There have been many posts in response to Gov. Rick Scott’s comments about anthropology in the last few weeks. If you have somehow missed this news item, then please peruse the many blog posts and news items on the subject. The most comprehensive coverage can be found at Neuroanthropology.
- Florida Governor: Anthropology Not Needed Here
– Neuroanthropology (Oct. 11, 2011)
- Is Governor Scott asking for an anthropologist exodus in Florida
– American Anthropological Association (Oct. 11, 2011)
- Florida: Anthropologists not wanted
– John Hawks (Oct. 11, 2011)
- Priceless! Florida Gov Scott’s Daughter Is Anthropology Major!
– Neuroanthropology (Oct. 12, 2011)
- Governor of Florida: We don’t need no anthropologists
– Savage Minds (Oct. 12, 2011)
- Dear Rick Scott
– Cyber Anthro (Oct. 12, 2011)
- “This is anthropology”: Students enlighten “We don’t need anthropology”- Govenor
– antropologi (Oct. 13, 2011)
- Petition to Meet with Governor Scott
– American Anthropological Association (Oct. 14, 2011)
- Florida Governor Scott says we don’t need anthropologists
– The Cranky Linguist (Oct. 18, 2011)
- Don’t Know Much About History, Don’t Know Much Anthropology…
– What Makes Us Human (Oct 19, 2011)
- Don’t Be a Rick: Anthropology and Liberal Arts in the Republican Gunsights
– A Hot Cup of Joe (Oct. 19, 2011)
- In America education should produce citizens, not workers
– Savage Minds (Oct. 20, 2011)
- Why Florida Gov. Rick Scott Was Right To Slam Studying Anthropology
– Janice Harper for Business Insider (Oct. 21, 2011)
Perhaps the best response was the Prezi created by students at the University of South Florida, which simply listed what Florida anthropologists were up to, particularly emphasizing STEM research.
For my part, it is a little late to be writing a grand response; many others have responded quite eloquently and in a far more timely manner.
Yet, the discussion has been quite interesting to me. It has drudged up some old wounds and old accusations from within the field about “navel gazing,” our failures at public relations and, of course, whether anthropology is a science or not. I don’t have trouble reconciling the varied, diverse and often contradictory representations of the discipline. I have a hunch that this is rooted in my youth (and of course the voices of my faculty mentors).
My anthropological education began just ten years ago. So, by the time I took my first anthropology class in college, many of the great “navel gazers” had already come, produced revolutionary work, and passed on into retirement or death. Michele Foucault passed a year after I was born. Edward Said published Orientalism five years before I was born. Geertz’s Deep Play was published when my mother was nine years old. This isn’t to say that I think that all of the revolutionary work is behind us or that no great works have occurred in the last decade. I mean to argue that the wounds sustains during heated and prolonged battles over one’s core knowledge leaves scars that make it difficult to see any discussion without the influence of their bias.
The generation of anthropologists of which I am a part did not live through these discussions. We hear them through anthropological literature and in the discussions and arguments of our professors and elder colleagues. So, we developed our knowledges and our perspectives as anthropologists with the ideas of fluidity, constant change, and reflexivity at our cores.
This is much like how the impact of growing up with the Internet shaped my skills and perspectives. I organize information by keyword searching and filtering meta data instead of filing information into static folders because my systems of organization were were developed along side the rise of Google rather than filing cabinets and word processors. My beliefs on privacy were cultivated through the mediums of LiveJournal and Facebook.
What drew me to anthropology were my nerdy childhood hobbies and interests. Yet, it is the messy concoction of anthropology that holds me in. I find myself at home in anthropology because of its unique ability to smoothly slip between many ways of knowing. To at once see contradiction and harmony in social behavior without fracturing is, in my opinion, the most valuable asset that anthropologists have. And, I believe that this asset is only attainable through the union of the seemingly independent ways of knowing and our propensity for “navel gazing” as well as constant continued discussion and debate of the workings of these traits.
Yet, when anthropologists are brought to the forefront of public discourse, we appear fractured, unstable and esoteric. When a big news story on anthropology hits the public, there is usually a rush of non-anthropologist family and friends to my doorstep asking for my opinion. In recent years, three of the four major stories resulted in this audience wanting to know what “side” I was on:
- The 2004 Discovery of Homo floresiensis resulted in an “oh, isn’t that interesting” discussion;
- The 2009 AAA Meeting kerfuffle over Darkness in El Dorado resulted in questions of allegiance (Chagnon or Tierney);
- The 2010 #AAAFail over the AAA Long Range Plan resulted in questions of allegiance (science or humanities); and
- The 2011 response to Rick Scott’s Anti-Anthropology campaign has resulted in questions of allegiance (jobs or no jobs).
During these big moments, I would love for the internal debates to take a back seat to representing our discipline in a way that embraces our diversity and presents the public with the realities of anthropology. I would love for our loudest public voices to directly answer the concerns of the public rather than confusing the context of public discourse by infusing it with our internal complexities. This is why I find the University of South Florida Prezi to be the best response to the Rick Scott affair. It straight forwardly addresses the claims that (1) anthropologists can’t get jobs, (2) anthropologists do not contribute to the economy, and (3) anthropology is not applicable to STEM research. When discussions on the value of sciences and humanities, the ethics of anthropological engagement, the usefulness of critique, and so on are introduced, the focus of the public story shifts and the complexities of the discipline are simplified and dramatized resulting in a representation of anthropology that does not reflect the lived experience of being an anthropologist.
Deep and complex discussion of these topics are vital to the awesome power of anthropological insight. However, I am befuddled by a discipline that has such insight into the complexities of social behavior yet fails to use that knowledge to manage its identity in the many contexts in which it is discussed. Perhaps the generation of anthropologists that were born in the eighties and have gained so much from the work of our predecessors will be able to synthesize that taken for granted knowledge with a new vision for public engagement.