Social Sciences

  • Adventures in Blogging: Bringing Anthropology to the World

    For World Anthropology Day, we asked Paul Stoller to share his thoughts on the urgent need for a more public anthropology, as well as his ideas about blogging as one particular way to reach that public. Paul’s forthcoming book, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, will be available in April. Read an advance excerpt here

    We live in troubled times. In North America there is a wholesale assault on science, which, following longstanding practices, produces “inconvenient truths.” These truths stand in stark contrast to “alternative facts,” a patchwork of “big lies” that create a tapestry of untruth on media and social media. Taken together, these untruths have created an alternative universe of meaning. In this alternative universe, up is down, fiction becomes fact, and the truth, the ultimate objective of science, no longer matters. We are fast entering a seemingly limitless Orwellian space in which conspiracy theories are used in the blunt exercise of power that trumps the quest for truth and wisdom—the foundation of scholarship in the world.

    You can’t fight big lies with small truths.

    In this distressed environment, it is time for scholars, guardians of inconvenient truths, to meet their fundamental obligation: to produce knowledge that makes life a little bit better for us all. Although the pursuit of wisdom has long been the central obligation of scholars, we now live in a different climate than in years past. Most anthropological insights, for example, have been conveyed by way of scholarly essays and/or monographs. These texts have usually adhered to a strict set of rules. In science you are expected to present your findings and analysis in the bloodless prose of plain style. In so doing, we have let the power of our findings and our analyses—the facts, if you will—speak for themselves in an abstract and inaccessible language. For some time now, the persistent presence of deadly academic prose has meant that the public has little, if any, knowledge of our rigorously derived insights—insights that are important in the contemporary battle for truth.

    How many people, for example, know about important anthropological insights regarding climate change, racism, the re-emergence of Social Darwinism, the nature of religion and belief systems, the linguistics and cognitive science of propaganda, or the courage and resilience of peoples from what the American President has referred to as “shithole” countries?

    Not many!

    It’s true that anthropologists are waking up to the political and epistemological realities of a socially mediated world. An ever-increasing number of anthropologists now convey their slowly developed insights in documentary film, in drama, in poetry, in museums, and in media installations—all accessible ways to spread anthropological insights about a wide range of issues of social, economic, and political importance.

    I am one of many anthropologists who have felt the need to go public. In 2010, I realized that very few people had read what I had laboriously written in a narrative style designed for a broad audience. Despite my best efforts I understood that fewer and fewer people had the inclination to read anthropological works, including, of course, my own books and articles. I didn’t think it wise to abandon my professional writing, but felt compelled to blog anthropology by transforming complex ideas into simply stated and crisply written posts of 750 to 850 words.

    Could I do it?

    At first it was difficult to simplify tried and true academic prose, but after some false starts I found my blog rhythm and moved forward.

    I pitched an idea to HuffPost.

    They signed me up.

    I’ve been blogging anthropology ever since. In eight years of HuffPost blogging, some of my posts have spread far and wide in the blogosphere where readers liked, favorited, shared, and re-tweeted them. In some cases, 50,000 to 75,000 people would read my posts, meaning that the blogs had informed them of anthropological insights about US politics, the practice of social science, trends toward corporatization in higher education, critiques of shallow media representations, and narratives about the texture of human wellbeing.

    These days there are increasing numbers of scholars who are blogging anthropology. Most of them write skillfully about more or less anthropological subjects—especially emerging topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. In my blogs, by contrast, I have tried to bring anthropological insights to newsworthy events—the Presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, the dysfunction of the US Congress, the anti-intellectual war on science and social science, climate change, superstorms, and social dislocation. In the blogs, I make sure to highlight examples of apt anthropological concepts and demonstrate the wisdom non-western knowledge.

    I wrote Adventures in Blogging to show—rather than tell—anthropologists how they can use the medium as a powerful tool for mass education, a platform that connects disparate audiences. In this way, the book underscores how blogging anthropology increases cross-cultural understanding in a globally inter-connected world.

    Blogging anthropology is a different way of sharing anthropological knowledge.

    In today’s world, it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He has published 14 books, including ethnographies, biographies, memoirs, and novels, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. In 2013, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented him the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology. In 2015, the American Anthropological Association awarded him the Anthropology in Media Award. He lectures and conducts writing workshops in the United States and Europe.

    This piece is cross-posted on our Teaching Culture blog.

  • Crisis Communication in Canada

    To mark the publication this fall of Crisis Communication in Canada, author Duncan Koerber reflects on how crisis management and communication have changed in the digital age. He also comments on the importance for Canadian students of having Canadian content that they can relate to when studying crises in the media. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, his commentary on the Jian Ghomeshi case is especially relevant.

    For Instructors: To request an exam copy of Crisis Communication in Canada for an upcoming course, send us an email at requests@utphighereducation.com.

    When I was in the middle of writing my new book, Crisis Communication in Canada, a major public crisis hit a famous radio host. Being one of the first major social media crises in Canadian history, it was the perfect case study for the book. The person in crisis was CBC radio host, author, and celebrity Jian Ghomeshi.

    I followed the case from the first news to Ghomeshi’s infamous Facebook post to the post-mortem accounts of Ghomeshi’s trial, in which he was found not guilty of sexual assault. Ghomeshi’s case was interesting because while he was eventually acquitted, it represented the downfall of a favourite son who failed in his crisis communication—an excellent lesson for students.

    When I started teaching crisis communication in 2011, I could find only a handful of scholarly cases with a Canadian angle. What issues were uniquely Canadian in this field? I wasn’t sure. This meant my students were reading about Tiger Woods’ domestic assault, the Chicago Tylenol case, and the faux pas of southern US politician Strom Thurmond. But in every class, students brought in uniquely Canadian cases for discussion and debate. Crisis Communication in Canada brings together and emphasizes the study of these Canadian cases to help students work through what went right and wrong, with an eye on our own Canadian issues.

    The Ghomeshi case also speaks to an important thread in my book about social media, which is a growing topic of analysis in the field. After years of studying crisis communication, I argue in the book that the social media crisis could be the defining type of our time. I show how these crises develop and how to use social media in prevention and response.

    That’s why the early chapters focus first on just what a crisis is—if a student doesn’t know what a crisis is, he or she can’t prevent or respond to it, after all. In the past, crises tended to be defined as large events that disrupted corporations (product failures, oil spills, employee violence) or damaged cities (hurricanes, earthquakes, emergencies). Now, in addition to these crises, we seem to have an abundance of new crises rooted in words posted online. That is, many people, famous or not, write the wrong things on Twitter, and they lose their livelihoods or even face violent retribution. But who decides what is wrong? Mediated communities with certain values. Crisis Communication in Canada provides students with the theoretical background to think more broadly about crises occurring in our Digital Age.

    The book also critiques common crisis communication tactics. Jian Ghomeshi tried to use digital communication—a Facebook post right at the start of his crisis—to explain his side of the story. He said the anonymous woman who charged him with sexual assault was a jilted ex-lover. But his public post, shared by thousands, opened up the possibility of counter-narratives through Facebook and Twitter and blogs.

    People immediately countered Ghomeshi’s story, and this made the crisis far worse for him. Getting ahead of the narrative, as the Ghomeshi case showed, doesn’t always work in this hyper-mediated world where other voices can provide a strong counterpoint. This kind of analysis in Crisis Communication in Canada helps students question common wisdom—such as “one should always get ahead of the narrative”—and build new crisis communication theory in the process.

    Duncan Koerber has taught media studies, communication theory, and writing at a number of universities in the Toronto area. His articles on media and journalism history, writing studies, and crisis communication have appeared in a number of journals including the Canadian Journal of Communication, Public Relations Review, the Journal of Canadian Studies, Journalism History, and the Canadian Journal of Media Studies.

  • Language, Capitalism, Colonialism: Toward a Critical History

    As this year’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association begins, we would like to recognize the publication of an important new anthropology text, published by our Higher Education Division. Language, Capitalism, Colonialism: Toward a Critical History by Monica Heller and Bonnie McElhinny is an original introduction to linguistic anthropology that is situated in the political and economic contexts of colonialism and capitalism. To mark the publication of the book, the authors provide some background on how the project was initially conceived, how the book is structured, and how they hope to offer up new ways of thinking about language. If you’re currently attending the AAA annual meeting (#AmAnth17) in Washington, DC, pick up your copy at UTP’s book display. Or, order your copy online!

    This book began perhaps a bit oddly. Anne Brackenbury, Executive Editor at University of Toronto Press, approached Monica with the idea that perhaps it was time for a new textbook in linguistic anthropology. She approached Bonnie with the idea of doing an accompanying reader. Both of us (Bonnie and Monica) agreed that it was time for a reboot, but neither was enthusiastic about the format. Our feeling about the field certainly was that the existing canon wasn’t allowing us to readily talk about the things we wanted to talk about. These were things like how language is bound up in the making of social difference and social inequality, but in different ways under different circumstances. Things like how and why (and when) it acts as a terrain for crucial political struggles. Things like why thinking about language in different ways matters—and what, precisely, have been the consequences of thinking about language the way we have: as an autonomous system, as a cognitive faculty, as one property of social groups.

    And of course these are not just the ideas specialists have. One thing about working on language is that you find out quickly that everyone has an opinion, usually fervently clung to as irrefutable fact. They can’t be refuted on the basis of empirical data. They include such beliefs as: some languages are harder to learn than others; the language you speak shapes the thoughts you can have; some languages just sound beautiful, or ugly; there is a difference between real languages and dialects, patois, jargon, and slang, and the latter don’t really count for anything. Many of these ideas are deeply consequential for speakers whose competence and worth are judged on the basis of them, and which shape the language policies on which we spend lots of money. Indigenous and minority languages get repressed; speakers of creoles get judged as incompetent speakers of metropolitan, imperial standards; working class and racialized minority students are placed in special education classes on the basis of how they speak.

    So we wanted a way to speak both to what has counted as knowledge about (and of) language in academic disciplines, but also in social institutions and in everyday life, since all of that matters, and matters deeply. But we had no counter-canon to propose, nor, frankly, did we want to produce one. That would have been exactly counter to our concerns. How could we worry about what has been and is now at stake in thinking about language in these specific ways and then turn around and impose one of our own?

    Nonetheless, Anne had started something, something that made us attentive not only to issues specifically connected to “language” but also to the role of language in broader struggles over what counts as knowledge and who gets to decide. These include movements that are in the news today and which are part of our personal and professional lives—Indigenous and Black decolonization and anti-racism movements, environmentalist struggles around climate change, exposures of endemic sexual harassment, minority nationalisms (think Catalonia, Quebec, Scotland), the rise of the alt-right... And as these struggles gain prominence, so does the backlash. What does linguistic anthropology have to say about this?

    So we did a kind of bait-and-switch: ok Anne, we’ll propose a book, but a different one. The book we proposed suggests we take a step back. We take the position that linguistic anthropology can be most helpful if it understands the conditions that make language matter, and matter in specific ways. Those conditions are political, economic, and social; in particular, they concern the intertwining of capitalism and colonialism. Ideas about, and practices of, language facilitate the relations of power that they involve, and the making of social difference that legitimize them.

    For us, these conditions revolve centrally around the intertwining of capitalism and colonialism as the major processes driving the linkage between symbolic and material domination and relations of difference and inequality. Having been trained in the rather presentist approach of North American linguistic anthropology, we had already been attending for some time to the importance of history; the approach we wanted to take here required a deep dive. Building largely on secondary sources, with some forays into archival and ethnographic work, we structured the book in a loosely chronological manner around three moments: mercantile, industrial, and contemporary “late” or neoliberal capitalism.

    Each moment has a pair of chapters devoted first to the dominant approaches to language found there, and then to responses to those dominant discourses. We look first at how missionaries co-constructed the languages of colonizer and colonized in efforts to use Christian conversion to extend and strengthen the hard power of the imperial state. We then examine how these efforts were taken over by secular colonial administrators who borrowed biblical images of genealogy and descent to construct language “families” in complex processes of rendering colonizer and colonized both intimate and distant. These efforts were reinforced by the application of theories of evolution to linguistic difference, racializing language in the construction of “civilizational” hierarchies. They were also resisted, notably by dialectologists and creolists attentive to the difficulty of drawing neat boundaries, and by Americanist anthropologists led by Franz Boas who in arguing for the systematicity and significance of all cultures and languages, nonetheless re-inscribed hierarchical differences among the languages of Indigenous groups, descendants of slaves, and settlers in North American society (he understood the first to be on the verge of disappearance and requiring salvage in the form of material traces; he understood the second as needing access to assimilation).

    The second set of chapters examines the work done in the making of the modernist, bounded, uniformized, and standardized industrial capitalist and liberal democratic nation-state, and three distinct responses to the inequalities that process created: internationalist movements constructed around international auxiliary languages like Esperanto; fascism, with its extreme version of evolutionary ideas about race and language and its attention to the importance of propaganda in the construction of fascist structures of feeling (what did it mean to act appropriately “fanatical”, say?); and communism, which struggled to make a Marxist idea of language in contradistinction to bourgeois European philology, but ended up converging with the west in Cold War turns to nation-states as centres of empire, and technology as the main technique of competition.

    The third pair of chapters takes up the Cold War and the focus on technique, skill, technology, and the repression of overtly political forms of political engagement among linguists and anthropologists, with a focus on the United States; and then on the ways in which the Cold War soft power front of international development served as a foundation for the institutionalization of what we now call “sociolinguistics.” This part of the book also examines how the emancipatory movements of the 1960s led to critiques of mainstream sociolinguistics as masculine, white, and neo-colonial.

    We end with an examination of neoliberalism and late capitalism, with a focus both on the role of language in work on the globalized new economy, and resistance to the forms of inequality we experience now. These include radical rethinking of the idea of language as uniquely human, and other attempts to reverse the extraction of language from social process we argue operated from the end of the nineteenth through to the beginning of the twenty-first centuries. They include questions like how we might recognize “consent” or “redress” and what a “refusal” or an “apology” or “reclamation” might look like.

    Throughout, we attend to how hegemony happens, that is, how and why certain ideas about language help advance ideologies that legitimate specific political economic arrangements, and which themselves become hegemonic. Who is deemed worthy to speak, and how? We have tried therefore to also be attentive to the silenced and the marginalized, as well as to the more explicit struggles that have emerged from time to time (and for empirically discoverable reasons).

    Our hope (because that too is a thread throughout the book) is that this book will offer not a new canon, but a new way of thinking about language, one that opens up new questions to be asked, and new ways of asking them.

    Monica Heller is Professor of Anthropology and Education at the University of Toronto, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and a past president of the American Anthropological Association.

    Bonnie McElhinny is Principal of New College, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto, and former Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

  • The Haves and the Have-Nots: The United States vs. Canada

    Why is the gap between the rich and the poor greater in the United States than it is in Canada? What can be achieved by considering the differences? What is truly at stake with income inequality? Author John Harles considers these questions in the newly-published Seeking Equality: The Political Economy of the Common Good in the United States and Canada. Below, he summarizes his goals for the book and offers some great inspiration for why this kind of comparative study is necessary.  

    That a book will find a wide and enthusiastic audience may be every author’s conceit. But I’m tempted to think Seeking Equality: The Political Economy of the Common Good in the United States and Canada has a chance. The timeliness of the topic is the first thing to recommend it. Among rich democratic countries, over the last forty years or so a rapidly growing gap between the haves and the have-nots has pushed economic inequality toward the top of the public agenda. The Occupy Movement, with its rallying cry that “we are the 99%,” was an initial and conspicuous expression of this concern, but it’s far from the only one. From Pope Francis to Barack Obama to Christine Lagarde, global opinion leaders have identified inequality as one of the defining challenges of our time. Social scientists supply the confirmatory evidence—most famously Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose book on the rise of the super-rich, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, was the surprise bestseller of 2013. Yet such testimony aside, the issue of economic inequality resonates because it touches concretely on the ability of ordinary people to live fulfilling lives. And insofar as material disparities typically translate into differences of political power, the prospects for a democratic and just political order are in play as well.

    As an American political scientist, I’m particularly interested in the implications of inequality for the United States. Seeking Equality takes an explicitly comparative approach to that concern. In comparative terms the irony of US political economy comes into sharper resolution: a country that prides itself on the promise of equal opportunity and well-being—indeed, which has a name for it, the “American Dream”—but which has a more unequal distribution of income and wealth than any of its rich democratic peers as well as one of the lowest rates of upward economic mobility. And it’s by comparing the American experience of inequality to other advanced industrial countries that one realizes there are alternative models of political economy on offer, that the US distributional status quo isn’t destiny.

    Given the many political similarities between neighbors who share a border and most of a continent, in this relative weighing up Canada is America’s natural foil. According to, say, Nordic European benchmarks Canada may not be a paragon of egalitarian virtue, yet by every standard measure of distributive equality—income, wealth, middle class well-being, the poverty rate, and especially upward mobility—Canada does much better than the United States. Why has Canada has been able to achieve what the United States has not? As Seeking Equality relates, the answer has cultural, institutional, and policy-specific dimensions. But a common denominator is that Canadians are more open than Americans to the ideal of material equality and to an activist state whose interventions aspire to produce it. So, for those Americans who think a little more equality would be a good idea, Canada offers important civic lessons—not least about the convictions that underwrite a more satisfying and equitable economic future.

    Seeking Equality details the key differences in economic distribution and mobility between Canada and the United States and carefully considers the discrete values that drive them. In that respect, students of North American political economy may find it a rich and useful empirical resource. (And since no specialized knowledge of economic statistics is required, an accessible one too.) But to leave things there would have been unsatisfying. The reason why economic inequality is a focus of such intense public discussion is because conditions of human dignity are at issue, including the self-respect that comes from having sufficient resources to pursue a meaningful life of one’s own choosing. When the stakes are this high, political inquiry necessarily turns to the requirements of a good life as well as the proper functioning of the state whose mandate is to secure it. At the heart of any thorough consideration of economic inequality, then, must be a defense of the value of equality itself.

    In the last third of the book I try to make this normative case for equality, arguing that a more productive, healthy, cohesive, democratic, and just society requires liberal-democratic polities to move in an egalitarian direction—and why economic markets are no substitute for a purposeful government to that end. In the conclusion I sketch a way forward for the United States, specifying the kinds of measures conducive to a widely shared prosperity, and using Canada as a template for what might be achieved. My intention is to make Seeking Equality a book with which readers must wrestle, one whose central claims demand a response—the kind of book that over thirty years of university teaching persuades me students like to read.

    Ultimately, compelling work in politics and economics must be able to pass the “so what?” test: How are what we study, the things we discover, and the conclusions we draw relevant to the average citizen? How do they bear on the substance of the life we share? Or again, with respect to more immediate concerns, why is a yawning chasm between the very rich and the rest cause for civic anxiety... and what can be done about it? At the end of this book, I hope readers will know.

    John Harles is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Messiah College.

  • In Memory of Christopher Dunn

    University of Toronto Press was sad to learn this morning about Christopher Dunn’s passing after a long battle with illness. Dr. Dunn published two books with UTP, and worked with many of us previously at Broadview Press.

    In 2014, Dr. Dunn co-edited Deputy Ministers in Canada: Comparative and Jurisdicational Perspectives with Jacques Bourgault. His provincial politics textbook, Provinces: Canadian Provincial Politics, was published in its third edition in 2015, and has established itself as the definitive textbook in the field. In developing the book over three editions, Dr. Dunn was recognized for his careful balancing of established and emerging scholars among the contributors, helping to develop this field of study with generosity and leadership.

    Michael Harrison was Dr. Dunn’s longtime editor and had this to say: “Very sad, and unexpected news about Chris Dunn—I very much enjoyed working with Chris on a variety of his projects going back to books he published with McClelland & Stewart in the 1980s. Throughout we had many thoughtful conversations about books, politics, Newfoundland, and much more.”

    UTP offers its condolences to Dr. Dunn’s family, friends, colleagues, and students.

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