Archive for October, 2008

coyote ugly

Somethings are nice to sleep up against, but not everything. Anthropologists have a lot to worry about when it comes to bed partners, as the outrage over the Human Terrain System has shown. More ugly, and more threatening than the HTS program lies in the military’s ability to tap into nearly unlimited amounts of tax payer money. A few hundred thousand dollars a year to go fight on an HTS team is one thing, but more tricky, and more sinister is the ability of the military to coerce and influence the minds of researchers at home.

The Pentagon has begun to push for social science that informs military planners, by forming the Minerva Research Initiative.

“The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Defense (DoD) are initiating a university-based social and behavioral science research activity, as part of The Minerva Initiative launched by the Secretary of Defense, that focuses on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy.  NSF and DoD intend: 1) to develop the DoD’s social and human science intellectual capital in order to enhance its ability to address future challenges; 2) to enhance the DoD’s engagement with the social science community; and 3) to deepen the understanding of the social and behavioral dimensions of national security issues. In pursuit of these objectives, NSF and DoD will bring together universities, research institutions, and individual scholars and will support disciplinary, interdisciplinary and collaborative projects addressing areas of strategic importance to national security policy.  Proposals are to be submitted directly to NSF as described in the solicitation. “


In a nutshell, it is the military’s attempt to collaborate with academics (woot collaborative research! okay that wasn’t really the idea was it.). Obviously there are some issues that come up with this… National security issues can be seen in very different ways, and so the military perspective might be very different then that of academics. How will grants be given out? Who will decide the perspectives to foster? How will it get “framed”? Who will have access to the research produced?

Oh yeah, why do we want the military funding academic research at all? How did we get here again?

So many questions…

Thankfully the Social Science Research Council (SSRC.ORG) is opening up a discussion forum to discuss the many issues that come with Minerva funding. I’m impressed with, and thankful for, their strategy of informing bloggers to get help spreading the word.

And check out Max’s Open Anthropology posts concerning funding ethics, minerva, and anthropologists colluding with the military.

Fighting over textbooks… More OA please?

People going undercover to get an edge in the bloody academic textbook market? Yup. According to a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education competition is fierce among book stores who are working hard to tap into our student loans.  Mytelka writes,

“The competitors for students’ textbook business are, on the one hand, several local independent booksellers, and on the other, the university bookstore, which is run under contract by the Follett Higher Education Group, the nation’s largest collegiate-bookstore chain.

It seems that a number of professors at the public university would prefer to give business to the local bookstores rather than to the Follett-run university store, so they provide their required reading lists — a prerequisite for ordering books ahead of time — only to the independent store owners.”

So theres another interesting side effect I’d have never imagined of making course reading lists available online well in advance. What really surprises me however is how little talk of open access publishing follows in the blog posts comments. Local book stores however might be hurt by OA publishing, unless they can be integrated into preparing course packs/OA material… I often prefer to have a hardcopy so I can read more easily in a cafe. Maybe they don’t want to turn into Kinko’s, but with all the OA material they could move in on the publishers terrain.

The discussion that followed the post points to the need for cheaper textbooks. One reader expresses his disdain for publishers strategies to fight the second hand book trade,

“Having worked my way through grad school at a local bookseller that carried textbooks, I need to chime in…the way publishers behave – new editions every year, homework websites with codes that can only be used once per book, and the like, I actually understand the impulse to pirate.”

Why pirate… At least when we get some more OOOAAA….

I enjoy sitting around in a bookstore so I feel for smaller bookstores who might benefit from the academic textbook system… At the same time, I really *hate* constant new editions of texts. Just update it online and make it available there. Bookstores might be able to find a way to thrive making OA material accessible in printed form.

working through divides

The internet provides fantastic opportunities to stay connected to ones interests, regardless of location. I’ve been on the move recently, and I’ve been engaging anthropologists and academics I meet using my blog as a business card of sorts. I’m not sure how well it will work out, but hopefully I’ll successfully bring some new collaborators into the mix.

I’ve found it difficult to engage non-bloggers, at least in terms of getting them to respond on this blog. I’ve been piling up offline interviews to compliment this discussion, but it brings up a huge point that there are strategies for building interest and communication and it would certainly help to refine these blogging strategies.

A few things to think about:

  • How can we get non-bloggers to participate in online, public, discussions. What stops them from participating?


Mary discusses the way conservative and liberal political bloggers rarely interact online, and how this is also the case for climate change bloggers. Most of the time opposing sides ignore each others writing. She writes,

“In a recent Public Choice (sorry, it’s subscription) article Hargittai, Gallo, & Kane (2008) studied the way bloggers interact on political topics, focusing on the interactions between liberal and conservative bloggers.  The shortest explanation of their findings is that there isn’t much interaction at all, at least not much productive interaction that leads to topical debate.”

As people pick and chose what to read, it’s easy to ignore opinions one doesn’t care for. But is this divide what political bloggers are looking for? How should we approach our writing to emphasize discussion between biased parties?  Mary’s post reminded me of one of my early research papers in the masters program, where I looked into nationalism and the internet. In it I wrote:

“Kluver writes “By personalizing news portals, web search guides, etc., the user is able to completely isolate himself or herself from issues that require knowledge and experience outside his or her own” (Kluver, 2001:5). The internet, as a civic space, allows for new kinds of discourse, but this discourse can be controlled to support and vent national sentiment, and not necessarily to work against it.  In this way the internet facilitates the division of ideas and people into “culturally homogeneous units” that never need to interact – although it can be structured to do so. “

Using blogs as a space for ethnographic research, it is an important  thing to consider. Fabian promotes confrontation as a style of conversation and inquiry, arguing disagreement and honest engagement is important. But how can we modify our approach to engage the “other side?”

I’ll attach my nationalism and the internet paper too so that I can find it later, and for those interested who have a lot of reading time. Keeping it on my hard drive is a sure way to lose it forever.

More Commentary on “Ethnography as Commentary”

Will anthropology find renewed passion and direction with the help of the internet? According to Johannes Fabian, yes it will, and obviously I agree!

Johannes Fabian’s recent book, Ethnography as Commentary, sets the stage for an internet invigorated ethnography. In it he argues that the co-presence of author and reader, text and commentary, will develop into an ethnographic genre. His study, like mine, is based on the idea that internet technologies change the way anthropology is being presented. Specifically, he focuses on the use of internet archives and the ability to have a group of interested people interact with a text.

He provides valuable support to my own attempts to create an “ethnographic text” in a public space to promote collaboration and feedback. I’m not sure how close the discussions on this blog are to the kinds of commentary Fabian seeks, but I think it’s pretty darn close! He also pushes the idea that ethnographic research should be confrontational and engaged. I’ve been playing with a confrontational/engaged style and I’ve found it works to bring out discussion. It also lets me be honest.

I hope this research project will contribute to the “ethnography as commentary” genre. It can build on what Fabian has presented by showing how one can use a blog to develop the kinds of commentary, interactions, and confrontations that Fabian seeks.

When Fabian gave a talk at Concordia, I did my best to write it up and give some critique. Of course, having not read the book I could have been less critical of some of his points for I now have to dedicate a post to correcting my errors!

I said,

“So without having read the book, I am a bit disappointed that his talk was oblivious to so much that is going on online.”

and in the book he says,

“One could also point out that setting up virtual archives can be a step toward meeting not only demands and expectations to “return” our research results to the people we study but to initiate discussion of our work as well as additions to the corpus. That documents created by blogs and chat groups devoted to themes anthropology is interested in deserve our attention is by now widely recognized; Internet based ethnography has become accepted as a legitimate alternative or compliment of, traditional fieldwork…” (p122)

While trying to put together a decent proposal for this research project, it was made clear to me that I needed to defend how the research will be “ethnographic” [I’m in a program where it MUST be ethnography]. Can I just quote Fabian on this one when asked how online research can be ethnographic?

Further, I can critique myself using Fabian’s words:

“… [the] audience may read a commentary such as this one without consulting the text on the internet. All this can put a damper on the enthusiasm for the “new kind of presence” of ethnographic texts that made me conduct this experiment.” (p122)

Or in my case, without consulting the book. At least I’m committed to correcting my errors, and now that I’ve read the book I realize just how well Fabian set the stage for justifying online ethnography to more “traditional” anthropologists. However I didn’t get much out of the online archive… The book’s main purpose is to discuss how such archives can reinvigorate ethnography, and less about the actual ethnographic text he put online. In this way, I found the book wandered a little and the short linguistic discussion really flew by me. Perhaps if I had a stronger linguistics background it would have been more grabbing.

Finally to all my teachers who continue to define anthropology as a science, I will from now on quote Fabian, where he discusses the difference between an archive and a database. He writes

“Databases, conceived and established long before the advent of the computer and the Internet, belong to the conceptual arsenal of a positivist and essentially ahistorical (some would call it “modernist”) view of anthropology as a science, that to put it mildly, is no longer generally accepted.” (p122)

take that science nuts!  [and for those not aware of the debate, it’s not about science being good or bad, but about imposing scientific goals and methods where they aren’t needed and don’t belong. It’s also about using scientific rhetoric to turn opinion into fact, camouflaging bias. And it’s about science bent anthropologists working against/blocking other means of inquiry and presentation. Woops, I need to buff up my answer to this question someday. Possible future blog post…]

Open Access Day at Concordia Library

Yesterday was Open Access Day. I found out about this today, but I was still able to pickup an information handout advocating open access journals, and an open access pin!

I was actually going to pickup a copy of a thesis a prior anthropology graduate had written about online communities, to get an idea what a thesis even looked like (funny to be writing something without ever having read one).

I asked about finding the thesis, and in doing so bumped into a very helpful Concordia librarian, OA advocate, and blogger, Olivier Charbonneau. I discussed my research project with him, and he shared a slew of information that gave me an idea just how much I was missing and how impossible it will be to digest it all. At least I won’t be “stalling” out with all the readings he recommended.

We also spoke about self archiving repositories, as a number of teachers I’ve interviewed have expressed a desire to make their work available outside of journals, but they did not know how to go about doing so. As part of my attempts to collaborate and make my research beneficial I’ve offered to help them do this. Charbonneau offered some suggestions as to how to go about making sure one has permission.

Yes, it can be as easy as dropping it into a repository, but my teachers love to stress and they want to make sure they have permission first. This seems to be the stumbling block, along with time, that has prevented the people I’ve interviewed from self-archiving.

I also learned that Concordia Library will soon have its own online repository. I’m sure researchers will make more use of an academy-branded repository. Maybe having the prestige of the institution at stake will start a competition of sorts for making work available. In the meantime I’ll be investigating the various self-archiving repositories and probably use them all. Why limit your article to one?

Are publishers middlemen or drivers?

As I engage the issue of open access in anthropology, my position and views continue to change. I am one seriously biased academic, but this doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind often (several times a day even).

Having stalled out on the research front, I went back to some trusty sources to find inspiration. Blogs are a great place to find information, but its rare to find such extensive coverage of a topic as you do on Peter Suber’s Open Access News.

Berg is an academic publisher that has been mentioned a few times in my interviews with professors. One of my professors regularly publishes books through them, and he spoke quite highly of the review process and the ability of Berg to publicize the books.

OA News points to a recent press release by Bloomsbury, a large publisher who recently acquired Berg. The press release states:

“Berg is a market leader in its field having pioneered the concept of fashion theory which is now a course widely taught at universities throughout the world. The company is in the process of creating a major online subscription-based resource, the Berg Fashion Library, for fashion students, lecturers and the broader industry. It is scheduled to be launched in 2010.”

It is interesting to consider the possibility that publishers are a driving force in the academic world, not just a middle man skimming profit from an economically exhausted academic system. Berg claims to have *pioneered* a field. The “fields of care” anthropologists spend time working on are dependent on a lot of different forces. How helpful is it to have publishers advocating certain kinds of research? I suppose there are two poles to look at this – one being that publishers restrict, funnel, and control academic topics – and the other that publishers encourage, promote, and develop academic topics.

Bloomsbury will also be creating Bloomsbury Academic, a new “imprint” (hadn’t heard this term before), which will encourage open access publishing. They write:

“Publications will be available on the Web free of charge and will carry Creative Commons licences. Simultaneously physical books will be produced and sold around the world.

For the first time a major publishing company is opening up an entirely new imprint to be accessed easily and freely on the Internet. Supporting scholarly communications in this way our authors will be better served in the digital age.”

Can open access and capitalism get along? Maybe… just maybe.

[prior to internet publishing, publishers were essential for distribution]

[publishers can drive research fields]

[what is an imprint?]

[interrelationship between academics, disciplines, research topics, and publishers]   –>  possibly related to savageminds discussion of “fields of care”.

[I’d love to tie this into the kinds of fields Bourdieu discussed (my bourdieu readings are no longer fun at all, and I’m sort of lost. ) Thankfully Dr. Postill is hard at work liberating social fields from the archives of bad translations. I’m still too unsure of my understanding to make use of it (and I’ve read three Bourdieu books so far… + a number of essays), but i’m working on it]

[long live tags in brackets]

Shame on Endnote. Long live Zotero.

Mary at writes that the makers of Endnote have filed suit against Zotero, the open source bibliographic management software which I love. Thanks Mary for bringing this to my attention!  I am calling for a boycott of Endnote, and ask all academics to use Zotero (even if it has fewer features for now).

We don’t need closed format bibliographic files, and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with writing an open source conversion tool! If Microsoft can open up the Word format enough to allow Openoffice to convert and read it, then why is Endnote filing suit against Zotero for incorporating a conversion tool???

Goodbye Endnote and good riddance!
The lawsuit really has gotten the blogsphere buzzing – for more legal discussion see Mike Madison’s post.