Living Anthropologically on 2012 Anthropology – 2013 Themes
The first full year of Anthropology from Living Anthropologically saw over 74,000 unique visitors and 163,000 pageviews. That’s up about three-times from the 2011 Ten Most Viewed Posts. Here are the one dozen most viewed pages and posts from 2012, with notes on how these themes might develop for 2013. I’ve included the top dozen because the final two were in memoriam posts to two wonderful anthropologists and mentors we lost this year: Elizabeth Brumfiel and Michel-Rolph Trouillot.
Just after I wrote the predictions for Anthropology Themes 2013, I did a plane-ride read of parts of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. It is striking how many of the most-viewed posts were unexpected or partly accidental. So for 2013 will keep an eye on the predictions and perhaps a kind of Black Swan Anthropology Blogging, as the book relates to a number of thoughts I’ve had about economic development and causal stories.
Update April 2013: Here’s the Black Swan Anthropology Lessons!
By far the most viewed, most liked, and most shared post on Living Anthropologically, and landed a mention in Science as “gallows humor”–see Great Year for Anthropology! I expect there will be more attacks on the worth and value of anthropology, as well as the worth and value of liberal arts education–see Are the Liberal Arts Relevant? At the same time I also expect contradiction, ambivalence, and irony: Forbes prominently announced anthropology as the #1 worst major, and then in January 2013 tagged transcultural anthropologist as the #1 Surprising Marketing Job Title, part of their “prognostication for positions that marketers and agencies will be scrambling to fill over the next decade.”
Nota 08/01/13: Ver también la entrevista con Tim Ingold, La antropología en crisis:
“La disciplina está sufriendo una cierta crisis de confianza, posiblemente relacionada con un ambiente académico inseguro: no hay muchos puestos laborales y por eso los estudiosos se ocupan de los temas pequeños, tratando de sobrevivir enfatizando el tema que sienten que los hace diferentes. Y eso no es una buena estrategia si querés salir al ruedo público y hacer ruido.”
This page yields surprisingly large and consistent traffic from search engines. It is part of a yet unfinished eBook which would concentrate on archaeology, plant and animal domestication, and early states. Interesting to see how much this very short 1987 Jared Diamond article is still news or fighting words. With the release of Diamond’s newest book–see Anthropology on Jared Diamond – The World Until Yesterday, I expect more on these themes in 2013: in some ways, this 1987 differentiation between the tribal as “traditional” and everything else post-agriculture as “modern”–see the comment stream for Rex’s First Thoughts on Jared Diamond’s New Book–presages Diamond 2013.
Update January 2013: This does seem to indeed be happening–see the above link and Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture: From Culture to cultures as well as Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History – Geography, States, Empires.
This post was quite popular and shared from the outset and continues to get search engine traffic. I wrote it somewhat on a whim, as a quick response to some common misunderstandings from people in academia who really should know better, and drawing on material from my preferred textbook for Introduction to Anthropology. Eventually I want to make some stable content eBook chapters around these themes, but for now it is an attempt at a relatively succinct explanation of social construction, gender, and sexuality. These themes will probably remain quite lively in 2013. As Agustín Fuentes has noted on his blog–see Busting the Holiday Gender-Fest–there seems to be an increasingly entrenched academic position supporting the gendered toy industry and other gender rackets, oblivious to the commodified gender work which now starts pre-natal.
This was the #1 most viewed, shared, and liked post of 2011, and it holds over as a cornerstone piece for 2012. The analysis and policy positions remain vital–see New Guns for a New Year – American Anthropology and Gun Violence.
Initially this post led to some interesting and civil discussions based on genetic clustering blogsites. However, after bloggers Jerry Coyne and David Barash revealed how little even many evolutionary biologists know about the literature on human variation, further discussion became pointless. My Social Construction of Race = Conservative Goldmine spells out in more detail how this issue almost always becomes a lose-lose for anthropology.
I had written this critique as a draft of a stable content page, but it came roaring into a bit of prominence when Mitt Romney mentioned Jared Diamond who then scolded Romney for not doing his homework–see Jared Diamond won’t beat Mitt Romney. My feeling is that at this point a critique of Diamond from academia, coupled to the inevitable counter-critique from the Diamond defenders, is already such a well-rehearsed ritual that it is nearly impossible to say anything meaningful or new about Diamond. My central claim is that the real problem with Diamond is how his incorrect and imperialist-justifying history replaced the more accurate but less politically palliative work of Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History. See Eric Wolf, Europe and the People Without History – Geography, States, Empires for more!
Before I launched this project as a blog, these reflections on human nature were the first chapter in a planned introductory-supplement textbook for anthropology. These sections are now webpages and available as an Amazon eBook, Anthropology I: Human Nature, Race, Evolution in Biological Anthropology. This is obviously not an easy-going introduction, but it seemed necessary to provide context for what must be a central anthropological mission statement, to understand human nature. The theme probably won’t abate in 2013, although perhaps the recent interest in Cyborg Anthropology will provide new directions.
Most of the traffic on this post came from getting pulled into some rather unsavory corners of the internet, where a whole host of people spend their time convinced of inherent and biologically-evolutionarily-based IQ differences. That Ron Unz, who has provided significant monetary support to some of these people, published a race-IQ debunking piece in the American Conservative, sticking to his argument despite outraged rebuttals from some of the people he funded, seemed to suggest a rift that might finally mute this dedicated fringe. Or one could imagine that a later study debunking the idea of one general intelligence measure might have some effect. Not so. They keep chugging along, another reason I wrote Social Construction of Race = Conservative Goldmine. My feeling is that what propels this issue, and what will always propel this issue, is the continuing white/black divide in the U.S. Since this divide remains economically and politically salient, a 22x average white-black wealth difference in 2010, inequality that has grown rather than diminished, so claims of intractable difference continue to figure in anti-amelioration efforts. In fact, the biological race people believe there has already been an over-amelioration, such that any remaining disparities must simply be a testimony to that intractability. It’s a rat’s nest.
As I mentioned in Denisovan Brains, trying to figure out how Denisovan discoveries mattered to teaching anthropology and popular media became a founding issue for Living Anthropologically. This is a cornerstone piece in that effort and one of the first things I wrote for the website. The idea of doing multispecies ethnographies and other work expanding notions of species and evolution seems to be gathering strength in anthropology. Will 2013 be the year for finding some kind of paleoarchaeological support for the Denisovans? Or will 2013 be the year when it is revealed, as Jonathan Marks writes: “My feeling is that the Denisovans are a reification as well, built from genetic data, biological deduction, and anthropological assumption” (My ancestors, myself). I am coming to suspect it is the latter, beginning to wonder if The Denisovans! may not rather become like The Piltdown Man! of genetics.
I’ve been happy to see my attempted summary of some of the articles in the Race Reconciled AJPA special issue get more attention. One of my reasons for launching Living Anthropologically was from reading and teaching these articles and trying to understand their findings both within anthropology and beyond. With Clarence Gravlee’s How Race Becomes Biology: Embodiment of Social Inequality now anthologized in the tenth edition of Applying Anthropology, perhaps we can anticipate further discussion of these issues in a wider sphere.
Dr. Elizabeth Brumfiel, Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology at Northwestern University and an inspiring scholar, will be greatly missed. Also, for a collection of news articles, tributes, and short bibliography, see In Memoriam: Elizabeth Brumfiel 1945-2012 at Anthropology Report.
Liz Brumfiel eased me into teaching and helped me stay in academia when I thought I was going in other directions. She was an incredibly supportive mentor, and set an example for a public anthropology that was also rooted in the liberal arts. Some of her final published reflections–included in the Agustín Fuentes forum, On Nature and the Human, remain worth pondering in anthropology’s search for a public role.
The headline I wish we were reading is how the nation gathered to reflect on Trouillot’s work and legacy: Anthropology Changed Everything. For more, see In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot 1949-2012 at Anthropology Report.
The extended illness and passing of Michel-Rolph Trouillot has been an enormous blow to an anthropology that might have been. The essays in Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World will always remain a tremendous source of inspiration, but we will miss their elucidation and development. What would Trouillot make of the public battering of anthropology, when even speaking as an anthropologist seems to invite futility and ridicule? What would he make of Anthropology as White Public Space?, issues he had discussed since at least the 1990s? Would he see any potential in the anthropology blogosphere, or would he be a Sharing Anthropology skeptic?
My take is that Trouillot’s injunction from the last decade remains salient for this one:
Anthropologists are well placed to face these changes, first by documenting them in ways that are consistent with our disciplinary history. The populations we traditionally study are often those most visibly affected by the ongoing polarization brought about by the new spatiality of the world economy. They descend directly from those who paid most heavily for the transformations of earlier times. . . . We cannot abandon the four-fifths of humanity that the [ 1% ] see as increasingly useless to the world economy, not only because we built a discipline on the backs of their ancestors but also because the tradition of that discipline has long claimed that the fate of no human group can be irrelevant to humankind.
–Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World, 2003:138