Category Archives: Blog post

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who hold that peer review as we know it is the defining quality of serious knowledge production, if something is not peer reviewed than it must be of less value or no value at all.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.

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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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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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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I think Princeton University Press kinda jumped the shark on this one

I’m suspicious of for-profit journal publishers, but I like university presses. They are often value-driven, down on their heels, and plucky. When the death of publishing at the hands of The Digital was first announced, they were pretty depressed. But since then they’ve moved into ebooks, developed new ways to market their books, and have done a good job embracing the new.

Princeton is a good example of a large, (relatively) wealthy press with a lot of cultural capital that is looking for new ways to engage audiences. I think this ‘trailer’ (yes, you read that right) for their new book 1177 B.C. just stepped over the line. My favorite part is when the words “NO MORE MYCENEANS” start drifting towards you while the soundtrack from Lord of the Rings plays in the background.

Clothing – 7 Ethnological Studies

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Matthew Timothy Bradley.

One of the things I want to do during my second go-round guest blogging at Savage Minds is to create a series of how-to posts—what is called “service writing” in the commercial publishing world—about dressing for hot weather fieldwork. Prior to that, though, I want to offer this list of seven of my favorite academic articles about clothing. The list is meant to be fun, as are the photos and the video of mine I have included along with it, none of which are meant to be illustrative of the items discussed in the articles. Please do feel free to mention some of your own favorite clothing-related articles, books, broadcasts, or films in the Comments, as well as to link to any photos or videos of your own. (Seriously! Please do. ☺)

finger weaving

Ceinture fléchée (aka, Assomption sash), on sale in Québec, May 2012.

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11 Cutting-Edge Thinkers That Anthropologists Should Be Paying Attention to Right Now!

sm-buzzfeed

Well it wouldn’t be an unpaid internship in the 2014 if the bosses upstairs didn’t have me doing a listicle, so I’m proud to present to you a new feature: The Savage Minds Rundown. Every week, I’ll be bringing you an informative list of items that I think you should be paying attention to, if you want to impress your colleagues. This week, I bring you the top 11 big thinkers that you, as an anthropologist, should be reading right now.

You won’t believe who’s on this list. Number seven nearly stopped my heart! Without further ado: Continue reading

Beyond Surveillance Fridges and Socialized Power Drills: Social Media and the Financialization of Everyday Life

written with John Carter McKnight, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

This past weekend, two prominent socio-technical critics have given us radically different versions of the future of capitalism in the age of social media. Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, argues in an op-ed for FT for a dystopia of toothbrush analytics, trash bin surveillance, and our personal lives being turned into marketing data and sold back to us as irresistible products and services. Meanwhile, Jeremy Rifkin in the New York Times sees similar trends leading to “The Rise of Anti-Capitalism.” These big-picture visions are important for steering us towards futures we’d rather live in. However, studying companies and consumers at the forefront of the transformative interaction of social media and financial services gives us a different picture entirely: one where old and new, privacy and sociality, onrushing corporatism and peer to peer pushback are producing a tangled, complicated, often contradictory mess – and along with it, the future we’ll probably see.

As kids growing up in Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” 80s we endured a lot of propaganda regarding drugs. One was the myth of the “gateway drug.” We were told that drugs like marijuana with few medically provable harms were highly dangerous because they were gateways to harder more evil drugs. Gateway drugs are like linkbait, hooks that bring unwitting subjects from a one innocuous practice to one more pernicious.

Morozov claims that social media is a gateway drug for the financial sector to hook us on a new range of products and services, while increasing its control over our lives. We hear that the dark insides of our mouths, fridges, rubbish bins, and cars will be scrutinized by networked and image-recognizing surveillance cameras. Videos will be algorithmically analyzed producing “data portfolios” which will be automatically used (for a fee) by third parties to adjudicate our credit worthiness, employability, and romantic fitness. As longtime admirers of Morozov’s guts and wit we’ve been pleased to see him begin (finally) to use the name and identify the problem head-on—neoliberal capitalism galvanized by ubiquitously networked humans. Continue reading

Week 10: Reflections on the 1st Savage Minds Writing Group

Phew. We did it. This week concludes the first ever Savage Minds Writing Group. Launched in January with seventy people expressing interest in joining in, our writing group was designed to provide community, inspiration, and a schedule or some sort of accountability in the writing process.

Writing is such a solo activity at times, yet one that requires the support and involvement of others. Imagination is key to this, imagining the people one is writing about, imagining readers, as are face-to-face conversations with friends and mentors as you write. I hoped an online writing group of anthropologists in many different places around the world might complement these relationships, and provide a sense of community of others engaged in similar processes, similar difficulties, similar joys in the writing. Continue reading

The curse of the moveable stacks

This year my wife was elected to the faculty senate. I already know her friends and enemies in her department, but since this puts her in contact with new colleagues it gives me perspective on different parts of her school. Now I’m privy to a whole new level of gossip and hearsay.

One running joke between us is that I’ve been to her campus library more than she has. For the most part she uses electronic resources, but on occasion she will need a book from my campus. Her campus has a smaller collection and all of it is set in moveable stacks. It seems that one of her secret fears is getting trapped between the moving walls of books and crushed as another person is shifting the stacks. I shake my head and tell her that’s not possible, but she insists that it is and so on the rare occasions she needs a book she fetches it under a cloud of distress. Quickly she dashes in and out without lingering.

Real estate on her campus is tight and the library is popular, so to expand the library will be hugely consequential because there is not much space. Or, I should say that the library is popular but the stacks are not. All of this is fodder for discussion in the senate. Students come to the building to use the coffee shop and commons more than the books. In discussion with her fellow senators about how to get more students to use books it was suggested that the proposed library expansion intersperse work areas throughout the stacks, so that students would have to enter that space in order to get to the desks and carrels.

Then one senator addressed the elephant in the room. If the library was to expand the stacks would that mean there would be more moveable stacks? He had always been afraid to go in them for fear of being crushed. And a second person rose to agree, she too never went in there. What if someone rolled the stacks on top of her?

See! My wife declared, other people are afraid of the moveable stacks too. It’s not just me.

Apparently this is a thing? Be honest. Are you afraid to go into your libraries moveable stacks?

Unpacking an Erotic Icon: The Sexy Librarian

I recently came across the blog post Naughty Librarians and the Eroticism of Intellect, which purports to explain the enduring appeal of the image of the “sexy librarian” in modern life. Aside from the post’s dismissable evolutionary psychology conclusions, the author raises some interesting points about the ways the image of the librarian in our culture intersects with and embodies certain aspects of modern eroticism, grounding his or her (the author is identified as “J.M. McFee” with no bio) argument in a highly individualized literary psychological approach.

The trope of the sexy librarian as an aspect of the American sexual psyche has interested me for a long time — in fact, it was what triggered my academic interest in sex in American culture and eventually drove me into Women’s Studies. So I was quite interested to see what this J.M. McFee had to say. Unfortunately, in the absence of any sort of historical or cultural context, I found McFee’s musings rather toothless. For example, the contention that “eyeglasses and print media are already sufficiently antiquarian to have become as fetishized as garter belts and riding crops” could be true (though I rather doubt it, since eyeglasses and books are very much part of our daily lives in a way that garter belts absolutely aren’t) but even so, it doesn’t tell us very much about why librarians have become so idealized and not, say, book store clerks, editors, or opticians.

The sexualization of the librarian does not stand alone in our cultural erotics, nor can it be cleanly separated from the whole structure of American (possibly Western) sexuality. While I can’t profess to have the whole story, I hope here to give at least an outline of what the whole story might look like. Continue reading