Anthropology under my skin

What follows is the text of the presentation I gave as part of the the Reclaiming Anthropology panel during the Anthropology in Aotearoa Symposium held at Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, on 11 May 2017.

 

I remember when anthropology first got under my skin

20 years ago now

BA, first year,

Student loan, didn’t care.

I asked my flatmate what I should study.

Endangered Cultures, she said

You’ll either love it or hate it.

She was right.

 

That course challenged us

to think about structures of power.

Colonialism

racism

gender and class inequalities

right here, at home, as well as out there.

We read John Bodley alongside Donna Awatere

(from her activist phase, not her Act Party days),

became politicised with Haunani-Kay Trask,

and got angry with Ranginui Walker.

Ethnocide, ecocide, genocide,

right here, on this land.

We learnt about the violence of progress and development.

Anthropology got under my skin.

It made me uncomfortable.

 

Anthropology made me look at this skin.

White skin.

Recognise its privilege

and think about what it means to live in a settler society

benefitting from ongoing processes of colonisation.

For my first anthropology research project

I delved into the insidious history and practice of colonisation

in Ireland, where my ancestors are from,

and Aotearoa, where some of them ended up.

I channeled my outrage into a song and an essay

2000 words, double spaced

in good English

Chicago referencing.

I got an A+.

 

Later, I learnt the name of the anthropology under my skin:

Anthropology for Liberation.

I eagerly followed Faye Harrison’s work, which asked

how can we decolonise anthropology?

How can anthropology work towards social justice

Emanicipation from racism, gender inequality, class disparaties, poverty, neocolonialism

Liberation of the oppressed and marginalised?

Adding Linda Tuhiwai Smith, bell hooks, and Paulo Freire to the mix,

I wrote to change the world.

2000 words,

double spaced,

Chicago referencing.

 

This was anthropology to be applied.

I tried to apply it when I was a high school music teacher

where it felt like I spent more time talking to teenage boys about

why it wasn’t okay to call each other faggot,

why it wasn’t okay to make fun of “horis,”

than how to play music.

I wondered what they learnt about ethnicity and race in their classes.

One small ethnographic study of Palmerston North schools later, I learnt that

in one school,

the school I worked at,

students were taught that there are four human races:

Caucasian, Mongolid, Negroid, and Australoid.

They did not learn that biological races don’t exist.

They did not talk about Franz Boas

or race as a social construct.

I wrote an essay calling bullshit

2000 words,

double spaced,

Chicago referencing.

I got an A+.

I gave it to the school.

They were polite

but they weren’t interested.

 

They weren’t the only ones not interested in my

anthropology for liberation.

Anthropology’s colonial heritage casts a long, cold shadow.

Studying the Other

as if they can be understood,

rendered knowable to the West.

I went to Papua New Guinea for my PhD without reading Margaret Mead

and ran straight into her legacy

in the 1980s ban on anthropologists doing research in Morobe Province,

still remembered,

and in the sharp questions from people I met

who wanted to critique her work.

I went to Tonga to do fieldwork for a report,

an anthropologist hired for her expertise on culture and development.

My first interview didn’t go well.

“So they’ve sent another palagi to tell me about my culture, have they?”

She asked

“What are you going to do with my knoweldge?”

 

We have been decolonising the arrogant assumptions that animate our practices for a quarter of a century or more;

– that anthropology can produce transformative knowledge

– that anthropology can bring about social change

We’re still working on it.

We need to keep working on it.

 

Anthropology is still under my skin 20 years later,

a tattoo that grows with me.

Post-PhD and after five years of adjunct work I practice my anthropology

at university,

full-time lecturer

student loan up to here.

Juggling managerial assessments of intellectual value

with teaching,

with service and academic care work,

in an increasingly neoliberal environment.

 

Last year I applied for promotion

over the bar,

from lecturer to lecturer.

I almost didn’t get it.

Excellent teaching and service, they said,

but not enough publications.

On track for a PBRF ranking of CNE.

Keep doing everything you’re doing, they said, and

write more.

 

Last year I applied to the Marsden early career fund

for a new research project

on how kid’s lives are transformed through music.

I almost didn’t get it.

“It is understood that the researcher has had two maternity leaves since defending the PhD,” wrote Reviewer 1.

“That would leave approximately three years for publications and other research-related outputs.”

As if I stopped parenting once I returned to work.

As if the work I was returning to wasn’t a series of fixed term,

discontinuous,

part-time,

often teaching-only contracts.

“The publication output of 3 peer-reviewed articles and 1 book chapter is at least half of what it should be,” wrote Reviewer 1.

As if quantity is what counts.

As if the entire scholarly merit of my new project,

being considered for an early career research grant,

should be measured by my publication record.

 

That independent,

critic-and-conscience-of-society tattoo parlour

that helped etch anthropology under my skin

is now a chain store in the knowledge economy.

 

Can neoliberalism and decolonisation coexist?

 

Can we decolonise anthropology

work on projects that genuinely move us further toward

an anthropology for liberation

and be publishing machines?

 

Can we decolonise anthropology

address issues of poverty, structural violence, discrimination

work in risky situations

in a risk-averse environment?

 

Can we decolonise anthropology

when our university proposes a policy on Academic Freedom

that would limit us to speaking only in our “field of expertise?”

 

Can we decolonise anthropology

provide opportunities for our students to work towards social justice,

to translate personal experiences into public concerns,

in classes of a hundred, two hundred, three hundred people?

When our university wants to remove the cap on our courses,

increasing student numbers without increasing the number of staff?

 

Can we decolonise anthropology

show students that anthropological knowledge

can make a difference in the world

is necessary in this world

while meeting university measures for graduate employability?

 

Last year my colleagues asked me what I wanted to teach.

Decolonising anthropology, I said.

My new course, Anthropology for Liberation, starts next term.

 

I’ve been thinking about those essays we write,

that we ask our students to write;

2000 words,

double spaced,

in good English,

Chicago referencing style.

That referencing style

makes it easy to cite

peer reviewed academic sources.

That referencing style

does have guidelines for citing

non-peer reviewed sources

but you have to hunt for them.

 

I’ve been thinking about how I can make space

for different ways of learning, knowing, and being,

for recognising the shoulders of different giants.

What happens if I ask students to write an essay

informed by a politics of decolonisation

called “An indigenous view of Wellington”

that requires them to work with different forms of knowledge?

Knowledge that might not be easy to cite using

Chicago referencing style?

 

How you do reference a tattoo?

 

Maybe instead of asking

“how many references do I need?”

students will start questioning what counts as knowledge,

whose knowledge counts,

and where knowledge resides.

 

My new course has a hundred students already.

I’m looking forward to learning with them

and adding to the anthropology under my skin.

Join us to celebrate 50 years of Anthropology at VUW (May 10-12)

Come join our celebration! You’ll get to hear Dame Joan Metge, Dame Prof Anne Salmond, Prof Michael Jackson, and a host of other anthropologists. All welcome.

vicanthropology

This year the anthropology programme at Victoria University of Wellington is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. In honour of this important milestone, we have organized a programme of events that will highlight the history of anthropology at Victoria, explore the changing conditions shaping the discipline, and speculate about the future trajectories of anthropological knowledge at Victoria, in New Zealand, and beyond.

Events are open to the public for all who wish to come and join our celebration.  Some require pre-registration, so check below for the full and final schedule of events and details of events.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday 10 May, Te Herenga Waka Marae

10:30am – 12:30pm: Pōwhiri and Marae Kōrero, at Te Tumu Herenga Waka
Discussion by Dame Dr. Joan Metge and Bernie Kernot
2:00pm – 3:30pm: Masterclass with Professor Michael D. Jackson, Kelburn Campus (graduate class, limited spaces, pre-registration required – email 50anth@vuw.ac.nz

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SOMAA Research Roundup

Roundup of medical anthropology research in Aotearoa New Zealand.

SOMAA

Welcome to our first SOMAA research roundup. Here you’ll find brief summaries and links to recent publications by SOMAA members covering such topics as housing and wellbeing, mental health in the Pacific, transcultural approaches to bioethics, and the taken-for-granted assumptions of bipolar disorder treatment. Happy reading!

Housing Children: South Auckland: The Housing Pathways Longitudinal Study

An important new study about housing and wellbeing in New Zealand by Kathryn Scott (U or Auckland), Julie Park (U or Auckland) and Patricia Laing (VUW), arguing that considering the changing ecology of housing over time for families and individuals —housing pathways — is fundamental to understanding housing issues.

Careful Words: Nursing, Language, and Emotion in Papua New Guinea

By Barbara Andersen (Massey Albany), this article reveals how nursing education in PNG socializes nurses to take stances toward language and communication that impact their care practices. In a resource-poor setting where health workers risk blame for structural inequalities, this…

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Tales of becoming a public anthropologist

Thoughtful piece on becoming a public anthropologist in Aotearoa New Zealand by my colleague Catherine Trundle

vicanthropology

Academics are increasingly called upon to apply their skills and knowledge to public problems and issues. In New Zealand as elsewhere we’ve witnessed a growing public and political appetite for universities to make knowledge accessible. We’re increasingly expected to work in more temporally immediate ways to address contemporary social challenges. The status quo model of knowledge dissemination, of publishing an article two years or more after conducting research in a journal hidden beyond a pay-wall that only a few scholars will read, is under fire within and outside of the Academy.

In Cultural Anthropology at Victoria both academic staff and students are increasingly focusing on how to enact this commitment to public scholarship. Blogs such as this one are now commonplace online, and speaking to the media is increasingly part of our everyday work. Yet the public anthropology we do is not always this publicly visible. To our students we…

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Medical anthropologists in/of Aotearoa meet for launch and symposium

Sorry to miss what looks like a great symposium and launch of the new Society of Medical Anthropology in Aotearoa.

SOMAA

By Nayantara Sheoran Appleton.

On Wednesday February 15th, just over 30 medical anthropologists from across New Zealand attended the launch of the Society of Medical Anthropology of Aotearoa (SOMAA). The launch was marked by a daylong symposium with 13 presentations and a keynote address by Dr. Marcia Inhorn who is the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University. SOMAA “is a national collective for medical anthropologists working in or on Aotearoa.” It will serve as intellectual space aimed at brining medical anthropologists together to discuss developments in medical spaces, health policy, and support each other through regular interactions. The launch and symposium made evident that there was great excitement about collective work and the intellectual developments in the field.

The day opened with a short introduction by Dr. Catherine Trundle and Associate Professor Susanna Trnka, the secretary and president of SOMAA respectively…

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Join us for Ethnography Shelf – an ethnography reading club online and in person

vicanthropology

In our previous blog post, Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich noted that her resolution for 2017 is to read six ethnographies.  Inspired by this and all the different ethnographies we in the Cultural Anthropology Programme at Victoria University of Wellington are reading, we have started an ethnography book club on GoodReads.  The goal is to read and discuss an ethnography every two months.  If any of you are interested in ethnography (students, anthropologists, writers), we invite you to join us!

The plan is for Cultural Anthropology staff to select an ethnography, and the group to read it over the two-month period, meeting to discuss it during the last week of the second month at VUW.  We’ll post some questions to get started in thinking about the book, and where possible we’ll also invite the authors to join us in our online conversations.

Lorena Gibson chose our first ethnography, Tupuna Awa: People…

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“He’s the least racist person I know”: Racism, the Mad Butcher and Empathy

Great piece by my colleague Catherine Trundle.

vicanthropology

We’ve all been reading about the celebrity New Zealand businessman the Mad Butcher (Peter Leitch) and his so-called ‘friendly banter’. While drinking wine at a vineyard on Waiheke Island he told local Māori woman Lara Wharepapa-Bridger that she was on ‘a white man’s island’. She later uploaded a Facebook post complaining about the racist remarks. Many people came to the Mad Butcher’s defence. As one fairly typical comment on Facebook put it, “to(sic) many snowflakes around!! They take anything and make it about racism!! Silly fools”. Many of the other responses Lara Wharepapa-Bridger received were much scarier and more threatening.

The use of the world ‘snowflake’ here – a favourite insult of the so-called American alt-right – speaks of a wider global trend. It reflects an increasingly vocal push back against anti racist movements globally. In the US, Trump’s victory revealed that many of those who voted for him…

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Survey participants wanted: Music education in Porirua Schools

Do you know any young people who attend school in Porirua? I would like to invite them to participate in a survey about music education in Porirua schools.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently started a new research project looking at the social impacts of three Sistema-inspired orchestral music education programmes operating in low decile schools in urban Wellington. El Sistema is a Venezuelan music and social development initiative that began in 1975 and is today one of the world’s largest and most famous orchestral music education programmes. Sistema-inspired programmes operate in over 60 countries and there are at three here in Wellington: Arohanui Strings, Porirua Soundscapes, and Virtuoso Strings.

My new project looks at the social impacts of these three charitable organisations, which run music education programmes in low decile schools in Porirua and Hutt Valley. This is an independent project funded by Victoria University of Wellington.

As part of my research I am conducting an anonymous survey of young people attending school in Porirua. The goals of this survey are:

  • to find out how interested young people are in music education;
  • to see if there are any barriers that might prevent young people from taking part in music education.

If you know of a young person who attends school in Porirua I would appreciate it if you would consider asking them (or their parents or caregivers) if they would like to take part in this survey. The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete and is suitable for young people aged 10 and over. The link to the survey is below.

Music education in Porirua Schools survey

I would be happy to send you a copy of the survey if you would like to see the questions, and you can contact me here. The survey is available now and will close on Sunday 11 December.

Thanks!

#AAA2016 Melanesia Interest Group Business Meeting

Those of you attending this year’s annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association are warmly invited to attend the annual Business Meeting of the Melanesia Interest Group, which will be held on Thursday, November 17, from 6:15-7:30pm, in Convention Center room 206AB.

The agenda is as follows:

  1. Expanding the mandate of our interest group from Melanesia to the wider Oceania/Pacific region:
    (a) Vote for a new name (MIG? OIG? PIIG? Other suggestions?)
    (b) New guidelines for our expanded interest group (including how to ensure our invited session represents our newly expanded mandate)
  2. Ideas for our 2017 invited session
  3. Election of Convenor
  4. Member updates

At last year’s MIG Business Meeting in Denver we discussed expanding the scope of the MIG to include Polynesia, Micronesia, and possibly Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. This is because there is currently no section or interest group representation for scholars of the Pacific more generally within the AAA. We agreed to open up the MIG to AAA members who work elsewhere in Oceania, and that I would begin work on this process.

This newly expanded AAA Interest Group will proceed as the MIG has done in the past by offering a space within the AAA for scholars of Oceania, hosting a business meeting at the annual AAA Meetings, and sponsoring an invited session at each AAA meeting.

Earlier in the year I completed a survey of MIG members and other anthropologists who work in Oceania. 57% of respondents currently belong to the MIG and 92% of respondents indicated that they would join an Interest Group of the AAA that represented scholars of the Pacific region. Just over 50% of respondents indicated that they work in Pacific regions other than Melanesia. These results indicate that an AAA Interest Group focused on Oceania would attract a number of new members.

This meeting will be of interests to all AAA members whose work involves Oceania in some form. All are welcome!