Open Anthropology Cooperative

A new development in anthropology online has taken form today, and that is the creation of the Open Anthropology Cooperative. Since roughly 22 May a discussion emerged on Twitter concerning the possibility of taking anthropological collaboration online to a new level. I first learned of this discussion from Lorenz Khazaleh at, even though I myself pretend to be in Twitter. The Twitter discussion went from #icaa to #oaa and finally to #oac. Keith Hart (The Memory Bank), moved this forward by setting up the network on NING, which was a suggestion I made, but without enough thought as to the limitations of the software for what we might want to do.

Allow me to copy from Lorenz what one can distill from the early discussions as the foundational premises for the OAC:

  • A place to share ideas
  • A place to find like-minded anthropologists
  • A place to collaborate
  • A place to hold virtual conferences
  • A place to host podcasts
  • A place to ask questions
  • A place to learn about new tools for anthropology (online tools, field tools, etc.)
  • A place to find resources (e.g. databases, good grad programs, upcoming colloquia, software, field opportunities)
  • A place to publish
  • The idea of an engaged anthropology for the 21st century in relation to the digital revolution
  • Group blog with posts from both Keith and others
  • Forum for discussion
  • Online press to publish longer pieces
  • The incorporation of Twitter, social bookmarking, wiki, etc

Again following Lorenz, I will quote from Fran, a social anthropologist whose blog discusses the idea for an Open Anthropology Cooperative in the following terms:

In my opinion, there is no reason for an invented divide that reduces web-based academic content to a second-rate substitute for formal (read: expensive, elaborate, bureaucratic) channels. Why not overlap “open” and “official” academia until they are one and the same?…How about an online/offline seminar series, bridging the gap with web-based multimedia, in-person meet-ups, etc? Crossing over from the lecture hall to the web, sharing teaching and learning materials, creating new bodies for peer revision and publication are all possible and positive outcomes. Breaking down the publishing barrier and enabling actual feedback with established anthropologists can only help to aid in the development of better research and analysis.

In the discussion on The Memory Bank, which traveled there from Twitter, and then from The Memory Bank to the current incarnation of the OAC, more ideas were put forth on the meaning of this new phenomenon. Paul Wren wrote, “I can see that we should view ‘open’ as having many faces — open access, open membership, open to new ideas, open to whatever the organization might do or become.” Keith Hart added, “open to everyone, as in ‘open source’.” I very much appreciate these ideas, and in some respects they resemble some the principles I espoused here.

The NING platform for the OAC will provide an early trial platform for doing most of what people wanted above, except the open journal and open conferencing systems. The idea was to start implementing some of the idea, putting them in practice, gaining a critical mass of participation and interest, before moving on to more ambitious ventures.

Update (10 June 2009):

Early enthusiasm sometimes gives way to early disappointment. Among the many problems with the OAC, aside from its generally not living up to a name that it borrowed (a remix it seems), is that rather than serve as a test to where “we” could go with collaborative and open access anthropology, it has become largely an online replication of traditional and familiar forms of introverted anthropological self-organization. It is not open anthropology as much as it is merely anthropology out in the open. Given the authoritarian and elitist tendencies that set in extremely quickly with the ownership and administration of the network, it is not likely that there will be anything substantively and qualitatively new to emerge from this premature and ill conceived, poorly executed experiment.

I suggested previously, based on an accumulation of statements that I gathered from those who founded and administer the network, that my principles of Open Anthropology — the only set in existence are those named as such, here on this blog — inspired some of the thinking behind the initiative. By some it turns out that this largely means none in practice, and that the principles have been emptied and used as a glossy cover for something quite ordinary and conventional. Now we are left with two sites, with strikingly similar titles, that have little in common, and much to set the two in opposition.

What matters most about Open Anthropology is challenging professionalization, institutionalization, and disciplinary self-defense and self-promotion. Yet, the OAC appears hell bent on reinforcing those very processes and phenomena. What also matters most about Open Anthropology is that it is a project of decolonization and anti-imperialism. Yet, the OAC administration, with its heavy policing and intervention designed to tamp down any “nasty” or “captious” disagreements with those who present some of the most antiquated imperial thinking to be found anywhere, prevents the emergence of a true Open Anthropology. Indeed, groups have even formed that are ideal for “strategic studies” and “counterinsurgency” types, with their analyses of “tribes” and “radical” versus “moderate” actors in the Middle East and Asia.

The policing of the site has been terribly condescending and inappropriate, bordering on misconduct. Discussions have been tampered with, edited after the fact, and comments deleted, so that a false impression is created of what was said, by whom, when and why. When I needed to substantiate something that I said, by referring to a comment I had made earlier in a discussion, I found it was gone. When challenging a senior colleague who was putting words in my mouth, I could not find my own words. To disable a colleague in that manner, without apology, is inexcusable and decidedly unethical.

The infernal quest for hierarchy is very much in evidence, with policy makers, steering committee, administrators, and an “inner circle,” that makes me wonder if George Orwell scripted this network as an online theatrical production of 1984. The OAC may go somewhere someday, but not like this.

The Open Anthropology Cooperative is largely a social networking site, with little to offer except perhaps a wider range of contacts among professionals. For now, this is the best possible face that I personally can put on the OAC. If drowning yourself in an anthropology conference that never ends, and being neck deep in old line anthropology is what you like, then the OAC is the place for you.

As Trinidadians like to say when exiting: “I gone!”

31 thoughts on “Open Anthropology Cooperative

  1. Fran

    Thanks for that post, Max. The OAC amassed nearly 200 members in its first 24 hours and I’m pleased that the activity so far looks really promising.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks Fran. I noticed that many people joined very quickly, really great to see. That network came to life almost immediately…going to look at it now, one would not think it is only 24 hours old.

    2. Jo

      Just try getting off Anthropologycoop on Ning! they are totally unhelpful on how to navigate their Byzantine web page in order to deactivate an account.

      1. Maximilian Forte

        Yes, it’s not obvious how to delete one’s account. One has to edit one’s profile, and somewhere at the bottom of the page there is a link for deleting one’s account.

  2. M. Jamil Hanifi

    Your blog offers a beam of light in this dark academic guild called “American Anthropology”.

    Please add my email to your mailing list. Thank you and best wishes.

  3. Fran

    Hi Max,

    Thanks for the update to this post. I appreciate your perspective, and I hope there will be another update to come.

    I think perhaps my stance in running and maintaining a community website is too easily related to imperialist thinking, that, in fact, doesn’t exist behind it. You depict the admin team as a monolithic block, but we are all individuals with different lives, beliefs, attitudes, interests, etc., who have almost all never met each other, and we are still finding our feet. I confess that the “Open” in OAC didn’t represent an anarchic uprising to me. I always envisioned it as a grassroots coming together with some order amongst the chaos: a foundation based on mutual respect and possibility for collaboration.

    The only thing I’ve ever found nasty was a constant back-and-forth, insult-slinging, semantic nitpicking match. I say that as a person and a member, not as an “admin”. Lest I’m accused of towing a line as a carbon-copy admin bot, my beliefs here are my own.

    I enjoy your presence and your contributions on the OAC. It has yet to be shaped or expanded to its full potential and I hope that just because it is not yet everything you want it to be, that does not mean you will no longer participate with us.


    1. Maximilian Forte

      Sorry Fran,

      there seem to be a lot of misunderstandings here, and I will grant that not all of them were intentional. That the administrators behind the scenes are not a monolithic block is something I know, having been one of them myself for a while (until it seemed that one of our jobs was to defend copyright laws and serve as the security guards of publishing companies). That the visible practice of the administrators is much more united, on the other hand, is there for anyone to see.

      Some problems could be solved by choosing another name. The Open Anthropology Project sounds like it is related to the Open Anthropology Cooperative. Then there is this Open Anthropology blog, Open Anthropology TV, and they sound like they all belong together as one happy family — and clearly they do not, as the odd one out is the OAC. What you guys are doing is a rerun of liberal democracy, so that you are even open to those who have no interest in any of the principles of “open anthropology” — apart from “open membership,” and even on that we differ as the Open Anthropology Project is not in fact about being open for anyone and anything, including those who would engage in information trafficking to serve the national security state. That kind of openness is what permits you to be used for all the wrong purposes, and that too is starting to happen on the OAC as well. With your understanding of “open” you have nothing — nothing — to prepare yourself for the possibility that recruiters for the Human Terrain System could enter and start using your network, you have no statement, no principle, no position against that because you already committed yourselves to a liberal democratic notion of open. I cannot possibly be associated with such a site, just like I am not associated with any professional association that allows the same.

      There is nothing “nasty” about people disagreeing Fran, I find that this comment in particular is out of place. It really misunderstands and devalues the nature and range of disagreements, again opting for a liberal democratic pretense of politeness. Constant back and forth is a problem now? So discussion is encouraged, but only with what, one response allowed? At least one other person has noted that administrators speak with a forked tongue, and this is another instance of that. Open, but keeping disagreement in check; policing certain members so as to monitor that what they say is permissible; allowing the first stones to be cast, but when there is a response, only then intervening and treating those responding as if they are a problem. You cannot insult colleagues like this, belittle them, treat them like children, and demean their disagreement with the kinds of characterizations you offer, no, sorry. And my incentive for being cut and reduced in such a network, and to waste my time and energy there…is what again?

      I appreciate your taking the time to write here, even if we disagree. However, my participating any further risks doing serious damage to the reputation of the Open Anthropology Project.

      I think you guys need a new name, and some need to be a little less Machiavellian and duplicitous. As a final point, I will note something that Keith Hart posted in the Anarchist Anthropology group, to which I belonged, in response to a comment I made about “when do we start making trouble”, which Keith automatically assumed imperiled his precious patch:

      “So I would like to know, Max, whether the trouble you would like to make is here, elsewhere or both? Unlike you, I committed myself to trying to make this cooperative run for the benefit of all its members. It is a fledgling community, fragile, with considerable potential. I always thought — it is one of David’s favourite lines — that anarchists are more scrupulous about maintaining order than the bureaucrats and capitalists because they have to do it by themselves. I hope that this puts us on the same side, broadly speaking. But I have to admit that your incitement to a bit of bovver makes me nervous.”

      Practice for counterinsurgency, in an anarchist anthropology group, and talking down to a colleague like that? This, Fran, you apparently do not find “nasty,” and that is why we will no longer work together.

    2. Eliza Jane Darling

      Hi Fran,

      I’m in complete agreement with Max’s assessment, especially his astute distinction between “open anthropology” and “anthropology out in the open.” Your interpretation of the “open” in OAC would seem to speak simply to what anthropologists already do, but with the potential for more spectators.

      I would fully expect any bid for openness to inspire assorted, even antipodal agendas, but there’s more going on over there. Beyond the facile (if highly selective) eclecticism you espouse, there’s also Keith’s tentative mission statement, something that gibes closely with (and indeed is built upon) his Memory Bank work and, at least on the surface, shares some kinship with what Max has proposed here. Neither is just about anthropologists swapping papers, but about anthropologists contributing to the making of a better world. Some may comfortably equate the two; I’m not one of them. I don’t think Keith is either, but early indications suggest he won’t put his money where his mouth is.

      Despite some dime-store commonalities, the Open Anthropology Max articulates here is markedly different from what Keith has proposed in his preliminary statement. Granted, the latter was provisional and contestable, yet I think it reveals fundamental antipathies driving the emergence of increasingly incompatible visions of OA. I’m not suggesting there can or should be an unproblematic “correct” vision, but I suspect some visions are more akin than others, and Max’s comment on the blossoming liberal democracy of OAC speaks aptly to that; he’s completely nailed what bugs me about it too.

      I didn’t know much about open anthropology before the invite to OAC, but when I started thinking it through seriously, it occurred to me that the logical (and desirable) end point of such a thing might be the disappearance of anthropology altogether. Hence I found an immediate affinity when I came here and read Max’s explication of “the project,” which begins with some pointed quotes from Bloch and Lévi-Strauss alluding to precisely such a condition. I can see the anarchist possibilities in this, but when it first occurred to me, I actually thought of Marx and the realisation of a full unalienated labourer: to hunt in the morning and do anthropology in the afternoon, without ever becoming a hunter or an anthropologist.

      The endeavor unfolding on OAC looks to be heading in the opposite direction; i.e., toward the reification of anthropology as formal, sanctioned, specialised, and precious – intellectual Taylorisation 2.0. I say this specifically because of the numerous iterations of proprietary exclusivity (“perhaps you don’t belong here”) that have been pronounced in response to even the most minor dissidence. That may be very unfair given its protean stage, but under the constraints of labour time, sometimes you’ve got to make a rational projection and save yourself from a futile and interminable argument with a brick wall.

  4. Dylan

    Hi Max,

    what you discuss here is eye opening. From constant interaction with your words, primarily on your blogs and books, Ive come to value your take on things. Obviously in conjunction with other influences. So when you put forward such sentiments about the oac i take the points seriously.

    I went to see if i could read some of the comments on the oac which related to the points you make and i cannot find them. I would be interested to see them.

    I have to agree that the oac as it has developed has begun to reproduce the various hegemonic lines of the discipline, that said their were certainly some fissures appearing so my hope was this would be contestable.

    My thought is this…when ever one tries to bring together a large number of people around an umbrella term, in this sense open anthropology, no matter the initial desire to make it fresh and liberating eventually as the numbers start to swell various pillars or centers of power begin to reproduce. this is in my view is because the initial desire and principals are washed away under the weight of the normative view. Its the same in popular society with politics.

    Anyways, i’ll keep my eyes open.

    all the best as always


    1. Maximilian Forte

      Thanks Dylan, and I hope that Fran won’t take my response too personally, since I know that she has very good intentions.

      At some point I may reproduce the deleted comments, I saved everything from the first day, multiple times in fact. Right now, I want to focus on what is happening in Peru.

  5. Jeremy

    I share your concerns, and it is unfortunate the Open Anthropology has been co-opted in this way. I feel culpable to a degree in that regard, since I was part of the initial discussion for setting up the OAC, and I will press for a renaming of the site.
    The more I think about it, the more I feel that the concept of an Open Anthropology organization was misguided to begin with. What’s needed is not an organization (at least not in the formal sense of the word), but more people like you to promote the idea and fight to make it a reality. The OAC could never have done the kind of Open Anthropology that you talk about here because it was always entrenched in the idea of anthropology as a discipline.
    My question is, what action can we as anthropologists take to open the field? How do we go about creating a real Open Anthropology?

  6. Stacie

    Hi Max,

    I was really caught off guard by the prominent administrative focus on policy which appeared before I even understood what “open anthropology” was about. It’s also weird/awkward that there are 780+ members but only a few participate in discussions. I will probably stick around a while longer, to see where it goes.

    I hate to say it, but some of us (me) are quick to opt for anything that looks even slightly better than what was (or seemed to be) available before. As an analogy: I spent my day yesterday digging for rusty, bent nails in the carpentry shed attic so I could nail down the rotten, warped, and chewed up wood floor for my carpentry shed exhibit at the museum. You could bet I was excited when I found ones I could use and was quick to run down and put them to use. I would rather have a nice new floor, but if I want that building to be open next season, I have to go with what I’ve got. To me, OAC seems similar. It’s far from perfect, but I can still see some potential in it at this point.

    A new name is probably a must, though, unless it can clarify what it means by “open anthropology.” The definition OAC is using is too vague, almost to the point of being meaningless. I hadn’t heard much about open anthropology before and was hoping to understand the meaning of the phrase by joining (or, at the least understand what I can take from the concept and apply to my own work), but I haven’t found much yet from OAC. I’ve begun reading your project and manifesto posts, and a much clearer vision is emerging, but I think it’ll still take me a while (and more reading) for what you’re saying to sink into my thick head.

    My first reaction to the more heated disagreements was probably similar to those of Fran and Keith: Is this really going to build the kind of community we want? BUT, I wonder if that has more to do with how we are taught, through years of schooling, to approach academic discussion, and what’s appropriate and what’s not. What I’ve started to learn since (again, takes time for it to sink in) is that sometimes if you don’t get these deep-set disagreements out in the open, things aren’t going to change. After leaving college, I spent the first several months of my job on wild goose chases. Only when I started learning the real complexities of the organization I work with (and the many many disagreements, internal and otherwise) could I understand how to proceed and get something accomplished. Ironically, despite the fact that each person has at least one (usually more) longstanding disagreements (often very personal) with another person or the organization as a whole, it remains a tight-knit community. But, this only works because, at some level, we all subscribe to the same mission. We just disagree about ways to accomplish it and get frustrated when we can’t make it work. I’m not sure if I can say the same yet about the OAC or if it’s even comparable, but I do think the comments about the fragility of the community might be misplaced.

    Anyway, just passing along my thoughts – I look forward to reading more on your blog! You’ve got quite a few posts, so it’ll take me a while to sift through them.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      Excellent comments Stacie, many thanks for posting them. I am glad to remain in touch with you, and certainly meeting you in OAC was indeed one of the benefits of being there. I think that you are hopeful, positive and constructive (even literally, as in the example of the nails and flooring you mentioned), so I don’t want to say anything to you that changes that in any way.

      There is an agreed upon veneer that academic discussion should be peaceful and respectful. The truth is very different, and it has always been very different. The intention is to disarm the weaker ones by teaching them respect, while the stronger ones run roughshod over them. I have been on the receiving end of this for far too long to not know what I am talking about, and there are many dazzling conflicts in print in numerous journals that add to the point.

  7. Maximilian Forte

    Thank you Jeremy, and I know that there will be a lot more in the future that will directly address your concerns, questions, and interests. This blog is just about ready to take on another form in the next couple of days or so, and that too may produce some interesting answers.

    In the meantime, because of certain allegations that I would normally prefer not to dwell on, there are certain assertions that cannot go unanswered because they are deceptive. For example, a number of the current admins in the OAC are emphatic that they did not delete any comments in the discussion forum thread on Intellectual Property. The assertion is that when one deletes one comment that is posted there, then any response to that comment is automatically also deleted. That is wrong. Some admins do not have enough experience with NING to know that, but at least one of them should know better, because such deletions normally would happen consciously and deliberately (unless one goes on a clicking frenzy and clicks every delete button one can find)….The point is that I can prove that the posts were not automatically deleted without the intervention of an admin.

    Secondly, we also know that one of your own posts in the discussion forum was deleted outright, by Keith Hart himself — I am saying this with you present so that you can contradict me if I am wrong. So the blanket assertion that comments are not deleted by admins., is factually incorrect. Moreover, since I have left, as if to bring policemanship to new heights in OAC, they have gone even further in talking about penalties, warnings, and deletions too. Deletion is always there.

    Third, as in some repressive regimes, one trick that is used to show that a dissident is either “mentally ill” or simply ignorant and incompetent, or even a phony dissident. I see the same thing happening in the OAC.

    Let’s start with some examples of what has become the refrain among admins., “we don’t delete”:

    Reply by Francine Barone on June 9, 2009 at 7:50pm
    I removed my own post which was in response to Keith’s because I felt that it was lingering out of context with the original post removed. This has nothing to do with my status as admin, merely my status a member. My position on this matter in general is that anyone has a right to remove their posts whenever they feel like and for whatever reason.

    Reply by Keith Hart on June 9, 2009 at 3:12pm
    I have just posted a comment in the Admins thread of this Forum. To my knowledge the only comment deleted was one of my own by me, for reasons that I have explained in numerous places, and this is a right that everyone has.

    (the above two statements come from this page)


    Reply by Keith Hart 17 hours ago
    There was for a time some heated discussion about unwarranted deletion of posts, presumably by the administrators. It is now clear that whenever a member leaves the OAC for good, all their posts are removed, and that includes entire threads if they started one. The same applies if an individual decides to remove a post: any posts connected to it are also deleted. We will have to look into what can be done to prevent collateral damage in these circumstances. But one implication is that, if you care about any particular post enough, you should save it somewhere else.

    (the above comes from this page)

    Now, some facts for a change:

    The first image is a screen capture of a comment posted by Eliza Jane Darling in the same Intellectual Property thread, and immediately underneath is my response to her comment:

    Later, Eliza accidentally deleted all her comments and was out of the network. Was my response to her comment also deleted? No. Have a look:

    Hers is gone, mine remained…but for a while only as it was eventually deleted, and that is before I left the network.

    1. Jeremy

      Hey Max,
      Sorry it has taken me so long to respond; I had to get offline for a couple of days to clear my head. For the record, I want to confirm your statement about my deleted post. It’s funny to me that it hasn’t been mentioned in all of the hubbub on the OAC about deleted posts – it’s as if it never happened, and since presumably only one other person saw the post (the person who deleted it) it might as well have never happened. In any case, I can’t show anyone what I posted because its deletion took me completely by surprise (it happened within a minute of me posting it), so I don’t have any record of it. The only real flaw with it was that I put up the names of the admins before they had officially accepted the position – which I would have changed if I had been asked. Instead the post got deleted and I got a fairly nasty email from one of the admins about it. In any case, the point is that the OAC is not without its share of historical revision.
      I look forward to seeing the changes you’re making to this site, and learning more about the real Open Anthropology movement.
      Take care,

  8. dancull

    Hi Max,

    This is all very disappointing, I’ve only been on the OAC site a couple of times in the last few days, to post info on upcoming anarchist conference: So, I am a little surprised by how quickly it all seems to have begun to unravel. Oh well.

    I noticed you said your blog is going to be changing, I look forward to seeing what you’re up to!

    Also… thanks for the postings #Peru. Keep up the good work, and the good fight!



  9. Frenchguy

    Hi Max,

    Having followed the events as an observer, I endorse your point of view (or more precisely the part of it that you’ve expressed here), and your presentation of the facts. But, as Eliza Jane Darling has just written on OAC, things could get better if there was at least acknowledgment, on the part of the OAC admins, of deep divisions between the Open Anthropology Project, and what is now called the OAC (I mean acknowledgment, and not mere denigration or pathologizing of one of the participant). I mean, things could get better, if one does justice to the Open Anthropology Project.

    I would just raise one criticism for you, you wrote : “that makes me wonder if George Orwell scripted this network as an online theatrical production of 1984.”
    In my view, it looks much more like “Animal Farm”.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      (I made the suggested corrections.)

      You have me thinking about parallels, and they are not too flattering either, especially when thinking of Comrade Napoleon.

      1. Frenchguy

        I appreciated that short moment of humour. Quite relieving.
        But, and I think you would agree with me on that, the parallel is much less about individual personnalities or indiosyncrasies, and more about the necessary (?) outcomes of certain institutionnal settings and social processes. However, it doesn’t exclude the question of individual responsability altogether.

        Best wishes for the work to come.

      2. Maximilian Forte

        “the necessary outcomes of certain institutional settings and social processes” — yes, I agree that this is the more fundamental point of correspondence, many thanks.

      3. Frenchguy

        That’s it, your memory is not failing here.
        And I think what made me laugh was the litote : “not too flattering either”.
        Goodnight everybody.

  10. R.A.

    hey max,

    well, i just came across the whole OAC thing the past week or so, and kind of joined it without too much critical thought. it seemed like an interesting project, and i have to admit that it did seem to have certain connections with the “Open Anthropology” that you and others have been pushing for. This is, as others found out WAY before me, not necessarily the case. Hmmm.

    I jumped onto the ship a little late, and am already wondering about what the whole thing is–and what anthropology is supposed to be in the first place. To make a ridiculous understatement: I think there are definitely some different opinions about what anthropology is and should be.

    So we’ll see where the OAC goes.

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  13. OpenAnthropologyNeedsMyName?

    Honestly I think that this whole thread is rather pathetic, someone’s ego twisted in a knot, and babbling some incomprehensible nastiness.

    Go ahead. Delete me. No one will know about your pathetic tyrannical impulses.

    1. Maximilian Forte

      No, why should I delete you? This is comedy I don’t have to pay for.

      If it’s incomprehensible to you, how about you try this very intelligent approach for a change: shut the fuck up until you know better.

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