Tag Archives: Money

Walking on Money

It’s mid-day in Cabo Pulmo. October, 2012. The heat is well on its way. I just finished a late breakfast at a small local restaurant called “El Caballero.” Huevos rancheros, juice, coffee, beans, tortillas. I’m talking with Lorenzo*, who has lived in Cabo Pulmo for more than a decade. He tells me more about the story of Meri Montaño, as he heard it from one of the primary founding members of the community. According to this elder, Lorenzo tells me, Meri had a massive amount of land, many heads of cattle and lots of money. She was rich. Meri adopted him, the elder explained to Lorenzo, and eventually gave him everything when she died. This story — about Meri giving all of her land to this particular patriarch—is one of the primary versions of history that gets told about Cabo Pulmo. There are other, competing versions of community history as well.

Lorenzo continues with his version. This elder had no idea the land would become valuable one day, so he sold it piece by piece, often without papers. Some also say he gambled it away. According to one anthropologist who worked in the community in the early 2000s (see Weiant 2005), the land was informally sold, traded, gifted, and passed around for decades. These practices led to an incredibly complex and confusing land tenure situation, which worsened in the early 1970s when the Mexican government tried to clarify and formalize land titles in preparation for impending tourism and real estate development. This transformation from informal to formal tenure systems led to decades of conflict. Continue reading

Happy Valentines Day, public

FASTR (Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act) is the newest revival of legislation designed to open access to federally funded research (used to be called FRPPA). Currently only the NIH requires open access to federally funded research (and this only after 12 months), but this bill would extend it to all federally funded research (for budgets over $100 million) and shorten the time to 6 months. Go forth and support it, it is good for everyone. The public will be your valentine if you do.

Financialising Development

 

Cash is Fashionable

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.

 

 

Inconsistent values: some thoughts about money

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

Giving Marx some credit

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.

Well, the NPR Planet Money blog has a new piece about the latest version of the Mastercard in Germany: The Karl Marx MasterCard. Continue reading

Silos of Casino Capitalism

Something called a “silo” kept cropping up in my field research with media reform broadcasters throughout 2012. At the National Conference of Media Reform in 2011 I attended a panel, “Getting Out of the Silo: Editing Video as a Community.” The organizer told me she was “looking to create an intersectional narrative of collaboration” with the panelists. “We are all living in our little silos,” said the general manager of a small television news network explaining how a possible partner rejected his overture for collaboration. Its “the silophication of the company,” said a vice president of a television news network of the process by which internet, television, and marketing divisions were not well-integrated while taking different approaches to the same product.

What is a Silo?

Silophication is most actively theorized by a person who straddles anthropology, global finance, and journalism: Dr. Gillian Tett, a Cambridge trained anthropologist and US managing editor of the Financial Times. Below I build theory through  categorizing Tett’s use of the term silophication in her financial journalism critical of how regulator’s and banker’s silophication led to an absence of information sharing and the presence of a global financial crisis. Continue reading

Digital Money, Mobile Media, and the Consequences of Granularity

Nicholas Negroponte famously insisted that the dotcom boomers, “Move bits, not atoms.” Ignorant of the atom heavy human bodies, neuron dense brains, and physical hardware needed to make and move those little bits, Negroponte’s ideal did become real in the industrial sectors dependent upon communication and economic transaction. In the communication sector, atomic newspapers have been replaced by bitly news stories. In the transactional sector, coins are a nuisance, few carry dollars, and I just paid for a haircut with a credit card adaptor on the scissor-wielder’s Droid phone.

The human consequences of the bitification of atoms go far beyond my bourgeois consumption. This shift, or what is could simply be called digitalization, when paired with their very material transportation systems or networked communication technologies, combines to form a powerful force that impacts local and global democracies and economies.

What are the local and political economics of granularity in the space shared between the fiduciary and the communicative? To understand the emergent political economy of the practices and discourses unifying around mobile media and digital money we need a shared language around the issue of granularity. Continue reading

Can We Still Write Big Question Sorts of Books?

[Savage Minds is very happy to welcome guest blogger David Graeber.]

About a year ago, I gave my old friend Keith Hart a draft of my new book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, and asked him what he thought of it. “It’s quite remarkable,” he ultimately replied. “I don’t think anyone has written a book like this in a hundred years.”

The reason I’m not embarrassed to recount the incident is because I’m still not sure it was meant as a compliment. If you think of most books of the sort people used to write a hundred years ago but no longer do—Frazer’s Golden Bough, Spengler’s Decline of the West, let alone, say, Gobineau’s Inequality of the Human Races—there’s usually an excellent reason why they don’t.

But in a way, Keith had it exactly right. The aim of the book was, indeed, to write the sort of book people don’t write any more: a big book, asking big questions, meant to be read widely and spark public debate, but at the same time, without any sacrifice of scholarly rigor. History will judge whether it’s still possible to pull this sort of thing off (let alone whether I’m the person who will be able to do it.) But it struck me that if there was ever a time, the credit crisis —and near collapse of the global economy in 2008—afforded the perfect opportunity. In the wake of the disaster, it was as if suddenly, everyone wanted to start asking big questions again. Even The Economist, that bastion of neoliberal orthodoxy, was running cover headlines like “Capitalism: Was It A Good Idea?” It seemed like it would suddenly be possible to have a real conversation, to start asking not just “what on earth is a credit default swap?” but “What is money, anyway? Debt? Society? The market? Are debts different from other sorts of promises? Why do we treat them as if they were? Are existing economic arrangements really, as we’ve been told for so long, the only possible ones?”

That lasted about three weeks and then governments put a 13-trillion dollar band-aid over the problem and started the usual chant of “move along, move along, there’s nothing to see here.” Continue reading

Regarding Japan Part 2: Affective Loops and Toxic Tastings

Eleven weeks have passed since the earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan.  Although bodies are still being found amidst the wreckage, the rest of the world has long since moved on.   The media waves of shock, horror, heroism, heartbreak, and heart-warm continue to push and pull us through a relentless series of events: from Libya to Tuscaloosa, Kate and William to Bin Laden, Donald Trump to Strauss-Kahn.

The affective loop is dizzying as it moves us between distant places and local homes, political upheavals and natural disasters, raging storms and individual stories, the serious and the absurd. Unable to catch my breath between blows or steady myself according to some sense of scale, I feel like so much has happened since the tsunami struck. And yet, I don’t know what to make of any of it.  Are we just bracing ourselves for the next thing?

In an April article entitled “The Half-life of Disaster” Brian Massumi discusses how this media cycle leads us into a perpetual state of foreboding that brings together natural, economic and political threat perception in a configuration that fuels what Naomi Klein termed “disaster capitalism”. The horror is never resolved or replaced; rather, it is archived, infinitely accessible over the Internet.  Cast into the web of other events, the unendurable tragedy of a particular event dissipates, or as Massumi says, “it decays”.  In today’s catastrophic mediashpere, observes Massumi, the half-life of disaster is at most two weeks. Continue reading

QDA or not QDA?

For years I’ve been asked by students “Which Qualitative Data Analysis software should I use?” I have no effing idea. Despite the fact that I am a Scholar of Teh Internets, I’ve never used QDA software. There are lots of reasons: a) it’s proprietary b) it’s expensive c) none of my advisors or fellow students or any journal editors ever expected me too d) etc. etc.

But recently I reviewed a paper that employed QDA to try to make a point. In my estimation it added exactly nothing to the paper. Conceptual distinctions were fuzzy, terms were assumed to refer to concepts when they may only have been co-occurent in different samples, the distinctions apparently provided by the software were fuzzy at best, at worst totally indistinct, and most annoying of all, the authors could not say what their methodology consisted in, only that they had used software to do something.

Now I could rail against the misplaced scientism and ideological blindness of QDA here, but I do not (want to) think this article was in any way exemplary. Rather, what I want to know is: what are the best articles where QDA has really made a difference? What are the canonical articles? Is there a review article of the best of the best of QDA results? When Atlas.ti costs $1800 a pop, and Nvivo costs $600, doesn’t it seem like there should be a really clear list of all the super advances we have made because of it? Really, shouldn’t the “greatest hits of QDA” be something all anthropologists can easily recount?

‘Life at the Googleplex’: Corporate Culture, Transparency, and Propaganda

How the hell am I going to get access to study these uber-elite media companies? In my desperation to find ethnographic facts about ‘corporate culture’ at the new media conglomerated behemoths I am viewing these reflexive industrial videos Google and its subsidiary YouTube upload about themselves. What are these things? Part recruitment propaganda to solicit CVs from the world’s top engineers, part PR-campaign to provide proof of its post-China ‘do no evil’ mantra, part braggadocios chest bump and back slap these videos must have some information that can provide evidence for the ‘real’ internal values and dynamics that influence the 20,000 employees and the 100s of millions of networked people that use their digital tools daily.

<object width=”425″ height=”344″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/eFeLKXbnxxg&hl=en_US&fs=1&”></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/eFeLKXbnxxg&hl=en_US&fs=1&” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”425″ height=”344″></embed></object>
But before I begin this bite-sized Youtube videothon I want to query if anthropological tools exist for such research. First, how would an anthropologist contextualize and categorize these videos? Reflexive, check. Industrial, check. Commercial, probably. They are not viewer-created but they have the amateur aesthetic. Textual studies of reflexive and industrial media and websites in anthropology is under-developed. In that historic genre, ‘ethnographic film,’ there were calls for greater reflexivity. And there are ethnographic investigations into the social life of social media. Patricia Lang, danah boyd, Heather Horst, and Mimi Ito can be consulted for this. And I am sure that there are numerous anthropological studies of race/class/gender as exhibited on Youtube. Alexandra Juhasz and Michael Wesch use YouTube as a pedagogical tech. But as far as I am aware, nobody has thought to look at how governments, corporations, and other institutions self-visualize a public persona. Secondly, who has analyzed the particular limitations and possibilities of this new platform for cultural expression? There is more cultural material on YouTube than in anywhere in the world. We must be able to incorporate this data.
<object width=”425″ height=”344″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/VzMPV3YEI_8&hl=en_US&fs=1&”></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/VzMPV3YEI_8&hl=en_US&fs=1&” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”425″ height=”344″></embed></object>
The first order of analysis would be to use a political economic widget to find out what they hope to get out of this video. Usually, saying something about increasing profit and consumption is enough here. The second order would be to use textual analysis to look for accidental data points. Start with the simple realization that you are seeing into the company, notice the use of space, of the personalization of cubicles, etc. Thirdly, mix these two approaches, political economy and cultural studies, to read the subtle cues and beyond the avowed interview revelations. Pretend you have ethnographic free-reign, knowing that would always be partial even with clearance. As partial and incomplete as these video documents are a conjunctive approach will be necessary. My girlfriend suggested to me that a corporation’s IPO documents are usually remarkably honest and revealing. Also high-tech investment firms/websites such as Techcrunch keep publically available data on acquisitions, investments, and other reflexive materials. Ken Auletta’s book, Googled: The End of the World as we Know It, is incredibly revealing about Google corporate culture but is based on only a few interviews with Page, Brin, and a number with CEO Eric Schmidt. My point is that much can be done with little if the right tools are used.
<object width=”425″ height=”344″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/aOZhbOhEunY&hl=en_US&fs=1&”></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/aOZhbOhEunY&hl=en_US&fs=1&” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”425″ height=”344″></embed></object>
The take-away nugget is that the internet provides tools and reasons for greater corporate transparency. Some corporations answer these calls to use the web to exhibit their tax records and to incorporate users/viewers/participants into internal and external regimes of governance and profit-generation. Other corporations expose their chain of production and distribution and how it misses layovers in child labor farms or despotic regimes and ecological disasters. This is all quite wonderful. But along with greater awareness and transparency is also greater capacity for manipulation of the veneer of transparency. So we must be vigilant in our textual readings of corporate transparency practices and perceive beyond the public persona to the numerous motives, values, and metrics for success that corporations deploy. We must figure out sophisticated techniques to study these powerful institutions. Textual study of the secondary and third order of values encoded in publically available online documents is one way. Even if new media corporations isn’t your anthropological fetish, it is certain that some strangely useful video about your fieldsite or subject exists on Youtube and you are going to have to explain your justifications for using it in your research.  I invite us to co-develop these tools.

Is Roehampton University fourth best for anthropology research in the UK?

UK anthropologists (and academics) may have spent their holidays poring over, gossiping about, ignoring, or otherwise relating to the release of the results of the 2008 research assessment exercise (RAE).  Those of us outside the UK have probably heard of this gargantuan undertaking that aims to assess the quality of research conducted at university departments in view of better distributing funding.  I think I first heard of the RAE as a prime example of the ‘audit culture‘ that in many places these days seems to be the guiding ethos of scholarship.  Complaints about the RAE, and about audit in general, can be heard far and wide in universities across Europe and elsewhere.  Audits often create bureaucracies that are expensive in their own right, they put onerous burdens on already over-worked teachers and scholars, they replace complex forms of assessment with simplified formulae in order to render research ‘legible’ (assessable) to bureaucrats, truly cutting-edge or paradigm-shifting research cannot be ‘seen’ in this setting, and so on.  All of these criticisms are voiced by some at the Guardian (among other places).  Other emerging complaints include ways that departments can ‘game‘ the system to produce a misleading result.  My understanding of the basic procedure is that departments nominate research staff to submit four publications that are then assessed by a peer-lead panel, each publication being given a ranking (roughly, 4 = internationally important, 1 = unimportant anywhere).  Departments apparently engage in a calculus of how many and which staff-members to include for assessment, in order to yield the highest result.  They may decline to include staff who will not get a high score, or they may hire academic ‘stars’ on unusual contracts, in order to be able to include them.  This article details some of the ways this gaming may have occurred in the 2008 exercise.

Below I append the 2008 results for ‘anthropology’ {Cambridge has two results, one for ‘social anthropology,’ the other for ‘biological anthropology’}:

rae-2008-anthropology

Though I am personally deeply distrustful these sorts of rankings, feeling that that they utterly fail to capture the complex ways in which hierarchies of reputation (which I think are inseperable from putatively objective assessments of quality) are established, they are kind of amusing to talk about.  While the results displayed above roughly comport with my sense of the UK social anthropology scene, one result stood out:  the low ranking at Manchester.  I find it rather shocking that a department with a historical reputation such as Manchester’s should not end up in (even) the top half of the schools being ranked.  What’s up with that?  Meanwhile, this particular ranking of UK departments to me points up the fact that a similar recent assessment of US departments is nowhere to be found (to my knowledge).  The last results from the US National Research Council for anthropology were produced in, when?, 1995?  Anyone care to take a stab at a (purely subjective) Top 10 list of US departments?  What about a Worldwide Top 10?

Studying Up: Hedge Fund Manager Edition

Today we received the following in our Savage Minds mailbag:

Greetings, anthropologists:

I’m working with a Princeton economics professor on a book that will essentially be an exposé of hedge funds: their origins, inner workings, external impact, and future–or potential demise. Since hedge funds carefully guard a mysterious, cult-like status in the world of finance, we thought it might be useful to incorporate some anthropological insights. But since neither of us has a strong background in anthropology, I’d love to connect with someone who does.

If someone in your network would like to share thoughts or ideas on where to start, I would welcome a call or an e-mail. Thanks in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Meghan Feeks

Now I’m not sure what to make of this. I can’t tell if they are genuinely interested in anthropological explanations for the seemingly irrational behavior of people in high finance, or if they just want to use examples of exotic, cult-like behavior in other societies in order to add some “color.” I suspect the latter, but I thought it might be interesting to give them the benefit of the doubt and to see what suggestions our readers might be able to come up. What insight does anthropology offer into the world of hedge fund managers?

UPDATE: Meghan wrote back to thank everyone for the feedback which turned out to be exactly what they were looking for. (I’ve also removed the phone number, as requested.)

Digital Media and Learning Competition

The “virtual institution” HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, centered at UC Irvine and Duke) has announced a competition to win some of the Macarthur Foundation’s money ($2million of it) for projects in digital media and learning… It’s pretty clear this is for just about anyone, and probably just about any kind of project (though the HASTAC site is bizarrely specific in proposing that “For example, a team of teacher bloggers who already reach hundreds of thousands of readers may now seek to provide multimedia coverage and translation of MIT Professor Henry Jenkins’ recent white paper on media literacy.” Should we be doing that? Do we have to use Official Henry Jenkins White Papers?). In any case, surely there must be some anthropods out there with good ideas for goinig forth and learning the people with your digital media… now’s your chance!