I live a lot of my professional life online. I’ve been running a personal research blog for over 5 years now, where I often post quite frank discussions of my experiences as a new academic. I have active scholarly Twitter, Youtube and Google Plus accounts. I teach my students to use Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, Google Hangouts (among other social media) in class, and I run workshops where I teach my colleagues and other professionals to use these same tools effectively in their working lives.
So not only is my own professional identity quite exposed, but I’m also engaged in training others to make their identities equally—if not more—exposed. I do this because I am very familiar with the productivity of digitally-mediated communication. These media make possible relationships, idea sharing, knowledge making and forms of epistemological change that are exceptional. And yet they can also be deeply dangerous—something that I’ve become intimately familiar with over the last two years.
In 2011, just as I was finishing my PhD, I began to receive a series of private messages focused on my sexuality and appearance sent to my email and other personal online accounts direct from professional acquaintances of mine based at various institutions around the world. These tended to be detailed, fantasy-like descriptions, sometimes accompanied by photographs. There was no debate about the inappropriateness of such messages: they were explicit, sometimes verging on the perverted, often concerned with my physique and dress, or with asking me for certain favours which ranged from ‘cuddling’ with them to baking them cakes in recompense for their paid professional contribution to my academic projects.
I was so embarrassed about these communications and so confused about how to reply that I ignored them for nearly two years. However, when the fifth professional acquaintance of mine began to do the same to me in 2012, but this time on a more aggressive and persistent level, I responded by doing what I know best: investing in research on the topic.
Last week, I posted the first Savage Minds Occasioal Paper (hereafter, “SMOP”) featuring Alfred Kroeber’s article “The Superorganic”. This week I bring you the second occasional paper, “Responses to ‘the superorganic’”, which features Sapir and Goldenweiser’s response to Kroeber. You can find it here:
It’s been a week now since US representatives Eric Cantor and Lamar Smith published an article on USA Today about “rethinking science funding.” Their main point is supposedly that we need to take a closer, critical look at how we fund science through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). On the surface their argument seems reasonable, even “common sense.” Below the surface, it’s little more than a disingenuous, ideologically-based attack on the social sciences. And it’s nothing new from Cantor, Smith, and their cronies. As a graduate student in anthropology–and a recipient of a dissertation grant from the NSF–it’s pretty infuriating to see these two politicians trying to intervene so recklessly into the funding process.*
I understand the need for both accountability and clarity in the whole grant process. Are there things that need to be changed? Problems that need to be addressed? Absolutely. There are always ways to improve how things work. Definitely. But what Cantor and Smith are proposing, despite some of their benign-sounding rhetoric, is not just some altruistic attempt to “help” make things better. In fact, what they are doing is more like a witch hunt than the “we’re doing this for the people” line they’re trying to sell to the US public. Read more…
Folks, today I am beginning something new: the Savage Minds Occasional Paper Series. In it, I will present a series of open access, curated texts from the history of anthropological theory. I will keep going until I complete a free anthology suitable for classroom use, or until I get bored. If other minds want to publish in the series, then they can do so too — who knows what projects they may want to cook up…
Here’s a link to the first one: a version of Kroeber’s 1917 article “The Superorganic” that is half the size of the original essay, edited and with an introduction by yours truly. Please feel free to share widely!
Now to the meat of the paper itself: Alfred Kroeber’s “The Superorganic” is a classic of anthropological theory. Originally published in 1917 in American Anthropologist, the article drew important responses from Edward Sapir and Alexander Goldenweiser. Kroeber included material from the article in his textbook Anthropology: Race, Language, Culture, Psychology, and Prehistory. Kroeber’s interest in the superorganic continued to develop in publications like Configurations of Cultural Growth. “The Superorganic” is central to understanding the thought of one of the founders of anthropology and indeed, the history of anthropological theory itself. And yet it is little read today. Why?
[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Glenn Shepard]
Just over a month ago a Peruvian indigenous federation circulated remarkable video footage showing about a hundred isolated (so-called “uncontacted”) Mashco-Piro Indians just across the river from a Piro indigenous village along the Rio de las Piedras in Peru. They appeared to be asking for food and trade goods like rope and metal tools. The Piro and Mashco-Piro languages are close enough to allow communication. Hoping to avoid direct contact and the possibility of disease contagion, forest rangers at Monte Salvado floated a canoe laden with bananas across the river. After a tense three-day standoff, the Mashco-Piro eventually disappeared back into the forest. No one is quite sure why the Mashco-Piro — who have so steadfastly avoided such contact until recently — suddenly showed up. Many suspect that illegal loggers active throughout the region have disrupted their usual migration routes.
In late 2011, a different group of Mashco-Piro living near the border of Manu National Park shot and killed Shaco Flores, an old Matsigenka friend of mine, with an arrow. Having lived among the Piro for many years and learned the Piro language, Shaco had been patiently communicating and trading with the Mashco-Piro for over twenty years, always maintaing a safe distance but slowly drawing them closer with his gifts, food and conversation. But something happened on that fateful day in late November: perhaps the Mashco-Piro were spooked by Shaco’s appearance with several relatives at the manioc garden on a small river island where he had been allowing the Mashco-Piro to harvest his crops; perhaps there was internal disagreement among the Mashco-Piro whether or not to accept Shaco’s long-standing offer to bring them into permanent contact. We may never know.
In late November the American Anthropological Association will convene its 112th annual meeting in little town right outside Gary, Indiana, and the name of that town is Chicago! The AAA conference gives professional anthropologists (particularly cultural anthros) a chance to preview some of the latest research in their fields, chime in at section business meetings, and hug old friends. For those of us active in the blogosphere, tweetosphere, and other technological hoohah we’re given a chance to put faces to the screen names.
Last year some of us collaborated to create what’s called a “interest group,” a club basically, within the AAA for those of interested in digital anthropology. The DANG organizational business meeting was a roaring success, ideas were floated, business cards were exchanged, hands were uhm… shaken? shook? Anyways, it was a great time and we do in fact have a tangible and official result that you can participate in at this year’s conference as a result. “Bridging digital and physical publics: Digital anthropologists’ current engagement with 21st century publics” chaired by Bonnnie Nardi (UC-Irvine) and Sydeny Yeager (SMU) is on the preliminary program for Friday morning.
DANG is grateful to the Society for Visual Anthropology who reached out to us and invited us to submit a conference panel proposal for them to review. Bloggers and other digirati: if you have this slot free in your schedule please join us at the panel so that we can make plans to socialize later. Sydeny tells me she’s interested in meeting people over lunch afterwards. In the past we’ve had great turn outs for our AAA tweet-up where bloggers and tweeters show up at a nearby pub one night. Someone will take the initiative for this in mid-November. Probably a Chicago alum. Rex, I’m looking in your general direction…
Of course not everyone has the opportunity to travel — conferences are pricey. I know! I’m still paying off my credit card from the last one. But for those of you who will be present I would invite you to take this space on Savage Minds to begin thinking about meeting up in meatspace. If you’re a blogger and will be at the conference or are presenting on topics related to digital anthropology tell us about your blog or panel in the comments section. Viva DANG!
The kids have this thing called Twitter and since most of us Savages are courting a mid-life crisis we decided it would be a good idea to get hip and shout the academic equivalent of “Get off my lawn” from our respective ivory towers. Now if only we could afford convertibles everything would be all right! Follow us @savageminds or like our Facebook page, which pretty much has the same thing. If you’re actively avoiding the timesuck of social networks, you’re in luck because ever month or two I collect all the tweets here on the blog. If you’ve seen something around the web that you’d like to share with the Savage Minds community, email me at [firstname.lastname@example.org] or tweet back at us. So, without further ado here’s a selection of what we were reading in August and September.
- Business Insider: maybe we need labor unions after all. //MT
- Wenner-Gren changes deadlines for Hunt postdoc, discontinues Osmundsen Initiative. //MT
@acorsin: Anthropologist Chris Kelty chairs U of California (all ten campuses) migration to Open Access /KF
- Keith Basso R.I.P. /KF
- Neuroscience and Race by
- Latest on HTS: “finding the truth is not just about gathering facts” //MT
- Anthropologist Jason De Leon studies the trash of undocumented migration across the US/Mex border. //MT
- .cont. From an exhibit of materials curated by De Leon at UMich. /MT
- Burundi rebel leader emerges from hiding to run for office. /MT
- 7 worst international aid ideas. //MT
Last year I contributed to the Wellcome Collection’s Brains: The Mind as Matter exhibition, an examination of how brains have variously been collected, manipulated, used and abused by different bodies for different purposes across time and space. The exhibition (in its London showing, 29 March – 17 June 2012) saw around 105,000 visitors, and in the vein of most Wellcome productions, did not shy away from provocative displays and potentially controversial activities (e.g., the ‘hands-on’ Brain Jar public demonstrations).
In seeking out possible items to feature in Brains, I was reminded of a story that I’d heard during my PhD research about the head of the pioneering British archaeologist and anthropologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942). Labelled the “father of scientific archaeology” (Sheppard 2010) for his significant (if very contentious) roles in defining field methodology and in shaping archaeological practice and collecting activity in Egypt and Palestine in particular, Petrie was said to have donated his own head to the collections of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) in London. Indeed, with some investigation (see Simon Chaplin’s contribution to Ucko 1998; Silberman 1999), it became clear that upon his death in 1942 in Jerusalem, Petrie’s body was buried in a cemetery on Mount Zion, and his head returned to England with the express purpose of processing it in order to add his skull to the teaching and research assemblages at the RCS.* But, what is critical for my purposes is that the head was never processed as per Petrie’s wishes.** Despite documented consent from Petrie for the use of his skull in the RCS collections, such consent has never been abided by, and his full head still stands off-limits today in the RCS’s laboratories. Read more…
My digital voice recorder died a slow death this year. It was a Zoom H2. I bought it about 5 years ago and used it all last year for fieldwork in Baja. I think the salt air may have something to do with its death–or maybe a battery leaked, I am not really sure. There is some greenish crud on the back near the battery compartment, and it has been acting up in all sorts of ways lately–giving error messages, not wanting to shut off, and so on. It has also been eating batteries like, like, like something really, really hungry for batteries! My wife has been using it for her interviews and now it’s burning through two AA batteries in about an hour and a half, which is not good. But the battery life of the H2 has never been great. That’s been a problem from the start.
So, long story short this means I ended up looking around for a new voice recorder. Looking back, the H2 was an ok investment. It had great sound quality, but the user interface was really clunky, and the construction of the unit itself felt pretty shoddy. It looked and felt pretty cheap to me. I spent about 250 bucks on that thing and I definitely would not buy another one. Read more…
Two weeks ago, my corner of the world was flooded. It rained and rained and rained. Rivers and creeks swelled above their banks and beyond their normal courses, carving out whole new paths through mountain canyons, suburban neighborhoods, and trailer parks. Along the way, these newly wild waters took much with them: hillsides, boulders, roads, houses, animals, and people.
Living a disaster is not the same as viewing one. Lived disaster is ambiguous. It is simultaneously confusing and crystal clear. Its discomfort is not mediated by images nor soothed by geographic distance. The aesthetics of disaster are raw in both natural and cultural states. This is the indifferent violence of a nature that doesn’t care about you. The turbulence of emotions that will not settle, that swirl about like rapids, foaming, bubbling, then dissipating and taking new form—from fear to euphoria to guilt to relief and more.
This is a story of destruction and recovery, not of beauty. Why then are the aesthetics of disaster so sublime? Read more…