What happens to a society when the base of its social, economic and political life changes profoundly? Social anthropologist Kristina Sliavaite of Lund university (Sweden) recently published her dissertation ”From Pioneers to Target Group: Social Change, Ethnicity and Memory in a Lithuanian Nuclear Power Plant Community”, the homepage of the anthropology institute at Lund informs.
The nuclear power plant Ignalina has been the backbone of the town Visaginas in Lithuania. The Russian employees, sent to construct the town and the plant often considered themselves a social elite. But the power plant, the backbone of the community, will close down in 2010.
Sliavaite reminds of us of the social factors of our economy. A job is not only a job:
- Many of the Ignalina employees are facing an uncertain future with the closing of the power plant. Not only their incomes but their identity and social status are under threat. Structural change have also brought their share of social problems, notably, poverty, drug- and alcohol abuse.
>> read the whole story (link updated)
Kristina Sliavaite has previoulsly published two papers on Anthrobase:
(via vrulje) Museums start blogging! It's called Eye Level and is the Smithsonian American Art Museum's blog and according their self-description "the first blog by the Smithsonian and one of just a handful of museum sites in the blogosphere".
Their hope is that their blog "hosts a vital conversation among artists, curators, collectors, and enthusiasts on a broad range of subjects related to American art":
Over the long term, Eye Level will look at both art and museums, offering the kind of close examination that new media affords, in part simply to find out how new media can enhance the museum's role.
Especially interesting from an anthropological point of view:
(...) To cite the old cliché, the eye is the window to the soul. If art is a window to a culture, Eye Level is a way to take it in.
It's no longer news that high-tech companies are deploying ethnographers and anthropologists. The first-ever Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC), organized by ethnographers at Intel and Microsoft was held at Microsoft's campus on November 14-15, as TechnologyReview reports:
One talk examined an ongoing effort by ethnographers to root out organizational problems slowing down a software company's development process. Another examined how bi-lingual, multinational teams could be formed more effectively, while yet another examined how technology affects, and is affected by, the trend toward "great rooms" in private U.S. homes. (...) It was an ethnographer who figured out that Japanese people don't use instant messaging on their PCs, because interruptions are considered impolite.
The conference was "a coming-out party" for ethnography, said Marietta L. Baba, an ethnographer at Michigan State University.
All conference papers are available online! (pdf)
Technology Review interviews anthropologist Mizuko Ito. Ito has studied the use of mobile phones for six years and is editor of a new book "Personal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life". Cell phones are used differently depending partly on the way the technology is rolled out, and partly on the culture of each country. She became interested in studying mobile culture partly because mobile technology use in Japan was being driven by young girls:
It's fairly unusual that teenage girls are seen as technology innovators, so it was a really attractive case for me for a lot of reasons.
In the interview she argues for a kind of culture relativism regarding technological development. You can't really say the United States should feel that they are "behind" Japan when it comes to cell phone technology, because their technology trajectory has been completely different.
Studying Keitai (or ‘Mobile Phones’ in Japanese) (SavageMinds on Ito's book)
How Mobile Phones Conquered Japan (Wired News)
Gabriella Coleman tells on her blog a story of a fellow anthropologist whose data were lost through a hard drive crash. Because of Sony's Digital Right Management he can't recover the data. "This is something that anyone who uses digital technologies for data gathering and recording, should really care about", Coleman writes and asks for help. >> read the whole post
(via Bits and Bytes Interesting story by INTEL-etnographers Tony Salvador and John Sherry (one of them - Sherry - is actually an anthropologist!) on their work in India, Peru and Hungary. They summarize some of their findings after four years circling the world to find out how computers are being used by typical people in different cultures.
One of their main points:
The split between those with and those without access to digital technologies is referred to as the digital divide. But that phrase hides the complexity of the problem, because it focuses on the "having" and the "not having" of technology. Instead, what really matters is the ability to benefit from technology, whether or not that technology is personally owned.
They go on with various examples, among others they show how even the computer illiterate reap the advantages of the Web, made possible by public Internet facilities. The ethnographers remind us of that only about 10 percent of the people on the planet are familiar with the Internet and what it can do.
UPDATE Kerim Friedman comments:
I believe we can better understand the impact of new communications technologies if we emphasize the similarities, rather than just the differences, with older technologies.
An older story from last summer: In a (cryptic) press release, Xerox writes that they have used insights from ethnography in product development:
Employing the same ethnographic methods used to observe the social order on a Polynesian atoll or document the culture of natives in southern Siberia, Xerox Corporation (NYSE: XRX) scientists have injected more human know-how into text mining, the practice of using computer analysis of documents to extract new information. The result is better categorization, with higher-quality, customized results.
In their article Tag it as you see it, Computerworld explains us (in a more understandable way), what Xerox actually has found out: They go for using tags for organizing content - as on flickr and del.icio.us:
The best systems allow a combination of predetermined categories with the ability for the end user to create new tags on the fly and organize them in a way that has meaning to the individual as well as to the organization. Recent research at Xerox Corp. shows how this approach can achieve bottom-line results
The practice of classification by tags is also called Folksonomy. See Wikipedia article on folksonomy and article by Kerim Friedman on How folksonomy websites can be used by anthropologists
We've already heard of the TIF-woman (a new tech-savvy woman), now we read about "mousewives". A recent anthropological study (combined with nationwide polling) by Demos shows the traditional housewife has been transformed into a 'mousewife' as women drive forward the increasing use of computers in the home. John Craig, the report's author, said the advent of high-speed broadband was a crucial breakthrough
- half of all women who go online have moved the home PC into the living room so it can play a central role in family life
- Punishment has also changed: Removing internet privileges for children is becoming commonplace
- The PC is becoming the social hub for gossip with family and friends as well as a means of bargain hunting, without leaving the living room.
>> read the whole study in The Scotsman (link updated)
PS: I don't know how "anthropologically" this study actually has been conducted. Anyhow, I couldn't find any anthropologists among Demos' staff