Archive for May, 2008

transforming self

More and more I’ve been trapped into thinking about power in overly simple, generalized ways. Ie: my previous attempt at a more creative/informal/free expression on how I felt doing a Masters degree. Having some experience now working as a TA, I have felt first hand the effects of “power”. When I speak with people in the class, they do treat me a bit differently – or I act a bit differently – or something in between. I don’t want people to act differently with me, but it happens anyways. If I was teaching the class, what would I expect? How would this transform the way I see things?

I am someone who shrugged off responsibility as much as he possibly could. I left a great job as a web developer to go study anthropology – the office life didn’t cut it. Traveling the world certainly contributed to my feeling of being trapped – some say traveling is something good to get out of your system early, but in my experience I have had a hard time staying put ever since my first trip backpacking in Mexico. I suffer perpetual wander lust. Responsibility is a big challenge!

I’m hesitant to embrace but i am enjoying, the roles provided to me at the university. So is anthropology really a “game of power”? Yes and no. I’ve applied concepts from readings on colonialism and decolonizing anthropology. When you look at it in this light, its easy to see how anthropology was established within very particular, and very dominating relationships.

But now I see domination everywhere and there is so much more going on outside of this framework of power relations. By looking at anthropology within this power structure context, I have been a bit negative, and narrow minded. It lead me to a particular line of logic – ie: blogs vs journals, traditional vs contemporary, aka everything is “versus”. oh did I mention “teachers vs students” :P

I think this touches on the idea Wacquant discusses in “Shadowboxing with Ethnographic Ghosts: A Rejoinder” (2005) – where he argues that his book “Body & Soul” contained “praxeological” rather than “logocentric” theory. Is he talking about a kind of theory that gets away from this generalizing tendency?

I particularly enjoy his discussion of apprenticeship as a method rather than participant-observation. It fits into my own research project. I am an apprentice, I am learning about anthropology, I might even end up a professional anthropologist someday. I’ve also fully engaged myself in blogging and become quite drawn into it. As Wacquant describes, it has led to ““… moral and
sensual conversion to the cosmos under investigation” (Wacquant 2004:vii in Wacquant 2005).

I found this next quote in his conclusion to be quite inspiring:

“We should all be concerned with properly relating data and theory; with knowing where our concepts come from; with not overloading our analyses with extraneous moral baggage; and with the perils of projecting our social unconscious onto our object.” (Wacquant 2005)

It’s too easy to project theory. It can be blinding.

games of power

Heres an interesting news link touching on a role of academic journals -

“A year after Russia’s controversial flag-planting dive to the North Pole seabed to assert ownership of a sprawling underwater mountain chain, Canada is launching a less brazen but potentially more effective counterclaim for control over parts of the disputed Arctic ridge – perhaps even the pole itself – by publishing a scientific paper in a scholarly journal.”

(Randy Boswell Canwest news service)

So academic journals collectively wield a lot of influence, even more than planting ones flag on the bottom of the ocean! It certainly shows how academics do fit into a “game of power”. Maybe all the work that goes into creating authority can be put to good use somehow.

And I’m not saying it isn’t – I’ve just had a challenging semester that has investigated competing purposes for anthropology – depending on the class, and this has sort of split my mind into a million little pieces that i’m trying to reorganize back into a complete whole. At least I’m starting to see how little I know just in time to revise my proposal one last time.

being wrong

That blogs invoke a kind of informality is highly beneficial to the anthropologist in the field.

It opens the door to being wrong. [and/or stupid in public]

If I wait more, think more, reflect more, learn more, will I still be wrong? Should I hide how wrong I am now? When do I come out with it?

If only people who agree with me read this blog, how will blogging change it? [stop boring people]

Well it helps me think and reflect. And even with some friends and foes. Why do that publicly? [and some readers still caught this far in my ramble might wake up and realize they've been caught in one of those internet drifts... how did I get here again?]

Maybe the informal nature of the blog will save me from peoples expectations of expertise – I’m just interested! (and wrong).

to my future. . .

will great titles change me? Is it my destiny to become an expert?

i seek power. I seek recognition. [arts degree]

I am riding a wave too. When you find a way out -

let me know. [job]

being open

When doing research, and you come across someone you don’t like, do you try and hide that from them? In my books, writing nasty things in your field notes about a person, but not confronting them directly with your feelings is unethical. Honesty in this sense is about respect to each other. You can’t go pretending to be something you’re not, and hiding your feelings and position/stance is a form of deception.

Yes/No? Too simple? Yes much too simple.

But then it’s okay to deceive to some degree.


Inspiring my research into open access

Heres an example of what inspires my research. I saved this a little while ago, but I found it quite amusing that a search for “open access” on Anthrosource revealed mostly articles I could not access through it. Hopefully I’m not breaking rules posting a screenshot.

Doh looks like it was just something wrong with my access that day, as I just checked it again and the very same articles are showing up green! Maybe Concordia was late paying its bill? :P Or computers went wonky that day. Or maybe it takes a few months for them to be made available even if they are listed. It still made for a great picture!

Anthrosource on Open Access

From class blog to public blog

A fantastic blog from Max Forte’s Cyberanthropology class has moved into the public realm! Check out “Shannanigans“. She writes:

“since I’ve finished Max’s Cyberethnography class I’ve been hesitant as to what to put up here. I’ve decided to keep this blog going for a reason and I believe I’ve found it… What is going on in the world today has much to do with what I am studying, how can Anthropology change things? By keeping people up to date with current events going on around us and making changes that will eventually change things for the better, voicing your opinions and expressing yourself.”

In Dr. Forte’s class blogging is part of the class assignments. The blogs however are restricted and open only to those in the class, creating an interest space for students to speak to each other. I think this forms an interesting place to practice engagement with ones writing, in that it is done with the knowledge that people aside the professor will read it. I’m looking forward to reading more, and wonder if the blog will change now that its not an assignment! Her writeups on readings are very insightful, and as much as I’ve thought about it, I haven’t managed to get energy to comment on all the readings I’ve been doing on here. Reading Shannanigans I realize I should also start including more reading responses (especially when they are written like hers!).

writing a masters thesis

I just came across a great post that paints a rather brutal picture for my upcoming year of thesis work – Jenny Ryan recently completed her thesis and describes the process:

“Looking back, I see that the stress I put myself under, however much I rationalized the need for it, took a serious toll on my health, and ultimately affected every other realm of my life in the process. Take this blog, for example. I had all but abandoned it this past month, and for the most part it has been mostly a repository of snippets of my thesis and musings related to my research. In focusing my energies on the single-minded pursuit of one aspect of my life, I became unwell and overwhelmed.”

The whole post can be found here.

It sounds like things have much improved since handing it in thankfully. I’ve already felt the effects of stress completing regular course work (i tend to enjoy a breakdown at the end of each semester, as part of my drama queen nature), and I was looking forward to a more relaxed research process – but clearly I was dreaming!

Blogging as a research tool

For those interested in blogging and academics, check out the discussion going on at the Media Anthropology Network. The list is currently reviewing and discussing Erkan Saka‘s fantastic essay on blogging as a research tool (a version of which I referenced in my mini ethnography assignment). I’m looking forward to hearing more from the list members!

forced vs free writing

As I reflect on the arguments I made in the blogging mini ethnography, I realize I failed to incorporate one serious challenge to the idea that journals have ignored students – in that there certainly are journals out there catering to student work. Marc Herbert recently let me know about a call for papers on collaboration, inclusion and engagement in anthropology, a topic I am trying to contribute to on this blog, and yet I have yet to consider writing for it!

With more time to reflect, I realize students ignore journals, just as much as journals ignore students. Both perspectives however lead to the same thing – most anthro journals are struggling to get a name for themselves, or are not trying to at all (this is assuming journals need an expanded readership, maybe they do not need to expand boundaries and I admit I have yet to explore these questions from the side of journals). Are journals meant to be read cover to cover? How many try to get people to do this? It seems the process of getting published in a journal is more important than the content one writes about – ie: journals have a more functional position of filtering content through a panel of reviewers, which establishes disciplinary control. So perhaps they don’t need to be known, as long as other databases present them.

But why aren’t students more interested in them? As students, we have no responsibility to publish. What does it take to get someone to produce an academic essay? I enter this debate with the opinion that students have a lot to say, and are simply not given a place to say it. However, when asked to contribute to a student run e-journal, I thought “hey cool, this is awesome” and then never got the energy together to try and contribute to it. I *have* been extremely busy with everything else in life, so time is one thing. And I’ve been riding the blogging bandwagon and have gotten quite caught up in it.

Enkerli comments on the mini ethnography, arguing that teachers are in the business of giving grades and that often students expect and desire this. He argues that while its unpleasant marking, it does work to get people to produce assignments! So perhaps there is something to this “forced” writing.

But blogging is exactly the opposite – here I write freely with no assignment. Why the hurdle to try and contribute to a student e-journal when I have so much energy to blog? Are the standards for academic writing so high that people give up and don’t bother? Or is it that you have to write in a certain way?

Faculty opinions of new communication technologies,

In “Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An In-depth Study of Faculty Needs and Ways of Meeting Them” (Harley et al. 2008 ) (via Suber’s OA News) a group of researchers from Berkeley provide a preliminary report on their study of how new communication technologies are viewed by faculty. I almost worried my research might be redundant (not that it matters at masters level?) but then I started reading and realized they didn’t include much from an anthropological perspective, and instead cover numerous disciplines to explore differences between them as well. It’s a really well put together report, with revealing statements about the academic hierarchy. I’m looking forward to hearing more from their research!

“As we found in our planning study, peer-reviewed prestige publications are the “coin of the realm” in tenure and promotion decisions.”

this next one is really great – considering I plan to do my research at Concordia if its approved.

“Another observation is that every institution and department can have different traditions and standards. It was suggested by some that standards at second-tier institutions vary significantly from those in the top tier (less selective journals and presses, fewer publications, more emphasis on teaching, etc.), but that anxiety about getting published in what is described as a “competitive” market can be much higher.”

now is when the news they are reporting gets REALLY bad

“Finally, the advice given to pre-tenure scholars was quite consistent across fields: focus on publishing in the right venues and avoid too much time spent on public engagement, committee work, writing op-ed pieces, developing websites, blogging, and other non-traditional forms of electronic dissemination (including courses).”

lol! ouch! Is it April fools? Nope, its May. This study reveals a faculty bent on maintaining the status quo! I am honored to be studying at such a progressive school – where I’ve met incredibly dynamic teachers who blog and encourage blogging! Thanks to Max Forte and Alexandre Enkerli who have encouraged, and inspired the use of blogging in academics. I’m also encouraged with the line of investigation I proposed.


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