Anthropology in science-fiction

Anthropology in Outerspace

TGA’s exciting new fall series will examine representations of anthropology in science-fiction. Emma, Marie-Pierre and Rayna will discuss cases from various TV series, movies and books and what they reveal about popular perceptions on this science and its branches (archeology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology and sociocultural anthropology).

In preparation for this series, which will be published starting on September 4th, we wish to list examples of representations of anthropologists and anthropology in science-fiction. In this, we need you help dear TGA readers!

Do you remember an anthropologist in a Twilight Zone episode? A description of ethnography in a sci-fi magazine? Margaret Mead being mentioned in a book about little green men? The scenario of a Star Trek or Stargate SG-1 episode introducing perspectives and concepts closely related with anthropology?

List examples you can think of in the comments the Anthropology in Outerspace page we created for this series! Feel free to add examples from other genres of pop culture as well and to share your own work on science-fiction and anthropology!

We look forward to engaging in dialogue with all TGA readers with this series!

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So You’re an Undergraduate Student and It’s Your First Paper

We’ve all been there. You’ve gone through Freshman Orientation, bonded with your dorm, combed through the Course Directory to select the most interesting classes you could find, and even figured out how to use the library database. But now it’s your first paper, and your teacher seems kind if a bit intimidating. You haven’t yet felt comfortable raising your hand in class, but you want to blow the reader away with your intellect, insight and writing skills. You did get into the school for a good reason, after all. As a former undergraduate student who also worked at my school’s Writing Center, I received specialized training on writing pedagogy and rhetorical strategies. I’ve talked with numerous professors from different departments about departmental conventions, expectations and approaches to writing for the academy. I’ve also worked as an editor for a number of publications. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up throughout my academic and professional career.

  1. A good writer is also a good reader. As a little kid, I was a terrible writer. I devoured all the books at my local library, but I didn’t think that I could ever write like the authors I so admired. The watershed moment came for me in second grade when my English teacher asked me who my favorite writer was. During the Harry Potter mania, I immediately responded that it was J.K. Rowling. My teacher told me that I could try writing like Rowling. It was a revelation. The same kind of advice has been echoed to me throughout the years. Find writers that you admire and try to identify why they are so compelling. Attempt to emulate their writing style. If you want to grow as a writer, it will always behoove you to read widely and critically. If you read a magazine article that you think is dreadful, that’s helpful to you too—think about what made the piece so terrible and consider what you would have done to write it better. As long as you do not plagiarize others’ work, you are allowed to follow in the footsteps of authors before you, adopting and adapting their writing approaches for your own projects.
  2. (more…)


New Journal Alert: Analog Game Studies

Over the past year I’ve been learning some great lessons about interdisciplinarity through conversations with a great group of scholars interested in analog games (centrally, but not solely, RPGs).  These conversations started informally at the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association, and have evolved into a new online journal, Analog Game Studies.  Besides the subject matter, which is obviously of interest to TGA readers, I think the format is also something that deserves some notice. AGS is first-rate when it comes to the peer review and editing process, and I don’t mind saying that the editors put me through the wringer in a good way, making the piece much better than my original submission. But at the same time it is also fast, lightweight, and lean compared to traditional journal models.  It is also 100% more free than a traditional journal.  While AGS certainly isn’t the first journal to exist outside of a pay wall (heck, it’s not even the first journal about gaming to do so) I think it is an excellent addition to the field and helps to draw attention to the important area of analog games, which tend to get drowned out by video games.  I hope you’ll check it out and spread the word.

Studying geek culture, not just as a novelty act or a “gee, whiz, anthropologists really can study anything” but as something that can help develop our understanding of basic anthropological questions.

Since I started grad school five years ago I have attended two conferences almost every year: the American Anthropological Association and the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association.  I highly value my experiences at both conferences, although in very different ways.  The AAA meetings, besides being important for keeping up on events within anthropology as an academic discipline, helped to bring me in contact with Marie-Pierre through our Geek Anthropology session last year. That session helped with one of my long term goals, which is to help establish the fruitfulness of studying geek culture, not just as a novelty act or a “gee, whiz, anthropologists really can study anything,” but as something that can help develop our understanding of basic anthropological questions.


Very similar to my own stats.

At the PCA/ACA, my role has been much the opposite. There, studying geek culture is the norm, but anthropologists are rather rare.  Interacting with the other scholars at this interdisciplinary conference has heightened my understanding of what it means for me to be an anthropologist even more than seeing that demonstrated by other anthropologists at the AAA. The contrast between the two conferences has shaped my identity as a scholar; at the AAA I’m the anthropologist who studies D&D, while at the PCA/ACA, I’m the anthropologist who studies D&D. Learning how to bring an anthropological perspective to an interdisciplinary team has been a growing experience for me and challenged some of my assumptions about what makes anthropology unique. I’m actually still working on that one, because it turns out not to be as simple as hollering about holism and participant observation.


Review /3: Gendering Science Fiction Films by Susan A. George

1950s B-films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (1958), or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), might seem to be pure fantasy, just mindless fun. Coming out during the heyday of McCarthyism and Hollywood blacklisting of suspected communists, you might assume these movies would never get too close to real political issues.

But as Susan A. George points out in her new book Gendering Science Fiction Films: Invaders from the Suburbs, “It is because of their strictly entertainment, low-budget, Saturday matinée status that they became one of the rare sites where cultural, political, and social issues were examined, promoted, or challenged” (3).

George, a lecturer in the Karen Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced, goes through several 1950s alien invasion films and draws on political theory, psychoanalysis, and literary theories in her analysis of how they present gender roles for both men and women, and how those presentations relate to the politics and culture of the era.

George argues that the Cold War produced pressure on the American middle-class to conform, work as part of a team, and trust authority, in order to more effectively resist communism. In 1947 President Truman required federal employees to take a loyalty oath and over 200 federal employees were fired as potential risks to national security. When McCarthy’s hearings began, suspected communists were subject to harassment, blacklisting, and guilt-by-association. McCarthy’s messages were spread far and wide in the media and many Americans became convinced communists were actively working in America and had to be rooted out.

If you wanted to avoid suspicion, you had to conform. A man had to be focused and prove himself through career success and providing for his family. He had to provide a strong paternal role model to his children, but there were limits. There was danger in becoming too much of a maverick, in taking matters into one’s own hands, because challenging authority could raise suspicions about one’s loyalties. Likewise, a woman had to support her husband, take care of her children, and not distract her family with her own ambitions or desires. Of course, conforming was easier if you were white, straight and middle-class.

In this way, George says the U.S. approach to “containment” of communism abroad also meant containing Americans at home (12):

“In the domestic sphere, containment was accomplished through marriage and the establishment of a ‘nuclear’ family residing in the suburbs with a husband as breadwinner and commuter and a woman as housewife and mother.”

The most common roles George identified in 1950s sci-fi movies were the “mystique model” for women and the “team player” for men. (more…)

photo (12)

Magic & Morphemes: A Conversation with Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and the acclaimed author of numerous young adult and children’s books. I grew up on her stories, including Sirena (1998), Spinners (2001), Breath (2003) and Beast (2004), enraptured by her fantastical and historical settings, many of which are set in foreign countries or have folkloric elements. Last week, I had the pleasure to sit down for an interview with Professor Napoli in her Swarthmore office, to discuss her linguistic research, mythology, violence in storytelling and imaginatively inhabiting other cultural worlds.



Emma: So first, just for the people that read our blog, can you tell us a little bit about your research in linguistics and maybe give a little bit of background?

Donna: For many years I did what’s called syntax, which is the analysis of sentence structure and phrase structure and I looked at it very theoretically. You need to present a coherent description of the entire way all the sentences of a language work together, so you need to stick to one language, but I would bounce off talking about other languages, and I used English because here that’s our lingua franca. And I did that for years. Most of my research was on Italian, not on English, in fact I did very little research on English. And then I discovered American Sign Language. I had a student who did her senior thesis on teaching deaf children to read. I knew nothing about it before I agreed to be her mentor, and during that period, since I knew nothing, I had to read everything she read to make sure that she was handling it in a way that was defensible. By the end of the semester a fire was lit under me. I was so interested—it’s an enormous problem. Imagine going to China, having somebody plug your ears so you can’t hear, having somebody talking to you in Chinese but you don’t know Chinese, and you’re expected to learn how to read Chinese. It’s even harder than that, because many deaf children don’t have a firm first language. You have a first language, your first language is really strong and you know what reading is all about. They have no idea what reading is all about, they don’t have a firm first language. To me it’s insanely difficult and I have great admiration and respect for the work that deaf people go through to become literate.

I now do theory work on the structure of sign languages. I do a little bit of syntax, but I also do issues of articulation and more and more of the biomechanics of it, the physics of it, as well as word formation. But I also have gotten a lot into the whole thing of reading and deaf literature, so I work on deaf humor. I’ve co-authored a book on deaf humor and I work on metaphor in sign language literature and I write materials, I create materials, they’re e-books that have videos in them. I create materials with a partner at Gallaudet University—which is the only university in the world for deaf people—and we’re trying to make these materials to help deaf people learn how to read. (more…)