Welcome to ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY: The End of the Beginning of the End

Today this blog marks its second year of existence, with so many unanticipated outcomes that I think a post-mortem will possibly take years (or hours) of reflection and will likely not appear on this site. Today also marks the start of the final phase of this blog, which I hope to conclude before the year ends, with a return to its origins as it begins to devour itself. For the remaining time the blog will be dominated by that which served as the more or less final “spark” that impelled me to launch it, and thus I return to Decolonizing Anthropology, the graduate course I have now taught twice at Concordia University. Most of the posts to come stem from what I prepared for that course, and should I offer it again (who knows), their availability online will help me to shorten the lectures considerably and allow more time for all of us to talk and listen. Before I move on, I thought it best to have an elaborate conclusion, rather than the abrupt kind of departure of the author that I see on most defunct blogs, whose unexpected final post essentially states, “I’m fed up,” or “I’m too busy,” or even “I hate you people, get lost.” Some do not offer even that much. I have chosen to use the symbol of the Ouroboros to mark this transition, and to connect it only symbolically to a project that departs from this one and which will neither seek to be construed as part of an online anthropology “community,” nor address itself to anthropology.

ZEROThe blog and the project, named “Open Anthropology” to date, have had their names altered to suit this final phase. The larger project has been retitled, “An Openly Post-Anthropological Project,” with some major revisions. The blog is, as you can see, now called “Zero Anthropology” in part to represent this phase of counting down to zero posts. That is the simplest aspect. Select pages have been revised as well, such the project page, and to some extent, “new world.” More complicated and difficult to convey through two words alone, was the long-stated aim of this project to get past anthropology as something that one “does” and more toward engaging anthropology as something to be transformed by shedding its ‘disciplinariness,’ going outside of professionalization, withdrawing from it in some key respects while also regarding “anthropological knowledge” as useful when seen from the right angle. That right angle is, in my view, to study anthropology as a Western knowledge system, as a mode of consuming the world by what are by and large white middle-class persons, and as a means of producing that world for other privileged consumers and for the authorities. As I have been arguing all along, it is no accident that colonial administrations and contemporary militaries have made use of anthropology — they used it because it can be useful. My aim has been a contrary one, to make it more “useless,” also represented by “zero” as valueless. The desire to move on, and start afresh, also marks this as a “zero” moment. The anomalous nature of zero as a numeral, as a place holder, also made it attractive.

To start this final phase, a roughly hewn opening statement:

ANTHROPOLOGYAs someone whose research in anthropology was originally focused on indigenous peoples, and specifically contemporary indigenous peoples in the Caribbean, coupled with a history of interest in imperialism and colonialism, certain dimensions of anthropology and its development became ever more apparent to me, and ever more troubling. One of these is that since its inception as an amateur activity that pre-dated its institutionalization in universities, anthropology has consistently sold itself as, one, a science, and two, one premised on the long-standing assumption that indigenous peoples would (or should) disappear or be diminished. Self-identified anthropologists in the mid-1800s, lusting for recognition and influence, tried to make a name for themselves in various commercially organized freak shows, ethnographic exhibitions, and museum displays. The desire to sell anthropology to the powers that be, as a science of the other, has never disappeared.

Anthropology was not just built on the backs of indigenous peoples, as if the survival of the latter were needed to guarantee the survival of the former. Instead, when one looks more closely and more critically, it is a discipline that has always been premised on the expected extinction of the indigenous. Since that has not come to pass, and indeed we instead witness worldwide indigenous political and cultural resurgence, we note that anthropological theories began to treat these resurgences as virtual pathologies: symptoms of capitalism, instrumental means of gaining power, with traditions that are invented. Politically, anthropologists have frequently found themselves set against the interests of contemporary indigenous peoples, whether with respect to the continued possession of indigenous remains for “scientific” purposes, or in disputing the appropriate representations of indigenous cultures. Not surprisingly, American Indian Studies, First Nations, and Indigenous Studies programs have sprouted across North America, alongside Ethnic Studies, African-American Studies, and so forth. Suddenly, the peoples presumed to be at the heart of anthropology, began to flee its control. In a tailspin, anthropology either pretended to continue business as usual, or began to develop autobiographic tendencies, or was practiced in the home society of the anthropologist, and there it began to look more like ethnographic sociology.

To this day, anthropology in North America remains the whitest of all disciplines in the social sciences, in terms of the ethnic background of the vast majority of faculty and students. Anthropology has always been a mode of knowledge-making chosen by Westerners as a reliable means of consuming knowledge about the colonial world, and for producing knowledge of that world for the authorities back home. Turned on itself, an anthropology of anthropology becomes an interesting journey of exploration into one of the Western world’s premiere colonial knowledge systems.

Also and still to this day, anthropology retains the same terminology of instruments of foreign policy, whether the diplomatic corps or intelligence gathering agencies: time to spent with living human beings in another society is called being “in the field,” and closely identifying with one’s hosts is treated as a problem, called “going native”. The methods of “doing fieldwork” continue to be based on a routine, accepted, and usually unquestioned duplicity: one is to establish rapport, build trust, and negotiate access, and purely for the purpose of extracting knowledge that was otherwise private. One’s “informants” (just as spies refer to them) were not to receive compensation, which would be seen as buying information: they were to be satisfied with knowing they were contributing to knowledge about humanity, presumably a good in and of itself with certain unproven assumptions about this leading to greater mutual understanding, respect, and peace. In return, however, anthropologists advanced their personal careers, and not necessarily the cause of peace since activism and advocacy were widely frowned upon as eroding the objectivity and legitimacy of anthropology in the eyes of the powers that be. To be sure, some anthropologists have challenged this state of affairs vigorously and directly, and to be sure, they remain a minority.

Zero Anthropology is about knowledge after anthropology, after its extinctionist, Eurocentric, and scientific premises, an anthropology so decolonized that it is no longer recognizable as anthropology. This project began by emphasizing the value of opening knowledge production to reciprocal and collaborative engagements between academics and broader publics, while trying to put that into practice online. It was about building on ideas and examples of ways of speaking about the human condition that look critically at dominant discourses and that challenge the status quo of global capitalism. The project was therefore oriented toward contributing to non-state, non-market, knowledges and participating in a public practice that suited the project. The project was also an invitation to critically reexamine the institutionalization of knowledge, looking for ways to reintegrate anthropology with other knowledge systems, and other disciplines, while criticizing the “disciplining” of the social sciences. What was initially called, for lack of imagination perhaps, the “Open Anthropology Project,” was explicitly about decolonizing knowledge, combined with a pronounced anti-imperialist orientation. (continue reading here)


As I look forward to turning and turning further, the next posts will involve me in an activity which I have grown to like least on this blog, and that is to write about anthropology. Let’s see how it goes, especially the challenge of turning away from more important “distractions.”

55 thoughts on “Welcome to ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY: The End of the Beginning of the End

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  2. ryan

    “In return, however, anthropologists advanced their personal careers, and not necessarily the cause of peace since activism and advocacy were widely frowned upon as eroding the objectivity and legitimacy of anthropology in the eyes of the powers that be.”

    as far as i can tell, in many cases ‘objectivity’ roughly translates to a pretense of being apolitical. the realities and actual politics often do not matter, since some folks simply hold onto the posture of objectivity no matter what.

    the idea that anthropologists–or any other scientists–exist somehow outside of the process of knowledge production has always seemed insane to me. it has all seemed infiltrated with politics from day one, and claims otherwise have never made sense to me.

    at worst, i think that anthropology can be a really creative way of doing nothing and saying nothing for a few decades, while LOOKING like you are actually doing something. pretty neat, huh? kinda like war photography that makes an audience FEEL like they are doing something by viewing it, when in fact all they did was pay an entrance fee, look at some pictures, feel bad, and then go home. no real effect or action. the war goes on.

    sometimes it all seems to go in circles.

    anyway, onward with the last phase of your project. thanks for putting so many question marks where everyone else seems to put periods…

  3. Donald S.

    Ah, well, if I knew that starting this series which I have been waiting for would mean the site would be going into an end phase, I might not have clamoured for the series as much as I did before. I feel very sorry for any pressure on my part. On the other hand, I am still looking forward to it! I second Ryan’s comments, this is a good start.

  4. Donald S.

    Almost forgot! I love the new name, it works on so many levels! The new look and symbolic elements are great too. I still have to finish reading parts of what you used to be the OAP project site though, but I like how that has changed too. It’s almost like you found your true identity for the site at the end.

  5. Maximilian Forte

    No, Donald, please don’t see yourself as somehow culpable of a “bad” thing. First, I was always very conscious in my use of the term “project”: all projects must have a conclusion, or they simply are not projects. This one had its beginning, its “middle,” and now the concluding phase. Second, this is a great lead into another venture I have already been planning and working on for a few months now, and I have honestly grown tired of “Open Anthropology,” and blogging about anthropology as such. In fact, I can’t think of anything more dreary. That new venture I am alluding to parallels a number of real-world activities, being very much tied in with a new course I am teaching next semester (again the course–blog connection), one that is joint anthropology-sociology, but above both really. The other is my plain desire to defect. The irony of course is that I much prefer ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY as a blog now, but I will be leaving it when I am still ahead.

    Ryan, thanks as always, I tend to see more about what I want to write after I see you writing about what I wrote.

    1. Donald S.

      Well, I am relieved for that then. Just to make sure I follow you though: does this mean you’re planning to take the whole blog and the openanthropology.org sites down when you are done???

      1. Maximilian Forte

        No, not at all. This blog will remain online for as long as WordPress exists, and perhaps longer — I have deeply annoyed too many assholes to now give them the pleasure of just vanishing.

        The blog as a whole, all posts and all comments, can be downloaded as a single XML file (which I have done repeatedly), coming now to about 17 megabytes. I could even give you a copy. Otherwise, it can be uploaded to most other blogging sites too.

        Openanthropology.org is different — I pay for that, and at some point I will stop doing so. It would be accessible likely via http://web.archive.org, or, before taking to down I would place its contents on another blog. Most audio files, images, and PDFs that come from it, however, would be lost, and that means some posts on this blog would then lose their content. Otherwise, that is the only change I can foresee.

        Thanks very much Donald for coming out and posting here these last weeks/months, I am very grateful to you.

  6. Max Ajl

    Hey Max,
    You know I only started reading in the last few months [since the Iran imbroglio, pretty much] but it’s been a good ride. Thanks for writing. I’ll enjoy the decrescendo as much as possible.


  7. Jules

    Hey Max… I thought your new site could use a little dressing up! Nice logo by the way!

    Say… are you having any problems with email lately? The ONE email address of mine that is now blocked off is the one that is almost entirely dedicated to your posts. Interesting stuff huh?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Jules! This is excellent, thanks so much for this thought. I did not it existed, that it had been turned into a song, and one sung by none other than Joni Mitchell herself. It also happens to be my favourite poem. I very much appreciate your kindness in presenting this here.

      About email troubles…I regularly have them. However, my leading problem with email is not taking the time to stay up to date with it.

  8. Stacie

    Good turn Max. I’ve been having trouble understanding how a collaborative anthropology can be anthropological at all. As a word, it can be twisted, but only so far, and only by questioning almost all of its fundamental principles.

    How can I work with people on a project and then use anthropological theories to pick apart what we’ve done? I can’t write objectively, or even “openly,” about the people I work with because I couldn’t portray my friends to such a large audience in anything but a positive light, despite minor disagreements. And if I could, I couldn’t call them my friends.

    Or, if it’s about knowledge, not anthropological, we (where I work) produce and share knowledge everyday that informs the projects we’re working on, but we’re not going to gain anything from sharing that with broader audiences. When we DO share information it’s targeted: press releases, personal letters and emails, newsletters, brochures, photographs of our town. The other week I posed as a tourist in the visitors’ bureau’s annual photo shoot for a nearby restaurant. The guy I was having dinner with in the photo was significantly older than me, and we had some good jokes about “what happens in Po. County stays in Po. County.” The point is that it wasn’t to their benefit to show photos of themselves. They wanted to show photos of OTHER people having fun here, to attract more. And I wasn’t in it for pure altruism either. First, I got a free meal. Second, not having a restaurant in the town impedes the museum’s own goals. The restaurant is opening a second branch in the abandoned cafe in town, and we had a painting party last Monday to get the inside fixed up (mutual benefit). The only way I can see anthropology being valuable is if it fits in with some of these other goals, and then it’s often considered a sell-out.

    “consuming knowledge about the colonial world, and for producing knowledge of that world for the authorities back home.” . . . “extracting knowledge that was otherwise private.”

    This returns to a comment I made on another one of your posts. Not until these last couple weeks did I realize that we don’t NEED to know everything about other countries/cultures. Educating students in anthropology seems to be based on the idea that they should know what’s going on in the rest of the world. In some cases it’s true, for example your discussion of Afghanistan. In some cases it’s not. A lot of practices are private and local and don’t need to be anything more, unless you want to rationalize it through the abstract “pursuit of knowledge.” I can definitely see the value in sharing ideas. It’s just a question of what ideas need to be shared and for what reasons. To spend a year studying a group of people for the sole purpose of calling into question “X” anthropologist’s theory of “Y” is a lame rationale and, outside of academia, doesn’t get anybody anywhere.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks Stacie, I am as glad as ever when you share such detailed thoughts and doubts. I need to think about what you wrote more carefully and review it again later, because there is a lot to think about. You manage to pack a lot of punch in a short space.

      What kept coming to mind as I was reading this, was this: and if anthropology and ethnography as we know it just suddenly vanished, what difference would it make here? Who would notice, besides those who got a degree in that discipline?

  9. Max Ajl

    Anarchist social science would lose its only plausible institutional anchor, for one thing. Social science may not matter much, and be that as it may, but the ideas of liberal social scientists do have power in society. During the next on-rush of Western dissent, whenever that may be, anarchists will wish their ideas to have impact. One way to disseminate ideas is through the academy. Anthropology is the social-scientific discipline most welcoming, I think [I think because David Graeber has convinced me] to anarchism. That’s why anthropology matters.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Very interesting, positive comment Max. I was very much tempted to agree, except that I don’t think anthropology as such is all that welcoming to anarchism (Graeber regardless, he is just one guy, and I was surprised that many of my colleagues had never heard of him). There is also significant tension and outright conflict between anarchists like Graeber, and the primitivist anarchists. Graeber tends to take a number of pot shots at John Zerzan, for reasons that are barely articulated in his writing, without much respect for the fact that Zerzan has been the leading anarchist anthropologist among non-academic audiences for quite some time. I wish I had found the time to provide overviews of his work on this blog, but he is on the web himself, as are his supporters, so I ended up not talking about either camp here.

      1. Max Ajl

        You’re right, and please don’t take my reply as a quibbling semantic response, but you write that “don’t think anthropology as such is all that welcoming to anarchism,” but I still think the social-scientific output of anthropology as such is at least somewhat congenial to anarchism because anthropologists study societies without states. Anarchism, as I see it, is buried under states and also capitalism, and also inequality [Graeber has a typically pithy formulation where he quips that capitalism is a way of managing communism]. Anthropological research looks at the world in ways more likely of seeing the anarchist society lying beneath than, for example, sociology, or political science. Or perhaps this is in some measure my naivete stemming from not having spent enough time in the academy to have this type of perspective beaten out of me, but I hope not.

        I’d also highlight the work of James Scott, who has a new book out:
        [For some biographical marginalia I’m going to try to apply to study with Scott I think].

        On the Graeber-Zerzan debate, all I can say is that I’ve read both and like Graeber’s stuff a lot better even though I’m really sympathetic to the Romantic-anarchist strain. I do think Zerzan goes too far, but to say more than that would be simply to write uninformed criticism–I’ve read him but not as seriously as I’ve read Graeber. And don’t have time unfortunately to spend the day informing myself.

      2. Stacie

        Hm….. Is ANY academic discipline welcoming to anarchy? I don’t know about other countries, but the US, broadly speaking, isn’t very welcoming. I’m sure some people are, but who? Better to solidify those ties than work through the academy? I don’t know. I read over the Graeber article, Max A., and I still think anthropology is one of few thatcould be welcoming, given the right presentation, i.e. a person might just not want to “raise a red or black flag and issue defiant declarations” (Graeber 64). Maybe that’s considered a cop-out, maybe tactful. I don’t know enough about anarchists to say. But anthropology is such a broad discipline it seems like anarchist ideas should be able to find a foothold . . .

        Also, on not welcoming anarchy, as I read more about anarchy, I can agree with many of the points (and it didn’t even cross my mind as something I’d be interested in before I read Max F.’s site and comments from several others). BUT, being an irrational person, I’m still more hesitant to identify with anarchism than, say, libertarianism or liberalism. The very colors are off-putting: bright red and black. Red reminds me of blood. Black, of darkness and death. Although, they’re bold colors. That’s appealing. But has anyone else noticed that Max’s red and black photo has a devilish look? (nothing personal Max, just explaining it as I see it). Anarchists in general are working against a lot of negative preconceptions about anarchy that don’t always do the ideas justice but are seemingly even built into their representations of themselves.

      3. Maximilian Forte

        Haha! That photo is, of course, deliberate. Incidentally, someone who absolutely detests me and this blog, an anonymous military blogger employed as a police trainer in Afghanistan, or currently in some Provincial Reconstruction Team there (but who nonetheless takes time from his government-paid work in Afghanistan to launch extensive and petty diatribes against me…shucks, flattered…poor taxpayers), made a very big deal about my image. The major sin: I look like Lenin he says. Given that he possibly looks like Homer Simpson, I should be flattered again.

      4. Max Ajl

        And that was one of the less coherent things I’ve spurted onto the internet in at least a year. Hope my points got across.

  10. KW

    I would like to say that I will miss your contributions to this project, and hope that your future projects are as equally insightful and trenchant, if not more so.

    I’m biased because I am an anthropology student, but I think that anthropology is salvageable and could be decolonialized without a total change of identity. I also am studying to be an applied anthropologist, so perhaps my perspective is a little different than that of a student in a more traditional program of study.

    That said, I mainly agree with many of the comments in this thread and this post.

    With Ryan: that anthropological study is going to be partisan. Every scientist should realize that their work is political regardless of its content. Anthropologists are supposedly taught to use self-reflexivity but it is not used as often as it should be. As an applied anthropologist, I was taught that applied work necessarily makes any of our actions as an anthropologist partisan. Any stand we take is going to be partisan even if we think we are being apolitical. Do we consider ourselves scientists? Yes, but only in the broadest possible sense of the term. And though anthropology does not have a monopoly on this way of approaching things, I believe that its use of inductive reasoning is valuable.

    With Stacie: How do we negotiate knowledge production and distribution? Who is privy to this knowledge, and who owns it? In applied work we have to negotiate between (and situate ourselves amongst) many different stakeholders. We face dilemmas when our employers want confidentiality or when we work with a group who could be harmed if we publish information we get from them. With an employer, we usually know from the start how information is going to be used. (For an interesting take on when to cross that boundary, here is a link to one of my favorite articles about the necessity for “Troublemaker Anthropology”: http://www.counterpunch.org/mckenna12302008.html).

    With marginalized groups, it has to be a continuous conversation. I’ve read case studies on ethics where people did not want pseudonyms used when applied anthropological research is published because they wanted their voices or stories to be heard. Other times they did want pseudonyms. It is their choice. We are taught that it is appropriate to ask about this frequently throughout the process, especially as new developments arise. Of course, the knowledge that is (co-)created is supposed to be useful for the people we work with, so they have more influence on the research process and how knowledge is disseminated.

    With Max Ajl: I think this comment hits on a Catch-22 for anthropology. I think this also relates to Foucault’s power-knowledge and the position of the anthropological discipline within the contexts of higher education and its position within the overall political system(s) in two different ways.

    First, despite its colonial past and former place within the corridors of power, it is not a powerful discipline anymore. Any muckraking that anthropology could create is drowned out by other disciplines that are more legitimized by serving the status quo. cough *economics*cough

    Second, any mainstream voice of anthropology is going to be controlled by those that are best able to work within the system without causing too much trouble. In the US, for example, we have more people with anthropological training outside of academia than inside, but the academic (and legitimized) Voice of Anthropology has relatively more power because it is centralized and has strong institutional support. Of course, academic anthropology is going to produce knowledge that is acceptable to the university system because the system pays their salaries. (This is not to say that they don’t have some leeway, but take Ward Churchill or, as Max Ajl noted, David Graeber, as examples of what happens when you step outside of accepted boundaries.) The university system acts as a place of disseminating approved knowledge because they are funded by the government and powerful people with vested interests in the maintenance of the beneficial aspects of the status quo.

    There are people who use anthropology in myriad useful, positive, anti-colonialist/imperialist, and productive ways outside of academia, but they are decentralized and don’t get to control the discourse or get to represent the discipline. Most importantly, they do not have the power that comes with institutional support. (They also don’t always professionally identify themselves as anthropologists though they might find themselves using their anthropological training, which raises an interesting point for consideration.)

    It is my belief that for anthropology to be decolonialized, it must decouple itself from the university system or at least find a way to expand its freedom to voice dissent (and help to back other voices of dissent). Unfortunately, decoupling itself robs it of institutional backing and undermines whatever power it might have left.

    On a side note, I do think that academically-oriented anthropology is valuable, but like many other comments have noted, there are many pitfalls and implications of pure academic work that are worth examining and fighting. Scheper-Hughes (who helped expose and take down an international organ trafficking ring) and Laura Nader (who advocates the 360 degree approach of “studying up” and warns against coercive harmony and trustnoia (sp?) in the US) are both anthropologists who are able to maintain both academic and public orientations. (Also Merrill Singer, who seems to strike a balance between academic and applied work inside and outside of the university setting. See: Community-Centered Praxis: Towards an Alternative Non-dominative Applied Anthropology (1994) in Human Organization, which proposes a non-imperialist framework for applied research.) And though I don’t think that I would be taking a wild guess that Max does not identify himself as an anthropologist, I still find his work on this project powerful and keep it at the back of my mind as I think of how I might best use what I’ve learned from the discipline in the future.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        Wonderful contribution KW. No need for apologies — on the contrary, it deserves to be a post in its own right. Every paragraph is very valuable, and I don’t want to drown it out with my own commentary. Let me just point to this passage: “It is my belief that for anthropology to be decolonized, it must decouple itself from the university system or at least find a way to expand its freedom to voice dissent (and help to back other voices of dissent). Unfortunately, decoupling itself robs it of institutional backing and undermines whatever power it might have left.” That resonated very strongly, especially in connection with the public activism of a non-academic anthropologist friend and mentor, Roi Kwabena, whose work inspired me (yes, among other inspirations) to create this blog/project, which remains dedicated to his memory. I had hoped to do a grand tour of all his written work on this blog, but it’s too much, and I decided to just focus on select spoken word poems of his, animated through video.

        Thanks very much for your comments, and please feel free to post again, without any worries about length.

  11. frenchguy-whatasillynicknamebtw-

    Hi Max,

    I share that idea and feeling with KW : “I still find [Max’s] work on this project powerful and keep it at the back of my mind as I think of how I might best use what I’ve learned from the discipline in the future.”

    And I like a lot of aspects of the beginning of that end. Your points about anthropology, the countdown, the grey colour, the idea of a future start afresh, and the comments that it provoked.

    Tangentially, your point about the “problem” of “going native” I find particularly “interesting”. I tend to see a parallel here with colonialists’ fears of the phenomenon of “petit blancs” (little whites ?), or lower class european settlers living more and more like natives in colonies, working, chatting and drinking with poor black/brown people, while not displaying enough awareness of the “necessity” of race frontiers in the eyes of the architects of empires, a fear of cultural “contamination” , of the “destitution” of the white, bourgeois, and male self by native “environment”, all that framed in eugenic rhetoric. And all those fears and rhetorics reinforcing and trying to justify racial segregation, to fabricate race (as well described in the work of A.L Stoler).

    So yes, a room filled with white people talking about non-white people.
    And those white people all a bit anxious and suspicious about “going native”.

    Finally, I wish you a happy end to begin with.

    1. Stacie

      And it’s not even always about race, or a problem solely within anthropology. The last person who (jokingly?) warned me to be careful not to “go native” was a philosophy professor, in reference to West Virginia! How many people would make that same comment about working in New York or D.C.?

      1. frenchguy-whatasillynicknamebtw

        I agree completely Stacie. I didn’t write it, but as I remember it, there is elements in Stoler’s books that tend to show how, during 19th and 20th century, discourses about “degeneration”, framed by eugenic doctrines, were applied to warn against the natives in colonies, as well as against the lower classes in the metropoles.
        Looks like it is not over yet.
        And, of course, race and class issues are deeply imbedded, as “white” was produced by imperial states in the colonies not only as people with ideally whiter skins, but also people with ideally bourgeois’ tastes and moralities. In my view, it is like the “whites” in NYC are “whiter”, hence better, than the “whites” inWV, in the dominant ideology.

        It is not only about anthropology, but the peculiarities of its history certainly makes it a “whiter” discipline. Something Max could certainly teach us about.

        But I am afraid Max will go crazy when he’ll come back from work and see what we have done with his comment section. -kidding Max ;)-

      2. Stacie

        In that case, maybe anthropology attracts white people who are sick of the whiteness of white people.

        Where I come from in GA, people are called the “East Cobb snobs.” I just found out that we have such strict sex offender laws that after people have served their time and are out on probation, they’ve been banished to the woods because they’re homeless and not allowed to live within a certain distance of our schools and churches, etc. http://bit.ly/11kqRo

        Better reason yet to turn the tables and focus on white/colonizing culture rather than the other way around if there’s already an audience base.

      3. Maximilian Forte

        “maybe anthropology attracts white people who are sick of the whiteness of white people”

        That may be true in some cases Stacie, in fact I am quite sure of it, but as a generalization I don’t think it works very well. To take a bit of a risk, because this is not based on some careful survey as much as it based on repeated observations and impressions, is that most will try to deny that their whiteness is even a significant issue, or that they are not “white” (preferring some other identity), and “race doesn’t exist anyway” (and thus bypassing ethnicity and nationality too, and to a large extent class as well).

        “turn the tables and focus on white/colonizing culture”

        I very much agree with that. In one respect, when speaking of the militarization of anthropology, this is what we have been doing. Few are trained to recognize that the online critiques and commentary are in fact ethnographic, probably because they have not read or considered Fabian, and it has been conducted out in the open (online), allowing everyone who wanted to provide their interpretations, their conclusions, or questions. Instead, what was more common was the return to the most simplistic and instrumentalist notions of ethnography: an embodied experience, in a confined locale, with a small number of other bodies…as if what was happening online was not participant observation in the building of the logic and rationale for militarizing anthropology…and for reaffirming its colonial whiteness.

        No, instead HTS proponents typically said that unless you get yourself assigned to some Forward Operating Base, and sniff the breaths of HTS people, you could not really write about them. The problem with that is that HTS was never accepting any outsider to come in and study them…witness their shrill reactions to the slightest dissent of journalists who visited them in the field, and by dissent I mean that they wrote about what they saw and heard. Their idea was “join the team” first…hop on board, get on the HTS train…that is how you “do ethnography”.

        I don’t dispute that going to Afghanistan, spending time on a base, and spending time separate from the foreign occupation and living with villagers, or being embedded with the Taliban, would provide all sorts of other angles, and much more in-depth information. I would dispute that being managed and confined to an echo chamber located in another country is better than what we had online.

        Back to the race/racism issue. Is HTS racist? All these white HTS people going to patrol non-white occupied territories, to identify ways of better dominating them and reconciling them to empire…no, that couldn’t possibly be viewed as racist, could it.

      4. Stacie

        “most will try to deny that their whiteness is even a significant issue”

        Hm… I wouldn’t expect people to SAY that they went into anthropology because they dislike whiteness, only that some of the values that underlie the interest in studying other cultures, i.e. non-“white” cultures, might resonate with a distaste for imperialism and “bourgeois’ tastes and moralities.” I can’t put forth any statistics either, but my friend tells me that at UVA the anthropology students had a reputation for being the ones who walked around without shoes on and didn’t bathe enough. Whether it’s true or not, it’s an interesting observation. Of course, there are probably other values at play too, e.g. altruism comes to mind.

        Whether or not they SEE or could EXPLAIN the irony is another question. Anthropologists aren’t routinely trained to see it, but they could be. It’s not a huge step from calls for “reflexivity,” but reflexivity isn’t really doing the job.

      5. Maximilian Forte

        Those are good points Stacie, there definitely are students more or less like you describe who are attracted to anthropology for those reasons. There are those who are attracted to it for those reasons, on an intellectual level, and those who also wish to go a step further and alter their lifestyles — diet, dress, religious beliefs, and who engage in various so-called neo-tribal body practices, whether piercings of a certain kind, tattooing, etc. I wouldn’t deny that. There are many, especially youths in big cities, who feel quite alienated and want to embed themselves in some other community, perhaps inspired by the great number of immigrants who settle in cities — their food is different and tasty, the “mystery” of the languages they speak invites curiosity, etc. I think that is all there.

        I have no real idea, even from being in daily contact with them, as to how representative they are of the anthropology student body as a whole, and I assume that we would see many differences across North America. I taught in Nova Scotia, again in a joint anthropology-sociology department, where 99% of students were either of Scottish or Irish descent (I used to joke — I’m sure they didn’t like it — when returning exams that it would take me half an hour just to get through returning all the papers with McCleod, MacDougal, and MacDonald as a surname) — among those students, the repudiation of anthropology was that it was too foreign, too exotic, too divorced from their “real” lives in Cape Breton, all this talk about mana, tabu, etc. So I would expect to see serious regional differentiation.

        However, there are those who refuse to see themselves or others as white, and who would think that this whole discussion is distasteful and preposterous. They do not want to be othered, by the others they study especially, they would rather be perceived and received as global, ethnic-less, unmarked, citizens of the world, with chameleon-like skills for learning and practicing other cultures. I consider these to be members of the bourgeois, budding expert class.

        Otherwise, and thanks to your contributions as well, we can really see why an anthropological study of anthropology becomes so very interesting and challenging. Imagine that we really don’t have a firm grasp of who our students are, why they study anthropology, etc., etc., as we have been discussing. You would think we would desperately want to know this. The only study I know of that sort of ventures into this field is this one (thanks to Lorenz Khazaleh for the link):


        If you wander through it you will reach various posts of stats on the anthropology student body, mostly about how most of our students are women…and that is also extremely interesting. In my current department, I find more men, and almost all members of ethic minorities in the department as a whole, choose sociology.

      6. Joel

        I liked to chime in here since in spite of perhaps being in over my head with the author and subsequent posters on this site, my own personal experience with anthropology has been one that was always somewhat ambiguous (from beginning to end) so maybe I can be used as part of the discussion of the “anthropology of anthropology.” I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I was/am and anthropology student that doesn’t know what anthropology is. When thinking in broader terms what that sort of statement means (especially if it is actually true for other people as well) I think that in itself creates a very big challenge for creating an “anthropological” knowledge that is deinstitutionalized and accessible to an audience outside of academia … something that I have always found to be fundamentally problematic but was/is of course the elitist aspect of university in general (speaking to the proprietorship of this and other forms of knowledge of course). At the same time the history and vernacular of the “discipline” is so thick (but important) that it can be difficult for many people to grasp it even after studying it for years … so where to start? (and that is not a rhetorical question by the way :P). I guess it speaks back to Levi-Strauss’ quote on the project page of the blog.

        But I digress … back to being a guinea pig (I don’t mind … makes me feel useful!!). In relation to what is was that drove me to study anthropology in the first place, 1) I wanted to get a degree 2) I wanted to break away from some conventional ideas and pressures around me about what kind of degree I should get and 3) I’m not (that) embarrassed to say that a certain whip cracking archaeologist had something to do with my choice, especially after discovering the challenge it presented and who I became as a result.

        In truth I had no idea what I was getting into, since I never expected to encounter a discipline that was so broad, complex and conflicted that no one could give me a straight answer as to what it was to begin with. Of course this was precisely what forced me to grow and develop my own tint on the “anthropological” lens. Now that I’m thinking about it, my studies were always very independent and I never truly engaged in a community of anthropology in university the way I thought I might and so I’m in no way trying to speak for that group (if there actually is one). I guess the culture of anthropology will be one as diverse and intricate as everyone who takes the time to think about it and so in that way I remain a participant. The state of knowledge is in constant flux, or at least isn’t remotely static … I think that is what I took away with me in the end.

        Anyways I realize I sort of wandered away from the discussion here but I feel like I’m reclaiming some anthropological knowledge myself!! Thanks again for this site Max (and all the other posters) … it sort of reminded me that the doors of knowledge are still open!


      7. Maximilian Forte

        Thanks very much Joel,

        When you write, “I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I was/am an anthropology student that doesn’t know what anthropology is,” you are right, and it is not just something experienced by students. You will find that even on supposedly narrower subjects, such as “what is ethnography?”, there is still considerable disagreement among anthropologists. The discipline has always had these fragmentary, incoherent, embryonic qualities, both in its ascent and its decline. That is also an excellent point you make when you write that it is a “very big challenge for creating an ‘anthropological’ knowledge that is deinstitutionalized and accessible to an audience outside of academia,” and it is in fact one of the very big limitations that I learned from this experiment. Non-anthropologists might think that the peculiar intervention of a single anthropologist in a public debate somehow reflects the person’s credentials as an anthropologist…and we may even exploit that fact, but pinning down what is so “anthropological” about the knowledge presented can be a huge challenge, unless you are constantly referring to the micro particulars of your own ethnographic work. Even in that case, what makes the ethnographically gained knowledge “anthropological” aside from a discipline laying claims to it as its own?

        The centripetal and centrifugal tendencies in this discipline make defining what one does as “anthropological” that much harder, and now I realize: it simply is not worth the effort. Develop your own perspective, raise your own questions, and seek to answer them by any and all means possible.

        In the meantime what we both gained from the experience is personal insight into how knowledge is structured by the university, and how the structuring itself seems to possess no defensible logic.

        Many thanks again Joel, please feel free to comment again, and I am very happy for your visits.

      8. Frenchguy

        One issue I see is that “the interest in studying other cultures” imply, it seems to me, that you are not one of the others, hence you have to be white.

        It can come to very concrete issues. One example. A friend of mine, whose parents are algerian, who grew up in a poor surburb (banlieues), told me that she felt a deep uneasiness (at least) during anthropology/sociology seminars, while all the white people filling the room were talking about “les jeunes des banlieues” (youngsters from poor surburbs, blacks and arabs), saying things like “they are…”, “they do…” etc.
        Her problem was that when she wanted to say something about the matter, she did not know if she had to say “they” (hence siding with the whites while distancing herself from where she comes from), or “we”.

      9. Stacie

        Yeah, what’s with all the women in anthropology classes versus all the men here, and back on the OAC? In our intro to cultural anthropology course, out of around 30 students, there was only one guy, and only two in that summer field school I mentioned a while back. I don’t really know what it means.

        There are also the students, separate from those who major in and identify with the field, who take anthropology classes for general education requirements, sometimes just because it sounds easier than taking “economic history” or “brain and behavior.”

        You’re right, anthropologists really do need to do their homework on this.

        Interesting point too, Frenchguy. I’ve noticed I say “we” a lot when talking a lot about museum I work for, or “our” museum, but I’m speaking on behalf of our collectively-decided vision. I wonder what it means when anthropologists can’t realistically say “we” about the communities they are trying to represent …

        (I posted this comment once before and it got out of place. Hope this fixes it. Maybe you can do some deleting-magic, Max.)

        [Hi Stacie, Max here: if this is not where you wanted the comment, let me know.]

      10. Frenchguy

        Oups, no, my point was not that she was trying to represent anyone.
        It was not obvious for her (and neither politically/ethically right) to take the pose of the “objective” (white) social scientists talking about people who might be her friends (or herself for that matter) and saying “they”, which necessarily means “those others who are not like us”. She is one of the others (from the white point of view), she doesn’t even have to try to represent anyone to face this problem. In that sense, my point as that the problem lies not in her political views, but in the whiteness of anthropology.

      11. Stacie

        I think I understood you, but the clarification helps. Sorry, I was jumping to a tangential question, because your example made me wonder what considerations go into deciding whether to say “they” or “we.” I meant “representation” in that anthropology researchers are often trying to represent other people/cultures to an audience through a written text.

        But, the confusion is good because I’m trying to decide now where our points overlap, and I think it’s where you say: “they,” meaning “those others who are not like us.”

        A white anthropology student in a classroom talking about “youngsters from poor surburbs, blacks and arabs” is probably almost always going to use “they.” But what about several white people working together with several black or Arab people in a business enterprise? Say, for example, they are speaking to someone else about their company. I’m only guessing, but it seems that, as long as there aren’t great inequalities in how the business is run, there’s a greater likelihood they would use “we” instead of “they” in talking about what they’ve been doing. Or, people who work in marketing might use “they” when talking about the work of the finance department.

        If writing an anthropological text were a business enterprise (and, it kinda is since books or sold) , or at the very least, a collaborative project with the aim of representing certain aspects of culture/cultural ideas to an audience (and it is, because other people are involved in the creation of the field notes, by giving the anthropologist information, etc.), then what does it mean that anthropologists still spend a lot of time referring to people in texts as “they,” or using other “otherizing” terminology?

        I guess it refers to fundamental inequalities in the relationships of text production that might not necessarily have to exist if the project were undertaken in different ways.

      12. Anna

        We do seem to have rising numbers of white (and minority) women entering sociology/anthropology just as the fields become more and more domesticated, lower-paid, adjunct-filled, and subsumed to the ‘male’ disciplines of economics and poli-sci where professors still wield power. The handmaiden of the other social sciences, indeed.

        At my university, at least, all the elite white men and women, the people with the most access and freedom, apply to law school.

      13. Maximilian Forte

        That’s an interesting observation. I agree with the rising numbers of women part, which is true across the social sciences and humanities where in many if not most North American universities, they have been a majority for some time. Minority women present in anthropology, not so much in my experience, in fact, almost not at all.

        I will keep my eyes open for differential rates of hiring adjuncts, to see if it varies from discipline to discipline, and why it might. My own university does not have a law school, so I really can’t make any judgments, but also there are no private universities in Canada, so it is impossible for me to judge just how high up the class hierarchy students are, just on the basis of what they choose to study. All we do know now is that making tuition cheaper has not been an incentive that brings in increased numbers of working class students, and that most of the students we do have in Canada are — not necessarily from very privileged backgrounds alone, however we may define that — generally members of the middle class. What I do not know is what the definition is that is used to identify “middle class” by StatsCan — it is available for certain, but I have not checked.

  12. Nullifidian

    I too shall be sad to see this blog go, even if it was inevitable.

    Many of the criticisms of anthropology could be leveled at other institutionalized disciplines. One of the things that drove me to sociology was the reflexive notion that the so-called “hard sciences” generate unambiguous and objective knowledge of the real world. Little attention is paid to how science fits within the capitalist and militaristic systems and many people acted like I was somewhat crazy for being concerned about such things.

    I love science and I love my work, but I can’t turn a blind eye to how commodified the sciences are, especially within the university system. The Bayh-Dole Act grants universities the absolute right to lay claim to the knowledge, inventions, and processes developed by their professors and sell them off to private corporations. Private corporations fund much of the university research. And then we have the U.S. military….

    Is it too much to ask for a world in which I can pursue the work I love and still be able to look at myself in the mirror the next day?

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I am always very happy when I see you here. Let’s just say we’ll “meet” again, and in what I think will be better “surroundings”. I take your points here, and appreciate you posting them.

  13. dancull

    What the hell, I leave the blogosphere for a couple of days and look what happens… Max starts his very own ‘End Times’ cult… lol.

    Seriously though, it’s been a pleasure to read and learn from your writings, and the information you have shared both on this blog and more widely. I’m kind of looking forward to observing as the blog devours itself in an example of Zero Anthropology…. My own field of conservation has similar (possibly worse?) colonial baggage as museums are full to bursting with the cultural artefacts “collected” (looted) from indigenous peoples. Your writings have (along with other Anthropologists) helped affirm my belief that an anarchist inspired decolonial agenda is not only appropriate but necessary, and the negation of the discipline as a center of power (‘power over’ to use the more precise anarchist terminology) is necessary coupled with the liberation of the methodology and ideas (or seizing of ‘power of’) for all to use as they deem appropriate. I thank you for your inspiring article and ideas.

    I look forward to discovering projects that you start in the future, and I can honestly say its been a pleasure interacting with you in the blogosphere. Good luck with it all….

    Cheers, Dan.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Unfortunately Dan, I am not getting the time to really get the “end series” started…and the more important “distractions” (i.e., Afghanistan) really continue to overwhelm me. The self-devouring will begin soon enough though.

      The next project will not be entirely different, it will just have the added benefit of freeing itself from anthropology; from validating, rescuing, criticizing, answering to anthropology; and move back out to where I came from: online projects that have value for non-academics, for activists, and that stay outside of the anthropology “blogosphere”. This was an experiment after all.

      While you’re thanking me, I have a lot to thank you for, for example, this very passage:

      “an anarchist inspired decolonial agenda is not only appropriate but necessary, and the negation of the discipline as a center of power (’power over’ to use the more precise anarchist terminology) is necessary coupled with the liberation of the methodology and ideas (or seizing of ‘power of’) for all to use as they deem appropriate”

      It’s not unusual that others will understand better than I what I seek to do, or can phrase it much more succinctly.

      Many thanks as always for your visits and your very kind words.

  14. Francesco

    è sempre un piacere leggere i tuoi post e i commenti dei tuoi lettori.
    Sono insomma un lettore del tuo blog. Anche se l’inglese non lo cononsco benissimo trovo sempre matière a penser. Condivido molte cose.
    La questione “refugees” diventa sempre più chiara, ti dirò, per adesso però devo pensare alla laurea.
    Grazie e a presto

  15. Pingback: Wednesday Round Up #86 « Neuroanthropology

  16. jonathan tanis

    and the plot thickens!

    There’s an awful lot of talk of deploying anthropology against the “evil empire.” Of aiming it like a bazooka towards the oppressive structures that imprison us, control us, but exist outside of us. Well, if I’ve learned anything from anthropology it’s that the power structures are projected outward from us, the meaning-makers, and if I’ve learned anything from life it’s that change starts and ends within the Self. Tearing down the tangible manifestations of capitalist structure isn’t going to result in the good kind of anarchy — we’ll just rebuild it or die trying, kick over the anthill and it’ll be back the next day, because the internal directives are still intact. The kind of anarchy we want, where not only the structures of power have burned but the blueprints as well, will only be achieved through cultivating categorical non-dualism.

    And that gets me to my vision of anthropology’s exalted seat. I see it as a wisdom tradition, alongside Daoism, Sufism and Kabbalah. Except more scientific! Through a strange mix of coincidence and deliberation, my own spiritual progress has been powered by the practice of anthropology. Theories of identity construction in the anthropological discourse, in this context, paint a road map for deconstructing our arbitrary identities and discovering the constant to which they attach. The fluxes and flows of Appadurai, once liberated from the purposes of academia, are synonymous with the Dependent Co-Arising of Buddhism, or the interdependency of all things. If there is work to be done it is on ourselves. These two theoretical perspectives alone cover the root causes of most human suffering, (1) the identification and attachment to constructed notions of identity, and (2) the perception that entities can be distinct from one another, that I am Not You. Anthropology provides both the theory and the method (ethnography) to remedy such illusions. After all the concern over the legitimacy, or even the possibility, of anthropological knowledge, how ironic that it may attain something greater as a producer of wisdom.

    As it’s been said, we’ll have to detach from the university system. Good riddance, I say. It’ll take a meditative approach to anthropology, a gonzo ethnography approach to life, but I still think that anthropology can save the world

    “Reform yourself and you will have reformed thousands around you.” – Paramahansa Yogananda

    1. Maximilian Forte

      I may not agree with everything, but I thought your contribution here is packed with extremely important ideas that deserve a lot of reflection. I wish you had been one of the bloggers here. What I found especially valuable (from the first reading) was “if I’ve learned anything from anthropology it’s that the power structures are projected outward from us, the meaning-makers, and if I’ve learned anything from life it’s that change starts and ends within the Self.” From a second and third reading, I will find more.

      But you do have a conception of “self” there, so it seems a bit contradictory to write later that, “the perception that entities can be distinct from one another, that I am Not You,” is an “illusion” at the root of “most human suffering.” I am not sure that it is, inherently so. It can be deployed that way, but so can “love” for that matter. I would say that “I am Not You”, is basic to a sense of self, that it expresses the root of individuality, which not need be ideologized, reified, and institutionalized as individualism. I think the more problematic version of this is: “I am not you, and I am better than you” and more than that, “there is only enough space for I, and not you.”

      What do you think?

      1. jonathan tanis

        Well this is one instance where Eastern philosophy might shed some light where a still-too-objective postmodernism can’t reach. I’m certainly no formal student of these traditions, so I’ll apologize for picking and choosing and getting attributions wrong about a very complicated field. But…

        Most Indian philosophy I’ve read, both in Hinduism and Buddhism, make a distinction between the innate Self and the constructed self/The Ego (not related to the Freudian concept). As convention, a lot of people use the capital/lower case S/s to distinguish between the two. The Self is a singularity, an infinitely small point of consciousness. The self is constructed of various identity forming materials (personality, religion, race, and so on), built around and attached to the Self. Human suffering is a result of mistaking such constructions for one’s inherent being, and identifying with them instead of with the point that connects them (I think of the Self as the origin (0,0) of a Cartesian coordinate plane). I might be wrong, but I get the impression that identity is viewed by many anthropologists/culture studies/feminist folks as an amorphous nebula of swirling meaning. Indian philosophy says there is some general form to the shape, that hidden behind the walls of constructed identity lies something of greater ontological status. The picture is more akin to a solar system, with constructions orbiting a central locus that ties together experience over time.

        None of that is really all that far out. But in addressing your point, the classic mystic insight is that my Self and your Self are one and the same. I art thou. We just build different constructions around it. Sure it sounds like hokey-pokey Aquarian rhetoric, but so does a lot of theoretical physics these days. In super-string theory, that very same physics is beginning to sound remarkably consilient with Buddhist cosmology. If we’re moving out of the realm of anthropology, or academia in general, than I say all the better.

        I think social science’s part to play is in leading human consciousness from a naive essentialism, to the existential diversity of post-modernism, to an englightened essentialism of non-dualism. True unity only achieved through diversity.

        None of this might be very practical to our immediate situation, but isn’t it pretty to think so?

      2. Maximilian Forte

        Well, I loved it.

        I will be thinking about this much more, many thanks for sharing your thoughts here, and I will get out of the way of any others who might wish to comment.

      3. Stacie

        Thanks for pointing this out Jonathan. It’s a tradition of thought where I have little/no background, but it sounds valuable to look into. Any reading suggestions you could offer? Pieces you’ve found insightful? Based only on what you wrote:

        “None of this might be very practical to our immediate situation”

        If “our immediate situation,” broadly defined, includes human suffering, then it sounds like the ideas would have practical significance, at least based on this second part:

        “The Self is a singularity, an infinitely small point of consciousness. The self is constructed of various identity forming materials (personality, religion, race, and so on), built around and attached to the Self. Human suffering is a result of mistaking such constructions for one’s inherent being, and identifying with them instead of with the point that connects them.”

        What I wonder about is seeing “human suffering” as only a form of mistaken thought/seeing… Where do aspects of identity such as “I am hungry” or “my head hurts” fit into the notions of S/self? If someone beats me over the head with a baseball bat as I’m walking down an alley, is my resultant suffering (my head throbbing with pain, rather bloody, ouch, somebody get me to a doctor) somehow connected to seeing S/self in the wrong way? Or, what if a person suffers hunger and dies because his/her crops died in drought? Also a problem of identifying with the self rather than Self? Maybe this also makes sense in nondualism and I’m still too much of a dualist to see it. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  17. Victor

    I’m very happy to see this blog on the air and find myself in total sympathy with just about everything written here. I happen to be one of those who got the message very early on. Timothy Leary told me to turn on tune in drop out and that’s what I did. I went from being part of the solution (a guilt-ridden academic) to part of the problem (one of those irresponsible “natives,” aka creative artist, a joy to myself and problem for everyone else). I learned the great lesson at that time, not from anthropology but from ethnomusicology, and not from the professors but from the objects of study, and no not by taking sitar or tabla or shakuhachi or gamelan lessons from them but by learning from them how to be a complete person. I also learned a lot by studying Antonin Artaud’s essay on the Balinese theater and Garcia Lorca’s essay on the Duende.

    As much as I like what I read here, I must protest because even though what you say you say very well, nevertheless, these sentiments have themselves been co-opted into the athropological mainstream, to the point that just about every grant opportunity (and yes, I apply for anthro. grants because I refuse to deny myself anything) is targeted toward some sort of feel-good “research” by people who have to pretend they want to save the world in order to get a grant. I on the other hand still want to actually learn something from the people I study rather than pretend to be able to save them, as much as I’d love to actually be in a position to do that.

    I’ve been political all my life but in my own subversive way, a habit that is not compatible with the usual career path, so I’ve never had much in the way of security, but I have had lots of fun making people uncomfortable. Ever since reading The Theater and Its Double, I’ve had no problem leading a double life as both artist and intellectual and also serious theoretician and rabble rousing blogger (I actually have two totally different blogs, one on a revolutionary approach to anthropology, http://music000001.blogspot.com/, the other on economics and poetry: http://amoleintheground.blogspot.com/). What I miss on this blog is: anthropology, i.e., writings focused on actual people in the real world and the amazing things they do and the amazing ideas they have, rather than the ingrown, self-reflexive concerns of well meaning anthropologists. And please don’t take this a criticism because as I said I am in total sympathy with the sentiments being expressed here — and I sense behind all the guilt the strivings of a kindred spirit longing to break free. :-)

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks again very much Victor. To be frank, I am not sure I see much of the “save the world” approach in grant applications — actually that is the last place I would expect to find them. The few grant applications I have judged certainly had no such thrust to them, and the few I have applied for seemed to not elicit any such expression of concern from me. The staple has been: how does your project intend to contribute to existing knowledge? what innovative research methods are you seeking to use? how will your project contribute to graduate training? But never, “how will you help to challenge imperialism?” Indeed, I don’t think “decolonization” is at all part of the anthropological mainstream in academia (do a search for syllabi on the subject — I would bet you find that the number of courses dealing with decolonizing anthropology are outnumbered by those on “the ethnography of sound,” or the “anthropology of water,” by at least 10 to 1.

      In terms of learning from the people you study, some of them may be presenting their own works and other materials online. The ones I collaborated with to produce the ethnographic pieces on this blog certainly do. However, in this phase, I am definitely focusing exclusively on the reflexive concerns as you put them, especially as I am winding down.

      Not to worry though, I am not being defensive, and I take all of your great points.

      1. Victor

        Max: “The staple has been: how does your project intend to contribute to existing knowledge? what innovative research methods are you seeking to use? how will your project contribute to graduate training? But never, “how will you help to challenge imperialism?””

        That’s what they say, yes, but the sort of applications they actually fund are almost exclusively those with a politically correct agenda. Here’s a sampling, from just one page of Wenner-Gren grants (http://www.wennergren.org/grantees/grantees_list.htm) awarded between 2001-2008. I didn’t pick through a long list to get these, they fell out on a single page on my very first search:

        ‘Children’s Subjectivities, AIDS, and Social Responses in Brazil’; ‘A Guinea Pig’s Wage: Risk, Body Commodification, and the Ethics of Pharmaceutical Research in America’; ‘When Value Disappears: The Economic Dimensions of Citizenship and the Argentine Debt Default,’;
        ‘The Anxious South Korean Student: Globalization, Human Capital, and Class’; ‘Genomic Evidence, Historical Quests, and the Politics of Identity at the Turn of the Millennium’; ‘Gendered Politics in a Changing Space: Colonialism and the Invention of a Female Igbo King.’

        This is what Anthropology has come to in our time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a conservative, in fact I’d characterize myself as an Orwellian socialist. And it’s not my intention to put you down, because, as I said, I am in complete sympathy with just about everything you’ve written. However, I do think it time for anthropologists to wake up out of their dogmatic slumber, get their head out of their navels, stop agonizing over ethical spilt milk, and realize that there is still a fascinating world out there waiting for us to figure out. If you talk with traditional people you discover that their principal interest is — still — their traditions. Yet all the anthropologists want to talk about is their own tradition — of rape, enslavement, warfare and general exploitation and mayhem. And of course we are all experts on that, so there’s no need to study anything or anyone, just vent on about what bad boys we’ve been.

        On my economics blog I don’t dwell too much on who the guilty parties are or what sort of evil maneuvers led us down the path to imminent perdition. Everyone else is doing that so why should I bother? I focus on the fundamental aporia that grounds capitalism and makes total and complete meltdown inevitable regardless of what we do or fail to do. I call it Mumonkan, “The Gateless Gate.” Our whole world has turned into a Zen koan. I dwell on the bright future that awaits us on the other side of that gate, if we can only find the courage to pass through it.

        And on my music blog, really an anthropology blog, I focus on what all that wonderful music sung and played by all these remarkable indigenous people all over the world can tell us about who we are and where we came from and where we are going. I put together a proposal for Wenner Gren to get some funding to systematically explore just one especially interesting and important aspect of that and didn’t even get past the initial screening. Not really surprising since there was nothing remotely “correct” or “do-good” about my proposal, it was just basic, old fashioned comparative musicology/anthropology.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        Alright Victor, but one should not judge on the basis of titles alone, and on the basis of a short selection of funded projects, in one time period, by one agency. If you noticed, more funding is pouring into social science research that is directly supportive of the national security state, and is funded by the Pentagon — I think the “do good” agenda, to the extent that it exists, is growing increasingly marginalized. Therefore, a critique of the inherent aspects of anthropology that support imperial ambitions becomes much more relevant, not less.

        In Canada, I detect no “do good” element at all in the research grant application or review process — and indeed, one could argue, if nasty, that most of the social sciences and humanities research that is funded is very much niche-oriented, self-indulgent stuff. There was no politically correct agenda in the NSF grant applications I reviewed, nor in recent Dutch granting agency applications that I had to review.

        I have no problem with learning about other societies, we do that as individuals by many different means. However, I do not believe that “the traditionals” are simply waiting for “us” to tell their stories, in our own ways, according to theories they would find incomprehensible and largely irrelevant, assuming they even had access to our publications.

        I do not follow the point that “rape, enslavement, warfare and general exploitation and mayhem” is simply the tradition of anthropologists. Most of the people we have worked with are the ones who have suffered “our tradition,” and have plenty to say about it. So why not listen to them? And why not listen to us reflecting on what we have learned from them? If the alternative to navel gazing (which seems to be the American way of dispelling self-criticism, with very obvious consequences in American politics), were to be more National Geographic…I will go with the navel gazing.

        Otherwise, as I said, I have no real problem with your points, and this was never an ethnography blog that was determined to just get on with the business of telling other people’s stories. The ethnographic essays that have appeared here functioned to put into practice some of the objectives of the project — so there is no need for any kind of opposition between self-criticism and doing ethnography. One really cannot do the latter well without the former.

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