Posts Tagged ‘sharing knowledge’

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. ]

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”

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.

Resistance Studies Magazine on Sharing Knowledge

I just got a Facebook update from Resistance Studies Magazine. In it, editor Christopher Kullenberg discusses the issue of access to information and internet regulation:

”  – For centuries the printing press has not only been a gate-keeper for the distribution of knowledge, it has also been fragile towards censorship, and highly dependent on economical interests. Of course, some actors in the media industries wish to conserve this order. The internet allows for the Resistance Studies Magazine to distribute articles globally, without spending more than a few Euros to host our site. Academic knowledge does not have to be trapped in the claws of anti-market institutions, such as the great publishing houses. We can destabilize these power-relations by way of creativity and sharing. As long as the Internet is uncensored, which unfortunately is not the case, not in Sweden, and not in other countries either, anyone can download our articles for free. In the long run, this European Union directive will lead only to building protective walls against the free transfer of knowledge.”

Just tagging these quotes away to support the upcoming thesis writing marathon. Be sure to check out the magazine online, and if your interested they also have a call for papers detailed on the magazines website (which happens to make great use of blog style – posting frequent information updates).

ethics and ethnography

Native Anthropologist has written a great post about the ethical challenges of fieldwork, discussing the kinds of information one can publish and how that material might be used at the expense of the communities involved. He wonders what kind of distance one needs to maintain when collaborating with others, and how one can do this as a native anthropologist.  He writes:

“I had to find a way to write an article with enough meat to qualify for publication in the magazine, and therefore make my friend proud, but with just enough not to incur the wrath of the Nigerian embassy in Cotonou, or to call undue attention to my research.”

I hope it’s okay to draw attention to his blog!

the question of culture

How can culture inform my investigation into the distribution/publishing of anthropological ideas? Is the concept of culture (in a relativistic sense) necessary to be considered anthropology?

I will be asked “what makes this anthropological” and I’m developing a few answers in advance. One argument I can use is “it’s ethnography”, but as Johannes Fabian stated, ethnography is really quite trivial in the way it gets information. For Fabian it isn’t about information gathering at all. [although this argument needed more backing up to really understand his position].

This research is also based on participation online, so I am an active agent creating events, and recording them. In fact recording the events is an event in itself [gotta love reflexivity].

But so far I’ve ignored culture. Largely on purpose, since I used to play around with anthropology essays by doing a search and replace to remove all the places the word “culture” was used, and I found all the essays read much better after that. [ala, the word culture wasn’t explaining anything, it was just there to emphasize relativism].

So how does blogging play out in different contexts? [different cultures if you want]. How different are anthropology departments around the world?

By looking at Concordia specifically, I have a very limited view of academia.  For example, in a discussion I had recently it was pointed out to me that I see anthropology very differently than others since I am in a program with only 8 master’s students, and where the size of the program has been progressively shrinking.  Other universities might have growing departments and see the discipline very differently.

Pamthropologist has been extremely helpful in providing me with insights from other universities. I really appreciate hearing how limited her student’s access to information is. They can’t read anthropology journals since their library doesn’t subscribe to them. I on the other hand have access to most of them. As her discussion with Michael Wesch showed, this can profoundly change the way one can approach education. Wesch wants students to learn to sift through vast archives of information to learn to evaluate the credibility and authority of a text. Pamthropologist emphasizes the value of lecture, and given the lack of material her students can access, it makes a lot of sense. This points to different academic environments.

So within North American universities, there are huge differences in the way one can approach anthropology and anthropology online.

Living in Montreal gives me access to another possibility. I can examine language issues in anthropological blogging. For example, in Max Forte’s recent post on Canadian bloggers, he lists English ones and misses out on the French ones [we’ll avoid other issues that came up with that post!].

This is interesting because coming from one location we have English and French universities. Discussions between them depend on bilingual speakers. Students in French speaking universities are often required to read English essays, but English students never need to read French ones! Online, these divides can take different shapes. Alexandre Enkerli and Lorenz Khazaleh blog in multiple languages and even if one can’t read it one can certainly see that these other language groups exist. Further, some staff at Concordia blog in French only.

I’ve also had a few links coming from Spanish language blogs, and I feel terrible in that I can’t actually contribute to the discussion on their blogs, but I very much appreciate that they read mine.

The question of “being public” also takes shape differently in different contexts. During the Media Anthropology’s seminar on Erkan Saka’s paper on blogging as a research tool Erkan discussed the way he had to write strategically given the political nature of his research. At the same time he was quick to criticize those who would bring “orientalist” arguments saying that it would impossible for women in Turkey to blog like he does. He argued they can and do.

Looking at publishing and blogging, it’s important to look at these issues. I don’t like the word culture, nor do I like general depictions of culture. I do however appreciate that a dominant English language publishing industry profoundly affected academia in the colonies. During colonialism, and continuing now, academics are restricted in their ability to publish in particular languages. I’ll be digging up research done on this in the next while, and I’d love to hear your recommendations for readings on publishing, language, and colonialism. Or just on publishing and language.

Writing for ourselves

As this research project progresses I keep coming back to the question “who are we writing for?”. Clearly there are a lot of different answers to this question, but I have been quite surprised to hear how few academics I speak with actually want their work to be shared publicly. For many academic writing isn’t meant to be read broadly – it is written with a specific audience [supervisors, tenure promotion committees] as a kind of rite of passage as opposed to an act of sharing knowledge.

This came up again during a recent seminar hosted by the Media Anthropology Network. I didn’t follow the seminar closely enough to summarize it here, but what struck me was the response to a suggestion to make a Youtube video to publicize the project being discussed. The response to this suggestion was quite dismissive –

“Contrary to David’s opinion I find Michael Wesch’s Youtube work
to be slick, superficial.  He is too much like a second rate McLuhan. As to his suggestion that I “prepare a youtube version of at least part of the Oak Park project – that way it can engage and interact with a whole other audience.” I actually cringe at the idea.  What little I know about YouTube is that consists mainly of stupid pet tricks, stupid human tricks and million of really really bad rock bands.  I know there are some really interesting clips and that some of Rouch’s films are available there but the “whole other audience” that David alludes to consists mainly of 15 year olds and that is not exactly who I had in mind as a new audience. Perhaps I am showing my age but too much of the material available on YouTube is too adolescent for my tastes. Before I retired I even thought the undergrads I taught had values that I abhorred.  God knows what the people who love stupid pet tricks would do with my work?  I prefer not to know.”

So here we have a perfect example of the kind of academics who simply do not want to share their work with a broader public (although the project does have a website even with his dislike of the youtube audience). For them anthropological productions are a very specific, specialized form of knowledge which are of interest only to a select group of academics.

The point I want to make is that anthropology journals are not “failing” to get ideas out there, since many authors simply do not want to share them in such a public fashion. The “pay to access” model works very well for many academics who want to filter out members of the public, or for those who see anthropological writing as being of little interest to anyone but other anthropologists.

The Media Anthropology Network’s mailing list provides a place for academics with specific interests to share ideas and argue with each other with less public feedback than say, a blog post. It’s fascinating to compare the kinds of discussions that take place given the increased amount of audience specialization.

The discussions are honest and extremely heated, and they are not anonymous. At the same time, a digest form of the discussion is made available online for anyone to read once the seminar finishes. I’m finding it really interesting to look at how audiences are managed in academic discussion.

random notes/tags –

[limited distribution is intentional]

[Is it rude to bring list serve discussions into the blogsphere? This post is not meant as an attack on the author, the quote is quite informative. Is it rude to leave his name out? This isn’t plagiarism, you can follow the media anthro link to read the whole thing]

[it’s not the publishers, it’s the academics, who want to limit the audience – to some extent anyways]

[public engagement – necessary or not? For some yes, others no.]

[People love to attack Michael Wesch! And they keep missing out imho.]

[the quote really shouldn’t be read alone, it comes out of a long discussion and the context is missing. ]