Terrible burden this is, to have to play the hero defending his good name on the battlefield. Ah but such is the life of the immortal one…and there can be only one.
What’s in a name, an expropriated, coopted, appropriated name? For anthropologists, quite a lot. Names do matter. They know that. And if it was meant to be a hijacking, I don’t think I could have imagined a slicker, more clever type of heist.
It would seem to be an unnecessary distraction from the current work of this blog, to have to pause and remind certain persons about not just standards of proper, professional, ethical conduct, but also political honesty and transparency. After debating whether to even bother taking the time to write this, I decided that the troubling silence of others, the lack of effective response to personal communication, the discussion dropped without resolution, and the need to correct the record, all required that I break my silence.
For those readers who might not follow, “Open Anthropology” as a blog was started by me in early October of 2007, and then I launched the Open Anthropology Project in May of 2008. Added to this is Open Anthropology TV, Open Anthropology Productions, and Open Anthropology on Twitter, Diigo, and Delicious, as well as one affiliated blog, Another Anthro Blog. One would think, if our English teachers were right, that repetition creates emphasis. With so many manifestations of “Open Anthropology,” all centrally linked, it is quite understandable that some would think that one more Open Anthropology platform is linked to the rest. Of course there is no copyright protection for titles, especially when they are short phrases — except that the phrase in question is rather distinctive. I am not, however, arguing about legalities, but rather about ethics, respect, and political accountability.
It is time to renew my call for the so-called “Open Anthropology Cooperative” (OAC) to do the ethical and honourable thing, that is, to cease what appears to be behaviour that borders on identity theft. It is also a way for me to signal — too late for the eleven persons who have contacted me already — that I have absolutely nothing to do with the OAC, and I cannot respond to either your queries or complaints. On a few occasions I have been reminded of the dangers of the two initiatives being confused with one another, and the unnecessary potential for friction and pointless competition. Adding to the confusion is that, for a very short while, there even seemed to be some linkage as I was once one of the administrators of the OAC, created this past May, and I wrote about my falling out here.
This project has an established identity. To some degree it has even become a personal identity: there is the fact that several other blogs refer to me personally by the name “Open Anthropology,” as in “Open Anthropology writes today,” or “Open Anthropology said…”. So if this feels a little like identity theft, it might not be as irrational as one might assume. Google search results for “open anthropology” now mix the two, my project and the OAC, when there is no relationship.
To add to the bizarre confusion, we now read this on the OAC: “I saw yesterday some videos of Max Forte in that site that paradoxally [sic] has exactly the same name as this threat [sic] OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY.” So it’s now a “paradox” that I name my work Open Anthropology! This is even more ridiculous than the title of this post and the lead video that it inspired, but at least it does help to keep some of the comedy alive.
It also seems a little bizarre that a discussion titled, “What is Open Anthropology?” appears on the OAC. When did these people develop an interest in it? And where have they been all along? The same is true of the OAC sub-group, “Open Anthropology.” Good intentions…wrong place.
Within the OAC itself, after I discussed it within one the administrators, there was recognition of the fact that the name of their network was a problem insofar as it appeared linked to Open Anthropology, but the discussion apparently went nowhere. The administrators I refer to was Carole McGranahan, who wrote (emphases added):
“Re: Eliza’s suggestion that the OA of OAC is different from the OA of Max’s Open Anthropology project, I agree. Its not so much a case of historical revisionism, though, as you can see [no longer] some of the early discussions about the name and the project in general here (http://thememorybank.co.uk/?q=node/148#comment-60) and on twitter; all these discussions are public. If I recall correctly, the first name suggested was Cyber Anthropology Association, then something else that I can’t remember, then we hit on “open” then later on “cooperative.” I think that folks involved in those early conversations had a range of ideas about what open meant, some directly linked to and inspired by Max’s OA project, and others by different initiatives such as the Open Source Anthropology project and so on….
“Regardless, I think you raise a good point: is Open Anthropology Cooperative the best name for what we’re doing? Someone–can’t recall who or where–suggested calling it The Anthropology Cooperative instead. Maybe that would be better. Other ideas or thoughts, anyone?”
To this there were two responses:
“‘The Anthropology Cooperative’ is a nice name too and would capture much of what seems to be the site’s mission, given the forums, blogs, seminar series, etc.” (link)
“I agree that we are in need of a name change.” (link)
As the real control lies in the hands of the network creator, Keith Hart, and he neglected to post a reply, the issue simply died. Keith Hart apparently deleted the entire forum where those early discussions began, that Carole McGranahan referred to above, that might have eliminated documentation of the genesis of the OAC had I not archived it and made it available here. And it’s not the first time that the deletion of public statements was done, as I documented here.
Without any prompting from me, Eliza Jane Darling put it best when she wrote:
“I don’t think for a moment that Max seeks to exert any sense of proprietary ownership over the concept of Open Anthropology. As we’ve seen from his posts here, intellectual property rights are not his bag. Furthermore he was, so far as I know, an enthusiastic participant in the creation of OAC, and had high hopes for its socialisation as a cooperative. But I think it is perhaps frustrating to see something to which he has committed himself so deeply take off in a wholly unanticipated direction, at least without open acknowledgment of that schism and an open debate about what are shaping up to be serious divisions in the burgeoning OA imaginary. I certainly felt that such a process was lacking here, though I acknowledge that the administration of this site took off a bit ad hoc, partly in response to some tiresome spamming which began almost immediately, and might still be open for amendment.
“At any rate that’s pretty much what I have to say. I hope I haven’t misrepresented Max or the history of OA(C); if so I’m happy to by corrected by anyone with a more extensive familiarity. But I think in the interest of intellectual and political honesty, something needs to be done about the fact that there are now at least two ongoing projects with the name “Open Anthropology,” and though this one is relatively formative, seems to be moving in a direction that doesn’t really gibe with the other one. I’ll say again (as above) that I think it’s crucial to talk about these larger and potentially conflicting visions openly, and thanks to Stace for acting on my initial proposal to do so.” (link)
There is, however, one mistake: I do exert a claim over the concept of “open anthropology,” and at no point did I indicate that I was surrendering it to anyone to do whatever they wanted with it/to it. Indeed, I cannot even begin to speak of honesty and professional ethics without at least implicitly laying a claim to what I myself created, so I am being open about it. I am not exaggerating either, as it was Keith Hart who wrote in a group email within the OAC admin group, “We owe a lot to you Max. You’ve put open anthropology into thought and practice for longer than most of us.” Elsewhere he wrote, in telling terms: “Max Forte has referred elsewhere to a number of personal websites in the field we have identified as ours and his Open Anthropology blog deserves special mention as a precursor and ongoing ally of our project” (link).
Now we also have Hart’s recognition that I do not endorse his OAC: “Max Forte was part of the founding group of OAC, but subsequently left in response to disagreement over the theory and practice of ‘open anthropology’” (link). Disagreement over theory and practice is especially true when he writes explanations of open anthropology such as this one.
Of course, what Hart also does is to remain silent on the special attention he devoted to me while I was a tenant in his network, the repeated haranguing and nitpicking about my commentary. Within the context of the Anarchist Anthropology group, which is now deleted (smart people), I made the comment “when do we start making trouble?” Immediately, Hart took this personally, and assumed it was directed at him or his beloved network. Between himself and Justin Shaffner (who had no need to come in and repeat his master’s exact same admonitions) I twice needed to explain that there was no need for the hostile suspicion. Not enough times it seems, I was a major security threat over there — the discussion kept going on the appropriately named “OAC sandbox” (here).
In an environment where Anglo researchers seem so keen, so incredibly fussy and excessively zealous, about proper decorum in “collegial” discussions, fastidious about tone, prickly and paranoid about possible double meanings, so delicate as to be quick to take offense, then one has to wonder. One has to wonder how you can bully someone out of their own conversation and then pretend that you can carry it on, usurping even their name. Replace the duplicity with clarity and fairness, and we might not have any trouble.
Addressing myself to anthropology bloggers now, I wounder if I changed the name of this blog to The Memory Banker, or Neuroanthropologies, Culture Mattered or Savage Mind, if you might not better appreciate the point I am making. Otherwise, I find the silence of colleagues, apart from two, very troubling and disappointing. I suppose ethics are a mere formality.
Given my little frustration with the lack of acknowledgment from people who, at the very least, we might expect fret more about their professional reputations than I do, I have engaged in a tiny symbolic protest by cutting off links to the OAC administrators in Twitter, and encouraging others to do so as well (specifically: Justin Shaffner – @JustinShaffner; Olumide Abimbola – @loomnie; Francine Barone – @Frnnr; Paul Wren – @paulwren; Carole McGranahan – @CMcGranahan, and above all Keith Hart – @johnkeithhart). Will they get the point? Who knows.
- The two mirror-like names cause needless confusion and create a false parallel between two projects that are separate, distinct, and in some senses very much opposed;
- The OAC is infringing upon a previously established entity and wrongfully representing itself as somehow linked to that entity;
- The two similar names will cause pointless friction and competition — not to mention the embarrassment that would arise if in the future I were to create Open Anthropology groups. It would seem like a sad, pathetic attempt to mimic and encroach upon OAC terrain. The truth is the reverse of that, however. I am simply trying to reclaim what I was building, without having to make apologies and offer clarifications as to the separateness and difference of the two projects.
The English language can allow for such wonderful creativity, if one has an imagination. Surely this other network can think of something both more clever, and more original than Open Anthropology Cooperative?
Just go your way, and please let me go mine. I would much rather be alone, or, exercise the right to choose my company. Thanks.
Update: Carole McGranahan has resigned from the administration of the OAC as a result of this conflict, and no one should direct any angry or otherwise unpleasant messages to her.