08/29/19

The Truth About Grades

Grades are a ranking system. Grades do not measure some empirical achievement; there are a relative achievement determined by a judge (with whom all judged take issue with). Grades are an imperfect measure of learning. They capture some of what one learns. They often leave out more.

Educational ideology, from the right to the left, considers assessment at some level to be a criteria referenced, neutral process. The rhetoric exhorts each and every graded one to do more. The sentiment is that with just the right combination of grit, perseverance, hard work and skill, you too can get the A.

Grades, however, do not measure excellence. They allocate resources. They divide. They are what makes this world of the student every bit as real as the world of work for pay. Grades work against cooperation; they undermine solidarity. They pit one student against the other as grades are a limited resource and one person’s gain means someone else’s loss. Immediately upon handing out a sheet of grades each honest instructor knows in their heart of heart that the honeymoon is over. We can read it in the recipients very body language.

So what’s the point of bringing it up? We all know this truth in one way or another?  Grades are a definitive statement of the underlying structural relationship that guides human interactions for at least the past two hundred years wherein market mechanisms have driven valuations of individual worth and resource allocation. The point of bring up grades us that as long as one labours under the misconception that grades measure some innate ability of something that is theoretical obtainable by everyone most of us will remain unhappy; but more importantly we will remain without the capacity to really do anything about it.

Key Lessons About Grades

  • Grades are not arbitrary, they are normative.
  • Grades are an intrinsic aspect of capitalist society.
  • Grades are an imperfect measure of learning.

What Can One Do?

  • Recognize the reality of the conditions of your work.
  • Work to adapt to it (without compromising principles) and to change it.

I once heard the Canadian singer and television host Tommy Hunter in an interview say “the mechanic down the street is a better musician than I am. The difference is I’m a better businessman.”  Similar things could be said about getting grades. Grades don’t necessarily go to the ‘best’ student, they go to the person who is (in Hunter’s words) the best business person. It’s about figuring out what one needs to do.

Some of us have innate skills.   These skills lead to nowhere without hard work and good timing. They also rely upon figuring out the optimum labour investment to output. There is a nice marxist concept, socially necessary labour time, that I suggest is relevant here.  Put simply, “socially necessary labour time is the amount of labour time performed by a worker of average skill and productivity, working with tools of the average productive potential, to produce a given commodity.” That means a student who invests a maximum effort into a paper shouldn’t expect a maximum grade.  It’s not how much effort one puts in, it is what kind of effort. For some taking more time might produce an average output. For other students a sub-average input might yield a superior output. The quality of the output then (as measured in grades) is not related to the time invested by a student.

It is important to recognize that there are many differnt paths that lead from one’s education. It is as though one is standing at the center of a garden with paths radiating out from in many directions. You are, in this moment, free to choose. Choice is power, but remember some paths are less forgiving than others. What is most important for you as a learner? mastery of a skill, learning something transformative, or accumulating a grade?

Through out my own life I have tended to focus on my learning, not the grade. This has consequences. Faced with an assignment I may not like, appreciate, or value, I would select something differnt, something that would give me a platform to contribute and allow me to exercise my voice. I would advise something similar to learners more intersted in learning than accumulating grades. Put a small piece of yourself into the work, but remember the work is not you, nor is it a measure of you. It is merely something you did one day.

Your task, no matter what you think or feel it is, is not todo a better paper next time. It is to learn, to develop, to explore. The paper is secondary. The mark will be forgotten But, what you take up as yours, what you take as your experience and knowledge will outlast any grade.

 

 

03/19/19

Masculinity, Fishermen, and Gender

Fishing narrowly understood is a masculinest occupation. Crews and skippers are overwhelmingly men, not just in my homeport of Prince Rupert, but globally. That does not deny the fact that the wider social world of fisheries is a human multi-gendered social world. Donna Lee Davis and Jane Nadel Klien were among the early cohort of researchers who documented the integral role women play in fisheries communities (1988). Much of the focus of the work that preceded Davis and Nadel Klien highlighted the crew at sea (see, for example: Orbach 1977; Zulaika 1981; Cohen 1987). Other approaches retained an anthropology of the village and wrote about peasant-like settings (see, for example: Firth 1966; Faris 1966). The turn to view fisheries within a wider gendered lens developed through the1980s; one important result of which is the normalization of an approach that assumes gender is relevant as opposed to merely something to add after the fact (Neis et al 2005; see also, Menzies 2011:99-110).

The social world of fishing communities is not a homogenous space – it is riven by class and gender just as aspects of the wider society are. While the early maritime anthropologists (such as: Orbach 1977; Zulaika 1981) focused on the crew at sea as the sum total of the fishing community as an occupational culture, this paper zeros in on how aspects of onboard work are implicated in the reproduction of gender, specifically masculinity while appreciating this occurs within a wider social field than the boat itself (Davis 1993; Yodanis 2000; Power 2004; King 2007).

In a paper explaining why women don’t fish, Carrie Yodanis argues, “women are women because they do not fish” (2000:268). She found gender to be defined in relation to the at sea practice of fishing. Yodanis’ study was based in a Maine lobster fishing community. Her observations are similar to my own among British Columbian fishermen (Menzies 1991). Yodanis goes on to say “‘Man’ is defined as one who fishes and ‘women’ is defined in opposition to that which is a fisherman” (2000:268). This echoes Nancy Chodorow’s1978 observation that gendered parenting –motherhing and fathering (as opposed to simply an androgynous parenting)- is at the root of societal gendered inequalities. In her rendering girls simply grow into women while men are made as their masculine identity is severed from their mothers as they become ‘not women’ (Chodorow 1978). There are, of course, women who fish (Wilson 2014, 2016). Yet their presence on the boat is constructed in such a way as to maintain normative hegemonic masculinity (Menzies 1991; Meyer 2015; McMullen 2018).

Julianne Meyer explores the question how women who fish are gendered and asks what does this say about masculinity on boats (2015). She does this through a study that combines active participation in two seasons as a Bristol Bay setnetter and at fisherpoet festivals in Oregon where she spoke with women about their experiences, ideas, and performances as fishermen and fisherpoets. Meyers notes that women fishermen and fisherpoets “must show they are prepared to engage in the hypermasculine culture of commercial fishing” (2015:18). While they are not explicitly excluded, “women have a difficult time breaking into and remaining in the occupation” (Meyer 2015:19). She further notes “working in a male-dominated industry, women often struggle to keep their jobs if they are not involved in a relationship. Women often find work in industry through familial or romantic relationships and those women who chose to enter the occupation without relationships face additional struggles. … Men in the occupation occasionally expect women to have sex with them, based solely on the demographics of the occupation. … In addition to this, women must also be ever vigilant in their activities in the industry because of the looming threat of sexual violence” (Meyer 2015:22).

Building off of Meyer’s work with women, Bradford McMullen explores the ways in which male fishermen who are also fisherpoets define masculinities. He too notes the overtly masculinist tone of commercial fisheries as a contemporary occupation. While observing a variety of masculinities at play among fishermen (even a variant that includes women as masculinized) he locates them all within the wider sense of hegemonic masculinity – straight, androcentric, and valuing competency and credibility. He defines these last two attributes as follows: “Competence in the context of the fishing industry is the ability to perform well succeeding as a fisherman by doing one’s job and surviving the stresses that accompany it. Credibility in fishermen speak could also be called trustworthiness: one’s credibility resides in other people’s belief that fishermen will live up to their promises and accomplish the things they are expected to do, no matter their difficulty” (McMullen 2018:17). Becoming a man, in the eyes of the fishermen’s world, is all about demonstrating one’s ability to do the job and do it reliably. That women might also do the job doesn’t necessarily take away from this masculinist conception as they either aren’t there (Yodanis 2000) or they take on the masculinist attributes (while remaining female) that reinforce the idea of the maleness of the world of fisheries (Meyer 2015).

In the early 1980s I had been part of an anti-pornography campaign to remove magazines like Hustler from the campus bookstore. Our campaign was inspired by writings in the edited collection Take Back the Night (Lederer 1980). Thinking that this might be a good way to approach the onboard pornography and sexist attitudes pervasive on many coastal fishboats of the time, I made copies of several chapters of Take Back the Night to use as educational materials during the herring season that year.

In the 1980s commercial herring seining lasted from late February into early April. There were a hundred or so boats in the fleet. We would travel from opening to opening, waiting for a week or more at remote fishing grounds for a chance to load up that might last a little as a few minutes. A season could be made or lost in ten minutes after having waiting for weeks on anchor. Aside from waiting there wasn’t much to do but socialize, do a bit of sport fishing, share food, booze, and other stuff. Pornography was a major item circulating amongst the fleet. So, I thought I might do a little bit to change things.

I had periodically been placing the copies of Take Back the Night chapters onto the galley table in the boat that I worked on. It looked like other crew members from our boat and visiting boats had been picking them up and reading them. But I was soon disabused of any positive interpretation. About three weeks into the season our boat cook sat down at the galley table across from me. He seemed to be reading one of the pamphlets. He glanced over at me, looked back at the pamphlet, then asked me:

“So, Charlie. What is this miss-ogg-ah-knee?”

“Misogyny, I corrected.”

“Hmm.” He said.

“It means women hating.”

He looked me directly in the eyes

“So, what man hates a women.”

He tossed the pamphlet onto the table and returned to his cooking. It was then I realized two things: (1) the cook was the sole person (not the crew) who was using the pamphlets (and not as I had anticipated), and; (2) I had really misunderstood my audience.

Male centered ideas of sexuality, as presented by the onboard pornography, were a physical manifestation of the definitional masculinity of the space on the ship. Unlike the more polite and public spaces ashore, the display of pornography and sexualized images of women were explicit boundary markers. These spaces were felt to be private male worlds within which women were not expected to enter or to participate in. Shoreside, when wives, girlfriends, or daughters were expected to visit the boat the skipper (or more often, the cook) would make certain the most explicit materials were swept away out of sight – though the calendars of partially glad women would almost always remain untouched. This ideology of sexuality and gender undergirds the working world and the ways that one learned the fishing trade. The inclusion of a few women in the occupation served to underscore, rather than alter, the masculinity of fishing labour and the process of becoming a fisherman (Menzies 1991, Meyer 2015, Yodanis 2000).

02/18/19

A UBC School of Anthropology?

Could there be a UBC School of Anthropology? That is an interesting question. As one of the top ranked anthropology departments in Canada one may well like to think there is something unique about our program and some quality and impact among our members past and present. But rankings, desires, and aspirations do not make a school. What might be the core aspect of such a school of thought if one could be said to exist?

Harry Hawthorn founded UBC’s anthropology department in 1947. Under his direction the department produced volumes of theses and dissertations concerning Indigenous peoples in Canada. While the department’s research focus has expanded geographically, we do retain a strong cohort of faculty and graduate students working with and among Indigenous communities in Canada and abroad. Our program is also entwined with the Museum of Anthropology, founded by Audrey Hawthorn in 1949. However, though some of the Museum’s faculty are co-appointed in anthropology, not all of them are and the Museum is a stand-alone institution with it’s own institutional character and mandate. As with the department, the museum has a strong focus on research with and among Indigenous communities.

There are at least four strands of work emerging out of UBC Anthropology’s engagement with Indigenous-based research: an empirically-based tradition of ethnography linked to provision of expert testimony, an empirically-based traditional of field archaeology, a structuralist Levi-Straus influenced ethnographic practice, and a materialist tradition of political economy. These are not hermetically sealed categories and colleagues may not necessarily agree with this grouping, but when one examines closely the corpus of our department’s publications relating to Indigenous communities on the north west coast of North America one can clearly see these general streams of work.

Under Harry Hawthorn’s direction several decades of empirically grounded graduate studies of Indigenous communities were produced. Hawthorn himself led two major government funded projects “The Indians of British Columbia: a study of contemporary social adjustment” (Hawthorn, Belshaw, and Jamieson 1955) and “A Survey of the Contemporary Indians of Canada (Hawthorn 1966).   These, and other similar reports, examined the socio-economic state of Indigenous peoples with recommendations for accommodating Indigenous peoples within the mainstream economy.

Hawthorn was not alone among his colleagues of the day in engaging in applied, policy, or expert witness research (see, Kew 2017 for his personal reflection on a history of applied research). Wilson Duff, whose work was pivotal in making William Beynon’s fieldwork accessible to several generations of students, was a key expert in the Nisga’a land claims, commonly called The Calder Decision (Forster, Raven, and Webber, 2007). Duff, who worked at the Royal Museum of BC before taking up an appointment at UBC was a thorough empirical researcher interested in not simply what was, but also how Indigenous communities found their way in the contemporary moment. Michael Kew, who began teaching at UBC in 1965, already had amassed a strong history of applied anthropology before he began at UBC. With a BA from UBC (where he had studied with, among others, Harry Hawthorn) Kew found work with Duff at the BC provincial museum in 1956 (Kew 2017). From the museum he went to work for the Centre for Community Studies, University of Saskatchewan. He returned to graduate studies in 1963 in the doctoral program in anthropology at the University of Washington (PhD completed 1970). All the while his work focused understanding the ways Indigenous communities persisted and adapted in the face of fundamental social transformation.

These early members of the department were trained in an anthropological approach the prioritized detailed empirical fieldwork with community-based knowledge holders. Their work involved both a consideration of historical practices predating colonialism and the contemporary adaptations of Indigenous peoples (see, for example Hawthorn 1966; Duff 1964). Closer in sensibility to the British structural functionalists than with Boasian particularism, they were very much interested in how things worked and how change wrought by colonialization emerged within the contemporary period.

Archaeology was not originally part of the anthropology program at UBC. Instead, an amateur archaeologist and Germanic Studies professor, Charles Borden, initiated it (West 1995). “In the 1960s Borden would reflect that Drucker’s words [see Drucker 1943:128] … instigated his early amateur involvement in B.C. archaeology: ‘Drucker’s report … had a profound influence on the present writer. It was the direct impact of his publication which in 1945 prompted me to initiate a series of salvage projects at potentially important but rapidly vanishing sites within the city limits of Vancouver.” (quoted in West, 1995:6-7). Wilson Duff had been an undergraduate student of Borden’s. Working together in the 1940s and ‘50s, Borden and Duff conducted some of the earliest scientific archaeology in the province. They also joined with the Musqueam Indian Band in 1946 to initiate one of the earliest archaeological partnerships between a university and a First Nation in the province (Roy 2006). Later, as an employee of the provincial museum, Duff created the journal Anthropology in BC that came to play an important role in the professionalization of archaeology in BC (West 1995).

Duff, Hawthorn, and Borden collaborated in establishing a provincial research program that linked social anthropology and archaeology. Duff, from his position at the provincial museum “sent Borden and his UBC colleague, Harry Hawthorn, a series of recommendations based on the assessment that provincial archaeological sites were in danger of destruction, by both urban expansion and proposed hydro electric dam projects (West 1995:27). They also coordinated in having legislation set in place to regulate and professionalize archaeological excavation. They also lobbied to have developers, not the government, pay for the cost of archaeological research (West 1995:27). A decade of lobbying resulted in the passage into law of the Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act in 1960, the forerunner of today’s Heritage Conservation Act.

As West observed the early UBC anthropological tradition (circa 1945-1970) closely linked socio-cultural anthropologists and archaeologists in a common pursuit of the scientific study of Indigenous peoples in British Columbia (1995). These foundational figures of the UBC School placed a higher value in scientific study than they did in the beliefs of their Indigenous research collaborators – at least in terms of historical truth. Duff’s and Kew’s expert opinion research, for instance, relied upon interviews with Indigenous knowledge holders to document historical practices but they also drew upon archival records and archaeological and (in some cases) ecological data to triangulate their conclusions.

The mid-twentieth century anthropological stability was shaken by the rise of new ideas in the academy ushered in on the tails of national liberation struggles in the heartland of anthropological fieldsites (Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Indigenous North America) and the new social movements of the metropole (Patterson 2001). At UBC these changes first appeared in the form a Marxist influenced political economy (the later more evident among the students than the faculty) and a theoretical interest in Levi-Strausian structuralism.

Marxist influenced political economy had few faculty adherents in anthropology at UBC, most of the Marxist influences came from new hires in the sociology side of the program (circa 1970s). There were other materialists and empiricists within anthropology in the form of archaeologists and carryovers from the Hawthorn-Duff period, but they were not necessarily advocates of Marxist theory. The most explicit political economists were among the graduate students.

Between 1977 and 1995 five dissertations (Kobrinsky 1973, Pritchard 1977, McDonald 1985, Boxberger 1986, Littlefield 1995) and at least three MA theses (Wake 1984, Legare 1986, McIntosh 1987) engaged in some significant way with Marxist influenced political economy (though the authors may well eschew a Marxist label). There were additional theses, such as Sparrow’s (1976) work and life history of her paternal grandparents or Brown’s (1993) analysis of Indigenous cannery work that, while not specifically political economy, did engage with a common subject matter (labour, labour organisation, and working class experience).

The political economists, though considerate and respectful of Indigenous community sentiments, were also interested in documenting processes of change and transformation and analyzing such change in the context of a theoretical model external to Indigenous systems of knowledge. Pritchard examined how Haisla involvement in the industrial capitalist economy undermined their traditional social organization. McDonald analyzed how the development of industrial resource capitalism in north western British Columbia simultaneously underdeveloped Kitsumkalem’s Indigenous economy.   Boxberger’s dissertation also examines the way the Lummi’s incorporation within a capitalist economy served to disadvantage them vis-à-vis their access to elements of the mainstream capitalist economy. Littlefield differs from the other three with an explicit feminist analysis in her study of Sne-nay-muxw women’s eemployment, though she too is interested in how this Coast Salish community was incorporated into the capitalist economy. In each of these cases the notion of truth was not so much about the truth vested in Indigenous oral narratives, but the truth of specific transformation in material conditions of life and how that was shifting Indigenous social and cultural organization.

The structuralist approach, represented on faculty by Pierra Maranda, and among graduate students by people like Marjorie Halpin (1973; who became a faculty member in 1973), Martine Reid (1981), and Dominque Legross (1981), had an effervescence quickly displaced by the growing interest in interpretive and post-modern anthropology, a tendency that has gripped mainstream anthropology for several decades now (in various and often competing, forms). The French structuralist moment was driven by Levi-Straus’s ideas of binary oppositions and the notion that the meaning of ritual, myth, and cultural institutions did not reside in what people said they were but were rather notions that emerged from the structure of mind. While key local knowledge holders were valued – the analytic frame was one that located meanings and truth somewhere other than the surface statements. The French structuralists did not accept that Indigenous oral history was in any way a true history (or that historical truth was of central importance); for them, the truth lay in what the ‘myths’ revealed about structure of mind.

This kind of structuralism was fairly short lived, compared to other approaches within anthropology, and was replaced in the 1980s and 1990s with a discourse, narrative, and community-focussed kind of anthropology. While the externalist idea of applying theories and models to Indigenous peoples, narratives, and communities continued, now it was done with an eye toward giving ‘voice to the voiceless.’ These developments occurred within the context of a discipline that was turning to a consideration of how one might write as being as important (if not more so) than what one might write about (Marcus and Fisher 1986). The earlier empiricism of UBC’s founding anthropologists was gradually being displaced by a more post-modern (Marcus and Fisher 1986) or cultural studies approach that was less interested in interrogating knowledge holders as to the veracity of their statements and more interested in revealing and celebrating internal cultural logics and expressions.

Even with the post-modernist turn Anthropology at UBC continued to be primarily driven by theoretical frames and models that saw Indigenous peoples and communities as a source of data to apply their external theories to. Clearly the works of UBC anthropologists such as, but not limited to, Michael Ames, Julie Cruickshank, Bruce G. Miller, or Robbin Riddington demonstrate a deep-seated respect for Indigenous peoples and societies.   Yet the concerns they focus on, while respectful and imbued with an Indigenous sensibility, were not slavish beholden to a literalist interpretation of Indigenous narrative. These are scholars who engage with real Indigenous communities, consider their perspectives, and apply their academic training to making sense of the actually lived worlds of people they care about. Respectful research has deep roots at UBC.

Leona Sparrow, currently Director of Treaty, Lands, and Resources, Musqueam, described the importance of documenting Indigenous perspectives of work through a life and work history of her paternal grandparents (1976:1-4). In the opening section of his dissertation, James McDonald (1985) describes the process of gaining permission to conduct research with Kitsumkalum First Nation.

“At the time when I was considering specific topics and seeking a study area, there occurred a happy coincidence: Kitsunkalum Band Council decided it wanted an anthropologist to make a study of their social history that would assist them in their land claims and economic development. Since I intended to do an historical study of the political economy of an Indian population, our paths came together in a mutually beneficial way. A relationship developed between the Council and myself in which the Band Council provided me with contacts, material support, guidance, and encouragement that not only facilitated the study greatly, but also lent it an orientation that incorporate Indian as well as academic expectations” (McDonald 1985: 22).

Sparrow’s approach prefigures, and defines, what UBC anthropologists can clearly claim as one of the core attributes of their Indigenous-focussed research. McDonald’s dissertation show the practice in full form: respectful of community expectations, field-based, focussed on long term relations that take into account Indigenous perspectives while being firmly rooted within the protocols of scholarly discipline-based research. Members of the UBC School may well approach research questions from different theoretical perspectives or personal experiences, but do so from a common commitment to respectful fact-based and community-grounded research.

The UBC School, if one can be said to exist, can be summed up as our colleague Bruce G. Miller has recently done: “The persistent theme at UBC, … for all of us, independent of where we were trained, was engagement and the department decided around 2014 that the collective identity was of “grounded” researchers, whose research questions arose primarily from pressing questions derived from work with living populations” (2018:18). Miller goes on to say it would be incorrect to suggest we are “simply applied as opposed to theoretical or that these two stand in opposition” (2018:18).   Rather, our approach reflects the fact that we are very much engaged with the “highly dynamic situation regarding Indigenous rights and their place in Canadian society. Especially over the last two decades First Nations have achieved a significant level of self-governance along with key legal victories concerning the Crown’s obligation to consult with them concerning economic development and the Crown’s fiduciary obligations” (Miller 2018:18).

The UBC School’s principle of engagement can be seen throughout and beyond the Department of Anthropology and across much of its history. Borden’s partnership with Musqueam, and specifically with Andrew Charles Sr., created a relationship that persists and was recognized in UBC’s Memorandum of Affiliation with the Musqueam Indian Band, on whose unceded territory UBC sites, in 2007. Department scholars have developed and maintained long-standing partnerships with communities (many Indigenous, but not all) around the word. This work strives for equitable and respectful rapport toward research that is empirically based, theoretically thoughtful, cognizant of historical and structural asymmetries, and directed toward meaningful and mutually beneficial goals. Work of this order facilitates, rather than impedes science by advancing our cumulative understanding of complex issues and assessing our vulnerabilities to ethnocentric assumptions and bias.


This is an excerpt from “I was surprised:” The UBC School and Hearsay. A Reply to David Henige. C. Menzies and A. Martindale.  Journal of Northwest Anthropology. Vol. 53.

The Journal of Northwest Anthropology invites the readers of this blog to read the original opinion piece by David Henige and the full response from Andrew Martindale and myself, which can be found at www.northwestanthropology.com/dashboard.  Use the password: JONA2019 [after March 31, 2019].