May 16, 2013

A new site

Well, I think this site has just about run its course.  But you can still find me on Savage Minds, and of course at the anthropologies project.

March 27, 2013

anthropology and student debt

Student debt is everywhere.  It seems like everyone is going into debt.  It's unstoppable, endless, ubiquitous.  We're all in debt.  We're all drowning in numbers and compound interest.  All from an attempt at "getting ahead" and going to school.  Ya, something's not right about all this.  You know this.  More and more seem to fall into the debt trap each day.  This includes a lot of anthropology students--graduate and undergraduate.  I am pretty sure none of you out there started studying anthropology in order to get trapped in debt.  I sure didn't.  Did you?  I doubt it.

So what happened?

The subject of student debt sort of ebbs and flows.  Sometimes it comes up more than others.  I was hearing about it a lot when all the Occupy Wall Street stuff was going on last year, and when this book, and this one, were published.  That was about the time that I first heard about the project on student debt.  Lately though I haven't heard too much about this issue...but it's not like it has gone away.  It's still here.  And we're all still in debt (well, not all of us, but far too many).

This past week a few different people sent me some different links about student debt.  One was this short video of Suze Orman talking about some of the traps of student loans.  She makes good point.  It turns out there's really good money in handing out loans with 6 or more percent interest to students who need to find a way to pay for their college educations.  Imagine that.  Student debt is a moneymaker.  It's also a major economic bubble, kind of like the housing market a few years back.  We all know it, and I think a lot of us are just wondering when the crash is going to take place.*  I don't see how it can last much longer without some major collapse of some sort.  Lots of people are, for a lack of a better way of putting it, "underwater" when it comes to their education and student loan debt.  Maybe that's when more people will really sit down and look at this seriously.  But another point that Orman raises is the fact that student loan cannot be discharged in bankruptcy: you're stuck with it.

Someone also sent me this quote by Noam Chomsky:
Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society, Chomsky suggested. “When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think.” Tuition fee increases are a “disciplinary technique,” and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the “disciplinarian culture.” This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.
That one has been passed around quite a lot.  Love him or hate him, Chomsky has a point.  This is something to really think about: what are the actual effects of all these loans, of this avalanche of debt that slides over so many of us?  When students get overburdened with debt, how does this affect their decisions and actions once they graduate?  What happens to goals and ideals and future plans when graduates are really only able to think about getting out of debt?  What's the point, really, of studying anthropology or [enter your field of study here] when, after you graduate, all you have time for is finding some job, any job, to pay your debts?  I ask this question all the time.  It completely defeats the purpose of studying a field like anthropology only to end up hamstrung by excessive debt and unable to put that knowledge to use.

In a certain sense, a strong belief in the possibilities of anthropology--despite actual experiences and practices in academia--is what keeps people pushing forward.  I think people are willing to go into debt, in part, because they still hold out hope, a belief in the possibilities of anthropology.  This idealism is what draws in undergraduate students and keeps graduate students from dropping out.  Student loans are like life rafts for many of these people--and I am one of them.  And, like that old Talking Heads song, sometimes I ask myself, well, how did I get here?

It's good when people send me links, notes, and bits of news that get me thinking.  Now I am thinking, once again, about student debt--and what this means for anthropology.  Or, more specifically, how anthropology might be marshaled in order to really take this student debt thing apart and do something about it.  I suppose we could all just sit back and lament the current state of academia...or we could do something else entirely.  I am leaning toward the "let's do something" option.  On that note, here's the conclusion from Brian McKenna's piece on Counterpunch about student debt back in 2011:
Anthropologists must reflect hard on Henry Giroux’s challenge to “take back higher education.”  The discipline cannot fall into the neoliberal trap, laid out by Florida Governor Richard Scott, of justifying anthropology in terms of its value in market terms. Indeed, too many jobs serve the very pernicious social order that is driving the public sphere and social state into ruin.
And yet, a job is life.
Clearly then, many questions are left unanswered about the job/loan dialectic for de Jesus and platoons of other anthropology students across the country. And for us all. I asked a recent undergraduate anthropology class of 32 students and found that about 70% expected debts over $20,000. This included two students anticipating debts over $30,000 and one over $40,000. We do not have a good accounting of the total debt load within anthropology. We need it.
We must fight to release students and professors (how many are still in deep debt?) from this  burden. Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30- Somethings Can’t Get Ahead (Draut 2006) asks, “How can the government justify charging students nearly 7 percent while it charges the banks nothing (Draut 2011)?”
Universities were once viewed as laboratories for free inquiry and debate. Today they are under siege from privatizers, ideologues, anxious college administrators...and the banks.
It’s time to return universities to faculty. And it’s time to provide our youth with a fresh start in life, unburdened by debt peonage to Wall Street.
Read the rest here.  Then ask yourself: Did you get into anthropology to get bludgeoned by debt?  Ya, me neither.  So now what?  Well, I think we might be able to marshal this anthropology thing to find some answers.  But more about that later.  For now, comments and stories welcome.

*One good thing: I am pretty sure nobody will be able to board up my mind and foreclose my education.  Not yet.

March 18, 2013

Savage Minds is down with server what?

Well, good old SM is down, and here I am back at my "old" site poking around to see what can be done.  Sometimes I think I need to revamp this site and get it going again, and sometimes I think it would make more sense to make something entirely new.  Or, I suppose I could just focus on transcribing interviews and writing up my dissertation...


anthropologies #17

Whose health matters?
March 2013


Introduction: Yes, your health matters--now please get in line
Ryan Anderson

The Commodification of Celebrity Health
Tazin Karim

Health Inequalities: Structural Violence and Invisibility
Jennifer R. Wies

 Medical Authority and Queer Health Disparities
Will Robertson

Dependency & Mistrust of the Medical Community: The Experiences of Parents of Deaf Children in Mexico City
Anne Pfister

Substance Abuse Treatment: Maintaining the Status Quo?
Lesly-Marie Buer

The Long War: Continuing Battles Over Equity for Children With Disabilities
Gregory J. Williams

Biopolitics of Infant Mortality
Monica J. Casper

Stigmatization in Psychiatry: For the Discipline and for the Patient
Carla Pezzia

International adoption medicine and inequality in pediatric health care
Emily J. Noonan

Reflections on a Dialogue between NM & CMA: Holism on the Ground
Sean Tangco, Erik Hendrickson & Samuel Spevack

Oportunidades: Co-responsibility and the Politics of Health Care in Mexico
Veronica Miranda

Photo: Pharmacy, Oaxaca City, Mexico 2008.  By Veronica Miranda.

December 19, 2012

No comment

From the American Anthropological Association: "New RACE item" for sale:

Anthropologists respond to Newtown violence

Anthropologists Daniel Lende and Jason Antrosio have written posts about the recent violence at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.  Lende's post is called "Newtown and Violence--No Easy Answers."  Here's a selection:
With violence, there are no easy answers, as I wrote about in my summer piece Inside the Minds of Mass Killers after the Aurora Batman shootings.
One narrative – that Adam Lanza was mentally ill – is already waiting in the wings, prepped as an explanation. Another – where guns are the culprit – has exploded already with full force. Lanza used a semi-automatic assault rifle with extended clips and shot his victims multiple times. He had hundreds of more rounds to continue his killing. Without that firepower, he couldn’t have killed so many so quickly before taking his own life when the police arrived.
The United States urgently needs more and better mental health care. Regulating guns like we regulate motor vehicles seems reasonable, given how many thousands die from gun shots and from car accidents every year. Neither, though, gets us much closer to why.
It really is not so complicated. The murder-massacre of Newtown was made possible by semi-automatic weapons. The answer is simple. Difficult, yes, but simple: a semi-automatic weapons buyback or other measures to reduce and restrict the weaponry. But as anthropologists, we may not figure this one out until we get walloped and wonder what happened.
Read both, and feel free to post related links, comments, and reactions.

UPDATE: From a post by Tim Wise:
But know this: the minute we as a nation lull ourselves to sleep, and allow ourselves the conceit of deciding that some places are beyond the reach of evil, of death, of pain — while others are not, and are indeed the geographic fulcrum of misery itself — two things happen, and both are happening now. First, we let our guards down to the pathologies that manifest quite regularly in our own communities — the nice places, so called — whether domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or any of a dozen others; and second, we consign those who live in the other places — the not-so-nice ones in our formulation — to continued destruction, having decided apparently that in spaces such as that there is really nothing that can be done. They are poor, after all, and dark, and embedded in a pathological culture, and so…
At the very least let us agree that there is something of a cognitive disconnect here, linked indelibly to the race and class status of the perpetrators of so many of these crimes, when contrasted to the way in which we normally, as a nation, discuss crime and violence.

October 17, 2012

Democracy in the US? Not so much.

You know, we're supposed to be all about democracy here in the US--about liberty, freedom of choice, and open electoral process and all that good stuff.  I remember back in 2000 when Ralph Nader was on the ballot.  Do you all remember that?  Well, people can think whatever they want about Nader as a person, or his politics or whatever.  Fine.  But something happened back then that made me quite a bit more cynical about our electoral process: Nader was excluded from even trying to attend the first presidential debate.  The Commission on Presidential Debates did eventually apologize to him--two years later.  Like that does any good.

So, more of the same is happening this year: Green Party candidate Jill Stein was arrested for trying to attend last night's debate.  And she apparently spent 8 hours handcuffed to a chair under police supervision.  Is this our democratic process at work?  Read more about this on Democracy Now.

Here's what Stein said just before she was arrested (from the Democracy Now link):
Well, we’re here to stand our ground. We’re here to stand ground for the American people, who have been systematically locked out of these debates for decades by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We think that this commission is entirely illegitimate; that if—if democracy truly prevailed, there would be no such commission, that the debates would still be run by the League of Women Voters, that the debates would be open with the criteria that the League of Women Voters had always used, which was that if you have done the work to get on the ballot, if you are on the ballot and could actually win the Electoral College by being on the ballot in enough states, that you deserve to be in the election and you deserve to be heard; and that the American people actually deserve to hear choices which are not bought and paid for by multinational corporations and Wall Street.
I think she makes some pretty good points.  Meanwhile, democracy steamrolls forward.

September 16, 2012

Finding value: Theory, abstraction, and fieldwork

I am still obsessed with the concept of value.  What is value?  What does it mean to say something has value?  How do we decide what something is “worth”?  How are different ideas about value connected to meaning–and action?  How do our ideas about value, worth, and meaning relate to our actions?  How is value connected to money (in its various forms)?  How are different forms of valorization (economic, cultural, moral, political) connected?  Where and when are they disconnected?

When I started on this exploration of the idea of value, one of my friends told me that if I’m really serious about looking deeper, then I should start with David Graeber’s book on the subject.  I did, and have subsequently read that book–and his book about Debt–and taken tons of notes.  My friend also said that my search for the meaning of value is going to head back to Marx one way or another.  And it did.  But it also led to Adam Smith, Clyde Kluckhohn, David Harvey, Noel Castree, Julia Elyachar, and many others.  This search for value has led me down many different side streets and avenues, and there’s still a lot of ground to cover. The most recent book that I am reading is James Buchan’s book Frozen Desire.  The money/value question, especially as it relates to land, real estate speculation, and development, is what has been keeping me occupied for some time now.  The more I look into value, the more I want to keep looking.  It’s a bit like an endless economic rabbit hole.

Now, I am definitely fascinated with the idea of value, but I am also willing to admit that it’s a massive, if not vague, concept.  Graeber said pretty much the same thing in the beginning of his book.  The word “value” can refer to a range of things: from prices and money values all the way to moral values.  So there’s a bit of fuzziness and abstraction going on, simply because of the wide array of ways in which people use the term.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell when one usage ends and another begins.  There’s a lot of contradiction and overlap going on.  I hate to say it, but the whole idea of value gets complicated–and really, really abstract at times.  Maybe too abstract?

Read the rest on Savage Minds.

September 1, 2012

Latest issue of anthropologies: The Political Ecology Issue

Political Ecology
September 2012

~ Contents ~

Ryan Anderson

Brian Grabbatin & Patrick Bigger

Cat Nelson

Thomas A. Loder

Janna Lafferty

Douglas La Rose

Jerry Zee

Dear AAA: Sink or Swim?

This statement, written by Jason Antrosio, Eliza Jane Darling, Sarah Kendzior and myself, is a response to a post on the American Anthropological Association blog that discusses our recent writings about adjuncts, anthropology, and academia. Cross-posted on Savage Minds.

We are gratified that the American Anthropological Association has taken note of our critical commentary on the vagaries of the academic career, and we thank fellow blogger Joslyn O. for publicizing our work on the Association website. However, we would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

The AAA post suggests we represent two “camps,” but we share only one: a commitment to ending precarious intellectual labour. We protest the transformation of our profession into a swelling Hooverville congregated on the margins of universities whose dwindling tenured citizenry is bankrolled by our low-wage, low-benefit, low-security, low-respect work.

The bleak future of the aspiring anthropologist is not a concoction rooted in cynicism. It is an empirically demonstrable, material condition that speaks its truth in the language of debt, dependency, discouragement, and occasionally, the dole. We queue up for the work time and again because we deeply value anthropology. There is little other reason to plough the terrain of a field whose prospects for success resemble a lottery more than a competition. But as the national belt tightens in the face of prolonged economic crisis, contingent workers are increasingly unable to afford to subsidize the discipline financially, however highly we regard it intellectually. And the dignity deficit takes its toll on us all.

Anthropology is, and is not, “what we make it.” The most powerful producers of anthropological policy and practice seldom include the ranks of the precarious, yet even the privileged can lay no proprietary claim to a field whose fate, like that of its sister subjects in the social sciences, arts and humanities, rests at the mercy of profitability. Nonetheless, anthropology’s commitment to the science of social justice makes the studied ignorance of its own internal inequities insupportably ironic.

The resolution of these contradictions is served by neither silence nor sympathy, but solidarity. An academy structured upon the division of a two-tiered labor market discourages such an alliance. Yet we hope that anthropologists will join together to fight for the value of our work beyond the barometer of the bottom line. We must, for the same structural forces that divide tenured and contingent faculty threaten to subsume us all beneath a wave of public retrenchment, whose end game will inter us on the same sinking ship if we do not turn the tide. While the reserve army may constitute the foot soldiers in this battle for survival, the generals are hardly immune to the war on intellectual value.

The AAA can play a role in promoting solidarity. The first step is acknowledging that we are a house divided: not into camps which value, or do not value, the craft of anthropology, but into classes which are unevenly able to extract a living wage from that craft. The second step is to extend the professional respect and responsibility the Association demands for students, informants, the public and science itself to our fellow workers, within and without the academy. This solidarity is not only desirable but vital, for the future of anthropology is far more than academic.

Ryan Anderson
Jason Antrosio
Eliza Jane Darling
Sarah Kendzior

July 23, 2012

University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group: Notes from the field

Check this out:
The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group (PEWG) is pleased to announce our new "Notes from the Field" series. A mix of grad student and faculty, regular and one-time contributors will be sharing their experiences doing political ecology. They'll write up, audio/visually record, draw, etc. brief and more extended reflections on methodological, topical, and theoretical issues they are confronting. For us, the field is what you make it out to be - you don't have to have your hip waders on to be in the field. The idea is more: how is your research going? What's a funny story about it? What's a telling story from it? We hope to provide political ecologists a platform for beginning to think through their research and to connect with others who find themselves in similar situations.

In this inaugural edition of "Notes" we feature writings from UKPEWGers. We begin by hearing from geographers who share how they do research with communities at the center of often controversial productions of socionature...
 Read the rest here.

July 10, 2012

Speaking of open access...

The subject of open access publishing gets a fair amount of press around here at Savage Minds. For good reason, in my opinion, because the publishing regime that we currently have needs a little…rethinking.  Going “open access” is, of course, one possible option.  But what is this open access thing really all about?  If we’re going to consider OA, it’s probably a good idea to look deeper into the issues involved.  It’s definitely not some magical thing that will just happen overnight.  It will take work, planning, and cooperation among lots of people.  Anyway, here are some sources to look  into regarding anthropology and open access:*

First, check out Peter Suber’s overview of OA for starters.  Learn it.  Live it.  Know it.

Next, Wikipedia (fittingly) has a pretty nice overview of what OA is all about, including some of the debates about financing, etc.  The OA page is here.

Also, check out the three interviews I did with Jason Baird Jackson about Open Access and anthropology a while back.  Jason is a wealth of information when it comes to all things OA (have a look at his site too).  The first of the OA interviews with Jason is here.

Financing is one issue that comes up a lot, and rightfully so.  For a few ideas, have a look at Kim and Mike Fortun’s “thought experiment” about Liberating Cultural Anthropology.

More good stuff: the OA archives link here at Savage Minds.  You don’t have to go far to start reading about OA.

Finally, I’m adding this simply because I can’t help myself:

*If you have other OA sources and links, please feel free to post them in the comments section.

July 3, 2012

Updates: fieldwork, internet connections, etc

I haven't posted here in about two months, for a whole slew of reasons. The main one was because I did not have any internet access for about two months.  And, considering the fact that I am in the middle of fieldwork, it was getting a little impossible to keep up with this site, anthropologies, and posting at Savage Minds while also doing the fieldwork thing.  So...I kind of dropped off the fact of the blogosphere for a bit.  Now that I have a decent internet connection again, I am going to try to keep the fires kindled to a reasonable extent.  But the fieldowork part of life is still taking up most of my time, so I won't be back at regular blogging level for a while yet.  Anyway, there's the update.

Inconsistent Values: some thoughts about money

Money is pretty strange, especially the more you really think about it.  What makes people willing to hand over things like DVDs, steaks, and churros in exchange for a piece of paper with ridiculous little pictures and numbers all over it?  Why would anyone trade a delicious arrachera taco, say, for a grubby little piece of metal with an eagle stamped into it?  Why do sane people accept these transactions as reasonable, let alone desirable?  Well, there are of course a lot of reasons behind these kinds of decisions, including everything from the political power of states to a kind of trust that exists within a community of users.  One question that always gets me thinking is this: what exactly upholds the value of money?  State power?  Trust?  The symbolic meanings  that people attach to money?  Habit?  A big global conspiracy?  All of the above!?!*

I have been working in Mexico off and on since around 2007, and during that time I have had a few interesting run-ins with this thing we call money.  Many of these experiences point to one particularly intriguing fact: the value of money is anything but stable.  Of course, we all know that.  Markets shift, currencies rise and fall.  Inflation happens.  The value of money changes all the time, right?  Yes, it does.  But what I am talking about is how money that is supposedly stable at larger levels can change value depending on specific social situations.  So values shift in the macro sense, but also in micro, very quotidian senses as well.  And the reasons for those micro fluctuations of value are many.  In short, when it comes to the actual value of money, social context matters.  A few examples:

Read the rest on Savage Minds.