James Scott’s work drives me nuts, but there is no doubt about it: his review of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday is one of the best is one of the best that has been written, and deserves a wide audience.
What might an anthropology of the covert look like? I think of the covert as a particular type of secret, one grounded in deception and shadows, and populated by individuals pretending—in part—to be someone other than who they actually are. My current research project is about the CIA as agents of US empire during the Cold War. It is about being invisible, being undercover, and being a legitimate ethnographic subject rather than just a historical or political one. Yet, what sort of ethnography can be written about covert, undercover subjects? How does one humanize the CIA?
I’ve been turning this question over since October 2009 when I found myself at CIA Headquarters. Two weeks before, a mysterious envelope arrived in my on-campus mailbox in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. The return address read “CIA Fine Arts Commission.” I remember looking around the office to see if this was a joke. The CIA Fine Arts Commission? For real? The CIA had an art department? It didn’t help matters that the envelope looked sort of homemade, as if someone had printed the mailing and return addresses on a home laser printer. Perhaps they had. At any rate, I opened the envelope up in the main anthropology office, thinking it was somehow safer to open it there rather than alone back in my own office.
There was no explosion. Phew. Read more…
For one of my library school assignments I had to bring something new to the class. I chose to report on an article out of The Library Quarterly, “An Optimal Foraging Approach to Information Seeking and Use,” (Vol. 64, No. 4, Oct. 1994, pp.414-449) by Pamela Sandstrom. Since I teach hunter-gatherer food foraging behavior in my Introduction to Anthropology class I was interested to see whether the application of evolutionary ecology to information seeking behavior was warranted. Was this a genuinely productive application of the model or if it was merely an interesting metaphor?
Prior to grad school I never had an interest in human ecology, but through my studies with Brian Billman and Bruce Winterhalder (and via being married to biologist) this has become one of the defining attributes of my anthropological worldview. In fact I remember Old Man Winterhalder mentioning in class that his work modeling forager behavior had been cited in research on how people find information on the Internet. It was a treat to *finally* get around to reading something that had been recommended to me about twelve years ago!
In a nutshell optimal foraging theory (OFT) describes animal/ resource relationships such as predator-prey, mate seeking, or how tribal peoples living in small-scale societies acquire wild foods. The basic components of the theory include an actor who is making choices, a currency that measures costs and benefits, any constraints that limit or otherwise shape behavior, and a strategy that specifies a range of possible options for the actor.
Imagine you are a woman who feeds her family by collecting nuts and berries. You walk to your favorite nut grove but some wild boars have beaten you there and they’ve already eaten most of the ground fall. Which course of action would be a better use of your time: carefully picking through the remaining nuts or walking out of your way to the next grove? Or say you are a man with a spear out hunting free roaming wild animals. You come across the tracks of an antelope: should you invest your energy in following this fast moving animal or look for something that’s easier to catch? We are all descended from ancestors who successfully answered similar questions.
At the AAA business meeting, the Committeee on Labor Relations (Sharry Kasmir, chair) will bring forward a resolution on adjunct rights. If you are attending the meeting on Thursday and care about adjunct rights please come to show your support. For this resolution to go forward there has to be a quorum met, so it is vital that we have enough warm bodies in the room.
That’s Thursday, 11/21 at 6:15pm.
Whereas the number of faculty members teaching in the US in non-tenure track, contingent positions—defined as part-time or adjunct faculty, full-time non-tenure track, postdoctoral teachers, or graduate student teaching assistants—has more than doubled since 1970;
And today these colleagues teach more than 75% of classes nationwide;
Really? Thirty bucks for the kindle version of Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century? C’mon.
The corporate enclosure of American academia continues apace. Some current events have brought this into sharper focus, both revolving around the mania for assessment. A third news story offers us hope in the guise of some unlikely role models.
Does anything embody neoliberalism in education to a greater degree than standardized testing? While I’m not expert enough to proclaim a starting point for neoliberalism (the late, great Neil Smith took a stab at it) and can remember well sitting through ITBS all the way back in 1984 Texas, we can acknowledge No Child Left Behind as a symbolic and significant policy event shaping the contemporary education scene. NCLB was supposed to be the centerpiece of Bush’s promised “compassionate conservativism” and, indeed, it does have a sensible conservative principle at its core. Recipients of public monies ought to be held accountable such that resources flow to more effective programming.
Anyone shepherding their children through public K-12 education knows what this has meant in practice. Stress and anxiety imposed on young bodies by high stakes testing. Weeks and weeks of teaching to the test. Loss of teacher’s instructional freedom. Disciplining young bodies into docility before computer monitors, diligently clicking away with a mouse for hours. Hours for a little kid to take these tests ya’ll.
Hey! I’ve got a great idea! Let’s bring standardized testing to higher education and use student performance on the test to assess faculty. A recent article in the Chronicle, “States Demand That Colleges Show How Well Their Students Learn” 10/28/13 (behind paywall but worth reading if you have access), describes just such a movement.
This number of the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series presents an edited version of Edward Sapir’s essay “Culture, Genuine and Spurious.” “Culture, Genuine and Spurious” is worth reading for several reasons: it demonstrates the way anthropological theory can be applied to ethical issues; it exemplifies the way Boasians founded public anthropology by weighing in on the great issues of their day alongside cultural critics like Randolph Bourne or George Seldes; it gives us insights into the opinions of Boasians on cultural imperialism and the exploitation of labor; and above all, it presents us with a set of questions — and answers — that are as relevant today as they were eighty years ago.
[The following is an invited post by Jay Ruby. Jay has been exploring the relationship between cultures and pictures for the over forty years. His research interests revolve around the application of anthropological insights to the production and comprehension of photographs, film, and television. For the past three decades, he has conducted ethnographic studies of pictorial communication among several U.S. communities.]
I first became interested in documentary and ethnographic film in the 1960s and was a witness to a profound technological change motivated by the need some filmmakers had to create a new cinematic form. It occurred in two places almost simultaneously – France and the U.S. Filmmakers wanted lightweight 16mm cameras with sync sound that needed no lighting and would need only a small crew for location shoots. In 1960, Drew Associates – Bob Drew, Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennybaker jerry-rigged a fairly lightweight 16mm camera attached to a synced tape recorder and made the first American Direct Cinema film, Primary. (Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007) With its grainy, wobbly sometimes out of focus images and often-garbled sound, the film radically altered how some U.S documentarians made movies. While an interest in observational style films was relatively short among U.S. documentarians, some European anthrofilmmakers still consider it the best way to make films (See Anna Grinshaw and Amanda Ravetz’s 2009 Observational Cinema: Film and the Exploration of Social Film, Indiana University Press).
[The following is an “invited post” by Dr. Sarah Hillewaert. Sarah is an Assistant Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her works focuses on shifting notions of personhood and the changing linguistic and material practices of youth in (coastal) Kenya.]
On Saturday September 21st 2013, an upscale shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya became the target of a ruthless siege. A group of gunmen, their estimated number ranging between 6 and 15, entered the Westgate Mall and opened fire on bewildered shoppers, indiscriminately killing men, women and children. A few hours into the siege, Al-Shabaab – a Somali Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda – claimed the Westgate attack, not through an auspicious video delivered to a major television network, nor through an official statement of Al-Shabaab’s leader, Ahmed Godane, but via a Tweet on the organization’s Twitter account. The militants’ use of social media, and of Twitter in particular, would be featured centrally in the international media’s coverage of the attack. This preoccupation with Al-Shabaab’s use of new media technology, and the concern it was able to create, revealed much more about our apprehension toward the unexpected linkages and similarities social media create than it did about Al-Shabaab’s international reach. The media coverage of the Westgate siege illustrated how we laud the “power” of social media when it generates desirable similarities; unanticipated linkages, however, need to be explained away. A focus on “outliers” or “extremists,” or the identification of practices that answer to our social imaginary then restores the familiar distance between of “us” and “them.”
UPDATE: There is now an official meeting app.
Attending the AAA? Want to easily see all the schedule of panels you wish to attend in Google Calendar? Here’s mine (though it will likely be deleted and replaced with a newer version before the meeting).
Here are some quick tips, since all the steps aren’t immediately obvious. Read more…