Tag Archives: Blog post

Culture, Genuine and Spurious: SMOPS 5

This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series presents an edited version of Edward Sapir’s essay “Culture, Genuine and Spurious.” “Culture, Genuine and Spurious” is worth reading for several reasons: it demonstrates the way anthropological theory can be applied to ethical issues; it exemplifies the way Boasians founded public anthropology by weighing in on the great issues of their day alongside cultural critics like Randolph Bourne or George Seldes; it gives us insights into the opinions of Boasians on cultural imperialism and the exploitation of labor; and above all, it presents us with a set of questions — and answers — that are as relevant today as they were eighty years ago.

Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series #5 Culture, Genuine and Spurious by Edward Sapir, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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Culture and Ethnology: SMOPS 4

This week’s SMOPS paper is Robert Lowie’s book Culture and Ethnology, which I have cut down to 19 pages. Robert Lowie was one of the most polemical of the Boasians — the phrase ‘attack dog’ has been used, I believe — and is remembered today for many things: his role in creating the Berkeley department of anthropology, his ethnography of the Crow, and his work on the nascent field of kinship studies. Undoubtedly, however, it Lowie’s defense of Boasian orthodoxy that stands out. In his book Primitive Society he forcefully repudiated the Victorian evolutionary theorists that Boas opposed, and towards the end of his life he sparred with Leslie White in the pages of American Anthropologist over the prospects of a revised evolutionary perspective. His undeservedly under-read The History of Ethnological Theory has moments that resemble some sort of Victorian Twitter flipout…

Savage Minds Occasional Paper #4 Culture and Ethnology by Robert Lowie, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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The History of the Personality of Anthropology: SMOPS 3

This week’s SMOPS is an edited version of Kroeber’s “A History of the Personality of Anthropology,” a piece which Kroeber wrote very late in his life. In it, Kroeber lays down his vision of anthropology’s unique outlook. In one striking passage, he describes anthropology as a ‘changeling’ discipline. Changelings are, in European folklore, elf or fairy children who are brought up by human parents who are unaware of their child’s true nature. The child of natural science on the one hand and the humanities on the other, Kroeber sees anthropology as ill at ease in its adopted home of the social science.

This paper is worthwhile because it conveys in a few short pages some of the fundamental instincts of American cultural anthropology. It will be useful for teachers who need a text to use as the basis for a lecture on anthropology’s outlook. Of course, the piece itself could also simply be assigned. Anthropologists from other national traditions will benefit from this thumbnail sketch of the American outlook, as will non-anthropologists looking for a nontechnical explanation of how anthropologists look at the world.

Savage Minds Occasional Paper #3: The History of the Personality of Anthropology by Alfred Kroeber, edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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Digital media and the everyday abuse of working adults

I live a lot of my professional life online. I’ve been running a personal research blog for over 5 years now, where I often post quite frank discussions of my experiences as a new academic. I have active scholarly Twitter, Youtube and Google Plus accounts. I teach my students to use Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, Google Hangouts (among other social media) in class, and I run workshops where I teach my colleagues and other professionals to use these same tools effectively in their working lives.

So not only is my own professional identity quite exposed, but I’m also engaged in training others to make their identities equally—if not more—exposed. I do this because I am very familiar with the productivity of digitally-mediated communication. These media make possible relationships, idea sharing, knowledge making and forms of epistemological change that are exceptional. And yet they can also be deeply dangerous—something that I’ve become intimately familiar with over the last two years.

In 2011, just as I was finishing my PhD, I began to receive a series of private messages focused on my sexuality and appearance sent to my email and other personal online accounts direct from professional acquaintances of mine based at various institutions around the world. These tended to be detailed, fantasy-like descriptions, sometimes accompanied by photographs. There was no debate about the inappropriateness of such messages: they were explicit, sometimes verging on the perverted, often concerned with my physique and dress, or with asking me for certain favours which ranged from ‘cuddling’ with them to baking them cakes in recompense for their paid professional contribution to my academic projects.

I was so embarrassed about these communications and so confused about how to reply that I ignored them for nearly two years. However, when the fifth professional acquaintance of mine began to do the same to me in 2012, but this time on a more aggressive and persistent level, I responded by doing what I know best: investing in research on the topic.

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Responses to 'the super organic': SMOPS 2

Last week, I posted the first Savage Minds Occasioal Paper (hereafter, “SMOP”) featuring Alfred Kroeber’s article “The Superorganic”. This week I bring you the second occasional paper, “Responses to ‘the superorganic'”, which features Sapir and Goldenweiser’s response to Kroeber. You can find it here:

Savage Minds Occasional Paper #2: Responses to “The Superorganic”: Texts by Alexander Goldenweiser and Edward Sapir. Edited and with an introduction by Alex Golub

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Savage Mind's new occasional paper series: first up, The Superorganic

Folks, today I am beginning something new: the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series. In it, I will present a series of open access, curated texts from the history of anthropological theory. I will keep going until I complete a free anthology suitable for classroom use, or until I get bored. If other minds want to publish in the series, then they can do so too — who knows what projects they may want to cook up…

Here’s a link to the first one: a version of Kroeber’s 1917 article “The Superorganic” that is half the size of the original essay, edited and with an introduction by yours truly.  Please feel free to share widely!

Now to the meat of the paper itself: Alfred Kroeber’s “The Superorganic” is a classic of anthropological theory. Originally published in 1917 in American Anthropologist, the article drew important responses from Edward Sapir and Alexander Goldenweiser. Kroeber included material from the article in his textbook Anthropology: Race, Language, Culture, Psychology, and Prehistory. Kroeber’s interest in the superorganic continued to develop in publications like Configurations of Cultural Growth. “The Superorganic” is central to understanding the thought of one of the founders of anthropology and indeed, the history of anthropological theory itself. And yet it is little read today. Why?

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The travels of a head

Last year I contributed to the Wellcome Collection’s Brains: The Mind as Matter exhibition, an examination of how brains have variously been collected, manipulated, used and abused by different bodies for different purposes across time and space. The exhibition (in its London showing, 29 March – 17 June 2012) saw around 105,000 visitors, and in the vein of most Wellcome productions, did not shy away from provocative displays and potentially controversial activities (e.g., the ‘hands-on’ Brain Jar public demonstrations).

In seeking out possible items to feature in Brains, I was reminded of a story that I’d heard during my PhD research about the head of the pioneering British archaeologist and anthropologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). Labelled the “father of scientific archaeology” (Sheppard 2010) for his significant (if very contentious) roles in defining field methodology and in shaping archaeological practice and collecting activity in Egypt and Palestine in particular, Petrie was said to have donated his own head to the collections of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) in London. Indeed, with some investigation (see Simon Chaplin’s contribution to Ucko 1998; Silberman 1999), it became clear that upon his death in 1942 in Jerusalem, Petrie’s body was buried in a cemetery on Mount Zion, and his head returned to England with the express purpose of processing it in order to add his skull to the teaching and research assemblages at the RCS.* But, what is critical for my purposes is that the head was never processed as per Petrie’s wishes.** Despite documented consent from Petrie for the use of his skull in the RCS collections, such consent has never been abided by, and his full head still stands off-limits today in the RCS’s laboratories. Continue reading

The Aesthetics of Disaster: On Flooding and Fire in Colorado

Two weeks ago, my corner of the world was flooded. It rained and rained and rained. Rivers and creeks swelled above their banks and beyond their normal courses, carving out whole new paths through mountain canyons, suburban neighborhoods, and trailer parks. Along the way, these newly wild waters took much with them: hillsides, boulders, roads, houses, animals, and people.

Living a disaster is not the same as viewing one. Lived disaster is ambiguous. It is simultaneously confusing and crystal clear. Its discomfort is not mediated by images nor soothed by geographic distance. The aesthetics of disaster are raw in both natural and cultural states. This is the indifferent violence of a nature that doesn’t care about you. The turbulence of emotions that will not settle, that swirl about like rapids, foaming, bubbling, then dissipating and taking new form—from fear to euphoria to guilt to relief and more.

This is a story of destruction and recovery, not of beauty. Why then are the aesthetics of disaster so sublime? Continue reading

Gratz to Julie Livingston on her MacArthur fellowship

It’s that time of year again: the MacArthur foundation has unveiled its 2013 Fellows. Amongst them is the anthropologist Julie Livingston. Congratulations Julie!

Technically, Livingston’s Ph.D. is in history, but worked with Ivan Karp on a Ph.D. on Botswana and it and her previous work demonstrates a keen sense of the importance of culture and history as they affect and are affect power relations. Its this concern with contextualization, particularity, and the relevance of empirical and qualitative work that makes her approach ‘anthropological’, not the fact that she studied in “Exotic Africa”. I’m hesitant to say more about her work because I’m not very familiar with it. But in an age where people believe anthropology must be Quantitative True Science, Livingston’s award helps remind us that interdisciplinary social science is, literally, genius.

In fact, anthropologists regularly figure as MacArthur fellows, and one of the pleasures of writing this blog is making annual announcements that another one of our own has made it big. So congratulations Julie and, if you don’t mind us stealing some of your thunder, congratulations to anthropology as well.

The Fifth Issue of HAU

In November, 2011 I watched a slightly wild-eyed Italian man mount the stage of a Montreal hotel banquet hall and announce to the world that he was launching a new open access journal that would fundamentally alter the world of anthropology, and perhaps the world at large. Having watched previous world-changing initiatives burn up when entering the atmosphere of the realityverse, I was a little skeptical. What I wanted to see, I claimed, wasn’t the first issue of HAU, it was the fifth. Starting something is easy — keeping it growing is hard.

Last week, the fifth issue of HAU appeared.

Congratulations and mahalo to Giovanni, Stéphane, Sean, Holly, Philip, and the people who worked to produce HAU. I think I owe Giovanni a drink.

Creativity, Intellectual Freedom & the Field School

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Sara Perry.

I have spent a significant portion of the past 1.5 years designing and implementing a series of new courses for archaeology and heritage undergraduate and graduate students at my university. By far the most challenging of these experiences has been the creation of a nine-week field school for first-year undergrads enrolled on our BA in Heritage Studies—a programme intended to mirror the standard field school that archaeology-specific undergrads are obliged to complete. This topic is an interesting one for me not because of the difficulty of launching and directing such a course. Indeed, anyone who has led a multi-collaborator fieldwork project will be intimately familiar with the many logistical, conceptual, economic, emotional, physical and related challenges—although locating frank reflections upon these challenges is not necessarily an easy feat (but see Colleen Morgan’s blog posts on Archaeological Field Schools & Management Styles and Creature Comforts & Happiness in the Field; also, if you have institutional access, see Harold Mytum’s 2012 Global Perspectives on Archaeological Field Schools).

Rather, what proved most problematic from my perspective was negotiating the creative tensions and partialities that the field school exposed between the different parties involved in its execution. This proved to be a struggle between, on the one hand, enabling students to freely and meaningfully do their own innovative interpretative work, and, on the other, managing professionals’ (e.g., established academics’) expectations about the analysis and presentation of the project data. The problem seemed to revolve around matters of control, trust and opening up the intellectual process to genuine intervention by new contributors—that is, students.

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Forgetting Gabriel Tarde

(This guest post comes from Matt Watson, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Texas Tech University. He’s developing these ideas in a book manuscript titled Reading Latour’s Cosmopolitics: Ontology, Ecology, Love. Descriptions of his research and publications are available at www.matthewcwatson.org. Feel free to send thoughts, corrections, objections, specific compliments, or notes (love or ransom) to matthew.clay.watson@gmail.com. -R )

As Rex recently pointed out, Durkheim’s elder and rival Gabriel Tarde is experiencing a “reinvention” or “revival” at the hands of Bruno Latour and assorted posthumanist authors. They’re studiously reworking Tarde’s ambitious argument that invention, imitation, and opposition are the elementary forms of social life (human, animal, and other). Of these three elements, Tarde most thoroughly explored imitation. A now-established trope among neo-Tardians is that Durkheim’s success in securing sociology’s autonomy as a discipline relegated Tarde’s “microsociology” (as Gilles Deleuze called it) to the margins of the human sciences. Contributors to the edited volume, The Social after Gabriel Tarde, assert that anthropologists haven’t worked through Tarde’s ideas. The editor, Matei Candea, states, “Until recently…Tarde was almost entirely absent from anthropology, with the notable exception of the works of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.” It might come as a surprise, then, that in 1964 Margaret Mead could write, “Since Tarde’s original publication, the idea of imitation has been worked to the bone.” What on Earth could Mead have meant? Wasn’t Tarde forgotten?

The short answer is no.

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OAC Online Seminar: A cultural analysis of the Lance Armstrong "reality show"

The Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC) is continuing its online seminar series with its latest installment (#17), a paper by Lee Drummond that takes on the Lance Armstrong phenomena (or debacle), using it as a lens for understanding American society.   The seminar is well underway, and will be open for comments and questions until September 21.  Here’s a bit from Drummond’s abstract: Continue reading

Gabriel Tarde: Been there, done that.

In the last decade or so (earlier, if you speak French) there has been a ‘neo-Tardian revival’ as people organize conferenceswrite books, and otherwise advocate for Gabriel  Tarde, an otherwise-forgotten thinker of France’s Third Republic. Most anthropologists think of Tarde, if they think of him at all, as one of the many guys that Durkheim defeated on his climb to the top of France’s academic heap. Today, people are interested in Tarde because he is part of the intellectual genealogy of people like Deleuze and Latour. This work is interesting and important because it moves beyond a vision of society as composed of static, coherent, superorganic social wholes to one which more adequately theorizes human conduct as a dynamic, emergent system with multiple determinants and outcomes. Except I will say one thing:

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