Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Anthropologists Urged to Unite Behind Archaic Policies and Technology"

In Nature (Feb 10), Adam Kuper and Jonathan Marks published "Anthropologists Unite!" The tagline is: “Anthropology isn’t in the crisis that parts of the media would hav you believe, but it must do better, argue Adam Kuper and Jonathan Marks."

They talk about the AAA science flap and its fallout. Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology has a very nice analysis of the piece. My only observation here is to point out two regressive aspects of Kuper and Marks's paper.

(1) They really have no clue about anthropological blogs and their actual and potential value to the discipline. They seem to think that bloggers mostly wait for the seeds of a controversy to appear, and then fan the fires and make a lot of noise to obscure the issues (this is what the AAA president also claimed). Many of us think that there is some real intellectual and professional work going on in the anthropological blogosphere. But when "mainstream" anthropologists take a look, they often seem dazed and confused. For another example, take a look at David Price's paper on anthropological blogs in American Anthropologist -- it is really clueless about what blogs are and what they do (Price, David H. 2010  Blogging Anthropology: Savage Minds, Zero Anthropology, and AAA Blogs. American Anthropologist 112:140-142_). Well, maybe you can access AA and maybe not. And this brings me to my second point.

(2) The Nature paper will cost readers $32.00 to purchase, unless one has an individual or institutional subscription. So not only do Kuper and Marks have some regressive ideas about anthropology, but their choice of outlet was regressive in terms of open access; they chose, instead, to publish in a closed, commercial venue.

 It might be a good thing if anthropologists were to unite intellectually (I'm not going to hold my breath, though), but it would NOT be a good thing if they were to unite in support of commercial, limited publication and in support of clueless ideas about anthropology blogs.


FrostQueen said...

Academic Anthropology departments all over are suffering horribly; the discipline in general is in crisis. No one even knows what anthropology is… hell when I was a professional archaeologist people thought I dug up dinosaurs! Maybe that’s the big problem, most anthropologist are publishing in venues that no one (not just professionals, but the public as well) can afford or for that matter even what to pay for? I also see documentaries that are ‘blatantly’ focused on anthropology, but never even mention anthropology or even that the ‘authorities’ are anthropologist! I suspect that this problem is linked to copyrights in publications.
In my field, archaeology, the vast majority of us don't even publish and when we do its either court suppressed or in 'grey' literature where only other archaeologist look (or can look, a lot of it is for archaeologist eyes only). Now we are all wondering why anthropology is invisible to the public and are expendable as a discipline in colleges and universities budgets. Makes you wonder if we are committing academic suicide!

Ryan Anderson said...

Exactly. It's incredibly ironic how easily certain technologies are dismissed, and how behind the times certain folks are sounding. The basic argument is for anthros to unite behind the past and ignore changes in the present. Funny, considering how much we are all supposedly interested in studying social change!!!

Michael E. Smith said...

Frost and Ryan- Great comments. Yes, it does often seem that anthropology likes to shoot itself in the foot!