The web changes the way in which we do research and reading. It seems as if its always been this easy to get stuff, but its really only a few years since google and e journals combined became really effective. Its now possible to find almost everything ever written on a topic across disciplines and times, certainly that which was published in the journals now in JSTOR. And this makes new connections and chance discoveries possible, as well as the deliberate searching out of old thinkers. Last week I found a gem of an essay by Mary Douglas called The Hotel Kwilu. A Model of a Model and which had appeared in American Anthropologist in 1989. The essay is a commentary on the lack of connection between anthropology and the world, including the world of other social sciences. Mary Douglas likens this state of isolation to that of the Sheraton style hotel where she had stayed on a revisit to her fieldwork villages in what was then Zaire, a hotel which was perfectly fine but which was not connected to any national infrastructure. There were taps and a bathroom, but no running water. There were light fittings but no electricity. The hotel was in a state of anticipated and optimistic readiness for incorporation into a system from which it was excluded. I am sure all of us have stayed at similar places.
Anthropology has changed a bit since then. So have hotels in rural Africa. But not always in the ways anticipated back in the 1980’s. Connection to international media via satelite television and mobile phone networks is now quite common for even quite local hotels in Tanzania for example. Connection to water less usual. The direction of change is equally unpredictable in anthropology. Anthropology today is more likely to study transnational communities, interstitial social settings and social movements than in the 1980s. We are also looking at bigger issues. From our own singular perspectives. Perhaps where the Sheraton analogy still apt is in this replication of what makes this perspective institutionally possible across much of the world. Despite neoliberalism, cuts in public education and so on, globally, it seems to me that there have never been more anthropology departments in universities and never more anthropologists. What are the implications of this? Are university departments of anthropology part of a global chain? And how diverse are the different institutional products of different countries and regions?