“Just the Tip”

So, since October I’ve been accompanying Savage Minds’ social medias, trying to keep everything updated and making sure we have a continuum of posts on Facebook and Twitter. The other part of the job consists in getting involved in the conversations and debates we have in this platforms. It’s being a nice experience so far, especially for learning other points of view and getting to know the readers of the blog. But I’ve been questioning myself to what extent we really can rely on social media to spread anthropological knowledge and trying to understand how blogging really impacts on our everyday anthropological discussions. I’m still in search for some of this answers. Some insights that interested me were Ryan’s discussion on why 95% of SM readers never comment and Kerim’s four types of comments, just to sort out a few examples.

What strikes me the most is the notion of individualistic construction of an online personna. We try to build a consistent mask of the self in the age of internet. This process is too much self-involved, and it doesn’t pay much attention to our surroundings. It’s the kind of attention that usually reads “just the tip” of articles, texts and posts, or, worst, just the title. But does not goes to the subtle meaning of the text, doesn’t care about what the author really wants to say. Does not let one be affected by words. That’s the root problem.

We are trying to rethink our name and proposition here in SM, and this plead for new names generated more interest and interaction than most of our other posts. A new name, simple. But it’s just not a new name, it’s a response for an immense problem that emerges from our political conjuncture.

This week, Rex posted his History of Anthropology timeline, a huge effort of 5 years, and he said in its presentation that this timeline encompasses all anthro authors from USA, UK and France.  One comment on facebook replied: “And what about other points of view? I mean the point isn’t it to diversify perspectives of our understanding of the world and the others… What can we learn from the unknown, when the unknown is only one, the non-western??” I got really tired when I saw this one. Internet should be about collective constructions (as is SM). Not about saying what somebody else should do, even if the critique is pertinent.

My first thought when I saw Rex timeline was that I should try to contribute by expanding it with Latin American anthropologists (I’m from Brazil, by the way). Not that he should expand it, he’s not obliged to it. He did put this timeline as an open access teaching resource, and for that I’m thankful and will try to contribute in a near future.

Discussions on the internet tend to be manichaeist. Curiosity is still a private interest, not much suitable for the universe of discussions on the web. Don’t know, maybe I lost something in translation…

Caio Coelho

Caio Coelho works with visual anthropology and history of landscape and teaches documentary photography and culture at Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos/UNISINOS in Brazil. He contributes as social media intern to Savage Minds and to HAU: journal of ethnographic theory as editorial assistant. You can find him on twitter @caogris.

3 thoughts on ““Just the Tip”

  1. Caio, this is well said, esp. the last point about making contributions instead of complaining about what isn’t covered. I think this goes back to points about the low percentage of commenters and related issues. In spite of all of the talk about new media and Open Source in recent years, I think many anthropologists have yet to develope the habit of participation, not least because legacy platforms for publishing and commentary have been oriented to exclusion and restriction, to limiting the number of voices and perspectives. Telling someone, particularly someone from an underrepresented group or advocating an outsider perspective to “write your own book” if they don’t like what I didn’t cover is different than inviting them to participate in a collaborative process. But we need to remember that the old habits and frames of mind die hard. Savage Minds has become, I think, one of the key components in an emerging anthropological public sphere. Hesitance flows at least in part from reticence, from wondering exactly whom is invited to the party. The key to overcoming these barriers, as is often said in contemporary anti-racism work, is “calling people in” instead of calling them out.

  2. Hi Steven, I couldn’t agree more. And I won’t even say that I don’t work by this frame of calling people out. It’s a structural problem that we have to deal in a daily basis. I hope we can emerge eventually from this flat level of communication to a more embroidered pattern of exchange of thoughts!

  3. What Steven and Caio have said. Why? Because, as Mikhail Bakhtin observed in his “Letter to Novy Mir,” all cultural understanding requires dialogue. Why dialogue? Because both sides have their own blind spots, and they can help each other to see what they are missing.

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