All posts by mdurington


Networking Media Anthropology

Samuel Collins is teaching a seminar at Hanyang University (ERICA campus) as part of his Fulbright grant in South Korea and, as luck would have it, Matthew Durington is doing the same in Baltimore. The two of them resolved to network their courses together using some of the principles they espouse in Networked Anthropology (Routledge, 2014), combined with some new directions for their research. Among other challenges? The 1 day + 13 hour time difference.
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Old Web City

Old Web City

Over the next four weeks Sam Collins and Matthew Durington are posting a series of writings that are theoretical and activity extensions based on their recently published book Networked Anthropology (Routledge).

Just like his colleague Sam Collins in Seoul walking the New App City, Durington meanders the streets of downtown Baltimore and downloads the Baltimore Heritage app in the neighborhood of Marble Hill.  It is across the street from the neighborhood of Bolton Hill and the street Eutaw Place is a symbolic and literal dividing line of race and gentrification in Charm City.  Baltimore Heritage is an organization that attempts to tell stories about Baltimore’s past through buildings and key sites throughout the city.  Their app is a replica of the organization’s website and after geolocating himself through the menu on the app, a marker appears on the screen and once clicked an historical tidbit about an individual named Howard Atwood Kelly is accessible.  Information about this historical figure who lived on the street where Durington is standing appears on his dated iphone.  Hmmmm.  Dr. Kelly was the first professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University, the ‘wizard of the operating room’ for his innovative surgical techniques.  He was also renown for his groundbreaking use of radium to treat cancer. The urban anthropologist now knows something about the past of this neighborhood in Baltimore before white flight.  What about the fact that the zip code where this historical location is marked is now also noted for a different phenomenon by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as a neighborhood with one of the fastest ascending rates of new HIV infections in the United States?  The app provides a connectivity to the past, but not necessarily to the present…that is the continuing project of the researcher.  The app facilitates historical information, but not engagement in the now.  It would be interesting to see what someone living there now thinks about this dilemma.  Could an app oriented toward an applied and engaged anthropology provide it?

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New App City

Over the next four weeks Sam Collins and Matthew Durington are posting a series of writings that are theoretical and activity extensions based on their recently published book Networked Anthropology (Routledge).

The Man of the Crowd–Android Version

Collins downloads a free app from the Chongno District Government in Seoul, “Chongno Alleys” (종로 골목길).  The app is an extension of the Chongno tour series (of the same name), each course highlighting lesser known places of interest in Chongno, the central district in Seoul that is home to the lion’s share of Seoul’s national treasures, including palaces, countless museums and architectural landmarks.  But these tours are different.  Developed with neighborhood residents and community groups, these alley courses highlight significant places that are generally overlooked by large crowds of tourists.  It is targeted specifically at Korean tourists (that is, the app is only in Korean).  The app (which appears to have been released in 2011-2012) transforms 9 of the alley tours into a mobile experience using mapping, GPS and gamification.

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A Networked Anthropology

Students capturing media in Baltimore for their Networked Anthropology
Students capturing media in Baltimore for their Networked Anthropology

A Networked Anthropology

“Networked Anthropology” is suspended between a theoretical and methodological program, on the one hand, and a critique and engagement with the network society we’re enmeshed within, on the other.  How can we possibly justify using social media in our applied anthropology?  And how can we afford not to?  Our book, “Networked Anthropology,” lays out the the premises of this ongoing inquiry, contextualizing it within a public, media anthropology.  But the promise and the problems of a networked anthropology hardly end there; each new wrinkle in our socially networked lives suggests new problems for anthropology–and for any scholarly inquiry that purports to engage communities of people.

(Over the next four weeks Sam Collins and Matthew Durington will post blogs related to social media, mobile applications in anthropological research and the idea of a Networked Anthropology…post 1 of 4  below is an excerpt from their recent book.)

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The World Cup and What it Means for South Africa

As I write this we are on the precipice of finding out who will play the Netherlands in what has turned out to be an all European World Cup final.  As many commentators have noted, any final match that has World War II overtones tends to produce drama so we shall see if Germany or Spain prevail.

The World Cup has meant many different things to people throughout the world and has carried varied meanings as well for the citizens of South Africa.  From one perspective it personifies a success story for the leadership of South Africa and President Jacob Zuma.  So far, the tournament has gone off without any major problems that were predicted for the first global sporting event on the continent.  Although the majority of proceeds are going to FIFA and other global entities such as Coca-Cola and whoever makes little leopards kicking soccer balls, it represents a victory for the formal economy of South Africa.  Unfortunately, as pointed out by John Oliver principally (and ironically) it has not meant much for the informal market which is the true economic engine of South Africa or any country for that matter.

The World Cup has also provided an opportunity for the much-maligned Afrikaner segment of the population a chance for some type of rebranding as noted by CNN.  In 2006, I watched the World Cup with both my adopted Afrikaner family and with Zulu friends in Durban.  I knew from that point on the World Cup would be bringing different types of emotion for these two different groups, anxiety for the former and excitement for the latter in the preceding years toward kickoff.  In the homes of both of these groups I felt the emotional ties to competing versions of what a political future might hold for the county.

The notion of home and issues around housing is a principal thread through all of my research and it has brought me into contact with some amazing people in South Africa including Ashraf Cassiem.  He and others from the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign have used the World Cup to continue a focus on housing issues in the country through the first Poor People’s World Cup.  The work of this group and others such as the Shack Dweller’s Movement have demonstrated what the World Cup has meant to many…continued lack of empowerment and a loss of housing rights.

Knowing what the World Cup has meant to so many has made it difficult at times to support the games but sport has provided some entre for me as an anthropologist working in South Africa and Botswana.  In one of the initial blogs for this series on the World Cup a commenter noted that I should refer to Geertz and Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight and the link is definitely there.  In my research on gated community environments in Durban it turned out that being invited to play golf with some older Afrikaner gentlemen was the impetus for a participant observation breakthrough in my research.  And, in Botswana it wasn’t until my colleagues and I were caught up in an intra-village grudge match on the pitch that some major barriers were broken down leading to my favorite picture of all my work below…a photo everyone meant to look like a team photo for the upcoming World Cup.  Soccer means many things to many people, good and bad…and I hear it’s also called football.

Parallels of Ethnicity Inc. at the World Cup

One thing that we are not hearing about with any regularity is reporting on the experiences of World Cup fans in South Africa.  This is probably a good thing considering the fear build up that occurred for years in the world press with increasing frequency leading up to the event.  It is undeniable that many of the individuals who ‘braved’ the conditions to attend the World Cup this year in South Africa did so because they could tie it in to a grand tourist adventure in the country alongside their attendance at games.  These itineraries have probably included the major tourist sites in South Africa including Robben Island, the vineyards around Cape Town, Kruger National Park and various other safari ventures around the country as well as visiting sites to experience the variety of different ethnic groups within the country, particularly Zulu.  It is this journey into ethnicity that has marked some pretty interesting parallels for the World Cup.

In their compelling book Ethnicity, Inc., John and Jean Comaroff discuss the commodification of various groups in the context of a neoliberal world.  I explored this book with my students this past semester and my colleague Laura Powell.  The Comaroffs explore the rising phenomena of cultural commodification and identity incorporation as ethnic federations emerge as commercial enterprises built around identity-based businesses. They have termed this process “Ethnicity, Inc.” at once referencing both the idea of membership in a culturally constituted “people” and the fact that this cultural identity is more frequently being objectified and marketed to a larger global economic community. Through their fieldwork and research as well as the research of others, the Comaroffs develop several key dimensions that make up the larger process including ideas inclusion and exclusion through privileged genetics, that commerce and consumption produce ethnic groups, and struggles over intellectual property for indigenous groups.

For those World Cup fans who attend games in the oft-neglected city of Durban (the best city in South Africa as far as I am concerned) they undoubtedly are immersed in the standard bearer of Zulu identity, Shaka.  They may have landed at King Shaka International Airport, and then possibly proceed to the Lesedi Shakaland Hotel before going onto UShaka Marine World before finally getting it all together through a Shakaland day tour.  Now, anthropologists have always had trepidation when it comes to tourist agendas.  My philosophy is “when you are in the place, you do the thing” and if it rubs against your anthropology identity then analyze it as spectacle to bounce off of your ‘real’ research.  Are individuals engaging this commodified form of Zulu identity getting a ‘true’ glimpse into Zulu ethnicity?  It’s not the form of Ethnicity, Inc. that the Comaroffs are talking about necessarily.  But, if the tour company, cultural village or other form of ethnotainment fits a certain set of criteria, is it commodified culture or entrepreneurial spirit in a very neoliberal South Africa?

In the conclusion to the book the Comaroffs present a dynamic that is both promising and terrifying, “…we recognize, and have sought to make sense of, its appeal: of the promise of Ethnicity, Inc. to unlock new forms of self-realization, sentiment, entitlement, enrichment.  This notwithstanding the fact that it carries within it a host of costs and contradictions: that it has both insurgent possibility and a tendency to deepen prevailing lines of inequality, the capacity both to enable and to disable, the power both to animate and to annihilate.” (Italics theirs) I applaud them for sticking their necks out on this one and speaking to an inherent contradiction in anthropology.  But, it is the last dynamic that gives me shivers and one that some of the marketing around the World Cup has promoted in some capacity.

Sure, there is the inevitable graphics with various indigenous populations swooping in literally and graphically as bumpers for coverage of games or half-time analysis.  And, of course, at the very beginning there had to be someone of San descent holding up the World Cup trophy in a theme eerily reminiscent of The Gods Must be Crazy and extending the fauna fantasy that much more.  But these usual and easy targets of criticism are not the focus here.  It’s not FIFA, it’s Budweiser.  Ok, maybe it’s FIFA and Budweiser.  The graphics and segways showing the cultural and ethnic diversity of South Africa can be gauged on a continuum of authenticity and sincerity but these visuals lend toward the animate side of Ethnicity, Inc. The website and reality show model of ‘Bud House’ blends nationalism and ethnicity in a quasi-competition linked to individual teams that reflects the annihlate side for this visual anthropologist and it is this side of Ethnicity, Inc. that scares me.

One more post left and one question before that, if the Dutch and English sides had ended up playing each other in South Africa, how many references to South African colonial history would have been made by media?

Shadows, Modernity and Drama at the World Cup

Agony.  Pure unadulterated agony.  If you just watched the USA squeak by Algeria as I just did you know what I mean.  I wanted to wait to see if the USA qualified to advance before this second post to determine my authorial sentiment from this point on.  Hope lives for the USA.  (Please excuse my bias once more…it’s just been a long time coming to not be embarrassed on the world stage)

Hope almost lived on for South Africa and Bafana Bafana.  For the space of about 26 minutes there was the sentiment that perhaps the miracle would happen, particularly after the second goal of the first half.  For that brief interlude when the commentators referred to the possibility of the host country advancing, the parties that would be occurring throughout the country, the unification of the population not felt for years, and pondering if Madiba himself in his frail condition was watching somewhere….I could not help but think of Allister Sparks and his book Beyond the Miracle and the whole idea of South African democracy, perhaps waning in an ever increasing neoliberal era. But, unfortunately the goal count would not occur and the French scored as well.

In what would have been a wonderful francophone neocolonial reverse gift the French almost fully imploded in order to let South Africa possibly advance against all odds.  The stellar and redeeming performance by Bafana Bafana thwarted what would have been an overwhelming commentary on the drama of the French side.  The commentary on the French implosion and it’s linkage to a stereotypical French national identity have been overwhelming to say the least. The whole world was watching the French team on Tuesday for all the wrong reasons. My favorite moment came from the PRI show ‘The World’ when a French journalist recommended that the coach only come back to France in a rowboat.  I would have thought this to be a bit over the top until Raymond Domenech refused to shake the hand of the South African coach after the match.  Well, as the ESPN commentators noted, “Perhaps a little too much drama.”

The French implosion threatened to overshadow the tournament, which leads me to James Ferguson and the book Global Shadows. As Ferguson discusses and offered up by a conversation with one of my students, globalization supposedly refers to the entire globe, but in the current world market Africa is most often secluded and is seen as an “inconvenient case” wherein they are unable to provide a significant market and depend upon foreign investment.  In this sense, a shadow is cast over the entire continent symbolizing the political, economic, and sovereign weakness that is often recognized from a western standpoint. The fact that capital within the world market does not “flow” from one place to another is often overlooked. Rather, the exchange of capital, images, and goods work in a criss-cross motion, skipping over and excluding large areas. These excluded regions are often criticized for lacking modernity (as determined by western standards). But, Ferguson suggests that there are alternative forms of modernity that exist in every society and documents this in several instances while warning of an advancing neoliberalism.

Are we seeing that alternative form of modernity in Africa recognized now by the fact that South Africa is actually succeeding as a host for this global event?  Does this mean that South Africa and perhaps Africa will be regarded in a different sense?  Ethnic based tourism is already there (more on that next post via the Comaroffs), but the infrastructure…that’s the issue.

In the meantime, the morphing of the vuvuzela into a punch line in joke after joke may deserve its own treatise now.  In a discussion of that other global event going on now involving a little yellow ball you hit with a racket back and forth across a net, the venerable columnist Frank Deford brilliantly let the sweet sound of the horn come up before saying that, no, he was not falling into that commentary trap.  Kudos to you Frank.  Has anyone checked out the Budweiser United website?  See you after a dramatic weekend assuredly.

Initial Thoughts on the World Cup

First, if you are one of those anthropologists who do not watch television then this is not the blog for you.  Second, if you are one of those anthropologists who doesn’t appreciate sport, particularly the beautiful game, then this is definitely not the blog for you.  Lastly, if the 2010 FIFA World Cup has you a little giddy and waking up at odd hours or arranging your work schedule to watch 32 teams battle for global glory then read on and hopefully enjoy some of the thoughts I have had as a soccer fan and anthropologist about this event, particularly over the past 6 years since South Africa won the bid for this year’s tournament.  Over the next couple of weeks the Savage Minds consortium has been kind enough to let me blog on the event.  I will have a few scattershot comments below but in the next few posts I will address some threads of possible interest to anthropologists.  So far, the games have been entertaining one week in and will become more intense deeper into the tournament.

The World Cup is THE global sporting event despite claims in the United States to a ‘world series’ or a ‘super bowl’, nothing compares to the unifying aspects of 32 nation states vying for the championship every four years.  As one commentary noted this past week, nothing speaks to the belief in American exceptionalism and unilateralism more than the mass ignorance toward the global impact of soccer. Work stops in many parts of the world during games, particularly in those countries playing at that moment, except for the United States.  The ongoing debate in the United States media is whether or not one should or should not like soccer.  The debate is over.

Thankfully, there are more children in the United States playing soccer now than football so in 12 years the US national team will be in the top tier of FIFA consistently and a threat at that particular world cup.  (Yes, I’m calling it now) I was one of those kids who ended up in the sport via my first team as a child in El Paso, Texas known as the Sand Sharks.  Growing up in Texas you play football…the American version.  If you have not reveled in the guilty pleasure of Varsity Blues or read the excellent book Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger, then this may be another aspect of culture and sport not well known.  One plays football until they are no longer large enough to not get the wind knocked out of them every other play, not that I’m speaking from personal experience necessarily.  So, the fact that soccer is not the standby sport but is primary now for many youth speaks to the opportunity for a more global connection.

Still, in many different media outlets from print, to web to television the story line has been one of fascination with the fervor of fans from different countries, and then pondering why there is not the same fan base in the United States.  The good and the bad:  the National Public Radio blog ‘show me your cleats’ and their general coverage has been more complex than most.  Other news outlets relish in the bewilderment of why so many people pay attention to the games throughout the world.  Unfortunately, almost all media coverage has bought into criticisms of the vuvuzela horn, the principal fan device of South African soccer fans.  When I lived in Durban about one mile from the stadium complex you could hear the buzzing wafting up the hillsides from games.  I grew to love its deafening noise and the festive environment of club soccer in South Africa as well.  It also showed one of many windows into racialization processes in the country.

When one attended games at the old stadium in Durban where soccer was played that was next door to the state of the art facility where the local rugby team played, it brought home the racial politics of sport in South Africa.  Through the built environment one could sense the hangovers of apartheid.   Rugby is the white sport and soccer is the black sport.   The movie Invictus and ESPN commercials about soccer and Robben Island prisoners have demonstrated that dichotomy.  There is a chance now that soccer will have equal standing in South Africa right beside rugby and cricket, the game that marks former colonies more than any other.

The ramp up to the world cup presented much speculation about South Africa as well.  There was an ongoing discussion that FIFA would pull the tournament because the stadiums would not be completed.  Many discussed the fear of crime and the possible consequences of attending matches in South Africa.  Many of my colleagues have been studying the impact of the World Cup on housing and other economic issues in the country.  While one can celebrate as a fan, one must also realize how the World Cup elides many socioeconomic issues in South Africa as elsewhere.  And, there has been constant speculation as to whether or not South Africa would be able to pull it off.  One week in and things are going quite smoothly, and I do not recall in all of my years of watching soccer any of the same discussions about other World Cup venues.  It is not a coincidence that these dilemmas only take place when considering this is the first global sporting event of this magnitude on the African continent.

So, beyond being simply a fan of soccer and the media spectacle and marketing of ethnicity and nationalism that occurs alongside it, why should anthropologists care about the World Cup?  It is a way to talk about globalization.  There are a slew of books out there that do a fairly decent job of this including How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer and Globalization and Football by Richard Giullanotti and Roland Robertson.  Both books add a popular culture approach to discussions of globalization and serve as good counterpoints and/or accompaniments to any discussion of globalization and anthropology.  Whereas the primary way that globalization is usually discussed is through a fascination with speed, commerce and other macro movements, soccer enables a focus on the articulation between the global and the local and other cultural aspects that serve as excellent fodder for the classroom.  As media anthropologists the possibilities of analysis are endless.  One thing is true across the board as commented on by David Brooks, watching soccer is simply agony and every fan knows this no matter where they are located in the world so you may feel my personal strife which goes with how the US and Mexico fare.  Favorite game so far: Serbia vs. Germany.

Next post I will talk about the World Cup pulling on Global Shadows by James Ferguson and Ethnicity, Inc. by Jean and John Comaroff.  In the meantime, if you have the chance, check out the spectacle that is the Budweiser United nationalist play on Big Brother via YouTube.  It takes Benedict Anderson to another level.  And, no place exposes bias more than the several Twitter feeds on the tournament where passion, nationalism and ethnicity expose themselves.  I will be talking about this and other commercials and marketing from an anthropological vantage too.  And, of course, I will have to have some further commentary on the sweet sounds of the vuvuzela and what makes the World Cup in 2010 a uniquely African experience.