Tag Archives: anthropology

Race and white dominance in American anthropology

anthro phd production by race

In demographic terms, anthropology in the United States continues to be dominated by white Americans. Consider this graph of the racial distribution of anthropology doctorates over the last twelve years (incidentally, the NSF had no data for 1999, so there should really be a gap year inserted here, but I trust you can all manage without one). The enormous top segment of this graph shows the very large fraction of new U.S. anthropology doctorates that go to white Americans. This decade, on average, 65.7% of new anthro phds were white. And yet we also observe that this dominance is falling, slowly, over the years; you can see that here visually. 75% of new anthropology doctorates went to whites in 1995 but only 63.6% in 2007. And other minority groups have grown, slightly, as demonstrated by the widening of those bands that indicate black Americans, Hispanics, and Asians (which includes Pacific Islanders in the NSF-supplied data I use). But racial equity is far from attained.

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Gender imbalance in anthropology

gender gap anthro phds

I want here to present some quick graphs that suggest the changing gender dynamics within American anthropology. This first graph shows the production of new doctorates since the 60s. It is commonly thought in the field that there has been something of a “feminization” of anthropology over the past few decades, and as we can see here, the number of doctorates awarded to women (in blue) has indeed been greater than the number of doctorates awarded to men (red) since 1992. We can see here that males were demographically dominant in the production of doctorates until 1984, after which there were eight years of approximate equality (where the two lines overlap) followed by divergence.

Important to note, it seems to me, is that although it’s true that the relative place of males and females has indeed been inverted, the overall picture here is that the two lines have risen together fairly regularly. Quite often, especially in the last fifteen years, we can see that little shifts correlate across genders, as in the little drops in 2001 and 2005. And the demographic expansion of the field in general is of a far greater demographic magnitude than the shift in gender balance. In 2007, we awarded more than five times the number of new doctorates as in 1966 (519 vs. 98) — a fact whose significance I will come back to later. But to get a better sense of changing gender ratios, consider a graph of women as a percentage of the total pool of doctoral recipients.
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Trends in graduate student funding in anthropology

anthro grad funding

This may be the last of my demographics posts for a bit, as I have to leave town for this coming week. But I think this may be one of the most important for anthropologists to examine — grad students in particular. Turns out there are NSF statistics on evolving financial support over time. Here I present the general picture for our field between 1972 and 2006 — the last 35 years.

Here are the major conclusions I’d draw:

  • Unfunded (euphemistically “self-supported”) people comprise an enormously large fraction of the graduate student body. It used to be above half (56.6% in 1977). Now it’s down to about a third (35%), but that, of course, still means that one person in three has no financial support from their institution.
  • The fraction of people with fellowships used to be very low, falling as low as 15.6% (in 1982), and is still a relatively scanty 24.7% of all graduate students. Barely 1 in 4 gets fellowship support, in other words.
  • The fraction of grad students who support themselves by teaching has been rising. In 1977, it used to be as little as 17.3%; it has risen to 30.8%, the largest single form of institutional funding.
  • Research assistants have formed a fairly small though very slowly growing segment, currently 9.6%, which is fairly close to their average share of 8.8% over the last 35 years.
  • Overall, more people are getting some sort of funding than they used to, mostly through slow growth in teaching and fellowship support. 65.1% of all students currently get some kind of support.

It’s good to see that things are improving. But one would like to think that our field overall could manage more financial support for the more than 1 in 3 grad students who are getting nothing.

When I get a chance to come back to this, I may look at federal funding across the social sciences, or perhaps compare funding trends across disciplines….

Dominant departments in American anthropology

anthro phds by dept 2

In case you ever wondered which departments dominate my discipline — anthropology — in America, here we can get a pretty clear sense of demographic dominance, at the very least. I’ve added together the total number of PhDs awarded by each of these departments over the last two decades (1987-2007, 21 years total) and we can see that some departments have produced far more than their share of new doctorate-wielding anthropologists.

UCLA and Berkeley are tied for the greatest production of scholars, at 322 total, with Chicago next at 296, Harvard and Michigan some way behind that at 253, University of Texas-Austin just behind there at 248, University of Florida at 220, University of Arizona at 219, Columbia at 211, and then on down the line.

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Doctoral production in anthropology and the social sciences

Yesterday I considered the fact that, in terms of its production of undergrad degrees, anthropology is relatively small and about the same size as ethnic studies, with sociology and economics far above, and political science (cum-public-administration) far still above that.

But things look a bit different if we turn to look not at undergraduate degrees but at the doctoral degree production that’s essential for the reproduction of the teaching and research body of the profession. (Haven’t had time to look at Master’s degrees so far; I suppose that master’s degrees would serve a joint role as both an intermediate academic credential and a semi-professional credential, and are a stepping stone to the doctorate in some cases, but this requires more research.)

evolution of social science phds

At the doctoral level, anthropology is no longer at the bottom of the charts; over the past forty years it has climbed from being one of the smallest social science graduate fields to being roughly similar to sociology. In 2007, anthro graduated 519 new PhDs while sociology was at 573. Economics, nonetheless, clearly appears to be the dominant social science discipline (demographically speaking), though political science has approached it on several occasions and even surpassed it for a few years earlier this decade.

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Disciplinary socio-demography, and anthropological prejudice against quantification

“Is it worth learning quantitative skills?” I remember asking a pair of action researchers some years ago. “They’re useful insofar as they give tools for understanding social processes,” they said.

But I didn’t follow up on that at all until I recently started reading the “socio-demographic” work of Charles Soulié, a Bourdieuian French sociologist of universities whose research interests are fairly close to mine. The premise of this research is something like this: by examining the comparative history of enrollments and teaching jobs across disciplines, one can examine what Soulié calls the “evolution of the morphology” of academic fields. This isn’t very hard-core quantitative research by statisticians’ standards, I note — he doesn’t exhibit tedious anxieties about the uncertainties in his sources, nor does he propose mathematical models or major statistical analysis of his data. The methodology seems to be, in essence, visual inspection of the evolving demographics of disciplinary enrollments. He takes these as indicators of things like the “relative position of sociology in the space of disciplines,” and comes up with findings that are like:

  • Sociology produced half as many graduates in philosophy in 1973, but now things are reversed, and in 2004 sociology produced 2.6 as many graduates as philosophy. This is an indicator, for Soulié, of sociology’s rising comparative importance in the university system (and philosophy’s stability, which in context was a relative decline).
  • In 1998/99, “the fraction of children of professionals and upper management rose to 28.4% in letters and human sciences, against 23.1% in sociology and 38.1% in philosophy” — which tells us something important about the comparative class basis of sociology vs. philosophy at that point in time [updated to clarify: these examples refer to French academia].

I find this kind of thing quite interesting and revealing – hence this series of posts on the demographics of my own discipline – but I wonder about its epistemological basis. What does it mean, actually, that one discipline has more students enrolled than another? Is it right to speak of a competition between disciplines for students? What makes one discipline more “attractive” or “desirable” than another at a given moment? It’s not like students pick their courses based on a completely rational response to a job market, or even an idea market. In fact, it’s not clear that “market” is a good description for these kinds of systems; as Marc Bousquet has often argued, talk about the academic “job market” (for instance) disguises the fact that university administrators actually dictate the academic job system, by deciding to opt for hiring adjuncts, grad students, etc. Likewise, shifts in degrees issued, in enrollments, etc, may not necessarily be the result of “competition” or market forces (whatever one’s stance on the empirical existence of said market forces). There can be other kinds of systematic processes at work; the “morphology” of the disciplines as revealed in their enrollments doesn’t tell you everything about processes of interdisciplinary conflict and coexistence.

But the brute fact remains that there have been major historical shifts in how many students anthropologists educate, and major shifts in how large our discipline is vis-a-vis other disciplines. And these aren’t just arbitrary. They need to be explained, if we’re to understand where our discipline actually exists in the world. When American anthropology is educating a small fraction of a percent of college students, that’s not something that just happens by chance.

I feel here the strong sense of a bias in my own discipline against quantitative analysis. It’s somewhat jarring, from the narrow confines of an anthropologist’s culturalist background, to look at these comparative figures. In cultural anthropology, I think there is a widely shared consensus view today that goes something like this: culture is inherently qualitative, folded over on itself in swathes and patches and wrinkles of rich, dense symbolic significance; it would necessarily be deformed, or at best severely limited, by any effort to reduce it to a general and/or quantitative analysis. Among cultural anthropologists, numbers and quantitative facts are apt to be taken not as means of analysis, but as objects of cultural analysis and symbolic forms in their own right. So we get studies of the cultural effects of perniciously quantifying, rationalizing, neoliberal projects; and we see arguments about how the obsession with the quantitative is itself merely another local cultural phenomenon, and not a privileged, master form of knowing about the world. Often these kinds of arguments are made casually, in passing, or are simply taken for granted, inscribed in our disciplinary habits.

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Anthropology within the American social sciences

To continue this week’s project of elaborating on anthropology’s disciplinary context and structure, let’s see where we fit in relation to the other social sciences in our production of bachelor’s degrees.

social science bachelors evolution

As with the more general university situation, all fields have been growing, albeit with a major dip in the mid-seventies to late-eighties, which is again probably due to the Baby Boom ending. It’s obvious that the biggest field by far is political science — though my figures for political science also include public administration, whose more marketable vocational potential may explain the overall predominance of this discipline. Economics and sociology, in blue and green, have been somewhat similar for decades — while sociology was far more popular from the ’60s into the ’70s, economics overtook it between 1980 and 1994, and since then sociology has pulled ahead slightly but not that much. One notices a curious correlation, probably spurious I suppose, between the economics degrees issued and the political party holding the presidency: throughout the Reagan/Bush 1 era, economics is ascending; then it drops substantially under Clinton; then it rises again around when Bush 2 comes into office.

I note in passing that linguistics is absolutely tiny and barely visible (a thin brown line at the bottom of the graph). Our own discipline, anthropology, is pretty low on the charts too; and it also has a very close partner on the graph, which is area and ethnic studies. It turns out, somewhat unexpectedly, that anthropology and ethnic/area studies have been very closely linked in undergraduate enrollments since the 60s. Let’s look at this in more detail.

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Anthropology in the American disciplinary landscape

evolution of disciplines

I often feel that my discipline, anthropology, doesn’t sufficiently discuss its own structural situation in the academic world. Where do we fit in the ecology of disciplines? In the national competition for student enrollments? How many anthropologists are there, exactly? And what is the structure of our academic labor system; what fraction are tenured, tenure-track, contract, part-time? How many of us work outside the academy? Which departments are dominant or central in our profession?

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Contradictions of graduate education in anthropology

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about socialization of graduate students in anthropology, and on Friday just had a very exciting session at the AAA Annual Meetings, which I titled Trauma, tactics and transformation. I won’t repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere about the ethical need to analyze our own profession and reckon with our own moral contradictions. But I do want to report on some of the major issues I left thinking about:

  • At an abstract level, how should socialization of graduate students look as a process? Should it be auto-socialization, self-socialization, where we mostly do the work of socializing ourselves into the professional world? Or should it be faculty-directed, top-down, a process of being led into the promised land of scholarly pleasure? Or should it be group-organized, a process in which students socialize each other and form a kind of social collective that learns from and teaches itself? Of course it is all of these, but I think that often our dissatisfactions have to do with the proportions between them. Each has its disadvantages: loneliness, authoritarianism, peer pressure.
  • Thinking about graduate education is a form of reflexivity, but reflexivity has its disadvantages: it can waste time that could be better spent elsewhere; it can be a means through which we end up resigning ourselves to the present; it can even become a weapon turned against our colleagues. Still, the first question in the panel, and one that I like very much, is: what are the costs of not being reflexive? As Anneeth Hundle pointed out, these can be very concrete: the perpetuation of bad racial dynamics in a department, for instance. And it seems to me that the ethics of the status quo are inherently bad ethics, because they seem to presuppose that the actual world is as good as it can ever get.
  • But the thing about reflexivity is that you have to be reflexive even about your reflexive moments: a potentially infinite regress. And one of the new questions that comes to my mind is: what kind of recognition and reward are we looking for in questioning graduate education? Do we expect to be pleased through the validation of our peers? The panel wasn’t perfect, in those respects; everyone surely had to walk away without feeling like their concerns were fully answered.
  • Dominic Boyer argued (gently) against me that reform is impossible, and that thus we should settle for therapy. My first thought here is that even doing therapy is already a kind of reform, and that he’s understating his own accomplishments in teaching theory reflexively. (Though the crucial question might be: does he believe in therapy that cures? Or just in therapy that helps us cope with what we can’t change?) My second thought is that I don’t really care if we call it “therapy” or “reform” as long as the underlying ethical and psychological issues are being addressed. But my last thought is that I wonder if it’s worthwhile for us as graduate students to try to reform the current system at this exact moment. What if we ask instead: how will we do things differently when we are in a position of institutional power, when we have our own students; how does graduate education look when we dream of ourselves as the professors? The status quo has so much inertia that I think we need to look for hope partly in the future rather than in the immediate present.
  • Finally, a major issue, raised by Anneeth Hundle but not finished, is: how are we silenced by academic institutions? And how are these silences structured and distributed? It’s a question with no immediate answer.