This is my Xenophilia blog where I post various occasional writings as well as links to my publications, and by invitation to current projects. Many of the older posts have been lost and the posts I am reposting are not necessarily in the order they were written. Hopefully, going forward from June 2015 this will be resolved.

Steven at work
Steven @ Work, May 2015. Background, HORIZON WATCH, Angie Reed Garner.

The links at the top of the page can be used to navigate to my biography page and to various current projects.

If you are looking for my academic writing, try academic.edu. In the future I will add additional links to ongoing projects, e.g. my work on stand-up comedy and masculinity, as it becomes more developed and interesting.


Post-AAA reflections #demystifyingacademics

The experience of organizing and chairing a panel for the American Anthropological Association meetings this year (Denver 2015) made me realize that all of the mediocre experiences I have had on “residual” panels, where I submitted a paper to the AAA and they lumped me either with a partial panel, or with others doing supposedly related work, were the result of this less than cohesive process.

The year before last, at the 2013 Chicago meetings, I gave a paper on Pakistan and the uses of conspiracy theory performance in the construction of political identities. The other papers on the panel had nothing to do with Pakistan, conspiracy theory, or viable political identities. Nor did they have much of anything in common with each other.

Afterwards I was complaining to John Borneman (Princeton), my one-time dissertation advisor, and said something along the lines of, “If you want to be on a panel that works, you have to organize it yourself.”

“Even then,” he replied.

But I had planted a seed in my own mind. Last year I stayed away, while that seed incubated, but this year I decided to put out a call of the Society for the Anthropology of North America (SANA, @AnthroNAD) listserve. After consulting with my research collaborator/co-author Angie Reed Garner (https://twitter.com/angiereedgarner), I posted the following abstract and asked if anyone might be interested:


Panel Abstract. In nominally democratic societies, military members in service have typically been discouraged, often forbidden, from direct participation in the political public sphere. Meanwhile prior military service has often been a litmus test for certain high public offices, a competitive testament to patriotism and an ethos of self-sacrifice that simultaneously reinforces qualifications of race and gender. Activist veterans, already impacted by veteran stereotypes such as maladies obscure to the civilian world and the miasmic stigma of violence, have been—depending upon the Zeitgeist—also disparaged as warmongers, shirkers and traitors. When self-representing as veterans, to the extent that they organize and advocate as veterans, they risk censure for breaking the presumptive and proscribed silences of war and misusing the moral authority they may be granted in matters of character, military and foreign policy.

This panel examines the myriad ways in which veterans, men and women, have drawn on their experiences in military service, on their veteran status and/or on a shared identity and community as a prompt or a prop to activism. Drawing on recent work on the anthropology of embodiment, of the senses, of sovereignty, the nation, the state, sacrifice and militarization the papers included here explore and attempt to explain the challenges and rewards of veteran activism. This panel will explore actual and imagined divisions between veteran and non-veteran sensibilities, and the fragile—and contested—moral authority of veteran activists when speaking about war making, about a particular war, within the peace movement, and for veteran rights. How do veterans respond to the activism of other veterans? What are the claims and counter-claims—the rhetorical languages—of veteran activism across the political spectrum? We examine the motivation, subject positions, and concrete cases of veteran activism in the context of contemporary demographics, civilian-military relations and the long years of war since 9/11.

The response, contrary to my expectations, were overwhelming. In the course of only a few days I had over a dozen inquiries, most of them serious—as well as one piece of hate mail, which told me I was probably on the right track—leaving me with the difficult task of trying to curate a panel.

Eventually the panel I submitted was reviewed and approved by SANA and we received a coveted Friday afternoon slot on the schedule. The panel itself is and its participants are described here :


Well attended, with a group of closely interwoven papers that touched on closely related themes derived from widespread ethnographic experience, the panel was well received.

Even while my project is about disrupting what I call the presumptive moral authority of veteran experience–what fellow panelists variously refer to as “hero narratives” (Christopher Webb) and the “veteran mystique” (Jose Vasquez)—I couldn’t help but be proud that out of a panel of six, we had four veterans.

As my colleague Andrew Bickford (George Mason University) commented to me, “That was amazing, to see a panel made up mostly of veterans. When I first started coming to the AAAs you were the only other veteran I knew.”

(Aside: As I write this at the Denver International Airport, they just started boarding and the very first announcement for boarding was “We would like to welcome about any active duty uniformed service members.”)

In the call for proposals I also posted a draft of my own abstract (available with all of the others on Facebook page, linked above). When the expressions of interest started to roll in I tried to figure out a way to make the selection process as transparent as possible—something that has not always been the case with calls I have replied to. No doubt not everyone was pleased, but I listed the list of preferences as follows:

1. Veteran activists
2. Veterans doing work with veteran politics
3. Activists/Allies
4. Others ethnographically engaged with veterans
5. Anyone else

Between selecting and submitting the papers and acceptance by the AAA, I made a decision not to try to be in touch with the other presenters, to encourage them and challenge myself, to reach out to scholars interested in related topics and invite them to attend, and to promote the panel on social media.

This process of continued engagement made the process far more meaningful for me. It became clear to me, fairly quickly—though I still need to convince a publisher—that the panel papers formed the spine of an edited volume.

Meanwhile I was plunged into my own research over the summer (http://www.slgardiner.com/xenophilia/veteran-resistance-project/), doing work in Louisville, Seattle, Portland and San Diego (at the Veterans For Peace annual convention)—making for a short break. In August it was back into the busy life of a department chair back in Abu Dhabi, scavenging time to write up initial findings.

What would I do differently? I find the traditional discussant structure often less than illuminating, but would like to experiment with discussion formats. Continue the networking—it would of course be nice if none of the veteran/military interest panels were scheduled simultaneously, but given the complexities of AAA scheduling, that’s probably impossible.

I will consider organizing something for the SANA conference—it’s a difficult time for me, and might fall during the official “no fly” time ordained by my university this year. Also, something for next year. In the meantime I’ll work on putting together a formal book proposal for an edited volume.

Suggestions, comments and expressions of interest more than welcome.

Forever War, The – Revisiting

Forever War, The – Revisiting

Posted on January 19, 2013

My sabbatical semester-or the functional equivalent, a competitively-awarded research semester-is coming rapidly to a close. In a few days I will leave behind my laptop desk and comfortable chair at Garner Narrative in Louisville, Kentucky for a short visit with my family in (the vicinity of) Portland, Oregon and then return to a hectic teaching schedule in Abu Dhabi. Continue reading Forever War, The – Revisiting

Bad Science

Biocultural approaches to the study of human behavior, institutions, and circumstances promise to be among the most powerful tools ever developed. But as the technology for gene sequencing has thus far vastly outstripped the interpretive science of meaningfully mapping genes to human scale outcomes, there is a lot of over-reaching. Continue reading Bad Science

General and Specific

“If the truth be told, the less the world knows about a place, the easier it is to generalize about. Are not all ethnic and religious conflicts, Muslim societies, underdeveloped economies, terrorist movements, and failed states fundamentally alike, especially in poor countries? Unfortunately they are not, and assuming that they are imposes a uniformity that is deceptively dangerous” (Thomas Barfield 2010, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, Princeton University Press).

Of all of these, the “terrorist movement” is probably most alien, and thereby easiest to generalize, when if practice the shared use of terror as tactic is almost absolutely devoid of meaningful information.

Low Theory

I’m reading David Graeber’s pamphlet Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004), and ran across the following provocative passage:

Even more than High Theory, what anarchism needs is the might be called Low Theory: a way of grappling with those real, immediate questions that emerge from a transformative project. Mainstream social science actually isn’t much help here, because normally in mainstream social science this sort of thing is generally classified as “policy issues,” and no self-respecting anarchist would have anything to do with these (Graeber 2004, Loc. 89).

Continue reading Low Theory