Call for Papers: Digital Anthropologists’ Current Engagements with 21st Century Publics

Check out the Digital Anthropology Call for Papers: Call for Papers: Digital Anthropologists’ Current Engagements with 21st Century Publics.




While it is frequently difficult to identify paradigm shifts as they are happening, I believe I stumbled upon one tonight.  My boyfriend, Greg Wright, was telling me about this fascinating new project he discovered that will allow people to interact and play RPGs online in the dynamic new way in a world that is ultimately the players creation.  He found this project through a fascinating site called kickstarter, which allows people to share their creative new projects and to follow and fund creative projects posted by others.  Through a system which in many ways mirrors the concept behind microloans, creative entrepreneurs of the 21st-century are funded not by banks, corporations, investment firms, or entrepreneurial capitalist, but instead individual cyber citizens from around the globe. Each project sets a minimum required budget and posts what might be called a “business plan” which includes project related incentives promised each backer according to the financial pledge made.  Individuals can make small donations, most have a minimum of $1, or people can make substantial donations and become more directly involved in the project.  This site allows new business ideas a to flourish or parish based on their ability to convince other people on the Internet of the value of their idea and the utility of the project.

Hearing about the site reminded me of how growing up during the birth of the digital age my generation received innumerable speeches about how we would all be working in “jobs that the yet to be created.”  In my previous blog post, I wrote about the frustration felt by many in my generation about the failure of this promise to manifest immediately upon graduating from college and how in my opinion the occupied movement is a manifestation of my generation’s frustration at this failure and what is even many of the failure of the capital system.  My immediate response to hearing about Kickstarter was that this was the perfect springboard for all of those promised “jobs that have yet to be created” that I generation grew up expecting to make into their careers.

If the occupy movement is a global declaration of the “problem,” then the idea behind kickstarter is the solution.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the specific website is the only solution.  However, the same way that eBay and its partner PayPal revolutionized online sales, kickstarter’s application of Kiva’s microloans system to creative projects offers creative individuals a means of turning cyber capital into the financial backing necessary for taking projects from imagination to innovation.  In this, I see the paradigm shift which might be categorized as being post-capitalist.  the paradigm shift being generated by the cyber market is not Marxist or Socialist because individuals and companies are definitely capable of making substantial profits. However, the global reality of cyberspace has left governments struggling to keep legislation up to date as evidenced by the recent attempts in the United States (SOPA, PIPA) and the international treaty (ACTA) to legislate against piracy.  Cyberspace has its own morality and self-governing mechanisms which it seems only “digital natives” understand.  cyber capital is intrinsically linked to the ability of a the website, idea, video, picture, or phrase to “go viral.”  going viral can have either a positive or negative impact through the equivalent of the social sanctions of honor and shame. While many people tend to dismiss things happening online as “not real,” viral honor and viral shame can have extremely real world implications.  In the United States, News/Media outlets and general public were focused to acknowledge the “real world” implications of cyber events during the chain reaction of cyber-bullying leading to suicides which led to the It Gets Better movement and the passing of cyber-bullying laws.  But there are other concrete examples such as the temporary stock crash of AT&T, KONY2012, Clint McCance, even the importance of the youth vote and Obama Girl to Obama’s election.

While that guy from the KONY 2012 video miscalculated when saying, “there are more people on facebook today, than were on the planet 200 years ago” that doesn’t mean powerful idea he was trying to monoplize on was incorrect.   The human race is infinitely more connected today despite our ever growing population recently hitting 7 Billion.  Digital communication is so much faster, and frequently more reliable, than the News.  This has actually led to the News reporting about what is being said and done online.  However, the importance of cyberspace, digital communication, and social networking can no longer be ignored or dismissed as a passing childhood phase.  Cyber capital generated by viral honor and viral shame shapes our lives in very real ways.  As more and more people are finding ways to “make a living” in cyberspace this is one subsistence pattern which can no longer be ignored.   This paradigm shifting subsistence pattern is post-capitalism or at the very least post-neoliberalism.  In honor of its importance to the digital age and the because its value system is one of the core cultural value of cyberspace, I suggest we call this new way of getting things done OpenSource-Capitalism.  After all people are still making money… eventually, but this isn’t your father’s capitalism.


(As explained in my previous post this is a section of a my paper I’m writing for class–but I’m intending it to be a very rough unedited write-up)

Folklorist Marilyn Motz defines “belief as a process of knowing that is not subject to verification or measurement by experimental means within the framework of a modern Western scientific paradigm” (Motz 1998: 340).  The anthropology of religion at the most basic level is the anthropological study of what humans believe and how those beliefs shape their perceptions, behaviors and social realities.  Belief is central to the study of religion, but belief and belief systems goes beyond Western, and even anthropological, definitions of religion.

Jean Pouillon, a French ethnologist, writes the verb “croire ‘to believe’ is a paradoxical in that it expresses doubt as well as assurance” (Pouillon 2008: 91).  Pouillon defines belief as faith or confidence in one’s conviction that an expected outcome will result from a behavior, social action, or relationship.  While this can be extended to religion, Pouillon demonstrates that belief can just as easily be discussed in regard to something such as “economic obligation” (Pouillon 2008: 92).  When it comes to understanding belief’s ability to influence a person’s well-being, the full scope of the individual’s beliefs must be taken into consideration.  When it comes to a person’s recovery, it is not only the patient’s beliefs but also the beliefs of the patient’s family, healer, and the larger community.

In chapter, “The Sorcerer and His Magic”, Claude Leví-Strauss argues that belief is vital to both the beneficial and harmful psycho-physiological effects of spells, sacred rites, and cruses (Levi-Strauss 2010: 125).  Leví-Strauss presents three levels of belief that are paramount to understanding the power belief has to affect people.  He writes, “…the efficacy of magic implies a belief to magic.  The latter has three complementary aspects: first, the sorcerer’s belief in the effectiveness of his techniques; second, the patient’s or victim’s belief in the sorcerer’s power; and, finally, the faith and expectations of the group, within which the relationship between sorcerer and bewitched is located and defined” (Leví-Strauss 2010: 125).  Writing in 1915, Emile Durkheim described the study of belief as searching  “…  underneath the symbol to the reality which it represents and which gives it its meaning” (Durkheim 1964: Location 48).  These three layers of belief transform symbolic knowledge rooted in core cultural values, a belief system’s cosmology, and communitas into a powerful psycho-physiological effects.

Remembering Zora, Writing Women’s Worlds

Feminist anthropologists striving to bring women’s voices forward through life histories and personal narratives and auto ethnography are “walking in Zora’s shoes” as Irma McClaurin’s title suggests (McClaurin 2011).  Although, in some circles of anthropology Zora’s work is forgotten and ignored, she pioneered important realms of anthropological study and writing.  Anthropologically informed creative writing can be traced back to Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God (McClaurin 2011: 120).  McClaurin situates her own work with women in Belize as an attempt to “witness gender through life histories” and she draws on Zora’s work as a guideline for doing so. McClaurin presents life histories as a writing technique which allows for women’s voices to come through with the anthropologist’s role as a writer becoming the finder of “de inside meanin’ of words” as Zora called it (McClaurin 2011: 122).  Zora Neale Hurston’s work represents a different way of doing anthropology which individual anthropologists have returned to in their own way.  Geertz’s interpretation of meaning through thick description, James Clifford and George Marcus’s writing worlds, and the utilization of life history and personal narrative by feminist anthropologists such as Ruth Behar, Caroline Brettell, Marjorie Shostak, and Irma McClaurin all draw upon methods and writing techniques pioneered by this frequently forgotten student of Boaz (McClaurin 2011: 121; Brettell 1999: 224-225).

For anthropologist and writers who were impacted by Zora’s work, her writing carries a personalized form of authority rooted in “situated knowledge,” which stands in sharp contrast to the “view from nowhere” or authoritative generalizations employed by many anthropologist of her era (Kirksey 2009: 150).  Zora’s “integrated strategy” of presenting situated knowledge is powerful in its own way, however, is leaves readers with a personalized sense of the author which is demonstrated by McClaurin’s as well as my own use of Zora rather than Hurston in our references to her (Emerson et al 1995: 179; McClaurin 2011; Hurston 1935, 1937, and 1938).  What degree does her personalized style of writing influence what Dr. Brettell refers to as “the politics of audience reception” (Brettell 1996: 3)?  Can feminist anthropologists of the 21st-century successfully walk in Zora’s shoes without diminishing their position within academia?  Or as the professor of my Current Anthropological Literature course, Nia Parson, asked me in response to the first draft of this post (which was an assignment for her course), can we walk in Zora’s shoes at all?

Brettell (1997: 224) explains that the recent “reconsideration” of the utility of life history in anthropological writing has emerged from feminist anthropology.  Life history brings to life women’s voices which had been previously silent in ethnographic writing (Brettell 1999: XVII).  In Writing Against the Wind: A Mother’s Life History, Caroline Brettell tells her mother’s story.  She situates herself both personally as her mother’s daughter and academically as a scholar who can provide context to Zoe Browne-Clayton Bieler’s life.  She writes, “I have both the proximity and the distance to see interest in her life and to set it into the social, historical, and literary contexts that it deserves” (Brettell 1999: XI).  Both in We Have Already Cried Many Tears and Writing against the Wind, Brettell utilizes life history to demonstrate women’s lived experiences.  In these two books, she inserted her anthropological voice and in the later her voice as daughter throughout the text creating clear distinctions of life history, anthropological analysis, and personal narrative (Brettell 1997: 227; 1999; 1982).  This multi-vocal style of presenting “situated knowledge” and analysis by employing an “excerpt strategy” gives Brettell’s writing in Writing against the Wind both personalized authority and analytical authority throughout her presentation of her mother story. Maintaining both these forms of authority is ideal for contemporary feminist anthropological writing. 

Paper Writing vs. Bloging


I’ve been having a case of writer’s block all day…  That is to say, I’ve already written 3 posts on my blogs and started planning a new project for my boyfriend and I to work on this summer.  So, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a multitasker but who isn’t these days.

So now, instead of actually getting down to business I’m writing another blog post.  But this time I actually have productivity in mind.  I’m going to do an experiment for my next post.  The section of my paper I’ve been trying to finish for the past 24 hours, should be fairly easy to write because it is something I know a lot about.  So as a sort of  “free writing” meets blogging experiment, I’m going to trying writing this section of my paper as a blog entry and see if it frees up my writers block.  If if it works out well, I may be on to something very useful for my fieldwork and dissertation writing.


What is the Place of Emotion in Humanistic Empiricism?

Recently, someone close to me drew the connection between the demand for the removal of emotion from scholarship and the continued presence of underlying masculine bias in academia. I was taken aback by the implications of this connection and my blindness to it.  In reading Ruth Behar’s The Vulnerable Observer and “Believing in Anthropology as Literature,” the relevance of this masculine bias and its demand for anthropology to be devoid of emotion becomes all the more apparent as do the distinct limitations it creates.  Behar warns, “Most efforts to bring emotions and feelings, including love and gratitude, into our work are likely to be dismissed as ‘feminine sentimentality’” (Behar 2011: 110).  Personal narratives, and even life histories of our informants, can be seen as risky within anthropological forms of writing. These forms of writing often have clear emotional components which are paradoxically seen as compelling and unreliably subjective.  In a discipline struggling for a humanistic empiricism, objective detachment is clung to as a means of laying claim to a scientific ideal. Yet experts from any of the hard sciences openly display emotions over their research. Scientists get excited when they make monumental discoveries; their work can also disappoint them, worry them, and even disturb them. The influence of a scientist’s passions for their work over the particular research questions posed receives little critique within the “hard” sciences.  While a geologist’s zealous passion for his or her research rarely impacts the chemical test results run on soil samples, an anthropologist’s empathetic sorrow can influence analysis of interviews. As anthropologists do we claim our fears, our sorrows, our joys as evidence of observable responses to human realities of the worlds in which we work or do we ignore those unquantifiable internal experiences so that we can focus on our observations of the people and phenomena we study?

Maynes, Pierce, and Laslett argued that the motivation behind including life histories and personal narratives in research involving both the social sciences and humanities is connected to the particularly apparent humanness of this data and its ability to generate a direct dialogue between people and the theories written about them (Maynes et al 2008). They write, “One primary motivation is the desire to examine varieties of individual selfhood and agency ‘from below’ band and practice, as constructed in people’s articulation of self understandings” (Maynes et al 2008: 1).The impact of macro-level forces on an individual lives at the micro-level are brought to life, through life histories which can be employed to try the very human realities of macro policies and forces.  Well utilized life histories can be a powerful tool for anthropological literature which allow the author to provoke emotion without being seen as overly emotional him or herself. Life history becomes a “testimonio” in feminist and activist work, which utilizes such stories to empower a person’s story to become a symbol of the movement (Behar 1996: 27). Life histories and personal narratives have the potential to invigorate ethnographic writing with the type of evocative testimony which directs emotional response and supports social change.

The reality of Behar’s struggle over how much of her to include in “Death and Memory” epitomizes the academic compulsion to remove all hints of emotions.  She warns, “to write vulnerable is to open Pandora’s box” (Behar 1996: 19). Often, the human reality of emotional truth is the story we, as anthropologists are unwilling to tell.  As Behar’s Aunt Rebeca reminds us, anthropology is “the study of people” (Behar 1996: 4). If that is true, then how do we tell the story of people devoid of a basic component of what it means to be human? If the anthropologist is the instrument through which human realities are observed and cultural data is collected, then emotional responses which they shape the anthropologist cannot be ignored.