Resistance, Hegemony, Violence, Empire: The Next #AnthReadIn on March 24, 2017

By: Paige West and J.C. Salyer

This month the Anthropology Read In (#AnthReadIn) will move our collective focus to the articulation of United States Empire, environmental violence, and the dynamics of resistance. On March 24 (the third Friday of the month) we will come together to read the following pieces: the Introduction to Alyosha Goldstein’s edited volume “Formations of United States Colonialisms” (Duke 2014), the Introduction to Rob Nixon’s “Slow Violence” (Harvard 2011), and an excerpt from “Poor People’s Movements and the Structuring of Protest” by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward.

Taken together these three pieces guide us to towards an understanding of how the United States became a global hegemonic force, how that force and the structures of capital behind and within it came to override the rights and needs of global citizens with regard to the environment, and the complex dynamics of how politically marginalized people resist multiple forms of domination and oppression.

These readings are meant to elucidate the deeper historical context of Trump administration’s policies without diminishing the uniqueness of the challenges posed by the brutal onslaught of the administration’s revanchist campaign against the rights of indigenous people, immigrants, minorities, and the poor. Thus, we want to highlight that to act in the present moment requires that we acknowledge and understand that the historical precedents that have allowed for a phenomenon such as Trump have for a long time been a far greater burden for marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed peoples. At the same time, the current policies threaten to ravage the environment on a global level and dispossess people – economically, socially, and politically – on a disastrously unprecedented scale and demand unity in condemnation and resistance. Thus, we must recognize that to resist Trump now, requires us to address the crushing socioeconomic inequality that preceded this moment and generate a movement that does not merely long for a time before Trump but demands a future of equality and justice heretofore unrealized.

Now, a short reminder of how this works: On the third Friday of every month for the next four years (or as short or long as necessary), using the new #AnthReadIn on Twitter and utilizing the Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/170068806806067/ we come together in person and virtually to read, think, and discuss. The event is co sponsored by Savage Minds and the journals American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, Environment and Society, and Political and Legal Anthropology, based on hundreds of suggestions from anthropologists, and conceptualized initially and curated by Paige West and J. C. Salyer.

 

Paige West is Claire Tow Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College and Columbia University

JC Salyer is Term Professor of Practice, Barnard College

Editing Wikipedia > Writing Letters to the New York Times

I copied this from the verge. I have no idea what the rights are or who the creator is. Sorry!

Various bits of social media began vibrating rapidly recently when it was discovered that white supremacists had fooled Google into providing inaccurate information about Boas and cultural relativism. The situation is now apparently resolved, but it isn’t a new problem. Old-timey internet veterans will remember that martinlutherking.org has been run by Stormfront for, like, decades. But this latest kerfuffle should give us the opportunity to think about our priorities as anthropologists writing for the general public today. In a previous post, I argued that there is a difference between the older ‘heroic’ public anthropology and ‘new’, more important public anthropology. Today I want to expand on this point and emphasize that we need shift our conception of public anthropology away from older, moribund genres and to newer, more important, but less familiar ways of reaching the public.

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Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca Part 2

Part 2: The New Ayahuasca Churches

Yesterday I sat in on a webinar sponsored by ICEERS (the International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service) and organized by anthropologist Bia Labate. Entitled “Myths and Realities about the Legality of Ayahuasca in the USA,” the webinar featured three experts on the subject. The first was Jeffrey Bronfman, a leader of the União do Vegetal church in the US whose shipment of ayahuasca (the UDV calls it hoasca) was seized in 1999, leading to a protracted court battle and, eventually, a supreme court decision in favor of the church’s right to use the tea as their sacrament. The second was Rob Heffernan, member of the Santo Daime church (which also uses ayahuasca as a sacrament) and chair of its legal committee. The third was J. Hamilton Hudson, a recent graduate of the Tulane law school who has been following legal developments surrounding ayahuasca-using groups who are affiliated with neither of the aforementioned churches.

The webinar—and the series of which it is a part—are a response to the apparent confusion regarding the legal status of ayahuasca in the United States. This confusion, and some of the factors contributing to it, came to light over the past year and a half with the rise and fall of a group called Ayahuasca Healings, the self-proclaimed “first public legal ayahuasca church in the United States.” Also known as Ayahuasca USA and Ayahuasca Healings Native American Church (AHNAC), AH is one of a number of groups who use ayahuasca in a neo-shamanic setting and, more importantly, who claim that they have the legal right to do so. Unfortunately for AH, they don’t, and a friendly letter from the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) was enough to finally convince them of that fact—at least for now.

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Pandora’s Brew: The New Ayahuasca

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Christina Callicott.

I’m guessing that by now most of my readers will have heard of this stuff called “ayahuasca.” Everyone from Stephen Colbert to the New Yorker is talking about it, some in terms more cringe-inducing than others. A quick primer for those who don’t know: Ayahuasca is a psychoactive (read: psychedelic) brew developed by the peoples of the Amazon for ritual purposes ranging from ethnomedicine to divination. It’s just one in a pantheon of sacred plant and multi-plant concoctions used by Amazonian shamans, but it’s one that has sparked the fascination of peoples everywhere, from the Amazon itself to the distant corners of the urban and industrialized nations. Ayahuasca, along with other “entheogens” such as psilocybin mushrooms and LSD, is a centerpiece of the new Psychedelic Renaissance, an artistic and scientific movement which has, as one of its primary aims, the legitimization of these currently illegal substances by researching and promoting their efficacy as treatments for intractable ailments, usually psychological, including depression, end-of-life anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Reader Letters #2: Trump Edition

Here’s the second round of Savage Minds Reader Letters! We asked our readers to share their thoughts about anthropology in the Trump era for this round, and we got some great responses. Thanks for sending your letters, and keep an eye out for the next call. We need more letters!! –RA

The descent into incivility?

In your “Call for Reader letters:” you reminded us to “recognize that when you are critical of people’s ideas, you are also ultimately being critical of them as well.

Donald Trump was not only critical of the ideas of Democrats but was particularly critical of Senator Elizabeth Warren when he taunted Democrats by saying “Pocahontas — his insult of choice — is now the face of your party“.  From an anthropological perspective, Trump is changing the rules of discourse among civilized people developed in Greece and China hundreds of years ago to avoid conflicts.

Rules of discourse are a part of civility. Civility can be confused with disengaging from others so as not to offend, which Trump disparages as “political correctness”.

Trump’s 140 character tweets are mostly used to influence with mocking, ridicule and “alternative facts”. In a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) survey teachers said schoolchildren are adopting Trump’s overall tone of more hatred for more people. (3)

Civil discourse generally requires agreement on a common set of facts. Modern communication tools, like Twitter, however, mean anyone with access to a computer has access to a megaphone to broadcast their unquestioned, “alternative facts”.

During a hard fought presidential campaign John McCain praised Barack Obama for a terrific speech that “comforted and inspired the country” and performed an important service by encouraging “every American who participates in our political debates to aspire to a more generous appreciation of one another and a more modest one of ourselves.” (4)

Senator McCain was almost prescient, asking Americans to aspire to a “more modest appreciation of ourselves” when one of the most immodest men in history is now President of the United States. Hopefully anthropologists will not look on 2017 as the year America began a descent into incivility.

-William M. Smith Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- February 20

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday and in old Chicago tradition, I tried to grab a paczki from my favorite bakery. Unfortunately, in my own personal tradition, I came back empty handed. However, I do not come back empty handed here and I bring new readings for the week!

Anthropologists live the mantra “talk s**t, get hit” when white nationalists tried to come for cultural anthropology’s eccentric, yet well-meaning grandpa Franz Boas.

As the last protestors at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock were forcibly removed and arrested last week, we are left to recommit ourselves to environmental resistance as the powers at be continue to push for ecological disaster.

Sara Shneiderman reflects on the fragile nature of citizenship in the age of the travel ban and demands a critical reflection on the destruction it takes to create a “home”.

Youtube and other social media sites facilitate an archive and community for transgender youth in Chile, where young trans and gender-nonconforming youth can learn about the process of transitioning and document their own experiences outside the western model of LGBT life.

Harajuku is dead.

Emma Louise Backe reflects on the emotional tolls of fieldwork as both an advocate and ethnographer of rape victim advocates. For any readers out there in emotionally stressful times, please take care of yourselves.

See you next week!

 

The Resonance of Earth, Other Worlds, and Exoplanets

How do planetary scientists understand distant places like Mars or planets orbiting another star? A conversation with Lisa Messeri about “resonance” and the anthropology of space.

By Michael P. Oman-Reagan

Figure 1: This artist’s concept shows what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Yesterday, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized exoplanets (planets outside of our solar system) orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1. This is the most known rocky planets around a single star and, as planetary scientist Sara Seager noted in yesterday’s press conference, that makes this system an ideal laboratory for understanding if any of these planets host truly Earth-like conditions. Last May, scientists using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile announced they had found three planets in this system. Yesterday’s letter, published in Nature, confirmed the historic discovery of seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system.

In an article out this month in American Ethnologist, “Resonant Worlds: Cultivating Proximal Encounters in Planetary Science,” anthropologist Lisa Messeri draws on her fieldwork with planetary scientists to propose new ways of thinking about how they “recognize the alien in the familiar” as they study planets in our solar system like Mars and as they search for exoplanets. In this post, Messeri and I discuss her findings and insights about human engagements with space, science, and anthropological ways of finding a connection to seemingly distant other worlds. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest- February 13

It is 66ºF in the middle of February in Chicago and I am appreciating the warmth while writing this before climate change destroys us all. With that I have your readings for the week!

While we believe in all you doctoral students out there finishing your dissertations and we are sure they will be fantastic, might I suggest you change directions and drop a mixtape instead?

For centuries, the Nunatsiavut people in the northern regions of what is now Canada along the Atlantic and their long artistic history has never received recognition due to perceived acculturation. Only in recent years has the work of Labrador Inuit artists and craftspeople gained acceptance from institutions and broader indigenous artistic communities.

In addition to the standard audio recorders, cameras, and notebooks to gather data from fieldwork; Anthropologia 2.0 offers why your smartphone may be one of the best tools in the ethnographic methods toolbox.

Valentine’s Day was last week, but in the spirit of Esther Newton “Margaret Mead made me gay”. 

Finally, it would not be a proper Around the Web Digest without your weekly reminder of resistance.

Haley Bryant and Emily Cain discuss the possibilities and struggles of being both an ethnographer and activist in rising political turmoil.

The Society of Medical Anthropology released a letter to Trump and those trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act detailing why without affordable healthcare the most marginalized in the U.S. would face greater struggles.

The proposed border wall by Trump would cut through Tohono O’odham land, another blow to indigenous sovereignty in the past few months. 

See you next week!

Beast of Contention: The Polar Bear as National Symbol and Emblem of Conservation

By Michael Engelhard*

The Icelandic artist Bjargey Ólafsdóttir painted this outline on Langjökull Glacier to draw attention to activists’ demands to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm. (Photo by Christopher Lund.)

In the new millennium’s politics, polar bears play the part whales played in the 1980s. From a theatrics-as-protest perspective, their shape lends itself better to impersonation than that of a rainforest or whale. Activists take advantage of this. Dressed as polar bears, they show up in the most unlikely places—the Kremlin, or Ottawa’s Parliament Hill—as nonhuman “climate refugees. In an act billed as “part protest, part performance,” Greenpeace paraded a mechanical polar bear the size of a double-decker bus through central London, as part of its Save the Arctic campaign. Fifteen puppeteers operated Aurora the bear, which had an articulated head and neck, a mouth like an ice cave, and the real bear’s “slightly lazy” ambling gait. Continue reading

No, These Are Not the Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations

Since 2009, the blog AnthropologyWorks has created an annual list of the “Best Cultural Anthropology Dissertations.” Being included on this list seems as if it might be a grand honor, but is it? Unfortunately, the answer is no, not really.

Here is why: the process for choosing the “best” dissertations is problematic. It consists of one anthropologist reading the abstracts of dissertations published in that year. Just the abstracts; no actual dissertations are read to determine which are “best.”

But it gets worse: only abstracts of dissertations in certain research areas are eligible. In order to be considered, one’s scholarship must overlap with the focus of the AnthropologyWorks blog, as follows: “food, resources, and livelihoods; power and politics; health; conflict and violence; population dynamics; stratification including race, class, gender, and age; activism, programs and policies.” This list is wide, but is not inclusive of all possible anthropology topics. If you don’t do research on any of these topics, you are not even considered for “best” distinction.

For the final blow, only scholarship from the USA is included. Have a PhD from outside the U.S.? Is it fantastic? Too bad. You’re not eligible for consideration. Continue reading

Teach America Great Again

By Rucha Ambikar

The day after Trump won the election, I went into my class as usual. I was setting up the smart podium, when a student in the first row turned back to another student to chat. I couldn’t overhear everything that went on between the two of them, but I did hear the student in the first row loudly exclaim “Well if you don’t like it; you can go to Canada.” Even though it was before class time, I gave this student the side-eye, wagged my finger at them and said “we don’t use that kind of language in this classroom. We’re going to practice being polite to each other in here!” The student apologized to me and class began. I don’t know if they apologized to the other student. This was the first day after the election and I wish I could say that this was the last time I heard exclusionary language in my classes. But I wasn’t surprised; throughout that semester I had been teaching to red ‘Make American Great Again’ hats.

I teach at a rural university in Minnesota where I am the only anthropologist on campus. It is not as much cache as it sounds. I teach large service courses where students in my classes are there only for the liberal education credits they receive. Most neither know nor care what anthropology is, and if anything, are prepared for college only as a hostile climate that may challenge their faith, their belief in creationism, their comfort with their ideas and self image. I wish I could say that this is a Trump-era problem, but the fact is that my classes at this university have always been this way. Barring a few welcome exceptions, students are not interested in learning anything that challenges their worldview, and certainly not from a foreign woman with an accent, who isn’t even Christian.
Post-election, when it feels like the entire climate in the country has shifted to resemble one I normally face in my classroom, I’m contemplating how we, as anthropology professors can continue to teach. Whom do we teach now, and to what purpose?
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Patriarchy & The Ineptitude of Fathers

The physicist Wolfgang Pauli famously derided those with whom he disagreed using the insult, “you’re not even wrong.” This stinging reprimand was meant to imply that a proposed idea was so illogical that it didn’t even enter into the spectrum of falsehood. An idea that is “not even wrong” does not qualify as information, simply noise. We live in a very noisy time.

In the wake of the 2016 election and subsequent moment of ‘reflection’, there has been much scrambling to parse information from noise. Twenty-first century information circulation has manifested a porous Rorschach reality (Adam Curtis’ latest BBC documentary presciently spells this out in conspiratorial grandeur). Rather than another attempt to tourniquet the hemorrhaging of reality, perhaps the fluidity of this moment affords an opportunity to reassess prevailing narratives about rationality, reason, and logic. Rather than paragons of knowledge, perhaps these traditions of thought have merely served to suture over the enduring ignorance of patriarchy.

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The Stories We Tell about Resettlement: Refugees, Asylum and the #MuslimBan

By: Nadia El-Shaarawi

As a volunteer legal advocate working with refugees who were seeking resettlement, I learned to ask detailed questions about persecution. These were the kind of questions you would never ask in polite conversation: Who kidnapped your best friend? Were they wearing uniforms? What did those uniforms look like? Where did they hit you? Did you pay a ransom for her release? How did you identify her body? Questions like these, which refugees are asked over and over as part of the already extreme vetting that they undergo to be granted asylum and resettlement, are personal, intimate, painful. They demand a precise and consistent command of autobiographical detail and the strength to revisit events that one might otherwise want to forget. They try to get to the heart of what happened to a person, what forced them to leave everything behind.

On a more cynical level, these questions try to catch a person in a lie, to identify those who are not “deserving” of refuge. The answers are checked and cross-checked, asked again and again across multiple agencies and organizations. In separate interviews, family members are asked the same questions. Do the answers match up? Do the dates and places make sense? Were you a victim of persecution? Are you who you say you are? While these questions and their answers shape the narrative of an individual resettlement case, there is a way in which they don’t get to the heart of what happened to a person, why someone was forced to flee, cross at least one border to enter another state, and is now seeking resettlement in a third country.

Vetting, extreme or otherwise, is about inclusion and exclusion. But before someone even gets to the arduous, opaque process of being considered for resettlement in the United States, decisions are made at the executive level about who to include in a broader sense. While the Refugee Convention provides protection for any person with a “well-founded fear of persecution” on specific grounds, this has never been the full story of the US refugee program, where a presidential determination each year decides how many refugees will be resettled, and from where. Some die-hard advocates and detractors aside, refugee resettlement has historically had bipartisan support and mostly stays under the radar of public attention, except, it seems, in moments where it becomes a reflection of broader anxieties and struggles over belonging and exclusion. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: February 5

As I continue dealing with the crushing weight of anxiety on my journey to graduate school and the fetid assault on human dignity we call contemporary U.S. politics, I return with readings for the week.

For any grad students who struggle with sleep trying to finish their dissertation, just think of getting on the list of best cultural anthropology dissertations for next year! (or dread the coming stress of the job search and start reframing personal success)

If you are a fan of African American history and data visualization, The Public Domain Review displays beautiful hand-drawn infographics by W. E. B. Du Bois about the Black economy in Georgia.

The podcast The Kitchen Sisters explores the role kimchi plays as a cultural ambassador for Korean culture through “gastrodiplomacy”. However, I was reminded of the one time I went to a potluck where a friend tried to feed me bland and unfermented cabbage, where he had the audacity to call it kimchi.

Speaking of food, Diep Tran on NPR illustrates the disconnect between trendy foodies looking for cheap eats and exploitation of immigrant labor in restaurants.

If you happen to be in New York City before March 7, 2017, I would suggest the “Black Cowboy” exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem that explores the hidden history and present state of Black Cowboys in the U.S.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes recalls her how her life and research informs her long history of activism among many communities. The piece on Boom California emphasizes the special role anthropologists have in creating theory that is accessible to broader publics and engage the people anthropologists write about toward collective liberation.

I will be back soon with more readings, until then keep reading and resisting.

Gareth Dale on Karl Polanyi

Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) is difficult to summarize. A patriotic citizen of his native Hungary, he spoke German at home and identified with German intellectual culture. He was a Jew who converted to Christianity, as well as an Anglophile who was deeply impressed by the spiritual intensity of Russian culture. He witnessed Europe’s fin-de-siecle nervousness and survived two world wars, living in Hungary, Vienna, England, before finally taking a position at Columbia University just in time to witness the birth of the Cold War.

Disciplinarily, Polanyi was equally hard to pigeonhole. A socialist, he insisted that markets were created by and embedded in society, not naturally existing creations that could or ought to be ‘free’.  Economists thought him a sociologist, sociologists thought him an economist. Much of his work was historical, but he greatly influenced the field of anthropology.

In fall 2016 British academic Gareth Dale published the first ever biography of Karl Polanyi, presenting for us at last a major account of Polanyi’s complex and fascinating life. I interviewed him recently over email about his book, Polanyi’s life, and his relevance for today. Continue reading