November 28, 2008

Anthropology made public

In the past couple of years there have been many anthropologists pushing for a new approach to getting anthropological ideas into a more public arena. Many of these have turned toward the internet (blogs, websites, etc) as a primary medium. This includes sites such as Savage Minds, Culture Matters, and Karen Nakumara's Photoethnography. And then there are sites like Michael Shanks' eclectic online project, and Kansas State University's Digital Ethnography Project.

Anthropology is getting out there, albeit slowly and in places where the general public isn't going to notice it as of yet. At least not for the most part. One new project that is aimed at a more public/general audience is the magazine AnthropologyNow. Here is part of the stated mission:

Anthropology Now will make anthropological knowledge accessible to lay readers, and it will therefore enrich knowledge and debate in the public sphere.

The social value of cultural anthropological approaches to contemporary social problems is that they enable an oblique perspective on mainstream common sense. If anthropologists had the opportunity to present received truths, comfortable and taken-for-granted "facts," in a new light, their perspectives would be able to enrich the public sphere and encourage vigorous debate and critical inquiry into foundational assumptions. Cultural anthropology is often stereotyped, exoticized and trivialized in the media. Important controversies over theoretical issues have been labeled "anthropological cannibalism" in recent news articles. The idea that anthropology has theoretical and methodological discussions with scholarly depth is ridiculed and the debates trivialized. Topics such as the lives of the Yanomami or the Ju'\hoansi (to whom cultural anthropology has devoted decades of scholarship) are reduced to a battle of personalities or political interests. Anthropology Now will strive to present equally riveting controversies but informed by scholarly research.

There are some good people on the project...George Marcus, Susan Harding, Don Brenneis, Katherine McCaffrey, among others. Over at Savage Minds there has been some discussion about the magazine and web site, and what people think about it all so far. Some just think it's dull or boring, while others are excited about the possibilities.

I think the stated goals are important. And I really like the overall what is done with it, well, we'll just have to wait and see. Anthropological media does often get stuck into a pretty boring and stale routine, and it's about time that SOMEONE finds a way to break out. I think part of the solution would be mixing sound anthropological content with some good GRAPHIC DESIGN. That would go a long way, in books, magazines, websites, journals, and magazines.

Personally, I think that a magazine like Adbusters could provide a good example of how to mix both graphic and textual content...but maybe that's too far out there for anthropology. I don't think so.

Who knows what will happen, but I think there are some good changes on the horizon--changes to how anthropology is accesses, who can access it, and how it is presented.

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