I published a piece last week in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, reprinted below, that has created a bit of a stir in Hong Kong; I suspect that the issue I describe applies to WCAA members at large. How much are anthropologists in different countries in thrall to Research Assessment Exercises? How much do these Exercises constrain what anthropologists do and publish? How much do these Exercises serve to make anthropologists irrelevant to larger concerns in the different societies belonging to WCAA, since anthropologists are forced to publish in distant Anglo-American journals?
Does your society have Research Assessment Exercises, and do they shape anthropology? How? Please speak up! Let us hear from you!
Academics denied their place in debate on Hong Kong
Hong Kong universities are now gearing up for the Research Assessment Exercise, imported from Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Academics are required to choose their four “best” publications over the past six years; these will be evaluated by committees of experts, who will then rank different academic departments as to their research productivity. Highly ranked departments will get more money; poorly ranked departments will get less money, with implications for individuals’ jobs and futures.
At first glance, this may seem entirely reasonable. Academics in Hong Kong are well paid compared to many of their overseas counterparts. Why shouldn’t their performance be measured? Why shouldn’t the ivory tower be subject to the same kinds of performance reviews as any other profession?
It indeed should, but there are significant problems here. Because the committees of experts judging these exercises are more than half foreign, publications in Chinese don’t count. (This is denied in the guidance notes for the exercise, but is indeed the case, as many academics here can attest.)
In the sciences, academic writing is typically in English; in the arts and social sciences, it often is not. Thus, a historian or sociologist who writes a book about Hong Kong had better not write it in Chinese. Most people in Hong Kong read Chinese, not English. But for the assessment, this doesn’t matter.
Beyond this, if this historian or sociologist writes an article about Hong Kong, it had better not be published locally, but only by a prestigious Anglo-American journal, most of whose readers will care little about Hong Kong. Typically, the experts judge “best” publications on the basis of the publisher, since they haven’t time to actually read the massive amount of submitted work. Prestigious Anglo-American publishers count for much; Asian publishers, particularly Hong Kong ones, count for little.
Unlike the hard sciences, which are more or less universal, in the arts and social sciences Anglo-American publishers publish work of interest to Anglo-American audiences, and Asian publishers publish work of interest to Asian audiences. Thus, academics in the arts and social sciences here, needing to publish overseas, are pushed into writing articles dealing with Anglo-American theories rather than articles that are useful for understanding local issues.
This directly affects the role that academics can have in contributing to Hong Kong. The Research Assessment Exercise makes local research, local publication and local impact irrelevant. The learned men and women who comprise its expert committees do not have this intent, but the effect of their efforts is to render academics no more than mute technocrats instead of public intellectuals.
If I were a Chinese official in Beijing, I would be very happy that the exercise keeps Hong Kong academics publishing books and articles in distant places that few people read, rather than engaging in public debate through their research and publications on Hong Kong.
The solution to this problem is to take local research and publication much more seriously, and to have a far broader mode of making judgments as to research excellence. But this won’t happen, because Hong Kong higher education is so obsessed with international rankings.
This makes Hong Kong humanists and social scientists into technocrats and bureaucrats, and makes Hong Kong universities increasingly resemble those of Singapore and mainland China.
Given the increasing thrall of the Research Assessment Exercise, I despair at what the future may hold for my junior colleagues, for Hong Kong universities, and indeed for Hong Kong at large.
Gordon Mathews teaches anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and wrote Ghetto at the Centre of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong
This piece was printed on the Op-Ed page of the South China Morning Post, April 22, 2013
Add comment May 9, 2013
As anthropologists, who do we write for? Scholarly articles are typically written for one’s fellow academics. But what about books? Book-length ethnographies are the cornerstone of anthropology. These include books whose ethnography is theory-driven, books whose primary purpose is to make a contribution to anthropological theorizing. These also include books whose primary purpose is to ethnographically depict a slice of the world; these books too use theory, but the theory is servant to rather than master of the ethnography. Of course many books are in the middle between these two poles, but it is fair to say that anthropology today is defined by these two poles, and underlying that, by the question of who we write for. Theory-driven books are generally written for one’s fellow anthropologists and their graduate students. Ethnography-driven books are generally not just for anthropologists, but also for undergraduates, and the lay public. These are vast generalizations, but if one thinks of prominent ethnographies written over the past two decades, it is not hard to see this divide. Think, in an American context, of Bourgois’s In Search of Respect (ethnography-driven) as opposed to Ong’s Flexible Citizenship (theory-driven), to mention just two of a large number of ethnographies that could be mentioned.
I suspect that this division is true beyond the American anthropological world to an extent. But because the world of academic anthropology in most other societies, and particularly in most non-native-English-speaking societies, is smaller, there may be less possibility of publishing books written for an academic audience alone, simply because the market for them is small. It is the Anglo-American anthropological world that most privileges theoretically-driven books, because the English-speaking market is so big. To put it bluntly, in this large market, anthropologists can afford to talk to themselves alone, whereas in other large markets, they cannot, because anthropological solipsism can’t sell books.
Prominent anthropologists of generations past in the English-speaking world very often spoke to a large audience. Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa and Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword certainly had their theoretical underpinnings, but were written so that any intelligent layperson could understand them. This is no longer the case with many of the ethnographies of recent decades, some of which cannot be understood by non-specialists because they are primarily theory-driven. There are certainly a number of exceptions to this, but it is fair to say that in general book-length ethnographies have become more difficult to understand in recent decades for those who aren’t trained anthropologists.
This situation is largely a product, I believe, of the tenure system in American anthropology, whereby each new generation of anthropologists must be seen to be doing something very different from its recent forebears in order to gain lifetime employment as professors. Ethnography-driven books are of less value in this pursuit than theory-driven books, since the latter can demonstrate an apparent advance over anthropological forebears, however fictitious this advance may be upon closer examination. This is also why, in a broader arena, music and art have also become progressively less comprehensible to the layperson: they have been increasingly confined to the academy, to departments of music and art in universities, where specialists produce work comprehensible only to fellow specialists. The Anglo-American academic world in the arts and soft social sciences seems, in its emphasis on specialists, to privilege incommunicability with the world beyond the academy.
There is nothing wrong with having anthropological theory in ethnography—its presence is essential. But if ethnography is primarily theory-driven, then its appeal beyond the small world of academic anthropology becomes greatly diminished. In a world that is today plagued all the more by cultural conflict, anthropology needs to have a public presence, as it largely does not in American anthropology. If a computer scientist or heart surgeon writes academic works, their findings will nonetheless help the layperson—I need not understand their academic writings to benefit from their expertise in operations on my computer or on my heart. But if an anthropologist writes academic works incomprehensible to the layperson, these anthropological findings may not be helpful, for they may have no lay use.
This, I sense, is a major problem today with much American anthropology—this is why it is in danger of becoming irrelevant beyond any world larger than itself. But I sense this is far less of a danger outside the Anglo-American world. In Japan, to take just one example, well-known anthropologists regularly write books for popular presses, read by laypeople; and this, I am told, is true in a number of other societies as well. Might world anthropology lead American anthropology back to public relevance? Perhaps, but given ongoing American hegemony, I fear the opposite. As goes America, so follows many other societies—in terms of anthropology, into public oblivion.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
2 comments February 10, 2013
Anthropologists are proud of their ethos of social justice, egalitarianism and reciprocity. Nevertheless, for historical, geopolitical and economic reasons, the discipline of anthropology is divided into privileged and underprivileged regions. Cross-cutting and overlapping disparities find expression in such academic concepts as center and periphery, Global South and North, and East and West, reifying these metaphorical relationships. They are reflected in material inequalities in knowledge production, academic employment, and access to resources. And it is anthropology in the United States that is commonly perceived as the most powerful and influential force within this landscape. Existing structures of wealth and power (publications, fieldwork opportunities, English language dominance) produce a hierarchical system of anthropological knowledge and rewards.
But simultaneously, working in various regions of the world, U.S. researchers encounter local scholars with their own national and regionally centered forms of knowledge production and circulation. Thus, the local situation generates intricate relations between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ as well as ‘expatriates’ and ‘hybrid actors.’ What kinds of relationships emerge from these encounters? Do U.S. anthropologists working in another cultural and geographic region take into consideration local insights and scholarship and collaborate with their colleagues? Or are these entirely asymmetric and hegemonic relationships? Are there elements of the relationships that transform them into something closer to our normative ideals? Questions of imperialism and hegemony in anthropological practices have been discussed previously in universities and at academic conferences. Nonetheless, the trend is toward greater imperialism within the discipline because of language and journal dominance and research funding, such that the World Council of Anthropological Associations decided that the conversation should be more public and receive greater attention. Without an ongoing dialogue, the emerging global anthropology will not be able to support the multiple world anthropologies that are our greatest resource. These issues were discussed by both American and non-American anthropologists working respectively in post-socialist (Romania), postcolonial (India) and hegemonic (Latin America) contexts at the AAA session on American Anthropological Imperialism: An Overdue Dialogue. The session was intend to raise questions through a frank discussion and now we would like to open up the discussion to you. On the WCAA website you will find three of the papers from the session. The first by Katherine Verdery, the second by Liviu Chelcea, the third by Akhil Gupta, and the fourth by Chandana Mathur. Each raises intriguing points and different issues that a commitment to anti hegemonic anthropology requires that we address. But the examinations of hegemony and imperialism are complicated by local national concerns and distinct histories of thought as well as politics. Let us know what you think.
Michal Buchowski and Setha Low
1 comment December 12, 2012
In the coming months, WCAA will launch the on-line journal Déjà Lu (“Already read”). This will be an on-line multilingual e-journal that can represent the diversity of today’s anthropological communities. In Déjà Lu we will republish articles selected by the journals of the associations members of the WCAA and give them global visibility by means of our international networks.
Here how it works: Editors of different journals will select one article they have already published and send a pdf copy with the title and one abstract in English (mandatory) and in any other language (optional), and indicate that we have permission to republish it on the WCAA website. The article can be on any anthropological topic, and can be in English or any other language. If they wish, journals or authors may translate their texts into English (they must do this instead of us), and we will publish the translation. The editors of Déjà Lu are Gustavo Lins Ribeiro firstname.lastname@example.org (Universidade de Brasília), Gordon Mathews email@example.com (The Chinese University of Hong Kong), and David Shankland firstname.lastname@example.org (The Royal Anthropological Institute). For the first issue, the call for papers has been sent to the journals of all the member associations of the WCAA, asking for an article published in their journal in the year 2011. For later issues, we’ll send the call for papers out to all journals of anthropology in the world—all journals listed on the WCAA website.
This is an important initiative because each of us who edit journals around the world tend to be read only by audiences within our own regions; how can we break out, and get a larger, global anthropological audience? Of course, having a journal on-line helps a great deal, but still, it is easy to vanish on-line, to have a webpage for an on-line journal that few ever visit, a lonely side road on the massive information highway. A journal of reprints like Déjà Lu can perhaps overcome this—readers who like a certain article can then follow the link back to the journal it first appeared in, and we hope that this will happen for many journals. And this can help the longstanding aim of WCAA, to help create a truly global anthropology, beyond the hegemony of any nation or group of nations. This, anyway, is our hope.
So let’s go! The first issue will appear on the WCAA website in early spring—we’ll let you know as soon as it’s out.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
1 comment November 13, 2012
When students come and talk to me these days about getting a Ph.D. from my Department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and making a future career in anthropology, I generally tell them not to—“Do something sensible with your life instead!” This is because the academic job market for anthropologists worldwide seems so dismal. It seems unconscionable to tell someone to get a Ph.D. in anthropology when the chances that they will become an adjunct making less than enough to live on seem extremely high. Of course there are the few exceptions, who through being at the right place at the right time manage to find tenure-track jobs, but these are few and far between. By and large, a Ph.D. in anthropology makes people unemployable in career-track anthropology teaching jobs, so don’t do it! That’s what I tell my students.
This situation seems worse in the United States, with its educational contractions of late, and jobs apparently are somewhat more available for recent Ph.Ds in societies such as China and Brazil. But by and large, this bleak situation seems true worldwide—there are too many Ph.D.s in anthropology and not enough jobs. Universities worldwide produce these Ph.D.s because having a Ph.D. program provides status, as well as, in many universities, low-paid tutors and other labor; but given the fact that there are so few jobs to be had, this is irresponsible.
This situation has been widely trumpeted throughout the humanities and social sciences, and the difficulties of finding anthropological jobs and the prevalence of adjuncts are discussed in anthropological websites across the internet. Savage Minds has offered a particularly apt post: http://savageminds.org/2012/09/08/adjuncts-anthropology-what-now/ But these discussions are primarily American in focus. The situation is not just American—again, it is worldwide.
In all the handwringing I’ve seen over this issue, one call not often made is this: anthropology departments worldwide should perhaps practice voluntary abstinence. Perhaps we should ask every degree-granting anthropology department to stop granting Ph.D. degrees for five years, or at least to diminish their total number of Ph.D. students in anthropology by 80 percent. Think of how much personal misery would be prevented if the thousands of future potential anthropology Ph.D.s, who in the future would only languish bitterly on the margins of academe, might instead follow a different path in life, one in which they could find employment.
Of course, this option might cause anthropology to enter a downward spiral. With fewer Ph.D. students to be taught, fewer professors would be deemed necessary; departments might shrink, and the discipline might eventually vanish. What might be a highly responsible policy vis-a-vis jobless future students might be a highly irresponsible policy vis-a-vis the future of anthropology as a discipline. So what it is the solution? For the sake of our own disciplinary survival should we simply keep churning out Ph.D students who will probably never find academic jobs? Shall we continue wasting, professionally, if not intellectually, what may be the best years of their lives?
A solution is clear, if only it could work. Those with Ph.D.s in anthropology may have much to offer NGOs, secondary schools, and all those corporations trying to shape the world cross-culturally, from Apple to Google to Microsoft to Nokia. Perhaps we need to focus our training much more on practicality: on making a living through anthropology in the world beyond the academy. But if anthropological institutions worldwide were to do this, would the jobs come? I suspect they will—and I suspect that this move might help to create a discipline not apart from the world, but in the very thick of the world, for better or for worse.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
1 comment September 14, 2012
I helped organize a meeting earlier this month of the East Asian Anthropological Association here in Hong Kong, a group consisting of anthropologists from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. We had long discussions about how we want to proceed with this organization in its future meetings, and some fascinating differences emerged. I don’t want to get into the specifics of who from what society argued what—this is not the place for that, and privacy should be protected—but I do want to discuss basic differences in organizational principles that may seem, at first glance, to be commonsensical but that in fact are culture-bound.
If you seek to organize an anthropological meeting on a broad topic with 60-80 or so slots open for paper-givers, is it better to have an open registration process, whereby every interested anthropologist in these five societies can submit an abstract to be evaluated by referees, and then be accepted or rejected? This is the American and European pattern for all but very small meetings, and ensures that even those whom the organizers have never heard of can attend the meeting if they can write a good abstract that passes the referees’ gaze.
But given the different anthropological traditions in these five societies, can the organizers serve as referees? Could a Taiwanese fairly judge Chinese abstracts, or Chinese fairly judge Japanese abstracts? For that matter, can American referees at AAA fairly judge abstracts from any of these different anthropological traditions?
Perhaps they can be, but if there is any doubt, then this may not be the best approach. Would it better to invite only the anthropologists who are known to the organizers in various of these national circles, and invite them to participate? This would severely limit the influx of fresh participants, but would also prevent what might potentially be the widespread rejection of papers in an open conference, and the ensuing bad feelings that would then result. This is a style that is often practiced in China and Japan and Korea.
After all, refereeing can only work if you have a more or less large and anonymous pool of referees—but what if your pool is small, and everyone knows, or knows of, everyone else? And what if you are also from a hierarchical society, where seniors are to be respected? And what, on top of this, you are from a society where English continues to be a troubling foreign language, fully mastered only by those junior scholars who went to graduate school overseas? The complexities seem to make objective refereeing not merely daunting, but all but impossible, a fantasy.
On top of all this, what if you have limited financial aid for these participants—perhaps only 20 can have their accommodations paid for. Is it better to provide it for younger scholars, or even more, for graduate students, who may truly need it, or for their elders, who have proven, unlike their juniors, that they are worthy anthropologists, and who as eminent scholars should be rewarded—despite the fact that they are no doubt financially better off than their juniors? How does Confucianism, the dominant conviction of East Asia, play out against egalitarianism, or what some might consider basic fairness? There are no right answers here.
I had assumed that open registration is best, and that financial aid based on need is best, focusing particularly on graduate students. But I also realize, after this meeting in Hong Kong, that my own assumptions have been shaped by my American experiences at AAA, and other such meetings. There are multiple ways to organize meetings, and it may be cultural imperialism to insist on one way over another. I feel that particularly as a white person in an East Asian context—“our token Caucasian” as I was once jokingly referred to—and as the only native English speaker in a group for whom English is for many, a distinctly second or third language.
In fact, the East Asian Anthropological Association is indeed dedicated to eventually having full open registration processes and refereeing—its members have agreed to that—but the issue is how, and how quickly, to get there, given the necessary progression towards growth of the association versus the unfortunate necessity of English-language usage and, perhaps, American organizational-style hegemony. I have asserted my own opinion in all this, but am increasingly learning so sit back and watch and listen. As a cultural anthropologist for two decades, I am ceaselessly amazed at how hard it is for me to do this. I also realize, though, that culture can sometimes be used as a rationale for other motivations, whether on my part or others’ part. I would have thought that as an anthropologist, I would be better than I am at understanding these complexities, but although I can do this intellectually, in day-to-day life, I am, to my ongoing chagrin, as stupid as anyone else I’ve ever met.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Add comment July 30, 2012
Embedded Cultural Intelligence: Militarised Anthropology and Counterinsurgency in Contemporary States of Emergency and Intervention
Dr David Hyndman and Dr Scott Flower
The debate over anthropology and the security state continues and within the discipline of anthropology itself proponents of the debate initially focussed on America’s latest efforts to ‘militarise’ and ‘weaponize’ the discipline through the Human Terrain System (HTS) such as Weaponizing Anthropology (by Price) and American Counterinsurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain (by Gonzalez). Several recent books such as The New Imperialism: Militarism, Humanism and Occupation (edited by Forte), Dangerous Liaisons (edited by McNamara and Rubenstein), Anthropologists in the Securityscape (edited by Albro), Peacekeeping under Fire (by Rubenstein), Humanitarians in Hostile Territory (by Van Arsdale) and Contemporary States of Emergency (edited by Fassin and Pandolfi) have started addressing the increasing convergence and cooperation between civil/humanitarian and military organisations and the role of anthropology/anthropologists across the gamut of contemporary interventions, ranging from counterinsurgency to peacekeeping and disaster response.
Overlooked in the recent quest for ‘cultural intelligence’ has been the efforts of other ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries to also develop military capabilities to better understand culture and cultural factors of violence and conflict behaviour using anthropology and recruiting anthropologists. Interest in how cultural intelligence can be collected and used has increased in the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ world through formalised arrangements such as the ABCA (America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) militaries. For the latter group of countries British settler colonialism is a unifying theme underlying the recent ABCA military interest in anthropology. ABCA countries are reaching for the tools used to understand and manage the self-determination claims of indigenous nations where their strategic interests are at stake. Human terrain as global ethnographic surveillance, to borrow from Ferguson in Dangerous Liaisons, is a common interest among ABCA countries today because past settler colonialism cannot be demarcated from struggles in the present; therefore anthropology of colonialism is concerned with contemporary anthropology as well as the colonial circumstances from which it emerged.
Keal, in European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, includes the ABCA military countries in the inner circle of rich, liberal states that constitute international society and determine the conditions and status of membership. Resistance to this by states and indigenous peoples who do not share those values is already a source of disruption to international order. For just relations between settler societies and indigenous peoples there must be mutual agreement about conditions of sharing that space, the alternatives are denial of rights or removal of indigenous peoples that are unacceptable moral alternatives in the twenty-first century. This research project contextualises the relationship between indigenous peoples, anthropology and the military around past settler colonialism in the ABCA military countries and presents contemporary indigenous nation political movements and conflicts as scenes of civil-military interventions and counterinsurgency.
Dr David Hyndman and Dr Scott Flower respectfully ask for your participation in a survey. You can help us learn more about what anthropologists have to say about the contested contemporary issue of recruitment of anthropologists into and use of anthropological methods by western military forces to assist in counterinsurgency and civil-military relations for stabilisation and peacekeeping. Our research comparatively examines the development of cultural intelligence capabilities by American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand (ABCA) militaries and seeks to understand the views of anthropologists within these countries regarding such developments.
The survey will take approximately 15 minutes and asks questions about:
- What degree do anthropologists support or oppose their discipline being used by the military for civil-military operations
- What grounds do anthropologists base their support or opposition to use of their discipline
- Views on the differences between counterinsurgency and civil-military relations in stabilisation, peace-building and conflict prevention.
To take the survey please click here. Your responses will be anonymous and confidential, to view human research ethics approval click on the provided link.
Dr. David Hyndman
Senior Visiting Fellow
School of Business
Add comment June 23, 2012
In this blog, I want to discuss the detrimental environmental impact of anthropology. Two key activities come to mind: printed publications and air travel to conferences.
Some arguments supporting digital open source publications stress the high environmental impact of paper publishing due to the harvesting of forests. For instance Discover has estimated that putting each issue of their magazine into the hands of subscribers releases 2.1 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Yet there are also concerns about the environmental footprint of electronic devices (see Low-Tech Magazine for a critical review). Eco-libris, an NGO which encourages people to plant a tree for every book they read (I have a lot of planting to do!), has provided a page dedicated to keeping track of some of these eco-debates regarding e-books vs. printed material. Providing people around the world with information that could be useful for improving their livelihoods is at the center of the debate regarding open access publishing. Integrating the “sustainability” or “eco-friendly” discourse into this discussion should, at the very least, be well founded through empirical studies. One of the possible options for such empirical studies is life-cycle assessment (LCA), sometimes called cradle-to-grave analysis. This method makes an attempt to consider all of the inputs from the environment and outputs to the environment that result from the production, exchange, consumption and disposal of a good. The company Verso Paper has actually done such a comparison of print and digital material for massive publications such as National Geographic. While there is much that we could learn from such a study about how we could reduce our negative impact on the environment, we also need to consider the positive social benefits which come from dissemination of digital information. Perhaps more widely disseminated information on the environment will help people find creative solutions to ecological degradation that may be incredibly difficult to predict or imagine for inclusion within an LCA study. Conversely, we need to be cautious about making assumptions about who has access to digital technology. While our globalizing world is becoming ever more connected through digital media, a large portion of the world’s poor cannot afford to purchase the basic hardware technology that would give them access to more freely disseminated information. There are no clear cut answers to solving these questions, but putting them into practice and further discussion could be useful for realizing a global Anthropology that is at least approaching Carbon Neutrality. These issues are important to discuss for any anthropological organizations or publications currently considering different options for disseminating their data and articles to the general public.
Second, there has recently been discussion regarding the massive carbon footprint that is emitted due to the hosting of conferences around the world. For instance, in Full Disclosure, I’ll be attending a conference in Montpellier next week, one in Edmonton in June, and assuming all goes well, back to Norway in September and San Francisco in November. Scholars fly from all over the world to attend international conferences every year, releasing a large amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The David Suzuki Foundation has provided some suggestions about how to organize Carbon Neutral Conferences. This is a concern that many organizations, such as the American Anthropological Association’s Task Force on Climate Change, is taking quite seriously. One possible solution is even the dissolution of the international conferences altogether or truly reinterpreting the meaning of conference gatherings. For instance the Australian International Cultural and Educational Institute has recently sent out a call for papers for an Online Conference on Multidisciplinary Social Sciences. This could be a very simple way for scholars to record presentations, have them posted on Youtube and receive comments from colleagues all over the world without the unnecessary release of carbon emissions from airline travel. There are also suggestions of reorienting the field of presenting anthropology in formal settings at a regional scale, with the hope of reducing the need for members to use airline transportation to participate in the meetings. These are certainly provocative but also, from an environmental perspective, practical suggestions. Yet it is important for us to consider, once again, what would a Carbon Neutral Global Anthropology look like? Perhaps even moving beyond this question, we could even ask ourselves, what would a post-Peak Oil Anthropology look like? If regional conferences become the norm, how will that impact the current relationships between the regional anthropologies that already exist? And conferences really are only one aspect of this discussion. For those of us who grew up in the mountains of Western Montana, travel back and forth to the mountains of Western China for fieldwork, we probably need to be more conscious of our carbon footprint from air travel etc. Perhaps more importantly we also need to be aware of how such travel arrangements will continue to be impacted by Peak Oil. While my personal decision to move to Hong Kong for graduate school was based on an interest to engage more closely with Asian anthropology, I have to admit, being closer to the field seems like a more sustainable option now and for the future. These are realities that anthropological organizations and really the discipline as a whole should begin to consider.
While hopefully not showing my personal bias, I’d like to highlight the importance of the WCAA (and really the auspicious timing of its establishment) as a possible core for helping anthropology cope with these transitions. The WCAA could provide that vital connection of making sure that our findings and discussions within, say, East Asia could be heard and appreciated amongst anthropologists in the U.S. Additionally, it provides those of us in East Asia with a conduit for learning about Brazilian anthropology and how it might be helpful in our work here. A colleague of mine after reading a discussion about the abolition of large international anthropological meetings made an insightful point: this is where social media, such as Facebook or ResearchGate could become an essential tool for academic interaction. I could not agree more, although I would say that these issues require further study and pondering (perhaps even an LCA-study of airline flights vs. webcasts and teleconferences?) before we can truly envision a Carbon Neutral (or post-Peak Oil) Global Anthropology.
Edwin Schmitt, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Add comment May 21, 2012
All over the world today, we see anthropologists struggling to publish in journals that are ranked highly on global citation indexes. Not every anthropologist in the world has to do this yet, but increasingly anthropologists from East Asia to Eastern Europe to Australia to Latin America are pressured in this way. One problem with this pressure is that the overwhelming majority of journals ranked highly on the global citation indexes are Anglo-American. These are often excellent journals. Still, global anthropologists are thereby in effect sucked back into the realm of Morgan and Tylor: “The West is Best! Conform to its standards or lose your job!”
Is there any way to escape this tyranny of citation indexes? In an immediate sense, no: if your job is on the line, then by all means do your best to publish in these journals, since the alternative may be driving a taxi or starving. From a longer view, though, there are indeed alternatives.
One alternative, if your native language is not English, is to have parallel writing tracks: write the stuff you need for your career in English, for the international journals, and write the stuff that is closest to your heart in your native language. As a Hong Kong ethnographer once told me, “I write articles in English that help my scholarly career but that no one reads; I write books in Chinese that many people read, but that have no relation to my scholarly career….At the end of the day, if I don’t have any journal publications with high impact factors, so what? If people in Hong Kong still read and learn from my writings, I’ll happily close my eyes and go to heaven.”
A second alternative is to write books rather than articles. Books are refereed in a different way than articles: if you can write only 8000 words, then you’ve generally got to conform to Western standards if you seek to publish in the Anglo-American core, but if you write books of 80,000 words, you’ll probably be given more leeway by referees to develop your own arguments and present your own ethnography in full. In our citation-index-driven anthropological world of today, books don’t count as much as articles, but they are read, and may allow you the freedom to be yourself. This is apparent in the books of Scandinavian anthropologists such as Ulf Hannerz and Thomas Hyland Eriksen, who have made their names largely through books published in the Anglo-American core.
A third alternative is more radical: forget about the pressures to write in top-ranked journals, and put yourself on line. Today there are some excellent websites where you can place your work to be read by other anthropologists, websites such as academia.edu and researchgate.edu, among others. Many anthropologists place their previously published work on these sites; but these sites can also be used to forego the publishing process altogether: put your work online instead of at the mercy of a journal. Perhaps the critiques you will receive from on-line readers will be more intellectually trenchant than those you might receive from referees! Don’t take this step if your career is on the line, for it may be suicidal. But if you can afford to, jump in.
Eventually, the world of anthropological publishing, as now driven by citation indexes, will collapse: we will all be on-line. That step will be the single most important step for the creation of a global anthropology. I suspect that won’t come for another twenty or thirty years, though. Meanwhile, let’s all do as much as we can to help erode the power of global citation indexes, which are in effect Morgan and Tylor risen from the dead.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
6 comments April 12, 2012
Local Arguments for a Global Debate
Guilherme Gitahy de Figueiredo
State University of Amazonas- Brazil
The WCAA initiative in creating this blog is laudable. It is very important that efforts be made to lay the groundwork for global debate in anthropology. However, it is important to know that to achieve this, it is not enough that anthropologists around the world publish in blogs or international journals.
In Brazil the biggest barrier to a global debate is not the language, but an international division of intellectual labor that makes the British, French, and American anthropologies more consumed than discussed. The role of central anthropologies unfortunately still seems to be to establish the premises of Brazilian anthropological work and debate. When these assumptions enter into controversy, these usually occur between followers of different Westerns orientations. Paradoxically, the debate seems more fruitful and creative when the topics are ethnographies of Brazilian themes.
Even when authors decide to counter Western premises with new theories, they are not read or taken seriously among their peers. Of course there are Brazilian theorists who are much celebrated. Numerous efforts have been made to build new schools of thought, consistent with national needs and interests. But a look at the references of Brazilian articles in the best journals would be enough to distinguish a strong tendency to quote Brazilian authors in relation to empirical matters and Western authors for theoretical guidance.
The organization of Brazilian anthropology according to external authors, currents and schools is a practice rooted in the intellectual life of colonial Brazil, when universities and publishers were banned and the new generations had to go and study in European universities. This indeed is not something specific of Brazil but is shared by most countries that were subjected to colonial actions, being accepted and even encouraged by the academies of hegemonic countries. Changing these habits is not easy, because they involve not only scientists. Paradoxically, the colonial customs are part of national history and identity. How can we build a “national” science if our own traditions are colonial? Below is an example taken from contemporary Brazilian research.
According to João Pacheco de Oliveira, concepts formulated by the colonial society and administration — for example the idea of “Indian” — in the conquest of lands and enslavement of black and indigenous peoples have become part of national history and identity by intellectuals and artists from the 19th century. Widely disseminated in schools and media, these ideas became unconscious assumptions that organize new intellectual productions. The proposal of Oliveira is the deconstruction of these ideas through genealogical research and historical anthropology, in collaboration with the peoples whose views are eclipsed by these colonial assumptions.
Perhaps a similar deconstruction should take place globally. The challenges are great and global ethnographic investigations into anthropological practices would be welcome in order to find out their underlying colonial assumptions and mechanisms, and thus begin to explore ways to shape more balanced modes of power in world anthropology.
Argumentos locais para um debate global
Guilherme Gitahy de Figueiredo
Universidade do Estado do Amazonas – Brasil
É louvável a iniciativa da WCAA em criar este blog. É muito importante que iniciativas sejam feitas para se abrir espaços para debates globais na antropologia. Porém, é importante sabermos que para se alcançar isto não basta os antropólogos do mundo postarem em blogs ou publicarem seus artigos em revistas internacionais.
No Brasil a maior barreira para um debate global não é a língua, mas a divisão internacional do trabalho intelectual que faz com que as antropologias francesa, americana e inglesa sejam mais consumidas do que debatidas. O papel das antropologias centrais infelizmente ainda parece ser o de estabelecer as premissas do trabalho e do debate antropológico brasileiro do que o de contribuir com argumentos num diálogo entre iguais. Quando essas premissas são polemizadas, é por conflitos entre os seguidores de diferentes orientações ocidentais. Paradoxalmente o debate parece mais fecundo e criativo quando os tópicos são etnografias de temas brasileiros.
Mesmo quando algum autor decide contrapor novas teorias às premissas ocidentais, dificilmente é lido ou levado a sério entre os seus pares. É claro que existem intelectuais brasileiros, teóricos, muito celebrados. Inúmeros esforços já foram feitos para se construir novas escolas de pensamento, condizentes com as necessidades e interesses nacionais. Mas uma consulta às referências bibliográficas de artigos brasileiros nas melhores revistas seria suficiente para distinguir ali uma forte tendência à citação de autores brasileiros em relação aos referentes empíricos e autores ocidentais para as orientações teóricas.
A organização da antropologia brasileira segundo autores, correntes e escolas externas é um costume enraizado na vida intelectual do Brasil colonial, quando universidades e editoras eram proibidas e as novas gerações tinham que ir estudar nas universidades européias. Isto, aliás, não é algo específico do Brasil, mas compartilhado pela grande maioria dos países que foram objeto de ações coloniais, sendo aceito e até estimulado pelas academias dos países hegemônicos. Mudar esses costumes não é fácil, pois eles não envolvem apenas os cientistas. Paradoxalmente, os costumes coloniais são parte da visão histórica e da identidade nacional. Como construir a ciência “nacional” se nossas tradições próprias são coloniais? Segue abaixo um exemplo retirado de pesquisas brasileiras contemporâneas.
Segundo João Pacheco de Oliveira, conceitos formulados pela sociedade e administração coloniais – por exemplo a idéia de “índio” – em sua conquista de terras e escravização de negro e indígenas se tornaram parte da história e da identidade nacional por obra dos intelectuais e artistas a partir do séc. XIX. Difundidas amplamente em escolas e meios de comunicação, essas idéias tornaram-se premissas inconscientes que organizam novas produções intelectuais. A proposta de Oliveira é a desconstrução dessas idéias através de pesquisas genealógicas e em antropologia histórica, em colaboração com os povos cujos pontos de vista são eclipsados por estas premissas coloniais.
Talvez uma desconstrução similar possa ser feita globalmente. Os desafios são grandes e investigações etnográficas globais sobre as práticas da antropologia seriam bem vindas para se descobrir as suas premissas e mecanismos coloniais subjacentes e, assim, começar a explorar caminhos para formas mais equilibradas de poder na antropologia mundial.
1 comment February 16, 2012