Friday, June 24, 2011

Reflections of an Un(der)employed Anthropologist

Yes, I drew this awesome picture using MS Paint.

A discussion over at the AAA LinkedIn group got me thinking more about my own current situation with unemployment and underemployment as a newly minted anthropologist. The individual who started the discussion posted this question:

Are there any other un- and underemployed anthropologists out there? When I speak of the underemployed, I mean individuals not working as adjunct or contract faculty. What are we doing to survive?

[Please ignore the funky formatting issues in the next paragraph; I can't seem to fix them.]

First of all, yes, I am technically currently unemployed. I have had to take up odd jobs like watching people's kids and chickens (not that I haven't enjoyed it!) and making PowerPoint presentations for my favorite Luddite professor (I mean that in the most endearing way) to barely make ends meet. And even those jobs are scarce. I am not only complaining but also making a statement and an observation about the reality of the job market today. It just doesn't seem right that anyone should have to face this situation, but it all goes back to the crappy economy, the poor return on investment for advanced degrees, budget cuts, a lack of appreciation for/understanding of what anthropologists actually (can) do, etc., etc.

Second, I want to say that I consider myself to be a practicing anthropologist, in the sense that I am not an academic anthropologist and will eventually find the majority of my work in the professional realm outside of the university. But I have just gone from unemployed to underemployed, because (ironically) I recently embarked on a new part-time consulting project (it's been slow to start) that may require me to become an employee of the University of Memphis, but this is still in the works.) I often flinch when I tell people I'm a practitioner because I haven't been doing very much practicing lately, except for a very small pro bono project for a local workers' rights group regarding issues of wage theft.

The situation, as I commented over at LinkedIn, has been nothing but frustrating, disheartening and discouraging. Okay, not completely, but I'll say the negative before the positive. I mentioned to someone close to me today that I have lost much of my post-graduation job-seeking motivation, partially because I haven't gotten many responses, and those that I have gotten haven't really led to much. Also, the effort and energy I have put into this job search, as well as the lack of structure and purpose in my life right now, have made me exhausted, unmotivated, and somewhat pessimistic about the future.

At the same time, I have continued to remind myself that it's not me, it's the economy. I think in a good economy, with my credentials and experience and skills, I would have landed a job right out of school. The reality is that's just not an option for many of us at the moment, especially new grads who are lacking in real-world experience. I am lucky in this respect because I had many opportunities for hands-on, agency- and community-based research projects as a student. But even though yes, there are jobs out there, I think it's the right of the individual to determine what jobs will suit him or her best, not only in terms of skills and training but also, and this is important, in terms of interest and passion as a practitioner.

So far I have applied for about 50 jobs. Maybe this isn't a lot in today's toilet bowl economy. But it takes time and energy to fill out applications, to search for appropriate and fitting positions, to re-write cover letters, to send thank you notes, and to do all the other necessary research and preparation that is required. After doing this for a few months, it gets tiring. You tend to lose motivation. You get sick of filling out forms asking you for the name of your high school or what months you worked that one job five years ago.

I have had some luck and a handful of positive responses to my applications and interviews. I have been fortunate to land even a few phone calls and emails in response to my resume, let alone a single in-person interview. Recently I found out that I did not get what basically amounted to a dream job in consumer research at a Fortune 100 company. I was definitely disappointed because I wanted it but also because the one month I waited to hear back was extremely excruciating, worse than waiting for a college admittance letter. On the other hand, I was also happy because I was one of the top two choices for the position and because I was told that the three individuals who interviewed me were highly impressed with my application. Plus, this company flew me out to their headquarters, all expenses paid, for a day-long interview experience that I totally rocked (in a spiffy new suit, I might add). That definitely boosted my confidence.

What advice would I share with others who find themselves in similar situations? Stay motivated. I commented to a friend the other day (he is also looking for a new job) that logic doesn't seem to apply when it comes to the job search, which is really an exercise in willpower. It's also all about patience and luck, or at least that's what it has felt like. Being patient and waiting for people to get in touch with you. Being in the right place at the right time. Expecting the unexpected (e.g. don't hold your breath on a job, even if you submitted the best cover letter you ever wrote with your application; e.g. expect a rush of inquiries when you've almost given up all hope. Etc.) When I first seriously began applying for jobs back in March I wasn't getting much. But then an email or two would trickle in each week, and some would move forward, others would be stagnant. Again, it's also about willpower. And that's what I need to remind myself of, too. I need to maintain the will and continue filling out applications, sending in resumes, writing emails, networking, searching through listings, etc., etc. I need to rediscover the motivation I had when I walked across that stage and received my empty diploma case, which gave me the confidence to go out there and look.

Another thing is, although I've applied for a good number of jobs, I have actually began to apply for fewer jobs as I've become more practiced at the art of finding the positions I really want and those I would really enjoy doing. I think this is one of the benefits of being involved for an extended period of time in a job search. You come to know what you are really looking for. You come to understand what search terms to use and what job descriptions meet your skill set and personal requirements. For example, I applied for a research assistant position at a historical preservation office with a Native American tribe in the southeastern United States. I met all the requirements and gave it a shot, and after the first interview was invited to fly down for a second, f2f interview. But I declined. Some may ask why I didn't take advantage of the opportunity, but I had a number of reasons. Aside from the 2-hour daily commute, I am in no way interested in archaeology or managing research files. It didn't sound like a job I would enjoy doing or one that I could become passionate about. And the fact that they were unable to pay for my expenses to come interview did not help, as it's difficult to afford such things when you don't currently have a job! This was also one of the jobs I had applied for early on in my search, when I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for and when I was applying for anything remotely related to my degree.

My point is that I have been able to get a better grasp of what's out there and not waste as much time applying for stuff just because I don't have something, for jobs that I know I won't be happy with or am overqualified for or for which I don't meet the requirements. The decrease in applications I've submitted over the past few weeks is partially a result of this, but is also the result of losing steam, running out of juice, and of putting all of my eggs into just a few promising baskets, only to not get those positions in the end.

All I have left to do is get back up on my horse and keep riding until I get to my destination (did I really just type that?) In other words, I'll keep reminding myself of a mantra I adopted after discovering it in a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant, which I taped to my laptop to get me through comprehensive exams and the final months of the semester. It says:

You will obtain your goal if you maintain your course.

Anthropologists for Obama bumper sticker



Saw this on the University of Memphis campus today. Not sure I know this individual...

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NewMR Webinar: New Approaches to Presenting Data

See more Worst PPT Slide Ever winners at InFocus

NewMR held a 2-hour webinar today on new and innovative ideas and approaches to presenting marketing data and insights. This was my first NewMR webinar, and I was very pleased with the variety of participants (representing both sides of the Atlantic), the insightful responses during the panel discussion (thank you for answering my questions!), and each of the presentations. Participants included Ray Poynter of The Future Place, Justine Carleton Gage of Lextant, Nima Srinivasan of Added Value, and Kathryn Korostoff of Research Rockstar. Andrew Jeavons of Survey Analytics acted as moderator.

Ray Poynter's talk on creating aesthetically pleasing, informative presentations was especially good. We've all used PowerPoint at least a few times in our lives, whether for a class presentation or in conveying insights to upper management at our jobs. We either love it or hate it or both, and some of us are better at it than others (and I don't just mean the talking part, but actually designing slides so they strike that perfect balance between too much information and too little, poor template/background/style choice, etc.) I'm pretty good at designing succinct, interesting presentations, but am always looking for pointers on how I can enhance them to be even better.

The most important takeaway point from Poynter's talk for me was that nothing superfluous should ever be included in a presentation. This is right on. It means don't include anything that doesn't have something to do with your main point or what you are trying to get across to your audience. Other useful points from Ray's talk:
  • Extra items on slides create a challenge (keep it simple)
  • However, the right image or graphic can really enhance your presentation
  • Recall is better when there are graphical representations of findings (memorable graphics are a plus)
  • Stay away from busy backgrounds, 3D charts, text boxes, images under charts, irrelevant images/colors
  • Logos aren't necessary if you're presenting insights to a client because they should (hopefully) know who you are by that point
  • Too much data stops messages from getting through
  • Debriefing is the meat and drink of the presentation (what does this all mean?)
  • Get away from bullet points (everyone uses them so be more creative)
From the other talks I got a good sense of what it's actually like to design and give market research presentations and convey insights to clients. There were some very impressive examples of slides and methods, for example using images of everyday objects as metaphors for qualitative data, or the use of archetypes to discuss brand personalities. Justine Carleton Gage discussed the importance of insights translation, which "bridges the gap between research and development." Doing a good job at this is crucial for telling your clients what they need to know and how to act on findings (hence the term actionable insights that is often thrown around).

Example of insights translation, cellphone personalities study, Justine Carleton Gage, Lextant

An innovative infographic from Nima Srinivasan, Added Value

Other takeaway points from the post-presentation panel discussion (some are no-brainers but also good reminders):
  • The first two or three minutes are the most important (this is the time to tell about the "shocking and contrary" findings)
  • Know the basics of PPT presentations, including how to change backgrounds, templates, fonts, styles, etc.
  • What is the story you want to tell? Know this, then the presentation design will follow.
  • Storyboard your presentation before actually putting it together, kind of like how television shows are made.
  • You don't want your presentation to be too long, but you also don't want to cram too much information into a short amount of time.
  • Organize your findings by the project objectives
And my favorite:
  • White space is your friend!
As for giving the actual presentation, practice always leads us one step closer to perfection. But one idea proposed by Ray Poynter that really struck me was to present in front of people you know, and at the end have them tell you 2 things you did really well, and 2 things you should try and work on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Participatory Approaches to Poverty Research - Including the true experts on poverty

I want to share an excellent resource I discovered on participatory approaches to poverty research. "From Input to Influence: Participatory Approaches to Research and Inquiry Into Poverty" (2004) was written by Fran Bennet and Moraene Roberts of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 

This report introduces the concept of this particular approach and discusses the benefits, strengths and challenges researchers may encounter when conducting a participatory project. It features a number of illustrative case studies from the U.K. and discusses how participatory research relates to action, human rights, and ethics. The authors close with recommendations for future projects. There is also an extensive bibliography of sources. A full report and summary are available for download online.

I'm familiar with this approach and have used it in the past, but I also really appreciate having a source/guide like this one that discusses the approach from multiple aspects and the important things to consider when using it.

In true participatory research:
  • People with direct experience of poverty are involved as active stakeholders and contributors (and as researchers if possible) rather than passive discussants/recipients/bystanders
  • People's knowledge and experiences are respected and integrated into the research process
  • Participants have more authority, control and influence on how the research is used through their integration into the research
  • Researchers recognize the expertise and realities of participants and how they can improve policy (qualitative data)
  • Participation is optimized - different degrees/methods of participation depending on the context/purpose of the project (a continuum of participation)
  • Stakeholders are not seen as one homogeneous group of "poor people" but as individuals and groups with varying interests, priorities, values, etc. (there is not just one "voice" of poverty)
  • It is less of a separate methodology than a guiding philosophy for the research process
  • Participants have the right to shape the research agenda and analyze and edit data - they are the true experts on poverty
  • The participatory process should be negotiated and roles clarified from the start
The great thing about this approach is that the perspectives and ideas that come from community members allow for a more in-depth, bottom-up understanding of the lived experiences of poverty, how people define poverty, how people deal with power differentials in an unequal society, what they see as its causes and how they feel it can be ameliorated. The research process, especially through discussion groups, allows people to form and build upon relationships with each other to create sustainability and a greater sense of community, and builds trust between researchers and community members. The results can be used not only in reports that inform policy but also for future projects conducted by community-based groups. It's also not only about research and gathering information but about establishing relationships (social capital), taking action, effecting change and facilitating sustainability, ownership and empowerment within marginalized communities.

Most importantly, if people living in poverty are included, the results of the project will likely be more relevant to their lives and therefore the policy that is influenced will be, too. Specifically, the authors cite Evans and Fisher (1999) who note the role that research plays in legitimating knowledge. Typically, the knowledge that is produced remains in control of researchers and other "experts" (people with degrees), whereas the marginalized communities affected by policy have little influence on the actual policies themselves because they are seen as passive recipients or beneficiaries with nothing to contribute to the conversation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Technology in Church

Last Sunday I paid a visit to a local church here in Memphis out of respect for the pastor, who proved to be an invaluable resource for a past project in which I looked at the role of small, grassroots churches in facilitating social capital and information amongst its members (I conducted participant observation there, interviewed various church members and staff, and recruited participants for subsequent stages of research for the project).

The two-and-a-half hour service was quite enjoyable, first and foremost because the pastor is an excellent preacher who kept my attention with his speaking and story-telling abilities. Not surprisingly, I began to assess the context and social interactions I was witnessing through an anthropological lens, because no matter where I am, my anthropological radar is always on at full power, kind of like Spidey-sense. One thing that really struck me was how various forms of technology had been integrated into the church to enhance the member experience.

Now I'm not usually one to attend church and haven't been for quite some time (years?), so this may not be new to some people. But remembering back to the times I did go, I do not remember such a prevalence of technological improvements but more of a traditional churchy experience that was actually quite boring (after all, I was a kid). For example, the entire service was visible to all on a giant screen projection above the altar (not sure if that's the correct term), as well as highly audible via an excellent sound system. DVD copies of the service were available for purchase immediately afterward at the "Media Booth". I was also impressed by the videography taking place, with multiple camera people and the integration of biblical verses and images onto the screen up above (not to mention contemporary Christian music in the background).

Perhaps the most intriguing form of technology occurred when various individuals took out their cellphones and opened up mobile Bible apps when the pastor asked the congregation to turn to a particular book of the Bible. Bibles were not provided at this church and most people didn't carry them as far as I could tell. I couldn't get a good count of how many people actually used apps for this purpose, but at least two young women within my vicinity did.

This got me thinking in general about how technology has enhanced church-going and made it more convenient for people. One of the earliest examples I can think of is the ability to view church services on television, which makes it easier for those who can't get out of the house or who want to watch services broadcast from other parts of the country or by famous preachers. Churches (and other religious institutions) now have websites that make it easy to learn more about them and their services. Many have newsletters that allow members to keep up to date on activities, happenings, and life events like births, marriages and deaths.

During the service, the pastor announced that members could now pay their tithes/offerings online. This was interesting because the church is located in a low-income African American neighborhood where perhaps people may not have as much access to the internet, but I could be completely wrong on this. The pastor also has 5,000 friends on Facebook (the maximum allowed) with a growing waiting list, which he showed me on his iPhone when I saw him at the farmer's market the day before. He uses Facebook regularly to keep in touch with members and pose theological/philosophical questions to them for discussion. I asked him if he was on Twitter but he said he wasn't because he didn't really understand what it was for.

Again, I don't typically attend church or any other sort of religious services, so there are probably technological enhancements I'm not even aware of. Please feel free to share them here if you know of any.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It takes a true anthropologist to appreciate this joke...


How long does it take a team of anthropologists to screw in a light bulb?

20 seconds, plus 3 years to complete their field notes on the event and 10 years to publish the results.

Anthropologists! Anthropologists!

Today I received an email from my dad that said, "Hi Amy, have you seen this before?" Included was a link to the above Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoon. I smiled at my dad's thoughtfulness for sending the link (I wondered how he came upon it in the first place!), chuckled at his question, and replied that yes, I had seen it many times before, and that it's practically a classic in anthropology. I gave him a short explanation as to why, which prompted me to do this post.

First, I see it as a classic because it does such a good job of conveying the history of Anthropology as a discipline, hence the reason it's been used so many times in presentations, on websites, and in other media. At least a handful of my professors in college and grad school referenced this cartoon in PowerPoint presentations, starting with my first anthropology course (Cultural Anthropology) back in 2004.

The cartoon's focus is the discipline's historic reputation for "going out" and studying so-called untouched, exotic tribes (Others) in order to understand human variation, tradition, culture, etc. In our early days, anthropologists used a salvage ethnography approach to harvest as much information as they could get from such vanishing tribes all across the globe, whose life-ways were being severely impacted by colonialism, imperialism, and globalization. It was typically the case that anthropologists wanted to understand other people as they were pre-contact, hence the comedic image of natives running to hide their various electronic objects in order to present a more "authentic" facade to the gullible anthros in pith helmets (and although you can't see them, they were probably wearing khaki cargo vests).

Even back in the late 19th century, cultural evolutionists like Lewis Henry Morgan and Sir Edward B. Tylor attempted to theorize about how cultures had unilinealy evolved or progressed throughout time by understanding present day "primitives" using the comparative method, a perspective on culture that was debunked in the early 20th century by Frans Boas. I think it is this past that has caused many people today to carry misinformed understandings of the breadth of purposes of anthropology and its many subdisciplines. This is another reason why I think the American branch of the discipline needs to seriously re-assess the false guise of the four-field approach, but that's another topic for another time.

The cartoon's focus on anthropologists' past obsession with "studying" cultures "as they were" before the white man came is an apt one. However, if you think about it, there have been very few truly isolated groups of people, even before the explorers/colonizers/imperialists showed up, because people have always had connections through trade, war, alliances, and other forms of communication that have had some sort of impact, great or small. Relatively speaking, yes, there have been peoples who were isolated from western civilization before the "explorers" decided that the rest of the world was something to be conquered and owned. The lament of culture loss is a valid perspective in regard to displacement, the effects of neoliberalism, tourism, etc., but to view tribes or communities or societies as untouched or isolated or somehow more authentic because of a lack of contact is a fallacious argument that goes back to the misinformed theories of Morgan and Tylor, which regarded "primitive" groups as static vestiges of the past.

So, how would Gary Larson or some other artist approach this same subject today? Perhaps one could start by replacing the VCR and television with a smart phone and a lap-top, but this would negate my previous point about untouched peoples, contact and globalization in the "flat" (to use Thomas Friedman's term) 21st century world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

no a los huevos de tortugas (say no to sea turtle eggs)

From a post on my old blog... I still find this advertisement very intriguing with its use of a sexy Argentinean model-singer named Dorismar to get across a sociocultural-environmental message. I'm not sure what year the ad was published, perhaps 2008. It says:
My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows they don't make him more potent. Sea turtles are endangered. Their selling and consuming are serious crimes. Don't eat sea turtle eggs.
PROFEPA (Mexico's version of the EPA), in partnership with a number of environmental organizations, published two ads in Mexico denouncing this practice. Here, men eat sea turtle eggs because they are believed to enhance male virility. They are often barbecued and eaten in soup. Sadly, sea turtles are already highly endangered because of the popularity of both their eggs and meat, and because most of their habitat along Mexico's beaches has been destroyed to make way for beach-front development.

Apparently the ad was criticized by feminist groups, including the National Women's Institute of Mexico, whose members called the ads degrading.

Earth Island Institute has a more in-depth article on the consumption of sea turtle eggs in Mexico and the fight against their extinction. Definitely worth a read.

Look Back: County Fair Kicks, June 2009

I took these photos of kids' sneakers at the State Fair in St. Cloud, a sort of rural area in central Florida near Orlando, in June 2009. I rediscovered them on my old blog and wanted to post them here. I could have gone around all night long taking photos like these, there were so many kids and so many fun sneakers. The fair seemed like the "place to be" and that just about every tween and teen in town was hanging out with their posses.

In terms of fashion, what I noticed was that the "cool" kids often had on bright, colorful sneakers, sometimes patterned and with colorful laces, and often paired with skinny jeans. And they were totally into being photographed for my blog, which was great. Since this was literally two years ago, I think it'd be cool to go back to the same place and see how fashions have changed or stayed the same.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anthros in the media: Helen Fisher on human courtship at HuffPo

From HuffPo's Anthony Weiner-based article on how guys who are attractive may perhaps not make the best husbands (research shows that guys rated the most masculine tend to have more testosterone and guys who have more testosterone are more likely to cheat or become separated or divorced)...
But who can blame her? She, like so many women -- and men -- pick a mate based on pretty predictable factors, dating back to caveman days when all we were trying to do was survive and keep our species going, according to physical anthropologist and Why Him? Why Her? author Helen Fisher, who has been studying human courtship for decades. We're drawn to guys like Weiner because they have good genes we can pass on to our kids. The downside is that we take a huge risk on whether he's going to be sexually faithful to us.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Holly Norris's "American Able": A Statement on Identity and Exclusion in Advertising & the Mass Media

Photographer Holly Norris's "American Able" makes a powerful statement on the standard practice of excluding women with disabilities from the mass media and the othering that occurs through this exclusion. From her website:
"American Able" intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are made invisible in advertising and mass media. I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women who are employees, friends and fans of the company. However, these women fit particular body types. Their campaigns are highly sexualized and feature women who are generally thin, and who appear to be able-bodied. Women with disabilities go unrepresented, not only in American Apparel advertising, but also in most of popular culture. Rarely, if ever, are women with disabilities portrayed in anything other than an asexual manner, for ‘disabled’ bodies are largely perceived as ‘undesirable.’ In a society where sexuality is created and performed over and over within popular culture, the invisibility of women with disabilities in many ways denies their sexuality, particularly within a public context."
Ability is an identity category that I think is often ignored, even in anthropology, in the interest of looking at/analyzing other identities like race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, etc., even though identity is fluid and multifaceted. Norris (and her model Jes Sachse) do a great job of addressing the intersection of multiple identities and made an excellent choice in both medium and comical spoof. I like and wear American Apparel clothing and find their ads intriguing, but agree with Norris that they are, like most other advertising/mass media, not representative of diversity but of the normative, American ideal of a desirable woman (see an example of a typical American Apparel ad below). Click here to visit AA's Photo Archive for more provocative images.

Ethical companies - LUSH Cosmetics


This weekend, I picked up a few things from LUSH Cosmetics, just one of the many companies with a presence in the "ethical" products market. The items I purchased (lotion, face mask and cleanser) stand out to me for a number of reasons: they smell irresistibly yummy and they make my skin feel divine, and in terms of "ethics", they're made with vegetarian, ethically-sourced, all-natural and organic ingredients, they're not tested on animals, they're hand-made, and they're made with little to no preservatives and packaging.

Great company, right? Well, the one thing that really attracted me to LUSH is that on each of the products they sell is a sticker with a cartoon picture of the face of the person who produced the product. I really like the fact that a transnational company (!) with so many positive characteristics already actually took their "ethics" one step further and humanized their products in this way. It's as if the stickers make globalization seem a little less evil. LUSH also seems a bit more sincere about being conscious of its impact, from energy use and fair sourcing to waste and labor, than other so-called ethical companies out there...


One of the young women who works at the LUSH store in Memphis said that it's not uncommon for batches of products to be slightly different from each other, and that sometimes the store manager will come back from a trip to the factory (oh, what a word!) and say, "I know who made that [insert product here]!" Too cool.

An exploration of masculinities - Chad States

"I am strong emotionally, have always stood up for myself, and fear nothing. I happen to be physically strong, but that isn't where I derive my masculinity." —Bill

Please take a moment to check out this excellent photographic exploration of masculinity by Chad States (via Mother Jones). I really like the diversity of individuals and the range of self-definitions of masculinity, as explained in the words of the individuals in each photograph.

As an aside, photographic methods in anthropology have so much potential! I was recently over at Savage Minds discussing the use of photography in the field... I've used photos in academic papers before but also participatory photography. For the specific project I was working on, our team gave a group of 10 women disposable cameras and, with very few instructions, had them photograph elements of their lives they liked and that made them happy, and elements of their lives/environments that they wanted to change. Not only did they help with data collection in this way, but also with data analysis when they discussed their opinions of the photos. From this information, our team extracted common themes from the photos, including positive themes of family, church, friends and work, and negative themes of neighborhood blight, crime, and poor housing conditions, which we in turn related back to our study of the negative affects of limited social capital and networks on health and well-being for low-income African American women and their families.

We used a selection of the photos in the final project report and proposal, which impressed the client but also opened their eyes to the potential for future use of this and other participatory methods.

A short history of the American campsite: Martin Hogue, designobserver.com


image via gtykal

Most Americans have gone camping at some point in their lives, and some make it a habit to go at least a couple times a year to "get away", possibly without completely getting away. This contradiction begs the question, in our modern, 21st century society, are we truly "away" when we have "gone" camping? The answer to this question might depend on your geographic location, or more importantly on how you define the camping experience. I know a couple whose idea of camping is driving their vintage Airstream trailer 30 minutes away to a local state park and, if necessary, driving back home or to the nearest gas station to run errands or pick up something they forgot, while also making sure to catch any NFL games on their portable television... for others, it means packing tents, fishing poles, and canned comestibles that can be cooked over an open fire... for others, it involves taking a cross-country trip that involves bringing home on the road, i.e. with a modern $100,000 RV.

As Martin Hogue points out in his excellent essay for Design Observer on the history of the American campsite, modern camping allows us to be at one with nature while at the same time relying upon modern conveniences that keep us connected to the real world. It's an experience easily characterized by a series of binary opposites: nature and civilization, isolation and connection, self-sufficiency/reliance on nature and ease of access/convenience, fixed and temporary structures, the unfamiliar and the familiar (i.e. nature versus the home). And it has also changed drastically in the last century, along with individual notions of camping and nature (as something to be tamed, primitive, spiritual, a commodity to be consumed, etc.)

I really like his description of the campsite as a temporary substitute for the home, a place where personal and social activities/interaction take place as if one were at home. The campsite, as it is arranged and set up, becomes the home, and life carries on, with minor adjustments. At the same time, campers must live with the surprises that nature will inevitably provide (perhaps we must all deal with bugs and snakes and thieving raccoons no matter how insulated we are from nature while camping). However, it seems that many of the camping traditions and rituals of yore have been rendered obsolete: we no longer have to hunt or gather food, build fires the old fashioned way let alone use them for cooking, or clear settings or set up tents with wooden stakes, or cut ourselves off from society completely, unless we want to as part of a nostalgic camping rite de passage. Now we have the ability to bring pre-packaged foods and cook them in microwaves or over permanent charcoal grills that come with many camp sites, and we can stay connected to the "outside" world through our smart phones and laptops using the campsite's wifi connection.

I find it interesting to think about the use of technology and conveniences when camping. As Hogue observes, technology has changed camping both physically and culturally, especially with the advent of motor vehicles. Think of how they, along with roads and highways, expanded access to camping as well as the geography of reach for campers across the country. Campers have clearly always used the tools that best suited their needs since pioneer days and before, with tents and cooking utensils and other items associated with the experience. But modern improvements like RVs and Airstreams with built-in bathrooms and televisions and air-conditioners come to mind as amenities that seem to have developed out of campers' desires to bring home with them, or at least its comforts and conveniences, which can be connected to how national/cultural concepts of camping and use of technology changed rapidly during the 20th century.

The implications of technology on the lived experience of camping are many - what tools and gear and technology must you (not) have in order to have a truly authentic camping experience? What implications does this have for marketers, who must fuse relevant images of nature and technology/convenience to attract the over-convenienced consumer to their camping products or locations? Again, it comes down to how one defines what true camping is. Perhaps modern life (and the modern work place) demand that we stay connected, even while on vacation. Modern camping, in combination with campers' desires to be a part of the old American past time of experiencing the wilderness, however defined, allows them to live out their "cultural fantasies" while still remaining connected.

So is it still camping if you have access to Wifi, a hair dryer, a phone charger or portable t.v.? I think so. Camping has just changed, that's all. I think it should be left up to individual campers, with their myriad notions of what camping is and should be, to decide for themselves.

image via Jane Elix

A brief history of Applied Anthropology

The Vicos Project, 1952

The field of anthropology has its beginnings firmly established in late 19th and early 20th century British colonialism, which, up through the 1930s, hired anthropologists to study the exotic and colonized peoples of Africa. However, the end of WWII and the collapse of the British Empire in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean brought about an increase in the application of anthropology to social problems during the early years of the Cold War. In the United States, anthropology had a similar start to British colonial anthropology with its government-sponsored work on Native American reservations. In 1941, the Society for Applied Anthropology was established with the goal of advancing practice. At this time, applied anthropology as a “sub-discipline” was marginalized by theory-focused academics, but throughout the next few decades it would find increasing prospects in an increasingly globalizing world.
The applied models of anthropologists such as Alan Holmberg, Sol Tax and Ward Goodenough proliferated during a time in which anthropology became more critical of the prevailing political economic system and began to see its place as value-added in trying to understand the struggles of marginalized peoples at home and abroad.

Jaded by colonialism, imperialism and war, some anthropologists began to question the value-neutral stance of anthropology. Was it really an apolitical science of humankind, or did it have something more to say about and do for subjugated peoples? What was its role, and was it obligated to help those it studied? Moving away from traditional ethnographic studies that led to advancements in theory, anthropologists re-focused their efforts on practical social problems experienced on a global scale, including hunger, poverty, discrimination, health and labor movements. The theories and methods that had been previously used to study the life ways of the Other were now being used to understand the impact of globalization on communities and cultures, as well as the modernization initiatives of nation states to bring so-called primitive and traditional peoples to the 20th century. At the same time that anthropologists began to ask these questions, their presence was increasingly questioned by the people they studied. These developments led to a paradigm shift in practice and innovations in intervention models, as evidenced by the research and development approach of Holmberg, the action or advocacy anthropology approach of Tax, and the community development model of Goodenough.

In 1952, Allan Holmberg began the Vicos Project in the mountain city of Vicos, Peru
. This early intervention model in research and development was undertaken with Holmberg’s western-centric assumption that all human beings everywhere subscribe to the same set of universal values, including power, wealth, enlightenment, respect, well-being, skill, affection and rectitude. Holmberg believed that the enhancement of these values in the community would bring economic and social prosperity to the Vicosinos, who had been subjugated as peasant laborers under a plantation-style encomienda system since Spanish colonial times. Holmberg and his team, which included Mario Vasquez, a Peruvian anthropologist, purchased the hacienda and became temporary patrones in order to begin their project, which would include the introduction and application of modern agricultural technology and a focus on land ownership, labor and human rights, political organization, education and health initiatives, and economic development. Although there were measurable outcomes in these areas and the project was participatory within the given historical context, Holmberg’s project has been criticized for its paternalistic notions and the team’s attempt to change or modernize the Vicosinos. Aside from these pitfalls, it was an innovative approach in the practical application of anthropology that would affect the discipline in a huge way in years to come.

A second pioneering approach was Sol Tax’s Fox Project, which also sought to improve the lives of a group that had been forced to live within the confines of a reservation by the United States government, which disempowered and subjugated them through years of anti-Native American legislation that appropriated their lands and resources. This advocacy project sought to look at the relationship between the Fox and their white neighbors, and unlike Holmberg’s project at Vicos, it did not seek to impose western values. Rather, it attempted to understand the “felt needs” of the community, which the Fox determined to be the preservation of their culture and life ways in the face of what the whites saw as their eventual assimilation into mainstream American society. Essentially, the whites viewed the Fox as lazy and unwilling to work; they were a drain on tax dollars and government resources. This misconception was understood by Tax and his team as rooted in the white's ignorance of the effects of structural violence on Native Americans throughout history. This project was also much more participatory in nature; although Holmberg and his team considered their project participatory because they worked with the Vicosinos to a degree, the anthropologists running the Fox Project actually encouraged members of the Fox to take on roles as co-researchers.

A third model of intervention came in the form of an alternative approach discussed in Goodenough’s book Cooperation in Change: An Anthropological Approach to Community Development. Goodenough found that a cooperative or participatory model was more beneficial for effecting change in the lives of marginalized folks who usually have no input. Anthropologist John Van Willigen also notes the importance of inclusivity in research in every part of the research process, from defining project goals to collecting and analyzing data. In this respect, communities are able to take more ownership, decrease the risk of dependency, and increase the prospect for the sustainability of the project in the future. The community development approach is the most emphatic of stakeholder participation than any of the models presented here. In this approach, as noted by Kretzman and McKnight and Van Willigen, community assets (knowledge, associations, individuals institutions) strengthen community organization and research projects, rather than forcing stakeholders to rely solely on the “expertise” and assumptions of "expert" researchers.

Although applied anthropology has come a long way in its creation and critiques of various approaches to development, many organizations (such as USAID, WHO, and the World Bank) currently carrying out well-intentioned projects in both the United States and abroad continue to use the modernization theory model of development that seeks to transform communities in the hopes of saving them from the despair of poverty without considering the political and cultural implications of their actions. However, many organizations are also coming to realize the short- and long-term benefits of more egalitarian and participatory approaches to improving the lives of the millions of unfortunate victims of globalization, capitalism, and so-called social progress. Holmberg, Tax, Goodenough, Hyland, Van Willigen, Kretzman, McKnight, and many other anthropologists have been able to effect change in communities through participatory efforts (including research and development, engaged scholarship, community building and action/advocacy anthropology) by emphasizing the importance of community input and assets, the importance of place and culture, the use of incremental and reflexive planning (Wim Wiewel) and the democratization of the discipline. Participatory projects continue to take precedence with applied anthropology departments at the lead, including the University of Memphis's own Department of Anthropology and the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, led by Dr. Stan Hyland, an anthropologist and one of my advisors from grad school. Hopefully the ideas of participation, reflexivity, and advocacy in research will spread as social inequities and injustices continue to proliferate in the globalized 21st century world.

A political economy of plasma donation

Student Blood Donor Center... Higher Fee Being Paid! Photo by author

I'm going to take a wild guess and say that plasma donation centers across the country tend to have pretty steady business, and even steadier business in hard economic times like these. In terms of supply and demand, there will always be people in need of a few extra bucks and a demand for fresh, untainted blood for research and other purposes (whatever those might be).

One such donation center is conveniently located a block away from the university from which I recently graduated. I've probably passed by this place hundreds of times but never really considered going in, and I don't know anyone personally who has donated there. So, out of anthropological curiosity, I ventured into the appropriately named "Student Blood Donor Center" to see what this place was all about.

My experience was like any typical blood donation session, but the environment here was different. It had an aura of what many young people refer to as "sketch" or "sketchiness". The building was old and brown and had no windows; it reminded me of a dive-bar or pool hall. The waiting room was plain with only a few posters on the wall and no reading materials or easily accessible information about the company or their services. Even more striking is that they don't tell you up front how much they pay for donations, how much blood they take or any details about the process; it's more like you just go in and do what you need to do and leave with $35 in your hand. In fact, one could probably go in and come out of this place without ever knowing such pertinent information as what happens to the blood, the name of the company collecting it, etc. It struck me as odd that the technician who took my blood didn't know this information himself.

While I was having my blood drawn, I did find out out the following: donors at this location more often tend to be men than women, and more often students than non-students (at least when school is in session). The blood is not used for transfusions or surgeries, as it's illegal to pay for blood that goes to a patient in need. It makes sense that they would locate this place right next to a college with tens of thousands of students, many of whom probably fit the "broke college student" profile and are willing to do just about anything to make a quick buck to pay bills or have a bit of spending money. There was no offer of snacks or drinks during or after the donation to help with blood sugar levels.

I would love to get a better understanding of the specific reasons (financial or other) for why individuals donate their blood and/or plasma for money. Why do people choose to donate, and is donating blood an alternative to other forms of economic activity or ways of procuring income? How often do people donate? What do they use the money for? As the Roanoke Times, The Times Daily and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel explain, reasons can range from a need for gas money or groceries or an inability to find employment to a desire for up-to-date health stats, which many donation centers provide to donors free of charge. Each of these articles also notes that plasma donations for money have indeed risen since the recession began. On the flip-side, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Racine Journal Times have linked the recession to a recent drop in voluntary blood donations and a shortage in blood/plasma for recipients, citing layoffs of donor center staff and donor hesitancy to take time off from work to donate.

I think this topic leads to larger questions related to the political-economic implications of donating (selling) plasma (and other body parts, or even bodies) in hard times. For example, how has the recession impacted individual motivations for donating and the overall donation rate? How has this impacted donation centers that collect blood for transfusions and surgeries rather than for medical industry research? What are the economic and structural issues that drive people do donate? How do they view the donation process, and do they have cultural, emotional or religious qualms about selling something that's coming from their bodies? If so, what compels them to sell anyway? Is it always some form of desperation?

Another thing that caught my eye was a statement on the brochure they give you once you're done donating that tells you what you should/shouldn't do right after donating, how long you have to wait to do physical activity, etc.:

"On behalf of Interstate Blood Bank, Inc. and the medical industry, thank you for your blood donation."

The language and word choice of "donation" to describe the selling of plasma to a for-profit research company is quite interesting, as is the reference to the "medical industry" that is benefiting off of the endless supply of fresh plasma in exchange for what could be a week's worth of groceries or Friday night's pizza and Natty Light.

This experience also brought to mind an article I read in my Culture and Consumerism class by Nancy Scheper-Hughes (2000) entitled The Global Traffic in Human Organs (Current Anthropology Volume 41 No. 2). The article discusses the late 20th century global trade network in bodies and body parts and its relation to the desires, needs and perceptions of scarcity of both donors and recipients. Scheper-Hughes argues that the global transplant organ economy "is a blend of altruism and commerce, of science and magic, of gifting, barter, and theft, of choice and coercion." She posits that this world-wide trade has resulted in reconceptualized notions of what a body is as well as the relationship between bodies, body parts and people on a global scale; the market provides opportunities for destitute people in developing nations to donate organs in exchange for money, and the chance for those who can afford such black market commodities a chance at what can essentially be considered "life".

Both agency and structure play a part as individual donors take risks and make decisions to donate body parts with the increasing demand for healthy organs by the world's elite, who have access to a steady supply through the privatization of this lucrative, illegal economy. As Scheper-Hughes points out, "the flow of organs follows the modern routes of capital: from South to North, from Third to First World, from poor to rich, from black and brown to white, and from female to male." This clearly has many ethical, medical and social implications. One example of how this practice preys upon the poor comes from India: poor families here have been known to trade body parts for dowries in order to secure good marriages for their daughters. She also quotes a man from Brazil, who stated: "I am willing to sell any organ of my body that is not vital to my survival and that could help save another person's life in exchange for an amount of money that will allow me to feed my family...It could be a kidney or an eye because I have two of them."