This month, Ian (1:25) digs into Bitcoin, arguing that the cryptocurrency is no different than regular currencies, and can be analyzed along all the same lines: symbolically, materially, institutionally, relationally. “The same material problems of decay that would affect some other kind of material currency like a Subscribe on Androidcoin or a bill still applies to Bitcoin.” Ian mentions podcast episodes from NPR's Planet Money (“#816 Bitcoin Losers”) and and Gimlet's Reply All (#115 The Bitcoin Hunter”), and Chris Gregory’s classic study of currencies and value, Savage Money: The Anthropology and Politics of Commodity Exchange (Harwood Academic, Amsterdam, 1997).
Next, Julia (6:40) brings us the curious case of the hamster in the bathroom: a woman who, when challenged by an airline, flushed her emotional support hamster down the toilet. Arguing that even rodents can be granted kin-like status, and referring to Simone Dennis’s ethnography For the Love of Lab Rats: Kinship, Humanimal Relations, and Good Scientific Research (Cambria Press, Amherst, N.Y, 2010), Julia says, scientists “spoke about this sacrificial economy that was happening, where the animals would ultimately have to be killed after the experiments, was balanced with this calculus of care.” So how could this flushing happen?
Jodie (11:12) asks, are academics working too hard? Or not hard enough? And what does the debate means about the nature of academic work? She takes us through a recent Twitter battle, when Jay Van Bavel (Social Neuroscientist from NYU), following the work of John Ziker (anthropologist from Boise State), tweeted: “The average #professor works over 60 hours a week (from one university) and 30% of their time is spent on emails or meetings.” Then Nicholas Christakis, a Yale professor whom Jodie wrote about in a previous blog post, replied: “I tell my graduate students and post-docs that if they’re working 60 hours per week, they’re working less than the full professors, and less than their peers.” The debate soon hit blogs and the mainstream media, including the Atlantic. As Ian argues, “These parameter of what counts as an appropriate amount of work seem to have come out of completely other areas of labor. Whereas, with this life of the mind, which, when it’s at its best, is fun, and doesn’t feel like labor in the same way that other kinds of work do; which, at its worst, is a nagging earworm in your skull that even invades your dreams, and that there is no time, conscious or unconscious, when you’re not working; it becomes very hard along those parameters to determine what’s an appropriate amount.”
Finally, special guest Liam Gammon (16:20), the editor of New Mandala, the ANU-based blog for Southeast Asian studies and politics, talks through the special contributions anthropologists can make to political commentary. “I think that the methods and the perspectives of anthropologists really lend themselves to the kind of medium that New Mandala promotes... in a sense it’s looking at national affairs, and politics, history, and culture from the ground up.”
Find these shownotes at www.thefamiliarstrange.com/podcast
This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the schools of Culture, History, and Language and Archaeology and Anthropology at Australian National University, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com
Show notes by Ian Pollock
KEYWORDS: Bitcoin, cryptocurrency, emotional support animals, kinship, academia, blogging, Southeast Asia