As an undergraduate, I was deeply impressed with Daniel Miller’s Material Culture and Mass Consumption — in fact, in one of my first published articles I used Miller’s concept of ‘forging’ (which implies both making and faking) to help understand the transformation of landowner identities around customary land registration. I’ve admired a lot of Miller’s other works as well, including Stuff, which is an accessible walk through his writings on material culture. On the other hand, I haven’t been that impressed by his work on the Internet and Digital Anthropology. I think I may be the only one who feels this way, however: UCL’s Center for Digital Anthropology (which offers an innovative MSc in Digital Anthropology) has grown from strength to strength. Of course it’s important not to reduce the center to just Miller, or to view it as the institutional expression of the personality cult surrounding him (which I know some detractors do). Miller has changed the field not only with his publications, but by creating a network of scholars with a shared outlook — a genuine movement in anthropology, not just a clique with a rigid doctrine. It’s incredibly impressive.
We might look at Miller as a consummate academic entrepreneur then, at least until today. Today the Miller and his team have turned up the volume on their project with the simultaneous release of three open access books on social media that have emerged from their global social media impact study: Social Media in an English Village, Social Media in Southeast Turkey, and How The World Changed Social Media. And a fourth volume on social media in Chile is coming in June! All open access, and all from UCL Press. You can get even more over at Why We Post, a further website of the project.
I can not speak to the quality of the works (tho if you do stop by the UCL Press site, I’d recommend Lisa Jardine’s Temptation in the Archives), which I have not read, but it’s hard to miss the impact of an event like this. It’s an incredible accomplishment I’m reminded of Mimi Ito’s Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media project, which produced not only the volume Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out, but also trained up a bevy of great scholars, including danah boyd, Patricia Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and others.
I particularly like Miller’s project because of its strong open access component. It’s great to have these pieces available. The biggest issue now is reception: In a world full of Too Much Stuff To Read, can the UCL open access volumes grab the attention of readers? Well, as we used to say on the Internet back in the nineties: I, for one, welcome our new global social media impact overlords. So this weekend why don’t you download a book or two, take a gander, and see if you think this latest piece of open access scholarship is worth spreading.