29 September 2016

Acknowledging Indigenous Territory at Universities

Every year in recent memory, the opening of the annual Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA) conference begins with an acknowledgement that the meetings are taking place on Indigenous territory. In the context of Canadian anthropology, which has a long (and fraught) tradition with studying Indigenous peoples, this ritual acknowledgement speaks to both the debates about decolonizing anthropology in Canada and more generally, as well as the ongoing work of truth and reconcilation.

However, as the ever-insightful âpihtawikosisân blog's Chelsea Vowel points out, territorial acknowledgement has become increasingly common as a policy across Canadian universities, with the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) itself releasing a Guide to Acknowledging Traditional Territory.

It is interesting that âpihtawikosisân's post about thinking Beyond territorial acknowledgments (23 September 2016) is set against headlines about the royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a Will and Kate) to British Columbia. While many of these headlines have focused on the popularity of the young royals among (settler-) Canadians, and strengthening ties across the Commonwealth, some have focused on the decision of some Indigenous leaders and groups not to attend a planned 'reconciliation ceremony' at the BC legislative assembly (see for example these articles from HuffPost British Columbia and Vice Canada).

In this context, âpihtawikosisân's post offers valuable critical insights and analysis into the purpose and practice of territorial acknowledgement rituals. She writes,
When I think about territorial acknowledgments, a few things come to mind that I’d like to explore. First, what is the purpose of these acknowledgments? Both what those making the territorial acknowledgments say they intend, as well as what Indigenous peoples think may be the purpose. Second, what can we learn about the way these acknowledgments are delivered? Are there best practices? Third, in what spaces do these acknowledgements happen and more importantly, where are they not found? Finally, what can exist beyond territorial acknowledgements?
How can we move beyond just acknowledging territory (even when these acknowledgments can act as "sites of potential disruption, they can be transformative acts that to some extent undo Indigenous erasure") toward "asking hard questions about what needs to be done once we’re ‘aware of Indigenous presence’"?

Quick links:

26 September 2016


At times, student writing activities and assignments seem like more of a chore for instructors than the students (although I hear them complain too).

In a recent article by John Warner entitled Why can't my new employees write? for Inside Higher Ed, Warner writes about the importance of 'choice' in student writing. I've cut and paste the end of the article (spoiler alert) here but encourage you to read the whole piece available here:
Writing is balancing, making choices while considering audience, purpose, occasion. The rhetorical situation has been at the core of writing instruction forever, and yet much of the writing we ask developing writers to do keeps them from fully wrestling with those choices because we strap on the training wheels and never take them off. 
For me, the key to changing this is to make writing more engaging in every sense of the word, to require students to make meaning about subjects that are meaningful to them, to create stakes that go beyond assessments that mostly measure how good students are at passing an assessment.  
What we do should reflect what we value. If we value writers who can communicate, we should be doing things very differently. 

This post fits nicely with the previous post about making students into public intellectuals. If the act of assigning writing projects to 250 students or more frightens you (hence the title of this post), you have a choice too. Follow up on Rob Borofsky's Community Action Project which sees students from around North America writing Op Eds about contemporary issues in Anthropology. 

22 September 2016

Students as Public Intellectuals - Another Push toward Altmetrics?

Sarah Madsen Hardy and Marisa Milanese have recently written about the potential for students to become active and entrusted members of public intellectuals through a recent overview of their approach to undergraduate writing assignments in Teaching Students to Be Public Intellectuals.

In my mind, this push for students to become publicly conscious and involved (beyond instagram posts, snapchats and vines) falls in line with a larger trend toward Altmetrics and the growing space (and push) for academics to become publicly relevant.

An interesting source to explore Altmetrics are the Scholarly Kitchen's Altmetrics posts. A series of authors have weighed in on the topic. Below are a few choice excerpts to whet your whistle enough to entice you to visit the page:

From J. Esposito (2014) Going to the Beach with a Public Intellectual: "Speaking for the idiots, it seems to me that the public intellectual has something in common with the altmetrics movement in that both are democratizing forces."

From T. Carpenter's (2012 and republished in 2014) Replacing the Impact Factor Is Not the Only Point: "If we want to have a full view of a scholar’s impact, we need to find a way to measure the usage and impact of these newer forms of content distribution. Addressing these issues is the broader goal of the altmetrics community and it is perhaps clouded by the focus on replacing the impact factor."

19 September 2016

Fisher v. "Race"-based Admissions

The legal case of Abigail N. Fisher may be an interesting case study to get students thinking about the role of "race" (in quotations here in order to problematize the use of this term as a biological or genetic instead of social construction) in university admissions.

This case opens up the floor to many discussions including: definitions of diversity, "race", the 14th Amendment, ideas of access and systemic inequality, among others. 

There are a number of different perspectives that could be used to tease out the importance of social location and intersectionality in biological, sociocultural or legal anthropology classrooms: 

15 September 2016

Articulating the Anthropological Toolkit to Non-Anthropologists

As a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology, I am currently teaching Communications to Engineering and Technology students. I am surprised almost everyday at the various ways I use my anthropological and ethnographic training in my department. I've been brought onto projects in my short 9 months of tenure because, according to some, 'I think differently'.

The uniqueness of the anthropological training was articulated in a relatively recent article Why Tech Companies need to hire Software Developers with Ethnographic Skills by Astrid Countee, In this article, Countee describes how her anthropology degree and ethnographic skills afforded her a unique perspective in the world of software development.

Countee's article is chalk full of gems about the nexus of anthropology and the software engineering world. Below are a few excerpts from her article. I've highlighted what I think could be useful terms to define the unique attributes of an anthropological training to non-anthropologists:

I know the value of holism, of seeing how one piece affects another. It is an obvious thing that often gets ignored when building technical systems. (...) There are people who are writing the software. The human footprint can be found everywhere you turn. So, it makes sense that humanistic thinking in software is revolutionary.

How am I a better software engineer because of anthropology? For starters, I am insanely curious. (...) As an anthropologist, I am interested in every possible solution. (...) I think of code as a tool for solving the problem, not the only way to solve a problem.

Being an anthropologist forces me to be a good communicator. (...) Understanding what a client really needs is half of the battle. Even the process of gathering requirements, which seems pretty straightforward, can be fraught with minefields if you don’t fully communicate with others. I take the time to learn about the people that I am building software for. It helps me to have empathy for their needs and to better understand when to reach out for guidance.

As an anthropologist, I think about representation and power. I am aware that there are systems of power at play that affect what people are willing to say and what they are not. (...) Making technology should be about solving problems within a functioning system, but there are people in high positions that may try to skew your project into technology that makes them look good. 

12 September 2016

Advice for Grad Students

With the new academic year now underway, anthro everywhere! is happy to finally launch a page that we've been putting together for some time: Advice for Grad Students.

The idea for this page began with an eye to helping students start to think about important issues that may not already be covered in graduate program curricula. That's why we've chosen to focus here on:
Although this is by no means an exhaustive guide, we hope that current and potential grad students -- as well as faculty and grad program advisors -- will find the resources collected here helpful. Grad students and faculty may also be interested in perusing the collection of career trajectories that anthropologists have pursued in applied contexts: Applying an anthropological perspective outside of university.

Have a resource for grad students that would benefit this list? Contact us via email (anthrolens at gmail.com) or tweet us @anthrolens.

08 September 2016

A historical view of a long heated debate: what could be more menacing than the singular "they"?

The use of 'they' as a replacement for 'he or she' pronouns has been gaining momentum not only because it lets one slip around those steadfast predefined gender binaries of 'he or she', but also because the American Dialect Society voted it the word of the year in 2015.

A relatively recent article by Ernie Smith details centuries of debate around the use of this term that linguistic anthropologists and anthropologists alike would enjoy. Smith also highlights Dennis Baron's publicly available essay entitled: The Words that Failed: A chronology of early nonbinary pronouns which might make a good read for those wishing to use those failed and absent words to understand linguistic changes over time.

Smith goes on to describe what they believe to be the most interesting comment on the debate from Ruth Walker at the Christian Science Monitor who likens the use of the singular they to a shortcut through grammar law that while irksome for some, will most likely become more acceptable over time.

In any case, this historical investigation of the manner in which linguists and laypeople think around (literally in this case) the topic of gender binary might be a useful brainstorming session for students or a stepping stone to being rethinking one's own vocabulary.

Related posts on language, gender, and cultural change:

05 September 2016

Anthropoliteia's #BlackLivesMatter Syllabus

Anthropoliteia (@anthropoliteia) is another great anthropology resource publishing in blog form, offering "critical perspectives on police, security, crime, law and punishment around the world."

One of their new projects is the Black Lives Matter Syllabus, "which will mobilize anthropological work as a pedagogical exercise addressing the confluence of race, policing and justice." First introduced on 30 August 2016, the project is an ongoing attempt to produce an anthropology-focused syllabus that doesn't "side-step the conversation" happening through and around #BLM. As an open project, the creators -- Dr. Sameena Mulla and the Anthropoliteia editors -- invite anthroplogists to contribute:
Circulate this call for resources and tools
Reflect on the matter and share your thoughts with us
Create and share any helpful resources
Speak openly and honestly with your students about current events
Support black students, staff, neighbors and colleagues
Further reading:

01 September 2016

Reviving food diversity through Indigenous knowledge

This NPR piece -- How Native American Tribes Saved A Giant, Ancient Squash From Oblivion -- offers an interesting example for thinking about the everyday impacts of colonization through changing eating habits and the cultivation of food. For many of the indigenous peoples in this story, the revival of 'lost' ancient foods like the giant Gete Okosman squash also represents cultural healing and revival in their communities.

The seed library maintained by the Jijak Foundation contains dozens of native varieties of corn, beans, tobacco, watermelon and ancient squash.
The seed library maintained by the Jijak Foundation contains dozens of native varieties of corn, beans, tobacco, watermelon and ancient squash.  |  Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio
Through the creation of a native seed library, the Jijak Foundation in Michigan is sharing the oral history of the seeds, reviving these 'lost' foods, and traditional farming techniques.