ASA May 2011 AN Column

ASA May 2011 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

“Breaking News” for Anthropology

What fun! Springtime flowers, trees, birds and baseball arrived in Florida as I write in early March. It is hard to believe that another academic year slipped by. Beyond academe, stunning events occur on a daily, seemingly hourly basis. We are deluged with information, appropriately described as “breaking news” that often glues us to the TV screen. A small sample came via email from a colleague, Alice Kehoe, about a voracious Milwaukee sinkhole that was “eating a car!” At first I thought that her Wisconsin state governor did more than break the unions or be embarrassed by a prankster’s phone call.

Nevertheless, the car’s disappearance was simply a sideshow: many thousands had been angrily demonstrating in Madison, state senators were in hiding, and representatives of the “middle class” were occupying the state Capitol as nasty debates ensued.

That was a minor event compared to Egypt and Tunisia as dictators were pushed out of power, or forces in Libya were using mercenaries to retain power. The Afghan and Iraq wars had to compete with yet other events. My local newspaper featured grass fires consuming Oklahoma, bus passengers killed in a New York City accident, a coal mine blast in China killed 19 miners. Several deaths, rapes and robberies, and Charlie Sheen’s misadventures, were also reported in some detail. And then the “record breaking” Japanese earthquake and tsunami tumbled buildings and washed cars, houses and cities away, killing thousands and causing nuclear power plants to create their own headlines. The tsunami even pushed the Somali pirates and the Australian floods out of print.

This spring was a feast for bad news fans, whose preferred genre dominates the media. By actual count over four days, 62% of the all headlined items in my local newspaper consisted of bad happenings and of the remaining 38%, most referred to sports (“good stuff”) at 25% of the total news content. US readers are not alone in this proclivity as popular media elsewhere seems to have the same preoccupations. A journalism colleague reminded me, “bad news sells.”

Or is it that our civilization has a specialized “bad news culture” that functions to buoy the spirits of those depressed by the distasteful affairs and actions far away? People can feel and sympathize with the plight of victims, while being thankful it wasn’t them. Such sentiments induce some to make donations of assistance: by putting one’s left-over change in a relief fund box next to the restaurant or gas station cash register, any sense of “good fortune guilt” goes away.

A glance through our journals, like American Anthropologist, reveals a gradual increase through time in articles and books that analyze topics that might classify as bad news in contemporary society. The sea change discussed by Melissa Cheeker, David Vine and Alaka Wali (American Anthropologist 112[1]) in their introduction to the new AA Public Anthropology section recognizes the trend to “regain, reinvigorate and institutionalize political and social engagement” of the discipline. Indeed, the first piece to appear there was David Price’s commentary “Blogging Anthropology” (American Anthropologist 112[1]) discussing the fast breaking independent internet publishing world that is causing a sea change in print media everywhere. He notes that this popular domain has its quality problems in presentation, content and reliability as bloggers rapidly spin off in many topical directions.

All of these breaks with past tradition, topics and formalities clearly raise questions about the current nature of the discipline. The topics of societal change and the myriad of grievous problems produced must be addressed by us. See it as the second look at this issue, the first having been when we took up acculturation as a legitimate anthropological topic in 1936. That was followed by a proliferation of new topics, journals and associations that are reviewed in the forthcoming ASA publication, Expanding American Anthropology 1945-1980: A Generation Reflects (Kehoe and Doughty 2011). We continue to expand and may burst apart along the old four-field fault lines, with each having an applied and critical dimension with our numerous sections developing further variation to encompass the cultures and lives of seven billion people.

Think about it and have a productive anthropological summer. This column returns in October. Until then, look at our website for the ASA/AAA meetings details, and communicate with us at will via the internet: President, Herb Lewis (hslewis@wisc.edu), past-President Tony Paredes (janthonyparedes@bellsouth.net), new President-elect, Paula Rubel (pgr4@columbia.edu), Program Chair, Alice Kehoe, (akehoe@uwm.edu), Treasurer Margo Smith (mlsriplow@ msn.com) or Secretary/Contributing Editor Paul Doughty (p_doughty@bellsouth.net). 

ASA April 2011 AN Column

ASA April 2011 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

Where’s the Party? Anthropological Tradition Fades Away
By Herb Lewis and Paul Doughty

The theme for this year’s meeting in Montréal, “Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies” reminds us of a longstanding tradition at annual meetings that is vanishing. As seniors who attended our first AAA meetings in the mid-1950s we have a perspective on the longue duree of annual meetings. Many changes are evident but one that stands out is that the strong culture of numerous open parties in hotel rooms has disappeared almost completely, and thus, an institution serving numerous functions for (sociable) anthropologists of all ages. We are sad to say that the loss of this institution is symptomatic of other trends in our field and leaves us poorer.

Until a few years ago one could expect that, by Thursday of the annual meeting, someone would ask, “Where’s the party,” or confide, “Psst—Friday, after 9:00—Room 1524—Columbia.” Upon entering these smoke-filled rooms (in the really bad old days), as the evening wore on and refreshments remained, there might be 20–40 or more anthropologists, from students to some of the biggest names in the field gathered in heady conversation. Individuals constantly came and then went to another party, permitting a small room to host far more people than were evident at any one time.

Such parties were opportunities to meet new people, old friends, those whose works you had read—and perhaps those who had read your own works—and talk anthropology in open if crowded informality.

When the Florida anthropology department was in its second year offering doctoral degrees in 1973, it was Sol Kimball’s idea for UF faculty to invite people our students wanted and needed to meet. The first memorable party was aboard the famous Streetcar Named Desire rolling through New Orleans. Of course, as in any party, especially ones with plentiful alcoholic beverages, any subject might come up, and people wanted to make the most of this anthropological opportunity to participate in the culture of anthropology.

As young anthropologists we were pleased to meet our elders, and believe that, in later years, there were younger folk who rather enjoyed talking to us. We learned a great deal—often about fields other than our own—from such encounters. It was widely thought hoteliers appreciated anthropological parties because unlike other groups, “they drank a lot but didn’t break things,” according to George Peter Murdock in 1955 (as overheard by Lewis).

One could always go to another party and be welcome even if uninvited. Parties were informal; not listed in the official program or held in a section of a ballroom, with a cash bar. They might be paid for by departments or, more likely, by individual donations. A person with curiosity and stamina could go for hours meeting and talking—learning, making contacts and making friends—but no more, as far as we can see.

The institution of the party, its spirit and customs, evidently passed into history. Now there are early evening receptions announced in the program by specialized sections, limited to an hour or two at awkward times, competing with one’s dinner plans, and even the AAA Annual Business Meeting. There are small closed parties, by invitation only, and the easy camaraderie and opportunities of the old parties are lost. The three decades of the Florida party, like others, ceased, but people still ask, “where is the party?” And the social custom of having a live band dance, first introduced by President Francis Hsu in 1978, is gone as well. Remember “Dr Loco and the Rockin Jalapeño Band?”

We don’t know to what degree this development is due to the simple facts of demography–the vastly larger population of the meetings–but since we now have scores more institutions that could be hosting such parties to accommodate the greater masses, we don’t really believe it. We think it is symptomatic of the more specialized, more competitive and less sociable society in which we find ourselves these days. We happily recall the acquaintances, conversations, laughs and the lessons derived from these informal events and are sorry that younger anthropologists do not enjoy the same opportunities this tradition afforded. It faded away, never reaching legacy status, but remaining as just a trace of the past.

Find ASA on the section website or write: President Herb Lewis (hslewis@wisc.edu), President-elect Paula Rubel (pgr4@columbia.edu), past President Tony Paredes (janthonyparedes@bellsouth.net), Treasurer Margo Smith (mlsriplow@msn.com) or Secretary/Contributing Editor Paul Doughty (p_doughty@bellsouth.net).

ASA March 2011 AN Column

ASA March 2011 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

The 2010 ASA session in New Orleans was well attended by an average of 40 colleagues throughout a fascinating morning-long encounter. The session, Return to the Natives, featured presenters James Sabella, T Walter Dye, Elaine Kane, Tony Paredes, Alice Kehoe, Susan Kenyon, Maria Cattell, Myrdene Anderson, Barbara Joans and this writer recounting their past experiences in light of their revisits after many years. Analysis of their return visits to research sites around the world provided our perceptive discussant JoAllyn Archambault ample material for discussion and audience participation.
At the annual members’ and business luncheon held at the Monteleone Hotel, outgoing president Tony Paredes started a new tradition as he presented ASA with an historic leather gavel after reviewing issues that concern us (see the February AN column). The now official ASA presidential gavel was passed to our new leader, Herb Lewis, followed immediately by Alice Kehoe’s dramatic delivery of a diploma de honor to our startled ex-president.

Then came the winter holidays with family visits and, living in Florida, we took trips to the Kennedy Space Center and Sea World to assuage our Swedish granddaughter’s curiosity.

It was also the end of a conflicted year from global to local issues, and also in AAA whose apparent reticence in lowering dues for all retired members (regardless of income level) and the blurring of the centrality of scientific research in the discipline has left many disenchanted. ASA will continue to seek dues relief for retirees as other social science associations provide their members.

Consequently I welcomed the opportunity to begin the new year in a positive vein, traveling to Santa Fe for a board meeting of the Chijnaya Foundation. An interesting, eclectic group met there, presided over by Ralph Bolton, its founder, ASA member and the 2010 recipient of the AAA Franz Boas Award. His connection to the altiplano Quechua community of Chijnaya in Puno, Peru began as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1962–65 and was renewed in 2003 when a community member emailed him, asking Ralph to return for a visit. This led to his organizing the foundation which since then has joined with the community in meeting its needs by helping carry out ten projects there and in nine other communities in the Lake Titicaca region, dealing with health, agricultural production, education and water supply (details are available at www.chijnayafoundation.com). How rewarding it is to see anthropological knowledge and skill put to use in an effective way.

All of this served as a reminder that the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps is this year, marking the innovative and challenging program that provided the vehicle for giving over 200,000 Americans the opportunity to learn first-hand about the diversity of human cultures while working to assist people in 139 countries (77 at present). When I helped evaluate the first PC groups in Peru in 1962–64 my thought was that although the PCVs could accomplish a variety of useful things in their two years, a major impact would be on the volunteers themselves and what they would do upon return. It can be argued that they were the major beneficiaries because for many, these were life-changing experiences leading into the field of anthropology (as happened to Bolton) or entered other social sciences and human service-oriented work. Over the years like many others, I often had former PCVs in class, as anthropology majors. It would be interesting to know how many in our profession entered it via this route. Perhaps we can find out.

In the meantime, ASA Program Chair Alice Kehoe has developed a two-session scenario for the 2011 AAA meeting. You should have received a notice of this on our listserv: one organized by Sue Kenyon (skenyon@butler.edu) called “First Fieldwork,” the other organized by Leonard Plotnikov (lenplot@pitt.edu) and Paula Rubel (pgr4@columbia.edu) titled “Mentors of Your Mentors.” We may even qualify in terms of themes, according to the leitmotif of these annual meetings: Traces, Tidemarks and Legacies.

Alas, there are some things we cannot know, but if your questions apply to ASA, please contact President Herb Lewis (hslewis@ wisc.edu), past President Tony Paredes (janthonyparedes@ bellsouth.net), new President-elect, Paula Rubel (pgr4@ columbia.edu), Treasurer Margo Smith (mlsriplow@msn.com) or Secretary/Contributing Editor Paul Doughty (p_doughty@bellsouth.net).

ASA February 2011 AN Column

ASA February 2011 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

ASA enjoyed an excellent 2010 session in New Orleans—interesting papers, strong attendance and a business luncheon. We plan to repeat this pattern in Montreal and to that end ASA Program Chair Alice Kehoe welcomes your ideas. Please watch our website at www.aaanet.org/sections/asa/index.cfm for plans and details. At the business meeting our new president, Herb Lewis, carefully accepted the historic gavel photo from Tony Paredes who reviews his term as president and disciplinary concerns below. An interesting history of our official gavel is found on our website.

Good-bye and Fare Well
By J Anthony Paredes

It’s been an invigorating two years as president. Thanks to the efforts of many, ASA has done a lot: (1) tidying up our bylaws; (2) makeover of our website (www.aaanet.org/sections/asa/index.cfm); (3) establishing a discussion list (aaasec_asa@binhost.com); (4) compiling a (near complete) list of past officers over our 20-year history; (5) superb annual meeting sessions; (6) nurturing ties to the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists and National Association of Student Anthropologists; (7) securing a publisher (University of Alabama Press) for the Kehoe and Doughty edited collection of ASA papers, Expanding Anthropology, 1945–1980: A Generation Reflects; (8) delicious luncheon business meetings; (9) dramatically expanded membership to more than 200 members. ASA also received a substantial gift from Philip Singer to support the collaborative project, The Final Participation Observation: Cultural Anthropologists Confront Their Mortality. It will produce several 60–90 minute videorecorded interviews to be donated to AAA. Contact singer@oakland.edu for more information.

There have been disappointments, too. Despite our efforts and Section Assembly (SA) support, we did not persuade the AAA Executive Board to restore across-the-board retiree membership dues. For now, the ASA executive committee will see what comes of the EB’s review of the whole dues structure, prompted in part by our 2009 retiree-dues resolution.

Speaking of the SA, as a first-time section president I was surprised to see just how much they do. Having recently served on the AAA EB, I knew the SA is a significant force in AAA governance. Yet I still thought of the section system as a somewhat recent addition to AAA, despite being nearly 30 years old. From the inside, it is clear that the SA is an arena for many worthwhile debates. It may reflect the expanding bureaucracy of AAA, but a certain amount of bureaucracy is necessary as any organization grows and becomes more complex.

Along with that bureaucratization, I’ve been personally disturbed by the trend toward corporatization that I see in anthropology today. I took to heart President Eisenhower’s farewell address warning of the dangers of “the military industrial complex.” AAA seems laudably ever-alert to the “military” side of the equation: witness the AAA response to HTS. But, with its various partnerships and sponsorships, AAA sometimes seems to be slipping into the thrall of the industrial side—which nowadays resides as much in apps on your cell phone as in smokestacks along the skyline; witness AAA collaboration in EPIC.

Let me own up to my greatest failing as ASA president. I should have made a much bigger stink about the proposed changes to the AAA long-range plan deleting such words as “science,” “ethnological” and “human problems,” approved by the AAA Executive Board in November 2010. It turned my stomach. My only excuse is that the SA did not learn of this impending debacle until October 2010. I fired off a quick comment to the SA but assumed that there would be plenty of opportunity for open, spirited debate among the membership at large. How wrong I was. There is cause for hope. Some years ago after a similar fiasco in the Society for Applied Anthropology, we restored that organization’s original statement of purpose, crafted by the likes of Margaret Mead.

A final hopeful note: I’ve just finished reading two brilliant, erudite but blunt essays by our new president Herb Lewis (see our website and archive) documenting the dissembling, dismembered degeneration, dissolution, and dissipation of anthropology (my words, not his) during the past 45 years. Despite it all, Herb ends with an optimistic tone. Perhaps with Herb’s leadership ASA can help restore anthropology to its legitimate historic place as “the science of human differences and similarities” and along the way reclaim our moral center.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve ASA.

Tony (janthonyparedes@bellsouth.net) now graduates as an ordinary member of the ASA board to accompany President Herbert Lewis (hslewis@wisc.edu); President-Elect Paula Rubel (pgr4@columbia.edu); Treasurer Margo Smith (misriplow@msn.com); and Secretary and Editor Paul Doughty (p_doughty@bellsouth.net).


ASA January 2011 AN Column

ASA January 2011 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

ASA Meets Its 21st New Year

I have a few New Year’s resolutions to make, but it is virtually impossible to decide about priorities. This column was due before the November AAA Annual Meeting and I just finished writing my paper for the ASA session—which I am sure will be (was) another great one.

In the process of writing my AAA paper about returning to my first research site in Peru, I discovered that the District of Huaylas has an informative website. Unable to return to this favorite Andean place in person during the past six years, the website proved useful. I felt as though I were virtually there, dancing in the streets during the July 8 fiesta and observing local events firsthand.

Tentative resolution 1: I resolve to take better advantage of this research opportunity, thereby avoiding expensive, non-deductible travel costs and perhaps a case of soroche, although I would miss having the traditional preventive cup of coca tea. As we open this door of new research capabilities, it is well to keep the origins and meaning of the virtual dimension in mind. According to the dictionary, “Virtual, adjective” refers to something that is “almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition:” as in, the virtual absence of political reality. The word derives from “Middle English: from Medieval Latin virtualis, from Latin virtus, virtue (in the sense of possessing certain virtues,” ie, something good and useful) and thus the conflict between virtue and virtual is joined.

As it turns out, most of us are bereft of our former offices, support staff and other accoutrements of professional status, but we seniors may survive in this new milieu of virtual reality. Indeed, my virtual professional environment consists of a handy Mac laptop that allows me to re-create my professional modus operandi. In fact, my virtual desktop has come to resemble the real one I used to have, littered with files, odds and ends of messages, notes of future interest and other miscellany. Because of this uncanny recreation of my former reality, I continue to relive my past life, although retired.

Resolution 2: I hereby resolve to clean up the mess and properly file things in their rightful places, or put them in the virtual trash.

The next item on my virtual culture list has to do with ASA, the brave band of seniors who fearlessly declare their maturity once each year in the presence of vast numbers of others. This year our membership has achieved new heights. Nevertheless our interactions are attenuated by the conditions of our relationships. The November column, now on our webpage, was really virtual, apparently lost in the ether world, never reaching its virtuous destination in AN. What we had was virtual communication in the Internet mode of interaction, texting and writing in acronymic words, LOL. R u with me on this?

Resolution 3: Emphasize updating my skills in these virtual regards. I gotta stay young at heart and mind, although I’m not sure about texting. Nevertheless, as Tony Paredes “said” in email to our Alabama Press editor, “Don’t feel obliged to come [to the ASA luncheon], but it would be nice for the membership to put a human face on the press.” Well, our book is virtually in hard copy form.

There you have it. We just can’t seem to manage without that personal contact thing. How ironic is it that we can experience life in odd places through contrived TV reality shows, seeming “almost or nearly as described.” As I utilized this new source of long distance information for my paper the whole notion and importance of virtuality in our time became clear, sort of. How far can the new anthropology plunge into that almost real world of virtual field research, publishing, teaching, friendship, talking and community? And, how many of us have virtual pets (cyberpet, digipet) comforting us through these times?

ASA December 2010 AN Column

ASA December 2010 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

I write this amid an abundance of general excitement: the fall elections with fact-less analyses, avalanches of cash and the rejection by many of fact for fiction; war and bombings, disaster frustrations and frauds, murderous drug cartels and their victims; and then, finally something to cheer for other than sports—the Chilean mine rescues. As millions of people around the world found joy in watching miners emerge from the “earth capsule” to be embraced by family members and Chileans became enraptured by a sense of comradeship, I couldn’t help but reflect on Walter Goldschmidt’s last book, The Bridge to Humanity: How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene.

As in almost all disasters, when peril and affliction are shared, community cohesion is significantly revived, concern for the other manifested, affection expressed and acted on. Communities become engaged across societal divisions in common cause. But it is difficult to build on this base, perpetuating the positive and constructive social values that provide succor during crises that can enable a society to become better in collectively resolving serious problems. Yet, those not closely involved slip away to other matters, and the situation may inspire some to take advantage of societal plight. In our day, the latest “breaking news” often takes us on paths of trivial pursuit, a distraction from problems that diverts attention from important affairs. Such management of the public recalls both George Orwell’s 1984 prolies and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World of pleasurable distraction and manipulation; both were written in the context of the worldwide depression of the 1930s.

Viewing US public affairs today, one feels and sees disagreement and divisions criss-crossing through the cultural and social fabric as a perverse weave, a herringbone pattern gone awry. In a scientific and scholarly sense this panorama of human behavior is a banquet table set for the anthropologist and those in other social sciences. Do we have the theoretical, methodological and applied tools to analyze, explain and promote understanding of these phenomena, and moreover, do we have the commitment and willingness to utilize this knowledge on behalf of the common welfare, across the boundaries of culture, power and faith?

Over the past several years, I have perceived a significant shift in anthropological perspectives, from the old essentially “hands off” approach to today’s focus on engagement in resolving the many cultural dilemmas of conflict, well-being, respect, exploitation and domination that confront people everywhere. A cursory review of American Anthropologist (AA) through AnthroSource indicates that as the Great Depression sank its roots into society, many colleagues in the early 1930s seemed not to involve themselves professionally in that arena. But interest in acculturation grew and Ralph Linton’s famous article in American Mercury (1937), “One Hundred Percent American,” began to raise public awareness of global connections. He had already used much of that article in his landmark text, The Study of Man (1936). We may take note that 1936 was the “breakout” year for a modernizing anthropology as the “Memorandum on the Study of Acculturation” by Redfield, Linton and Herskovits (AA, 1936) had the effect of giving permission to research cultural change in all its dimensions, and not just using the ethnographic present approach that was so dominant in our past.

Thus the business of understanding the other continues and fits well into current issues and affairs as we again develop xenophobic fears inspired by confrontations with people whose societies we fail to understand. Could the need for a tight bond between the theoretical and applied branches of our discipline be more acute than it is today? Or, the need to put our research-derived findings into the public arena to aid all of us in coping with a conflicted world of 6.6 billion people?

Along this theme, our ASA book documenting some of the changes that greatly enlarged the scope of the discipline in the post–World War II era, Expanding American Anthropology 1945–1980 (forthcoming, University of Alabama Press) was advertised at the meetings and will be available shortly. The book contains 22 chapters based on papers given at recent ASA sessions that cover a wide range of topics.

ASA April 2010 AN Column

Anthropology News • April 2010 • Volume 51 • Issue 4
Paul L Doughty, Contributing Editor

Anthropologists Crash the Headlines

It is always interesting to find that an anthropological colleague has gained fame by becoming a headliner in the public media. In that domain, the late Margaret Mead had no contemporary peers and she has become an icon outside the discipline as well as in it. I could first identify with this “close to fame” phenomenon in the mid-1950s when as a graduate student I watched my University of Pennsylvania professors Carleton Coon, Alfred Kidder and others match wits on the CBS program “What in the World,” identifying unusual artifacts from the Penn Museum.

The esoteric in anthropology has long fascinated the public and attracted media attention. Thus, through Internet communiqués from our fearless ASA leader, Tony Paredes, this headline from the New York Times (October 22, 1902) was called to my attention: “ANTHROPOLOGISTS IN DISPUTE: Lively Controversy Over Coining the Word ‘Amerind’: The discussion evoked such terms as “hybrid” “mongrel” and “monster”—Toscanelli Letters declared to be forgeries.”

Participants at the International Congress of Amercanists heard the word from JD McGuire, and at once, Franz Boas, Frederick Starr and others opposed its use. The word “Amerind” was introduced by Major John Wesley Powell, founder of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), and according to WJ McGee of the BAE, the term was being used by “one half of ethnology students.” Discussion then wandered to Columbus, and a European participant was quoted by the Times as saying “Columbus, ze bold seaman, he simply say, ‘I show you ze shortest way to India where grow ze spice…” All the news that’s fit to print, ad captandum vulgus, so to speak.

Even as we fast forward to our “era” of high speed communications and Google I wonder if we can ever escape “the exotic” image of anthropology, concerned only with strange “others” or explaining what some take to be “obvious.” Thus, Nancy Banks-Smith, writing in The Guardian (July 21, 1988) noted: “Anthropology is the science which tells us that people are the same the whole world over—except when they are different.” Well sort of, I guess. Back when I was teaching Cultural Anthropology 101, I refused to use textbooks with exotic cover photographs of the “other” with filed teeth or a bone through the nose. I wanted facilitate the students’ being able to apply what I was saying to themselves and not just to illustrate strangeness. All that of course is now moot, what with tattoos and tongue, belly button and genital “jewelry,” as many of our kids may have become “the other!” Occasionally however, “the media” do find us appropriate sources for understanding life and its problems. Thus my colleague Gerald Murray was called upon for some comments about the Haitian disaster by Newsweek. Others also have been tapped for professional information and analysis: Paul Farmer (and his NGO, Partners in Health) is often featured for his past and current efforts in Haiti, and Mark Schuller contributed an important analysis of Haitian conditions in “Uncertain Ground: Haiti’s Earthquake and its Aftermath” (Huffington Post, February 15, 2010). Bill Beeman’s contributions regarding Iran are especially noteworthy through his book The Great Satan vs the Mad Mullahs, and also through his frequent blog posts and press releases dealing with Middle Eastern affairs. I discovered ASA member Bryan Page, as interviewed for Discovery News, on a site called Alltop. That is just one of dozens of such sites that feature anthropologically informed coverage. Other key sites, for those interested, include antropolgi.info (with posts in English, German and Norwegian) and the AAA website, blog and Twitter feed.

The initial example indicated that although it is nice and prestigious to be quoted in the New York Times, problems in communication do arise. However, the larger difficulty with contemporary self-generated “new media” output is the sheer amount of it and its dispersal across every “corner” of the Internet, making it a challenge to utilize and, in many cases, evaluate. I find myself bookmarking more interesting sites every day. Where will it end? What happened to that convenient box of 3×5 index cards? The answers to these and other of “life’s persistent questions” for senior anthropologists are explored annually at the AAA meeting. We hope to see you there this November in New Orleans.

ASA November 2010 AN Column

ASA November 2010 AN Column
Paul L. Doughty, Contributing Editor and Secretary

The New Orleans AAA Meeting

The word is that this will be a large gathering of anthropologists on our return to “the big easy,” an old reference to the city that seems inappropriate for this time and context. Apparently we are all ready with a record number of total papers registered. Last time the annual meeting was in New Orleans Polly and I helped celebrate the 100th anniversary of AAA with president Don Brenneis et al and indulged in a faux Mardi Gras festival amidst the traditional paraphernalia and music. There was also a rather unique event at that meeting, an anthropological musical skit with Phil Bock presenting his “Anthro Anthem” about getting a job and hiring practices. I don’t think the CD went gold however.

For those of us who have not returned to this city since 2002 AN has provided us with a list of “must-see” and party places like old times. I’m sure as well, that many will be interested in doing some professional observing in the city recovering from the disaster. One FAQ almost lost among suggested activities concerns visitors who wish to help in some way, besides just by leaving their dollars behind. The state Lt. Governor heads an “official organization that matches volunteer opportunities with volunteers, called Volunteer Louisiana” (www.volunteerlouisiana.gov) that features a famous quote from Margaret Mead. Nevertheless, there appears to be little that we might due in our spare time during these five days except create an “impact” by our presence as we let “Laissez les bons temps rouler…Let the good times roll.”

The ASA “signature” events: These will again include an excellent session, “Return to the Natives” with 14 participants including, JoAnn Glittenberg, James Sabela, Wayne Dye, Marjorie Schweitzer, Eileen Kane, Anthony Paredes, Alice Kehoe, Susan Kenyon, Maria Cattell, Myrdene Anderson, Barbara Joans, Paul Doughty and JoAllyn Archambault. This is on Thursday morning from 8 to 11:45. Second on the program is the Board, Business and Member Luncheon held from 12 noon to 2pm at the Monteleone Hotel at 214 Royal St. at the edge of the French Quarter, about three blocks from the Sheraton. There we will enjoy a collegial meal and discuss ASA initiatives regarding Senior AAA dues, plans for 2011, and other matters. Consult our website for details. On the ASA website you will also find back editions of this column, our session program, and news of interest from members and other ASA materials.

The ASA Book. Although it was mentioned in the October column, it feels good to highlight it again. The University of Alabama Press will publish EXPANDING AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGY 1945-1980: A GENERATION REFLECTS based on our past sessions. We look forward to seeing it.

Anthropological Notes. This summer, the International Herald Tribune caught my eye with this news: “High in the Himalayas, a marital custom vanishes.” Polyandry almost gone? How will we be able to teach about types of kinship? And then there was this news, also in the IHT, that the “Iroquois side stuck in U.S. limbo over visa dispute.” The Iroquois Confederacy engaged the State Department with its attempts to use Tribal Passports instead of U.S. ones in order to participate in the world lacrosse games. These items of classic anthropological interest were apparently not reported in the major U.S. news media. But wait, in last year’s AAA meeting, not one paper title or abstract referred to “kinship” or “polyandry” or “Iroquois” so maybe these formerly favorite topics have vanished from anthropological interest as well! In Gainesville Florida we experienced the brouhaha surrounding the misadventures of a local cult, the ironically named “Dove Outreach Center,” whose leader Terry Jones made headlines everywhere and inflamed passions in the Muslim world. It is over and nothing happened other than the noise made by the hundreds of media representatives who came, then silently slipped away. Oh yes, in 2009 our AAA program records nothing under the words such as, “revitalization,” movement or religious cult, either.

We encourage all engaged anthropologists “indulging in retirement” to join us again in pursuing those professional activities we enjoy. Although being “retired” is not a criterion for joining ASA, it is well to note that there are over 800 members of AAA who fit that category. If that describes you and if you are involved in anthropology, we would be delighted to welcome you as a member.

Retiree responses to 2009 Annual Meeting evaluation survey
These are tabulations of retiree responses to follow- up survey evaluation of the 2009 Annual Meeting conducted electronically by AAA. Thirty-two (32) respondents identified themselves in the survey questionnaire as “retired,” constituting 23.5% of the 136 who registered at the “Retired” rate for the meeting. Total number of responses to the survey was 931, a response rate of approximately 18%.

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ASA March 2010 AN Column

Anthropology News • March 2010 • Volume 51 • Issue 3
Paul L Doughty, Contributing Editor

As I think about writing an abstract for the 2010 Annual Meeting on our session topic, “Old Friends: Revisiting Field Sites, Decades Later,” the horrific events in Haiti snap my attention back to other earthquakes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru that involved my work and disciplinary perspectives. Like many of us, my experiences were inadvertent events that caught me at the “right” place and moment. Given the nature of much anthropological work however, this is not surprising, nor should such episodes be foreign to our professional awareness and knowledge. Indeed, sociocultural breakdowns may occur in the aftermath of such catastrophes producing important cultural and political changes, as Anthony Wallace has thoroughly demonstrated. In cases like the Haitian tragedy, there are major consequences in the offing that will affect several nations, not only the Haitians. What is to be done?

President Virginia Dominguez quite rightly put out a statement calling attention to some of our connections and professional roles that could develop in response to these occurrences. As it happens, anthropologists have long had a relationship with Haiti, including the pioneering Haitian anthropologist Jean Price-Mars, Melville J Herskovits, Roger Bastide, Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham, Sidney Mintz, Remy Bastien, Richard Schaedel, Alfred Metraux, Paul Farmer and my Florida colleague Gerald Murray, among many others. Virginia Dominguez calls for us to become professionally involved in this vast and complex disaster. Murray pointed out to me that very few in the discipline have the ability to apply their science as such in the immediate context of the cataclysm. In the long-term recovery, however, a broad spectrum of problematic conditions will inevitably require the kind of input we can supply, if we are so moved to go beyond the academic sphere. I, for one, hope that we will accept these challenges because we can make important contributions. To put this in a larger context, as of this submission (January 15) none of our “sister” associations in sociology, political science, psychology or geography had issued a statement like that by Dominguez.

Here we go again! We will continue to build upon our increasingly popular invited sessions at the annual AAA meeting, this year in New Orleans. Our innovative program chair, Alice Kehoe, is putting together a session sure to capture the interest of dozens of members. If you are interested, contact Alice at akehoe@ uwm.edu or 3014 N Shepard Ave, Milwaukee WI 53211-3436 (414/962-5937) by the March 15 deadline.

Meanwhile, your hard-working, fast emailing, in-touch officers have been following through on our well-attended annual business meeting decisions. Meeting in a “sumptuous” private room in a fine Philadelphia restaurant, we agreed to forward our concerns over the high dues rates charged emeritus and retired members as a resolution to the Section Assembly, which has subsequently agreed to forward it to the AAA Executive Board. With all the “whereases” aside, we agreed: “Be it resolved that emeritus and retired members be encouraged to continue their roles in the AAA recognizing their status in a manner that includes a significant reduction in yearly dues commensurate with those of other professional organizations.” We await the board’s action on this matter.

Meanwhile, our vigilant treasurer, Margo Smith, reported that we now have the most members ever, 169, an increase of 18% since last spring! This increase is the result of a concerted effort by “this administration” to bring in as many of the hundreds of retired and emeritus AAA members out there. Be reminded that there are no age or retirement criteria for membership, however, and attendance at our annual meeting reflects a broad interest. Plan to join us to help anthropology keep the past in contemporary context.

ASA February 2010 AN Column

Anthropology News • February 2010 • Volume 51 • Issue 2
Paul L Doughty, Contributing Editor

In light of all that has been happening over the course of the past six months or so in this country, the following contribution from Alice Kehoe “on stupidity” could possibly assist understanding.

On Stupidity
By Alice Kehoe

Franz Boas received a request, in July 1931, for examples of human stupidity. Walter B Pitkin, preparing the manuscript A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity, explained to Boas that many of the examples he had pursued turned out not to evidence stupidity, thus he sought many more cases, hoping Boas could provide a few. Boas responded to Pitkin’s letter; the book appeared the next year, 1932, published by Simon and Schuster. At 574 pages with a dense detailed index, it is hardly “Stupidity for Dummies.” Bertrand Russell had sent comments on the “psychic mechanism of stupidity,” but Boas is invoked as the authority denying any “deep inner connection” between race and language, or culture and language: “A culture, as Boas correctly maintains, flows from innumerable influences…” Pitkin then asserts a version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that grammar exerts an unconscious effect upon a speaker’s thinking. It is a jolt to turn the page and find he continues with extended discussion of the intellectual limitations of Chinese, African American and other people, directly contrary to Boas’ statement.

Boas’ colleague James McKeen Cattell is acknowledged by Stanford professor David Starr Jordan for providing material for a slightly earlier book, The Higher Foolishness (Bobbs-Merrill, 1927). Jordan invents the term “sciosophy,” or “shadow wisdom,” to contrast with “science,” noting that the Greek root skia is also the root for skiouros, “squirrel” (squirrels shade themselves with their tails). The title he takes from Israel Zangwill, and from Edwin Grant Conklin the definition that it is “thinking wishly.” Pitkin calls his work “the epitome of morology,” listing a litany of moronic pronouncements including, on the economy, Hoover and his Secretary of Commerce, Robert Lamont, assuring the nation in 1930 that “Decline has Ceased.” Considering the vast and constant display of stupidity, Pitkin was surprised that the New York Public Library had “only a few short essays, skits, verses, and rather feeble jokes” cataloged as Stupidity. His learned friends were of little help. He did locate two German tomes, Aus der Geschichte der menschlichen Dummheit (Kemmerich 1912) and Über die Dummheit: eine Umschau im Gebiete menschlicher Unzalanglichkeit (Löwenfeld 1921). A generation after Pitkin and Jordan, writer Paul Tabori published The Natural Science of Stupidity (Chilton 1959). His many examples are drawn from European history, and are pleasanter to read than Pitkin’s grossly racist assertions. Tabori concludes his 263-page book, “THE END … but there is … NO END TO HUMAN STUPIDITY.”

Conclusions

Along with many colleagues, I learned at the recent annual AAA meeting that none of us, despite scientific pretensions to the contrary, is exempt from this human proclivity. Ample evidence reveals that “morologists” are on the loose everywhere, in print and on the airwaves. Nevertheless, many colleagues in the social sciences safeguard against detection by employing arcane, convoluted and verbose modes of expression that discourage critical analysis by anyone beyond a tribal circle of followers.

Quite a different experience benefited a large and diverse group of attendees at the 2009 ASA session, “Anthropologists Do the Strangest Things,” who heard a set of excellent papers. Among them was Jim Peacock’s review of his successful efforts to help “globalize” North Carolina’s K-12 education statewide, beginning 15 years ago (Grounded Globalism: How the US South Embraces the World, 2007). The effort reached thousands of students and teachers, broadening their cultural and social horizons. He lamented that anthropologists by and large did not seem interested in these efforts, a fact that once again points to the crying need for putting anthropological skills and knowledge to constructive public use. Oh, by the way, on Facebook I received an urgent message that Franz Boas wanted me to confirm that I was his friend! I didn’t waste a minute in responding, yes. It is worth remembering that our founder did not shrink from addressing public issues with anthropological knowledge either.

Finally, ASA is organizing stimulating sessions for the 2010 annual meeting with the topic: “Old Friends: Revisiting Field Sites, Decades Later.” Papers should describe going back to one’s early fieldwork sites, discussing changes and what hasn’t changed—theory implications welcomed. Contact ASA Program Chair Alice Kehoe (akehoe@uwm.edu) or any of our other officers for information.