Tag Archives: Methodology

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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Stop Paying Conference Fees

Big expensive conferences cost too much and offer too little return. Fine, I’ll give it to you. Conferences are acceptable for professional development, almost good for networking, OK for your CV, and decent for being exposed to new ideas. I think some are well worth attending. But just stop paying the extortion fees for big conference. Only go to fee free or all expenses paid conferences. Yes, you’ll go to less but you’ll be better for it. Conference as they are at present are a relic from the patronage pre-neoliberal academy where universities accepted responsibility for their staff, faculty, and students. In those halcyonic days, travel and lodging were less expensive, conference fees were smaller, and most importantly, the university would foot the bill. Today, the extortion conference systems remain in place while the university has dropped its patronage responsibilities while the costs associated with conference attendance have skyrocketed. We must break the back of yet another exploitative system. Stop paying conference fees.

Conferences are of a very limited utility but a utility nonetheless. You should still go but only to select, useful, and economically fair events. Let’s break it down. There are three economic types of conferences: Continue reading

memos on ethnographic practice

I’m DJ Hatfield, one of the guest bloggers for this month on savage minds. When thinking about possible themes for my blog, I just happened to be reading one of my favorite books on writing, Calvino’s Six memos for the next millennium. Originally, these memos were planned lectures about the values of good writing that Calvino was to give at Harvard; he died before giving the lectures and, indeed, before finishing the work. It might surprise several people who read savage minds that Calvino’s six memos (well, the five that he finished!) are what I turn to when I want to think about my practice as an ethnographic writer. And I think that there is much virtue in the structure of Calvino’s little book: the task he set before himself in 1984 was to describe particular qualities that writing should have if it were to meet the challenges of the next millennium–something that might have been envisioned by the editors of writing culture if a peculiar parricidal impulse hadn’t motivated that work. Of course, as a graduate student, the project of writing culture fit my bill. Now that I have a book and a few articles behind me, it’s Calvino’s project that incites my questions about what we do as ethnographers. What are the values that we would think of as central to the practice, what Macintyre in After Virtue called the “internal goods”–those values that we cultivate as we do our work in the field and out? I’d like to start a conversation on this question. As I am not sure whether what I will discuss will be values in the sense of the ends of our practices or in the sense of what orients them, I’ll leave you to give your preliminary suggestions. My postings on some of these values, plus some discussion of recent work, will appear throughout the month of October. My first internal good: friendship

 

Selling Out

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

Over the past year, I’ve had to carefully consider the meaning of “selling out”.

Of my blogger colleagues, I’m probably the farthest removed from academia – or, at least I’m moving in that general direction. This certainly does not mean I’m abandoning research, quite the opposite in fact. It does, however, mean that I’ve all but given up on the idea of staying in academia and searching out a tenure-track position. For the time being, anyway. Instead, I’m looking to transition into the corporate world, but ideally in a way which would allow me to still do interesting ethnographic research. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me explain a little bit about my background and current position.

In 2011, I wrapped up my doctoral degree in STS – the first to graduate from my program under the soft four-year deadline slowly hardening under increasing institutional pressures. For years, I had labored, perhaps delusionally, under the hopes that if I was working on a “hot” and highly visible topic a job would simply materialize by the time I reached the end of the doctoral plank. For me, that topic was youth Internet safety. I developed my dissertation research with jobs beyond academia in mind, and deliberately built into the project opportunities to meet with school administrators across New York, in the hopes of expanding my contact network for eventual consulting work. I envisioned possibilites in state government, doing technology policy work. I thought I could even keep writing, given the two freelance books already under my belt.

The imagined job never really materialized. Between the economic downturn and my failure to anticipate what I’ve come to describe and recognize in others as post-dissertation slump, things simply stalled out. My dissertation research panned out in a way that made consulting difficult – schools want someone to come in and talk to kids about cyberbullying, not so much someone to tell them that the idea of cyberbullying is fundamentally problematic. State positions dried up during budget cutbacks, and I never really figured out how to get into a position that would allow me to write policy briefings. In terms of more writing, merely considering the idea of returning to Internet safety issues after almost a decade of research on the topic made me nauseous.

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Fluidity, Multiplicity, Contingency: The Shifting Sands of Knowledge Work

[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Laurel George, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]

In this discussion by and about anthropologists working at the boundaries of academia, a reasonable place to start is with a statement of academic situatedness.  But in academia today—and especially on its sidelines—talking about situatedness can be tricky business.  In the traditional U.S. academic trajectory with a tenured academic position as the ultimate goal, a simple name, rank, and affiliation answer was sufficient and expected. Moreover, that small piece of information could offer a good amount of information about one’s intellectual pedigree and leanings, relative degree of success, and likely fields of expertise. For so many today, though,  both within academia in contingent positions and those working outside of academia, describing one’s institutional situadedness requires qualifiying language of  temporality, multiplicity, and fluidity. These qualifications we make, offered apologetically or not, stem, I believe, from the gap between the reality of academic careers in the U.S. today and the ideal(ized) traditional tenure-track career trajectory, which we still hold as the norm.  This despite the fact that those with tenure and on the tenure-track comprise a distinct minority of faculty in U.S. colleges and universities. Recent statistics and studies indicate that somewhere between 65% and 75% of all faculty in U.S. colleges and universities are in part-time or adjunct positions while only 25%-30% are tenured or on the tenure track. And these numbers do not account for those who went into academe aspring to careers that looked like those of their own professors and mentors, but who now work fully or partly outside of academia. The next few weeks will take up these issues as they pertain to the field of anthropology and the practice of ethnography, and in doing so will offer ideas about centers and margins, success and failure, and tradition and innovation.

First, though, a quick look to my academic and professional trajectory, offered as a kind of case study.  After getting an undergraduate degree in anthropology (with a big dose of dance thrown in), I decided to work for a year or two before going for my doctorate in anthropology.  At the encouragement of an esteemed professor, I applied to work in the Dance Program at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), attracted by the possibility of immersion in a completely different world. Months went by with no word from the NEA. I took that as a sign that I’d better get on with the grad school plan without the detours,  so I applied to doctoral programs in anthropology.  Mere days before replies were to go out from graduate programs and almost a year after applying to the NEA, I was called down to Washington, D.C. for a job interview.  I was offered and accepted the job, deferred my acceptance into Rice University’s Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. program, and stayed at the NEA for a year and a half. It was the right move—not only did I learn about arts funding, concert dance in the U.S., and how to work outside of an academic environment, I also gathered information for my eventual doctoral disseration, a multi-site ethnography on contemporary dance in the U.S. which included the NEA as one of the field sites.  (The other field sites were dance organizations and communities of dancers in New York City, where I moved to do fieldwork  in 1997 and have never left.)

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Ethnography on/from the Sidelines: A Quick Introduction

[Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Deepa S. Reddy]

Note: Updated on 7/27/2012 with links to all posts contributed as part of this series; please see below. With thanks to Savage Minds admins and readers for a fantastic four weeks.

The idea for this group guest blog on Savage Minds began serendipitously, as I suppose many projects do, with random conversations in hallways or after talks—this time, after a talk I’d just delivered at Rice University’s Department of Anthropology. I’d been asked for material by which to introduce me anew in the place where I grew (professionally) up, to the new students and faculty who had joined after I’d left. I offered the following bits, alongside my CV: after 10 years as tenure-track and then tenured faculty at UH-Clear Lake, I relocated to India in 2008; I continue to work for the University of Houston, however: I teach as an adjunct online and I serve as UH’s liaison in India in an administrative/ counseling/ recruitment-oriented role; I look increasingly to collaborations as the means to make ethnographic research viable, from where I now am situated. A series of conversations with friends and colleagues ensued, face-to-face and virtual, each considering situations such as my own as raising important and increasingly relevant questions about the production of ethnography in the intellectual spaces that line the margins of the academy.

Humph, I remember thinking, but of course. I’d been so immersed in making this relocation to India work as smoothly as it would with a husband still in Houston and a family to care for on my own in India, suddenly a single parent of a sort keeping my professional connections alive and my own research going—so much a participant in this process had I been, I’d neglected any observation/ reflection on what sort of intellectual space it was that I was now occupying, even myself creating, and within which I was attempting to (re-)create “ethnography.” And not just me, but so many colleagues and friends, people I knew and those I’d heard about, who’d left the academy but kept tethers to it, or who’d finished graduate studies and were struggling to get back in on firmer, more independent footing. What might a wider conversation on the precarities of the discipline look like—particularly when we think about just what sorts of intellectual spaces of production are produced as a result? What would ethnography produced from such spaces come to look like?

And so was born, longer story cut short, the conversation to unfold on Savage Minds all July.

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Keeping it open (fieldwork, abstraction, and unexpected surprises)

In case you haven’t heard, one of the ideas/concepts that I have been exploring is value.  Check out this post here on SM for a little background.  The concept itself is either really, really interesting, or, as one of my friends put it: little more than a big weasel word.

So which is it?  Both, I think.

Reading books and articles by Keith Hart, David Graeber, and Julia Elyachar, among others, has convinced my both of the fact that value is interesting and somewhat maddening.  It’s incredibly rich, and terribly vague at the same time.  I mean, how do we determine the value of particular things, ideas, and places–and how are different value regimes or systems comparable (e.g. is there a really useful way to compare or juxtapose moral value systems with those based upon money and markets)?

Going into fieldwork I decided to put the whole value question to the side a bit, and let things go where they may for a while.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to let certain pet ideas and theories take a back seat for a while to open up room for a range of possibilities. You know, let the empirical stuff run amok for a bit and keep a notebook on hand just in case.  Besides, I was getting to a point where the whole value thing was starting to seem a bit too abstract.  So I gave it a rest. Continue reading

Being there, in the field, with and without internet

Another update from the trenches of fieldwork.  This one is brought to you by the sweet, streaming, wireless connection of an internet cafe that’s about 45 minutes from my fieldsite.  It’s the bloggers version of an oasis to find these sorts of places, especially when there’s a breakfast special that includes coffee with the juevos rancheros.

First of all, I’ll admit that I was pretty spoiled during the first few months of fieldwork because I had WIRELESS INTERNET access anytime I wanted.  That’s right, a wireless connection right in my room.  Madness, I know.  This was definitely not the case when I was here in 2009 and 2010 doing prelim work for my dissertation.  I had no problems with my fantastic and luxurious internet situation…until it evaporated like spilled gasoline.

Gone. Continue reading

A “Writing Culture” Moment for Psychology?

Psyche: #lfmf bro!

Ha! Just kidding.

The 30 March 2012 issue of the journal Science includes a news piece “Psychology’s Bold Initiative” on a possible moment of introspection for the discipline. Spurred on by some recent high profile academic fraud cases a cohort of scholars are leading a movement aimed at scrutinizing their field.

According to Science, many psychologists now feel that their field has a credibility problem. To my ear this underscores some of the differences between our disciplines and simultaneously calls to mind the critiques of Clifford and Marcus, et al.

The greater concern arises from several recent studies that have broadly critiqued psychological research practices, highlighting lax data collection, analysis, and reporting, and decrying a scientific culture that too heavily favors new and counterintuitive ideas over the confirmation of existing results. Some psychology researchers argue that this has led to too many findings that are striking for their novelty and published in respected journals – but are nonetheless false.

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Mediating the Real I

Whenever I mention that one of my primary areas of anthropological research is media, the question I come across on a recurring basis is the following: How will you be able to pursue that through ethnographic fieldwork of everyday activities? My sense is that such a response comes from the view that media are disembodied and deterritorialized objects or processes, or that they operate at a pace that is difficult to engage through participant-observation. In response to such concerns much work in anthropology has sought to “ground” media by focusing on production or reception practices, or occasionally both. However, I consider this kind of question crucial to think through during my exploratory fieldwork and research design phase.

A similar issue has arisen in anthropological research on Muslims in North America. In the conclusion to Katherine Pratt Ewing’s edited volume, Being and Belonging (2008), Andrew Shryock called for greater attention to “the immediate and mediated worlds…articulated in everyday life” (206). So, how should one strike a balance between studying media and the everyday? One could study the everyday dimensions of production practices, or how the reception of media is incorporated into people’s everyday lives, or how and why media producers construct the everyday in certain ways. Continue reading

Sideways: from who and what to how

[This is a guest post by Garrison Doreck. He is a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.]

I stumbled upon the sideways issue in some of the readings I will discuss below. Initially, I read laterality and sideways discussions to be the equivalent of the keystone anthropological activity of cutting across social spheres. It is only after hearing about the Sideways conference this past Fall at UC-Irvine that I decided to take a second look and try to think it through a bit more. And, this is a wonderful venue to hopefully hear back from many of you who have been thinking about this issue in more depth and at greater length than I have at this point.

Last year Julian discussed projects of studying up or sideways as hinging on how “ethnographers relate to their interlocutors, as well as different degrees of “identity overlap” between ethnographer and subject.” In another post, Dorien Zandbergen took issue with such “identity overlap,” by claiming that the sideways concept “suggests that there is some kind of plane that is shared by particular kinds of people, who can move ‘sideways’ to have a peek into each other’s affairs.” It is thus by paying careful attention to similarities that Dorien was able to identify issues where “such similarities appeared only superficial,” as differences emerged. However, Julian addressed the issue, as well, by looking at how such research is “differentiated on several axes: of political sympathy, of shared knowledge, of power relations, of informants’ reflexivity, and of socio-cultural belonging, to name a few.” Within these posts the matter of studying sideways, or up, involved drawing a connection between self/other (i.e. who) and similarity/difference (i.e. what). Continue reading

The sound & the fury (plus questions)

The sound: It was late afternoon.  I was in the middle of conducting an interview, recording the conversation with a small digital voice recorder.  Rain falling outside, in droves.  I could hear water rushing down the street.  The sound of water pouring from the roof.  Water dripping from here and there.  Clinking and clattering on the tin roof above.  Inside, one light in the corner of the room fought back the cold of the rain outside.  I was talking with a mother and her son amidst the incessant deluge.  The sound of the rainfall wasn’t exactly overwhelming, just constant.  In the moment, it all sounded pretty nice.

The fury: When I finally checked the recording later that night, the rain made it almost impossible to hear the conversation.  The voices of mother and son were swept up in an auditory wrecking ball that sounded more like a tornado than raindrops.  The interview was still salvageable, but it was hardly a masterpiece of ethnographic audio.  Frustrating. Continue reading

Reading Fast, Reading Slow (Tools We Use)

Over the course of a single day I engage in a number of different activities for which the word “reading” doesn’t seem to do justice: I scan my social networks, I check my email, I review student work, I browse articles and books related to my research, and I engage in deep sustained examination of a single text. Each of these tasks require a different frame of mind and, increasingly, different technologies. To simplify matters, I will talk about only three types of reading, each of which encompasses several of these reading-related activities: scanning, browsing and devouring.

Scanning

I spend too much time doing this. The dopamine hit one gets from finding something new is immediate and gratifying. I have my email, Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. each of which is sending me a steady stream of new links. (Follow our SavageMinds Twitter feed or Facebook account for the results of this time-wasting activity.) I check all of them throughout the day. Especially Twitter.

One of my favorite ways to browse all this in one place (excluding Google+ for now, but I’m sure that will change) is Flipboard for iOS. Google tried to buy Flipboard and when they failed made their own app called Currents. Currently Flipboard is still way ahead of the Google, as well as other competitors like Pulse, Zite, etc. (Here is a post from Lifehacker reviewing several of the options.)

To make the best use of Flipboard, you want to group your favorite Twitter sources into “lists” so that each list can have it’s own magazine on Flipboard. I haven’t been doing a great job of updating my various lists, but you can see mine here (or post your own in the comments.) You can do the same thing with Google Reader folders and Facebook “Friends Lists.”

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Ethnocharette: The Post-It Note as technology

EthnocharetteJust received news of this experiment at UC Irvine: Ethnocharette. Keith Murphy and George Marcus have documented a process of exploring a text (Robert DesJarlais’ Shelter Blues) through a studio-style design process. The website details the process and the results.  It’s always a bit hard to understand exactly how this kind of process works for people or how it’s different from a seminar discussion, for instance, or the creation of “reading responses,” but given the smiling people in the photographs, it looks like it worked. Having spent my fair share of time struggling with new media technologies from wikis to blogs to collaborative editing, there is something nice about exploring the limits of a very simple tool: post-it notes. I’ll try this out in my classes this year I think…

Information Imperialism?

By the end of the year the US State department will spend $70 million on stealth communications technologies to enable activists to communicate beyond the reach of dictators according to a recent NYT article. Prototypes include a suitcase capable of quickly blanketing a region with a free wifi network, bluetooth devices that can silently share data, software that protects the anonymity of Chinese users, independent cellphone networks in Afghanistan, and underground buried cell phones on the border of North Korea for desperate phone calls to “freedom.” These are political tools deployed to promote the agenda of one nation over that of another. How should we address information imperialism? The use of networked communications tools to subvert so-called regimes exposes a proclivity for digital intervention that likely also includes digital literacy projects to provoke revolutionary actions, propaganda campaigns to make celebrities out of bloggers, and covert code warfare. Let’s review the spectrum of information interventions to ascertain the ways and hows of information imperialism. Continue reading