General Education, Distance Education and Cotton in my Ears

I spent the day sitting in meetings at my new “home campus” in Lueneburg, Germany, listening to lectures about their new innovative General Education program.  And Distance Education.  I avoid meetings about such subjects when I am home campus at Chico State.  How did such subjects follow me here?

I have lots of opinions about both General Education and Distance Education, but remain really quiet.  Listening to German like all day is like sticking cotton in my ears, a task my brain copes with poorly.  Trying to say anything in German is like trying to speak with a mouthful of–cotton swabs.  The brain is willing, but the ears are too slow, and the mouth too dry.  Tomorrow is another day of this.

Opening a window on “The Closing of American Academia”

It has been difficult over the past few weeks to miss Sarah Kendzior’s article in Al Jazeera and the ensuing rounds of reaction and counterreaction in the anthropological blogosphere. In her article, and in other recent writing about adjuncting, there is more than a passing element of nostalgia for a vanishing class escalator. The argument in brief: Meritocracy has fallen victim in the academe to the larger economic trend of offering serial un- and under paid internships in lieu of the middle class security of tenure, thus ensuring that only those who can afford to work without compensation (read children of the elite) may enter the academic ranks. The argument is cogent, tragic, and impossible to deny on intellectual or moral grounds. But, it also carries an assumption that the mainline of anthropological thought must always flow from academic anthropology departments outward. Perhaps it does, but then again…

There is a veritable army of anthropologists conducting research outside academia. Too many, in fact, not to change the profession in meaningful ways over the next 10-15 years. This isn’t much of a surprise given that think tanks, corporations, and NGOs are knowledge generating institutions which feel their way forward through research. Some of the best anthropology of the last 30 years came from Xerox PARC during a long-term project examining the mundane and uber-modern problem of copier breakdown and repair. Without rehashing the entire project, the PARC unit at Xerox brought anthropologists into a working relationship with computer scientists over the topic of how people use copiers. The internal debate pitted the assumptions of cognitive science and its allied fields in computer science and psychology against the messy realities lived by the firm’s customers and repairmen. The anthropologists helped to rethink the relation of people to complex information machines to Xerox’s benefit, but they also furthered a long standing intellectual debate about the nature of human action in the world. It says something wonderful and hopeful about the kind of knowledge produced by anthropology that anthropologists in “applied” areas are constantly bumping into such basic questions about humans.

Since the Xerox copier study, a number of venues have become available for anthropology produced outside of academia. High quality venues such as the EPIC conference, and new journals such as The Journal of Business Anthropology (though I think it should be named the Anthropology of Business) have emerged as sites where anthropology comes into contact with both allied and oppositional disciplines.

There is theoretical ground being broken (and old ground revisited) in these venues. I particularly like “A Funky-Formal Fashion Collection:  Struggling for a Creative Concept in HUGO BOSS” by Kasper Tang Vangkilde in Business Anthropology. This article is about deliberations at Hugo Boss to create a clothing line which is exactly funky-formal. That is, neither funky, nor formal, yet containing the element of both in a way recognizable as “Hugo Boss.” He hits the innovation paradox on the head. What kind of thing is new, yet recognizable? The article is a lot of fun (and that counts). But it is also a reminder that innovation is one of the classic anthropological problems and has been addressed by anthropology since Boas wrote “The occurrence of similar inventions in areas widely apart” in 1887. Innovation, now a sacred word to industry, was important enough to warrant an entire chapter in Boas’ General Anthropology  and fashion was thought important enough for Kroeber to use it to make a point about change over time in “On the Principle of Order in Civilization as Exemplified by Changes of Fashion.”

Ever thought about learning Chinese? It’s about more than memorizing characters!

Kerim Friedman at has written an interesting blog about what it means for a foreigner to speak Chinese.  The blog is called “Seven Ways to Talk to a White Man.”  Most Taiwanese assume foreigner cannot speak Chinese—so how does Kerim convince them that he indeed, is a potential Chinese conversation partner?

The blog itself is a good humorous introduction to the perceived relationships between language and race. A number of the coments which follow the blog add to the discussion.   The blog and its comments are relevant for people of any race who ever contemplated learning another language in general, and an Asian language in particular.

The Body Canvas Photo Competition

The Royal Anthropological Institute is holding their third international photography contest. The theme is The Body Canvas and the contest is open to anybody interested in anthropology, photography and science communication.


The RAI’s Body Canvas photo competition aims to:

• promote public engagement with the RAI’s Education Outreach Programme

• provide a platform for people to share their work and become actively involved in anthropology

• develop an understanding for the personal, social and political reasons why people undergo permanent body modification

• explore the many ways in which communities around the world develop and express relationships with their bodies

• explore the industry of body modification, the artists, doctors and craftsmen who practise their trade

The submissions we are looking for:

Engaging photographs that explore biological, cross-cultural and social elements of body art and modification in relation to these categories:

1) Tattoos and Scarification

2) Piercings and Body Reshaping


Who can participate?

The competition is open to anyone interested in anthropology, photography and science communication.


What do contestants win?

All short-listed and winning contestants will have their work published in RAI online and printed materials. In addition, for each thematic category a £100 gift voucher will be awarded to the winning photograph.


Deadline for submissions 30th September 2012


For further information and submission guidelines please visit:

Alternatively please find attached to this email:
1) Photo Contest Registration Form

2) Full details of the Contest

3) The Contest Flyer


To get some ideas, take a look at our previous photo competitions on our flickr page: