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May 2013

Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage


As always Gail Carriger has created a delightful female character who inadvertently subverts the standards of Victorian society. Set in a finishing school more akin to Hogwarts and 007, Sophronia is whisked off into the world of etiquette and espionage, with lots of fantastical mechanicals. Unlike other authors, Carriger actually touches on the gender, race and class issues that were very real for that era.


Paying off my student loans

Hey followers,

Graduation is looming large and the government is going to start collecting on my loans, so I’m exploring new ways to earn money. Especially since my student job has to let me go when I graduate.

In the process I’d like to know how other graduates (or soon-to-be-grads) are making an income outside of a standard 9-5 job. I’ve had some friends use Etsy and ebay to some success, but I’m sure there are other modes online to bring in the money (and then shell it out to the collection agency).

SHAMELESS PLUG: Here’s my NEW AMAZON SHOP, in which I will be selling my old books (sob).

Book Review: Beyond Borderlands

Beyond the Borderlands: Migration and Belonging in the United States and Mexico
by Debra Lattanzi Shutika

The hottest and most contentious debate currently occurring on the United States political front concerns immigration. Borderland issues, whether physical or phenomenological, also play a starring role in social sciences topics (as was exemplified in last year’s AAA conference theme) which is what makes Debra Shutika’s book especially relevant. In Beyond the Borderlands: Migration and Belonging in the United States and Mexico (University of California Press) Shutika studies the impacts of migrant communities that journey between Textitlán, Guanajuato, Mexico and Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, USA.
Shutika took great care in studying the intricacies of a binational existence over a 10-year period, and it shows in her purposeful analysis. She captures the hybridity of the migrant perspective and the uncomfortable space of coexistence in both towns. These invisible laborers have a massive effect on two local economies, yet they are still a marginalized group on both sides of the border. The description of the Kennett Square Mushroom Museum is telling, having no mention of those that pick the produce and now make up a large part of the town’s working class (99). On the Mexican side of their borderland existence, the migrants are never really seen as the same community-members that they used to be. Upon making a “pilgrimage” to Textitlán they partake in symbolic community ferias, but these once a year occurrences do not seem to make up for their annual absence (200-202).
There are multiple instances in which the migrants are labeled “invisible” but not entirely through the author’s omniscient knowledge, rather in consideration of policy and actions on the part of the town. Little things like excluding information on Mexican farmworkers from the town website to a yellow-ribbon campaign with racist undertones all coalesce into a feeling of discomfort, not for myself, but for the Mexican immigrants (211, 148). What must it be like to be literally shunted into the worst homes, have to do the most grueling work, and not be recognized as an important piece in creating a local economy? Why is it that the town’s annual Mushroom celebration ignores the very hands that pick and package them?
I think it is clear she has opinions on how the immigrants are treated in Kennett Square, but I appreciate her care in writing about the more controversial issues (like the moving of the Cinco de Mayo celebration to parking lots and alleys instead of the main street)(203-238). She approaches the issue carefully, laying historical context out before delving into the local history and finally the recent occurrences, presenting quotes from the organizers and the participants. Her distaste with the town’s handling (or rather mis-handling) of the event comes through only at the end, when she has allowed readers to consider all the scaffolding she has constructed.
The theme of “home” and what that means is a major theme throughout her studies. For these migrants the physical location of a “home” may not be static, but there is still a symbolic association with the structure itself as a totem of the family. Immigrant families from Textitlán generally try to keep the homes in Mexico because there is the hope of returning, and when they do return they inhabit a strange place that is no longer native, and not-quite outsider. Money is sent for renovations and family or friends are recruited to keep up the appearance of someone living there. At the same time they are striving to create a comfortable home in the USA, where they spend most of the year. The chapters on home, and the complexity of belonging, would be prime to read alongside Michel de Certeau and Doreen Massey (12-15).
Overall I feel that Shutika keep a steady consistent distance from her subjects when it came to observations. It wasn’t until the end, when certain incidents in Kennett Square became particularly unreasonable that I feel her opinion really came out, but not in such a way as to negate all of her tireless work or sully the overall takeaway from the study.

Book Review: Advances in Visual Methodology

Advances in Visual Methodology

Edited by Sarah Pink (2012)

I read this in one day, the weekend after my final classes as a MA student in Visual Anthropology, so I was looking for a book that would give me hope for the future of academia and adaptation to new media. If you’ve seen some of my vlogs you’ll know I have major issues with academia’s refusal to adopt new media quickly enough to stay relevant and engaging. This book has a wide variety of essays covering various aspects of visual methods, but I felt a disconnect between the editor’s purpose and the collective attitudes expressed by the writers.

The introduction seeks to make visual methods a more accepted, less contested in method within academia, yet some of the authors seemed to discuss it as if it was still speculation as to whether these were accepted methods. Visual methods should have been discussed as if the authors already believed these were legitimate forms of research and presentation (there were a few that did so, but not the majority). Many also still seemed hesitant to adopt new media and stressed having to prove that incorporation of such tools in a project should be justified.

No. Nope. Stop that right now.

If they believe the stance the intro laid out, then they shouldn’t also be questioning the very USE of other media. New media is facing the same speculation and critique as visual methods in academia, we should be striving to open up the minds of researchers to better use all the tools available. And I feel that “justifying” the use of a media in terms of a project should really be determined by the researcher. I use wordpress for fieldnotes and my topic is on fieldworkers. They are not related topics, but I’m not trying to make them so, I’m using a tool available to me. A tool I believe will be the very near future of academic endeavors (at least by younger generations who grew up alongside these advances, and are therefore less resistant to them).

I think that Sarah Pink’s efforts are admirable, but overall this proves that academia is still playing catch-up. Even the design of the book itself showed a lack of proficiency in visual design. The main headline font was Impact. Come on. Basic design lessons teach you to use a unique font (unless making an office flier). And the small percentage of visuals actually produced in this volume also screams contradiction. No, not every essay in this book was about a distinct visual project, but still, when trying to make an argument FOR something at least back that up with action.

I appreciate the effort put forth by some of the authors, but I can’t help but be very disappointed that even recent publications on visual methods are falling short, and in my opinion, hurting the overall argument to make it a legitimate form of methods.

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