Digital Anthropology…?

Recently the discussion of digital anthropology has really begun to take off.  The history of digital anthropology is lined out in Daniel Lande’s blog  http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2012/02/23/on-forming-a-digital-anthropology-group/  Four days ago, Matt Thompson put forward his vision of digital anthropology and pushed for the formation of a digital anthropology interest group within the American Anthropological Association.  http://savageminds.org/2012/02/21/alright-how-about-a-digital-anthropology-interest-group/comment-page-1/#comment-718935    The response to this idea has been rather exciting.

From the comments that followed Matt’s blog, it became clear that the term digital anthropology is still rather unclear.  Three distinct issues are being encompassed within the concept of Digital Anthropology.  The first is anthropology which utilizes digital technology, digital formats, and includes a new form of Public Anthropology which is available on the internet.  The second anthropological issue brought up is anthropology which is done digitally or looks at cyberworlds.  This is any anthropological research examining video games, online communities, computer-mediated communications (such as blogs, facebook, and instant messengers like skype) and all the rapid social changes and social complications caused by this shift in social realities on a global scale.  Daniel Lande addresses this issue and how it was discussed at a recent AAA panel in this blog entry.  http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/11/28/digital-anthropology-projects-and-platforms/   The third, issue being addressed is Open Access specifically in regards to Open Access publications of anthropological research. This is the issue which I know the least about, having had no personal experience with Open Access beyond the use of Open Office software.  There as been a bit of contraversy over the use of Open Access software in anthropological publications and the impact the lack of using it has on libraries.   Again Daniel Lande’s blog informs as well as Jason Jackson http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2012/01/31/american-anthropological-association-takes-public-stand-against-open-access/  and http://jasonbairdjackson.com/2012/02/03/another-world-is-possible-open-folklore-as-library-scholarly-society-partnership/  This controversy, which was spurred by a letter sent by the Executive Director of the AAA, seems to actually be the driving force behind the push to create an interest group for Digital Anthropology within the AAA.

In responses to Matt Thompson’s call for brainstorming on the matter, I am posting my own suggestions for the future of Digital Anthropology.  This is partially a re-post of my comments on that blog, but I wanted to put forth both my support of Digital Anthropology and my suggestions for a practical plan for implementing an organizational structure to Digital Anthropology.  I situate my own interest in Digital Anthropology in three ways. First and foremost, I am a digital native by all accounts.  My first science fair project was written on a computer when I was 9.  I got my first email account at 10 (email account = access to most websites, a frequently no adult supervision).  Technology was an integral part of my academic career, never turning in a hand written academic paper past the 8th grade.  Digital communication and cyberworlds have also greatly influenced my personal as well.  Secondly, early in my academic career I conducted research on computer-mediated communication (texts, emails, instant messenger, online forums, facebook, etc).  I plan to come back to this research later in my career.  Finally, the importance of online publication of anthropological research can not be understated.  It allows publication and feedback on preliminary findings.  It is communicates research findings to the broadest audience possible.  From the beginnings of my anthropological research in undergrad, I have utilized online publications to disseminate my research to the general public.  The importance of Public Anthropology to the long term impact of anthropological research of utmost importance in my mind. Digital Anthropology allows anthropologists to make an impact beyond the classroom and the possibilities are ever growing.

The possibilities of a Digital Anthropology organization are only limited by the foundations we lay for it at this moment of initiation. With that in mind, one of the first recommendations I would like to make is organizational. In alignment with the principals behind Open Access, Digital anthropology should be organized with the openness and connectedness of the cyberworld. Digital anthropology needs a social networking site which will allow for the free and open discussion of its goals, agendas, and progress. In addition to allowing for social networking between anthropologists interested in both digital anthropology and the anthropology of cyber worlds, this site should include an open forum to discuss the issues relating to both as well as the progress being made in individual projects. Finally, the site could also include a collection of open access publications and links to anthropological blogs. In regards to Daniel Miller’s concern about the American exclusiveness of this project, I find it rather bizarre to imagine a cyber community limited by national boarders. Perhaps, I am examining this question as a digital native rather than as an American Anthropologist, but such limitations would only serve to stunt the growth of this project. Instead, I suggest the digital anthropology community could sponsor an interest group for the AAAs as more of a “delegation” to represent Digital Anthropology’s interests at the AAAs, however, members of the Digital Anthropology community could also form interest groups in other national and regional anthropological associations. Beyond, the goals of Digital Anthropology within academia, the group should also be of value to the general public. After all, writing anthropological blogs has always been about sharing our ideas and knowledge with the world.

Recommendations:

1) Social Network Site- open to all anthropologist and other scholars interested in the topic

2) Create a Online Forum connected to the social networking site- this will allow open international discuss of current issue and new ideas/ research findings

3) The site can also be a repository for Digital Anthropology and Anthropology of Cyberworlds- hosts both original posts and links to various blogs

4) Create Professional connections- example Interest Group for AAAs

5) Create a Public Anthropology digital database resource, and promote online publications/blogs as the Public Anthropology of the 21st century

The first question of course is where are we going to get the funding for this website, to that I have no idea. I am grad student and in no position to find a solution to that part of the problem.  However, I am very interested in the development of this project. I would love to continue brainstorming as this project develops.

Please share any suggestions and ideas about the future of this project in the comments section.

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2 thoughts on “Digital Anthropology…?

  1. G. Wright says:

    I think the argument about what Digital Anthropology should entail is a valid one, as it takes a long time for a field to establish what it stands for, often relying on some kind of formative work for all subsequent works to follow, and while I’m not anthropologist, I have a feeling we as a culture are on the verge of finding it.

    To the end of open source/open access documentation in anthropology, let alone any field, it’s becoming a moot point. Inevitably the academic community must cut down on the costs of content to continue to exist, or, if not, then in time someone will beat them to the punch and places such as JSTOR will disappear. Which ties into my/your next point.

    To the end of an anthropologist community online, a social network would be the way to go. Forums are finding assimilation into things such as social networks or image boards, because the Internet is always finding ways to become more efficient. In that direction I would suggest the following: a social network for degreed anthropologists (undergrads may visit but not join or comment), who then work to create personal networks, peer review one another’s documents as best they can (not through choice, the readers must be a kind of random though certainly documentatively selected; an expert in biomedicine shouldn’t be reviewing a cultural ethnography on Christian Scientists), and once the document is reviewed, it is published on the site for all to read. Perhaps create a yearly flat fee of around $40 for access to every document under which the network has access to: that gives you not only articles to read for your own research, but also access to people who can help you, peer review you, and puts the work in the hands of the actual peers, instead of some elite source who publishes the information for ungodly amounts because everyone agrees that he’s “reputable.”

  2. There has been an interesting update in the situation. A panel is currently being held at Columbia University to address the issue of Publication Access. http://library.columbia.edu/news/libraries/2012/20120216_access_to_research_panel.html In the meantime, the AAA reminds anthropologists of the measures currently in place in regards to access. The following quote is pertinent to the discussion of digital anthropology.

    “Author Rights and Permissions: In the author agreement for AAA journals, the author reserves the right (among other rights) to post his/her article on the author’s personal or institutional website, and to post the article on free, discipline-specific public servers. Because of these clauses, AAA’s author agreement is rated green by SHERPA/RoMEO, a project designed to help facilitate green open access (http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/).”
    http://blog.aaanet.org/2012/02/28/developments-in-access-to-research/

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