29 April 2016

What is "sensemaking"? Anthropology in marketing

Quantitative research -- which has long been the market research standard -- can provide insights into broad patterns and customer metrics. While this 'big data' can tell a company a lot about their customers' habits and needs, there are some questions that this approach simply cannot answer. This is where "sensemaking" comes in.

In short, "sensemaking" is how anthropologists approach problem-solving. Applying the kinds of qualitative methods and critically culturally-relative perspective that anthropologists are trained to these questions provides insights into the everyday life experiences and meanings that people use to understand their worlds.

In "An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar…" (Harvard Business Review, 2014) Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen explain how "sensemaking," or approaching a problem from an anthropological perspective, works and can provide companies with market-research solutions. "A growing number of organizations globally have begun to apply sense­making, having recognized that it can help solve some of the toughest business problems, such as finding new growth, winning in new markets, and capitalizing on cultural change." The authors recount how "sensemaking" solved key marketing problems for a major European brewing company, Lego Group, and Coloplast (a Danish medical technology firm). Coloplast found that despite their sophisicated R&D, their "biggest division, the ostomy division, was stagnating, even though the company was investing heavily in innovation and sales." This is when Coloplast decided to take a different approach.
Coloplast recast the question “How do we capture new sources of growth?” as “What is the experience of living with ostomy?” Its managers knew a lot about customer metrics—who bought how much of which products when, and so forth. But they realized they knew less about their customers’ worlds. What was it like to be an ostomy patient? How did it affect your self-image? Your social life? What was a good day, or a bad day?
In a classroom, this article might be useful for talking about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research, for illustrating cultural relativism in action, or for talking about the kinds of things that an anthropological perspective can bring to a workplace.

26 April 2016

Teaching tools via Cultural Anthropology

In case you missed it: Since going open-access Cultural Anthropology has created some really interesting resources, including their Fieldsights and Teaching Tools pages (both listed in the sidebar of this blog under anthro resources). If you're looking for teaching resources online, in class-activities, tips for syllabus design or models for lecture plans, the Teaching Tools blog has some useful stuff.

24 April 2016

Racism in/and Medicine

In The Pain Gap: Why Doctors Offer Less Relief to Black Patients (2016, The Daily Beast), Keith Wailoo (Princeton professor in History and Public Affairs) discusses how the treatment of patients' pain by medical professionals is affected by systemic racism.

This article/ issue would be useful in discussions of how structural violence -- the kind of 'normalized' violence that is often difficult to see -- has concrete effects for those it is directed against. It also speaks to how our understandings of health and how we treat illness is also culturally constructed, and is directly affected by other cultural norms, beliefs, and practices such as North American understandings of racial difference.

You can also check out Wailoo's website where he provides further links to popular media on the how pain (and healthcare) is political.

19 April 2016

Interactive reading and beyond - Creating online consensus (and possibly community) one top highlight at a time

I receive a number of emails everyday from various websites that range from teaching innovations and news about higher education to curator services like Pocket.

One article set aside for me in my Pocket reading list was The Reading Habits of Ultra-Successful People on Medium. In this article, the author argued that highly successful people spend a LOT of time reading and that the purpose of their reading was more for learning and inspiration and less for relaxation or entertainment.

While I found this fascinating (apparently Pocket has my interested well-pegged like an overly-informed ex), what struck me were the options for interactive reading and highlighting options.

As I read about how Warren Buffet reads away 80% of his day or that Bill Gates reads a book a week, I noticed that certain sentences, for example links to other articles, research, surveys were hyperlinked for easy access.

But that's old tech.

If you've read online articles lately you'll notice that there are highlighting options. If you decide to highlight a sentence, a phrase or even a word for example on one of Medium's articles (and I'll just use their articles to explore these interesting options), [readers] can select a word, passage, or paragraph to highlight it. From there you can write a response to your followers, the author of the article, or the public in general.

There is also an option for 'top highlight' which are denoted in the article using an asterisk at the end of a sentence. Medium defines a top highlight as a sentence, phrase or word has been highlighted by a lot of people.

And don't forget about the ways in which you can link these articles to other social media feeds, for example, text shots are a way to integrate the Medium reading experience into your Twitter network. Highlight some text and click on the Twitter bird icon in the highlight toolbar to create a text shot that will be sent to your Twitter account.

Finally, there is an option to privately contact the author of the article with a 'private note' (ingeniously simple name ;). This setting works IF the author has enabled private notes in their settings page, a pop-up editor will appear for you to leave a message for the original author which will not be made public.

What I think might be interesting in a classroom is to ask questions about community-building on the internet, the new ways of sharing information to others, the process and infrastructure of interaction online, and how these features affect knowledge creation. One burning question for me would be: what would a top highlight do for you as a reader that a simple highlight would not?

14 April 2016

Does your Business need an Anthropologist? Why yes I believe it does...

Lisa Earle McLeod, Creator of Noble Purpose in business concept, addressed the question, "Does your Business need an Anthropologist?" in her post in HuffPo today
McLeod's post is a nice and easy introduction as to how anthropology can work for businesses, namely, at the juncture of where organizations and their business (of all kinds) meets up human beings. 

She notes:
Naming and sharing your story enables you to drive your culture and the behaviors of your team.

Humans are hard-wired to make meaning. Our stories tell us who were are, and what our existence means. If you want to create a successful organization, find your story and share it.

This accessible and short article is just the kind that you might share with a non-anthropologist today.

13 April 2016

Interesting Opportunity for those willing to Relocate - Pathways to Prosperity

Looking for a new and exciting adventure?

The Pathways to Prosperity (P2P) exchange program provides relocation travel funding so that students and postdoctoral fellows have opportunities to participate in new research or broaden the scope and breadth of research they already have underway; collect and/or analyze data at another university, at a settlement agency, or at a government department; and take courses at another university while also conducting research there.

The due date for applications is April 18, 2016. By applying to the exchange program, you are giving the P2P permission to circulate your application to interested applicants or hosts. We will facilitate discussions and negotiations between applicants and hosts, with the goal of ensuring that when a successful match is made and funded, there is clear agreement about the duration and responsibilities of both parties.

Why it's okay to say Black

I went to a training last week put on by facilitators from Challenge and Change Consulting entitled "Why can't we say Black?"

The point of this session was to explore and challenge "the notion of colour-blindness through the exploration of stereotype threat assessment, anti-oppressive pedagogies, and culturally relevant and responsive strategies". As participants, we were invited and challenged to use the term Black as it spoke to and attempted to realize the experiences of Black students, faculty, and colleagues. The thought was to prattle on about "not seeing colour" and thinking "I treat everyone the same way" was a quick path to not acknowledging one's own biases, past and contemporary inequalities in society (institutionally, systemically, and systematic prejudice), or attempting to make real change.

I cover this topic in my courses on Reconsidering Race and Oppression (and other such 'light' topics) and try to make my students answer uncomfortable questions (in as comfortable a space as I can create), such as:
1. Are you comfortable using the adjective 'Black'?
2. Are you comfortable using the adjective 'White'? See this link for a brief overview of White and whiteness
3. Can you use colour to describe any other group of individuals? For example, is Brown okay? Why or why not?
4. What colours have been used in the past that are no longer (publicly) acceptable); Why do you think this is the case?

What came out of the aforementioned session was that instructors were hesitant to get involved in such conversations as they felt ill-equipped to handle all the possible answers and outcomes from their students and feared that they'd be doing more harm. The facilitators told us that not addressing such topics when they arose could be more harmful than if you at least tried.

They left us with this advice: while it may be awkward and although you may have to acknowledge a lack of expertise, not saying anything was thought to be tantamount to being a party to such an act. When in doubt as to how well you discussed this topic, have the diversity and equity office come and speak in your next class.

Discussing how racism and inequality might affect your student body, for example, students not wanting to work together in groups with "others", not listening to certain individual's ideas based on their perceived "race", not acknowledging the privilege of being a university student and/or being White, and other such like topics, are MORE important than your content - regardless of what you're teaching.

12 April 2016

Water, democracy, neoliberalism

Sidney Mintz' classic work on sugar illustrated how "following the thing" can tell us about deeper cultural and political issues. Now, Anthropologist Andrea Muehlebach's recent work
"finds water and democracy at odds in Italy, where political elites subverted the will of 95% of voters to set in motion plans to privatize water, and explains how national governments have placed the demands (and profits) of the financial sector above the safety and human rights of its citizens, from Campania to Flint, Michigan." (2016, This Is Hell!)
Her piece in ROAR (2016) underscores larger issues connected to water politics, such as neoliberalism's impact on the Italian commons, democracy, and citizenship. You can also hear her interviewed via This Is Hell! (28 minutes).

How 'Maintainers,' Not 'Innovators,' Make the World Turn

I have been hearing a lot about 'disrupters' and 'innovators' in tech and marketing industries lately, and something about that language has always irked me.

Lee Vinsel (an assistant professor of science and technology at the Stevens Institute of Technology), and the diverse group of scholars, artists, activists and engineers who attended "The Maintainers" (an interdisciplinary conference that took place April 7-9, 2016) point to some of the reasons why. Presenters "discuss how the human-built world is maintained and sustained—so often by unnamed, unseen, and underpaid labor." Papers explore these issues through a wide range of perspectives, including city infrastructure, the internet, gendered labour, and popular culture -- for example, Vinsel's paper on Mary Poppins as "caregiving hero" in mainstream cinema (available for download).
Quick links:

The state of indigenous language and culture in Canada

The Canadian government's program of cultural genocide in residential schools included the erasure of aboriginal languages. In Undoing Linguicide (an hour long audio documentary for CBC Radio's Ideas from the Trenches series), PhD student Lorena Fontaine talks about the fight for the recognition of indigenous language and language rights in Canada.

Interestingly, in two Canadian cities, we also see a recognition and celebration of indigenous traditions and voices in institutional settings:

11 April 2016

Racist Mascots

Alongside all of the excitement and fanfare that accompanied the recent start to the 2016 MLB season (go Jays!), seeing sportscasters (and twitter users) discuss the team in Cleveland reminds me of how Native Mascots Perpetuate Racism Against Indigenous People (HuffPo Canada, 2016).

The National Congress of American Indians' "Proud to Be" campaign seeks to end the era of harmful “Indian” mascots. This site provides useful historical information about the use of harmful, stereotypical and racist caricatures of Native Americans by sporting teams. Similarly, The Native Circle explains How 'Indian' Mascots Oppress with point-by-point counterarguments to the usual reasons fans and 'devil's advocates' give to keeping racist mascots and logos (e.g. "I know Indians who have no problem with "Indian" mascots,"  "It's our 'tradition'," or "This is just 'political correctness' run amok").

To round out this sports-centric discussion of racism against First Nations and provide a bit of commentary from an anthropologist about how we are also implicated in the systemic racism of our societies is this reflective piece by anthropologist Steven E. Nash. In this article (Sapiens, 2016) Nash considers his fandom for Chicago's NHL team, their racist logo, and his role as an anthropologist:
As an anthropologist I understand the power of imagery to shape our perceptions of identity. Representations of American Indians shape the public’s concept of Native America, past and present. Anthropologists are supposed to respect difference, not turn to caricature.
Considering how normal these kinds of racist depictions of North American Indigenous Peoples are in sports iconography, this controversy can provide a useful starting point for thinking about issues of systemic racism and structural violence in the classroom. This issue might also be useful for thinking about issues of identity and representation in media, as Nash writes, "[c]hanging logos and mascots is hard because they become part of individual and collective identities."

See also:

10 April 2016

Making Anthropology Public... Again

8 Awesome Anthropologists Advancing Public Outreach (2016, Forbes)

What's not to love about this headline?! Kristina Killgrove lists off 8 awesome (women) anthropologists whose blogs and work (ranging from bio and forensic to cultural and linguistic anthropology) bring an anthropological perspective to a wide range of issues and a popular audience.

See for instance, Carrie Hersh's relevANTH! or Krystal D’Costa's Anthropology in Practice blog via Scientific American.

06 April 2016

Africa is not a country!

In spite of many students' regular claims in term papers and on tests, anthropology instructors know that Africa is not a county. (To be fair to our students, claiming that Africa is a country is a crime that journalists and politicians in the West regularly commit.)

Over the past few years in my intro classes I have taken the time to discuss this common misnomer/ slip of the pen with my students. For one, it often means that I don't have to write "Africa is not a country!" a dozen times come marking season, but I find that it is also a useful discussion to have when introducing the issues of representation, ethnocentrism/ Eurocentrism, power, and colonialism. In doing this, Kai Krause's True Size of Africa map has been very useful. (I sometimes also like to show this 4 minute clip from The West Wing on the Mercator projection map that most students know.)

Other links:
  • Inspired by both Krause and The West Wing, The True Size of... is an interactive mapping tool that allows users to compare the sizes of any country.
  • Al Jezeera's Reality Check: Africa is not a country (3 October 2015) debunks a slew of stereotypes in just 2 minutes
  • Africa is not a country (The Guardian, 24 January 2014) highlights media prejudice against Africa
  • For those who insist, Africa is a Country is a critical blog whose authors/ artists and editors "deliberately challenge and destabilize received wisdom about the African continent and its people in Western media."

05 April 2016

How Understanding Fans is Changing Television

Susan Kresnicka is a cultural anthropologist who works in the entertainment industry. (Yes, we can do that too!)

Working with Troika ("Hollywood’s leading integrated branding and marketing agency" according to Forbes) as a creative executive in television marketing, Kresnicka says her job is to "encourage our clients to focus less on trend-chasing and more on understanding the broader cultural forces." Like all anthropologists, she does this by bringing a sense of the 'bigger picture' to her work by looking at cultural forces at play -- that is, looking at who audiences or fans of a television show or sports event are, how they watch, and how and why they connect to it.

Understanding how entertainment content is valued by consumers can have "real implications for our businesses, from programming to marketing to corporate social responsibility." Kresnicka's work and the insights of her team into things like 'fandom' are increasingly important in businesses like entertainment, which are rapidly changing through things like online streaming and social media (see our post on Who makes the news?).


04 April 2016

Latest (US) Statistics concerning PhD Job Market across Disciplines

Higher education has released an article today concerning what Scott Jaschik, the author, calls a tightening of the PhD market across all disciplines.

The quick quote at the top of the article reads: As number of new Ph.D.s rises, the percentage of people earning a doctorate without a job waiting for them is up. While all disciplines face the problem, some have particularly high debt levels.

Here are the stats relevant to anthropology and social science in general:

Number of Doctorate Recipients:
Field                           2004              2009              2014
Social Sciences          7,043             7,829             8,657

Percent of Doctorate Recipients with Job or Postdoc Commitments:
Field                            2004              2009              2014
Social Sciences          71.3%             72.9%            68.8%

Debt of New Doctoral Degree Graduates, 2014 (we just lost out to Education):
Field                   Mean Cumulative Debt           % with debt greater than $70,000
Social sciences               $34,999                                               22.6%

03 April 2016

Everyday rituals

There's a reason that Horace Miner's (1956) Body Ritual Among the Nacirema has become a classic text in introduction to anthropology classrooms. It provides a fantastic, immersive introduction to confronting students' ideas about exotic otherness and the power of representation in academic texts (plus, it's always fun to watch students grapple with the realization that the Nacirema are actually...!). It also provides a useful introduction to thinking about another classic concern in anthropology: ritual.

The issue of everyday rituals is also something that Josiah Harrist has addressed in this article for Kill Screen (2016). In this piece, Harrist takes an anthropological approach (citing Victor Turner) to thinking about table top gaming as a form of ritual that players engage as members of a closed cultural group in the context of the game play. Addressing rites of passage and rituals of purification, political power, harvest, and commemorative or calendrical rituals, this short piece offers useful insights for thinking about the role of ritual at multiple levels.

Another useful link for teaching Miner: