Militarizing the Everyday

With the police violence inherent in our current society being publicly unveiled and protested, in addition to the increasing coverage of the US-Mexico border policing and the overall reaction to uprising across the country, it is becoming apparent that we live in a highly militarized society.  Nola Kline for Anthropology News identifies and supports the role that anthropologists can play in attempting to reduce this militarized society in her article “Militarizing Life.”  Perhaps the most interesting of her strategies was the call for anthropologists to address “reframing events such as those impacting communities in Ferguson and Atlanta as a part of life affecting everyone.”  While it is often easy to view these events as tragedies, but distant tragedies, anthropologists and reporting personnel alike need to push the fact that these events affect everyone regardless of geographic location.  The militarization of our society in one area is not simply that; it is a reflection of the fact that we allow the militarization of police to continue as a nation.  Anthropologists, those who are perhaps best suited to observe this phenomenon, can look to use their skills for change as Kline observes.  As a greater and more complete awareness of this militarization occurs, only then will policies begin to shift for the better.

Avoiding Speech in a Vaccuum

The way in which a course is constructed can have everything to do with the success of the course, and it’s consequential effect.  Barbara Jones of the Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges describes in her article titled “Innovative Teaching Practices Maybe Worth Trying” how she herself as an anthropologist has applied her own knowledge to the construction of the classes she teaches.  One of the strategies she uses is the collaboration between writing/speech classes and her own anthropology classes, which helps students to be more engaged in the overall work that they are doing, and to benefit from the interdisciplinary teaching they receive.  A traditional course structure might see speech/writing classes as separate entirely from other subject classes like anthropology, and likewise students in each respective are are more likely to feel the absence of the other subjects.  Speech and writing classes often benefit greatly from exterior connection with other classes, and those other classes also constantly look to improve speech and writing within their respective student bodies.  Avoiding “speech in a vacuum” as a conscious decision can make all the difference; students feel less hindered by being graded strictly on reading comprehension and writing, and speech connects all the better with a subject.  With all this in mind, the inclusion of the oral exam within our class makes total sense, and the constant presence of dialogue in class as well.  The next step might be to even reach out towards a writing 101 class and allow them to play off the content addressed in Anthro 101.

Class and Natural Disaster


In 2011, Vermont and many other areas in New England were hit by Hurricane Irene.  Roads disappeared, houses and bridges were swept away, and entire communities were cut off from the rest of the world.  Although this natural disaster affected many people in the area, I would like to focus on two specific aspects of the whole event: the way in which lower class housing was damaged, and the way that people in the lower/middle class immediately looked to help out after the floods.  The trailer park in town was severely damaged because it had been placed in the flood-plane and was poorly constructed, while most of the upper-class housing was either elevated enough to avoid damage or was constructed with materials that could withstand the water.  After the damage was done, however, those who lived in these affected areas immediately came to the aid of their neighbors: taking quads through the woods to deliver supplies to isolated houses, shoveling out homes and cars, sheltering others without a moments hesitation.  Looking at the recent disaster in Nepal, and previous large-scale disasters such as the earthquake that affected Haiti not long ago, it seems as if there is a direct correlation between class and the way that people are both affected by these disasters and are willing to help.  Commenting on the events in Nepal, Carole McGranahan of Savage Minds observed that “his was a very class-conscious earthquake, in town & country it targeted underprivileged households with mud-mortar construction.”  She went on to say, however, that “in Nepal as in Haiti, we are witnessing duty and community in numerous acts of citizens responding to the devastation. Rescuing, caring for, organizing, making new commitments to each other, and in turn new demands on the state.”  The fact that some of the people who have lost the most are the ones to help the most says a lot about the ways in which class establishes views towards community, and understanding this level of generosity and selflessness is essential towards building better communities on a global scale.

Creativity Molded by Environment

“Creativity isn’t a divine gesture. It’s a messy, often highly political social process,” reads an especially provocative line from John McCreery’s article in Popular Anthropology, which is titled “Creativity, what is it?” Indeed, that seems to a question quite frequently asked across the arts (and all fields of study for that matter, and as McCreery points out: the answer may relate much more to the social setting of the creator and their experience with the medium. Often, especially relating to science, creativity is thought to be the application of “new combinations of materials from diverse sources,” with an original product in mind. McCreery argues in part that aspects such as the individual’s social setting can play a highly influential role in the creative process, and that often times creativity is centered around one’s ability to react to a specific set of guidelines. In this way, anthropology can begin to be used to look at the creative processes of individuals, as the groups they are in and lives they live can often prompt creative thinking through limitation or inspiration. If a client needs X, Y, and Z in a product, and on top of that you are limited in your resources and must manage your personal time as well, your creativity will be tested in ways that otherwise would not be seen. Perhaps your client needs a very specific product, or you are working in a group that doesn’t cooperate, or your cultural surroundings hinder your creativity; all of this can be fuel with which to spark a creative energy that is in fact even more powerful.

Reading to Write

In response to an extremely interesting article on reading and writing, I too am now a supporter of having a  literary background when it comes to anthropology. While this may seem a simple concept, as ethnographic writing is a primary component of most anthropology, an article in Savage Minds by Carole McGranahan entitled “Read More, Write Less” introduces several ideas that may change the way one looks at writing with respects to anthropology and life in general. As McGranahan states, “you can only write as well as what you read.” While reading ethnographic studies is ultimately crucial to your understanding of their format and style, reading a broader range of materials can be possibly even more beneficial. Not only should you critically read a variety of studies in your field, but you should also read classic literature and even poetry, in order to better your own ethnographic style. Reading fiction teaches “how to tell a story with conflict, drama, and suspense,” while poetry teaches how “to understand silences and pauses” and most importantly to “liberate ourselves from chunky paragraphs.” Drawing from all corners of the literary world, an anthropologist is able to create ethnographic writing that tells an effective story, reads in a compelling manner with unique and detailed characters, but still contains the same structured and hopefully unbiased study that is essential to the writing.

Graffiti: A Democratic Medium and Gateway to Social Change


Dating “back as far as ancient Rome and Pompeii,” graffiti is a cultural practice that, while often regarded as contemporary, has existed throughout most of human civilization. Like art, graffiti is a means of visual expression, and through it people are able to convey messages and emotion. What sets it apart from traditional mediums is it’s usual anonymity, and it’s general use of public spaces in more urban areas.  Ricardo Campos, a visual anthropologist and writer for Popular Anthropology, details in his article “Struggles on the walls: Political graffiti in Portugal” that graffiti is a medium for great change.  As he points out, “graffiti marked onto public spaces can be particularly powerful because it has the potential to reach immense audiences.” This power, combined with the anonymity of the artist, allows messages to be conveyed to the public that might otherwise be censored or checked by society or the artist. What’s more, ordinary citizens of any class can make graffiti. In Portugal, as Campos describes, graffiti has given the people a “new willingness to engage in political communication,” and I believe this goes for most anywhere where graffiti is displayed. It is a medium of the general populous, and it is a reflection of the culture behind traditional advertisement and funded propaganda. Anthropology, and more specifically visual anthropology, can definitely learn a lot from graffiti itself and its artists, as it is an art form that, as said before, rests at the very heart of regional culture and is created solely by the people.