Archive for April, 2008

Sharing knowledge: how the internet is fueling change in anthropology

sharingknowledge1 (powerpoint form) – I had to convert it from open office format to upload it here. Backgrounds got a bit butchered…

This presentation serves as the basis for my main thesis proposal. I’ve run it by two classes so far, and since I’ve been talking so much about blogging and sharing knowledge, I’ll just get this out of the way and start sharing myself.

It weaves together numerous debates I’ve found interesting in class readings, and in debates being held in the blogsphere. It doesn’t yet deal with how I’m going to add to this topic with ethnographic research, but it develops what I think makes for an interesting theoretical background to look at online anthropology.

Vassos Argyrou, in “Anthropology and the Will to Meaning” (2002) writes:
“The academic game is the game of knowledge (and ignorance) which inextricably, if not always intentionally, is also a game of power. The only way to put an end to this game (the only way under the conditions of domination, that is) is to play it better than the players themselves.”

So how have new communication technologies changed the way the game is played?

A brief outline yanked from the powerpoint…

  • Decolonizing anthropology – juicy quotes from Vassos Argyrou, and Max Forte
  • Public Anthropology – juicy quotes from Kerim Friedman, and Kimberly Christen
  • Online Prestige – (Bourdieu, Khazaleh) -> the political economy of publishing in anthropology
  • Three main research areas
  1. The Filtering Knowledge debate – Peer review, social ranking,
  2. The Open Access debate – creative commons, open access journals, licensing and law
  3. Public engagement – the language/content debate.

Once I have time to link a wiki, I’ll make this a permanent page and develop it properly… The powerpoint should give you an idea where I’m trying to go with this research project though.


The idea about a “publishing paradox”, where more is produced then can ever be consumed, or where more is produced then is _allowed_ to be consumed, comes from Willinksy’s fantastic book “The Access Principle” (2006) which I highly recommend.

end of semester

and the write up of this mini ethnography begins! It feels quite strange hitting the end of the semester just as things had started to roll.

I’ve done a lot of talking about blogging recently, interviewing students and professors about how they do and do not use blogs or other ict’s, for academic purposes. I asked about sharing assignments in public to generate feedback and about exposure to online anthropology in general.

To tie into the ideas floating around the blogsphere about sharing and distributing knowledge online, I asked a lot of questions relating to prestige and publishing. I wondered to what extent students had an idea about which academic journals were considered prestigious, and it is interesting to compare to the response I get from professors. Discussions also dealt with privacy, and the desire and necessity to engage people inside and outside the university.

I wondered to what extent people would rather restrict access to their blogs to people in their class, or if they would be happy sharing it publicly. Not very many people I interviewed would be happy sharing their class assignments online. These questions of privacy tied into the question “why don’t anthropologists blog?”.

In a focus group held with mostly social science students we had an engaging discussion around the need for public engagement in anthropology. Almost everyone in the focus group felt that jargon in academia worked against developing interest, and that they used different language in their essays depending on the particular class and teacher.

This post is mostly to encourage myself to post my own work online and as soon as I’ve written up a mini ethnography based on these interviews and of course all the great self reflexive “why this blog” posts out there.

The blog seems to encourage short, brief, disconnected thought. I want to keep coming back to these entries to edit them and somehow it seems wrong to do that in “blog form”. It’s hard to develop on ideas when you can control how they link together. Order by date? I’m not so timely! Howabout order by “last edited”?

And of course, once this mini ethnography is finished it’ll be time to start the real thesis research. I presented the topic in class, and I’ll work on posting the presentation on here soon.