Robert Samet, associate professor of anthropology, grew up in High Point, N.C., which is known as the furniture capital of the world. His mother taught high school English, while his father was an attorney. His sister, Lauren, was and is still his best friend. They spent their childhood at the pool, in the woods and going to synagogue.
He majored in English at Duke University and was one credit short of a theater minor. He worked for a boutique brand consulting firm, Kindred/Keziah, first in its Boulder, Colo., office before helping open the New York office in Tribeca in 2001. He was there less than a week when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. “I remember details from that day with great clarity,” he said. “I remember the confusion, the sadness, and later, the fear. I also remember being perplexed about what came next.”
Samet received his master’s from Columbia and Ph.D. from Stanford. He chose anthropology because the anthropological toolkit was highly valued in the advertising world. “My last major project was an ethnography of cocktail culture that we conducted on behalf of Grand Marnier,” he said.
He became interested in media and the politics of security. He has conducted fieldwork in Venezuela for more than 13 years. The oil-rich country has one of the highest homicide rates in South America.
“If you had to pick one place in the world to study media at the time, Venezuela was it,” he said. “There was so much happening, and all of it felt important. I worked with crime reporters as a way to understand media from the inside out. Twenty years later, I think I answered many of the questions that had been nagging at me ever since 9/11. Many new ones have replaced them.”
He enjoys playing Legos with his son, Elan, 8, and daughter, Ayla, 3, and taking hikes with his spouse, Elif.
He plans to one day learn to play the ukulele.
Samet joined Union in 2014.
FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING:
My alarm. After that, it’s either Apple News or The New York Times
ONE BOOK YOU HAVE READ MULTIPLE TIMES:
“Great Expectations.” My mother is a retired high school English teacher, and it’s one of her all-time favorites. I remember reading it in college for the third or fourth time and finally understanding why it made her laugh out loud.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED:
I’m paraphrasing, but my dad had an expression that he used to repeat when we were growing up. “If you’ve got to do something unpleasant, then do it as fast as possible, and don’t waste time whining.”
FAVORITE SPOT ON CAMPUS:
Wold Starbucks. I need a decaf double espresso because I am usually over-caffeinated by the time I arrive on campus. Give those people a raise!
Breakfast salad. My Turkish mother-in-law introduced me to it. I’m hooked.
“Revolutions” by Mike Duncan. I think historically, and Duncan’s podcast provides so much amazing material to think with.
ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD:
Can I get two? Playing a stringed instrument and speaking Turkish.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOU:
It seems like a lifetime ago, but back in high school I was the international president of B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.
THREE DINNER PARTY GUESTS (living or deceased):
This is a tough one, because I could come up with a long list and also because people at a dinner party need to have something to say to one another. Near the top would be Stuart Hall. I have long admired Hall’s work as scholar, teacher and activist, not to mention his interpersonal ethics. I’d also invite Albany’s own Barbara Smith, who co-founded Kitchen Table Books and is cut from a similar cloth. For the third guest, there are so many options—the economic anthropologist Karly Polanyi and the geographer Neil Smith both come to mind—but I’d go with someone who isn’t in the humanities or social sciences: evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. I’m constantly amazed by the elegance of Gould’s writing and the clarity of his thought. I bet he’d get along fabulously with the other two guests.
The Grateful Dead (with Traffic) at RFK Stadium on July 16, 1994.