Archive for the ‘“Writes of Passage”’ Category

Moving along

I’m working to build back some momentum, and I really appreciate the interest and encouragement others have shared recently – it worked – things are starting to roll. Coherently? Perhaps not, but I’ll take what I can get.

A big thanks to Alexandre Enkerli, Max Forte, Jeremy, Lorenz Khazaleh, and Socect, who have helped dig chapter 2 out of its grave. It still has all sorts of issues and I still want/need to rewrite it, but I’ve come to the realization this thing isn’t going to be perfect, and rather than blame myself, I’m going to blame its nature. A thesis is meant to suck. That’s why people don’t read them, and that’s why people don’t usually share them. So I apologize for breaking with tradition, and thank you to those who have bothered to read it – even if it made no sense whatsoever, having far too many run on – and brutally hyphenated – sentences.  I’m pretty sure however, that I could shrink the chapter into 2 pages and do the world a favour.

Instead of spamming the blog with the drafts, I’ll just link to the permanent pages from now on when there is something new up there. This hopefully will make room to post some thoughts about how the project has gone, what sacrifices I made in terms of my own standards to get here, and if all goes well some discussions about everything else that has gone on in the past year. After traveling through Mexico and Sri Lanka I spent a fair bit of time hanging out in traditional anthropological settings. i talked politics, spoke with all sorts of people in marginalized war torn communities, and well, decided to write about the Internet and open access publishing! It’s been quite the journey – and along the way I met a lot of very helpful individuals. Hello Brent of Zipolite. No I haven’t read the 100 references you wrote down for me to include in this thesis. I have the list and I’m hoping to read one or two more of them before I hand this thing in.

I also ran into a few vegetarian and vegan activists active in academia. Hello Cornelius and Masala Meatballs! Food, farming, and animal cruelty are an easy research project for me to get behind. I can see joining the food and ethics academic debates if I ever successfully complete this thesis. Or I’ll get a job. Anyways, I’ll finish it first and figure out the big picture later.

The Introduction remains the same.

Chapter 2v3 has been updated.

Chapter 3 draft is now up. It’s missing a few sections, but its a start.

 

In other related news,

As I struggle to complete this thesis, a friend of mine very active in the undergrad program recently posted some thoughts about his future. He’s a passionate undergraduate anthropology student who wasn’t accepted into any graduate programs. He’s applying for *any* kind of work to pay off his student loan, and feeling exceptionally frustrated about the future. I can’t help but feel terrible feeling ambivalent about academia. Then again, I’ve quite enjoyed it so I won’t worry about troubling facts. Questions about my own future have probably played into my slow as !@#! writing style. I realize everyone who finished there degree already knew exactly what they wanted to do with it. I have never enjoyed that clarity!

Thankfully, his enthusiasm and frustration felt hitting a roadblock, have motivated my ass to get this thesis done. I’ve enjoyed my time and its time to move along so some of the more eager can join the fun. I just can’t believe they’d turn down someone who is actually that passionate about the subject. Finding someone who will talk anthropology 24/7 in the hallways of your school is not easy!!! don’t turn em away people!

Another Chapter 2

Meant to post this up last week then got carried away having fun again.

2. A Changing Anthropology.

It has been suggested that ethnographers are tricksters who use rhetorical techniques to convince readers of the truth of their words (Crapanzano 1984). One such technique is the tale of entry, where one begins an ethnography by establishing the distance of ones subject, it’s ‘otherness’. It reflects the starting point of ones cultural transformation. I appreciate Crapanzano’s argument and in the past I enjoyed a righteous yet silent chuckle whenever such a tale of entry popped out in my assigned readings. Yet here I continue the tradition, not to deceive, but because having a common structure makes ethnographic tales easier to write. The true challenge facing ethnographers today is not that of truth, but of purpose – “why should we care if you were there or not? Why does this story matter to me?” So let us begin this ethnography with a twist, not with story of a journey into far off lands, but rather with a tale of a naïve student-researcher returning from a trip to Mexico:

‘Hey great to see you! Nice tan! I’m happy you are back!”

‘Thanks!’

‘Where did you go?’

‘Mexico’

‘Oh wow, what a great place for an anthropology project. Do you have pictures?’

‘umm.. yeah… well Mexico wasn’t really the ‘place’ for my anthropology project… I just had to get away… my project is on how academics share and make knowledge accessible online. You know, like open access publishing, blog…’

She looked at me for a brief second, then cut me off while looking at her friend, “Owen is soooooo funny.”

Turning back to me she excused herself, “I’m so glad you’re back. Your tan looks great! I have class and have to go. Message me k? Bye.”

‘umm.. yeah… see ya soon I guess.’ I replied. Not surprised at her reaction I could have expected to be cut off sooner. I always ran into trouble describing exactly what it was I studied, especially to friends and relatives who had never heard of cultural anthropology. I made a mental note to keep such descriptions as brief as possible.

Continue reading

How to present a thesis

Check out the 2010 Dance Your Ph.D. Contest. I’ll link  two of them, but there are more!

I’ve started swing dancing recently and if I ever do a Ph.D., I’ll be joining in!

2. A Changing Anthropology.

(another chapter 2 version in post form to sucker someone into reading it possibly)

(if you start to read this, you will fall asleep. The goal is to leave a comment at the bottom with the particular line you stopped reading at.)

Continue reading

Why the delay

[to explain, since this post is not very self-explanatory, this is a story about how two sections of my thesis have changed drastically over the summer – one section, on self-archiving, part of a larger discussion on open access, discussed the Mana’o Self Archiving Repository for Anthropology, which coincidentally, a day after writing this story, officially announced it is shutting its doors. It is also about my exposure to all sorts of different kinds of anthropology on the OAC. And yes, its been turned into a ridiculous story with absolutely no regard to objectivity or science. Enjoy.]

The thesis could, err… should?… have been finished in June. The topic was clear and arguments were starting to take shape. Yes, it should have been finished.

But as I was writing I was hit in the face with a tweet, which while not quite a lightning strike, ended up burning just the same. It was a news flash – one announcing the new Open Anthropology Cooperative.


Lemmings by Surreal Art
surrealart.com
Within a matter of weeks a thousand members had signed up to the cooperative, and with the encouragement of my thesis supervisor who had sent me an overzealous welcome to the OAC, I began to explore.  A thousand anthropologists in a room? Yes, very exciting. And a fantastic example an idea I had been developing in the thesis: “anthropology in public”. Funny thing is my supervisor bailed out on it after a week, being the wiseman he is.

Through the OAC I have been exposed to all sorts of anthropology. Kinds of anthropology no parent would ever allow their children to witness, and certainly not study. Yes, the OAC hit me head on, and it knocked me right out. Or perhaps I dove in head first and forgot to check how deep the water was. Either way I ended up unconscious floating out into an ocean. When I woke up I found I had drifted far away from home.

I woke up in the south of France. The weather was perfect, the wine was fantastic, and the girls were of course stunning. Anthropology you say? Okay then, let’s get back to the story – no, not the one about the girls. And not the one about the OAC, although I’ll share some of it here (that post will come very soon, once I get home). No, this story is about being delayed, and about why such delays have been exceptionally lucky.

As I said, the OAC hit me pretty hard. All sorts of emotions and reactions stirred as I wandered its classrooms. At first I was ecstatic to see so many anthropologists jump into the water. The thought of thousands of anthropologists sharing ideas openly was incredibly motivating – but I was pushed through that excitement pretty quick. Maybe it was the waves.

“Silent Scream” by Diane Dobson Barton. 15×16″ (38×40.6cm). Acrylic on canvas.
© Diane Dobson Barton 2002

Soon I realized that there were hundreds of shadow-anthropologists around me. Avatars of sorts, but with their mouths sewed shut. I wondered if with the hit to the head I’d lost my hearing. Thankfully a few voices came into focus. Some of these voices I’d encountered before in the blogsphere, others perhaps in my dreams. I listened for a while then decided to sing a few songs of my own. Others chimed in, and pretty soon there was almost a chorus playing along. Whale songs? As I said, I’d been hit pretty hard.

That feeling faded too. Soon the voices wouldn’t stop. I kept hearing the same voices over and over. I shut my eyes and listened carefully hoping to pick up on the chorus again but a louder, harsher voice dominated my ears. I screamed loudly hoping it would go away. It didn’t. My head started to pound, and I passed out again. This time with an empty bottle of rose (from Bandol).

I woke up confused and again on a beach. I felt strange, as I probably should have after dreaming so vividly about an anthropology cooperative. Or was it the rose? I could see a small island a short distance from shore. A red neon sign glowed above it, reading “Repository”. I remember stuffing messages into bottles and casting them off into the waves, hoping they would reach the little island. I remember it being a magnificent paradise, an oasis of hope. But I couldn’t remember if I’d corked the bottles, and I worried they never quite kept float.

And then the strangest thing happened. The big red light went out, and with it I could have sworn I saw the island start to sink.

Yes, this brings us back to my fortunate delay. Well, in time anyways.

I looked out again over the ocean but everything had disappeared. I couldn’t see the island. My head still pounded. Where did those lights go?

Strolling along the beach as one does in the south of France, I found three bottles washed up ashore, all corked. I opened them, tearing out the messages inside. Each paper was titled “Mana’o”. A clue perhaps. But where was that island again? I felt uneasy but comfortable. The air was warm and the sand soft. I lay down, resting my head in the sand.

Then I remembered. I was on an important quest. Travelers had warned me not to stray from the road, and no matter what, that I would tempted away from the path. They had warned me to take notes, to write as many details as possible in a magical book which they called “the field”. With those notes they said I’d find my way home. I surprised myself, looking at it, that I’d even organized the field into numerous chapters.

Like the notes in the bottles I’d found on the beach, one chapter read “Mana’o”. I opened the book to that chapter, and before me was a beautiful rendition of an island and with it a picture of the glowing sign “repository” that had disappeared. But none of the field notes made sense. Where was this place? How would I ever find it now that I could not see it? Was it even real?

And so I set off once again, wandering in search of a road, and I started writing again – this time painting the larger ocean.

“all those who wander, are not lost.” were the words of another traveler I’d met somewhere along the way.

“Bullshit” I thought.

I was bloody hell lost, and worst of all, I was lost in France. And my head hurt like hell…

[all that = OAC has proven to be an exceptional, and exceptionally depressing, field site – which while sometimes feeling like a kick in the face, has proven to be quite rewarding – funny how being kicked in the face can be appealing. I’ll be developing this much more soon, as after a few months of existence, some of the more terrible things have turned into quite positive ones…  and if you haven’t already go check out the OAC – i’d love to hear your thoughts!]

[my chapter on self-archiving proved to be way too naive, given that the Mana’o anthropology repository has gone under – servers broken, and manpower lacking, and well, overall willingness to keep it afloat – nonexistant… or at least.. i don’t know the story and hence can’t write about it hence its a wonderful thing to have delayed the thesis over the summer. ]

[sun and wine are nice. taking a break from anthropology lets you see just how unexciting it is, which is good when you are trying not to exaggerate in your thesis].

[all images copyright by their original owners – which each image links to…]

ethnographic sources

I’ve been moving ideas from this blog and others into “my” thesis. I’ve run into some interesting challenges that relate directly to having done so much research on a blog. For one, I cannot mask the identities of people I spoke with. Some people used pseudonyms, but others used real names.

You might say, “well shit, since it was all public in the first place, you don’t have much to worry about”,

to which I reply “well actually, it is all public but that doesn’t mean amplifying the message won’t have an affect on the author of it! If a post was embarassing to someone, certainly re-posting it in my thesis isn’t a good thing to do!”

Especially when everything I am writing about in the thesis has already been said on this blog somewhere, and in this way it is easy to track down original discussions.  Hence it is much harder to obscure such interactions.

Further, I’m writing about things other people have also written about. When discussing open access and peoples access to information, I have a number of sources to draw on. I can cite interviews done in person, other peoples books, and other peoples blog posts. By using interviews done by me it looks like I’ve done something original, whereas if I quote someones blog, it seems like I was lazy and didn’t do the work myself.

How do you feel about this? Have you ever used interview material instead of quoting published work, as a way of “making it your own”? It feels like a nice plagiarizing strategy. Take the basic argument from someone, then go out and “back it up” with “empirical evidence” developed in the form of face-to-face interviews.

In fact, I would say I can find everything I learned in interviews, on peoples blogs. Especially now that I know what to look for. I’m researching a topic people are already vocal about, and these online expressions are as informative as any interview I did in person. What arguments might exist for using interviews over public blog posts… (when it is easy to find the desired points in both places…)

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]

References:

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

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