A continuum of peer review

Open Access venues need a business model and long term planning if they are to achieve sustainability. The perennial question of “Who pays for OA?” can be answered in a variety of ways. Each method of financing OA has its pros and cons, and not every path is equally feasible for every discipline. PLoS was able to grow to world-wide prominence fairly rapidly because it was funded with generous grants at infancy and now it sustains itself with high author-fees (n.b. these can be reduced or waived in some cases).

What worked for PLoS isn’t necessarily going to work for cultural anthropology, generous funding is less abundant in the humanities and social sciences. One option that should be given more thought is library supported publishing as a variety of green OA. I will describe some publishing models from China and Japan that produce publications through a different kind of peer review process. This will be a challenge for some readers who hold that peer review as we know it is the defining quality of serious knowledge production, if something is not peer reviewed than it must be of less value or no value at all. In fact there are shades of peer review, if we see peer review as existing on a continuum new possibilities for OA publication present themselves. Continue reading

Real cash feeds Facebook’s monopoly over your private life

Facebook has been on a shopping spree in 2014. It’s looking to buy a drone company so that it can bring the internet and Facebook to the other 6 billion, and its acquisition of Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset firm, is aimed at making your friending, liking, stalking and humble bragging more experiential.

Now it seems the company is in discussions to purchase a London start up which has expertise in online payments. And it is this creeping interest in financial technologies that should worry us more than drones or our friends turning our chats into their virtual reality.

If everything goes to plan, Facebook users will apparently be offered the chance to store and transfer money on the site, rather than having to use a service like PayPal.

Facebook reps are said to have been in talks with several London-based peer-to-peer money services that could make Facebook payments a reality. One of these is Transferwise, a company that recently hit a quintessential target for a scaling tech company when it announced that it had processed £1 billion in user payments. Another possible candidate, Dublin-based CurencyFaire, has also hit the billion mark, albeit in dollars.

The convergence of social media and financial services should be seen as a profound shift in how people view, save, use, and are freed of their capital. And Facebook’s interest could mark a tipping point. Social media is being used as agateway drug to get users hooked onto much more pernicious forms of socio-technical circuitry and economic capture.

Why would Facebook sell vague social analytics about our activity to advertisers when it could go directly to our wallets? This is the ultimate “disintermediation” or cutting out of the middleman.

Capitalism requires fluidity – the transformation of static objects into cashable objects. By making money social and digital it becomes more fluid.

And since social media corporations are already learning how to turn individual users into liquid assets, the mix is all the more potent. Fluid money and personal data pools in centralised servers owned by the millionaires and billionaires of Facebook and Google.

Facebook apps for asset management will not be designed for the financial elites whose wealth is already governed by a well-paid professional managerial class. While the discourse is about empowering the working and immigrant poor to be able to send money home without costly fees, it is really about financialising a new market, the formerly private acts that are being unlocked by social media.

The privatisation of our lives is already booming. Visit AirBnB to rent out your home, Girl meets Dress to rent someone else’s high-end clothes, WhipCar to borrow someone’s car, Rent My Items to get your hands on their power tools, or Microworkers to rent minutes of your day to do small time work for menial pay.

This is financialisation masked as the “sharing economy” but at least we get to rent a nice dress or go on holiday as a result.

Facebook has been successful in inviting us to volunteer our free digital labour in producing one of the world’s most valuable companies. Some lovingly call this “participatory culture” while I and others call it exploitation.

Facebook can capture additional users by raining down wifi from drones and by making a scroll through bachelor party pictures more immersive with 3D goggles, but these markets will be small time in comparison to the financial market of online payment and banking.

This is an explicit attempt to transform the means of our digital sociality, our online public sphere and agora into a mall, a bank, a bazaar. If Facebook is successful, users will rarely leave the site. They will forgo the dangers of the wider internet for the safe comforts of our gated virtual community where we are safe to self-promote and shop till we drop.

Or worse, this is an attempt to “gamify” money management. It will be Farmville for personal finance or 3D Candycrush for cash. This sounds stupid because it is. It represents the transformation of a complex system into a simple one. The more our social life is monitored and then digitised, the easier it is to hoard, gamify, and monetise any profitable crumbs.

This will not result in more agency but less. Banking is based on hard-to-understand calculations but it is regulated. Add complex filtering algorithms and financial technological derivatives to the picture and no sane person will understand what is happening to their money.

Online payment isn’t the problem. Facebook, Google, and others who monopolise and monetise our digital lives on closed centralised systems are. The financialisation of our private lives as well as unwarranted, indiscriminate, illegal, bulk surveillance flourish in these spaces where corporations and governments gain direct access to our private lives.

What we need is a social movement to demand an information commons, decentralised servers, and digital literacy along with so-called financial literacy. We don’t need to hand Facebook yet another key to our private spaces.

Around the Web Digest: Week of April 13

Happy Sunday, folks! Here’s a roundup of what you might have missed last week. If you read only one thing, check out Sarah Kendzior’s article on minimum wage workers in St. Louis. I also highly recommend the BORDERLAND website that NPR has put together. As usual, if you have any news or blogs that you want me to share, please send me an email at richard.powis@gmail.com or hit up on Twitter @dtpowis.

Onward! Continue reading

The Empty Tomb and valuing the right questions

The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions. – Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘The Raw and the Cooked’

Easter is my favorite holiday. It’s pretty much the only holiday I care about, really. A big part of that comes from my discovery during my late 20s that the oldest of the Easter accounts, that found in Mark, ends not with the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus but rather at his empty tomb.

Easter morning

Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise.

Mark originally ended not at chapter 16, verse 20, but rather at verse 8:

But when they looked up, [the two women] saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

I know that millions and millions of people understand the story of the first Easter as one of bodily resurrection and as the answer. This was more or less what I understood it to be about for most of my life, and as I never found the resurrection to be a particularly compelling part of Christianity, I also failed to find Easter particularly meaningful. But since learning that at least some of the (proto-)Christians understood the story of the first Easter as the source of a bewildering question rather than of a reassuring answer I have been very much taken with the day.

Matthew Timothy Bradley

Open access is organic: on the Journal of Material Culture

Back in December Haidy Geismar, the incoming editor of The Journal of Material Culture (published by Sage), published an editorial mooting the future of JMC as an open access journal and asking readers to weigh in by taking an online survey about the future of the journal.  To date, sixteen people have responded. Sixteen. That’s pretty embarrassing — for Geismar and for the JMC, but also for the open access movement more generally. So after you read this, go take the survey.

The apathy of the JMC’s readership is worth dwelling on because it demonstrates what  is really at stake in debates about open access. Its not about open versus closed access, or for-profit versus non-profit publishing. Its about organic, flourishing publishing tied to vibrant intellectual communities versus mechanical mass production of journals. My use of the term ‘organic’ is intentional: just as consumers and farmers today are increasingly becoming aware of and taking responsibility for the production of the food we eat, so to is open access part of a broader movement to take responsibility for the production of scholarly content.

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Elsie Clews Parsons’ loveshack

That a patrician New Yorker was in an open marriage during the early 20th century is an attention grabber, ergo the title of my post. But that is not even among the half dozen most impressive facts of Elsie Clews Parsons’ life, about which more below.

Last spring I had the opportunity to visit her Gilded Age cottage in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Herbert Parsons summered. One of the most enjoyable parts of my afternoon was my walk up to the cabin above the cottage. The cabin was designed for Elsie by her paramour C. Grant LaFarge, one of the architects responsible for the design of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. As I checked out the cabin’s interior, I imagined Elsie sweating through the soupy Southern New England days over the pages she had filled in the desert Southwest.

C. Grant LaFarge

The Lenox, Massachusetts, cabin where Elsie Clews Parsons spent her summers writing up her field notes.

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Memory, History, and Xenophobia in Crimea

[This is an invited post by Greta Uehling. Greta is the author of Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatar Deportation and Return published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2004 as well as a number of articles on the Crimean Tatars. She teaches in the Program on International Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.]

As pundits, politicians, and the world’s media wring their hands over Putin’s next move, events in Crimea seem to be fading from attention. Residents of Crimea have noted, correctly I think, that even after annexation, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea remained little more than a square on the board of a geopolitical chess game.

Focusing my attention on that square, the tiny, green, diamond-shaped peninsula hanging in the Black Sea, has been distressing to me over the past weeks. I have conducted anthropological fieldwork in Crimea on and off for almost two decades. Most recently, I have been using Skype calls with friends and colleagues on the peninsula, as well as local television available on the internet, for information. Continue reading

Around the Web Digest: Week of April 6

A day late and a dollar short. I had some trouble getting home from the Central States Anthropological Society meeting in Normal, IL, but I made it! These links still cover the week of April 6th, so nothing has changed there, but this list is shorter than normal. So anyway, if you have any suggestions for articles or blogs, please don’t hesitate to email me at richard.powis@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @dtpowis.

Distract yourself from grading or writing up a final paper; here’s what you (and I) missed last week. Continue reading

Incorporate Now!

Anthropology may be “the worst major for a corporate tool” but that doesn’t mean that anti-corporate anthropologists shouldn’t consider incorporating. In this special pre-tax-day post I will take a break from my usual anti-capitalist blogging to talk about one particular instance where anthropologists might want to incorporate: if you are thinking of making a documentary film it may be just the thing for you.1

Many independent filmmakers register as either an S-Corporation2 or an LCC (a limited liability company) in order to protect themselves if they get sued3 by the subjects of their films. (Or from someone who claims to be harmed by the film or by the process of making the film.) Having a company helps protect your personal assets, such as your house or retirement savings, etc. from being seized if you were to loose the suit. Many independent filmmakers even set up separate LLCs for each film. Doing so, however, is a lot of work, and not without its downsides.

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Linguistics, Anthropological Linguistics, and Linguistic Anthropology

Defining that increasingly rara avis, the anthropological linguist.

The anthropological linguist possess proficiency in linguistic analysis of the sort falling under the umbrella of Basic Linguistic Theory. To put it crudely, s/he can solve problems in phonology, morphology, and syntax.

The anthropological linguist conducts fieldwork in order to collect data in the service of the production of a linguistic description. This has always meant that s/he has an at least decent ear. Nowadays it also implies has some ability to utilize digital audio recording technology and to construct RDBs.

Anthropological linguistics

Anthropological linguists combine a background in hard linguistics with the willingness to undertake fieldwork.

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Oxford bibliographies: a great but proprietary solution for information overload

As @alltalk and others tweeted to us at SM, Oxford University Press (OUP) is celebrating library week next week by giving everyone free access to their online databases. Its not unusual for presses to periodically ungate their content so everyone can try some free samples. We don’t usually blog about press sales or free samples, but I did want to use this opportunity to talk about Oxford’s new bibliography series, which I think represents a new and interesting way to organize knowledge in today’s web-saturated environment.

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No April fools: read Valeri’s “Rites and Annals”

A doomed genius taken before his time. One of the last line of ancient Roman noblemen revealing his secrets. Hidden writings once known only to an elite few, now revealed for all to see. It sounds so much like a Dan Brown novel that you mistake it for an April fools joke, but it’s  not. There were so many fake announcements and releases on April first this year that one thing got lost in the shuffle: the actually really real release of the second monograph in HAU’s “Classics of Ethnographic Theory”, Rites and Annals: Between History and Anthropology by Valerio Valeri. Valeri’s work deserves to be widely read today because of its own intrinsic quality, as well as for the kind of rigorous, sophisticated, and humanistic approach to anthropology it exemplifies. Valeri’s work combined ethnographic erudition with high-level theorizing, wrapped up with a sophisticated prose style and a commitment to scholarship that exploded American binaries of science versus the humanities, objectivity versus subjective expression. For that reason, the release of Rites and Annals gives us a chance not only to read Valeri’s work, but to think about how it fits into the current approaches our discipline is taking.

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Around the Web Digest: Week of May 30

This week was a blast, especially April Fool’s Day. Hopefully, you didn’t miss our very own Twainian satire, “Counterpoint: Good Americans should pay their debts, thank Sallie Mae,” or the Buzzfeedian listicle, “11 Cutting-Edge Thinkers That Anthropologists Should Be Paying Attention to Right Now!” Thank you all for sharing the latter – it was great fun to put together. If you sent me an angry email that was quickly followed up by an apology, or an angry tweet that was quickly deleted, don’t worry – you weren’t the only one. As usual, if you have any links or blogs that you want me to share, send them my way at richard.powis@gmail.com or on Twitter @dtpowis.

Here’s what you missed this week: Continue reading

Is there an anthropological canon? Evidence from theory anthologies

Is there a canon of anthropological theory? Do we have a ‘disciplinary history’ of where we have been and where we are going? Sure, there are many grand narratives we tell of our discipline, but these stores tend to be tendentious and based on anecdotal. Can we find a more empirical, disinterested way to look for order in anthropology’s past?

In this post I examine anthologies of anthropological theory in order to see to what extent anthropology has a coherent, institutionalized canon. Is there a strong degree of agreement between these books? Do they tell the same stories? Do they include the same authors and readings? To answer this question, I asked our intrepid intern Angela to track down the contents of every edition of the main anthropological theory readers in North America.

What did I find? The short answer is that these anthologies strongly agree on this history of anthropology between the years 1850-1950. Agreement rapidly decreases after — wait for it — 1974. Why and how? Are these anthologies accurate indicators of the anthropological zeitgeist? Who gets included and who doesn’t? For answers to these questions, read on….

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