Some Possible Anthropological Futures: WCAA vs. SSCI

September 14, 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.

 

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