Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) is difficult to summarize. A patriotic citizen of his native Hungary, he spoke German at home and identified with German intellectual culture. He was a Jew who converted to Christianity, as well as an Anglophile who was deeply impressed by the spiritual intensity of Russian culture. He witnessed Europe’s fin-de-siecle nervousness and survived two world wars, living in Hungary, Vienna, England, before finally taking a position at Columbia University just in time to witness the birth of the Cold War.
Disciplinarily, Polanyi was equally hard to pigeonhole. A socialist, he insisted that markets were created by and embedded in society, not naturally existing creations that could or ought to be ‘free’. Economists thought him a sociologist, sociologists thought him an economist. Much of his work was historical, but he greatly influenced the field of anthropology.
In fall 2016 British academic Gareth Dale published the first ever biography of Karl Polanyi, presenting for us at last a major account of Polanyi’s complex and fascinating life. I interviewed him recently over email about his book, Polanyi’s life, and his relevance for today. Continue reading
Encounters with art and design by an anthropologist and curious non-expert in visual culture.
Since starting to work alongside an artist and a designer, I’ve become more aware of ethnographic practice inflected by art and design. There seems to be a growing number of institutional spaces, degree programs, courses, workshops and books devoted to exploring different combinations of art/design aesthetics and ethnography. While audience and aims vary, one can’t help but wonder what it means for there to be a kind mushrooming of art/design inflected methods and outputs (Design Anthropology, Anthropology Design, Design Ethnography, Sensory Ethnography to name a few and see for instance a last year’s ANTROPOLOGY + DESIGN series on Savage Minds). While visual anthropology has an extended history, and anthropologists have long been interested in the intersections of aesthetic and cultural production, is there something of a “visualisation of anthropology” (Grimshaw & Ravetz 2005) underway? Is an attention to art and design in anthropology ‘new’ or simply new to me? For those of us not designated as ‘visual’ anthropologists, are we being asked/invited/demanded to engage with different modalities for fieldwork and scholarly output?
I decided ask an expert. Keith M. Murphy is an anthropologist of design. His new book Swedish Design: An Ethnography is just that. It is a rich description and analysis of how everyday things (furniture, lighting) are made to mean through processes of design within the context of larger cultural flows. Like some of the iconic objects he describes, Keith’s writing is sharp, uncluttered and politically aware. Continue reading
(update: I correct some typos -Rx 17 April 2015)
One of the great things about running a well-established blog is that you can just cold-call interesting people and ask to interview them, and they’ll say yes. Verso Books has had a long history of publishing works which have has a tremendous impact in anthropology, and so I’d always tried to stay up to date with what the press was doing. When it began selling ebooks directly through its website and offering them at discounted prices through sales, I got curious about what their plan want to keep their independent, progressive press operating in an era of Reduced Everything. I was very lucky, therefore, to have a chance to speak to the managing director of Verso, Jacob Stevens, who talked with me about Verso’s plans and future directions.
I came away from this interview tremendously impressed with Stevens and Verso more generally. Stevens’s strategic vision is remarkably clear and focused on what the key commitments of progressive publishing should be. At the same time, he’s thought outside the box in many ways — looking to journal subscriptions as a model for direct sales of monographs, or taking the lessons of the music industry and applying them to publishing. I think you’ll really enjoy this interview and the light it sheds on Verso’s plans for the future, and the state of independent publishing today.
AG: Let’s start by talking about your Christmas sale. That seemed to be a pretty major statement by Verso. The discounts were incredibly steep and the selection was very good. Could you tell why you decided to do that sale, how successful it was, and its role in your publishing strategy?
JS: We initiated a redesign of the website in 2008, always with the aim of launching a strong direct sales channel. That finally came about in March last year, and we took three decisions to try and make sure that it was a success and that it was noticed. The first one was to bundle ebooks with print. The second one was to offer discounts, and the third was to offer free shipping. Essentially, we were competing with Amazon.
(The Institute for Critical Social Inquiry [ICSI] is a program getting under way at the New School for Social Research, where advanced graduate students and junior faculty will have the opportunity to spend a week at The New School’s campus in Greenwich Village, New York City, working closely with some of the most distinguished thinkers shaping the course of contemporary social inquiry (you can apply here — they have financial aid!). Its director, Ann Stoler is a historian/anthropologist whose work has had a tremendous impact on how anthropologists and historians think about history and colonialism. Her writing has also been one key route through which Foucault’s work has come to be known in anthropology. I talked recently with Ann about ICSI and ‘theory’ more generally. Here’s what we said -R)
Rex: So, tell me about the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry [ICSI].
Earlier this month I sat down with Eduardo Kohn to talk about his amazing book How Forests Think. We started out discussing his intellectual influences and ended up ranging widely over his book, the status of Peirce as a thinker, what ‘politics’ means, and a variety of other topics. Thanks to the hard work of our intern Angela, I’m proud to post a copy of our interview here. I really enjoyed talking to Eduardo, so I hope you enjoy reading it!
Wisconsin and the Amazon
RG: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk. I really enjoyed How Forests Think. When I started it I was a little on the skeptical side, but I ended up thinking it was a mind-blowing book. I thought we could begin by discussing the background for the book and your training. I see the book as mixing biology, science studies (especially Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour), and then some sort of semiotics. It seems like there are a lot of influences there. You got your PhD at Wisconsin, so how did that work out? Can you tell me a little about your background?
EK: The way I got into anthropology was through research, by which I mean fieldwork. And I was always trying to find ways to do more fieldwork. I saw Wisconsin as an extension of this. When I was in college I did some field research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I had a Fulbright to go back and do research after college, and only then did I go to grad school. Although How Forests Think aims to make a conceptual intervention in anthropology, I think of our field as a special vehicle for engaging intensely with a place in ways that make us over and help us think differently. Continue reading
Thanks to the incredible incredibilicity of our intern Angela, I’m happy to present an interview I recently did with Michael W. Scott. Michael is currently an associate professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and his book, The Severed Snake: Matrilineages, Making Place, and a Melanesian Christianity in Southeast Solomon Islands, appeared in 2007. Michael frequently uses the concept of ‘ontology’ in his work, so I sat down to talk with him today about this and other aspects of his intellectual project. I’ve broken the interview down into sections, so scroll down to read Michael’s thoughts on Marilyn Strathern and Roy Wagner, wonder, whether reality exists, politics, and how to do fieldwork.
(This is the second half of an interview (the first half is here) by Ståle Wig. Ståle Wig has recently completed a research based MA in Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, with a thesis on development workers in Lesotho. He is affiliated at the Center for Development and the Environment, and teaches a class in Science Outreach and Journalism at the University of Oslo.)
Last year I got together with Dr. Paul Farmer for a talk. In part two of our conversation, I ask Farmer about the limits of “applied” social science; the reasons for his apparent optimism; and whether, after all these years, he at all considers himself an anthropologist.
(This guest post comes from Ståle Wig. Ståle has recently completed a research based MA in Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo, with a thesis on development workers in Lesotho. He is affiliated at the Center for Development and the Environment, and teaches a class in Science Outreach and Journalism at the University of Oslo.)
Paul Farmer was never an orthodox anthropologist. As an undergraduate I remember reading his article, An Anthropology of Structural Violence. It took me by surprise.
Not because I was unaccustomed to scholars arguing that we need to link the ethnographically visible to history and political economy – or, in Farmer’s words, “the interpretive project of modern anthropology to a historical understanding of the large scale social and economic structures in which affliction is embedded”. No, my class had already read Sidney Mintz. It was somewhat fascinating to read an anthropologist who at the same time was a doctor committed to heal the sick in his ethnographic surroundings. But that’s not really what got me, either. Continue reading