Posts filed under ‘Contributions’

Journal Publishing and Money in Anthropology

Recent on-line articles have pointed out the enormous problem of money in academic publishing.  As one seminal article explores (, academics in developing countries are priced out of the market for world knowledge—with prices for academic journals soaring way out of control, only libraries in the developed world tend to be able to afford subscriptions to journals.  To quote from the above article, “students from poor backgrounds in large parts of the developing world will not have access to quality academic journals in their universities. This means that they will not be as well trained, and as a result will not have the same opportunities as the privileged.”  In a discipline like anthropology, perpetually seeking to overcome its roots in Morgan and Tylor, its legacy as a colonial discipline, this is a major global problem.  Differential access to journals separates anthropologists of the developed-world core from those of the developing-world periphery.  To the extent that anthropologists from the periphery are cut off from developed-world anthropological knowledge, they are doomed to remain on the periphery—to not fully know what’s going on in their global professional world, and thus to remain at its margins.


The ultimate solution to this problem is open access (see  Open access has been gaining considerable traction in recent years, with, for example, some authors posting pre-print versions of their articles on their websites. Discontent with closed-access journal publishing—which seems to have a greater stranglehold in the hard sciences, where journal prices are most expensive—have led institutions such as M.I.T. to make many scientific articles available on its data base, and has led protestors to place their work on various pirate sites (see  Within anthropology, discontent with this system is what has led to the efforts of WCAA to put together a world database of anthropological journals.


However, fact remains that the highest-impact journals in anthropology as well as in many other disciplines are, almost as a rule, those that require paid subscriptions, because these are the journals that many scholars want to publish in, and thus that can afford to be expensive.  The journal I edit, Asian Anthropology, is not open access; I would certainly like it to be, but it is not my journal but that of my department, most members of which maintain that closed access and a print edition are the only way to justify the journal’s existence. It is a professional necessity for increasing numbers of young academics throughout the world to publish in expensive print journals, with academics across continents worrying about what journals rank highest on the Social Science Citation Index.  Those journals that rank the highest are to a rough degree, anyway, those that cost the most to access, which is no coincidence.


Ultimately open access will win out—this is inevitable—but it will be a long-term struggle, simply because it seems in individual journals’ best interests to charge money and remain closed.  This is not because they are greedy for profits but because they seek the global prestige that closed access seems to often bring within the anthropological world.  This is how anthropology remains colonial, a situation that I myself am sorry to be helping, in a tiny way, to sustain.


Gordon Mathews

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

3 comments September 18, 2011

On Language in Anthropology

In the guidelines of the graduate school of the University of Haifa, Israel it says: “As a rule, a thesis will be written in Hebrew.” In some point of my MA research, I decided to write my thesis in English and had to submit a letter explaining my reasons for doing so. Not only this, my two advisors had to agree and sign the letter. Only after the graduate school approved my request I could begin writing my thesis in English. I remember thinking that it is absurd: Why wouldn’t they want EVERY student to write in English??? Don’t they want people to read it? How many people will have access to my thesis if it is written in Hebrew?! I guess what I am trying to ask is: Is it worth writing in any language other than English? Is it worth having publications in other languages? I guess my thoughts echo Gordon Mathews’ previous post about not being able to read most non-English publications.


I have studied anthropology in Israel, and had amazing anthropological debates with my teachers and classmates in Hebrew. In the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where I pursue PhD studies, I sometimes discuss  in Chinese with my classmates and teachers contemporary anthropological issues. There is a world of anthropology beyond “anthropology in English.” And today I think that the University of Haifa was right. In my letter to the graduate school I wrote that there are certain terms that are so difficult to translate (like “embodiment”) so I had rather use English, but shouldn’t we strive harder to think about the correct terms in other languages? As anthropologists we advocate “multi-culturalism” and we fight against “Westernization” but do we really?


Phillip Demgenski writes that in order to “give way to a truly global anthropology, we should thus let go of the anthropology of the ‘far away’ and focus on an anthropology of the ‘here’ and ‘now.'”  On this note I must say that I do not believe that this is the “problem” of contemporary anthropology. Perhaps it was a problem decades ago, but today most anthropologists do research the “here” and “now.” Education, reproduction, wine, food, soap, shampoo, childhood, youth culture, stoke brokers are only few examples of the “here” and “now” topics that contemporary anthropology deals with. In our anthropology department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong we have a mainland Chinese student studying NGO’s in China, a German student studying the city of Qingdao, a Hong Kong student studying undocumented south Asian migrants in Hong Kong. I believe that many other students and anthropologists around the world study the “here” and “now.” Moreover, I do not think that we should abandon the “poor” and the “south:” Migration of rural people, asylum seekers, street children are some of the most important contemporary social issues that anthropology should try to understand and bring to the public knowledge.


I am not sure what the “problem” is but I do not think that it lies in studying  the “here” and “now.” We can go further and ask where “here” is?


I guess the problem lies in the fact that most not-written-in-English anthropology is not read, but it does not mean that it does not exist. Should we write in English? If we do want to reach a bigger audience I believe we should. But it does not mean there is no room for other languages as well. Great philosophy was written in Chinese, French and Germen. I believe that there is a place for both. So if we want people to read what we write about “here” and “now” we should keep in mind that we have a choice; at least we should have.


Avital Binah-Pollak

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

2 comments June 1, 2011

An Anthropology of the “Here” and “Now”

As someone from Germany who did his undergraduate and MA postgraduate degrees in the UK, I was hardly aware of Anglo-American hegemony within the field of anthropology before moving to Hong Kong to pursue further studies. Of course, when studying in the UK one is to some degree a constituent part of this hegemony and thus less likely to be aware of it. Also, since the British school of social anthropology has carved out a relatively strong identity for itself, there seems to be much less need to question its academic individuality vis-à-vis American cultural anthropology, although boundaries have admittedly become increasingly indistinct. In a place like Hong Kong, however, the situation appears to be different. Anglo-American dominance may come much more to the forefront and the issue of defining anthropology’s overall outlook seems to be much more prominent in a place like Hong Kong.


I would like to take up one of Gordon Mathew’s points in the previous blog entry, in which he writes that “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.” To someone who is relatively new to the study of anthropology, this is indeed an intriguing issue. When I think back to my time as a (non-anthropology) undergraduate student in the UK, and to what I saw of and heard about anthropology, what comes to my mind is a bunch of interesting people who all had stories to tell; stories of far-away places; places that were fascinating and electrifying, pure and untouched, romantic and maybe sometimes brutal, in short, places that were everything that the “here” and “now” was not. I have to admit that I was also charmed by these stories. Yet, did I ever consider what these “far-away” places and their people thought, felt, experienced? Did I ever consider the fact that these distant places in all their fascination were in reality perhaps nothing but the anthropologist’s own projections?


Why is only the “far-away” so fascinating, why do we not focus our attention on the “here” and “now”? And why do we pay so little attention to what the “far-away” have to say about themselves, about others or even about us in the “here” and “now”? By fixing the “far away” in space and time, we not only exercise hegemony over those places, we also place the anthropological discipline into a straightjacket and disallow anyone else to actively engage and participate in it.


To me, a global anthropology should not only be about inclusion, it should also be about de-stigmatising so-called native anthropology. I sometimes wonder why notions such as ethnicity or the nation-state, which the anthropologist has long identified as non-static, fluid, changeable, not to say imagined, suddenly become such prominent and determining factors when the discipline’s own identity is at stake. We should actually use the theories we have developed and apply them to our own discipline. To give way to a truly global anthropology, we should thus let go of the anthropology of the “far away” and focus on an anthropology of the “here” and “now”.


Philipp Demgenski

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

4 comments May 12, 2011

Some treasures from the WCAA Publications list

I have been having a lot of fun exploring the WCAA’s website’s feast of journals—although I, like every other reader, would like more on-line offerings (disclaimer: I edit a journal that is not available on-line except for a fee. I can’t easily fight that, unfortunately…).


One article I found interesting was Alba Zaluar’s “Youth, drug traffic, and hypermasculinity in Rio de Janeiro,” in the Brazilian on-line journal Vibrant: Zaluar, drawing on extended interviews, offers a well-reasoned explication of why there is such violence in the favelas of Rio, one that resonates with, for example, Philippe Bourgois’s In Search of Respect on New York City crack dens, but that also offers substantial contrasts. Unlike New York, many of Zaluar’s informants rely on “private security” for their safety; Rio’s suburbs, as compared to North American suburbs, are poorer than cities are. Anyway, have a look!


I also read “The rise to prominence of Artemisia annua L. – the transformation of a Chinese plant to a global pharmaceutical” by Caroline Meier zu Biesen, in the on-line journal African Sociological Review:
Biesen finds that the plant kills as well as cures some of those who ingest it for the treatment of malaria, and discusses how medicines may achieve “a life of their own” regardless of effectiveness, due to global pursuits of profit. This is common knowledge in a broad sense, but Biesen’s particular ethnographic explication is quite convincing, and devastating.
I also had a look at Popular Anthropology Magazine, a free journal based in the midwest of the United States:
At this point I await the beginning of my free subscription: I look forward to reading this journal.


Generally speaking, if a journal is in English, it is less likely to be open access, whereas if a journal is not in English, it is more likely to be open. Might this signify something larger: the eventual eclipse of proprietary English-language publications before a vast array of non-proprietary journals in an array of world languages? I wish I knew twenty or thirty different languages. Since I know how to read only a scant few, the flood of world output of anthropological journals remains closed: I remain at the mercy of Google translations… In any case, we are emerging into a new anthropological world, when anyone anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection can partake of the global accumulation of anthropological knowledge.
It’s exciting to be alive now!


Gordon Mathews

Send me your blog and I’ll put it on–

Add comment April 28, 2011

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