Tag Archives: web 2.0

The first MOOC was a book

There is some interesting discussion happening right now about Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. I think a lot of it conflates education with universities as an institution of learning. To better untangle some of this it is helpful to think about earlier changes in communications technology and how they changed learning. To that end, I’d like to discuss an article by my thesis advisor, F. Niyi Akinnaso (1992): “Schooling, Language, and Knowledge in Literate and Nonliterate Societies.”

Akinannso’s article questions the casual equation of formal learning with literacy. He shows how Yoruba traditions in Nigeria associated with Ifá divination have many of the same features we associate with formal learning, even though it is an entirely oral tradition. There are schools, exams, and, importantly for the present discussion, a process of socialization into the use of texts (whether those texts be written down or memorized). He compares the training of diviners to Peter Burke’s description of the training of Catholic priests in early modern Italy:

During the course of their training, these professionals develop special exegetical abilities and become speakers of the appropriate language of authority.These attributes and the specialized knowledge they have acquired become the chief source of their power in society.

The point being that these functions of the university (or seminary) as an institution can be fulfilled separately from the technology of literacy.

Continue reading

LOL Anthropology

Fadormeme

Recently I’ve been rethinking my attitude towards popular trends in anthropological theory. You know what I’m talking about… that sudden realization that a whole bunch of anthropologists seem to be engaged with a theoretical framework, scholar, or empirical subject matter that seems to have come out of the blue while you weren’t paying attention. Lacan, Agamben, affect, transnational flows… whatnot. In the past I used to share Marshall Sahlins sense that these were but passing fads and that long-established anthropological traditions had already said many of the same things if we just knew where to look for it. Now I’m not so sure.

Lately I’ve been thinking that there is something productive about playing with the latest lingo. The important word is “play.” Just like internet memes, trying to fit your research or ideas into a new meme gives one a chance to see the material afresh. Hell, it can simply make it fun again, like remixing Gangnam Style with Star Trek the Next Generation, or removing all the music and adding sound effects, or perhaps even just singing it as an acoustic set.

Continue reading

Anthrosource is still #Fail

The “new” Anthrosource came out in January of 2009, and made Chris Kelty cry. In three and a half years it still hasn’t been fixed. Why not?

Do the following experiment. Pick a keyword and search for it on Anthrosource. Done? How many hits did you get? OK, now go to Wiley and search just one journal, let’s pick American Ethnologist. Search for the same keyword. How many hits did you get? Each time I do this I get several orders of magnitude more search results for AE alone than I do for a search engine that is supposed to search the entire contents of all the AAA journals.

For a paper I’m reviewing I wanted to see how anthropologists have been using Badiou. Anthrosource gives me a total of one result. AE gives me 35, which isn’t a lot, but is still a lot more than one. Even a more popular scholar like Foucault only gets 35 hits on Anthrosource but 592 in AE. (This is true even if you do an “advanced” search on Anthrosource searching “anywhere in the article.”) Considering that Anthrosource is supposed to be one of the main “benefits” we get as AAA members, this is shameful.

[PS: I'm still interested in knowing if any anthropologists have made particularly good or interesting use of Badiou in their work. If you know of anything, please share it in the comments. But, knowing our readers, I have to ask that you please refrain from using this as an opportunity to vent about Badiou or French philosophy in general.]

UPDATE: OK, I didn’t notice this before, but on the bottom of the “advanced search” page on Anthrosource it says “On this page you can search article authors, titles and abstracts. You can also use the links below to perform your search.” The link sends you to Wiley. As Hugh Jarvis explains, the reason I get more results there is that Wiley is actually doing a full text search, not just the titles and abstracts (which is what Anthrosource is doing). This is particularly confusing because the Anthrosource advanced search form says you will search “anywhere in the article” by default – but the text at the bottom contradicts this. Unfortunately, AFAIK there is no way to narrow one’s Wiley search to the list of Anthrosource journals, so you have to either search across all of Wiley’s content, or you have to search one journal at a time. I see from the comments that I am not the only one who was confused by this.

A Khan Academy for Anthropology?

So I was down South where I met up with DJ Hatfield over breakfast and we got to talking… I’ve long been thinking about how the plethora of open academic courses and lectures online is making it so that teachers can act more like coaches—assisting students in self-paced exploration rather than acting as a funnel for all the information consumed in the classroom. DJ, in turn, has been thinking about how to break up his own lectures into smaller pre-recorded chunks so that he can act more like a discussion leader—interrogating his own lectures alongside students rather than simply regurgitating content down their beaks. Together we combined these ideas into a proposal for an online database of byte-sized anthropology lectures on various topics in anthropology—a Khan Academy for anthropology if you will.

Let’s say I’m going to give a lecture on the anthropology of money. I do this every year and I think I do a decent job of it, but I’d be a fool not to think that David Graeber, Richard Wilk, or Keith Hart couldn’t do it better. The problem is, even if I could find entire lectures by them online, I probably wouldn’t do so. I’ve never liked using class-length lectures by other scholars in my own classes, even something like Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey which I think is great. Class-length lectures from someone else’s syllabus don’t easily fit into my own syllabus unless I work the whole syllabus around those lectures. Nor do I think any of us are comfortable giving our entire class over to pre-recorded lectures. Not only is it boring for students to watch, it just feels lazy.

But imagine that Graeber recorded a five minute lecture on the economic myth of the origins of money, and Richard Wilk recorded a five minute lecture on Polanyi, and Keith Hart gave a five minute lecture on money in West Africa, etc. Each lecture could be used by teachers as the focus of class discussion, or the basis for a collaborative interrogation of those ideas. They could also be used entirely on their own for self-study by students. In any case, they would be a valuable resource for students and teachers alike.

So here’s my suggestion: someone (OAC?, HAU?, Living Anthropologically?) creates a site which allows people to post topics they’d like to see covered, has a searchable index and perhaps some kind of a rating system as well. The lectures themselves could be hosted on Archive.org under a CC license, so people could edit and remix the lectures as they see fit. All that shouldn’t be too hard – it’s just a database. The biggest problem would be getting anthropologists to actually make and submit content. Still, it might be fun to try if someone has the energy to do so. Maybe someone could even set up a room at the AAA to help record scholars who would like to participate but aren’t comfortable around a video camera… I’m just throwing this out there, I don’t have the time to follow through, but if anyone would like to get the ball rolling, feel free to use the comment thread to discuss how such a plan might actually work.

Using Social Media to Teach Theory to Undergraduate Students

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Carole McGranahan.

“Political economy?” “Symbolic analyses?” Post-whatism?” Semester after semester, my advanced anthropology students told me they couldn’t remember the theories they had learned in their introductory anthropology course (even, they sheepishly confessed, if I had been their professor for that course). In response, I built a review of general anthropological theory into my classes and developed a theory course for junior and senior anthropology majors.

But re-teaching theory at the advanced level was not enough. I needed a better strategy for teaching theory at the very beginning level of anthropological instruction which, for me now as professor and earlier as graduate student, meant in a large lecture class of anywhere from 100 to 550 students. How could I teach theory so that introductory students could retain and use this knowledge beyond exam day? What new pedagogies would enable students to carry the theoretical messages of Levi-Strauss or Mead or Ortner with them? My strategy was to turn to social media, to teach theory by putting students in dialogue with each other: I created two new course assignments, a student-generated theory wiki and a theory blog.

Continue reading

Protecting Informants in a Time of Digital Thievery

The NY Times has an article about how corporate executives and government officials leave their laptops behind when they go to China or Russia, for fear that corporate or government secrets might be compromised by advanced spyware.

it has become easier to steal information remotely because of the Internet, the proliferation of smartphones and the inclination of employees to plug their personal devices into workplace networks and cart proprietary information around. Hackers’ preferred modus operandi, security experts say, is to break into employees’ portable devices and leapfrog into employers’ networks — stealing secrets while leaving nary a trace.

I mention this because it is also a serious concern for anthropologists I know who do research in China. We here on Savage Minds have written a lot about using digital tools for research, but it is also worth thinking about the vulnerabilities such tools create for one’s informants. There are a lot of tools one can use to encrypt data, but they are useless if some Lisbeth Salander has already hacked into your computer and stolen the password. How paranoid should we be? What steps can we take to protect our digital data? Please use this as an open thread to discuss these issues.

Digital Money, Mobile Media, and the Consequences of Granularity

Nicholas Negroponte famously insisted that the dotcom boomers, “Move bits, not atoms.” Ignorant of the atom heavy human bodies, neuron dense brains, and physical hardware needed to make and move those little bits, Negroponte’s ideal did become real in the industrial sectors dependent upon communication and economic transaction. In the communication sector, atomic newspapers have been replaced by bitly news stories. In the transactional sector, coins are a nuisance, few carry dollars, and I just paid for a haircut with a credit card adaptor on the scissor-wielder’s Droid phone.

The human consequences of the bitification of atoms go far beyond my bourgeois consumption. This shift, or what is could simply be called digitalization, when paired with their very material transportation systems or networked communication technologies, combines to form a powerful force that impacts local and global democracies and economies.

What are the local and political economics of granularity in the space shared between the fiduciary and the communicative? To understand the emergent political economy of the practices and discourses unifying around mobile media and digital money we need a shared language around the issue of granularity. Continue reading

Hackers, Hippies, and the Techno-Spiritualities of Silicon Valley

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Dutch anthropologist Dorien Zandbergen (PhD, Anthropology, Leiden University) in Sweden in October at an ESF Research Conference and learning about her fascinating research into the convergence of new age spirituality and new media discourses in and around Silicon Valley. I loved the idea of a Dutch anthropologist studying me and my friends in the eco-chic Burning Man hipster scene so I asked her to riff off of a few questions for this blog. Zandbergen talked about liminality, technoscience, the California ideology, ‘multiplicit style,’ secularization, studying sideways, liberalism, internet culture, ‘pronoia’, open-endedness, emergence, the neoliberal ideal of the autonomous self, the confluence of hackers and hippies in San Francisco, the usual…

(AF) What is New Edge and how did you conduct your fieldwork?

(DZ) The term New Edge fuses the notions ‘New Age’ and ‘edgy’, as in ‘edgy technologies’. In the late 1980s, founder of the ‘cyberpunk’ magazine Mondo 2000, Ken Goffman, used the term to refer both to the overlaps and the incompatibilities between the spiritual worldview of ‘New Agers’ and the ‘geeky’ worldview of the scientists and hackers of the San Francisco Bay Area. Such interactions were articulated in the overlapping scenes of Virtual Reality development, electronic dance, computer hacking and cyberpunk fiction. I borrowed the term New Edge to study the genealogy of cultural cross-overs between – simply put – the ‘hippies’ and the ‘hackers’ of the Bay Area, beginning with the 1960s and tracing it to the current (2008) moment. Continue reading

American Democracy?

Many scholars, activists, pundits, and even a few politicians agree that American democracy is in trouble. Many reasons are given–the raw punch of money in elections, a distracted, apathetic, or misinformed population, the absence of civic education, the specter of blind patriotism, the penal threat and painful reality of police brutality. The signs of collapsing democracy are obvious: the debt ceiling debacle, the recent Supercommittee failure, Citizen United v Federal Elections Commission, a US Congress with 9% approval ratings. Our Occupy mobilizations, and our “deeply democratic” (Appadurai 2001) methodology of the General Assembly inspired as it is by the anthropological knowledge translated through our colleague David Graeber, are reactions to the failure of the present incarnation of American democracy while exclaiming our desire, voice to voice, for a more humane social democracy.

Non-fiction information, knowledge, and “the news” are essential for citizens to make wise decisions regarding the future of a democratic state. The right to media is a human right and a public resource for democratic communication. But the media is a finite resource, limited in radio, television, and the internet and limited by the amount of subjective mental bandwidth we can personally process. In the United States this media resource was allocated by the state to corporations. These America corporations were given the right and responsibility to use the “airwaves.” Part of the bargain the government struck with these companies was that they could make massive profits if they worked in the public interest by informing and educating the citizens. This responsibility they have slowly neglected and we are today left with fiction parading as fact on television news. Citizen involvement in this corporately consolidated public sphere was promised but subtly ignored. The abused or misused power of corporate media is a significant reason why democracy is failing.

Deep Democracy or Digital Democracy?
Deep Democracy or Digital Democracy? Dr. West arrested on October 21, 2011.

Continue reading

Television for the 99% & Reverse Media Imperialism

It is no surprise that American television news networks that consistently cover the Occupy Movement in detail tend to be liberal or progressive in political persuasion. Current TV’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Free Speech TV’s Democracy Now!, Russia Today’s The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann, and Al Jazeera English all spend considerable amounts of their valuable time bringing the voices of Occupy to televisions in America. Similar funding strategies and political intentions unify these four networks. Each receives cultural, political, or economic support from various national governments. With this communication power, these networks proceed to critique American capitalism and imperialism through direct discursive confrontation or through emphasizing resistance movements such as Occupy. I run the risk of sounding a little conservative by posing it but my question is: what is the cultural meaning of the presence of state-based, anti-capitalism television and internet video? From the successes in Wisconsin, to Wikileaks, Anonymous, and Occupy Wall Street we are living in a golden era for progressive television and internet video.

The Public Sphere of Occupy Wall Street

I keep returning to the public sphere as Habermas originally described it as I think about progressive political movements of today: Occupy Wall Street and its global dimensions, Anonymous and its more theatrical and political wing LulzSec, and progressive and independent cable television news network Current. Internet activism, television news punditry, and street-based social movements each work together implicitly or explicitly to constitute a larger public sphere. As scholars we need to resist the temptation of excluding one form of resistance as being inconsequential to social justice or to analysis and instead see all three as working together in a media ecology.

Continue reading

Forget Steve Jobs

I can’t stand this tech bubble blowing hagiography that has gone down since Jobs’s retirement as Apple’s CEO. Tech rag Gigaom founder Om Malik found out and cried: “It is incredibly hard for me to write right now. To me, like many of you, it is an incredibly emotional moment. I cannot look at Twitter, and through the mist in my eyes, I am having a tough time focusing on the screen of this computer.” Wired just an hour ago posted an article consisting of fawning billionaires dreamily revisiting touching Him. Come on Om, just take my hand, you can look at Twitter! So much for the illusion of journalist impartiality. Malik’s sentiment is serious though. He is one of the many who’ve gotten rich on selling the illusion of Jobs as a visionary auteur. Silicon Valley, ever the retailers of vaporware–technology that facilitates experiences we neither need nor want nor, often, come to market–needs fantasy as much as Hollywood need the illusion of celebrity to prop ups its market domination in the selling of stardust.
Jobs is an excellent example of the way a social imaginaire comes into form through corporate performance. Philosopher Charles Taylor calls social imaginaires “the way people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings, and this is often…carried in images, stories, and legends.” This notion goes back to Sahlins’s “charter myths,” B. Anderson’s “imagined communities,” and Ortner’s “serious games.” Social imaginaires are internalized and form a range of practical responses not unlike Bourdieu’s “habitus.” Anthropologists are good at recognizing the mental hardware that drive action. This may be a product of our emphasis on para-biological motivation (“culture”) as well as our methodologies. Look at the emphasis on narrative in the works of Richard Sennet and Paul Rabinow, both investigating the new economies of technology through subjective stories about work and its meaning.

Anthropologist Chris Kelty, influenced by Taylor, carried the imaginaire into the world of technology with his notion of the “moral-technical imaginaire” which is a cultural situated and persuasive moral philosophy attached to the use of both open and proprietary systems. Patrice Flichy in his book Internet Imaginaire uses the work of Paul Ricœur to show how utopian and ideological discourse are two poles of a technological imaginaire. The original euphoria of a technology is utopian, as that fades, the imaginaire is mobilized to hide or mask the ideological and dominating potential of the technological assemblage. More recently, sociologist Thomas Streeter, discusses how “romantic” imaginaires of ruggedly individual hackers, inventors, countercultural tramps, and psychedelic engineers helped to encourage the federal funding and venture capital that built the infrastructure of the internet. Finally, the most accessible of these accounts of internet imaginaires is the work of Vincent Mosco who simply refers to the myth of technological transcendence with the idea of the “digital sublime.” The transhumanist movement is ripe for such an analysis.
Continue reading

Seeing Like a Social Network

paris-urban-form_crop-e

Fabric of Paris

In James Scott’s book Seeing Like a State, he compares the rise of surnames to the layout of Baron Haussmann’s Paris, with its wide boulevards designed (in part) for easier crowd control, to the rise of surnames. Both serve to make that which is legible only to local citizens more easily seen from the bird’s-eye view of the state.

The invention of permanent, inherited patronyms was, after the administrative simplification of nature (for example, the forest) and space (for example, land tenure), the last step in establishing the necessary preconditions of modern statecraft. In almost every case it was a state project, designed to allow officials to identify, unambiguously, the majority of its citizens. When successful, it went far to create a legible people. Tax and tithe rolls, property rolls, conscription lists, censuses, and property deeds recognized in law were inconceivable without some means of fixing an individual’s identity and linking him or her to a kin group. Campaigns to assign permanent patronyms have typically taken place, as one might expect, in the context of a state’s exertions to put its fiscal system on a sounder and more lucrative footing. Fearing, with good reason, that an effort to enumerate and register them could be a prelude to some new tax burden or conscription, local officials and the population at large often resisted such campaigns.

Continue reading