Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks

Beloit College Anthropologist, Associate Professor Jennifer Esperanza was feeling frustrated. Why is there always images of "exotic" peoples on the cover of anthropology textbooks? "Why can't there be images of, for example, a group of white American women eating salads, on the cover?," she asked.

A quick Google image search of "anthropology textbooks" demonstrates her point: image 1.


Image 1: Screenshot of Google image search of "anthropology textbooks"

 Stephen Nugent (2007: 132) in his book, Scoping the Amazon: Image, Icon, and Ethnography, describes: 

Much of the writing on anthropological photography has sought to redress the indexical bias according to which Western image making of non-Westerners has, to put it as crudely as possible, objectified anthropological (and other) subjects.

The aim of the Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks is to offer a critique not just in words, but in counter images that make stark the construction of identities and the owner/subjects of the anthropological gaze in anthropological photography. For me, it is part of two larger projects in which I have been involved. The first is the Decolonizing Anthropology project, which was first articulated by Dr. Faye Harrison in 1991. Since becoming an anthropologist, I have accepted her challenge to work "to free the study of humankind from the prevailing forces of global inequality and dehumanization and to locate it firmly in the complex struggle for genuine transformation" (Harrison 1991: 10). The second is the Rebranding Anthropology project that I initiated in 2005 with other applied anthropologists. This project culminated in a 2006 workshop with the American Anthropological Association to reposition the field from its traditional stereotypes to its contemporary practices and competitors. It also led to the redesign of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology branding and logo mark in 2008 by University of Illinois at Chicago graphic design students.

The design brief that I offered to my former Swinburne Design Anthropology postgraduate students was the following:

Greetings Danthro Alums. I have a quick weekend project for you to do as a favor. A friend of mine pointed out how all anthropology textbooks have these "exotic" images of others on the covers and never an image of "white women eating salad". 

Me, being Dr. Smarty Pants, said, "Wouldn't it be great to replace those exotica images with those of middle class American/Australian Caucasians doing stuff, maybe even using stock photos?"

So, I would ask you to select a cover from a cultural anthropology textbook and replace the "exotica" image with an image equivalent of "white women eating salad." I would suggest creative commons instead of stock images so that we can use them in an article about this topic.

I selected as my template the textbook, Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human by Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz, 3rd Edition: image 2.


Image 2: Cover of Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human textbook

Then, I recreated the textbook with a set of two new images: image 3. The first image is one of my own and has the same Western "anthropological gaze" exotic style as the original textbook image. I used one of my own to avoid any future copyright issues in the reproduction of the project's images in articles, books, and exhibitions. It was also a good reminder for me of how many of the images in my iPhoto library adhered to the National Geographic style of representing the people and places where I have traveled for research. The second image is a decolonized version that shows a similar topic but with Western cultural practices as the subject. I downloaded the image from a Flickr Creative Commons image by colorblindPICASO.

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Image 3: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Woman in Store. Credit: Elizabeth Tunstall and colorblindPICASO CC BY-NC 2.0

Design anthropologist, business coach, and branding specialist, Julie Hill accepted the challenge and produced nine images for the project. She describes her experience below:

I found this exercise interesting and fun to explore. Especially focusing on the shift in the lens, from traditional anthropology to contemporary ethnography, and what that means. The longer I did it, the more interesting it got - I accessed deeper cultural themes, such as beauty, festivities or core cultural values. I liked the one where the North African guy is using modern technology (ipad) and the Western woman is practicing yoga, but maybe it would have been more effective if I had put a traditional Indian woman practicing yoga and then a western woman practicing yoga, to demonstrate a difference.

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Image 4: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Beauty Clay. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 5: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Body Modification. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 6: "Exotic" and decolonized images of The Interpretation of Culture. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 7: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Dancing. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 8: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Introducing Anthropology. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 9: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Market. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 10: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Cultural Anthropology textbook. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 11: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Nubile Women. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 12: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Eating. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

 APA Citation: Tunstall, E. (2016, April 7). Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks [Web log post]. Retrieved from



Diversity and the Whose Flag? Controversy on DO

There is a controversy brewing on Design Observer based on William Drenttel's calling out the lack of diversity of a panel of judges of an Adbusters contest to design a global flag. It has set off a firestorm of comments, some of which are plain scary. Below is my response:

First, William, you are super cool and brave to introduce this subject. The fact that you represent a "privileged white American male" makes me hopeful for the future diversity of the design profession, because social and economic justice is not possible, until there are those who are willing to share and, in some cases give up, their positions of privilege in order to allow marginalized others to gain access. You are part of the solution.

I am saddened and bemused by some of the comments to this post. I am saddened by the anger and fear by some of the commentators -- those who feel that their positions of privilege and authority (based on their race and gender) is threatened by the call that a "global" design project reflect more perspectives than that of seven white men. In the immortal words of Sojourner Truth, "If my cup won't hold but a pint and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?"

Diversity is about the having a range of perspectives in ways that matter to the subject. There are certain categories of identity in which the meanings are often overdetermined. These categories tend to be race/ethnicity, class, gender, and religion. Being overdetermined means that your are more likely to have experiences that significantly differ from someone in another group based on that identity. Yes, there are different perspectives among seven white men but does that represent a wide enough range of experiences, such that one does not overlap with the others.

Note that being judged by the "content of your character" does not mean being color/gender/class/religion blind. One's experiences based on overdetermined differences informs one's character. Experiences of institutional racism may help develop one's strength of resolve to succeed by creating one's own institutions. Experiences of the multi-ethnic culture of Islamic practice may develop one's tolerance for racial differences. Experiences of sexism may make one more expressive of the emotional inner life that is "forbidden" in the business world. These are the content of one's character, but they are generated by the external characteristics to which people positively or negatively respond.

I am bemused by those who are criticizing the call for diversity by pointing out its most cynical or failed implementations. Yes, sometimes diversity can devolve into "visual politics" without substantial differences in perspective. For example, Clarence Thomas was no Thurgood Marshall and Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton. But there should be an institutional consciousness that says that if we are going to create a world flag that we should recruit designers who my have different perspectives and experiences of issues of nationalism, internationalism, flags, perhaps flag-burning, and it should be global. Who are the top flag-burning designers?

This is getting "longer than the original post." Suffice to say that intentional or unintentional policies of exclusion of the diversity of perspectives is the root of all evil. The hubris of seven white American men judging the fate of a global flag is not so different than the hubris of the European heads partition of Africa. Shame on Adbusters. Praise for William for calling it out.

US Diversity and the Olympics

I was going through some of the images from the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics in Beijing. I am always struck by how mono-ethnic all the other nation's  teams look compared to the US. The only European nation that was not mono-ethnic looking was Portugal, another reason why I love that place. Brazil was out is its multi-ethnic-racialness, but everyone else was looking pretty homogeneous.

One would think that the world would be different by now with all the globalization and immigration, especially around sports, which tends to be more open than politics. Since I don't have a TV, I will miss almost all of the Olympics, besides my indifference to everything except Track and Field, which as been tarnished by doping scandals.

The US gets a gold for diversity, now if only we can work on Congress.

Neighborhood in the inter-racial zone

This past weekend I rediscovered why I love the neighborhood in Chicago where I live. It's a neighborhood that was formerly Italian, but now has an inter-racial and inter-class mix of old Italian-American families,  loft-dwelling yuppies, Black and Latino young families, students, and me. It's a neighborhood where people hang out at the stores and the shop keepers know you by sight, if not by name.

So this weekend, I went to my local hardware store, where the Italian-American owner in his 50s, and his Irish (40s) and Italian-American friends (60s) were discussing the election. The owner asked me whether I thought that "the blacks," which he apologized for using but he did not know the correct term, was only voting for Obama because he was black. I thus explained the complexity of black America's relationship with Barack Obama. Later a man of Mexican origin joined, and  we all ended up having a pointed but substantive conversation about reparations (we were all against, but for different reasons), whether racism was better now or in the past (most said now, the shop owner said in the past), who has the highest IQ Condoleezza Rice or Oprah (Oprah has a higher emotional IQ, Condi has higher analytical IQ), and about the state of the world today.

Afterwards, we were all amazed by the fact that we could have such a intelligent and in-depth discussion about such delicate topics without anyone getting offended or upset. It made me think that things are much better in the US regarding race relations.

Historic Moment_Obama Wins in Iowa Caucus

Although the reports seem to say that the overwhelmingly white Iowa voters did not see race as a factor in their decision, the fact that Obama garnered 37.5% of the vote marks a significant moment in American history. While it does not mean that America is by any sense a post-racist society, it does mean that race is not as over-determining a category as it was in the past. You can be white, love Oprah, and vote for Obama and it actually be a really good thing because you can bring about change. So thank you Iowa for keeping the faith that one can be judge others by the content of their character over the color of their skin.

Congratulations Obama! You really do represent the potential for change because you have made this moment happen.

Congress of the Oppressed II

My first year in graduate school I had a class with Renato Rosaldo called Cultural Citizenship, which was the first time since 4th grade I had been in the class were the majority of participants were people of color. There were 5-6 Native Americans (East Coast, West Coast, and South), 4 African-Americans (2 biracials and 2 monoracials, including me), 3 Asians (1 Indo-American, 1 Asian-American, and 1 Chinese male), 2-3 latinos, 1 jewish woman, and 1 white gay male. I named the class the Congress of the Oppressed, because every participant comes from a group who suffers from the dominant society's oppression.

What was fascinating about the class was that we had so much internalized the modes of engagement of the "oppressor" that in a class with no heterosexual,  WASP males, we started to oppress each other. This was accomplished by using alienating jargons and competitive argumentation styles that silenced one another. It was painful and heartbreaking that those who should know better did not.

The miracle was that half way through the class, we realized what we were doing, could discuss it, and then changed the dynamics. We began to engage with each other through poetry, music, drawings about the themes and experiences of cultural citizenship. That Congress of the Oppressed experience changed my life, because it made me aware of how in the words of Audre Lorde, "the master's tools can never dismantle his house" and that it is possible to build new houses with new tools for each other.

This is what makes me sad about the news that the Cherokee Nation has removed the 2,800 descendents of black slaves they owned from their roll of citizens by deciding that citizenship is based on "blood." Seventy-six percent had voted in favor of the amendment, thus barring the freedmen from receiving benefits from the $300 million budget, 80% funded by the US federal Government as reported by Daniel Walker of the Coffeyville Journal. In the same article, he mentions how this is part of a long history of racial discrimination by the Cherokee Nation against blacks, including the original enslavement, denial of education and attempts to confiscate their land in the 1880s.

One of the things we talked about in the cultural citizenship class was how blacks, Native Americans, and latinos all jockey for the position of the most oppressed. Thanks to the Cherokee Nation, it seems that the blacks have "won" that title today.

Diversity Efforts in AIGA

In the AIGA Communique, they announced the establishment of a Diversity Task Force, which kicked off in Atlanta. In the description of the event, the endeavor has already made two of the biggest errors in attracting people of color to any organization. They named the first event "Color Blind" and it seems the "a-ha" moment was when people realized that diversity did not mean quotas and lower design standards. So for AIGA, I'd like to make  two points about avoiding the framing of diversity in ways that will completely sabotage your efforts before they begin.

All people of color hate the framing of diversity efforts as “Color blind.”

The “problem” of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc. is never the recognition of difference (i.e. Color) but rather the “meaning” of that difference in a society which overdetermines the social characteristics of certain populations by class, education, morality, and criminality. To pretend in an “utopian” fashion that racial and ethnic differences do not exist (as in blindness) erases the unique and positive histories and cultures of people that also define who they are. Diversity efforts should be framed as removing the individual and institutional barriers that keep people from seeing the diversity of classes, educations levels, moral codes, and criminal behaviors that exists in all groups of people, not about blinding oneself to the differences that do exists and the positive “meanings” attached to those differences. 

The assumption that the inclusion of a diverse group of people means a lowering of standards is one of the greatest fallacies that keep people of color from entering “relatively” low status fields like design.

As an exceptionally gifted AA female who has studied/worked in mostly all-white settings since 4th grade, I especially find it egregious when diversity talk always turns to the fear of quotas and lowered standards. There is an assumption that (1) there are no mediocre Caucasians in the design industry or that (2) the “standards” are “just and fair” to begin with or free of bias. The fact that design is not a high-status occupation among many people of color means that the fear of lower design standards seems even more egregious and counterproductive to having the right framework to attract smart and creative designers-to-be.

So I hope there next outing into the diversity foray would be more sensitive.

August Wilson's Radio Golf part 1

Common sense versus book sense. Priviledge versus deprivation. Negros versus Nigga's. Following your life plan versus those of others. All within the context of the 1990s black experience. These were the common themes of Goodman Theater's production of Radio Golf last night.

I love the plays of August Wilson, in the same way I love the books of Walter Mosley and Octavia Butler, Branford Marsalis's I Heard You Twice the First Time CD, and movies of Spike Lee for their desire to chronicle the African American experience in America. They are all able to capture the diversity of the community, as well as our enduring quest for justice.

The themes of Radio Golf seem evermore important with the rise of Barack Obama. There is the wonderful scene in which Sterling Johnson, the voice of conscious in the play, asks Harmond Wilks, the aspiring mayoral candidate,  "Are you going to be the mayor of black people or white people?" Harmond responses that he will be the mayor of all people. Sterling laughs at that response and laments why is it that whites can have an all-white club, but when black people have a club they say, "And it won't be for blacks only."  He wonders why in a school of 1500, if the only 8 blacks kids sit together at lunch, they are "self-segregating" but no one says anything about the other 1492 kids who are sitting together.

Obama cannot afford to be a president for black people (and he has never positioned himself that way.) There was an interesting article about in the NYTimes about his tenure as head of the Harvard Law Review, during the contentious time when figures like Cornell West were being drummed from Harvard. His peers all stated that he avoided "racial" questions and would seem to appear as if he was on everyone's side.  Consensus building is a great diplomatic skill, but it does make you feel that Clinton has been the only president for black people, and that will not change if Obama is elected.  Which is not to say that I do not support Obama and that his consensus building message is not what is needed for the nation, I just mean we, black folks, could never have him as a leader to call our own.

The irony is that the needs, desires, and expectations of the black community are the ones for everyone: social and economic justice, strong family life, low crime, and true educational and job opportunity. If you met the needs of black folks (as  was done through the Civil Rights Movement), you meet the needs of everyone (except the subset of the wealthy and priviledged who do not want the aforementioned things).

Martin Luther King Day

I got up this morning and listened to MLK's "I have a dream" speech. It is interesting because Solidad O'Brian, who is doing a special report on the King Papers, said that this part of the speech was done extemporaneously. He had put down is written speech and riffed on the vibe of the crowd.

The entire speech is 16 minutes long, and the "I have a dream" section is the last 3 minutes. I think people are so inspired about this section because its about the ideal. The ideal society in which people love one another and judge one another with fairness and openness. They never discuss the other parts of the speech because those sections were about the reality of contemporary black life. Even when you discuss contemporary racial and ethnic problems, people want to hear the dream of hope, not the action plan for justice.

So as part of my MLK celebration, I want to talk about the other parts of the speech: the bounced check, justice now, and coming long way.

The Bounced Check

This section is one of the most pertinant to the contemporary black experience because by putting social justice in monetary terms it brings out the issues of economic justice.  We may be able to ride buses and eat at lunch counters, but Blacks in the US continue to suffer from a deficiency of economic justice. We hang at the bottom rungs of all economic ladders. See Black profile from US Census. Download we-1.pdf Yet as Normal Kelly, author of Rhythm and Business is the notion of economic justice "a naïve concept in an aggressive capitalist society like America." But I think the issue of economic justice is the heart of the global fight against exploitation and oppression. Slavery existed because people figured out they could make money on the body and souls of other people. So the message of cashing in the bounced check of economic justice is one that still needs to be heard and the one the MLK was working on when he was assasinated.

Justice Now

This section of the speech is probably my favorite because it addresses the underlying cause of my inherent impatience. People are always telling me to wait and to take the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism," yet I believe that the things that need to happen are 100-200 years overdue. Black Americans had to wait nearly 200 years for their freedom due to being asked to wait for the promiseland. Injustice continues because people are being asked to to wait for the promiseland. What I appreciate about this section is that he says that justice must come now and things cannot go back to business as usual.

Coming a long way

This section of the speech is when MKL is "keeping it real" about the struggles that not just blacks but all of us go through when there is injustice in the world. He talks about those coming from prisons and ghettos. He talks about needed to understand the "common destiny" between blacks and whites. It is by understanding the journey of suffering that makes the Dream necessary and a promise.

So Happy Justice day!!! Let us seize reality so that our dreams of justice can come true.