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
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
CLOTHES FOR FIELDWORK, PART 2: OUTERWEAR
The initial entry in this series focused on some commonly taken for granted pieces of clothing—underwear, hats, and scarves. In this entry we move on to discussion of outerwear (trousers/pants and shirts/blouses).
Planning a summer trip to a hot weather field site? Let’s punch up your wardrobe a bit prior to departure.
This is intended as the first in a short series of how-to posts for optimizing your clothing choices for the heat and humidity. The individual posts will be organized around a particular type of garment or gear, such as outwear and footwear. This post will discuss undergarments and headwear and neckwear. Prior to that, a few caveats about the series of posts as a whole:
[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.
[This post is part of a series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]
KAT JUNGNICKEL. ethnographer. maker.
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.
[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.
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.
[This post is part of a two-week series featuring interviews with designers reflecting on anthropology and design.]
NICOLAS NOVA. design researcher. ethnographer.
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.
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger, Rachel Carmen Ceasar.
Chances are you know nothing about design.
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.
[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
Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger LINDSAY A BELL
In my first post, I proposed that anthropology might be particularly well suited to thinking through the concept of empathy. In North America, “empathy” has come to be a prominent term across the caring arts. In areas ranging from self-help to health care, empathy seems to be something that can and should be cultivated. In 2006, President Obama declared that an “empathy deficit” was more pressing than a federal budgetary deficit. The scale of this claim reflects an increasingly popular view of empathy as producer of solutions to large, complex issues. In his 2010 bestseller Empathic Civilization, American social theorist Jeremy Rifkin argued that “global empathic consciousness” could restore a global economy and solve climate change.
Last weeks’ commentators aptly pointed out that “empathy” has become a gloss for broader concerns. Its implementation from the perspective of those of you working with social workers, health care professionals and so on made it clear that institutionalized empathy is a downloading of problems onto already thinly stretched personnel. As a former pubic schoolteacher, I can agree that it is tempting to dismiss empathy as a smoke screen for troubles of our times. Yet, I keep coming back to anthropology’s shared principles with empathy—specifically perspective taking, withholding judgment, and dwelling with the people we work with. I am not arguing ‘for’ or ‘against’ empathy. Frankly, I am curious. What meanings has this term come to hold in the context of North America, and what very real kinds of ways of relating to Others has empathy been trying to capture but somehow can’t? Puzzled by the empathy boom, I went to a good friend for insights. As an analytic philosopher specializing in emotions and emotion history, she had a lot to teach me about the crooked conceptual path of the term. She was so generous in sharing what she knows, I thought I’d share what I’d learned here. Continue reading
To be honest, I was surprised how much attention Peter O’Toole’s recent passing received. We all knew he was famous, but we also learned this week how deeply he was loved. Many people loved him because he had that one thing that is so hard to find in the entertainment industry today: charisma. But anthropologists loved him for something else: Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence of Arabia is central to anthropology, and ought to be more even more central than it is. It is about fieldwork, intimacy, impersonation, and colonialism. It puts on display the complexity, ambivalence, and often ugliness that comes with anthropological fieldwork.
By Carole McGranahan with Kate Fischer, Rachel Fleming, Willi Lempert, and Marnie Thomson
Wondering what to wear to the AAAs? We’ve got you covered. For women: throw a few scarves in your suitcase, a suitable range of black clothes, a kick-ass pair of shoes or boots, and some anthropological “flair,” and you should be good to go. Men need to pack their nice jeans, a good buttoned shirt, and the pièce de résistance: a stylish jacket. Unless you’re an archaeologist. Then all you need are jeans.
Anthropologists around the world are packing for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings (“the AAAs”) being held this year in balmy Chicago from November 20-24. What, you might wonder, are they packing? What look do anthropologists go for at the AAAs where thousands of anthropologists gather each year? We’ve turned to our social media networks to find out, posting this question on Twitter and on multiple Facebook accounts to learn just what fashion choices anthropologists are making this week. Continue reading
What might an anthropology of the covert look like? I think of the covert as a particular type of secret, one grounded in deception and shadows, and populated by individuals pretending—in part—to be someone other than who they actually are. My current research project is about the CIA as agents of US empire during the Cold War. It is about being invisible, being undercover, and being a legitimate ethnographic subject rather than just a historical or political one. Yet, what sort of ethnography can be written about covert, undercover subjects? How does one humanize the CIA?
I’ve been turning this question over since October 2009 when I found myself at CIA Headquarters. Two weeks before, a mysterious envelope arrived in my on-campus mailbox in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado. The return address read “CIA Fine Arts Commission.” I remember looking around the office to see if this was a joke. The CIA Fine Arts Commission? For real? The CIA had an art department? It didn’t help matters that the envelope looked sort of homemade, as if someone had printed the mailing and return addresses on a home laser printer. Perhaps they had. At any rate, I opened the envelope up in the main anthropology office, thinking it was somehow safer to open it there rather than alone back in my own office.
There was no explosion. Phew. Continue reading
My digital voice recorder died a slow death this year. It was a Zoom H2. I bought it about 5 years ago and used it all last year for fieldwork in Baja. I think the salt air may have something to do with its death–or maybe a battery leaked, I am not really sure. There is some greenish crud on the back near the battery compartment, and it has been acting up in all sorts of ways lately–giving error messages, not wanting to shut off, and so on. It has also been eating batteries like, like, like something really, really hungry for batteries! My wife has been using it for her interviews and now it’s burning through two AA batteries in about an hour and a half, which is not good. But the battery life of the H2 has never been great. That’s been a problem from the start.
So, long story short this means I ended up looking around for a new voice recorder. Looking back, the H2 was an ok investment. It had great sound quality, but the user interface was really clunky, and the construction of the unit itself felt pretty shoddy. It looked and felt pretty cheap to me. I spent about 250 bucks on that thing and I definitely would not buy another one. Continue reading