– (noun) an area over which activity, capacity, or influence extends

— Merriam-Webster.com

We want to help keep these types of conversations going by providing a platform where anthropologists can write confidently about current topics in styles that have reach. We seek short, op-ed style or creative pieces that elaborate on archaeological, biological, cultural or linguistic themes in the news. Our goal is to offer insightful analysis that also provides a strong model for anthropologically-informed commentary in a short format, written on a tight deadline. If you would like to initiate a Reach discussion, please submit a 50-word prospectus and a link to the original news piece to vesperi4anthronow@gmail.com

                     — Maria D. Vesperi, General Editor

Currently on Reach:

Reflections on Kara Walker’s “a Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”

A recent installation of Kara Walker’s, “a Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”, prompted anthropologist Elizabeth Chin to approach Anthropology Now with a powerful idea for commentary. With the former Domino Sugar Refinery as the exhibit space and evocations of Sidney Mintz’s Sweetness and Power as one of many shared points of reference, we invited several anthropologists who viewed the work during its May 10 to July 6 run in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to share thoughts with our readers. They responded to the sculpture, its reception by the general public and its representation by the arts establishment in a story by Times art critic Roberta Smith (linked below). Dána-Ain Davis, Gina Ulysse, Antoinette Jackson, Yarimar Bonilla and Elizabeth herself engaged the topic with powerful, poetically spare commentaries and/or original photos.

Read our commentary and view original photos from the installation here >


Previously on Reach…

Culture Brokering and Disaster Recovery

An October 2013 opinion piece in the Coloradoan by Kate Browne, an anthropologist whose work includes disaster recovery research and a broadcast documentary on the aftermath of Katrina, prompted Anthropology Now to post a call for commentary on the Anthropology and Environment Society listserv. We sought short, opinion page-style essays on whether culture brokers can indeed contribute to a paradigm shift in disaster recovery. Browne’s column is linked below, followed by Elizabeth EnglandKennedy’s commentary on how culture-broker training can help to secure the safety of people with mental health needs amid natural or social disasters. These two writers contribute insightful analyses that are also strong models for accessible, anthropologically-informed public commentary in a short format.

by Elizabeth EnglandKennedy, November 8, 2013

As an anthropologist working with mental illness and forensic social systems, I would like to highlight the need for culture brokers who are able to work with people with severe and persistent mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia) and other mental health difficulties during natural and social disasters. Specifically, there is high need for brokers who can help these individuals navigate treatment and law enforcement structures and find appropriate care and safe haven during crises. The support need is especially high for people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, whose primary language is not English, who use non-allopathic medical systems, and/or who display culturally-specific idioms of distress to cope with situations of trauma. I have found that such individuals typically lack the sociocultural capital and communication skills required to successfully negotiate situations with bureaucracies such as FEMA and insurance agencies, even when their mental health is sound. Continue Reading…


Presumed Innocent:  On Bill Traylor’s Verve

A recent New York Times review prompted Anthropology Now to post a call for commentary on the Association of Black Anthropologists listserv. We sought short, opinion page-style essays on how the work of African American artist Bill Traylor is contextualized by the arts establishment in the story linked below, a report by Times art critic Roberta Smith. Gina Ulysse viewed the exhibit for herself and contributed an insightful analysis that is also a strong model for anthropologically-informed commentary in a short format, written on a tight deadline.

by Gina Athena Ulysse, August 9, 2013

Something was definitely stirring deep within William “Bill” Traylor. In a span of four years, he expunged a lot of it, producing 1200 drawings and paintings with graphite pencil stubs and poster paint on discarded cardboard.Traylor bears the surname of the proprietor of the plantation in Dallas County, Alabama, where he was born into slavery on April 1, 1854. Like other families, after Emancipation his remained there in the modern form of enslavement as a sharecropper. He moved to Montgomery in 1939. It was then, at the age of 85, that Traylor began to draw, producing his entire body of work by 1942. Reading a New York Times review of the Traylor exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum made me want to see the works in person. His figures and scenes without landscapes brought Kara Walker’s paper-cut silhouettes to mind. Continue Reading…


The End of Photojournalism

Kenneth Irby’s report on the end of photojournalism culture at the Chicago Sun-Times prompted Anthropology Now to post a call for commentary on the Society for Visual Anthropology listserv. We sought short, opinion page-style articles written from a visual anthropology perspective. Engaging in content, these submissions by Zeynep Gursel and Jennifer Cool are also strong models for anthropologically-informed commentary in a short format, written on a tight deadline. Mallary Tenore, Managing Editor of Poynter.org, reports that Irby’s piece received 7600 likes on Facebook and was tweeted some 900 times in the three weeks following publication.

A Challenge for Visual Journalism: Rendering The Labor Behind News Images Visible

by Zeynep Gursel, Macalester College, July 10, 2013

The Chicago Sun-Times’ decision to shut down its photography department to satisfy audiences “consistently seeking more video content with their news” is sad but not surprising. As an anthropologist who studies the changing culture of photojournalism and the rise of the visual content industry, the newspaper’s turn towards multimedia and video on the one hand and freelancers and text journalists equipped with iPhones on the other echoed the fears voiced to me by many in the last decade. The wording of the Sun-Times statement is telling: the news audience allegedly not only displays a preference for video but also does not perceive visuals as part of the news, rather they are reported to want “more video content with their news,”  the way I might ask for fries with a burger.  Continue Reading…

The Dark Side of DIY in Photojournalism and Photographic Ethnography

by Jennifer Cool, University of Southern California, June 29, 2013

Though DIY (do-it-yourself) is generally celebrated as empowering and democratizing, the recent layoff of the entire photojournalism staff at the Chicago Sun-Times is a potent indicator of the dark side of this popular ethos. The elimination of skilled, full-time jobs in favor of part-time, freelance, and unpaid labor is a familiar post-industrial pattern. In this era of media consolidation, corporate cost-cutting and downsizing have become as routine for news organizations, publishers, and media producers as they were for the auto industry in the 1980s. As Kenneth Irby observes in his report, the Sun-Times closing is “just the latest example of a disconcerting trend in American media” in which “news organizations increasingly [turn] to wire services, citizen-submitted content and independent/freelance contributions.”  Continue Reading…

One Response

  1. These changes should come as no surprise to any staff photojournalist. In small incremental ways, the digital creep has been upon us for at least 15 years. As a former freelance National Geographic photographer, I was given 6 months to complete a visual story. The average assignment length today is 6 weeks. This shift will eventually reduce the importance of news photography. It’s all about video today; read between the lines.

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