Interview with Carolyn M. Rouse

by Sindre Bangstad (with Gard Ringen Høibjerg and Michelle Antoinette Tisdel)(1)

Sindre: First of all, it is great to have you back in Norway, you have actually been here before – only a year ago. But this project of yours, Trumplandia, that you actually started sometime before the election of Donald Trump as US president back in 2016, November 2016. I mean, I take it that your ethnographic location here is a trailer park in rural northern California, right? So for me as an anthropologist, that immediately raises the question of access. You know, you are everything they are not. You happen to be based in this liberal east coast enclave of Princeton, New Jersey, you have an African American background. So that basic question, how does one get access to such an ethnographic field, and what does it entail to work with people you don’t necessarily like, and who don’t necessarily like you either?

Carolyn: I often say of our discipline that we teach students how to ask great questions but we do not always have great answers. So actually, that is what I like to do, ask questions, but I do not always feel like I have the answers. In terms of Trumplandia, I had been studying African American racial disparities in health (Rouse 2009). And while I was doing that, of course, the data was coming out that there were declining white life expectancy in parts of rural America. In 2004 I think it was documented that white women in Appalachia had lost six years of life expectancy. Angus Deaton had just won the Noble Prize in Economics in 2015 and we were all in Ireland together and he was unveiling this new study he had undertaken, which was published in 2015 (Case and Deaton 2015). Now more data was out that whites were losing life expectancy in the United States. Deaton and his colleagues were economists and their first hypothesis was that “well, it is because they anticipate that they won’t get the same kind of jobs or make the same amount of money as their parents did.” So blaming this trend on declining economic deindustrialization in rural America. Getting rid of factories and outsourcing them abroad. But I had simultaneously been trying to make sense of white declines in life expectancy in order to make claims about black life expectancy. And what I was finding was that it is really not fears about the future. One of the outcomes of white racism in the United States is that in order to hold onto this notion that there was a time when white people were wealthy, particularly white men, was that you have to believe they were the smartest people, the most hard-working, and the most moral. So, all of these people I was interviewing in this place called Lake County (and it is not a trailer park. It’s actually a really beautiful lake where they grow a lot of marijuana) they were all from these white families who were middle class and upper middle class in the Bay Area. And from what we now call Silicone Valley, which is incredibly expensive. Almost all of them had grown up in families where there was substance abuse. But their fathers were able to hold on to their jobs because in the 60s the structures were such that white men with substance abuse issues kept their jobs, and there was no competition from blacks or Mexicans or Asians. They lived this middle-class existence. But then, in the 70s with feminism and integration, all of a sudden they were competing with people who were not like them. So their explanation for their falling down the economic ladder was the government. Because “I’m the most intelligent, I’m the most moral, I’m the most hardworking,” therefore my economic decline is because the government is giving all the resources to Mexicans and black people. Right? That is their explanation. And so… Part of what they want is the government not to support anyone anymore – kind of a libertarian idea. Because they believe in utilitarian economic theories, where the cream rises to the top in a perfect system. They really believe they will rise economically if the government is out of the way. But the government is actually the one providing health care, education, clean water, and safe roads. So they keep voting for people who are dismantling the government because they keep thinking government is the thing that is artificially inflating the economic profile of people who are not like them. Therefore, they choose to vote against the policies that are actually helping them stay alive. And part and parcel of that idea of getting rid of the government is this notion that “I need to be free. I need my guns. I need to be able to drink and smoke however much I want. I don’t even want to have to go to work.” A lot of them strangely see themselves as hardworking, but a lot of them are not. But some of them are hardworking, and they still have to live on food stamps, and they still have to rely on government support for their health care. So, they are voting against their economic interests because they really believe that white people naturally have these characteristics, and that it’s really the government completely distorting everything. And were it not for government, they would rise just like the cream to the top again. So, it is a very strange place. I went there to actually study declining white life expectancies. I started doing this before Trump was elected. And I was shocked. I didn’t know I was going to run into a lot of people explaining why Trump was “the best choice.” So, my interlocutors were telling me “Trump’s gonna win.” They knew! Right? They understood what the stakes were in a way that I didn’t. I didn’t go in there looking for conversations about Trump, and my subjects were prepped by my primary interlocutor. They were told that I was just coming to talk about health and health care. So they were schooling me. It was that kind of relationship. And there is also another thing about this. People who have racial ideas don’t see themselves as racist. Racists don’t look like Hitler (they don’t have the little mustache and everything). They don’t look like that. They really believe in their point of view. This is cultural. This is ideology at its best. And when they say things sometimes they’ll use Mexicans as a proxy. Instead of saying black people, they’ll say Mexicans, because I’m not Mexican. That’s a safe thing to say. “Those Mexicans…..”  But access, it’s not so difficult because most of the people don’t see themselves as racist. My primary interlocutor invited me to the area. She had heard on a television show about my work, so she actually invited me there. I did not have access to many of the pot places, she said I’d be shot on the spot. I mean this was before pot was made legal in California, so I didn’t have all the access.

Sindre: Now, this brings me back to this classical question. William Mazzarella from the University of Chicago is publishing a review essay about what he terms “The anthropology of populism” (Mazzarella 2019). In this piece, he notes that there really isn’t much of an anthropology of populism to speak of, either in the US nor in Europe. And I remember this, I think we were both at the meeting of the American Anthropological Association in November 2016, this was about a week after the election of Trump as president, and I certainly recall being struck by the shared sense of cognitive dissonance among my US anthropological colleagues, you know all the talk of “What on earth is going on here? We really didn’t see this coming” (Bangstad, Bertelsen and Henkel 2019a). I don’t think necessarily so much in anthropological circles, but there certainly seems to be some sort of reluctance in some quarters to admit that the world that Reaganite neoliberalism made in the US and in a number of other countries had anything to do with the rise of plutocratic right-wing populism in the USA. So what is it that anthropology can bring to the table of the analysis of this that other disciplines cannot?

Carolyn: I just finished teaching your book Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia (Bangstad 2014), and when I teach this book, I always say, if Americans had read his book when it came out in 2014, Trump would not have been a surprise. And I think that you have contributed a lot to the conversation about populism not as such, but as a set of practices around – again we are going to this notion of free speech – a kind of use of the public space to push ideas in a way that connects with pathos. But let me first get your sense of this debate about, or what may be lacking, or what anthropologists’ could do with populism. I know this isn’t supposed to be about you.

Sindre: You’re asking me questions now all of a sudden, right? Well, my basic assumption here would be that we have, for better or for worse, access to a sort of micro-perspective of, and the ability to sort of put ordinary people at the center of our analysis. So that would be one advantage in what we have to offer. Anthropology at its very best is also able to speak to the concerns of ordinary people, not necessarily in accepting everything that they say or take it at face value, but you know… There is a sense of grounded-ness and working from below rather than working from above.

Carolyn: Right, and that’s why my project was really to use ethnography as opposed to media as a way to really understand the United States. That’s what my Trumplandia is. Because my interlocutors were right about Trump, so there is something that they know that oftentimes doesn’t translate into the media. But again, I don’t trust people’s opinions, I don’t trust opinion polling. I don’t know why we do it. It distorts perceptions on everybody’s part. That said, I think that at a theoretical level anthropologists have a problem with populism, which is that we appreciate the intelligence of our interlocutors, but we know that what they say doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. And so, you know, Aristotle is right about rhetoric. Some part of rhetoric has to have some emotional component. Plato just didn’t like emotion-laden rhetoric, he didn’t like the Sophists. For the Sophists it was all about persuasion of the masses. Plato thought we needed philosopher kings to rule us – experts if you will. But there is a part of democracy that requires that ability to hear the voices of the people, at the same time that we check those voices. In the case of my Trumplandia project, another book just came out about Dying from Whiteness by Jonathan Metzl (Metzl 2019). He is a sociologist and doctor and he writes about all of the crazy… he saw the same things that I did. But one place that he didn’t go that I want to go, because I think in anthropology we allow ourselves to be humanists as well, is to do a bit more with philosophy. What I am doing with this work on whiteness and Trumplandia is really thinking about how we cannot have both social justice and rational – I’m going to use a Marxian term – rational bourgeoisie capitalism. The kind of capitalism that’s really rough. In America it is rough. Social inequality is vicious. We don’t have a safety net, so it’s vicious. We can’t have a capitalist system that operates where you have to have a class of people that you so dehumanize, that you feel okay about the fact that they live in the kinds of conditions that I see my interlocutors. Whether they are in white rural America or black and Hispanic South Central Los Angeles, How have we created such an awful economic system that Americans can literally see certain kinds of poverty and exclusions? We have schools in New Jersey where the fountains are covered with plastic because the water is so toxic the students can’t drink the water – and we keep talking about cutting taxes for the wealthy. That’s how bad it is in my country. I am sure you have heard about Flint, Michigan – about the water. It’s not just Flint, it’s all over poor neighborhoods in the United States. Our economic system has become so vicious that when I look at my interlocutors in Lake County, for me the question is: How can we create a better redistributive system? And one that doesn’t involve an industrial revolution kind of economy. I mean already we have enough junk. We don’t need any more junk. We can produce junk really rapidly, but we’re not a hundred and fifty years ago. We need to start focusing our economy on care as opposed to things, an economy of care as opposed to an economy of things. Because there is a lot of work that we need to do. I interviewed a number of home health aids in my Trumplandia project. They make minimum wage. Then every time a business is sold or reorganizes, these people who worked ten years they are back to making minimum wage, which was one time nine dollars per hour which translates to nothing in the United States. They were living, these two women I knew, living in this tiny rental in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Oroville. When I interviewed them they had literally three dollars between them until their next paycheck, and they were so happy to get my research subjects compensation for participation in my study. These people are caring for sick elderly people and they are making so little money that they can’t even feed themselves at the end of every month. So how did we create an economy where people who don’t actually produce anything (financial investors for example) make a lot of money, and people who are taking care of others make barely anything? How can we recreate a system where we are less focused on somebody making more junk for us that we don’t need that is destroying the environment, and how can we shift that to paying people living wages for doing things that actually matter – which is caring for each other.

Sindre: You are starting to sound like a Norwegian social democrat here… Or a “Communist” as I suppose they are known as in the US.

Carolyn: Can I defect? Can I become an expat in Norway?

Bangstad: I organized a double roundtable on what I termed the politics of affect. The anthropology of populism, at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington DC back in 2017 (Bangstad, Bertelsen and Henkel 2019b). Now, in that roundtable I was as an organizer struck by the fact that my US colleagues would much more readily opt for the analytical optics related to “race” than their European counterparts. In other words, anthropological colleagues who were working on this material in the US would it seemed at least, accord primacy to “race,” whereas their European counterparts would prefer to talk about this in the language of class and social economics. And that, of course, raises specific questions in the Norwegian context. For we have learned by now that “race” is a social construction, but that even so, “race” is real in its material consequences, right, and “racialized” thinking persists. We agree here in Norway that it is not a good idea to talk about “race” at all, and would like to pretend that such a thing doesn’t exist and that there is consequently no problem relating to racialized discourses in a country like Norway. In Norwegian anthropology, the interesting thing is of course that we learn this, any normal anthropologist also learned this in the course of 1960s and 70s with Barth and his Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (Barth 1969) – that we should rather talk about ethnicity, right? The counter-argument would here be that you don’t necessarily change racialized thinking simply by substituting one term for another (Hall 2018). And if we look at the far-right in Europe these days, they talk about ethnicity, and even with Norwegian neo-Nazis in the 1990s, who were really violent and they were racists, they learned to speak about “ethnicity” and “culture” rather than “race,” as do all the world’s “Identitarians” and “Alt-righters” these days (Zúquete 2018). But is there some way of bridging these analytical optics so that we don’t get into a situation where it becomes impossible to talk to one another across these continental divides?

Carolyn: I taught a seminar at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell a couple of summers ago, and it was a course called “A Case Against Reparations: Rethinking Social Justice for the 21st Century.” And it’s complicated, but all my work has gotten me to that point – and maybe we’ll talk about that later – but I had a class full of advanced PhD students and assistant professors, and literally they split down the middle. There were the class folks and then the “race,” post-coloniality folks. And they could not find common ground. I was saying to myself “Isn’t it both? Why can’t you find common ground?” But it is really fascinating how those discourses have gone in these separate directions when it is the overlay of both. There are a lot of things I celebrate about Pierre Bourdieu’s work, and one of them is his trying to understand the relationships between objective structures and subjectivity, and the kind of overlay between them. Bourdieu’s incredible study, the book called Distinction (Bourdieu 1984), about how class translates into taste. And what we see in this book, one of the examples is, he interviews working-class French folks and upper-class French folks about the kind of music they like. And the lower class, their favorite is the Blue Danube, and the upper class – it’s Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier or American jazz. So in the educational institutions, what kind of taste is rewarded with a degree? And praised? It is the people who like American jazz. Things have changed, of course. But the Blue Danube, the upper-class considered kind of low class, and people who liked it less intelligent. Bourdieu traces it all to peoples’ class standing and what they’re exposed to. And this is recursive, it reproduces itself. So when you create a separate group, let’s say immigrants in Norway – let’s use that as an example from the top of my head.  I’ve been using this concept a lot recently: schismogenesis. It is a fun concept by Gregory Bateson. It is a great term, schismogenesis. Schisms, genesis, generating schisms. Bateson describes it in his ethnography of the the Iatmul in Papua New Guinea (Bateson 1936). Schismogenesis is about how people differentiate themselves just for the sake of differentiating themselves. It is an emotional thing – you want to show that you are different from this person and different from that person, or like this other person. He shows how in society – even though people share so much in common – they just keep finding smaller and smaller things to differentiate themselves from others. This is cumulative and it can cause schisms, real radical schisms in small scale societies, it can cause radical breaks. I can use Chicago as another example, inner-city Chicago and African Americans. When you treat them as an exception, as different, as dysfunctional and all sorts of other things, you wind up producing the things that make you want to act out, make the young kids want to act out and be different and differentiate themselves from the people who consider them lowly, or who condescend to them. And I think about Paul Willis’ Learning to Labour (Willis 1977), that wonderful book about education in Britain where he writes about how working-class kids reproduce their social class because of the school system. The teachers are so negative towards the kids that the way in which they assert their identity is to differentiate themselves from their teachers by acting out badly, disrupting the system. So when you create a system where you’ve said “Okay you guys are different and we’re kind of suspicious of you,” they get that sense. They’ll start to differentiate themselves even more, and then those differentiations grow on both sides. And I think the literature that you’ve been diving into and reading, on the part of these feminists who think they own the enlightenment or whatever (for critiques of secular “femo-nationalism,” see Abu-Lughod 2015 and Farris 2017), they also produce greater and greater differentiation to the point where now it’s becoming…  Well, the New York Times traced a bunch of these violent white supremacists terrorist attacks back to Norway and Breivik in 2011. Nationalist discourses are producing differentiations for the sake of differentiations and the internet allows them to do this for free and rapidly. It’s a binary, a like or a dislike, a thumb up or a thumb down, and people are liking or differentiating themselves at a rapid pace now through social media to the point where everybody has forgotten: “Wait a minute, we pretty much are all the same,” right, at some level. So again, I think class, race, ethnicity, all these things produce these kinds of difference that then get discursively created into things that we think to be “real,” but they are not really real. So I think it is an overlay of both racialization and class, and I think it is a shame that we don’t do more to write about the relationships between class and race or ethnicity. But I don’t have any apt or great solutions.

Sindre: So we need to talk about free speech, right. You became rather notorious in right-wing corporate media in the US, by organizing a seminar some years ago at Princeton University where you teach, with the more than slightly provocative title “F#&* free speech.” And in the US context, of course, where there is arguably a much greater left- and right- wing consensus about First Amendment principles, as developed in the 1920s in United State’s Supreme Court jurisprudence. This would be akin to the proverbial shouting of “Fire!” in a crowded theater, just titling a seminar this way. And you’ve also appeared on this wonderful podcast entitled “Think About It” organized by Ulrich Baer.(2)

And Baer also became notorious by arguing that there was actually something to learn from the so-called “snowflakes” (Baer 2018). So if you could sort of stake out your position here in this extremely contested field, you might gain new friends in the Norwegian right-wing corporate media as well, I’m thinking.

Carolyn: I could always use more friends. Bannon, yeah I am thinking about Bannon here.(3) Yeah, isn’t that great? So, going back to the title. It wasn’t actually “Fuck free speech, it was F with some symbols… Free speech. And that is actually important. First, the title is oxymoronic, right? You wouldn’t use that term if you thought free speech was not important. At the same time, you’re saying – fuck free speech – right? But you don’t actually know what that means with F and a bunch of symbols unless you understand the context, unless you understand English unless you understand what the symbols mean [following in the F]: that’s a curse word. So it’s also referencing how language is contextual, or not comprehensible unless you understand the context. The title itself was very rich. Milo Yiannopouloses and all the rest of them, they had no clue. And they never saw my lecture. I embargoed the video of me doing the talk for several months so they actually never saw it when they started going after me in US right-wing media. They couldn’t read the title, they didn’t know what I was talking about anyway. That’s the depths that we’re talking about in a lot of this journalism. But it was fun. And my talk was supposed to be getting people to understand that there is really no such thing as absolute free speech – as far as anthropologists know. There is literally no sustainable society where people can speak freely in any space and say anything they want, and that is an okay thing. It just doesn’t exist. The reasons anthropologists know this are so complex that I decided to teach a course. I’m teaching a course this semester called Speech and Bull where I’m walking students through all of the literature we know. From the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis we know that even our language and our grammatical structures shape our cognition, or the way we think. The students read Sindre’s book and about schismogenesis. They learned from other texts that a secular democracy requires that the state allow institutions to be independent. You have law, you have medicine, you have religion, and you have education. A theocracy is one where the state determines in some way the final say with respect to law, the final say with medicine, the final say with education. That’s a theocracy. In a secular democracy, you have to let institutions control speech because they are controlling evidence. A doctor cannot just tell you, “I have this plant in my backyard, and I really think it is going to cure your cancer.” And they give it to you and you die. At least in my country, the family can come after you and sue you for malpractice, because you’re a licensed physician, which means you have the duty to give what we call evidence-based medicine. And if you haven’t prescribed those kinds of medicines that are proven based upon levels of evidence, then you open yourself up for lawsuits. In the court of law, you can’t defend yourself and just start shouting anything in the courtroom. There are rules, there are procedures, there are forms of evidence that can be used and forms that can’t be used. Religion, the same thing, you can’t go to a temple, a Jewish synagogue and start spouting off about Hare Krishna, right? That’s not the space for it. This is what a secular democracy does, it allows these institutions to be autonomous, semi-autonomous social fields. So when you have people screaming at educational institutions, to just let anybody say anything, we are undermining the legitimacy of the institution itself. Could you imagine being in a physics class… and I use physics because my father was a physicist, my brother is a physicist, and now my son is a physicist, so physics is close to my heart… Could you imagine my son having to sit through lectures where he has to really debate whether or not the earth is flat? Well, with social media, Flat Earthers are growing in number. In fact, there is somebody at Princeton who – my daughter saw it – is trying to get everyone committed to the Flat Earth hypothesis. We don’t have time for that. There may be a time where we can re-adjudicate that and maybe they will come up with evidence that undermines the idea that there are spheres in the universe called planets, but until then… We have also had natural social science experiments with slavery, Japanese internment, convict leasing, eugenics, and the Holocaust. Those are natural experiments. Did any of them work? What is the evidence for basing a society on racism and violence? Does that work? Is it sustainable? Well, do we as social scientists then have to keep opening our doors to relitigating racism? Really? Is that what we are going to spend all of this institutional money for when there are far more interesting and far more dynamic things to discuss to make the world a better place? Now, we can debate whether or not education is around trying to make the world a better place, but if making the world a better place is what we are trying to do – then there is no time to relitigate Nazism, right? This is my take on speech in the academy. They went after me without understanding what speech is, how it is used, how it is just another system of symbols like any other system of symbols: music, clothing, all sorts of systems of symbols. And when we speak words are not enough. It is also our affect when we talk that helps provide meaning. People also read our identities, our age and our gender, when they try to interpret us. Language is very complex. So anyway, I’m happy to go after the absolute free speechers at any time. I can’t believe your media was sucked into this, because sadly there is almost a direct line between Donald Trump saying horrible things about the media and some journalist being killed. Trump said things about protestors and then in Nigeria the government shot these protesters in December 2018 and traced it to Trump. I mean, speech is dangerous. It is not as though we can’t have these conversations, but the context has to be appropriate. In speech, being appropriate is critical. And it is not that it can’t be challenging. Academics are challenging each other all the time, that’s how we get tenure. We challenge each other, no one needs to tell us to be open to heterodoxy. Baer writes about this too, that the US Constitution has many amendments, many parts, and why should free speech somehow trump equality, which is also one of the principles upon which our nation was founded. Why should it trump other forms of rights? And again, even the constitution has a context, and to pull everything out of that context as if it could be understood alone, is – I think – a misreading. When people read the Bible and interpret the Bible, they read and interpret the whole thing. Exegesis is a science. We have to do a kind of exegesis with the constitution as well, that doesn’t just isolate parts as if they could be taken out of context.

Sindre: My qualified guess is that you have now won yourself some new enemies in the Norwegian Flat Earth Society. There was in fact one prominent member featured in a Norwegian newspaper only this morning, I noticed, so this is not unique to the USA, we seem to be heading onto that course here too. Anyway, we have taken a lot of time. It is a bit painful to me to have to admit that we won’t get to your excellent monographs (see inter alia Rouse 2004). But I am going to have to round off this conversation by a question relating to diversity in academia. Now, there have been black anthropologists in the US academy dating back to the legendary Zora Neale Hurston, and even before that, and there are quite a number of prominent African American anthropologists in US academia today. There is also the Association for Black Anthropologist (ABA) which is a subsidiary of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), and which has around a thousand members, and which has been in existence since the 1970s. So even if we know that black academics in the US are much more adversely affected by academic precarity under conditions of academic neoliberalism, in the context of Norwegian anthropology being for all practical purposes very white still, what is there to learn from the struggles and mobilization of black anthropologists and other black scholars in an increasingly multicultural Norway in the years to come?

Carolyn: I made a documentary in 2015 called Listening is a Radical Act: World Anthropologies and the Decentering of Western Thought.(4) And the reason I made this film was to think about the ways in which we cite each other, the ways we listen to each other, and to think about what it really means to listen to somebody else’s concerns – not your own. For example I work in Ghana, and these global health foundations just want to keep giving money to Ghana for HIV/AIDS. Well, HIV/AIDS rates are lower in Ghana than among African Americans in Washington DC or Milwaukee. And so these foundations are like “we think that should be the primary concern in all parts of Africa,” but why?  We shot the film in Cape Town with academics from all over the world to discuss how to decenter Western scholarly concerns. I’m thinking about Africanists in particular. The film includes  Paul Nchoji Nkwi a scholar from Cameroon who talks about how he completely discounts the notion of post-coloniality because he says, “We are all being colonized all the time.” When you are a child and you are being enculturated, that is a kind of colonization. Colonization is a factor of life. People can disagree, but that is how he saw it. In America, academics who write about Africa as a post-colony, they are the ones who are celebrated. But as a Cameroonian scholar his concerns are about kinship structures and access to state resources such as health care. But for American anthropologists, for instance, we like to be theoretical. So, the practical and the pragmatic is not of interest in America. That is changing because Scandinavian anthropologists are whipping our butts! They really are. So this is the thing, people who have different concerns get shut out of scholarly conversations. I work with John Jackson and Marla Fredrick for instance (see Rouse, Jackson and Frederick 2016), who are brilliant African Americanist scholars, but they’ve never won single authored book awards for their research, even though they are at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. My sense that this is in part because the way they write about “race” is not polemical, it is so different and so nuanced. But sometimes people don’t like that nuance, because even when I wrote about the health care setting, some people wanted me to write a book that slammed doctors for being racist. But I didn’t find that. I found it far more nuanced and complex, but that is not how people wanted me to write about black health disparities. They wanted me to reiterate a certain kind of narrative. Scholars of color need mentors, like you and others, but they also need to be able to have a voice. So here is the other concern I have. Academia is becoming commodified in a super interesting way. You know click-bait, right? So there are scholars who are now creating sort of clickbait titles for their work. Here is an example of one, Bruce Gilley’s “The case for colonialism,” which was a scandalous article. But you want to cite it, right! Even just to challenge it, you want to cite it. But when you cite it, it winds up in a Google metric called the h-index which some use to determine a scholar’s prominence and impact in their field. Tenure is now being tied to the number of citations one has, or their h-index. In terms of the h-index it doesn’t matter if people hated what you wrote and said it was terrible, your score goes up regardless. And so now I don’t even want to cite some of the articles coming out. I don’t want to legitimate scholars like Gilley. So, there is a way in which certain people have learned how to capture the imagination of the academy through this kind of selling click-bait concepts. And then some scholars are really good selling a term they created like a commodity. That commoditization translates into being considered “cutting- edge” or being important to the field. So there is a lot more than just trying to mentor people who are from non-traditional backgrounds, but it is also trying to get them to understand this academic currency, which is really complex and kind of strange. And so one of the things that I do, I was on the tenuring committee at Princeton last year, and one of my interventions was to reject the Google h-index as proof of the value of a scholar.

Sindre: Damn, there goes Jordan Peterson, right! No tenure at Princeton! We will have to leave it at that. Thank you very much, Carolyn.



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(1) This blog post is based on a recording of a conversation between Carolyn M. Rouse (Professor at the Department of Anthropology, Princeton University, USA) and Sindre Bangstad (Research Professor at KIFO, Institute For Church, Religion and Worldview Research, Oslo, Norway) at the House of Literature in Oslo on April 23, 2019. We decided to keep the conversational style also in the written form to enable a level of immediacy that resonates with the original interview. The conversation was part of the “Anthropology of Our Times” series at the House of Literature in Oslo and the House of Literature in Bergen, funded by the Fritt Ord Foundation in Norway. Rouse was introduced by Senior Research Librarian Michelle Antoinette Tisdel from the National Library of Norway; the transcript was made by Gard Ringen Høibjerg of the Inland University of Applied Sciences in Norway. References and footnotes by Sindre Bangstad; edits by Carolyn M. Rouse and Sindre Bangstad. The authors also wish to thank the Norwegian Centre Against Racism (ARS), KIFO, and Bjørn Enge Bertelsen and Yael Harlap from the University of Bergen.

(2) Baer’s podcast “Think About It” is available at

(3) Rouse’s visit to Norway in late April 2019 came in the context of a heated media debate about so-called “no-platforming” after the annual Nordic Media Days in Bergen had invited the former Breitbart editor and Trump advisor turned far-right organizer Steven Bannon as a keynote for its conference in Bergen, Norway on May 9 2019. Inspired by the successful campaign against the New Yorker’s decision to platform Bannon at its annual New Yorker Festival in 2018, anti-racist public intellectuals of racialized black and/or Muslim background in Norway such as Mohamed Abdi and Camara Lundestad Joof responded to the Nordic Media Days’ invitation to “debate Bannon” by refusing to do so, leading to widespread condemnation in Norwegian media editors’ circles. At editorial and senior management level in Norway, mainstream media are and remain overwhelmingly white and middle-class. Bannon’s event at Nordic Media Days was from Bannon’s point of view, and entirely as predicted by Norwegian anti-racists in advance, a propaganda coup, what with few critical questions being asked, and the folksy Bannon being livestreamed on Norwegian state broadcasting NRK online, receiving carpet-to-wall and largely uncritical coverage in Norwegian mainstream media. After the appearance in Bergen, Bannon appeared at Oslo Militære Samfund in Oslo on May 10 at a sold-out event organized by, once the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s favorite website, an event which was in fact cross-subsidized by Nordic Media Day’s coverage of Bannon’s travels to and from Bergen.

(4) Available online from Vimeo at:


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