Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week you might not have noticed that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is underway. My own fandom encompasses many different kinds of sports each for different reasons, but far and away the men’s tournament is the most entertaining televised event of the year. We’ll just have to set aside the irony of recognizing the problematic nature of elite-level college sports while enjoying it as faculty. Sorry! That’s a whole other post. Here I want to bring up a semiotic curiosity and get your feedback.
Non-sports fans, let me set the stage.
Over the course of the basketball season the teams play each other and develop reputations for their skill (or lack thereof), and the culmination of the season is a tournament in which only select teams are invited to play. There’s a lot of drama leading up to the tournament as a convoluted selection process decides which teams will play and in what order they will meet. As the anticipation builds and the media hype machine goes into overdrive we often hear the basketball tournament marketed as “the Dance” or “the Big Dance.” In this narrative the selection process is likened to a courtship ritual, with the teams as available women each of whom wants to make herself appear as desirable as possible in order to draw the most attention from suitors.
The selection process results in a numerical ranking for each team that represents their quality. The contest begins by pitting the weakest against the strongest. In theory this should give the strongest teams the best chance for advancing, but every year their are surprising upsets in which the underdog beats a heavily favored team.
If an underdog wins twice in row it is said to be a “Cinderella.” In this well known folktale, Cinderella, a girl in a structurally disadvantaged position in her family, undergoes a transformation in which she is revealed to be more beautiful and powerful than her mother (and sisters) who had previously tormented her. In the Disney version of this tale, the version most popular among young people in America, Cinderella goes to a dance with her identity masked and while she’s there she is courted by a Prince as her sisters and mother look on powerless to stop her. Continue reading →
Does anthropology have a long tail? Maybe it does, but the head really is superior. Isn’t that the idea behind science anyways? The best ideas are the vetted ideas and the rejected ideas are put to rest for a reason. Or maybe its not there at all. But then again…
First a refresher is in order. “The Long Tail,” refers to the now classic article (2004!!) by Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson. It gets its name from a particular kind of curve where one variable functions as the power of another. In Anderson’s classic example such curves are used to describe the business model of Amazon which trumped its competitors by selling “less of more.” Whereas bookstores had traditionally made their big bucks catering to customers in the green area of the graph, where more people were interested in fewer titles, Amazon is able to cater to the so-called Long Tail, the yellow area where products are more diverse and demand is low. Why does this matter? The yellow area is actually larger than the green area. Hence, cha-ching –> $$$
Last week I reported from #AAA2014 on the emergence of digital anthropology as a growing theme in our discipline and one in need of some legitimacy relative to anthropology’s traditional domains. Readers posed questions interrogating the worth of digital anthropology. What is it good for? What does it add? How should we define it?
I’ve been mulling over this question of what digital anthropology can do that is different from digital sociology or digital communications studies and the answer I came up with is problematic because it points back to these questions of jobs and disciplinary legitimacy. The next frontier for digital anthropology should be participatory design with the added challenge of translating participatory design into conventionally valuable works of scholarship. Continue reading →
As I settled in to browse the conference program for the 2014 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association (just hours before I was scheduled to leave, natch), I was immediately struck by a common thread running through a slew of paper panels and workshops. This year anthropologists convincingly demonstrated that they have wholly embraced the Digital, it was everywhere from topics to methodological choices, technologies and communications.
Here’s a sample of what conference goers had in store:
ACTIV(IST) DIGITAL SCREENS: THE POLITICS OF DIGITAL IMAGING ACROSS CULTURAL BORDERS
DIGITAL ANTHROPOLOGY GROUP (DANG) BUSINESS MEETING
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGICAL ETHICS
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY, TRANSPARENCY, AND EVERYDAY FORMS OF POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
CONFLICTED FANTASIES: ANTHROPOLOGY AND AFRICAN MEDIA CULTURES IN THE DIGITAL AGE
DIGITAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND CAREER MOBILITY: DO THESE GO HAND-IN-HAND?
SEEING ARGUMENTS: VISUAL ARGUMENTATION AND PRODUCTION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
DIGITAL DIASPORAS: AFRICAN MIGRANTS, MEDIATED COMMUNICATION, AND TRANSNATIONAL IDENTITIES
DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS (PART 1: PRIVACY, ACCESS, CONTROL, EXPOSURE)
ANTHROPOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE: ACCESS, CREATION AND DISSEMINATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
DIGITAL MEDIA AND THE PRODUCTION OF ANTHROPOLOGY: A DISCUSSION ON VISUAL ETHICS (PART 2: ANONYMITY, VISIBILITY, PROTEST, PARTICIPATION, IDENTITY)
PRODUCING STORYTELLING IN THE DIGITAL AGE: NEW CHALLENGES
ON THINGS IMMATERIAL: DATA, USERS, AND PARTICIPATION IN DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES
THE LIFECYCLE OF ETHNOGRAPHIC INFORMATION – CHALLENGES IN THE PRESERVATION AND ACCESSIBILITY OF QUALITATIVE DATA
NAPA Workshop: (FREE) Software for Writing and Managing Fieldnotes: FLEX DATA Notebook for PCs
RESEARCHING ANTHROPOLOGY AND ORIENTALISM IN THE ERA OF BIG DATA: ROUNDTABLE ON THE ARAB STUDIES Institute’s KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION PROJECT
SMALL-SCALE, BIG DATA: A NETWORK SCIENCE APPROACH TO PRODUCING ANTHROPOLOGY IN SMALL-SCALE FOOD SYSTEMS
PRODUCING DATA, CRACKING DATA CULTURES
THE BIG DATA REVOLUTION AND THE FUTURE OF SOCIOCULTURAL WORLDS
MAKING ISLAM IN MULTIPLE MEDIA: INTERNET, THERAPY, ROMANCE, AND SCHOOLING IN THE FORMATION OF MUSLIM IDENTITIES
TEACHING ANTHROPOLOGY ONLINE: BEST TOOLS AND PRACTICES FOR E-LEARNING
Writing Ethnography: Experimenting on Paper, Experimenting Online
CASTAC BUSINESS MEETING (COMMITTEE ON THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND COMPUTING)
SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY WORKSHOP ON UTILIZING FACEBOOK FOR ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH
SOCIETY FOR HUMANISTIC ANTHROPOLOGY WORKSHOP. BLOGGING BLISS: WRITING CULTURE IN THE BLOGOSPHERE
Add to this the #AAA2014 tweet-up, constant updates on social networks and blogs (not to mention the email and instant messaging we all take for granted) and it is clear — there is no part of our professional lives that is untouched by the online. Research, fieldwork, methods, teaching, scholarly communications. Digital anthropology is a major development in our discipline and rightly so, humanity, our bread and butter, is potentially redefining itself in relation to these technologies. We can’t not study this stuff! Continue reading →
Below is a list of open access English language cultural anthropology titles with general information about the journal’s policies and website for authors to consider when choosing a venue to publish their work. If you would like to learn more about the various Creative Commons licenses, check this link. Journal titles with some missing descriptive data have been contacted and updates will be ongoing as they respond. Note that the inclusive dates after the title are meant to describe what is available to read freely online, which may or may not represent the true life of the journal.
For a more comprehensive listing of titles, including multidisciplinary journals of interest to cultural anthropologists, see this earlier post. My plan is to update this post with those additional titles in the spring semester.
Africa Spectrum, 2009-2014
Affiliation/ Sponsor: GERMAN INSTITUTE OF GLOBAL AND AREA STUDIES
Scope: “current issues in political, social and economic life; culture; and development in sub-Saharan Africa”
Peer review: YES
Author fee: NO
Social network buttons: NO
Persistent ID for articles: URN
View open metadata: YES
Data preservation: Hamburg University Press & German National Library
I’m a big tabletop gamer and my wife has supernatural card playing abilities inherited from her mother. When our schedules synch up and we have a night off together we’re liable to put away a couple of bottles of wine playing Ticket to Ride after the kids go to bed. In my search for new games I happened upon the Fluxx series and now we’re hopeless addicts. I conceived this anthropology themed version of Fluxx in the haze of summer. It was printed and beta tested in the fall. Now I’m bringing it to the AAA’s. If anyone wants to play, hit me up!
Fluxx is a humorous card game of winning tricks that is very chaotic because the rules of the game are constantly changing. So there is a fair amount of luck involved, but the more you play the game skill can become involved as you learn how to navigate around the obstacles that randomly pop up along the way. Obviously you can get them on Amazon, they also carry them at Barnes & Noble and Target so run out and get a pack if this sounds like fun to you. There’s a bunch of titles in the series and they’re all great in their own way, but the best one to play with little kids is Monster Fluxx.
The core game concepts go like this. You have a draw pile, a discard pile, cards in your hand, and Keepers which are (green) cards played on the table in front of you. The object of the game is to match Keepers to (pink) Goals. There are also (blue) Action cards which give you different advantages and allow you to change the rules or attack your opponents. There are (purple) Surprise cards that you can play whether or not it is your turn. Finally there are (yellow) New Rule cards which define how each turn is played. The New Rule cards dictate how many cards you draw, how many cards you can play in a turn, how many Keepers you can have in front of you, and how many cards you can hold in your hand. There are lots of other weird things along the way that I’m skipping over for the sake of brevity. Continue reading →
Halloween is a big deal in my house. Honestly it wasn’t anything I cared much about until I had kids. Having kids makes all the holidays more fun! Things really got out of control when we moved to Hilton Village, the “destination neighborhood” for trick or treaters in Newport News, Virginia.
People come from all over town to bring their kids to our neighborhood for Halloween. When folks move here I warn them: It’s like a street carnival! When we lived on a side street I’d go through 300-400 pieces of candy. We had a friendly rivalry with the retired couple across the street for most outrageous yard. A holiday I never cared about became one of the highlights of the year.
After my wife earned tenure and we bought a bigger house on Main that really upped the ante. It’s the first house on the right as you come into the neighborhood, making it ground zero for the Halloween onslaught. We are literally the gateway to the neighborhood. This year the party fell on a Friday, that only encouraged more folks to come out and stay longer. Last week I gave out 30 lbs of candy, 100 glow sticks, 200 stickers. It was a mob scene.
Gentle reader, this is an old post. I wrote it last year and hesitated for whatever reason. I quickly remembered it once I read this letter to the popular advice column Dear Prudence in which the correspondent feels put upon by the obligation of passing out candy to the kids from other neighborhoods. The original inspiration for the post came from this image, collected from my Facebook newsfeed via the reliably righteous Latino Rebels. I no longer have the link it came from (sorry), but my notes say it was first shared by ABC 15 Phoenix.
This semester I am at the College of William and Mary completing a practicum in archives and special collections primarily focused on digitization, the whole point of which is to make items such as manuscripts accessible to users online. As is the nature of special collections the material is one of a kind and that means along the way I occasionally find treasures that catch my eye through the blur of metadata creation. I’ve already shared with you the pleasures of huffing nitrous oxide at Yale College in 1821 and today I have a new one, the dangers of letting people kiss your baby.
My current project is the digitization of a collection of romantic correspondence between a young couple in a small Virginia town in the early 20th century. First they are friends, then they are dating and engaged, and once they are married the correspondence stops and the remainder of the collection is Christmas cards. It was here that I found a three page form letter from the Women’s Home Companion Better Babies Bureau dated September 1939.
Initially I interpreted the moniker “Better Babies Bureau” as a play on the WPA alphabet soup of agencies, but according to this encyclopedia entry this series from Women’s Home Companion dates back to 1913 and links the to eugenics movement. Continue reading →
I’m starting a research project on open access publishing in anthropology, specifically on the kinds of metadata different venues use to make their material findable by users. Along the way I’ve collected a running list of English language titles of interest to cultural anthropologists. The original list was started by anthropologi.info but it had a number of broken links and also included moribund journals I am excluding from my research. The anthropologi.info link also lists a number of multilingual journals that I haven’t gotten to yet but am working on currently.
In the meantime, check these out. The following titles have been updated at least once since 2013. Parenthetical notes are included to describe the titles if necessary.
In case you have been living under a rock (or in the field, either is permissible for an anthro really) you may not have noticed that everyone and their mother is dumping ice water on their head in the name of ALS. Watching this fad unfold has provided Internet observers and other semi-employed persons an extraordinarily rich phenomenon to critique.
First of all, there’s a lot to like about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. By means of this fad I have learned that I have friends, Facebook friends, and friends of friends, who have loved ones or have lost someone because of this disease. It’s raised millions of dollars for rare disease research, which is inarguably a good thing. And it has done so by means of a viral marketing campaign that is, in essence, a short video clip of people acting silly. Wins all around.
It’s also interesting how, like the best of the Internet, the Ice Bucket challenge has spawned appropriation, reappropriation, and metacommentary. Here I’m thinking of Orlando Jones pouring a bucket of brass shell casings on his head to protest violence against Black youth in America, Matt Damon pouring toilet water on his head to draw attention to the lack of clean water around the world, and persons in Gaza pouring rubble on their head to draw attention to ongoing violence in Palestine. It’s really cool how the Internet allows people to riff on a theme and permutate established performances into something new. Continue reading →
I’ve started an internship in the Special Collections department of Swem Library at the College of William and Mary, creating metadata for archival manuscripts. I ran across this one the other day and had to transcribe an excerpt to share, there are some ellipsis where the ink is illegible. It is a letter from a Yale College student to a family member, 1821.
Lewelyn is I believe as much pleased with college and I am as yet very much pleased with it. The tutor of my division is rather unpopular yet I have always found him polite and obliging. He has excused me every time I have made an application to him. The other day I even … him and told him that some of the students would inhale the exhilarating gas and that I had a curiosity to see them. He said that he would not wish it as a general thing but as I had been punctual I might be excused. I then went and the first that took it had no effect upon. The next as soon as they took the bag from him began to look wet and dance and jump about and pull the fellows about. One began to fight and chase the fellows all about the room. One jumped up and cried out two or three times and danced about and sung and talked about Miss Johns a lady he was particularly fond of and then ran up to a medical student and seizing him tore his pantaloons off just about the knee and left his great long hairy leg stretching out naked and then running up to another snatched off his spectacles. But the two most ludicrous were Cait and Robbins of the Senior class one of them Cait placed his hat in the middle of the floor (it was an old rus… hat which the fellows were in the habit of laughing at him about) and made an … to it “O most magnanimous hat. Super-incumbent on the bare floor! Rex Brainorum” And he laughed all the while fit to kill himself and the other one went about bouncing and scraping to the fellows and ran to … a fat fellow in the room and had to kiss him but he was too strong for him so he left him and very unexpectedly ran up to me and seizing me hugged me and kissed me very affectionately before I could disengage myself.
Read more about early experiments with laughing gas, and the vogue it enjoyed among the privileged class, in this great post from The Public Domain Review.
As the community of Ferguson, Mo. reels from the shooting death of a young Black man, Michael Brown, at the hands of a White police officer it is worth paying attention to how the ensuing social drama that follows forwards conflicting interpretations by means of competing narratives. Shortly after Brown’s death a protest began to congeal, this was immediately met by police control.
At a candlelight vigil on Sunday evening, the heightened tensions between the police and the African-American community were on display. A crowd estimated in the thousands flooded the streets near the scene of the shooting, some of them chanting “No justice, no peace.” They were met by hundreds of police officers in riot gear, carrying rifles and shields, as well as K-9 units.
His death immediately sparked outrage, with protests and vigils beginning that day and showing no sign of abating on Monday. The reaction took a violent turn on Sunday, as some protesters began looting businesses in the Ferguson area over several hours, leaving a trail of broken glass and burned-out storefronts in their wake.
It sounds like there was a confrontation between protestors and police as well as loss of property later on. Is this a riot? Continue reading →
Last week I sent out a job app, well, internship app to be truthful. After all I’m a grad student again. But its significant to me because it was the first one I have applied to in the field of archives. I am just now wrapping up an internship at a museum library and being that this is the first time I’ve written a cover letter for an archives position I sought out one of the senior archivists for advice. We talked about what sort of language to use, making sure I could describe the work I had already accomplished with the proper jargon.
Then he said, “And you should say something about your heritage. You’ve probably already got a couple of lines you’ve worked out. Make sure you put that in there too.” I knew exactly what he was talking about.
I think, maybe this is a defining quality of white ethnicity in the US: in certain circumstances you have the option of unlocking minority status or else opt to coast on white (male) privilege. Which version of “me” do I want to deploy in such-and-such a context? In the case of a job letter without a name that marks you as “other” it is your privilege to have the agency to chose the minority identity. Such as it is.
I did, indeed, have a couple of lines already worked out from previous letters. But to be perfectly honest I haven’t really used that language in years. This was a letter writing strategy that I employed very reliably as an ABD, particularly in the days when I was applying to everything. As time passed, I changed, my letters changed. I had other things to say. Continue reading →
I had a delightful day at work yesterday. It started with a two hour long debate with my colleagues about method and theory. Once we exhausted the possibilities we put our ideas into practice. After I made my contribution a senior scholar reviewed my work and directed me to make some changes, the end result was pretty good. I love this environment of collaboration and shared decision making!
This summer I am volunteering at The Mariners’ Museum as part of my training in information science. I help them with grunt work necessary to meet a funding deadline, they give me work experience and expand my professional network. I get three credit hours towards my Masters to boot. The museum library is housed on the campus of Christopher Newport University and we have one of the most expansive collections of ship’s registries and nautical themed rare books in the US.
My current project is working in the library’s archives creating catalog records for individual items. This is unusual because archives are typically only described at the collection level, who donated the collection and what sorts of materials are included. Its rare for an archive catalog to index each and every thing present in a given collection.
The work I’m currently engaged in is an accrual to an existing collection of pop culture items, all donated by the museum’s vice-president who enjoys perusing eBay, flea markets, and antique stores for anything that references ironclads, the Monitor, or the Battle of Hampton Roads. In 1862 the local waterways hosted a major Civil War naval battle, it was the first encounter between metal ships heralding the end of wooden navies. So this local historical event is of global significance, at least to Navy people anyway. Continue reading →
Shortly after I bought my wife a Kindle and started moving all my iTunes stuff over to Amazon Cloud Player I discovered that ACP had captured a bunch of podcasts I’d forgotten I had subscribed to. Maybe they were off of iTunes U or something, I don’t know. I listened to four or five and got into something else. In the meantime iTunes went on dutifully downloading them and I went on ignoring their existence.
Anyway, I have ACP import all my iTunes stuff it grabs these lectures and gives them all random cover art. The results are pretty weird.