Archive for November, 2008

Ethnography is to anthropology as…

Many anthropologists stress the importance of ethnography, and when it comes to disciplinary turf wars anthropologists can also be very protective of it. In his post “Ethnographic Disciplines”, Enkerli argues ethnography has also developed in a number of other disciplines. He writes:

“I specifically wish to point out that ethnography is not an “exclusive prerogative” of anthropology. And I perceive important connections between these disciplines.”

Many disciplines play with ethnographic, or ethnographic-like methods to do research. As Enkerli goes on to say, ethnography is also done by market-researchers, but he wonders how close the methods really are in application and purpose.

[Note that the “disciplinary turf wars” line is an official trademark of the Carl corporation. Patent can be found here. ]

See also:

Dr. Postill discusses Tim Ingold’s position that “Anthropology is not ethnography”.

anthropology – a changing discipline

One of the goals of this project is for me to develop an understanding, and a proper answer to, the question “what is anthropology?”.  In my program, anthropology takes on numerous positions/meanings/purposes. I’m not ready to answer the question definitively, and instead I’ll try to “inform the question”.

What is anthropology?

Talal Asad discusses the way anthropology is a relatively new discipline, and that it has constantly been undergoing change. He writes:

“When Evans-Pritchard published his well-known Introduction to Social Anthropology in 1951, it seemed reasonably clear what the subject was about. “The social anthropologist”, he explained, “studies primitive societies directly, living among them for months or years, whereas sociological research is usually from documents and largely statistical. The social anthropologist studies societies as wholes – he studies their oecologies, their economics, their legal and political institutions, their family and kinship organizations, their religions, their technologies, their arts, etc. as parts of general social systems.” The doctrines and approaches that went by the name of functionalism thus gave social anthropology an assured and coherent style.

Today by contrast even this coherence of style is absent. The anthropologist is now someone who studies societies both ‘simple’ and ‘complex’; resorts to participant observation, statistical techniques, historical archives and other literary sources; finds himself intellectually closer to economists or political scientists or psycho-analysts or structural linguistics or animal behaviorists than he does to other anthropologists.”   (Asad 1973:10)

A straight answer? Not really, but it gives us a good idea what kind of specialization has occurred in the discipline. The differences in interests and methods create a confusing picture for future collaboration and ‘disciplinaryness’.

Many many more Asad quotes to come in the next few weeks… As well as more on how anthropology is taking what it’s learned online, aka, how this research is an “anthropology” project.

self-archiving and anthropology – not there yet

[warning this is a grumpy blogger post… it could have been written in more productive way, but anyways… ]

I was pretty excited to help some collaborators self-archive their work. Having read hundreds of blog posts advocating it, and being a strong believer in the ethical necessity of making anthro research accessible, I am sad to say that I’m very disappointed with the state of self-archiving repositories.

I started with RoMEO, a database which keeps track of self-archiving and OA policies for various academic publishers. This is the first step to finding out if you have permission to self-archive your work. [unless of course you signed away exclusivity believing the publisher would do a good job getting your work ‘out there’. ]

Once I determined it was okay to self-archive the work, I emailed the publisher to confirm that this was indeed okay. This part worked out well.

Excited, and with full legal permission, I went out in search of self-archiving repositories. I started with the document “self-archiving made easy for anthropologists” produced by Kerim at Savage Minds.

It recommends the Mana’o archive, and it makes it sound incredibly easy. Unfortunately the Mana’o site seems to have fallen into disrepair. The front page hasn’t been updated in months, neither has its blog. It says it is being worked on, and to check back soon, but other than it comes across as quite messy and honestly a real turnoff to the teachers whose work I’m trying to archive.

I went ahead with it anyways, but two days later all my emails came back. The Mana’o email address is full, or broken. Either way, its not really being maintained. Server troubles jinxed my first self-archiving attempt, but hopefully the next will go better.


Thankfully Concordia will have its own institutional repository, and this I think makes a lot more sense anyways. Also, I can always help teachers create simple blogs or websites to archive the work… With the right key words and site design Google will help make the work accessible… but a repository really is key…

I tried emailing the Mana’o list to offer my services to get things going, but that email bounced too!!!

Anyone know whats going on with it? Or can anyone help recommend places/repositories for anthropological work?

[so all that to say, I’m sure its just some maintenance work that needs to be done over at Mana’o and once they do get it all running I’ll be sure to support it!]

on writing proposals and making sense of ones research

Writers block is one thing, but I’m feeling cursed. Everytime I sit down to fix my original proposal I blank out. The original got a tenuous approval, and has since been returned to me with a list of necessary corrections (ie. I failed to include page number references in my quotes…).

Why a block? because I’m at a point in the research where I need to refine my research strategy to bring it all into focus.

So let’s look at what I’m trying to do and what I have done:

  • Explore the culture of publishing in anthropology, focusing on how internet communication technologies are changing the way anthropologists share and develop knowledge.  -> I’m learning a lot, but I don’t feel like an expert yet. I think I left this aspect too broad in the proposal and I will try and focus on clearing this up…
  1. journal publishing -> publish or perish in promotion and tenure review (prestige journals), accessibility arguments (need for open access, inability for universities to maintain full range of journals, inability of those outside academia to read what is written about themselves), gatekeeping (maintaining disciplinary control), audience (Eriksen’s arguments for public presence), copyright law (self archiving rights, creative commons)
  2. Blogging -> Release Early Release Often (rero). Sharing ideas before publishing to get feedback. Inviting criticism, being open to change. Engaging collaborators.  Using the blog as a learning space (how to make it two way).   Private/Public dichotomy -> gradient of public and private (ie listserv -> blogsphere, different online spaces).  Identity formation in the blogsphere (what is an anthro blog? How do we identify it? Should I blog with my name? Do I want my google identity to be so openly academic? What do I do when I act like a fool and can’t delete my !@#! post?  <– why i don’t write enough comments on other bloggers posts)
  3. Book publishing -> distribution, audience… havent looked into much more here.
  4. Open Access Publishing and self-archiving -> Exploring process by volunteering time to do the legwork archiving some collaborators publications. I’m also developing a series of narratives around teachers experiences publishing. Why not support open access?
  5. Motivations behind publishing work. -> building up decent series of interviews with teachers to find out how they got published for the first time, and why they were motivated to do so. Who did they write for? Also section on how the work was received, reviewed (stories about how peer review changed their articles), etc… This is my attempt to bring in “life history”-like perspectives… except I didn’t bother going for a holistic life history, and instead am just going for the publishing history.
  • Experiment and contribute to online ethnography -> check.  I think using this blog provided an interesting way to develop conversations. It hasn’t always worked, as it depends heavily on the generosity of ones collaborators, and the topics one writes about, and how it is approached.
  • Advocate open access publishing. -> check.

Other notes:

  • Not all teachers are required or even encouraged to publish in journals, it is most important for teachers on the tenure track.
  • Some non-tenured teachers publish anyways, and in my limited interviews these teachers are very open to open access while the tenured ones less so. (pathetically small sample to generalize with.. so consider this a possible hypothesis rather than a result).
  • New Participants, New Audiences, New Ways of Speaking
  1. Audience -> Is writing for a broader public a matter of dumbing things down? -> language, accessibility…  teacher -> student and teacher -> teacher, but with blogs we have student -> student, student/teacher -> public, and public -> student/teacher.
  2. Participants -> kinds of participants, (informants, interlocutors, collaborators, expert, non-expert), -> Lassiter, Marcus, -> collaboration…. —> Online boundaries – community, social networks, disciplinariness, “disciplinary turf wars” as Carl called it.
  3. Ways of speaking -> blogging culture, issues of academic formalities, issues of political bias and speaking past each other (election as example, studies revealing audiences pick and chose what to read and hence ignore/hide from opposing views).  Ways to present anthropology differently -> multimedia, remixing.     Fabian’s ethnography as commentary (comments and texts building into virtual archives).
  • Anthropology as advocacy -> do we need to find “new” things? Is it really about “gaining knowledge” or could it be more engaged and practical.  Who is gaining knowledge?  I can learn about self-archiving, but people already know about that. In doing this research I’ve engaged a number of people to think about these issues, and so by doing “research” many people gain knowledge that others already had. Why wouldn’t this be considered good research?
  • Research could be more about sharing/advocating ideas than about generating revolutionary new insights… Some feel it’s not about getting information, but more about analysis and comparison.  In terms of analyzing data, I have a lot I could do with this blog (word clouds for one). I can talk about where people come from, how posts worked and didn’t, etc… so I have enough data to satisfy the analysis hungry profs, and enough advocacy to satisfy myself and the activists).
  • Ways of learning. Collaborative learning processes. Discussion with Pamthropologist and Wesch about classroom management -> value of lecture, value of motivation and interest, value of team work.

One thing I avoided doing was creating categories for this blog. I did this to keep an open mind and see where things went and because I prefer key words to category searches. Now that I have a bunch of posts built up, I can create categories consistent with my thesis proposal.

That I can’t immediately come up with these categories probably reflects the scattered nature of my mind and of my results so far. I’ll have it sorted soon.

more more more… let it flow…

I will be writing the thesis in a multi-genre style. I hope to experiment with fictional narratives, directly transcribed conversations, blog posts, etc… This is as much a personal strategy to try everything out a bit as it is a flexible strategy that is open to using whatever presentation style suits the material. This of course needs to be balanced within academic culture, and so I’ll use these other styles of presentation as backdrops to the more traditionally academic writing I hopefully will be able to do.

Woops missed out on all my notes on Bourdieu and social fields. Taking this on should bring a nice wordy academic tone to the thesis, and I’m happy to do it because I think the concepts will actually be useful to think with.

social drama’s —

  1. I also want to talk about the kinds of discussions blogging opens up. The HTS program, and the debate surrounding will make a perfect story to reflect on the role of public and private debate in anthropology -> but is this close enough to the main thesis topic?
  2. disciplinary turf wars.
  3. what makes it an anthro blog?
  4.’s decision to move from blog to e-journal
  5. story about racing heart rate after posting stupid messages on a listserv.. feeling idiotic, worrying too much about it… this will be a fun and informative narrative of my experiences and embarassments online.


[so where do we go from here?]

  • expand thesis question to allow for a discussion about anthropology as an online community perhaps? This would fit with the HTS debate and other happenings in the blogsphere. How to justify the link between publishing and communities? Simple, focus on “sharing knowledge”.  Then integrate social fields, talk about the promotion, tenure, and publishing system as a field where people establish authority. Then talk about public engagement -> blogs, other tools to communicate anthropology beyond traditional boundaries.   Then talk about fighting that occurs in disciplines when they all break into a new field together… [big topic on the media anthro list recently].   Can also use the publishing stories i’ve developed in interviews to look at how “the game is played”.]
  • I think I will do a few email surveys to investigate non-tenured teaching and publishing… peaks my interest, will make it fit somehow.

working online – collaboration in its infancy

An interesting article/interview with Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder, touched on a number of issues important to my research. Here is the juiciest segment:

He acknowledged collaboration has its limits, noting that if “we said we want to write a novel about loss, and redemption, probably not so much public collaboration, that’s really an individual vision and a view of the world.”

“But for basic factual information, I think having an open public dialogue and debate and democratic process, seems to be very powerful.”

Wales also warned that major steps had to be considered to stop governments abusing ordinary people’s personal information, which is increasingly stored in vast computer databases.

He described potential government misuse of private citizens’ data as a “concern.”

(AFP via

Interesting issues raised that apply to anthropology and everyone else. Anthropologists need to worry about publishing damaging information, but with enormous databases being built to track every move one makes governments will have a hard time not using this information in ways Aldous Huxley dreamed about. The ethical challenges apply well beyond anthropology.

Further, collaborating openly online is something new – it’s not fully explored and it demands a bit of faith and commitment. It can be exciting, scary, and annoying as there are many pitfalls to work through. There are also huge technological divides, and I’m noticing more and more how difficult it is for some to go “native” online. Some people just won’t post a public message, even anonymously – perhaps out of the rational fear that it would eventually be used against them in some undetermined way.

[yes this is another juicy quotes post]