#anthropology roundup: “How Ursula Le Guin’s Writing Was Shaped by Anthropology…

In creating other worlds, Ursula Le Guin showed the power inherent in constructions of culture and new realities.Marian Wood Kolisch/Flickr

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

Ursula K. Le Guin, Interplanetary Anthropologist

By Anand Pandian


Sometime early in the year 1980, Ursula K. Le Guin receives a fan letter. And yet the letter isn’t actually addressed to Le Guin, but instead to “Faxe,” a minor character in one of her most beloved books, The Left Hand of Darkness, first published in 1969. Inked with fine calligraphy onto several cream-colored sheets, the missive runs as follows—

Ursula K. Le Guin in the Redwood Zone

Ursula K. Le Guin died on Monday at the age of 88. On the Internet and social media, people remembered her as a feminist and poet, defender of culture and integrity against capitalism and commercialism, and exemplar of the depth and sophistication of genres variously described as science fiction, fantasy, and YA. Anthropologists have a special relationship to Le Guin because she was the daughter of Alfred Kroeber, the founder of Berkeley anthropology and the first person to take a Ph.D. under Boas at Columbia. More then that, her writings were ‘anthropological’. In particular, her Hainish cycle of science fiction arories featured anthropologist-like explorers discovering ways of life which defamiliarized our own cultural expectations and enlarged our imaginations. Sometimes the Le Guin fetishization got a little a little stalker-ish. We have not only posted pictures of her as a child (I’m guilty of that one) but her wedding invitations are also available for your viewing pleasure. Le Guin said so much, and so much has been said about her. But reading the current rash of obituaries on line, I feel like one thing has not gotten attention: The fact that Le Guin exemplifies life in the Redwood Zone.

Arrival: Anthropology in Hollywood

The recent Hollywood science fiction film Arrival features as its main character a linguist who explicitly references the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and linguistic relativism. Unusually for a mainstream film, Arrival presents the insights of linguistic anthropology as a key to the human-alien encounter and combines these concerns with other key anthropological insights, particularly in relation to notions of time and the embodied nature of writing/drawing. In this article, the author argues that the film can be useful in thinking about anthropological debates on ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ versions of Sapir-Whorf and suggests that a careful parsing of the anthropological concepts drawn on in the film provides food for thought about the possible usefulness of popular fictional concoctions for thinking through contemporary issues in anthropology and conveying them to a wider audience.

Business is Booming for Business Anthropology

This post was submitted by Robert J. Morais and Elizabeth K. Briody. 

In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott disparaged the return-on-investment (ROI) of an anthropology degree: “We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job.” Understandably, anthropologists took umbrage and mounted a spirited defense.

Much in the world has changed since 2011, but apparently not some people’s perception of the practical value of anthropology. Consider this recent statement by a community college transfer center coordinator: “When students self-advise themselves, they usually miss the small details and sometimes end up taking the wrong classes. For example, anthropology can be an elective offered, but students who are business majors will need economics, not anthropology.”

[no-caption] David Williams/SAPIENS

The abandoned Nicosia airport in Cyprus is a strange place for an anthropology lab. But there I was—at the end of a humid spring day in 2017—looking at about 30 skeletons carefully laid out on rows of wooden tables. Clothes and personal effects, sealed in transparent bags, dispelled any notion that the bodies might be ancient. The plastic sandals retained their shape. The bright orange, blue, and yellow hues felt so specific to the 1970s. There were tattered high heels, neon buttons from children’s shirts, and shreds of paisley fabric with rust-colored stains.

anthro{dendum} welcomes guest blogger Crystal Abidin, contributing the second post in the Private Messages from the Field series edited by Crystal Abidin and Gabriele de Seta.

Somewhere Between Here and There: Goldilocking Between Fieldwork and Academia
by Crystal Abidin

One of my fondest memories from fieldwork is learning how to survive an eyelash curler.

The Death of a Hungry God

[no-caption] Paul Keil

One evening in August 2014, a wild elephant was accidentally killed in Gajbari village* in Assam, a state in northeast India. He was a young adult male with tusks, or “tusker,” who, along with two other males, was known to regularly forage at night in the neighborhood. While eating bamboo leaves in someone’s yard, the elephant unwittingly touched a dangerously low-hanging power line and was electrocuted. He died instantly. The next morning, a steady stream of people from the local area visited the body. It was a rare spectacle to see a dead elephant, and villagers were curious to view the animal close-up in daylight. It was also a chance to see and interact with a god.

Transcontinental Travel—2,000 Years Ago

Two thousand years ago, a sophisticated people lived in the rolling hills of the greater Mississippi River drainage in North America. Most of their sites are concentrated in what are today the fertile valleys of southern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.

For roughly 500 years, between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 400, these people sustainably farmed corn, squash, and other plants. And they hunted deer, rabbit, and birds. They also fished the many rivers and lakes in the region, and almost certainly paddled rudimentary dugout canoes up and down various river systems.

When they weren’t producing food, these people built hundreds of burial mounds in the shape of cones and truncated pyramids. They also constructed hundreds of effigy mounds configured as birds, snakes, and other animals. Even more remarkable than the actual existence of these earthen monuments is the fact that people created them using digging sticks, baskets, and lots of human muscle power.

By Larisa Kurtović

Making anthropological expertise public—that is, releasing our insights into the world of non-academic publics—is never easy. Anthropological engagements with media are frequently awkward, fraught and unsatisfying. But what happens when an anthropologist who conducts research “at home” is summoned by the media as simultaneously an expert and a witness?

Three Lies of Digital Ethnography

anthro{dendum} welcomes guest blogger Gabriele de Seta, contributing the final post in the Private Messages from the Field series edited by Crystal Abidin and Gabriele de Seta.

Three Lies of Digital Ethnography
by Gabriele de Seta

We ethnographers cannot help but lie, but in lying, we reveal truths that escape those who are not so bold. (Fine, 1993, p. 290)

Let’s start with a conclusion: Ethnographers lie.

We Have Never Been Digital Anthropologists

anthro{dendum} welcomes guest blogger Rebekah Cupitt, contributing the third post in the Private Messages from the Field series edited by Crystal Abidin and Gabriele de Seta.

We Have Never Been Digital Anthropologists
by Rebekah Cupitt

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