Year in Review: 2015’s Top Ten Pages

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From the cover of Jason Hickel's Democracy as Death 

There have been a lot of exciting developments at Cultural Anthropology in 2015—in our thirtieth year we have continued to publish ground-breaking research articles and to feature hard-hitting debates on the futures of anthropology. Under the leadership of our new editorial collective, Dominic Boyer, Cymene Howe and James Faubion, Cultural Anthropology has remained at the forefront of anthropological discussions of life above earth, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, infrastructure, feminist critiques of capitalism, hope, electricity and more. As demonstrated by the following list, Cultural Anthropology’s continued commitment to freely available content has given authors a platform to weigh in on public debates in the academic world and beyond.

Thank you to all of our readers for your continued support and readership.

Here are your ten most visited pages in 2015:

10. Curated Collection: Affect, Embodiment and Sense Perception

This curated collection of articles and interviews by contributing editors Richard McGrail, Jesse Davie-Kessler, and Bascom Guffin asks “what is at stake in the conversations about affect, and what research and analytic tools do anthropologists possess in order to begin to address them?” By inviting Joseph Alter, Thomas Csordas, Lochlann Jain, Eva Hayward and Nancy Rose Hunt to consider these questions in tension with analytics of sense perception and embodiement, the collection offers insights into the theory and methodology of affect research.

9. Gens: A Feminist Manifesto for the Study of Capitalism

In this manifesto, Laura Bear, Karen Ho, Anna Tsing and Sylvia Yanagisako introduce gens as a term that names a “collective with feminist ancestry for the study of capitalist inequality.” They argue that feminism challenges the discourse of “the economic” and that capitalism is at its core a “diverse, intimate network of human and non-human relations.” They further assert that historical encounters make structures like capitalism, rather than the reverse, and that sociality or human/nonhuman relations are not determined, but rather mediated, by devices of exchange. Finally they argue that financialization is powerful but contingent, that assigning affective labor to a discrete category creates a “false binary” within labor discourse, and that the time-spaces of capitalism are heterogeneous and multiple.

8. Curated Collection: Subaltern Studies

This collection of articles and interviews by contributing editors Richard McGrail and Rupa Pillai is focused on the influential critiques of elitism and subaltern advocacy advanced by the Subaltern Studies Collective. In addition to author interviews with Donald Moore, Saba Mahmood, Miyako Inoue, Peter Benson, and Charles Hale, commentaries by Gyanendra Pandey and Partha Chatterjee offer reflections on thirty years of subaltern studies and the diffusion of “the subaltern” across disciplinary lines.

7. Curated Collection: Literature, Writing and Anthropology 

In this collection of articles and author interviews centered around the relationship between literature and anthropology, contributing editors Shannon Dugan Iverson and Darren Byler asked “What is the work that stories do?” In posing this question to Vincent Crapanzano, Stuart McLean, Ruth Behar, and Elizabeth Enslin they attempted to tease out the space where “fiction and truth begin to bleed into one another as authors explore ways to expand truth and tell better stories.”

6. Teaching Tools: In-Class Activities 

This short essay by contributing editor Louise Lamphere Beryl provided instructors with strategies for the following problems: “(1) You’re stuck in a rut and bored—you can’t think of any other way to present the material besides lecturing from your notes or a PowerPoint. (2)  Your students are getting into the mid-semester slump (often evident in their body language—present but sitting back, slightly distracted). (3) The same students are talking in class. (4) You’re worried that students aren’t interested and/or are not digesting the material successfully.”

5. Open Access

Starting with our February 2014 issue, Cultural Anthropology’s journal content became open access. As we work to make the past ten years of back issues freely accessible to all as well, many readers continued to visit our ShareCA: Open Access Directory, where they could find a collection of links to institutional repositories and author websites that provide access to much of this back content.

4. Hot Spots: Ebola in Perspective 

This Hot Spots series, which was edited by Mary Moran and Danny Hoffman, provided readers with deeply situated analyses on the 2014 Ebola epidemic. Rather than representing the affected region in Africa as “helpless and hopeless, a tragic victim of illogical beliefs and dangerous cultural practices,” the forum offered readers a counterargument that explored how political landscapes and the shifting Ebola discourse produces victims of disease and violence.

3. Theorizing the Contemporary: Politics of Ontology 

This set of short position papers was organized in response to Martin Holbraad, Morten Axel Pedersen, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s remarks on power differences (politics) and the powers of difference (ontology) at the 2013 AAA meetings in Chicago. The contributors responded to questions such as “Why have social scientists turned to the concept of ontology in the ways that they have? Why is the move as controversial as it is proving itself to be, at least among anthropologists? What explicit and implicit political projects does the turn to ontology (as well as various critiques of it) evince?” Whether you are introducing the ontological turn to undergraduate students or looking to familiarize yourself with the cutting edge of these debates, this collection offers valuable insight.

2. Curated Collection: Ritual

This collection of articles on ritual, as well as accompanying author interviews and commentaries, continues to draw a wide readership. Since 2013 it has remained in the top three spots on this list! Contributing editor Kevin Carrico and featured contributors Robin E. Sheriff, Barry J. Lyons, Cymene Howe, Danny Kaplan, and Emily Chao elaborate on the ongoing relevance and usefulness of ritual as an analytic in contemporary anthropology.

1. "Xenophobia" in South Africa: Order, Chaos, and the Moral Economy of Witchcraft

This February 2014 article by Jason Hickel was our most widely read piece in 2015. It explores the violent, anti-immigrant riots that swept through informal settlements in South Africa in 2008, arguing that perceptions of foreigners are informed by ideas about witchcraft “which articulate with widespread anxieties about rising unemployment, housing shortages, and a general crisis of social reproduction.” Over the past year more than 35,000 people viewed this article for an average length of five minutes and fifty-six seconds (which translates to roughly 3,500 hours of reading!).

Professor Hickel, who writes for The Guardian and Al Jazeera in addition to teaching at the London School of Economics,  told us that he was unaware that the article had attracted so much attention. While Hickel tried to write the essay in an accessible manner, he suspects that most of the attention it has received “has to do with the fact that xenophobia in South Africa rushed back into the headlines in April 2015.” Indeed, the article was cited in numerous media outlets at that time, and since the full text was available for free as part of Cultural Anthropology's first open-access issue, it was able to circulate widely among nonacademic audiences.

In an email regarding the wide circulation of the article, Hickel wrote: “To me, this underscores the immense value of open-access publishing; it shows how open access allows academic research to have a direct impact on popular discussions as they unfold, which is exactly what we should be aiming for.”