Category: "University / Academia"
Dean Saitta (University of Denver) is one of the four anthropologists in David Horowitz’s book The Professors: The 101 most dangerous academics in America. The reason? His involvement in a debate on the erosion of free public and academic speech in the US.
In his guest editorial in the August edition of Anthropology Today, he describes the consequences of Bush's "war on terror" for academics and calls for action: Anthropologists, he writes, "need to step up and engage in more and better conversations about the university’s status as a site of critical, creative and civically engaged inquiry":
The subsequent declaration of a ‘war on terror’ and the passage of the Patriot Act have threatened the civil liberties of many citizens, and brought new fears of government intrusion into our lecture halls and seminar rooms. (...)
As US troops settled into Afghanistan and Iraq the campaign against the academy intensified. Aided and abetted by a resurgent conservative student activism on campus, this campaign accuses the American professoriate of harbouring a pervasive and long-standing liberal bias – with ‘liberal’ variously understood as leftist, Marxist and anti-American.
The campaign’s single most militant crusader, Saitta writes, is David Horowitz. He is a source of advice on political strategy for the Bush administration. Since 2003, Horowitz’ organization Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) has mobilized conservative students and politicians in 20 states to propose an ‘Academic Bill of Rights’ (ABOR) for state-supported institutions. This bill is according to Saitta "clearly aimed at critics of President Bush and the war in Iraq".
In his book The professors:The 101 most dangerous academics in America (published in february 2006), Horowitz reveals the pervasive ‘intellectual corruption’ of the American university by providing an alphabetized list of "some of the worst violators of professional obligations and standards".
Many more anthropologists could have been included, Saitta stresses:
Horowitz has indicated in several of his writings and interviews that anthropology is one of the more intellectually corrupt disciplines within the social sciences (...), fraught with political correctness and partisanship.
All academics should be concerned about Horowitz’ crusade, he argues. It seems that a large part of the American public agrees with Horowitz in some way. The American public has - as a recent survey reveals - very strange understandings of what the university is and does:
Nearly 70% believe the university should, as its primary function, provide job training rather than cultivate critical thinking. Over 60% believe that professors should be fired for associating with ‘radical’ political organizations. Over 50% think that too much scholarly research today is irrelevant to the needs of society. Finally, nearly 40% believe that the political bias of professors is a serious problem on campus.
Therefore, American anthropologists are faced with at least three major challenges in Saittas opinion:
First, we need to demonstrate that (...) our obligation as university faculty is to teach a breadth of ideas, critically examine their social causes and consequences, boldly experiment with new ones and, from time to time, actively champion particular ideas that can advance what we know and change for the better (whatever we take ‘better’ to mean) how we live. If we make some of our publics uncomfortable in the process, then we’re probably doing something right.
The second challenge is to better justify and develop the sort of engaged pedagogy and scholarship that landed many of us on the ‘dangerous 101’ list. Horowitz’ model of appropriate pedagogy is hierarchical and elitist. It evokes an image of tweedy professors filling up empty-headed and easily indoctrinable students with what is presumed to be disinterested, value-free knowledge. (...) Significant research in higher education over the past several decades has shown (...) the utility of more philosophically self-conscious and collaborative approaches for cultivating critical powers of mind.
The third challenge is to show how anthropology’s unique ‘deep time’, cross-cultural and bio-behavioural understanding of the human condition can enrich the entire academic curriculum and inform wider public discourse. (...) [B]ecause of the qualities identified above, anthropology should be the linchpin of a liberal arts education and any truly informed approach to policy-making in a globalizing world.(...)
Anthropology’s particularist conversation about human rights (...) provides a useful counterpoint to the universalist rights conversations of other disciplines.
>> read the whole text: Higher education and the dangerous professor: Challenges for anthropology (760kb, pdf - published on his homepage)
Saitta and many other ‘dangerous professors’ have stepped up to challenge the errors in Horowitz’ book, and to clarify what academia is about and set up two websites and blogs: www.teachersfordemocracy.org/ and www.freeexchangeoncampus.org .
"Anthropologists escape into the wider world" is the title of a press release about a recent study that shows that "holders of social anthropology Ph.D.s are highly employable and successful in finding jobs that draw on their anthropological skills".
The study tracked social anthropology doctoral students who completed their studies between 1992 and 2003 in Britain to see what they are doing now. The majority work outside academic anthropology, either in other disciplines within academia, or in various non-academic positions. Fifty-seven per cent currently hold academic positions, though one third of those are on fixed-term contracts with uncertain long-term prospects. Those who escape a conventional academic career can be found in international development organizations like the World Bank or in high-tech companies like Intel. Others remain in academia, teaching and researching.
What they bring to these settings are special skills of observation and critical analysis, born of Ph.D. projects based on long-term field research in challenging cultural locations, Professor Jonathan Spencer at the University of Edinburgh's Anthropology Department says:
"We knew that social anthropologists have a real presence at all levels in the world of international development, but we were surprised by two discoveries. One was social anthropology's success as an "exporter" of skilled researchers and teachers to other academic disciplines. The other was its growing role at the cutting edge of business and technology innovation. Employers seem to be especially interested in the close-focus research skills that are central to anthropological fieldwork. Our findings raise serious doubts about the received wisdom that employers are only interested in the most 'generic' social research skills."
In applying their skills in such diverse settings this generation of Ph.D.s is enriching the discipline in quite new ways. The challenge now is to explore ways to bring what they have learnt in their adventures back into academic training for the next generation of anthropologists.
(via anthronaut) Cyberanthropologist Alexander Knorr has written a brilliant comment on "social sciences software licence madness". Provoked by an entry at ethno::log about a text analysis software for social scientists with an extremly restrictive licence, he wrote among others:
The minimum fee for using the software for academical purposes amounts to 192,- Euros. plonk* Usage duration is limited to a maximum of one year. :o Do I get this right?(...) The copyright holders of GABEK® aim at a certain academical group as potential customers. As GABEK® is to be used for "a thesis (e.g. master thesis etc)", and the project has to be "no larger in scope than a dissertation".
Well, till some years ago I was within that group, too, and I wrote a doctoral thesis. Interested in the results? Well, go and buy the book, 395 pages of glossy paper, containing a juicy story of anthropology, sex, drugs, magick, and rock'n'roll. For 19,- Euros, 13,- Euros if you are a student. If you have bought the book, it's your property, you can do with it whatever you want to. You can read it until you die, you can put it below your table-leg if that one happens to be exactly 2,1 cm too short, or you can make a bonfire of it. As you wish, it's your property then. No interest in spending nineteen Euros? Then, the fuck, download the whole piece of shit. The exact .pdf-file from which the printer made the book is online for free, CC-licenced. Welcome to the 21st century.
Information wants to be free, especially information and knowledge generated within academia. And academical knowledge that I am generating — if I ever really will, that is—for sure doesn't want to be the property of the maker of the tools I used to generate it. Adobe never asked me to send them one of my books for free, just because I used software they created to make a .pdf of my text.
Back from the annual conference of the Norwegian Anthropological Association, I must say that I prefer Norwegian conferences to British ones - at least regarding the way papers are presented. While papers in Britian are read - in a formal (and mostly boring) way, papers in Norway are presented in an more oral way. The audience expectes you to make them smile or (even better) laugh - otherwise you aren't regarded as a good paper-giver. "I could have listened to him for several hours", many participants said after the presentation by Edvar Hviding about fishermen on the Solomon Islands (many brilliant pictures!). Many great presentations!
Maybe culture can explain something here? Norwegian society is quite egalitarian compared to other countries and academics are frequently present in mainstream media. You are expected to be "folkelig" - meaning "like normal people" and tear down the walls between academia and the people outside.
PS: By the way, Antropyton announced that she's going to share her thoughts about the conference with us (I'll be blogging in Norwegian only).
At the Society for Applied Anthropology Meetings this year Hugh Gusterson had a startling experience: A “practicing anthropologist” refused to tell me him who or what, she studies. That has never happened before. In the article Where Are We Going? Engaging Dilemmas In Practicing Anthropology in Anthropology News May 2006, Guterson poses fundamental quiestions. The number of anthropologists working for industry and government agencies grows. So:
Who owns applied anthropological research—the researcher or the sponsor? If applied research is confidential, and thus exempt from peer review, how do we assure its quality and integrity? What recourse is there for an anthropologist under contract of confidentiality who decides they have an obligation to make public what their sponsor wants to keep quiet (say, information about indigenous opposition to a dam, or native Americans’ experience of abuse at the hands of the Department of the Interior, or corruption in the Pentagon or the World Bank)?
Is it acceptable to study people not in order to advocate for them or to interpret them in the open literature, but for the purpose of providing privileged information to sponsors who want to control them? What will happen to our professional meetings, to their warm conviviality, if more people come to them refusing to discuss their research? And how is our discipline even to keep track of possible conflicts of interest if anthropologists are refusing to identify their research in public?
He continues and concludes:
One colleague suggested that we acknowledge two separate communities: those doing academic anthropology and those doing what he called “dirty anthropology” (as, I think, in “quick and…”). He suggested each have its own ethical guidelines. But do we really want to say that anthropologists are no longer a single community guided by a common code of conduct?
The rise of neoliberal applied anthropology is a scandal waiting to happen. We ignore it at our professional peril. It is time to lay out some clear rules of the road to give guidance to applied anthropology colleagues working on this new frontier, and to enhance their bargaining power with powerful contractors.
>> read the whole article in Anthropology News (link updated)
Not so easy to be researcher in the USA: There's more and more censorship. Not long ago I wrote about Iranians not allowed to publish papers. Another form of censorship are the Internal Review Boards (IRB ). In Anthropology News May, James Boster calls for a three graded stages of response: Reform, Resolve and Resist:
The faculty head of the University of Connecticut IRB recently told me that the IRB would not now permit me to do the field work I have recently completed with the Waorani, because she considered Waorani as far too belligerent for me to have risked my own safety in doing research with them. It was a shock to learn that I could be regarded a human subject of my own research.
Many human scientists, anthropologists included, have experienced ever-increasing burdens of regulation and oversight by IRBs in their research with human subjects. Most of what is onerous about the regulation has nothing to do with providing protection to human subjects and has everything to do with requiring human scientists to submit to the arbitrary exercise of power and authority.
IRBs at a number of universities have instituted policies that have no foundation in ethics or law, ones that violate our most sacred academic freedoms and civil rights. The first amendment to the constitution states: “Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Yet what is regulated here is speech—the freedom of investigators to speak with other members of the society. The freedom to find things out is a basic human right, not a privilege to be licensed, especially when the obstacles to inquiry have never been demonstrated to prevent any actual harm to human subjects. The unconstitutionality of these restraints on free speech are clearly and comprehensively laid out by Philip Hamburger in a 2005 article for the Supreme Court Review, “The New Censorship: Institutional Review Boards.”
>> read the whole text in Anthropology News May 2006 (link updated)
Another anthropology-specific problem is mentioned in an article by As Rena Lederman: IRBs are comprised mostly of researchers from non-ethnographic disciplines "folks whose picture of “real research” looks nothing like ethnographic fieldwork." Therefor this advice (!):
So it is crucial that your board view participant observation as a sound, productive research method. This cannot be taken for granted. If IRB members are mystified or horrified by participant observation—if they imagine that it is useless or even itself unethical—then your proposal may be denied even if your project’s topic is completely innocuous!
Anthropologists seem to get more interested in academic culture. Not long ago we heard about anthropologists studying students. Now, anthropologist Rena Lederman is doing fieldwork among her her fellow academics. She is writing a book called “Anthropology Among the Disciplines,” which will examine the distinctions among several academic fields and explore how and when those borders become important, according to News at Princeton.
In an era when academia is emphasizing interdisciplinarity, Lederman sees significant differences in how anthropologists, sociologists, historians and social psychologists approach their fields, she says:
"My topic is not conventional perhaps, but my approach is classic participant observation: I attend closely to how disciplinary distinctions come up in everyday conversations. I pay attention to how scholars in one field talk about other fields or how they might defend their own if they feel it’s being challenged."
“She’s one of a handful of people who’s taking the opportunity to reflect ethnographically on the kinds of institutional lives that academics live,” said Don Brenneis, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Cruz. “It’s complicated for different reasons when you’re working with your own tribe.
Jill Walker reports about censorship of research in the USA:
Recently, two articles by teams from the University of Bergen were accepted by prominent US journals and then turned down because, the publishers said, "we cannot publish your paper because the United States government restricts publishers from publishing papers that have an affiliation with the government of Iran." Some of the authors were Iranian citizens.
Isn’t that astounding, though? The results results are presumably important, since they were accepted in an internationally reknowned, peer reviewed journal. They have nothing to do with bombs or weapons of mass destruction or politics - this is geology and oil and such. And yet the US government refuses to allow US journals to publish this, just because some of the authors - scholars, not politicians - have Iranian passports? How peculiar that the country that (in theory) has the strongest tradition of freedom of speech and democracy stifles research and communication like this.
The rector of Bergen University said to the Norwegian media that this was "unacceptable political censorship", "previously known only from totalitarian regimes". Matthias Kaiser from the National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway says, the American science community can no longer be regarded as a part of the international science community.
There's no English language coverage available,
A few weeks ago, the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the world's largest association of scholars of religion, criticized a similar "ideological exclusion" of knowlewdge and scholars. They joined a lawsuit that challenges a key provision of the USA Patriot Act, according to the blog Mirror of Justice:
Citing the 2004 revocation of a travel visa for noted Swiss scholar of Islam Tariq Ramadan, the suit contends that an "ideological exclusion" provision of the Patriot Act is being used to impede the free circulation of scholars and scholarly debate that are integral to academic freedom.
Commenting on the suit, AAR Executive Director Barbara DeConcini stated that "preventing foreign scholars like Professor Ramadan from visiting the U.S. limits not only the ability of scholars here to enhance their own knowledge, but also their ability to inform students, journalists, public policy makers, and other members of the public who rely on scholars' work to acquire a better understanding of critical current issues involving religion.