Posts Tagged ‘online community’

a proposal revisited

Getting lost is part of a great adventure, but finding a path again took quite some effort. Part of this involved rewriting the introduction to my thesis proposal, as a way of tightening up the projects goals.


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.

community, the internet, and anthropology

Through the Media Anthropology Network I’ve been introduced to a wealth of information on social networks, online communities, and the troubles encountered using such terms. I like the word “community” to describe a group of identifiable people with some common relationship – ala “anthropology”. But the term community is used to describe many things, and hence using the word is about as descriptive as the word “culture” (another anthro favourite). Vague, general words that sound nice and are hard to use effectively.

In his essay “Localising the Internet beyond communities and networks” (2008), John Postill discusses some of the problems that a reliance on these words can bring. He brings up the work of one of my teachers Dr. Amit, writing:

“Amit cautions that expressions of community always ‘require sceptical investigation rather than providing a ready-made social unit upon which to hang analysis’ (2002: 14). Relying on emotionally charged, bounded notions such as community (or diaspora, nation, ethnic group, etc) is unwise, she adds, for there are numerous sets of social relations that cannot be brought under these banners.”

I often say I’m looking at the online anthropology community, but in my proposal I tried to steer clear of such a description, opting instead to focus on problems (and questions) rather than people and places. I think by leaving the “field” vague, I can use the term community in an unbounded sense. But Postill suggests some other terminology which I am happy to use but am not quite sold on their advantage:

” One advantage of field is that it is a neutral, technical term lacking the normative idealism of both public sphere and community.” [referring to social field]

Why I like the word community is, it will make sense to tech savvy internet users caught up in “2.0”. The community in this sense is the users, the authors, and the relationships in between. So its pretty vague, and has no sense of being bounded or coherent. I also have concern that using concepts like “social field” might bring unnecessary jargon specialist vocabulary – and probably I don’t quite get the difference yet. Is it mostly a matter of semantics and translation?

Postill writes:

“As I have argued earlier, community is a vague notion favoured in public rhetoric, not a sharp analytical tool with an identifiable empirical object. Amit (2002: 14) puts it well: ‘Invocations of community… do not present analysts with clear-cut groupings so much as signal fields of complex processes through which sociality is sought, rejected, argued over, realised, interpreted, exploited or enforced’ (my emphasis).”

I admit I’m a fan of public rhetoric, but I’m also a fan of Bourdieu so I’m happy to go either way. I’m pretty sure I need to read this article some more to understand what other differences such definitions bring. Can I use social field interchangeably? At that point, isn’t a “social field” just as problematic a concept:

“As I have argued earlier, social field is a vague notion favored in anthropological rhetoric, not a sharp analytical tool with an identifiable empirical object.”

I wonder if any of these terms can be used without a great deal of contextualizing. [And I haven’t had time for this essay to sink in, but I find that when I post ideas on this blog, I can’t stop thinking about them, so heres to thinking]

Some key distinctions discussed in Postill’s essay:

  • Social network analysis overemphasizes relationships at the expense of social other forms of capital (Thanks to Dr. Postill’s corrections below!)
  • Postill argues interactions do need to be taken into account, and can be worked into Bourdieu’s concept of a “social field”. [aka finding a middle ground]
  • Kinds of sociality – how do we describe the networks/communities/field I’m engaged in. [do I need a general concepts for this? I wonder if the bigger problem is trying to get around writing context by using generalizing concepts for sociality].

Apologies to Dr. John Postill, as I’m sure I missed a lot of important points, but thanks for a constructive essay discussing issues with the terminology and approaches. He brings up more discussion surrounding the essay on his blog.

Reaching out to anthropology students in the blogsphere

A new student run anthropology e-journal run by the National Association for Student Anthropologists (NASA) is inviting anthropology students at the undergrad and graduate levels to submit papers on inclusion, collaboration and engagement. Thanks for letting me know and for using the blogsphere to get the message out. Here is the website.

Details follow:

Attention grad and undergrad anthro students: Please
consider submitting an article to the new anthropology e-
journal sponsored by the National Assoc. of Student
Anthropologists (NASA). The call for papers (pasted below)
is organized around the theme for the AAA 2008 Annual
Meetings. Completed manuscripts of 1000 words should be
submitted by April 21, 2008 to
See below for more information…

The National Association of Student Anthropologists (NASA)
will launch its first online publication, The NASA e-
Journal, under the banner of the 2008 American
Anthropological Association conference theme: “Inclusion,
Collaboration, and Engagement.”

We seek scholarly submissions from undergraduate and
graduate students worldwide about the application of
anthropological theories and methods outside of academia or
across disciplines for the purpose of exploring,
problematizing, or addressing social problems. Have you
worked in an internship, co-op or another job as a student
anthropologist and wish to reflect on how you relied on your
anthropological training? Perhaps you collaborated with
students from other disciplines at a volunteer organization
and seek to describe the value you added from an
anthropological perspective? Is there a paper you submitted
for a service-learning class where you addressed a social
problem using anthropological methods? Have you done
fieldwork in a community where you sought to create positive
social change in the process of gathering data? Tell us
about it! Scholarly articles should be 1,000 words in length
and will be subject to a double blind review process.

We also welcome innovative commentary submissions to the e-
Journal. Commentaries are opinion or avant-garde pieces of
work which are the original work of the authors. These
submissions are to express the next generation of
anthropologists’ ideas, goals and beliefs of the direction
our discipline should head, be it locally, nationally or
globally. We seek a plurality of voices on this issue and
intend to raise awareness among fellow students as well as
more established anthropologists about the direction our
discipline is heading. Commentary submissions might include
such mediums as written pieces (1,000 words in length),
photo stories (10 photos + 1,000 words of commentary in
length) and videos/YouTubeC clips (10-minute maximum in
duration + 1,000 words of commentary in length)

Submission Guidelines:
Please submit a full 1,000 word manuscript for consideration
by midnight EST on April 21, 2008 along with any
accompanying materials.
. Authors should complete their submissions according
to the AAA style guide
. Submissions should be saved in Microsoft Word “.doc”
format with the file title being the first author’s last
name and first initial. (example: HebertM.doc)
. We invite authors to provide drawings, graphs and
maps to enhance the visual component of each article. These
should be included as separate attachments in the email.
Graphics should be saved as “.jpg” format. The file name
should be the first authors last name, first initial and
then the number of the photo. (example: HebertM1.jpg) Please
also include reference in your text where graphics should be
placed by inserting the above identifier in the text.
. Videos should be provided as a link (if located on a
site such as YouTube) or included as a graphics file in a
readily viewable format such as QuickTime or Windows Media
. Please send submissions to the e-Journal editorial
team with the subject heading “NASA Manuscripts – Vol. 1” at

Authors will be notified regardless if their work has been
selected for publication or not. We look forward to
publishing submissions for Volume 1 of the NASA e-Journal in
the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009.

How many journals can the anthropological community support?

Is open access a threat to traditional journals? Can they exist side by side, or is there a viable limit or advantage to maintaining a select few? Having asked my professors for interesting articles on online communities, I fell upon a discussion at the Media Anthropology Network regarding the feasibility of going open access which brought up a number of questions:

Given that most journals are understaffed, and underfunded, would an influx of open access journals stretch out the existing pool of reviewers too thin?

To answer this, I think there are interesting parallels to be drawn between open access publishing and open source software projects. Among open source projects, there are often competing developer communities working on very similar projects. The developers of the KDE desktop, and the Gnome desktop have both created excellent graphical environments that can be run on the free and open source GNU operating system. Arguments have been made to the effect that their talents are spread thin, and if they just worked together they could create something even better.

Over at, Eric Raymond, in a video interview, argues that “it turns out to be really important that theres a lot of fluidity and play and slip in the way that the linux world is organized basically as a bunch of little projects that people then sort of assemble horizontally into distributions but there are multiple competing distributions and if you don’t like a particular project its easy to plug in a competing project. Thats harder to do in the BSD world there distributions tend to be dominated by small elites and the distributions themselves are more rigid…

… that imposes a certain uniformity a certain rigidity that turns out to be a problem because if you have a policy disagreement or a philosophy disagreement with the elite that runs a particular distribution your only alternative really is to clone the entire distribution and go into competition with them and that means that the BSD world tends to be a lot more fractious and to have a smaller community and to have much more bitter politics than the linux community does… ” (

Having no experience with anthropological journals, I wonder how this argument holds up. Are traditional journals the small elite, with a smaller fractious community, and open access journals the new community charged Linux? But theres no reason existing journals can’t just go open access. And in the case of Linux and BSD, both are open source (with different license particularities). So here theres a difference between going open access, and the way we go about managing the production as a whole.

Along with arguments to go open access, are arguments to open up the review process and to speed up publishing times. A lot of it has to do with control, and responsibility to the larger community.

I think its important not to over complicate the matter however. Peer review is one thing, open access publishing is another, both can also work together. But if peer review is a challenge for journals, in that finding reviewers is a challenge and a burden on the academic community, then perhaps there are ways to open up the review process as well (having never published I am only beginning to look into all the pitfalls of anonymous vs public review, etc).

In my own experience I am pretty much clueless, even as a grad student, as to which journals bring prestige and which don’t. I certainly go out of my way to cite papers I find online -(aka out of my way to avoid digging through actual library shelves).