Alright, how about a Digital Anthropology Interest Group?

Following on the heels of Bill Davis’ letter to the White House that has been hashed out here and elsewhere it became apparent that many of us are concerned about the future of Open Access principles within the AAA. The suggestion that we organize an OA interest group has been amended to include working towards a broader, “digital anthropology” interest group. There are a number of advantages to adopting the “digital” moniker. While OA can still be one of the core issues of the group, it may be politically tactful not to include that in the name of our organization. By making the organization more inclusive we can get more people involved and, if need be, shift focus as issues related to OA develop and the group itself becomes more mature.

In this post I’d like to consider what else such a digital anthropology interest group could do. I compiled a list of different ideas readers brought up in the last column about an OA interest group. Let’s work together to add to the list! Being that we’re in the most incipient planning stages I suggest we brainstorm freely – make wishes even – and worry about sorting it all out later.

Once we’ve inventoried peoples’ ideas about the interest group we can draft a mission statement and share it here and on other blogs too in order to get the best feedback. So without further ado, here’s what we’ve come up with so far:

The purpose of a Digital Anthropology interest group

  • Officially we are for “networking and/or the informal exchange of information.” So far, four important trends have developed:
  • (a) Be a common meeting place for anthros to brainstorm about new platforms.
  • (b) Compile and communicate important information relevant to our purpose
  • (c) Be savvy about our place within the AAA
  • (d) Build coalitions with other groups outside the AAA


(a) A common meeting place

  • Organize events at the annual meeting of the AAA like roundtables, panels, and receptions
  • Make any AAA event we’re in accessible to others via teh interwebs


(b) Compile and communicate important information

  • Have an active online presence through multiple formats
  • Create a one stop shop for OA issues: inventory OA publications, announce calls for papers or reviewers, publicize OA events, write strong statements on why and how we should support OA
  • Make use of server space from AAA &/or utilize Kerim’s old Open Access Anthropology blog


(c)Be savvy about our place within the AAA

  • Highlight anthropology blogs so that more members are aware that anthropology is happening online
  • Raise awareness of digital anthropology issues within the AAA so that more members know why OA matters
  • Make recommendations to the AAA Executive Board regarding OA, such as having an “official” OA venue alongside the AAA’s conventional publications
  • Learn the history of the old “Scholarly Communications” interest group, especially why they disbanded
  • Be proactive about talking to subject area librarians for anthropology and the folks involved in planning AnthroSource
  • Don’t break the AAA’s precious rules and try to change the system from the inside


(d)Build alliances with groups outside the AAA

  • Here the idea is to maintain open lines of communication with like minded folks and not form another alternative organization. This group, by definition, is a part of the AAA
  • Comrades in arms to include: Open Anthropology Cooperative; World Council of Anthro Assoc; specific anthropology departments (but who?)


Okay everybody, what else you got?

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

38 thoughts on “Alright, how about a Digital Anthropology Interest Group?

  1. Great idea! I think it’s also a good way for a number of younger members to get erxcited about something and participate in the Association.

  2. I’m not coming up with any other ideas, but please make sure I’m included in anyplace we need to sign, be included, or generally make ourselves known. This is one of my most important interests in anthro.

  3. What is digital anthropology? This is not a rhetorical question. I find myself in a situation familiar from field work and working with Japanese copywriters. I have just encountered a new term. It seems like I ought to know what it means….but if I stop to think about it, I realize I don’t. Does “digital” point to virtual worlds, like Boellstorf’s work on Second Life or Golub’s work on World of Warcraft? Or to use of digital media to record and disseminate anthropological data or thinking? Or, alternatively, support something like the open source development community that Kelty describes in Two Bits? If that is the intention, what is the overall project to which community members are supposed to be contributing? Is it something like Linux, with a kernel and extensions and applications? I can’t quite get my head around the shape of what is supposed to be happening here, and the political activist in me notes how hard it is to build a movement without at least the appearance of shared objectives. Can someone lend me a hand here?

  4. (Speaking as a non-anthropologist ally who likes OA in general.)

    re d) – could it help to build additional alliances with non-anthropological OA-focused groups? There’d be possibilities from both the academic and non-academic worlds (e.g., Electronic Freedom Foundation – – and suchlike.)

    ..or would this work against what you’re thinking of?

  5. I think we should be prepared (and willing) to assist anthropologists who are interested in using digital media or created shared data, etc…but don’t know how to begin. In the same way that the Center for History and New Media runs Workshops, I think part of our role in organizing people into using digital tools is to show them how to use them. This could be at AAA meetings or in online tutorials.

    In addition to highlighting anthropology blogs, perhaps highlighting the engagement of anthropologists with the public and other disciplines online as well? Blogging heads videos, twitter discussions, the #iamscience tumblr, etc…

    Maybe part of our role can be to actually get some comparative quantitiative data on blogs, OA, and traditional publications – survey of instructors and what the use in classrooms, number of visits to Research Blog posts, Open Access articles, etc…?

  6. I’m in! In response to John McCreery and generally – are we thinking of Digital Anthro as Visual Anthro is normally conceived of – as in both the use of digital methods and the study of digital culture?

  7. OK. for the last three years we have been running a highly successful MSc program at the Dept. of Anthropology University College London called Digital Anthropology, in fact we are currently appointing two new lecturers for this (deadline 26th Feb). At the same time Heather Horst and myself have edited what we hope will be a core survey of current work in the field called Digital Anthropology which will be out with Berg on 1st October. As part of that we have also written a lengthy introduction in which we take full responsibility for proposing a definition of digital anthropology and all the consequences that follow from that including the meaning of digital, of anthropology and then Digital Anthropology. Obviously this is far too long to repeat here and others may have quite different ideas, but I felt we couldn’t have a program without accepting the need for an intellectual defence of that program.
    On another note we are starting a five year research study of social networking in seven countries, and as part of this we propose to set up a general internet site specifically for those interested in the anthropology of social networking sites, we are discussing this with anthropologists in the US and other countries to try and see what would work best, and I would be happy to announce its presence here when this comes to fruition. Fortunately this research received a US$3.3 million grant, so we should be able to afford some tech support!
    I am sure we would also fully support any attempt to have a wider presence for digital anthropology on-line, but I was a bit disturbed by the previous comments that seem to assume such a site would be essential a US based initiative. I really can’t see why anthropologists of all people would expect to be so parochial? We have had very productive sessions at EASA, on digital anthropology and it would be a pity not to make things more open. Certainly I am hoping that our proposed anthropology of social networking site will start to attract anthropologists as much from Brazil, Australia and India as from the US and the UK.

  8. I can definitely see open-access and digital anthropology joining together as a group for now, and perhaps separating once both become more prominent. I’m much more on the open-access and blogging side of anthropology than the studying-the-digital-environment side, but perhaps both can productively coexist for the present time.

  9. @John and Alicia Looks like Professor Miller addressed some of your questions and also spoke about the relevant literature but I’d like to add something as well. John you’re asking what is Digital Anthropology and then you basically answer your own question. It is all that you mentioned and more, depends on individual interests. I actually study the subject and can tell you that the programme comprises of many different themes from photography and practical application of digital tools in one’s own fieldwork through critical debates about the changing face of anthropology in digital era, to communication and consumption studies…and much much more. I also wouldn’t narrow Digital Anthropology down to Visual Anthropology Alicia, simply because some of us are more interested in other aspects of DA such as geomedia or political activism. That said, Digital Anthropology can also be Visual. For example, someone may study digitalisation of art whereas I’m interested in the new social movements from Occupy to Anonymous and how they employ digital tools to realise their agenda, to criticise prevailing order and to communicate with each other and the public. I’m excited about this new OA platform and look forward to seeing how it develops.

  10. @Daniel – Could you give at least a brief outline of your definition and scope of digital anthropology, to help answer John’s question? Your comment does not mention open access, yet that is a large part of Matt’s proposal, and a major theme of discussion on SM in relation to digital anthropology. Will you Berg book be available online to download?

  11. Thanks for keeping the fires stoked with this idea, Matt.

    First of all, I think there are a couple of different (but still related) ideas mixing together here: 1) digital anthropology (along the lines of what Daniel Miller is talking about) and 2) open access/digital anthropology in the sense of networking, more open publishing, blogging, and finding some different ways to think about how we are all interacting/communicating. Again, these aren’t mutually exclusive, but it might be a good idea to work toward starting to frame what we are trying to build here.

    So it might be a good idea to do a little brainstorming about the name of the group and also a short statement/blurb about what we are really trying to do so that people know what they are joining. Regardless, I am on board and ready to help!

    I think that highlighting and connecting what’s going on with blogging in anthropology is a good place to start. I also would really like to see some discussions about creating some sort of repository (or something) where anthropologists can publish working papers that are freely accessible. Is anyone else interested in this? This has come up more than once, and I really like this idea although I am not quite sure where to look to create (or join) something like that. I am going to take some time to look more into the SSRN and see what’s possible there ( I am not sure if this sounds appealing to others or not. But I really like how some other disciplines are using these kinds of repositories as tools for thinking through and talking about their ideas. I REALLY like the idea that this makes ideas available through pre-press working drafts.

    I also think that Daniel Miller makes a good point about making this US-focused. Others have also noted their interest in something that extends beyond the US and the AAA, and I totally agree. The AAA interest group, however, can be a good place to start for people who want to see how/if they can influence things there. But I definitely think we need to be pushing the fact that this isn’t just about the US. I mean, it sounds to me like there is interest, so there’s really no need to limit this to the AAA interest group. That can be a subset or a focused project that takes place within a wider effort. Maybe it would be a good idea to think about trying to use IG’s as networking tools within various anthro associations and groups around the world. The AAA group can be a test case, or something. But I really think it might be good to work on these online components AND actual groups that meet up (whether in the US, Brazil, India, etc). Just some ideas.

    Megan has some good ideas about some specific projects that we can start to look into for this group:

    “Maybe part of our role can be to actually get some comparative quantitative data on blogs, OA, and traditional publications – survey of instructors and what the use in classrooms, number of visits to Research Blog posts, Open Access articles, etc…?”

    I like this. It’s basically about making connections, making things available, and creating places that help direct people (teachers, students, general audience, etc) to the kinds of content that is being produced. Creating some sort of constantly updated “guide” or repository of all this might be a good plan, since there is a lot out there and it can be kind of daunting for anyone who hasn’t really delved into this side of anthropology.

    Last thing: I definitely think that having a specific “place” to start putting this together is a good idea. And since Kerim’s old site is already in place, it might be a good idea to revamp it and run with it from there. What do others think? Does this require a new location, or would that site work to take things forward? I can definitely help with updating and reworking that site. I have certainly spent my fair share of time messing with blog templates in Blogger and WordPress, so I am game. Thoughts?

  12. John McCreery’s provocation can have serious consequences for the cohesion and longevity of our organization. I think it deserves very serious consideration because I have seen similar problems hamper the success of other section groups.

    For example, I was formerly a member of the Association for Latina/ Latino Anthropologists and while I was active in that group I met some wonderful people. However in the years I was a member the group was also somewhat disfunctional and not all Latina/o anthropologists felt welcome there. I’ve have heard similar complaints about SOLGA, although I do not have first hand knowledge of that group.

    The problem with ALLA, as I saw it, was that it was unclear if this was a group for the promotion and networking of professional anthropologists who happened to be Latinos, or if this was primarily a group for cultural anthropologists who studied Latino communities. In practice most group members were both, ie they were native anthropologists.

    Time and again this worked to the exclusion of non-cultural anthropologists and anthropologists such as myself who claim a Latino identity but chose to study other things. **This was early 2000s, maybe things are different now**

    I feel strongly that a digital anthropology interest group as we’re proposing it here should not be for the anthropology of digital lives. That is a very narrow group and we want to be bigger than that.

    Instead, as Jason Jackson pointed out in the comments on the previous post, we should see this is a reincarnation of the now defunct scholarly communications interest group. What makes us special relative to other AAA groups is that we are redefining what is “scholarly” and what is “communication.”

    To accomplish our goal of promoting OA principles within the AAA we’re going to need physical anthropologists, archaeologists, and linguists on board too. Folks who study Second Life and WoW can come too: in fact given their expertise they’ll probably be leading the way. But the focus of the group is what digital platforms mean for doing anthropology (publication in particular).

  13. It might be good to start focusing on (and highlighting) several open access “hubs,” or places where people can freely participate, access material and info, and communicate. Then, working on creating dialogs between and connecting these different hubs. So working on using the Open Access Anthro site as a place to highlight specific OA materials, projects, and material might be good because it’s focused. Mostly because it can have a cohesive front page and can be a good place to organize various efforts. For me, one of the biggest goals here is finding ways to make connections between everything that people are doing, and making those connections easily navigable and more apparent. There are a LOT of conversations going on in anthropology, and many of them are tucked away here and there on networks of bloggers, sites like the OAC, here at SM, and even on listservs (I belong to the Visual Anthro listserv and e-anth, and there are tons of great conversations on there). What else? I am pretty much brainstorming here, and would like to see what others think…

  14. First, let me join Ryan in thanking Matt for taking the initiative and getting us moving on this. Movements that seek to transcend the madness of crowds require this kind of leadership and those of us who are only hangers-on should appreciate the commitment this kind of leadership requires.

    I am particularly grateful to Matt for catching the drift of what he calls my provocation. So what I would like to do here is to deepen and extend it.

    Assume the focus that Matt describes, the redefinition of what counts as “scholarly” and “communication.” There are already a few examples of efforts to bring serious scholarship to the Web. Besides HAU, I note the presence of the Anthropology of this Century project, and the seminars and working papers associated with the OAC Press project. In neighboring fields, I would also point to Daniel Little’s Understanding Society blog, Methdological Innovations on Line, and the online Journal of Social Structure. What all these efforts share, besides disseminating scholarly research on line, is a commitment to traditional forms of scholarly rigor. In contrast, much of what goes on in anthropological blogs and their comment streams carries on the habits of the listservs like Anthro-L that preceded them. Nuggets of serious work can sometimes be found in them; but the bulk of the traffic remains at the level of bar chat or undergraduate bull sessions. Both are forms of sociability that can be valuable in their own right; but if the goal is to establish a serious alternative to the current print-publishing hierarchy and its lock on qualification for employment, tenure, and promotion, they could be seen as serious barriers to overcome. It could be argued that, however contrary they appear to the egalitarian spirit of the open access movement, new lines have to be drawn, to separate what counts as serious from what does not.

    Reading Kelty’s Two bits I observe that his “recursive public,” the citizens of the open software movement, become influential by demonstrating technical expertise. There are no points for bullshit or critique that does not result in what other programmers regard as good work—and the context, the operating systems and programming languages that programmers share, set strong boundary conditions to what counts as good work. Does it run properly? Is it bug-free? Is it more elegant than other proposed solutions? Does it open new lines for others to work on? Here is where I see the greatest weakness of open anthropology. Without similar boundary conditions to frame and sustain the project, what keeps it from collapsing into a puddle doomed ultimately to evaporate?

  15. @John:

    I think these are important issues to consider. Thanks for bringing them up.

    “Nuggets of serious work can sometimes be found in them; but the bulk of the traffic remains at the level of bar chat or undergraduate bull sessions.”

    I agree and disagree at the same time. The level of conversation on blogs varies, and I definitely do not think that all we see out there is merely “bar chat” and bull sessions. I think there’s a lot more going on, and even more so I think there a lot of potential in how these things can be used. Sure, blogs and other forms of media can be used for informal bull sessions, but they can also be used to write stuff like this:

    Basically, we limit ourselves as to what can be done with these different vehicles for communication.

    “It could be argued that, however contrary they appear to the egalitarian spirit of the open access movement, new lines have to be drawn, to separate what counts as serious from what does not.”

    It’s a good question: what will people take seriously? Does something require a glossy cover to be taken seriously? The seal of approval from the AAA? The seal of approval from a set of established reviewers? Do the ideas themselves have their own inherent credibility? To me, part of the overall problem here is that there are too few organizations who have a lock on defining “what counts.” Does something have to be endorsed by the AAA to be “serious” and to contribute something to the discipline? Nope. In my view, it should be the research, the content, and the ideas that matter, more so than the seal of approval from a particular set of gate keepers. Maybe too idealistic, but I am still at the brainstorming stage of the process at this point.

    “Here is where I see the greatest weakness of open anthropology. Without similar boundary conditions to frame and sustain the project, what keeps it from collapsing into a puddle doomed ultimately to evaporate?”

    I guess what I am wondering is what ideas you have for policing and/or establishing these boundaries? Are you talking about peer review? I mean, one way to go about it is through a kind of continual open review process that can take place thanks to the internet. Again, I think this is important to bring up, and I’d be interested to hear what others think about this aspect. At this stage I am thinking more about making connections between various efforts than worrying about who does or does not think particular projects or ideas are truly “serious.” It wasn’t too long ago that very, very few people had any idea about online anthro and blogging, let alone took it even remotely seriously.

    Again, I think the potential is there, and in some ways we are limited by the boundaries that we put in place before we even begin. And yes, I am in a fairly optimistic mood today…

  16. I agree with Ryan in that the helpful move at this moment is to disambiguate, to the extent possible, DA from OA and move towards figuring out what a workable OA hub might look like.

    To that end, I think SSRN is worth a hard look. Additionally, the Public Library of Science is another site worth a look. PLOS has been around since 2003 and has developed a nice OA publishing ecosystem encompassing the spectrum from peer reviewed journals to informal blogs.

  17. @Ryan

    Thanks for the living anthropologically link. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about the manifesto as you are. Partly has to do with my having started to read Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeoise Dignity, which begins with a strong case that capitalism has, in fact, delivered a whole lot in the way of higher standard of living, better health and longer lifespans than any recent or historical model for how to organize an economy. I’m inclined to agree. But then I’ve influenced by reading George Soros and Jesse Jackson, Jr., as well as McCloskey. I’m fond of Jackson’s metaphor in which the economy is a car. The free market is the most powerful engine you can buy; but a car also needs brakes and a steering wheel and, in the best of all worlds, a smart driver behind the wheel.

    Returning to the question where to draw the line, I find myself playing around with the idea that instead of a line as a boundary—serious on this side, unserious on the other—we think of lines connecting contributions, lines as lines in a network of associations instead of lines used to define what are taken, perhaps for no very good reason, to be discrete boxes. This is the basic proposition now being explored by social network analysts with an interest in citation networks and, in the latest models relationships between social and semantic networks, focused on clusters of people and ideas. Don’t press me too hard on this; it’s only a bit of brainstorming.

    On a personal level, I tend to evaluate what I read, first, in terms of three questions I wrote about in a paper called “Malinowski, Magic and Advertising: On Choosing Metaphors” that was published in John Sherry, ed., Contemporary Marketing and Consumer Behavior: An Anthropological Sourcebook: (1) Is there a big idea? (2) Is it campaign able? I.e., does it suggest a lot of possible lines for development? and (3) Does it feel right? Then I turn on the critical apparatus and check how solid the argument and evidence seem to be. Then, if it seems to pass muster as something genuinely interesting, I add it to the list of things I mention and talk about on line. For me, an independent scholar in his sixties pursuing a favorite hobby, these criteria suffice to filter the endless parade of stuff that the Internet makes available and provide the stimulus to keep my grey cells moving.

    I note, however, that for me the official score-keeping that affects jobs, tenure and promotion is of now particular concern—as, I imagine, it must be to most of my colleagues here. The concerns I have mentioned in previous comments point to this issue. If we are proposing to change the academic game in ways that reduce the power of current gatekeepers, we need some compelling ideas to explain why the changes we recommend are good, not just for ourselves but the field, academia, and society as a whole. At the moment, I can’t claim to have them. But we have a lot of younger, possibly smarter people here. I’m wondering what they’ll come up with.

  18. Great conversation, great initiative. I’ll see if I have time to work out a post myself over on Neuroanthropology, as that will help me think through the many issues raised.

    But just wanted to make one comment, based on the online/digital anthro workshops I’ve given at the AAAs – there is a strong interest in how digital tools and approaches can be used in teaching. More and more universities have online classes, and we’re incorporating more social media into classes/teaching. This aspect of digital anthro will be a major professional interest at the AAAs, I believe, and could be particularly relevant in terms of offering workshops, round tables, and the like. And also because even as this move is happening, prominent figures like Michael Wesch are reassessing what it means to “go digital.”

    So just want to push teaching! And that alongside research, new forms of publishing, academic connections and professional association both inside and outside the AAA, and so forth. Perhaps a framing around research, teaching service, and dissemination might be useful.

  19. @John:

    “Thanks for the living anthropologically link. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about the manifesto as you are.”

    Apologies–maybe I wasn’t clear enough with that link. It was meant to provide an example of what anthropologists are doing with online media (ie blogging). Whether or not you like or agree with the content of the manifesto is beside the point. I could have used a link from any number of sites ranging from Powered by Osteons (Kristina Killgrove) to John Hawks to Daniel Lende to Jason’s site to Savage Minds (etc). Your argument was that blogs are often little more than “bar chat” and “undergrad bull sessions.” My point is that the potential is clearly there, and people are doing something with that potential (the link to Jason’s site being just one example). So to me it makes sense to me to build upon that potential and highlight the work that is indeed out there. I guess I don’t see the utility or even necessity of getting bogged down on questions of legitimacy when it comes to blogging or other forms of communication. Legitimacy and acceptance comes with participation, collaboration, and, ultimately, the ideas and research that provide the foundation for the content. We make the legitimacy, in part by trying to work to build other venues for publication, sharing, dialog, and communication. To me, that’s what matters.

    ” If we are proposing to change the academic game in ways that reduce the power of current gatekeepers, we need some compelling ideas to explain why the changes we recommend are good, not just for ourselves but the field, academia, and society as a whole.”

    I think there are plenty of compelling arguments for why the academic game needs some changing, ranging from debates against SOPA to some of the recent issues with the AAA & Wiley. Jason Jackson has explored many of these issues. The reasons are there, and lots of people know that things aren’t exactly stellar…at some point people start to make changes. I have heard a LOT of people complain about things, but then end their complaint with a certain resignation that “nothing can really be done.” Talk about fatalism. The irony is that as long as everyone keeps taking part in the current system, it will surely keep going one way or another. So, in short, I think there is a case to be made, and in my view one of the first steps for any OA/digital anthro group is to start laying out that case convincingly.

  20. @Ryan

    I certainly don’t want to have this conversation end in the fatalism you mention. On a personal note, I know for a fact that my modest success in Japan was due in part to visceral rejection of advice from people who said, “You can’t do that,” citing some cockamamy notion about Japanese business habits or the way foreigners are treated in Japan.

    Also, I take your point about the bar chat and bull session stereotyping I indulged in. There is, of course, a huge range of material on the Net, some very stimulating indeed without any sort of official imprimatur.

    But, as someone who is used to thinking strategically, at least to the extent the professional marketers do, I’d say that you are in the position of someone who has identified a clear need and, thus, market potential for what you want to do. But that is just step one. Working out the details of a proposal, figuring out how to package and deliver the message, and fulfill the promise it makes—that’s all work that remains to be done.

    Consider, as a possible framework for discussion, a creative brief. It includes the following elements.

    1. Definition of target — Who are we trying to influence?
    2. Definition of goal — What do we want the target to do?
    3. Proposition — What is the takeaway? The one sentence they have to remember for our campaign to be successful.
    4. Rationale — A short, ideally one-paragraph, explanation of why communicating this proposition to that target will achieve our goal.
    5. Support — Information that we can use to support the target’s belief that the proposition is true.

    Each and every element in this list is debatable. Working through the list systematically is a basic discipline that improves your chances of creating something with strong impact and the durability to sustain the effort required to reach your goal.

  21. Hey John,

    First, I like the personal note. Funny how when someone tells us we can’t do something, that can provide that little extra motivation to really make it happen! Nothing like a good challenge, right?

    Also, good points about strategic thinking. I think you raise a lot of important points. Thanks. We all need to keep this conversation going, that’s for sure.

  22. I think this is a great conversation unfolding. As I’m reading, it seems that “digital anthropology” engages different audiences in different ways.

    I was hard initially for me to imagine that my work could be encompassed in the project that Daniel Miller describes. And yet, there clearly is a “digital anthropological genetics” unfolding today, using many of the social media tools that are developing for other kinds of online communication and community building.

    I think Kelty’s description, noted by John above, is inspirational. How can we make that kind of community work?

  23. I feel like we may have two very distinct ideas developing in one comment thread here. One is for an IG in the AAA to do…something…I saw it less as focusing on the study of digital communities and more on how effective we are/can be as anthropologists communicating with one another, our research communities, our students and other publics through various digital platforms. If there’s desire for an IG to study digital anthropology as it was defined above by Daniel Miller, I think that’s probably a separate entity with some overlap. I, too, worry about the confusion that Matt has seen, with some folks feeling like they shouldn’t participate because they don’t research social networking, they just use it. So I’d vote for two separate interest groups.

    The second idea I’m seeing is for a hub for Open Access Anthropology Papers. This is potentially a general repository, possibly one that has some level of peer review, perhaps something that includes both. I think these are both great ideas, but to me they seem like they need to be separate from the IG. As many have already said, there are a lot of other anthropologists in the world and we want to communicate with one another, not create yet another barrier.

    Thinking about digital repository ideas (which I love) – has anyone looked at as another model? That’s a common repository for OA pre-publication drafts in math and physics that seems to work well.

  24. I am certainly interested to be involved further in this. I see what Ryan wrote as the most feasible goal for the initial stage

    “It’s basically about making connections, making things available, and creating places that help direct people (teachers, students, general audience, etc) to the kinds of content that is being produced. Creating some sort of constantly updated “guide” or repository of all this might be a good plan, since there is a lot out there and it can be kind of daunting for anyone who hasn’t really delved into this side of anthropology.”

    I agree about using existing structures and blogs such as Kerim’s. Using DA with OA for developing new instruments for teaching would be critical. Within this domain, the Royal Anthropological Institute is making some significant steps which are passing fairly unnoticed. The RAI recently inaugurated the first open access journal dedicated to Teaching Anthropology ( and is planning a workshop titled “Learning by Example: Building Arguments Ethnographically”, to be held on the 16th April in Oxford with the participation of Kim Fortun, Tim Ingold, Carole Macgranahan, David Shankland (RAI’s director), David Gellner. I am also invited as discussant and could address some of the issues presented in this forum.
    This is an important signal coming from one of the oldest anthropological organizations in the world. We are still far from open access and peer-review general anthropology journals but it is a significant step.

    Thus I sympathise very much with Danny Miller that we should join efforts to make this initiative a transoceanic one and not restricted to the US. We could try to involve the RAI, for example and all other OA reviews (i.e. Anthropology of this Century) and open access journals. I am certainly not acting from a neutral position but let me suggest than instead than opening new repositories it would be critical to develop new funding models for supporting and improving currently existing “gold” open access journals which are struggling to survive and relying mostly on volunteers. The goal should be not only providing alternative publishing venues but to show that open-acces journals are not lower quality than subscription journals and that they could hire the same copyeditors that corporate publishers hire, have an equivalent quality control and strictness of the peer-review process performed by top-notch scientific editorial boards and equally count on one’s CV as first tier journals when applying for tenure.
    Very few funding bodies have developed funding models to support OA and what OA needs to develop further are innovative funding models for covering the costs of copyeditors, typsetters and staff and the everyday management of a journal. Otherwise OA will only remain amateur initiatives and will be addressed as “alternative” publishing venues unable to produce high-end scholarship with professional quality layouts. Funding is the very pragmatic reality and constraint to further development of OA that a Digital Anthropology group should address.
    Let’s not forget that one of the most successful OA publishers, the Public Library of Science (PLos) is charging up to US$2,900 to authors or research sponsors for publishing in their open access journals (although they have a fee waiver policy for authors who cannot obtain any funding support).

    Fortunately, there are some institutions out there that are supportive of open-access and Digital Anthropology. HAU thought the best way to support an open-access, non-profit initiative in anthropology and bypass the logic and institutions of the contemporary publication regime was the establishment of a network of collaborating centres that could champion and further a journal and its prospects and provide some forms of financial support. Hence we founded HAU-NET, Network of Ethnographic Theory.
    This network of institutions that we already involved (CNRS, Manchester, Amsterdam, Sydney, and we are finalising an agreement with Oslo) could act as another port of call for finding members or supporters of a DA group. The listed institutions have already shown their interest in supporting Digital Anthropology initiatives and they could be approached for further advice. We should not underestimate the need of some form of institutional support.

  25. Others have asked if calling the group Digital Anthropology is as inclusive a move as we would like. I am just reading Katherine Hayles’ new book, and she suggests Comparative Media as a term. Maybe we could talk about Comparative Media Worlds and talk explicitly in all descriptions about open access issues as our political agenda, and media broadly defined as our analytical object?

  26. Just posted my take on the discussion here over at Neuroanthropology, which might help get us to a second draft.

    Here’s the main gist from the end:

    The AAA Digital Anthropology Interest Group – In Brief

    The Digital Anthropology Group will provide a common forum so that members help move anthropology to embrace how digital forms of communication, interaction, and research increasingly mediate what we do as anthropologists.

    Foment Change
    -Open Access
    -Online scholarship and accreditation
    -Outreach within the field, with practicing anthropologists, and with anthropologists outside the AAA
    -Addressing inequalities of access and representation, from indigenous groups to political economic disparities to gender and race online

    Focus on Research
    -Digital anthropology as a focus of research
    -Using digital tools for data and for improving the creation and execution of research
    -Support research done in public, including repositories for data and publications

    Foster Communication and Networking
    -Offer a forum to communicate and interact among members
    -Provide resources, ideas, examples and critiques of digital initiatives in teaching
    -Draw on digital anthropology as a way to create the flow of ideas and relationships among anthropologists inside and outside the AAA
    -Embrace the ways that digital communication can reach the broader public

  27. @Daniel Lende

    Cross-posted from neuroanthropogy

    Very nice. Still not quite sure what “digital anthropology as a focus for research” implies: research on online communities, research on using digital tools to enhance anthropology….

    P.S. I note the absence of any explicit mention of teaching. Is this to be subsumed under communication and networking?

  28. @John

    For research, decided to go broader. There is a definite sociocultural/linguistic focus to present digital anthro, but Colleen Morgan is doing interesting stuff in archaeology and Jeff Snodgrass is looking at the neuroanthro of video games. So hopefully expansive enough a definition for a broader sense of the anthro research.

    As for teaching, you’re right, I did not make it an explicit item in itself, even after advocating for that in an earlier comment here. There are interest groups in the AAAs that also intersect with teaching, so I didn’t want to overclaim.

    But I did put description in “communcation and networking” specifically on teaching: “The group will also actively pursue ways to provide resources, ideas, examples, and critiques on using digital initiatives and social media in teaching.”

  29. I’ve taught digital anthro in the past and hope to continue researching & teaching in this area in the future. I think this is an excellent idea that’s long overdue. I haven’t any cogent comments since I’ve just given this only a cursory reading but I find the conversation that’s unfolding quite interesting. As I’m about to leave town for a few days w only limited internet access, I wanted to express support and cheer on the idea a bit while I had a moment before I have to dash out the door.

  30. A fascinating debate to which I would add a few extra comments.
    I am very supportive of the expansion of Open Access. With books for example, why should the commercial considerations of a press means that an incredibly scholarly book that is not commercial can’t get published. damaging that scholars career? Some years ago I started a book series with a print on demand publisher called Sean Kingston precisely to publish such volumes (this is still going).
    Yes Digital Anthropology will be an e-book but hopefully in the future we will find new and better ways to improve public access, while retaining the imprimatur of high standards. I found Chris Kelty’s book quite inspiring. BUT in our intro to the DA book we argued, as have some others here, that OA tends to be arena of highly competent, knowledgeable and often quite geeky groups. So I make the vanguard of my program a group of technophobic Filipina mothers with left behind children, who hate the technology, wouldn’t touch open source, but are innovative because they need these new media to be mothers (see Migration and New Media: transnational families and polymedia 2011). Digital Anthropology is understanding all the consequences of digital technologies and also how these change our understanding of anthropology, which conceivably could include many things we don’t like or want but which we empathetically study as anthropologists. The advocacy of open access which I wish to support will not be helped by confusing it with Digital Anthropology. This was the point I was hoping to make.

  31. I just want to flag the really great news that Giovanni has pointed out to us in his comment. This is the first that I am learning about Teaching Anthropology. Above and beyond its substantive, intellectual significance, this is an important organizational development. A major scholarly society that is already in a co-publishing arrangement with Wiley-Blackwell has launched a new journal outside the context of that toll access arrangement. This has been done using one of the standard (free) open source publishing tools and thereby in an (technically) interoperable way and under the terms of a very very generous CC-BY license. These later two points insure that the content there is very well positioned for a variety of public interest reuses and remixes.

    The RAI did not need to first convert JRAI to gold OA in order to get going on a new worthwhile gold OA effort. The learning experiences that come from Teaching Anthropology will be very valuable later when new RAI projects are considered. The field is being enriched, the RAI has a place at the gold OA table, and a great deal of organizational and human capital will be built. Congratulations to everyone involved.

  32. As one of the younger members of the AAA and a digital native, this discussion is incredibly exciting. The possibilities of this project are only limited by the foundations we lay for it at this moment of initiation. With that in mind, one of the first recommendations I would like to make is organizational. In alignment with the principals behind Open Access, Digital anthropology should be organized with the openness and connectedness of the cyberworld. Digital anthropology needs a social networking site which will allow for the free and open discussion of its goals, agendas, and progress. In addition to allowing for social networking between anthropologists interested in both digital anthropology and the anthropology of cyber worlds, this site should include an open forum to discuss the issues relating to both as well as the progress being made in individual projects. Finally, the site could also include a collection of open access publications and links to anthropological blogs. In regards to Daniel Miller’s concern about the American exclusiveness of this project, I find it rather bizarre to imagine a cyber community limited by national boarders. Perhaps, I am examining this question as a digital native rather than as an American Anthropologist, but such limitations would only serve to stunt the growth of this project. Instead, I suggest the digital anthropology community could sponsor an interest group for the AAAs as more of a “delegation” to represent Digital Anthropology’s interests at the AAAs, however, members of the Digital Anthropology community could also form interest groups in other national and regional anthropological associations. Beyond, the goals of Digital Anthropology within academia, the group should also be of value to the general public. After all, writing anthropological blogs has always been about sharing our ideas and knowledge with the world.


    1) Social Network Site- open to all anthropologist and other scholars interested in the topic

    2) Create a Online Forum connected to the social networking site- this will allow open international discuss of current issue and new ideas/ research findings

    3) The site can also be a repository for Digital Anthropology and Anthropology of Cyberworlds- hosts both original posts and links to various blogs

    4) Create Professional connections- example Interest Group for AAAs

    5) Create a Public Anthropology digital database resource, and promote online publications/blogs as the Public Anthropology of the 21st century

    The first question of course is where are we going to get the funding for this website, to that I have no idea. I am grad student and in no position to find a solution to that part of the problem. However, I am very interested in the development of this project. I would love to continue brainstorming as this project develops.

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