Category: "University / Academia"
Generally, anthropologists support social justice, but in their own department, they fire colleagues like David Graeber who publicly supported graduate students' right to form a union. "In increasingly corporate universities, the gap between one's scholarship and one's university politics is increasing", Nazima Kadir writes in a commentary in Anthropology News November (not online, for AAA-members access via AnthroSource).
The non-renewal of David Graeber's contract, she writes, has received widespread attention as a sign of the conflict between ideology and engaged practice. But, she continues, it is rarely viewed in the context of union-busting. An avowed anarchist, Graeber publicly supported graduate students' right to form a union. When the director of graduate studies attempted to expel an organizer, Graeber was the only faculty on her committee to defend her.
Weeks later, senior faculty voted against renewing Graeber's contract, demonstrating with clarity the consequences for faculty who break ranks to support the union, Kadir writes.
More anti-union activities included another attempt to expel an organizer; the firing of David Graeber for defending this student; a series of aggressive emails sent by an anti-union faculty member to her; and the director of graduate students threatening to void the qualifying exams of several third-year students (all union activists).
Taken together, the administration and faculty's actions constituted a pattern of systemic, organized abuse and created a fearful, anti-intellectual climate.
Following Yale's lead, during the joint Yale/Columbia strike in 2005, Columbia's provost (a noted labor historian) advised faculty to withhold grants and teaching fellowships from strikers. His memo was leaked and published in The Nation.
Background: In 2004, the Bush-appointed National Labor Review Board (NLRB ) reversed the Clinton-appointed board's decision of 2000, which recognized graduate students' right to organize at private universities. Current decisions "reflect the current administration's anti-labor polices". At public universities, it's a non-issue, she clarifies: Berkeley and the University of Michigan have recognized their graduate student unions for decades.
For Union membership is a democratic right:
I've began organizing for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization when I realised the academy was in crisis. With 40% of all teaching being conducted by adjuncts, it is clear that the "casualization" of academic labor is not the future but the present. If I want to have job security, health benefits, gender equality and anything as banal as pregnancy leave, I have to fight for it as a graduate student before even considering having it as an adjunct.
I refuse to accept that Walmart's management principles should also run a university setting. While Yale demonstrates another vision, I am encouraged by the efforts of the graduate students who organize to make the academy into a forum for democratic possibilities, and not corporate interests.
For those of you without access to Anthropology News, Nazima Kadir mentions most of her points in her paper The Challenges of Organizing Academic Labor (pdf)
The website of the graduate employees and students' union is quite informative, see among others their reports.
(via Erkan's Field Diary) "The American Anthropological Association (AAA) is starting to remind me of the recording industry and their rearguard actions against file-sharing and online dissemination in general", Eric Kansa from Digging Digitally comments on a recent AAA-decision against open access anthropology.
After the AnthroSource Steering Committee has issued a public statement in support of open access to research articles on the internet, the commitee has been officially disbanded by the AAA according to Alex Golub at Savage Minds.
Eric Kansa writes:
This speaks volumes about how beholden this organization is toward failing and outmoded publication business models, models that hurt AAA members, universities, libraries, students, faculty, groups with limited financial resources, and the public.
Trying to horde anthropological research seems self-defeating. It seems that anthropology should do more to attract more people to its research. FRPAA, which would require government funded archives of paper drafts accepted for publication, would be a great way for anthropology to become better known to a larger community.
By opposing FRPAA, the AAA is also working against the dissemination of vital knowledge in other disciplines that directly impact health, conservation, and economic development. That makes this whole affair sordid, ironic, and even somewhat tragic, especially for a discipline that positions itself in advocacy on behalf of marginalized peoples and communities.
Changing the AAA, he writes, is going to require some grassroots organizing. He welcomes therefore the initiative by anthropological bloggers who want to discuss ways to push forward an Open Access agenda at the AAA meeting in San Jose.
The Anthropologists - Last primitive tribe on earth? (Take a look at indigineuos people’s use of online communication as a mean of resistance and raising awareness.)
"For those of us whose prime focus is advancing human knowledge, megaconferences are a waste of time and money." Don Moody agrees, but also criticizes my article in Anthropology Today august 2006 about weak presentations at the conference "Anthropology and Cosmopolitanism" at Keele University (UK).
The published article is a heavily edited version of my blog entry What's the point of anthropology conferences? and draws also on How To Present A Paper - - or Can Anthropologists Talk?.
Your piece in AT is rightly harsh about some speakers at the ASA conference, but quite wrong in targeting Brits and anthropology in particular. I have been to conferences on subjects as diverse as anthropology, chemistry, printing and safety in the UK, Europe and further afield. The utterly boring droning reader can be found at all of them. It only happens when there is a weak chairman.
The cure is a strong chairman and a system of lights. One minute before the presentation is due to end a yellow light is switched on by the chairman. On the dot a red light comes on and all projectors and microphone are switched off. Then the chairman announces there is X minutes for discussion and asks for the first question. As the questioner stands up he is handed a roving mike if the auditorium is large and that and the platform mike are then switched on.
Some self-important twit will attempt to override the system, The chairman simply switches off all media and declares the session at an end. Will everyone please vacate the stage. The twit disappears never to be seen again at a conference. Yes it is rough and yes it can destroy reputations. So what? The boring reader who over-runs is self-confessedly incompetent at his trade, impolite, inconsiderate of the value of the time of others, and doesn't give a damn what organisation of a complex conference is screwed up. Does one want such a person to appear again, however important he thinks he is? The short answer is NO!
So what you described was actually weak chairmanship and lack of organisational preparation. If those two doors are left open, the droners will walk through. Any subject. Any time. Any where.
But nevertheless, I asked him, reading one's paper seems to be a tradition in Britain - it's something that you're expected to do?
He replied that this a modern development and is related to specialisation and economisation: Earlier, when our compartmentalised subject divisions did not exist, one individual put forward a thesis, and all present debated it and - if they could - tore it to shreds. Gradually this got supplanted by the multiple papers rushed through with insufficient time for deep discussion and analysis. According to Don Moody, there were two drivers:
On was money. People do not get funded to go to conferences unless they are 'reading a paper' or at least and more recently, taking part in 'a poster session'. So there is enormous demand on conference organisers to produce more and more slots for people to qualify for funding.
The second driver is a combination of idleness and a lack of time because so much time is taken up with committees and admin in general. Belting through a boring script without deviation is the least possible effort. It also gives the funders (and their lawyers) opportunity to put favourable slants in the paper and avoid any possible legal contention.
He then compares a conference where "we were there for the sheer love and excitement of it" (no pre-written presentations!) to the ASA conference:
Now compare that to what you saw and heard at the ASA. As person after person droned through their script with insufficient time to take ideas to pieces in discussion, did any sparks fly? I doubt it. Did a gestalt form and take the subject one great leap forward? No. The megaconference at which dozens or hundreds of papers are read may have some other useful functions but does not contribute to major advance in its subject. For those of us whose prime focus is advancing human knowledge, megaconferences are a waste of time and money.
A local news story that might say something more general about why anthropology isn't more present in the news? The results of University research between April 1 and June 30 show high school athletes often get 4 to 8 times the media coverage of an academic all-star, Minnesota Daily reports.
"We're not ignoring good stories; we're not being told good stories," Maureen McCarthy, Star Tribune education leader, said. "It's unrealistic to expect two reporters to know what is going on in all area high schools."
Why haven't there been such blog posts about the recent EASA-conference (European Association of Social Anthropologists)? Anthropologist Grant McCracken has presented a paper at the EPIC-conference (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) and written three blog posts, among others about his presentation (and the usefulness of ethnography):
In my presentation on Monday at EPIC 2006, I proposed that we might want to take advantage of the "extra data" effect. Ethnography is often most useful when we don't know what we need to know. The method is good at casting the net wide. We ask lots of questions. Collect lots of data. Apply lots of theory and interpretation. Eventually, we begin to see what it is we need to see. At the end of this process we find ourselves in possession of a lot of data we cannot use. This "extra data" is an opportunity.
The theme [Europe and the World ]encourages us to consider the global dimensions of particular ethnographic encounters. The wider interconnections, the spread of ideas, the dynamic relationships and processes which shape the everyday activity of social life; these lie increasingly at the centre of our methodological and theoretical preoccupations as anthropologists. Mediated by individual, institutional, national developments of enormous complexity, this link between global interchange and local creativity deserves our systematic attention and analysis.
Around 1000 anthropologists from many countries in Europe (and other continents?) might have been there. I've searched the news and blogs but haven't find any information on what has gone on there.
I only found EASA-related posts on two blogs - on Erkan' Field diary (on lost luggage on his way home) and on Savage Minds (notes by Maia who is going to present a paper there). No newspaper has mentioned the largest European Anthropology conference about a topic that is in the news every day...
UPDATE: I've found this blog entry:
Things I learned at an anthropology conference in Bristol:
1) Apparently it is not important to say anything in conferences as long as you are talking.
2) There is nothing more depressing than a passionless tango. Especially when it is done to honor someone who has passed away. If I die, please do not ask to anorexic British anthropologists to dance the tango in honor of me. Or maybe do. It would be my last laugh as you would have to endure it and I wouldn't/
3) The surest way to not keep my attention for an hour long presentation is to begin with a paragraph overflowing with alliterations. You will think you are clever. I will not.
Workshop based organization and network meetings in the evenings seem to be productive. However, I could not escape from thinking that compare to AAA, EASA has a really long way to go. I wasnt't thrilled with any theoretical development. AAA seems to be heading what is the newest in the field. EASA is yet working on the organization and deciding for near future research strategy.
As many of us know, Yale anthropologist David Graeber has been fired for his anarchist activism. He's not the only one who was punished for leaving the academic ivory tower. More and more academics have started blogging, exposing their personal opinions to the world. The Yale Herald has an interesting story about "how profs' political advocacy outside academia can threaten their success within it":
The recent explosion of professors using their academic bully pulpits to expound on everything from federal sentencing law to the need for a Palestinian state raises questions of responsibility and consequence. Every year, more professors join the blogosphere, expanding into a medium that lets them write anything about anything and makes them advocates as well as teachers.
Mazin Qumsiyeh for example was hired by the Yale School of Medicine:
He had advocated locally and nationally for Palestinian rights under his title as a Yale professor. Five years later, he was looking for a new job.
Qumsiyeh is the editor of Qumsiyeh: A Human Rights Web.
Last year, Yale decided to woo Professor Juan Cole away from Michigan. Then it changed its mind:
The provost’s office refused to comment on the reasons for his rejection; Dr. Cole refused to comment on this story. But many eyes turned toward Cole’s blog as a factor in the decision, one that may have raised his profile and polarized opinion on his candidacy. On his site, “Informed Comment,” Cole has provided commentary on the news coming out of the Middle East since 2001.
And the popular anarchist anthropologist David Graeber was invited to give this year’s Malinowski lecture, an honor given only to the world’s most promising young anthropologists. His contract went up for renewal last year:
He had been a controversial figure, but now finds sleeping on couches in his friends’ New Haven apartments after giving up his lease.
When Graeber returned from a one-year sabbatical in 2002—having joined forces in the interim with anti-war and anti-globalization groups such as the Direct Action Network and Ya Basta — he said he found his welcome back much colder than his farewell. “I thought a ‘hello’ would have been reasonable,” he said. “All of the sudden, no one was talking to me.” He continued to be a prolific writer and researcher, but his future no longer looked so rosy.
Crossroads is the name of a new blog by anthropologist Fadjar I. Thufail, currently completing his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In an interview (from 2001), he tells us that Indonesian anthropologists continually attempt to link themselves to the non-academic world - and they succeed. When anthropologists in Indonesia are interviewed by newspapers, their comments are not squeezed into tiny sound bites, instead they are written up in long, detailed articles. Anthropologists often appear on television or on radio:
What makes anthropology as a discipline different than the discipline in the United States is that from the beginning, Indonesian anthropologists are supposed to be able to talk to the public and get involved in development practices.
The first anthropology department in Indonesia was established in 1957 and that was after the Indonesian independence when the people were eager to develop the country. Part of the institution of Indonesian anthropology is that the anthropologists were asked to contribute to development practices and that makes what in the U.S. called “applied anthropology” a part of Indonesian anthropology. There is no distinction like in the U.S.
He also explains the differences between "public anthropology" and "applied anthropology":
Public anthropology is supposed to involve in a critical position. It should be a reminder, no…not a reminder. It should involve engaging the public, but by criticizing projects or challenging the dominant paradigm.
To me, applied anthropology is not the same as public anthropology because they (applied anthropologists) do government development and journal writing etc. Applied anthropologists are just technicians or sponsors of the government and hence are not ‘public anthropologists’ because there is not a critical component to it.
In Indonesia, most of the anthropological scholars are engaged in such a critical function. (...) That is why lots of anthropologists in Indonesia are invited to various seminars, give public talks, probably invited to TV talk shows, or interviewed by newspaper journalists.
So, basically, in Indonesia, it’s not only the scholars who want to go public, but also the journalists. A connection exists between the community of scholars and the media. That I don’t see in the United States where academics are beyond the reach of the public.”
This has to do with the specific Indonesian context:
Most of the media think of themselves as opposed to the government. They have a function to criticize the government. Most of the scholars also think of themselves as critics. They [the scholar’s] use media to launch critiques of the government, especially the ‘New Order’ [Suharto’s regime - 1966-1998]. So that is why whatever scholars say, the media accepts it without saying ‘too difficult’ - nothing is ‘too difficult’ for the story…they feel this is something we must publish because we must criticize.”
Therefore, anthropology is much more involved in politics in Indonesia - that's why it's so relevant for people:
Anthropologists in the U.S. think of politics as separate from academics. To do academic work, one must be free of politics. I think this is a legacy of colonialism, of the Enlightenment or something.
In Indonesia, as I said earlier, Anthropologists from the beginning actively pursued involvement in public/political events. Some chose to be part of the government, some put themself against the government.
(...) I think that is the most important message I want to get across. Anthropology is political - I want to remind you that as an anthropologist you must talk about politics. You can’t talk about culture as separate from politics. In order to put yourself in a more public sphere, you must discuss politics. There are different ways to do this. One is by not talking about cultural systems anymore, or semiosis, but instead discussing politics. Then realize that anthropology has critical power.