Tags: anthropology


Responsible Journalism, Oxymoron?

Ever since I changed my major from international studies to anthropology I have always felt that other fields, occupations, and many individuals would greatly benefit from a few, or at least one introductory class in anthropology. While the field's origins are suspiciously related to colonialism and greed, particularly of the west, anthropology today is quite a different animal. The recent push to produce socially responsible and beneficial - to the participants, not only the researcher - is what makes this field of study and what it stands for important, not only in academia but in interpersonal relations between individuals, in the workplace, at home, abroad, etc.

Last semester I took a class on critical ethnography, which is aimed at producing a body of work that does more than further the career of the anthropologist. Critical ethnography focuses on conducting and publishing research that benefits as many research participants as possible, puts the needs of the participating community first, and engages the participants at every level of the research - from the initial planning to fieldwork and interviews to final publication. For me, it is important to conduct research that the community with which I work deems is appropriate and accurate. I am also trying to find a way for a local fighter practice to be set up on LSU's campus so that the local group can attract interested young people and perhaps establish a dialogue with "professional" historians about their "amateur" research - which isn't amateur at all. I also continuously ask people what they think of my project, what they think I should change about it, and other questions like that. I also send raw and first-edit transcriptions to interviewees so that we can work out - together - how they want to represented in my final writing. I've also sent out copies of my final papers so that people can critique it, make sure I got everything right, and essentially approve what I've said.

I think that this is the only way to conduct good, responsible research that is not inherenty plagiaristic or overly opportunistic. I think that a dialogue between researcher & collaborators is very important and should be a requirement of everyone who interviews others with the intent of publishing those people's words, ideas, opinions, and life stories. Journalism would benefit greatly from a little injection of anthropology into its practice as a field. Today, waiting for my archaeology class to begin, I saw one of my classmates - a master's student whom I know is in the forensic's program and is in several other classes with me - pass out copies of the legacy (which I assume was just recently published) to a few of her friends in the class, simultaneously instructing them to go to page 15. They read a few things from the article, and I realized that she - the master's student in forensics - was featured in the legacy. She pointed out several phrases quoted of her and expressed a decent amount of dissatisfaction and disapproval of how she was represented. At one point she stated that her interview had been over two hour long, yet the journalist had chosen to use her quotes that she felt were the most sensational and made her seem umemotional, detached, and a pretty cold person.

I had an extreme urge to go up to her - even though I wasn't directly involved in the conversation - and tell her that she needed to approach the journalist, express her feelings and demand a retractment of the article, or at least clarification in either the Revielle or a future Legacy issue. I, of course, abstained from this. But, all I could think about was how people should have more control over how they are represented to the public, and how journalists, as agents of mass/public media desperately need to adopt a few basic tenents of anthropology. Later, I read the article and agreed that the quotations used made my classmate seem harsher, more agressive and unemotional than was necessary. I don't know what else she said in the interview, but I'm sure that she would have chosen different passages to quote.

Then I thought about responsible journalism - journalists that engage in a dialogue with interviewees about their representation before publication. And, unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that in our fast-paced world dominated by deadlines and the internet, this would be impossible. Slowing down the system is not an option, even it if empowers people and allows them to control their public identity. Can you imagine the editor in cheif of any major media publication - Time magazine, the Times Picayune - agreeing to slow down their businesses in order to empower anybody? I can't. But, I can hope that enough of our future journalists will take an anthropology class or two, learn about ethnocentrism, human origins, gender trouble, and maybe how to conduct responsible research.

It took a lot of pie to get me through this one...

and some tempura-battered veggies. But, mostly, it was the pie. The delicious banana cream pie which I ate right out of the tin in my lap while I wrote this pretentious wonderful little thing:

(*Obligatory note: there is no conclusion - I always write those things minutes before the thing's due - and I've only done a rudimentary editing job, as in, I double spaced everything and added in my citations).


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Do Non-Human Primates have Culture?

Here's the take-home exam/essay portion of the second exam in my bio anthro class. I liked reading about this subject more, and this paper was somewhat easier to write (although it's still pretty terrible). There isn't a concluding paragraph because I haven't completely finished yet.

In other news: I finally did some field work for my urban ethnog class. I have to go back to nola to do some service work, but I'm glad that I got the interview out of the way.

To do list:

-write up fn's from gulf wars
-write 4090's field site report on gulf wars
-write social analysis of SCA
-email sca people/set up more interviews
-journal for 4997

There should be more on that list, but I'm tired. Too tired to think about making that list any longer.

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neanderthal vs human skeletons

Guess who got a fucking 99.7% on her Bio-Anthro Exam?! Oh yeah! It was ME.

Sorry. I'm just -really- excited and proud of that grade. It's not an easy class, and I really stressed about the take home paper (which I posted here).

So, here's my anthro To-Do list:

-write proposal for 4997 NOW
-finish this weekds fns for 4090 & send to managan
-READ tourneys & return in to ILL
-set up meeting schedule with r. lewis

And here are some things I was thinking about on pancake night with Pareesa & Bryant:

Life, existence is inherently exploitative. Not a value judgment, just a fact.

Insular behavior is a human survival strategy that has appeared to work or be advantageous so far. perhaps on a long enough time line it will be discovered to be destructive or disadvantageous in some way. micro-evolutionarily speaking, gene pools of different species are insular in order to protect themselves from outside genetic input that would disrupt the current adaptations that may be finely tuned for a specific environment. human behavior, especially in groups, probably works the same way. our short life spans are also a factor in human reluctance to adopt alternate survival systems (cultures, world views, etc) if the one already in operation has been successful and advantageous.

the environment is limited. perception of the environment is limited. what we experience and register is a fraction of a fraction. what we leave behind or express is an even smaller fragment. what can be gleaned from these leavings or expressions is even more fragmentary & the circle begins again.

the web exists, but it is impossible to know how far it stretches, know all of the parts, or explain it's (dis)organization. it probably has more than 4 dimensions.

it is a human need to impose order onto a thoroughly disordered and infinitely complex system because we need to make it manageable.

ordering schemes make life more manageable within a given environment which includes a resource base, skill sets, scripts of behavioral patterns, etc. an individual operating in a rigid scheme may have trouble adjusting to an environment that challenges one or all aspects of the patterned way of life. an individual operating in a more fluid scheme may have less trouble adjusting to a new environment and recognizing the system in place that make that environment manageable.

the system that manages the environment is part of the environment which also influences the system managing it. both respond and react to each other on an infinite number of levels.

adaptiveness, intellectually, may be related to quickly recognizing new patterns and schemes and readily using them once they have been identified. this may or may not include assigning a value - positive or negative - to the new pattern, but does involved recognizing the pattern's usefulness in improving, making easier or more manageable some task, environment, situation, etc.

even in chaotic environments - for example, terrorist-based warfare that is aimed at stripping individuals and groups of their tools and schemes for ordering the world and constructing reality (thus making themselves human beings) [see carolyn nordstrom's article "war on the front lines" for more info] - people are still creative in that they find new ways of ordering the world, create meanings, and re-make themselves as humans again.

evolution has no goal and is not progressive. we need to eliminate the hero aspect of our evolutionary discussions. A LOT of the descriptions of human evolution have turned into hero-narratives. because, yes, we are that egotistical.

i am frustrated by people who insist on separating themselves from the rest of the world. what i means is that we are as much a part of the world (which really shouldn't be referred to as the "natural" world) as  silverfish, trees, chimps, or bacteria. we -are- animals. we are part of this large, infinitely complex system called earth. we do affect it and are affected by others in it - not just humans. everything shits.

In & out of the field

Today was day 2 of fighter practice. Less people showed up, but it was still a good practice. It's all data, right? That reminds me that I need to send out pdf copies of the consent forms. Observing was a lot more comfortable this time, not that it's really hard to feel comfortable around everyone in the first place. Everyone I've met so far has been very friendly and interested in helping me.

Since I -have- to take notes (I take them on small 2" by 3" pieces of paper, which seem to be less distracting than a huge notebook), I make it a point to let anyone who asks or wants to read my notes. If they can. I have to write very small, and my shorthand is weird. But I think it's important to share, or try to share, what I'm writing about them. I think it's more ethical that way. One individual always asks about my notes, but then declines the offer to read them when I hand the notes over. I explained that I was just taking notes to help me remember things that I might forget later. I also told the person that, if they didn't want me to take notes I wouldn't, and all they had to do was tell me to exclude them from the study and I would. <<Another reason why I need to get those consent forms out.

I'm starting to feel something like a real anthropologist. Can't wait for graduate school....

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Homology, Homoplasy and Systematics

This is my first biological anth paper (for a test). It's not that great, and I'm sure you can tell that I finished the last two pages this morning before I turned it in. The research for it was pretty interesting, though. I actually read somewhere around 14 articles, but decided that only a few (the ones I ended up referencing) were actually related to the topic, which was: Compare and contrast homology and homoplasy. Discuss how each type of characters are used in systematics. Include examples of both. I wasn't very good at staying on topic. In fact, I'm pretty sure I totally skirted the topic, and focused more on the debates surrounding the difficulties of defining and identifying homologies and homoplasies. Oh well.



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Running & Anthropology

Although I was still ridiculously sore from Tuesday, I decided to go on my usual run anyway. It was nice, although I didn't see any of my usual motivators (flocks of redwing black birds, calfs racing each other, surprised cows chewing their cud, etc). There was an old man walking on the side of the road. I ran faster to meet him. I'm thinking about incorporating some barefoot running on a treadmill once a week, which means the dreaded rec center.

When I'm not thinking about how hard it is to breath (I've NEVER been able to talk while I run, not even back in the days when I was running 3-4 miles and swimming the 500 3 times a week), I think about anthropology while I run. Today, I thought about my biological anthropology paper, which I should be working on right now. It's on homology and homoplasy and how they are used in systematics. The literature that I've read so far is rather dense, but I've tried to pick out 5 really good articles. Most of them are about the definition and/or identification of homoplasy and phylogenetic systematics. One person made a good point: that homoplasy might still refer to characteristics that arise from common ancestry, albeit very, very distant common ancestry. It's a good thing this paper only has to be 5 pages (as in, I can't more than that), although part of me wishes that the topic was either more specific or that there wasn't an assigned topic at all.

The rest of the time I thought about how I'm going to make my garb for gulf wars. I have a feeling that I'm getting so excited about sewing that I'm planning on making too many things. Also, I'm a perfectionist when it comes to garment-making. So, I don't want the garb to be functional. I also want it to look good, maybe not exactly specific to a certain period, but good.

I also thought about the physics of running: what the leg bones and foot bones do, how the pelvis moves. I imagined my organs bouncing around inside my abdominal cavity. I hope that doesn't really happen. Then I started paying more attention to what my body was actually doing. And, I kept feeling like I was leaning more to the right, and when I tried to correct it...well I couldn't really correct it. I don't know if it was because I was running on slightly uneven pavement (it's a pretty crappy road) or because of the 10 degree curve (to the right) that I actually -do- have in my spine. Or, maybe I just run really weird. I mean, I know my form is terrible.

I'm really excited about going to fighter practice again on Sunday. I think I was supposed to go to armor-making class tonight, but I -do- have this paper to write, which I should start working on right now.

Notes on Taking Field Notes

Don't trust your memory! fns should be recorded asap, and constantly re-read to find any unclear notes or details that were left out/missed. Fns are simultaneously data and analysis - ethical & moral implications of fns (wearing two hats).

recording as much textured observations as possible: time, date, spoken word/conversations, arrangement of people in room, maps, calendar/catalog of events, etc.

expanded fns: descriptive (ethnographic), notes on methods, notes of analysis. expanding jotted notes into full-fledged fns. translation of jots to full fns should take place asap, aspire to a high level of detail, can include personal observations/self reflections, any biases should be noted in fns once researcher realizes them.


fns as a symbol of personal identity: emotional attachment to fns as a result of the isolation often associated with long term fw. attempting to supply context. the relationship between fns & our memories (which is more real/reliable?). the uniqueness (or not) of fns in anthropology.

fns and identity: the act of writing fns creates & maintains the anthropologist's identity. the anthropologists created the fns and the fns created her.

fns' role in the rite of passage of fw for the anthropologist.

Notes on Schutz & Narayan

approaching groups as the stranger: the experience of the ethnographyer/strangers vs the experiences of the social group member. social group members view the world & events in stratified system of significance w/ each level requiring a different degree of knowledge. researcher seeks explicit knowledge of social groups. member of groups has fragmented, partial & incoherent knowledge of social groups. member of social group rarely requires/wants detailed explicit info about how social structure works/is structured. this basic, partial, incoherent, knowledged is used by member as cultural recipes on how to react/deal w/ specific events.

"thinking as usual" is possible if: predictability of social life remains intact & past experience can be guide for future; social recipes can be passed from generation to generation; only a certain amount of knowledge about specific social workings is sufficient; and the above are accepted & applied by other members of social group

stranger to group doesn't share in the assumptions of the member who "thinks as usual." to the researcher/stranger the cultural system of knowledge has not been tested by time/experience; the strangers questions what is unquestionable to the member.

history & tradition of cultural system: histories become imbedded in members' biographies & form bases of cultural system's authority.

stranger to social group will interpret the group's cultural system thru the lens of his own experience & home-system. over time, the social group's system becomes part of the stranger's field of reference. it may never fully replace the home-system, but the stranger's system of knowledge & relevance (culture) changes significantly.

strangers bring assumptions about foreign gorups & surroundings to the field. stranger is unable to adequately use foreign cultural pattern to navigate the social group b/c he can't orient himself w/in the group. members know that the system of orientation exists & their place w/in it and so can use the cultural system to navigate their world. b/c of this, stranger cannot orient his world around himself which disrupts his systems of knowledge & relevance - culture shock.

for members, cultural system provides means of expression & interpretation of actions. for the stanger, the cultural system of the social groups lacks this unity & organization. stranger "translates" foreign cultural system using his home-system, if possible. to understand the expressive function of cultural pattern, stranger must first acquire sufficient knowledge on the cultural pattern's interpretive function - passive understanding vs active mastering.


questioning the "native" anthropologist; "foreign" anthropologist - studying others; "native" anthropologist - studying own culture

authenticity & native-ness.

"native" vs "non-native" categories as dynamic, shifting categories.

native vs "real" anthropologist - legacy of anth's colonial beginnings; assumption that "native" anthropologist have better or will have an easier time at understanding group's culture. exploiting the "native" anthropologist for research.

anthropology as dominated by western, former colonizers.

other's control over the anthropologist's own identity; the anthropologist's constantly shifting social positions/alignments during FW;