Identity and Interdisciplinary Studies: a comparison of archaeological and bioarchaeological perspectives

Identity is a broad and encompassing topic that touches on every aspect of our lives, so it makes sense that anthropological engagement of identity takes many forms. This blog post looks at two of these engagements, archaeology and biological anthropology, to (1) see where differences and similarities lie in the investigation of identity, and (2) to explore if one sub-discipline really needs the other.

To do this, two articles were selected by specialists in the respective fields: Creighton, a biological anthropologist looking at Roman diet through stable isotopes, and Brett, a paleoethnobotanist exploring early hunter-gatherer diet, subsistence, and foodways in the south-central Andes. A brief description of the articles are presented below, as well as discussions on common threads and divergences between the articles.

Knudson KJ, Stojanowski CM. 2008. New Directions in Bioarchaeology: Recent Contributions to the Study of Human Social Identities. J Archaeol Res 16: 397-432.

Knudson and Stojanowski (2008) state that their paper has two purposes: (1) to review methodological improvements and new directions related to the study of identity in bioarchaeology, and (2) to outline the contributions bioarchaeologists have made to the study of identity in the past. Essentially: the how and the what of bioarchaeological investigations of identity. Before moving forward, however, it may be useful to include their definition of identities: “identities are the process by which the person seeks to integrate his [or her] various statuses and roles, as well as his [or her] diverse experiences, into a coherent image of self”.

The How: Studying identity comes with a whole host of methods in biological anthropology. This section, clearly designed for the biological anthropologist who wants to investigate identity, focuses on recent improvements, including new (and possibly more accurate) sex and age estimation methods, as well as advancements in paleodemographic analysis (demography, fertility, and mortality rates), biodistance analysis (population history and structure), biogeochemistry (paleodietary and mobility) and the incorporation of anthropologie de terrain for more properly understanding the burial process.

The What: Knudson and Stokanowski then go through the main questions that bioarchaeologists grapple with when looking at identity in the past. These include questions of health, disease and disability, gender, age, social identity (body modification), embodiment, and ethnic identity. These questions highlight that biological anthropologists need to employ a wide-range of methods to understand identity in a small way.

Jarvenpa, R., and H. J. Brumbach. (2014 ). Hunter-Gatherer Gender and Identity. In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Hubter-Gatherers, edited by V. Cummings, J. Peter, and M. Zvelelbil. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

The book chapter Hunter-Gatherer Gender and Identity written by Robert Jarvena and Hetty Jo Brumbach concerns the anthropological and archaeological study of gender and identity in hunter-gatherer societies. Its two main purposes are to review key themes in recent research on hunter-gatherer identity, specifically gender, and to explore avenues for future research. In the first half of the chapter, Jarvena and Brumbach outline contemporary themes including: (1) labour variability and flexibility, (2) household organization and activity areas, (3) tools and tool-kits, and (4) harvesting, processing, and asymmetries of power. I have provided a brief summary for each below:

(1)  Labour Variability and Flexibility: Recent ethnographic literature shows that men’s and women’s labour roles in hunter-gatherer societies are often more flexible and variable than rigid dichotomies would suggest (i.e. man the hunter, woman the gatherer).
(2)  Household Organization and Activity Areas: Although some gendered household organizational patterns and activity areas have been identified in the archaeological record, there is also evidence for commingling of men’s and women’s activity areas.(3)  Tools and Tool-Kits: Ascribing gender categories to artifacts based on simple hunter-gatherer gender dichotomies may be misleading. For example, despite the traditional association of hunting with men, recent ethnographic hunter-gatherer research has shown that women often integral to many aspects of hunting activities such as the skinning of hides, processing of meat, and preparation of foodstuffs. As such, we need highly contextualized ethnographic accounts of actual technology to make inferences about gender dynamics in the archaeological record.
(4)  Harvesting, Processing, and Asymmetries of Power: Similarly to the last point, recent ethnographic research has shown that women were involved, and vital, to the many aspects of traditionally perceived male activities such as the preparation and processing stages of hunting. Generalized male-female dichotomies about hunter-gatherers fail to address this point and thus, marginalize women in hunter-gatherer societies.

In the second half of the chapter, Jarvena and Brumbach transition from their discussion of recent themes to outline a number of directions for future research including (1) the sexual division of labour, (2) cosmological and sacred power, (3) gender and children, (4) alternative gender roles, and (5) political and colonial transformations of gender. I have provided a brief summary of each below:

(1)  The Sexual Division of Labour: The sexual division of the labour needs to be reconceptualized. As mentioned earlier, Jarvena and Brumbach advocate for fine-grained ethnoarchaeological investigations into contemporary hunter-gatherer men’s and women’s labour routines to illuminate additional continuities and discontinuities with traditional male/female dichotomies.
(2)  Cosmological and Sacred Power: We need additional research into hunter-gatherer relations with the sacred (i.e. spirits, place in the cosmos, etc.) that investigate gendered variability in the access, utilization, and display of sacred power. For example, recent ethnographic research has shown that in Chipewan society, men and women acquire sacred power differently.
(3)  Gender and Children: Jarvena and Brumbach note that although formative experiences during childhood are critical to the construction of gender roles in adult life, there remains to comprehensive studies on the topic in hunter-gatherer studies. Areas of potential future research interest include play activities, lore and games, miniatures and toys, and mentoring activities.
(4)  Alternative Gender Roles: They suggest that we need additional research into alternative gender identities, such as third- and fourth-gender personae for revealing new realms of expanding social possibilities and boundaries in hunter-gatherer societies.
(5)  Political and Colonial Transformations of Gender: Finally, hunter-gatherer studies would benefit from additional research into the influence of historical processes (i.e. political and colonial) on gender. For example, how might have gender ideologies been imposed on hunter-gatherer peoples by dominating political forces? How have they been resisted or accommodated?

Comments and Questions

Although the cross-cutting disciplinary theme discussed here is broadly ‘identity’, Jarvenpa and Brumbach’s chapter focuses primarily on gender. As such, our comparative discussion is in large part centered around that particular facet of identity. This is not to ignore other aspects, such as age, sex, and status for example, that are clearly important in bioarchaeological and archaeological investigations of identity but, rather, to address common ground between the two articles in sufficient resolution.

A key theme advocated by Jarvenpa and Brumbach was the need for hunter-gatherer studies to move beyond simple, rigid, gender dichotomies (i.e. man the hunter, woman the gatherer) perpetuated by the field’s long standing focus on men. Similar critiques have come forward in biological anthropology, but current methods are still entrenched in these binary divisions (for example, sex estimations place emphasis on male and female, and have little or no room to consider non-binary or gender nonconforming identities).

To move beyond this simplistic dichotomy, Jarvenpa and Brumbach cite ethnoarchaeology as a means to better locate women in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies because it involves interplay between various types of data (i.e. ethnography, ethnohistory, and archaeology). Although they don’t call for a use of ethnoarchaeology by name, Knudson and Stokanowski (2008) state that context is everything, and only by considering a broad range of contextual details, can the field of biological anthropology develop and grow. However, in both papers, it seemed that these were more words, than action. For example, in their discussion on the division between gender/sex, Knudson and Stokanowski briefly mention non-binary genders, but don’t really stress the importance of other lines of evidence (i.e. iconographic evidence of a third gender, oral traditions of berdache, etc.) for identifying non-binary genders, or for supporting the assumption of a male/female divide. Similarly, Jarvenpa and Brumbach frequently cite bioarchaeological studies in their chapter as contributing to our understanding of gender in hunter-gatherer societies yet were somewhat ignored in their suggestions for further research. Although they did not explicitly advocate for biocultural research in their conclusions, Jarvenpa and Brumbach clearly support the use of multiple interdisciplinary data-sets to build more nuanced interpretations of gender in hunter-gatherer studies.  While both papers, from different sub-disciplines support – and even call for – more interdisciplinary work, they seem somewhat narrow in scope.

To address the question posed earlier, “Does one sub-discipline really need the other?”, we  argue yes. Perhaps, the first step of interdisciplinary studies, is admitting you need it. While these studies argue that identity can only be approached through methods like ethnoarchaeology, or other interdisciplinary practices, it may be up to future generations of anthropologists to commit to this call, and put words into practice. Together, this makes research in identity very exciting, as new lines of evidence come together, new ideas, and new collaborations.

Identity is multifaceted, it makes sense that our analysis of identity would be the same.


A Review of a Presentation

Continuing in the spirit of reviews, this week’s challenge was to review a presentation. I considered those I had seen the past, such as guest-lectures at universities and presentations at conferences, but settled on a YouTube link primarily for accessibility. This allowed me to revisit the presentation on my own time and pick out details that may have been missed during the live performance. I contemplated reviewing a presentation by Jared Diamond considering our classes recurring discussion on his controversial, yet undeniably effective, methods of reaching the public. However, I decided it would be more beneficial to review a presentation that more closely paralleled my specific research objectives and, quite frankly, didn’t annoy me as much. I sifted through a few examples by highly esteemed authors in my field (i.e. Mark Aldenderfer, Tom Dillehay) and settled on a presentation by Anna Roosevelt called New Light on the Peopling of South America, presented at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s Archaeology Lecture Series in 2012. I chose Roosevelts presentation because it is situated nicely in the context of my research. The primary focus is on current models of the peopling of the South America and many of the examples discussed overlap with the local spatio-temporal context of my project (i.e. Quebrada Jaguay, Quebrada Tacahuay, Guitarrero Cave and other Pleistocene and Early Holocene dated sites in the south-central Andes).

Similarly to my previous reviews posted here, my review involves a summary of key points, an assessment of the content, style/voice, and structure, and a short discussion regarding the value of the presentation to my specific research.



Anna Curtenius Roosevelt is an American born archaeologist who specializes in the study of human ecology and evolution. She is primarily known for her work over the past twenty-five years on Paleoindian archaeology in Brazil’s Amazon Basin for which she is credited with the discovery of Monte Alegre, the oldest known Paleoindian site in the Amazon Basin (~10,000 – 11,000 c. B.P.) (Roosevelt et al., 2002). Recently Roosevelt has expanded her research to preceramic sites in the Congo Basin of the southwestern Central African Republic.

In case you were wondering, yes, she is related to former president Theodore Roosevelt. She is his great granddaughter.


The main purpose of Roosevelt’s presentation was to discuss models of the peopling of the Americas in light of new archaeological evidence. These hypothesize the timing and route/s of entry by people into the most recent geographical expansion of our species. Roosevelt shows that many long held assumptions regarding the canonical ice-free-corridor and ‘Clovis first’ models have recently been overturned by new archaeological evidence and advances in methods. Some of the key points include: Paleoindians were not exclusively highly-mobile big-game hunters and were likely not responsible for the extinction of megafauna in the Americas, there are now many examples of Paleoindians living sedentary or semi-sedentary lifestyles and practicing broad-spectrum subsistence strategies in diverse environments, many early dates are less secure than previously thought, and there is no concrete evidence of a ‘pre-Clovis’ culture. Regarding the timing and routes of entry, it is currently commonly accepted that people first entered North America via Beringia, the now drowned landmass that connected modern day Siberia to Alaska, after which they dispersed throughout the continents through a combination of the coastal migration and ice-free corridor models by at least 12,000-13,000 c. B.P.


Roosevelt did an excellent job referencing up-to-date material and presenting both mainstream and alternative theories on the topic. I am always leery when an author/s avoids competing arguments but Roosevelt was indiscriminate in her discussion. I chose this presentation partly because I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable on the subject matter and could do some personal fact-checking throughout. That being said, I noticed a few hiccups. For example, when discussing ‘pre-Clovis’ alternatives Roosevelt commented “So, were going to take a look at South America and I promise you will see no fluted points and there will be no Clovis points and I’m not hiding anything from you” (0:29:51). This is simply not true, Klink and Aldenderfer (2005) reported the discovery of fluted fish-tail points throughout the Andes several years before her presentation. In addition, after discussing Kennewick Man and problems with interpretations based on skeletal morphology she argues, based on skeletal morphology, that skeletal remains from Palli Aike in Patagonia were “definitely Amerindian” (1:29:40). Regardless, according to my knowledge the majority of her examples appeared accurate.

There was perhaps a slight over-emphasis of the importance of her own work in the Amazon Basin. This is understandable as she has a somewhat implicit obligation for the self-promotion of our own research. That being said her research undoubtedly provides important evidence informing contemporary models but perhaps not to the degree she suggested.


Roosevelt presented well for an academic audience. She was professional, well-spoken, and provided slides that complemented her narration nicely. I personally dislike it when slides contain an overwhelming amount of text and generally prefer supplemental figures and images that contextualize the content. To be honest, this is also an opportunity to inject some eye candy. She lightened the mood on the odd occasion with a joke or personal account and kept the audience on their toes with a chance question. Additionally, in the subsequent discussion Roosevelt addressed a very nitpicky question in a very professional manner, it was an instructive demonstration.

However, probably due to her extensive knowledge on the subject Roosevelt went down a few rabbit holes and ran short on time. I feel a more formal conclusion that summarized key points and provided direction for future research would have improved her presentation. This also meant there was not adequate time for discussion yet the audience unfortunately did not appear very engaged anyway. Roosevelt’s lack of experimentation with alternative presentation styles earned her no creativity points but she nonetheless executed a fairly standard long-form lecture presentation.


Unsurprisingly, Roosevelt’s entry point was to discuss the current debate regarding where and when people first arrived in the Americas. Although her presentation was primarily focused on the colonization of South America, the generally accepted origin point of all Americans is Beringia. As such, this is a common point of entry for all discussions regarding the peopling of the Americas regardless of the geographic context (i.e. South, North, or Central America).

The general flow of ideas followed a geographic North to South gradient starting at Beringia and ending at Patagonia. As she moved through regions she discussed key evidence and assumptions contributing to the development of colonization models. Although she adhered primarily to a North to South geographic gradient, for the most part she presented her evidence chronologically and historically. Her slides acted as headers for her discussion topics and provided a smooth means of transition from one idea to the next. Although the kept to her itinerary quite closely at times, as I pointed out earlier she also diverged from the subject matter and elaborated on sometimes distantly related personal experiences throughout.


I found this presentation valuable to my project for a number of reasons. First, because the subject matter closely paralleled my research interests I was able identify how my work is situated in and contributes to literature and debate. For example, I know my research is critical for studying Paleoindian subsistence which closely parallels the central theme throughout the presentation that Paleoindians were not solely specialized big-game hunters but also practiced broad-spectrum subsistence strategies. My paleoethnobotanical research at the Cuncaicha Rockshelter in southern Peru has the potential to contribute valuable information to this debate. In addition, she discussed sites important to the local spatio-temporal context of my research (i.e. Quebrada Jaguay, Quebrada Tacahuay, and Guitarrero Cave) that were both entertaining and informative.

Second, there was much to learn from Roosevelt’s presentation style and behavior. As I discussed earlier, she did a good job of incorporating personal experiences and jokes into her discussion that lightened the mood. In addition, she occasionally directed a question towards the audience to keep them engaged. However, I think this is perhaps more appropriate in a lecture compared to a conference format.


Klink, Cynthia, and Mark Aldenderfer
2005  A Projectile Point Chronology for the South-Central Andean Highlands. Advances in Titicaca Basin Archaeology 1: 25–54.

Museum of Natural and Cultural History
2013  New Light on the People of South America. Electronic document,, accessed March 6, 2017.

Roosevelt, A. C., J. Douglas, and L. Brown
2002  The Migrations and Adaptations of the First Americans: Clovis and pre-Clovis viewed From South America. The First Americans: The Pleistocene Colonization of the New World 27: 159–236.

What Makes for Good Anthropological Writing?

For this week’s blog post I have been challenged to discuss what makes an academic anthropological article both succeed and fail through a critical analysis of two articles: one strong and one weak. This is a fairly open-ended and subjective question which I do not believe can be justified with a simple response. Thinking back to what I have learned in Dr. Roddick’s class thus far, I would expect a successful academic journal article to be strong in a number of aspects such as content, voice/style, and structure. These categories are deliberately general in order to acknowledge that there is considerable variation regarding what may be considered ‘successful’ in each.


I would expect that the referenced material is up to date and does not limit itself to classic ‘influential’ work but additionally incorporates, or at a minimum acknowledges, alternative, contemporary material. I would not, however, expect the content to include an argument or an opinion as, for example, annual review papers do not necessarily make an argument (although perhaps implicitly by controlling what research they reference as important) but are arguably successful papers nonetheless. In addition, I have read some of my colleagues’ blog posts this week and noticed some discussion regarding theory selection as important to a successful article which I would like to address further here. With regards to my first point regarding content, I would expect that whatever theoretical perspective the author chooses, they use up to date material and at a minimum acknowledge other relevant competing arguments and models. I would not, however, label an article a failure because they are simply choose a different theoretical perspective than my own. If there is anything we have learned thus far, it is that it is okay to challenge the dominant way of ‘doing’ anthropology.


I would expect that a successful article to be written both clearly and concisely with an intended audience in mind. Considering this, I think the use of ‘in-the-know’ language is neither a strength nor weakness as long as it is used appropriately considering the reader. As this assignment asks us to specifically discuss academically oriented articles I am assuming that the intended audience is academic. In this case, I would expect the correct use of meaningful anthropological jargon, used clearly and concisely, to be a feature of a successful article. I would also expect that there is considerable flexibility regarding what is considered ‘good’ anthropological style. I think there is value to both imitating, to a certain degree, the writing style of influential authors, such as Levi-Strauss or Louis Binford, and challenging the canonical with experimental style such as Kristen Luker.


I would expect similarly as with voice that a successful article moves clearly and smoothly through their points while keeping the audience in mind. Once again, considering the subjectivity of this criteria I acknowledge that there exists considerable successful variation regarding how to go about this. One might stick the traditional, canonical, narrative which, considering archaeology for example, tends to be structured chronologically over time, or innovate with alternative narrative structures that, for example, may be more free-flowing, introspective, or novel-esque in structure. 

Additional Criteria 

In addition to my own criteria, I include here a number of article review questions proposed by Rex, a user and author, in the blog post Questioning Collapse that I think will be useful for highlighting a successful paper. These, modified by the author, include: How does the article address the social effects of their research and its accuracy? How is the article influenced by the cultural background of the author? How well does the article stand up to scholarly scrutiny? How well does the article reach the intended audience? These are general, yet strong questions because they are flexible, allowing for a multitude of responses.


Once I developed these measures for identifying successful anthropological articles, I headed to the academic database: Google.Scholar to actually find some articles to review. I used keywords relevant to my research such as ‘hunter-gatherer’, ‘paleoethnobotany’, and ‘New World’ to initiate the search and made particular use of the ‘cited by’ function to access a list of all known publications, with links, citing the particular source. My rationale for this is deceptively simple. Articles that have been cited many times are more likely to be considered successful articles than those that have not. However, it is more complicated because there are a number of factors one must be aware of such as date of publication, publishing medium, publishing body, and nature of the article (i.e. annual review, case study, etc.). For example, if you were to compare an article published in 1970 to one published in 2015, it would not be unusual for the 1970 article to have garnered more references. This does not necessarily indicate that it is more successful, but may rather reflect that it has simply accumulated more references by virtue of time. In addition, the nature of the publishing journal itself will affect an articles dissemination to broader audiences. For example, a small anthropological journal, such as Vegetation, History, and Archaeobotany, would likely reach a smaller audience than, for example American Antiquity. Furthermore, the content of the publication is also important for accumulating references. For example, publications that address broad, over-arching subjects are more likely to be cited than those that focus on specific case studies because they are more likely to fit many frames of research. Finally a reference does not always equal appraisal. In other words, an article may have been cited many times but the content of such citations is not always positive, but sometimes scathing and critical.


Considering this, I selected two articles for this week’s review. The first is “Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy”, written by Cordian et al., published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The second, which I found via the ‘cited by’ list from Cordian et al.’s article, is “Hunter-gatherer Nutrition and Its Implications for Modern Societies”, written by Brent Kious, published in Nutrition Noteworthy.

The Successful

Cordain, L., J. B. Miller, S. B. Eaton, N. Mann, S. HA Holt, and J. D. Speth
2000  Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71(3): 682–692. 

Keywords: hunter-gatherer, diet, ethnography, subsistence, nutrition, plant, animal, macronutrient energy estimation

The main purpose of this article is to discuss how nutritionists and anthropologists reconstruct hunter-gatherer diet via the archaeological record. Because hunter-gatherers do not exist uninfluenced today, reconstructions of diet rely on indirect measures such as ethnographic analogy. As such, Cordain et al. combine ethnographic data with nutritional information to estimate hunter-gatherer plant and animal macronutrient intake requirements. Their results show that hunter-gatherer consumption choices are largely dependent on protein intake. Whenever possible, hunter-gatherers prioritized the consumption of much animal-protein until they encountered the ‘maximal protein ceiling’: the point after which excess consumption of animal-protein would results in an illness known as “rabbit starvation” (688). Cordain et al.’s main conclusion regarding hunter-gatherer diet is that, although exceptions exist, animal based protein tended to be universally preferred over plant based carbs. Relevant to modern societies, the nutritional trends discussed may lead to a better understanding of modern chronic diseases in Westernized societies.

I argue that this is a successful anthropological article for a number of reasons. First, I encountered the article not only because it paralleled my research interests, but because Google.Scholar’s ‘cited by’ function showed that it had been referenced on 651 separate occasions. Upon further inspection, it would appear that this article garnered so many citations because it addresses broad issues (i.e. diet) relevant to a multidisciplinary audience. Comparatively, a specific case study would likely be pertinent to a much smaller niche audience. Regarding content, this article is successful at referencing both classic and contemporary material on the topic, thus demonstrating an awareness of both influential and modern interpretations. Although this paper is undoubtedly based on an explicit argument, it is not my intention criticize of the chosen stance but, rather, to identify that the argument was well-informed and cited with up-to-date relevant information. Regarding voice/style, I felt that article was written clearly and concisely while attempting to be translatable to their intended audience: anthropologists and nutritionists. As the intended audience is cross-disciplinary, I thought that, for the most part, the article did a good job avoiding field specific language and jargon that would have made interpretation difficult for either party. For example, I had a bit of trouble unpacking some of the nutritional language regarding hunter-gatherer macronutrient intake in the methodology section which was likely intended for clinical nutritionists. Regarding structure, Cordain et al. adhered to the typical academic/scientific structure or narrative, not surprising considering that the intended audience is academic. They made good use of accurate headings and, in my opinion, transitioned well from one section to the next. Overall, I think this is a successful anthropological article for a number of reasons, the most prominent being that it reached its intended audience well. 

The Less than Successful

Kious, B. M.
2002  Hunter-gatherer Nutrition and Its Implications for Modern Societies. Nutrition Noteworthy 5(1). 

Keywords: Hunter-gatherer, nutrition, subsistence,

The main purpose of this article is to identify factors relating diet and activity to the the onset of chronic and degenerative diseases in westernized societies, such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension, through comparison with hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Kious argues that this is a viable comparison because we, as humans, are still “genetically adapted” to this form of existence. Since little data is available from prehistoric hunter-gatherers, data from modern ethnographic “tribes” (1) was substituted because their ways of life have not changed according to the evolutionary standard. According to Kious, the results show a link between the onset of major diseases and divergences from ethnographic accounts of hunter-gatherer diets. The major contribution of this study is to suggest new ways to improve the health of patients in industrial regions through nutritional and behavioral recommendations.

This is a great example of how inter-disciplinary research can go awry. I would by no means suggest that it is a failure but would call it less than successful for a number of reasons. Regarding both content and voice/style, Kious’ use of outdated anthropological language and theory throughout the article reveals either his lack of knowledge regarding contemporary anthropological theory, or a refusal to acknowledge it. For example, his reference to hunter-gatherer “tribes” (2) shows that he is not aware that no subset of credible anthropology uses that terminology. For the most part, the term ‘tribe’ was replaced with ‘ethnic group’ in the mid-late 20th century. Additionally, his reference to “civilized behaviors” (abstract) as reflecting modern industrial societies implies that hunter-gatherers, as the antagonists in this comparison, are uncivilized. Once again, this use of language shows that Kious is not up-to-date with current anthropological conventions. Furthermore, his firm evolutionary theoretical stance reflects a similar problem. By assuming that modern ethnographic accounts of diet have remained unchanged from those of pre-historic hunter-gatherers is to ignore the influence of modern historical processes on contemporary groups. The real problem here, however, is not that Kious took an evolutionary stance, but that he did not consider the modern critiques of his perspective. None of this is terribly surprising considering the Kious’ academic background is rooted in psychiatry. Finally, regarding structure, I thought that Kious had taken enough of a beating. The typical canonical structure does its job of presenting the material for an academic audience well, but wins no awards for creativity.


I think that a real strength of this exercise, which I elaborated upon when I opened, was not so much the article reviews themselves but, rather, the process of developing a criteria for critically engaging with an article. Although somewhat crude or rudimentary in its early inception, I think it helped me engage the articles better because I had specific things to look for. In addition, I read Beatrice’s blog post Hunter-Gatherer Ritual, Mobility, Settlements – Reviews of Very Different Academic Articles, prior to writing my own and picked up a small token of insight. In her conclusion she commented that some opinions that she initially thought were strong unraveled under closer inspection and, in the process, she was able to identify the author’s conscious choices and individual style. I had a similar experience during my own review of Kious’ article. At first the argument looks strong until a picked out a few choices of language (i.e. tribe) which seemed to spark a critical nerve in my brain, allowing me to identify additional issues. I could that Kious wanted to use evolutionary theory because it provided a tangible way to address his research questions via universals.

– PaleoBaron

A Review: Part 2

The challenge for this week’s blog post it to find, annotate, and review three articles from anthropological journals. For obvious reasons, I have selected articles I think will be pertinent and helpful to the writing of my final paper for this course which I discussed earlier in the blog post “Reflections on Archaeological Theory” published here. One of the goals of my writing project is to review contemporary literature in the spatio-temporal context of my research, the early Archaic Period of the south-central Andes, to see how authors today are, or aren’t, challenging the “canonical” ecological narrative. As such, I have chosen three recently published journal articles that deal with early hunter-gatherer studies, two of which focus on early Paleoindian sites in south-central Andes, encompassing various frames of my research. These include “Entrenched Disbelief: Complex Hunter-Gatherers and the Case for Inclusive Cultural Evolutionary Thinking” (2016), by Arnold et al., published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, “Cordage, Textiles, and the Late Pleistocene Peopling of the Andes” (2011), by Jolie et al., published in Current Anthropology and “Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene Fishing Strategies at Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site, Southern Perú” (2016), by Reitz et al., published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. As I have been reading a number of broad theoretical papers and reviews lately, the two articles that deal with a similar context of my research, Jolie et al. and Reitz et al., are case studies. I specifically chose these in order to explore how some of the contemporary concepts and approaches I have reviewed are being put into practice.

Arnold, J. E., S. Sunell, B. T. Nigra, K. J. Bishop, T. Jones, and T. J. A. B. Bongers
2016  Entrenched Disbelief: Complex Hunter-Gatherers and the Case for Inclusive Cultural Evolutionary Thinking. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23(2): 448–499. 

Keywords: sedentism, agriculture, complex hunter-gatherer, political complexity, sociopolitical, cultural evolution, model, emergent complexity,

The main purpose of this article is to critique agriculture-based models which argue that the adoption of domesticates was necessary for the development and emergence of political complexity. Arnold et al. argue, using a number of examples documenting “… politically complex hunter-gatherer (CHG) societies… ” (488), that reliance upon agriculture, or any specific subsistence intensification (i.e. fishing, herding, etc.), was not necessary for the emergence of social and political complexity. In addition, they identify a number of individuals that were seminal to the development of such models which today continue to position intensification as foundational to everything complex. In an outright rejection of these interpretations, Arnold et al. offer a new model to give structure to the discussion of cultural evolution that excises intensification a necessary to social and political complexity. The key tenants of their new model are that it is inclusive (i.e. encourages discourse of all societies), nonprogressive (does not emphasize change, improvement or “progress”), and works in any spatio-temporal cultural context. Arnold et al. argue that any and all sociopolitical contexts and issues can be discussed via consideration of seven particular platforms. In no particular order, they include agency and authority, social differentiation, participation in communal events, organization of production, labor obligations, articulation of ecology and subsistence, and territoriality and ownership. To demonstrate their model, the authors re-evaluate case studies that have been used to argue for intensification-based models and show that, rather than diet, the organization and integration of labor was critical to the emergence of political complexity.

This article presents the most forward argument out of all the papers this week. It is an outright attack on intensification-based models of emergent political complexity while providing and demonstrating, in my opinion, a strong theoretical and practical alternative. Although the article is focused on breaking down intensification-based models, the real triumph was that it demonstrated how to look for and identify social and political structure in hunter-gatherer societies. This is valuable and pertinent to my writing project because I am interested in exploring, from a human-centric perspective, ancient social and political economies in deep-time and Arnold et al. essentially provide here a model/framework from which to do so.

Jolie, E. A., T. F. Lynch, P. R. Geib, and J. M. Adovasio
2011  Cordage, Textiles, and the Late Pleistocene Peopling of the Andes. Current Anthropology 52(2): 285–296.

Keywords: Guitarrero Cave, Pleistocene, gender, textile, cordage, Andes,  

The overarching issue being addressed in this article is how and when humans colonized Andean South America. Jolie et al. note that this is poorly understood because of a number of controversial archaeological dates and uncertainty about the constraining influence of environmental factors, such as the presence of glaciers in the highlands during the Pleistocene. This paper specifically addresses this issue through a re-evaluation of woven textiles and cords recovered from Guitarrero Cave (2580 masl), a high-altitude late Pleistocene dated archaeological site in the Peruvian Andes. The direct dating results reported by Jolie et al. show that the textiles and cordage are the earliest in the Andes dating to ~12,000 B.P., in part revising Guitarrero early controversial dates. Jolie et al. argue that the textiles, cordage, and “additional evidence for plant processing and fiber-artifact construction suggests a women’s presence among these earliest foraging groups” (285). The competing argument is that environmental conditions and the effects of hypoxia limited occupation of the highlands to small groups of male foragers until ~11,000 B.P. when evidence for permanent highland settlement emerges (285). However, Jolie et al. argue if women were responsible for the textile production and plant-processing evidenced at Guitarrero Cave, as ethnographic data would suggest, they were likely present among foraging groups in the highlands up to a millennium earlier than previously argued. In summary, the authors’ results refine our understanding of the timing of high-altitude colonization of the Andes, illustrate the diversity of technological adaptations that made high-altitude colonization possible, and may indicate the gender of the people who produced said technologies.

This journal article is valuable to my reading project and my M.A. research for a number of reasons. First, it contains a fantastic summary (with key references) of early Archaic Period south-central Andes “canonical” literature and arguments. In addition, there is an abundance of relevant paleoethnobotanical information and references relating to the analyses of botanical remains recovered from Guitarrero Cave and other early Andean sites, many of which are considered the earliest wild plants in South America. Second, this article critically addresses a number of current issues in the study of early Archaic Period peoples of the south-central Andes that intersect with studies. Specifically, the overemphasis of environmental and biological factors as constraining the initial settlement of the high-altitude Andes. Finally, I found this paper to be a great example of how to put a human-centric perspective into practice. In my opinion, Jolie et al. successfully manage to interpret potential early Archaic Period identity, a notoriously difficult endeavor, using ethnohistoric analogy – a strategy I am currently considering. 

Reitz, E. J., H. E. McInnis, D. H. Sandweiss, and S. D. deFrance
2016  Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene Fishing Strategies at Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site, Southern Perú. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 8: 447–453.

 Keywords: Americas, coast, maritime, strategy, social economy, economic economy, subsistence, agency, south-central Andes, Pleistocene, Quebrada Jaguay, Ring Site

In this journal article Reitz et al. argue that current discussions regarding the peopling of the Americas tend to presume that early Paleoindian peoples preferred terrestrial over marine resources and reference “simple models” that assume universal subsistence strategies and stark dichotomies “fail to capture the richness of human solutions to life on this, or any, coast” (447). Using Louis Binford as their entry point, they summarize, discuss, and provide relevant literature for the opposing arguments regarding the importance of marine resources for to early Paleoindian peoples (447). The authors compare and contrast two archaeological sites, Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site in southern Peru, to inform their argument. Reitz et al. employ zooarchaeological analysis to show that, although marine resources were central to the economies of each site, slightly different strategies were practiced at each location regardless of their close proximity to each other and access to similar resources. Based on this evidence, they argue that “[p]eople at these two sites made distinct economic decisions, using similar marine resources in dissimilar ways” (448). Reitz et al. argue that this unequivocally shows that maritime resources were adequate to support human life as early as the late Pleistocene and that we must now consider the diversity of ways in which people “met the challenges of coastal life” (448).

This journal article is valuable to my writing project and M.A. research for a number of reasons. First, although making a general argument about the peopling of the Americas, Reitz et al. focus on the spatio-temporal context of my research; late Pleistocene cultures of the south-central Andes. The sites discussed in particular, Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site, are intimately interconnected with my research location, the Cuncaicha Rockshelter. Second, my paleoethnobotanical M.A. research at Cuncaicha hopes to contribute to a better understanding of ancient social and economic organization and Reitz et al. argue that the inhabitants of the sites discussed made distinct localized economic decisions. I think the real value for this argument came from the zooarchaeological analysis. At a glance it would appear that Quebrada Jaguay and the Ring Site are fairly similar in that they both show evidence for a maritime subsistence strategy, but when you analyze the localized contextual details (i.e. zooarchaeological and paleoenvironmental analyses) important distinctions appear. What does this say about the social and political structure/organization of these groups? Finally, the authors also touch on the fact that seasonality and population density data from the sites discussed is needed to determine “the role of these sites in a regional social and economic network”. This is relevant as my research at Cuncaicha, specifically the identification of plant taxa and the relevant maturation data, will provide some of the needed data to infer seasonality data for Cuncaicha. This is a good example of a departure from the “canonical” ecological rut in that it challenges arguments that downplay the importance of human agency or use “simple models” that strip early Paleoindian peoples of their rich complexities.

To include a few quick concluding notes, an interesting issue I found with all of these journal articles that I did not notice when I began is that because they are so recently published they have cited by relatively few. As such, it is difficult to gague the reception of these papers among the academic community of the discipline at this particular point. Nonetheless, I look forward to using the annotations and reviews presented here to aid in the writing of my course paper and thesis.


A Review of a Review

This week’s blog feels like a challenge to do something new and unexpected. We have been asked to find a literature review article pertinent to our research and analyze its strengths and weaknesses. Essentially, which you may have guessed by this week’s title, I am writing a review of a review. The first challenge was to choose an article that parallels my research interests. I thought back to the discussion we had in our class last week about Luker’s “bedraggled daisy” (2007: 81), a term she uses to refer to what is essentially a Venn diagram of our research frames – the things that our case study is about. The point of the bedraggled daisy exercise was to find the points of intersection between our research frames. I considered my research frames, such as Archaic Period, paleoethnobotany, and Andes, and the points of intersection that I identified during the exercise last week. What I quickly realized was that there was not, or I was having trouble finding, a literature review that closely paralleled my points of intersection. I needed to reduce the specificity of my search. What I then encountered however was that, although there more choices, finding a contemporary article would became challenging. I looked very hard for a review of current Archaic Period research but was largely unsuccessful. There was an abundant supply of articles available but most were pre-twenty-first century so I grudgingly decided to fight the urge to chase that rabbit and pivoted my search. I ended up with is a paleoethnobotany focused literature review article titled “New World Paleoethnobotany in the New Millennium (2000–2013)” by Vanderwalker et al., published in the Journal of Archaeological Research. I would have liked to find an article that met my research interests to a greater degree of specificity but, nevertheless, this article situates itself at the point of intersection between a few frames such as paleoethnobotany, foodways, and social organization while mentioning on other frames such as hunter-gatherers and the Andes. As such, I hope my review of this review will provide some useful insights relevant to my research.

The main purpose of this article is to evaluate the current state of paleoethnobotany. Vanderwalker et al. discuss “advances in methods, ancient subsistence reconstructions, the origins and intensification of agriculture, and how plants inform on issues of political economy and identity” (2015: 125). They emphasize methodological developments in the realm of phytoliths and starch grains, their contribution to a better understanding of early domestication and the transition to food production, an increasing use of complex quantitative techniques (i.e. multi-discriminate variable analysis), and, in general, more nuanced interpretations of plants that address issues of gender, identity, and ritual practice in the realm of social archaeology. Vanderwalker et al. organized the paper thematically as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Advances in methods focusing particularly on the ongoing development of microbotanical analyses.
  3. Reconstructions of subsistence practices
  4. The origins and intensification of agriculture
  5. The role of maize (Zea mays)
  6. How plant data are used to understand ancient ritual practices
  7. The intersection of plant foods with politics and identity
  8. Conclusions and Future Directions

The structure of this article was well laid out in my opinion. Vanderwalker et al. began very generally by defining paleoethnobotany and laying out the key issues, then worked these down into specific categories and case studies, and concluded with a summary and future directions in research. As this article contains a lot of information on a diverse range of subjects, breaking down the key issues into specific sub-headings was particularly useful. Vanderwalker et al. made no insights regarding the structure, yet I found it clear and logical to follow. Creighton Avery, in her blog post “A review of a review: Bone Morphologies and Histories (Agarwal, 2016)” reviews the article “Bone Morphologies and Histories: Life Course Approaches in Bioarcheology” by Sabrina Agarwal. She comments that Agarwal’s review in successful in part because focuses on summarizing key conclusions instead of overwhelming the reader with details. I felt that this was also a particular strength of the Vanderwalker et al. article discussed here.

As Luker (2007) pointed out, literature reviews are incredibly useful because they reference the influential and frequently cited literature on that particular topic. Essentially, in this particular age of “info-glut”, literature reviews find the needle in the haystack so you don’t have too. “New World Paleoethnobotany in the New Millennium (2000–2013)” does just that. Vanderwalker et al. laced the article with references to key publications from categories as straight-forward as “methods” to as abstract as “identity” (see below for a full list).

A particular strength of the Vanderwalker et al. piece is that it does not simply conclude with a summary, but rather with a “future directions” section. Concluding in this way answers the “so what?” question by providing stimulus for future research necessary to move key issues in the discipline forward. Although I would have liked to find a review article that connected with more of my research frames. I was still able to tease a number of citations relevant to New World Archaic Period studies that I think will be particularly useful for my research.

Searching through review articles was an enlightening exercise and I imagine that I will be searching for and using many more in the future.


Vanderwalker et al. Sub-headings: advances in methods, taphonomy, data recovery and extraction, plant identification and quantitative analysis, experiments in ancient food processing, reconstructing ancient subsistence economies, plant food processing, preparation, and cooking, domestication, cultivation, and agriculture, indigenous domesticates, the spread of garden crops, maize cultivation, agriculture and mixed economies, ritual uses of plants, feasting, mortuary and internment rituals, caves as ritual spaces, political economy, labor, and domestic practice, gender, identity, culture contact, and future directions.


Agarwal S.C.
2016  Bone Morphologies and Histories: Life Course Approaches in Bioarchaeology. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 159: S130-S149.

Luker, K.
2008  Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-Glut. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

VanDerwarker, A. M., D. N. Bardolph, K. M. Hoppa, H. B. Thakar, L. S. Martin, A. L. Jaqua, M. E. Biwer, and K. M. Gill
2015  New World Paleoethnobotany in the New Millennium (2000–2013). Journal of Archaeological Research 24(2): 125–177

Reflections on Archaeological Theory: Hunting and Gathering in the Andes

A question I am frequently asked by my colleagues, mentors, and supervisors is: What theoretical perspective or stance have you chosen for your research? Personally, I have had a difficult time answering this question and, as such, have chosen this writing opportunity to tackle this problem. I would like this project to serve as a chapter or, perhaps more appropriately, a section of my thesis. Before addressing this further, I think now would be the appropriate time to describe my research interests.

Broadly put, I am interested in what has been referred to in the literature as (take note of the terminology and language) ‘hunter-gatherer’, ‘Archaic Period’, or ‘pre-ceramic’ archaeology in the Andes of South America. Temporally, this genre of archaeology extends from the arrival of the first migrants at the end of the last glacial maximum, at approximately 16,000 B.P. (years before present) to approximately 3,000 B.P. when subsistence activities and settlement patterns are observed to have changed markedly from that of ‘hunter-gatherers’ (llamas et al. 2016; Dillehay 1992). In the south-central Andes, many authors have argued that this was characterized by an increase in resource intensification (i.e. seed grinding) and a drastic reduction in residential mobility (as Louis Binford would have put it) (Aldenderfer 1989; Dillehay et al. 1992; Núñez 1983; Santoro and Nunez 1987; Willey 1971). The majority of archaeological investigations of this spatio-temporal context have focused on a number of common themes such as mobility, resource intensification and specialization, and behavioral and technological adaptations (Aldenderfer 1989; Dillehay et al. 1992; Núñez 1983; Santoro and Nunez 1987; Willey 1971; Sandweiss 2008; Rademaker 2014).

The information presented here is primarily derived from archaeological, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and ecological sources, most of which was published throughout the mid-late 20th century, a period which featured the rise of the theory of New Archaeology (or what is now referred to as processual archaeology). This has profoundly influenced what I refer to as the regional ‘canonical’ literature, or the officially recognized standard in the region (Luker 2008). The desire for a more ‘scientific’ archaeology led to the heavy use Darwinian theoretical models such as cultural ecology or human behavioral ecology. A key characteristic of which is the employment of concepts such as variation, adaptation, and natural selection to the study of human culture, specifically in relation to the environment. This can be seen quite clearly in the literature by the type of questions asked and the language used. For example, a frequently addressed question is that of mobility and the language used to explore it includes concepts such as ‘site-catchment analysis’, ‘seasonality’, and  ‘transhumance’. Even one of the most commonly used terms, ‘hunter-gatherer’, is itself defined as a subsistence strategy involving the employment of ‘hunting’ and/or ‘gathering’ adaptations. I argue that these examples show how language is embedded or coded with a distinct theoretical meaning.

A major criticism of cultural ecological or human behavioral ecological approaches is that they often present overly reductionist explanations of human behavior. A cultural ecological approach is understandably attractive because it claims to use a ‘scientifically’ derived framework and empirical data to explain culture. However, human behavior is rarely, if ever, quantifiable or linear. This is not to argue that Darwinian or cultural ecological approaches are ‘wrong’ or ‘invalid’, but that they are not the only way of constructing scholarly knowledge of the past. I would agree with cultural ecological theory in that people were intimately connected to the environment but would disagree with arguments that imply this as the single way of presenting archaeological knowledge. It is not my intention to blindly adopt a ‘canonical’ theoretical perspective but to, rather, think critically and develop my own particular angle. I intend to consider aspects of other theoretical perspectives (that certainly have issues as well), such as interpretive archaeology which include concepts such as ‘social actors’, ‘agency’ or Bourdieau’s ‘habitus’ in their language (Gero and Conkey 1991; Hodder 1990; Johnson 2011; Spector 1993; Thomas 1996; Tilley 1996; Zvelebil 1996), in order to discern a theoretical perspective for my own work.

Pluciennik’s words echo my thoughts “… most archaeologists have always acknowledged that their discipline overlaps both sides of the 19th-century divide between the natural and the human sciences and that many of its techniques and specialisms are based on indisputably “hard” science” (1999: 659-660), and “… the most productive means of analysis of archaeological—and other—texts will be themselves either variable or a mix of approaches” (674).

As such, this writing project will entail critical engagement with the ‘canonical’ Darwinian and alternative theory of the south-central Andes, such as interpretive or post-processual (Gero and Conkey 1991; Hodder 1990; Johnson 2011; Spector 1993; Thomas 1996; Tilley 1996; Zvelebil 1996), through a literature review. This will involve the reading and annotating of journal articles, books, book chapters and other relevant forms of literature followed by the writing of an essay addressing which theoretical perspective/s I will use for my research. As I addressed in the prior blog post, in order to improve my writing workflow I have elected to break this project into small, easily digestible, chunks. As such, I have developed a timeline with planning and writing deadlines to keep myself on track. I also intend on including at least three peer revisions per draft. The timeline is as follows:

8-9 March 23 2nd DRAFT COMPLETE
11-12 April 6 FINAL PAPER DUE


Aldenderfer, M. S.
1989  The Archaic Period in the South-Central Andes. Journal of World Prehistory 3(2): 117–158.

Dillehay, T. D., G. A. Calderón, G. Politis, and M. C. Beltrão
1992  Earliest Hunters and Gatherers of South America. Journal of World Prehistory 6(2): 145–204.

Gero, J. M., and W. Conkey (editors).
1991  Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hodder, I.
1990  The Domestication of Europe: Structure and Contingency in Neolithic Societies. JSTOR.

Johnson, M.
2011  Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. John Wiley & Sons.

Llamas, B., L. Fehren-Schmitz, G. Valverde, J. Soubrier, S. Mallick, N. Rohland, S. Nordenfelt, C. Valdiosera, S. M. Richards, A. Rohrlach, M. L. B. Romero, I. F. Espinoza, E. T. Cagigao, L. W. Jiménez, K. Makowski, I. S. L. Reyna, J. M. Lory, J. A. B. Torrez, M. A. Rivera, R. L. Burger, M. C. Ceruti, J. Reinhard, R. S. Wells, G. Politis, C. M. Santoro, V. G. Standen, C. Smith, D. Reich, S. Y. W. Ho, A. Cooper, and W. Haak
2016  Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Provides High-Resolution Time Scale of the Peopling of the Americas. Science Advances 2(4).

Luker, K.
2008  Salsa Dancing Into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-Glut. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Núñez, L.
1983  Paleoindian and Archaic Cultural Periods in the Arid and Semiarid Regions of Northern Chile. Advances in World Archaeology 2: 161–203.

Rademaker, K.
2014  Late Ice-Age Human Settlement of the High-Altitude Peruvian Andes. Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte 23: 13.
Sandweiss, Daniel H.
2008  Early Fishing Societies in Western South America. In The Handbook of South American Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman and William H. Isbell, pp. 145–156. Springer New York.

Santoro, C., and L. Nunez
1987  Hunters of the Dry Puna and the Salt Puna in Northern Chile. Andean past 1: 57–109.

Spector, Janet D.
1993  What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul.

Thomas, J.
1998  Time, Culture and Identity: an Interpretive Archaeology. Psychology Press.

Tilley, C.
1996  An Ethnography of the Neolithic: Early Prehistoric Societies in Southern Scandinavia. Cambridge University Press.

Willey, G. R.
1971  An introduction to American Archaeology, Vol. 2: South America. Prentice-Hall, New York.

Zvelebil, M.
1996  The Agricultural Frontier and the Transition to Farming in the Circum-Baltic Region. The Origins and Spread of Agriculture and Pastoralism in Eurasia: 323–345.

“Just Like Those Acorns, One at a Time”

Glossophobia is the technical term used to describe the fear of public speaking. Symptoms often include intense anxiety, nausea, sweating, shaking, and general physical distress (Khan et al. 2015). Surprisingly too many, according to most studies glossophobia, or speech anxiety, is considered the most commonly held fear, even ranking above death. Although not usually associated with glossophobia, I have found that the public expression of written work often evokes similar symptoms. Although by definition glossophobia is particular to speaking, writing shares a commonality in that it involves the public expression of one’s opinion or idea – the only difference is the medium of expression. Through a Darwinian lens, this fear may reflect and inherent desire to maintain control of ones ego and the concealment of perceived weakness. There is a dread in that through the act of public expression, ideas put forward become subject to the criticism and/or judgement of others. As identified by Becker (2007), for young scholars, such as high-school or undergraduate students, the pressure to produce high-quality written work may be less pronounced than that felt by comparatively mature scholars, such as graduate, doctoral or post-doctoral students. Although there are exceptions, young scholars may write about topics which they are not personally invested in for an audience, which may include professors or teaching assistants, which may share a similar disinterest in engaging with ones work. Alternatively, mature scholars write about topics that interest them for an audience, which may include colleagues, superiors, and peers, who are interested in the same topics and may possess equal or greater levels of knowledge. Awareness that the critical evaluation and judgement of ones written work may have a direct impact on their professional careers is a major contributing factor to the anxiety of public expression for many mature scholars.

Compared to my experience as a young scholar, as a new graduate student I have noticed an increase in anxiety which has clearly had a direct impact on my writing workflow. Possessing the knowledge that my written work is being critically examined by an audience whose opinions are vital to the success of my career, and by extension future, has undoubtedly affected my efficiency. Even as I write this blog post, I am acutely aware of the fact that every sentence I write, every idea I generate, and every opinion I present will be read by my colleagues and superiors. The knowledge of this this fact, and the anxiety that comes with it, limits my ability to think, freely and unobstructed. I find myself regularly obsessing over the intricacies of writing such as grammatical conventions, voice, fluidity, quality of evidence, and theory to the point that I lose sight of the big picture. This, as you might expect, is a key factor which contributes to periods of ‘writer’s block’ and performance issues regarding my writing workflow. I find this to be a particularly challenging when a large project or writing assignment requires my attention. As large assignments or projects are often heavily weighted, the mental pressure and anxiety of performing at an adequate level becomes compounded. In these situations the natural mental response is to ‘abandon ship’ at the first sign of distress and resort to procrastination to manage the stress. This, as you can imagine, tremendously slows down my writing workflow.

Although this post is not meant to provide instructions or guidelines on how to deal with the fear of public expression, I find that the natural conclusion is to address potential management strategies. Considering what I have written, it is crucial to identify that the root of the problem is mental. At times we may be concerned that our writing skills or knowledge do not meet particular standards (which may indeed be the case for some) but that more often than not this is a mental projection created by our anxiety and stress. We may think that our colleagues, superiors, and peers are out to critically destroy our work and reputations. Although there is often a degree of competitiveness, in my experience this is most certainly rarely the case. Often these people may be less interested in your work than you would like to know and when they do offer critique, it is constructive in nature. Learning to harness criticism can be an extremely powerful tool that can be realized by embracing a positive mental orientation. In terms of addressing the difficulties or completing large projects, I have found that that breaking them down into smaller manageable pieces reduces the mental load. Although this may be common knowledge, I find it to be one of the most effective strategies to improve my writing workflow. As with glossophobia, the act of publicly expressing written work is a common fear, so when in doubt remember that you are not alone.

I want to leave you with a quote from the song Little Acorns by The White Stripes which I was inspired to revisit while writing this post.

“When problems overwhelm us and sadness smothers us, where do we find the will and the courage to continue? Well, the answer may come in the caring voice of a friend, a chance encounter with a book, or from a personal faith. For Janet help came from her faith, but it also from a squirrel. Shortly after her divorce, Janet lost her father, then she lost her job. She had mounting money problems. But Janet not only survived, she worked her way out of despondency and now she says, life is good again. How could this happen? She told me that late one Autumn day when she was at her lowest she watched a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter, one at a time he would take them to the nest. And she thought, if that squirrel can take care of himself with the harsh winter coming along, then so can I. Once I broke my problems into small pieces I was able to carry them, just like those acorns, one at a time” (White 2003).


Becker, H.
2007  Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Second Edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Khan, F., S. Ismail, M. S. Shafique, K. Ghous, and S. A. Ali
2015  Glossophobia Among Undergraduate Students of Government Medical Colleges in Karachi. International Journal of Research 2(1): 109–115.

White, J.
2003   Little Acorns. On Elephant. London, EN: V2 Records.