Cultural Anthropology’s ambitious website has not been as successful as some might have hoped — it’s forums are dusty (to say the least) and the ‘SuppleMentals’ section is not only an underused attempt to add multimedia links to supplement print articles, it employs that tired old ‘I capitalized something to make a pun! Get it?!’ styles of tired 80s avant-gardism that only James Boon still thinks is charming. That said, however, their decision to publish a ‘virtual issue‘ on business cultures is both extremely welcome and extremely interesting. Having unfairly mocked the stylistics of the website, I will save you rant about how anthropology’s recent turn to the study of ‘business cultures’ is problematic for the way it construes predecessors and fails to make possible interdisciplinary connections (you can read my article later on this later if it ever comes out), and move on to praise CA for making this material available and prompting us to think about what digital anthologizing might mean or signal.
The basic idea is simple. CA creates a web page with links to five articles written between 2009 and 2003 which are all thematically related. The articles are open access (huzzah!), and the web page includes a brief editorial introduction and a link to other articles which are related but which did not, apparently, make the cut.
Now, the idea of anthologizing greatest hits from a journal in order to present a picture of the past that enables research in the future is not a new idea. Colonialism and Culture collected several classic history/colonialism/power papers from Comparative Studies in Society and History, there is a three volume collection of papers from American Anthropologist, and Ethnos (I think it was) also did an edited volume of its political anthropology articles. Sage specializes in bookifying special issues of journals (such as Studying Elites Using Qualitative Methods, a volume which is, sadly, largely off the radar of the new business anthropology) and the line between journal, conference, and anthology has become so tenuous over at Theory, Culture, and Society that they seem at times officially Beyond Genre.
But what is so new and interesting about CA is exactly the fact they they are not publishing this as a physical book. It is easy to see why — in an era of proliferating PDFs the value of physically collocating these essays has sharply declines (and remember, it used to be quite a value). CA is adding value to their work by selectively filtering it and, of course, making it available to everyone. What does it mean to anthologize merely by linking? It’s a fascinating question.
First, it makes us start to see the similarities between the edited volume and other genres that we might not have understood as being related to it. Is this a digital anthology or a syllabus? Is it an edited volume or a reading list? Is it a web site or a course reader? Syllabi, readers, and reading lists create usable pasts for students, while edited volumes are often authoritative presentations of work which in turn spawns new work. I guess I’ve always understood that both of these involve renarrating the past to move into the future, but here the similarities are especially striking.
Second: Because it is all links all the way down, there is no reason that CA had to stick merely with CA articles. Why not create a more wide-ranging edited volume? There are issues of rights, of course, as well as the problem of where you stop looking once your purview stops being just one journal and becomes an entire InterNetoSphere. It may be that legal regimes and our own imaginations result in us retaining the ghostly spectre of a physical journal issue in our heads as we imagine anthologization.
Thirdly, of course, is the fact that this is great for CA’s ‘brand’. Open Access means better publicity, and intelligent filtering (the selection of articles is great) mean that CA gets the credit not just for publishing these papers, but for wrapping them up in a nice little package for you. And of course in the future when people cite Mazarella and Ho with religious reverence as founders of The New Thing, CA can say “we were there first”.
At any rate, despite my snarkiness, I think CA has done something really useful and thought provoking, and I’d encourage you to check it out — and who knows, maybe even breathe some life into the forums.