There Can Be Only One!

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)

And,

“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.

In summary:

  • 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.

Update #2: See Do the right thing: Max Forte, Open Anthropology, and the other Open Anthropology (OAC)

51 thoughts on “There Can Be Only One!

  1. I agree that similar names for entirely different projects is rather confusing. Hanging out on the two has really opened my eyes as to what we were talking about in earlier in discussions about “anthropology in public vs public anthropology”. Looking at the differences really solidified the positions that had been developing in the thesis.

    The OAC is all about anthropology in public. And while perhaps this post will spurr more action on the OAC, I would have just left it alone as many were becoming entirely frustrated with it. And considering the closed nature of the OAC, in that it appeals only to anthropologists or to segments of anthropologists, I doubt the name confusion could be much of a problem? As far as recognition from outside goes, you are right, there is only one! And thats right here.

    With thousands of members, there are fewer than twenty with a voice (or anything to say). I do think there is hope for the OAC though, as within those twenty voices are at least five or six that have been inspiring (often students).

    You might get a laugh out of the recent “why the delay” post I wrote. It won’t make sense to people who aren’t up to speed on the OAC, or on self-archiving issues in anthropology, but it was fun to write. And some fun was desperately needed.

  2. Fixed one of your concerns Max – deleted the “open anthropology” subgroup. Unfortunately I can’t fix the bigger issue but left another reply on there.

  3. Just read your post Owen, and left my comment there. About this one, no, I could not leave it alone any longer. That kind of Janus-faced offering of platitudes, quick and momentary acknowledgments to this site and my authorship, spliced with altogether irrelevant misconceptions and poor constructions of OA, was/is causing me embarrassment and the potential for totally preventable conflict. Even if one is genuinely excited, wanting to have one’s hands in everything, wanting to do a bit of what everyone else is doing, what you never do is simply lift the work of a colleague, call it your own, and then rewrite it in ways that clash with the intent of the original author. Then that renders me mute, since now writing Open Anthropology means having to explain myself in light of a shadow. It’s unacceptable.

  4. Stacie, I have always appreciated your posts and commentaries, and then you went and made this sacrifice which should be an example to your “seniors” (sorry for talking hierarchy) and which is a loss. If you are still interested in OA, we can produce some alternative that might be better than what was there, and than what is here.

  5. Sorry to hear about the complications. Because I’m a little slow-of-mind, this is the first I realized there’s a difference between the two projects/groups. I fear I may have contributed to the conflation in a couple of recent posts, and I’ll fix that if I can – in any case I’ll try to be clear who I’m reading and writing about in the future.

  6. I am following the discussion taking place here, see from the bottom of page 4 onwards, the first full page is this one:

    http://openanthcoop.ning.com/forum/topics/what-is-open-anthropology?x=1&id=3404290%3ATopic%3A312&page=5#comments

    …and I will be responding.

    No, I clearly did not say that the OAC should be “shut down.” I was also never consulted, never asked, nor ever took part in any discussion that involved letting Keith Hart co-author my project. I archived and document all my points, let him do the same, it requires a lot more work than just deleting whatever embarrasses your argument.

    Keith Hart, we should remember, was one of the partisans who took greatest exception with the idea of circulating published work through his network, as a potential violation of copyright. Now, he decides to dishonestly, or at least erroneously, conflate my rightful claim to a stake in my own work as the “privatization of the commons.” Nice try Keith, but try writing in your name in the attribution details of published work, and see how far that gets you. Not even my proposals for circulating work meant altering the authorship details or rewriting the authorship of ideas. But I guess that whatever is online is fair game?

    No problem. I can do that too. If Highlander was the motif of this post, then “the Clone Wars” will be what comes next. I hope these people are ready for the game.

  7. Tonnerre!! Depending on your world-view, you can either see Borg or Innocent
    Bumbler handiwork in the naming of that network. Since I tend to see Borg
    everywhere, I was uncomfortable from the start with the name and had asked you certain questions about the use of your concept. I believe that if these questions had been raised at the beginning, this situation could have been avoided. Of course, I could only trust my instincts as I had no way of determining exactly what the motives of that other party were, though the refusal over time to address the concerns of those who questioned the use of the name makes me trust my suspicions.

    And you were silent because???… I gather that you were observing some arcane gentleman’s rules of engagement which required that you bite your tongue until the offending party’s sense of decency kicked in? So glad that you gave up on that. The fact that the other party has not appeared here to explain speaks volumes. We are left to conclude that this choice of name was more about incorporation than cooperation.

    So now you have collected some of the evidence to prove that others also feel discomfort with the pilfering/piggybacking/imitation. Some are even admitting to experiencing the confusion (intentional or not) caused by the blurring of the lines between your original thought and the knockoff. This is inexcusable. If only out of enlightened self-interest, academics should never engage in or support the tarnishing or diluting of another’s ideas by unauthorised use. It is this confusion and the potential for damage on which most infringement claims tend to be based.

    I’d like to comfort you by reminding you that imitation is the sincerest form of
    flattery but this goes beyond. Something that originated with you was taken, along with the continuing myths of affiliation with and sponsorship by yourself, and now the egg is blithely redesigning the chicken.

    Watch your head, Highlander. Non-immortals will try to remove it to absorb your quickening.

  8. Welcome back Guanaguanare! And thanks for this contribution; as usual, you are able to put things in their place so much better than I. You would know a lot more about Open Anthropology than the pretenders: you have been one of my long-standing partners and contributed to the development of this project.

    (Now if only Mad Axe would make his presence felt once again.)

    Lastly, no: Open Anthropology has never been about asking collaborators to surrender one of the rights that constitutes a fundamental ethical principle of anthropology: the right to anonymity. Anyone — particularly Keith Hart — who claims that this is what “open anthropology” is about, is fundamentally misrepresenting the project and violating a basic ethical norm of the discipline.

    Guanaguanare, you will always be welcome here.

  9. Paul Wren (link) needs to pay closer attention to what his fellow admins, and the network creator, have themselves said about the origins of the OAC and its pretended links to Open Anthropology. I went to the trouble of documenting everything above, ok? There is nothing innocent, random, or accidental about the naming…and they themselves make that point.

    So stop the foolishness Paul, this is out in the open.

  10. John McCreery (link), a right wing corporate anthropologist whose sole apparent mission is to serve as an apologist for men in uniform and lab coats, unsurprisingly fails to live up to the ethical standards that anthropologists publicly promote. His answer is this:

    “I am, however, curious. Is Forte the sort of guy with the inclination and resources to sue? Is there a court that would give him the time of day? If not, I’d pay no more attention to him than to any other crank complaint.”

    In other words, he will wake up to wrong doing only if sued.

    John, slap yourself in the face hard, many times, you need to wake up from your 40 year slumber.

    Another thing John, my name is not yours to play with, so buzz off and try to create something of your own. You did not have to enter this discussion, but now that you are here, it’s your reputation and blundering, dim-witted statements that will get public attention.

  11. Hi Max,
    I’ve been in the OAC as Igor Alcyon for a few month.
    I just wanted to say that I’ve just made the same argument there.

    I did not want to interfere in you affairs, and maybe I should have left the OAC a long time ago. I stayed because on some matters it seemed to me that I had to Voice. Maybe it was useless, I don’t know.
    Of course it would have been better if the debate about the name “OAC” had not died. I have been following the events and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t say anything. I apologize.
    I am quite disabused about how things has turned. But maybe Keith Hart and the admins will change their mind.

    Very best wishes.

  12. Certainly no need for you to apologize, you would be the last person to need to apologize. Your contributions in the OAC have always been very astute, perceptive, insightful, and offer a valuable critique that is lacking.

    I simply want my identity back. I can certainly share and collaborate, but not like this, not without discussion even, not against my will, and not with people that I have not chosen as partners. These people are being tested as anthropologists, in public. Welcome to Open Anthropology.

  13. You rang, sir?

    It’s been a long time I know. The thing is that I never stopped reading the comments on the blog and I am pretty sure I read every single post published this year. I love the work as always but I hate anthropology much more. That’s why I went quiet over the last few months.

    You know what’s funny? OAC helped me make a big decision. I was a member for a while this summer and being there helped me figure out that I don’t want to do any graduate work in anthro! They so totally turned me off and reach down inside me and pulled out the grudges I had towards anthros + academics in general. I know you wouldnt have approved my decision so I went totally quiet.

    I am doing some really interesting gigs now and I can guess that if you knew you would approve them big time. Ill tell you more by email.

    Thanks for everything Max. If anthropology had been just you alone, I would have stayed in it. But like this, with these specimens, no way.

    A dios companero!

  14. How could I forget this part! This is probably how you remember me best ;)

    The reactions in OAC to this blog post just underline what we knew all along about anthros: theyre a bunch of scumbags! Their only worry is about law suits, not ethics, not professional responsibility as you said. Basically all they want to do is take something over, change it, call it by the same name, then you get your reputation trashed by them. They act like corporate fat cats, talking to each other like some cigar chomping backroom boys who get to fuck over the planet and never be held to account.

    They wanna talk about Ward Churchill!? Look at them right there in OAC! Those are “scholars”??? WTF!

    Glad to get out.

  15. Max,

    You are completely right about this one, and I feel somewhat lame for still being registered there, considering. For what it’s worth I posted my 2 cents about this issue there as well, short but sweet. The name needs to be changed, period. I have actually been meaning to email you to clear up some questions I had about your site and the OAC, but this post pretty much takes care of that. Let’s just say that there have been certain threads there that promote a very different anthropological project than the one that you’re pushing here. I had a few minor exchanges here and there, but mostly sat back wondering exactly what that site is supposed to be doing. It all sounded good on the surface, but the issue I have is that there is no real consensus on ethics, purpose, or goals. It seems to have quickly turned into little more than FB for anthro people.

  16. I was going to cheer and say “you’re back!” and I am really glad that you have been following and decided to comment today, but I realize that it is just momentary. We will talk about the more private issues by e-mail I hope, I am certainly interested in learning about your plans, current activities, and so forth. I sensed your disenchantment at different points, so I am not “shocked” by what you say here.

    That aside, no, I remember you as having a lot more “fire” than this, lol. Anyway, any more fire and it might have been out of place. Alright, make sure you write by e-mail please, because the address I have returns my messages saying they are undeliverable, no account with that name.

  17. Many thanks Ryan, as always I appreciate your visits and comments. I wanted to write a post about what is not open anthropology, bouncing off some of the things that have been stipulated in that network, that are then labeled as “open anthropology” and are a fundamental misrepresentation. Again, if it was done deliberately, planned in advance (and I am suspicious of Keith Hart’s motives in general, and in particular his deletion of the discussion that led to the formation of the OAC), then I would believe that the move was genius, such an elegant and slick act of appropriation, to divert open anthropology into a meaningless, sterile dead-end that serves power, while sidelining this project and creating confusion in people’s minds as to what “open anthropology” means. I may still write that, but cognizant of what, as you say, is the fact that the OAC is little more than Facebook for anthropologists, with little more than a tiny fraction of its membership actually participating in discussions.

  18. Ya, the whole thread entitled “What is open anthropology” is a great illustration of how derailed and sterile the whole thing became. I read through it and was left wondering what the hell the Co-op is really about in the end. Just looks like another FB page w/o any real direction. Not that there aren’t some very interested people there, but the overall goal of the project is pretty muddled. There are definitely certain ideas about anthropology there that differ very much from my own. Especially when it comes to acknowledging the politics of the discipline and how it can affect the people that anthros work with. And it’s fine to have a diversity of opinions about what anthropology is and should be–but not under the banner of a completely DIFFERENT project that has specific ideals and goals (yours). So hopefully the powers that be over there do what needs to be done…

  19. Hi,
    I’ve been following this blog for a while, and have recently had a look at the OAC; honestly, neither seems to live up to the name ‘open anthropology’, which suggests an open access/creative commons approach to the production and exchange of anthropological knowledge. At this stage, I see very little evidence of this in either OA institution. While I enjoy this blog, and appreciate your polemical, politically-informed approach—something we need more of in anthropology—it appears to be a very personal project, not a collective or open one. It is all about the ideas, opinions, and interests of Maximilian C. Forte. Don’t get me wrong—I think this blog is very valuable as it is, and I am quite interested in your ideas and opinions. It just isn’t ‘open’, and this latest post makes it quite clear that you aren’t particularly interested in promoting ‘openness’. Your rather absurd attempt to lay claim to the name and the concept of ‘open anthropology’ as your own personal property has done you far more harm than the OAC ever could. An open anthropology project would not be something that can be owned, only something to participate in. Perhaps you should rename this blog/project ‘Maximilian C. Forte’s Anthropology’, and the OAC can be ‘Keith Hart and Friends Anthropology Cooperative’. ‘Open Anthropology’ should be a network of autonomous-yet-cooperative projects, not a branding exercise.

  20. Max,

    I have a lot of respect for your work here, and have always looked forward to following the links in your tweets (until now of course, since you’ve blocked me).

    What I don’t have much respect for are the methods you employed on this subject. If you wanted the OAC to change it’s name, why not contact the admins directly? I have no memory of a single e-mail or direct message from you on this matter.

    Your approach is like taking out a full-page ad in the NY Times to call Amazon a bunch of scumbags for stealing from you, rather than just contacting their customer service to find out why your book wasn’t delivered.

    If you really were interested in resolving this so you could go your way and the OAC goes its way, you could have just picked up the phone (so to speak).

    Whether I voiced it on the original OAC thread or not, I am and have been supportive of your position regarding the confusion caused by the similar names (although your antics here have put that to the test). I simply didn’t realize it was such a big deal, since I haven’t heard a peep on the subject for months.

    If you are just looking to garner attention and pick a fight, keep doing what you’re doing. If you are serious about this, why don’t you drop me a line. I’d be happy to discuss it, and see where we can go with it. But dissing all the admins and calling us out in this fashion is childish, disrespectful, and most likely ineffective.

    I hope you’ve had a great day. Mine’s been a waste. So maybe next time, couldn’t you just call?

  21. No Sean, you have to first read the description of open anthropology and have followed it long enough before reaching those conclusions.

    First of all, “open access/creative commons” is just one small dimension, and I have been a critic of open access on both this blog and Owen Wiltshire’s in certain regards. In addition, nowhere does “creative commons” imply you can rip something off — check my own Creative Commons license, it specifies “by attribution…no derivatives.” I did not create my project so it could get gang banged by all sorts of people without any knowledge of the project’s purpose.

    Secondly, you misunderstand the way “openness” is used here, and on the site of the Open Anthropology Project. I have taken care to define it, so I don’t have to answer to redefinitions such as the one you provide. I explain that open anthropology means:

    (a) transcending disciplinary boundaries,
    (b) working outside of the walls of institutionalism and professionalism,
    (c) bringing anthropology out into public engagement,
    (d) bringing knowledge of alternative anthropologies, by non-anthropologists, back into the academy
    (e) engaging in open source ethnography — collaboration, commentary, using materials freely available online and intended for public consumption. My partnerships with Guanaguanare, Leslie-Ann Brown, and Roi Kwabena were examples of this.

    It’s not about “openness” as in freedom to take, or anyone can join. I never suggested otherwise. I choose to work with certain people, and not others.

    Blogs have authors, I am pretty sure I did not invent that fact. Where there is authorship, there is restriction and there are boundaries.

    As for your claim that my “rather absurd attempt to lay claim to the name and the concept of ‘open anthropology’” has done me more harm than the OAC ever could, you are almost perfectly wrong on this point. First, you simply need to check when “open anthropology” came into being as a concept. Prove me wrong, and show me it did not first develop here. Since it all happened online — and there is one aspect of “openness” that I do endorse — it should be an easy task for you. Like any other author of any other concept, who is not asked to surrender his/her authorship, who is not forced into erasure, I do lay claim. I am a bit mystified as to when the it became the established academic practice to say: what’s yours is mine, and you can just shut up and go into the corner.

    The harm is in the OAC taking certain practices, designating them as “open anthropology,” adding some platitude in my direction, and creating a gross misrepresentation.

    I will not be renaming this blog to anything other than how it was first named. I would ask that people submerge their arrogance and their sense of entitlement to the work of others. What you call “branding,” I call a necessary aim of maintaining clarity, excluding what is both reprehensible and to be opposed, and embracing like-minded partners.

    You don’t have to accept that, and it doesn’t matter. You can go create your own platform.

    What has been useful about this experience is that we can see, in public, what kinds of standards and ethics some anthropologists actually subscribe to. What you dismiss as “branding,” an indigenous community would call its cultural property. I hope that no such community ever has an anthropologist like you working in it, that is if you are an anthropologist.

  22. Well that is one very odd post, Paul…because I did exactly what you suggest, well before you suggested it.

    I have corresponded with Carole McGranahan, and spoken with her on the phone, well before this, and on this very topic. I believe that she raised the very points I quoted from her in the post, after we spoke.

    No, I did not speak with you. Is there a hierarchy in there? Do you matter more than she does? Well, now you do, because I have been informed that today she has resigned as your co-admin at the OAC.

    I chose to speak with Carole because we always got along very well and I have a great deal of respect for her. We communicate more frequently elsewhere than I can say about any of the other admins., so it seemed very natural to tell her what I thought. However, there is now evidence that the rest of the admins simply chose to ignore what she said. Now, you have some explaining to do.

    If you think that someone defending the rights to their own work is “childish and disrespectful,” then sorry, but you have a lot of growing up to do as an anthropologist then.

    If it is most likely ineffective, then don’t expect me to walk away, and do expect much greater escalation. In the meantime, this was plainly effective in one critical regard: getting your attention.

  23. 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.

  24. Guanaguanare may have had a really good point. You should feel flattered that so many want to claim your work and your name. Don’t worry, I get it: it might have been flattering if they hadn’t been so sloppy and dishonest about it and their had been a true partnership —- you know, like the one you and I have, LOL! ;););)

  25. Sean, I am going to disagree with you, for the simple reason that while some of your ideas are nice, they are impractical. By this I mean to say that they are nebulous and homogenizing; they posit a world without creativity, because there can be no creators, and thus no agency. If there are agents, then as Max’s own post with a quote about ethical cosmopolitanism very aptly explained, you are then obligated to respect those agents and their difference as others, which is an ethical anthropology and, more than this even, a way of respecting one’s obligations to others as human beings, as a human being yourself, respecting their otherness by recognizing it, not voiding it of historicity and displacing it. I believe these are your most fundamental mistakes.

    Your mention of ‘autonomous projects’ is therefore something untenable, it cannot be reached or held. This is so because autonomy implies boundaries, difference, and separation. Your entire posting contradicts this message. If you value autonomy, then you must value the autochthons and listen to when they say ‘so far, and no further’.

    Max would have done himself greater harm by continuing his futile attempt at respectful public silence. I salute his courage and if you should choose to reexamine this situation you might do so too. Additionally, you really do not possess any knowledge of what ‘harm’ has been done, to whom, how, and why. It is clear from what people have been writing here that the boundaries between OA and OAC have been confused, only this has happened as a matter of conscious practice, though without conscience it so appears.

  26. It’s late Enrique and I cannot do further justice to your kind contribution other than to say many thanks for reading and for adding such stimulating thoughts to this discussion. You have hit so many nails on the head in terms of what Open Anthropology really entails, that I hope people will stop and pay attention. I am in your debt now.

    Very best wishes.

  27. Guanaguanare always has great points, which is why I wished she would become a permanent blogger here. Owen, Frenchguy, and Enrique made some great points too, and I think Enrique has really, and very effectively, seized the essence of this entire debate.

    As for you, will you please check your email account? :)

  28. Replying to Maximilian Forte:

    I am quite aware of the various forms of ‘open access’ and ‘creative commons’; simply publishing your work under a creative commons licence does not give you ownership of the concept of open anthropology. Perhaps you were the first to put ‘open’ and ‘anthropology’ together, but that also does not give you exclusive rights to the concept. Discourses on ‘openness’ have been circulating in intellectual and creative fields for quite some time, with a range of debated meanings. Thus ‘open anthropology’ is a rather obvious coinage with certain implied meanings, and I do not accept your exclusive claim to it, much less your attempt to compare it in status to indigenous cultural property (which is many things, but very seldom ‘open’). As a single individual, while you may make certain claims to authority over the specific contents your own work, you do not have the moral authority to lay claim to entire concepts.

    As to the ‘open’ status of this blog; yes, it does contain some more-or-less open materials, and so could fall under the term ‘open anthropology’ (as defined by a straightforward combination of ‘open culture/open access/open source’ and ‘anthropology’, as well as your own personal definition). However, I would have thought that the ‘open anthropology project’ and the ‘open anthropology blog’ would be primarily concerned with developing, encouraging, and expanding open anthropology as a concept and a network. That is certainly what I assumed when I first came across references to your ‘open anthropology project’. Yet despite the claims and definitions you provide about the open anthropology project on this site, this does not seem to be the primary aim of this blog (even going by your own definition of open anthropology). Although I was somewhat disappointed when I realised that this was not in fact the hub for a broader open anthropology community or movement, I have continued to read your blog because I am usually quite interested in what you have to say—especially regarding the militarisation of anthropology.

    I did not suggest that you must turn this blog into a ‘free-for-all’ or allow others to copy your materials at will without attribution. Has OAC reposted some of your articles, films, or blog posts without attribution? Or are you only upset about the similarity in name? Fair enough if you have more substantial criticisms of the OAC; if you think they are failing to uphold the values and practices of ‘open anthropology’ as you define it, by all means air them. But all I’m hearing so far is an overblown complaint about ‘identity theft’ which appears to have more to do with defending a personal brand than it does with defending open anthropology as a concept. You have said nothing here about how and why they are not practising ‘open anthropology’, according to your definition or otherwise, and quite a lot about how they have ‘stolen’ a term which you are seeking to reserve for your own personal use. The way you have framed your complaint looks nothing like a defence of indigenous cultural property, and quite a lot like the corporate defence of a trademark. This is the strong impression I get from your own post, without any additional ‘inside’ information on the dispute. Perhaps the reality of the affair is different, and you simply have not presented your case very well here. But honestly I can’t think of much that the OAC could reasonably have done that would damage my opinion of you more than your own post has done.

    Funnily enough, having stumbled across the OAC (via Keith Hart’s blog) after having become a regular reader of your blog, I actually assumed that they had nothing whatsoever to do with you, but rather were an entirely separate use of the term ‘open anthropology’, which is a rather obvious and logical construction given the prominence of the open source/creative commons movement. I’m not familiar enough with the group to assess whether or not they fall into my own interpretation of what open anthropology should be.

    BTW, I am a postgraduate in anthropology, and I find it rather amusing that in a discussion about ‘open anthropology’ you thought questioning my credentials would strengthen your case. I happen to have worked in a community that actively encourages others to copy, exchange, and take inspiration from their works of cultural production, especially if those doing so also become active participants in the community. I love them for it, but this does not mean that I think that all forms of cultural production must be similarly open. Your suggestion that I would violate the cultural rights of indigenous people is baseless and rather offensive.

  29. max, regarding your discussion with john. just to remind you, you were the one who came with a legal protection first in your post:
    ‘Of course there is no copyright protection for titles, especially when they are short phrases — except that the phrase in question is rather distinctive.’

    of course, in the second sentence you said: ‘I am not, however, arguing about legalities, but rather about ethics, respect, and political accountability.’

    but it says something (about you me issue world whatever) that you even bothered to mention the legalities…


    a book ‘The economy of obligation’ describes how the ‘contract’ and its legal enforcement evolved in 16th century england mostly because of large defaults. most transactions (up to 85%) were done by buying on credit (but in a sense of communal reputation). so hopefully, as this ‘confusion’ shows, this virtual world will sometimes allow for less contracts in future and more communal credit(ing)

  30. Reply to Enrique Betancourt:

    I have not outlined a detailed proposal for an ‘open anthropology’, so I’m not sure what you are directing your critique at, exactly. To clarify, by ‘autonomy’ I do not mean some kind of absolute denial of social rules and obligations; I refer instead to the kind of collective autonomy established by certain kinds of joint projects and communities engaged in social and creative activity. That is, there is a degree of independence for the individuals involved, especially in terms of if and how they choose to participate, but still shared goals and expectations. This autonomy supports and is supported by cooperation and communication.

    To me, open anthropology suggests a fairly open and flexible network, though not one completely without rules or boundaries. More particularly, it suggests an ‘open’ approach to sharing ideas, opinions, data and material. I hardly see how this is impractical, though of course not all anthropological work must or should be open in this way. Openness is not absolute, and is not always the best option. Networks like this do exist in other spheres of activity, with varying degrees of ‘openness’, and varying expectations about use, reuse, and attribution. There is already a degree of this kind of openness in academic anthropology, and a somewhat different form can be detected in anthropology blogs and other online forums. I would think that an open anthropology project would involve defending and extending this openness, where appropriate. Differences of opinion are inevitable, but it seems to me that ‘open anthropology’ is far from the kind of concept for which a single definitive authority is at all useful.

    Yes, it is true that I do not have knowledge of what ‘harm’ has been done in this case, except in so much as the term ‘open anthropology’ will now bring to mind this dispute rather than any kind of alternative vision for anthropology. The dispute itself seems rather petty to me, based on the public information that has been provided here. The broader issues in terms of defining and asserting ownership over ‘open anthropology’ are what concern me, as an anthropologist grappling with the politics of cultural production and exchange.

  31. Martin, you read too much in that. I am saying explicitly that I am not arguing about this on a legal level, which to you seems to imply that I am. Rather than increase understanding, by demarcating the issue, it seems that understanding has been decreased.

  32. Sean, I think you should have paid closer attention to both what Enrique said, and to your reply to him, which made concessions that make your intervention here even more contradictory.

    You are taking an increasingly preposterous position, and whatever offense you have taken, is indicative rather more of self-harm. You are telling someone who has been working on a project that he effectively has no claim to existence, that he has no ownership over his own work, that he has autonomy, sure, but just as long as it doesn’t look autonomous, and that there can be sharing and participation just as one long as one person, myself, is disempowered from making any decisions about who to participate with.

    That’s not open anthropology. That’s just a plain, disrespectful grab.

    If you think this is mere “branding,” then why don’t you take your ideals and head on over to Neuroanthropology, and tell them that everything they worked on does not belong to them; tell antropologi.info, which has enough of a sense of its self-identity to celebrate its 5th birthday, to submerge its identity; or Savage Minds, where they write articles in Anthropology News about their blog, and often begin sentences with the phrase, “Here at Savage Minds…”.

    Really, I am honoured that you so adore my project that you want it to be yours and anyone’s, but I think you are being offensive, and as I said preposterous, in saying that you can have it without any regard to the person who invested his time, energy, and creativity into making it happen, into making the phrase a meaningful one to begin with.

    You say you worked in a “community,” which seems to mean that you respected their boundaries and their existence as an entity separate from yourself. What makes you think I would accept any less?

    Furthermore, you continue with this “harm” notion. Harm, to whom? How? In whose eyes? Is it just an empty assertion, wishful thinking, or is it based on anything you could call evidence? Having another thing calling itself “open anthropology” out there, which claims some affinity with mine, is much more harmful than anything you seem to be calling harm.

    You also seem intent on erasing what has been posted by readers here, when they attest to the fact that they did in fact think the two sites were linked. That should have ended the discussion, but in your case you think you still had an argument (only if you could just ignore what others said).

    I think I have already explained, more than once, that when you take a concept, then effectively rework its meanings so it becomes something else, then drop a platitude to the person who created the concept to make a quicker getaway, that you are then misrepresenting a concept and doing harm. Until you can get your head around that, you really cannot discuss this issue any further. Your attempt to trivialize matters as “branding” shows me that you are still barely scratching the surface.

    Also, I did not question “your credentials.” I have not the vaguest idea who you are, and I was holding open the possibility that you were not an anthropologist — the overwhelming majority of people who comment on this blog are neither anthropologists, and often not academics. But look at how quick you were to take offense, which tells me that your persona matters to you…only you think my persona should matter nothing at all to me.

    Finally, when you say to Enrique that — to you — open anthropology means a “flexible network,” then I say you do not belong in this discussion because you have clearly and obviously not expended any effort at understanding what is actually meant by the concept, by the person who took the trouble to give it meaning in the first place. If you cannot show respect, don’t expect any at all in return.

  33. Thank you Max. I would like to add my agreement to those who suggest you should be flattered: the fight over what you produced and made present, suggests that it is something valuable if people want it. What makes this truly harmful is if some think that they can take it without respect. That is dangerous in any field, and quite unacceptable in a discipline that, ostensibly, takes great pride in ethical conduct. This episode, yet another in the discipline’s public history, shows us how little anthropologists of the North have really committed themselves to honest, fair, transparent, and reciprocal relationships.

    Sean you seem to make assertions that you then back away from when challenged, only to return to your position as if nothing had changed. You wrote:

    Yes, it is true that I do not have knowledge of what ‘harm’ has been done in this case, except in so much as the term ‘open anthropology’ will now bring to mind this dispute rather than any kind of alternative vision for anthropology. The dispute itself seems rather petty to me, based on the public information that has been provided here. The broader issues in terms of defining and asserting ownership over ‘open anthropology’ are what concern me, as an anthropologist grappling with the politics of cultural production and exchange.

    To start, you have no idea what the term will bring to anyone’s mind, you cannot arrogantly assume to speak for others, and you cannot do so when Max has already indicated that right here on this page there are those whose opinions flatly contrast with yours. Therefore, you admit you do not know what harm has been done, you have no answers to my questions on the subject, but you then you proceed to make a much more serious error: performing a ventriloquist act with vox populi as your personal dummy.

    If the dispute is a petty one, as you say above, well then how humorous it is to see that you invest so much in the dispute. Pay close attention to where you came to lay your claims to open anthropology, it is very funny really.

  34. granted, what i mean to say is that in this kind of discussion you even bothered to mention this option (even as anti-option).

    clearly, it is also possible that i am a bit slow. a too tired.

  35. Might I suggest the following for clarification? Please correct whatever you think may be my failing to follow the thread of discussion.

    1. One site began to use “open anthropology”, and not just as a name, but also as its feature concept.

    2. Much later, a second site appeared, that also used the name, and went further in claiming some intellectual relationship with the first site, used its concept which the first site turned from a name into a concept.

    3. At least some people began to confuse the two sites. Some people, meaning Google as well, if it could count as “people.”

    4. That since the two sites are separate, and obviously opposed to one another, the confusion can only be harmful to the reputation of the first site that originated the concept as a concept.

    5. That if the discussion is a petty one, then that other site, which came to the name and concept much later, should have no problem in dropping a mere name.

    6. That to the extent that some were keen to take the name and concept of “open anthropology,” but without due diligence as to the history of the concept and the person whose work originated it, that we have established a primary source of harm and that we see the perils of allowing the situation to continue as such.

    7. That members of the very same OAC are in agreement with the first site, so that we read above that one of its groups, “Open Anthropology,” has been deleted by its own creator within the OAC, out of respect for the first site.

    8. That there is no unanimity among the very administrators of the OAC, so much that they contradict each other in an open forum, and even moreso that one of them has resigned because of this dispute.

    9. That the simplest remedy would be for OAC to change its name and perhaps also its URL. Both can be done.

    10. That any refusal on their part to do so, establishes their intent to clash with this site.

    Thank you.

  36. Hey Max, you know who else laughs at branding and brand control? Thieves and pirates. I should know – I make my living as a thief and pirate. As a committed consumer of cheap knock offs, I know.

  37. Philip Carl Salzman, my favourite extreme Zionist, fascist anthropologist, who found a happy home for his Islamophobic rantings on the OAC, just wrote: “Max is no Jane Austin.”

    Someone help the poor fellow out. He has no background in literature but wants to pronounce on the subject of literary style…and he cannot even get the name Jane Austen right.

    If anything, there have been some great laughs in all this. And remember MadAxe, “it’s all about the lulz.”

  38. You want some lulz? Then check out this joker, Captain Hindgrinder himself. He’s a great a sailor, you can tell: he’s got the capn’s hat and all.

    Want some more? Have you read Salzman’s RateMyProf page? Love the one about his not standing women with strong opinions and in OAC he’s calling on feminists to support his “outrage” over Iran.

  39. Alright, getting back to more serious discussions (hint), I very much liked DonaldS’ summary above at:

    https://openanthropology.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/there-can-be-only-one/#comment-6742

    From my point of view, Donald, there is really nothing I can see in your list that requires “correction” from me. I will add that the concept has very precise meanings in both principle and practice, and it now seems necessary to reprise the whole matter and synthesize everything from multiple pages on this site, and on openanthropology.org. That will not be very soon, however. Those with a “been there, done that” attitude, likely know very little about this site, its contents, and its genesis.

    Therefore, Huon Wardle, your comment that “I published on the theoretical implications of ‘cultural openness’ before MF launched his site” is generally irrelevant, and you do not have the practice to back it up, nor the partnerships, and “cultural openness” has nothing to do with this site, which is also not focused on “theoretical implications.”

    But by all means, dig in everybody. In fact, as a tribute to Wardle, the OAC could change its name, with his permission, to:

    The Theoretical Implications of Cultural Openness…Cooperative.

  40. Oh no you got the Captain of the High Seas angry…he’s now attacking my joke video, and joke title. The real joke is that he inspired it, he should take credit. Remember his line, about how “paradoxically” I have a site with the same name? Again, the refusal to even spend a moment to understand how “open” is utilized here, which tells me that he should not comment if he is ignorant about a subject.

    Let’s hope for innocent swimmers and boaters that his navigation is not as far off the mark as his commentary.

  41. Shit, sometimes strange things happen. I have just refered to the same comment at OAC before reading your comment. That was a minute ago. Anyway. It is pretty much how I would like to explain the situation to someone curious about the story.

  42. Putain, cette fois c’en est vraiment de trop, les dernières interventions sur l’OAC m’ont plus que cassé les couilles. Je te souhaite de bien continuer ton travail, et de ne pas être trop emmerder par des connards.
    Bon courage.
    (I can translate if you wish).

  43. I agree w/Frenchguy. We were even close to reaching an agreement to change the name and then a thunderstorm rolled in. Oh well. We tried. All of this eerily reminds me of what’s been going on in the last 6 mo. in the organization that I work for, except that my organization has finally started to work things out for the better. I’m not patient enough to go through it again. Not all walls are worth beating your head against.

    I will think about your suggestion as to alternatives. Ideas? It may be that I need to invest in a new print cartridge and paper so I can start reading some other folks’ blogs. Reading long articles on a computer screen doesn’t work unless I’m super-focused, which I’m usually not at the end of a day.

  44. Very disturbing Frenchguy,

    I am sorry to see that you have to personally experience how “they” — that is the elder yachtsmen and monarchical toads at the OAC — go about building “consensus”…oh yes, in the interests of “openness,” of course: they mob someone and bully the person until he or she leaves.

    I know your actual identity from personal email correspondence, and of course I am not revealing it to anyone. What is more significant is that they would like to place younger “opponents” (if I can use that word), in a position of peril, for possible retribution.

    As for Nikos — ignore him, he is simply a clown who uses anthropology as a means of going on a mental Mediterranean vacation.

  45. I left this note out previously, in response to Paul Wren. Paul seems to value communications in Twitter. He also seems to think that — despite my conversations with his fellow admin — all of this came without warning.

    Here is the run up to this post, as announced in Twitter, as a matter of fact:

    It begins here, then continues here, then here, there, over there, then here, and then finally here, and then there.

    Have I made my point, or shall we continue a dispute where the other side uses insults and allegations, and this side uses the references, quotes, and facts?

  46. Max,

    I was clearly mistaken to conclude from my own personal experience that this began with the “There Can Be Only One!” blog post.

    I made a point in my reply here that I had not received any communication from you, and you have confirmed that. If you have been communicating with other OAC admins in the past few days/weeks, I simply didn’t know it. I’m glad to hear that you initiated direct contact, and I’m disappointed that it did not lead to a good resolution. (To answer one of your questions: There is a no hierarchy within the admin team, we each act on issues as we see fit, and shoot for consensus on larger issues).

    As for communicating your issues via Twitter: you’re well aware that I cannot read any of the tweets to which you’ve linked when I click on them, so I don’t know when they were posted… but I can honestly say that this situation came as a surprise to me (this blog post was the first I’d heard of the name issue in a long time). Twitter is something I access every few days, so a great deal of tweets pass by unnoticed.

    I want to point out that when I created the OAC Wiki, I chose to omit “open” from the domain name at wikidot in anticipation of a potential name change to accommodate your wishes (http://anthcoop.wikidot.com). If the subject seems to have been dropped at our end, for myself I know it is due to forgetfulness and neglect. The OAC is far from my highest priority, and squeaky wheels get grease. Ah! You’ve been squeaking mightily, I see. I guess it’s working.

    In conclusion: You want a solution, your supporters demand one, and I know that I want one. Discussions are taking place, and there’s no doubt something is forthcoming.

    Quite sincerely,

    Paul Wren

  47. Thank you very much Paul,

    I am quite sure that if matters had not proceeded with as much haste as they did back in May, and this particular issue had been a matter entirely up to you, Carole, and myself, that we very likely would have found some resolution early on.

    Best wishes.

    *************************************

    The final response to the non-resolution of this issue by the OAC can be found here:

    https://openanthropology.wordpress.com/1960/01/01/let-the-clone-wars-begin-how-the-open-anthropology-project-can-be-cooperative/

    *************************************

    Those who wish to understand better, can also see Jeremy Trombley’s post, “Why I Left the OAC,” and my responses:

    http://jmtrom.blogspot.com/2009/09/why-i-left-oac.html?showComment=1252507189138#c6627144001591460659

    and

    http://jmtrom.blogspot.com/2009/09/why-i-left-oac.html?showComment=1252507226595#c1282797618752893642

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