An Open Letter to Search Committees

Having been forced (by what, my vanity, or the desperate last-days of Capitalism?) to endure the indignity and embarrassment of a recent job interview, let me address those who, in seeking to consider me for an appointment, have come to my website. Imagine the chagrin of my would-be employers when I, a derelict of any time and place – a true heretic, though, only in today’s modernity – asked them, “What is the purpose of your department and staff? If you have no sovereign department and teach only one course – a general introduction to anthropology – what is my ‘job’ to be?” Is it to teach, as I so disrespectfully put it, “the species according to anthropology”? Is it to give the nice students of nowhere-ville a thorough indoctrination into cultural relativity, unquestioned concepts, and some God-awful developmental historical scheme that culminates in American multiculturalism and neo-liberal global Capitalism? I’ll save you all – but mostly myself – the trouble, and give you my answer. “No. No it is not.”

If you want someone who will teach a heavy course-load, I am your man; if, however, that load is free to consider the epistemic (and to be redundant, political) consequences of what is taught and discussed in every class. If you want someone to teach a deep, meaningful anthropological theory course, I am your man; if, however, you want your students to actually be able to tell you the difference between Boasian, structural, and Marxist anthropologies (to name but a few). If you want someone who … well, you get the point.

As Michael Blim has said of my work, “ideas have consequences”. A good and snappy synopsis, but in order for you to know who you’ll be calling, please know that I do not harbor any illusions about knowledge freeing us from anything – prejudice, creed, ideology, or what have you. Knowledge is designed to ensnare. It acts with one purpose: to create behavior-motivating narratives. It is never value-neutral, much less value-free. Every moment passed on a campus or in front of a TV is designed to persuade and entangle – if not in your or “their” web, then in mine. When we look at the history of anthropology we can only come to one conclusion: that it, more than any discipline (besides History, perhaps) is slave to the dominant morality/truth of the day. It has never done anything more than parrot the truth of the day, even if that means contradicting itself many times in its practitioners’ lifetimes. Among many other things, I want my students to understand this and its implications for their own studies – in other words, their understandings of the world. So then, if you want someone who will teach your students about anthropology and how it, in its morality-based conclusions, mirrors the truth regime of the day, I am your man.

Be assured this was not written in anger, but only with the intent to inform.

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