February 27, 2011

Anthropological Sundays #2: From Pith Helmets to Blogs

For many people, the word "anthropologist" conjures up wonderfully arcane and colonialist images of some guy wandering around among "native" people, maybe wearing a pith helmet, and sipping some tea inside a canvas tent. Taking notes. Making deep observations about cultures, rituals, and other neat stuff. Something like that. Hey, I have no idea how anthropology became associated with the pith helmet wearing colonialist type (scroll down to the part on social and cultural anthropology). Anyway, what can you do? Some stereotypes have tremendous resiliency...I guess when some of the most famous 20th century practitioners actually did dress the part these images tend to stick. So it goes. These days, things are a bit different. You're just as likely to meet an anthropologist who works in Baluchistan as you are one who studies the social meanings and experiences of Second Life. Ya, times change.

The funny thing is that while anthropologists are famous for venturing into remote places to study supposedly distant and unknown people (even if that wasn't really always the case), and even though they like to tell stories about all of the strange foods and behaviors that have been privy to, they can be a pretty conservative bunch when to comes to exploring certain "new" horizons. So what am I talking about? I'm talking about that exotic territory known as the Internet. For some reason, anthropologists have been a bit slow to find their way into the vastness that is the internet. For the most part, as I talked about last week, anthropologists tend to stick to good old fashioned journal articles, books, and academic conferences when it comes to talking about what it is they actually do these days. No wonder so many people don't really know what they're up to. Fortunately, a good number of anthropologists are stepping outside of the usual boundaries, and I think this is a good move. This post is about some of my favorite anthropologists and anthropology-related online "places."

The first one, and probably one of the most well known (at least among other anthros) is Savage Minds. It's also one of the older and more established anthropological group blogs out there. The site is run by collection of anthro profs and some grad students, and it's been around for several years now. SM is a good combination of posts that are geared toward a wider audiences and others that speak to more academic concerns. There are posts that cover everything from the recent events in Wisconsin to the "intersection of anthropology and comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, animation, and other manner of popular drawn art."

Neuroanthropology, which is run by Daniel Lende and Greg Downey, is another favorite site. Here is the site's bio:
Neuroanthropology. Sometimes it’s straight-up neuroscience, sometimes it’s all anthropology, most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle. Greg is the cultural guy, now interested in bio stuff. Daniel is the bio guy, now interested in cultural stuff. Or, to say it differently, Greg does capoiera and mixed martial arts and other sports. Daniel does alcohol and drugs. Two very different styles of recreation.
What impresses me most about Neuroanthropology is the sheer amount of work these guys do--they are always posting all kinds of good stuff. They write about a fascinating part of anthropology, which explores the boundaries between culture and neurobiology. They also write a lot about public anthropology, publishing, and finding ways to rethink how anthropologists communicate with wider audiences. Another excellent part of this site is the weekly roundups that Lende puts together (every Wednesday--here's the latest).

Zero Anthropology, headed up by Max Forte, is where you can go for some politically-charged anthropology. The writers of this site, Forte included, aren't shy about expressing their take on numerous geopolitical events. This is not a version of anthropology that pretends to hide behind an illusion of "objectivity," that's for sure. For some, this might be a bit uncomfortable, while for others this is exactly what is in order. If anything, Zero Anthropology goes to show that there are certainly competing claims about what it is that anthropology is, and should be, all about. The last several years the site has focused heavily on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, with the assistance of writers like John Stanton, the debates and politics of social scientists' involvement in the Human Terrain Systems project. If you were wondering where the political legacy of Eric Wolf landed, it might be here. For those of you who have never heard of this site, here is a nice little post that can catch you up on the entire year of 2010. That was easy.

Then there are my favorite archaeological blogs/sites. Colleen Morgan runs Middle Savagery, which is a fantastic site. She is always up to something fascinating, is a great photographer, and has a pretty unique way of presenting her work and ideas. Morgan's posts cover a lot of ground, that's for sure, and I never get tired of reading her work. In fact, every time I check out her site I get far too many inspirations and ideas...especially when I am supposed to be keeping myself focused on graduate school. If I had to pick one site that points the way for the ways in which blogs and other online media can be used to communicate and explore anthropology/archaeology, I think Colleen's site would be numero uno. Ya, that's how anthropology should look today. A long way from my intro to anthropology textbook, which cost me about 55 bucks and wasn't even in color. Another favorite archaeological blog is Johan Normark's Archaeological Haecceities, where you can get a good dose of theoretical archaeology AND 2012 debunking. Oh, and don't forget to check out the work of one of my all time favorite archaeologists, Michael Shanks. Take some time to look around his site...Shanks does some pretty cool work (not the standard archaeological fare by any means).

Ok, one last site before this post gets waaaaay too long: John Postill's media/anthropology. As someone who started as a photographer before going back to school to study anthropology, I have always been really interested in the borders between anthropology and media. There's certainly a lot of common ground between the two--and the histories go way back. As soon as cameras were invented, anthropologists and archaeologists were using them in fieldwork. Postill's site is one of my new favorites, precisely because of the ways in which he explores media through an anthropological lends. Check out his post "Why twitter is not to be ridiculed," or this one about social media and the uprisings in Egypt. This is just the kind of anthropology that I want to see more of.

Ok, I need to wrap this up, because I am still two chapters away from finishing a book that needs to be done ASAP (it's a good one though: Greg Grandin's The Last Colonial Massacre. Yet another book about Latin American history that makes it all too clear that the US never really learned too many lessons about supporting autocratic, repressive regimes...but that's for another time). If you've made it this far, you might be close to a codeine-esque stupor,* so I'll call it quits.

*Yes, I stole that from William T. Vollmann's intro to The Atlas. I steal all the time, and you can't stop me.

PS: A modified version of this post (with a poll) is cross-posted here.

1 comment:

ai said...

Great overview - thanks for it. I've added a couple of others here: http://blog.uvm.edu/aivakhiv/2011/03/06/the-anthropoloblogosphere/