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Anthropology Guidebook U.S. Elections 2012 – Obama-Romney

anthropology guidebook elections 2012 obama romneyYikes! Ever since surveying the Best Introduction to Anthropology Syllabus, I’ve been teaching anthropology and unable to update. The U.S. elections are upon us–here’s an anthropology blog guidebook to the 2012 elections. Please let me know what I’m missing. Unfortunately, like Ryan Anderson at Savage Minds has been saying, it seemed all too easy to catch up.

Encircling Empire: Report #18–Elections, Independence, Counterinsurgency, Maximilian Forte
This report ranges from the U.S. elections, to the election in Venezuela that occurred in early October, to the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. In addition, the featured reports discuss the strategic and economic location of Australia with reference to China and the U.S.’ belligerent stance toward China, calling for greater independence in Australian foreign policy. The folly and failure of the imperial war of occupation in Afghanistan continues to be one of our main concerns, this time with some hints about what the legacy of foreign occupation might spell for Afghanistan in the near and long terms. And whatever happened to the much touted counterinsurgency wave in the U.S. establishment, with all of its promises of fighting a smarter war, aided by cultural knowledge, and better able to win hearts and minds? Well, its chief gurus are looking for new jobs. One of them recently became a headmaster at a prep school. No apologies needed, but we did tell you that you would fail–had you listened, you might have saved a few hundred billion dollars and thousands of lives, but our advice was not “relevant” to you.

Zero Anthropology, 5 November 2012

Creatures of Politics: Media, Message, and the American Presidency, Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein
It’s a common complaint that a presidential candidate’s style matters more than substance and that the issues have been eclipsed by mass-media-fueled obsession with a candidate’s every slip, gaffe, and peccadillo. This book explores political communication in American presidential politics, focusing on what political insiders call “message.” Message, Michael Lempert and Michael Silverstein argue, is not simply an individual’s positions on the issues but the craft used to fashion the creature the public sees as the candidate. Lempert and Silverstein examine some of the revelatory moments in debates, political ads, interviews, speeches, and talk shows to explain how these political creations come to have a life of their own. From the pandering “Flip-Flopper” to the self-reliant “Maverick,” the authors demonstrate how these figures are fashioned out of the verbal, gestural, sartorial, behavioral—as well as linguistic—matter that comprises political communication.
Thanks to anthropologyworks: Anthro in the news 11/5/12 for the link.

Anthropology & Democracy III: The stand aside or do something edition, Ryan Anderson
Is anthropology a democratic project these days? It is, after all, buried within not-so-democratic institutions (this very question was raised by regular commenter DWP in response to my second post). Do we strive for anthropology to be democratic, or is that just the kind of politicization that ought best be avoided? Should anthropologists stand aside and study the various “democracies” around the world in a detached, objective manner, or should anthropology be geared toward fostering democratic practices and institutions? When it comes to democracy, do we stand outside the fish bowl looking in, or do we jump in and try to manage the currents from within?

Savage Minds, 30 October 2012

Message for White Voters, Chris Rock
Truly funny stuff–but also Chris Rock plays the classic anthropological card of demonstrating how phenotype is not equivalent to culture, and perhaps even tweaking the U.S. categorization by hypodescent.

Jimmy Kimmel Live, 3 November 2012

America’s Leftward Tilt?, Drew Westen
The reality is that our government hasn’t become this dysfunctional because the parties are so “polarized.” It’s because there is only one pole in American politics today, and its magnetic field is so powerful that it has drawn both parties in the same direction–rightward. . . . The data, however, suggest just the opposite–that both candidates have benefited in the general election every time they have taken a left turn. . . . In the first debate, Mr. Romney moved to the center, taking back his promise of tax cuts for the rich . . . Perhaps understandably, the president didn’t know what to do with a Republican challenger who was outflanking him half the time on his left, and suddenly the race was competitive again. For both men, a pragmatic left-hand turn helped them steer their way toward a middle class desperate for hope.

For Romney to Win, State Polls Must Be Statistically Biased, Nate Silver
If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.

Hot for Obama, But Only When This Smug Married Is Not Ovulating, Kate Clancy
This idea of cyclical political preferences is as ridiculous to me as asking if American men’s religious or political beliefs change every twenty four hours with their very dramatic diurnal pattern of testosterone (which is again, dramatic only if you live in circumstances of low energetic constraint). Just as it was once argued that women should not be world leaders in case they make rash decisions in their premenstrual phase, perhaps the morning glory should be a reason to prohibit male politicians from making policy decisions early in the morning.

Context and Variation, 26 October 2012

Political Ritual among the Nacirema, Kerim Friedman
The Nacirema, till now most famous for their unusual body rituals, are also quite well known for their political rituals; especially the unusual way they choose their headman. Whereas many traditional societies choose their headman based on his demonstrated ability at skills related to the survival of the community, the Nacirema have chosen instead to hold a public contest, called an etabed.

Savage Minds, 17 October 2012

Paul Ryan, economics, and the voice of anthropology, Ryan Anderson
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?

Savage Minds, 15 October 2012

Politics & Anthropology in Election Year – 2012 Obama Romney, Jason Antrosio
The final, the most inconvenient fact of all, is that this entire election is a test of U.S. gullibility. Will people really believe Romney’s impossibilities and fact-deprivation just because he’s the white guy?

Living Anthropologically, 4 October 2012


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  • John Thiels

    You know Jason, I think anthropologists [you, Jason!] have a lot to say about politics and economics but would have to enter the fray in a way that is profoundly uncomfortable to painful. Anthropologists love subtle nuanced observations which we believe are critical in understanding social issues, but without having much control over how those points are taken up by others, if at all, the risks may be seen as severe. How would the critically antinationalist, nuanced anthropologist feel to have her work taken as pronationalist and potentially xenophobic, and not have a clear forum to address the misunderstandings? Some anthropologists make such nuanced critiques that the “no” of their argument is misunderstood — I saw this with an article in a journal outside of the discipline where the anthropologist referee gave a [to me] clear “reject” message but the editors understood it to be a heavily qualified “yes, please publish.” I think we are amazing commentators to each other, but seen as hopelessly offside, lacking in rigor or “data” or interesting yet arcane by many other academics, let alone the “general public.” So as an exercise, how would you, as an anthropologist, write a reasonable op-ed in a way suitable for USA Today, the NYT or the Washington Post, or a local paper that would hit the target audience, be true to your understanding of the discipline, address a “major issue” and still be seen as insightful and subtle by anthropologists? How to create a counterhegemonic public at the sites of hegemonic, industrial cultural production? Jason, you could be the Krugman of anthropology….

    •!/JasonAntrosio Jason Antrosio

      Hi John, thank you for the comment, very insightful thoughts here, and thank you for the kind words. As I’ve tried at various moments to “enter the fray,” it strikes me as more difficult than ever. You have to be able to write well and write quickly, but still say something smart. You have to get seen, and in the last 10-20 years, but especially in the last two, there is a lot that mitigates against anthropologists being seen and taken seriously. Anthropology has been getting a lot of mockery, from the science-and-Nicholas-Wade debacle of 2010 to the declarations of “worst major” in 2012. Finally, you need pretty thick skin or to not even read the comments, because we are in that kind of age, when everything gets parsed and attacked.

      Still, it is probably worth charting how Krugman got to be Krugman, and how we can position more anthropologists to be more like Krugman.

      Very interestingly on that note, was just reading Krugman’s latest, Sandy Versus Katrina. The very most recommended comment–over 900 recommendations, which is almost 300 more than any other–begins with Margaret Mead:

      The story is shared that a student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture. He expected the answer to be a clay pot or perhaps a fish hook or grinding stone. Her answer was, “A healed femur.”

      Mead explained that no mended bones are found where the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest, reigns. A healed femur shows that someone cares. Someone had to do that injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed. The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization.

      So it’s pretty fascinating that the anthropologist who probably got the most reads this election cycle was none other than Margaret Mead. And also, of course, as an anthropologist I would question Mead’s statement (if it really is Mead?!), as it lends itself to an idea that there are primitive peoples living by a law of the jungle, a position that seems questionable for both humans and many other creatures. But still, Mead comes through clearly, incisively, and still seems to have quite a lot of influence.

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