Why do anthropologists blog?

Over the past few months I’ve been looking into the question “why do anthropologists blog?”. I’ve written up my reflections into a “mini ethnography” of sorts. The project involved a small survey, interviews, and a focus group – involving students and teachers. I would have kept it short and sweet, but there was a bit of a length competition going on in the class, and I encouraged myself to write perhaps a bit too much.

Yes, it’s a class assignment – it weaves in debates that are less interesting to people not involved in the class, but for those interested in academic blogging and the culture of publishing in anthropology, why not give it a read and let me know what you think.

I was holding off on posting this till it was reviewed by my professor and classmates, but as is the problem with all forms of review – it takes a lot of time! So here it is, mostly unreviewed, raw, and certainly in need of some revision. Feel free to comment anonymously, and again, flame on! (especially at how I just drop this reference to Wacquant and then drift off into nothingness… someone pick up on this and comment because im just too tired to critique myself!).

“Why do anthropologists blog?” – a mini ethnography, and class assignment.


In the past few years Anthropologists have increasingly taken up blogging. The anthropology blogsphere is a rapidly growing community that has created a new space for all levels of the anthropological hierarchy to express themselves. It has also opened doors to engagement with those outside anthropology. Within debates surrounding traditional publishing formats, this report examines the ways blogs might work to allow anthropologists to reflect and discuss more, while officially publishing less. It is an exploration into the culture of publishing in anthropology, and the reasons anthropologists do, or do not, blog.



11 responses to this post.

  1. Posting the document from your blog is an excellent idea. Especially since it can then be “socially edited” in Google Doc!
    I’m not exactly sure what kind of feedback you’re looking for. Because your text was written for a course, it can be hard for teachers not to read it as a course assignment. As you know, we’re in the business of grading! 😉
    But I sense that you may want to get feedback on this paper as part of the process of transforming it into a master’s thesis. Typically, this is done by a faculty advisor. As you know, we follow a chain of commands! 😉
    You may simply want to engage in a conversation. And that’s one thing blogs can be fairly efficient at.
    Even though I suspect you want other types of feedback, I’ll try to say a few things as if I were giving pointers on a draft. I guess it’s easier, for me.

    Now, I only skimmed the paper, very briefly.
    My “hot” reactions («à chaud»), after a very cursory skimming…

    It does seem that you have gained valuable insight into academic blogging generally and anthro blogging specifically. For this assignment (and, obviously, for the thesis) it makes a lot of sense that you should focus on one dimension of blogging. It might still be helpful to think a bit more about what the scope really is. Maybe you do it in this paper but the way your present anthro blogging in your abstract and in some passages in the text, it seems to be “its own thing.” The comment about “subculture” seems to go with this idea of “the anthro blogsphere in a vacuum.” Yet, anthro blogging is clearly connected with other blogging practises and even with other online activities (say, “online social networking” like Facebook or “nanoblogging” like Twitter).
    To go a bit further… You probably do explain how you selected blogs and bloggers for this paper. But what jumped at me was that there’s a kind of discrepancy between talking about “hundreds of anthropological bloggers” and the list of blogs you link to.
    Nah, I’m not thinking about random sampling. But maybe something about your work being centred around a specific “set” of blogging anthropologists who happen to be connected into something of a network.
    Sure, I’m obsessed with social networks. But, in this case, it may make a lot of sense to look at this group as a network. One difficult thing about networks is that they’re amorphous, acephalous, and tend not to work like the communities in which ethnographers are used to gain insight. You could certainly choose a specific number of bloggers through your own criteria (“all blogging anthros who wrote comments on X,” “all blogs listed on Y’s blogroll”), and look at this group as if it had some cohesiveness. It can work. It’s not a subculture but it can still be ethnographied.
    I mentioned “other online activities.” Unless I’m mistaken, you don’t seem to talk about social networking sites, instant messaging, mailing-lists, Web presence, nanoblogging, or even blog commenting. Fair enough, your focus is on blogging. But it seems relevant to frame anthros’ blogging activities in the context of other things they do online. My feeling is that different anthros have different approaches to blogging in connection with what else they do online. One anthro may blog because she happens to be a “total geek” who spends her whole life online. Another anthro may blog because he felt it was a cool thing to try in this one course he taught.
    Actually… The abstract and general structure of your paper seems to imply that you’re looking at “intentions,” “goals,” and “functions.” Interesting angle, with something of an ethnographic radian (yeah, I know, forced analogy). But there’s also a personal and even psychological side to these issues. Which means that you run the risk of internalizing these goals too much to be able to make it clear to “outsiders.”
    Interesting that you should focus on issues surrounding publishing. It might have been because of your informants or because of the course’s context, but it seems to connect with some ideas you have on your own (about publishing generally but, more specifically, about academic publishing). Sure, I share most of these ideas. But I’m pretty much a blogging “native,” at this point. The question you asked really was about “blogging as (a complement/alternative to) publishing.” Is that really about anthroblogger culture per se?
    You do seem to talk quite a bit about specific individuals and “personalities.” This, I would say, could be a nice lead into thesis work. Even though a lot of people talk about blogging as a “community” activity, blogging tends to be quite ego-based in the sense that it positions individual authorship at the centre of the writing enterprise. Contrary to, say, mailing-lists, newsgroups, Web forums, and even nanoblogging, blogs aren’t really oriented toward conversation. Sure, conversations are possible and some blogs have numerous comments connected to each post. But even those conversations are typically author-controlled, author-centred, and authority-driving. In this sense, blogging is in fact the open version of “scholarly publishing.” But to make this point as strong as possible, you might pay lipservice to other online activities done by your informants.

    By the way, I did a quick “vanity search,” after noticing names of people I know. I also notice a passage where you seem to be referring to me. Seriously, I do feel honoured by the way you describe my main blog. Seems like you do grok what I’m trying to do there. Nice!
    You know, I’m still not sure I should be called an “anthro blogger. While I do blog about anthro on occasion (including on course-specific blogs), I don’t use blogging the same way other blogging anthros you mention do. I’m an academic, sure, and you might say I blog academically on occasion. But, at least on my main blog, “academic drivel” doesn’t, in fact, monopolize my blog. 😉

    (BTW, the link to Lorenz’s 6 anthros post 404s.)


  2. […] Anthropology blogs more interesting than journals? Have anthropology journals ignored students? Is this one of the reasons for the popularity of anthropology blogs? Anthropology journals are not well known among students, Owen Wiltshire writes in his class assignment Why do anthropologists blog? A mini ethnography, a story, and a field report […]


  3. […] Lorenz at antropologi.info poses this question in response to Owen Whitshire’s post, “Why Do Anthropologists Blog?” (You can download the longer paper from the blog post.) Owen’s paper makes several […]


  4. […] Lorenz at anthropologi.info brings us, Anthropology blogs more interesting than journals?, based on a class assignment by Owen Wiltshire. The post may be a bit older than our cut-off for FSH #42, but it’s a good read. As Wiltshire […]


  5. […] interesting topics that made me think about creating this blog is Lorenz’s article  discussing Owen Wiltshire ‘s work  titeld Why do anthropologists blog? since I’m MA anthropology sociology student, I found […]


  6. Posted by anthsoc on July 1, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Hi Owen,

    I’m MA anthropology sociology student and wanted to tell you that your topic is very intersting and new…I love it and I have reflected on it in my first blog…In fact, this is the first time for me to blog…your topic inspired me to start blogging 🙂


  7. […] and Blogging-Phobia Reflecting on Owen Wiltshire’s findings regarding why do not anthropologists blog? In particular the following two […]


  8. […] will start by reflecting on Owen Wiltshire’s findings regarding: why do not anthropologists blog? In particular the following findings: fear […]


  9. […] Wiltshire’s thesis ” Why do anthropologists blog?” is inspirable. This topic made one to think about it deeply. Thus, this project is a collaborative […]


  10. Posted by InavaunenoSug on December 20, 2008 at 12:19 am

    Seldom I write comments but resource really cool


  11. Your next post might be “why do anthropologists twitter” since it seems that a few of us are there as well, and it really is turning out for me to be something that is rather special (not thinking of replacing blogging by any means), and not very easy to understand or position.


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