UPDATE 2/9/13: A bit of a correction to the title here. I called this post “DeLong and the economists on Debt” but it should have been called “DeLong, the political scientist (Farrell), and the sociologist (Rossman) on Debt.” Apologies for that–I didn’t do my homework there. Thanks to Gabriel Rossman for pointing this out.
I was reading through some of the comments to Rex’s latest post about Jared Diamond, in which he ultimately argues that David Graeber’s Debt might be seen as the anti-Diamond (in terms of argument). Debt, Rex argues, is one of the few “big picture” books that have been written by an anthropologist since Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History, which was published more than 30 years ago (1982). Three decades is a pretty long time (and we anthros wonder why so few people seem to know what we do). Diamond gets a lot of attention from many anthropologists, in part, because he is writing exactly the kinds of books that we really do not produce anymore.
Personally, I think we give him a little too much attention and air-time when we put so much energy into combating his arguments. If anthropologists disagree with the version of world history that Diamond is putting out there, my answer (as it was when I wrote this) is to write solid books that make our case. Yes, of course that’s easier said than done–but please tell me one thing that’s truly worthwhile that doesn’t require a ton of work. Nobody said any of this should be easy. If we have different–or “better”–ideas, then we need to find ways to get them out there (through books, or blogs, or interviews or smoke signals or whatever). Going directly after Diamond every time he publishes is kind of a dead end if you ask me. It continually sets us up for claims that we’re just reacting because of jealousy or sour grapes. The way around that is to jump in the ring, take part, and produce the kinds of books that mark the way to a different explanatory path.*
Big expensive conferences cost too much and offer too little return. Fine, I’ll give it to you. Conferences are acceptable for professional development, almost good for networking, OK for your CV, and decent for being exposed to new ideas. I think some are well worth attending. But just stop paying the extortion fees for big conference. Only go to fee free or all expenses paid conferences. Yes, you’ll go to less but you’ll be better for it. Conference as they are at present are a relic from the patronage pre-neoliberal academy where universities accepted responsibility for their staff, faculty, and students. In those halcyonic days, travel and lodging were less expensive, conference fees were smaller, and most importantly, the university would foot the bill. Today, the extortion conference systems remain in place while the university has dropped its patronage responsibilities while the costs associated with conference attendance have skyrocketed. We must break the back of yet another exploitative system. Stop paying conference fees.
Conferences are of a very limited utility but a utility nonetheless. You should still go but only to select, useful, and economically fair events. Let’s break it down. There are three economic types of conferences: Continue reading →
I have been traveling from one place to another the past couple of weeks, but I have still had some time to keep up on the goings-on in the anthro-blogosphere. The first one I want to share is Jason Antrosio’s post Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History–Geography, States, Empires. Antrosio links the discussion to Jared Diamond and his famous answer to “Yali’s Question”:
Starting in the 1960s, Eric Wolf was already asking what Jared Diamond in the 1997 Guns, Germs, and Steel called Yali’s Question: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”
Answering that question, as Eric Wolf understood, means accounting specifically for how Europe went from being a land that in A.D. 800 “was of little account in the affairs of the wider world” (1982:71) to those effective polities that could launch overseas adventures. Diamond would have us believe that the answer lies in the shape of the continents, latitude and longitude gradients, and agriculture, particularly large domesticated animals. Although this much older story may account for the fact that many of the most powerful polities have been in Eurasia, it cannot account for the rise of Europe 800-1400 A.D.
Everyone agrees that geography matters. Eric Wolf’s survey of the world in 1400 is full of maps, descriptions of terrain, and accounts of available resources. But serious historians reject Jared Diamond’s rationale for the rise of Europe.
To truly get a grip on Yali’s Question, we have to turn back to Eric Wolf in 1982. Continue reading →
Despite Crovitz’s best wishes, Taylor’s Xerox PARC Ethernet didn’t become the internet as Slate’s Farhad Manjoo and Time’s Harry McCracken explain. Two days later, Manjoo rebutted Crovitz’s “almost hysterically false” argument. Aligning with given wisdom, Manjoo stated that the internet was financed and created by the US government. Despite being more historically accurate than Crovitz’s argument this statement is also political. In reminding the residents of Roanoke of the government’s role in the founding of the internet, President Obama, according to Manjoo, “argued that wealthy business people owe some of their success to the government’s investment in education and basic infrastructure.” This argument is progressive, social democratic, or socially liberal–advocating for responsible taxation and the shared burden of national identification, and is therefore a political narrative opposed to the Darwinism of technolibertarianism expounded by the Technology Liberation Front. Continue reading →
Obama may have gaffed, neoliberal assistant editors at Fox News and the Republican National Committee, exploitatively edited, repurposed, and exaggerated the speech, but it was Wall Street Journal writer L. Gordon Crovitz who mistook the misedits as evidence for US executive branch internet revisionism. Crovitz, ex-publisher of the Journal, ex-executive at Dow Jones, and social media start-up entrepreneur, attacked President Obama’s statement that the internet was funded and engineered by the federal government. “It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet,” he idiosyncratically declared. The crux of Crovitz’s argument was focused on Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPAnet, a US DAPRA project that connected computer networks to computer networks. Taylor, according to Crovitz, stated that this proto-internet, “was not an Internet.” And therefore, most importantly for Crovitz, this meant that President Obama was dead wrong, Taylor, a federal employee at this time did not help to invent the internet. The internet was not made by engineers paid by public but private hands. Crovitz’s twist on the accepted story is that Taylor later made a different internet, ethernet, at Xerox PARC where we worked after DARPA. And it was Ethernet that became the internet. Continue reading →
[This is a part of a six part blog on four debates about the origins of the internet. Please see all six posts here.]
Suddenly in the wake of President Barack Obama’s untimely but ultimately non-fatal but non-optimal grammar, the question of who made what when and how much the government had or had not to do with it was up for debate. Resisting the attacks on all things federal at the tail end of the 2012 US presidential election, President Obama said to a crowd in Roanoke, Virginia on July 13, 2012:
“The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all companies could make money off the internet.” Continue reading →
I just read a post over on Daily Kos called “Paul Ryan’s Magical Economic Worldview: The Austrian School.” First of all, it’s pretty funny. Second, it brings up some important questions about how we talk about that whole “economics” thing. Check it out, it’s an entertaining (and irreverent) read with some good points made along the way*. But that post also left me wondering: Where on earth are the anthropologists in these kinds of debates about human behavior, economics, and policy? There’s no shortage of conversation about economics among the “general public” around the world, so why is it that we don’t hear all that much from anthropologists? And by “all that much” I mean basically never. It’s not like we have a shortage of experience with this stuff. I mean, Malinowski was talking about economics and human nature and all kinds of good stuff almost 100 years ago. So what’s the deal here? Where are the anthropologists? In the US, for example, we hear a lot from the likes of Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, the folks at the Von Mises Institute, and a whole slew of other economists and “experts” who find their way into print, radio, TV, and internet discussions. Many folks even listen to Glenn Beck, of all people, about economics. No, really: people listen to Glenn Beck.
Where oh where have the anthropologists gone?
So, thinking in a strategic sense, how can anthropologists become a more engaged part of these kinds of discussions? Seems to me that we have a lot to offer, and have for decades. So why are the economists getting all the air time? Is it because they try harder? Are they better looking? Do they have better ideas? Are they paying people off at CNN, Fox, and the New York Times? Or are we stuck in the proverbial bull pen of public debate because this sort of engagement with wider audiences isn’t really “our thing”? Are we being shut out of the conversation? (I highly doubt it.) Is this kind of thing “too political”? Or are we too busy “counting yams” (a nod to this recent post at the OAC about the passing of Eric Hobsbawm) to participate in these kinds of larger conversations? What gives?
I’m looking forward to the day when someone trots out the usual “humans are all self-interested rational actors” line and at least one anthropologist is called on as an expert to offer a slightly different take. And when I say “slightly” I mean something like this.** So how do we get there? How, dare I say, shall we step outside the halls of academia to once again engage in public debate? I’d say it’s about time we regain the public voice we once had in the long past days of Boas, Mead, and Benedict.
Or are we too busy for that sort of thing these days?
*You can also see my plug for anthropology in the comments of the post.
**David Graeber is one of the anthropologists who has done a great job of expanding the discussion beyond academia, closed conferences, and peer reviewed papers. And he deserves a kudos for that. I think we need more of that sort of thing. But it doesn’t mean this is an either/or issue. I think we can do solid academic work AND engage in these kinds of wider debates, issues, and discussions. It might help if this sort of thing, along with teaching, “counted” a bit more in how we evaluate up and coming anthropologists. Just sayin.
I am still obsessed with the concept of value. What is value? What does it mean to say something has value? How do we decide what something is “worth”? How are different ideas about value connected to meaning–and action? How do our ideas about value, worth, and meaning relate to our actions? How is value connected to money (in its various forms)? How are different forms of valorization (economic, cultural, moral, political) connected? Where and when are they disconnected?
When I started on this exploration of the idea of value, one of my friends told me that if I’m really serious about looking deeper, then I should start with David Graeber’s book on the subject. I did, and have subsequently read that book–and his book about Debt–and taken tons of notes. My friend also said that my search for the meaning of value is going to head back to Marx one way or another. And it did. But it also led to Adam Smith, Clyde Kluckhohn, David Harvey, Noel Castree, Julia Elyachar, and many others. This search for value has led me down many different side streets and avenues, and there’s still a lot of ground to cover. The most recent book that I am reading is James Buchan’s book Frozen Desire. The money/value question, especially as it relates to land, real estate speculation, and development, is what has been keeping me occupied for some time now. The more I look into value, the more I want to keep looking. It’s a bit like an endless economic rabbit hole.
Now, I am definitely fascinated with the idea of value, but I am also willing to admit that it’s a massive, if not vague, concept. Graeber said pretty much the same thing in the beginning of his book. The word “value” can refer to a range of things: from prices and money values all the way to moral values. So there’s a bit of fuzziness and abstraction going on, simply because of the wide array of ways in which people use the term. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when one usage ends and another begins. There’s a lot of contradiction and overlap going on. I hate to say it, but the whole idea of value gets complicated–and really, really abstract at times. Maybe too abstract? Continue reading →
Ryan’s recent post on money and its flows and blocks prompts me to post this, something I wrote a few weeks ago in response to a request from colleagues in Leiden for their ICA magazine, which is published by study association Itiwana of the department of cultural anthropology and development. After my post on brands and the UK riots they thought I could write something about brands. Being in Tanzania which is buzzing with money talk, prompted in part by its new status as a destination for mining and gas companies in the current natural resource rush, I wrote instead about how development is being re-branded.
The 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching. Few countries in Africa are expected to meet the targets. Income poverty, food insecurity, rising inequality and poor health remain problems for the most of the continent. Despite shifts towards democratic politics in many countries, civil conflict and political instability are entrenched in others as legacies of colonial state building and post independence power struggles. Such conflicts, as in Mali and the Sudans, are fueled by the rising value of resources associated with particular regions within a global market that is revaluing Africa as a potential source of minerals, gas and oil and as a high growth location with an expanding middle class.
Annual growth rates for African economies have averaged six or seven percent for much of the decade. The extent to which growth is a consequence of political stability and sound macroeconomic management is open to question. A more pressing explanation for the recent transformation in Africa’s economic fortune is the global increase in demand for its natural resources enabled by regimes of economic management which are increasingly open to foreign investment and partnerships.
This continental push to promote the commercialization of what can be claimed as `natural’ resources within a context of on-going economic liberalization is legitimating an emerging discourse about the wealth of African nations and the urgent need for investment as the magic bullet which can liberate this capital and create national prosperity. The regionalization agenda which fosters economic integration is aggressively promoted by governments and donors, along with initiatives aimed at strengthening property rights, enabling foreign direct investment and transforming communications infrastructure.
China’s new position as the potential economic savior of a continent signals fundamental shifts in the political ordering of international development. The poverty discourse central to the MDGs and, arguably, to the constitution of countries in sub Saharan Africa as fitting subjects of development intervention is increasingly contested, not only by politicians and media commentators across the continent, but by an authoritative cadre of technical experts promoting market led development. Development is being re-imagined not as a consequence of social sector spending but as an effect of marketization.
States across the continent are seeking to present themselves as entrepreneurial and investment friendly. Tanzania is no exception. Like Uganda, it has practically shifted the orientation of its poverty reduction strategy towards economic growth. The government of President Jakaya Kikwete, now in its second term, is pursuing a policy of Kilimo Kwanza, farming first, seeking to marketize agriculture and to promote `a green revolution’ with the support of major donors including the World Bank. While the country continues to rely on donor support for around thirty percent of its national budget, rationales for intervention are now situated within a discursive package that is market led. Donor funded workshops buzz with talk of value chains and market information.
The more conventional investments in the social infrastructure of schools and health facilities financed by the Tanzania Social Action Fund have been superseded by what are designed to be income generating investments for farmer groups to enhance their own livelihoods. Phase Three of this program, shortly to be implemented, is structured around an assumed transformation from indigence to entrepreneurship, enabling self reliance through savings and micro finance as the poorest get, in a phrase equally at home in US discourses of welfare reform, `a hand up not a hand out’.
The aspirations of private sector advocates, within and outside government, increasingly converge with the policy positions of development partners as development is re-branded globally to occupy a new market position. In Tanzania, as elsewhere, financialization, as means and end, plays a central role in this convergence. International accounting firms fight for market share of development implementation within extended contracting chains that conflate financial and political accountability. Civil society organizations are brought into being to play specific roles in monitoring public expenditure, along with new organizational forms and participatory practices. Public expenditure tracking, known as PETS, has a set of methods into which civil society volunteers must be enrolled through seminars and allowances. Techniques equally at home in the world of market research comprising score cards and surveys come to have political clout as modalities through which dissatisfaction with government can be articulated.
Outside these transient relations held tenuously in place through development funding streams, a range of private institutions are seeking to establish the architecture through which the financialization of Tanzanian social life is possible. The limited reach of existing banking infrastructure and the Savings and Credit Co-operative Societies creates potential opportunities for new kinds of financial institutions. These include private financial institutions providing loans to formal sector workers, specialist microfinance lenders such as Pride, and the money transfer services provided by mobile telephone companies, of which the market leader is Vodacom’s Mpesa. The proliferation of formal and informal financial services, and those which straddle this divide, is staggering.
Savings and loan groups are rapidly proliferating in both urban and rural areas, notably those organized on the Village Savings and Loan model promoted by the NGO Care International. These groups consisting of around thirty members are a fascinating organizational form, using strategies of ritualization and formalization to ensure regularity of savings and financial transparency in a group structure where all transactions take place at weekly meetings and hence in public. Group members buy weekly shares up to a limit of five intended to ensure that large profits cannot be made and to restrict the exploitative potential of the better off making money from lending to their poorer neighbors. Savers lend to members of the group at a rate of interest designed to increase the value of the savings share.
Groups operate on an annual cycle after which accumulated interest is divided among members according the value of their purchased shares.These `care groups’ as they have come to be known in some districts are wildly popular because they allow people to borrow money at limited rates of interest, particularly useful in helping meet big expenses such as school fees, funeral contributions and hospital costs. They also provide a predictable return on savings, depending on the extent of borrowing within the group. An additional weekly contribution functions as a kind of social insurance for group members who are paid a sum of money should they fall sick or lose a close family member.
These kinds of groups are heralded by promoters as a locally available form of micro financial institution serving the previously excluded, a social institution for the promotion of fiscal responsibility and the discipline of saving not so much as an end in itself but as the precursor to enterprise. Savings groups thus conceived may indeed be foundational to a new culture of economic change. They also enable a range of distinct practices which support radically different cultures of economic practice, cultures which simultaneously promote and obstruct the aspirations of Tanzania’s economic transformation.
In Ulanga district, Southern Tanzania, where I have been doing some fieldwork, a large number of `care groups’ have been established over the past two years, with the majority now entering their second savings and loans cycle. Despite the core organizational template which specifies numbers of members and the management structure, the practice of groups varies widely, even within the same geographical area. In addition to variations in the value of shares purchased and the timing and duration of loans, some groups insist on compulsory borrowing as well as saving as a condition of membership as a means of increasing the value of savings for all the members of the group. Many groups also insist that members purchase necessities like laundry soap from the group at a price which is the same as or higher than market prices in order to increase group profit and hence the value of the shares which are divided at the end of the cycle.
Borrowing is socially construed as an emergency response to hardship but valued as the means of increasing savings. In this enactment of savings and loans the group itself is the enterprise and saving framed as entrepreneurial activity which generates a return for individual members. The income generating strategies of group members focus on gathering sufficient cash to make savings, in actuality purchasing regular shares, because this is likely to accumulate more value than alternative forms of enterprise, including agricultural investment. Participating in `care groups’, for people with cash to make regular contributions, is fast becoming a recognized means of making money make money. Consequently, traders and middle income people in the villages close to the district capital are joining multiple groups, allowing them to them to escape the limitation on share purchase within a single group and to access the kinds of loan amounts which can yield profitable returns.
That money generates money though such practices does not equate to the kind of financialization envisaged by the architects of Tanzania’s new development order, a world premised on depersonalized economic action within a market frame. `Care groups’ in performing the social relations through which money begets money, via shares invested by group members and the interest they pay on loans , permit individual profit so long as costs are shared to some extent by members of the group. Organized around distrust rather than trust groups rely on the visibility of transactions made in public and the simple technology of the specially constructed cash with three separate locks for which separate keys are distributed among ordinary members. Such practices make explicit the social labor required to make money do savings work and the essential embedding of money within social relations. It is this embedding which accounts for the success of mobile money services in much of Africa rather than mobile banking- what people are interested in is the capacity to transfer money between situated persons not the potential of investing money in abstract institutions.
Political emphasis on accountability dovetails with cultural preoccupations around relations and money , articulated as concerns with the illicit appropriation and consumption of public resources which are highly personalized. The organizational structure of `care groups’ taps into fundamental cultural concerns about groups and individuals, collective responsibility, equity and enrichment in ways that permit adaptation to support core ideals. As anthropology consistently demonstrates, values rather than value are foundational to understanding economic practice in any context. This is not a matter of resistance to global capitalism or neo-liberal economics so much as an assertion of what values count.
Money is pretty strange, especially the more you really think about it. What makes people willing to hand over things like DVDs, steaks, and churros in exchange for a piece of paper with ridiculous little pictures and numbers all over it? Why would anyone trade a delicious arrachera taco, say, for a grubby little piece of metal with an eagle stamped into it? Why do sane people accept these transactions as reasonable, let alone desirable? Well, there are of course a lot of reasons behind these kinds of decisions, including everything from the political power of states to a kind of trust that exists within a community of users. One question that always gets me thinking is this: what exactly upholds the value of money? State power? Trust? The symbolic meanings that people attach to money? Habit? A big global conspiracy? All of the above!?!*
I have been working in Mexico off and on since around 2007, and during that time I have had a few interesting run-ins with this thing we call money. Many of these experiences point to one particularly intriguing fact: the value of money is anything but stable. Of course, we all know that. Markets shift, currencies rise and fall. Inflation happens. The value of money changes all the time, right? Yes, it does. But what I am talking about is how money that is supposedly stable at larger levels can change value depending on specific social situations. So values shift in the macro sense, but also in micro, very quotidian senses as well. And the reasons for those micro fluctuations of value are many. In short, when it comes to the actual value of money, social context matters. A few examples: Continue reading →
And now for some humorous and interesting, if not outright hilarious, socio-cultural phenomena for your anthropological Saturday morning.
The small background images on credit cards are a way in which people can personalize their credit cards and express a small part of their identity (along with everyone else who chooses the same theme, of course). My Visa has a nice image of a Hawaiian seascape and sunset. Very tranquil and beautiful. It’s so I can feel like I’m on vacation from reality while I’m amassing debt, I suppose.
Foucault asks “Can the market really have the power of formalization for both the state and society?” (Foucault 2008: 117, originally 1978-79). House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan is convinced it can. He outlines it happening in the 2012 and 2013 fiscal year budgets. The impact of this neoliberal fantasy on democracy is stated by Couldry: “‘Democracy’ operated on neoliberal principles is not democracy. For it has abandoned, as unnecessary, a vision of democracy as a form of social organization in which government’s legitimacy is measured by the degree to which it takes account of its citizens’ voices” (Couldry 2010: 64). What is the impact of the dearth of diverse progressive voices on public and private media within the hegemonic public sphere?
The Nation states that the GOP’s 2013 budget or the “Ryan Plan” helps the very wealthy, corporations, Pentagon, and health insurance companies while forcing the poor, elderly, disabled, and middle class to sacrifice (Zornick 2012). President Obama called the budget “social Darwinism.” A great term, curiously investigated by the Washington Post. Back in February, 2011, during the last federal budget battle, the New York Times claimed that the GOP targeted to slash funding for job training, environmental protection, disease control, crime protection, science, technology, education, and public media (Editorial 2011). It is a theory of classical liberalism that as these issues of national importance are proposed and debated it is fundamental to the workings of democracy that citizens have diverse information options. This is the job of journalists, newspapers, television news — “the media” — whose investigate capacities have been gutted by parent companies’ market fundamentalism and whose federal funding, when it barely existed, is under attack. Six bills were proposed in 2011 to eliminate federally funding PBS (Tomasic 2011). In this neoliberal media logic, if it fails the single criteria of increasing capital, it misses the cut.
The same week the draconian 2013 Ryan Plan was revealed saw the elimination of two paternalistic guardians of the “American public sphere” –the Media Access Project (MAP), a public interest law firm and 40-year veteran resisting the deregulation and privatization of public media resources. And, most dramatically, Keith Olbermann was fired from Current, a cable television news network. Like him or hate him, he is one of the few television newscasters willing to bluntly critique such instances of neoliberal governmentality on that most hegemonic if media systems: television. As both private public interest and not-for-profit public interest media institutions falter, and federally funded public media systems are assaulted, how will diversity in the American public sphere survive?
I need to briefly address the following normative notions: neoliberal governmentality and the hegemonic or American public sphere.
MAP and Olbermann focused on diversifying the programming within the hegemonic public sphere. They see themselves, their work, and their information as central to dominant national issues within a single American public sphere. They are not interested in producing the conditions for a subaltern counterpublic as Nancy Fraser (1992) describes. Their interest is in competing on a national-level with the likes of Fox News, MSNBC, and other media giants. MAP and Olbermann sought to contribute diverse voices into a single, national, or American public sphere. Does it exist? No. Fraser is right. There are overlapping fields of public spheres. But the hegemonic public sphere is a type of emic model or frame, non-existent on the level of day-to-day discourse, that these media reform broadcasters draw from. More abstract and less polemical, yet comparable with the concept of the “mainstream media,” the hegemonic public sphere is a goal or target for the progressive cultural interventions of these media reform broadcasters.
Foucault provides a cogent definition of neoliberal governmentality in his exquisitely readable lectures at the College de France in 1978-1979. “What is at issue” said Foucault, “is whether a market economy can in fact serve as the principle, form, and model for a state” (Foucault 2008: 117). The result is market statism, or corporatism, which, in an extreme version, is fascism. This is diametrically opposed to the social liberalism advocated by Olbermann and MAP in which the state is focused on non-market social projects. It isn’t corporate liberalism either where the government in public discourse supports social liberalism but that practice is performed by subsidized corporations (Streeter 1996). An example of corporate liberalism comes from the presumed GOP candidate for the 2012 presidential election. Governor Mitt Romney addressed a crowd at a primary campaign stop in Iowa in November. At this event Romney says he won’t gut the Corporation for Public Broadcasting but he will require it to “have advertisments.” Romney doesn’t want to “Kill Big Bird” he just wants it to be on life-support from American corporations. Rather, the Ryan Plan is neoliberal governmentality where social liberal projects are negated and replaced by market fundamentalism. It is this reduction of government functions to market logic that Olbermann and MAP once raged against.
So with the departure of Olbermann and MAP the monolithic American public sphere is less diverse and less capable of engineering the conditions for access for diverse voices. Nick Couldry’s Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics after Neoliberalism (2010) directly addresses how neoliberal governmentality dampens voice through looking at US and UK television. He defines voice as referring to the process of individuals or communities using media to build reflexive and historical stories. Voice, for Couldry, is socially grounded, provides for reflexive agency and is an embodied force. Voice can be injured or denied by rationalities that perceive voice as an externality of market logic. Thus “valuing voice means valuing something that neoliberal rationality fails to count; it can therefore contribute to a counter-rationality against neoliberalism” (Couldry 2010: 12-13). Without Olbermann’s voice and MAP protecting the legal and political conditions for voicing, how will the American public sphere survive this assault by the flexible tactics of neoliberal governmentality?
Now, dear Reader, to reward you making it this far here are some hilarious videos that illustrate my points from the comic geniuses of Mitt Romney, President Obama, Cenk Uygur! Cue the laugh track after each video. Continue reading →
One of the underlying questions that I am looking at in my research at is how conflicts in tourism development can be understood by using “value” as a theoretical diving board. Yes, I mean value in the economic sense. But I also mean value in the sense that Clyde Kluckhohn sought to explore. This is value in the moral, political, and/or cultural sense, which is of course somewhat different from the monetary-based understanding of value that might spring to mind when you hear the word. Value can be about currency, yes, but there’s more to it.
Value, ultimately, refers to the ways in which we choose to represent the importance or meaning of a particular idea, object, action, or place. Something can be valuable because of its relative standing within a massive global financial system, but it can also be valuable in many other senses as well. Both David Graeber (in Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value) and Julia Elyachar (Markets of Dispossession) explored these different forms of valuation, and made it clear that it’s important to see how the relate with one another.
Another issue that I am looking at is how this question of value relates to geographic space. This sounds all very abstract and all, but it’s not as abstract as it seems. The allure, prestige, or value of tourism is fundamentally geographic and spatial in many ways. As Michael Clancy pointed out in his 2001 book “Exporting Paradise,” exclusive resorts are predicated on the idea of allowing some people in and keeping others out. These separated or segregated spaces are maintained through a variety of measures, some more explicit than others. Some resorts have massive walls and guarded entrances, while others are surrounded by miles of barbed wire fences. Others choose more subtle measures.
So these are a couple of issues that I am looking into during my fieldwork. Although right now I am just in the beginning of all of this, and there are interesting leads in all directions. Miles and miles of fences. Disputes over land. Completely different ideas about what an ideal tourism destination should look like. For some, a place is more and more valuable as it gets “developed” with hotels, paved roads, golf courses, and so on. For others, it is the complete opposite–a place loses its intrinsic, unique value as it becomes a part of a wider, commodifiied tourism network.
Anyway, these are just a few of the starting points, and I thought it might be a good idea to share some of where I am coming from, since I will be writing about little bits and pieces of this over the upcoming year. Here’s a short selection about value from a working paper that I wrote for the Open Anthropology Cooperative (click here to read the whole thing). Let me know what you think (for all references and footnotes, check out the paper on the OAC page). Since I am in the early stages of fieldwork, and looking into these issues about tourism, social conflict, value, space, and so on, I know that things will inevitably lead in some pretty unpredictable directions. That’s what empirical research is all about. But it’s good to take account of starting points and see where they end up. Anyway, enough of the small talk. Here’s the selection that explores some of my readings of the value question: Continue reading →
Over at the “Democracy in America” blog at The Economist, M.S. has a new post that replies to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s recent “we don’t need no anthropologists” statement. The author provides a rehash of the whole debacle, and then quotes Arizona State University president Michael Crow’s response to the situation:
[R]esolving the complex challenges that confront our nation and the world requires more than expertise in science and technology. We must also educate individuals capable of meaningful civic participation, creative expression, and communicating insights across borders. The potential for graduates in any field to achieve professional success and to contribute significantly to our economy depends on an education that entails more than calculus.
Curricula expressly tailored in response to the demands of the workforce must be balanced with opportunities for students to develop their capacity for critical thinking, analytical reasoning, creativity, and leadership—all of which we learn from the full spectrum of disciplines associated with a liberal arts education. Taken together with the rigorous training provided in the STEM fields, the opportunities for exploration and learning that Gov. Scott is intent on marginalizing are those that have defined our national approach to higher education.
M.S. argues that Crow’s statement is “a solid response,” but that something more is needed: “What it lacks are rhetorical oomph and concrete examples.” So what can provide that extra OOMPH and rhetorical power? Actual examples of anthropologists putting their training and knowledge to work:
Some of the best analysis of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and of the ongoing follies on Wall Street these days, has been produced by the Financial Times‘ Gillian Tett. Ms Tett began warning that collateralised debt obligations and credit-default swaps were likely to lead to a major financial implosion in 2005 or so. The people who devise such complex derivatives are generally trained in physics or math. Ms Tett has a PhD in anthropology. Continue reading →