Boldly go Towards Collaboration

Nicholas A Christakis’ story in the NY Times is serious food for thought.

Christakis starts “Let’s Shake Up the Social Sciences” with the following:

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, when I was a graduate student, there were departments of natural science that no longer exist today. Departments of anatomy, histology, biochemistry and physiology have disappeared, replaced by innovative departments of stem-cell biology, systems biology, neurobiology and molecular biophysics. Taking a page from Darwin, the natural sciences are evolving with the times. The perfection of cloning techniques gave rise to stem-cell biology; advances in computer science contributed to systems biology. Whole new fields of inquiry, as well as university departments and majors, owe their existence to fresh discoveries and novel tools. read on here

This article could worry anthropologists in training or in practice but it could just as easily excite us.  Some would rather wait for handouts and complain about the current state of affairs but not me.

I say the time is upon us to get cracking and make our own destiny!!  Some fear that the future of anthropology is outside of anthropology. If so, I’m sure that the unique skill set that the anthropological perspective brings to problems will not disappear. On my campus, I have worked in my schools of business and education quite comfortably. Off campus, I have also taught qualitative methods to members of my local police department and to psychology doctoral students. I’m still the exotic “other” from anthropology but I get the job done. I have also worked on big multidisciplinary research projects with colleagues from Economics, Sociology and Political Science and Public Administration.  Yes the world is changing but that is what the world does. I could complain about it or adapt.

When I’m lacking inspiration, I go to Jason Antrosio’s Living Anthropologically blog to remember why I got into anthropology in the first place.

This Week in Ethnography: Does Jared Diamond do Ethnography?

This week in Ethnography, I realized that “DIY anthropologist” Jared Diamond is now moving into the area of anthropology I hold most dear – ethnography.  In earlier publications and movies, Diamond has dabbled in other areas of anthropology (e.g., archeology and physical) but his latest work cuts too close for my comfort.  Barbara J. King posted a review of Diamond’s latest book entitled, “The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?” at Why Does Jared Diamond Make Anthropologists So Mad?  In this post, King closes with a point that many anthropologists have held about Diamond’s DIY anthropology:

Where, at least since 1982 and Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History, are the “big books” in which we anthropologists do a better job than Diamond?

Although I used to share King’s perspective, I’m now changing my tune because Diamond has brought his DIY anthropology right to my yard as it were.  Since King’s anthropology is oriented towards primate behavior, she is a safe distance from Diamond’s reach.

Diamond’s DIY anthropology could be thought of in at least three ways:

1. “Big Booking”: Barbara King’s version that argues that at least someone is doing grand theory in anthropology.

2. “Academic Pornography”: Jason Antrosio’s version which highlights Diamond’s ability to sensationalize to the point of spectacle or “academic porn”.

3. Neo-Armchair Anthropology:  Of course this new definition of “arm-chair anthropology” would have to be updated to include modern realities like cheap flights and eco-tourism, which facilitate visits to exotic locals but the core idea of scholars reading others’ work and musing about them through complex, imaginative mashups would still apply to this definition.  Kerim Friedman actually predicted a less critical version of this in 2005 in a post entitled Armchair Anthropology in the Cyber Age?

I found the following picture on the Animal Attraction page of the Australian Broadcasting Company.  The funny thing about it is that it follows the critical observation of many of my anthropological theory students’ that “anthropological theory is the story of a long line of white bearded men in armchairs”!







This Week in Ethnography: Blog, “LivingEthnography”

This Week in Ethnography I found an interesting blog entitled,

LIVING ETHNOGRAPHY: Research and Conversations on Ethnography, Writing and Folklore

As personal blogs go, it’s more productive than most and the content is appealing.  The About page is interesting in that it provides a few hints at the authors identity but no name:

I am a Folklorist, writer and ethnographer; I study immigration, communities and change.  My current academic book project, Diversity Dependence: Suburban Identity and the Quest for a Multicultural Ideal examines three locations where immigrants and newcomers fundamentally influence political dynamics  and identity.  I am also completing a novel, The Unfinished.

I did finally figured out who the author was but not without a little work! Are you enticed yet?….

What initially caught my attention was a posting entitled, “The New El Norte: Canada” where the author discusses a new immigration trend in North America.

I lived in Mexico on and off from 1999 through 2005.  Working with immigrants traveling back and forth to Pennsylvania, we spend a lot of time talking about the broken U.S. immigration system and the difficulties workers faced when crossing into the U.S.

Back then I asked a question that seemed far-fetched: why not go to work in Canada?  Their immigration laws were certainly more flexible.

The responses were consistently the same: “it’s too cold” or “I don’t know anyone in Canada.”  I already knew that most immigrants followed their networks north–one person would find and setting in a new area, then travel back to Mexico and share the cultural knowledge with family, friends and neighbors who in turn would start to join the “pioneer” migrant in the new locale.  Migrant patterns are enduring, but they are not unchanging.  This article from the Washington Post highlights how a model guest worker program in Canada is making a new El Norte.

For years I have argued that the U.S. needs a revised guest worker program. Many of my colleagues scoff at the idea, thinking that our H2-A visa program, which links agricultural workers to their employer for housing and health care.  It’s a program that might work well for farmer, but it makes the immigrant worker beholden to his or her employer.

Continue reading the post here


THIS WEEK IN ETHNOGRAPHY: Teaching Anthropology ‘Way Off Campus

This week in Ethnography, Heather E. Young-Leslie, Ph.D. describes how best to teach ethnography in the post entitled Sand in My Syllabus; Teaching Anthropology ‘Way Off Campus.

The anthropologist professor is not replaceable, not redundant. But the style of teaching anthropology that we have had since WWII… well, that is replaceable.

I start with the above quotation from the conclusion to give you a taste of the power of this piece.  This article includes solid information for those of us trying to prove or improve our teaching craft.  The title is derived from the following “gritty” quotation which further illustrates the author’s skill:

Sand makes you aware of things you normally take for granted. Sand may be something common to the ‘way off campus locations I’ve taught (and one of the on-campuses too), but it is also a great metaphor for the ‘way off campus pedagogical experience, indeed, for the ethnographic experience.  Because in the same way that anthropology puts grit in our comfy stereotypes and cultural assumptions, once you start thinking about the requirements for teaching in non-university classrooms; such as to retirees on cruise ships, or to university students on away-from-home courses, the value of experience-near, and experience-rich learning opportunities abrades your usual ways of thinking about teaching. It puts sand in your syllabus.

Read the entire post here:

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.

This Week in Ethnography: All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Tagging Anthropology

This Week in Ethnography, I have thought about Public Anthropology. Samuel Gerald Collins of All Tomorrow’s Cultures posted a great piece on the subject this week entitled Tagging Anthropology.  Public Anthropology is not a new subject by any means.  A Google search on the subject will show over 600,000 results and limiting your search to Savage Minds will still give you more than a week’s worth of reading.  In fact, this subject is so mature that the The 9th Annual Public Anthropology Conference is just around the corner (not the first or second, but the 9th!)  [Incidentally, 300 word abstract submissions for this conference are due by Monday, August 27, 2012.]  To get a feel for this conference view or read last year’s keynote by Max Forte here:

Beyond Public Anthropology: Approaching Zero

What I like about Collin’s post is that he demands that we define “public”.  Whereas much of this sort or work is on ANTHROPOLOGY with “public” as an afterthought, Collins wants us to seriously consider PUBLIC.  What is the public? Who makes up the public?

…Is anthropology the same?  In the era of “public anthropology,” isn’t the idea to reach a “public”?  But what is this “public”?   Despite lots of lip service and theoretical interest in expanding the audience for anthropological research, anthropologists seem to have little more than a vague sense of the public that might exist outside of the immediate academic context.   This question becomes more urgent with the advent of web 2.0 social networking.   When we’re blogging or putting something up on Youtube, it seems obvious that we’re making our work “public,” but that public is not synonymous with the “public” of television news or major newspapers. via All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Tagging Anthropology.

Collins’ concludes with a call for us all to put some ethnographic effort into the PUBLIC part of the equation.

…a public anthropology in the age of networked media needs to create its public while it’s doing anthropology, a consciously forged interpretive community. via All Tomorrow’s Cultures: Tagging Anthropology.




This Week in Ethnography: Writing Live Fieldnotes With Social Media: Towards a More Open Ethnography | Ethnography Matters

This Week in Ethnography, the big news was Mitt Romney “using” the word culture but that news is already very well described by Jason Antrosio.

So I found another hidden gem that came out this week: a great post on “Writing Live Fieldnotes“.  It describes a technique that could solve a challenge I am facing in a research project where I will be tracking the behavior of a group of high school students. My challenge is to generate solid data on their entire lives without actually following them (minors) off campus.

TECHNOLOGY: I’ve used diary techniques elsewhere but I fear high school students will be less reliable than the college students I have studied earlier.  In the post below, Tricia Wang describes a technique that got me thinking about a solution to my problem.  Technologically I’m considering purchasing a number of Ipod touches, distributing them to the subjects, training them in some basic observation and self reporting techniques and seeing what happens.

METHOD: Shirley Brice Heath was is the first person I ever heard use the phrase guerrilla ethnography at a talk she gave at the U. Penn Ethnography in Education Conference in the mid 1990s.  Basically, she took a group of high school students and trained them to extend her observations at a high school.

What I am thinking of doing is have my subjects, read Tricia Wang’s post and follow her lead.  I’ve added the first few lines of her post her, but I urge you to read the entire thing.  There is real knowledge there!

Writing Live Fieldnotes With Social Media: Towards a More Open Ethnography

I just returned from fieldwork in China. I’m excited to share a new way I’ve been writing ethnographic fieldnotes, called live fieldnoting. I spoke about live fieldnoting in a recent interview with Fast Company that also featured a slideshow of my live fieldnotes. I want to elaborate on the process in this post.

At one point in time, all ethnographers wrote their notes down with a physical pen and paper. But with mobiles, laptops, iPads, and digital pens, not all ethnographers write their fieldnotes. Some type their fieldnotes. Or some do both. With all these options, I have struggled to come up with the perfect fieldnote system.

I have experimented with the Livescribe Pen, regular old notebook, and a laptop. The Livescribe digital pen didn’t work for me because it’s really uncomfortable to use after a half hour of writing and its dependency on digital paper makes it inflexible for fieldwork outside of the US and longterm extended fieldwork (my review of the pen on The notebook seems like the most practical solution. But I can’t seem to find the “perfect” notebook. Do I use a really small one that fits in my pocket? A medium size one that allows me to write more? If it’s too big then it looks like a “notebook.” And what should this notebook look like? Does a black moleskin look too nice for my fieldsite? Does it look too official? Does my notebook allow me to fit in with teens? But the notebook with bears and hearts that I use around teens doesn’t work for my meetings with government officials. And in the end no matter what kind of notebook I use, I still have to type all my notes to Evernote. So using a laptop is inevitable as all notes eventually end up there and are cleaned up there.

But the problem with a digital pen, notebook, and laptop is that they are all extra things that have to be carried with you or they add extra steps to the process. If I forget to charge the Livescribe or if it runs out of batteries, then I would have to remember to pack a backup notebook and pen. If I was in an area where I couldn’t get electricity, then I couldn’t charge my laptop or pen. If I’m in situation where I can’t take out a notebook because it would distract from the situation or it would be too cumbersome, then I would have to memorize everything.

I still haven’t found the perfect fieldnote system, but I wanted to experiment with a new process that I call, “live fieldnoting.”

via Writing Live Fieldnotes With Social Media: Towards a More Open Ethnography | Ethnography Matters.

Methods to Mind: Long or Short Term Approaches to Ethnographic Research

The following post from culturnicity got me thinking about the ongoing grudge match between those who demand a year in the field [imagine someone with a long beard in an arm-chair saying “to record a full record of experiences during the ecological annum”] compared to those who are more focused on the content and outcomes of the project.  In Ethnography as participant listening, Forsey drives this point home with the following point:

Defining ethnography according to its purpose rather than its method encourages participation in, and engagement with, the lives of our fellow human beings (Forsey, 2011: 569).

In the following post, Casey has moved beyond the debate by focussing on a comparison between what he calls a “Team-Based Categorical Model” and a “Team-Based Geographical Model”.  This is a great example of Forsey’s point and I urge you all to read the entire post, a tidbit of which follows:

Ethnographic Research – Long or Short Term Approach?

Traditional ethnographic research takes a long time, but the time is necessary for an accurate and in depth understanding of the culture or phenomenon under observation.  When an anthropologist embarks on a research project in a totally new area, a year of language study is often needed before detailed ethnographic research can begin.  Fieldwork often lasts 2 or more years.  Such longer term approaches to ethnographic research are crucial for accurate understandings of culture.  These published ethnographies have been the basis for many of the major theories that have arisen in cultural anthropology over the last 150 years.

While there is tremendous value to the long term approach to research, there are instances when a short term model can produce accurate and helpful results.  For example, anthropologists are more readily hired as consultants by companies looking for specific and focused research on a particular aspect of society.  Other times, an anthropologist may be employed to give a general overview of a culture with specific findings and suggested strategies for doing business in the area.

I’ve been involved with several of these short term ethnographic research projects.  In some instances I was the sole researcher.  In other instances I was part of a team commissioned to research and report on some culture or aspect of culture.  I’ve found that the short-term, team approach to ethnographic research can be a very helpful, time efficient means of understanding a culture.  Look at it this way – one researcher can spend two months in an area and put in about 400 hours of research.  A team of eight can spend less than a week in an area and put in the same number of man hours.  In this post, I want to give a brief overview of two approaches to the team based research method, along with pros and cons of each.

via culturnicity | Thinking about culture and all the ologies and icities that go along with it.

This Week in Ethnography: Second Digital Ethnography Week _ Trento 17-21 sept. 2012

There is not much to report in “This Week in Ethnography”, a segment I am inventing as a means of reporting on the global pulse of this most important subject.  The one item that jumped out of my feeds at me was that I missed the application deadline (of July 22, 2012) for the:

Second Digital Ethnography Week _ Trento 17-21 sept. 2012

The second “Digital Ethnography Week” (DEW), an intensive week focused on the study of digital methods and digital ethnographic approaches. The DEW is intended for Ph.D. students and researchers interested in developing advanced methodological skills to account for the digital in contemporary social life.
As their website reports, this looks like a great opportunity for aspiring digital ethnographers.
Ethnography and Journalism
Be warned: The Data Journalism School in Rome is involved in this effort.  I know the conflation of ethnography and journalism is shocking to some. During my graduate training, I recall one of the senior faculty members of my anthropology program criticizing a students’ work by referring to it as “journalism”.  The context for this event was a thesis draft presentation based on ethnographic fieldwork in a doctoral colloquium.  I believe the Professor’s intention was to imply that the student was “only out for a story” and had “little theoretical or methodological reasoning” for how they had generated the data they were reporting on.
The irony of this situation was that this was a program in applied anthropology.  In any event, let us not “throw the baby out with the bath water” or in this case, throw good data or solid technique out with the researcher using it.  Data Journalism is a fantastic means of getting at reality.  For example, check out the following TED talk by David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization and try to tell me that this “journalist” is “only out for the story”.