DANG Call for Papers

DANG Call for Papers

Deadline April 10th (To Meet April 15th AAA Deadline for Sessions)

Email Abstracts to sydneyyeager@gmail.com

Digital Anthropologists’ Current Engagements with 21st Century Publics: #Digital Publics, #Ethics, #Methods, #Insights

The future publics, which anthropologists of the 21st Century will engage with, occupy a social space in which the digital and the physical overlap.  Therefore, ethnographic study of these future publics merits consideration of the corresponding and relevant digital social spheres.

In light of this year’s conference theme “Future Publics, Current Engagements,” this panel intends to demonstrate how digital anthropologists are currently engaging with and researching “digital publics.”   This panel will highlight the current engagements of anthropologists conducting field research which bridges the overlap between digital publics and physical public spaces.  This panel strives to foster a discussion of the methods, ethics, and insights that Digital Anthropology can offer for “engaging with future publics” as digital technology continues to become a part of the everyday lives of the people anthropologists study around the world.  Major questions include: How do anthropologists collect and analyze data while doing digital field work?   What are the ethical issues facing anthropologists who rely on visual data and texts collected in the digital publics of the internet (social networking sites, forums, websites, etc)?  How does digital anthropology intersect with the physical as people increasingly act in physical space in response to the digital realm?  What kind of “future publics” are being constructed through today’s “current engagements” by users and anthropologists in the cyberspatial plazas of the internet (social networking sites, etc.)?

Furthermore, as digital technology continues to become a part of the everyday lives of the people anthropologists study, what insights can Digital Anthropology offer the broader discipline for “engaging with future publics”?  A discussion of ethnographic examples and evidence of the interactions between digital/online and physical life is pertinent to both the future of anthropological engagements with the public and to current concerns about digital studies in anthropology.

Building off goals established in the first organizational meeting of the newly formed Digital Anthropology interest group (DANG), this panel will address critical questions relating to the methods and ethics of digital fieldwork.  Presenters will demonstrate the applicability of insights, drawing from their current engagements with digital publics to advance the discipline of anthropology and prepare anthropologist for engagement with future publics.

 
Digital Anthropologists’ Current Engagements with 21st Century Publics: #Digital Publics, #Ethics, #Methods, #Insights

DANG Call for Papers

Deadline April 10th (To Meet April 15th AAA Deadline for Sessions)

We are seeking presenters with papers which will address questions of ethics in digital anthropology.   We want to include papers which demonstrate innovative methods solutions to issues particular to digital fieldwork.  Papers with findings and insights applicable to digital anthropology and the future of anthropology as a whole are strongly encouraged.  We are particularly interested in having papers that discuss the overlap and interactions between digital/online and the physical.   We invite presenters to submit paper abstracts pertinent to the themes outlined above; however, we do not wish to limit abstracts to strictly these themes.

We invite abstracts of 250 words to be submitted by April 10, 2013 to sydneyyeager@gmail.com  Look for email confirmation.

 

Performance Enhancing Drugs – College Edition

Passing with Pills: Redefining Performance in the Pharmaceuticalized University”  is a very thoughtful and thought provoking ethnographic look in the mirror.  Tazin Karim of Michigan State University did an excellent job applying a critical, medical anthropological lens to academia and the pressures of the rite of passage in America referred to as college.  
When discussing the exportation/globalization of mental illness and Western pharmaceuticals, undergrads in both my Intro to Anthropology discussion sections admitted to knowing a ‘friends’ who used Academic Performance enhancing drugs …  I have to admit my own caffeine dependence could fall in the same category.  American culture in general gives preference to substances which promote productivity and the University is no exception.  A few of my students discussed being prescribed Ritalin and Adderall long before they entered a college campus.  One girl described for us how ease it had been for her best friend to get a prescription, which she used primarily to write papers and make it through finals week.  

I think this is a very serious issue which is largely ignored because it gets the desired results and is socially linked to productivity and achievement.  For my part, some might argue that I am part of the problem, as a graduate student and teaching assistant who was aware of these thinly veiled “confessions.”   But I am 25 years old which makes me only a few years older than most of my students and this time four years ago I was the undergrad who had close friends doing the same thing.  However, it also raises an important ethical issue.  This was information I gained from a semester of building rapport with my students and a safe environment for discussion in my classroom.  In that moment, I saw my responsibility in guiding my students to think critically about the social and structural pressures that make the need for academic performance drugs and in interrogating the problematic dichotomy between legal prescription drugs and illegal drugs.  I pushed them to critically think about any substance they put in their body and I urged them to be accountable for researching these medicines, their purpose and their side effects.  In that classroom, I felt that was the extent of my ability to influence the matter.

But as a medical anthropologist, I think this is definitely an issue which merits further investigation and careful attention to potential solutions that address this “inconvenient truth.”  Karim’s narratives demonstrate the hidden reality on our campuses.  I hope to see more work along these lines in the future.

 

Gunman Suicide – A Social Illness

The media storm following the Newton school shooting has left our nation with heavy hearts and that unanswerable question “but why…?”  The shooting occurred the day left Dallas heading home for Arkansas to spend my Christmas break with my family.  These incidents which have become all too frequent always leave me initially dumbfounded, but as the social scientist in the family people expect me to have a more educated response than a look of horror on my face.  Within hours of the shooting Facebook and Twitter were aflame with arguments for gun control and explanations of mental illness.  I found myself driving home in the dark and trying to explain to my father on the cell phone that it was “more complicated than that”.

Do we blame guns?  Do we blame mental illness? Do we blame the media or video games?  Do we blame American culture itself?

Part of the reason it is “more complicated than that” for me to explain to my father or most of the people I grew up with for that matter, is that Living Anthropologically’s simple answer is “measures to reduce and restrict the weaponry” would begin a debate met by deaf ears.  Saying the word “gun control” to a hunter is the equivalent of saying “Internet censorship” to a member of anonymous.  Certain topics trigger a panicked emotional response that jumps to the worst-case scenario first.  I know that restrictions on semi-automatics and handguns are not the equivalent of a universal gun ban, but both the audience and the bigger picture need to be kept in mind.  The weapon of choice is definitely one way to tackle the problem, especially if you see no use for the device,  but it doesn’t fix the “why” which can always find a new outlet.

In his Neuroanthropology blog, Daniel Lende reminds us that “Mentally ill patients are not more violent than anyone else.” and “Guns don’t shoot themselves.”  in his response to the two easy answers which have been put forth by the media and the public following the Newton shootings.

Following the Aurora shooting, David Dobbs argued that “Culture shapes the expression of behavioral traits. The traits don’t rise inherent as an urge to play basketball or a plan to shoot up a Batman movie. A long conversation between the trait and the surrounding culture shapes those expressions. Culture gives the impulse form and direction.”

In talking to my father who is very anti-gun control, I realized that there is a very big difference between a hunter and a gunman.  A friend and fellow Arkansan, Justin Snook makes a similar connection in his blog post Guns and Games when he says “I learned to treat a gun sensitively and reverently whether it was in my own hand or someone else’s.”  Growing up in rural Arkansas my first experience with guns did not come from video games or even TV.  I remember being between 2 and 3 years old and my dad letting me pull the trigger on his .22 while he held the gun.  As I got older both of my parents always re-enforced strict rules and behaviors relating to guns.  Guns were always present in my household, but they were also always serious.  The first rule I remember my mother telling me was to never go near the place my dad kept his guns unless he was with me.  The first rule I remember my father telling me about guns was to never point one at anything or anyone I didn’t want to kill, whether I thought the gun was loaded or not.   Guns were to be respected and were only used to hunt.  My brother, sister, and I were taught that what we did with a gun was our responsibility.  But this is not part of how most Americans are raised.  While hunters-ed is required for hunting licenses it is not required to own a gun.  You have to take two exams to drive a car but all you need is a background check to own a gun.  This means that unlike me, many Americans are taught about guns through TV, movies, and video games.  These media are artistic expressions of our culture so it is hard to blame them in and of themselves.  Films no longer warn that “you’ll shoot your eye out” and instead depict firearm novices becoming epic heroes by picking up a gun.  People who have never witnessed anything larger than a spider die are allowed to own handguns designed for shooting people and even semi-automatic weapons designed to shoot everything in sight.

If the people using them and how they are used, not the guns themselves are at the center of the “but why …?” question, then we that we are to blame.  A cultural dialogue that allows people to assign the blame to others instead of accepting responsibility makes it possible for the gunman suicide phenomenon to become an accepted cultural script.

A young man (statistically most are males) has bad relationships with his family.  He becomes/feels disenfranchised.  He is alienated from his community and he begins to blame all the people in his life for how terrible his life is.  That blame turns to hate and when he cannot take it anymore and is ready to end it all by killing himself he turns to the pre-existing techniques his culture has provided.  Going out in a blaze of glory, maximizing his ability to hurt those who he blames for his state, and regaining control of his life in a hyper-masculine villainous act.   Gunman suicide becomes the last desperate attempt at significance.

Lende argues that “If we’re going to think of violence as a sickness, then it is its own type of sickness, different in kind and in expression from the mental and physical ailments that also possess us. Violence is red in tooth and claw, seemingly primordial until we recognize how socially regulated it is.”

My best explanation is that the gunman suicide phenomenon is a social illness rather than a mental or physical one.  These gunmen which have become all too common are suffering from a lack of the social components necessary to be healthy in body and mind.  It is a social illness in that these gunmen are men who society has failed and in that the illness harms society itself.  It takes the lives of the incident’s victims, it wreaks havoc on the lives of the victims’ families and the community, but it also traumatized us as a nation, as a globally connected world.  The gunman is ground zone of the social illness, proving to us that in this hyper-connected and highly visible age a ticking time bomb can still remain in plain sight.

Freedom of Speech 2.0 #freeandopen

Google calls Internet users to Take Action

“it is ours and it is free
a free and open world
depends on a free and open web
and a free and open web depends on me” (Google’s Internet Poem)

A free and open internet is essential to democracy in the 21st century just as freedom of speech and freedom of press were essential to the founding father of the United States of America.

On the Internet we are free and we are equal. A sea of voices from all over the earth pour forth, and those voices, those ideas are judged for their worth, for their ability to resonate in the hearts and imaginations of others.

 

I know sometimes this means absurdly ridiculous things become wildly popular, but that just means that sometimes we (collectively) need absurdly ridiculous things in our lives.   The Internet is a collective expression of our humanity.  Yes, sometimes things get out of hand and people say horrible things to one another, but sometimes people are also able to truly come together and help each other out.  A free and open Internet contains all our flaws and all our potential.  Don’t allow politicians to in act policies which will quash our collective potential simply out of fear of our flaws.

Politics and Wikipedia

Wikipedia is currently in fundraiser mode.  It reminds of the PBS phone-a-thons of my childhood.  But it also reminds me of an interesting component people frequently neglect when discussing social programs and taxes in relation to institutions seen as a “public good.”  In the debate over who does a better job of address the needs of the public, the arguments are frequently framed in Public vs Private….  what about the 3rd option of non-profit/charity?  Websites like Facebook, twitter, Gmail, etc are free because they’ve figured out how to profit from data mining and running ads, while other sites like Wikipedia rely on user donations.  Comparing Wikipedia and the Recovery.gov site which the government spent over $9.5 million to redesign, makes me wonder if discussions on government spending should be aimed at government vs non-profit rather than Public vs Private.

Most people I’ve talked to about this in person tend to point out that most people won’t give willingly unless the government makes them.  But I have to wonder is this true?  Am I being too much of an idealist?  I know I prefer to directly donate $15 to an institution than have an additional $20 added on to my taxes.  Of course, I’m somewhat assume that at least $5 is lost in the bureaucracy it would take to get my $15 to Wikipedia if Congress decided to financially support Wikipedia.  Something I know will never happen, but the thought experiment is still the same.

This brings up a few questions for me.  Is it feasible to run all Open Access on a Wikipedia model or fundraising and user donations?  Is the model somehow better suited for the Internet?  I’d love to know if anyone has come across studies comparing Private, Public (government), AND Non-Profit models for providing public goods and services.

Happy Thanksgiving Part 1

I have so much to be thankful for a sweet and loving family, my fiance and future in-laws included, and dear friends. I am thankful I’m in a great graduate program and almost done with coursework, at least from the perspective of Arkansas and Texas it looks like the economy is mostly recovering just in time for me to think about the job market, and that I live in a beautiful country that provides me, my family, and friends with more security, liberty, stability, comfort, and convince than many people around the world will ever know.

But all that said, I can’t help but feel like these grateful utterances once on “paper” (ie facebook post) look a little more like bragging especially if you consider that they are being broadcast throughout our social networks and into the global space of the Internet. Thanksgiving has always felt like a very American holiday to me, but pondering its origins and meaning leaves me somewhat unsatisfied with what we are celebrating. Gratitude aside, are we celebrating Gluttony and Manifest Destiny? And if Thanksgiving is the day of Gratitude, Gluttony, and Manifest Destiny … are we ok with that? After all they play a big role in America’s past and present.

This blog entry is an expansion of a facebook post I made earlier today.  I am going for time’s sake, I’m going to split it up into 3 posts.

As far as holidays (holy days) go Thanksgiving seems to be a new world take on the traditional European harvest festival.  Considering how few of modern North Americans are still involved or connected to agriculture it seems a little strange the holiday is still such a big deal, however, in the United States Thanksgivings continued relevance seems to be tied to its more recent association with commercialism.   In the days following Halloween, we decorate with fall leaves and turkeys dressed a pilgrims.  We coordinate with family and friends to ensure we each have our own massive feast fit for a medieval king, except they didn’t have turkey or mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie because they are new world foods.   I watched my mother fret over orchestrating this massive feast for my extended family for years.   Family members drive or fly very long distances to be together on Thanksgiving day.  By the time it is actually time to eat, at least half the people at the table are exhausted, annoyed or at their wits end.

For many, the meal itself is only second place to the Macy’s Day parade and the afternoon packed with football games. Overstuffed with mom’s best stuffing, everyone half-passes out in front of the TV.  While all of the family’s big shoppers get busy circling the Black Friday Ads and go to bed early so they can wake up at mid-night.

The big question I want to ask is what exactly are we celebrating here and what does it say about our culture.  How is a holiday designed to express gratitude also a celebration of Gluttony and Consumerism?  And in what ways is this holiday ritual vital to the American economy.

Nationalism, Communitas, and Spiderman…

Considering I was in Ireland for the 4th of July, I decided to get a little imaginative in the way I celebrated America’s Independence Day.  Greg and I went out to eat, I got a milk shake and we watched the late showing of the new Spiderman movie in 3D.  (The 3D is totally worth it on this movie)  Now, one important thing of interest to note is that in Ireland, the Irish celebrate the 4th of July.  Greg was actually a bit surprised by the depth to which the celebration extended beyond simply going out to the pub for a drink to celebrate.

We took the day off, had a relaxing meal at one of our favorite pubs and then headed into Castlebar (the nearest city with a movie theater).  However, it was in this “time-off” that I had a major realization about the connection between Nationalism and Communitas, and it is all thanks to The Amazing Spider-Man.

So what is communitas, you might be asking? The best way to explain it to people who grow up in a Western culture is to say it is that feeling in which your sense of self is fully united with your sense of community.  It is a moment in which your sense of individuality is overwhelmed by a strong feeling of community.  Communitas is in essence community spirit, but a sense of community spirit which deeply resonates within you.  It is found in those moments in which you deeply connect with others because you know in that moment you and a those other people are experiencing almost exactly the same thing.  Anthropologists describe this happening in rites of passage, pilgrimages, and moments of community action.

Communitas is the feeling of oneness, togetherness, solidarity, and deep sacred connection with others.  Now the community can be as small as your cohort growing up or as large a nation.

What does this have to do with the Amazing Spider-Man?  Well, not to give any spoilers, during a particular scene I was flooded with a feeling of communitas.  It was actually a pretty profound moment for me because it was the first time I realized that that perticular feeling was communitas.  I’ve had an intellectual understanding of the term for about four or five years now, and I’ve experienced the feeling numerous times throughout my life without putting a word to it.  Experiencing during a movie, and realizing it, however, opened up a large can of worms for me.

Wow I just felt communitas during a movie…

1) If communitas can be generated, felt, and shared through movies …  then it is possible to share through all forms of digital media I bet.  This reminded me of my friend Jacob Oliver’s honors thesis about music and how people today have come to experience as sense connection to particular pieces of music which were really important to them really hitting home to their situation in the moment in time.  Movies do this as well.  Like it or not, movies, TV, and music connected all of us digitally long before the internet.

2)   Nationalism…  Sitting in a theater in Western Ireland, in a room full of 50 or more people, Gerg and I were the only Americans.  I am not always the most patriotic person, but in that moment, I was an American.  I was filled with patriotic pride and an overwhelming sense of connection to America and Americans.  I argue this is how communitas functions to make self-identity and group-identity unite absolutely, even if it is only for one moment.  The implications for humans as a social species cannot be underestimated.

However, beyond the importance of communitas to community building and group solidarity, I was also taken back at the notion of me feeling communitas while watching  Spiderman and people in New York City.  I was born and raised in rural Arkansas about as far from New York City as you can get and still be in the United States.  Both distance and culture separate me from these people.   I’ve never been to New York City outside of the airport, either.  And currently, I am not even in the United States.

Yet somehow, I was able to experience this deep-connection from Ireland.   Communitas at the national level was never something I considered before that moment, yet as I finished watching the movie it was staring me straight in the face.  Isn’t national communitas exactly what the nation as a whole had experienced in the wake of September 11th?

3)  Spiderman is a hero in American mythology.  Ok, ok… I knew this before but the profoundness of Spiderman as American mythology did not truly set-in until I realized there was a spiritual dimension beyond the “moral of the story.”  For me at least, “real” mythology has to not only guide its readers to culturally specific ideals and heroic behavior, but it also has to unite those readers on a deeper, spiritual level.  I suppose, in essence I am saying that while mythology from all over the world has lessons to teach us, it is the culturally specific mythology which holds the most power over the reader.  It gives us the cultural script of what it means to be heroic and villainous.  The aspect of mythology lost on many Modern Americans, is that the hero does not have to have actually lived to be REAL.  For a myth to truly be American, it must then speak to American culture and adhere to the Religion of America.

The concept of the Religion of America is something Religious Studies Professors and Theologians have put forward and it is something that my mind has toyed with since I took a course on Religion in the US with Dr. Jim Dietrich and Dr. Julia Winden-Fey.  The idea is that beyond the formalized religions and denominations of the United States, there is a separate and distinct Religion of America which is very much tied up with patriotism and matters of state.  The idea is that despite the separation of (a particular) Church and State, politicians, the government, and public events at large still very much acknowledge a form of spirituality which embodies American ideals and is devoid of the sectarianism that might indicate divine preference for one faith over the other.  In other words, the God of America is the God of liberty, equality, freedom of choice, and responsibility of freedom, but this God is no less Mormon than Catholic, no less Christian than Muslim.

Spiderman is an American hero and his story is a heroic epic of American mythology.  When his story is told well, it is capable of inspiring people to achieve the heroic ideals he stands for and it strengthens our connection to one another.

Questions to Ponder:

Did other people experience communitas while watching Spiderman?

Was this feeling of communitas limited to Americans?  How does nationality influence media’s ability to provoke communitas? 

What role does communitas play in social health?  Do moments of communitas impact our sense of social well-being? If so, what are the ramifications for our mental and physical health?

Where do people experience communitas on the national level?  What events, experiences, and media provoke communitas on such a grand-scale?

If you have an experience of communitas you’d like to share with me please feel free to email me at slyeager@smu.edu  I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences.

Also, please take a second and respond to my poll:

Irish America Day

Americans in Ireland during the first week of July may be surprised to learn Ireland celebrates the 4th of July.  It seems to largely be a celebration of Americaness, the Irish-American connection, and Americana.

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Photo borrowed from http://irishamerica.com/2012/05/irish-america-day-4th-of-july-in-ireland/

When I asked about why one middle age gentleman back in 2005, he told me that it was because Ireland does not celebrate its own Independence Day.  He claimed the Republic of Ireland doesn’t celebrate its Independence Day, which would be April 24, because all of Ireland is not yet free.  Now, this is obviously a very political statement and while from the outside the reason can be debated, from the inside the fact is they don’t celebrate their Independence Day, but they do celebrate ours.

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Photo originally from http://4thjulylimerick.com/

Having been in Ireland for two US Independence Days now, I have to say that the Irish celebration of American Independence feels a lot like the American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.  In some places it is referred to as America Day and it is celebrated with parades, fireworks, festivals, and races.  In our immediate area there was a bicycle race and festivals with fireworks in close by cities.  By and large, it is an incredibly curious phenomenon for Americans to experience.  In someways, it is honestly a bit humbling to have my national identity so succinctly summed up in Milk Shakes, Pizza, Hot Dogs, BBQ, Mark Twain, Fireworks, and Rock-n-Roll Music.  At the same time, America Day seems to be a time to acknowledge Ireland’s strong connection to Ireland.  Famous Americans of Irish descent such as JFK.   As an American descended from people who left Ireland in some of the earliest waves of the Irish diaspora, this celebration definitely offers a curious moment of solidarity and connection.

Learning Irish

Learning any new language is difficult or at least it is for a someone like me that really didn’t have any exposure to languages other than American English and Southern English prior to 9th grade.  In 9th and 10th grade a had a very basic exposure to Spanish and in 12th grade I took French but I only managed to confuse these two languages.  In college, I took German and managed to learn a very basic level of it.  But now I am attempting to tackle a language more or less on my own.  My university like most in the United States doesn’t offer Irish so I am left with a stack of books, Rosetta Stone software, and a few helpful Irish website http://www.ranganna.com/ and http://www.clubleabhar.com/ and http://www.teg.ie/  My language acquisition skills are far from that of a polyglot and I’ve yet to find a native speaker or tutor in Dallas that can help me study.

That said, for cultural anthropologist who hopes to really understand the culture she is studying, learning the language of the people is definitely a must whenever possible.  Or so all the great anthropologists before me tell me.  And why wouldn’t I believe them?  Just in knowing how different dialects can be and how those dialects shape the way people see the world, it only makes sense for language to have an impact far beyond superficial.

Anthropologist often find themselves in far away and remote places where learning the language means most learning through immersion, rather than learning in a classroom.  Yet for some reason, choosing to learn Irish as the language I want tested in for my PhD language requirement seems to be a bumpy path to have chosen.  Perhaps this is because of its precarious status as a European language which is spoken by only 1.7 million people in the Republic of Ireland according to the 2011 Census.

Most, if not all people in the area I am working speak English, but on my more idealistic, optimistic days I argue that is no reason not to learn Irish proficiently.  In the Republic of Ireland, Irish or Gaeilge is considered the hearth language and on a day to day basis words of Gaeilge find their way into news papers and political titles.  Even in Dublin, an observer can hear Irish spoken in pubs.  That said, I am not working in Dublin, I’m working in rural County Galway and County Mayo which is definitely in the Gaeltacht region of Ireland.

But more importantly, if I hope to truly understand the people I plan to work with learning the language they speak at home and to their children seems only natural and possibly even respectful.  Yet, I realize this is going to be a struggle which may prove futile.

Slán

Mythic Irish Art

While visiting the Brú na Bóinne about an hour north of Dublin, Greg and I had the opportunity to view Jane Brideson’s Ever Living Ones collection.  This collection brings together Ireland’s sacred landscapes and ancient myths in moving contemporary artwork.  Her art is currently displayed at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center in County Meath.  Jane’s blog has more details on the exhibit location.

If you are in County Meath or in Dublin and have time for a day trip, Jane’s art and the neolithic mounds at Brú na Bóinne are definitely worth the drive/bus ride to go see.

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