment to foreground the violence(s) experienced by Native, Black, brown, queer, and trans human bodies. Others were predisposed against the masculine whiteness and Euro-Atlantic based analytical focus of much science studies, which has been a recurrent critique of dominant science and technology studies (STS) genealogies and scholarship. Still others were suspicious of anything that smelt of the Anthropocene, and its current framings that often uncritically assume a blanket concept of humanity, history, and geologic record. Despite their roles in shaping and being shaped by racist legacies and ongoing coloniality, I found myself at times in the extremely uncomfortable and impossible position of defending the disciplines of anthropology and science studies. One Native American student wrote me to share that her father had taught her never to trust an anthropologist. What if anything had “environmental” anthropology learned from the critical contributions of Indigenous, queer, feminist, and critical race and ethnic studies? Why does much STS continue to be focused on such a limited portion of the world narrated by white voices and perspectives? How might we go about “decolonizing” science studies and its interfaces? Where, when, how, by, and for whom is this a possibility or even desired? Continue reading →
A few weeks ago we published our first installment of our new Reader Letters series. We want to hear more. Send us your letters! Please keep the following guidelines: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity.
For this second installment of Reader Letters we invite you to send us your thoughts about the Savage Minds name change, the impending end of the semester, or the upcoming winter break. If you want to write about Levi Strauss’s take on Father Christmas, or perhaps Panopti-claus, we would not object. Otherwise it’s up to you. Write about anthropology and what’s on your mind, and send it to us. No stamp necessary.
Send your letter in the body of an email (not an attachment) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for submission is December 20 and we plan to publish between December 25 and January 1, 2017.
So, since October I’ve been accompanying Savage Minds’ social medias, trying to keep everything updated and making sure we have a continuum of posts on Facebook and Twitter. The other part of the job consists in getting involved in the conversations and debates we have in this platforms. It’s being a nice experience so far, especially for learning other points of view and getting to know the readers of the blog. But I’ve been questioning myself to what extent we really can rely on social media to spread anthropological knowledge and trying to understand how blogging really impacts on our everyday anthropological discussions. I’m still in search for some of this answers. Some insights that interested me were Ryan’s discussion on why 95% of SM readers never comment and Kerim’s four types of comments, just to sort out a few examples. Continue reading →
This is post in the #teachingthedisaster series comes to us from Maria L. Vidart-Delgado. Maria lectures in the Anthropology Program at MIT and is also the co-founder of Department of Play.
I taught a class on the 2016 U.S. presidential election (syllabus here) to a group of undergrads at MIT with diverse political commitments, social sensibilities, and with different levels of exposure to anthropology. I faced two challenges. One was getting my students to think anthropologically about electoral politics and democracy more broadly. I mean moving away from analyses that mimic prevalent political punditry (do elections work?), to a comparative mode of analysis attentive to how different groups of people experience, understand and perform free, fair, legitimate elections. The second challenge was to build a common ground to listen to each other in an emotionally charged political environment. I found that in cultivating an anthropological perspective we built a common place to question the assumptions shaping our political preferences, and to discuss the implications of those preferences.
I made an effort to cultivate in my students what Clifford (1988:19) calls an “ethnographic attitude,” one that sees “culture and its norms—beauty, truth, reality—as artificial arrangements susceptible to detached analysis and comparison with other possible dispositions.” This “relativistic” approach (and I mean it facetiously) was fruitful to study electoral campaigning in its own terms. As charismatic assemblages—of experts, supporters, techniques, political ideals, political networks and media infrastructures—working in concerted action toward electing a candidate (Nielsen 2012; Stromer-Galley 2014). We saw that these assemblages deploy strict top-down management tactics to fuel and spread a collective enthusiasm for a political cause, and produce dominant storylines that ultimately become the bases for political judgment and policy design (Laclau 2008). 2016 provided abundant case studies, like Brexit or the Colombian Peace Referendum. Continue reading →
I am extremely happy to announce today that I’m making open access my timeline of the history of anthropological theory. This timeline has over 1,000 entries, beginning with the birth of Lewis Henry Morgan on 21 Nov 1818 and the latest is the death of Roy D’Andrade on 20 Oct 2016. It includes details from the careers of roughly 118 anthropologists from England, France, and the United States. It is designed to be viewed in Aeon Timeline, but I’ve also provided a dump of the data so you can play with it however you like.
I hope the students and professors that are finishing up their terms in the coming weeks are surviving the last wave of work before taking a well-deserved break. If you need some ideas for papers or just procrastination, here are some readings!
We apologize for the delay in releasing our last November guest blog post on behalf of the AAA AD Executive Board. We had to have a last minute author change, and I am incredibly grateful that Patricia McAnany stepped up to write a second post for our series. We hope readers will see all of our posts as a chance to comment on potential ways we can further integrate archaeology and other fields of anthropology. Patricia McAnany is the Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill and is the President of the AAA Archaeology Division.
The AAA annual meetings in Minneapolis went pretty well this year. Held just a week after one of the most startling and disconcerting U.S. elections on record, the meeting sessions all seemed to refer, even if vaguely, to the specter of a brave new world under a Trump administration. With promised dismantling of the EPA and related protection of cultural resources—not to mention unbridled racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the air—anthropologists of all stripes and colors huddled together in ad hoc strategy sessions. Suddenly, we had more in common than our epistemological differences might suggest.
Randy McGuire delivered the Patty Jo Watson Distinguished Lecture at the Archeology Division (AD) Business Meeting on Thursday evening and reminded us of the many ways in which an archaeological approach to the human experience matters and can drill to the core of issues like racism, xenophobia, and even darker legacies, such as human torture during the Argentine “Dirty War” of 1976-83. Human practices leave traces and that material legacy can speak volumes (or not, if suppressed).
In my last blog, I addressed the increasing interdependence (in methodological terms) between anthropology and archaeology that comes along with the collaborative turn within archaeology. There is now greater attention to entanglements between living people and objects or places that resonate with ideas and feelings about a past. Today and at the urging of Jane Baxter, I turn to the deeper question of whether there is commensurability between the productions of knowledge within socio-cultural anthropology and within archaeology. As before, my thoughts are channeled through my recent experience as President of the AAA-AD. But I warn the reader that I do not represent the views of the AD or the AAA, the membership of which represent an extraordinarily diverse array of opinions on this topic. Continue reading →
The editorial collective at Savage Minds has decided to change our name. We have several reasons for this, but mostly feel that the name no longer fits or best represents the blog. As a title, “Savage Minds” was a sort of anthropological insider’s double pun. As we explain on our About page, the name “comes from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book The Savage Mind, published in 1966. The original title of the book in French, La Pensée Sauvage, was meant to be a pun, since it could mean both ‘wild thought’ or ‘wild pansies,’ and he put pansies on the cover of the book, just to make sure readers got the pun. Lévi-Strauss was unhappy with the English title of his book, which he thought ought to have been “Pansies for Thought” (a reference to a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet). We liked the phrase “savage minds” because it captured the intellectual and unruly nature of academic blogging. As a result, the pansy has become our mascot as well.” And thus, a blog was born in 2005. Continue reading →
Adam Gamwell rounds out the anthropologies #22 issue on food. Gamwell is a public anthropologist and PhD Candidate at Brandeis University working across food, design, science, and markets. His research is based in southern Peru on quinoa. He is also Creative Director and host for This Anthropological Life Podcast. Connect with Adam on academia.edu or linkedin.com –R.A.
Specters of the Dead
Aymara legend has it that some 5000 years ago there was a massive drought across the land, across what would become known as the Andean Altiplano spanning southern Peru and Bolivia. During this years-long drought harvests were lost, there was hunger, and many people and their animals died. Farmers, llamas and alpacas, travelers subsisting on the hospitality of locals all ran out of stores and eventually starved. There was virtually no food to be found, save for two plants that grew wild: quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), and its cousin cañihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule). These two species grow primarily in the Lake Titicaca basin and are remarkably resilient in the face of drought and frost, and can grow in salty, sandy, and acidic soils that kill most other plants. People quickly realized the nutritional qualities of these plants, and quinoa became famous for sustaining those who ate its seeds. The plant was named jiwra in Aymara which translates in Spanish to “levanta moribundos” or that which raises the dying (Canahua y Mujica, 2013).
This legend was recounted to me in perhaps an unusual place by an unexpected storyteller: a plant geneticist told the tale in-between explaining the orthomolecular and nutraceutical qualities of quinoa. Continue reading →
Last week we put out a call for letters from our readers. Here’s our first installment. If you’re interested in submitting a letter to Savage Minds, please keep the following guidelines in mind: letters are to be no longer than 250 words and should address issues covered in Savage Minds and relevant to anthropology, broadly construed. Some months we will invite letters on specific themes. As with traditional letters to the editor, all letters must include the writer’s full name and anonymous letters will not be considered. For general guidelines about tone and content refer to our comments policy. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified before publication. Letters may be subject to minor editing for clarity. For the next installment, please send us your letters by December 15th, 2016. We will publish the next round by December 22nd. If you want to write about Levi Strauss’s take on Father Christmas, or perhaps Panopti-claus, we would not object. Otherwise it’s up to you. –SM Eds.
On the exceptionality of the election
Melissa Harris-Perry’s keynote “What just happened?” at the most recent AAA in Minneapolis was a captivating appeal to stop viewing the U.S. election results as exceptional, shocking, or out-of-order. To her, Donald Trump’s election reaffirms the United States’ century-old hatred towards minorities. Whatever white anthropologists consider extraordinary, posits for many Black Americans and Black Anthropologists the ongoing fight against an everyday reality of discrimination and violence – and she is right. Yet Harris-Perry’s advocacy for denying the exceptionality in this year’s election complicates strategic political protest. Protesters need the semantics of the exceptional to show that Trump breaches a new set of rules that were introduced by Americans electing their first Black (even if male) president. For many on the ground, Obama’s time in office hasn’t changed the world profoundly. Yet it introduced better policies for the disenfranchised, and the poor. This progress is now at risk of being overturned by a nationalist demagogue who clearly articulated his intentions of returning America to its old racist and sexist self. This return needs to be framed as the extraordinary for two reasons. Firstly, referring to the exceptionality of the situation helps advocates to mobilize protest. They use the exceptional to display their disavowal of Trump’s new order. Secondly, however, allowing anthropologists to use the exceptional as a refusal of the status-quo hopefully induces more ethnographically grounded research on the causes and effects of this regrettable political degeneration in the ‘land of the free’.
So after a week of visiting family for Thanksgiving and slowly accepting the crushing weight of neoliberalism that came crashing down in 2016. I come back with readings to begin the last month of the year.