Writing “in my Culture” w/ Zoe Wool and Alex Golub of Savage Minds

This Anthro Life has teamed up with Savage Minds to bring you a special 5-part podcast and blog crossover series. While thinking together as two anthropological productions that exist for multiple kinds of audiences and publics, we became inspired to have a series of conversations about why anthropology matters today. For this series we’re sitting down with some of the folks behind Savage Minds, SAPIENS, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology to bring you conversations on anthropological thinking and its relevance through an innovative blend of audio and text. That means each week for the month of June we’ll bring you two dialogues – one podcast and one blog post – with innovative anthropological thinkers and doers. 

Check out our written conversation on Savage Minds here

If you’re interested and anthropologically inclined you may know the theme of the upcoming annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in November 2017 is “Anthropology Matters!” This theme is stirring conversation among working anthropologists in and out of the academy, professional and in training. For a short statement, Anthropology Matters! carries a lot of gravity, but it also begs the question, who does anthropology matter to? Who can it matter to? What makes anthropology relevant? Where does anthropology take place? And who is taking it there?

In our first episode of we were joined by Savage Minds writers Alex Golub and Zoe Wool. Early in our conversation several key questions came into focus: what does anthropology, as a discipline, have to offer in terms of critical thinking? Is Academia.edu a good thing? And how does one effectively confront someone who thinks differently from you? Adam, Ryan, Alex, and Zoe discuss the ways in which anthropology matters, through offering a unique perspective on the benefits of entering the open access world of blogging, navigating the controversy behind Academia.edu, and the ways anthropology can foster critical thinking.

Savage Minds is a blog written by professors and students of anthropology who are seeking to develop more accessible discussions of anthropology for anyone from professors to students to the general public. The blog has been running since 2005 and has since been ranked as one of the top science blogs by Nature.

Who are Alex and Zoe?

In addition to being a writer for Savage Minds, Alex Golub is an Associate Professor for the Department of Anthropology at University of Hawaii in Manoa. He focuses on mining in Papua New Guinea, though his interests span a large array of topics. Alex has written many posts for Savage Minds over the years, a few recent notable posts include Anthropology is an empty pint carton, and our existential projects are the ice cream, Facebook in Papua New Guinea: What Happens When The Net Isn’t Neutral, and Bronislaw Malinowski: Don’t Let The Cosplay Fool You

To Learn More About Alex’s work Check out the Links Below!
Leviathans at the Gold Mine: Creating Indigenous and Corporate Actors in Papua New Guinea
At Savage Minds
Alex’s Academia

Zoe Wool  is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Anthropology at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Her fieldwork centers around the American soldier’s experience of life after injury. Some of Zoe’s notable works on Savage Minds include Costs of War: Doing the Numbers, Empathy: A Companionate Redux, and The Erasures of “Thank you for your service”

To Learn More About Zoe Wool’s Work Check out the Links Below!

After War: The Weight of Life at Walter Reed,
At Savage Minds
Zoe’s Academia

The “Ungated” World of Blogging

Savage Minds was established in 2005 as blogging was growing in popularity. The blog started as a group of anthropologists writing about topics they found interesting. They saw the opportunity to take anthropological conversations out of the academy and into a more open forum. One of the benefits of blogging anthropology is a faster turnaround for written works that are not subject to the traditional peer-review process for journals. Blog pieces can be reviewed much quicker for style and content. This quicker turnaround means that posts are released at the same time as issues are happening, whether in the field or elsewhere. An added benefit is that readers are able to interact with the author’s arguments in the comments section, allowing for conversations to take place in the reading space.

Check out the Crooked Timber blog on Political Science Mentioned in the Episode!

Academia.edu

Academia.edu is a site that Alex refers to as “basically a tumblr for academics”. It allows for users to post their articles, papers, book chapters, posters, etc. to their page for others to read for free. However, the free access might not last for much longer. Academia.edu has begun to look for ways to monetize their operation by making users pay money for access to new features on the site. It seems Academia.edu is taking away the reason many users joined the site in the first place.

Another problem with Academia.edu has to do with ownership of the articles and papers being published. At times, authors have already sold the rights of publishing their work to  publishing companies, like Elsevier, and do not hold the rights to be displaying their work on Academia.edu. Elsevier took down a bunch of PDFs of articles from Academia.edu because they held the rights and the authors did not.

To Learn More About the Controversy Behind Academia.edu Check Out the Links Below!

Forbes: Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account At Academia.Edu

The Atlantic:The Convoluted Profits of Academic Publishing

The Atlantic: Academics Want You to Read Their Work for Free

Savage Minds: The _other_ enemy of Open Access

Savage Minds: Don’t blame Elsevier for exercising the rights you gave them

Discover Magazine: Who Isn’t Profiting Off the Backs of Researchers?

Green Tea and Velociraptors: ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and bigger problems with scholarly publishing..

ResearchGate

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Benjamin

On teaching about writing and critique, in relation to denunciation, Zoe offered this tip from her colleague Lacy M. Johnson, an Assistant Professor of English at Rice University: “A poem is like a very small machine made of words and your job, when you are doing critique, is to help it figure out how to do its job. So if it [the machine] is a toaster, then don’t turn it into a washing machine.”

During the episode, Zoe points out a concern on the consumption of book chapters and papers out of context. While open access to a wide array of scholarship on sites like Academia.edu is great, she worries that the particular arguments of any given piece might be taken out of context by the readers interests. She states,

“We want to keep knowledge embedded in the context of its production, so we can critically approach it.”

What do you think?

Anthropology and Building Critical Thinkers!

Anthropology is a critical discipline that constantly analyzes the structures behind cultural norms and places local events in a broader geopolitical and historical contexts. As Zoe described critiquing,

“It is not about judging something or assessing something as good or bad. It’s about bringing into relief the structures through which something is evaluated in the first place”

Meanwhile, denouncing takes a more condemnatory approach focusing only on whether something is good or bad, wrong or right. Through critiquing there is a lot more opportunity for change as the conversation is not immediately being shut down by saying something is wrong. Since anthropology is so focused on critique over judgement, it is useful in working to understand people who think differently from you. This strategy of having a conversation rather than being accusatory will make the people whose minds you are trying to change more receptive to your opinions than if you just say they are wrong.

Life Tip from Alex Channeling Ruth Benedict: Add the words “in my culture” to the end of every sentence you say (i.e. this movie is great in my culture, we wear socks in my culture, etc.). Try to get used to understanding that your view is one of many.

There is more than one way to see the world and in all likelihood the person whose mind you are trying to change wholly believes in his/her view. By helping to reveal the structures behind their thinking, who else exists in the world, and the validity of multiple perspectives you may have more luck with adding to their perspective, letting them change their mind in a more meaningful ways. As Alex says “it takes work to know the world”, and not everyone does that work or is able to fit it into their schedule (i.e. reading the New Yorker after work instead of sleeping). By fostering others to think critically you can make them question why they do not know certain things and introduce them to the work they need to do to “know the world” from a new perspective.

To Learn More About Judith Butler Check Out the Links Below!

Judith Butler

Modules on Butler

Think Gender is  Performance? You Have Judith Butler to Thank for That

Ta-Neshisi Coates’ Twitter

Native Men Remade by Ty P. Kawika Tengan

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