A few weeks have gone by, flowers have bloomed, the snow is gone, and I’m far less agitated then I was immediately after the thesis defence experience. In other words, this is a great time to touch on a few more issues.
Some readers felt I’d been trying to make the argument that with the Internet anthropologists are finally able to leave their sheltered university homes, to finally write to the public. They felt that I was arguing on behalf of a more publicly engaged anthropology, and so in response to my thesis the point was made that anthropologists have always been engaging public issues. Public engagement in anthropology isn’t anything new.The Internet, one reader voiced, is not facilitating change in anthropology at all, rather it is about continuity.
This however was a misunderstanding. I tried to show that anthropologists have always been interested in public engagement. I used the example of Dr. James Hunt, who started the Anthropology Society of London. I used him as an example of public engagement gone bad. There is absolutely nothing inherently good about public engagement. Ie. A good example today is the Human Terrain Teams, aka Anthropology Soldiers, who are not good, and who are not good for anthropology. I balanced this out with arguments from Thomas Hylland Eriksen, as I was not trying to say public engagement was necessarily bad either! In fact, I tried to show that anthros have used the Internet in some amazing ways (I used Wesch’s work as a brief example, which I contrasted with Jay Ruby’s, in hopes of developing the idea of “anthropology in public” and “public anthropology”)
But in dealing out a negative example of public engagement, this reader argued that anthropologists have done a lot of good. Why only cite a few selective examples? I suppose the quote from Eriksen wasn’t enough to balance things out!
I didn’t want to write a complete history of the discipline. But in only presenting a few examples, I opened the door to “what about so and so”. Or as I was asked more exactly,
“why did you not just start the thesis with what blogging and open access have to offer – tell us what they do for the discipline, rather than review in an ad hoc way selected bad moments in the discipline? Why not lead from your strengths to the strengths of the discipline?? What is the negative and cynical portrait of the discipline intended to accomplish?”
I developed chapter 2 as a literature review that revealed “pressures for change” in the discipline. Ie. I wanted to introduce reasons anthropologists have for 1) collaborating with non-anthropologists, and non-academics (Vine Deloria Jr’s arguments), 2) engaging public debates (ala Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s arguments) and 3) opening the social sciences (ala Wallerstein et al’s book “Open the Social Sciences”).
And to answer as clearly as possible – I found these examples showed reasons why anthropologists would want to write outside traditional peer reviewed presses, and why the Internet has provided a number of tools to help anthropologists engage this change.
[optimism] To clear this issue up further, chapter 2 is not a complete history of anthropology. It’s highly selective, showing a few examples that have pressured anthropologists to change the way they do anthropology. In terms of public engagement, there have been successful anthropological engagements (I never argued otherwise). A reader suggested I include the following works to present “public anthropology” in its full glory, “in the few pages you do devote to public anthropology, you do not cite these anthropologists who very publicly identify themselves with public anthropology”, and they kindly included this excellent list,
“Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Hortense Powdermaker, “the anthropologists who wrote and protested about the Vietnam war”, “anthropologists who were foundational in the women’s movement”, Meg Luxton, Hugh Brody, Luke Lassiter, Laura Bohannan, Ruth Behar, Amitav Ghosh, Camilla Gibb, Phillipe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper Hughes, Paul Farmer, etc…”
Well this is a tough issue to respond to. For one, I don’t think that mentioning “public anthropology” demands that I cite every public anthropologist. Especially when my point was that there are reasons for anthropologists to engage the public, and that publishing in expensive to access journals isn’t the way to do it. And more importantly to my thesis, was the issue that writing on a blog isn’t “public anthropology” either, since the topics anthros blog about are rarely meant to be interesting to those outside the discipline.
Why I talked about public anthropology -> 1) reasons to make research accessible, 2) is “making research accessible online” “anthropology in public, or public anthropology”. Would citing these other researchers have helped? I’m sure they could have, but I think that would take another few years and a Ph.D.
More issues to come don’t worry!