Tag Archives: academe

Around the Web

Gender and the Academe

Commanding positions by Jessica Shepherd

Shepherd reports on how some UK universities have opened doors for women to acquire administrative positions. Universities such as Oxford Brookes University and University of Winchester are one step ahead the gender equality ladder as they admit female chancellors, vice chancellors and other administrative offices. Shepherd also points out that women usually put off applying for an administrative office until they get better accomplishments. On the other hand, men are more of risk-takers when it comes to applying for a position.

In 2006, 42% of senior management posts in UK universities were held by women, while in 2003, 28% were, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. It might not be by much, but the percentage of professors who are female has also nudged ahead from 15% in 2003 to 17.5% in 2006. And it is the new universities, in particular the post-92s such as Oxford Brookes, that are leading the change.

Science, Technology and Society

Moral Machines by Gary Marcus

Driver-less cars may be what we see in the streets soon enough. But given a difficult situation, will this machine do the “right” thing?

Building machines with a conscience is a big job, and one that will require the coordinated efforts of philosophers, computer scientists, legislators, and lawyers. And, as Colin Allen, a pioneer in machine ethics put it, “We don’t want to get to the point where we should have had this discussion twenty years ago.” As machines become faster, more intelligent, and more powerful, the need to endow them with a sense of morality becomes more and more urgent.

Science (Or Pseudo-science?)

Piltdown Man and other phantom species by Rebekah Higgitt

Higgitt lists down the hoaxes that once entered the intellectual bank of human evolution.

Although the specimens were forgeries, the fact that they were named, illustrated, published and discussed meant that the species nevertheless achieved some sort of existence, at least for several decades. It feels a little as if there should be some sort of limbo, perhaps similar to the place that ballpoint pens and odd socks go, reserved for these phantom species.

Anthropology and the Academe

Maverick anthropologist’s memoir sparks fresh row over ancient Yanomami tribe by Paul Harris

(Image via The Guardian)

Controversy erupts (again) as the legendary Napoleon Chagnon publishes his book, Noble Savages. If you’re not familiar with Chagnon, refer to one of our previous posts here

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Update!

It’s been a rather busy start of the year so forgive me if I haven’t been as active as I wanted to. I am going to keep this blog. I have no thoughts of giving this up whatsoever, but I won’t be very active in the blogosphere for a couple of weeks.

These months, however, have been very interesting. I’m proud to announce that the University of the Philippines Diliman, the uni where I graduates, was awarded Center of Excellence by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED. Here’s the document that proves it:

It’s also the first time of the university I’m a part of to host a massive conference comprising prestigious speakers from all over the country. The conference is about K-12 and Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education — both were implemented just recently. It was hard work for most of us and I would have really wanted to just sit down and listen to the talks. Alas, I was juggling several work loads.

I also had the chance to visit the ancestral land of the T’boli in Lake Sebu. We took our speakers there for R&R. The T’boli are very noteworthy. They’re very strong and they’ve kept their identity through the ages even with many threats in their surroundings. Their pride as a group is immense. I guess this raging pride tightens their hold to their culture and ancestry and binds them together as one. Given the chance, I’d love to conduct fieldwork in the area.

Other than that it’s been work, work, work for me. I did say I want to post every other day but with unexpected events I won’t be able to do that. However, I will try to post and interact as much as I can.

Around the Web

It’s another week of very relevant topics around the internet.

Politics and Society

Where are they? (Image via Franz DG)

Gone Tomorrow: The Vanishing Voices of Democracy in the Philippines by Michael Mira

I was a first year student in the University of the Philippines Diliman when news broke out that two UP students Karen Empeno and Sherlyn Cadapan were reported missing. The case of the “disappeared” was rekindled as many from the left were reported missing. Enforced disappearances were also the stuff of conversations until a few years ago. Indeed, if we really consider ourselves to be a democratic country, then why do these things happen? As Mira said,

A true democratic nation should guard freedom of speech, no matter who it is that utters their opinion.

The Scientific Community

Academic paywalls mean publish and perish by Sarah Kendzior

Studying and eventually teaching in a so-called third world country (or as others would call it, developing country), I have faced the problem of acquiring academic articles more often than not. Publishers require $20 per article and around $40 per book. Tough luck. But anthropologist Kendzior talks about how we’re building elitism in the academe instead of sharing our knowledge to the public who is supposed to be at the receiving end of our research endeavors. The pricey amount for knowledge also marginalizes those who are from non-first world countries to obtain up-to-date and relevant studies. These all end up to one thing: only a limited number gets to read published materials. Kendzior writes,

“Publish or perish” has long been an academic maxim. In the digital economy, “publish and perish” may be a more apt summation. What academics gain in professional security, they lose in public relevance, a sad fate for those who want their research appreciated and understood.

Sociology

The Rationality of Irrationality by Peter Kaufman

Modernism has changed us in so many ways as people moved from the villages to the cities. We are all alienated with one another and everything needs to be speedy. This is because speedy and efficiency is the “rational” thing to do work, and rationalism is the forte of modernism. As my professor once said, “everything is touch-and-go”. Face-to-face interactions are done in split second. When you’ve finished getting your order, you have to leave the counter immediately. This is what sociologists call McDonaldization. However, irrationality might be the better way to live on this planet. Kaufman draws an example through Community Supported Agriculture.

CSA’s are really the antithesis of McDonaldized systems. I don’t know what varieties or how much food I will get each season because it all depends on unpredictable forces (namely, the weather). When I pick up the food it is not cleaned, there may be signs that bugs had a few nibbles before it was picked (not to mention the occasional bug that is still there), and the produce may not even be in recognizable shapes. There are also vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers that I can pick myself each week thereby reversing the McDonaldized trend to replace human efforts with non-human technology.

Anthropology

Anthropology and the Assault on Common Sense: Critical Thinking About Being Human Is a Useful Hobby by Agustin Fuentes

Even Albert Einstein questioned the reliability of common sense. Many scientists have many times told us that our organs can lie. Thus, science was created to decrease the errors our organs make. Fuentes, in his Huffington Post article, calls for us to be critical and not to be complacent in what we think is the “truth” — because that “truth” is not absolute. It is enfeebled by our culture, our history, our nature and our biology — or as Fuentes says, or “naturenurture”. We always have to question. We always have to think.

 But we all have to realize, and accept, that the process of becoming and being human is messy, and it takes a lot of work to try to direct your own path in life. One must be an active learner and a critical thinker, always.

Secrets of the Tribe: A Film Review

By Kert

Don’t mess with people or they might associate with tiny figures that have engorged penises (Image via Cleveland International Film Festival)

Secrets of the Tribe is a documentary dealing with the anthropological conquests among the Yanomamo of various researchers. It takes on different perspectives on the ethics of the studies conducted among the Yanomamo. Of course, the center of it all is Napoleon Chagnon. Indeed Chagnon’s career as an anthropologist was fueled by his studies among the Yanomamo of the Amazon. His book Yanomamo: The Fierce People can be considered one of the most famous anthropological books of all time and is widely used as a textbook in different universities worldwide. It is also one of the most celebrated texts in sociobiology.

The documentary revolves around the question: Were Chagnon’s (and his colleagues’) research and treatment of the Yanomamo ethical? How, as members of the academe, should we react on what occurred in the Yanomamo territory with the entrance of researchers?

Background

There has been a long debate between the party of Napoleon Chagnon and the party of Kenneth Good regarding Chagnon’s study — the correctness of the interpretations of his data — and the ethical standards of the two as they entered Yanomamo community. See, Chagnon is accused of paying the “natives” for information and also for introducing James Neel (who purportedly conducted a research at the expense of the lives of the Yanomamo) and Jacques Lizot (who was said to have had sexually exploited the Yanomamo). Kenneth Good, on the other hand, has also a fair share of controversy for marrying an underage Yanomamo woman.

The issues also pulls several other anthropologists such as one of the “Anthropology Gods”, Claude Levi-Strauss who sent Lizot to Venezuela. Also, anthropologist Terence Turner and journalist Patrick Tierney and many others (which I can’t remember as of the moment)

The Rashomon Effect

The only way in knowing what and how a Yanomamo lives is by actually living in them. Researches saying they are peace-loving and on the other hand, greedy and fierce people might be considered contradictory. But then again, human lives in general are contradictory. We might be seeing something in the Social Sciences which is called the Rashomon effect (Heider:1988)  — meaning different ethnographers may have different perspectives about one community. One may see the peace-loving part while another may see the fierce part. But then again, humans around the world can be both peace-loving and really fierce at the same time.

Ethics

Ethics is an issue which is a constant struggle in the academe, especially in the social sciences where we are faced with different situations all the time. Ethics can sometimes be context-based, meaning it all depends on the researcher to act according to his moralities. But of course there are baselines, especially in anthropology, for these ethical responses. First is cultural relativism (which is also a contested issue). The next, in my opinion, is to never exploit thy subjects. We are also taught in the university never to give money to any of our informants. There are more, but the latter two are relevant to the film.

Indeed Lizot’s and Neel’s actions were unacceptable. And it baffles me how they could do such horrid things. Good’s case, I find ethically ambiguous — here cultural relativism shall be put into test. However, I find the last issue I outlined above interesting. Indeed, it doesn’t seem appropriate to pay informants. However, can anthropologist not help the people s/he consider as friends? I admittedly done this bludgeon once as I offered money to an IP (indigeous people) woman who was crying as she told me her story of suffering and defeat.

Indeed the line that we should draw between ourselves and our informants is very difficult to discern. Can we truly be friends with them? Can we not fall in love with them? Are we supposed to just be robots in the name of knowledge and science?

The ethical questions in the incident with the Yanomamo is not exclusive and confined to those events. Questions like these and more should and are pondered by researchers as new set of contexts and incidents are encountered. We always have to continually ask ourselves whether what we are doing is right and just (though these things are very relative and highly ambiguous).

Yanomamo: The People

What I like most about the film are the interviews with the Yanomamo as they expressed their thoughts and feelings towards the researchers. How much of it was edited by the director, I wouldn’t know. But at least there were snippets and their voices heard.

Whatever really happened, the Yanomamo was still on the losing side and people in the academe should always reflect on the incident in Venezuela. We may not be able to change the past, but we can change the future.

Links:

More substantive comments and blog posts about the film, Secrets of the Tribe

Secrets of the Tribe by Barbara Rose Johnston

Secrets of the Tribe by Louis Proyect

Anthropologist Bites Dog by Savage Minds