Posts filed under ‘Admin Posts’
Universitat de Barcelona
Interaction among anthropologists from all over the world is becoming a reality facilitated by information and communication technologies and also by increasing conference cosmopolitanism (with a negative consequence for the carbon imprint of anthropology!). This, however, has expanded our community of thought and our transnational conversations. Institutions such as the WCAA, the IUAES, EASA or the Committee for World Anthropologies in the AAA have been key to this transformation.
Institutions are facilitators. They enable certain things to happen. But they also have drawbacks. The sheer energy needed to make them work and sustain their structure often detracts from the energy needed to pursue their original goals. The World Anthropologies Network–Red de Antropologías Mundiales was originally a very simple thing: Various anthropologists from different parts of Latin America, some of them based in the United States, initiated an informal conversation. They knew each other well and shared the experience of border-thinking with other foreign colleagues. Their aim was to supersede Anglo-American hegemony in the production of anthropological knowledge and to create an epistemic pluriverse. This group of friends started networking and interacting at various venues, in workshops, informal meetings, virtually and physically. Thanks to an institution, the Wenner Gren Foundation, Arturo Escobar and Gustavo Lins Ribeiro were able to organize an International Symposium on “World Anthropologies–disciplinary transformations within systems of power” and set the project rolling onto a new scale. The project was to foreground non-hegemonic anthropological traditions and make them aware of each other in order to give them value in the field of anthropological knowledge. There was an additional objective: to become aware of other knowledge communities (non-academic, local, vernacular) that may speak to anthropological issues and theory. The project was mostly a political one, seeking equal voice among the various communities that were de facto involved in producing the knowledge anthropology thrives on.
Ten years after this Symposium, we can draw a balance of its achievements and think about the long way we still have to go. We now have the WCAA, an institution that connects the different anthropological associations in the world. This institution has produced a journal, Déjà Lu, that highlights articles published in the different journals of the associations in different languages. The International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Societies (IUAES) has a new vitality. So we are better connected institutionally and individually. But beyond connectivity, have the power centers of knowledge production changed? I doubt it and I think this has to do with the language issue.
English is undoubtedly the language of international communication, and we experience every day the value of having such a common instrument to share and debate our theories. But this common language acts also as a gatekeeper. For many anthropologists for whom English is not their native language (even if they are fluent speakers of it), it is an obstacle for publication in the major journals of reference. Language is a framework for thought, and writing in a language which is not our main instrument of thought conditions its expression. Most journals do not accept submissions for review in the original language of the non-Anglophone author. For many scholars, often young, unfunded anthropologists from the global South (including many places in Europe), the costs of translating and editing a manuscript are prohibitive and become a hugely differentiating factor in the field of anthropological knowledge production.
But language is also about a particular genre of scholarly writing which is not universally shared. The actual way in which a paper (or a research project proposal) is structured and written varies widely across academic traditions. The Anglo-American style has been adopted as the hegemonic genre by most funding agencies and international journals, and workshops on “how to write a research proposal” or “how to write an article for publication” propose only one model, producing a conflation between a “good” proposal or article, and a particular genre of academic presentation. These workshops are well-meaning and undoubtedly useful inasmuch as we do need to operate within that hegemonic model at present. But this is not devoid of political and knowledge-producing consequences: Homogenization reinforces gate keeping and this hinders creativity in the field.
Different histories and modes of knowledge are the basis of innovative thinking and fruitful debate. Eliminating difference (or at least some sources of it) seems to me dangerous because it impoverishes the field. It reinforces established or trendy ideas at the center while excluding different practices and ideas that thrive at the margins. This is often justified on the grounds of “quality” and it so happens that “peripheral” knowledge is generally considered of poor quality by knowledge powers (further justified by deficient training institutions, lack of access to “key” theoretical debates, etc.). But to me this is not mainly a matter of quality but of power: a matter of cultural scholarly hegemony. Breaking down that hegemony was the aim of the original Red de Antropologías Mundiales–World Anthropologies Network. We are on the right track but we still have a long way to go.
1 comment November 2, 2013
By Gordon Mathews
It’s become increasingly recognized that the world has multiple anthropologies—that anthropology is not only a Euro-American endeavor but a global endeavor.
One reason why this is happening is technological. When I left graduate school twenty years ago, moving from the United States to Hong Kong, I was warned by well-meaning American anthropology professors that being overseas could drastically curtail my career. But shortly thereafter, the internet and e-mail emerged. Problems of access remain; but it seems clear that scholarly knowledge in anthropology has become far more globally accessible, with libraries increasingly being replaced by lone terminals’ internet connections.
A second reason why this is taking place is economic. Anthropology in a given country follows, at a certain distance, that country’s GDP and per capita income. Rich countries can afford anthropology, particularly anthropology beyond one’s own country’s borders; poor countries can’t. Throughout much of the twentieth century, American, Western European, and Japanese anthropologists traveled the globe to do their fieldwork, while most countries practiced anthropology within their own borders, lacking the financial backing to go elsewhere. But today, an increasing number of countries throughout the world are beginning to practice anthropology beyond their borders. Beyond this, academic positions in anthropology are diminishing at American and Western European Universities, with newly minted Ph.Ds increasingly unable to find jobs; the situation is better elsewhere in the world, particularly in East Asia. Current trends point to an increasing diminishment of Anglo-American anthropology, with a shift of gravity towards Asia.
These factors point to a global anthropological future. Technology levels the playing field of world anthropologies; economics shifts the balance of the playing field. But in a different sense, globalization has rigidified the playing field, preserving the status quo.
A major factor shaping universities has been their increasing awareness of global competition. World university rankings, such as that of the Times Education Supplement, have become increasingly influential, and university administrators in many societies base their professional lives on enabling their institutions to rise a few places in these rankings. One key factor in these rankings is the publication output of an institution’s professors.
This output is typically measured by the quality of the journals that professors publish in, a quality measured by such markers as the Social Science Citation Index. Only journals are cited in the SSCI; the fact that anthropologists often publish books and chapters in edited books is beside the point in administrators’ arguments—since book impacts cannot be so easily measured, journals become all-important, distorting anthropology. As an editor of a journal, Asian Anthropology, I am constantly asked by potential contributors in China, Japan, and India and elsewhere whether it is in the Social Science Citation Index. If it is, it counts; if it is not, then it does not. To anthropologists in these and many other societies, the SSCI is a major indicator of worth. With SSCI publication, a scholar may obtain financial rewards; without it, you may lose your job.
The SSCI is heavily tilted towards Anglo-American publications. Of 81 journals listed by SSCI under anthropology, 36 have publishers based in the United States and 19 have publishers based in the United Kingdom. Another 10 are based in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and 3 are from Australia, all countries heavily influenced by Anglo-American anthropology. 76 of 81 total publications, 94% of the total come from the United States, the United Kingdom, Western or Central Europe, or Australia/New Zealand.
Anthropology is not singular: there are multiple anthropologies across the globe. Nonetheless, as the above statistics imply, anthropologists from societies around the globe may have little choice but to publish in Anglo-American journals that have little or no interest in the anthropology of their home societies; they are, in effect, forced to become Anglo-American in their anthropological concerns. Anthropology has long since transcended Morgan and Tylor intellectually; but institutionally Morgan and Tylor and their world are being recreated: “The West is Best!”
There are thus two opposing currents shaping contemporary anthropology, one current moving towards the globalization of anthropology, and the other towards its Anglo-Americanization. Which of these will win out? I see it as inevitable that intellectually anthropology will move towards greater globalization. But universities everywhere are becoming managerialized, and this means that anthropology will be forced to become more Western-centric, and Anglo-American-centric
But we can do something to solve this problem. Journals’ inclusion and ranking within the Social Science Citation Index is determined in part by impact factor—how much are articles in a given journal cited? The SSCI is thus not an unchanging wall, but is something that we ourselves create through our collective citations. Now that we are entering an era of the increasing influence of multiple global anthropologies, the strategy to be followed seems clear: cite your own anthropological authors; don’t rely on Western theorists as the basis of your writing. At present, there remains to some extent a herd mentality among peripheral anthropologies, very often quoting Western dominant intellectual figures as a legitimating device. This needs to be transcended
Initially, anthropologists who buck this trend may suffer from rejection, but eventually the tide will turn if non-Western anthropologists are willing to take up the challenge. This challenge can’t simply involve non-Anglo-American anthropologies turning their back on Anglo-American anthropologies. But it can more fully engage Anglo-American anthropologies with the intellectual resources of other anthropologies, in such a way that Anglo-American anthropologies will have to accept a broader basis for what anthropology consists of. And if this can happen, the winner will be not simply one faction of anthropology, but all the world’s anthropologies.
In this way, the conflict between the globalization of anthropology and the Anglo-Americanization of anthropology—the conflict of symbolic acronyms between WCAA and SSCI—will be resolved. This may be a long, slow process, but if anthropology is to survive as a discipline rather than as an historical relic, it is necessary and inevitable.
Add comment September 14, 2013
Find out the answer in one graph:
1 comment September 11, 2013
Saiu! It’s out! Take a look and tell your friends!
Déjà Lu (“Already read”) is an initiative of the World Council of Anthropological Associations that aims at pluralizing the dissemination of anthropological knowledge on a global level. It is a journal that respects the academic decisions made by the reviewers of the author’s community of origin to avoid the imposition of hegemonic international styles or canons.
Please check out the first issue of Déjà Lu here:
Add comment May 28, 2013
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
1 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
5 comments February 10, 2013
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
Add comment November 13, 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
2 comments July 30, 2012
The WCAA webpage now provides the websites of some 400 anthropological journals from around the world, some of which offer limited access to readers, and others full access. This, we think, is the only site in the world that provides, with a few mouseclicks, a glimpse of all the world’s anthropology. We think we have on this website every anthropological publication in the world that has a presence on the internet; if we have missed any, please let me know, at email@example.com.
Surveying the state of anthropology in the world today, what we see is an unwitting domination by the Anglo-American core of anthropology; anthropologists throughout much of the world pay attention to the Anglo-American core, but it pays little attention to anthropologies beyond its bounds, and those other anthropologies pay little attention to one another. A website like this can, we hope, eventually enable anthropologists the world over to read anthropologies the world over. This is its aim: to take a step, however small, towards the creation of a global anthropology. Only if anthropology becomes truly global can it ever hope to fully overcome its colonial legacy of the rich studying the poor, the North studying the South. Maybe this site can help do that in a small way.
This site puts all the world’s anthropologies on a common platform, although of course language barriers remain. From this array of different journals, if we can gather an array of anthropological readers, perhaps discussions can start. Typically, Chinese anthropologists never discuss with sub-Saharan African anthropologists and Eastern European anthropologists and Indonesian anthropologists and Brazilian anthropologists and American anthropologists about the nature of culture and globalization, or anthropological ethics, or cultural and ethnic identity, or the nature of heritage, and so on, because there has been no place for such a debate. Maybe this site and this blog can serve as such a place. That’s why we begin this blog.
I will be adding commentary every week: my views are not those of WCAA, but simply my own, as an individual anthropologist. The more we can hear from all of you, the better: I don’t own this! Please send me your own commentary, at the address I’ve provided above, of no more than 500 words, on any topic relating to global anthropology, and I will put it on. Let’s get a conversation started!
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
6 comments April 6, 2011