Ethnographers are constantly writing what they call vignettes. What they mean by this word is short stories. The core claim of this post is that short stories are great, and we should keep writing them, but that we should stop trivializing them by using this problematic, denigrating term.
What is a vignette? Vigne is vine (in French) and vignette is thus “little vine,” which is certainly an evocative image. But what does a little vine do for ethnographers?
Continue reading “The vignette: a bad ethnographic category”
It’s early morning in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The cognitive capitalism capital of the American rustbelt, you could call it. Huge university buildings and museums. Vast zones of middle class dwelling and consumption. Working-class neighborhoods hidden away out of sight.
It’s been about twelve weeks since I left my faculty job in South Africa. I really liked teaching there, partly because the weight of the Apartheid past was still so very present in Stellenbosch that, in an unexpected way, it made it feel especially worthwhile to teach critical social science. But it was just too far from my partner and our kid, who had stayed here. Obviously, we had explored different options. Leaving Stellenbosch ended up being the right thing, and I’m not ambivalent about it, even though I miss the teaching.
Continue reading “The view from Cleveland Heights”
I was just looking up how to spell the adjective “Comaroffian” when I came upon a paper by Charles Piot about the Comaroffs’ Of Revolution and Revelation. Skimming through it, I happened upon an amusing couple of paragraphs that set out to summarize different theories of “modernity.” In case anyone wants to see what that looks like, here they are:
Continue reading “Theories of modernity, a brief summary”
A little before seven, some sort of teacherly anxiety wakes me up before the alarm. Dim light slips through the blinds. From the obstructed view onto a garden wall, a row of bushes, and a westerly sky, I can’t immediately tell whether last night’s rain will continue.
Being a bit anxious makes it easier to get up and get moving.
Continue reading “A day teaching in Stellenbosch”
In the spirit of Shabana Mir’s blog, whose exceptional reflexivity about academic life I really admire, I thought I would write something about the intense anxieties that graduate school used to induce in me.
I had lots of different feelings in graduate school, and lots of them weren’t bad. But for me, some of the hardest things were those ritual moments where your very Being is supposed to be under examination. In concrete terms, that meant the big rites of passage: the qualifying exams, the dissertation proposal hearing, and finally the dissertation defense. It’s easier to think about them now that they’re a bit distant in time.
Continue reading “The panics of graduate school”
My disciplinary association (the AAA) is conducting a survey.
It doesn’t really matter to me what the survey is about. The survey has two fatal flaws:
- It uses clickbait marketing tactics to try to reach me.
- It purports to compensate me by offering me a chance to win a gift card.
Continue reading “Clickbait professionalism at the American Anthropological Association”
I just came across a book I feel that I ought to have encountered sooner, Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings from the Women’s Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan (1970). I haven’t had time to read it all the way through, but it has these astounding section titles like “The hand that cradles the rock,” and a few things I’ve seen before, notably Pat Mainardi’s marvelous “Politics of Housework,” a brutal and hilarious deconstruction of her husband’s sexist rationalizations for not doing housework.
Anyway, halfway through the volume, I find a compendium of sexist comments made to women graduate students at the University of Chicago. I thought it would be worth reproducing here, since I haven’t seen this text before and I think it’s good to have this sort of discourse out in circulation. While the general lines of this sort of sexist thought are pathetically familiar, the horror is always in the particulars.
Continue reading “Sexist comments from the University of Chicago, 1970”
Friday was the last day of my ethnography class, so I mainly wanted to tell some stories. Good ethnography isn’t much more than good storytelling, in the end.
Continue reading “The end of a class (otherness & vulnerability)”
Back in 2011 I went for a bike trip in southern Illinois and made it just across the river to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I wrote about my trip at the time but I’m embarrassed to say that I mainly saw the place in terms of class — it was a largely run-down, working-class place — and, in racial terms, I only noticed that it was largely white.
Continue reading “The force of race in a Missouri college town”
As I write, night is falling slowly and heavily, like a train gaining momentum gracelessly. It’s easy to feel sleepy when I come home after the all-day heat, which still lingers in the house, but I eat dinner early and make myself go for a walk, the better to sit down afterwards to prep for class tomorrow morning.
Continue reading “Teaching and timelessness”
It’s a Sunday.
The ants are everywhere around the kitchen sink, swarming through the crack in the dishwasher door. Afterwards, every time you feel the tiniest itch, you suspect the ants of crawling on you.
Continue reading “Housework and anxiety on the day before class”
In my email right now, there are 10,364 messages signed with American academia’s standard valediction:
Continue reading “Why we can’t abolish “best””
The University of Paris-X at Nanterre is now just called Université Paris Nanterre. I went there this week to poke around in the archives of my fieldsite. On the way to the library I stopped to find something to eat, and it turned out that the nearest campus eating establishment was an ethnographically useful site. Admittedly, I am getting somewhat out of practice as a campus ethnographer, but I still noticed a few things.
Continue reading “The Crêperie at Nanterre”
I’ve been thinking lately about how, in ethnography, some objects of inquiry seem to come ready-made, almost pre-packaged, while others are so unclear, blurry, flou (in French), that it’s hard to decide how to examine them.
Continue reading “Pre-made objects”
I’ve been re-reading Butler’s work lately because I’m thinking about political mimesis, and I was struck along the way by her very frank and admirable comments about the fact that if you write a bunch of things over time, you don’t necessarily want to go back over them to make sure that your view is the same everywhere.
Continue reading “Butler on nonsystematic writing”
Since last month, I’ve been teaching in Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. There’s a lot to say about this new and very intriguing teaching context — the first thing being that university politics are a very live issue, and so there’s a lot for me to learn, given my work.
Continue reading “Considerations on grading”
1. Packing my library
Twelve or fifteen standardized brown boxes of books, covered in dollar store tarps and dust from lizard corpses and asbestos toxins — I’m lining them all up, three by four, three by five. Each box is stamped identically with bar codes, and green icons certify that they are all made from recycled paper, but nothing says where the recycled paper came from, so you wonder, does it come from dead books? Obsolete books? All those textbooks that your students don’t really read — do their carcasses get recycled into your moving boxes?
Continue reading “Packing my library, or the impossibility of precarious feeling”
I realize it is meaningless to harp on the failures of past authors, but I was still struck by this very blithe statement from a psychoanalytic scholar in 1970, in a paper on “The Concept of Reality Testing.” I suppose I usually think of the 1970s as the beginnings of our intellectual present, rather than as a past epoch.
Continue reading “Psychoanalysis, primitivism and reality testing”
I’ve been exceptionally dismayed this year by the retrograde, anti-open-access, profit-oriented publication philosophy at the American Anthropological Association. Earlier this year they announced that they were renewing their publishing contract with the corporate behemoth Wiley Blackwell. Now I notice that they also have a horribly misguided commenting policy for their online news site, Anthropology News.
Continue reading “Misguided exclusivity: On the Anthropology News commenting policy”
Sometime earlier this spring I asked the students in my Digital Cultures class to each write down a sentence (on a post-it) about what education was for.
Continue reading “What students say education is for”
One could write numerous things about masculine domination in French philosophy, and many have done so. Right now, for instance, I’m engrossed in Michèle Le Doeuff’s programmatic 1977 essay on this question, “Cheveux longs, idées courtes (les femmes et la philosophie),” which appeared in Le Doctrinal de Sapience (n° 3) and was translated in Radical Philosophy 17 (pdf).
Continue reading “Michel Foucault’s attitude towards women”
Last Friday, as my last work event at Whittier College (since my postdoc contract is finishing up), I went to graduation. A few observations on graduation as seen from the faculty perspective seem to be in order.
Continue reading “Graduation as seen by faculty”
I’ve taken to writing little end-of-class reflections, which I read to my students on the last day. Here’s my reflection on my last day teaching at Whittier College. (The class was about digital cultures; you can find some of the course materials online at GitHub.)
Continue reading “The end of class”
If Noam Chomsky had done nothing else, he would have given us one of the strongest critique of the New York Times as the guarantor of nationalist ideology for the U.S.’s professional-managerial classes. But there’s another good reason to not read the Times besides its obvious ideological problems. Namely: that it promotes an intellectual monoculture. Too many scholars and academics read it to the exclusion of anything else.
Continue reading “Scholars shouldn’t read the New York Times”