You can think about something a very long time, but some things are transient and no matter how frequently you change it, it will need changing again- like this proposal. I’ll update it, but only under orders.
[THE ORDERS CAME…]
I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions, and I’m making an effort to remain flexible to accommodating new perspectives and directions.
Download it or read it below,
Sharing knowledge: How the internet is fueling change in anthropology.
A research proposal.
This research will examine how the internet is fueling change in anthropology, looking at how anthropologists share knowledge online. In this way the research will focus on the culture of publishing in anthropology – paying special attention to the role of new communication technologies. Through online participation, interviews and small surveys, the research will explore what is unique about new communication mediums and how they are changing anthropology. As an ethnographic project it will explore ways of participating and engaging online communities of anthropologists. Unlike traditional projects, this research will be shared publicly on a blog as a way of engaging others to share their thoughts and opinions while the research progresses. The blog will serve as a field site created to invite collaborators to share their own perspectives, and in doing so it will explore opportunities and challenges of online collaboration. This experience will serve as an interesting backdrop to investigate traditional publishing. What happens to anthropology when it serves different audiences?
To inform this question the project will investigate the motivations researchers have for publishing in particular venues. Who are they writing for, and where? A series of stories, informed through interviews, will detail individual researchers publishing experiences. This will form a backdrop to look at new publication opportunities online, and it will investigate the choices anthropologists make to disseminate and develop their ideas. This will touch on issues of peer review, authority, tenure opportunity and discipline, as well as issues of audience, distribution and production of anthropological work, accessibility, and style. It will highlight new participants, new audiences, and new ways of speaking in anthropology.
The research will be carried out online and at Concordia University. Blog interactions, interviews with researchers, and email surveys, will serve to inform current issues surrounding the dissemination of anthropological work. A major goal of this project will be to engage anthropologists in debates surrounding public engagement and accessibility to knowledge.
(v1.0 below… still needs an update)
the desire for a ‘decolonized’ anthropology – new audiences, new participants, and new subjects
The internet with its new publication mediums has provided new outlets for new voices. The lack of control over information has opened up the conversation space which had previously been controlled through publishers, and through peer review. To what extent then has anthropology taken advantage of these new ways of communicating to perhaps “decolonize” the discipline? Vassos Argyrou writes:
“The academic game is the game of knowledge (and ignorance) which inextricably, if not always intentionally, is also a game of power. The only way to put an end to this game (the only way under the conditions of domination, that is) is to play it better than the players themselves.”
Are new communication technologies changing the way the game is played? The internet has given anthropologists the means to reach a much larger public. Thomas Eriksen discusses a more engaged and public anthropology in his book “Engaging Anthropology” (2005). He writes,
“anthropologists have an enormous amount of knowledge about human lives, and most of them know something profound about what it is that makes people different and what makes us all similar. Yet there seems to be a professional reluctance to share this knowledge with a wider readership… Anthropological monographs and articles tend to be dense, technical and frankly boring, and in many cases they are preoccupied with details, allowing the larger picture to slip away from sight.” (Eriksen 2005)
Where can we find this public anthropology? In what ways are the new technologies on the internet changing the boundaries of anthropological communication? Dr. Forte writes:
“If I want to know what is “new” in anthropology, then I would tend not to look to well established chairs, with established axes to grind, with their well worn routines, speaking out of the same old journals, to the same old audiences, in the same old way.”
This research will explore new participants, new audiences, and new ways of speaking in anthropology. Is anthropology online the same old anthropology just done in public? If not, what makes it different? This research will examine how anthropology takes shape on blogs, in open access journals, and other online spaces like Youtube, twitter, and other social networking platforms. It will examine the challenges new forms of anthropology face in finding recognition. Kerim Friedman writes:
“With new options come new challenges. The benefits of opening up scholarship to a wide range of voices must be balanced against moral obligations to protect our informants. The rapidity of online publishing must be squared with the painstaking demands of peer-review. The hopeful possibilities of an open democracy of online fora must be tempered by a recognition of technical, linguistic, and social barriers to participation.”
The research will examine how new boundaries for online communication alter the ways anthropology is presented. How do we value what is written on someones blog as opposed to in an academic journal? Do they compliment or work against, each other? I will seek out consultants from the publishing industry and from the faculty at Concordia to develop perspectives from both authors and publishers. These questions will explore the “scientific field” of anthropology, as Bourdieu develops in “The Peculiar History of Scienfitic Reason” (1991):
“The scientific field is a field of forces whose structure is defined by the continuous distribution of the specific capital possessed, at the given moment, by various agents or institutions operative in the field. It is also a field of struggles or a space of competition where agents or institutions who work at valorizing their own capital – by means of strategies of accumulation imposed by the competition and appropriate for determining the preservation or transformation of the structure – confront one another.” (Bourdieu 1991)
By exploring classical publishing mediums in comparison with new online ones, this research will hopefully shed light on the way prestige and power are maintained. For those seeking theory, it will certainly contribute to my understanding of the social reproduction of anthropology. An understanding of the unique culture of the internet will be explored by looking at how academic publishing, and anthropology are reinvented on the internet.
Diane Lewis writes “anthropology, along with other social sciences, must develop a rationale which operates, in theory and in fact, in the interests of all peoples.” (1973) According to the Tri-Council Policy on Ethical Research Involving Humans, research works to “expand frontiers of knowledge” (Tri-Council Statement. 1998:14) – but the question the open access movement asks is, who’s frontier is expanded? Willinsky defines the access principle writing “a commitment to the value and quality of research carries with it a responsibility to extend the circulation of such work as far as possible and ideally to all who are interested in it and who might profit from it.” (Willinksy. 2006:xii) Scholarship has always been is about sharing knowledge, but the question is with whom is it shared? With new technologies come new possibilities for sharing this knowledge – are blogs and other new mediums targeting new audiences?
This research will develop an understanding of the publishing culture in anthropology by creating a life history narrative of a journal. It will explore how journals are recreating themselves online – and how they see the future landscape of academic publishing. It will also develop narratives from the perspective of authors. Andrew Albanese discusses the importance journals have had in the distribution of scholarly productions:
“Professor of computer science Stuart Shieber… cited spiraling serials costs for forcing subscription cuts and reducing intellectual exchange. “There is no question that scholarly journals have…allowed scholars to distribute their research to audiences around the world,” Shieber said, “but the scholarly publishing system has become far more restrictive than it need be.”
(Shieber in Andrew Albanese 2008)
In this way new communication technologies have opened up possibilities beyond what traditional journals are currently offering, but in the past journals were also new technologies that worked to spread ideas. Where academics once spent hours researching through meticulously indexed books and articles to find material on library shelves, students today are using online databases to quickly filter through volumes of journal articles. But these databases restrict access rights and not everyone is able to access the same material. University libraries are increasingly unable to pay subscription fees to access all the available journals (Willinsky 2006) – and in this way economic realities structure the distribution of anthropological productions. At Concordia, library administrators along with the anthropology department decide which journals the library will subscribe too. Increasingly libraries opt only for online distribution to cut costs. Further a selection of journals must be maintained – access to all material would cost more than most libraries can afford. This selection of journals works to filter the large variety of journal content into what the libraries and university departments consider the most important and most prestigious content.
By narrowing down the selection of available journals, the ability to get new kinds of ideas out there has become increasingly restricted. Bergstrom discusses statistics collected by the Association of Research Libraries:
Between 1986 and 1998, real prices of academic journals approximately doubled, while real library budgets for acquisitions of books and journals rose by only about 50 percent. During the same time interval, the number of academic journals published increased by 60 percent. Libraries responded to the increased pressure on their acquisitions budget by cutting the number of books purchased by 26 percent and the number of journal subscriptions by 6 percent.
(Kyrillidou 1999 in Bergstrom 2001)
He writes that university presses and professional associations charge far less than commercial presses, and he argues that the quality is the same in commercial and other journals – making the increased costs unjustified. So how did these commercial publishers increase the prices so drastically? According to Bergstrom, they capitalized on their growing prestige in a time when journals and the discipline of Economics was rapidly growing. He argues that the commercial presses actively attracted prestigious editors and contributors whereas others made no attempt to expand. In this way, the commercial presses met the needs of a growing scholarly publishing industry. Once they had locked in the editors and contributors, the commercial presses increased their subscription fees drastically. Bergstrom asks a very important question: Why wouldn’t scholars support and move to lower cost journals? He develops on the notion of “coordination games”, and game theory writing:
“In a coordination game, each player chooses an action from among several alternatives and each player’s payoff increases with the number of other players whose choice is the same as her own. An equilibrium is an outcome such that given the actions of others, no player could individually benefit by switching to another action. Coordination games commonly have many different equilibria, in each of which all players choose the same action.”
Or as common language might put it, “we all just follow the herd”. So how are anthropologists adapting to an increasingly restrictive publishing environment? An interim report published by Harley et al. (2008) discusses the role of new technologies among faculty at various American universities – they write,
“Finally, the advice given to pre-tenure scholars was quite consistent across fields: focus on publishing in the right venues and avoid too much time spent on public engagement, committee work, writing op-ed pieces, developing websites, blogging, and other non-traditional forms of electronic dissemination (including courses).” (Harley et al 2008)
This reveals the importance journals play within anthropology. Promotion decisions are often based on simple rules that assign value to publishing in the proper places. But many of these journals restrict the rights of authors to distribute their work, and the few prestigious journals restrict the ability for new kinds of anthropology to receive exposure. New internet communication technologies are changing this. There are alternatives to publishing in costly journals – ie: e-journals, lower cost presses, blogs, websites. Ingemar Bohlin writes :
“The significance of the Internet to academic publishing is comparable with that of the printing press and the scholarly journal: in the course of the process thus set in motion, the nature of the learned journal, as well as of scholarly communication more generally, may well be reconfigured altogether.”
The internet has provided new communication mediums that both challenge and compliment traditional journal publishing. Bohlin argues that many journals moved into online formats to counter the threat of self-archiving – the process by which authors retain the right to publish and make their material available on their own website, or in a self-archiving repository. Further, the internet is being used in entirely new ways – allowing a more media rich anthropology to thrive. This research will explore how these mediums are used, how they are different, and how the relate to traditional forms of academic knowledge sharing. Bohlin differentiates between formal and informal modes of communication, arguing that:
“Formal publication confers on texts appearing in this form a degree of integrity and accessibility that ideally allows readers to consult, without hindrances of a social or institutional kind, sources whose shape remains fixed for centuries. This property of the published record sets it clearly apart from informal communication, which is typically both intended for a restricted audience and far more ephemeral in nature. Two of these vital functions of academic publishing – quality control and archiving – are unique to formal communication, while the third – the distributive function – is an aspect of both the formal and informal modes. The distributive function occurs in both spheres, simply because transmission and distribution of messages of any kind is what we mean by communication.”
Having just written a report on blogging and anthropology, it is interesting to attempt to place blogging, and other forms of online communication within this dichotomy of informal and formal. As anthropologists use new technologies to reach broader audiences, how are the formalities of academia changed? How does the archived nature of online communication affect this?
Open access journals work to distribute knowledge so that more people can access it – they make the material available freely to those interested. It works against the economic restrictions on access. Questions however remain as to the benefits of open access and the ways open access has been taken up by anthropologists. Peter Suber discusses the growth of the open access movement:
“If a mature movement is one with a literature so vast that only specialists can master it, then the OA movement has been mature for several years. But that only means that much is known about OA. Much is still unknown, and much is changing so that much of our old knowledge doesn’t apply to new circumstances.”
(Peter Suber 2008. OA Listserv)
This research will attempt to contribute, in some small way, to the growing discussion surrounding open access, looking at how anthropologists produce articles/media, who they write them for, and how they distribute and share them. Ian Harper (2005) argues:
“… to understand our academic enterprise better, we need to pay more attention to the geography of publishing and its politics; the view, if you like, of the world from the perspective of the circulation of our texts tells us much about the political economy of academia. We should be more aware of the implications of where we publish for the diversity of publication ventures; what we do can undermine that diversity, or, strengthen it.” (Onta and Harper 2005)
These questions will address how the internet is making anthropology more accessible, how it reaches new audiences, and how it engages new participants in new ways.
Wheres the field?
This project builds on recent developments in ethnographic research which have adapted traditional ethnographic methods to new settings. The field in this study will be multi-sited, moving between spaces on the internet and at Concordia University. As part of the research a field will also be created – in the form of a blog, to announce and debate ideas surrounding the project. In this way, it is both multi-sited ethnography (Wittel 2002, Amit 2000) and virtual ethnography (Hine 2000). It also incorporates field creation – the act of bringing people together into a space that did not previously exist – as promoted by Forte (2002, 2005). However this projects goals are centered around problems and questions rather than people and places – and in this way the field is social rather than physical. Wittel writes “ Instead of the field being used to connote locality, to “the here” and “the elsewhere”, the field should rather be conceptualised as “political location”.” (Wittel 2000) Another way of approaching the “field” of anthropology online is suggested by John Postill who promotes Bourdieu’s concept of “social field”. The social field is defined as:
“Fields are systems of objective relations that are constituted by various species of capital. Positions in a field are related to one another, not directly through interactions or connections, but in terms of exterior relations of difference, especially in regards to efficient forms of power (capital). The difference between a field and a social network is especially important to keep in mind. A field is defined by differential relations between properties while networks are defined by actual connections. Thus people who have very little interaction with one another can be grouped very close together in social space.”
This reflects attempts to move away from bounded conceptions of people and groups which can easily be misconceived. It also gives the ethnographer a way to analyze and observe online culture and place it within a broader context – looking at relationships between players, and looking at characteristics of “the game of anthropology” as social capital:
““Fields are alternatively understood as markets and games. Games are perhaps the best metaphor since it integrates illusio and habitus more readily. Each field, like a game, is only possible given players who ‘know-how’ to play and are inclined to play. Furthermore, the game and its stakes must be understood as the relationship of players on the field and their varying ability to play the game. Thus the field is always in a state of flux as players struggle for command of the field. In terms of capital, the game metaphor points out why a goal in hockey does not count as winning chess.”
To explore these concepts the project will examine particular social dramas unfolding on the internet. The first such drama that this project will investigate is the way anthropologists and other interested parties have used the internet as a space to debate the involvement of anthropologists within the U.S. Military’s Human Terrain System. The blogsphere allowed immediate debate on a very controversial program. It will be interesting to look at such debates in terms of how anthropology is “played” online, and how a public arena changes how it is played.
In conclusion this research will explore the way anthropology has grown onto the internet and how it has changed. It will focus on communication and the way anthropologists distribute knowledge. In many ways it will deal with changing boundaries in academia and in anthropology. How are community boundaries changed online? Is it more interdisciplinary? In working for a more engaged and public anthropology, how are anthropologists using the internet to develop interest? How is anthropology changed in doing this? As an example, Michael Wesch’s Youtube video’s have developed a strong following, bringing anthropology into the public realm. The goal of this research is to explore how anthropologists are using the internet to create and share ideas – through a comparison of different distribution mediums (journals, e-journals, blogs, youtube videos). The project will also explore collaborative research methods in the growing field of cyberspace studies. It will contribute to the debates surrounding open access, public engagement, and collaborative research through an investigation into the ways anthropologists share ideas using new technologies provided by the internet.
By participating in the blogsphere, and within other online anthropology networks, I am becoming an active member within the anthropological community. I am also a student and in this way I will model this research to some degree on Loic Wacquants concept of being an engaged “apprentice” rather than a “participant-observer”. As an anthropology student and a blogger, it will be impossible for me to enter this research as a detached, objective observer. As Wacquant describes, the process will be of “… moral and sensual conversion to the cosmos under investigation” (Wacquant 2004:vii in Wacquant 2005). This prior engagement will make it easier to put experiences online into a broader perspective. This research will also be a collaborative one, whereby I will not seek out informants, but rather participants and collaborators. In this way, everyone will be an engaged actor, but through each others engagement with the topic, a more balanced perspective will be sought out.
As a collaborative project, the research “… foregrounds the goals and interests of our collaborators in the context of joint field and writing projects, it offers us an approach to highlight the voices, issues and concerns of our consultants in a unique way.” (Lassiter 2006) I will adapt the goals of this project in ways that are beneficial to those engaging in it. Such a method also brings new challenges in that conflicts must be worked out between participants. Lassiter writes,
“the problem of how “truth” is constructed aside, collaborative ethnography is more complicated than this critique suggests. Anyone who has entered into a collaborative agreement (ethnographic or otherwise) knows that the two or more parties must agree on some level in order to continue any given collaborative project.” (Lassiter 2006:20)
I am sure that such conflicts will occur, and as Lassiter suggests the project will incorporate strategies to work out ongoing conflict. Focus groups (both online and offline) will work to bring participants up to speed on how the research is progressing, and directions it will be heading. As a master’s thesis, the final publication decisions will lie on the project supervisor, which certainly restricts in some ways the way power is shared – but as much as possible the project will be collaborative in that it will be extremely transparent, inviting participation from all interested parties. It will invite discussion by creating a space for participants to communicate and voice concerns. As Lassiter argues, collaboration is not about collusion but rather about negotiating power, and in his discussion of his own experiences with collaborative projects he writes, “in the end, I think we all realized that while collaborative ethnography does not mean that alternative points of view cannot be represented.” (Lassiter 2006:20).
As part of this research I will incorporate a blog, nodivide.wordpress.com, which I will use as a space to share my ideas surrounding this research topic. I am actively engaging thoughts and opinions of others online. In this way this project hopes to be of interest to the larger anthropological community. This participation will be fundamental in establishing the kinds of connections necessary to engage and promote this research question within the community. It will also work as a means of announcing project plans and directions, as well as my presence and intentions to those involved. Alexandre Enkerli points out that there are numerous communication networks available to anthropologists online and he offered the following advice:
“Contrary to, say, mailing-lists, newsgroups, Web forums, and even nanoblogging, blogs aren’t really oriented toward conversation. Sure, conversations are possible and some blogs have numerous comments connected to each post. But even those conversations are typically author-controlled, author-centred, and authority-driving. In this sense, blogging is in fact the open version of “scholarly publishing.” But to make this point as strong as possible, you might pay lipservice to other online activities done by your informants.”
(Alexandre Enkerli 2008)
Beyond the blog, I will investigate other forms of knowledge sharing online to develop a discussion into new forms of online distribution in comparison with traditional ones.
Interviews and engagement
Through interviews with anthropologists at Concordia I will develop a number of personal narratives about experiences publishing in anthropology and about sharing ideas. The interviews will not only be about gathering data, but also about engaging people in the research. I will be encouraging anthropologists to think and reflect on these issues (accessibility, participation, style) and I will try and incorporate those perspectives. None of the interviews will be structured with a formal list of questions but rather the interviews will build on each other in an ongoing conversation. I will bring perspectives from one participant to another and in this way I will be less a classic researcher, and more a facilitator or motivator, asking people to engage their minds to these important research questions. As a “cyber anthropology” project, Skype, email, instant messenging and other technologies will be explored to obtain interviews from beyond the halls of Concordia.
As I hope to engage people and have participants share their thoughts and analysis, I will remain flexible as to the way people wish to be represented in the research. Participants will have the choice as to remaining anonymous in the final production, or to being disclosed. The same will go for collecting data where I will offer confidentiality (with signed consent forms) and in some cases anonymity (ie anonymous responses to blog posts asking for feedback).
To announce the research intentions and to gather feedback from participants, a blog will be a central research tool. Blogging is increasingly being used during the research process itself (Saka. 2006). It allows researchers a more responsive and timely medium, but it is also less controlled. The ability to quickly share and distribute ideas brings particular ethical challenges. The research blog will allow anonymous commentary to make it as easy as possible for participants to express ideas in such a public medium. As a public publication space, great care will be taken to obtain permission and feedback before posting any data collected during the research process. As Kimberly Christen discusses on the Remixing Anthropology blog,
“Within these new scenarios for collaboration and exchange come questions (and anxieties) about the properness of sharing—what information can be shared? What should be shared?”
(Kimberly Christen 2008. Remixing Anthropology Blog)
No information/data collected offline will be posted online without approval of those involved. The blog will explicitly declare its research intentions so that the project will be as open as possible. All participants will be fully aware of the goals and scope of this research.
As a collaborative research project ethical considerations are challenging. Lassiter writes:
“At the core of collaborative ethnography is the magnification of ethical and moral commitments, established in the field and extended into the writing of ethnographic texts. For example: while we are often quick to extend to ourselves the privilege of editorial license, we have not always been willing to do so for the people with whom we work-which for many ethnographers and their collaborators is not just a deeply political issue; it is also a profoundly ethical issue.” (Lassiter 2006)
This is perhaps the most challenging question for this research project. As a thesis project I am unsure to what extent I can engage in a collaborative editing and writing process. The best I can do is to promise ongoing discussion and feedback during the all parts of the research – ie: during the data collection phase and in the write up phase.
No children, or groups demanding special ethical considerations will be a part of this research.
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Erkan’s Field Diary
Another Anthro Blog
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