A World Upside Down: Institutional Connections of Anthropology Bloggers

Here is a simple, factual observation [even this opening line is rendered comical by the critical questions and points that followed the publication of this deeply flawed post, maintained here only for the benefit of others who might learn from these mistakes]:

Concordia University ranks first among Canada’s three institutions of higher learning

…if one is speaking only about anthropology blogging.

In the world of anthropology blogging, there are only three Canadian post-secondary institutions: Concordia U. (Montreal), Carleton U. (Ottawa), and Douglas College in British Columbia.

It is an unusual perspective, to take the anthropology blogging “community,” and then treat it as if there were no other anthropological community (no journals, associations, publishers, conferences, etc.), while still retaining certain institutional labels from the offline world. In other words, it is a painted picture, with some details foregrounded, and others left out.

But it is not exactly “wrong” either. In terms of their institutional connections — and I may have easily missed a few here (readers who know better are asked to please post their corrections) — the three institutions listed above are the only ones to have a presence in the world of blogging, at this moment. There is no University of Toronto, no McMaster, no Western Ontario, no McGill, no Simon Fraser, no UBC — they simply do not exist, gone, vanished.

It is already a world upside down then, where the offline institutional elites cease to exist when our focus moves online, and those who are at best intermediate or marginal in the ways they are perceived by the elites suddenly become the top places.

From Concordia, the four anthropology bloggers are, in alphabetical order:

Another Anthro Blog
Disparate
Open Anthropology
Shannanigan’s

If the situation had been one where people could say, “look at how the members of the anthropology department at Harvard all have blogs,” or if one could say, “hey, have you checked out Marilyn Strathern’s blog today, there’s a real sizzler on there,” or if a student put in a footnote, “these comments were collected from a sample of all 20 of U. Chicago’s anthropology blogs,” then I suspect that anthropology blogging would have been the thing to do for all anthropologists. However, incurable elitism that is taught and upheld widely, frowns at the offline non-elite with visibility online, and that possibly reconfirms and reinforces the mainstream, mass elitists’ presumption that blogging is not for anthropologists. I say mainstream mass because the elite in anthropology, however defined, by whatever standards, is a minority — but their values are unquestioningly upheld, reproduced, and put into force by the many without a face or a voice, i.e., the elite’s former students and their students’ students. Ten years from now, it will be all the rage, once someone at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Cambridge, or another member of that inbred network suddenly decides to write their first blog post. Then they will all be cool, innovative, cutting edge, and lecturing others about how they could be so retrograde, conservative, and stuffy for not blogging. Those who were doing it first, or earliest, will be forgotten.

If you can list the anthropology blogs arising from your institution, I would love to hear from you and get those links.

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20 thoughts on “A World Upside Down: Institutional Connections of Anthropology Bloggers

  1. Yikes! Good lord. Please take me off this list- I do not consider ‘I like to move it move it’ as an anthropology blog.

  2. Hi Max,

    Interesting! I hadn’t thought about how limited the anthro blogsphere was in Canada. At a (very) rough guess, I would suspect that until blog entries count as some type of publication credit, you won’t see the elite universities pushing them ;).

  3. I must admit, I feel that my blog ‘safe space’ has been violated by linking it to both Concordia University and it’s anthropology department.

    I have removed my thesis proposal off the blog and I hope that is enough to be taken off your list of anthropological bloggers at Concordia.

    You see, my blog was never intended to be an ‘academic’ blog but more of a travelog for family, friends and acquaintances. Now, I am considering shutting it down altogether.

    So, will you please just remove it from this list that you have created in your painted upside down world?

  4. Wow, Nirmala, I never intended such offense. I read your research proposal on your blog, and some posts about your fieldwork, and I think many would find it reasonable to assume that you were an anthropologist, who is blogging, and is a student at Concordia. I had no idea that this would cause you to feel ashamed. You have been removed. In the future, perhaps you should spend more time thinking about how you express yourself. Take care.

  5. Hi Marc, well it becomes even more limited when blogging anthropologists refuse to admit they are anthropologists, lol, as you can see above. Marc, all by yourself you count for about 20% of the Canadian anthropology blogging community — you’re half way to a majority government under our political system.

  6. Max, If someone is anthropologist graduated from a X university, and writing from where he or she got her degree,does this mean this blogger represent the university…In other point, the agency of the university. While I am reading your post, I got sort of confused why it is important to link the blogger to her/his university…What if someone do not mention his university’s name. Why do you give credit to universities? not the bloggers themselves “only”. Another point, how does the reader of the blog can differentiate if the blog is anthropologist personal blog. I assume since anthropology is part of the person’s life why not to write about it. I think classification of anthropology blogs should be clearer now. Maybe it is time to spread sort of awareness what is meant by anthropology blog and what is meant by anthropologist personal blog, and what is meant by academic anthropology blog…Also, as Owen shed a light on these two different phrases “public anthropology” and “doing anthropology in public”
    http://nodivide.wordpress.com/2008/09/15/writing-for-ourselves/#comment-394

  7. Hi Safaa. I agree with your questions, and I tried to suggest the same point in the post without getting sidetracked by it:

    “It is an unusual perspective, to take the anthropology blogging “community,” and then treat it as if there were no other anthropological community (no journals, associations, publishers, conferences, etc.), while still retaining certain institutional labels from the offline world. In other words, it is a painted picture, with some details foregrounded, and others left out.”

    None of the bloggers, myself included, “represent” the university.

    The reason why I mentioned the institutional affiliation is, first, because the affiliation does exist, and secondly, as a way of locating the blogger without being too vague (had I said “Montreal bloggers” or “male Canadian bloggers” then the number would be in the thousands, and the comparison would be between those categories and other equally broad categories).

    The other point you raised, about how we are to ascertain that a blog is an anthropological one is obviously the key point. The simplest determination comes from the blogger using some variation of the word “anthropology” in the title, and that would narrow the list down to Owen and myself, both of us using the word, both of us also specific about our institutional affiliations. Other blogs may not use the word in the title and make matters so simple. In the case above that was disputed, I had read the blog, and a research proposal for the MA in anthropology was dominant on one page, while posts about fieldwork existed on other pages. I thus saw an anthropology student, identifying herself as such, blogging about work being done for an anthropology degree. I did not consider it too much of a jump to class it as an “anthropology blog.”

    This discussion ended up clarifying for Nirmala how she wanted to be represented, which by virtue of her subsequent deletions was not too clear at the outset. I think the discussion has been useful for all of us, to the extent that we may be interested in institutional and disciplinary identity politics. Nirmala is just trying out blogging, and so it is reasonable that she should try some things out, change her mind, try something else, etc.

    I like how you see at least three possibilities:
    (1) anthropology blog
    (2) anthropologist’s personal blog
    (3) academic anthropology blog

    I have also raised the issue of “public anthropology” and “doing anthropology in public” a few months ago here:
    https://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2008/04/19/public-anthropology-or-anthropology-in-public/

    In terms of three choices you list, I suspect there are quite a few of (2) but we wouldn’t know since they might delete any mention of their being anthropologists. (1) and (3) could be similar to each other, so it might be hard to figure out the difference. On the other hand, while I would call OA an “anthropology blog” I think it is different from the AAA Public Affairs blog, which might be called an “academic anthropology blog.” Also, an “anthropology blog” might be one that is no way connected to an anthropologist, to an anthropology program, or even to anthropology literature — but is instead a kind of non-institutional, public anthropology by a cultural activist of some sort. Those blogs exist too, and some individuals even call themselves “cultural anthropologists” without academic training.

    Sorry, I am writing more here than I planned. It would be great if Owen and yourself took this discussion further.

  8. Max et al … I find this discussion quite interesting as it question the perceptions we hold about our connections with our institutions. I am the ‘Douglas College Blogging Anthropologist’ referred to above but, where blogging is concerned, I consider myself to be a blogging anthropologist who teaches at Douglas. The URL of my blog is not a Douglas College URL. I’m not even sure that the College is aware I blog. If Douglas College was to host my blog, would it change? Would I feel compelled to write to a College specific audience? I doubt it … but for now, there is a distinction in my mind between being a Douglas College blogger and being a blogger who works at Douglas College.

    (Do institutions see the value in having their students and faculty blogging? Do they even recognize the possibilities? I’m not aware of widespread use of Web 2.0 utilities like social bookmarking sites or research tools at Douglas College. I have tried, for example, to get my colleagues to start tagging articles and webpages related to education and research in ‘delicious’ with a specific, college-targeted tag. I have had no success.)

  9. Thanks very much Tad, and it’s a pleasure to have you visit.

    It seems that the picture I painted was a badly painted one, not even worthy of going on the refrigerator of a dutifully proud parent. It really does seem to be rightly controversial that I made some association between the bloggers and the institutions where they work and study, premised on some faulty assumptions of mine. The irony of course is that I am determined to tell everyone that this blog is in no way connected to Concordia, and does not speak for the discipline (it does speak about it, however), and yet suddenly there I was casting this blog in Concordia’s corner.

    What I learned is that one cannot do institutional rankings when talking about independent blogs — a simple lesson really, but I had to learn it the harder and more laboured way.

    If only because others might also derive some value from this discussion, I am not deleting the post. Otherwise, I think I have seen every reason for doing so.

  10. Max … you are hard on yourself! I have appreciated the opportunity to consider the relationship between my blog and my institution. Your post has me thinking, actually, that Douglas College should be more aware of and supportive of the activities of its faculty. I am now wondering how to make this so. Thanks for the conversation. Tad

  11. If a blog is on Lorenz’s list, then it must be an anthro blog. ;-)

    Glad you clarified in the comments. Can’t help but think that our Fabian blogging contributed to it. I do happen to accept the label “anthroblogger,” even though my blog isn’t focused on anthropology (or on anything else, for that matter; it’s called “Disparate” for a reason). I’ve written on other blogs, some of which are explicitly about anthropology (e.g. LingAnth).
    As far as being a Concordia blogger… ConU is my current affiliation. I happen to enjoy the institution (among the eight I’ve taught at, so far). I even blogged about ConU more than I’ve blogged about another institution. In a way, I feel honoured to be considered a member of the select group of ConU anthroblogger. More importantly, I happen to think that ConU’s (soc and) anthro department can gain a lot from blogging and similar activities. If I had a position there, I’d focus on an academic blog focused on anthropology.

  12. Thanks Alex for the visit and the comments. Yes, you are right that the whole Fabian event is what led me to start thinking in terms that led to this post. It was a unique little event, that is our blogging about Fabian, and we didn’t plan it in advance, but it ended up having an interesting experimental quality. We saw three distinct refractions of Fabian’s talk, one written “live” (yours of course, which somehow went against his idea of the text assuming the absence of the event, since the text was part of the event and came out of it).

    Also, thinking back to his talk, I have to agree more with your assessment now: there really was a great deal in it that was valuable and interesting. And, I am no longer certain that “no comment” could be read in one way either.

  13. Tad, sorry about that, I found two of your posts above in my “spam” queue, and rescued them from there. I must have reset the settings so that even a couple of links marks something as spam. Anyway, they are up now.

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