Tag Archives: Academia

Situating Knowledge

As an anthropologist working at the intersection of anthropology and development studies I sometimes undertake work for development organizations. The kind of work I do does not fall into the category of applied anthropology or  the work of cultural translation. Most often  I’m asked to provide, in written form,  a rapid analytical overview of an issue or situation in relation to a pressing policy objective. What counts as a situation  or an issue  is determined by the political context and policy framing which makes it relevant at a particular moment.

The private sector takes the lead


Such work can be challenging, personally and politically. Current development paradigms which fetishize market forces and the unfettered private sector as an engine for positive social transformation are laying the foundations that consolidate the entrenchment of  new kinds of inequalities on an  unprecedented scale.  At the same time, financial transfers from richer countries to poorer ones provide much needed subsidies for improved public provision of essential basic services. Understanding where policies have traction,  and for whom,  is a critical part of the contested politics of development practice, within and between development organizations. Continue reading

This Anthro Life + Savage Minds: Writing “in my Culture”

A podcast and blog walk into a bar…


This Anthro Life – Savage Minds Crossover Series, part 1
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. In this series 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.

You can check out the the first episode of the collaboration titled Writing “in my Culture” here. Continue reading

We’ve already got the robes: Of monks and us

This is the last post in a six part sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

In this series I’ve written a lot about education, its constraints, the pressure we all feel to compete in the meritocracy, and some possible ways out. Much of this came from my reflecting on the fact that the financiers I study make use of university credentials to speak to their own worth in ways that are far from what we would like to do in our classrooms and in our research. I’ve distinguished assessments that are supposed to speak to essential parts of a person (GREs, SATs, GPAs and so on) and mark them as special, from feedback on particular work that is often offered open-endedly and in a pass/fail format (on, say, a thesis), as in a model of apprenticeship. I’ve also suggested that the more we get in the business of assessing the worth of someone’s character or the potential of someone’s soul from our various course and research offerings, the less we know what we’re doing, and the more we play into our current, meritocratic modes of anointing elites. In this last post I want to offer some thoughts on what academia might look like if somehow we were able to strip away the meritocratic ranking, the obsession with grades and league tables, and focus on the substance of teaching and growing what we know. So in the grand spirit of comparison I want to compare the student’s path in a university to the novice’s path in a Catholic monastery.

To reiterate I’m not saying academia is a monastery, or the monastery is a college (though there are similarities). What I am suggesting is that, insofar as we want to get out of the soul-weighing business, and into the work of teaching what we know, monastic formation is worth considering.

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Domestic Policy: The Resolutions Will Not Be Televised

This is the fifth post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.

Given that we as a discipline seem to feel empowered to develop a foreign policy, I figured I’d offer a few domestic policy ideas, a few resolutions that might take care of some our own local inequities.

The purpose of these resolutions is to suggest some ways out of what most everyone agrees is a generally miserable situation for those currently coming of age or working in academia. More or less, all of us want jobs for scholars and a free education for our students. Repeat that to yourself: jobs for scholars, free education for students. In proposing these, I’m also suggesting that we have some power over our academic, professional and disciplinary destiny and can and should act in concert. I see the decline in tenure-line positions, the specter of academic debt, and even the coercive and jealous guarding of scholarship by publishing cartels, as an invitation to collective action. We already have a communications infrastructure, national and international associations in place, as well as active local chapters across the globe (those hot-beds of activism, academic departments). From this point of view, we’re actually very well organized. All we need to do now is raise some consciousness and come up with a few action items. Should you doubt whether collective action is worthwhile or appropriate, it’s also worth keeping in mind the ways in which activists and unions are making the university a more livable, humane place (one example of each).

Here follow three resolutions. They are drafts. I accept and apologize for their limitations and shortcomings. They don’t talk about all that’s worth fixing (how could they?). I offer them to imagine what collective action on our problems might look like. Interested academic associations should consider them for debate, improvement, and vote.

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Embracing Impostor Syndrome

Cat posing as a meerkat
image source

It seems a fair amount of academics, especially women, suffer from impostor syndrome, “a constant fear of being discovered to be a fraud and a charlatan.” Self-doubt is surely a universal human trait, but we vary in our ability to suppress, ignore, and/or manage such feelings. What is perhaps somewhat unique about impostor syndrome among academics is that “it’s the successful who tend to suffer from it: In order to feel like you’re faking it, you need to have already reached a certain level in your discipline.” As Kate Bahn puts it, it’s “a twisted version of the Socratic paradox—the more you know, the more you feel like you know nothing.” I once calculated that for every book I read I find myself discovering at least ten new books or articles I feel I need to read. That means that if I read a book a week there are about five hundred and twenty new books on my list by the end of the year, each of which feels urgent and essential for my own intellectual development. One’s awareness of the vast body of knowledge we don’t know is actually part of what makes us “experts” but the price we pay for this expertise is a kind of self-doubt. It is always possible that the next book will contain the golden nugget we are searching for.

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Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 2

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Takami Delisle. Tak currently works as a medical interpreter for Japanese patients and helps run an organization for anthropology students of color. You can read the first installment of this piece here. She also has her own blog. If you’re interested, please contact her through Twitter @tsd1888.


Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology

by Takami Delisle

Looking back on those years when I was perpetually in fear of disappointing my professors, I realize that’s when I began to question the whole point of anthropology. I wasn’t alone; there have been many discussions out there about what anthropology can teach us, what we can do with it, and what anthropological knowledge means (e.g., Anthropologies, Issue 1, and Ryan’s open thread on who owns anthropology). Among them I encountered a handful of anthropologists questioning the validity of academic anthropology. I felt vindicated – I too am in disbelief of academic anthropology, because what it seems to be doing is producing its own kind of species of “anthropologists,” claiming that they are the only real, true, and legitimate anthropologists. If the goal of anthropology is to better understand humankind and help make the world an equitable place, now would be a good time for these academic anthropologists to take a good look in their own backyard. Those who are leading the next generations of anthropologists have to learn not to take themselves too seriously, not to be arrogant. They owe mentorship and respect to their students, the future generations of anthropologists, before claiming how righteous, intellectual, and special they are.
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Forget the outrage: Stop signing away your author rights to corporations

Earlier this summer here at the Savage Minds editorial offices, we had a temporary informational mishap that led some of our staff to believe that the mega-publisher Elsevier had purchased Academia.edu and, possibly, the rights to all of our first born children. This insider intelligence had us all on the edges of our figurative seats for about 11 tension-ridden minutes.*

In the end, the intel turned out to be incorrect and we all let out a collective sigh of status-quo-preserving relief. For a minute there we thought we might have to get all up in arms and start checking the oil in our X-Wing fighters and such to fight the big Open Access battle of the century. No need. Stand down folks, stand down.

But the false alarm got me thinking of the time that Elsevier issued more than 2,000 take-down notices to authors who had illegally posted articles on Academia.edu. This was back in 2013. Remember that? You might not. But. It. happened. That was the time that a bunch of scholars get all bent out of shape at the Big Evil Publisher that had committed the dastardly act of exercising its legal rights! The nerve! The gall! What right does that Big Evil Publisher have over work that authors freely and willingly gave away via signed author agreements? I mean, seriously, what those publishers are doing is an outrage. Right? Who has the time to read the author agreements? Is there even any text on those agreements? Who reads any fine print these days? Continue reading

Savage Minds Reader Survey Results Part 2: Education, Work & Debt

Earlier this year we conducted the Savage Minds Reader Survey. Kerim described some of the demographic results in this post. Here I’ll provide a very brief recap. The majority of the responses came from readers in North America (62.8%) and Western Europe (16.7%). In terms of gender, 57% chose “female,” 43% chose “male” and two chose “other.” About 70% of the responses came from people in their 20s and 30s. Seventy six percent have either a PhD or a Master’s degree. Finally, to add one demographic detail to Kerim’s summary, when asked about their ethnicity, about 81% of the respondents chose “white” (244 out of 302 respondents).* For the rest of this post I’ll be talking about education, work (employment), and debt. Continue reading

Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology, Pt. 1

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Takami Delisle. Tak currently works as a medical interpreter for Japanese patients and helps run an organization for anthropology students of color. You can find her on Twitter @tsd1888 and she also has her own blog. If you’re interested, please contact her.


Toward Living with (not Under) Anthropology

by Takami Delisle

I have spent most of my American life doing anthropology. I think about and with anthropology when I observe the world around me, whether watching the news or listening to friends’ conversations. It’s not that someone is forcing me to do so with a knife right at my jugular, but it’s that anthropology has been one of the biggest passions I have ever had in my entire life. Coming home after my very first cultural anthropology class, I felt as if I had just been awakened by something magical. I still remember the sense of thrill when I declared my major as anthropology at my first U.S. university. I sat in the very front row in every single cultural anthropology class like a little kid watching a cartoon right in front of the TV.

What drew me into anthropology is that it opened a door to a wide-open space where I was encouraged to ask questions that I had never felt allowed to voice – like Japan’s appalling gender inequalities, Japanese corporations’ socioeconomic exploitations overseas, and the central government’s ill treatments of Okinawa. Anthropology gave me opportunities to critically and objectively reevaluate the country where I was born and raised, the place I often took for granted. It’s not that anthropology gave me answers to all of my questions, but it did bring me closer to the answers.

My first anthropology graduate program did not betray my expectations of anthropology. The seminar “Poverty, Power, and Privilege” was the most instrumental for strengthening my passion for anthropology. It provided me with theoretical and analytical tools to trace social injustices back through history – to see where they came from and how they changed over time. This seminar taught me to look at the bigger picture when it comes to inequality, and to pay close attention to issues of power. Everything about the seminar blew my mind.

I also learned what it means to be a good anthropologist from this graduate program, which had incredible, worldly-minded teachers who were also good mentors. For instance, after I submitted the final draft of my master’s thesis to my faculty committee members, one of them, who was also the department chair, e-mailed me his comment, which started with, “I want to thank you for teaching me about this important community” – his humbleness taught me to be humble, as I also thanked many of my own students for teaching me things I didn’t know. Another professor, who didn’t believe in the value of testing and grading his graduate students, asked us in his seminar to write what each of us found the most intriguing about the seminar, instead of giving us a final exam – his consistent practice of the principle against the standardized education taught me to be loyal to my principles. When a white student in one of my discussion sections complained about the class materials on racial issues and accused me of being a racist toward whites, the professor whom I was a TA for asked me to let him directly speak with the student to defend me, instead of telling me to ignore the incident – his courage to pursue justice taught me to stand up to injustice. When I brought the dilemmas and difficulties that I had encountered during my research fieldwork to my advisor, instead of telling me to figure them out on my own, she patiently listened, worked out strategies with me, and suggested to incorporate these encounters into my research data and thesis – her mentorship taught me to stay motivated, to keep pushing forward. I was entirely impressed, when another professor, who was often quite harsh on me, stood in front of the whole seminar at the first meeting of the semester and publicly admitted that she was wrong for her vehement disagreement with my argument in another seminar during the previous semester. Her honesty and integrity as an anthropologist taught me to be committed to anthropological inquiries. All these professors helped solidify my deeper understanding of what anthropology should be as a discipline.
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University of Toronto: Boundless Exploitation–“Business as Usual” IS the Problem

The following is an invited post by Sarah Williams and Jennifer Gibson.* 

“It’s business as usual at University of Toronto”, the Provost’s messages proclaim. These messages, meant for students and the media, assert that CUPE 3902 Unit 1’s decision to strike has had no impact on undergraduate classes or the daily operations of Canada’s largest university, recently ranked number 20 in the world. This union represents more than 6,000 graduate student employees. The provost’s claims seek to undermine both the value and importance of graduate student labour and justify the administration’s hard line against raising the minimum funding package, stalled at $15,000 per year, to an amount closer to, though not exceeding, Toronto’s version of a poverty line, the “Low Income Cut-Off” (LICO), which is $23,000. However, underneath the calm and unaffected airs of the university administration lies the reality that over 800 undergraduate classes and tutorials are no longer meeting or have been cancelled for the duration of the strike. As finals draw closer, so too does the possibility that students’ graduations may be delayed.

Photo: Daniel Kwan
Photo: Daniel Kwan

At base, the aim articulated by striking CUPE 3902 members is one of structural change to the funding relationship between graduate students and the university. The guaranteed minimum funding package achieved as a direct outcome of this union’s last strike, fifteen years ago, has dramatically diminished in real wage value thanks to the rapidly rising cost of living in one of Canada’s most costly cities, and has not seen any increase to account for inflation since 2008. Meanwhile, tuition––particularly for international students––continues to climb to the maximum rates legal in Ontario ($8,000-20,000––the highest rates in all of Canada). Combined, it is these two issues that have led to the now 21 day standoff between graduate student contract workers and the administration. If any tentative agreement is to achieve ratification, two core demands must be addressed: meaningful increases to the minimum funding package, and significant reductions in post-funded-cohort tuition. Continue reading

A day for adjuncts

In case you didn’t know, today is National Adjunct Walkout Day.  If you need to catch up, here’s a good piece from Democracy Now.  For some more background, check out this recent piece from Inside Higher Ed.  It’s a good day to think about all those adjuncts, lecturers, part-timers and other contingent workers in academia–and what the university is, perhaps, versus what it should be.

Most importantly, I think, it’s time for those who are doing relatively well, and in relatively stable positions, to think about the current labor situation in academia, and how that is affecting the system as a whole.  As Sarah Kendzior argues, this is everyone’s problem, not just those who are working those low-paying, contingent academic jobs.  If we’re going to do something about this issue, it’s going to require attention–and solidarity–across the academic ranks.  The tenured, the retired, comfortable, and the secure need to pay attention and speak up…right alongside these adjuncts and others who are putting themselves out there to raise awareness.  Now, onto some links and excerpts (from me and others).  Please feel free to share your links, comments, and thoughts below. Continue reading

Open Access: it’s about more than just open access (a conversation between two early career anthropologists)

The following is based upon a conversation about the implications of Open Access that Jeremy Trombley and I have been having over the course of the past few weeks.  Please do add your own thoughts below.  Jeremy blogs at Struggleforever.

Ryan Anderson: So I just finished grad school, and I’m focusing on publishing some articles. I remember a while back you mentioned that you want to commit to publishing all Open Access (OA) articles, and I am right there with you. I think it’s important to push OA forward through our own work. Have you started looking into this?

Jeremy Trombley: OA is always in my mind, but I haven’t had the opportunity to publish too much yet so it hasn’t been a major issue. I have one co-authored with my advisor in a journal called Estuaries and Coasts, which has the option of publishing OA. But now I’m in the process of writing three(!) articles, and I’m thinking about where to publish them — if I ever get around to finishing them.

So that’s where I’m at, I guess. I think it’s a real challenge as a grad student trying to get publications so that I can get noticed so that I can maybe — if the stars align, and I pick the right lotto numbers, and my I Ching comes out well — get a job when I graduate. At the same time, I’m increasingly wondering if I should even bother with academia or focus on learning skills that might be useful in the “real world” — which I want to do anyway, but it’s hard to balance with all the writing, reading, etc. I have to do otherwise.

RA: I hear that. I spent so much time with anthropologies and Savage Minds during graduate school that I didn’t make much time for publishing in journals. Continue reading

Anthropologies/Savage Minds student debt survey: THE DEBTORS

Earlier this year I posted two informal student debt surveys here on Savage Minds as part of the Anthropologies issue on Student Debt. Both of these surveys focused on student debt in anthropology. Here at long last are some of the results. (Sorry for taking so long  to get to this…I was writing a dissertation over the last nine or so months.)*

There was a lot of data to sift through. In this post I’ll discuss the first survey, which had 285 total responses. We’ll start with the highest level of education attained. Thirty-four percent have completed their MA. Thirty-three have completed their PhD, fourteen percent have completed an undergraduate degree, nine percent have completed “some grad school,” six percent have completed between one and three years of college, and another six percent chose “other.”

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they are not currently enrolled in college or grad school. Forty-six percent are enrolled. Two percent chose “other” when asked if they are currently enrolled.

In terms of current employment status, forty-five percent have a full-time job, twenty-two percent have a part-time job, nineteen percent are unemployed, and fourteen percent chose “other.”

The majority of responses came from socio-cultural anthropologists (59%), followed by archaeologists (18%), biological anthropologists (13%), and linguistic anthropologists (3%). Eight percent chose “other” when asked about their disciplinary niche within anthropology.

Now we get to the subject of debt. Continue reading

Anthropology: It’s still white public space–An interview with Karen Brodkin (Part II)

This is the second part of my interview with Karen Brodkin.  Part I is here.

Ryan Anderson: All of this has me wondering how this is happening in US anthropology. As a discipline, we have this sort of pride that comes with our Boasian legacy of anti-racism. But your work seems to indicate that something is terribly amiss. Despite all of our rhetoric about anti-racism, it turns out we have some serious internal problems when it comes to race and diversity. In your view, how has this happened and why do we tell ourselves such a different story?

Karen Brodkin: In its institutional profile, anthropology is not much different from other white-majority institutions, and like them, we also think we’re doing better than especially non-white anthropologists think we are. I’ve used “white public space” to highlight the different views that white and racialized minority anthropologists have about anthropology’s racial climate. But knowing that only raises two more questions. What are the specific practices and narratives that have led anthropologists of color give the discipline’s racial climate low marks over some 40 years? And, what are the positive changes anthropologists have been making within their departments and scholarly networks? Both these efforts and conversations about them need a bigger public profile within the discipline. Continue reading