The “Applied” Regrets of Conrad Arensberg

At the end of his 1980 AAA presidential address,  Arensberg paused to lament bequeathing the term “applied anthropology” to the Society for Applied Anthropology, which he and Eliot Chapple helped found in 1941:

“In Ireland, for peasants in their demography and their farm inheritances on the one hand, and in America for people in industries and slums and reservations on the other, the generation of the New Deal years – as my friends and I were – moved on to follow such personal involvements in the fates that overcame our subjects in formal and informal organization under institutional pressures and in political and economic trends. We misnamed this move “applied anthropology” because it was a new turn to contemporary scenes. It was no longer concerned only with tradition. This misnomer, too late corrected to Human Organization, our journal’s name, lost for us the understanding of the profession that the new broadened, personalized ethnography fed back into theory and still does. It was the same move that led through later community studies and through worldwide peasant studies into the ecological strategies and network analyses of the later postwar decades down to the present.”

There is  a subtle, but powerful, critique in the paragraph above.  40 years prior to giving his presidential address, Arensberg missed a chance to infuse anthropology with a new perspective gained from work undertaken in venues which – at that time – were outside the purview of anthropology. Instead of a productive new avenue of research joining with the mainline of anthropology to improve the whole, a divide would form between the new “applied” (then practicing, public, and now design)  anthropologists and an “academic “anthropology.

At this moment in anthropology, it is worth reflecting a moment on Arensberg’s regrets. For one thing, it puts the lie (yet again) to the notion that theory is only developed in an academic context.  Secondly, he puts his finger directly on the strange centrifugal force in anthropology that always threatens to pull the center apart, or at least set it adrift.  Today there is a veritable army of anthropologists working in NGOs and corporations who are busy infusing their anthropological practice with ideas from development, design and other disciplines. Much like Chapple and Arensberg in 1941 they are potentially opening new areas of inquiry for anthropology. However, unlike 1941, the possibility now exists that the mainline of anthropological thought will shift over the next 10-20 years from the professoriate to the practitioner, and that the profession of anthropology will come to resemble engineering, medicine, business and law with anthropologists moving easily between professing and practicing.

 

Arensberg, C. (1981). Cultural Holism Through Interactional Systems. American Anthropologist, 83(3), 562–581.

Chico Rocks, and Berkeley…

I was back on the Chico State campus last week, and the new first year students are here, parents hovering nearby as they prepare to cast them out to wilds of Chico State.  The newly minted frosh are of course relishing this—they realize that Chico Rocks, and that they have finally managed to land where they are meant to be, if only they can finally ditch their parents, and seek out what the college president insists are that elusive “Chico Experience.”

 

So in this essay I will confirm:  junior you’ve made it.  I know that you could have gone to UC Berkeley, but somehow you managed to elude that destiny.  Some of you flat out turned down the offer of a free ride to Berkeley—and we thank you for having the gumption to do so.  Others of you were trickier and more devious in avoiding being cast into the huge classes of Berkeley, even though that was your parents’ greatest desire.  Perhaps you cut class during that 11th grade history exam in order to ruin your 4.0 gpa.  Or you got placed in detention during that stupid health exam for talking in class.  Maybe you hung out behind the gym doing who knows what.  Or perhaps you (like me) you flunked p.e.  Whatever it was, congratulations and well-done!  Now you’ve arrived at Chico State, and you can finally announce to all Chico Rocks, and Berkeley Sucks!

 

Now, go read this essay which will put into big words what you have known all along about the relationship between Chico and Berkeley.  Your parents are bound to be amazed at your learned erudition when you roll in next Thanksgiving.  And to top it off, the geek from you high school who made it into Berkeley (and refused to cut  the history test or hang out behind the gym) won’t really understand what it is about, and will stomp off huffing and puffing and announce “Sour Grapes!”

 

Back form reading the essay?  Good.  Now go out and drop that Accounting Class, and sign up for a Sociology Class.  Intro to Sociology (Sociology 100) will do—your goal should be to work yourself up to Classical Social Theory where you can learn more about the astonishing thoughts of not only Max Weber, but also Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, W. E. B. DuBois and Mary Wollstonecraft.  (Yes, that’s the same Karl Marx you might learn about in Berkeley, but we put a slightly different spin on it at Chico!).  I guarantee you that you will really like Mary Wollstonecraft in particular—all students do.  Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the first writers who described the weird dance between men and woman—and offered a virtuous formula for getting past the nonsense you, as new students recently freed of your parents, will likely be engaging in as you prance about the dining commons seeking “true love.”

 

So you’ve checked Chico State’s Fall 2012 schedule and found out that there are no sections of Sociology 100 available?  Yep, that’s right, the man (that’s Governor Jerry Brown and the State Legislature) cut a bunch of Sociology 100 sections this year so your parents and their friends do not have to pay as much in taxes as your grandparents did to the same Governor Brown (he never goes away).  But don’t worry, generational inequality is a problem which you will also learn about in Sociology.  The end result is that you can’t get your sociology class, even though your parents did.  So you better stick out Accounting, but be sure to be aggressive about getting it next semester.  That way I will hopefully see you in Classical Social Theory in your sophomore year!

TWIE: Liverpool-Keele Ethnography Symposium

This week in Ethnography, the 7th Annual Symposium on Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences will be held in University of Liverpool Management School, Liverpool, United Kingdom.  This conference is sponsored by the University of Liverpool Management School and Keele University, Institute for Public Policy and Management in association with the Journal of Organizational Ethnography.

This year’s theme: Ethnographic Horizons in Times of Turbulence

This is interesting for a few reasons.  A few years back, I was awarded a Coleman Fellowship to design and teach a course on anthropology and entrepreneurship.  At that point, I did not know about this conference or the sort of work those interested in this conference are conducting.  Ethnographic methods have been employed by those in “business” for a very long time but it has had a different incarnations while in the private sector.  More importantly, the intellectual reflection upon this work has always lagged behind the real developments by a few years.

But Ethnography is still on the move.  It started in Anthropology originally, and in the more resent past, Ethnography has made headway in the fields of Business, Design and Engineering.  Now, as the biographies of the keynote speakers clearly illustrate, Ethnography has made its way into Management and Organizational Psychology.

Keynote Speakers 

Professor John Weeks (IMD Business School, Lausanne)specialises in the study of leadership, culture, and change. He is a senior editor of Organization Studies. His book “Unpopular Culture” (2004) – an ethnography of corporate culture of a bank – considers why people complain about their work culture and what impact those complaints have on their organization. John found that, despite all dissatisfaction and efforts at culture change, the way things were carried out in the bank never seemed to fundamentally change.

Professor Gideon Kunda (Department of Labour Studies, Tel Aviv University)is an internationally recognized ethnographer and expert in the area of organizational culture. His book of 2006 on engineering culture is a classic in the field. His latest book (with Stephen Barley), “Gurus, Hired Guns and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge Economy” examines the social organization of temporary work among engineers in Silicon Valley.

Professor Karen Ho (Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota) published an ethnography of Wall Street in 2009. There she uncovered a culture of “Liquidity”— where people and jobs are seen as tradable and only the moment counts. Much about the way the financial world works has more to do with the values and culture of the bankers rather than more often stressed impersonal and autonomous market forces. Currently Karen focuses on studying the subject of micro-financing disadvantaged groups.

Dr Simon Down (Newcastle University Business School) has been an entrepreneur in the independent music sector as well as a writer before becoming an academic. He is the author of two books, “Narratives of Enterprise: Crafting Entrepreneurial Self-identity and Enterprise” (2006) and “Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Small Business” (2010). Simon’s interest in entrepreneurship ranges from small business regulation, “entre-tainment” (i.e. enterprise and popular culture; ‘Dragons Den’, ‘The Apprentice’) and the history of enterprise and entrepreneurialism.

With an annual conference and a new journal, the fledgling field of “Organizational Ethnography” is off to a good start.

I end with a question: Where will Ethnography be found next?  By “where”, I mean an established academic discipline with enough infrastructure and capital to formally set up its own brand of ethnography as Liverpool-Keele Ethnography Symposium has done.  My wild guess is Nursing but my reasoning behind this will have to wait for another post.

Immigration Trials and Tribulations

I came across a review “Green Card Stories: A Visual Catalog of Immigrants Trials and Tribulations” of a new book photo book.  The review is by a writer for The Atlantic, Maria Popova, and focused on the role that determination, sacrifice, and stamina play in navigating the complicated immigration in the United States.  As the book (and reviewer) note, it takes grit and determination to satisfy immigration law, and many end up spending years, and hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on application fees, lawyer fees, and so forth.  And indeed, I know that this is true, since to bring my German wife to the United States in 1988, I dealt with this.  For us it took hundreds of dollars in fees and multiple trips to Embassies and Immigration offices in distant cities and three years before the green card to which she was entitled under the law showed up in our post box.  My favorite conversation with an immigration officer occurred after waiting in line for five hours at the San Francisco Immigration office went something like this:

She: “Your file is not in our Computer!”

Me: “But your computer sent me a letter to come here.”

She: “But you’re not in our Computer.”

Me: “But you are the one called us….”

She: “Harumph.  Your papers will be processed.”

Me:  “What telephone number can I call if to check to see if things are going ok?”

She:  “The public number.”

Me:  “But that number takes several hours to get through.  And how do I ask for you in order to see that things are going ok?”

She:  “You can’t ask for me.  My name is secret, you need to call the public number.”

And indeed, I do agree that the determination of the immigrants profiled in the new book is commendable for dealing with systems and people like the woman I encountered.  But I really wonder why all this is really necessary?  Does immigration processing need to be so complicated?

As an American, I’ve been through immigration in Thailand, Tanzania, and Germany, in addition to my experiences with US immigration and my German wife. The US is the most expensive, the slowest, and the least efficient of the lot.  As a result, perhaps, the United States also has the largest percentage of “illegal” immigrants, perhaps because that is the country that has the most cumbersome immigration requirements.

Germany in 2007 was my favorite.  I was hired by a Germany university in 2007-2008 to teach for the year.  The university gave me the papers to get my work permit when I arrived, and I threw my marriage certificate in for good measure.  I rode my bike down to the local immigration office, where I waited in line about five minutes.  I showed the immigration officer the papers.  She swept the work from the university aside, and held up our marriage certificate:

“I see you have a real German wife!”

Yes, I certainly did.  She asked: “Can you produce the real German wife and a photograph of yourself?”

Certainly I could—would tomorrow work?  Yes certainly.  The next day we rode our bikes to the immigration office and I showed the immigration officer my real live German wife, and gave her the photographs.  She looked at her watch, and asked,

“How long are you going to stay in Germany?”

“One year,” I announced proudly.

Well, then, she said, “come back after lunch, and we will give you your passport with the visa!”

We went back after lunch, and lo and behold, there was my passport with the brand new German work permit, good for two years, which apparently was what I was entitled to under German immigration law.

Well, that’s my nice story about immigration agents.  And it really is my only nice one (Oh, except for the counters at Chinese immigration offices where you can rate the service by pushing on buttons with a smiley face or frown—but who is going to do that when all you want do is avoid pissing the officer with the entry stamp off?)

Now for some more nasty immigration stories.  There was the time I was briefly put in a rather nice locked “waiting room” in the Frankfurt airport for an hour or so because I left my passport on the plane.  I was threatened with deportation—anyway it was a lousy way to spend the Christmas Day, 2010.

Then there was the time I was “deported” from the United States to Mexico for unknowingly getting in the Express Lane at the border crossing.  The US Immigration Officer, thought he was a comedian (“Do you want to pay $5000, have your car seized, or drive back into Mexico?”).

And once I left my dad and his wife alone in Burundi for about an hour, while I drove 5 kilometers in to Tanzania to find the Burundian border guards who were drinking with their Tanzanian counterparts (talk about a good way to guarantee good international border relations—perhaps the Americans and Mexicans should give it a go).

And then I spent a whole week once in the Tanzanian Immigration office waiting for paperwork to be processed—I took a book and waited with all the Malawians and Indians.  I was never threatened me with deportation; but it was very slow as they went through the paper files.

Anyway, this all brings me back to all those immigrants whose photographs and stories are in Green Cards Stories.  Through perseverance they made it.  Sure, ok.  But I really wish that they had had the same experience I had in Germany.  Follow the rules, and you get your passport back after lunch, and all you have to do is follow the law by bringing in a real live German wife.

Oh, and I think I forgot to mention how much it cost to get my German “green card” work permit.  The answer is that it cost what the photographs cost me, and the wear on my bicycle tire—the visa was free; regulation of immigration is done at the cost of the German government, and not the individual immigrant.  Which perhaps helps explain why legitimate immigrants rush in to cooperate with immigration officers in Germany.  And funny enough, despite the absence of immigration torture, immigrants to Germany are as happy to be there as the American immigrants described in “Green Card Stories.”

Tools and Toolchains

In software development the phrase toolchain refers to a set of discrete tools linked in such a way that the output of one tool becomes the input for another tool. As wikipedia notes “A simple software development toolchain consists of a text editor for editing source code, a compiler and linker to transform the source code into an executable program, libraries to provide interfaces to the operating system, and a debugger.”  The toolchain idea recurs in several work environments; in software development where code written in a text editor becomes an interactive program, in publishing where a series of notes and thoughts becomes text written in a word processor then transformed by typesetting and offset printing, and life science laboratories where discrete protocols are used to effect transformations in biological material.

The chain metaphor works, but the wrinkle in the metaphor is that at each link a transformation takes place. If a different type of transformation, or style of working is desired, another tool can be substituted in the chain and a different effect introduced. A good tool chain is modular, robust, and flexible. A canonical example of a well designed toolchain is the suite of GNU programming tools. Here is a diagram showing the relation of tools and procedures in the autoconf toolchain: Autoconf Toolchain

But, there is more than a bit of bricolage in the creation of toolchains. That is to say, toolchains unavoidably end up with a bit of their creator’s interests and dispositions in them. They are idiosyncratic and subject to the aesthetic whims of their creator. The level of personnel investment possible in a particular link in the toolchain becomes clear through a Google search of the terms “emacs vs vi”.  Or just read this: One True Editor

In anthropology the toolchain has been written about, worried over and reflected upon since Malinowski put pen to paper. Here is a toolchain Malinowski might recognize:

Observation – Head Notes – Jottings – Scratch Notes – Descriptive Field Notes – Draft Manuscript – Manuscript – Monograph

At a more intimate level of detail, certain types of notebooks are to be preferred over others. Is a bound notebook required? Or, to use an example recounted by Sanjek in Fieldnotes, can the medium be a collection of 2×3 sheets held together with a paper clip? Is a discrete 2 inch pencil the right tool for jottings, or is a full sized pen always required? If so, which pen shall it be? Pens, especially, seem to be a deeply personal choice and the choice of tip type relates to the choice of notebook and on and on. Add in surveys, interviews, photographs, video, archives, digital data and the toolchain grows exponentially more complicated. And I haven’t even broached the question of storage and/or indexing.

But, as Sanjek notes (pun intended) further along in Fieldnotes, the aesthetic choice of field equipment is most often driven by the demands of the field situation -  mutatis mutandis – we all work in a recognizable manner. My field site in Silicon Valley requires a commute via automobile. Like most people working in Silicon Valley I spend a considerable amount of time in stuck in traffic. Also, like everyone else in Silicon Valley I deal with an avalanche of emails, tweets, blog updates, rss feeds, SMS, calendar updates and voicemail.

While I work with a toolchain that Malinowski would recognize in the abstract, I have made a few concrete substitutions to handle the particular difficulties of my site. The primary problem working in a place where so much communication occurs across so many channels is cleaning, filtering and parsing the wheat from the chaff. Below are some new tools I have found useful:

1) Reqall

So far I  mainly use Reqall to jot audio notes to myself while stuck in traffic, though the program is capable of more interesting things as well. The great advance here is that my audio jottings are transcribed and emailed to me thus saving me some housekeeping work. A typical workflow looks like this:

Create audio note – Received note as email – Use www.ifttt.com to send email to Evernote – Move note from Evernote to Atlas.ti

2) Tape-A-Talk

This Android app is useful because of one simple feature – it records in the background thus allowing you to use you phone for other purposes.

3) GorillaPod

This is a flexible tripod which allows mounting a small video camera in places not accessible with a standard tripod. I’m working from video in a laboratory and this tool has proven its worth by allowing me to attach my camera to lab benches and other pieces of lab equipment.

4) If This Then That

I use this tool to route twitter streams and emails to Evernote – a switchboard of sorts for internet traffic. It filters, sorts, parses and stores based on a set of user defined logical operators. The learning curve can be steep depending on your technical background. On the other hand, I find it absolutely the most powerful tool I am using right now. The amount of housekeeping it saves is well worth the work to set it up.

5) Evernote

Much has been written about Evernote and I don’t have anything exciting to add. It works and you should use it. I still don’t like the export format, but the good far outweighs the bad.

6) Mendeley

A person has to choose between Mendeley and Zotero and I choose Mendely simply because sharing references is more straightforward than with Zotero. The latest version of both Mendely and Zotero will export bibliographies in AAA format.

7) Atlas.ti

I don’t do anything with Atlas.ti except use it as a storage, text retrieval and indexing tool. The advanced tools scare me and I avoid them. But, two killer features are a) the ability to read and index full text pdf files, and b) the ability to index photographs. I bought a student license for under $100 otherwise I would have selected something else or worked out another method of indexing.

8) Dropbox Premium

Like Evernote this is well worn territory. It works and you should use it. The only wrinkle I would add here is that buying the premium version is worth the expense not just for the extra storage (100G for $20 per month) but also for the security features.