Archive for the ‘New audiences, new participants, new ways of speaking’ Category

knowledge mobilization

Last month I had the pleasure of attending a talk by David Yetman, discussing a program developed at Memorial University that works to “mobilize knowledge” between the university and outside interests. The program acts as a liaison of sorts, between interested community members and interested researchers. It’s an open door for communities to invite researchers to participate in questions relevant to them.

The program is interdisciplinary and completely voluntary. Yetman admitted that collaboration between faculty members and administration is a tricky thing, and that for this reason the program members actively sought out responsive members in the faculty, and worked with them, rather than trying to change the minds of those uninterested in collaborative research projects.

The project staff, “knowledge mobilization officers” work as a kind of knowledge broker – in many ways facilitating the business side of research, helping find funding, but also facilitate ways to disseminate research in ways appropriate to the project (perhaps pointing to the need for multiple styles of research publication, in that the standard journal publication may not be what is needed).

They have also been developing a search engine/database for research projects community members are interested in. The database provides researchers and community members a way to connect. The database would allow researchers to look for relevant research questions, and link them to members of the community that would help with it. He mentioned the need for “finding audiences” for academic research, and that “80% of what we do is building relationships”.

Pushing the business angle did cause my anthropological ears to ring a little.  The “benefit to society” thing has been done to death in my readings for this project, and while increased collaboration was argued to benefit society, Yetman also said that knowledge mobilization officers “do not pass judgment on the type of project”, but that an ethics guideline was in the works.

I asked if knowledge mobilization officers, being interested in “finding audiences”, advocated Open Access publication of research – and I was disappointed to learn the program had not yet explored Open Access Publishing (and even though the program is small, and just starting, I still choke swallowing this one…). I promised myself I’d check back with them down the road to see if information on Open Access Publishing couldn’t be provided by the knowledge mobilization officers as standard practice.   [just editing this, and again, how do you talk about mobilizing knowledge, and ignore Open Access? uggh!]  [thinking more on it, I think Yetman comes from a medical research background, and I have no idea how well received open access publishing is in that area]

Looking at the relationship between academia and surrounding communities, and having this opportunity to see it more generally through multiple disciplines, I appreciate ethnography more. Not so much the value of ethnography as a “scientific method”, but the lessons one can learn looking at anthropology’s often brutal relationship with people/communities/states [things that make you go “hmm…”]. I asked Yetman how disputes would be settled between researchers and community members inviting research – what happens when the research doesn’t go as planned? Yetman admitted this was a challenge, but he felt that the knowledge mobilization officer, while not responsible for such a situation, would still be able to lend a hand. He said in no way would the knowledge mobilization officer, nor the community member inviting the research, have any control over the research output.

I also asked about Minerva style funding, and how interests could be balanced out – if at all. He said that many researchers would be interested in military funding, and admitted that large-scale funding could be an issue if it were let to dominate research agendas. Here exists the problem of promoting collaboration without judging “good or bad”. Ie: in the article linked at the bottom of this post, it discusses knowledge mobilization as coming from technology transfer, which involves patents, and making profit. So maybe this program will end up promoting the “closed” side of the intellectual property debate.)

Even if it ignores ethical issues, steps around research responsibility, and hasn’t yet figured out how important open access publishing is, it does do one thing that I like – it opens a door for people to approach the university with their questions and concerns.

While a liaison can help on the community side, I still think anthropologists have the right idea building collaboration into the research methods, and to facilitating the collaboration themselves. Ie: do we need a special database to find relevant research questions, when we have the internet, or live in a local community? Are these issues not constantly being discussed in the news,  on blogs, and on youtube? Yes, at least with online ethnography. A knowledge mobilization office could help researchers get their feet into the community however, and help local organizations advertise their issues and interests.

I would have kept the questions pouring, but few others were participating so I shut up and talked to him when the talk finished. I explained my interest in “sharing knowledge” and Open Access, and when I told him I was in the anthropology program he told me he always got a great response from anthropologists, who he said expressed more interested in community collaboration. During the talk he also mentioned how the program was new, but tried to incorporate what it could from participatory research methods that have been developing in anthropology and other disciplines. [he mentioned proactive and reactive strategies, community workshops hosted in different areas in the region]

One audience member inquired about measuring and quantifying the success of such collaborations – Yetman replied that was a challenge, but that qualitative assessments seemed to work pretty well.

Here is an article discussing some of the projects successes and strategies:

“Putting Knowledge Into Practice”

[on the first round writing this, I used the word “interested” about 20 times. ]

open anthropology cooperative

I’m a bit late (ignoring this blog to write a thesis of course), but if you haven’t heard yet, anthropologists have come together to form the “open anthropology cooperative”. The project has received a lot of enthusiastic support, and couldn’t have started off better! I’m looking forward to taking part, especially once I kick this flu… (did you hear its bloody 10 degrees in June? If only global warming was given a more descriptive name – like “montreal ice age, here we come”.

Sign up and participate at

new ethnography podcast

I’m excited to see Enkerli’s latest project, which he was “pondering” only a few weeks back, has already materialized. Check out the latest anthropology-related podcast, focusing on ethnography. Also take note of Enkerli’s new blog, “Informal Ethnographer”, and twitter accounts, which were created to develop and clarify professional and personal roles.

He writes:

“Here it is! The first episode of Rapport: The Informal Ethnographer Podcast.

As I was editing it, I noticed a number of flaws. For instance, there are several things I mispronounced there are some things I might have wanted to take out of it. But I maintain my RERO principle and I’m posting it as-is.

As this is the “enhanced podcast” version, with chapter markers, you can skip around as you please, between different sections. I should post MP3 files for the different sections but the official release will always be with the enhanced podcast.”

I’m heading home now to grab some headphones…

Kimberly Christen – Access and Accountability

(by way of Max’s twitter feed)

If you haven’t already, check out Kimberly Christen’s recent article “Access and Accountability: The Ecology Of Information Sharing in the Digital Age“, published in Anthropology Now.  Then check out the website referred to in the article.

The essay addresses the importance of respecting different norms for sharing information. She introduces the idea of creating knowledge sharing protocols that respect existing “ethical systems”.  Her work is one of the best examples I’ve found that considers anthropological sensitivities in relation to open access:

“As users maneuver through the site they can access information about specific places, their cultural significance and history. But within each area a random sampling of content is tagged with protocols that disturb their viewing. As a visitor begins to get acquainted with a place, a video clip may stop halfway through because the material is restricted by gender, or audio of a song may fade in and out because elements are restricted to only those who have been ritually initiated, or a photo may be only half visible because someone in the photo has died.

In every case, users must grapple with their own biases about information freedom and knowledge sharing online. After each restriction pops up with a short textual explanation, an animation plays describing the Warumungu protocols for that specific type of content. The site is designed to frustrate Internet users who function out of an “information wants to be free” paradigm—that is, those who expect that clicking on something or searching for information should necessarily result in unrestricted access to the materials they find. Our goal was to use the medium itself as a means of reflecting on the limits of the Internet to value other knowledge systems, and at the same time challenge people to take seriously different types of information distribution and production systems.”

(Christen 2009)

Another professor of mine shared similar concerns about open access sharing in an interview I held with him. I don’t have permission to post the discussion here, but he mentioned how he had done fieldwork among a group that considered certain kinds of information should be shared during certain seasons. For this reason he was unable to publish certain stories he had collected, as it would be disrespectful to the groups desire to share the information at certain times.

Big thanks to Kimberly Christen for a great article, and for stressing the valuable contributions anthropology can bring to the open access debate.


“Two Sides to Sharing Knowledge”

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.

Ethnography, the internet, and an apprentice anthropologist. Draft.

In his book “Body and Soul”, Loic Wacquant discusses the way he approached his research on boxing and the ‘universe’ around it:

“The other virtue of an approach based on participant observation (which in this case, is better characterized as an “observant participation”) in a run-of-the-mill gym is that the materials thus produced do not suffer from the “ecological fallacy” that affects most available studies and accounts of the Manly art. Thus none of the statements reported here were expressly solicited, and the behaviors described are those of the boxer in his “natural habitat”, not the dramatized and highly codified (re)presentation that he likes to give of himself in public, and that journalistic reports and novels retranslate and magnify according to their specific canons.” (Wacquant 2004:6)

Part of ‘being there’ is to engage people in a more natural setting. More natural than say, sitting directly in front of a microphone. The day to day interactions can ‘correct’ or balance out representations based on ‘solicited questions’. Boxers, he argues, play up to stereotypes when interviewed (surveys won’t cut it, he is pushing ethnography to sociologists). His engaged long term participation allowed him another position – that of the apprentice. As an apprentice, there is less emphasis on general ‘otherness’ which avoids numerous issues of representation. He is a boxer, not an academic studying boxing from ‘afar’. Also a key point is that people can be represented, and can represent themselves, differently in the context of public media.

Applying these ideas to this research project – and to other ethnographic studies done online, we can ask, “is the blogsphere both public and natural?” A well disciplined ethnographer might argue that it is impossible to observe online interactions in person, without invading their homes and watching them type. Who are they? How old? What gender? Without knowing these things the interactions will lack necessary context. Following Wacquant’s argument that people represent themselves differently in public media, we can also ask what ways people represent themselves differently online. [link to studies on identity formation online]

This ties in to my chapter on “new ways of speaking”, and on knowing ones audience. I found I represented myself quite strangely on an academic list serv. Writing to hundreds of Ph.D’s somehow motivated me to write very differently, with more attitude, than I might normally. The language I used, call it pretentious, changed and to date I can barely re-read it.

Similarly, when I first started the blog, I would allow myself to comment on other peoples blogs more freely. The comment’s I would leave would be immediate gut reactions to posts. Sometimes I’d just be trying to make a joke, some stupid one-liner. And guess what, later on it stayed there as a stupid joke. It would have been fine in passing, but dumb jokes stick around forever in the blogsphere.

On many of the academic listservs I participate on, emotional outbursts frequently occur. I was relieved to see other people embarrassing themselves as much as I had, and eventually I got used to it, realizing we are all human beings who spazz out, act irrational, miss our morning coffee etc. Being able to send messages instantly means  that those spazzy emotional outbursts are bound to get archived. So be it.  Does this change the way I present myself? Absolutely. Can I avoid future embarrassment online? I doubt it. It’s a different place, but it’s still real life. I have no doubt that after going through such experiences, that online actions are every bit as real and embodied as offline ones.

Going back to Wacquant’s introduction, he discusses the first chapters goals:

“A reflection on an experience of apprenticeship in progress, this first part of the book pursues a triple objective. The first is to contribute precise and detailed ethnographic data, produced by means of direct observation and intensive participation, on a social universe that is all the more unknown for being the object of widely disseminated representations.”

I am an apprentice anthropologist, a student-researcher if you will, engaging myself online. Cultural anthropology is widely mis recognized, misinterpreted, and basically misunderstood outside the discipline. Anthropology bloggers are a new public face of anthropology, (as are the Human Terrain military anthropologists). That cultural anthropology is not well understood reflects a poor relationship between mass media and anthropologists. Perhaps anthropologists were irrelevant and uninteresting, or perhaps they were ignored because they were saying something unpopular. Thankfully Anthropology bloggers are playing a role in re-representing anthropology in the mass media, as the chapter, “Human Terrain System meet the Blogsphere” will detail.

The blogsphere is so widely disseminated, that it too can ‘mis-represent’. The blogsphere is filled with unedited drafts, drunken rants, emotional outbursts, passionate engagement, and yes bias. Already I am guilty of misrepresentation to some extent. When I blogged Johannes Fabian’s conference at Concordia, who would have guessed I would dominate Google’s index for a period of at least three weeks. As one discussion among many its contribution would be great, but as the only discussion available it can cause trouble. In other words, you need to be tapping into a crowd.

[link to online community and personal networks -> “tapping into wisdom of the crowds”, and filtering information].

[moving all these undeveloped crap posts to Diigo if it works out]


Wacquant, Loic. 2006. Body & Soul.  Oxford University Press.

More friction – Wadley reviews Tsing

I just found an interesting review of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s book, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. In it the author criticizes Tsing’s literary style, arguing that it will fail to convince the right audiences:

“Despite the interesting stories she weaves together on topics of considerable environmental and social significance, Tsing’s motivation to be “a hair in the flour” (p. 206)–that is, to “speak truth to power” or to be a fly in the ointment–is unfortunately and severely undermined by her own writing style (which has nonetheless become clearer and considerably less dense than in her first book, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen). Coming from the humanities end of the American anthropological continuum, her “evocation” and clever literary turns-of-phrase will simply put off most of those who need to read of these things–foresters, ecologists, policy-makers, and the like. (I would argue that the usual culprit of postmodernism is not the main issue here.)”

I’m too tired to comment properly, but there are some important links between audience and activism that this comment brings up.  The reviewer clearly holds contempt for anthropology’s literary side, but maybe he has a point. Are policy planners, foresters, and ecologists the most important people to target to bring about change? Is Tsing’s audience a small group of ‘literary’ academics? Or is the writing style an appeal to a broader public? I haven’t read her first work, but Wadley points out she took on a “less dense” writing style. Who influences policy planners, foresters, and ecologists?

So many audiences… makes advocacy work through scholarship a real challenge. He continues:

“Over the next few years, like James Scott’s “resistance” and “legibility,” it will launch a spate of writing using “friction” and her other neologisms; one will not be able to attend the annual meeting of the AAA without bumping into numerous presentations about it. But will it become the hair in the flour that it should be? I fear not.”

And Tsing made this point, that she had misgivings of academic scholarship being a meaningful/effective vehicle for activism.  I suppose the difference is Wadley wants to target different people to make things happen.  And yes, I’ll throw “friction” into the thesis somewhere. lol.

Reed L. Wadley.  2007.   “Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, 2005, Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection.(Book review).”    Borneo Research Bulletin.

[If audience = academics, does scholarship work as an agent of change?]

[Don’t mask ‘getting a degree’ with ‘saving the world’]  -> anthro’s often produce more than just a thesis. The act of being there can be positive (or negative). It’s wrong to assume the ‘thesis’ is the most important outcome of a research project. Journal articles, theses, etc –> academic audience, but during the research more important actions/dialogs occur.


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