28 July 2016

Indigenous cultural appropriation?

In June we posted an article from The Atlantic on The do's and don'ts of Cultural Appropriation. In that post I suggested that the article, with its focus on fashion and written from the perspective of a white woman in North America, might be useful for provoking or starting a discussion with students about the issue of cultural appropriation.

In the context of contemporary Indigenous rights and cultural activism, this interview from Fader (a music and lifestyle magazine) with an Indigenous clothing-designer and artist provides an interesting twist and greater nuance to discussions of cultural appropriation in fashion.

In "This Is What Happens When Indigenous Artists Do Their Own Appropriating" (2016), Sage Paul discusses her work as an Indigenous artist (Dene) in the fashion industry, and the connections of her work to indigenous culture, cultural identity and activism, as well as the wider world of fashion.
 Jeneen Frei Njootli with Rodrigo HGz / Photo by Krissy Ballanger (Fader Magazine)
Paul is based in Toronto and runs the Setsuné Fashion Incubator with Erika Iserhoff. In this interview, Paul addresses the complexities of her intersectional identity, work, and the power dynamics of cultural appropriation.
"... the idea of cultural appropriation isn’t new to me. I really feel that in the last few years it’s been trendy again to be native. What upsets me about cultural appropriation is the sense of entitlement that comes along with it. The dominant society really feels, like, It’s just beautiful, you know? I think you're overly sensitive about us using this thing. We want to celebrate beautiful Indigenous women. Well actually, Indigenous women are the lowest class of people in this country right now and to use them as an object just keeps us as this objectified, exotic, fantasy image as opposed to beautiful, strong women who are doing work and have a voice, words, and ideas to share. Now, I want to talk about the people who are actually that culture, rather than people who are stealing. So: talk about Indigenous artists, and celebrate and support Indigenous-made work."
Instructors might wish to couple this article with our previous post to add nuance and an alternative perspective to a discussion about cultural appropriation in the context of fashion. This interview would also be interesting to think about in a discussion of representation, authenticity, or reviving traditional knowledge and practices.

Quick links & additional reading:

25 July 2016

Reflecting on Métis identity

This post comes from the âpihtawikosisân blog. The author, Chelsea Vowel, describes herself as "Métis from the Plains Cree speaking community of Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta. She currently lives in Montreal, Quebec. Her passions are: education, Aboriginal law, the Cree language, and roller derby. She holds a BEd, an LLB and teaches indigenous youth."

Her blog links to a number of resources on Aboriginal issues in Canada, including a thorough collection of Online Learning Resources, An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses, and a regular blog.

One such blog post is "You’re Métis? So which of your parents is an Indian?" In this post, the author reflects on Métis identity, and addresses common misconceptions that she has faced in her own experience, what identity means, and some of the legal and political issues that affect these peoples. Here's a short except from this excellent post:
"My understanding of my Métis identity has shifted considerably over the years.  You see, I was only about 5 years old when the term Métis was recognised officially in section 35(2) of the Constitution Act of 1982.  I point this out because although the term Métis predates that official recognition, it was not necessarily the most common term in use. Often we were referred to in the Prairies as the Road Allowance People.  The term ‘halfbreed still got tossed around a lot when I was growing up and was pretty ubiquitous in my parent’s and grandparent’s time.  You can imagine how confusing it is in terms of forming an identity, to be known by so many ill-defined names."
Check out this post and others on the âpihtawikosisân blog, or read them in Vowel's forthcoming book, Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada.

Quick links and further reading:

21 July 2016

The power of language in historical narratives

Representation -- the images and language we use to describe our social worlds -- matters. "Discovery, settlement or invasion? The power of language in historical narratives" (2016, The Conversation) digs into how the historical relationship between Australia's indigenous peoples and British 'settlers' has been framed, and what this means for contemporary relationships between these groups.
"The University of New South Wales recently found itself in a firestorm for reportedly encouraging students to use the terms “invasion”, “occupation” or “colonisation” when discussing Captain Cook, who had hitherto often been described as “discovering” Australia in the 18th century, as part of the history of British “settlement”."
Going back to Captain Cook, terra nulis, and delving into current and recent land claims issues, this piece is a useful reflection on how and why language matters.

18 July 2016

One person's trash...

One person's trash is another's treasure... or data, if you are an archaeologist or anthropologist working in a landfill.

Places where trash builds up can provide archaeologists important clues into past lives. For instance, in Toronto, Canada, when the Major League Baseball stadium was first built, archaeologists surveying the site found many interesting artifacts from what was then the lake shore in the early city. Most items had either been lost in the lake, or were part of the landfill extending the reaches of the city into the lake.

Archaeological teams have also dug into our more recent past. For instance William Rathje's Garbage Project, which "explores modern waste disposal, consumption, and recycling patterns" across North America. Or, the recent dig for Atari in a New Mexico landfill, which became a much publicized spectacle that "provided the necessary means to directly access the contemporary past for purposes of archaeological and historical research."

But, sociocultural anthropologists -- like Joshua Reno -- are also beginning to turn their attention to landfills and the people that work in this "secret world of activity that [is] utterly necessary to all of us, but completely hidden from most of us." In this interview, Reno digs into our social relationship with garbage.

What does trash, as material culture, tell us about our social worlds?

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17 July 2016

Course Workload Estimator tool

With syllabus prep now underway for many university instructors, we share this interesting tool from Rice University's Center for Teaching Excellence: Course Workload Estimator.

As the tool's creators note, these are just estimates based on students' self-reporting, as "there is very little research about the amount of time it takes the average college student to complete common academic tasks." The authors provide their rationale regarding how they calculated their reading and writing rates for the tool, and invite feedback on the tool based on instructor and student experiences/ research.

Even so, instructors might find this tool useful for calculating their expectations of students' work outside of meeting hours. Including and flagging a link to this tool for students on a syllabus, early in course, or in online course platforms might help students better manage their time across all of their courses.

I punched in some estimated numbers for the second-year core concepts course that I am planning for September, where there will be one major assignment and test each semester, with other assessment taking place during course meetings. So, at a minimum (40 pages of readings assigned each week), my students should expect to spend at least 3 hours preparing this course each week. Good to know.

14 July 2016


Ghettos. We commonly associate the term today with places like "effective social or ethnic ghettos, from the favelas of Brazil to the mostly black urban neighbourhoods of the United States and the predominantly north African banlieues of Paris."

But this term, as we learn in "Inventing the Ghetto" (2016, 1843 Magazine - The Economist), has its own specific history that dates back 500 years to the establishment of the Jewish ghetto in Venice on March 29th 1516.

I like this piece for the ways in which it connects the history of this ghetto in Venice, with the treatment of its Jewish inhabitants, and the growth of the city, but also with contemporary issues of social inequality and issues of space and place. Instructors might like this piece as background for a lecture on social inequality, space and place, or gentrification. I can also see it being an interesting think piece for upper year students to think about how social contemporary issues have connections to broader historical, political, and economic processes and precedents.

12 July 2016

MIT Open Courseware

If you are looking for a little inspiration for the next syllabus you're developing, or if you've been following this blog because you're interested in learning more about anthropology, check out MIT's Open Courseware.

MIT has made materials from over 2,300 of their courses available through their Open Courseware project, including a wide variety of anthropology courses! As their project site explains, "MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity." Many of these courses have even been translated into other languages, including Traditional Chinese, Turkish, Spanish, Portuguese, Persian, and Korean.

11 July 2016

Podcasting (ethnography) in the classroom

Anthropologist Lindsay A. Bell has written a two-part post for Teaching Culture on "her attempt to organize a senior seminar course around producing a podcast based on student research" (2016).

Following Carole McGranahan's "What Makes Something Ethnographic?" (2012, Savage Minds), Bell discusses how she and her students created an ethnography of experiences of living and growing up in the Rust Belt. This project not only helped her students work through what we mean by ethnography, but also some of what she calls the dilemmas of ethnography: asking anthropological questions, the issue of 'ideal' data, recursivity, and representation.

Bell's posts are interesting for what they can tell us about teaching ethnography, what it means for students to learn and 'do' ethnography. In addition to recounting her experiences of this assignment, she also offers tips and advice to instructors who may want to take on a similar project in their classes.

Quick links & additional links:

08 July 2016

How To Support Blacademics & Be an Ally

If you are working in academia, this post is for you.

Ellie Adekur has created this important resource on How To Support Blacademics: For Non-Black Faculty and Grad Students Teaching Black Faces in White Spaces.

Adekur is a is a PhD student in Human Geography at the University of Toronto, as well as human rights activist and social justice educator. This resource was posted today on Adekur's Facebook page in response to the latest instances of anti-Black violence witnessed across North America this week, and the need to address "anti-Black racism in classes, tutorials and office hours: professors and teaching assistants screening violent content, leaning on racist tropes, ignoring anti-Black comments, or singling out Black students to address problematic comments/opinions in the room."

This resource is not exhaustive, but it is a useful and important place for instructors to start rethinking their engagements in and outside of the classroom in relation to racism and social injustice. It contains simple, invaluable points or reminders about how to support our colleagues, students, and others in the university. As social scientists, especially as anthropologists, we already know these things intellectually, but for non-Black academics remember:
3. If you're not Black or racialized, don't pretend to be an expert. Don’t pretend to have all of the answers, or feel like you need to. Your empathy and allyship are constantly practiced, learned and always developing. 
You may also wish to check out this page of Links for Allies from White Ribbon.

UPDATE - 10 July 2016: Jennifer has also pointed out this article, "11 Common Ways White Folks Avoid Taking Responsibility for Racism in the US" (2016, Everyday Feminism), written by Robin DiAngelo. As a white educator who focuses on critical multicultural and social justice education, DiAngelo draws on her own observations as a white person facilitating anti-racism workshops with white Americans, and the outrage she frequently meets in trying to engage them in discussions of racism as systemic. Part of learning to engage as an ally requires that people with privilege (here, those who identify/ are identified as white) be willing to hear feedback on how their actions contribute to systemic violence. This might be a useful piece for students to reflect on in the classroom, perhaps as an exercise leading to a discussion about contemporary race and racism.

Quick links:

Why aren't millennials buying diamonds?

link to original tweet @TheEconomist
Earlier this week, The Economist magazine asked the Twittersphere a question: Why aren't millennials buying diamonds?

Unsurprisingly, this question generated a lot of (angry) feedback.

If you actually follow the links to the different articles that The Economist has published, it becomes clear that the authors have a few answers to why "the diamond industry is being upended," as a later tweet explained. In one link, the threat to the diamond industry comes from the production of new synthetic and conflict-free diamonds. According to a similar story,
In 2003 the diamond industry responded to concerns that sales of illicit stones were being used to finance warfare in Africa by launching the Kimberley Process certification scheme. This was designed to make diamonds traceable, but focuses only on the ones that pay for rebel armies. Man-made diamonds spare millennials and others the headache of worrying that they are supporting human-rights abuses under repressive regimes such as Zimbabwe’s. Adding Hollywood glamour to the moral appeal is Leonardo DiCaprio, an investor in a synthetic-diamonds startup.
Yes, ethical consumption practices do play an important role in why millennials aren't buying diamonds. But, to think that ethical consumerism (and the new choice to purchase ethical synthetic stones) is the only reason, certainly does not provide a holistic answer. It also completely bypasses the question of 'value' that anthropologist Andrew Walsh has written about in relation to 'authentic' versus 'synthetic' sapphires...

What is interesting is that neither of The Economist's stories pick up on the threads that irate millennial tweeters rightly drew into the conversation. Such threads are picked up by an article for The Daily Beast (Lacking Sparkle: Why Have Millennials Fallen Out of Love With Diamonds?): Russell Shor, senior industry analyst at the Gemological Institute of America, said that the decline of diamond sales in the US
"is because of the different priorities of twentysomethings. “People in the millennial generation need to save more. If you’re a young person trying to buy a house in this market where housing prices have risen and wages still haven’t caught up, obviously you aren’t thinking about buying really expensive diamonds.”"
In the classroom, posing The Economist's question: "why aren't millennials buying diamonds?" might be a useful discussion question to open broader conversation about a number of important topics, such as: ethical consumerism, the idea of authenticity and value, or how the relative poverty of millennials compared to their parents is actually part of the same global economic system that has lead to the production of conflict diamonds.

Quick links and further reading:

07 July 2016

Anthropology & Public Policy

One of the motivations for starting anthro everywhere! was to create a page where teachers and students (and skeptical relatives) alike could get a better idea of the wide range of things that you can do with anthropology or what an anthropological perspective can bring to a workplace. If you check out our page, "Applying an anthropological perspective outside of university" or our tag 'what can anthro do?' you can see how anthropologists are bringing their critical cultural perspective and ethnographic methodological approach to a wide variety of fields, including:
  • Media: Journalism, Writing, Entertainment
  • Marketing/ Brand & Product Development
  • Health Professions
  • Technology
  • Finance
  • Entrepreneurship
While there seems to be a lot of easily accessible material on the internet about the value of an anthropological lens in, say, the marketing or health sectors, I had a hard time finding any similar publications on what an anthropological perspective can bring to work in the fields of public policy or public service. Of course, these too are fields where anthropologists not only work, but excel. 

In order to address this issue, I recently went to Ottawa where I interviewed three public servants currently working for Canada's federal department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs who have backgrounds in anthropology. While this piece isn't ready for publication just yet, I luckily came across another interesting perspective on an anthropological or ethnographic perspective in a recent post from EPIC: Advancing the Value of Ethnography in Industry.

In "Human-Centered Research in Policymaking" (20 June, 2016 - part of the Data|Design|Civics Series) Chelsea Mauldin and Natalia Radywyl discuss how they were involved in a project to "use ethnographic research to develop the New York City Digital Playbook, a policy and operational guide to help City staff develop new and improved digital services for New Yorkers." Their work in this project will help advise on how to create digital services that will actually be used by those who need them, including vulnerable New Yorkers who might already have difficulty accessing city services, and who are not seen as the typical 'user' of digital technology. In spite of the innovative results promised should the City incorporate their findings, Mauldin and Radywyl write that the adoption of an ethnographic + design approach in policy making is still new.
Our work is part of a broad human-centered shift in policymaking. However, design and ethnographic work is happening primarily in the arena of operational policy – the strategic direction and day-to-day practices that inform how members of the public interact with government. Less enlightened are the “upstream” phases of policymaking that constrain operational policy. These are legislative policy, laws enacted by elected legislative bodies, and regulatory policy, the arena in which civil servants interpret how a given piece of legislation should be acted upon by operational components of government.
Hopefully, we will be able to provide more links to accessible, open-access writing about the connections between anthropology and public policy/ public service very soon! If you have come across this kind of work, write on it, or do it yourself, we would love to hear from you (anthrolens at gmail.com).

Quick links and further reading:

05 July 2016

An anthropologist walks into... a gym

Katie Hejtmanek is a cultural anthropologist who studies the culture of strength sports (powerlifting, weightlifting, CrossFit) in the United States.

Her articles for BarBend offer not only interesting insights into her particular 'tribe' but also an easy intro to what ethnographic field research is actually about. For instance, in "Anthropology 101: A Cultural Anthropologist Walks into a Gym" (27 May, 2016), Hejtmanek discusses how she set out to understand the the cultural shift where 'strong is the new skinny': "new phenomenon that women are seeking out fitness activities that actively promote muscular bodies. We’ve been taught that the ideal female body is skinny. It is not “natural” or universal to idealize a skinny female body, rather it has been an American cultural ideal."

What are the larger forces at play behind this cultural shift? What are people saying about their participation in strength sports, and how does this reflect or differ from what they do in strength sports spaces?

In her recent article in this ongoing series for BarBend, Hejtmanek answers some of these questions in "The Morality of Fitness: An Anthropologist’s Observations in a CrossFit Gym" (8 June, 2016). In connecting the official 'origin stories' of CrossFit gyms with the local tellings of these stories in the context of (potential) gym members lives, we see how cultural and moral worlds are created by "1) by mobilizing moral frameworks of health, and 2) linking the activity with a community and relationships."

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04 July 2016

The Flexibility of Language

An interesting article came out today entitled Bojophrenia: a new word for a new world. Of interest to linguists, discourse analysts or anthropologists looking to describe the ever changing and/or the contemporary nature of language, author Andrew Fagan defines this term as Bojophrenia – a contradictory and distressing mental condition in which a person or event evokes both profound ecstasy and deep anger in the sufferer to describe the tumultuous rollercoaster following the successful Brexit campaign. Of course you can't full understand the meaning of Bojophrenia without understanding the nuances of the Brexit campaign and political acrobatics after the referendum. I can imagine asking my students to (1) create an infographic or short 'one-pager' about the Brexit campaign and referendum outcome; (2) putting Bojophrenia on the slide and asking them (without looking it up) to guess about what this word actually meant.

This might give students a better understanding of the historicity and genealogy of the concepts that we introduce and lead into a conversation about the outcome of such a campaign in everyday life.

01 July 2016

Aboot the Canadian "about"

Canadians -- like the authors of anthro everywhere! -- are pretty used to hearing English-speakers from the US and elsewhere in the world poke fun at our accents, especially our use of the all-purpose "eh," our frequent apologies (sorry!), and of course, how non-Canadians hear how we say "about."

The linguistic enigma of the Canadian "about" is what American author Dan Nosowitz addresses in: What's Going On with the Way Canadians Say ‘About'? (2016, Atlas Obscura). This short piece addresses some of the more interesting things that make Canadian English and our accent unique, including the Canadian Shift, Canadian Raising, introducing monophthongs and diphthongs, and connects all of these things historically to the Great Vowel Shift in English.
To say that Canadians are saying “aboot” is linguistically inaccurate; “ooh” is a monophthong and the proper Canadian dialect uses a diphthong. “A-boat” would actually be a bit closer, but still relies on a monophthong. Why can’t Americans get their heads around the Canadian “about”? 
To be fair, it's not just Americans who have trouble with this one. When I was doing research in the Netherlands, the Canadian Raising lead to a funny conversation about another friend's boat. Basically, it went like this: Rhiannon: "Dennis has a boat." Dutch friend: "Dennis is about what?" Rhiannon: "No, Dennis has a boat." Dutch friend: "Dennis is about what?!" Rhiannon: "No. Dennis, he Has... A... Boat." Dutch friend: "Oh..."


In addition to this fun article, you might also consider this short (cheesy, fun, and informative) documentary put together by the CBC, The Canadian Experience: Talking Canadian (2004, running time 43.30 minutes).

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