Tag Archives: Books and Articles

Books on writing books

Yesterday I attended a looong seminar by an acquisitions editor of a university press in which he went over everything from how to revise your dissertation to how the covers of books get designed. It was a rare opportunity to hear from acquisitions editors what they were thinking about and how their job worked (thanks to all who organized). The guy there mentioned a book which I’ve found very helpful in the past and which I thought deserved a nod on the blog for anyone thinking about turning their book into a dissertation. Namely,

Getting It Published by William Germano

Germano’s book does not actually have a series of easy-to-follow steps that will lead to being instantly published, but it does help give you context for what decisions are made in publishing and how they are made. It’s a valuable reality check for someone looking to publish. Like I say I’ve read it and found it really helpful.

There are a few other books that the editor didn’t mention but which I’ve also gotten some mileage out of that may be off the academic radar that I thought I’d mention as well. The first is

Making The Perfect Pitch: How To Catch A Literary Agent’s Eye, by Katharine Sands

Of the bintillion ‘how to get your first novel published’ books out there this is the one that I think is actually worthwhile. It’s quite ethnographic, actually — it contains numerous five-to-ten page reminiscences by authors and agents about how to write one-page pitch letters to attract a literary agent. It’s a frank, engaging book that features people finally laying down on the page all the complaining and advising they’ve been doing for years. There is no real overview or formula or big idea — just a chance to see some good (and bad!) examples and to climb into these people’s habituses. Habitoi? Habtiusi? Even though we academics don’t do agent-based publishing its still a great read.

Finally, in distant third is:

Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of “books Lifehacker is breathlessly enthusiastic for this week”, and particularly not books like this which stray into social science territory. In this book the Heaths attempt to boil down into a simply formula the six things that supposedly are memorable ideas have. To a lot of people it will seem like a fluffy mix of cognitive psychology and folklore studies that could have been ten pages long. Bu I have to admit that ever since I’ve read this book I find myself unwillingly recognizing the utility of their framework. I’ll be explaining how ‘theoretical contribution’ is measured by the NSF and find myself saying “it’s like the ‘unexpectedness’ criteria from Made to Stick” or be talking about a dissertation proposal and say “it’s really got ‘story'”. So maybe there is something to it after all. At any rate if you just go to the book’s website you can check out the six principles and if you give them your email address you can download a bunch of stuff and just skip the book entirely. So a guarded thumbs up for this one as well.

I know there are other books on publishing out there — I think ‘the art of abstracting’ is a strange a lovely hommage to the work of being a full-time absracter, for instance — and would be interested in hearing other people’s recommendations.

Andrew Abbott on how browsing works

I’m back from my summer of research in Papua New Guinea. I managed to read a couple of things over the summer, but one of the best — and one that is available open access — is Andrew Abbott’s article The Traditional Future: A Computational Theory of Library Research. The article focuses on several of the topics that Abbott has written on recently — what research is and how it works, different forms of research and knowledge, and the future of the library. I am a big fan of Abbott’s work, and I particularly like this piece, which combines a rich and humanistic sense of how life works with a very quanty sensibility — very typical of Abbott’s style.

The main purpose of Abbott’s paper is to describe how library-based research actually works. While standard social scientific work is sequential (you plan, gather data, then analyze it), he claims that library work is a massively parallel — as you read and pull things from the shelves you are planning, gathering, and analyzing all at once. Its a strikingly true portrayal of how library work works, and how important browsing and chance encounters are for library work.

Since most of the insights of library work come out of the incredibly complex and serendipitous processes that occur when a mind meets a library, Abbott claims that the only way to make library work better is to increase the value and capability of the mind that is engaged in it. Or, as I sometimes say, there is a lot of be said for reading eight hours a day. No matter how many fancy tagging programs you run or PDFs you download, if a tremendous amount of resources haven’t been put into the human using them, then it is all for naught.

Even worse, Abbott points out that the torrent of new information available on the Internet floods us with low-quality work (and ‘juvenalia’ he notes disparagingly), and makes it easier to find citations we want, when in fact what we need is a system — like a library shelf — which gives us things that we don’t know we needed until we ran into them. I think he may underestimate the serendipity of good web browsing, but his argument does speak actively to a topic that has rolled up on Savage Minds before: given that we can now browse forever, how do we balance different speeds of research? Now that we can browse an endless sea of information endlessly should we? And how much value is there in just sitting down with a book for a day, week, or month? Abbot comes down firmly on the side of good old fashioned deep engagement with a small number of quality texts.

Abbott’s work often has a contrarian, and perhaps even crotchety, streak. But I have to admit that two months in Papua New Guinea with limited Internet connection has reminded me of the value of not-browsing and just-reading. It was a pleasure to sit down with reports from PNG’s National Research Institute and actually read works that would otherwise get Zotero’d into oblivion in my everyday browsing. Its a piece worth reading, and I’d be interested in seeing what you think about it.

Petition in Support of Dr. Janice Harper

David Price has an article in CounterPunch about Janice Harper, an Assistant Professor with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville whose tenure review and subsequent firings seem rather suspicious. In particular, she says that she was told her tenure “would not have been an issue” had she not raised concerns which led the college to call for a sexual harassment investigation against one of her colleagues. What is worse, is that it seems that in retaliation she was also subject to an investigation which involved both Homeland Security and the FBI:

Dr. Harper says that in early June, the University of Tennessee’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) revoked her standing research clearance on the grounds that the police and FBI investigations and the seizure of her research materials exposed her informants to risks. She was told that she “could not use my data until I had assurance from the FBI and university that I was no longer under surveillance.” As these investigations continued, however, they found nothing to indicate that she had made threats or was somehow building a hydrogen bomb. Yet, Dr. Harper was caught in a classic double-bind. Although the FBI did not find that she had done anything wrong, she could not complete her work simply because this investigation had opened her private research records up to FBI scrutiny. This, of course, seriously imperiled her professional activity and development. Last fall, Dr. Harper learned that the faculty in her department voted to deny her tenure application.

There is a petition on her behalf.

(Thanks to the many, many, people who sent this our way. Server was acting sluggish so apologies for the delay.)

Facebook and Google: Parochialize your Intarnet!

There’s a very nice little article in Wired this month about Facebook’s plans to rule the world. It’s got lots of details about things like Facebook Connect and about the hubris-filled and cocksure Mark Zuckerberg. What got me thinking most, however, was this chestnut:

For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search.

It’s one of those nice journalistic object lessons which seems to sum it all up at the exact moment that all of its assumptions leak out of the edges: that the Web must be one thing, that one must gain knowledge either from machines or people, that our circle of friends is “our” primary source of information, that we use facebook to get information or that its CEO’s vision maps onto its practices; and so forth.

But there is something crystalline about this. There is a change at work here, a kind of parochialization in process. The metrics of trust embodied by Google are a set of ideals grounded in the idea of a vast library, a global brain, “the world’s information” and the Internet as a vast sea of computable texts and actions; those of Facebook are ideals of human contact, facefulness, recognition, mimicry, identity management, constant contact, powerful control over one’s identity, social network and reputation, self-actualization. Google is dominated by an ethic of information openness in which more is better, because it makes it easier to comb through collect, sort and analyze data. The more open data is, the better your analysis of it will be. Facebook is dominated by something like an ethic of “revealed preferences”–the only information that matters is information tied to a autocthonous system that gives it meaning. Parochialize your Internet; re-embody your avatar. On Facebook, everyone knows you’re a beautiful and well-bred dog. On the capitalist side, this all comes down to how your information will be commodified: facelessly and anonymously, but with possible benefit for a general public (though that public is a geo-politically fraught one with fault lines called China and Saudi Arabia) or facefully and behaviorally targeted commodification, with maximum benefit for the social graph you make and belong to. If we want to talk about intentional communities today, let’s start here: with the automatic co-creation of consumer profiles. The war to make our own demography starts here.

Towards an Ontological Anthropology

I recently read Thinking Through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically, a volume edited by Amiria Henare, Martin Holbraad, and Sari Wastell. The manifesto of the volume, as presented in the introduction, is:

Rather than dismiss informants’ accounts as imaginative ‘interpretations’ – elaborate metaphorical accounts of a reality that is already given – anthropologists might instead seize on these engagements as opportunities from which novel theoretical understandings can emerge.

The editors, in the introduction, present a methodological framework that would do the job that the they set out for the volume. They first suggest that ethnographers have to do away with a priori distinction between persons and things; even hybridity as a concept would not do, because there is already an implicit ‘presumption of an initial separation.’ Instead, they want to ethnographers to ‘take “things” encountered in the field as they present themselves, rather than immediately assuming that they signify, represent, or stand for something else’.

They have Bruno Latour, Alfred Gell, Marilyn Strathern, Eduardo Vivieros de Castro and Roy Wagner as precursors. What they find most appealing in the works of these authors is the move they have been making from an epistemological anthropology towards an ontological anthropology, and they have been doing this by simply taking the perspective of their informants into account. Only that these authors, they have not taken their informants’ actions into account in order to ‘explain’ them away; they have accepted the categories – or the absence of any categories – that their informants provided, and followed them wherever they led. One central point they make, following from an urge to move from epistemological to ontological studies, is that epistemology provides what they term worldviews – different ways of ‘knowing’ the world, different ‘cultural perspectives’ or ‘beliefs’. They would want studies that are about ‘worlds’  and not ‘worldviews’. The statement on the way this is achieved is long, but I think it deserves to be quoted in full.

We start with the ordinary (representationist/epistemological) assumption that concepts are the site of difference. Then we argue that in order for difference to be taken seriously (as ‘alterity’), the assumption that concepts are ontologically distinct from the things to which they are ordinarily said to ‘refer’ must be discarded. From this follows that alterity can quite properly be thought of as a property of things – things, that is, which are concepts as much as they appear to us as ‘material’ or ‘physical’ entities. Hence the first answer to the incredulous question of where ‘different worlds’ might be, is here, in front of us, in the things themselves (things like powder or – as we’ll see in the contributions to this book – photographs, legal documents, shamanic costumes, cigarettes, and so on). So this is a method of ‘back to the things themselves’ as the phenomenologists had it, but only with the caveat that this is not because the ‘life-world’ of our experience of things has priority over a ‘theoretical attitude’ […] but precisely because our experience of things, if you will, can be conceptual (p 13).

A review of the book by Daniel Miller is available here.

Winner of the ‘worst postmodern article title’ award

I know that I have conservative instincts compared to some, but surely I was not the only one who found the rash of punctuation in theoretically progressive books and journals (e.g. his-story as (en)gendered practice) boring after the first couple of times it happened. But even my breath was taken away by the apotheosis of this trend by an article I recently came across, entitled:

an ILL/ELLip(op)tical po – ETIC/EMIC/Lemic/litic post® uv ed DUCAT ion recherché repres©entation.

Yes, you heard me right:

“an ILL/ELLip(op)tical po – ETIC/EMIC/Lemic/litic post® uv ed DUCAT ion recherché repres©entation.”:http://qix.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/14/5/706

I was going to write an article about how this was the worst conceivable postmodern article title until I googled that author (the very unpostmodernly named ‘Phil Smith’) and discovered that he is also the author of:

Split——ting the ROCK of {speci [ES]al} e.ducat.ion: FLOWers of lang[ue]age
in >DIS<ability studies


MAN.i.f.e.s.t.o.: A Poetics of D(EVIL)op(MENTAL) Dis(ABILITY)

It is at this point that I would throw in the usual disclaimers that I don’t think the author is a bad guy, or that the papers are poorly written or stupid but I can’t really do that since in fact I have absolutely no idea what they are about and I’ve never met him. And I can’t really paste a quote into this blog entry because HTML is too frail a vehicle for the massive typological complexities of his prose (or perhaps I’m just too frail of a coder. That said, I have to give him credit for going balls to the walls in terms of effort, even if his claim that “WORDS ≠WORLD, ‘kay? It’s all right there in the damn books, go read ’em yer own se’f (Gadamer, 1988)” gets exactly wrong Gadamer’s argument about the way in which language functions as the horizon of a (her)meneutic pheno(men)ology.

Darwin the Abolitionist

The New York Times has an interesting piece about two new books on Darwin, timed to coincide with Darwin’s 200th birthday. Of particular interest is the first book which highlights Darwin’s abolitionist upbringing:

The poet-physician Erasmus Darwin [Darwin’s grandfather] and the industrial potter Josiah Wedgwood were close friends among a circle of mechanical-minded Dissenters from the Anglican Church. Darwin and Wedgwood shared a hatred of the slave trade, contributing money and propaganda — in the form of anti-slavery verse and ceramic curios — to the “sacred cause” of abolition. Wedgwood’s cameo medallion of a chained slave, with the caption “Am I not a Man and a Brother?,” was “a must-have solidarity accessory.”

Darwins and Wedgwoods mated for several generations, like an experiment in interbreeding, and the “sacred cause” was an inherited characteristic. Darwin’s mother, who died in 1817, was a Wedgwood; he himself married Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin. Concern for all things lowly was almost an article of faith for the Wedgwood cousins, who taught young Darwin to euthanize earthworms in brine before impaling them on a fishhook. Such compassion seems not to have been extended to the fish, nor to the 55 partridges that Darwin bagged in a single week of shooting. During his medical studies at Edinburgh University, he learned to stuff birds from a former slave whom he described as “a very pleasant and intelligent man.”

I’m not surprised to find a link between Darwin’s scientific work and his personal beliefs, but I see them as akin to Newton’s interest in alchemy. It helps us understand his motivations, but doesn’t necessarily tell us very much about the work itself. As the review says: “One is left with the impression that Darwin was amazingly lucky that his benevolent preconceptions turned out to fit the facts.”

Are we causality crazy?

update: I forgot to post my amended picture:


Steven Pinker’s latest apology for behavioral genetics is in this weekend’s NYT Magazine. There are two things to pay attention to. 1) he’s right about personal genome sequencing: regardless of whether it’s correct, or the results can be properly interpreted for people, people are going to do it, and for all kinds of reasons, good and bad, and this is in itself something that will change behavior–call it proximate causality for individual behaviors. And the comparison with astrology, sorcery and other forms of readouts about your fate should probably be taken more seriously, especially by anthropologists, rather than used as a dismissal of genetic essentialism or determinism. 2) genetics seems to have become so confused with heritability that the claims about “what genes cause” have become incoherent; scales are routinely mixed up, which is what results in the manic fantasizing about why we conserve one gene or another (“gene so-and-so is correlated with baldness, therefore baldness must have conferred an advantage on our distant ancestors by serving as an effective way to deflect light before mirrors were invented” etc). As a result, our ability to argue about the roles that distant causality play versus those that proximate causality play have been compromised. Oh, and one other thing, There is no mention at all of epigenetics… is that deliberate, I wonder, or does it represent troubling ignorance on Pinker’s part?

and btw, I will note that our category for genetics at SM is “Race, genetics” which (and I’m not blaming anyone here) is interesting.

The long and the short of it

Since the end of the AAAs I’ve had a chance to read two pieces which touch on a central preoccupation of mine: the “different speeds at which we do research, and how certain technical forms enable or disable some speeds and not others”:/2007/10/03/pace-layering-as-research-method/. The two pieces in question were “twitter is fucking retarded”:http://ldopa.net/2008/11/11/twitter-is-fucking-retarded/ and “At Day’s Close”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/books/review/24LEWISKR.html by Roger Ekirch. One is a thoughtful — and bracing — skewing of Twitter, and the other is a cultural history of the night in early modern Europe.

You can probably see this coming: I also think Twitter is retarded. It is the ultimate realization of American society’s shift from an expressive individualism that sees art as the exteriorization of the subjectivity of the creator to a more banal commitment to the idea that any ‘content’ made by someone must be valuable and valorized simply because they made it. Perhaps my skepticism for Twitter is the pot calling the kettle black or the narcissism of small differences — as a blogger who has shared my waffle recipes with the world it may sound strange for me to take the high road when it comes to aesthetics. But still.

At Day’s Close, on the other hand, is an elegant, monomaniacal work that took two decades to complete. Saying it is ‘about the night’ does not really do justice to it. One chapter on illlumination at night, for instance, moves systematically through different kinds of light: oil lamps, candles, rushes, and torches. It then moves on to Unusual Forms Of Illumination, such as the bodies of particularly greasy sea birds used in the Orkney Islands as oil lamps simply by sticking wicks down their throats. This is followed by sections on the moon, starlight, and finally illumination of the night by the milky way. The next section then discussions seeing things at night and ends with individual discussions on navigation at night by hearing, touch (groping in the dark), and smell. It is obsessively thorough and, in the hands of a stylist as accomplished as Ekirch, thoroughly enjoyable.

If Twitter is the nightmare of corduroyed professors everywhere then At Day’s Close is the fantasy book that many of us dream of writing: the solitary scholar locked in his study, dismissed by his peers as a hopeless eccentric, emerges one day with a manuscript that will be read by thousands and be remembered forever. Here is romantic authorship in the scholarly mode.

And yet in a way there is something terrible about At Day’s Close as well. I know that I will never spend two decades writing a single book and nothing else — and not just because I have to hop online and update my waffle recipe page. This is a model of scholarship that is admirable but also a little unrealistic for many of us. Simply put, not everyone is an ‘eggs in one basket and watch that basket’ sort of person. Shorter genres are appealing and the ‘all or nothing one glorious moment’ of scholarship is romantic but also, I think, vaguely unhealthy. Not that I am saying Ekirch is unhealthy — I’ve never met the guy — just that the vision of scholarship that he inspires in me is one which, while attractive on the surface, may in the long term be less appetizing than it first appears.

All of which is to say that if we are going to get down on the short end of the writing spectrum (i.e. Twitter) perhaps we should took a good hard look at the the long end and really wonder just how appetizing it is — especially for those of us who do not have the skill and dedication of Ekirch.

Emily Martin on Anthropology Now!

Emily Martin has generously sent this brief history of how Anthropology Now started… Please be civil.

AnthroNow LogoI am pleased to see that there has been such quick and interested reaction to the launch of Anthropology Now. I wanted to write with a brief history of the long effort that has brought us here. I am speaking from my (spotty) memory here, and some details may be missing. We began as a committee of the AES in 1998 when I was president, Susan Harding was president elect, and Ida Susser was Councillor. The AES has kept us as an active committee ever since, which explains how we were included in the AAA program this year.

Our efforts to find a publisher stretched over 10 years. Ida Susser, Susan Harding and I organized approaches to (among others) Duke University Press, the University of California Press, the University of Chicago Press, Blackwells, Sage, and Palgrave. In each case we asked an anthropologist who had an existing (and positive) relationship with the press to make the pitch. All these presses turned us down except Palgrave. We got close with Palgrave only to be stymied by a change in administration and journal publication policies. We stayed in close touch with the AAA through successive presidents and the committee on scientific communication, but we never imagined that the AAA could fund this venture. They have consistently promised (and followed through on) in kind contributions and exchanges.

The very first year of our existence, Dean Birkenkamp, in a former professional capacity, found us and expressed his support and commitment. Thereafter he attended just about every annual meeting we had at the AAA meetings. He shared advice, kept up our morale, and pledged every possible effort to help us, for which we remain immensely grateful. It was only after he founded Paradigm Publishers and made it a commercial success that it became realistic for him to become our publisher. Given the depth and consistency of his interest and support, I do hope Paradigm makes some profit from Anthropology Now. Giving away 1000 copies (maybe more) of the first issue and mailing out countless full color brochures is an investment we hope the press will be able to recover. They are accepting the reality of years of losses on this venture, a move for which we are extremely grateful.

During the years before we had a publisher, our strategy was first to form an Editorial Board (much as you see it today) and second to post a “sample issue” on the web, which predates and only partially overlaps with what you see today. We owe the contributors to that sample issue and of course the additional contributors to the current issue a vote of thanks.

We also made efforts to raise grant support. When Leslie Aiello became president of Wenner-Gren, one of her mandates was to raise the public awareness of anthropology as a discipline: what is it that we do and what can we contribute to public debate and understanding? She agreed with our assessment of the need for a print magazine and a web presence. The financial support we have from Wenner-Gren will be crucial in the continued growth of the project.

We look forward to taking the web site to the next level and hope to continue to get good suggestions (and participation) from the readers of Savage Minds. For the moment, feel free to join us on the open Facebook group for Anthropology Now.

Audiences, Artic Men, AnthroNow and other AAAs

Rex and I shared a walk through Rite-AID at this year’s AAA. I forgot to call him on the whole Arctic scent thing (I think it’s a bizarre Hawaiian Costco phenom which doesn’t exist on the mainland), because I was too focused on finding the Perfect Award for our Best two out of three categories contest winner (i.e. Greg Downey and his multiple crews at Culture Matters and Neuroanthropology). During our chats, I asked Rex who he thought our audience was at SM. The discussion was enlightening (for me at least, but I’m a slow thinker). What I found interesting was how he characterized the two moieties making up (at least some of) our audience. On the one hand: borderline academics. Those who are not career anthropologists, but may have degrees at various stages, jobs outside the academy or just a healthy interest in the subject. On the other hand: professional academics in anthropology. The former are people who do not have broad access to the discipline’s official research (as we repeatedly point out in our discussions around Open Access), and may (mistakenly) view SM as an emissary from the professional center of the discipline. You read the posts and you comments freely. Without you we would be nothing. The latter, however, may read intently, and may also mis-perceive who we are, but are unlikely to ever post a comment. I would never know that such people exist if I didn’t get regular email from them responding to me directly, instead of posting publicly on the blog.

After talking with Rex, I had a conversation with Emily Martin about all the success of the new Anthropology magazine AnthroNow. Along with discussing how it would be possible to get the clothing store Anthropologie to carry the mag (there is an article in the 1st issue on the store), we talked about the role Savage Minds played as inspiration, and the differences between a blog and a professional magazine. AnthroNow’s publisher is Paradigm Publishers, and apparently, though books are not a growth market, magazines continue to be. I’m not surprised, and I won’t be surprised to see AnthroNow take off in the next couple of years. Given the amount of attention that this blog has gotten, I think a good, well-designed anthropology magazine is a no-brainer, and my conversation with Rex about our audiences confirms this for me… both of those audiences are likely to find AnthroNow a desirable thing.

Which raises an interesting question: why are magazines taking off in the era of blogs? My answer to Dr. Martin was that search doesn’t work. Despite Google, I still turn to magazines as arbiters of taste, as collectors of the arcane and obscure, as vehicles for connoisseurship, and I suspect others do too. Add to this simple pleasures of reading a magazine, the self-fashioning associated with displaying it on a coffee table, and the ability to keep it on view on a bookshelf. Obviously magazines serve a different purpose than search on the net… but that doesn’t quite explain why they should be getting more, rather than less profitable (assuming of course, this is true… I haven’t actually checked this fact). In any case, I view AnthroNow as a huge step in the right direction for the discipline, and once more confirmation that anthropologists should look elsewhere than the AAA for guidance in how we run our discipline.

Margaret Atwood and Vicente Rafael on Debt

Speaking of the financial crisis and the relationship between anthropology and economics, I thought Margaret Atwood’s editorial in today’s Times did a good job of getting us to think about debt outside the confines of the banking system. Here she talks about the role of debt in Christianity:

In many religions, for instance. The version of the Lord’s Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for “debt” and the word for “sin” are the same. And although many people assume that “debts” in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don’t pay back what’s owed, you cause harm to others.

One anthropologist/historian who has looked at the importance of the language of debt in religion is Vicente Rafael. His excellent book Contracting Colonialism looks at how Tagalog concepts of debt altered the meaning of Catholic religious traditions as they were translated into the local context.

Among the Spaniards, the contraction of obligations between two parties was always articulated with reference to a third term that stood outside the exchange yet determined its contours. Whther figured as God, the king, the state, or the law, this third term served as the central figure in all negotiations, acting as the origin, interpreter, and enforcer of the terms governing exchange …. By contract, the tripartite structure of the contract gives way to a different configuration in utang na loob ties. The contracting of debts …. is premised not on the sanction of a transcendent third term but precisely on its elision. … The effect of this elision is to render the hierarchy found in utang na loob ties explicitly arbitrary. … Token payments of debts are made not to memorialize authority (and thereby to consolodate hierarchy) but rather, as in the case of offerings profferd to the nono, simply to loosen the pressures from above (and so to deflect the full force of hierarchy). (p. 130-131)

Note: It seems Atwood started working on her well-timed new book over three years ago.

Anthropology in/of Circulation

It was never announced officially here, in part deliberately, in part just because my life got the better of me… but let this be official: we (Me, Rex, Jason B. Jackson, Kimberly Christen, Tom Boellstorff, Michael F. Brown and Michael M.J. Fischer) published a Really Great Interview about Open Access in Cultural Anthropology. For those who subscribe, the paper copies have now arrived, for those who don’t it is an Open Access article available to everyone (even in AnthroSource!). It is also hosted at the CA website for your commentary and discussion using the CommentPress software of which I am so fond.

The fact that I am announcing this “too late” is also related to a discussion we started earlier in the month, regarding the issue of attention to and care for various new kinds of internetty and webliche zweipunktnullische projects. In particular, the difficulty academics have of devoting time and attention to such new projects, and the way in which what Rex called the “field of care” structures how academics take up and run with certain projects. There are a lot of really great points in that thread… and I think it’s worth continuing the discussion here, and hopefully, over at Cultural Anthropology as well.

What spun the discussion off in interesting directions, I think, were two points:
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When Species Meet

Chewing on Haraway

(Inspired by Jonathon Sullivan, I decided to invite my dog, Juno, to write this occasional contribution. Here Juno writes a review of Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet. The review was solicited from Savage Minds by University of Minnesota Press. – K)

I was very happy when my owner decided that we should review this book. Mostly because when he reads a book we can sit together on the couch, which is much more fun than when he sits at his desk surfing the web. I get scratched behind my ear a lot more when we are reading a book.

I also like Haraway. She seems to engage ideas in the same way a dog might play with a dead animal: sniffing it, placing it our mouth, playing with it, rolling on it, barking at it, offering it to our master only to run away with it again. But I could tell my owner was as frustrated by this kind of play as he is when I do it. He likes to play boring, repetitive, games like fetch. He seems to prefer the easy popular style of Patricia McConnell to Haraway’s challenging prose.
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“those without agency have sentimentality and vice versa”

There is a vivid article in this month’s Technology Review by the unlikely contributor Jonathan Franzen, called “I just called to say I love you“. It starts out as a screed against the destruction of public life by mobile phone conversations, and is made readable only by his painful awareness of just how hard it is to conduct a screed against the destruction of public life without sounding like a nag, an old fogey or a conservative technophobe. It then veers into a description of the thing Franzen hates most about this destructive capacity—the repeated and thoughtlessly uttered “I love you” which it is now impossible not to hear constantly ejaculated by those near you, talking to their putatively loved ones in tones too shrill and hectoring to ignore. Then the article gets worse—or better, depending on your reading—by locating part of the transition in 9/11 and the ways in which televised images create a form of collective trauma that is somehow (i didn’t quite get this) related to the cell phone and the nature of public declarations of love. Finally, Franzen turns to his own father and mother and their differing declarations of love (in person by his mother, and in writing by his father), which connects in the end to the danger represented by the cell phone. Continue reading