Friday, September 17, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Beatles and Anthropology

Thanks to one of our/my readers with the note "best example about assumptions in anthropology". I quite agree. Entitled Beatles 3000. Have a bit of a giggle.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Heaven, Heaven is a Place, a Place Where Nothing, Nothing Ever Happens

For those of you wondering how its going in the great State of Texas, where we rewrite textbooks to suit our own views of the world and we continue our attack on that evil "theory" of evolution. I can report that we are quite successful at our stated goals: our descent into ignorance is complete.

This morning, in my online Archaeology class, this post showed up:

In the beginning of this class, I thought that it would be a very interesting class due to the fact that I love history & research. I was always fascinated by all the different theories of the human ancestry & our own origins. I have now come to realize that unfortunately for me, it has become nothing more than a graduation requirement. The book is informative & makes me question many things taught in our own history, however I do not agree with this section of the book, as it goes against everything that I believe in & study in my religious preferences.

In the book on page 39 it shows what is perceived as our own human ancestry family tree. It shows that we started out as ancestors of great apes & slowly evolved over time. As the text states, "there are controversies over what to call these first hominin forms & how to identify them," the concept that humans came from apes is what their so-called science classifies it as, but there are so many other factors that are not mentioned. I agree that there are a lot of similarities but there is so much that is left unsaid. This portion of the sections was very hard for me to read let alone write about. I disagree with the book in every aspect on this particular subject & find it rather offensive for people to even such a thing & call it human origins....

In modern times most people are ignorant of our own origin of existence & there are so many different versions of the story I sometimes find it hard to keep track. This section did nothing more than give me yet another version of the story, & I personally don't believe a word of it. However, it did bring up some interesting points that made me question our know history about the Native Americans being the first inhabitants of this land. If we supposively evolved from apes based on their theory than how do they know that the original bone fossils were not Native Americans before they too evolved to what is known as a modern Native American? I believe that this is all based upon their own assumptions. I believe that what they found was real, but they assume what is true & hold no facts as to what really happened & how it all really started. I don't believe that we will ever know the real truth.

As I go through this book I find many different scientific discoveries that are amazing but they hold no truth, we know only what the fact tell us and they don't tell us how it all began or why only that something did in fact exist. You can't argue with science & facts obviously, but I will argue they assume our origins based on finding that prove nothing more than an existence with no proof of whether it was human existence or not.

Check, please.

Since this is making the rounds, I am posting it up. It makes me feel better:

Keep fighting the good fight, we in the trenches applaud you.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Extra Credit Question: No Stupid in Anthropology

Anybody tired of this one? I am teaching only online this summer. We just started Summer II--one semester in 5 weeks. Used to be that meant lecturing for two+ hours a day, now it just means fielding emails and discussion board posts for a couple of hours every day. Given the amount of time required to type a response to a simple question, I find myself wondering if this is truly an advantageous trade-off. Its just so much easier to answer a question in person than in writing. Not only is all the tone gone from writing--it requires a more careful response to get the tone right--but their questions often require more than just a factual answer, they require some kind of perspective and advice about their learning processes.

The sad part is that they never ask about anthropology. Its always some other issue they contact you about. Case in point, is the extra credit question; like the one I just got. The student took the first chapter quiz--one of many quizzes and one of many assignments, including discussion board posts-- and didn't do as well as she/he wanted. Rather than arrive at the conclusion that they needed to prepare better/work harder/study more, he/she fires off the inevitable "do you offer extra credit" email.

Kill me now. Not willing to commit murder to put me out of my misery? *Looks around*. Anybody, anybody? Didn't think so. So, now I have to answer this thing, *shudder*, and in such a way that I don't reveal my frustration and irritation. Its there, trust me. And, in such a way that I encourage she/he to succeed without enabling. And, honestly, I can't tell if she/he needs reassurance that he/she can succeed or a good swift kick in the pants so they will get off his/her ass and get to work.

And back to my rant....what is wrong with these students, today.......etc, etc, etc. Lead-based paint. The World's Most Beautiful Sociology Professor just yelled at me: "They're stupid, Pam. They are just stupid." I hate being an anthropologist because I am pretty sure we aren't even allowed to believe that. We are supposed to respect and value each one of them, aren't we? Aren't we? Somebody remind me of that because I am leaning the sociology way: they are soooooo stupid. Apologies to all you sociologists out there. I needed a label and, today, you are it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Twenty Minutes Not Wasted: How to Teach the Big Picture

Super great TED talk just up:

Now, I know you are going to think I am excited at the technological possibilities mentioned at the end--the ones for integrating many peoples into an Open Education experience. Or maybe you think I am worked up about the continuing relevance and power of LECTURE, even in the largest of groups. And, yes, that did totally work me up. BUT more hot than that was the wonderful teachable moment which shows to our students the relevance (that word again) of anthropology. It is so easy to add Anthropology into the mix here. Or add this into a course on Anthropology. Fundamentally, we want students to understand that the people's of the world are our window into viewing the different possibilities of the essence of an idea. What is marriage? How are differing views of its essence reckoned by the full spectrum of humanity? Way cool and, totally, usable for Distantly Learning.

Oh, and check out Michael Sandel's website at He has a talk on cannibalism I am off to watch. You know how we Anthropologists love a good cannibalism lecture (stereotype alert).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Score One for Our Side

James Franco reprimanded for texting in class. Juicy details here.
Guess, his spidey-sense failed him. Okay, I thought that was pretty funny. (Although, truthfully, I had no idea who James Franco is, good thing the article told me.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Babies: The Film

For Mother's Day, my daughter and I went to see the new French movie, Babies, made by well-known international filmmaker, Thomas Balmes.

It was a rather remarkable and engaging "nature" film about the first year in the life of four infants from Namibia, Japan, the United States, and Mongolia. I say "nature" film because there is no narration in the film and the focus is at baby/subject-level. The focus means that you spend so much more time "seeing" the babies as unique and different personalities, even though the cultural content of their development is so radically different. The least ethnocentric of viewers will, probably, walk away with glimpses of Hattie's (U.S) calm, quiet self; Mari's (Japan) drive and determination and resultant frustration(my daughter shared this: the blowing of fuses when motor skills don't match internal desires?);Ponijao's (Namibia)languid curiosity, and Bayar's (Mongolia) limitless happiness and charm.

There is ample fodder for judgement and I imagine the less anthropologically-initiated will be shocked at the visible dirt which is the Namibian existence, the casual breast-feeding of Ponijao's mother, and the human/animal intimacies of life amongst pastoralists (both Namibia and Mongolia).

I have to admit to being less than pleased with one aspect of the film. Balmes has stated in interviews that he sought to show different societies in an almost hierarchy of relationships with nature from the stark existence of Namibia to the crowded quarters of Japan. He succeeds in that vision but the cost is a depiction of "Africa" which is going to be strongly re-enforcing the "primitive". The bleak Namibian desert landscape, the pastoral life, and remote location coupled with images of Ponijao casually picking a discarded bone from a pile of dirt and refuse and chewing on it in her first few months of life is really reinforcing the "savage" and not exactly a representational picture of life in Africa.

But the nice bit: pay close attention for you shall see that Ponijao is never alone. Surrounded constantly by her extended "family" it is impossible to determine the relations of the women and children who love and care for her. (Side note: no father is ever seen.) That resonates Africa for me. I was grateful for the short time my own daughter got (at the age of 4) to run with a pack and be cared for as one of many.

And then, I comforted, myself on the stereotype front, with a giggle: "we", the collective American generic, must suffer the vision of little Hattie struggling to escape baby sing-along with weird mother-nature-earth chant. While the group's sing-along earth mother offers a chant to the Earth and Dad follows obediently along, Hattie flees the circle and pulls determinedly at the door. My sentiments, exactly, Hattie. San Francisco: need I say more. You won't find that stuff in Texas or New Jersey. LOL.

Unlike, Ponijao, Hattie spends much time alone with one parent. Not for her the touch--loving and abusive--of an older sibling or playmate. Nor for Mari either. Our "developed" babies interact in carefully structured worlds isolated in strollers, distracted by toys, lectured at with books with titles like "No Hitting", rather than rolling in the earth and pulling the penis of our older brother.

I am uncertain what students might take away from the film but I can see some rather extensive discussions revolving around all this issues. One way to "get into" them is probably to approach the discussion of concepts of safety and danger. I imagine most students will be instantly struck with the different standards of supervision the different babies experience. The film maker has commented on his own role in the process; having been asked the inevitable "when would you have interfered" when faced with toddlers tangled in between the legs of goats and cattle.

There is a rather extensive support site for the film here. And go see it. Its a really nice change of pace in a hostile and unhappy world.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Need your help. Resignation advice: Got it?

So, gentle readers....I need your advice. What do you do in lower higher education to resign from an extra-contractual position when you have come to the conclusion that you are getting hosed?

I mean none of the promises that were made to you by your President have come true even when you have worked your butt off and showed all manner of success. Actually, it isn't just a matter of promises not being kept its the realization that you are out there in horrible circumstances with no support and the job you have to fulfill can't really be done because all your hands and feet are tied and failure is looming large. You are left alone under the power of the one person you stated from the beginning you could NOT work under. "You don't have to. You will answer to me". NOT!

Situation normal. All fucked up. Students hurt. Taxpayers getting screwed. No R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I need out.

So, and when do you resign? Do you finish out the Spring semester and tell them then. Do you tell them now and offer to finish up? Do you do it short and sweet and how much of your hand do you show?

Give me all you got. I need it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Unteaching: its what we do

Its always nice to be reading along and find a reference to anthropology which not only seems to understand us but to promote the best of us.

So, here I was sipping the morning coffee with my laptop open to the Sunday papers (look Ma, no ink-stained fingers) and I ran across one of those same-ole/same ole articles. You can read it at the Saturday (okay, I was working my way up to the Sunday one-sheesh) New York Times here, in an article entitled "Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?". Condensed version: business schools are "rediscovering" the value of a liberal arts education for creative and critical thinking skills. I am not sure what is new about this. I worked for a year in the admissions office at Northwestern--waaaaay back then and we tittered at all the clueless students who would come to interview and express an interest in undergraduate business degrees (no, next please). Northwestern didn't have an undergraduate business degree (I assume they still don't). The Kellogg Graduate School of Management wanted students with good grounded liberals arts degrees for their MBA program. I always advise my students that IF they want to do the corporate path, they should get the best, cheapest, all-A liberal arts degree they can (something they like well enough to kick-butt at) and then borrow to the hilt for the best MBA they can get. (Funny to think of little ole me giving advice about how to succeed in the world of corporate capitalism--but I aim to please.)

Anyway, keep reading along and deep into page 3, you will find this lovely quote:

Instead of presenting existing problems to analyze or solve, design-thinking classes send students to do something akin to anthropological field work to find the problems. Then they field-test solutions, refining as they go.

Leaving aside my confusion with the difference between analyzing an existing problem and discovering a new problem--isn't a new problem still an existing problem and doesn't someone, somewhere "know" about it or it wouldn't be a "problem"--its nice to see we still have relevance as a frame of reference. We still retain that undercover, investigative, hanging out in the "real" world feel.

It makes me all wibbly inside. Its what we do--that part of us that can't be measured but easily translates to a classroom--not to be measured--can't be measured but it is transformative. Its Old School.

I always tease my students. Anthropology asks all those questions you asked in grade school and were told to shut up for asking. And then they tried to stuff all that crap into you that really seemed to beggar the question: why don't I have sex with my mother if dogs do? Does Santa Claus do a fly-over on Africa because they were all bad? Does God not like poor people? Do humans taste like chicken? Do human societies piss down their own legs? Do my genitals look like everyone else's? Does everyone else have a bigger penis? Did the Twilight Bark really work; I mean when the dogs were all barking at each other did they really say "quick, hide the puppies because Cruella deVille is after then to turn them all into coats". Is "evil" always angular? What is the meaning of skinny bitch? Does she just need a sandwich? Are we Americans really better than everyone else? Can we save the whole world or just some bits? If we kill all the bad people and only the good ones are left standing do we win? What is going on behind that curtain? If I think bad thoughts about someone else can shit happen? Why does shit happen?

And so you spend time unteaching. I think I spend most of my time unteaching--I suppose that gets labeled as "critical thinking" or the "reexamination of our own cultural biases". In many respects, a good cultural anthropology class just provides the safe environment to ask those questions and rethink how to find the answers. But first, students need to find their way back to those questions and like Walmart, we have to roll back those preconceived notions.

Its nice that when the New York Times is searching for condensed explanations, we still stand for that process: throw off your shackled thinking and go find the answer--in reality not your notions of it.

Now, its on to the actual Sunday paper with its articles about dumping unsold clothing or giving it away (does Africa really need H&M pleather miniskirts?) and exporting the DSM IV (God bless those crazy-ass psych people).

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Things White People Love: Avatar

No, I haven't seen it. I probably won't. I always hate it when Hollywood drives the bus--especially for two hours and forty minutes. Besides being an Avatar virgin means I don't become overly invested in my own opinions of it and I am interested in the opinions of my students this coming semester.

I noticed a very interesting Russian doll discussion about it at Savage Minds. I guess by Russian doll I mean it became more and more about "us" anthropologists and our analyses and seemed to become smaller and smaller somehow.

And then at New Year's my neighbours were enthusiastically discussing our loss of noble innocence in the modern era and I felt curmudgeonly superior with my internal snorting, ass that I am. So I am no less small, it seems.

Goodness, so much analysis: "dances with smurfs in space", Pocahontas redux, etc, etc.

Still, I remember walking by a movie theater on my first trip to Tanzania in 1985. It was really the only one I can recall seeing. On the main street in Dar, close to the American library of USIS (as it was at that time). Walking by it one day I heard huge waves of laughter spilling out the door. Using the power of my whiteness, I walked up and peered in. There was one of those low-budget Asian karate movies on the screen--no translations, no sub-titles. Those few Tanzanian (mostly) men who could afford the shillings that day were sitting there laughing hilariously at the shirtless Asian men kicking each other on the screen.

Maybe we anthropologists should be more concerned with the meaning Tanzanians attach to the movie. Third world not second life? Shakespeare in the bush, anyone? Or Sundiata a la Disney, yet again? Sad to be reminded that the myths of history are written (and analyzed ad nauseaum) by the conquerors.

But, hey, it isn't easy being blue.