#anthropology roundup: “Anthropology in an Age of ‘Dangerous Nonsense’…

Anthropology in an Age of ‘Dangerous Nonsense’ (Part 1)

In the waning moments of 2016, one man, armed with an AR-15 and “information” about a conspiracy related to Hilary Clinton, walked into a DC pizza parlor hell bent on finding truth. After a quick look around and a shot or two fired, what he got was arrested. This is surely an extreme example of the perils of “dangerous nonsense” that Neil Postman warned us about decades ago.

Back in 1985 Postman wrote a little book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which I happened to use for a class on culture and film I was teaching last year. It turned out to be a prescient book to be reading during the 2016 campaign season (and then some). Postman’s book focuses on the erosion of public discourse in the US, and he faults TV as one of the primary corrosive forces. While there are admittedly some holes in his argument, especially from an anthropological perspective,[1] the book is definitely worth a read.


Post-truth anthropology

Countless commentators have announced the advent of the post-truth era, but while everyone seems to be talking about it, there is little agreement about what it really means. This article argues that anthropology can make an important and distinctive contribution to understanding post-truth by treating it ethnographically. Commonly proposed explanations for post-truth include changes in political culture, in the structure of information in the digital age and universal cognitive weaknesses that limit people’s capacity for critical thought. While all these are likely important factors, they do not account for the role of culture in creating and sustaining post-truth. In fact, it is likely that culture, especially in the form of metacognition, or thought about thought, plays an important role by providing knowledge practices, techniques for allocating attention, and especially competing theories of truth. Ethnographic methods provide anthropologists with a distinctive window on post-truth cultures of metacognition.

Big data and ethnology

This guest editorial reflects on the problem of ‘information overload’ in social anthropology, suggesting that technological advancements such as automated indexing provide an opportunity to question certain assumptions and ingrained practices in the field.

This article examines the reported use of ‘big data’ analysis by Cambridge Analytica in support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. It investigates the transformations enveloping the overlapping worlds of politics, technology and social science. In particular, it critically reviews new developments in the field of psychometrics that have enabled researchers to harvest vast quantities of data by accessing social media platforms such as Facebook. The article also assesses claims that predictive analytics and ‘psychographics’ led to Trump’s unexpected victory. The article concludes with a broader discussion about the state of political discourse in an era of digital communication.

Anthropology for Everyone

Michael Wesch and Ryan Klataske of Kansas State University have been working for the past year with WordPress Guru Tom Woodward  to create a free “Connected Course” in Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. This course, designed as “anthropology for everyone”, takes place on ANTH101.com. Wesch has drafted a free online textbook to accompany the course, and is running a pilot course this summer that starts Monday, June 5.  He will be producing a new video every weekday as part of the course. Here’s the introductory video for the summer course:

Clifford Geertz: Ethnographer?

Why was Clifford Geertz such a popular anthropologist? Because he connected anthropology and the humanities? Because he was a great writer? One answer that often comes up is that he was a great ethnographer. I mean, he actually did ethnography. Negara (1980) was a historical anthropology of power that appeared just in time for 1980s-era historical anthropology. Meaning and Order in Moroccan Society (1978) is a massive tome.  Kinship in Bali (1975) was technical and dense, hardly the lackadaisical em-dash filled slackfest some people accused Geertz’s writing of being. Peddlers and Princes and Agricultural Involution (both 1963) are vintage New Nations ethnographies. Religion of Java (1960) seems to rise above its Parsonian roots.

Capturing the Art of Imprisonment

Over the span of about four decades, the late Russian artist Vasily Konovalenko (1929–1989) produced more than 70 wonderful gem-carving sculptures that depict themes and scenes of Russian folk life. Twenty Konovalenko sculptures are on permanent display at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; another 20 sculptures are on permanent display at the State Gems Museum in Moscow.

At academic conferences in China, scholars who belong to my field — business anthropology — are still few and far between. Not long ago, I and several thousand other anthropologists from across the globe participated in the 2017 Annual Meeting of the .

Conducting ethnographic research — in gamers’ virtual worlds
Sometimes getting out into the field to conduct research is as easy as pressing a button. For CSU’s Ethnographic Research and Teaching Laboratory (ERTL), online gaming has become a new field in which to conduct anthropological fieldwork by using an

Vale Ben Finney

I was deeply saddened to hear that Ben R. Finney passed away around noon on 23 May 2017. Ben was a professor in the anthropology department at UH Mānoa for over forty five years. He will be best remembered as a founding member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and a member of the first crew of the Hōkūle‘a that sailed from Hawai‘i to Tahiti in 1976. But Ben was much more then that. A pivotal figure in Pacific anthropology in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, he not only helped rekindle voyaging as a form of indigenous resurgence, he also studied capitalism in the Pacific and humanity in space.

An Anthropology of Landscape: The Extraordinary in the Ordinary, by Christopher Tilley and Kate Cameron-Daum
Times Higher Education (THE)
What is landscape but the land we hold in our heads? The land we imagine, named and catalogued in relationship to ourselves. But we are a part of, not apart from, what lies around us. We have defined it as much as it has defined us. We are inseparable.


Looking in the Mirror (Part 3 of 3)


“How can the country go up, when the head of state is a sonless widow,” the priest declared. I quietly took notes. I recorded what I was being told on the grounds of gods—a royal court, really. There was the god-king, his god-ministers, and their god-protectors guarding the village full of godly trees tucked high on a mountain slope. We had taken a jeep ride on bumpy and muddy fresh tracks west of Kathmandu, trekked for days through villages, and climbed steep hills to get to the priest.

In the spring of 2016, the Madhesi blockade had just ended, and the country was still feeling the effects of the earthquake from a year ago. Nepal as a nation was suffering, and the pain was going to persist—how could it get better, when a woman, a sonless widow, is occupying the president’s office—implied the holder of knowledge I was interviewing.

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) makes it possible to image people’s brains while they are moving their arms, which allows researchers to study the brain activity of toolmakers. Shelby Putt

This article was originally published at The Conversation and has been republished under Creative Commons.

How did humans get to be so smart, and when did this happen? To untangle this question, we need to know more about the intelligence of our human ancestors who lived 1.8 million years ago. It was at this point in time that a new type of stone tool hit the scene and the human brain nearly doubled in size.

Some researchers have suggested that this more advanced technology, coupled with a bigger brain, implies a higher degree of intelligence and perhaps even the first signs of language. But all that remains from these ancient humans are fossils and stone tools. Without access to a time machine, it’s difficult to know just what cognitive features these early humans possessed, or if they were capable of language. It’s difficult—but not impossible.

“Initially, I was captivated by museology and anthropology of religion which led me to do a degree in anthropology at the New University of Lisbon, Portugal. However, after attending Professor Cláudia Sousa’s class, I became fascinated by biological ..

David Beriss

Here in North America, the academic year is winding down for most of us and we are planning our summer research, writing, and, hopefully, vacation schedules. Somewhere in there, you are probably hoping to do some reading. What are you reading? Is there some exciting book that you have been meaning to get to that you now will have time to read? Something serious and scholarly? Something fun?

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