Welcome to Academography!

There’s more and more great ethnography of higher education, but so much of it is hard to find.

The point of this project is to bring this set of work together. We think that both newcomers and established researchers could use help keeping track of everything that’s happening in the field. If you’re just getting started, our developing pedagogy section might be especially helpful.

It’s an extremely diverse set of research. It comes from people in all sorts of fields, from many different continents, from many different political perspectives, from different institutional positions. It overlaps with what’s lately been called “Critical University Studies,” but also includes work in science education, policy studies, critical sociology, educational anthropology, higher ed research, anthropology of knowledge, history and sociology of science, laboratory studies, reflexive cultural studies, and no doubt others.

The project is sponsored by the Committee on Postsecondary Education at the Council on Anthropology of Education, but anyone is free to get involved. We’d love to hear from anyone working in the field or just starting out. Especially let us know when you come across new research we should write about.

We can be reached at academography@gmail.com. You might also want to sign up to be notified when we publish new content.

Conclusion: Reading the work that is already there

This is the conclusion to a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction to the project, or see the whole list of posts.

I realize it may seem that I have been very hard on Gusterson in this series.

In part, I do think that is justified. Prominent academics with big platforms have a proportionately larger obligation to get things right. They deserve close scrutiny and high standards.

But I still don’t want to make it seem like there was never anything worth taking seriously in Gusterson’s project. Let me briefly state some alternative claims, based on the paper, that Gusterson could reasonably have defended.

Continue reading Conclusion: Reading the work that is already there

Critical Point 7: The problem of methodological nationalism

This is the seventh post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

The blindness to intradisciplinary status, gender and power is not the major blind spot in this paper. We also need to pay close attention when Gusterson writes a preliminary disclaimer, seemingly in passing, that handicaps his whole enterprise.

“In view of my own location, the analysis is necessarily—and unfortunately—focused on US universities and their remaking in the context of contemporary neoliberalism” (437).

He is right that the omission is “unfortunate,” but was it remotely “necessary”?

Continue reading Critical Point 7: The problem of methodological nationalism

Critical Point 6: Gender and dominated subfields in U.S. anthropology

This is the sixth post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

I was just saying that Gusterson is uncritical about anthropology itself. This extends to a profound lack of self-consciousness about his own institutional location in the field.

When Gusterson originally delivered this paper orally, it was as his Presidential Address for the American Ethnological Society. Now this puts him at the very top ranks of the global status system in the field, because American anthropology is the globally dominant and basically hegemonic center of the discipline, and the AES is at the top of the status system within American anthropology, and then Gusterson was at the top of it.

Continue reading Critical Point 6: Gender and dominated subfields in U.S. anthropology

Critical Point 5: Critical anthropology without a critique of anthropology

This is the fifth post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

Throughout his paper, Gusterson presumes that anthropology is basically the “good guys.

The implied “bad guys,” meanwhile, amount to most of the other social sciences. He lumps together “behaviorism in psychology, rational choice theory, Walt Rostow’s developmental stages in economics, ‘realism’ in international relations theory, and opinion polling in communications” as all being “Pentagon epistemology” (438).

Continue reading Critical Point 5: Critical anthropology without a critique of anthropology

Critical Point 4: The tenured “we” or the subject of liberal pity

This is the fourth post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

I suggested in the previous post that Gusterson does not really engage with the large body of work on identity and intersectional perspective that has — rightly — become central to critical work on higher education.

Yet he does speak quite freely on behalf of a collective: a collective “we.”

This makes me anxious.

Continue reading Critical Point 4: The tenured “we” or the subject of liberal pity

Critical Point 3: The resistance to identity theories, or methodological whiteness

This is the third post in a series of critical engagements with Hugh Gusterson’s paper, Homework: Toward a Critical Ethnography of the University. I won’t repeat the framing of this series here, but you may want to read the introduction before continuing, or see the whole list of posts.

The corollary to Gusterson’s return to political economy is a rejection of what we could call, very broadly, identity theories. By identity theories I mean the whole set of traditions which have insisted that all thought emerges from a particular place in the social world, from a particular subject position.

Continue reading Critical Point 3: The resistance to identity theories, or methodological whiteness

Public Anthropology and Student Politics Syllabus

I wanted to share one last syllabus that I’ve taught myself: this one was from when I taught last year at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The prescribed title was “Public Anthropology,” but it was really a critical survey of student movements since the 1960s, seen in global perspective with a focus on South Africa.

Continue reading Public Anthropology and Student Politics Syllabus

Resources for Resistance: A politically engaged reading list

Maximillian Alvarez kindly offered to let us repost his short bibliography of Resources for Resistance, which affords a great, broad introduction to recent critical writing on higher education. (Much of it is U.S.-oriented; it also includes reflections from Canada, Britain, Australia, Mexico, and some more transnational cases.)

We’re borrowing the list from the end of Alvarez’s manifesto last year in The Baffler, Contingent No More. The manifesto is well worth reading for its general reminder that organizing against precarity should also be about organizing against the academic star system and against the dominant structures of academic knowledge.

Continue reading Resources for Resistance: A politically engaged reading list

Politics of the University in the Global North Syllabus

A note from an Australian colleague just reminded me that we still need to flesh out our collection of teaching materials in Critical University Studies and critical ethnography of higher education. I do have a few things I can contribute from my own teaching practice. I’ll start here with a reading list that I wrote in 2013 for a class on the politics of universities in the Global North. It is mainly about the United States, with a bit of comparative work from other places, particularly France.

Continue reading Politics of the University in the Global North Syllabus

Critical Philosophy and Anthropology of Education Syllabus

For our continuing collection of syllabi, here is the syllabus for an undergraduate seminar that I taught in 2016 during my postdoc at Whittier College (a small liberal arts college in Southern California). Its mission was to put critical ethnography of higher education into dialogue with critical philosophies of education (from Plato to Freire, essentially).

Continue reading Critical Philosophy and Anthropology of Education Syllabus