Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology – [Book Review]

I wrote a review for Duke University Press on the new “Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology,” edited by Orin Starn. And then I broke it into less-than-140-character ideas and then I tweeted it.

Essentially what you’re about to read is a blog-embedded Storify of a review of a book (about a book), made up of tweets based on marginalia.


Dick Powis

Dick Powis is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include men and childbirth, prenatal screening technologies, and reproductive health in urban settings in Senegal. Read more at dickpowis.com.

14 thoughts on “Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology – [Book Review]

  1. Well it certainly isn’t for everyone, but then neither are blog-based reviews. In keeping with the spirit of Writing Culture’s legacy, I thought I’d switch it up.

  2. That’s great, John. I’m sure we all look forward to more of your constructive commentary.

  3. If the format works for others, that’s great, and I have no problem with experimenting with form. I have worked in advertising where finding new ways to “cut through the clutter” is always on the table. But the tweets don’t work for me. They add clutter to what I am trying to read. Maybe they work for someone else. I would, I am totally serious, like to know how.

  4. Well I don’t know if I can tell you how “it works”; if it doesn’t work for you, then it just doesn’t. It “working” also presupposes some practical intention, as if I thought that this would communicate my thoughts more effectively than other options. As you said and as I mention in the review, this was an experiment, i.e. to see what would happen if I did it this way and how it might be received. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback but a few people (you included) have mentioned “clutter.” I’m not sure if you mean the hashtags, the abbreviations, the at-times awkward word choices (the latter two being products of forcing thoughts into <140 character messages), or that some of them stand alone while others must be contextualized with each other, but whether or not those things are present, my review still communicates a message. “How it works” for someone might be explained by each person’s varying ability to either filter out “clutter” or appreciate it for what it is (i.e. the challenge of committing oneself to <140 characters) – I don’t know, I can’t tell you; it works for me because I wrote it. I won’t claim that this is some art form, some medium that demands a deeper understanding for a richer appreciation. It’s just an experiment.

  5. You had me at Hunter S. Thompson. As for the format debate, and whether or not it works, for me this is like reading a review through the sparse words of Hemingway or someone along those lines. Sharp. No extras. Edges to each phrase. It’s interesting, the way it’s all laid out. Beside that, I like experiments. It works for me. We have all these expectations and norms and rules when it comes to writing reviews. It’s nice when all the rules are completely disregarded. Kinda works with the whole ethos of the Writing Culture thing.

  6. Ryan, great answer. I am reminded, however, of something Rex wrote a long time ago about doing anthropology as being a connoisseur. Your “Sharp. No extras. Edges to each phrase. It’s interesting in the way it’s all laid out” strikes me as very much a connoisseur’s remark. Something like wine-tasting notes. Would you agree with that?

  7. Isn’t a review supposed to present content readers don’t know, as well as providing critical insights? In my opinion, this tweet series doesn’t present WC at all. And, how exactly is “Rutherford’s chapter is definitely one of my favorite” important to readers? This format doesn’t work for me either. And if someone I follow on Twitter started a series this long, one would be unfollowed.
    But hey, since you got positive feedback from many, I suppose you have a readership interested in your experiment.

  8. @camigp I appreciate that you’re reviewing my review of a book about a book, but paraphrasing Ryan, a review isn’t supposed to anything if the whole premise is that I cast out the rules. What do you mean that the series doesn’t present WC at all? (You realize that the review was not about WC, right?)

    And I agree that I should’ve been unfollowed in droves. I even suggested as much in the middle of the review (https://twitter.com/dtpowis/status/598228734701740033), and yet by the end I gained about ten new followers (that I still have).

  9. Yes, it took me some time to get it but I do realize it’s not about WC. What I meant is that it doesn’t present Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology. But if in your rules it is not a need, than it is all fine. However, I do think readers are entitled to have their opinions on the rules you set. I mean, there is no point in saying your review doesn’t reach my expectation of what a review should be, I get it. I just don’t appreciate much this kind of review. Which is fine, there are tons of things out there I don’t like very much.
    [As for Twitter followers, I exaggerated. I’m actually one of your ten new followers, I just didn’t it there]

  10. John wrote: “Something like wine-tasting notes. Would you agree with that?”

    Wine tasting notes. Hmmm. I’m not sure if I’d say I’m like a connoisseur making my notes about fine wine. I like beer, and middle of the road rum. I like to see things that are a bit raw, different, non-standard–especially in this particular venue (online, Savage Minds). I like to see things break away from the usual stuff just to see what happens and where it goes, so I appreciate the nature of the experiment. I like things that aren’t the same old stuff. Does this work as a formal review in the usual sense? I have no idea. But I like the motivations behind it, so that works for me.

    camigp wrote: “Isn’t a review supposed to present content readers don’t know, as well as providing critical insights?”

    Is that what a review is supposed to do? I suppose those are things that a review can do, but they should not be limited to our usual rules and habits and academic norms. Sometimes it’s good to mess with formats and rules and expectations a bit.

    Maybe this can lead us into a discussion about what reviews can do–or what we do with them and maybe what we can do with them.

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