Jared Diamond & Future Anthropology

Public Anthropology

In 2013 I had the honor and pleasure to be discussant for a panel on Margaret Mead and Jared Diamond. Alex Golub organized Past Publics, Current Engagements for the 2013 American Anthropological Association meetings. I read and commentted on papers by Alex Golub, Nancy Lutkehaus, Ira Bashkow, Maureen Anne Molloy, Jim Roscoe, and Paul Shankman. I focused my comments on Jared Diamond and the future of public anthropology.

Jared Diamond as Public Anthropology

With the publication of The World Until Yesterday you could now teach a four-fields Introduction to Anthropology using only Jared Diamond. Start with The Third Chimpanzee for biological anthropology, move to Guns, Germs and Steel for archaeology, then The World Until Yesterday for cultural anthropology, drawing across these works for a smattering of linguistics, always a sub-theme for Diamond. You could even throw in Collapse as a tale of political-and-moral obligation around climate change. And apparently, according to Gillian Tett’s interview with Jared Diamond, there is yet another big book on the way, bringing us all the way back to the modern world: “In the next couple of years, Diamond plans to write a blockbuster analysis of how modern civilisations ‘manage’ the process of change and crisis.” Great.

While most anthropologists would shudder at Jared-Diamond-as-Anthropology, it is pretty much standard for how the undergraduate-level audience gets their public anthropology and world history. As is obvious from these papers, Jared Diamond may now be a primary conduit for how people think they know what they know about culture and cultural relativism.

Anthropological reactions to Jared Diamond have always varied tremendously. Most anthropologists have ignored him, which is one reason he has been able to construct an anthropology-esque empire. Some urge us to continue ignoring him, simply substituting good anthropology for bad. However, perhaps as most saliently noted in the papers by Nancy Lutkehaus and Jim Roscoe, ignoring the people who are public figures–or attempts to ignore the fact that anthropology has been ignored–is something we do at our peril.

Other anthropologists have attacked, and even though anthropologists are hardly alone in scolding Diamond–indeed arguments from historians and geographers can be sharper and harsher–anthropology has earned a reputation of uniquely hating Diamond. As I have myself learned, attacks on Jared Diamond often fall into a kind of rehearsed pattern–you’re just jealous; you’re a small-minded academic versus a really big thinker; and so on. It’s a pattern that Roscoe’s paper alludes to when he talks about the main directions contemporary anthropology has moved–it is difficult to put the critique of Diamond simply, and even if done well it is easily button-holed into counter-accusation: You’re a deconstructionist! You’re an advocate! You’re seeking complexity for complexity’s sake!

This set of papers really takes us into a much more sophisticated level of engagement. First and foremost, by brilliantly pulling in Margaret Mead, they make us wrestle with the history of anthropology, both as an academic discipline and in its most dramatic outreach as public anthropology. This allows us to turn away from lists of individual foibles and scholarly deficiencies to where we most need to go: understanding the structural character of Diamond’s argument, and the conditions of possibility that have resulted in this Jared Diamond effect. In fact, that’s what Nancy Lutkehaus has already done in analyzing the structure of possibility of Margaret Mead as an “academostar”–a result of savvy promotion but also a media world that needed a Mead. Here, I would completely agree with Lutkehaus’s analysis in her paper that in Diamond we have a revival of what Trouillot called the Savage Slot–in part because people still want and need that slot, in part because anthropology in some sense did not attack the thematic as much as ignore it or turn to other points. As Bashkow said, we are “past all that,” but we moved past-all-that without dismantling the Savage Slot in public.

Pulling in the public role of Margaret Mead also introduces us to new facets of public anthropology, like Paul Shankman’s fascinating analysis of Mead’s Redbook columns. We might have thought this was the closest any anthropologist ever got to writing an anthropology blog in the 1960s: Mead’s style, focus, what she talked and did not talk about, are nothing short of revelatory. Plus, finding out that two anthropologists wrote a book called Open Marriage that sold 35 million copies in 1972. That’s worth knowing about.

Similarly Maureen Molloy’s paper takes us into keyword searches for the first mention of anthropology in the New York Times as well as an overview of relations among disciplines and news coverage since the early twentieth century. As an opening salvo in an ongoing project, we can hope for more, perhaps including the keyword searches now available on Google books and other digitization outlets.

My main aim is simply to encourage the effort. We might be tempted to dismiss this as a cute endpoint to wrap-up the Jared Diamond year: draw some unexpected parallels to Margaret Mead and then let it be. Rather, this needs to be a starting point for a larger engagement. The tactic of ignoring Diamond–or again, the structures that make a Jared Diamond possible–cannot be sustained.

Jared Diamond and Ruth Benedict

Toward that end, I would like to push the panelists a bit. My overall suggestion is to bring in more of Ruth Benedict. As brilliant as it is to make the parallel to Margaret Mead, and as the papers have shown, as fruitful as the connections are in primary fieldsite material as well as personality comparisons, if we submerge Ruth Benedict we accomplish the trick of exaggerating the importance of Margaret Mead. This was a feat Mead pulled off herself, even in relation to Benedict, but we want to be careful not to fall for it here. As Sidney Mintz said about Benedict-Mead: “Benedict was Mead’s teacher, but if you listened to Mead, it was the other way around.”

That said, I don’t want to be the person who is simply here to say, “but you forgot Benedict!” Instead, the Benedict example may be used to sharpen and elaborate themes across the panel and for individual papers.

Golub’s location of Diamond’s coming of age, of his allegiance to a scientific project that culminated just before anthropology’s turn in the late 1960s to history, interconnection, and power, strikes me as precisely correct. As Golub notes, this turn to history, interconnection and power had a certain hegemony within the discipline, and it is the people who still live from that moment, and their intellectual heirs–and it is my dream to be considered an intellectual heir to that moment–who are the most exercised about Diamond. Of course, even by invoking Bourdieu and Eric Wolf, Golub is perhaps himself signaling an allegiance to that moment and the kinds of analyses which flowed from it. But we might immediately question whether the turn to history, interconnection, and power, as significant as it was, ever truly became hegemonic. There was Clifford Geertz; there was Writing Culture, and it isn’t like Levi-Strauss had entirely quit the scene.

Differently said, and going back to Lutkehaus on the academostar, even if the turn to history, interconnection, and power became quite dominant within the discipline, they were always fighting a rearguard action and did little in the public sphere to attack the Savage Slot head-on.

In this sense, Diamond is not exactly a Boasian, but a manifestation of a possible Boasian program. Ruth Benedict was also such a manifestation, and in her Patterns of Culture we find a similar impetus to consider cultural wholes, isolated from the currents of history and power, and very explicit statements that other peoples were the laboratory of the anthropological experiment. Of course when other anthropologists tried to duplicate this emphasis on cultural wholes in a pristine laboratory, it became apparent that the world didn’t work like that–which is one of the reasons for the turn to history, interconnection, and power.

Interestingly, when we do look at Diamond’s edited volume on Natural Experiments of History, and especially to the chapter he wrote for that volume, it seems to my very quick reading that Diamond acknowledges how his overall schema falls apart. Easter Island was Diamond’s most famous example, as “the Earth writ small.” However, my read of Diamond’s chapter is that when he actually digs a bit into the history, he begins to understand (although not completely) that each island and society cannot be understood apart from each society’s particular history and insertion into the colonial regime: “Thus Easter became deforested not because its inhabitants were especially shortsighted or did especially strange things, but because they had the bad luck to find themselves living on one of the Pacific’s most environmentally fragile islands, with the lowest regrowth rates of trees” (Natural Experiments of History, 133). So I would push Golub a bit on these details–is this book in fact the Jared Diamond, Footnoted which quietly upends the Diamond paradigm?(See the October 2017 update below for a much more devastating critique of the “ecocide” charge with regard to Easter Island.)

I’m also quite curious about the relation of Benedict to Reo Fortune and Margaret Mead, as described in Ira Bashkow’s paper. Fortune, of course, could have used the popularity of what Benedict did with his Dobuan material in order to catapult into the public frame. If, as Bashkow says, public audiences are made, not found, he would have had a kind of ready-made audience to write a sequel: “Patterns of Culture II, The Devious Dobuans.” Baskow suggests, however, that Fortune was quite faithful, perhaps too faithful to the people he was studying, and apparently Fortune did quietly disavow Benedict’s tale about Dobu, similarly to how Fortune eventually contradicted Mead on the Arapesh.

Benedict may have more lessons for Bashkow’s distinction between responsiveness to the reader and responsiveness to the subjects. While this is a very insightful way to think things through, I wonder if it too much addresses a public anthropology that should no longer be. For example, if we look at Benedict’s other bestseller, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, it was roundly critiqued as ethnography but found a huge audience in Japan, and is therefore an early example of a work that cross-cuts the categories of people-who-read and people-who-are-studied. It seems that a public anthropology–and I am here in accord with Roscoe and Bashkow that there may not ever be a “public at large” or a “monolithic public”–needs to think about the people-who-are-studied as the primary people-who-read. Taking this step would also encourage anthropologists to take much better account of local scholarship–people inside and outside of academia, in our fieldsites, who produce commentary and knowledge about their societies. Or in other words, we resolutely must maintain responsiveness to our subjects, but we have to find out how our subjects are themselves readers and writers, and who may also have concerns about public anthropology and the purpose of anthropology.

In that way, Benedict also offers a potential counterpoint to Jim Roscoe’s trilogy of clarity, narrative arc, and character development. Now I don’t want to speak against clarity, or against narrative, or characters. We can all do better at those things, and there are a number of contemporary anthropologists already doing it well. But Benedict was a bestseller who was also a bit messier, with long paragraphs, and some narrative density. I fear that if we always say public anthropology is going to need to be simpler, it may induce a certain despair or cookie-cutter model, when in fact there could always be multiple models. As Lutkehaus relates, Mead was also a great public speaker who could pontificate from 3×5 notecards. But again, do not despair–Benedict sold a lot of books with a very different public speaking persona. Or, as Golub more recently enjoined us, consider using the complexity of Game of Thrones as a model.

Maureen Molloy crucially identifies the 1930s as the key moment in popular appropriations of the culture concept. Certainly Benedict’s 1934 Patterns of Culture sits squarely in that moment, and tied to developments in psychology and psychoanalysis. Admittedly Benedict as keyword fares low on the list in comparison to Boas and Mead, even in 1939. Nevertheless, given that this list is before the publication of the pamphlet by Benedict and Gene Weltfish on the The Races of Mankind, later marked as subversive propaganda and getting Weltfish ousted by McCarthy, the popular pamphlet speaks to what Malloy distills as a salient theme in these years.

My “bring in Benedict” idea does not work so well with Paul Shankman’s analysis of Mead in Redbook. Benedict died in 1948, and Mead would go on for another 30 years. We don’t even know what Benedict would have done with the 1950s, let alone the 1960s. Still, it seems Benedict might have been a bit less staid than the Mead of Redbook. Here is Benedict in 1934:

Our fears over even very minor shifts in custom are usually quite beside the point. Civilizations might change far more radically than any human authority has ever had the will or the imagination to change them, and still be completely workable. The minor changes that occasion so much denunciation today, such as the increase of divorce, the growing secularization in our cities, the prevalence of the petting party, and many more, could be taken up quite readily into a slightly different pattern of culture. Becoming traditional, they would be given the same richness of content, the same importance and value, that the older patterns had in other generations” (Benedict, Patterns of Culture 1934:36-37)

Nevertheless, the advantage is still that when we bring this panel to public anthropology, Benedict is a less polarizing figure than Margaret Mead, someone who potentially pulls people more into the history of anthropological thought rather than encourages the kind of stereotyped back-and-forths that Shankman wants to avoid by analyzing Redbook, and what we want to avoid by diagnosing, and going beyond, Jared Diamond.

I wish to again emphasize how excited I am by these papers, and to encourage that this be a starting point for wider tactics of engagement as public anthropology.

Updates on Public Anthropology & Jared Diamond

See The truth about Easter Island: A sustainable society has been falsely blamed for its own demise by Catrine Jarman (October 2017) for a devastating critique of Jared Diamond’s ecocide argument:

The real answer is more sinister. Throughout the 19th century, South American slave raids took away as much as half of the native population. By 1877, the Rapanui numbered just 111. Introduced disease, destruction of property and enforced migration by European traders further decimated the natives and lead to increased conflict among those remaining. . . .
Perhaps, then, the takeaway from Rapa Nui should not be a story of ecocide and a Malthusian population collapse. Instead, it should be a lesson in how sparse evidence, a fixation with “mysteries”, and a collective amnesia for historic atrocities caused a sustainable and surprisingly well-adapted population to be falsely blamed for their own demise.

To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2014. “Public Anthropology: Jared Diamond and the Future.” Living Anthropologically website, https://www.livinganthropologically.com/jared-diamond-future-public-anthropology/. First posted 21 July 2014. Revised 23 October 2017.

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  • Discuss White Privilege

    As always, interesting post, Jason. But I wonder, does Anthropology’s official ‘we’re past the Savage Slot’ really mean that the vast majority of (White) anthropologists actually are? I am thinking here of a couple of contradictory counterpoints that gesture to Mary Douglas’s admonition in How Institutions Think, to understand what people actually believe not simply by what they say, but by looking at what they actually *do*. (And on a not unrelated note, the ‘we’re past it’ claim reminds me of the disparity between White internet daters claims of colorblindness v. their actual racist race/gender preferences in Cynthia Feliciano et al’s article on White internet daters’ race/gender preferences.) In other words, how far past the Savage Slot is Anthropology, truly, in light of the ongoing truth in Elizabeth Chin’s quip that the unspoken rule in Anthropology is that people of color are supposed to study themselves while White anthropologists get to study everyone; a reality which is not separate from Anthropology’s ‘white public space’ problem, and how this hegemonic (and often abusive) Normative Whiteness produces the kinds of institutional racism and sexism discussed in the book Presumed Incompetent.

    I can’t help but wonder how much the failure of anthropologists to publicly dismantle the Savage Slot was the result of many (White, and especially White male) anthropologists not having moved very far from believing in and/or being invested in the Savage Slot, such that they continue(d) to see people of color as those to be ‘spoken’ for and as subordinates unfit to challenge their individual White authority, or the White-supremacist practices that continue to make Anthropology ‘white public space’ and make the academy an incredibly hostile and abusive space for many scholars of color, especially when they are also identified as women/female, in the ways discussed in Presumed Incompetent.

    • Hi Discuss White Privilege, thank you for this comment and your observations. I would basically agree–anthropologists believed they moved past the Savage Slot, and certainly as Rex’s recounting of insane fieldwork shows, there is an admission of the bad old days of anthropology. However, as you point out, that may have been more superficial than real, and in many ways the re-whitening of anthropology over the last few decades means the Savage Slot is still very much with us.

      • Discuss White Privilege

        Yes, the Savage Slot is still with anthropology, because it is still fundamentally a discipline which encourages (neo)colonialist practices and worldviews, hierarchies and power asymmetries, via encouraging White anthropologists to ‘speak for’ non-White Others, and to gain expertise via foreign fieldwork experiences (or ‘local’ fieldwork experiences among less-powerful, often marginalized populations). This issue of reproducing power asymmetries/inequalities is at the heart of the anthropological project and the foundation of professionalization into the discipline. And make no mistake, it is very much a discipline, in the most Foucaultian valences of this term. And while there is some ‘studying up’, most fieldwork for the dissertation is NOT about studying elites, or Whiteness. The vast majority of anthropologists don’t ‘study up’, and we need to think about why this is in order to understand why the Savage Slot persists in anthropology–and beyond.

        Many anthropologists don’t want to study up. Then there are also issues of gaining access to elites, especially when one is also not White and male. It is easier to ‘speak for’ the populations that have been Anthropology’s traditional Objects of Study. Moreover, despite all its ‘we’re past that rhetoric’ the demographics and practices of the discipline, as it is presently structured, encourage comfort with the racist hierachies of the academy, which are also the racist hierarchies of the larger world in which (White) anthropologists have been raised and socialized. White anthropologists are reluctant to be objects of study in the ways that they study and ‘speak for’ others. Such behavior–fundamentally–doesn’t challenge or move past the Savage Slot.

        When I was a grad student I was constantly questioned by students of color in Ethnic Studies and Af/Am as to how I could be in such a racist discipline. Initially I was naive and defended the discipline, truly believing AAA race statements and professed ‘we’re past that’ statements were true. But a series of shocking incidents of racist abuse, coupled with the re-Whitened demographics of the faculty, made it clear that those students of color were correctly identifying the discipline for what it is, v. what it believes it is and may or may not aspire to be. Honestly, I don’t know how many (White) anthropologists are truly interested in or committed to antiracism, v. neoliberal rhetorical of ‘diversity’ and not being seen as being capital-R racist. After all, why so much anger when scholars of color want to study Whiteness, or point out racist practices in the discipline?

      • Discuss White Privilege

        The issue is *power*. If you are attracted to a discipline that encourages you to ‘speak for’ non-White others, unchallenged (for all intents and purposes), probably not so surprising that people don’t want their power challenged, which *substantively* moving past the Savage Slot would require.

        This issue of power and the discipline has radical implications for another Rex post on Savage Minds, in relation to empathy; because to me the failure to truly challenge and move past the Savage Slot is a real indictment of and challenge to anthropological claims of empathy. So, worth thinking about the reluctance to truly be antiracist and anti-Savage Slot relative to the contradiction between trying to wrest empathy from a discipline rooted in power asymmetries that allow only some to ‘speak for’ others/Others: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/opinion/sunday/powerful-and-coldhearted.html

      • Discuss White Privilege

        If, as Rex wrote over on Savage Minds, empathy should be the hallmark of ethnographic representation, then it is worth considering the relationship between lack of anthropological ethnographies on Whiteness and White racial formation in the contemporary US and the experiences of people of color with racism in everyday life (not simply defining racism as the province of hate groups and explicit bigots, but the daily, unconscious practices of anthropologists themselves) and the persistence of the Savage Slot in anthropology. It is hard for (White) anthropologists to dispense with the Savage Slot when they are so often unaware of the radically different ways in which those without White privilege experience the world, and thus don’t and can’t truly empathize with those still burdened by the Savage Slot.

        A resistance to people of color studying Whites and Whiteness does not indicate being past the Savage Slot. But the reality of the discipline is that anthropologists of color know that they will be punished for studying Whiteness in the US, in ways that directly address how White anthropologists are socialized and professionalized (such that the discipline is re-whitening), especially if such research is done as a dissertation project or prior to tenure. Whiteness can be displaces to locals outside the US, outside the US academy, outside the middle- and upper-middle-class communities from which most anthropologists (and certainly tenured and tenure-track professors) hail, but studying White anthropologists themselves is especially verboten. And this is very much the about the legacy and persistence of the Savage Slot in anthropology.

        Anthropology does NOT encourage ‘them’ studying ‘us’ as ‘we’ have studied ‘them’. “Keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home” is the response to such a proposed inversion of the power asymmetries in which the discipline has long been invested and *benefitted* from. Sadly.

  • Discuss White Privilege
  • weiner_dawg

    What makes Jared Diamond possible? Coming up with politically correct narratives for world history that the NYT will eat up and praise, and then cherry-picking data to back up the claim.

  • Discuss White Privilege

    Sorry to de facto monopolize the comments with another response, but this post is really central to much of the inequality both inside and outside the academy, and impinges in larder issues of normalizing dehumanization and naturalizing inequalities that are about inequalities of power. As such, my previous comments are also related to the following post on Inside Higher Ed about ABD designation and the high rate of attrition from doctoral process, something that was not considered in relation to institutional racism of the academy and how it results in students of color (especially doing projects on Whiteness and racial inequality) not being supported by advisers, departments, a discipline still committed *in practice* (even if not in official rhetoric) to the Savage Slot: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/07/25/higher-ed-should-create-alternative-abd-status-essay#sthash.788x84OW.I5tqq77G.dpbs. The extent to which people didn’t even think that some people are pushed out of doctoral programs due to harassment and whistleblower retaliation is just a sad comment on how normalized abuse, racism, sexism, are in the academy. As if everyone is ‘leaving’ because they just don’t care enough to finish or aren’t capable enough to focus on doing good research. This all circles back to the issue of why so many anthros don’t hear about St. Clair Drake and don’t see DuBois as part of the canon. Sad that more people, in anthro, yet again, are not ‘connecting the dots’ to think about how lack of support in graduate school is related to sexual harassment and racist advisors not supporting students of color who do projects on racial inequality that the advisers don’t want to support because of issues of their own racism/biases, not a lack of intellectual ability and competence on the part of the advisee.

    So this issue of the Savage Slot in anthropology has far greater implications. It relates to Kate Clancy et al’s study of sexual harassment in the discipline and to the issues raised by. Presumed Incompetent and the ‘connect all the dots’ AAA Blog post from July 2013. How often do anthropologists tell themselves that a (female) graduate student left a program because she just wasn’t smart enough, when she actually left because she was pushed out due to racial and/or sexual harassment and abuse (especially for reporting the abuse)? But the persistence of the Savage Slot allows anthropologists to have the kind of neoliberal ‘individual responsibility/ they are failures’ perspective that was taken by most commenters on the Inside Higher Ed piece above. The Savage Slot allows anthropologists to normalize this abuse by (1) assuming that a person of color just wasn’t smart enough (even at the same time that anthropologists decry linking race to intelligence), and (2) assuming that the person of color’s scholarship was of course deficient (instead of being honest about the ‘white public space’ issues that cause some projects by some people to be received with hostility, not because they lack intellectual merit or scholarly rigor, but because they make advisers uncomfortable if not outright angry for raising issues of inequality that professors are reluctant to engage, especially by people who have long been seen as those anthropology is supposed to ‘speak for’).

    It is too easy to hate Jared Diamond. Especially when anthropologists are often complaining about his having a worldview the ‘white public space’ of anthropology really hasn’t left behind.

    • Hi, thank you for additional comments. No worries about monopolizing, since I don’t get that much commentary through here. Some of these comments remind me of a Trouillot footnote I mentioned in Adieu, Culture: Fetishizing Fieldwork on the Road to Essentialism:

      [Eugenia] Shanklin (2000) seems surprised at the negative views of anthropology she discovered in her study of public opinion. Yet the whiteness of the discipline (extreme among the human sciences and made more blatant by anthropology’s favorite objects of study), the conservative and essentialist deployments of culture, and the near-total disconnect between anthropology as a theoretical practice and the public deployments of concepts and images together beg for a public relations disaster. The wonder is that the image is not worse. (2003:153)

  • Discuss White Privilege

    Jason, curious to get your thoughts on this response to Rex’s post, which for me illustrates the sad gap between rhetoric and practice when it comes to being ‘past the Savage Slot’, especially since it rather seems like the kind of comment routinely made by those with the racial privilege to not have to deal with the real-world consequences/legacies of being seen as belonging to the Savage Slot:

    “You know what? I’m glad people like those mentioned exist in our discipline. ‘Political correctness is killing anthropology’. There can be no progress without occasional mistakes to learn from.”

    • That comment to me looks like trolling. I understand that it might point to a larger pattern, but would not take it as evidence for that pattern.

  • Discuss White Privilege

    It is also worth considering this post, the question of what public anthropology is and should be, in relation to two intersecting conversations I’ve currently being reading, by academics who are public intellectuals and who are not anthropologists, for reasons directly related to the ways is which Anthropology has not moved past the Savage Slot, while claiming it has. Earlier this week on Salon, Brittany Cooper posted a thought-provoking reflection on the linkages between current Israeli attacks on Gaza and US support of another country which is a racial state and settler colony in which the racialized Other being suppressed via military/police surveillance and brutalization is constructed as a savage, violence-prone subhuman Other deserving of dehumanizing abuse and death that would never be seen as justifiable were the same tactics to be used on the White majority of either state. (This observation echoes an essay Peter Beinart wrote at The Atlantic, on why and how most White Americans can’t empathize with Palestinians and being an occupied racialized minority.) Many, perhaps even most, ‘political and legal anthropologists’ ignore these racial analysis, because of Anthropology’s ‘white public space’ problem and the ways in which they have been socialized not to have sympathy with the racialized Others in their own society, or to see these non-White experiences as worth caring about except for to the extent that they can be ventriloquized for professional academic advancement (i.e. ‘speaking for’ non-White others, as the Expert Anthropologist, and being deferred to by non-Whites who do not challenge their authority or insist on speaking for themselves, especially about the issues of structural inequality which make such ‘speaking for’ Others possible, as well as makes possible the re-Whitening on the discipline).

    Many of the claims of being ‘past all that’ are actually rooted in a desire to avoid confronting the discipline’s ‘white public space’ practices, the very same practices which led to Anthropology not publicly challenging the Savage Slot in the ways that it should have. And here I turn to another non-anthropologist, academic, public intellectual, who deftly articulates how anthropological refusal to interrogate Whiteness/White privilege/White supremacy amongst anthropologists themselves is directly related to the ways in which Anthropology continues to be invested in the Savage Slot instead of publicly challenging it in the ways that it should:

    “One of my least favorite academic concepts is the anthropological “going native“. This idea that one can become so immersed in the culture or phenomena one is studying that they lose objectivity is rife with cultural, imperialist, racist ideas of knowledge, understanding, and science. But, I have to give anthropology credit for at least articulating that belief. It is pervasive across academic disciplines but usually operates implicitly and as a result is arguably more powerful.

    In a workshop a few weeks ago I made the rather pedestrian observation that there is a stigma attached to black scholars who study race. My white colleagues were aghast at the suggestion. Actually, they asked for citations that such a thing occurs. I rolled my eyes. You do not get a Naomi Schaefer Riley eviscerating black studies as inherently inferior, because in it black scholars study black realities as social fact, without a long institutional history of the soft power of disciplinary norms.

    And that is what I was meditating on today. Studying the experiences that produced your experience is often looked down upon by academics because it is wrongly conflated with the imperialistic project of falsely adopting the social mores of “native” inferiors. Studying your position in the social structure is not the same but we resist it all the same. I suspect that is due, in large part, to the resistance to studying the structural and historical forces that produced the majority of academics: whiteness and power.

    I wish for my colleagues who take refuge in the false security of distance and neutrality to embrace interrogating who they are in respect to what they study. We are all better for it and so is our formal poking about.”