Category Archives: Guest blogger

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

Elsie Clews Parsons’ loveshack

That a patrician New Yorker was in an open marriage during the early 20th century is an attention grabber, ergo the title of my post. But that is not even among the half dozen most impressive facts of Elsie Clews Parsons’ life, about which more below.

Last spring I had the opportunity to visit her Gilded Age cottage in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Herbert Parsons summered. One of the most enjoyable parts of my afternoon was my walk up to the cabin above the cottage. The cabin was designed for Elsie by her paramour C. Grant LaFarge, one of the architects responsible for the design of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. As I checked out the cabin’s interior, I imagined Elsie sweating through the soupy Southern New England days over the pages she had filled in the desert Southwest.

C. Grant LaFarge

The Lenox, Massachusetts, cabin where Elsie Clews Parsons spent her summers writing up her field notes.

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Linguistics, Anthropological Linguistics, and Linguistic Anthropology

Defining that increasingly rara avis, the anthropological linguist.

The anthropological linguist possess proficiency in linguistic analysis of the sort falling under the umbrella of Basic Linguistic Theory. To put it crudely, s/he can solve problems in phonology, morphology, and syntax.

The anthropological linguist conducts fieldwork in order to collect data in the service of the production of a linguistic description. This has always meant that s/he has an at least decent ear. Nowadays it also implies has some ability to utilize digital audio recording technology and to construct RDBs.

Anthropological linguistics

Anthropological linguists combine a background in hard linguistics with the willingness to undertake fieldwork.

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Friday fun — run-ins with anthropological hoaxes.

There aren’t many things as Upstate-y as the blue and yellow historical markers ornamenting the two-lane roads of the Empire State. One of my favorites is found on the Cherry Valley Turnpike near the Onondaga Reservation. While I knew about the Cardiff Giant through teaching about the scam during my first-ever go-round TAing,1 running across the marker put the hoax squarely on my mental map and made it a lot realer to me.

marker – Cardiff Giant

Ever have a run-in of your own with a famous or not-so-famous anthropological hoax?

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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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anthropology + design: laura forlano.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design. This is our final post!]

LAURA FORLANO. writer and design researcher.

 

WHAT I DO.

I’m an ethnographic time traveler. For much of the last 10 years, I’ve been studying the ways in which the use of communication technology enables emergent socio-cultural practices around working and living in cities. For example, I’m interested in peer-to-peer networking, bottom-up organizing, co-located online collaboration, user-driven social innovation and open source urbanism, to name just a few. I’ve watched teens use mobile phones in Tokyo, observed activists building Wi-Fi networks on rooftops in Berlin, interviewed freelancers in Starbucks cafes in New York, watched doctors use computers in operating rooms, tested iPhone applications for navigating college campuses, visited design studios in Barcelona, and hung out with hackers in Budapest.

写真

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anthropology + design: daniela rosner.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

DANIELA ROSNER. design researcher. ethnographer. science studies scholar.

 

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

I think design and anthropology have the potential to reinforce each other’s aims.  Anthropology could help develop a more socially informed design process, and design could help clarify anthropological investigation. That’s the goal, but not always the end—design can over-simply or misinterpret anthropological insights, and anthropological inquiry can overdetermine or stifle design. What’s helpful in an anthropological interpretation of design is how it helps reveal an instance of design as just one (of many) located and specific moments of change. Lucy Suchman articulates this nicely in her writing on the limits of design, suggesting that “conventional design methods are (necessarily) silent on matters that anthropology would be interested in articulating” (2011:3).

Conversely, design can open up creative possibilities overlooked by other modes of investigation, and help anthropologists communicate in the field. For me, design often involves studio-based explorations. Design can take on many forms for different people, but as someone with an undergraduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, I base my own methods on those early days—thinking with materials and building intuition through hands-on explorations.

daniela 1

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anthropology + design: kat jungnickel.

[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

KAT JUNGNICKEL. ethnographer. maker.

kat 1

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

I’ve always made a bit of a mess. I’ve splashed around darkrooms, attempted to stitch interdisciplinary collaborations, and knit a research blog. I’ve hosted exhibitions, printed ‘zines and folded origami-inspired data boxes. I regularly collaborate with colleagues to build and perform dubiously welded “Enquiry Machines,” and I’m currently sewing a range of new Victorian women’s cycle wear as a means of thinking about public space, mobility, and gender.

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anthropology + design: anne galloway.

[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

ANNE GALLOWAY. designer. ethnographer. archaeologist.

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

My sense of anthropology is very materialist so I think it made a lot of sense for me to gravitate towards design. I originally trained as an archaeologist and did ethnographic fieldwork on Andean textile production, so I’ve always been interested in the things that people make. Of course, as anthropologists we’re taught the importance of context and I think that bringing anthropology and design together really stresses contextual meanings. For me, the most interesting connection between anthropology and design can be found in how each practice enhances the other. Anthropology provides a kind of thick description that contextualises design processes and products, and design offers anthropology creative means of exploring and representing what it means to be human. I also enjoy the explicit combination of thinking, doing, and making—of blurring boundaries between analytical and creative practice, between rational and emotional experience.

Sometimes, in design, we talk about research about, for, and through design—and I think that anthropology is well suited to contribute to each endeavour. As we know, ethnography (including material, visual, and discursive culture) can tell us a lot about the roles of design in everyday life. Ethnography also provides us with valuable information that can be used to design “better” things—or to design nothing at all. And although research through design is perhaps less obviously related to anthropology, I think that every kind of anthropological research could create and employ objects and images with as much nuance as we’ve come to use words.

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anthropology + design: silvia lindtner.

[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

SILVIA LINDTNER. DIY maker, hacker, and ethnographic design researcher.

silvia 13

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

Many disciplines and fields often work with competing notions of what counts as design, claiming authority over the term, practice, and definition. Think for instance about efforts in critical design (e.g., Dunne & Raby 2007) and the strong oppositions its practitioners often make to product design. Critical design is aimed at engaging people in critical ways with commonly used products. As Jeff and Shaowen Bardzell illuminate, critical design is positioned in opposition to affirmative design—the latter considered as “the common practice, and this practice is amoral and ultimately a dupe for capitalist ideology, while critical designers are described as moral agents who seek to change society for the better” (Bardzell & Bardzell 2013).

It is important to not shy away from the politics of design, or to brash aside such heated debates over definitions, terms, and authentic practices–many of which are legitimizing efforts of new approaches in an overly competitive market (both industry and the academy). The question is how to engage the politics of design in a way that remains open to multiple viewpoints and approaches. At numerous times in my research, I have heard people argue that the process of making and designing itself is apolitical. There is much that refutes such statements–think for instance of questions of labor when we turn towards sites of production that manufacture the technological products we use on a daily basis, or listen to debates of hackerspace members over what counts as hacking versus making versus product design. What is important here is to consider the differences that lie in designing as a mode of inquiry, a leisure practice, or central to one’s profession and livelihood.

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anthropology + design: nicolas nova.

[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]

NICOLAS NOVA. design researcher. ethnographer.

A-braincomp2

ANTHROPOLOGY + DESIGN.

The word “design” is problematic as it’s often related to furniture and glossy magazines at the local newsstand. And because this term is used in different fields, from engineering to management, you have different professions in which practitioners see themselves as “designers:” architects, engineers, people developing user interfaces for websites or video games, etc. A good way to approach design is to understand what “designers” do: they define the shape and the behavior of artifacts based on their understanding of potential users and the context in which they live or work. Said differently, they materialize “prospective futures.”

In order to speculate about near future possibilities, designers usually need to make their work relevant, useful, or believable by people. This is where the social sciences fit in. Knowledge and methods coming from anthropology–such as ethnography–are used and often repurposed by designers to help make different decisions over the course of a project. Observing people’s routines in a kitchen can inform the design of electric appliances, for instance. Interviewing users with a non-standard way of using their bike can also be curious and lead to new bicycle designs.

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anthropology + design.

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, Rachel Carmen Ceasar.

Chances are you know nothing about design.

Me neither.

nicolas_objects_big (1)

So when I was introduced to designer Laura Forlano at the Society for Social Studies of Science meeting in Sunny San Diego last fall, my interest in what design could do for anthropology–and vice-versa–was piqued.

For the next two weeks, I will be running a short series that features interviews with design researchers, ethnographic hackers, and field work makers with their take on anthropology and design. For the first interview, we will be talking with design researcher and ethnographer Nicolas Nova (that’s his toolkit in the photo above).

Rachel Carmen Ceasar (@rceasara) is a doctoral candidate in the Joint Medical Anthropology Program at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco (California, USA). She writes about the subjective and scientific stakes in exhuming mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship in Spain today.

Who’s an archaeologist, and what do we do? A few reflections on Identities and Boundaries in Four-Field Anthropology

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Jane Eva Baxter]

This past year, I had two conference experiences that offered me a chance to reflect on what it means to be an anthropologist/archaeologist in the 21st century.  These experiences allowed me to consider the dynamic shifts in anthropological inquiry that move us beyond historical visions of and for the discipline.  Simultaneously, these encounters got me thinking about identities within anthropology, and how we connect, disconnect, and reconnect to the particular cultures of our own subfields.  Perhaps most interesting, was the realization that boundaries of practice are shifting with a different pace and rhythm than our own identities as anthropologists, or archeologists, or linguists, or…   In other words, these experiences gave me an opportunity to reflect upon a very active set of incongruities around traditional characterizations and boundaries of practice, the realities of what we actually do now as members of a particular anthropological subfield, and the ways we choose to identify ourselves within the incredible diversity of anthropology/anthropologists today. Continue reading

Undergraduate Ethnographers Infiltrate the AAA: Part 1

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, JANE EVA BAXTER]

November’s AAA meetings are a distant memory after a season of holidays, finals, grading, and course preparation for round two of the academic year. Before they slip away completely, I wanted to share some thoughts about assigning 30 anthropology seniors the task of writing a brief ethnography based on time spent at the AAA annual meetings. That’s right- a small contingent of undergraduate ethnographers was among you. They may have handed you your conference program at registration, sat next to you in a session, or been at the next table at Kitty O’Shea’s or Starbucks. So think back, while you were busy conferencing you were being observed, perhaps were engaged in casual conversation, and certainly were studied thoughtfully by students in a senior capstone seminar trying to learn what it really means to be an anthropologist in 2013.

Teaching “The Anthropological Life” Using the AAA Meetings

The anthropology senior seminar at DePaul is titled, “The Anthropological Life” and is a course designed to help students simultaneously reflect on four years of education, and contemplate the transition from life in school to life without school. Each faculty member who teaches the course takes a different approach, but I’ve always embraced the seminar as an opportunity for students to connect with anthropologists working in a variety of vocational capacities. Usually, this means in a ten week quarter I invite four guest anthropologists from outside academe to come to campus, give a public lecture, have dinner with our seniors, and then have the seniors interview them for about 90 minutes where they can talk about their “anthropological life.”

My two main goals for the course are really quite simple. First, I want students to recognize that anthropology is not a particular vocation, but rather a way of engaging the world. I ask them: How do people with anthropological training see the world differently from those without such training? What are the core values of the discipline and how do those values become actualized in the daily practice of lived lives? Second, I want students to reflect actively on their own “anthropological lives” and consider how anthropology will shape their future regardless of their career or life path. In many forms we engage question such as: What does anthropology mean in the context of your life? How has anthropology shaped who you are as a person and how do you see anthropology shaping your future?

The AAA coming to town was a pretty remarkable opportunity in the context of this course. Where else could students gain so much exposure to contemporary anthropology so efficiently? And so, for the 2013 permutation of the course, it was decided to substitute a guest speaker with a somewhat structured encounter with the AAA meeting that would result in a very brief piece of ethnographic writing.

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Empathy, Obligation and Ethnographic Writing

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger LINDSAY A BELL

I am not a specialist in the anthropology of emotions, nor am I a psychological anthropologist. Yet, for some time I have been preoccupied by the concept of empathy. I want to thank the SM community for engaging with me in this think-out-loud. I am grateful that Zoe Wool has thrown away our shoes so that we may continue to wander/wonder about this topic.  In this last post, I share the motivations for my curiosities.

I came to my concern for/with empathy in much the same way many of us writers-of-real–lives-lived do, ethnographically. My work revolves around dramas of national obligation as they unfold in northern Canada. Specifically, I write about the intersections of race, gender, citizenship and political economy that belie a region marked by high natural resource revenues (diamonds, oil, gas) and substantially uneven distributions of social harm between Aboriginal people and Others. I write about enduring optimism and continued faith in extractive capital, despite its record of impermanence and destruction in the area. Continue reading