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
Recent on-line articles have pointed out the enormous problem of money in academic publishing. As one seminal article explores (http://theconversation.edu.au/how-academic-journals-price-out-developing-countries-2484), 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 http://theconversation.edu.au/explainer-open-access-vs-traditional-academic-journal-publishers-2511). 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 http://theconversation.edu.au/putting-a-price-on-knowledge-the-high-cost-of-academic-journals-2475). 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.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
4 comments September 18, 2011
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.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
3 comments June 1, 2011
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”.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
6 comments May 12, 2011
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: http://www.vibrant.org.br/downloads/v7n2_zaluar.pdf 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: http://www.popanthro.com/index.php/en/home
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!
Send me your blog and I’ll put it on–
1 comment April 28, 2011
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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