Blogs, Methods.

I don’t blog much. There, I’ve made my excuses for what will no doubt be intermittent posts. It’s not that I haven’t tried. In fact, I was so blogging way before it was cool; but no one else was, which kind of defeated the purpose. In 2000, I started a fieldwork blog while I was in India
to which I invited a number of people to participate by adding comments or asking questions. Interestingly, the result of this experiment was clear: no one really wants to be part of your fieldwork but you (and maybe your family and your S/O). Five years later, three of my grad students are active bloggers–two in the field and one during write-up–and they are getting a much better comment rate, though not, it should be said, from any of their professors except moi. All of them, however, are happy I made them do it (or at least, that’s what they tell me).

Kerim’s post on the subject of arm-chair anthropology actually made me think of the other experiment. In 2002, I had the idea for a blog-like project that would turn the kind of unspecified fears about the discipline that Kerim points up into more well specified methodological questions–to which working anthropologists would be asked to respond briefly, but in numbers. It was called “been there.” The end result would be an archive of structured questions and answers about how different methodological issues are dealt with across fieldsites, areas, traditions etc. The whole project was very much focused on specifying the advantages of ethnographic method; so a question like “What difference does being there make?” was intended to give people a way to articulate the importance of being there that Kerim mentions. Or, alternately, to articulate the new necessity of both the Internet, and writing, arguing, blogging, counter-discoursing informants. I thought it would be great to have a growing archive of comparable answers to focused questions– a kind of living tips and tricks handbook.

Three people agreed to participate, one person wrote a response, and so I gave up again…

But perhaps the Savage Pansies will be my new methodological guinea pigs. Perhaps I will inaugurate a sub-pansy theme related to method. Indeed, I find that non-anthropologists are just as curious about what makes ethnographic method distinctive as anthropologists are, so perhaps it might make for interesting reading. I think it will have to start as a stealthblog though, a blog within a blog, a submarine blog, ck: blog mole. I must return to baby care and scheming now.

Christopher M. Kelty is an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

One thought on “Blogs, Methods.

  1. Though I have my Masters and a bit of post-grad work in the Human Service profession, I will always be an armchair, wannabe cultural anthropologist. As such, I find this forum to be very thought provoking, challenging, informative and downright enjoyable. I extend a big thanks to the originators and contributors. I’m sure it can be a chore at times, but don’t stop blogging. Just because people are not commenting doesn’t mean they aren’t reading and thinking about the topic(s) at hand.

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