The Arctic is Hot!

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Simone Abram.

It’s not a joke – the Arctic seems to be everywhere at the moment, and it’s mainly because it is getting warmer. None of us really agree what the Arctic is or where – or whether – it has limits, few of us go there, and only a small number of states border the Arctic seas. That doesn’t seem to stop commentators using images of the Arctic to serve their particular interests, often with little regard or even acknowledgement of those who actually live in the Arctic regions. Nor does it dissuade states around the world from developing Arctic policies or seeing the Arctic as a potential resource for their own development goals. These are the themes that inform a recently-established international European project on Arctic Encounters that sets out to confront the idea of a post-colonial Arctic, through the comparison between Arctic imageries and lives in the region. 

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“An anti-nominalist book”: Eduardo Kohn on How Forests Think

Earlier this month I sat down with Eduardo Kohn to talk about his amazing book How Forests Think. We started out discussing his intellectual influences and ended up ranging widely over his book, the status of Peirce as a thinker, what ‘politics’ means, and a variety of other topics. Thanks to the hard work of our intern Angela, I’m proud to post a copy of our interview here. I really enjoyed talking to Eduardo, so I hope you enjoy reading it!

Wisconsin and the Amazon

RG: Thanks so much for agreeing to talk. I really enjoyed How Forests Think. When I started it I was a little on the skeptical side, but I ended up thinking it was a mind-blowing book. I thought we could begin by discussing the background for the book and your training. I see the book as mixing biology, science studies (especially Donna Haraway and Bruno Latour), and then some sort of semiotics. It seems like there are a lot of influences there. You got your PhD at Wisconsin, so how did that work out? Can you tell me a little about your background?

EK: The way I got into anthropology was through research, by which I mean fieldwork.  And I was always trying to find ways to do more fieldwork. I saw Wisconsin as an extension of this. When I was in college I did some field research in the Ecuadorian Amazon, I had a Fulbright to go back and do research after college, and only then did I go to grad school.   Although How Forests Think aims to make a conceptual intervention in anthropology, I think of our field as a special vehicle for engaging intensely with a place in ways that make us over and help us think differently. Continue reading

The Ethnographic “Shooting Ratio”

One of the questions I get asked most often by graduate students doing ethnographic research is about how much data they need to collect. I think this is especially troublesome for those who are doing fieldwork somewhere far away, where limited time and funds mean that they will unlikely be able to make a return trip after they return from the field. But even those doing research closer to home want to know “How much is enough?” In answering this question I draw on my experience as a documentary filmmaker.

A “shooting ratio” is “the ratio between the total duration of its footage created for possible use in a project and that which appears in its final cut.” For a Hollywood film, where the scenes are planned in advance, this might be four to one. That is, shooting four hours of footage for every hour of the final film. Now that films have largely gone digital, producers no longer need to worry about the cost of expensive film stock, but it still costs a lot to have actors and crew out for a day and nobody wants to waste too much time shooting the same scene over and over again.

For documentary films, however, it is different. Continue reading

The Anthropologist as Scholarly Hipster, Part V: Why do they hate us?

This is the last (I promise) in a guest blog series that examines scholarly subjectivities in anthropology through comparison with the figure of the ‘hipster.’ Part I focused on defining terms, Part II was about offering critiques from the margins, Part III focused on image and brand, and Part IV was about authenticity and privilege. In this final post, I examine anthropology as the academy’s favorite punching bag.

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Computing: From Method to Object

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Display system, from Shigeharu Sugita’s 1987 “Computers in Ethnological Studies: As a Tool and an Object

This post is the final part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

The 1980s marked a significant shift in the history of computing and anthropology. Up to this point, computers were primarily considered tools that could be incorporated into anthropological methods. Georgina Born has described this instrumental attitude as “modernist,” based on the assumption that computational tools are basically rational and thus “a-cultural.” A number of coincident developments during the 1980s complicated this assumption, shifting computing from an anthropological tool into an object of study in its own right. With the spread of PCs, computing left university or corporate mainframes, entering and influencing traditional anthropological field sites as well as newer ones, such as the workplace. With more anthropologists heeding Laura Nader’s 1969 call to “study up” and the increasing influence of science and technology studies on anthropological research programs, the scope of anthropological interest also spread, incorporating “high-tech” sites where computers had already become well-established tools. Along with the increased interest in the cultural politics of method heralded by the reflexive turn, these moves brought computers into the frame for anthropology — to serve not only as ready-to-hand tools but as present-at-hand objects of anthropological interest. Anthropologists began to encounter computers not only as tools that they might use or avoid, but as cultural artifacts to be studied anthropologically.1

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Personal Computing: Ordinariness and Materiality

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

The introduction of portable personal computers significantly broadened the scope of computing in anthropology. Where centralized mainframe computing had lent itself to large calculative tasks and team research projects, PCs fit more readily into the classic model of the lone fieldworker working primarily with textual material. Through the 1980s, computers achieved a certain ordinariness in anthropological work — the use of a computer for data collection or analysis was not limited to a vanguard group seeking to redefine anthropology, but was rather becoming a typical fact of university life (and, increasingly, life outside the university as well). This ordinariness set the stage for the explosion of social scientific interest in computers that was to come with the introduction of the world wide web and its attendant mediated socialities.

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Cultural Ecology: Modeling with Computers

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

Last week, I surveyed mid-century formalist approaches to computing and culture, which took culture as ideational — a matter of mental states, structures, or content. Ethnoscience and cognitive anthropology epitomized this attitude toward culture, taking part in a cross-disciplinary “cognitive revolution.” As Paul Edwards has outlined, computers were central to the emergence of cognitive science, which was founded on an understanding of the mind-brain relation by analogy to software and hardware. George Miller, a pioneer of cognitive psychology, suggested that computers helped collapse the behaviorist paradigm. Where behaviorism limited psychologists’ theorizing to the mind’s strictly observable “outputs” — lever pulls and all that — the computer offered a model for thinking about “memory, syntactic rules, plans, schemata, and the like.” These notions could be instantiated in actual computers, providing a working model of what was going on in the mind. As Miller said: “We didn’t believe that computers were giant brains, but we could see the similarities.”

However, cognitive and otherwise ideational approaches to culture did not have a monopoly on computational models and methods.

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Reader rights and author rights at Cultural Anthropology

The latest issue of Cultural Anthropology (the last issue edited by Anne Allison and Charlie Piot before until the end of the year when the editorship moves to James Faubion, Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe) has a bunch of great articles on Open Access (as well a fantastic article by Joe Dumit about a classroom assignment called “The Implosion“). There is a really detailed and wonderful article about CA’s former managing editor Ali Kenner about all the work that goes into making a journal like CA work. Fellow Minds blogger Matt interviewed the new Managing Editor Tim Elfenbein who is already doing great new things with the journal, and other fellow Minds blogger Ryan interviewed Jason Baird Jackson about the state of OA today. There is also an excellent article by non-anthropologists Kevin Smith and Paolo Mangiafico from Duke Library about the challenges of OA in the University context today.

In the course of preparing the interview that I did in the same issue, I discovered that even though the AAA is making Cultural Anthropology open access, they are not doing it the way everyone else does so–by applying CC licenses to the articles. I explain this more in a blog post on the CA website, but I think it is important for people to recognize that OA is not just about reading, and not just about Author’s rights but about readers’ rights as well–something we in anthropology should be especially sensitive to.

Urban geographer’s brush with the law risks sending cold chill through social science

Almost two years ago, one of my oldest friends, Bradley L Garrett, boarded a plane at Heathrow airport. As it taxied on the runway, the British Transport Police arrived and dragged him off the plane. He was accused of conspiracy to commit criminal damage.

Garrett, a geographer at the University of Oxford, originally from the US, went on trial earlier this month for alleged crimes surrounding his research into urban exploration.

He has been handed a conditional discharge, which basically means he is off the hook as long as he doesn’t do it again. But his story should act as a warning to researchers and to anyone who benefits from researchers gathering information about human beings. In other words, everyone.

Continue reading here.

 

Ethnoscience: Being Scientific with Computers

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

If we had to pick a moment when computers first appeared as anthropological research tools, it might be the 1962 Wenner-Gren Symposium on “The Uses of Computers in Anthropology.” The proceedings would be published three years later, in a volume edited by Dell Hymes. Over the following decades, as journals featured reviews of computer programs for anthropologists, the symposium regularly served as the inaugural reference.

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Structuralism: Thinking with Computers

This post is part of a series on the history of computing in sociocultural anthropology.

In his foundational 1955 article “The Structural Study of Myth,” Claude Lévi-Strauss outlined the program for a structuralist, cross-cultural study of mythology. The basic premise is prototypical structural anthropology: to analyze myths, one must decompose them into their constituent units (or “mythemes”). Thus decomposed, hidden mythical patterns can be made evident. These patterns are the real “content” of myths, according to Lévi-Strauss — they persist across different tellings of the same myth, and they reflect the inner structures of the mind. More important for the structuralist project, they recur in different myths, cross-culturally, reflecting the psychic unity of mankind.1

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Album Art for Anthropology

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.

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Carl Hoffman > Jared Diamond

Carl Hoffman is a travel writer who has recently turned his attention to New Guinea, where he produces grisly stories of cannibalism, murder, and The Smell Of Men. Jared Diamond is a scientist with decades of experience visiting New Guinea whose books attempt to humanize the people who live there. As an expert on Papua New Guinea, I was really surprised  to find that I was much more impressed with Hoffman’s understanding of Melanesia and its people than I was Diamond’s. So how could I like a cannibalism-obsessed journalist more than a scientist who admired Papua New Guinean’s parenting skills? Continue reading