26 June 2017

Why We Post: Anthropologists take on Social Media

In response to our posts last week about the presence and role of anthropologists and other academics on social media, I stumbled across the Why We Post, Social Media Through the Eyes of the World website.

From Why We Post website, you can delve deeper into their 15 Discoveries about social media. You can also download their free e-book from UCL Press. These resources are evidence-based, accessible, and use a global perspective to understand social media from various perspectives.

From their publication, How The World Changed Social Media, authors Daniel Miller, Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Tom McDonald, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer and Shriram Venkatraman, define social media as follows (2016, x):

Social media should not be seen primarily as the platforms upon which people post, but rather as the contents that are posted on these platforms. These contents vary considerably from region to region, which is why a comparative study is necessary. The way in which we describe social media in one place should not be understood as a general description of social media: it is rather a regional case. Social media is today a place within which we socialise, not just a means of communication.

Their approach to social media is unique as they propose the following collaborating ideas:
  • Propose a theory of scalable sociality
  • Engage a theory of polymedia
  • Reject the notion that online spaces are separate from 'real life', and
  • Propose a 'theory of attainment' to describe the new capacities of human communication.
Check out this interesting resource (project started in 2016) in the light of anthro everywhere!'s discussion on social media last week or, as a resource to begin discussions of social media, communication, and global context in the classroom.

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22 June 2017

Academics and their Social Media Presence

Thao Nelson from Indiana University wrote an article for Maclean's entitled Dear students, what you post can wreck your life. In this article, Nelson argues that students should think twice about posting any comment on social media that references (1) illegal drugs, sexual posts; (2) incriminating or embarrassing photos or videos; (3) profanity, defamatory or racist comments; (4) politically charged attacks; (5) spelling and grammar issues; or (6) complaining or bad-mouthing. Nelson admonishes:
Would you want a future boss, admissions officer, or blind date to read or see it? If not, don’t post it. If you already have, delete it because social media becomes part of a person’s brand—a brand that can help you or hurt you. If we ask this of our students, what should we be asking ourselves as anthropologists?

Nelson's set of guidelines follow our recent post about The Relationship between Social Justice & Anthropology that included the following sub-texts: (1) What is the connection between anthropology, social justice, and activism? (2) What is the role of anthropologists in the current context of terror and terrorism as it may affect our interlocuters and field sites?

Arguably the most common outlet for activism is social media which raises the next question: What is the role and where are the boundaries for academics who engage as public intellectuals or, are recognized as academics (working for specific institutions that may receive blow back or which are associated with 'said' academic's opinions) in the public sphere?

In Frank Donoghue's article for The Chronicle for Higher Education: #WatchWhatYouSay, after detailing a few high profile cases of academics losing their jobs on account of their posts on social media, Donoghue argues that:
The originators of the concept of academic freedom could not have imagined Facebook, Twitter, or personal blogs. Yet clearly the time has come to recognize the impact of social media on academic freedom — and the bottom line seems to be that it has created an environment in which it is increasingly difficult to differentiate private communication from public speech and to parse how that increasingly blurred line affects a professor’s protection under academic freedom. Those cases, which are far from simple, underscore the fact that professors’ audiences now extend far beyond those who attend lectures and read scholarly articles.
In 2015, Elizabeth Raymer wrote an article 'Faculty in Canada may not need rules for using social media, observers say' for University Affairs which argued that Canada's social media context is different from academics in the U.S.. Raymer interviewed academics SFU’s School of Communication including Peter Chow-White who argued that,
"But social media guidelines are more about public behaviour", (...) adding that an assumed part of professional practice is not saying things that are inappropriate. “I’ve heard of social media guidelines for athletes at universities,” said Dr. Chow-White, "but when you’re in the business of ideas, the way we are, that’s your currency. The benefit you can bring to society is an open exchange of ideas."
Returning to the growing support for AltMetrics, are academics prepared? Has there been a shift since Raymer's 2015 article where Chow-White was also quoted as saying: (I'm) not sure professors necessarily need guidelines. We publish on a regular basis; if we can write articles and books … we probably don’t need to be told how to write a 140-character tweet.

We want to hear from you (on social media):
  1. Are you comfortable tweeting, blogging, and/or vlogging in the absence of a peer review process (that would accompany the articles and books that Chow-White describes)?
  2. Do you think Canadian academics require social media guidelines? Note: some Canadian universities or departments within universities have already adopted such guidelines.
  3. In 2017, is there a distinction between personal and professional social media presence?  
Tweet us @anthrolens

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19 June 2017

The Relationship between Social Justice & Anthropology

2017 on a whole has been a deadly year. This post was spurred by the terrorist attacks that we've seen in Western media but on a whole, many people - directly involved in conflict or not - have lost their lives or have been hurt by those labelled as terrorists. For a list of global terrorist incidents (which include those incidents not featured in North American media), you can follow this link.

The relationship between social justice and anthropology has been a topic of scholarly discussion and division within the anthropological community.

As scientists, anthropologists of the past were told to remain as neutral observers in the belief that their presence, if minimized, would not affect the goings-on around them. Yet, anthropologists have long since realized that their presence in the field and with their interlocutors impacts their work. Anthropologists themselves are instruments by which data are collected; as such, we necessarily influence and affect our surroundings and our research.

In addition to this scientific perspective, many anthropologists have been involved with issues of social justice and universal human rights as these topics were and are quite often the fodder for anthropological investigation (i.e. what sparked our research questions and interest). For example, in Deeb and Winegar's dissection of the outcome of the American Anthropological Association vote to boycott Israeli institutions on Savage Minds, they write:
Many anthropologists think that their discipline champions (or should champion) the voices and perspectives of the marginalized, yet some of its practitioners have colluded with colonial and state power. Anthropology has become a heavily feminized discipline since the second wave feminist movement and attracts many non-elite scholars, yet it remains largely white, like academia in general. Anthropology is the most resolutely international of the social sciences in its breadth of research sites and privileging of fieldwork done “elsewhere,” yet anthropologists based in the U.S. mainly cite their colleagues working in U.S. institutions. And anthropologists frequently identify as politically left leaning and critical of capitalism, yet continue to work in increasingly corporatized university environments.
Important themes in this discussion are anthropologists and their role in activism. In a recent discussion, Haley Bryant and Emily Cain provide an Introduction to “Ethnographer as Activist” where they "grapple with ethnography and advocacy in the field". In this piece, the authors discuss ethnography and activism through four lenses: audience, communication, visibility, and care.

When thinking about anthropology being everywhere in the context of recent global events and the increase of media coverage about terror and terrorism in North America and the world, it is at this point that the relationship between social justice, resistance, and the impact of anthropologists in everyday life is a very important discussion to continue.

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15 June 2017

An Anthropologist In Situ: Canadian Engineering Education Association 2017 Conference

As mentioned in our previous blog post, I recently spoke about the potential of bringing anthropological ethics into Engineering classrooms (as per my current teaching role).

I was accepted to speak at the CEEA conference which had Innovation and Diversity in Engineering Education as its theme.

As part of a special symposium on diversity, I wrote a paper on the role of team work workshops in developing a tolerance for diversity and self-reflection.

Below is the paper abstract:
In their quest to find work-ready graduates, employers are increasingly prioritizing graduates with so-called transferable skills. These transferable skills include critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communication skills, and the ability to work in diverse teams. With the plethora of engineering education literature on the topic of developing undergraduates’ teamwork abilities, there are numerous suggestions and little consensus on the best way to develop these skills in engineering classrooms. This paper adds to this literature and provides an overview of group work workshops for first-year undergraduates. The hope for these workshops was to better equip students for future group work activities by providing them easy-to-remember teamwork tools that were first learned and practiced in low-stakes workshop environments. Following their participation in these workshops, students participated in focus groups and feedback demonstrated an appreciation for these workshops as well as the opportunity to self-reflect on their role as a team member. Further, there appeared to be a shift in the awareness and tolerance of the diversity found among group members, which demonstrates a potential area for further investigation. The authors conclude with a call for more research in order to better understand the role of teamwork as a means for developing tolerance toward diversity among first-year undergraduate students. 

Important to Monday's post, these workshops incorporated:
  • The importance of using a holistic perspective to understand how all the parts of Engineering students' come and work together. 
  • Self-reflection to understand the power and privilege of their role and how that role is perceived with the community.
Quick links and further reading:

12 June 2017

Anthropological Ethics Outside Anthropology Classrooms

In line with Monday's post on alt-ac careers for anthropologists, I wanted to further explore the role of Anthropology (its knowledge, methods, approach, etc.) outside its home discipline. If you follow the blog, you'll know that Rhiannon and I attended the most recent Annual Conference of the Canadian Anthropology Society. We got too caught up in blogging and tweeting about the release of our joint article and we were missed out writing about our presentations.

In my paper, I reflected on the ways in which the anthropological lens could illuminate ideas and meanings between different academic disciplines and broader publics. To do this, I asked, how does my current program (McMaster's Bachelor of Technology Program) prepare its students to work with community members (as supposedly work-ready graduates in the Faculty of Engineering)?

This struck me as an interesting topic because I believed there to be an opportunity to create a shared language around ethics and ethical conduct in classrooms of anthropology and engineering. One which focused on context and seeking representative perspectives.

I'm interested to learn how instructors, students, and professionals who advise the curriculum teach and learn about ethics in engineering classrooms.


I was not the first person to look at the application of anthropological ethics in other disciplines, let alone Engineering. Mustafa Babiker compared engineering & anthropological codes in 2011. Unfortunately, his conference presentation is no longer available online; however, here are my notes outlining his comparison:
  • Babiker compared anthropological ethical codes of conduct (AAA 1998 version of the code of ethics & Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth 1999) to engineering codes (US Society of Professional Engineers and International Federation of Consulting Engineers) 
  • He found that these codes originated through different motivations – for engineering it was a reaction to disasters and scandals versus anthropology – reaction to work during imperialism and issues of deception (among other things)
  • Regarding avoidance of harm: (1) Engineering codes focused on avoiding harm through physical development and not data collection; (2) anthropological codes concerned with effects of knowledge collection and dissemination or data misuse
  • Regarding informed consent: Informed consent was all but absent in the Engineering code. Further, lack of awareness concerning unequal impact(s) of their work against vulnerable peoples, important especially when projects call for public consultation
  • Regarding confidentiality: Babiker found evidence of the differences between accountability to stakeholders; Anthropologists often prioritize (theoretically/ideally) rights of the marginalized whereas Engineers prioritize many stakeholders (clients, professional engineers, and the public good). The definition of the public good includes descriptors such as humanity’s cultural, historical and archaeological heritage; health and well being of current and future generations, environment.
  • Similar to codes found on our PEO (Professional Engineers of Ontario – licencing body where I work) in which a practitioner is called to “regard the practitioner's duty to public welfare as paramount” (Code of Ethics 2013)   
Babiker wrote about the important similarities and difference between codes as an opportunity to integrate codes and practices.

In an educational setting -- where by we might prepare future engineering students for ethical challenges in the workplace -- I argued that those teaching ethics might also be interested to add the following to Babiker’s list:
  • The importance of using a holistic perspective to understand how one's work may impact the greater community 
  • It is important to consider as well, how some people might be uniquely and/or adversely affected due to their social location or historic inequalities and systemic exclusion (or inclusion). I suggested that engineering students do not receive training on systemic inequality couched in terms of social justice or learn how systems thinking as it applies to human experiences, more often machines.
  • Self-reflection to understand the power and privilege of their role and how that role is perceived with the community.
  • I asked about the potential role engineers could play in seeking out, what anthropologists see as “representative and representational voices” of a community. Asking who is not here, what voices have we not yet heard from, in public consultation
  • I also thought engineers could question one’s relationship with that community, what is the legacy of engineering work beyond a professional code of conduct? This opens up questions of advocacy and answering the question: why and for whom when participating as a consultant.
I've just come back from my first Engineering Conference. I will write more about the paper I gave here, in the next post.

Quick links and further reading:

08 June 2017

2017: An Ethnographic Renaissance?

I recently read an interview between Smithsonian's Steven Beschloss and sociologist Matthew Desmond. This article detailed Desmond's fieldwork in a trailer park and a rooming house in Milwaukee between 2008 and 2009. There, he conducted fieldwork with eight families and two landlords and, in the words of Beschloss, "captur[ed] how the toxic mix of extreme poverty and economic exploitation can leave individuals unable to keep a roof over their heads."

This article is a series of questions and answers by Desmond whose new book Evicted is recently published. In one question particular to ethnography, Beschloss asks:

What about [...] ethnographies [that provide] not only insights but were part of a progressive tradition to influence social problems?

Desmond responds (this is a selection here):
"If I get down onto the ground with this problem, try and see it as closely as I could and write about it with complexity and humanity, maybe that would make a difference in and of itself.  I am heartened by the fact that we have this wonderful tradition of ethnography and in-depth journalism that’s focused on these moral questions and made a difference."

How accessible is the 'wonderful tradition of ethnography' AND in-depth journalism? Are these supposed to be read as one in the same? Something of a very similar tradition? Is this too traditionalist of a perspective (asking oneself...but is your method informed by ethnographic theory?!?!)?

Deepa S. Reddy, Ph.D. wrote about Ethnography (is) Everywhere! in 2013. Four years ago, Reddy wrote that "ethnography seem[ed] to have acquired a new cachet in the last decade."

She goes on to pose a problem that was originally behind Desmond's answer:
"The trouble is that ethnography has also become industry jargon, used to describe quite a range of qualitative consumer research approaches, often diluting ethnography to simply another way to generate a “real-world understanding” of consumers. The other trouble is that ethnography, classically conceived and thoroughly executed, requires some fairly intensive field studies. Its focus is on studying people and practices in their native contexts. But does this mean that those who cannot immediately commence extensive field studies are stuck at the shallow end of research? Not necessarily."
Reddy then goes on to list a number of ways in which we can draw from ethnographic approaches in a deep (as opposed to shallow) way. Follow the link below to see Reddy's list.

Quick links and further reading:


05 June 2017

#AltAc Anthropology Careers - The draw of experiential design firms

Paul Heartly, a Toronto native and anthropologist, gave unique insight into his hiring PhDs for an 'alternative' career.

In a 2015 interview for Alt-Ac Advisor, Heartly stated: it is interesting how many post-ac/alt-ac job seekers I talk to have struggled just getting the courage up to inquire about the job. The willingness to try may be the single most important characteristic of a successful post-ac/alt-ac job search.

Idea Couture is an international experience design firm. Idea Couture may be unique among other market and experience research organizations for its focus on hiring anthropology PhD graduates as market researchers.

Having worked as a contractor for this firm in the past, one of the most interesting outcomes was to see how applied anthropologist used and packaged anthropological knowledge, theory, methods, and their approach into the field of market and experiential research. It was also insightful to learn how we as anthropologists worked to gain deep understanding of situations, people, and the greater context despite our truncated time in 'the field'. I think I was most shocked to see anthropological and ethnographic concepts that I learned long ago weave their way into client documents.

Does the existence of Idea Couture, and research firms like it, signal an ever growing awareness of anthropologists practical skills? What's stopping you from stepping out into Alt-Ac territory?

Quick links and further reading:

01 June 2017

More on racist mascots

In my house, we are already two months into baseball season -- which also means the resurgence of critical blogs, news articles and discussions about racist mascots. We posted last year about Racist Mascots (11 April 2016), and this post adds to that earlier and ongoing discussion.

Native Mascots Perpetuate Racism Against Indigenous People
Last April as the Toronto Blue Jays battled through the American League Championship Series, Cleveland's team arrived in Toronto for Game 3 of the series amidst a legal challenge to ban the use of that team's racist mascot and name. Where many of the Cleveland fans interviewed by Canadian media feel that "the team's nickname and logo are not offensive and should not be changed," well-known Indigenous architect, activist, and officer of the Order of Canada Douglas Cardinal filed an injunction against the team's name and mascot as offensive and discriminatory. Douglas argued
that the logo reflects stereotypes and misunderstandings about indigenous cultures, lumping diverse groups of First Nations into one offensive, homogenous cartoon.
“It’s much deeper and more profound than a logo being offensive. It’s really an indicator of why that relationship (between First Nations peoples and society at large) is so flawed. Because there’s this lack of recognition of what the true conditions of native peoples have been over the last 500 years.”
The last-minute injunction was overturned by the Superior Court and Cleveland proceeded to wear their racism on their sleeves throughout the series.

The challenge to ban the broadcast of the name and mascot was successful, however, in raising this discussion again in mainstream media, and highlighting ways in which people in relative positions of power are already acknowledging the connections between this imagery and institutional racism against Indigenous peoples. For instance, much was made of how the long-time radio announcer for the Jays, Jerry Howarth, stopped calling Cleveland and Atlanta by their offensive team names since a 1992 letter from an Indigenous fan. This announcer has also made a concerted effort to stop using "terms such as tomahawk chop and powwow on the mound." Local teams with similarly offensive team names or mascots have also recently been called upon to change because of how these symbols perpetuate racism in the everyday.

Indigenous artists are also using these kinds of moments to speak back to and challenge these sports symbols of institutional racism. See for instance, Artists Respond to Cleveland Team’s Racist Logo (Canadian Art) or Culturally Appropriate Chicago Blackhawks Logo by First Nations Artist Goes Viral (Indian Country Today).

In the classroom, these team names and symbols provide fruitful examples for discussing how banal imagery comes to support the status quo of institutionalized racism, as well as more general questions of representation, cultural change and the invention of tradition.

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