Around the Web

Ok, the world doesn’t need another article on Eliot Spitzer. So, just skip the intro and read the rest of GW anthropologist Patty Kelly’s article in the LA Times on the decriminalization of prostitution and her own field work in a legal Mexican brothel. [Also read Lorenz’s take on].

Scientific American reported on a new study that audiences were more likely to believe a news story purporting ‘bad science’ if accompanied by images of MRI Scans. I wonder if there is any visual corollary for bad ethnography? [60-second feature also available as podcast].

Debating the HTS Debates: A short piece by William Beeman has provoked discussion on how anthropologists represent ethical debates within the discipline to the public. Alternet published an English translation of William Beeman’s article in Le Monde Diplomatique recounting the controversy over HTS and the reaction of anthropologists. Greg Downy at Culture Matters has written an ambivalent review of Beeman’s article, suggesting that Beeman’s dispassionate reporting obscures the exigency with which anthropologists view the debate. At the end of Downy’s post, you can also scroll down to read Beeman’s and Downy’s responses to one another.

Academic Etiquette: Sean at Cosmic Variance wrote a thought piece on hierarchy and performance in the act of asking questions at an academic talk.

Cellphones to the Rescue! NYT magazine published this article on the unfolding effects of cell phones on the economies and social life of large swaths of the third world. The article follows Jan Chipchase, a ‘human behavior researcher’ who examines cellphone use around the world for Nokia. While the feature has a positivist slant, it’s most interesting point is to enjoin the reader to take efficiency and information as serious material concerns on the micro-level. A section reads:

Something that’s mostly a convenience booster for those of us with a full complement of technology at our disposal — land-lines, Internet connections, TVs, cars — can be a life-saver to someone with fewer ways to access information. A “just in time” moment afforded by a cellphone looks a lot different to a mother in Uganda who needs to carry a child with malaria three hours to visit the nearest doctor but who would like to know first whether that doctor is even in town.

And speaking of the changes cellphone technologies engender in social relations, here is another article from the NY Times on the role of SMS texting in dating in the Indian middle class.

The Law and BSG: Kerim pointed me to this interview with the creators of Battlestar Galactica on issues of legality, torture, economy and cylon rights as portrayed on the show. Maybe he forwarded it to me because of all the frackin’ toaster references I have on my facebook status updates. At any rate, if HBO’s ‘Wire’ is the best ethnographic text on the U.S. today, then perhaps BSG is one of the best current interpretations on ethics and the human condition.

Punchline: National Geographic ran a short piece on the history of April Fools Jokes. Note the part about the recent shift from small around-the-office pranks to institutionalized media hoaxes. Touché.

6 thoughts on “Around the Web

  1. bq. I wonder if there is any visual corollary for bad ethnography?

    I don’t know about ‘visual’ but there are probably lots of ‘textual’ ones. Like the supporting informant quote (SIQ) f’rinstance – because if a Native said it, it must be true.

    A lesser claim of authority is made in the very tired device of the Arrival Narrative. Whereby the innocent buffoon ethnographer simultaneously deprecates themselves, talks up the hardship, notes how long they spent in the field and how quickly they learnt the language, offended everyone but made lifelong friendships, and yet despite their newbie status perceptively noticed a crucial passing incident on that first day which sums up the entire worldview of the Natives and reaffirms in miniature the theoretical purpose of the ethnography in question…and which nevertheless will not prevent the author from subsequently reiterating that same point with great prolixity in the ensuing chapters.

  2. I don’t know if it is a “visual corollary” in any technical sense, but photos of small, mostly naked “native” (and most effectively, African) children tend to show up with alarming frequency in certain kinds of anthropology. Do they serve the same purpose as random images of MRIs? I don’t know.

  3. Well, Tim, the 1980s are in fact HUGE right now in the worlds of fashion, design, and thrift. I was just in Amsterdam for a weekend, and every thrift store is now packed with clothing from my high school years: gawdy blouses, ski jackets with electroshock colors, shoulder pads, LEE jeans, etc. So rather than passe, maybe in fact returning to 1980s style critique of ethnography is in fact very cutting edge; after all, for all our worry about representation during those years, most of the new ethnographic monographs these days have largely displaced epistemological and representational angst with complete confidence about things like globalization, neoliberalism, and so on, and all the experiment with voices, dialogism, intertextuality has mostly gone by the wayside. This accompanies an overall shift away from ‘cultural’ subjects (like, stories or pretty pictures or what’s cool to wear) in general and the encompassment of anthropology by politics. Broad brush strokes.

  4. I guess you can tell fashion wasn’t on my radar in that I was replying to Jay’s question relating to an article pronouncing that images reify claims. Never heard that before!

    To be a bit pedantic though I thought those 1980s critiques actually quite liked the personal narrative – if memory serves Mary Louise Pratt’s chapter in Writing Culture makes some argument that they are a nice way of mediating between the subjectivity of the ethnographer and the objectivity of the ethnography. Put that way what I wrote is almost the opposite – that they are a disguised claim to authority, like an image that generates confidence. But whatever, I really would hate it if there was a return to representational angst…I feel a bit ill just thinking about it.

    Speaking of ill-ness and 80s fashion though – what I find weird is lecturing to students dressed like me when I was 13. The synaesthetic associations of those colours and forms make the whole experience … odd.

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