From 1492 to Wounded Knee: A journey of learning & bearing witness

Day 8: Lakota medicine wheel in Art Alley, Rapid City
Day 4: "Off road" in Pine Ridge

Along with a colleague and six undergraduates, I took a journey of listening and learning over the past two weeks in a Native American studies course hosted at the Wheaton Science Station in the Black Hills, SD. Rather than approaching this as a class with two professors and six students, we were eight learners.
Day 1: Learning to raise a teepee from OLC Lakota Culture scholar

Day 1: The teepee
And, even more importantly, the "classroom" was as large as South Dakota and the "textbooks" were the dozens of people we heard from as they described their lives and the experience of the Plains' native communities' past and present.

In the midst of lamenting the horrors of Wounded Knee and White Clay--an 1890 vengeance massacre by the 7th Cavalry (Custer's former unit) and a pernicious Nebraska outpost whose sole purpose is to sell alcohol to Pine Ridge reservation, respectively--we also witnessed gleaming stories of hope.
Day 3: Bison herd in the Black Hills, back from 1900 worldwide population of 1,000
Wounded Knee was originally called a "battle" until a recent acknowledgement that the killing of 300 unarmed men, women, and children constitutes something quite different--the large red sign at the site tells the history and physically embodies the change. Note how the word "Massacre" has been nailed more recently on top, to cover the misnomer "Battle" underneath.

Day 6: The Tragedy of Wounded Knee
Day 5: Rainbows _before_ the storm on Pine Ridge
Day 10: Bear Butte vistas and prayer flags
The adversities make the triumphs all the more poignant: Oglala Lakota College, which is rebuilding the Lakota nation through education, and the creative economic development engine Lakota Funds. Over the past four decades, more than half of the teachers in Pine Ridge schools and of the nurses at the Indian Health Service have passed through OLC's hallways. At the time of the college's founding, the majority of educators and health professionals on the reservation were non-Natives. OLC indelibly changed that.

There were also moments of just pure delight: to wit, digging up timpsula (prairie turnips) and eating them raw right then and there.

Day 4: Digging for timpsula (prarie turnip) 

Day 10: Summitting Bear Butte, a sacred place of reflection and beauty.

Day 8: Visiting the ever-changing, fragile yet powerful Art Alley in Rapid City

Day 10: Bear Butte

Day 8: Art Alley

Day 10: At Bear Butte, yes: all of the bison was used

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In Print: "Arab Eyes, Arab Voices" -- a review in Books & Culture

Three years after the Arab Spring gripped the Middle East and North Africa as well as social media world-wide, how do we begin to make sense of the complicated stories that are still unfolding?

"Arab Eyes, Arab Voices," a review of Shibley Telhami's The World Through Arab Eyes has just been published in the March-April issue of Books & Culture.

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It gets worse: the situation of Haitians in the Dominican Republic

Tensions on the island of Hispaniola are on the rise and the situation of Haitian citizens (and their descendents) living in the Dominican Republic is becoming Kristallnacht-ish dire. In September this year, the highest court in the land decided to revoke the citizenship of Dominican-born descendents of Haitian migrants. Up until 2010, the DR practiced jus soli--what the United States currently practices--granting citizenship to anyone born in national territory. What this means is that some 200,000 Dominican citizens have had their status revoked.

On this past Tuesday, in front of a crowd with cellphone cameras raised, a Haitian man was alleged lynched in broad daylight (supposedly for attempted robbery). The image made CNN news (warning: graphic). The recent unsolved murder of an elderly Dominican couple who lived near the Haiti-DR border was fuel to the fire and 200 Haitians were sent back "home" over the weekend, fearing mob violence.

Haitians are scapegoated in the Dominican Republic, accused of witchcraft (read:moral turpitude) and bringing crime, reminiscent of how some in the United States characterize Latinos including Dominicans.

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AAA Presentation: All That Is Water: Engineering Energy Sovereignties and Electricity Nationalities

I'm delighted to be part of this excellent panel at the AAA conference this Wednesday in Chicago: Technopolitical Futures: Transformations in State and Expertise (12-4pm)

I'm giving my paper, All That Is Water: Engineering Energy Sovereignties and Electricity Nationalities, at 2:15 on Wednesday November 20 (room TBA).

My abstract: The engineers responsible for Itaipú Binational Dam were tasked with more than just churning water into electricity or spinning nature into national development. They had to find a way to give electricity, generated by the same water of the same river at the same dam, two discrete national identities as a way to defend the sovereignty of the dam's owners, Brazil and Paraguay. Designed as a juridically distinct space of exception, Itaipú has become a “state within a state,” simultaneously subordinate and exterior to the Brazilian and Paraguayan states, rescaling sovereignties and territorialities to both the regional and the subatomic. As the state rematerializes in energy policies and practices, technicians have been transformed into technocrats such that, in Itaipú, engineering is not merely a scientific endeavor but a kind of politics as a vocation. This paper explores how electrical engineers superintend political processes and, through material and symbolic entailments, bestow nationality upon the nigh immaterial—electricity—to construct energy sovereignties and a territoriality that emanates from the circulation of charge. This invisible circulation animates conceptualizations of property and value which form the basis of a wider ethic of renewable energy newly emergent in South America. Through an ethnography of the discursive and physical interventions initiated by engineers in the world's largest dam, I show how “nature” and “nation” are altered by hydroelectric statecraft, the political economic and symbolic structures that emanate from the harnessing of hydroelectric energy and gesture towards a non-fossil-fuel future where contentions over transborder water resources abound.

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Committed to Art: Homenaje a Bolivia (Honoring Bolivia) at the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz

Detail from the last painting of the Virgin and the Trinity.

The Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz is a stunning collection of visual art from the past five centuries. Bolivia's vast mineral wealth in colonial and early republic days is attested to in the religious and secular patronage of Renaissance, Baroque, and Impressionist (!) Bolivian art that is housed in a villa at the center of the city.

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In The Atlantic: "Why the West Loves Sci-Fi and Fantasy"

My piece which explores why the United States is so fond of Science Fiction and Fantasy stories has just been published in The Atlantic. This comes out of a) my own deep love of both those genres and b) many invigorating conversations with my students.

Tolkien + Star Wars + Weber = my favorite things to talk about!

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A Guide: Six Steps for Writing a Scholarly Article or Paper in Grad School

Although I enjoy writing, I still find it a challenge and I’m often curious about how other writers work as they’re producing scholarship. My own technique is something that I developed in graduate school and continue tweaking even now as I’m a professor. The Six Steps I’ve listed below are the steps I go through in order to produce a draft of an article or paper—I realize that others do things differently and the key principle is to figure out and go with what works for you. You’re not doing it wrong if you’re doing it.

It feels a bit vulnerable to reveal the unfinished product, but because graduate school can be so grueling, I thought it’d be worth it to put my process out there. All the disclaimers apply: I'm an anthropologist and this is me writing ethnography, disciplinary conventions from humanities, STEM, and even other social sciences are very different. There are other sites (here and here and here and here and here) that also give great advice on the doing of graduate school and the work we're to produce.

You’ll notice two things from the start: 
1) I do a lot of pre-writing.
(I call this “writing.”) 
2) I do a lot of it by hand.
(Writing by hand does something different for my brain as I’m trying to work through ideas or pushing through a moment of “writer’s block.” Also, typing on the computer makes it oh-so-tempting to start reading my email or fret about the WHO news on the coronavirus.)

The goal here is to produce a draft (not a perfect final version) and this takes time. Interspersed with all these steps are coffee, eating, sleeping, grading, lecturing, commuting, bathing, jogging, interacting with human beings who are not my students. These steps won’t work very well the night before something is due.

STEP ONE: Initial Brainstorming [by hand!]
Main Question: What’s interesting?

To come up with an idea for a paper (or article), start with the question “What’s interesting?” What’s the data puzzle that caught you eye? What’s the question or confusion that you find intriguing?

2 examples from my own writing:

  • Why didn’t yerba mate catch on during European colonialism in the same way that coffee and tea did, since they’re all non-European products and all have a bitter taste? (This led to an article I placed with Comparative Studies in Society and History here.)
  • Something I noticed in my ethnographic field work was that there are different versions of the “origin stories” for the massive Itaipú dam construction debt (and whether it was being repaid) and these versions seem to coincide with the political and social position of the individual. Note: images I’ve included in this post are the real notes for this paper.

I actually write down questions like this in a notebook or on a pad of paper. And then I try to figure out the “why” and the “so what.”

STEP TWO: The Basics [by hand!]
Main Question: What’s going on? Why does it matter?

On a piece of paper (usually legal paper turned sideways), I’ll label four sections entitled:

  • The Issue
  • The Data
  • Theory
  • So What?

And then I’ll jot down bullet points (sometimes entire sentences) underneath each and answer the following questions:

  • The Issue: What is the issue, the main idea of this paper?
  • The Data: What data, what evidence do I have that connects to the issue? (specific documents, interviews, participant-observation)
  • Theory: What theories help explain what I’m seeing in my data?
  • So What?: Why does this matter? What can we learn from this?

In this and the next step, I’ll read new articles and books that connect with the issue and the data. I annotate as I read (and even jot down imaginary conversations with the authors): How does W account for what she has uncovered? How is X challenging the accepted way of thinking about this? What would Y ask about my findings? What would Z point out is missing from my assertions?

STEP THREE: The Set Pieces [by hand!]
Main Question: What are the major set pieces, the major components of this article?

I began in pencil, with the boxes around what I thought might be the "major set pieces" of the article, then I drew connecting arrows and annotations to my various bullet points. On another day, I used the blue pen and then, at the end, went back to pencil to try to figure out the logical flow of various sections.

On another piece of paper (see the accompanying images), write out five sections that will help you figure out what the main set pieces of the article will be. You can see that I mark up this document repeatedly… I don’t start out with Roman numerals or any kind of order. You’ll see marginalia, arrows, and different colored ink. This is me iterating through ideas and connections. I’m very opposed to starting out with a pre-determined order or hierarchy of information. In fact, that’s one of the very questions that this step is supposed to help me work out. I certainly don’t know it from the start.

Under each of the section headings I’ll write out bullet points and even entire sentences and sometimes I’ll realize that one section actually has three main components. I usually draw boxes around the section headings (you can see it on the yellow paper):

  • All articles need them.

  • What background does the reader need to know to be able to understand what’s interesting about the data?

The Data:  
  • In this case, since these are notes about Itaipú dam and the construction debt, my data seemed to fall into two areas: a) How the debt grew in the first place; b) How different groups interpret that story.

  • Writers and key bodies of literature and approaches that connect to the data. 
  • For the paper I was sketching out, the two main debates were: a) literature on hydroelectric dams; b) literature on credit/debt. I ended up focusing on the latter.

  • What has happened as a result of the data?
  • What are my major conclusions, major interpretations of the data and the theory? 
  • What is my argument for why we’re seeing the data we’re seeing? 
  • Why does this matter?

You can see that this step is several pages long and not everything that I write here ends up in the final article. Some of it ends up as fodder for other papers, because one of the main goals of this step is to really focus on the heart of this article. The question is “What is this article about? What is the story that I’m telling? What are the main components necessary to tell that story?”

Stare and stare at these set pieces and create a logical flow through them (notice the labeling of I, Ib, II, III, IIIb, IV, V).  I do this only after writing down and detailing all the components. For me, the order arises from my ideas and the data. It’s not some formula that I begin with and then fill out.

STEP FOUR: Outline [typed!]

Type up the work you’ve done, using the logical flow order and using bullet points (and complete sentences… anecdotes, formulations of the argument) for the various subsections of each. I aim for complete sentences (just because it helps me start linking ideas), but this isn’t absolutely necessary.

STEP FIVE: Iterating the Outline [by hand and typed!]

This is the back of one of these pages, where I wanted more space and was trying to think through the way different constituencies were gathering data and making their claims about the debt from Itaipú dam.
Format the narrative outline with wide margins for notes and, by hand, comment and annotate on what you’ve written. Ask:

“So what?”
“What else needs to go here?”
“What are the steps?”
“How does theory connect?”
“What’s significant?”
“What’s missing here? What are the gaps?”

You might retype the outline with the added commentary, print it out, and do this process again. The aim is to get to a place where you’ve commented as much as you possibly can and gotten to the point where there’s little more brainstorming that you can do to help focus the article and interpret the data.

This isn’t the moment for exciting rabbit trails into other areas of research or articles.

STEP SIX: Drafting [typed!]

After a few days of iterating through the outline, it’s time to write. I’d suggest starting at the beginning of your outline and just write the information into paragraphs. My writing goal is a minimum of 300 words a day, but when I’ve commented and iterated through the outline, I can do triple that in a few hours.

When you feel stuck or tired with writing, print it out and write additional paragraphs by hand on the back sides of the pages. Part of the reason for printing it out is sheer paranoia—in case the computer dies, I have a hard copy.

Do only minimal editing on what’s already been written because the goal is to finish an entire draft, not to perfectly polish the first three paragraphs over and over.

Once the full draft is done, you can go and ask, again “What’s missing?” “What’s out of order?” “What’s too thin?”

That's my process. Your suggestions? How to write tips Ph.D. advice academic journal article publishing publication journal peer-reviewed academic writing anthropology ethnography academia author tenure "publish or perish" peer-review doctoral program edit revise faculty
  "writing culture" "How I write"

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