Tereza Kuldova has read another book for us: Multi-Sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis and Locality in Contemporary Research, edited by Mark-Anthony Falzon. It consists of 14 articles. Tereza Kuldova is currently planning a “multi-sited” fieldwork and has picked four articles that she considered most inspirational.
Multi-Sited Ethnography: Theory, Praxis and Locality in Contemporary Research (ed.) Mark-Anthony Falzon. 2009. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-7318-7.
Tereza Kuldova, PhD fellow, Museum of Cultural History, Oslo
This edited volume consisting of fourteen research papers takes us right into the middle of the theoretical dilemmas and practical challenges posed by “doing” multi-sited ethnography.
The discussion on multi-sited research can be viewed in the context of the changing realities of the world since the 1970s (commonly connected with terms like globalization, transnationalism, world system, diaspora, etc.).
It can thus be viewed in the context of times when the single-sited methodology is felt as inadequate and when the social sciences are struggling with their relationship to the local, while searching for larger scales of analysis and better ways how to capture the connections between people, things, and places and in the context of times when the concept of “culture” no longer stands the critique of a great deal of anthropologists.
“Second generation” multi-sited ethnography
In this sense this edited volume comes in the right time and is of great value. It presents something that could be labeled as a “second generation” multi-sited ethnography; it overflows with theoretical suggestions, prospects and critique based on highly valuable empirical examples from research and fieldwork.
All articles are theoretically oriented; they lead us towards rethinking of the concept of “multi-sited” in various directions and from various positions. In short, Multi-sited Ethnography deals with the accusations of “depthlessness” or absence of thick descriptions in multi-sited research, with the practical problems of working in diverse localities, the challenges of projects based on collaboration, the problem of implicit holism of the classical statements of multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1995), and much more.
I now proceed to a discussion of several selected articles, which I personally, as an anthropologist who is currently planning a “multi-sited” fieldwork, considered most inspirational.
The value of the delimited field-sites
Let me first turn our attention to the critique of multi-sited ethnography by Mateo Candea in his article Arbitrary Locations: In Defense of the Bounded Field-Site (ibid: 25-46), which ignited and inspired many of the theoretical discussions, not only, present in this volume.
Candea targets in his critique what he sees as a latter-day implicit holism. This is to be found in “a suggestion that bursting out of our field-sites will enable us to provide an account of totality ‘out there’” (ibid: 27). He challenges this implicit holistic idea through his proposal to reconsider the value of the delimited field-sites. He argues that ethnography is about setting up ‘arbitrary locations’, he urges us to opt for ‘self-imposed restrictions’ and to take the path of ‘self-limitation’; to be reflexive and self-critical in our methodological decisions, to take responsibility for those decisions and to take responsibility for what we include and what we exclude.
He believes that being “explicit about the necessity of leaving certain things ‘out of bounds’” would turn “what feels like an illicit incompleteness into an actual methodological decision, one which the ethnographer reflects upon and takes responsibility for” (ibid:34). Arbitrary location for Candea is “not an object to be explained, but a contingent window into complexity” (ibid: 37).
Even though the title might mislead some, Candea’s article should not be read as an attack on multi-sited ethnography, rather, it views ‘multi-sited’ as a positive development, a development which brought a new wave of methodological reflexivity. And it is on this wave of methodological reflexivity that Candea’s article is sailing and challenging the imagined totality of ‘cultural formations’.
Candea’s article is one of those that push you to think further, and whatever your opinion might be, it definitely makes you sit down and rethink your own approach to multi-sited ethnography, though maybe in a different direction than his.
The myth of the “coherent whole”
The article What if There is No Elephant? Towards a Conception of an Un-sited Field by Joanna Cook, James Laidlaw and Jonathan Mair (ibid: 47-72), is a further rethinking of the holistic charge against multi-sited ethnography and in my view it brings Candea’s critique a step further.
The authors intend to lie to rest the holistic assumption that has haunted the first generation of multi-sited research and to carry the disconnection of ethnographic field from space to its logical conclusion through their proposal of ‘un-sited field’.
Studying the Buddhist ethics of self-cultivation in a multi-sited project has led them to question both the implicit holistic assumptions of multi-sited research and similar assumptions present in the theory of world religions. They proclaim that “the widespread assumption by adherents of self-consciously world religions, that there ‘must be’ a coherent whole of which they are part is itself a religious commitment, and one that is framed in distinctively modern terms” (ibid: 54).
Abandoning the “idea of sited field “
This line of thinking, I believe, is rather fruitful and it led the authors to the elaboration of the concept of ‘un-sited field’. Un-sited field means abandoning the idea of sited field altogether and acknowledging the three-fold distinction between space, place and field.
Abandoning the “idea of sited field makes it possible to admit that it never was possible to achieve a complex description of any area or group of people, but in exchange for acknowledging that fields are always constructed out of a too-rich reality, we would gain the freedom to determinate their boundaries explicitly, in relation to our research questions” (ibid: 58). This then means that “a valid ethnographic field need not correspond to a spatial entity of any kind, and need not be a holistic entity ‘out there’ to be discovered” (ibid: 68).
I too believe that our construction of field should be a primarily reflexive activity throughout the whole fieldwork period and even after and that we should be led by our research questions when determining what is within the boundaries we demarcate and what is beyond them. This reflexivity cannot be other than productive as is the clear distinction between space, place and field which is proposed.
Multisited ethnography = “Cross-fertilization of sites”
Another article which discusses, among others, the question of holism is Ester Gallos In the Right Place at the Right Time? Reflections on Multi-Sited Ethnography in the Age of Migration (ibid: 87-102). In this article Ester Gallo discusses her research experience among the Malayali migrants in Rome and in Ernakulam (Central Kerala, India).
She notes that it was first retrospectively that she articulated her fieldwork in Rome and in Kerala in terms of multi-sited ethnography. What she emphasizes is the importance of paying notice to the ‘meanings of movement’ involved in the processes of following people. Movement tends to be easily taken for granted, particularly in the migration studies. But in her view the meanings of movement must become objects of study rather than its premises (cf. Hage 2005).
Further discussing the question of holism, she believes that “once we move away from the holistic aspirations of multi-sitedness, we can look at how its application results in the cross-fertilization and reciprocal limitations between different levels of ethnographic perspective” (ibid: 89-90). Multi-sitedness in her view thus implies “both expansion and limitation of the ‘site’, as analytical framework and relational practice” (ibid: 90).
I like the idea of ‘cross-fertilization of sites’, which Ester Gallo comes up with, it suggests the opening of new questions, possibilities and important connections which can be perceived only when expanding, at the same time as bounding the field. She accentuates, that what is so particular about multi-sitedness “is the possibility it offers to interrogate the ‘site’ of research, not as a preconstituted dimension of social inquiry, but as relational process and methodological device” (ibid: 99).
Collaboration with the non-human world
The last article I chose for a closer discussion is Strong Collaboration as a Method of Multi-Sited Ethnography: On Mycorrhizal Relations (ibid: 197) by Matsutake Worlds Research Group (Timothy Choy, Lieba Faier, Michael Hathaway, Miyako Inoue, Shiho Satsuka, and Anna Tsing). I chose it because it is different both in its object of study and in its approach to multi-sited research.
(Image: Tomomarusan, Wikimedia Commons)
In their project the Matsutake Worlds Research Group follows a mushroom – matsutake – a highly sought after mycorrhizal mushroom that grows in Asia, Europe and North America and that is an important element of Japanese cuisine.
But this mushroom is not just something that is followed; it is literary taken seriously as a collaborator in their research and collaboration is thus turned into what is followed along with the mushroom. Not only does this article invite us in a world of strong collaboration between scientists and into what pros and cons such collaboration has, but also into a world of strong collaboration with the non-human world, discovering the various potential relationships with it.
The authors explore both the negative possibilities of collaboration, such as its at times even traitorous nature and positive possibilities and the question of why it is attractive to anthropologists. They urge the fieldworker to use his senses, to sensually immerse in the field.
“Taste, sight, sound, touch, smell, heat, body awareness, pain, anger, frustration, balance, weight, scope, acceleration, logic, instinct, hunger, belief. The senses we engage when we conduct fieldwork are nodal points between our ethnographic environments and us. Through them, we become ethnographers. Through them, our bodies become our research instruments” (ibid: 201).
As an example we can take the “chemical interactions, including smell” that “offer one register of relationality in which humans and non-humans, alike, can participate”.
When discussing the strong collaboration between the researchers Lieba Faier uses the term ‘echolocation’, which is “an interactive sense that enables a creature to find its way by reaching out to other bodies with sounds that return to it transformed” (ibid: 202). She relates echolocation to the practice of strong collaboration and draws on a particular example in which more ethnographers engaged with the same matsutake wholesaler, but their depictions of him were radically different.
From this collaboration “a more multidimensional picture of him emerged than any single ethnographic perspective could have provided. Perhaps ethnographic echolocation is one of many new kinds of senses that can be cultivated through multi-sited, strong collaborations” (ibid: 202).
The idea of echolocation as another sense of the ethnographer might prove fruitful in the future, as well as the emphasis on strong collaboration. At the same time collaboration, even though conceptualized as a dialectical practice, may lead to conflicts and unintended power struggles, caused by the often not compatible views or perceptions of the situation and struggle for personal recognition.
At the same time let us listen to what Matsutake research group has to say:
“Why do ethnography? One reason is to spurn spectacular capitalism, which fills our screens with glamorous happy thin elites playing with their globally-standard expensive toys. The world – in its materiality and its diversity – is worth more than that, as ethnography can remind us. But anthropology too is full of glamour stars, all in rush to ‘brand’ their ideas and market their way to top. What might it take to build a slower, richer scholarship, in which we might connect with the living sensual textures of our still diverse world? Might strong collaboration help?” (ibid: 206).
I let everyone judge for themselves. But let me add one more quotation:
“Mushrooms remind us: We are all collaborators. Just because matsutake is not cultivated does not mean it does not collaborate with humans and other beings. Rather matsutake urges us: Strain to find lines of connection. Just as matsutake forms relations with host trees in its essential becoming, strong collaboration makes us remember that all becoming is relational. Taking non-humans – not just fungi but also trees, animals and climate – as collaborators stimulates surprise and wonder. Non-human forms of recognition are not our forms. Thus they open up the framework through which we appreciate relationality” (ibid: 211-2).
This article urges us to rethink our relationship with the non-human and to open ourselves to new ways of thinking and conceptualizing not only of the multi-sited research, but the world itself, as well as of our work in it as anthropologists and ethnographers. (see also their paper A new form of collaboration in cultural anthropology: Matsutake worlds (pdf))
This edited volume is a highly reflexive piece of work and, I believe, a must read for any specialist in anthropology, sociology, and development and migrations studies, or anyone dealing with the “multi-sited” in their research.
Hage, G. 2005. A not-so multi-sited ethnography of a not-so imagined community. Anthropological Theory 5:4, 463-75.
Marcus, G. E. 1995. Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology, 24, 95-117.
More reviews by Tereza Kuldova:
What is public anthropology? Already in 1999, when he had started his Ph.D project, Martijn de Koning has made his first anthropology website. In a very interesting blog post with many links, he is looking back at 10 years public anthropology online:
In 1999, when I just had started my Ph.D project in Gouda, I had a fantastic idea. An idea so fantastic that in the next 10 years I would dedicate a huge amount of time to sustaining and developing it. Too much time perhaps because sometimes it destroyed my time to sleep. The idea was that I would launch a website about and for my research and that also dealt with all kinds of issues related to it.
He sees his current blog Closer as one of his contributions to a public anthropology. He discusses several examples of good public anthropology. Public anthropology is not only about reaching a broader public. It is not just about giving answers to questions the public has. Public anthropology means also questioning why particular issues are addressed in the way they are (f.ex debate about islam) and what the consequences of that are. What are the historical and cultural contexts? What is taken-for-granted and what does it mean?
Public anthropology is not the same as anthropology in public (interesting debate!). It is rather about making the work accessible to the wider public, including people anthropologists write about. “This means that anthropoligists should write better: clear and accessibly", he writes:
Many people in my current research project have read my PhD thesis, there have been discussions about it in chatrooms in which I present for my current research and several people emailed me, contacted me in the chatrooms and on MSN wanting to discuss my book and the publicity about it. Opening up your research in fact already begins at the initial stage when you have to explain to your informants what you are doing and why you are there where they are.
In my experience, the conversations that follow from this are not only a good a way of improving your ‘translation’ skills but also provide relevant input for your research. The same can be said about the questions people asked after reading my book and articles. As good public science indeed can produce better social science because the public is allowed to question and test the hypothesis of the researcher and even the significance of the whole research.
Public anthropology should be multilingual. Martijn de Koning is therefore blogging in both Dutch and English:
The current development in social sciences that only writing in Anglo-Saxon journals is valued above anything else (or better, the rest doesn’t matter) could lead I’m afraid to a situation in which social sciences are not relevant anymore for native, non-English publics and render the cause for a public anthropology futile or even ridiculous.
Together with his colleague Henk Driessen he is going to organize an international workshop on anthropology and publicity in 2010.
His anniversary might be an opportunity to remind of recent posts about Public Anthropology at Neuroanthropology.net, for example Top Ten Ways for Anthropologists to Make A Difference and Expanding the Top Ten Ways for Anthropologists to Make a Difference or Varieties of Public Anthropology.
Furthermore. Maximilian Forte has started a series of posts about “Zero Anthropology“, about “knowledge after anthropology” - posts that will bring his blog unfortunately to a close.
“I am here to save the people, to cure the people. In the city they are all sick, they are all domesticated. The shaman has to go together with disease.”
“In contemporary Bolivia, the concept Colonialism is used so frequently, and with such distinct connotations by such a diverse set of actors that it demands scrutiny", the Swedish anthropologist writes in his paper Colonialism in Context An Aymara Reassessment of ‘Colonialism’, ‘Coloniality’ and the ‘Postcolonial World’ (pdf) that was published in the recent issue of KULT on postkolonial.dk.
Colonialism is according to Burman on the one hand considered a sickness and on the other hand the source of sickness. Most notions of illness held by Aymara shamans find their equivalents in notions of Colonialism.
As illness, as lived experience and as collective memory, Colonialism is still present in the Andes. To the indigenous peoples in Latin America it is a question of continuous Colonialism; the colonialists have not left. Although the Spanish colonial administration no longer holds power over their former indigenous subjects, Aymara people of the 21st century are subalternized and impoverished in a global system that still has colonial traits according to Burman.
Evo Morales’ victory at the polls in December 2005 did not change that, the researcher writes. There is an imminent risk of the new regime being “infected".
Burman has written a dissertation about this topic.
KULT is a postcolonial special issue series. It began in 2004 as the result of a desire to connect a series of discussion fields about postcolonial Denmark. The recent issue on Contemporary Latin American epistemologies has grown out of a network of Latin Americanists in Scandinavia and the Americas.
In one of the other papers in this issue, Madina Tlostanova and Walter Mignolo introduce what they call decolonial thinking, an approach that - they claim - differs from what postcolonial studies have been doing so far:
As a corridor between the academy and the Political Society, decolonial thinking is transdisciplinary (not inter-disciplinary), in the sense of going beyond the existing disciplines, of rejecting the “disciplinary decadence” (Gordon 2006) and aiming at un-disciplining knowledge (Walsh et. al 2002).
Decolonial thinking, in the academy, assumes the same or similar problems articulated in and by the “Political Society.” Knowledge is necessary to act in the political society. But this knowledge is no longer or necessarily produced in the academy. Living experiences generate knowledge to solve problems presented in everyday living. And this knowledge is generated in the process of transformation enacted in the “Political Society.”
Hence, decolonial thinking in the academy has a double role: a) to contribute to de-colonize knowledge and being, which means asking who is producing knowledge, why, when and what for; b) to join processes in the “Political Society” that are confronting and addressing similar issues in distinct spheres of society.
What’s the point of science if it’s not publicly accessible? Two weeks ago, the first global Open Access Week was organized. Masters’ student in anthropology Karstein Noremark has written a report for antropologi.info about the Open Access Week at Victoria University of Wellington.
In his opinion, especially anthropologists should be interested in making research available online. But he did not see any anthropologists at the Open Access Week seminars. There was a general lack of interest among academics. Many of the attendants were library staff. He hopes more students will get involved in the Open Access movement – as future researchers, as end-users, and as a group that is in a unique position to advocate for the ‘rights to research’ of students in poorer countries.
Here is his report:
A small report from Open Access Week at Victoria University of Wellington
(including a critical note on anthropological engagement)
By Karstein Noremark - karsteinn (AT) gmail.com -
Victoria was the only university in New Zealand to (officially) celebrate Open Access Week, and the five days at Victoria covered an impressive broad range of subjects: workshops on Creative Commons licences and Open Access publishing, a web conference on Open Education with Wayne Mackintosh from WikiEducator, an institutional repositories roundtable, and, on top of this, a seminar on “Net Neutrality.” (More information on the various seminars can be found here).
The person behind most of the organising was Sigi Jöttkandt from Open Humanities Press. During the week, she also introduced the attendants to an open source publishing tool that can be used to create Open Access journals. An informative seminar on copyright and licences provided an introduction to various legal tools for Open Access, and in the spirit of the week, this seminar is also available as a webcast (get ogg player).
Still a room for professional publishers?
One of the more exciting topics during the week was the workshop on Open Access publishing. Interestingly enough, a representative from the ‘business’ – Fergus Barrowman from Victoria University Press – had agreed to sit in the panel. Barrowman gave a face to Open Access publishing that is often overlooked: the implication for publishers who are interested in Open Access, but who are not sure how to get involved. He gave an account of the realities that publishers face, the cost of publishing, the problems with ‘unprofitable’ Open Access models for publishing, and all the work that actually goes in to the publication of a text. As he told us, “we also like to get paid for our labour.”
Although Barrowman saw Open Access was “the right way forward,” he also told us that publishers would not embrace Open Access until a profitable business model was in place. Barrowman’s speech spurred a discussion around the themes of publishing and self-publishing, especially on the ‘craft’ side of publishing and how this knowledge could become lost in a transition to online publishing and Open Access. Most of the attendants agreed that there should still be room for professional publishers, but that more individual freedom was needed, especially for academics, whose access to specific articles might be crucial for their work.
All in all, the seminar was interesting, and had an edge to it, given that there were different stakeholders present (all honour to Barrowman for attending such a conference, and showing that he had given consideration to Open Access). I for one, who had come to the seminar with ideas about ‘evil publishers’ left with a more nuanced view on the publishing business – still thinking that a change was needed, but also with a feeling that ‘change’ does not just mean replacing ‘the old’ altogether. Of course, a webcast is also available for this seminar.
There did not seem to be any anthropologists at the seminars (although, there could have been some – I am not a student here myself). In fact, there seemed to be a general lack of academic interest altogether; many of the attendants were library staff, worked in digital repositories, or (like me) had an interest in Open Access as a ‘phenomenon’.
An example might reflect the awareness of some anthropologists of Open Access.
Roughly one week before the OA Week, I attended an anthropology student seminar held at Victoria. In the seminar, one of the lecturers from the university talked about her experiences from an international anthropology conference, complaining about the ‘elitism’ that she saw in much of the discipline.
I felt like I should make a comment to her presentation, and asked if Open Access could not be a way for anthropology to overcome ‘elitist tendencies’, by making texts and research more publicly accessible. She did not seem to understand what I was talking about (I am not sure if she didn’t know about OA, or just didn’t have an opinion on the topic), and wandered off on a metaphorical detour before resuming her complaints of the seemingly unbridgable ‘gap’ between ideal and practice in anthropology.
I started to think: which discipline should have vested interests in promoting and understanding Open Access if not anthropology, whose practitioners are constantly drawing on other fields of study, complains about not getting their message through, and maintain linkages to a number of academics in poorer countries where access to high quality articles is, to put it mildly, limited. And yet, many anthropologists seem more content to focus on a critique of existing ‘knowledge systems’ rather than looking for promising alternatives to this situation.
A student movement?
Open Access has become associated with a student movement (at least in the USA), but where were the students here in New Zealand?
I am currently writing an article on Open Access for a Norwegian anthropology student magazine called Kula Kula, and comparing my experiences from New Zealand to those of Norway. It might seem as though a lack of student involvement is related to the degree of institutionalisation that Open Access has been subjected to in both countries.
In Norway, the Research Council has agreed to sign the Berlin Declaration, and the University of Bergen has followed up by trying to persuade their researchers to make articles available in online repositories and Open Access journals. Still, ‘recommendations’ might be a far cry from actual implementation (article in Norwegian / English translation by Google).
A ‘technical’ approach to Open Access seems to have taken over an initiative that might otherwise have come from students – as future researchers, as end-users, and as a group that is in a unique position to advocate for the ‘rights to research’ of students in poorer countries.
In fear of violating a “wait and see – and then possibly write about it” attitude that is often taken to Open Access, I would urge more students to get involved. And more of them should come from anthropology.
A month before his 101st birthday, Claude Levi-Strauss, one of the most influential anthropologists, died at the age of 100. He died over the weekend, according to the office of the president of the School for the Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, in Paris, Bloomberg reports.
UPDATE - Obituaries: / Lots of posts about his death - here a selection
Greg Downey: Thinking through Claude Lévi-Strauss (Neuroanthropology.net)
Kevin Karpiak: Claude Levi-Strauss on police (Anthropoliteia)
Scott Atran: A memory of Lévi-Strauss (Cognition and Culture)
Maurice Bloch: Claude Lévi-Strauss obituary (Guardian)
Claude Lévi-Strauss as Museum Ethnologist (Jason Baird Jackson)
Alex Golub: Remembering Claude Lévi-Strauss (Savage Minds)
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Anthropologist, Dies at 100 (New York Times)
Robert Mackey: The Influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss (New York Times News Blog)
Heather Horn: Remembering Claude Lévi-Strauss, Academic Giant (The Atlantic Wire)
Claude Lévi-Strauss (Telegraph)
Maximilian Forte: Claude Lévi-Strauss: à la prochaine fois (a collection of videos, Zero Anthropology)
From now on until the end of December, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is offering free access to a large number of its journals.
But maybe things are changing. Here is a selection of journals with free access in november and december 2009. I’ve picked a sample article from the most recent issue as well. Very interesting stuff and many catchy titles! For the full list of journals, visit the AAA Blog
(via media/anthropology and Open Access Anthropology blog) Where can I publish my papers online? A few weeks ago, I wrote about ResearchGATE and other initiatives. Now, SSOAR - the Social Science Open Access Repository is online. It is according to Kerim Friedman from the Open Access Anthropology blog, “the first general Social Science Open Access repository we’ve found".
The repository is multilingual with texts in English, Spanish, German, Polish and many other languages. There are already around 5000 papers available, around 84 of them are listed under Ethnology, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnosociology (84), whille searching for anthropology gives 96 hits.
SSOAR’s goal is to provide free electronic access to journal article preprints and postprints. Master’s theses are not included here, it seems. You can deposit the following types of documents:
Copyright permitting, you can deposit in SSOAR all quality-assured scholarly contributions which have already been published or have been accepted for publication in journals, collective volumes or journal-like series.
Journal contributions include scholarly articles, reviews, interviews and conference proceedings. By collective volumes we mean all text compilations such as handbooks, conference readers or proceedings. Contributions such as research reports, discussion papers and working papers from, for example, institutes’ series or research networks can also be deposited in SSOAR, and are, indeed, becoming increasingly significant. Such contributions can be monographic in nature or comprise several documents. Actual monographs (books, dissertations) may also be deposited, ideally in full.
SSOAR is a German initiative, “operated jointly by the Center for Digital Systems, the Institute of Qualitative Research (both are part of the Freie Universitaet Berlin), and by GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
Open Access Anthropology gives an overview over other repositories.
Dai Cooper’s Anthropology Song has fascinated people all over the world. Around
10 000 39 000 people have seen the video on YouTube so far, it was sent around via facebook, twitter, mailing lists, and was already shown in many anthropology classes. Maybe nobody has better explained what anthropology is all about.
I got curious and asked her if I may interview her for antropologi.info. I’m glad, Dai Cooper, who is now doing a Masters in Anthropology at University of Toronto in Canada, said yes. So here is the (email-) interview:
- What a great song! Sounds like you’re a professional musician, do you sing in a band?
- Hah far from it! I bought my guitar for $60 at a second-hand shop in Vancouver about two years ago and taught myself to play a little, mostly watching YouTube tutorials and with occasional insight from guitar-playing friends. I’ve always loved singing just as an expression of self. I think everyone can sing, and it’s great when people feel empowered enough to do so. But I don’t think you need to be professional to create or appreciate music.
- How did you get the idea to writing this song AND uploading it to YouTube?
- I just started grad school in a new city, and to be honest, I came up with the first two verses of this song one morning after a long night of writing and little sleep. I was kinda charged up (and a tiny bit caffeinated), it was just before class, and the words just came to me. I got all excited and started playing around on the guitar with them. The tune got stuck in my head, and it quickly became almost an obsession to write down and work out all the new lines. I wanted to be able to express all the reasons why I love and am inspired by Anthropology. A day and a half later I sat down in my room in my new little apartment and turned on the camcorder.
- YouTube just seemed like the best way to make that expression of awesomeness available to whoever was interested in seeing it; I originally wrote it with mostly my family and my Anthro professors and friends from my alma mater back at University of British Columbia (UBC) in mind, but it seems to have really resonated with a lot of people beyond that.
- Why do you address your parents in the song?
- I love my parents, and they’re definitely the people who have supported me the most through my education. They always pay really close attention to the things I’m passionate about, and I’m really grateful for that. At the same time, it’s challenged me to ask myself some of the same questions that they’ve had so what exactly is Anthropology, anyway? Why are you studying it again? and I think in many ways the song addresses some of those same questions. So the song is sincerely dedicated to them.
- I also think it adds a humorous element to frame the song in a way that insinuates coming out as an anthropologist to your family having to dispel some misconceptions and explain some new ways of thinking.
- What kind of reactions did you get?
- Really inspirational ones! I was just expressing happiness and inspiration through the song, and apparently that’s made a lot of other people happy and inspired too, which is wonderful. Anthropology to me is all about human connexions, and it’s been so amazing to feel like people from all over the world have been feeling those connexions with each other through the song. I’ve had profs in my new Toronto department come up to me and exclaim, you’re the girl on YouTube! So apparently it’s a great way to meet people, too! In addition to strangers, I’ve also heard a lot of positive comments from people back home; old friends and people in my old department, who I felt really close to, and its great to renew those links as well.
- It sounds that you could be invited to sing your song at conferences. What do you think?
- Hah actually several people have suggested that by now. I’d be super flattered if that happened! I did actually offer to play it at the AAA conference in December, it was half-joking, because I don’t think they’d take me up on it - but I’d just love to share the song and the sentiments behind it with anyone who likes it. It makes me happy.
- More ideas concerning music in anthropology, Public anthropology, and web 2.0?
- It’s interesting that you ask that actually, because one of the (many) inspirations that led up to me writing the song was watching Michael Wesch’s An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, which is all about web 2.0 and thinking about internet forums as social spaces that allow people to connect and communicate in new ways. I think an anthropology of those networks and online spaces is something were hopefully going to see much more of in the near future, as it’s a fascinating subject.
- In maybe a similar way, music is probably one of the more powerful (and older) ways people communicate their ideas and humanity across culture and space and time as well. I know there’s a whole field of study called ethnomusicology that I don’t know much about, but it sounds like it would be great to write a song about
- Your interestes in anthropology and research plans?
- My own research throughout my undergrad came to focus on the production and significance of social spaces. I’ve also been focusing largely on an indigenous group called the Toba in northern Argentina, and especially their movements toward urbanization in barrios or shantytowns surrounding the big cities, where I actually got to spend some time living last summer. If anything has taught me about love, humility, poverty, generousity, and my own life here in Canada, it’s been that experience. I’m hoping to return there to conduct some fieldwork for my Master’s as well.
- Why did you choose to study anthropology?
- I think a lot of the reasons why I study Anthropology now come out in the song: seeking peoples stories, rethinking perspectives, and a common humanity. But as far as how did I get started, probably 95% of the credit goes to my first-year introductory anthropology professor back at University of British Columbia (UBC), Gaston Gordillo (who later became my advisor there), who is just an amazing person, passionate about the discipline and students and encouraging people to (un)think, and who continues to inspire me to this day especially as I’m now a teaching assistant (TA) and taking on that educational role myself, I find myself engaging my own students in many ways that I learned from him.
- And now you’re - according to your song - soon on the way to Vietnam and Peru?
- To be completely honest, Vietnam rhymes with Barack Obamas mom But I’m glad it does, because one of my best friends is from there, and I actually would love to experience Vietnam. Peru I love. It’s a land of mystery to many, and also includes many stereotypes, but it has loved and challenged and embraced me in my travels through many highs and lows in my life. Perú te amo.
Thanks a lot for the interview!
UPDATE 24.10.09: Dai Cooper was asked to play this song at the AAA meeting in December!
UPDATE 27.10.09: Good question by a PhD student:
I wonder if a second part to this song isn’t needed? One that takes on board the critiques that have been written about anthropology and the types of knowledge that we produce about people. I am (…) aware of the problems of our discipline and having worked with people who have had to and who continue to live in the shadows of anthropological knowledge about them, I wonder if you don’t gloss over that slightly.
That’s awesome and possibly the best constructive critique that’s been said. I agree that, being from a pretty personal perspective, the song really romanticizes the discipline, and you’re right, the effects of the production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge are more complex. If you want to nurture a creative streak, you’re MORE than welcome to write a new verse (as it says in the comments ^^) and post it as a video response, that’d be AWESOME!