anthro{dendum} is now anthro{duodenum}!

anthro{dendum} is now anthro{duodenum}!

It has only been a few months since we re-launched “Savage Minds” as anthro{dendum}, but upon further consideration we feel that the site lacks focus. It was one thing when we were the only major anthropology blog, but now we are just one of many. For this reason we feel the blog needs to narrow its scope. So, with that in mind, we are relaunching today as anthro{duodenum}!

duodenum

The world of the gut — the microbiome, the microvilli that line our impressive small intestines, the complex signaling networks of biochemical pathways that function throughout our entire digestive systems – is a massively under-served constituency in the world of anthropology. While some scholars vision life beyond the cosmos and even beyond capitalism, we invite you bring your attention intently inward….deeply inward….into the guts of it all.

Yes! We are excited to share with you here a new twist on the anthropological canon: gastro-anthropology. Not to be confused with gastro-anthropology of food lovers and scholars studying the magic of cooking and nourishment, we propose here another expression of the term. Covering everything from amylase enzymes in human mouths to the work of vanilloid receptors and substance P that give you that extra exhilaration from spicy foods, we aim to carve out a space to celebrate the intricacies and under-appreciated magic of the human digestive system.

Why duodenum? The duodenum, the first section of the small intestine, is a massively under-studied and under-appreciated organ, much as anthropology sometimes finds itself to be somewhat forgotten in the broader world of sexier and more showy disciplines in humanities and social sciences. The mighty and noble duodenum ushers a chymus of food and gastric juices from the acrid acid-filled environment of the stomach towards the active and thrilling activity of the ileum and jejunum. Here we imagine the noble duodenum as an active and engaged site of protein expression, micro-villi absorption, and the churning and turning of smooth muscles. This is an apt metaphor for the intellectual labour that anthropologists perform as they seek to understand and absorb the wealth of knowledge and praxis humans manifest around the globe. The noble duodenum is a site of exchange, of labour, of breaking down the familiar and initiating transformations that have lasting impacts on all involved. Yes, the duodenum is a humble yet active agent in its own translation of the interior and exterior worlds it straddles.

While other disciplines may clamour to claim themselves to be the heart or brains of the academy, we suggest there is great honour in claiming the terrain of the gastro-entero. Here is where we celebrate the work of Ed Cohen, who reminds us:1

“Be that as it may, the gut contains this lively paradox in the most literal way: it folds the outside inward in order to keep the perturbations entailed by that paradox contained. In other words, it helps us hold our shit together. And by incorporating the open/bounded situation of the living, the gut constitutes the paradox that we are. If the gut is the way the outside lives inside of us — which of course in a topological sense it must be — then we are twisted around our guts, rather than our guts being twisted up inside of us, no matter how often we might feel the latter to be the case.”

In the months and weeks to come, expect stories about the propulsion of a bolus from mouth to stomach! The mysteries of Helicobacter pylori! The graduation of the mesentery from ‘random assemblage of tissues’ to FULL-BLOWN ORGAN! Learn the precise physiological and biochemical pathways that cause the norovirus to empty you from both ends. And in-depth ethnographic studies of gastroenterology clinics and labs around the globe (giving Laboratory Life a wholly new propulsive meaning in the 21st century). You heard it here first: the gut is the future. And the duodenum is just the beginning (of the intestine).


  1. Cohen, Ed. 2013. Gut Wisdom, or why we are more intelligent than we know. Somatosphere. http://somatosphere.net/2013/10/gut-wisdom-or-why-we-are-more-intelligent-than-we-know.html 

Zoe Todd (Métis/otipemisiw) is from amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), Alberta, Canada. She writes about fish, art, Métis legal traditions, the Anthropocene, extinction, and decolonization in urban and prairie contexts. She also studies human-animal relations, colonialism and environmental change in north/western Canada. She holds a BSc (Biological Sciences) and MSc (Rural Sociology) from the University of Alberta and a PhD (Social Anthropology) from Aberdeen University. She is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She was a 2011 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar.

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