Consumption Junction: Information Dissemination

by Lana Lynne on 12.18.2010

Guernica Magazine published an interesting piece, "Public Disinterest" by David Morris, on the history of the United States Postal Service, situating it as a public commons through its role as a public institution and a means of mass communication. Through various Congressional rulings, ranging from postage rate decrees (newspapers paid less for news and more for advertising circulars) to structural changes, its role as a commons has been eliminated. The dissemination of information is no longer prioritized, as evidenced by the favoring of large media corporations over nonprofit periodicals.

From the post office, Morris moves to radio, reminding us that airwaves were once also treated as a commons, responsible to the public instead of big corporations. In 1927, the U.S. government passed the Radio Act, which granted the right to own stations, but not frequencies, providing that the station was operated as if owned by the public; that is, the station had to operate in the public's best interest. In 1930, the government defined the fairness doctrine:

In 1930, the FRC made clear the meaning of public interest by denying a license renewal to a Los Angeles station used primarily to broadcast sermons that attacked Jews, Roman Catholic church officials, and law enforcement agencies. In 1949, the FCC again defined what it meant by the public interest when it introduced what later became known as the fairness doctrine. Broadcasters had to devote “a reasonable percentage of time to coverage of public issues; and [the] coverage of these issues must be fair in the sense that it provides an opportunity for the presentation of contrasting points of view.”
The fairness doctrine was later dropped in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan. That move changed radio and politics dramatically, most clearly with radio talk shows like Rush Limbaugh's. As Morris concludes:

Fifteen years later, talk radio has changed the nature of political discourse. Some persuasively argue it has changed our very culture. Media Scholar Henry Giroux describes a “culture of cruelty” increasingly marked by racism, hostility, and disdain for others, coupled with a simmering threat toward any political figure who comes into the crosshairs of what many now call hate radio.

Seventy-five years after the Federal Radio Commission declared there was no room on the public airwaves for “propaganda stations” and denied a license renewal to a station that attacked Jews and law enforcement agencies, the airwaves are filled with both propaganda and venom. Today the airwaves, stripped of commons rules, feed hatred.

Read the full article at
I couldn't help but relate Morris' article -- in a very tangential way -- to another mass media shift: the role of newspapers in the digital age. Specifically, a piece from the Delaware County Daily Times about steps their parent company, Journal Register, owner of 127 newspapers, is taking to stay afloat. According to the Daily Times, a sister paper in Connecticut has relocated to a "community focused newsroom," which will place "the audience as the center of the newsgathering process." The following will be features of the new incarnation:
Community Media Lab: Featuring five dedicated workstations for community bloggers and contributors, the Lab is located adjacent to the staff’s news meeting conference space. The Register Citizen Community Media Lab provides workspace for all community contributors interested in adding their blog and their voice to the community dialogue. Community Media Lab participants will receive training and have their work featured on Community Meeting Room: Home to The Register Citizen Community Journalism School, this space features large screen monitors for video conferencing, this classroom environment will be used for Community Media Lab training on topics ranging from blogging to visual storytelling. This space will also be made available to community groups for meetings. Newsroom CafĂ©: With free WIFI and Green Mountain Coffee and muffins and pastries for sale, this gathering space provides a welcoming environment to those visiting the newsroom. Open Archives: More than 120 years of stories, photographs and newspapers will be made available to the public.

A twenty-first century commons with a consumerist-corporate twist?

Views from the ANThill: The Anthro as Science Redux

I mentioned, in my last Views from the ANThill post, my attendance at the American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meetings, and offered a perspective on changes made to the AAA long-range plan mission statement, specifically about the removal of the word "science". At the time, I was unaware that this removal of the word "science" would spark a firestorm on the internet, and I was even more surprised to find that my post was being used to characterize an anti-science, postmodern, "fluff-head" bloc of cultural anthropologists supposedly out to rid the world of science and allow myths and religious beliefs to take their rightful spot in driving human progress. The coverage has continued for over two weeks now.

Daniel Lende over on Neuroanthropology has kept pace with a number of posts updating coverage, and offering critical, constructive, and even humorous follow-ups. Lende's first post,"Anthropology, Science and Public Understanding" remains the most complete list of coverage of the issue and includes a brief commentary, some early summary, and a regularly updated list of links to others. My post first came up in an early article on Inside Higher Ed, and commentary on the issue has since reached CNN, two pieces in the NY Times (first & second), and the Brian Lehrer Show (listen below), where Hugh Gusterson, executive board member of the AAA, and Peter Peregrine, president of the Society for Anthropological Sciences attempt to talk through what has often been described as a split in the discipline.

Listen to Gusterson and Peregrine on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC

I'm not going to recap the events surrounding the issue, as that has been done by Daniel Lende in his post, "Anthropology, Science, and the AAA Long-Range Plan: What Really Happened". This piece also includes a handful of interesting and useful comments by members of the executive board of AAA and others. Interestingly, AAA did release a statement on the issue, and publicized a new statement, "What is Anthropology?" Certainly, much of the debate that has played out on various forums around the internet has focused on a dichotomy that some perceive in anthropology, primarily a scientists -vs- anti-scientists split, an us -vs- them characterization. Another great post by Lende, "Anthropology, Science, and Relativism", tackles this characterization, while also expanding on many of the ideas brought up in my original post.

In the end, I think this "controversy" was probably blown a bit out of proportion. As many people have noted, the number of anthropologists who are anti-science are few and far between. In fact, there haven't been any explicitly anti-science responses from an anthropologist to any of the numerous articles and posts that I read through. In fact, the split between science and anti-science in anthropology doesn't actually seem to exist. What has become evident however, is a certain fear - held by many scientists (anthro and non-anthro alike) - that appears to arise from the idea that science may not be the only valid way of understanding the world around us. It can be argued that this fear has resulted in much of the harsh and aggressive backlash against what has been poorly constructed as an anti-scientific position. As seen in many arenas of public life, engaging with others who are coming from a position of fear is difficult at best, and oftentimes hopeless.

But I won't end on a note of hopelessness. As I mentioned earlier, I don't believe this divide is as great as has been characterized. All of the diverse subfields of anthropology have integral pieces to offer in the understanding of being human. Our picture would not be close to complete without all of these contributions. I offer, again, a portion of my response to comments on my original post on the topic:

I consider myself an applied medical anthropologist, and I utilize a theoretically informed scientific approach to my anthropological research. I also recognize the importance and value of a 4-field approach. My work with indigenous populations has allowed me to witness different ways of approaching and knowing about the world around us, ways that have not arisen out of the Western scientific worldview, yet have also been successful in maintaining human populations.
With this position established, I invite you to return to Views from the ANThill where I will continue to establish and expand on the value of various forms of indigenous knowledge.

"Hunger and Drug Dealing go Together"

I woke this morning to an interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer that details the latest work of University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Philippe Bourgois, who is continuing his trend of conducting fieldwork in dangerous environs. The article, part of a series titled "A Portrait of Hunger", includes lengthy discussion with Bourgois, and interviews with police and community members in the impoverished Kensington section of Philadelphia.
Other works by Bourgois include the research conducted in the 1980s in Harlem among crack dealers and users that led to the book, "In Search of Respect". His latest book, "Righteous Dopefiend", is a result of long term ethnographic work with homeless heroin and crack users in San Francisco, and included a partnership with photographer Jeff Schonberg. The result, according to the publisher, University of California Press:
"Righteous Dopefiend interweaves stunning black-and-white photographs with vivid dialogue, detailed field notes, and critical theoretical analysis. Its gripping narrative develops a cast of characters around the themes of violence, race relations, sexuality, family trauma, embodied suffering, social inequality, and power relations. The result is a dispassionate chronicle of survival, loss, caring, and hope rooted in the addicts’ determination to hang on for one more day and one more “fix” through a “moral economy of sharing” that precariously balances mutual solidarity and interpersonal betrayal."
Borgois' latest work in Kensington, a section of Philadelphia described in the article as "one of the poorest places in America", similarly situates him and some fellow ethnographers among drug dealers and users in a once prosperous working-class neighborhood in one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Notes Borgois: "They are selling drugs in the shadows of closed-down factories that used to employ their parents and grandparents. You'd almost have to be abnormal not to go into the drug trade." The potential dangers of such work became real for him this time in Philadelphia:
"The police thought I was a wiseguy, so they handcuffed me and kicked me like a football. I'm a frail guy, and I got hairline fractures of my ribs." Bourgois spent 18 hours in a cell in the 24th and 25th Police Districts' shared station house. His chest aching, he huddled in a tiny space - "Dante's ninth circle of hell," he calls it - with vomiting heroin addicts and a man bashing his head against the wall, yelling, "I can't take it!"
Still, he and his colleagues continue living in Kensington, documenting the lives of the poor with few options, and attempting to maintain some semblance of hope in the bleak conditions that are all too common in cities across the country.

Read the rest of the article here>>>

Photo of Phillipe Borgois couresy of

A Word from Alejandro Jodorowsky

"On all levels, including what we call "rational," the imagination is open. It is at home everywhere. So it is important to train it to approach reality not just from a one-and-only narrow perspective but from multiple angles. Ordinarily, we envision everything according to the very restricted paradigm of our beliefs, of our conditioning. From such a mysterious, vast, unpredictable reality, we cannot perceive more than what is filtered through our miniscule point of view. The active imagination is key to an expanded vision. It allows us to envision a life according to points of view other than our own, to think and sense things from different perspectives. This is true freedom: to be capable of leaving ourselves, crossing the boundaries of our little world to open up the universe."
From the book, "Psychomagic," from legendary film-maker and artist, Alejandro Jodorosky.

Views from the ANThill: Anthropology as Science

Views from the ANThill
by douglas reeser on November 26, 2010
As Lana mentioned a few posts ago, I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association in New Orleans last week. While I have a number of things to share, I want to start with comments on the new organizational mission statement adopted by the executive board during the meetings. The new plan is a substantial redraft, and perhaps most significantly, removes all mention of the word "science". For those from outside of the discipline, this may seem like an insignificant change, however, for many anthropologists, this comes off as a stunning development. Take for example, the following email, sent out to member of the Society for Anthropological Sciences:
Dear Supporters of Anthropological Science,
I write as President of the Society for Anthropological Sciences (SAS) to inform you of a troubling development that occurred at the Executive Board (EB) meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) this past weekend. The EB adopted a new Long-Range Plan (LRP) that includes a significant changes to the AAA mission statement—it removes all mention of science. The old and new versions of the AAA mission statement are reproduced below. Members of SAS feel these changes undermine American anthropology, and we passed a resolution at our business meeting condemning them. That resolution is also reproduced below. If you are concerned about this, I encourage you to contact the AAA. I would also urge you to renew your membership in the Society for Anthropological Sciences (
Thank you,
Peter N. Peregrine, President
Society for Anthropological Sciences
Mission Statement in the new LRP (additions underlined; deletions in strikethrough)
Section 1. The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies public understanding of humankind in all its aspects, through This includes, but is not limited to, archeological, biological, ethnological, social, cultural, economic, political, historical, medical, visual, and linguistic anthropological research; The Association also commits itself and to further the professional interests of American anthropologists, including the dissemination of anthropological knowledge, expertise, and interpretation. and its use to solve human problems.
Section 2. To advance the science of anthropology the public understanding of humankind, the Association shall: Foster and support the development of special anthropological societies organized on a regional or functional basis; Publish and promote the publication of anthropological monographs and journals; Encourage anthropological teaching, research, and practice; act to coordinate activities of members of the Association with those of other organizations concerned with anthropology, and maintain effective liaison with related sciences knowledge disciplines and their organizations.
Section 3. To further the professional interests of anthropologists, the Association shall, in addition to those activities described under Section 2: Take action on behalf of the entire profession and integrate the professional activities of anthropologists in the special aspects of the science; and promote the widespread recognition and constant improvement of professional standards in anthropology.
Society for Anthropological Sciences resolution:
We object to the change in the mission statement included in the long range plan because it abandons the core principles of and rationale for the association and because it abandons support of the membership. We urge the executive board to amend the long range plan so that it is in accordance with the core principles and rationale of the association and does not abandon support of the membership.
This email illustrates that some anthropologists are taking these changes seriously, however, I'm not sure that the email argues their case very effectively. To be sure, there are innumerable aspects of American anthropology that utilize science: much of archaeology, forensic and biological anthropology, for example, all lean heavily on distinctly science-based methodologies. Further, as a new instructor in the discipline, I can provide evidence of the lengths to which the discipline goes to frame "anthropology as science" in most introductory text books. There is good reason to maintain representation by "science", primarily because of the lofty reputation that it holds not only in academia, but culturally in the US and globally.
These facts alone, however, do not explain the entire picture, and I am leaning toward a quiet applause for the distancing of the discipline from "science" - especially as a cultural anthropologist. This is not to say that we should ignore the rigorous methodologies that we utilized, but instead, to include others not traditionally represented. When we examine the term "science", we uncover a distinctly Western framework for explaining the world around us. "Science" has become privileged globally, and for many, represents the pinnacle of human achievement.
Historically not included under the rubric of "science", however, are the thousands of distinct indigenous knowledge systems that exist around the world. Indigenous knowledge is only recently being understood and accepted by those in the West (and in anthropology) as the equally complex (and equally valid) indigenous counterpart to Western science. For the AAA, maintaining the use of the term "science" in their mission statement serves to maintain the colonizing, privileging, superior positionality of anthropology that continues to plague the discipline.
The "science-free" mission statement allows for the inclusion of a number of perspectives and approaches that have been and remain marginalized, not only in anthropology, but in much of their social and economic existence. In short, the old mission statement privileged "science" over and above the knowledge systems of the very people we have been studying and working with for generations. It is well past the time for this to change. Do anthropologists still use science? Of course, and science may well offer the most appropriate methodology for many. Still, we must also recognize that there are other means to knowing, exploring, and explaining.
Photo Credit: "Studying Humans" by H. Malinda McCall ~ See this and other work at

For the Next 7 Generations

Following is a video posted on Reality Sandwich, which features Grandmother Clara Shinobu Iura of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, who works with Grandmother Maria Alice Freire in Mapia, Brazil, as a healer with increasingly international followers. Their work with medicinal plants -- along with the work of the other council members -- is chronicled in the documentary feature, For the Next 7 Generations, directed by Carole and Bruce Hart.

Marginalization & Re-creation: New Orleans in the American Imagination

While we await an update or recap from Dooglas about the American Anthropological Association's 2010 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA, I thought we might live vicariously through literature, or, more exactly, through interviews with writers from New Orleans who talk about the city's place in the literary and American imagination. Click here to read Matt Robison's interview with Anne Gisleson, Haven Kimmel, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, Duncan Murrell, Rosemary James, Joseph J. DeSalvo, and W. Kenneth Holditch on The Morning News.

One of the most fascinating points, in my opinion, arises in Murrell's description of the city in response to a question about New Orleans' perceived unique cultural quality:

Too much can be made now, in 2010, of the French, Spanish and Caribbean influences. The French live on mostly in people’s last names, the Spanish in the architecture of the French Quarter. The Caribbean influence folds in both Spanish and French colonial influences, as well as aspects of the African diaspora. Of the three, the Caribbean influence is the most persistent. We should also note that the Irish and the Germans were major players in New Orleans culture. I think it’s somewhat misguided to try to pick out cultural influences by language and geography. It becomes hopelessly muddled the more you look into it. The most persistent cultural influence to me is the fact that New Orleans was a port city and a crossroads, a collector of people and things, the end of the river. And it’s still that way. It’s hard to overstate how much New Orleans loomed in the imaginations of 19th century frontier settlers, for instance. Once you got over the Appalachians and through the Cumberland Plateau and into the Mississippi drainage, one’s orientation to the world shifted from an east-west movement to a north-south one; or more specifically, an upriver-downriver one. And at the end of that river sat New Orleans. Nearly every outlaw legend that sprang up in the western territory in the early 19th century has some aspect that takes place in, or is related to, New Orleans. There is no legend of the Natchez Trace without New Orleans. The city is where crooks, race-traitors, Catholics, vagabonds, and every other marginalized person could go to hide and, sometimes, recreate themselves. To a great extent, it’s still that way.
Looking forward to hearing Dooglas' experiences at the AAA Conference...

Thou Winter Wind: Poverty, Climate Change and Indigenous Women Elders

From the Women News Network and author Lys Anzia comes an important article addressing the global invisibility of indigenous peoples through the circumstances of the Lakota Oglala Sioux women Elders of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. With extreme poverty and severe winters, members of Pine Ridge -- in particular women, argues Anzia -- face mounting fears of how global warming will affect their already precarious living situation. Some sources count this Reservation as having the worst living conditions in the entire United States, including substandard housing, toxic Black Mold, little to no plumbing or electric, as well as extreme weather conditions that bring 100 degree heat in the summer and below freezing temperatures in the winter.

Using as a springboard the 2010 Oxfam statistic that more women than men die during disasters, Anzia asserts that women and children on the reservation are more likely to suffer from the collision of these environmental and economic factors. Anzia also suggests that gender roles play a part: "Learning from their own mothers and grandmothers that they must accept life 'as it is,' without complaining, Elder women often risk their lives by staying 'too quiet' in the fact of many needs." Further information about the particulars of women's and women elder's lives on the reservation would be helpful in understanding their experience. As Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls states in the article, "We're the foreign country suffering under (extreme) poverty in your (U.S.) backyard."

Following is a glimpse of life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from USA Today:

Read the full article here.

The Importance of Mumia

It must be seen as amazing that despite years of sitting on death row in a Pennsylvania prison, Mumia Abu Jamal has managed to maintain a public voice, to speak out for the disenfranchised, and remain remarkably relevant in the rapidly changing meme-based times of the internet. An activist and journalist from Philadelphia, wrongly convicted of the murder of a police officer, Mumia has continued reporting on world events primarily through the tireless efforts of Prison Radio. A recent example of Mumia's work was shared on Z-Space, which posted a speech given by Mumia to the International Anti-Repression Congress on October 8-10, 2010 in Hamburg, Germany. Here are some excerpts:
"We have seemingly forgotten, it seems, the fundamental nature of the state, as held by Marx and Engels over 100 years ago in The Communist Manifesto, where the state is described as but “the executive committee” of the bourgeoisie. As such, there are hardly limits to the repression it will utilize to serve the rulers, especially in the stark absence of an effective counter-force. That force must be—must be—an organized, resistant people, who will fight for another way; a way out of the trap of the state — as presently conceived."
Speaking of neoliberalism, Mumia states:
"Societal resources are mobilized to attack foreign subjects (usually in the so-called developing world) while denying social services to the domestic population, like healthcare, education, housing and other such necessities.Indeed, the very notion of “social” is attacked by the rulers, and their corporate media, as the business model is raised and reified as the only reasonable structure upon which society is organized."

We have uploaded the speech to our Scribd library for you to read in its entirety, and to see this one example of how Mumia is able to speak clearly to a wide audience and send a positive message of hope for humanity. An internet search will provide a number of interesting and prescient works from Mumia, all of which make it clear that he is an important voice needed in this world.

This Tuesday, November 9th, Mumia's case comes up before the "Third Circuit Court to decide between removing the stay on Mumia’s death sentence, or ordering a new hearing to decide between a new death sentence, or life in prison without the possibility of parole. These are the only two possible outcomes in the courts at this time. The US Supreme Court has pre-arranged the Nov 9th hearing to make an immediate reinstatement of Mumia’s death sentence the likely outcome." There are demonstrations taking place around the globe that need your support. Check out Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle for more information, and show your support for Mumia!

Thanks for the photo from Prison Radio

Wade Davis on Sustainability and the Environment

While he does not work in an academic setting, and he doesn't publish in academic journals, Wade Davis remains a compelling anthropologist and public intellectual. As a National Geographic Explorer in Residence, Davis has brought anthropological insight and knowledge to the public in ways few anthropologists have. I showed the following video to my Diversity class last week, and as my students appreciated the talk, i think it should be shared here as well.

Davis gave this talk in February, 2010 to a group in Whistler, BC, Canada, and having grown up in BC, he is able to speak to some of the environmental issues occurring there. He describes the difference in the world view of someone like him (from the West), who grew up seeing the vast forests around him as something to be cut down, harvested, and turned into profit. Conversely, the indigenous of the region view those same forests with reverence as sacred space and vital to their culture and well-being. This indigenous worldview is common around the world (and a number of examples are shared), and Davis explains how such a position allows for sustainability that is built into the everyday lives and actions of indigenous peoples. Holding what is essentially the opposite view here in the West has certainly allowed many great achievements, however it is safe to say that the issues of climate change and resource depletion, among others, would not hold our attention as they do now.

It's a 24 minute video, that touches on a number of interesting topics and examples, and Davis shares a number of his amazing photos from his journeys around the world. Enjoy:

A Soundtrack for a Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of All Hallows Eve, we're sharing a not-your-typical-Halloween-soundtrack compiled by our friend at, Mad Monster Party. Enjoy!

Click here to listen.

Happy Hauntings!

Views from the ANThill: Prisons for Profit - It's the Law!

by douglas reeser on 10.29.2010

The Arizona immigration law that was passed earlier this year had many around the country in a tizzy. The bill (Arizona Senate Bill 1070) has its share of supporters, while many find it discriminatory and racist. The spectrum of reactions is such that in Florida, Rick Scott is running for governor on a platform that includes a call "Arizona-style immigration law" for the state. On the other end, businesses threatened to boycott Arizona if the law was put into effect. Immigration is a contentious issue in the US - or at least our politicians and news outlets would lead us to believe.

A piece from NPR reveals the true motives behind the anti-immigration rhetoric that is bubbling up in the politics and news reports around the nation - corporate profits. NPR has spent the last several months researching the origins of the bill, and found that the executives from the private (for-profit) prison industry had a direct hand in drafting the bill. From a business stand-point, it makes sense that the more people you can imprison, the more money you can make if you're in the business of imprisonment. Thus, the birth of new legislation designed to bring into the prison system the latest of the marginalized and despised groups in the US - Latin American immigrants.
While the origins of the bill are certainly disturbing, the details may be downright shocking to some. The bill was drafted during meetings of the Washington group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Members of ALEC include state legislators and corporate heads, who come together with at least one goal of writing legislation together. ALEC staff director Michael Hough said of the group: "It's a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together." In the case of SB 1070, the partnership included board members from top private prison companies and Arizona law makers. They drafted the bill at the meetings in Washington, and a nearly identical bill became the unanimously passed SB 1070 - although not without some more grease from the prison industry, which NPR found had made donations to nearly all the Arizona legislators involved in the passing of the bill.
This is a beautiful model really. A powerful for-profit industry looking for its next big windfall identifies a despised group (illegal immigrants) to attack and manipulate to increase earnings. This during the worst economic times since the Great Depression, along with the support of politicians and some media outlets, and the public follows the lead. Public outcry has led the Arizona bill to be held up in the courts, so this whole plan may never get off the ground. Still, according to NPR: "Corrections Corporation of America executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market."
A recent report from Sasha Abramsky of Slate helps explain why a further increase in imprisonment is problematic. Abramsky reports that the increasing division of wealth inthe US - fewer people have more money, while more people have less money - can be linked to the policy shift that introduced mass incarceration and more prisons. Her discussion of a report in the journal Daedalus shows "that once a person has been incarcerated, the experience limits their earning power and their ability to climb out of poverty even decades after their release. It's a vicious feedback loop that is affecting an ever-greater percentage of the adult population." After nearly 40 years of such extreme imprisonment policies, this feedback loop is not just affecting individuals, but entire demographic groups.
The demographic groups most affected? Minorities. Reports of the incarceration inequalities of the US prison system are coming out more and more frequently. For instance, Truthout recently ran an article on the topic revealing minorities in California are jailed for marijuana offenses at higher rates than other ethnic groups, despite lower use rates. "African-Americans and Latinos use marijuana at lower rates than whites, yet they are prosecuted for minor cannabis possession offenses in California's largest cities at rates two to twelve times higher than Caucasians, according to a pair of just-released reports commissioned by The Drug Policy Alliance, the California NAACP and the William C. Velasquez Institute." As details about the unjust and unequal prison system continue to emerge, for-profit prisons need to find new populations to keep their bankrolls fat. Enter our friends from Latin America. Our farm workers. Our domestic workers. Our construction workers. Our neighbors.

A Literary Shit List

With all of the finger-pointing and fault-finding in the news lately, how about some literary trash-talking too? The folks at came up with a list of the 50 most hated characters in literary history.

There are some surprises -- Holden Caulfield -- and some giveaways -- the Devil -- plus some that just make you appreciate a lot of great books -- Humbert Humbert, Cholly Breedlove, Daisy Buchanan, Scarlett O'Hara...

Check out the Literary Shit List, and feel free to share any of your love/hate characters here with us!

Tethered Together: A Marxist Look at Racism and Capitalism

Strange and disconcerting threads of racism are woven into the fabric of political conversations these days. Equally troubling is some people's desire to return to the unchecked power of corporations comparable to Industrial-era capitalists. With these thoughts swirling all around, it was nice to come across Lance Selfa's essay, "The Roots of Racism," on, which gives insight into the relationship between racism and capitalism through a Marxist lens.

Selfa begins the journey by looking back to how Roman's perception of slavery was not cut along racial lines. In fact, up through the end of the 17th century, even in North American colonies, much of the slave labor that existed followed suit. It wasn't until the price of an African slave became cheaper than a white indentured servant that slavery took on its now-inextricable association with race. With the "first bourgeois revolution," the American Revolution, an ideology of white supremacy came into being, as the leading thinkers of the time had to delineate who they meant by "all men" when creating equalities.

From there, slavery became a boon to 18th century European economies and launched the Industrial Revolution:

From the start, colonial slavery and capitalism were linked. While it is not correct to say that slavery created capitalism, it is correct to say that slavery provided one of the chief sources for the initial accumulations of wealth that helped to propel capitalism forward in Europe and North America.

The clearest example of the connection between plantation slavery and the rise of industrial capitalism was the connection between the cotton South, Britain and, to a lesser extent, the Northern industrial states. Here, we can see the direct link between slavery in the U.S. and the development of the most advanced capitalist production methods in the world. Cotton textiles accounted for 75 percent of British industrial employment in 1840, and, at its height, three-fourths of that cotton came from the slave plantations of the Deep South.

Further on, Selfa talks about how present-day anti-immigration attitudes are spun from the same cloth:

Because racism is woven right into the fabric of capitalism, new forms of racism arose with changes in capitalism. As the U.S. economy expanded and underpinned U.S. imperial expansion, imperialist racism--which asserted that the U.S. had a right to dominate other peoples, such as Mexicans and Filipinos--developed. As the U.S. economy grew and sucked in millions of immigrant laborers, anti-immigrant racism developed. But these are both different forms of the same ideology--of white supremacy and division of the world into "superior" and "inferior" races--that had their origins in slavery.

To read the entire article, click here.

Monsanto in the News: Crowding the Plate

What a tangled web Monsanto has woven with its wonder-drug, Round-Up. While the agri-giant has spent decades touting its job of improving crops and saving farmland from erosion with its ubiquitous pesticide, danger lurked in the shadows. Round-Up resistant weeds sprung up in the void left by the pesticide, and now, Monsanto must back peddle.

Unfortunately, a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable path is not what they have in mind. Instead, they are offering soybean and cotton farmers who use Round-Up seeds a rebate of up to $6 per acre for applying two other herbicides to try to kill the Round-Up resistant weeds. Ironically, the same argument that Monsanto used to sell their brand originally -- increased yield and decreased erosion -- is being used for this latest mission, even though the additional herbicides can be from their competitors.

Read Tom Philpott's piece about it on Grist, and the Des Moines Register's original piece about it here.

Image courtesy of Dropstone Farms

A Web of Your Peers

We've been meaning to post this article from the New York Times for awhile to see what you all think. To the long list of mixed emotions produced by the internet, we can now add changes to the peer review process of scholarly journal publishing. According to some humanities scholars, having a small cadre of experts deciding the merit of a submission no longer holds up in our digital age. Instead, they argue, submissions should be aired openly to a wider internet audience. Some traditional journals have already decided to try it.

The change seems radical to some. To others, the way knowledge is viewed and valued is completely different from their older counterparts. The definitions and perceptions of originality and intellectual rigor have changed and continue to weave together with the traditional.

An open-forum-type submission process versus the behind-closed-doors process falls in line with other binaries the internet has produced: newspapers v. news feeds, youtube/hulu/etc v. TV, and the list goes on and on. Of course, these things aren't mutually exclusive, and, like most other evolutions in society, people will marry the new and the old, for better or for worse.

Consumption Junction: Join the Revolution

by Lana Lynne on 10.17.2010

Check out this interesting essay from 1983 on advertising and global culture. As consumerism became an increasingly popular field of study in the 'seventies and 'eighties, critics turned from its effects on the U.S. and other western cultures to look at the bigger picture.

Author Noreen Janus looks at why a Brazilian advertising executive chose "Join the Pepsi Revolution" over "Join the Pepsi Generation" for ads in Brazil, and the implications of the ad man's insight: "most people have no other means to express their need for social change other than by changing brands and increasing consumption."

Janus also looks at the way western products are depicted in global television advertising. In 'eighties transnational marketing, Janus found these products were most often associated with modernity, whiteness, and progress. And as for the impact on economically poor areas, Janus argues, "the impact of transnational culture is greater among the poor - the very people who cannot afford to buy the lifestyle it represents."

It's interesting how television was once almost synonymous with consumerism. Now, although the choices have expanded a hundredfold and (the illusion of?) agency has come into the picture, much of what Janus wrote about the TV generation holds true today. Read the essay in our Scribd Library here.

World Habitat Day

The first Monday in October marks World Habitat Day, a day designated in 1985 by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize decent shelter as a basic human right and as a collective responsibility. Many World Habitat events have been organized by Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating worldwide poverty housing and homelessness. Find out about these events here, many of which extend to the end of the year. More information and resources can be found here, including the Carter Work Project and the World Habitat Day Photo Wall.

Check out a video from the World Habitat Day website chronicling some of the participants in the "Build Louder" program in Guatemala, which took place in January of 2010.

Consumption Junction: Urban Growers in Philadelphia

by Lana Lynne on 9.27.2010

A recent Grist article by Tom Laskawy gives an informative overview of the urban farming going on in Philadelphia, PA, these days, spotlighting three urban farming organizations that are "putting Philly on the urban ag map": Weavers Way Co-op, Greensgrow Local Initiative for Food Education (LIFE) CSA, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Growers Alliance.

In digging a little deeper into Philly's agricultural history, we found a great report by Domenic Vitiello and Michael Nairn of University of Penn's Penn Planning and Urban Studies Department, the 2008 Harvest Report. The report, though somewhat outdated now, still provides a fascinating and sobering look at the community gardens in Philadelphia (which are vastly different than the urban farms mentioned above in that, at least defined in this report, they are situated on land tended to by members of a community who do not own the land).

What's most interesting to me about the report is the demographics of community gardens in Philadelphia. Concentrated mostly in low income neighborhoods, the gardens were (and some still are) means of providing fresh produce to friends and neighbors who otherwise did not have easy access to healthy food. Often, people brought knowledge gleaned from lives lived elsewhere -- both in and outside of the U.S. to seed choice and cultivation techniques. But many of these gardeners came from an older generation, without a younger one to take over. Diminishing numbers of gardeners, coupled with changes in the city's and community-garden-supporters' land use and economic situation led to a drastic decline in gardens since the 1990s.

Nicole Sugarman, a co-manager at a CSA in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia, recently wrote another article about Philly's urban growers, looking at how much of the aforementioned history is obscured by the disproportionate media attention given to the "new poster child of the urban agricultural movement," a figure Sugarman sees as young, white and middle-to-upper class. As they say, any press is good press, but her advice should be noted: "For the urban agriculture and food movement to grow, we must acknowledge, learn from, and continue to support the work happening by all people in all areas of our city -- not just the 'trendy' neighborhoods, or when practiced by 'privileged kids' who get a disproportionate percentage of the attention, support, and ultimately credit for a series of activities and actions that far that far precedes me—work that has been done outstandingly well by others for a very long time."

Selling Your Body (for Science)

An interesting video/report from Time magazine was sent to us today about people who make a living by joining clinical trials testing new drug for pharmaceutical companies. The big draw for participants seems to be that they can make upwards of $400 per day. With virtually no oversight on such trials, or the participants (it is left up to participants to gauge their health and whether they can continue or join new trials), people are traveling from city to city and making a living on the practice. There is even a call to professionalize the practice of "guinea pigging". The money does beat a number of other job options out there, but the toll on such regular participants is left unstudied. What is the purpose of clinical trials? Drugs that pass clinical trials are apt to make pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars. Meanwhile testing on humans is done by paying participants a couple thousand (at the most). This is yet another clear example of how the corporate world utilizes the worker (here, clinical trial participants) to create its enormous wealth. The ethics of capitalism never cease to amaze.

Check out the video:

Plagiarism, Imitation & Authenticity

Some would say academics and artists' oldest nemesis is plagiarism. It hides in allegations of un-originality; it peers from behind a thin veil in accusations of imitation. Even defenses based on intent can't entirely excuse the offender, for the official definition of plagiarism includes the unintentional infraction -- it may just be an accident or sloppy scholarship, but it's still a crime. Much like involuntary manslaughter versus first degree murder.

But, in the ever-morphing digital age, things might be changing for the long-vilified plagiarism. A New York Times article titled "Lines on Plagiarism Blur for Students in Digital Age" talks about how students' perceptions of plagiarism and intellectual property, as well as authorship and originality, are being affected by the internet. Endless amounts of information are available at all times in a fluid, constantly changing environment. Text, images, ideas are no longer physical but always shifting. Here today, impossible to find tomorrow.

One "defense" of plagiarism in the digital age likens it to sampling in music. But, at least in literature, there are already names for that type of "borrowing": echoes, epigraphs, allusions, and so on.

It appears always to come back to one thing: authorship. If you're passing off someone else's idea or words as your own, you're falsely claiming authorship. But some scholars believe even seeing this action as a grave misdeed is changing:

In an interview, [anthropologist Susan A. Blum] said the idea of an author whose singular effort creates an original work is rooted in Enlightenment ideas of the individual. It is buttressed by the Western concept of intellectual property rights as secured by copyright law. But both traditions are being challenged.

“Our notion of authorship and originality was born, it flourished, and it may be waning,” Ms. Blum said.

Is the resulting pastiche just one more step toward homogeneity? If all we have left is imitation, where do we find the authentic?

NAFTA and Drug War Violence in Mexico

An excellent video from the RealNews Network on the background of the Drug War violence that has recently been spinning out of control in Mexico as framed through an interview with journalist Bruce Livesey. Livesey reveals the role of the NAFTA trade agreements in the rise of the drug trade in Mexico, then leading to the violence that has been making international news over the last few years. According to Livesey, NAFTA policies had the effect of stoping the flow of drugs through Florida from Colombia. This forced cartels to shift to Mexico, which resulted in a large increase in truck flow through the US border - and included shipments of a much more diverse product line in cocaine, marijuana, heroin and crystal meth. This resulted in making the drug cartels wealthier than ever before, allowing them to confront Mexican law enforcement and military.

Another interesting result of NAFTA is that it allowed US produce into Mexican market, which effectively wiped out much of Mexican agricultural sector, and pushed workers off of their land and to factories near the US border. With rise of China and India in production, poor displaced workers were in Mexico were suddenly out of work, turning to the cartels and the drug trade as their only option. Livesey provides an interesting argument, and brings to light why neoliberal policies like NAFTA have not been kind to the workers and the poor. Check out the video here:

Inequality in the US

Questioning one's critique of the US is probably more common than we realize. While critique is often viewed as criticism, that is less the point here then who actually raises such objections. I may expect to run into blind faith in the US at my local watering holes, but I am often surprised when my students object, or more commonly are indifferent to such critiques. A series on Slate by Timothy Noah (titled the United States of Inequality) offers a number of excellent reasons why more people need to critique the current state of affairs here in the States, and while there are numerous and varied reasons to offer such critique, Noah is focussing on the growing gap between the rich and the poor in a country that has historically held a propensity for the myth of equality.

What current analyses show is that the richest 1% of the US - and especially the ultra-richest 0.1% - are making more then ever, and represent the largest percentage of wealth since the era of the Robber Barons and the Industrial Revolution. Thus forms the basis of the Slate series:
"This was the era in which the accumulated wealth of America's richest families—the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies—helped prompt creation of the modern income tax, lest disparities in wealth turn the United States into a European-style aristocracy. The socialist movement was at its historic peak, a wave of anarchist bombings was terrorizing the nation's industrialists, and President Woodrow Wilson's attorney general, Alexander Palmer, would soon stage brutal raids on radicals of every stripe. In American history, there has never been a time when class warfare seemed more imminent. That was when the richest 1 percent accounted for 18 percent of the nation's income. Today, the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation's income."
Noah shares that the top 1% (those who make about $368,000 or more) saw their income share more than double since 1973, while the ultra-rich top 0.1% (those who make $1 million or more) saw their share more than quadruple in the same time period. There are a number of such fascinating statistics and graphics that delve into how this has happens, and explanations about what it means. Noah brings attention to the fact that the US is more unequal than most countries in Latin America - a region usually thought of as being dominated by the descendants of the European aristocracy that ruled for hundreds of years. He offers an analysis of the role that race and gender are playing (or more accurately, not playing) in these changes, along with what some may see as surprising insight into the immigration debate:
"When economists look at actual labor markets, most find little evidencethat immigration harms the economic interests of native-born Americans, and much evidence that it stimulates the economy."
Stay alert to forthcoming pieces in the series, as the first few have been insightful and interesting. This is the type of information that helps to justify critique, and may aid in furthering the realization that all is not well in the world of the US.

Graphic Source: Catherine Mulbrandon of

Some of the Ways 'Work' Works

Worker exploitation and mistreatment or barbecues and farewells to summer? The history of Labor Day and the way it is celebrated captures an interesting dynamic in the way "work" works in the U.S. A few recent articles reflects these different issues, and what better time to reflect on them than on the holiday that has a unique way of simultaneously commercializing and challenging the structures that prop up the country's approach to working and, by extension, to living.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, along with other grassroots labor organizations, continues to take Trader Joe's to task for the corporation's refusal to sign onto the Fair Food Campaign, which would provide better working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. As reported by Leslie Hatfield and Karen Kanan Corea on Ecocentric, the CIW, Jewish Labor Committee, Just Harvest USA and the Farmworker Solidarity Alliance, protested at a Trader Joe's store in New York City two weeks ago in an effort to pressure the company to join the leagues of Whole Foods, Taco Bell/Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Subway, and Compass in the Fair Food Campaign.

In Dissent Magazine, Mark Engler writes about a new report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco called "The Effect of Immigrants on U.S. Employment and Productivity." The report's findings clash with the twisted-lingo of current anti-immigrant campaigns. The report concluded that “there is no evidence that immigrants crowd out U.S.-born workers in either the short or long run.” While this report does little to address the real problems affecting immigrant workers in the U.S., it does, in Engler's words, set the record straight.

And, on the other end of the way "work" works spectrum, the author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John de Graaf, compares the Dutch approach to the U.S. approach to work in an article titled "Wake Up Americans: It's Time to Get off the Work Treadmill." Citing a number of recent books and articles arguing just this, de Graaf is putting out a call to "Take Back Your Time," a U.S. and Canadian-based initiative "to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine" that threatens health, relationships, communities and environment.

Happy Labor Day, and enjoy the day off, if you're fortunate enough to have it.