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.

Planning and writing a thesis with a table of contents

This is the time of year when our Masters students are starting to think about how they’re going to write their theses. It can be a daunting concept! Having essentially learnt what ‘not to do’ when writing my own MA thesis, I decided early on in my PhD to write and actively work with a table of contents. The idea for this came from several excellent books I read on writing, including Harry Wolcott’s Writing Up Qualitative Research, Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, and Laurel Richardon’s Writing: A Method of Inquiry.

To begin with, I spent one pomodoro (a 25-minute dedicated writing block) working on my table of contents every month. I would send it to my supervisors as a way for them to see how my work was progressing. Doing a table of contents helped me keep the big picture in mind and be a more productive, focused writer.

Continue reading

Writing with Brown’s Eight Questions

I’m juggling several different writing projects at the moment (book chapter, journal articles, conference paper, research proposal) but no matter what I’m working on I always begin the same way: with Brown’s Eight Questions.

I can’t remember when I first came across Robert Brown’s 1994/95 article Write Right First Time, but it radically improved the way I approach writing. In this article Brown provides eight questions, or writing prompts, for academics to use before they start writing. His goal is for academics to take more time at the start of the writing process to think carefully about what they want to say, so that they will become better writers and more likely to produce high quality work that is “right the first time.”  Although he intended the questions to be used as part of an action learning group (where a small group of people get together and peer review one another’s work), I find them just as effective in my own independent writing process.

Brown’s Eight Questions are:
Continue reading

Anthropology workshops at Victoria University of Wellington

Earlier this year I participated in an online writing group for anthropologists run by Savage Minds. I didn’t achieve all of my writing goals but I did enjoy reading the series of interviews Savage Minds bloggers published with various anthropologists, including one with Kirin Narayan on ethnographic writing. I have long been a fan of Kirin’s work and when I saw that she is now in the School of Culture, History and Language at Australian National University (much closer to New Zealand than the United States) I decided to invite her here to speak about her research. She accepted! Next week she and Ken George will be giving seminars and running workshops/master classes on various aspects of their research at both Massey University in Palmerston North, and Victoria University of Wellington. Details of the Wellington events are below.

KirinNarayan KenGeorge

Write when the baby sleeps

I’ve just started a year-long professional development course for early career researchers* which has given me an opportunity to think about how my writing style has changed since I was working on my PhD. When I was writing my dissertation I had a fantastic writing habit and, inspired by Inger Mewburn’s tips on How to write 1000 words a day without going bat-shit crazy, was producing anywhere between 1000-2000 ‘keeper’ words (that would go directly into the thesis with minimal revision) every day. Things have changed a lot since then: I now have a wonderful, bright, inquisitive, 2-year-old and a job I love. Long gone are the days where I could dedicate all my waking hours to thesis-writing!

The biggest change for me is being a parent. In particular, being the parent of a child who doesn’t like to sleep unless it’s on or next to me. Like Ava Neyer, I read all the baby sleep books in first few months after she was born to try to figure out how to help her sleep. Nothing worked. Eventually we found our own rhythm: I wrote (or read) when the baby slept. Most days I had at least one 25-minute block (or one Pomodoro) where I couldn’t do anything except sit or lie next to my daughter while she slept, so I used this time to write, read, or plan out what I was going to work on next.

She’s getting the hang of sleeping now (we use the Wait It Out method, which works for all of us) but I still use the time just after she’s nodded off to read or think. One of my goals this year is to cultivate a daily writing habit so I can get back into the writing groove I had going as a PhD candidate. To do this, I re-read Charlotte Frost’s top 10 tips for forming good writing habits and joined the Savage Minds Writing Group for anthropologists, which has some fantastic  posts on ethnographic writing. The course I’m on will also help, as will Shut Up and Write sessions (in real life and on #shutupandwrite Tuesdays on Twitter).

I’m keen to hear how other early career academics make space for their writing. Who else does #shutupandwrite Tuesdays on Twitter? How do you juggle parenting with life as an academic?

* Dr Kathryn Sutherland studies the experiences of early career researchers and has recently published her findings: ‘Success in Academia? The experiences of early career academics in New Zealand’

Announcing the Savage Minds Writing Group

Name: Lorena Gibson
Writing Projects: a film review, a book review, a book chapter, and a journal article.
Goals: To devote one day per week to specifically to writing, and to write for at least one Pomodoro (25 mins) on other days. And to get these writing projects finished!

How I’m participating in Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo)

Academic Writing Month 2013 starts today and I’m participating this year for the first time. For some reason it passed me by last year, but for the past week my Twitter feed has been filled with people declaring their writing goals and encouraging one another as they gear up for the month-long writing marathon that is #AcWriMo.

The purpose of #AcWriMo is for academics to prioritise writing for the month. One of the things I like about being an academic is that I get (paid) to write a lot. I don’t like the pressure put on academics to publish – what Thesis Whisperer Inger Mewburn calls the academic performance culture – but I love writing and the writing process, so I’m keen to share experiences with others for the month.

#AcWriMo participants are supposed to set and declare goals for the month, make weekly reports (I’ll use Twitter) and declare their results at the end of November. I have 6 goals:

  1. Write and present a paper at the 2013 AAA Meeting in Chicago
  2. Write a review of the film Mr. Pip for Asia Pacific Viewpoint
  3. Attend at least one of the Shut Up and Write sessions organised by my colleagues at Victoria University (#VUWacwri)
  4. Spend two Pomodoros a day, 5 days a week, writing material for publication (I’m part-time at work and have a very active and inquisitive toddler at home so this will be a test for my time management skills!)
  5. Develop the AAA paper into a complete journal article
  6. Start planning the editorial I need to write for a Special Issue of SITES entitled ‘Anthropology and Imagination’

The first two goals will be completed in the next couple of weeks and I will use goals 3 and 4 to help me achieve them. I might not achieve the rest of the goals as I’ll also be marking Honors theses before heading to Chicago then taking 2 weeks’ annual leave after the AAA meeting. I will probably start on goal 5 while I’m on annual leave, as like Anne Galloway I’m keen to try out Inger Mewburn’s strategy for Writing a Journal Article in 7 days. Also, I can never really ‘switch off’ so I’m sure I will achieve a lot of thinking about goal 6 even if I don’t write those thoughts down.

For me participating in #AcWriMo is more about joining an online discussion of academic writing and the writing process than meeting specific goals. I didn’t achieve any of my goals today, for example, but I did spend one Pomodoro doing research for my AAA paper and gave a very short presentation at a seminar on using social media in the classroom at Victoria University (look up #VUWteach on Twitter for live-tweets from the seminar), so I feel like that’s good enough. I will achieve some of my goals and make progress on others and look forward to chatting with others about their progress on Twitter.

turning your thesis into a book

This is a great post on how to turn your thesis into a book, and very timely for me as it is what I am doing right now. I haven’t taken all of Pat’s advice (I’m working on a full manuscript without a contract, for example) but her tips on rewriting are very useful. Her post has reminded me that I’m writing for a specific genre – ethnography, quite different from a thesis in social anthropology – which has particular conventions that I need to follow, and inspired me to completely rewrite my introduction and conclusion with a new audience in mind. Now, if only I could churn out 2,000 words a day …

patter

Lots of people want to turn their thesis into a book. This is not always possible – not all theses make good books. But it may also not be desirable. Some disciplines revere the scholarly monograph so writing one may be very good for the career. But others hold the peer reviewed journal article as the gold standard; in such cases, it may be better to get stuck into turning the thesis into a set of papers, rather than sweating over a manuscript. However, if you do want to do the book business, then you have to think about what the common advice – this book is not your thesis – actually means.

The first and most important difference relates to purpose.

The thesis is a text which is written to be examined and evaluated. As such, it follows a particular form, and the writing has to do particular kinds…

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