Posts filed under ‘Contributions’
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
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
2 comments September 14, 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
It has long surprised me how anthropologists from different societies don’t argue much. American, or Japanese, or Indian, or Mexican, or Brazilian anthropologists might argue vociferously with one another over anthropological issues because they share a common reference group. But we don’t see, as much as might be expected, arguments between a Japanese, a Mexican, and a Bulgarian anthropologist over the changing meanings of “culture,” the different global impacts of neoliberalism, the different cultural effects of global tourism, nationalisms and how they play out in different societies, and so on. We don’t see many genuinely global arguments.
Why? One major factor is language. English has become the de facto international language, but many anthropologists around the world are far more comfortable writing in their own language. Computer translations may be improving, but have a long way to go before they can enable a truly global anthropological communication. A second reason is the history of the discipline: anthropology over its history has long been largely a matter of those from richer societies investigating those of poorer societies across the globe (or richer members of a given society investigating its poorer, often indigenous members), and so the idea of a global anthropology has taken a long time to fully emerge. Today there remains a power difference in world anthropologies, with an Anglo-American core, and semi-peripheries and peripheries. This power imbalance works against the emergence of a genuinely global anthropology.
But it’s time to overcome this. This blog and forum can maybe serve, in a small way, as a means of overcoming the barriers to global anthropology. Let’s discuss things! Let’s argue! Wherever you are from, write down your opinions on any aspect of anthropology in the world today and send them on, to the e-mail address listed below. We’d love to hear from you and throw your work out there to a global audience! Send us a blog! Register on this WCAA website and give us your comments!
World Council of Anthropological Associations
3 comments January 13, 2012
Greetings Gordon and WCAA Members,
In September I began contributing a monthly column to the American Anthropological Association’s new publication, Anthropology News Online. My column titled J Drive uses the interview format to feature current and recently completed research by junior faculty and scholars worldwide and from various institutional contexts. J Drive gives the featured scholars and me an opportunity to chat about their research, teaching and publications. My own research interests coalesce around media, politics, Gandhi, gender and science in colonial and contemporary India. J Drive brings attention to a broad spectrum of topics and regional contexts. Recent columns included Shao hua Liu’s research on Aids and Leprosy in Taiwan, Lotta Bjorklund Larsen’s project on Svart Arbete and the informal economy in Sweden, and Huong Thu Nguyen’s study of sexual violence in Vietnam. An upcoming column will feature a collaborative research project on the youth and the elderly by anthropologists in Switzerland and Tanzania. With this open-access exchange, I hopeJ Drive will further the inclusion of new voices, emerging ideas and histories of anthropology in the pages ofAnthropology News Online and widen the world anthropologies network. I invite WCAA members, anthropology enthusiasts, students and readers to visit J Drive: A monthly column in Anthropology News Online.
Ritu Gairola Khanduri
Add comment January 12, 2012
Another point brought up at the American Anthropological Association meeting of worldwide journal publishers concerned writing, with several journal editors advocating “international English.” This sounds wonderful in principle. If every anthropological writer were to write in easy-to-understand English, then the anthropological playing field would be largely leveled, with native speakers and non-native speakers on a more even standing.
However, in all honesty, how many native speakers of English would be willing to write in international English, curtailing their jargon, limiting their circumlocutions, and simplifying their sentence structures? American academics, not least anthropologists, have a mortal fear of sounding stupid. One reason why anthropological writing is so often convoluted is to avoid revealing the relatively simple ideas one may be expressing—to avoid sounding stupid. In some English-language anthropological writing, linguistic complexity is necessary, given the subtlety of the ideas being expressed. In much more anthropological writing, the complexity seems unnecessary. Complexity may reflect the fact that the authors are bad writers. Or it may reflect an “emperor’s new clothes” syndrome, whereby authors cloak ideas in impenetrable prose because those ideas themselves are unclear, or else all too clear.
If anthropology journals were to mandate that writers write in a standard international English—something that has happened to a degree in medicine and in the hard sciences—the problem of anthropology’s lack of true globality would largely be solved. However, it is hard to imagine this happening. Instead, it seems more likely that a two-tiered class structure would emerge, of Americans and other native speakers writing in complex English, and foreign scholars writing in “international English.”
Ideally, international English might liberate American anthropology from its rhetorical excesses (a tendency I date from Geertz: earlier writers like Benedict and Boas, read retrospectively, are marvels of clarity). More likely, it would simply serve as a form of academic distinction. Those who can write in a complicated way will, and those who can’t won’t—but with only the latter being fully comprehended by many of their readers.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
1 comment December 14, 2011
At the American Anthropological Association meeting in Montrealin November, I was heartened to see how much major American journals are internationalizing. The Editorial Boards of American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology, to name just two journals, increasingly bear the names of anthropologists from across the world. Of course this is a very good thing. But at the same time, that’s the easy part. The hard part of internationalizing anthropology is to make the content of these journals international.
This is problematic because of one simple fact. Anthropology is not the same in different places. What constitutes a good anthropology article for Americans is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a good anthropology article for Japanese, or for Indians, or for Brazilians, or for Eastern Europeans. This can be seen by reading the different flagship journals in different societies: this is one thing that our publication list on the WCAA website reveals. The topics, the approach, and the writing style of these different anthropologies significantly differ.
So, if American Anthropologist and Current Anthropology and other top American journals seek to internationalize, will they publish foreign anthropologists only to the extent that their articles are couched in American discursive terms, reading like American anthropology articles? This will in effect render these different anthropologists American. Or will they publish these articles even if they are not discursively American—not addressing American anthropological concerns, and not following the norms of American argumentation? This runs the risk of alienating these journals’ largely American audiences. Because anthropology is not the same the world over, there seems to be no way beyond this dilemma.
Some journals in the United States will probably remain unaware of this dilemma, implicitly assuming that American standards of anthropology are universal standards of anthropology, and publishing accordingly. Other journals will indeed understand; but there’s no obvious way out. These journals may attempt to take a middle line, both preserving standards and encouraging diversity. But where and how, exactly, is that line to be drawn?
In short, the era of internationalizing anthropology is only beginning. It will be a lot more difficult than most anthropology journal editors, and most anthropologists, now may realize. To repeat a refrain I’ve often stated, anthropology must leave the era of Morgan and Tylor, with anthropologists from rich countries studying cultures from poor countries, and dominating the discipline, to become instead a truly global discipline. That day will come, eventually; but it certainly won’t be easy.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Add comment November 27, 2011