Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Swarm at AAA


Savage Minds: $10 thoughts on blogging in anthropology

Chris Kelty over at Savage Mindswaxes eloquent on the joys of being an anthropology blogger.

Cross-field Anthropology: Opportunities & Obstacles

As evidence that there are at least pockets of cross-disciplinary collaboration and apprecation within AAA, the Society for Cultural Anthropology sponsored a Multispecies Salon at the recent meeting. Five essays published in the November 2010 issue of Cultural Anthropology formed the platform of the "innovent", and several additional papers were discussed. There were also exhibits of art informed by the concept of Multispecies Ethnography held in New Orleans galleries.

I think this is a great example of what IS happening NOW within anthropology and evidence that there is mutual respect amongst various practitioners, some of whom consider themselves scientists and some of whom do not. I heard it was all fascinating. Unfortunately, I didn't attend any of it because I couldn't find it. The innovent wasn't advertised by the Biological Anthropology Section. The online AAA program allows you to search by interest group (the program is a behemoth); my searches for "biology" and other related terms did not return any information on the Multispecies Salon. You'd have to know it was happening in advance to find it in the program. I learned that a couple of colleagues of mine were presenting in this forum but I couldn't remember the name of the session; searching the index of the printed program for their names yielded nothing. When I finally figured out what session it was, I rushed to the room to find it empty, the session over. In addition, Karen Strier, a highly respected primatologist, gave a distinguished lecture to the General Anthropology Division at AAA. However, Karen's name wasn't even in the program and the talk was very poorly attended. Ironically, the title of her talk was "Why Anthropology Needs Primatology."

Is this merely a rant? I don't think so. I think it's necessary to engage in the discussion, to engage both in critique AND in self-reflection. As I just remarked to a friend, my training in cultural anthropology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels is inadequate. That lack of training fostered a lack of interest, and a sense of distance and illiteracy (reading the titles of papers and symposia in the AAA program only heighten my sense of speaking a different language). I don't know what's going on in cultural anthropology today; I mostly just feel like it's water I'd rather not tread. I'm not taking pride in that assertion, I'm just sayin'. And I doubt I'm alone. I honestly don't know what it means to be an integrated anthropologist, but I'm trying to learn. That said, I've published one paper in American Anthropologist, with another in final revisions. The first was the year in review for biological anthropology (2009) and the other is an explicitly evolutionary paper, co-authored with a fellow biological anthropologist and written intentionally for Am Anth. We were delighted by the warm reception our paper received by the editors & reviewers and are enthusiastic about sharing it with a broadly sociocultural readership.

To wrap these musings up, I don't think the answer is to abandon AAA. To those biological anthropologists who are currently engaging in research and dialogue across the subdisciplines, hats off. Keep doing it. I'd recommend (beg?) going forward that you avail yourself of whatever status you have within AAA, as well as whatever modes of social media you can access, to spread the word about what you're doing and why. Let the rest of the biological anthropology community know when and where your sessions are so we can show up and learn from your approach. One of the reasons I started this blog is because I felt that we tend to get locked into the cramped rabbit warrens of our own work and suffer from a distaste for promoting ourselves and asking questions. I think this debate has opened up wonderful opportunities for our discipline as a whole to engage in some much-needed self-promotion.

Links to more about the recent AAA wording changes

More essays and documentation:

Psychology Today: No Science Please, We're Anthropologists
Comments by Raymond Hames quoted therein in regard to the tilt toward "public advocacy":
"Advocacy is what we do as citizens in a democratic society. Even as
anthropologists we must advocate on the basis of fundamental science.
Science has a special currency in courts, public opinion, and in the
legislative process. If we purge science from our mission statement
we lose our credibility, the ability to advocate for effective change,
and hence our power to do good. We become just another special
interest group."
Hames brought up a useful example, namely the recent ruling in Florida
allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. In that case, the
judge considered the scientific evidence showing that same-sex couples
can be just as good parents as opposite-sex couples. Wrote Hames to
me, "Evidence-based advocacy trumps special interest group advocacy."
So, even if most of what the AAA wants to do is advocacy rather than
data-driven scholarship, why ditch science in that pursuit?"

Society for Anthropological Sciences resolution against the new wording

Chronicle of Higher Education blog post by Peter Wood

The place of science in anthropology

By now the word has trickled out that at the recent American Anthropological Association meeting, the AAA executive board approved changes to the statement of purpose that omitted any mention of the word "science" or any description of the discipline of anthropology as a science.

As a news article in today's Inside Higher Ed reports,"a new long-range plan for the American Anthropological Association that omits the word “science” from the organization's vision for its future has exposed fissures in the discipline. The plan, adopted by the executive board of the association at its annual meeting two weeks ago, includes 'significant changes to the American Anthropological Association mission statement -- it removes all mention of science,' Peter N. Peregrine, president of the Society for Anthropological Sciences and professor at Lawrence University, wrote in a widely circulated e-mail to members. The changes to the plan, he continued, 'undermine American anthropology.'"

In the interest of full disclosure, I was not at the executive committee meeting, was not directly provided the changed wording, and have seen only second-hand accounts of the email circulated by Professor Peter Peregrine, President of the Society for Anthropological Sciences that raised an alarm about the changes, but I have received corroboration of the changes from trusted informants within AAA. The wording on the AAA website does not yet reflect these changes.

It remains to be seen whether there was a bioanthropological or archaeological presence when those decisions were made, and thus far the AAA has not provided a rationale for the changes. The Inside Higher Ed piece describes what frankly appears to me to be a bit of backpedaling on the part of the association: "The association said that the long-range plan's change in language reflected a simple wordsmithing choice more than a true shift in purpose. The removal of any mention of science from the plan's mission statement applies only to the long-range plan -- and not to the organization itself or its larger direction, said Damon Dozier, a spokesman for the association. 'We have no interest in taking science out of the discipline,' he said. 'It’s not as if the anthropology community is turning its back on science.' Dozier added that the alterations to the plan, though already adopted by the executive board of the association, are part of an ongoing dialogue and will be subject to revision. 'This isn’t something that’s written in stone,' he said. 'This long-range plan is something that will be tweaked over time.'"

Again, I am not privy to the inner workings of the AAA and don't know what happened or why, but it seems disingenuous to me to be surprised that these changes to the statement of purpose (which, remember, were approved by the AAA executive board) have been met with dismay and even a sense of betrayal by those of us who employ various aspects and tools of the scientific method in the pursuit of anthropological research. Obviously this move yet again tears the worn-out bandaid off the decades old debate regarding four fields anthropology and the divisive battles between departments over identity, many of which continue to lead to the splintering of sociocultural and biological factions into separate departments and in some cases, outright dissolution of anthropology departments.

I don't even know how to unpack the argument being made by at least one sociocultural blogger that the move to redefine anthropology as a non-science is to be applauded because science, as an emblem of Western privilege, obscures indigenous ways of knowing: "Historically not included under the rubric of "science", however, are the thousands of distinct indigenous knowledge systems that exist around the world. Indigenous knowledge is only recently being understood and accepted by those in the West (and in anthropology) as the equally complex (and equally valid) indigenous counterpart to Western science. For the AAA, maintaining the use of the term "science" in their mission statement serves to maintain the colonizing, privileging, superior positionality of anthropology that continues to plague the discipline.
The 'science-free' mission statement allows for the inclusion of a number of perspectives and approaches that have been and remain marginalized, not only in anthropology, but in much of their social and economic existence. In short, the old mission statement privileged "science" over and above the knowledge systems of the very people we have been studying and working with for generations. It is well past the time for this to change. Do anthropologists still use science? Of course, and science may well offer the most appropriate methodology for many. Still, we must also recognize that there are other means to knowing, exploring, and explaining."

I am not arguing that there are no other valid modes of sampling the universe besides science, but explicitly eliminating science as a way of knowing in order to highlight other ways of knowing is not a concept I can grasp. It may be because I didn't take a lot of coursework in sociocultural anthropology. Unfortunately, I think some of our sociocultural colleagues believe that we biological anthropologists view our study populations as Dawkinsesque genomic automatons and culture as either a precisely quantifiable logic problem or completely irrelevant, a variable to be "controlled" in regression models. It might have been eye-opening for members of the executive committee to attend the fascinating and very culturally-driven biocultural session I and other biological anthropologists (including a geneticist, human biologist, and primatologist) participated in at AAA.

For our biological colleagues who already feel the AAA and its journal, American Anthropologist, are irrelevant to them, this move and the perception of dismissal it engenders only further exacerbate those tensions. If it was merely an issue of "wordsmithing" then it demonstrates a remarkable tone deafness and insensitivity to the various stakeholders within anthropology who fully consider themselves scientists (me included). I hope we hear more from the Association and I hope that this stumble does indeed open the way to meaningful dialogue and better understanding within our discipline. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Upcoming posts....

I've been a little lax in posting original material lately and I wanted to preview some upcoming posts I have planned, when the pre-holiday rush calms down a bit.

1. Page charges and the the new NIH PubMed Central open access policy - can you afford it?
2. Summary of issues raised at the Biological Anthropology Section business meeting at AAA. There are concerns about membership and participation, and thus great opportunities for BANDITs to step in and help shape the future of biological anthropology in the broader anthropological community.
3. Interest in a follow-up happy hour at AAPA Minneapolis?
4. Probably some other stuff.

So there is more to come - I haven't forgotten you.

Great news! New monkey population found in Peru!

It's always nice to hear some good news on the conservation front, and the news from Peru is mind-blowing. A previously unknown population of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda)has been found in the cloud forest of northeastern Peru:

"The new population has been found in an area where the monkey has not been recorded for decades. The global population of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey has been estimated at less than 250 individuals."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Support primate conservation while you do your holiday shopping

Lots of us do our shopping for academic materials and holiday gifts on Amazon. Link to Amazon from the American Society of Primatologists website (scroll to the bottom) to automatically donate a percentage of your purchase to conservation efforts.

Please spread the word to your students, colleagues, friends, and family!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Primatologist Karen Strier to deliver Distinguished Lecture at AAA!

Dr. Karen Strier of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin will be delivering a Distinguished Lecture at the General Anthropology Division's business meeting at AAA, Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 12:15. It's unfortunate that the talk is not better advertised because the topic - "Why Anthropology Needs Primatology" - integrates so well with anthropology's purported "four-fields" identity. I will be on the plane to NOLA during her talk, but I hope other AAA attendees will show their support of this distinguished scholar.

Biological anthropology at AAA this week!

I'm getting excited about heading down to NOLA for the AAA meeting this week. The Biological Anthropology Section is showing great representation; check here for a quick guide to all the goings on.

List of sessions of interest to BAS members:
Innovative Methods in Biological Anthropology
Circulating Through Us: Violence, Trauma and Memory
Critical Collisions in Health and Culture: Sleep
Ancient Humans: Birth, Health and Lifestyle
Biocultural Acts, Biocultural Survival
Biocultural Adaptation and Evolution: Guts, Diet and Microbes

Enter the search terms "biology/biological" or "evolution/evolutionary" here to generate an interesting mix of talks and other events.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Congrats to Dr. Ben Auerbach!

Dr. Ben Auerbach,Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee, has edited a volume called Human Variation in the Americas: The Integration of Archaeology and Biological Anthropology, published by the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University. Impressive work from my fellow Miami University undergrad alum.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

AAA & Coalition on the Academic Workforce launch survey of contingent & part-time faculty

Are you a contingent or part-time faculty member? Know someone who is??? The AAA and the Coalition on the Academic Workforce want to hear from YOU!

AAA and CAW invite all members of the contingent academic workforce in U.S. colleges and universities to participate in a survey about course assignments, salaries, benefits, and general working conditions as members of the contingent academic workforce experience them at the institutional level. We invite participation from all instructional and research staff members employed off the tenure track, including faculty members employed either full- or part-time, graduate students remunerated as teaching assistants or employed in other roles, and researchers and post-doctoral fellows.

Individuals who wish to be entered in a drawing for one of several $50 book gift cards may include contact information at the end of the questionnaire, but this information will not be used to connect survey data with specific persons.

Please visit the following URL:

The survey closes November 30, 2010. Winners of gift cards will be notified the following week. Contact ksharp@aaanet.org with questions!

Friday, November 5, 2010

One of the "20 best primatology blogs" advocates murder of animal researchers

It's come to my attention that Primate Freedom, one of the blogs on the list I posted yesterday, is a site that advocates extremist violence against animal researchers (or "vivisectionists"). I apologize for not catching this sooner and offering that disclosure with my original post. I have decided to NOT delete my original post, however. I think it's important we know about these sites and groups. Not notifying our community of their existence does not change the reality that they do in fact exist.

I encourage BANDIT readers to leave a comment on the 20 best blogs site to let them know the full nature of the blog they are promoting. This link is chilling, and you can follow a link therein to the original Primate Freedom blog post.

I have left two comments that are currently awaiting moderation. Stay tuned to see if they see the light of day...

Job posting at Midwestern University outside of Chicago

Message from Dr. Michelle Singleton:

The Midwestern University Department of Anatomy (Downers Grove, IL campus) has an opening for a research technician. This individual will assist Drs. Jonathan Perry and Michelle Singleton with research in the areas of primate evolution, craniodental morphology, and feeding biomechanics.

This is a full-time position with benefits and is a good opportunity for a graduating Senior who is interested in biological anthropology and/or paleontology and would like to gain some experience before applying to graduate/professional school.

I have included a link to the MWU job site below. Informal inquiries may be directed to Dr. Perrry (jperry@midwestern.edu) or myself, but applications must be made through the online system.

Thank you for helping us bring this opportunity to the attention of qualified candidates.

Best regards,


Thursday, November 4, 2010

20 best blogs for primatology students

Just found out about a great site that rounds up 20 current primatology & biological anthropology blogs, many of them run by graduate students. I've featured some of them here on the BANDIT blog and it's great to see them being highlighted for a broader audience.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Deadline Extended: AAA BAS Student Awards!

Message from Dr. Katie MacKinnon:
If you have any students who will be presenting at this year's AAA meeting in New Orleans, please alert them to this great opportunity:

The Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association is currently accepting applicants for our annual Student Poster/Paper Award! The competition is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. The abstract and poster/paper must represent the original work of the student.

If the student is not the sole author, a letter from the student's advisor, stating that the work presented is primarily that of the student, is required to accompany the abstract. Criteria: Posters and papers will be evaluated by members of the BAS Executive Committee using the following criteria: excellence in presentation, originality of topic, and intellectual creativity. Award: $250 award, to be announced at the BAS Business meeting during the AAA, plus publication in the BAS column of the AAA Newsletter, together with the winning abstract as space permits.

The student must already have a poster or paper accepted for the 2010 AAA meeting. By November 8 (extended deadline!), they should send their name, paper title, and session title to me (Student Prize Committee Chair) at mackinn@slu.edu
Please spread the word amongst your students and colleagues, and forward on to any relevant faculty/advisors.

http://www.as.ua.edu/bas/StudentPrize.htm (Note: website currently being updated so check back if it's not working at this time. If you have students who are interested, please make sure to send them my email or forward this message.)