antropologi.info survey: Six anthropologists on Anthropology and Internet

More and more anthropologists have started blogging and discussing their research interests with a wider audience. They use the internet as a library, as a tool for learning and teaching, as a space where they conduct fieldwork. They exchange knowledge, build networks across disciplines and continents. Last but not least, the internet is perfectly suited to inform the general public about what anthropology is about.

Nevertheless, the symbolic capital associated with the Internet and Internet publishing fairly low: "It should be a political cause for academics to heighten it, both through using the Internet for one's own publications and by increasing the prestige of the Internet by using it actively", anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen writes. Kerim Friedman agrees and adds: "The biggest challenge is to get Anthropologists to embrace Open Access in the same way that physical scientists have."

I've asked several anthropologists about their views on anthropology and internet and if all papers should be freely available online: Kerim Friedman, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Annariitta Grzonka, Judd Antin, Brigt Dale, and Tad McIlwright

Kerim Friedman

Kerim Friedman is one of the most active anthropologists on the web. A few month ago he was among those who took the initiative to set up an anthropology group blog called Savage Minds, that has become one of the most interesting anthropology websites.

1) Which role does the internet play for you as an anthropologist?

This is really too big a question to answer.The internet as a tool for research? As a mode of disseminating knowledge? As a social space? I will instead answer on a very personal level: I do my basic library type research on the web, I keep contact with my informants via e-mail and instant messaging, I write about anthropology on my blog, I make my own work available online, and I use forums, wikis, and other social software as part of my teaching.

2) Which role SHOULD the internet play for anthropology as a discipline? What are the greatest challenges?

I think the biggest challenge is to get Anthropologists to embrace Open Access in the same way that physical scientists have, as well as getting anthropologists to participate in online debates: http://wiki.oxus.net/Open_Source_Anthropology

3) Which role WILL the internet play for anthropology in 10 years? What do you think? (also regarding anthropology journals)

I think as more and more people live their lives online, we will see more and more anthropological research being conducted online. But I think it will take more than 10 years for the institutions that the profession depends upon (such as the publishing industry) to fully adapt to some of the changes. I personally look forward to the day when one can get tenure on the basis of Open Access publications!

4) What kind of experiences (feedback etc) do you have with your personal website and blog and with Savage Minds?

It has been highly rewarding. Although the number of regular readers on both sites is low compared with some of the major blogs (hundreds, as opposed to thousands, of visitors each day), most of our readers are interesting thoughtful people, and the discussion and exchange has been rewarding (well, most of the time ...). Personally, my blogging has changed a lot over time. Initially my personal blog was almost purely political. However, over time a number of truly wonderful political blogs emerged that were able to keep on top of the latest developments much better than I can. This freed me up to write more about personal and cultural interests. Now, with Savage Minds, I also have a forum to talk about more professional interests. I've also enjoyed meeting some bloggers in person, such as when I met with Taiwanese bloggers in Taiwan this summer. The only down side is that it can become too time consuming. I've had to train myself to quit my RSS reader when I need to get work done.

5) You've published your dissertation on the internet before it was published as a book. Should all articles and papers be free available on the net?

All dissertations are available on the internet (and usually before they are out as books) - its just that people have to pay a lot of money to UMI to download them. All I've done is bypass UMI and made mine available for free. So I see this as challenging UMI's monopoly more than the traditional publishing industry. After all, most people don't really want to read a dissertation before its been gone over by a professional editor! But yes, I do think that all articles and papers written by anthropologists should be freely available on the net.

6) More thoughts?

I think it would be interesting to study why anthropologists (especially cultural anthropologists) are so far behind other disciplines in embracing these technologies as well as Open Access and blogging. Is it because anthropologists are insecure about putting their writings out before a wider audience? Is it gendered? (So many anthropologists are women.) Is it that anthropologists are more likely to be technophobes? Or is it that anthropologists actually like the security of traditional academic structures? It may be that these differences will disappear with the next generation of scholars, but there may also be forces within anthropology that are inherently resistant to such changes...

Thomas Hylland Eriksen

Thomas Hylland Eriksen, one of Norways most known anthropologists, is a pioneer in using the internet: His homepage has already been online for around ten years where he has published a large part of his writing.

1) Which role does the internet play for you as an anthropologist?

Well, it is important for me in at least four ways:

  • Some of my research relates directly to the Internet.
  • Email has made it possible to keep continuously in touch with colleagues everywhere.
  • Increasingly sophisticated websites start to function as virtual libraries, making the tedious task of tracing and copying articles a problem of the past. Also, a handful of internet-only sites, such as your own, Finn Sivert Nielsen's website and Public Anthropology, are a true addition (no replication) to existing materials.
  • I maintain my own website, which I use as a springboard for communication with students and others.

2) Which role SHOULD the internet play for anthropology as a discipline? What are the biggest challenges?

As with other fields of intellectual work, the main problem is the sheer quantity of information and the weakened quality control resulting from democratization. The challenge, trivial as it may sound, consists in making proper use of the unique qualities of the Internet (speed, availability, breadth) without compromising the traditional ways of communicating (books, conferences etc.). Trivial perhaps, but far from easy in practice.

3) Which role WILL the internet play for anthropology in 10 years? What do you think? (also regarding anthropology journals)

I think all the journals will be chiefly electronic in ten years, and I'm not among those who will miss the paper form. Journals are ideal for electronic publication since few read them from cover to cover & many of us search for specific content. There will also be lengthier stuff available on the Net (actually, there already is) -- theses and books which have not found a publisher -- and more professionals will make use of possibilities for online debate. However, the book, published by a prestigious publishing house, will still be considered the highest form of academic writing, whether it is in paper or (as I believe) in some kind of e-book format.

4) What kind of experiences (feedback etc) do you have with your website?

My website has been up and running for nearly ten years now, and I do get occasional mail from users. I think it is chiefly browsed by students. If I had the time and capacity, I would have made the academic writings on the website available as pdf files, which would make them more directly useful. But alas, I don't have the time to do this myself. Some years ago, I tried to start a newsgroup on my site, but I closed it down after a month because of poor response.

Anyway, I enjoy tinkering with this website. To me, it brings back the spirit of the early 1980s, when I worked on the (unpaid) staff of Gateavisa, an anarchist monthly. We did everything ourselves, from writing the editorials to packing the copies for subscribers. The smell of glue on my fingers made me feel that making this magazine was an organic part of me; about as far from alienation as you can get in the information era. On a good day, I get a similar feeling from experimenting with my website.

5) Should all articles and papers be freely available on the net?

No, I don't think so. But as several academics at Oslo have recently pointed out, academic publications are of a different order from say novels or general nonfiction books. Most of our work might well be freely available, but not all. Certainly not all books. There are some very sound reasons for having a publishing industry which, when it functions, sets standards and makes a little money.

6) More thoughts?

The symbolic capital associated with the Internet and Internet publishing is fairly low. It should be a political cause for academics to heighten it, both through using the Internet for one's own publications and by increasing the prestige of the Internet by using it actively.

Judd Antin

Many blogging anthropologists are interested in digital technology and business anthropology. Judd Antin is one of them.

1. Which role does the internet play for anthropologists?

I would say the Internet provides two things for me:
a. I have near instant access to a huge variety of resources, especially ones that express opinions or support research that I don't necessarily agree with. As an anthropologist I feel like it's my job to consider multiple points of view, whether I'm researching gift exchange culture on the Internet or reading reviews of the latest camera phone.
b. I very much value the outward access that my blog gives me. I realize it's a tiny community of people who care, but I feel some solidarity with the community of anthropology bloggers who share ideas and valuable information.

2. Which role should the internet play for anthropology as a discipline?

I wish there were more forums for exchanging anthropological ideas. Within research groups I work on, I'm always setting up blogs for sharing of ideas and tossing about data. There should be a more public forum for this on the Internet. Something like Savage Minds is a start with that, but convincing the anthropological community to engage on any broad scale will involve a real shift. In 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' Thomas Kuhn argues that paradigms don't really change until the thought leaders in a discipline retire or die. I hope that doesn't turn out to be true for anthropologists, but I certainly haven't seen them in any hurry to embrace the Internet.

3. Which role will the internet play for anthropology in 10 years?

I hope that in ten years the publishing model will have moved online and that anthropologists will make a practice of sharing thoughts and findings more informally (and quickly) on the Internet rather than waiting for long journal production cycles. I also hope that the discipline will learn to value contributions of that type, including but not limited to blogs (because who knows what the dominant form of expression on the Internet will be in 10 years!), and not place such a premium on journal and book publications.

Annariitta Grzonka

Annariitta Grzonka studies anthropology at the University in Bremen (Germany) and is one of the few female anthropology bloggers. She is actually doing fieldwork in cyberspace.

1) Which role does the internet play for you as an anthropologist?

It is essentially important to me, as it is not only the primary media I use to find literature (onlinepublications and also offlinepublications via library catalogues, etc.), but also a space I do anthropologic fieldwork in: Thick Participation in Academic Blogsphere. The third importance of the internet to me as undergrad anthropologist is represented by the multiple inner- and interdisciplinary dialogues that take place especially in academic blogsphere: knowledge production in process I can participate in. Practised inter- and innerdisciplinary (and additionally transnational) dialoging in the first instance means very much making implicit premises explicit. I think this is one of the concreta that are implied in the often heard assumption, anthroblogging would serve "broadening the discipline` s discourse". To me indeed the internet is a space for selforganised learning.

2) Which role SHOULD the internet play for anthropology as a discipline?

In Germany, it is slowly getting more and more established as research field, which is a positive development, from my view. It`s use in general regards of networking should be expanded. Theres no media within academia that is as broadly accessable as the internet, so I could think of "it should be made the discipline`s central means of publication".

3) Which role WILL the internet play for anthropology in 10 years? What do you think?

My assumption: you won`t be able to do anthro anymore without accessing the internet for some reason or another. (This is a very western perspective, I know.)

4) What kind of experiences (feedback etc) do you have with your blog?

Got no static personal website yet. The experiences with my blog are all positive so far. I got networked quickly, which means being read, being referred to, being quoted, being blogrolled, being commented by a variety of people on my blog, being emailed and finally being mini-researched myself. *smile*

5) Should all articles and papers be free available on the net? yap.

Brigt Dale

Visual anthropologist Brigt Dale is the only blogging anthropologist in Norway I know of. A few weeks ago he joined the international blogging community by blogging in English in addition to in Norwegian.

1) Which role does the internet play for you as an anthropologist?

More and more important as I currently am without any direct links to an environment of anthropologists which I relate to.

2) Which role SHOULD the internet play for anthropology as a discipline? What are the biggest challenges?

Hard to say; it should be a means of communicating without the limiting factor of space - however, it also hamperes the will to engage in direct communication, it somehow seems easier to just pop a mail than to go and have a chat with someone, not to mention the will to actually travel somewhere to have a meeting/ workshop etc. The biggest challenges? Well, I see several when it comes to understanding the new social and cultural spaces which evolve on the net. Youngsters of today have a totally different view on the web, and I believe that research on youth and children and how they adopt to and adopt "the wireless" into their lives is of vital importance.

How? Do you mean it's of importance for anthropology?

Yes, because the anthropologists of the future will inevitably change the discipline, and also because there are new and more interactive lives lived amongst yougsters. An example - which many a 40-year old will find hard to understand - is the way in which youth move in and out of interactive realities, both chat-rooms and interactive worlds like the one created around the online game World of Warcraft. The possible impact on self-imagery and the possibillity of multiple arenas for social success these worlds make up, is fairly new and exotic to most of us older than 25.

I'm no expert in this, by all means, but talking to yougsters recently has made me realize that the inclusion of alternative realities in their everyday lives makes up for quite a change from the way we traditionally regard such entites as role, status, identity, sociabillity...

3) Which role WILL the internet play for anthropology in 10 years? What do you think? (also regarding anthropology journals)

Hopefully all research will be available through some mega-complex search engine. Also, I hope that the discipline will become better at communicationg its knowledge, both in writing and through sound and imagery. I belive the internet is a vital tool in this respect, if we want anthropological knowledge to have an impact on the world in the future.

4) What kind of experiences (feedback etc) do you have with your website and blog?

My blog(s) are a mix of anthropology and other topics, and it seems to me that it is much easier to get feedback on the stuff I write about which is not "anthropological", that is, mostly, politics. Now my political views is flavoured by my interest in anthropology, of course, so in that respect it gets out there. However, feedback from anthopologists has been limited.

5) Should all articles and papers be free available on the net?

YES, at least those financed through research links,- why should a professor who earns good money on doing research make lots of extra money on writing a book, and then refuse to put it on the web?

Tad McIlwright

Canadian Anthropologist Tad McIlwright has designed his blog with his students in mind. He blogs mainly about aboriginal rights and land title issues in British Columbia, Canada.

1) Which role does the internet play for you as an anthropologist / in your teching?

The internet is invaluable as a research tool. On-line search engines and article databases, like Anthrosource, are extremely important to my research, particularly because I do not live in the same city as my university. I also use internet-based search engines at local archives as a way of preparing for a visit before I have to go -- this saves me time once I get to the archives itself.

I do not use the internet in my teaching directly. In the past few months I have started a blog in part to encourage my students to continue class-room discussions after hours. It has not been overly successful so far, but I expect more students to participate in future semesters. Some of my teaching colleagues offer what we call 'mixed mode' classes where some material is presented in traditional lecture form and other material is designed for students to learn on-line at various internet sites.

I think we will see more of this in the future and although I see the value in on-line research in anthropology. I think that asking students to spend up to half of their weekly lecture time working independently on-line takes away from the class discussions that develop naturally during the course of a lecture. Introductory anthropology courses, in my mind, are best when students and teachers can interact, ask questions, and debate issues ... and this is hard to do if students are on-line.

2) Which role SHOULD the internet play for anthropology as a discipline?

As a source of articles and research materials, the internet is extremely useful. We should work further towards dissemination of anthropological research over the internet. The internet can also become a source of discussion through blogs. I refer you to some of the discussion on savageminds.org over the past few months regarding this issue. (eg. http://savageminds.org/2005/05/24/anthrosource-actually-useful/ or even http://keywords.oxus.net/archives/2005/04/16/flickrology/ )

What are the greatest challenges?

Not sure ... getting people to participate, perhaps. I sense that many anthropologists struggle to find a balance between more office and internet-based time and fieldwork, writing, or other types of research. For me, I hope I never become completely reliant on the internet for my research ... and, frankly, I don't see that happening.

3) Which role WILL the internet play for anthropology in 10 years? What do you think? (also regarding anthropology journals)

I suppose there will be more and more journals on-line and probably more and more blogs. More classes will be taught on-line as well.

4) What kind of experiences (feedback etc) do you have with your website and blog?

I have not had a lot of feedback but experiences have been positive. My students like being able to access handouts and images after class hours. My blog has generated some discussion on a few points. The most positive things to come from my website and blog are simply getting to know or know about a wider circle of (generally) young anthropologists. Without my participation in these discussions, I would not be aware of research going on in parts of the world that are outside of my research areas.

5) Should all articles and papers be free available on the net?

I am torn here ... in general, I'd like to see greater accessibility, but I recognize the costs associated with scanning, website maintenance, etc.

I guess, these costs are much lower than printing and distributing paper-journals?

I see your point ... but my sense is that there continue to be costs associated with electronic journals too. Anthrosource costs libraries too and while the costs may be cheaper than the paper versions, I don't see the subscription costs disappearing altogether, what ever the reason. I'm also not sure that the membership rates for, say, the AAA are dropping because the journals are being distributed on the internet. Perhaps, however, this is a different question than wondering about IF they should be freely available. I'm just not sure that simply because the delivery method has changed that the price should disappear.

Yes, you're right. It's more about principles. Everything costs money. The question is if the public / the state should cover the costs or if knowledge should be treated as a commodity that can be sold on the market in the same way as melk or mobile phones. The devolopment goes in both directions at the moment. Another question relates to which policy serves anthropology / science best.

I suppose that the Norwegian government already pays a lot (in the form of subsidies, etc.) for university research and education. Certainly in Canada, the government already pays a great deal for such work. I don't get the sense that anthropology scholarship is being sold for profit, at least in the form of anthropology manuscripts and journal articles, but I could be very wrong. (Who would buy the stuff?!) In other fields -- chemistry, perhaps -- the commercialization of knowledge might be quite real and lucrative.

(As an aside, the native people I work with often wonder aloud if I am getting rich off them ... it's hard to convince people I'm not, despite the fact that my dissertation research has been partially grant funded and partially self-funded. If I ever write a book, the questions will come up again.)

This, in itself, is a fascinating question and perhaps we should open it up more widely ... I suppose you were intending to do that.

Concerning commercialisation. I thought of all the login-boxes when you try to read journal articles and of the high subscription prices of journals. I'm happy I have a university account, nevertheless I'm only allowed to access a limited number of articles.

Yah ... the logins are crazy ... what always frustrates me is when the article you want is too recent to access ... like when some archives have a waiting period. Oh well, I guess these things are getting sorted out.


These interviews have led to some discussions on Savage Minds, see Talking to Blogging Anthropologists, and What Do They Want From Us? og Face-to-Face

Brigt Dale writes that these debates are

"an excellent example of how online discussions within the discipline creates opportunities for a broader, more dynamic discourse on the subject. Rather than limiting it to a small subscribing audience (in a magazine or a periodical) or to an opulent clique of seminar paricipants in some high prestige university, it now opens for a discussion where people who actually work online can bring their personal and professional experiences on the matter

>> read more

Overview: anthropology blogs


Comment from: Owen Wiltshire [Visitor]  
Owen Wiltshire

I am a grad student working on a thesis very much related to this. I’m exploring the ways anthropologists are making use of new communication tools, and new publishing mediums like blogging, open access journals, and beyond / or how they aren’t.

Blogs are providing the most relevant and interesting source of information, especially in regards to open access and anthropology. I hope I dont run into trouble when my thesis is covered with blog references and links?

Anyways, I just wanted to introduce myself and throw my email out in case others wanted to collaborate on research ideas. I would love to hear more thoughts related to the online anthropology community, and thanks for producing these interviews!

I hope to produce similar interviews and I’ll be sure to share them too. I’m struggling with a blog, which I use for field notes (and I just got the idea from this site today that they can be called “open access” field notes. Thanks for that).

Owen Wiltshire
nodivide.wordpress.com - “Another Anthro Blog”

24/02/08 @ 04:39
Comment from: Jenny Ryan [Visitor]  
Jenny Ryan

Thanks for these great interviews! As a 23-year-old who’s been obsessed with the Internet since adolescence, I am only ever bewildered by the inaccessibility of many journals. However, with the aid of my university affiliation and knack for scouring the web, I always find the information I’m looking for - free.

I’m also a graduate anthropology student, but the price of membership to join the AAA has kept me from joining. Since I can not only find all the information I need for free, but also use the web to network with other researchers (through blogs and Facebook, primarily), I see no reason to pay money I don’t have for the possible benefits membership could provide (I do attend a prestigious American liberal arts university, after all).

I definitely intend on incorporating blog posts- including my own- in the final version of the master’s thesis I’m currently finishing entitled “Webnography: An Ethnography of Online Social Networking". I’ve been keeping a blog for my field notes and literature reviews for the past year, a practice that has really helped me network and share my ideas.

“Open Access” field notes, indeed!
Be well,
Jenny Ryan

15/03/08 @ 18:32

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