30 March 2017

Book Report Entry #3: Taking Notes from Field notes: A Guided Journal for Doing Anthropology

In our continued feature of Fieldnotes: A 'guided journal' for doing anthropology by Luis A. Vivanco, we're delving into his fourth chapter on Taking Notes in his Doing Fieldwork section of the book.

Vivianco documents the principles of good note taking which he's adapted and modified from Emerson et al. 1995. Some of these principles include:
  1. Show, don't tell or summarize events and experiences
  2. Avoid generalizing or impressionistic words
  3. Avoid projections of emotions
  4. Keep a running list of questions
Vivianco's list includes other important principles and reminds me of another blog post I read a while back on Writing Live Fieldnotes by Tricia Wang.

Wang defines live fieldnoting as: 
a blog post that is intended to provide an on-location and synchronous visual and textual coverage of an instance from the ethnographer’s fieldwork. The live fieldnote is created with a image sharing app on a mobile phone that is then shared to other social networking services. Images are accompanied by a description of the image and can also include a brief analysis of what the interaction means to the participants in the image and/or to the ethnographer. 
As part of this process, Wang highlights how these materials are accessible on the internet (although, this may be an issue in certain countries where participants can't reach some social media sites), time stamped and include locating data. Wang argues that live fieldnoting combines what she calls
two activities that are central to ethnographic research: 
  1. the ethnographer’s participation in a social world
  2. the ethnographer’s written account of the world through her/his participation. 
Live fieldnotes are typically comprised of a one to five sentences. The accumulation of many live fieldnotes works towards producing a “thick description” along with other long form fieldnotes.  Live fieldnotes are not intended to replace the entire fieldnote writing process, rather it is just one of many ways notes can be jotted down for reflection at a later point in time.
Both authors of this blog kept blogs during their PhD research (see for example, When in doubt... Map the city and make kinship charts. An Anthropologist in Amsterdam) yet, this live field notes is something different, perhaps something more 'raw'. 

To bring this discussion back to Vivianco, he writes of the importance of converting "raw" to "cooked" fieldnotes. He writes that this process of returning to the scene and adding details missing in the first "raw" take helps create a more holistic picture, what Wang (from Clifford Geertz) identifies as thick description.

**Jennifer, the author of this post, is reviewing this book from front to back; however, as she flipped through the text after having completed the first draft of this post, she came across Vivianco's own reference to Wang's work in his chapter on 'Going Digital'. Wang's post on ethnographymatters.net definitely has some fans...**

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Other posts from anthro averywhere!'s ongoing Book Report on Vivanco's Field Notes:

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.

Quick links and further reading:

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 and further reading:

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:

17 March 2017

Special Friday Edition: The Dutch Election, Domino Effects and Wilders' Patriotic Spring

Both contributing bloggers on this website completed their PhD research in the Netherlands. Why? We were drawn to understand the influence of nationalistic Dutch politicians on the everyday lives of ordinary Dutch residents. The platforms and rhetoric of these nationalistic politicians sought to re-define and identify what it meant to be 'Dutch' in an age of (seeming) globalization.

In a recent chapter (Long 2016) for Loring and Ramanathan's Language of citizenship and immigration: policies, pedagogies, and discourses, I introduced the Dutch context as follows:
Following the deaths of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and film director Theo van Gogh in 2004, the Netherlands generated its own brand of Islamophobia that dominated the European landscape, especially when it was led by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politician, Geert Wilders. Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) received significant popular support and became one of three ruling political parties in a Dutch coalition government between 2010 and 2012. Although this coalition dissolved, the PVV is currently ranked at its highest popularity according to national opinion polls (Bolt, 2013). Wilders most recent platform (the platform he ran on and secured the second largest number of seats with) included breaking ties with the European Union and securing social supports for older generations, in addition to his long-standing platform concerning the decrease in non-western migration and a renewed interest in Dutch national identity (Party for Freedom, 2012).
In a recent  article (Mosher 2015) for a special issue in the Journal of Social Science Education, Rhiannon wrote:
Muslims especially have been positioned in the context of the Netherlands as having dramatically different – even incommensurable – cultural, historical, and political values and norms than the national majority (cf. Long, in this issue; Silverstein, 2005; Duyvendak, 2011; Geschiere, 2009; Stoler, 1995). The challenges for the civil enculturation of non-Western adult newcomers have contributed to the consensus across all sections of mainstream Dutch society that the Dutch government is at least partially to blame for the failure of many newcomers to demonstrate an appropriate fit through language and social skills acquisition. At the same time, support for cultural diversity (including religious diversity) has come under increasing scrutiny.
The context for our original doctoral research seems not to have significantly changed since 2009-2010 when we conducted our research. Wilders' warnings against what he calls "the Islamification of Western Culture" had received attention from national and international audiences in the past; however, his (rather monotonous) platform and bid for the top spot in this national election received even more attention because journalists likened him to the divisive politics of the US President. Indeed, international media called Wilders the Dutch Donald Trump, on account of Wilders' "call to Make the Netherlands great again (1), (...) for his increasingly outrageous positions, and his reliance on social media to circumvent the press and speak directly to the people" (Wildman, Vox, 15 March 2017)

Wildman quotes Dr. Sarah de Lange from the University of Amsterdam, who argues that Wilders is different from Trump because:
  1. He's more ideological with a better understanding of society
  2. He's more rational and calculated with a focus on strategy
  3. He's more interested in exerting influence than gaining absolute power
And I would agree - the racism, ill-will, ill-feelings, and questioning that surged through these elections does not dissipate with the fanfare of election night. Instead, this energy digs roots and finds its way into everyday interactions and residents' relationships.

Much of the news coverage of Wilders' defeat has the hallmarks of the 'good triumphed (no pun intended) over evil' story. Yet, Martijn de Koning (on his blog: Closer, March 16, 2017) has argued that
the Dutch did not stop the domino effect of racist populism: the mainstream parties have taken over the racist rhetoric that was the result of the populists strategy of politicizing Islam, integration and immigration. And worse, the rhetoric of the domino effect [which he defines as the outcome of the Dutch elections and its possible influence (i.e. the domino effect) on other racist populist parties running in the French and German elections and set after Brexit and Trump’s election victory] reproduces the invisibility of the racist mainstream as well as Dutch nationalism by directing our attention to Trump’s US and Brexit as symbols of what went wrong and the Netherlands as a bulwark against what PM Rutte has called the ‘wrong kind of populists‘.
While Wilders' party didn't win top place, his form of politics and his bid for influence, rather than power, did triumph. What I haven't heard many scholars discuss however, is Wilders' idea of the Patriotic Spring.

In late 2016, Wilders first used the term "Patriotic Spring" to describe Donald Trump's win and England's vote to leave the European Union. Wilders described this movement as "historic", "a revolution" and tweeted #MakeTheNetherandsGreatAgain for the purpose of taking back the Netherlands.

I think this term would prove to be an important term to unpack in order to more fully understand the role of continued colonialism in Wilders' political ideology and platform.

Alhassan (N.d.) argues that the term “Arab Spring” is 
not a new one and was originally applied to describe a prescient “democratic domino effect” that was expected to spread its “seeds” across MENA after the elections in Iraq in 2005. “Arab Spring” and the metaphor of spring as a time of “renewal” also historically defined “liberal reform” movements that were either short-lived or quickly crushed (like the “Prague Spring” of 1968 that was put down by the USSR).
This continuation of the colonial framework that Alhassan writes about was recently articulated in Sarah Salem's post (thanks to de Koning for pointing out this blog and post) about the Dutch context.

Salem writes about the continued colonial framework that positions racialized identity at the center of Dutch politics and identity-making. She argues that "the Dutch self is a racialized self. This is not new, but as old as the Netherlands itself." Check out her blog post at the link above for a more detailed overview.

In sum, I think Wilders' use of the term Patriotic Spring is an example of a westernized misunderstanding, what Alhassan has argued as an Orientialist view, of the (dignity) revolutions in MENA since 2005. It is also an attempt however to appropriate not only the populist but perhaps includes an undercurrent of radicalism, dangerousness, and revolution by and for the people. In much of Wilders' dialogue, I see a desire to spark his followers into action. This incendiary approach envelopes a narrative of the Wild- (and Arab) East, a play on words here from the Wild West. If this is the case, Wilders' use of the "Patriotic Spring" works not only to erase its original meaning as experienced by those in MENA, but also continues to build on and appropriate the term as used by Orientalists and conservatives in "the West". It's only difference perhaps is its play on the radicalism and populism that this term evokes.

Note from both Rhiannon and Jenn:
We are interested to see how these relationships continue to unfold. We welcome your thoughts on this (and any other) posts - to get in touch, you can email or tweet at us (see our contact information on the blog).

End Notes
(1) Rhiannon made a great point about this hashtag: It's important to recognize the use of the English language in Wilders' tag, which plays interestingly into the broader language politics and questions of acceptably cultural difference in the Netherlands in a much more banal way.

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16 March 2017

Fieldwork: preparing for the good, bad, and the ugly

From Anthropology Matters come this article by Amy Pollard: "Field of screams: difficulty and ethnographic fieldwork."

As explained in the abstract, many novice field researchers -- here, PhD students -- are often unprepared for the emotional toll of this staple of our discipline: the long-term, immersive field research trip.
Ethnographic fieldwork can be a time of intense vulnerability for PhD students. Often alone and in an unfamiliar context, they may face challenges that their pre-fieldwork training has done little to prepare them for. This study seeks to document some of the difficulties that PhD anthropologists at three UK universities have faced. It describes a range of feelings as experienced by 16 interviewees: alone, ashamed, bereaved, betrayed, depressed, desperate, disappointed, disturbed, embarrassed, fearful, frustrated, guilty, harassed, homeless, paranoid, regretful, silenced, stressed, trapped, uncomfortable, unprepared, unsupported, and unwell. The paper concludes with a set of questions for prospective fieldworkers, a reflection on the dilemmas faced by supervisors and university departments, and a proposal for action.
This piece should be essential reading for all students and advisors, including the concluding "Questions for PhD students" and notes on Supervisor and Departmental Dilemmas.

Quick links and further reading:

13 March 2017

Science, objectivity, race, gender

Have you heard of Space + Anthropology? This group blog through Medium.com brings together commentaries on the intersections between tech, culture, space, sci-fi, art, and anthropology. We already blogged in a past post of reading lists and syllabi about Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein's fantastic Decolonising Science Reading List.

Other eye-catching pieces from Space + Anthropology include "Native Sci-fi Films and Trailers"
by William Lempert and Michael Oman-Reagan's "Anthropology in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”." But we want to highlight another piece by Prescod-Weinstein: "The Self-Construction of Black Women Physicists" based on a talk she gave at Yale’s Critical Histories, Activist Futures: “Decolonizing Science by Reconstructing Observers.”
Where the work of science is to continuously excavate the boundaries of what we do not know, it becomes clear that the relationship between the questions we ask and the axioms of scientist-construction has epistemic meaning for what we may come to know about physics.
To be Black means to have your capacity to have an insightful epistemic standpoint constantly questioned. ... This epistemic alienation serves a status quo where communities at the margins are excluded from discourse about what science is and whom it serves.
How might this piece by Prescod-Weinstein be useful in raising the complexities of and intersections between science, objectivity, race, and gender with our students? How do hegemonic cultural assumptions shape how knowledge is created, validated, and disseminated?

Quick links and further reading:

09 March 2017

Google Translate from Photos

Did you know that Google Translate now allows you to translate text from photos using the mobile app? (We're living in the future!)

Recent studies have shown that the accuracy of translations using Google Translate has improved tremendously. Although this tool is certainly no substitution for learning a field language, or second (or third) langauge of scholarship, it does present new opportunities for in-the-field and in-text translations.

For instance, many classic scholarly texts will frequently quote non-English texts at length (without offering translations in text or footnotes). In one of the classic texts anthropologists turn to on nationalism, Imagined Communities, the polyglot Anderson does just this -- quoting passages of French and Indonesian at length without translation. Now you can simply snap a picture of the quote and translate it directly through your mobile app to help you work through these examples in making the scholars key arguments.

06 March 2017

Understanding hipsters - scholarly and otherwise

Are "hipsters" on their way out, or have they become so normalized in our popular culture that we don't really notice them anymore? (And, if the latter, is that ironic?)

In any case, social scientists still have some interesting things to say about hipsterdom.

If you never quite figured out who or what hipsters were, you might want to start with this cheeky and informative video (4.40 minutes of the 5.53 minute video) from PBS: Are You A Hipster? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios (2013). The main argument reflects on the interconnections between subculture authenticity, cultural capital (in subculture objects and affects), and cultural appropriation.

From there, you might want to check out some commentary on "The sociology of ‘hipsters’" by Mark Carrigan on hipsters as an youth subcultural movement.

Or, perhaps a little more intriguing is this Savage Minds series from Alex Posecznick questioning and working through the possibility of "Anthropologists as Scholarly Hipsters" (2014):
Across the five-part series, Posecznick addresses the hipster as a conceptual category that's productive for thinking about the discipline (practice, style, public reception) of anthropology today.

02 March 2017

Reading Marx with David Harvey

If you've ever wanted to do a close, guided reading of Marx' work, you probably couldn't ask for a better teacher than Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography David Harvey. Not only has Harvey has been teaching Karl Marx's Capital for more than four decades, he's willing to meet you on your schedule and for free! In other words, he's developed an online course that will take you through Volumes I and II with video lectures. 

There's also an option to download the lectures as audio podcasts -- perfect for long commutes on your way to sell your labour. The online course, Reading Marx with David Harvey, is available through Harvey's website. Harvey's site also offers a lecture series (6 videos) on "Marx and Capital: The Concept, The Book, The History."

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