Linguistic Anthropology in the Current Professional Market

By Susanne Unger

This essay discusses challenges faced by junior linguistic anthropologists in the current current professional market, outlining developments shaped these challenges and providing ideas about how to navigate this market. Linguistic anthropology is moving toward more collaboration and integration with cultural anthropology. I suggest that this, in conjunction with the current labor crisis in higher education, has forced junior scholars into difficult decisions about how to represent our work. I discuss the history of the subfield—how we got to where we are—and the stakes of collaboration in this historical context for those who seek employment amid a scarcity of tenure-track academic jobs.

A Brief History

Linguistic anthropology is commonly known as one of four (sub)fields of anthropology. This reflects the creation of a discipline in which scholars were once expected to holistically engage with human language, culture, history and biology. Until the mid-20th century in the US, linguistics and anthropology were not clearly separated. Scholars including Boas, Sapir, Bloomfield, Kroeber and C Voeglin, were presidents of the Linguistics Society of America who contributed to both formalist research on language and anthropological theory. In the 1960s, an institutional fissure occurred in the US, catalyzed by Noam Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar that focused on (mental) linguistic competence to the exclusion of performance (actual language use). This paradigm appealed to some because of its empiricist framing. Such appeal contributed to the establishment and expansion of linguistics departments.

Others created a theoretical and methodological framework known as the ethnography of communication. This framework examined language and its use in socioeconomic and cultural contexts. Despite this counter-development, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, as linguistics departments grew, some anthropology departments reasoned that they no longer needed a linguist on faculty. The study of sociolinguistics, folklore, communication, conversation analysis, discourse analysis and pragmatics flourished, but often outside of anthropology departments. Scholars of language and culture developed theoretical standpoints for studying linguistic structure alongside embodied language use, metapragmatics and ideologies. These perspectives offer a lens through which much of culture can be viewed—after all, language is a primary medium for social life. Most contemporary anthropologists who study language and culture are not specifically linguists. Rather, we are people who study culture with a toolkit that includes a nuanced theory of how language works.

Collaboration in an Age of Professional Crisis

Recently, another institutional shift has begun. Since 2000, three of eight AAA presidents have been linguistic anthropologists. More anthropology departments are looking to (or willing to) hire people who study language and culture. And in several articles, linguistic anthropologists emphasize dialogue with cultural anthropology. At the same time, these scholars implore others to recognize the complexity of language and communication. This suggests that dialogue may be one-sided. Overall, these trends reflect increasing re-inclusion of the subfield into the discipline and, for some, a desire to return to a more integrated perspective.

Still, the confluence of historical developments (outlined above) with the current labor crisis in higher education has made it difficult for junior scholars to navigate the relationship between cultural and linguistic anthropology. …read more

Source: Science Daily News


Kangaroos win when aborigines hunt with fire: Co-evolution benefits Australia’s martu people and wildlife

Australia’s Martu people hunt kangaroos and set small fires to catch lizards, as they have for at least 2,000 years. A researcher found such human-made disruption boosts kangaroo populations – showing how co-evolution helped marsupials and made Aborigines into unintentional conservationists.
…read more

Source: Science Daily


Society bloomed with gentler personalities, more feminine faces: Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone

Scientists have shown that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming. Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in. Technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament by dialing back aggression with lower testosterone levels.
…read more

Source: Science Daily


Society bloomed with gentler personalities and more feminine faces: Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone

Scientists have shown that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming. Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in. Technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament by dialing back aggression with lower testosterone levels.
…read more

Source: Science Daily


Exploring the Relationship between Practitioners and Academic Departments

By Barbara Rylko-Bauer

For the past 18 months the Committee on Practicing, Applied and Public Interest Anthropology (CoPAPIA) has been engaged in a project that explores the kinds of relationships that practitioners have with academic institutions and the exchanges that result from these relationships.

This project aligns with many of the core missions of the committee which include strengthening the relationships between non-academic based anthropologists and the AAA, as well as improving training for students who will be working outside of the academy. After completing initial rounds of interviews, the committee organized a session, “Towards an Increased Understanding of Relationships, Value and Forms of Compensation between Practitioners and Academic Departments,” for the 2014 Society for Applied Anthropology meetings, held in Albuquerque, NM. The goal was to share some of the initial project findings and facilitate a discussion with practitioners on the issues being explored within the study.

Past studies of practicing and applied anthropologists have shown that many practitioners are deeply engaged with academic departments, even if they are not employed in tenure-stream positions within universities. While we are aware that there are a variety of roles and relationships that practicing and professional anthropologists have vis-à-vis academic departments, we know little about the logistics of these partnerships or the forms of compensation that make these partnerships worthwhile for all parties. The roundtable we organized focused on fleshing out the range of current relationships, the advantages and disadvantages for partners, and models of compensation and exchange. The current and former CoPAPIA chairs, Mary Odell Butler and Keri Vacanti Brondo, had the pleasure of facilitating a roundtable of invited participants: Lenora Bohren, Elizabeth K. Briody, Shirley Fiske, Heather Schacht-Reisinger, Suzanne Heurtin-Roberts, and Susan Squires.

As an introduction to the roundtable we shared demographic information of the study participants as well as some of the initial findings from their interviews. A total of seventeen individuals have been interviewed, 14 of whom were women and 3 were men. The majority (82%) of respondents held PhDs (n=14); 3 held MA degrees (18%). Participants ranged significantly in the amount of years since attaining their highest degree, from 3 to 40 years. The average time out of graduate school was 15.3 years and the medium was 11.5 years. Session participants shared similar themes to what we had been finding during our interviews, such as pay remaining stagnant; a sense that teaching or other work is under valued; practitioners are often compensated less than traditional academics; universities benefit more from relationships then practitioners do; and the use of practitioners by academic departments may limit employment opportunities for other job seekers. There have also been several positive findings in regards to these relationships including: helping to stay current within the discipline; library access; access to and training of students; as well as significant positives for departments such as student exposure to practicing anthropology and research networks.

After sharing background information on the project we asked each participant to introduce themselves as well as their career …read more

Source: Science Daily News


Electronic Cigarettes and the Pharmaceuticalization of Tobacco

By Megan Carney

E-cigarette advertisement in Manhattan. Photo courtesy Emily Anne McDonald

In the past few years we have witnessed the rapid emergence of a new technological and social object: the electronic cigarette. By offering an alternative to traditional combustible cigarettes, proponents argue these devices have the potential to reduce the staggering harm associated with tobacco use. The need for an alternative to smoking remains an urgent global health priority; the World Health Organization estimates that if current trends continue, one billion people will die from tobacco-related diseases in the 21st century.

E-cigarette advertisement in Manhattan. Photo courtesy Emily Anne McDonald

And yet, despite great promise, the appearance of this new artifact has unearthed a contentious divide among public health scholars and raised new questions about the long-settled status of smoking as a risky behavior. My research explores the electronic cigarette as a controversial scientific, cultural and political object by looking at three distinct groups: young adults in New York City who experiment with the product; global tobacco control experts fiercely debating its merits and dangers; and, by looking at historical documents and recent media accounts, the role of the tobacco industry for whom electronic cigarettes promise a reduced harm product that could breathe new life into a dying business. I am particularly interested in how public health science and tobacco industry profit become entangled in everyday experiences, examining how the polluted subjects rendered through tobacco smoke are understood as distinct from the clean, rational, pharmacological forms of subjectivity imagined through electronic cigarettes.

E-cigarettes (also called vapes, vape pens and hookah sticks, among other names) vary in appearance from slim cylinders that mimic traditional cigarettes to boxy, futuristic designs rendered in vibrant colors. Common elements include a small computer chip, a lithium-ion battery, and a cotton wick soaked in a solution of nicotine and propylene glycol. Such solutions are often flavored to simulate cured tobacco, but additionally come in flavors such as menthol, coffee or even gummy bear and peanut butter. In the US, the market has, in only a few short years, become a $2 billion market comprised of small, independent companies and increasingly, established tobacco corporations like Altria (which includes the Marlboro, Parliament and Skoal brands) and Lorillard (Newport). E-cigarettes are often marketed as producing “harmless water vapor” in place of smoke; as a way to smoke anywhere including bars, clubs and workplaces; and as a socially acceptable alternative to conventional smoking.

E-cigarette in ashtray. Photo courtesy Emily Anne McDonald

What precisely these products are considered under the law is ambiguous and the subject of debate. In 2009, the FDA began seizing shipments of e-cigarettes as they hit US shores, on the grounds that they were “drug delivery devices” that had failed to clear proper approval processes. In response, several companies successfully challenged the FDA ruling, arguing that e-cigarettes should be treated instead as existing tobacco products because their nicotine solution is derived from tobacco leaves. The logic of this challenge is far from straightforward, however, as the nicotine used in therapeutic gum and patches (such as Nicorette) is also derived from tobacco leaves, …read more

Source: Science Daily News


Frontiers in the bioarchaeology of stress and disease: Cross-disciplinary perspectives from pathophysiology, human biology, and epidemiology

By Haagen D. Klaus


Over the last four decades, bioarchaeology has experienced significant technical growth and theoretical maturation. Early 21st century bioarchaeology may also be enhanced from a renewed engagement with the concept of biological stress. New insights on biological stress and disease can be gained from cross-disciplinary perspectives regarding human skeletal variation and disease. First, pathophysiologic and molecular signaling mechanisms can provide more precise understandings regarding formation of pathological phenotypes in bone. Using periosteal new bone formation as an example, various mechanisms and pathways are explored in which new bone can be formed under conditions of biological stress, particularly in bone microenvironments that involve inflammatory changes. Second, insights from human biology are examined regarding some epigenetic factors and disease etiology. While epigenetic effects on stress and disease outcomes appear profoundly influential, they are mostly invisible in skeletal tissue. However, some indirect and downstream effects, such as the developmental origins of adult health outcomes, may be partially observable in bioarchaeological data. Emerging perspectives from the human microbiome are also considered. Microbiomics involves a remarkable potential to understand ancient biology, disease, and stress. Third, tools from epidemiology are examined that may aid bioarchaeologists to better cope with some of the inherent limitations of skeletal samples to better measure and quantify the expressions of skeletal stress markers. Such cross-disciplinary synergisms hopefully will promote more complete understandings of health and stress in bioarchaeological science. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2014.

AN Seeks Columnists for 2015

By agoldenberg

Anthropology News seeks Op-ed columnists for starting in 2015. These volunteers are an integral part of shaping the conversation in AN by developing columns that relate to anthropology in its myriad forms. Each columnist will craft an overarching theme for her or his column based on individual expertise and experience, and write for a wide audience of both anthropologists outside the columnist’s specific subfield as well as the anthropology-curious. AN especially encourages columns that address current news and issues.

Columnists write their own essays and will commit to one year of monthly essays. All columns will be published at, with select ones appearing later in print AN. Everything on is publicly available for four months, and then available to AAA members through AnthroSource. Further details about AN’s publishing cycle are available here.

The term will be January through December 2015. Columns have a flexible word count, between 600 and 1,000 words, and we strongly encourage the use of multimedia content. You will also have the option of publishing additional columns in any given month.

If you are interested in being considered as a columnist and are a current AAA member, email a brief proposal (up to 300 words) of your column theme and summary of your qualifications to AN Managing Editor Amy Goldenberg at by September 12, 2014.

…read more

Source: Science Daily News