Category Archives: Billets

Publications de Derek Moss

2022 Le monstre du wokeness. La Revue Nouvelle 2.

2021 Un rituel de déboulonnage de statue.  La Revue Nouvelle 7.

2021 Un désir de traces.  La Revue Nouvelle 6. Traduit en anglais et publié ici (en février 2022) :

2021 Angoissé.e.s de tous pays, unissons-nous !  La Revue Nouvelle 5.

2021 Mes voisons sont fous. La Revue Nouvelle 2.

2021 Effets secondaires. La Revue Nouvelle 9.

2020  Guide de survie pour les académiques (et des autres) en période de pandémie. La Revue Nouvelle 8.

2020 Trumpsformation. La Revue Nouvelle 6.

2020 Un enseignant a disparu. La Revue Nouvelle 4.

2020 Ode aux grands anxieux. La Revue Nouvelle 3.

2019 Le syndrome de l’éponge. La Revue Nouvelle 8. 

2019 Un anthropologue à la table. Bruxelles : Editions Lamiroy. 34p. Traduit en anglais et publié ici :,through%20intolerances%20of%20various%20kinds.

My summer visit to the University of Negative Capability

A few weeks ago, I was invited to visit the University of Negative Capability (UNC) based three hundred kilometers east of Somewhere. It is a gleaming campus planted in the middle of a very inhospitable lava desert. Change of scenery — geographical and cognitive — guaranteed. Like the poet John Keats, who urged us to live “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”, everything is designed to nurture students and researchers with the acceptance of fragility, impotency and indeterminacy. I, who am never sure that I will be able to reach the end of my day, have found there a haven of epistemic tranquility, a bubble of gnoseological wisdom where small drops of “I-don’t-know” are happily diffused. Let me be clear, UNC does not promote the idea that there are no certitudes, nor that anything goes, as social networks (that splendid and terrifying henhouse of the present time) function today. Rather they put at the heart of the processes of learning and experimentation the way in which truths have been and are elaborated with patience and anxiety, scrupulously kneaded in the dough of uncertainty. 

In the main Hall, under the photos of the founders of the institution, one can read: “She tried to understand the others’ points of view, but never succeeded,” “Thirty years spent struggling to solve an equation. Without success,” or “Distracted by so many fields of knowledge that he was passionate about, he didn’t manage to finish his article. Bravo for his effort.” The University’s authorities make it straightforward: here, there are no academic rankings and citation indexes that turn science into a war scene, no hyper-competitive scholarships that often lead to neurasthenia, rather it is all about hard experimental work on a human scale, honesty (about one’s own abilities and those of others) and care (for others and for oneself). Here, we “keep trying”, Madame the Rector tells me with a laugh.

These same perspectives inform the pedagogy. The courses, in all disciplines, consist of bringing uncertainty and vulnerability back into thinking. To make the fiasco, the debacle, the flop, the unexpected, serendipity, cardinal values discussed together. To be “angst-gether”, to be lost collectively in this unpredictable mess that is science. Such a researcher could not do anything emerge from her assiduous experiments. Another suffered so much on the writing of her text. What teachers track down with students are the snags, the hiccups, the glitches of the intelligence. That’s where it got stuck. What they note and cherish are the improbable deployments, the aborted attempts, the impasses, the obstacles encountered. And the failures are celebrated as so many achievements. “You didn’t make it? Well done!” “You produced incredible efforts and it didn’t work out the way you planned? Mazel Tov!

Anecdotally, there is a padded room on campus, dotted with soft cushions, where researchers and students yell, vent, bang their heads against the walls (if necessary), where they can express their negative emotions in the face of hesitation and mystery. 

On the plane back home, after having swallowed a whole box of Xanax, I fell asleep lulled by the sound of the jet engines. Stunned, I dreamed of I-don’t-know-what.

[The reader will have understood that this text is speculative fiction, an exercise dear to Donna Haraway].



“The less anguish, the less spirit”, Kierkegaard

There are many of us. We are legion.

How many years we have spent, in the greatest secrecy, palpitating, hyperventilating, ruminating, trembling, biting our nails, jumping up and down, sweating, suffocating! Camouflaged and silent, as if our emotions were shameful, our sole fault and only the product of family histories. What a therapeutic via dolorosa! How many depressions have been diagnosed! How many pills ingested! So much alcohol poured on the embers of anxiety!

But anxiety is also a political affect. It says something about the world we live in today. A world of lonely individuals where happiness is measured in numbers and things. Where self-esteem is reduced to numbers and well-being to a match between a project and means. Where the subject exhausts herself for abstractions, the society, a company, an institution. A carnivorous and unequal world where toxic virility and its privileges dominate. A world of the short term whose temporality does not suit the rhythm of human and non-human beings. There is a long list of grievances to address to the patriarchal-capitalist system that irrigates our existences.

That is enough.

Worriers of all countries unite!

As there is in panic a real transforming potential. Our brains are like nuclear power plants. Let us put the fuel of anxiety at the service of empathy, sensitivity, warmth, altruism, humanity. Let us get out of the guilty isolation to share our collective and militant panic attacks. Let us be “angst-gether” and proliferate in a solidary network of worried people. Let us form a community of rebellious anxious people. There is something friendly and creative in the violence of anxiety. The tingling, the palpitations and the chest pains are the clay of powerful social and political passions.

Because the world needs us. We, the anticipators. We, the ruminants of thoughts and emotions. It needs us to give it the ingredients for survival. We, the angst cows, are the dairy future of this planet that is going to ruin. Perhaps we can prevent the coming human horror. Not by force. Pride. Obstinacy. Willpower. Overcome yourself. Overcome your fears. No. Just through kindness. Porosity to the suffering of others. Sweetness. Sweet milk. Rounded corners. A world in which our anxieties can gently bounce off each other until we forget ourselves. A world where the systemic loyalties that inhabit us and maintain inertia will have been unraveled so that we can finally say calmly:

No. Enough is enough.

(Initially published in La Revue Nouvelle under the pseudonym Derek Moss).


Pour cellesceux que cela intéresse, une traduction en espagnol de mon post sur allegra lab a été réalisée. Un grand merci aux traducteurs (que je ne connais pas).

Disclaimer: En los últimos días he tenido un episodio de escritura. Hacía meses que no me salía nada del cerebro. Estaba dando clases online y preocupándome por los alumnos y la familia. De repente, sentí el impulso de garabatear algo. Luego dudé en compartirlo. A quién le va a interesar? A quién le interesa esto ahora, cuando estamos en medio de una pandemia, con los ojos cansados de tanto tiempo frente a las pantallas, llenos de incertidumbre e impotencia? Soy incapaz de fingir. No estoy seguro de tener la energía necesaria para discutir ideas. No hay que descansar y conservar algo de fuerza para los meses que vienen? Bueno, yo no podría impedirlo. Esto también forma parte de la experiencia de la pandemia. He oído a muchos colegas compartir su deseo de construir algo nuevo a partir de esta terrible situación que nos afecta a todos. Yo también sueño con otro mundo después. Espero que podamos pensar juntos para crear mejores comunidades académicas, y no apresurarnos a seguir como siempre.—

“Dado que el hombre moderno se experimenta a la vez como vendedor y como mercancía que se vende en el mercado, su autoestima depende de condiciones que escapan a su control. Si tiene “éxito”, es valioso; si no lo tiene, no vale nada. El grado de inseguridad que resulta de esta orientación difícilmente puede sobrestimarse. Si uno siente que su propio valor no está constituido principalmente por las cualidades humanas que posee, sino por su éxito en un mercado competitivo con condiciones siempre cambiantes, su autoestima está destinada a ser inestable y a necesitar constantemente la confirmación de los demás. Por lo tanto, uno se ve impulsado a conducir sin descanso hacia el éxito, y cualquier contratiempo es una grave amenaza para la propia autoestima; el resultado es la impotencia, la inseguridad y los sentimientos de inferioridad”.[Erich Fromm, El hombre por sí mismo, 1947].

La cuestión de los privilegios es muy discutida actualmente en los círculos antropológicos. Quién representa a quién? Quién tiene acceso a qué? Son preguntas muy sanas que, desde una perspectiva belga francófona, a menudo parecen estar todavía a años luz (ya que las conversaciones sobre la diversidad en el mundo académico y los planes de estudio descolonizados son todavía escasas, por desgracia). Sin embargo, un aspecto de estas cuestiones es casi unánimemente ignorado: el de la actual hegemonía angloamericana en la producción del conocimiento antropológico. Digo “angloamericana” porque la lengua inglesa se ha convertido en dominante en nuestra disciplina. Pero esta especificidad también tiene que ver con la visibilidad y el atractivo de las infraestructuras académicas -es decir, universidades, asociaciones científicas, revistas y prensas universitarias, editoriales, redes de difusión, etc.- basadas principalmente en Estados Unidos y, en menor medida, en el Reino Unido. Y que quede claro: sé que soy parte del problema, algo que discuto más adelante. Tengo amigos muy queridos y colegas atentos con los que disfruto intercambiando, aprendiendo y colaborando que trabajan en estos entornos. Soy igualmente consciente de que este texto se leerá de forma diferente según las burbujas académicas. Este breve artículo de opinión (no soy especialista en las relaciones de poder globalizadas de la Educación Superior, ni en Gramsci) no se refiere a los individuos. Trata de un sistema de privilegios que no dice su nombre.Es un tópico decir que la antropología está dominada por los estudiosos formados y los conocimientos producidos en las universidades estadounidenses y británicas. Sin embargo, estas instituciones son plurales y desiguales entre sí. Unos pocos forman parte de una élite; muchos otros son periféricos. Mis colegas que trabajan en estos mundos académicos me llamaron repetidamente la atención sobre el hecho de que sólo unos pocos campus angloamericanos se encuentran en la cúspide de la pirámide (y que el resto tiene dificultades), mientras que a veces es más fácil afiliarse a la “cúspide” viniendo de centros de investigación europeos o asiáticos altamente considerados, que de universidades angloamericanas periféricas. Soy muy consciente de esa compleja diversidad nacional y de las desigualdades internas. Sin embargo, vistos desde fuera, algunos hechos son ineludibles. La mayoría de las revistas de antropología “mejor valoradas” se editan en EE.UU. o en el Reino Unido; según las métricas de google scholar, las 20 primeras se publican en EE.UU. y el Reino Unido, con la excepción de Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale y Ethnos. Lo mismo puede decirse de las “mejores” escuelas (LSE, Harvard, Cambridge, Chicago, UCL, etc.), mientras que importantes asociaciones antropológicas tienen su sede allí. Estas instituciones y organizaciones son eminentemente respetables, con una larga historia y famosos antepasados. Las revistas tienen consejos de administración de muy alta calidad y el proceso de revisión siempre me ha parecido riguroso y notablemente bien gestionado. Sin duda, su reconocimiento es totalmente merecido. Sin embargo, personalmente, no creo que lo que se produce en estos sitios de conocimiento y se escribe en estos lugares sea intrínsecamente superior a cualquier otro del mundo. Me resulta estimulante leer y citar trabajos tanto de los más aclamados como de algunas publicaciones regionales más (desgraciadamente) oscuras. Lo que tienen las primeras que no tienen las segundas es una visibilidad y un atractivo extraordinarios en la medida en que las revistas angloamericanas se han convertido cada vez más en representativas de “la” disciplina.Esto me lleva a la cuestión central de mi cuestionamiento. En Estados Unidos y el Reino Unido, este sistema se impone a los académicos, que no tienen más remedio que seguirlo para satisfacer su pasión por la investigación. American Ethnologist y JRAI, entre otras muchas, son sus revistas locales. Y lo siento por ellos al tener que maniobrar en un campo tan alienante de clasificaciones y evaluaciones, donde el acceso a las sedes más prestigiosas es el criterio esencial para obtener los mejores puestos de trabajo en las mejores universidades.Cada vez más antropólogos se han vuelto críticos con los valores neoliberales de la competencia académica encarnados en el dictado de las evaluaciones, la temporalidad de la urgencia, el uso de métricas, la búsqueda de financiación, la precariedad de los puestos así como las diversas cargas una vez que se está “dentro” de la universidad. Todo ello se suma a las condiciones patógenas inherentes a la práctica de la investigación: la necesidad de reconocimiento, la existencia de castas y desigualdades, la soledad. Un cóctel tóxico que afecta especialmente a los más vulnerables (doctorandos, postdoctorales, adjuntos, esa “carne de cañón” de la institución). Un libro de libre acceso de Robert Borofksy (del que me llamó la atención Doug Falen) sobre la búsqueda profesional del estatus individual dentro de la antropología americana es extremadamente valioso, y ciertamente se puede extrapolar fuera de este contexto.Es igualmente triste pensar que algunas ideas se consideran “interesantes” y atraen la atención por su lugar de publicación, su circulación internacional y su sacrosanta citabilidad. Lo que me parece más preocupante es que estas mismas infraestructuras académicas se hayan convertido en santo grial para tantos antropólogos de todo el mundo. Está en juego un deseo mimético globalizado de obtener reconocimiento. Y hablo de mi propio caso, el de un privilegiado profesor titular en una universidad europea. Así es el cuento: En primer lugar, hay que (intentar) ser publicado en las revistas angloamericanas -American Anthropologist, Current Anthropology, JRAI, etc.- donde tienen lugar los “importantes debates disciplinarios”. Como si estos lugares fueran neutrales, cuando en realidad encarnan tradiciones de investigación locales pero globalizadas y emanan de centros de poder. Sólo entonces deberías enviar tus artículos a sus primos belgas, italianos o surcoreanos (que también tienen comités editoriales serios). Por qué? Creo que todos sabemos la respuesta. Es la manera de asegurarse un puesto de trabajo y de formar parte de los debates antropológicos actuales. No hay ninguna norma explícita al respecto. Más bien, se está convirtiendo en un hábito compartido que ni siquiera es necesario decir.En la misma línea, se recomienda encarecidamente a los becarios que hagan un posdoctorado en una de estas instituciones angloamericanas. Cuando empecé mi doctorado en Bruselas, enseguida comprendí la conducta necesaria para sobrevivir. Desde el principio, mi baja autoestima y el miedo a “no encontrar un puesto fijo” fueron desencadenantes poco saludables.Este habitus lo aprenden muy pronto muchos doctorandos y jóvenes investigadores. Observando y participando, sin una pedagogía clara, los novatos interiorizan las reglas implícitas de su entorno profesional: un ethos competitivo que hace hincapié en las hazañas (es decir, publicar en las mejores revistas, haberlo leído todo, internacionalizarse, comercializarse, etc.), que glorifica la ausencia de límites entre la vida científica y la privada y que mantiene el silencio sobre las emociones negativas y los problemas de salud mental. Desgraciadamente, la mayoría de los ecosistemas académicos no cuentan con esa dimensión de “holding” tan querida por Winnicott, esa capacidad de acoger las ansiedades de los investigadores y de alimentar su creatividad. Inmersos en esa zona gris que se llama “pasión intelectual”, la mayoría de ellos aceptan la potencial toxicidad del entorno que los acoge, como un niño pequeño se adaptaría a una madre deprimida. Pronto se flagelarán para cumplir con las exigencias del ecosistema, a la vez su protector y su torturador. La institución sobrevivirá. Sin duda, muchos de nosotros encontramos en ella el perfume de los entornos fallidos que ya hemos conocido antes.Ahora que a veces me toca formar parte de los comités de selección, me llama la atención hasta qué punto las revistas angloamericanas y las experiencias académicas constituyen activos casi inevitables en el proceso de contratación y concesión de becas en Bélgica. Una vez más, no hay ninguna norma formulada explícitamente en este sentido. Se trata de un fenómeno reciente, principalmente de quienes han estudiado en el extranjero en el mundo angloamericano. Yo mismo tuve el reflejo de “marcar la casilla angloamericana” al evaluar las candidaturas, como si tener estos trofeos fuera un signo indiscutible de calidad. Ciertamente, las publicaciones en lugares “locales” siguen siendo imprescindibles para conseguir un puesto de trabajo en muchas universidades, al igual que en Estados Unidos y el Reino Unido. Sin embargo, es como si las referencias y becas angloamericanas -que son, por supuesto, muy relevantes para evaluar la creatividad y la capacidad investigadora- se hubieran convertido en imprescindibles en gran parte de las demás culturas académicas. Se trata de una nueva norma? Yo creo que sí, pero, querido lector, no dude en contar sus experiencias.Estos ejemplos plantean preguntas. En primer lugar, sobre la diversidad de tradiciones antropológicas. Las escuelas y revistas americanas y británicas tienen sus propias inclinaciones teóricas. Para ser uno de ellos, el aspirante puede verse tentado a adoptar sus códigos paradigmáticos. Recuerdo un artículo enviado a un medio estadounidense cuyo editor insistió en que propusiera un título que a mis oídos sonaba terriblemente posmoderno, pero que estaba en consonancia con lo que ellos publicaban. La “cultura de la escritura” globalizada es sin duda un ejemplo del atractivo de los paradigmas angloamericanos, aunque persiste una gran pluralidad, observo. Cuáles son los múltiples impactos de estos modelos dominantes en otras comunidades científicas? ¿Están los antropólogos más preocupados por la heterogeneidad cultural que por la diversidad científica? Y lo que es más importante, cómo contribuye esta hegemonía académica a la universalización de una agenda neoliberal de producción y evaluación del conocimiento? Sin embargo, como he mencionado anteriormente en este post, yo mismo he utilizado recursos angloamericanos para escapar de las formas locales de nepotismo. Al mismo tiempo, veo ahora cómo dichos recursos se están globalizando hasta el punto de que es difícil existir académicamente fuera de ellos.Evidentemente, hay que encontrar un equilibrio. Es todo menos sencillo, y estoy tratando de pintar un cuadro matizado de la situación. Sin embargo, fantaseemos por un segundo. En el mundo cosmopolita de la antropología con el que sueño, los estudiantes de doctorado de Estados Unidos y el Reino Unido podrían hacer un posdoctorado en universidades belgas, italianas y surcoreanas. Tanto ellos como los académicos más consolidados publicarían principalmente en estos lugares no angloamericanos, mientras que todos tendrían acceso a los centros de excelencia angloamericanos. No son éstas las virtudes del descentramiento de las que los antropólogos son los mayores defensores? En el planeta de mis sueños, donde todas las revistas científicas serían de acceso abierto y donde no habría doctores, postdoctorados, investigadores y adjuntos en situación de precariedad, los académicos sustituirían nuestra política de competencia por una ética del cuidado, riéndose siempre críticamente de las métricas y otros trucos de las evaluaciones neoliberales. En una conmovedora reflexión sobre lo que era importante en su vida científica, el difunto Jan Blommaert, a quien lamentablemente nunca llegué a conocer, escribió”Lo que no era importante era la competencia y sus atributos de competitividad conductual y relacional, el deseo o el impulso de ser el mejor, de ganar concursos, de ser visto como el campeón, de proceder tácticamente, de forjar alianzas estratégicas y demás”.En un mundo así, las ideas serían atractivas no por el lugar donde se desarrollan, sino por su riqueza heurística intrínseca. Del mismo modo, los candidatos a un puesto se seleccionarían en función de los textos sin saber en qué revistas concretas se han publicado y valorando su diversificación lingüística. Digo “sueño”, ya que el capitalismo académico es estructural y sabe jugar con nuestras heridas narcisistas y nuestra necesidad de reconocimiento. Se trata de valores viscerales relacionados con formas simbólicas y económicas de ganancia. Y no hay respuestas sencillas, porque los contextos nacionales son muy diferentes entre sí, mientras que los cambios deben ser tanto políticos como de comportamiento. He dedicado una energía considerable a intentar ganar legitimidad a través de las infraestructuras angloamericanas de producción de conocimiento y todavía lo hago. Sin embargo, si soy parte del problema, puedo ser parte de la solución. Las iniciativas individuales son importantes (especialmente las de los académicos angloamericanos establecidos). Es necesario que haya voces fuertes en el campo que declaren, por ejemplo, “a partir de ahora, sólo escribiré libros (de acceso abierto)”, y que decidan romper con este sistema, mientras que nosotros podemos desafiar la globalización de dicho modelo hegemónico en múltiples niveles, por ejemplo, creando foros de intercambio en asociaciones científicas (como la EASA), desmitificándolo con nuestros colegas y estudiantes, concienciando a nuestras autoridades y continuando citando a nuestros autores favoritos, sean angloamericanos o no. Sin embargo, los académicos aislados no tendrán poder por sí mismos. Tienen que contar con el apoyo de sus universidades, de las agencias científicas nacionales y de las comunidades antropológicas críticas. Sólo la conjunción de estos niveles permitiría, en mi opinión, detener la máquina en la que actualmente nos alienamos.

Referencia:Winnicott, D.A. 1960: The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 41: 585-595.

Anglo-American hegemony in contemporary anthropology. Some personal dilemmas


Disclaimer: Over the last few days, I have had a writing episode. Nothing had come out of my brain for months. I was teaching online and worrying about students and family. All of a sudden, I felt the urge to scribble something. Then I hesitated to share it. Who will be interested? Who cares about this now when we are in the middle of a pandemic, eyes tired from too much time spent in front of screens, filled with uncertainty and helplessness? I am unable to pretend. I’m not sure I’d have the energy to discuss ideas. Don’t we need to rest and preserve some strength for the months to come? Well, I couldn’t stop it. This is also part of the pandemic experience. I’ve heard so many colleagues sharing their desire to build something new out of this terrible situation that affects us all. Me too, I dream of another world afterwards. I hope that we can think together to create better academic communities, and not rush on with business as usual.


“Since modern man experiences himself both as the seller and as the commodity to be sold on the market, his self-esteem depends on conditions beyond his control. If he is ‘successful,’ he is valuable; if he is not, he is worthless. The degree of insecurity which results from this orientation can hardly be overestimated. If one feels that one’s own value is not constituted primarily by the human qualities one possesses, but by one’s success on a competitive market with ever-changing conditions, one’s self-esteem is bound to be shaky and in constant need of confirmation by others. Hence, one is driven to drive relentlessly for success, and any setback is a severe threat to one’s self-esteem; helplessness, insecurity, and inferiority feelings are the result.”
[Erich Fromm, Man for himself, 1947]

The issue of privilege is widely discussed in anthropological circles these days. Who represents whom? Who has access to what? These are very healthy questions that, from a French-speaking Belgian perspective, often still seem light years away (as talks about diversity within academia and decolonised curricula are still scarce, unfortunately). However, one aspect of these questions is almost unanimously disregarded: that of the current Anglo-American hegemony in the production of anthropological knowledge. I say “Anglo-American” because the English language has become dominant in our discipline. But this specificity also has to do with the visibility and attractiveness of academic infrastructures—i.e. universities, scientific associations, journals and university presses, publishers, networks of diffusion, etc.—mainly based in the United States and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom. And let me be clear: I know that I am part of the problem, something I discuss below. I have dear friends and caring colleagues with whom I enjoy exchanging, learning and collaborating who work in these environments. I am equally aware that this text will be read differently depending on the academic bubbles. This short opinion paper (I am not a specialist of Higher Education globalised power relations, nor of Gramsci) doesn’t concern individuals. It is about a system of privileges that doesn’t tell its name.

I don’t think that what is produced in these sites of knowledge and written in these venues is intrinsically superior to any others in the world.

It is a truism to say that anthropology is dominated by scholars educated and knowledge produced in American and British Universities. These institutions are, however, plural and unequal to each other. Some few are part of an elite; many others are peripheral. My colleagues working in these academic worlds repeatedly drew my attention to the fact that just a few Anglo-American campuses are at the peak of the pyramid (and that the rest is struggling), whilst it is sometimes easier to affiliate to the “summit” coming from highly considered European or Asian research centres—easier than from peripheral Anglo-American universities. I am very aware of such complex national diversity and internal inequalities. Still, seen from abroad, some facts are inescapable. Most “top-ranked” anthropology journals are either edited in the US or in the UK; according to google scholar metrics, the first 20 are published in the US and the UK, with the exception of Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale and Ethnos. The same can be said for the “best” schools (LSE, Harvard, Cambridge, Chicago, UCL, and so on), whilst important anthropological associations are based there. These institutions and organisations are eminently respectable with a long history and famous ancestors. Journals have very high-quality boards and the review process has always struck me as rigorous and remarkably well managed. Beyond doubt, their recognition is fully deserved. However, personally, I don’t think that what is produced in these sites of knowledge and written in these venues is intrinsically superior to any others in the world. I find stimulating papers to read and cite from widely acclaimed as much as from some more (unfortunately) obscure regional publications. What the first have that the latter do not is an outstanding visibility and attractiveness to the extent that Anglo-American journals have growingly become representative of “the” discipline.

This brings me to the central issue in my questioning. In the US and UK, this system is imposed on academics who have little choice but to follow it to satisfy their passion for research. American Ethnologist and JRAI, among many others, are their local journals. And I feel for them as they have to maneuver in such an alienating field of rankings and evaluations, where access to the most prestigious venues is the essential criterion for obtaining the best jobs in the best universities.

A toxic cocktail which affects especially the most vulnerable (doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, adjuncts, this “cannon fodder” of the institution).

More and more anthropologists have become critical of the neoliberal values of academic competition embodied in the diktat of evaluations, the temporality of urgency, the use of metrics, the quest for funding, the precariousness of positions as well as the various loads once one is “inside” university. These aggregate with the inherent pathogenic conditions to the practice of research—the need for recognition, the existence of castes and inequalities, loneliness. A toxic cocktail which affects especially the most vulnerable (doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, adjuncts, this “cannon fodder” of the institution). An open-access book by Robert Borofksy (brought to my attention by Doug Falen) about the professional quest for individual status within American anthropology is extremely valuable, and it certainly can be extrapolated outside this context.

It is equally sad to think that some ideas are considered “interesting” and attract attention because of their site of publication, international circulation and sacrosanct citationality. What I find more worrying is that these same academic infrastructures have become holy grails for so many anthropologists around the world. There is a globalised mimetic desire at stake to gain recognition. And I am talking about my own case, that of a privileged tenured professor in a European university. That is the way the tale goes: First, one has to (try to) be published in the Anglo-American journals—American Anthropologist, Current Anthropology, JRAI and so forth—where the “important disciplinary debates” are taking place. As if these venues were neutral when they, in fact, embody local-but-globalised research traditions and emanate from centres of power. Only then should you send your articles to their Belgian, Italian or South Korean cousins (who also have serious editorial committees). Why so? I think we all know the answer. This is the manner to secure a job and to be part of ongoing anthropological discussions today. There is no explicit rule on this. Rather, it is becoming a shared habitus that does not even need to be said.

There is a globalised mimetic desire at stake to gain recognition.

In the same vein, scholars are strongly encouraged to do a post-doctorate in one of these Anglo-American institutions. When I started my PhD in Brussels, I promptly understood the conduct necessary for survival. From the onset, my low self-esteem and the fear of “not finding a permanent position” were unhealthy triggers.

Such habitus is learned very early on by many doctoral students and young researchers. By observing and participating, without a clear pedagogy, the novices internalize the implicit rules of their professional environment: a competitive ethos emphasizing exploits (i.e. publish in the best journals, have read everything, go international, market yourself, and so forth), glorifying the absence of boundaries between scientific and private life and maintaining silence about negative emotions as well as mental health issues. Unfortunately, most academic ecosystems do not have the dimension of “holding” so dear to Winnicott, this capacity to welcome researchers’ anxieties and to nurture their creativity. Immersed in this gray area that is called “intellectual passion,” most of them accept the potential toxicity of the environment that holds them, as a toddler would adapt to a depressed mother. Soon, they will flagellate themselves to comply with the ecosystem demands, both their protector and their torturer. The institution will survive. No doubt many of us find in there the perfume of the failing environments that we have already known before.


When you are not part of the legitimised archipelagos of knowledge production (and while I see Francophone Belgium as a privileged academic environment, it remains peripheral to the Anglo-American realm), you have to go international. Anglo-American scholarly infrastructures constituted social affordances for me as a young researcher who was trying to escape the local nepotism that was rampant at the time. These infrastructures mainly promised an openness and gave me access to new and large anthropological continents. After a few years spent in the UK, I received a postdoctoral grant in the US at a major institution. Clearly to impress my father—that didn’t come out as a great success—, and to collect the famous “postdoc in the US” visa. There, I learned even more about competition and felt extremely lonely, yet I worked like a fool to acquire another grail: an article in American Ethnologist. This publication, which required an enormous amount of linguistic energy and a certain degree of paradigmatic plasticity, earned me many “with that piece, you’ll get a position!” remarks, and I indeed eventually obtained a job. Years of performance anxiety finally rewarded.

By observing and participating, without a clear pedagogy, the novices internalize the implicit rules of their professional environment.

Now that it is my turn to be seated in selection committees sometimes, I am struck by the extent to which Anglo-American journals and scholarly experiences constitute almost unavoidable assets in the hiring and grant-awarding process in Belgium. Again, there is no explicitly formulated rule here. This is a recent phenomenon, mainly from those who have studied abroad in the Anglo-American world. I myself had this reflex of “ticking the Anglo-American box” when evaluating applications, as if having these trophies is an indisputable sign of quality. Certainly, publications in “local” venues are still essential to get a job in many universities, as they are in the US and the UK. However, it is as if Anglo-American references and fellowships—that are, of course, extremely relevant to assess research creativity and capacity—have become indispensable in a great deal of other academic cultures. Is this a new standard? I think so but, dear reader, do not hesitate to tell your experiences.

These examples raise questions. Firstly, about the diversity of anthropological traditions. American and British schools and journals have their own theoretical inclinations. To be one of them, the aspirant may be tempted to adopt their paradigmatic codes. I recall an article submitted to an American venue whose editor insisted that I come up with a title that sounded terribly postmodern to my ears but was in line with what they were publishing. The globalised “writing culture” is undoubtedly an example of the attractiveness of Anglo-American paradigms, although a great plurality persists, I observe

What are the multiple impacts of such dominant models on other scientific communities? Are anthropologists more concerned with cultural heterogeneity than with scientific diversity? Even more importantly, how does such a scholarly hegemony contribute to the universalisation of a neoliberal agenda of knowledge production and evaluation? 

Yet, as I mentioned earlier in this post, I myself used Anglo-American resources to escape local forms of nepotism. At the same time, I see now how such resources are being globalised to the extent that it is difficult to exist academically outside of them.

Are anthropologists more concerned with cultural heterogeneity than with scientific diversity?

Obviously, there is a balance to be found. It is all but simple, and I am trying to paint a nuanced picture of the situation. Yet, let us fantasise for a second. In the cosmopolitan world of anthropology I dream of, US and UK-based PhD students might do a postdoctorate in Belgian, Italian and South Korean universities. They as well as more established scholars would primarily publish in these local non-Anglo-American venues, while everybody would get access to Anglo-American hubs of excellence. Are these not the virtues of décentrement of which anthropologists are the greatest defenders? On my dreamed planet, where all scientific journals would be open access and where there would be no PhDs, postdocs, researchers and adjuncts in situations of precarity, academics would substitute an ethics of care for our politics of competition, by always having a big critical laugh at metrics and other tricks of neoliberal evaluations. In a moving reflection on what was significant in his scientific life, the late Jan Blommaert, whom I sadly never got to meet, wrote:

“What was not important was competition and its attributes of behavioral and relational competitiveness, the desire or urge to be the best, to win contests, to be seen as the champ, to proceed tactically, to forge strategic alliances and what not.”

Academic capitalism is structural and it knows how to play with our narcissistic wounds and need for recognition.

In such a world, ideas would be attractive not by where they are developed, but by their intrinsic heuristic richness. Likewise, candidates for a position would be selected on the basis of texts without knowing in which specific journals they have been published and by valorising their linguistic diversification. I say “dream,” as academic capitalism is structural and it knows how to play with our narcissistic wounds and need for recognition. We are dealing here with visceral values related to symbolic and economic forms of profit. And there are no simple answers, because national contexts are very different from each other whilst changes must be political as well as behavioural. I have devoted considerable energy to trying to gain legitimacy through Anglo-American knowledge production infrastructures and I still do. Yet, if I am part of the problem, I can be part of the solution. Individual initiatives are important (especially those from Anglo-American established scholars). One needs to have loud voices in the field declare for instance, “from now on, I will write (open access) books only,” and decide to break with this system, whilst we can challenge the globalisation of such hegemonic model on multiple levels, e.g. by creating exchange forums in scientific associations (like the EASA), by demystifying it with our colleagues and students, by raising awareness among our authorities and by continuing to cite our favourite authors whether they are Anglo-American or not. However, isolated academics will have no power on their own. They have to be supported by their universities, national scientific agencies and critical anthropological communities. It is only the conjunction of these levels that, in my opinion, would make it possible to stop the machine in which we currently alienate ourselves.


Image Credits:

Featured image Shades of Blue by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Podium photo by Romain Chollet on Unsplash.

Graduate photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash.

USA by Night photo by NASA on Unsplash.

Gradients photo Veronica Benavides on Unsplash.



Winnicott, D.A. 1960: The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 41: 585-595.



The Good-Enough Academia

Some time ago I proposed five principles for getting rid of one’s academic false self ( I intended to drop the masks (mine first) by exposing the oppressive role-play that alienates many of us in the contemporary scientific ecosystem and generates psychological disorders, sometimes severe, too often kept in silence. The values ​​of competition materialized in the diktat of the evaluations and a temporality of urgency, the precariousness and the scarcity of the accessible positions as well as the various loads once one is “inside,” have come to aggregate with the inherent pathogenic conditions to the practice of research—the need for recognition, the existence of castes and inequalities, loneliness. A toxic cocktail, devastating in the absence of an ethic of care, which affects especially the most vulnerable academic categories (doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, adjuncts, young teachers, etc., this “cannon fodder” of the university institution), but not only.  


Invented by Winnicott, the notion of “false self” seemed relevant to me to capture some of the aspects of our loyalty to an alma mater. The false self is a set of attitudes deployed by the toddler to adapt to the needs of a failing environment. In Winnicott’s model, when a mother is not a good caregiver, because she is depressed for example, the infant comes to react to her stimuli and generate a false self, a second skin that not only hides and protects, but also anticipates and complies with the mother’s demands. Unable to do otherwise, her development is constrained by the emotional failure represented by the mother when she is not “good enough.”


It is difficult to compare the dual relationship of a mother and her child to that of an individual within an institutional ecosystem. Yet, there seems to be shared ingredients. Without infantilizing them, doctoral students and young researchers are helpless, at the mercy of their professional environment. The thesis supervisor’s face functions as the mirror in which, according to Winnicott, the mother gives the infant a reflection of herself. The very first months spent in a laboratory are decisive in the development of a scientific being-in-the-world, while the novice grasps herself in the specular capture of the eyes of elders and peers. By observing and participating, without a clear pedagogy, she acquires the categories, the practices and the implicit rules of the environment, as well as many stimuli to which she will learn to react. Gradually, she internalizes them and her reactions become like a second skin. Today’s academic system is, in many aspects and in many parts of the world, failing. It deploys a competitive ethos emphasizing exploits and trophees (i.e. publish in the best journals, have read everything, etc., with an eye on rankings and other types of evaluations). It glorifies the absence of boundaries between scientific and private life, thus the inevitable exhaustion of scientists in their work. It promotes the silencing of negative emotions. And meanwhile pervades a societal contradictory discourse on the necessity and, at the same time, the meaninglessness of research. 

Undoubtedly, the quest for scientific knowledge stricto sensu brings jubilation and a lot of positive feelings. However, too often, the academic ecosystem does not have the dimension of “holding” so dear to Winnicott, this capacity to welcome researchers’ anxieties and to hold their creativity. Immersed in this gray area that is called “intellectual passion,” we are willing to accept the potential toxicity of the environment that holds us, as a toddler would adapt to a depressed mother. Soon, as we become our own Orwellian “Big Brother,” we will flagellate ourselves to comply with the ecosystem demands, both our protector and our torturer. The institution will survive. No doubt many of us find in there the perfume of the failing environments that we have already known before.


So, the question is: how to build a “good enough” academic community (made of solicitude, honesty, incompleteness, joyful irony and self-preservation) ?

Le sein de l’alma mater


“Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your own nervous system“. Orwell, 1984


Dans un esprit de dénonciation, j’avais proposé, il y a quelque temps, cinq principes pour se débarrasser de son faux-soi académique ( Sur un ton potache, il s’agissait, pour moi, de faire tomber les masques (le mien, en premier), en mettant à jour le jeu de rôles oppressant qui aliène nombre d’entre nous dans l’écosystème scientifique contemporain et génère des troubles psychologiques, parfois sévères, trop souvent maintenus dans le silence. Les valeurs de compétition, matérialisées dans le diktat des évaluations et une temporalité d’urgence, la précarité et la rareté des postes accessibles ainsi que les surcharges diverses une fois « à l’intérieur », sont venues s’agréger aux conditions pathogènes quasi inhérentes à la pratique de la recherche — le besoin de reconnaissance, l’existence de castes et d’inégalités, la solitude. Un cocktail toxique, dévastateur surtout en l’absence d’une éthique du soin, qui touche surtout les catégories académiques les plus vulnérables (les doctorants, les postdoctorants, les adjuncts, les jeunes professeurs, etc., cette « chair à canon », comme disait Whitehead, de l’institution universitaire), mais pas seulement.


Inventée par Winnicott, la notion de « false self » me semble pertinente (plutôt que celle de rôle) pour saisir certains des aspects de notre loyauté vis-à-vis d’une alma mater. Le faux-soi regroupe un ensemble d’attitudes du tout-petit destinées à s’adapter aux besoins d’un environnement maternel défaillant. Dans le modèle de Winnicott, en remplacement d’une mère trop occupée par elle-même, dépressive par exemple, le nourrisson en vient à réagir aux stimuli et déploie un faux-soi, une seconde peau qui le cache et le protège. Incapable de faire autrement, son développement est contraint par le tuteur émotionnel que représente la mère quand elle n’est pas « assez bonne ».


Il est délicat de comparer la relation duale d’une mère à son enfant à celle d’un individu au sein d’un écosystème institutionnel. Pourtant, il semble y avoir des ingrédients partagés. Sans vouloir trop l’infantiliser, le doctorant ou le jeune chercheur est démuni, à la merci de son environnement professionnel. Le directeur de thèse constitue ce miroir qui, selon Winnicott, renvoie la mère au nourrisson. Certainement, les tout premiers mois passés dans un laboratoire sont déterminants dans l’élaboration d’un être-au-monde scientifique, alors que le novice se saisit lui-même dans la capture spéculaire du regard des aînés et de ses pairs. En observant et en participant, sans qu’il y ait de pédagogie claire, ce dernier acquiert les catégories, les pratiques et les règles implicites du milieu, autant de stimuli auxquels il va apprendre à réagir. Peu à peu, il les intériorise et ses réactions se pérennisent. Or le monde scientifique d’aujourd’hui est défaillant. S’y déploient un éthos concurrentiel destiné à mettre en avant des exploits (publier dans les meilleures revues, avoir tout lu, etc., les yeux rivés sur les classements et autres types d’évaluations) ; l’absence de frontières entre la vie scientifique et la vie privée, ainsi que l’incontournable épuisement des savants dans leur travail ; un discours sur la nécessité et, dans le même temps, l’inanité de la recherche ; et surtout, la mise sous silence des émotions négatives.


À n’en pas douter, la quête de savoir procure jubilation. Pourtant, trop souvent, l’univers académique qui la rend possible ne possède pas la dimension de « holding » si chère à Winnicott, cette capacité, dira-t-on, à accueillir les angoisses du chercheur et à soutenir sa créativité. Immergé qu’il est dans cette zone grise que l’on appelle « passion intellectuelle », le jeune chercheur accepte la toxicité de l’environnement qui le tient, comme un tout-petit s’adapterait à une mère dépressive. Bientôt, devenu son propre “big brother” orwellien, il se flagellera tout seul grâce à son fake-self, tout à la fois son gardien et son bourreau, et sera incapable de faire autrement. L’institution, elle, survivra. Sans doute nombre d’entre nous y retrouvent le parfum des milieux défaillants que nous avons déjà connus avant. Aussi, la question qui se pose est-elle : à quand un monde scientifique « assez bon » ? Un tel monde, fait de gai savoir, de sollicitude, d’honnêteté, d’incomplétude, de joyeuse ironie et de préservation de soi, reste à édifier.

Rendez-vous en terre (in)connue ? Sur le mythe du bon sauvage à la télé

Publié dans la Revue Nouvelle, 2017 (1)

« Les Lom Lom, qui vivent au Fond du Bwa, sont patagames, fragmentaires, fistoulocaux et rétrolinéaires » (Hon. F. K. Butzer-Ismoni)[1]

Les ethnologues regardent aussi la télévision. Ils peuvent y apprendre bien des choses sur nos mythologies contemporaines. L’émission Rendez-Vous en Terre Inconnue (RVTI tous les 6 mois sur France 2, un journaliste emmène une célébrité à la rencontre d’une société dite « traditionnelle ») en témoigne à merveille. Pour les anthropologues et historiens, il s’agit-là d’un voyage en un territoire connu: celui du mythe du bon sauvage, de peuplades authentiques et oubliées, ces cultures-paradis menacées de disparition où prévaudraient la sincérité, le vrai, l’humilité, le respect de la nature, la solidarité, l’émotion, la sagesse et j’en passe. Une expédition au coeur de vieux stéréotypes occidentaux pétris d’une nostalgie pour le primitif, plus ancienne que le colonialisme (bien qu’elle ait alimenté les idéologies coloniales) et qui continue de hanter notre manière de parler des autres, surtout de ces autres lointains. Aujourd’hui, les médias et la culture populaire jouent un rôle crucial dans la diffusion de ces images stéréotypées de l’altérité. Ils nourissent l’appétit de téléspectateurs friands d’authenticité et de charmes locaux, et constituent des succès commerciaux incontestables, puisqu’à chacune de ces diffusions, le programme RVTI parvient à attirer entre 5 et 8 millions de téléspectateurs.

Certes, en ces temps de crispations identitaires mondiales, l’entreprise est louable. L’idée est de créer des passerelles intercultuelles, d’intéresser des humains à l’existence d’autres humains et de les sensibiliser à l’existence de cultures autres. Il s’agit aussi d’inviter à la réflexion sur notre propre société et sur ce que nous pourrions apprendre des autres. Il ne faudrait pas non plus nier la dimension cathartique d’un programme comme celui-ci. Sur les sites des fans de l’émission, les téléspectateurs insistent sur l’enchantement que leur procure son visionnage, combien « l’amour » et « la sagesse » offerts à leur regard suscite du plaisir et même des larmes, mais aussi une perspective critique sur la société folle et carnassière qui est la nôtre. Rien de neuf pour les anthropologues qui, depuis toujours, ont fait de leur discipline un dispositif moral : aller au loin (très loin !) pour mieux critiquer le proche.

Malheureusement, la mise en scène simpliste présentée aux téléspectateurs peine à sortir des éternels clichés sur les petites populations traditionnelles où les gens seraient souriants, accueillants, proches de la nature, peu matérialistes, sincères et arborant des costumes de toutes les couleurs. Je dis bien « mise en scène », car il semble que la production de l’émission n’hésite pas à s’arranger avec le réel[2], le soumettant avant tout à une exploration naïve de l’exotique. Le savoir ethnologique n’est en aucun cas mobilisé. Le script choisi est connu : c’est toujours la même rencontre univoque et fantasmée de l’Occidental avec l’Autre qui se donne à voir, l’identification du spectateur européen à une aventure dangereuse mais initiatique qui rappelle celle, aussi fantasmée, des premiers aventuriers modernes sur des terriroires lointains. Je ne cesse d’être étonné par l’extraordinaire puissance de ce script qui, par un effet magique, parvient à transformer pauvreté, histoire coloniale, dictatures et domination masculine en une découverte enchantée, esthétisée et dépolitisée de l’altérité. C’est d’ailleurs pour cette raison que l’actrice Josiane Balasko, lucide, a refusé de participer à RDVI : « Je ne me sens pas, moi, privilégiée, riche, connue, d’aller voir des gens qui vivent culs nus et qui n’ont rien, et de jouer avec les bons sauvages et montrer mes larmes en disant c’est formidable. C’est une forme d’indécence que je n’aime pas »[3].

Trois aspects en particulier me semblent cruciaux à distinguer. D’abord, le voyage lointain que met en scène RVTI est un déplacement idéalisé qui recèle une quête de paradis, un thème qui sous-tend bien des expériences touristiques contemporaines. Nombreux sont les touristes qui voyagent au loin en quête d’authenticité et d’une expérience magique de l’altérité. Un voyage-enchantement qui, la plupart du temps, met en suspens les mécanismes de domination politique et économique ainsi que l’histoire coloniale qui le rendent possible. Comme l’écrit l’anthropologue Sally Price, le tourisme contemporain repose sur une hypothèse partagée : « The world is ours » (le monde nous appartient)[4]. Une carte VISA dans cet univers postcolonial, mon sac à dos, et je domine le globe du regard. « Bali? J’ai fait! », une formulation coloniale et guerrière qui rappelle un peu ceux qui ont « fait l’Algérie » ou « le Vietnam ». Comme si le voyage loitain donnait un supplément d’âme, le courage du guerrier. « J’ai fait… », cela se dit aussi en série. On en « fait » pleins, des pays. Comme s’il s’agissait de planter un petit drapeau sur une mappemonde que l’on pourrait facilement tenir dans ses mains, un privilège et un enjeu de pouvoir pour certains sur ce globe. The world is ours, oui mais pas pour tout le monde, et certainement pas pour celles et ceux qui entreprennent un voyage « sacré », comme disait Deleuze, les migrants, exilés, déportés et autres diasporiques.

Ensuite, dans RDVI, il y a une flagrante erreur de diagnostic sociologique. Depuis 15 ans, en tant qu’ethnologue, j’ai rencontré, en Afrique, en Asie et ailleurs, des hommes et des femmes qui ne sont pas nostalgiques d’un passé idyllique et de la culture « authentique » que les touristes, mais aussi les patrimonialistes et les journalistes se lamentent de voir disparaître. Cela me semble incroyable de devoir l’écrire en 2016, mais nombreux sont ceux et celles qui, autour du globe, même dans les endroits apparemment les plus isolés, prennent pied dans la modernité, et se désepèrent de la manière dont les Occidentaux les enferment dans l’éternel stéréotype du bon sauvage. Nombreux sont ceux et celles qui, de par le monde, adoptent une posture positive (parfois trop positive) à l’égard des changements sociaux et économiques contemporains et même de certains aspects de la mondialisation, avec souvent le désir de voir encore plus de touristes, d’industries et d’avions. Qui pourrait les blâmer de ne pas vouloir continuer à vivre dans des mondes révolus? Jusques à quand allons-nous nous accrocher à ce mythe nostalgique?

Enfin, et surtout, ce que révèle « Rendez-vous en terre inconnue », c’est une politique différentielle de l’empathie. Tout se passe comme si les téléspectateurs s’émerveillaient de la différence quand elle est lointaine et esthétisée. Ici, en France, en Belgique, le multiculturalisme et l’hospitalité se voient de plus en plus vilipendés au nom d’un on-est-chez-nous et d’un on-ne-peut-pas-accueillir-toute-la-misère-du-monde, ces formules antipathiques qui font passer les pires horreurs pour des révélations acquises au prix d’un courage incroyable. Alors, quand une célébrité s’exclame au bout du monde qu’elle y rencontre de « l’amour » et de la « pureté », je ne peux m’empêcher de me demander si elle manifesterait autant d’émerveillement auprès de gens vivant en bas de chez elle. L’autre est si beau dès lors qu’il est loin. Dans ce système de catégorisation à géométrie variable, l’altérité proche, quant à elle, revêt trop souvent les apparences du terroriste en puissance, du profiteur du système, de l’homophobe et j’en passe. Qu’il est inquiétant ce regard essentialiste qui sépare a priori entre les « bons » et les « mauvais » humains. A dire vrai, j’ai bien peur que dans un jour pas si lointain, notre journaliste décide d’emmèner une star dans une petite communauté d’humanistes de gauche, anticapitalistes et antiracistes, une tribu en voie de disparition comme on dit. Je pleurerai à la fin quand ils se diront « aurevoir ».


David Berliner, anthropologue, ULB.

[1] Tiré d’un texte satirique rédigé par l’anthropologue français Claude Meillassoux pour dénoncer une certaine ethnologie passéiste. Dans : « Anthropeaulogie des Lom Lom », Journal des anthropologues, 1998, 132-142.


[2] Dans un article publié en 2010, Lionel Gauthier écrit ceci à propos d’une émission mettant en scène Gérard Jugnot chez les Chipayas en Bolivie : « Ainsi, pour que les Chipayas soient crédibles, la production insista pour que ceux-ci portent leurs vêtements traditionnels, normalement réservés aux jours de fête, pour toute la durée du tournage, même lors de travaux salissants. (…) Le lieu de vie des Chipayas subit des modifications. Ceux-ci vivent la moitié de l’année dans un village aux maisons rustiques et l’autre dans des estancias, exploitations agricoles en plein désert formées de cabanons en boue séchée. Les estancias étant bien plus pittoresques, les protagonistes y furent déplacés, alors que le moment du tournage correspondait à la période de vie au village. Mais le travail sur le décor ne s’arrêta pas là. La production prit aussi soin de dissimuler tous les éléments de modernité: du téléphone satellite aux récipients en plastique ».élévision_perpétue_le_mythe_des_peuples_arriérés

[3]Voir :


[4] Sally Price, Primitive Art in Civilized Places, 1989, The University of Chicago Press.

Jak się pozbyć swojego fałszywego akademickiego ja? 

Zasada troski:

Zastąp zasadę konkurencji etyką troski (o siebie i innych). Nauka to wspólne wytwarzanie wiedzy, a nie wzajemne masakrowanie się.

Zasada niepełności:
Przyznaj, że nie przeczytałeś/łaś wszystkiego i że nie możesz rozmawiać na każdy temat. Naucz się mówić: „Nie wiem wiele o Derridzie. Może kiedyś go przeczytam, a może nie.”.

Zasada uczciwości:
Naucz się przyznać publicznie: „Nie prowadzę teraz żadnych nowych badań, ani nie piszę nic nowego”. Na pytanie: „Nad czym teraz pracujesz?”, nie wstydź się odpowiedzieć: „Nie wiem. Prowadzę zajęcia i zabiera mi to bardzo dużo czasu. Nie mam teraz akurat niczego wartego publikacji.”.

Zasada ironii:
Zachowaj zdrowy i krytyczny dystans do indeksów i pozostałych elementów neoliberalnego systemu oceny. Rozdrapują jedynie twoje narcystyczne rany.

Zasada instynktu samozachowawczego:
Staraj się unikać – na ile to możliwe – toksycznych kolegów, zainteresowanych jedynie rozmową o własnych osiągnięciach i kolejnych punktach w CV, a nie tym, co u ciebie tak naprawdę słychać.

Jeśli to nie zadziała, podwój dawkę i spróbuj jeszcze raz.

David Berliner, antropolog

How to discuss academic work with care?


  1. To enhance creativity, nothing helps better than care. It is the same at all stages of academic life, where narcissistic troubles abound. Care is the way to go.
  2. Remember the efforts involved in producing academic knowledge. Writing a book or an article, even if one disagrees with its content, requires a considerable effort. Remember your own efforts and sacrifices.
  3. Compliments always do good. Criticisms do good as well and they help improve. But watch your tone ! There is a way to express disagreement without destroying people’s self-esteem.
  4. To acknowledge that the Other can be right. No doubt, the most difficult aspect in scientific debates, but that’s where hermeneutic charity begins!
  5. Discuss someone’s text on her own theoretical and empirical grounds, and help her advance on her own terrain, not on yours (not at first, at least). Science being a collaborative process and not a military conquest, the objective is not to massacre but to collaborate and improve.
  6. Avoid useless questions only aimed at establishing your own authority. Just avoid asking questions if you have nothing to ask.
  7. These suggestions might seem naïve and obvious. I am not saying that academics should not engage in intellectual controversies. But, like in all forms of communication, the medium crucially matters.

The pharmaceutics of academia

MA student : alcohol + herbal meds.


PhD student : alcohol + herbal meds + xanax.


Postdoc : alcohol + xanax + antidepressants.


Assistant Professor : alcohol + xanax + lithium.


Associate Professor : alcohol + xanax + lithium + shrink. 


Professor : alcohol + xanax + lithium + shrink + yoga/mindfulness/tai chi.



How our contradictions make us human and inspire creativity

(published on AEON, 7/12/16,

Have you ever wondered how many contradictory thoughts you have in a day? How many times your thoughts contradict your actions? How often your feelings oppose your principles and beliefs? Most of the time, we don’t see our own contradictions – it’s often easier to observe such inconsistencies in others. But you are as full of contradictions as I am. We humans are structurally made of contradictions, living peacefully, sometimes painfully, with our oxymoronic selves. Walt Whitman got it right when he wrote in ‘Song of Myself’ (1855):

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Think about buying technological gadgets while opposing child labour and ecological waste, or about condemning theft, then illegally downloading music and movies. Think of those who hold forth about respecting private life, and a moment later post personal photos to Facebook. There are environmentalists who constantly fly, finance traders who care about poverty, and sermonising priests who have lost their faith. Sebastián Marroquín remembers his father singing lullabies while he drifted off to sleep – and his father was the drugs lord Pablo Escobar, the greatest killer in Colombian history. Living a contradictory life is profoundly, perhaps definitively, human.

The American feminist historian Joan Wallach Scott argues that what characterises a critical thinker is the ability ‘to point a finger at contradictions’, but critical thinkers don’t escape contradiction either. In his book Le génie du mensonge (2016) – ‘the genius of lies’ ­– the French philosopher François Noudelmann portrays Michel Foucault invoking the ‘courage of truth’ while hiding his fatal illness, and Jean-Paul Sartre, the intellectuel engagé, playing a very ambiguous role during the Vichy era.

Today, some globalised academics make a lucrative business out of the critique of capitalism. Perhaps contradictions are a necessary ingredient for triggering intellectual creativity. While most humans struggle to maintain a sense of psychological unity, contradictions produce destabilising breaches in the self. Whether conscious or unconscious, these fissures nourish creative inspiration, which can be interpreted as a way to resolve or sublimate internal oppositions. I believe this can be said of all domains of creation. Perhaps art, literature, science or philosophy wouldn’t be possible without intrapersonal contradictions and the desire to resolve them.

Is there anyone who lives according to the Stoic principle of Plutarch, in ‘perfect agreement between the maxims of men and their conduct’? No, but this isn’t always a cause for crisis. We compartmentalise knowledge, practices and emotions. In certain domains of life, some behaviours and thoughts are acceptable but not in others. For instance, lying might be seen as a heroic act when done to protect victims from a brutal regime, but in a friendly relationship it is unbearable. In labs, scientists can produce evidence-based research in the context of their professional lives, then go home and attend religious prayers addressing the existence of invisible entities.

Humans live peacefully with contradictions precisely because of their capacity to compartmentalise. And when contradictory statements, actions or emotions jump out of their contextual box, we are very good, perhaps too good, at finding justifications to soothe cognitive dissonance. An environmentalist friend of mine, to whom I pointed out that smoking is not an ecological act, used to reply: ‘I know, David, but I smoke rolled cigarettes!’ as if rolled cigarettes are less toxic than industrial ones and don’t depend on the destructive industry of tobacco exploitation – which he, of course, condemns.

Contradictions are omnipresent in our intrapersonal life and they are particularly visible when strong beliefs come into play, such as faith, morality, militantism, and so on. In Guinea and Laos, where I’ve conducted my ethnographical research, most people are convinced of the existence of spiritual entities that can transform themselves into a multiplicity of incompatible forms, able to ontologically turn themselves into animals, plants or objects, or to even be invisible, all without the slightest concern for contradiction. Our own popular culture features zombies, alive and dead at the same time, and robots with all-too-human emotions. Our minds are, indeed, full of these entities imbued with contradictory qualities that defy the ‘principle of non-contradiction’. While one thinks that it is impossible to be A and non-A, in fact humans adore entities with incompatible properties. As psychologists of cognition have shown, such contradictions are particularly attractive to the human mind. They challenge core ontological expectations that we have about animals, artifacts or persons. As a consequence, they hold important cognitive salience and memorability.

Things get even more complicated when one moves beyond the confines of the self. Human communication consists of subtle manoeuvres between contradictions, for instance between what is said and what is expressed through gestures and tones. As an individual, one persistently strives at interpreting the contradictory messages of our interlocutors and decoding the inconsistent behaviours that one observes in social life. (The English anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his colleagues at the Palo Alto group in California have lucidly written about these phenomena.)

There are social situations where one is stuck in paradoxical injunctions, for instance when a teacher commands her students to ‘be spontaneous!’ The worst scenarios imply a ‘double bind’ in which infants are wedged in the contradictory emotional demands of their parents. But, there are also many non-pathological settings described by anthropologists, such as rituals, where contradictions are performed and valued as modes of communication. Take the ancient Jewish ‘slapping’ rituals performed at a girl’s first menstruation. In the past, among Eastern European Jews, when a girl told her mother that she’d got her first period, the mother would slap her daughter’s face and, at the same time, exclaim ‘Mazel tov!’ (congratulations). Here, the contradictory nature of the messages constitutes the foundation of the ritual and the necessary ingredients for its efficiency.

Building on the poet John Keats, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in Promises, Promises (2000) describes three ‘negative capabilities’ indispensable to growing into a mature human: the experience of being a nuisance, of getting lost, and of being powerless. I would add one more to that list: the ability to discover and accept our contradictions, even if, at times, we struggle to renounce them.

Как избавиться от научного комплекса неполноценности?


Принцип заботы:
Замените политику конкуренции на этику заботы (для себя и для других). Наука создает знания в процессе сотрудничества, а не войны.

Принцип неполноты:
Признайтесь, что вы читали не всё и не можете обсуждать все темы. Научитесь говорить: «Я ничего не знаю о Дерриде. Может быть, однажды, я его прочту, а может, нет».

Принцип честности:
Научитесь открыто говорить: «В данное время я не исследую ничего нового и не пишу». Когда коллега спросит: «Над чем Вы сейчас работаете?», скажите: «Я не знаю. Я преподаю, и это занимает все мое время. У меня нет ничего нового для публикации”.

Принцип иронии:
Относитесь с иронией к наукометрии и другим трюкам неолиберальных оценок науки. Они лишь сыпят соль на раны вашего самолюбия.

Принцип самосохранения:
Старайтесь избегать, насколько возможно, хвастливых коллег, которые не утруждают себя спросить о вас, зато перечисляют свои заслуги и расхваливают свое CV.

Если эти советы не работают, удвойте старания и повторите попытку.

Дэвид Берлинер, антрополог, Свободный университет Брюсселя

Comment se débarrasser de son « faux-soi » académique ? 5 principes anti-utilitaristes

Principe de soin :
– Remplacer la compétition par une éthique du soin (pour vous-même et pour les autres). La science n’est pas un massacre, mais plutôt un processus collaboratif de production du savoir.

Principe d’incomplétude :
– Reconnaissez que vous n’avez pas tout lu et que vous ne pouvez pas débattre de tous les sujets. Apprenez à dire : « Je ne connais pas bien Derrida. Peut-être qu’un jour, je le lirai, ou peut-être pas ».

Principe d’honnêteté :
– Entraînez-vous à dire publiquement : « Je ne fais pas de recherche en ce moment, et je n’écris pas ». Quand un collègue vous demande « Sur quoi travaillez-vous actuellement ? » apprenez à dire, « Je ne sais pas. J’enseigne, cela me prend déjà un temps considérable. Je n’ai rien à publier à l’heure actuelle».

Principe d’ironie :
– Garder toujours un regard critique et distancé sur les classements et autres types d’évaluations néolibérales. Ils ne font que rouvrir vos blessures narcissiques.

Principe d’auto-préservation :
– Essayez d’éviter – autant que faire se peut – les collègues toxiques qui ne vous demandent jamais comment vous allez, mais se préoccupent surtout de dresser la liste de leurs propres exploits universitaires et se concentrent sur la glorification de leur CV.

Si ça ne marche pas, doublez la dose et réessayez.

David Berliner, anthropologue.