Archive for February, 2008

Blogging and the classroom

Over at there is an interesting discussion into the ways blogging can play an important role in fieldwork. This blog is part of my field notes, thats for sure. They argue that the use of a blog for reflecting on the field works to stimulate interest and to increase collaboration with other researchers.

Linked to that great link is a discussion on how blogging your field notes equals “open access field notes“. Well your reading mine. Enjoy 🙂

Prof. Forte of is also getting his students to blog. I’m taking his cyberethnography class – and while all the students in the class are encouraged to write a blog, they are not necessarily encouraged to make it openly available. (for privacy and maybe liability reasons?)

More than just open access

Open access is but a small part of what makes online communication so interesting. Lawrence Lessig, who published Free Culture with the Creative Commons open license, used an internet wiki to integrate community support into the revising and editing process. I haven’t investigated it much yet, but certainly this provides an interesting idea for anthropological journals.

It could make it easier for reviewers to review work prior to publishing – especially when there are no worries about “leaking” the content out, to be stolen and published elsewhere. I wonder how many journals are using new technologies to simplify and coordinate the publishing process. Again, open source software movements might have a lot to share, given their expertise in building community motivation, and in bringing together diverse linguistic groups to work together on a single project. They have also produced fantastic tools for document control, version histories, and collaborative project management.

Its about control over the research once its been published, and control over the work to get it published. Obviously this control isn’t a bad thing, but the different approaches to developing respectability and authority must create very different kinds of publishing community.

Perhaps it is even about moving beyond the idea of creating essays as static, final productions. Sure it’s hard to update a book once its been printed, but theres no reason online publications can’t be turned into ongoing projects. As Lawrence Lessig showed, a broader community can be incorporated into the editing process, and new versions of old works can be produced. Ideas are not set in stone and not owned by any particular person [except mine], and so with the development of online technologies, to what extent does academic review need to occur prior to publishing, and to what extent can it occur after? Could responses be more consistently linked to the original productions? Can they be worked into them?

Making academic research more available through open access is just the tip of the ice berg. Maybe online communities demand (or open up) different forms of management, given the different medium?.

I think part of my research will have to deal with respectability and publishing. I wonder if anthropologists all know/have an opinion about which journals are prestigious and which aren’t. I’ll definitely ask.

How many journals can the anthropological community support?

Is open access a threat to traditional journals? Can they exist side by side, or is there a viable limit or advantage to maintaining a select few? Having asked my professors for interesting articles on online communities, I fell upon a discussion at the Media Anthropology Network regarding the feasibility of going open access which brought up a number of questions:

Given that most journals are understaffed, and underfunded, would an influx of open access journals stretch out the existing pool of reviewers too thin?

To answer this, I think there are interesting parallels to be drawn between open access publishing and open source software projects. Among open source projects, there are often competing developer communities working on very similar projects. The developers of the KDE desktop, and the Gnome desktop have both created excellent graphical environments that can be run on the free and open source GNU operating system. Arguments have been made to the effect that their talents are spread thin, and if they just worked together they could create something even better.

Over at, Eric Raymond, in a video interview, argues that “it turns out to be really important that theres a lot of fluidity and play and slip in the way that the linux world is organized basically as a bunch of little projects that people then sort of assemble horizontally into distributions but there are multiple competing distributions and if you don’t like a particular project its easy to plug in a competing project. Thats harder to do in the BSD world there distributions tend to be dominated by small elites and the distributions themselves are more rigid…

… that imposes a certain uniformity a certain rigidity that turns out to be a problem because if you have a policy disagreement or a philosophy disagreement with the elite that runs a particular distribution your only alternative really is to clone the entire distribution and go into competition with them and that means that the BSD world tends to be a lot more fractious and to have a smaller community and to have much more bitter politics than the linux community does… ” (

Having no experience with anthropological journals, I wonder how this argument holds up. Are traditional journals the small elite, with a smaller fractious community, and open access journals the new community charged Linux? But theres no reason existing journals can’t just go open access. And in the case of Linux and BSD, both are open source (with different license particularities). So here theres a difference between going open access, and the way we go about managing the production as a whole.

Along with arguments to go open access, are arguments to open up the review process and to speed up publishing times. A lot of it has to do with control, and responsibility to the larger community.

I think its important not to over complicate the matter however. Peer review is one thing, open access publishing is another, both can also work together. But if peer review is a challenge for journals, in that finding reviewers is a challenge and a burden on the academic community, then perhaps there are ways to open up the review process as well (having never published I am only beginning to look into all the pitfalls of anonymous vs public review, etc).

In my own experience I am pretty much clueless, even as a grad student, as to which journals bring prestige and which don’t. I certainly go out of my way to cite papers I find online -(aka out of my way to avoid digging through actual library shelves).

An Incredible Research Tool

Dear World,

I present you a revolution in my bibliographical skills. Nothing has bothered me more than having to reproduce bibliographies from some unkept format, and being forced to put it into a proper one. This always happens to me when teachers give reading lists, which have some bibliographic info, but not all. Anytime I reproduce the format given on the reading list in my bibliography I get the big red mark.

Sometimes I get the feeling it is done on purpose. Keep all bibliographic information in some format that needs to be reworked every time you use it.

Zotero is a fantastic tool for pulling bibliographic information from online databases. Its also open source, and it works with most databases i’ve come across. Other great aspects are: it runs inside firefox, so you click on a simple button when you are on the page (say an anthrosource article). Zotero will copy the bibliographic info, let you attach notes and even files,.

Check it out at: