[URBANTH-L]Response to practice, theory, usefullness of anth, and POMO politics

nanderso nanderso at utk.edu
Mon May 2 14:42:29 EDT 2005

Dear All,

I find it rather amusing to read how each email starts off with a CV.  It is 
almost like school yard talk "mine is better than yours."  To keep with 
tradition here let me state my experience.

I am a graduate student. I come from a department that says "urban what?"  The 
only thing urban that goes on in my department is urban archaeology and a 
class once taught on urban anthropology by Faye V. Harrision, my mentor. Faye 
is no longer at the University of Tennessee.  As a result of her leaving, 
urban anthropology is no longer taught.

As a graduate student, I found myself not being challenged or excited about my 
assignments within other sub cultural areas like medical anthropology - an 
area that is well known in my department. I was equally bored with classes on 
social inequality.  Both of which I had been greatly exposed to as an 
undergraduate.  I became "jazzed" by all the readings and ideas presented in 
the urban anthropology literature. Ironically, my thesis is described as 
60%medical, 40%political, and %100 post everything. I have examined leprosy in 
St. Kitts and Nevis.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to apply urban anth 
to this thesis.  It is not because I have not tired, but it does not suit the 

I also come from department where POMO is a bad word, but the department is 
doing its best to open its arms and hire "POMO types" - if there is such a 
thing. This is were we (all anthropologists) need to examine our own 
actions/behavior and question "are we creating the Other" - I think in the 
academic snob-ucratic since, we are.  Yes, I made up that word, but because 
some members of my committee are not open to made-up words - something that 
post everythingers are apt to do, I had to remove "snob-ucracy and 
snob-acratic."  I once made up the word "malafit" - opposite of benefit, 
right?  Seems only logical, but when I used it on a test, I received a comment 
"cool word, if it exists."  Why is there such a rejection to making up new and 
usable words in academics. I am sure that many of the professors in my 
department have come to embrace "Foshizzle."  Fortunately, not all of my made 
up words were rejected, you will have to read my thesis to see these wonderful 
contributions to English. Oh, and please cite me for the future use of these 
three words I have placed in this email ;)

What I have learned is that all fields, sub fields, of anthropology have good 
and bad aspects.  It is finding a place to land that is troubling.  I want to 
do urban anthropology, I find that the literature for urban can be is a nice 
bridge between medical and environmental anthropology. Where to land? I do not 
want to be labeled a medical anthropologist - not that there is anything wrong 
with that, but I take great concern with how I will be labeled in the future.  
I also do not want to be labeled a environmental anthropologist, for the same 
reasons. I do not want to limit myself by taking on such names.  I also want 
to be able to get a job and to have something that I can translate to a 
business type as to why I am valuable.  I want to do academics, but I also 
have to be realistic.  Unless the Baby-Boomer generation suddenly kills off or 
retires, I will remain a bottom feeder.  It is a good thing that AAA has a 
membership fee for the unemployed.

I do not reject the pre-post everything theories, but I found for the data 
that I was working with that a post position was more fitting.  I examined a 
number of methodologies and came back with the one I have.  I think it is 
dangerous to only apply one set of "rules." We can get complacent when we only 
go with only what we know. But then again, we all want to specialize. I think 
that many people do not understand POMO and therefore reject it.  I also think 
that for some POMO is an easier road and they do not want to deal with 
evolution or biocultural stuff.  I am not saying that POMO tract is easier, 
but for some perhaps if it means that you can do all of your research without 
applying any statistics, then so be it. The bottom line is that there is value 
in all of the methodologies - sometimes the value is in the history lesson - 
the reflection of time in which certain methodologies were used.

The lesson here is that many students get caught in the cross fire of POMO and 
anti POMO politics.  It is important for the student to understand the 
dynamics of anthropology and be able to understand how these positions are not 
having conversations.  However, it is more important that the students get a 
since that conversations can take place.  It seems that a sure way to get 
published is to bash the Other, the POMO, the MO, and the PREMO.  Yea this 
makes for high ratings, "good copy," but does it really do the people you are 
studying any good?  Are you not trying to do your best to represent the people 
who have educated you about their situation?  Okay, so say someone else also 
represents the same people, but they use a different theory - agree to 
disagree.  Everyone has their own experience in the field which impacts their 
representation. Then again, you have to get published, because the higher ups 
do not care about representation - they just want you to be published.

I have been very fortunate to have a committee that is both POMO and PREMO.  I 
have taken great care in making sure that everyone is satisfied without losing 
site of the data and what the people I represent want.

The saying goes "Life is about choice and sometime in this means compromise."  
I like to think that life is about choice and this means negotiation.  People, 
come to the table an agree to disagree if nothing else is achieved.

As for the practical side of Anthropology - it is more important for US to 
educate the non-anthropologist about "What can anthropology do for you?" than 
engage in applied and anti-applied politics.  We are our worst enemy - we all 
want to be employed and be able to practice anthropology - even if this means 
in an non-activist role.  It is important that more "anthropologist wanted" 
ads be placed in the non traditional setting. For now, the "anthropologist 
wanted" ads are in disguise as the employers know what they are looking for, 
but they just don't realize that there is a title for it.  This is evident by 
"ethnographers wanted" ads which are frequently placed.  We have to convince 
people that anthropology is the way to go, not sociology or psychology or even 
some aspects of urban planning (no offense to those who are these 
practitioners, but this is an AAA urban anth list serv ;) ).

I hope this has not distracted you from or contributed to your procrastination 
on getting something publsihed.  It has been one for me :)

Thanks for your time and inbox space,

>===== Original Message From Allen Feldman <af31 at nyu.edu> =====
>As an anthropologist who has since 1992 engaged intensively in action,
>advocacy, and policy related research and program development for
>homeless people living with HIV/AIDS in New York City, and as a theorist
>who draws inspiration from European critical theory in the human science
>( which is a much wider framework than the American literary and
>strawdog receptions of "pomo,") I am compelled to question some of the
>assumptions behind Ellman's appeal to the lost virtues of practicality
>and applicability in urban anthropology and some of the follow-up responses.
>Such appeals to practicality never examine the history of practicality
>and applicability in anthropology, thus reflecting a larger myopia that
>artificially separates theory from practice, assuming that latter does
>not have to be theorized ( including the practice of doing
>policy-related research). Consider those historical periods in which
>anthropology found itself most valued for its practical application,
>such as the furtherence of British indirect rule in Africa and India,
>the scholarly legitimation of cold-war era  US goverment sponsored rural
> development in Southern Europe. Latin America and Southern Asia, the
>role of anthropologist in the Strategic Hamlet Program in Vietnam, and
>the current  engagement of anthropologists in the  Department of
>Homeland Security to name a few.  Of course there are other examples of
>anthropology benefiting the people it studies, but the moral and
>epistemological complexity of the history of practical application begs
>theorization. Theory is never more present and pervasive than when it is
>being repressed in the name of pragmatics and action.
>In the last five years, smug in the conceit that anthropology has
>become, if not postmodern, at least post-imperial and post-colonial, the
>AAA has rung the bells for so-called Public Anthropology, which in part
>seems to be inspired by  the central AAA office's proximity to policy
>making centers in Washington D.C. The promotion of public anthropology
>by the AAA, (which has to be distinguished from the actual work of many
>anthropologist engaged in action and advocacy related research) has been
>incredibly naive in its  lack of engagement with both a sociology and
>politics of knowledge, that would subject practical and policy
>applications of anthropological technique  to theoretical and normative
>critique. Policy related  research, including my own. is filtered
>research, filtered by funding requirements, by the cultural literacy of
>the funders and other auditors of such commissioned research, by overall
>institutional governance frameworks which always regulate/censor the
>circulation of available knowledge, and by overarching government
>mandates and political agendas such as Homeland Security. How to promote
>beneficial policy that cuts across the grains of these structures and
>tendencies is not easy and many times is never achieved. But to realize
>beneficial change based on ethnographic research one must perform an
>ethnography of  the institutional filters that will not admit to, or act
>on certain facts on the ground.   This requires a politics of knowledge
>and an ethics of translation and on occasions an ethics of abstention
>and confidentiality.
>Yet, the AAA sees policy related public anthropology,  as comprised
>largely of legitimation obstacles and strategies in the world of
>real-politik i.e. " how do we get the centers of power to pay attention
>to what we have to offer or sell on the expert knowledge commodity
>market."That is how do we as a discipline become digestible to the
>centers of  policy making. (The contemporary system of expert knowledge
>practices and epistemologies remains the most under-analyzed social fact
>in the AAA's Public Anthropology agenda, simply because they want to buy
>into this  world of influence and interests).  Yes ethical issues are
>recognized but largely in the framework of human subjects protection,
>and not in terms of a political economy of knowledge.
>I am not advocating a rejectionist position towards so-called practical
>research or policy related work. But the division between the socalled
>practical and the so-called theoretical needs to be subjected to the
>type of epistemological critique that Geertz applied to common-sense as
>a cultural system but with a good deal more political edge.  Nor, am I
>saying that anthropologists should not engage in funded research
>sponsored by policy making agencies, but to do so without  a  sociology
>and political economy of knowledge in specific fields of policy making,
>such an engagement will both  repeat a negative political history of
>practical engagement as well as forget it. One may not dissuade
>anthropologists from engaging  in  in politically skewed research
>harmful to its subjects, but at least we would be in a position to
>assess its status within the wider disciplinary project and its history.
>Economic Addendum:
>Ellman correctly points out the economic/policy trends leading to the
>casualization of employment in the academy and the creation of
>economically marginalized agents of expert knowledge in anthropology.
>But rather than remedy this situation, the  practical  coupling of
>anthropology and policy related research, will simply ratchet up the use
>of  part-time contract anthropologists, who will move back and forth
>between project-specific/ time-limited contracted research and part-time
>adjunct teaching. This is indeed a serious problem, and the AAA's skill
>in  recent dealings with mobile labor issues in the hospitality industry
> does not give me great confidence that the causualization of
>anthropological labor will be coherently addressed.
>Nota Bene; The notion of tourist performance  proposes that tourists are
>not just external and passive voyeurs of socio-cultural sites, but, as
>culturally and economically fashioned spectators, import  techniques of
>the observer , techniques of the body, language practices, and a
>politics of location from their own habitus into the tourist site;
>thereby constructing a trans-cultural heterogeneous socio-economic
>affective space, that requires analysis. It is a project that has much
>in common with the understanding  and cultural contextualization of
>ethnographers' performance in the field.
>Allen Feldman
>Department of Culture and Communication
>New York University
>>From  	View message header detail FromYosee at aol.com
>Sent  	Thursday, April 28, 2005 12:32 pm
>To  	urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
>Subject  	Re: [URBANTH-L] conferences........
>Thanks for keeping the list updated to conferences in our subfield (such as
>this post and the other about the German conference).  I must wonder,
>however, whether I made an incorrect assumption when subscribing to this
>division.  I thought urban anthropology was one of the more practical
>arms of our
>discipline.  Either I was incorrect or we are turning  the clock back a few
>years to when post-mo became the standard  "scholar-ese," unapproachable
>to all
>not well versed in the esoteric world of  literary criticism.
>I have to wonder how this is going to be helpful to our discipline  with
>budget crunches in Higher Ed and tenured positions of  retirees turning into
>multiple part-time adjunct pools.  Do we  not need to show our
>colleagues and
>administrators how anthropology is *more*  rather than *less* applicable
>to today's
>difficult economic times in  education?
>Please think about trading in the seemingly self-important naval gazing for
>more fruitful, applicable and future-reaching approaches.
>Joe Ellman, Ph.D.
>> _______________________________________________
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>> URBANTH-L at lists.ysu.edu
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>----- Original Message -----
>From: Art Hansen <art.hansen at mindspring.com>
>Date: Sunday, May 1, 2005 10:06 am
>Subject: [URBANTH-L]Reply to need for useful urban anthropology
>> To my anthropological colleagues:
>> There are many ways for applied anthropologists to engage in
>> ?meaningful? applied anthropology. Admittedly, some projects and
>> interests seem more esoteric than others that appear to be
>> immediately applicable to urban engagement.
>> Let me draw your attention to a project that is immediately
>> applicable in the US and has been ongoing in a number of urban (and
>> rural) areas in the US for several years. This study is spearheaded
>> by Elzbieta Gozdziak and Susan Martin at the Institute for the
>> Study of International Migration at Georgetown and looks at
>> international immigration into ?new? settlement sites and the
>> responses of residents, communities, CBOs, NGOs, and authorities in
>> the sites.
>> This is a clear expression of globalization in terms of increasing
>> international migration and is having significant impacts in many
>> areas of the US that were previously little impacted by
>> international-multicultural issues. The study has been presented at
>> different SfAA conferences as well as at international conferences
>> and has resulted in one book with more publications forthcoming.
>> This is really interesting intellectually because of its relevance
>> to many debates and puzzles: the enclave debate, how immigrants
>> reestablish livelihoods, networks, refugee resettlement,
>> differences and similarities in responses among different types of
>> immigrants (refugees, legal, and undocumented), local versus
>> national and community versus agency control of siting new
>> arrivals, etc. This immigration is also of immediate social and
>> political concern.
>> In terms of immediate applicability, let me speak only from my
>> personal involvement in this study. I have been the principal
>> investigator for the metropolitan Atlanta region, a place where
>> historically (and still to a great extent) issues of integration
>> are clearly in terms of black and white. However, the terms have
>> shifted and expanded to include a wide variety of other
>> nationalities and languages (especially Spanish), a change that
>> confronts many communities, agencies, and authorities with the
>> necessity to rethink historic precedents. I became involved in this
>> because it became known that I was someone who was actually
>> studying this phenomenon and had statistics and other useful
>> information. Aside from being asked to participate in town meetings
>> and workshops addressing the concerns arising from an increasingly
>> international population, different local and state authorities
>> have been asking me for information and to help them personally
>> prepare to participate in debates a!
>> nd decision-making.
>> Art Hansen
>> Clark Atlanta University
>> Atlanta GA
>> art.hansen at mindspring.com
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Nancy R. Anderson
Graduate Student
University of Tennessee
Department of Anthropology
250 South Stadium Hall
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996
(865) 974-4408 / 3977
nanderso at utk.edu

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