All posts by Fuji

Interview with an anthropologist

Elise Edwards is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Butler University in Indiana. Her research interests include issues of gender, sexuality, and national identity in Japan, particularly as they are articulated and disciplined through technologies of sports, recreation, and physical education. She is currently working on a book about soccer, corporate sport, and national identity construction in Japan in the late 1990s and into the present, which is tentatively titled Fields for the Future: Soccer, Nation, and Citizens in Japan at the Turn of the 21st Century. Elise played for three seasons in Japan’s women’s professional L-League in the mid-1990s, and continues to be involved with the sport, serving as the goalkeeping coach for Butler University’s varsity women’s team.

Fuji. One of the reasons I study sports is that in both China and the United States, I’ve found that everyone has something to say about sports – not always positive, which makes it more interesting – and it’s a good way to get a conversation going. Plus, as a teacher, it’s a good way to grab students’ interest and get them to think more critically about their own culture. What motivated you to study sports?

Elise: You’re right, almost everyone has something to say about sports, even if it’s simply that they “hate them,” which is a response that can actually lead to some very productive conversations if that person is willing to expand upon what it is that they hate about sports.

My own interest in studying sports stemmed first and foremost from my own experiences as an athlete. I played a variety of different sports – volleyball, basketball, softball, and soccer – throughout most of my childhood and on into high school. I ended up playing soccer in college for Division I program. In many ways, sports was what I knew best, but not really in any kind of critical, or analytical sense…although now that I think about it, from early on, but only at a rather basic level, I was aware that sport played an important role in structuring gender relations, and that it was both reflective and reaffirming of normative ideas about sexuality. I think that most girls who are labeled “tom boys” – or, boys who are called “sissies” because they skate – are well aware of some of the powerful ways that sports impose meanings on bodies and help maintain a particular gendered order. Personally, I think I felt both frustrated and empowered by various cultural meanings attached to sport, and that long before I began my graduate research I was curious about why and how sport worked the way it did. In addition, I think that some of my early childhood questions about why only boys were supposed to play certain sports, or girls were supposed to be “naturally” better at others fueled my early interest; and, the fact that many people continue to think that way inspires me to continue to teach about the history and anthropology of sport, and to do my research.

I guess I got derailed a little bit with my answer above. Despite my general interests in sports, I did not plan on working on sport issues, and definitely didn’t imagine doing fieldwork on women’s soccer in Japan, before I entered into graduate school. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I actually played soccer for the professional women’s league in Japan that is one of the main focuses of my current work. I spent three seasons with a team in the Tokyo area that was sponsored by what was one of the largest securities firms in the world at that time. The experience was amazing and definitely cemented my conviction that I wanted to go to graduate school to learn more Japanese and a lot more about Japanese history and culture. When I returned to the states to begin my graduate work, my advisor strongly encouraged me to do fieldwork on the league. I’m embarrassed to admit that the idea had never crossed my mind before that point – what can I say, I was young and naive – but I knew it was an excellent one as soon as she said it.

As soon as I began seriously studying sport, my interests rapidly broadened and deepened. I was fascinated, for instance by the ways that physical education and sports were used in the late19th and early twentieth centuries by the newly formed Japanese Meiji state to train new dispositions and forms of discipline that would serve the needs of the rapidly modernizing and industrializing country. Or, the fact that up until the final days of WWII, sports and physical fitness initiatives were central parts of government programs aimed at cultivating male bodies to become strong and regimented soldiers, and female bodies to become strong reproductive vessels that could produce plenty more soldiers for future years. I am fascinated by the ways that the women’s volleyball team that won gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as other teams, were drawn into broader cultural discourses ranging from how to reconcile the pain and suffering endured over more than a decade of wartime hardship, to how to explain the double digit GNP growth and new affluence the country was experiencing in the 1960s and ‘70s. And, arguably, I’m most fascinated (since this is the focus of my own research) by the cultural role of soccer in Japan in the 1990s as a medium through which various commentators – including plenty of sports journalists, coaches, and players – waged debates about the kinds of citizens needed to help Japan overcome its serious recession and make Japan competitive in the “new global market.” It should be added, that many of those same people also saw soccer as the ideal means of training those new “global citizens.”

Fuji:. But Japan already seems so global, what with all the technology, exporting of Japanese culture through Pokemon and anime, and exporting of Japanese people as tourists and businesspeople. Is there something about soccer that makes it seem like a more appropriate medium to making Japanese feel global?

Elise: Well, of course, Japan already is global, and in fact, has been global for quite a long time, in the sense that it has interacted and traded with regions and nations around the world for centuries. I think contemporary commentators’ assertions of the “newness” of current globalization stem from two facts: 1) the common but inaccurate belief held by many in Japan that until recently (literally the last couple decades) the country has been incredibly insular and ethnically homogeneous; and 2) despite the fact that Japan was part of global networks and flows for many centuries, in just the past couple decades the nature of those interactions has changed quite dramatically due to the communicative power of the internet, the liberalization of international financial markets, and so on.

Of course, ultimately, whether Japan – or, the world – is more global is a question worthy of debate, but for my purposes the most important thing is that policymakers, journalists, coaches, and others have felt like it is, and that they point to soccer as both resulting from, and being emblematic of this new global system. Many have drawn comparisons between baseball and soccer, with baseball and its militaristic-style training symbolizing the hardworking, group-oriented, and hyper-disciplined Japan of the past, and soccer representing the rapidly changing, foreign derived, and more individualistic post-industrial economy and culture of the present. In this overdrawn binary, baseball is marked as the “national” or “domestic” sport, in contrast to the “international” game of soccer. This is rather ironic since the two sports were actually both introduced to Japan in the early 1870s. (Of course, baseball, as some of these commentators have pointed out, has no equivalent to soccer’s World Cup Tournament, making it less of a “global sport.”) Other writers have suggested that the skills required of soccer players on the field – as individual decision makers in a complicated web, or network, of 21 other players – are exactly the skills required of workers in the new 21st century economy. Of course, for many soccer represents things other than globalization and its requisite dispositions; players, fans, and plenty of sports writers have characterized soccer as embodying a new found individuality and a spirit of change in the country. In 1993, the year the J-League launched, I remember a forty-year old female friend gesticulating wildly as she explained how these young soccer players expressed the freedom and rebelliousness of youth culture in a way not found in baseball. In her opinion, it was wonderful – to watch and for Japan.

Fuji: Back to your point about gender. One of the common complaints against Title IX is that equal opportunity can never really be attained because men are more interested in sports than women, and there will always be more men than women wanting to play varsity sports. Do you think that’s really true?

Elise: I’m always annoyed when I hear this kind of argument against the legislation. To suggest that men are simply more interested in sports is to mistakenly suggest that this is somehow a natural quality of the male sex and deny the cultural forces behind that interest. I think this is the kind of the question that is easiest for me to comment on from a personal perspective as a player and a coach. I’ve worked with female and male athletes for years, and I’ve never seen anything that’s made me believe that either sex inherently likes sports more than the other. Why they play sports and what they get out of them do at times appear to be different, but this I’m quite sure can be attributed to the power of culture.

Staying invisible

Update 8/15: According to the New York Times, NBA referee Tim Donaghy plead guilty to two felony gambling counts.
There is a maxim among sports referees that the best officiated game is one where no one notices the referees.

Unfortunately for the NBA, the referees have become very visible due to the recent federal investigation of Tim Donaghy, a veteran NBA referee. Donaghy is being investigated for possible tampering of games that he officiated and gambled on; the FBI is also investigating the connections between Donaghy and organized crime, according to various newspaper reports. For the NBA, this follows a report in May of an academic study of NBA officials that concluded racial bias, where white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players. This quantitative study was based on public data gathered from box scores, and according to the researchers Justin Wolfers (U. Pennsylvania) and Joseph Price (Cornell), accounted for fouls based on specific positions and status of players (following the commonly held belief that superstars are not charged with as many fouls as average players). Of all the recent scandals in sports, many analysts believe that this officiating/gambling scandal is possibly the most serious of them all (such as doping or off-field crime issues). This is because the issue of fairness, of the level playing field, is vital to the integrity of sports for their fans. Sports fans may recognize other inequalities in competition – some professional teams or universities may have more money than others and can attract better athletes – but outright manipulation by sports administrators crosses the line. On any given playing field or court, referees are the most visible of these guardians on fairness, which makes staying invisible a very delicate situation. Sporting events such as the Olympics or World Cup soccer as spectacles have been widely studied to show how they serve as a social forum for the negotiation and performance of a wide variety of processes such as identity, nationalism, and modernity. There has been less research, however, on the hidden actors and bureaucratic organizations that structure such spectacles.

By examining sports through a focus on the “third team on the field,” I can deconstruct how the performance of sporting events as spectacles are shaped by the sport bureaucracy through: 1) the management, adjudication, and enforcement of game and administrative rules; 2) the social networks built through the training and education of referees shape; 3) the bureaucratic hierarchy and the assignment of particular referees to sporting events. Much of this data was gathered through my own activity as a men’s lacrosse official, at the college, high school, and youth level.

First, there are the rules themselves – these are constructed at the national or international level through meticulous negotiation by league and team officials (with some input by the referees themselves). Rule books read and look like legal documents, with its arcane definitions and simultaneously specific yet vague description of what constitutes a foul. On the field, observing fouls as they are described in rule books is difficult, and individual judgment often comes into play. In the end, however, an official can be technically correct in his or her call, but wrong – this is because of the importance of something referred to as “game management.” As I have gained experience as an official, I have accumulated a number of such incidents – but one good example of game management can be found in this article by Ric Bucher, where the call made by the single woman NBA referee (of approximately 62 referees) is broken down in detail. Game management means calling fouls in such a way that keeps the game under control. This may mean either ignoring or enforcing a rule to send a signal to both teams that they must behave properly. This issue of game management is clearly a case where the wider context is taken into account, resulting perhaps in a more subjective interpretation by referees that in the end makes for a fair and controlled game.

Because game management comes with experience, seniority matters; officiating crews have someone designated as the “crew chief” who sets the tone for his/her crew before the game. Pre-game meetings by officials are thus important in coordinating the judgment and interpretations of the officiating crew; NCAA men’s lacrosse officials, for example, must show up at the game site two hours prior to the start of a game. So the assignment of officials and the designation of the crew chief strongly shapes the conduct of games. This is why the social networks of referees, developed through referee training and past officiating, is an important factor shaping the conduct of a game. This is also one of the allegations made against Donaghy, in that he supposedly tipped off gambling rings as to the composition of officiating crews prior to their official announcement even to teams. This is also a factor neglected by Wolfers and Price (at least in the full study and addendum made available by the New York Times). Crew composition does matter, but the crew chief who sets the parameters for game management matters even more. This system is reinforced by a series of careful post-game evaluations conducted by officials within the hierarchy of sports referees, establishing a disciplinary mechanism that is largely exercised through the assignment of referees.

What I am suggesting is that there is a systematic “misrecognition” in sports, where people see objectivity as the rule, instead of fairness. Being fair is not necessarily an outcome of objectivity. Most coaches, in fact, recognize this, and do not really demand “objectivity” from their referees; instead, they want consistency. I think sports fans would acknowledge that fairness is perhaps more important than technical correctness. The study of referees also brings out the supposedly invisible strands of power that shape the conduct of a cultural event. Like STS studies that have pointed to the role of peer and grant reviewers (such as Bourdieu’s work), supposedly objective structures adhere to a wider institutional purpose, and in ways that are not necessarily for ulterior motives or morally wrong.

What’s in your fieldwork bag?

A comment from uiolliioo about bringing a solar powered battery pack made me think about the things that we bring to the field for our research. Since what’s required is largely based on where we do our research, I asked a number of colleagues to list what is in their fieldwork bag.

In 1995, when I moved my family to rural China, I took a desktop computer (Gateway) and a Kodak DC-50 – with its 640 x 480 resolution and its $1,000 price, it was top of the line back then! The desktop was also a mistake, and made our move difficult – I remember watching my monitor (in its original packaging) bounce down a long escalator in the new Guangzhou rail station (but it still worked!). Anyway, this is what is in my contemporary fieldkit:

  • Lowepro Compu Day Pack (for transporting equipment; for everyday use, I use a messenger bag with equipment kept safe using photography wraps)
  • Canon D60 digital SLR, with extra batteries and SD cards
  • Canon SD 550 (digital point and shoot)
  • Canon GL-1 videorecorder (with extra batteries, shotgun and wireless mics, tapes; smaller than a GL-2 or XL-1)
  • Tripod (for use with any of the above)
  • Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet PC
  • USB hard drives (the kind that don’t need power cords; my latest is a Seagate FreeAgentPro, 160 GB; I bought a couple of smaller USB hard drives when I was last in Shanghai)
  • Thumb drive (USB)
  • Plug adapters (for China, two different styles; I also bring a Hong Kong type adapter – looks like a UK one)
  • Hand counter (the click kind, like the ones ticket takers at cinemas use; I’ve had it since my dissertation fieldwork, and it’s kind of a good luck charm now)
  • Chinese Cell phone (cheapest Nokia I could buy, with local SIM card)
  • Passport photos (printed off my deskjet, always useful for extending visas, etc.)
  • Treo 700 (or older versions in the past; I bring a lot of e-books to keep me sane, and use Mobipocket Reader to read them; mostly bad sci-fi from fiction books and Baen; also my MP3 player)
  • Leatherman utility tool
  • Portable office kit (with minature stapler, paper clips, etc.)
  • Name cards (double-sided, English and Chinese characters)
  • Medical kit (first aid supplies, antibiotics and other medicines to treat everything from gout to a heart attack; my parents are physicians, and loaded me up with what they think is necessary)

I usually buy a lot of other supplies locally, since they are too bulky or I can never remember to bring some essentials (like poster tubes,notebooks and pens, surge suppressors, etc.)

From Rachel Newcomb (Rollins College)
From 2000-04, I conducted dissertation and post-dissertation fieldwork in Fes, Morocco, examining women’s changing roles in the Moroccan middle class, particularly in non-profits, the family, and new urban spaces such as exercise clubs and cyber cafes. I’m an assistant professor of anthropology at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Currently I’m doing a smaller collaborative fieldwork project here in Florida with one of my students concerning former migrant workers and their exposures to pesticides, but I plan to go back to Morocco and begin new research within the next six months. Technology changes so rapidly that what I took to the field in 2000 would no longer be current now: a Nikon N-65 35 mm camera, a laptop computer, and a small Sony microcassette recorder that I’m still using. I switched over to a Canon PowerShot digital camera, which takes great pictures and is less obtrusive, and I’m coveting Roland’s Edirol R-9 MP3 recorder, which I plan to get my hands on before my next venture into the field in Morocco… So, next time around, I hope to take the Edirol MP3 recorder, my MacBook laptop, and the trusty Canon PowerShot. I’d also like to add that “pen and paper” ARE essential to my toolkit, but I’m excited to learn more about the new note-taking software.

From Thomas Malaby, (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)
I study those who produce online virtual worlds; in 2005 I did field and online research at Linden Lab of San Francisco, the makers of Second Life. My fieldwork bag is a medium-sized messenger bag, and here’s what I take with me for that kind of ethnographic research (whether in person or online):

  • High-end laptop that can run beta or public release versions of virtual world client software (MacBook Pro, Dell XPS, or similar)
  • Logitech MX 610 USB wireless mouse (8-button programmable, excellent for online games and virtual worlds)
  • SteerMouse software for Mac OS X (to make PC USB mice like the Logitech MX 610 Mac-compatible)
  • Olympus WS-100 Digital Voice Recorder (USB-integrated)
  • Canon Powershot A550 Digital Camera
  • Cell phone
  • Two 2GB flashdrives for daily backup of all files (kept in different locations)
  • Ethernet cable (for extra performance vs wireless during remote online research)
  • Cables and extra batteries for laptop, cell phone, recorder, camera, and mouse
  • Moleskine Large Ruled Notebook & pen (pen & paper is always a nice break from the digital)

From Melissa Caldwell (UC Santa Cruz): I study religious charity and philanthropy in Russia.

  • Nikon Cool Pix 4100 Digital Camera
  • Olympus WS-100 Digital Voice Recorder
  • 6 AA and 4 AAA rechargeable batteries and charger
  • Dynex All-in-1 Memory Card Reader/Writer
  • Dell D610 Latitude Laptop
  • 3-prong to 2-prong adaptor plug (this now stays in my computer bag after the one time I forgot it and FedEx lost the package my husband sent me; FedEx only “found” it and attempted to deliver two days after I had returned home)
  • Ethernet cable and retractable phone cord
  • App. 6×8 inch spiral bound notebook (buy first day in the field)
  • Schneider Topliner 934 0-4 pens, blue and black (buy first day in the field; these pens are more like markers but with a tiny nib – they write beautifully on any surface and last forever)
  • Box of Papermate Sharpwriter #2 mechanical pencils
  • Ancient Nokia mobile phone with GSM and unlocked for pay-as-you-go foreign SIM card
  • Moscow City Atlas
  • Calendar
  • Mini Solar calculator
  • Package of post-it notes
  • 3-4 File folders
  • Scotch tape
  • Pocket knife
  • Corkscrew/bottle opener
  • Extra passport pictures; copies of passport, visa application and visa, and credit cards

Allison Alexy (PhD candidate, Yale). My dissertation is about experiences of divorce in contemporary Japan. I spent a good amount of my fieldwork time in Tokyo and the surrounding suburbs, but also did research in a city on Shikoku island.
What I carried:
Early in my fieldwork, I bought an enormous thin canvas bag that, I thought, looked descent and presentable, but would stretch to hold a lot and wasn’t particularly heavy. I lugged around a lot of stuff most days, and made frequent use of the lockers in Tokyo train stations. The most important thing in my bag was a small spiral notebook with a particular muji brand pen stuck in the spiral. The notebook was about 3 by 5 inches, and the pens fit perfectly in the spiral, so I bought both by the bushel. The notebooks were entirely chronological, and anything I needed to write down went in there. In addition, I usually carried an Olympus DM-20 digital voice recorder and the small microphone it came with. It took me a few months to figure out, but I started carrying around a little bit of makeup (mascara, etc.). I had finally realized that wearing makeup is something that marks women as “adult” in Japan — it wasn’t until an informant told me a story about how her mother had sat her down and demanded that she wear makeup that I realized I probably should be wearing some, too. I also always carried a stack of my business cards (with Japanese on one side and English on the other), that listed my names, affiliations, email, homepage, cell phone number, and home address (in Japan). One of my close male friends always yelled at me for including my home address, but nothing bad ever came of it, and I thought he was being overprotective. I also always carried my ipod, onto which I frequently dropped digital copies of my fieldnotes. I was very afraid that an earthquake would destroy the two back-up hard drives that I’d left at home, so it made me feel better to have a copy in my bag. (I was also backing up off-site, to my mother’s computer, in the US.) I kept my digital camera (Canon elph, small and flat) in my bag at all times and really couldn’t leave home without my cell phone (which was some sort of AU brand phone). Unfortunately, the phone’s camera wasn’t good, so I had to carry to carry my camera as well.
Throughout the course of my fieldwork, some of which occurred in support groups, I realized that it’s a good idea to carry tissues. If people were upset and crying, or if I was upset, I could share tissues. Many days, I’d also have printed pages giving a summary of my research (in Japanese), so I could hand them off if anyone seemed interested. However, similar materials were on my website, and I usually found it less pushy to point people there. The website, which included a Japanese-language introduction to me and my research, in addition to pictures of me with family and friends, was probably one of the most helpful things I had in the field. I was surprised by how many people really looked at it and would say, months into our relationship, “Oh yeah, I know what your mom looks like because I saw that picture!” It also helped me contextualize myself, and introduce some of my personal life to people who I’d met during moments of their personal explanation. Although I was always willing to talk about my personal life when people asked, I was also happy to have pictures up, giving different perspectives.
When I went to Japan, I brought two hard drives with me — 250 gig, LaCie, externals — and a Fujitsu scansnap scanner. The scansnap was one of the most useful things I had in the field — everything I found, got immediately scanned, and though I kept the hard copies, it made me feel better to have a digital back-up. It’s about the size of a loaf of bread, so I never carried it around. I also had a small digital video camera, but I didn’t use it nearly as much as I thought I would.

What’s in your fieldkit?

Fieldnotes 2.0

A couple of weeks ago, on the East Asian Anthropology Listserve, there was a brief flurry of emails in response to a query about what software works best for taking fieldnotes. Apologies for the double-posting, but I thought sharing some of the suggestions with the Savage Minds community would be useful. In terms of fieldnote taking, everyone, like opinions, seems to have their own method. Following the Lifehacker mode of “talk among yourselves,” I’ll list some of the suggestions with some comments and URL’s to check out.

Old School.

First, there is the method that no one (including me) on the EASIANTH listserve brought up – pen and notebooks. While I recommend digitized note-taking to my students, I still tell them that they should always carry around a pen and notebook, for those impromptu jottings and diagrams; old school still works!

Good old MS Word was also recommended by a number of anthropologists, largely because of its wide compatibility. Word documents can always be imported into other analytical software packages, and as David Slater from Sophia University Tokyo pointed out, has a “fields” command that can be used to code fieldnotes.

Fieldnotes 1.0 programs

One up on old school, these programs were made specifically to help organize and analyze qualitative data. I think all these programs (except for Filemaker Pro) can only be run on PC’s.

Atlas ti
Filemaker Pro. From John McCreery.
Easy to get started with, dead simple to use, available for both Macs and Windows PCs, and now an extraordinary powerful relational database. You can literally start as simple as creating a new database (just like opening a new file in a world processor), adding the fields you want, and start inputting data. Discover that you need a new field, no problem; just add it to the existing fields.
Then, moreover, the sky’s the limit. The program has been evolving since its introduction about the same time as MSWord on Macs, has tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of users worldwide, and highly robust and helpful user community.
QSR’s nVivo: From Joe Bosco, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
There are many ways to use a program like NVivo, but for me, the main advantage is help in organizing the mass of data we can now collect electronically, and then structuring my work with the texts. The program helps you sort and keep track of files and information, and helps you organize your thoughts and ideas.
The files. NVivo now allows you to import documents in Microsoft Word, RTF, or TXT formats. You can also write note or transcribe interviews directly into NVivo, and it can handle photos and video and websites as external data, with a hyperlink in your NVivo data.
Organizing the data. NVivo allows you to give “attributes” to each case. For example, you can define the attributes of interviewees as male or female, or specify their age, and then later retrieve data based on these attributes (are there any old men who talked about using hair conditioner?). You can think of this as coding the entire case according to attributes of the speaker, if they are interviews.
Coding, or Working With the Data. NVivo offers many ways to code. It is designed primarily to allow you to code as you read along. Ideas come to you, and you can create a code. You can make it a “free code”, which stands alone, or a “tree code” which has relationships to other codes (such as a code for “buys shampoo” under which might be “buys name brands” and “buys cheap brands” as two branches off the trunk.) The program allows you to see all the possible codes in a box off to the side, and you can also see “coding stripes” next to your text, to see how text is coded (though you cannot see all the stripes at once–you probably would not want to since you are likely to have a lot of codes). It is very easy to rename, merge and move codes around. The program can autocode if your data is structured with common headings (e.g. if you asked everyone the same question). It cannot autocode for specific words, though it can easily search for certain words or combinations.
The program has a query function that allows you to search for patterns and test ideas through text searches, word frequency, and “matrix coding”, i.e. comparing results across several groups. All query results can be stored. The program can also produce “reports” which can be as simple as all the text coded for a particular code, or the code that comes from informants with certain attributes. It also gives a “coding summary” which lists the files and codes used, showing your progress in coding.
Each project is saved as one file, making it easy to back up or to move from one computer to another. The program comes with training materials and videos, but I found an introductory class quite helpful in getting jump-started in using the program, though the class was relatively expensive. The program is also not cheap, but it is quite robust and the company does give a lot of support. They even helped upgrade a project file when I could not get it to work with the new version. NVivo 7 works well with Chinese; earlier versions were hit and go, but now you can also enter data in Chinese.

askSam From me.
I myself use this program. AskSam is a free-form database that you can use to organize, code, and search fieldnotes. Although you can import Word documents into askSam, I usually type fieldnotes directly into askSam. I first learned of askSam (and received a free copy) as a participant in a NSF summer methods camp, and have upgraded it each time since then. What makes askSam a good way to manage fieldnotes is that you can both code as you type fieldnotes, or you can later do pretty powerful searches on a large set of material. I also use askSam to manage news clippings – when combined with Surfsaver (a sister program, made by the same company), it is an easy way to save webpages while using Internet Explorer. If I was not already accustomed to askSam, I would consider starting with something like nVivo instead.

Fieldnotes 2.0 programs
These programs are newer programs not really built as analytical tools for social science research, but as general note-taking programs that have the ability to combine different kinds of materials. They have great flexibility (in terms of data input and searching) and can be used to keep track of everything from web clippings to recipes. They also have cool and hip names like Voodoo Pad and Evernote! One very useful compilation of these newer software packages can be found on a website by Allison Alexy; she lists software for both Mac and PC users. The following summaries and links are shamefully (but with her permission) lifted from her website. Do yourself a service, though, and check out her full entry on fieldnoting software.

From Allison Alexy:
Voodoo Pad, by Flying Meat, looks really interesting and if I wasn’t already in the middle of my own system, I think I could be convinced to switch. What I like about it is that it is based on a wiki model — similar to the way that Wikipedia enables users to change it while it keeps a record of what changes were made when and by whom. Down side: it’s only available for macs. Up side: if you’re using a mac, then Voodoo Pad can link very easily with your other programs (address book, iCal, etc.).
This idea — making fieldnotes into the form of an editable website — reminds me a lot of Joseph Hill’s website. Joe is an anthropology grad student who had done fieldwork on religion in Senegal (that’s the short version). As you can see from his website, he used the site as a way to organize his fieldnotes. It’s not just that he posted his notes on a website, but that his notes are the website. His homepage is here, and his page about his dissertation research is here.

For macs there are also:
AquaMind’s NoteTaker — here is a review from MacWorld about version 1.9.4
Hog Bay’s Notebook — I couldn’t stand the layout of this program, but maybe you’ll like it better. I don’t like typing notes on computer screens that are made to look like legal pads.
Circus Ponies NoteBook – a review is here
PersonalWiki — another, less refined, Wiki option

For PC people:
WhizFolders — comes highly recommended.
Scribe — created by the Center for History and New Media.
EverNote — free, which is nice; a review is here

Other favorites or most hated programs?

One final thought — one of the reasons I decided to contiue using Word was I don’t want to be stuck with a mess of a unopenable files if the little software company that designed my program goes belly up. As evil as Microsoft is, the good news about MS programs is that you will probably always be able to open the files.

UPDATE: Sara wrote me saying that a friend uses a program called Soho Notes but she hasn’t yet tried it.

What do you use? Talk among yourselves.

The Transhuman Barry Bonds

With Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants becoming the new Major League Baseball home run king, sports was again featured in unlikely news outlets such as PBS’s The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. While his athletic achievement is remarkable enough, it is Barry Bonds’ off-field issues that made this story an especially controversial one. Hank Aaron’s passing of Babe Ruth was contentious in 1974 because of race issues – an African-American man surpassing a hallowed record of a white man. Barry Bonds issue came to the forefront of debates because of his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.

To recap the story: After a federal investigation of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) in 2003, the owner Victor Conte and a trainer Greg Anderson were accused of providing illegal performance-enhancing drugs to a number of professional athletes. This led to a widespread investigation, including a congressional inquiry, on the use of performance-enhancing drugs by baseball players. Drug scandals from the Olympics, cycling, and soccer had long been a recognized problem, with testing of athletes starting in the 1960s. But with the advent of a number of new technologies, made visible by the number of American sport icons alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs and the growing epidemic of doping among American college and high school athletes, doping became a major social issue in America, and Barry Bonds became the symbol of such unethical and illegal practices.

The development and use of performance-enhancing drugs, like the issue of genetically-modified organisms in agriculture, shows how science has become an integral aspect of culture, deeply embedded in our politics, creating the hybridity described by Bruno Latour. Both the use of biochemical inputs to improve human physiological performances and genetic manipulation in agriculture have long been a part of history – humans have been breeding plants and animals for certain characteristics for millennia. Here is where I think Latour’s description of the futility of what he defines as modernity – keeping separate the two practices of translation and purification (from We Have Never Been Modern) – has great explanatory power. This instability has created the social problems of performance enhancing drugs – the sanctity of what is considered fully natural, athletic prowess, should neither be contaminated (made hybrid) by either science nor capitalism – but of course, this cannot be the case, and reality has a way of infiltrating our cultural imaginations.

What I think is an interesting implication of the issue of performance-enhancing drugs is how it makes us question again what it means to be human. Are contemporary athletes the embodiment of cybersubjectivity? Perhaps a more telling case would be the struggle of South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius to become an Olympic sprinter. Pistorius has been a double-amputee (below the knee) since he was 11 months old. To run, he uses special prosthetics made of carbon fiber, and has easily won international competitions for disabled athletes; his times in the 100 m., 200m., and 400 m. are quite competitive, almost reaching the Olympic qualifying times for men. The IAAF, the world governing body for track and field, has placed limits on the use of technological enhancements (such as performance enhancing drugs), but they have allowed other technological enhancements to be used for training (such as the use of tents designed to simulate high-altitude conditions). The IAAF has yet to rule on his case. Athletes seem to be a highly visible embodiment of the transhuman or posthuman, making such issues more tangible than Blade Runner or Commander Data could.

Sports as Embodied Culture

With the centrality of athletes’ bodies in competition, sports provide a unique perspective in understanding what Susan Brownell refers to as body culture, “a broad term that includes daily practices of health, hygiene, fitness, beauty, dress and decoration, as well as gestures, postures, manners, ways of speaking and eating, … the way these practices are trained into the body, the way the body is publicly displayed, and the lifestyle that is expressed in that display” (from Susan Brownell’s 1995 book
Training the Body for China Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic
, pp.10-11). In her ethnographic study of Chinese women track and field athletes, Brownell develops the concept of body culture by combining Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of habitus and Michel Foucault’s concept of disciplinary technologies together, showing how objective structures such as the nation-state and everyday practices inscribe a particular cultural discipline onto the bodies of Chinese women. Western political and social leaders from the late 19th and early 20th century such as Theodore Roosevelt and Sir Robert Baden-Powell (founder of scouting) understood how sports could be used to instill a particular set of values on citizens, presenting sports as essential to building character for citizens of a vibrant civilization in what has been called “muscular Christianity.” Sports were an integral part of the “civilizing mission” of Westerners in their efforts to transform non-Western societies into colonial subjects. Of course such efforts could be turned on its head, as the other made sports their own. I’m sure this is a familiar theme — what would introductory anthropology classes be like without the classic film Trobriand Cricket? At a more theoretical level, Arjun Appadurai makes this precise argument about Indian cricket as well.
I think looking at sports as embodied culture is particularly useful in two areas – gender and childhood/education. Children have become a particular target for cultural politics, as competing groups seek to implement their visions of the future by shaping education and other childhood experiences (for more on this, see the volumes edited by Sharon Stephens or Nancy Sheperer-Hughes; I have written an essay on children myself in a study of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Beijing, and a full-length ethnography on Chinese children has been written by Charles Stafford). Pierre Bourdieu emphasized the role of sports in education as a specific site for the imprinting of political philosophies through embodied culture in France. The importance of college sports in the United States, an athletic system that is quite different from university-level education in other societies, has also been the subject of intense study and debate. Noel Dyck therefore concludes that parents and local communities invest significant time and money in childhood sports because of the rationale that sports are essential in instilling cultural values deemed positive such as high self-esteem, hard work, team play, and playing by the rules.
In terms of gender, the implications of sports in defining masculinity and femininity are clear; but different studies have reached surprising conclusions. In the United States, sports and gender issues are also highly politicized, largely because of debates over Title IX, a federal law requiring equal opportunities for boys and girls in educational institutions, including school sports (and of course, there is the continuing legacy of Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King). There are so many works out there on women and sports; one that I would recommend is Laura Spielvogel’s Working Out in Japan.
From my own work, I am making a case that Sherry Ortner’s classic dictum “female is to male as nature is to culture” should be reversed in our contemporary globalized environment of commodification and consumption. I am sure I do not need to fully summarize Ortner’s classic work, but I would like to point out that her argument is based on three lines of argument: 1) a woman’s body and its function (especially reproduction) place her closer to nature; 2) a woman’s social roles are of a lower order of culture than a man’s; and 3) a woman’s traditional social roles creates a psychological structure that is seen as closer to nature. Without going into the messy ethnographic data (OK, I am still editing all of that), looking at sports in popular culture today reveals that the reverse seems to hold today. First, the emphasis on athleticism as a measure of masculinity (size, speed, agility, dexterity) makes men’s bodies and its functions more important, and closer to nature (think of the media coverage on sports injury reports). Second, this emphasis on sports and athleticism stresses the more natural aspect of masculinity, instead of the more cultural aspects of femininity; the growing gender imbalance in American higher education, as well as the wider culture of anti-intellectualism, is an outgrowth of this. Think of the more widely held meaning of academic, as in “it’s only academic” (a useless, after-the-fact exercise). Third, this makes men rely on psychological perspectives that are seen as more natural, instinctive, aggressive. I would like to take this argument further into a theoretical exploration of the cultural underpinnings of globalization. I believe that a Hayekian free market ideology rewards such gender roles, and helps to explain why men are increasingly judged by their bodies. I obviously have a lot to work to do to make such an argument, but that’s at least where my thinking is headed. As an aside, this same argument can be made through an analysis of Harry Potter, focusing on the three main protagonists: Harry, Ron, and Hermione!

Sports and Identity

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Iraqi people wave their flags during celebrations after the Iraq soccer team won the Asian Cup, in streets of the Shiite holy city of Karbala, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (AP Photo via Yahoo)

In a true sports story that seems like a script to a Hollywood movie, the Iraqi Men’s soccer team beat Saudi Arabia in the finals of the Asian Cup on July 29th in Jakarta, with the winning goal in the 71st minute headed in by the Sunni team captain from Kirkuk, off a corner kick by Kurd teammate from Mosul. The Iraqi team was as diverse as anything Disney could think of, with Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds mixed in together under a Brazilian coach. Political leaders throughout the world all had something to say about one of the few instances of good news coming from Iraq; even General David Petreus, commander of American forces in Iraq, took the time to celebrate.

Can sports triumph over politics? Or is it yet another arena to be politicized. The ability of sports to bring together a social group is not just the main message of movies like Remember the Titans or The Mighty Ducks; it is also a main point in many of the anthropological studies of sports. There are a number of good reviews of the anthropological literature on sports. In no particular order, I would recommend Noel Dyck’s introduction to a 2000 edited volume entitled Games, Sports, and Cultures, Kendall Blanchard’s 1995 book The Anthropology of Sport (more like a textbook), or Thomas Carter’s 2002 article in Identities. There are numerous ethnographies that also have a good introduction to the field, including those written by Susan Brownell, Alan Klein, Eduardo Archetti, and Joseph Alter (to name only a few). There are many good ethnographies and edited volumes on all the major global sports such as soccer, baseball, track and field, and basketball, as well as interesting studies on more regional sports.

Much of the contemporary study of sports (especially in European circles) is based upon the seminal work of Norbert Elias, who approached sports as a necessary product of modernity by what he refers to as “the civilizing process.” From Elias’s perspective, a key component of sports is the bureaucratic control of violence through the establishment of rules and organizations that enforce them. Elias further added that sports, as an element of leisure, are an outcome of industrialization, in that work becomes increasingly differentiated from leisure in a dialectical manner. Work in modern societies imposes a rigorous restraint on individuals, increasing a sense of alienation that, according to Elias, is relieved by the “quest for excitement” in leisure (think of Victor Turner’s communitas). Sports are therefore a necessary part of modernity that provides society with a mimetic excitement that gives individuals a liberating, cathartic experience within the iron cage of modern life. Sports, however, must have the same kind of restraints as wider society for society to maintain its cohesion; they are a part of the Weberian process of rationalization. The anthropological literature on sports can be roughly divided into different topical categories, and later this week I will discuss some of them.

Sports and Identity. Sports are presented as a key cultural arena in which a multiplicity of identities (such as ethnicity, nationalism, gender, or class) are created, performed, and essentialized. Sports provide people with bodily means to differentiate themselves from others latitudinally or hierarchically (see Jeremy MacClancy’s edited volume). The connection between sports and identity is most visible in various public spectacles such as the Olympic Games or World Cup Soccer. These studies have showed how sports serve as a double-edged sword – like the example of Jackie Robinson breaking the racial barrier in baseball, sports can both divide and unify, flatten or exacerbate differences. Pierre Bourdieu has an interesting set of articles that lay out a program for the study of sports, especially as a means of understanding social class dynamics.

Nation-states are heavily involved in the use of sports for unifying diverse cultures and communities within its borders (think of the recent victory by the Iraqi men’s soccer team in the Asian Cup), and through its patronage can transform sports into a political arena. In a study of Indian wrestlers, Joseph Alter, for example, demonstrates how wrestling spread an ideology that on the one hand is critical of the Hindu caste system through its interpretation of the body, but on the other hand is critical of the social conditions created by the modern Indian state. In some of these studies, the successes and failures of individual athletes in competition are social projections of regional and national pride and can help integrate diverse societies through an imagined community generated by athletes and teams that physically represent the nation.

Paradoxically, sports also provides a way to transgress national boundaries by re-drawing boundaries based upon the shared practices of a particular sport. Alan Klein’s 1997 ethnographic study of a binational professional baseball team demonstrates not only the possibilities of this transgression, but also its limits. Again, the recent triumph of the Iraqi national team — composed of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds — brought fans out into the streets to celebrate the victory, a celebration later marred by renewed violence. And the Sunni team captain who scored the winning goal stayed in Syria while the rest of team returned to Iraq because of the threat of violence precisely for his brining a little joy to Iraqis; not quite a good Hollywood ending.

Why studying sports matters

Baseball in Shanghai, 2006

Sports has been in the news lately, but not just in the sports section of newspapers, sports talk radio, or ESPN. Instead, sports have increasingly been covered by legal reporters and mainstream journalists because of the numerous scandals that have plagued both professional and amateur sports. The most recent scandals have hit all the major professional sports (and not only in the United States). To summarize, Major League Baseball is plagued by allegations of illegal steroid and other drug use (symbolized by Barry Bonds’ alleged use of performance enhancing drugs in his pursuit of the home run record); the NFL (American football) is dealing with all sorts of off-field criminal activities (most recently the Atlanta Falcon’s star quarterback Michael Vick’s involvement in dogfighting); and perhaps most problematic of all is the NBA’s referee scandal, where a referee has been accused of conspiracy to fix NBA games for gambling rings. The Tour de France, still reeling from last year’s champion’s violation of drug policies, had its pre-race favorite and the front runner during the race both pulled out of competition because of more doping allegations.

On August 1st, even The Diane Rehm show, a public radio call-in show that usually covers news, politics, the arts and literature, dedicated a show to the numerous scandals in sports. Wider society, or at least the reporters who have access to the airwaves, seem to be in great angst over the epidemic of unlawful and unethical practices of our sports heroes. Explaining why there is such concern over these scandals, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Posts, said:

“We tend to assign responsibility for protecting our ethics and our concepts of virtue to athletes, more than any other figures in our culture. We don’t ask the same of actors, singers, we don’t even ask it frankly right now of our Attorney General. We actually ask athletes to protect our values to a certain extent. … Kids take messages from these people, they’re not taking messages from the Attorney General of the United States when it comes to playing with the truth. With all three of these things going on at the same time, have we allowed values in our games to deteriorate? Yes, we have, we have become a permissive society and that’s reflected in our games.”

Anthropologist Jeremy MacClancy of Oxford Brookes University makes a similar point in the introduction to his 1996 volume Sports, Identity, and Ethnicity, in that sports are a cultural arena that not only reflects society, but also, through its particular disciplining and idealization of the human body in agonistic competition, reflects on society. Anthropologists have long studied sports, dating at least as far back as James Mooney’s 1890 study of Cherokee lacrosse (the sport that I played in college and continue to be involved in as a college and high school referee and head coach of a college club team) published in the American Anthropologist. Yet the anthropological study of sports, as many of the specialists in this field have pointed out, has been peripheral as field in the past for two major reasons: the dismissal by academics of the value in studying popular culture and the historical focus of anthropology on the “primitive” (only “moderns” play sports, at least according to classical definitions of sports such as the one by Norbert Elias: “contests involving bodily strength or skills of a non-military type [with] rules constraining the contestants … aimed at reducing the risk of physical injury to a minimum”).But things have changed in anthropology, as they have in sports. We anthropologists often seem to be obsessed with popular culture, looking at everything from Japanese Hip-Hop to Second Life. Now more than ever, the study of sports as popular culture by anthropologists is crucial to understanding all the major issues in social relations and cultural meanings that we grapple with, such as power, gender, and identity. For example, in a recent article in City and Society, anthropologist Thomas Carter of the University of Brighton has argued that sports as a public spectacle has become a major feature marking the emergence of global cities. More importantly, our students, colleagues, and neighbors are all talking about sports; to stay relevant, we need to keep up our end of the conversation.

In the posts that follow, I will discuss some recent studies by anthropologists on sports, including some of my own work, that demonstrate the wide array of issues that can be fruitfully explored by using sports as a lens.