Ethnoblogs

I have spent the last few days preparing course syllabi for the fall semester and I was thought-experimenting about ways I can possibly incorporate blogs and other online technologies into the classroom.

Then I remembered that a few weeks ago over at Fieldnotes, Tad McIlwraith had wonderful things to say about Aaron Fox’s new ethnography Real Country: Music and Language in Working Class Culture (and also reported by Lorenz over at anthropologi). So I went over there to take a quick look.

Fox’s ethnography, which is a study of how country music expresses Texan working-class identity in a particular local community, is of interest to me because it is related to my dissertation topic: his treatment of class culture has made me think about a chapter of mine that deals with mineworkers in 1950s & 60s Japan who were into writing haiku poetry.

Yet besides his rich ethnography, I was also struck by Fox’s decision to “extend” his book into cyberspace. At his website for Real Country, he has all kinds of materials — interview transcripts, some real stellar photographs, audio files, and even a video clip — pretty much everything short of reproducing the book itself. I had so much fun going through his multimedia files, and I can see how students would too. It looks like he has not uploaded all the materials he has, but the site is very organized and easy to use.

What’s even more impressive is that Fox has begun a blog devoted to discussing the book with his readers. He wants the site to be a place “where students can interact with [him] and ask questions about the book.” Sure enough, there have already been a few students reading the book for class who have logged on and chatted with the author. Some of the discussions have been really enlightening. For example, when he was asked about his photographs, he talked about his passion for “working class documentary photography.”

So I am wondering if any of you august readers and bloggers of Savage Minds know of other online presentations of ethnographic materials? Or a list of ethnographic blogs already out there? Or better yet, your experience with such blogs in the classroom?

Thanks! I promise I’ll return the favor by compiling them into a list and posting it here.

17 thoughts on “Ethnoblogs

  1. This is not especially about ethnoblogs&teaching but in general regards of blogging, learning and teaching you might be interested having a look at this blog.
    Adrian Miles teaches New Media at RMIT Melbourne and has established blogging on a regular basis in his classes, which means each of his students is put to run a social academic blog, as they call it and to use it for their studies. These blogs are linked in his sidebar category Integrated Media.
    To me as autodidact blogging n00b interested in blogging & learning & academic knowledge production those studentblogs are highly informative. Adrian brings them systematically step by step into the threelayered subject, which means introduction to social software tools, to representing and producing content and to the kind of networked context a blog is embedded in.
    Plus, Adrian spends much attention and care on blogging his teaching. So you can get multiple perspectives on using blogs in classroom in general there, as any academic blog deals in the beginning with similar issues, n`importe whether it is a New Media or an Ethnoblog.
    Finally, I d love to encourage you finding out about it yourself with your students & in case you do, don`t forget blogging about it. :-)

  2. (Oh, of course there is the important fourth dimension which is the interaction between the other three ones.
    But into this you don`t have to be introduced by a teacher, this is what you learn by your blog.)

  3. Thanks Kerim for the del.icio.us tags! Unfortunately I’ve been having difficulty accessing their site…maybe they’re having trouble with the new “for” function you mentioned. When I have better luck I’ll go through the tags.

    And Orange, thanks for the great link to Adrian Miles and his site. Being a newbie myself to blogging, I find his method daunting: I would imagine you would need to be quite comfortable with the technical side of blogging to be able to set students up with their own blogs.

    This is a bit off the ‘ethnoblog’ topic, but I wonder how blogs fare as a classroom tool to generate dialogue and allow the students to keep a journal of their readings? As a point of comparision there are also bulletin boards (or forums), which requires much less technical guidance for the students.

    Anyway I had seen student classroom blogs before but did not know, not until seeing Aaron Fox’s Real Country, that authors were using blogs to have dialogue with readers. That was quite an eye opener for me. :shock: As someone who is (trying to) finish writing the dissertation and (knock on wood) turning it into a book, I saw his site and thought, hey, I should keep this ethnoblog option in mind as I write my ethnography.

  4. “I would imagine you would need to be quite comfortable with the technical side of blogging to be able to set students up with their own blogs.”

    The whole thing is new enough you don`t need to be an expert in social software actually, I`d say, to make your students blog on their subjects. At least I would not expect my anthro teacher being a tech savvy.
    Of course you should be somewhat familiar with the basics to be able to answer questions, but the basic tools students need to know are different from the basic tools graduated academics are ought to know for their proper blogging context. For a student for example in the beginning it is not that important to get familiar with technorati tags and cite.u.like in the first instance, but with content managing systems as such, flickr, rss feeding, wiki softwarez and stuff like that.
    As starter you can use/choose the tools corresponding with your html knowledge and abilities. You don`t necessarily have to be an html expert to start with blogs in teaching. It`s ok when you can tell your students, that there exist different sorts–not labels–of content managing systems. You don`t necessarily have to be able to write or modify templates yourself to understand and to tell your students, what a template is.

    “..authors using blogs to have dialogue with readers. That was quite an eye opener for me.”

    I share this perception, or insight if you want do.
    Now academics like Alexander Knorr have radicalized that inherent interactive reflexivity of running a blog on the subject of a ready publications and have transfered the dialoge as methodological keyconcept into work in progress.
    Making primary data available, which means uploading ethnographic interviews as well as e.g. linking to their primary sources,
    and moreover creating space for dialogue with the objects of research on the knowledge that is produced on them are essential elements of explicitly practised reflexivity in knowledge production process.
    This indeed is amazing. :-)

    “I wonder how blogs fare as a classroom tool to generate dialogue and allow the students to keep a journal of their readings?”

    This depends very much on how you guide your students into the matter. Don`t miss my social academic blog by Melanie Ramage.
    How does a blog differ from an online plattform a seminar of students is told to upload their weekly written essays instead of delivering them in printform despite saving paper and ink ?

    “As a point of comparision there are also bulletin boards (or forums), which requires much less technical guidance for the students.”

    My view on ubb boards in teaching is, they are good tools for certain means, like generating a discussion with a group of participants, say.. on a certain text, which all had read, or a specific posed question–means on a certain defined shared subject. The advantage is, there`s more space for the individual to participate in a discussion compared with weekly face-to-face seminars with more than say.. eight to twelve persons.
    But still, as bulletinboards offer peculiar options blogs do also.

  5. Orange, thanks again for your thoughtful comments about the classroom uses of blogs and other CMS tools.

    Melanie Ramage’s comments are right on, I think. I too agree with her: blogging makes you own your words, i.e., makes you responsible about what you write. But I wonder if knowing that the entire cyberworld is watching can actually deter students from writing freely and stifle the conversation. IN that case a private forum might be better.

    ALso, thanks for the xirdalium link. I think that Alexander Knorr’s experiment, while it is quite exhilarating in and of itself as a seemingly natural progression of what he has termed cyberanthropology, would be a bit difficult to use in the classroom.

    Instead I can see Aaron Fox’s site working great because you can visit his website as a multimedia compendium to the arguments he is making in his book. I guess I was looking for sites that are supplementary to a published ethnography.

  6. Over the years we tried to put the ethno::log to various uses—among those was using it as a classroom tool, too. You can check the ‘results’ in the category class which doesn’t appear on the front page automatically. All entries beginning with “e2″ are from my class “e_thnology 2″. Deliberately I didn’t create a webpage for the class, as I wanted to force the students to use the ethno::log. Honestly, I can’t judge if it worked out positively or not.

    Certainly there is a technological threshold to be overcome when using Internet services for class. I think it’s easier to make them use a bulletin board system / forums than to make them use weblogs. For the simple reason that most of the students already are used to bb systems. Then there are other hinderances like ‘I don’t want my babbling to get public’ and derivations of that. Sébastian Paquet already summed a lot of it up. Chance is that I am carrying coal to Newcastle—alas I think Paquet’s article to be very worthwhile:

    PAQUET, SÉBASTIAN. 2002. Personal knowledge publishing and its uses in research 1.0. Seb’s Open Research. Available online.

    P.S.: Thanks a lot for speaking kind of my poor project.

  7. I can’t judge if it worked out positively or not.

    So here´s my personal point of view as one of your students:
    I didn´t attend any of your cyberantrhopoly classes, just the recent one about basic anthropology. But since your enthusiasm about this new kind of discursive knowledge-sharing on the internet was evident, as you kept raving about it ;), I decided to see for myself. But only – I have to admit- after being familiar with myspace.com, a forum to make friends with people from all over the world. This only gave me the idea of what blogs etc. are all about!
    I think many studens would enjoy the possibility of connecting their classes in some way with the internet, as it makes them realize, that anthropology is of daily relevance and by the discussions you can follow on a forum they get new ideas about the discipline and more interest in it. I think the technical aspect is not a big problem as there are plenty of pages with a step-by-step introduction to html etc. And by the way many students are familiar with this already anyways!
    Another aspect that I personaly find interesting would be a project, connecting students from different cities or even better, countries through blogs and forums and having them work on projects together!

  8. Excuse me, Tak, I will immediately stop pulling your entry offtopic.
    (But: of course it makes a difference whether you are a student blogging on your subjects or a graduate blogging your masterthesis; I did not mention Alexanders research project as object for a classroom application.
    I realize having not drawn the lines distinct enough between the two thoughts related to blogging within academia expressed in my above post.)

  9. Orange, no worries, this is turning out to be a great tangent, so I tell you: run with it! 8)

    Zeph, Seb’s article is a gem! And also thanks for sharing how you had used (or are using?) your blog for your class. Am I right in thinking that you turned a part of your blog into an extension of your classroom by having you, and a few students, collectively post entries?

    Sas, your last idea is quite intriguing. Having students in different locations work together on a project through blogs. That’ll require some tight coordination between the classes (especially the instructors) and the students do need to be web-literate, but I can see how it could be something like an exchange program without really leaving home!

    I can see how asking students to work on their own blogs would be empowering in just this way…proactively making connections to the world and learning, as you say Sas, that “anthropology is of daily relevance.”

  10. @Tak: “[…] you turned a part of your blog into an extension of your classroom by having you, and a few students, collectively post entries?”—yes, that was one of the ideas behind it. The other was luring more of our students to the ethno::log and actually post something there, in spite of just reading around. To lower the threshold I put the category class off the main blog’s main page.

    In the end the ethno::log was meant as a scout-project to fathom the possibilities. We then went on to file an application for setting up a whole weblog-server at our university. The IT-resources we have at hand are vast, and the geeks taking care of the infrastructure are very cooperative, at least towards me. But they haven’t enough personnel down there in their server-cellar, hacking the day away, blood dripping from beneath their fingernails right into the keyboards. Bureaucratic obstacles were overcome, the setting-up of the server was granted, open-source software of our choice acquired, and the domain with connection to our mySQL-server created. Since then the whole thing sleeps again due to bureaucratic and other obstacles of kin kinds.

    But I guess when I have some more time again, I’ll mount my warhorse again and push the thing through.

  11. Thank you, Tak. Just a short note quickly to add avoiding talking path another concerning zeph`s online projects, don`t mix ethnolog with xirdalium.
    The latter accompanies his masterthesis maxmod (which in short is an ethnographic study on game modding communities) , whereas the former (which his student refered to above) served/serves in some parts as experimental classroom application.

  12. Tak said, “I can see how it could be something like an exchange program without really leaving home!”

    :-) This exactly is the ultimate enrichment that I enjoy since doing Thick Participation in academic blogosphere.

  13. I don’t want to fill this with spam, but I just have to set the record straight ;-) ‘maxmod’ is not my master-thesis, it is my Habilitationsprojekt—I already have a Dr. since several years, no master-thesis required anymore at this stage, I hope.

  14. Oh sry,
    thought masterthesis in contrast to phd thesis would mean Habilitation. *spam off.

  15. Hey Y’All

    I just happened upon this blog post tonight, months too late, while conducting the inevitable late-night, can’t-concentrate-on-work ritual of googling myself . . .

    Tak, thanks for these thoughtful comments and for recommending my blog and website. I confess that I’ve been awful about posting more multimedia content there as I promised I would. What’s there is good, but I have much richer stocks of stuff. Some of it I feel comfortable posting too. It’s just that I’ve been so busy.

    But I’m glad you liked what’s there. I have a bunch of transcripts due to go up soon. As for blogging the book, the traffic has been slow, though readership surprisingly broad and interesting. And I’ll be damned if I haven’t sold a few books on the blog, if my Amazon statement is to be believed. I’m glad the book seems to have been thought-provoking too. It’s really the heart of the matter.

    For those of you writing dissertations, yeah, imagine the CMS future in which you’ll organize all kinds of archival materials from your fieldwork through a web style interface, and build dialogues online into those archives. The future is so bright I gotta wear shades. But seriously, when I was organizing my field materials in 1994 and writing in 1995, the best option for a database was a Hypercard stack. I often marvel at how much more is possible now, to really develop a community of interest in almost any kind of project from a global pool of possible interlocutors. I mean, I can now pluck any recording of any moment of my recordings off a hard drive and often do on the spur of the moment. Imagine being able to think about and talk about multimedia objects in this kind of blogspace environment in real time, or in the artifically slowed time of the web, in which a guy can wander into the past just to add a tag to a blog post, and invite someone in the future to my digital home. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

    Best to all, in case anyone ever reads this thread again. And sincere thanks for the feedback.

    Aaron

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