Category: "University / Academia"
Academic paywalls: No access to knowledge. Photo: noboder network, flickr
30 US Dollars in order to read a single academic article? Why? Is it about making money? No. “The high price is designed to maintain the barrier between academia and the outside world. Paywalls codify and commodify tacit elitism”, writes anthropologist Sarah Kendzior in Al Jazeera.
She gives a good overview of some important issues that restrict the circulation of knowledge. Most academic articles are hidden behind paywalls. People without affiliation to a well-off university that can afford to subscribe to (often overpriced) journals are denied access.
Many researchers would like the public to engage with knowledge, she writes. But many are not able to pursue that goal “due to the tyranny of academic publishers and professional norms that encourage obsequiousness and exclusion”.
In todays’s academic world, academic publishing is not about sharing knowledge:
Publishing is a strategic enterprise. It is less about the production of knowledge than where that knowledge will be held (or withheld) and what effect that has on the author’s career. New professors are awarded tenure based on their publication output, but not on the impact of their research on the world. (…)
One of the saddest moments I had in graduate school was when a professor advised me on when to publish. “You have to space out your articles by when it will benefit you professionally,” he said, when I told him I wanted to get my research out as soon as possible. “Don’t use up all your ideas before you’re on the tenure track.”
This confused me. Was I supposed to have a finite number of ideas? Was it my professional obligation to withhold them?What I did not understand is that academic publishing is not about sharing ideas. It is about removing oneself from public scrutiny while scrambling for professional security. It is about making work “count” with the few while sequestering it from the many.
Sarah Kendzior is a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera and other media. She has received lots of attention for her articles, among others about the elitist American academia and academics with salary below the poverty line (The closing of American academia) and The fallacy of the phrase, ‘the Muslim world’ where she explains why is time to retire the phrase “the Muslim world” from the Western media.
On her blog she keeps us up to date with her new publications and the reactions she has received.
She has recently received her PhD from Washington University in St Louis. The title of her thesis The Uzbek Opposition in Exile: Diaspora and Dissident Politics in the Digital Age.
“At the age of 18, why do I want to settle down and commit myself to Medicine when I can really investigate for example why there are health differences between the different classes and areas in Britain?”
Teenthropologist is the name of a new anthropology blog, written maybe by the youngest anthro-blogger around. She is 19, from Durham University in Britain. In her opening post she explains why she chose to study anthropology instead of medicine (or before studying medicine sometime later as anthropology provides useful perspectives for doctors).
Interestingly, she also asks “How on earth had we never been told of this course [anthropology] at school before? And why were so few people doing it?”
A very promising blog, I think, with so far two more posts: Train Journey – Class, Caste, Kinship…anthropological heaven? and a review of In Search of Respect (one of my favorite ethnographies…).
I also like the way she defines anthropology in her about page. She does not use the standard and somehow outdated views about anthropology = dealing with “understanding foreign cultures”. Instead, she uses Gillan Tett’s work about the financial crisis and her own study about teenage girls shopping to explain what anthropology is about.
PS: I’m going to update the anthropology blog newspaper at http://www.antropologi.info/blog/ soon. Currently, the overview over new anthropology blog posts at http://www.antropologi.info/feeds/anthropology/ is more up to date
The need for more spectacle in academic presentations: What anthropologists can learn from wrestlers
Now, only a few days before the largest gathering of anthropologists in the world, it’s time to take up again the banner of the well-prepared, well-written, well-presented conference paper, writes Rex in his post Defending the form at Savage Minds .
In the following text, antropologi.info contributor Tereza Kuldova and Jan Martin Kvile explain why we need more spectacle in academic presentations:
Wrestling With Others for Self for Others: on the Need of Spectacle in Academic Presentations
Tereza Kuldova & Jan Martin Kvile
PhD Fellow in Social Anthropology at Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo & The Ultimate Math Teacher, Holmen High School
Have you been recently at a conference? How many people could you count dozing off at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the presentations? Or maybe, you too were dozing off, unable to even count your fellow colleagues who shared that miserable state of existence at an utterly boring presentation…
Or, maybe, you are one of those who really try to give people a chance and engage with their ideas, but you are on a verge of becoming disinterested in even the most spectacular and thought provoking subjects just because the presentations kill it? Or maybe you are the presenter who makes people doze off? In that case, you need to learn something from wrestlers.
So here we are, at yet another anthropological conference. We, anthropologists, write about incredibly interesting, exciting things in the world, cultures, myths, religions, hierarchies, imaginations from all corners of the world. Yet, when you come to an anthropological conference, with some exceptions that merely confirm the rule, you will see a room full of people with almost disinterested expressions on their faces - these are possibly intended to signify the seriousness and depth (oh yeah, the anthropological obsession with ‘depth’) of their intellectual endeavor (however, it is enough to wait for the dinner and a little wine and, before you know it, you are listening to stories from the very same people’s bedrooms /possibly a way how to get ‘deeply’ familiar with each other/).
Better to get back to the conference room now. So they have a script and a plan. Each gets 20 minutes to present a paper. For some reason very few understand the simple concept of 20 minutes (yet all of them seem to be heavy users of watches) and for some even more miraculous reason most do really believe that presenting equals reading. Some basic arithmetic would make this clear immediately, if 2=2 and an apple is an apple, then presenting and reading can hardly be equal. These are namely two very different concepts.
Reading ≠ Presenting
Reading means comprehending and understanding the written word, deciphering its meaning and interpreting it while engaging with the text and its ideas. It is a relation between the reader and the text, a private and intimate relation too. Reading paper out loud disrupts this. It intends to invite the listener in, yet at the same time it never really succeeds, and by the very nature of this awkward relationship it cannot. Reading out loud does not invite the listener into a dialogue, the listener is not part of that exclusive bond between the reader and the text, and is rather ambivalently included and dis-included at the same time.
Presentation on the other hand stands for performance, act, demonstration, display, exposition, giving. Reading a paper out loud is hardly a performance (if it is, then it must be a really bad one), it is not a demonstration, not an exposition, not a show that invites participation.
And so we are sitting in the conference room, another speaker is being introduced. Interesting topic, the title sounds amazing. We sit back on our chairs and wake up a little. Then the word goes to the speaker himself.
First thing that he says, “eergh, I was rushing to the airport yesterday, was a bit delayed and had to catch the flight, so it happened I forgot my USB somewhere, still have not figured out where and with it the presentation, and it is not even in my laptop or on my email, so I am left without it, but I will really try to make up for that, I promise” (‘so you promise, eh’, we think to ourselves).
And he goes on (as if this was not already enough), “my paper is a little longer, so maybe I talk into the discussion time, but that is fine I guess, it is important” (we are beginning to sense frustration, which is the first stage of dozing off later on). So he sits down (‘oh no, not one of those again’, crosses our minds), and puts his paper right in front of his face and starts reading, as if reading for himself, no intonation, no enthusiasm.
We try really hard to follow with the fast flow of unintelligibly long sentences, five minutes into the reading we lose it, look out of the window and watch the birds outside, think of our lovers or our deadlines, suddenly our minds re-enter the room and we try to re-focus. Impossible, we lost it. This ‘reader’ does not know what highlights and repetition are, we are done and our imagination flies back to our lovers (or deadlines). Thirty minutes into the talk we start wondering, wasn’t he supposed to be finished by now, hell, what’s the time.
Around the 35th minute the speaker starts blabbering something about finishing off soon, we sharpen our ears, we get one sentence. We match it fast with the title of the paper, get the picture of what was probably going on and then we manage to formulate few relevant questions. Then one of us says, “thank you for the very exciting and stimulating lecture” (though the only thing that in reality really excited and stimulated us was probably the thought of our lovers) and add, “I have one little remark…”.
And so we go on with the theatre.
After the speaker is done the others start coming to him, “very good presentation, you have some nice points, see you at the dinner”. Do you want to know what they really think? “It sucked and I am definitely not going to read your paper, but I am going to pretend I will”.
Good reasons for that, the moment our speaker stepped in on the stage and wasted five minutes on diminishing himself giving us a story of lost USB, he was doomed to fail. The moment he started reading while hiding himself behind the paper, he confirmed that. The moment he went over his time, he showed he does not care for others. Yes, it is disrespectful. And yes, it shows your disinterest in discussion. Creating engaging dialogue should be the aim, yet, instead you fear, fear the questions. Grow up, the questions are there for you, through engaging with others’ reflections you will emerge as a transformed person! Stop fearing what others have to say! Embrace it instead.
‘Argument is war’ is one of the famous metaphors we live by (Lakoff and Johnson 2003). It is through dialogue and juxtaposition of different voices that meaning emerges (Bakhtin 2004). In knowledge, disruption is the goal! If dialogue ends, everything ends, as Bakhtin says. What is the ultimate spectacle of violent conflict, the ultimate metaphor of an argument? Wrestling! Yes, we should learn from wrestling and that too on more than one level!
Can We Academics Learn Something from Wrestling?
A wrestler is charismatic, has a stage presence, he is there to please the audience and that is how his success is determined. His performance is designed to create desired effects. He is a “a self-promotional device to draw the crowds and build reputation that would precede his entrance in the town” (Mazer 1998: 24) – not unlike an academic in this respect. Now don’t you want to be more like that? And less like the one who makes the audience doze off?
Did you know that young wrestlers have only twenty minutes in the program of the day to impress the audiences and create ‘heat’? Well, they happen to stick to the time. And most of them create considerable amounts of ‘heat’. Now next time you go out there, think about your audience first and about yourself as a wrestler! You want your audiences’ brains to heat up! You want them to focus their attention on you and what you have to say! Talk briefly but with impact, like a wrestler – Bang! Get your point across – Bang!
You have been researching for ages and you know your stuff, so how come you have to read it (that is just suspicious by the way)? Talk to your audiences, get them engaged in your ideas and thoughts, and create a dialogue instead of killing it. Maybe you are the enemy of yourself in this staged performance that we call ‘presenting a paper’.
Our whole endeavor in anthropology is like wrestling. We wrestle with others and their ideas, for ourselves and for others and when it comes to presenting we have to wrestle with ourselves for others, for the audience. Show the world the power of your ideas, be bold, talk loud and rehearse your stage performance, give us the spectacle! We want to remember what you say and we want to get interested in what it is you do. Get me interested and I read your work, those 20 minutes, those are a teaser, a commercial, an advertisement. So start writing down your punch lines (it is not a coincidence it is called a punch line, come alive wrestler!).
Now to the more profound importance of ‘wrestling’, Roland Barthes once said that “wrestling is a sum of spectacles, of which no single one is a function: each moment imposes the total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone, without ever extending to the crowning moment of a result” (Barthes 1993).
Maybe, we should like a wrestler turn our presentations into a sequence of little spectacles, open these up with a puzzle, engaging paradox or ambiguity. Maybe the inevitable ambiguity of the worlds we research and try to describe and thus the ambiguous nature of our findings should be understood as a productive force. The world is dirty and fuzzy; full of artificial categories we create to grasp this fuzziness and mess. Oh yes, and to top it, we create other categories intended to describe these ambiguous cases, such as hybridity and creolization.
We should get rid of those statements beginning with “I argue that” or “I conclude that” (note that wrestling is not about winning, it is about the process) and maybe we should instead open possibilities and let ambiguous voices speak. We are dealing with dialogical materials we are in dialogue with, how can the product be anything else than an invitation into that dialogue, a dialogue that is a part of the ongoing dialogue of humanity?
Maybe loose ends should never be really tied up, never really resolved for the sake of further dialogue and for the sake of knowledge, which itself is only a sort of metadialogue. Words are power and they can carve us versus them very easily, they objectify and transform what is fluid into something static. Categories thrive on pollution and love for purity. The more pollution the stronger the desire for purity (Douglas 2002).
But can it be that tidying all dirt is not such a good idea? Maybe we need to deal with garbage and dirt differently (Eriksen 2011). This struggle for perfect labels and neat categories is no more than an act of violence against life that is an unending and ambiguous dance of merger and division (Anton 2001). If that is so, the question is, could we think of hypocrisy and wrestling as a virtue?
Anton, C. 2001. Selfhood and authenticity. State University of New York Press.
Bakhtin, M. M. 2004. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Barthes, R. 1993. Mythologies. London: Vintage.
Douglas, M. 2002. Purity and danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. Routledge.
Eriksen, T. H. 2011. Søppel: avfall i en verden av bivirkninger. Oslo: Aschehoug.
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. 2003. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mazer, S. 1998. Professional wrestling: sport and spectacle. University Press of Mississippi.
Sources of original images: unknown
Antropologi.info contributor Aleksandra Bartoszko has recently met medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes. In an interview in three parts, she talks with her about the neo-cannibalism of the global organ trade, about her forthcoming book, an anthropological detective story, and about new ways of doing fieldwork in a world where local communities are more influenced by what goes on outside of it than what’s going inside of it.
Interview with Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Part One
By Aleksandra Bartoszko, Oslo University Hospital, Equality and Diversity Unit
Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) focuses on the power relations within health context and political economy of health and health care. It asks why so many people die when there is a cure? Why will I live 20 years longer than my friend from Nicaragua? How do global pharmaceutical markets exclude poor populations? Which body is more worth to be saved? Who decide if you have access to necessary care? What are human rights in every day life, in practice, not on paper?
Critical anthropologists seem to unanimously agree and point out the significant role of neoliberal politics in the construction of inequalities in society. A lot of CMA-writing end up as harsh (and unfortunately often uncritical) critique of “neoliberalism” and “capitalism”.
Reading, listening and talking to critical anthropologists has always left me with a feeling that this part of our discipline is dominated by one political view (which is never good) and every researcher focusing on inequalities is a leftist. Reasons for that can be discussed, but this unwritten agreement has been troubling me for years
I was always wondering if people who grounded CMA think it is possible to do CMA without being a leftist. I asked Nancy Scheper-Hughes. She replied:
Nancy Scheper-Hughes. Photo: UC Berkeley
– Well, that’s a great question, I mean we can always be critical in the scholarly sense, obviously, which can mean critical theory as produced by the Frankfurt school, the new left, Marxists, Neo-Marxists, Gramsci, anarchist socialist, or whatever, but I think that in the anthropological sense critical means essentially realizing your positionality, understanding power relations as outsider looking or as an insider looking out. It means taking these radical juxtapositions of making the familiar strange and making the strange familiar. I think all of that is radical critical without necessary being leftist. These definitions of left and right are not so useful. I simply say, often to raised eyebrows, that I am radical. Take it or leave it.
– Paul Rabinow once said to me, he always plays devil’s advocate, and once he said when he taught about public anthropology: “Well, then, what is private anthropology?” My answer is that private anthropology is anthropology written for 50 people who understand what you are talking about and excludes everybody else.
– So I feel that there is a place for that, there is a time, and where it’s absolutely necessary to speak in an encoded language – it’s a form of shorthand, just like the physicists do or mathematicians do. The audience will be small and a closed circuit one. It would be critical, but private, undemocratic because so many are excluded from participating in the conversation.
– But public anthropology doesn’t only mean making things more readily available to the layman, let’s say. To me it means like making things public that are private. Making invisible things into public issues, making visible secrets that empower some and disempower others who are not privy to the information.
– So I think that part of being a critical anthropologist is getting to the underside of things, the dimensions of social and political life that people cannot ordinarily see. In the end, I see the critical anthropologist, medical or cultural, as necessarily alienated, as politically situated class traitors, race traitors, national traitors and gender traitors. But lets leave that for another discussion.
Egyptian sociologist Mona Abaza has written an interesting article about “growing inequalities” between researchers from the Middle East and the West.
“While the Arab Spring has enhanced global interest in the Arab world, local academics have often been reduced to service providers for Western ”experts“ who jet in and jet out”, she writes in the Egyptian news site Ahram Online.
Many belonging to our scientific community have recently felt somehow “misused” through being overwhelmed by Western tourist-revolutionary academics in search of “authentic” Tahrir revolutionaries, needing “service providers” for research assistants, for translating, and newspaper summaries, for first hand testimonies, and time and again as providers of experts and young representatives for forthcoming abounding conferences on the Arab Spring in the West.
These Western experts “typically make out of no more than a week’s stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge":
Many overnight Middle East experts show a remarkable tendency to pursue sensational and market-driven topics and readily switch interest as the market forces fluctuate. One day they are self-proclaimed experts on “political Islam” or “Islam and gender” and another, they are authority on “the Arab Spring” and “pro-democracy revolutions”. This superficial and business-oriented handling of crucial developments and changes in the area affects how the peoples of the region are perceived and how policies are shaped in the West.
She adds that “there is nothing wrong with providing services, had the relationship been equal, which was unfortunately never the case":
Without sounding xenophobic, which is a growing concern that personally worries me more than ever, there is much to say about the ongoing international academic division of labour whereby the divide between the so called “theoreticians” of the North and the “informants” who are also “objects of study” in the South continues to grow.
There’s still a lot of orientalism in sociological textbooks as Malaysian sociologist S Farid Alatas pointed out, Abaza stresses:
Namely, that European thinkers remain pervasively as the “knowing subjects” whereas non-Europeans continue to be the “objects of observations and analyses of European theorists”.
Unless these issues are not brought up on the table of research agendas I am afraid that much will be said in the name of the revolution while perpetrating the same inequalities and Orientalist attitudes that are mostly felt in the job market, and in evaluating “whose knowledge counts more” in academe.
PS: “Service providers” is a term she borrowed from her colleague, political scientist Emad Shahin
UPDATE: Interesting comment by a reader at Ahram Online:
Thank you Mona Abaza for having the courage to speak on behalf of local academics like yourself and journalists as well who are expected to offer their insight, information, years of hard work with the western tsunami that’s bombarding them (us). I’m personally sick and tired of having to do their homework for them. Where where they before the revolution and why do I have to give them my ideas?
Her article about this dubious academic tourism was also published in the magazine Jadaliyya. A Egyptian-American researcher writes she has “mixed feelings about this article” and notes among others:
Judith Orr, a British leftist academic said earlier this year that the Egy revolution is a monumental historic event that will be studied for generations. So whatever difficulties in the relationship with Western academics exist, they will need to be worked out somehow. Or maybe not.
UPDATE 2 (30.9.11): “The frustrations expressed by Mona Abaza and her colleagues in Egypt are also shared by a good number of scholars from the region who currently live and teach in Western universities” according to a commenter on Ahram Online
Great comment by Kevin at the Arabist blog. Kevin, a “(white) PhD candidate in History at the University of Michigan working on modern Iraq, suggests the following to American/European academics working on the Middle East:
(1) Reject the practice of organizing your bibliography around the three categories of archival sources, Arabic/Persian/Turkish sources, and secondary sources in European languages. Arabic sources should not all be lumped together - the primary sources of Arab ’subjects’ should be listed alongside those of European subjects and the secondary/theoretical writing of Arabs should be listed alongside that of Europeans and Americans, not in its own special category.
(2) Take Arabs seriously as not only ‘informants’ but also ‘theoreticians.’ As Chakrabarty said, Indians feel compelled to site the authority of Western theorists (Marx, Gramsci, etc.) while Westerners writing on India never feel the need to site Indians AS theorists. For my part, I’ve learned a great deal by seriously reading the work of Iraqi historians and thinking about what their insights can add to the historiography in English and French. (I’ve been particularly struck by the significance of poetry as an historical source and the poet as an historical agent - something totally elided by white men and women.)
Another commenter linked to a text on academic freeloaders that was posted on the Arabist blog four years ago.
What expertise I have was won by extended research in the country over time–but I’ve not been back since 2010. Yet because my book (set in pre-revolution times) just came out, and because I maintain a blog in which I speculate on what’s going on in Egypt, the media contacts me and asks me to pontificate as an expert. It’s one thing when it’s local news media–many companies are trying to survive by “localizing” even the international news–but just this week I was contacted by a European journalist stationed IN CAIRO calling me to speak as an “expert.” I did redirect her to AUC [American University in Cairo] and to a colleague at Cairo University, but clearly many in the media privileges our academic affiliations in North America above people with greater immediate expertise in the region.’
UPDATE 4 (3.10.11): David Judson comments on Abaza from a Turkish journalism perspective in the Hürriyet Daily News: Citing the sightseers ogling the Arab Spring
Similar points about inequalities can be made about anthropology. As Brazilian antropologist Gustavo Lins Ribeiro pointed out six years ago:
Globalisation in anthropology has mirrored unequal relations existing within larger structural processes. Theory, for instance, has flown from metropolitan centers to non-metropolitan centers while the flow of “raw data” makes the opposite movement.
In order to trancend ethnocentrism and orientalism, he and several others edited the the book World Anthropologies. Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power .
Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi discusses similar questions in his book Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.
Michael Wesch and his Digital Ethnography Research Team of 2011 has released Visions of Students Today: an exciting “video collage” about student life created by students themselves.
The collage consists of a large number of vidoes that can be watched seperately by clicking directly on the thumbnails (or on YouTube). Each of the students has been working for months to put together their own vision.
Striking: Several students criticize the current education system… (here the video by Derek Schneweis)
and call for a change (video by Haley Marceau)
One of the aims of the project is to enhance the students and the public’s media literacy in the digital age and to prevent that “many of the basic freedoms we have become accustomed to” as for example net neutrality", sharing and mixing (…) may be stripped away without the public even noticing".
What’s the point of science when the public lacks access to it and researchers hide in their ivory towers? The internet provides new ways for researchers and the public to exchange knowledge. How do antropologists make use of blogging, Facebook, YouTube and new modes of publishing, for example Open Access journals?
Sharing Knowledge: How the Internet is Fueling Change in Anthropology is the title of Owen Wiltshire’s master’s thesis in anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal.
“Plans to study anthropological online communities and Open Access movement”, I wrote three years ago, when I first heard about his project. A few weeks ago, he’s defended his thesis. So, here’s a short email interview with him.
– How was the thesis defense? What kind of reactions did you get?
The history of anthropology section was meant to reveal that anthropologists have reasons for increased collaboration with non-anthropologists, reasons to engage with public audiences, reasons to give people outside academia a place to respond to what anthropologists write.
Unfortunately, the way I did this led some people to think I was attacking them and their profession.
– Why did you choose to study your own discipline online instead of studying mobile phone use in Papua New Guinea or immigrants in Toronto?
– I saw open access publishing and new online publishing options as being important new developments that might contribute to “decolonizing” the creation and dissemination of anthropological work.
– So how is internet fueling change in Anthropology? Can you give us 3 examples?
– The desire for changes in anthropology that I discuss had been occurring well before the Internet became popular. But the Internet, of course, is a revolutionary technology that allows anthropologists to target all sorts of different audiences in new ways.
The main points of change I addressed were:
1. Open Access (OA) publishing is helping researchers disseminate work that might normally remain geographically bound due to the costs to access it.
As Max Forte pointed out, most OA journals in anthropology come from what would be the periphery of anthropological publishing. This is interesting when we see that that academic publishing, at least in terms of the American Anthropological Association, continues to be very geographically centered, even ethnocentric to a degree.
Open Access journals are a way for international scholars to make their work accessible to researchers abroad. OA might help scholars in places like Brazil have their work recognized in North America. Of course language divides remain.
2. Blogging and other ways of creating publicly accessible, archived, discussions are an awesome way to develop ideas throughout and after the research process!
It really opens the door for anyone to participate, to react, and to help guide research through feedback (however nasty it might be). It helps make writing research reports a more iterative process, where researchers can bounce ideas off each other and other audiences, prior to publishing.
For anthropologists who have been criticized for misrepresenting communities (as I have with anthropology!) it makes sense to work in as much discussion like this as possible. I tried to show how this could occur by incorporating blog responses into the thesis. Where I may have been wrong about anthropology as a whole (you can make that decision yourself), I think my biases are balanced out to a degree by the included responses.
3. Welcome the uncensored, unreviewed voice of the anthropology students.
I think we can be a pain in the ass, but I can’t imagine going through the program without reading so many other blogs by people going through the same thing in different institutions.
– Anthropologist have been described as “the last primitive tribe on earth”: They hide in their ivory towers and look with suspicion upon new technologies like the internet. Does your research challenge this assumption?
– I made this argument in my thesis, and its true to a degree, but I take it more as a argumentative point. Anthropologists and other academics are making use of the internet and just about every new tool that comes their way.
The point I make in my thesis is that the ivory tower remains even when we use these tools in public.
I used the distinction which had been developed in discussion with a number of anthros, including some people at Savage Minds, and Max Forte, and Erkan Saka, of there being “anthropology in public” and “public anthropology”.
Even if you write about anthropology in public, it doesn’t mean you are addressing interests outside the ivory tower. That is where public anthropology comes in, where anthropologists address issues outside the ivory tower. When they do this however, it is a challenge to identify what makes the work academic. Michael Wesch’s youtube videos are a great example of this that I discussed very briefly in the thesis.
– Why are some anthropologists interested in sharing and open access, while others are not?
– Some see the discipline of anthropology as being an expert and professional society. They want to share their work with other anthropologists who have the same interests and concerns as themselves. Feedback from random Youtube users, or even people in other disciplines, isn’t very valuable to them. The feedback they can get through peer review in professional anthropology journals is exactly what they want, as is the recognition.
Also, I don’t think every researcher agrees that expensive academic journals fail to disseminate work. They only want to share their work with a select audience, and don’t see the point in making it available free online. In the end they disagree that free access would improve the impact of their work (it comes down to who they are trying to impact).
– What are in your view the main barriers to open access publishing?
– Some professors encourage students to look at select journals, and they don’t consider the Open Access journals that are out there. If researchers only use Jstor and Anthrosource to find material, they are missing out on a lot of what is being discussed – yet this is standard practice and considered to be acceptable.
Is it a researchers responsibility to make themselves aware of everything that’s being published out there? Or is that unreasonable? The increasing number of journals around the world make it quite difficult to do a complete literature review! If we can’t funnel it down to a select number of publications, it is impossible to ask researchers to keep up to date. But if OA journals are ignored, many researchers may never realize how beneficial it is to be able to openly link to, discuss, and talk about publications online.
– But you stress that OA Publishing does not necessarily lead to a more public anthropology?
– Yes, OA publishing is just about making anthropological research more accessible to its desired audience. It doesn’t mean anthropologists are writing with the intention that public audiences interact with it, or that it be relevant to public interests. Also, if you look at OA repositories, theres still no effort being made to host responses, so we can’t say that OA is an attempt to get more feedback.
– Do you think we need a more public anthropology? OA Publishing is not enough?
– I think it’s easy to adapt anthropology and research to public contexts, but at that point it ceases to be anthropology as we know it. I would have loved to come out of my masters degree program with more experience producing video, and documentary-like productions. Maybe I should have studied communications. Speaking of which, my roommate studies Communications, and we shared many of the same readings. Finally, as I develop in the thesis, theres nothing inherently good about public engagement – take a look at the Human Terrain Teams for example.
– You’ve done your fieldwork mainly online. An interesting experience?
– Yes. I think the blog experiment worked out rather well, showing that the blog can be used to solicit feedback throughout the research process and not just as a way of disseminating/publishing ideas.
– The most interesting thing you have learned?
– It is really easy to piss people off when you critique anthropology.
– What are the implications of your research?
– Feedback is important, and sharing ideas openly online is a great way to solicit that feedback!
– Final words to the readers in front of the screen?
– Job wanted.
Why does anthropology tend to focus on “exotic others"? Why this obsession with Africa? How come calls by well-known anthropologists such as Paul Rabinow to “anthropologize the West seemed to have not brought forth much fruit? How racist is American anthropology?
Kenyan anthropologist Mwenda Ntarangwi discusses those and other questions in his new book Reversed Gaze. An African Ethnography of American Anthropology.
Yes, Ntarangwi has conducted an anthropological study of American anthropology! An important undertaking. He has studied textbooks, ethnographies, coursework, professional meetings, and feedback from colleagues and mentors. He “reverses the gaze", he stresses: Whereas Western anthropologists often study non-Western cultures, he studies “the Western culture of anthropology".
He is especially interested in “the cultural and racial biases that shape anthropological study in general".
In the preface and introduction he writes:
If anthropology truly begins at home as Malinowski states, how come, as I had thus far observed, anthropology tended to focus on the “exotic"? How come only a small percentage of fieldwork and scholarship by Western anthropologists focused on their own cultures, and when they did it was among individuals and communities on the peripheries, their own “exotics” such as those in extreme poverty, in gangs, ad others outside mainstream culture? (…)
This book is a personal journey into the heart of anthropology; representing my own pathways as an African student entering American higher education in the early 1990s that I knew very little about. It is a story about my initial entry into an American academic space very different from my own experience in Kenya, where we followed a British system of education.
It is also a story hemmed within a specific discourse and views about anthropology that can be best represented by remarks from fellow graduate students who wondered what i was doing in a “racist” discipline. (…) Troubled by this label, I consciously embarked on a journey to find more about the discipline.
He critiques dominant tenets of reflexivity, where issues of representation in his opinion are reduced to anthropologists’ writing style, methodological assumptions, and fieldwork locations. Inherent power differences that make it easier for anthropologists to study other people ("studying down") than to study themselves ("studying up") are rendered invisible.
Ntarangwi seeks to contribute to the process of “liberating the discipline from the constraints of its colonial legacy and post- or neocolonial predicament". As long as the bulk of anthropological scholarship comes from Europe and North America and focuses on studying other cultures than their own, the power differentials attendant in anthropology today will endure.
I have just starting to read and took among others a short look at the chapter about the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA).
“I believe it is at the AAA meetings that the anthropological ritual of what we do as anthropologists is best performed", he writes:
Just as America has become an economic and political empire, American anthropology has consolidated a lot of power and in the process has peripheralized other anthropologies, forcing them either to respond to its whims and hegemony or to lose their international presence and appeal. The American Anthropological Association (AAA), I argue, is an important cultural phenomenon that begs for an ethnographic analysis.
It was in 2002, four years after his graduation that Mwenda Ntarangwi attended his first AAA-meeting. It was held in New Orleans. Already at the airport, he realises it is easy to spot anthropologists:
They were dressed casually, many were reading papers, and majority wore some exotic piece of jewelry or clothing that symbolized their field site - either a bracelet from Mexico (…), a necklace from a community in Africa, a tie-dyed shirt, or a multicolored scarf.
His observations from the different sessions he attended remind me of my own impressions: “Conference papers were written to make the presenters sound more profound rather than to communicate ideas", he writes.
But there were interesting panels as well, among others about “marginalization and exclusion of certain scholars and scholarship on the basis of their race". There were, he writes, “discussions of how Haitian anthropologists challenged the notion of race but were never “knighted", as was Franz Boas, simply because they were Black".
He also attended sessions where the speakers were using data collected ten or twenty years before and yet were speaking of the locals as if representing contemporary practices.
Ntarangwi went to the 2007 annual meeting as well. He was very much interested in seeing how well the meeting itself reflected in its theme “Inclusion, Collaboration, and Engagement.”
I’ll write about it next time. I’ll take the book with me on my short trip to Portugal. I’m leaving tomorrow.