Journalists, bloggers, and some anthropology

Over at Neuroanthropology Greg discusses a recent blog post at Nature, which brings up the challenges newspapers and journalists face in a recession. It argues that in tough times science reporting is one of the first cuts.  Now if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I don’t exactly consider myself a scientist, more a researcher. But in discussions like this, ‘science reporting’ probably reflects all research reporting. Greg comments on the reduction of professional science journalists:

“Increasingly amateurish science reporting will no doubt provide more howlers for us at, but it can’t be good for the public’s ability to really understand the crucial discoveries and challenges of the day. So much of the research that’s important right now increases the complexity of our understanding of the world that I’m afraid budgetary constraints will provide yet another force pushing for reductionary explanations in the public eye.

Fortunately, the upsurge in online commentary provides some counterbalance to the growing simplicity of science reporting, but the size of our public is so small that’s it’s discouraging at times. Initiatives like the Public Library of Science and open online access to so many academic journals make the science more available, but we still need a vigorous and expert public science journalism to sort through this research.”

I’m developing an outline, and load of notes, for the chapter I am writing about the Human Terrain System and how the blogsphere was an important place for discussion/argument (hmm… if I’ll give in to the ‘scientist’ label doing cultural anthropology, perhaps it is time I start using the word blogosphere too?). It ties in to a discussion to the ways cultural anthropologists are represented in different media – particularly the blogsphere, but also traditional mass media. I appreciate Greg’s comment that “our public is so small that it’s discouraging at times”, and this touches on the idea of amplification in the blogsphere.

As a small community, it is easier for our voices to be heard. Peter Suber discusses “the OA advantage” whereby those who publish OA become much more visible then those who don’t, simply because not enough people publish OA. To be one in a thousand means papers get read and cited that much more. I wonder how the anthropology blogsphere would change with a drastic increase in bloggers? I am optimistic they are coming, especially given the number of students I meet at Concordia who have started blogging their academic work, and given the rapid rise in the number of bloggers generally.

But back to journalists, I would suppose cultural anthropology has always had a tough time getting press. Will research blogging help popularize cultural anthropology? Can blogging research work as a way to stimulate anthropology outside the academy?

And in other news –

why so quiet recently? thesis writing is fun.


2 responses to this post.

  1. “Will research blogging help popularize cultural anthropology?”

    One question we always have to ask ourselves is whether that is a goal worth pursuing. It might sound as if we have everything in order in our house, what needs to be done has been done, now it is just a matter of “popularizing” it. Another question might be what does popularization mean? On some issues, my sense is that anthropology will be very much anti-popular, which is not the same as elitist. Think of the ‘war on terror’ and the dehumanization of the other — as soon as anthropology intervenes in that ‘popular’ field, it can join the ranks of the demonized very quickly. Perhaps some anthropology bloggers know or suspect this to be the case, and therefore it is little surprise that most anthropology blogs remain almost perfectly silent on the most contentious issues we face at present.

    “Can blogging research work as a way to stimulate anthropology outside the academy?”

    It is certainly possible. Have you seen any evidence of this?


  2. Dear Max,

    Thanks for the clear direct questions (as always). I see ‘popularizing’ anthropology not in the sense of selling out to popular perspectives, but to making it accessible to more people and by trying to include these people within it.

    So I don’t see a problem popularizing anthropology through anti-popular perspectives. I think you do a great job of this. I suppose I also have a particular understanding of ‘popularizing’ which really needed clarification.

    My research hasn’t been so popular outside academia, but I have evidence of interest within. By being accessible, it has also enlarged the scope of academia. Who is an academic? This blog has received interest from numerous “ex-academics”. I have also received interest from people who aren’t anthropologists, and developed at least in small ways links with other disciplines (if only through comments on each others blogs). It’s certainly an expanded group of academics.

    Couldn’t we say anyone who comments on an academics work is in some way an academic? But I said academy, and I suppose I was referring to traditional academic institutions, academic journals, conferences, classrooms.

    This is probably time for me to chime in with a “well shit. How can I be a grad student and not have an answer to this most important and direct question: is that a goal worth pursuing?”

    I’ll answer that on the last page of my thesis. Until then we will have to wait. Of course others might chime in before then.


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