My previous posts were about housing, that is aggregates of places some people call home, some people call investments, and some people call many other things, no doubt. I did it to challenge the fact that anthropologists have been much more attuned to thinking about houses as people’s homes, filled with objects and practices with great meaning, and a way into the imaginative life of families and communities. But there’s no suggestion that the latter is not a great subject. I picked up a copy of Inge Daniels’ new book ‘The Japanese House’ at the recent EASA conference. As well as being a good critical review of house-ethnography, it’s also a lovely thing. Daniels has worked with a photographer to produce a cross-over book that I won’t be surprised to find on the shelves of my architect colleagues. Books like this1 go a long way to retrieving academic communication from the serried ranks of dusty stacks. I’m certainly considering taking it along to my evening class in Japanese language to see what the other students make of it. At the same time, it’s helping me think through my own contribution to an interdisciplinary exhibition to be held in Sheffield University next year called ‘Inhabiting Space’. I’ve participated in many anthropological discussions about working with artists, exhibitions, theatre and so forth, so the prospect of being able to try out my own ideas is very exciting.
We talk a lot about public anthropology these days, and one of the things we discuss is how to reach audiences beyond anthropologists. Visual methods have been key to these debates, and at the EASA conference, our panel on public anthropology included several inspiring papers on photography, film and museum displays, as well as anthropological consultancies and campaigns. It’s no coincidence that advances have come first online, where it’s become so much easier (ie. cheaper) to use audio-visual materials or mixed media. In this we’re ahead of the regulatory game, which evaluates academic performance through stuff you can touch. But despite it all, we still like to do other things, even if we know they’ll not bring us any institutional advancement (and probably the opposite). Doing research on concepts of well-being at home or outdoors poses a paradox. Doing that research is increasingly likely to endanger our own well-being, as universities increasingly try to squeeze more juice out of academics.
1Another book ‘like this’ was Banerjee and Miller’s ‘The Sari’.