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Anthropology Blog Update and Book Feature: Local Lives

Local Lives: Migration and the Politics of PlaceBig anthropology blog update, lots on anthropology, economics, science, universities, and more. The book feature is Local Lives: Migration and the Politics of Place, inspired by Erin B. Taylor’s post, an excerpt from her chapter “A Reluctant Locality: The Politics of Place and Progress in Santo Domingo.” I’ve been thinking about this in terms of something Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote about anthropology and fieldwork:

A naïve conception made spaces into places–or more exactly, into locales and localities: things that existed out there, the reality of which, although central to anthropological practice, was not to be questioned or analyzed. . . . Anthropology’s weak treatment of the field as a site for our work has to do with the fact that it always tended to conceive places at best as locales, and at worst as localities, rather than as locations. (Global Transformations 2003:122-123)

As Trouillot writes elsewhere, this treatment of the field was often more difficult for anthropology to pull off in the Caribbean, and Erin Taylor’s portrayal of a “reluctant locality” speaks to these issues.

I’ve been thinking about how locations became localities in the fieldwork that produced the examples used in Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday, and how each ethnographic fieldsite needs to be re-positioned as a location in a world of interaction–see The Yanomami Ax Fight: Science, Violence, Empirical Data, and the Facts.

Read on for lots of updates from the anthropology blogs.

What do we know about struggle?, Donya Alinejad
I’ve been inspired and invigorated by the piercing critiques in columns/forums/books/articles that anthropologist and others have recently taken to in order to think through the worrying ways in which neoliberal ideas are shaping our academic institutions. More than anything, pieces by young anthropologists and other scholars far away made clear to me just how close the parallels are between the basic processes underway at our respective universities internationally (i.e. increasingly precarious labor positions with short-term contracts, divestment and cuts, increasing workloads and class-sizes, individuation and commoditization of education, management goals trumping scientific content, divorcing science from its role as public good unless commercially valuable, undermining smaller and qualitative programs, etc. not to mention the issues around for-profit publishing). Yet what I’ve been missing are people’s stories about what they’re doing with these critiques at their respective institutions. I have little to no idea how you are all making changes (or stopping changes) in your workplaces, and, more importantly, how your experiences with the practices of struggle might valuably feed back into your critical analyses about the nature of the problems we face. So, without speaking for the many others involved in our initiative, here’s something that some humble, new practices of struggle helped me find out.

Savage Minds, 9 February 2013

5 Ways to Make Progress in Evolutionary Psychology: Smash, Not Match, Stereotypes, Kate Clancy
The bad parts of evolutionary psychology confirm what we think we already know about the world. And confirming stereotypes and calling it science tends to keep women and GLBT folk as perpetual second class citizens in this world, rather than the amazing, vibrant contributors to society they are and can be. Evolutionary theory has been developed and tested for quite a long time, and there is a strong, reliable set of conditions we have developed to help us determine adaptive significance for a given trait. All the field of evolutionary psychology really needs is to be put to the test.

Context and Variation, 11 February 2013

Science, jobs, and education, Ken Weiss
We have recently argued in several posts that the pressures in academia today make funding hard to secure, good science jobs seemingly hard to find, and lead to the churning out of tons of useless research, the support of a large academic welfare system, and increased cheating. ‘Research’ has been so heavily marketed–and that’s the right word for it–by both academia and the media, all thumping like itinerant preachers, that it has become an iconic status symbol and, even, idol of near-religious worship. . . . There will be no easy answers until society realizes that miracles from science are costly and few and far between, while the underpinning that can make life better for everyone, even in less than spectacular ways, should command far more of our attention and respect…..and provide good jobs for many good people.

The Mermaid’s Tale, 11 February 2013

More from the Digital Anthropology Group, Matt Thompson
I suggest that in order to keep DANG alive and thriving we need to seek out some low hanging fruit that will bring us small successes that we can build upon. If there is more energy in doing the anthropology of digital worlds and highlighting our efforts as bloggers then we should do that instead.

Savage Minds, 4 February 2013

Presentation in the Arctic Centre: Kangaroo Burgers and Supporting Indigenous People, Simeon Buckley
The commercial harvesting of kangaroos could provide significant economic basis for maintaining traditional culture. Currently there is minimal participation of indigenous people in the kangaroo harvesting industry. Davies et al. (1999) says that, although widely recognized as ecologically sustainable, the commercial harvest of kangaroos is not yet demonstrating social dimensions of sustainability. There is a lack of consideration of social and cultural issues in general. (Davies et al. 1999) Kangaroos are of cultural, social and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people. Aboriginal have people have a diversity of views about the appropriateness of killing kangaroos. In a number of communities or language group’s particular species of kangaroos hold such significant cultural value that the commercial hunting of kangaroos is culturally unacceptable and inappropriate. For some communities the hunting of kangaroos was inappropriate in some sacred places and expectable in other areas.

Arctic Anthropology, 11 February 2013

DeLong, the political scientist (Farrell), and the sociologist (Rossman) on Debt, Ryan Anderson
So here we are. Anthropologists and economists, together again. We each have certain strengths we bring to the table, and we each have our shortcomings and weaknesses. What are we going to do? Are we going to dig our trenches and get ready for another round of endless disciplinary warfare? Are we going to sit on the sidelines and be content with lobbing pot shots here and there? Or are we going to honestly assess our respective strengths and weaknesses, get on with it, and shift the conversation in more a open, meaningful direction? We could even consider–GASP!!!–some sort of collaboration?!? Or we can stick to the same old divisions: the economists and their mathematical models on one side of the dance floor, the anthropologists and their tape recorders and notebooks on the other. Another standoff?
Note: Quite a long comments section, which has now been closed.

Savage Minds, 9 February 2013

Ethnography of Trolling: Workarounds, Discipline-Jumping & Ethical Pitfalls (2 of 3), Whitney Phillips
It was through these experiences that I began to understand–and begin to theorize–what I eventually came to describe as the mask of trolling, the process by which trolls affect emotional distance from their targets, allowing them to focus on and, ultimately, fetishize, the most exploitable aspects of whatever story. My mask may have been constructed from different stuff than the trolls I was researching–I wasn’t dissociating in order to attack anyone, but rather to do my job; I wasn’t fetishizing the most exploitable aspects of a given tragedy, but was committed to presenting the most illustrative case studies possible–but to put a very fine point on it, I had become a site of that which I sought to understand, and to more importantly, that which I sought to critique. Again.

Ethnography Matters, 5 February 2013

Call for Papers: Anthropology and Economics, Economic anthropology focuses on processes of production, circulation, and consumption of objects and services in different social settings such as households, firms, villages, and local markets; as well as regional and global systems. Whereas economists restrict their analysis to monetary transactions and develop formal, abstract models of economic systems, anthropologists highlight the social, cultural, and historical context of economic processes; culture, symbolism, and the individual are given a vital role in the analysis. It is this emphasis of the locally specific, of the embeddedness of economic processes, and of the necessity to take a long-term perspective that has been the hallmark of anthropological research on economic processes.

Real Girls: Barbies, Role Models, and Play, Paul Mullins
“Real” beauty or womanhood is at best an ideological ambiguity, and toys are perhaps less about clear role model testing as they are about the creativity of assessing societal norms. Productive play seems to include some creative rejections of certain social mores, and in fact many adults chafe against many of those same codes and recognize those against which we cannot push. The invocation of an ideal descended from a plastic toy is ludicrous, and in the hands of even a creative child the “Barbie ideal” is slightly unsettling: understandably, we worry that some children cannot critically assess such public shows of gender and sexuality. Barbie is by no means a “blank slate” onto which a child can imagine anything, but the individual reception of Barbie meanings and broader toy symbolism is rooted profoundly in how parents and adults acknowledge the fluidity of gendered norms and resist a universe of disempowering gender symbolism.

It’s Not All Sex and Violence, Agustín Fuentes
So despite the popular assumption (shared by many academics) that our ancestors were brutal and warlike, that part of our reality become prevalent, and possibly adaptive, only with the complexities of agriculture, structured social inequality and increasingly large populations. This is not to say at all that our ancestors were peaceful and egalitarian, they weren’t. But severe violent conflict (that results in death) was rare and apparently not a viable strategy in most human groups.

Las mujeres que no amaban a los hombres: el biocentrismo (II)
La verdad es que muchos pueblos del mundo no tienen un vocablo específico para toda esta diversidad. En realidad, la palabra homosexualidad comenzó a ser utilizada sólo a fines del siglo pasado. Las opiniones sobre estos términos tienden a estar formadas por nuestras propias interrelaciones culturales de género y sexualidad, muy estrechamente relacionadas con lo biológico. Y es que también existen muchos más tipos de género que lo que nos parece “normal” en nuestra sociedad. Incluso mucho más tipos de sexos y sexualidades.

A reluctant locality, Erin B. Taylor
In 2005 I was living in a squatter settlement in Santo Domingo for my doctoral research. I asked one of my neighbours for advice about a community survey I was designing. He took issue with one particular question I had framed: “Would you move away from La Ciénaga if you had the opportunity?” My neighbour argued that this question was redundant, because every single resident would answer “yes.” If they answered “no” they would be lying, because no sane person would choose to reside in La Ciénaga voluntarily. My neighbour was not far off the truth. When I collated the results of the survey, 96 percent of the 300 respondents reported that they would leave La Ciénaga if they had a choice. Who, they argued, would want to live in a barrio marginado (marginalized neighborhood) characterised by delinquency, pollution and poor housing?

From the perspective of the poor: An analytical review of selected works of Paul Farmer, Megan Hogikyan
Analysis of selected works by Farmer traces the development of his main theories and arguments as they build on each other over time. Over the last two decades, Farmer’s central theories have evolved from studies of social suffering to practical analysis of political, social, and economic inequality and structural violence, and to pragmatic solidarity and the provision of tools of agency and targeted solutions to suffering stemming from tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS, and poverty. The use of ethnography, local and international history, and the practice of actively bearing witness to violations of health as a human right facilitate what has become a collective, comprehensive approach and body of theory associated with Farmer. Consideration of his central concepts, writing style, and practical experiences serves to demonstrate how his unique approach came to be associated with the household name he is today.

anthropologyworks, 8 February 2013

The 64 best cultural anthropology dissertations, 2012
I searched for anthropology dissertations related to human rights, justice, migration, gender, health, violence, conflict, environment, and energy. As someone commented last year, this post could be called “Best cultural anthropology dissertation abstracts” since I do not read every dissertation listed. It’s true — I choose my favorites on the basis of their abstracts, assuming that an abstract does have something to do with the body of the dissertation.

anthropologyworks, 10 February 2013

Here’s Why Jared Diamond is Irrelevant to Anthropology, Tony Waters
So suck up the fact that Jared Diamond likes anthropology enough to cite it in his tomes, and go out and give ‘em anthropology books. It is an exciting and engaging field which stands on its own.

Ethnography.com, 6 February 2013

SLA Submissions for AAA (March 15)
It’s that time of year again: The Society for Linguistic Anthropology (SLA) invites your submissions for the American Anthropological Association’s 2013 Annual Meeting, which will be held this year in Chicago, Illinois, November 20-24. This year’s theme is: “Future Publics, Current Engagements”. As this year’s SLA Section Program Editor, I am writing to encourage you to submit invited sessions, volunteered sessions, and volunteered papers and posters.

Call for Papers – “Danger!” AAA 2013, Chicago, Paul Christensen
Dangers, real or contrived, surrounds us in myriad forms, inducing elaborate and varied practices of education, prohibition, transgression, and anxiety to confront their presence. This panel takes danger as a productive perspective of analysis to examine ways in which it is culturally constructed, understood, perceived, and confronted. Major questions considered include how is danger constituted as a significant category? How are things, experiences, and practices framed as dangerous, and how do we engage with them? We are motivated to think of danger as an emergent category that merits attention in its own right, how it motivates cultural acts, shapes identities and travels cross-culturally as a culturally-meaningful category. While we acknowledge the scholarship on risk, we seek to move in a different direction where we interrogate the basis of how people and societies organize the world around them in zones of safety and danger, and the many permutations in between.

Somatosphere, Due 8 March 2013

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