27 March 2017

What's in a Word? The Importance of Recognizing the Etymology of Words

There have been a number of interesting posts lately about the 'unsavory' history of some everyday words and phrases in a growing discourse which argues that the use of slurs and unsavory language needs to be protected as one's right to freedom of speech.

In perusing social media of late, it's not hard to see how language has changed and the use of racialized, prejudiced, or derogatory language is becoming more common place (for example, see Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui's recent article in the National Observer entitled You know there’s a problem when you get 50,000 anti-Muslim emails in your inbox).

In a recent post, Adeshina Emmanuel explores the background of few phrases that don't typically show up in such reviews, including: No can do, uppity, long time no see, and peanut gallery.

Linguistic Anthropologist Sarah Shulist from MacEwan University has also recently pointed out the issue with arguing for the continued right to use these unsavory words by those in privilege. She argues that negative meanings are particularly potent and their meanings enhanced (read: prioritized, highlighted, understood, or run through conversations as an undercurrent) through their continued use (as slurs, through discussion or analysis...which she admits is what she's doing in her post) in discussion.

As for whether or not the use of slurs should continue under the guise of arguments defending free speech, she writes:
The loss of a few (or even a lot of) words from my repertoire doesn’t really hinder my communicative creativity all that much – it limits me verbally about to the same degree that not being allowed to hit people limits my range of acceptable arm motions. The fact that we strive for ideologies of maximal offensiveness allowed is yet another ugly feature of a structurally racist society.

23 March 2017

Bullshit! Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data Syllabus

We came across this syllabus the other day and can think of many ways in which these open access materials and their analysis can be used in anthropology classrooms, communication skills courses, as well as numerous other applications.

On their homepage, the authors write:

The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. 

The authors identify the following learning objectives:

After taking the course, you should be able to:

  • Remain vigilant for bullshit contaminating your information diet.
  • Recognize said bullshit whenever and wherever you encounter it.
  • Figure out for yourself precisely why a particular bit of bullshit is bullshit.
  • Provide a statistician or fellow scientist with a technical explanation of why a claim is bullshit.
  • Provide your crystals-and-homeopathy aunt or casually racist uncle with an accessible and persuasive explanation of why a claim is bullshit.

Some of the highlights include:

  1. Robert Matthews (2000) Storks deliver babies (p=0.008). Teaching Statistics 22:36-38
  2. The Principle of Proportional Ink 
  3. How do you know a paper is legit?  
  4. Musicians and Mortality 
These are just a few of the many gems found in this treasure trove developed by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West from the University of Washington.

All open access resources. The latest in 'personal education'.

Quick Links: 

Anthro Everywhere!'s:

20 March 2017

Book Report Entry #2: Beyond Informants

In continuation from our coverage of Luis A. Vivianco's Field Notes: A Guided Journal for Doing Anthropology, he provides a practical appraisal of fieldwork in his second chapter.

In one of his Fieldwork Tips, Vivianco describes the terminology used to identify the people who anthropologists conduct research with. He reminds us that fieldworkers actively select and synthesize with those individuals what actual details will become data, in a process that Fabian recognized was neither objective or subjective but intersubjective, which refers to the joint creation of comprehension and meaning between a fieldworker and the subjects of his or her research.

Below is a list of terms that Vivianco uses to point to the relationship between the researcher and participant:
  1. Interlocutor - speaks to an ongoing conversation between an ethnographer and the individuals involved with their research 
  2. Collaborator - highlights an attempt to find equity between participant and researcher
  3. Consultants - evokes a feeling of seeking out and working with participants as 'experts'
  4. Informant - potential negative associations on account of their use in criminal and legalistic connotation (e.g. police informant)
It's important to realize the position of anthropologists (historically and currently) in relation to their participants - I would argue that this is unique to anthropology within the social science disciplines.

In 2015, Kristina from the cool Anthropology, or so we seem to think blog published a post about the differences between Anthropology and SociologyIn this post, she describes the similarities between anthropological and sociological studies, which is no small feat. Through comparison, the author is forced to frame these disciplines as binary opposites in order to account for their historical impressions; yet, she teases out the important and growing cross-over work by researchers in each of these fields.

An example of this teasing out process is found in understanding the location of a typical field site, which she writes as: Both Anthropology and Sociology have transformed over the last 100 years or so, but their roots are still present in the disciplines today. Sociological studies are most often based in Western or industrialized societies, while anthropological studies have more traditionally been based in non-Western societies. While many, many anthropologists work in Western societies and communities now, this early difference is still significant. 

Kristina doesn't write about the position of researcher in relation to the participant in her post; however, one might argue that anthropologists typically prioritize the voices of their research participants in the write up, and analysis, of their work as is pointed out by Vivianco in his fieldwork tip titled Beyond "Informants"? While there are certainly sociologists who understand their research relationships in the same way, this distinction could be identified as something unique to our field.

Quick links and further reading: