But there are times in which the very job descriptions we encounter are precisely what our research and writing are working against. I study media, performance, and pop culture produced and consumed by indigenous peoples in the Andes. My work is often described as “cool,” and “fascinating,” yet it is not taken as seriously as I would like by colleagues who follow centuries old traditions of studying the language and “customs” of indigenous people as an easily defined and fairly static entity. More recently, anthropologists have begun to pay attention to social movements of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas (and elsewhere), with particular focus on environmental concerns. And these are incredibly important works, particularly as climate change seems to have worse effects by the day. And not surprisingly, many departments have picked up on the significance of this work, as indicated by the number of job postings related to expertise in Latin American indigenous peoples, almost always focused on environmental or ecological anthropology.
And yet, as I comb through the websites and wikis, I find myself at times wanting to shout
“Indigenous people do more than care about the enivironment!”
In such imbalanced attention to indigenous peoples’ environmental concerns, we have recast them as the very one-dimensional characters we are striving to complicate. In this era of critical race studies, queer studies, intersectionality, urban anthropology, and ontology, why can we not extrapolate to place importance on the ways indigenous people understand their race/ethnicity divorced from explicit politics of race? Or the ways they enact gender and sexuality that take into consideration not only traditional third gender categories, but also the global forces or media and music? Why are the particular negotiations of indigenous peoples who live in urban areas not of any interest? And perhaps most poignantly, why are we not placing importance on the reasons that indigenous peoples sometimes DO NOT engage in environmental activism or even highlight their indigenous identities?
A line from my standard job letter reads: “I ask my students to question how those who identify as indigenous, institutions that categorize others as indigenous, and even academic conventions themselves define what is considered “authentically” indigenous.” Yet how can I hope to encourage students to push this line of thinking when these academic conventions structure who is even eligible to apply for a job? Perhaps the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but if you can’t even get on the property, you’re not going to make much difference either.
I know I am not alone in my frustration. People who study indigeneity outside of continental North America are often at a disadvantage based on the frequency with which indigenous studies jobs are based in American Studies departments which ask new hires to teach introduction to indigenous studies courses. And of course the academic job market is imbalanced to the extent that search committees can pretty much come up with whatever improbable combination of regional expertise, population, method, theoretical orientation, and secondary focus they might conjure, and they will still have a few applicants who fit their mold. This is all deeply entrenched in a system that benefits very select groups, and perhaps there is no easy solution. I have heard job-seeking colleagues call out the proliferation of medical anthropology jobs as a surrender to the administrations’ neoliberal valuing of medicine and STEM fields over humanities and social sciences. These are not the only way to create meaningful scholarship and curriculum. And neither are job criteria that reinforce passé notions of who indigenous people are and what they do.
So, in the mean time, I’ll keep applying and maybe some forward thinking search committee will open their minds to a different kind of indigenous studies.